Monday, 14 August 2017

Book Marks: Romance, Censorship, Etc.

"What does a woman want?" Washington Post books section editor Ron Charles asks. "If you’re in publishing, this is not an idle — or sexist — question. As Ian McEwan said more than 10 years ago, 'When women stop reading, the novel will be dead.'"

Charles furthers his case against that "special degree of fervent condescension" reserved for romance novels in that short piece; the snobs have gotten the genre and its fans wrong.

Some appear to be catching on, judging from the next article:

"The case of a male author using a female pseudonym to write fiction was relatively unheard of when Tania Carver emerged, but the explosion of female-oriented crime fiction in the last five years has led to an increasing number of male authors adopting gender-neutral names to publish their work."

It wasn't too long ago that female novelists wrote under male pseudonyms to make themselves read. Are we seeing the completion of a circle?

Well, if anyone is interested in spinning the next big hit in romance, here's how pros churn out the necessary daily word count.



When Sonny Liew's graphic novel won several Eisner awards, Singapore's "National Arts Council (NAC) put out a carefully-worded congratulatory statement two days later, without specifically referring to Liew’s artistic work," Kirsten Han noted in Asia Times.

"The hesitation was perhaps understandable. The council had earlier withdrawn a S$8,000 (US$5,900) publishing grant for The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye just ahead of its launch in 2015, reasoning that its content 'potentially undermines the authority or legitimacy' of the government.

"The revocation, which ironically helped to catapult the graphic novel into the public eye, now looks even more short-sighted with the novel’s international acclaim."



"...Because books are only as influential as long as people who read them don't ask questions, or can't tell the difference between fiction and reality. Thus, why should the government fear access to books and any media items that it deems unworthy?" Hafidz Baharom asks in The Sun.

"If people are easily confused, is it not the role of the public, the government and academicians to publish their books to counter it, rather than stop people from reading a separate point of view? In other words, shouldn't more books be the answer to create a learned society, rather than a ban?"


Plus:

  • "The greatest obstacle to making work that last does not lie outside us. It does not depend on getting the right lucky breaks, cultivating the right relationships, or sidestepping the right pitfalls. All of that matters, but the greatest obstacle lies within. Namely, our excuses, our egos, and our timelines."
  • So Facebook's chatbots apparently invented a non-human language and talked to each other in it. But it's not the first time that trouble reared its head when it comes to cryptic languages.
  • The history of colouring books could go as far back as HOW MANY YEARS? "An early variation on coloring books could be the illustrations for two volumes of the very long descriptive poem Poly-Olbion by Michael Drayton, published in 1612 and 1622..."
  • A handy listicle (in case you don't have one) of independent publishers and bookstores in Malaysia. It was too short, so they came up with a second one.
  • A Twitter drama erupted over a potentially problematic YA novel and I'm here, too blasé to roll my eyes. Maybe, judge it after you read it?
  • "And while today they might just be a function of lazy p.r., there was a time, not too long ago, when who's who lists were a more curated experience. In the United Kingdom, that amounted to a 250-page reference book that debuted in 1849 and is still published today, aspiring to be a compendium 'of living noteworthy and influential individuals, from all walks of life, worldwide.'"
  • I had it all mapped out: After years of sacrifice and honing my craft, I would make my triumphant debut, with a book that might not become a bestseller but that'd be respected for its stunning originality and insight into the human condition. Instead, my first book was The Captain Jack Sparrow Handbook. Yes, that Captain Jack Sparrow.
  • A dispatch from "The Incredible Shrinking BookExpo" of 2017 from an indie publisher. "Obviously it wasn't the intention of the organizers of BookExpo to shrink the show, nor can we blame the Big Five, but the whole thing was noticeably small. This is hearsay and I couldn't confirm it, but an industry insider told me that eight years ago BEA's floor space was 600,000 square feet (including booths, rights, stages, programming, etc.) and that this year it was 98,000. One-sixth. I certainly felt it. What's different?"
  • "Iran's intelligence agency, Ettela'at, has banned [the] publication of a Kurdish language instruction book. The book's authors, in Razawe Khorasan province, announced that they, the publisher, sellers, and readers have faced threats from the province's security forces. ...Provincial officials said the Latin alphabet had been used by 'terrorist groups' and it was not in the benefit of the Islamic Republic of Iran to allow the publication of books written in the Latin alphabet."
  • "When Keith Houghton bought his four-bedroom detached house earlier this year, he did a rare thing for an author: he paid cash, with earnings from his books. Keith who, you may ask? Houghton is one of a handful of so-called 'hidden' bestsellers: his self-published crime thrillers are ebooks, sales of which are not monitored by the UK's official book charts (if they don't have ISBNs, which self-published titles often don't)."

