Year 3 Prose Study: The Pearl by John Steinbeck

Murder, greed, deception, money, family, loss and hope. These are just some of the things that are addressed in “The Pearl” by John Steinbeck.

The Year 3s used a variety of ways to access the text. They included discussions, dramatisations, character sketches and tableaus. The dramatisation of their work is also featured in the SOTA corporate video.

Their final assessment was done through essay writing where they tackled a 1000 – 1500 Literature essay for the first time.

Here are some thoughts from the students and samples of the work the have done with the text.


In “The Pearl”, I certainly found the characters really interesting and unique. Therefore, when my class had an activity to act out a certain scene from the book as the characters, it was easily one of the most amusing and hilarious things ever! Seeing my classmates over-exaggerate the characters’ personalities was not only enjoyable to watch, but was also very helpful with my own understanding and interpretation of the characters which enabled me to write more sensitively about them in the essay. – Jude Tan, O4

“The Pearl” was rich with colourful imagery, playing with setting to create tense, relaxed, and peaceful atmospheres to name a few. I found that the clever use of imagery stimulates the reader’s imagination to think up vibrant scenes that Steinbeck described. The provision of discussions in class was highly beneficial to my learning, as it was a collaborative effort to learn the text and express our ideas. – Eilis Ong, O1

Tableaus & Drama:

2Dramatic readings with acting.

Kino and Juana dream of what they could have.

Drama: The doctor’s visit brought with it suspicion and fear.

In the brush house, a small dog approached Kino.

Character Sketches & Quotations:
These were used to help students visualise the characters and pull out important quotes that would later be useful for their essay writing.

6The doctor: Elizabeth Low, O4

Kino: Ashley Jane Leow, O1

The greedy, discontented doctor: Shao Qi, O8

Juana: Koo Soo Min, O4


Dr Angelia Poon Responds

Dr Angelia Poon, Associate Professor and Deputy Head (Programmes & Teaching) of English Language & Literature responds to Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah.

TUESDAY’S article (“More subjects to choose from, so fewer take pure literature”) revealed the startling statistic that 3,000 students took pure literature last year, compared with 16,970 in 1992.

Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah said this decline “needs to be understood in the context of an education system responsive to a changing social context, and which has offered increasingly more curricular choices for students over time”.

This is misleading.

The initial drastic drop in the candidature for literature occurred in 1992, when the practice of ranking schools based on academic results started.

The next significant dip occurred in 2001, when social studies was introduced as the compulsory “half” of the combined humanities subject.

Thus, over the last two decades, literature has been dying a slow death in secondary schools. It is these two main reasons, and not the more recent offering of subjects like “drama, physical education, computing and economics” to boost curricular choice, that have led to the decline in enrolment for literature.

Literature has suffered vis-a-vis history and geography when it comes to the selection of the elective for the other half of the combined humanities subject. A disproportionate number of students take the latter subjects rather than literature because they perceive geography and history to be factual, content-heavy subjects that are easy to attain good grades in.

The nature of the social studies syllabus also promotes the idea that geography and history are a better fit than literature as the complementing elective. Left to “choice”, this is the kind of imbalance that results.

This is surely a distortion of the holistic and interest-driven education that we want for students here. It is a problem that the Education Ministry should seek to redress.

Ms Rajah has affirmed the ministry’s stance to persuade schools to be less grade-conscious by not overly publicising results. This is a step in the right direction for the Primary School Leaving Examination.

Ironically, not publishing the distinction rates in the case of O-level humanities subjects has led to the perpetuation of erroneous ideas about the alleged difficulty of a subject like literature.

Literature thus has the dubious distinction of being the policy victim of both an over-emphasis on academic achievement and the move to de-emphasise grades.

Failure to discern the irony just proves my point that literature as a subject should be strongly encouraged, and not needlessly allowed to be collateral damage in the false name of greater curricular choice.

Angelia Poon Mui Cheng (Dr)

The Straits Times, 28 February 2013.

What will your verse be?

It seems like we are an endangered species, not the human race, but students of Literature. Headlining an article, it was reported in the Straits Times on 25 February 2013 that there is a “big drop in number of students taking literature“.

The decline in the number of students taking literature as a subject in school has to do with new subjects that have been introduced over the years, said Ms Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister of State for Education and Law.

