Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Pork Curry Plunge

A dish I've been trying to make, perfect and call my own is curry. So on one weekend, I took the plunge.

Mis en place: prepared items for curry while shallots being fired

Nothing special: pork, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and Baba's (meat) curry powder.

Shallots being sautéed; hard to prep but work better than red onions

First, sliced shallots are sautéed in oil. Then, came the grated ginger and garlic. After stirring for a while till it smells good, in went the tomatoes, followed by the pork about ten minutes later. Thought I'd try not browning the meat first.

Pre-curry pork, tomatoes and sautéed herbs

When the meat looked all cooked on the outside, the water went in, followed by curry powder (the whole packet) and the root vegetables. After seasoning with salt, all that stewed for about thirty to forty minutes.

Final product, ready to be dried out

After which, the lid came off and the curry (which looked like pie filling - ARGH! - by now), is allowed to cook and dry out a bit for fifteen to twenty minutes. I kept stirring every six to eight minutes to keep the bottom from burning.

Final product is poured out into a bowl, finished with a bit of olive oil and served.

Not like what I'd thought it would be, but still edible

Major complaints: lumpy gravy, melting root vegetables, and still too much gravy. Also, it lacked a certain kind of sweetness (there's no sugar in the house and these days I sweeten my beverages with honey).

I picked out the most solid bits from the bowl and put them on a plate. ...Ah, that is what it's supposed to look like.

Worked much better with less gravy; wish I had some rice, though

Thinking of using another fruit, maybe grated apples. Might also want to blitz the whole lot with a blender for a finer gravy.

Still, not bad for a prototype curry.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Book Marks: Excerpts, Endings, Etc

Author Raja Azmi Raja Sulaiman was reportedly barred from UIAM Kuantan over her novel's content (I mistakenly referred to the author as "he" when tweeting this for the first time).

The article is in Malay, but the gist is that Raja Azmi was supposed conduct a dialogue session about her writing career and her novel Karkuma with students at the International Islamic University campus in Kuantan during its open day tomorrow (18 October). The university's administration apparently cancelled the event over certain elements in that novel. The author is, understandably, disappointed (also in Malay).

Part of an excerpt from The Vulgar Tongue: Green's History of Slang by Jonathon Green, which reads thus (paragraph split):

Slang's literary origins are widespread and ever-expanding. Its social roots, however, are narrow and focused: the city. If, as has been suggested, the story of standard English is that of a London language, so too is that of English slang. And the pattern would be repeated elsewhere as colonies became independent and rural settlements became major conurbations.

London's chroniclers had always noted the urban vocabularies, though none before the eighteenth century had rendered their discoveries lexicographical. The pioneer of such investigations, John Stow, laying out Elizabethan London in his Survey of London (1598), had barely touched on language (his text offers gong farmer, a latrine cleaner, night-walker, a thief, and white money, meaning silver coins). In time those who told London's story would offer a far more central position to the city's speech, alongside its population and topography.

India's home-grown thriller writers are sneaking up on international names on the best-seller lists. Some possible reasons:

Some attribute the rise of the thriller to publishers being more willing to take risks in what was once a very conservative market; others to the hundreds of millions of young, literate people in India who for the first time can afford books priced at about £1. There has also long been a strong pulp fiction tradition in local languages, particularly Bengali, Urdu and Tamil.

The thrillers also provide a sense of accountability, which resonates with readers in a country of deep inequality where systems of justice are profoundly flawed. Many feature investigative journalists on the trail of corrupt big businesses or politicians in league with the police or judges.

Apparently, Benjamin Hale (The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore (Twelve, 2011)) can't review a novel because he didn't like it. So he wrote a letter, presumably to an editor, to explain:

This book has been an anchor around my neck ever since you sent me a galley back in the winter. I have finally clawed my way out to page 700-something and still the remaining 300-some pages loom ahead, foreboding and without promise. At some point in the more than six months it's taken me to get this far into the book, I started forcing myself to read it by taking it to the gym with me. It made sense for the task of reading this book to accompany my trying to lose weight on the stationary cycle: both are joyless, laborious, repetitive chores done in a state of squinty-eyed perspiration and only in the distant hope that, eventually, I will finally get rid of something heavy.

