Friday, 29 December 2006

The Last Entry...

...for 2006!

Since I have no internet at home (I'll get to paying the bill, one day), today will be the last post for the year.

What has 2006 meant for me? 2006 was to me, the Year of Writing. This year, for the first time in my life, I took my writing very seriously. For the past 5 years or so, my New Year's resolutions had always included one where I resolved to write The Novel. Though I have yet to fulfil that promise, I have at least made huge strides in my writing.

This year, I wrote 9 short stories, submitted 6 of them to 11 publications, and have had 2 of them accepted for publication (one of them is included in a book being launched tomorrow). Compare that to the previous years... all I had written were some story outlines for the games company I work for... and that's it. They were pretty lame outlines too, come to think of it.

I joined a writing class, which gave me the confidence to actually keep writing (thanks, Sharon!) and I started a blog about books and writing. Both venues allowed me to meet and know other local writers and editors (here and abroad) who give me wonderful morale support for my writing.

I'd like to think that my writing has improved too. My first stories were terrible, now they're less terrible. And my characters don't drone on and on like they used to.

Oh, and I had two book reviews published in The Star.

All in all, it's been a pretty good year, writing-wise.

Resolutions for 2007:
  1. Get that novel done
  2. Get short stories published abroad
Happy New Year everyone!

Friday, 22 December 2006

J.K. Rowling and the Final Harry Potter Title.

Oh, come on... Deathly Hallows??? Surely you can come up with a better one than that...

11-Year-Old Girl Reads 2,200 Books.

There's a cute story in Utusan Malaysia today regarding a certain young girl who has read (drum-roll please) TWO THOUSAND BOOKS! ZOMGWTF!!!

For your convenience, I have run the article through a babelfish (not Altavista's Babelfish, but the actual fish you stick in your ear) and this is what was translated:

IPOH 21 Dec. - Although only 11 years old, Afiqah Ramatullah Khan, has read 2,200 books including novels that are her faithful companions every day.

A Standard 5 student from Sekolah Kebangsaan Raja Perempuan Ipoh, she said that the titles of the books she read had been noted down since she was in Standard 1 and this means that the true total of books read by her would be more.

It is routine for her to finish reading one or two books daily, each approximately 70-100 pages long.

According to her, this total does not include light reading, such as religious books, newspapers, magazines or comics for children.

Among books that she likes are story books, fiction, non-fiction, informational books, either Malay or English, jawi or romanised.

"I collected the titles of books that I had read and so far the total is 2,200 books.

"I'm confident that next year the total number of books I will have read will reach 3,500 units," she said after it was announced she was the Reader's Role Model in Perak. She is also fluent in Malay and English.

This success has allowed Afiqah to bring home a RM400 cash prize, a trophy and a certificate. Her school will also receive RM500 worth of book vouchers.

The Reader's Role Model Prize was awarded by the Perak Director of Education, Datuk Ir. Mohammed Zakaria Mohd. Noor.

"Actually, I began my interest in reading since kindergarten as a result of my parents's encouragement and now I have my own library at home," she said.

Thursday, 21 December 2006

Mohammed Naseehu Ali.

By way of the Underrated Writers of 2006 project at Syntax of Things, I have discovered a wonderful writer which I would like to expose you to.

Mohammed Naseehu Ali, a Ghana-born writer living in Brooklyn, writes stories that are full of wit and allegorical complexities, yet are simple to read. The language he employs makes his prose a delight to read and the characters he deploys are a strange oxymoronic combination of unreal and normalcy.

Zongo Street, a fictional small African community where his stories usually take place, are described in detail and are steeped in African culture and religion, evoking the smells, the sounds and even the dust, resulting in deeply immersive stories that are rich with atmosphere and humanness.

For a taste of what he's capable of, I suggest reading his short stories, "Mallam Sile" in the New Yorker, and "The Manhood Test", in Gathering of the Tribes.

"Mallam Sile" is a story about a tea stall owner who suffers from dwarfism, poor eyesight, deformations in his feet, and the ability to only speak a smattering of the local dialect in Zongo Street. Though he is liked by the community, he is constantly bullied by the neighbourhood ruffians. He is also lonely and hopes to find a woman to marry one day... but who will marry an ugly dwarf like him?

"The Manhood Test" is a humourous story about a man who is facing a divorce by his wife who complains that he cannot fulfill her desires. To prove his manhood, he is forced to sleep with his wife in front of a court-approved invigilator.

Mohammed Naseehu Ali also has a collection of his stories out called, The Prophet of Zongo Street. For more on Mohammed Naseehu Ali, check out the interview on AfroToronto.

