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.


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