Saturday, May 28, 2011

The VVIP and the Dreamer

Author: I’m calling on behalf of my client who would like to publish his manuscript.
Editor: Could you tell me who the writer is and what’s the work about?
Author: I’m afraid I can’t tell you that because my client wish to remain anonymous.
Editor: Why don’t you email me three chapters of the manuscript for me to evaluate then?
Author: Does that mean that you will publish the manuscript?
Editor: No, it means that I will read the three chapters and based on these chapters I will decide whether I wish to read the rest of the manuscript.
Author: You mean you won’t publish it if it’s not good?
Editor: We can’t very well publish something we haven’t read, can we?
Author: But my client is a VVIP*!
Editor: Then I guess we will just have to publish it then, don’t we? No questions asked. After all, we are looking to fill our quota of bad books to publish this year. And people do love bad books here, don’t they?
Author: Huh?
Editor: Duh!

* Very Very Important Person

Author: I was asked to call you with regard to getting my manuscript published.
Editor: What’s the manuscript about?
Author: It’s a novel, a historical fiction, and I want you to publish and market it.
Editor: Of course, it all depends on the quality of the writing. If we like it, we will of course like to publish it.
Author: But you must publish it!
Editor: Why don’t you let me take a took at the manuscript first.
Author: You mean you are going to read it!
Editor: I will try, of course. We read all manuscripts before we decide whether we want to publish them.
Author: Are you Christian?
Editor: Yes—but what has that got to do with your manuscript?
Author: Are you a serious or not-so-serious Christian?
Editor: I don’t think I’m able to tell you that. It’s really up to God, you know.
Author: The thing is, I had a dream, and in the dream, God told me to write this novel. I gave up on this manuscript many years ago, and after this dream, I completed it. It’s very important that the manuscript is published because there are lots of Christian elements in the story that I would to share with people.
Editor: What a surprise! I had a dream, too, and in this dream, God told me to reject the manuscript if it is bad!
Author: What? God spoke to you, too!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

D.H. Lawrence

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Aminatta Forna wins the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Cycling Barbers of Yore

KENNY MAH recalls his childhood days when he used to dive for cover when it was time for a haircut

I HEAR THE RAPID-FIRE staccato of a bicycle bell and I know it’s time to run and hide.

The first place that comes to mind is always my bedroom. It’s my secret sanctuary. I’ve had it since I was two, a place for spending silent hours alone with my books. But that’s no good. They’ll find me there—it’s the first place they’ll look. The storeroom under the staircase? Too dark. The balcony? Too open. The garden? Silly place to hide considering that’s where the Indian barber will park his bicycle and set up the torture chamber, right under the biggest of the mango trees, the Siamese one. No, it’s probably easier to give up this flight; they’ll find me sooner than later.

Mom’s already calling me. Sighing, I plod downstairs and out into the garden. The barber’s already pulled out the stool and gathering the rest of his equipment, his sarong wrapped confidently around his waist. His face grim, never smiling; his voice curt and impatient. A pure-white skull cap on his head, thin-framed spectacles and a crisp and startling peppery beard. This is the face of authority.

He calls me over, hands me an old bronze cup. It is really light in my hands and for a minute, I am mesmerised by the dark and light smudges, the beatings it took to shape its near-perfect form. It’s this that I remember most today—the cup, the water I must fill it with.

These days, there really aren’t many traditional barbers, Indian or otherwise, left in Malaysia. I see a few authentic barber shops around, usually manned by a pair of grizzled old Indian gentlemen. The large, ungainly barber chairs that used to frighten me at the age of seven are still here; now I am taller than my barbers and my legs drift away from the chair into the corners. The mirrors are bigger, brighter, cleaner; the music is rarely Hindustani songs, more likely the latest pop hits on the radio. Of course, it’s no longer hot and muggy in there; there are air conditioners now. I miss the smell of jasmine incense in those shops. A haircut has become sterile now, safer, and duller.

And I haven’t seen a cycling barber in years.

