Wednesday, 25 December 2013

The Beginnings Of An Epicurean Editor?

I recently cooked a spaghetti aglio olio for an early pre-Christmas party. Nothing new about that, except...

I used Chinese-style roasted pork belly, along with sun-dried tomatoes. Well, it was sort of inspired by the Pork Lover's Aglio Olio from Three Little Pigs & The Big Bad Wolf in Bangsar Village.

I cooked for six people.

It took place in someone else's bigger, better-equipped kitchen. I had to use a wok to toss the ingredients and it was hard work. But the experience left me with, among other things, kitchen envy.

Stirring up a storm in a kitchen (left) and the final product

It was the first time I'd made spaghetti for anyone else, outside the home - and I somehow got it al dente. At least the assembled thought it was.

And I'd only seriously begun what most would call "cooking" several months ago.

One thing I didn't know, though, was to toss the freshly cooked spaghetti strands in olive oil to keep them from sticking together. One of the hosts pointed that out as I struggled to free the strands from congealing into a heavy tangled mass.

Everybody loved it, and I'm sure they weren't just being polite. Two partygoers took home what was left for dinner the next day - I'm not sure if it would taste the same.

I've been dabbling with some pasta recipes of late, the latest step in my progression towards some degree of self-sufficiency in the home kitchen.

A curried carrot-potato soup with a drizzle of olive oil and
some sunflower seeds (used chicken-stock cubes, so it tasted
like something out of a Maggi packet)

An earlier version of my roast pork-belly pasta; it's advisable
to cut the meat to smaller pieces and fry them with the garlic
before tossing the whole lot with the pasta

The seeds of that might have been planted during a lunch date with a former colleague. I used to do the occasional restaurant review for the media back then, and when she knew about this, she asked if I cooked anything myself. I didn't.

"How can you write about food when you don't cook?" she asked, puzzled. "Isn't that kind of hypocritical?"

I don't know about her cooking skills but, man, she doesn't mince words. That stayed with me since, even though I can throw something simple together now.

My idea of a good hot chocolate is a bit different; this cup is a
mix of Valrhona Guanaja (70% dark) and Jivara (milk chocolate)

Here, I use Whittaker's Dark Ghana, and split it into two
portions: one plain and the other with cinnamon

Since my first experiments with milkshakes and smoothies with a blender, I've been wondering about what else I can do with my hands besides what I do at work with red pens and highlighters.

Putting things in ovens and heating them to death doesn't count as cooking in my book, though I have tried doing that as well - less cleaning up than dishes that require fire and a pot or pan.

A baked salmon - not much work required and great as a lean dinner
when served with blanched vegetables

Pigs in blankets, with a little bit extra (garlic and herbs). These later
burst out of their skins (and blankets) under the intense heat, but I
never got around to solving that problem - yet

After I first boiled a bunch of tri-coloured spirals (not sure what they were really called), I've had plenty of successes with pastas aglio olio - a no-brainer of a dish. You don't even have to fry the pasta.

Sauce-based ones were a bit trickier. An attempt at a sardine thingy left my spirals wallowing in some orange-coloured, sardine-flavoured slurry that smelled strongly of fish oil and tasted fine.

Several attempts at a curry-sauce variety were not as successful. The first time, I used too much masala powder. Another time, I got something that smelled and tasted vaguely of Nyonya-styled chilli paste (I used shallots instead of onions).

Every time, I got a bitter taste in the spice mix or sauce. I've learnt since then that some curries need cream. I used Greek yoghurt in my last experiment.

Not-very-good curry sauce pasta; used sausages because I wanted
the protein but nothing good was available

But I'm not giving up. Hell, if my Dad managed to make the family's chicken curry once....

And I'm guessing that these skills will come in handy when we start paying extra for tolls, electricity, petrol and stuff, on top of the GST that's coming on April 2015.

But more importantly ... can I write about food now? Or do I need to learn how to cook and rest a steak next?

As I post this, I'm recovering from a(nother) throat infection - and a bout of possible food poisoning, both of which occurred on Christmas Eve. I feel like I'm being told something, but I'm not sure what exactly.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Monday, 23 December 2013

News: Cooking Anarchy, Letter-Writing, And Whatever

William Powell, author of The Anarchist Cookbook regrets writing it and wants it out of print.

Written when he was 19 and angry, "the central idea to the book was that violence is an acceptable means to bring about political change. I no longer agree with this."

No kidding, considering that the book, dubbed by some as a "murder manual", has been linked to a bunch of violent plots. But the book's publisher, who owns the rights, wants to keep it on the shelves.

What goes on the Web, stays on the Web, they say. Looks like the same goes for print.

So, what else went on?

  • The ten best lines from Anthony Bourdain's Kindle Singles Q&A makes you want to pick it up
  • No Mistake, an editor's memoir. Wondering if it's anything like a tell-all a la Kitchen Confidential?
  • RIP Paul Torday, author of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.
  • The seemingly random list of books banned from Guantánamo.
  • The argument for negative book reviews, partly in response to Buzzfeed's 'ban' on them.
  • has an infographic on what it considers the top ten grammar mistakes and why they should be avoided, brought to you by Lifehacker.
  • I don't know enough about NYT columnist Ross Douthat's (almost spelled it "Doubthat") "notorious" mansplaining tendencies, but this attempt at reviewing books with his mindset sounds interesting.
  • E-mail killed the art of writing letters? Nuh-uh, says a WaPo review of To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing by Simon Garfield. "In 1919, the Yale Review lamented that 'the art of writing letters has been lost,' with blame cast on the telephone, the typewriter, the telegraph, even the train — for delivering letters too promptly."
  • Heartbreaking: the looting of one of Italy's oldest libraries - and the librarian was among the culprits.
  • So Facebook wants to know why you didn't share that status update: Well, WHAT'S IT TO YOU, FACEBOOK?
  • John Scalzi reminisces on the word processors he's used through the ages: He also rebuffs the notion that "self-loathing is in the writer's blood". And here's his take on the "death of the blog".
  • Why putting numbers in text might not be a good idea.
  • Is this real? Someone who has a severe allergy to (particles trapped in) BOOKS?
  • Is the small book the answer to our TL;DR syndrome?
  • Tired of selfies? Here are some "shelfies" - and they don't disappoint.
  • Because it's France, France decided that it needed a French word for sexting "because the phenomenon often comes up in legal cases", apparently.

    And it seems that the word that annoys Americans the most is ... "whatever".

Not book-related, but I found this article about Ooi Eow Jin, Malaysia's "forgotten" music man, a somewhat powerful piece of writing. Read it before he and his era are forgotten again.

Friday, 20 December 2013

The Desolation Of Smug

November 2013 marks my third year as a books editor. Though I had few illusions as to what I'd be facing when I took this job, these three years have thrown quite a fair bit my way.

"Spend one year in this job and you'll see it all," I was told. Well, not quite. I ended up believing I ain't seen nothin' yet.

Certain issues keep me from fully chronicling my editorial exploits in public. What I can say, though, is plus ça change, plus c'est la même. What does change is the pace. Production has been ramped up of late and it's hard to keep up.