No clue as to which novel he's referring to (I really want to know!). But it sounds like one of those that are laboriously difficult to read - and possibly write. A "good" book by some standards but "difficult" by others.

Could this be a creative way of commenting on whether "good" books must also give the reader some pleasure in the slog, or merely a rant by someone who can't finish a book and wants out of a commitment?

From how The Sopranos ended, an anatomy of endings. Why do we seem so hung up over "The End"?

Endings haunt us because they are our mortality formalized. They give us a simulated symbolic version of our own endings, which are either the Clincher, sudden and unexpected and ironically right, or else the Closer, the deathbed gathering. The grim trick, of course, is that, as long as we maintain the sense of an ending, it isn't over.

...As long as a sense of the ending hovers, the story goes on. We close the book, leave the theatre, shut off the screen, and return to the world, bewildered, maybe, but still breathing. In this way, a bad finish is a great gift, indignation at an unsatisfying ending being the surest sign of life.

Australian novelist Elizabeth Harrower is "rediscovered" through her re-issued works. What to expect:

Harrower's writing is witty, desolate, truth-seeking, and complexly polished. Everything (except feeling, which is passionately and directly confessed) is controlled and put under precise formal pressure. Her sentences, which have an unsettling candor, launch a curling assault on the reader, often twisting in unexpected ways. And although her novels can feel somewhat closed, and tend to repeat themselves in theme, her prose is full of variety.

"North America is a crime scene"? An excerpt from An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. A taste (paragraph split):

Jodi Byrd writes: "The story of the new world is horror, the story of America a crime." It is necessary, she argues, to start with the origin of the United States as a settler-state and its explicit intention to occupy the continent. These origins contain the historical seeds of genocide. Any true history of the United States must focus on what has happened to (and with) Indigenous peoples—and what still happens.

It's not just past colonialist actions but also "the continued colonization of American Indian nations, peoples, and lands" that allows the United States "to cast its imperialist gaze globally" with "what is essentially a settler colony's national construction of itself as an ever more perfect multicultural, multiracial democracy," while "the status of American Indians as sovereign nations colonized by the United States continues to haunt and inflect its raison d'etre."


  • Fixi is calling for entries for Cyberpunk: Malaysia, the next Fixi Novo anthology, which will be edited by Zen Cho (Spirits Abroad (Fixi Novo, 2014)). The deadline's 31 December. The first entries came in several hours after the announcement. It's like these writers have something lying in wait somewhere for just such an occasion.
  • In The Guardian, The Man Booker Prize in numbers. The Prize is significant this year because it's been opened to American authors, but it was Richard Flanagan's The Narrow Road to the Deep North that scooped up this year's award.
  • From The New Yorker, some chef stories, including Anthony Bourdain's "Don't eat before reading this", plus pieces on Mario Batali, David Chang, Julia Child, Alice Waters and Grant Achatz.
  • Why do books come out in hardback before paperback? The Economist explains:

    Known as "windowing", this sales strategy is also used in the film industry, where titles are released in the cinema several months before being sold on DVD. Like cinema tickets, hardcover books generate more profit per unit than paperbacks. And just as cinephiles like to see films on the big screen, collectors enjoy the hardback's premium quality. ...Hardbacks' durability means they are also popular with libraries. And they hold a certain snob value, too: literary editors traditionally don't review paperbacks.

    Also from The Economist: the future of the book.
  • Ten grammar mistakes that aren't - sort of.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

MPH Warehouse Sale 2014, Part II

Yes, it's back, from 21 to 26 October 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.

Kindly note that the Petaling Jaya City Council has made several roads around PJ into one-way routes beginning 12 October 2014; details can be found here (PDF file).

Friday, October 10, 2014

Book Marks: ZI In Court, And Evening Mists In Film?

