Friday, April 24, 2015

Book Marks: Amir's Spine, Rahnaward Zaryab's Memories

The authors and their stories that will be appearing in the upcoming Fixi Novo Cyberpunk anthology have been announced. I believe the release date is around June 2015. Cor, several of the titles sound borderline Fifty Shades.

Speaking of Fixi, here's what the founder wrote for the 2015 London Book Fair. He doesn't hold back, right from the beginning:

I was mooching around Instagram recently and found that the hashtag for my company #BukuFixi was used on more than 14,000 posts. I was shocked–shocked!–to find this was just 4,000 fewer than #PenguinBooks and certainly more than, say #RandomHouse, which had 10,000. But we’re a small Malaysian company without even an office.

And here he is, providing an overview of the Malay fiction market, which... dominated by the romance genre and 50,000 in sales is considered a bestseller. Among the blockbusters of the past decade are My Husband Is a Religious Teacher, My Husband Is Mr Perfect 10, My Husband Is the Sweetest and My Husband Is a Limited Edition.

Notice that he changed a few things for the benefit of a non-Malay-speaking audience. So humble, so helpful.

RIP Tsuen-hsuin "T.H." Tsien, considered the most influential Chinese librarian in America.

From the Chicago Tribune:

Mr. Tsien, former curator of the Far Eastern Library of the University of Chicago, is also credited with training generations of students for East Asian libraries around the nation. Former students of his went on to head the East Asian libraries at Harvard and Princeton, as well as become senior members of the Library of Congress.

The author of several books and more than 100 articles, he retired in 1978 and was the curator emeritus of the East Asian Collection of the Joseph Regenstein Library and professor emeritus of Far Eastern Languages and Civilizations (now East Asian Languages and Civilizations) at the University of Chicago.

An Afghan novelist "locks himself up for weeks at a time, lost in bottles of smuggled vodka and old memories of Kabul, a capital city long transformed by war and money."


...after he became the standard-bearer for Afghan literature, Mr. [Rahnaward] Zaryab was forced to watch as Kabul, the muse he idealized as a city of music and chivalry in most of his 17 books, fell into rubble and chaos.

...Little of a readership culture remains these days, even in Kabul. Bookshops are saturated with bootleg copies of Iranian books. Local authors make no money from publishing their work. In return for a manuscript, Mr. Zaryab gets a number of copies from the publisher to distribute to friends.

The estate of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels is suing publisher (Penguin?) Random House...

...over the book Goebbels, by Peter Longerich, professor of modern German history at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Longerich, an authority on the Holocaust and Nazi era Germany, drew extensively on Goebbels' diaries in his biography, which was published in Germany in 2010.

...Rainer Dresen, general counsel of Random House Germany, told the Guardian that an important principle was at stake. "We are convinced that no money should go to a war criminal," he said.

Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl On The Train, talks about the book and her new-found fame.

Well, obviously my name is known now, but I don’t think people generally tend to recognize authors very much. People like J.K. Rowling maybe, Gillian Flynn might be recognized, but I reckon she could walk by me on the street and I wouldn't know who she was. So I'm not sure it’s that kind of fame. I suppose when I realized it was doing really well in the States, that was terrifying because of the number of people you’re talking about because it's such a big place, you’re suddenly talking millions. That's probably the moment when I thought, "Oh God, this is sort of scary now."

The Gillian Flynn mention is interesting, since Hawkins's book has been called "the new Gone Girl".

Never knew there were several levels in how one reads a book. That blog post also cited American philosopher, educator and author Mortimer Adler and his book, How to Read a Book (of course), which identified four levels of reading: elementary, inspectional, analytical and syntopical.

If you're reading for entertainment or information, you're going to read a lot differently (and likely different material) than reading to increase understanding. While many people are proficient in reading for information and entertainment, few improve their ability to read for knowledge.

Before we can improve our reading skills, we need to understand the differences in the reading levels. They are thought of as levels because you can’t move to a higher level without a firm understanding of the previous one — they are cumulative.

Good to know, but can be hard to apply.

Philip Gwyn Jones says there's a "civil war" going on in the book industry for readers' attention.

Economically it will be the reader who is the prize, the territory to be captured, the Alsace-Lorraine or the Poland of the civil war. Winning the reader’s attention – and the natural monopolies of Google and Facebook will be far better at this than the publishers – then chopping that attention into tiny little morsels for never-ending re-sale and re-cycling seems, in a way that might even be beyond the imaginings of a Borges or a Ballard, likely to be the humming machinery at the heart of the 21-century book business.

