Wednesday, 27 September 2006

Reading SO not cool, says uncool guy.

I'd have to agree with Eyeris on this:
Reading is cool, ok? It makes you look intellectual, and shows you actually have a brain beneath all that gelled dyed hair. Oklar, maybe in your eyes being seen with a book is not as cool as being seen in some Beemer or a SLK; but heck, I'd rather be able to strike up a conversation with a girl PROPERLY, rather than just sidling up to her and going, "Hey, How you doing? Wanna take a ride in my SLK?". How shallow did you think she is?

Yorkshire Moors Bores.

I'm surprised to read that while Diane Setterfield's debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale, is doing good and has sold 70k copies in the US in the first week of its launch, British sales have been far from remarkable at only 600 copies sold in that same week.

Is it because the British are sick of reading about the exploits of crazy women running about in the rain on the moors of Yorkshire? Do gothic novels bore the pants off people? Aw, come on... Jane Eyre and Rebecca weren't so bad, were they?

Nancy Yi Fan's Swordbird.

It sounds almost too good to be true. A Chinese 11-year-old kid writes a fantasy novel about warring birds. She submits it to a US publisher (who usually doesn't accept unagented submissions) and they agree to publish it.

Kid must be a freaking genius. I'm jealous:
Born in Beijing in 1993, Fan lived in New York with her parents from the age of seven, graduating 'with excellence' from an elementary school there in 2004. When she was in sixth grade, at the age of 11, she was taught about terrorism and the events of 9/11. That night, she explains, she had a startling dream all about birds at war and the next day she started writing Swordbird in her bedroom as a way of trying to convey her worries about violence in the world. She now lives back in China, on the beautiful Hainan Island with her parents and their three pet birds. The girl, now 13, is a compulsive writer and reader who spends most of her time in the library, but she also loves bird-watching and martial arts.
This Fan reminds me a little of Matilda... except maybe she doesn't have any telekinetic powers.

I have to admit, I'm curious to read Swordbird. What's interesting to me about this is they don't bill it as a children's book, not even YA... so is it something for adults? Who's their target market? What's so great about it? Unfortunately, we'll only find out in 2007. Damn.

Tuesday, 26 September 2006

Murakami Bags Frank O'Connor.

Nice to know that Murakami won the Frank O'Conner International Short Story Prize, and is sharing the booty with his translators, Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel.

Monday, 25 September 2006

It's Banned Books Week!

From the American Library Association:
Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read is observed during the last week of September each year. Observed since 1982, this annual ALA event reminds Americans not to take this precious democratic freedom for granted. This year, 2006, marks BBW's 25th anniversary (September 23-30).

BBW celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them. After all, intellectual freedom can exist only where these two essential conditions are met.
Of course, as Malaysians, we don't have that much democratic or intellectual freedom, but we do have more of it than some nations. I guess that's something to be thankful for. More intellectual freedom would be nice though.

It'd be great if our government stopped treating us like children for once and let us decide what's good for us and what's not. John Ling says it's our own fault, we're the ones who voted for this government. But that's the thing - I didn't vote for the government we have now. (And at least I went to vote in the last election unlike most of my generation.)

Ranting aside, to celebrate the 25th Banned Books Week, Google Book Search has a list of banned books you can browse and search through. Pretty damn neat. More banned books on Wikipedia if you're interested in building your own library of banned books. Nice to know I've got quite a number of these banned books.

Via The Librarything Blog.

Sunday, 24 September 2006

Faster Than Fast.

It's Ramadan.
I've resolved to stay far away.
Far away from bookstores.
For the duration of Ramadan.
I'm fasting all right.
I'm fasting from buying books.
Wish me luck.

Saturday, 23 September 2006

Readings.

Seems everytime I go in the direction of Bangsar, it rains. And boy, does it rain. Visibly was really bad on the NPE at around 3pm. The rain eased a little when I got near the Bangsar LRT station, but traffic just decided not to move, so I got stuck there for a while. Might have reached this month's Readings at Seksen's 67 Lorong Tempinis on time if it weren't for the jam. But then again, I probably wouldn't have come at all in the first place.

Azman, the Streamyx contractor had called me a couple of weeks earlier to tell me that he and his Gang of Installers would be paying me a visit on the 23rd to get my wireless internet up and running. (Irony paid a visit too when Maxis dropped a leaflet in the mailbox announcing the arrival of their new wired broadband plan this morning. I hate Puchong.) He said they would come at 4pm, right when Readings would be scheduled. Thank goodness he decided to come a little earlier, so that was how I found myself in Bangsar for the Readings.

I came in while Patricia Sykes was reading her poems. I loved Amir Hafizi's story about his father, and he's an absolutely wonderful reader. Joy read an excerpt from her play, which I thought was interesting because of the subject matter but I wished she had read it in prose form (but that's just me, yo).

