Sunday, December 15, 2019

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

“WE INSIST on our title and subtitle ... since we will be buying back all the stocks.” CRAZY MALAYSIAN AUTHORS
* * *
“COULD I include some recipes and cooking tips in my book?” CRAZY MALAYSIAN AUTHOR
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“I DON’T UNDERSTAND the need to edit my manuscript. My previous publisher published all my books exactly the way I wrote them without any of these editing, fact-checking or rewriting nonsense.” CRAZY MALAYSIAN AUTHOR
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“I HAVE NO IDEA where I should close the quote?” CRAZY MALAYSIAN AUTHOR
* * *
“COULD you lift the first seven chapters of my last book and turn them into a new book?” CRAZY MALAYSIAN AUTHOR
* * *
“I HAVE a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees, and a doctorate. Of course I have an undeniable flair for the narrative.” CRAZY MALAYSIAN AUTHOR
* * *
“I WANT TO PUBLISH a book of my own, but I have not written anything publishable. Could you make that happen for me? By the way, I don’t mind doing promotions for it. Just let me know the dates in advance. I’ll have to check if I am available though.” CRAZY RICH MALAYSIAN
* * *
“COULD we retain the misspelling? Don’t know why, but I prefer that spelling.” CRAZY MALAYSIAN AUTHOR
* * *
“IF YOU CUT out all the irrelevant bits and pieces, there won’t be a book in the end. You know that, right?” CRAZY MALAYSIAN AUTHOR
* * *
“THAT, seriously, is not a book. But, in Malaysia, it is considered one. ... And it went on the sell lots and lots of copies. Some books have all the luck in the world!” CRAZY BROKE MALAYSIAN EDITOR
* * *
“YOU have too many books. You should get rid of them.” CRAZY RICH MALAYSIAN
* * *
“I MIGHT ACT or talk stupid, but don’t call me stupid, okay?” CRAZY RICH MALAYSIAN
* * *
“INDEX all their names so that all of them will buy the book.” CRAZY MALAYSIAN PUBLISHER
* * *
“COULD you write it for the author? She has no idea what to write.” CRAZY MALAYSIAN PUBLISHER
* * *
“JUST EDIT the bloody manuscript. You don’t have to like or love it to edit it.” CRAZY MALAYSIAN PUBLISHER
* * *
“WE DON’T HAVE a budget to hire intelligent people, I’m afraid. So we’ll have to make do with stupid ones.” CRAZY MALAYSIAN PUBLISHER
* * *
“NOBODY buys or reads the kinds of books you read.” CRAZY MALAYSIAN PUBLISHER
* * *
“WHY ARE THERE so many full stops in my book?” CRAZY MALAYSIAN AUTHOR
* * *
“YOU MEAN I must end every sentence with a full stop?” CRAZY MALAYSIAN AUTHOR
* * *
“YOU DON’T HAVE TO be intelligent or talk smart to be a CEO or COO in Malaysia. You can easily be one if you know the right people.” CRAZY RICH MALAYSIAN
* * *
“WE CHARTED a plane that took us up the Everest over the weekend. You should check it out; it will change the way you see the world.” CRAZY RICH MALAYSIAN
* * *
“IS MY BOOK READY? We need to launch it at Mummy’s birthday party at the Four Seasons, okay?” CRAZY RICH MALAYSIAN
* * *
“IS MY BOOK READY? No worries. My crazy rich daddy will buy up all the stocks if it doesn’t move?” ANOTHER CRAZY RICH MALAYSIAN
* * *
“COULD you please index my wife, son and grandson? They will be real unhappy if their names are not there.” CRAZY RICH MALAYSIAN, WHO ELSE?
* * *
“I’M AFRAID I can’t remember how to spell my wife’s name. It has been years since I last spelt it. I’ll have to take a look at her birth certificate. If I can find it, that is.” CRAZY RICH MALAYSIAN
* * *
“I DON’T KNOW how to rewrite it. I will explain it to you, and you rewrite it for me, okay?” CRAZY MALAYSIAN AUTHOR
* * *
“CAN’T you fly in a native speaker [English] to edit my [mangled English] manuscript? No?” CRAZY RICH MALAYSIAN
* * *
“GET your editors to clean up my manuscript!” CRAZY RICH MALAYSIAN
* * *
“MY SON is an Asian scholar. It is impossible that he made so many grammatical mistakes.” CRAZY RICH MAMA
* * *
“IF THERE IS such a thing as beauty in ugliness, then Kuala Lumpur is one of the ugliest cities in the world.” ANONYMOUS MALAYSIAN
* * *
“WE have the book in stock, but we can’t find it in the bookshop.” CRAZY MALAYSIAN BOOKSHOP
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“I’M a retired English-language lecturer. Not just a teacher, okay? There’s nothing to edit in my manuscript. My English’s perfect. There’s no need to edit perfection.” CRAZY MALAYSIAN AUTHOR
* * *
* * *
“YOU WERE SUPPOSED to proof the galleys—not add more names to the acknowledgements page, which is already bursting at the seams.” CRAZY MALAYSIAN EDITOR
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“I MUST have done something despicable in one of my former lives; that’s why I’m being punished now—editing crappy manuscripts.” CRAZY MALAYSIAN EDITOR
* * *
“I DON’T READ BOOKS; I never liked them. And I don’t buy them either; but I like selling them.” CRAZY MALAYSIAN SALESMAN
* * *
“I DID NOT LEARNT THIS at Harvard or Wharton, okay? I discovered it myself: good books don’t need to be promoted; they move by themselves. Am I not clever?” CRAZY MALAYSIAN SALESMAN
* * *
“MAKE SURE my name has a PhD at the end of it. I want it on the cover as well. It will sell the book like crazy.” CRAZY MALAYSIAN AUTHOR
* * *
“YOUR EDITORS are so bloody fussy about grammar.” CRAZY MALAYSIAN AUTHOR
* * *
“I USED to be a lawyer. How is it possible that my English is bad? My English is excellent!” CRAZY MALAYSIAN AUTHOR
* * *
“WHY do you want me to edit it if I am not supposed to make any amendments?” CRAZY BROKE MALAYSIAN EDITOR
* * *
“IT’S common sense. You don’t need to go to Harvard, Princeton or Yale to learn that.” CRAZY BROKE MALAYSIAN EDITOR
* * *
I WAS ONCE reprimanded for reading … for reading “non-related material” in the office. I was once told that I was not to read other books, except those that I was editing. The thing is, I tend to read books in between editing assignments. The idea is not to waste the pockets of time in between. It helps that I enjoy reading. How else do you learn to edit and write, except through reading constantly and learning from some of the best writers in the world? It’s good that I also tend not listen to people who have no idea what they are talking about.
* * *
“WHY would you want to acknowledge God in your sorry excuse for a book? What’s God got to with it?”
* * *
IN MALAYSIA, publishing has become more like a service, something akin to a public-relations provider or production house. Potential authors are more like clients rather than real authors. They pay to get published. And they have the final say when it comes to the editing process and how the cover looks. We are now witnessing the decline of Malaysian publishing.
* * *
MALAYSIAN AUTHORS hate editing their own manuscripts and going through their galleys. If they don’t love what they do, I wonder who’s ever going to love their books? Their mamas and papas, perhaps.
* * *
YOU ASK the Malaysian author for a sixty-word description of herself, and here’s what she says: “Here’s my two-page biodata from my company’s annual report. You may take whatever you want from it.” I really don’t want anything from it, seriously. People somehow always live up to their stereotypes.
* * *
NO OPTICAL BENEFITS and only a paltry £30/US$40 per year for dental. No increments and bonuses. And to imagine that some people actually think they are giving us the world and that we ought to be grateful for crumbs.
* * *
GOING ON A HOLIDAY with a buddy who is always on the cell phone 24/7 is torturous. They don’t talk or listen to you; they practically ignore you, even during mealtimes. You talk to yourself most of the time. At times like this, I think the cell phone is one of the worst inventions ever.
* * *
IF YOU WISH to quote Shakespeare but can’t quote the Bard correctly and in the right context, then don’t, if you ask me. You must understand the quote first before using it. If not, you just look silly.
* * *
YOU call yourself a teacher but you don’t read. That’s a good one.
* * *
WHEN YOU MAKE an effort to close your door, make sure you speak softly or, better still, whisper. Don’t speak so loudly that I could hear you through the paper-thin walls.
