Sunday 26 November 2023

Book Marks: Big Fiction, AI, Malaysian Bus Journeys

Lacking material, I put off last week's post. As these things go, I probably should have expected to run smack into a deluge of stuff on books and publishing this week. Who was it that said publishing activities tend to slow down towards the end of the year?

Anyway, this is what cropped up in the past two weeks...

In The New Republic is a review of Big Fiction: How Conglomeration Changed the Publishing Industry and American Literature by Dan Sinykin, an assistant professor of English at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. A part of it reads...

"As publishers grew far larger—and ever more concerned with the bottom line—the lives of editors and authors transformed. More than ever before, they became cogs in a corporate machine, responsible for growth and returns on investment, necessarily responsive to the whims and demands of capital—and these pressures increasingly showed up in their output."

And how. I'm sure this is increasingly the case as publishers push more books out and the editorial process suffers as a result.

Sinykin and his book are cited in this prediction about the (near) future of books in Esquire. I'm not dismissing it outright, so let's see how many of these come true.

Over at Observer, writers and publishers weigh in on how to cope with AI. "Reports of companies and individuals using A.I. to spread misinformation, infringe copyright and steal authors' identities have dominated discussions of the technology's role in the books we consume," goes the report. As the technology develops, publishers are finding it harder to detect AI use in submitted work, while writers seem to be thrilled with how AI is supercharging their productivity.

Meanwhile, several editors look at the adoption of AI in publishing and ponder where the tech would fit in the editorial workflow. "While generative AI's current appeal lies in creation, it requires human motivation and direction. This is the kind of briefing and tweaking that editors and publishers historically have done: acquiring, commissioning, copy editing. Our role has included adopting and adapting text to create (or curate) connections with audiences, elevating prose to the best it can be, or the perfect fit for that category."

Not everyone is sanguine about AI. This writer, whose farewell to OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has proven premature now that Altman looks set to return as CEO, appears concerned that chatbots at workstations is but a step towards a dystopian post-human future. Also: "Even if we assume that the creation of a superintelligent AI is plausible, let alone desirable, was Altman ever the right man for the job here?"


