Friday, 30 September 2011

Jacob Black Won't Be Here

And nor will Taylor Lautner, despite the given moniker.

But do make your way to the address below for what is said to be the the biggest book sale in the country.

Big Bad Wolf Book Sale
Malaysia Agro Exposition Park Serdang
Kuala Lumpur

07 to 16 October, 2011
From 10am to 9pm

Arguably, 1.5 million books at discounts of 75% to 95% is something to huff and puff about. Visit for more information.

Yes, I'm experimenting with Google Map embedding. Feel free to correct me if this is the wrong map.

No, not sure if I'll be there.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

A Week To Remember

This week is Banned Books Week? Shame on me for not noticing.

Could it just be some mental fatigue on my part, the blasé-ness of living for so long in a country where the media is controlled and policed, to the point where everyone starts to self-censor their opinions?

No, I'm not Singaporean. But thanks for asking.

Banned Books Week, says Molly Raphael, President of the American Library Association, is a reminder that one's freedom to read should not be taken for granted. She suggests that one will not be aware of the significance of this freedom until books start disappearing, e.g. banned.

I suppose it can be argued that censorship of reading material is ineffective or insignificant in countries where the populace doesn't have a reputation for being voracious readers of Everything Under the Sun. But Ms Raphael thinks differently.

...Such censorship matters to those who no longer can exercise the right to choose what they read for themselves. It matters to those in the community that cannot afford books or a computer, and for whom the library is a lifeline to the Internet and the printed word. And it matters to all of us who care about protecting our rights and our freedoms and who believe that no one should be able to forbid others in their community from reading a book because that book doesn't comport with their views, opinions, or morality.

Suddenly, her message becomes clear. Had her article been banned or blocked, I wouldn't have learnt a new word: com·port, which means 1) conduct oneself; behave or 2) accord with; agree with.

New words may not be a good reason to abolish book bans, and some may argue away many of the reasons given for the total freedom to read anything. As we have learned, book bans don't always accomplish their aims.

Public hanging
For writing a book that criticised the Singaporean judicial system and its seemingly arbitrary application of the death penalty, mostly in drug trafficking cases, British journalist Alan Shadrake was found guilty of contempt of court and sentenced to six weeks in prison.

Though Once a Jolly Hangman wasn't banned outright, the advisory issued by Singapore's censors put the fear of Harry Lee into book sellers. You can't buy the book in Singapore, but I suspect Malaysian book sellers stocked it up with a certain amount of glee.

The book has seen four print runs and sold about 6,000 copies as of last year, making it the Strategic Information and Research Development Centre's (SIRD) top selling title. It still drifts in and out of MPH's list of best-selling non-fiction.

Royal smash
Sometime ago, a book about then Princess (now Empress) Masako raised the hackles of the Japanese establishment, including the shadowy Imperial Household Agency. Once could perhaps understand why something called Princess Masako: Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne would not be warmly received in the Land of the Rising Sun.

An edition of the book, apparently sanitised for the Japanese market, was eventually not published. The author, Australian freelance journo Ben Hills, seemed glad about that. "Their version of my book was something I'd have been ashamed to see my name on the cover of," he said.

Publishers outside Japan, however, were interested. At one time, Princess Masako topped's list of best-selling foreign-language books, ahead of the new Harry Potter (back then) and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. When he tossed the phrase "shooting themselves in the foot", you can almost hear the bullet go in.

North of our borders, an American citizen of Thai birth became among the latest to run afoul of Thailand's strict lese majeste laws with a blog post that had translations from a book the country had banned. Look for "Paul M Handley, US freelance journalist" (see a pattern here?) on the Google to learn more.

Body snatching
Mid 2010, copies of a book billed as the first "Malaysian queer anthology" were seized by the Home Ministry. Published a year earlier by Amir Muhammad's MataHari Books, Body 2 Body was a collection of stories about the Malaysian gay community. About 2,900 copies had been sold since publication and the publisher has stated there will be no reprints.

At the time, given the vigour in which the Home Ministry moves to contain various subversive elements in the media, the one-year lag was kind of surprising.

I'm certain interest in that book peaked around the time the news came out.

We are the power
It's quite plain that book bans suck, mostly because they don't really work, and when they do, not very well. Now that books are going digital, it would be interesting to see how the book bans of the future will be implemented. Will this also affect the much-touted no-censorship pledge for the Internet in Malaysia?

Governments and institutions will always ban books, and although we may not agree with the rationales for banning books, we should nevertheless respect the decision and the laws behind it.

A nation and society is ultimately responsible for its own growth, and that growth - and change - must come from within to really work. We'll just have to hope that people of, say, Thailand, will eventually see that there's no need for such harsh laws to protect their monarchy.

