Monday, 31 July 2006

Short Short.

I have a short short story up on Starlight's blog if anyone's interested.

Granta 94.

The latest issue of Granta is about travel writing, and The Independent has a review of it:
Where did travel writing go next? The answer, if this collection is anything to go by, is nowhere very fast. The destinations now seem too familiar - and, of course, in this age of lemming travel and shrinking planet, the contributors aren't to be blamed for that.
Anyone know where I can buy this issue locally without resorting to buying online? I've seen some issues of Granta in Kinokuniya but I think those were quite old...

What's Black and White and Red All Over?

Erm. The Penguin Blog. I'm sorry. That was terrible.

Saturday, 29 July 2006

The Book of Signs.

The Guardian has up on its website an excerpt from Bruce Lawrence's book The Qur'an: A Biography, a book in the series Books That Shook The World:
The Qur'an is a book unlike any other: it is an oral book that sounds better spoken than read silently, but it is an oral book that is also a scripture. More evocative in recitation than in writing, the Qur'an is only fully the Qur'an when it is recited. To hear the Qur'an recited is for Muslims unlike anything else. It is to experience the power of divine revelation as a shattering voice from the Unseen. It moves, it glides, it soars, it sings. It is in this world, yet not of it.
Saw this on the display case at Kinokuniya last night, along with the other books in the series. Looks interesting.

Friday, 28 July 2006

On Memory and the Cities of Calvino's Mind.


Funny how coincidences happen. Last night, in a discussion regarding viewpoints, there was a call for examples of second-person point-of-view. I offered Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club ("You are not the contents of your wallet!") and Jay McInerny's Bright Lights, Big City. Sharon offered Calvino. This was a new author for me. The conversation continued and I didn't think I'd manage to retain that name in my inner consciousness or whatever. I certainly forgot about Calvino very soon after that.

This morning however, via Scott Esposito, I came across an interview with William Weaver, a translator. Scott has this to say about interviews with translators:
I'm surprised more people don't want to interview literary translators about their work. Translators have to be so incredibly attuned to the nuances of the texts they are translating, that I think they'd have amazing thoughts on style.
And I found myself agreeing with him, because of late, I've been dabbling in translating some Malay pieces myself, and I find it really tough work trying to bring over the spirit of the original. So naturally I was interested in reading this interview.

Turns out William Weaver is the translator for Italo Calvino's works, but I had not realised, as yet, that this was the same author Sharon had mentioned in our discussion last night. As I read further into the interview, I discovered that one of Calvino's famous work is a fascinating book entitled, Invisible Cities, of which Weaver has this to say:
...Calvino's powerful imagination is present in all its abundance and its range from lightness to earthy weight (we must not forget some of the dire cities, like the redundant Zirma, with its subway full of obese women, or like the cold, reflected Valdrada). But, fanciful as these cities are, we can on rare occasions encounter them in the real, bricks-and-mortar world.
I was intrigued. And not only because of Weaver's praise for Calvino's words, but also because I love reading narratives about cities, something that is a result of too many hours playing the various incarnations of SimCity. (I still play SimCity 4 in the office when the boss isn't looking.) I've got quite the collection of city-related books; one of them is so old, it doesn't even have an ISBN code. Calvino's Invisible Cities sounded like something I should add to this collection.

After checking that Kinokuniya has it in stock (thanks Kino BookWeb!), I went over to KLCC to buy it. I found a collection of other Calvino books on the shelves as well, and I noticed that If On a Winter's Night a Traveler was unwrapped. I thumbed through it to see if I would like it.

Some people are of the opinion that this book is Calvino's best work. The book is about a reader who's reading a translated book, but after some time, the reader discovers the translator has inserted another translated portion from another book. All this is told in second-person. When I thumbed through it and saw it was in second-person... something just clicked... and I remembered what Sharon had said.

Ahhhh! So this is who Sharon was talking about... funny how these coincidences happen. I shall get If On a Winter's Night a Traveler later. It looks like such a beautiful book to read.

The Taunt of MPH.

Last night was the final session in my creative writing course in MPH 1Utama. Before the session started I browsed the fiction shelves, and I was surprised to find Murakami's "Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman" already available. And I, of course, didn't bring enough cash to buy the book!

A bit disappointed though. It's in trade paperback format, and that's a bit big to read on the LRT (but still possible). Hmmm.

Anyways, going back again tomorrow to pick it up, and perhaps a few other books too, like Paul Theroux's "Great Railway Bazaar" and Orhan Pamuk's "Istanbul". (Yes, I'm very much in a travel writing phase.)

Thursday, 27 July 2006

On LibraryThing and Rereading Books.


I've finally had the occasion to start using the excellent LibraryThing. I was intimidated to use it before because I feared the amount of time I had to invest cataloguing all my books, and I dreaded making a mess of my house (well, more of a mess than usual) by dragging my books to and from my computer.

But since I resolved to read 1000 books the other day, I now have the perfect excuse to start using LibraryThing. Instead of cataloguing ALL my books like what most of the other members are doing, I am adding my books, one by one, as I read them. That way, I can track what I've read and when, what my thoughts were, and I can even use those nifty zeitgeist tagcloud web2.0 thingamabobs on the site too. Hooray!

View my list so far here. And you can even keep track of the latest books I've read here (rss).

