Sunday, 24 February 2013

News: Mantel, Libraries And "Culinary Jingoism"

Okay, lots of things happened last week.

For one, Hilary Mantel brought up some royal bodies and got roasted by the UK media and some. Though some were offended by what she said about Kate Middleton, others have rallied around her and accused critics of quoting the offending passages out of context. Also, she's not the first stormraising essayist on the London Review of Books.

So far, however, Mantel has appeared fireproof. The media storm over her remarks has instead swept Mantel up Amazon's charts. The author who wrote of goings-on in the court of Henry VIII will still receive the Bodley Medal at the Oxford Literary Festival.

Sci-fi writer and Internet phenomenon John Scalzi responds to the Horrible Historian's comments on libraries with his own personal history with libraries. Worth reading, because it reminds some of us about our own library experiences. Broke up the following excerpt because it was too long:

"I don’t use my local library like I used libraries when I was younger," he writes. "But I want my local library, in no small part because I recognize that I am fortunate not to need my local library — but others do, and my connection with humanity extends beyond the front door of my house.

"My life was indisputably improved because those before me decided to put those libraries there. It would be stupid and selfish and shortsighted of me to declare, after having wrung all I could from them, that they serve no further purpose, or that the times have changed so much that they are obsolete."

Take that.

While we're on the subject, someone asks if libraries are the next start-up incubators.


  • Someone out there is hankering for the return of the illustrated book, because certain things being written these days are just begging "to be realized in ink."
  • The Canadian French language police have 'allowed' restaurants to use Italian words such as "pasta" on menus. This issue reportedly arose when some restaurants were pursued by the Quebec Board of the French Language over the use of too many foreign words. An Italian restaurant in Montreal, for instance, got cited "for excessive use of Italian on its menu."
  • Food writer Jason Sheehan finds out why some people take their food too seriously. He'd said something uncomplimentary about chicken rice in Singapore and some angry kiasu-types warned him "to never walk alone in that restaurant’s neighborhood again."
  • An author pens an open letter to the shoplifter who stole a copy of his books.
  • Women writers (often) get asked the darnedest questions during interviews. Of course, this piece wouldn't be complete without Hilary Mantel.
  • The Librotraficante saga continues: the movement sets up an underground library.
  • Ever wondered what some music albums would look like as book covers?
  • Is the Internet reviving the short story? Not really.
  • Crime writer Patricia Cornwell wins damages in a financial mismanagement case, which she blames entirely on the firm that managed her money. But it seems her alleged "taste for Ferraris, helicopters and a temporary apartment in New York City she rented for $40,000 per month", among other things, did not weigh much against her.
  • Ben Yagoda on how to not write bad. One tip: "...the best writing has some of the qualities of conversation; and, in fact, my favorite short piece of writing advice is 'read it aloud.' When my students write—either in a scholarly, journalistic or essayistic mode—it’s almost as if they’re cowed, or intimidated, by the expectations they perceive. They end up writing stiffly and borderline pretentiously, using a fancy word like 'reside,' when the simpler 'live' is stronger and better."
  • Literature and indie music - more in common than previously thought?
  • A novelist and the tyranny of the word count.
  • Reader's Digest files for Chapter 11 for the second time in less than four years.
  • Is 'sick-lit' a symptom of an ill publishing industry?
  • Today, video games are being blamed for certain social ills. Way back when, it was comic books. And it was supported with flawed findings.

Saturday, 23 February 2013


Some time back, I'd read a not-very-glowing assessment of Map of the Invisible World. So, when given the chance to review this book, I steeled myself for some disappointment.

I needn't have bothered.

Five Star Billionaire can be laborious to read in places, but at least it's set in a contemporary period, so it feels real. Was there anything I could say about the writing? Cadence? Tone? Pacing?

No, there wasn't. Hey, it's Tash Aw.

If there was something off about the culture, people and places in the setting, I'll leave that to those who're more qualified.

Did I like it? Not much. I won't be pushing a copy into the hands of everybody I'd meet, though I will say "It's not as bad as some people say."

When a bunch of Malaysian Chinese balik tongsan

first published in The Malaysian Insider, 23 February 2013

This was heard at a "live" comedy act: "There are two kinds of Chinese: rich Chinese - and potentially rich Chinese."

The audience chuckled. How stereotypical and absurd.

But tell me: Which Chinese family doesn't believe its scions are meant for something greater?

