December 13, 2004

Prince of lost places/ Kathy Hepinstall

I read this book in Oct 04. It was one of those books where giving a summary would be giving the plot away, so I'll be deliberately vague about the story. I'll just state what would be obvious to the reader - it's about a woman who runs away from home with her son, her estranged relationship with her husband, and a detective (hired by the husband) who has a past.
You can guess more about the plot from the subject headings: (1) Mothers and sons Fiction; (2) Kidnapping, Parental Fiction'; (3) Cave dwellers Fiction; (4) Rio Grande Valley Fiction.

In its essence, I see the story as how a person's love can make one unwilling to let go -- the husband's love for his wife; the woman's love for her son. And perhaps part of the story illustrates a person's selfishness -- the main characters' willingness to go to extremes, to give up everything, just to hang on to their lost dreams.

It's a fairly short book to read. The beginning may seem a bit tedious (just a little) but it gets interesting towards the end, where everything falls into place & the reader would probably go "Ah, I see!".

The author makes it obvious that the woman has some sort of mental illness. But as the story progresses, one might start wondering if it's the husband who's ill and not the woman. The story is spiced up with the detective falling for the woman.

Page158 has a line that gives an insight of the title of the book. P165 explains the reason why she is running away.

This book is by the same author who wrote "The absence of nectar".

November 24, 2004

Where there's smoke/ Sandra Brown

Sandra brown seems to be a favourite among women readers -- that was how I remembered it when I was doing my "tour of duty" at the reference desk some years past. A few months ago, I happened to see this book on the display table and decided to read it to understand what the fuss was about.

She's not someone I'd normally read but I figured it might be an interesting experience. My female colleagues teased me about reading this. Someone told me this was "trashy stuff" (which I found out that it means it deserves a RA label of sorts -- I guess that's why it's so appealing!). Anyway, I told them that a good salesman has to know all his wares, so...
In this story, we have the following characters:
  1. A beautiful, strong, determined -- but misunderstood -- heroine.
  2. A suave, testosterone-charged "living-on-the-edge" macho man, whom all women seem to find irresistable. He appears to be a rascal with a devil-may-care attitude but has a heart of gold.
  3. A powerful but bitter & manipulative mother
  4. A rich and vindicative vamp -- beautiful but conniving and unfaithful. She has a thing for the hero but spurned by the hero.
  5. Sub-plot: Romance between the hero's Plain-Jane "Suffer-in-silence" sister (with an inferiority complex) and a righteous and chivilarious ex-con.
The hero falls for the heroine, and she for him. But they have a love-hate relationship because apparently she's the married woman who seduced the hero's brother -- an up-and-coming US senator -- and subsequently ruined the brother's career.

OK, I realise this isn't much of a book review or summary, but I'm sure people read Sandra Brown not for the plots but more for the element of escapism.

It's entertaining, really.

It doesn't set out to be intellectual stuff in the first place, and like any adult Romance novel, it has its fair share of love scenes. All in clean fun, and some love scenes are quite amusing 'cos it's so cliched. A good read for those who want to just lose themselves for a few hours on the train, or before bed.

I can now understand why it's popular among women readers. Heck, men should read such books once in a while. A companion read to "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus". If you can't get "Sex In the City", try Sandra Brown -- Woo-Hoo! Ahem...

October 17, 2004

Imagining Singapore

Edited by Ban Kah Choon, Tong Chee Kiong, and Anne Pakir. This book is a collection of essays relating to Singapore, by a group of writers from various disciplines (what's more subtle is that the collection of writers are also multi-racial, thus another relection of Singapore).

The topics range from histrography, resource and recreation planning, bilingualism and population management, religion and politics, and gender. This 2004 second edition (first edition was in 1992) features two new essays "Imagining Freedom" and "Imagining the Singapore Exonomy in the Next Lap", in addition to revisions and updates to the original essays.
Featured essays
  1. Narrating Imagination - Ban Kah Choon
  2. Singapore: The City-State in History - Yong Mun Cheong
  3. The National past and the writing of the history of Singapore - Albert Lau
  4. Singapore's quest for a National Identity: The triumphs and trials of government policies - Hussin Mutalib
  5. Imagining Freedom - Simon SC Tay
  6. A small state's quest for security: Operationalising deterence in Singapore's strategic thinking - Bilveer Singh
  7. Mapping the concept of the Singapore leadership - Chua Fook Kee
  8. Imagining the Singapore economy in the Next Lap - Linda Low
  9. The ecomonics of a population policy - Lim Boon Tiong
  10. Singapore's Environmental ideology - Victor R. Savage
  11. Demand for recreation and leisure - Euston Quah
  12. English-knowing bilingualism in Singapore - Anne Pakir
  13. Towards a centre of study of world Chinese literatures - Wong Yoon Wah
  14. The rationalisation of religion in Singapore - Tong Chee Kiong
  15. Religious truth and the meaning of life - Chong Kim Chong
  16. Women and knowledge/ power: Notes on the Singaporean Dilemma - Nirmala PuruShotam
  17. Conclusion - Edwin Thumboo
Some articles can be quite academic (like the one on Singapore leaders), but on the whole I found them readable and insightful.

For instance, Singapore's policy on Bilingualism in the education policy (it's a weird but pleasant feeling reading this now, and going "So that's why I had to study those subjects in school"), the Singapore population policy, insights into the planning of recreational facilities (something I wasn't aware until I read the article), and the issue of a National Identity.

