Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The MPH Breakfast Club for LitBloggers at MPH Bangsar Village II

WHAT’S ON IN FEBRUARY 2007

THE INAUGURAL MPH Breakfast Club for LitBloggers meet is on Saturday, February 24, 2007 (the 4th Saturday of the month), at MPH Bangsar Village II in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from 11.00a.m.-12.30p.m. Guests include London-based Yang-May Ooi, the author of The Flame Tree (Hodder & Stoughton, 1998) and Mindgame (Hodder & Stoughton, 2000), and the multi-talented Sharanya Manivannan, an up-and-coming poet who is working on her first novel, Constellation of Scars, as well as a full-length collection of poems, Iyari. Both writers are avid bloggers.

Yang-May Ooi will talk about her experience of publishing her novels in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands and how blogging has helped her in her writing. Kuala Lumpur-born Ooi will also talk about her latest novel-in-progress, Tianming Traviata, an off-beat family story told in the first person by a feisty old lady. Yang-May Ooi will be introduced by Sharon Bakar.

Sharanya Manivannan will read some of her poems from her chapbook, Iyari, and her novel-in-progress, Constellation of Scars. India-born Sharanya Manivannan will be introduced by Eric Forbes.

COMING NEXT

THE 2ND MPH Breakfast Club for LitBloggers on Saturday, March 24, 2007, will feature Xeus, author of Dark City (Midnight Press, 2006), and Lydia Teh, author of Honk! If You’re Malaysian (MPH Publishing, 2007) and Life’s Like That (Pelanduk Publications, 2004). Both writers are avid bloggers.

THE 3RD MPH Breakfast Club for LitBloggers on Saturday, April 28, 2007, will feature Kuala Lumpur-based journalist Dina Zaman, whose new book, I Am Muslim (Silverfish Books, 2007), will be published by Silverfish Books in late March 2007. Dina is a blogger.

THE 4TH MPH Breakfast Club for LitBloggers on Saturday, May 26, 2007, will feature Malaysian Flavours (Pelanduk Publications, 1996) author Lee Su Kim, whose new book, A Nyonya in Texas: Insights of a Straits Chinese Woman in the Lone Star State (Marshall Cavendish, 2007), was published by Marshall Cavendish in early 2007, and David Byck, the author of It’s a Long Way to the Floor (Johnathan Styles, 2006). Both are writers who do not blog.

THE 5TH MPH Breakfast Club for LitBloggers on Saturday, June 23, 2007, will feature Zhang Su Li, an award-winning copywriter who has just come out with her first travel book called A Backpack and a Bit of Luck (Marshall Cavendish, 2007), and Adeline Loh, whose first book, Peeing in the Bush: The Misadventures of Two Asian Girls in Zambia (MPH Publishing, July 2007), also a travel narrative, is being edited at the moment. Zhang Su Li will be introduced by Sharon Bakar while Adeline Loh will be introduced by Eric Forbes.

THE 6TH MPH Breakfast Club for LitBloggers on Saturday, July 28, 2007, will feature Penang-born Tinling Choong, whose début novel, FireWife (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2007), was published on January 23, 2007. Tinling lives in Randolph, Vermont, U.S. She is a blogger.

In January 2007, FireWife was nominated for the Henry Miller Award for the best literary sex scene published in the English language. Congratulations, Tinling!

MPH Bangsar Village II is at Lot 2F-1 (2nd Floor), Bangsar Village II, No. 2 Jalan Telawi 1, Bangsar Baru, 59100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel: 603-2287 3600

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Tribute to Sidney SHELDON (1917-2007)

BESTSELLING NOVELIST Sidney Sheldon (1917-2007) has died. I remember reading his novels back in the 1970s and 1980s and thoroughly enjoying them, especially The Other Side of Midnight (1974), Rage of Angels (1980), Master of the Game (1982) and Memories of Midnight (1990). As a tribute to the prolific Sheldon, I am reproducing a review of The Sands of Time (1988) which I wrote in the late 1980s. He grips and seduces the reader through engaging characters, cleverly constructed plotlines and cliffhanging chapter endings. Sheldon had no pretentions to literary greatness; he wrote to entertain and entertain he did. And he kept you asking for more.

