Writing their lives: books by women you must read
Next Friday (8 March) is International Women's Day, so we thought we'd come up with a selection of books by women who have done one of the most daring things anybody can do – share their lives with the world.
It's not an easy thing to reveal your innermost thoughts or deepest feelings, but the women in this list have plucked up the courage to share their experiences about what they've been through. Some are happy, others are sad, some are wistful, others are heartwarming. But all of it is true.
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A LIFE IN WORDS by You Jin. Tham Yew Chin, better known by her pen name, You Jin, is one of the most lauded female writers on our list. Her achievements? Well, receiving the Singapore Chinese Literary Award, the Montblanc-NUS Centre for the Arts Literary Award, and the biggie – the Cultural Medallion for her contributions to Singapore’s literary arts scene. Among others, of course.
A Life in Words documents not only You Jin’s career as a writer but her early life as well – growing up in Malaysia before moving to Singapore and dealing with parents whose relationship was like a rollercoaster ride. Her life story is broken into bite-sized anecdotes with interesting revelations, such as the fact that her dad was a member of the famed Force 136, Lim Bo Seng’s resistance unit that fought against the Japanese forces in World War II. Or that You Jin once wrote an article exposing some of the underhanded tactics of trishaw riders in Singapore (this was in the 1970s, Singapore still had trishaws as a mode of public transport then). Angered by the story, these riders arrived at her office to confront her. Fearing for her safety, she had to wait inside for hours before a colleague sent her home.
You Jin's life – as recorded in A Life in Words – is an inspiring tale that everyone can learn from.
I'M NOT PERFECT. I'M A MOM by Jasmin Han and Shelly Holly. Most books about mothering and motherhood often tell you how to be the perfect mum and how to raise the perfect child. I'm Not Perfect. I'm a Mom isnot one of those books.
No, no. This is a collection of light-hearted, true stories about the bizarre experience of being a mother – from the moment you come to terms with your pregnancy to managing mood swings and attempting to avoid public tantrums; to how mothers learn to make it through proverbial the "terrible twos" (and, come to think of it, the ones, threes and fours) while trying not to punch the husband while he is trying to be “helpful”. Jasmine Han and Shelly Holly – both mums with three young kids between them – regale us with their humorous collective experiences about surviving, and not perfecting, motherhood.
DON'T CALL ME MRS ROGERS by Paige Parker. At the turn of the millennium, American-born Paige Parker and investment guru Jim Rogers spend three years – 1,101 days to be exact – driving over six continents in their customised coupe and trailer. From the steppes of Russia to the savannahs of Africa they went, ultimately setting a Guinness World Record along the way. Her experiences are recorded in Don't Call Me Mrs Rogers, but this book isn't a mere travelogue. During the epic journey, Paige's world view is turned upside down after she meets the residents of each country, whether they be women from every walk of life, inspiring monks in China or boy soldiers in Angola. The life lessons she picked up on that journey also fuelled her life journey – and she wants to pass them on.
"I hope (the book) will also resonate with more young women around the world. My wish is for them to take a chance, to roll the dice, and when given the opportunity to travel, to just do it," she said. It's time to take a chance and do it.
DYING TO MEET YOU by Angjolie Mei. Why would someone leave a shining career in management to work among the dead? Angjolie Mei, funeral director and "life celebrant", recounts how the death of her father – a veteran in the funeral industry known as ‘The Coffin King’ – prompted this dramatic choice.
Within the pages of Dying to Meet You, Angjolie answers some of the questions that people frequently ask her: What exactly happens during embalming? What kind of post-death restoration is needed for second-degree burn victims? What are the little-known facts surrounding suicide in Singapore?
However, Angjolie also shares how her perceptions of life have changed since she chose this extraordinary profession – not least the fact that she is a female in a "man's world".
“When I first started, there were times when people didn’t trust me to do things. They thought I was just a small girl. The only solution is to do it; show them it can be done," she said.
"I was once asked if I was a rose among the thorns. I replied that even if I were, a rose would not be complete without the thorns."
NEVER LEAVE HOME WITHOUT YOUR CHILLI SAUCE by Constance Singam. On the surface, this would appear to be a recipe book – after all, it contains recipes for chilli sauce, together with other recipes such as Kerala fish curry, chicken vindaloo, flourless orange almond cake and mango mousse by Singapore's most prominent advocate for civic society, Constance Singam.
However, this 184-page volume is more than a foodie book, even though food plays a central role in these pages. Through her food memories, Constance also takes readers on a culinary journey to discover the rich local food culture and its roots. Her love affair with food began with her mother's Keralan cooking. Still, after decades of social activism, travel and kitchen mishaps, food is still able to transport her back to a time of street hawkers and wet markets and when dishes such as spaghetti was considered strange and foreign.
LETTERS TO ALY by Lee-Ann. How do you survive your best friend’s suicide? After Alyessa – or Aly – jumps to her death two days after her 16th birthday, her best friend Lee-Ann blames the tragedy on her failure to answer Aly’s last phone call. Haunted by the what-ifs, stressed out by the looming ‘O’ Levels, and troubled by the fraught relationships with her parents and on-again-off-again boyfriend Nate, Lee-Ann slowly begins to contemplate suicide too.
In Letters to Aly, Lee-Ann offers a series of searingly honest diary entries, as she exposes the wound of having a loved one gone too soon. This true account of a teenager’s journey reveals the anger and the despair at its most raw – plunging to the depths of the abyss before she eventually begins the slow and painful recovery to live again.
BABY ZOEY: OUR SEARCH FOR LIFE AND FAMILY by Olivia Chiong. Olivia and Irene wanted to have a baby. But their journey from wanting a baby to actually being parents was fraught with difficulty. Baby Zoey, written by Olivia, tells the story of how the two of them braved the difficulties and obstacles they faced as they pursued their dream.
For example, Olivia details her struggles with infertility and the lack of support for her particular situation. (In Singapore, artificial reproductive technology, including intrauterine insemination is only available to heterosexual couples who are married.)
Furthermore, their daughter was not automatically granted citizenship in Singapore. They had to renew Zoey’s social visit pass every 30 days – failure to do so would mean that she would have to leave Singapore.
“Publishing (this book) was a conscious choice," said Olivia. "In Singapore, families like ours are censored out of the narrative. I wanted the world to know what was stopping us from being a family. And I want Zoey to know that our family is nothing to be ashamed of,” she said.