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Book Marks: Singapore, Putrajaya, And Kakutani Bows Out

"In a written response to a question from Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (MP) Dennis Tan on why the NAC withdrew its funding for Jeremy Tiang’s book, [Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu] said: 'The project did not meet the funding requirements mutually agreed upon as the content in the book deviated from the original proposal.'" I swear, somebody in Singapore's National Arts Council is helping these books. And why is it ANOTHER book by Epigram? Are they the only game in town these days?

Meanwhile, Singapore's "noted literary figure" Gwee Li Sui talks about "the culture of reading, censorship, arts funding and public discourse on controversial issues". Expect a mention of Sonny Liew's multiple Eisner Award-winning The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye.

Oh, and is another star rising? Singaporean Rachel Heng's debut novel, a "literary science-fiction work tentatively titled Suicide Club", was "acquired in auction by Sceptre, the literary imprint of British publishing house Hodder & Stoughton, and by publisher Henry Holt & Co in the US," according to the Straits Times.



At home, the Home Ministry has banned Breaking the Silence: Voices of a Moderation Islam in a Constitutional Democracy, a book by pro-moderation group G25, "purportedly for being prejudicial to public order." Other books in the ministry's recent banning spree includes From Majapahit to Putrajaya: Searching for Another Malaysia by academic Farish A. Noor and something called Saucy Seaside Postcards.



Oh wow, THIS is news:

"[Michiko] Kakutani's departure [from The New York Times] will instantly change the shape of the publishing world. She wielded the paper's power with remarkable confidence and abandon. During the course of her nearly 40 years at the Times (she joined as a reporter in 1979, before switching to criticism in 1983), Kakutani, 62, helped make the careers of many literary namebrands, from George Saunders, Mary Karr, David Foster Wallace, and Jonathan Franzen, to Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, Zadie Smith, and others."

Meanwhile, Megan Garber in The Atlantic reflects on the career of the "one-woman kamikaze".

I don't agree with all her views but she writes good. Book criticism will be duller without her.



"Zadie Smith has this to say about being a writer: 'Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied.'

"That is true. But you learn the points of satisfaction over time – the beats where you're likely to find the joy. The act of writing itself, of forgetting your own name, forgetting to dress, or that your character of Kevin is not a real person, and you cry when you have to hurt him in your book – all that is wonderful."

Brigid Delaney, on the best lesson she learnt about writing from a bitter and angry unnamed author. I wonder who he was?


Also:

  • Author and educator Nicola Morgan argues for fairer prices for books - and against high discounts that eat into royalties. "Some purchasers will still choose to buy at super-high discount, of course. That's their right. But many, I argue, will choose to pay a fairer price when they realise the consequences. I don't mean to send anyone on a guilt-trip – it's entirely every buyer's choice. But I'd like it to be an informed choice and many readers just don't realise the next point."
  • Excluding books from goods and services tax doesn't mean the cost of publishing or buying books won't go up. In India, "the cost of book-making will go up by 10%-28% (excluding the overheads) and this will have to be paid directly by the publisher unless it is passed on to the reader, because there is no provision to claim Input Tax Credits (ITC) – taxes paid by suppliers – like in the erstwhile Value Added Tax (VAT)." But it seems sales in India are being hit by rises in parts of the publishing chain.
  • "Inuit peoples do not read and write and ingest culture the way non-Inuit Canadians do. I believe Inuit Canadians do not place a high value on the written word. Instead, we come from a culture with roots that lie within the passing on of stories orally; this is what lies within our blood and genetic memories. When I operate outside of my own circle of family and friends, I operate in a different fashion. It is not compromise. It is survival." Norma Dunning, author of Annie Muktuk and Other Stories, talks about writing from an Inuit perspective.
  • "Due to the political circumstances, [author Alana] Massey said, 'I was sort of jokingly told that any books that weren't political, dystopian, or both, weren't really selling.' Trump's Presidential win has sent a rippling effect through the book publishing world, affecting authors, booksellers, editors, agents, and publicists: In a world where reality has become stranger than fiction, actual books are no longer selling." Really, now?
  • "...never get involved with a publisher who needs your money. You want to hire an editor, a designer, or a marketing agency? It's a great idea — but you are the publisher in that situation. Revenue from sales comes to you. If someone is selling your book and paying you royalties, you do not give them your credit card number. Ever." One can't caution against money-grubbing vanity publishers too much.
  • "Trump's foul-mouthed [former] communications director [Anthony "The Mooch" Scarramucci] wrote three books full of advice that he apparently can't take himself. Maybe because it's all junk." One piece of advice goes, "Keep your negative emotions to yourself." And this guy got hired?