  • "A bus ticket gets you places. An open heart gets you hidden Malaysian experiences." Lam Ching Fu, author of the developing My Journey By Bus series, is profiled in Options @ The Edge. After covering stopovers in Perak, Penang, Kedah and Perlis in his first book, his second book takes readers from Pahang to Terengganu and Kelantan. In progress is part three, which covers Negeri Sembilan, Melaka and Johor. You gotta hand it to him to embark on such a project. Will it help spur improvements to the bus system? One can hope.
  • Malaysia's youngest author? Meet Karen Chew, author of What Can an 8-Year-Old Tell You? While she was only eight when she started writing her book, she had begun to write when she was only about three to four – "first with a diary and later a blog," goes the report. One factor in her achievements has to be how she is schooled. Now we have to wonder just how Herculean efforts would be to get the current national education system to that level where every third or fourth child can write and publish a book at age eight.
  • "People have agency. People are going to write what they want to. I'm not here to tell people what they can and cannot write. I'm here to ask them should they be writing that story? And I think more people should ask themselves that." After speaking up on Tillie Cole's problematic dark romance novel, BookTok creator Sat and others who have aired similar views found themselves harassed by fans of the novel. Questions are raised over how taboo themes should be addressed in fiction, specifically the dark romance genre.
  • "...the most troubling side effect of #Booktok is how the publishing industry responded to a glut of younger, easily influenced consumers moving deeper into the romance genre. The plan, it seems, to entice and retain these customers was to take the embarrassing bodice-ripping, kilt-clad, flowy-hair heroes off the covers of romance novels and instead churn out aesthetic, minimalist designs." TikTok may be shifting copies, but what if erotica dressed up in YA covers are among those? And if a customer is about to pick a volume of stealthed smut off the shelf, should booksellers intervene?
  • Lots have been observed and said about Javier Milei, who's set to be Argentina's next president, so perhaps it's no surprise that the controversial far-right figure is apparently a plagiarist too. El País claims Milei lifted whole passages from an article written by Mexican scientists for his book, which was published in 2020. "Accusations of plagiarism hung over Milei throughout his entire career, whether it be his academic publications, his campaign spots or even his autobiography," the portal adds.
  • Could this be one of history's longest-running literary scams? The BBC reports that fake Robert Burns manuscripts "made by a forger in the 1880s, have been fleecing collectors for 140 years." While the counterfeiter was caught and imprisoned in 1893, many of the fakes still circulate. "Genuine Burns manuscripts can fetch tens of thousands of pounds at auction today," the report adds, "so there is cash to be made through the fake papers." How many people have been Burn-ed, I wonder?
  • "It's believed Marcus Aurelius wrote Meditations as a form of introspection rather than for larger public consumption. The entries range from blunt maxims to cogent dissertations, and there is no definitive organization to the work—though some patterns have been identified, with themes organized around Stoic philosophy." Though Meditations may not have been written for a wider audience, this self-help classic has become one of the go-tos for those seeking wisdom and life lessons.
  • "My stories, thoughts, and insights are crafted with care, but they must struggle to find their place in a family budget that is under pressure to prioritize where every dollar goes. In this economic climate, choosing between a Netflix subscription and a Patreon pledge is not a matter of preference — it's a hard financial decision for many." Joan Westenberg ponders writing as a career in these trying times.
  • "I knew at once that I would say yes—not because I felt any particular sense of confidence but because I was fully committed to trying. There are so few things we can do for the dead; this was something I could do for her." When she died, Rebecca Godfrey was working on a novel about heiress and art collector Peggy Guggenheim. Friend and novelist Leslie Jamison was approached to finish Godfrey's work. Jamison's quest took her on an odyssey of sorts, delving deep into Godfrey's thought processes, the life of the novel's subject, and her friendship with Godfrey.
  • Former Huntsville Public Library employee Elissa Myers shares her experiences working at the library with Book Riot. "Her work is less about the book banning–that is there, too–but about what it means to be a queer librarian in a time of unmitigated bigotry, much of which is being directed at public employees in education and libraries."
  • "Despite being a nation with a reputation for prudishness about sex, the British don't seem to have any problem reading about it, at least not if you go by the enduring popularity of one the country's most successful writers, Jilly Cooper." Explore Cooper's career, a brief history of the "bonkbuster" (urh), and the British affair with raunchy novels.
  • "There's a reason why Medieval art is particularly, well, weird. While paintings and sculptures that remain from most other periods in history were generally produced by trained artists, the illuminated manuscripts made in Medieval times were often authored by monks and tradespeople, who weren’t necessarily following artistic conventions of the era." Can't get enough of the @WeirdMedieval Twitter account? The book is now out.
  • "Hubert Seipel, an award-winning film-maker and author, admitted receiving support for his work on two books charting the Russian leader's rise to power and offering portrayals described as sympathetic to him." A German publisher has stopped selling books by Seipel after an investigation revealed he received payments from companies linked to an oligarch close to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Friday 24 November 2023

Balmy Bookshop Vibes

Rows of bookshelves stocked to the brim. The smell of books perfume the interior, with the occasional whiff of freshly brewed coffee. Gentle air conditioning, pushing away the warmth of the afternoon sun. From a corner, an almost imperceptible flap of a page being flipped. As you sit in a corner, you relax and become one with the ambience. The past, the future, and the world outside no longer exist.

Rarely does a book about a small neighbourhood bookstore evoke the sensation of being in the real thing. But from the first chapter of Hwang Bo-reum's Welcome to the Hyunam-dong Bookshop, one is sucked in – and is reluctant to leave.

Read the full review here.

Sunday 12 November 2023

Book Marks: Miscellaneous Marks

The weekly post was late last week, partly due to dearth of news and happenings. Not so this week, so let's take a look:

  • Literary social media platform Goodreads is getting users to help it combat review bombing. Publishers Weekly reported Goodreads' statement on the matter, as well as the platform's efforts to remove ratings and reviews that may be review bombs and its plea to its users to report "content or behavior that does not meet our reviews or community guidelines".
  • "Ada Calhoun, the author of four nonfiction books ... helped create the first draft ... Sam Lansky, an editor at Time magazine ... was the next to join the project. The book was completed with the assistance of Luke Dempsey, a ghostwriter and editor who has published books under his own name and worked with Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley". According to The New York Times, these three people worked on Britney Spears's bestselling memoir, The Woman in Me. Quite a team.
  • "Bill Watterson is known for many things — from his world-famous comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, to his disdain for merchandising and his penchant for reclusion. Now he's returned to the world of publishing with a brand new picture book, but the subject matter marks a significant departure from the family-friendly tales he is known for." On CBC, author and publisher Michael Hingston speaks about Watterson's reputation and what his new picture book, The Mysteries.
  • The adult fantasy novel Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros is booming on TikTok and Instagram, but the author's use – or, rather, misuse – of Scottish Gaelic in the novel is getting airtime as well. Discussing this, Scottish BookToker Muireann also expressed frustration with fantasy authors who "use minority languages to exoticize their fantasy without care."
  • At the Sharjah International Book Fair, Tamil publishers make their presence known. "Universal Publishers has guided the lives of tens of thousands of readers by publishing the first self-reliance books in Tamil in 1948 itself," S.S. Sajahan, owner of Universal Publishers based in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, told Gulf Today. "We have published more than 1500 titles till date, out of which over 1000 books have seen many editions."
  • The author of a new book on the last empress consort of Vietnam, Queen Nam Phương, "hopes the book will give historians a chance to reassess certain perceptions about the royal couple." Speaking to VietnamNet Global, Phạm Hy Tùng said, "It aims to shed light on and clarify any misconceptions or negative assumptions that have been made about Queen Nam Phương in the past, thereby contributing a small part to illuminating the true character of this historical figure."
  • Considering the size and scope of the infamous Books3 data set, that the works of Singaporean authors would also be found in it is unsurprising. The Singapore Straits Times reported: "Poet Daryl Lim Wei Jie posted on Facebook recently that he had found several authors’ works in the database, which is used as a reference to train artificial intelligence (AI). Prominent names like Balli Kaur Jaswal, Ovidia Yu and Rachel Heng were on the list, which also included the late Lee Kuan Yew."
  • "Starting a book lending library is a fantastic way to build a sense of community, promote literacy, and provide access to books for those who may not have the means to purchase them. Whether you’re creating a library in your neighborhood, at a community center, or even at your workplace, the process is both exciting and rewarding." If you're interested in setting up a book-lending library, has a framework laid out.
  • Is ghostwriting ruining literature? Probably not, as Book Riot posits. "Since ghostwriting has existed for so long, it feels futile to argue that it's suddenly ruining literature. The effects of modern celebrity ghostwriting, however, can be felt throughout the publishing industry as up-and-coming authors still have to fight to even have their book proposals read."
  • "The foundational decades of modern Māori writing in English are defined largely by a sequence of milestone publications ... Yet these markers are complicated by the existence of David Ballantyne, a writer belonging to both Ngāti Uenukukōpako and Ngāti Hinepare of Te Arawa, who published four novels and a collection of short stories prior to the release of [Witi] Ihimaera and his earliest works of fiction." At Newsroom, Jordan Tricklebank has some thoughts about David Ballantyne, arguably the first Māori author.
  • "These days, it seems the only way for a full-time novelist to ensure financial stability and a comfortable life is to write a Big Book—a reality that’s almost entirely outside their control." Esquire explores how difficult it is to make a living as an author. TL;DR: it's still tough, don't quit your day job. Even writers who started writing after retirement and found success don't do it for the money.
  • "Book challenges and bans may be dominating school board meetings and headlines in the U.S. media, but America is far from the only country that has and continues to wrestle with issues of censorship and book access. Across the Atlantic Ocean, the Republic of Ireland has grappled with issues of book bans and government-led censorship over the last hundred years." Lo, a brief history of book bans in Ireland.
  • A dark romance novel about a Ku Klux Klan member and the daughter of a Mexican cartel boss has come under scrutiny by TikTok creators for its racist and antisemitic language, on top of the apparent fetishisation of Mexican women and culture. Zooming out, Centennial highlights "an issue that has plagued BookTok since its inception: the underrepresentation of authors of colour and novels that meaningfully capture the lived experience of racial minorities." Thanks to TikTok's algorithms and biases in publishing, minority authors find it harder to break through in BookTok.
  • "Despite the impressive writing of authors such as [Raven] Leilani, [Ottessa] Moshfegh and [Lisa] Taddeo, too many of these stories fail to keep up with their own ideas. Trauma is sensationalised, damaged characters are diminished and complicated, and challenging situations are compressed into marketable entertainment. Sometimes this is alarming, but mostly it's just disappointing. It also means the Sad Bad Girl was a trope from the outset." Liz Evans seems to have had enough of Sad Bad Girl novels.

Wednesday 1 November 2023

Book Marks: Writing Novels, Flower Moon, Scholastic U-Turn

"Salman Rushdie has said that if authors are only allowed to write characters that mirror themselves and their own experiences, 'the art of the novel ceases to exist'," the Guardian reports. "If we're in a world where only women can write about women and only people from India can write about people from India and only straight people can write about straight people ... then that's the death of the art."

