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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

In E-Book Era, You Can’t Even Judge A Cover

Motoko Rich, New York Times

With a growing number of people turning to Kindles and other electronic readers, and with the Apple iPad arriving on Saturday, it is not always possible to see what others are reading or to project your own literary tastes.

You can’t tell a book by its cover if it doesn’t have one.

Taking The Temperature Of Work In Progress

AL Kennedy, The Guardian

Novel-writing is curiously similar to long-term illness. But I will refuse any offers of help.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"The Sweet Undertaste"

Philip Schultz, Slate Magazine

The Planet Be Damned. It’s All About Me.

Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

Despite the book’s somber, scientific backdrop (and global warming here is little but that), “Solar” is Mr. McEwan’s funniest novel yet.

Atwood In The Twittersphere

Margaret Atwood, The New York Review of Books

A long time ago—less than a year ago in fact, but time goes all stretchy in the Twittersphere, just as it does in those folksongs in which the hero spends a night with the Queen of Faerie and then returns to find that a hundred years have passed and all his friends are dead…. Where was I?

What Do Philosophers Believe?

Anthony Gottlieb, Intelligent Life Magazine

People have always wanted philosophers to provide digestible wisdom, yet it is as true now as it was in Plato’s time that disciplined thinking is hard. So next time you sit next to a philosopher on a plane, talk about the movie, not the meaning of life.

Ballet Stars Now Twitter As Well As Flutter

Gia Kourlas, New York Times

In the rarefied world of ballet, where dancers are expected to speak with their bodies, sometimes it seems that aloofness is something to aspire to. Lately, though, the ribbons are loosening. Courtesy of Twitter, dancers are starting to make themselves heard. It isn’t always dainty.

Globish: The Worldwide Dialect Of The Third Millennium

Robert McCrum, The Guardian

Perhaps Nerriere was right. Things had changed. Was it not possible that, with the turn of the century, English language and culture were becoming decoupled from their contentious heritage, disassociated from post-colonial trauma? Was there a new cultural revolution at work: the emergence of English as a global communications phenomenon with a supra-national momentum that made it independent of its Anglo-American origins? You could almost express the idea in a formula: English + Microsoft = Globish.

Monday, March 29, 2010


Matthew Dickman, New Yorker

Gavin Highly

Janet Frame, New Yorker

Emmett Till’S Glass-Top Casket

Cornelius Eady, New Yorker

No Rules!

Adam Gopnik, New Yorker

Is Le Fooding, the French culinary movement, more than a feeling?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

With This View, Who Needs Legroom?

Mark Vanhoenacker, New York Times

As new security rules and ever busier airports continue to change air travel, rediscovering the romance of the window seat may be the most practical way to make flying more enjoyable.

The Origins Of A Holy Book

Drake Bennett, Boston Globe

Using ancient texts, scholars have begun an audacious effort to unravel the story of the Koran. What will they find?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

American Jeremiad: A Manifesto

Wen Stephenson, New York Times

If this drumbeat of “manifestos” strikes a false cultural note, perhaps it’s because Americans aren’t much known for writing them.

Before McDonald’s

Jane and Michael Stern, New York Times

Fried’s book details the values of generations of Harveys, and in doing so provides an expansive chronicle of dining out in America.

The Eerie Silence: Are We Alone In The Universe? By Paul Davies

Tim Radford, The Guardian

If life spontaneously evolved and intelligence imperfectly flowered on one planet, what about all those other rocky planets?

The Stewardesses Of Fly Girls.

Troy Patterson, Slate Magazine

Perhaps we can render an archaic term useful by recognizing a distinction between flight attendants and stewardesses. Flight attendants are airborne professionals charged with keeping passengers safe; stewardesses are unearthly beings. The former make sure that, buckled up, you are properly restrained; the latter, being creations of saucy marketing campaigns and creatures of sordid fantasies, are symbols of liberty teetering into libertinism.

'Solar: A Novel' By Ian McEwan

Taylor Antrim, Los Angeles Times

A comic global warming novel? Well . . . why not?