Tash Aw's latest novel, Five Star Billionaire, charts the lives of five Chinese Malaysian emigrants - a mix of these "two kinds" - to bustling Shanghai, ranked the world's 16th most expensive city last year, as they journey along their yellow brick roads.

Meet our heroes
Duped by false promises of a good job, Phoebe Chen repackages herself in an effort to move up the social ladder, guided by the words of a "five-star billionaire."

Tash Aw at Silverfish Bookscover of ‘Five Star Billionaire’
Five Star Billionaire is by Tash Aw (left), who met fans, read some
passages from the book and fielded questions during a meet-up at
Silverfish Books in Bangsar on 23 February 2013

Entrepreneur Leong Yinghui, daughter of a disgraced former government minister and jaded bohemian, enters an urban development joint venture with a mysterious partner.

Hoping to improve the fortunes of his family's flagging property firm, Justin Lim's attempt to buy a piece of real estate is stymied by a possible rival.

Scandal-dogged pop star Gary (no apparent last name) struggles to rebuild his career after a bar brawl with a drunk foreigner - proving that only Bruce Lee or Jet Li can clock a white guy and still look good.

Finally, there's enigmatic business guru Walter Chao, whose soliloquies in the novel could have come out of a self-help book. Chapter headings reminiscent of stratagems from The Art of War enforce that feel.

Of course, their paths will intersect at certain points in the story. Otherwise, there wouldn't be any point to having so many characters.

This looks familiar
Like the stand-up comic, Aw serves up these flawed, sad bunch of could-have-beens for our entertainment and maybe some reflection. It's quite a pick: the pisau cukur wannabe; the scion of a property giant; the Idol contest winner; the single, lonely-yet-insecure, gaydar-tripping career woman; and the egocentric, emotionally distant know-it-all.

Though interesting and compelling, this is no beach novel. Aw's writing is lush and descriptive, and he packs his yarn with more about the protagonists than the casual reader can handle.

Much of it feels familiar. Phoebe's obsession with status and resentment of the upper classes and her perceived lowly station are infuriating, and just when her life starts turning around, she throws it all away. In Gary, we see the travails of talent-contest winners who crack under the glare of publicity and pressures of celebrity.

Yinghui the boho chick is heaps more annoying than Yinghui the entrepreneur who craves recognition for her hard-won business savvy. Her impassioned, self-righteous frothing-in-the-mouth over plans to demolish an iconic cinema building reads like so many Facebook posts.

We're so glad when those illusions are shattered but the crisp lapels she adopts later in life don't suit her and watching her try to fit into them is tiresome. And what is Justin doing, moping around, meeting strange women and trying to hook up with Yinghui after the deal goes pear-shaped?

What they all ultimately share are varying degrees of parental estrangement, the discomfort with who they currently are, and the need to prove something to the world.

Cautious optimism
You might have encountered at least one of these five archetypes in real life and, perhaps, sneered at them with derision or helped yourselves to some schadenfreude at their failures. You think nothing of it, until you begin exhibiting the same traits.

Reading about the media circus around Gary's fall and Justin being trolled by anonymous armchair crusaders online can get a tad uncomfortable. But we feel little sympathy for the characters. Maybe that's the mental defense mechanism kicking in, trying to blot out unpleasant truths.

Of all the lessons in this book, the strongest seems to be: nothing good comes from stepping outside the box.

All of Aw's characters – except maybe Walter – ventured out of their comfort zones and got burned. But does that mean there are no paths to Oz other than the beaten ones?

Towards the end of the novel, they still seem to be looking. That's when we really start rooting for them because, in the end, all of us believe that we are meant for greater things.

Five Star Billionaire
Tash Aw
Fourth Estate (2013)
434 pages
ISBN: 978-0-00-749416-3

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Mantel Gets Flak For Bringing Up Royal Bodies

Multi-book-award-winner Hilary Mantel riled up passions with a Nile-long essay on how some of us see royal women, with examples such as Marie Antoinette, Lady Di, and Queen Elizabeth II. But it was what she wrote about Kate Middleton that twanged some nerves. The 5,000-plus-word piece became an 'attack on Kate' that many, including England's PM Dave Cameron, took offence with.

Many arguments defending Mantel have since surfaced, so it's pointless for me to comment in detail. So I'm left to ponder: Were the descriptions of royal women Mantel's own, or did she describe an image manufactured by the media for public consumption? Two voices, both in The Guardian, believe it's the latter.