Words, like images, draw their power from the reactions of those who read or view them.

The fate of the books we read is determined by our responses to their contents.

For the time being, all we can do, in our own backyard, is to read more, and be thankful for the books we can access. And learn to control our reactions to published ideas and opinions that may offend or disturb us. If we can do that, the "subversive" nature of many books would vanish.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Jungle Juju

In 2010, The Bomoh's Apprentice by gwailo expat Geoffrey S Walker was quietly published. Until the manuscript for its sequel hit my table, I had no clue it would become a series.

What I thought was the usual jungle tale with magic, folklore and indigenous cultures... wasn't. Working with this manuscript had been fun. So far, I'd never written so much author correspondence as I did on this project. Ah, what tales I could tell...

The Bomoh's Apprentice (left) and Blood Reunion.
A "Harry Potter in Borneo" in the making?

Both books are written in a very anachronistic - albeit at times, long-winded - tone that begs the reader to just sit back and enjoy the ride. They can also easily make the leap from paper to screens big and small. I'm thinking, Saturday morning cartoons. Or maybe CGI, ala Upin & Ipin. As always, your mileage may vary.

The early years
This budding series begins deep in the jungles of Borneo, at a village named for a tree god who resides in the twilight realm of Inworld. It is this realm and this god, Tuan Pokok Tertinggi (literally, "the Lord Highest Tree"), that the bomoh or witch doctor Katak Hitam ("Black Frog") will eventually serve and protect.

One day, in the aftermath of a gruesome murder, Katak Hitam adopts a young boy whom he names Kutu or "flea". For years, the large, black-skinned bomoh patiently coaches Kutu in the magical arts and the ways of the spirits, preparing the boy for the day he becomes bomoh.

Then, one day, tragedy strikes.

To save Kutu's life, Katak Hitam takes drastic steps and as a result, is trapped in the realm of the tree god. Though the old witch-doctor designates Kutu as his successor, the villagers do not believe the boy, who is exiled for allegedly murdering his mentor-father.

The boy's problems do not end there. With Katak Hitam gone, Ketuat, the pompous, self-important headman of the village, seeks the means to become the bomoh. When things do not go according to plan, however, his pride and lust for power threaten to push him over the edge...

...but it all works out for Kutu in the end. At least, as far as this book is concerned...

The schemer and the skeleton
In Blood Reunion, it's been four years since Kutu succeeded his adopted father Katak Hitam as the bomoh of Kampung Pokok Tertinggi and installed the cool-headed, sagely hunter Pak Sumpit as its headman. Life in the village has never been better, but not everyone is happy.

Seething with anger at the loss of his assumed birthright as the village's headman, Sulung wanders into the abandoned hut where a young mother met a violent end and encounters another ghost from the past.

Seventeen years ago, midwife Mak Cik Bidan fled Kampung Pokok Tertinggi for her life, leaving her young charge behind to face the murderous wrath of a madman, taking with her a toyol - an undead familiar conjured from the spirit of a stillborn child. She has returned after years of wandering to rid herself of the curse that hung over her head since that day, and to find her toyol a new master.

In his great-aunt's supernatural pet, Sulung sees the chance for wealth, stature... and revenge.

Meanwhile, Kutu is informed of an unexpected visitor to his hut. He enters and finds the skull-less skeleton of Panglima Awang, once a fearsome headhunter, warrior and Casanova, looking for his missing head. The young bomoh later introduces the headhunter to Pak Sumpit and the two become friends.

But with trouble brewing in the horizon for Kutu, Pak Sumpit and the village, is the presence of this Skullduggery Pleasant a good or bad thing for everyone?

The second book in The Bomoh's Apprentice series, Blood Reunion evokes the rich traditions of ancient Malaysian folklore while tapping the universal themes of love and hate, greed and self-sacrifice, honour and betrayal.

Geoffrey S Walker first read about Borneo as a young boy, and his fascination with the island stayed with him ever since. In 2004, following a successful career in advertising, he left the United States and settled in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. As a member of the Sabah Society, he has had the opportunity to explore many parts of Borneo that are well off the beaten track, and these experiences helped shape his first novel, The Bomoh’s Apprentice, and its follow-up, Blood Reunion.

Cover illustrations for both books are by graphic illustrator and art teacher John Ho; visit his blog at

The Bomoh's Apprentice is now (or should be) in all major bookstores. Blood Reunion, the second book in the series, is scheduled for release sometime next month.