The Gremlins Return!

I can't believe it! Of the many children's books Roald Dahl has written, only the rare Gremlins remain as the only one I have unread. So when I was reading my feeds for today, it was with surprised delight when I read this in The Guardian:
...the Gremlins Project, has led to a release of the original text by the publishers Dark Horse, and a full marketing campaign is planned for 2007. A series of collectable toys based on the characters have been promised, while the text of an early limited edition with Disney illustrations is available on the internet.
Oh Dark Horse! My saviours! I shall purchase your wonderful digitally restored and reissued hardcover book once I find it in stores.

For those wondering what the fuss is all about (or you're too damned cheap to buy it yourself), maybe you would like to check out the complete text of The Gremlins at Roald Dahl

Wednesday, 20 December 2006

Time's Top 10 Asian Books of 2006.

Oracle bones, Bollywood gangsters and Chersonese culinary delights grace Time Asia Magazine's 10 Best Asian Books of 2006 list.

Apart from the Murakami and the Vikram Chandra, I haven't heard of any of these books before. Props to Time Mag for highlighting them.

Science Reveals Shakespeare's Works Excites Brain!

Professor Neil Roberts, from the University's Magnetic Resonance and Image Analysis Research Centre, (MARIARC), explains: "The effect on the brain is a bit like a magic trick; we know what the trick means but not how it happened. Instead of being confused by this in a negative sense, the brain is positively excited. The brain signature is relatively uneventful when we understand the meaning of a word but when the word changes the grammar of the whole sentence, brain readings suddenly peak. The brain is then forced to retrace its thinking process in order to understand what it is supposed to make of this unusual word."
There you go! Your brain goes all orgasmic when the Bard spouts something indecipherable! Science has proven it!

Murakami Round-up.

Haruki Murakami's been in the news a lot lately. He's got a new translation of Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby out in Japan apparently so maybe that's why he's getting all the attention lately.

The Japanese daily, Yomiuri Shimbun, interviewed him recently, and Murakami claimed that his encounter with The Great Gatsby was "fate":
It's really difficult to explain in words, but it's easier to understand when you think about it as an encounter between two people rather than an encounter between a person and a novel.

We meet a lot of people in our lives, and there are fateful encounters among them. Such encounters can sometimes change your life completely.

Such encounters can often open up new doors and close others. You sometimes feel your whole being has completely changed from how it was beforehand.

My encounter with The Great Gatsby was of that nature.
Also in the Yomiuri Shimbun, but a few days back, is an article about a symposium held in Japan discussing Murakami's impact on Asia, specifically in countries like South Korea and China.

What piqued my interest was how Murakami managed to write something that appealed to these people, considering their nations's historic enmity towards each other:
In South Korea, which for many years after World War II had a military-controlled government, literature traditionally functioned as the "discharge channel of politics." Because of the situation, it was difficult for Japanese literature focusing on personal psychology or daily life to win wide support in the country. This was the case even for works by Yasunari Kawabata and Yukio Mishima.

But the Korean translation of Murakami's Norwegian Wood, which was published in 1989 with a title meaning "The Age of Deprivation," was a hit.

Kim Choon Mie, a professor at Korea University who has translated Murakami's works, including Kafka on the Shore, said: "The Haruki literature depicting the sense of defeat and loss held by those involved in the student movements of the 1960s and the internal conflict suffered by young people in Japan during the change to the later stage of capitalism have accurately expressed the sense of apathy and emptiness held by young South Koreans who played a pivotal role in the change of government to democratic rule in the 1990s."
It also makes me wonder why his writings have never really caught on in the same massive way in Malaysia. I'd make a guess that it's due to a lack of translation and a lack of the love ofreading in general.

The Asian countries where Murakami has found success tend to have a large percentage of people in their population that actually love to read, while Malaysia... well, I guess we're just a country who loves to keep telling ourselves to cultivate a love for reading then stopping there.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Pacific, Emily Parker of the Wall Street Journal asks, who will tell the story of Japan?

Not me, says Murakami:
Themes of history and memory clearly run through Mr. Murakami's books. Yet he seems loath to analyze his own work for political messages or historical lessons, saying that he just wants to "write a story." But if Mr. Murakami feels so strongly about facing the past, and so concerned about the future of his nation, why doesn't he address these issues more explicitly in his writing, using his prose to shake Japan out of its historical amnesia? The novelist answers that sending overt political messages is simply not the job of a fiction writer.

