“A biography of any literary person ought to deal at length with what he read and when, for in some sense, we are what we read.” —Joseph Epstein
I don’t know if I constitute a “literary person”, but I know books make my world less sucky and less nonsensical.
And since I’ve made a habit of listing out the books I’ve read, here I present you with my September 2021-April 2022 reads, along with my stream of consciousness:
1. Tapai by Hishamuddin Rais
FORMAT: Hard Copy
ABOUT: Masakan Melayu, roasted ducks, tapai, and everything in between, which includes, but is not limited to, the glamorous Darai from Ajinda Ghazal Party of Kepala Batas.
THOUGHTS: The most important thing I learned from this book is, in Malaysia, to find the good food, follow the lorries.
The second most important thing I learned from this book is that one’s attitude towards food should be the same as towards sex — everything is possible, nothing is forbidden.
2. Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren
ABOUT: Finding God in everyday routines.
THOUGHTS: It was a little too evangelical, but I still enjoyed it nonetheless.
3. Range by David Epstein
ABOUT: Why it’s better to be a Jack of all trades and master of none.
THOUGHTS: Life is about experimenting. I resonated with this book so much — the wanderers finish best.
4. The Boy is Back by Meg Cabot
FORMAT: Hard copy
GENRE: Fiction/Chick lit
ABOUT: Pro golfer Reed has been on a dry spell. Then one day, something happened in Reed’s family that turned them into the national laughing stock (parents tried to pay for a meal with a stamp), and he is forced to return to his hometown to rectify the situation. The thing is, somebody is in his hometown: his ex, Becky.
THOUGHTS: This is a typical Meg Cabot novel, written as a compilation of letters, emails, and text messages. Such a fun and easy read. Loved it.
5. The Human Instinct by Kenneth Miller
ABOUT: Why human thought, action, and imagination are not pre-determined (sorry, Sam Harris), and the trajectory we took to arrive at our present complex state.
THOUGHTS: Imma still chewing.
6. Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code by Bart Erhman
GENRE: Non-fiction/Religion/Pop culture
ABOUT: How accurate was The Da Vinci Code?
THOUGHTS: The answer to the above question is: not accurate at all.
7. Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao
GENRE: Fiction/Young Adult
ABOUT: Wu Zetian, the first and only empress of China, reimagined as sci-fi.
THOUGHTS: This is Pacific Rim meets ancient China meets feminism. AMAZING.
8. Me, Myself, and Why by Jennifer Ouellette
ABOUT: What of our biology makes us, us.
THOUGHTS: This book was written by Sean Carroll’s wife. As always, she has a way of making complex subjects sound easy.
9. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
ABOUT: Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic highway, and Arthur Dent is “rescued” by his friend, Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. They jet through the universe together and experience adventure after adventure, nearly dying a few times.
THOUGHTS: The answer is 42! (Read the book for context.)
10. Wholehearted Faith by Rachel Held Evans and Jeff Chu
ABOUT: A collection of the writings Rachel Held Evans was working on for a new book (before she died), and bits of pieces taken from her blog and other works.
THOUGHTS: I try so hard to mimic the hope RHE possessed. I try, and I try, and I try.
11. Anthem by Ayn Rand
ABOUT: A world in which individuals have no name, no independence, no values—basically no self.
THOUGHTS: I don’t think a true “I” is possible. (To be elaborated on one day.)
12. Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham
ABOUT: Lauren Graham (a.k.a. Lorelai Gilmore) journey to stardom (Gilmore Girls series), then stardom a second time (Gilmore Girls reboot), and stuff that happened in between.
THOUGHTS: She is so entertaining. How do I become entertaining like her?
13. Brothers on Life by Matt Czuchry and Mike Czuchry
ABOUT: Love, death, spirituality, and everything in between.
THOUGHTS: So, so good. Heartwarming, poignant, intriguing…all the things that poetry is supposed to be. So, so good.
14. Someone We Know by Shari Lapena
ABOUT: In a suburb in upstate New York, a teenager has been sneaking into houses in his neighbourhood, going through their computers. His mother writes annoynymous letters to apologise to the houseowners. Then a woman is found dead—murdered. Suddenly, everybody is nervous. Does everybody have something to hide?
THOUGHTS: This was a page-turner I could not put down. Amazing writing.
15. Hell Is the Absence of God by Ted Chiang
ABOUT: In this world that Ted Chiang has crafted, heaven, hell, God, and angels are indisputable. When Neil Fisk losses his wife during an angel visitation, she is sent straight to heaven. So now, Neil must display devotion to God so that he can join his wife in heaven.