Friday, 21 July 2017

Chester Bennington (1976–2017)

...When my time comes, forget the wrong that I've done
Help me leave behind some reasons to be missed
Don't resent me, and when you're feeling empty
Keep me in your memory, leave out all the rest
Leave out all the rest

Forgetting all the hurt inside you've learned to hide so well
Pretending someone else can come and save me from myself
I can't be who you are
I can't be who you are...



"Leave Out All The Rest"
Minutes to Midnight (2007)
Linkin Park

Monday, 10 July 2017

CATastrophe

Some of my acquaintances by now are familiar with my ongoing battle against at least one cat. To be precise, its p—p.

Early this year, I found "packages" left by what I suspect is a cat (to narrow to be a dog's, too big for rats). So far, I've never caught it in the act; the packages were the only evidence of its visits. But I may have seen it a few times.

For weeks, one of the tenants in my apartment block had taken in a stray. The guy and his relatives run a stall at a nearby coffee shop at night. Some of my neighbours may have fed it on occasion as well. I thought nothing about it, bemused as I was that the place had a cat.

Well, looks can be deceiving, and felines are masters of that kind of deception. Thanks to their misplaced generosity, the cats have come home to roost ... and p—p.

Why do I say "at least one"? Because of the difference in the size of the packages. This made it tough to pin down which animal, as there are several strays in the area.

The first couple of times were a nightmare. The packages were left closer to the front door and when the draft blew in ... g*d. One night, I had to seek refuge in my stuffy long-neglected so-damn-hot-at-night bedroom. The smell lingered the next day, albeit faintly.

Apparently, catshit is a horrible substance; the only thing that's worse is exposed plutonium. From my research, it is toxic and may harbour nasty germs such as Toxoplasma gondii, which looks like the next potential superbug.

It has no value as a fertiliser and will even render the patch of earth where it is buried infertile. Any area saturated with it has to be thoroughly deodorised and disinfected, as T. gondii is incredibly resilient, and a mere hint of the odour acts like a beacon for felines looking for bowel relief.

For a while, germophobic me relied on the cleaner to help with the mess. The building management revealed that he had to be paid extra to do it - not in his job scope. That he did a sloppy job on some days was no surprise - as well as the regular appearance of the packages.

I did research. I begged for help on Facebook but people only paid attention when I threatened to poison it. I paid RM15 just so I could spend some time with the owner of a cat café - not his cats, can you believe it? - and glean some of his expertise. He suggested an enzyme-based odour remover that he uses himself.

I tried everything. Everything that didn't remotely harm the creature. Vinegar. White pepper. Black pepper. Baking soda. Some eucalyptus-and-lemon-based repellent from a pet store. Toilet cleaner. Insecticide (okay, maybe that would've done the trick but I wanted the odour factor). Some eucalyptus-and-mint-based multipurpose cleaner, also for the smell factor. Lemon juice.

With some exceptions, the floor in front of my door is now better and more thoroughly seasoned than some of the food I've eaten.

Some of these worked for a while, including the odour from the gloss paint I repainted the front grill gate with. I don't know whether it was because the cat had gotten used to the smell, or it had merely been away when I was seasoning the floor. Whatever it was, I was doing it almost daily, like a pagan ritual.

No luck. After a few days, maybe three or four, a package would appear. Cat spikes from Daiso didn't work so well - they'd just p—p away from it. Believe it or not, the solid lumps weren't so bad, those come right off.

The worst is when it's liquid. Not only would you need to blot the stuff, you have to be careful not to spread it wider when you clean up. Also, feline diarrhoea means the cat is sick and oh no no no you do not want to know from what.

