Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Peter Carey on Writing in New York.

In the New York Magazine, Peter Carey (author of Theft and My Life as a Fake) writes how tough it is for a young aspiring writer to make it in New York:
And here is what seems most insane—young and not-so-young writers take out student loans to get M.F.A.’s in creative writing. This does not add up. I once taught in the M.F.A. program at Columbia, and so I know the extraordinary gifts that student debt can confer. But the Marshian in me says it’s impossible to start a life committed to literary fiction when you are $60,000 in debt. The very size of the loan assumes there is a market, a business to go into, a living to make. But the hard truth is that only a sucker writes literature with the intention of making money.
Emphasis mine. It's true of course. Why should anyone even think they can make money off of literature? Sure, some authors make it big *cough*Rowling*cough* but many others don't.

Also in the article, Peter Carey writes that it seemed easier for him to create literature when he was back in his quiet town of Bacchus Marsh, Australia in the 60s. There were no literary agents and indeed the term "Australian Literature" didn't even exist, or at least not in the minds of the London-based publishers. Yet, compared to modern day New York, he feels it would have been easier for the young, aspirant writer to come up with some good writing. No distractions for one.

Sometimes I feel the same way with KL. Too many distractions. It takes me away from my writing. And if you're not writing, then what's the point?

REVIEW: May 13 by Kua Kia Soong

So. May 13. What's all the fuss about huh?

Noted social scientist, Dr. Kua Kia Soong, has written a book that sheds new light on the May 13 Incident, but since this book has already courted much controversy (no surprise really), you probably know about that.

Using recently declassified documents from the British Public Records Office, Dr. Kua Kia Soong tries to convince us that the May 13 riots were part of a plot to oust Malaysia's first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman by a "Malay state capitalist class". The documents include not only observations and memos by the British Embassy but also dispatches from foreign journalists (most notably Robert Reece of the Far East Economic Review) as well as views from other foreign embassies.

The quotes that fill this book paint a very convincing picture that there indeed was a planned coup de tat and that Tun Razak and his group of lackeys were the masterminds, the representatives of the so-called "state capitalist class". The plan was to wrest power from the Tunku, who is seen as feudal, pro-British and disconnected from the Malay grassroots. After the riots, Tun Razak took the chance to ensure "Malay Dominance" (ketuanan Melayu) in Malaysia by creating a National Ideology (Rukun Negara) and a host of Malay-centric schemes such as the New Economic Policy and the National Culture Policy to justify its racial discrimination.

All this is very enlightening, and it certainly does cast a different light than the official view of the events. However, I'm not sure I'm entirely convinced of the existence of a "Malay state capitalist class". From what I know, that class was only created because of the NEP... but then again I do admit I am mostly ignorant in social science, especially in local affairs.

Whatever the truth, official or unofficial, the fact is that racial discrimination is just plain wrong. No one race is above another. No one race needs "more rights" than other races.

I'll leave you with a quote from Surah Al-Hujurat (49:13) from the Quran:
O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

REVIEW: Confessions of an Old Boy by Kam Raslan

Kam Raslan's right. In the preface for his new book, Confessions of an Old Boy: The Dato' Hamid Adventures he writes that we've known Dato' Hamid all our lives. Seeing as my own dad is an old boy of MCKK, the people I get to meet when he drags me to an Old Boy function and the people he tells me of, reflect the characters found in Kam's book. It really does feel like I've known Dato' Hamid all my life.

Dato' Hamid is a civil servant of the Tunku Abdul Rahman generation. He is the sort of person you rarely see nowadays, a fine example of the anachronistic Malay. This generation, groomed in the ways of the colonial British would be out of place not just in 21st century Malaysia, but in Britain too. And yet, Dato' Hamid, in all his snobbishness and patronising ways, is essentially a Malaysian. Without people like him, our country would probably never exist at all. At least not like we know it now.

I'm glad that Kam Raslan decided to capture this "Malaysian-ness" in the character of Dato' Hamid, because it is through his eyes that we are able to see Malaya as it was, Malaysia as it is and a Malaysia as it could be. Through his eyes, we see a bold satire of many Malaysian elements - royalty, civil service, idleness, corruption, idealism.

