Saturday, September 30, 2006


By Eric Forbes

LIFE ENDS THE MOMENT EDUCATION STOPS. I am sure we all know this by now: lifelong or constant learning is the only way to go. For most people, education ends the moment they step out of the school or university gates. Education must be translated to better manners, empathy, ethics, morality and moral responsibility, and higher productivity at the workplace. Do qualifications or experience matter? I notice that many degree holders lack even the most basic of skills: reading, writing and thinking. In fact, these are skills that one can acquire even without a basic degree. The thing is, with all these qualifications, there is no guarantee that such a person will be able to contribute to an organisation in a productive, effective, creative and profitable manner. (I know of many people with Master’s degrees who are totally useless in some companies; I have had the unfortunate privilege of working with some of them through the years.) And what about experience? Experience, by all accounts, is overrated. Experience counts for nothing because people tend to repeat their mistakes and never learn from the past. History as we very well know always repeats itself. People just never learn.

The modern workplace demands a well-rounded person: one who is able to write and communicate well, think critically, intelligently and maturely, manage time, create excellence in whatever they do and deliver results fast and with accuracy. Results matter. There’s no two ways about it, I’m afraid. Otherwise, one is practically useless despite the string of qualifications one has amassed. Sadly, most people stop learning the moment they start working; they allow their brains to putrefy and decay. Reading as widely as possible is one way of improving oneself, for books, according to poet Edward Hirsch, are our only beacons, our imaginative guides through the labyrinths of human experience. However, most people do not read or prefer not to read. They prefer activities that are less taxing, like watching DVDs of alien invasions and thronging the halls and corridors of shopping malls.

I am not suggesting that qualifications do not matter (yes, sometimes they do matter); what I’m saying is that qualifications should be secondary when assessing a person for the workplace. What matters most is the person’s attitude to life, work, people, etc. Many people really have no idea of what work is, the concept of profitability, quality, etc. I know of young adults who are great workers despite their lack of qualifications. Yes, they may lack qualifications, but the thing is, they never tire of learning constantly and improving themselves.

Why is it that the more educated we are the more resistant we are to new ideas and change? Perhaps this is one of those hard-to-understand human-nature things? Another strange phenomenon that demands anthropological dissection. We must learn to allow our imaginations to soar and go to places we normally wouldn’t go in real life.

They say wisdom comes with age. We learned of this adage when we were young. But now that I am all grown up, I think that’s all balderdash. Somehow, many people older than me don’t seem to have accumulated much wisdom at all despite the passing of years. What a waste of precious life! One lifetime of wasted opportunities! In fact, I have seen kids behaving better than adults. These are really strange circumstances that we are observing today. But then I know of some young adults who prefer not to work because their parents are rich and there is no real need for them to work. Work, they say, is such a waste of time. After all, they say, the salary they are paid is less than the allowance they receive from their parents. One of the protagonists in Claire Messud’s comedy of manners, The Emperor’s Children (2006), tells her celebrity journalist father that a job would make her ordinary, like everybody else. Another book about people who lead aimless, wasted lives is Jay McInerney’s The Good Life (2006). Read them and you will see that fiction does unravel truths about ourselves and the people around us. How do we want to define ourselves when we come to the end of our lives?

Friday, September 29, 2006


DAVID BYCK, one of my most favourite people on the planet, has just published his first nonfiction book. And it’s called IT’S A LONG WAY TO THE FLOOR (2006), a highly readable, affecting and subtly humorous account of one man’s discovery and exploration of yoga and how it changed his life for the better and in more ways than one. It ain’t a how-to manual but a comic, lighthearted, memoirish meditation on the many lessons of life. Check out David Byck’s website at for more details.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Quotable Quotes

“Reading is important—read between the lines. Don’t swallow everthing.” GWENDOLYN BROOKS

“I who always imagined Paradise
To be a library of sort.”