The report doesn't elaborate further on this, and Rushdie may have more to say on the matter. "Write what you know" emerged in part from the backlash against works by authors who didn't seem to know what they're writing about because of cultural distance or sloppy research. If writers wish to explore realms beyond their lived experiences, they had better do the work or get called out. Confining what writers can write about is unrealistic and inhibits their growth.

"Martin Scorsese's career-capping Killers of the Flower Moon likely never would have happened without David Grann, the New Yorker writer with a preternatural knack for unearthing astonishing, dramatic stories from history. But in the journey from book to film, Scorsese and Eric Roth’s script underwent dramatic changes—including a major shift in focus from an FBI investigation to the Osage of 1920s Oklahoma and the white prospectors and landowners who exploited them."

Dan Kois speaks with Grann about those changes and the film. May I suggest checking out the book as well? I reviewed it and it's great. If this isn't enough, Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio's next project will be another adaptation of Grann's book, that of The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder, which I have yet to get my hands on.

"I am highly perturbed by this news with the bookfair opt-in. I don't get to opt in to be Black. I'm Black 365 days a year, 366 days when it's a leap year, and extra Black in February. So I don't get to turn on and off my Blackness." Author Tanisia Moore voices her displeasure with Scholastic's decision to sequester its book fair titles that revolve around race, sexuality, and gender into a separate catalog. Her book, I Am My Ancestors' Wildest Dream, was part of the Scholastic book fair and also included in this catalog.

Well, the backlash has compelled a U-turn by Scholastic on that policy, reports CBS News. "The 'Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice' collection will not be offered with our next season in January. As we reconsider how to make our book fairs available to all kids, we will keep in mind the needs of our educators facing local content restrictions and the children we serve."

Glad that's over with. Now...

  • "In my novels, walls are real walls," author Haruki Murakami told Associated Press in an interview before receiving Spain's Princess of Asturias prize for literature in the Spanish city of Oviedo. "But of course they are also metaphoric walls at the same time. For me, walls are very meaningful things. I'm a bit claustrophobic. If I'm locked up in a cramped space I may have a mild panic. So I often think about walls." He also spoke of his theory of "novelistic intelligence", AI, and the Israel-Hamas war.
  • "Unlike mega bookstore chains stocked with mainstream titles, these shops curate selections from indie presses, serving both as havens for authors and vital distribution channels. Initially, the indie publishing scene was mostly comprised of young innovators producing visually centric content like posters and postcards. Today, a diverse array of creators contributes novels, essays and travelogues, increasingly blurring the line between indie and mainstream." Indie bookstores appear to be thriving in South Korea, but there might be more to it.
  • "[Toni Morrison's] situation as a black woman at a very white press ... was fraught. It was fraught within the house, where she had to contest entrenched white supremacy. It was also fraught outside the house, where her black peers might see her as a sellout. Some did." A bit about Toni Morrison's career as a trade editor at what was then Random House.
  • Responding to the shelving of the award ceremony for Palestinian author Adania Shibli's Minor Detail at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair, Shibli's publisher Fitzcarraldo made the e-book version of Minor Detail free to download during the fair's duration. The Bookseller also reported that BookTok creator Hana Aisha launched "a readathon on the platform to encourage users to read the novel."
  • "I find it a remarkably silly book. It is certainly a bumptious one. Its story is preposterous." On the 66th publication anniversary of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, Literary Hub presents a review of the novel by American writer and former Communist spy Whittaker Chambers that was published in the National Review in December 1957.
  • "Without attempting to be comprehensive or authoritative—a fool's errand if there ever was one—I thought I would suggest just a few of my own favorites. At the very least, I prescribe these titles as antidotes to the quick and dirty ways people are communicating about the war on social media." Gal Beckerman at The Atlantic recommends some reads as a distraction from the daily doomscrolling of updates on the latest war in Gaza.
  • "I was intrigued by the fact [W. Somerset Maugham] based the story on a murder trial which had taken place in Kuala Lumpur, where I was living. The trial happened more than 100 years ago today, and I just found it interesting that nobody I knew seemed to know about it." How Tan Twan Eng reimagined a century-old scandal in his novel, The House of Doors.
  • British artist David Shrigley collected 6,000 copies of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, had them pulped, and turned them into copies of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Learn the reason behind the project, dubbed "Pulped Fiction" He tells CNN, "War is presented as peace. Enemies are invented for us. We're invited to think that black is white, and white is black. Day is night, and night is day. This is a book that people should read. It's still really relevant."
  • "It was a sight unlike any as bibliophiles jostled their way to endless stacks and shelves of books and came out with bundles of books and perhaps one last piece of memory from the famed bookstore once described by the New York Times as 'the cosiest bookshop in the country'." After about half a century K.D. Singh's The Bookshop at 13/7 Jor Bagh Market in Delhi closes its doors for good.
  • Another case of plagiarism has returned the spotlight to how publishers vet manuscripts (or not). The Financial Times "revealed that the UK shadow chancellor's new book, The Women Who Made Modern Economics, contains more than 20 examples of text that appears to be taken from other works without acknowledgment."

