Monday, 29 December 2014

Book Marks: #GTLF2014, Battle Diary, And E-Book Fatigue

Writing chose us, say author Susan Barker and poet Sudeep Sen. A lyrical piece on the recently concluded 2014 George Town Literary Festival. The writer who gave us the above also wrote about how writers Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh, Marco Ferrarese and Shivani Sivagurunathan create a sense of place in their works during the Festival.

Publishers told Chantelle Taylor no one wanted a war story by a woman and asked her to sex it up with romance. Good thing she didn't listen. Despite other publishers' - ahem - misgivings, Taylor's battle diary was well received.

Also in the annals of "publishers who don't know what works and what doesn't", Amazon rejected a book for containing too many hyphenated words, only to put it back on sale later.

Data from Kobo reveals readers couldn't finish some e-books. According to The Guardian, "The Goldfinch may have won Donna Tartt the Pulitzer, praised by judges as a novel which 'stimulates the mind and touches the heart', but the acclaimed title's 800-odd pages appear to have intimidated British readers, with less than half of those who downloaded it from e-bookseller Kobo making it to the end."

Proofreading a 250-plus page e-book on-screen hard work. I can't imagine going through something almost as thick as The Kindly Ones or James Clavell's brick-thick novels.


  • RIP Shirley Hew, veteran Singaporean publisher. The executive director of Straits Times Press was credited with discovering award-winning writers Suchen Christine Lim and Colin Cheong.
  • The Japanese version of Lat's Kampung Boy won second place in Japan's Gaiman Award for the overseas comic category. Yay, Datuk Lat! Omedeto gozaimasu!
  • They're expensive to produce and harder to sell. So, is there still a point in publishing academic books?
  • Publishers talk about the hits and misses of 2014. Andrew Franklin of Profile Books deviated a little to tell us he was "most proud NOT to have published" Girl Online - and "most ashamed for my fellow publishers for signing up."
  • A new book reveals that Beijing's claims to the South China Sea are a recent invention. Ooh, won't this raise a few hackles in the mainland.
  • Why we should write in books: the case for marginalia. The points in that article are interesting and kind of valid, but I don't have any compelling reason to start scribbling in books - especially those priced over RM15 and above.
  • Someone wrote some thoughts to The Malay Mail Online about "why many Malaysians still cannot converse in English". One Tweeter (can't remember who) noted the irony.
  • The future of books and bookstores looks bright to James Daunt, chief executive of Waterstones. I think Daunt sounds a bit optimistic in this article, but if he feels this way....
  • When I first got into blogging, I came across quite a few good blogs, and Michael Ooi's was one of them. Glad to see it again (H/T Suanie), and glad to see him keeping it real after all these years. And I can relate to this.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

It's What We Say And Do

This afternoon, I went to donate stuff for the flood relief efforts - and became a beneficiary of the kindness of others when my car battery died at the underground parking lot at IGB Tower, TTDI.

Two foreign security guards tried to push my car in an attempt to jump-start it. It failed; I was told later this evening that such emergency jump-starts only worked with manual vehicles. Eventually, one of them looked under the hood and concluded that the battery was gone. He pushed my car into another parking space while I looked for help.

Luckily there was a car workshop nearby. The chief foreman and possibly the boss drove me back to my car with a new battery. I also learnt a bit about my car: seems you can change the battery while the engine's running (it's not battery-operated), and one should, to keep certain settings in the car's electronics from being re-set, like my clock and saved radio channels.

"No good deed goes unpunished", some might say. But I should note that the battery's about two years old, at a time when many other batteries warrant replacement.

In the face of misfortune or a force of nature, what or who we are is nothing. What stands out most is we say and do. And what the volunteers were doing at the donation drop-off point at TTDI is great.

Some of those who formed human chains to convey donated goods into vehicles for transport included migrant workers at the restaurants/drop-off points, like the guards who helped me out.

Let's be like this all the time, rather than during emergencies only.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Faking It

Outraged over Girl Online? Scott Pack doesn't think it's worth exploding over, because it's nothing new. Many famous people don't write their own books, but theirs are keeping bookstores afloat.

"Because the truth is the other books, the 'worthwhile' ones, aren’t popular enough to sustain our industry," he blogged. "And they never will be. The festive boost that the likes of Zoella, Jamie Oliver, underwater dogs and that bloke from Westlife provides is often the difference between a bookshop existing and not existing."

Was it so long ago since everybody was rattled by another ghostwriter's confessions?

Over at Salon, Laura Miller delves into the reason why Zoella's teen fan base feels "betrayed" that she did not write her own book.

From what I understand of Ms Miller's piece, Zoella's fault, if one can call it that, is that she made authenticity part of her brand. People like it if you're "real", especially those who are young, impressionable and bone-tired of faking it - and dealing with fakers - to get through the day.

So I guess her biggest fans should feel cheated - because if plain old Zoe Sugg didn't write her own book, what else did she not do?

A writer (let's call her "Gem") with whom I discussed this feels ghostwriting non-fiction (memoirs, textbooks and the like) is fine; "authors" of such books are often non-writers and have little time to write or research beyond their day jobs. Given the nature of our work, I could commiserate.

Writers of fiction who employ ghostwriters, meanwhile are the real pretenders, said Gem - like artists who don't paint or sculpt their own works. While non-fiction involves stringing together facts into an attractive and engaging narrative, fiction, she feels, is more of creating original material, even if the underlying concepts or ideas originated elsewhere.

Still, James Patterson's books are pretty hot, even though word is that he doesn't really write his own books anymore. But you know, it's like Danish butter cookies. Once someone hits on a winning formula, you can't stop the copycats and you're all, "Screw it, bad mood. WANT."

And for similar reasons, I think we can also give "Katie Price" a pass.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

It Huffed And Puffed And Filled My Sails

For the past several years, worn down by tons of reading I've had to do for work, I couldn't bear to look at another printed page after I clocked out.

And the thought of being in a vast hall full of cheaply priced books failed to excite me.

But this Thursday, as I swept my gaze across rows upon rows of fiction titles at this year's Big Bad Wolf sale, I felt strangely refreshed - and it was just the third table. Well, it was a really long table.

Could it have been the stirrings of a second wind?

At least I made the cashiers happy.

"Oh my, I was shocked," squealed one of the sales assistants at the till as I deposited the two Terry Pratchett titles on the counter and began emptying my backpack. "I thought he only had two books!"

Definitely more than two books; at right is Jamal Mahjoub @ Parker Bilal's
The Golden Scales

A day earlier, a former colleague at the distributors' side became a bona fide colleague again. This time, she occupied her former boss's office. But it also meant that - hooray! - I was getting free books to review, after a months-long drought.

Maybe the second win began blowing earlier than that Thursday morning.

So, yes, I ended up with more than just two books.

First, the Terry Pratchetts. Feet of Clay and The Fifth Elephant are part of the series featuring the Discworld's Watchmen, led by Sam Vimes. I've begun following the series after Guards! Guards!, but too bad they didn't have its immediate sequel, Men at Arms.

Surprisingly, MPH Mid Valley has begun stocking up some of the Pratchett titles in the old Paul Kidby covers, including Men at Arms.