So this happened yesterday:

"In a landmark case that will determine the extent of the freedom of expression in Malaysia, the country's top court will weigh today the constitutionality of a state Shariah law to ban "religious" publications deemed against Islam," The Malay Mail Online reported.

This is related to the Selangor's religious authorities' raid on the premises of ZI Publications and seizure of the Malay-language version of the book, Allah, Liberty and Love, by Canadian writer Irshad Manji two years ago. A ban on the book was overturned by the High Court in September 2013.

Meanwhile, the Court of Appeal lifted a ban on Perak Darul Kartun and 1 Funny Malaysia, two books by cartoonist Zunar, on the grounds that they did not threaten national security or disrupt public order.

"Thanks to Aunty, a local film studio has set itself the ambitious task of turning an international bestselling novel into a movie." Ya meh? Apparently, yes.

So an article by June Wong on how Tan Twan Eng's Man Asia winner The Garden of Evening Mists would make a great movie managed to catch the eye of Henry Tan, Astro's chief operating officer for strategy, content and marketing.

"Fascinated by how Psy's Gangnam Style video brought South Korea world attention and 'adoration', I suggested this highly acclaimed novel set in Malaysia written by a Malaysian could be our ticket to fame if it was turned into a movie by a Hollywood or British studio," Aunty wrote.

No, "Aunty", you SO DID NOT compare a Man Asia literary prize winner with a human joke magnet, did you?

Ben Yagoda wonders if the long novel is still relevant.

So many door-stopping novels would find their best form as novellas ... They do not, for two main reasons. The first is that authors generally like to hear themselves talk, and editors, with so much on their minds, especially these days, aren't sufficiently ready and willing to pare the extraneous.

...Also, since the market, as it's been defined for a pretty long time, doesn't have a place for novellas and 25,000-word nonfiction works, ideas that would work best at such length get artificially bulked up, like an offensive lineman on steroids. E-books are a promising receptacle for shorter texts, but the form has a ways to go before authors and readers alike are comfortable
with it.

Martin Scorsese made a film about The New York Review of Books and Laura Miller over at Salon thinks it can teach us a thing or two about the true worth of writing and editing.

"Consumers who demand that the price of e-books be slashed to less than half the hardcover list price reveal a belief that the work and expertise of a writer are worth less than a handful of paper and cardboard," Miller writes. Also:

Even readers who claim to value non-automated editing have little sense of a editor's actual responsibilities. The familiar grouse that "no one edits anymore" is usually followed by lamentations over the typos, grammatical errors and misspellings someone has found in traditionally published works. But correcting that kind of micro-mistake is the job of a copyeditor (or in some cases a proofreader), not the editor. So if the editor is not in charge of fixing "spelling, etc," then what does an editor do?

"Have we fallen out of love with e-readers?" asks The Independent, which then links this with findings that suggest people retain more of what they read on print rather than the screen.

Publisher Scott Pack seems to concur. "I retain a very physical memory of a book for some time after reading it," he says in the report. "I can recall whether a particular scene or quote appeared on the left- or right-hand page, towards the top or bottom, and sometimes the page number, too."

He also highlighted some related sentiments from a bookbuyer on Twitter about buying e-books: "From a letter I received today 'Occasionally I do buy a digital book but it feels a bit like getting takeaways instead of cooking dinner'."

In Zimbabwe, a writer bids farewell to book writing, no thanks to "book pirates, photocopying technology and weak copyright infringement laws".

Ignatius T. Mabasa's novel, used as a national school set text for studying the Shona language, was pirated by bootleggers, leaving him and his publisher high and dry. But it's not just authors:

During the 2014 National Arts Merit Awards, I shared a table with Enock Chihombori and when he was announced winner for his film -- Gringo the Troublemaker, instead of rejoicing, Chihombori wept uncontrollably before telling the nation that he had used family savings to produce the film, but he never benefited at all from his creative talents. The film was pirated and available on the streets before it was even launched.

Beware of "popular" self-published books on Ebola being sold on Amazon. Seems they're written by quacks aren't doctors - and they're part of the problem, not the solution, says WHO and the UN.