Sunday 22 October 2023

Book Marks: Frankfurt, Sensitivity, Scholastic

The Israel-Hamas war continues to affect the Frankfurt Book Fair, which has stated it stands with Israel. This, and the shelving of an award ceremony for Palestinian author Adania Shibli for her novel Minor Detail, prompted pullouts from major Arab publishing organisations, inlcuding the Arab Publishers' Association, the Emirates Publishers Association, and the Sharjah Book Authority. Local publisher Fixi also announced it was not taking part in FBF this year.

Days later, The Malaysian Education Ministry announced its withdrawal from the fair over the latter's support for Israel. Karangkraf Books Group Sdn Bhd, a major Malaysian publisher; and Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, the Institute of Language and Literature, also pulled out. The Indonesian Publishers Association (IKAPI) withdrew from the fair as well.

This decision is sure to affect Malaysia's preparations for the fair. The National Book Council of Malaysia would have been networking at the fair, and presentations about "Lenggong's Paleolithic Pride", the oldest human skeleton found in Malaysia, and the Selangor International Book Fair were scheduled to take place.

Also on the timetable was a programme to introduce a new anthology titled Dragonlore, edited by Ninot Aziz and Johnny Gillett. Fifteen storytellers from 11 nations, plus two illustrators and three translators, contributed to the anthology. What's remarkable is that Dragonlore is "one of the works inscribed in Nanofiche archival storage technology for the Canadian entrepreneur and self-publishing writer Samuel Peralta's Lunar Codex program", which aims to "send three collections of cultural work to the moon on a trio of SpaceX missions."

Ninot Aziz had met the people who would work on the Italian translation of Bentala Naga in Frankfurt last year. Italian publisher LetterarieMenti released "Bentala – Regina dei Naga: Una Leggenda Makyong" ("Bentala – Queen of the Nagas: A Makyong Legend") in July. Thanks to Ninot's tireless efforts to promote works from our corner of the world, Dragonlore is expected to be published in 2024 in Turkish, Mandarin, and Filipino. What will this mean for the book?

An open letter with many signatories in support of Shibli has been released, decrying the cancellation of the award ceremony and the story behind it. "The Frankfurt Book Fair has a responsibility, as a major international book fair, to be creating spaces for Palestinian writers to share their thoughts, feelings, reflections on literature through these terrible, cruel times, not shutting them down," it stated.

"By trying to prevent novels from causing offence, sensitivity readers are effectively preventing novels from challenging us. They're trying to stop them from discomfiting readers, from stirring up uncomfortable feelings, from making us question ourselves. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, sensitivity readers represent the death of the novel. Once you remove any possibility of a piece of fiction being difficult or challenging in any sense, you remove its ability to change the world."

This argument against the use of sensitivity readers in Spiked sounds a bit weak because the utility is not about causing offence per se but to ensure writers do not offend other cultures and communities when writing about them or using the lexicon. "Writing what you feel" doesn't apply when you're striving for authenticity when representing Indigenous peoples or using a certain patois in fiction, for instance. The "idiocy" can be a lifesaver when people these days are ready to call out writers for their snafus in this regard.

Children's book publisher Scholastic has sequestered certain titles into a separate catalog in response to US state laws that restrict how some topics, such as racism, gender, and sexuality, are discussed in schools. This is so the publisher can "continue offering diverse books in a hostile legislative environment that could threaten school districts, teachers or librarians."

PEN America disagrees with this move, arguing that "sequestering books on these topics risks depriving students and families of books that speak to them. It will deny the opportunity for all students to encounter diverse stories that increase empathy, understanding, and reflect the range of human experiences and identities which are essential underpinnings of a pluralistic, democratic society."

Rebecca Onion at Slate laments the flak Scholastic is getting for the siloing of these challenged books and offers a reason people are so emotional over it. "Scholastic's down-the-middle response had such a harsh reception in part because its internet audience is made up of bookish people for whom loving the Scholastic Book Fair is a marker of identity and tribe. YouTube is full of Scholastic Book Fair nostalgia videos made by happy nerds who seem to get good viewership simply by remembering how it was."

