Holiday Reading List

Dec 25th, 2009, in Opinion, by

Suggestions to while away the lazy holiday days engrossed in worthy tomes of literature.


Perhaps a holidays reading list from you ?? Just your personal favorites…


The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin A strange, enigmatic and structurally flawed book, but by god that’s fine writing. I can read the first page alone over and over: “In Alice Springs – a grid of scorching streets where men in long white socks were forever getting in and out of Land Cruisers…”

The Old Man and the Sea, and For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway – Bad Hemingway (To Have and Have Not, and the shooting-things-in-africa books etc) is very bad indeed, but Good Hemingway is unsurpassed. Literature students tend to give more attention to the earlier stuff, and it’s sometimes claimed that FWTBT is a bit trashy, but I say b*llocks. The description of the “smell of death”, and the massacre of the nationalists in the village? Doesn’t get any better…

Point of Departure and An Indian Summer, James Cameron – the greatest British journalist, and the best journalistic stylist ever. EVER!

Kim, Rudyard Kipling – liberal bed-wetters, and EW Said pontificate on the colonialist discourse, ignoring a couple of simple facts – Kipling was an Indian-born Englishman in the 19th Century; you can hardly condemn him for having a pro-empire outlook, AND, you won’t find many other books where the richness of India shines through with as much warmth and love as this one.

Shame, Salman Rushdie – A spectaculary sharp and acidic political satire. I wish someone would do to Indonesia what Rushdie did to Pakistan in Shame, but I can’t see it happening…

The Way of the World, Nicolas Bouvier
– luminous travel writing, absolutely supurb…

Train to Pakistan, Kashwant Singh
– A sizzling little novel by India’s best journalist and general all-round cool guy. Like, a million miles away from the usually over-ornate style of Indian writers.

Catch 22, Joseph Heller. Years later, an interviewer snidely pointed out to Heller that he had never written another book as good as this, his first. In response Heller just smirked and said, “Neither has anyone else…” He’s cool. This book is cool. Yosarian is, like, waaaaay cool…

Evidently I could go on like this for some time, but those are the ones I generally re-read at least once every couple of years…
How about you Mas Achmad? What’re yours?
Hey, and how about you Anthony “Hitler” Tolomeo? Any recommendations?

Happy Christmas my lovelies…

69 Comments on “Holiday Reading List”

  1. bs says:

    You guys sound like very literate people. I do read quite a lot (about 4 books a month), but I don’t know anything listed above. I only read (popular) science and economics, so I guess my list wouldn’t be that much of an interest to you all.

    I do like to read interesting biographies though, like the Nelson Mandela book (long walk to freedom) and the books on Richard Feynman. Anyone who knows of similar books?

  2. diego says:

    I read zero book / month. Only wiki and some blogposts and whatever is on the homepage of MSN / Yahoo, and some commentaries (flame wars) on YouTube. I’m a happy man, oh and I hate communism.

  3. Hi BS,

    It’s all good – fire away, that’s the point of the post, to pool ideas and exchange book tips.

    Drs. A. Sudarsono

  4. Oigal says:

    I concur, the spat between ASSMAD and myself detracts from what is and could be a very good thread. Perhaps we should just have a special section for a knock em down slug fest without disturbing others.

    I also appreciate the deletions on the Aceh thread. It was a serious question which I thought deserved a serious answer. \

    so thanks all.. and delete at will

  5. Oigal,

    Thanks. It was turning out to be a nice thread and who knows, maybe an IM staple. Maybe we could start a book tips thread. I don’t think they have to be Indonesia related as all the stuff talked about on IM goes in all directions of the compass. It’s good to look out of the valley for comparisons.

    In fairness to Oigal, I usually start these things. I think the insulta-thon, was meant to serve as a permanent sparring ring. Or isn’t there an ‘asides’ thread. Let’s just delete them this time.

    Drs. A Sudarsono.