The novel itself is actually a collection of short stories and these stories cycle from short anecdotes to a murder mystery (very Agatha Christie) to a dialogue between old friends about what it means to be Malaysian. All of them are different in style from each other, but all of them are equally worth reading. I personally loved the one set in Switzerland where we learn how ruttish Dato' Hamid can be.

If there ever was a book that deserved to be called The Great Malaysian Novel, I think Kam Raslan's book deserves to at least be in the running. Confessions of an Old Boy is not only Malaysian, it is also a very great read. If you haven't picked it up already, you should.

I would like to thank the wonderful Chet for giving me a copy to read. Me and L both enjoyed it very much!

Monday, 28 May 2007

Writers and Their Favourite Fonts.

Depending on the computer I use (I alternate between an iBook and a PC), I write my drafts in New York (the font, not the city) or in Georgia (ditto). Then, before printing, I reformat my manuscript to Courier 12pt so it looks "typewritten".

I guess I'm in good company. Recently in Slate, they asked a selection of writers their favourite fonts. And Jonathan Lethem (writer of Fortress of Solitude) says:
"Before computers, I wrote three novels on a typewriter, and there can never be anything but 12-point Courier (double-spaced) forever..."
It seems that Courier, and its sibling Courier New, remain the font of choice for writers, but other fonts get some loving too. Palatino, Times, Hoefler Text... all good fonts too, but not what I would use to compose my magnum opus.

Friday, 25 May 2007

For the late and great Douglas Adams.

Happy Towel Day everyone! Did you bring a towel with you today? And remember:


Thursday, 24 May 2007

Jim Henson's The Cube

I didn't know the creator of The Muppets was into surrealism! I found this movie via Boing Boing and I totally dig it. I feel like it caters directly to my interests in surrealism, existentialism and meta-fiction. There's even some interesting moments involving quantum physics (always a hoot when deployed properly :p).

Spare an hour and enjoy!

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Never get involved in a land war in Asia.

Last night, I don't know why, but I got the itch to play Civilization IV again. I dug out the disc and reinstalled it. Ah... listening to the opening and title themes is probably one of the best gaming moments... ever.

It had been quite some time since I last played cIV (2 years!), so I was a little rusty with the game mechanics. I decided getting chummy with the tutorial session was in order. After the tutorial session is over, the game lets you continue playing in the map, which is pretty easy, since the only other civilisation apart from yours is India, led by peace-loving Gandhi.

In this session, I, playing as the Romans with Julius Caesar, decided to spread my religion (Buddhism) and culture to Gandhi's cities. Gandhi swiftly embraced Judaism and I was not pleased. As my civilisation was advanced further up the tech tree than Gandhi's, I decided to do some arm-twisting. Embrace Buddhism. Or else.

Gandhi, being the peace-loving hippy that he is, agreed. India gave up Judaism and embraced Buddhism.

When another civilisation's religion is the same religion as your state religion, it's easier to influence their cities to defect to yours. Which was exactly my plan. Before long, Rome's cultural influence and happiness of its citizens persuaded the Indian cities of Lahore and Bangalore to fall under the glory of the Roman Empire.

I didn't really concentrate on my military, and neither did Gandhi, so we agreed to have an open borders treaty, and together we declared "there shall be peace in our time". Hehehe... little did Gandhi know, while I built magnificent libraries and temples to increase my influence of culture, I was also secretly increasing my technological abilities, and my secret scientific labs came up with new advancements as the ages passed. I shared some of these technological advancements with my pal, Gandhi, of course. But by the time I gave them to Gandhi, they were already inferior to what I was already building.

Before long, the Roman Empire had expanded across the tiny continent we were on. It became painfully obvious that the continent was no longer big enough for the both of us. One of us had to go.

I'm sorry, Gandhi. It was great while it lasted. All the niceties we shared was just pillow talk, baby. You can never hope to defend your cities with your pikemen. My army of tanks will crush you.

He surrendered after I took Bombay. And Delhi. Now the planet was mine.

