10 Books Written By Singaporeans And Why You Should Read Them

 

What comes to mind when we talk about Singapore literature? Chances are, not much. But our nation is home to creative minds, and Singapore literature has gotten acclaim both locally and overseas. The annual Singapore Writers Festival is a testament to the growth of our literary scene.

So what are the works that truly embody our nation? We surveyed the bookworms and here are 10 books written by Singaporeans like you and I.

 

1. Emily of Emerald Hill

 

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Written by Stella Kon, this is possibly one of the most iconic plays in Singapore’s history. Abandoned at birth, Emily claws her way up the societal ladder to become matriarch of one of Singapore’s most distinguished Peranakan families. It seems like she has it all – but sometimes in pursuit of greater things, you lose the things you love the most. We’re mostly acquainted with Jeanette Aw’s character in the Channel 8 drama, but this is the original Little Nonya with a timeless tale to tell.

Where to get it: BooksActually 

 

2. The Teenage Textbook

 

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I read ‘The Teenage Textbook’ (also known as ‘The Melting Of The Ice Cream Girl’) when I was in secondary school, and I thought it was the funniest thing ever. Adrian Tan’s novel recounts all the trials and tribulations of a young adult on our sunny island, making it a relatable read for anyone who had been a teenager in Singapore,

From first crushes to boring parade square assemblies (who doesn’t remember those?), it paints a hilarious image of the ups and downs of growing up. After studying the textbook, put your knowledge to the test and read the sequel, ‘The Teenage Workbook’. Don’t worry, there are no problem sums involved. I think.

Where to get it: Popular Singapore

 

3. Army Daze

 

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Before the movie invaded our theaters with awkward product placements and humor that only Jack Neo is capable of, ‘Army Daze’ was our parents’ version of Ah Boys To Men. This coming-of-age tale by Michael Chiang follows the story of a motley crew of boys going through National Service and resonates with every Singaporean son (and some daughters, too).

Featuring a multi-racial cast and character stereotypes we’re all familiar with, the story that has resonated with Singaporeans deeply for years was published as part of Michael Chiang’s collection in 2014, ‘Play Things’.

Where to get it: Select Books

 

4. Love Is An Empty Barstool

 

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Ah, the barstool. A frequent figure in tales of broken hearts and pining souls, of lovelorn figures sitting at the bar with a drink in hand pouring out their woes to a faceless bartender. Open, honest and baring all, this collection of poetry by Pooja Nansi is self-indulgent and soothing. A gentle balm for tired hearts, whether you’re getting over a bad breakup or giddy with the kiss of first love, these are poems for anyone with a romantic soul,

Where to get it: The General Company

 

5. Intruder

 

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This poetry collection by Jerrold Yam discusses the themes of impermanence and displacement. These poems speak to the heart because of the very nature of their subject material. In our modern world, we are constantly travelling, forced to embrace change, and sometimes torn between moving on or sinking in our roots.

“Change is the only constant” may be an old adage that sums this up succinctly, but there’s just something about having a whole story developed around love and loss.

Where to get it: Ethos Books

 

6. Cooling-Off Day

 

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Alfian Sa’at is often referred to as the enfant terrible of Singapore, but his play Cooling-Off Day is one that resonates with Singaporeans, especially in the light of the recent General Elections. Written based off interviews with people during the lead-up to and in the aftermath of the watershed elections of 2011, it paints a portrait of Singaporeans rethinking democracy and the notion of having a say through brutal honesty.

Where to get it: BooksActually

 

7. Little Ironies: Stories of Singapore

 

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Catherine Lim’s collection, ‘Little Ironies’, depicts seventeen stories of life in Singapore back in the ‘70s. The stories touch on a variety of topics that hit close to home in a city-state rushing at high speed from third world to first; a transition our generation will only hear about through ‘grandmother stories’. Deeply discussed in these stories are issues like materialism, ambition, superstition and vice among many others that arise from the clash of traditional culture and modern society.

Where to get it: Kinokuniya

 

8. Heartland

 

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Daren Shiau’s ‘Heartland’ is written for the born and bred Singaporean, telling the story of Wing Seng, a Chinese boy from an HDB heartland going through junior college and BMT. The novel discusses growing up in Singapore and the unspoken class system in our nation, highlighted in the differences between Wing Seng and the rich girl he falls in love with.

Where to get it: BooksActually 

 

9. Ulysses By The Merlion

 

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When we talk about Singaporean literature and poetry in particular, Edwin Thumboo’s poem ‘Ulysses By The Merlion’ comes up a lot. Telling the story of an imagined encounter between Ulysses (or Odysseus) of Greek myth and the Merlion, the poem contrasts our migrant past and belief with modernity. It’s one of the most iconic poems in our history, and lucky for us, we can read it online for free.

 

10. Ministry of Moral Panic

 

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Of all the books on this list, this is my personal favourite. A mixture of dark fantasy and startling reality, Amanda Lee Koe’s debut novel left me feeling somewhat disturbed and very displaced, questioning if things are really as they seem. Challenging preconceived notions in an almost dreamlike way of storytelling, this collection of short stories paints an image of the darker side of human nature here in Singapore. The riveting read won the 2014 Singapore Literature Prize for Fiction.

Where to get it: BooksActually

 

Visit the Singapore Writers Festival!

 

Most of these books can be found at Kinokuniya, BooksActually or your nearest library, but to be part of Singapore’s growing literary scene, there’s no better way than to attend the Singapore Writers Festival from 30 October – 8 November.

With panels, readings and workshops from both local and international perspectives, expand your local literary horizon and discover the hidden gems from our shores. Avid reader or not, here’s a whole bunch of reasons why this event is for everyone.

 

Book your tickets now!

 

This post is brought to you by the Singapore Writers Festival.