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Nobody's Guide To The Oscars

Neil Gaiman, The Guardian

You know you're not going to win. You're seated in second-class. You've trodden on someone's dress.

Losing It

Dominique Browning, New York Times

With the closing of the magazine, my beloved family of colleagues was obliterated. And so was the structure of my life.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Not A Tourist

Tom Swick, Worldhum

On the evolving role of the travel writer in the age of mass tourism and YouTube.

Book Critic Cliche Bingo

Laura Miller, Salon

Turn critics' worst word choices into fun for friends and family.

A Mushroom Cloud, Recollected

Jeremy Bernstein, The New York Review of Books

With the renewed interest in nuclear weapons I have been struck by how few people there still are who have seen one explode. There are a few survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and there are a small number who witnessed some of the above ground test explosions. But the last American above-ground test was in 1962 and the last above-ground test by any country was conducted by the Chinese in 1980. This means that the Indians, Pakistanis, Israelis—to say nothing of the Iranians and North Koreans—have never seen a nuclear explosion. In the main, this is a very good thing: the fallout from such a test is a real health hazard. But there is a downside. We have lost the experience of watching a nuclear explosion—perhaps the most powerful lesson about nuclear bombs there is.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Witch And MacDuff Exit My Neighbor's House

Kathryn Maris, Slate Magazine

'The Girl In Alfred Hitchcock's Shower,' By Robert Graysmith

Susan Kandel, Los Angeles Times

Exploring the real-life fate of Marli Renfro, Janet Leigh's body double in the famous shower scene in 'Psycho.'

Andy Warhol And The Can That Sold The World By Gary Indiana

Peter Conrad, The Guardian

Americans, who expect to live in paradise, are always asking why they have been expelled from the happy garden. Lately the inquest has become urgent. David Thomson's new book on Psycho surveys the country's current moral squalor and blames its venality and violence on Hitchcock's sadistic film; now Gary Indiana returns to the same problem of disillusionment and despair, bemoans his image-crazed, commercially obsessed society, and fingers Andy Warhol as the joking demon who was responsible for its corruption.

Monday, March 22, 2010


Jill Lepore, New Yorker

The rise of marriage therapy, and other dreams of human betterment.

Fast Food That Won The West

Jonathan Eig, Wall Street Journal

How Fred Harvey's railroad restaurants in cowboy country helped build a business empire.


Joyce Carol Oates, New Yorker

Titian Vs. Roadrunner

Dan Chiasson, New Yorker

Discovering Tocqueville

Sean Wilentz, The American Prospect

Tocqueville didn't get everything right about Americans, but understanding him as a real, flawed observer makes his achievement more impressive.

Think Globally

Steven Strogatz, New York Times

In an era of globalization, Google Earth and transcontinental air travel, all of us should try to learn a little about spherical geometry and its modern generalization, differential geometry.

'So Much For That: A Novel' By Lionel Shriver

Ella Taylor, Los Angeles Times

The author has crafted a ferocious black comedy about the horrors of the American healthcare system and what it can do to even the most compliant of men.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Wise Unknowingness: On Violet Gibson

Brenda Wineapple, The Nation

The woman who shot Mussolini.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Making Of The President, Then And Now

Jill Abramson, New York Times

The great campaign books of the past are about more than the back-room drama that dominates recent releases.

At Close Range

Elizabeth Royte, New York Times

John McPhee writes on golf and lacrosse, food and fact-checkers, and, this time, himself.

The Pasta Cure

Mika Brzezinski, New York Times

A memoir of how cooking helped save the marriage of Paula Butturini and her husband, reporters traumatized by war.

Juliet Gardiner On Writing Non-fiction

Juliet Gardiner, The Guardian

Non-fiction writers have many advantages over fiction writers: the most profound being, as Richard Holmes said when he was writing his biography of the poet Shelley, "At least I always have the man."