Of course, it's a bit more than that.


  • Kean Wong, editor of Rebirth: Reformasi, Resistance, And Hope in New Malaysia, has been arrested and is being investigated for sedition. The book, a collection of political analyses and reports on the 2018 general election, was banned in 2020 because of complaints about the cover, which featured an artistic rendition of the national coat of arms.
  • A free e-book containing stories from 12 students of the Faculty of Cinematic Arts (FCA) of Multimedia University, Cyberjaya has been released. The editor and illustrator, Megan Wonowidjoyo, told Free Malaysia Today, "The book is a great way to discover the heartbeat of the new generation. We can read what interests them, what questions they think about." Stories in the e-book came out of a two-week course author Chuah Guat Eng conducted for FCA foundation students from 2018 to 2021.
  • "There have been a few standout successes for Latinx authors in the realm of speculative fiction — which includes fantasy, science fiction and dystopian stories — and many are written by women and LGBTQ+ authors," reports The 19th. "Publishers have backed a few bright stars, but that doesn't translate into broader support." Why is that?
  • Vanity Fair dives into the legal fight between authors and AI as it rages on over issues of copyright and how AI models are being trained. Lawsuits will be filed and debated in court as all sides in this tussle decide where to draw lines when it comes to how much human work AI can use to learn and how many human jobs AI can take up. This will take a long while.

Sunday 15 October 2023

Book Marks: Books3, Boey, And Bornean Folk Tales

Some authors aren't happy about their books being included in the infamous data set Books3, used by Meta to train it's AI model. But several commentators and writers seem to be feeling philosophical about the whole thing.

TechDirt is telling people to learn to let go because "once you’ve released a work into the world, the original author no longer has control over how that work is used and interpreted by the world. Releasing a work into the world is an act of losing control over that work and what others can do in response to it. Or how or why others are inspired by it."

The Walrus reached out to some Canadian authors to learn what they felt, knowing that their books were included in the data set. Not all of them feel negatively about it. Canadian poet Christian Bök is "honoured" to know that his book Eunoia is in it, "now gone to Heaven and used to train the minds of our futurist machines (which, like any of our children, do not need our permission to become literate)."

On the related issue of book piracy and copyright, Literary Hub spoke with Alex Reisner, who put up an interface that searches Books3. Authors limiting what others can do with their works can be tricky, he said, because certain conditions cannot be enforced by law.

"As an author, you have a very limited ability to specify how your work can be used, for example, you could put in a copyright notice that you can’t read this book on the Sabbath," Reisner stated. "But in court, a judge is gonna say you can’t enforce that. People who buy your book can read it whenever they want. In the same way, if a judge decides that training AI on copyrighted material is fair use, they’re going to say that no author can specify that a company can’t do that."

Australian authors still consider the inclusion of books in Books3 as theft, and the Australian publishing sector is watching developments in that area, like the lawsuits brought against AI and tech firms in the US.

"The outcomes of those suits will go a long way to determining what the next steps are and, for example, what the industry and authors might be able to do here, and what actions might be appropriate for government to take," Australian Publishers Association policy and government relations manager Stuart Glover told the ABC.

If anything, the existence of Books3 and the flood of AI-generated works illustrates just how difficult it can be to prevent people from using AI and copyrighted material however they want. Enforcing limits on the use of copyrighted material is all about resources and will, which pirates seem to be more willing to commit to their ends. Time for the other side to catch up.

Did I say that Cheeming Boey, author and illustrator of the When I Was A Kid series, wasn't contesting the ban on his third book? Looks like I spoke too soon. While he is still contrite over the feelings he unintentionally hurt, Boey defends his work, saying that "certain articles published after the protest only stopped at the [offensive] fourth panel instead of showing the entire 12."

Boey claimed that he only found out about the ban on Reddit, adding that the authorities didn't notify him about it, nor did they seek any clarification or explanation from him about the work. He added that "some bookstores have apparently taken down my entire series [in response to the ban], not just [the banned When I Was A Kid 3]", impacting his livelihood. Hence, he is challenging the ban.

This news is pretty low-key and I'm not sure how this legal challenge will proceed. The process could take years and the authorities are unlikely to budge on this. And there's no telling how the NGO that led the protest will respond.

While we wait and see what's next, let's check out other news...