THE SANDS OF TIME
Sidney Sheldon

SIDNEY SHELDON’s potboiler dwells on a compelling subject matter: the turmoil of a land embroiled in a bloody civil war. Set against the timeless and haunting landscape of Spain, Sheldon weaves intricate strands of Spanish history and politics into a tangled tapestry of adventure and romance. By depicting the enigmatic and rugged Spanish terrain with broad but deft strokes of colours, Spain comes across as a colourful juxtaposition of the past and present, a land of eternal passion and unceasing bloodshed. He is adept at capturing a historical ambience and the nuances of affinities between people thrown together by circumstances beyond their control.

The story unfolds with much promise. The legendary Jaime Miro is the leader of the outlawed Basque nationalists, a hero to the Basque people and an anathema to the Spanish government. He is a complex man, fanatical about his cause, a realist who understands the obstacles in his path, and a romantic who is willing to perish for what he believes in. The intransigent Basques are not satisfied with just being Spaniards; they want complete autonomy. With relentless strength and an unshakeable faith in his beliefs, Miro concocts a daring plan which calls for careful, split-second timing to rescue his compatriots from the prison of Pamplona where they have been condemned to die.

The Catholic Church is accused of sheltering and abetting Basque rebels by allowing them to hold meetings and store arms in monasteries and convents. The Cistercian Convent of the Strict Observance in Avila is reported to be sheltering Miro and his freedom fighters.

The Cistercian Convent of the Strict Observance had been built for blessed solitude and silence, devoted solely to a life of prayer and penance, isolated in its cloistered world of innocence and simplicity and a complete renouncement of the secular world—its physical love, possessions and freedom of choice. In renouncing these, they had also renounced greed, rivalry, hatred and jealousy and all the temptations imposed by the world outside. No touching or speaking were allowed here except through an ancient form of sign language. There reigned an all-pervading serenity within the hearts of those who had chosen to live here.

Colonel Ramon Acoca of the Spanish Army is the head of a ruthless cadre formed specifically to pursue Basque terrorists. With the instincts of a born hunter, Colonel Acoca loves the thrill of a chase, but it is the final kill that gives him a visceral satisfaction.

The Convent is raided by a cadre of anti-terrorists led by the mephistophelean Colonel Acoca for sheltering terrorists and hence setting into motion a chain of events that shook Spain. Four nuns managed to flee the Convent into the hands of Miro. Unwittingly, they become pawns in a deadly political chess-game between the charismatic Miro and the tyrannical Colonel Acoca. The world to which the nuns had once belonged to and abandoned for the safety of the Convent seemed unreal, unchartered and hostile. It was within the Convent that was real and they longed to return to its sanctuary. They had been cloistered and isolated for so long that, now that they were outside its sacred gates, they were filled with apprehension, confusion and panic as though all their senses had been paralysed. Confronted by a cornucopia of unaccustomed sounds, sights and smells which assaulted their senses, they start to re-evaluate their reasons for seeking to devote their lives to God and religion. Each of them had their reasons for renouncing the world to seek the security of the Convent. And now, without the rigid discipline of the Convent to guide them, they find themselves unable to banish their deepest desires and inner darkness. Torn between their spirits and the guilt-ridden cravings of their flesh, they start to explore their pasts and to discover the truths about themselves.

The Sands of Time has a dramatic poignancy that demonstrates Sheldon’s measured writing style, which through sheer imagination succeeds in creating a drama of political intrigue. There was no dearth of dramatic punctuation and the narrative was not bloated with extraneous dialogue; his dialogue is irrefragably excellent for the revelation of characters and his command of the idioms of ordinary speech permits him to achieve a fine naturalness.

By dealing with the tragedy of a land torn by strife, unfolded with an insight into the characters that people the vast Spanish landscape, how a people and their ideals, beliefs and freedom are supressed, and at the same time delving into the subtle territory of forbidden love, The Sands of Time pricks and provokes our conscience. Much of the novel is a joy to read and it may linger in our minds long after other easily assimilated pulp of the same genre have passed beyond our memory. This is also Sheldon’s last well-written novel; his more recent flaccid potboilers have somehow become a reviewer’s nightmare.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Looking for a good read?