How Not To Title A Novel

Darragh McManus, The Guardian

Apparently book titles can't be copyrighted – I was going to call my first tome Confessions of an English Opium Eater, before my advisers counselled against it – which might explain why so many of them sound so familiar to me. Certainly, particular books of a particular genre always seem to have similar names.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Against Beauty

Adam Kirsch, The New Republic

One of the running jokes in On Beauty, Zadie Smith’s third novel, is that its main character is philosophically opposed to beauty. Howard Belsey is a professor of art history at Wellington College, and like all middle-aged professors in campus novels, he is a ludicrous figure--unfaithful to his wife, disrespected by his children, and, of course, unable to finish the book he has been talking about for years. In Howard’s case, the book is meant to be a demolition of Rembrandt, whose canvases he sees as key sites for the production of the Western ideology of beauty.

Who Needs Wall Street?

Roger Lowenstein, New York Times

The question is whether the social balance would improve if Wall Street were less devoted to games of chance.

Blogging, Now And Then

Robert Darnton, The New York Review of Books

How new, then, is bloggery? Should we think of it as a by-product of the modern means of communication and a sign of a time when newspapers seem doomed to obsolescence? It makes the most of technical innovations—the possibility of constant contact with virtual communities by means of web sites and the premium placed on brevity by platforms such as Twitter with its limit of 140 characters per message. Yet blog-like messaging can be found in many times and places long before the Internet.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Reading And The Web: Texts Without Context

Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

How the Internet and mash-up culture change everything we know about reading.

Memory Lapse

Jessa Crispin, The Smart Set

Many people write about themselves. Few people actually should.

Short Is Sweet When It Comes To Fiction

Robert Collins, The Guardian

What have On Chesil Beach, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Don DeLillo's Point Omega got in common? Bewitching narratives concealing hidden depths? Check. Characters dealing with broken lives? Check. Authors performing at the peak of their prowess? Check. All read by me in a single week recently? Oh yes, check. How? Because they're all under 150 pages long.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Story Of O In Design

John Crace, The Guardian

The letter O has always provided designers with a bit of fun, especially in posters, but there's more to the vowel than that.

What's In A Name? A Lot, When It Comes To Fantasy

Imogen Russell Williams, The Guardian

Portentous apostrophes and incongrously-named characters (hands up Terry Goodkind and Anne McCaffrey) drive me wild when I'm reading — authors should learn from the naming skills of Ursula Le Guin and Alan Garner.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Homer Of The Ants

Margaret Atwood, The New York Review of Books

People have long been fascinated by the similarities between ants and human societies. Though there are no ant symphony orchestras, secret police, or schools of philosophy, both ants and men conduct wars, divide into specialized castes of workers, build cities, maintain infant nurseries and cemeteries, take slaves, practice agriculture, and indulge in occasional cannibalism, though ant societies are more energetic, altruistic, and efficient than human ones.

The mirroring makes us nervous: Are we not enough like ants or are we too much like them? Our ambivalence shows: being compared to an ant can be either a compliment or an insult.

Astral Weeks: Fiction That's Strange And Fantastic

Ed Parks, Los Angeles Times

Stories soar to imaginative heights and into unexpected dimensions in 'Real Unreal: Best American Fantasy, Volume 3.'

Monday, March 15, 2010


Robert Pinsky, New Yorker

Ecclesiastes 11:1.

Richard Wilbur, New Yorker

The Pura Principle

Junot Díaz, New Yorker

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Mr. Coffee And Mr. Fixit

Christopher Benfey, The New Republic

Was Raymond Carver worth a damn without his editor?

A Matter Of Convenience

Meg Favreau, The Smart Set

Because seriously, if pancakes and sausage on a stick can last as long as they have (long enough to, if they were human, be a legal daycare provider of your children) how bad were the foods that failed?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Give The Funny Old Man Some Pie

Penn Jillette, Los Angeles Times

I just turned 55 years old. This year my age and the last two digits of my birth year are the same. That happens only once in a lifetime.

'Still Life: Adventures In Taxidermy,' By Melissa Milgrom

Max Watman, New York Times

A journalist’s adventures in the world of taxidermy, where she observes the art of incising, skinning, sculpturing and reassembling.

Take This Job And Write It

Jennifer Schuessler, New York Times

Work has become central to most people’s self-conception. Why does fiction have so little to say about it?