  6. timdog says:

    madrotter – apart from Kerouac, Dick and Pram I hadn’t even heard of them… Which would be your absolute number one?
    On the Road is a great, great book. I love physical writing where place, smell and image are powerfully invoked. There are parts of On the Road that are so well done that they are dangerous – you could almost imagine they are your own memories (the night time ride in the back of a truck, quite early in the book, does this for me)… Back to Paul Theroux: curiously, as a travel writer, he is actually very weak on invoking place in this manner…

    The Buru Quartet, as I have made abundantly clear elsewhere, I do not think is a work of genius, though I’ll admit, having read it only in English, that a big part of the problem is the translator – who can’t write for sh*t…

    Achmad, yes My War Gone By… is spectacular, and the perfect antidote to the bragging war stories memoirs of the likes of the preposterous John Simpson…

    “What Young Men Do” was in Granta, right? The Kalimantan stuff by Lloyd Parry. Your complaints – similar to those of Odinius (I can’t remember which thread that debate was on) – are entirely valid. As I said before it’s just a good read (and pretty humble by the John Simpson standards of journalists’ bragging)…

    BS – hell yeah, go for it…

    diego – people who sneer at those who aren’t well read and people who sneer with inverse snobbery at those who are are as bad as each other. I don’t think you did it, and I certainly won’t, but purely out of interest, as someone who really, really would struggle to live without books (books and good coffee are my only luxury consumer items) can I ask, out of interest, is there a specific reason why you don’t read books?

  7. Oigal says:

    Timdog, I hazard a guess and say you like the travel (ish) type books. At the risk of repeating myself, do try the Sailing alone around the world -Joshua Slocum. It’s more of a dairy than a book but I found myself time again shaking my head on what this guy did and where/when he did it.

    Madrotter, judging from your list I assume you have already read Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert A. Heinlein. Winner 1961 Hugo Award (does that mean anything?). Looking back, it was probably along with freaky relatives, one of the key factors in establishing the attitude I have today towards organised religions.

    Waiters on the Dance,
    No longer in print, simplistic and short but some really clever tie-ins on the origin of man, Atlantis etc. You need about 40 minutes to finish it.

    A Simple Plan – Scott Smith,
    is just a hoot of read!! A bunch of average blokes come across a crashed plane full of money. Murder and mayhem ensue as each simple plan they made shows some inherent flaws. No literary genius here, but you find yourself spinning through the pages just to find out what now guys?

  8. Burung Koel says:

    Enjoying the thread, and ignoring Oigsy and AS. They remind me of arguing with my ex-wife.

    My Best of 2009 reading list would include:

    The Road by Cormac McCarthy. This will be a staple in high schools in about 10 years time, like 1984 or To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s that good. I believe the upcoming movie is going to be a faithful treatment, too, but would recommend that you read the book first. Absolutely harrowing, so not for the faint hearted.

    Into the Blue by Tony Horowitz. Sub-titled ‘Boldly going where Captain Cook has gone before’. A mixture of history and travelogue, which neither idolises Cook nor criticises him. Very funny, too.

    The Gate by Francois Bizot. I’d avoided this for years, but had time to go through it on a recent trip. Very well written for a memoir, and absolutely sane when it comes to discussing the Khmer Rouge and what happened in Cambodia.

    The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville. OK, she’s a friend, but this book is deceptively simple and easy to read, and possibly more engaging than The Secret River.

    Happy New Year, everybody.

  9. madrotter says:

    funny you mention that book oigal, heinlein was a pretty militant conservative who hated the fact that the hippie movement in the 60’s loved that book, a pretty good book by the way. his book starshiptrooper was banned for many, many years in holland for being “a fascist, militaristic book” which it isn’t. it was turned into a weak hollywood movie…

    The hugo award (named after hugo gernsback, maverick editor and sf publicer and a real character) is the biggest price you can win in the field of sf…

    i used to have a whole wall full with sf books, got them mostly my father who used to read it avidly. it’s hard, real hard finding books here… here’s a little list of some must read books if you would like to delve into this field:

    larry niven – ring world
    walter m. miller jr – a canticle for leibowitz
    frank herbert – dune
    clifford d. simak – city
    dan simmons – hyperion
    ursula leguin – the left hand of darkness
    william gibson – neuromancer
    arthur c. clarke – rendezvous with rama

    all page-turners these….

    tim dog, my absolute favorite? hard to say, i guess those books by larry mcmurtry, specially the ones where he writes about the old american west are amazing and you can find many of his books in 2nd hand shops all over indonesia…
    problem with most science fiction books these days is that they are often outdated and that’s why i love the books from richard morgan so much, they’re fast-paced, smart and in tune with the latest scientific developments….
    the genre has been taken over for a big part by the fantasy genre which i (mostly) hate, i can’t stand these stories about kings and queens and their little brat princesses, dragons and trolls….

    did i mention bukowski already??? i love bukowski!!!

    bought a new book from richard dawkins yesterday, the greatest show on earth the evidence for evolution and i still don’t believe they are still selling his (fantastic) the god delusion here so openly…

    oh and ofcourse, horror. not the stephen king sort but stuff like the books of writer lovecraft, love it!

