Tis About Lit and Reading It

Category Archives: Literally Literary

As of now, I am at home waiting for the delivery of my books from Kinokuniya, wrapped in my quilt blanket and listening to trashy pop singers who rhyme with Selena Gomez and Nikki Minaj.

Such wonderful self-confession has now compelled me to write about purchasing/borrowing books. In Singapore.

(And no, listening to trashy pop music has no bearing on this post. Thus, there was a noticeable absence of transitional words or a comma to indicate any correlation).

As a Literature major, you always get asked the same questions:

  1. So what are you going to after you graduate? Teach?
  2. Got any good books to recommend to me?
  3. Where do you get your books from?

People often do not have the courtesy to separate teaching from my future after I graduate. Most Literature majors are known for their acerbic wit. Being a polite and docile person, hardly anyone asking me this has felt the brunt of my stunning wit.

As for the second question, my answers always vary. I may love Austen and Shakespeare but I don’t recommend it to any Tom, Dick or Harry. Perhaps if I’m feeling motivated enough, I may be compelled to do a post on “Books You Should Read”.

Alright, no one actually asks me that last question but I’m pretty sure they’re thinking it in their head and are too polite to verbalise it.

I get my books from a variety of places. And being a cheapskate, I always look to the local libraries. So it’s no surprise that typing “nlb” into my URL bar automatically fills it with http://catalogue.nlb.gov.sg/. It’s not the most amazing site in the world. In fact, it’s pretty one-dimensional. So why not just walk to the nearest local library to borrow books?

Long gone are the days when I actually take two hours to browse for books. It’s too time-consuming and if you are like me, you would already have a list of books that you would be interested in reading. Going online to the NLB catalogue helps me plan where I should get my books. For example, if Book A is available (and NOT ON LOAN) in A and B while Book B is available at only B. It would thus make sense to travel to B instead of A and B. And you would have the satisfaction of having  borrowed a book that you have been eyeing for a long time.

Or if that book is in the Repository Used Book Collection (For example Stephanie Barron’s Jane and The Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor), you can always reserve the book online for S$1.50. It’s not a token price to pay and you can always pick it up at a convenient place.

Some of my friends enjoy possessing a paperback, which is fine and dandy. I have nothing against owning paperbacks. In fact, I am currently in possession of a fine enough library of books to last me a long while. But really, when buying books, I always ask myself two questions:

  1. Am I going to read this book 10 times?
  2. Ten years from now, will I still read this book?

The second question may be a tad difficult to answer. How would you know if you’re going to read this when you’re middle-aged? You should always read a book you read five years or ten years ago. Your emotional/intellectual response may surprise you. And gratify your ailing heart when you’re fifty.

While you may harbour quixotic notions of owning a room with mahogany bookshelves and well-stocked with books, all that bourgeois wastefulness is not environmentally-friendly (says the person who collects wrapping paper) and may be slightly pretentious. Dude/Gal, who are you kidding. Unless it’s well-thumbed, you can’t say that you’ve actually read it.

On the same tangent, I am also rather fond of second-hand books. I sometimes scour for books at the NLB book sales which the National Library holds about twice a year. You can’t get terribly wonderful books sometimes but if you look hard enough, they may be lurking somewhere.

Alternatively, I also visit SG Book Exchange. Most of the people selling books there are of population “bourgeois wastefulness”. It is true that some of them have only read the book once, left it in their storeroom for awhile and decide to sell it online later. Some of them sell their books very cheaply and I have gotten many books off there at wonderful prices in equally wonderful condition.

So what about brand new books?

Kinokuniya’s Bookweb Singapore is also on my speed dial (online). Many people always complain that they sell their books at exorbitant prices. That may be true if you are looking for something like Larsson’s “The Girl Who..” or other mainstream novels which you can easily purchase at Popular Singapore or Times Bookstore. Another friend has told me that I’m not longer supporting bricks and mortar bookstores. But if there is a certain book that you would really like to read but is not mainstream enough, Kinokuniya’s Bookweb Singapore site is a wonderful catalogue and it tells you how soon it will take to arrive. Also, they will tell you when they will arrive at your place by sending you an e-mail in advance.

I have also recently discovered the NOQ Online Store Asia which sells its books at amazingly cheap prices. The only catch is that you have to pay a S$20 membership price to enjoy these discounts. I haven’t signed up for one yet but it may be tempting for book-buyers.

Some of my peers buy books on Books Depository UK which has free delivery but I don’t find it any cheaper than what you would get at Kinokuniya.

