Top 21 Librarian-Recommended Reads for the Summer Vacation

With a long 12-week break in the horizon, what’s your ultimate summer holiday plan? Ask us and we’d vote unanimously for one thing – READ! Not only does it spark imagination and creativity, reading helps improve brainpower and mental health, checking all the boxes for world domination (just kidding, we mean your academic endeavours).

Curated by our librarians, these handpicked titles are their personal favourites for the season. Best of all, NUS community can borrow them from our collection.

Nuff said. Enjoy our summer’s hottest picks!


A Quiet Place (2016) / by Seichō Matsumoto; translated by Louise Heal Kawai

Recommended by Boo Qi Yu (Metadata Librarian)

A Quiet Place is a mystery cum suspense novel that starts with the passing of Asai’s wife, Eiko, that Asai, a senior ranking government official, investigates. During which, he discovers his late wife’s infidelity and kills her lover, Kubo, in rage. Asai subsequently struggles with anxiety over being uncovered as the perpetrator. As a reader, the author’s smooth writing style kept me curious to see what Asai would learn about his wife and how he would continue living his life. Asai and Kubo, were also interesting characters to read about especially when they attempted to justify their transgressions.”

A Suitable Boy (1993) / by Vikram Seth

Recommended by Poonam Lalwani (Curator)

“Deemed a classic within Indian literary circles, Vikram Seth’s novel is essentially about finding love and offers readers an insight into the lives of four extended families maneuvering around social classes, religion, and politics. The story is set against the backdrop of India finding her own identity after long colonial rule and marching forward towards the first General Elections. In 2020, Netflix released a six-episode series based on the novel and featured a stellar cast from the Bollywood film fraternity. I felt that this novel was not only about the typical guy meets girl romance. It dwelled on different aspects of love, hopes, and dreams of the ones that we cherish thus giving me much to ponder about.”


A Twist in the Tale (1988) / by Jeffrey Archer

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

“As someone who enjoys plot twists but lacks the patience to read a full-length novel, Jeffrey Archer’s short story series A Twist in the Tale is the solution to my desperate need!

From tragic romances, to murder, and chess with a sexy stranger, each of the 12 short stories averages only 20 pages.

A hopeless romantic at heart, I gravitate towards “Christina Rosental”, an archetypal story of a pair of star-crossed lovers that ends in tragedy (but not one you might typically expect).
Archer is a clever writer: with a deep insight into human nature, his tales are a commentary on the failings or vices of mankind.”


The Age of Innocence (1920) / by Edith Wharton

Recommended by Wong Kah Wei (Associate University Librarian)

“This book is the reason why I enjoy Edith Wharton’s books. It gives detailed and sometimes humorous description of the food, fashion, jewelry, social mores and customs of the Gilded Age of Old New York. After reading Buccaneers, I reminisced about my fave Wharton book so I picked it up again. I still delight in reading about Mrs Mason Mingott’s flight of double chins, Ellen Olenska’s unconventional dresses, Mr Letterblair’s dinner of velvety oyster soup, canvas-back duck with currant jelly and so on. If you are interested to read more about the life in the Gilded Age, there are The Gilded Age, America’s Gilded Age and Opulent interiors of the Gilded Age.”


Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (2002) / by Dai Sijie

Recommended by Natalie Pang (University Librarian)

With the Cultural Revolution as its backdrop, the book tells the story of two young men being ‘re-educated’ in the countryside. Their journey takes a different turn after they discover a suitcase containing forbidden ‘Western’ literature, and together with the daughter of a local tailor – the Little Chinese Seamstress – the youths began their own ‘re-education’, Balzac-style. I was captivated by the plot and the exploration of friendship, lost innocence, and the transformative power of literature.


The Buccaneers: A Novel (1994) / by Edith Wharton; completed by Marion Mainwaring

Recommended by Wong Kah Wei (Associate University Librarian)

“This is a pleasant, easy-to-read romance from Edith Wharton. Set in the 1870s, the story is about five wealthy American girls, who excluded from the upper-class New York society, decided to go to London to find titled but poor husbands.

Buccaneers is the last book Wharton left uncompleted when she died. Mainwaring continued the story seamlessly and you can hardly tell the difference in the tone and pace. Sadly, Buccaneers lacks the detailed observations of New York upper-class society which I enjoyed most of a Wharton novel. If you are interested to know more about these heiresses from the Gilded Age, there are Consuelo Vanderbilt’s memoir and a compilation of stories in The Husband Hunters.”


Cracking India: A Novel (2006) / by Bapsi Sidhwa

Recommended by Poonam Lalwani (Curator)

“Author Bapsi Sidhwa’s spell-binding tale was made into a highly acclaimed movie titled Earth in 1998. Books based on the Partition of India and Pakistan are tough to digest and leave me with a heavy heart. Especially so after learning about the harrowing experiences my ancestors had lived through when they left their home in Sindh (a province in south-eastern Pakistan).