I thought it was interesting to have the article on "Religious Truth and the meaning of life" in this collection. Contrary to my expectation, it's not about politics or the workings of the government (as I thought it would, since the collection of essays are somewhat quite academic in nature). But it's really about philosophy, and increasingly as the Singapore society gets more sophisticated, more and more people would start articulating thoughts of such a nature. Now I bet our forefathers thought about the meaning of life too, but just not presented in this way.

This book would appeal to those who want a deeper insight into the workings of Singapore; what makes Singapore and Singaporeans tick.

September 15, 2004

Intimate Exchanges - Alan Ayckbourn

Thanks to my colleague, David Lie for the following contribution:
Title - Intimate Exchanges: A Play
Author - Alan Ayckbourn
NLB Call Number - 822.914 AYC
Year of Publication - 1985

The play is in 2 volumes and are available at EPCL and NRL.

What attracted you to read this book?
The opportunity to see how the experimental French director Alain Resnais approached the source material for his 1993 twin films “Smoking/No Smoking” was simply too irresistible.

What do you like about this book/author?
The play is imaginatively conceived and boldly innovative in its attempt to reinvigorate theatrical forms or styles by pushing those boundaries within popular tastes. While the play may be characterized as a comedy that satirizes suburban middle class lifestyle, pretense and human folly, it is also a poignant, penetrating study of marital discontent and the oppression between the sexes. Written for two actors, a male and a female, the play requires the performers to play all ten different roles, a theatrical feat that few works, if any, can match.

What do you dislike about this book/author?

Summary/Main Plot
“Intimate Exchanges” is actually as a series of 8 related plays. Each play follows a four-part structure and concludes with one actor making a decision—sometimes trivial (to smoke a cigarette or not), sometimes significant (to divorce a spouse or not)— and the outcome of that choice will propel the play into one direction or another. In the course of the entire work, at least a dozen “what ifs” scenarios/possibilities are explored, allowing each of the various strands to comment on one another and to expand on the play as a whole. By revisiting similar situations by way of alternatives, the play demonstrates how the smallest of decisions can sometime lead to vastly different outcomes.

Would you recommend this book to others?
Absolutely. If nothing else it can be treated as comic therapy!

David Lie - 13 Jul 04

September 10, 2004

Muscle Media Magazine (contributed by "Rojak" Librarian)

A good friend of mine started his own blog recently. He goes by the name "Rojak" Librarian. Here's his review of Muscle Media Magazine. Hey, cool review man. I like your personal "voice".

August 22, 2004

Deepness in the Sky/ Vernor Vinge

Rarely do I find a Sci-Fi story whose central character has a Chinese/ Vietnamese-sounding name like Pham Nuwen. I’m re-reading the novel for the second time and it’s still as exciting as ever.
cover The Qeng Ho (sounds like the explorer-eunuch Admiral Zhenghe of 15th Century China) is a human space-faring trading culture. They clash with another space-faring human society called the “Emergents” (the baddies in this case) while trying to explore the developing alien Spider society. The Emergents pulled a fast one on the Qeng Hos, became top dog and subjugated the Qeng Hos.

The Emergents has a tyrannical ruling class that exploits its own people by turning some of them into specialised, but not mindless, network-slaves. Some of their own people and the vanquished Qeng Ho are subject to something called “Focus”. It’s like deliberating making a person compulsively-obsessed over an area of study or task (e.g. Linguistics, or Office Security). Each human becoming dedicated human computing processors. Of course the Qeng Hos kicked-ass in the end. The interesting and exciting part was how they did it.

Meanwhile, the Spider society is also engaged in a war. The Spiders are portrayed as very human in thinking and emotions. The interesting thing is that every 50 years or so, their Sun would turn cold, and all Spiders have to hibernate. They wake maybe 10 years later, develop for another 50, and then the cycle repeats itself. The Emergents basically want to dominate Spider society as well.

So there’s something happening in space, and on Spider-world. The finale draws it all together. The novel can certainly give any Hong Kong drama serial a run for the money. There is adventure, political intrigue, conspiracy, love-lost and found, the virtue of patience, the development of capitalism, victims to heroes, tyranny, triumph of good over evil, justice and retribution. It’s a feel-good story.

I found it fascinating how a technologically advanced species could manipulate the development of another alien culture. For instance, along the way, the evil Emergents sped up the development of the Spider society by setting up a software company that subsequently made itself pervasive in the Spider society’s computer networks (sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Is Bill Gates an alien?). The Emergents even started a nuclear war by making one of the Spider-nation think that the other side initiated an attack (they were fooled because their computers told them so). It was food for thought on our reliance on computers and the Internet. Information can be manipulated. Our identities are real only if there’s some record in the computer database.

That’s why I read Sci-Fi again and again. It’s not about the science. It’s about the ideas and dreams, about social interactions and change and possibilities. I often find that well written Sci-Fi stories add to my understanding of human behaviour and the development of society. Deepness in the Sky--like many good Sci-Fi stories--is fiction, but it’s not science per se. It has to tell a good story, first. The science just adds to the flavour.

August 18, 2004

A short reading list for managers: On Management, Leadership, Life and Sci-Fi(?!)

I'm attending a course on "Managing Libraries" (it’s the 2nd day of the course as I post this), organised by the National Library Board Institute. Like all courses, if I go with an open mind, I find there are always things to learn.