The Bomoh's Apprentice
Geoffrey S Walker
MPH Group Publishing
389 pages
ISBN: 978-967-5222-81-8

Buy from

Blood Reunion
Geoffrey S Walker
MPH Group Publishing
420 pages
ISBN: 978-967-5997-61-7

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Monday, 26 September 2011

The Misanthrope's Job Survival Manual

During a trying time in my old job, I was browsing at a bookstore and came upon this book. On the cover, a stick figure was kicking a water cooler above the big bold title, "I Hate People!"

It spoke to my heart. I picked it up, believing it held some answers to my predicament at the time.

Me, holding a copy of "I Hate People!" Not plotting anything with it
Penned by Jonathan Littman and Marc Hershon, I Hate People!: Kick Loose from the Overbearing and Underhanded Jerks at Work and Get What You Want Out of Your Job claims to help you do exactly that.

Written in an informal and humorous manner, it suggests that it's not the reader's fault if he or she's having a hard time at the office, and starts listing the kinds of people who are in such open and somewhat derisive terms as the "stop sign", "bulldozer", "switchblade", "minute man" and "sheeple". The reader, if he meets certain criteria based on a quiz, is referred to as "the soloist", the Individual, the Standaloner, the Chosen One.

As more and more of the Chosen One's foes are revealed, Littman and Hershon continue to sell the Way of the Soloist, outlining strategies that allow him to carve out a little space for himself within the organisation where he can work, plot, delegate and perhaps dig his way out of his stagnant little pond towards something better. All the while avoiding people, i.e. at meetings, functions, seminars and the like - potential time-wasters and threats to your impending glowing solohood.

Supporting anecdotes, case studies and facts-and-figures are bandied about to add to the feel-good factor, reinforcing the belief that the Way of the Soloist is the reader's way, your way. The reader is finally exhorted to embark on his solo quest and say out loud and proud: "I hate people!"

Upon some reflection, there are problems with this book, and the main one being: It won't necessary apply to a typical Eastern corporate environment which tends to be - correct me if I'm wrong - conservative, conformity-centric, sheeple-populated biospheres. Western-style concepts such as telecommuting, flexi-hours and the like don't quite jive with conformist-comfortable firms where employee attendance is considered a performance benchmark.

Individuals with the soloist bent tend to attract mostly unwanted attention. They become, at best, the butt of jokes and gossip fodder at the water cooler, pantry or dinner tables; at worst, scapegoats for something that went wrong somewhere in the company.

Not to say that this brand of office politics is strictly an Eastern problem, or that it's worse than the Game of Thrones in Western firms and multinationals.

It's just that everywhere, self-help books such as this one tend to make the best-seller lists, but few seem to think about whether a product based on Western corporate culture and practices can be applied to conditions in my part of the world.

For one, the anecdotes, facts and stats in the book are overwhelmingly from the West - which gives the unfortunate impression that, if you're in Korea, the Philippines or Petaling Jaya, the authors aren't talking to you. Only one "Soloist" from the East is highlighted: Ken Kutaragi, who is considered "Father of the Playstation".

Regardless, I Hate People is fun, engaging, informative and makes you feel good about one's crappy situation (it doesn't blame you if your job sucks). There's some content that might be useful, but it will be even more work to find out what works. The way it's written and categorised is bound to throw its status as a self-help book into question. Its entertainment value isn't really worth the price tag, however.

It did me and my job little good. My resignation, ill-timed, perhaps, was done with an old-fashioned quit letter.

But bravo to its branding. I paid nearly RM60 because of a stick figure kicking a water cooler and a loud catchy title.

12/10/2014  Made a couple of edits, and amended this paragraph to show that there are "Soloists" from the East in this book - albeit only one.

I Hate People!
Kick Loose from the Overbearing and Underhanded Jerks at Work and Get What You Want Out of Your Job

Jonathan Littman, Marc Hershon
Little, Brown and Company (2009)
263 pages
Non-Fiction (Business/Humour)
ISBN: 978-0-316-06882-6

For more details:

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Bedtime Stories From The Dead Of Night

One of the first manuscripts I had to look at was this collection of short, disturbingly creepy stories by Julya Oui. Its publication was stalled for months for one reason or another.

What a relief it was when we finally passed the manuscript to the printers.

According to Oui (pun-tastic surname!), the stories were written and compiled over a number of years, way back when. So there were marked differences in... quality. I could only imagine how old she was when she first started.

I worked on it for a total of over two months. It was a... challenging assignment, partly because I'm not a fan of horror or the macabre. But Oui's imagination's like... whoa. Every few pages, I'd ask myself, "What does she smoke? Think I might want some." Sadly, I don't and can't smoke.

Creepiness abounds in the pages. Upset with her own life and angry at the world, a girl kills herself in the dead of night, adamant that nothing could be worse than the cold embrace of death - and is soon proven wrong. Over and over again.