I sound like I'm speaking from experience because I am. The cleaner's methods mean that remnants of catshit were still advertising the spots' eligibility as a feline washroom, so I took matters into my own hands and g*d, I wish I didn't have to.

I sought help from that cat café but that plan was thrown awry for weeks because it was the fasting month and the area was gridlocked like you wouldn't believe. Plus, he'd closed shop for a few days because of the traffic and the Ramadhan bazaar. When I finally managed to speak to the owner, I was so relieved I went to the exact hardware store he did and found the same odour remover he used.

But like I said, no luck.

I hate it when steps to a solution don't deliver as promised. What went wrong? I don't think I'll ever know. A friend told me it was a sign: time for me to move out. And it's an eerie coincidence that all this began around the time I declared that someone "was dead to me." BRRR.

The cat café owner suggested a solution with chillies. A friend recommended antifreeze: "Everything else will fail," he stated confidently on Facebook. I bet he'll be sniggering when he hears this - but at least I'd have made his day. My other Facebook friends, however, were aghast when I declared I wanted the cat (s) dead, and I learnt that one can run afoul of the law if one deliberately harms an animal.

I want to blame the cat(s) - terribly. I have had dark fantasies about murdering them. But as that previous sentence demonstrated, of all g*d's creatures only man has a heart that can be blackened by evil. Like all animals, cats act out of instinct, and it's perhaps universally logical to only crap in places meant for crapping. Even hyenas observe this rule.

This has caused me much anxiety. Anybody going to call me a pussy if I say this has kept me from doing stuff like writing, blogging, cooking and catching up with my to-read pile? It has.

I scrub myself clean as much as I humanly can, wearing gloves and all, but my paranoia keeps screaming YOU MIGHT HAVE BEEN CARELESS AT SOME POINT AND NOW CATSHIT COOTIES ARE EVERYWHERE. I'd have to scrub the whole apartment in Dettol or bleach if I want to resume baking for my friends and colleagues again.

I shouldn't be this preoccupied with p—p, doing leg work and spending money on cleaning products I don't normally need. IT'S NOT MY CAT! I don't want to pick up other people and their pet's shit! And it wasn't even their real pet to begin with. How irresponsible is it to feed a stray and take it in, only to let it out and make everyone's life a living hell?

What am I being punished for, saying "shit" too much? It's ME ... I tell it like it is! Animal rights? what about mine and my right to live in a clean, fresh p—p-free environment? To do stuff and go to bed without having to worry about another fresh surprise when I open my door to start a new day?

I said "everyone", didn't I? Of course, when the deterrents worked, it found other doors to p—p in front of. A couple of times, packages appeared at the door of the building's management office - top-level trolling. And one weekend, a neighbour upstairs was visited. Perhaps enough of the smell wafted its way to my door that it encouraged the cat to leave another package there.

Some of my neighbours did complain and seemed to sympathise with me, but they're mostly indifferent. Sometimes they would kick the cat spikes aside, even if they weren't really in the way. The air in the stairwell is pretty stagnant and foreign odours can intrude and remain, which might make odour-based deterrents ineffective in the long run.

As a last resort, I'm looking into whether the animal(s) can be trapped and released far, far away. That Trap-Neuter-Release outfit sounds promising. But other alternatives beckon. For the time being, I left some orange peel in the space between the grill and front door.

Meanwhile, the dark side beckons, too.

(A Facebook friend's recommendation of Daiso's cat repellent would go unconfirmed for now, thanks to a blog post that apparently went viral. Daiso outlets at Jaya Shopping Centre, One Utama and The Curve were all sold out. A sales assistant at the latter cited the blog SirapLimau as the reason, and said new stock would be arriving in a week or so. Benci SirapLimau. Benci~)

It's those "humanitarian" neighbours of mine who started it all, I'm sure of it. If this cat is successfully moved away they'll just pick up another and the whole rigmarole will repeat. Maybe I should spare the cats and "relocate" them instead. Their cooking isn't that great, anyway.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Terror Under A Flower-Killing Moon

first published in Star2 in The Star, 13 June 2017


The Osage Indians of Oklahoma in the United States speak of a "flower-killing moon" that happens in May, when the blossoms that carpet the landscape in April would be overrun by taller plants.