TRY ANY OF THESE:

Fiction
1. Lost City Radio (2007) / Daniel Alarcón
2. Skylark Farm (2007) / Antonia Arslan (trans. from the Italian by Geoffrey Brock)
3. FireWife (2007) / Tinling Choong
4. The Eyrie (2007) / Stevie Davies
5. The Fabric of Night (2007) / Christoph Peters (trans. from the German by John Cullen)
6. The Terror (2007) / Dan Simmons

Nonfiction
1. Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations (2007) / Martin Goodman
2. The Curtain: An Essay in Seven Parts (2007) / Milan Kundera (trans. from the French by Linda Asher) (2007)
3. Edith Wharton (2007) / Hermione Lee
4. The River Queen (2007) / Mary Morris
5. In My Father’s House (2007) / Miranda Seymour

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Pauline KAEL ... American Film Critic Extraordinaire

PAULINE KAEL (1919-2001) was an American film critic who used to write for The New Yorker magazine, among others. Her movie criticisms were acerbic, barbed and witty to the core. Her sense of humour was wicked to the bone. And she was not one to be afraid of using colloquialism and slang in her reviews. Most of the time, it was more interesting to read her reviews than to watch the movies. She was, however, anti-intellectual and genuine in her approach to movies. Lately, I have been reading some of her old reviews from old newspaper cut-outs. She has been writing film criticism since the 1950s and has compiled her reviews in many suggestively-titled collections. They are hard to find in Kuala Lumpur. I remember selling and reading a couple of them when I was running a bookshop back in the mid-1980s. Yes, they were unputdownable. Read For Keeps: 30 Years at the Movies (1994) and Deeper Into Movies: The Essential Kael Collection, From 1969 to 1972 (1973: winner of the 1974 National Book Award for Arts and Letters) for an introduction to her writings.

Bibliography
KAEL Pauline [1919-2001] Film critic. Born in Petaluma, Sonoma County, California, U.S. Film Criticism Conversations with Pauline Kael (ed. Will Brantley) (1996); For Keeps: 30 Years at the Movies (1994); Movie Love: Complete Reviews, 1988-1991 (1991); Hooked: Film Writings, 1985-1988 (1989); State of the Art: Film Writings, 1983-1985 (1985); Taking It All In: Film Writings, 1980-1983 (1984); 5001 Nights at the Movies: A Guide from A to Z (1982); When the Lights Go Down (1980); Reeling (1976); Deeper Into Movies: The Essential Kael Collection, From 1969 to 1972 (1973: winner of the 1974 National Book Award for Arts and Letters); The Citizen Kane Book (1971); Going Steady: Film Writings, 1968-1969 (1970); Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (1968); I Lost It at the Movies: Film Writings, 1954-1965 (1965)

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Adibah AMIN ... As I Was Passing Vols. I & II (2007)

ADIBAH AMIN:
AN APPRECIATION
By Eric C. Forbes

AS I WAS PASSING
AS I WAS PASSING II
By Adibah Amin
(MPH Publishing, 2007)

Those of us who have read Sri Delima’s two volumes of As I Was Passing way back in the 1970s will find the revised editions an enjoyable walk down memory lane. Eric C. Forbes reminisces …

REMEMBER Sri Delima’s As I Was Passing way back in the mid-1970s which started out life as a weekly or biweekly column in the New Straits Times? One of the most avidly read columns in the New Straits Times then, Adibah Amin wrote her column under the pseudonym Sri Delima (“the glow of a ruby”), observing human nature with an assurance of touch and insight, laced with her signature wry humour and humanity, without being sentimental or maudlin.

However, it’s such a crying shame that As I Was Passing Vols. 1 (1976) and 2 (1978), published collections of the columns, have been out of print for more than 25 years despite their overwhelming popularity and relevance.

It is a sin to waste good newspaper columns. Columns that are well written and insightful are always worth rereading, which is why they are still popular when compiled into books, among which are Adibah Amin’s As I Was Passing and such recent examples as Lee Su Kim’s Malaysian Flavours: Insights into Things Malaysian (1996) and Lydia Teh’s Life’s Like That: Scenes from Malaysian Life (2004). Teh remembers first reading As I Was Passing way back in the 1970s when she was a teenager: “Adibah has a rare knack for turning the prosaic into amusing anecdotes that appeal to both young and old. Rereading them almost three decades later, I find them just as charming as ever. Her understanding of human nature has rendered those tales into timeless pieces.” Lee remembers looking forward to reading Adibah’s column every week during her schooldays. “Today, Adibah’s books are still as delightfully enjoyable and enduring. Elegant, gracious, full of affection for her fellow Malaysians, her anecdotes give you not only a sense of nostalgia but also a deeper understanding of the way we were. She has written two books for all Malaysians to cherish, and in turn, books that inspire Malaysians to treasure our beautiful and unique multicultural heritage.”

Book compilations also give readers an opportunity to catch up on the columns they missed for one reason or another and to reread the pieces they enjoyed reading the first time. Books such as those by Adibah are well worth reprinting for a new generation of readers who have not read them because they are evergreen in terms of cultural and moral values, humour, local nuances, etc. Those among us who have read it in the 1970s will find them an enjoyable walk down memory lane.

