Sunday, 22 September 2013

Was Sick As Heck

...so I went offline for a bit. The fever began around early Tuesday morning and came and went like a ninja until this morning. Felt better enough to put real food in my belly: something soupy, with meat. I heard it helps. Soupy things with meat also helps because they are tasty.

So here I am, halfway to recovery (one hopes), with a bunch of bills, an MC, a DVD of Inside the Colon (and maybe Stomach) of Alan KW Wong and enough pharmaceuticals to start my own shop - that's private healthcare for ya. Fortunately, most of that was covered by the company's insurance provider (there are reasons you shouldn't run down your employers wherever).

This March I had to fix my 'congenital' a.k.a. 'pre-existing' sinus condition; I'm still clearing the bill which I paid via credit card.

Don't be uninsured medically. Better yet, don't get sick. Ever.

Excuse me, need to lie down a bit...


Book on the left, reviewed; book on the right, considering review


Much earlier, I received those two books. I didn't find The Lowland that stimulating, and I'll be talking more about it in lieu of the review slated to come out by the end of this month.

Crazy Rich Asians? Sounds like a code phrase for "yellow skin, bulging pockets, zero soul". But not after I get well.

Now excuse me while I lie down again.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

News: Local Book News, Open Book(er), Life After Potter

Some local book news:

  • "Malaysian books boleh!" And the chief's in there, along with Silverfish Books' Raman and Amir Muhammad of Fixi. But I'm sure they could've come up with a better title.
  • Here are the brave people at Borders asking for justice on behalf of a colleague.
  • Meet Ridzuan Mohd Ghazali, a.k.a Iwan Reaz or Iwan Ghazali, local author.
  • Did you know that Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, the Malaysian Institute of Language and Literature, has guidelines for abbreviating words and terms in text messages?


And here are some other book news:

  • Lit journal Ploughshares' People of the Book features Leah Price, "professor of English at Harvard University and frequent writer on books, old and new media."
  • Are they opening the Commonwealth-focused Man Booker Prize to American participation? Zounds!

    Scott Pack, for one, thinks it might be a good thing. Point number five: "Some people are up in arms about the move, suggesting that this will result in British writers ending up as the poor relations in the new set up. If British, Australian, Canadian, Irish etc. writers carry on writing great books I am not sure what they have to worry about."
  • Not just a suitcase of old papers: Class project reveals a Boston man's amazing life.
  • No, Lance Armstrong did not lie in his autobiographies; it really was "not about the bike".
  • "The juice ain't worth the squeeze." Chuck Wendig's take on why authors probably shouldn't critically review (read: bulldoze) other authors' books - and why the reviewed probably shouldn't respond to negative reviews.
  • MSN shuts its Page-turner book blog. A darker future for books coverage?
  • Jon Krakauer, who wrote about the brief life of Chris McCandless in Into the Wild, posts the latest findings on how McCandless may have died.
  • Translating Holden Caulfield in Russia. Catcher in the Rye's apparently big in Russia because, well, "who knew phony better than these daily consumers of official Soviet language?" But damn, DAT COVER. Is that supposed to be Caulfield?
  • "... the argument that some books transcend genre is incoherent: Genres aren't conceptually solid enough to be transcended. Any genre is going to be made up of things that both fit and don't, and over time those things will change and shift. Frankenstein, as John Rieder argues, was Gothic romance first, but now it's science fiction. Jimmie Rodgers was hillbilly music, now he's country." Why the notion that novels can transcend genres is flawed.
  • Does anybody care what Jonathan Franzen thinks is wrong with the modern world? Me neither (at least, not right now), but some of you do.
  • Lit-journal editor shares some tips on how to get published in lit mags and journals.
  • Ben Yagoda highlights some comma mistakes.
  • Looks like Vikram Seth's A Suitable Girl has found a suitable publisher. But will the 2016 scheduled release be a suitable timeframe for Seth-starved readers?
  • "...we've managed to take the 15 years of children's lives that should be the most carefree, inquisitive, and memorable and fill them with a motley collection of stress and a neurotic fear of failure." AA Gill makes a good (and funny) case against the "education-industrial complex" (school system).
  • Fantasy author Terri Bruce stops selling her book, Thereafter, because 'errors' introduced into it including "grammatical mistakes and changes to the style and meaning of sentences" made her "sound like an illiterate git."
  • Now that the fever has subsided, charity shops are stuck with thousands of unwanted copies of Fifty Shades of Grey.
  • No idea if those teenage exorcists are actually for real (the UK is a "hotbed of witchcraft"? Not Salem, Massachusetts?) Meanwhile, more heresy is coming our way as JK Rowling announces the continuation of the Potterverse. Who d'you think will win?
  • So, hell yes, there is life after Harry Potter.