  • "Published by Illustrato Studio, the series is targeting junior readers aged five to 10, and it comprises five stories adapted from local tales: 'Kumang and the Ungrateful Python', 'Three Good Friends and A Hungry Dog', 'Udin and the Transformed Patin Fish, 'Modi and the Magic Stone', and 'The Widow and the Colourful Clothed Frog'." A series of junior readers' books featuring Sarawakian folk tales has been announced.
  • The Student, a fortnightly independent newspaper produced by students at the University of Edinburgh and Europe's oldest student newspaper, discusses whether author anonymity is beneficial or a hindrance, citing the case of Elena Ferrante. It concludes that "an author’s identity and private life is not something that we as readers are owed. Publishing a book isn’t, or shouldn’t be, automatic consent to sacrificing privacy – people don’t read My Brilliant Friend because they are wanting a biography, they read it as a novel that they derive enjoyment from, and if there are biographical similarities to the author’s life that is incidental."
  • "When Kyla Zhao was looking for agents to publish her debut novel 'The Fraud Squad,' prospective agents asked if she would be willing to change her book’s setting from Singapore to America. If she wanted her novel to be more 'marketable,' they said, she could make some of her Asian characters white too. Zhao refused and found her current agent, Alex Rice, instead." More stories of what women writers face in publishing. And what's with the setting thing? Let's have none of that in 2023 and beyond.
  • Salman Rushdie is publishing a memoir about his 2022 stabbing. Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder, will be released on 16 April 2024. In a statement released by the publisher, Penguin Random House, Rushdie stated that "This was a necessary book for me to write: a way to take charge of what happened, and to answer violence with art."
  • "Writers benefit from unbiased opinions and constructive criticism. Genuine friendships with authors who offer honest feedback, rather than just praise, are valuable and sincere relationships worth cherishing." The Kathmandu Post speaks with author and teacher Bina Theeng Tamang about books and the lack of critique in Nepali literature.
  • "Books are not just victims of war, they are also protagonists and provide, through their contribution to scientific discovery, intelligence and propaganda, the munitions. They incubate the ideologies that set nations against each other; they perpetuate the stereotypes that lead to atrocities and genocide. Books are never above the fray; they reflect the human frailties and evil intent of those who go to war, even as reading provides a haven of peace in troubled times." In History Today, the rise and fall of Mein Kampf.

Speaking of books as victims of war ... a novel by Palestinian author Adania Shibli, titled "Minor Detail" in English, was supposed to be feted at the Frankfurt Book Fair "for winning the 2023 LiBeraturpreis, a German literature prize awarded annually to an author from Africa, Asia, Latin America or the Arab world". German literary association Litprom, which organises the prize, has announced the ceremony's cancellation, citing the current Israel-Hamas war.

Also, the Frankfurt Book Fair expressed its intent to make Jewish and Israeli voices particularly visible at the fair, adding that it "stands with Israel in full solidarity." As a result, local publisher Fixi announced that it would not be taking part in the fair this year, and urged other Malaysian agencies and publishers to reconsider their participation in the event.

What a shame.

Sunday 8 October 2023

Book Marks: Young SEA Authors, Authorship Is Tough

"Because I've always wanted to publish my own book since I was six years old, but I kept pushing it aside all these years. So in 2018, I self-published the first Diary of a Rich Kid, using my own funds, with the help of my sister who became my second pair of eyes and gave feedback on the manuscript." A brief profile of Kuching-born author Malcolm Mejin in Malay Mail Online.

Meanwhile, The Star reports that "The local picture book landscape has changed tremendously in the last decade, with illustrators and authors coming together now to produce wonderful reading materials to introduce kids to the joy of reading through depictions of their own culture."

And in Singapore, a ten-year-old and her younger sisters published a book they illustrated themselves, about a lion with no tail. A copy was gifted to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. "In the future, she hopes that her favourite local publisher, Epigram Books, will take on the book," reports Mothership. "The trio also plan to publish Chinese and bilingual versions of the book, and possibly in Braille and audiobook form as well." All the best.

Contrasting the good news from our backyard is an author income study released by the Authors Guild suggests that "most authors have a hard time earning a living from their craft," according to Publishers Weekly. "While the combined income (book income plus other writing-related income) of full-time, established authors (those who had written a book in 2018 or before) rose 21% in 2022 (to $23,329) from 2018, the median income was still below poverty level."