Meanwhile, in the real world, it was 2.30am, and I had to sleep.

Friday, 11 May 2007

Nat King Cole's L.O.V.E

And now! Witness as I succumb to herd mentality and crass marketing while I post this Nat King Cole song AND its lyrics!

L is for the way you look at me
O is for the only one I see
V is very, very extraordinary
E is even more than anyone that you adore can

Love is all that I can give to you
Love is more than just a game for two
Two in love can make it
Take my heart and please dont break it
Love was made for me and you

L is for the way you look at me
O is for the only one I see
V is very, very extraordinary
E is even more than anyone that you adore can

Love is all that I can give to you
Love is more than just a game for two
Two in love can make it
Take my heart and please don't break it
Love was made for me and you
Love was made for me and you
Love was made for me and you

Damn you Perodua! Damn you and your Perodua Viva advertisements!

Wednesday, 9 May 2007


Finally got my hands on the unproofed copy of Murakami's After Dark! I have Kinokuniya and Sharon to thank. I'd read it immediately but I'm currently enjoying Kam Raslan's Confessions of an Old Boy, which I noticed yesterday managed to make it to Number 1 on the bestseller list at Kinokuniya. Good going!

Monday, 7 May 2007

At the KL International Book Fest '07.

I went to the KL International Book Fest on Saturday even though I hadn't really planned on going. The book fest hasn't really done anything for me for the past--I dunno--5 years or so. They're boring, crowded, and full of educational workbooks and textbooks. The book fest just doesn't give me any sense of enjoyment like the book warehouse sales of Times, Big Book Shop and Payless do.

But there I was anyway, mingling with the crowd at PWTC. My friend had suggested we go to the fest after a wedding we had attended that day (congratulations, Colin!) and not having anything else to do, I agreed.

Good thing I went. I finally got for myself two copies of Dewan Sastera, of which I haven't been able to find any issues since last year. I was interested in reading this month's science fiction-themed issue after reading Nisah Haron's post. I also bought two back-issues of i, an Islamic magazine (one about apostasy, the other about liberal Islam*), and one copy of Rejabhad's Mawar Oh Mawar, a graphic anthology of Malay folk tales. (I'm a huge fan of his other work, Tan Tin Tun.)

I wish I had come on Sunday though, since that's when Faisal Tehrani's new book, Bila Tuhan Berbicara**, was launched. Always a good opportunity to get a signed, first edition!

Anyways, I'm feeling a little weirded out that I went to a book fest and left with mostly magazines. Did you go? How did you find it?

* Mmm! Oxymorons!
** Trans: "When God Speaks".

Sunday, 6 May 2007

First After Dark Review.

The first review of Haruki Murakami's new book, After Dark is up at
In Murakami's talented hands, "After Dark" emerges a tightly controlled narrative, carefully constructed in both time and place. Each chapter begins with a clock face indicating the precise time. Frequently, we find out specifically what music is playing in the background, providing a soundtrack to the proceedings. We stay alert to exact detail on each page, within every frame. The result is palpable and enthralling.
I can't wait!

Friday, 4 May 2007

REVIEW: Pinball, 1973 by Haruki Murakami.

UPDATE: My Wind/Pinball review can be found here.

ISBN: n/a
Publisher: n/a
Paperback: 160 pages

In Murakami fan circles, simply owning a copy of Pinball, 1973 is a mark of hardcore-ness. Like Hear the Wind Sing before it, Haruki Murakami does not allow English translations of Pinball, 1973 to be published outside of Japan. Back in the 80s, Alfred Birnbaum translated it into English and Kodansha published it as a novel for Japanese students who wanted to improve their English. While the English edition of Hear the Wind Sing continues to be reprinted and sold in Japan (and available for a moderate sum via eBay, see my review), Kodansha stopped its reprint runs of the English edition of Pinball, 1973 and has now become a collector's item, fetching vast amounts of money on auction sites and reseller stores. Last time I checked, the cheapest copy went for USD$2500.