Following the passing of British crime writer PD James, I'd begun searching for her books - like the worst kind of reader. I regretted not picking up the one title I'd found one or two BBW Sales ago.

This year, however, I found two: Cover Her Face, part of the Adam Dalgliesh mysteries; and the more well-known Death Comes to Pemberley. Where should this go in the reading queue?

I was kind of curious about African stories after reading Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani's piece in The New York Times. What have I been missing, I wondered.

So I picked up a few: Taiye Selasi's Ghana Must Go, Nii Ayikwei Parkes's Tail of the Blue Bird and The Spider King' Daughter by Chibundu Onuzo.

I gave The Granta Book of the African Short Story a pass because it was a hardback and the pile was getting too heavy. Guess it was a missed opportunity.

Other books I'd dumped included the English translation of Excursion to Tindari by Italian Andrea Camilleri, two of Alexander McCall Smith's Precious Ramotswe novels: The Kalahari Typing School for Men and The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection, Julian Barnes's The Sense of an Ending, Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel and Evening is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan.

Not just because of weight, but also my pockets.

However, I got two of "those" Malay novels, just to see what the fuss is about. Why are they so popular? Could I figure it out? Are they as awful as some people claim?

Other local buys were The Mouse Deer Kingdom by Chiew-siah Tei (to go with my copy of The Little Hut of Leaping Fishes which remained unread for over a year), the epic novel Amber Road by Boyd Anderson and the Man Asia Award-winning The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng - which I will read before - maybe - a peek at the work of an author who was rumoured to be disgruntled by Tan's Man Asia win.

The odd duck of this pile was Parker Bilal's (real name Jamal Mahjoub, of British-Sudanese descent) The Golden Scales, a crime novel set in Cairo. I flipped through a few pages, assumed (wrongly) this must be one of the works of noir that's getting popular in the Middle East and bagged it.

I went into BBW2014 without a list or a guide, staying away from the best-sellers, literature, romance and, strangely enough, the non-fiction sections. The only non-fiction title I wanted but couldn't find was Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton, the chef of Prune in New York. Maybe next year or the following year.

For now, I'll just savour the feeling. It has been a while since I last felt it.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

"Difficult, Downright Thankless"

Turning readers to locally published English-language books "is a difficult, if not downright thankless, job", says The Star, which ran a story about a publishing symposium in Singapore and why things are tough for locally published English books.

Linda Tan Lingard, of the Yusof Gajah Lingard Literary Agency, told The Star: "Locally-published books in English face fierce competition from imported titles."

Oon Yeoh, senior consulting editor at MPH Group Publishing, also put in his two sen:

...local long-form fiction in English doesn't do very well. "Non-fiction books, such as 'how-to' books and cookbooks, tend to do better than fiction, though short story collections sometimes do well."

He added that the price point for locally-published books needs to be lower as well. "Imported titles sell even when they are priced well over RM50, for instance. With local books, however, the buying public is not prepared to spend more than RM50."

So, why are imported foreign English-language titles - some of which do cost more than RM50 - seem more popular among Malaysians than local stuff?

Raman Krishnan of Silverfish Books, who The Star also interviewed, said:

"Anglo/American books are sucking the air out of the Malaysian and Singaporean publishing industries, he said. "In Malaysia, the distributor decides what books the public reads, which in turn is decided by media reports from the West."

He believes the key is in building "a healthy local and regional market". But who's going to put out for that? Will bookstores be willing to invest, when they seem to be more focused on the bottom line than home-grown bylines?

Who really decides?
However, someone from a major books distributor told me it's the reading public who decides what the bookstores sell, based on what's popular with them.

The usual suspects include the Anglo/American stuff, as well as Malay romance, horror, religion and romance-religion (what). And, as my esteemed colleague puts it, the "'how-to' books and cookbooks".

That might be true for the big chains, who depend on shifting as many "hot" items as possible to stay afloat. And if many of their customers are from the middle to upper class, the bit about the Western media's influence in shaping consumption habits sounds plausible - not just for books, but film as well - because, as we know, only that strata of society are more likely to be able to read and have access to that kind of material.

So local writing ends up in what would be considered niches, dismissed as "arty", "fringe", "experimental" - euphemisms for "risky", "unprofitable" and the like in big bookselling.

The Anglo yardstick introduces other problems as well. Nigeria-based author Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, author of the award-winning I Do Not Come to You by Chance, laid out the problems African authors have in getting noticed (as well as other challenges). In The New York Times, she says African literature is beginning to receive recognition outside the so-called Dark Continent.

The catch?

...we are telling only the stories that foreigners allow us to tell. Publishers in New York and London decide which of us to offer contracts ... American and British judges decide which of us to award accolades ... Apart from South Africa, where some of the Big Five publishers have local branches, the few traditional publishers in Africa tend to prefer buying rights to books that have already sold in the West, instead of risking their meager funds by investing in unknown local talents.

Nope, these African voices, like Nwaubani's, do not come to us by chance.

As a result, she says, most authors in her home country are self-published. But "with no solid infrastructure for marketing and distribution" and the clout that comes with winning international awards:

...the success of these authors' works is often dependent on how many friends, family members and political associates can attend their book launches and pay exorbitant prices for each copy. Or on whether they have a connection in government who can include their book as a recommended text for schools.

Sounds familiar?

Social engineering? Or slow suicide?
I see parallels in the whole "our readers want us to sell these books" with what outgoing ESPN ombudsman Robert Lipsyte seemed to suggest about the sports channel not doing heavy hitting journalism because, according to Slate, "the viewers don't want them to".

"Extensive investigative reporting into the exploitation of college athletes, and the legal battles around that, would seem to conflict with ESPN’s business model," he wrote in his last column. By "business model", I think he means the near-deification of the nation's sports stars.

I'm not sure what kind of myth the big publishers want to foist on the world. That what they publish is all that matters? Can it be as simple as pushing what they deem to be "the thing" while making money out of it?

If that's true, the big publishers' preference and obsession for the next big thing, something The Globe and Mail calls "blockbustering", might spell their doom:

As they grow larger and concentrate their efforts and investments on massive, sure-fire hits ... the cultural landscape seems paradoxically smaller. It becomes even more difficult to get an indie film made – the huge projects suck the oxygen (financing, distribution, media coverage) out of the biosphere (hey, same terminology as Raman's).

In following this larger trend, book publishers are shortsighted. By reducing their involvement in original and challenging art, they relinquish literary fiction to the tiny presses and online magazines, and so become artistically irrelevant and, in the long run, uninteresting even as suppliers of entertainment. Pursuing mainstream popularity with ever-larger sums of money is ultimately self-destructive.

Reversing this trend sounds simple: don't do all that! But will they listen?

Market writers, not what's written
Now, how to start building Raman's local market? "Don't sell books, sell personalities," he told The Star (and everyone else) "Sell the writers."

That would work, considering how kepochi (busybody-ish) Malaysians tend to be. Even if their short-term goal is trying to find out how to be a best-selling author themselves.

