Do No Harm

Do No Harm | Henry Marsh | Macmillan

Reading this book over a long period of time meant that I felt very different things throughout the book. I remember feeling a little put off by Marsh’s tone at the beginning – he writes with a self-assurance that borders on egoistic. This sustains throughout the book, but we are brought back to reality through the stories he tell. He illustrates scenarios really well, although I sometimes got lost in the technicalities, and I do often feel like I am in the scene with him. The feeling though, is like you are a bystander with no medical knowledge, watching a doctor talk about technical things.

Indeed, it does feel intimate, but it also comes with a lot of confusion. Maybe I just suffer from a severe lack of knowledge.

I would recommend this book if you want to see what it is like to be a doctor, or more specifically, a neurosurgeon. Marsh keeps things very real, and he has a lot of scattered insights that are admittedly more relevant to being someone who is responsible for others’ lives than to regular life. It was an interesting read, and I must say it gave me a different perspective to being a doctor.

Though, if you are looking for a good story, I must say that this book really scatters a lot of anecdotes together. It often feels disconcerting when it moves from chapter to chapter – in fact, I don’t even know much about Marsh’s personal life (Does he have one, or two, or three wives? How does he move from a marriage to another?). As a story, the progression is often quite messy, so if you don’t mind that then it’s a pretty good way to pass time and gain a perspective!

Poemsia

Poemsia by Lang Leav

i always feel like i have to use caps lock for non-fiction books due to the nature of the subject matter, but the very first review i’ve ever typed on this page was one of a fiction book, one that left me so shocked with the way the book went that i felt like i Needed to write it down. i think this is going to be a thing – me writing about fiction in the lack of capital letters.

i didn’t pick up poemsia on my own, mainly because after reading lang leav’s poetry (and really liking it for a period of time, before she got dragged down along with rupi kaur) i didn’t really have high hopes for how her book would turn out. this book was a gift from a friend, and i must say i am pleasantly surprised. i finished the whole book in a few hours, partly because i wanted to finish it fast, partly because it was quite hard to put down. the sypnosis is rather cliché, in my opinion. it details a story of an aspiring poet and her road to stardom, along with other things that she has to grapple with in life. and i honestly would say that the whole plot development was also very, very typical. that’s the thing with fiction with predictable plots, i must say that i saw the ending from the very start.

but i must say that there is a certain kind of charm that comes with predictable stories. watching things unfold in a way that is so blindingly optimistic (and also, very unrealistic) gives a respite from the very sad reality of life. and in a way, is that not what fiction largely aims to achieve anyway? i admit that i hate it when books are predictable, when people don’t aim to do anything out of the ordinary, when plot twists don’t really happen. this book is indeed boring in that way, but i didn’t hate it, and i think it’s due to the inexplicable draw we all have to fairytale stories. when things wrap up nicely and life seems so much easier, and you can immerse yourself in a perfect world that is not your own, i think this book is quite a good respite from the bleakness of the world.

although, some things i did not appreciate about this book is how undeveloped everything felt. it didn’t feel like anything was properly delved into, and everything was told rather than shown. even verity’s friendship with her best friend, jess, was very much told. much of the book, while jess was there, there were very little parts that highlighted their friendship. i would be spoiling if i said any more, but i guess i would have appreciated a bit more depth in the book rather than the breadth that it spanned. for a book that detailed a rise to stardom, there was really not much focus on anything in verity’s life, but rather a culmination of every aspect of her entire life. if you’re not a fan of that, this book is probably not going to be very easy to read. there are definitely some parts that will leave you rolling your eyes at how typical it is too, so beware of that.

i won’t say i recommend this book, i think you’re better off reading other YA novels with more interesting plot lines. i guess in a way this can inspire aspiring poets to find their fame online and post what they want to post, but i think it also romanticises how easy it is to find success. life is hard work, and being a published author that is well respected, i think that takes a lot more than what verity did in this book. this book reads like the highlight reel of someone’s life, like instagram but in book form.

if you’re interested in a simple book that really doesn’t invoke much thought or insight, this is a good book to pass time with!

Small Great Things

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

There are no spoilers in this review.