However, if you have friends in the UK, books there are even cheaper. Especially on Amazon.co.uk. The prices there are about a third to three-quarters the price you would get in Singapore. I can now get my books at those “amaz”-ing prices (yes, I have already self-examined myself thoroughly).  By serendipity, I have many friends studying in the UK and do not mind carting books back to Singapore for me. <cue evil laughter>.

These are just an exhaustive list of options I have when it comes to book-buying/borrowing. And you can imagine that I keep a lot of tabs open when I’m sourcing for books.

For the curious readers, I am still wrapped in my quilt blanket and going to cuddle with a book on my bed to wait for the delivery man.

P.S. Unless you have an iPhone, the mobile library website is highly ineffective.

Also, this post is taken from my other blog “Nic Writes“.


We haven’t quite covered M Butterfly in class but I have to say that it was, like my wonderful Prof said, quite a “sexy” play.

Being a bit of an Asian American Lit ignoramus, I have never quite comprehended the appeal of M Butterfly. Neither have I liked Asian American Literature (or Asian Literature) in general. I suppose if I were to quote Frank Chin, he would say that “[t]hat is very white and nothing but very white of [me]” (“Rendezvous”, Frank Chin).

It is always obsessed with colonialism, racism and gender. Personally, I find it rather cliched. Of course, it goes to show the extent to which our colonial masters, the British, American, Spanish and Dutch, have brutally inflicted on us Asians for the rest of eternity.

I have never thought of myself as a subjugated person in society. I’m a girl and I’m Asian, so I suppose that makes me doubly subjugated if one were to adopt the militant feminist position.

But anyways, back to the play.

In a nutshell, M Butterfly is about a French diplomat (Rene Gallimard) who falls in love with a Chinese opera singer (Song Li-ling) who turns out to be a man. Unable to grasp onto the reality of the situation, he commits suicide.

It is quite a compelling play and extremely straight-forward. You don’t need to have studied Literature to appreciate the finer points of the play though I have always believed that anyone can appreciate Literature if they take time to do so (but that is for another time).

During an Asian American Lit tutorial, it occurred to me that Gallimard’s painting of his face in the mirror could perhaps his attempts to preserve the imperialist fantasy. The mirror has often been regarded as the site of a fantastical land that parallels reality, though is inverted to show a mere shadow. So he commits suicide together with his Butterfly.

(Un)fortunately, my classmate responded by saying that Gallimard is committing a masturbatory act with himself.

I was not quite so sure of what to make of that so I gave any response that any sensible person would have:

By blabbering “What no.”

I’m sure anyone in my position would be flabbergasted as well. Who wouldn’t?

The last scene of M Butterfly:

“The British Romantic conception of the vampire is… indebted in particular to the writings of George Brodon, Lord Byron, and to the cult of the Byronic Hero which the poet actively fostered around his behaviour.” – The Handbook of the Gothic, edited by Marie Mulvey-Roberts, 2nd Edition.

No shocker there about vampires being fantastic lovers then. After all, Lord Byron was the literary Casanova of his day (the kind who probably seduces both wo/men with sexy poetry, prose in his wonderfully sexy voice).

Of course, the Byronic hero helps reinforce the idea of vampires being sexy. As The Handbook of the Gothic also writes in its glossary on Vampires, blood is quite irrevocably tied to semen. So yes, there is something quite sexy about blood (apparently).

Personally, I don’t quite find it sexy. Especially if you have nose-bled for almost more than half of your life. Nose-bleeding is not at all appealing. Just rather disgusting.

For my Science-Fiction and Fantasy project, I have decided to focus on Victorian monster mash-ups. Not that I particularly wanted to. Especially since it sounded rather juvenile and not like the “Austen purist” that I am.

Quite frankly, I was desperate and time was running out. Of course, re-reading Ford’s Jane Bites Back did have a hand in forming any vague notion of a s/f project. It really was quite bizarre and I was anxiously anticipating the academic anvil to befall this crazy, pop-culture of a project.

(I can’t resist: Alliteration!)

My e-mail conversation with the prof went like this:

Nicole >> Prof

Dear Prof ___

Many (very sincere) apologies for not getting back to you about my project, the reason lies in being unable to decide what to do for the project and what to do it on! I was wondering if you could tell me if not doing a project on recent monster mash-ups (ie. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) would be advisable? Sorry, I’m feeling a little lost so I thought I would take a stab at something.

Prof >> Nicole

Funny that.  I had just put aside Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and the other one to give away as prizes some other week….

do you have the second one?