Besides, books don't sell themselves. They need to be marketed; the difference is in the degree of marketing. I'm sure even the publisher for Fifty Shades had to tell people "Kinky stuff here!"

Others have had to work real hard. Appearances at book fairs, literary festivals, book tours and signings, media interviews, the whole shebang. The writers who've made it, the names that seem to jump off the shelves, didn't they put in the hours when they first started?

Some of them still tour and perform. Brand names that don't maintain themselves fade away - at least until they start asking "Don't you remember me?"

Examples closer to home include the author of a successful series of autobiographical stories in cartoon format, who has built such a rapport with fans, his books are still selling today; a writer who I heard hawked her crime novel overseas and picked up a deal with a major international publisher; a cycling enthusiast and activist who takes her book about her travels on the road with her; and that best-selling "housewife" who came up with lots of ideas to spread the word about her works.

But again: will bookstores and publishing houses put out, if the authors are up for it - even if they're not famous or established? And, authors: will some of you have the fortitude to swallow your pride and work with the suits to shift the copies?

Reading ahead
An incident about a novel also made me think about the future face of publishing and publishers - as well as marketing and criticism.

The guys with all the passion, they start off small. Once they get big, they are likely to end up swim in bigger oceans where there's LOTS of competition - and spend much of their time just surviving, rather than putting in the hours enlightening the masses and enriching the pool of literature. This eventually sucks them dry of all the love of words and bookselling, leaving them mere shells of the former selves.

Maybe the answer doesn't lie in big but in small, as eloquently put in this piece about the 2014 George Town Literary Festival. Staying small might mean a smaller reach and support base, but it also means more time and effort is spent to fulfil The Purpose, rather than continually fighting for survival.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Third Book! Third Book!

When some people clamoured for a third book at a book-signing session last year, I had little idea it would happen, and quite fast, too.

So yeah, it happened.

And I had to be there at the meet-and-greet session with Cheeming Boey, author of the graphic autobiographical When I Was A Kid series, at the MPH Bookstore in Mid Valley Megamall last Saturday, in conjunction with the release of the third book.

What was surreal was that before Boey walked into the store, Dato' Seri S Samy Vellu entered (I don't think Dato' Seri would've wanted his picture taken).

Besides the poorly designed parking bays and school holiday-season traffic during the weekends, Boey had loads of stuff to say. Unfortunately, I forgot most of it.

Even though he was about half an hour late, people stayed in the store and waited for him. Some were new fans, others were old fans and those who followed his career as an author.

After some anecdotes and a couple of reads from Third Book, well, what's a meet-and-greet without a book-signing session? Especially when the author also draws.

Here, Boey takes a breather to pose for a photo. He is, arguably, photogenic from certain angles.

What inspires his fans' loyalty is that Boey takes the time to chat with them, asks them how they're doing, what they're doing, how's work and all that. Old fans had a chance to catch up with him since the last meet-and-greet, Facebook post or tweet - and he remembers their names. Definitely worth staying on for.

Some of his fans also brought him gifts: a poster, chocolates, biscuits, and so on. I think he also received custom Boey-tattooed cupcakes.

Another loyalty-inspiring bit: custom caricatures! This fan got a birthday present in the form of a Boey-esque cartoon of herself as a fairy princess. Those who bought calendars got their dates of birth personalised, too.

Very few of his autographs these days do not feature a Boey, whether he's in a tux, dressed as a bee, or something. A couple of smartphones also got autographed too - wonder how much they'll fetch at

Still, nothing so far beats the biggest autograph ever: on an Air Asia Airbus A320.

Then, an interview with journalists from The Star. Strangely enough, Boey was featured in an article by The Star's Elaine Dong in 2010. Back then, he was more known for his intricately drawn Styrofoam coffee cups, some of which go for four figures.

Before things were wrapped up, some of the staff at Mid Valley's MPH Bookstore pose with the author. Guy in the red T-shirt at far right is Joel, also a huge fan.

This is just a small sample of the over-300 photos I took at the event, many of which may not see the light of day. MPH Distributors, who are spreading Boey across Malaysia, Singapore and maybe the world, is getting the whole lot.

These photos of the event and a few more can be found at this Facebook album.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Masterclass In Session: Audrey's Malaysian Tapas

Tapas, which involves pairing bite-sized morsels of food with (usually alcoholic) drinks, is not merely a Spanish pastime, as seen in the food and travel channels on ASTRO.

From the Greek mezes and Italian antipasti to the English afternoon tea and Hong Kong dim sum, this culinary concept has been bringing people together over food, drink and conversation for ages.

Though Malaysian cuisine features many recipes meant for festive occasions and large banquets, it also has some for small appetites or cosy and more relaxed informal gatherings.

"Malaysian food, with its immense variety and adaptability, lends itself perfectly to tapas-style eating, to be savoured in the most relaxed of settings with minimal cutlery or fuss," says freelance food stylist and food photographer Audrey Lim.

Lim even sees parallels between tapas culture and the Malaysian idea of lepak, and hopes to change how it's perceived. "Some people view this word negatively but to me it's a wonderful concept," she says. "It's about being together, doing absolutely nothing other than enjoying each other's company, fuelled by delicious food and drink."

Inspired, I think, by the local kopitiam culture and third-wave coffee scene, as well as the midnight-oil burning sessions at the mamak stalls, which many might recall.

With Malaysian Tapas, the new volume in the MPH Masterclass Kitchens series, Lim shows how some local favourites lend themselves well to the tapas concept, especially when paired with complementary beverages.

Some thought has been given to how the food and drinks are paired, especially in this part of the world where one strives for balance and harmony in many aspects of life.

Cool off with zesty and refreshing limau ais after some rendang tok canapés. Warm up and relax with some dong quai and rice wine-infused chicken wings and hot ginger tea. Fancy some stingray gulai, with fragrant pandan cooler afterwards?

But it's not all Malaysian-only. Lim also includes her Wild Pepper Leaf Wraps, which hark back to the Thai and Laotian miang kam.

She also clears up a misconception: "The wild pepper leaf (daun kaduk) used to wrap the ingredients is sometimes mistaken as the betel leaf. When chewed on, betel leaves give a mild high similar to that produced by nicotine – not exactly the effect you want the miang kam to have on your guests!"

No, but it would help the guests to chill.

Apparent nods to the Mediterranean origins of tapas include Stir-fried Baby Octopus with Pink Peppercorns (paired with a lemon-honeycomb tea), and Grilled Aubergine with Tomato and Pineapple Salsa (with her kedondong-sour plum drink).

"To me, lepak culture and tapas culture is a match made in culinary heaven, and this book is my little contribution towards making it even more heavenly," says Lim.

So, jom lepak with Audrey Lim's Malaysian tapas!

Malaysian Tapas
Audrey Lim
MPH Group Publishing
185 pages
ISBN: 978-967-415-261-1

Buy from

Friday, 5 December 2014

Book Marks: African Stories, Blockbustering

"My close friend Mercy, when she heard about my novel, congratulated me: I had found out 'what the white people wanted to read and given it to them.'," wrote author Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani in The New York Times. Or, why white people might not be the best judges of what good African stories are.

