Thursday, January 01, 2015

January 2015 Highlights

Novels
1. Almost Famous Women (Scribner, 2015) / Megan Mayhew Bergman
2. See How Small (Little, Brown, 2015) / Scott Blackwood
3. Happy Are the Happy (trans. from the French by Sarah Ardizzone) (Other Press, 2015) / Yasmina Reza

Stories
1. Refund (Counterpoint Press, 2015) / Karen E. Bender

Nonfiction
1. Publishing: A Writer’s Memoir (Bloomsbury USA, 2015) / Gail Godwin
2. Between Gods: A Memoir (Tinder Press, 20125) / Alison Pick

Monday, December 01, 2014

December 2014 Highlights

Novels
1. The Boston Girl (Simon & Schuster, 2014) / Anita Diamant
2. The End of Days (trans. from the German by Susan Bernofsky) (Portobello Books, 2014) / Jenny Erpenbeck
3. How to be Both (Pantheon, 2014) / Ali Smith

Stories
1. Love & Hate (Faber & Faber, 2014) / Hanif Kureishi

Poetry
1. A Woman Without a Country (W.W. Norton, 2014) / Eavan Boland

Nonfiction
1. A Tremendous Thing: Friendship from the Iliad to the Internet (Cornell University Press, 2014) / Gregory Jusdanis

Saturday, November 01, 2014

November 2014 Highlights

“October extinguished itself in a rush of howling winds and driving rain and NOVEMBER arrived, cold as frozen iron, with hard frosts every morning and icy drafts that bit at exposed hands and faces.” J.K. ROWLING, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Novels
1. The Emerald Light in the Air (Granta Books, 2014) / Donald Antrim
2. Far As the Eye Can See (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014) / Robert Bausch
3. Amnesia (Faber & Faber, 2014) / Peter Carey
4. Treat Us Like Dogs and We Will Become Wolves (Grove Press, 2014) / Carolyn Chute
5. The Happiest People in the World (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2014) / Brock Clarke
6. The Book of Strange New Things (Canongate, 2014) / Michel Faber
7. Let Me Be Frank With You: A Frank Bascombe Book (Ecco/Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014) / Richard Ford
8. A Map of Betrayal (Pantheon, 2014) / Ha Jin
9. Funny Girl (Viking, 2014) / Nick Hornby
10. The Laughing Monsters (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014) / Denis Johnson

11. Revival (Scribner/Hodder & Stoughton, 2014) / Stephen King
12. Mermaids in Paradise (W.W. Norton, 2014) / Lydia Millet
13. The Forgers (Mysterious Press, 2014) / Bradford Morrow
14. When the Night Comes (John Murray Publishers, 2014) / Favel Parrett
15. Shark (Grove Press/Atlantic Monthly Press, 2014) / Will Self
16. The Architect’s Apprentice (Viking, 2014) / Elif Shafak
17. Some Luck (Mantle, 2014) / Jane Smiley
18. All Days Are Nights (trans. from the German by Michael Hofmann) (Other Press, 2014) / Peter Stamm
19. All My Puny Sorrows (McSweeney’s, 2014) / Miriam Toews
20. Balancing Act (Black Swan, 2014) / Joanna Trollope

First Novels
1. Preparation for the Next Life (Tyrant Books, 2014) / Atticus Lish
2. Three Bargains (W.W. Norton, 2014) / Tania Malik
3. Everything I Never Told You (Blackfriars, 2014) / Celeste Ng

Stories
1. Infidelities (Faber & Faber, 2014) / Kirsty Gunn
2. Life-Like (Seagull Books, 2014) / Toby Litt
3. Frog (Hamish Hamilton, 2014) / Mo Yan
4. Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas (trans. from the French by Mark Polizzotti) (Yale University Press, 2014) / Patrick Modiano
5. Family Furnishings: Selected Stories, 1995-2014 (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014) / Alice Munro
6. Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories (Ecco, 2014) / Ron Rash
7. The American Lover (Random House, 2014) / Rose Tremain

Poetry
1. You Must Remember This (Milkweed Editions, 2014) / Michael Bazzett
2. New Selected Poems, 1988-2013 (Faber & Faber, 2014) / Seamus Heaney
3. Sack (Picador, 2014) / John Kinsella
4. One Thousand Things Worth Knowing (Faber & Faber, 2014) / Paul Muldoon
5. When God is a Traveller (Bloodaxe Books, 2014) / Arundathi Subramanaiam
6. The Other Mountain (Carcanet, 2014) / Rowan Williams

Nonfiction
1. Ultrasonic: Essays (Lavender Ink, 2014) / Steven Church
2. Life, Love and the Archers: Recollections, Reviews and Other Prose (Two Roads, 2014) / Wendy Cope
3. Loitering: New & Collected Essays (Tin House Books, 2014) / Charles D’Ambrosio
4. The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014) / Meghan Daum
5. Visitants (Hamish Hamilton, 2014) / Dave Eggers
6. Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland, 1890-1923 (W.W. Norton, 2014) / R.F. Foster
7. My Life in Houses (Chatto & Windus, 2014) / Margaret Forster
8. Discontent and Its Civilizations: Dispatches from Lahore, New York and London (Hamish Hamilton, 2014) / Mohsin Hamid
9. Rocket and Lightship: Essays on Literature and Ideas (W.W. Norton, 2014) / Adam Kirsch
10. Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014) / Hermione Lee

11. Germany: Memories of a Nation (Allen Lane, 2014) / Neil MacGregor
12. Where I’m Reading From: The Changing World of Books (Harvill Secker, 2014) / Tim Parks
13. Napoleon: A Life (Viking Adult, 2014) / Andrew Roberts
14. A Brief Stop on the Road from Auschwitz (Granta Books, 2014) / Göran Rosenberg
15. The English and Their History (Allen Lane, 2014) / Robert Tombs
16. In These Times: Living in Britain Through Napoleon’s Wars, 1793-1815 (Faber & Faber, 2014) / Jenny Uglow

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Sweet Passion

SHANTINI SUNTHARAJAH traces CHARMAINE AUGUSTIN’s journey from broadcasting and boardrooms to gourmet food and confectionery

Photos by AHMAD ZURIN NOH for Quill
Coordinated by ERIC FORBES

IF YOU WERE A CHILD of the Eighties growing up in Malaysia, chances are good that you will remember Charmaine Augustin. Back in the pre-American Idol days when TV3 was a brand-new television station, there was Juara Lagu and Muzik-Muzik. As co-host of the channel’s wildly popular singing competition and music show, Augustin’s visage graced millions of small screens across the country and around the region.

