Oh yes! My very first book review

Every so often, I key in my name into Google Search to see what comes up. Every so often I am surprised by the number of “Catherine Khoo”(s) that come up. Then lo and behold, I came across on Page 9 a review. Of my book! Every author wants the lowdown on her book and I am no different. And this came from a male reviewer. I liked what Mr Ivan Chew said about my book so here it is, the unadulterated version, word for word of what he wrote. 🙂 Thank you, Ivan, for your candid comments. And yes, if you are reading this, I am very keen to work with other women on their stories …. if they would give me a chance to ….

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Book review: Love! Live Dangerously! And Have Fun!: a mother’s lessons on love, hope, loss and the gifts of life

This one came in the mail for me to review. The book, targeted at young female readers, was easy to read. The tone and style was very personable.

Book review: Love! Live Dangerously! And Have Fun!: a mother's lessons on love, hope, loss and the gifts of life
Cover from: catherinekhoo.wordpress.com. All Rights Reserved.

My take-away from the book:

Crap will happen to anyone and everyone, at some point. No one is immune. The difference is how we choose to carry on.

Taking risks doesn’t always mean we will come up tops. But it also doesn’t mean we will always fail.

Exercise compassion. Life is not just about ‘me’.

Not entirely the way the author described, but I think not too far from it.

The author shared selective episodes from her life, explaining how she realised that one should love and take risks in life.

Right off the start, I sensed this was a woman who did not conform to conventional thinking, even as a teenager. Her mother had forbidden her to go on dates, and that the young Catherine should only focus on her studies. But she dated the boy anyway, even initiating the courtship rather than wait for him to act. The consequence was that her studies were affected, and so did the boy’s.

Before you wonder what sort of message the author is imposing on young impressionable minds, the truth is that many of our friends (perhaps you and I) went through the same, in different degrees. There may be more ‘teen rebels’ among us than we care to acknowledge.

The key difference, I thought, was that a person like Catherine Khoo consistently applied her optimistic outlook towards life.

She wrote in another of her blog:

… I’ve lived this maxim since I was a teenager … and strange enough, it applies so much more as I grow older. Sure, sometimes I jump in without thinking of the consequences, and I fail, but how many times have I brushed off the blood and dust and moved on? Think of it this way, at least I figured out another way not to do it! Truth be told, though…I love this journey

Can we truly have a happy life just by living our dreams?

Cynics may say that there are those who have tried to do just that, and they end up being decrepit and miserable.

Perhaps in anticipation of that, the author peppers her anecdotes about seeing life optimistically.

Part of her credibility arose from her managing and growing her own business. I think it takes a feisty no-nonsense approach to do that, in addition to being a mother, a wife, and a daughter-in-law. If that’s not enough, try starting a writing scheme for teens.

I did not think the author suggests that one should one up-end our lives and gallivant halfway around the world. You get a sense that risk-taking has to be tempered with an underlying sense of responsibility first.

Still, I would not have done some of the things she did, no matter what you tell me. For example, her episode with the illegal taxi ride in a foreign country, where she almost became a victim of a robbery. If I learnt my wife/ mother/ sister did just that (accept rides from strangers), I would be very, very angry. It seemed reckless.

For the most part, I empathised with her stories. Like how she walked out on her husband one time, feeling that she was being unfairly put down by her spouse. As a husband myself, it made me reflect on my words and deeds towards my wife.

One thing I felt the book fell short was that flow of the chapters can appear to be disjointed at times — though this could be said to be the online-diary writing style. Also, I was left with the impression that there could have been a lot more interesting stuff to be told, but weren’t.

I would have wanted to read more was her trials and tribulations in starting and sustaining the Young Authors Club, for one. What went through her mind when she was asked to set up the club? Did she see a business opportunity first, or the social cause?

So, here are a few things that I would be interested in reading, perhaps in her next book:

  • Stories, as told by other woman, whom she met along the way.
  • Interesting stories of the children and teens whom she have met, through the club she set up.
  • The challenges in running a business, never mind being a businesswoman.
  • What was it really like when she “shattered the traditional Japanese male enclave when she became the only woman editor-in-chief of two Japan-based magazines published in Singapore, a position she held for seven years” (see this).

Overall, this would make a good book discussion for teens. Or among teens and parents (I guess the teens would have to be forced to attend such a session, lol).

In a practical and pragmatic society like Singapore, some parents will not agree with the premise behind her book’s title. The call to “love and live dangerously” was something that goes against conventional thinking when I was growing up, and in a way it’s still very much the covert values most of us go by.

This was Catherine Khoo’s fourth book. It is currently available at major bookstores here, like MPH, Kinokuniya, and Times Bookshop.

Her books are also available at the NLB libraries.

Catherine also blogs at www.catherinekhoo.sg/the-meaning-of-education.

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If You Don’t Try, You Will Never Know!

