Ethos' End Of Year Staff Picks December 16, 2017 09:30

by Justin Chia

As we round out yet another eventful year here at Ethos and look forward to the holidays, we hope that you've had a bountiful 2017 filled with thought-provoking reading, fresh insights and an ever-expanding book collection. Whether you're looking for a meaningful gift or something to pore over during the holidays, we have curated our favourite titles just for you. Here's why we enjoy them: 

Eastern Heathens edited by Ng Yi-Sheng and Amanda Lee Kow

"Characters feel the most real when they think for themselves, when they walk off the page and pour themselves a drink. This is why I love the characters in Eastern Heathens. Fox sprite poets bite back against misogynistic structures. A trans merlion defies the constructed narrative it’s been prescribed. This book unpacks the simplified myths that we’ve grown up with. It show us that there are a thousand ways to tell and retell a story."—Arin Alycia Fong

Godsmacked by Teng Jee Hum

"'How much could one man mean to so many?' is a valid question to ask about so large a figure, and Teng Jee Hum enquires accordingly. But Godsmacked, true to its outlandish, super-sized premises, cares little for the merely valid. Teng is intent on the visceral question, not just the valid one. And it shows: as we watch a shrewd-faced LKY don the gown of Confucius only to disrobe into the censorious, cocky akimbo of the younger Bruce Lee 44 pages later; or count, in amused awe, the number of Marvel re-inventions LKY could possibly, humanly, undergo, we are surprised, yes, but never stunned. Shrewd, defiant, cocky, larger-than-life - this is the LKY of popular imagination, of popular feeling, and Teng’s artful depictions of an absurdly metamorphic Minister Mentor feel natural and proper, as though leading us by the hand back into our own amorphous assumptions about the man and affirming with every drawing: yes, he was this to me too, and look at the rest of him."Shane Yeoh

Children of Las Vegas by Timothy O'Grady

"In a place where greed and ephemerality steep and reign, children grow up. Chance is the running theme in their lives, a curse. What is to many a wonderland, is to some absinthe, and to a few, a yoke.

“It’s hard to grow up here, or even want to, when your parents are falling apart. You know you have to grow up fast, but you don’t know what to grow up into. Your parents are supposed to be anchors, but they’re the ones that need guiding. I felt like I had to be the parent. The adult world just looked vile. Greedy, but also hopeless. I watched them, weak, passive, just accepting everything and endlessly repeating the same mistakes.”

Is Las Vegas special? The peculiar thing is you could apply these conditions to anywhere and find it replicating, glaring still: a mirror to the brokenness of the human condition. Who can save us from this body of death?"—Kum Suning

3 by Krishna Udayasankar

"Three ways to tell if 3 by Krishna Udayasankar belongs on your bookshelf:

1) You don't want to read about the founding legend of Singapore. You just want to read a good story about carving out your own place in the world.

2) You're itching to read a story with battles of both swords and political wits, backed up by a cast of characters that are much more than one-dimensional figures of history.

3) Have no idea what the region was like during the Majapahit empire. Please read this, educate yourself, and clutch your heart at all the good bits of writing you'll come across.

In a world where speculative, post-apocalyptic or fantasy fiction dominates, there is nothing quite like a piece of historical fiction done right."Jennifer Kwan

The Sound of SCH by Danielle Lim

"Towards the end of The Sound of SCH, Danielle wonders if there’s any meaning to her uncle’s suffering, living with schizophrenia and the devastating impact of loneliness & social isolation he experienced for most of his adult life. Reading the book, I cannot help but think about it through my own lens of suffering & personal struggle with mental health. Like really, what is the point to any of this? And if there’s a point, why does it have to be so difficult?

I think we often try to seek control over our narratives in order to have a better understanding of our own lives. And that can provide us with a sense of hope & dignity. We want to believe that we are not suffering for nothing. That maybe the karmic scales will soon balance in our favour.

But sometimes suffering is just suffering. There’s no grander narrative. It’s really just synapses failing to connect where they should.

Seng enjoyed drinking kopi-o, reading the papers, and taking walks. His life had also been decimated by mental illness. We have to reconcile that and say yes, even when we are ‘broken’ or not ‘normal’, we are still deserving of kindness, love, and softness from the world."Justin Chia

lost bodies: poems between Portugal and home by Phan Ming Yen, Heng Siok Tian, Yong Shu Hoong, and Yeow Kai Chai

"Once, many years ago, I noticed the looseness of skin on my parent's body and struck by their old age, I was overcome by thoughts of their passing—how soon it seemed to loom now and the empty quietness of a house without their presence... It was an isolating experience then, my friends' parents were relatively younger in their forties and didn't identify with my fear.

Reading lost bodies brought me back to those thoughts, and the feelings of tenderness, regret, and fear finally found a nesting ground. The scenes of Portugal here are not the point, but a backdrop that evokes memories and the conjuring of possible memories to-be if time had allowed. I imagine to be left with wistful thoughts as these in the days after their departure.

This book is a little nightlight for anyone who has had a difficult year with the passing of a loved one or the closeness of their end." —Foo Peiying

Bitter Punch by Loh Guan Liang

"When’s the next time you’ll be reading a funny poetry book?
 
Re-reading Bitter Punch, I was hit by two epiphanies: the book goes well with beer, and bitter can be funny.
 
Once you’ve knocked down the seriousness of the subject matter, the kookiness of Guan Liang’s imagination starts wafting through: “Pug takes a piss on turtle soup sign. It stares back, doesn’t give a shit.” Think what you will of the commentary going on in the subtext – carnivorism? anti-socialism? – or don’t think. Enjoy the unlikeliness of a live dog and cooked turtle, brought together with supremely casual indifference. (Poke your head behind the pages, you deserve an ironic chuckle with the poet.)
 
Now we’re getting the brand of humour, we’re ready for his observations of community life. Turf wars between rivalrous neighbours transform the HDB corridor into a battlefield of “Chinese karaoke drones” and projectiles delivering a mishmash of tongues (“Tagalog”) and genres (“Ballads and hymns”). Work in the office is shrouded by the hangover of marital disintegration, as the hero/heroine attempts to sober himself/herself: “Give me coffee, hot, bitter as a black punch to the face.”
 
If you are in the iron grip of Seriousness, do yourself a favour and get a Bitter Punch. Let its gentle ethereal waves spread internally across your limbic system. I can see the smile on your face already, and unlike mulled wine, you don’t want a Christmas to enjoy a pint or two of poetry." —Ng Kah Gay

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Thanks again for reading with us and we'll catch you on the flip side!

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