Friday, July 15, 2016

Throw Your Mummy’s Smelly Shoe Awards & Other Malaysiana Miscellany

A SENIOR EDITOR at a Malaysian publishing house received the following e-mail the other day. The message, with typos amended (to avoid embarrassment, of course), reads: “I can’t write very well, but I thought I’d like to try writing a novel. I’ve decided to write one about pirates, but I know next to nothing about pirates. Could you please e-mail me information about pirates: their lifestyle, their eating habits, where they like to chill out in the evenings or during the weekends, what they like to do during the day when most of us are at work, 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 paid commercials 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 THROW YOUR MUMMY’S SMELLY SHOE 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, she does.
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 (including the obligatory curry puffs and mee siam, among other things) 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, dead, dispirited, hollow, illiterate, inert, insipid, lackadaisical, lazy, lethargic, lifeless, non-informative, puerile, self-indulgent, shallow, tepid, uninspiring and vague. Sometimes the manuscripts are so execrable, possibly written by someone who doesn’t speak or write the language, that editing them is next to impossible. (I don’t pray for much, seriously: 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, spelling and writing); 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, solving problems and consulting the dictionary. Punctuating dialogue is a major weakness. Most of them lack imagination and 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 book 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 the typesetting of pages, are not open to constructive criticism and lack even the most basic of language skills (English and Malay). (“The kind of designs you don’t really 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. Experience makes no difference. 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. They have no idea what consistency is.

Another sad fact: translation standards are (atrociously) abysmal. Translation is not just about translating words (linguistics) 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 or dimension. “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 English and Malay.

A vicious cycle. Definitely. So, do we really have a publishing industry in Malaysia? Of course not. 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. Publishing good books (and finding a readership for these books) is constantly a Sisyphean struggle. 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, Watermelon?
Waterlily: My name is Waterlily, not Watermelon! 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 a whizz 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.
ACCORDING to Andreï Makine, “Language is just grammar. The real language of literature is created in the heart, not a grammar book.” Makine—a Russian novelist who writes not in his mother tongue but in French—is not discounting the importance of grammar in writing. However, good writing is more than good grammar. Good grammar, in other words, is just not good enough when crafting sentences. In our reading, we have occasionally come across writing which is grammatically perfect in every aspect but somehow lacks heart, writing that lacks an emotional core: hollow, meretricious, staid, technical and wooden. Good writers know when and how to break rules for good original prose to emerge. The challenging task is to nudge boundaries and push narrative towards places it has not been before.
I WAS EDITING a piece of writing the other day. Writers and editors need to be logical when they write or edit. A baby girl is a baby girl. There is no need to be too specific by calling it a “young” baby girl. Is there such a thing as an “old” baby girl?
WE ARE IN THE MIDST of editing another crappy manuscript by a crappy Malaysian writer. It’s just another crappy day in the life of a Malaysian editor. Possibly another worthy contender for the THROW YOUR MUMMY’S SMELLY SHOE AWARDS for the crappiest writing in the world? One that would put us to sleep for a thousand years. We can’t wait for the torture to be over ... until another one comes along (like they always do). Please, please forgive us for unleashing this horror upon humanity and the universe. Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. ...
MOST OF THE TIME book editors reject more than they accept manuscripts simply because there are more bad than good writing floating around. With modern publishing the way it is, where quantity is more important than quality, decisions on whether to accept or reject manuscripts are no longer the sole preserve of editors but marketing consultants. Editors are no longer the literary gatekeepers of the universe like they once were. They are more of a stumbling block in the seemingly unrelenting contemporary marketing process. The role of editors is to edit good manuscripts and make bad ones look good enough for those who do not know better. As literary gatekeepers, marketing consultants think that they document history and human evolution, but most of the time they dress up trash to look like literature. This explains the glut of bad writing you see flooding the marketplace. That’s just what I think.
A: Can you read and write English?
B: No.
A: Can you read and write Malay?
B: No.
A: Can you read and write Chinese?
B: No.
A: So, what are you doing now?
B: Studying Korean.
A: You can’t even handle English, your mother tongue or the national language, why would you even want to take up a challenging language like Korean?
B: I just like the way the Koreans speak and sing-mah!
A: Wah, so clever!
AUTHOR: Could you put my husband’s name (and mine) on the cover?
Editor: No, I can’t do that. He is not the writer. You are the author. Your name will be on the cover.
Author: But he helped me with research, fact-checking and proofreading.
Editor: You may credit him in the acknowledgements page.
Author: But I want his name on the cover with me!
Editor: No!
Author: You know, you are not as nice as some people say you are.
Editor: You could always self-publish and put the names of whoever you like on the cover if that makes you happy!
ANOTHER turd of a manuscript landed in my lap with a loud thud this morning, turning my life upside down and upsetting the balance in this neck of the universe. Looks like it’s another long month of agony, damnation, sleepless nights, slogging and suffering. A manuscript that is far from stimulating. Somehow one’s opinion of prominent people tend to go down the clogged monsoon drain once you start reading their life stories. Their stories tend to put me to death. What have I done to deserve this? I take care of my family and love all my brothers and sisters (including all my Facebook friends) and buy my mother her 100% Massimo whole wheat bread every other day, yet I still get punished! What have I done to deserve this! What I have done is, I have just edited possibly the worst book of my career. And after countless hours editing within a tight time frame, it is still the worst book of my entire career.
WE were at a popular dining establishment in KLCC the other day. We were disappointed with the stuffed chicken breast we ordered. They were clearly below expectations. Not only were they hard, dry and leathery, they were bland, almost tasteless, more like something left over from the night before warmed up. If you enjoy paying First World prices for food that is below average or worse, then this is the perfect place to waste your hard-earned money.
I HAVE NO IDEA where Malaysians get their education from. Their spelling is the pits. They spell “Barisan Nasional” as “Barisan National”, a blend of English and Malay. Even my dear mother knows that it is spelt as either “Barisan Nasional” (Malay) or “National Front” (English). It is one or the other. It is either Malay or English. Be consistent when you write. First, decide which language you want to write in. I know, a tough decision. Malaysians also can’t tell the difference between “reign” and “rein”, “ferment” and “foment”, and when to use them correctly. They tend to use them interchangeably. Other weaknesses include hyphenation (“long term” vs “long-term”, “fairy tale” vs “fairy-tale”, etc.), italicization, prepositions and word order, punctuations, spelling of names, insufficient fact checking, among others.
MALAYSIAN authors have the bad habit of editing their books only after their books have been published and distributed all over the universe and beyond. They are never bothered with editing at the manuscript stage. (They submit their manuscripts raw without editing them.) Most of them are so bloody lazy to read their own works. There is nothing much we can do about this because Malaysian writers prefer eating to reading. Most of them can spent the whole day eating but not many can spend the whole day reading. Most of the time I wonder: Why do they even bother to write?
I get this a lot … from the moment I was born back in the early 1960s to now in 2016.