Are publishers blockbustering themselves into oblivion? Seems that way:

What they are looking for are bestsellers, which tend to be particularly narrow kinds of books. Most of the gargantuan advances that have made headlines in the U.S. recently are for science-fiction and fantasy books. Every publisher is looking for exactly the same book – basically, they are looking for The Hunger Games again and again. When they say "quality," they mean "mass appeal."

How the Strand bookstore keeps going in the age of Amazon.

...the Strand is, when you get down to it, a real-estate business, fronted by a bookstore subsidized by its own below-market lease and the office tenants upstairs. The ground floor of 828 Broadway is worth more as a Trader Joe’s than it is selling Tom Wolfe. When a business continues to exist mostly because its owners like it, the next generation has to like it just as much. Otherwise they’ll cash out.

Yup, simple as that.


Thursday, 4 December 2014

Masterclass In Session: Rhythmic Gymnastics With Khaw Choon Ean

Rhythmic gymnastics or gimrama, as it is popularly known as in Malaysia, is an activity many parents send their daughters to. Hardly surprising, as it promotes strength, balance, endurance, flexibility, agility, poise and, perhaps most importantly, confidence.

But behind the fancy costumes and mesmerising dance routines is sweat, tears and sometimes blood as rhythmic gymnasts put themselves through countless hours of gruelling training regimes.

Ambitious parents might also be caught off guard by the amount of time, effort and money they have to spend on their daughters' pursuit of that elusive perfect ten.

"Children need their parents' help in finding a good centre and coach," writes Khaw Choon Ean, author of the new guide to rhythmic gymnastics published by MPH Group Publishing.

"Parents have to find the time to accompany the children to their training sessions," she adds. "[They also] have to find the resources to finance the training such as the fees, apparatus and leotards to start them on the sport."

Khaw’s journey in gymnastics parallels the story of rhythmic gymnastics in this country. In her more than four decades in the sport, she has been an official, judge, gymnastics club owner and, in her youth, a gymnast herself.

She is among a select number of pioneers who took something only showcased during National Day parades and grew it into a medal-winning powerhouse in the international sports arena.

Now, comes Kah Choon Ean's Guide to Rhythmic Gymnastics, another contribution of hers to the sport she pretty much grew up with. Arguably, few in Malaysia are qualified to write a book like it.

From a brief history of the sport in Malaysia, Khaw goes on to describe the attributes of the winning gymnast, before guiding readers through the types of apparatus and their use, the training programme, the judging process, dietary requirements, treatment of injuries, cultivating a winning mindset, and more. A list of training venues and gymnastics clubs is also provided, along with contact information.

"After reading this book, the sport of rhythmic gymnastics will likely captivate you but you will go into it with an informed perspective, whether as a parent, gymnast, official or spectator," assures Khaw.

Khaw Choon Ean's Guide to Rhythmic Gymnastics
Khaw Choon Ean
MPH Group Publishing
180 pages
ISBN: 978-967-415-262-8

Buy from

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Taxing Knowledge

Nurul Izzah Anwar said that knowledge taxation is highly immoral, according to Free Malaysia Today.

The Malaysian MP for Lembah Pantai was referring to the goods and services tax (GST) exemption for certain print books such as school exercise books, dictionaries, textbooks, illustrated children's books and religious texts when the new tax comes into effect next year in April. She felt the tax on books would "discourage a healthy reading culture, and result in knowledge being 'reserved for the wealthy'."

"Knowledge is not a privilege: It is a right," she stated. "The government must classify all books, regardless of category, as a zero-rated item under the GST."

Upon my tweeting this quote, someone asked whether GST will be applied to e-books. Apparently not, if this report is valid.

...the Customs Department made it very clear that e-books will not have GST. This is due to the nature of the product that does not have tangible components and chains of production.

Amir Muhammad also said that e-books were GST-exempt during a panel discussion at the George Town Literary Festival, and exhorted the audience to buy more e-books (including those from his Fixi imprint, one supposes).

While it's good that GST is not imposed on e-books, I have a wee problem with this bit: "does not have tangible components and chains of production".

This might apply for e-books are solely published in digital format, such as direct uploads to Smashwords, but what about digital versions of print books? Don't those originally have tangible components and chains of production?

That being said, I am, for several reasons, concerned about the imposition of GST on printed material. Physical books are already expensive and anything that adds to this cannot possibly be welcomed by consumers.

The shift to GST-exempt e-books might save some pennies, but studies are beginning to suggest that print-free reading might not help the brain absorb and retain information.

When the e-book came about, people were all about the imminent death of print. These days, however, they're saying that the death of books - and print in general - "has been greatly exaggerated".

I'm hoping it stays that way for a long time, come hell, high water, and GST.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

MPH Quill Issue 43, October to December 2014

In this, the last issue of MPH Quill, the cover and main story feature three authors from the MPH Masterclass Kitchens series: dietitian Goo Chui Hoong, baker Ezekiel Ananthan and cooking instructor Sapna Anand. Get to know them.


  • Three more personalities: Daphne Iking, Zlwin Chew and Owen Yap shares stuff they can't do without - books, gadgets and ... stuff.
  • Who are the minds behind Malaysian YouTube video channel The Ming Thing and videos such as "Let Me Sleep", "Your Accent Come from Where", "How to Eat Mashed Potatoes" and "How to know You're a Malaysian"?
  • Regular contributors Ellen Whyte and Shantini Suntharajah share time-saving tips and ways to boost your self-esteem, respectively. Also by the former, the lowdown on collective nouns for animals, six herbs to need to get acquainted with, and a quiz to gauge how romantic you are.
  • Three book launches: Made in Malaysia by freelancer and columnist Alexandra Wong, new and reprinted collections by Datuk Lat, and Sofia Leong Abdullah's guide to the franchising industry in Malaysia.
  • A couple of recipes from another Masterclass Kitchen cookbook: The Fat Spoon Cookbook for the upcoming festive season.

And more.

Soon to arrive at all good bookstores, for the last time.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Book Marks: RA Montgomery, Libraries, And Ursula K Le Guin's Speech

An era died a bit more last week with the passing of Glen A Larson, writer of the series my generation grew up with (Knight Rider, The Fall Guy, BJ and the Bear, etc.); and R. A. Montgomery, author and publisher of the "Choose Your Own Adventure" books.


