No Finer Time to be Alive?: Voices of Singapore’s English Music by Andy Chen and Mosman Ismahil

As I was saying in my earlier post, this book was published in 1995 and it shows. The feeling that something big is going to happen in the local music, especially rock, scene comes across in the essays collected within, as well as the contradictory feeling that the heyday of Singapore music was long over - disappointment? I can’t really put my finger on it but I feel that the 90’s were like this massive black hole for the music scene here. Well, at least for mainstream music? There must’ve been plenty of indie/rock/metal people and hobbyists around, gigging and struggling to survive though… I didn’t know what was going on (and still don’t know).

In 1995… I was in 8 years old and in Primary 2. Definitely not listening to “local” rock - which I guess back then was associated with “unsavoury” elements of society. HURHUR. I think I read something in the book about how the clubs were shut (drugs?) and musicians had no place to play, and so the music scene kind of died. See, blacked out period of Singapore’s music/social history right there, if laymen like me don’t remember/know about such things.

Anyway, it seems that in recent years, “indie” has become mainstream (wth) and Singapore’s musicians are more respected and accepted. Renaissance City, huh huh? Though it’s pretty hard to survive on performing - same everywhere, I guess.

This was a good read though - I’m going to Google some of the names and see if I can discover more good music. (Recently Inch Chua wrote an article about how Singaporeans don’t support local music. PLEASE. I’ll support musicians who produce music I like, regardless of nationality. I just don’t like her type of music, simple and straightforward as that. Just because you’re Singaporean, doesn’t mean I have to like or support your music.)

Ooh, I just came across this article on the book. And blog entries on S-Rock here!


Talking to Girls about Duran Duran by Rob Sheffield

It had me at Duran Duran. And BOWIE! It’s a memoir about (1) GROWING UP as a (2) MUSIC (3) NERD in the (4) EIGHTIES. That’s already freaking four things I love reading about already. Jackpot! Sheffield is hilarious in a self-deprecating manner and can somehow write about how great the women in his life are without seeming like a sap about it. My only question is, where can I get his first book, “Love Is a Mix Tape”? Look at that title, it sounds awesome already!


The Girls’ Guide to Rocking by Jessica Hopper

"… the book is a comprehensive guide to finding your way to rock stardom that covers all of the basic information as well as answers embarrassing questions that you don’t feel comfortable asking the grizzled, goateed rock veterans working at Guitar Center.

From finding an instrument to forming a band and writing songs, The Girls’ Guide To Rocking is teeming with immensely useful information that’s not always intuitive…”

Review here.

This is a really cute book, and pretty inspiring. Well, if I were a teenage girl in suburban America, I would totally use Hopper’s advice and start my own band rightaway. Even if the band didn’t go anywhere, it’s a valuable experience. Life is for living, you know? Unfortunately this book came about 10 years too late for me, and Singapore is just…

I feel a rant about Singapore society and education and mindsets coming up - next book!


Zero Degrees of Empathy - Simon Baron-Cohen

This book caught my eye right away; it comes right after I told a newspaper intern how great museum docents should have empathy for their visitors and historical empathy towards, well, historical figures and the periods that they’ve lived through.

It also comes after I read articles on schizoid personality disorder and avoidant personality disorder. And before that, I was reading up on Asperger’s Syndrome.

Man, I love knowing more about these things! Makes me feel I’m not alone, and that there are always more extreme cases out there.

Anyway, in what I’ve read of “Zero Degrees” so far, the author’s main argument is that we all lie somewhere on an “empathy” scale and people who score a zero tend to be what we consider “evil” because they simply cannot look at things from another person’s point of view. And then he describes cases of borderline personality disorder, as well as posits the reasons why people develop the disorder - early childhood, issues of abandonment (very armchair psychologist), etc, relating it to the larger discussion of empathy. Marilyn Monroe is one of those intriguing examples. Colour me intrigued.

However, a zero on the empathy scale doesn’t always mean that the person will be a psychopath (though analysis of prison inmates does point out a high correlation) as it can have positive outcomes.

Like what, I have no idea. I’m waiting to get to that part!

EDITED TO ADD: According to the author’s test here (link), I scored 37! I’m average! Then again, the author also says that self-testing often leads to people thinking they’re more empathetic than they really are, since people who lack empathy are also unable to (rephrasing in my own words) empathise with themselves.