A: You are mixed, right?
B: Ah … yeah.
A: So what kind of food do you eat?
B: Grass and lalang … and red velvet cake!
A: Huh! I mean: do you eat Chinese food?
B: No!
A: Why not?
B: Duh! I don’t know! Perhaps I don’t like Chinese food?
A: How can you not like Chinese food when your mum’s Chinese!
B: Why not?

Friday, July 01, 2016

July 2016 Highlights

1. Fell (Sceptre, 2016) / Jenn Ashworth
2. Lucky Strikes (Henry Holt, 2016) / Louis Bayard
3. On the Edge (trans. from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa) (Harvill Secker, 2016) / Rafael Chirbes
4. Everything Love Is (Bloomsbury Circus, 2016) / Claire King
5. Age of Consent (Nan A. Talese, 2016) / Marti Leimbach
6. The Association of Small Bombs (Chatto & Windus, 2016) / Karan Mahajan
7. This Must Be the Place (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) / Maggie O’Farrell
8. The Heavenly Table (Doubleday, 2016) / Donald Ray Pollock
9. Miss Jane (W.W. Norton, 2016) / Brad Watson

First Novels
1. The Confession of Stella Moon (Contraband, 2016) / Shelley Day

1. When Watched (Penguin Books, 2016) / Leopoldine Core
2. Sandlands (Sandstone Press, 2016) / Rosy Thornton

1. Hemming Flames (Utah State University Press, 2016) / Patricia Colleen Murphy

1. Everywhere I Look (Text Publishing, 2016) / Helen Garner
2. Critics, Monsters, Fanatics, and Other Literary Essays (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) / Cynthia Ozick