What is with me and reading about racial issues? If you are thinking about reading this book, all I can say is: do it. This is a fictional book about a black nurse who got accused of murdering a child of a racist (white supremacist) couple (and she got slapped with a lawsuit as well). The author addresses the issue of racism, of not fitting in, and of inherent biases that infiltrates even the court room, where you would think justice is their main concern. Biases don’t parade themselves, but they sway decisions all the same.

I must say, I wasn’t the biggest fan of this book. I found it a little bit repetitive, the way that major concepts were being presented in the book. I cannot deny that Picoult talks about very important issues and concepts that definitely need to be discussed, but I guess I didn’t really like how it was constantly shoved in our faces. Then again, this was a book where extremes clash and the conflict is so overtly racism that it is hard to not address the elephant in the room.

Although I didn’t quite like how long the book was, there were still some parts that really called out how normalised racism was, how deeply ingrained the hierarchy of race and class was, and how systemic the problem is. Bringing it back to our own country, racism may not be spoken about out loud, and there might not be outright racism especially in the younger generations, but I think we do still have inherent biases that need to be acknowledged. I think it’s important to recognise your own biases and your privilege, and check yourself before you claim that someone is not succeeding because “they are not working hard enough”. Often, it is not about how hard you work, but how society responds to your work. I think that’s one of the most important things to realise about societies, and it is definitely something that needs to change on a constitutional level.

At the end of it all though, this was definitely a fiction book with a happy and predictable ending. It’s cliché for sure, and even though I expected it, I was still slightly disappointed. I guess a part of me hoped that since the characters and their thought process was so much like reality, the book would have a realistic ending. I think the ending was not unrealistic, but it was definitely on the optimistic side of things. Maybe I’m just a pessimist.

In any case, I don’t have much to say except for that it was a decent, important and very relevant book for anyone who wants to be uncomfortable. I had to put it down a few times because it was getting so dry, but overall, there were redeeming parts so I did not dislike the book.

Singapore, Incomplete

Cherian George - Home

I’ll admit that I’m not the most political person. Yet, as I continue reading about politics and policies, I realised that it’s one thing to say that you are not political, but it’s another to not know about it altogether. It’s typical though, I would say, to not care or know much about politics in Singapore.

This book, however, opened my eyes on the lacks of the political system in Singapore. It’s easy for us to say that Singapore has a great government, and that there is nothing much that they are doing wrong. That is the popular sentiment – everyone somehow just took the national narrative as it was, and become the biggest PAP supporters out there.

It’s scary, in a sense, that we give so much credit to our government. We are so comfortable in saying they know what they are doing, and we put so much trust into them that along the way, we barely ever hear criticisms of the government. That is not to say we don’t hear any – the little that we hear actually just end up being some of the most covered-up stuff.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an anti-PAP cynic. Neither am I a die-hard PAP supporter. I just think that while we acknowledge the efforts of the PAP, we could always afford to criticise things they have yet to account for, and policies that may protect them more than it is protecting Singaporeans.

Perhaps an easier way of doing this would be to do a chapter by chapter play, but I believe that will quickly become rather boring, so here are some lines that really stood out to me. I try to cover everything that was covered in the book, but I’ll be honest – I’ll only talk about things that made me feel things, or things that I learnt. To get the full experience, I guess nothing beats reading the book yourself.

The book begins by talking about race and xenophobia, both of which highly contentious topics. As much as Singapore claims that they are “multiracial” and “multicultural”, we realise time and time again that we still cannot escape the tyranny of the majority – the Chinese are privileged, and we, somehow, still discriminate against migrant workers in everyday life. This is something most of us know – I’m not going to act like I am speaking to stupid people and point out obvious things. The issue here would be consciousness – to change the way things are, and to take a step towards acceptance, away from tolerance.

One of the most interesting things in the book is the idea of “the Third-Person effect”. This surfaced when George was talking about censorship in Singapore. Issues of censorship go beyond our national paper, The Straits Times, and seep into the Arts.

When we speak in the first person, we feel censorship isn’t necessary for us because “I” possess an above-average capacity to process provocative content; but, when we switch to the third person, we feel censorship is required because “they” can’t be trusted to process things rationally.

George, C. – Chapter 5: Morality Police (PG33)

This line really made me question censorship beyond “covering things up as we do not wish for the social fabric to even be tense”. Perhaps the patronising attitude described above would be logical in the past, when people were not as educated. However, as Singapore shifts towards a highly-educated population, perhaps it is important to open uncomfortable conversations on controversial topics that we have always avoided. Perhaps now is the best time to stop censoring even the smallest things. Now would be the best time to open up and allow people to form their own opinions on fresh perspectives.

