Beneath Another Sky, by Norman Davies This is one of the best history books I’ve read this year – it’s a sort of alternative history of the world, written as the author circumnavigates the world. Singapura features.
So in the spirit of balance, I thought I’d post something completely frivolous, and almost nothing to do whatsoever with work. Well, almost…
I’m an incurable bookworm, and a TOTAL geek. There’s nothing I like more than curling up in the corner of my couch, under a pool of warm light, reading a book. And there’s nothing I like more than reading a book, than buying a book.
And so, in the course of my incessant travel this year, I have, naturally, been buying stacks and stacks of books – book books, as well as exhibition catalogues (which I LOVE collecting).
I must have some 100 books at least, sitting around at home, stacked up in the corner of living room, waiting to be read. This DOES NOT include the books and exhibition catalogues that I’ve brought to my office.
All in all, in the past year and a bit, I’ve probably bought some 200 books and exhibition catalogues.
But what do you do? It’s an obsession.
Here are some of the books I’ve enjoyed reading this past year, and others that I’m looking forward to reading. Be forewarned – despite the long list/gallery of titles, this constitutes just a fraction of the books sitting around at home, read and unread.
The list betrays my taste – I tend towards books that relate to travel, cities, cultural heritage, wandering… For fiction, I love books set at the turn of the 19th century, murder-mystery novels, and books set in port cities, grand hotels or which feature intrepid travel. And I’m not averse to serious, academic books on Asian history, port cities and geopolitics.
OK, clearly I enjoy anything to do with intrepid travel and wandering.
I also include some exhibition catalogues that I LOVE SO MUCH I won’t take them into the office. =)
The Oxford History of Byzantium, edited by Cyril Mango. This is by far THE BEST and MOST ENJOYABLE book I read this year. I know. I’m a TOTAL GEEK. I love the history and art of the Byzantine Empire – and this book has beautiful, coloured illustrations and very engagingly written text.
Don’t Call Me Mrs Rogers – Love, Loathing & Our Epic Drive Around the World, by Paige Parker. This was SUCH GREAT FUN to read. It’s written by a friend who inspires me so much because of her SHEER AUDACITY. [You may not know this, but you inspire me to DARE to attempt doing things differently at the museum!!] =)
To the Fairest Cape – European Encounters in the Cape of Good Hope, Malcolm Jack. This is another beautifully-written book by a very good friend of mine. In the words of Tristram Hunt, the Director of the Victoria & Albert Museum, who reviewed this recently, “This skilfully marshalled and elegantly recounted history opens up new pathways into the European cultural and intellectual past whilst underlining the mystical, mesmeric power of the Cape, that ‘master link of connection between the western and eastern world.’ [Thank you, Malcolm, for being a mentor.] 😉
The Leopard, by Tomasi di Lampedusa. A good friend – you know who you are! – recommended this book, and I absolutely loved it! Completely decadent in its depiction of crumbling glory.
The Edwardians, by Vita Sackville-West, a.k.a. Virginia Woolf’s lover. This wicked and wickedly clever book was a delightful romp.
Love in a Cold Climate and Other Novels, by Nancy Mitford. Yet another delightful romp through the decline of the English aristocracy.
Vers la beauté, by David Foenkinos. A beautifully-written and thought-provoking new novel on Beauty and Sexual Abuse. Couldn’t put it down.
The East India Companies and Asia’s Oceans, by Haneda Masashi (Chinese translation of a Japanese text). This is a VERY interesting, rarely-explored, alternative, Japanese perspective on the history of the European East India Companies and their exploits in Asia.
Elizabethan Treasures – Miniatures by Hilliard and Oliver. Exhibition catalogue of an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, London. OMG. Just gorgeous. Just. Like. Gorgeous.
Edward Burne-Jones, Catalogue of an exhibition at the Tate Britain. Another extremely gorgeous exhibition on one of the most under-rated Pre-Raphaelite artists.
风雪边关，唐隐著。This is a contemporary murder-mystery novel set in Tang Dynasty China, and written by one of Mainland China’s most popular historical murder-mystery novellists. Empress Wu Zetian and Detective Dee! ‘Nuff said.
Hotel du Lac, by Anita Brookner. I picked this up in Waterstones by chance, and it turned out to be one of the most poignant and enjoyable novels I’ve read this year.
Estoril, by Dejan Tiago-Stankovic. Absolutely enjoyable romp through a grand hotel, LOL.
Faces of Love – Hafez and the Poets of Shiraz. Translated by Dick Davis. Beautiful and also surprisingly raunchy and funny.
A Complete History of China – The Sui, Tang and Five Dynasties. This is Volume Three of a book series that accompanied a Television Series in Mainland. Surprisingly, it was extremely readable and very engaging.
Slumbering Forest, by Higashino Keigo. This is murder-mystery novel by Japan’s most popular murder-mystery novellist. Murder strikes a ballet company as it is about to stage a production of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty.
Concession, by Xiao Bai. This noir-ish murder mystery novel is set in early 1930s Shanghai. It was fascinating to read about Concession-era Shanghai from the perspective of a Mainland Shanghainese novellist.
The Merry-Go-Round, by Somerset Maugham. This is the book I’ve just finished reading. It contains one of the most beautiful concluding lines ever – lines that describe Beauty as being worth all of life’s struggles.