"Tabloid papers – actually, all papers if we're honest – deal in templates and received ideas: in pretty princesses, snooty highbrow authors, smirking fiends and tragic tots," writes Sam Leith. "It's in the nature of that trade, though, that you can't write about the templates and received ideas themselves. That is a level of reflexiveness, a level of self-scrutiny, too far. Mantel was attacking the paper doll in which newspapers have imprisoned the real Kate Middleton."

So, it's no surprise that the papers fought back. That, at least, is Hadley Freeman's argument, that this whole media storm is "a story of lazy journalism and raging hypocrisy".

"Mantel was discussing how the royal family and the media manipulate women; it is of little surprise that the media would attack her back," she states. "But this nonsense highlights how it is still, apparently, impossible to be a woman and put forth a measured opinion about one of your own without it being twisted into some kind of screed-ish, unsisterly attack."

For many, the problem with Mantel's essay was probably its length; had 2,500 words been shaved from it, readers would've been able to reach the bottom, where she finally got to the point:

We are happy to allow monarchy to be an entertainment, in the same way that we license strip joints and lap-dancing clubs. Adulation can swing to persecution, within hours, within the same press report: this is what happened to Prince Harry recently.

...It may be that the whole phenomenon of monarchy is irrational, but that doesn’t mean that when we look at it we should behave like spectators at Bedlam. Cheerful curiosity can easily become cruelty. It can easily become fatal. We don’t cut off the heads of royal ladies these days, but we do sacrifice them, and we did memorably drive one to destruction a scant generation ago.

She didn't have to spell it out, did she? However, it seems like little has changed since then.

I haven't been fond of the British media of late. How it justifies its muckraking and disregard for private space is beyond galling, which means we probably shouldn't expect any soul-searching from Fleet Street.

Give the way Mantel worded it, her prescription for detoxifying the way the media portrays royalty - or other celebrities, for that matter - may be a bitter pill to swallow.

Monday, 18 February 2013

News: DoJ, A-OK, And Deary Deary Me

Is it me, or did this year's Chinese New Year holidays pass by much quicker than the previous ones?

Anyhoo, I've not been monitoring the Webs for book-related news during the break, which was probably what I needed. But some interesting things did happen during that time.

  • Macmillan settles with the US Department of Justice, leaving Apple the sole defendant of the e-book price-fixing suit. The DoJ was also nice enough to approve the Penguin-Random House merger.
  • 'Horrible historian' Terry Deary's comments on libraries have got tongues wagging. "Because it's been 150 years, we've got this idea that we've got an entitlement to read books for free, at the expense of authors, publishers and council tax payers," he said. Quite a few people have disagreed, including one Foz Meadows and Julia Donaldson, Children's Laureate and author of such books as The Gruffalo. This libraries thing is kind of hot in the UK right now.
  • While you're waiting for your favourite novelists' next books, Chuck Palahniuk has apparently finished three, making every other writer on Earth feel as if they're hibernating. If your favourite is Chuck, well, lucky you. Just that he won't be releasing them all at once.
  • "...a brittle little dominatrix and peerless narcissist who exploits her husband and her marriage with relish." Camilla Long's takedown of Rachel Cusk's memoir Aftermath is the 2013 Hatchet Job of the Year, edging out my personal favourites Ron Charles and ZoĆ« Heller.
  • Publishing may be growing in India, but is it really the opposite in the West? And is India's bootleg book industry helping or hindering this growth?
  • It seems, like Germany and some parts of Europe, conservative attitudes towards e-books are slowing down e-book adoption in Japan.
  • Brace for impact! The Submissive trilogy, a Fifty Shades clone by one Tara Sue Me (to which EL James might say, "Gladly!") will be released in mid-2013. At least we'll see this coming, unlike that Russian meteor.
  • "I am a misogynist according to the Swiftians, and I should die." After Taylor Swift fans flayed Rick Moody for criticising their idol, Moddy responds and asks why "serious critics swoon for her narcissistic, hackneyed pap".
  • Inkling wades into digital book publishing with Habitat, taking on Apple and Amazon.
  • Is start-up funding for book publishing driven by passion rather than business sense?

