Monday, February 05, 2007


“SO, WHAT DO YOU READ?” I asked an aspiring author when she visited me at the office the other day. She looked like a very well-read person to me.

“I don’t really read nowadays, you know. I have done all the reading I need in school and, anyway, I don’t really have the time for it now,” she answered, nonchalantly and without the slightest hesitation. “I have been an English-language teacher all my life. I don’t think I really need to learn how to write,” she continued. Wow, that was profound!

I was flabbergasted because I always thought writers should always read more than they write.

Sadly, most writers don’t think like a reader because they do not read enough. That’s what I always thought—and believed in. And still believed in. Wasn’t it Samuel Johnson, the English lexicographer, who said that he “disliked conversing with a man who has written more than he has read.”

I took a look at her manuscript. The grammar and syntax were all in a puddle of murkiness. The opening wasn’t memorable at all. The paragraphs were disjointed. The characters did not connect with me at all. Clichés abounded, one after another. I started recalling my good pal’s advice for writers: “Go back to the basics: read, read, read, read and read. Of all the writers that I admire, not one went to writing school. They taught themselves how to write by reading everything that had ever been written. They were able to dismantle the books they’d read, whether consciously or unconsciously, in order to understand what made the writing work.” Sterling advice for aspiring writers surely.

So, what’ve you been reading lately?

Roy Hayes is the author of The Hungarian Game (1973) and two novels-in-progress, “The Last Days of Las Vegas” and “Big Gap.” He lives in Henderson, Nevada, U.S.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ask the right question, and lurkers get tricked out of hiding.

Answer: Honk! If You're Malaysian.

Sunday, February 04, 2007 8:02:00 AM  
Blogger Lydia Teh said...

Hi Tarlia, thank you for reading my book. Honk!

Eric, for a few years I was so afraid to read because I'm scared it'll mess up my priorities. Dinners gets served late, bed time gets pushed back etc. But I've been making up for it these past two years. Writers have no choice but to read.

We evolve as readers too. I bought Shirley Lim's Life's Mysteries a few years back but I couldn't read it back then. It was too literary for me. I've dusted it off from my shelf recently and surprisingly, am now able to breeze through it. I'm down to two more chapters.

Sunday, February 04, 2007 8:00:00 PM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

If you plan to write a memoir, for instance, and you are no good at it, at least read a couple of excellent memoirs for an idea of how a memoir should be written. Learning from the best is the best way to write.

Sunday, February 04, 2007 10:50:00 PM  
Blogger Kak Teh said...

Eric, I do a lot of train journeys here in UK and I look forward to each train journey as that is the best time to be alone with a good book. yesterday on the way to Cambridge I had a collection of short stories: The Sunday Night Book Club, writings by authors such as Wendy Holden etc. It was a shirt ride so I needed short stories to while away my time.
During a train journey to Liverpool and back to London I did The Wild Swan. I thought that was quite an achievement.
But yesterday something else came to mind, once in a while during my train journeys, I should focus on a fellow passenger and try to finish a short story based on that person and try to let my imagination go! How about that?
Anyway, would you like to read some snippets of conversations that I had over the last few months with some very interesting people? I have jotted some of them down in my blog.

Monday, February 05, 2007 10:20:00 PM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

Yes - I enjoy short stories tremendously. It is a great idea to read short stories on short journeys. And yes - it's indeed a feat to have completed Jung Chang's Wild Swans between London and Liverpool and back to London!

I am at the moment putting the final touches to Adibah Amin's AS I WAS PASSING and AS I WAS PASSING II. And finalising the covers. Both books will go to print after Chinese New Year and will be at the bookshops in March 2007. I believe you know Adibah very well.

On the side I am reading Rose Tremain's Booker-shortlisted Restoration, first published in 1989? Have you read any of Rose Tremain's works?

I will read your jottings at your blog.

Cheers, Eric Forbes

Monday, February 05, 2007 10:42:00 PM  
Blogger Kak Teh said...

Eric, I grew up with Adibah's As I was Passing. In fact in one of her columns, she quoted me and another friend. we were just trainees then at the nst and we were so thrilled. lately, and I am lucky to have the SOAS library, I found her book, Tempat Jatuh Lagi dikenang. such a beautiful book.
No, I have not read Rose Tremain's works but will certainly go and find it. At the moment I have many books written by ex british servicemen in malaya - they gave me their jottings and their novels when I met up with them. And another is a transcript of a Malay POW - his experience as a survivor of the Death Railway. I have yet to finish these.
I hope to be able to meet up with you this march.

