Meet Alan John on Feb 24
Author Alan John is a consummate storyteller, as is evident in his memoir Good Grief!
Let him regale you with his experiences from a 35-year career at The Straits Times at this month's Big Read Meet. The fun begins at 6.30pm on Feb 24 at The Possibility Room, Level 5, National Library Board (NLB) headquarters at 100 Victoria Street.
Sign up at any NLB e-Kiosk or click on www.nlb.gov.sg/golibrary, look for The Big Read Meet and follow the steps there.
If you cannot make it to the session, share your views of the book by e-mailing your thoughts in not more than 100 words to email@example.com. We will publish the best contributions on The Big Read page.
FIVE QUESTIONS THIS BOOK ANSWERS
1 How has Singapore changed in the past 35 years?
2 What does being a parent mean?
3 How might you build character?
4 How might you best help others?
5 What is it like to have loved and lost?
Just a minute
1. Former newspaper editor Alan John is a master of "less is more" in writing. He is concise, precise and incisive in his essays, which makes this book a delight to read and a primer on how to write well.
2. Add to that his sturdy moral backbone and healthy funnybone, and you have a rare gem of a read. He tells it like it is.
For example, here he is on bringing up his first child, Nicola: "We squashed too much parenting into too little time with her." He also rues how many among his colleagues were "absent fathers" or "mothers raising their children by telephone".
3. John has carefully avoided grouping the 49 pieces in this book chronologically, which is a wise move as that approach so often leads to tedium for the reader.
Instead, he has woven themes around his pet passions such as roots, food and journeys. But within each theme, he has ordered his writings chronologically, say, from 1981 till 1994 till 2016. This lends valuable perspective, and a more comprehensive outlook, on all that he holds dear.
4. You will also likely enjoy a lot of received wisdom from his friends, of whom there are many in this book.
He also recommends many good books from which he has drawn insights and solace, such as American scholar-sculptor Kent Nerburn's Small Graces, Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life and Marc Freedman's Prime Time: How Babyboomers Will Revolutionise Retirement And Transform America.
He writes so warmly and vividly about his immediate and extended families that when you reach the last page, you will think they are your family too. So why is it that there is not a single photograph or illustration of him or them in this memoir?
John tells me that his book editor had advised that photographs were not necessary. I am certain readers would not agree. We live in a time when people prefer pictures to words and so some things should best not be left to the imagination.
As John spent half his life in newsrooms working 12-hour days, often on Saturday nights too, it is head-scratching that this book on his life's journey excludes such a big part of his life.
He tells me that he deliberately left those work experiences out of the book. "I've thought of writing 'Dear God!' about being an editor," he says, "but it would mostly be a survival manual for people who spend their days and nights in a newsroom. I don't know who would want to read that."