Also: In case you didn't get the memo, Tash Aw (The Harmony Silk Factory and Map of the Invisible World) will be in town in conjunction with the release of his latest, Five-star Billionaire. This Saturday, 23 February, he'll be appearing in Silverfish Books at 1:30pm and Readings at Seksan's at 3:30pm.

Also reading at Seksan's will be Kris Williamson (Son Complex, Fixi Novo),
"New Age bookstore owner/director" Melizarani Selvakkumar, Zafar Anjum (The Singapore Decalogue, Red Wheelbarrow Books) and Ksatriya, a Penang-based urban poet and songwriter. The Satay Trio, headed by Az Samad, will provide the half-time entertainment.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Snakes Selling Snakes

This review threatened to go on and on, so I tried keeping it within the scope of the book. I thought the release of this was timely, considering the apparent fever for snake pets during the Year of the Snake. But did those reports have to use pictures of the albino Burmese python?

It's been over two years, but Bryan Christy's NGM article still riles me up. But I guess it's understandable why these people get away with what they did. Given the world's nations' track record in enforcing and strengthening laws that govern human beings, who'd be convinced they can do anything to help protect wildlife from the likes of these 'lizard kings'?

So the trade continues, in both legally and illegally obtained animals for the pet trade and other reasons. Differentiating between 'captive-bred' and poached animals when they've arrived at their destinations is hard, if not impossible, which means poachers and buyers have to be caught red-handed - a slightly less difficult task.

And Bryan Christy is still making people angry. Right now, he's riled up the clergy in the Philippines with his article on the ivory trade and the aftermath of its publication. Crime novels are made of this stuff.

Serpent smugglers
Tales of the illegal trade in cold-blooded animals can make one's blood boil

first published in The Malaysian Insider, 17 February 2013

Investigative journalist and author Bryan Christy made me angry on January 2010 with his National Geographic article on the Asian wildlife trade and one of its alleged kingpins, and how wildlife protection laws and enforcement have largely failed to address issues of wildlife trafficking.

The central figure in this bit of reportage was said alleged kingpin Anson Wong (no relation), who is featured in Christy's book, The Lizard King.

The Lizard King
Fancy a scaly, slithery pet for the Year of the Snake?
You might want to think twice

Wong had been caught trying to smuggle over 90 reptiles out of Malaysia in 2010. He was released from prison in 2012 when his five-year jail sentence was reduced to 17 months.

Both the book and the National Geographic article hints at a cosy relationship between Anson and some officers in the Malaysian Wildlife and National Parks Department (Jabatan Perhilitan). Perhilitan, naturally, said the book was "simply fiction".

Reptile rustlers
The Lizard King traces the beginnings of the illegal animal trade in the US, when zoos practically fought to have the most exotic animal species on display. This was during the Sixties, and nobody cared how the exhibits were obtained. We are also given a glimpse into the backgrounds of the enforcement agents who stalked and prosecuted these smugglers.

If I read this book right, it all began with love.

Two figures in this book: Ray Van Nostrand and Henry A Molt, Jr were fond of reptiles and eventually turned their passion into a business. Both would also do time in jail; Van Nostrand would venture into drugs and was snared in a drug bust, while Molt would set up an international animal smuggling network.

When Ray Van Nostrand went to jail, his son Mike took over the reins and expanded his father's reptile-selling business into a major smuggling outfit that could have rivalled Molt's.

Other key plots in this book include the cat-and-mouse chase between Mike Van Nostrand and Chip Bepler, an agent with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS); the beginnings of Henry Molt Jr's reptile racket; and how an undercover USFWS agent helped apprehend Anson Wong in 1998.

This gripping account of the US authorities' pursuit of wildlife smugglers, albeit one that feels roughly sketched out, is short but well-paced. The exact magnitude and enormity of the illegal wildlife trade is conveyed by the behaviours of the smugglers; facts and figures appear only sporadically.

But there is enough bad behaviour to make you angry. A famous quote belongs, of course, to our very own Anson. "I could sell a panda and nothing," he once boasted to the undercover USFWS agent who'd got him arrested. "As long as I'm still [in Malaysia] I'm safe."

Another annoying aspect is carelessness, especially by those who should know better. Two tragic tales illustrate how love can make one stupid. A man considered "the dean of American herpetologists" in the 1950s died days after a venomous African boomslang bit him.

A surprising mention is snake expert Joseph B Slowinski. Deep in the Myanmar interior on 9/11, Slowinski showed no concern when a snake bit him, thinking it was a harmless "mimic" of the more deadly krait. Sadly, it turned out to be a real krait.