Nine months after I had my sinuses operated on, they have started running again. Just when I've gotten used to sniffle-free mornings.

These days and a little while back, my days looked just like this:

Hint: I'm the one with the sword (photo from here)

And the dragon often won.

My ego - or what's left of it - has taken a beating in the past few months. Not since my brief stint in the media have I experienced anything similar. Although I will always regard the ego-kicking I received in my media stint as the hardest.

In a previous life, I was considered among the best technical writers in my company. My skills in documenting were in demand. My command of English was once graded "superb".

But all that didn't help a lot with the copywriting and editing I'm doing today. There are techniques to be even better at those, which I have yet to master.

Don't be fooled into thinking that cookbooks and children's books are easy-peasy because of the simple grammar and writing style. Blind spots will appear and you'll be left red-faced.

It's been a long, hard comedown from those heady tech-writing days.

I have some hope that the next year will bring new things, more things. Right now, I'm also looking at the press releases and promo materials, besides the growing pile of manuscripts under my care.

I'm also hoping to acquire skills and means that will help me edit 'scripts better, en route towards being a reputable editor that strikes awe into hearts and minds.

I imagine that one day, after a couple of decades, a mountain of 'scripts, gallons of red ink and a dozen or so best-sellers, every meeting with an aspiring author will look like this:

Hint: I'm NOT the one with the sword (photo from here)

I was told that I'm a simple man with low-key preferences, no lofty ambitions, and no desire for the spotlight. True in a sense.

But I think I might have the makings of an ambition now.

First, I need to revisit the other parts of my life I seem to keep neglecting: time management, sleep schedules and priorities.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Masterclass In Session: Fashion With Carven

Zang Toi. Jimmy Choo. Melinda Looi. Edmund Ser.

Carven Ong’s Guide to the Fashion Industry
You've heard of them, wore them, seen them in the papers and magazines, and maybe took pictures with them at some glitzy fashion do.

Some of you probably think, "Wow, isn't this the life! I could probably do this too."

Hold that thought. A fashion designer and industry veteran has a few words for you before you jump in.

The latest in the MPH Masterclass series, Carven Ong's Guide to the Fashion Industry, is not merely a guidebook on how to become a fashion designer. Rather, it is tailored for all those aspiring to make the cut in the glamorous, yet competitive world of fashion.

Fashion designer Carven Ong packed the sum of his experiences in the fashion industry into this book's ten chapters for this purpose. "This book is an opportunity for me to share my knowledge experience on a wide range of fashion industry topics, with those who are interested in entering the fashion industry," says Ong.

Fashion-industry aspirants, whether one wants to be a buyer, boutique owner, or follow in the footsteps of Ong, will find much to appreciate in the pages.

Ong uses his own personal story - one of missed opportunities, luck, and determination - to illustrate the potential payoffs and pitfalls that lie on the road towards fashion stardom. Behind the glitz and glamour of the catwalk and dressed boutique windows is a lot of hard work and, for the unprepared, stress.

Screenshot of Carven Ong’s web site
Carven Ong's web site and online showcase,

Readers will be guided towards the proper way to enter the fashion industry. But first: do you want to just design clothes in the background, or do you want a share of the limelight as the progenitor of your own styles? That sets the framework of your business plan, which Ong recommends one does first.

"Be prepared to run a marathon, not a sprint," he writes. "It won't be easy, and the stronger your foundation, the higher your chances of success."

Also outlined are some of the processes involved in product development, be it for a couture or prêt-à-porter (ready-to-wear) business, as well as things to note when sourcing and using materials such as fabric and lace, some branding and marketing strategies, advice on opening boutiques and online stores, and more.

Gifted in the arts and an eye for style, it was natural that Ong would embark on a career in fashion.

From humble beginnings, he is now the proud owner of a couture boutique, some fashion counters in department stores and his own fashion academy.

"A mixture of passion, good business sense and a willingness to take risks has gotten me to where I am today," he says humbly. "Recalling just how tough it was to get the right type of guidance when I started out, I want to help anyone who wishes to make a career out of fashion design."

Now, with this single volume, he can.

Carven Ong's Guide to the Fashion Industry
Carven Ong
MPH Group Publishing
157 pages
ISBN: 978-967-415-167-6

Buy from

Monday, 16 December 2013

News: Books, Lawsuits, And Stuff

  • A book on being a 'submissive' wife becomes a hit in Italy and Spain, except with feminists (anybody remember our own Obedient Wives' Club?). A sexist "joke" book published by a Spanish company, meanwhile, was pulled off the shelves.
  • A best-selling Saudi sci-fi book pulled off the shelves in Kuwait and Qatar, due to djinns. As we all know, djinns are bad news, which is perhaps why local publications such as Mastika occasionally warn readers about them. But the big question is: Can sci-fi as a genre exist when imagination is curtailed?
  • Did an "evangelical celebrity machine" force a radio host to retract her claims that a Seattle pastor could be a plagiarist?
  • A bunch of famous authors have condemned the amount of state surveillance as revealed by the world's biggest whistleblower of 2013, and are calling for the creation of a UN bill to protect civil rights for the Internet age. The list of authors petitioning for this bill is formidable. But will anything come out of it?
  • A federal judge has tossed a lawsuit, filed by independent booksellers, that said Amazon and the big six publishers are trying to lock down the bookselling trade via Amazon's proprietary DRM in Kindle. And this little nugget from TIME seems to suggest that Amazon's apparent money-losing strategy with its Kindle e-reader is working.
  • "Long-form, on the Web, is in danger of meaning a lot of words," writes James Bennet in The Atlantic. Time to rethink the terminology for 'long-form' journalism?
  • Guilty pleasures: What's so guilty about them? "...the guilty pleasure seems to me the distillation of all the worst qualities of the middlebrow—the condescension of the highbrow without the expenditure of effort, along with mass culture's pleasure-seeking without the unequivocal enjoyment," writes Jennifer Szalai in The New Yorker. "If you want to listen to Rihanna while reading the latest from Dean Koontz, just go ahead and do it."
  • "My education began in the library, where I read every book I could get my hands on. Before long, I wanted to be--among other things--a writer. I read books about it, and I learned that the chance of making a living writing novels was remote. But I also learned that if I got a job on a newspaper they'd have to pay me every week." Sir Terry Pratchett talks about his first job.
  • Crowdfunded anthologies: what you need to know before jumping in.
  • Hikaru Su- sorry, George Takei, a top 1000 reviewer on Amazon? Oh my.
  • "Call me a defeatist, but honestly I'd be happy if a plurality of American college students could discern even the skeletal plot of anything they were assigned." Rebecca Schuman at Slate wants an end to college essays.
  • "If a story is viral, truth may be taking a beating." So it seems nothing is too good to be true on the Internet - until it is.