I don’t think I’ll be torturing fluffy little kittens anytime soon.



American Gods - Neil Gaiman

Reading Neil Gaiman’s much-hyped novel for the first time.

"The age of information … not, of course, that there has ever been any other kind of age. Information and knowledge: two currencies that have never gone out of style."

Another one of those little things that keep me going: when I step into a library, breathe in the familiar air heavy from centuries of learning, look at “rows upon rows of [bookshelves], as far as the eye can see…” LOL.

Anyway. Yes, I love books and information and knowledge but more than that, I love the heady rush and feeling of power that comes from the fact that I KNOW MORE THAN YOU DO. [evil villain-ish mocking laughter]

ROFL - I can’t take myself seriously.


Collection Management/Development issues

While replenishing the book displays at JWL with books from appropriate sections from the library, I noticed how unattractive the young people’s non-fiction section was. Actually, if I was a Young Person - wait, I AM! I SO TOTALLY AM! I would rather go to the adult’s non-fiction section. Is there a point to YP non-fiction, especially if it feels like things are being dumbed down?

I wouldn’t appreciate my superior Teenage Intelligence and Worldliness being insulted. My first week at JWL, I had to replenish the WWII display at the YP section, and I mistakenly took WWII books from the adult’s history section. Only realised my mistake when I took a closer look at the other books on display, which seemed a LOT more simplified - and SLIMMER. So yeah, that’s the dumbing down part.

I’ve always been using the “regular” non-fiction section myself, so before volunteering at JWL, I never noticed what kind of books were on offer at YP non-fiction. I was only vaguely aware of a separate collection for young people (man, now I feel like I lost out on teenagehood). I was pretty appalled when I had to choose books to replenish the displays with, especially with the career guidance books because they all seemed so… Old-fashioned?

Of course, there were some “cool” books so I grabbed those and put those on display. I’m hoping they’re attractive enough for the schoolkids doing their homework in the library to at least pick up.

I’d hate to put kids off reading. Or scarring them for life with awful books. Read: awful library books blog. Seriously, collection weeding is IMPORTANT! So is keeping up-to-date with youth issues, if you have a, you know, youth corner in your library.


Bedside, Bathtub & Armchair Companion to Dracula - Mark Dawidziak

post-interview with the vampire, i read “Bedside, Bathtub & Armchair Companion to Dracula”, an encyclopedic compilation of vampire folklore, bram stoker, dracula, myths, myths debunked and vampire films and literature. it was fascinating.

will be hunting for classic films by bela lugosi and frank langella. will also look out for more recent books and media.

right now, i’m watching episode 2 of “true blood”. after this i may start on buffy and angel. i’ve only watched an episode or two of buffy before but i don’t remember any of it… actually i think the first thing i should do is to look for a copy of bram stoker’s dracula. XD

this is shaping up to be my new major obsession after 7 years of harry potter. a lot of minor ones were short-lived but the vampire topic is broad enough to last for… a while. :)

oh yeah. i will never ever approve of twilight! though i must admit the cullen dad is hot. note the resemblence to lucius/draco.


The Resident Tourist - Troy Chin

i read all three parts of “the resident tourist” in cck library today. mom abandoned me there (public libraries as free daycare centres!).

it’s good stuff, you can read it in its entirety online, under “stories”.

the protagonist Troy (who’s the manga-ka as well, the series is autobiographical) returns from 10 years in the US and feels alienated back in his country.

the conversation between him and his friend Mint (an ah-lian type from upenn, odd innit?) in part 2, just before she leaves SG again, was unforgettable, especially:

i can’t see myself being here. i just can’t. because everyone… everyone seems to have or… or is following some sort of plan. and i don’t buy it coz it’s not me.

i don’t hate coming back troy. i just don’t belong here.

doesn’t this resonate among people who love singapore but don’t quite subscribe to the Singapore Plan?

(which has sadly been commonly mistaken for the Singapore Dream. see colin goh and woo yen yen.)


The Romance of Libraries - Madeleine Lefebvre

it must be the cheesiest book i’ve ever found in the nus library; i hid it in my backpack. XD but it’s addictive and “strictly preferred” to econs textbooks.

I’ve had a romance with libraries since I was a small child. It’s not just the contents that attract me, it’s the whole package - the building, the atmosphere, the people who work in them, and the people who use them. So many stories sit on the shelves and so many more unfold daily on the floor.