That's not to say that Mr. Murakami's colorful prose doesn't address serious issues. It just does so in an indirect way--which, in Mr. Murakami's view, may be even more effective. "If you say, 'I'm very sad, my dog died,' it's a message--a statement. Nobody sympathizes with you," he explains. "In that case, you have to change your statement into another kind of story. When you're sad, when you lost your dog, you should not write about your dog. You should write about another thing. If you write about the dog, it's an essay, not fiction."
Funny he should invoke a death of a dog as an example. I would have thought he'd go with cats.

Meanwhile, I still have a copy of The Great Gatsby that's missing the first 18 pages. Sigh.

Monday, 18 December 2006

A Book Will Never Let You Down.

What's that about e-books? Nah, I'll keep my reliable paper ones, thanks. (Also, they should've installed Firefox in that book.)

Via Scaryideas.

Over-rated and Under-rated Books of 2006.

Those "best-of" book lists that are popping up on all the book review sites and blogs? Forget 'em. Take a look at Prospect Magazine's Over-rated and Under-rated Books of the Year instead.

What's the most over-rated? My current read: Dick Dawkins's God Delusion. No surprise there.

Nice quotes abound:
Suzanne Franks writer & broadcaster
Snow, Orhan Pamuk (Faber). One should not say this when he has just won the Nobel prize and survived state harassment, but I found it tedious.

Alan Wolfe academic
The God Delusion. Written with so little tolerance and so much fervour that fundamentalists will recognise Dawkins as one of their own.

Writers Write Loud!

So I get to have a story published in 2006 after all! Hooray!

Karen-Ann Theseira and Oak Publications will be launching their short story collection, Write Out Loud, a very nifty book featuring short stories by up-and-coming young writers like Alexandra Wong, John Ling, Yvonne Foong, me (me! me! me!) and many other equally talented people*.

Come join us and support the local writing scene:

Date : Saturday, 30 Dec 06
Venue : Popular Bookstore, Ikano
Time : 3-4 pm

Write Out Loud will retail at RM29.90.

*Full List of Writers:
Charmaine Hon, John Ling, Low Mei Heng, Tan Phaik Cheng, Richard Huang, Melvin Tan, Tan Yi Liang, Janarthani Arumugam, Koi Kye Lee, Kelvin Ooi, Kwan Su Li, Selvam P. G., Ashvini, Graeme S. Houston, Yvonne Foong, Agnes Ong, Ted Mahsun, Frederick Kovilpillai, Wong Boon Ken, Joanna Van, Lynette Quah, Vanitha Krishnan, Alexandra Wong, Tracey Jan Francis, Jolin Kwok, Kwan Su Li, Noreha Yussof Day, Zachary Lee Francis, Bob Teoh, and last, but not least, M. Khairul Izad.

The Payless Warehouse Sale.... again.

Didn't think I'd go this time as I'm not really in the best state of finances right now... but I must've been trapped in their tractor beam and they managed to rope me in anyhow.

I managed to escape by the skin of my teeth with these:

1. Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
I've been eying this for ages at Borders.

2. Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
Recommended by a friend a couple years back. Feel slightly guilty it took me this long to actually get the book. How long more will it take for me to read it?

3. Louisiana Power & Light by John Dufresne
Passed the first-page test. Looks like it could be an enjoyable read.

4. Maybe the Moon by Armistead Maupin
From the writer of the Tales from the City series.

5. The Seven-Per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer
OMGWTFBBQ! I've been looking for this for yoinks! (Big Sherlock Holmes fan here!)

6. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
I hope I haven't already bought this.

7. We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates
Who doesn't like Joyce Carol Oates?
okay, put your hands down. Geez. She's not that bad.

My wallet is now unburdened by RM24.50. Um. Yay?

Sunday, 17 December 2006

One Honking Big Book Launch.

So yesterday I went to Lydia Teh's launching of her latest book, Honk! If You're Malaysian. This probably ranks as the grandest book launch I've ever attended. Even that Roald Dahl launch for Rhyme Stew I went to when I was a kid couldn't beat this.

Congratulations, Lydia, for being able to launch your book with much fanfare.

I should also state here that the book is a really wonderful read, just like her previous collection, Life's Like That. Having already had a chance to read it in public, I can now tag it "Laugh-out-loud-funny".

It also certainly benefits from having Hassan Bahri's illustrations accompanying the text. The illustrated cover he did for the book is one of the best covers I've seen on a locally published book. (One that comes close that I can think of right now is Cinta Ubi dan Laksa, a Malay young adult novel-comic hybrid).

Having Adibah Amin write the intro is a huge plus too... though I thought it was a little insubstantial. (Yeah, yeah I know it's only an intro... but I was left feeling with a "huh-that's-it?" feeling.)