    Speaking of viral: Did this blog publisher actually write this awful pitch? Because nobody can possibly be this daft. And multiple exclamation marks? Red flag!
  • Whoa. Is THIS the state of our National Library now? Some of the pictures look a little old, though.
  • Oh, yes ... Groupon's great idea for 'combating' the delivery drone scheme? Catapults. This thing just got ancient. Google, on the other hand, just bought a robot-engineering company. Retail Robot Wars, anyone?

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

You Don't Know PR Like He Knows PR

It was said that the Tang Dynasty calligrapher Zhang Xu produced his best work after a few drinks.

I wondered if the author of this book is similarly wired. How else to explain the outlandish ideas for the ads and public-relations campaigns he was involved in?

I mean, using a wild 'Canadian' bear (probably a grizzly) to sell bathroom tissues (and, later, having to track it down when it got loose)?

Trying to get David Copperfield to 'teleport' an SIA jumbo jet from Changi to Heathrow?

Staging a concert inside Sarawak's Mulu Caves?

Re-creating the splendour of ancient Rome at Singapore's Orchard Road - complete with real lions - for a perfume launch?

And it was his PR agency, apparently, that got the Singapore Girl into Madame Tussauds.

Regarded by some as "Asia's Mr Public Relations", Michael De Kretser has been in the PR industry for about four decades. His PR agency, MDK, began in modest settings such as his own condominium and an office space above an Indian restaurant in Kuala Lumpur.

After years of gallivanting around the world, setting up his out-of-the-box public-relations campaigns and growing his PR business, he is now the CEO of GO Communications Malaysia and also the chairman of the GO Group, a sprawling PR empire with partner offices in such places as Bangkok, Beijing, Colombo, Manila, Mumbai, Shanghai, Tokyo and Vientiane.

De Kretser's remarkable rise in the competitive world of public relations and some of his (mis)adventures en route to the top can now be found in his book, GO For It!.

While public-relations people can learn (a bit) about damage control and how to mount a PR campaign from it, the book is really about the inspirational story of a successful public-relations practitioner who, from humble beginnings, set out to make it big against all odds.

Between battling health scares, boosting brands, and saving tourism industries, De Kretser somehow finds the time to date one of the Supremes, hobnob with celebrities and the celebrated aboard Malcolm Forbes's luxury yacht, play a game or two of cricket, and much more. With lots of spirit and spirits.

Packed with amazing anecdotes and the sharp wit and candour he's known for, De Kretser's book will not only titillate, amuse, and shock but also inspire and make you believe that all things are possible when you say GO instead of NO.

Royalties from sales of the book have been pledged to charity.

GO For It!
A Roller-Coaster Public Relations Adventure

Michael De Kretser
MPH Group Publishing
157 pages
ISBN: 978-967-415-166-9

Buy from

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

News: French Lit Frustrations, Angry Birds, And Durians

"Why don't French books sell abroad?" asks the BBC. "...when it comes to post-war literature, it's a different story. Even voracious readers often struggle to name a single French author they have enjoyed."

A bookseller there had this to say: "The books on offer here are very different from in the UK. French books are precious, intellectual - elitist. And too often bookshops are intimidating. Ordinary people are scared of the whole book culture."

Ooo. In short, les livres sont trop français. Too ... 'French'.


...French writers insist that the sins they are accused of - abstraction, lack of plot and character, a preference for text over story, contempt for the non-literary reader - are a cliche perpetuated by Anglo-Saxons with little knowledge of how things have changed in recent years.

"Personally I am fed up with all the stereotypes," says [French writer Marie] Darieussecq. "We're not intellectual. We're not obsessed with words. We write detective stories. We write suspense. We write romance.

"And it's about time you started noticing."

Pour quoi tant pétulant, madame?

One more stumbling block to Amazon's drone-delivery army: angry raptors. And this guy, who has reportedly pledged to shoot down any drone he sees.

Meanwhile, an "unusual" number of snowy owls are spotted in the US. Hmm hmmm hmmmm.

What else is happening:

  • A different kind of artefact: The "artful accidents" of Google Books includes scans of employees' hands as they flip the pages.
  • Reading can be hazardous: the 'confessions' of a judge for this year's National Book Awards.
  • Readers of The Guardian recommend these self-published works. Are these truly the diamonds among the duds?
  • Linguists find ways to, like, distinguish statements from questions in Valley Girl-talk, for sure. Like, totally.
  • Mixed results for bookselling in Mexico after book prices are fixed. "...the law that was passed had no provisions for enforcing it, and so the situation has become ever more chaotic. Booksellers who follow the law are undercut by others who don't, and the latter aren't penalized — and this is an issue that's particularly bad for smaller or farflung bookstores, which the law was meant to support in the first place."
  • Lingerie in literature: "underwiring" for stories? Probably not for men.
  • Yeah, why do we value gold? "Chemically, it is uninteresting - it barely reacts with any other element," the standfirst goes. But gold is valued partly because of that attribute.
  • Dunia nak kiamat? Sebab orang puteh tulis surat cinta kepada durian. Sorry, not going to translate.
  • The literary feuds of 2013 because why not?

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

News: Amazon Drones, Books Of The Year, And Subatomic Sex

It's that time of the year, when everybody compiles a list of best/worst/overlooked/overrated books.

The Guardian's list of 2013's best books is out, kicked off by Tash Aw's Five Star Billionaire. It wasn't even December when they released the list.

Slate's book critics think your 2013 reading list should have included these "overlooked" books. Meanwhile, somebody at Newsweek tries reviewing the best Goodreads books of 2013 without reading them.

So, yes, Amazon plans same-day deliveries using drones. Joyce Carol Oates has some thoughts about that, and TechCrunch sees several obstacles to Amazon's goal of setting up an army of delivery drones.

In response (and for a lark), Waterstones 'introduces' its own army of OWLS (Ornithological Waterstones Landing Service), which is not exactly an original (or serious) idea.


It's a short list, but I was busy for the past few weeks and I was away for the weekend. I might be sharing some photos from that weekend vacation later, because I'm not really deep into book-related stuff at the moment.

But I miiight take a peek inside the Big Bad Wolf's lair (between 6 and 15 December) and see what's inside.

Monday, 25 November 2013

News: E-Reading In Japan, And What Twain Did Not Say

One reason why Japanese readers are not taking the e-book leap: "differing cultural notions of convenience".

"Japan is much smaller than the U.S. in terms of land area, but there are so many bookstores, and people can buy cheap but well-made books. So books don’t really have to be digital," Toru Sanpei, chief of the secretariat of the Japan Electronic Publishing Association.

How many bookstores does Japan have?

According to Publishers Weekly, the United States had 12,703 bookstores in 2012 while Aru Medial, a Tokyo-based research firm, says Japan had 14,696.

Alrighty, then.