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

June 2016 Highlights

1. Selection Day (Picador, 2016) / Aravind Adiga
2. The Doves Necklace (trans. from the Arabic by Katharine Halls & Adam Taleb) (The Overlook Press, 2016) / Raja Alem
3. The Bones of Grace (Harper, 2016) / Tahmima Anam
4. Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty (Riverhead Books, 2016) / Ramona Ausubel
5. Since She Went Away (NAL, 2016) / David Bell
6. The Museum of You (Hutchinson, 2016) / Carys Bray
7. Moonglow (HarperCollins, 2016) / Michael Chabon
8. Black Water (Faber & Faber, 2016) / Louise Doughty
9. White Sands (Canongate Books, 2016) / Geoff Dyer
10. Wintering (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) / Peter Geye

11. Heat & Light (HarperCollins, 2016) / Jennifer Haigh
12. Emperor of the Eight Islands: The Tale of Shikanoko (Picador, 2016) / Lian Hearn
13. The Essex Serpent (Serpent’s Tail, 2016) / Sarah Perry
14. Barkskins (Scribner, 2016) / Annie Proulx
15. They May Not Mean To, But They Do (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016) / Cathleen Schine
16. The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 (Harper, 2016) / Lionel Shriver
17. Golden Hill (Faber & Faber, 2016) / Francis Spufford
18. The Gilded Years (Washington Square Press, 2016) / Karin Tanabe
19. Vinegar Girl (Hogarth, 2016) / Anne Tyler
20. The Natural Way of Things (Allen & Unwin/Europa Editions, 2016) / Charlotte Wood

21. Devotion (The Borough Press, 2016) / Louisa Young

First Novels
1. Rich and Pretty (Ecco, 2016) / Rumaan Alam
2. The Storyteller (Holland House, 2016) / Kate Armstrong
3. The Girls (Random House, 2016) / Emily Cline
4. Homegoing (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) / Yaa Gyasi
5. Beauty Is a Wound (trans. from the Indonesian by Annie Tucker) (Pushkin Press, 2016) / Eka Kurniawan
6. Grief is the Thing with Feathers (Graywolf Press, 2016) / Max Porter
7. A Quiet Life (The Borough Press, 2016) / Natasha Walter

1. Selected Poems (ed. Clive Wilmer) (Faber & Faber, 2016) / Thom Gunn
2. Cain (Penned in the Margins, 2016) / Luke Kennard

1. White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World (Canongate Books, 2016) / Geoff Dyer
2. Negroland: A Memoir (Granta Books, 2016) / Margo Jefferson
3. In My Own Time: Thoughts and Afterthoughts (Virago, 2016) / Jane Miller
4. Feel Free (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin Books, 2016) / Zadie Smith
6. The Long Weekend: Life in the English Country House Between the Wars (Jonathan Cape, 2016) / Adrian Tinniswood

Sunday, May 01, 2016

May 2016 Highlights

1. Enchanted Islands (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2016) / Allison Amend
2. The Bones of Grace (Canongate Books, 2016) / Tahmima Anam
3. A Country Road, A Tree (Doubleday/Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) / Jo Baker
4. The Noise of Time (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) / Julian Barnes
5. The Beautiful Dead (Bantam Press, 2016) / Belinda Bauer
6. Everyone Brave Is Forgiven (Simon & Schuster, 2016) / Chris Cleave
7. The City of Mirrors (Ballantine Books, 2016) / Justin Cronin
8. Zero K (Scribner/Picador, 2016) / Don DeLillo
9. The After Party (Riverhead Books, 2016) / Anton DiSclafani
10. The Veins of the Ocean (Grove Press, 2016) / Patricia Engel

11. LaRose (Harper, 2016) / Louise Erdrich
12. Eleven Hours (Tin House Books, 2016) / Pamela Erens
13. The Theoretical Foot (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016) / M.F.K. Fisher
14. Heat & Light (Ecco, 2016) / Jennifer Haigh
15. The Lie Tree (Amulet Books, 2016) / Frances Hardinge
16. Imagine Me Gone (Little, Brown, 2016) / Adam Haslett
17. Before the Fall (Grand Central Publishing, 2016) / Noah Hawley
18. Serious Sweet (Jonthan Cape, 2016) / A.L. Kennedy
19. The Children (St Martin’s Press, 2016) / Ann Leary
20. Unknown Remains (Counterpoint, 2016) / Peter Leonard

21. The Lubetkin Legacy (Fig Tree, 2016) / Marina Lewycka
22. Wilde Lake (William Morrow, 2016) / Laura Lippman
23. Late One Night (Dzanc Books, 2016) / Lee Martin
24. The Book of Harlan (Akashic Books, 2016) / Bernice L. McFadden
25. Sweet Lamb of Heaven (W.W. Norton, 2016) / Lydia Millet
26. The Sport of Kings (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Fourth Estate, 2016) / C.E. Morgan
27. The Fox Was Ever the Hunter (trans. from the German by Philip Boehm) (Metropolitan Books/Portobello Books, 2016) / Herta Müller
28. This Must Be the Place (Tinder Press, 2016) / Maggie O’Farrell
29. Conspiracy (HarperCollins, 2016) / S.J. Parris
30. Above the Waterfall (Canongate Books, 2016) / Ron Rash

