Ken Hickson’s Top Twenty Titles for 2015

visions 2100Ken Hickson’s Top Twenty Titles for 2015

My selection is an arbitrary one, but they are all books that I have acquired, purchased, received, read and/or reviewed in the past 12 months. A bit like what a bride should wear on her wedding day – “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue”!  So they are all memorable to me and books that I feel are important enough to mention and recommend to others. In many cases, too, I met and/or engaged with the authors during the year, which is something that all writers and readers should go out of their way to do – attend writers festivals, book launches and “big reads”.  I have purposely not ranked the books in any particular order. The numbering is merely a convenience, not on merit. All are equally entering my first-time Top Twenty Titles because they have been on my reading/reviewing list for 2015. If you haven’t read some of them, why not s do so in 2016.

  1. Visions 2100

By John O’Brien,

Launched in Paris on the side-lines of the Climate Change Conference. With 80 contributors from around the world, including “New World Order”, a visionary piece written in the name of Emily May Chandra-Hickson.

Published 2015 by Vivid Publishing (Australia).  Read all about it: and

  1. Doing Good Great

By Willie Cheng, Sharifah Mohamed and Cheryl Tang

Launched at the 2015 Singapore Writers Festival and featured by Cheong Suk-Wai in Straits Times Life Books: The Big Read in December 2015 with the headline “Heroes with ‘gritty’ stories”.

Published by Epigram Books (Singapore) in 2015. Read all about it: or

  1. The Secret Chord

By Geraldine Brooks

Described as a unique and vivid novel that retells the story of King David’s extraordinary rise to power and fall from grace, from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, The Secret Chord is Geraldine Brooks at her best. To me, she shows how her journalistic skills – research, reporting, interviewing and writing – can come to the fore in her mastery of the historical novel.

Published 2015 by Hachette Australia. Read all about it: and

  1. The Luminaries

By Eleanor Catton

The youngest author ever to win Man Booker prize, Eleanor Catton was 28 when in in October 2013 when her novel “The Luminaries,” – an immersive tale set in 19th-century New Zealand that explores identity, greed and human frailty – collected the prestigious international award. She was born in Canada and raised in Christchurch, New Zealand. While the book is two years old, it wasn’t until 2015 that I took to the tome and appreciated the author’s true talents.

Published by Little, Brown and Company (US)

Read all about it:

  1. Common Ground

By Rob Cowen

Meeting the author at the Singapore Writers Festival 2015 where he gave great insight into the process of writing and the book’s content, I couldn’t resist reading this work which is described as “blurring the boundaries of memoir, natural history and novel”. Another case of a journalist successfully straying into uncharted waters and surviving to tell a wonderful tale.

Published 2015 by Penguin Random House (UK).

Read all about it:

  1. Monocle Guide to Cosy Homes

By Tyler Brule and co

I attended the Singapore launch – and met Tyler and other members of his editorial team – at the delightful little Monocle “store” in Holland Village and wrote this in my review in the issue five of the avenue: ‘I know “cosy” is a bit of a misnomer when it comes to living in Singapore, where an ever-so-slightly-above-cosy-temperature has most residents chilling out for more air conditioning than they really need. But this book has ideas galore to make your house a home, wherever you may be. Of course, we particularly relished the ideas, products and designs that emphasised sustainability, energy efficiency, along with those that maximised the close-to-nature ideal.’

Published by Gestalten, Germany (2015). Read all about it:

  1. Who the Hell is Pansy O’Hara?

By Jenny Bond & Chris Sheedy

When I was exploring the delightful little shop house store “Cluttered with Books” in Duxton Hill, I came across this gem of a book. The authors (from Australia) have succeeded in putting together in one volume an intriguing and insightful collection of biographical stories of fifty  significant books and the authors.

Published by Penguin Books (2008). Read all about it:

  1. A Bigger Prize

By Margaret Heffernan

What a refreshing insight the author gives into the world of business and the world of working –  the way it could be and should be. Collaborative and creative. What an experience to listen to the author talk – at another Big Read in Singapore – and absorb her thoughts, case studies and words of wisdom.

Published by Simon and Schuster UK (2014).  Read all about it:

  1. Mind Your Business

By Toine Knipping

This book, and the man who wrote it, goes beyond the usual “business advisory service”, to provide real insight into entrepreneurship and what drives him and his businesses. I came across his company Amicorp – which now operates in 27 countries – when I was exploring the work of not-for-profits, social enterprises and “brands for good”. His philosophy, which resonates with me and many others these days in business, is that we must achieve balance in our business and personal life and create more than profits.

