Looking for a cracking summer read? Check out our of highlights of books hitting Singapore’s stores this month.
Vintage Classics | 278 pages
Hailed by UK The Guardian’s Julian Barnes as “the must-read novel of 2013”, this quiet novel made hardly a ripple when it was first published 50 years ago, but last year it became a best-seller and Waterstone’s book of the year, purely by word-of-mouth among readers.
This quiet novel is the story of academic, William Stoner, born at the turn of the 20th century in a Missouri farming community. At page one, the reader learns that Stoner will die having led a life that was neither heroic nor remarkable; he will not have changed the world, but merely passed through it quietly, his imprint seemingly limited to the classroom walls. Despite this, rich insights into internal conflicts at various stages of his life keep you engaged from one page to the next.
Stoner disappoints his parents by choosing academia over farming; he stays in a marriage that he realises is a failure one month after his wedding; even his daughter disappoints him. While he resists being drafted into real war, the irony is that he has been continually at war in his personal life.
I initially intended to read this novel over a longer period because it became too piercingly painful at times, but I ended up devouring it over a weekend.
Expat Women: Confessions
Andre Martins and Victoria Hepworth
Expat Women Enterprises | 267 pages
My own confession is that I was looking forward to a collection of salacious revelations – perhaps involving a hunky pool-cleaner, a slim-hipped personal trainer, or a hotel courtyard indiscretion brought on by a free-flow Champagne brunch. Never judge a book by its lurid pink cover, as they say.
Subtitled “50 Answers to Your Real-Life Questions about Living Abroad”, this is actually a serious and useful guide for expatriate women all over the world. It’s full of real-life examples of the difficulties that expats face, and I was surprised to discover how universal many of these problems are.
Aussie Andrea Martins is the founder and director of expatwomen.com, and has lived in Jakarta, Mexico City and now Kuala Lumpur. Kiwi psychologist Victoria Hepworth has lived in Miyazaki, Shanghai, Saint Petersburg, Gothenburg and Mumbai, and now lives in Dubai. They answer 50 wide-ranging questions that have come from women who find themselves in hugely diverse places, from a small village in Finland to St Petersburg in Russia; one is from a Dane trying to adjust to life in Japan with her Japanese husband, another has special-needs children and wonders about the wisdom of relocating to Central America.
Apart from more immediately recognisable issues such as culture shock, dealing with family back home, angsty teenage children, finances and work-life balance, they also cover more delicate areas such as alcoholism, marital infidelity and divorce. Generally upbeat and encouraging, the advice is also comprehensive, often suggesting a variety of options and practical steps to take.
Once Upon a Timepiece
Bo Tree Books | 167 pages
Available from Amazon, and at Tango Mango, Tanglin Mall
This is something unusual: a novel made up of 12 short stories. Each story can be read on its own, each having a distinct plot and an unexpected twist at the end. That’s what I meant to do – savour them one at a time, but the stories are all connected to tell a bigger narrative, and I gobbled up the lot over a couple of days. (So did my mother.)
Set in England in 2012, it moves through the months of the year, with a different story and cast of characters for each tale, all linked through the continuously changing ownership of a 1946 Breitling watch.
Starr Wood is a seductive writer with a wonderful command of his art. Not only does this work prove him a master of the short story genre, but its sensitive and intelligent exploration of the underlying themes of time and temporality makes it one of the most satisfying reads I have enjoyed for a long time. I can’t wait for his next book.
This is the debut novel from Starr Wood, who was born in the UK in 1970, grew up “all over the place” as an expat child, and has lived and worked here in Singapore since 2002 as a journalist and economist.
Edited by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
Monsoon Books | 256 pages
This interesting little book features short crime stories by 14 different writers, three of them Singapore Literature Prize winners. It delves into Singapore’s “dark side” and back streets, as each author artfully explores taboo topics such as murder, prostitution and mental issues. The plot twists are unexpected and many of them had me wishing to know more by the time I’d finished. A fantastic read that will make you think twice about Singapore’s rule-abiding image, told through eerily tangible (some parts just seem so real!) fiction. It’s actually renewed my love for short stories – this is a must-read.
LUXE City Guides has released its 34th destination, LUXE Kuala Lumpur. She may be Southeast Asia’s youngest capital, say the authors, but KL has a fabulously mixed heritage that translates into a hefty helping of culture, colour, fashion and art, with mosque minarets and Indian and Chinese temples jostling for space along the modern skyline. Expect the usual sleek format, snappy reviews and insider tips. Available online and in bookstores from this month, June.
Just for Kids
Would You Rather Be a Bullfrog?
Written by Dr Seuss; illustrated by Roy McKie
Random House US
Another silly yet endearing rhyming tale by Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr Seuss. This bright board book explores all-important questions in life, like “Would you rather have a feather or a bushy tail behind? Which would you feel the best on you? Come on! Make up your mind.” Seemingly innocuous questions allow small minds to explore different options in a fun and open-ended way.
How to be a Pirate
Written by Sue Fliess; illustrated by Nikki Dyson
Little Golden Books
This book was right up my two-year-old son’s alley. It is written in “pirate-speak”, so be prepared for your toddler to start repeating ridiculous phrases around the house, like “Ahoy landlubbers!” and “Gangway! Blimey!” Which, of course, is all part of the fun. We loved this playful introduction into the world of pirates, told in rhyme with colourful illustrations. A sure hit for little boys. “The test is over buccaneer, you’re a pirate now – let’s cheer!”