Faridah Abdul Manaf (author of The Art of Naming) made a surprise appearance and read some of her poems. She only read briefly, because she was on her way out. Xeus read "One If By Land" from Dark City, and Aneeta Sundararaj read "Brought Back to Life" from Snapshots!

I thought this session was quite good, but I'm jealous Sharon got a hardcopy of Amir's story! Also met some lovely (and drunk) people too. Yay!

Friday, 22 September 2006

REVIEW: The Darkness of Wallis Simpson by Rose Tremain

Some authors were made to write novel-length prose. Some were born to write words in short story chunks. Then there are those who manage to do both well. I'm not sure which categorisation Rose Tremain would fit in - if one would even dare to do so - but let me take a gamble: I have a sneaking suspicion she belongs in the first category.

Having won the Whitbread Novel of the Year in 1996 for Music and Silence and received praising reviews for her latest novel, The Colour, Rose Tremain is undeniably a good novelist. It was with this knowledge I armed myself with before expecting to enjoy her latest collection of twelve short stories, The Darkness of Wallis Simpson.

The title story imagines the last years of Wallis Simpson, the twice-divorced American who King Edward VIII abdicated for in 1936. Tremain takes this true story and spins it into a tale filled with whimsy and irony.

Wallis Simpson is dying but why can she only remember her first two husbands - one abusive the other kind yet boring - but not her third, world-famous husband? Her lawyer, Maitre Suzanne Blum, forces her to remember but it only ends in frustration: "Wallise! Talk to me. Don't pretend anymore. Pretence is so ungrateful! He gave up an Empire for you. An Empire! And you pretend to remember nothing. But I 'ave sworn to myself I shall not rest, I shall not return to my legal practice nor go again into the world until you admit to me that do remember."

The other stories take their cue from the initial story and continue the theme of loss, divorce, family, longing, etc. such as in "The Beauty of the Dawn Shift", concerning a guard on the east side of the Berlin Wall finding the familiarity of the old regime threatened by the looming threat of capitalism when Germany reunites. He cycles across a wintery Poland hoping to find his past in Russia: "Since childhood, he'd admired the stern ways of his country, and he hoped to find these still prevailing in Russia."

This story, along with some of the other stories, like "The Ebony Hand" about a spinster who has to take care of her niece; "The Over-Ride", about a man who as a child, loved to sit outside an apartment of a musician couple; and "Moth", about a baby who grows wings, are the ones that make the book worth a read.

The other stories seem only to act as filler, and are oft times uninspired and meandering. In "Nativity Story", her annoying use of adverbs even mars the story flow:
" 'Oh, nothing,' he said vaguely. 'She's just having her baby.'
'Having her what?' I said stupidly."

Ultimately though, it is Rose Tremain's ability to weave wonderful prose about the fragility of the human condition - frequently taking place in an understated historical moment in time - that manage to make this collection worth at least a read.

Wednesday, 20 September 2006

Enter the Copywriter!

There is nothing I want to blog about today. Except for this.

Tuesday, 19 September 2006

ARRRR!!!

Avast ye scallywags! Today be International Talk Like a Pirate Day! ARRRR!!!

So why not ye drag along a buxom wench and a barrel o' rum, and read the books of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson and Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie?

It'll do ye a world of good, ye scurvy dog, or it's the plank for ye!

ARRRRR!!!

Monday, 18 September 2006

When Books Need Policies.

I was alerted by Sharon's post about the Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim planning to submit a proposal to revise the National Book Policy yesterday, and two questions immediately came to mind.

1) We have a National Book Policy?
2) What does the National Book Policy say about books anyway?

Since I don't have the time to drop by my favourite legal bookstore (probably because I don't know where to find one) to get myself a copy of the latest edition of Dasar Buku Negara, I did a little googling around and this is what I found:

The National Book Policy was approved by the Cabinet in 1985 and was drafted to ensure that
  • books in the Malay language play an effective role as as a tool for the development of the social and cultural mind in line with the country's needs and ambition;
  • books are enjoyed by all levels of society in this country;
  • people in this country have a strong interest in reading;
  • books published in this country achieve a high standard both in content as well as in its physical form.
I can't imagine what sort of optimism the drafters of this policy were choking on back in '85, but the effects couldn't have lasted long. As we all know, the recent survey found that us Malaysians only read a whopping 2 books per year. So much for the third item in the National Book Policy.

So now, after having spent millions on library roofs, the government wants to put its foot down and get serious. They're taking out their fingers and pointing it at everyone they can point it at.

"The previous book policy," Rais Yatim says, "had not succeeded because there had been no concerted effort by booksellers to promote local books."

And not because the government didn't really do anything about it themselves and we don't want to blame ourselves because we're politicians and we hate taking the blame like REAL MEN, he failed to add.

