Gloss and glory

In cardio

Reading without any aim is a lot like running without any direction, where you let the mind wander and explore places one would have missed. Lately, I’m into both: they are an antidote to all the goal-driven tasks I’ve been doing at work. It frees up the mind. It wipes away the world of emails, pings and screens. Some afternoons I run way past my usual route to Freedom Park to go uphill to the suburbs at UPCO that would not be out of place in California, rows of bungalows and manicured lawns. With scarcely anyone outside the area, I take off my mask to catch a whiff of tropical flowers – at turns heady and hypnotic, like liniment, or woody and musty, like a waft you get when you lift a fallen log thick with lichen and carpeted with soggy leaves. I take these in while listening to songs like Alex G (Blessing) or Coldplay (Don’t Panic), hymns on stillness, drowning the steady breathing, or without earphones, looking up to find the location of small birds squawking or drifting in the crisp air. Unlike the park (a second-best choice) or along the National Highway (where every single bystander looks at anyone who runs), no one looks at you there, save for puzzled security details (some of the houses have them) who sometimes greet me out of politeness, or mistake me for someone they know, or a family of foreigners with two kids who have just thrown tantrums, dragging their feet home for dinner. Then at home I skim through this library membership I recently snagged through shady dealings, with coveted magazine titles: Little White Lies, New York Review of Books, The Paris Review, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Guardian’s Saturday Magazine, all in their digital gloss and glory. It’s the exact same overwhelming feeling that I felt at Kinokuniya in Takashimaya Mall at Singapore a month ago, where my family are faced with wall-to-wall books – a feast for gluttons. I read a book review on the scientist who discovered the Higgs boson (Saturday), on the origins of climate change (NYRB), on Tencent’s founder (Bloomberg), on attention management (Harvard), on interesting vases (Paris Review). There’s a word for everything, for this it’s simply a bad case of “collector’s lust”, or the Japanese tsundoku, inching my way to finish Carlo Levi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli or Debt by David Graeber, on sale at Fully Booked, and seven other books, mostly bought from those Instagram accounts whose auction-style gimmick of selling books are akin to a massive dopamine rush. 

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