Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Book Marks: Beatty Wins The Booker, Etc.

A local novelist apparently adapted the script of an Astro First telemovie, Inayah, and did not credit the original author. Nor was the script's author told when the book appeared on bookshelves. But how did the novelist manage to get her hands on the script in the first place?

And it seems the Shah Alam High Court dropped a lawsuit filed by the author of the Ombak Rindu novel against Karangkraf and Tarantella Pictures and ordered her to pay costs. The Sinar Harian report in Malay said that the author sued over copyrights to Ombak Rindu, which was turned into a silver-screen blockbuster. Reportedly, the filmmakers changed the plot for the movie without her permission. Some might be wondering if the author's also miffed that she'd signed away a cut of the RM10 million gross box-office pickings.

Also: Bookstore, don't like that lah, bookstore. Why-lah you stop selling his b- oh, I see. Though it does have a "for mature audiences only" advisory on the cover, I'd rate this kind of humour closer to primary-school level. Hopefully, the whole book isn't like that.

LA-born author Paul Beatty is the first American to win the Man Booker Prize with The Sellout, which The Guardian calls "a laugh-out-loud novel whose main character wants to assert his African American identity by, outrageously and transgressively, bringing back slavery and segregation."

Okay, now I'm interested. And Beatty can rub that award in the face of the college professor that said "he would never be a success as a writer".

Previously only awarded to writers from the Commonwealth, the republic of Ireland and Zimbabwe, the Man Booker, several years ago, was opened to any English-language work published in the UK.


  • When the Hanjin shipping company went bankrupt and its ships and the cargo ended up in some legal limbo, many wrung their hands because OMG OUR STUFF IS OUT AT SEA. Including Emil Ferris, whose graphic novel, My Favorite Thing is Monsters, was on its way to stores abroad when Hanjin folded. Maybe it's time to look into this aspect of cargo shipping.
  • "More than just gift-shop staples or coffee-table decoration, art books and catalogues serve multiple purposes for those who produce them. They are important educational tools; they extend the revenue from temporary exhibitions; and they provide a way for curators and art historians to explore ideas too complex to include on gallery walls." How Canadian publishers are curating successful relationships with art galleries.
  • "They have such an ability to really truly tap into and take interest in the authors in a way I haven't experienced elsewhere, and it's amazing ... They're very selective and when they do that, they do it not only as one person, but as a company. Our experience is the whole company feels unified." A bit about Shambhala Publications, said to be the world's largest publisher of English-language Buddhist books.
  • According to Anthony Albanese, the Australian Labor Party's spokesperson on infrastructure, transport and tourism, "the proposal to abolish parallel import restrictions in the book publishing industry does not stack up when the impact on jobs and culture are taken into account."
  • Can a film's revenue stream structure be applied to a book? Much of the proposed structure in this piece is not new, except the last bit about subscription and rental services. Should book publishers start their own iBooks platforms? Or is it too late for them? Something to mull over.
  • Christopher Marlowe, the playwright and author of The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus has been credited as one of Shakespeare's co-writers for several plays in The New Oxford Shakespeare. I did read somewhere that Marlowe, also an alleged spy for the government of the time (and who tragically died in a brawl), had faked his death and re-emerged as The Bard, so I guess this announcement also put that rumour to rest.
  • "The definition of light novels is fraught with complications; even Japanese readers get confused by this question." One doesn't root around for book-related stuff in Anime News Network, but I thought this piece on light novels was interesting. "Nobody can predict the future, but one thing is for certain: light novels are not going away anytime soon," the piece says. "In today's media environment, light novels and anime need each other in other to thrive."
  • The Frankfurt Book Fair was "awash" with anti-Semitic titles, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center monitoring group. Authorities at the fair also confiscated these titles from "stands identified as violating their exhibitors’ contractual commitment against incitement to hate or violence." Noted "violators" were books from Iran and Egypt. SIGH. Why can't we have nicer things from Iran, like this book from this young fella that promotes modern Persian literature?
  • The Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism reported five surprising trends in the book industry - in the US, presumably. But some of these might be global as well.
  • It’s time to get cooking with the World of Warcraft Official Cookbook with stuff like Dragonbreath Chili and Moser's Magnificent Muffins. Do you serve the latter on Moser's Blessed Circle?

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

A Book Launch And Two Hours In A Small Town

The first time I'm in Kuala Kubu Bharu and it's for a book launch.

The late Sudirman once sang, "When in Kuala Kubu (Bharu), write
your name on the stone". Don't think there's space.

These days I don't share too much about long trips before the day I set out, lest I jinx them. Especially to places I haven't been to before. Even so, I missed several turn-offs while leaving KL and couldn't find the venue upon reaching the town, until a random turn put me on Jalan Syed Mashor, where the Galeri Sejarah KKB was.

The scene at the back of the building looked festive, with banners, crowds, and a stage (really just a mic with a stand). A canopy sheltered the spot where books were sold. There was even a mobile book truck, peddling familiar titles from Fixi and Maple Comics, among others.

I thought I was late, until a voice called people to gather around for the speeches.

Lyrical writer, master orator, passionate eco-warrior and, we
are told, a one-man model of energy efficiency.

Among the VIPs were Dato' Seri Ir. Dr Zaini Ujang, Secretary General of the Malaysian Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water; Datin Paduka Dr Dahlia Rosly, former Director General of the Federal Department of Town and Country Planning; YB Lee Kee Hiong, State Assemblyperson for Kuala Kubu Bharu; and Termizi Yaacob and Ridzuan Idris of Persatuan Sejarah Kuala Kubu (the Kuala Kubu Historical Society).

Jahabar Sadiq, former CEO and editor of the now-defunct online news portal The Malaysian Insider was also there, along with Aizuddin Danian, who I knew from my early blogging days. Aizuddin is also the photographer who took Rehman's author portraits.

During her speech, Datin Paduka Dr Dahlia let slip the fact that the next day, 24 October, was Rehman's birthday, so he was invited to the front so that the assembled can sing "Happy Birthday" to him.

Now you know where and when to send presents.

Although born in Taiping, the writer and former journalist seems to have been adopted by Kuala Kubu Bharu and has become a favourite son. On this Sunday, he reciprocated with Small Town, an homage to the place where he wrote his other two books, A Malaysian Journey and Peninsula.

Celebrating the launch of the book and the author's upcoming birthday.

Some of the contents of Small Town came from those two books, and also includes some artwork from artists from the town. Most of the artists were present when Rehman handed out copies of the book and what he said was their pay, in large brown envelopes.

Rehman also dedicated Small Town to the history, natural beauty and people of Kuala Kubu Bharu. In his sonorous baritone, he also shared some titbits about the town, the first planned township in Malaya. "I thought the first planned township was Taiping, but no." He spoke mostly in Malay, with a bit of English, though I think the crowd was at least bilingual.

Commonly abbreviated as KKB, it is the principal town of the district of Hulu Selangor. During the Selangor Civil War in the 1800s, Raja Mahdi forted up there. Local lore claims that the original town was destroyed in a flood after the British district officer, Sir Cecil Ranking, allegedly shot a white crocodile locals claimed was a river guardian.

The front of Galeri Sejarah KKB, where the book was launched

These days, folks at KKB are putting their town forward as a historical and pristine eco-friendly destination, and it seems Rehman is in the vanguard of this movement. Since ditching his Astro feed, the old guy's taken up cycling, rolling all over the area alone or with his buddies. G*d help you if he spots you littering or leaving your car's engine running as it idles.

Eventually, came the round of thank-yous to the VIPs, guests, those who collaborated with him on the book ... everyone. He also pitched other books being sold during the event, also related to Kuala Kubu Bharu. One of these, Golden Raub, which Rehman wished he had read when writing his paean to the town, is about the opening of Raub's gold mines.

The book was written by Victor Bibby, a descendant of British-born Australian engineer William Bibby, who opened those mines (some information can be found here). I think Bibby was at the launch, though I wasn't sure if it was him.

I did not come all this way to return empty-handed

Rehman seemed happy that others besides himself are digging up these nuggets of history and writing about them, before they are gone forever. He also thanked the weather for being nice, albeit hot. Even if it had rained, he said that "the water's pristine, you can shower with it."

Mindful of my less-than-robust gut, I only had two pastries. I was more thirsty than hungry, and the sun was relentless. Though I did spend some time in the shade, I was soon worn out.

Of course I had to pick up Small Town, right? Priced at RM39.90, copies were going at a discounted rate during the launch. Proceeds from the book sales would go to Persatuan Sejarah Kuala Kubu (PESKUBU) or the Kuala Kubu Historical Society. If that fact hadn't slipped my mind as exhaustion and the heat took over, I'd have bought two.

One more look at Galeri Sejarah KKB, along Jalan Syed Mashor,
before heading home

I almost didn't make it that day.

I had gone to bed depressed, woke up dejected and wanted to stay at home first. However, I did tell several others I'd be going, even if it was merely a distraction from my blues.

Though I had left an hour late than I'd planned, I made it on time for the speeches.

In his speech at the event, Termizi Yaacob compared history to a tree, with its branches and leaves, growing, branches spreading outwards from a single point. Later, as Rehman spoke, a leaf fell onto my arm and stayed there.

I was then reminded of an artist's "life goal" to catch a falling leaf "fresh" from a tree, and thought how similar it was to chasing dreams. With how leaves tend to fall, however, you could run yourself ragged in pursuit of that one leaf. That's okay if you're young and buzzing with energy.

A souvenir (the leaf, not the book) from my solo out-of-town venture

When you get older, you'd learn how to do it better: stay near a tree that's shedding leaves and keep an eye on the nearest ones. Don't run after them as they fall. Or, if you're feeling lucky, just stand beneath said tree and wait for a few leaves to fall on you. Some leaves, like certain things, aren't worth the chase.

Travelling sixty-plus kilometres to catch a leaf sounds extreme but at times, you have to go that far, maybe farther, when you've been under the same tree for a long time. A taste of unfamiliar air is good, too.

(I needed the distance because I haven't been writing much, either. The muse didn't just warrant a kick in the ass but a couple of hours in Christian Grey's "Red Room of Pain".)

I'll be keeping the leaf for a while to remind me of my day in this "small town" and, when one's mind, heart and feet itch for the new, to just go for it, even if the chances of catching it are slim.

"So you went to KKB," a friend WhatsApped me later that night. "I thought you went off on a random drive to nowhere."

To me, one who seldom ventures outside his tiny comfortable urban bubble, Kuala Kubu Bharu was "nowhere".

Now, it's "somewhere".

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Book Marks: MYWritersFest2016, Robert Gottlieb, And Hard-Case Comics

"...depending on your commitment to your craft, she can be a miraculous guiding angel or a badgering nightmare." Meet Gina Yap Lai Yoong, the writer whisperer. based on my Twitter feed, I'm leaning a little towards "nightmare".

Also from Eksentrika: Tina Isaacs, "the go-getter of Malaysia’s literary scene". Gina and Tina are the founders of the Malaysian Writers' Society, who's organising a bunch of events this October for the MYWritersFest 2016 (it's late for this, I know).

The Fest kicked off on 01 October at Kedai Fixi at Jaya Shopping Centre - perhaps the last event the venue hosted before moving to new digs somewhere in Kuala Lumpur proper.


  • Despite his dislike of writing, editor Robert Gottlieb released a memoir, Avid Reader. Singapore's Straits Times ran a piece from The New York Times about him.
  • " almost feels as though we're entering into a fresh golden age of comics doing the job they were intended to – corrupting the innocent minds of young people." Crime fiction publisher Hard Case Crime and Titan Comics are coming up with a line of new comics "promising the 'gritty, sexy, violent' world of noir movies and novels".
  • Is the Nobel Committee blackballing American authors, Malcolm Jones asks in The Daily beast. He makes a good case that it is, though it's hard to figure out why - a Eurocentric bent, perhaps? "The list of those who failed to win includes Tolstoy, Twain, Woolf, Borges, Proust, Nabokov, Chekhov, Joyce, Waugh, Greene, Welty, Auden, Updike, Stoppard, Pynchon, and Roth. That’s almost enough to make you want to lose."

    Well, guess what: 2016's Nobel Prize for literature went to an American: Bob Dylan.
  • In How oral cultures memorise so much information. Are sites such as Stonehenge part of the ancient world's cloud storage?
  • Here are some things authors need to stop doing on social media immediately, according to Digital Book World.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

The Fuss Over Ferrante

The biggest news in books so far this year is the apparent unmasking of Elena Ferrante, the nom de plume that wrote the acclaimed "Neapolitan quartet". All kinds of accusations, especially misogyny, were lobbed at the unmasker, investigative journalist Claudio Gatti.

Speaking to The Guardian, Gatti justified his reveal, published in the New York Review of Books, based on something she said about lying on occasion in an autobiographical essay, which he says nullifies "her right to disappear behind her books and let them live and grow while their author remained unknown.

"Indeed, she and her publisher seemed not only to have fed public interest in her true identity but to have challenged critics and journalists to go behind the lies. She told us that she finds them 'healthy'. As a journalist, I don’t. In fact it is my job to expose them."

So Gatti saw Ferrante's success, fuelled partly by her anonymity, as a challenge? Would he like to take on, say, the pseudonyms profiting from writing boilerplate "romance" novels out there?

Author anonymity can be effective as a marketing gimmick, and it's not as insidious as Gatti makes it sound like in this instance. Certain schools of thought suggest that since Ferrante's so popular, people - particularly her readers - have the right to know the truth about her.

Do they? And what if people know who she is and whatnot, what does it change?

The Atlantic wonders whether readers these days ask too much of authors. The desire to learn all there is about where a book comes from - thought processes, writing processes, influences and aims, among others - comes, I feel, from a wider culture where the provenance of a product is an important part of the consumer's identity.

Another aspect is that certain readers do feel the author owes them something for all the money they spent on him. But what else is the author obligated to do for his readers besides writing good books?

Just look at how fans harped on George R.R. Martin to finish his Game of Thrones series - presumably before a Robert Jordan scenario kicks in.

One example is an artist who felt bad he'd let someone down because of his busy schedule. Many authors and artists don't have the means to entertain their audiences' sense of entitlement all the time and on demand.

So, no.

I don't really care who Elena Ferrante is, and neither should you. I don't consider her identity as one of "modern literature's most enduring mysteries" - what does that even mean? How much does the author's name matter when one reads a book?

And I believe that, yes, we sometimes ask too much of authors, as The Atlantic seems to suggest:

We ask so much of our authors — to make things, yes, but also to be things for us — and the "we" is generally more powerful than the "they." Many writers, pragmatically, are introverts. Many of them would prefer, if they had their way about it, not to go on TV, or the radio, or your cousin's podcast. Many don't feel the need to write Franzenian op-eds in the Times. Many don't want to go on Oprah, or to be on Twitter. Many would prefer not to be brands, or performers, or public speakers, or indeed public figures, with all the freight of expectation that accompany them. Many would prefer to focus instead on doing the thing that is so very hard to do well, and that few can do as satisfyingly as a writer named — still named — Elena Ferrante.