Adibah’s finely wrought prose, beautiful in its simplicity, deftly captures the quirks and idiosyncrasies of Malaysians. She makes us laugh at our all-too-human frailties, our vanities, our obsessions, and the oddities of Malaysian culture (or lack thereof). She is especially adept at observing and capturing the nuances of mundane life and all the subtle contradictions buried beneath the stoic exterior of Malaysians. The wondrous real-life stories that she spins will engage and grip you with the clarity of her honesty and introspection. Adibah wrote in the 1970s, “We [Malaysians] have become hypersensitive, getting offended at the merest hint of criticism. We are fast losing a most precious gift: the ability to laugh at ourselves.” She continues, “There was a time not too long ago when it seemed we could never laugh again. But soon the jokes went round—a little bitter but deeply healing. They helped us to see our weaknesses and to start afresh.” Looks like we haven’t changed much since the 1970s: in fact, some of us would go so far as to say that we have gotten worse, what with the culture of excess and consumption permeating our lives today.

By mining her own life for material, these volumes at times read like Adibah’s memoir. She has a good eye for detail. The details of the 1970s are recounted so realistically that anyone today will be able to identify with them. Ask anyone about what they recall most about the 1970s, all you’ll hear about are the ghastly fashion sense, platform shoes, horrible hairstyles, the unspeakable disco music, Fanfare, Movie News, New Thrill, ABBA conquering the world of pop music, David Bowie, Donny and Marie, Teresa Carpio, Charlie’s Angels, Saturday Night Fever, Star Wars, campy disaster “classics” like The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake and The Towering Inferno, etc. However, one of the most wonderful memories of the kitschy 1970s was Sri Delima’s column, “As I Was Passing,” which we read eagerly when it made its appearance without fail in the New Straits Times on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Though Malay is her mother-tongue, her “gut language,” Adibah excels in the English language. “We spoke very little English at home. My mother [Tan Sri Zainon Sulaiman or better known as Ibu Zain] was a freedom fighter against the British and didn’t want us to speak English. She spoke only Malay to us, gave us Malay books and sent us to Malay and Arabic schools.” Later, when she was 10, she attended an English-medium school where students were permitted to speak English only. At the beginning, she struggled, but the books—with their fascinating pictures—captivated her. She now says: “I love English. You can do anything with it. I love its unruliness. The rules are not rigid. I don’t even mind the crazy spelling. I wouldn’t want it reformed. Of course, it depends on how it’s used. It can be horribly pompous. Still, I love Malay more. When I write anything in depth, it turns out to be in Malay. In English, I write in a light-hearted way because it’s my second language and I don’t like trying too hard. It’s not as good as I want it to be.” But, of course, we know she’s just being modest. She writes with such effortless skill and empathy, and has an eye and ear attending to every detail, every nuance of idiom and character. Though light in texture, Adibah’s prose is very filling.

What a joy it is to be able to reread such a smorgasbord of Malaysiana at their very best! The reissued volumes of As I Was Passing chronicle and celebrate the Malaysian way of life. In these delightful, inventive collages of anecdotal essays, Adibah looks into the heart and soul of Malaysia, past and present, with humour and through crisp prose. She dissects the Malaysian psyche and its quirks and idiosyncrasies with relish and abandonment. In particular, her memories of her childhood and the redolence of the Malaysian household will warm you from the inside out.

Adibah is an astute anecdotalist, a miniaturist, blessed with a talent for the closely observed detail as well as a keen sense for the foibles of others and a keener sense of humour about her own follies. There is much joy in her use of both the English and Malay languages, imbued as they are with rich morsels of descriptive writing. Her affection for Malaysia and Malaysians shines through clearly even as she pokes fun at them. She paints small pictures that tell big stories.

Though humorous, her wealth of intriguing stories also bristle with a tinge of a lament for lost times. And by immersing herself in the Malaysian experience, she has distilled with nitric intensity the essence of being Malaysian. If you need one book that captures the essence of what it is to be Malaysian or some idea of Malaysianness, you won’t go wrong with this one.

The republishing of neglected Malaysian classics such as these volumes should be welcomed with open arms. I once enjoyed reading them as a teenager growing up in the 1970s. I still enjoyed rereading them after all these years. I hope they do the same for you too.