  • As part of a conference organised by the Association of Senior Children's and Education Librarians (ASCEL) in the UK, four young readers talked about the power of libraries and librarians. Author and professional speaker Nicola Morgan was impressed with what they had to say.
  • The publisher of (deep breath, please) Malaysia Airlines Flight 370: The Plane, the Passengers—and the True Story of What Happened to the Missing Aircraft says the new book, coming out early next year, "solves mystery of MH370" - except that author says it doesn't. But seems the publisher also screwed up when selecting the cover.
  • When freelance journalist Mridu Khullar Relph spoke to an editor at TIME, he shares some tips on how to pitch one's queries. Also: writer Catalina Rembuyan put together this basic guide on e-book publishing (in Facebook, so you gotta log in, BOO) for Malaysian authors - more than just a primer for those considering digital publishing.
  • Y'all heard about Ursula K Le Guin's speech at National Book Awards? Here it is.
  • Andrew MacGregor Marshall, author of A Kingdom in Crisis, is apparently "delighted" the book is banned by Thai police. In other words: free publicity.
  • How the religious right bought its way into the New York Times best-seller list. Shocked? Don't be. It's not new.
  • New York Times book critic Dwight Garner on reading, reviewing and avoiding blindness.
  • Publishers get kicked out of the Sharjah International Book Fair over copyright violations and other issues.
  • Publishers Pearson and McGraw-Hill pledge to remove climate change denial from their textbooks.
  • Black-market crime fiction and spy novels are becoming popular in North Korea, where titles are available for rent. Considering the level of intrigue in the Hermit Kingdom, this shouldn't surprise anyone. I remember reading about crime and noir fiction being popular in Cairo because audiences kind of relate to what's in them.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Book Marks: Pioneer Girl, Bezos's Behemoth, And Lang Leav

Howard Yoon, literary agent and partner at the Ross Yoon Agency in Washington DC, admits that:

There's been a lot of talk about this lately, brought about by the much-publicized dispute between Hachette and Amazon. As a nonfiction literary agent, I wouldn't hesitate to agree that this industry has serious problems, and I think most of my colleagues would agree.


As imperfect as our business is, anyone who wants to write a book of lasting value, a book that can change the way people think about the world, a book that can get national and possibly global distribution in real hard copies, knows that the traditional publishing path is still the best path to take.

Let him tell you why.

Though the Amazon-Hachette spat appears to have ended, it's perhaps a matter of time before the next tussle begins.


  • "For generations, the Little House books have stood as the canonical versions of Laura Ingalls Wilder's childhood story," writes Ruth Graham in Slate. Now comes her autobiography, first drafted in 1930 and annotated and published after more than 80 years later.
  • "Anthony Powell's bleak first book is the funniest novel you've never read." This review almost made me run out and get a copy.
  • The poet Lang Leav will be in town on 30 November. Get to know her and her work (a little) before then.
  • Amir Muhammad was at the Sharjah International Book Fair to, among other things, talk about translating works in other languages. We're all familiar with how Amir's ability to ... lighten things up, but Publisher's Weekly could have picked better soundbites.
  • A Q&A with Lydia Millet, author of Mermaids in Paradise.
  • Mexico's "most erotic poet and its most dangerous nun"? A look at a new translation of the works of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.
  • "I think this is one of the strongest shortlists in recent years, containing some real literary heavyweights," said Literary Review magazine's Jonathan Beckman about this year's candidates for the Bad Sex Award.

    Among the lucky ones are The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham, The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami, The Age of Magic by Ben Okri and Desert God by Wilbur Smith.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Sunshine On A Plate

My preoccupation with pasta dishes might have something to do with how versatile I find them. Plus, pastas are becoming a great alternative to rice in my kitchen.

I haven't come up with a name for one pasta dish I cooked up, but I suspect it might already have one: this thing with fresh tomatoes, anchovies (not ikan bilis), garlic and the optional lemon zest and hot sauce.

Let's call it sunshine pasta.

"Sunshine", because it's bright in colour and taste and relatively light. I don't know what I'd call it if you threw in, say, a few lardons of bacon or lamb ragù.

But the lemon zest fits, and I've wanted something with anchovies aka orang putih punya ikan bilis for a quick throw-together when I can't decide where to eat out.

I'd go easy with the hot sauce, though; too much and you'd have a plate of scorching Sahara rather than the tepid tropics.

Mise-en-place for "sunshine pasta"

First, your mise en place (prep): chop or dice a tomato or two, seeds removed. Thinking of keeping the wet jelly-like mess next time. Then, mince two to three cloves of garlic and slice three or four shallots (which you can substitute with a medium-sized red onion).

Pour some hot sauce (maybe two tablespoons) into a bowl and mash an anchovy or two in it, depending on the size. Some anchovies can be as big as small sardines and salty as heck. If that's the case, I won't salt the pasta water.

Boil your pasta as usual. I like mine al dente. Whether it's fusilli, shells or spaghetti, I'd add several extra pieces to test the texture - which is why I don't bother with timing here.

When it yields under your teeth like a stick of chewing gum (without the crunch of the uncooked stuff), take it out of the water. If you're going to throw the pasta back into the pot to cook with the sauce, take it out sooner, maybe a couple of minutes.

You can mix a bit of the pasta water to the hot sauce-anchovy mix but plain water's also fine. Give it a taste; if it's too salty, junk some of the sauce. Otherwise, you can adjust the seasoning later.

Sunshine on a plate, whatever the weather

Plate the pasta and toss it with a bit of olive oil to prevent it from sticking. Some would run the whole lot through cold water to stop the pasta from cooking further (from the residual heat), but I don't. Often, it's not necessary.

Fry up the garlic for several minutes in oil, then throw in the tomatoes, followed by a little water. Let the lot simmer for a few minutes, then start mashing with a fork until you're satisfied with the texture. I usually lift the pot off the heat for this.

Onto the heat for one more stir and in goes the hot sauce-anchovy mix. Give it a quick stir - beware of any fumes from the hot sauce - and toss the pasta in. Stir for a minute or two to let the flavours get in before plating it.

The lemon zest can go in before or after plating, but be sure to toss and stir well before serving.

Sunshine on a plate.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Book Marks: Wylie Guy, Touchy Pianist

At the at the International Festival of Authors, Andrew Wylie talks about the state of the publishing industry. He said a few other things as well, elsewhere, and they're worth noting.

  • A touchy pianist asks The Washington Post to remove a 'bad' review of one of his concerts under the EU's "right to be forgotten" ruling - and now everybody knows why it 'sucked'.
  • Literary agents share some of the worst ways to start a novel, just in time for NaNoWriMo.
  • The Boss reveals the books and authors that inspired him.
  • Not "Waitressrant" - Stephanie Danler and her six-figure novel Sweetbitter.

...Yes, not much from the book world interested me last week. Work's picking up again, and I'm hitting a trough in the creativity department.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Book Marks: Cli-Fi, Horror, And Mainstreaming Fan Fiction

Climate fiction (a.k.a "cli-fi") is hot right now; just ask Paolo Bacigalupi, who told Salon:

"I'm definitely writing my fears," Bacigalupi says. "It's almost therapeutic to at least voice a terror, to say, ‘I'm worried that Lake Powell looks low and Lake Mead looks even lower.' My brain was always wired to worry about what happens if this goes on, what happens if this gets worse?"

Bacigalupi says he's happiest when unaware of what's happening around him. "I think we've all found that. That's why really good news reporting is in decline and why BuzzFeed quizzes are on the rise. We're all happier when we know less, because the details are frightening and haven't really improved much. The more you pay attention, the more horrifying the world is."

What Bacigalupi has written (The Windup Girl, Ship Breaker) can be considered "cli-fi". The term was apparently coined by Dan Bloom, a journalist and self-described "public relations climate activist")

But what does Bacigalupi feel about that? "I didn't think of myself as writing ‘cli-fi' but I'll take the label," he replied. "I'll take any label that makes someone think they might be interested in my stories."