The story comes to light through the eyes of Lenny, a polio-stricken Parsi girl who witnesses racial and religious violence and sexual assault thus losing her innocence. By the end of the book, she discovers what people are capable of doing to one another in the name of politics.


God Dies by the Nile and Other Novels (2015) / by Nawal El Saadawi; translations by Sherif Hetata, Shirley Eber

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

God Dies by the Nile delves deep into the complexities of patriarchal systems and their impact on women’s lives, making it an essential read for understanding gender dynamics in different cultural contexts. Additionally, Saadawi’s unapologetic critique of religious and societal norms fosters important conversations about gender equality and social justice, and challenges me to confront my own biases. I highly recommend it for its contribution to fostering empathy, understanding, and dialogue on these crucial issues.”


Haunting the Tiger & Other Stories: Winners of the NST – Shell Short Story Competition 1989-1990 (1991) / edited by Kee Thuan Chye; illustrated by Jega

Recommended by Wong Kah Wei (Associate University Librarian)

“As a schoolgirl in Pahang, I read award-winning short stories published in New Straits Times to improve my English. Now, after 45 years, I wasn’t interested in learning the mechanics or structure anymore. I just wanted to read a well-told story. These I found towards the end of the book. One is the second prize winner – “The Man Who Ate Himself”. It tells of a squint-eyed jaga kereta obsessed with buying lottery tickets and what happens when he wins the big prize. The other is “Silicon Solomon”, a dark and humorous story (not quite Malaysian) on how an AI supercomputer is commanded to abort an unborn child of a pregnant astronaut on a trip to Jupiter.”


Indonesian Folk Tales (1970) / translated by Albert Koutsoukis; illustrated by Jean Elder

Recommended by Chai Yee Xin (Research Librarian – Law)

“Sometimes one tries to find information on SEA folklore but then realises online documentation of it is so scarce. What I would do without the books and translators who preserve them!

Being more familiar with Malaysian and Bornean stories, I wanted to broaden my knowledge more on Indonesian folk tales and found this a delightful read, especially as it gives insight into how local communities perceive the natural world around them. I found one of my new favourite tales from this book – Why the Pungguk bird (brown hawk owl) likes to sing at the full moon. It’s a sad story but rich with details of heavenly kingdoms and human hubris.”


King Siliman and Other Bidayuh Folk Tales (2001) / compiled by Robert Sulis Ridu, Ritikos Jitab, Jonas Noeb

Recommended by Wong Kah Wei (Associate University Librarian)

“I enjoyed these Bidayuh folk tales because it was a simple introduction to the Dayak rituals and myths which I am unfamiliar with. Most of the Bidayuh folk tales are centred around animals in the jungles of Borneo. They tell of why cats and rats are enemies, how the snail tricked the arrogant mousedeer and so on. My fave is the story of King Siliman who gathers all the animals. After a feast, the animals took turns to perform. In each “performance”, the story-teller weaves in descriptions of rituals and myths. These oral stories are told by Bidayuh story tellers and recorded, preserving the richness of the Dayak culture. The stories are told in both English and Bidayuh.”


Hexwood (2000) / by Diana Wynne Jones; illustrated by Tim Stevens

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

If you like Doctor Who, or the movie Howl’s Moving Castle, then you will enjoy Hexwood.

Diana Wynne Jones’ works are categorised as Young Adult fiction, but her skillful storytelling makes them worth reading at any age.

Hexwood starts with Ann Staveley and her seemingly overactive imagination while bedridden. But strange things happen in the neighbouring Hexwood Farm, there is a larger interstellar empire involved, while time moves in confusing ways (“a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff” as the Doctor once said).

The writing style is charmingly British, making for a comfortable read that piques both my intellect and emotions.


Nice Work (1989) / by David Lodge

Recommended by Natalie Pang (University Librarian)

“As an academic, David Lodge’s writings about academia is my go-to – his witty and humorous take on academia are at the same time, insightful and thought-provoking. Nice Work tells the story of Robyn Penrose (a feminist literature professor), and Vic Wilcox (manager of a factory) – Robyn has been assigned to shadow Vic under a ‘real-world’ experience programme. The novel explores many themes: class, gender, divides and conflicts between academia and industry.”


Planet of the Apes (2001) / by Pierre Boulle; translated by Xan Fielding

Recommended by Boo Qi Yu (Metadata Librarian)

Planet of the Apes is an eye-opening experience that allows us to explore Soror, a habitable planet reigned by intelligent apes, through Ulysse’s eyes. It begins with Ulysse’s space expedition there where he is intrigued to meet Soror’s primitive humans. To his horror, he is captured by the apes who make him their test subject. Fortunately, Ulysse achieves emancipation on Soror through proving that he is intelligent and of sound mind. Sadly, this relief is short-lived as his child’s life is subsequently threatened. Undoubtedly, Ulysse’s plight is disheartening but the hopefulness a few compassionate apes elicited in Ulysse transcended to me, the reader, and kept me engaged.”


