Friday, 21 July 2006

Hitting 1000.

Last night Sharon quoted Raman of having said to writers when they bring him their manuscripts for publishing, "How many books have you read? Have you read a thousand books? If not, get out and go read a thousand books, then come back with your manuscript." His point being, you've got to have read a lot if you want to be a writer.

And I thought to myself, a thousand books isn't so bad. I've probably read more.

Er...Wrong.

After some quick calculations, we determined that if a person read a book per week, it would take around 20 years to reach a thousand. I'm a slow reader. I'm only 25. There's no way I've read 1000 books my whole life!

When I got home I counted the books in my house. I estimate I own around 300 books, probably another 300 left at my parents's house. That's only around 600 books that I own... and a lot less that I've read!

So with that number in mind, I have resolved to start keeping track of my book reading. I need to know when I've reached one thousand books (and have some bragging rights). It should be fun checking back my list in a couple of years or so.

It's a long road to 2026 (and hopefully a thousand books later)...

30 comments:

  1. Raman is an elitist, no doubt.

    Friends of mine (as well as yours truly) have had encounters with him that are not too pleasant. =)






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    John Ling
    www.johnling.net

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  2. What you can do is start a book diary, keeping entries of every book you've read and short notes/reviews/thoughts about them. I've met one or two writers who've done this since their 20s. Now, in their 60s, they occasionally publish them.

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  3. John: Haih, what to do. Anyway, it's actually kind of a challenge from him to read more, so it's a good thing in my eyes.

    Sympozium: My thoughts exactly. I have a friend who has been doing this for at least two years, and I think it's time I followed in her footsteps. I think I've got the perfect moleskine notebook to do this in too...! *teehee*

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  4. i laughingly agree with raman, as i said last night - but while you're reading young ted, keep writing because you are already producing good writing ...

    i guess it's just usefully humbling ...

    and yes, john, mr. r doesn't have great people skills, does he?

    i used to keep book lists but gave up somewhere along the way ... i don't even blog about most of the books i read and should ...

    sympozium - i love writers reading lists and put up one of louis l'amour's lists some time back - if you know of any more i'd love to know

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  5. One of the things I aimed to do when I set up this blog was to blog about books that I've read. So far I havent done much of that yet... maybe I should start too... I still haven't said much about Midnight's Children... which I want to, but I find it so daunting to begin, because it's such a great book!

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  6. it's almost too big a book to blog about!

    i loved sheer AUDACITY of it!! the way it was like nothing that had gone before

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  7. Hiya Ted!

    It was nice to meet you yesterday. Sharon has mentioned to me about you and was glad to meet you too!

    Ya, after hearing from Sharon about what Raman said, I'm actually quite inspired to keep tabs on the books that I have read, starting from the day I was a boy. I wonder if Reader's Digest magazines count? :D

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  8. Hi Ted, I'm back. Wow, so many interesting posts. Missed it. IMHO, if you want to write literary fiction, like that published by Raman, you have to read as many literary books as you can get for the style and story of writing. If you want to write pulp fiction, then you have to read as many pulp fiction books with great plots as you can get for the plot and style of writing.

    Either way, to be a writer, you have to read!! So although there are many (and boy are there many!) who think Raman an elitist, like Thor Kah Hoong, both of them have their points.

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  9. Hi Xeus,

    Pulp fiction is really no longer in usage. It was originally used to refer to hard boiled or adventure fiction that used to be printed in pulpy--extremely cheap and low quality--paper. These days, unfortunately, it has been used by far too many literary elitists to refer to fiction that they believe is for the low culture masses. Just thought you should take note. ;)

    A better term would be popular fiction or genre fiction. =)

    While I have nothing against Raman encouraging people to read, I do not believe what he is doing is considered 'encouraging' per se.

    I actually used to recommended several promising young writers to him.

    But he would do disturbing things such as sitting with side to them, not even looking them in the eye, and making dismissive comments.

    "Graphic novels are childish."

