Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Rachel's Top Picks for 2015!

Here's a line each from my reviews for the entire year!

1. Moth by Leonora Liow
For a book with such a horrendous cover, I was stunned to find a couple of gems in it.

2. 寻找 by Ah Guo Tanhengkok I though this was a brilliant and poignant work of art.

3. Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials that Shape our Man-made World by Mark Miodownik
If only it'd been written when I was in school, it would have motivated me to study hard in class and attempt to appreciate the esoteric nature of the modules I was taking.

4. Short Circuits: through the catchments of faith and writing by Anne Lee Tzu Pheng
This book is basically a collection of short vignettes of the author's experience with writing, poetry, and with God.

5. Tender Delirium by Tania De Rozario
The poetry and prose here is raw emotion mixed with heart-rending truths of reality.

6. Scattered Vertebrae by Jerrold Yam
I’d urge those exploring Singapore poetry to pick this title up.

7. The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew
Beyond the controversy this book generated, Sonny Liew has created a gem, multi-faceted and quite a sight to behold.

8. Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters by Timothy Keller
Things like love, success, money and power can all become idols if we are not careful.

9. The Invisible Manuscript by Alfian Sa'at
"I never knew poetry on gay male sex could be so beautiful," was how I introduced this book to a couple of my friends.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Equatorial Sunshine by Wong Su Ann

When I first tried Equatorial Sunshine, I drank it neat and it was so-so. The second time round, I paired it with Evanescence's first album, Fallen, and the progressive metal really brought out the vanilla notes in the poetry, making the entire experience a more enjoyable one. 

Wong Su Ann's first collection certainly feels like one. It is rather uneven, with some stellar pieces and others that are "meh". 

I heard from someone at Ethos that it sells really well in secondary schools in Singapore with the majority of buyers being teenage girls. 

I can see why. Just as Lang Leav has her fans, Wong Su Ann is likely to appeal to young Singaporean girls with the bulk of the content comprising love, or rather, breakup poems. 

I found the prose poems much better than the free verse. She also included a number of pieces by some of her friends which struck me as rather odd because I didn't quite see how they fit in. But to each his (or her) own I guess. 

Well, this would make a good gift if you'd like to introduce a young girl to some simple poetry. However, as it is rather lightweight, do make sure your recipient is not a big fan of Literature or else your present might backfire. 

You can order your copy online at Ethos Books. 

Disclaimer: The publisher sent me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Moth by Leonora Liow

I take back what I said in my previous post. You really can't judge a book by its cover. For a book with such a horrendous cover, I was stunned to find a couple of gems in it. Some of these short stories are positively jewels in this maiden collection by Leonora Liow.

This is one of the best pieces of Singapore Literature I've had the pleasure of reviewing this entire year. And trust me, I've read a lot of books. It's perhaps not surprising to find out that the author won the Golden Point award in 2003.

In this book, the pieces I found the most interesting build on the tension inherent in parent-child relationships very well. At least 3 stories feature that particular dynamic and having grown up locally, I could readily identify with the struggles the protagonists faced. Stories on forbidden love (aka extra-martial affairs) are an especially good read where the thought processes and emotional landscape of each character are assiduously drawn out.

Captivating the reader from the very first story, the author manages to weave in a very Singaporean setting in 10 short stories with excellent character development that makes one sympathise with the protagonist of each story. Reading this book reminds me of the brilliant pieces of short stories (The Scarlet Ibis, etc.) I was exposed to in high school. Teachers of English and of Literature, this is one book you should get. I assure you, you will not be disappointed.

I personally favour this book over Amanda Lee-Koe's Ministry of Moral Panic that won the Singapore Literature Prize in 2014. This is a seriously good read. I guess the only bad thing about it is that one cannot consume too many short stories in the span of a single day. The truth hurts and it can get a bit depressing because the stories might hit very close to home. At least it did for me. Consider this fair warning.

You can order this book online from Ethos Books or get it at Kinokuniya Singapore. Grab your copy today!

Disclaimer: The publisher sent me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Today, Fish Only by Miho Kinnas

It is difficult not to judge a book by its cover. Perhaps it's not surprising then that one of my favourite things about this book is its lovely cover. I might not have understood the series of poems on Japanese temples at the beginning nor the tributes to different pieces of writing at the end; but the ones with items featured on the cover, poems like On Food (featuring pork cutlets), Sakura and Pistachios were ones I could better appreciate. I wonder why.