Grand Hotels of Egypt – In the Golden Age of Travel, by Andrew Humphreys. Yeah, you didn’t think I’d get through a year without reading something about Grand Hotels did you? LOL.
Soumission, by Michel Houllebecq. An alternative reality when Parisians have elected an Islamist political party to power. Shockingly eloquent.
Nymphéas noirs, by Michel Bussi. THE BEST murder-mystery novel I’ve read this year. It’s so cleverly constructed that it BLEW MY MIND.
En habillant l’époque, by Paul Poiret. This is the absolutely delightful autobiography by one of France’s greatest haute couturiers.
L’Extrême-Orient – L’invention d’une histoire et d’une géographie, by Philippe Pelletier. A great tome on how the West invented the idea of the Far East.
Loin, by Alexis Michalik. OK – so we’ve gotten through the books I’ve read. I’m presently reading this book, and it’s a riotous, laugh-out-loud roadtrip novel. It’s a first novel by France’s up-and-coming comic playwright and screenwriter, about a young man who goes off around the world in search of
The Arts of Intimacy – Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the Making of Castilian Culture, by Jerrilyn D. Dodds, María Rosa Menocal and Abigail Krasner Balbale. We’ve ventured into the space of books that are sitting on my parapet, waiting to be read. I can’t wait to read this beautifully illustrated book on the hybrid architecture and culture of Spain.
Mao’s Golden Mangoes and the Cultural Revolution. Exhibition catalogue by Museum Rietberg Zurich. One of my (new) Board Members gave me this book. And it’s so random and surreal that I’ve decided I’ve GOT TO READ IT.
The Magic of the Department Store, by Murayama Saki. This novel is about a traditional Japanese Department Store struggling to re-invent itself to keep relevant. Well – I love department stores, and the book just looks so pretty! I couldn’t resist.
Le Château de ma mère, by Marcel Pagnol. I love Marcel Pagnol’s books, and the movies based on his books. For some reason, I haven’t managed to get down to reading this one.
Les empires coloniaux, by Pierre Singaravélou. Serious reading, but I thought it would be interesting to get a Francophone perspective on colonial history.
花间集。This is a historic collection of Chinese poetry relating to flowers, love, lust, supposedly first compiled in the Song Dynasty. Well… I simply adore flowers… so…
Twilight in Djakarta, by Mochtar Lubis. Noir-ish novel set in 1960s Jakarta – a Jakarta that is now lost.
The Lost Art of Scripture – Rescuing the Sacred Texts, by Karen Armstrong. This is the latest tome by a formidable academic in the space of comparative religion. I heard her speak at a conference in Singapore, and I was spellbound.
My Struggle, Book 5, by Karl Over Knausgard. I’ve ploughed through the first 4 volumes, and I can’t wait to get into this 5th volume.
The Tale of Genji – The Arthur Waley Translation of Lady Murasaki’s Masterpiece. I’ve started and stopped reading this book so many times now I’ve lost count. It’s one of the best translations of the novel – beautifully and evocatively written.
Paris Romantique, 1815 – 1848, exhibition at the Petit Palais, Paris. This was hands-down, the best exhibition I visited this year. Ecrasante!
The Colors of China, by Yan T. Wong. The art history of China’s traditional colours. Can’t wait.
Upheaval – How Nations Cope with Crisis and Change, by Jared Diamond. The latest by Mr Diamond.
Le naufrage des civilisations, by Amin Maalouf. About the end (naufrage = shipwreck) of civilisation as we know it…
A Complete History of China – The Ming and Qing Dynasties. This is the other volume of the series I bought. Still unwrapped. Gotta read it in time for our Ming Exhibition next May!!
Meiji – Splendeurs du Japon impérial. Catalogue of a fabulous exhibition at the Musée Guimet, one of my favourite museums in the world.
The Shooting Party, by Isabel Colegate. Yup…alright. This is a Downton Abbey-esque novel… Sheer indulgence.
The British Museum is Falling Down, by David Lodge. Couldn’t resist picking this up when I was at the British Museum a couple of weeks ago for the launch of the RAFFLES exhibition, LOL.
Alphonse Mucha. This is a retrospective of one of my favourite Art Nouveau artists.
Southeast Asia – So Near and yet So Far, by Ishizawa Yoshiaki. A Japanese perspective on historic Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, much of Japanese academic work is unavailable in English translation. Thankfully, they are available in Chinese, in Taiwan.
Zabor, ou les psalmes, by Kamel Daoud. Completely intrigued…
Ritz & Excoffier – The Hotelier, the Chef and the Rise of the Leisure Class, by Luke Barr. This is a history of the historic Ritz Hotel in Paris.
Théâtre, by Yasmina Reza. I’ve caught some of her plays in English in London. I thought it time to read her works in the original French.
Elegant Song – What we know about the Civilisation of the Song Dynasty, by Wu Jun. Speaks for itself, I guess. LOL. Total geek, I know.
And finally… a view of all the books I HAVE NOT READ, stacked up on the parapet beside my study desk, and on my dining table. Books I HAVE read are on the bookshelf and in other bookshelves in my study room. Tsundoku par excellence.