30 November 2023. It has been almost a year since I’ve updated the page. Before breakfast every day, I try to get through the Financial Times, the Malaysiakini, South China Morning Post, the Hindu, The Jakarta Post, the Global Times and Al Ahram. I keep and eye on MSNBC and CNN, but they are terribly predictable. The South African newspapers I turn to are Business Day and Daily Maverick, and on Fridays the Vrye Weekblad and the Mail & Guardian. The Mail & Guardian has come a long way… Its shift to the rights started with Howard Barrel. Ferial Haffejee and Mondli Makhaya did their best to bring it back to anything critical and reliable, but it drifted hopelessly to a bland, almost milquetoast (and a quite insincere liberalism), paper.
I’ve bought a small amount of books, while getting rid of several that I will donate to a school. I may have mentioned previously… I have been acquiring electronic books, new ones that I was to and have started reading, and others that I will get to (again) after years. The Gutenberg Project in the best source of “old” books. I should try to support them (when my ship comes in).
One author, William Dalrymple, whose books I have been collecting and reading. There was a brief period, during the purges of my bookshelves when Dalrymple’s books were the biggest collection of a single author on my shelves. I included the e-books, City of Jinns, and From the Holy Mountain, along with The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company, which I read about a year ago.
Other (newish) e-books include
- Familiar Stranger, by Stuart Hall;
- Twilight of the American State, by Pierre Schlag
- We need New Stories: Challenging the Toxic Myths of Our Age of Discontent by Nesrine Malik
- Accidental Gods: On Race, Empire and Men Unwittingly Turned Divine, by Anna Della Subin
- Fascism and Dictatorship: The Third International and the Problem of Fascism, by Nicos Poulantzas
22 December 2022
I have really set myself up for a year of extensive reading and research. First, though, I have to lug about 20 new books across the oceans as excess baggage; it will probably cost me more than the books themselves.
Added to the list, below, I have bought the following books:
- Anis Yusal Yusoff’s Edited volume, Readings on Malaysia: Selected Essays by Shamsul AB
- Bibliography of Selected Publications in Malaysian Studies, 1957 – 2021
- LA Wills British Malaya 1824-67
- Dennis de Witt, History of the Dutch in Malaysia
- Lam Ching Fu, My Journey by Bus: Perak, Pulau Pinang, Perlis, Kedah
- Zayn Gregory and Aria Rafhan. The Last Jews of Penang
- Cheah Khai Kid, Mohd Tajiddin Mohd Rasdi. Western Ornaments and Malaysian Architecture
- Adding to the Silverfish Collection
- A History of Sarawak Under its Two White Rajahs
- Tun Abdul Razak The May 13 Tragedy
- Marong Mahawangsa: The Kedah Annals
10 November 2022
I have finally succumbed more fully to reading ebooks. New ebooks include:
Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism . I don’t expect to get to this anytime soon. Between reading for the Malaysia book/project, which will not come together for at least a year, I am also catching up on rereading texts for the global political economy and the failures of liberal international utopianism. This is my priority until June 2023.
For the Malaysia book/project, I bought:
- Margaret Shennan’s Out in the Midday Sun: The British in Malaya 1880 – 1960.
- Nahar Akbar Khan’s The Malay Ancient Kingdoms: My Journey to the Ancient World of Nusantara.
7 October 2022
The past three months have been a hot and humid journey. I arrived in South East Asia on 7 July. Since then I have added at 10 books to my shelf, and finished reading three.
