📖 The Measure

“Can you tell what this one means?” Nina pointed to another sticker. Maura studied the yellow paper under Nina’s finger. Se il per sempre non esiste lo inventeremo noi. Her forehead scrunched, her brain searching for the words. “If forever doesn’t exist,” she said, “we’ll invent it ourselves.”

Nikki Erlick
The Measure


This is a very captivating thought experiment disguised as a science fiction novel. I gobbled it up very quickly on a flight. The story begins with everyone waking up one day to find a box at their doorstep, and inside that box is a piece of string. The length of the string corresponds to how long you will live.

If you have a short string, do you give up? Take all the risks you want before you are gone? Consider euthanasia to avoid a nasty accident taking your life? Should your leaders declare the length of their strings? What if you and your life partner have markedly different lengths… The writer explores many, many different scenarios and they can be intimate, horrifying, banal… I didn’t have much expectations in terms of writing but I found that the story moves along well, and much as the topic is morbid, the book is overall leaning towards optimism. It would perhaps be more appreciated by those who like reading philosophy.


“The beginning and the end may have been chosen for us, the string already spun, but the middle has always been left undetermined, to be woven and shaped by us.”

📖 Book Lovers

“Does anyone ever want to finish a good book?”

Emily Henry
Book Lovers


The other half recommended this book, noting that while it is a romance novel, it was something that was not as easy to put away. I suppose romance novels have their reputation and suffer from pre-judgment, but Emily Henry did a pretty good job. Both of us managed to finish the book, even though we kept expressing our love-hate relationship with this endeavour.

Maybe it is because it is set in the book publishing business (the main characters are a literary agent and a book editor), that we were drawn in. There were various bits about reading and readers, and observations on being a woman in a professional world. These are bound to endear the book to the female reader. And while I would have appreciated some brevity, kudos to the author for plotting the story, peeling behind the layers of various characters along the way. [OK, I just wanted the character development to be faster/ done in fewer words. You also feel like the writer is aiming to be the script for a Hallmark movie.]

That said, my favourite part of the book is the relationship between Nora and her younger sister, Libby. The eternal struggle of an elder sibling wanting to take care of things versus stepping back and/or letting things be, because the younger sibling also needs to be herself, do things her way… So, in a way, maybe it is the sister arc that made me stay.

PS. After you recognise the concept, it is amusing how it turns up so very often – Americans moving away from the East Coast because of the weather and landing up on the West Coast. It is such a luxury that does not compute for me, situated in a cosmopolitan city-state near the equator.

Reading – 2023

Books here are only listed if I’ve completed them; recommended titles are in bold.


Servants of the Damned
Autumns (Seasons Quartet)
Franny and Zooey
Reality is not what it seems
Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do and What It Says About Us
Cold Water Burning
My Twentieth Century Evening and Other Small Breakthroughs: The Nobel Lecture
Recollections of My Non-existence
The Stranger
The Paris Apartment
The Status Game
The Republic
The Subplot: What China Is Reading and Why It Matters
Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks
Narcissus and Goldmund
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Elizabeth Finch
Real Estate
Shanghai Lawyer
Smart Brevity
Cloud Hidden, Whereabouts Unknown
The Trackers
The Wall
Zen: The Art of Simple Living
Uncanny Valley
How to Change Your Mind
Sorrow and Bliss
The Devotion of Suspect X
Money Men
Forest Bathing
A People’s History of the United States
The Silent Patient
Influence Empire
The Longest Race
Last Night at The Lobster
Hillbilly Elegy
Eight Mountains
Days at the Morisaki Bookshop
The Price of Being Fair
Better than Before
An Edgar Allan Poe Reader
Still Life
The Dhammapada
Going Infinite: The Rise and Fall of a New Tycoon

Total: 53 books; 20 fiction

Did not make much progress with my foray into series. LOTR is almost done but I barely made progress on re-reading Harry Potter. I seem to be more interested in mysteries this year, perhaps trying to catch the nostalgic Agatha Christie feel. Out, Babel and The Wall were really, really good fiction. I clearly enjoy non-fiction titles on morally-suspect hustlers/ finance bros.

📖 Babel

“Nice comes to us by way of the Old French nice (‘weak, clumsy, silly’), from the Latin nescius (‘ignorant, not knowing’).”

R F Kuang


This is an ambitious book, and it delivered. Between crafting lovable characters and delivering on a story, the author also found time to dig at slavery, inequality and the British empire. There were also debates on the philosophy of translation, lovely snippets on the etymology of various words, and careful dips into the thorny issue of racism.