Reproduced from my introduction to Adibah Amin’s As I Was Passing and As I Was Passing II (MPH Publishing, 2007)

Friday, January 26, 2007

SHOOTING THE BREEZE

SENSIBLE BOOKSELLING
By Eric Forbes

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW FOR SURE. Bookshops (and book distributors, for that matter) must learn to be more responsive to changing literary trends and the reading habits of book buyers and readers if they are to stay competitive in the bookselling industry.

Bookshops must not be slow to respond to the needs and demands of book buyers and instead learn to be more responsive to major literary prizes, especially the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, the Orange Prize for Fiction, the Whitbread Book Awards, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, among others. Do not underestimate the value of book prizes and the longlists and shortlists that accompany them every year. These are tools you can use to your advantage in bookselling. Interests in and exposure to these prize-winning books are at an all-time high all over the world at the moment. From an economic point of view, booksellers should milk these moments for what they are worth. Extract as much mileage as possible from these lists. Say what you will, literary awards do drive the sales of prize-winning books and have repercussions on other books as well—both fiction and nonfiction. Yes, nonfiction. They can gain a competitive advantage over their competitors by being knowledgeable about what’s on the minds of consumers of literature and anticipate prize-winning books.

On whether literary prizes have a valid place in the literary world, Matthew Kneale, author of English Passengers (2000), says: “I think they are useful because, at their best, they encourage an interest in good literature. I think people will always disagree on whether prizes go to the right books but the very fact that there is a debate will encourage people to read good books whether they’re on a list or not. I think they have really helped British literature in the last 30 to 40 years just by the very fact that they’ve made a lot of good books popular and that just wasn’t the way 20 or 30 years ago. You didn’t find many supposedly literary books on bestseller lists, you didn’t see them in the bookshops. Now you do and that’s got to be a good thing.” The importance of the role literary prizes play in shaping public taste has been acknowledged.

Of course, we must be wise to the ways of the world and not discount the fact that there are many books that somehow fail to win literary prizes but are nevertheless excellent. There are many factors that affect the opinion of judges, sad to say. Many of these excellent books are never promoted at all. Many a time books that are unfavourably reviewed are actually quite good. Booksellers must make an effort to discover these gems.

Bookshops must learn to connect more closely with the consumers of literature by learning about their literary tastes and preferences and being the first to introduce them to books they will want to buy and read. On this count, most bookshops fail, simply because they do not understand and anticipate the needs and wants of their customers. Another winning factor that bookshops lack is service, one of the oldest ingredients of sensible bookselling.

Book buying is a tough business to be in. It is not just the matter of buying books and displaying them. Effort must be made to sell them. Sufficient books must be sold before new stocks can be purchased. Otherwise, the business will not be able to sustain itself in the long term. Knowledge of books helps, of course, but such knowledge only matter to a certain extent because the Malaysian market is very different from the U.K. and U.S. markets. There are always local variances to consider in your purchase decisions. Books that you think are excellent or those that do well in foreign markets may not make a dent at all in Malaysia. There are only so many copies you can sell for each title. There are only so many copies of Booker Prize books you can sell here. However, there is not much structured planning in the buying of books because book buyers are usually bogged down with paperwork and other extraneous matters. Book buyers must arm themselves with knowledge and do more research to make more rational book-buying decisions.

There’re lots that Malaysian bookshops can do to improve the bottom line. The core of the business is books, and that’s where local booksellers should focus on. But I guess the simplest thing is always the most difficult for most people. Educating the reading public is imperative, not just pandering to the lowest common denominator. Bookshops must make an effort to recommend books across all genres and to encourage customers to experiment with authors or books they are not familiar with. Bookshops must also learn to promote books that are yet to be published by building a sense of anticipation (and sustaining it) in consumers towards future releases.

And I do understand the reality of the marketplace: the fact that bad books sell very well is not surprising. Sell them by all means, but don’t neglect the good stuff.

Colourful shopfront displays and newspaper advertisements go only so far in enhancing sales. These do not exactly ignite book buyers’ passion for books. Service and merchandising are the way to go; these are the factors that give booksellers the edge over the competition. Genuine book readers like booksellers who care about books just as much as they do. Serious book readers want bookshops with character that offer choice. Floor staff must be passionate and knowledgeable about books. There’s nothing like walking into a bookshop and stumbling upon gems that you simply must buy.

For instance, Kiran Desai’s triumph in the recent 2006 Man Booker Prize for Fiction would drive the sales of both her books, The Inheritance of Loss (2006) and Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard (1998), which would in turn revive the sales of her mother Anita Desai’s substantial backlist, which consequently would affect the sales of the fictions of Indian writers in general: Vikram Chandra, Amit Chaudhuri, Amitav Ghosh, Romesh Gunesekera, Suketu Mehta, Pankaj Mishra, Rohinton Mistry, Jhumpa Lahiri, V.S. Naipaul, R.K. Narayan, Michael Ondaatje, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Arundhati Roy, Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, etc. Besides an impressive backlist of fiction titles, many of these writers are excellent nonfiction writers as well.

Another excellent example is Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk who recently was awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature; he has written seven novels, five of which have been translated into English, and a memoir which should attract more readers or collectors. All the titles in his backlist are in the process of being reprinted, not forgetting his next book, Other Colours: Essays and a Story, a collection of nonfiction essays, that will be published in September 2007, while his next novel, The Museum of Innocence, should be out in 2008. The passing of such writers as Stanley Kunitz, Naguib Mahfouz, Eric Newby, Gilbert Sorrentino, William Styron and Pramoedya Ananta Toer in 2006 and Ryszard Kapuscinski in 2007 are all excellent opportunities to sell books by these authors.

Bookstores must realise that there’s also money to be made from old titles as long as they are promoted properly. The fact is, there’s always money to be made from the backlist. Let us not neglect the classics while we are enjoying the contemporary stuff. It’s time to bring out those great books languishing on the shelves at the back of the store and put them where they belong. There’s a goldmine from forgotten or neglected gems from the past.

Books nowadays do not remain on the shelves long enough for readers to discover them or for the books themselves to discover the readership they deserve because of the dynamics of the marketplace. Sadly, many of these books have disappeared, many without a trace. Perhaps changing literary tastes and the increasing reluctance of publishers to keep in print books that can never sell by the truckloads are responsible for this sad state of affairs. Some of these books should be rescued from obscurity for the enjoyment of new generations of readers. Some of these forgotten gems include the novels of Elizabeth Bowen, Henry Green, Shirley Ann Grau, Graham Greene, Rosamond Lehmann, W. Somerset Maugham, Kate O’Brien, Dawn Powell, J.B. Priestley, Georges Simenon, Muriel Spark, Jean Stafford, Elizabeth Taylor, Eudora Welty, Richard Yates, etc. Literature buffs ought to discover or rediscover these. Not discovering these underappreciated authors and their novels is their greatest loss.

It’s a fact that there are people who buy books not to read but to collect them. We tend to buy more books than we can read. One lifetime is just not enough for us to read all the books we want to read. We wish we could read all the books we would like to read but time simply won’t allow it. Most book buyers are hoarders; they regularly buy books which are then put away to be read at a later date.

Bookshops tend to live a separate existence from the mainstream of literary activity. They do not seem interested in literary festivals, readings, booktalks, author appearances, etc. They are nowhere near where the pulse of the activity is. Such literary activities should do wonders for Malaysian bookselling in the long term and, thus, should not be neglected.

Bookshops must realise that they are not just making a sale for today only. You know, there’s such a thing as creating new readers by educating readers today so that they become discerning book buyers and readers in the future. The education of future generations hinges on this simple plan. Think about it and you will understand what I mean. Bookselling, after all, is both a business and a public service. You really can’t get any nobler than that.

Eric Forbes is an editor in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He has been in bookselling and publishing for over 20 years. He can’t imagine doing anything else.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Looking for a good read?

TRY ANY OF THESE:

Fiction
1. Lachlan’s War (2006) / Michael Cannon
2. The Jade Peony (1995) / Wayson Choy
3. All That Matters (2004) / Wayson Choy
4. Sweetness in the Belly (2006) / Camilla Gibb
5. The Keepers of the House (1964) / Shirley Ann Grau
6. In the Country of Men (2006) / Hisham Matar
7. Indiscretion (2005) / Jude Morgan
8. The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford (1969) / Jean Stafford
9. Restoration (1989) / Rose Tremain
10. The Space Between Us (2006) / Thrity Umrigar



Poetry
1. Open Closed Open (2000) / Yehuda Amichai (trans. from the Hebrew by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld)
2. The Resurrection of the Body (2006) / Michael Schmidt

Nonfiction
1. Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books (2005) / Maureen Corrigan
2. Falling Palace: A Romance of Naples (2005) / Dan Hofstadter
3. Dirt for Art’s Sake: Books on Trial From Madame Bovary to Lolita (2006) / Elisabeth Ladenson
4. In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India (2006) / Edward Luce
5. The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million (2006) / Daniel Mendelsohn

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Jane SMILEY ... Ten Days in the Hills (2007)

BY DELVING INTO the artifice and superficiality of lives in her new dialogue-driven satirical novel, Ten Days in the Hills (Knopf, February 2007), a contemporary retelling of Giovanni Boccaccio’s medieval classic, The Decameron, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley captures the narcissistic profundity of life and love in the Hollywood hills.