- Italo Calvino – Into the War (Read)
- Teju Cole – Every Day is for the Thief (Read)
- Zan Azlee – Liberal Malay and Malaysian (Read)
- Arundhati Roy – The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
- Elizabeth Pisani – Indonesia ETC: Exploring the Improbable Nation (Read)
- Peter Borschberg – The Singapore Melaka Straits: Violence Security and Diplomacy in the 17th Century
- Rod Stonemason – Seeing is Believing: The Politics of the Visual
A set of Silverfish Malaysian Classics
- A History of Selangor & Negri Sembilan
- Malaya and its History
- Perak and the Malays
20 June 2022
As if I don’t have enough to read, I bought Joanne Joseph’s Children of Sugarcane. I just stopped reading on page 49, while I prepare to get on with life, and so far the book is quite exceptional in its elegance and immersion into the lives of its main characters. I hope I can finish it before I am scheduled to leave town on 6 July.
Note added 30 July. Did not bring Joanne Joseph’s Children of Sugarcane along on my travels… Will have to start all over again when I get back.
12 May 2022
With my own book published an in stores, I have started reading (partially) in preparation for a long project that I will start in mid-July.
Added to the essays and papers that I read almost daily, I have started reading the brilliant William Dalrymple’s book, The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company, published by Bloomsbury. I still have not started reading (start to finish) The Future is Asian: Global Order in the 21st Century by Parag Khanna.
12 March 2022
I finished reading Fatima Bhutto’s The Runaways a few days ago. I enjoyed the way it was written; short chapters that switch between characters within a single story. Effective.
Now I will pay more attention to Karel Schoeman’s Early Slavery at the Cape of Good Hope 1652 – 1717.
22 February 2022
I finished reading William Dalrymple’s City of Djinns, and started reading Fatima Bhutto’s The Runaways. As much as I would like to get to The Future is Asian: Global Order in the 21st Century by Parag Khanna, the next few weeks – until the end of May, actually – will be inordinately busy.
23 December 2021
Well now. It’s been a while. Apart from the very many essays I have read – and spending the year writing a memoir which is due for publication in March 2022 – I have managed to get through a few books. Too few, it should be said. I have mainly been buying books for Kindle, because I am loathe to go an mingle with people in malls and bookshops during a pandemic. I don’t actually like Kindle for two main reasons. The first is that I like the feel and smell of books. The other is that I have the Kindle app on my iPad. Sitting on an iPad in a public places and constant being concerned about having to charge battery is a terrible annoyance. The latter is the reason why I gave my Apple Watch to a niece. I really don’t want Apple to know how much or how little exercise I do, nor do I want them to know my movements. The biggest problem occurred when I stayed over at a friend’s place and the thing went dead; it needed a charge. So I went out and bought an old fashioned watch. It tells me the time in analog and I am perfectly happy with that.
Before I continue. I have received two books from a great friend, Jo-Anne Duggan, which will be the first formal reading for a project that I hope will take off by the middle of next year. For now, everything – the entire project – depends on whether borders will be opened and, of course it becomes easy to travel. These are the two books:
- Karel Schoeman’s Early Slavery at the Cape of Good Hope 1652 – 1717
- Nigel Worden’s Slavery in Dutch South Africa. African Studies 44.
These two books will become essential reading in the first half of 2020.
In November I bought two books by William Dalrymple:
- City of Djinns: A year in Delhi (I’m half way through it. He really is such a knowledgable and sensitive writer on India)
- From the Holy Mountain: A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium.
I got Fatima Bhutto’s The Runaways: How far would you run to escape your life?, which I will probably start reading in the new year sometime.
After an interview I did with the Very Reverend Michael Weeder of St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, I got his book of poetry, The Promise of Memory which features on its cover a picture by Jimi Matthews.
I finished two books on Afghanistan that were quite shocking. As much as I am aware of and I have remained on tope of the Washington’s war against the Afghan people, the books were immensely disturbing and deeply saddening (maddening) in places
- West of Kabul East of New York by Tamim Ansary
- No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban and the War Through Afghan Eyes (I highly recommend this book)
I also got Branko Milanovic’s Capitalism Alone: The Future of the System That Rules the World. I shall start reading this in the new year, but I am a great admirer and a friend of Branko’s so I have no doubt that it will provide greater insights into a topic that is close to my heart (and mind)
Also for reading in early next year are:
1. Nick Bostrom’s Superinteligence: Paths Dangers and Strategies (Again)
2. Phillipa Taylor’s Future War.
3. Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron.