Nicole >> Prof

Uh second one? As in Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters? Or Dawn of the Dreadfuls?

Prof  >> Nicole

S and S and S

Nicole >> Prof

Oh no, sorry I don’t own a copy of S & S & S.

Um is my project viable?

Prof >> Nicole

What do you want to do with it?

Nicole >> Prof

Oh I was thinking of investigating some of the Jane Austen monster mash-ups OR the other monster mash-ups by Quirk Books in relation to speculative fiction- like how there is a mix between alternate history and speculative fiction. Why the fascination with Jane Austen and monsters? I’ll try to narrow it down though.

Does it have to be an argumentative essay/project? Or can it be an in-depth expository project?

Prof >> Nicole

Yes that sounds ok.  It can be expository, though a modicum of argument is also good!

And you can have the copy of S and S and S.

I almost fell off my chair reading the last line. She is such a dear.Thus, giving birth to my project on Austenesque Monster Mash-Ups or it may change to Victorian Monster Mayhem.

I haven’t quite decided, though the present-day reader may find “Victorian” and “Austenesque” quite interchangeable these days. The Victorian era only started after Austen’s death, at least according to Wikipedia.

So far, I have compiled a list of books that would be of interest:

Alexia Tarabotti series by Gail Carriger

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith

Dreadfully Ever After by Steve Hockensmith

Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters by Jane Austen and Ben H Winters

Jane Bites Back, Jane Goes Batty (Michael Thomas Ford)

Jane and the Damned by Janet Mullany

Basically, quite a lot of fantastic, mainstream novels. My literary tastes are slowly eroding and dying inside me thinks.

But also quite excited at the same time. What do you think?

P.S. As the Internet isn’t as much of a private space as I would like it to be, I have just decided to name all my Lit profs “Profs”. Originality at its height.

All I did was ask you for a role-playing game. You never warned me I’d be pitched into it for real! And I asked you for hobbits on a grail quest, and not one hobbit have I seen! – Hexwood, Diana Wynne Jones.

As a loud and proud Austen (and Shakespeare) reader, not many of my friends know about my side interest in fantasy literature.

I do not proclaim this loudly for several reasons. It would make me look like a bigger nerd than I already am. Secretly, I am a louder and prouder Austen fan because it makes me look like a sophisticated and chic geek (ironic as it sounds).

Thus, I am also somewhat an avid closet Diana Wynne Jones (and J K Rowling) reader. The Castle and Chrestomanci series *literally* enchanted me. Since I pride myself to be a DWJ fan, it is rather strange that I have not encountered Hexwood in my reading history.

Unfortunately, Hexwood has been out of print for a long time. The local libraries require me to reserve the book from the repository book collection. No wonder it’s a literary recluse.

I’m not quite sure how to sum up the synopsis of Hexwood because one gets rather confused since the plot and story twists and turns too much that I don’t think I can do justice to it. Thankfully, if you (like me) have done Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne, confusing plots may bamboozle you for awhile though will also endow any reader with the patience to keep on reading. Ah one of the many rewards of reading the 500 page Tristram Shandy.

However, if you are in desperate need of reading the synopsis of Hexwood, I suppose Wikipedia offers a good enough summary of it.

Written in Jones’ typical style, I suppose that the characters of Mordion and Ann Stavely still bamboozle the mind as Jones has a fascination with time and space. The sci-fi elements of war, time and space are explored though I have to confess to being really bamboozled.

Still, I thoroughly enjoyed the read. I’m not sure how I am supposed to go about analysing this lovely book and tearing it apart with what drone-like professors do to tear them apart. Not that I think my prof is a drone. Teaching a module entitled “Science Fiction and Fantasy” surely implies that she has a wonderful sense of humour and bearings.

Oh two posts in two days, I must be on a roll.

As the summer break is coming to an end, students must once again break out of the comfortable cushion that the holidays naturally carve for themselves. Tis only natural. So it is also natural for any Literature student to acquire these books, in the pursuit of learning and education (“pssssht”).

Interestingly, I am not doing any British modules this semester. While it was an adventure reading Crusoe and romping between 18th and 20th Century Britain. I have decided to take time-travelling to a whole new level by traipsing into the weirdness of Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Initially rather reluctant to take this module, my love for fantasy literature (Yes, I am a closet Harry Potter, C S Lewis and Diana Wynne Jones – God bless her soul-  fan) has pushed me to study it as a serious pursuit. I cannot help but wonder if my passion will be dulled by such intense study of literary theory of magic.