A priest who laments his flock's disinterest in confessing their sins gets more than he bargains for when a prominent, well-respected member of society walks into the confession booth and opens up about his terrible hidden sin.

A thunderstorm traps a quarrelsome quartet in a mansion with a sprawling front yard filled with derelict vehicles. However, it soon becomes evident that there's something sentient - and sinister - about the roof over their heads.

For a reclusive unfortunate, the shadows between the trees ringing his home harbour a darkness from a violent war-torn past. Elsewhere, an overworked executive is haunted by the scarred, grotesque figure of a laughing vagrant.

A man who would do anything - yes, "anything" - for a million bucks is challenged by an extremely wealthy old man whose idea of "anything" is far worse than any Fear Factor challenge ever devised. For a country girl seeking her fortunes in the city, the harsh reality of the rat race is only the beginning of her nightmare.

Justice comes to a belligerent and cruel robber-rapist in an unexpected, yet most appropriate and macabre manner when he picks the wrong victim. An erotic dance of a different kind in a dim, squalid parlour (are those bloodstains on the walls?) leads a woman to a place she doesn't want to go - or does she?

Julya Oui loves a good story, and writes to appease her imagination and reaffirm her sanity. She loves dreaming up things and making them come alive with the stroke of her pen. Gazing at the night skies, listening to trees, and taking long walks are just some of the things she enjoys doing when she is not lost in the alternate realm. ...Whoa.

Bedtime Stories from the Dead of Night, her first book, came off the presses a couple of days ago, which means it'll be about several weeks before they hit the shelves at all major bookstores. Just in time for Halloween.

Oh: If any of you have seen this on another blog, relax. She has my permission. Wouldn't you know, it's the book's author! Say hello and see what else she's got.

Bedtime Stories from the Dead of Night
Julya Oui
MPH Group Publishing
218 pages
ISBN: 978-967-5222-64-1

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Wednesday, 21 September 2011

"It Must Never To Laugh Of The Unhappies"

Long before I dipped my toes into cyberspace, my journey into the strange, amazing and wonderful world was through books: encyclopaedias and those voluminous I-didn't-know-that books.

Cover of "English as She is Spoke"; the original 1855 version is on the left
The Internet has made this indulgence much easier; it was while I was reminiscing about typos past that I rediscovered an old favourite that had - and still does - left me gasping for air and my sides numb from laughter.

In an old volume of Reader's Digest's Amazing Facts books is an article about what was claimed to be the world's funniest phrasebook.

O Novo Guia da Conversação em Portuguez e Inglez (The New Guide of the Conversation in Portuguese and English) was first published in Paris in 1855, and was allegedly written by José da Fonseca and Pedro Carolino.

Though little is known about this New Guide, one theory suggests that Carolino had based it on some or all of da Fonseca's earlier and better Portuguese-to-French phrasebook. His translation tool was a French-English dictionary, and he named da Fonseca as co-author to give the book some cred.

Which was understandable, since it was believed that Carolino did not speak English. So the author had to rely on literal translations, based largely on a word-to-word comparison, without much attention to grammar or syntax.

The result is an epic tour de force of linguistic FAIL that rivals the strongest forces of nature and set the GrammarSense™ of all English teachers ablaze.

Worse still, da Fonseca may not have been involved at all in Carolino's enterprise. Nor did he know that Carolino used his helpful little book to create a comedic masterpiece and associated both their names with it.

"...for the care what we wrote him..."
The book, as the author describes it, includes a "choice of familiar dialogues, clean of gallicisms, and despoiled phrases" usually found in other similar works of the time.

He also hopes to fill the "imperfections and anomalies of style" found in other works that are due to the "corelessness" of rival publishers, "in spite of the infinite typographical faults which some times invert the sense of the period."

Oh no, don't leave yet! From here on, it gets better.

While I often get to read some classic and neo-classic examples of grammarcide, nothing compares to the piquant awesomeness of the New Guide. Not even Nando's, which sounds Portuguese but is actually South African.

Remember, this guy thought he was really teaching English, and this book was actually published.

Craunching the marmoset
In Carolino's universe, people are involved in "trades" such as "coffeeman", "nailer", "Chinaman" and "lochsmith". Men use "the button-holes", "the buskins" and "the lining", while women have "the cornet", "the pump" and "the paint or disguise".

In the kitchen, where dishes such as "some suger-plum[sic]", "a little mine" and "vegetables boiled to a pap" are prepared, expect such utensils as "the spark", "the smoke", "the clout" and of course, "the fire".

Wildlife observers can expect to see "quardruped's" such as the "rocbuck", "wild sow" and "dragon"; marine biologists can look forward to the "hedge hog", "calamary", "muscles", "wolf" and "torpedo".