But in the early 1920s, flowers weren't the only things being snuffed out over there.

When white settlers moved into the American heartland, many displaced Native Americans were shunted onto reservations. The Osage were no exception, but the large oil deposits beneath their reserved lands made them rich. Soon, many schemed to obtain that wealth, resorting to unethical and even deadly means.

During a period of several years dubbed the "Reign of Terror", affluent Osage began dying in dubious circumstances. Many of the deceased were related to an Osage woman called Mollie Burkhart. With local lawmen and private detectives being too inept, corrupt, or afraid to investigate (those who did were threatened or killed), the Bureau of Investigation (BOI) under J. Edgar Hoover stepped in. The bureau, known today as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, would expose a web of death, deceit, and betrayal in the heart of Osage territory.

American journalist and author David Grann's gripping account of this killing spree and its aftermath, Killers Of The Flower Moon, traces the beginnings of the Osage oil boom and the murders and covers the BOI, its agents, the investigation and the subsequent trials; it also recounts Grann's travels to parts of Osage country in the present day, an epilogue of sorts to this bloody chapter in American history.

By now, details about the Osage incident can be found online, though I'm not sure how much of it has always been there or was unearthed by the publicity surrounding the book. Regardless, I highly recommend Grann's work as a starting point for those who are interested.

It has the kind of writing that I've come to appreciate and expect from him, after reading his piece on explorer Percy Fawcett and the fabled "Lost City of Z" in The New Yorker magazine, published in 2005 (he is also a staff writer with the publication). He masterfully weaves facts and drama into a compelling yarn, putting the audience right where the action is. Taking a break from reading was hard.

Grann told news website Uproxx that he'd only heard about the Osage story in 2011.

"I did not know that the Osage had been the wealthiest people per capita in the world in the beginning of the 20th century. I had not known that they had been murdered. And I had not known that it had become one of the FBI's first major homicide cases."

With this information, Grann dug deeper. Among many other things, he discovered the corruption, lawlessness and prejudices of the day that enabled droves of opportunists to fleece the Osage, taking advantage of laws that restricted the tribespeople's control over their own money. Despite the shining examples of humanity in individuals such as BOI agent Tom White, this tale is blighted by the enormity of the crimes and what fuelled them.

Vile, perhaps, but not shocking. The Guarani fighting land grabs in Brazil, the anti-logging blockades by the Temiar and the Penan, and the Standing Rock Sioux's resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline – the Osage chapter is but one example of how indigenous peoples and their lands' natural resources were (and still are) systematically exploited.

Sadly, the ordeal isn't over for the Osage. The book suggests the Reign of Terror might have been longer and reaped a far larger toll than officially stated – more unsolved deaths, more next of kin seeking answers, and more culprits left unpunished. On top of that, a renewable energy company built a wind farm on Osage soil without the tribe's permission.

Loyal and hard-working Tom White, arguably the hero in Grann's story, died in obscurity. In contrast, his boss Hoover, who achieved great status and allegedly abused his power as head of the FBI, remains in the limelight years after his passing.

A nation can't truly move forward when it still can't get over its past – which is what one feels about the United States from what's been going on there of late. So the release of this account is perhaps timely, especially now when the country appears to be going through another phase of soul-searching.

"...the Osage know their history very well, but so many people – whites, primarily, but other Americans – don't really reckon with this history, don't record the voices of these victims, are not familiar with the stories and the lies that these people lived and went through," said Grann in the Uproxx interview. "It's really important as a country that we reckon with this history."

But I think it's not just the United States that needs to reckon with its past and re-evaluate its current conduct towards its indigenous minorities.



Reviewing this book was daunting, and the deadline was ASAP - never a good thing for me. And because this was my first submission to The Star in three years, I was eager to make an impression in record time.

Ambitious and dumb.

So I knew, even as I hit "Send", I'd be writing a postscript to the review, but never did I think it would be this long. Nor did I realise how much I had missed out in the piece, or that others have written about the Osage murders before - another omission I regret. David Grann's book might not be the most authoritative text on the incident, but I can say it's one of the good ones.

The review could have turned into a white-bashing fest. It's too easy now, considering what the United States is becoming, and also because the principal bad guys in the book are white. On top of the policies of the day to dilute or altogether erase Native American identity and culture, the crimes committed against the Osage elicit disgust.