A 5-star book, and I finished it, wanting to buy a copy for everyone I know who reads.


“And the influences on English were so much deeper and more diverse than they thought. Chit came from the Marathi chitti, meaning letter or note. Coffee had made its way into English by way of Dutch (koffie), Turkish (kahveh), and originally Arabic (qahwah). Tabby cats were named after a striped silk that was in turn named for its place of origin: a quarter of Baghdad named al-Attabiyya.”

“I want to live,’ she repeated, ‘and live, and thrive, and survive them. I want a future. I don’t think death is a reprieve. I think it’s – it’s just the end. It forecloses everything – a future where I might be happy, and free. And it’s not about being brave. It’s about wanting another chance. Even if all I did was run away, even if I never lifted a finger to help anyone else as long as I lived – at least I would get to be happy. At least the world might be all right, just for a day, just for me. Is that selfish?”

📖 Recent reads

[This is in a different format from the usual book post.]

1 //

Late Night at The Lobster

I started on this book as a recommendation from Story Graph, and I guess I approve of the algorithm! It is a very interior book, and you live in the head of Manny, the manager of a chain restaurant that has just been ordered by HQ to close down for good. Manny struggles through the last shift, with his rag-tag crew, and he struggles through life – with a waitress he is in love with and his pregnant girlfriend. It is very far from my day-to-day, and I enjoyed being immersed, for a short while, in Manny’s world. [3/5]


The Longest Race: Inside the Secret World of Abuse, Doping, and Deception on Nike’s Elite Running Team

The story on Alberto Salazar broke a few years ago, and Nike continued to support him for a time. We have read Mary Cain’s brave story, and Kara Goucher’s book brings more depth to the darkness that consumed those who happened to be Salazar’s orbit in those years. It is a courageous book, and a story that ought to be written and ought to be read. Harsher critics question if the writer could have done more / earlier, and whether this book serves to ameliorate some of her guilt. But to me, to even be able to do what she eventually had, Goucher had to have fortitude in spades. Yes, she could have done differently, but so do we all. She deserves to process it the way she wants to (the privilege of being a writer). She was in a tough situation and perhaps the progressiveness of the world today makes us forget that just 5, 10 years ago, the world was very different. [4/5]


Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

This book is very interesting from a sociological perspective. There are also some pop psychology musings from the author. When you finish the book, you will wonder whether politics and what appears to be a desire to drum up publicity for some collateral purpose ought to affect your view of a book. If you are a discerning reader, you will wish for better writing and you would be able to form your own conclusions about whether the author’s conclusions are right. (Every hillbilly can make it to law school like he did!) He may or may not be able to speak for all Appalachians and working-class whites, but he sure knows how to tell a story. After reading the book, you will do well to read a few reviews on why the book was controversial. The book is a deceptive piece of art. [3/5]

📖 On Reading – the early 2020s 

I used to read one book at a time. But in the last few years, coincidentally with my weaning myself off physical books, I began to read more than one book at a time. Sometimes, I had 2 or 3 books I consider myself to be actively reading. Perhaps it became necessary because borrowing e-books sometimes requires one to wait for the book to be released.

I also decided to read 1000-page things (Russian epics; WWII) and series (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings), and decided these efforts would be better aided by having physical books. So I ended up between e-books (mostly on Libby, sometimes on Kindle or the Books app) and physical books. And in a way, I am glad that I moved on from single-mindedness to this … flexibility. Sometimes you just want something different. And sometimes, in the midst of battling a big tome, you need a break.

For the past 5 years, I finished 32.8 books per year on average. I have 84 “currently reading” titles on Goodreads (I started tracking my reading in late-2017). Which seems about right, because I “touch” around 50 books a year. I used to try to finish books I started, but then decided life’s too short to finish books you don’t care to finish.


Already this year is shaping up to be different from the past 5 years. It is the end of June, and I have already finished 33 books. Perhaps it’s because of a confluence of: a stronger urge for reading this year; lowered running volume; a less busy year at work.

PS. I cannot believe we are “in the early 2020s”.

📖 The Trackers

Blurb: In The Trackers, singular American writer Charles Frazier conjures up the lives of everyday people during an extraordinary period of history that bears uncanny resemblance to our own. With the keen perceptions of humanity and transcendent storytelling that have made him beloved for decades, Frazier has created a powerful and timeless new classic.