There are many large and famous libraries that also spark the romantic imagination. I recently visited the magnificent circular Reading Room in the British Museum. Winter sunlight was streaming through the windows under its dome. I stood for a few moments in reverie, wondering how many romances, both overt and covert, had been kindled there. The Reading Room has a palpable atmosphere - like a living, breathing entity.

- Madeleine Lefebvre, Chap 1, “The Romance of Libraries”.

and the foreword is lovely! i wish i could reproduce it in its entirety. =/ but here’s an excerpt anyway:

You see, libraries great and small have the power to inspire and fan the flame of love triumphant and love denied. They are full of stories - romances (tales of adventures, surprising incident, love, etc.) - and expressions of the human heart from music to movies and beyond. They are people by bookish people, music lovers, film buffs, and all the other members of the great nation within nations that comprises all those to whom the human heart and its mysteries are the central question of life. Why else are Dickens, Mozart, and John Ford important? Where can you tap in to the magic of their dreams better and more easily than in libraries? Is it any wonder that a library of any size is charged with emotion and, therefore, human beings who are sensitive to the power of the emanations of the human spirit should find libraries places of love and romance in all their complexities and profundity?”

- Michael Gorman, Foreword, “The Romance of Libraries”.

apart from romance between librarians, the book has other stories of love related to the library in some way or other. and they’re so totally cute!

total respect for libraries and librarians. our econs librarian is doing a phd in library science and the other guy at the information desk is currently pursuing his MLS. so when i consulted our econs librarian today, he effectively gave me an honours thesis topic - good news when most econs profs do mathematics and i’ve already got “rejected” twice - and i came back from that meeting with so many great ideas.

now i hope i get into a good MLS programme and embark on my intended career path. it’s a good feeling to be able to identify what it is you’re truly crazy about and want to do for the rest of your life… one can only take so much trauma and heartbreak.


The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton

This book can kill somebody, I’m serious. Okay it explains the rationale for eliminating the Greek and Latin requirements (so more public high school students could enter the Big Three) to promote diversity on campus. It also talks about the “Jewish problem” before the war, while Harvard Rules touches upon more recent anti-Semitism at Harvard.

Save liberal education and the humanities! How can we call ourselves a civilisation if nobody has any sense of where they came from? How do we forge a future if we don’t know our past?

I’m all for technological advancement, but if nobody is concerned with ethics (which has roots in philosophy I think?) how are we to know if we are not losing bits of our humanity each time we celebrate yet another scientific breakthrough?

Everytime I walk into the library, I feel so overwhelmed by all this knowledge around me, but I can’t help but wonder who the hell actually reads these books for interest - apart from academics, but they’re a different breed altogether. Students read them to find a few choice quotes for their papers. The general public doesn’t get access and public libraries don’t stock most of these books because most people would rather read novels or something “useful”, like self-help books and travel guides.

It’s a vicious cycle! Okay, maybe it’s only in Singapore. And maybe our librarians should already be thankful for the fact that we as a people are reading something rather than spending all our time working and “making a living” - these words leave such a bad taste in my mouth. Are we even living at all?

And to top it all off…

Still, Summer’s manifest disdain for the humanities unnerved their practitioners at Harvard. It was true that their work did not produce the tangible results that, say, chemistry and biology did. There were few eureka moments in literary criticism. But professors of history, literature, the arts, and the like did not believe that the value of a field was determined by the number of its practical applications. Few humanists thought - and many scientists agreed with them - that the point of a liberal arts education was so limited. Maybe studying the humanities couldn’t help you live longer, the way that knowing the breakdown of your genome could, but it could uplift the character and quality of your life. It could add morality and wisdom, introspection and humility. And it could inform the way you approached other citizens of the world - whether you saw them with tolerance and understanding and curiosity, or whether you took a more competitive, hierarchical, imperialistic approach.

Indeed, the fact that Summers had no serious interest in the humanities made some professors question the breadth and nuance of his intelligence. “He is not an intellectual,” insisted professor romance languages Bradley Epps. “He is a statistician; he is a powerbroker. But he is not an intellectual, because intellectuals know the power of doubt.” Though few others would say so in public, a great many of Harvard’s humanists shared this conviction. Summers, they agreed, was clever, even brilliant in some ways. But he was not wise.

-Bradley, R. Harvard Rules. New York:HarperCollins, 2005, pp 222-223.
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