Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Rotten Durian Awards & Other Malaysiana Miscellany

A SENIOR EDITOR of a Malaysian publishing house received the following email the other day. The message, with typos amended (to avoid embarrassment), reads: “I can’t write very well, but I thought I’d like to try writing a novel. I’ve decided to write a novel about pirates, but I don’t know anything about pirates. Could you please email me information about pirates: their lifestyle, their eating habits, where they like to chill out during the weekends, what they like to do during the day, what kinds of books they read, etc., so that I can start working on the novel immediately? With much appreciation and best wishes.”
***
MALAYSIA is not exactly the friendliest country in the world (despite what the ads say): most of the time the people are bloody rude, downright discourteous, boorishly loudmouthed and deeply disrespectful, among other things. Asian values? What Asian values? There is no such thing as Asian values. Malaysia is truly NOT Asia.
***
SOME MANUSCRIPTS are so bloody horrendous that I literally get sick editing them! I feel feverish, headache-y and all-over-the-body-achy. Seriously, one of these days we must consider giving out a slew of ROTTEN DURIAN AWARDS for the crappiest Malaysian books of the year—books we absolutely could not care less about, much less read. I know for sure there won’t be a dearth of contenders for these uniquely Malaysian awards where MEDIOCRITY is the ONLY yardstick of greatness and celebrated with customary poop/pomp and ceremony! Perhaps I will start the ball rolling with that pathetic attempt at a book ... yes, that particular pseudo-book! It reminds me of the opening lines to Keir Alexander’s excellent novel, The Ruby Slippers: “She stinks. It has to be said. Stinks to high heaven.” She does, believe me.
***
THE COST of doing business is escalating all the time. Maintaining sales have always been a challenge, now more so than ever. There are not many good manuscripts to choose from in a lacklustre marketplace. There’s nothing much we can do about the decline of the English language or the quality of writing in Malaysia in the short term. We have to accept the fact that the only thing we can do as publishers is to enhance our production values: editing standards and marketing efforts will need to be stepped up. Producing a book is not going to get any easier; editors will have to break their backs editing and rewriting substandard manuscripts to a level deemed publishable in a short time. Not that there are many good editors to choose from in a nation that doesn’t care much for reading and writing in the first place.
***
AT A BOOK LAUNCH in a five-star hotel (nothing less that five stars will do, or an exclusive golf club) in Kuala Lumpur the other day, everyone invited to attend the event was treated to a sumptuous meal of sweet and savory Malaysian delicacies and given a complimentary copy or two of the said book of the day. Suffice to say that the food tasted so much better than the book. This is quite understandable. Let’s not beat around the bush; no one in their right frame of mind would use their hard-earned cash to pay for it. The trick is not to take Malaysian publishing too seriously. If you do, you are in for an early grave.
***
WHEN will Malaysian education start focusing on understanding and critical thinking skills? Will it ever? There is a serious dearth of these basic skills: reading, writing, creative thinking, questioning, criticism, creativity and imagination; there is also an absolute lack of interest or intellectual curiosity or empathy about the world we live in. We desperately need graduates who can not only eat but spell chocolate! Education per se is irrelevant; one must have the right mindset to use the knowledge acquired and make one’s life useful and meaningful to society. The idea of education is to make every one of us into critical, empathetic, intelligent, logical and thinking beings. If not, what’s the point of existence? What’s really the point of education if we do not produce intelligent, efficient and productive nation builders? It is frightening when the education system keeps on churning out graduates who don’t read (and have no interest in reading) and can’t write.
***
SERIOUSLY, do we really have a publishing industry in Malaysia? I sometimes wonder, more often lately. A sad fact: Malaysian writers can’t write and don’t want to be edited at all. Those who can, the writing is bland, careless, dispirited, hollow, illiterate, insipid, lackadaisical, lazy, lethargic, lifeless, puerile, self-indulgent, shallow, uninspiring and vague. Sometimes the manuscripts are so execrable, possibly written by someone who doesn’t speak English, that editing them is next to impossible. (I don’t pray for much, just good health and happiness for all creatures big and small, being a better human being ... and good writing to land on my desk.)

Another sad fact: Editors don’t know how to edit. (Editing is not just about punctuation, grammar and spelling.) Most of them lack the most basic of editing skills (grammar and spelling); if they can’t even handle basic editing, surely they are in the wrong profession, no? Editors are unwilling to learn and tend to miss more than they spot errors (and constantly introducing new ones at the same time). And many are averse to research, checking facts and solving problems. Punctuating dialogue is another major weakness. Most of them lack imagination, intellectual curiosity and have no idea why they are doing the things they are doing. Many are not (and will never be) aware of the important aspects of book production like bibliography, footnotes, endnotes, indexing, etc. Also, not many editors have a nose for business or finance. Publishing is not just about PUBLISHING bad books; it is also about SELLING the bad books you publish. Both are equally important to sustain the business.

Another sad fact: designers don’t know how to typeset books and design covers. Most of them are not designers; when you think about it, they are really more incompetent typesetters than designers. Most, sadly, have no grasp of the aesthetics, whether in the design of covers or typesetting of pages, are not open to constructive criticism and lack basic language skills (English and Malay). (“The kind of designs you don’t exactly need to go to design school to learn. The idea is to do it blindly.”) There is absolutely no passion to push boundaries or to have higher expectations, no sense of accomplishment for a job well done. They do not seem to learn anything from experience. They have no idea whether contents pages are required for the manuscripts they typeset; they have no idea what acknowledgements, forewords, prefaces, introductions, appendices, bibliographies, indexes, afterwords, footnotes, endnotes, figures, tables and charts are. They may have moved their MOUSE for centuries, but they have not gain any relevant experience at all.

Another sad fact: Translation standards are abysmal. Translation is not just about translating words to another language; it’s also about translating cultural and other creative nuances; the translated text must make sense and transport you to another world. “Translation,” in the words of Anthony Burgess, “is not a matter of words only: it is a matter of making intelligible a whole culture.” A good translator must not only possess a solid grounding in both languages but a strong grasp of idioms and metaphors as well. Sadly, it’s rare to find translators who are strong in both languages.