  10. Hi Burung,

    We asked Patoeng to delete our sniping. Did u know Kate Grenville’s brother is an Indonesia guy ?

  11. bs says:

    Ok here goes. I tried to list some of the books I think people here might find interesting.

    The black swan (Nassim Nicholas Thaleb) is a book about randomness in the finance world written by a mathematician who worked as a quant at a bank. No matter how many white swans you spot, you can only disprove that all swans are white when you see a non-white swan (Like the Australian black swan. might appeal to Aussies here)

    The brain that changes itself (Norman Doidge). A book about neuroplasticity and how the brain works by a psychiatrist.

    The long tail (Chris Anderson). Actually this is an anti-reading-tip. The idea of the long tail (most of amazon’s sales are the rare books you will not find in the stores) is really, really great. But I think the author could have explained it in a 5 page essay.

    Globalization and its discontents (Joseph Stiglitz). Nobel prize winning economist writes about development economics and globalization.

    Bad samaritans (Ha-Joon Chang). Former (Korean) pupil of nobel price winning economist also writes about it.

    Bad Science (Ben Goldacre) A British GP turned journalist writes about medical malpractice, explains the placebo effect and combats the myth of homeopathy.

    59 seconds (Richard Wiseman). The UK actually has a professor for the public understanding of science. He wrote a book in which he tries to summarize psychological research in small, readible chunks leading to tips that you can understand in less a minute.

    Darwin’s dangerous idea (Daniel C. Dennet) If you like Dawkins, you’ll like this man. He introduces the concept of the ‘skyhook’, something hanging in the sky, without anything to support it, on which whole ideologies and religions are hung.

    White man’s burden (william easterly). Great book about how the West messed up the rest.

    Big bang (simon singh). Guess the title says it all. Understandable for non-techies too.

  12. madrotter says:

    i actually read a book from dennet once, long time ago, amazing stuff, i forget the title..

    i’m writing down some of the titles i see here, loving this discussion!!!

    books about war anybody? i loved the books i read by erich maria remarque… i ate up the illias by homerus (even went to greece after reading that one many years ago)… slaughterhouse 5 by kurt vonnegut about the time when he was a pow in dresden, germany when it was fire-bombed…

    so much to read!!! some of the stuff that tim dog mentions, kipling, or stuff like steinbeck, i’ve been wanting to get into them for years, some of the russians, it makes me wish for a 48 hour day sometimes…

    plus the fact that indonesia is not really one of the easiest countries to find books..

  13. timdog says:

    bs – interesting, just a few weeks ago someone was raving to me about The Brain That Changes Itself, and within the same conversation I was raving to her about Ben Goldacre and his Bad Science stuff (it’s actually a column in the Guardian; the book is a collection of the best ones), so I think that suggests that the rest of your list might be worth investigating from my perspective! Thank you!


    I hazard a guess and say you like the travel (ish) type books

    Certainly looks that way don’t it. But before I go and track this Slocum chappie down, is this a “sailing” book? Though I love travel writing, I generally dislike “adventure project” books (cycling across the Sahara, motorbiking Africa top-to-bottom, any kind of mountaineering books – except those by John Krakauer – and virtually all sailing books. They’re almost always waaaay to self-important)…

    Madrotter – war books? Aforementioned Catch 22 (WW2), maybe the best ever, a spectacular satire that better than anything else captures just how dumb war is, hilariously funny, but also with plenty of stomach-turning horror too…

    Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms (WW1), not bad, but much better is The Middle Parts of Fortune by Frederic Manning.
    On the Spanish Civil War, Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls is a great book, but specifically about the war, Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, is better… which leads me astray to note that Orwell’s first book, Down and Out in Paris and London, is the greatest book on the filthy, life-sapping, soul-destroying thing that is the catering industry ever written. It almost romanticises the exhausting drudgery, but there is plenty of stuff in it that only those who have served their time in kitchens would ever know…

