Monday, July 02, 2007

Let’s Talk About Books

All that discussion about Nevil Shute stirs up memories of some of the wonderful books that I have read aeons ago. Up to about 12 years ago, I read a lot of fiction.

When I started working, I used to get my books from a second hand book store called Saints located at Bukit Timah Plaza. They had two prices stamped on the book. You paid the higher price printed on top and when you returned the book, they refunded you the amount printed at the bottom. Do they still have this practice?

My preferences tended to be influenced by the author. Once I have a liking for a particular author, I would go on to read most of his books. My earliest favourite, of course was Nevil Shute. This was followed later by Herman Wouk. More ‘recent’ additions were Arthur Hailey, Frederick Forsyth and James Mitchener.

Arthur Hailey’s stories have this unique focus on a particular industry or profession. For example, Wheels took place in the automobile industry, Strong Medicine was on the drugs industry, Money Changers was on banking industry and Hotel was obviously from the hotel industry. My favourite was Strong Medicine. I remember reading it during my slow and arduous train ride back from Ipoh after my first visit there to meet my (then) girl friend’s parents and then returned alone by train. (She stayed on as it was the school holidays.)

My two favourite Frederick Forsyth books were No Comebacks and The Fourth Protocol. The first was actually a compilation of short stories. The second had to do with nuclear weapons I think.

I liked James Mitchener too, but his books are very thick, and so it was a challenge to read all his books. I think I read Poland, Space and The Source. I liked the last one most because he touched on many events depicted in the Old Testament.

But my favourite authors are still Nevil Shute and Herman Wouk. Maybe it’s a case of ‘first love’.

Nevil Shute has written more than twenty novels and I have read most of them. His ‘heroes’ tended to be very simple people – maybe that’s the attraction to common people like me. Speaking of common people, I saw a Taiwanese movie about a writer who wrote a book entitled, “一个平凡人的故事” or An Ordinary Man’s Story. But anyway, I have digressed. The three books by Nevil Shute that I enjoyed most are, No Highway, An Old Captivity and Requiem for a Wren.

No Highway was the text for our O-level literature, and so I remember the story well. It’s about an eccentric metalurgist at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Theodore Honey, who believed the company’s plane, the Reindeer had a problem with metal fatigue which causes it to fail after 1,440 hours of flight. He was sent to Labrador to investigate one such plane crash. But midway, he discovered that the very plane he was traveling in, also a Reindeer, had already flown more than 1,440 hours. He was unable to convince the pilot to turn back, and so in desperation, when the plane landed in transit, he forcefully grounded it by lowering the undercarriage (or something equally dramatic). Of course that created a huge row. Another team was sent to Labrador to investigate the first plane crash. Meantime, Honey got to know and fall in love with one of the plane’s air stewardesses, Marjorie Corder who not only took good care of him, but also his daughter Elspeth. He was a widower. Of course, you get no prizes for guessing the ending of this story.

An Old Captivity was about a pilot who was hired by a professor to carry out an aerial survey of Greenland. During the expedition he fell ill and had strange dreams of himself as a slave on a Norse long ship of about a thousand years before.

Requiem for a Wren is rather sad story of Janet Prentice a navy girl whose fiance, an Australian marine sergeant by the name of Bill Duncan was killed in the war. (A Wren by the way, is not a bird but an employee of the Women's Royal Naval Service). Troubled by all the death, violence and destruction in which she had played a part, she found her way to Australia after the war, and took up the position of a parlour maid in the home of her fiancé, without their knowledge. She became very close to Bill’s mother. Meantime, Bill’s brother, Alan, the only person in the Duncan family who has met her before, was searching for her. He was a pilot who had lost both his feet in the war and was depressed and was returning to Australia. Unable to face the prospect of Alan's imminent return, Janet commits suicide.