The course jogged my memory of useful learning points I've learnt through the last 2 years in managing two libraries (concurrently). I was able to add another 10 additional points to my list of "Things I've learnt over the years in managing and leading a team" (this is still Work-in-progress. Who knows, I might publish a book later).

Anyway, during the discussions, it occurred to me that I should share some books that I've found really useful to me. The following books (by no means exhaustive) have helped me cope with the pressures of managing a library, and working with (and for) people in general:

(In no particular order)
  1. Becoming a manager: How new managers master the challenges of leadership/ Linda A. hill
  2. Managing at the speed of change: How resilient managers succeed and prosper where others fail/ Daryl R. Conner
  3. The age of unreason/ Charles Handy
  4. Not bosses but leaders: How to lead the way to success/ John Adair
  5. The power of losing control: Finding strength, meaning, & happiness in an out-of-control world/ Joe Caruso
  6. Don't sweat the small stuff...: Simple ways to keep the little things from taking over your life/ Richard Carlson
  7. Ten ancient scrolls of success/ Og Mandino
  8. Citizen Soldiers/ Stephen E. Ambrose
  9. Panzer commander: The memoirs of Colonel Hans/ Hans Von Luck
  10. Deepness in the sky/ Vernor Vinge
I repeat--the list is by no means exhaustive, as I tried to keep to only 10 titles. It occurred to me that I read perhaps 3 or 4 main types of books where managing and leadership is concerned.

The first type has to do with what I call “Management & Leadership: Practice & Ideas” (items 1 to 4). Item 3 has lots of ideas on what it means to “manage” for the future (it’s written in the 80s and still as relevant as ever). I would consider item 4 a must-read for all managers.
The second type has to do with “Motivation and Inspiration” (items 5 to 7). I highly recommend item 5, because it really helped me reframe what “control” really meant. I also highly recommend item 6 & 7 because they helped me to reframe and were very inspiring. They don’t espouse loud or flashy concepts. I’ve found that they suggest simple and quiet truths about how I can live my life as a better person (before I can even consider being a better manager).
The third type (item 8 & 9) would be about “Life-and-death Do-Or-Die Leadership-Under-Fire” kind of books. Ok, lest you think I treat staff as mere soldiers to command in the Library Battlefield, I must explain that I recommend those books not for the War aspect but for the parts about Leadership, Unity and “Courage under fire”--war is where you really separate the "leaders" from the "managers". I find them relevant for another more subtle reason: the management and organisational theories that we find so familiar today have been directly or indirectly influenced by those survivors of WWII--the grunts and officers who went on to build Corporate America, Britain, Japan etc.
The last type (item 10)—ok, this would really be strange. A science fiction book considered as relevant reading? Ok, Sci-Fi may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But to me, Sci-Fi is about social change, ideas and human relationships. It just happens to be in a science setting. I get my creative juices flowing by reading Sci-Fi, plus it’s a good way to relax.

August 10, 2004

The Cluetrain manifesto: The end of business as usual

By Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, & David Weinberger.

I read the 2000 edition and it's still as relevant as ever. (Thanks, Shel, for the book recommendation). This is a witty and flippant book that takes a dig at Big Business. It makes sense in many ways.
cover provides a decent review. Better yet, check out the book from your library or read the online version at

I’ve included my favourite quotes from the book in this blog (in colour & bold). The page numbers refer to the book edition that I’m holding. Hyperlinks are to the online book chapters.

There’s a new conversation between and among your market and your workers. It’s making them smarter and it’s enabling them to discover their human voices. You have two choices. You can continue to lock yourself behind facile corporate words and happytalk brochures. Or you can join the conversation. (p. ixi - Foreword)

What if the real attraction of the Internet is not its cutting-edge bells and whistles, its jazzy interface or any of the advanced technology that underlies its pipes and wires? What if the attraction is an atavistic throwback to the prehistoric human fascination with telling tales? (p. xxi – Introduction)

I buy the argument that the Internet is popular because it allows each individual (read that again – A PERSON, me, you) to have a presence. To rediscover our voice again. The authors make a convincing case (to me at least) that markets of today are all about relationship-building. Customers don’t just want buy a product. They want a voice; to be heard; especially if the product or service falls below their expectations.

Singapore’s best example of how this is happening is probably the Yahoo! Ministry of Complaints. Companies can continue to ignore the complaints (justified or otherwise) posted there at their peril. I mean, no matter how objective I am, I’d probably think that there’s some truth to the complaint about XYZ outlet (or GASP! No! The Library!)

The implication for PR and marketing communications: Join the conversations. Recent example – Microsoft's Channel 9, as I learnt from Shel’s blog The Changing Face of Microsoft. Regardless of whether we love or hate Microsoft, the point is when King Kong jumps, you’d want to see where it lands. Here's another example of how the Web (or blog) is used to engage the customer in conversations - see Robert Scoble's blog.

The concern by organisations (particularly government agencies like NLB) can be summed up by this line in Chapter 4 (p. 107) – But what about the risk? Suppose a “lowly clerk” speaks for the company in public and says something wrong? Something actionable? Something confidential, or sensitive?

The authors’ response: It’s going to happen. It’s already happening. And it’s always happened. The mail clerk describes the corporate strategy to the stranger next to him on the bus, then provide a critique.

It’s true that it's already happening. How many of us can truly say we do not say anything about our work (positive or negative) to our family or friends? And then they would talk to more people. Heaven forbid, that friend of yours could end up talking to a Singapore Cabbie, who might talk to an overseas visitor on the way to the Airport!

