So this is something that’s been in the works for ages now, and something that’s very close to my heart. A year ago, after I was named as the Changi Airport social media ambassador, I pitched a passion project to Changi that revolved around my two big loves – reading and travelling. I’m someone who travels a lot, both for work and leisure, and it is both a blessing and a privilege. Much of who I am today has been influenced both by the places I’ve been to (hence: the cultures I’ve been exposed to, the conversations with people halfway across the world that help shape my understanding that there is no one way to see a subject) and by the books I’ve read (for who’s first trip wasn’t through the mesmerising turn of the page?).
These experiences subsequently shaped my perspectives and - I hope - empathy for stories different than my own, and thus the project pitched to Changi and their tenant, Times Bookstores, had one clear goal – to recommend books to readers, browsers, and travellers that would bring them places, not just physically, but in terms of perspective and ideas.
As you all know, books have been my life since I was sentient, and I really hope to bring the joy of reading to all of you – not just joy, but new ideas, world views, and a better understanding of privilege and empathy. Thus the #JemmaRecommends shelf was born.
I do have a much longer post talking about the process of the shelf-creation on my personal blog, but for Changi, let me bring you through the top ten picks in my #JemmaRecommends list - segregated by long and short haul - and if you enjoy them, don’t forget to check out the rest of my recommendations in store!
Strangers on a Pier by Tash Aw
The perfect pick for non-habitual readers. This non-fiction book is essentially autobiographical prose and can be read on a two to three-hour flight, but its effects last a lifetime. For many young Southeast Asian readers, this book reads like a lyrical mirror into one’s personal history and culture. Despite being a compact book, completing this read still induced a certain bittersweet feeling - a certain coming of age that’s both touching and sobering. Definitely one to keep, or to gift friends.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Winner of the Man Booker prize last year, The Vegetarian is one of the strangest reading experiences I’ve had the last year. Full of friction and questions you never knew you’d ask, the book is discomforting and provocative, but still an exquisite read. I actually read this on a plane, and it took me all of an hour, so this was a no brainer when compiling my flight read recommendations!
The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman
Despite being a slightly thicker book, I classified it as a short haul read as it’s actually made up of short but powerful essays about art, reading, dreams, myths, memories… and more. This curation of selected nonfiction pieces is so compelling, it’s as close as you can get to having Neil Gaiman as your next door neighbor with great taste and a willingness to chat about his favorite reads. You know, like #GaimanRecommends. The essay format means that you can pick it up and leave off at your leisure, although I guarantee - you will want to finish it in one shot!
Bossypants by Tina Fey
I first read this memoir five years ago, and have read it at least ten times since. Fey’s writing is funny, raw, incisive, and witty, and it never gets old. While lighthearted, the book never gets fluffy, and all in all is an incredibly satisfying read. Recommended - whether you’re a fan of hers or not.
We Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Initially commissioned as a TED Talk, this book by Chimamanda has changed the life of people all over the world - including, it seems, the entirety of Dior’s fashion house, who now identifies Chimamanda as their muse and has an entire line of T-shirts with the same slogan slapped across the front. Other notable people she’s inspired? Oh, you know. Just Beyonce.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Another one by Chimamanda, but trust me, it’s earned its place on the list. Americanah is a book that will leave you feeling refreshed and renewed, and trust me - that’s incredibly rare. About a Nigerian woman who leaves for University in the US, it deals with race, media, migration, and otherness in such a beautiful and modern way that when it ends, you’ll find yourself flipping back to the first page to start again. Here’s a teaser before you get started - when the protagonist moves to the US, she starts a blog called “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black.” Now, dont you want to pick it up immediately?
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
When I was at Hanya’s author session at last year’s Singapore Writer’s Festival, the auditorium was so packed people were sitting on the floor, standing wherever there was the slightest empty gap, and spilling out into the hallways. When she spoke, people started crying, laughing, and clutching this book to their hearts. It’s safe to say that she’s created a cult classic, something that has touched the lives of many people, mine included. Reading this book is like living a whole life, and I legitimately cannot believe something this precious can be afforded anyone at the low, low price of a paperbound book.
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
Yet another Man Booker winner on my list. The Sellout is so satirical it’s hard to believe someone actually sat down and had the guts to do it, but if anyone could pull it off, it’s Paul Beatty. The book is a piece of comic genius, but it’s also savage, insightful, and at times, painful to read. In one line, it’s about a black man who wants to bring back slavery - now, with a synopsis like that, how could anyone not read it?
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
The first in the four part Neapolitan novels series, My Brilliant Friend is a modern bildungsromans that completely absorbed me from start to finish. It gives such a brilliant and fierce insight into the private and mental landscape of a girl that you cannot help but feel converted to Ferrante. Yes - converted. This book isn’t about whether you read it or not - it’s about how many times you read it. Right now, my count is at three.
The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew
The only graphic novel on my list, this book made waves when the National Arts Council in Singapore revoked its publishing grant back in 2015 for being too controversial. Now, two years later, it’s won numerous international awards - making the Amazon and New York Times bestseller lists, and also winning the Singapore Literature Prize back home. The book itself is a stunning and clever piece of work, entertaining, yes, but also layered with social commentary that makes it a required read on every Singaporean’s list. Pick it up before your flight - and perhaps, pick up a copy for your friends abroad too. After all, it’s a piece of art Singapore should be proud to call its own!
Alright, so there you have my ten short and long haul reads for your upcoming flight! Don’t forget to check out more recommendations in store before your flight or when you’ve landed back home in Singapore!
You can find the #JemmaRecommends titles either in the dedicated shelves, or identify them by the #JemmaRecommends orange stickers. Thank you Changi Airport and Times Bookstores for having me - and for the rest of you, we’ll see you at the turn of the page.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author, Jemma Wei.
About Jemma: Born and based in Singapore, Jemma (Jemimah James Wei) is a full time graduate student, host, and writer behind lifestyle blog jemmawei.com. Launched in 2007 originally as an avenue for writing and expression, it has now grown to also encompass photography and personal thoughts on travel, literature and fashion.
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