31. Three-Martini Lunch (Allison & Busby, 2016) / Suzanne Rindell
32. Everybody’s Fool (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) / Richard Russo
33. The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 (The Borough Press, 2016) / Lionel Shriver
34. Modern Lovers (Riverhead Books, 2016) / Emma Straub
35. The Gustav Sonata (Chatto & Windus, 2016) / Rose Tremain
36. Father’s Day (Oneworld Publications, 2016) / Simon Van Booy

First Novels
1. Sweetbitter (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) / Stephanie Danler
2. Native Believer (Akashic Books, 2016) / Ali Eteraz
3. The Vanishing Futurist (Faber & Faber, 2016) / Charlotte Hobson
4. The Loney (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 29016) / Andrew Michael Hurley
5. The Outside Lands (Picador, 2016) / Hannah Kohler
6. A Rising Man (Harvill Secker, 2016) / Abir Mukherjee
7. Nothing on Earth (Doubleday Ireland, 2016) / Conor O’Callaghan
8. The Assistants (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016) / Camille Perri
9. The Last Days of Summer (Penguin Ireland, 2016) / Vanessa Ronan
10. The Mirror Thief (Melville House Publishing, 2016) / Martin Seay

11. Golden Hill (Faber & Faber, 2016) / Francis Spufford

1. Multitudes (Faber & Faber, 2016) / Lucy Caldwell
2. The Pier Falls (Jonathan Cape, 2016) / Mark Haddon
3. The High Places (Sceptre/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016) / Fiona McFarlane
4. Allegheny Front (Sarabande Books, 2016) / Matthew Neill Null
5. Wild Quiet (New Island Books, 2016) / Roisín O'Donnell
6. Gods and Angels (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016) / David Park

1. Pearl (Faber & Faber, 2016) / Simon Armitage
2. Beyond Elsewhere (trans. from the French by Hélène Cardona) (White Pine Press, 2016) / Gabriel Arnou-Laujeac
3. Collected Poems, 1974-2004 (W.W. Norton, 2016) / Rita Dove
4. Selected Poems (Faber & Faber, 2016) / Jamie McKendrick
5. May Day (Graywolf Press, 2016) / Gretchen Marquette
6. Say Something Back (Picador, 2016) / Denise Riley

1. Voyager: Travel Writings (Ecco, 2016) / Russell Banks
2. Joseph Brodsky and the Creation of Exile (Princeton University Press, 2016) / David M. Bethea
3. Braving It: A Father, a Daughter, and an Unforgettable Journey into the Alaskan Wild (Crown, 2016) / James Campbell
4. Boy Erased: A Memoir (Riverhead Books, 2016) / Garrard Conley
5. White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World (Pantheon, 2016) / Geoff Dyer
6. The Wood for the Trees: A Long View of Nature from a Small Wood (William Collins, 2016) / Richard Fortey
7. Mother Tongue: My Family’s Globe-Trotting Quest to Dream in Mandarin, Laugh in Arabic, and Sing in Spanish (Avery, 2016) / Christine Gilbert
8. The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches from Syria (Liveright, 2016) / Janine di Giovanni
9. The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History, 1962-1976 (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016) / Frank Dikötter
10. Little Labors (New Direction, 2016) / Rivka Galchen

11. The Romanovs: 1613-1918 (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) / Simon Sebag Montefiore
12. When True Love Came to China (Hong Kong University Press, 2016) / Lynn Pan
13. India’s War: World War II and the Making of Modern South India (Basic Books, 2016) / Srinath Raghavan
14. The Violet Hour: Great Writers at the End (Virago, 2016) / Katie Roiphe
15. East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2016) / Philippe Sands

Friday, April 01, 2016

April 2016 Highlights

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

1. The Cauliflower (William Heinemann, 2016) / Nicola Barker
2. Kill and Be Killed (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2016) / Louis Begley
3. The Lonely Sea and Sky (New Island Books, 2016) / Dermot Bolger
4. Alice & Oliver (Random House, 2016) / Charles Bock
5. The Queen of the Night (Michael Joseph, 2016) / Alexander Chee
6. Everyone Brave Is Forgiven (Sceptre, 2016) / Chris Cleave
7. The History of Great Things (Harper Perennial, 2016) / Elizabeth Crane
8. Before We Visit the Goddess (Simon & Schuster, 2016) / Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
9. Exposure (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2016) / Helen Dunmore
10. The Sunlight Pilgrims (William Heinemann, 2016) / Jenni Fagan