Body parts include "the brain", "the inferior lip", "the brains" (what?), "the reins" and "the ham". Apparently, being left-handed is a disease. By the way, does anyone know where the superior and inferior lips are on the human body?

Also, good luck explaining your family tree with such terms as "the quater-grandfather", "the gossip mistress", and "an relation".

"It is a noise which to cleave the head"
The section on "Idiotisms and Proverbs" provides such gems of profundity as, "The necessity don't know the low."; "A horse baared don't look him the tooth." and "After the paunch comes the dance."

Break the ice with such "Familiar phrases" as, "Apply you at the study during that you are young."; "This wood is fill of thief's."; and "What is it who want you?" Discuss the weather with "There is some foggy."; "I fear of the thunderbolt."; and "The sun rise on."

Prior to sailing, someone may ask, "Don't you fear the privateers!" To which a captain might reply, "I jest of them; my vessel is armed in man of war, I have a vigilant and courageous equipage, and the ammunitions don't want me its."

Someone might ask a bibliophile such: "Do you like the reading good deal too many which seem me?" And the usual reply would be, "That is to me a amusement."

At the bookshop, one might enquire of the bookseller: "What is there in new's litterature?" To which an answer would be "Little or almost nothing, it not appears any thing of note." Puzzled, the customer would ask, "But why, you and another book seller, you does not to imprint some good wooks[sic]?" And the weary reply might sound like: "There is a reason for that, it is that you cannot to sell its. The actual-liking of the public is depraved they does not read who for to amuse one's self ant but to instruct one's."

" is perfect"
As far as I can remember, nobody is sure if da Fonseca "died of embarrassment" when the book came out, or what happened to Carolino after that.

Despite its ironic and epic FAIL as a serious phrasebook, an abridged edition was published in London by Field & Tuer in 1882. Entitled English as She is Spoke, it was probably catalogued somewhere under "Humour", and would eventually be regarded as a classic source of unintended hilarity.

A different abridgement was published the same year in the US with an introduction by Mark Twain, who sounded quite enamoured with its contents. "In this world of uncertainties, there is, at any rate, one thing which may be pretty confidently set down as a certainty: and that is, that this celebrated little phrase-book will never die while the English language lasts."

Writer Stephen Pile, in The Book of Heroic Failures, sums up the power of the New Guide: "Is there anything in conventional English which could equal the vividness of 'To craunch a marmoset'?"

Which is perhaps why Twain was certain that "...nobody can imitate it successfully, nobody can hope to produce its fellow; it is perfect, it must and will stand alone: its immortality is secure."

Who can argue that?

This quasi-review/commentary of English as She is Spoke is based on the excerpts (at least I hope they are) from one of its abridged versions. I'm still hoping to get a copy of the real book from a local bookstore.

14/09/2014  It was also published in the 36th issue (October-December 2012) of the MPH Quill magazine (PDF file for the entire issue is here).

English As She Is Spoke
Being a Comprehensive Phrasebook of the English Language, Written by Men to Whom English was Entirely Unknown

Jose da Fonseca, Pedro Carolino
edited by Paul Collins
McSweeney's Books (2004)
151 pages
ISBN: 978-1932416114

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Teacher In The Interior

Is the term "blook" still in use today? Because that's what is coming to all major bookstores.

New Malaysian maths teacher Muhamad Hafiz Ismail is posted to his first school: Kampung Kenang Primary School, in a remote Temiar community in the Perak jungle. Initially struggling with his new post, he decides to keep a blog to help him document and reflect on his new life and career and to keep his spirits up.

The posting is hardly a breezy jungle jaunt. Unconcerned with their education, the kids are like hyperactive, attention-deficient ... squirrels. They come to school because of the free food, or simply to be among themselves. Absenteeism is common, and they forget what is taught in class after long holiday seasons.

Nevertheless, Hafiz perseveres. He devises a myriad of creative approaches to develop his pupils' confidence and love of school and to help them see that learning is fun. He finds innovative ways to help them learn and is devoted to giving them the best he can offer.

As he embarks on his journey of self-discovery, frank and earnest Hafiz tells it like it is: learning the Temiar language, fashioning teaching aids with recyclables, and getting to know his students.

There are visits to his students' village and a durian orchard in the hills, teaching seminars in nearby towns, and his travails with accommodation, personal modes of transport and cellphone reception.

But most of all, it's about the joys of being a teacher and a life far away from the bright lights, noise and smells of the city, and how the author grows as a teacher and as a person.

Translated from a blog of mostly Malay-language posts, the record of a year in the life of a new teacher is now a book for parents, new and experienced teachers, or anyone interested in education or real stories on school life.