"Both the World Health Organization and the United Nations have said [misinformation has] contributed to the spread of the disease, says the Washington Post report. "In fact, per the WHO, one of the most persistent obstacles to fighting Ebola is 'rumors on social media claiming that certain products or practices can prevent or cure' it — when in fact, they can't."

This is one reason why the industry still needs gatekeepers.


Friday, October 03, 2014

Book Marks: Fantasy Killings, Indian Detectives And Cairo Noir

Author Hilary Mantel wrote about killing Margaret Thatcher and some people weren't happy. Never mind that Maggie's no longer here.

James Poulos wonders what drives people to create such scenarios, and argues that assassination fantasies expresses (I think) our urge to turn to murder. But the "artist" should, he says, bear in mind that what they visualise can become reality, especially in such trying times as these: human with a feeling intellect should bash out a dramatized act of butchery without feeling some sickness over the possibility that it might be acted out in real life. At the very least, even an accidentally copycat killing makes your dark imagination feel complicit in a curse—a sensation experienced every day by people who desperately try not to visualize the crash of the airliner they’re on. For artists, that moral sensibility, superstitious or no, ought to be cranked to 11.

Coming next year: the adventures of Mumbai-based detective Ashwin Chopra by Vaseem Khan. The detective's début in The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra will have him paired up with an unusual partner: a baby elephant.

Hāthī Mērē Sāthī would've been more apt.

The report goes on to say that "If successful, Khan's creation could be joining a number of other well-known Indian crimefighters: Inspector Sartaj Singh of the Vikram Chandra novels 'Sacred Games' and 'Love and Longing in Bombay,' HRF Keating's Mumbai man Inspector Ghote, Byomkesh Bakashi of Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay's series, as well as Satyajit Ray's Calcuttan PI, Feluda, who was accompanied not by a baby elephant but by his younger cousin Tapesh."

Hmm, no mention of Tarquin Hall's Vish Puri (beware, web site has audio on by default)? Is it because Puri's a private eye and not a policeman?

Seems noir is making a comeback in the Middle East.

"The genre has long been popular in the Middle East though often considered too lowbrow for local and international scholarship," Jonathan Guyer writes in The Guardian. "Mid-century paperbacks – shelves of unexamined pulp, from Arabic translations to locally produced serials, along with contemporary reprints of Agatha Christie – languish in Cairo's book markets. Writer Ursula Lindsay quips: 'Cairo is the perfect setting for noir: sleaze, glitz, inequality, corruption, lawlessness. It's got it all.' "

Almost excited to see if any of these reaches our shores.

Peter Foges considers Martin Amis's Zone of Interest as the latter's tour de force and delves into Amis's exploration into Nazi evil.

"However since he simply could not fathom Hitler's depravity even after plowing through every book and interviewing every 'expert,' he found himself stuck," says Foges. Until he encountered the words of Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi:

"One must not understand what happened," wrote the most morally eloquent of the Holocaust's survivors. "Because to understand is almost to justify. ... There is no rationality in the Nazi hatred; it is a hate that is not in us; it is outside man."

Ellora's Cave, a publisher of romance and erotica, is suing a blogger for reporting its troubles on a blog post and is apparently also demanding the real identities of those who commented on that post.

I thought it was a pretty familiar story; lots of such cases have happened elsewhere, but most of these generally backfired. And it seems this phenomenon has a name: the Streisand effect which, according to the Wiki, is where "an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet."

One of my favourite book people sums up why an editor of a book magazine doesn't want to feature a certain book - not just because it's a "self-published indie" volume, I hope.

He also admits there could be lots of "interesting, engaging, informative, moving, timely and/or newsworthy" books out there that are being ignored - "and that's a tragedy. But it's not a tragedy that I can solve by reading 25 pages of every one of the 300,000 self-published books that would land in our office if we opened the door."