* * *
“Where are you from?”
“Huh. Where is that?”
“It’s between Singapore and Thailand, and parts of Borneo.”
* * *
“Where are you from?”
“Huh. Where is that?”
“It’s in the southern Atlantic Ocean, somewhere between Argentina and South Africa.”
* * *
I WAS TOLD that inconsistent design is considered a style nowadays. You learn new things every day. When design is inconsistent, I don’t think that’s considered a kind of style. It displays a lack of professionalism and is clearly pure stupidity. In extreme cases, psychiatric treatment may be called for.
* * *
THOSE WERE THE DAYS when there were no digital devices of any kind. Now I see both parents and kids on their gadgets the whole day without talking at all. They spent their seaside holidays holed up in hotel rooms each lost in their own worlds playing Internet games and killing Pokémon monsters. I miss the days when people told stories and engaged in meaningful conversations. Are those days long gone, I wonder?
* * *
WHAT I LEARNED from all the Malaysian publishing experts today: that mixing English and Malay in sentences makes easier reading for Malaysians. Stupid is now the new cool, I guess. There comes a time when you just give up trying to understand the world.
* * *
SOMEONE told me the other day that he doesn’t read books because he doesn’t like the smell of books. “I love books, but I don’t read, because I am allergic to the smell of paper.”
* * *
I WAS RECENTLY enlightened by one of Malaysia’s top graphic designers that inconsistent design is also considered a style. You learn new things every day. But, seriously, here’s is what I think: When design is inconsistent, I don’t think that’s considered a kind of style. It displays a lack of professionalism and is clearly pure stupidity. In extreme cases, psychiatric treatment may be called for.
* * *
WE NOW LIVE in a strange world. On the one hand, we have hardworking people who are struggling, barely surviving in this world, and on the other, we see non-productive people who get paid lots of money for doing nothing.
* * *
I WOULD LIKE to submit a manuscript for publication, but I have not written anything. How do I go about getting this unwritten manuscript published? You will have to get it written first. So, when do you want my manuscript? Once it is written. And when is that? In a hundred years’ time. Will you be editing it? Yes … that is, if I live long enough to do it.
* * *
YOU don’t have to be Chinese to appreciate Chinese songs. That’s the wonderful thing about music. It’s universal. You must know or at least have heard of people who speak more than one language. People who are bi-, tri- or multilingual. People who work as linguists, translators or interpreters. There are, among us, people who are multilingual (people who speak more than four languages), people who just love language. Anyway, I am half Chinese and trilingual, and I love Italian food. You don’t have to be Italian to appreciate Italian cooking, right?
* * *
I DON’T UNDERSTAND this notion of fearing God. Porkie says he is not afraid of anybody; he is only afraid of God. I suggest he rest easy because the probability of him meeting the Devil is so much higher than him meeting God. The Dark One will most probably embrace him to his bosom like a long-lost son.
* * *
IN MALAYSIA, if someone wishes you good morning, you can be sure that he or she is not Malaysian. Only foreigners do that. Most Malaysians do not make a habit of wishing others; they tend to ignore others. They were most probably brought up that way. Good manners are hard to learn.
* * *
WE only see what we want to see. Most of us tend to close our eyes to all that we do not want to see. It’s our way of deceiving ourselves. We are such strange creatures.
* * *
I HAVE NO IDEA what has changed. A new nation? What nation? A new era? What era? I am still dealing with the same fools like the day before. Nothing has changed.
* * *
I KNOW what a bad book is. We have a treasure trove of them here. Where? Here.
* * *
I TEND to get along with everyone—except those I don’t want to get along with.
* * *
DO PEOPLE learn from their mistakes? I would like to think so, but I really don’t think so. It’s just not in our nature. We tend to repeat old mistakes and make new ones simultaneously.
* * *
BRITISH EDITOR Diana Athill remembers the late V.S. Naipaul as a brilliant though difficult writer, one whom she had to work very hard at keeping affection for. At least the Nobel laureate wrote brilliantly despite his irascibility. However, I can’t say the same for the pain-in-the-you-know-where Malaysian authors I sort of “worked” with over the years. Most of them were far, far from brilliant writers. (They were horrendous.) They weren’t good one bit: they couldn’t even spell and they wrote using their own brand of fractured grammar. I went through hell editing and tolerating them for years. And I am so glad that it is all over now. There’s an escape hatch at the end of the tunnel. Finally.
* * *
IT HAS BEEN SAID that everyone has a book or a novel or a story in them, but in most cases that’s exactly where it should stay. This witticism clearly suggests that not all stories are worth telling, and not everyone can tell their story well. Most Malaysian writers are not bothered with their own books; they don’t read their proofs and make improvements (like the good writers I know) or rewrite their sloppy, fractured, pedestrian prose.
* * *
IT’S HARD TO BELIEVE that Malaysians were once colonized by the British. One would expect our standard of English to be excellent considering where we came from. But no … even university professors’ standard of English is deplorable. I have edited many of their works over the years and I am making an official complaint about their horrendously slothful writing and the lack of fact-checking among them. One author’s language skill (or lack thereof) was so bloody awful—but bad English did not stop her from being a successful Malaysian. Malaysia is indeed a land of milk and honey. It is reassuring yet sad to know that one can still be go places and be as successful as this role model no matter how dim one is …
* * *
WHY are Malaysian authors so dumb? As you edit their files, they are at the same time making amendments to their original files. If a manuscript is not ready, don’t submit it. And if they have submitted a manuscript for editing, can’t they make amendments once the manuscript has been copy-edited? They somehow believe that the two different files will miraculously merge! (Mulder and Scully should investigate this phenomenon.)
* * *
THIS just came in: “Can you not make any amendments to my edited manuscript? However, I would appreciate it very much if you could comb through it and see if there are still any errors.” A constant refrain from the past?
* * *
THE SHRILLY loudmouthed social butterfly says that I have edited her voice out of her magnum opus. “I have lost my voice after being edited,” she complains. “I only removed all your bad grammar and superfluous vocabulary,” I say. She retorts: “But I am the queen of the kingdom of bad grammar. Bad grammar had me at hello. I am a better version of myself only because of bad grammar. With all the fractured bits out, the voice is no longer mine. I feel so stifled, so naked, so voiceless.” For once, I absolutely agree with her! (I told her to go take a flying leap into a puddle, and reminded her not to forget to take her galley proofs along with her.) There’s only so much stupidity one can tolerate in one lifetime.
* * *
STRANGELY, in every Malaysian company, there is always, without fail, a ridiculously dim-witted parasitic secretary who thinks and behaves like she is the CEO. Fortunately, there is a cosy little nook in Hell specially reserved for constipated fools like her.
* * *
“PLEASE don’t pluralize all the ethnic and subethnic groups in Sabah and Sarawak.” They are of course referring to the Bajau, Bidayuh, Bisaya, Dusun, Kadazan, Kelabit, Kayan, Kenyah, Melanau, Murut, Orang Ulu, Penan, Ukit, etc. I then asked: “What about the Dayaks and Ibans?” And their response: “Except the Dayaks and Ibans.” Why only the Dayaks and Ibans?
