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.