She was responding to questions from Nominated Member of Parliament Janice Koh who asked for the main reasons for the decline.

There are currently only about 3,000 students taking literature, compared to 16,970 in 1992.

“The decline in the ‘O’ level candidature for full literature over the last 20 years needs to be understood in the context of an education system responsive to a changing social context, and which has offered increasingly more curricular choices for students over time,” she said.

Ms Indranee said the main factor for the decline has to do with the introduction of Combined Humanities at the upper secondary levels, where students take social studies as a compulsory component and an elective which can be either geography, history or literature.

She added that another factor for the decrease is that there is a “common perception that it was difficult to obtain a good grade for the subject”.

The response raises more essential questions than it answers. These are some of my own that might not find answers.

1) Granted that Combined Humanities has a compulsory social studies component, why should the decline be seen in only Literature and not History and Geography since all three are options?

2) If good grades are hard to obtain for Literature, how and why should Geography and History be perceived to be easier? And are they really?

While we extrapolate the implications of this declining trend, perhaps it is instructive to remember what Literature does for us as a student, as a nation and has a human race. Or will the latter too ebb away in this “changing social context“?

Literature gives us an internal compass, a way to negotiate all life’s rough and tumble. It gives us insight, empathy, direction and warning. It is a concordance for the physical world, a magnificent prism through which reality is refracted. Much loved passages whisper in our ears. Long-dead authors hold us by the hand. Half-forgotten poems fill our mouths. Literature is present at the birth of our first child and the ordering of our morning coffee. It fills us.

Why Books Provide Ballast by Edd McCracken

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.

“To quote from Whitman, ‘O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?’ Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.

“What will your verse be?”

John Keating played by Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society

Books are the carriers of civilization. – Henry David Thoreau

Writers aren’t exactly people; they’re a whole lot of people trying to be one person. – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Of our conflicts with others we make rhetoric; of our conflicts with ourselves we make poetry. – William Butler Yeats

A reason to write is to say to others that you are not alone. – Kurt Vonnegut

What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure – Samuel Johnson

All literature is, finally, autobiographical – Jorge Luis Borges

Literature draws its sap from the deep soil of human nature’s common and everlasting sympathies – James Russell Lowell

Literature gives us a memory of lives we did not lead – Mason Cooley

George Carlin and The English Plural

George Carlin (1937 – 2008) was an American stand-up comedian, actor, writer and author and winner of five Grammy Awards for his comedy albums. He was also the voice of Fillmore of Cars.

George Carlin as Fillmore

Having trouble trying to find your way through the English Language sometimes? You’re not alone. This is what George Carlin has to say about THE ENGLISH PLURAL.

We’ll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox becomes oxen, not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,
Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.

If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn’t the plural of pan be called pen?
If I speak of my foot and show you my feet,
And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn’t the plural of booth be called beeth?

Then one may be that, and there would be those,
Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine: she, shis and shim!

Let’s face it – English is a crazy language.
There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger;
Neither apple nor pine in pineapple.
English muffins weren’t invented in England.

We take English for granted, but if we explore its paradoxes,
We find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square,
And a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.
And why is it that writers write, but fingers don’t fing,
Grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham?

Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend?
If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them,
What do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught?

If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?

Sometimes I think all the folks who grew up speaking English should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane.

In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?

We ship by truck but send cargo by ship…
We have noses that run and feet that smell.
We park in a driveway and drive in a parkway.
And how can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same,
While a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language
In which your house can burn up as it burns down,
In which you fill in a form by filling it out,
And in which an alarm goes off by going on.

And in closing…

If Father is Pop, how come Mother’s not Mop?

The Appeal of Books

More Books

Image from Books Direct.

This is too true not to share.  It made me think about all the books sitting on my shelves at home, and the 50 something boxes of medical and other books that my dad has in storage.

But every time I see a new book, an old book I’ve read or even one that I like, I feel like I want to buy the real paper copy of it.  An e-book or Kindle one won’t do. Do you ever feel like that?

So why is it that we are so compelled to obtain books? What is the value of having so many books in our possession?

Are they a material confirmation of our literary journey, depth of knowledge or experience?  Does it suggest that one is more educated if one has more books? Or is there something that is just magical about the book itself, the printed words, the pages, the cover, the connection you have touching these as the content magically transfers to you? Do they bring back nostalgia of things we’ve read or experienced in our past? Representations of what we hope for in the future?