“Woke up this morning with a terrific urge to lie in bed all day and read.” RAYMOND CARVER

“When I was about eight, I decided that the most wonderful thing, next to a human being, was a book.” MARGARET WALKER

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Reading List

The Meaning of Night: A Confession (2006) / Michael Cox
Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) / Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Be Near Me (2006) / Andrew O’Hagan

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Adrienne RICH

RICH Adrienne [1929-] Poet, essayist. Born Adrienne Cecile Rich in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S. Poetry The School Among the Ruins: Poems 2000-2004 (2004: winner of the 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry); Selected Poems 1950-1995 (2002); Fox: Poems 1998-2000 (2001); Midnight Salvage: Poems 1995-1998 (1999); Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems, 1991-1995 (1995); Collected Early Poems, 1950-1970 (1993); An Atlas of the Difficult World: Poems, 1988-1991 (1991: winner of the 1992 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Poetry); Time’s Power: Poems, 1985-1988 (1988); Your Native Land, Your Life (1986); The Fact of a Doorframe: Poems Selected and New, 1950-1984 (1984); Sources (1983); A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far: Poems, 1978-1981 (1981); The Dream of a Common Language: Poems, 1974-1977 (1978); Twenty-One Love Poems (1976/77); Poems: Selected and New, 1950-1974 (1974); Diving into the Wreck: Poems, 1971-1972 (1973: winner of the 1974 National Book Award); The Will to Change: Poems, 1968-1970 (1971); Leaflets: Poems, 1965-1968 (1969); Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law: Poems, 1954-1962 (1963; rev. 1967); Necessities of Life (1966); The Diamond Cutters and Other Poems (1955); A Change of World (1951) Nonfiction Arts of the Possible: Essays and Conversations (2001); What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics (1993); Blood, Bread and Poetry: Selected Prose, 1979-1986 (1986); Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (1976; rev. 1986); On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose, 1966-1978 (1979)

Monday, September 25, 2006

Murakami wins 2006 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Prize

Haruki Murakami
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (2006)

CONGRATULATIONS to Haruki Murakami for winning the second Frank O’Connor International Short Story Prize (the world’s richest short story prize at €50,000 for a collection of short stories published in English anywhere in the world) for his third collection of stories, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (2006). The jury hailed Murakami as “a master of prose fiction,” for he “writes with great integrity, unafraid of dealing with tough and difficult situations between people who constantly misunderstand each other.” They praised the “terrific sense of magic” of his “truly accomplished voice”, his “contemporary ability to create extended monologues of fear” and the way his stories push “deeper and deeper through layers of meaning”. “Long after reading his stories, the images and situations he constructs remain unforgettable ... His writing reminds us, ultimately, that the reader comes to published work in search of magic.” The other shortlisted books were Philip Ó Ceallaigh’s Notes from a Turkish Whorehouse (2006), Rachel Sherman’s The First Hurt (2006), Peter Stamm’s In Strange Gardens and Other Stories (2006), Rose Tremain’s The Darkness of Wallis Simpson (2005) and Samrat Upadhyay’s The Royal Ghosts (2006).

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (2006) / Haruki Murakami (trans. from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel and Jay Rubin)
Notes from a Turkish Whorehouse (2006) / Philip Ó Ceallaigh
The First Hurt (2006) / Rachel Sherman
In Strange Gardens and Other Stories (2006) / Peter Stamm (trans. from the German by Michael Hofmann)
The Darkness of Wallis Simpson (2005) / Rose Tremain
The Royal Ghosts (2006) / Samrat Upadhyay

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Reading List

1. The Distant Land of My Father (2001) / Bo Caldwell
2. The Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories (2006) / Michel Faber
3. Qissat: Short Stories by Palestinian Women (2006) / edited by Jo Glanville
4. The Mission Song / John le Carré
5. Hikayat: Short Stories by Lebanese Women (2006) / edited by Roseanne Saad Khalaf
6. Abide with Me (2005) / Elizabeth Strout

1. Running for the Hills (2006) / Horatio Clare
2. The Caliph’s House: A Year in Casablanca (2006) / Tahir Shah
3. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941) / Rebecca West

Saturday, September 23, 2006

2006 Dylan Thomas Prize for Young Writers: Shortlist

THE inaugural 2006 Dylan Thomas Prize for Young Writers is Britain’s most lucrative literary award which promotes English-language poetry and drama as well as novels and short-story collections and is restricted to authors under the age of 30. With this prize, the spirit of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas is kept aflamed. Believe it or not, the winner of the prize gets £60,000. The shortlist is as follows:

Where They Were Missed (2006) / Lucy Caldwell
Unfeeling (2005) / Ian Holding
Utterly Monkey (2005) / Nick Laird
The Amnesia Clinic (2006) / James Scudamore
Fresh Apples (stories) (2006) / Rachel Tresize
Outside Valentine (2005) / Liza Ward

