Since I decided to start counting literary calories, I’ve become a bit more discerning with what media I decide to consume. This doesn’t mean that I only read, listen, and watch enriching stuff. There’s not enough energy left in my slivers of free time to constantly engage with intriguing ideas and deep beauty. While I feel more palpably how valuable each moment in time is, and how I should spend the hours I have wisely, not all hours are made the same. We can set aside hours for many things – reading War And Peace, learning a new instrument, practicing a different language, meditating and so on. But, when the time comes, we realise that the hours are more viscous than expected.

This is why the past week has been lighter in terms of books, especially ones that demand attention. It’s even harder to draw out the will to write. Even now, as I’m typing this, I feel myself lost in a brain fog, crawling through the dregs at the bottom of the hourglass.


Books

Often Rarely That Simple (Alexander Hansford)

Often Rarely That Simple is a book that details some sleight-of-hand card techniques by Alexander Hansford.

This is the first magic book I’ve read in a long time. Usually, magic books either read like cookbooks or instruction manuals. Magic books also tend to be rather vapid in terms of content beyond the insular nitty gritty. Place your first finger here, then say this, now do that, and ta-dah, magic! Any beauty here is exclusive to those who already have a wealth of knowledge about magic, and can thus admire the minute subtleties involved. Often Rarely That Simple does have that, sure, but the vapidity of magic books also places Hansford’s understated yet fantastic writing style front and centre.

The book is a joy to read while also offering a glimpse inside Hansford’s mind. I won’t actually learn any of the tricks in the book, but I like letting Hansford’s words wash past me. It is well-written, and sometimes that’s enough.

Anything But Human (Daryl Lim)


Daryl Lim's Anything But Human

This past week, I’ve been craving for poetry for some reason. X passed me this poetry collection, almost absentmindedly. I skimmed through it and liked it enough to skim it a second time, but not enough to sate the craving. I think when it comes to poetry, preferences are even more fickle than for any other form of writing.

The one thing I remember most is the phrase “freshly mown man”.

九歌109年小说选

九歌109年小说选

I’ve never been huge on anthologies. Especially when it comes to the type that strives to collect the best writings of the year. In this case, it’s short stories from Taiwan. While reading it, I can’t help but feel like I’m reading a catalogue. It’s a chance to encounter a writer who’d speak to me out of the cacophony of stories, like a chance to find a lifechanging lifestyle product that’d make me happy. However, chances are, it’s not going to happen. There’re too many voices vying for attention, and there’s not enough space to really get to know any one writer. In a way, reading an anthology is the literary version of speed dating.

九歌109年散文选

九歌109年散文选

The same can be said for this, except this time it’s creative non-fiction. The selection is more eclectic, ranging from personal essays to literary critique to a strange in-between that’s neither poetry nor essay.

The one that stuck with me is 光音之尘 by 罗任铃. It’s like individual short diary entries about how light and time entwine.

A History Of Cows (The Institute of Critical Zoologists)

A History Of Cows (The Institute of Critical Zoologists)

It’s a curious book. I’ve never really thought about Singapore’s cows, or lack of cows, before. The photograph on the cover shows the last wild cow spotted in the country.

Singapore Chess Magazine, Issue 1

Singapore Chess Magazine

Honestly, I barely read it. Chess magazines are almost always about the games and the puzzles featured, not literary merit. Not that they should be, since that’s not the point. Some chess players think that the act of playing chess is art. I disagree. The game itself could very well be, but the play itself is sport, and too inward-looking for me to appreciate it as art.

The Tutorial Tower Of The Advanced Player

Advanced Player of The Tutorial Tower

My addictive trashy webtoon of choice for the week.

I Shall Live As A Prince

I Shall Live As A Prince

Okay, actually I read two webtoons. They’re easy-to-digest escapist power fantasies. It’s hard to stop once I start reading one since they demand so little from the reader.