"Finding light in China's darkness: Why Yan Lianke writes:

I am reminded of Job, in the Old Testament, who after experiencing countless misfortunes said to his wife as she was urging him to curse God, "Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?" This simple response demonstrates that Job understood that his suffering was merely God's way of testing him, and was evidence that darkness and light must exist together.

I don't pretend that I have been uniquely selected by God, as Job was, to endure suffering, but I do know that I am somehow fated to perceive darkness. From these shadows I lift my pen to write. I search for love, goodness and a perpetually beating heart.

A book by investigative journalist Stephen Jimenez might shed new light on the murder of Matthew Shepard, reports The Guardian:

Jimenez found that Matthew was addicted to and dealing crystal meth and had dabbled in heroin. He also took significant sexual risks and was being pimped alongside Aaron McKinney, one of his killers, with whom he'd had occasional sexual encounters. He was HIV positive at the time of his death.

"This does not make the perfect poster boy for the gay-rights movement," says Jimenez. "Which is a big part of the reason my book has been so trashed."

From Fifty Shades to After: Why publishers want fan fiction to go mainstream. From The Washington Post:

"The books we love the most are the ones where you close the book and you're still thinking about those characters," said Carrie Bebris, author of the "Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mysteries," in which the main characters of Austen's beloved "Pride and Prejudice" solve mysteries together. "We want to be drawn into their lives again, because we didn't get enough the first time."


  • Three horror writers: Tunku Halim, Julya Oui and Eeleen Lee on Malaysian horror fiction - and maybe why it's time for our authors to look into the crypts in our backyards for a good scare. Just in time for Halloween.
  • Someone wrote to The Star asking for improved accessibility to online Malay literature. Can someone make this happen?
  • Two books: Money Logging: On the Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia by Swiss human rights campaigner Lukas Straumann and The Peaceful People: The Penan and their Fight for the Forest by Aussie journalist Paul Malone were launched in Kuching. "Surprising", considering the former contains criticisms of a former Sarawak chief minister. Then again, "the book, sold at RM105 a copy, is only available from November 3 by mail order," reports The Malaysian Insider. Didn't take long for the former Sarawak chief minister to act on the book's release.
  • Haunted by his role in the bombing of the abbey of Monte Cassino, this US airman wrote a novel that became a sci-fi classic.
  • The history of gay publishing in one career: Slate's Q&A with editor Michael Denneny.
  • Of all the evil figures in literature, does Sauron stand supreme? If he does, it might have a lot to do with his depiction in the Lord of the Rings saga, or a lack thereof: "Throughout The Lord of the Rings Sauron is never described ... All we see is his influence: the endless armies of orcs who ripple forth at his command; the tribes of men who fall beneath his sway; the scorched and blasted plains of Mordor, where nothing grows; the way his malignancy intrudes on the counsels even of the allies ranged against him."
  • Has foodism gotten out of hand? Here's John Lanchester on what's wrong with our food culture. "The intersection of food and fashion is silly," he writes, "just as the intersection of fashion and anything else is silly. Underlying it, however, is that sense of food as an expression of an identity that's defined, in some crucial sense, by conscious choice. For most people throughout history, that wasn't true. The apparent silliness and superficiality of food fashions and trends touches on something deep: our ability to choose who we want to be."
  • "Amazon is doing the world a favor by crushing book publishers," says Matthew Yglesias Yes/No? (Hint: NO - not just because I'm with one). Oh, and Amazon's crowdsourced publishing programme Kindle Scout has been launched. Writer Beware lays out some of its pros and cons.
  • This might be news to some but the swastika wasn't always a symbol for evil. But is it too late to take it back from the Nazis?

Friday, 31 October 2014

Rocking The (Noodle) Boat

I probably should note that the photos were taken by my makan kaki that day, not me, but she didn't want to be identified by name. Maybe some day.

Rocking the (noodle) boat

first published in The Malay Mail Online, 31 October 2014

Like that prototype stealth ship the US wants to build, a new craze appears to have sneaked into the Klang River unnoticed ... at least, by me.

A quick search online revealed that this Thai noodle dish used to be served out of boats in Bangkok’s waterways: a small portion of flat rice noodles with pork balls, minced pork, herbs that includes lots of coriander (ugh) and a meat broth thickened with pork blood.

It came in small bowls because those boats — floating stalls, basically — had little room, and the rocking of waterborne vessels came with the risk of being scalded with hot broth. Nothing like the good old days.

Some of these boats were eventually forced on land, but the name stuck: boat noodles.

Boat Noodle co-founder Tony Lim, who has a Thai wife, said in a radio interview that he saw the potential in the dish and brought it to Malaysia.

At the time, the small-portion, bowl-stacking format is already fading in Bangkok (“Maybe they found it too troublesome” Lim said); many stalls over there serve bigger portions now. But he feels the time is ripe for the “Instagrammable” bowl-stacking experience here.

Some of the establishments that exclusively sell this dish include the Boat Noodle outlets in Subang’s Empire Shopping Gallery, Jaya One and Publika; Thaitanic (seriously?) at Scott Garden, along Old Klang Road; and another at Sea Park called The Porki Society, where one of the co-founders has a Thai girlfriend.

Bowl-tower rating: like a red cape to kiasu Malaysians (left); the
portions may be small enough to inhale, but the soups pack a punch

But it was at Zab Zab Boat Noodle at Kuchai Lama where makan kaki Melody and I got our feet wet on the whole boat noodle thing. This was the height of the mania and we had to wait for about 20 minutes for our turn.

Hungry and tired, I stewed outside, glaring at a table of three (a codger and his two sons) that ordered another eight bowls while several towers of empty bowls were still being built.

Hope the whole pile tilts and squashes you all flat, breaks into pieces and shreds you.

I nearly wept with relief when we finally got a table. However, even with three cooks the noodles took a long time to arrive. And the much-touted pandan coconut dessert had run out.

We got eight bowls each: four of the (supposedly) pork-blood broth and clear tom yam soup each. All bowls had the prerequisite pork balls, a little minced pork and some bean sprouts. Looking critically at the bowls, I spooned some oil-soaked chilli flakes into my first bowl of tom yam noodles.

At a boat noodle restaurant, this is average (for a table for two)

Which might have been a mistake. Because after that I couldn’t tell whether the blood-broth noodles were also spiked with chilli.

In spite of the heat, I found myself preferring the clear, citrusy and spicy(!) tom yam variant, which also had a sprinkling of crushed peanuts. I felt the thicker and heartier blood-tinged broth didn’t need the coriander.

Melody and I were assured the recipes are authentic. Considering the competition and the portion size, I don’t think the players would rock the boat too much. I vaguely recall the guy we spoke to, presumably the manager, say his wife was Thai (I see a pattern here).

The concept is minimalist and certainly Instagram-worthy, but I can understand why some might regard the dish as "not for human eats one."

Boat Noodle at Jaya One (with a real boat and a road sign) was singled out for minute servings of cool congealed noodles. I’d visited the place before and after the criticism and it looks like the owners were watching the social media channels.

Other complaints include the serving size. An option to lump multiple servings into one bowl is available at Zab Zab but I’m not sure about the others.