  • Before you quote Mark Twain, read this. Because there are some things that Twain did not say.
  • Are these the eight most influential people in e-book publishing?
  • Daniel Mendelsohn and Jennifer Szalai discuss the value of literary prizes.
  • There are fifty shades of rejection, apparently, even though many rejection slips sport only one.
  • A veteran New Yorker and Random House editor picks the most under-appreciated books he's edited.
  • Somebody actually did a "textual analysis of The Hunger Games", comparing the adjectives, adverbs and sentences most commonly used by THG author Suzanne Collins, Stephenie Meyer and JK Rowling.
  • Know them by these deeds: An evil writer's guide to messing with the editor. G*d help those I catch doing any of the above.
  • Twelve mistakes the grammar police tend to make, with a bonus thirteenth 'mistake'. So, who edits the editors?
  • Over 40 errors in Sir Alex Ferguson's memoir? Nothing new, it seems. Could it be worth big bucks in the future? Uh....
  • Using an old law, Brazil's rich bans biographies - but not always for the right reasons. "Though defending the honor of loved ones is the official banner, the more powerful motive for calling in the book police is money," writes Mac Margolis in The Daily Beast. The ban has, apparently watered down bios so much in Brazil that one historian calls them "glorified press releases".
  • Perhaps responding to the debate over the gamification of literature, the Writer Beware blog highlights some author reality shows that failed (or never took off) - and Simon Cowell was involved in one of them.
  • The last copies of Fixi title Dendam ("Revenge") has sold out and will not be reprinted. RIP.
  • Company tries to fine couple over negative review, then sinks their credit rating when they couldn't pay.
  • Of these "100 greatest novels of all time", I only read less than five. Don't judge.
  • This book says cereals will damage your brain. And we thought sugar was dangerous already.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Masterclass In Session: Home Gardening With Desmond

When talking about gardens, I'd sometimes think of the KL Islamic Arts Museum. Looking out from inside the Museum's white, white restaurant and seeing the greenery outside, I'm reminded of the Mughals and their fondness for gardens.

Lutyen's Mughal Garden (
A big Mughal(-ish) garden, designed by British architect
Edwin Lutyens. Photo from here.

Babur, the first Mughal ruler, was said to have favoured the chahar bagh, a garden of Persian design with a squarish layout. Features included trees, especially those that bear fruit; flowering plants and shrubs; birds and insects; and big water features such as pools, canals and fountains, and even tiered cascades.

Later Mughal gardens incorporated religious elements and symbols, creating a slice of Paradise on Earth. Surrounded by the fragrances and hues of flowers and fruits and lush greenery; the sound of birds, rustling foilage, and burbling of running water; and the cool breezes, it's hard not to feel otherwise. Definitely a far cry from the harsher aspects of the Mughal rulers' lives.

While the Mughal gardens were also a display of man's power to tame and alter the landscape, Desmond Ho's designs work with it and are arguably more natural-looking. Though some of the designs are relatively modest in scale, his gardens can have the same soothing effects.

Desmond Ho's Guide to Beautiful (Non-Palatial) Home Gardens will help you
dream up something more modest but doable - and just as lovely

Ho has come a long way since he decided to make a living by bringing people closer to nature. Picking things up on his own in the pre-Internet days, he started out by selling glass-enclosed greenery in terrariums and ended up founding Terra Garden, a garden design company that pioneers a Malaysian concept of outdoor living called Neo Nusantara.

After introducing this garden concept to a number of homes and public spaces, Ho aims to bring it to a wider audience. Desmond Ho's Guide to Beautiful Home Gardens, his attempt to do just that, is more of a concept guide, kind of like those lovely home garden and interior décor magazines.

The designs showcased in the company's web site are eye-catching and feels natural. But the immediate effect of this book on me was to instil the urge to buy a house. With a water feature. Maybe with a few plants around it. And a chaise longue. And...

...right, well, the latest volume in the MPH Masterclass Series is a bit different than the others. For one, it's no step-by-step handbook on DIY home-garden assembly.

Very few homeowners will do the actual work of installing lights, mixing concrete, digging ponds and so on. You'd almost want to pick up the phone and call a landscaper, which is what he recommends that you do.

But unlike the magazines, Ho provides more tips and advice on putting together the wish list for your dream garden. From lights, plants, water features and types of furniture to suggested garden layouts for a bungalow, semi-detached or terrace house, or even an apartment, you'll believe it's possible to own a slice of Paradise - even a tiny one - in your home.

Desmond Ho's Guide to Beautiful Home Gardens
Desmond Ho
MPH Group Publishing
160 pages
ISBN: 978-967-415-164-5

Buy from

Monday, 18 November 2013

News: Tash Aw At The British Council, Self-Censorship, And Doris Lessing

The British Council has a new branch at Mutiara Damansara. In conjunction with its opening and this year's George Town Literary Festival, it's holding a two-hour writing workshop and book-signing by Tash Aw on this Saturday, 23 November, from 1pm to 4:30pm at its premises:

British Council Mutiara Damansara
Lot 245A, 2nd Floor
The Curve, Mutiara Damansara
47810 Petaling Jaya

For more information, e-mail arts[at]britishcouncil[dot]org[dot]my or visit the British Council Arts Malaysia Facebook page.

Aw is also a judge for this year's Impac Dublin International Literary Award. The Impac Dublin longlist, he says in The Guardian, is "a gift for readers in search of unexpected delights" such as translated works and "quirky" stuff from all over the world, making the Impac Dublin longlist a more mixed bag than that of some other book prizes.

NSA surveillance is apparently making writers self-censor. A report from PEN America says that, among other things, "16 percent of writers have avoided writing or speaking about a particular topic due to concerns about the NSA."

PEN America is the journal published by the PEN America Center, which was set up to defend free expression and celebrate literature. PEN has also established its International Day of the Imprisoned Writer (15 November), which highlights the works and plight of writers, editors, translators and political essayists and dissidents threatened by repressive governments.

In other news:

  • RIP Doris May Lessing, British novelist, short-story writer and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.
  • Non-existent fact-checking in book publishing allowed Dylan Davies aka Sgt Morgan Jones publish "a Benghazi fantasy".
  • Is Amazon's Kindle Source offer to independent bookstores a "Faustian" deal?
  • Nine things about listicles that make listicles like the one you're reading now sound plausible.
  • Canadian artiste Bryan Adams has come up with an "unlikely, compelling" photography book on wounded war veterans. "This book is just a small example of the atrocities that happen when we bear arms against each other," said Adams in The Daily Beast.
  • A US judge ruled that Google's book-scanning project is legal and considered "fair use" under copyright laws. This judgement will not go down well with the Author's Guild in the US. But sci-fi author John Scalzi, for one, is not bothered.
  • Is too much being made about being nice or nasty to books? Somebody at The New Yorker thinks so. "...if authors were sages, then it really would behove the rest of us to just pipe down and accept their words from on high. Fortunately, they’re no such thing."
  • London writer and bookseller Jen Campbell (Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops, More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops) is writing The Bookshop Book and needs your input. "I want to know why you love bookshops; which bookshops you'd like to sing the praises of; if you've got a memory you want to share, whether it be happy, sad or amusing. You could even tell me about your ideal bookshop; if you could open one, where would it be? What would you stock? Anything you like!"
  • Wouldn't it be nice to snuggle in bed reading your favourite blog? A guide for those using e-book readers to read blogs like books.
  • A bit about the Polish city of Krakow, the latest Unesco City of Literature.
  • "It's very tiring and exhausting when you try to ask for your rights and in return you get a dictatorship," says Aysha, who's part of Jordan's (mostly) female underground slam poetry scene. So she and a bunch of fellow poets are slammin' back.
  • Dick Metcalf, an editor (or is it writer/editor or just writer?) who was fired for his pro-gun control article in the Guns & Ammo magazine says two major firearms makers may have played a part in his dismissal.
  • Some surprises about the Malay language, and a list of Malay words with Sansrkit origins. Also: "...when a Malay speaks a sentence of ten words, probably five to seven of them will be Sanskrit words..." Considering the look of the web site, betul ke?
  • What could be the best and worst 21st-century novels. The century's just started and Katie Price has two.
  • "Gaming" literature: should (and would) Fear Factor-like reality shows make book-writing more exciting?