Maybe all of the above, maybe it’s just that books are really great!

So go get some books!

Some great sites are:

The Book Depository (free shipping everywhere)

Books Direct Online (gives reviews and tries to find the best sites to buy them.  You can even submit your own review for them to publish!)

BetterWorldBooks (everytime you buy a book they donate a book to someone who can’t buy one to promote literacy around the world)

Mrs. Dorcas Tirhas

Time-Travelling and Ginger Coffee


I always find the discussion about local literature comically sad these days because rather than discussions, they resemble a firing squad.  It normally goes something like this:

Imagine the line-up.  Local writers are shuffled in, rather hurriedly, as their names are spit or mumbled out of the mouths of locals.  Largely, these locals are confined to teachers, students, writers or the occasional person who was forced to study Singapore Literature at some point in their lives.  Many hold opinions but lack the depth of understanding or study to really substantiate what they say. And those who do have the depth are often dismissed as being too geeky, or too serious, or too intense – “Lighten up dude! It’s only Literature.”

The names are called out, like a sentencing rather than an accolade.  Normally the list includes names such as Alfian Sa’at, Arthur Yap, Robert Yeo, Lee Tzu Pheng, Chandran Nair, Simon Tay, Leong Liew Geok, Stella Kon, Catherine Lim, Colin Cheong…(of course he’s in our list, he teaches here! So any students reading this better know that and read his interview on this site too!).

The bullets are fired quickly: cursory remarks, non-committal answers, very strong emotions, opinions, in-depth responses or ones that shrug off the topic.  The shooting is rapid, brief and the conversation moves on, aiming at each in turn, but more often than not no one is “convicted”, neither poet nor critic – read that how you like.  Many existing, established writers and young, up and coming writers seem to be spared for the moment – but sadly this is because of anonymity rather than appreciation.

As the conversation makes its way down the line, it will inevitably come to Edwin Thumboo, or may very well begin with him.  Sometimes the conversation dawdles a while there, strong opinions make appearances then disappear, the listener may hear some comments such as:

“One of the most prolific writers of Singapore Literature.”

“I hate his work!”

“His warmth and work is what he will be remembered for.”

“I don’t get his poems.”

“He has been bringing people together through his work.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard of his name before…”

These are all actual things that I have heard said about his work and have taken mental note of them.  In fact, I did a Facebook poll recently to find out which local writer were the most well known. The response was disgraceful, but perhaps this shows a real lack of interest in or understanding of the local literary scene. Only about 6 people responded, most of who were keeping up with the local writing scene quite actively.

The carnage of the local literary scene is sometimes brutal, sometimes jaded, sometimes refreshing, sometimes forgiving/forgivable.  But often it leaves the listener more confused and less informed.

Yet at the same time, it also gives hope and celebration.

After all, that’s what martyrs do. Right?

So, why this article? Why the fancy title then an invitation to watch a bloodied line-up?  Because I recently attended the official launch for Edwin Thumboo’s “Time-Travelling A Poetry Exhibition”, at the National Library.  It is currently being exhibited at the National Library, Level 8 until March 2013.

Edwin Thumboo 1

My mom and I were kindly invited by Thumboo’s wife. And although I know him from afar, my parents are acquaintances, I have studied his poems, analysed them in my Honours Thesis and even taught his poetry locally and overseas, it was a real eye opener for me as a teacher, and more importantly as a Singaporean. (Disclaimer: I do not claim to be well-versed with his writings)

What was most lovely about the evening was the fact that his grandchildren performed their own poetry as well as his little grandson, David, who played Thumboo’s favourite hymn –  “Be Thou My Vision” on the violin.  The SCGS students also performed some of Thumboo’s poems along with readings by Sunil Govinnage and Eric Tinsay Valles.  But it was the genuine family feel and intimacy of the evening which encapsulated what was said about Thumboo: that he will be remembered for his “warmth and work”.

The idea of Literature being so important and connecting people from generation to generation was evident.  An evening of looking at where we came from and where we are going to was a nice pause in the fast development of our lives today.