  14. madrotter says:

    read the hemingways and loved them, catch 22 is incredible and i loved the movie they made out of it!!! gotta get into orwell a bit more too so far i only read 1984 and animal farm… i can’t remember the title from an incredible book i read a few years back about the war on the eastern front by a german who was all the way in it, serving with the wehrmacht… a few years back i found a very rare one called the black devils of rotterdam of whom my grandfather was one, it was never translated from dutch…

    gotta mention khaled hussein, i really enjoyed the kite runner and a thousand splendid suns…

    my father was pushing me to read michinger and he’s got some fine books too, enjoyed his history of south africa called the covenant but at times he can be a bit long and windy…

    the plague from albert camus….

    but i love the weirdest kind of stuff, last year i was lying in a hot bath every night reading the adventures of animal vet james herriot, of all things small and wonderful it’s called if i remember right and it was as good as the bbc tv series…

    but nothing beats RED DWARF!!!

    bonfire of the vanities from tom wolfe is amazing….

  15. madrotter says:

    And for the people here who live in or pass through bandung:

    The owner is a foreign woman I think from Australia, you gotta be a bit lucky but I do find treasures there quiet often and they have great sandwiches too….

    for some reason they have an incredible collection of books about gilbert & sullivan, loads and loads of them…

    and here you go:

  16. David says:

    Thanks for the info on Reading Lights Mad, I’m coming to Bandung in a few weeks, will check that out. You’re ready for that beer I hope!!!! Do they have a kids books section? Anyway I’ll find out, on their blog it looks like they almost have an ordering online thing set up, that’s given me an idea for a business, but where to get the stock, lol.

  17. deta says:

    Yes Madrotter, thanks for the valuable information, now I have an alternative to search books than being stuck at Gramedia Jl. Merdeka (during holiday I hardly get a parking space there), and the prices seem affordable too.

  18. Oigal says:

    The Road by Cormac McCarthy. This will be a staple in high schools in about 10 years time, like 1984 or To Kill a Mockingbird.

    Sorry BK, In my opinion as a bit of a fan of the genre, I would certainly consider “The Road” as a classic of its type only in that it is “the throw away airport book” suitable as good way to kill a couple of hours and forget. Turning the last page, you cannot help but think “not a bad first chapter now where is the book”.

    Comparable to “Kill a Mockingbird”? Not within a bulls roar, perhaps on a par with that other end of the world throw-way “The Postman”. The Postman’s claim to fame was one of the few books where the movie was better than the book and the movie was a shocker. Trouble is with these post-apocalyptic, cannibal, descent into evil complete with gangs of mayhem books, is it has all been done so much better by Stephen King with the “The Stand”.

    Madrotter, Yup Dune is a classic sci fi read although the latter versions by various ghost writers have pretty well devalued the whole series. I certainly agree with you on your distaste of the fantasy kids books with the exception of “ORCS” which is just a p*sstake of the fantasy novel thing. Where else would you get the scene where the plundering, raping, murdering “Orcs” ride down into the little sweet village of elves and the Head Orc screaming out “Quick pass me another elf, I think I have split this one”.

    Of course, Brian Lumley’s Necroscope series of books reduces Bram Stoker’s Dracula and all the other insipid floss passing as Vampire fare in book and movie form today to little more than unimaginative pre-schooler tales. Lumley’s Vamphyri are a masterful portrayal of evil and a very bizarre imagination. Most frighteningly you normally find yourself barracking for the wrong side.


    The story of JS is about sailing however I agree the pretentious “I sailed around the world with my dog Max” books are all a bit much. The JS book is different due to the time line and state of the world when he did it. Not like today’s wanks who risk all until it comes time to call on others to bail them out from their own stupidity. JS did some stupid things but could never expect the tax payer funded helicopter to appear over the horizon.

    “ Joshua Slocum (February 20, 1844 – on or shortly after November 14, 1909) was a Canadian-American seaman and adventurer, a noted writer, and the first man to sail single-handedly around the world. In 1900 he told the story of this in Sailing Alone Around the World. He disappeared in November 1909 while aboard his boat, the Spray.”

    Mmmm.. Might have to think about some serious books soon.

  19. Oigal says:

    I do agree with TIMDOG

    really, really would struggle to live without books (books and good coffee are my only luxury consumer items)

    I cannot help but feel sorry for people who don’t read as they are missing so much.

    Reading remains one of my pure joys in life and to be honest there is little if anything (big call, I know) better than finding a really really good book and time to read it. One would think that is hard to do but there are literally thousands out there. Indonesia does offer its challenges finding them and AMAZON really has issues with credit cards from Indonesia at times.