Monday, February 05, 2007 10:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm so glad I stumbled on this blog. Thank you.

I don't have the financial means (like I did previously) to buy any which book I fancied. Instead, I pinch from friends, or when I actually get to buy, I'd think hard and long about what book to get. Now I get to see my options via this blog!

Apologies for any syntax/grammatical errors in this comment OR future comments! ;-)

Btw, I'm slowly reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez "Love in the time of cholera"..pinched from my cousin's extensive but dusty library. HOORAY for forgotten libraries!!!!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007 3:10:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

Kak Teh - Yes, I too grew up with Adibah Amin's As I was Passing in the 1970s. Those were the 70s. Could you tell me something about Adibah's Tempat Jatuh Lagi Dikenang? I guess it must be out odf print now. Have you got the publisher's name and the year it was published. Yes, it will be wonderful to meet up in March.

Mott - Thanks for your kind words. Books can be very expensive. It is always advisable to do some research before you invest in one. Invest wisely and you will have a library of good books. Glad to know that you are reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera. It is, I believe, a challenging read, but one that is well worth spending time with. Happy reading!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007 3:26:00 AM  
Blogger Kak Teh said...

eric, I will certainly get the name of the publisher for off to work now and will be back with the info.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007 3:35:00 AM  
Blogger Argus Lou said...

Lydia, I'm enjoying your Honk!
Motts, I empathize with your book-buying situation. Now that I'm in a better position to buy books (as in poised at the cashier's counter or at the keyboard about to press 'buy now' at an online bookstore!), I usually pass my read books on to friends and family - unless I really, really love a book and feel I might refer to it again sometime...
Eric, last month I read G.G. Marquez's 'Memories of My Melancholy Whores' - a romantic 90-year-old in love for the first time in his life, nice!
The title just screams for a spoof: "Memoirs of My Melon-colic Horse" (Mr Ed gets a tummy ache from eating tembikai) or you can think of something wittier.
Best wishes to all,
Argus Lou

Tuesday, February 06, 2007 6:13:00 AM  
Blogger Chet said...

I just finished Home by Manju Kapur last night, and have started a few pages of The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards.

I also have a pile of books waiting to be read, including Lydia Teh's Honk! If You're Malaysian and Adibah Amin's This End of the Rainbow.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007 1:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since everybody is listing what they are reading, I feel compelled to have my say. I am (still) reading Crime and Punishment. On some nights, it makes me feel all aflame with illicit passion. Jane Sunshine

Wednesday, February 07, 2007 8:43:00 AM  
Blogger Lydia Teh said...

JY, thank you. Did your husband like it?

Chet, you'll be able to breeze through Honk! in no time :)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007 8:01:00 PM  
Blogger Chet said...

Lydia - I don't read as fast as I used to. The older I get, the shorter my attention span. And then, sometimes read halfway, hor, doze off. Not because book is boring, but that's part of growing old.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007 11:11:00 PM  
Blogger bibliobibuli said...

very well said eric

Wednesday, February 07, 2007 11:30:00 PM  
Blogger Argus Lou said...

Lydia, he said: "Very Malaysian lah!" - it's open to interpretation.

Thursday, February 08, 2007 5:28:00 AM  
Blogger Lydia Teh said...

Chet, you don't look old to me :)

Argus, I'll take that as a compliment. Must be positve, haha.

Thursday, February 08, 2007 8:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Mr. Eric Forbes.

Very well put. This answered my wondering whether reading voraciously - equating to quantity - alone is enough.

Now a question, how to properly dismantle a book?

Currently I am Reading Arthur & George by Julian Barnes.

Friday, February 09, 2007 1:07:00 PM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

Hello Pizzo -

I don't think reading voraciously is the way to do it. What you read must be worth reading. Otherwise it's all a waste of precious time. Always invest in a good book. There's nothing like reading a great book.

Yes - how do you dismantle a book? I will have to get back to you on this. Let me mull over it.

Friday, February 09, 2007 5:48:00 PM  
Blogger fess said...

warning! waffling post ahead !
yes, it has been a SLOW day at work !


what do i read? well until recently i did not make time to read my books but having read Nick Hornby's collection of book reviews - The Polysyllabic Review - i have to admit to being impressed by it so much so i have tried to emulate him.

Not so much in his reviews but more of logging down the books i buy and the books that i have read (or given up) as the case may be.