  • Here's how to diagram a sentence. This is an old technique to visualise parts of a sentence that has fallen out of use. "But, like fresh apple pie made from scratch, sometimes sticking to the basics is best. Diagramming a sentence creates a clear visual that helps you analyze what you're writing."
  • Who has heard of this book critic called Ed Champion? Not many, until he threatened a writer over a perceived slight. A background on him and the incident is one of several related articles on Salon, and his story has gained some traction. Over at The Daily Beast, someone wonders if Champion is now the most hated man in books.
  • I heard That Book by Mr Bak Kut Teh Who's On The Run has finally been published. Like many others, we had the honour of being offered his manuscript but thought his chances of being published would be better elsewhere. While you wait for its arrival (if ever), how about some of the 15,000 titles Harlequin just made available on Scribd?
  • And because we can never have too much Anthony Bourdain, here's Hollywood Reporter's profile on the man who "could save CNN". They expect so much of him since Kitchen Confidential.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Book Marks: Best-seller, Memoir Moms

The Hindustani Academy has started publishing (re-issuing, rather) rare out-of-print Hindi and Urdu literary books, beginning with a book on "legendary king" Raja Bhoj.

Which can only be good. It's just that anyone trying to find out more from the Academy's web site would have to learn Hindi. Maybe we can e-mail?

And here's more good news:

Made in Malaysia makes the top of MPH's weekly list of best-selling
local non-fiction for the week 15-21 September 2014

Naturally, I'm chuffed, because this was a challenging project. The launch was a bit hectic, but I was impressed overall. There was music, spoken drama, a radio show host, a huge crowd, and more.

Though bookstores in the Klang Valley should already be stocking it, copies might only be available at outlets and stores outstation sometime next week. Here are more details on the book and a bit about the launch.

And I got the news today that we're reprinting this book. Pedalling Around the Peninsula chronicles the gruelling, sometimes zany adventures of a lady and her friend who took 37 days to cycle around Peninsular Malaysia.

Beleaguered national airline MAS is dissatisfied over a satirical "news report" on a parody news site and a book on the fate of MH370. The latter is rather upsetting, as the book suggests the late pilot of the plane downed it in an apparent murder-suicide attempt.

The authors: journalist Geoff Taylor and Ewan Wilson, former CEO of a defunct airline and a "convicted New Zealand criminal fraudster", hit back at MAS and defended their findings as "the result of a robust analysis of the known facts".

I guess people just can't get enough of a mystery. Whatever happened to the plane and all aboard, it's all conjecture so long as they remain missing. But yeah. Once you have a rap sheet, it's tough to sell certain things.

After "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius was acquitted of murder, Reeva Steenkamp's mother is reportedly coming out with a book that "will tell, for the first time, the full story behind the most dramatic trial of the 21st century," according to the publisher. This came after the buzz over Pistorius publishing his own book about the incident, which seems to be in doubt.

Another sort-of-famous mom who's publishing is Susan Klebold, whose son Dylan was one of the Columbine shooters.

It's Banned Book Week now in the US and here's a look at banned books through five infographics. Graphic nudity I understand. But nudity in text?

Another candidate for (unnecessary) banning is Adam Mansbach's You Have to F—king Eat, which is scheduled for release on November 12 and- Oooh, LEMURS!

Ring-tailed lemurs, from the look of it

Everything's better with lemurs. Who'd ban lemurs? They're critically endangered already.

What happens when the posts in a once-thriving blog start coming in slowly; the emotions in the writing, if any, feel forced; and there are more product placements and promos than in-depth pieces? Probably signs of blogging burnout.

(Oh, expect lots of listicles, too. And maybe lemurs...)

Though this New York Times piece is about DIY and interior design blogs, it pretty much revisits an old issue. For one, are bloggers not entitled to some off time when it all starts becoming more of a slog because they make big bucks?

And finally, let Neil Gaiman tell you about Sir Terry Pratchett. "Some people have encountered an affable man with a beard and a hat, Gaiman writes in The Guardian. "They believe they have met Sir Terry Pratchett. They have not."