Instead of trying to protect people from objective harms, which would be a legitimate function of the law, Section 298 declares that the state will protect people’s feelings from being hurt.

George, C. – Chapter 18: Freedom of Speech (PG128)

Along the same line, it criticises the lack of flexibility in the law itself. Maybe it is due to me having been in journalism (albeit a rather minuscule and inconsequential version of it), but this really woke me up to how tight the ropes are around content. There are many things that we “cannot say”, due to where we are. In school, it is partly understandable as we hold the school’s name when we go out in public, hence we have to be conscious of our words and articles. Yet, why do similar restrictions hold in Singapore for experienced journalists? It really does raise some questions when censorship happen in places that should really not be censored. (LGBTQ+ content, anti-PAP or governmental policies sentiments, race issues, and the list goes on.) They don’t want to start a fire, but this suppressant of discourse casts a winter on our social landscape. Issues exist, and not talking about them does not make them go away.

In any case, if this book taught me anything, it is that Singapore has a lot more to learn. We have a lot of growing to do, as a nation, and I really look forward to when we will start seeing change on a constitutional level. There is a lot to be done (in terms of freedom of press, opposing force against the PAP or at least their policies, addressing inequality in Singapore), and these things will not be easy, but they are important. Progress is important, but let’s not focus on wealth, and turn the gaze to social progress within the nation.

A Short History of the Girl Next Door

so here is my shitty attempt at a book review x book commentary! (i have never written one before so please don’t behead me) it’s a spoiler-free zone here; at least for the first part – i’ll warn when the spoiler comes.

the main character, matty, and the Girl Next Door, tabby, were typical childhood sweethearts who grew up together. they do basically everything together: the kind of friendship most people can only dream about. so, matty likes her. obviously, pining. then, she gets together with school hotshot, but suddenly, she realises she loves matty, and then they get together and live happily ever after, right? 

hell no!! when i picked up the book, i honestly expected a typical YA romance book, where boy likes girl, girl doesn’t know, and in the end, they get together. i mean, at least that’s what it looked like from the front cover and description. but this book was realistic and practical and it was life’s harshest realities thrown at you all at once. it brought me on one train wreck after another and i was laughing and crying at some point? and i was like, i didn’t come here to be attacked?

but yes, i think for the sheer amount of emotions that run through the book, it’s very obviously a coming-of-age story, a story about life and all that matty’s got to think about. it doesn’t focus on one thing (like romance or family) and i think that’s one of my favourite things about this book. it zoomed out and in every so often, and it’s everything but nothing all at the same time. maybe i just get bored with books too easily, but this book kept giving me things to go back to, because there are so many aspects of matty’s life, and they went up and down, sometimes going well, most of the time, nope.

or maybe i was just emotional. in any case, i couldn’t put down this book.

also, plot aside, matty’s characterisation was so on point? i mean, the rest of the characters honestly have very one dimensional and flat characterisations, but matty’s thought processes and actions and everything was so well written… and he’s funny, relatable, and everything a 15-year-old will be. he’s full of contradictions, the same way we all are when met with a dilemma or thinking about normal things in life. he’s haunted by things, and he feels passionately for other things. it’s all very real, and i appreciated that? he felt a lot closer than he could have been written.

before i actually spoil anything in this section, just pick it up if you’re mildly interested or if you want some teen angst in your life! it’s quite a short read, i finished it in about 2 days? (and i’m by no means a fast reader tbh – something i hate but can’t change.) the plot twists and actually, general plot, will definitely get you hooked. the writing definitely isn’t anything to die for, but the story legit went straight to my heart, so i hope it does that for you too.

disclaimer: i’m not saying this book was HELLA good – it had its bad points about how some issues and things were portrayed in a book, especially if someone had experienced that specific experience themselves before. but i think ultimately a book is for you to step into someone else’s shoes (even fictional) and see how their life is, and i think this book did that for me. i did enjoy it a lot, and i think it was a good reminder of how much i enjoy leisure reading…

now that the legitimate things are out of the way, spoilers & lots of screaming below!! read if you’re sure you’re not picking up the book (because if you spoil it for yourself, it will ruin the whole book experience ESPECIALLY for this book):

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