In The Night Kitchen

Leanne Shapton, New York Times

The kitchen is a changed place in the wee hours, its clicks and hummings are louder, the pots and pans make a deafening clatter when I pull them out of the cupboard. But, as before, I am relaxed, my sense of smell is sharper. As I measure and weigh, I am more patient than during waking hours. I’ve always turned to flour and butter when I can’t sleep.

Spelling Out The Wonders Of The London Word Festival

Nancy Groves, The Guardian

Of course, the growth of literary festivals is a well-documented phenomenon, with more than 60 listed on the British Council website and 100-plus over at But the London Word festival doesn't call itself a literature, books or even readers' event. Instead, it aims to be a celebration of words and a test of their limits "in performance".

Does A Room Of One's Own Really Help You Write A Great Novel?

Matt Shoard, The Guardian

A writer's charity is offering a peaceful country haven to encourage novelists to write their masterpiece – but a dank basement in Lewisham is what they need.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Literature For Real

Rob Nixon, The Chronicle Of Higher Education

Are we witnessing the beginnings of a palace revolution, as reality genres—literature's foot soldiers—start clamoring to have their creativity treated with the seriousness it deserves?

Scarred Bodies, Entwined Souls

Richard Eder, New York Times

Out of a mathematical conceit the Italian writer Paolo Giordano has drawn a mesmerizing portrait of a young man and woman whose injured natures draw them together over the years and inevitably pull them apart.

Why Poetry And Pop Are Not Such Strange Bedfellows

Graeme Thomson, The Guardian

What is it about Yeats that is so attractive to rock stars, and why does Auden have the crowd moshing at the Forum?

Chinese And Doughnuts: A California Mystery

Katie Robbins, The Atlantic

Given California's storied history of pairing unusual ingredients with winning results—from its namesake California roll to Wolfgang Puck's smoked salmon pizza to the Korean short rib taco—perhaps it should have come as no surprise several years ago when, on a trip to LA, I spotted a sign above a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant advertising Chinese food and donuts.

How To Cook Up A Food Celebrity

Frank Bruni, New York Times

If you’re Katie Lee, start with a dollop of fame (marriage to Billy Joel), parboil a couple of cookbooks, marinate on the morning shows and serve a spec TV pilot.

Standing Up Like A Man

Michelle Rabil, Salon

What kind of a woman uses a funnel to go to the bathroom? I do, and it changed my life.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Verse to Self: Joan Houlihan’s The Us

Jacob A. Bennett, Critical Flame

The choice of the poet to employ the objective personal pronoun — “us” — instead of the subjective — “we” — is the first of many (mis)appropriations that may sound funny to ears accustomed to standard English, but which signal a significant, deliberate shift away from contemporary idiom.

James Hynes’s ‘Next’: A Job Interview To End All Interviews

Janet Maslin, New York Times

In James Hynes’s new novel, a middle-aged man on a one-day trip to Austin for a job interview comes full to life at long last and puts an end to his long, long phase of arrested development.

Dewey Defeat Truman

Christopher Beam, Slate Magazine

Do newspapers ever correct a speaker's broken English?

One Cubic Foot

Edward O. Wilson, photograph by David Liittschwager, National Geographic Magazine

Guess how many creatures you'll find in a cube of soil or sea.

Making Mars the New Earth

Robert Kunzig, National Geographic Magazine

What would it take to green the red planet? For starters, a massive amount of global warming.

Starbucks’ Midlife Crisis

Greg Beato, Reason

The coffee giant can’t quite accept its own customers’ tastes.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tacos In The Morning? That’s The Routine In Austin, Tex.

John T. Edge, New York Times

When it comes to breakfast tacos, which are stuffed with fillings like eggs and bacon, Austin, Tex., trumps all other American cities.

How The 'New Feminism' Went Wrong

Charlotte Raven, The Guardian

How has it come to this? Feminists blame the sexists, Martin Amis et al, which is easy but unfair. In reality, we can't blame anyone but ourselves.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Robert Wrigley, Slate Magazine

Reaching For Stars When Space Thrilled And Paranoia Ruled

Dennis Overbye, New York Times

Some of the most extravagant of these visions of the future came not from cheap paperbacks, but from corporations buffing their high-tech credentials and recruiting engineering talent in the heady days when zooming budgets for defense and NASA had created a gold rush in outer space.

