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 - http://www.moq.org/

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 - www.asimovs.com
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 - www.analogsf.com
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 - www.sfsite.com

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.