"Publishers can find creative methods of branding, positioning and marketing books at affordable prices to significantly encourage the reading habit," Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said.

"Ouch," MPH CEO Datuk Ng Tieh Chuan probably said to himself. And by right he should.

Because not only does MPH promote local books by staging readings, meet-the-author events and talks, they're very willing to promote a local author by placing their books in prominent places in their outlets.

The other bookstores aren't lax in promoting local authors either. I've seen local books - ones in Malay no less - being displayed prominently in Popular, Borders and Kinokuniya. Sure, some of the bookstores need a little push now and then, and certainly things can be improved, but blaming the failure of the policy wholly on booksellers seems a little harsh to me.

Most Malaysian readers - those who definitely read more than two books per year - when asked to comment about the new revision to the policy said, "What's the difference? It's going to mostly benefit people who read Malay books and those books are already cheap anyway."

Others said, "the new tax incentive sounds cool. Now if I only brought home an above-RM2500 salary to take advantage of it."

What do I say?

Whatever. Go build a new library roof, Dr. Rais Yatim.

The Art of Cover Design.

Found this interview with Paul Buckley, the art director for book cover design at Penguin US via Boingboing. The awesome cover for the US edition of Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics is his handiwork, and its much better than the yuckworthy UK edition:


(left: US edition, right: UK edition)

In the interview, he mentions commissioning the work of artists such as Frank Miller (Sin City), Art Spiegelman (Maus) and Chester Brown (Yummy Fur), which really give the book covers a cool edge, such as this edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover for the Penguin Classics Deluxe imprint:

Now, that's a book worth owning just for the cover alone.

So I went to the Times Warehouse Sale...

Been busy of late (which is why I'm blogging and doing my laundry at 3am), but I did manage to take time off to visit the Times Warehouse Sale. I couldn't resist... I blame mum.

Loads of good books to be had for RM8 each, which I don't know is a good thing or a bad thing.

Anyway, managed to drag myself away with:
  1. The Viceroy of Ouidah by Bruce Chatwin
  2. Ten Novels and Their Authors by W. Somerset Maugham
  3. number9dream by David Mitchell
  4. Literary Occasions: Essays by V.S. Naipaul
  5. The Tiger in the Well by Philip Pullman
  6. The Book That Changed My Life edited by Diane Osen
  7. Sideways by Rex Pickett
  8. Women of the Silk by Gail Tsukiyama
  9. The Language of Threads by Gail Tsukiyama
  10. Just a Geek by Wil Wheaton

Friday, 15 September 2006

Booker Prize Shortlist Coverage.

And the Booker Prize shortlist nominees are:

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
The Secret River by Kate Grenville
Carry Me Down by M.J. Hyland
In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar
Mother’s Milk by Edward St Aubyn
The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

Links:

This month's readings at Lorong Tempinis Satu.

From Sharon:
The next "Readings" in our monthly series of readings will be held next Saturday, 23rd September, 2006, with the aim of showcasing local writers and encouraging new talent. We have a very exciting and varied line-up for you, so come and join us for an afternoon of words, wit and wine!

Reading this time:

Jit Murad
Aneeta Sundararaj
Xeus
Patricia Sykes
Amir Hafizi
Joy Teh

Time: 3.30pm
Date: 23rd September 2006
Place: 67, Lorong Tempinis Satu, Lucky Garden, Bangsar (for directions check www.seksan.com)

"Readings" is initiated by Bernice Chauly, and is currently organized by Sharon Bakar and made possible by the gracious sponsorship of Seksan from 67 Tempinis Satu and La Bodega.

Sharon Bakar Writer/ teacher hp: 012-6848835
sbakar@streamyx.com
http://thebookaholic.blogspot.com

Thursday, 14 September 2006

Interview with a Literary Agent.

Why does an author need an agent? Aneeta Sundararaj interviews literary agent, Janet Grant:
The publishing world is an ever-changing universe, with personnel changes and publishing houses buying other publishing houses. It’s almost dizzying to keep track of all the changes. A literary agent is like a still-point in a turning universe. Once you secure an agent, that person will hopefully guide you through your entire career, helping you to decide what you’ll write next, placing your work with the appropriate house, and dealing with the business side of publishing, which frees you up to concentrate on the creative side. And when things go wrong—as they inevitably will—your agent is there to step in and to help resolve the problem.
Do also check out Janet Grant's website.

Times Year End Warehouse Sale.

Just when you thought your wallet was safe... I received the following information in an email from the lovely Laydiefa:
Times The Bookshop is organizing its year end warehouse sale.

