Books I read: A take on some best-sellers from my to-read pile

Do you sometimes puzzle over the books on best-seller lists? Are there some books you ‘just don’t get’? And do you worry if there’ something wrong with you when that happens?

I’m beginning to think it’s not about ‘standards’ but about how things ‘click’ for each of us. There’s stuff we like. And then, there are the others.

If you’re wondering how my tastes run, here’s the lowdown from my to-read pile.

These 2, I truly enjoyed:

The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller’s riff on the Achille’s legend is narrated from the viewpoint of Achilles’ companion/lover Patroclus. The work focuses on their relationship from their meeting as pre-pubescent boys through to adulthood and their tragic ends. Seen from this perspective, Achilles is not the arrogant hero of the Greek myths, but relatably human, and oh so young!

Miller’ brings the petty rivalries and political elbowing of Greek kings to life with clean spare prose. She gave me a whole world in a way neither Ovid’s Metamorphoses nor the Iliad managed to.

Be engaged and then heartbroken by this story of two boys become men, two lovers who can’t escape their fates.

In Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library, protagonist Nora is given a chance to undo her regrets with a taste of all the lives she did not choose.

This looked like a typical loser gets a chance at redemption story. However, Nora was portrayed so empathetically that she became a character to root for. And then, there’s the plot twist at the end. It turns out, it’s not really about picking another life out of a box. Instead …

You’ll have to read on to find out I guess.

A lovely story with a quiet ending that’s entirely satisfactory. No wonder it’s a best seller.

Then there were the 3 critically acclaimed authors whose books I just couldn’t get into:

Chang Rae Lee’s My Year Abroad, Patricia Lockwood’s No One is Talking About This, and Elif Shafik’s The Forty Rules of Love.

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Perhaps, I am just too much of a middle-brow. Easily fazed by irony. A little wary of that which is too smooth and too sweet. Please don’t let my ‘did not finish’ stop you from having a go at these three books.

What can I say? It must be me.

Chang and Lockwood are irony filled excursions into the excesses among Asia’s private equity investors and the virtually real world of a social media personality. Elif Shafik offers a mellow look at a suburban wife’s long distance romance with an itinerant photographer and an introduction to the teachings of Rumi, the much popularized Anatolian poet and philosopher. In their own ways, they allow entrees into something other than our here, and our now.

All three have been well received and sold well.

So do have a go at them. Then tell me what you think.

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Audrey Chin is an award-winning Singaporean writer whose work explores the intersections of culture, faith and gender. She believes in the imponderables including love, god and ghosts AND she’s an omnivore when it comes to books.

Her latest book, The Ash House is about the plight of poor women in rich houses and features two foreign domestic workers. Proceeds from sales will be shared with HOME.

She is writing a sequel about mothers who die at childbirth and still-born children.

You can read about her other books here, and buy The Ash House here.

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