The poetry featured is very Japanese, if that could be used as an adjective. From the get go where Japanese words are part of the first poem, Swimming Pool, to aforementioned Japanese temples, food and places, the book has a distinct flavour to it. Quiet and contemplative, it makes for an interesting read on the commute and the slim volume can be probably finished in a day or two. But one would probably have to take more time to full appreciate this body of work.

Well, this book would make a good present for lovers of all things Japanese. You can purchase it at a mere $16 at Books Actually. Get your copy today!

Disclaimer: The publisher sent me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Before we are ghosts by Tan Lixin

I was just sharing with my friend Alvin yesterday on how difficult it is to review poetry. Often, the poetry reading experience is quite indescribable (enjoyable as it is) and I end up not reviewing most of the books on poetry I've read. And then a new book comes along, and I find the strength to carry on. 

Tan Lixin's latest offering, Before We Are Ghosts explores loss, change and death. She does so in a quiet and understated manner with poetry that is more accessible than most. What sets her apart are the surprising turns of phrases that are a breath of fresh air in the often heavy and sombre poems that surround the topic of death and loss. 

I rather enjoyed this book and finished it relatively quickly. In my second reading, I discovered my favourite piece, titled Good Friday

I thought I'd share it with you. 

Well, I'd recommend this book to everyone because death is ultimately inevitable. I find that processing one's emotion through the medium of poetry is quite healing and would encourage more to do so. 

You can get this book at Books Actually. 

Disclaimer: The publisher sent me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

SingPoWriMo 2015 - The Anthology edited by Daryl Qilin Yam, JenniferAnne Champion and Joshua Ip

When I asked Joshua Ip where I could find good empat perkataan poetry (because I adore the form), he recommended using Facebook Search on "SingPoWriMoDay16" or simply purchasing the SingPoWriPo 2015 anthology. So it was with great enthusiasm that I trooped down to Books Actually this past Saturday afternoon to grab this title at a mere $21. It is very good value for money you know, with 157 poems, it works out to $0.13 per poem. But of course, we shouldn't be placing a monetary value on art like that.

Back to the review. If you are unaware, SingPoWriMo is a poetry challenge set up by a bunch of people in the month of April to write a poem a day for the thirty days of that month. The organisers came up with a bunch of creative, difficult and very interesting prompts and posted them up on Facebook. This book is a distillation of the best works.

After buying the book, I headed over to Forty Hands opposite and grabbed a flat white before settling down comfortably to start reading. I flipped to Day 16 as instructed by Joshua and read his "there are four kinds of people in this world" without understanding 90% of it but loving the rhythm. Then I realised that it was on Day 12 that the prompt was to write empat perkataans.


I LOVED "my city, a history" by Jerome Lim the most.

After that, I just flipped back and forth between pages at random and was delighted to find that excellent poetry on almost every single page. I didn't pay much attention to the prompts listed at the beginning of each chapter at first, but found that when I did, I was able to better appreciate the constraints the poets had to put themselves through.

My favourite prompt has to be Day 19: Write a poem about a Singaporean neighbourhood as if it were a person. Benzie Dio's "Stamford Road" was BRILLIANT and set the tone for the rest of the poems for that chapter. His name looked familiar and I vaguely recall that he taught GP at the Junior College I attended a decade ago.

A while later, a friend of mine came over for coffee and I showed her the book. She was very amused and entertained by one. I was surprised (because she doesn't read much poetry) asked her why she was laughing so much and she showed me "there are four kinds of people in this world" and began explaining what it meant, breaking it down for me line by line. I must say, I have never learnt so much about mahjong in one afternoon. This shows that poetry is truly for everyone. You just need to find one that resonates.

And I am sure that in this volume, you can definitely find a poem or two that you'd like very much. You could even find one to write it in a birthday card for a friend. It would also make an excellent Christmas present for absolutely anyone at all.

Pick up this book at Books Actually today!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Harbouring by S. C. Gordon

The problem with poetry is how sometimes I can never make head or tail of it even though I may get a vague sense of the genre. Harbouring is a case in point. 

While I get that the poet has lost a dearly beloved to Death, reading and rereading some of the poetry just leaves me befuddled. I do honestly think that there is clever use of space and imagery in all her poems but I guess I'm just too mainstream. I need the poetry I read to be a bit more accessible. 

For those whose interest have been piqued, although the poet is born in England, the poetry have mostly Oriental themes. Which is fascinating really. 

Please understand that this is still an excellent piece of work. It's just not my cup of tea. 

Having said that, here's my favourite piece, Qing Ming. 

You can get your copy at Books Actually

Disclaimer: The publisher sent me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.