Details are as follows:

Date: 15th Sept - 24th Sept 2006 (15th Sept - TPC Member Special Preview)
Time: 12pm - 8pm (preview & weekday); 10am - 8pm (weekend)
Contact: 012-608 3569
Venue: 2nd Floor, Dataran Hamodal, Block A, (behind Colgate), Jln Bersatu 13/4, Seksyen 13, 46200, PJ

Please PRESENT your TPC card upon entering for the preview day.
And here's a map:


Those peeps at Times are truly evil! It's bad enough we've all spent our lifesavings at Payless earlier in the month, why would anyone want to hold a warehouse sale at the end of the month when the salary's been squandered?!? They always do this!!!

*jumps up and down raging and seething*

How does it feel to be a literary sensation?

I've waxed lyrical over Diane Setterfield's Thirteenth Tale before, and now that her book is out in both US (released two days ago) and UK, the book's publisher's marketing machine is at full force. With her book auctioned off for $1m in the US and £800,000 in the UK, it's no surprise the publishers are making sure they'll be getting their investment back.

But how is the author getting on now that she's had her first novel published (and is richer)? From the Yorkshire Post:
"I do miss the washing up – it was part of my quiet afternoon time when I was allowed to think," she says, adding: "I do miss writing very badly."
I'm nearly halfway through her book, and there isn't one bit at all I don't like about it so far...

Wednesday, 13 September 2006

Happy Roald Dahl Day!

Between the ages of 5 and 10, I lived with my parents in the city of Bath. I was sent to a school called Moorlands Infant School (later Junior), which claimed to be built on the grounds of the house where Anna Sewell, author of Black Beauty, lived. The school logo was a stylised black horse, preparing to jump.

It was here I first discovered Roald Dahl. I don't remember which teacher read it to us in class; perhaps it was Ms. Telliere with her impossible to spell French name, or was it Mr. Peak, who always got angry at me for not wanting to write my weekend diary? I'm not even sure which Roald Dahl story was read, but I have a sneaking suspicion it was The Magic Finger.

I must have told my dad about it when I came home that day because the next thing I knew Dad came home with more Roald Dahl books - Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, Fantastic Mr. Fox, BFG, The Witches.

In school we were thought to love reading, and I learned to love reading Roald Dahl.

My most important Roald Dahl memory takes place in 1989, right after the launch of Roald Dahl's last book of rhymes, Rhyme Stew, and about a year before he died. In conjunction with the launch, Roald Dahl himself had come to Bath, and here he was in Waterstones, signing copies of his book.

I remember there were a lot of people, and the queue to the table where he sat ran from the back of the store to the front, out to the street. I think he was in a grumpy mood that day, or maybe he was just tired having to sign all these people's books. When he frowned, his large forehead furled, revealing a huge amount of wrinkles. He was an intimidating man when he did that.

I still have my signed copy of Rhyme Stew. It's in a box somewhere in my mother's house, along with the rest of my books from childhood, but maybe one day, I'll be able to dig it out and read it again. Though I don't like the book itself as much as I do Revolting Rhymes and Dirty Beasts, it still holds a special place as a memento of my meeting Roald Dahl in person.

I don't remember what I said to him that day, but I like to think I said something to the effect of "Thank you for giving us your stories, Mr. Dahl. Thank you for delighting us." And it's what I want to tell him today if I could meet him.

Happy Roald Dahl Day, everyone!

More on Roald Dahl:

Tuesday, 12 September 2006

Tomorrow is Roald Dahl Day!

13th September is Roald Dahl's birthday, and tomorrow he would have celebrated his 90th birthday. Plans are afoot for a worldwide celebration and MPH is thankfully joining in on the fun:
Roald Dahl’s Birthday Celebration
Celebrate the birthday of the infamous Roald Dahl, author of various bestselling books including Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Matilda, BFG and Fantastic Mr. Fox. There will be lots of children activities such as story telling, colouring contest, quizzes, word games and most importantly lots of prizes to be won! So make sure you bring your friends along that day!

MPH MidValley: 16 September, 2.00-3.00pm
MPH 1Utama: 23 September, 2.00-3.00pm
Parents can sit at ease that I won't be jumping out of the shelves and guerrilla-reading stories from Switch Bitch or excerpts from Uncle Oswald's diary. Perhaps on his 100th birthday.

Monday, 11 September 2006

My Sunday.

Went to Xeus's talk at MPH MidValley yesterday. Finally got to meet Lydia Teh and Yvonne Lee, and along with Xeus, we chatted a bit before Xeus started her talk. It was great meeting you guys!

Xeus talked about the ways of making money from writing (query newspaper and magazine editors because they're always up for interesting stories or features for their lifestyle or expertise sections), her experience writing Dark City (took her two months to finish the first draft), and what she has in store for the future (a children's book, of which a synopsis is available on her blog).

