Our first National Reading Day was 30th July, yesterday. This is part of a 5-year National Reading Movement, which unfortunately appears to have all the hallmarks of past national campaigns. Nonetheless, reading is something I enjoy tremendously, and wished I could set aside more time to do. Trying to inculcate a love of reading in my children has only been partially successful – they are illiterate for all intents and purposes and only enjoy being read to at this stage. Here then are some books I have recently read or are reading.

I found out about Liu Cixin‘s “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” trilogy late, and – being unable to read Chinese adequately – had to depend on the English translations. The Three Body Problem and The Dark Forest are remarkable books – hardcore science fiction that were fantastically imagined, with a bleak outlook that nonetheless is satisfying to plough through. Fortunately, the final book of the trilogy will be out in September (quite unlike Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series which took so long – 1990to 2013 – that it had to be finished by another person after the author died of primary amyloidosis).

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander are a quintet of children’s stories set in a fantasy world that draws heavily on Welsh mythology. I have read the series multiple times over the past three decades and never tire of them, particularly Taran Wanderer and The High King. This recent re-reading started after I tried to read the first book The Book of Three to my son – but he lost interest quickly when he saw that there were hardly any pictures in the book.

Inside the Outbreaks by journalist Mark Pendergrast is a concise but comprehensive chronicle of US CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS), started in 1951 by US epidemiologist Alexander Langmuir. A gift from a friend during the son’s birthday (obviously meant for the older boy in the family), it is a fairly light but interesting read about the remarkable service, and the numerous outbreaks that their graduates have investigated. Several of our countrymen and women have also gone through the EIS. Hopefully their experiences will be recounted and made publicly available sometime in the distant future…

I borrowed We are All Born Free from the National Library – a selection of rights from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, described in pictures – to read to the children. I am sure my colleague and former boss Prof Paul Tambyah will approve! The children seem more interested in the pictures than their rights at this time, which is good.

Finally, the Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel was something I bought for the children after reading an article about the author in Slate. Arnold Lobel was gay, even though he had a family (not uncommon then and even now), and he died of AIDS in 1987, during the early phase of the outbreak. The stories of Frog and Toad are beautifully and simply written, filled with a kind of awareness and poignancy that can be found in the best of children’s books (which is why I often read children’s books).

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Infectious diseases