Music

An Evening With Silk Sonic (Bruno Mars & Anderson .Paak)

A groovy, energetic album that’s quite explicitly suggestive.

Dawn FM (The Weeknd)

I didn’t like the album much.

天地尾 (烏流 Kuroshio)

It’s an EP by a Taiwanese band with Taiwanese lyrics. I don’t understand it, but it is clearly musically ambitious. It is exciting to listen to, and that slight sense of 沧桑 is balanced just right.

Djesse Vol. 3 (Jacob Collier)

Jacob Collier is a wizard. His music is ridiculously complex, but it’s still easy to listen to. Sometimes, it’s too much, especially an uninitiated like me, but there really isn’t any other musician like him.

Some Rap Songs (Earl Sweatshirt)

“I said peace to my dirty water drinkers
Psh, nobody tryna get it clean
Why ain’t nobody tell me I was sinkin’?
Ain’t nobody tell me I could leave
Yeah, we’d win again, seethin’ within
Seen teeth on the floor, leakin’ again”

SICK! (Earl Sweatshirt)

“The same dust can’t stay, I gotta clean or I can’t think
Resort to cantankerous means on the cash play, rat races
The cheese sit in the trap, waitin’
Snap, then we break; somethin’ reachin’ for me from the waist
These days, I’m mindful of what I embrace
Operating on an empty tank, spank me, fumes fueling a flame”

一切好事都会发生 (凹与山)

This song is inspired by a short story from a writer I like!

“在你的海
在你的海邊的房間
地上的人 深夜徘徊
狂歡卻共享著孤單
在你的沙灘 放逐我的輕狂
在我的海岸 貪看你的時光”

Blueburn Self-titled EP

Blueburn’s unassuming and simple songs are reminiscent of certain more familiar ones, though it’s hard to pinpoint what those songs are. Maybe those familiar songs only exist in my favourite dreams.

“Waking up alone in the night
It was darkness
Stepping out the door into the light
It was empty
Walk on by
To my favorite dream
I hear your voice
By my side
Walk on by
To my favorite dream
How I wish you were here”

Lush (Snail Mail)

Lush, indeed.

Valentine (Snail Mail)

“First time I met you I knew then
Afterwards there’d be
No in between
We can sail the ocean blue
Or just fly down, you know
How I love you”


Videos

A great primer on what Chinese idioms are. The point about the vitality of the idioms is one that I’ve noticed, but he found the perfect way to describe it.

Recently I found the stand-up comedy analysis rabbit hole on YouTube. As with so, so many things in life, there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.

So of course I searched for the stand-up special mentioned in the video. Especially after watching the previous video, on an intellectual level, I can appreciate the special. Still, it’s hard for me to say that I liked it when I didn’t laugh a single time.

Solar Sands’ videos are amazing. I’m not someone who’s into fine art, but his videos always pique my curiosity and I learn a lot from them.

Folding Ideas is one of my favourite YouTube channels. Dan Olson makes his points after very substantial research, which is a rarity in a media landscape where even quantity trumps quality. Even after reading up on NFTs for weeks, I still managed to learn something new from the video.

I’ve always known that the pinyin system is tied to English’s rise as the lingua franca. It is so easy to take language systems for granted.


Articles

J.K. Rowling and the Limits of Imagination (Current Affairs)

“The problem is that while Rowling can imagine 50 different kinds of magical root for Professor Sprout’s Herbology course, she can’t imagine her way past myopic middle-class British values. This is a shame not just because it hurt the series as literature (the books would have been better with an actual plot about Dumbledore’s homosexuality, or an actual effort to expose the normalization of slavery in the wizarding world). It also means that many of us, as we grow up, have to leave these books behind, because to dwell too long in this world stunts our moral growth. “

‘I’d keep it on the down low’: the secret life of a super-recogniser (The Guardian)

“Seo too was unaware that others didn’t share her love of the private game she played, where she’d spot a person on a bus or the street and then flick through the vast catalogue of faces she kept in her head, trying to place where she’d seen them before. ‘It’s always been quite fun for me,’ she says. ‘Especially as a child. I remember just really enjoying looking at different faces.'”