Welcome to Chapter 2 of my book, Love! Live Dangerously! And Have Fun! I’ve lived this maxim since I was a teenager … and strange enough, it applies so much more as I grow older. Sure, sometimes I jump in without thinking of the consequences, and I fail, but how many times have I brushed off the blood and dust and moved on? Think of it this way, at least I figured out another way not to do it! Truth be told, though …. I love this journey I’m on to build the next generation of thinkers and writers, and you know something? Life is too short for regrets. Break some rules! Have Fun!

Chapter 2

If you don’t try, you will never know!
I like Phil Knight’s statement: Just Do It! Because if you don’t, you would never know what it’ll be like if you had tried.
When I was but 13, I had a crush on a boy who lived in the opposite block. He was from St Joseph’s Institution, just a road away from my school, CHIJ. He lived on the third floor, nearest to the staircase. I decided he was someone very similar to the strong, silent, intellectual sort in the Barbara Cartland novels I devour, or maybe a bit of Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind. So I waited for him at the bus-stop, purposely taking the same bus, hoping he’ll notice me. Me a bespectacled, nondescript girl who always had her eyes permanently glued on a book during the bus-ride. I waited for him everyday, hoping he’ll look my way and smile. Now how was he ever going to smile if I don’t even dare to look him in the eye? Throughout the 30-minute journey, I kept my eye on my novel, never daring to look up. Oh, were they the most frustrating bus-rides of my Secondary One days!
Then, one day, he did not come to the bus-stop. And another day. And another day. I was frantic. Where was he? For two weeks, I used my father’s binoculars to stare at his flat, hoping to see him. In my days, it is a teenage crush. Today, it is called stalking!
I did not see him anymore after that. Now, if only, if only I had found the courage to look him in the eye, smile and say hello. What could happen? I would never know. I promised myself I would not repeat this mistake with the next guy I took a fancy to. That was in the 1970s. My mum would have called me brazen.
At 15, it happened. He was from the same school as my first crush. We were in the same group in the Interact Club. My school organised a trip to a MINDS school in Margaret Drive with SJI. I partnered this guy who I thought was really nice. He was helping me feed a nine-year-old boy who refused to eat because everytime he tries to feed himself, he couldn’t lift the spoon far enough …. My SJI friend and I held the boy’s hand to scoop the porridge and gently guided the spoon to his mouth. And the smile the boy flashed warmed my heart. We looked at each other and smiled a kinda-camaraderie grin.
I found out his home number. And I surreptitiously went to the public telephone, put in my ten cents (yes, with another two more coins in my hands in case the call exceeds three minutes), took a deep breath and dialed. Each time my finger turned the dial and I heard the whirr, my heart skipped a beat. But hey, if you don’t ask, you’ll never know! Imagine the relief when he himself came to the phone.
“Hey, I’m Catherine, you know, the girl at the Interact Club …”
“Who?”
“Catherine …” I said it a bit louder. This was going all wrong.
There was a ten-second silence. I wanted to hang up the phone.
“Oh …” he mumbled. Finally a response. Not what I expected.
“I was wondering …” I started, “would-you-like-to-see-a-show-with-me?”
In case you are wondering, yes, he agreed. That began a two-year relationship. I was in Secondary Three, he was in Four. Now I know why parents frown on BGRs. They confuse you, they distract you. Needless to say, he did not do well in his “O” Levels. His mother blamed me. And I did not do well as well. I blamed no one, though. I guess if I did not make that phone call, all this wouldn’t have happened. But well, it was a crazy two years of my life. There! If I hadn’t asked, I wouldn’t have known!
It was this same philosophy that guided me to get into the career I loved. Publishing. I started out at 18 as a general clerk with just my “O” Levels. Got married at 23 and as with all mothers then, having children was top priority. Along came Pat in 1985. Pat made my life complete. I came home early every day because I wanted to be with her, to play with her, to hug her …. and when she mouthed her first words, “mama,” I felt tears welling up in my eyes.
But there was this deep, gnawing desire to be working with books, my first love. But which publisher was going to employ me? No experience, no qualifications? And so I decided I had to write a book.
If you don’t try you don’t know!
It didn’t happen until Pam came along in 1988. I was by this time contributing short stories to a magazine published by Eastern Publishing. Pam was the sweetest baby I ever had. She slept at the right time, which was at night, and at one month old, she hardly woke up for her milk. When she stirred, all I had to do was to stretch my hand across to her cot beside my bed and pat her to sleep. I have to thank her for giving me time to think of writing a book. The result: Love Notes. Falling in love Singapore Style! Part-fiction, part-real ….. I had great fun writing them! I’ve decided to include my selection of the best four in this book. I still think these old-fashioned values hold true today. You be the judge!
Okay, now that it’s written …. Well, typewritten, which sometimes I feel makes writers think harder, as we try to think of the best word so as not to have to do the xxxx backwards. Trust me! So, with a finished manuscript …. What’s left is to find a publisher! I heard horror stories that rejection slips are the norm for first-time authors. Some as many as 20! At the back of my head was the nagging doubt that no publisher would want to publish my book. I wrote to Federal Publications, who sent me a very curt note that they don’t do fiction. I gritted my teeth and went down the list. Heinemann? Sounded foreign, but worth a try. So, again, I slipped the 80-plus pages of my book into the envelope and wrote a “please-please-would-you-care-to-look-at-my-manuscript” letter. It took two weeks …. And one day, a letter from Heinemann came. It is true, the expression, my heart missed a beat, mine missed two … Do I open and be disappointed or do I not open and keep my hopes intact?
Rather hesitantly, I slit it open and dragged the letter out. The letter read, “We have read through your manuscript and would like to inform you that we would like to publish it under our Writing for Asia series.” Short and terse, signed off by the Managing Director, Charles Cher. Charles, if you are reading this, you gave me my first break because you believed in my book. Thank you, thank you very much!
I read the letter through, word for word, again and again. It felt so good, I don’t think anything like this can be put to words, but I’ll try. It’s like you discovered that someone believes in you, that that someone who has not seen you before likes what you have written and is willing to spend money on it. That it’s going to be in the bookshops. That’s the heady dizzy feel. Then when you actually see your book, actually hold it in your hands, you cannot, still cannot believe it. Till today, I don’t think any published author can adequately put into words how they felt when they first see and feel their book! I held mine against my chest, breathed in the fragrance of the pages, read and reread every word in every page, and yes, put it next to my bedside table. It was the last thing I looked at before I slept!
I used this book to apply for the post of an editorial assistant in 1990. At the mature age of 30, I decided it’s now or never! My lifelong dream was to have a career in books. I was addicted to them. Anthony and me used to scour the secondhand bookshops for our favorite novels. Can you believe it, it was just 50 cents for the well-read dog-earred ones, but it’s the words that matter, isn’t it? Our dream was to set up a bookstore along Bras Basah Road, then the bastion of any kind of book. We’ll stock it up with books we love to read … Agatha Christie (I had a whole collection of them, but our favourite detective was Hercule Poirot), Franklin Dixon, who wrote the Hardy Boys series, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, with his Sherlock Holmes and Prof Challenger series …. It was really so cool! We could read all the books we sell!
Anyway, I wrote in to every publisher listed in the Yellow Pages and asked if they’d take an editorial assistant, without any experience whatsoever but has published a book? None replied. I took stock of the situation. Do I resign myself to my fate of that $1200 salary, typing and filing papers in a public accountants’ firm? I had this love for the written word, I wanted to share it with everyone, oh! If only someone gave me the chance! And I decided. If I want something I never had, then I have to do something I’ve never done. Convince them that I can do it! So I picked up the phone.
It took one year and a whole lot of calls before I landed a job in Hofer Media. My Love Notes opened the door for me. But the door shut on me because I did not have the experience. Again, it was dear sweet Vivien Kim, the editor then, who took a risk with me. Vivien, how can I ever thank you?
It didn’t matter that I left the CBD chic for the dress-down Jurong industrial crowd. It didn’t matter that I had to key in manuscript after manuscript (the Macs were just beginning the revolution into desktop publishing), it didn’t matter that I had to take a drastic pay cut! …. I was in a career I loved!