THOUGHTS: I don’t know why people think this story is “anti-Christian”. If anything, he advocates unquestioning faith in the divine.
16. Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham
GENRE: Fiction/Chic lit
ABOUT: Franny Banks is a struggling actress in New York City who is dying for her big break. She happens to be roommates with Dan, a sci-fi writer, whom she is of course not going to fall in love with. Ahem.
THOUGHTS: This book was written by Lauren Graham, the same Lauren from no 12. I expected it to be traditional chic lit, but Lauren surprised me.
17. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
ABOUT: Jay Gatsby. Rich. Glitzy. Lavish parties. Alcohol. Adultery. Death.
THOUGHTS: Now I could use a party.
18. The Particle at the End of the Universe by Sean Carroll
GENRE: Non-fiction/Science/Particle physics
ABOUT: The Higgs Bosson (The God Particle). How they found it, how they knew they found it, and all the people fighting to find it first.
THOUGHTS: I really wanna see a particle accelerator.
19. Swimming Lessons by Lili Reinhart
ABOUT: All kinds of things, but not swimming lessons.
THOUGHTS: I’m just going to say that Czuchry brothers (no 13) writes better poetry.
20. The Elephant in the Brain by Kevin Simler & Robin Hanson
ABOUT: We are political beings. Our brains are wired to help us get ahead socially.
THOUGHTS: This book opened my eyes to so many things. Things that cannot be unseen.
21. Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf
ABOUT: How our brains evolved from not being able to read to being able to read; dyslexia — what’s up with that?
THOUGHTS: Reading is important to developing thoughts, like in a literal chemical/neuropathway sense.
22. Once Upon a Time in Bursa by Ng Zhu Hann (Tradeview)
FORMAT: Hard copy
ABOUT: How to make money on Bursa.
THOUGHTS: I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Not that I thought it’d be bad, but I expected a more textbook-type read. Instead, he had stories and helpful insight to supplement each principle he was suggesting. However, I must say I am quite disappointed with the chapter on wealth inequality. I thought he would suggest ways to revamp our neo-capitalist system, instead of just “work hard to break out of the poverty cycle/middle-income trap”. All in all, good book.
23. The Misinformation Age by James Owen Weatherall & Caitlin O’Connor
GENRE: Non-fiction/Social science
ABOUT: How do false beliefs spread, even when they are clearly harming the masses? Two distinct case studies the book touches on are climate change and cigarettes.
THOUGHTS: Google “Vegetable Lamb of Tartary”, then let it sink in that people actually believe it exists.
24. Black Water Sister by Zen Cho
ABOUT: Jessamyn Teoh was forced to follow her parents back to Malaysia so that her jobless father could find work. Then she starts hearing voices in her head. It turns out to be her Ah Ma (grandmother). Did I mention that her Ah Ma is dead?
THOUGHTS: This is solid writing. I was engrossed in Jess’ struggle against gods, gangsters, ghosts, and nosy relatives.
25. I Am a Hitman by Anonymous
GENRE: Non-fiction (or so they claim)/True crime
ABOUT: The life of a contract killer.
THOUGHTS: I really, really, really want to know if this is really the real-life story of a contract killer. The events were thrilling. I want to say that it sounds made up and not made up at the same time, but then again, how would I know what a real hitman’s life is like.
26. Toyols “R” Us by Terence Toh
FORMAT: Hard copy
ABOUT: Dead bodies are found all around Kuala Lumpur, completely drained of blood. Nothing really connects them except they seem to all be exceptionally wealthy.
THOUGHTS: So good! It was an easy read with a feminist element. Hands down one of the best Malaysian books I’ve ever read.
27. One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus
GENRE: Fiction/Thriller/Young adult
ABOUT: Five kids get detention. One of them dies. So now the other four are murder suspects.
THOUGHTS: I watched the Netflix series first. The book has a different ending from the TV show. The book’s is better.
28. Bad Blood by John Carreyou
GENRE: Non-fiction/True crime/Entrepreneurship
ABOUT: Elizabeth Holmes’ Theranos, and their deceit of the world. The company claimed to possess technology that could blood test with just a prick of the finger. They didn’t.
THOUGHTS: This is how it always goes, isn’t it? A company/person has big dreams, they can’t afford to fail, so they just keep digging the hole they are already in, deeper and deeper, until finally, game over.
29. Russia: A Short Story by Abraham Ascher
ABOUT: The history of Russia, starting from the early settlers till Putin’s Russia.