    "Thrillers are only for youngsters under the age of 16, blunt as that may be."

    Really now? Is V for Vendetta childish? Is Heart of Darkness really meant only for kids below the age of 10?

    The first comment, he made to a friend of mine who has since been contracted by a New York book packager to put together a graphic novel about none other than Malaysia's first king, Parameswara. ;)

    Other incidents abound.

    Another friend of mine, in the PR line, once rang him up. A major company was interested in including Silverfish in several promotions it was directing at Malaysian colleges. Unfortunately, Raman rejected the offer by going, "Young people don't read. I don't see why you would even want to try to promote to them, blunt as that may be."

    Last but not least, I have yet another friend who walked into his bookstore for the first time. She had a list of books she was seeking(all literary, I assure you). She asks politely whether he has these books. But he doesn't even look at the list.

    "Go look at the shelves for yourself. If they are here, then I have them. If they are not, then no."

    Ahem. And she was the only customer at the time.

    Now, being something of a Marxist, I do get very flustered. Is he being bourgeois? Is his outfit just a version of the whites-only golf clubs of the past?

    But I am not attacking him as a person. I have tremendous respect for what he has done for English literature in Malaysia and for his independent publishing efforts.

    However, I feel that he tends to reject anything that remotely resembles popular culture--the culture of the masses--in favour for high culture. He makes sweeping judgments on genre and tastes and consumption.

    This is despite the fact that many academics now look at literary fiction (and much of the baggage that goes along with it) as just being another genre, defined by its own conventions.

    As one English professor turned writer once put it: "There are no inferior forms of fiction, only inferior practitioners of them."

    But I am getting ahead of myself. Basically, at a time when he should be encouraging more young people to read and write, what Raman is doing is actually turning them off.

    There are people who look at him and go: "If I'm going to end up snobbish, then I don't want to read and write. I'd rather go back to my online computer games. At least the people there are much nicer."

    No disrespect to Raman, but is that what we truly want?



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    John Ling
    www.johnling.net

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  10. Raman, and others in the local lit and entertainment world here, attended a dinner in the Brit High Comm's house, in honour of Romesh Gunasekara, quite a couple of months back,maybe way back(?). He was in the pantry - just him alone - getting his buffet, and I walked in with my plate, to get another helping. I just said,"Hi Mr Raman.", very friendlily, not too enthusiastically just because he was a publisher. He didn't even have the courtesy to reply with just, say, "Hi", back. He stopped what he was doing, looked up, and just stared at me, silent, and then just walked out.

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  11. ted, check your gmail please :P

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  12. Hi John, thanks for the 'pop fiction' tip. I have always considered myself a pulp fiction writer :) But at least my book was published on expensive, yellow imported paper (phew).

    As for my wish for all Malaysians, I just want everyone to read and enjoy books as much as I did and do, from the age of 3. I just want reading to expand their horizons and broaden their thinking as much as it did mine.

    Like you, I believe we need all the help we can get to start young Malaysians reading.

    I have a media friend who has a gripe against Raman because he doesn't pay his short story contributors. He told this friend, "Just getting published is good enough for you."

    He has also criticised the work of another friend of mine. But what does this friend care when the book is a superbestseller?

    Then again, I know plenty of literary snobs. My own uncle is one of them, though he doesn't turn up his nose at you just because you don't read Rushdie. (It is just his preference). The previous owner of Skoob books was my neighbour, who has since sold it to Thor Kah Hoong, whom I've met at someone's wedding. I thought Thor is a pretty nice guy.

    So when Sharon recommended I meet Raman, I was very skeptical. I didn't want him to be one of those who would crush my spirit. And I'm glad I didn't. Now I go around encouraging other writers when I meet them personally or through my blog. We need people to encourage others, not crush them until they can never produce anything again.

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  13. Xeus, I think you made a prudent decision.

    Do you know Yvonne Foong? Against my advice, she went to see Raman recently, bringing her manuscript along. Amazingly, Raman actually sat with his back almost facing Yvonne and her friend, and brushed them off off by saying: "Your book will never sell."

