Your Best Holiday Reads, Recommended by Librarians

As the December holiday approaches, there’s no better time to embark on literary journeys that transport you to distant realms, spark your imagination, and provide the perfect companionship for relaxation.

NUS Libraries has captivating novels, compelling memoirs, and thought-provoking works, collected to support teaching and research. While these primary sources serve as valuable support for a diverse range of curricular syllabi, they are also a pleasure to read. For this holiday season, our librarians have personally recommended books that they found enjoyable to immerse in.

So, grab your favorite drink, find a comfortable spot, and get ready for your next literary adventure!



Circe (2019) / by Madeline Miller

Recommended by Chai Yee Xin (Research Librarian – Law)

“Circe is an adaptation of the Odyssey as told through the perspective of the witch, the titular Circe. It is probably one of my favourite exploration of Greek legends because it explores how the main character survives and lives with the scars of her trauma and how it doesn’t undermine who she is as a woman. Miller’s prose is always poetic and intimate and works beautifully in making me feel the character’s aching loneliness. It’s still one of my favourite novels to date!”


City of Djinns (1993) / by William Dalrymple

Recommended by Priyanka Sharma (Special Collection Librarian)

“This book is an ode to Delhi, its multilayered and multifaced history and its contemporary reality. The author constructs his understanding of Delhi from his experiences as he travels through the city, meets its varied inhabitants, and takes us back in time for a glimpse into the city’s past. He paints Delhi as I – a proud Delhiite – see it – a city where history is seen in every corner, where the extremes of high culture and elegance are seen alongside misery and squalor, giving Delhi its distinct character. This is the one must-read travel-ode, a veritable love letter to Delhi.”


The Conference of the Birds (1177) / by Farid al-Din ‘Attar

Recommended by Nur Diyana (Research Librarian – Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences)

“Engaging with literature that not only captivates my imagination but also challenges my perspective occupies most of my downtime. Among the myriad of works that beckon me back is the Conference of the Birds. This allegorical poem, a timeless masterpiece, mirrors the ever-relevant facets of the human experience and the perennial quest for self-discovery. Its impact is profound, leading me through a personal odyssey toward a deeper understanding of truth. Keep an eye out for the delightful puns (I’m a pun aficionado!) and a clever twist that awaits at the journey’s end!”


The Dragon of Kinabalu (1923) / by Owen Rutter

Recommended by Wong Kah Wei (Associate University Librarian)

“These are folk-tales told to Owen Rutter by the people of Borneo. I am attracted by the beautiful color illustrations which bring to live stories of princes and princesses, a kingdom of crocodiles, the Geruda Bird and monsters. Reading about hunters, sea-gypsies and vampiric tribes deep in the jungles of Borneo, drew me back into a time when my imagination would fly, creating stories for my own enjoyment. This book from Digital Gems is quite a curiosity. Rutter had penned a note to Undine “with the Author’s love”. Was Undine his wife or perhaps another woman who also shares a love for distant lands?”


Lord Jim (1900) / by Joseph Conrad

Recommended by Nur Diyana (Research Librarian – Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences)

“Lord Jim centres around English seaman Jim, who abandons a sinking ship, mirroring the real-life SS Jeddah incident of 1880. I love reading historical fiction as it accords me a time-travelling adventure while tracing the locales to port cities of Singapore and others, given that the most of the novel is set in the Malay Archipelago. The (critical) librarian in me gets giddy with excitement when I encounter Orientalist elements in Lord Jim because I get to draw upon other readings and actively counter tropes such as the myth of the white saviour with S.H. Alatas, Fanon, Spivak, and such.”


Love Actually (2003) / by Richard Curtis

Recommended by Jamila Osman (Research Librarian – Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences)

“Can you already hear Mariah Carey’s All I want for Christmas is you? The movie AND the song are perennial year-end favourites, with great casting, wonderful script and feel good mini stories. This book has the full screenplay💖and includes “Love Questionnaires” and deleted scenes. So, if you want to pretend you are Jamie (Colin Firth) or Juliet (Keira Knightley) – this is your chance to act those memorable scenes out. Like that beautiful scene when Mark used cue cards to let Juliet know his feelings for her (page 118). It’s the holidays – get all mushy and enjoy this great piece of work 💟”


Love in the Time of Cholera (2016) / by Gabriel García Márquez

Recommended by Priyanka Sharma (Special Collection Librarian)

“This is a book about romantic love, the nature of fidelity and the contradictions within each of us.

