Book Reviews: Down and Out in Paris and London & How Not to Die

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell 

The narrator, an aspiring writer, moves to Paris and rents a room at a motel. He came with a modest amount of savings which he thought would last him until he finds a job. His life takes a downward twist when all the motel guests were robbed. Having to live from hand to mouth, he finds work at the bottom of the culinary stratum as a dish- washer. The dullness of all work and little rest prompts him to move on. In London, he finds himself in a worst predicament – jobless, homeless and forced to live like a tramp in a different lodging house each day.

In spite of the depressing nature of the book, the writer narrates without self-pity, and even with humour. He retells many of his encounters in great detail and with great believability. Many of the incidents that he encounters provide a rare perspective of one’s descent into poverty. This book will be an eye-opener to many readers.

Yet under such harrowing conditions, there is no blame for lack of wealth, no envy for the rich. The narrator believes, and looks up to those who share his belief, that education is the crux to a meaningful life. The subtle message about positive thought and knowledge over material possessions that runs throughout the book is something one can benefit from.

Considering that the story is set in the 19205, there is some inevitable display of xenophobia and lack of understanding towards foreigners and minority groups.

How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease by Michael Greger and Gene Stone

Author Dr Michael Greger is the physician behind online book for healthy eaters NutritionFacts.org. The Cornell University-educated physician is also an internationally recognised speaker on a number of public health issues.

In this book, he shares how diseases and premature death can be prevented through certain diets, evidenced with scientific facts. The book explores 15 top causes of premature deaths. The diseases include heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, high blood pressure and some common cancers.

Here is a look at some of the advice he provides:

– Less dairy, more flaxseed in a diet for one with a family history of prostate cancer
– Hibiscus tea is more effective than hypertensive drugs in controlling high blood pressure. Best of all, it is without all the unpleasant side effects.
– Drinking coffee reduces liver inflammation
– Soy helps to prolong survival in breast cancer patients.

Overall, it is a helpful book with suggestions that are easy to follow. Advice is backed by explanations, which is important especially when it comes to a controversial topic like diets.

– These book reviews first appeared in a lifestyle magazine.


Bishan Community Library: World’s 7th Most Beautiful Library

Picture by Wojtek Gurak

When we think of libraries, the image of books and study often come to mind. But these days, libraries are evolving into exhibition, event and work spaces. In Singapore, the public libraries are revamped to be more comfortable and aesthetically pleasing so that just about an one can enjoy a relaxing environment working. Aside from the plush seating areas, there are water coolers, toilets, multimedia stations with computers, power points and some libraries even have cafes and vending machines. All public libraries have access to Wireless@SG.

In recent years, Bishan Community Library has the honour of being listed as one of the world’s seven most beautiful libraries by CNN Travel. That makes it in the same league as Seattle’s Central Library and Dublin’s Trinity College Library which are tourist attractions. It scored points for its simple yet quirky and endearing design which was meant to resemble a tree house.There are colourful pods canti-levered off one side of the building’s facade. These pods, aside from having aesthetic purposes, serve as quiet, private spaces for individuals.

The Bishan Community Library is home to three unique clubs. One such club is the Artist Trading Cards Club which meets to create miniature works of art the size of playing cards. Participants learn to create different types of cards and pick up art tips. Then there is the Seniors’ Chinese Reading Club which meets once a month for one and a half ours for a book session in Mandarin, facilitated by librarians. Finally there is the Kelab Baca Si Luncai, a reading club aimed to creatively ignite the passion for reading in both English and Malay in children aged 7 to 10. The sessions consist of games, bilingual story telling and craft activities.

The Toa Payoh Community Library still keeps the charming white and red facade it has always been known for, but on the inside, it has undergone a major facelift. The Children’s Section on the first floor is built like a ship. Those who have fond memories of the nostalgic dragon playground in Toa Payoh will find the hexagonal shapes in the Baby Books’ corner familiar. Senior readers will appreciate the large print books in the second floor of the library, while teenagers have access to graphic novels and audio visual materials tailored for them in the Teens Zone. It is also one of four libraries in Singapore to offer the eReader loan service that allows library users to download eBooks from popular ebook database OverDrive.

This library is the base of the Writing the City Writers’ Group, a community of writers. It brings in monthly workshops that offer participants writing exercises, guest lectures and more exposure to literature. The Creative Crew Workshop brings in industry experts who share experiences on photography, print design, video, web and other graphic and digital media. Talks are free and take lace on every second Tuesday of the month. Last but not least, there is the Thangameen Readers Club to promote confident use of Tamil. It is open to all ages, and organises film screenings, story writing competitions and poetry contests.