Let me stick to what I know more – Libraries (which isn't a lot, BTW). I'm of the view that as technology makes things a whole lot easier for the individual consumer to obtain information without the librarian as the human intermediary, it’s the human Voice (not necessarily Touch) that will make the difference between the individual choosing Borders over a trip to the public library.

See Chapter 5 (p. 123): Business is a conversation because the defining work of a business is a conversation—literally. And “knowledge workers” are simply those whose job consists of having interesting conversations.

Most librarians I know are very passionate people. We can take heart that:
To have a conversation, you have to be comfortable being human—acknowledging you don’t have all the answers, being eager to learn from someone else and to build new ideas together. (p. 123)

That sounds like what relationship-building is about. I can imagine a future where NLB's Customer Service courses for library staff would not just be limited to the finer art of face-to-face dealings with irate customers. It would also teach staff how to 'insert' themselves into a conversation, knowing how NOT TO BE AFRAID in saying that “Oops, I got that wrong but don’t worry Angry_Angel_481, I’ll quickly get back to you on that.”

The official structure becomes less relevant. The most valuable employee is the one who, in response to a question, doesn’t give a concrete answer in a booming voice but says, “You should talk to Larry… Oh, and there’s a mailing list on this topic I ran into a couple of weeks ago…” (p. 129)

The above statement could be a little hard to accept -- it seems that we're asking librarians to “dumb-down” their answers. We librarians pride ourselves in giving correct and complete answers in the shortest time possible. The above example suggests a lowering of our standards and professionalism.

But I could argue otherwise.

The world has changed. Information is even more readily available to customers than before. The “answers” that librarians pride themselves in giving are readily accessible by any child. Heck, librarians even prefer Google—I’m not saying Google is the answer to everything, but who are we kidding? Google (or it’s next reincarnation or successor) is treated as the default search engine, even for librarians for a simple fact that it works adequately. I didn’t say it’s the best, but users don’t necessarily need the BEST. They can survive with adequacy.

Basically I’m making a case that the typical information-seeker don’t think that they need Librarians anymore. And what they think, counts. But here’s what I see as a paradox — the Web enables individual consumers to be independent. However, the less reliant they are on human contact, the more they actually will crave for it.

That being said, the presence that librarians project can no longer be the “Thou knoweth more than you-eth” attitude. To connect with our average information-customer, we need to show them that we’re as human as they are; as fallible, and there’s nothing to be fear from us.

I don’t see NLB scrambling to adopt the Cluetrain Manifesto. I’m even hesitant to go all out and say all employees are now allowed to comment on the organisation’s behalf. It’s tricky. I think we have to reach a halfway point. Not all employees should go and give the "official" voice. We should instead establish an organizational culture that each employee is given enough information to be able to know what is the right thing to say (not necessarily the official line).

The urge to manage is deep in our culture. It ultimately is defeated by the fact of human fallibility (p. 152)

To paraphrase a line from p. 153: The organisation doesn’t have to be always right. It means being more human, and therefore less threatening.

Just when I’m all gushy over the book, I get a slap in the face (figuratively speaking) in Chapter 7 (p. 181): Will Cluetrain be the next big thing? Not if we can help it… Let’s not start another frickin’ club. The only decent thing to do with CLUETRAIN is to bury the sucker now while there’s still time, before it begins to smell of management philosophy.

And there we have it -- the inherent dilemma of any good idea: Once institutionalized, it tends to sink. This book provided lots of food for thought.
(Related blog - Differentiating the Public Service Librarian - 24 Sept 04)

July 30, 2004

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An inquiry into values/ Robert M. Pirsig

A fellow Seeds O'Light member mentioned this book in one of the email discussion. The title made me curious (I mean, Zen and Motorcycles?) so I quickly obtained a copy from my public library.

I found it to be about attitudes towards life. It weaves a story of a father's journey with his son on a motorcycle trip, ending in a re-awakening and discovery of the author’s real sense of self.
coverFirst published in 1974, the book is Philosophy explained using the analogy of motorcycle repair and maintenance, interspersed with a series of "lecture-essays" - Chautauqua (explanation on p.15: a form of traveling tent-show in early America).

It's quietly brilliant - I'd honestly say it's a timeless classic. Thoughtful, metaphysical (a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of existence, truth and knowledge), movie-like quality, reflective, and insightful.

But it's not an easy read. Parts of it are heavy going. But hey, skip the tough parts and go to parts you like - but stay the course! The ending is worth it. There's a feel-good quality to it.

The 25th edition that I'm holding has a Reader's Guide at the end. I particularly enjoyed the excerpts of correspondence between Robert Pirsig and his editor, James Landis. The letters are a mini-story by themselves, telling you how the book was shaped and eventually published (from June 1968 – Aug 1973).

In the Afterword section, Pirsig shares more about the writing of the book. He also tells of the murder of his son and his eventual closure (p.415 – p.418), much like the Buddhist concept of reincarnation, explained from another perspective.