11. The Excellent Lombards (Grand Central Publishing, 2016) / Jane Hamilton
12. The Gun Room (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016) / Georgina Harding
13. Different Class (Doubleday, 2016) / Joanne Harris
14. My Struggle: Book Five (trans. from the Norwegian by Donald Bartlett) (Archipelago Books, 2015) / Karl Ove Knausgaard
15. Before the Wind (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) / Jim Lynch
16. Quiet Neighbors (Midnight Ink, 2016) / Catriona McPherson
17. Hystophia (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016) / David Means
18. Chasing the North Star (Algonquin Books, 2016) / Robert Morgan
19. Ladivine (trans. from the French by Jordan Stump) (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) / Marie NDiaye
20. City of Secrets (Viking, 2016) / Stewart O’Nan

21. Miller’s Valley (Random House, 2016) / Anna Quindlen
22. Three-Martini Lunch (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016) / Suzanne Rindell
23. Now and Again (Little, Brown, 2016) / Charlotte Rogan
24. The Chosen Ones (trans. from the Swedish by Anna Paterson) (Faber & Faber, 2016) / Steve Sem-Sandberg
25. Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice (Random House, 2016) / Curtis Sittenfeld
26. The Last Painting of Sara de Vos (Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Allen & Unwin, 2016) / Dominic Smith
27. Mothering Sunday: A Romance (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) / Graham Swift
28. All That Man Is (Jonathan Cape, 2016) / David Szalay
29. The Ashes of London (HarperCollins, 2016) / Andrew Taylor
30. Father’s Day (Harper, 2016) / Simon Van Booy

31. The Blade Artist (Jonathan Cape, 2016) / Irvine Welsh
32. Our Young Man (Bloomsbury USA, 2016) / Edmund White
33. The Naturalist (Random House Canada, 2016) / Alissa York

First Novels
1. The Houseguest (Counterpoint, 2016) / Kim Brooks
2. Ghosts of Bergen County (Tin House Books, 2016) / Dana Cann
3. The Midnight Watch (Atlantic Books, 2016) / David Dyer
4. What Belongs to You (Picador, 2016) / Garth Greenwell
5. A Dying Breed (Two Roads, 2016) / Peter Hanington
6. Maestra (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016) / L.S. Hilton
7. The Adventurist (St Martin’s Press, 2016) / J. Bradford Hipps
8. Born on a Tuesday (Cassava Republic Press, 2016) / Elnathan John
9. The Minor Outsider (ONE/Pushkin Press, 2016) / Ted McDermott
10. Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain (Doubleday, 2016) / Barney Norris

11. Tuesday Nights in 1980 (Scout Press/Simon & Schuster, 2016) / Molly Prentiss
12. Daredevils (Penguin Press, 2016) / Shawn Vestal

1. Reader, I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre (The Borough Press, 2016) / Tracy Chevalier (ed.)
2. Tales of Persuasion (Fourth Estate, 2016) / Philip Hensher
3. What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours (Picador, 2016) / Helen Oyeyemi
4. Hearing Voices Seeing Things (Doire Press, 2016) / William Wall

1. Complete Poems (ed. Don Share) (Faber & Faber, 2016) / Basil Bunting
2. Life in Suspension (Salmon Publishing, 2016) / Hélène Cardona
3. The Dead Queen of Bohemia: New & Collected Poems (Polygon, 2016) / Jenni Fagan
4. The Magnitude of My Sublime Existence (Bloodaxe Books, 2016) / Selima Hill
5. Gate of Lilacs: A Verse Commentary on Proust (Picador, 2016) / Clive James
6. Collected Poems: 1958-2015 (Picador, 2016) / Clive James
7. Collected Poems: 1950-2012 (W.W. Norton, 2016) / Adrienne Rich
8. Selected Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay: An Annotated Edition (ed. Timothy F. Jackson) (Yale University Press, 2016) / Edna St. Vincent Millay
9. Night Sky With Exit Wounds (Copper Canyon Press, 2016) / Ocean Vuong
10. ShallCross (Copper Canyon Press, 2016) / C.D. Wright