I also got for myself a copy of Diane Setterfield's Thirteenth Tale, which is absolutely amazing. I wasn't planning on reading this just yet, but while I was waiting for Xeus's talk to begin, I read the first page... and well, I couldn't stop reading it. Have had to ditch Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies aside for now 'cause I've been totally sucked in.

The book is a love-letter to books and reading; the protaganist is the daughter of an antiquarian bookstore owner, and she's an amateur biographer who admits to a preference of talking with dead people by reading the books written by them. Throw in a prolific writer with a mysterious past - "the Dickens of our time" - and is famous for publishing a much-publicised book called "Thirteen Tales" but strangely contains only twelve, and have her request the protaganist to interview her out of the blue. That's the premise of The Thirteenth Tale.

Setterfield's prose just grabs you and you just want to go along for the ride and not wanting it to stop... and... well, you get the picture. The book's just good.

Check out the official website, or the Amazon page.

My Payless Haul.

I went on Saturday. Woke up late - was very tired that day - and ended up going there around 3pm. It rained half-way there. And heavily too. Visibly was very low and I could barely see the bonnet, what more the cars in front of me. We managed to reach YMCA hall safely, was even lucky enough to get a parking space in that heavy rain. And yet, we couldn't get out of the car to walk to the hall. Not because we didn't have an umbrella, but because the car park was flooded with water rising 2 inches high! So we stayed in the car for a while, listening to the Dixie Chicks singing "I Hope", waiting for the rain to stop.

I didn't want us to wade through the water. My shoes would've survived, of course, but my gf's shoes wouldn't have. And I couldn't drive back out and send her to the hall first for fear of losing my parking space. So in the end, I managed to reverse the car a bit to where the ground was a little higher and wasn't flooded, let my gf out, then parked my car back in. Phew! And all this for books!

Allow me to introduce the books I bought at the Payless Clearance Sale:
  1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Just realised the book's missing the first 18 pages. Gragh!)
  2. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (Apparently a 1962 edition.)
  3. The Sportswriter by Richard Ford (but Leon got Independence Day...)
  4. Granta 29 - New World (Didn't browse through it during the sale, but when I brought it home was overjoyed with the pics of Kowloon and the story of how Paul Theroux came to write The Great Railway Bazaar.)
  5. Navigating the Darwin Straits by Edith Forbes (I liked the cover...)
  6. Where the Road Bottoms Out by Victoria Redel (Ditto.)
  7. The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver (Adventures in a '55 Volkswagen?! Count me in!)
  8. Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver (Since I got The Bean Trees...)
  9. The History of Luminous Motion by Scott Bradfield (The first page sold me.)
  10. The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs (I'm in love with the idea of urban planning.)
  11. Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana Jr. (Read the Classics Illustrated version a loooooong time ago. Probably time for me to read the real deal.)
  12. Bailey's Cafe by Gloria Naylor (First page sold me.)
  13. The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories by Sarah Orne Jewett (I lurrrrve Modern Library Classics. The books are sooo loveable, you just wanna hug 'em and treat them out to lunch. Or something.)
  14. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje (Er. I watched the movie?)
  15. Tours of the Black Clock by Steve Erickson (A man attempts to revive Hitler's lost dream! Gasp!)
  16. Microserfs by Douglas Coupland (Someone left his reading list for Biz Lit 101 from 1998 in this book.)
  17. Further Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin (It's not a Payless sale if I don't get at least one book from the Tales of the City series. Three down, three more to go.

Friday, 8 September 2006

Round-up of Literary Events.

What to do during the weekend?

First there's the Payless Warehouse Sale that's on even as we speak, and lasts till Sunday, 7pm.

Then on Saturday, at MPH MidValley, there'll be some author appearances you should go to and support:

Snapshots by Aneeta Sundaraj, Saradha Sarayanan and A. Jessie Michael
2.00 – 3.00pm, Courtyard

This is a collection of stories that are basically snapshots of everyday life through the authors’ eyes. They are stories designed to appeal to both men and women with no specific theme. Join the authors as they share some of the stories written in the book.

Author Appearance by Faisal Tehrani
4.00 – 5.00pm, Courtyard

Here's your chance to meet one of the biggest names in Malay literature. Join the author of Si Peniup Ney, 1515 Kombat, 1511 and Surat Surat Perempuan Johor as he will be here to share with you some of his literary collection.

Then on Sunday, also at MPH MidValley, Xeus will be making an appearance:

Dark City By Xeus
3.00 – 4.00pm, Courtyard

Here’s a book which draws on the dark and unsavory sides of human nature festering in urban life: sex, murder, rape, abuse, hubris, revenge, greed and unnatural desires are only some of the subjects. The themes are so universal that anyone living in any city in the world would be able to find similar cases in the daily news. Meet the author and hear what she has to say on her experience of writing the book.

REVIEWs: Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman AND In Patagonia.