My favourite passages:
P.61: The idea that people get upset because it's an intrusion into their reality. "It just blew a hole right through his whole groovy way of looking at things and he would not face up to it because it seems to threaten his whole life style." I think that's why people resist change and/ or get upset when proven wrong, or told of what to do etc.

p.152: "You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow... When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it's always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt." Hmm...

p.272: What I'd consider as the best advice any parent can give to their child.
Son: "What should I be when I grow up?"
Man: "Honest".
Son: "I mean what kind of job?"
Man: "Any kind."
And I think to myself, it's really just as simple as that.

p. 314 (on the "Trap of Ego"): "If you have a high evaluation of yourself then your ability to recognize new facts is weakened. Your Ego isolates you from the Quality reality. When the facts show that you've just goofed, you're not as likely to admit it. When false information makes you look good, you're likely to believe it... You're always fooled, you're always making mistakes..." - Sounds exactly like the story of "The Emperor's New Clothes"

There's a related discussion forum -

If you enjoy this book, you might like Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder (1995):

July 29, 2004

So many books, so little time: A year of passionate reading/ Sara Nelson

An interesting account of the author's reading interests. She shares her thoughts about the books she'd read, her motivation to read, her personal history, about her family and friends, her relationships with them (read about her fight with her husband in the "June 22" Chapter), her associated memories and feelings that each book elicits, why she reads what she reads.

Tone is conversational; as if you and the author are having a cuppa while she's regaling you with her account of a year's worth of readings (she didn't read them all though, which gives hopes to those of you who think reading is about completing all the books you want to read). Certain chapters are witty, while some simple rambles.

There are snippets of book reviews interspersed through various chapters. From another angle, it's less of a book review but a travelogue of her literary journey.
I liked the July 20: Reading Confidential chapter (p.134). She comments on Anthony Bourdain, and I could relate to the chapter bec. I've watched Bourdain's "A Cook's Tour" on cable.

The September 11: Oh, God chapter(p.153): She shares her thoughts about the anniversary of the attack by relating it with books. Chapter kind of rambles, really, but it kind of works in the end.

Chapter on p. 159, September 18: Kid Stuff: Liked this one bec. she talks about one of my favourite children's book - Charlotte's Web. *sniff*. This chapter is typical of Nelson's book - it's not about the book "Charlotte's Web" per se, but the linkages and associations with the book, e.g. memory of reading with her parents, her relationship with her child explained by relating her account of how she was trying to get her child to read Charlotte's Web, her son's transformation from a reluctant reader to an interested reader. Ending brought me a smile. Kids always say the darndest thing.

Overall impression:

  • This book reads like a blog!
  • Something like "Bridget Jone's Diary" meets the "Library Journal" book reviews.
  • Good for a quick read and scan. chapters are short enough. No compunction to read the book in its entirety.
  • It's personal, direct, gossipy, philosophical, intimate, rambling, conversational, self-depreciating, contemplative.

Prudes, don't read chapters Sept 25: Sex and the City (p.167) and Oct 2: Sex and the City - across the pond (p. 174). (Aha! I bet now you're interested). As an experiment, I tried to search the NLB catalogue for the books mentioned in the chapters. Guess how many I found :)

Favourite lines from the book:
"... not only were books cheaper than movies and easier to find than suitable human dates, they could take me with them to fabulous places." (p.5)

"Part of the appeal o books, of course, is that they're the cheapest and easiest way to transport you from the world you know into one you don't... Reading's ability to beam you up to a different world is a good part of the reason people like me do it in the first place - because dollar for dollar, hour per hour, it's the most expedient way to get from our proscribed little "here" to an imagined, intriguing "there". Part time machine, part Concord, part ejector seat, books are our salvation." (p.12)

"Allowing yourself to stop reading a book--at page 15, 50, or even, less frequently, a few chapters from the end--is a rite of passage in a reader's life... the moment at which you can look at yourself and announce: Today I am an adult. I can make my own decisions." (p.55)

The copy I'm holding is the 2003 edition by G.P. Putnam's Sons (New York).
Subject headings:
(1) Books and reading--United States.
(2) Nelson, Sara--Books and reading
NLB call No. 028.90973 NEL

July 25, 2004

Isaac Asimov - Robots, Foundation & Jokes

Mention 'Asimov' and I think of Robots, Foundation & Jokes. Lest you think I meant "Robots are the Foundation of all jokes", let me explain:

I discovered Asimov as a 14 year-old. Whenever I visited the library then, my routine was to rove the Fiction shelves labeled ASI. Much later, I discovered that he wrote non-fiction as well. Along the way, I also learnt he wrote Fantastic Voyage (an adventure involving miniaturised humans sent into a live human body).
I'm aware of three screen adaptations of Asimov's books - the first was 'Fantastic Voyage', which I watched as a child years ago (except that I didn't know it was called 'Fantastic Voyage'). The second was 'Bicentennial Man' (starring Robin Williams) and the latest 'I, Robot' (starring Will Smith).

Screen adaptations are never as good as the original stories in books (I thought LOTR was the exception but alas!). The disappointment stemmed from having read the book before watching the movie.  Naturally I was not happy with 'Bicentennial Man' and 'I, Robot' (this one, I only caught the trailer and disliked it instantly).

'Fantastic Voyage', on the other hand, was a different experience. I remembered watching the movie on TV when I was very young and only realised who the author was only much later. So when I read the book after the movie, the whole experience was much more enjoyable. Gee, could this explain why people are not reading as much nowadays?
American movies & books tend to have anti-robot themes & espouse robot-paranoia, while the Japanese have just the opposite views. Many years ago, I'd watched a TV documentary explaining that post-WWII Japan had to turn towards automation and robotics to meet productivity requirements. Recognising people's aversion to robots, the Japanese cleverly embarked on an ingenious PR campaign - namely, comics (Manga) and animation (Anime).
They portrayed robots and automation more as tools and complementary - even heroic - machines rather than potential usurpers of humanity. This made robots more acceptable to the masses. Even when later versions of Anime had robot-awakening themes (like Ghost in the shell), the robots were less destructive to human society than presented in American storylines (e.g. opening episodes of The Animatrix). In Japanese stories, if anyone or anything is to blame, it's humans.