    I found myself thinking, who does he think he is? Royalty? It is ironic that Silverfish prides itself as being a publisher of postcolonialist literature. Because such a display does indeed smack of colonialism.

    Someone once remarked, if what we write is considered popular fiction, then what does that make literary fiction? Unpopular fiction? Come on.

    We need to do away with egos, arrogance, and unpleasant pandering. What we need is more kindness, more openness, and certainly more humility. We are all interested in writing and we are all in the same boat together. It should be a democracy. Why all the elitism?




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    John Ling
    www.johnling.net

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  14. Once upon a time there was a girl who aspired to be a writer. However, she was snubbed and derided by her English teacher. The criticism stung. The poor girl boiled within - but decided that this was actually a challenge. She thought to herself, "I'll show her!"

    So she never gave up.

    Let's hope she could finally show that particular teacher that she could!

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  15. Haha, that describes me perfectly. I once had a teacher who told me I would never amount to much.

    And oddly enough, it was Raman who made it more eloquent: "Your writing will never amount to much, blunt as that may be."

    Hmm...




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    John Ling
    www.johnling.net

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  16. Hi Ted! Some 'interesting' discussions here, I see. Hope you don't mind my 2 sen.

    As I see it, Raman is obviously unpopular but I must give him credit for bringing some luminaries like Tash Aw, Shirley Lim, Romesh Gunesegara, Laksmi Pamuntjak (and yes, I'll be dying to meet Sashi Tharoor this coming Tuesday)to his place.

    One of his comments (read from a local paper, NST or Star) that really stuck on me was his lament about Malaysia having many writers but then, how many actually took the effort to come out with a book? I think some might remember that.

    In a way, I agreed and took it positively. I'm glad that I took that challenge up and came out with The Sky is Crazy.

    Despite it being a bestseller at places like Kino, MPH and Popular, I too had been told by some that my book is not 'intelligent' stuff (just as how people never thought of a stewardess as being particularly clever :p but that's another chapter altogether).
    One asked why I don't write like Tash Aw or Rowling or others and my answer will always be, because I'm not Tash, Rowling nor others.

    Say what they may, about this book being another fluffy airy book, I believe that it has been able to reach out to many people who enjoy reading without having to knead their brains.
    Sometimes, the purpose of a book is to convey messages and not just for the proses.

    Ideally, reading and writing should not be associated with elitism. As writers, we often have ask ourselves, who do we write for, for a specific audience? The elite group or the masses? Or do we write for ourselves, as a cathartic experience? Or do we write to show off (that was some 'interesting' stuff about Mr Thor too in your previous post); to show off our bombastic skill, to show off what we know or what we possess, or who we know?

    Ultimately, I think reading/writing will always be a pleasure if we can discard prejudice like the fallacy that certain books are more intelligent than others.

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  17. Asmiov once noted that it is more difficult to write simply and in a straight forward manner and to be able to bring forth your ideas in a way that many can understand. And he grew up on pulp fiction. That didn't stop him from winning awards and accolades.
    I admire writers who could write simple prose and still be able to tell the most thought-provoking stories.

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  18. oops I mean Asimov. Must be the cough syrup working overtime... :P

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  19. Oh, and another thing... hehe... Raman somehow sounds eerily like Simon Cowell of Malaysian Lit... Haha!

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  20. Well John, I can only say - you produced many books :) And many elitist people haven't.

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  21. Wow, Ted! You seem to have hit a raw nerve : so many comments.

    John has made some very pertinent and valid points, good on you, John.

    Teachers have a heavy responsibility. And when they look down on students, they can fire up students or turn them off for good.

    I remember my secretarial teacher telling me to test for 70 wpm shorthand and not go for 100 wpm as she didn't think I could do it. So happy to prove her wrong. Not only did I test for 100 wpm, I got a distinction too.

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  22. Lydia and Yvonne: Very true. Couldn't agree more.




