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.

Monday, 14 October 2013

News: Chabris vs Gladwell, Munro, And The Everything Store

Christopher Chabris has issues with Malcolm Gladwell's David and Goliath. Gladwell tells Chabris to chill the heck out.

"I was simply saying that all writing about social science need not be presented with the formality and precision of the academic world," Gladwell writes. "There is a place for storytelling, in all of its messiness."

Munro, Munro, Munro. Was her Nobel Literature win unexpected? Seems that way, judging from the sudden outpouring of affection after the announcement was made.

Meanwhile, Someone thinks that "No American author should win the Nobel Prize" ... and explains why that may be a good thing. I don't think so - why set limits? But yeah, why don't more Americans win the Nobel Prize in Literature?

Happening elsewhere:

  • Writer and inveterate wanderer Adrianna Tan is writing a book about travelling solo in India, especially for single female travellers, and she's crowdsourcing the funds for it. Help her out, please?
  • RIP Pulitzer Prize-winning Cuban-American writer Oscar Hijuelos.
  • Behold: Outgoing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's buzzword-packed letter. Do not write like this.
  • A very brief history of @#$%&! How did the grawlix become a stand-in for swearing in comics?
  • The endearingly crabbit Nicola Morgan's guidelines on working for nothing. " it when it's right, but understand when it isn't."
  • I suppose if you're Andrew Wylie, who's published the likes of Vladimir Nabokov, Phillip Roth and Saul Bellow, you could get away with spouting one-liners in interviews.
  • From The Horologicon, some lost words that might be useful today.
  • The hidden library of Dunhuang, discovered about a century ago, and the effort to preserve what's left of its contents.
  • At the Frankfurt Book Fair: What is a publisher now?
  • OMG. Joseph Stalin was also an EDITOR? Explains a lot about him - and the profession.
  • Here's the incredible story of how Amazon became "the everything store", which can be found in this book . Not sure if I'd want to work there, considering how Amazon chief Bezos reportedly rebukes employees who annoy him: "I'm sorry, did I take my stupid pills today?" "Do I need to go down and get the certificate that says I'm CEO of the company to get you to stop challenging me on this?" "Why are you wasting my life?" Stomp, stomp roar, JB.
  • A new book suggests that the man who became Pope Francis secretly helped people during Argentina's "Dirty War".
  • How France is protecting independent bookstores. But is something missing from this 'protection'?
  • So, many of history's first artists were women? Cool.
  • Are TED talks overrated?
  • The Delhi University copy shop in the centre of a fight against custom-made "course packs" - "de facto 'textbooks' made of photocopied portions of various books" - by several publishers.
  • Former Granta editor John Freeman's five favourite books of criticism.
  • Do unsuccessful writers give better advice than the big names?
  • In this review of James Franco's Actors Anonymous, somebody asks, "Why does James Franco make people so angry?" Maybe the question should be, "Why are people having issues with James Franco?"
  • Some people weren't thrilled that Helen Fielding killed off Mark Darcy in her latest Bridget Jones novel. Several Bridget Jones fans in the UK tell us why that had to happen. In The Guardian, Rachel Cooke looks at the long literary tradition that states all single women must want to - gaaah! - get hitched.
  • Author-reviewer feuds on Goodreads force changes to moderation policy ... and confirms that human beings can and will convert any place into a battlefield.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Hard To Like

This novel was, like the title says, hard to like.

Once The Lowland was released, Jhumpa Lahiri was everywhere. It's like she already won the Booker. To not like the book seemed like a bad thing.

Then she says something like, yes, The Lowland is not easy to like.

But for some reason, I don't feel better.

Though there was, perhaps, a good reason why Gauri left her child and husband - which kind of makes sense once you piece the whole story together - I don't think it would've made me appreciate the book more.

Hard to like

first published in The Star, 13 October 2013

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2013, Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland is a multi-generational tale that tells of two brothers and what follows after the death of one.

Subhash, the older of the two, is the reserved, dutiful son – the opposite of the impressionable, adventurous Udayan. Yet the brothers grow up as part of a close-knit family in Tollygunge, Calcutta, during the tumultuous era following India's independence.

Then comes news of the Naxalbari incident in 1967 (police opened fire on a group of villagers demanding their right to farm a particular piece of land). The idealistic Udayan becomes a Communist Party supporter while Subhash, who wants no part in his brother's politics, eventually moves to the United States and becomes a scientist there.

The elder sibling receives updates from home on occasion. A picture arrives in the mail one day, that of his sister-in-law Gauri. Not too long after that, news of Udayan's death follows; the lowland near the family home is where he hid in vain from his fate.

Subhash returns home to Tollygunge for the funeral and learns that his brother was killed because of his involvement with the Naxalites. But was it his attraction to Gauri or the duty to his late brother's unborn child that drove him to marry his sister-in-law and take her to the United States?

Of course the union is ill-fated, otherwise this would be a very short book. In America, Gauri eventually abandons Subhash and her young daughter Bela. But, as they say, life goes on. And it really goes on and on....

This book is probably not a good introduction to Ms Lahiri's body of work, which includes two short-story collections praised by a colleague and numerous others. I wanted to enjoy this book but couldn't.

Earlier, I'd read a novel about displaced characters and felt comfortable with it, probably because they were created by a fellow countryman and, therefore, felt familiar and more relatable.

Lahiri's vivid depiction of the life of Bengalis in India and the United States is greatly helped by what she and her family had witnessed and been a part of – and is an exemplary showcase of her writing talent.