With my "1000 books list", I've decided to start from scratch. What I've read before doesn't count as being read. Unfortunately this means I've "never" read books like Nineteen Eighty Four, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, To Kill a Mockingbird or the Life of Pi. Fortunately though, this means I've "never" read The Da Vinci Code. Phew!

Anyway, I thought about what books I would like to reread so I can include it in my list (and perhaps get a new perspective on the books), and this is what I came up with so far:
  1. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  2. Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell
  3. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig
  4. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  5. Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
  6. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  7. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
  8. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
  9. Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  10. Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
  11. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  12. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  13. Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
  14. The Silmarillion by JRR Tolkien
  15. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
That's the few I can come up with at the moment. I suppose if I dig deeper into my shelves, I'll find more... like my old Pratchetts, Dahls, Adrian Moles, and who knows what else.

Wednesday, 26 July 2006

For Their Eyes Only.

New James Bond author is a secret:

A new James Bond novel by a mystery writer will be published next year to commemorate the 100 th anniversary of the birth of Bond creator Ian Fleming, the author’s family announced recently.

The family-owned Ian Fleming Publications Ltd. announced it had struck a contract with a "very well-known and highly respected" author whose identity "will be a closely guarded secret until publication."

Insulting Turkishness.

Things are a bit slow in the land of literature these past few days. Nevertheless, I have been interested in the plight of Turkish novelist Elif Shafak, who is to face trial for insulting "Turkishness":
Shafak joins a roster of more than 60 writers and journalists to be charged under Article 301 of the Turkish criminal code since its introduction last year. University professors, journalists and novelists such as Perihan Magden, Orhan Pamuk and now Shafak have been charged under legislation drawn so broadly as to criminalise a wide range of critical opinions. Writers not only face the prospect of a three-year jail term, but the prosecutions also lay them open to a campaign of intimidation and harassment waged by rightwing agitators.
The interesting part here is that she argues that it is the character in her novel, "The Bastard of Istanbul" that insulted "Turkishness", not her. Sounds like a bunch of right-wingers taking something trivial a tiny bit too far.

Sounds familiar doesn't it...?

Tuesday, 25 July 2006

Blurbs or Blank Back Covers?

Levi Asher feels that a book must have some copy on the back cover, like blurbs or review excerpts:
I still feel strongly that back cover blurbs and review excerpts are essential to the "selection process" every reader goes through when looking at a new book. A publisher who presents a blank back cover on a novel by an unknown author, in my opinion, must not be thinking about how potential readers are going to look at this novel. The purist approach Chapman describes sounds admirable, but I don't think it translates into reality. I am simply not going to devote my time to reading a book without some idea why I should read it. A novel needs a road map, and to fail to provide some explanatory text when publishing a new author is, in my opinion, a fatal mistake.
But Daniel Green from The Reading Experience disagrees:
Frankly, I almost always ignore not only this back-cover material, but everything that's printed on a book jacket, including the flap copy. My curiosity about what I will find in a given book is going to be satisfied only by reading a few paragraphs, a few pages, enough to inform me about the book's thematic focus and aesthetic assumptions. Sometimes it won't be safisfied until I've read the whole thing. (Sometimes it will be satisfied quite quickly and I'll decide it's not a book for me. But the blurbs and the review excerpts will have had nothing to do with it.)
I'll have to agree with Levi Asher if the book's shrink-wrapped (like in Kinokuniya or MPH), and with Daniel Green if the book is not (Borders or Payless). But I would prefer thumbing through a book to see for myself if the writing was good enough for me to get it or not.

Reading List Update.

For my future reference, I:

have recently finished
  • Travels by Michael Crichton (enjoyed this)
  • Dark City by Xeus (overall good read, a little disturbing at times)
am currently reading
might be reading these afterwards
am listening this in the car
The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry (am currently stuck on how to compose verse in iambic pentametre while driving)

Previous Reading List Update: 16 July 2006

Monday, 24 July 2006

Pay It Forward.

Kristin Nelson reports on what J.A. Konrath said when he accepted his Bob Kellogg award:
He said (and this is a loose paraphrase because I didn’t have a recording device or anything) that writers are not in competition for the elusive reader. If a reader is a fan of a certain type of book (in his case thrillers), they’ll pick up his book, a Barry Eisler book, and a Lee Child book (all folks who are in attendance at the conference) so there is no reason not to share information with other writers and there is no reason not to support each other. In fact, we should pay it forward to beginning writers if, as a writer, you’ve already found a measure of success.

Sunday, 23 July 2006

Big Bookshop Haul and a Ship.

Went again to the Big Bookshop Warehouse Clearance sale again. Previous visit documented here. (Though why I called it "Big Bookstore" is beyond me... oh well, my bad.) Bought more books.

To those wondering how I managed to get these books even though I've said that I'm broke... well, all I can say is, "Thanks, dad!" I have no shame whatsoever when it comes to books.

The spoils:
  • Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
  • The Grand Complication by Allen Kurzweil
  • The Book Nobody Read by Owen Gingreich
  • I'll Go To Bed At Noon by Gerard Woodward
  • My Life as a Fake by Peter Carey
  • Bliss by Peter Carey
  • Jack Maggs by Peter Carey
  • Collected Stories by Peter Carey
  • The Ode Less Travelled (book and audiobook) by Stephen Fry (recommended by Sympozium and Sharon)
  • The Colour by Rose Tremain
  • The Darkness of Wallis Simpson by Rose Tremain
  • Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie (finally broke down and got it...)
Good thing I went again. A lot of these books weren't there when I went the first time.