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    John Ling
    www.johnling.net

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  23. Wow... I disappear for a day and look what I missed! (Was at the Big Bookshop warehouse clearance sale again... tee hee)

    The Eternal Wanderer: it was nice indeed to meet you. I look forward to future meetups with you! I'm sure Reader's Digest could count... hehe!

    Xeus: yep, am cramming as many books as I can take, from literary to pul- er, i mean, pop fiction to non-fic to chick-lit (gf just bought me Opal Mehta!)... I still haven't really found my style of writing (even though John says it's leaning towards literary), so I think I won't limit myself to any specific genre just yet. Most likely never will. I'll jsut read without prejudice whatever grabs my interest.

    John: oh dear, where do I even begin... haha! I've never actually met Raman. (I hate going to Bangsar.) So I can't really say much about the man... but all these horror stories make me very hesitant to pay Silverfish Books at least one visit.

    But I have to agree--elitism has no place in our region. We're such a small group of writers, we need all the encouragement we can get, and owners of bookstores-cum-publishers are certainly in that position. It's sad that arrogance has seemingly got in the way of such a noble goal of giving new writers a chance to be read.

    I have to thank you for commenting your thoughts. Dude, you really should get a proper blog system! This would have been great if it was posted on a blog, and I would've loved to have crosslinked this post to yours.

    Bile: yes, never give up, never surrender! Hmm... Did I just quote that from a movie? Not only Asimov, but I remember a few other acclaimed writers who got their start in pulp fiction: philip k dick, dashiell hammett, raymond chandler to name a few. My personal belief is to just keep on writing, to keep improving the craft as you go along...

    Hmm. Raman does sound like Simon Cowell huh? But probably more like Roslan Aziz.

    Yvonne: There will always be people out there who'll just pooh-pooh your work without even reading it. Maybe they're just jealous they don't have a bestseller to their name. Hah! The important thing is that people enjoy reading your book, as I am sure many have.

    Lydia: I'm surprised by the sudden surge of comments too! Hehe... this is John's doing :p

    Back in school, I never listened to my teachers... which is probably both good and bad!

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  24. Quite right, Ted.

    Here's the funny thing. On the first day of one of my Communications classes, our lecturer gave us a quick runthrough of high culture versus low culture.

    Culture, by definition, comes from the agricultural term 'to cultivate'.

    In the past, people used to enter tertiary education to learn the best about what there is in culture. To study great literature, great art, great music. In short, to study high culture.

    High culture is held as something refined and noble, as opposed to the crude creative output enjoyed by the masses, which is known as low culture.

    Education in those days was constricted by what the upper classes said it should be.

    But in recent years, there has been a major paradigm shift. Most academics now believe that you can learn as much about a culture from watching, say, an episode of 24 as you can from reading the latest Rushdie masterpiece.

    Very revolutionary, very controversial, definitely. This angers elitists. The idea of exclusiveness is gone.

    Popular culture today is an amalgam of both high culture and low culture. We cannot deny that. Beethoven plays as much a part in global culture as the latest bubblegum pop group does.

    And if the original roots of the word culture is to believed, then the job of those who deal in it must be 'to cultivate'.

    How do you cultivate orchids? Do you handle them roughly? Of course not. You handle them gently, tactfully, respectfully, taking into account their individual traits.

    =)





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    John Ling
    www.johnling.net

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  25. Might I also add, it is interesting to note how fickle high culture is.

    In 1972, David Morrell published a book called First Blood. It was intensely controversial for its portrayal of Vietnam War veterans returning home to face rejection and alienation. It was one of the first novels to tackle the difficult issue of post traumatic stress disorder head on. Time magazine called it carnography, the meat novel, a work glorifying violence. In retrospect, it is very tame by today's standards.

    Nonetheless, at the time of its release, it was hailed as a literary masterpiece. It came to be used as an academic text in many prestigious classrooms. The University of Iowa (where Morrell taught at, as an English professor), even put up a prominent plaque for him on the Uni grounds.