Sunday, 17 November 2013

"Third Book! Third Book!"

So I was at the recent MPH Warehouse Sale 2013 and this guy was also there to autograph his books and other related merchandise.

Boey Cheeming at Food Foundry, Section 17, PJ, Sept 7, 2013
Boey Cheeming, author of When I Was A Kid 1 and 2, at Food Foundry
(Section 17, PJ) book signing, 07 September 2013

Yes, the same guy "whose nuts I (apparently) made famous", to paraphrase a former colleague.

This guy asked me what the next step was, now that he has two books out, as well as calendars, T-shirts, and custom Sharpie marker pens.

Feeling a wee bit responsible for his rock-star status, I advised him to go slow and take a break for a bit. I felt that he'd been burning both ends, doing his book tours, talks, and media interviews and photo shoots. He'd fallen sick at least once during his latest homecoming tour.

"Oh, really?" he went, and sought a second opinion from a colleague at the distribution side.

"No, he should keep up the momentum," she said with a look that searched me for signs of mental illness.

"Exactly," said the rock star. "There'd be trouble if her boss heard what you just said."

How are sales doing, I asked.

"Very good," my colleague said. "In fact, the second book is selling better than the first."

When I saw the first book, I didn't expect it to shoot to the moon, either. I'd felt it was good enough that I'd managed to help get the book sold in Malaysia and maybe Singapore.

So my colleague's sentiments were basically, "Third book! Third book!"

“When I Was A Kid”, Books 1 and 2
Better than hot cakes: Boey's When I Was A Kid, Books 1 and 2

Then we turned to the tudunged fangirls lining up to have their books and stuff signed, and get a custom sketch for their upcoming birthdays plus a photo with Rock Star.

What next after Book Two, we asked them.

"Third book! Third book!"

Guess it was to be expected.

"He has a following," one tudunged lady said, adding that everybody reads his blog, he's so funny, and all that, so of course they will want a third book - maybe a fourth and a fifth....

And here I am, worried over whether he will burn out, like a rock star of the musical variety. Rock Star works hard for his success. He takes every opportunity he can to promote his books, himself, and the notion that you can be successful doing what you love.

And he gives his fans what they want. Custom autographs? Sure thing. Want a Diablo doodle with his signature? No problem. A sketch of a Dungeons and Dragons card-game character? No sweat.

Boey doodles Diablo
Obliging author doodles Diablo for a fan

Some authors should take a leaf out of his book and burn the leaf that says "Who needs all that? My book sells itself." That's not true anymore - but has that ever been true?

Given that this book thing is all he's doing right now to make a buck, I suppose he is putting in the hours.

Some friends of a friend are nuts about his books as well. Relatable, they said of his childhood stories, and funny. My signed copy of Book 1 went to Turkey with a friend, who also took my signed copy of Book 2 to India - both with permission.

It's likely Friends of a Friend are also going, "Third book! Third book!" as well.

So maybe I shouldn't have rained on his parade by suggesting that he take a break - and miss all the fun of making a book and flying around meeting fans of all ages and demographics.

But I do want to see what comes out of his Sharpie for many years to come. I've read about how fame devours celebrities and it's something I wouldn't wish on anyone, even on bad days.

I'm hoping that Rock Star's crowd is much better.

Friday, 15 November 2013

MPH Quill, Issue 39, October to December 2013

...has some funny people: Douglas Lim, Harith Iskander, and Kuah Jenhan (comedian, movie critic, ice-cream flavour, etc) talking about the serious side of stand-up comedy.

Also in this issue:

  • Excerpts from photographer Kenny Loh's photojournal, Born in Malaysia, which is, from what I've heard so far, getting rave reviews for the images and text. But mostly for the images.
  • Also: excerpts from Jojo Struys's Guide to Wellness, from MPH Publishing's line of how-to books from well-known experts in their fields.
  • Nick Vujicic was in town and Juan Margrita Gabriel, one of our marketing elves, was there to see him in action. Her piece on him appears in this issue.
  • Edwin Yapp profiles several kinds of online 'demons' and how you can spot them - and avoid falling for their schtick.
  • Follow Ellen Whyte over one day in Santiago di Compostela in Spain's district of Galicia.
  • Yap Ming Hui seems to suggest that you should only trust your gut when you're hungry. In these uncertain times, investing by gut is not a good idea.

And more. Available soon at MPH bookstores and major newsstands at RM8 a copy.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

A Storyteller's Christmas Gift

The original manuscript for this book came when we were looking for titles to publish. After editing it for I-can't-remember-exactly-how-many rounds and a chat with the author, I can conclude that while most of the stories are interesting and infused with a local flavour, the stories behind the stories in this collection are just as interesting.

"A Bird for the Journey", for instance, is based on author Paul GnanaSelvam's experiences in an Indian Christian family. Apparently, there's a fair bit of drama, particularly when a wedding is being planned: dowry negotiations, catering, church selections and the like. Why "bird for the journey"?

"I wanted something that evokes the image of a send-off," he said, citing the Citibank ad where Richard Gere buys a whole flock for a girl who wished to release a bird for her brother's ... successful exam?

"The Shadow Boy", meanwhile, gives a glimpse of life in a semi-rural setting where local beliefs are strong. In our discussion, Paul provided some background about the "shadow boy" and his father, a priest and exorcist.

The story that inspired him to write "A Journey's End" was that of his grandmother (or was it great-grandmother?) and her old metal trunk which held her few belongings from the time she set out from India and arrived on these shores. He spoke of the trunk fondly, treating it as a glittering heirloom. Sadly, the trunk was sold off as scrap metal.

What was most compelling, I feel, was the story behind "Latha's Christmas", about a mother of three who lives in a slum. Pick up this collection and Malaysians might recognise the backdrop of its titular tale. Compelling, because Paul said he was there on that day and saw and heard lots.

With all that Paul had witnessed and experienced, it's no surprise that he was inspired to write them out into stories, fictional or otherwise.

"As an Indian I believe that each of us has a destiny, charted just like the lines on our palms," he writes in the preface. "As such I believe that every individual has a story to tell. People's lives are filled with stories and it is through stories that we learn about ourselves and others.

"We tell stories in order to be heard, to be loved, to be accepted and to belong in the world. It is stories, that, for ages unknown, that keeps the human race glued together. I write stories because they must be told. And all stories are worth their while."