Monday, 9 September 2013

News: Local Lit, Libraries, And Linguistics

"Whatever has happened to Malay literature?" Someone at Silverfish Books asked. Here's one thing:

National laureate Datuk A. Samad Said was detained from his home in Bangsar early this morning for his alleged involvement in the flying of the Sang Saka Malaya flag on the eve of Merdeka celebrations at Dataran Merdeka.

He was picked up by three police officers at 12.40am and taken to the Dang Wangi district police headquarters where he was interrogated for more than an hour.

Pak Samad, as he is popularly known, is being investigated under the Sedition Act for the incident.

The flag in question was said to have been a proposed version of the Malayan national flag. The authorities' treatment of Pak Samad has been widely criticised.



The Malaysian High Court liberated ZI Publications' Malay translation of Irshad Manji's Allah, Liberty and Love", making it okay to sell it. The next step: freeing the Borders store manager arrested for the 'crime' of selling the book. The arrest was already ruled unlawful.

Though I'm glad this issue is being resolved, I'm not sure if it's going away. So far the Federal Territories Religious Department, responsible for the store manager's arrest, seems to be dragging its feet in resolving this issue.



Some may be excited over Sophie Hannah's 'resurrection' of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, but one person sounds ... ambivalent about it.

"The reason I hate the idea of this boiled-over Agatha Christie is that the story of the "last Poirot" is so moving, and such a credit to the queen of crime as a person," writes John Sutherland in the Guardian. "The new book (and let's face it, money is the driving motive) will muddy one's sense of the dignified way she wrapped up the life of Hercule Poirot." Having said that, though, "...of course I'll download it 30 seconds after it comes out in 2014."



"...the true mark of a grammar snob is she doesn't like to be told how to use grammar herself; she just likes to tell other people that they're wrong." Why Mary Rolf stopped being a grammar snob.

This was after attending a linguistics class, where she learned, among other things, that: "there is no such thing as 'standard English' with a capital E. Instead there are many 'englishes' with a lower case E. There is the english of the Caribbean and the english of the southern United States and the english of Oxbridge and the english rappers use in their music. Traditionally we're taught that one of these is better than the rest, but in this class I learned that that's an arbitrary distinction and not necessarily the case."



How not to sell books online, specifically those 'ambitious' self-help books. Maybe they shouldn't even. But why do they even bother?

Adam Plunkett thinks "the writers are drawn to the marketers because they speak the same language of personal ambition and vague, vaguely Soviet optimism, and because the writers, as good businesspersons, want to delegate their marketing to someone who can achieve real success in the Internet book world. In turn, the marketers are happy to churn out the writers' vision of successful PR."

Does it work? He doesn't think so: "No one is fooled."


Moving on:

  • Haslina Usman, daughter of the late Tongkat Warrant, on her father's work, our culture, and those syiok sendiri (self-congratulating) writers.
  • My Malay is rubbish, so I can't really comprehend the entirety of this article in Malay by Uthaya Sankar SB. I think it talks about a local Malay author's latest novel, and how she was allegedly cheated of royalties due to her, on account of her works being used in schools to teach the Malay language via literature.
  • RIP Ann C Crispin, author and co-founder of scam-fighting blog Writer Beware, the bane of dodgy (mostly US) publishers. I often check on what's new on the blog. It'll feel weird, bringing up the URL (that still bears her name) from now on.
  • In the New York Times' new Bookends section: "Are novelists too wary of criticizing other novelists?"
  • In Japan, local e-reader industry struggles as Amazon's Kindle dominates.
  • Writer's block, we know. But "reader's block"?
  • Found: Book that went missing from library in St Paul's Cathedral.
  • "Is what is essentially a public vote rather than peer-judgment necessarily a bad thing?" Why the Hugos are good.
  • The ancient roots of several punctuation marks. The hashtag (#) was once called the octothorpe.
  • Malala Yousafzai opens the new Birmingham library: "one book, one pen, one child and one teacher can change the world".
  • The Mattituck-Laurel Library in New York has a virtual clone in the world of Minecraft.
  • They're making a movie out of Markus Zusak's The Book Thief?!

Friday, 6 September 2013

Masterclass In Session: Wellness with Jojo

Too much coffee plus too little sleep the previous night equals one cranky, tired editor. Resuming work, I pored over this unusual manuscript.


The path to balance: Jojo Struys's Guide to Wellness (that's a heavy necklace)


"...imagine you are in a place that could be real or imagined that makes you feel totally relaxed ... a beautiful island, a sandy beach, mountaintop, or green forest. Choose a location you will find therapeutic.