You might remember Augustin for her remarkable ability to connect and engage with live audiences and viewers, or how she seemed to effortlessly radiate glitz and glamour on the screen. Delve a little deeper, and it becomes abundantly clear that she is a deep thinker—a characteristic that she is well aware of.

Kuala Lumpur-born Augustin describes herself as passionate and intense, sensitive and very private. She also calls herself a “quiet observer,” a trait that was born of necessity when she was a child. Her late father, Dato Capt. Patrick Augustin, was in the Army and Special Branch, so her formative years were marked by travel and plenty of it. “On the move” is the phrase that best describes her childhood, she explains.

All that movement and change brought with it both the good and the bad. “My nomadic childhood created insecurities. It also built reserve and innate self-belief,” she explains, candidly. “I was an outsider, an avid observer of life, an adventurer. Incessant daydreaming was my insulation from the uncertainties of growing up. It was fertile ground for unbridled imagination.”

While a nomadic lifestyle created an unusually high level of unpredictability in her childhood years, Augustin also fondly remembers the good times. The middle child among three siblings and the only girl, Augustin recalls growing up in gorgeous Lutyens-style bungalows with gleaming arches and wide wooden verandahs, surrounded by lush spacious gardens. “There were gazebos, giant rubber and banyan trees with branches reaching to the sky. Sometimes we lived in forests in newly cleared jungles turned into housing residences. Other times it was by the sea.”

She also vividly remembers long bicycle rides with her younger brother, down winding paths that led to the beach when the family lived in Penang and Butterworth. “The breeze, salty from the sea, whiffed across our nostrils. We picked up starfish and endlessly tickled their legs. It was a favourite pastime.”

Seaside bicycle rides and playing with starfish are undeniably idyllic ways to while away the hours, but these days, Augustin has time to indulge in these pursuits only in her memories.

Today, Augustin, who speaks and writes French fluently, is a busy businesswoman who co-runs Passion Doux (which means “sweet passion” in French) with her best friend Lee Yulie. Passion Doux is a wholesale provider of premium gourmet foods. “We import and distribute gourmet and specialty fine foods with a penchant for confectionery. We also work with individuals with rare and specialty products. These include handmade award-winning nougats, pickles and jams, cookies, coconut candies, pate des fruits and calamansi honey nectar juice, among others.”

Passion Doux clients are highly discerning and demand the finest, but judging from the company’s growth, the two co-owners are more than able to deliver. “Our clients include five-star hotels, upscale grocery outlets, private premium gift retailers and blue-chip corporations. My roles and focus include product identification and development, packaging, sales, marketing and branding, client relationship, import and logistics,” explains Augustin.

So how did a renowned TV personality end up in the wholesale food industry? As it turns out, much like her childhood, Augustin’s career path is nothing if not unusual and her choices reflect the deep courage of a woman who isn’t afraid to follow her heart.

For those who remember her polished professionalism during her days at TV3, it would be hard to believe that the young broadcast announcer had no media experience or training at the time. Despite this “drawback” she enjoyed a meteoric rise up the ranks and while many others in her place would have played it safe, she dropped everything to go to college.

“My time in TV3 inspired me to go pursue a degree in Broadcast and Film. I left for Boston in 1991 and returned in 1994.” The Malaysian media landscape had changed dramatically in those three years and there were many more opportunities for Augustin to dive into. “Upon my return I joined MetroVision Channel 8, known as 8TV today, as Program Manager, followed by a stint as the Asian Managing Director with Articulate Asia, a Dutch telecommunications and content company.” Time at the telecommunications company proved to be a turning point in her career. “While in Articulate I realised that the future was in the direction of convergence of content, multimedia and technology.”

The next few years were a whirlwind of upward mobility and career changes, which included time working as a Marketing Manager at the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDC) when she became part of the pioneering effort that created the Malaysian Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC). Next she was headhunted to join Ericsson Malaysia as General Manager of Mobile Internet and Systems Integration and became the first Malaysian woman and the youngest person to take over the role.

Then it was on to Malaysia Biotechnology Corporation as Branding and Marketing Vice-President. Augustin’s corporate career culminated in 2008 when she was appointed General Manager for DDBPR, the public relations arm of Naga DDB, Malaysia’s largest marketing and communications advertising company. Like her decision to drop everything during the height of her success at TV3, Augustin made a decision to turn away from the corporate fast track to focus on her secret love—food. “Food has always fascinated me. It is one of the greatest pleasures of the senses and a playground for creativity and visual art.”

As with all her career moves, she combined heart with smarts and looked at ways to turn her love into a viable, lucrative business. This focus and direction inspired her to combine food with trading and thus Passion Doux was born. “I have always loved the idea of trading. Even in the companies I used to work for, wherever there was an opportunity, I would create business-inspired events,” she reveals.

These days, Augustin’s daily routine overflows with “work, work, and more work” plus time stolen here and there for leisure pursuits like reading and jazz piano classes but the popular media personality turned entrepreneur will have it no other way.

Other than serving an ever-expanding clientele, Augustin, along with Lee, works with less fortunate individuals and families who possess the fire and spirit of an entrepreneur but not the financial means to support their dreams. “We develop recipes, formulas and ideas with them and brand and market their products. This gives them sustainable income, new-found confidence and knowledge that they have special skills and are able to contribute to society and to their families.”

Passion Doux also serves as a channel for the two women to bring alive the food tradition and memories of their beloved mothers and grandmothers. “We resurrect long-forgotten or rarely produced traditional favourite delicacies like handmade coconut candies the way Granny used to make them.” Augustin says this brings back the past in a beautiful way while reviving disappearing tastes and senses. “We take quiet pleasure in seeing the look of happiness on the faces of clients who come across a long-forgotten aroma or a taste from their childhood.”

Reproduced from the July-September 2014 issue of Quill magazine

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Verve & Versatility

Trainer, coach, cat lover, baker and author ANNA TAN shows SHANTINI SUNTHARAJAH that self-improvement isn’t too much of a stretch

CATHOLIC SCHOOL, with all its rules and regulations and the nuns who enforce them, might not sound like a great way to spend most of your growing-up years. Anna Tan, however, has nothing but warm memories to share and credits those schooldays for inspiring her reading habit.

“My reading habit was inculcated by the nuns in the Catholic school I attended, called St Teresa, in her hometown, Kuching, Sarawak. The head nun—Mother Monica—started a library and stocked it with many Enid Blyton books as well as magazines from the Vatican City,” she explains. “So I read whatever Mother Monica brought to the library. My brother and I would compete to see who finished a book first!”