It would've been nice if everything from that weekend chat at Plan B, Mid Valley had gone into the book, but I wasn't sure if it would have worked. And the collection was already overdue.

So here it is: a compilation of Paul GnanaSelvam's previously published and unpublished short stories, just in time for your own Christmases. Despite the title, it has a very Indian flavour overall, from all the words in the glossary.

I've taken to using the Tamil phrase aiyo kaduvuleh (loosely translated, "oh my g*d") on occasion. A Tamil colleague seemed impressed.

Ipoh-born Paul GnanaSelvam's letters to editors and personal reflections have appeared in the Malaysian English-language daily The Star. He also has short stories and poems in e-magazines Dusun and Anaksastra, as well as short-story anthologies Write Out Loud, Urban Odysseys, Body 2 Body, the biannual literary journal ASIATIC, and the Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts from the Sacred Heart College in Kochi, India. Latha's Christmas and Other Stories is his first book.

Though his postgraduate research centres on teacher-learner communication psychology, Paul's reading interests include works of writers from the Indian diaspora, gender criticism and ethnic studies. He is currently lecturing at Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman in Kampar, Perak.

Latha's Christmas and Other Stories
Paul GnanaSelvam
MPH Group Publishing
176 pages
ISBN: 978-967-415-157-7

Buy from Kinokuniya | | Silverfish Books

Monday, 11 November 2013

News: Amazon, Book-Review Rules, And An Editor's Firing

Amazon offers independent bookstores a cut of Kindle sales through some kind of scheme. The indies, however, don't seem to be biting.

Meanwhile, somebody made a list of forty-five indie bookstores in the US (sorry, rest of the world) to visit this holiday season. For some reason, Ann Patchett's Parnassus Books leads the list.

The editor-in-chief of Guns & Ammo magazine hoped for a "healthy exchange of ideas" in the gun control debate looks set to fall on his sword after a "mild" pro-gun control column got brickbats from readers. From some of the knuckledraggers' reactions to the "mild" column, he seems to have forgotten who comprises his core audience.

The Washington Post responds to Buzzfeed Book's decision to only publish positive reviews (and not the "scathing" takedowns seen in "so many old media-type places"), with a list of ten 'edited' mean book reviews.

Meanwhile, this was what apparently happened when Publisher's Weekly bans the words "compelling", "poignant", and "unique" from its reviews. Wordsmiths can be such smartasses. Well, maybe PW might want to consider 'new' book review formats such as animated GIFs, memes and liveblogs.

Other interesting titbits:

  • In the 18th and 19th centuries, some Indians went west - waaay west: An excerpt from Gaiutra Bahadur's new book, Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture about an ancestor's journey as an indentured labourer in the Caribbean.
  • Steven Poole defends the use of "basically". "...if something like 'basically' becomes a sort of reflexively used communal tic, then it can perturb those who value linguistic variety as much as any other excessively used word," he writes in The Guardian. "Too often, though, such usages – especially when they have been made popular by young people – are denounced by others who haven't thought hard enough about their semantic and social function, and who instead dismiss them as impoverished and degenerate forms of speech."
  • In Newsweek, William T Vollmann's "lush life". This is the guy that Anis Shivani thought was among the 15 most overrated contemporary American writers. Read the Newsweek piece and judge for yourself.
  • Why new species are being named after pop-culture figures: For hits, from the sound of it.
  • Kamus Dewan to be available online via Oxford University Press next year?
  • Feeling trapped by ideas of what a novel should be? It might just be you. At least that's what I got from Sam Sacks's piece in The New Yorker, which cites passages from Tim Parks's article (among others) about how unhappy Parks is over "traditional novels" where everything about it seems manufactured and how it enforces only one way of looking at the world. Maybe, Sacks suggests, Parks is too wrapped up in the novel's structure to take note of what the novel is trying to say.
  • Pakistani education officials reportedly banned "tool of the west" Malala Yousafzai's memoir, I Am Malala, from private schools across the country for such things as not respecting Islam and speaking "favourably" of author Salman Rushdie and Ahmadis.
  • If you're wondering why you can't seem to find copies of The Embassy House by Dylan Davies: Simon & Schuster has recalled it after it got wind of some information. Davies was the source of the flawed 60 Minutes Benghazi report that Republicans in the US have been annoying Hillary Clinton with.
  • Robert Pattinson has a role in silver-screen adaptation of David Grann's Lost City of Z? It's only been a short while since I talked about this book and the city.
  • Ooh, PKR's Rafizi Ramli to write a book on the National Feedlot Centre scandal to inspire people to fight graft? According to The Malay Mail, "The Pandan MP said the book would reveal what happened behind the scenes of the high-profile cattle farming project, which he had linked to former Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil's family." Don't lah drop this right after people agree to drop a defamation suit against you....
  • This Land Was Made for You and Me (but Mostly Me), David Letterman's "selfish" endeavour with Bruce McCall.
  • Gene Luen Yang speaks to The New Yorker about Boxers and Saints, which looks like an interesting graphic novel.
  • Some stuff from Salon about: the fish we don't eat (by "we", I'm guessing Yankees); how Michael Pollan and other foodies don't get the meat business (says Maureen Ogle, author of In Meat We Trust); and The Heart of Everything That Is, a "vibrant new biography" of Sioux chieftain Red Cloud.
  • Nominees for the Bad Sex Award 2013 are here. Take cover!

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Late News: Amazon, Dandy Dudes, And Food-Related Reads

Mrs Jeff Bezos trashes Brad Stone's The Everything Store in a one-star Amazon review (where else?). Amazon and Mrs Bezos are not pleased with some of the things Stone had to say about the online retail behemoth in the book.

A former Amazon employee replies with a four-star review, and Stone has since responded as well.

"No matter how hard we strive for objectivity, writers are biased toward tension—those moments in which character is forged and revealed," Stone writes. "I set out to tell the incredible story of how Amazon grew from three people in a garage to a company that employs 100,000 people around the world. It wasn't an easy journey for the company, and for many Amazon employees, it wasn't always enjoyable. It's precisely that tension—between sacrifice and success—that makes Amazon and Bezos so compelling."

Across the pond at The Guardian, someone wonders if this is becoming part of a trend.

The etymology of "dude", revealed. Why do we call dudes "dude"?

Evidence points to "doodle," as in "Yankee Doodle Dandy." He's the fellow who, as the song has it, "stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni." "Macaroni" became a term for a dandy in the 18th century after young British men returned from their adventures on the European continent sporting exaggerated high-fashion clothes and mannerisms (along with a taste for an exotic Italian dish called "macaroni").


Right. What else we got?