Do check out my review of Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman in today's StarTwo:

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami

Japanese literary renegade, Haruki Murakami, is well-known as a novelist but not so much for his short stories. He is, in fact, quite prolific when it comes to short stories, and has been writing them since 1980 after he finished his first two novels, Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball. His stories have been published all over the place, from Granta, to the New Yorker, to McSweeny’s. In fact, if you bother to go look for them, you’ll find his stories up online too, available legally and free. Some of these stories have been compiled before into a collection called The Elephant Vanishes. That collection didn’t necessarily represent the best of what he had to offer at the time, and I found it varying in quality and mostly forgettable.

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, translated by Phillip Gabriel and Jay Rubin, gathers together the rest of his short stories written from 1980 to 2005. As with the first collection, the stories vary in quality. Unlike the first collection though, which left me unsatisfied with both the quality and number of stories included, this book not only includes more than twice the stories in Elephant Vanishes but they also range from really good to profound.

Many of the stories are just so good – such as “A Folklore for My Generation”, “Tony Takitani” and “The Kidney-Shaped Stone That Moves Every Day” – I kept finding myself in the predicament of deciding whether to continue reading the other stories first, or to re-read the story I’d just finished reading.

The stories Murakami writes can be considered urban fantasy, phantasmagorical accounts of odd happenings in seemingly normal and usually dull activities. When the narrator in “A ‘Poor Aunt’ Story” discovers that he has a “poor aunt” on his back, all he thinks of it was that: “…it was not an unpleasant situation. She wasn’t especially heavy. She didn’t puff bad breath across my shoulder. She was just stuck there, on my back, like a bleached shadow.” It’s a typical example of the bland reaction and near-indifference to the absurd happenings that befall the characters that inhabit Murakami’s surreal world.

The stories written later in Murakami’s writing career show a noticeable improvement over the earlier stories, when his writing style was still a little clunky, such as when he writes about what death is in “New York Mining Disaster”: “A rabbit is a rabbit whether it springs out of a hat or a wheat field. A hot oven is a hot oven, and the black smoke rising from a chimney is just that – black smoke rising from a chimney.” His earlier stories are overall quite good though, and it’s only wonderful that Murakami’s style has improved with age.

His short stories are a nod to Raymond Carver’s work, but Haruki Murakami adds a lot of his own ingredients to make his style quite unique. With his latest short story collection, Haruki Murakami maintains his reputation as master of the surreal, as well as that of the unreal.
Wonder why the editor chose to use the American cover for the image? The ISBN is for the British edition, and the ones that are currently stocked in bookstores.

Also, a review of the classic travel narrative, In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin at How to Tell a Story:
While Bruce Chatwin, who was working as a journalist for the Sunday Times, was interviewing the then 93-year-old architect and designer, Eileen Gray, he noticed a map of Patagonia on her wall.

"I've always wanted to go there," he said.

"So have I," Gray replied. "Go there for me."

Chatwin immediately left for Patagonia, and when he got there he telegrammed his employers: "Have gone to Patagonia". What follows is an amazing trip, mostly journeyed on foot throughout the south of South America, and the accounts experienced there written down in Chatwin's now-classic In Patagonia.

Thursday, 7 September 2006

North Korean Literature.

Thanks to the Literary Review, I was alerted to the September issue of Words Without Borders, which features "Literature from the Axis of Evil" and includes writing, interviews from and about Iran, Iraq, North Korea and other "evil" nations.

Of interest to me is the North Korean section which has stories from North Korea (whoa!) and an interview with the advisory editor for the North Korean writing, Hayun Jung:
Would you say that there is a "dissident" literature in North Korea at all? Or is there one being produced by writers in exile in South Korea?

There is no channel for dissident writers in NK, if there are any, for publishing their works since all publications are strictly controlled by the Choson Writers Alliance, a chapter of the ruling Workers' Party.

Although only a few North Korean exiles in the South have published memoirs (and not literary works), since there are now almost 8,000 North Korean defectors living in the South and presumably over 50,000 North Koreans who have escaped to China, it is probably only a matter of time before an exile produces a masterful work dissident literature that he/she had been forbidden to work on in the North.
Do also check out the other writings and interviews from the other "evil" nations.

Words Without Borders have also edited an anthology of writings featuring the same title, Literature from the Axis of Evil, published by The New Press.

Wednesday, 6 September 2006

Reminder: Payless Stock Clearance Sale.

Remember hor... this weekend got sale:

Payless Stock Clearance Sale
8 - 10 September
10am - 7pm

(Click on image to enlarge)

Tiger Dedication.

Probably old news to some but I thought this was cool - in Anthony Burgess' Time for a Tiger, the first book in The Malayan Trilogy, there is a dedication. This is unique not only because the other two books in the trilogy don't have dedications but this particular one is written in jawi.