Things appear to have cooled down for boat noodles of late. All fads fade away, but I can’t help wondering how long the spicy, hearty flavours in the little bowls will stay afloat in our fast-changing culinary landscape.

Zab Zab Boat Noodle
43G, Jalan Kuchai Maju 7
Off Jalan Kuchai Lama
58200 Kuala Lumpur


Daily, 12pm-10pm

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Thursday, 30 October 2014

"If Migrants Can't Work The Wok, How Lah?"

Strangely enough, it wasn't the announcement of the ban that seeded the thoughts for this op-ed, but another opinion piece in The Malay Mail Online weeks earlier that seemed to support the ban as it was being mulled.

One of the offending phrases was, "A French masterchef once told me that you can never beat a French chef when it comes to cooking a good French cuisine."

Even if that's true, can anybody identify "good French cuisine" by taste? When even food snobs can be tricked into thinking McDonald's is organic? And do you care who is making your 'Thai' boat noodles?

Hell, maybe the idea of "authenticity" in cuisine (Thanks, Robyn Eckhardt) is bullshit all along.

Still, I thought they'd never go through with it. But 2016, the year this ban goes into effect, is a long way off. Anything can happen in between.

If migrants can't work the wok, how lah?

First published in The Malay Mail Online, 29 October 2014

So, foreign migrants will not be allowed to cook hawker food in Penang.

The move, ostensibly, is to safeguard the authenticity of Penang's street food culture. Nobody wants to eat hawker food made by foreigners, it's been claimed. The thought of a Myanmarese, Nepali or Bangladeshi frying char koay teow, dressing jiu hu char and stuffing pie tee is just too traumatic for gourmands who endured long hours of travel to finally bask in the glow of one of Malaysia's street food meccas.

I don't know if I should be appalled, angry or amused (or maybe all three) at this.

First of all, most of today's Penangites were descended from foreigners, who brought and shared their own food cultures with the locals. How else did this unique panoply of aromas, colours, flavours and textures arrive and evolve into what we're Facebooking or Instagramming today?

Former chef Tony Bourdain, one of my favourite writers, seems fine with the Hispanic migrants cooking French food in the restaurants he's worked in, saying that they have better work ethics than some Americans. They pick things up, he says, can take it on the chin and cook French cuisine right. Can't migrants to our shores be similarly taught?

Second, how do we determine whether something tastes "100 per cent Penang-mari"? I doubt many Penangites — even those who've never left their neighbourhoods — could agree on one set of flavours that represents the state. Let's not mention the "outsiders", including the sons and daughters of Penang who've been away from home for so long, who probably can't tell, either.

Food writers and lifestyle people tend to lament "the passing of a legend" or "the fading away of an institution" in terms so melancholic you'd wonder if they're mourning the passing of a country's founding father.

But did Char Koay Teow Auntie ever want to be an institution? Maybe all she wanted was to get out of the house or put her kids to school so they won't have to slave over a stove like she did.

Then some rube from CNN encounters her stall and elevates her signature dish to UNESCO-heritage status — when she's on the verge of retirement. What if she's adamant on closing shop and not selling the business off to someone for the sake of preservation?

For every "institution" hyped up in the press there might be a dozen or so somewhere in the boondocks or a quiet alley, hidden from treasure-seeking hipsters, serving a clientèle selfish and smart enough not to share their little gems with the outside world because they know what will happen if they do.

Cooking isn't something you can totally pick up from books. You need stamina, a love of food and the drive to see food happen in your life and share that with people. Maybe that's why I feel some of the best cooks work out of their own kitchens.

Preserving a range of flavours for commercial or entrepreneurial reasons can be even more daunting. You need pros — people trained and drilled to churn out the same things, day in day out. If the descendants of Char Koay Teow Auntie would rather go into sales or blogging than stepping up to the stove and fling flat rice noodles, cockles and bean sprouts all day, an chua-leh?

For me, the bigger issue is how are we going to preserve the hawker fare we grew up with. The hints of cultural jingoism in the response to the foreign cook ban suggests Penangites feel the street food culture is best preserved by keeping it in Penang. I wonder what Bangkok residents feel about the rise of boat noodle places in the Klang Valley.

If the dishes peddled by the hawkers are so unique to the state, we shouldn't be too picky about the custodians. A street food academy or the introduction of modules on street food in existing culinary courses might be more helpful than not letting foreigners in the kitchen.

To assume that our local food culture is done evolving is a fallacy. No culture or civilisation is ever done evolving, except when it's extinct — or insulated from change. Penang's street food culture is no different, and it will eventually fade away if we don't learn to let it flow with the times.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Some Scenes From Kolumpo Kita Punya!

These days I let pictures do the blogging, so here's a bunch of them during the KL Writers and Readers Festival on 18 October, a.k.a. "Kolumpo Kita Punya (Kuala Lumpur Is Ours)!"

Publications for sale at the Merpati Jingga booth; one of the few I could
note, thanks to Raja Azmi's novel Karkuma

Many of the usual suspects (those I've heard of) have set up booths at Dataran Undrgrnd, a cool spot with lots of shoplots and even a fountain underneath the historic Dataran Merdeka.

At left: Liew Seng Tat (I believe), manning the booth for Arif and Zan; and
who I think is the blogger/poet who mysteriously calls herself GDSJHT

Merpati Jingga, Selut Press, Lejen Press, Dubook Press, Sang Freud Press, Terfaktab, Fixi (of course) and many others were present at the one-day event.

It's been almost two weeks since then, so I'm having trouble remembering what most of the photos were about. Maybe each booth should've sported bigger banners or something. So much to take in, so little room in my head - and not enough stamina to last till the evening.

The atmosphere was lively - and got livelier towards the afternoon. When I walked in a book discussion was taking place between the moderator and the guests: Zan Azlee and Arif Rafhan Othman (Adventures of a KL-ite in Afghanistan) and Azlinariah Abdullah (Air Mata Kesengsaraan Rohingya (The Rohingyas' Tears of Anguish)).

From left: Arif, Zan and Azlinariah share stuff about their books with
the audience

Business at many booths seemed brisk. Events like this, featuring local indie publishers, are more common than people think. The industry is vibrant - maybe it's just that they're not coming up with what certain observers of the industry like to read.

Myself, I've a pile of unread books and I'm already a little bibliophobic from the reading I do at work. Money's a bit tight. And I didn't go in to 'cover' the event. I used to enjoy things like this - really enjoy - until I got into publishing.

A separate area held a KL Zine Fest for - what else? - zines. A poetry
performance session took place there, and the performers were so ...
spirited I thought a fight had broken out

Still, I feel heartened by what I saw that day.

All these people, all these books, all the voices and creativity ... it's vibrant, loud and alive.

It's all good.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

It's 2014 And I Still See...


[The s]tock market lets you buy into [a] variety of good businesses...

Don’t get be discourage[d] by their somber [sombre] stories. Instead, find out why they failed. Ask whether did they know [knew] what they were doing? [full stop, not question mark]

Plus[,] when you invest in stocks [–] or any others investment[s,] for that matter [–] of fact, you must have the fundamental believe [belief] that the economy will be fine.

