Reading vs. watching

I recently read The Constant Gardener by John Le Carre, after having watched the movie adaptation (starring Ralph Fiennes) some time ago. It’s true that once you’ve watched the movie, you aren’t really reading the book anymore; you’re just reliving the movie in your head. So at every turn I had to see Fiennes’s elegantly poised grief instead of picturing Justin Quayle’s mourning for myself. The creative direction, so to speak, had been taken away from me. At each turn I was anticipating what I already knew was going to happen and comparing the text to the movie, if I did remember it. It took a while for me to recall the scene where Quayle is hooded and beaten up by hired thugs when he returns to his hotel room, while traveling in search of his late wife’s informants. So there was a queer moment when I was already reading with my eyes a paragraph or two into that particular scene before the mental image of it formed (or was recalled) in my head. Only at that point did the plot line and the description of violence make an impression on me. The experience wasn’t very satisfying, and so I’ve decided to forbear from watching other movie adaptations of books that I might want to read: the Lord of the Rings trilogy, for example.

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Science books to read

I came across this list of the “100 or so books that have shaped a century of science” at the American Scientist, when I was browsing Donald Knuth’s webpage (because his Art of Computer Programming is among the dozen influential monographs listed for the physical sciences).

Some familiar titles, and plenty of classics (i.e. books that everyone assumes everyone else has read, but haven’t actually read themselves).

Fishing for approval

“If a man fishes with hook and line from the bows of a vessel at anchor and the line is carried down towards the stern and grasped by anyone and the fisherman mistake the resistance for the tug of a fish and pull it and the person be hooked, his catch shall become his property, even if it be the captain’s concubine.”

— From a Johor version (compiled ca. 1789) of the Malaccan digest of marine law (Undang-Undang Laut), quoted by Richard Winstedt in The Malays – a Cultural History (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1961).

The Limits of Principle

My friend Sir J. L., with a large cluster of intellectual qualities, and another of social qualities, had one point of character which I will not call bad and cannot call good; he never used a slang expression. To such a length did he carry his dislike, that he could not bear head and tail, even in a work on games of chance: so he used obverse and reverse. I stared when I first saw this: but, to my delight, I found that the force of circumstances beat him at last. He was obliged to take an example from the race-course, and the name of one of the horses was Bessy Bedlam! And he did not put her down as Elizabeth Bethlehem, but forced himself to follow the jockeys.

From A Budget of Paradoxes, vol. 1, by Augustus de Morgan (available from Project Gutenberg)

The Twenty-Page Rule

“After six weeks of Swedish, I was reading Swedish classics at sight. I had made a discovery: If anybody takes the trouble to look up and memorize every word and to understand every detail of the grammar in the first twenty pages of any book, he can read the rest of the book with scarcely any need of a dictionary. This is so because each author has his own style and mode of expression, which for the most part unfold in any twenty-page sampling of his writing. … That I could do this with Swedish inspired me with confidence that I could duplicate the experience with other languages as well. One summer I decided to learn French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and Dano-Norwegian by myself, through studying each one of them one hour per day during the three-month vacation. … I took sight-reading examinations in the autumn at the University of Pennsylvania and was awarded sight-reading certificates in all of them.”

From Forgotten Scripts, by Cyrus H. Gordon (London, 1968), p. 137

Shoes and Parades

Singapore is a city-state of many contradictions. Believers in political violence can be tossed into jail for years without a trial. This happens in many developing countries. But where else in the world is there an ex-Political Detainee Association? It was formed by the Government in 1966 to help former detainees lead a normal life in society. It finds jobs and accommodation for them. Started with a membership of 49, it now has 400 members, runs its own shoe-making factory and magazine, and a contingent of them marches with flags, in the National Day parade.

From Singapore – Its past, present and future by Alex Josey (London, 1980), p. 174.

Does anybody know what happened to this Association? I don’t think they made an appearance at the last NDP. This could be an interesting piece of history to follow up on, if only to find out why anyone would think that shoe-making is a particularly suitable occupation for a former political detainee.


The French and British were allied against Russia during the Crimean War (1854-1855), but it was

… a miserable, unheroic, ramshackle campaign presided over by old men. Lord Raglan, fluent in French as he was, and genial, had a distressing habit — born of his youthful years of serving under Wellington — of referring to the French as ‘the enemy’.

— from AN Wilson, The Victorians (2003), p. 179