The recent 'I, Robot' movie sparked off my early memories of Asimov's books. Here are some Asimov titles that I remember reading in my youth. Perhaps it'll explain the significance of the three points I mentioned earlier in the post.



  • Robot visions (1996)
  • The robots of dawn (1994)
  • Isaac Asimov's The ultimate robot (1993)
  • The positronic man (1993) - [This, I believe this was my very first introduction to the "Three Laws of Robotics". It was probably one of those books that sealed my interest in Sci-Fi. The appeal of the 3 Laws was in its logic, which I thought was extremely well thought out]
  • The caves of steel (1991)
  • Robot dreams (1988)
  • The robots of dawn (1984)
  • The bicentennial man (1978) - [One of the early Asimov book I read. The subsequent movie just did not do the book justice. This book made me question the whole idea of 'sentience' and what it meant to be human]
  • I, robot (1967)
  • The naked sun (1958)

Other science fiction

  • Gold: The final science fiction collection (1995)
  • Pebble in the sky (1992)
  • Nightfall (1991)
  • Foundation (1991) - [I didn't read the entire 'Foundation' series. Was intrigued by the notion of 'Psycho-history' - I understand it to be a system of mathematically charting the progress of human history and anticipating the probability of certain future outcomes. Which meant that one could take certain actions in the present to influence future outcomes with some degree of certainty. No wonder Sci-Fi appealed to me!]
  • The Mammoth book of classic science fiction (1988)
  • Fantastic voyage (1979) - [When I saw the screen version, I was much too young to understand what it was about, other than some story of people inside a human body. Later, I discovered it was Asimov and the book made much more sense]
  • The 13 crimes of science fiction (1979)


  • The Union Club mysteries (1983)
  • The best of Isaac Asimov : 1954-1972 (1977)


  • I. Asimov: A memoir (1995)
  • Isaac Asimov's book of facts (1992)
  • Isaac Asimov's treasury of humor: A lifetime collection of favorite jokes, anecdotes, and limericks with copious notes on how to tell them and why (1991) - [You'll better appreciate Asimov after reading this. Hence, the reason why I thought of 'Jokes' when I think of Asimov]

More on Isaac Asimov
I'm not aware of any "official" Asimov websites, but these are quite informative:

For NLB members, try searching the online catalogue using the following keywords & phrases:

  • "asimov" - works by or about Asimov. Includes fiction and non-fiction, as well as translations to Chinese and Malay.
  • "foundation asimov" - for the Foundation series

July 24, 2004

New links added to 'My Singapore' section

Two new links to the "My Singapore" section of this blog, namely the Yahoo! Message Board on Books, Comics & Magazines and the SG govt Feedback Unit.

I should explain that this section is to show both the good and bad/ ugly side of Singaporeans (or about Singapore and Singaporeans).

My grouse about the Yahoo 'Books, Comics & Magazines' message board is the lack of book discussions on the board. Seems that Singaporeans are more fond of selling stuff than talking about stuff. If you've been to the message board, you might have guessed that "Write_in_anger" is me.

July 18, 2004

Magazines: Sci-Fi & Fantasy

These are the 3 magazines that I like, where Science Fiction and/or Fantasy genres are concerned. By "magazines", I mean there's stories and stuff, not entertainment news. Actually, they're pretty much it for SciFi and Fantasy serials - at least in NLB public libraries.  Not many of such magazines around.
The magazines are great companions when going on long trips (like on a plane). The stories are short enough so that you don't get bored with just one story; they are compact in size; they don't just contain stories - all 3 magazines have reviews (of new writers, books, websites) which is a great source of further reading list for Sci Fi/ Fantasy fans.

Asimov's Science Fiction - I'd recommend this for readers who like the Year's Best SciFi series and/ or the Mammoth book of Science Fiction series. Stories from Asimov's frequently make it to those series, but it could be that Gardner Dozois was the editor in all three (Dozois stepped down recently though). I can't quite say why I prefer stories from Asimovs than Analog... the stories in 'tend to be more contemplative perhaps.
Website -
They have a searchable index of everything that has appeared in Asimov's.

Analog Science Fiction & Fact - I love the thought-provoking editorials by Stanley Schmidt. On the whole, the "flavour" of Analog is different from Asimov's, even though they have SciFi stories. It has regular columns on science facts - speculative but rooted in real cutting-edge science - on topics like Space Exploration, Nuclear Science, Bio-tech, Nano-tech etc.
Website -
They also have a searchable index.

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction - From the website:
... founded in 1949, is the award-winning SF magazine which is the original publisher of SF classics like Stephen King's Dark Tower, Daniel Keyes's Flowers for Algernon, and Walter M. Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz.  BTW, read "Flowers for Algernon" if you have not done so.
As implied from the title, the stories are more skewed towards Fantasy. Its SciFi stories are perhaps less of the 'Hard Science' type compared with, say, Analog.
Website -

July 17, 2004

Comic - Maus a Survivors Tale: My Father Bleeds History/ Art Spiegelman

I chanced upon Maus while serendipitously looking over the graphic novel section at the Teens Library at Jurong Regional Library. The cover sports a prominent Nazi Party swastika with a stylised cathead, poised above two mice cowering under the glare of a spotlight.