Love makes one do funny things, I guess.

Long live the (lizard) kings?
There is no fairy-tale ending in The Lizard King - no ending, for that matter. Not long after Mike Van Nostrand went to jail, Chip Bepler died of a brain tumour.

According to a syndicated article in The Star in December 2010, Bepler's quarry has returned to the trade. It also underscored the difficulty in regulating the ongoing wildlife trade, which also sells illegally acquired animals and endangered species.

No one has pinned down how much the trade's worth; estimates have gone up to billions in US dollars. Demand is high and all sorts of arguments were made for the trade. Jobs. Inspiring kids to learn about the environment.

How does one learn enough about the environment or help conserve it by keeping a Burmese python in a glass tank? Will this 'love' of the environment or the cute little snake remain after said animal outgrows its enclosure and starts threatening the family dog or cat, or when owners don't 'love' their pets any more?

Didn't they learn anything from the Burmese pythons in the Everglades or the extermination of over forty animals on a private farm in Muskingum County, Ohio, some of which were endangered big cats?

"No no no, we didn't poach these from the wild - they are captive bred!" Really? Then what about this little nugget from a local news portal (emphasis mine)?

The green tree python (Morelia viridis) is a popular snake in the global pet trade. It is one of Indonesia’s top exports, and stocks are declared as captive breds. In 2011, however, scientists Jessica Lyons and Daniel Natusch from the University of New South Wales found that at least 80% of Indonesia’s green tree python exports were poached from the wild.

All this, plus Christy's book, leaves one to believe that the pet trade is mostly about profit and prestige. Rare exotic specimens being marketed like the latest Louis-Vuitton bag (as opposed to being used to make Louis-Vuitton bags), Nike sneakers, or some action figure.

Such a demand, fuelled by hubris and naivete, only helps the likes of those 'lizard kings' more than the environment or the animals.

The Lizard King
The True Crimes and Passions of the World's Greatest Reptile Smugglers

Bryan Christy
Twelve (2008)
239 pages
ISBN: 978-0-446-69975-4

Saturday, 16 February 2013


Mental exercises for building and mending bridges

The news lately has been depressing, whether it's paper or online. Team As versus Team Bs, dirty laundry aired in public, lawsuits and counter-lawsuits, and the seemingly endless string of celebrity infidelities. It probably won't be out of place to wonder if these people should work out their differences in a "mind gym" instead of the media.

The Mind Gym: Relationships
Turns out there is a "mind gym" out there, and they did publish a book. The Mind Gym: Relationships is the third book by this UK outfit called the Mind Gym, for those who can't attend (or afford) its £1,500 (around RM7,325), 20-member training sessions. The founders assure us that their Mind Gym training is great for relationships in and out of the office; "from boardroom to bedroom", goes one blurb.

And there's still more to come – possibly books for "prisons, cruises, second lifers and who knows what." From the witty, upbeat, and offbeat tone of the writing however, it's hard to tell whether it's a joke.

While some people sweated over the Y2K bug, Octavius Black and Sebastian Bailey came up with the idea of "bite-sized" 90-minute corporate training sessions or "workouts", each packed with tips, techniques and activities, which can be packaged into different programmes. Training is not a two-way street; the tools and techniques continue to evolve from the insights uncovered by the Gym's team of psychologists, and the real-life experiences of other Mind Gym-goers. The Mind Gym appears to be popular, if not effective, concept. Just ask its clients, a who's-who of recognisable brand names.

A password to the Facebook-like Mind Gym community web portal in comes with each copy of the book. Unless a basic online profile is complete, some features will not be available to try. Exclusive goodies for book buyer include back issues of Mind Gym "magazines", and a forum where other users discuss tips and share their own.

In Relationships, the workout programme's structure and content – both online and offline – are similar. Chapters in the book are grouped into four fundamental sections in the following order: "Relationship ready" (prepping yourself), "Coming together" (building a relationship), "Tough love" (resolving conflict), and "A different relationship" (whether to salvage or end a relationship). At the end of some chapters exercises marked "I Spy" (observation) and "I Try" (self-explanatory) await.