Perhaps what was most interesting was the panel, which comprised of Edwin Thumboo, Jeyarah Rajaroa, and Oliver Seet.  Although the moderator failed to let the audience in on the forum as it was meant to be, the conversation seemed to bring the past to life in a very real way that connected the modern audience back to the time of the youth of the familiar friends on stage.  For a moment, we were made privy to the space and time in history where they lived and grew, breathed and were inspired; a golden portal to time-travel and see where the writing came from and why it is still so important today.

Edwin Thumboo 2

A copy of the “Fajar” – Whilst writing for the University Socialist Club, Thumboo and his contemporaries were charged for sedition. 

As I was listening, I was struck by the recreation of the past that was so tangible, so palatable and so courageous.  Perhaps that is what is missing with today’s artistes; the passion, the conviction, the deep pursuit of knowledge, the great respect for each other and challenging oneself first, before challenging or criticising others.  But here are some of the salient points that came out of the session that I’d like to share with others:

–       Poetry is the true expression of oneself.

–       Poetry is being yourself and connecting to people through shared experiences.

–       During the university days of the panel, poetry and Literature in general, had a real function at that time – a political one.

–       In the University there was a deep pursuit of knowledge, people took pride in their work, respected each other and their own work and the quality and depth of education was upheld.

–       Thumboo’s writing showed an active desire to spread the political word and move forward. To bring cultural unity.

–       One can create the conditions for culture but you cannot create culture. Edwin has been creating these conditions by bringing people together through his poetry.

–       Poetry gave Singapore and the people of that time a sense of identity.

–       People would talk about poetry and philosophy and be inspired.

–       They had character and were characters.

–       As groups of friends and students they stimulated thought and conviction.

–       Thumboo talked about how Literature is the conversion of source ideas into writing.

–       Many if us want to express ourselves but we cannot because we do not have an idea.

–       We have lost the use of the English language, lost the art of communication.

–       Ginger Coffee off Dunearn Road.

And this is where the ginger coffee comes in.  Jeyarah Rajaroa reminiscing about the days they used to talk and the ginger coffee they drank at a coffee shop off Dunearn Road.  It struck me that so many of the places that were around have disappeared, so many of our goals have changed, our political climate is so different, our access to information and communication so rapidly changed from the days of Thumboo and his peers.  But is all this for the better?

Many people cannot resonate with his writing because they have not stopped in this fast-paced world. They have not taken time to appreciate where we have come from, they have not embraced who we are as a nation and they have not really understood the importance of time-travelling when studying Literature and their writers.

Edwin Thumboo 3

Edwin Thumboo 4

A collection of his early published works.

To end this lengthy piece, I would like to come back to what Dr Susan Ang from the National University of Singapore said recently at the Literature Seminar.  Although she was specifically talking about teaching a text, I believe students or any reader can apply it to their own Literary journey.  She said that we transfer our attitudes and interest to our students.  If we do not likea piece of writing, we should try to find something we can like about it. If we cannot, then at least try to find something that is interesting that we can use as a springboard to explore other relevant ideas within the text.  And finally, if we cannot find anything we like or find interesting in a text, then at least respect it for the writing it is and the writer who created it.

Ok so I lied, now I’m ending…

I believe those words are more needed now than ever for the local Singaporean teacher, student and reader.  And so very relevant as we look back at some of our own Literary figures in the local scene.  If we treat each other with more respect, perhaps we will begin to see the value of the writing and the writers who have been mercilessly jostled into the line-up for us to criticise. And, new writers would not be so scared to write either!  I encourage you to go and browse the humble exhibition, learn a bit more about Singapore’s history, how it is penned into Literature and understand someone who is undeniably a significant figure in Singapore’s literary tradition. Go and find out for yourself about his life, his work, his identity and who he really is.   Oh, and he came up tops in the Facebook poll by the way! At least that’s a start.

Edwin Thumboo 5

My mom and Thumboo’s neighbour (mentioned by name in his latest poem “Bukit Panjang: Hill, Village, Town”) looking at the displays.

Dorcas Tirhas

Are there rules for writing?

Ever wondered how authors and poets find the right sequence and choice of words that somehow melt your cynical heart, move you to tears and make you find yourself yearning to meet with your favourite characters again?