It's a Holocaust survivor's tale as told by the artist’s father to him. The Nazis were the cats, while the persecuted Jews were the mice (I suppose "Maus" was German for 'mouse'). The story reminded me of this installation piece at the Singapore Art Museum years ago. It was a lot of canvas paintings of lambs' heads, and all spread out upright on the floor, much like a flock of sheep. The museum guide explained that artist was expressing his frustration at how the Jews could have let themselves be led like lambs to the slaughterhouse by the Nazis.

Reading 'Maus', with its analogy of the Cat and Mouse game, again makes me question how one human being could let themselves be led to the gallows by another. In the story, apparently the Jews knew that people were being gassed in Auschwitz, but they still let themselves be led there, perhaps in a state of denial.
The scary thing is that it's quite possible (I'm sure there are books and articles on social dynamics that would explain how it's possible). It's even scarier when you read that there are people who deny that the Holocaust ever occurred.

The graphics are in black & white, which gives it a more surreal feel. The story is told like a docu-drama. There is a second part to the story, which I haven't gotten my hands on it yet. Check it out at NLB online catalogue.

July 16, 2004

Books read in 2003 (May - Dec)

First posted: 14 Jul 04 /
Re-posted: 16 Jul 04
It was only after May'03 that I recorded what I read. Why not earlier? 'Cos I finally got off my procrastinating butt by then. Items in blue or hyperlinked denotes my personal favourites. Words in [ ] parenthesis & italics are my own. All items were borrowed from the public library.

1. Lost soldiers/ James Webb [Read Fields of Fire - a damn fine story on the realities of war vis-a-vis the Vietnam War.]
2. world's great rifles/ roger ford
3. palm for dummies/ bill dyszel
4. palm computing for dummies/ bill dyszel
5. creating the innovation culture/ frances horibe
6. analog scifi & fact/ may2003
7. me times three/ alex witchel
8. Why Don't You Have Kids?: Living a Full Life Without Parenthood/ leslie lafayette [Even I was surprised that the library had such a book, considering that Singapore is trying to encourage people to give birth. Goes to show you the value of the library!]
9. analog scifi & fact/ mar 2003
10. analog scifi & fact/ apr 2003

1. Why is everyone so cranky? The ten trends that are making us angry & how we can find peace of mind instead/ C. Leslie Charles
2. Checklist of library building design considerations/ William W. Sannwald
3. Patton on Leadership: strategic lessons for corporate warfare/ alan axelrod
4. the way of the leader/ donald g. Krause
5. Leading change/ john p. Kotter
6. Gentleman Jim: the wartime story of a founder of the SAS & special forces/ lorna almonds windmill
7. Future wealth/ stan davis & christopher meyer
8. The Wizard of Quarks: A Fantasy of Particle Physics/ robert gilmore
9. Slacks and Calluses: Our Summer in a Bomber Factory/ constance bowman & clara marie allen
10. Prelude to Leadership: The European Diary of John F. Kennedy - Summer 1945/ intro by Hugh Sidey

1. the ballad of the sad cafe/ Carson McCullers
2. The Mahathir Legacy: A Nation Divided, a Region at Risk/ ian steward
3. Socrates: a very short lntroduction/ C. C. W. taylor
4. Aristotle: a very short lntroduction/ jonathan barnes
5. Night Watch/ terry pratchett [One of the funniest in the 'night-watch' series, IMHO. In fact, this one could even be classified as Sci-Fi/ Fantasy, 'cos time travel is involved]
6. Conspiracies & cover-ups/ david alexander
7. Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson/ louise rennison [A teens read; highly entertaining even for adults]
8. A Storm of Swords part2: Blood & gold (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 3)/ george r.r. martin
9. It's OK, I'm Wearing Really Big Knickers!: Further Confessions of Georgia Nicolson (Angus)/ louise rennison

AUG 03
1. Analog (may03)
2. Analog (jul/aug03)
3. knocked out by my nunga-nungas: further, further confessions of georgia nicolson/ louise rennison
4. Dancing in my nuddy-pants: more confessions of georgia nicolson/ louise rennison [There can be too much of a good thing]
5. The Lovely Bones/ alice sebold [I forgot how great this book was til I read the review again. It's a bit out of this world, like Sci-Fi/ Fantasy, but very REAL at the same time.]
6. The Secret Life of Bees/ sue monk kidd [One of those rare books that is intelligent, touching and extremely moving. It brought tears to my eyes, seriously.]
7. Atonement/ian McEwan
8. Not not while the giro/james kelman
9. the Stargate conspiracy/lynn picknett & clive prince
10. Management challenges for the 21st century/peter f. Drucker
11. Who moved my cheese/dr spencer johnson
12. The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from Ideo, America's Leading Design Firm/ Tom kelley

1. the buffalo soldier/ chris bohjalian
2. Bukit merah: from a hilly kampong to a modern town
3. the jossey-bass guide to strategic communications for nonprofits/ kathy bonk, henry griggs, emily tynes
4. The bear & the dragon/ tom clancy
5. What Makes You Tick?: The Brain in Plain English/thomas b. czerner, M.D.
6. The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization/ thomas friedman [Probably THE book to read to get an understanding of the Globalisation phenomenon]
7. S'pore's foreign policy: coping with vulnerability/ michael leifer
8. Strategies of s'pore's economic success: speeches & writings by hon sui sen
9. all the right moves: a guide to crafting breakthrough strategy/ constantinos c. markides