What happens when a person dies alone? A trauma cleaner shows us what the job is like (CNA)

This is the type of job that gets writers thinking. It’s a corner of society that easily goes unnoticed. Knowing that there are people doing this as a job fuses mundanity with tragedy in a way that makes it ripe for literary predation. Part of me feels bad that I’m thinking this way, but as someone who wants to be a storyteller of sorts I can’t help it.

The Rot of Candy Crush and The Rest of Wordle (Culture Study)

“This is ultimately a story about control. Burnout, particularly when interwoven with depression, makes it difficult to actually choose to do the things that you really do want to do — socializing, getting outside, reading the book on your bedside table, not canceling an appointment, showing up for someone, fixing something, just doing something that you choose. You often find yourself on the path of least resistance, whether that means binging a television show you don’t even really like or scrolling Instagram until you get a recharged life on Candy Crush. You revenge bedtime procrastinate. You feel passive in the flow of your own damn life — and frustrated that you can’t muster the strength to redirect it.

A game like Candy Crush exploits burnout. Wordle, much like a puzzle or crossword, offers a moment of restoration. The mind is active but calm; I choose to start it, and then it ends. And as a result, it feels much easier to choose the things I actually, truly, want to do, instead of ceding my time to a row of four exploding candy icons.”

Seeing Without Looking (Real Life)

There are so many quotable passages here, it’s impossible to pick one.

“In addition to the arresting of moments, photography makes possible the collection of such moments, and the arrangement of them together with each other. Sontag is sharply critical of this mode of photography. ‘By furnishing this already crowded world with a duplicate one of images,’ she says, ‘photography makes us feel that the world is more available than it really is.’”

Don Quixote: Sloppy, Inconsistent, Baffling, Perfect (Lit Hub)

“Worse perhaps is the feeling one gets—I do, at least—that Cervantes is often falling asleep at the wheel, that he wants to stubbornly fill pages. Although this isn’t a flaw per se, the First Part and the Second Part, published a decade apart (the first in 1605, the second in 1615) at times feel as if they are unrelated siblings, the first maybe written tempestuously, the second more relaxed and philosophical, if not more fatalistic. Furthermore, I love all this clumsiness, I love the way things appear to be clogged up. It reminds me of my own ineptness. The business of classics being perfect books is baloney. They are as defective, as inadequate as everything else in the universe. Careful readers see these flaws as reflections of their own frailty. That, I suspect, is why audiences adore Don Quixote himself: because he is awkward, pitiful, inchoate, seeking excellence but failing in the process. The knight’s charm is to be found in his folly. Imperfection is a feature of our universe, and this classic is distinct because it both deliberately and haphazardly replicates that feature.”

A Dream From Christmas Cottage (Affidavit)

“Joan Didion once wrote that Kinkade’s windows seemed to her not to depict tidy cottages with hearths aglow, but rather infernos, witches’ houses with ovens blazing in anticipation of the greedy children foolish enough to lick gumdrop doorknobs or break off sheets of peanut brittle siding. The fetishization of sentimentality, this reading suggests, is a threadbare scrim that barely distances us from the manifold brutalities of real life—nostalgia is a glamour, a spell that tricks us into thinking that we would be better off with the things that we imagine we once had. “

My Year of Reading Every Ursula K. Le Guin Novel (Lit Hub)

The Dispossessed is the only book by Le Guin that I’ve read. It presents a world with a system different from capitalism, and tries to portray the alternative anarchist system fairly. I cannot say if it’s successful or not, but after reading it, I felt pessimistic about the future on a societal level, but optimistic on a human level.


If only there is more time to write, more time to read, and more time to let everything I want to do breathe. I can’t imagine a life where I don’t engage deeply in the arts.

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