* * *
IT’S HARD TO EDIT when the publishers are breathing down your neck, hurrying you endlessly, demanding that you put the book to bed when it is neither drowsy nor sleepy: “Quick! We must go to print now! We need the book out in the shops immediately!” There must be a long queue outside the shops waiting to get their grimy hands on that excremental nonsense.
* * *
TRAVEL is no longer what it used to be. It is overrated. It doesn’t open up our minds or change the way we see the world and our place in it. We need the right attitude for travel to be meaningful. Otherwise, it is just a meaningless exercise in passing time, a meaningless exercise in wasting one’s existence.
* * *
MALAYSIAN PUBLISHERS will publish anything and everything—even the crappy school assignments you have thrown away. If you had known this then, you would have kept them. Who would have thought that they would be worth something some day?
* * *
I DON’T KNOW WHY I am wasting my life on this stupid manuscript. The author is obviously not interested in her own work. She must have dubious reasons for wanting to get it published. I must learn not to care too much and just let it go. The writing is so bloody atrocious that I am opting for state-assisted suicide to end my mental anguish.
* * *
THE THING ABOUT working in a Malaysian office is that you tend to meet more ning-nongs than intelligent people. It’s not exactly the most fertile ground for the imagination to grow and flourish. Most of the time it makes you wonder where the cleverer Malaysians are. (Migrated to Australia and Singapore, most probably.) All one can do is try to stay afloat in a sea of stupidity, or risk drowning. You might think that we are the most intelligent lifeforms on the planet, but if you work where I work, you wouldn’t think so. What amazes me most is the shockingly low level of intelligence and rational thinking even among the supposedly educated.
* * *
YOU REALLY NEED oodles of patience and perseverance when editing badly written manuscripts because most of the time the authors have no idea what they are writing about and you have no idea what you are editing. But no matter what, the editor is still expected to turn turd into gold in the quickest time.
* * *
STUPIDEST QUOTE OF ALL TIME: “I want this yesterday.” Only idiotic people use this line. Those who use it set up a precedence for human stupidity. Intelligent people and real corporate leaders avoid such nonsensical clichés because they say absolutely nothing at all.
* * *
MALAYSIAN “writers” have fantastically big egos—especially those who can’t write, strangely.
* * *
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, sinfully disrespectful, selfishly materialistic, slothfully lethargic, and obsessively mindless and narrow-minded, among other things. Asian values? What Asian values? There is no such thing as Asian values. Malaysia is truly NOT Asia. Don’t believe the ads. They are just ads, and as you know, they are all meant to deceive. Malaysians are not like Singaporeans or Hongkongers or Mainland Chinese. You’d think that Singaporeans, Hongkongers and Mainland Chinese are bad; Malaysians are by far the worst. (Malaysians have no idea what priority seating zones in public transport mean.)
* * *
THEY bake one bloody generic cupcake or muffin, and the next thing they want is their own cookbook and a food show on telly! It’s all in a day’s work for someone who bloody well can’t write.
* * *
EDITING another dumb Malaysian manuscript ought to be a breeze or a walk in the park after so many years of doing the same thing … but it really doesn’t get any easier despite the years and experience. In fact, it gets worst because the whole process saps your energy and snuffs out your passion for the printed word.
* * *
MALAYSIAN WRITERS who write in English should make an effort to read up on the basics of grammar instead of jumping to conclusions when editing their “writing”. I know that you have an honours’ degree in English and all, but surely, it’d do you good to relearn some of the basics once in a while. After all, you don’t really learn much in the university nowadays, do you?
* * *
HERE’S another observation about Malaysian writers. When launching their magnum opuses, they want other people to write their speeches. They always say they don’t know how to write speeches. Why am I not surprise at all? And to think that we are talking about people who have gone through the school system and graduated with distinction from some of the best universities in the universe. Also, they like to pepper their speeches with hackneyed phrases like “a passion for excellence”, “to be the best”, “in pursuit of excellence”, “best talents”, among other similar bullshitised nonsense.
* * *
ONE leading Malaysian publisher told me that they are the purveyors of some of the finest crappiest books on the planet and they have always been rather proud of this fine tradition of theirs. “We have been in business for decades. We must be good at what we do. There is and has always been a surprisingly lucrative market for such books in Malaysia.” Who am I to argue with them when their publishing success is truly a clear testament to this fact?
* * *
I WAS ONCE TOLD that life is short, and there is only so many bad manuscripts one can edit. That’s really nonsense! You’d be surprised at the endless number of bad manuscripts there are to edit in Malaysia. You could build a successful lifetime career doing this. I did.
* * *
THERE is only one or two decent enough bookshops in Kuala Lumpur. There are only two or three decent enough bookshop in the whole of Malaysia. The rest are just stationery shops pretending to be bookshops. Lately many of them have started selling chocolates, potato chips, poppadom crisps and China-made handbags. Handbags? I wonder, do people actually think that these addictive titbits and handbags are going to save book retailing in Malaysia? What a depressing state of affairs.
* * *
WHY DO MALAYSIANS write like this? “I like chicken rice because I like anything with chicken and rice in it.” “No, I’m not comfortable with your amendments, but I can accept the changes.” “The cake you baked tastes really delicious, but I don’t like it.” Three more examples to whet your appetite: “I enjoy eating because eating is enjoyable.” “It is unique because it is one of a kind.” “I really enjoy eating cakes because they are so delicious to eat.” I am rolling on the floor with laughter. Write like this and you will most definitely win the THROW YOUR MAMA’S SMELLY SHOE AWARD for ridiculously good sinfully bad writing!
* * *
If I AM FORCED to edit another datuk’s or mak datin’s so-called manuscript, I will have to seriously consider joining the rebel forces in another galaxy far far away. They are killing me brutally with their prose (or lack thereof).
* * *
I AM JUST an editor—not some kind of magician. I can’t twitch my nose and make all your misplaced punctuations, misspellings, fractured grammar and other gibberish disappear in the blink of an eye. I know you’ve baked your cake and all that and you’ve invited all your friends and your mummy and daddy for the launch, but the fact of the matter is, your book is still ... well, half-baked. But you go ahead and launch it. Don’t let me stop you.
* * *
IN MALAYSIA, anyone can be a writer nowadays. Everyone, in fact, is an author nowadays. Sadly, our so-called standards have slipped to a historic nadir. We just received a manuscript from someone who actually wrote his entire chef d’oeuvre without using articles and prepositions. Malaysians have no qualms about submitting incomplete and unedited manuscripts. What an amazing feat of human imagination!
* * *
THE DEVIL’S back in town, and these are the darkest days. We are going through hell editing another stupid manuscript. Almost seven hundred pages of pure fire and brimstone. By the time I die editing this nonsensical treatise, I would most probably gain a useless PhD in Stupidology with Honours. Believe me when I say that the deterioration of the modern human mind is real, and has begun. Perhaps we should consider starting a crowdfund to stop the doofus from writing for the rest of his life?