A vicious cycle. Definitely. So, do we really have a publishing industry in Malaysia? No. I believe what we have here is more akin to some kind of stunted, constipated offshoot of public relations, rather than publishing as we know it. Books are never published for the right reasons. It never fails to amaze me how publishers always find reasons to justify the publishing of substandard books as though producing as many such books as possible is some kind of noble calling or something!
***
EVIL, THEY SAY, NEVER DIES ... it claws its way back from the pits of hell to haunt the living. We are in the midst of editing perhaps the worst manuscript on the planet … rejected by all who had a chance to look at it but somehow foisted on us editors for the dumbest of reasons. And to think that the British once colonised us, you would expect a certain standard of English. After the last disaster of a book, we thought we had seen the last and worst of horrendous books. No-o-o-o … that’s too good to be true. Ladies and gentlemen, Evil is back in business and is here to haunt the living daylights out of us. Just goes to prove that there are some things money can’t buy … for instance, to write well and tell a wonderful story (fiction or otherwise). Some publishers claim they publish these rejected manuscripts under the pretext of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Seriously, you can call them anything you want; I prefer to pile them under POO and flush them down the LOO where they belong for all eternity. Of course, under normal circumstances these manuscripts would not see the light of day but the dark of the sewers. I fail to understand what joy these author-wannabes derive from being published under such circumstances!
***
AND THEN there are those so-called Malaysian authors who insist that we do not comply with standards and conventions when editing their so-called manuscripts! As the Backstreet Boys would croon back in the late 1990s, They want it that way! You can have it any way you want, Sweetheart, as long as you pay the production costs and buy up all the stocks and keep them locked up in your room! And maybe toss them in with the carrots, potatoes, onions and tomatoes when Mummy makes chicken soup for the whole family. The books will also come in handy if you have plans for house extensions. Books, after all, are not just books; they make hardy bricks, too.
***
REMEMBER THE GOOD OLD DAYS when we used to have meals and lovely conversations without interruptions? We used to eat and talk, and eat and talk, all the while enjoying ourselves. Those were the days when we used to really talk with one another and conversations were long, and there were jokes and laughter, and time just passed without us realising it. Those days are long gone. People nowadays are more interested in their smartphones, internet, text messaging, etc., and seem to prefer to communicate with people not dining at the table but elsewhere, reading news updates, taking photos of themselves in all manner of poses, etc. You may have the whole wide world at your fingertips, but you don’t seem to be aware of the immediate world around you. Once in a while, think about the person sitting opposite you.
***
POMPOUS LASS: Only native speakers can edit my manuscript! No Malaysian editors for me, please!
Publisher: You mean someone from Good Olde Mother England?
Pompous Lass: Of course—if English is their mother tongue!
Publisher: Why’s that?
Pompous Lass: Because my book is for the wonderful people of this planet. I want it to be perfectly edited for all my readers from around the world …
Publisher: Would you like to bear the cost of getting someone from England to edit it then?
Pompous Lass: Will that be cheap?
Publisher: What do you think? Everything is cheap except you?
Pompous Lass: I wouldn’t want to spend my money on that! If it’s too expensive, a local editor should be all right, I guess!
Publisher: Yes, cheap local editors are the best!
***
WATERLILY: I want to talk to the editor?
Receptionist: Who’s calling?
Waterlily: Lily!
Receptionist: Lily who?
Waterlily: Water “I-can’t-tell-you-my-real-name” Lily!
Receptionist: How can I help you?
Waterlily: I want to talk to the editor about my manuscript?
Receptionist: What’s your manuscript about?
Waterlily: I can’t tell you that! I don’t know who you are. You may just steal and profit from my hard work! I want to speak to the editor!
Editor: Could you send us samples of your work, Water?
Waterlily: I can’t do that either.
Editor: So what can you do, Water?
Waterlily: Why do you need samples of my work?
Editor: Duh! So that we could assess your writing and decide whether we want to publish it or not!
Waterlily: Why do you want to review it? I am a famous writer and my work is quoted in all the leading journals all over the galaxy!
Editor: That’s nice and all and I’m happy for you. However, we would still like to assess it.
Waterlily: Will you be distributing my book in the U.S. and the U.K.?
Editor: No. We only sell foreign rights to those markets. And over the internet.
Waterlily: Looks like you are not the right publisher for me then. Goodbye!
Editor: Good riddance.
***
AUTHOR: Would you like to publish my manuscript?
Publisher: Well, it depends …
Author: Depends on what?
Publisher: Well, whether you have a written manuscript?
Author: I haven’t written one. Can you get it written for me?
Publisher: Why is that?
Author: I can’t write.
Publisher: But you have studied for a couple of foreign degrees … and you have lived overseas for many years. With your fake accent and all, I’m sure you could write English.
Author: I’m very bad at grammar. Could you get me a writer whom I could talk to, take down notes and put them all in a book for me? I can talk very well. I just can’t write.
Publisher: I can’t imagine how you manage to pass all your exams over the years!
***
AUTHOR: Could you label me a bestselling author on the cover of my new book?
Editor: No! You are not a bestselling author! And you’ve never have been one!
Author: It’s a way of MARKETING the book!
Editor: I don’t think that’s MARKETING; that’s shameless CONNING. Your first book sold less than a thousand copies in over five years. That, to me, is a disaster of epic proportions! Your book sounds more like the worst-selling book of the century. And with the way it is moving (or not moving), it looks set to be the worst-selling book in the history of humankind. I believe your book will still be around even after the Apocalypse!
***
AUTHOR: And on what grounds are you rejecting my manuscript?
Editor: Well, it sucks, for one!
Author: What! How dare you insult me! Everyone who has read it thinks it a magnificent piece of work!
Editor: Who, pray tell, read your magnum opus?
Author: My darling husband and children, friends and relatives! And my dearest mummy and daddy, too!
Editor: Of course!
Author: So can I take it that you are not interested in publishing my manuscript?
Editor: De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da ... Duh!
***
AUTHOR: Yahoo! My book is a runaway bestseller!
Editor: How’s that possible?
Author: I got every one of my best friends to buy 500 copies of my book. Yahoo! Time for a reprint?
Editor: What do you expect them to do with all the copies of your book?
Author: Who cares what they do with them? Hide them under the stairs? Perhaps they can make beef or vegetable stew with them?
***
AUTHOR: I would like you to publish my book?
Editor: Your manuscript, you mean? Well, it all depends on the quality of your manuscript.
Author: What? I know your Financial Controller and the TOP HONCHO, you know!
Editor: Ooh, I’m shivering! Of course, we will publish your book—even though it sucks big-time!
Author: What?
Editor: Isn’t that what you want?
***
WISDOM, they say, comes with age. I once thought that wisdom was the exclusive province of the elderly. Now that I am all grown up, I have come to realise that that’s all balderdash. Wisdom is the province of those who possess it; age is simply immaterial. Over the years, I have had the good fortune to meet young people who are wise beyond their years, and I have also had the MISFORTUNE of meeting old people who have absolutely no wisdom at all.
***
AUTHOR: I don’t like my marriage photograph in the book. We look so bloody fat.
Editor: Of course, both of you are fat. So, what do you want me to do? Both of you should have gone on a diet before getting married. Well, you could always get married again.
***
AUTHOR: Make sure all numbers smaller than 10 are in figures, not words, okay?
Editor: Numbers from 1-9 will be in words, not numerals. Anything from 10 and above, I will use figures. That’s the standard editing rule.
Author: But I am your client and you do as I instruct.
Editor: So, what else do you want to go with that? Bad grammar? I can do that. What about factual errors? You want some of those? Weak characterization, perhaps? A plot full of holes? We can add a couple of those, if you like. Why don’t I also throw in as many misspellings as I can for you—on the house, of course?
Author: What?
Editor: For your information, you ain’t my client. You can keep your money and go ask your mummy to search and replace all your 1-9s with figures.
***
“ANYONE can be an author nowadays. You don’t really have to be a good writer or excellent in grammar and all that nonsense,” so says the marketing consultant. You can’t write? No problem, we will get you a ghostwriter to write on your behalf for a fee, she says. And if you suck big-time at grammar and vocabulary, also no problem. We have the backroom boys (editors, copyeditors, proofreaders and designers) to clean up your writing (or lack thereof) and make all your dreams come true. After all, most people just like to see their names on the covers of their so-called books. And perhaps launching them at one of the hotels or golf clubs (or fast-food/burger joints or shopping-mall concourses). That’s about it.
***
PASSION is, of course, a wonderful thing to have. But let’s talk about ringgit and sense. There is simply no money in editing in Malaysia. I have been editing books for a living for well over 30 years now, and this saddens me a great deal. Perhaps it’s time for me to seriously consider giving it all up and do something else with the rest of my life?
***
ONCE IN A BLUE MOON, when all the stars in the heavens are somehow aligned, the perfect manuscript lands on your desk. All is well with the world; the elves and hobbits are having a whale of a time in the playing fields and the flowers are singing and dancing in the wind. There is joy and laughter all over the kingdom. With minimal editing, the manuscript is published to much acclaim and financial success. There are, of course, books that do not capture a readership no matter how good they are or how much they are pushed or promoted. Most of the time, though, bad books fall on your head with a loud thud. Some of these books go on to become successful books after much editing, rewriting, blood, sweat and tears, etc. Publishing is a difficult business; there is no guarantee that a good book will sell. Neither is there a guarantee that a bad book will not sell. Not all bad books sell; most of them end up in the cemetery of lost books.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