Also, I am rather excited about studying American and Asian American Literature, I suppose they would make a fascinating combination of modules. The White Man’s perspective and the Eastern perspective of said White Man.

The following is the booklist. I have realised that I am rather inefficient at keeping track of what I read so do bear with me as I try to cross them out on this list. So mechanical but much needed, yes?

EN3243: Science Fiction and Fantasy

Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card

Hexwood, Diana Wynne Jones

Miles Errant, Lois McmAster Bujold

Anno Dracula, Kim Newman

Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson

Ilium, Dan Simmons

A Philosophical Investigation, Philip Kerr

EN3234: Asian American Literature

The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston

M Butterfly, David Henry Huang

Jasmine, Bharati Mukherjee

Sister Swing, Shirley Geok-lin Lim (just finished reading).

Selected writings (handout) of Garrett Hongo, Wakako Yamauchi, Carlos Bulosan, Bienvenido Santos, Russell Leong and others.

EN3231: American Literature

“Self-Reliance”, Ralph Waldo Emerson

“American Scholar”, Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Young Goodman Brown”, Nathanial Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne

“Civil Disobedience”, Henry David Thoreau

“Bartleby, the Scrivener”. Herman Melville

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass

“Paradise of Bachelors, Tartarus of Maids”, Herman Melville

And all that the Lorax left here in this mess/was a small pile of rocks, with the one word…/ “UNLESS”…… UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot,/nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

Well, it has been awhile since I last updated this blog (“awhile” is a bit of an understatement) and I am back to save this blog! With my new reading lists up, I suppose I will blogging about my reading experience again (they shall be up as soon as my modules are confirmed).

Other than “reading Lit”, I also “teach Lit”. Not as a full-time job in a public school. That would just  quash all the creative spirit out of me and turn me into a teaching drone with multiple lesson plans.

Teaching Literature to a 13-year-old girl has been a rather interesting learning experience (I’m afraid this is not a euphemism disguising the positive for the negative). While recognising metaphors and detecting tones in poetry has become second nature to me, at the same time assuming that the rest of the world is running at the same pace as me (literary-speaking). So imagine the poor girl’s alarm when I gave her Wordsworth’s Daffodils and Frost’s The Road Not Taken for poetry analysis. Imagine the poor girl’s alarm! Whilst my heart was filled with pleasure and dancing with them Daffodils, she “gazed– and gazed– but little thought” or any notion of the meaning of the poem could she understand. Nothing “flashed upon [her] inward eye”.

Rather disheartening. Teaching metaphors is a lot more challenging than one would think. It is my personal belief that no teacher or professor can ever teach one the skills of Literature without first having any liking of it. The key to it is appreciating it and liking it. Not a professional opinion that should be taken seriously.

On another note, her school is doing one of the most famous political allegories of the twentieth century. If you are guessing, 1984 comes as a close second. Yes, it’s Orwell’s novella Animal Farm! I suppose Animal Farm would be an appropriate text to teach teenagers metaphors and allegories so I do not yet despair over their choice of text.

To encourage or set her mind thinking about allegories, I have chosen Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. Well yes, a children’s book but I view it as a great text to expand further the ideas of alliteration, metaphors, similes, onomatopoeia and allegories. Of course, fantastic creatures and plants like the truffula tree and Brown Bar-ba-loot are meant to excite the senses, but consider their playfulness and wonderful way it twists and turns the tongue.

Tutoring Literature has made me realise that something as simple as The Lorax could help one expand their vision of the literary world. Literature is not about thick books, flowing prose and poetry that no one understands (take the top Prof of Literature at Oxford for instance). It’s about books that help us perceive and make sense of the world better. So save those Enid Blyton books, save The Lorax!

As a literary nerd, I make it my business to visit online book catalogues on a regular basis. Before this makes me sound like the Paris Hilton of book-shopping, you should know that I derive utmost pleasure in being able to skim through the catalogue and search for books that I would like to read.

If you are any kind of shopper, you would hone my exact feelings about shopping catalogues in general.

Of late, Kinokuniya Singapore’s book catalogue received a face-lift. Unlike its previous vapid, one-dimensional interface. This was rather refreshing:

Doesn’t it look awesome? Or perhaps I am biased since Borders US has fallen to ruin although they do have lovely stores that do not deprive their books of air and freedom.

Well, that’s all I guess. I hope you were not expecting a full post about the glories of the Kino book catalogue, that would be rather strange.