I also visited MV Doulos, the book-ship that's docked in Klang. Er, it was nice, I guess. Had a brief revisit to my childhood when I saw three of Val Biro's Gumdrop children's books I had never seen before. Couldn't buy them though... too expensive at RM24 each.

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)...

Thursday, 20 July 2006

Expert: Harry Potter Won't Die.

James Krasner, professor of English and British Victorian literature at the University of New Hampshire, says Harry won't die after all:
“Whenever an author's books become very popular in his or her lifetime, as is the case with Rowling, a tug of war starts between the author and the fans about who the characters really belong to. Rowling, like Conan Doyle (creator of Sherlock Holmes), is trying to assert her control. She’s reminding us that Harry is her character, not ours; she can kill him if she wants to. Doyle actually did kill off Sherlock Holmes, but Rowling won’t go that far because she cares about Harry. Conan Doyle was really sick of Holmes,” Krasner says.
So now I hope Bibi won't be upset any longer.

Goodbye, Spillane.

The Guardian has a good obit for Mickey Spillane, author of the Mike Hammer novels.

This into That... more shelves made from books.

Tobin alerts me to his old co-worker who makes bookshelves out of books (also mentioned earlier in this post).

Look at how beautifully witty they can be:

(Click on image to enlarge)

Buried alive... hah! Do check the website out. I found the process of "harvesting" the books for the shelves particularly interesting.

Award-winning Writers!

The Hadiah Sastera Kumpulan Utusan (Utusan Group Literature Prize) award-giving ceremony was held last night, and CEan, 3rd prize winner of the inaugural Novel Remaja Bahasa Inggeris (English Young Adult Novel) category, sent along these photos of the event.

From left: CEan (3rd) Su Ann(2nd) and Chin Han (1st)


Cean adds:
Don't we look pleased as Punch. Hopefully we make the news tomorrow but there were so many winners. They are publishing the English novels around September. Yayyy!
And apparently their novels aren't in the horror genre. :p

UPDATE 1:
More HSKU 2005 pics at Nisah's blog.

UPDATE 2:
Previous posts about HSKU:

Wednesday, 19 July 2006

Making Bookshelves... Out of Books!


What do you do with those old, unwanted hardcover books? Make a bookshelf of course! ^_^

Via Boing Boing.

Buy The Utusan Lit Prize Books.

Just got word that the following books from the Utusan Group Literature Prize 2005 can now be pre-ordered from Ujana Ilmu:

Young Adult Prize Category
  1. Kembara Amira by Amer Hmzah L. Kadir
  2. 6:20 by Siti Jasmina Ibrahim
  3. Beraraklah Awan Pilu by Abd Latip Talib
Short Stories, Poems, Articles and Essays
Kalau Kita Menjadi Kayu

Young Adult Short Stories
Pelangi, Kami Ingin Ke Sana

There's a special offer if you pre-order before 31st July. If you buy all the above 5 books on one package, you get a RM5 rebate.

No word on the English novels as yet.

Faisal Tehrani on English Novels in HSKU.

Faisal Tehrani, prize-winning author of novels like "1511H (Kombat)", "Advencer Si Peniup Ney" and his most recent work, "Surat-surat Perempuan Johor", spoke of his thoughts on the introduction of the English Novel category in the Utusan Group Literature Prize (HSKU) in the Sunday edition of Kosmo! recently:
"Nilai tradisi bahasa dan sastera yang kita ada pada masa ini perlu terus dipelihara. Sudah 21 tahun Hadiah Sastera Utusan mengagungkan sastera Melayu dan ini suatu yang membanggakan dan patut dipertahankan," ujar [Faisal Tehrani].

Lantaran itu berhubung anugerah novel bahasa Inggeris dalam Hadiah Sastera Utusan yang baru diwujudkan mulai tahun ini, Faisal mencadangkan supaya ia diadakan secara berasingan, atau dengan kata lain, diwujudkan suatu majlis anugerah khas lain.

"Saya bukan anti bahasa Inggeris, tetapi selama ini, Hadiah Sastera Utusan cukup dikenali sebagai anugerah sastera yang memartabatkan bahasa Melayu. Saya kira, karya-karya Inggeris kalau ada yang teruja sangat dan rasa perlu sangat diberikan maruah serta pengiktirafan biarlah dalam satu majlis khusus yang berasingan, jangan campur," ujarnya.

(Excerpt found towards the end of this article, conveniently posted on Faisal's blog.)
Which translates into:
"The value of language and literature that we have now must continue to be preserved. It has been twenty-one years that the Utusan Literature Prize has revered Malay literature and this is something that is honourable and must be maintained," [Faisal Tehrani] says.

Because of that, regarding the English novel category in the Utusan Literature Prize that was added starting this year, Faisal suggests that it be held separately, or in other words, create another special prize ceremony.

"I'm not against the English language, but all this while, the Utusan Literature Prize has been renown as the literature prize that esteems the Malay language. I think, these English writings, if there are those who get too excited about them and feel that they really need to be honoured and recognised, let it be in a separate ceremony, don't mix them," he says.

