Singapore Adventure

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Best Books of 2006
by venitha

This is a bit off the Singaporean theme, but I've read one too many Best Books of 2006 lists that included The Lay of the Land, and, hey, maybe you've still got some Christmas shopping to do. I suppose I could rant about the sad state of the literature written in and about Singapore, the lamentably poor selection and mind-boggling "organization" of the local libraries, and the cruelty of the Borders store on Orchard Road feeling so downhome American, yet never having the particular book I want in stock. It's enough to make you need a good book to escape it all. I suggest one of these, the best that I've read this year:
  • Marley and Me. Thanks, Karen, for the great recommendation! Funny, heart-warming, a must-read for every dog lover, this is one of those rare gems that I finish and hand directly to Jim. I must warn you, however, that the last 30 pages are not to be read on the MRT no matter how pretty your handkerchiefs are. Singapore is so densely populated that you see everything here; facial deformities alone run a stunning gamut. But Asians are stoic, and open displays of raw emotion are exceedingly rare: I am the only person I have ever seen cry in public.

  • The Things They Carried. This was actually on my Best Books of 2005 list (unpublished - sorry, lah), but I happily re-read it when it was chosen by my bookclub. Non-fiction (strike one) short stories (strike two) about the Vietnam War (strike three). It sounds awful, doesn't it? Yet this compelling book is a home run, and you watch it soar out of the ballpark with astonishment.

  • Thirteen Moons. Cold Mountain was no fluke: Charles Frazier tells a mesmerizing tale. Woven into one man's life story, Thirteen Moons is the tale of American Indians dispossessed of their homeland; it made me so very thankful that I get to return to my beloved mountains myself. I'm still trying to talk Jim into naming the baby Waverly after the main character's trusty horse.

  • A Suitable Boy. Indians from India this time. Over the past two years, I've read a great deal of fiction set in Asia. I covered no country more thoroughly than India, and this was the best of the lot. Vikram Seth displays amazing versatility - Can this possibly be the same man who wrote An Equal Music? - and reveals himself a playful poet in this epic tome. I loved every minute of it, found it very difficult to put down, and was disappointed, after over 1000 pages, to have it end.

  • Suite Francaise. Spend enough time in Asia, and you start to think WWII was all about Japan; even the loosening deathgrip of European colonial masters is a mere footnote. Then read this book and get an abrupt and captivating change of perspective as you're drawn back to France during the German occupation. The author's murder in is all the more devastating as it left this masterpiece unfinished.

It's not through lack of effort that there are no Singaporean titles on this list. I suspect I just read all the best stuff last year. Here's my Singapore reading list.