Life Through My Eyes the blog was discovered by Dr Kit Thomas, Associate Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Education at UCSI University's Terengganu Campus, while on a trip to the author's school. Dr Thomas edited the book, which is published by MPH Group Publishing. All photos in this book were taken by the author.

The book will be launched at MPH Bookstores, Mid Valley Megamall on 24 September.

Life Through My Eyes
A Teacher's Little Steps Towards Perfection

Muhamad Hafiz bin Ismail
edited by Dr Kit Thomas
MPH Group Publishing
200 pages
ISBN: 978-967-5997-56-3

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Monday, 19 September 2011

How I'm Learning to Stop Worrying and Love the Typo

Low sugar levels, low caffeine levels, hunger, sticky fingers, butterfingers, stuck or wonky keyboards or just plain inattention. These are some of the causes of typos, among the most dreaded enemies of editors and proofreaders. As we all learned after hearing about the shifty situation regarding a romance novel, the right kind of typo in the exact location can have a devastating effect.

As an editor, it is my sworn duty to eliminate every single typo I find. They're the easy kind to deal with, simple search-and-destroy. So I tend to be critical of typos I find in other publications, even menus. If I can't correct them, I make it a point to poke fun at them. By "poke", I mean to stab it repeatedly and violently until the whole mess resembles a metaphorical pile of finely minced meat.

Less than a year and it feels like I've "been in the job too long".

Of course, this obsessive compulsive behaviour is unhealthy. It does not "keep you on your toes". It's a serious sign of one's lack of work-life boundaries. Pretty soon, you'll be like that Adrian Monk character.

Which is why I'm learning to let go, little by little.

Nowadays I poke fun - in private - at the most serious typos. The one in Susan Andersen's book is relatively minor, and I'm not saying that because I'm not keen on the genre.

But some typos inspire much cringing, head-shaking and migraines. TIME Magazine, in one of its Quotes of the Day, had the unfortunately misspelled "Profit Muhammad". And previously, the New York Times listed Farish Noor as a senior fellow of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) at Nanyank Technological University. From the Daily Dish, one entry raises a titter with: "From JK Rowling to Hugh Grant and the London police: a list of those picked to help with the ongiong inquiry." All these errors were quickly corrected.

Then, this list of ""unforgivable errors" from the good folks at Buzzfeed. Commenters made their own contributions, one of which includes the sign, "Wed Paint". The picture-heavy post takes too long to load on slower connections, so I've made a select list:

2) On a window: "Kitchen Cabinet Vanity Granite Cuntertop"

3) On a balloon: "Lewis Coutny Republican Committee"

5) A news article headline reads: "Vietnam soldier to be buried at Arlingtron".

12) On what looks like a FOX News marquee: "Jewerly Heist". Figures, don't it?

13) A neon sign at some motel called Econo Lodge also advertised its "Wire Lies" service. Ain't that Wikileaks?

19) A sign proclaims an old favourite: "No Pubic Access Keep Out".

24) Heartbreaking epitaph on a tombstone: "JAMES ANTHONY KATONA MAR. 21. 1976 - MAR. 24. 1976 OUR LITTLE ANGLE". This should've been Unforgivable Error #1.

26) This Phil Rohrer's Lunch place has US$1.20 burgers and four kinds of "ho-made soups".

28) A neon sign proclaims its "Appriciation" to the teachers at Monroe High School. "Thank You Teachers" indeed.

33) Not just bad spelling but bad punctuation: "NO KIDS!!! ON THE PAINO PLEASE THANK-YOU.

40) Aaand finally, Allisonville Nursery, "Where Home and Garden Meet", has "Fresh Cut Penis" for US$7.99. Ow....

The perfect manuscript, like the shiny, sleek and flawless exterior of some Apple products will, after a while, become boring. Who wants that? Maybe Steve Jobs, but he's not in charge anymore.

Just as the presence of caterpillars and worms are a gauge of how organic produce is, I've come to regard typos and other assorted errata in publications as a sign that human hands were really involved in a production. Borne of a real person's mind and heart and spilled onto paper or screen by hands, appendages of flesh, sinew, muscle and bone. An organic production.

At times, typos may not be such a bad thing. It can, as the above suggest, be funny. Not boring. They remind you that perfection does not exist on earth, and one shouldn't feel too bad if they aren't perfect. In the unintended humour, they help you lighten up a little. Never mind if it indicates low levels of language skills - those can be improved.

But please, never misspell names. Ever.

And once I'm done reflecting upon and appreciating the humanity behind the erratum, I will still take my trusty red pen and do the needful.

That being said, I still chafe at the writer who leaves his manuscript to the care of an editor, typos and all. With spell-checking features in today's word processors, it's not too much to ask the writer to fix all these before it reaches the editor's desk.