The Trackers


I have never read Frazier before, so the fact that I was holding a signed copy did not mean that much to me. I had wanted to read it because I was in the mood to be transported, and this book was set in Depression-era America. It was also a nice souvenir, since I was visiting Seattle and the Elliott Bay Book Co made book-buying rather irresistible.

I enjoyed the book, loved how the scenery and the scene were depicted (mostly of the west, plus Florida), and felt the wistful sense of longing that every character had. Everyone is always missing something.

📖 Out 

“You know,” she murmured, “we’re all heading straight to hell.”
“Yes,” said Masako, giving her a bleak look. “It’s like riding downhill with no brakes.”
“You mean, there’s no way to stop?”
“No, you stop all right – when you crash.”

Natsuo Kirino


I finished this book in two days, or perhaps two and a half, because I read a good part of it on a plane flying from Seattle to Singapore.

The characters are all gloomy and messed up, and the details (of the scene, of the inner dialogue, of the dialogue…) are many, but the plot moves along, and you cannot put this book down. So, please make sure you have the time for it, because this book is so delicious, sucked in at one go.

Literary realism at its best. Artfully grisly? Because we all have dark impulses, and how do you know how you would act, if you were put in that situation? Despite the brutality, you feel sympathy for the downtrodden protagonist, and hope that somehow she finds some peace.


📖 The Wall 

“Billions of tiny cocoons hang woven into its threads, a lizard lying in the sun, a burning house, a dying soldier, everything dead and everything living. Time is big, yet it has room for new cocoons. A grey and relentless net, in which every second of my life is captured. Perhaps that’s why it seems so terrible to me, because it stores everything up and never really allows anything to end.”

Marlen Haushofer
The Wall


This story is morbid, disturbing and I loved it. It had me in a soft but firm grip, and there are no chapters, just a breathless report stretching 238 pages. The main character goes off for a holiday in the mountains and finds herself the sole survivor behind a transparent wall. The book follows her as she undertakes the task of surviving – cutting wood, planting crops, milking a cow… The narrative skips between the past and present, and that required processing but also made the read even more engaging. Even as it was clear that things would not generally go well, I was engrossed in the details, trying to guess what happens next.

This is not a fast-paced science fiction novel. It is an ode to the natural world and the human spirit. It is a simple story, told in beautiful prose. But as to whether the protagonist truly finds equanimity, I do not know.

[The book was first published in 1963, and I have never heard of the author. I am so pleased I chanced upon it at the bookstore.]



“But if time exists only in my head, and I’m the last human being, it will end with my death. The thought cheers me. I may be in a position to murder time. The big net will tear and fall, with its sad contents, into oblivion. I’m owed some gratitude, but no one after my death will know I murdered time. Really these thoughts are quite meaningless. Things happen, and, like millions of people before me, I look for a meaning in them, because my vanity will not allow me to admit that the whole meaning of an event lies in the event itself.”

📖 Real Estate  

“There were some small improvements. I now owned not one electric bicycle but a fleet of electric bicycles. In this sense, as far as I was concerned, I resembled a rock star I knew who owned a fleet of aero-planes. Yes, I had one e-bike locked up under the tree and two more in the garage. Friends came to stay from all over the world and we cycled around London together. It was a gesture towards a life I wanted, that is to say, an extended family of friends and their children, an expanded family rather than a nuclear family, which in this phase of my life seemed a happier way to live. If I wanted a spare room for every friend, my flat could not support this idea. If I wanted a fireplace in every room, there were no fireplaces in my flat. So what was I going to do with all this wanting?”

Deborah Levy
Real Estate


A timeless question – What have I done with my life?, sometimes interposed with a more materialistic – What do I have to show for it?

I appreciate how Levy captures the questions and how we answer ourselves, never losing a sense of optimism. I have read and adored Levy’s previous two volumes of her living autobiography. In this volume, she goes into questions about patriarchy and a woman’s place in this world, and much as one yearns for a strong message or resolution, I understand why sometimes ambivalence holds sway. We may not get the outcome we want in this lifetime, but we have to keep on trying.

Living is striving. Living is keenly observing. You may or may not have real estate to show for it.


“Yet my encounter with this rented house was a taunt, a provocation; it made me feel more alive. If I was full of desire for its ambience and grace, the fact that I did not have the means to buy it only accelerated my desire. Perhaps it was not the house but desire itself that made me feel more alive.

Maybe it is a good thing for us to keep a few dreams of a house that we shall live in later, always later, so much later, in fact, that we shall not have time to achieve it.
Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space