The cup. The water. The blade—the terrible shaving blade that he’ll whip around the back of my neck, over each side of my big, plump head. I am stone when he wields it over my head for fear of getting sliced. I take my time filling the cup with water from the garden hose because once I’m done, I will have to sit down on the stool, and he will begin his work. It’s inevitable, but somehow every minute delayed counts, like a respite from an unjust sentence.

Eventually, the barber gets annoyed, shouts at me to sit down and stop playing the fool. He grabs my head in his hands roughly (how hard his fingers, how cold) and tilts my face up. It’s a moment before murder, I think, and this thought relaxes me somewhat. I always plead, “Jangan pendek sangat, jangan pendek sangat.” His reply: “Botak baru cantik.

Bodoh,” he adds, a little later with a self-satisfied smirk.

I believed from the age of six till 11 that the cycling barber would shave my head bald one day, as promised, simply because he believed it was beautiful. A naked scalp, like his, wrapped snugly under the snow-white skull cap he always wore. I remember staring at the flecks of white in his short, well-trimmed beard. It told me that he was wise, in his own way.

The red fire-ants from the mango trees begin crawling up my legs. Or so I imagine. I’ve never been bitten yet, but who dares tempt fate? I fidget and he smacks the side of my head to remind me the operation isn’t over yet. Be still. My skin feels raw. Time for the blade. Sizzles—I can feel every pore at the back of my neck opening up. I am convinced if I move even one millimetre in any direction, he’ll cut me and I’ll bleed to death right there, in the middle of my garden. So I keep still and quiet, and blank out the imaginary ants from chomping into my thighs.

When he’s finally done, I remember to breathe again.

No wisdom greets me when I walk into a hair salon these days. No barbers for me. No time. The new hairdressers are young boys from small towns who have migrated to the city. Not unlike this old Melaka boy. The magazines at the hairdresser’s outlet are FHM, Men’s Health, Torque. There are no cups here; no need for that as water is not used in cutting the hair. A vacuum tube and a sterilized brush-head does the job well. Quick and easy. They won’t even remember your name when you leave. You have a membership card and an identification number. Before the door closes behind me as young hairdresser at the counter calls out, “Two more cuts, sir, next one free!”

Ah, for the days of scary cycling barbers!

Reproduced from the 2011 Annual Issue of Quill magazine

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Peter Stamm

Sunday, May 01, 2011

May 2011 Highlights

1. The Good Muslim (Canongate Books, 2011) / Tahmima Anam
2. Only Time Will Tell (Macmillan, 2011) / Jeffrey Archer
3. Cold Light (Sceptre, 2011) / Jenn Ashworth
4. The Absolutist (Doubleday, 2011) / John Boyne
5. Caleb’s Crossing (Viking Adult, 2011) / Geraldine Brooks
6. Jerusalem Maiden (HarperCollins Publishers, 2011) / Talia Carner
7. The Lovers of Pound Hill (Hutchinson, 2011) / Mavis Cheek
8. Centuries of June (Crown Publishing, 2011) / Keith Donohue
9. The Forgotten Waltz (Jonathan Cape, 2011) / Anne Enright
10. The White Devil (Harper, 2011) / Justin Evans

11. Kamchatka (trans. from the Spanish by Frank Wynne) (Black Cat/Grove Press, 2011) / Marcelo Figueras
12. Deceptions (Washington Square, 2011) / Rebecca Frayn
13. The White Pearl (Sphere, 2011) / Kate Furnivall
14. The Dead Eight (New Island Books, 2011) / Carlo Gébler
15. The Last Gift (Bloomsbury, 2011) / Abdulrazak Gurnah
16. The Sweetness of Tears (William Morrow, 2011) / Nafisa Haji
17. Faith (Harper, 2011) / Jennifer Haigh
18. Tabloid City (Little Brown, 2011) / Pete Hamill
19. Gillespie and I (Faber & Faber, 2011) / Jane Harris
20. Children and Fire (Scribner, 2011) / Ursula Hegi