Publishers are at risk of becoming culturally irrelevant, a study claims. Meanwhile, in the US, it's said that there's a war (that word again) on diversity in reading material.

The Arab Spring's best legacy: Egyptians are now reading once-banned books.

But the really controversial titles have come from the country's crop of small, independent publishers. Freed from the shackles of longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak's rule when he was ousted in 2011, the Sefsafa publishing house rushed out a host of daring material, including Basma Abdel Aziz's The Temptation of Absolute Power, whose critique of the system might have landed her in jail some years before.

Another publisher, Madarat Research and Publication, seized upon the power vacuum following Mubarak's toppling to print and distributed a nuanced take on the political theory of Hassan Al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. Even the conservative Dar al-Shorouk, Egypt's largest privately owned publisher, produced a few critical takes on the previously untouchable former president, Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Marketing tools and strategies for indie writers were being pitched in the London Book Fair. Meanwhile, Gen-X authors in India talk about the trials of telling and selling their tales in the age of social media (try not to get distracted by the "Don't Miss" sidebar).

I've stopped following and commenting on the whole indie or self-publishing phenomenon, mainly because other people are, and I think independent and self-publishers have proven their point. The business model works - but only if you work at it.

Monday, April 20, 2015

MPH Warehouse Sale 2015

Happening from 27 April to 4 May at:

MPH Distributors @ Bangunan TH,
No 5, Jalan Bersatu,
Section 13/4, Petaling Jaya
Call 03-7958 1688 for directions

Hours: 8am to 6pm

The map to the venue is here. More details (and offers) can be found at the MPH Distributors' Facebook page.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Book Marks: Book Blogs, Passive Science, Etc.

Scott Pack "wrote a thing about book blogs and whether or not they actually sell any books." Not by themselves, apparently.

"I do think that a combination of factors can make a difference, and often a big difference," Pack writes. "If a book gets a couple of cracking reviews in the newspapers and book bloggers are chatting positively about it online and booksellers (don't forget the crucial role they play) are getting behind it then that can be sufficient critical mass to ensure a decent audience."

Is it time for scientists to stop writing in the passive voice? Short answer: Yup.
But why?

Among other things, the passive voice may make it more difficult to celebrate particular scientific accomplishments. When scientists fight for the passive voice, they’re not fighting for their right to write poorly. They think science should speak for itself. But in a time when climate change deniers blind themselves to hard data and vaccine conspiracy theorists blithely cover their ears to public health risks, it has never been more clear that science doesn’t speak for itself.

I've always found academic writing terribly textbook-y: staid, sleep-inducing and doesn't do the science and facts any favours. Some fields of science can be exciting, and increasingly relevant to our daily lives to the point where even non-scientists start to take note.

But when you let the "science speak for itself", it tends to put up barriers and warns laypeople off. In other words, the science becomes inaccessible. To get people, including scientists themselves, interested again, maybe it's time to reframe all those years of hard work in an accessible manner. Perhaps this will remind scientists why they got into this field in the first place.


Monday, April 13, 2015

Fixi Buka Kedai, Yo

So, Fixi has a store. Hooray!

And it has an Apple store vibe to it.

Kedai Fixi at Jaya Shopping Centre, which is not Jaya One or Jaya 33

But, considering how big this indie book publisher has become, setting up a bricks-and-mortar presence sounds logical. Even Lejen Press, another indie publisher, has a store in Subang Jaya.

Which, according to Fixi's Amir Muhammad, kind of helped him get a lot for the shop in the fourth floor of Jaya Shopping Centre, near the landmark Digital Mall. "Jaya Shopping Centre originally offered a shoplot to Lejen Press, but Lejen said their shop in Subang Jaya was sufficient for the time being, so Fixi came in," said Amir.

He stressed at least once that Jaya Shopping Centre was not Jaya One or Jaya 33.

Some of the wares on sale at Kedai Fixi

Besides publications by Fixi, the store also retails stuff from Lejen Press, Dubook Press, Maple Comics and Moka Mocha Ink. The store was officially launched on Saturday, 11 April, though the atmosphere was anything but "official".

In an impromptu speech, Amir thanked the representatives of Jaya Shopping Centre and writers and staff of Fixi, including writers who "defected" to other publishing houses (it's okay, they can write for anybody).

Fixi author Nadia Khan (centre) with a couple of attendees of the event.
The guy on the right is Richard Wong, but other than organising events
for British Council KL, I'm not sure what else he does

Some of the writers who were there included newlyweds Nadia Khan (Kelabu, Gantung, Cerpen Nadia Khan) and Mamü Vies (Dog Pound), Anuar Shah (Pinjam, Pentas), Mim Jamil (Lari), Ridhwan Saidi (Cekik+Amerika, Brazil) and Muhammad Fatrim (Asrama, Patung).