March 2016 Highlights

Novels
1. Noonday (Doubleday, 2016) / Pat Barker
2. The Infidel Stain (G.P. Putnam’s, 2016) / M.J. Carter
3. At the Edge of the Orchard (Viking, 2016) / Tracy Chevalier
4. Becoming Linn (Caitlin Press, 2016) / Tricia Dower
5. How to Measure a Cow (Chatto & Windus, 2016) / Margaret Forster
6. A Place Called Winter (Grand Central Publishing, 2016) / Patrick Gale
7. The Vatican Princess (Hodder & Stoughton, 2016) / C.W. Gortner
8. Bottomland (Grove Press, 2016) / Michelle Hoover
9. The Living (Fourth Estate, 2016) / Anjali Joseph
10. A Girl in Exile (trans. from the Albanian by John Hodgson) (Harvill Secker, 2016) / Ismail Kadare

11. Some Rain Must Fall: My Struggle: Book Five (trans. from the Norwegian by Donald Bartlett) (Harvill Secker, 2015) / Karl Ove Knausgaard
12. Hot Milk (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, 2016) / Deborah Levy
13. The Crooked Heart of Mercy (William Morrow, 2016) / Billie Livingston
14. The Association of Small Bombs (Viking, 2016) / Karan Mahajan
15. The North Water (Henry Holt, 2016) / Ian McGuire
16. As Close to Us as Breathing (Lee Boudreaux Books/Little, Brown, 2016) / Elizabeth Poliner
17. Freya (Jonathan Cape, 2016) / Anthony Quinn
18. The Year of the Runaways (Alfred A. Knopf, 2106) / Sunjeev Sahota
19. The Trees (Bloomsbury Circus, 2016) / Ali Shaw
20. The Summer Before the War (Bloomsbury Publishing/Random House, 2016) / Helen Simonson

21. Where the Trees Were (Hachette Australia, 2016) / Inga Simpson
22. Ten Days (Canongate Books, 2016) / Gilian Slovo
23. Innocents and Others (Scribner, 2016) / Dana Spiotta
24. Hold (Fourth Estate/HarperCollins Australia, 2016) / Kirsten Tranter

First Novels
1. Shelter (Picador, 2016) / Jung Yun
2. Anatomy of a Soldier (Faber & Faber, 2016) / Harry Parker
3. The Other Mrs Walker (Mantle, 2016) / Mary Paulson-Ellis
4. The Hourglass Factory (Pegasus, 2016) / Lucy Ribchester
5. Hold Still (W.W. Norton, 2016) / Lynn Steger Strong
6. The Nest (Ecco, 2016) / Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

Stories
1. For a Little While (Little, Brown, 2016) / Rick Bass
2. The Ancient Minstrel (Grove Press, 2016) / Jim Harrison
3. Under the Rose (Faber & Faber, 2016) / Julia O’Faolain
4. What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours (Riverhead Books, 2016) / Helen Oyeyemi
5. The Melting Season and Other Stories (Burlesque Press, 2016) / Ira Sukrungruang
6. The Best Place on Earth (Random House, 2016) / Ayelet Tsabari
7. Dog Run Moon (Granta Books, 2016) / Callan Wink

Poetry
1. 99 Poems: New & Selected (Graywolf Press, 2016) / Dana Gioia
2. Poems: New and Selected (Ecco, 2016) / Ron Rash
3. Collected Poems 1950-2012 (W.W. Norton, 2016) / Adrienne Rich

Nonfiction
1. The Face: Cartography of the Void (Restless Books, 2016) / Chris Abani
2. The Face: Strangers on a Pier (Restless Books, 2016) / Tash Aw
3. At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails with Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Others (Other Press/Chatto & Windus, 2016) / Sarah Bakewell
4. Frederick the Great: King of Prussia (Random House, 2016) / Tim Blanning
5. Lust & Wonder: A Memoir (St Martin’s Press, 2016) / Augusten Burroughs
6. The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New (Ecco, 2016) / Annie Dillard
7. Evelyn Waugh: A Life Revisited (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2016) / Philip Eade
8. The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) / Timothy Egan
9. Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) / Claire Harman
10. Rain: Four Walks in English Weather (Faber & Faber, 2016) / Melissa Harrison

11. Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) / Adam Hochschild
12. The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone (Picador/Canongate, 2016) / Olivia Laing
13. Midnight in Broad Daylight: A Japanese American Family Caught Between Two Worlds (Harper, 2016) / Pamela Rotner Nakamoto
14. The Face: A Time Code (Restless Books, 2016) / Ruth Ozeki
15. Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty and Truth (Jonathan Cape, 2016) / A.O. Scott
16. Dimestore: A Writer’s Life (Algonquin Books, 2016) / Lee Smith
17. The Language Animal: The Full Shape of the Human Linguistic Capacity (Harvard University Press, 2016) / Charles Taylor

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Frustrations of a Book Editor in Malaysia

I HAVE YET TO FULLY RECOVER from producing a spate of horrendous “books” these couple of months. Yes, months of slow, mind-numbing torture. All right, let me be honest here, these are really bad books I am talking about. And I am not joking. Seriously. I am calling them “books” for lack of a better word. On second thought, “trash” would probably be a more appropriate word to use! (Regardless of what we think, any self-indulgent crap slap between two covers with an ISBN is technically a book.) Worst of all is being literally forced to produce books from manuscripts that have been rejected, but somehow clawed their way back from the depths of Hell to scare the living daylights out of Humankind. (These nightmarish books to end all nightmares are lethal enough to kill you instantly!) Publishing in Malaysia is like running on a treadmill; you just go nowhere even after much painstaking exertion. Here are some of my not-so-favourite things about being a book editor in Malaysia!

ONE, authors who are willing to (and actually do) pay others to write about them for them (in biographies or autobiographies) and praise them to high heaven. (In this age of self-absorption, self-aggrandisement and shameless self-promotion, there are indeed people who are so obsessed about seeing their names in print that they are willing to pay others to write their books for them!) Most enjoy praising themselves in their badly self-penned autobiographies!

TWO, authors who are ungrateful to their editors and waste their time when their so-called books fail to make a dent in the local (and global) marketplace. Somehow the possibility that their books are just not good enough never crosses their minds.

THREE, authors who plan their all-important book launches (and the food, of course!) without having completed writing their manuscripts or going through their final proofs. Book launches (at opulent five-star hotels and exclusive golf clubs, no less!) are planned even before the ink on the pages has dried—sometimes even before the book is written! (These are a dime a dozen.) It is so easy to get published in Malaysia; there is only one qualification you need: just write badly! Too many authors fall in this category. (I have edited some of the worst autobiographies not only on this planet but the whole galaxy.) And they are such a waste of precious life and prime retail space.

FOUR, psychotic authors who “hijack” the whole publishing process and behave like prima donnas and divas. (There are many of these prancing and strutting around like peacocks and peahens.)

FIVE, authors who think the publishing house belongs to their dearest daddies/mummies/granddaddies/grandmummies/best friend (choose one). Believe it or not, money (or who you know) does buy you everything nowadays—despite what they teach you in philosophy school!

SIX, authors who are under the delusion that they write better than V.S. Naipaul, Raja Rao, Mulk Raj Anand and R.K. Narayan all put together! (An indepth study definitely needs to be done to delve into this very strange Malaysian malaise.) This state of cockiness and overconfidence is frightening.

SEVEN, authors who are supposedly graduates of some of the finest universities on the planet, and yet are unable to string proper sentences together or organise their (unintelligible) prose into paragraphs. (Who was it who said that education makes one a well-rounded person? He obviously haven’t had the misfortune of meeting such a creature as a Malaysian. (“If you can’t do such simple things, you might as well flush your degree down the you-know-where,” a schoolmaster once told me in the late 1960s.)

EIGHT, authors who demand advances even though they have no manuscripts to show. (Go figure this one out!) For some reason or other, they also want to know their sales figures before sitting down to write the book they say they were put on this beautiful earth to write. And (this is a good one) they always want to know when their books will be available in the bookshops (when they have yet to write anything)! (Mama once told me that this sort of behaviour is rooted in one or a combination of these: traumatic childhood experiences, psychological trauma or defective upbringing!)

NINE, authors who do not like to be edited or allow editors to edit their books (and who, for one reason or other, do not edit their own books themselves, usually due to pure laziness, pomposity or other human flaws which should make the Devil so proud of them). They also demand an assurance from the editor that as editor he will be personally responsible for reading every line or word of the atrocious manuscript to ensure that the book is perfect! They just love contradicting themselves, don’t they? (“Don’t you dare edit my work; you are solely responsible for every mistake that occurs in my book and make sure my author photograph is in colour; I want the graphs and tables to be in colour, too. What do you think? Ain’t it pretty?” Or this one: “Don’t you dare edit my son’s manuscript. He’s an Asian scholar and is too good to be edited.”) Here’s another gem: “You may edit my book, but don’t you dare touch the grammar.”) It’s no surprise to find more than one preface and/or five or six forewords in these books! This group of authors also loves launching their masterpieces and making a public spectacle of themselves! (On the other hand, there are authors who keep amending their work, even after their books have been on bookstore shelves for months!) Or how about this evergreen: “All my friends and relatives have read my manuscript and they all think it’s perfect; there’s no need for more editing to be done.” Or this chestnut: “Why so many rounds of editing-huh?” Or this: “I need commas here and there. I feel unclothed without them.”

TEN, most potential authors simply want to get published; to them, it doesn’t really matter whether their writing is good enough. But we know good writing does matter in more ways than one.

AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST, authors who cry and wail over the phone and who won’t take no for an answer because they have already invested so little time on their manuscripts. Somehow, they don’t seem to understand why I have rejected their yet-to be-written manuscripts. “I’ll only write it if you want it,” they lament! (But I really don’t want them.)

The irony is, I have never had much problems working with authors who could write well; they understand where I’m coming from and know exactly where I plan to take their manuscripts. The non-writers are the ones I find impossible to deal with!

Rare though they are, I have had the privilege of working with authors (not many) who have become great friends over the years. Editing can be a very traumatic experience (especially for the editor), but when both writer and editor work well together, the end product is something to behold. I always look forward to working with writers who believe in and are not afraid of rewriting and revising their work; such writers are a joy to work with because they are really passionate about their work and are not afraid of pushing themselves beyond the boundaries.

Do you belong to any or a combination of these stereotypes? I hope not, because these are not exactly role models worth aspiring to!

Monday, February 01, 2016

February 2016 Highlights

Novels
1. Carry Me (Pantheon Books, 2016) / Peter Behrens
2. A Doubter’s Almanac (Random House, 2016) / Ethan Canin
3. The Queen of the Night (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) / Alexander Chee
4. The Heart (trans. from the French by Sam Taylor) (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016) / Maylis de Kerangal
5. Sudden Death (trans. from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer) (Riverhead Books, 2016) / Álvaro Enrique
6. I Am No One (Atlantic Books, 2016) / Patrick Flanery
7. Ginny Gall (Harper, 2016) / Charlie Smith
8. The Vatican Princess (Ballantine Books, 2016) / C.W. Gortner
9. Forty Rooms (Putnam, 2016) / Olga Grushin
10. All The Winters After (Sourcebooks Landmark, 2016) / Seré Prince Halverson

11. The Vegetarian (trans. from the Korean by Deborah Smith) (Hogarth, 2016) / Han Kang
12. The Narrow Bed (Hodder & Stoughton, 2016) / Sophie Hannah
13. A Friend of Mr Lincoln (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) / Stephen Harrigan
14. The Ballroom (Doubleday, 2016) / Anna Hope
15. The Opposite of Everyone (William Morrow, 2016) / Joshilyn Jackson
16. Shylock Is My Name (Hogarth, 2016) / Howard Jacobson
17. Why We Came to the City (Viking, 2016) / Kristopher Jansma
18. The Silk Merchant’s Daughter (Viking, 2016) / Dinah Jefferies
19. Thus Bad Begins (trans. from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa) (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, 2016) / Javier Marías
20. Under the Influence (William Morrow, 2016) / Joyce Maynard

21. The North Water (Scribner UK, 2016) / Ian McGuire
22. Tender (Lee Boudreaux/Little, Brown, 2016) / Belinda McKeon
23. When the Floods Came (Sceptre, 2016) / Clare Morrall
24. What Lies Between Us (St Martin’s Press, 2016) / Nayomi Munaweera
25. The Heart Stopped (Jonathan Cape, 2106) / Julie Myerson
26. Max Baer and the Star of David (Mandel Vilar Press, 2016) / Jay Neugeboren
27. The Man Without a Shadow (Ecco, 2016) / Joyce Carol Oates
28. The Little Red Chairs (Faber & Faber, 2016) / Edna O’Brien
29. Thomas and Mary: A Love Story (Harvill Secker, 2016) / Tim Parks
30. Arcadia (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) / Iain Pears