We walked where emperors used to tread

Day 2: We walked where emperors used to tread

Today my mum used her tongkat and I was really happy. I like her resilience, her strength. If anything were to happen to me, I know she could cope. It’s important for her …. I saw her struggle from denial, through depression, through coping with Anthony’s death, to reliance on herself. She has learnt self-reliance. Mum’s a fighter … I think I learnt that from her. She walked all by herself through the Forbidden City, all three hours and I am proud of her.

But frankly, I can’t communicate with her. She’s too egoistic, too narcissistic, and I don’t think she’ll ever change. But I’m glad she’s actively involving herself with helping out in the church. At least she has friends her own age. Although she gripes now and then, I think she has moved on.

It’s crazy … We survived minus 17 degrees in Beijing!

Day 1: I survived minus 17 degrees in Beijing!

It’s crazy …. And coming from my husband who’s deathly afraid of the cold, going to Beijing in the thick of winter, with my mum, 74, my sis-in-law, Fong, 60. My two daughters, Pam and Pauli, and Fong’s daughter, Sharon. When we got down from the plane, the cold hit us with a vengeance ….. Yes, being prepared was important. Thank goodness their aunts had lots of winter wear to lend my two girls and Fong ….

This is the first time my girls have travelled with their grandma. I didn’t know what to expect, especially from Pauli. I always felt there was a reason why she resisted going to visit my mum during CNY, but I didn’t pursue why. Time will heal all wounds, that’s my philosophy in life …. Live and let live. My girls have been inculcated with the proper values and I trust them.

I realized trust is the single most important value when bringing up my children. Trust and believe in them. And the unexpected happen. She held onto her grandma as we left theTemple of Heaven. One on each side of her arm, her grandma and her aunt. It was such a sight to behold as they both held onto her as they walked along ….

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