* * *
WHEN Malaysian writers complain about the tedious editing process, I have eight words of advice for them: “Don’t write. Go watch Beauty and the Beast.” (No offence to Beauty and the Beast.)
* * *
ANOTHER crappy Malaysian “book” is being launched before it is ready to be published. (Not that it was good enough to be published in the first place.) And as always, without fail, the sumptuous food has been planned, the opulent venue booked and paid for, the entertainers and guests and the press have been invited. All is ready—except the book. They will never learn that that’s not the way to do it. Well, what can I say? People just don’t realize that every time a crappy book is published, the world dies a little bit.
* * *
I’M close to tearing my hair (not that I have much of it left in the first place) and hitting my head against the pillar over a new manuscript (which was initially rejected) that landed with a thud on my desk. I was told it had been “professionally edited” (whatever that is supposed to mean) to perfection. It was supposed to be “good to go”, they said with confidence. But going through it now, it is almost like deciphering hieroglyphics. Why are there no full stops at the end of sentences? Why does the writer start sentences with small letters? Why are commas not employed when required and in all the odd places? Why are the hyphens and dashes and colons and semicolons placed incorrectly? Why does he bold or italicize words as and when he feels like it—sometimes both at the same time? Why does he resort to ellipses with random scattering of dots? Why are the definite and indefinite articles and prepositions all wrong? Why leave spaces before punctuation marks? Why are paragraphs of text repeated wholesale? Let’s not go into singulars and plurals; it’s a jungle of a mess over there. Sad to say the so-called writer is not too bothered with his own writing. But he wants to be on the cover of magazines.
* * *
THIS is not exactly something new. But it is worth talking about to remind us how far we have come as civilized human beings. The date of the book launch has been set and the invitations have all gone out to the most important people in the kingdom. Heck, the cake has already been baked and iced. But the book is yet to be ready. In Malaysia this is never ever a problem. “We will just launch a mock-up of the book then,” they say proudly. Who says dreams don’t come true?
* * *
“I WAS FORMERLY Chinese; now I am Christian.” I was once lost; now I am found. Strangely, and surprisingly, many so-called educated Malaysians don’t seem to know the difference between “race” and “religion”.
* * *
ONE Malaysian author told me the other day: “I don’t understand why you need to edit my manuscript and make so many amendments. My previous publisher published all my books exactly the way I wrote them without any edits or fact-checking or rewriting. I just don’t see the need for this constant back and forth between editor and author.” You should have stuck with your old publisher, if you asked me.
* * *
MALAYSIAN “writers” who engage ghostwriters to write for them (because they can’t or are just too lazy to write) should understand that they are supposed to pay them for services rendered. Even though they are called “ghost”-writers, they are really not ghosts. They are human, just like you and me.
* * *
HSM LUCIFER strides in with his syrupy, drippy-drip smile and asks me why the Japanese lady on the cover of her cookbook is wearing spectacles. I look at him and say: “Perhaps she is short- or longsighted? Maybe she has astigmatism? I don’t know; perhaps she likes designer spectacles? Perhaps it makes her black eyes brown? Perhaps she has yet to go for her lasik? After all she does look good in them. I could give her a call and ask her—if that is really what you want to know?” With his shifty eyes and plumpy apple-ish cheeks, he replies: “There’s no need.” Life’s full of these wasteful, unproductive God-what-was-that-all-about moments! It’s a strange world we live in, and it looks like there’s nothing much we can do about it.
* * *
SO LITTLE TIME, so many terrifying manuscripts to edit. There’s only so much editing one can do to make some of them a tad better. Malaysian university professors and journalists who write like primary schoolers are the worst of the lot. And please stop threatening us by dropping names!
* * *
MALAYSIAN “WRITER”: No, I haven’t written a novel. But I would very much like us to meet up and discuss the story.
Editor: What is there to discuss if you haven’t written it?
Malaysian “writer”: If I write more words, will the novel be thicker?
Editor: Duh! (Of course.)
Malaysian “writer”: How many words must I write?
Editor: One hundred thousand words. Or thereabouts.
Malaysian “writer”: Wah … so many words-ah?
Editor: Why don’t you just give up writing? You are obviously not very good at it.
Malaysian “writer”: But writing a novel is my lifelong dream!
Editor: Looks like you will be dreaming for a long, long time.
Malaysian “writer”: With your experience, what kind of readers do you think will read my book?
Editor: Most probably dumb ones!
Malaysian “writer”: You so bad one-lah!
Editor: I am not bad. Just truthful. Wasn’t it Plato who said that no one is more hated than he who speaks the truth?
Malaysian “writer”: Plato who-huh? Your friend-ah?
Editor: Yes, Plato is indeed my best friend from long long ago!
* * *
IMAGINE editing an author who gets the spelling of his wife’s name wrong! “I will have to get back to you with regard to the spelling of my wife’s name. I will have to ask her if it is spelt with an ‘a’ or ‘e’. I may have to take a look at her birth certificate to ascertain. You just never know.” Yes, you got it right, you just never know.
* * *
ANOTHER prize-winning quote from the very people who gave us the ground-breaking QUOTE OF THE CENTURY (see below): “I don’t agree with all of your edits, but I am quite all right with them.” This is absolutely riveting, nail-biting stuff.
* * *
QUOTE OF THE CENTURY: “Edit, but please don’t change anything, because it is already perfect.” (It was far from perfect.) A classic case of imbecility or existential profundity, perhaps?
* * *
I FINALLY learnt to say no. After all these years. And it felt really, really good. I have always been one of those people who had problem saying no. And because of that I have always ended up with more than I could chew. Now, the weight of the universe is lifted off my shoulders. I must continue using it more often.
* * *
A SENIOR EDITOR at a Malaysian publishing house received the following email 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 email me information about pirates: their lifestyles, 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.”
* * *
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 MAMA’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 soul-destroying 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 in Malaysia, 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 savoury Malaysian delicacies (including the obligatory epok-epok (curry puffs) and the all-time Malaysian favourite mee siam, among other things) and given a complimentary copy or two of the 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, okay; 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. Most of the time the manuscripts are so execrable, possibly written by someone who doesn’t speak or write the language at all, 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: most editors don’t know how to edit. (Editing is not just about punctuation, grammar and spelling.) Most of them lack basic 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 and figures, solving problems and consulting the dictionary. Punctuating dialogue and inconsistent tenses are major weaknesses. 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. They do not know what a personal or surname is when 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 in the long term.

