Thursday, 20 February 2014

Media And Publishing Break Into A Gallop In 2014

I kind of dropped the ball on the blog during the Chinese New Year celebrations, but I'm hoping to get back in gear soon; this is supposed to be my life.

Josephine Phang, blogger and founder of online Chinese metaphysics consultancy outfit Bazichic and protégé of Joey Yap (I think), predicted exciting times in 2014 for the media and publishing industries in this radio podcast.

Just days into 2014, both industries got a-galloping like a horse on fire.

After a lot of noise by some Hindu nationalists, Penguin Books India recalled and pulped The Hindus: An Alternative History by Professor Wendy Doniger of the University of Chicago as part of a legal settlement (maybe in exchange for not hauling some Penguin asses to jail).

The case, the latest among recent outcries over 'offensive' publications, also raised hackles among the writing community. The author of The God of Small Things railed against these men of (seemingly) small minds over the pulping of the "contentious" book. Some less gracious souls feel that Penguin betrayed Doniger by surrendering to "fundamentalist book-pulpers".

India's laws with regards to hurting people's sensitivities doesn't help at all; as far as I can understand (from this piece in The New Yorker), in India it can be easy to make someone's life hell if he upsets certain individuals or groups of people. "No political leader will dare speak in defense of a text under attack unless the book in question targets his enemies; supporting the freedom of unpopular speech only costs votes and never wins them," says the writer, Jonathan Shainin. "And the state does not offer much protection from physical harm. When death threats are phoned to your home, or a mob comes to vandalize your office, you're on your own."

While Malaysian authorities tried to explain away its slide in latest World Press Freedom Index report by Reporters Without Borders, China simply blanked out all mention of its fifth-bottom position on that list.

Earlier, the publisher of a book critical of China's president Xi Jinping was arrested. Books on feng shui were also banned in China in an apparent attempt to curb superstitious tendencies - inadvertently creating a bonanza for bootleggers who were selling such material online. Ms Phang should probably take note.

Closer to home, a biography of Anwar Ibrahim by Charles Allers is not making an appearance in a local bookstore chain. A radio interview with the opposition leader was also barred from the airwaves, even though the podcast of the interview is available.

At the National Art Gallery, a painting with a not-very-subtle title was taken down along with another piece during an art competition at the premises because they "caused 'distress' among some visitors." No clues so far as to who those distressed visitors were.

And it seems that Boey Cheeming's When I Was A Kid books have been deemed unsuitable for children in Singapore.

But, as usual, "the worst enemy of censorship is always curiosity". The right-wing nutjobs may have kept The Hindus from being sold in India, but they also propelled it briefly to stratospheric heights in the bestseller lists elsewhere. Allers's Anwar bio appears to be selling briskly as well. How will these play out?

Looks like Ms Phang was spot-on.

Monday, 17 February 2014

News: Silverfish Turns 15, And Literary Hipsterdom

  • Q&A with Alex Myers, author of Revolutionary, the story of cross-dressing US revolutionary Deborah Sampson.
  • "When you work 12 hours a day, and you are a shopkeeper-cum-publisher who translates, edits, critiques, writes, runs workshops, administers and manages a business, is the IT technician, the webmaster, and the plumber who fixes the toilets, time is often short. Still, I have never been afraid to dream. When I wanted to organise the first KL International Literary Festival in 2004, everyone else around me had palpitations, but not me. (It was scary how steely I was.) What do you have to lose from a dream, anyway? Besides the dream itself?" Silverfish Books is now 15. Happy birthday.
  • "...the culture of reading can quickly be smeared from a communal and pivotal way to learn and be transformed into an isolating and exclusive way to socially expound personal intelligence." Literary hipsterdom (if there is such a thing) is apparently not worth pursuing.
  • Turns out there's an Arab version of the Booker Prize out there: the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. But how many people are reading the shortlisted books?
  • Loaded question from Salon: Is the literary world elitist? Here's what Eleanor Catton (The Luminaries) thinks: "The machine of consumerism is designed to encourage us all to believe that our preferences are significant and self-revealing; that a taste for Coke over Pepsi, or for KFC over McDonald’s, means something about us; that our tastes comprise, in sum, a kind of aggregate expression of our unique selfhood."
  • Haruki Murakami caught flak from townspeople for a passage in a short story that suggests they threw cigarette butts out of their moving cars. But he's not the first writer to insult a town.
  • And the Hatchet Job of the Year goes to AA Gill's takedown of Morrissey's autobiography.
  • Could clues to deciphering the infuriatingly cryptic Voynich Manuscript lie in Mexico?
  • The late Sudirman Arshad: all-round entertainer, soft-drink brand, and children's book author (posthumously published in 1994).
  • How to train your brain to think critically.
  • From the annals of H-dropping: It's Y-O-G-U-R-T now.