Take it directly from these renown authors and choose some from these lists of advice to put into practice today. (via Brain Pickings)

Zadie Smith

  1. When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else.
  2. When an adult, try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.
  3. Don’t romanticise your ‘vocation’. You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no ‘writer’s lifestyle’. All that matters is what you leave on the page.
  4. Avoid your weaknesses. But do this without telling yourself that the things you can’t do aren’t worth doing. Don’t mask self-doubt with contempt.
  5. Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.
  6. Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.
  7. Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet.
  8. Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.
  9. Don’t confuse honours with achievement.
  10. Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand — but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied.

Kurt Vonnegut

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

John Steinbeck

    1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
    2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
    3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.
    4. If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.
    5. Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.
    6. If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.

Neil Gaiman

    1. Write
    2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
    3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
    4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
    5. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
    6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
    7. Laugh at your own jokes.
    8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

You are what you read

Reading literature goes beyond providing exposure to writing, syntax and grammar. This is because, as James Russell Lowell said, “Literature draws its sap from the deep soil of human nature’s common and everlasting sympathies”. And even even more succinctly put,  Mason Cooley elucidates “Literature gives us a memory of lives we did not lead.”

Not all fiction we come across will find its way deep into our hearts and minds and hold us captive, but a number might. Different stories mean different things to different people at different times. Our reading of a text is also influenced by our own experiences. The intersection at which what we bring into the text meets and melds with what text has to offer is when we are elevated to new understandings and perspectives.

In his introduction to The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012, Ray Bradbury (best known for his science-fiction works) has this to say about how reading and books has shaped him.

When I was seven years old, I started going to the library and I took out ten books a week. The librarian looked at me and asked, “What are you doing?”

I said, “What do you mean?”

And she said, “You can’t possibly read all of those before they are due back.”

I said, “Yes, I can.”

And I came back the next week for ten more books.

In doing so, I told that librarian, politely, to get out of my way and let me happen. That’s what books do. They are the building blocks, the DNA, if you will, of you.

Think of everything you have ever read, everything you have ever learned from holding a book in your hands and how that knowledge shaped you and made you who you are today.

Looking back now on all those years, to when I first discovered books at the library, I see that I was simply falling in love. Day, after day, after glorious day, I was falling in love with books.

The library in Waukegan, Illinois, the town where I grew up, was a temple to the imagination. It was built by Andrew Carnegie, the philanthropist, who built libraries all across this great land. I learned to read by studying the comic strips in the Chicago Tribune. But I fell in love with reading at that old Carnegie library. It was this library that served as the inspiration for the library in my 1962 novel, “Something Wicked This Way Comes.”

I will never forget the many magnificent autumn nights, running home with books in my hands and the October winds driving me home towards discovery. I found books on Egypt and dinosaurs, books about pirates, and books that took me to the stars.

Earlier this year, the landing site in Mars on which Nasa’s rover Curiosity landed on was suitably named after him – Bradbury Landing.

Curiosity landed on Mars on 5 August, beginning a two-year exploratory mission. Bradbury, who died in June aged 91, was the author of hundreds of short stories, as well as the novels Something Wicked This Way Comes and Fahrenheit 451. His classic collection of stories The Martian Chronicles, written in the 1940s, imagined man’s experiences on Mars telepathic Martians who lived there. “The Martian desert lay broiling like a prehistoric mud-pot, waves of heat rising and shimmering,” he writes in The Earth Men. “There was a small rocket-ship reclining upon a hilltop nearby.”

“This was not a difficult choice for the science team,” said Michael Meyer, Nasa programme scientist for Curiosity. “Many of us and millions of other readers were inspired in our lives by stories Ray Bradbury wrote to dream of the possibility of life on Mars.”

Books has truly taken Bradbury, and many others, to the stars.

You are not the books on your shelf.

You are not the books you have read.

You are not the books you haven’t read.

You are not what books people think you have read.

You are not the books you are supposed to have read.

You are not the books you always meant to read.

You are not the books you hate.

You are not the books you dismiss.

You are not the books you like.

You are not the books you love.

You are not the book you are reading now.

You are not the book you just read.

You are not the book you are reading next.

You are not the books you remember.

You are not the books you have forgotten.

You are not the books your parents read to you.

You are not the books you read to your children.

You are not the books you’ve given.

You are not the books you have received.

You are not the books you have written.

You are not the books you will write.

You are not the books you will never write.

You are not the books you reread every year.

You are not the books you’ve abandoned.

You are not the books you studied.