Another sad fact: designers don’t know how to typeset books and design book covers. It’s amazing what designers and typesetters can’t do. Most of them are not designers; when you think about it, they are really more like incompetent typesetters than designers. Most, sadly, have no grasp of the aesthetics, whether in the design of covers or the typesetting of pages or the cropping of photographs, are not open to constructive criticism and lack even the most basic of language skills. (They’re practically illiterate when it comes to 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. ... And hope someone likes it.”) 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 (mouses?) for centuries, but they have not gain any relevant experience at all. They have no idea what consistency is. (“You want consistent or inconsistent typesetting? I can do both equally well.”)

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) has always been a Sisyphean struggle. Books are never published for the right reasons. It never fails to amaze me how publishers always find stupid 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 always 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, Believe when I say I 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 bedroom! And maybe toss them in with the carrots, potatoes, onions (the big ones) and tomatoes when Mummy makes chicken soup for the whole family. (Don’t forget the salt and freshly ground black pepper.) 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. Age doesn’t determine maturity or wisdom. 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. What’s stopping you?
* * *
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 never been before.
* * *
I WAS EDITING a piece of tosh 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, I wonder?
* * *
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 MAMA’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 of 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 banoffee pie!
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?
* * *
SELLING BOOKS in Malaysia is a tough business. For most people books are considered non-essential. Bread-and-butter issues take precedence over other matters. My ideal bookshop is one that challenges me intellectually in my reading journey. Not only do I want bookshops to stock the kinds of books I want to read, I also want them to surprise me by introducing me to titles or authors I have not heard of before. I don’t buy books online at all, so the local bookshop is where I buy all my books. However, I think nowadays the role of educating the reading public has been taken over by the internet. After all, there are only so many titles a brick-and-mortar bookshop can stock at any one time.
* * *
HIS SATANIC MAJESTY (HSM) LUCIFER tells the editor that he should edit the manuscript only for grammar and spelling. “Just check the names and spelling, and make sure the grammar is perfect,” he reiterates. HSM goes on to tell the editor to keep his opinions to himself because nobody cares what he thinks about the manuscript. “It doesn’t really matter if the writing is good or bad. Your job is to edit—not to assess or judge the manuscript.” What the heck is he trying to say!
* * *
PUBLISHER: You have offended Big John with all your spot-on edits!
Editor: But his manuscript was full of errors and other inconsistencies!
Publisher: He isn’t happy because you edited too much of his manuscript. I can’t believe you spotted over a thousand errors! I did tell you specifically not to edit it.
Editor: Yes … not bad for a manuscript which is supposed to have been edited thoroughly and ready-to-print. Shouldn’t he be happy that I spotted so many errors in his book? I would if it’s my book.
Publisher: Yes … but, you know, you made him look real bad! And he is awfully hurt. He doesn’t want to work with you any more!
Editor: I did not make him look bad … he really is bad!
Publisher: You shouldn’t be too brutal with the edits.
Editor: Editorial brutality? That’s a new one. I wasn’t brutal at all. All I did what edit the grammar and corrected the spellings and factual errors. No rewriting whatsoever. A walk in the park, really.
Publisher: Where? What park? Whatever it is, he is offended!
Editor: Idiot that I was, I tried to edit the manuscript as best as I possibly could. If it will make him happy, I could easily restore or reinstate all the errors back into the manuscript. It’s no big deal to me. It’s your call; after all, you are the publisher.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