21. Shieldwall (Little, Brown, 2011) / Justin Hill
22. The Summer Without Men (Picador, 2011) / Siri Hustvedt
23. Child Wonder (trans. from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw) (Maclehose Press, 2011) / Roy Jacobsen
24. Silver Sparrow (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2011) / Tayari Jones
25. The Moment (Atria, 2011) / Douglas Kennedy
26. As Though She Were Sleeping (trans. from the Arabic by Humphrey Davies) (Maclehose Press, 2011) / Elias Khoury
27. Any Human Face (Picador, 2011) / Charles Lambert
28. The Better Mother (Knopf Canada, 2011) / Jen Sookfong Lee
29. The Land at the End of the World [trans. from the Portuguese (1979) by
Margaret Jull Costa
] (W.W. Norton, 2011) / António Lobo Antunes
30. New Finnish Grammar (trans. from the Italian by Judith Landry) (Dedalus, 2011) / Diego Marani

31. History of a Pleasure Seeker (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2011) / Richard Mason
32. Twice Born (trans. from the Italian by Ann Gagliardi) (Viking Adult, 2011) / Margaret Mazzantini
33. The End of the Wasp Season (Orion, 2011) / Denise Mina
34. A Monster Calls (Walker, 2011) / Patrick Ness
35. The Ritual (Macmillan, 2011) / Adam Nevill
36. Prophecy (Doubleday, 2011) / S.J. Parris
37. Far to Go (Headline Review, 2011) / Alison Pick
38. The Last Rain (Viking Canada, 2011) / Edeet Ravel
39. Incidents in the Life of Markus Paul (Doubleday Canada, 2011) / David Adams Richards
40. Doc (Random House, 2011) / Mary Doria Russell

41. A Moment in the Sun (McSweeney’s, 2011) / John Sayles
42. Dreams of Joy (Random House, 2011) / Lisa See
43. The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton (Virago Press, 2011) / Elizabeth Speller
44. At Last (Picador, 2011) / Edward St. Aubyn
45. Dogs at the Perimeter (McClelland & Stewart, 2011) / Madeleine Thien
46. The Year We Left Home (Simon & Schuster, 2011) / Jean Thompson
47. Never Any End to Paris (trans. from the Spanish by Anne McLean) (New Directions, 2011) / Enrique Vila-Matas
48. The German Boy (Viking, 2011) / Tricia Wastvedt
49. The Lake (trans. from the Japanese by Michael Emmerich) (Melville House, 2011) / Banana Yoshimoto

First Novels
1. Africa Junction (Harvill Secker, 2011) / Ginny Baily
2. Everything Beautiful Began After (HarperPerennial, 2011) / Simon Van Booy
3. What They Do in the Dark (W.W. Norton, 2011) / Amanda Coe
4. The Sojourn (Bellevue Literary Press, 2011) / Andrew Krivak
5. Any Human Face (Picador, 2011) / Charles Lambert
6. Solace (Scribner, 2011) / Belinda McKeon
7. The Girl in the Garden (Grand Central Publishing, 2011) / Kamala Nair
8. Untouchable (Tyrus Books, 2011) / Scott O’Connor
9. Past the Shallows (Hachette Australia, 2011) / Favel Parrett
10. The Long-Shining Water (Milkweed Editions, 2011) / Danielle Sosin

11. The Dubious Salvation of Jack V. (Jonathan Cape, 2011) / Jacques Strauss
12. Tides of War (Chatto & Windus, 2011) / Stella Tillyard
13. Tiny Sunbirds Far Away (Other Press, 2011) / Christie Watson
14. The Echo Chamber (Hamish Hamilton, 2011) / Luke Williams
15. The Roving Party (Allen & Unwin, 2011) / Rohan Wilson
16. When God Was a Rabbit (Bloomsbury USA, 2011) / Sarah Winman
17. My Dear I Wanted to Tell You (Harper, 2011) / Louisa Young

1. The Wandering Falcon (Hamish Hamilton, 2011) / Jamil Ahmad
2. Strangers in Paris: New Writing Inspired by the City of Light (Tightrope, 2011) / Megan Fernandes & David Barnes (eds.)
3. Pulse (Alfred A. Knopf/Doubleday, 2011) / Julian Barnes
4. A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman: Complete Short Stories (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011) / Margaret Drabble
5. Last Fling (Salt Publishing, 2011) / Sue Gee
6. An Empty Room (trans. from the Chinese by Toming Jun Liu) (New Directions, 2011) / Mu Xin
7. The Doll: Short Stories (Virago Press, 2011) / Daphne du Maurier
8. Saints and Sinners (Little, Brown/Back Bay Books, 2011) / Edna O’Brien
9. Orientation and Other Stories (Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011) / Daniel Orozco
10. The Best British Short Stories (Salt Publishing, 2011) / Nicholas Royle (ed.)

1. Talking into the Ears of the Donkey (W.W. Norton, 2011) / Robert Bly
2. Sidereal (Picador, 2011) / Rachel Boast
3. Flies (Copper Canyon Press, 2011) / Michael Dickman
4. A Fast Life: The Collected Poems of Tim Dlugos (ed. David Trinidad) (Nightboat Books, 2011) / Tim Dlugos
5. Six Children (Faber & Faber, 2011) / Mark Ford
6. A Hundred Doors (Wake Forest University Press, 2011) / Michael Longley
7. Twin Cities (Penguin, 2011) / Carol Muske-Dukes
8. Thread (New Directions, 2011) / Michael Palmer
9. Emporium (Carcanet Press, 2011) / Ian Pindar
10. Changeling (Bloodaxe Books, 2011) / Clare Pollard

11. Illuminations (trans. from the French by John Ashbery) (W.W. Norton, 2011) / Arthur Rimbaud
12. Life on Mars (Graywolf Press, 2012) / Tracy K. Smith
13. Occasionals (Reality Street, 2011) / Carol Watts

1. The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean (Allen Lane, 2011) / David Abulafia
2. The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty (Basic Books, 2011)/ Simon Baron-Cohen
3. The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris (HarperCollins Publishers, 2011) / John Baxter
4. Bento’s Sketchbook (Verso Books, 2011) / John Berger
5. The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life (Yale University Press, 2011) / Harold Bloom
6. Between Parentheses: Essays, Articles, and Speeches, 1998-2003 (New Directions, 2011) / Roberto Bolaño
7. James Joyce: A Biography (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2011)/ Gordon Bowker
8. The Children of Lovers (Faber & Faber, 2011) / Judy Carver
9. The Professor and Other Writings (Tuskar Rock, 2011) / Terry Castle
10. Mr Briggs’ Hat: A Sensational Account of Britain’s First Railway Murder (Sphere, 2011) / Kate Colquhoun

11. Irish Essays (Cambridge University Press, 2011) / Denis Donoghue
12. Your Voice in My Head (Other Press, 2011) / Emma Forrest
13. The Stroke of a Pen: Essays on Poetry and Other Provocations (University of Notre Dame Press, 2011) / Samuel Hazo
14. House of Exile: War, Love and Literature, from Berlin to Los Angeles (Allen Lane, 2011) / Evelyn Juers
15. To The River: A Journey Beneath the Surface (Canongate, 2011) / Olivia Laing
16. In the Company of Strangers: Family and Narrative in Dickens, Conan Doyle, Joyce, and Proust (Columbia University Press, 2011)/ Barry McCrea
17. The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris (Simon & Schuster, 2011) / David McCullough
18. Ox Travels: Meetings with Remarkable Travel Writers (Profile, 2011) / Michael Palin (intro.)
19. On What Matters: Volumes I and II (Oxford University Press, 2011) / Derek Parfit
20. Thinking With Shakespeare: Essays on Politics and Life (The University of Chicago Press, 2011) / Julia Reinhard Lupton

21. On What Matters Vols. 1 & 2 (Oxford University Press, 2011) / Derek Parfit
22. The Long Journey Home: A Memoir (Spiegel & Grau, 2011) / Margaret Robison
23. The Inner Life of Empires: An Eighteenth-Century History (Princeton University Press, 2011) / Emma Rothschild
24. Small Memories: A Memoir (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011) / José Saramago
25. Immigrant Nations (Polity Press, 2011) / Paul Scheffer
26. Exorcising Hitler: The Occupation and Denazification of Germany (Bloomsbury US, 2011)/ Frederick Taylor
27. The Tao of Travel: Enlightenments from Lives on the Road (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Hamish Hamilton, 2011)/ Paul Theroux