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Launch of Made in Malaysia

The Malaysia-Day launch of Alexandra Wong's Made in Malaysia: Stories of Hometown Heroes and Hidden Gems took place at MPH's Nu Sentral flagship bookstore.

The store put up about thirty-plus chairs in the beginning. We were told (or promised, rather) that more people will be coming, so the staff took out all the chairs they had (which would STILL not be enough).

Noelle Lim, Queen of the Breakfast Grille programme on BFM89.9 and the author's long-time friend was picked as the emcee for the launch.

The author, Alexandra Wong, started signing books early, almost an hour before the launch began. Her book is a compilation of selected articles from her "Navel Gazer" column in English-language daily The Star.

She got the idea of getting launch attendees to write their names on these stones from somewhere online. She plans to put these stones in a big glass bowl that will take place of pride in her new digs - another element that's in line with her community project of a book.

Every now and then, Alexandra takes time out from signing books to greet her guests and their friends and relatives. Her articles feature the whole gamut of Malaysians, from everyday people to luminaries, and she cherishes every encounter.

It got a bit hard for her to personally thank everyone who attended the launch as the day wore on. Among many of the attendees are Alex's parents and her friends/acquaintances and their relatives or friends.

Showtime was just after 3pm.

As expected, we had no problem filling seats - just getting them. Around the middle of the launch, the bookstore people brought out wooden stools from somewhere inside the store, but it remained standing room only until the end.

Noelle did a fine job as an emcee, even though she claimed this was her first time. Alex thought she'd exceeded expectations.

Singer-songwriter Ray Cheong volunteered his time and talents to open the launch. When he and Alex met, she'd begun her freelance writing career and he was selling cameras.

Now, she's an author and columnist and he's got an album (sold at indie talent venue Merdekarya) and, among other things, opened for Pixie Lott's 2012 Kuala Lumpur tour.

Like I said, no problems filling seats...

...just finding them.

Young Visaghan delivered a dramatised reading of a story in the book, "My superwoman BFF". Said superwoman is his mom, Shivanee Selvaratnam, one of Alex's childhood friends, who couldn't make it and pledged her husband, sons, mother-in-law and several relatives to stand in her stead.

Seems she coached the kid to memorise the lines by heart and, after getting Alex to eat out of his hand during his first encounter, had the audience in the palm of the same hand as well. He's like, what, only ten?

An unscheduled and surprising bit of entertainment was provided by Semai craftsman Raman bah Tuin, who took about two minutes to introduce himself and play the nose flute for the audience.

Alex went all the way to Raman's home to interview him for an article in MAS's in-flight magazine, Going Places (which is pretty much her ambition). If the audience thought his nose-flute playing was enchanting, they should hear it at his backyard, closer to nature.

The author herself finally took the stage to speak about the book and invite some "guests of honour" to share the spotlight with her.

Of course, Alex's parents were first. Their presence at the launch was significant, as she fought for years to earn their (especially her mom's) approval of her freelancing writer's career.

To Alex's surprise, Mrs Wong took the mic. The author's gung-ho, always-seize-the-moment attitude definitely came from her mother. "She never told me about this book until the last minute," Mrs Wong told the audience, to their amusement.

Quiet, dignified Mr Wong, meanwhile, isn't used to being in the limelight.

One thing she forgot to mention: that fellow sitting in the barber's chair on the cover of the book? That's her dad, Mr Wong, getting a haircut at Ipoh's Star Barber.

More and more of the guests of honour - some of the "hometown heroes" and "hidden gems" Alex encountered so far in her career - are invited up the stage and would later sign the mock book towards the end of the event.

This is, after all, their book and their stories.

I'd been sick (sinuses and itchy throat) for the past several days; I only felt a bit of it during the launch, but it got even worse later that night. And it's the first launch I actively participated in since becoming an editor....

This is a truncated version of my Facebook photo album of the event, which for some reason is still "unavailable" despite its "Public" status (Facebook can be so dysfunctional).

Made in Malaysia should be available now at bookstores in the Klang Valley, including Borders, Kinokuniya, Cziplee and, of course, MPH. Some details about the book can be found here.