Of course, Murakami addicts or the curious can always download a less than legal PDF of the book, painstakingly typed by a fan in the UK. But who wants to read PDFs? I don't. I prefer my books on paper, thank you very much. I won't say how, but I did manage to finally acquire a paperback copy of Pinball, 1973... and yes, it's less-than-legal, meaning it's not an authentic publication from Kodansha, meaning it's a pirated book. I know, I know, I'm gonna burn in book hell. But whatever. It's Murakami so it has to be worth it... right?

The novel itself concerns the same two individuals we got to know in Hear the Wind Sing, the nameless protagonist, of whom I will nickname "Boku*", and his best friend, the Rat. Boku has moved to Tokyo where, with the help of a university friend, has set up an English translation service. One day, seemingly out of nowhere, a pair of twin girls appear in Boku's apartment and they decide to stay indefinitely. Boku, being the stereotypical Murakami protagonist, doesn't mind and even relishes the opportunity to have a little company after he comes back from work.

While the twins have made themselves at home, Boku becomes obsessed with looking for a pinball machine he used to play at a bar he used to frequent, back in his small hometown. This bar happens to be run by another friend, J, and is also where the Rat spends most of his time reading Western literature, especially Russian epics. Rat, though he is in a comfortable relationship and is writing a novel, is not content with his life, and seeks for greater meaning.

Alone, Pinball, 1973, isn't a great novel but it is mostly readable. In comparison to Hear the Wind Sing, it is a much, much better effort and has the advantage of having a plot, no matter how vague. So was it really worth it, to go to all that effort in acquiring this elusive book? I don't know really. The book is rather mundane, yet still a little Murakami-esque. I guess I can console myself with the fact that my collection is somewhat complete. At least, until I raise enough dough to get an original copy.

* "Boku", the generic nickname for a nameless Murakami protagonist in any of his novels or short stories, was coined by Jay Rubin in his biography cum literary criticism, Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words. The term seems to have stuck with a growing number of Murakami fans, so I too shall adopt it. Jay Rubin also happens to be one of Haruki Murakami's three English translators.

Thursday, 3 May 2007

REVIEW: The List by Tara Ison

ISBN: 978-0-7432-9414-0
Publisher: Scribner (2007)
Paperback: 272 pages

When it comes to matters of the heart, there's always a story to tell. And when it comes to ambivalent relationships, the mysterious element that keeps bringing together two individuals who obviously weren't made for each other makes for an intriguing read. In The List, Tara Ison attempts to analyse such a relationship.

The novel is about hearts, both literally and figuratively. Isabel is a promising medical student, just about to graduate and become a heart surgeon. While she deals with her life in a very practical way (as is befitting a med student), her on-and-off again boyfriend, Al, prefers to let life pass by with as little effort as possible. Al used to be a promising film director, and even made a movie that went on to achieve cult status. But then he loses confidence and ends up working as a clerk in a video rental store. In short, he becomes a slacker and somewhat of a loser.

So with both of them at extremely opposite poles, it's obvious that they're often at each other's necks. And so they break up. Yet, something always pulls them together again. And the cycle continues. The repeated breakups strain each other and their friends, so Isabel suggests they do a list. Each will chose 5 items they have always wanted to do together but never had the chance. After completing these 10 items, they will break up amicably and remain friends. Isabel hopes that this will provide closure for both of them so they won't repeat the ridiculous cycle again. As is usual with such things, things don't go as planned, and spiral out of control.

While I find Tara Ison a good writer, I wonder if she would be more at home at script writing. There's a scene in the book, told from Al's "director" point-of-view, and it is written in script format. I particularly enjoyed that scene more than the rest of the book. I have to admit, it took me a while to get into the "spirit" of the book. The List starts out slow, and from the perspective of Isabel. Her character did little to make me like her but she did grow on me later on. Al's a little more lovable, but he's a typical jerk-slacker type, so he's not much better. The book starts to shine when they reach near the end of the list and Al starts to find ways to make Isabel stay around him longer.

Anyways, if you're interested, visit Tara Ison's website or you can view the trailer for the book:

I would also like to express gratitude to Wendy Ortiz who took the trouble to send me an uncorrected proof.

Currently Available E-Books

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