After a certain point, you stop wondering why and just do the needful.

People tend to ignore the fundamental[s] and [are] comfortable put[ting] their money into ventures they completely have no clue know nothing what is it about. [certain fundamentals were probably ignored when writing this sentence, too]

Once you have grape[grasped] - [is the author trying to make me happy?] these points, you will able to...

That explain[s] why he has brilliance[brilliant] views on the stocks that he owns. He is also patience[patient] and discipline[d] - [argh] when [it] come[s] to investing.

It's a living.

(No need to guess which manuscript this came from. I see enough to create examples for educational purposes.)

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Book Marks: In Praise Of Copy Editors, Book-Ban Boosts

Author Holly Robinson "can't believe all the mistakes I made in this book -- even after eight or nine revisions, two of which were done in collaboration with my savvy, brilliant editor."

Among these:

"I crossed out 'Tuesday' because later you say it's Wednesday."

"She's fifty-nine here and fifty-eight on page 102. Which one?"

"If he Googles the land line, why is she answering the call on her cell phone?"


So here's her shout-out to all copy editors, "publishing's unsung heroes".

In China, book ban rumours are boosting authors, thanks in part to social media. A Weibo user was reported as saying:

"These days, smothering someone is as good as crowning that person—previously unnoticed but now many people are interested in his views and works. A 'smothering' order is a reading list."

Among those allegedly blacklisted are "prominent liberal economist" Mao Yushi, newspaper columnist Xu Zhiyuan, Chinese-American historian Yu Ying-shih and media personality Leung Man-tao.

Now, it's not certain whether these writers are officially banned, but over there, as in other places, an imminent sweep of banned titles tend to generate an unusual demand for them as soon-to-be-gone collectibles - which sort of defeats the purpose of such bans in the first place.

Rob Spillman at Salon wonders why Hugh Howey (Wool) keeps defending Amazon.

In a spectacular bit of short-sightedness, Howey complained to the Times that independent bookstores "blacklist my books."

So, let me get this straight—you would like your books, which are published by the company whose avowed goal is to eliminate brick and mortar stores of any kind, to be carried in the same brick and mortar stores your publisher is trying to destroy?

Spillman also chides Howey for apparently trying (not very well) to pull the wool over some eyes:

In an article in today's New York Times, Howey defended Amazon and characterized Ursula Le Guin's statement that Hachette's tactics amount to censorship as "mostly lying."

Mostly lying? That’s the equivalent of "a little pregnant."

Howey's defense of Amazon is perhaps understandable when you know that it played a role in his break-out book. Still....

Meanwhile, Spillman discusses Amazon and the impacts of its business model on publishing with author Joe Konrath ("who has self-published 24 novels (three of them No. 1 Amazon sellers), hundreds of stories, and has sold over 3 million copies of his books"), who seems to be on Amazon's side.

But, as writer Emily Gould notes, "neither 'side' is exactly easy for authors and readers to be on."

My stand on Amazon should be clear. Even if the future sides with Bezos's behemoth and its ilk, no one entity should be allowed to direct the evolution of bookselling and publishing.

In The New Yorker, Rebecca Mead mentioned Neil Gaiman's 2013 lecture at the Barbican in London, where he once said there was no such thing as "a bad book for children" ...

...adding that it was "snobbery and ... foolishness" to suggest that a certain author or particular genre might be a baleful influence upon young reading minds—be it comic books or the works of R. L. Stine.

Well-meaning adults, he continued, can easily kill a child's love of reading: "Stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian 'improving' literature. You’ll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant."

Taking Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson books as an example, Rebecca Mead thinks that any book that that a child "avidly" embraces can be the start of his or her lifelong love of reading. But...

...What if the strenuous accessibility of "Percy Jackson's Greek Gods" proves so alluring to young readers that it seduces them in the opposite direction from that which Gaiman’s words presuppose — away from an engagement with more immediately difficult incarnations of the classics, Greek and otherwise? What if instead of urging them on to more challenging adventures on other, potentially perilous literary shores, it makes young readers hungry only for more of the palatable same?

A notebook by photographer, surgeon and zoologist George Murray Levick who was in the ill-fated Scott South Pole expedition was apparently thawed out of the Antarctic ice by climate change.

"After conservation work by the trust in New Zealand the notebook, a Wellcome Photographic Exposure Record and Diary 1910 according to the cover, is remarkably legible, with Levick's name written in the opening pages," The Guardian reported.

Other than some of his observations on the sex lives of penguins (SNRK), the notebook also contained "lists of dates, subjects and exposure details for images he took at Cape Adare – but fascinating to historians as many can be cross-referenced with images now in the Scott Polar Research Institute collection at Cambridge."

What you read in the news gets cut. But what gets cut and why?

When commissioning news stories, desk editors invariably ask for more words than they need, and writers invariably file more words than they were asked to. This is just common sense: it's better for a story to be too long than too short, because cutting it down is much quicker than padding it out.

...desk editors and subeditors generally find themselves with an article that's anything from 5% to 500% too long for the allocated space.


  • In case you missed it, the Court of Appeal upheld the ban on Kim Quek's March to Putrajaya. Sad, but the so-called march to Putrajaya is on hold sampai tak tahu bila anyway.
  • The UK publishes more books per capita than any other country. But it's only the third leading publisher in the world in terms of number of titles published after China and the US, according to the International Publishers Association.
  • Is Enid Blyton's The Faraway Tree coming to cinemas?
  • Douchebag: where did this insult come from and how to (sort of) apply it.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The Pork Curry Plunge

A dish I've been trying to make, perfect and call my own is curry. So on one weekend, I took the plunge.

Mis en place: prepared items for curry while shallots being fired

Nothing special: pork, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and Baba's (meat) curry powder.

Shallots being sautéed; hard to prep but work better than red onions

First, sliced shallots are sautéed in oil. Then, came the grated ginger and garlic. After stirring for a while till it smells good, in went the tomatoes, followed by the pork about ten minutes later. Thought I'd try not browning the meat first.

Pre-curry pork, tomatoes and sautéed herbs

When the meat looked all cooked on the outside, the water went in, followed by curry powder (the whole packet) and the root vegetables. After seasoning with salt, all that stewed for about thirty to forty minutes.

Final product, ready to be dried out

After which, the lid came off and the curry (which looked like pie filling - ARGH! - by now), is allowed to cook and dry out a bit for fifteen to twenty minutes. I kept stirring every six to eight minutes to keep the bottom from burning.

Final product is poured out into a bowl, finished with a bit of olive oil and served.

Not like what I'd thought it would be, but still edible

Major complaints: lumpy gravy, melting root vegetables, and still too much gravy. Also, it lacked a certain kind of sweetness (there's no sugar in the house and these days I sweeten my beverages with honey).

I picked out the most solid bits from the bowl and put them on a plate. ...Ah, that is what it's supposed to look like.

Worked much better with less gravy; wish I had some rice, though

Thinking of using another fruit, maybe grated apples. Might also want to blitz the whole lot with a blender for a finer gravy.

Still, not bad for a prototype curry.