Mother Monica must have done a fine job because the consultant trainer, human resource practitioner and change leader is now a full-fledged author. Stretched: Unleash Your Team’s Potential by Coaching the “Rubber Band” Way! captures Tan’s proven coaching ideas and techniques and aims to guide readers to extraordinary growth and breakthroughs.

Tan says that the advice in her book, which is geared towards leaders, employers and managers who are keen to create passionate, productive, action-oriented teams, is based on long experience in the trenches. “In a career spanning over fifteen years, I worked in various multinational companies as a senior corporate leader helming the human capital and talent functions.” Her work exposed her to a vast range of people and corporate cultures. “I had the opportunity to interact and socialise with people at all levels, experiencing both Western and Asian leadership and cultures.”

Tan confides that she has always wanted to write a book and didn’t hesitate to grab the chance to do so when she took a six-month break from corporate work at the end of 2010. Any other hard-working denizen of the corporate world might have used the time to kick back and relax but she is nothing if not focused. “It was six months of ideas, writing fluidly, freestyle.”

Even after going back to work, Tan did not waver from her writing routine and completed the book at an admirably quick pace. “I went back to corporate HR and it was another six months of fine-tuning the typescript. Getting feedback from corporate folks, HR practitioners, college students and incorporating their input, editing by my publisher and publishing took another four months.”

Tan’s speed is also attributed, in no small part, to the fact that she is able to write “wherever I have my Mac” as well as to the way she thinks. Part of the writing process, such as creating the chapters—something that makes many other writers falter—turned out to be a breeze. “I am lucky that I think in ‘categories’ or have my ideas in buckets. Hence, dividing the chapters was quite easy.” However, she is also quick to admit that creating Stretched from scratch did have its challenges. The biggest among these was “simplifying the concepts without sacrificing the essence of the book,” she says, referring to the complex concepts related to coaching teams to do their best at work.

Tan admits that she loves her work but takes care to spend as much quality time as possible with her loved ones on weekends. In her case, her loved ones happen to include three felines. A huge cat lover, she describes her furry family members with some detail. “They each have very different personalities. Girlie, the eldest at twelve years, is the most introverted. Furrygamo is three and is your typical “scatty” cat. Cotton is two years old and is the most extroverted and social one.”

Weekends are also a time for pastimes most people would consider typical—save one. “During the weekends, we do normal things like house chores, cook [her husband Allen Yap does the cooking], catch up on reading, watch TV, entertain friends and trim the cat’s nails.” Tan confides that the last is more than a one-weekend job. “The cats hate having their nails trimmed so it has to be stretched over a number of weeks,” she laughs.

Another thing that she enjoys during her downtime is baking. As a coach who trains leaders and managers to find opportunities to bring out the best in themselves and their people, it appears that she walks her talk. Others would never view domestic work as anything more than what it is but she has managed to find a way to turn time in the kitchen into something of a self-improvement exercise. “I love to bake and I teach others to bake. I have learnt to master the challenging French macarons! Baking has taught me to be precise and to persevere.”

Tan hopes that her book will help shine a light on new and better ways to work and shift her readers’ perspectives. “The coaching way—as opposed to the autocratic where you just tell and issue instructions—is one that resonates with younger generations like the millennials. It is high time leaders replace some of their ‘die-hard’ ways to a coaching style that engages the hearts and minds of their team members—yes, be like the rubber band, stretch, be flexible and adapt.”

Coach, trainer and author Anna Tan shares three life-improvement tips that will help people create great teams at work (and maybe in their personal lives, too!):
• Talk less, listen more. 
• Give permission for others to be brave, and challenge the status quo. By doing that, you renew their hope of the possibilities of what they can be and more. 
• Don’t tell people what to do. Facilitate the conversation to enable them to come up with their own solutions. People are spurred to take action based on the solutions they come up with.

Reproduced from the July-September 2014 issue of Quill magazine

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A China Doll in KL, by Ewe Paik Leong

EWE PAIK LEONG talks about the kind of research he undertook while working on his novel, A China Doll in KL

THE STORY is set in the seamier side of Kuala Lumpur, where China dolls solicit clients in an infamous food court called New Peng Hwa. Meisu, the protagonist, comes to KL from Guilin (China) to seek her fortune as a hooker. She falls in love with her client Alvin Au, an alcoholic artist, who has a studio in Central Market. Against the backdrop of their tumultuous romance lurks a serial killer with a troubled past. He has murdered three China dolls and is targeting Meisu as his fourth victim. Meanwhile, Inspector Daniel Chu and his sidekick, Sergeant June Qwong, are assigned to nail the serial killer. The story reaches its climax when Inspector Chu races against time to save Meisu from the killer.

This novel was partly inspired by an accidental visit to New Peng Hwa in Pudu district in KL. One evening, I stepped inside the food court solely for a quick dinner. Dozens of girls and not-so-young women, carrying packets of watermelon seeds, were milling around. One by one, they approached my table and asked in Mandarin, “You want to buy watermelon seeds?” Only then did I realise that they were China dolls. When I said “no”, their next question would often be “Do you want to buy me?” Other girls used innuendos like “Do you want to be happy?” I was shocked by their audacity. The other half of the inspiration came from two novels which I’d read several years back: The World of Suzie Wong (1957), by Richard Mason, and A Woman of Bangkok (1956), by Jack Reynolds. “Why not a Malaysian version of those two books?” I asked myself as I recalled the novels while watching a few China dolls gyrating with their clients to loud music from the band on the stage.

Subsequently, I made more visits to the food court, inviting China dolls for drinks or dinner so that I could interview them. Several were friendly and chatty; others refused my offer. I also mingled around with customers and prospective johns to dig as much information as possible. A few plied me with stories of local men falling in love with the China dolls. Such romances mostly ended in financial ruin for the men except for a few rare cases of happy marriages.

Meisu, the novel’s protagonist, is a composite character of three real China dolls. They spoke to me about their aspirations, motivations and backgrounds. At the back of every China doll’s mind is the hope of snaring a boyfriend so that she can razor him financially or hook a husband and settle down in this country to escape poverty. A big-time john once gave me a tip on how to spot a China doll from a poor village. “Ask her to remove her shoes and feel the soles of her feet,” he said. “They’re often as hard as leather.” He pointed out that in the poor villages of China, almost all children are barefooted.

Meisu’s love interest is Alvin, an alcoholic artist who’s struggling to come to terms with his addiction. As the novel is written in close multiple third-person POV, there are many scenes where Alvin is the POV character. Therefore, I needed to experience what it was like being dead drunk. I don’t drink much except for a couple of beers during Chinese New Year, so I came back one evening with two bottles of cheap made-in-Thailand brandy. Sitting in front of the TV after dinner, I started to gulp down the brandy. My startled wife asked, “Wazzup, darling? You never drink! Are you in a funk?” I told her that I wanted to be in the shoes of my alcoholic character and she quipped, “I hope he’s not also a wife-beater!”

“I can’t leave New Peng Hwa and solicit business elsewhere as I’m contracted to my boss,” said a China doll to me. Her answer indicated that organised crime and vice goes hand-in-hand in New Peng Hwa. Anyone who goes there can see the presence of thugs almost everywhere. Some hang around with walkie-talkies hooked to their belts. Since New Peng Hwa has links to triads, I created a subplot in the story. In Act I, Ouyang Lifu, the head of the Red Centipede Society, tries to extort protection money from Meisu, but she challenges him to a card game instead. During the final hand of the game, Lifu raises the stake to “loser chops off the last finger.”

An unforgettable incident was when the place was raided one evening. I was sitting in Kim Wah Café in the first floor of Ace Electronics Building, adjacent to New Peng Hwa (which houses the apartments used by China dolls), when a lookout employed by the vice syndicate shouted, “Run! Police! Run!” The whole place was in turmoil as all the girls started to stampede down the broken-down escalator. One China doll slipped and nearly fell facedown and several others took off their stilettos and ran barefooted. When I reached the ground floor, I heard the clumping of heels coming from the fire-escape staircase as more China dolls came scrambling down from their apartments. Standing on the sidewalk, I saw a police truck up ahead on the road, trying to manoeuvre through traffic. It was like a scene from a TV cop show.

A China Doll in KL is published by Monsoon Books, Singapore

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

October 2014 Highlights

“It was OCTOBER, and the leaves of the oaks around the language school had turned gold and were batting light into its tall windows. A young Irish woman was seated alone in the teacher’s lounge. She had made herself a cup of tea on the range in the corner, and she was opening a tangerine on a paper napkin, with hungry carelessness.” CALEB CRAIN, in Necessary Errors (2013)

Novels
1. The Prince’s Boy (Bloomsbury USA, 2014) / Paul Bailey
2. The Empire of Night (Mysterious Press, 2014) / Robert Olen Butler
3. Limonov (trans. from the French by John Lambert) (Allen Lane/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014) / Emmanuel Carrère
4. The Empty Throne (HarperCollins, 2014) / Bernard Cornwell
5. The Boy Who Drew Monsters (Picador USA, 2014) / Keith Donohue
6. The Book of Strange New Things (Hogarth, 2014) / Michel Faber
7. Hiding in Plain Sight (Riverhead Books, 2014) / Nuruddin Farah
8. West (trans. from the German by Anthea Bell) (Harvill Secker, 2014) / Julia Franck
9. The Far Side of the Sun (Berkley, 2014) / Kate Furnivall
10. The Sleeper and the Spindle (illustrated by Chris Riddell) (Bloomsbury Children, 2014) / Neil Gaiman

11. The Hilltop (trans. from the Hebrew by Steven Cohen) (Scribner, 2014) / Assaf Gavron
12. The Grand Duchess of Nowhere (Quercus, 2014) / Laurie Graham
13. Gray Mountain (Doubleday/Hodder & Stoughton, 2014) / John Grisham
14. J (Hogarth, 2014) / Howard Jacobson
15. A Brief History of Seven Killings (Riverhead, 2014) / Marlon James
16. The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy (Doubleday, 2014) / Rachel Joyce
17. F (trans. from the German by Carol Brown Janeaway) (Quercus, 2014) / Daniel Kehlmann
18. First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen (Viking, 2014) / Charlie Lovett
19. The Figures of Beauty (Harper, 2014) / David Macfarlane
20. The New World (Jonathan Cape, 2014) / Andrew Motion

21. The Lives of Others (W.W. Norton, 2014) / Neel Mukherjee
22. Last Winter, We Parted (trans. from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell) (Soho Press, 2014) / Fuminori Nakamura
23. An English Ghost Story (Titan Books, 2014) / Kim Newman
24. Us (Harper, 2014) / David Nicholls
25. The Age of Magic (Head of Zeus, 2014) / Ben Okri
26. I Refuse (trans. from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett) (Harvill Secker, 2014) / Per Petterson
27. Leaving Time (Ballantine Books, 2014) / Jodi Picoult
28. Lila (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Virago/Little, Brown, 2014) / Marilynne Robinson
29. The Remedy for Love (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2014) / Bill Roorbach
30. Electric City (Counterpoint, 2014) / Elizabeth Rosner

31. Lamentation (Mantle, 2014) / C.J. Sansom
32. Some Luck (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014) / Jane Smiley
33. Sister Golden Hair (Tin House Press, 2014) / Darcey Steinke
34. Nora Webster (Viking/Scribner, 2014) / Colm Tóibín
35. The Book of Gold Leaves (Penguin, 2014) / Mirza Waheed
36. Sometimes the Wolf (William Morrow, 2014) / Urban Waite

First Novels
1. Academy Street (Canongate, 2014) / Mary Costello
2. Crooked River (William Morrow, 2014) / Valerie Geary
3. The Goddess of Small Victories (trans. from the French by Willard Wood) (Other Press, 2014) / Yannick Grannec
4. The Lodger (Thomas Dunne Books, 2014) / Louisa Treger

Stories
1. Man V. Nature (Harper, 2014) / Diane Cook
2. The Redemption of Galen Pike (Salt Publishing, 2014) / Carys Davies
3. The Best American Short Stories 2014 (Mariner Books, 2014) / Heidi Pilor & Jennifer Egan (ends.)
4. The Wilds (Tin House Press, 2014) / Julia Elliott
5. The Seven Stages of Anger and Other Stories (Press 53, 2014) / Wendy J. Fox
6. White Tiger on Snow Mountain (New Harvest, 2014) / David Gordon
7. Six Stories and An Essay (Tinder Press, 2014) / Andrea Levy
8. There Once Lived a Mother Who Loved Her Children, Until They Moved Back In: Three Novellas About Family (trans. from the Russian by Anna Summers) (Penguin Books, 2014) / Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

Poetry
1. The Heart Is Strange: New Selected Poems (ed. Daniel Swift) (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014) / John Berryman
2. Blood Lyrics (Graywolf Press, 2014) / Katie Ford
3. Habitation: Collected Poems (Lost Horse Press/University of Washington Press, 2014) / Sam Hamill
4. Splitting an Order (Copper Canyon Press, 2014) / Ted Kooser
5. The Stairwell (Wake Forest University Press, 2014) / Michael Longley
6. Blue Horses (Penguin Press, 2014) / Mary Oliver
7. Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2014) / Claudia Rankine
8. Playing House (Seren, 2014) / Katherine Stansfield

Nonfiction
1. The History Manifesto (Cambridge University Press, 2014) / David Armitrage
2. Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence (Alfred A. Knopf/The Bodley Head, 2014) / Karen Armstrong
3. The Bookshop Book (Constable, 2014) / Jen Campbell
4. Joan of Arc: A History (Faber & Faber, 2014) / Helen Castor
5. Claxton: Field Notes from a Small Planet (Jonathan Cape, 2014) / Mark Cocker
6. Alex Miller: The Ruin of Time (Sydney University Press, 2014) / Robert Dixon
7. Eugene O’Neill: A Life in Four Acts (Yale University Press, 2014) / Robert M. Dowling
8. Engel’s England: Thirty-nine Counties, One Capital and One Man (Profile Books, 2014) / Matthew Engel
9. Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland, 1890-1923 (Allen Lane, 2014) / R.F. Foster
10. Tales of Two Cities: The Best abnd Worst of Times in Today’s New York (OR Books, 2014) / John Freeman (ed.)

11. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End (Metropolitan Books, 2014) / Atul Gawande
12. Coming Ashore: A Memoir (ECW Press, 2014) / Catherine Gildiner
13. Palace of Books (trans. from the French by Alice Kaplan) (The University of Chicago Press, 2014) / Roger Grenier
14. Discontent and Its Civilizations (Hamish Hamilton, 2014) / Mohsin Hamid
15. A Voice Still Heard: Selected Essays of Irving Howe (ed. Nina Howe) (Yale University Press, 2014) / Irving Howe
16. Poetry Notebook: 2006-2014 (Picador, 2014) / Clive James
17. Arabs and the Art of Storytelling: A Strange Familiarity (trans. from the Arabic by Eric Sellin and Mbarek Sryfi) / Abdelfattah Kilito
18. Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans (Crown Publishing, 2014) / Gary Krist
19. Common People: The History of an English Family (Fig Tree, 2014) / Alison Light
20. Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place (Granta, 2014) / Philip Marsden

21. Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime (Profile Books, 2014) / Val McDermid
22. Berlin: Portrait of a City Through the Centuries (St Martin’s Press, 2014) / Rory McLean 22. Private Island (Verso, 2014) / James Meek
23. Ciao, Carpaccio! (Pallas Athene, 2014) / Jan Morris
24. The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books (Viking, 2014) / Azar Nafisi
25. Shirley Hazzard: New Critical Essays (Sydney University Press, 2014) / Brigitta Olubas
26. American Pulp: How Paperbacks Brought Modernism to Main Street (Princeton University Press, 2014) / Paula Rabinowitz
27. Napoleon the Great (Allen Lane, 2014) / Andrew Roberts
28. Mecca: The Sacred City (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014) / Ziauddin Sardar
29. The Best American Essays 2014 (Mariner Books, 2014) / John Jeremiah Sullivan (ed.)
30. The Best American Travel Writing 2014 (Mariner Books, 2014) / Paul Theroux (ed.)

31. Red Nile: A Biography of the World’s Greatest River (Thomas Dunne Books, 2014) / Robert Twigger
32. And Home Was Kariakoo: A Memoir of East Africa (Doubleday Canada, 2014) / M.G. Vassanji
33. Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale (Oxford University Press, 2014) / Marina Warner
34. The Meaning of Human Existence (Liveright, 2014) / Edward O. Wilson
35. The Art of the English Murder: From Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes to Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock (Pegasus, 2014) / Lucy Worsley

Monday, September 15, 2014

Rotten Durian Awards & Other Malaysiana Miscellany

SOME MANUSCRIPTS are so bloody horrendous that I literally get sick editing them! I feel feverish, headachy and all-over-the-body-achy. Seriously, one of these days we must consider giving out a slew of ROTTEN DURIAN AWARDS for the worst Malaysian books of the year—books I absolutely could not care less about. 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 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 (Corsair, March 2014): “She stinks. It has to be said. Stinks to high heaven.”
***
MALAYSIAN EDUCATION should start focusing on understanding and critical thinking skills. 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 quite 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, thinking beings. If not, what’s the point of being alive?
***
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 hollow, shallow, lifeless, insipid, puerile, dispirited, uninspiring and lackadaisical. ANOTHER SAD FACT: Editors don’t know how to edit. (Editing is not just about grammar and spelling.) Most of them lack the most basic of editing skills (grammar and spelling); if they can’t even handle basic editing, surely they are in the wrong profession, no? Editors are unwilling to learn and tend to miss more than they spot errors (and introducing new ones at the same time). And many are averse to research, checking facts and solving problems. Punctuating dialogue is also another major weakness. Most of them lack intellectual curiosity and have no idea why they are doing the things they are doing. ANOTHER SAD FACT: Designers don’t know how to typeset books and design covers. Most of them are not designers; they are more typesetters than designers. Most, sadly, have no grasp of the aesthetics, whether in the design of covers or typesetting of pages, are not open to constructive criticism and lack basic language skills. (“The kind of designs you don’t need to go to design school to learn.”) There is absolutely no passion to push boundaries. ANOTHER SAD FACT: Translation standards are abysmal. (Translation is not just about translating words to another language; it’s also about translating cultural and other creative nuances; the translated text must make sense. A good translator must not only possess a solid grounding in both languages but a strong grasp of idioms as well.) A vicious cycle. So, do we really have a publishing industry in Malaysia? 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. 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 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 stupidest 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 CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). 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 time. 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.
***
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, 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!
***
WATERLILY: I want to talk to the editor?
Receptionist: Who’s calling?
Waterlily: Lily!
Receptionist: Lily who?
Waterlily: Water “I-can’t-tell-you-my-real-name” Lily!
Receptionist: How can I help you?
Waterlily: I want to talk to the editor about my manuscript?
Receptionist: What’s your manuscript about?
Waterlily: I can’t tell you that! I don’t know who you are. You may just steal and profit from my hard work! I want to speak to the editor!
Editor: Could you send us samples of your work, Water?
Waterlily: I can’t do that either.
Editor: So what can you do, Water?
Waterlily: Why do you need samples of my work?
Editor: Duh! So that we could assess your writing and decide whether we want to publish it or not!
Waterlily: Why do you want to review it? I am a famous writer and my work is quoted in all the leading journals all over the galaxy!
Editor: That’s nice and all. 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. Goodbye!
***
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: Can’t imagine how you manage to pass all your exams over the years!
***
AUTHOR: Can 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 CONNING. Your first book sold less than a thousand copies in over five years. That, to me, is a disaster of epic proportions!
***
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 is a magnificent piece of work!
Editor: Who, pray tell, read your magnum opus?
Author: My dear 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? 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 Man, 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 sole province of the old. 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 quite 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.