From Majapahit to Putrajaya: Book Launch

From Silverfish:
Farish Noor will be, finally, back in Malaysia end of this month. Catch him at the launch of his latest book From Majapahit to Putrajaya at Silverfish Books, 67-1 Jalan Telawi 3, Bangsar Baru, Kuala Lumpur on the 29th of July 2006, at 6.00pm. Farish Noor will be introduced by Sumit Mandal, after which Farish Noor will talk briefly about what he has been doing over the last two years travelling in India, Pakistan, Europe and various other parts of the world, and the state of Malaysian politics from his POV.

Farish A Noor is, without a doubt, Malaysia's top public intellectual.

Impassioned, controversial, courageous: Farish Noor's writings on religious extremism and 'moral panic', social conformity and the 'New Generation Post-modern Malay' makes him an indispensable voice in Malaysia.
Clive Kessler, Emeritus Professor, School of Sociology and Anthropology, UNSW Sydney

Admission is free, but do RSVP (Tel: 603-228 448 37 Usha/Phek Chin) as space is limited.
I personally have not read this book. (Can't avoid it though, it's everywhere.) Any readers out there want to share their thoughts about it?

Tuesday, 18 July 2006

Payless Books Event Calendar.

From my inbox:
PAY LESS BOOKS Event Calendar for July - August 2006:

1. PESTA BUKU SELANGOR '06
Date : 25 - 31 July 2006
Time : 10:00am - 10:00pm
Venue : PKNS COMPLEX, SHAH ALAM

2. ACADEMIC BOOKFEST 2006
Date : 27 - 30 July 2006
Time : 10:00am - 10:00pm
Venue : MID VALLEY EXHIBITION CENTRE

3. BOOK EXPO 2006
Date : 29 August - 3 September 2006
Time : 10:00am - 10:00pm
Venue : PUTRA WORLD TRADE CENTRE

We have a great deal of discounts & promotions waiting for you. Hope
to see you there!!!
No! Stay back foul temptresses! Thou shalt not tempt me with more cheap books!

Writer Interviews Writer.

Aneeta Sundararaj interviews Dina Zaman.

Dina on writing:
I think Aneeta, for many writers in Malaysia, and for a lot of people for the matter, we have to put on many hats. I’d love to just write and be done with it, but let’s be realistic. We don’t have that kind of literary support here. So instead of bitching about it, we work in order to sustain our art. Sheesh. That sounds pretentious. How about, our creation?

I see all this work I do as material for my writing, fiction and non-fiction. I hope one day all the money I make will tide me by and allow me to write fulltime.
Dina Zaman had columns in the New Strait Times and Malaysiakini. She also has a blog, Gong Kapas Times.

Aneeta Sundararaj is the author of "Banana Leaf Men" and is one of the writers for the recently published short-story compilation, "Snapshots!"

Thor Kah Hoong's Scattered Brain.

Thor Kah Hoong's back with a desultory article about... er... well, lots of random stuff. And a poem about Hemingway. Okay okay I admit it! I have no idea what he's on about half the time!

Monday, 17 July 2006

Japanese Writer Drinks Beer After Winning Prize.

A year after his wife won the Naoki Prize, writer Takami Ito wins the prestigious Akutagawa Prize. He celebrates by having a beer. Mmmm!
Ito is married to Mitsuyo Kakuta, winner of the 2005 Naoki Prize. It is the first instance where a husband has won an Akutagawa Prize and a wife the Naoki Prize, though novelist couple Mariko Koike and Yoshinaga Fujita have both won the Naoki.

"My mind went blank," Ito said. "I didn't know whether to say 'thank you' or ask if it was true (when informed about winning the prize)."

Kakuta was delighted for her husband.

"It's great," she said. "Congratulations."
(Via Elegant Variation)

But what is the Akutagawa Prize?
It is arguably Japan's most prestigious literary award.

From Wikipedia:
Established in 1935 by Kikuchi Kan, the editor of Bungei Shunjū magazine, in memory of novelist Akutagawa Ryunosuke, it is sponsored by the Association for the Promotion of Japanese Literature (Nihon Bungaku Shinkō Kai), and is awarded semiannually in January and July to the best story of a purely literary nature published in a newspaper or magazine by a new or rising author. The winner receives a pocket watch and a cash award of 1 million yen. Short stories and novellas win the prize more frequently than do full-length novels. Because of its prestige and the considerable attention the winner receives from the media, it is Japan’s most sought after literary prize.

margin.notes

I would like to thank margin.notes for linking to my blog. It is very much appreciated! margin.notes is a blog that covers the "Japanese-popular-fiction-translated-into-English" scene. It's very good in keeping up with the books that comes out of Japan that's not by Murakami. Give it a visit.

Sunday, 16 July 2006

Reading List Update.

For my future reference, I:

have recently finished
Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

am currently reading
Travels by Michael Crichton

might be reading these afterwards
Is it my imagination or am I getting some strange looks when I read Midnight's Children on the LRT? Hmmm...

The Big Bookstore Sale.

My dad called me up and told me that there was a book sale by Big Bookstore in Atria that would last till the end of the month. He urged me to go because he saw hardcovers of Salman Rushdie's "Shalimar the Clown" being sold for Rm18.90 and thought I'd be interested. I said, I would be interested if they were paperback, but I said I'd go anyway.