Sitti Nurbaja (1925) / by Marah Rusli (also available in English translation)

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

“Through Sitti Nurbaya’s story, the novel sheds light on the intersecting dynamics of power, gender, and culture. Set against the backdrop of Dutch colonial rule in West Sumatra, the novel depicts the ways in which colonialism exacerbates existing gender inequalities, as women like Sitti Nurbaya navigate the patriarchal expectations of their culture while also contending with the disruptive forces of colonial rule. This novel resonates deeply with me as it offers a reflection on the enduring legacies of colonialism and the complexities of navigating societal expectations, and is testament to the resilience and agency of women in facing intersecting challenges.”


Smiley’s People (1980) / by John le Carre

Recommended by Marcus Wong (Associate Director, Marcomms)

“I’m a sucker for a good spy novel, and the late John le Carre is one of the best ever to write about the secret world of secrets. This final George Smiley novel wraps up the Cold War-era Karla trilogy that began with the celebrated Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1999) and continuing with The Honourable Schoolboy (1978). There’s no reliance on crass double entendres, improbable villians, and fantastic gadgets; instead, le Carre spins a compelling narrative informed by his experience in the British intelligence service, coupled with a wry sense of humour. Smiley’s People is a compelling page-turner that is not only entertaining, but eminently believable.”



Communicating COVID-19: Media, Trust, and Public Engagement (2024) / edited by Monique Lewis, Eliza Govender, Kate Holland

Recommended by Natalie Pang (University Librarian)

“This volume provides insights on COVID-19 from a communication and media perspective. What I especially appreciate are the various case studies from diverse contexts, including a variety of different platforms (traditional news sources, social media, online sites). In particular, the volume examines how trust in media, government, and institutions have evolved over the course of the pandemic, and the complexities associated with public communication during a pandemic.”


The Lost Wolves of Japan (2005) / by Brett L. Walker (Also available as e-book)

Recommended by Chai Yee Xin (Research Librarian – Law)

“When I first started working in NUS, The Lost Wolves of Japan was the first book I picked up while browsing the shelves so I hold a great deal of sentimentality for it! It’s poignant and sobering read since predatory species are so important in an ecosystem and yet heavily villainised by people, often leading to the eradication of species like the Hokkaido wolf. I especially love reading about the relationship between Ainu people and their worship of wolves, how they embrace the wild and otherworldly in these tragic animals.”


Persians: The Age of the Great Kings (2022) / by Lloyd Llewellyn Jones

Recommended by Chris Tang (Research Data Management Librarian)

“The Achaemenid Persian kings ruled over the largest of all ancient-world empires. Yet, ancient Greek accounts like Herodotus’ The Histories have depicted them mostly as crazed tyrants. I love that this book presented an epic new take on “the world’s first superpower” as it draws on ancient Persian sources. This was an empire built on imperial ambition and regicide, as it was on cross-nation cooperation and tolerance. Read it for its full sweep of history from the arrival of the Persians on the Iranian plateau to the founding of the first Persian empire by Cyrus the Great, to its destruction in 330 BCE by Alexander the Great.”


Surrounded by Idiots: The Four Types of Human Behaviour (or, How to Understand Those Who Cannot Be Understood) (2019) / by Thomas Erikson; English translation by Martin Pender and Rod Bradbury

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

“This book is about understanding personalities that we encounter at home, at school and at work, using a four colour personality test. I like this book because it is an easy read, with a tongue-in-cheek style, and sheds perspective on why people, myself included, behave in certain ways and why certain people dynamics are observed around me. It also shares strategies on how to improve any observed tense dynamics, and how to manage yourself and others better to achieve personal goals and bring peace to your mind. As you read my book recommendation, you may already have a preconceived idea of what my colour personality is, haha!”


Surveillance State: Inside China’s Quest to Launch a New Era of Social Control (2022) / by Josh Chin and Liza Lin

Recommended by Marcus Wong (Associate Director, Marcomms)

“Full disclosure – Josh is my brother-in-law, and possibly one of the coolest people I know. That said, having studied and worked in the field of communications and media (old and new), issues pertaining to mass surveillance and propaganda are always (morbidly) fascinating. Authors Chin and Lin draw the curtain on China’s massive state surveillance apparatus – looking at how technology and policy come together to serve various ends, from the obvious dystopian all-seeing panopticon used to oppress parts of their population, to enabling frictionless daily living. This book is a must-read for communications students and technologists alike, and promises to be a very readable tome filled with insights and real-life anecdotes.”

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