Three Self-Published Books to Read

Gwee Li Sui Recommends

Three Self-Published Books to Read

As Part of #BuySingLit

Many self-published books don’t get the love they deserve. But guess what joins Pranav Joshi’s novel Behind a Cultural Cage, O Thiam Chin’s fiction collection Free-Falling Man, Evangeline Neo’s comic book Eva, Matcha and Kopi, and most books by Gene Whitlock? So here are three recent DIY titles that merit some hugs…

Unapologetically Insane Tales by Zed Yeo

What the heck is this book about? Zed Yeo crowdfunded a work he needed to get out of his head, and, now that I’ve seen it, I’m worried. Unapologetically (uh oh!) Insane Tales contains very short stories, limericks, critical commentaries, and drawings. It’s so nonsensical that it can be a whole lot of fun if you let it have its way.

This collection of whatever is eccentric when it isn’t childish and clever when it isn’t eccentric. Best of all, it reads ageless. There’s a bit of Edward Lear, Shel Silverstein, and Jorge Luis Borges, and so do go in with your heart open. Thankfully, I don’t think Zed Yeo is as insane as he thinks he is, but it’s still as charming watching him playact right through.

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Shadows from Here: Tales of Terror by Raymus Chang

I frankly can’t say this enough: we need more supernatural stories! We are so well-placed as a people from several old cultures that this sort of writing ought to be our gift to world literature. Russell Lee has understood the point for decades. And now there is Raymus Chang who will show the way for a new generation of horror writers. Or I can hope.

Shadows from Here: Tales of Terror collects eight creepy stories. The setting may be urban Singapore, but culture and superstition overlap seamlessly. Ghosts are at the windows of our modernity. I won’t reveal too much here since the genre works best when experienced ignorantly. All I should say is that you’ll find things you shouldn’t pick up, places you shouldn’t go, and books you shouldn’t read. But not this one.

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Harris bin Potter and the Stoned Philosopher by Suffian Hakim

For me, Harris bin Potter and the Stoned Philosopher is the most impressive self-publication in recent memory. My simple reason is that its story started life on Suffian Hakim’s blog before growing interest compelled him to take it to print. Once published, the book flew off the shelves. Print runs later, we’re now hearing of overseas sales and an upcoming sequel…

If you can’t work out what this title is about yet, you’re not trying. Come on! Harris bin Potter and the Stoned Philosopher is an obvious local parody, and Suffian has the grand talent of writing silly for hours. Look, his hero’s parents died of food poisoning from Johor satay, and then he goes to Hog-Tak-Halal-What School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. While J. K. Rowling’s original series is essential reading, I can totally see people reading that just to get to this book. It’s that special!

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About the Author

Gwee Li Sui is a poet, graphic artist, and a literary critic. His published works include Myth of the StoneWho Wants to Buy a Book of Poems?, One Thousand and One NightsWho Wants to Buy an Expanded Book of Poems?The Other Merlion and Friendsand Haikuku.

Three Books to Read This National Day

Gwee Li Sui Recommends

Three Books to Read This National Day

As Part of #BuySingLit

So it’s that time of the year again when you take out your Singaporean flag to hang and belt out subliminally programmed songs! You’d think that, for three books to read this season, I would recommend something with a title like Jeremy Tiang’s It Never Rains on National Day. But am I ever Mr Predictable? Here are my unlikely bedfellows…

1. The Resident Tourist by Troy Chin

First I’m going with Troy Chin’s feverish and unending comics series The Resident Tourist! I know I’m cheating here since that’s really eight books to date. But, however you read it, wherever you start, The Resident Tourist offers a singular experience like none other. It retraces the life of Chin after he returned to Singapore from New York in 2007. What follows is an extraordinary unfolding of ordinariness as friendship, love, home, memories, music, everything, and nothing sprawl with honesty that hurts.

Troy Chin is our Harvey Pekar, Chester Brown, and Joe Matt rolled into one Asian fish ball. His humour is infectious, and his art grows on you. His rhythm gets under your skin, and the pacing of his narrative is flawless. His dialogues are so unpretentiously brilliant that I always feel smarter while reading.

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2. The Short Stories and Radio Plays of S. Rajaratnam, edited by Irene Ng

Next I’m throwing in a founding father’s literary canon because I can! It is good to remind ourselves that some of our best politicians from Othman Wok to Tharman Shanmugaratnam were writers once, no matter what our parents say about writing. And that takes literature to a different place. The young S. Rajaratnam’s works take it to a whole new level since we can already see the birth of an able political mind!

Do yourself a favour and examine his six-part radio play A Nation in the Making. Here he speculates on culture and nationhood even as Malaya then was on the march to independence from Britain. OK, so this isn’t exactly about 1965, but it reads like a stunning prequel. All your future plot twists are here, and I find myself mumble too often: “Ho ho, Raja, you don’t know how right you are!” His stories are a different thing, easing you into a time and its people long lost. Get to know something about Rajaratnam other than he composed the National Pledge already!

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3. The Beating and Other Stories by Dave Chua

Finally, we should always balance all those good emotions inside with something morbid. For that, Dave Chua’s masterly fiction collection The Beating and Other Stories is like Tiger beer in the evening. Many a gloomy and lonesome hour have I turned to this book, and it cheered me to feel how there were darker, sadder, and weirder Singaporean lives. Look, the title story itself is about getting abused by a parent and being scarred for life!

Dave Chua tells cinematic stories with plain words that fill your mind. These are quintessentially local too, and not one emotion, not one character feels out of place – trust me! The book sinks me into what makes me love our bizarre country so much: the mere fact that we’re stuck together here. It’s ultimately as simple as that, and then life explodes with joy, pain, and beauty. When you’re bending the spine, remember before you put the book down to catch NDP on TV to read the piece “Fireworks”. Because guess what that’s about?

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About the Author

Gwee Li Sui is a poet, graphic artist, and a literary critic. His published works include Myth of the StoneWho Wants to Buy a Book of Poems?, One Thousand and One Nights, Who Wants to Buy an Expanded Book of Poems?, The Other Merlion and Friendsand Haikuku.