I managed to say hi to Xeus, Yvonne Foong, Lydia Teh (obviously) and Eric, who I finally got to meet. And he really is nice like so many other people say! Hooray! (As a side note, according to Xeus, seems MPH Publishing needs editors. Think you're up for the job? Get in touch with Eric.)

Thursday, 14 December 2006

What Kind of Reader Am I?

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Dedicated Reader

You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more.

Literate Good Citizen
Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Book Snob
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

Monday, 11 December 2006

Attack of the Limericist.

You want poetry?!? I'll give you poetry, you hacks*!!!
Whenever you pet a cat,
Please make sure you're not a rat,
Please do be advised,
That it is unwise,
For a rat to pet a cat.

There once was a man from Peru,
Who didn't have a thing to do,
He picked up a phone,
Which had no dial-tone,
And made a call to Kathmandu.

There once was a man with a daughter,
Who wanted to marry an author,
Her father refused,
Because of the news,
That the man knew only one letter.

There once was a girl with a Volkswagen,
Who wanted to drive to Copenhagen,
But once she got there
She found it quite blehh,
And drove home again with her Volkswagen.

There once was a girl called Daisy,
Who hated the sky when hazy,
She vacuumed the air,
With her mighty derriere,
That wonderful girl called Daisy.

There was a young man in Peking,
Who declared himself to be king,
He made himself a crown,
Which kept falling down,
That silly young man from Peking.

*I kid, I kid... you're all nice people really.

Sharon sent me this in response:
there was a young writer called ted
let rejection letters go to his head.
at the paris review
and new york times too
by someone at least he was read!

This Side Up.

Daphne Lee has a review of Adibah Amin's new (and long-awaited) novel in yesterday's Starmag and gives it a hearty thumbs up.

She seems to be a little confused over the title though, first calling it This Side of the Rainbow, then later calling it This End of the Rainbow, which I assume to be the correct title since that's what's printed on the picture of the book's cover.

Ms. Lee's concluding thoughts:
Anyone who is familiar with Adibah’s writing through her column As I Was Passing can expect the same fresh, simple and direct style here. This book is an easy read, and it is also eye-opening, especially if you are not familiar with Malaysia’s pre-independence days and the social unrest of the 1950s.
Anyone seen this in bookstores? I was in the Local Books section in MPH MidValley on Saturday but I didn't notice it anywhere.

And pity about the cover... it looks like it was designed by a high-schooler with a pirated copy of Photoshop.

Further reading:
Daphne Lee's interview with Adibah Amin (22 Oct 2006)

Sunday, 10 December 2006

Inspiring Yvonne.

I was in MidValley yesterday afternoon to watch a certain local superhero movie (don't watch it unless you want your IQ to drop to a single digit) and while I was browsing through MPH an announcement came over the P.A. system.

Yvonne Foong was to give a talk to promote her book, I'm Not Sick Just a Bit Unwell - Life with Neurofibramatosis.

Hey, that's lucky, I thought. I had meant to get her book and this opportunity would allow me to get it and have it signed, as well as to give her my support. I read her blog off and on so it was great to also be able to meet her in person.

Though it was hard to understand her at first (her condition, as I understand it, severely affects her jaw as well as her hearing), the crowd quickly warmed up to her as she talked about her experiences battling Neurofibramatosis as well as her struggle to write a book and get it published.

If you haven't bought the book yet, I highly suggest you do, as it is a very good read (although I admit I'm only a few chapters in). Yvonne writes well and John Ling's editing helps to tighten and improve the writing further. Plus, the book's only 20 bucks.

If you need another opinion, Eyeris has a review of the book on his blog.

Friday, 8 December 2006

My 2007 Book Rereading List.

Wow! They finally upgraded my Blogger account to the new Beta version! Yay!

Since some of us are posting up our "to-be-read" 2007 list, I'm gonna go the other way round and post what I will be reading again next year.

The following list is not in any particular order:

1. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
Not as influential to me as it was when I was in Form 4, but still relevant. After all, as Malaysians, aren't we all under the gazing eye of Big Brother?

2. Animal Farm by George Orwell
For years I couldn't find this book in bookstores (ah... the days before Kinokuniya KLCC), until my second year in university. I made friends with a guy from the studying management and he was complaining about this "boring" book he had to study for his English class. When I found out it was Animal Farm, I asked if I could borrow the book. He said I could have it and he didn't want to see the damn book ever in his life. He must really hate socialism.

3. Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
The best and only worthwhile book in the Narnia series! Even if it does have that insufferable Eustace.