Monday, September 01, 2014

September 2014 Highlights

“Autumn seemed to arrive suddenly that year. The morning of the first SEPTEMBER was crisp and golden as an apple.” J.K. ROWLING, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007)

Novels
1. Broken Monsters (Mulholland Books, 2014) / Lauren Beukes
2. The Betrayers (Little, Brown, 2014) / David Bezmozgis
3. A History of Loneliness (Doubleday, 2014) / John Boyne
4. Outline (Faber & Faber, 2014) / Rachel Cusk
5. Two More Pints (Jonathan Cape, 2014) / Roddy Doyle
6. Perfidia (Alfred A. Knopf/William Heinemann, 2014) / James Ellroy
7. The High Divide (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2014) / Lin Enger
8. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (trans. from the Italian by Ann Goldstein) (Europa Editions, 2014) / Elena Ferrante
9. Edge of Eternity (Pan Macmillian/Dutton Books, 2014) / Ken Follett
10. The Unknown Bridesmaid (Europa Editions, 2014) / Margaret Forster

11. The Secret Place (Viking Adult, 2014) / Tana French
12. Mr Mac and Me (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014) / Esther Freud
13. Arctic Summer (Europa Editions, 2014) / Damon Galgut
14. Flood of Fire (John Murray, 2014) / Amitav Ghosh
15. Hold the Dark (Liveright, 2014) / William Giraldi
16. Gangsterland (Counterpoint, 2014) / Tod Goldberg
17. All the Days and Nights (The Friday Project, 2014) / Niven Govinden
18. The Monogram Murders: The New Agatha Christie Hercule Poirot Mystery (William Morrow/HarperCollins, 2014) / Sophie Hannah
19. Dear Thief (Jonathan Cape, 2014) / Samantha Harvey
20. The Soul of Discretion (Chatto & Windus, 2014) / Susan Hill

21. Printer’s Devil Court (Profile Books, 2014) / Susan Hill
22. The Sunrise (Headline Review, 2014) / Victoria Hislop
23. Neverhome (Little, Brown, 2014) / Laird Hunt
24. Black Dance (Black Cat/Grove Press, 2014) / Nancy Huston
25. Beirut, Beirut (trans. from the Arabic by Chip Rossetti) (Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing, 2014) / Sonallah Ibrahim
26. Wittgenstein Jr (Melville House, 2014) / Lars Iyer
27. J (Jonathan Cape, 2014) / Howard Jacobson
28. The Surfacing (Sandstone Press, 2014) / Cormac James
29. The Moor’s Account (Pantheon, 2014) / Laila Lalami
30. 10:04 (Faber & Faber, 2014) / Ben Lerner

31. The Day of Atonement (Random House, 2014) / David Liss
32. Adult Onset (Knopf Canada, 2014) / Ann-Marie McaDonald
33. The Undertaking (Grove Press, 2014) / Audrey Magee
34. Station Eleven (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014) / Emily St John Mandel
35. An Event in Autumn (trans. from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson) (Harvill Secker, 2014) / Henning Mankell
36. The Skeleton Road (Little, Brown, 2014) / Val McDermid
37. The Children Act (Jonathan Cape/Nan A. Talese, 2014) / Ian McEwan
38. Accidents of Marriage (Atria Books, 2014) / Randy Susan Meyers
39. The Bone Clocks (Sceptre/Random House, 2014) / David Mitchell
40. Florence Gordon (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) / Brian Morton

41. The Taxidermist’s Daughter (Orion, 2014) / Kate Mosse
42. Us (Hodder & Stoughton, 2014) / David Nicholls
43. The Dog (Pantheon, 2015) / Joseph O’Neill
44. When the Night Comes (Hatchette Australia, 2014) / Favel Parrett
45. De Potter’s Grand Tour (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014) / Joanna Scott
46. Quartet for the End of Time (William Heinemann/Hamish Hamilton Canada, 2014) / Johanna Skibsrud
47. How to Be Both (Hamish Hamilton, 2014) / Ali Smith
48. A Sudden Light (Simon & Schuster, 2014) / Garth Stein
49. The Paying Guests (Virago/Riverhead, 2014) / Sarah Waters
50. Belzar (Dutton Juvenile, 2014) / Meg Wolitzer

First Novels
1. The Secret Sky (Philomel Books, 2014) / Atia Abawi
2. Under the Tripoli Sky (trans. from the French by Adriana Hunter) (Peirene Press, 2014) / Kamal Ben Hameda
3. Ashes in the Wind (Head of Zeus, 2014) / Christopher Bland
4. A Replacement Life (One/Pushkin Press, 2014) / Boris Fishman
5. Sons and Fathers (Linda Leith Publishing, 2014) / Daniel Goodwin
6. The Banks of Certain Rivers (Lake Union Publishing, 2014) / Jon Harrison
7. The Bully of Order (Harper Press, 2014) / Brian Hart
8. Rainey Royal (Soho Press, 2014) / Dylan Landis
9. Island of a Thousand Mirrors (St Martin’s Press, 2014) / Nayomi Munaweera
10. September (Salt Publishing, 2014) / Christopher Prendergast

11. We Are Not Ourselves (Simon & Schuster, 2014) / Matthew Thomas
12. Love Me Back (Doubleday, 2014) / Merritt Tierce

Stories
1. The Emerald Light in the Air (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014) / Donald Antrim
2. Stone Mattress: Nine Tales (Nan A. Talese/Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014) / Margaret Atwood
3. Everything is Moving, Everything is Joined: The Selected Stories of Stella Duffy (Salt Publishing, 2014) / Stella Duffy
4. The O. Henry Prize Stories 2014 (Anchor, 2014) / Laura Furman (ed.)
5. Doll House (Dock Street Press, 2014) / Sara Lippmann
6. The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher (Fourth Estate/Henry Holt, 2014) / Hilary Mantel
7. Lovely, Dark, Deep (Ecco Press, 2014) / Joyce Carol Oates
8. Mr. Bones: Twenty Stories (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) / Paul Theroux