  • The current war in Syria is only the latest problem publishers in the country have to face.
  • Going into self-publishing? Know the jargon. Here are some acronyms to kickstart your foray into self-publishing.
  • Vice interviews Irvine Welsh. Among other things, he recommends that writers avoid being "comfortable": be more socially engaged, take public transport, and "hang out with people who are a bit of a pain in the ass and all that, but are interesting rather than comfortable." Might be NSFW.
  • Loaded question from the editor-in-chief of "Is the Western publishing industry institutionally racist?" Well, it is HuffPo.
  • This Land Was Made for You and Me (but Mostly Me), one-percenter David Letterman's "selfish" endeavour with Bruce McCall.
  • One of the longest forewords I've read: Anthony Lane's intro to The Big New Yorker Book of Cats.
  • "Fire-eaters": Lauren Collins joins the search for the hottest chilli. Sounds like growing gut-melting chillies is as much a macho sport of one-upmanship as eating them.
  • The best-selling genres: self-help, kid's books, and 'romance'. Kind of explains the manuscript submissions I've been reviewing. Received only one romance novel so far, and it's only two shades of grey.
  • "Unpaid writers" of Yelp sue Yelp, call themselves employees. Will letter writers to The Star, Malay Mail, and New Straits Times want EPF and Socso?
  • Just what we need: a "miracle tea" that apparently wards off colds, courtesy of Robyn Eckhardt aka @EatingAsia. This might be the solution to the bugs said to be making the rounds of late. The lemongrass is optional.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Masterclass In Session: Busy People's Fitness With Lyn

Pitches such as "You only need [an impossibly short time frame] a day!" pushes a lot of buttons for people on the go, go, go. Tim Ferriss says you can be a chef in four hours in his book The 4-Hour Chef. Before that, he'd written The 4-Hour Workweek and The 4-Hour Body.

And we have Jamie Oliver's so-called 15-minute meals, which cannot be pulled off by average Joes because, presumably, they didn't read Ferriss first.

Seemingly impossible time frames exist in the fitness world, too. Twenty minutes a day and you'll get a six pack Michelangelo would want to replicate. Twenty minutes a day and you'll shed those extra pounds, and so on. Until the next big thing comes along with an even more impossible time frame.

"You only need ten minutes a day!" says fitness instructor Lyn Kong, in the latest MPH Masterclass Series. Besides a series of exercises, Lyn Kong's Guide to Fitness for Busy People also comes with an exercise programme, as well as recommendations for equipment, exercise gear, diet, and some healthy habits to cultivate in lieu of all those moves that will move you closer to a fitter, healthier you. She also busts some myths about fitness and nutrition.

Live lean with Lyn Kong, courtesy of MPH

To help readers set up a fitness regime, she even provides a somewhat tweakable ten-minute training programme and a 30-day challenge - complete with scoresheet - for those who want to take it up.

And all the exercises can be done without the help of a trainer or a gym. Or sets of very expensive exercise gear made of space-age fabric that "breathes" even when you can't. One by one, all your excuses to not exercise, not eat proper, not go to bed early, and skip the warm-up and cool-down and stretching steps are methodically, ruthlessly stripped away.

She's particularly firm on not skipping warm-up exercises. "Warming up is an essential part of your training programme, whether you're a serious athlete or someone who's simply exercising at home. This is non-negotiable!"

It's not all about sweat, sweat, sweat (like Richard Simmons, OMG). Diet plays a huge role. With some old food myths being debunked left and right (butter, cheese, yoghurt and eggs may be good for you), Kong's endorsement of the Paleo diet, which is basically economy rice sans rice for some of us, seems timely.

We get a list of foods to eat and foods to avoid - most of the usual suspects, really. And lest we get carried away with the fried sweet-and-sour pork and sunny-side-up eggs, there's also a handy chart for estimating recommended portions of each food group in the Paleo diet.

To further motivate you, Kong also shares her personal story of how she got into the fitness industry, one she's been in for over 15 years.

"I've learned so much about fitness over the years, and just as I've shared this wealth of information with my clients, I'd now like to share them with you through this book," she writes. "Unless you're an elite athlete, it's unlikely that you are able to train full time or even have much time to train at all. That’s why I've specifically designed this book for busy people like you."

In the end, Kong's energy and sincerity win you over. Maybe ten minutes, three times a week is all you need.

But, uh ... do I have to do the warm-ups?

Lyn Kong's Guide to Fitness for Busy People
Lyn Kong
MPH Group Publishing
175 pages
ISBN: 978-967-415-155-3

Buy from

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

News: Writing, Publishing, And ... Internet Slavery?

Working for 'exposure' (not money) is only cool when you're young. As Tim Kreider puts it: "Not getting paid for things in your 20s is glumly expected, even sort of cool; not getting paid in your 40s, when your back is starting to hurt and you are still sleeping on a futon, considerably less so. Let's call the first 20 years of my career a gift. Now I am 46, and would like a bed."

When points like that are preceded by something like, "Slaves of the Internet, unite!", there are bound to be dissenters (such as people who want to write for free, for instance). At PaidContent, it's pointed out that "it's not slavery" and freebies have helped the writing multitudes break into the arena in a market where supply seems to have overtaken demand. "Writing hasn’t become free or cheap because no one wants it any more, it has become free or cheap because there is so much of it that its intrinsic value has eroded — and the advertising content that used to help pay the freight for that writing has eroded just as quickly."

Hookay, what else?

  • The number of allowed submissions for the Man Booker Prize will be trimmed. Apparently, the growing number of published books is making things difficult for the judges. Also: "...this year's judges had complained that around two-thirds of the 151 entries for the prize were not up to standard, with only 40-50 worth reading for consideration and the others 'junk'." Booker non-winners should feel better.
  • The authors of Grey Wolf: The Escape of Adolf Hitler, published in 2011, have been accused of plagiarism by Argentine journalist and historian Abel Basti.
  • Last year, Businessweek published an article on Larry Kirshbaum, picked to lead Amazon's charge into the book-publishing industry (which I bookmarked). Now, it seems Kirshbaum is leaving Amazon.
  • An author wanted a suit done, but the tailor kept him waiting. So he wrote a bad review of the place on Yelp, a move which backfired when the tailor threatened to tsunami his upcoming book with negative reviews. Sounds like a cautionary tale against Yelp vengeance, but I can't help thinking that it's also about how online bullying (by said tailor) pays. No winners here.
  • We need to talk about 21st-century publishing success: For Lionel Shriver, literary success isn't what it used to be. For one, looks like authors have to sell themselves more these days, leaving less time to, well, write. "Now that every village in the United Kingdom has its own literary festival, I could credibly spend my entire year, every year, flitting from Swindon to Peterborough to Aberdeen, jawing interminably about what I’ve already written—at the modest price of scalding self-disgust."
  • Some of the Latino-related books that were banned by the administrators of the Tucson school district are now back in classrooms. What about the rest?
  • Indian publishers who engaged the Chemical and Allied Export Promotion Council of India to help them set up booths at the Frankfurt Book Fair reportedly got a raw deal, no thanks in part to what sounds like a shady contractor.
  • So you think you know King David, giant-slayer? Meet the historical David in a new book.
  • Germaine Greer sells her lifetime archive to the University of Melbourne, the proceeds of which will go to rehabilitating Australia's rainforests.
  • The New York Times's style guide says it's "e-book". And looks like style guides are more fluid than I thought.
  • It seems that diet books lie. You think?