Published by Balboa Press/Hay House, US (2012). Read all about it:

  1. Moral Capitalism

By Stephen Young

I met the author, who heads the Caux Round Table, when he led a fascinating forum in Singapore organised by the Institute of Directors (willie Cheng and co) to take a fresh look at the UN Development Goals and tap into the best thought leaders from business, Government and civil society. The book goes beyond “reconciling private interest with the public good”, to look at the ethical standards we should be adopting and building into business and corporate life everywhere.

Published by Berrett-Koehler, US (2003). Read all about it:

  1. The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir who got Trapped in an IKEA Wardrobe

By Romain Puertolas

Very unusual man and an extremely unusual book. A first novel for Romain, who I was privileged to meet at his book launch at Kinokunia in Singapore. The man and his book attracted incredible media attention and became a bestseller around the world. The long, unusual title helped, he thinks, but so did his creative mind and writing skill.

Published by Random House, UK (2014). Read all about it:

  1. The Piano Tuner

By Daniel Mason

Not often do you pick up a discarded book at a giveaway stall, written by an author unknown to you at the time and it turns out to be a page-turner with such an engrossing story. It traverses Europe and Asia, delving into an intriguing experience of a piano tuner sent to British-colonised Burma which was engulfed in a drawn out tribal war in the late 1800s. The book first came out in 2002, when the author was a medical student in America and since then the author has produced a couple more novels which we hope to read sometime soon.

Published by Picador in UK (2002). Read all about it:


  1. Not Born In Singapore

By Tng Ying Hui

Of all the hundreds of books to come out in Singapore celebratory year (SG50), this caught my attention, probably because I was also ‘not born in Singapore’, but have lived and worked in the city state for the best years of my life. But I do know very well quite a few of the featured ladies and gentlemen, including Della Butcher, Brother Joseph McNally and Neville Watson, three who are sadly no longer with us but their legacy and achievements live on. Many others who contributed to nation-building were not “sons (or daughters) of the Singapore soil”, but “made enormous contributions, in many fields of endeavour”, says Ambassador at Large Tommy Koh.

Published by Epigram Books for the Institute of Policy Studies Singapore (2015). Read all about it:


  1. Art Hats in renaissance City

By Renee Lee

It is much more than “Reflections & Aspirations of Four Generations of Art Personalities”, but a book which provides incredible insight into the people who not only created an art scene and creative industry in Singapore but played a role in bringing about a renaissance for the arts in aa city state better known for its economic performance and nd Singapore

Edited by: Lee Renee Foong Ling (Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore)

Published by World Scientific (2015). Read all about it:


  1. Singapore Siu Dai 2

By Felix Cheong

I had the pleasure of moderating a “Twilight Tales” forum with the Felix and uncovered his style (and substance) in the process. While he appears straight-laced, even serious, his humour comes out in his words, written and spoken.

Published by Ethos Books 2014. Read all about it:

  1. Living The Singapore Story

By Cheong Suk Wai and Co

Meeting some of the notable characters in this significant book to mark the country’s 50th anniversary of independence, along with the key writers and editors from the Straits Times involved in its production, was a treat for attendees at The Big Read meet. Worth reading and well worth taking the time to pore over the generous selection of photos and cartoons.

Published by National Library Board/Straits Times Press. Read all about it:

  1. Kampong Spirit: Gotong Royong, Life In Potong Pasir 1955 to 1965

By Josephine Chia

When listening to Josephine talk about her Kampong (village) life and her writing experiences in UK and Singapore, you just must read her book(s). With a light touch and many a laugh line, she brings us into the world of her childhood in Singapore.

Published by Marshall Cavendish 2013. Read all about it:

  1. Reef

By Romesh Gunesekera

It was an experience to meet this author at a South Asia Literary Salon in Singapore mid-year and get hold of his 1994 book Reef, which was his first very first novel, winning the Yorkshire Post Book Award (Best First Work) and shortlisted for both the Booker Prize for Fiction and the Guardian Fiction Prize. The book is narrated by a young Sri Lankan boy named Triton who is sent to work for a marine biologist, Mister Salgado.

Published by Bloomsbury (1994). Read all about it:

  1. Biting the Bamboo

By Tan Lai Yong

At the Singapore Writers Festival, the author was a key contributor to a panel discussion on “Power to the people”, discussion social impact investing, philanthropy and charitable actions abroad. Mr Tan talked and wrote about his experience as a doctor running community health programmes in remote China.

Published by Epigram Books. Read all about it:

  1. Scene Gapore

By Miel

Otherwise known as Miel Prudencio Ma Rosales, this very creative internationally respected cartoonist regularly appears in the Straits Times and New York Times. His book is a delightful collection of Singapore scenes – some very much past and some closer to today’s sights – through the eyes and pen of the mobile character he has created. I’ve known and admired his work for many years, but this year had to pleasure to meet the man himself and get a signed copy of his book to enjoy over and over again. He blogs too.

Published by Epigram Books (2012). Read all about it: