Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Something Off-page

I was ill for a long while, between mid-March to almost mid-April. I feel fine now, but the sense of dread over getting sick again remains.

Every year, when I visit my grandparents' shared grave, I always pray for one thing: health. But with me getting sick due to bad eating habits, lack of sleep and exercise and an overall unhealthy lifestyle, I've come to wonder...

What do I need to be healthy for, apart from work?

My relationship is in pieces. My social life has shrivelled. I'm not motivated enough to write or try new things. Even book-related events no longer interest me.

At the KL Alternative Bookfest, my mood was ruined by the roadblocks and lingering illness that I didn't enjoy the atmosphere. Poor Ted Mahsun, he bore the brunt of it.

"What?" he asked, rooting me on the spot as I turned to leave, perplexed that all I did was give him a 'hi'. "I only get a 'hi'?"

"Everybody gets a 'hi'," I said reflexively. At that point, it was true. Physically I felt like shit and I couldn't stay there any longer. And I couldn't forget what happened several years ago when I wrote a certain article. I wasn't ready to reconnect.

On top of it all (among other things), I'm still grappling with what I've learnt something about myself early this year that pretty much explains:

Why I'm such a socially inept introvert. And why my responses in a social setting feel ... pre-programmed? Like I picked it up from a book.

Why I can eat, do and enjoy the same things over and over and over again - until boredom finally sets in.

Why I don't mind or prefer to be alone most of the time.

Why I tend to get thrown off by unexpected changes in my daily routines.

Why I generally find animals more appealing than people - and why I hate crowds.

Why I communicate better in writing than oral on-the-fly presentations (where I trip over my ideas and words).

Why I can go on and on about certain topics in a lecturing tone, ignoring the level of interest of other people, making me look like an arrogant schmuck with zero EQ (so I'm told).

Why I can tunnel deep into a topic or subject and soak up whatever I can about it (Javascript, HTML, CSS, prongramming languages) - and totally ignore stuff I'm not interested in (like math and RPG programming).

(Probably) why I am such a Chinese New Year hamper of neuroses: fear of heights, fear of dirt, and so on.

And I spent over RM200 and waited three weeks for two books that would enlighten me on this to arrive. Think I only needed one. But the books can wait.

Right now, I'm in the middle of fixing some of those bad habits that keep making me sick, so I've put a lot of recreational reading and writing on hold. I don't even see the point of writing all this down.

Maybe I'm just good at forgetting what pains me.

But perhaps I shouldn't forget.

Maybe it's because I keep forgetting that the same hurt keeps recurring, like my throat and sinus infections.

To keep all of that at bay, some things will need to change.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Book Marks: Amir's Spine, Rahnaward Zaryab's Memories

The authors and their stories that will be appearing in the upcoming Fixi Novo Cyberpunk anthology have been announced. I believe the release date is around June 2015. Cor, several of the titles sound borderline Fifty Shades.

Speaking of Fixi, here's what the founder wrote for the 2015 London Book Fair. He doesn't hold back, right from the beginning:

I was mooching around Instagram recently and found that the hashtag for my company #BukuFixi was used on more than 14,000 posts. I was shocked–shocked!–to find this was just 4,000 fewer than #PenguinBooks and certainly more than, say #RandomHouse, which had 10,000. But we’re a small Malaysian company without even an office.

And here he is, providing an overview of the Malay fiction market, which... dominated by the romance genre and 50,000 in sales is considered a bestseller. Among the blockbusters of the past decade are My Husband Is a Religious Teacher, My Husband Is Mr Perfect 10, My Husband Is the Sweetest and My Husband Is a Limited Edition.

Notice that he changed a few things for the benefit of a non-Malay-speaking audience. So humble, so helpful.

RIP Tsuen-hsuin "T.H." Tsien, considered the most influential Chinese librarian in America.

From the Chicago Tribune:

Mr. Tsien, former curator of the Far Eastern Library of the University of Chicago, is also credited with training generations of students for East Asian libraries around the nation. Former students of his went on to head the East Asian libraries at Harvard and Princeton, as well as become senior members of the Library of Congress.

The author of several books and more than 100 articles, he retired in 1978 and was the curator emeritus of the East Asian Collection of the Joseph Regenstein Library and professor emeritus of Far Eastern Languages and Civilizations (now East Asian Languages and Civilizations) at the University of Chicago.

An Afghan novelist "locks himself up for weeks at a time, lost in bottles of smuggled vodka and old memories of Kabul, a capital city long transformed by war and money."


...after he became the standard-bearer for Afghan literature, Mr. [Rahnaward] Zaryab was forced to watch as Kabul, the muse he idealized as a city of music and chivalry in most of his 17 books, fell into rubble and chaos.

...Little of a readership culture remains these days, even in Kabul. Bookshops are saturated with bootleg copies of Iranian books. Local authors make no money from publishing their work. In return for a manuscript, Mr. Zaryab gets a number of copies from the publisher to distribute to friends.

The estate of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels is suing publisher (Penguin?) Random House...

...over the book Goebbels, by Peter Longerich, professor of modern German history at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Longerich, an authority on the Holocaust and Nazi era Germany, drew extensively on Goebbels' diaries in his biography, which was published in Germany in 2010.

...Rainer Dresen, general counsel of Random House Germany, told the Guardian that an important principle was at stake. "We are convinced that no money should go to a war criminal," he said.

Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl On The Train, talks about the book and her new-found fame.

Well, obviously my name is known now, but I don’t think people generally tend to recognize authors very much. People like J.K. Rowling maybe, Gillian Flynn might be recognized, but I reckon she could walk by me on the street and I wouldn't know who she was. So I'm not sure it’s that kind of fame. I suppose when I realized it was doing really well in the States, that was terrifying because of the number of people you’re talking about because it's such a big place, you’re suddenly talking millions. That's probably the moment when I thought, "Oh God, this is sort of scary now."

The Gillian Flynn mention is interesting, since Hawkins's book has been called "the new Gone Girl".

Never knew there were several levels in how one reads a book. That blog post also cited American philosopher, educator and author Mortimer Adler and his book, How to Read a Book (of course), which identified four levels of reading: elementary, inspectional, analytical and syntopical.

If you're reading for entertainment or information, you're going to read a lot differently (and likely different material) than reading to increase understanding. While many people are proficient in reading for information and entertainment, few improve their ability to read for knowledge.

Before we can improve our reading skills, we need to understand the differences in the reading levels. They are thought of as levels because you can’t move to a higher level without a firm understanding of the previous one — they are cumulative.

Good to know, but can be hard to apply.

Philip Gwyn Jones says there's a "civil war" going on in the book industry for readers' attention.

Economically it will be the reader who is the prize, the territory to be captured, the Alsace-Lorraine or the Poland of the civil war. Winning the reader’s attention – and the natural monopolies of Google and Facebook will be far better at this than the publishers – then chopping that attention into tiny little morsels for never-ending re-sale and re-cycling seems, in a way that might even be beyond the imaginings of a Borges or a Ballard, likely to be the humming machinery at the heart of the 21-century book business.

Publishers are at risk of becoming culturally irrelevant, a study claims. Meanwhile, in the US, it's said that there's a war (that word again) on diversity in reading material.

The Arab Spring's best legacy: Egyptians are now reading once-banned books.

But the really controversial titles have come from the country's crop of small, independent publishers. Freed from the shackles of longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak's rule when he was ousted in 2011, the Sefsafa publishing house rushed out a host of daring material, including Basma Abdel Aziz's The Temptation of Absolute Power, whose critique of the system might have landed her in jail some years before.

Another publisher, Madarat Research and Publication, seized upon the power vacuum following Mubarak's toppling to print and distributed a nuanced take on the political theory of Hassan Al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. Even the conservative Dar al-Shorouk, Egypt's largest privately owned publisher, produced a few critical takes on the previously untouchable former president, Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Marketing tools and strategies for indie writers were being pitched in the London Book Fair. Meanwhile, Gen-X authors in India talk about the trials of telling and selling their tales in the age of social media (try not to get distracted by the "Don't Miss" sidebar).

I've stopped following and commenting on the whole indie or self-publishing phenomenon, mainly because other people are, and I think independent and self-publishers have proven their point. The business model works - but only if you work at it.

Monday, 20 April 2015

MPH Warehouse Sale 2015

Happening from 27 April to 4 May at:

MPH Distributors @ Bangunan TH,
No 5, Jalan Bersatu,
Section 13/4, Petaling Jaya
Call 03-7958 1688 for directions

Hours: 8am to 6pm

The map to the venue is here. More details (and offers) can be found at the MPH Distributors' Facebook page.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Book Marks: Book Blogs, Passive Science, Etc.

Scott Pack "wrote a thing about book blogs and whether or not they actually sell any books." Not by themselves, apparently.

"I do think that a combination of factors can make a difference, and often a big difference," Pack writes. "If a book gets a couple of cracking reviews in the newspapers and book bloggers are chatting positively about it online and booksellers (don't forget the crucial role they play) are getting behind it then that can be sufficient critical mass to ensure a decent audience."

Is it time for scientists to stop writing in the passive voice? Short answer: Yup.
But why?

Among other things, the passive voice may make it more difficult to celebrate particular scientific accomplishments. When scientists fight for the passive voice, they’re not fighting for their right to write poorly. They think science should speak for itself. But in a time when climate change deniers blind themselves to hard data and vaccine conspiracy theorists blithely cover their ears to public health risks, it has never been more clear that science doesn’t speak for itself.

I've always found academic writing terribly textbook-y: staid, sleep-inducing and doesn't do the science and facts any favours. Some fields of science can be exciting, and increasingly relevant to our daily lives to the point where even non-scientists start to take note.

But when you let the "science speak for itself", it tends to put up barriers and warns laypeople off. In other words, the science becomes inaccessible. To get people, including scientists themselves, interested again, maybe it's time to reframe all those years of hard work in an accessible manner. Perhaps this will remind scientists why they got into this field in the first place.


Monday, 13 April 2015

Fixi Buka Kedai, Yo

So, Fixi has a store. Hooray!

And it has an Apple store vibe to it.

Kedai Fixi at Jaya Shopping Centre, which is not Jaya One or Jaya 33

But, considering how big this indie book publisher has become, setting up a bricks-and-mortar presence sounds logical. Even Lejen Press, another indie publisher, has a store in Subang Jaya.

Which, according to Fixi's Amir Muhammad, kind of helped him get a lot for the shop in the fourth floor of Jaya Shopping Centre, near the landmark Digital Mall. "Jaya Shopping Centre originally offered a shoplot to Lejen Press, but Lejen said their shop in Subang Jaya was sufficient for the time being, so Fixi came in," said Amir.

He stressed at least once that Jaya Shopping Centre was not Jaya One or Jaya 33.

Some of the wares on sale at Kedai Fixi

Besides publications by Fixi, the store also retails stuff from Lejen Press, Dubook Press, Maple Comics and Moka Mocha Ink. The store was officially launched on Saturday, 11 April, though the atmosphere was anything but "official".

In an impromptu speech, Amir thanked the representatives of Jaya Shopping Centre and writers and staff of Fixi, including writers who "defected" to other publishing houses (it's okay, they can write for anybody).

Fixi author Nadia Khan (centre) with a couple of attendees of the event.
The guy on the right is Richard Wong, but other than organising events
for British Council KL, I'm not sure what else he does

Some of the writers who were there included newlyweds Nadia Khan (Kelabu, Gantung, Cerpen Nadia Khan) and Mamü Vies (Dog Pound), Anuar Shah (Pinjam, Pentas), Mim Jamil (Lari), Ridhwan Saidi (Cekik+Amerika, Brazil) and Muhammad Fatrim (Asrama, Patung).

Thanks also went to media people who supported Fixi and spread the word about it and its books, especially BFM Radio's bookmaven Umapagan Ampikaipakan and journalist and author Bissme S. I think Linda Tan Lingard from the Yusof Gajah Lingard Literary Agency was also there.

Fixi boss Amir Muhammad (picture on the right, third from foreground) is
flanked by by several authors: Mim Jamil (foreground), Anuar Shah and
Ridhwan Saidi (background) as he delivers his speech and thanks those
who made the day, the shop and Fixi possible.

ASTRO Awani covered the event (Kedai Fixi - "premis bergaya hipster"?) and spoke to Amir (of course). The segment has been YouTubed and posted on Fixi's Facebook page.

I found this bit interesting: "Actually, what surprised me is the response from not only readers but writers as well," said Amir in the video. We receive 20 to 30 manuscripts every month, mostly from new writers who never thought of writing a novel until they read novels from Fixi or similar publishers. So these books speak to them, telling them that they also have stories to share."

Part of the crowd that came for the launch. The gentleman on the
extreme right is the representative from Jaya Shopping Centre.

There's also a story about how one of the Fixi store's staff got a job there. I believe the word Amir used was "blackmail". The female staff, who's waiting for her SPM results, was working at a restaurant in the premises - until she saw the Fixi hoarding in front of the shoplot while it was under renovation.

"She quit her job on the same day," Amir marvelled, "and told me, 'I just resigned from my job; please give me a job.'" Of such stuff are indie publishing legends made of.

Several Fixi authors also signed copies of their latest books for buyers. To commemorate the launch of the Fixi store, those who bought books from it can take their receipts and claim a free "freezie" from the nearby Fresh Code juice and smoothie bar.

Though I got a signed copy of Brazil, I passed. Not my thing. And I had a mango juice from the juice bar.

Congrats, Fixi, for the launch of your first store. May it lead to even better things.

16/04/2015   The Star covered the launch and has a story on the new outlet.