The winner will be announced in Swansea, Wales, on October 27, 2006, Dylan Thomas’s birthday

Friday, September 22, 2006

Eudora WELTY

WELTY Eudora [1909-] Novelist, short-story writer. Born in Jackson, Mississippi, U.S. Novels The Optimist’s Daughter (1972: winner of the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction); Losing Battles (1970); The Ponder Heart (1954); Delta Wedding (1946); The Robber Bridegroom (1942) Stories The Collected Stories (1980); The Bride of Innisfallen and Other Stories (1955); The Golden Apples (1949); The Wide Net and Other Stories (1943); A Curtain of Green and Other Stories (1941) Nonfiction Welty: Stories, Essays, and Memoir (eds. Richard Ford and Michael Kreyling) (1998); One Time, One Place : Mississippi in the Depression: A Snapshot Album (1996); A Writer’s Eye: Collected Book Reviews (1994); One Writer’s Beginnings (1984); The Eye of the Story: Selected Essays and Reviews (1978)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Atwood & Munro

FOR those of us who are into short stories, here are two new collections to savour in September and November 2006. These stories are by the doyennes of Canadian literature: Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro, two of the finest practitioners of the short-story form. There is much blurring of fiction and nonfiction in these two books.

Moral Disorder
Margaret Atwood
(Bloomsbury, 2006)

The View from Castle Rock
Alice Munro
(Chatto & Windus, 2006)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Simone LAZAROO ... The Travel Writer (2006)

SINGAPORE-born Simone Lazaroo’s third novel, The Travel Writer (2006), uses a sprinkling of Malayan-Malaysian-Singaporean colloquialisms (-lah, aiya, etc.) in telling her story to wonderful effect. As a Eurasian whose family emigrated from Singapore to Perth, Australia, in 1963, Lazaroo has lived close to some unique intermingling of Asian and European cultures and is especially interested in the impact of postcolonialism on Asian societies. A very well written piece of fiction that Malaysian writers ought to read and learn from.

“Just after Independence but before my mother was wise, a travel writer gave her the only dictionary and thesaurus she’d ever owned. My mother found herself in the thesaurus, Eurasian, wedged between half-breed, mongrel and hybrid.”
Simone Lazaroo in The Travel Writer (2006)

LAZAROO Simone [1961-] Novelist. Born in Singapore. Novels The Travel Writer (2006); The Australian Fiancé (2000: winner of the 2000 Western Australian Premier’s Award for Fiction; shortlisted for the 2000 Kiriyama Prize for Fiction); The World Waiting to be Made (1994: winner of the 1995 Western Australian Premier’s Award for Fiction and the 1993 T.A.G. Hungerford Award)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Reading List

1. My Life as a Fake (2003) / Peter Carey 2. Veronica (2005) / Mary Gaitskill
3. The Travel Writer (2006) / Simone Lazaroo
4. The Garlic Ballads (1988; 1995) / Mo Yan (trans. from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt)
5. The Black Book (2006) / Orhan Pamuk (a new trans. from the Turkish by Maureen Freely)
6. The Thirteenth Tale (2006) / Diane Setterfield
7. The Ruby in Her Navel (2006) / Barry Unsworth

1. Bamboo (2005) / William Boyd
2. The Year of Magical Thinking (2005) / Joan Didion
3. The Complete Polysyllabic Spree (2006) / Nick Hornby

Monday, September 18, 2006

Colum McCANN ... Zoli (2006)

McCANN Colum [1965-] Irish novelist, short-story writer. Born in Dublin, Ireland. Novels Zoli (2006); Dancer (2003); This Side of Brightness (1998: shortlisted for the 2000 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award); Songdogs (1996: nominated for the 1997 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award) Novella Everything in This Country Must: A Novella and Two Stories (2000) Stories Fishing the Sloe-Black River (1993: winner of the 1994 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature)

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Sigrid NUNEZ ... On Books and Reading

CHECK OUT what books novelist Sigrid Nunez enjoy reading when she’s not writing her wonderful novels.

