14 August 2010

Weekend Reading List

When I was still buying books, and still travelling, I had a tall stack of travel books that fuelled and inspired me. Recently, in a new bid to spring clean the shelves (white shelves look neat and crisp in pictures but are hell to maintain, let me tell you) I came across two books from that era. Where are the others from this series? I have in hand The Best American Travel Writing 2004 (edited by Pico Iyer), and 2008 (edited by Anthony Bourdain); The rest are missing. But then I'm only doing two shelves this time, so the missing years might again turn up, in the manner of forgotten hurts, or retired handphones. Yes, inconveneintly.Flipping through the well-thumbed pages, I discovered how my tastes have changed and narrowed. I'm no longer interested in most of the pieces. I'm not that interested in the American pieces at all. I'm not interested in Patagonia. Nova Scotia. South Africa. I read the Joan Didion (above, in a photo by Brigitte Lacombe) piece Histroy Lesson (Travel + Leisure) about a little museum in Rue de Monceau in Paris, a graceful little piece that said so many things at so many levels. I read the Bill Donahue story Under The Sheltering Sky (The Washington Post Magazine) which was as much a portrait of Paul Bowles as it is about Tangier. Simon Doonan's Brighton Beach Memoir (Travel + Leisure) is still tart, and Karl Taro Greenfeld's Hope and Squalor at Chungking Mansion (WorldHum.com)familiar; But then Mr Taro Greenfeld's work is always about squalor. The Peter Gwin piece Dark Passage (National Geographic) is about Batam. Squalor. Next Stop, Squalor, by John Lancaster (Smithsonian) is about package tours to the biggest slum in Asia, the 432 acre squatter settlement Dharavi, Mumbai.
I almost wrote Manila. I was in Manila last month and I must say most of this sprawling, grey city seemed like a squatter settlement. Plus the food is quite inedible.A brief, but evocative piece by Emily Maloney, Mr Tingler (TheSmartSet.com) was about hostel (yes, hostel, not hostile) relations in Salvador, Brazil. Journey Into Night by David Sedaris (The New Yorker) was about flying business class. This is now nostalgia for me, as I was recently booted out of Singapore Airlines's PPS membership. Another piece from The New Yorker (still one of my favourite magazines) is Three Chopsticks, by Calvin Trillin. It's about Singapore food, about K F Seetoh's Makansutra guidebooks, about eating. This is a familiar piece, I've read it so many times. I love Singapore. I love staying at home, sleeping in my own bed, eating my own food.


  1. OMG joan didion. back in my student days her terse minimalist White Album was absolutely my writing bible, from which i tried to learn how to write prose as well as to see things wryly & sardonically & to puncture life's many absurdities with a few well-chosen sentences.

    too bad she isn't as known and as recognised as she deserves to be, in the anglo-phone parts of asia.

  2. Manila ! I don't want to get started on Manila, there's a reason why there aren't any 2-nights-3-days package tours to Mani-bloody-la.

  3. Anon #1: Joan Didion was very photogenic as well and quite the beauty in her youth, did you know?
    Anon #2: I did visit the fort and the cathedral/ museum which had atmosphere. The people are nice though, very chirpy and friendly but i repeat - the food is quite strange.

  4. oh yes ms didion has good bone structure, and that's something that lasts.

    and despite the fact of looking tiny & frail, she's outlived both her husband john gregory dunne (brother of dominick) and her adopted daughter, quintana roo (what a great name). she's an unlikely tough broad in the best sense of the word.

  5. Anon: You really are a font of info! as for being a tough broad: you can see it in her hands...