"...imagine your eyelids starting to grow heavier. As you feel more and more relaxed, your mind starts to drift into a state of total relaxation ... imagine sinking deeper and deeper into complete relaxation. Imagine the back of your calves growing heavier as your body starts to sink into the mattress.

"As your body grows heavier, you are becoming more relaxed and tired by every count. As you start sinking deeper and deeper into total relaxation, you can positively affirm something to yourself that will promote deep uninterrupted...."

Then I lost consciousness. For about three seconds.

Who needs to follow the instructions when reading them is just as effective?

I've always imagined celebrity Jojo Struys as a bundle of energy, so it's hard to reconcile that with one of her other hobbies: getting people to relax. Or that a caffeine-peddling franchise is selling her relaxation CDs.

I believe it's called "balance".

Which is lacking in many of our lives.

What a coincidence that the latest volume in the MPH Masterclass series will be launched around a time when the air is thick with the haze and people's outrage of things reported in the media: crime, prayer rooms, 'historical' films...

Time to chill. And Struys is going to show us how.

Struys doesn't talk much about herself (the wealth of photos of her compensate for that), except for her love of helping people and how she seems to be the agony aunt of her circle. "There was a time I thought I would become a counselor or psychologist because I seemed to have a constantly flashing neon sign pasted on my forehead that read: 'Please come to me if you have problems. I’m here to listen.'"

Personal anecdotes are weaved in to frame the problems and issues she addresses in the book: anger, insomnia, weight management, depression, stress, fear, self-esteem, and love and relationships, and what may happen if they are not addressed.

Jojo Struys's Guide to Wellness
Jojo Struys
MPH Group Publishing (2013)
204 pages
Non-fiction
ISBN: 978-967-415-131-7

RM35.90 | Buy from MPHOnline.com
I was surprised when she described what I believe is the practice of tummo, a form of yoga practiced by Tibetan monks, and that she tried something similar herself. So she's not exactly peddling typical personality-driven feel-good tips.

There's not enough space to cover every topic, so it looks like Struys is focusing on the areas she's most familiar with - areas where one's state of mind is a crucial factor.

You get checklists and, where applicable, tips and exercises to focus your mind to align it towards solving whatever it is that ails you.

"Thoughts have so much power, so we must be careful what we think about," Struys writes. "I am hoping that by writing this book, it may help to shift your thoughts into positive gear because if you can change the way you think, you can change your life."



Now that MPH Group Publishing's 'official' Facebook page is up, I'll probably be announcing less new stuff here. The marketing elves are doing a fine job with updates and they have access to more exclusive material I can't get my hands on.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Remembering Steve

A widow's tribute to her late croc-wrangling husband glows

Some might say they won't be surprised to hear news of Steve Irwin's death by animal one day, including me. But when the news did come, I was surprised. Partly because it was really out of the blue and did not involve reptiles.

So it's been seven years since The Crocodile Hunter left for the big billabong in the sky. Much has been said about his methods, but I think few would doubt that old Dances with Crocs made us pay attention to the animals he'd spotlighted on his shows.

I'm less optimistic about the wild-action-man genre he helped inspire.

While musing on the descent of the 'wildlife warrior' on TV, I picked up the book written by his widow, a memoir of her life with one of Australia's favourite sons.

Steve and Me: My Life with Steve Irwin traces the couple's lives, telling how their similar paths converged. Both of them started out rescuing animals, though the latter's repertoire was more danger, danger, danger. Imagine, catching red-bellied black snakes as a kid and stuffing them into the schoolbus driver's cooler?

Small wonder his critics feel that he deserves another 'boot to his bum', like his dad had done after the snakes-in-a-box incident.

Terri Irwin's (nee Raines) wildlife rescue career, meanwhile, began in the US with the animals her trucker father saved while on the road. From mergansers and dogs, she graduated to cougars (or mountain lions). It was during a hunt for new homes for the cats she'd rescued that she first encountered the man who would change her life.

The book's pretty much what it says on the cover. Mrs Irwin recalls her life with her late husband - the bits she chose to share with us, anyway - with fondness and sadness: from the day they first met, the pangs of longing while they're apart, their affection for their children, pets, and zoo animals, their plans for what is now Australia Zoo, to the story of how they started their family, the controversies, and the September 4 tragedy.

Want an 'objective' look at the Croc Hunter's life? You won't find it here. Within the plaintive voice of a grieving widow is a fierce defence of her slain white knight. Off-screen Steve is the same as on-screen Steve: an Australian-born stand-up guy and all-round humanitarian.