The setting of the book is evocative and it took me back to my time in Latin America and allowed me to vicariously live in a different era.

Of the three main characters, Florentino Ariza fascinated me the most. He is the protagonist and is a complex and layered character who turns the idea of love and fidelity on its head. Although originally written in Spanish, the translation carries Garcia Marquez’s lyrical prose admirably. Try this book for a dose of magical realism that will stay with you.”


Pachinko (2017) / by Min Jin Lee

Recommended by Kam Mi-kyeong (Electronic Resource Management Librarian)

“It is fascinating that the novel was written by a Korean-American woman married to a Japanese-American man. Pachinko follows four generations of a Korean family from 1915 to 1989 in Korea, Japan. The novel’s main character, Kim Sunja fights for a better life for her family in Japan overcoming discrimination against Korean immigrants. The images of people going through war and living in a tragic situation without losing hope are well incorporated into the novel. Human vitality, especially the strong motherhood that goes through all kinds of hardships, and the lifelong friendship between Japanese woman Kimiko and Sunja, impressed me the most in the book.”


Paradise (2014) / by Toni Morrison

Recommended by Tan Li-Jen (Assistant Librarian)

Paradise was not an easy read but what an intense, rewarding experience it was. The story is set in a small, prosperous all-black town named Ruby and opens with an act of violence being committed against a group of hapless women who have sought refuge and solace in the Convent, a large house located on the edge of town. As Paradise unfolds, we witness the events leading up to the brutal attack. The excellent prose and the immediacy of the story – filled with ghosts, trauma, history and personalities of the women – kept me riveted from the opening sentence to the last.”


Raj (1989) / by Gita Mehta

Recommended by Priyanka Sharma (Special Collection Librarian)

“This is essentially the story of Jaya, and through her life we experience Indian history from the perspective of an Indian royal. This book gives a detailed account of royal life in the heyday of the British Raj, through the tumultuous year of India’s struggle for independence, and the role of erstwhile Indian royalty in the early years of independent India. I enjoyed the glimpses into the lifestyles, customs, and traditions of royalty from different parts of India. The lyrical quality of the writing transported me from the sands of Barmer to the lush greenery of Sirpur, and the glitzy salons of Europe.”


The Rose of Versailles (1972) / by Riyoko Ikeda

Recommended by Chai Yee Xin (Research Librarian – Law)

“There is a type of fiction that I’ve enjoyed which are works that are influential, not just to the wider public, but specifically to other creators (think of the creative impact of Lord of the Rings and Dune) – and Rose of Versailles is one of such pieces of fiction. Its main character, Oscar, is so visually striking that I’ve seen her presence long after her time that I just had to find out who she was! A stable of the shōjo genre, it doesn’t focus so much on romance per se but on feminism and gender exploration.”


Small Gods (1993) / by Terry Pratchett

Recommended by Kho Su Yian (Research Librarian – Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences)

“Small Gods is a humorous but thoughtful journey into religious thinking. Reading this as a teenager, my mind felt turned inside-out. So many entrenched ideas and stereotypes about religion, humanity, ethics and morality came tumbling down and caused me to think about issues of life rather than accept doctrine and public opinion. It’s a straight-forward story where Brutha meets his god and teaches him valuable lessons about life. Brutha’s mirror is Vorbis, who engages in all manners of cruelty without remorse, as he is convinced he is divinely guided. The end of the novel was not what I expected, but made perfect sense because Brutha was who he was.”


What You Are Looking For Is in the Library (2023) / by Aoyama Michiko; translated from the Japanese by Alison Watts

Recommended by Boo Qi Yu (Metadata Librarian)

What you are looking for is in the library is a fictional expansion of the title’s premise in the lives of 5 ordinary Japanese citizens from different walks of life. It thrusts us into each of their lives – 3 working adults, 1 unemployed adult and 1 retiree – and as they encounter roadblocks, they visit the same community library, consult a reference librarian who recommends readings and embark on self-discovery. As someone who enjoys exploring the unfamiliar, this book offers that with a laidback vibe. What especially strikes a chord with me is the takeaway we get from exploring the 5 lives – that ordinary life can be fulfilling.”



