It’s a rainy day and you yearn to have obscure, interesting (mostly) local music to go with that suitably thick tome that you’d just picked up from Kinokuniya. Well, here’s that list for the musically and literarily inclined.
1. Alain de Botton – Status Anxiety / Deserters – Last Chance
In a voice that thrums with both equanimity and depth, de Botton couches the subject (in one rather erudite chapter) within a terrifyingly familiar context – the school reunion. In it, he dissects the psyche of how ordinary people envy their peers more than they would celebrities and royals – because classmates typically begin on a relatively even playing field, status-wise, before diverging into multifarious successes… and failures.
2. Adolf Hitler – Mein Kampf / Daf – Der Mussolini
Does reading Mein Kampf make one an aspiring fascist? Well, consider this: Winston Churchill and George Orwell (yes, he of 1984 and Animal Farm) read it too. While Churchill himself railed against the document – calling it “turgid” and “shapeless,” amongst other such colourful adjectives – he also insisted that “there was no book which deserved more careful study from the rulers, political and military, of the Allied Powers.” Orwell chimed in with another review, revealing how the dictator has “talked a great movement into existence already.” Written before the cub dictator became a full-fledged threat to the world, I found humour in the parallels between the politics of ‘30s Germany with those happening currently (within and without the country). So the next time a friend of yours commits Godwin’s Rule of Nazi analogies or a reductio ad Hitlerum, you can always take heart that you have actually read the document instead of simply alluding to it.
3. Viktor Frankl – Man’s Search for Meaning / POLAR – Be Brave
Frankl chronicles his experience in Auschwitz with the clinical detachment and sangfroid of a psychologist – and arrived at his framework on how to find meaning in life. It makes for a sobering read – I mean, how can we square the horrors of a concentration camp (described in technicolour) with the tedium of life at peacetime? It makes for some reflection before one posts yet another whining status on Facebook.
4. Julian Cope – Japrocksampler / Yuzo Kayama & The Launchers – Black Sand Beach
The central thesis of Cope’s highly immersive ode to Japan’s progression into an influential sonic powerhouse underpinned by an eccentric (rock) culture rests on the supposed mantle of superiority donned by island nations – (read: the United Kingdom and Japan)– vis-à-vis their mainland counterparts. However, I found Cope’s indefatigable research into eleki – Japan’s answer to twangy guitar instrumental bands in the mould of the Ventures (like Malaysia’s pop yeh yeh) – to be the book’s surprising high point. Warning: it might turn readers into fans of Yuzo Kayama, Group Sounds, and Mosrite guitars.
5. Susan Cain – Quiet / Laila’s Lounge – Stargazer
Being cognisant of my membership of Myers-Briggs’ school of ENTJ, I was fairly convinced of extroversion as an incontrovertible part of my character makeup – until ‘Quiet’ persuaded me otherwise. It took Cain seven years to (quietly) research and put together a case for introversion – and it is also a book whereby I was apprised of the existence of ambivert. Ambiverts are those straddling that mysterious line between introversion and extraversion.
6. Tracey Thorn – Bedsit Disco Queen / Pastel Lite – Conquest
While reading about the travails Tracey Thorn went through as one half of post punk-inspired bossa nova outfit Everything But the Girl, I couldn’t help but recall our very own synth duo Pastel Lite’s storied ride from obscurity to critical acclaim. Not only do both bands share the same binary membership, the struggles experienced by both women in a male-dominated scene is hauntingly similar.
7. Bill Bryson – A Short History of Nearly Everything / Telebury – The Stars Belong to Us
In short order, this breathless, edifying tome views the (mostly scientific) achievements of humanity throughout the ages from the perspective of a non-scientist. This means dense concepts explained in laymen terms. This brings to mind Denzel Washington’s line from the movie Philadelphia: “Explain to me like I am a two year old!”. Works for me.
8. Farish A. Noor – What Your Teacher Didn’t Tell You / Dirgahayu – Dengan Ingatan Tulus Ikhlas
Dr. Farish has always been an idol of mine. A full-fledged academic, his writings never seem to be patronising or didactic. Rather, his narrations tend to perambulate in avuncular fashion, with him patiently explaining the history of Southeast Asia in ways contrary to what most of us experienced in schools. It was eye opening to learn of SEA as mini India, a trading hub for many Hindus. An interesting takeaway was reading about the relatively liberal sexual mores on the clutch of pre-Islamic Indonesian and Malayan archipelago.
9. Haruki Murakami – The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle / Furniture – Postcard
Murakami’s books inspire a yen for Cutty Sark and feature his patented, incredibly flawed, sighing male protagonist (Toru Okada) who trundles unwittingly across the pages as befuddled about the (magical) happenstance of his life as he was when he first started. I have always found Murakami’s penchant for dragging in cultural references, in particular American and British rock‘n’roll, into a metaphysical setting to be well-placed as gatekeepers of that gray twilight zone of reality, philosophical, and the surreal.
10. Sheryl Sandberg – Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead / Mom’s on Strike – Minimal Minimax
Facebook COO Sandberg was in the news recently for the tragic death of her husband, but she was known well before that for having penned this book. Though it was geared towards female empowerment in the workplace – given that women occupy spots in only 21 out of 400 of the highest echelons of American corporations – I found it useful as a handbook for individuals and careerists (both men and women) who are stymied professionally by a lack of self-esteem. Too often, office rats are sidelined not because of incompetence, but due to their inability to ‘lean-in’ and cop a seat at the table with the big boys, according to Sandberg. Having secured herself a seat at said table, this doyenne of Silicon Valley’s advice boils down to this: Stop being coy and get noticed. Another interesting takeaway is her swipe at mentoring: “Young women are told that if they can just find the right mentor, they will be pushed up the ladder and whisked away to the corner office to live happily ever after,” – referencing Sleeping Beauty – and finishing with this damning addendum: “Once again, we are teaching women to be too dependent on others”.
11. Jean-Paul Sartre – Existentialism is a Humanism / The Fridays – Lemons
On the wave of hysteria (and backlash) resulting from the publication of the uber dense magnum opus Being and Nothingness, Sartre established himself as the enfant terrible of modern philosophers in post-war France by offering this lecture in Paris. Though strictly a transcription and not a book, the public’s imagination was captured, not least by his atheistic stand (and being contradictory by stating that existentialists are horrified by the hypothesis of a godless world). He was a threatening figure to a humiliated nation in need of hope. Like the proper lecturer he was in life, he offered definitions for existentialism and explained how existentialism precedes essence – and vice versa, essentially making this a proper introduction to his voluminous body of work. Much self-reflection ensues.
12. D.H. Lawrence – Lady Chatterley’s Lover / Kluk Kluk Adventure – Be with You
Meet D.H. Lawrence, the one man I’ve read (so far) who could conjure explicit imagery to rival porn – using only WORDS. ‘Nuff said.
Listen to Jarrod’s own band M.O.I.S.T at soundcloud.com/m-o-i-s-t. What book would you pair MOIST with?