OCT 03
1. Future Wars/ edited by martin h. Greenberg & larry segriff [If you are into Military Sci-Fi]
2. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers/ mary roach [Funny, witty, informative. A page-turner. No wonder it was on Amazon's bestseller list.]
3. Fengshui & destiny for managers/ raymond lo
4. The dirty dozen: the world's greatest financial disasters & frauds/ margaret allen
5. mammoth bk of best new SF 14/ gardner dozois (ed) [The 'BEST OF' series is always a fav. of mine; Dozois is my fav. Sci-Fi editor]
6. Courage is contagious/john kasich
7. Simpsons comics royale
8. Helping the difficult library patron: new approaches to examining and resolving a long-standing and ongoing problem/ Kwasi Sarkodie-Mensah (ed)
9. War and American women: heroism, deeds, and controversy/ william b. breuer
10. knights in white amour: the new art of war and peace/ christopher bellamy

NOV 03
1. Rushing to paradise/ j. g. Ballard
2. Scarlet memorial: Tales of cannibalism in modern china/ Zheng Yi
3. The Wit and Wisdom of Eleanor Roosevelt/ Alex Ayres (ed.)
4. Future Shock/ alvin toffner
5. Tis: A Memoir/ frank McCourt [By the guy who wrote 'Angela's Ashes']
6. Panzer Commander: The Memoirs of Colonel Hans von Luck/ hans von luck
7. A Blood-Dimmed Tide: The Battle of the Bulge by the Men Who Fought It/ gerald astor

DEC 03
1. analog scifi & fact/ sept 2003
2. analog scifi & fact/ oct 2003
3. analog scifi & fact/ dec 2003
4. Asimov's science fiction/Oct. Nov03 

Software - Call of Duty (Activision)

Answer the Call of Duty! A first-person shooter game based on the exploits of the WWII Allied forces (US, Brit, Russian) in the European Theater of Operations. If you thought Medal of Honor was good, man this is better.

Best part of the US storyline was the assault and subsequent defense of the town against German counter-attacks, and the clearing of german trenches ala Band of Brothers style. No Normandy Beach landings though (I guess they didn't want to duplicate Medal of Honor).

The British episode - I liked the capture and defense of Pegasus Bridge; experienced a crash landing in a Horsa gilder (so that's how it looked like!). But I felt this was the most tedious storyline of all.

The Russian storyline was reminiscence of the movie Enemy at the Gate, where Judd Law played a Russian sniper. I liked the Russian storyline. The assault to break into Lenigrad was just so real - I can better appreciate how some people just go comatose in combat.

The graphics are superb - guys who'd served in NS would really appreciate it. You really get to experience the chaos of war - enemies shooting back; you're so numb and busy looking after your own ass; and you realise you basically get killed (many times over) if this was the real thing. War sucks.

I've never fought in combat. I know that war is hell etc. But still I just can't help it. The pea-brained and chest-thumping part of me just enjoy playing such games. But beyond that, there's actually a positive side to playing the game. It made me better appreciate stuff I read in books like Citizen Soldiers and Band of Brothers (both by Stephan E. Ambrose), The Forgotten Soldier (Guy Sajer), just to name a few WWII themed books.

July 15, 2004

Comic Review - The Compleat Moonshadow

[Contributed by fellow Liblogarian, GahGah.]
Gist: Boy Moonshadow, the protagonist, is a bastard from the coupling of Sunflower, a hippy flowerchild with one grinning blob of alien light bubble - a G'L Dose. Moonshadow was born and grew up in a galaxial zoo till his father booted him off on a journey accompanied by Sunflower, the moth eaten cat Frodo and the lecherous farting fur shitball Ira (hmm.. IRA - Inland Revenue...)

Genre: Science fiction, Fantasy, Adult fairytale. No superheros wearing underwear on the outside. Each issue begins with the aged Moonshadow writing with a quill pen.

What's haunting: Adult fairytale. Lyrical William Blake, Byron, Keats and Shelley poetic stuff, Spectacular illustrations in Watercolors by Jon Muth.

Keywords: Coming of Age, Death, Drugs, Insanity, Justice, Nudity, Peace, Romance, Sex, War. In short, all about life's journey.

By the way, Jon Muth has written kids stuff e.g. "Stone Soup" and illustrated several other kids books. He also illustrated for Batman's Dark Secret and The Crow (made into a film). JM Dematties, author of Moonshadow, writes for many DC comics such as The Defenders, Cap America, Batman, Superman etc.
[BTW, GahGah is now the proud owner of "The Compleat Moonshadow" comic series. ]

July 13, 2004

What this blog isn't

This blog isn't about writing book reviews. As the name implies, it's RAW notes, i.e. unpolished, unfiltered, written-under-no-pressure. For book reviews, you might want to refer to the following instead:
<> Indiana University
<> St. Cloud State University
<> Queen's University Library
<> Dalhousie University Libraries
<> College of Staten Island Library

Incidentally - Difference between Book Reports and Book Reviews

Strange though - I can't seem to find any Singapore pages on how to write book reviews (in stark constrast to overseas libraries and academic institutions). I've just suggested to my colleagues that NLB ought to have something at the very least.