It says:
Kepada sahabat2 saya di Tanah Melayu
which means:
To my friends in Malaya
I'm ashamed to admit that Burgess's jawi penmanship is better than mine.

Also, I found this highly amusing. Overleaf from the dedication is a disclaimer which states:
The Malay state of Lanchap and its town and inhabitants do not really exist.
One of the meanings of the word "lanchap" in Malay is "masturbate". Tee hee! Other meanings include "slippery" or "saying something without meaning to, or by accident" but that's not as immature or funny.

Tuesday, 5 September 2006

On Serialising.

Looks like serialising novels is in vogue again. Harper's is in the game by serialising John Robert Lennon's Happyland:
Lennon cut 30,000 words and one character to fit “Happyland” in Harper’s. (The third of four installments appears in the September issue.) Roger Hodge, the editor of Harper’s, said the magazine had been looking to serialize a novel when he heard from a friend of Lennon’s about “Happyland” being dropped by Norton (the novel's original publisher). “It seemed to me to be a perfect novel to serialize,” Hodge said.
And Penguin's in on it too, though they're taking a different - and in my opinion, more interesting - approach, by releasing Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, a Victorian-era novel about a lady dumped by her fiancĂ© and forced to turn into an adventuress. How it works is, you pay £25, and Penguin will send you an installment, each one a chapter (10 in all), every week, from October to December 2006.

The covers look beautiful, but too bad the story doesn't intrigue me. And the subscription's too steep. I suppose that doesn't cover postage? I think I'll wait till it comes out in traditional paperback form.

Anyways, welcome back to the 19th Century, people! What's old is new again! Makes me want to dig out my Victorian and Edwardian novels and read through them again.

Monday, 4 September 2006

Interview with Karen-Ann Theseira.

Karen-Ann Theseira talks to Aneeta Sundararaj about Book Project 3:
Our project is a project in progress. We will learn, grow and continue to challenge ourselves. We strive to make every book an improvement from the last. We believe there are no bad writers and no bad stories. Everyone is given a sporting chance and due respect. Having said that, I do know we have a responsibility to the paying public as our books must be worthy of the retail price. We must strike a balance.

We don't compete or compare. We just do what we do to the best of our ability. Book 3 is a compilation of fictional stories. Personally, I am very impressed with the level of imagination, originality and creativity in this book. If all goes well, the launch of book 3 will be in Dec. of this year.

Sunday, 3 September 2006

Kinokuniya Sunday.

After the Borders trip yesterday I dropped by my parents's house to say hello (and to get free dinner). Mum said it's been a long time since she visited Kinokuniya. Why not we go there tomorrow, she said. I said, fine.

So that's how I found myself in kinokuniya today, and came back out with another four books. I mentioned how I'm addicted to book buying to my mum, and she said, don't worry, it runs in the family. She added: "Better a creative mess at home, then an idle neatness."

Yay! It's great when your mum justifies your book buying spree!

Anyways, the spoils:

The Overcoat and Other Tales of Good and Evil by Nicolai V. Gogol
I blame Jhumpa Lahiri for this one.

Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words by Jay Rubin
I wanted to get Norwegian Wood but they didn't have that in the British edition so I bought this instead.

No god but God by Reza Azlan
I have a love-hate relationship with the Message of Peace. Once in a while I read non-fiction books about it.

Malay Society: Transformation & Democratisation by Khoo Kay Kim
Research material for a novel I'm writing.

I also checked the KinoNavi for Anthony Burgess's The Long Day Wanes (The Malayan Trilogy) and found one copy in their database, but the book itself wasn't on the shelf. I asked the girl at the infodesk, and they dutifully went around looking for it. After some minutes of searching, they gave up and offered to order it for me instead. No thanks, I said. It'll probably get restricted and left it at that.

Saturday, 2 September 2006

Borders Saturday.

Had some time for myself today so I thought I dropped by The Curve to visit Tango Mango (or is that Mango Tango?) to buy a couple of Moleskines, but turns out they don't have the ones I want in stock. (Why la nowhere got standard ruled Moleskine???)

I just got my payment from a freelance copywriting job and when I went to Borders, I splurged most of it there.

What to do? I'm addicted to book shopping...

The spoils:

South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami
Borders is having a Haruki Murakami promo: buy 3 books for the price of 2. I couldn't resist buying the ones I didn't have. I just couldn't! Wish I had enough cash to buy the rest of Murakami's books I didn't have... else I could have bought 6 for the price of 4...

after the quake by Haruki Murakami
If you check out the New York Times website, there's a recording of a reading Murakami gave at the New School in New York, and he read "Super-Frog Saves Tokyo" from this collection. His voice is a deep baritone, something I totally didn't expect. It's still hard for me to link that voice with his face...