1. Kathmandu (Haus Publishing, 2016) / Thomas Bell
2. Crash Course: Essays From Where Writing and Life Collide (Engine Books, 2016) / Robin Black
3. Disraeli: The Novel Politician (Yale University Press, 2016) / David Cesarani
4. The Lady with the Borzoi: Blanche Knopf, Literary Tastemaker Extraordinaire (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016) / Laura Claridge
5. Brothers of the Quill: Oliver Goldsmith in Grub Street (Harvard University Press, 2016) / Norma Clarke
6. Why the Dutch Are Different: A Journey Into the Heart of the Netherlands (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2016) / Ben Coates
7. The Vanishing Velázquez: A 19th-Century Bookseller’s Obsession with a Lost Masterpiece (Scribner, 2016) / Laura Cumming
8. The Hurley Maker’s Son (Doubleday Ireland, 2016) / Patrick Deeley
9. In Gratitude (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016) / Jenny Diski
10. Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, the History of an Idea (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016) / Mitchell Duneier

11. Frantumaglia: Bits and Pieces of Uncertain Origin (Europa Editions, 2016) / Elena Ferrante
12. Pretentiousness: Why It Matters (Coffee House Press, 2016) / Dan Fox
13. Respectable: The Experience of Class (Allen Lane, 2016) / Lynsey Hanley
14. True Crimes: A Family Album (Random House, 2016) / Kathryn Harrison
15. Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 (Macmillan, 2016) / Adam Hochschild
16. Old Age: A Beginner’s Guide (Tim Duggan Books, 2016) / Michael Kinsley
17. This Thing We Call Literature (Oxford University Press USA, 2016) / Arthur Krystal
18. The Whole Harmonium: The Life of Wallace Stevens (Simon & Schuster, 2016) / Paul Mariani
19. City Squares: Eighteen Writers on the Spirit and Significance of Squares Around the World (Harper, 2016) / Catie Marron (ed.)
20. Kill ’Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul (Spiegel & Grau, 2016) / James McBride

21. Our Man Elsewhere: In Search of Alan Moorehead (Black Inc., 2016) / Thornton McCamish
22. Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (Harvard University Press, 2016) / Viet Thanh Nguyen
23. The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction (Columbia University Press, 2016) / M.A. Orthofer
24. The Last Days of Stalin (Yale University Press, 2016) / Joshua Rubenstein
25. Startle and Illuminate: Carol Shields on Writing (eds. Anne Giardini & Nicholas Giardini) (Random House Canada, 2016) / Carol Shields
26. Six Memos from the Last Millennium: A Novelist Reads the Talmud (University of Texas Press, 2016) / Joseph Skibell
27. Far and Away: Essays from the Brink of Change: Seven Continents, Twenty-Five Years (Scribner, 2016) / Andrew Solomon
28. The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016) / Kate Summerscale
29. Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs Adams (Penguin Press, 2016) / Louisa Thomas
30. Guilty Thing: A Life of Thomas De Quincey (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016) / Frances Wilson

31. Heart of Europe: A History of the Holy Roman Empire (Belknap Press, 2016) / Peter H. Wilson
32. Six Facets of Light (Jonathan Cape, 2016) / Ann Wore

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

March 2016 Highlights

“It was one of those MARCH days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.” CHARLES DICKENS, in Great Expectations

1. Noonday (Doubleday, 2016) / Pat Barker
2. Peacekeeping (Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016) / Misha Berlinski
3. The Infidel Stain (G.P. Putnam’s, 2016) / M.J. Carter
4. At the Edge of the Orchard (Viking, 2016) / Tracy Chevalier
5. Becoming Linn (Caitlin Press, 2016) / Tricia Dower
6. Jane Steele (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016) / Lyndsay Faye
7. Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo (Harper, 2016) / Boris Fishman
8. How to Measure a Cow (Chatto & Windus, 2016) / Margaret Forster
9. A Place Called Winter (Grand Central Publishing, 2016) / Patrick Gale
10. Colours Other Than Blue (Ward River Press, 2016) / Anthony Glavin