Readers will have to endure the tedium of filling out questionnaires, making lists and totalling up points. The results can be surprising, depending on your honesty or whether the questions and answers are correctly interpreted. The first questionnaire determines a reader's workout plan, namely the areas he or she should work on; the more lazy can refer to one of several default plans in the book. Read only what you need – a great option for the increasingly time-starved. On the other hand, it says a lot about a reader who needs to go through the whole book.

Of course, no book of this ilk would be complete without affirming quotes from the famous, and anecdotal evidence of "why it works": examples from pop culture, history, and results of research, which, unfortunately, aren't annotated with their corresponding sources (a bibliography is available, if one is curious).

Overall, Relationships is a relatively small self-help book that tries hard not to be boring. There aren't a lot of page-cluttering visuals; most anecdotal inserts are short and snappy, and each chapter is small and feels modular enough to stand on its own.

Relationships however, don't build themselves. As a young man Albert Ellis (1913 - 2007) overcame his shyness towards women by chatting up over a hundred ladies at the Bronx Botanical Gardens. Though it didn't get him a date, it might have prepared him for his future career as a psychologist; in 1982 he was ranked above Sigmund Freud among history's most influential psychotherapists. ...No reward without effort, right?

The Mind Gym: Relationships
The Mind Gym
Sphere (2009)
304 pages
ISBN: 978-1847440631

Friday, 8 February 2013

Eager, Erudite, Eponymous

Copies of the graphical version of Lydia Teh's Do You Wear Suspenders? The Wordy Tales of Eh Poh Nim reached the office about two weeks ago, but I was too busy to post it earlier. Besides, what else could I write about it after this announcement?

The Wordy Tales of Eh Poh Nim #1
The Wordy Tales of Eh Poh Nim #1: Big Bertha Meets Eh Poh Nim.
We're hoping for a #2 and perhaps a #3

The Wordy Tales of Eh Poh Nim chronicles the everyday life of Eh Poh Nim, a loquacious woman who can't resist explaining the meanings of English words and phrases - the more obscure, the better - to anyone who'd listen.

Samples from chapters "Hatter-somethings" (left) and "Do you
wear suspenders" - or something like that

In his volume, Eh Poh Nim show off her eponyms when meeting a Big Bertha at the airport. She also devises language puzzles for a friend in distress, gets into a heteronym face-off with an equally showy colleague, dispenses bits of kibitz to a fellow bibliobibuli, and more. We also take a trip back in time for a little Manglish lesson Down Under.

Hairy expressions
Lots of hairy expressions for your entertainment

Rediscover the excitement of learning the stories behind some English idioms, metaphors and other figures of speech in this illustrated, delightfully re-imagined series that brings the humour in the anecdotes to life.

Lydia Teh hung up her apron after seventeen years as a homemaker and is now managing an English-language centre. She wrote Life's Like That: Scenes from Malaysian Life, Honk! If You're Malaysian and Do You Wear Suspenders? The Wordy Tales of Eh Poh Nim.

Diana HND (aka Diana Chan) is an accounts associate by day and a comic artist by night. She lives with her family and a hyperactive beagle in a quiet neighbourhood far from the Klang Valley.

The Wordy Tales of Eh Poh Nim #1: Big Bertha Meets Eh Poh Nim is priced at RM12.90. It should be on sale at all major bookstores and is available through

Thursday, 7 February 2013

News: Events And Stuff, Because It's Spring

Because it's close to the Chinese New Year holidays I'm taking a break like the rest of you, so nothing of much substance for the time being. But there'll be some events to look forward to when you all return.

16 February  Newly opened indie hangout Merdekarya is hosting "Saya Selaku Perdana Menteri..." ("I, as Prime Minister..."), a piece of stand-up (or sit-down) entertainment at 8pm where four writers: Zara Kahan, Amir Hafizi, Hafidz Baharom and Umapagan Ampikaipakan will present their 'inauguration speeches' should they become Prime Minister of Malaysia. Check the Facebook page for details.

17 February  Artisan Roast TTDI will be hosting a Blind Date with a Book event organised by book columnist Daphne Lee starting at 10:30am; this post describes one example of such an event. Basically, pick a book, wrap it up, give it a really catchy label, leave it there for others to pick and 'blind-pick' a book yourself. More details on this Facebook page.

23 February  Author Tash Aw, who wrote The Harmony Silk Factory and Map of the Invisible World, is scheduled to be in Kuala Lumpur in conjunction with the release of his latest work, Five-star Billionaire. He'll be appearing in Silverfish Books at 1:30pm and Readings at Seksan's at 3:30pm.