4. Economic Philosophy: Complexities in Economics Edited by John Davis & Wade Hands.
5. Susie Linfield’s, A Little History of Photography Criticism; or, Why Do Photography Critics Hate Photography?
6. Jason Hickel’s The Divide: A Brief Guide to Global Inequality and its Solutions.
4 August 2021
23 December 2021
A couple of friends, Laurine Platsky and Eric Miller gave me three books as a birthday gift
- Wolfgang Streeck’s How Will Capitalism End?
- Gorrel Espelund, Jesper Strudsholk and Eric Miller‘s Photography and textual essays, Reality Bites: An African Decade.
4 June 2021. I finally received a new (used) copy of a book a lost a few years ago. And bought a couple online
- Christopher Coker’s War and the 20th Century: The Impact of War on the Modern Consciousness. I ordered a used copy from a seller in the USA. It was well worth the four-week wait.
2. Ismail Kadare’s The Palace of Dreams.
3. Barry Eichengreen’s The Populist Temptation: Economic Grievance and Political Reaction in the Modern Era.
9 May 2021 I got three new books this week.
- Is Capitalism Broken?, with contributions by Yanis Varoufakis, Arthur Brooks, Katrina Vanden Heuvel and David Brooks.
- The Future is Asian: Global Order in the Twenty-First Century, by Parag Khanna.
- The Improbable War: China, the United States and the Logic of Great Power Conflict, by Christopher Coker
I got Charles Allers’s biographical book, Anwar Ibrahim: Evolution of a Muslim Democrat, a few years ago (at the same time I got A Doctor in the House: The Memoirs of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, by the former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad.
14 April 2021. It has been a tough few months. After the attack of last October, which resulted in two surgeries – I now have two plates holding my jaw together and another in my mouth to hold implants in place – I also had spinal surgery in January. I’m pleased to say that all is well. Except, of course, because of Covid restrictions, I have not gone walkabout for weeks, and one of the conditions for fully recovering from the spinal surgery was that I should walk at least a couple of kilometres a day. Well, between avoiding all humans, and writing for a living I am deskbound for most of every day.
I haven’t done much (book) reading. Most significantly, I have started/continued reading:
- The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory by Brian Green.
- Too Black to Wear Whites: The Remarkable Story of Krom Hendricks, a Cricket Hero who was Rejected by Cecil John Rhodes’s Empire, by Jonty Winch and Richard Parry
I have also continued reading chapters of The Lockdown Collection, edited by Melinda Ferguson. The book is an anthology of sorts, with contributions from some of South Africa’s best writers and journalists, and how the first few months of the Covid Pandemic has affected their lives and day-to-day routines. I wrote one of the contributions. This was the second book on the topic published by Melinda Ferguson, and featuring a handful of writers. The first was an e-book. Explains Melinda:
“At the end of March, my first response against creative suicide Lockdown The Corona Chronicles, was published after a group of 17… authors, under my benevolent whip, got an e-book together in just 7 days”.Melinda Ferguson, The Lockdown Collection. Compiler/Publisher’s Note, p8
Anyway, most of my reading continues to be academic papers and essays, news reports and analyses from publications as far and wide as the South China Morning Post, Malaysiakini, The New Straits Times, to the Financial Times, London Review of Books and the Guardian, The Hindu (and whatever else I can get online in India) to the LA Times and Commondreams.
26 December 2020. I have been drifting away from reading 20 or 30 books a year to reading fewer than 10, and a unimaginable amount of academic papers and essays in print and online. Over the past year I have read a small handful of books, and reread a few others.
