Ethos' Recommended Reads to Close 2023
As we see the year out, we've rounded up the reads accompanying us as we bid farewell to 2023, and open a new chapter with 2024. Should you pick them up, may they likewise gird you for the road ahead.
Kah Gay's Read
I was on the second floor of Wardah Books when Ibrahim the bookshop owner pointed me to From a Shore Beyond Water by Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore. Ibrahim is friend to the family of the deceased poet, and had brought in the book directly from the United States. The poetry book now sits on my bedside table, continuing its curious journey that started since the poet became a Sufi Muslim in 1970.
Daniel Moore had been a Beat poet, and now, I am experiencing the cadences of his voice and spirit through the poems he wrote as Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore. This is a man whose daughter fondly remembers him for his love for other creatures:
“There is so much I want to say about my dad. There are things not everyone knew about him. For example, how animals loved him. He never killed spiders, but instead carefully escorted them outside in cups. Or that time a hornet was in the house, and after Dad performed an improv wasp-inspired dance, the hornet flew right into his cup – zzzzzzp! How he rescued that injured possum from being roadkill – he named her Blossom the Possum.” – Salihah Moore
The gentleness and wisdom I am encountering in the poems of Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore are restorative. In times when violence is being waged across multiple fronts—at home, at the borders, in our minds, done unto us or by ourselves—I hope that you, and we, will come into possession of a key, such as a person’s voice, to help us unlock just one chain of cause-and-effect binding us to a cycle of suffering.
Wishing us fellowship and wellbeing in the year ahead.
Wai Han's Read
To dive into Singapore’s history through literary lenses, the anthology edited by Gwee Li Sui, Written Country, is worth tucking into.
It’s really quite amazing how Gwee trawled through the writings of so many to come up with a factual synopsis of a key point in Singapore’s history, followed by a poem or excerpt from a play or story.
The key events delved into ranged from the Pulau Senang and Maria Hertogh riots, 1963 Coldstore Operation before Singapore’s independence in 1965, to significant political events like the 1987 alleged Marxist Conspiracy.
On a lighter note, Gwee also chose writings on the birth of the MRT, the death of Bugis Street—presented either in prose or poetry.
Though I needn’t go chronologically to enjoy the pieces, I did choose to read each page carefully, savouring the actual synopsis and the attendant creative piece.
Earlier this year, while hunting for titles on my to-read list, I chanced upon Gwendolyn Brooks’ Maud Martha in the library. It was a small book, nestled on both sides by titles both bigger and thicker, inconspicuous. Much like its physical form, Brooks’ only novel appears unassuming. Its vignettes are tied together not by the drama of plot, but by the ordinary life of its protagonist Maud Martha, who comes of age in the 1940s as a Black woman in Chicago’s South Side. Against an environment of racism and sexism, Maud Martha’s exceptional eye finds, in the mundane, moments and items of beauty. Not even the drab and compact setting of the kitchenette she lives in can limit her expansive imagination, which she savours amidst the grey. Flipping through magazines, she imagines herself emerging from a taxi onto New York City’s Fifth Avenue in a fur, eating “foolish food” like “little diamond-shaped cheeses that paprika had but breathed on”.
Fantasies are what keep Maud Martha alive; yet, she is also remarkably clear-eyed. She seethes at the Santa Claus who croons to the white children but refuses to look her daughter in the eye, she recognises her husband’s contempt for her own dark skin, she sees, after a concert, how the audience that had applauded and whistled was now “going home, as she was, and its face was dull again. It had not been helped. Not truly. Not well.” This was not art that endured, but art staged for commerce. Reflecting on the art industry and on the pursuit of fame, Maud Martha decides, “To create—a role, a poem, picture, music, a rapture in stone: great. But not for her./ What she wanted was to donate to the world a good Maud Martha. That was the offering, the bit of art, that could not come from any other./ She would polish and hone that.”
I reflected on my own relationship to art. What does it mean to offer something of myself to the world? I wondered if my yearning to create art was vain. I admired Maud Martha’s pure intentions, and I cherished her gifts of clarity, remarkable strength, an eye for beauty, and her affirmation of the ordinary. To donate a good Maud Martha to the world is more than enough. Yet, I could not help but remember that, had Gwendolyn Brooks not written this book, I would never have become part of Maud Martha’s world. Perhaps to write is not to offer something of yourself to the world, but to offer, rather, a world. A world worth stepping into, a world that is not just your own, a world preserved in time by words, from which a reader might emerge, bearing gifts.
I've thoroughly enjoyed the inaugural edition of Jom's print magazine, which explores Singapore's sociopolitical and cultural landscape.
The magazine commences with “Singapore This Year”, delving into pivotal events such as “RidoutGate”, which had earned it a POFMA direction earlier in the year. The section also covered the repercussions of Golden Mile Complex's redevelopment and the closure of Mynah Magazine.
One notable feature was an examination of the housing affordability issue, complemented by a foldout housing map infographic by Kontinentalist. A profile of Prashant Somosundram, the general manager of The Projector, was accompanied by evocative documentary visuals.
As Singapore approaches its next general elections in 2025, Jom will surely contribute meaningfully to the ongoing discourse. The magazine's evolution will be interesting to watch.
The past year has brought many changes for me, and with them have come waves of emotion—not all of which I’ve been capable of naming. Radical Compassion has provided an accessible tool through RAIN (Recognise, Accept, Investigate, Nurture) for me to start breaking down all that’s been simmering within, and make space for what the new year may hold. Through this book, I’ve been reminded that what we pay attention to matters, including for healing and living fully.
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