31. Black Deutschland (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016) / Darryl Pinckney
32. Salt to the Sea (Philomel Books, 2016) / Ruta Sepetys
33. Ginny Gall (Harper, 2016) / Charlie Smith
34. Wolf’s Mouth (Michigan State University Press, 2016) / John Smolens
35. The Fugitives (Simon & Schuster, 2016) / Christopher Sorrentino
36. My Name Is Lucy Barton (Viking, 2016) / Elizabeth Strout
37. Mothering Sunday (Scribner UK, 2016) / Graham Swift
38. Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O’Keeffe (Random House, 2016) / Dawn Tripp
39. The Lost Time Accidents (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016) / John Wray

First Novels
1. 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl (Penguin Books, 2016) / Mona Awad
2. The Butcher’s Hook (Two Roads, 2016) / Janet Ellis
3. Youngblood (Atria Books, 2016) / Matt Gallagher
4. The Book of Memory (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016) / Petina Gappah
5. The Yid (Picador USA, 2016) / Paul Goldberg
6. The Forgetting Time (Flatiron Books, 2016) / Sharon Guskin
7. The Girl in the Red Coat (Melville House, 2016) / Kate Hamer
8. Not All Bastards Are From Vienna (trans. from the Italian by Antony Shugaar & Patrick Creagh) (Grove Press/Atlantic Monthly Press, 2016) / Andrea Molesini
9. The Sympathizer (Corsair, 2016) / Viet Thanh Nguyen
10. Ways to Disappear (Little, Brown, 2016) / Idra Novey

11. Wreck and Order (Hogarth, 2016) / Hannah Tennant-Moore
12. Private Citizens (William Morrow, 2016) / Tony Tulathimutte
13. Gold Fame Citrus (Quercus, 2016) / Claire Vaye Watkins

Stories
1. Napoleon’s Road (University of Queensland Press, 2016) / David Brooks
2. Foreign Soil (Corsair, 2016) / Maxine Beneba Clarke
3. We’ve Already Gone This Far (Henry Holt, 2016) / Patrick Dacey
4. A Collapse of Horses (Coffee House Press, 2016) / Brian Evenson
5. Cities I’ve Never Lived In (Graywolf Press, 2016) / Sara Majka
6. The High Mountains of Portugal (Canongate Books/Spiegel & Grau, 2016) / Yann Martel
7. The High Places (Penguin Australia, 2016) / Fiona McFarlane
8. Ways to Spend the Night (Engine Books, 2016) / Pamela Painter
9. In the Land of Armadillos (Scribner, 2016) / Helen Maryles Shankman
10. Interior Darkness: Selected Stories (Doubleday, 2016) / Peter Straub

11. The Best Place on Earth (HarperCollins, 2016) / Ayelet Tsabari
12. Dog Run Moon (The Dial Press, 2016) / Callan Wink
13. Legoland (Picador, 2016) / Gerard Woodward

Poetry
1. The Blind Roadmaker (Picador, 2016) / Ian Duhig
2. Window Left Open (Graywolf Press, 2016) / Jennifer Grotz
3. Shaler’s Fish (Grove Press/Atlantic Monthly Press, 2016) / Helen MacDonald
4. Interference Pattern (Jonathan Cape, 2016) / J.O. Morgan
5. The Catch (Chatto & Windus, 2016) / Fiona Sampson
6. Widening Income Inequality (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016) / Frederick Seidel
7. Blue Laws: Selected & Uncollected Poems, 1995-2015 (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) / Kevin Young
Nonfiction
1. The Iceberg (Black cat/Grove Press, 2016) / Marion Coutts
2. The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches from Syria (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016) / Janine di Giovanni
3. The Silk Roads: A New History of the World (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) / Peter Frankopan
4. Elephant Complex: Travels in Sri Lanka (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) / John Gimlette
5. Reasons to Stay Alive (Penguin Books, 2016) / Matt Haig
6. Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion (Pantheon, 2016) / Susan Jacoby
7. Native: Dispatches from an Israeli-Palestinian Life (Grove Press, 2016) / Sayed Kashua
8. In Other Words (trans. from the Italian by Ann Goldstein) (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) / Jhumpa Lahiri
9. Quicksand: What It Means To Be a Human Being (trans. from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson) (Harvill Secker, 2016) / Henning Mankell
10. Culloden: Scotland’s Last Battle and the Forging of the British Empire (Little, Brown, 2016) / Trevor Royle

11. Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think about Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth (Penguin Press, 2016) / A.O. Scott
12. Children of Paradise: The Struggle for the Soul of Iran (Riverhead Books, 2016) / Laura Secor
13. West of Eden: An American Place (Jonathan Cape, 2016) / Jean Stein
14. Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World (Faber & Faber, 2016) / Tim Whitmarsh

Friday, January 15, 2016

BOOKISH: On Writing Well

ERIC FORBES on the arduous publishing process and why writers need to focus more on learning to write better

MANY MALAYSIAN WRITERS somehow do not seem to understand the arduous process of publishing a book, getting it out into the bookshops and developing a readership. A publishing house, first and foremost, is not a production or typesetting house. (“I want my book out within a month. I’ve booked the venue and ordered the red velvet cake and champagne for the launch. By hook or by crook, I want it ready by then. I want international distribution. I want my book to be available at every Waterstones and Barnes & Noble and Kinokuniya in the kingdom. I want ...”) It is definitely not a babysitting service where you dump your horror of a manuscript and hope a magnum opus will miraculously emerge from it. (“Could we like turn this into a book with a lovely cover and all the usual trimmings? It would make an ideal Christmas pressie for Mama and Papa.”)

Potential authors do not seem to understand the rigorous and painstaking process of creating a good book. (“Here are some photographs I took with my digicam; I want a glossy coffee-table book with my name in bold letters. The wonderful thing is, there are not many words in it. You know, people just don’t have time to read nowadays. It shouldn’t be too expensive to produce. After all, I do want everyone to be able to afford it.”) The publishing house is not a dream factory where your books are manufactured and your dreams realised. (“I dream of becoming a writer one day. Can make my dream come true?”)

Of course, I can make your dream come true, but first you have got to do something. Like write. Yes, write. And write reasonably well. Is it too much to insist that you write well if you wish to get published?

There is a lot of good old-fashioned hard work involved in publishing a book, much of it hidden from the view of the world. It is, however, very difficult to maintain standards because there are more bad than good writing floating around. But, for a publisher or editor, that is where the fun (or heartaches and nightmares) is, I guess! (“Here is Harry Potter’s magic wand: go and turn yourself into a good writer!”)

Write only if you are serious about good writing and producing a book that will stand the test of time. Write a book that will make you proud to be the author. Write a book that will make your mummy proud to have a son or daughter like you. Write with confidence; write with humility; write with empathy. Lose the unbecoming arrogance and the I-am-cleverer-than-you attitude. Do not be afraid to admit mistakes; learn from them and move on. Always strive to be a better writer. We do not want the world to think that we celebrate mediocrity, do we? Wouldn’t you want to write a book that will be remembered and reprinted for years to come? Or do you prefer to write one where it will only be printed once and that’s it?