  • RIP Barry Wain, author of Malaysian Maverick.
  • How (female) bloggers became the latest chick lit heroines.
  • How to let go of books you won't read and cut down on the clutter.
  • Israeli and Palestinian textbooks "largely present one-sided narratives", but do not demonise. But wouldn't people fed on a steady long-term diet of one-sided narratives tend to become more, well, biased?
  • Of these nine writing mistakes you're probably making, you probably know six or seven already. You probably just don't care.
  • That thing about print being better for reading than digital? It's wrong, apparently. Who knew the Germans were prejudiced against digital media?
  • Sales of sci-fi/fantasy artist and author MCA Hogarth's self-published book on Amazon was blocked after makers of the Warhammer 40,000 series of games, complained that the title of her book violated their trademark over the (already widely used, like, everywhere) term "space marines". What are these guys, Apple?
  • Anne Ishii talks c*ck in her review of Eddie Huang's Fresh Off the Boat. Oh, like you could resist.
  • William Faulkner thinks living in a whorehouse (as its landlord) helps you be a writer. Is that why Wei Xiaobao, the anti-hero in Louis Cha's Deer and the Cauldron, was such a storyteller?
  • Chuck Wendig's 25 jumbled thoughts on book piracy.
  • After Going Clear, here comes Beyond Belief by Jenna Miscavige Hill. It seems that, even in this 'church', the one percent are treated different.

And, something unrelated to books: Slate's prime Explainer sheds light on the apparently skinflint pastor who refused to leave a tip on 'religious grounds'.

He also thinks "’s possible that Christians think their devotion to the next life exempts them from such social niceties as tipping in this one. That confidence in their ultimate salvation may also diminish their sense of financial obligation to God."

Does this "confidence in their ultimate salvation" also explain why some religious people are so dickish to those who aren't?

Something to ponder over the lunar new year.

Monday, 4 February 2013

News: Jumping The Gun, NYT Reviews And Gulag Humour

The literary world shed sweatdrops of dread when news came out that a library holding ancient manuscripts from Timbuktu was torched by Islamists fleeing from French forces. After all, it wasn't too long ago since a library in Egypt was torched destroying many valuable papers. Timbuktu locals claim, however, that some of the more important manuscripts were saved.

Back home: Is Pak Lah taking on Dr M in a tell-all to be released after CNY? No, he's not, it seems. The authors, Bridget Welsh and James Chin, have apparently denied the book's "tell-all" nature and called the report "an overly-sensational shoddy piece of journalism". A correction has since been added to the original report.

"He's Anthony Bourdain with a side of pickled radish." Eddie Huang's memoir, Fresh Off The Boat, reviewed in The New York Times.

Huang may be chuffed at by the rather positive review. William Stadiem, however, feels he has to defend himself against a NYT book reviewer's alleged accusations of Jew-baiting in a critique of his novel Moneywood.

Not long after Google Earth exposed the locations of some of North Korea's gulags, the 'reviews' start coming in, from "Great cuisine" and "Will visit again" to Meh".

But is it appropriate? Not if it focuses attention on these camps, apparently. "Smart-aleck awareness is better than ignorance." I'm kind of two minds about that.


  • Bells continue to toll for B&N and the mega-bookstore. B&N is planning to close up to a third of its brick-and-mortars over ten years, but states that it is "fully committed to the retail concept for the long term." The response is one you might expect.
  • Hilary Mantel brings up the accolades again, this time winning the Costa Book of the Year award for Bring Up The Bodies, and she's not apologising for that. Why should she?
  • Talk about embracing trolls: Writer Brian Allen Carr is seeking the best one-star review in exchange for his books. Am I missing something?
  • In the wake of the Lance Armstrong confession, somebody ponders the reasons we read memoirs.
  • In the annals of weaponised reviews: Milanese opera house La Scala has blacklisted a newspaper's music critic after some of his reviews were said to have crossed the line. Calling Luciano Pavarotti a "musical illiterate" takes some balls, but can he back it up? Just asking.
  • The next time you publish a book, please don't name it after a terrorist organisation.
  • Some of the best arguments for and against the Oxford comma.
  • Was that famous short story written by Ernest Hemingway? Perhaps not.
  • Jeet Thayil's Narcopolis is awarded the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. He's the first Indian recipient of the prize.