    But...

    Then came the film (and the sequels) starring the monosyllabic Slyvester Stallone. The character of Rambo quickly became associated with male-centric, right-wing popular culture. Nevermind that the movie was a one-dimensional interpretation of a rich left wing novel. The negative labels stuck. Morrell's text was banned from classrooms, and his plaque was taken down. Up to this day, snobs refuse to recognize the literary value of his work because he was the guy who 'created Rambo' or because his work contains 'too much action'.

    It is interesting to note how a writer can go from 'literary' to 'not literary', simply because practitioners of high culture deem it so.

    Elitist, is it not?



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    John Ling
    www.johnling.net

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  26. wowee - it's all happening here ted, and you have sparked a lot of very necessary discussion. i loved what john wrote about high and low culture.

    elitism has no place in our region. We're such a small group of writers, we need all the encouragement we can get,

    yes, indeed. very well said.

    and i agree with you. you must give raman his due. no single individual has done more for the local lit scene. the litfest wouldn't have happened if he hadn't had the gumption to get it going. there was a huge void in the literary scene before "new writing" (many of you are too young to remember), and he provides a much needed space for readings.

    and he is still probably the person who has his finger on the pulse of what's happening than anyone else.

    he cares about books and about good stuff getting written. many other people talk about this should happen that should happen ... but when it actually comes to putting in time and effort, they are nowhere to be seen

    maybe we all need to be a bit more proactive and organise out own events??? just lurking here on ted's blog there are some very talented people ...

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  27. Organising our own events is certainly a good idea... but who might be able to take on such a daunting task? I keep having this feeling that writers are prone to write more than organise events...

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  28. If one is to talk of impact and deeds, I have had the good fortune of knowing several people who have probably done more--much, much more--than Raman. From helping the Orang Asli to preserving the ecology in Malaysian lakes to campaigning for better education syllabus, these are the most down-to-earth and friendly people I know.

    So, for sure, doing big and important things is no excuse to be snobbish.

    Yes, Raman is personally responsible for LitFest. Yes, he is responsible for the New Writing anthology. Yes, he is responsible for a great many things.

    However, he is also personally responsible for turning several people off. I have friends who refuse to have anything to do with Silverfish because they have gotten hurt by Raman's attitude. These people not only do not want to visit LitFest, they also do not want to contribute to New Writing. They would rather send off their writing to overseas magazines and anthologies.

    What I tend to hear from Raman's supporters amounts to saying: "Barisan National has done much for us. We should pipe down and we should be grateful, regardless of their missteps are. They are all we have, so let's take what we can get. Why, if it was not for them..."

    Yes, I do agree, to a certain extent. Raman has done something quite extraordinary for the Malaysian literary scene.

    I am not too young to remember. As early as 2001, I can still recall moving around the streets of KL, lugging around one of my manuscripts from publisher to publisher. They all turned it down without even looking because, "We don't know if there's a market for market for Malaysian English fiction."

    Today, Raman has turned things around. Malaysian writers definitely get more respect, not to mention more attention. I recognize that. I am grateful for that. Even though I am but a humble writer leaning towards what might be called low culture.

    What I'm saying is, we should have a kinder and gentler approach to young writers. Interpersonal skills is something Raman has to brush up on. Heaps of writers look up to him and come to see him all the time, only to get crushed not by his words, but by the way he presents them.

    Surely, very surely, there must be a better way.




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    John Ling
    www.johnling.net

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  29. After all, these are impressionable young minds we are talking about. Young sirs and madams who are still baffled about finding their place in the world. In their case, a little kindness and a little encouragement goes a long way.

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  30. yes, for sure, john, people have been hurt by him

    including me!!!! his put-down of my course is a recent example, and the go he had at local writers reading their stuff being "beatniks"

    i still support his events and will help out if he organises the next litfest ... but a large part of me has switched off and unplugged itself ...

    young writers need encouragement. there should be writing in all sorts of genres. i agree with you wholeheartedly.

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