    Aching to try “Kindle” but Amazon keeps telling me to bash it not available in your region. Anyone got any info on that?

  20. Burung Koel says:

    You are seriously saying that Stephen King is better than Cormac McCarthy?


  21. Oigal says:

    Based on the those two novels, yes no doubt. Although The Road is hardly a novel more like a fat screen play for a B movie or at most generous a novelette. However, thats beauty of reading doesn’t really matter what I think as long as I get some good leads on books here.

  22. Burung Koel says:

    Have you read McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, then?

  23. Oigal says:

    No, I haven’t. In fact, pretty sure The Road was the only one I have read of his. I guess he deserves a second chance. Any further info or do I just need to check it out myself :-).

    In return. Have you read “The Stand”?

  24. David says:

    Aching to try “Kindle” but Amazon keeps telling me to bash it not available in your region. Anyone got any info on that?

    Amazon will only ship books to Indonesia. Their third party sellers won’t ship to Indonesia at all. So you’d need to get it secondhand somehow or like here – Or if you have iphone or ipod I think there is a free program that can handle kindle books.

  25. madrotter says:

    @ patung

    yes they have many books for children, they got a whole corner reserved for kids including lots of playthings and i think they even have somebody working there who will read to kids if needed…. looking forward to those beers!!

    tim dog, there’s more nice fantasy out there like the elric of melnibonee series by michael moorcock..

    but really, when there’s trolls and elves and kings and stressed out dames i’m outta there…

    another place in bandung where you sometimes can dig up treasures is the 2nd hand book/magazines market on a street off jalan asia africa at banceuy, close to booze/cigarette shop taurus … books for rent at this little bookshop up in hegar manah….

    i loved reading those books by pro-wrestler, king of hardcore wrestling mick foley, how great it was in 2001 when he came out with his first autobiographical book “have a nice day!” and was on the number one spot of the new york times bestseller list for weeks, pushing aside a whole gang of respected normally number one writers. great stories, and the guy has a few, losing his ear in a match in germany, teeth coming out through his nose when he did that dive off that huge cage, heavy burns after a match in japan where they had hidden explosives in the ring…

    one of my maybe weirder sides is a great love for this much trashed sport, professional wrestling, just ask mickey rourke who as an ex-professional boxer always looked down on it, only to discover how hard it really is when he had to train for that movie “the wrestler”, he can’t stop talking about it now…
    besides that, you won’t find more bizarre individuals than the ones you’ll find inside rasling’

    here’s a good docu about one of the craziests of them all, new jack:

    or watch the docu beyond the mat, a crack smoking out of his mind jake the snake roberts among all the crazy stuff in this one…

  26. diego says:

    Why don’t buy Sony E-Book readers? Either Daily or Pocket edition, but not Touch (I bought Touch, I regret it, for the glare & lack of contrast caused by additional layer of screen protector). The selection of e-books in Sony store is actually quite vast (bigger than Amazon, last time I read).

    And what’s with this embedding photo at the end of each comment? I mean, does it have to be related to the comment? Or can it be just any random weird pic?

  27. madrotter says:

    well i think it makes it more fun all these weird foto’s plus you can underline a point when you want to make it!!! the function is there, why not use it?

    i had a few good laughs with the ones patung is putting up actually…

  28. David says:

    I like the semi-random image as signature thing, I’m copying madrotter, I’m undecided whether it should be relevant to the topic, I think I’ll decide that on a post by post basis, this post it’s anything goes, although there’s a pattern.

  29. Burung Koel says:

    Any further info or do I just need to check it out myself 🙂 .

    Blood Meridian is probably the best example of mid-period McCarthy, when most of his books used the 19th century American West as the backdrop. Described by Harold Bloom among others as a masterpiece, and one of the great American novels. Full of symbolism, especially if you know your US history. Lots of violence, of course.

    I’ll try the Stephen King one – I did like his short stories when I was growing up, but thought most of his stuff is still a bit, well, adolescent. I appreciate that within his genre, he is a great storyteller. He also plays in the Rock Bottom Remainders with Dave Barry and Amy Tan, so he must be a good bloke.

  30. madrotter says:

    I can also recommend the stories about don camillo by Giovanni Guareschi, incredibly funny stuff about the ongoing battles between priest don camillo and the communist mayor of the town that they live in, peppone…

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