As I had said, none of this shocked me because we still see this sort of behaviour, and not just in the US. Cops shooting blacks, Standing Rock, the deportations ... the dehumanisation of certain groups or their reduction into crude caricatures to advance certain agendas persists to this day.

Yet I don't think Grann wrote this book as another indictment of white America's attitudes towards minorities or as an expression of shame in being a white guy. Rather, I see this as an effort to hold a mirror to the nation and its conduct in the past with some hope that, if more of such efforts are kept up, the majority will finally have the courage to look itself in the face, recognise the enormity of their deeds, and change.

And how to bash all white people when, in the actions of those fighting against the wrongheaded (and, arguably, boneheaded) moves by the current US administration, I see shades of BOI agent Tom White? The former Texas Ranger and hero of this book glows with integrity, loyalty and a steadfast sense of duty.

Though White wrote his own account of the Osage investigation, it didn't attract much interest. In a way, I feel Grann is picking up White's torch, to shine a light on and add a little warmth to this otherwise mournful account.

I stand by my endorsement of Grann's Killers of the Flower Moon, inadequate (and a little biased) as it may be. His storytelling is something you have to experience for yourselves.



Killers of the Flower Moon
The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI


David Grann
Doubleday
338 pages
Non-fiction
ISBN: 978-0-385-54248-7

Amazon | Bookurve | Book Depository | Kinokuniya | MPHOnline.com

Friday, 2 June 2017

Book Marks: Print Piracy In Africa, Hollywood Books Up

I've been reading news about how serious book piracy is in Africa, but lately more incidents are being reported. Among the latest:

Kigogo, a Kiswahili play written by Pauline Kea, was approved late last year as a secondary school set book in Kenya for 2017. So it came as a shock when the book's publisher, Storymoja, learnt that the book was on sale, four weeks prior to its official release.

The source material was reportedly stolen and later reproduced. Many pirated books are for use in schools, where sales are "guaranteed", but much has also been said about the poor quality of some of these pirated editions. So when good-quality fakes come out...

Part of the problem is the lack of understanding about how the publishing industry works. Books cost that much for a reason. As Muthoni Garland, author and co-founder of Storymoja, told AllAfrica.com:

"Most people think publishing equals only printing. But publishing is a huge investment in content creation, editorial work, engaging book designers, warehousing, marketing, legal and financial aspects."

African authorities are doing all they can to address the issue. In a book exhibition in Rwanda, for instance:

The Ministry of Sports and Culture has said [that] deepening the reading culture among Rwandans, competitiveness among writers as well reducing the cost of locally published books will expand the market of the books, subsequently allowing for mass production of local content.

It'll take more than that, I feel.



Is Hollywood, accused of rehashing and pumping out sequels from older stuff, raiding bookshelves for inspiration?

Sofia Coppola drew from Thomas Cullinan's classic Southern Gothic novel for The Beguiled starring Colin Farrell as a handsome Union officer who stokes sexual tension and jealousy inside a girl's school during the American Civil War. And Francois Ozon turned up the temperature of Joyce Carol Oates' sexual psycho drama Double Delight to almost unbearable levels for his steamy 'Amant double'.

Both these books were published in 1971 and 1999 respectively, but these days Tinseltown isn't just looking at old publications; Kevin Kwan's Crazy Rich Asians trilogy, published between 2013 and 2017, is coming to cinemas. And let's not start with the films "inspired" by local books.

I'm not sure if this is the kind of motivation to write or publish, but one can hope that the film industry can help unearth a few gems as it mines for material.


Also:

  • In a panel discussion on Jane Austen during the Hay literary festival, author Colm Tóibín "has issued a rallying call against what he sees as the scourge of modern literature: flashbacks. The Irish novelist said the narrative device was infuriating, with too many writers skipping back and forward in time to fill in all the gaps in a story." This reminds me of a time when I ... never mind.
  • "Kannada writer Vasudhendra created quite a storm a few months ago with the publication of his short story collection, Mohanaswamy, in English. This collection was published a few years ago in Kannada to the usual acclaim Vasudhendra gets for all his books, barring one thing. There were gay stories in it, and the critics, predictably and pathetically, ignored the book altogether." An interview with Vasudhendra about publishing, writing, his life and his next project.
  • "What kind of pressures are India's English language publishers under in 2017? How has the business changed? What do the heads of the companies have to do differently now?" Scroll.in spoke to two CEOs of publishing companies in India to answer these questions, and more.
  • "For Tunglið, how you publish is as important as what you publish. Named after the Icelandic word for the moon, the tiny publisher prints its books in batches of 69 on the night of a full moon. So far, so weird. But keen readers must also buy their books that same night, as the publisher burns all unsold copies. Weirder still. Why?" I'm still asking "Why?" at the end of the article.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Book Marks: Fifty Years Of Style, A Page Out Of Time