THOUGHTS: Winston Churchill was spot on when he said, “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”
30. One of Us Is Next by Karen M. McManus
GENRE: Fiction/Young adult/Thriller
ABOUT: A sordid truth or dare game hits Bayview High. The “gamemaster” texts the (forced) player, and they are to pick between truth and dare. Refuse to play, and the player’s secret is released to the public. The kids catch on fast—always pick dare.
And then (as always), someone dies.
THOUGHTS: This is the sequel to One of Us Is Lying (no 27). It was good too, but the first book was better.
31. Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance
ABOUT: Elon Musk and his journey, from his childhood in South Africa to Paypal, Tesla, SpaceX, and his very public (demented) love life.
THOUGHTS: Unlike certain other rich people, I have genuine respect for Elon because he was willing to put his own wealth on the line. I say this following news of certain a multimillionaire refusing to become a guarantor for his own company. Elon, on the other hand, nearly lost all his money in SpaceX. Respect.
32. Coming Up for Air by Tom Daley
ABOUT: Tom Daley, UK’s diver-extraordinaire and his life — diving, coming out of the closet, weight management, marriage, family life, bereavement, living in the public eye, and knitting.
THOUGHTS: What people say is true. Behind every champion is pain and more pain.
33. Kleptopia: How Dirty Money is Conquering the World by Tom Burgis
GENRE: Non-fiction/True crime
ABOUT: Corrupted assholes—from Kremlin to Beijing to New York to Malaysia. (Should’ve known that Malaysia would make a special appearance.)
THOUGHTS: Wow. Crime does pay. Unless you lose, of course.
34. “Yasmin How You Know?” by Orked binti Ahmad & Jovian Lee Lit Hong
FORMAT: Hard copy
ABOUT: A compilation of Yasmin Amad’s messages, musings, poems, scripts, and pictures.
THOUGHTS: That was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever read.
35. Blockchain: The Next Everything by Stephen P. Williams
GENRE: Non-fiction/Science and technology/Computer science
ABOUT: That not-so-new-anymore thing, blockchain.
THOUGHTS: I like the comparison of blockchain to matriarchy societies.
36. Strangers on a Pier: Portrait of a Family by Tash Aw
ABOUT: A poignant exploration of family, trauma, and migration in modern Asia.
THOUGHTS: It was a gripping emotional punch from the start. Tash Aw hit the nail right on the head. So much of the Malaysian Chinese migrant story is in what we do not say, buried in the silence.
37. WTF? 23 Properties By 30 by Faizul Ridzuan
FORMAT: Hard copy
GENRE: Non-fiction/Property investing/Finance
ABOUT: The author’s journey in property investing.
THOUGHTS: This was during the property boom. Nonetheless, I must commend his brains. 2k from credit card installments to kick off his investment? Brilliant.
38. Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth by Noa Tishby
ABOUT: Apologetics for the existence of Israel.
THOUGHTS: This book has value. The Jewish people have trauma. And there is so much nuance in the history and politics of the region. The author did a good job of condensing years and years of history into a single volume, and you can tell that she sincerely believes everything she says.
This brings us to the next point. This is the part that gets me:
“They didn’t have one voice or an organized structure, whereas the Jews had Ben-Gurion, who was focused on exactly that: one democratic nation, one power structure, one state. From the get-go, Ben-Gurion relentlessly tried to reach a peace deal between the Arabs and the Jews. He wrote all about it in his book My Talks with Arab Leaders. In it, he describes the efforts he and his partners put into achieving peace, to no avail. Ben-Gurion writes:
The assumption we all made in the Zionist movement at the time was that we [the Jews] bring blessings to the Arabs in the land and therefore they will have no basis to resist us. In the first conversation I had with Musa Alami [a prominent Palestinian leader] along with Moshe Sharet [a prominent Jewish leader who would later be the second prime minister of Israel]… that assumption was undermined when Alami told me the following: “I choose that the land would be desolate and poor even for a hundred more years until us Arabs will be able to develop it ourselves.”
Well. That attitude was not going to fly, especially not with a group of people coming out of the Holocaust and pushed out of their Arab countries; the Jews just didn’t have the luxury of time. The country had to be built now, not in a hundred years, thank you very much. And so, the Arab attacks on the Jews continued.”
Huh. You ganjiong means can do whatever you want to other people’s land ar?
At the end of the day, it just smells like a big power play. Oh, the *insert important person/organisation* has given me permission to do so and so.