But my all-time favourite books were Winds of War and its sequel War and Remembrance by Heman Wouk. Both were voluminous books exceeding one thousand pages. I read Winds in 1977 and eagerly waited three years for its sequel which came out in 1980. These were historical novels, but the events recorded were real. Winds traced the 2nd World War from September 1939 to the bombing of Pearl Harbour. Remembrance continued till the end of the war. History was told through the eyes of one Victor Henry and his family who were somehow present at all the big events of the war.
History was never so exciting as told in these two books. I particularly relished the detailed and spellbinding description of the Battle of Midway in Remembrance. In between the narration, the author inserts segments of the war diary of a fictitious German general, thus giving the war a different perspective.

If you have an appetite for such epics, I would highly recommend these two books. After all, history is just as relevant today as it was to the young man who read them more than a quarter century ago. But, if you don’t have the patience, you can still get the dvds because both these books were made into television mini-series starring Robert Mitchum as Victor Henry. As for me, I think I still have the books somewhere in my store room. I plan to reread and savour them one day. When I can find the time. When I am retired maybe.

I promised my librarian friend, Ivan Chew to do a book review of a couple of books from a quarter of a century ago. I think I have ‘gone the extra mile’ here, if I may borrow a favoured tag line from our government.
But the pleasure is all mine.


aiyah nonya said...

Most second hand book stores still uses that same method. If it works why bother changing it.

Wah ! Those books so cheem. I have never read them before maybe I will give them a try once I finish my sun woo kong set of books. I am reading them in English for the first time.

Anonymous said...

When I was in secondary school, I like to read Charles Dickens novels such as Oliver Twist & David Copperfield in huge volumes, yet I was able to finish them from cover to cover, despite time constraints. As I grow older, I find that the books I borrow from the libraries become fewer and fewer until recently zero. Is it because I lose interest in reading, actually no, but the taste has changed. Now I go for books that have metaphysics contents but must be easy to grasp. I went to most public libraries in Singapore but practically found none that interest me. So I have to re-read the few books I bought years back on this subject. One of the books was a revised copy, originally published in thirties.

stay-at-home mum said...

1st visit to your blog. Sure remember the good old times. I still remember Saint Book Store. They used to be near Dhoby Ghaut, on Bras Basah RD during the good old days where there were loads of 2nd hand book shops.Wonder if it is the same one at BT Timah Plaza?

Anonymous said...

Chun See- There is a bookshop on the same level as the foodcourt at Plaza Singapura which sill continues the practice of giving a refund of certain percentage back to the customers provided of course that the returned books are in pristine condition.
Talking about books I have never enjoyed reading Willam Shakespeare books.

Lam Chun See said...

Like Zen, I too read many of the more difficult classics in secondary school. I think it was on the advice of my father who wanted us to improve our English. Some of the authors I recall are Daphne Du Maurier (Rebecca, Frenchman's Creek), Jane Austen (Pride & Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Authanger Abbey), Emily Bronte (Wuthering Heights), H G Wells (Invisible Man) and of course the Sherlock Holmes series by Sir Arthur Canon Doyle.

Maybe, I will blog about that later.

Anonymous said...

very interesting blog Chun See, like you I tend to latch onto an author and then read several books by him or her(and Nevil Shute was one of the many I read in my teenage years.

I was very 'bookish' when young and when I heard I was to come to Singapore I looked for books about or set in Singapore. I found very few and in fact the only ones I remember were a number of adventures of a tug boat based in Singapore. These could have been written at any time, in the 1950s at the latest but could easily have been pre-war. I am not sure they were great literature and because they were set in the seas around Singapore I doubt they told me much about life on the island! One day I may discover the name of the author and maybe re-read one but I don't even recall a title.

Anonymous said...

Whenever I feel depressed, I would like to read some motivational books to pep me up, but so far no books can lift my spirit beter than old Dale Carnegie's, even though he belongs to the old school of writing. Although he passed away quite long ago but his books are still selling, totaling millions of copies. His humourous stories would sweep away all the cobweb of worries from the reader's mind, enlightening him in the process.