Bibliography
SMILEY Jane [1949-] Novelist. Born in Los Angeles, California, U.S. Novels Ten Days in the Hills (2007); Good Faith (2003); Horse Heaven (2000); The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton (1998); Moo (1995); A Thousand Acres (1991: winner of the 1991 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction); The Greenlanders (1988); Duplicate Keys (1984); At Paradise Gate (1981); Barn Blind (1980) Novellas Ordinary Love and Good Will (1989) Stories The Age of Grief (1987) Nonfiction 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel (2005); Catskill Crafts: Artisans of the Catskill Mountains (1988) Biography Charles Dickens (2002) Memoir A Year at the Races: Reflections on Horses, Humans, Love, Money and Luck (2004)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Tinling CHOONG ... FireWife (2007)

CONGRATULATIONS to Tinling Choong on the launch of her début novel, FireWife (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday) on January 23, 2007.

Born and bred in Penang, Malaysia, Choong received a Bachelor of Arts from Wellesley College, and is working towards her Ph.D. in East Asian Languages and Literatures at Yale University. FireWife is her publishing début. “FireWife,” according to the writer, “is a story of plight and hope, escape and desire, offering vignettes in the lives of eight Asian women: a photographer, six women she photographs, and a girl travelling in between lives.” Choong is presently working on a novel, Yuyu and the Banyan Tree, which will be published by Nan A. Talese/Doubleday in early 2008.

FireWife is available at all good bookshops now!

Check out FireWife at firewifebook.com

Monday, January 22, 2007

CELEBRATING THE SHORT STORY

WHITHER THE SHORT STORY?
By Eric C. Forbes

FOR THE LONGEST TIME, the short story has been undeservedly playing second fiddle to the novel—the apple of the publishing world’s eye. Is the short story in dire straits? The short story is not exactly a favoured form for writers nowadays. Fewer magazines are publishing short stories and literary agents and publishers tend to shy away from them because they do not sell well enough to justify publishing them. Fortunately, for those of us who enjoy reading short stories and exploring the art of fiction, we have contemporary short-story writers like Deborah Eisenberg, Richard Ford, Mavis Gallant, Alistair MacLeod, Valerie Martin, David Means, Lorrie Moore, Alice Munro, Grace Paley, Annie Proulx, Rose Tremain, William Trevor and Tobias Wolff still excelling at the form, while past masters of the form include Saul Bellow, Raymond Carver, John Cheever, Andre Dubus, Ernest Hemingway, Bernard Malamud, V.S. Pritchett and Richard Yates. However, it is good to know that there is at the moment an effort among writers and publishers to reinvigorate the short story as a popular form of fiction.

What is the quality that all great short stories share: they make us stop in our tracks and take a breath of fresh air. They make us see the world from another point of view; they make us do mental somersaults. The prolific Joyce Carol Oates defines the short story as “a minor art form that in the hands of a very few practitioners becomes major art,” while William Trevor, in a Paris Review interview in 1989, called the short story “an art of the glimpse,” whose “strength lies in what it leaves out” rather than what it includes. A good short story resonates far beyond its smallness. Despite languishing in the shadow of the novel for the longest time, the short story is still alive.

Alice Munro is possibly among the world’s most inventive short-story writers at work today. Generational conflict, marital brouhahas and divorce, and youthful alienation in provincial and urban Canada and places in-between are the recurrent thematic threads that bind the fabric of her narratives. “In the past decade,” according to Michael Upchurch, “her tales have become evermore ingenious, growing dizzyingly elastic in structure and complex in tone, without losing any of their immediacy. It also helps that Munro is the slyest of humorists.” She is especially adept at evoking a sense of place and her psychological acuity is as sharp as razor. Munro, however, is highly underappreciated and deserves a wider readership than what she is enjoying now. With her last two collections, Runaway (2005) and The View from Castle Rock (2006), she might just do that.