Exacerbating this state of affairs is the surge of book bans happening in the US. Bans can trigger the Striesand effect, leading to a spike in attention and sales, but the long-term effects can take a much larger toll. "Kyle Lukoff, the author of 'Call Me Max' and the Newbery Honor book 'Too Bright to See,' among others, said the national publicity did little to nothing to improve sales of 'Max.' Instead, it introduced his work to people who want to remove it from bookshelves in their local schools and libraries," reports CNN.

Probably not as bad as in Cuba, where myriad problems have crippled the publishing industry. Not enough money, not enough paper, and subpar publishing houses. No thanks, perhaps, to the US embargo on the country. "For years, I have had texts, and long waits," writes Irina Pino in the Havana Times "With my first book of poetry I had to wait three years for its publication. I went once a week to the Extramuros publishing house to talk to the editor-in-chief. Even a writer friend talked to the director. They had misplaced it, and I had to take the manuscript again."

Wow. All the best, Cuba.


  • Rory Cellan-Jones is upset to find a biography of him on Amazon that's apparently AI-generated. Speaking to The Guardian, Cellan-Jones added that Amazon "sent me an email saying: 'You might like this.' Their algorithm had decided this was a bloody book I would want rather than recommending my book that I've slaved long and hard over ... They're effectively allowing book spam and recommending it to the very person who is most annoyed by it." Seems Amazon's publishing limit of three books a day might not be enough to thwart AI-assisted bookspamming.
  • "Mass market paperbacks were intended to be cheap, disposable alternatives to proper cloth-bound books. Indeed, paperbacks are so disposable that when bookstores return unsold paperbacks for credit, they only send the covers. The discarded, broken-spined contents are consigned to recycling. So, what’s to love in a format seemingly one step up from trash?" Over at, James Davis Nicoll presents five enduring reasons to love the mass-market paperback.
  • "These reading platforms are subverting the notion that women's spaces are frivolous—full of gossip, Chardonnay, and small talk. In book clubs, women are claiming their rightful place in literary discourse, reading books that cater to their feminine appetites, proving that their voices matter and their insights are invaluable." In 34th Street, a bit about how women-led online communities are redefining literary discussions.
  • "Shortly after New English Canaan's publication, the Puritans outlawed the text in their colonies, committing what historians consider the first act of book banning in the present-day United States. ... but far from disappearing, the book has cropped up continuously over the last four centuries in other works of literature and history." Banned Books Week is here and so is this story of the first book banned in America, now considered an anti-authoritarian icon.
  • "[Graham] Greene's attempts to rescue the book that he described in 1955 as 'one of the three best novels I've read this year' from censorship followed a campaign to have it banned in Britain, where it was only published four years later." Graham Greene was "ready to go to jail for Lolita"? Apparently so, according to the diary of Véra Nabokov, the author's widow, which has been published.
  • "I've managed to build a nice collection of nonfiction books over the years. Some are distinguished by The New York Times and USA Today, while others are less known but still as captivating, inspiring, shocking, and unbelievable as the bestsellers. Let me introduce a few that might be new to you." Grace Ly over at The Daily Beast shares some non-fiction adventure reads, first the bestselling title followed by a less-well-known one with a similar premise.
  • "This is a movement that really I think ... that's been going on since the founding of the People's Republic of China nearly 75 years ago. And even before that, going back to before the party went into power, people who have been challenging the party's monopoly on history. But it is continuing today, even in Xi Jinping's China." NPR speaks with Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Ian Johnson about the handful of people chronicling China's "grassroots history" and his new book about these people and their mission.
  • "I also feel ... a little bored by the idea that Meta has stolen my life. If the theft and aggregation of the works in Books3 is objectionable on moral or legal grounds, then it ought to be so irrespective of those works' absorption into one particular technology company's large language model. But that doesn't seem to be the case." Author and game designer Ian Bogost doesn't seem irate that his work was included in the infamous Books3 dataset. He explains why in The Atlantic.
  • "The readers of today have collectively decided that anything published before 2020 is too racist, too anti-LGBT, too white, etc., to be worthy of any real ontological value. The politics that govern our news channels and social media feeds have invaded our bookshelves, especially our fiction, and what’s more, BookTok and the publishing industry have recognized a cash cow when they see one." Has liberalism ruined books?
  • "According to a recent study, both men and women find reading to be the biggest 'green flag' behavior for prospective partners. And lately, it seems as if the boys I'm stalking on the Internet are taking this stat to heart. As I've turned 30, the evolution of my similarly aged 'single men on the Internet' has been a fascinating spectacle to behold." Seems men online are trying to look appealing by sharing what they're (allegedly) reading. I think this sort of strategy requires doing some homework.