Can You Really Predict The Success Of A Marriage In 15 Minutes?

Laurie Abraham, Slate Magazine

"My goal is to be like the guy who invented Velcro," marriage researcher John Gottman once told an interviewer. "Nobody remembers his name, but everybody uses Velcro." Gottman's own road to Velcro-level fame started with a 1998 article in the Journal of Marriage and the Family. He and his colleagues at the University of Washington had videotaped newlywed couples discussing a contentious topic for 15 minutes to measure precisely how they fought over it: Did they criticize? Were they defensive? Did either spouse curl his or her lip in contempt? Then, three to six years later, Gottman's team checked on the same couples' marital status and announced that based on the coding of the tapes, they could predict with 83 percent accuracy which ones were divorced.

Oscar Isn't Sexist

Denis Dutton, Los Angeles Times

Awarding two statuettes, one to actors and one to actresses, simply reflects the reality of acting.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Liberty Brass

Edward Hirsch, New Yorker

The Knocking

David Means, New Yorker

Washing The Elephant

Barbara Ras, New Yorker

Algebra In Wonderland

Melanie Bayley, New York Times

The other-worldly events in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” can be interpreted as satire on 19th-century advances in mathematics.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

‘Mad As A Hatter’: The History Of A Simile

Pat Ryan, New York Times

Pity Lewis Carroll’s poor Hatter. Why not “mad as a shoemaker”?

The Moment Of Psycho By David Thomson | Book Review

Peter Conrad, The Guardian

The finest criticism renovates familiar texts, setting off little jolts of recognition. Ever since I first saw Psycho as a terrified adolescent, I've been replaying it – inside my head for several decades, nowadays on a screen at the foot of my bed – but David Thomson has spotted things in it that my countless viewings overlooked.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Library Science

Pagan Kennedy, New York Times

An exploration of the world of libraries and librarians, via a tour of eccentric characters and unlikely locations.

The New Commandments

Christohper Hitchens, Vanity Fair

What do we say when we want to revisit a long-standing policy or scheme that no longer seems to be serving us or has ceased to produce useful results? We begin by saying tentatively, “Well, it’s not exactly written in stone.” (Sometimes this comes out as “not set in stone.”)

By that, people mean that it’s not one of the immutable Tablets of the Law. Thus, more recent fetishes such as the gold standard, or the supposedly holy laws of the free market, can be discarded as not being incised on granite or marble. But what if it is the original stone version that badly needs a re-write? Who will take up the revisionist chisel?

How To Greet The Dalai Lama

Robert Barnett, The New York Review of Books

Since President Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama on February 18, the details of the closely-watched encounter have been carefully parsed, from the history of the room in which the two men met (the White House Map Room, an apparent indicator that a meeting is private, yet not personal) to the absence of the First Lady (making the meeting more official), and the serving of tea (making it less formal). Even the garbage bags that the Dalai Lama passed on his exit (seen as either incompetence by White House staff or a veiled message to Beijing) and the Dalai Lama’s flip-flops (seen as a metaphor for his policies or a rebuttal to Rupert Murdoch’s claim that the Tibetan leader wears Gucci shoes) were debated.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Disappearing Bookshelf

Russell Smith, Globe And Mail

In the future, our books will be invisible, like our music, but we’ll be the poorer for it. Here’s why.

Legible London

Julia Turner, Slate Magazine

Can better signs help people understand an extremely disorienting city?

The Anger Of Exile

Colm Tóibín, The New York Review of Books

There is a photograph of Thomas Mann taken in Lübeck, Germany, in 1955, shortly before his death. He is standing with his wife, Katia, outside the family house, the house of Buddenbrooks, or what remained of it. He is staring straight at the camera; the expression on his face bears all the complexity of what has been lost and cannot be regained. It is the look of someone in full possession of dark knowledge, the eyes displaying a sense of resignation that is both hard and melancholy. Mann was in California during World War II; he was one of the most famous German exiles, having fled in 1933. Now he was merely visiting and he had no desire to return and stay, despite the fact that his heritage was in Germany and Germany was the home of his language. He had been away too long for these things to matter much. "Wherever I am, Germany is," he had said in America in 1938.

