Monday, December 31


In the two weeks since I posted my 2012 reading list, I have binged on another seven books, six of which are part of a detective series set in Shanghai in the 1990s (in English, of course, I can hardly read in Chinese anymore), and the seventh is a book about werewolves (two-word review of the book, The Last Werewolf: werewolf sex).

The Chinese mystery series by Qiu Xiaolong were surprisingly addictive -- part crime novel, part social commentary (on China's breakneck economic reforms, the Cultural Revolution), part poetry (the protagonist loves to quote lines from famous poems from both the East and West).

So, in total, the book tally for 2012 was 46½. Not too shabby, even with lightweight novels (and Fifty Shades) on the list.

Friday, December 21


(Left) Pounding chickpeas to make hummus in my grandmother's mortar and pestle.
(Right) Wrap with hummus, sundried tomatoes and wild rocket.

1/2 can of chickpeas/garbanzo beans, drained almost completely
3 tbsp of lemon juice
1 tbsp gomasio
2 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
3 slices of sundried tomatoes, cut into slivers for easy pounding

I love chickpeas, but have never made hummus before, deterred by all those recipes which called for tahini. One morning, I had a brainwave and thought, "Well, why don't I just pound some gomasio and just use that instead?"

So I did. And the result was good.

I started by pounding the gomasio, which is essentially sesame seeds and salt (mine had some seaweed in it too), then adding the sundried tomatoes and garlic. When that was a paste, I added the chickpeas (I used only half a can because my mortar and pestle, one of the few items I have from my grandma, couldn't fit the entire can). Finally, I added the olive oil and lemon juice and mixed all the ingredients evenly.

I didn't pound the hummus to a pulp because I prefer mine chunky. Ate it in a wrap with wild rocket and it was yums.

In fact, it was so good that I insisted on feeding a spoonful to my mom. Imagine how someone would look if she was being force-fed vomit or crap. Now imagine my mom with the very same look of suspicion and revulsion, mixed with resignation, because, how can one reject food made by one's own flesh and blood, right?

I laughed until I wept. This was payback for all the times she forced me to eat durian.

Monday, December 17

are you illiterate or what?*

At the start of the year, I went on a book-buying binge when Book Depository had a promo. I still haven't finished reading that giant pile of books -- and, in fact, have bought more since then -- but here are the 39½ I did read this year.

Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim, by David Sedaris
I have read almost everything written by Sedaris and that fact makes me sad. This isn't my favourite book of his, but it still made me hoot with laughter while reading it in public. And I find it highly amusing that the title has nothing to do with the stories (it had come to his boyfriend in a dream).

When You Are Engulfed In Flames, by David Sedaris
The piece on having a lozenge fall from your mouth into the lap of a fellow passenger on a plane is priceless. I think I was in hysterics while reading it. In fact, I think I need to reread it right now.

Don't Tell Me The Truth About Love, by Dan Rhodes
Short stories on love -- duh! -- which still stick in my head after all these months, mostly bittersweet and filled with regrets. The one with the man who became a violin (or some other string instrument) to be with his lover is particularly haunting.

Anthropology, by Dan Rhodes
101 short stories, each 101 words long. Sounds gimmicky, but it is so cleverly written that you forgive the author. (A couple of them made me feel rather dim-witted, because I couldn't understand them despite repeated reading.)

The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman
I thought I would recognise more of the characters in the novel, seeing as it is based in a newsroom, but there was hardly any mention of sub-editors. How can?!? A pleasurable read, nonetheless, with sharp observations on what make people, not just news people, tick.

Blossoms And Shadows, by Lian Hearn
The premise of the story had such potential -- woman becomes a physician in feudal Japan against all social norms -- but I couldn't feel for the heroine at all. She felt cold and remote, and the story was bogged down by the inclusion of real historical figures, such that I had to keep referring to the section in front which listed all the characters and whether they were fictional.

The Sense Of An Ending, by Julian Barnes
Some books, you remember vividly where you were when you read them. I read this while in the hour-long queue for my iPad, surrounded by geeks with their existing iPads. Beautiful sparse evocative writing about the suicide, decades ago, of a boyhood friend of the protagonist and how we reshape our memories.

Was She Pretty?, by Leanne Shapton
I loved Important Artifacts And Personal Property From The Collection Of Lenore Doolan And Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion And Jewelry (yes, that's the actual book title), so I bought this, by the same author. Also, I love the book title. In case it wasn't obvious, the book is about ex-girlfriends (accompanied by drawings in bold, minimalist brushstrokes). Not many words, but all of them biting.

The Complete Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
Being late to the game, as usual, I picked up this groundbreaking graphic novel earlier this year. The coming-of-age tale of a girl in Tehran is both amusing and sad. Deserving of all the accolades. I regret not reading it earlier.

Sushi & Beyond, by Michael Booth 
I felt hunger pangs at various points while reading this food memoir in which the author ate his way around Japan, and I don't even like raw fish. I was craving yakisoba and takoyaki and his description of nagashi somen -- cold somen noodles riding down a bamboo chute to the diner -- intrigued me. Certain parts were amusing, but there were no new insights into the cuisine.

Garlic And Sapphires, by Ruth Reichl
The story of a food critic who puts on disguises to review restaurants incognito. I must thank my twin for introducing me to this book, it was such a good read. It isn't easy to write about food -- try describing a dish without using the words "delicious" or "yummy" -- and even harder to write about personal triumphs and failures, but the author manages to do both.

Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain
You can almost hear Bourdain's laconic drawl -- familiar to me from his TV show -- in the prose. The book came out more than 10 years ago and reading it now, when he is so well-known -- and sometimes, hated -- gives me a new perspective. Oh, and on the inside of the second-hand book I'd bought were these words from the previous owner: "A self promoting, name dropping, smart ass egotist. Just one more opinionated obnoxious New Yorker." I completely disagree.

Born Round, by Frank Bruni
Devoured this book in one lazy Sunday. Bruni, a former New York Times restaurant reviewer, battled with his weight all his life and his writing about it is painfully honest. The descriptions of the feasts his Italian family threw are epic.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami
I swore off Murakami after 1Q84, but somehow succumbed to this. I justified it by saying it's not a work of fiction. He writes about running marathons -- something I have no desire whatsoever of doing -- but manages to make it relevant to life too: "Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional".

Missed Connections, by Sophie Blackall
Such a poignant book with the most whimsical and tender watercolour illustrations. Based on the Missed Connections ads in Craigslist, where strangers try to reconnect with people they brushed past on the train, acquaintances they've lost touch with, old flames, etc. The one with the Coney Island whale had me in tears.

Bossypants, by Tina Fey
I remember hooting with laughter at quite a few parts of the book, but for the life of me, I can't recall a single memorable anecdote from it. Still, an enjoyable quick read. I think I finished it in one night.

Love, Loss And What I Wore, by Ilene Beckerman
Illustrations and text come together to form a biography of sorts, seen through the dresses the author wore. I bought it as I remember events through what I wore, but somehow, the story failed to resonate with me.

The Vagabond, by Colette
Supposedly a feminist tale of independence, the story follows a newly divorced performer at the turn of the 20th century as she chooses between career and love. Hated the character -- waffling and indecisive. Hated the translation -- should have know anything translated from French would be terribly dense. Hated even the font -- tiny and antiquated. Took me forever to finish this and move on to greener pastures.

Trans-Siberian Handbook, by Bryn Thomas
Well, technically, I didn't exactly read it from cover to cover, but it did provide hours of entertainment and a whole lot of train/Siberia trivia on our epic journey.

Quiet: The Power Of Introverts, by Susan Cain
I don't usually read non-fiction; reading is my escape from reality, after all. But I happened to have this book on my iPad and surprised myself by reading it and gaining much insight into my own personality, strange as it sounds. Cain writes about how introverts are subtly discriminated against, how being quiet is seen as a character flaw to be overcome, and how to embrace it. Now I understand why I need time alone to decompress after a week of work and why I had to summon so much inner strength to make phone calls to interviewees in the past.

The Power Of Habit, by Charles Duhigg
Another work of non-fiction, which made a convincing case for developing good habits to push out bad ones. After reading it, I started making my bed, which I had always considered a waste of time. Apparently, this tiny habit of bed-making spills over to other aspects of one's life. I've yet to see my finances getting any better or my house becoming any cleaner or my exercise regimen shaping up to be more regular, but hey, it's a start.

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith
Don't judge me for reading this. The title hooked me in with its sheer ridiculousness. Also, I was on a train for four days. The premise was interesting enough -- vampirism and slavery -- but ultimately, it was a silly romp.

I Remember Nothing, by Nora Ephron
Another book I read on the Trans-Siberian, sitting on top of a rubbish bin at the end of the carriage to guard my iPad while it was charging slowly from the common socket one sultry afternoon. Must record all these minute details, because otherwise, they will soon be forgotten. (I even had to google this book title, all I could recall was that I read a book by the woman who wrote When Harry Met Sally and died this year.) An enjoyable way to spend an afternoon on a rubbish bin, I suppose. I remember nothing much of the stories, to be perfectly honest.

The Gryphon, Alexandria and The Morning Star, by Nick Bantock
This trilogy that follows the one of Giffin And Sabine, which I was entranced with more than 10 years ago, what with its actual physical postcards and letters. Now that I'm older and presumably more cynical, the follow-up feels gimmicky and uninspired. Still, at least now I have the whole set. The completionist in me is happy.

A Game Of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin
I plowed through the first book from the seven-book series A Song Of Fire And Ice in record time. But by Book Four of the series, I was sick of the writing style, the switching of point of view every chapter, the dense War of the Roses type of political intrigue, the lack of magic and wonder, the sensational killings of characters you had come to care about, until you no longer gave a dem about who lived and who died, the plot which meandered with no end in sight (the last two books are not even out yet). I have never abandoned a book -- except Moby Dick, which is my whale -- but with this, I abandoned an entire series. And I feel good about it, that I am no longer wasting my time. You want fantasy? Go read Tolkien or even the Dragonlance Chronicles.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest, by Stieg Larsson
In case you were wondering, the girl in the titles of these three books is the same girl. And the books get tiresome after a while, with too much back story/drinking of coffee and too little action/mystery/intrigue/violent sex. The first book is readable enough, almost made me want to watch the movie.

Fifty Shades Of Grey trilogy, by E.L. James
What can I say? I was drawn in by the smut and could not stop until I had read the entire trilogy, all the while filled with disgust and self-loathing. If such bad writing can make a bestseller, then why am I not writing one too?

The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins
Being a fast reader, I tore through the series in a couple of days. The premise of teenagers killing each other in a Battleship Royale-like games for food didn't perturb me at all. Only Book One is worth reading, but then after I started caring for the characters, I had to read the subsequent two books. Bah.

The Hunger Pains, by The Harvard Lampoon
A parody of The Hunger Games, this is a quick read, good for a laugh, but also shows up the shortcomings of the original novels.

* One editor who shall not be named used to insist that every book review have a thumbnail of the book cover (also a product shot of every cosmetic/skincare item featured). I'm, like, if you need a picture of the book to be able to find it in the bookstore, then perhaps this reading business isn't for you.

** On the other hand, I do find that the text does look better with a picture accompanying it. In fact, I did try to place the relevant book cover with each of my snippets above, but then Blogger screwed up and I gave up. If you really need pictorial guidance, go to Amazon.

*** On the third (imaginary) hand, I must confess that I actually judge and buy books based on their covers. So sue me.