Not that I find correcting typos demeaning; it's a living, after all. I'm sure many editors, however, would prefer to spend time polishing a manuscript than dotting "i"s or filling in missing full stops.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

MPH Warehouse Sale 2011

I paid a visit to the warehouse downstairs from the office today. I had no idea the place was big. And stacked with books and other printed stuff.

For the next few days, some of those books will be sold. Yes, it's that warehouse sale.

Piles and piles of books. They're in shelves, in boxes, stacked on top of wooden palettes and arranged on tables. Unfortunately the setup's a bit here-and-there, so finding what you want can be a bit tough.

But it's a chance to buy the books you didn't want to or couldn't buy last year or the year before that - or the year before the year before that.

Yes, it's kind of like BookXcess, only a bit bigger, warmer and dustier. With a bit less comfort and even less parking space. It's not called a warehouse sale for nothing.

But there are books. Lots of them. A whole section is just lined with young adult novels. A whole palette piled with the Game of Thrones series and box sets. If anyone's still interested, I think there's one palette stacked with Dr M's memoir, going for RM70 each.

I got myself a couple of Agatha Christies, as well as a Terry Pratchett I used to read repeatedly, along with The Truth. Appointment with Death was going for RM15 instead of RM29.90.

No Jane Austen for me. I'm not prepared.

For those too lazy to click on the link:

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

Hours: 8am to 7pm

The sale starts tomorrow and ends on the 18th (Sunday).

Monday, 12 September 2011

Ten Years Ago Today...

...I was getting off the bus at the Taman Tun Dr Ismail bus stop, just after the traffic lights. My workplace was just a couple of minutes away by foot. That's the only detail I remember with clarity.

I'm not sure anymore whether it was the 11th or the 12th.

The front page of The Star looked different. It was spread out over two pages, and on it was the image of one of the burning New York World Trade Center towers.

I was still at my first job in IT. I was, at the time, based in the unfortunately named Plaza IBM.

I don't remember how many bomb threat alerts we received, but I'm sure there was at least one. I recall my colleagues streaming out of the building, some getting into their cars one day.

Did I stay behind on that occasion? I can't be certain. But I do remember the petulant voice on the other end of the line, chastising my department for not having someone on standby to take phone calls in case of emergencies - and I don't mean bomb threats.

The days afterwards just passed by. CNN kept replaying footage of the burning, then collapsing WTC Towers for days. The enormity of the event and its aftermath took a while to sink in. A very long while.

But the Islamic terrorism thing hit a lot closer to home with the Bali bombings in... 2002? And was I in a Jakarta food court, eating rice with beef in pepper sauce when the TV played footage of the incident, or was it some other date? Or was it all a dream?

I should've started blogging when the writing bug started twitching. I had lots to write about when I started travelling to Indonesia to work, but I can't accurately place names, addresses and events within the time frame anymore.

I remember seeing pictures of what appear to be Palestinians, cheering the collapse of the WTC. Many Arab governments, I was sure, could barely contain their glee. Iran didn't seem to bother.

Lessons were learnt, all right. Mostly the wrong ones. And it didn't take ten years to prove that bloodshed has done little to advance the misguided causes of everyone involved. But some still try. It's all so absurd.

The world will eventually tire of the fighting. Whomever will be chosen to lead will one day be ushering a war-weary generation into a peaceful but faraway age. This bunch with us right now won't cut it. And it'll be a long while before the fires burning right now will die.

...Ten years. Feels like last year. I've switched jobs twice since then. Plaza IBM is now Plaza VADS. I hardly hear about IBM these days; it's all Google, Twitter, Facebook and Apple now.

Those days get hazier by the day, retreating into the far corners of my mind. I suppose it's because I didn't experience it first-hand: the explosions, the fires and smoke, the falling debris and the ensuing chaos.

It's just as well. There's no point in "remembering 9/11" anyway.

Not anymore.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Moore Trouble Ahead

When I first read Stupid White Men, I thought, well, this is refreshing. But my interest in Michael Moore cooled somewhat after flipping through some of his subsequent books.

I stopped reading Counterpunch years ago because of similar feelings, though Moore's leftist Kool-Aid is less toxic; haven't they heard about the chill pill?

Cover of Michael Moore's "Here Comes Trouble" - I like this one better
However, his films Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11 and Sicko were interesting and entertaining. You can't say that Moore doesn't know how to push his audience's buttons. At times I feel like he's that cartoon character standing in front of a shiny electronics panel bent on pushing every button, flicking every switch and turning every knob or dial until something finally breaks.

With the exception of Mike's Election Guide which I reviewed in my previous job, I never bothered with his other books. After a while, they all sound the same. At least he's consistent.