But I feel her kind of polished, flourish- and gimmick-free prose is better sampled in small doses. This is not a novel you'd want to relax with.

And, for me, Tollygunge is too far away in terms of history and geography – except perhaps for the Communist violence. Closer to home are the struggles of one who has to pick up the pieces after a loved one's untimely demise. Nearly all the main characters seem be struggling to fill the void carved out by the death of Gauri's husband.

The slow decline and passing of her parents-in-law is particularly poignant, a powerful admonishment to children who embark upon violent careers that might work for places such as India, where Naxalite insurgents are still active.

Most notable is Gauri who tries just about everything but can't seem to patch that Udayan-shaped hole. Her attempts to do so, culminating in her ditching Subhash and Bela, is responsible for dragging the melancholy across two generations and over 200 pages.

For me, the book's atmosphere finally lifted when, after a grown-up Bela tells a suitor about her past and why she can't be with someone, the dude says, "I'm not going anywhere".

A strong art-house-film vibe comes off this book, and it might find a second wind in the form of a silver screen adaptation (hello, Mira Nair!). The way The Lowland drags on, though, begs me to concur with another critic (I forget who) who wondered if Lahiri is only good at short stories. That would be unfortunate, considering her way with words.

The Lowland
Jhumpa Lahiri
Bloomsbury Publishing
352 pages
ISBN: 9781408828113

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Boey's Back

Something told me I shouldn't be reviewing this book, even as I thought, "Well, why not? I was honest about the first."

Yes, you can believe that

It's the first time this has happened to me, so I'm not sure if being blurbed in a previous book by the same author disqualifies me from reviewing his future book(s).

Most would say it does. If I like the latest book, it would look like I'm trying to help him sell it; if I don't I might sound 'inconsistent'.

By now, he's pretty much a celebrity. He doesn't really need a lot of help, not like when he published his first book. What I want to see now, more than his next book, is what he's going to do with his celebrity.

Boey's back

first published in The Malay Mail Online, 10 October 2013

I had waited weeks for this to arrive — and now it's here.

I turned a page. Hmm.

I turned another page. This is funny.

And another. Ha ha.

And another. Whoa.

And another. How did he get away with that?

And ... another. Oh my G*d.

I stopped myself from planting my oily face onto the page.

If I thought his hijinks in the first book were outrageous, the ones in this follow-up are more so.

Return of the kid
About a year has passed since Boey Cheeming first released his autobiographical compilation of comics When I Was A Kid — and his personality — upon an unsuspecting Malaysian public.

In the wake of the unexpected success of this book comes When I Was A Kid 2. The ending of his previous book suggested that the next one would be a sequel that explores his college years and adult life in the US. Instead, we get another collection of his childhood stories, an add-on to the first book.

Fans of his work will welcome this latest collection. We can expect the same style of art and storytelling, but the stories all look new. The tone, however, appears more sombre as the author leans more towards tugging our heartstrings instead of tickling our funny bones.

We smile, laugh, cringe, and shudder in horror at his childhood antics and, by proxy, at our own. While we still get some of a kid's wide-eyed wonder at the strange and new around him, like the time the author "touched a rainbow", we also see that the cracks around that innocent worldview are starting to show. In this book, "The Kid" that is Boey is beginning to grow up.

His remembrances of his grandmother brought me back to my own, as did his wonder over a simple bicycle ride with his dad, a prominent figure in this collection. I found his thoughts on toys profound and his memories of the slides at his childhood playground poignant. I think there's also some criticism about how kids these days are spoiled...

...and damn spoiled some of them are, too...

...which I'm hard-pressed to disagree with.

Hazy memories
However, the collection has some amusing moments to keep it from getting too maudlin; this is Boey we're talking about.

So I turn a page. I used to play with fire, too. Don't tell anyone.

And another. Ew. Good thing I didn't see anything like that.

And another. Yeah, I hated maths and physics.

And another. Crank-calling people? Duuude.


When one revisits the past, some things appear hazy. In WIWAK 1 some of the recollections were so outrageous you wonder if Boey made it up or remembered it wrong.

This time, we have notes from his parents at the end of the book that contain clarifications on some chapters such as "Terrarium" (" and dad NEVER eat all these bird in wine.") and comments ("ADD & SUBTRACT - Not so interesting" and "Onion - Already on your face book [sic] last month").

Of course, she's also in the "testimonials"...

Boey's mom sets something straight

Still, this doesn't dent the impact this book has on one's own memories. While the notes were a nice touch, making this book feel more like a family affair, it could've benefitted from some editing.

I said some things about the previous book, much of which still stands. But I'm not sure if I find Boey's growing-up years "mundane" anymore.

07/10/2014  Forgot that I got pimped a few months back but couldn't find the online version. One thing: I did say I like it, but it was MPH Distributors (a sister company) who agreed to ship the book around Malaysia and Singapore if he self-published.

A couple of years later, there are also T-shirts, calendars and - yes - notebooks, with caricatures of him instead of cats. Plus, livery on an airplane. And his books are still selling. Nobody expected just how big Boey would become, not even me.

Good thing he didn't quit.

When I Was A Kid 2
Boey Cheeming
199 pages
ISBN: 978-0-9849786-1-8

Monday, 7 October 2013

News: Tom Clancy, Dave Eggers's Circle, And Malcolm And Goliath

So I was sick for a total of two weeks due to a low-grade infection, according to the doctor. Though the fevers have subsided, my energy levels are about that of a newborn goat's. I'd shed about 4kgs, my appetite shrank, and had no coffee of spicy stuff for nearly three weeks. But enough about me.