I’m currently reading:
- So, For the Record: Behind the Headlines in an Era of State Capture, by Anton Harber
- Too Black to Wear Whites: The Remarkable Story of Krom Hendricks, a Cricket Hero who was Rejected by Cecil John Rhodes’s Empire, written by Jonty Winch and Richard Perry.
The books I finished reading this year are:
- Edward Luce’s The Retreat of Western Liberalism;
- The Fate of the West: The Battle to Save the World’s Most Successful Political Idea (I started reading the latter late last year):
- Swing Time by Zadie Smith;
- Encountering Apartheid’s Ghosts: From Krugersdorp to Constitution Hill by Leon Wessels;
- Elif Shafak’s 10 Minutes 38 Second in this Strange World.
- Sarah Bakewell’s At the Existentialist’s Cafe: Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails;
- Firefighting: The Financial Crisis and it’s Lessons by Ben S Bernanke, Timothy Gethner and Henry Paulson,
- Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World, by Adam Tooze.
- Khamr: The Makings if a Waterslams, by Jamil Khan. (A forgettable book)
- Arundathi Roy’s The God of Small Things,
- A few Chapters of A Doctor in the House: The Memoirs of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, by the former Prime Minister of Malaysia,
- Selected essays in Known and Strange Things, by Teju Cole,
- Chinua Achebe’s There was a Country: A personal history of Biafra
- A few chapters of Ian Kershaw’s To Hell and Back: Europe 1914 – 1949.
- Thoughts on the New South Africa by Neville Alexander
- One or two sections of Susan Sontag’s On Photography,
- Inside Apartheid’s Prison, by Raymond Suttner.
Two books I finally got to may be regarded as good scholarship, but parts of them made me particularly angry.
- Pumla Dineo Gqola’s What is Slavery to Me: Post-Colonial/Slave Memory in Post-Apartheid South Africa, and
- Gabeba Baderoon’s Regarding Muslims: From Slavery to Post-Apartheid.
I started reading, Dennis Cruywagen’s The Spiritual Mandela: Faith and Religion in the Life of South Africa’s Great Statesman, but lost interest. I suspect I won’t get back to it in any serious way. I also suspect that I may have left out a few books, or chapters of books I have read in 2020.
Away from books
It is almost impossible to list the amount of essays and papers I have read in 2020. It could be anything from 30 to 100, and covered my main interests: Political Economy; Global Economic Governance; Photography; Memory; Architecture; Physics, Astronomy and Cosmology. At the start of the year I waded through about 20 papers on fascism over January and February for a project, which came to an abrupt halt because of the Lockdown and restriction of movement, and social contact as part of preventing the spread of Covid-19.
Some of the essays were from academic journals, but very many were from publications like the London Review of Books, the New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, Harper’s, the LA Review of Books, the Paris Review, the Times Literary Supplement, New Scientist, Quantum Magazine and Physics World.
I also spend at least two hours a day reading news and analyses from around the world (BBC, The Financial Times, The Straits Times, Malaysiakini, South China Morning Post). Over the past 10 years I have come to rely less and less on the New York Times and Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune and the LA Times, Newsweek and Time for daily news. I really no longer see the point of reading these newspapers.
And then there are the podcasts… I subscribe to tens of podcasts from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and it’s Science Casts, to the Guardian’s Football Weekly and The Tuesday Club.
Reading in 2021
I suspect that I will read even fewer books next year, in part because books are either becoming more expensive, or this life as a struggling writer is becoming more difficult. I will, however, get Brian Greene’s latest book, Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe. (It costs almost R500), and You Look Like a Thing and I Love You: How Artificial Intelligence Works and Why It’s Making the World a Weirder Place by Janelle Shane, and anything else on Artificial Intelligence and Robotics I can lay my hands on. I am especially intrigued by the intersection of neuroscience and artificial intelligence/robotics; the ethics are a matter of concern.
And so, as I write this in 2020, nine months into a global pandemic, next year is another country. I suspect I will be getting most of what I read from online sources – and listen to very many podcasts.