Thanks also went to media people who supported Fixi and spread the word about it and its books, especially BFM Radio's bookmaven Umapagan Ampikaipakan and journalist and author Bissme S. I think Linda Tan Lingard from the Yusof Gajah Lingard Literary Agency was also there.

Fixi boss Amir Muhammad (picture on the right, third from foreground) is
flanked by by several authors: Mim Jamil (foreground), Anuar Shah and
Ridhwan Saidi (background) as he delivers his speech and thanks those
who made the day, the shop and Fixi possible.

ASTRO Awani covered the event (Kedai Fixi - "premis bergaya hipster"?) and spoke to Amir (of course). The segment has been YouTubed and posted on Fixi's Facebook page.

I found this bit interesting: "Actually, what surprised me is the response from not only readers but writers as well," said Amir in the video. We receive 20 to 30 manuscripts every month, mostly from new writers who never thought of writing a novel until they read novels from Fixi or similar publishers. So these books speak to them, telling them that they also have stories to share."

Part of the crowd that came for the launch. The gentleman on the
extreme right is the representative from Jaya Shopping Centre.

There's also a story about how one of the Fixi store's staff got a job there. I believe the word Amir used was "blackmail". The female staff, who's waiting for her SPM results, was working at a restaurant in the premises - until she saw the Fixi hoarding in front of the shoplot while it was under renovation.

Kedai Fixi
Lot 4.35-36, Level 4
Jaya Shopping Centre
Jalan 14/17, Section 14
Petaling Jaya

Twitter: @KedaiFixi

Open daily from 10am - 10pm
"She quit her job on the same day," Amir marvelled, "and told me, 'I just resigned from my job; please give me a job.'" Of such stuff are indie publishing legends made of.

Several Fixi authors also signed copies of their latest books for buyers. To commemorate the launch of the Fixi store, those who bought books from it can take their receipts and claim a free "freezie" from the nearby Fresh Code juice and smoothie bar.

Though I got a signed copy of Brazil, I passed. Not my thing. And I had a mango juice from the juice bar.

Congrats, Fixi, for the launch of your first store. May it lead to even better things.

16/04/2015   The Star covered the launch and has a story on the new outlet.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Adventures In Bolognaise

Emboldened by the relative success of my attempts at making purple carrot soup and mushroom soup, I moved on to another challenge: pasta bolognaise.

So I'm a little late to the bandwagon.

Several meals of lamb bolognaise spaghetti at a nearby café sort of convinced me that hey, this is doable (not to mention the expense). But not with lamb. Not yet.

Thank goodness for the YSK meat mart nearby for this straight-up pork bolognaise I attempted one fine weekend.

First, season the mince. Salt (not a lot), pepper and mixed herbs by McCormick, and work it with the hands until they are all evenly distributed. These three seasonings should be okay for whatever four-legged animal you'd want, or even chicken.

Pork bolognaise cooking away, while the cooked pasta waits
impatiently; sorry, no pictures of the interim steps

Then, ball it up and smack it down into the bowl several times; this tip came from Mom, which I assume was primarily for meat balls, but it's quite satisfying to lay the smackdown on the mince anyway.

Heat some oil in a pan and drop the meat in. No fear of it clumping into a grotesque misshapen burger patty if you stir it often to break up any huge bits. If your meat is frozen (like mine), you might want to cook it just a wee bit longer, but not too long, because it's going to bubble along with the sauce.

Take it off the heat when thoroughly brown and plate it. Might be good also if you lined the plate with several paper towels to catch any fat that would otherwise pool at the bottom or be absorbed by the mince in the lower layers.

Now, the tomato-based sauce.

Toss in one yellow onion, chopped, and sauté until soft. Then add the aromatics: chopped garlic and shallots, and sauté for a few minutes. The kitchen should start smelling real good.

Then, in goes two chopped tomatoes. I didn't bother with skinning or removing the seeds, since they were small (should've bought two more at the market). Smoosh the tomatoes as they cook.

After a few minutes, in goes the stock or water, followed by two heaped tablespoons of Hunt's tomato paste. Stir and let it boil. When the sauce starts to bubble, dump the mince in, and stir. Let it boil a bit, then reduce to a simmer. Depending on how thick you want it, simmering time could take between 30 and 45 minutes. Stir the sauce from time to time.

With this, the number of pasta-serving places I tend to visit
went down by ... three quarters?