11. The Vatican Princess (Hodder & Stoughton, 2016) / C.W. Gortner
12. Waking Lions (trans. from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston) (Pushkin Press, 2016) / Ayelet Gundar-Goshen
13. Bottomland (Grove Press, 2016) / Michelle Hoover
14. The Living (Fourth Estate, 2016) / Anjali Joseph
15. A Girl in Exile (trans. from the Albanian by John Hodgson) (Harvill Secker, 2016) / Ismail Kadare
16. Some Rain Must Fall: My Struggle: Book Five (trans. from the Norwegian by Donald Bartlett) (Harvill Secker, 2015) / Karl Ove Knausgaard
17. Hot Milk (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, 2016) / Deborah Levy
18. The Crooked Heart of Mercy (William Morrow, 2016) / Billie Livingston
19. The Association of Small Bombs (Viking, 2016) / Karan Mahajan
20. The North Water (Henry Holt, 2016) / Ian McGuire

21. The Heart of Everything (Hachette Books Ireland, 2016) / Henrietta McKervey
22. Burning Down the House (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) / Jane Mendelsohn
23. JD (University of Wisconsin Press, 2015) / Mark Merlis
24. In the Café of Lost Youth (trans. from the French by Chris Clarke) (New York Review Books, 2016) / Patrick Modiano
25. Young Once (trans. from the French by Damion Searls) (New York Review Books, 2016) / Patrick Modiano
26. Graveyard Clay (trans. from the Irish by Liam Mac Con Iomaire & Tim Robinson) (Yale University Press, 2016) / Máirtín Ó Cadhain
27. All Stories Are Love Stories (Harper, 2016) / Elizabeth Percer
28. As Close to Us as Breathing (Lee Boudreaux Books/Little, Brown, 2016) / Elizabeth Poliner
29. Freya (Jonathan Cape, 2016) / Anthony Quinn
30. The Hourglass Factory (Pegasus, 2016) / Lucy Ribchester

31. The Year of the Runaways (Alfred A. Knopf, 2106) / Sunjeev Sahota
32. The Trees (Bloomsbury Circus, 2016) / Ali Shaw
33. The Summer Before the War (Bloomsbury Publishing/Random House, 2016) / Helen Simonson
34. Where the Trees Were (Hachette Australia, 2016) / Inga Simpson
35. Ten Days (Canongate Books, 2016) / Gilian Slovo
36. The Voyage of the Dolphin (Sandstone Press, 2016) / Kevin Smith
37. Innocents and Others (Scribner, 2016) / Dana Spiotta
38. Hold (Fourth Estate/HarperCollins Australia, 2016) / Kirsten Tranter
39. I Met Someone (Blue Rider Press, 2016) / Bruce Wagner
40. Before the War (Head of Zeus, 2016) / Fay Weldon

41. She Died Young (Serpent’s Tail, 2016) / Elizabeth Wilson

First Novels
1. Blackass (Graywolf Press, 2016) / A. Igoni Barrett
2. Rush Oh! (Little, Brown, 2016) / Shirley Barrett
3. The Midnight Watch (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin Australia, 2016) / David Dyer
4. The Other Mrs Walker (Mantle, 2016) / Mary Paulson-Ellis
5. Dark Debts (Simon & Schuster, 2016) / Karen Hall
6. Shelter (Picador USA, 2016) / Jung Yun
7. The Madwoman Upstairs (Touchstone/Quercus, 2016) / Catherine Lowell
8. Eileen (Jonathan Cape, 2016) / Ottessa Moshfegh
9. Anatomy of a Soldier (Faber & Faber, 2016) / Harry Parker
10. Stork Mountain (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016) / Miroslav Penkov

11. As Close to Us as Breathing (Lee Boudreaux Books, 2016) / Elizabeth Poliner
12. The Hourglass Factory (Pegasus, 2016) / Lucy Ribchester
13. Hurt People (FSG Originals, 2016) / Cote Smith
14. Hold Still (W.W. Norton, 2016) / Lynn Steger Strong
15. The Nest (Ecco, 2016) / Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

1. For a Little While: New and Selected Stories (Little, Brown, 2016) / Rick Bass
2. Reader, I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre (William Morrow, 2016) / Tracy Chevalier (ed.)
3. The Knack of Doing (David R. Godine, 2016) / Jeremy M. Davies
4. Knockout (Soft Skull Press, 2016) / John Jodzio
5. The Ancient Minstrel (Grove Press, 2016) / Jim Harrison
6. Scary Old Sex (Bloomsbury USA, 2016) / Arlene Heyman
7. Prodigals (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016) / Greg Jackson
8. Specimen (House of Anansi Press, 2016) / Irina Kovalyova
9. Slow Boat to China and Other Stories (trans. from the Chinese by Carlos Rojas) (Columbia University Press, 2016) / Ng Kim Chew
10. Under the Rose (Faber & Faber, 2016) / Julia O’Faolain