Supporting evidence includes his heartache over appalling conditions in a croc farm, how he faced down other crocodile 'hunters' (who actually caught and stuffed baby crocs) at a pub, and his rescue of his best mate Wes Mannion when the latter was attacked by one of the large reptiles at the zoo.

And, of course, she makes much of his intense love of wildlife and how close he wanted to bring his audience to them - a love that his detractors might have used against him.

Such is the price of celebrity. Perhaps it was Irwin's instincts that led to his observation of a particular animal: "Crocodiles are easy. They try to kill and eat you. People are harder. Sometimes they pretend to be your friend first."

Irwin's greatest mistake, from the looks of it, was that he let people into his life too much - the way he did with his beloved reptiles.

Of the heartbreaks he faced, however, the greatest was the death of his mother, Lyn Irwin, in a road accident. "Lyn's death was something that Steve would never truly overcome," Terri writes.

She also remembers one time when he, presumably to escape the pain, went out into the bush with his dog Sui, like he did when he was young and carefree. "But his grief trailed him ... I was not sure he would ever find his way back."

I'm not sure if he did, either, judging from the way he threw himself into his work since his mother's passing.

Maybe it's 'normal' for the Irwins to grow up among wildlife, but most of us who don't have that privilege will never understand that world. Even more so now, with all the wildlife shows that seem to emphasise the killer jaws, claws and venom of some of these predators for Shark Week-grade shock value and ratings.

Steve & Me
My Life with Steve Irwin

Terri Irwin
Pocket Books (2007)
273 pages
Non-fiction
ISBN: 978-1-84739-147-6

Buy from:
•  Amazon
•  BookDepository
Nor do the latest crop of 'wildlife warriors' inspire like Irwin did. He knew the benefits that publicity gave his cause, but at least he convinced us that he believed in it. All we're getting these days appear to be "danger, danger, danger" and not much else.

Or maybe I'm just biased and hankering a bit for a time when I allowed myself to believe in dreams, believe that my passion for something will move others to feel the same - or inspire them to live their own dreams.

Just as how Steve Irwin inspired a girl out of Oregon to live hers - and then some.

Writing this book might be an act of closure for his widow, and his fans and supporters may finally get to know the man behind the boisterous khaki-clad character. But these words, however heartfelt, are unlikely to mollify Irwin's staunchest critics.

Monday, 2 September 2013

News: Clichés, Letters, And "Someone Wrote MY BOOK!"

"Anyone who has worked on a creative project for years will understand the horror that filled me when I realized that, in structure and in writing style (even in fucking title!) someone had written a book bizarrely similar to what I had just finished. My novel was no longer unique, no longer fresh, no longer, well, novel. I felt like I'd been gutted. I screamed. I laughed. I called my partner, who was shaken, but not nearly as unhinged by the news as I was starting to become..."

A writer's worst nightmare: When someone else writes your book.

Also:

  • RIP Seamus Heaney, Irish poet and Nobel Laureate.
  • "Part of the reason for the shorter life of such books is the endless news cycle that rapidly churns through stories. That makes event-driven celebrity books especially tough. Publishers considering 'ripped from the headlines' books have to ask: will anyone remember this event in a year? And is this really a book or just a magazine article?" The perils and potential in celebrity books.
  • Here: six easy tips for self-editing your fiction.
  • So the twilight of the YA movie is, according to this article, is that the Chosen One trope that is the staple of most of these films is being worn out. "...far from wanting to watch other kids save the world time and again, kids would like to watch them just being kids."
  • An excerpt from Aboriginal writer Tony Birch's keynote address at the Edinburgh World Writers' Conference. Too good to grab quote snippets from.
  • Should we avoid these clichés like the plague?
  • How to kill your boss, annoying neighbour, or irritating relative - in fiction.
  • Penguin and Macmillan's is thinking of giving customers who bought a New York Times bestseller from iBookStore to US$3.06 per title; buyers of other titles would be entitled to $0.73 per book, as part of a settlement with the US Department of Justice over the Apple price-fixing thing.
  • So US prez Obama visited an Amazon fulfilment centre. Author groups and indie publishers freaked, so Obama wrote a letter. An ndie bookseller association director is not impressed. Be it scriveners or Syria, the dude just can't win.
  • ¡Hola! Kindle Direct Publishing arrives in Mexico.
  • The wind rises ... and off he flies. Veteran Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki reportedly retires.
  • Apparently, Oxford Dictionaries Online has 'recognised' the word "twerk", among others, due to overwhelming popularity (i.e., the Huns overran the gates).
  • Here: Eleven reasons to love listicles.