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Seven Sleepless Nights To Tunku Halim's Midnight

One hazard in editing manuscripts is (proof)reading stuff you don't like: stuff that ticks you off, stuff that melts your brain, and stuff that keeps you awake at night.

I'd proofed a set of short horror stories and didn't want to do stuff like that again for the next five years. Then a new set came along, which is now this:

Open the pages and kiss your bedtimes goodbye

I believe this was meant to be only for digital publication in the beginning, but we decided to come up with a print edition as well.

Though not as meaty as his previous collections of sleep-robbing tales from the shadows, Tunku Halim's 7 Days to Midnight contains the same gory, bloody and scary material horror fans and readers have come to expect from our own Prince of Darkness. As the title suggests, the collection has seven short spine-chilling stories.

Among stories of lore and legend is one tale of the terrors of modern technology. Think those apps on your smartphone give you real nightmares? Think your gadgets are taking over your life? Tunku Halim's You Lite will literally do that - and more. Another reason not to upgrade to a smartphone.

Readers are also taken to a shrine deep in an abandoned plantation and taught that there are some shrines you do not ask favours from, because you never know what resides within. In a city, a man is haunted to the point of madness by visions of an employee who betrays his trust - or are they merely visions?

A maid encounters a were-tiger in the middle of the night and becomes the target of its hungers. What other secrets will she find out once she learns of the beast's true identity? And in another place, a son, puzzled over his mother's seemingly ageless looks, will learn why in the most shocking way possible.

All this and several more in 7 Days to Midnight, which rolled off the presses early this week and will soon be available at all major bookstores.

7 Days to Midnight
Tunku Halim
MPH Group Publishing
153 pages
ISBN: 978-967-415-136-2

Buy from

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

News: Banned Books, Naughty Books, And A Winning Book

A furore erupted over the presence of really disturbing e-books from Kobo being sold alongside children's books on the web site of UK books and stationery retailer WH Smith, which was blamed on "a select group of publishers and authors violating the self-publishing policies of our platform".

Kobo has stopped selling self-published books, while WH Smith temporarily suspended their web site while it was being scrubbed.

With reports of disruptions to bookselling in the wake of what Writer Beware calls "The Great Erotica Panic of 2013", independents and the self-publishing sector are crying foul over how their books were affected, even though they're not 'naughty'.

Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware, however, notes that the incident seems to have revealed how dependent these 'independent authors' are on the platforms they're published on. "Like it or not, your access to the tools of self-publishing--and, more crucially, to your published books--are controlled by your publishing platform's Terms and Conditions," she writes. "These typically allow the platform to yank books, close accounts, and enforce content policies at will, often without notification or explanation. When the platforms choose to exercise this power--appropriately or inappropriately--authors often have little recourse."

On a related note: Not long after (or about the same time) Neil Gaiman's speech on "why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming", his novel Neverwhere was banned over a tiny bit where the protagonist witnesses a couple getting frisky, and the F-word. Guess this means you can't dream some dreams, either.

Media outrage ensued. "'Burn down the forest!' you shout. 'There is a naked tree!" thundered someone at The Washington Post, who thinks all classics should likewise be banned over 'inappropriate content'. Gaiman himself helpfully points out the 'offending bit'.

In case you're interested, American Mensa made a list of top ten banned books. You might have seen some, if not all of the books in other similar lists.


  • "In my experience, and that of a lot of other women writers, all of the questions coming at them from interviewers tend to be about how lucky they are to be where they are – about luck and identity and how the idea struck them. The interviews much more seldom engage with the woman as a serious thinker, a philosopher, as a person with preoccupations that are going to sustain them for their lifetime." Eleanor Catton, youngest winner of the Man Booker Prize so far, on how female writers are treated and why her book, The Luminaries, riled certain male critics.
  • Nik Raina Nik Abdul Aziz, the Borders store manager who's being charged by the Syariah court for 'selling' a book someone else wrote and someone else neglected to ban until later.
  • The future of digital publishing in Kenya.
  • What goes on inside a book publishing house - not often talked about, I think.
  • Forget "e-book" - call it a "codex". Because "e-books are so different from traditional reading that they need a new word."
  • "Words are like little kids; you don't want to send them out of the house until they're dressed and have brushed their teeth." Words with Dwight Garner, New York Times book critic. By the end of it you'll know the difference between "book reviewers" and "book critics".
  • To sell in China, some authors are letting Chinese censors have a go at their books. This includes Harvard professor Ezra F Vogel, whose book Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China, "sold 30,000 copies in the United States and 650,000 in China," according to The New York Times.
  • Book publishing's doomsayers are wrong, and here's why.
  • Is Simon & Schuster editor Jeremie Ruby-Strauss "The New King of Trash Publishing"? And do other editors have to walk his path to be commercially viable? Eww.
  • Wanna write a business book? Some advice to ponder before putting pen to paper.
  • The "little-known" history of Sriracha sauce, which was modified from the original Thai version by a Vietnamese immigrant to the US who had hot sauce withdrawal.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Another MPH Warehouse Sale 2013

It's back, from 31 October to 6 November, at this address:

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

Hours: 8am to 6pm

And here's a map:

If I remember correctly, there was another warehouse sale earlier this year. More books to dispose of this time? They already put up banners advertising the sale, so it should be happening.

And it'll be a bit different. For one, there's an Artisan Roast café nearby, in case you can't wait to get home and read your purchases.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Some Afterthoughts

The fevers are gone, but my blood pressure is lower than usual, leaving me with low energy levels. Still filling up on supplements, probiotics, herbal teas (mostly chrysanthemum, with or without ginseng strands), and Brand's Essence of Chicken, in lieu of adding more fruits and veggies to my diet.

And, a couple of days from now, I'll be coffee-free for a whole month. I don't miss the taste and aroma, which feel alien to by partially detoxified body.

I miss my old, more energetic self, though.

Reviewing this book was a challenge, given how much exposure the press gave the author. It's not as if she won. And now some have started taking about burying hatchets (damn good time to forget where the links are) and how maybe, just maybe, critics shouldn't be too harsh with authors these days.

All things considered, I don't see myself as a 'serious' reviewer - not yet. There's still more of me rather than the book or author(s) in a review, mostly because it's easier to riff on one's emotions - did I like or dislike the book and why - rather than drilling down to the author's history, body of work and going off on possibly unrelated tangents.

One thing I believe some reviewers miss is - even though one may not be enough of an expert to critique instead of 'review' - asking why the author does what he does in a book or body of work. Apart from hitting the right spots with the hatchet and justifying that violence, anybody who reviews something should be curious enough to explore an author's motives where his work is concerned - and not inventing targets to attack.

At times, when I want to get a review out of the way, this becomes a blind spot. As it was when reviewing this book and several others.

"It's literature," I was told. "You can't simply judge it with your emotions."

Until I've read more books, my emotions are all I can go with.

So, no, I don't believe in burying the hatchet. There's still room for professional hatchet jobs, which can be fun to read.

I don't think I'll be writing those, however.