"The Elements of Style does not deserve the enormous esteem in which it is held by American college graduates. Its advice ranges from limp platitudes to inconsistent nonsense. Its enormous influence has not improved American students' grasp of English grammar; it has significantly degraded it." It's been five decades since William Strunk and E.B. White's style guide was published but British-American linguist and Professor of General Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh, Geoffrey K. Pullum, won't be celebrating.

I was given a copy of The Elements of Style when I started writing professionally, but I never really took to much of the advice. Too many rules. Like everything I learnt about math and science in school, I've more or less forgotten about it. "Style", for me, was more synonymous with one's writing voice.


Plus:

  • "A Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) academic claimed today that an autobiography of Selangor assembly speaker Hannah Yeoh, which he bought, could influence him towards Christianity. UUM’s Malaysian Institute for Political Studies director Kamarul Zaman Yusoff said this was because the book contained 'too many stories and quotations from the Bible' ... '[that] can influence readers, including myself, to feel admiration for the greatness of Hannah Yeoh’s God,' said Kamarul in his police report..."
  • A 540-year-old page from a medieval priests' handbook printed by William Caxton has been found. Apparently, it was torn out and "pasted into another book for the undignified purpose of reinforcing its spine." It's kind of a big deal, as Caxton introduced the printing press to England, and the page may have come from the early days of print.
  • "In Nigeria ... publishing is a tough business. Many readers will happily pay for religious texts or textbooks but sometimes balk at paying for contemporary fiction or creative nonfiction. Yet local publishers like Parrésia, Ouida books, Farafina, and Cassava keep feeding Nigerians with high quality literary works, even with the ever looming piracy threat and unfavorable business environment." Now, Cassava is breaking into the US market after its entry into Europe.
  • "Every author I know has been tagged by readers like this. Usually the reader announces they have reviewed the author's latest novel. Only it's a vicious review, awarding two stars (one for arriving on time). Why would they announce that to the author?"
  • "It wasn't so long ago that book publishers and bookstore owners were quailing about the coming of e-books, like movie theatre owners at the dawn of the television age. Now they're taking things more calmly. Recent statistics confirm a trend first noticed by the book trade in late 2015: At least among major publishers, e-book sales have plateaued or even begun to decline." Here's why.
  • "Traditional publishers are often criticized for not prioritizing fast. Despite new technology, most books still take one to two years to reach market. Publishers tend to prioritize quality over speed, which wasn't seen as problematic until the industry started getting compared to innovative startups. Silicon Valley's often-celebrated operating procedures tend to focus on agile product development, which values speed and releasing new iterations." What do publishers and authors have to compromise to stay in business?
  • "Many insiders assumed cheap e-books would simply replace mass market books. Then something else happened. A few years ago, e-book sales began flattening, proving that digital was not going to replace print. With the knowledge that many consumers were going to read both print books and e-books, some in the industry thought mass market sales might finally start crawling upward. But stumbling blocks to a full scale rebound of the format remain in place for the major publishers."
  • "Controversial politicians. Celebrity cricket players. Spiritual gurus. India's publishing industry, like the country's broader economic story, has a lot to work with. So it's perhaps no surprise India’s GDP growth of 7.1 percent – the fastest among major economies – is fueling a boom in book sales. Indian publishing successes, in return, can help provide insights into the country's growth and consumer confidence. It is a land where the travails of a saucy, soon-to-be-married Goldman Sachs Group Inc banker – in Chetan Bhagat's fictional One Indian Girl – is a runaway best-seller."
  • "Authors and publishers at this year's instalment of the Franschhoek Literary Festival have called for the opening up of the book industry and for the retirement of those in senior positions who aren’t adaptive to change. During a panel discussion titled 'Is there a shortage of black fiction authors?', guest speakers vented their frustrations about the lack of opportunities that black authors and publishers encounter."