Poetry
1. Paper Aeroplane: Selected Poems 1989-2014 (Faber & Faber, 2014) / Simon Armitage
2. A Woman Without a Country (Carcanet Press, 2014) / Eavan Boland
3. The Whole & Rain-domed Universe (Picador, 2014) / Collette Bryce
4. Faithful and Virtuous Night (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Carcanet Press, 2014) / Louise Glück
5. Habitation: Collected Poems (Lost Horse Press, 2014) / Sam Hamill
6. Gabriel: A Poem (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014) / Edward Hirsch
7. Prelude to Bruise (Coffee House Press, 2014) / Saeed Jones
8. Fauverie (Seren, 2014) / Pascale Petit
9. Sailing the Forest: Selected Poems (Picador, 2014) / Robin Robertson
10. Collected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, 2014) / Mark Strand

11. Liffey Swim (Dedalus Press, 2014) / Jessica Traynor

Nonfiction
1. The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us (W.W. Norton, 2014) / Diane Ackerman
2. Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence (Bodley Head, 2014) / Karen Armstrong
3. On Immunity: An Inoculation (Graywolf Press, 2014) / Eula Biss
4. The Prince of Los Cocuyos (Ecco, 2014) / Richard Blanco
5. Fire Shut Up in My Bones: A Memoir (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) / Charles M. Blow
6. Epilogue: A Memoir (Liveright, 2014) / Will Boast
7. Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant (Hodder & Stoughton, 2014) / Tracy Borman
8. Words in Time and Place: Exploring Language Through the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 2014) / David Crystal
9. Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned” (Random House, 2014) / Lena Dunham
10. While the Gods Were Sleeping: A Journey Through Love and Rebellion in Nepal (Seal Press, 2014) / Elizabeth Enslin

11. Insurrections of the Mind: 100 Years of Politics and Culture in America (Harper, 2014) / Franklin Foer (ed.)
12. It’s Been Said Before: A Guide to the Use and Abuse of Clichés (Oxford University Press USA, 2014) / Orin Hargraves
13. A People’s History of the French Revolution (Verso Books, 2014) / Eric Hazan
14. The Hollow Crown: The War of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors (Faber & Faber, 2014) / Dan Jones
15. Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul (W.W. Norton, 2014) / Charles King
16. Modernity Britain: Book Two: A Shake of the Dice, 1959-62 (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014) / David Kynaston
17. Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh (Bloomsbury Circus/W.W. Norton, 2014) / John Lahr
18. The Quest for a Moral Compass: A Global History of Ethics (Melville House, 2014) / Kenan Malik
19. Ezra Pound: Poet: Volume II: The Epic Years 1921-1939: A Portrait of the Man & His Work (Oxford University Press, 2014) / A. David Moody
20. Pilgrimage to Iona: Discovering the Ancient Secrets of the Sacred Isle (Watkins Publishing, 2014) / Claire Nahmad

21. The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century (Allen Lane/Viking Adult, 2014) / Steven Pinker
22. Between Gods: A Memoir (Doubleday Canada, 2014) / Alison Pick
23. The Ron Rash Reader (ed. Randall Wilhelm) (The University of South Carolina Press, 2014) / Ron Rash
24. Women in Dark Times (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014) / Jacqueline Rose
25. Scorsese: A Retrospective (Thames & Hudson, 2014) / Tom Shone
26. Hidden City: Adventures and Explorations in Dublin (Penguin Ireland, 2014) / Karl Whitney
27. Victoria: A Life (Atlantic Books, 2014) / A.N. Wilson
28. David: The Divided Heart (Yale University Press, 2014) / David Wolpe

Friday, August 15, 2014

The AWFUL, AWFUL Malaysian Authors

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 that I am talking about. And I am not joking. Seriously. I am calling them “books” here for lack of a better word. On second thought, “trash” would probably be a more appropriate word to use! Worst of all is being literally forced to produce books from manuscripts that have been rejected, but somehow claw their way back from the depths of Hell to scare the bloody living daylights 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!

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 people who are so obsessed about seeing their names in print that they are willing to pay others to write their books for them!) Some 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 or global marketplace.

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 around like peacocks and peahens.)

FIVE, authors who think the publishing house belongs to their daddies or granddaddies. Believe it or not, money 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, Salman Rushdie and R.K. Narayan put together! (An indepth study definitely should be done to delve into this very strange Malaysian malaise.) This state of 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 manuscript to show. (Go figure this one out!) For some reason or other, they also want to know their sales figures before sitting down to write the book they say they were put on 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)! (I was told by Mama 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 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?”) 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 the comma there. I dont feel comfortable without it.”

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

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 the manuscript. (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!)

Ironically, authors who write well tend to give editors less problems than those who can’t write!

Rare though they are, I have had the privilege of working with authors who have become great friends over the years. Editing can be a very traumatic experience, 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!

Friday, August 01, 2014

August 2014 Highlights

“July had been blown out like a candle by a biting wind that ushered in a leaden AUGUST sky. A sharp, stinging drizzle fell, billowing into opaque grey sheets when the wind caught it.” GERALD DURRELL, from My Family and Other Animals (1956)

Novels
1. Before, During, After (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014) / Richard Bausch
2. The Betrayers (Viking, 2014) / David Bezmozgis
3. Lucky Us (Random House, 2014) / Amy Bloom
4. I Can’t Begin to Tell You (Michael Joseph, 2014) / Elizabeth Buchan
5. The Lotus and the Storm (Viking, 2014) / Lan Cao
6. Outlaws (trans. from the Spanish by Anne McLean) (Bloomsbury Publishing) / Javier Cercas
7. Sweetland (Doubleday Canada, 2014) / Michael Crummey
8. Falling for Hugh (Doubleday Canada, 2014) / Marina Endicott
9. The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Chatto & Windus/Alfred A. Knopf, 2014) / Richard Flanagan
10. The Secret Place (Hodder & Stoughton, 2014) / Tana French