Late-Period Steve Martin

Nathan Heller, Slate Magazine

How to understand the actor, novelist, essayist, playwright, banjo player, crotch-centric variety show performer, and Oscar co-host.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Turning Peer Review Into Modern-Day Holy Scripture

Frank Furedi, Spiked

The treatment of peer-reviewed science as an unquestionable form of authority is corrupting the peer-review system and damaging public debate.

New Libraries Revitalize Cities

Jonathan Lerner, Miller-McCune

New library complexes rejuvenate urban centers around the world by including theaters, shops, cafes, offices and even gyms.

The Best Advice For Writers? Read | Evan Maloney

Evan Maloney, The Guardian

Reading is essential for writers – it instructs, inspires and offers a blissful escape from the blank page.

In SoCal Restaurants, A New Passion For The Whole Pig

Russ Parsons, Los Angeles Times

Restaurant menus are featuring pork parts that once were unmentionable: ears, tails, trotters. And — surprise — diners are ordering them.

A Week Without Books

Bibi van der Zee, The Guardian

Going to the loo without a book! It is a profound shock. Instead of reading, I stare at the walls and notice that there are still two empty nails on which I meant – a year ago – to hang pictures. Also, I notice the dust on the floor and the cobwebs on the ceiling. I sense that I will be doing a lot more housework than usual this week.

Building A Better Teacher

Elizabeth Green, New York Times

There are more than three million teachers in the United States, and Doug Lemov is trying to prove that he can teach them to be better.

Popcorn: Cinema's Worst Enemy

Rosecrans Baldwin, Slate Magazine

An admittedly irrational screed against the snack.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Milk In A Can Goes Glam

Julia Moskin, New York Times

Sweetened condensed milk is everywhere. There’s probably a can or two lurking in your cabinets. It is the key to Key lime pie; it brings the sweet to Vietnamese coffee; it went to Rio for Carnaval last month in the shape of brigadeiros, bite-size balls of milk fudge that are a Brazilian national treat.

But Victoria Belanger, a photographer also known as the Jello Mold Mistress of Brooklyn, may have a unique relationship with the stuff.

Old Age, From Youth’s Narrow Prism

Marc E. Agronin, New York Times

All of us lapse into such mistaken impressions of old age from time to time. It stems in part from an age-centered perspective, in which we view our own age as the most normal of times, the way all life should be. At 18 the 50-year-olds may seem ancient, but at 50 we are apt to say the same about the 80-year-olds.

Watching Shrek In Tehran

Brian T. Edwards, The Believer

The seen and the unseen in Iranian cinema.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Rosanna Warren, Slate Magazine

Thinkwriting About Don DeLillo | Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus, The Guardian

Don DeLillo's fierce, complex love of language should inspire all of us who are struggling to write fiction.

Human Culture, An Evolutionary Force

Nicholas Wade, New York Times

As with any other species, human populations are shaped by the usual forces of natural selection, like famine, disease or climate. A new force is now coming into focus. It is one with a surprising implication — that for the last 20,000 years or so, people have inadvertently been shaping their own evolution.

The force is human culture, broadly defined as any learned behavior, including technology.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Hot Young Thing: Why We Love The Easy-Bake Oven

Sara Breselor, Salon

Chefs and psychologists agree-- this iconic toy has a recipe for success.

A Message To Po Chu-I

W. S. Merwin, New Yorker

Ask Me If I Care

Jennifer Egan, New Yorker

The Thunder Shower

Derek Mahon, New Yorker

Warning: Your Reality Is Out Of Date

Samuel Arbesman, Boston Globe

When people think of knowledge, they generally think of two sorts of facts: facts that don’t change, like the height of Mount Everest or the capital of the United States, and facts that fluctuate constantly, like the temperature or the stock market close.

But in between there is a third kind: facts that change slowly.

By Heng-Cheong Leong