Good thing I did... a lot of good novels available at RM10.00 each. Here is what I managed to escape with:

Fiction
  • The Double by Jose Saramago
  • Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? by Raymond Carver
  • Black Snow by Mikhail Bulgakov; translated by Michael Glenny
  • Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres
  • Bird Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Where's My Cow by Terry Pratchett
Non-Fiction
  • To Sir With Love by E.R. Braithwaite
  • Cities by John Reader
  • Visiting Mrs Nabokov (and other excursions) by Martin Amis
  • Classic Railway Journeys of the West by Max Wade-Matthews
I repurchased a copy of "To Kill a Mockingbird" because I've had this urge to reread it, but I can't locate my existing copy. (The perils of having a family that moves around too much.) I hate the cheap mass-paperback cover--the one that's pink. So when I saw them selling the much-cooler black paperback cover for only Rm10.00, I had to get it.

Can't wait to dive into this lot, especially the Martin Amis one! Yay!

Saturday, 15 July 2006

10 tips on how to read any book in 7 days (or less).

Tips for those who read slow or lack the time to read.

Friday, 14 July 2006

Who's the Voice of this Generation?

Lev Grossman asks the question in Time magazine:
It's quite possible that nobody wants to be the Voice anymore. It's "a great aggravation for anybody who has been selected," says Gary Fisketjon, vice president and editor at large at Knopf, who edits both Ellis and McInerney. "Writers are always speaking for themselves and not for a generation. I don't know if they want that responsibility. I think it's something that nobody would feel comfortable with unless the ego was completely untrammeled." At least one Voice emeritus has nothing but relief that his term is over. "I think the very idea is narcissistic," says Coupland, whose most recent novel (his 11th), JPod, is set at a video-game company. "I got stuck with the ridiculous label for a while because Generation X had the word generation in the title."

Analogies and Metaphors in High School Essays.

This posting at Miss Snark's made me burst coffee out of my nose. Take that as a beverage alert.

Sells Better in Paperback.

Kim Edwards and her debut novel, "The Memory Keeper's Daughter", is selling much better in paperback form:
The book sold about 30,000 copies in hardcover when it was published last year by Viking. But since it came out in paperback in late May, it has been climbing best-seller lists and enjoying rapid sales at places like K-Mart, Barnes & Noble and independent bookstores across the country, inspiring comparisons to previous paperback sensations like “The Kite Runner,” “The Secret Life of Bees ” and “Bel Canto.”
Perhaps this reflects a trend of current readers's tastes? I, for one, prefer a nice, tasty paperback, as compared to a hard, heavy, tome. There will be people who disagree with me, of course, because they prefer the advantage of durability, and hardbacks simply exude a little more "class".

I understand where they're coming from, but one of my criteria when purchasing a book is that it must be portable. I must be able to take the book anywhere, so I can read it on the LRT while going to work, and I can keep it back in my bag when I'm in a position unable to do any reading.

Eh? I digress... Erm, anyway, from a review of "The Memory Keeper's Daughter" at Blogcritics:
The book leaps from that moment to other parallel moments in the lives of twins Paul and Phoebe, and those involved in the choices that made those lives so very different. There's a spiraling structure, each moment that's revealed moving us closer to the character's interiors, until you've wound your way into their cores. Each time that Edwards chooses to show us, there are echoes of those decisions, reflections upon them, leaving the reader to deduce the causes and effects that have lead to each scene. In some ways, as time marches on, we're really seeing the same moment, over and over, played out in new ways.

Thursday, 13 July 2006

On Writing Nine Lives.

Choon Ean (aka Cean), third prize winner of the Utusan Group Literature Prize emailed me today to tell me about writing her story:
I'm tickled you think my story is a horror story but on reflection the title does sound like one. It actually refers to the proverbial nine lives of a cat, compares the way teenagers live their lives as if they have 9 and also compares the lives of nine teeangers whose lives are linked together. I started out planning a horror story and then decided it wasn't my scene though it would have been easier to write because there is a degree of suspension of disbelief when you handle horror stories.

The story that I finally wrote in 6 days of frantic typing and thinking at the keyboard is a transformational novel, a simple story of how a 15 year old in Malaysia copes with growing up, friends, life at home and in school. So the challenge was how to make it interesting and may the story speak for itself. More challenging to me if you realize I am 52 years old and my eldest son is as old as you. As I wrote it, I never knew what the next line would be, thank god, it just flowed onto the keyboard. I think it was a culmination of memories and experience with handling young people for years and years.

My first critic was my 14 year old son who said, "Hmmm, mum, at times you sound like a 50 year old trying to be a 15 year old and at times you sound like a 15 year old who talks like a 50 year old." Only youth can give me a forthright answer like that. Now he has the cheek to ask for 10% of the prize money. Anyway I handed in my manuscript with half an hour to spare to closing deadline and in pouring rain. I never knew whether it made it in time cos I had to hand it in at the reception and they promised to get it there on the table before closing so I spent the last 6 months wondering if I ever made it to the closing date. Now I know.
Must have been an excruciating 6 months! Her effort is truly an amazing one. Every one who hears six days can't help but gape and go, "Waaaaah!" Deadlines truly are wonderful things. But I wouldn't want to cut it too close like she did when submitting the story!

Wednesday, 12 July 2006

Hadiah Sastera Kumpulan Utusan.