From his reviews i have gone through Ian McEwan's Saturday & Tony Hoagland's What Narcissism Means but then took a diversion from his list to my neglected BOMBs! (Books On My Bookshelves! and since you mentioned the cost of books these days then that too) and reread Nick Walker's Blackbox, Bernie Chowdhury's The Last Dive.

the best of the lot thus far (as at Feb 11th 2007! my Hornby inspired reading only took effect 2007 in-line with my New Year's Resolutions!) is DeBernieres' Bird Without Wings. at 700 plus pages i literally stumbled into the book when i was clearing up the boot of my car! I can’t recall when i bought it but i do remember thinking, was i sober when i bought that tome?

Anyways i sailed through it because his style is so addictive and pleasant to read. It was one of the few books that i have read which i wished didn't end there! from here i have taken another tangent towards another long lost BOMB - Battleship - a Penguin Military Classic by Middlebrook & Mahoney which in turn has lead me to Hostages of Fortune - also on the same subject - the sinking of the Prince of Wales and the Repulse. And in the meantime i have added more to my BOMBs with several WWII books.

Which leads to nicely to your query of quantity vs quality?

Quality is of course what we all look for in a book but of all the books listed above only DeBernieres sticks out as being a great read.

My WWII digression is partly due to the fact that i want to learn more about a hitherto neglected area of history that i have never ventured into.

of course when i take a break from this historical jaunt i hope to return to Hornby's list and get back to some serious quality reading again. May even take a look at some of the books that appear on your various lists as a steppingboard for my future reads.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007 12:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i read! i read! but i wish i have more time to read....

Thursday, February 15, 2007 10:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Guilty, guilty, guilty. I don't read as much as I used to. But I'm planning to make this the year I start reading a lot.

Friday, February 16, 2007 1:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel like I should share this book with fellow book-lovers, if you don't already know about it. It's 'The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop' by Lewis Buzbee. It's part memoir, part history of the book. I found myself relating more that I thought I would. His love for books runs deep, and I think a lot of us are familiar with that compulsion to buy 'just one more book', even though there's a pile of unread books waiting at home.

Friday, February 16, 2007 7:18:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

Yes, I face the same problem too. Piles and piles of books all over the house remaining unread through the years. And yet I keep on buying new books.

Friday, February 16, 2007 9:53:00 AM  
Blogger Artemis Hunt said...

Ha ha ha, Eric. I guess I will never be guilty of this. I read so much...too much, some complain. It's the only way to be a better writer - knowing what works and what doesn't. And I read all genres, as you have found out.

I'm now officially 'spying' and 'taking tips' on/from the books I read.

I challenge you now to read the chick lit genre - take it as part comedy, part slice of life.

Also, try the fantasy/sci fi genre. They're oftentimes contemplative and are full of wonderful ideas. Try Dan Simmnons' 'Hyperion' for a start. Wonderful book discussing Christian concepts.

Friday, February 16, 2007 6:33:00 PM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

Hello Lynette -

Thanks for stopping by. I guess overindulging in books is also a 'bad' thing! But reading the works of good writers and learning from them is a wonderful way to learn how to write. You are very good because you read all genres. I don't read fantasy and science fiction. I haven't read any chick-lit. Would Lauren Weisberger's The Devil Wears Prada qualify as chick-lit? I was recommended this book recently. Have you read it?

Friday, February 16, 2007 6:51:00 PM  
Blogger Artemis Hunt said...

The Devil Wears Prada is actually more like 'The Office' than pure chick lit. The protagonist is very consumed with her job.

For chick lit, try Marian Keyes' 'The Other Side of the Story.' You will find this interesting because it deals with the subject of writers and literary agents and everything to do with writing - writer's block, royalties, auctioning a book etc.

Sorry I haven't stopped by in a while. I was so busy with work and travelling! (Haven't even updated my own blog.) Must stop by more often, like every day.

One day, I will write my own Devil Wears Prada.

BTW, I invited you over to my house for Chinese New Year. Do come with Lydia if you are able.

Saturday, February 17, 2007 1:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eric, you know - you're a lot more intimidating in writing than you are in person. I am also trying to read more - am reading Zadie Smith's On Beauty at the moment, along with some non-fiction titles. I have Running with Scissors on my bedside along with Transmission and Haruki Murukami's Dance Dance Dance. Plus Adibah Amin's This end of the rainbow and Silverfish's New Writing 6. I shall be lucky if I get to finish all this year! Have a good celebration and a happy chinese new year! Zarina

Saturday, February 17, 2007 3:32:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Forbes said...

Thanks Zarina for the good wishes. All the best to you too.

Saturday, February 17, 2007 6:16:00 AM  

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