As a writer, you must ask yourself whether people are willing to fork out their hard-earned money in exchange for your book. Will reading your book make any difference to their lives? Is your book worth more than the paper it is printed on? These are just some of the questions writers must ask themselves if they are serious about writing.

What you write about is as important as how you write it. As an editor of books, a good manuscript is like a dream come true, a shooting star across the vast open heavens, a breath of fresh air, a fine-dining experience at Nobu or The Fat Duck, the coming of rain after a season of drought, a harvest after the paddy-planting season. I believe you get my drift?

There is a world of difference between a good and bad manuscript. Not only is a good manuscript well written, it is also well edited before being submitted to a publishing house. A good manuscript is like the proverbial needle in the haystack. When you are editing a reasonably good manuscript it feels like being in heaven; there is beautiful music in the air and the sound of angels singing. Editing an egregious manuscript is like burning in the pits of hell, with fire and brimstone your eternal companions. What I dislike most is that good manuscripts are so difficult to find. Sadly, there aren’t that many good ones to choose from. Most are execrably under- or overwritten and repetitious, full of vague and meaningless sentences that do not add anything to the subject. Well, as they say, life’s like that. However, in real life, we do publish the unreadable … and the occasional good book that actually sells!

We not only need more writers, but more writers with original and exciting ideas, thoughts and opinions that matter and appeal to as many readers as possible. We need writers with a sense of intelligence and storytelling in their prose and an eye for telling details. We need writers who can write well and are able to string sentences grammatically and syntactically, and punctuate them at all the right places. We want writing that is entertaining, gripping, compulsive and thought-provoking—all at the same time. We crave writing that keeps us at the edge of our seats. We want original pieces of writing that challenges us as readers. We want writing that gets us excited about books and make us jump with joy. Otherwise, what’s the point of publishing? There is nothing like the sound of luminous prose; they crackle like dried leaves being trampled upon in the heat of a summer’s day. (This is actually harder to write than it sounds.)

If fiction is not your thing, try nonfiction. However, don’t for a moment imagine that nonfiction is a piece of cake. It’s not. Piecing together research coherently and seamlessly is no easy task. Not everyone can do both equally well. Go on and write the book that you say you were born to write. And when that happens, perhaps we will meet at the bookshops one of these days and celebrate your success!

ERIC FORBES edits books for a living and has been in bookselling and publishing for over 30 years. He is reading Mary Norris’s Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen (W.W. Norton, 2015) and is thoroughly enjoying it.

Friday, January 01, 2016

January 2016 Highlights

Novels
1. The Kindness of Enemies (Grove Press, 2016) / Leila Aboulela
2. The Woman Who Ran (Harper, 2016) / Sam Baker
3. The Noise of Time (Jonathan Cape, 2016) / Julian Barnes
4. The Happy Marriage (trans. from the French by André Naffis-Sahely) (Melville House, 2016) / Tahar Ben Jelloun
5. The Swans of Fifth Avenue (Delacorte Press, 2016) / Melanie Benjamin
6. The Dogs of Littlefield (Simon & Schuster, 2016) / Suzanne Berne
7. Even the Dead: A Quirke Novel (Henry Holt, 2016) / Benjamin Black
8. The Guest Room (Doubleday, 2016) / Chris Bohjalian
9. Good on Paper (Melville House, 2016) / Rachel Cantor
10. On the Edge (trans. from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa) (New Directions, 2016) / Rafael Chirbes

11. Exposure (Hutchinson, 2016) / Helen Dunmore
12. Where My Heart Used to Beat (Henry Holt, 2016) / Sebastian Faulks
13. The Past (Harper, 2016) / Tessa Hadley
14. Human Acts (trans. from the Korean by Deborah Smith) (Portobello Books, 2016) / Han Kang
15. Dictator (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) / Robert Harris
16. Mr Splitfoot (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) / Samantha Hunt
17. The Illegal (W.W. Norton, 2016) / Lawrence Hill
18. Avenue of Mysteries (Doubleday, 2016) / John Irving
19. Yuki Chan in Brontë Country (Faber & Faber, 2016) / Mick Jackson
20. A Guide to Berlin (Harvill Secker, 2016) / Gail Jones

21. The World Without Us (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016) / Mireille Juchau
22. The Long Room (Faber & Faber, 2016) / Francesca Kay
23. The Sleep Garden (Tin House Books, 2016) / Jim Krusoe
24. The Expatriates (Viking, 2016) / Janice Y.K. Lee
25. The Crooked Heart of Mercy (Random House Canada, 2016) / Billie Livingston
26. Coffin Road (Quercus, 2016) / Peter May
27. After the Circus (trans. from the French by Mark Polizzotti) (Yale University Press, 2016) / Patrick Modiano
28. Winter (Europa Editions, 2016) / Christopher Nicholson
29. The Man Without a Shadow (Ecco/Fourth Estate, 2016) / Joyce Carol Oates
30. The Queen’s Choice (Mira, 2016) / Anne O’Brien

31. Hunters in the Dark (Hogarth, 2016) / Lawrence Osborne
32. Gull (Head of Zeus, 2016) / Glenn Patterson
33. What Was Mine (Gallery Books, 2016) / Helen Klein Ross
34. The Other Me (Flatiron Books, 2016) / Saskia Sarginson
35. My Name Is Lucy Barton (Random House, 2016) / Elizabeth Strout

First Novels
1. The Widow (Bantam Press, 2016) / Fiona Barton
2. Fallen Land (St Martin’s Press, 2016) / Taylor Brown
3. The Trouble with Goats and Sheep (The Borough Press, 2016) / Joanna Cannon
4. River of Ink (Bloomsbury Circus/Bloomsbury USA, 2016) / Paul M.M. Cooper
5. The Lightkeepers (Counterpoint, 2016) / Abby Geni
6. What Belongs to You (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016) / Garth Greenwell
7. Pillars of Light (Doubleday Canada, 2016) / Jane Johnson
8. In a Land of Paper Gods (Tinder Press, 2016) / Rebecca Mackenzie
9. The Natashas (Serpent’s Tail, 2016) / Yelena Moskovich
10. Highbridge (Century, 2016) / Phil Redmond

11. The Good Liar (Viking, 2016) / Nicholas Searle
12. Unspeakable Things (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) / Kathleen Spivack
13. The Longest Night (Random House, 2016) / Andria Williams
14. Girl Through Glass (Harper, 2016) / Sari Wilson
15. Weathering (Bloomsbury USA, 2016) / Lucy Wood
16. Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist (Lee Boudreaux Books/Little, Brown, 2016) / Sunil Yapa

