Thursday, December 30, 2004

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

YES, it is that moment again, when the last minute grain of sand in the hourglass is about to drop and no longer reversible. Retrospecting over the many events that have plagued the year, one discovers to one's dismay and awe how time has so rapidly fled and evaded us. We had a great time reading all those well-written books as well as a large dose of shoddy efforts that deserved to be hurled into the garbage pit of the book publishing and retailing industry. Let us all herald the beginning of a new glorious year and hope that it will be one imbued with more quality books to provide us with endless hours of pleasurable reading experiences.

Yes, go ahead and have a great new year! But let us not forget what the writer Thomas Mann said of New Year's Eve: "Time has no divisions to mark its passage, there is never a thunderstorm or blare of trumpets to announce the beginning of a new month or year. Even when a new century begins it is only we mortals who ring bells and fire off pistols."

Saturday, December 25, 2004

ON THE TIP OF MY TONGUE
Susanna Checketts, Pelanduk (1999)

A delightful celebration of the English language!

A paean to the English language and its quirks, idiosyncrasies and piquancies. Susanna Checketts has dug out a mine of information and assembled the nuggets into a coherent whole, rich in amusing detail. What we have here, thus, is a treasure trove of fascinating facts and fancies about words and their origins. Her writing captures the essence, flavour and enigma that is the English language. Furthermore, she explores the language against a backdrop of varying settings in Malaysia and elsewhere in a lighthearted manner. She uses her many years in Malaysia to soak up a particularly Malaysian sense of irony. The result is a worldview that is uniquely, hilariously, her very own. This is anecdotal linguistics at its best, full of revelations, and with not one dull moment!

Check out Susanna Checketts's One the Tip of My Tongue at www.pelanduk.com

LEE Su Kim ... Malaysian Flavours (1996)

Malaysian Flavours
Lee Su Kim
(Pelanduk, 1996)

Warming you from the inside out!

WHAT A JOY it is to read such a welcome chunk of Malaysiana at its very best! A book that celebrates the Malaysian way of life. In this delightful, inventive collage of anecdotal essays, Lee Su Kim looks into the heart and soul of Malaysia, past and present, with precision, humour and compelling narrative. She dissects the Malaysian psyche and its quirks and idiosyncrasies with relish and abandonment. In particular, her memories of her Peranakan (Straits Chinese) childhood and the redolence of the Peranakan kitchen will warm you from the inside out. Though humorous, her wealth of intriguing stories also bristle with a tinge of a lament for lost times. Not only has she imbued her stories of homespun ordinariness and nostalgia with a luminous sheen, she also captures the essence of being Malaysian with wit and poignance. 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, you won’t go wrong with this one because it delivers exactly what its title promises: a smorgasbord of Malaysian flavours.

Check out Lee Su Kim’s Malaysian Flavours at www.pelanduk.com

Thursday, December 23, 2004

TOUCHING EARTH
Rani Manicka
Sceptre (2004)

THE HARMONY SILK FACTORY
Tash Aw
Fourth Estate (2005)

The Matriarch of Malaysia is back!

YES, the Matriarch of Malaysia is back. Rani Manicka is back with her sophomore effort, Touching Earth (2004), which is quite a departure from her début novel, The Rice Mother (2002), a sprawling, fragrantly exotic multigenerational Malayan family saga. If you are looking for something different, this may be just the book for you.

With The Rice Mother, Rani Manicka has finally made the international breakthrough for a Malaysian novel that we have been talking about for years. For too long a time have we been grappling with the definition of a Malaysian novel and The Rice Mother has shown us what that is: a Malaysian novel is one that appeals to both Malaysians and foreigners alike. Yes, it is as simple as that.

Another novel by a Malaysian will be making its début in March 2005: Tash Aw's The Harmony Silk Factory (Fourth Estate), a sprawling World War II saga set in Japanese-occupied Malaya. A colourful, gripping story told in lucid, uncluttered prose.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

A DIATRIBE AGAINST BAD BOOKS

A deluge of mediocrity has permeated our world and is suffocating us in the process. The thing is, not all stories are meant to be told or read.

THERE is a novel in every one of us. Yes, we have heard that one before. And if we keep it that way, we'll save a lot of trees. The fact of the matter is, most of the books that are published today are pure trash and a waste of trees. (Can you imagine how much ancient forests--as in Lapland--are being sacrificed for paper?) And a waste of one's life and time, really. I can smell a bad book a mile away. You can't imagine the amount of bad manuscripts that are being published today for a variety of lame reasons. According to a source, more than a million titles will be published in 2005. So, how do you pick a good book when a mind-boggling 4,000 titles are published each day all over the world. One publisher told me that he publishes trash because trash sells. If they want trash, we will give them trash. And he is right, sad to say. He says he is not bothered about the quality of books nor the future of literature. Not exactly the sort of guest I would invite to grace my fantasy literary dinner, I'm afraid. I wouldn't want him at the dinner with me. Imagine how sad the state of the world is today, considering the ethical and moral bankruptcy of contemporary society. Bad books are dime a dozen. They saturate an already overcrowded market with bland, generic books. Serious readers will have to learn to be more discerning. I dare say that 90 per cent of the books published today do not deserve to be published at all. I wonder what other editors and publishers think?

Alas, the editing process never ends, especially when you most want it to. But books have deadlines and must be at the bookshops on time. And so the editing rolls to a halt, whether you like it or not. Not all books are worth your time editing, really. But edit you must until the next best thing comes along. Sad to say, I have had my share of editing excruciatingly bad manuscripts through the years. I especially hate editing those autobiographies or biographies where the subject of the biography finances the deal himself and praises himself to the skies. (We are, after all, living in an age where self-promotion has become the norm.) In fact, I have had enough of these self-aggrandising biographies to last me many, many lifetimes.

Good books, however, are a pleasure to edit. And indeed a delight to read. They expand your mind and put into perspective your life experiences, and you get to listen to voices that you normally wouldn't have a chance to listen to. Diana Athill says that a novel has to be tremendously good for her to really want to read it. With such books, you tend to take something from them. Sadly, you don't get many of these books. In a world full of enticing distractions, many of us still choose to read because it fulfils a craving that only a good book can satisfy.