You are not the books you admire.

You are not the books that made you think.

You are not the books that made you change.

You are not the books that made you leave.

You are not the books that made you pick up the phone.

You are not the books that made you laugh.

You are not the books that made you cry.


All of these books are you.

 By Jeff O’Neal, the editor of Book Riot.

Rejection Letters to Famous Authors

Putting in your best work and facing rejection? These literary greats knows how that feels.

The following are excerpts of harsh rejection letters to now famous authors taken from Flavorwire.

Sylvia Plath (1932 – 1963)

The Bell Jar (Published 1963)

I have now re-read—or rather read more thoroughly—“The Bell Jar” with the knowledge that it is by Sylva Plath which has added considerably to its interest for it is obviously flagrantly autobiographical. But it still is not much of a novel. The trouble is that she has not succeeded in using her material in a novelistic way; there is no viewpoint, no sifting out o the experiences of being a  Mademoiselle contest winner with the month in New York, the subsequent mental breakdown and suicide attempts, the brash loss of virginity at the end. One feels simply that Miss Plat is writing of them because [these] things did happen to her and the incidents are in themselves good for a story, but throw them together and they don’t necessarily add up to a novel. One never feels, for instance, the deep-rooted anguish that would drive this girl to suicide.

Jack Kerouac (1922- 1969)

On The Road (Published 1957)

“…this is a badly misdirected talent and … this huge sprawling and inconclusive novel would probably have small sales and sardonic indignant reviews from every side.”

Followed by the even nastier, pithy review of another editor:

“I don’t dig this one at all.”

Kurt Vonnegut (1922 – 2007)

Sample writing that formed the impetus for Slaughterhouse-Five (Published 1969)

We have been carrying out our usual summer house-cleaning of the manuscripts on our anxious bench and in the file, and among them I find the three papers which you have shown me as samples of your work. I am sincerely sorry that no one of them seems to us well adapted for our purpose. Both the account of the bombing of Dresden and your article, “What’s a Fair Price for Golden Eggs?” have drawn commendation although neither one is quite compelling enough for final acceptance.

Our staff continues fully manned so I cannot hold out the hope of an editorial assignment, but I shall be glad to know that you have found a promising opening elsewhere.

Vladimir Nabokov (1899 – 1977)

Lolita (Published 1955)

This office has taken a long time to say no to Nabokov’s Lolita which you and I both know was impossible at least for us. Do you want the books back? I don’t imagine so in which case we will keep it for our blank department. But let me know. I wonder if any publisher will buy it.




Featuring Colin Cheong

Colin Cheong

Singapore Literature Prize winner in 1996 and the author of more than 30 books, Colin Cheong recently joined our Literature Dept. Here in this exclusive interview, we ask him some probing questions:

 How did you come to write your first novel, The Stolen Child?

I was in Secondary Four at the time and preparing for my O-levels. As a sort of recreational break, I wrote a very long short story that eventually became Part 1 of The Stolen Child.

What are your pet themes?

 Love lost, and the conflict between freedom and commitment (home or the highway!)…

How much attention do you pay to the “craft” of writing?

 I’m very conscious of things like structure and flow, character details, location details, motifs. In the preparation phase, I internalise all this. But once I begin writing, I no longer pay conscious attention to craft – I extemporise around the structure, the chord progression and ornament as the moment moves me too (just like a jazz pianist might – except my keyboard is QWERTY). After that, I leave the work alone for a while and return to it with fresh and critical eyes. That’s when I pay attention to the micro-level craft bits. So I don’t know if that would count as ‘a lot of attention’ or ‘hardly any’!

What do you do when writer’s block hits? What prompts do you use for your writing?

I don’t get writer’s block. I used to be a journalist and I had deadlines everyday. All I need to do is to start typing – anything at all related to the story I want to tell at that point. Thanks to the wonderful technology called word processing, I don’t have to get it perfect the first time round – I can hammer out what I want to say – broadly – then go back and refine it. I don’t pretend I can get it perfect the first time. Another good trick is to stop writing the day before at an exciting point – you know how you will go on… but you just stop. Then it’s easy to get back to it the next time you sit down to write. I think this tip came from Ernest Hemingway. It works for me.

Are you writing anything currently?

 Yes, I am writing all the time. I have a backlog of story ideas that sit in The Box – a cardboard box of all the ideas I dashed out – I am actually behind some 10 years in my writing.

