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Medicine for the mind (and more)

I’VE had a lot of time on my hands of late, giving me ample opportunity to catch up on my reading. Unfortunately, my reading list is not as extensive as I would have liked, being limited by what I have at hand.

Last week, I read through the second very chuckle-some volume of Amir Muhammad’s Malaysian Politicians Say The Darndest Things; lost myself in the Aztec ruins of Peru in Colin Thubron‘sThe Last City; and revisited yuletide with the Domestic Goddess herself in Nigella Christmas:

I also got a new perspective of Malaysian history with the witty and always entertaining comic Where Monsoons Meet; had some pulse-pounding action courtesy of Matthew Riley‘s Scarecrow; and did some much-needed armchair travelling through South America with June Yap’s coffee-table book, The Third Eye.

Along the way, I plunged into a fascinating discussion about the theological impact of a vampire slayer in What Would Buffy Do?; and re-examined the centuries-old argument about God and Original Sin in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.

However, Neal Stephenson’s thousand-page Anathem was a little too complex to hold my attention. But it makes a good paperweight and I do hope to return to it at some point.

So, in one week, I covered politics, history, ancient civilisations, cooking, pulp fiction, travelogue, theology and science fiction. This, I believe, is a good thing.

Absinthe for the mind

All too often, people tend to stick to the genres they know and like. So if romance is your cup of tea, you are unlikely to sip the mind-altering absinthe that true science fiction offers.

The Absinthe Drinker by Viktor Oliva (1861-1928)
(Public domain; click on image for bigger view)
Or, if you only make it a point to read non-fiction, the world of invention and imagination that fiction provides is closed to you.

If you’ve never read poetry, the true beauty that is language will remain hidden among more pedestrian prose.

Some people think that coffee-table books are nothing more than vanity projects offering glossy photos in an oversized and overpriced format. Yes, there are some that fall into that category, but there are plenty that don’t.

For instance, The Third Eye, published by “Professor” Uniform, chronicles June Yap’s 60-day trip across South America as part of the World Explorer to South America 4×4 adventure.

Yap, who has won awards for flower arrangement, was an amateur photographer who took part in the 40-member, seven-country 22,400km trip in 2006. They traversed windy paths and forged new trails through Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru and Chile, meeting people of vastly different cultures while extending the hand of Malaysian friendship.

Her photos, many of which were taken from the window of a speeding 4×4, open a window into an alien landscape that encompasses everything. There is the eerie moonscape of the desert; salt flats and high mountain passes and glaciers; and the icy waters of the South Atlantic Ocean teeming with whales and sea lions.

Yap has an eye for framing a scene in a way that tells a compelling tale about the richness of the continent and the differences and similarities between the peoples.

Though the accompanying captions sometimes fail to capture the true impact of the unfolding vista, the essence of The Third Eye — to seek beauty wherever you go — remains intact.

June Yap’s photos: Hand sculpture on Montivedeo Beach (left) and Lost City of the Incas – Machu Picchu
(Click on images for bigger view)

Limits of tolerance

“Argue for your limitations, and they are yours.”
by Richard Bach

We mustn’t limit ourselves, and this applies even to what we read. So this week, why don’t you pick up a genre you’ve never tried before? For a start, pick a book by one of the top authors in a particular field and give it a go. Consult bestseller lists i.e. from The New York Times or, closer to home, MPH and Kinokuniya for a rough guide to what people are reading.

Every year, make it a point to read at least one book on the Man Booker longlist, and one translation of works by Asian, South American, African or European writers. Read a few homegrown authors, be they classic works or from emerging writers.

Do you find history boring? Then read graphic novel adaptations, or ease yourself into the genre by reading historical fiction works. For instance, the world of Alexander the Great comes alive in Mary Renault’s Alexander trilogy. The 12th-century battle for the English throne between Henry I’s daughter Maude and her cousin Stephen of Blois gets excellent treatment in Sharon Kay Penman’s When Christ and his Saints Slept.

Of course, some historical accounts need no embellishment. Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Killer Angels, sheds more light on the Battle of Gettysburg than do encyclopaedic tomes. Likewise, students of the Emergency period in Malaysian history may find Noel Barber’s compelling account in The War of the Running Dogs a good start.

Expand your horizons: pick up new skills and hobbies; learn to quit smoking; build your self-confidence with self-help books; unravel The Secret; study a new language; unlock the mystery of the pyramids; read Warren Buffet’s biography in graphic novel format; compare a movie adaptation with the original book; and learn how to mix cocktails.

Books offer an endless variety of enjoyment and knowledge. So go ahead, sample them.

N Shashi Kala is laid up at home after dislocating her knee at a fitness centre. She wishes there was a building code to ensure all elevators are wide enough to accommodate ambulance stretchers.

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3 Responses to “Medicine for the mind (and more)”

  1. KW Mak says:

    I will inquire on your behalf about the building code at the next town planning meeting. If there isn’t, I’ll see if MBPJ can come up with something. No promises though.

  2. Shashi says:

    Thanks Mak. It would also be great to get real paramedics here who know how to treat and stabilise accident victims, as opposed to the ambulance service we have at present.

  3. yeremenko says:

    G’day, I love good coffee table books, I was living in the desert for a while, and a visit to the air-conditioned library was a must. My friends and I marvelled for days over their shelves. There is a new multi-player game now being made by Nasa. It is a space exploration game and has a demo being released at the end of 2009. This is a great advent for science fiction fans. New landscapes and worlds to walk through and interact in being brought to life with the photos and images Nasa has in its archives. One imagines it would be beautiful. I enjoy science fiction writing and also poetry and have a novel called Doom Of The Shem, info for it is at

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