December 2019 Highlights

1. How the Dead Speak (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2019) / Val McDermid

1. Arias (Jonathan Cape, 2019) / Sharon Olds

1. How to Be a Dictator: The Cult of Personality in the Twentieth Century (Bloomsbury USA, 2019) / Frank Dikötter

Friday, November 01, 2019

November 2019 Highlights

1. The Man in the Red Coat (Jonathan Cape, 2019) / Julian Barnes
2. Under Occupation (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2019) / Alan Furst
3. The Second Sleep (Alfred A. Knopf, 2019) / Robert Harris
4. Serotonin (trans. from the French by Shaun Whiteside) (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2019) / Michel Houellebecq
5. The Accomplice (Atria Books, 2019) / Joseph Kanon
6. The Topeka School (Granta, 2019) / Ben Learner
7. Christmas in Austin (Faber & Faber, 2019) / Benjamin Markovits
8. The Starless Sea (Harvill Secker/Doubleday, 2019) / Erin Morgenstern
9. The Revisioners (Counterpoint, 2019) / Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
10. The Siberian Dilemma (Simon & Schuster UK, 2019) / Martin Cruz Smith

11. Grandmothers (Viking, 2019) / Salley Vickers

1. Sudden Traveller (Faber & Faber, 2019) / Sarah Hall

1. The Lost Art of Scripture: Rescuing the Sacred Texts (Alfred A. Knopf, 2019) / Karen Armstrong
2. A Brief History of China: Dynasty, Revolution and Transformation: From the Middle Kingdom to the People’s Republic (Tuttle, 2019) / Jonathan Clements
3. The History of Philosophy (Penguin Press, 2019) / A.C. Grayling
4. A Brief History of Korea: Isolation, War, Despotism and Revival: The Fascinating Story of a Resilient But Divided People (Tuttle, 2019) / Michael J. Seth