Black Skin, White Masks (1967) / by Frantz Fanon

Recommended by Diyanah Nasuha Binte Omar Bahri (Research Assistant)

“Growing up in Singapore, the terms “bananas” and “coconuts” were more than playful self-mockery amongst my friends; they were veiled admissions of aping the West. Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks was therefore revelatory, giving me perspective on my friends’ unarticulated identity conflicts, caught between pride and discomfort in their ‘yellow/brown outside, white inside’ reality. An incisive exploration of the psychological impacts of colonialism and race, I enjoyed reading Fanon’s autoethnography as it illuminated the often-unspoken personal struggle with internalised racism and complex cultural negotiations that come with our search for identity and discovering our roots in a post-colonial society.”


A Hakka Woman’s Singapore Stories: My Life as a Daughter, Doctor and Diehard Singaporean (2015) / by Lee Wei Ling

Recommended by Lyndia Chen (Research Librarian – Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences)

“Reading this book shed perspective on some memorable happenings in Singapore and what it is like to be a Singaporean as a well-educated daughter of a prominent politician in the pre-2000s. It gave me a glimpse into Dr Lee’s mind that struck me as wickedly sharp and insightful. She was personable and sensitive to the contemporary issues of her time, unlike me who lives like an elastic strawberry under a rock. I am inspired to be more observant about the happenings around me and take deliberate actions to make a difference for myself and my society.”


In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom (2015) / by Yeonmi Park with Maryanne Vollers

Recommended by Lyndia Chen (Research Librarian – Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences)

“The author detailed her insights about the life and struggles she faced as a North Korean fugitive, showing her clever and perceptive mind in overcoming them or trying to find meaning. She found her peace and truth through education in her teenage years, where she learnt to read and write, express her ideas, and change her world. This makes me reflect on the educational opportunities I have had so far, re-align my thoughts, and remind myself to be grateful for what I have and not forget the power of the word and sharing ideas with others.”


Night (1986) / by Elie Wiesel; translated from the French by Stella Rodway

Recommended by Lyndia Chen (Research Librarian – Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences)

“The author wrote of the wartime cruelty he experienced and questioned his God. He was shrunken to a skin shell by the end of the war but produced a poetic work detailing his world, of death, of survival, and a gaping hole in his spirit. We still see wars happening today where people fight in their attempts to create meaning, beauty, and order in the universes precious to them. Ending on a bittersweet note, the book compelled me to wonder about the universes I would experience in my lifetime. The sense of loss cannot remain forever. I wonder how I could create meaning in this uncertain world.”



Agak-agak, Chukop Rasa: Recipes and Stories from My Peranakan Childhood (2023) / by Gavin Koh; illustrated by Lim Qin Yi

Recommended by Kho Su Yian (Research Librarian – Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences)

“’Agak-agak’ means ‘rough estimate’, and ‘cukup rasa’ means ‘season to taste’. Gavin Koh reminisces of his childhood when his Peranakan grandmother made mouth-watering Kueh Chang and Kiam Chye Ark. He tries to replicate these recipes, but due to time, extinction of many ingredients, and the ‘agak-agak’ portioning of ingredients, it is impossible to make the dishes exactly as they were in his childhood. Gavin also weaves a family biography with sentimental humour and sharp wit. While Singapore is a culturally mixed society, I think we are cocooned in our own circles and interactions with other cultures. It’s eye-opening to learn about the unique Peranakan lifestyle through familiar foods.”


Black Mirror and Philosophy: Dark Reflections (2020) / edited by David K. Johnson

Recommended by Natalie Pang (University Librarian)

“A deep and thought-provoking book discussing the human condition in ‘Black Mirror’, a television series by Charlie Brooker focusing on unintended consequences of new technologies. Each chapter explores the dystopian high-tech future in each episode using philosophy. Some of such ‘futures’ are already here – I found the book especially intriguing when thinking about current phenomenon such as trials by social media, social ratings, and the attention economy. Highly recommended for anyone who is interested in new technologies and their intersections with society.”


The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals (1906) / by E.P. Evans

Recommended by Chai Yee Xin (Research Librarian – Law)

“An oldie but a goodie, this book talks about how animals had been put on trial throughout the ages in English history. It’s interesting to see how the concept of personhood has changed throughout the years and what parallels such animal trials had to the witch trials. Most importantly we can’t deny the humor that comes in reading about people summoning a group of rats or grasshoppers to court.”


Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World (2019) / by Cal Newport

Recommended by Natalie Pang (University Librarian)

“For anyone that has ever felt overwhelmed by all the devices and platforms in your life, this book is a must-read. One of the most interesting ideas I gained from the book is the concept of ‘solitude deprivation’ – a state where individuals spend very little or no time alone with their own thoughts due to being constantly wired and connected to digital technology. But Cal Newport doesn’t stop at describing the problems. He also goes beyond simplistic hacks and tactics to reduce screen time – offering readers practical guidance and philosophy to help us rethink our relationships with technology, our loved ones, and essentially, with ourselves.”


Kafka: A Very Short Introduction (2004) / by Ritchie Robertson

Recommended by Grace Ng (Assistant Librarian)

“This book introduces Franz Kafka’s works and his life and critique his various works. I find the glimpse into Kafka’s worlds fascinating and funny, in a black humour sort of way. The plots of his stories are outrageous and so out of this world, yet I can relate to them especially the vagueness of how a massive bureaucracy works and how confused and puzzled one can be when navigating a bureaucracy. I enjoy reading the book because I can identify with Kafka’s life and how he feels which leads him to write his various works, being a small cog working in a big bureaucracy.”


Leading with Soul: An Uncommon Journey of Spirit (1995) / by Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal

Recommended by Jayasheni Kannan (Management Assistant Officer)

“Leading with Soul has inspired thousands of readers since its publication more than a decade ago. Far ahead of its time, the book illuminated the deeply personal journey to leadership. The authors describe one man’s spiritual journey to find the essence of his own leadership and update a timeless spiritual message in the light of the turmoil of recent years. This story intends to “stimulate a journey in search of your leadership gifts”. Reading this book was a spiritual encounter which has motivated and nourished my mind and soul and has led me into deep reflection and contemplation.”


The Library: A World History (2013) / by James W.P. Campbell; photographs by Will Pryce

Recommended by Chai Yee Xin (Research Librarian – Law)

“I apologise for being a cliché but it is genuinely a beautiful book talking about the history of architecture behind libraries and the human reasons behind their designs. I am fascinated by seeing the contrast in design between cultures, what it signifies, and how preservation of human knowledge have innovated throughout the years, from the ostentatious European baroque buildings to the ethereal Buddhist temples. The photography is truly breath-taking!”


Survival Guide for Early Career Researchers (2022) / edited by Dominika Kwasnicka and Alden Yuanhong Lai

Recommended by Richard Ho (Scholarly Communications Librarian)

“’Work hard, snore hard’ is probably not something most professors will tell their students, but the book contributors advocated this as one practical tip (amongst many others) all researchers must know. As a librarian, I understand how overwhelming it can be to navigate the complexities of research and academia. The contributors’ personal stories and anecdotes regarding building your brand, having certain soft skills, disseminating your research, and achieving work-life balance really resonated with me, and I hope reading about these experiences will also be helpful for you when taking charge of your own personal and professional growth.

p.s. check out the  ‘academic decision algorithm’ flowchart on page 37!”


Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011) / Daniel Kahneman

Recommended by Lim Siu Chen (Research Librarian – Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences)

“This book was an eye opener to me as it gave me a behind-the-scenes look into human thought processes and decision making, answering questions such as:

  • Which do we engage in more frequently – “fast” thinking or “slow” thinking?
  • What is heuristic thinking and how does it explain human biases?
  • Do people tend to overestimate or underestimate how much they know about a topic?

Written in a conversational manner, Kahneman answers these questions in this book, making easy reading for anyone hoping to learn how to think about thinking.”


Venomous: How Earth’s Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry (2016) / by Christie Wilcox

Recommended by Chai Yee Xin (Research Librarian – Law)

“The best way to get over one’s fears is to learn more about them; and this is a great book to help you get over the age-old fear of coming across a horned viper in a spaghetti western showdown. It is one of my favourite non-fiction books because by learning more about how venom works I felt like I was less afraid of it! The book shows both kindness and respect to these organisms around us – I learn to look at jellyfish with more sympathy and to also be maybe a little more careful around platypuses!”

  1. David Hipgrave

    Many thanks – I have read a few of these books and it seems your tastes are a reliable guide, tinged with a local perspective. Good idea to do this!

  2. Author shelley

    Thanks, David, for the encouraging comments. Happy to do this!

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