Tuesday, May 25, 2010


There’s more to their good looks and admirable achievements. Here’s proof that even celebrities turn to good old books to keep learning about the world around them. ERIC FORBES takes a respite from reading and talks to famous Malaysians about their favourite books and how they find the time to read despite their tight schedules.

WELLINGTON-BORN and -bred DAVE NUKU believes that a healthy mind resides within a healthy body. He loves to keep fit and enjoys helping others lead healthier, happier lives. He has worked as a personal trainer to A-list Hollywood celebrities such as Cate Blanchett, Liv Tyler, Orlando Bloom and Elijah Wood, and high-level athletes in New Zealand, his home country. His biggest thrill comes from working with the contestants on The Biggest Loser Asia as the trainer for the blue team. He now lives in Malaysia and works with Fitness First, and is launching a new weight-loss program called Lose Big (check it out at timetolosebig.com), aimed at helping people overcome their personal struggles with weight. Nuku, 31, loves travelling, reading, training, movies, listening to music and chilling out with his family and friends. He has lived in Kuala Lumpur for seven years now, working as Fitness First Asia’s regional fitness manager. He goes back to Wellington, his hometown, once every two years.

Interview by Eric Forbes
Photographs courtesy of Dave Nuku

How do you find the time to read with your busy schedule?
Like all things, I make time to read as I know that it’s good for my mental health. Reading allows me to disconnect from the rigours of the day and lose myself in the pages of a book. Reading on planes for me makes the journey seem less lengthy. I love sneaking away to an MPH bookstore, grabbing a coffee and reading for hours on end; that’s a real treat.

Do you think reading matters?
Leaders are readers. Reading opens our minds to new experiences and ideas, challenges our perceptions and helps us grow, think, relax and escape. Reading will always matter to me.

What kinds of books did you read when you were growing up? Were there any books that had a significant impact on you at that early age?
I grew up reading the stories of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. I read Tolkien’s The Hobbit several times over, and I still hold my breath at all the same places. Reading helped me to discover and exercise my imagination, breathing life into each character and experiencing their journey through my own mind’s eye which was a real thrill.

Who are some of your favourite contemporary writers? Why do you enjoy reading their books?
James Clavell and Conn Iggulden are amazing writers. Both have an uncanny ability to weave culture, love, history and emotion into an intense reading experience that always leaves me wanting more. I literally stayed up all night reading their books. I can’t put them down and that’s the sign of a good author.

What are some of your favourite contemporary books? Why do you enjoy reading them?
Conn Iggulden’s Emperor: The Gates of Rome and Wolf of the Plains, and Sam Bourne’s The Last Testament. I like action, especially historical fiction that leaves you thinking, okay, maybe that could have actually happened, the logic works.

Do you have an all-time favourite book? Why do you enjoy reading it? Do you reread books you enjoy the first time round?
James Clavell’s Shogun is a masterpiece. I love reading this book time and again because it has all of the elements of great epic writing, love in all its forms, the setting in Japan is written like a character, there’s betrayal, honour, fear, bravery, depth of culture, strategy and greed, everything you need to hook you in are in this book. Rereading it helps me pick up subtleties that I missed the first time round.

Assuming you enjoy reading fiction, what are the elements in fiction that take your breath away? In other words, what do you think are the essentials of good fiction? What distinguishes the great novels from the merely good? (If you prefer reading nonfiction, tell my why. Perhaps you enjoy reading both fiction and nonfiction?)
Elements of good writing, I believe, include heartfelt emotion (love, hope, faith, fear and death); adversity (seemingly impossible obstacles, triumph); good character development (you got to love or hate them and need to understand them); structure (pace needs to move and flow without lingering too long, effective use of vocabulary without being self-indulgent); and culture (contextualised within the culture of the time).

What are you reading at the moment?
Gregory David Roberts’s Shantaram: an absolutely brilliant epic novel of the highest order. I love the richness of it; it’s sheer poetry.

What are your thoughts on the future of books, particularly on e-books and e-book readers? Do you think they will replace physical books one day?
I hope that e-books never totally replace the real deal. There’s something about turning the pages of a real book that adds to the experience of reading which e-books don’t deliver for me personally. However, I can never say never because I believe there may come a day when the whole world goes paperless and books end up as exhibits in museums, though I hope that won’t happen in my lifetime. I think that e-books have a market and so do real books. I think that one day when technology catches up with the need to make e-books more accessible and readable, then traditional book sales will be hit hard. But right now e-books aren’t that practical; who wants to read a book on their laptop and take that everywhere? E-books on PDAs are too small and the iPad is still an expensive way to read e-books comfortably.

Reproduced from The Malaysian Insider of May 15, 2010


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