In the meantime, cook your pasta al dente. I made the mistake of making the pasta almost after I set the sauce to simmer, but since I was the one eating it...

When the sauce has reduced to your liking, take it off the heat, taste and adjust seasonings. Making it a habit of adding less salt helps. Heap your sauce over your pasta and serve.

It came out fine, because I didn't overdo the salt and continually tasted the sauce at almost every stage of its preparation. Some things to note, though:

  • Probably too much minced pork for one serving. Stomach's not the near-bottomless pit it used to be. Should've also put it on a plate with several layers of paper towels after browning to absorb the excess fat.
  • Used too much water, so the sauce took longer to simmer down. In the end, the bolognaise was wetter than usual and not very tomato-ey. And there's still a small bowl of leftover sauce in the kitchen.
  • Pasta was too soft because I cooked it too early. Should've waited until the sauce was ready first.

This whole dish, sauce and all, took me about an hour and 15 minutes to prepare. Crazy! But worth it, I guess.

Since then, I've made this dish a couple more times, including a version where I blended the cooked sauce ingredients in a blender before bringing it up to a simmer and tossing the mince in. This version cooked a bit faster and yielded a thicker sauce, but didn't taste quite right after I allowed a lot of the meat juice and fat from the mince to drain on paper towels.

The third bolognaise followed the first, albeit with the addition of a little butter and cheese that was shaved from a block of mature cheddar that flew out of London - thanks, Melody! Don't ever do this with the individually packed "cheddar slices" - it won't be the same.

So ... if any of you restaurant owners are wondering why you don't see me around these days - not that you often do - wonder no more.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Sir Terry Pratchett (1948–2015)

Oh, bugger.

Author's photo (left) from Penguin UK; The Truth was among the
first - and, perhaps, among the best - of his books that I'd read

I first knew him and his works through my sister's copies of The Truth and Witches Abroad, years before I ventured into journalism (briefly) and publishing. Who knew I'd go into both?

"He will be missed" is an understatement.

...Oh dear L*rd, someone wrote this eulogy of sorts and it's awesome.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Book Marks: Being Opinionated, Fifty Shades Banned

John Scalzi thinks "you won't sell books if you have an opinion a reader doesn't like" is "terrible advice".

It’s terrible advice in part because it's simply not true — there are best selling writers in every genre who express opinions that outrage and annoy whole packs of people, and have since before they were best sellers, and yet they sell books nonetheless — and in part because it's reductive. It's an argument that posits that once a writer enters the stream of commerce, the most important thing about that writer's life is their ability to sell books. Everything else about that writers' life suddenly takes a back seat to that single commercial goal.

So what if a writer is or has written or said something that's "polarizing"? Big deal, Scalzi seems to suggest, and not just because he feels that writers are supposed to have something to say.

To write publicly is to be judged and to be criticized and to be polarizing. If one avoids speaking on public issues in social media only out fear of alienating readers, all one does is possibly delay such judgment. Judgment will happen for what you say and also what you don't say. Judgment will happen for what you write in your books and what people assume you meant when you wrote those words, regardless of your authorial intent. Judgment will happen based on who people think you are based on the fantasy version of you they have in their head, which is almost always more about their own fears and desires than anything that has to do with the actual person you are.

So you might as well say whatever the hell you like, if you like. If nothing else, then the fantasy versions of who you are might be closer to the person you actually are.


After much has been made about the movie, Fifty Shades of Grey - both the books and film - is now banned in Malaysia.

Note that it has been several years since the trilogy was released in the country, where dozens of households might have read or owned at least one volume. That's like closing the barn door after the horses have bolted, headed for the hills, grazed and sired three generations.


  • H is for Hawk: A Q&A at National Geographic with Helen Macdonald, who also sat down with Salon for a tête-à-tête.
  • The longlist for Bailey's (hic!) women's prize for fiction is out. It's a strong one, according to The Independent. The Bookseller has a bit more about the selection and notes that, among other things, half the books are published by Penguin Random House.
  • A conversation with author Hanya Yanagihara and her editor Gerry Howard about author-editor relationships.
  • Peter Hessler went on a book tour in China with his censor. It's just like you'd imagined it.
  • If I get to read Cat Out of Hell I won't review it; after Ron Charles's take on it, who could do better?
  • Jeffrey Archer accuses Bollywood of stealing his bestselling storylines ... which Bollywood tends to do on occasion.
  • Kazuo Ishiguro on memory, censorship and why Proust is overrated.
  • Bill Bryson's new book, The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes from a Small Island, is coming soon.
  • Mein Kampf to be reprinted in Germany for first time since World War II as an annotated historical document. Of course, not everybody's happy.