Stories
1. American Housewife (Doubleday, 2016) / Helen Ellis
2. Good People (Bellevue Literary Press, 2016) / Robert Lopez
3. Sea Lovers (Serpent’s Tail, 2016) / Valerie Martin
4. The High Places (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin Australia, 2016) / Fiona McFarlane
5. Dinosaurs on Other Planets (John Murray, 2016) / Danielle McLaughlin
6. Ways to Spend the Night (Engine Books, 2016) / Pamela Painter
7. The Unfinished World and Other Stories (Liveright, 2016) / Amber Sparks
8. Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine (McSweeney’s, 2016) / Diane Williams

Poetry
1. Vivas to Those Who Have Failed (W.W. Norton, 2016) / Martín Espada
2. Dead Man’s Float (Copper Canyon Press, 2016) / Jim Harrison
3. Sentenced to Life (Liveright, 2016) / Clive James
4. Drowning in Wheat: Selected Poems (Picador, 2016) / John Kinsella
5. The Darkening Trapeze: Last Poems (Graywolf Press, 2016) / Larry Levis
6. The Poet, The Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, A Wedding in St Roch, The Big Box Store, The Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All (Copper Canyon Press, 2016) / C.D. Wright

Nonfiction
1. The Naked Shore of the North Shore (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016) / Tom Blass
2. The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain (Doubleday, 2016) / Bill Bryson
3. Their Promised Land: My Grandparents in Love and War (Penguin Press, 2016) / Ian Buruma
4. Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews 1933-49 (Macmillan, 2016) / David Cesarani
5. The Vanishing Man: In Pursuit of Velázquez (Chatto & Windus, 2016) / Laura Cumming
6. The Wise King: A Christian Prince, Muslim Spain, and the Birth of the Renaissance (Basic Books, 2016) / Simon R. Doubleday
7. The Last Interview and Other Conversations (Melville House, 2016) / Nora Ephron
8. The Bitter Taste of Victory: In the Ruins of the Reich (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016) / Lara Feigel
9. Being a Beast (profile Books, 2016) / Charles Foster
10. 1956: The Year in Revolt (Faber & Faber, 2016) / Simon Hall

11. The Ministry of Nostalgia (Verso Books, 2016) / Owen Hatherley
12. We Need Silence to Find Out What We Think: Selected Essays (ed. Brigitta Olubas) (Columbia University Press, 2016) / Shirley Hazzard
13. And Yet: Essays (Atlantic Books, 2016) / Christopher Hitchens
14. The Big Red Book of Modern Chinese Literature: Writings from the Mainland in the Long Twentieth Century (W.W. Norton, 2016) / Yunte Huang (ed.)
15. God Is Watching You: How the Fear of God Makes Us Human (Oxford University Press USA, 2016) / Dominic Johnson
16. This is London: Life and Death in the World City (Picador, 2016) / Ben Judah
17. When Breath Becomes Air (Random House, 2016) / Paul Kalanithi
18. The Outrun (Canongate Books, 2016) / Amy Liptrot
19. But You Did Not Come Back (trans. from the French by Sandra Smith) (Faber & Faber/Atlantic Monthly Press, 2016) / Marceline Loran-Ivens
20. The Cabaret of Plants: Forty Thousand Years of Plant Life and the Human Imagination (W.W. Norton, 2016) / Richard Mabey

21. Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature (Plume, 2016) / Meredith Maran
(ed.)
22. The Romanovs, 1613-1918 (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2016) / Simon Sebag Montefiore
23. Landskipping: Painters, Ploughmen and Places (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016) / Anna Pavord
24. 1924: The Year That Made Hitler (Little, Brown, 2016) / Peter Ross Range
25. City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp (Picador/Portobello Books, 2016) / Ben Rawlence
26. Midnight in Broad Daylight: A Japanese American Family Caught Between Two Worlds (Harper, 2016) / Pamela Rotner Sakamoto
27. Asylum: A Survivor’s Flight from Nazi-Occupied Vienna Through Wartime France (trans. from the German by P.N. Singer) (Profile Books, 2016) / Moriz Scheyer
28. The Egyptians: A Radical Story (Allen Lane, 2016) / Jack Shenker
29. Shame and Wonder: Essays (Random House/William Heinemann, 2016) / David Searcy
30. The Prose Factory: Literary Life in England Since 1918 (Chatto & Windus, 2016) / D.J. Taylor

31. The Holy Roman Empire: A Thousand Years of Europe’s History (Allen Lane, 2016) / Peter H. Wilson
32. Walking the Himalayas (Hodder & Stoughton, 2016) / Levison Wood
33. Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year-Old Author (Simon & Schuster, 2016) / Herman Wouk

Thursday, December 31, 2015

100 Literary Favourites of 2015

AND YET ANOTHER HAS COME TO AN END. 2015 has been another vintage year for both fiction and nonfiction (and poetry). It’s literally a bumper harvest of literature. Here are my favourite reads of 2015, arranged alphabetically by authors’ names. They are not necessarily the best books of the year. I have no idea what a best book is. What I have listed here is merely a selection of some of my favourite books that I have read this year, books that have resonated with me, books that have left a lasting impression on me, books that I have enjoyed in one way or another, books that have managed to entertain me, books that were well edited, etc. This list is of course subjective because I have only read a small percentage of the books published this year. It is almost impossible to do a Top 10. I could easily add another hundred books to the list if I wanted to. Like many serious readers, I buy far more books than I can possibly read in a year, but nothing makes me happier. As always, I look forward with anticipation to a new reading year.

Novels
1. A God in Ruins (Doubleday/Little, Brown, 2015) / Kate Atkinson
2. The Prize (Counterpoint, 2015) / Jill Bialosky
3. Orient (Harper, 2015) / Christopher Bollen
4. The Infidel Stain (Fig Tree, 2015) / M.J. Carter
5. The Green Road (Jonathan Cape/W.W. Norton, 2015) / Anne Enright
6. Little Sister Death (Dzanc Books/Faber & Faber, 2015) / William Gay
7. Wherever There Is Light (Atria Books, 2015) / Peter Golden
8. The Past (Jonathan Cape, 2015) / Tessa Hadley
9. The Nightingale (St Martin’s Press, 2015) / Kristin Hannah
10. In Certain Circles (Text Publishing, 2015) / Elizabeth Harrower

11. Our Souls at Night (Alfred A. Knopf/Picador, 2015) / Kent Haruf
12. The Dig (Coffee House Press, 2015) / Cynan Jones
13. A Slant of Light (Bloomsbury Publishing/Bloomsbury USA, 2015) / Jeffrey Lent
14. Tender (Picador, 2015) / Belinda McKeon
15. Signs for Lost Children (Granta Books, 2015) / Sarah Moss
16. The Rocks (Riverhead, 2015) / Peter Nichols
17. The Little Red Chairs (Faber & Faber, 2015) / Edna O’Brien
18. Miss Emily (Penguin Press/Sandstone Press, 2015) / Nuala O’Connor
19. The Lost Child (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Oneworld Publications, 2015) / Caryl Phillips
20. The Year of the Runaways (Picador, 2015) / Sunjeev Sahota

21. The Book of Aron (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015) / Jim Shepard
22. Katherine Carlyle (Other Press/Corsair, 2015) / Rupert Thomson
23. The Followers (Picador, 2015) / Rebecca Wait
24. A Little Life (Doubleday/Picador, 2015) / Hanya Yanagihara