I'm a few days behind on this but the winners of the Hadiah Sastera Kumpulan Utusan (Utusan Group Literature Prize) 2005 have recently been announced. Of most interest to me are the winners for the newly-added English Novel category:

First Prize (RM6,000)
Fridge Horror (Ti Chin Han)

Second Prize (RM4,000)
The Curse (Lee Su Ann)

Third Prize (RM3,000)
Nine Lives (Teoh Choon Ean)

The article doesn't mention if the winners got a publishing contract though. Why do all the stories sound like they're in the horror genre? Hmm...

Anyways, congratulations to the winners!

Via Nisah.

UPDATE 1:
She may not have had the scoop, but Sharon gets the human interest angle :)

UPDATE 2:
If you tried commenting on this post before and got an error saying "a blog administrator has blocked all comments on this post", try again. Have fixed that problem. What a nuisance Blogger can be sometimes.

Tuesday, 11 July 2006

The Consequence of Cheaper Books.

There is an article in the Star today that says cheaper books will boost reading. And sure enough, in the article there are interviews with teachers and students who say they will buy more books if only they weren't so costly. I have no doubt about that.

However--though I think it's great that there's a chance book prices will be coming down--I do not think it will be of much help in my case. I already buy 3 or 4 books a month. That makes the number around 48 books per year. (This does not include the purchases from warehouse sales.) I'm a very slow reader, so out of those 48, I'll probably be able to finish around, say, 15 books (and that's being optimistic!) per year. What I fear is, these soon-to-be book-buying fiends will face the same problem I am having--the lack of time for reading so many purchased books.

So here I would like to also request that the government not only lower the price of books, but could they also please bend or stretch the time continuum, so we could have more time to read these soon-to-be cheaper books? Or we could attempt to steal time. Like from the mountains or the sea or something. I suggest we start at Sabak Bernam. They have lots of time there. They wouldn't miss it if we took some for reading.

Xeus and Marshalling Publicity.

I love reading Xeus's blog posts--they're always full of neat info. The latest post is about her efforts to garner publicity for Dark City in newspapers and magazines:
My main problem on doing publicity for my book is that I'm a pseudonym, and I refuse when they want a picture of me. For them, no picture = no interview. And so I strain myself coming up with angles on how they can feature me. For the press, it's all about the angle of the story, otherwise you'd have to contend with a book review.
Do also read the comments section where Yvonne Lee (The Sky Is Crazy) and Lydia Teh (Life's Like That) chime in with their 2sen's worth.

Monday, 10 July 2006

Short-Form Writing Competition.

Gather.com has a short story competition up, with the winners's stories having the opportunity to be featured and sold on Amazon.com:
Today through Saturday, September 30, Gather members can submit 2,000- to 10,000-word original entries. Each month, the three highest-rated entries, along with a fourth entry selected by the Gather Editorial Team, will have the opportunity to be sold on Amazon.com!
These stories will be sold via the Amazon Shorts program.

I think I shall be entering this contest. I may already have a
suitable story for it!

Guardian Reviews Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman.

First review I've seen anywhere for "Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman":
The more one reads of Murakami, the odder this becomes. Initially it can seem like a simple bad case of name-dropping, but there is an obsessiveness about it which has its own energy. Like Don DeLillo, Murakami is a writer whose characters often act out of character, functioning as voicepieces for the author's own passions; but unlike DeLillo, whose passions are homegrown, Murakami is forever looking elsewhere. He writes around his country as if he means to cut a hole the size of Japan in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
The anticipation is unbearable!

UPDATE 1:
The Guardian may be the first review I've seen, but the Australians were much quicker.

UPDATE 2:
Gah! Barely past twenty-five and already becoming forgetful. I posted another review ages ago!

Sunday, 9 July 2006

Building Hype, Movie-style.

Andre Mayer writes about trailers for books for CBC.ca:
The notion of promoting a book like a movie might seem anathema to readers who feel that literature is too refined to borrow the garish devices of the film industry. Judith Keenan may well be the originator of the practice. In 1994, U.S. publishing house Hyperion was preparing for the stateside release of Amnesia, the debut novel by Canadian writer Douglas Cooper. Keenan was working at a PR agency in New York City at the time, when she came up with a radical idea. Taking advantage of Cooper’s theatre training, Keenan shot a three-and-a-half-minute short film of Cooper reading the text — dramatically, of course — underscored by music from Canadian singer-songwriter Jane Siberry. The clip was included in electronic press kits for the book and even aired in television reports about Cooper.

Friday, 7 July 2006

Science Fiction is the Only Literature People Care Enough About to Steal on the Internet.

Cory Doctorow, of Boing Boing fame, discusses why authors should embrace the internet and start finding ways to start a conversation with their readers:
I've discovered what many authors have also discovered: releasing electronic texts of books drives sales of the print editions. An SF writer's biggest problem is obscurity, not piracy. Of all the people who chose not to spend their discretionary time and cash on our works today, the great bulk of them did so because they didn't know they existed, not because someone handed them a free e-book version.

More Lit, Less Grammar, Vocab and all that nonsense.

There is a call to expand the literature component in the English language school syllabus in The Star. (Our Star, not the one in Dunedine. Nor am I referring to Proxima Centauri.)

Quoth the owl:
I suspect the whole problem lies in the English language school syllabus and the way it is taught. I think we would be able to make people write well if we expanded the Literature component and forgot about teaching grammar, comprehension, vocabulary, and the works.