11. What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours (Riverhead Books, 2016) / Helen Oyeyemi
12. An Unrestored Woman and Other Stories (Virago, 2016) / Shobha Rao
13. The Melting Season and Other Stories (Burlesque Press, 2016) / Ira Sukrungruang
14. The Best Place on Earth (Random House, 2016) / Ayelet Tsabari
15. Dog Run Moon (Granta Books, 2016) / Callan Wink

1. Skies (Carcanet Press, 2016) / Alison Brackenbury
2. 99 Poems: New & Selected (Graywolf Press, 2016) / Dana Gioia
3. Aeneid Book VI (Faber & Faber, 2016) / Seamus Heaney
4. Poems: New and Selected (Ecco, 2016) / Ron Rash
5. Collected Poems 1950-2012 (W.W. Norton, 2016) / Adrienne Rich
6. A Woman of Property (Penguin Books, 2016) / Robyn Schiff
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. The Boy in the Mask: The Hidden World of Lawrence of Arabia (The Lilliput Press, 2016) / Dick Benson-Gyles
5. Frederick the Great: King of Prussia (Random House, 2016) / Tim Blanning
6. This Orient Isle: Elizabethan England and the Islamic World (Allen Lane, 2016) / Jerry Brotton
7. Lust & Wonder: A Memoir (St Martin’s Press, 2016) / Augusten Burroughs
8. The Making of the American Essay (Graywolf Press, 2016) / John D’Agata (ed.)
9. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (Crown, 2016) / Matthew Desmond
10. The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New (Ecco, 2016) / Annie Dillard

11. Evelyn Waugh: A Life Revisited (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2016) / Philip Eade
12. The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) / Timothy Egan
13. Everywhere I Looked (Text Publishing, 2016) / Helen Garner
14. The Age of Genius: The Seventeenth Century and the Birth of the Modern Mind (Bloomsbury Publishing/Bloomsbury USA, 2016) / A.C. Grayling
15. Almost Home: Finding a Place in the World from Kashmir to New York (Restless Books, 2016) / Githa Hariharan
16. Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) / Claire Harman
17. Rain: Four Walks in English Weather (Faber & Faber, 2016) / Melissa Harrison
18. Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) / Adam Hochschild
19. Classical Literature: An Epic Journey from Homer to Virgil and Beyond (Basic Books, 2016) / Richard Jenkyns
20. This Thing We Call Literature (Oxford University Press, 2016) / Arthur Krystal

21. The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone (Picador USA/Canongate Books, 2016) / Olivia Laing
22. We Are All Cannibals and Other Essays (trans. from the French by Jane Marie Todd) (Columbia University Press, 2016) / Claude Lévi-Strauss
23. The Paper Trail: An Unexpected History of a Revolutionary Invention (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) / Alexander Monro
24. Slow Burn City: London in the Twenty-First Century (Picador, 2016) / Rowan Moore
25. The Indignant Muse: Poetry and Songs of the Irish Revolution, 1887-1926 (The Liliput Press, 2016) / Terry Moylan (ed.)
26. Leisure and the Irish in the Nineteenth Century (Liverpool University Press, 2016) / Leeann Lane & William Murphy (eds.)
27. A House Full of Daughters (Chatto & Windus, 2016) / Juliet Nicholson
28. The Face: A Time Code (Restless Books, 2016) / Ruth Ozeki
29. India’s War: The Making of Modern South Asia, 1939-1945 (Allen Lane, 2016) / Srinath Raghavan
30. In Praise of Forgetting: Historical Memory and Its Ironies (Yale University Press, 2016) / David Rieff

31. The Violet Hour: Great Writers at the End (The Dial Press, 2016) / Katie Roiphe
32. Midnight in Broad Daylight: A Japanese American Family Caught Between Two Worlds (Harper, 2016) / Pamela Rotner Sakamoto
33. Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty and Truth (Jonathan Cape, 2016) / A.O. Scott
34. Confessions of a Heretic (Notting Hill, 2016) / Roger Scruton
35. Dimestore: A Writer’s Life (Algonquin Books, 2016) / Lee Smith
36. The Language Animal: The Full Shape of the Human Linguistic Capacity (Harvard University Press, 2016) / Charles Taylor
37. John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit (Basic Books, 2016) / James Traub
38. Hitler: A Biography: Volume I: Ascent, 1889-1939 (trans. from the German by Jefferson Chase) (The Bodley Head, 2016) / Volker Ullrich

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 that they have an interesting story to tell or if they could write. (Go figure out this one!) 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!