Books for your break (or what to read for the March holidays)
The March holidays are upon us and yes, we'll admit that we're totally biased in this regard, but really, a book can sometimes be the best thing you bring on your holiday!
Here then are some of our suggestions for those who are taking a break during the one-week school holidays in March.
FOR THOSE THINKING OF GOING ACROSS THE CAUSEWAY
The one-week holidays may be too short to take the family for a European holiday, but you can have fun visiting our neighbour Malaysia. If you don’t want the usual Lonely Planet travel ideas, these books may be right up your street.
On the surface, AJ Low’s Sherlock Sam and the Vanished Robot in Penang looks like another caper for our favourite young detective to solve. But it is also a great guidebook of sorts, especially if you like food and toys!
Apart from visiting the tourist spots such as the Khoo Kongsi and George Town, the intrepid sleuth also ends up in a couple of Penang’s more curious sites, the Penang Toy Museum and Ben’s Vintage Toy Museum.
What makes this book interesting is the glossary at the end of the book that includes some useful Malay words and phrases, as well as entries about various places in Penang.
Another book worth checking out is The Travel Diary of Amos Lee: Monkeying in Malaysia by Adeline Foo. Instead of Peninsular Malaysia, Amos and his brothers Alvin and Anthony spend five days trekking in Sarawak at the Batang Ai National Park.
There, they encounter orangutans and piglets, but it’s not an Amos Lee book without some hijinks, right? We won’t spoil it for you, suffice it to say that Amos and gang end up in a longhouse, and witness the Rainforest World Music Festival. There’s also a section on orang-utan research and conservation which is worth a read.
A more comprehensive Malaysian journal is Malaysia Bagus! Travels Through My Homeland. See, some years ago, writer Sharon Cheah set herself a goal — to visit every state in East and West Malaysia in order to really get to know her homeland. This book is the result, and it is split into 14 chapters covering the 13 Malaysian states (the last one is Singapore, listed as “the state that was”).
It’s a fascinating collection of travel essays that sees her going from a homestay in Kelantan to pounding the pavement in Kuala Lumpur to visiting one of the top three rainforest research centres in the world in Sabah — and then some.
FOR THOSE STAYING HOME
For those of you who or aren’t planning to cross any international borders, there are quite a lot of places in Singapore where you can have a mini-adventure of sorts. If you need any ideas, just grab Secrets of Singapore (or any book in the series, actually).
It not only offers historical facts about the island we call home, but it can also be used as a touring guide of sorts to let the young ones know and compare Singapore’s past and present.
Spend a day “touring” the island based on the fun facts included in the books. For example, you can try to find first housing estate that was populated in 1936 or spend some time at the only theme opened in the 1930s that are still operating today. Or, if you’re looking for something more historically exciting, check out the sites of various riots in Singapore, such as the Anti-National Service Riot of 1954 which took place outside of Government House (now called the Istana); or the 1956 Student Riots where students from Chinese High School and Chung Cheng High School decided to camp out at the schools for two weeks, refusing to go home.
If you’re feeling a little more artistic, grab our latest offering, Sisters and Senang: The Island Plays. It’s a compilation of two plays by acclaimed playwright Jean Tay, and — spoiler ahead — both deal with tumultuous incidents that happened on Sisters Islands and Pulau Senang years ago.
"Sisters: The Untold Stories Behind the Sisters Islands" juxtaposes two stories in close parallel – one being that of the sisters Mina and Lina upon which the myth of the Sisters Islands is supposedly based on, and the other being the story of the infamous real-life 1960s murder case involving Sunny Ang and Jenny Cheok, as well as her half-sister Irene.
You can't head out to Pulau Senang, but this book would probably make you see these places in a new light.
FOR THOSE WHO WANT A READ FOR THAT RESORT STAY BUT DON’T WANT TO PLOUGH THROUGH A NOVEL
Don’t get us wrong, we all love a novel (or two, or three) but sometimes, what we want are books that we can put down at a moment’s notice without needing a recap should we pick it up later in the day.
That’s where short story anthologies come in. Not only are they great reads, they’re also compact enough to bring on your trip.
A must-read is the award-winning Ministry of Moral Panic by Amanda Lee-Koe.
Containing stories about love, anxiety and, well, being human, this book is mischievous in parts, elegantly eloquent in others, and makes a great companion on any vacation.
Ministry of Moral Panic took the prize for Best Fiction at the Singapore Book Awards in 2016 and also won the Singapore Literature Prize for Fiction in 2014 — so you know you're getting quality stuff!
Speaking of quality stuff, check out Ten Things My Father Never Taught Me and Other Stories by poet and all-around cool guy Cyril Wong. The collection of tales won the Singapore Literature Prize too, and like Amanda’s book, it also looks at very human situations — sometimes with a twist.
In the story “Steamboat”, for instance, a woman confronts an old friend who is exploring a polygamist relationship. In “Cinema” a rich tai-tai and a middle-aged man who tears the ticket-stubs at a cinema go on an unlikely date.
Regrettable Things That Happened Yesterday by Jennani Durai also explores the human condition, as characters come to terms with the world around them. For example, can a girl who is allergic to cats date a cat-lover?
Reviewer Priscilla King called the book “enough, light enough, and warmhearted enough to be excellent" for when you have one of those days where all you want to do is snuggle up with a good book.
And let’s face it, sometimes, isn't that all you want to do when you’re on a break?
Photos by Robin Noguier, Lee Aik Soon and Auskteez Tran on Unsplash