What do you think of Singapore Literature?

I don’t think about it – I just enjoy it! Being part of the scene, I know pretty much everyone in it and it’s always hilarious when we get together for panels and things like the Singapore Writers’ Festival. I was also taught by many of the writers, for example, Arthur Yap and Lee Tzu Pheng. Boey Kim Cheng, Felix Cheong, Alvin Tan and Adrian Tan were school mates. Nicky Moey was my neighbour. Colin Goh was an army mate. Liang Wern Fook was a school mate as well as my Corporal in the Army. Shermay Loh, Christine Lim, Robert Yeo and Kirpal Singh are friends too. Some of the younger crowd, Alfian Sa’at, Toh Hsien Min and Ng Yi Sheng, I knew as students from the Creative Arts Programme. International bestselling writer Cheryl Tan (A Tiger in the Kitchen) was a former girlfriend. The point of all this shameless name-dropping?  Singapore literature is actually really very diverse in its concerns – as diverse as the personalities I’ve named. There’s really something for everyone and the biggest challenge is readership (or the lack of of it) and prejudice as well as the continued perception that ‘west is best’ and that work by ‘native speakers’ of English are superior.

What can be done to liven up or improve the literary scene in Singapore?

So much has been done for it already. There are high-profile competitions, fellowships, travel grants, publishing grants. There are tiny publishing houses who go all out to support new writers (eg Books Actually, First Fruits) and bigger ones like Epigram and Marshall Cavendish. There are readings and poetry slams and the Singapore Writers’ Festival. To improve the literature scene, writers just have to keep on writing and on the reader’s side – they’ve got to keep on reading or at least give Singapore writers a chance. We’re starting to go into e-books too and this should make it cheaper and more accessible.

 Who is your favourite writer (local or otherwise)?

Since 2004, I’ve answered: Murakami Haruki (Japan). Why? I loved his weird, surreal stories and his offbeat characters. His main protagonist, usually some loser in his late thirties or forties… reminded me of myself. But if I could save just ONE book from a fire, it would be JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit. So I think that would make him my favourite writer by default. It’s just a story I love and it has a certain refinement and elegance you don’t find in modern fantasy novels. And to know that there is an entire created world that lies beneath The Hobbit… it’s awesome.

How does your writing inform your teaching?

There is always the ‘craft’ aspect of writing that is easily applied to the understanding of literature. I know the ‘tricks of the trade’. It’s easy – and sometimes fun – to dissect a work to reveal its secrets and workings, but it can take away some of its magic. A really great work is more than the sum of its parts. While this ‘reverse engineering’ is a wonderful intellectual workout, and you hope to interest students in literature through this, it actually does leave me a little cold – it always has. Imagine studying dance through only the critical evaluation of Laba notation – but not dancing. Imagine studying art through art history, but never painting or sculpting. Imagine learning how to analyse Baroque compositions but never trying to compose and play such pieces yourself. Imagine never going beyond textual analysis of Shakespeare, never creating a performance that says what you have to say. Literature was always an easy subject for me – but its true object was always writing.

What would you like to say to the Literature students of SOTA?

 Always remember that the study of Literature is really a means to a very delightful end – a more knowledgeable and pleasurable reading experience (of anything you wish, not just the set texts). Along the way, you’ll learn other useful intellectual skills, such as evaluation and working in a context where there may not be any clear cut answers. Your linguistic ability is also likely to improve quite a bit. So pay attention, participate and most of all, just enjoy the process!

More about The Colin Cheong Collection from Marshall Cavendish

Prolific writer Colin Cheong brings together three classic novellas and 23 short stories in this first-ever collection. Written in the 1990s, each story reflects his prowess as a storyteller. He is known for his sensitive and skillful articulation of some universal human themes — the pain of rejected love, the frustration and anticipation of being ‘almost adult’, the rites of passage to adulthood, and man’s need for woman.

This collection comprises:

Seventeen (novella, published 1996)
Poets, Priests and Prostitutes (novella, published 1990)
The Man in the Cupboard (novella, published 1999) – won the Merit Award, Singapore Literature Prize 1998
Life Cycle of Homo Sapiens, Male (short stories, published 1992)
Five new stories, previously only published in The Straits Times

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