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

October 2019 Highlights

1. Celestial Bodies (trans. from the Arabic by Marilyn Booth) (Catapult, 2019) / Jokha Alharthi
2. The Dollmaker (Other Press, 2019) / Nina Allan
3. All This Could Be Yours (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019) / Jami Attenberg
4. Marley (Atria Books, 2019) / Jon Clinch
5. The Butterfly Girl (Harper, 2019) / Rene Denfeld
6. Akin (Picador, 2019) / Emma Donoghue
7. The Guardians (Doubleday, 2019) / John Grisham
8. The Murder of Harriet Monckton (Myriad Editions, 2019) / Elizabeth Haynes
9. The Benefit of Hindsight (Chatto & Windus, 2019) / Susan Hill
10 Starve Acre (John Murray, 2019) / Andrew Michael Hurley

11. The Secret of Cold Hill (Macmillan, 2019) / Peter James
12. Miss Laila, Armed and Dangerous (Myriad Editions, 2020) / Manu Joseph
13. Agent Running in the Field (Viking, 2019) / John le Carré
14. Mistletoe (Quercus, 2019) / Alison Littlewood
15. Girl (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2019) / Edna O’Brien
16. Red Oblivion (Dundurn, 2019) / Leslie Shimotakahara
17. Olive, Again (Random House/Viking, 2019) / Elizabeth Strout
18. Divide Me By Zero (Tin House Books, 2019) / Lara Vapnyar
19. Famous in Cedarville (Polis Books, 2019) / Erica Wright

1. Ninth House (Gollancz, 2019) / Leigh Barduso
2. A Tall History of Sugar (Akashic Books, 2019) / Curdella Forbes

1. Salt Slow (Flatiron Books, 2019) / Julia Armfield
2. Where the Light Falls: Selected Stories of Nancy Hale (ed. Lauren Groff) (Library of America, 2019) / Nancy Hale
3. Sudden Traveler (Custom House, 2019) / Sarah Hall
4. Kitchen Curse: Stories (trans. from the Indonesian by Annie Tucker) (Verso Books, 2019) / Eka Kurniawan
5. Suicide Woods (Graywolf Press, 2019) / Benjamin Percy
6. The Beadworkers (Counterpoint, 2019) / Beth Piatote
7. Grand Union (Hamish Hamilton, 2019) / Zadie Smith

1. Love and I (Graywolf Press, 2019) / Fanny Howe
2. Railsplitter (Copper Canyon Press, 2019) / Maurice Manning
3. Arias (Alfred A. Knopf, 2019) / Sharon Olds

1. Greece: Biography of a Modern Nation (University of Chicago Press, 2019) / Roderick Beaton
2. Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China (Jonathan Cape, 2019) / Jung Chang
3. The Anarchy: The Rise of The East India Company and the Fall of the Mughal Empire (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019) / William Dalrymple
4. The Lives of Lucian Freud: The Restless Years, 1922-1968 (Alfred A. Knopf, 2019) / William Fever
5. Stop Being Reasonable: How We Really Change Our Minds (PublicAffairs, 2019) / Eleanor Gordon-Smith
6. Homecoming: Voices of the Windrush Generation (Jonathan Cape, 2019) / Colin Grant
7. Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World (Basic Books, 2019) / Tom Holland
8. How We Fight for Our Lives: A Memoir (Simon & Schuster, 2019) / Saeed Jones
9. In the Dream House: A Memoir (Profile/Graywolf Press, 2019) / Carmen Maria Machado
10. On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Road Trip: A Mexican Journey (Hamish Hamilton/Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019) / Paul Theroux

11. Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race (W.W. Norton, 2019) / William Chatterton Williams

Sunday, September 01, 2019

September 2019 Highlights

1. Right After the Weather (Atria Books, 2019) / Carol Anshaw
2. Nothing Ventured (Macmillan, 2019) / Jeffrey Archer
3. The Testaments (Chatto & Windus/Nan A. Talese, 2019) / Margaret Atwood
4. We, The Survivors (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2019) / Tash Aw
5. The Divers’ Game (Ecco, 2019) / Jesse Ball
6. Night Boat to Tangier (Doubleday, 2019) / Kevin Barry
7. Lie With Me (trans. from the French by Molly Ringwald) (Penguin, 2019) / Philippe Besson
8. The Museum of Broken Promises (Corvus, 2019) / Elizabeth Buchan
9. The Confession (Picador, 2019) / Jessie Burton
10. A Single Thread (The Borough Press/Viking, 2019) / Tracy Chevalier

11. The Last Train to London (Harper, 2019) / Meg Waite Clayton
12. The Butterfly Girl (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2019) / Rene Denfeld
13. Cantoras (Alfred A. Knopf, 2019) / Carolina De Robertis
14. Akin (Little, Brown, 2019) / Emma Donoghue
15. Ducks, Newburyport (Biblioasis, 2019) / Lucy Ellmann
16. The Difference (Penguin Random House Canada, 2019) / Marina Endicott
17. Out of Darkness, Shining Light (Scribner, 2019) / Petina Gappah
18. In the City of Love’s Sleep (Faber & Faber, 2019) / Lavinia Greenlaw
19. The Second Sleep (Hutchinson, 2019) / Robert Harris
20. Serotonin (trans. from the French by Shaun Whiteside) (William Heinemann, 2019) / Michel Houellebecq

