Books About Singapore & More to Start Your 2021 With

During the 2020 lockdown, most Singaporeans suddenly found themselves with a ton of extra time on their hands. Having to spend that time cooped up at home, many explored new skills, hobbies and other ways to improve themselves. Even more also rediscovered the joys of books and reading. 

Reading has historically always been one of the best strategies for learning and expanding our mental faculties in a multitude of ways. It is a great way to learn about a topic, challenge what you know and see the world with new eyes. And that’s just scratching the surface. Beyond that, it increases your focus, imagination and empathy. 

This year, just because you’re going back to school or the office, it doesn’t mean you should halt this new habit you may or may not have picked up. To get the ball rolling, here are 5 books to start your 2021 with.

1. Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene: Environmental Perspectives on Life in Singapore, edited by Matthew Schneider-Mayerson

With most travel still being on hold in the foreseeable future, many Singaporeans are taking the opportunity to be tourists in our own country, exploring places like reserves, parks and cafés. While we acquaint ourselves with Singapore’s physical landscape and food, why not learn about the culture and backgrounds behind these things at the same time? 

Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene navigates the sociopolitical and ecocultural concerns and forgotten histories, stories and people behind the various aspects that comprise our young city’s multitiered mosaic. The book is a collection of essays which examine these issues inherent in everyday things and national phenomena we take for granted— from the chilli crabs we crave, to the sand on our beaches, to education and our favourite frolicking “celebrity” otters. While academic in nature—each essay is rigorously researched—the book remains highly readable and absorbing. Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene makes us think deeper about the geographical and cultural landscapes we inhabit while inviting us to explore Singapore with entirely new perspectives. Most importantly, it urges us to rethink our relationships with the natural and manmade environment around us.

2. The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, David Wallace-Wells

Say what you will about climate change, it is undeniably upon us, from the fires that ravage places like Australia and California, to the growing number of climate refugees worldwide, to the searingly hot weather we experience most months in Singapore. Given their growing ubiquity, climate change and environmentalism are worth educating yourself about.

David Wallace-Wells’ The Uninhabitable Earth lays out in no uncertain terms the climate crisis we are experiencing and the future disasters and problems to expect should we continue down our path of ecological—and therefore, self—destruction. In clear prose backed up with a plethora of scientific data, Wallace-Wells delineates the cascading impacts of climate change on natural disasters, food and fresh water supplies, global temperatures and landlocked and coastal cities among many other factors. Keep up with the latest climate change facts and figures with this book that is at once brutal and optimistic, warning us about what is to come and what we can still do to mitigate our ecological impacts. 

3. homeless, Liyana Dhamirah

Based on authoritative statistics from the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), there is a yearly average of 290 homeless people in Singapore. This number, however, is only based on the number of cases the MSF and other organisations work with, leaving a probably vast number of others unaccounted for. This sobering fact, cited from Liyana Dhamirah’s homeless, offers the briefest of glimpses into the homelessness problem in Singapore. Many of us are aware of it, but how many of us have actually heard their stories first-hand? 

In homeless, Dhamirah writes about her experiences being homeless as a mother of two and pregnant with one. She not only shares about the day-to-day struggles of living in a tent on a beach at the mercy of the weather, but advocates for the injustices homeless people face from the authorities charged with “dealing with” them. While Dhamirah is today a published author, entrepreneur and homeowner, homeless remains an eye-opening introduction to a problem that continues to plague Singapore invisibly. homeless is a worthy read for anyone who wants a more personal encounter with this relatively unknown side of crazy rich Singapore. 

4. Lion City, Ng Yi-Sheng

Rife with magical realism, Ng Yi-Sheng’s collection of short stories chase commonplace phenomena and rituals in Singapore down rabbit holes into the realm of the absurd.

The animals in the Singapore Zoo are all robots. There are well-preserved remains of a prehistoric civilisation beneath a local cemetery. People are literally plugging themselves into the internet. These examples are merely a small sample of the bizarre and uncanny stories that feature in Lion City.

Beyond just being highly entertaining, Lion City subversively makes us question the significance behind socio-cultural habits and issues in Singapore. The fantasy civilisation beneath the cemetery speaks to the wealth of national history and personal memories these cemeteries hold and are losing with each exhumation. The humans “plexing” with the computers warn about our alarming dependency on our devices. It is a book that makes us reconsider our collective beliefs and lives by holding them up to the looking glass and inviting us to step through. 

5. The Queen’s Gambit, Walter Tevis

The Queen’s Gambit was one of the most popular shows globally and in Singapore in 2020, inspiring many fans to pick up the oft forgotten game of chess. Its only downside? It’s a limited series with only 7 episodes. If you’re still reeling from The Queen’s Gambit withdrawals, the good news is that there’s still a book you can read! If you’ve never heard of the show, you can choose whether to read the book or watch the show first.

The Queen’s Gambit is a novel written in 1983, featuring a chess prodigy Elizabeth (Beth) Harmon. Beth gets orphaned when her mother dies suddenly in a car crash. At the orphanage, she learns chess from the janitor and turns out to be so good she ends up traveling around the country playing at state and then national level. 

Although many of The Queen’s Gambit fans only know about the show, its author, Walter Tevis, is famous in his own right, having had his works translated into 18 different languages. The novel is written in hard-boiled prose that captivates and draws the reader into Beth’s unique world from the get-go. 

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In a world that is bubbling with clickbait, sensationalism and oversimplifications, Kopi aims to bring long-form journalism back to South-East Asia.

Through deeply analysed articles, we uncover and explain the complex and multifaceted issues facing our societies. Through engaging narratives, we tell stories that are bold and unique.

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