Just concentrate on Literature and writing. People are unable to write in English because they don’t think in the language. Lacking practice makes it very difficult to write. Once people start to read and write, everything will fall into place. They will understand sentence structure. No amount of grammar lessons will make people understand syntax.
I don't totally agree with that no-grammar-vocab-comprehension thing, but this nocturnal mouse-eater does have a point.

John Ling gets a Star in Dunedin.

Our very own John Ling, author of Fourteen Bullets, was interviewed recently by The Star in Dunedine, New Zealand. (Sorry, no direct link; they have no web presence apparently.) In the article the thriller author laments of being a writer in Malaysia:
Ling says an English best seller there is only 1000 copies and to say you are a writer provokes questions of what are you doing with your life.

“The first thing people ask you in Malaysia when they meet you is ‘how much money do you make?'” Ling said. “Here in New Zealand, you say you are a writer and they say 'that is great'.

“The culture in Malaysia is so geared to career, no-one has time to read."
John Ling also explains how he manages to write about such worldly events:
Ling said he does a lot of research but all stories are about conflict, of one sort or another, and why people write is to readdress the conflicts in their own lives. He was chased by wild dogs when he was six on his grandfather's estate and transposed the feelings to write one of the short stories in Fourteen Bullets which is about a Bosnian escaping sniper fire.
Good going, John! His book, Fourteen Bullets, can be found in MPH 1Utama and MPH MidValley, and probably some other MPHes too, but I didn't check.

UPDATE:
Oops, John tells me they do have web presence. D'oh!

Malaysian International Literature Society.

So I assume you've heard that Raman of Silverfish Books is setting up the Malaysian International Literature Society (MILS. What? Stop that sniggering! At least it's not as bad as KLit...).

Their objectives are to promote reading and writing, organising lit events, y'know, those sort of stuff.
Their first task is to organise the 2nd Kuala Lumpur International Literary Festival in 2007.

The pro tem committee:

President: Prof Lim Chee Seng
Vice-president: Datin Kanagam Palanivel
Secretary: Mr Raman Krishnan
Asst Secretary: Ms Yeoh Phek Chin
Treasurer: Mr Mathew Thomas
Auditor1: Ms Nesa Sivagnanam
Auditor2: Ms Sheila Rahman


That's all well and great... but who are these people? Are they writers? Well, yes and no. Are they readers? Of course!

Many will recognise Prof. Lim Chee Seng, a professor of literature at UM. He is a published writer but his work has mostly been academic text, such as "Challenges of Reading the New & the Old", and "Perspectives: Essays on Language & Literature".

Datin Kanagam Palanivel is the wife of Datuk G. Palanivel, who recently made news for winning the post of the deputy and anointed successor of the MIC president. She is an avid reader herself, and loves writing. She has published a series of books for pre-schoolers called the Pet Series. She has also been involved in the publication of a local magazine, Junior, later called Junior Statesman. If memory serves me correctly, she also has a column in The Star (but I'm really unsure of this and I'm too lazy to go and check).

Raman Krishnan is some bloke in Bangsar.
Yeoh Phek Chin works with Raman at Silverfish Books (and cameos on Sharon's blog once in a while).

Nesa Sivagnanam is a subeditor at The Edge Daily, and was the editor of the recently released "25 Malaysian Short Stories".

Mr Mathew Thomas and Ms Sheila Rahman, however, remain off the Google radar. They have left no internet trail at all! They must really be off-the-grid people, or maybe they just don't throw their names around on the internet with reckless abandon like I do. (I know if I dig far enough, I can find my name on a webpage from 1996.) Anyhow, I'm sure they're cronies of Raman too.

It all sounds so interesting and I hope this takes off well (snobbery aside).

UPDATE:
sympozium writes that Mathew Thomas is a lawyer in KL and has a story published in 25 "Malaysian Short Stories". I assume that would mean he has a story in one of the Silverfish New Writing books?

Wednesday, 5 July 2006

Lydia Teh at Fusion View.

Lydia Teh (author of Life's Like That) guestblogs on Yang-May Ooi's blog, Fusion View. She shares with us how she writes and how to get published in Malaysia, as well as the experience of being read:
It is gratifying to have perfect strangers tell me they enjoy reading my articles in the newspapers. It puts paid to the lonely hours spent in front of the computer, shaping a piece of writing into something that will entertain and inform in a way that will connect with readers.

Temporary Template Switch.

I was updating the links on my blog today when the office network connection decided to hiccup, allowing Blogger to swallow half of my lovely cow template. Fortunately, I have a backup (an older version, but it'll have to do) at home which I can restore to. But that'll have to wait till later. In the meantime, I'll just go along with one of Blogger's default templates.

What a nuisance!

Moral of the story:
Always keep a recent template backup in your Gmail account -_-"

UPDATE:
All okay now.

Tuesday, 4 July 2006

Litstalls.

This story at Ludhiana Newsline reminds me a little of Chowrasta Bazaar in George Town, Penang:
Five book sellers put up their wares for sale at Ghanta Ghar and Chaura Bazaar and if you are lucky you can get some priceless books just for peanuts. Scour a little through the piles and piles of these second-hand books and magazines and you can find J Krishnamurthy, Richard Bach, Nancy Friday, John Grishham, James Hardley Chase, Mario Puzo, Robert Ludlum and many others. And if still luckier you can get these novels for as less as Rs 10 to Rs 30.

On Promoting Books Online.