Sigrid Nunez … On Books and Reading
“When I was young, I used to read one book at a time. Now I’m always in the middle of several at once. The first way has always seemed better to me, but though I’ve often tried to discipline myself back to the habit of one at a time, I never succeed.

“Say there’s truth in the notion that when you’re young you need a great many books, but when you’re old you’ll need just a few. I don’t like this at all. Such a prospect makes me melancholy.

“Only a child or a fool believes everything he or she reads, but oh, how I long to be—at least some of the time—just that kind of childish, gullible reader again!

“Deep in a story, I have sometimes been lucky enough to reach that place where time vanishes and life comes to a standstill. It is partly this that keeps sending me back to the bookshelf—the hope of recapturing that blessed moment when, in the words of Nabokov, ‘everything is as it should be, nothing will ever change, nobody will ever die.’”

What’s on Sigrid Nunez’s bookshelf?
1. The Enigma of Arrival (1987) / V.S. Naipaul
“This novel, published in 1987, was a major departure from Naipaul’s earlier works of fiction—a new, hybrid genre that the author has sometimes referred to as ‘a sequence.’ It is partly an immigrant’s tale, as the narrator leaves his birthplace, the British colony of Trinidad, to live in England, where he will never entirely ‘settle.’ But it is also the story of another journey, that of the narrator’s development as an artist and an intellectual, a man plumbing the depths of his own consciousness to interpret the world and to discover his place in it. To read this book is to be engaged with the mind of a genius, and Naipaul’s mastery of the English language has always struck me as miraculous.”

2. A Woman in Berlin (2005) / Anonymous
“Anonymous was a 34-year-old journalist living on her own in Berlin at the end of World War II. Her captivating diary covers eight weeks in the spring of 1945, when the city was occupied by the victorious Russian army. It is a story of hunger and rape, fear and humiliation, corruption and shame. Anonymous died in 2001. Her story will live as long as there is a readership for the literature of war, conquest, and the will to survive.”

3. The Emigrants (1996) / W.G. Sebald
“One of the fascinating things about The Emigrants is how difficult it is to describe. It is composed of a quartet of stories about four people living in exile from Germany. Only slowly does the reader begin to connect the stories and to understand that this is a narrative about the Holocaust. Sebald’s prose has a hallucinatory force, and this unique work, which is as much a documentary as a work of fiction, leaves the reader awed and shaken. Though it speaks of terribly painful things, its wisdom and beauty lift up the heart.”

4. A Writer’s Diary (1953) / Virginia Woolf
“This volume was first published in 1953, long before the complete Diary would become available. The editor, Woolf’s husband, Leonard, chose only extracts that related to his wife’s writing career. One reviewer, W.H. Auden, wrote, ‘I have never read any book that conveyed more truthfully what a writer’s life is like .…’ I read it around the same time that I began reading Woolf’s fiction, and it has meant as much to me as any of her novels—perhaps more. In her reflections on her life as a woman and a writer, I have taken boundless comfort as well as delight. As another reader, her friend Elizabeth Bowen, concluded, ‘The spring and principle of her art was joy.’”

5. Sleepless Nights (1979) / Elizabeth Hardwick
“The author of this short, impressionistic novel was my teacher when I was an undergraduate. She was also the first professional writer I ever met. Part fiction, part autobiography, this is one of the most original books I have read. Filled with imaginative meditations on a range of subjects, from Billie Holiday to the lives of cleaning women, it has been celebrated for its gorgeous prose. According to Susan Sontag, Hardwick writes ‘more beautiful sentences than any living American writer.’”

6. Bleak House (1853) / Charles Dickens
“This is a novel you don’t so much read as move into for the duration. For me, it’s Dickens’s most serious and most entertaining work. The enchantment begins on the first page, with the description of London’s ‘implacable November weather’ and the famous fog. I know a writer who used to read this passage for inspiration every day before sitting down to work. All of English Victorian society is here. If nothing else about that world existed, we’d still know it thoroughly from these pages. Mystery, love story, satire, sociological critique—this grand, capacious novel contains them all. But at its core—and like all of Dickens—Bleak House is a kind of fairy tale, a story about good and evil, and the redemptive power of love.”