21. Will and Testament (trans. from Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund) (Verso, 2019) / Vigdis Hjorth
22. The World That We Knew (Simon & Schuster, 2019) / Alice Hoffman
23. Welcome to America (trans. from the Norwegian by Martin Aitken) (World Editions, 2019) / Linda Boström Knausgård
24. This Tender Land (Atria Books, 2019) / William Kent Krueger
25. Three Flames (Counterpoint, 2019) / Alan Lightman
26. Heaven, My Home (Mulholland Books, 2019) / Attica Locke
27. The Cockroach (Vintage, 2019) / Ian McEwan
28. The Shadow King (W.W. Norton, 2019) / Maaza Mengiste
29. The Ungrateful Refugee (Catapult, 2019) / Dina Nayeri
30. Girl (Faber & Faber, 2019) / Edna O’Brien

31. The Dutch House (Bloomsbury Publishing/Harper, 2019) / Ann Patchett
32. The Inheritance of Solomon Farthing (Mantle, 2019) / Mary Paulson-Ellis
33. Lampedusa (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Picador, 2019) / Steven Price
34. Bone China (Raven Books, 2019) / Laura Purcell
35. Many Rivers to Cross (Hodder & Stoughton, 2019) / Peter Robinson
36. Quichotte (Random House, 2019) / Salman Rushdie
37. The Grammarians (Sarah Crichton Books, 2019) / Cathleen Schine
38. Call Upon the Water (Atria Books, 2019) / Stella Tillyard
39. A Map of the Damage (Simon & Schuster UK, 2019) / Sophia Tobin
40. The Sweetest Fruits (Viking, 2019) / Monique Truong

41. This Is Happiness (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019) / Niall Williams
42. Red at the Bone (Riverhead Books, 2019) / Jacqueline Woodson
43. Doxology (4th Estate, 2019) / Nell Zink

1. Paris Syndrome (Banshee Press, 2019) / Lucy Sweeney Byrne
2. The Water Dancer (One World, 2019) / Ta-Nehisi Coates
3. Hard Mouth (Counterpoint, 2019) / Amanda Goldblatt
4. Nightingale Point (HQ, 2019) / Luan Goldie
5. The Ten Thousand Doors of January (Orbit, 2019) / Alix E. Harrow
6. A Matter of Interpretation (Fairlight Books, 2019) / Elizabeth Mac Donald

1. Japanese Ghost Stories (ed. Paul Murray) (Penguin Classics, 2019) / Lafcadio Hearn
2. Fly Already (Granta Books, 2019) / Etgar Keret

1. After the Formalities (Penned in the Margins, 2019) / Anthony Anaxagorou
2. Empires (Copper Canyon Press, 2019) / John Balaban
3. I May Be Stupid But I’m Not That Stupid (Bloodaxe Books, 2019) / Selima Hill
4. Frolic and Detour (Faber & Faber, 2019) / Paul Muldoon
5. Nobody (Jonathan Cape, 2019) / Alice Oswald
6. Father’s Day (Copper Canyon Press, 2019) / Matthew Zapruder

1. The Penguin Book of Migration Literature: Departures, Arrivals, Generations, Returns (Penguin Classics, 2019) / Dohra Ahmad(ed.)
2. The Economists’ Hour: False Prophets, Free Markets, and the Fracture of Society (Little, Brown, 2019) / Binyamin Applebaum
3. Coventry: Essays (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2019) / Rachel Cusk
4. The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019) / William Dalrymple
5. How to Be a Dictator: The Cult of Personality in the Twentieth Century (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019) / Frank Dikötter
6. A Savage Dreamland: Journeys in Burma (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019) / David Eimer
7. The Lives of Lucian Freud: Youth (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019) / William Feaver
8. Footnotes: A Journey Round Britain in the Company of Great Writers (Oneworld, 2019) / Peter Fiennes
9. The Europeans: Three Lives and the Making of a Cosmopolitan Culture (Allen Lane, 2019) / Orlando Figes
10. The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing the Hostile Environment (Guardian Faber, 2019) / Amelia Gentleman

11. Winds of Change: Britain in the Early Sixties (Allen Lane, 2019) / Peter Hennessy
12. Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind (Little, Brown, 2019) / Tom Holland
13. A Beginner’s Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations (Bloomsbury Publishing/Alfred A. Knopf, 2019) / Pico Iyer
14. Make It Scream, Make It Burn: Essays (Little, Brown, 2019) / Leslie Jamison
15. On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal (Allen Lane, 2019) / Naomi Klein
16. We Need New Stories: Challenging the Toxic Myths Behind Our Age of Discontent (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2019) / Nesrine Malik
17. Bland Fanatics: Liberals, the West and the Afterlives of Empire (Verso, 2019) / Pankaj Mishra
18. Sontag: Her Life (Ecco/Allen Lane, 2019) / Benjamin Moser
19. Lessons in Stoicism: What Ancient Philosophers Teach Us about How to Live (Allen Lane, 2019) / John Sellars
20. Hitler: Only The World Was Enough (Allen Lane, 2019) / Brendan Simms

21. Growth: From Microorganisms to Megacities (The MIT Press, 2019) / Vaclav Smil
22. Year of the Monkey (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019) / Patti Smith
23. Lost Girls: Love, War and Literature, 1939-1951 (Constable & Robinson, 2019) / D.J. Taylor
24. The Outlaw Ocean: Crime and Survival in the Last Untamed Frontier (Bodley Head, 2019) / Ian Urbina
25. Sunset Survivors: Meet the People Keeping Hong Kong’s Traditional Industries Alive (Blacksmith Books, 2019) / Lindsay Varty
26. Freedom: The Overthrow of the Slave Empires (Pegasus Books, 2019) / James Walvin
27. How to Be an Anti-Capitalist in the 21st Century (Verso, 2019) / Erik Olin Wright
28. What It Means to Be Moral: Why Religion Is Not Necessary for Living an Ethical Life (Counterpoint, 2019) / Phil Zuckerman