Ivan Chew said...

Thanks for this, Chun See! Have alerted my colleagues at High Browse Online, to see if they want to "High Browse" this post.

Tom said...

Tom said ...
I still like reading books,CHun see you mentioned the author, Daphne Du Maurier my wife has read most of her books. The author I use to like was, Robert Louis Stevenson he was a Scot, and wrote a book called (Kidnapped). I like Jack Higgins (The eagle has landed). and another author Peter Sraub he wrote (Mystery). and Philip Zieglers (The BattleOf Omdurman) in Sudan another good book.

JollyGreenP said...

Neville Shute is amongst my favourite authors. I also have a tendency to try and find and read all the books by any of the authors I like. One all time favourite though, is Lord of The Rings which has been turned into an epic film. Lately my wife and I have got into dectective stories and enjoy Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben, Ian Rankin and most recently Peter Robinson who writes about a detective Inspector Banks in a Yorkshire Dales setting not far from York where I live. The stories reflect a lot of human nature and his descriptions of the fictitious Swaindale have me trying to place in my mind where he has used as the inspiration for his descriptions. His books have recently started appearing the remainder bookstores in the UK so I have been picking them up at very reasonable prices like £1.99 for a two story omnibus.

John H.

Anonymous said...

Chun See,
Your blog is a wonderful spur to research. As noted in my comment above, for years I have wondered about the tugboat stories I read before arriving in Singapore in 1960. So a quick Google on 'Tugboat adventure Singapore' immediately got me to this page and identified the author and the books I read

What a wonder the internet is!

Lam Chun See said...

Yes Brian. The internet is truly amazing. As I mentioned here, I never dreamed when I was in college that one day, my photos would appear on the internet for the whole world to see.

Anyway, your experience of the tug boat books is an example of what I want to achieve through this blog - to help us dig up and relive those old memories. As Paul Anka says in his song, "Memories are time that you borrow".

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Lam,
So what are you currently reading now?

Anonymous said...

I went back to memory lane and manage to find something very unique in my childhood days. I remember that there was a kampong house not too far from my home renting out Chinese comics at five cents per reading, while sitting on a stool provided by the enterprising in-house 'librarians' so to speak, a brother and sister team. The hard-cover comics came in a size half A4. The comics, displayed on a few wooden racks, were in black and white, mostly depicting ku-fu fighting stories, capturing the imagination of young kids, spinning them to fantasy land at the same time.

Lam Chun See said...

Nowadays, I don't read fiction. Read mostly magazines, and internet. Only books I read are for work and self-improvement; including Christianity books.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chun See
Talking of books,thanks for putting mine on your site,it's very much appreciated.Thanks also for the link to my Singapore site.
I wonder if anyone here knows the area of Taman Abad (once Century Gardens)in nJohore Bahru?I use to live in Jalan Wijaya and was wondering what the area looks like now?
Best wishes,

Victor said...

Chun See, you should do a blogpost about the "old library" (as Zen described it above). I remember in the 1960s, there was one just like that in Albert Street behind the SIT block of flats where I was staying. It was literally a stone's throw away from where the Ice Ball Man's stall was located.

I always walked past that book-rental stall but I never patronised it. I was never very interested in fiction and comics even at a young age. Moreover, the comics were all in Chinese. I was not very good in that language then and yes, even today.

Anonymous said...

While working in the early sixties, my office partner was hell of a talented guy, a terrific worker by day and member of a rock band (drummer) by night during the week end, and meantime took up some professional studies in whatever spare time he had. One day he related to me a humourous incident, while on way to work in a bus, he had an upset stomach and had to seek immediate relief. He rushed down the bus, ran across north bridge road, heading for a book-stall at Capitol theatre, bought a Beano comic, and 'flew' into the cinema done, thanks to the Beano comic as toilet papers.