4. A Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis
Can't remember what happened in this book as I usually skip this one (and The Last Battle, ugh) when I do a Narnia marathon. Due for a reread then.

5. Neuromancer by William Gibson
Technically not a reread since I've never finished it, but I have read the first half of the book about three times now... Shall attempt another read as I want to know what happens in the end.

6. Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn
Read this in Standard 6... I don't remember what happened in it. Ah... the start of the Star Wars revitalisation. Anyone remember the good old days before Episode 1?

7. Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn
See above.

8. The Last Command by Timothy Zahn

9. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
Genius kid plays video game to save Earth. A classic.

10. My Uncle Oswald by Roald Dahl
One of only two adult novels Dahl wrote, and I love it. Uncle Oswald, that cad.

11. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
Need a refresh before HP7 comes out.

12. A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I'm planning a full Sherlock Holmes marathon. This'll be the start.

And one book I do not want to reread... ever:

The Silmarillion by whatsisname

Tuesday, 5 December 2006

Writers Should Embrace Failure.

In the month of November, I received 2 rejection letters and another came in the mail yesterday.

Not that this is disheartening. Not at all! Rejection's part and parcel of writing. I'll get there one day.

Fellow writers facing rejection might find solace in Ha Jin's words from an interview published in AGNI Magazine:
The more ambitious you are, the stronger the sense of failure, because there are so many great books that have been written. When I was at Emory University I often taught a story by Kafka: “The Hunger Artist.” That story explains the psychology of a writer. Very often we write not because we want to achieve—maybe there was that desire, but so much has been accomplished. We can’t do anything better. On the other hand, you have to go on and continue. That’s why I think some sense of failure is essential to a writer from the very beginning.
So there you go. Keep on writing, y'all.

Monday, 4 December 2006

REVIEW: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.

Lydia's threatening to put me on the dead blog list if I don't update. Fortunately though there's my review in Starmag yesterday to blog of. (I can't say much of the title they went with though...)

Here it is:
The Thirteenth Tale
Author: Diane Setterfield
Publisher: Atria Books
Paperback: 416 pages
ISBN: 1-4165-3726-0

If you apply the acid-test of reading a first page of a novel and seeing whether it pulls you into the story and makes you want to keep on reading to Diane Setterfield's debut novel, I am in no doubt it will pass.

The Thirteenth Tale starts simple: Margaret Lea, plain, bookish and reclusive, receives a letter at her father's bookshop. The letter is by none other than world-renown Vida Winter, claimed to be "England's best writer; our century's Dickens; the world's most famous living author".

Not only does Ms. Winter creates stories when she writes her acclaimed novels, she spins a different story every time someone interviews her about her past. Her many versions of a "true" personal history, as well as a legendary mystery behind the missing thirteenth story in her book, Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation adds to her infamy.

Margaret, preferring the works of authors long since dead, hasn't read the contemporary works of Vida Winter and is surprised that she has been chosen to be Winter's official biographer. She is intrigued by her strange letter, one that promises her the truth if she agrees to become Winter's biographer.

What follows is a deeply engaging story of Vida Winter's past and present that takes place in the haunting moors of Yorkshire. With a crazy woman, a governess, seemingly incomprehensible children and a burning manor, this book isn't just a homage to the gothic novels in the vein of the Bronte sisters, it's also somewhat of a send-up to them.

Margaret takes a liking to roaming about on the moors on a raining winter's night, and is consequently overcome with a high fever. She is later chided by her doctor for being a romantic and prescribes her a change of reading material: "In a vigourous scrawl, he had inked: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes. Take ten pages, twice a day, till end of course."

Indeed, she is a little melodramatic. Margaret had a twin sister who died at birth and though she goes through most of the book pining for her lost sibling, it's hard to sympathise with her. The way she bemoans the loss is as if she had lost someone she had known for years, when in truth she had never met her at all other than in her wild, romantic imagination: "Under the covers I pressed my hand against the silver-pink crescent on my torso. The shadow my sister had left behind. Like an archaeologist of the flesh, I explored my body for evidence of its ancient history. I was as cold as a corpse."

Though The Thirteenth Tale has a few letdowns, Setterfield manages to engage our interest and succeeds in holding it to keep us turning the page until the satisfactory conclusion. It is a joy to read because it celebrates the wonders of reading and having a life surrounded by books. This is a stunning book and totally deserves its much-hyped million-dollar advance.
Anyway, I also have Lydia to thank for telling me about this. I'd never have known if she hadn't mentioned it because I hadn't had the time to read any newspapers. Hurray for the Internet!

I shall blog about my Nanowrimo experience later. Gotta make coffee.

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