Bernard Malamud is one of America’s finest but underappreciated short-story writers. He is more well-known for his novels than his stories. His dedication to the craft of fiction writing is undeniable in such novels as The Assistant (1957), A New Life (1961) and The Fixer (1966). The Assistant is perhaps the best of all his novels, though he won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for The Fixer. However, his stories are wonderful too and should not be ignored. And if you would like to experience his stories, you only need to read The Complete Stories (1997) to enjoy them. He won his first National Book Award in 1958 with his first collection, The Magic Barrel (1958). According to Jonathan Yardley in The Washington Post, Malamud’s books’ “… most persistent themes—the search for a new life and the struggle to achieve moral rectitude—have lasting pertinence and have rarely been explored so subtly and perceptively in literature. His prose, at times melancholy and at others jaunty, achieves a near-perfect fusion of American and Jewish-American rhythms. He was as much fabulist as novelist, with the happy result that almost all of his fiction transcends time.”

Another sadly neglected writer is William Trevor, the Irish short-story writer who also dabbles in novel-writing, whose powers of observation and compassion are remarkable, especially in his short stories. The “elder statesman” of the short-story writing fraternity has a prose style reminiscent of such Russian masters as Anton Chekhov and Ivan Turgenev: lean, precise, economical and tightly wound.

Those with a bleak or melancholic disposition might like to try Julian Barnes’s The Lemon Table (2004). The thread that connects the stories in this collection is the encroachment of old age and how we respond to death: fear, disappointment and regret. However, they are not as depressing as they sound because Barnes enlivens his tales with dollops of wry British humour.

Pulitzer Prize-winner Annie Proulx’s “Brokeback Mountain” first breathed life as an acclaimed short story in a 1997 issue of The New Yorker and was subsequently published as a novella in 1998. This story is also included in her second collection, Close Range: Wyoming Stories (1999). One of the most accomplished voices in contemporary American fiction, Proulx’s trademark pared-down style is especially obvious in this heartwrencher of a story, a “profanely poetic and beautiful elegy on doomed manhood,” set against the craggy, desolate and wide open spaces of Wyoming.

Suggested Reading
Here are 30 contemporary collections that every library cannot do without, that every good bookshop should stock, and that every booklover should read and keep in their library:

The Lemon Table (2004) / Julian Barnes
When the Nines Roll Over and Other Stories (2004) / David Benioff
Natasha and Other Stories (2004) / David Bezmozgis
The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories (2006) / Susanna Clarke
The Dew Breaker (2004) / Edwidge Dandicat
Twilight of the Superheroes (2006) / Deborah Eisenberg
For the Relief of Unbearable Urges (1999) / Nathan Englander
The Stories of Mary Gordon (2006) / Mary Gordon
All Aunt Hagar’s Children (2006) / Edward P. Jones
Lost in the City (1992) / Edward P. Jones
The Stories of David Leavitt (2005) / David Leavitt
A Thousand Years of Good Prayers (2005) / Yiyun Li
Matters of Life & Death (2006) / Bernard MacLaverty
Island (2000) / Alistair MacLeod
The Complete Stories (1997) / Bernard Malamud
The Magic Barrel (1958) / Bernard Malamud
The Unfinished Novel and Other Stories (2006) / Valerie Martin
The Secret Goldfish (2004) / David Means
Birds of America (1998) / Lorrie Moore
Runaway (2004) / Alice Munro
The View from Castle Rock (2006) / Alice Munro
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (2006) / Haruki Murakami (trans. from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel and Jay Rubin)
The Hill Road (2005) / Patrick O’Keeffe
Close Range: Wyoming Stories (1999) / Annie Proulx
A Perfect Stranger and Other Stories (2005) / Roxana Robinson
Constitutional (2005) / Helen Simpson
Good Women (2005) / Jane Stevenson
The Darts of Cupid and Other Stories (2002) / Edith Templeton
Fresh Apples (2006) / Rachel Tresize
A Bit on the Side (2004) / William Trevor
The Royal Ghosts (2006) / Samrat Upadhyay
Honored Guest (2004) / Joy Williams
The Turning (2004) / Tim Winton
The Collected Stories (1997) / Tobias Wolff

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Looking for a good read?

TRY THESE:

Fiction
1. The Brooklyn Follies (2005) / Paul Auster
2. The Law of Dreams (2006) / Peter Behrens
3. Conjugal Love (1947) / Alberto Moravia (trans. from the Italian by Marina Harss)
4. Rules for Old Men Waiting (2005) / Peter Pouncey

Nonfiction
1. The Shadow of the Sun: My African Life (2001) / Ryszard Kapuściński (trans. from the Polish by Clara Glowceska)
2. Hellfire and Herring: A Childhood Remembered (2007) / Christopher Rush
3. Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China’s Past and Present (2006) / Peter Hessler