Translated Fiction
26. Beauty Is a Wound (trans. from the Indonesian by Annie Tucker) (New Directions, 2015) / Eka Kurniawan
27. A Woman Loved (trans. from the French by Geoffrey Strachan) (Graywolf Press/MacLehose Press, 2015) / Andreï Makine
28. When the Doves Disappeared (trans. from the Finnish by Lola M. Rogers) (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015) / Sofi Oksanen
29. A Strangeness in My Mind (trans. from the Turkish by Ekin Oklap) (Faber & Faber/Alfred A. Knopf, 2015) / Orhan Pamuk
30. A Whole Life (trans. from the German by Charlotte Collins) (Picador, 2015) / Robert Seethaler

First Novels
31. Whisper Hollow (Other Press, 2015) / Chris Cander
32. The Strangler Vine (G.P. Putnam’s, 2015) / M.J. Carter
33. Burning Down George Orwell’s House (Soho Press, 2015) / Andrew Ervin
34. The Turner House (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) / Angela Flournoy
35. Our Endless Numbered Days (Tin House/House of Anansi Press, 2015) / Claire Fuller
36. The Way Back to Florence (Cheyne Walk, 2015) / Glenn Haybittle
37. Safekeeping (Fig Tree, 2015) / Jessamyn Hope
38. Black River (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) / S.M. Hulse
39. Where All Light Tends to Go (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015) / David Joy
40. The Loney (John Murray, 2015) / Andrew Michael Hurley

41. Death and Mr Pickwick (Jonathan Cape/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015) / Stephen Jarvis
42. Descent (Algonquin Books, 2015) / Tim Johnston
43. Fate Moreland’s Widow (University of South Carolina Press, 2015) / John Lane
44. Mrs Engels (Scribe Publications/Catapult, 2015) / Gavin McCrea
45. The Sympathizer (Grove Press, 2015) / Viet Thanh Nguyen
46. The Fishermen (One/Little, Brown, 2015) / Chigozie Obioma
47. American Copper (Unbridled Books, 2015) / Shann Ray
48. The Secret Wisdom of the Earth (Grand Central Publishing, 2015) / Christopher Scotton
49. Landfalls (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Little, Brown, 2015) / Naomi J. Williams
50. Weathering (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015) / Lucy Wood
50. The Small Backs of Children (Harper, 2105) / Lidia Yuknavitch

Stories
51. In the Country (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015) / Mia Alvar
52. There’s Something I Want You to Do (Pantheon, 2015) / Charles Baxter
53. Refund (Counterpoint Press, 2015) / Karen E. Bender
54. The Not-Dead and The Saved and Other Stories (Picador, 2015) / Kate Clanchy
55. A Manual for Cleaning Women (ed. Stephen Emerson) (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Picador, 2015) / Lucia Berlin
56. Jellyfish (Freight Books, 2015) / Janice Galloway
57. Dancing on the Outskirts (Virago, 2015) / Shena Mackay
58. The Tsar of Love and Techno (Hogarth, 2015) / Anthony Marra
59. Thirteen Ways of Looking (Random House, 2015) / Colum McCann
60. Crow Fair (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015) / Thomas McGuane

61. We Don’t Know What We’re Doing (Faber & Faber, 2015) / Thomas Morris
62. Honeydew (Little, Brown/John Murray, 2015) / Edith Pearlman
63. Night at the Fiestas (W.W. Norton, 2015) / Kirstin Valdez Quade
64. The Country Road (trans. from the German by Kurt Beals) (New Directions, 2015) / Regina Ullmann
65. The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015) / Joy Williams

Poetry
66. The Last Two Seconds (Graywolf Press, 2015) / Mary Jo Bang
67. Scattered at Sea (Penguin Books, 2015) / Amy Gerstler
68. Turning into Dwelling (Graywolf Press, 2015) / Christopher Gilbert
69. Not in this World (Bloodaxe Books, 2015) / Tracey Herd
70. Notes on the Assemblage (City Lights, 2015) / Juan Felipe Herrera
71. Loop of Jade (Chatto & Windus, 2015) / Sarah Howe
72. Sentenced to Life (Picador, 2015) / Clive James
73. Syllabus of Errors (Princeton University Press, 2015) / Troy Jollimore
74. Steep Tea (Carcanet Press, 2015) / Jee Leong Koh
75. The Emperor of Water Clocks (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015) / Yusef Komunyakaa
75. Bright Dead Things (Milkweed Editions) / Ada Limón
75. The Observances (Carcanet Press, 2015) / Kate Miller
75. Waiting for the Past (Carcanet Press, 2015) / Les Murray
75. Heaven (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015) / Rowan Ricardo Phillips
75. Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts (Tupelo Press, 2015) / Lawrence Raab

Nonfiction
76. Keeping An Eye Open: Essays on Art (Jonathan Cape, 2015) / Julian Barnes
77. Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life (William Collins/Harper, 2015) / Jonathan Bate
78. The Crime and the Silence (trans. from the Polish by Alissa Valles) (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/William Heinemann, 2015) / Anna Bikont
79. Fracture: Life and Culture in the West, 1918-1938 (Atlantic Books, 2015) / Philipp Blom
80. Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau, 2015) / Ta-Nehisi Coates
81. London Fog: The Biography (Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 2015) / Christine L. Corton
82. Young Eliot: From St Louis to The Waste Land (Jonathan Cape/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015) / Robert Crawford
83. The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and The Secret History of Wonderland (Harvill Secker/Belknap Press, 2015) / Robert Douglas-Fairhurst
84. The Silk Roads: A New History of the World (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015) / Peter Frankopan
85. The House by the Lake: A Story of Germany (William Heinemann, 2015) / Thomas Harding

86. Charlotte Brontë: A Life (Viking, 2015) / Claire Harman
87. Latest Readings (Yale University Press, 2015) / Clive James
88. Negroland: A Memoir (Pantheon, 2015) / Margo Jefferson
89. Man in Profile: Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker (Random House, 2015) / Thomas Kunkel
90. The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune, 1915-1964 (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015) / Zachary Leader
91. Maman, What Are We Called Now? (Persephone Books, 2015) / Jacqueline Mesnil-Amar
92. Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen (W.W. Norton, 2015) / Mary Norris
93. John Aubrey: My Own Life (Chatto & Windus, 2015) / Ruth Scurr
94. John le Carré: The Biography (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015) / Adam Sisman
95. Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning (Tim Duggan Books/Bodley Head, 2015) / Timothy Snyder

96. This Divided Island: Stories from the Sri Lankan War (Atlantic Books, 2015) / Samanth Subramanian
97. Stalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva (Fourth Estate/Harper, 2015) / Rosemary Sullivan
98. Proust: The Search (Yale University Press, 2015) / Benjamin Taylor
99. The English and Their History (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015) / Robert Tombs
100. Notes on the Death of Culture: Essays on Spectacle and Society (trans. from the Spanish by John King) (Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015) / Mario Vargas Llosa
100. Walking the Kiso Road: A Modern-Day Exploration of Old Japan (Shambhala, 2015) / William Scott Wilson