In the comments section of this post, Lydia Teh asks how one would market a book online. I really can't say, because I have no experience on such matters. Perhaps Anthony Thornton, author of the book, "The Libertines: Bound Together" can shed us some light on the matter.

The book is about the band, The Libertines, and they were pioneers among other musicians in the age of internet, releasing versions of their songs on the web and embraced communicating with their fans through email. In an article at the Times, Thornton tells us that he decided to market the book with this spirit in mind, and he started with the website of the book:
Sure, other books have had webpages but often they are perfunctory. And as a former editor of the music website nme.com, I knew I had to do something different. Bound Together would have its own site: pages from the book showing Roger Sargent’s intimate photographs of the band; quotes that served as previews; and a countdown to its publication — days, hours, minutes and seconds. It made the book’s appearance an event.
But things really took off when he registered the book on MySpace:
I imagined that interest would be minimal — after all, the book wasn’t due out for two months and no one knew it was coming. In the course of the first week a handful of people “made friends” with the book: close mates, hardcore Libertines fans and those who stumbled on it by mistake (some looking for De Sade sites). I sent a message to each one thanking them: it was a simple courtesy. Suddenly, it mushroomed: first there were five people a day, then 10, then 15 then 25 people wanting to be “friends” with the book. Some asked questions: each received a reply. All my spare hours were spent talking to people who seemed almost as excited about the publication as I was.

Two weeks before publication, the book hit Amazon’s Top Ten bestselling pre-orders.
So his secret was a cool website and generating buzz in an online community portal? Man, how does he make it sound so easy?

On boxing and talking in signs.

There's a feature on Marcel Theroux, eldest son of Paul Theroux, in today's Star (can't find the online link to that, but here's one from the Telegraph), and there's an interesting bit about what the effects of his father's book, "My Secret History", had on him. The book is an account of Paul Theroux's extra-marital affairs and understandably, it didn't have a good reaction with his family:
"Um… it was pretty tough. I don't think any account of one's parents having sex is something that a child would choose to read… Zero, frankly, is the amount you want to know about that… I did feel protective of my mother, but I didn't really resent it at the time because I bought my dad's line that it was fiction and nothing to do with his own life. However, I can't say I feel the same way now."

Monday, 3 July 2006

English, August by Upamanyu Chatterjee.

The New York Times has a review of Upamanyu Chatterjee's 1988 cult classic, "English, August", which has just reached US shores for the first time:
Upamanyu Chatterjee's "English, August," was first published in India in 1988. The story of a young civil servant posted to a fictional rural town, it was hailed as the country's "Catcher in the Rye" — a novel that captured the zeitgeist of the 1980's, when India was uncertainly emerging from decades of economic isolation and ill-conceived socialism. Now, nearly two decades later, "English, August" is at last being published in America. The long wait, and the fact that, although Chatterjee writes in English, he still works and lives in India, confer a certain legitimacy upon his book. In a market dominated by cosmopolitan authors and fusion prose, "English, August" is being presented, in the words of one admirer, as "the 'Indianest' novel in English that I know of."
Related links:

Do you believe in evil?

What is the importance of evil in plot? Do you believe in evil? Melly from All Kinds of Writing discusses:
I do envy those who can imagine evil, pure evil, in any form - physical, mental, metaphysical etc. They have more options. I now know why I tend to stick with science-fiction (oh, I can certainly imagine scientific things, or future societies) and mainstream (I can also imagine different, quirky, "evil" human behaviour).

At the same time, I have a hard time with horror/fantasy/religious concepts in my writing because of my very realistic, pragmatic world view.
I believe in evil, but I also believe the definition of evil differs from individual to individual.

Sunday, 2 July 2006

Frangipani by Célestine Vaite.

It's my lovely girlfriend's birthday today, and I bought for her one of those cute bookmarks with a nice (but admittedly corny) saying on it, along with a book for her to put the bookmark in. The book is entitled Frangipani, by Célestine Vaite, which is about a:
...proud "professional cleaner" Materena Mahi, one of the spunkiest, wisest, lovingest women on the island of Tahiti. With her combustible husband missing after a minor domestic squabble, Materena learns she's pregnant with a daughter. What will she do?
Oh, I don't know, get on with her life, I suppose. Anyway, the book sounds like something my girl will like, which I hope she does.

Happy birthday, sayang!

Saturday, 1 July 2006

Browsing Through Borders.

Had some free time so I dropped by the Borders at the Curve this afternoon. Browsing through the shelves and leafing through the books that catch my eye makes me go through a plethora of emotions: envy, because all these writers are good enough to be published; sadness, because I'm not at that level yet; determination, because I want to become as good as them; joy, because I often find gems while browsing; and anger, because the books are so expensive! Phew! It's so tiring!

So I'm browsing through the shelves, going through each emotion in random order, when my father calls and tells me the news. Raja Ahmad says his editing committee have read my story (mentioned here, and here), and they love it. Hooray! Apparently the story, about a couple's trip to Kuala Kangsar, is "a physical story, but has deep, inner meaning".

I have no idea what that means but it sounds great! Certainly more so, considering that I only had the time to hammer out a first draft. I haven't reread it since, but I'm guessing once I do, I'll be wincing and grimacing till my jaws ache. More details on the story and when and where it gets published later.

Ooh, and I bought for myself two books: Xeus's Dark City and Naomi Novik's His Majesty's Dragon.

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