Then the Guardian published this excerpt from his upcoming book, Here Comes Trouble, just in time for the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Perhaps no other title aptly describes the memoir about America's most hated man, who panned his president when the nation was at war.

Given his uncanny button-pushing talents, the backlash was tremendous. He'd been verbally, digitally and physically assaulted; his property trespassed; and a whole lot more. It got to a point where he had to hire bodyguards, most of whom were former soldiers and SEALs - a bit ironic, considering his circumstances.

Then came the day someone was arrested for allegedly plotting to blow up Moore's house. Moore despaired over this for a time.

For me, it was the final straw. I broke down. My wife was already in her own state of despair over the loss of the life we used to have. I asked myself again: what had I done to deserve this? Made a movie? A movie led someone to want to blow up my home? What happened to writing a letter to the editor?

Yeah, why don't they write letters to the editor anymore? After all, not everybody is comfortable with the idea of parading and stepping on cow heads, burning churches, or throwing rubber snakes and newspapers into a possibly illegal bonfire.

That wannabe Guy Fawkes' plan was almost as sickening as former Fox News rabble-rouser Glenn Beck announcing his "urge" to kill Moore (and it seems, getting away with it), and Fox's Sean Hannity hosting a trespasser of Moore's house.

Are these are the kinds of freedoms that Dubya Bush said the "terr'ists" hate, the kinds that should be defended by toppling governments who don't like you - by force?

A decade after 9/11, Moore must feel vindicated. He'd been, at least, right about the Iraq war. But I find the closing anecdote in that Guardian extract a bit incredible.

As I do this over-the-top blurb on the book on the web site:

Moore is his own meta-Forrest Gump, at one moment he's an 11-year-old boy stuck on a Senate elevator with Bobby Kennedy, and the next moment he's inside the Bitburg cemetery with a dazed and confused Ronald Reagan. Changing planes in Vienna, he escapes death at the hands of the terrorist Abu Nidal.

In search one day for a bag of potato chips, he ends up eliminating racial discrimination in private clubs across America. He founded his first underground newspaper in the fourth grade. He refused to be on the CBS Evening News with Walter Kronkite at 16. And he became the youngest elected official in the country at age 18 by enlisting an "army of local stoners" as his campaign staff.

All of this makes for great fiction — but every one of these stories is true and from the life of one Michael Moore who became an iconic voice for progressives everywhere. But before Michael Moore became the Oscar-winning filmmaker and all-round thorn-in-the-side of corporate and rightwing America, he was the guy who had an uncanny knack for just showing up where history was being made.

Trouble, says Moore, is coming to you on 13 September. I might keep an eye out for it. With button-pushers like him, however, I'd do the pinch-of-salt thing because what he dishes out can be hard to swallow.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Big and Black

This morning, I replied thus to a colleague's e-mail:

Received it. It is heavy. It is black. It smells good. It's very long. It's interesting.

Make the phone call.

Though I could be talking about the Old Spice Guy, it's actually this:

Big, black, heavy, smells good and very long - Neal Stephenson's latest, "Reamde"
Big, black, heavy, smells good and very long - Neal
Stephenson's latest, Reamde

Sorry to disappoint. I'm not like... that.

Won't be reviewing it for the papers, after all. They found someone else to do it. I get to keep my copy, though, so expect to see my own take on the book ... whenever.

More new books are coming out of MPH Publishing. Updates soon.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Another Stupid CSS Experiment

Whatever possessed me to go and drag these home with me during the long, long weekend?

Boredom and bravado, mostly. Never a good combination.

The Secret History of Elizabeth Tudor, Vampire Slayer
Lucy Weston
Gallery Books (2011)
304 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4391-9033-3

The Facebook Effect
David Kirkpatrick
Virgin Books (2010)
374 pages
ISBN: 978-0-7535-2275-2

State of Wonder
Ann Patchett
HarperCollins (2011)
353 pages
ISBN: 978-0-06-207471-3

A Decade of Hope
Dennis Smith, with Deirdre Smith
Viking (2011)
356 pages
ISBN: 978-0-670-02293-9

Laurence Bergreen
Viking (2011)
417 pages
ISBN: 978-0-670-02301-1

So yes, I'm trying a different way of presenting this. For the sake of symmetry, I've omitted the subtitles. It's always the heavy non-fiction books that have the longest subtitles, isn't it?

But this format also involves a lot of inline CSS code, which is quite messy when incorporated into normal posts. Maybe I should add new CSS definitions for this format into the blog template....

20/10/2014  I've abandoned this idea; too complicated. And I've also stopped publishing items from my reading list, which is probably longer than both my arms by now. But the CSS code might be useful for something else.