11. If Not For This (Red Hen Press, 2014) / Peter Fromm
12. The Far Side of the Sun (Sphere, 2014) / Kate Furnivall
13. The Magician’s Land (Viking Adult, 2014) / Lev Grossman
14. The Girl Who Couldn’t Read (Blue Door, 2014) / John Harding
15. Golden Boys (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin Australia, 2014) / Sonya Hartnett
16. Tell (HarperCollins Canada, 2014) / Frances Itani
17. The Ghost in the Electric-Blue Suit (published in the U.K. as The Year of the Ladybird) (Doubleday, 2014) / Graham Joyce
18. Twilight of the Eastern Gods (trans. from the French by David Bellos) (Canongate Books, 2014) / Ismail Kadare
19. F (trans. from the German by Carol Brown Janeaway) (Pantheon, 2014) / Daniel Kehlmann
20. Windigo Island (Atria Books, 2014) / William Kent Krueger

21. Diary of the Fall (trans. from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa) (Other Press, 2014) / Michel Laub
22. The Golden Age (Vintage Australia/Random House Australia, 2014) / Joan London
23. In Search of Solace (Sceptre, 2014) / Emily Mackie
24. Bittersweet (Simon & Schuster, 2014) / Colleen McCullough
25. He Wants (Salt Publishing, 2014) / Alison Moore
26. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage (trans. from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel) (Alfred A. Knopf/Harvill Secker, 2014) / Haruki Murakami
27. The Long Way Home (Monotaur Books/Sphere, 2014) / Louise Penny
28. The Sheltering (University of South Carolina Press, 2014) / Mark Powell
29. The Girl Next Door (Hutchinson, 2014) / Ruth Rendell
30. Dear Committee Members (Doubleday, 2014) / Julie Schumacher

31. A God in Every Stone (Atavist Books, 2014) / Kamila Shamsie
32. Friendswood (Riverhead, 2014) / Rene Steinke
33. Mãn (trans. from the French by Sheila Fischman) (Random House Canada, 2014) / Kim Thúy
34. Anna Karenina (a new trans. from the Russian by Rosamund Bartlett) (Oxford University Press, 2014) / Leo Tolstoy
35. The Tongues of Men or Angels (Corsair, 2014) / Jonathan Trigell
36. The Thing About December (Steerforth, 2014) / Donal Ryan
37. The Story Hour (Harper, 2014) / Thrity Umrigar
38. Their Lips Talk of Mischief (Faber & Faber, 2014) / Alan Warner

First Novels
1. Painted Horses (Grove Press, 2014) / Malcolm Brooks
2. The Miniaturist (Ecco, 2014) / Jessie Burton
3. Further Out Than You Thought (William Morrow, 2014) / Michaela Carter
4. Season of the Dragonflies (William Morrow, 2014) / Sarah Creech
5. Flying Shoes (Bloomsbury Circus, 2014) / Lisa Howorth
6. A Bad Character (Jonathan Cape, 2014) / Deepti Kapoor
7. What Ends (Oneworld Publications, 2014) / Andrew Ladd
8. The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House (Penguin, 2014) / Stephanie Lam
9. California (Little, Brown, 2014) / Edan Lepucki
10. Dear Daughter (Viking Adult/Harvill Secker, 2014) / Elizabeth Little

11. The Feathers (Piscataqua Press, 2014) / Cynthia Lott
12. The Invention of Exile (Penguin Press, 2014) / Vanessa Manko
13. Your Face in Mine (Riverhead, 2014) / Jess Row
14. The Story of Land and Sea (Harper, 2014) / Katy Simpson Smith
15. Man at the Helm (Viking, 2014) / Nina Stibbe
16. The Scatter Here Is Too Great (Jonathan Cape/Harper, 2014) / Bilal Tanweer
17. We Are Not Ourselves (Simon & Schuster/Fourth Estate, 2014) / Matthew Thomas
18. The Girls from Corona del Mar (Hutchinson, 2014) / Rufi Thorpe

Stories
1. Mr. Tall (Little, Brown, 2014) / Tony Earley
2. The Liar’s Wife: Four Novellas (Pantheon, 2014) / Mary Gordon
3. The Dog (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014) / Jack Livings
4. Night: Collected Stories (Faber & Faber, 2014) / Edna O’Brien
5. Flings (Harper, 2014) / Justin Taylor

Poetry
1. Black Country (Chatto & Windus, 2014) / Liz Berry
2. Poems of the American South (Everyman’s Library, 2014) / David Biespiel (ed.)
3. Standing Shadows (Faber & Faber, 2014) / David Harsent
4. The Stairwell (Jonathan Cape, 2014) / Michael Longley
5. Where the Wind Sleeps: New & Selected Poems (Salmon Publishing, 2014) / Neil Monahan
6. New Selected Poems (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014) / Les Murray
7. Moscow in the Plague Year: Poems (trans. from the Russian by Christopher Whyte) (Archipelago, 2014) / Marina Tsvetaeva

Nonfiction
1. Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014) / James Booth
2. Italian Venice: A History (Yale University Press, 2014) / R.J.B. Bosworth
3. Werner Herzog: A Guide for the Perplexed: Conversations with Paul Cronin (Faber & Faber, 2014) / Paul Cronin
4. Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life (Free Press, 2014) / William Deresiewicz
5. The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014) / David Eimer
6. Chasing Lost Time: The Life of C.K. Scott Moncrieff: Soldier, Spy and Translator (Chatto & Windus, 2014) / Jean Findlay
7. This House of Grief (Text Publishing, 2014) / Helen Garner
8. Bad Feminist (Harper Perennial, 2014) / Roxane Gay
9. The Culinary Imagination: From Myth to Modernity (W.W. Norton, 2014) / Sandra M. Gilbert
10. Augustus: From Revolutionary to Emperor (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2014) / Adrian Goldsworthy

11. Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered (Simon & Schuster, 2014) / Dianne Hales
12. The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection (Current/Penguin USA, 2014) / Michael Harris
13. Watching Them Be: Star Presence on the Screen from Garbo to Balthazar (Faber & Faber, 2014) / James Harvey
14. The Homing Instinct: The Story and Science of Migration (William Collins, 2014) / Bernd Heinrich
15. The Language of Houses: How Buildings Speak to Us (Delphinium, 2014) / Alison Lurie
16. The Art of Daring: Risk, Restlessness, Imagination (Graywolf Press, 2014) / Carl Phillips
17. Berlin Now: The City After the Fall (trans. from the German by Sophie Schlondorff) (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014) / Peter Schneider
18. Susan Sontag: A Biography (trans. from the German by David Dollenmayer) (Northwestern University Press, 2014) / Daniel Schreiber
19. Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) / Jan Swafford
20. Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary at War, 1914-1918 (Allen Lane, 2014) / Alexander Watson

21. Boundless: Tracing Land and Dream in a New Northwest Passage (House of Anansi Press, 2014) / Kathleen Winter