A Singapore Reading Party

A fun thing to do when traveling is to take along a book set in the destination city or country. If the trip is of a long duration, family and close friends might also read the same or similar book. The book becomes a connecting object, something you can discuss with kids over nightly Skype sessions or phone calls. Goodreads is the first place I click to for book ideas, user recommendations and book reviews. Once, the book club I belonged to read a book set in Revolutionary War Camden, South Carolina while I worked there onsite. I could visit places in Camden reflected in the book and take pictures to upload during our regular meeting times. It helped to not feel so far away for me and helped provide a richer texture for my reading club. Consider also, an Audible download since lots of business road trips are easier with a book to listen while driving.

With that in mind, here is my reading list for an upcoming trip to Singapore.*

The Singapore Wink, by Ross Thomas, winner of the inaugural Gumshoe Lifetime Achievement Award. Ross Thomas (1926–1995) was a prolific author whose political thrillers drew praise for their blend of wit and suspense. Born in Oklahoma City, Thomas grew up during the Great Depression, and served in the Philippines during World War II. In The Singapore Wink (available as a free download for Kindle unlimited subscribers), Edward Cauthorne is part owner of a business that rehabilitates and sells vintage cars. He used to be a Hollywood stuntman with an enviable reputation but he lost his nerve and quit working. One day, not much different than any other, Cauthorne is approached in his downtown Los Angeles office by a couple of oldtime hoods who inform him that a highly placed consigliere in Washington, D.C. has an important assignment for him. An assignment that will require his traveling to Singapore, the very place Cauthorne and his nerve parted company.


The Moonlight Palace by Liz Rosenberg, a professor of English and creative writing at Binghamton University, in upstate New York and prolific author of more than 30 books. In The Moonlight Palace, Agnes Hussein, descendant of the last sultan of Singapore and the last surviving member of her immediate family, has grown up among her eccentric relatives in the crumbling Kampong Glam palace, a once-opulent relic given to her family in exchange for handing over Singapore to the British. Now Agnes is seventeen and her family has fallen into genteel poverty, surviving on her grandfather’s pension and the meager income they receive from a varied cast of boarders. As outside forces conspire to steal the palace out from under them, Agnes struggles to save her family and finds bravery and loyalty in the most unexpected places.


If non-fiction is preferred, then the life of Lee Kuan Yew makes for fascinating reading. Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going details the life of Singapore’s longest serving prime minister on how he makes important decisions that have to be made. Presented as a transcript of 32 hours of interviews, Hard Truths to Keep Going covers the terrain of the past and contemplates the expanse of the future for Singapore that Lee Kuan Yew and his generation built on the hopes of a people. Based on 32 hours of interviews at the Istana, along with 64 pages of photographs and a dvd insert, the book features Lee in full flow, combative, thought-provoking controversial.

For business and trade interests, consider From Third World to First: Singapore and the Asian Economic Boom, by Lee Kuan Yew, with an introduction by Henry Kissinger. Few gave tiny Singapore much chance of survival when it was granted independence in 1965. How is it, then, that today the former British colonial trading post is a thriving Asian metropolis with not only the world’s number one airline, best airport, and busiest port of trade, but also the world’s fourth–highest per capita real income?


If delicious cuisine is your preference then Cradle of Flavor, Home Cooking from the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia is an appetizer to sink your teeth into.  I bought this one for the cover alone! James Oseland spent two decades exploring the foods of the Spice Islands. He introduces the birthplace of spice and brings the Nyonya dishes of Singapore and Malaysia, the fiery specialties of West Sumatra, and the spicy-aromatic stews of Java. Oseland culled his recipes from twenty years of intimate contact with home cooks and diverse markets.


There is a distinctive architecture to Singapore and Singapore Shophouses by Julian Davison and Luca Invernizzi Tettoni traces its development from rudimentary shophouse through various incarnations of decorative style Neoclassical, Chinese Baroque, Jubilee-style, Edwardian, Rococo, Tropical Modern all the while commenting on the various influences that fueled its evolution.


Back to fiction: set in Singapore: Singapore Noir by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, a native of Singapore and a former staff writer at the Wall Street Journal. Tan’s work has also appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post. Singapore Noir is actually a collection of 14 stories and 14 points of view about the darker side of life in Singapore with murder, betrayal, and mystery. 


The Singapore Grip by J.G. Farrell . Set in Singapore, 1939: life on the eve of World War II just isn’t what it used to be for Walter Blackett, head of British Singapore’s oldest and most powerful firm. No matter how forcefully the police break one strike, the natives go on strike somewhere else. His daughter keeps entangling herself with the most unsuitable beaus, while her intended match, the son of Blackett’s partner, is an idealistic sympathizer with the League of Nations and a vegetarian. Business may be booming—what with the war in Europe, the Allies are desperate for rubber and helpless to resist Blackett’s price-fixing and market manipulation.

Have a book title to share? Please add your title in the comments.

*all links point to Amazon but these books are certainly available through other online and brick and mortar booksellers