If you’re out of ideas for the weekend, why not head over to the library? Just be sure to go early as the seats can fill up pretty quickly.

– This article first appeared in a newsletter for Bishan-Toa Payoh residents


Book Review: The Space Between the Raindrops

The Space Between the Raindrops by Justin Ker

The Space Between the Raindrops is a collection of 42 very short stories, mostly set in Singapore, with the rest set in other parts of the world. The stories may be short yet the author is able to portray the complexity of the characters; and the content is contemplative.

Justin Ker introduces to us a myriad of intriguing scenarios, such as a male immigrant worker who broke into the flat of a Taiwanese female immigrant to slumber for a few hours on her bed. An elderly woman while on the operating table recalls the times she carried her adopted son piggy-back to school in the rain. A judge in Slovenia accidentally sets fire to his courthouse leaving trails of ash. And, Singapore is personified as a psychiatric patient, diagnosed with a self-identity crisis.

Then there are also perfectly ordinary scenarios that still spawn an intriguing story — a fleeting meeting between a young male photographer and older married woman on a cruise ship. A couple staring out of the windows of Taipei 101. Two National Servicemen debate Singlish pronunciation. Justin views things from remarkable perspectives, calling to our minds ideas would not have occurred that they concern us.

The writing style in the book is poetic with generous use of metaphors. The text is taut but not restrictive, giving space  for one‘s imagination to soar. The vocabulary is rich and the portrayal of characters lively, making them come across as realistic, believable strangers in the street.

Some readers may take issue with how repetitive the writing style gets after several stories. In that case, it would perhaps be better to consume the stories in a few separate sittings.

– This book review first appeared in a lifestyle magazine


Choosing the right sunglasses to protect your eyes from the sun

Almost any day is a good day for sunglasses in Singapore which is almost always sun-bathing  in the tropical sunlight. Not only do the wearers look cool, they also help prevent those little  crow—feet at the corners of your eyes caused by too much squinting of the eyes. More importantly, these glasses protect your eyes from harmful UV rays. Prolonged excessive exposure to UV light can cause cataracts and other vision discomfort and problems.

A good pair of sunglasses can last many years if you are not fussy about fashion. So, it is important that you pick the right pair, especially one that is effective in blocking out the UV rays. Here are some factors to consider:

100% blockage of UVA and UVB rays

Check the label or consult the optometrist. Sunglasses offering 100% UV protection need not be expensive, if you’re not particular about brands, lens quality or stylish frames. You can test whether a pair of sunglasses offers 100% UV protection by taking it to get tested at the optometrist, and you definitely should do this for brands of sunglasses that you’re not familiar with.

A good fit / size
Choose a pair that feels snug on your face and doesn’t keep slipping down your nose bridge. Large lenses offer greater coverage. Wrap around frames come highly recommended as they reduce the amount of UV rays entering your eyes from the side. The fashion aficionados would have it that if you wear frames that suit your face. So check out if you have an oval, round, heart-shaped or square shaped face. Check out the websites for what frame types suit your face.

Colour and darkness do not affect UV protection
The amount of UV protection isn’t determined by how dark the lenses are. Again, it boils down to what’s on the label. In fact, darkened lenses with no proper UV protection can cause the pupil to open up to let in more light, which means that more UV rays will enter the eyes.

Polarised lenses do not offer
UV protection  These lenses only reduce glare coming off from reflective surfaces, such as the snow and water. While they make activities like water sports, winter sports and driving more comfort— able and safe, to get the best of both worlds, you will need polarised sunglasses with 100% UV protection.

Type of lenses
There are many different types of lenses with different functions. Some are shatter-proof, scratch-resistant, come with blue ray protection (also known as computer glass) etc. None of these factors have any impact on UV ray protection. But if you wish to invest in a pair of sunglasses for long-term use, you might as well choose an every-occasion one. These days, many types of functions can be fused into the lenses, so it is a good idea to talk with an optometrist about your needs and lifestyle so that he/she can prescribe some suitable lenses.

If you require glasses to see clearly, you would want to consider photochromic lenses with a prescription, popularly known as transition lenses, which stay clear indoors but darken and activate their UV protection properties when outdoors.

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine.

Image: Pixabay