The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami
I first read this book some time ago when my comrade-in-books, Shark, lent it to me. I came away unimpressed with it, and I thought Norwegian Wood, of which I had read prior to reading this, was vastly superior. But after reading Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, of which I liked very much, I decided to give Elephant Vanishes another chance. So I bought a copy for myself.

Children of the Alley by Naguib Mahfouz
First I gasped, then I squealed with delight when I saw this on the shelf. I thought it would've been restricted! Straight into the basket it went.

Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence
And speaking of restricted... look what I got! This is the new 2006 Penguin Classics edition that comes with Doris Lessing's new introduction. Only one copy left at Borders Curve, and if you've been meaning to get this, you'd better get it quick before Big Brother finds out...

Tomorrow: Ted Attacks Kinokuniya Complete With Radioactive Breath!

Friday, 1 September 2006

Xeus on Rejection.

Quoth Xeus:
I personally believe that if you want to reject someone, it's best to outline to the person:
  1. It's the work you are rejecting, not the person
  2. If this particular piece of work is not good enough, it doesn't mean your future work will not be good enough
  3. These are the reasons: a)....b)....c)
  4. BUT you can improve if you do a)....b)....c) e.g: write better grammar, make your sentences simpler, write a more compelling story etc
  5. It's not the end of the world. JK Rowling herself was rejected many times.
  6. Now, go home and take my advice and polish up your tome. THEN come and see me again when you are ready.
All this can be said fairly nicely. We need to nurture our young Malaysians, not deflate their hopes. (Yeah! The Merdeka spirit!)

Reading List Update.

For my future reference, I:

am currently reading

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Ms. Lahiri just sucks you in with her delightful prose. Gf gave rave reviews about it so I thought I'd read it too. (Despite how certain quarters call her not a true reader, I trust her judgement anyway.) I'm only on chapter 3 currently but already I know this book will r0x0r my b0x0rz long after I'm done with it. A movie's in the works and is set to be released in March 2007, with Ms. Lahiri making a cameo as "Aunt Jhumpa". Watch the trailer.

have recently finished

30 Aug 2006: In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin
Interesting in some parts, boring in others. I like how Chatwin ties in his journey around Patagonia with his family history, and how he relates history to the people and places he's visited.

21 Aug 2006: The Darkness of Wallis Simpson by Rose Tremain
Some of the stories were boring, meandering, and plodded along at the pace of a leatherback turtle lost on a beach. Only a few were really good, but not good enough to save the whole book.

might be reading these next

Haven't decided yet actually. Maybe Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies, Philip Roth's Ghost Writer or Naguib Mahfouz's Respected Sir, Wedding Song, The Search.

Previous reading list updates:

Six Questions for M.A. Orthofer.

The Critical Mass has an in-depth interview with M.A Orthofer, founder of the very useful book review site, The Complete Review.

On getting U.S. readers to read more books in translation, Orthofer says:
I think in the US the low profile (and also number) of translations it isn't so much a question of provincialism but largely a problem of awareness: readers simply don't know what wonderful stuff is out there. Sure, the homegrown books can keep you busy, but I think a bit of exposure (prodded on by more reviews and media coverage, and better marketing) would help lead readers to what's already available (where they'd find considerable rewards), leading in turn to more translations.

Firefly Replaces Tinkerbell.

A summary of the new, officially sanctioned, sequel to Peter Pan was leaked to the New York Times. The story, until now a well-kept secret, apparently involves the Lost Boys and Wendy, who have grown up, returning to a polluted Neverland where Peter Pan still lives. Tinkerbell's been replaced by a new fairy, Fireflyer.

Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean will be released 5 October 2006.

FireWife by Tinling Choong.

Eric Forbes highlights a new Malaysian author, Tinling Choong.

According to the publisher's website, her first novel, FireWife is about...
...a fictional tale of a fledgling photographer, Nin, who leaves her corporate job in California to photograph women in various places throughout the world. Her journey turns into a search for the truth about women: the women of fire and the women of water. At each stopping place, she uncovers the tale of a woman who has been marginalized by her sexuality. In Taipei, she meets Zimi who leases her forehead as advertising space and wants to donate her eggs to an infertile friend; in Bangkok, she photographs Ut, a fourteen-year-old girl forced into prostitution; in Tokyo, her subject bares her body so that sushi may be served upon her daily to groups of salivating men. Each of their lives echoes a stage in Nin’s own journey of discovering her raw sexual self, her true fire self.
Something to lookout for, indeed.

FireWife is published by Nan A. Talese and will be released 23 January 2007.

Currently Available E-Books

Available from: Amazon | Smashwords | iTunes | Google Play | Kobo
Available from: Amazon | Smashwords | iTunes | Google Play | Kobo
Available from: Amazon | Smashwords | iTunes | Google Play | Nook