NUNEZ Sigrid [1951-] Novelist. Born in New York, New York, U.S. Novels The Last of Her Kind (2005); For Rouenna (2001); Mitz: The Marmoset of Bloomsbury (1998); Naked Sleeper (1996); A Feather on the Breath of God (1995)

Source: O, The Oprah Magazine

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Antonia WHITE ... Frost in May (1933)

WHITE Antonia [1899-1980] Novelist, short-story writer. Born Eirene Adeline Botting in London, England. Novels Beyond the Glass (1954); The Sugar House (1952); The Lost Traveller (1950); Frost in May (1933) Stories Strangers (1954) Nonfiction The Hound and the Falcon (1965) Memoirs Living with Minka and Curdy (1970); Minka and Curdy (1957) Drama Three in a Room: A Comedy in Three Acts (1947) Diaries Diaries: Vol. 2: 1958-1979 (ed. Susan Chitty) (1992); Diaries: Vol. 1: 1926-1957 (ed. Susan Chitty) (1991) Autobiography As Once in May: The Early Autobiography of Antonia White and Other Writings (ed. Susan Chitty) (1983) Nonfiction BBC at War (1941)

Friday, September 15, 2006

2006 Booker Prize for Fiction: The Shortlist

THE following six novels have been shortlisted for the 2006 Booker Prize for Fiction, quite an eclectic mix I would say, not so staid and stodgy as in the years past. There are more female writers than male writers this time round; the last time this happened was in 2003. Canongate, the independent Scottish publishing house, has two writers on the shortlist: Kate Grenville and M.J. Hyland. And both of them are Australians, too. Penguin must be over the moon with two writers on the shortlist, too: Kiran Desai and Hisham Matar. Most of the writers are new to the shortlist; the only writer who has appeared on the shortlist before is the ever-excellent Sarah Waters for Fingersmith in 2002. Edward St. Aubyn and Kiran Desai, the daughter of Anita Desai, are very good. The only first-time novelist is Hisham Matar, a new voice in literary fiction, with a semi-autobiographical novel set in Libya. So, who will it be this time round? I will be rooting for Kiran Desai.

The Shortlist
1. The Inheritance of Loss (Penguin/Hamish Hamilton) / Kiran Desai
2. The Secret River (Canongate) / Kate Grenville
3. Carry Me Down (Canongate) / M.J. Hyland
4. In the Country of Men (Penguin/Viking) / Hisham Matar
5. Mother’s Milk (Picador) / Edward St. Aubyn
6. The Night Watch (Virago) / Sarah Waters

The winner will be announced on October 10, 2006.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Reading List

Maps for Lost Lovers (2004) / Nadeem Aslam
Brothers (2006) / Da Chen
The Meaning of Night: A Confession (2006) / Michael Cox
A Spot of Bother (2006) / Mark Haddon
The Evening of the Holidays (1966) / Shirley Hazzard
The Trial of True Love (2005) / William Nicholson
The Thirteenth Tale (2006) / Diane Setterfield

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Barry UNSWORTH ... The Ruby in Her Navel (2006)

BARRY UNSWORTH’s Pascali’s Island (1980), Sacred Hunger (1992) and Morality Play (1995) were all shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction; Sacred Hunger was joint winner of the Prize with Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient (1992). His latest novel, The Ruby in Her Navel (Hamish Hamilton, 2006) has been longlisted for the 2006 Booker Prize and stands a very good chance of being shortlisted on September 14, 2006 unless the judges decide to reward new writers. Though set in the distant past, Unsworth’s new novel is reflective of the contemporary global state of affairs. History, as they say, repeats itself. Again and again and again. There’s just no changing the nature of Man.

UNSWORTH Barry [1930-] Novelist. Born Barry Forster Unsworth in Wingate, Durham, England. Novels The Ruby in Her Navel (2006); The Songs of the Kings (2002); Losing Nelson (1999); After Hannibal (1996); Morality Play (1995: shortlisted for the 1995 Booker Prize for Fiction); Sacred Hunger (1992: joint winner of the 1992 Booker Prize for Fiction); Sugar and Rum (1990); Stone Virgin (1985); Rage of the Vulture (1982); Pascali’s Island (published as The Idol Hunter in the U.S. in 1980) (1980: shortlisted for the 1980 Booker Prize for Fiction); The Big Day (1976); Mooncranker’s Gift (1973: winner of the 1973 Heinemann Award); The Hide (1970); The Greeks Have a Word for It (1967); The Partnership (1966) Travel Crete (2004)