It’s hard not to be stressed these days — headlines are dominated by stark statistics, and gloomy stories seem to be the only ones on offer. While it’s important to keep up with the news, it’s equally important not to let it consume you.
Sometimes, the best escape comes in the form of a sturdy, solid paperback. Here are 5 of our favourite local books that have inspired us, given us hope, and made us smile.
01 | Button the Hokkien Therapy Dog, by Fiona Foo
Dogs are an exceptional crowd-pleaser, thanks to their generally affable demeanour and, well, because they’re so darned cute. Who doesn’t love a book about a dog doing amazing, adorable things? Enter Button, the miniature schnauzer who, yes, understands Hokkien.
Button’s tale is a heartwarming one: a former breeding dog, Button was abandoned with a host of maladies after her owner found no more use for her. Shortly after, she was rescued by Fiona Foo, author of the book and founder of Hope Dog Rescue.
Along her road to recovery, Button picks up Hokkien — she understands commands in dialect such as lim chwee (drink water), hwa chiu (hold hands), and even bak chiu nik nik (blink your eyes). Her unique talent made her the perfect therapy pet for older folks, and she spent much of her time visiting hospice patients who could only converse in dialect. And though Button might be gone, her affable spirit certainly lives on.
02 | Make Animals Great Again and Other Creature Campaigns, by Maureen Yeo
Don’t let the title fool you. This is one of those charming books that both children and adults will enjoy, not least because of the incredibly lovely illustrations by artist Gracie Chai. The premise goes like this: the animals of the forest are convening to nominate their next leader, so each takes turns campaigning to convince the forest who’s best suited for the job.
The weaver bird promises housing for all (painstakingly built with grass and sticks), while the crocodile wants to bulldoze his competition with his brute strength; the fly wants someone who, well, wouldn’t hurt a fly.
There are important values and messages that are cleverly woven into the plot (such as the finless porpoises who bemoan their lack of mobility because they’re split into three ‘streams’ from an early age) that make it an enjoyable read. There’s even a happy ending that doesn’t feel contrived.
And, if nothing else, the book is a great introduction on Singapore’s biodiversity, accompanied by delightful illustrations that you’ll want to frame up.
03 | Harris bin Potter and the Stoned Philosopher, by Suffian Hakim
You might have heard of Harris bin Potter, the satirical Malay counterpart to the famous boy-wizard. Author Suffian Hakim first published it on his personal blog back in 2013, and it quickly became something of a cult favourite for its hilarious references to Singaporean culture (forget the sorting hat — here, it’s the sorting songkok) and gentle jabs at some of the more absurd plot points in the wizarding world.
Hakim later turned it into a full length book in 2015, and his first print run was so successful that it sold out entirely. It has since spawned an illustrated version, helping readers better visualise what Lorong Diagone looks like, or how Harris manages to live, not in a cupboard beneath the stairs like his British compatriot, but in a kitchen sink cabinet in an HDB.
It’s a fun book that doesn’t demand too much of you: just suspend your belief for a little while and imagine that the Magic MRT exists to take aspiring students to the Hog-Tak-Halal-What School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
04 | The Way of Kueh, by Christopher Tan
Food porn is a pretty powerful means of escapism, because it’ll either give you the inspiration to recreate whatever dish you’re drooling over, or get you hungry enough to go hunt it down. The Way of Kueh serves up delectable pictures of just about every sort of kueh imaginable, along with a heavy dose of nostalgia.
This veritable bible contains a litany of kueh recipes, all lovingly shot and framed: Behold the succulent ruby ang koo kuehs, the cloud-like kai tan kohs and glistening kueh lapis kukus.
It’s no ordinary cookbook, though. Wedged between recipes are stories of dedicated kueh makers from around the region who are keeping their craft alive. The Way of Kueh is as much a cookbook as it is a love letter to kuehs from around the region.
05 | Homeless, by Liyana Dhamirah
There’s something inherently uplifting about stories about humans overcoming adversity. Perhaps we see part of ourselves in our fellow (wo)man, and that reading about them prevailing against the odds gives us a bit of a morale boost. Liyana Dhamirah’s Homeless is one of those books.
The autobiographical novel details Dhamirah’s experience not just with being homeless (after getting kicked out of her in-laws’ home, a heavily pregnant Dhamirah was forced to live in a flimsy tent in Sembawang Park), but with the sometimes disorienting labyrinth of social services in Singapore.
Ultimately, Dhamirah does find her feet as she leaves behind her bleak circumstances and makes a new life for herself. Her story provides not only a look at the people who slip through the cracks in seemingly infallible Singapore, but also shows that even when institutional support fails, ordinary people are more than willing to step up to help.