Thursday, August 31, 2006

Francine PROSE ... Reading Like a Writer (2006)

PROSE Francine [1947-] Novelist. Born in Brooklyn, New York, U.S. Novels A Changed Man (2005); Blue Angel (2000: a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction); Hunters and Gatherers (1995); Primitive People (1992); Bigfoot Dreams (1986); Household Saints (1981); Animal Magnetism (1978); Marie Laveau (1977); The Glorious Ones (1974); Judah the Pious (1973) Novellas Guided Tours of Hell (1997) Stories The Peaceable Kingdom (1993); Women and Children First and Other Stories (1983) Children’s The Demons’ Mistake: A Story from Chelm (2000); You Never Know: A Legend of the Lamed-Vavniks (1998); The Angel’s Mistake: Stories of Chelm (1997); Dybbuk: A Story Made in Heaven (1996); Stories From Our Living Past (1974) Nonfiction Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them (2006) Biography Caravaggio: Painter of Miracles (2005) Essays The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women and the Artists they Inspired (2002); Scent of a Woman’s Ink (2000)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

SOMETHING NEW! ... Tinling CHOONG's FireWife (2007)

SO who’ll be the next Malaysian to make it big in the literary world of the West. We’ve had Beth Yahp [The Crocodile Fury (1992)], Yang-May Ooi [The Flame Tree (1998) and Mindgame (2000)], Rani Manicka [The Rice Mother (2002) and Touching Earth (2004)], Vyvyane Loh [Breaking the Tongue (2004)] and Tash Aw [The Harmony Silk Factory (2005)] in quick succession. There’s a new literary voice on the horizon ... and her name is TINLING CHOONG. And her book: FIREWIFE (Nan A. Talese, January 2007).

BORN and raised in Penang, Malaysia, Choong received a B.A. from Wellesley College, and is working towards her Ph.D. in East Asian Languages and Literatures at Yale University. FireWife is her publishing début. Keep a lookout for it!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Jonathan FRANZEN ... The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History (2006)

FRANZEN Jonathan [1959-] Novelist. Born in Western Springs, Illinois, U.S. Novels The Corrections (2001: winner of the 2001 National Book Award for Fiction; shortlisted for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction); Strong Motion (1992); The Twenty-Seventh City (1988: winner of the 1988 Whiting Writers Award for Fiction) Essays/Criticism How to Be Alone (2002) Memoir The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History (2006)

Monday, August 28, 2006

Benjamin MARKOVITS ... Imposture (2007)

MARKOVITS Benjamin [1973-] Novelist, short-story writer. Born in Palo Alto, California, U.S. Novels Imposture (2007); The Syme Papers (2004) Stories Either Side of Winter (published in the U.S. as Fathers and Daughters) (2005)

Either Side of Winter (published as Fathers and Daughters in the U.S. in 2005) (2005)

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Joan DIDION ... The Year of Magical Thinking (2005)

IN 2003, Joan Didion lost her husband of four decades. Less than two years later, her only child, Quintana Roo, passed away. One of the pioneers of New Journalism in the 1960s, Mrs. John Gregory Dunne had brilliantly chronicled America’s cultural and political life; now she faced documenting her own grief in her memoir of loss, grief and remembering, The Year of Magical Thinking (2005). And she does it well with candour and passion.

DIDION Joan [1934-] Essayist, novelist. Born in Sacramento, California, U.S. Novels The Last Thing He Wanted (1996); Democracy (1984); A Book of Common Prayer (1977); Play It As It Lays (1970); Run, River (1963) Nonfiction We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction (2006); Miami (1987); Salvador (1983) Essays Vintage Didion (2004); Political Fictions (2001); After Henry (1992); The White Album (1979); Slouching Toward Bethlehem (1968) Memoir The Year of Magical Thinking (2005: shortlisted for the 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography); Where I Was From (2003) Travel Sentimental Journeys (After Henry) (1992)

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Neglected Gems ... Dawn POWELL

POWELL Dawn [1896-1965] Novelist. Born in Mount Gilead, Ohio, U.S. Novels Come Back to Sorrento [1997: first published as The Tenth Moon (1932)]; The Golden Spur (1962); A Cage for Lovers (1957); A Man’s Affair (a revision of Angels on Toast) (1956); The Wicked Pavilion (1954); The Locusts Have No King (1948); My Home is Far Away (1944); A Time To Be Born (1942); Angels on Toast (1940); The Happy Island (1938); Turn, Magic Wheel (1936); The Story of a Country Boy (1934); The Tenth Moon (1932); Dance Night (1930); The Bride’s House (1929); She Walks in Beauty (1928); Whither (1925) Stories Sunday, Morning and Always (1952) Drama Jig Saw: A Comedy (1934); Big Night (1933) Nonfiction Selected Letters of Dawn Powell: 1913-1965 (ed. Tim Page) (1999); The Diaries of Dawn Powell: 1931-1965 (ed. Tim Page) (1995)

Friday, August 25, 2006

Neglected Gems ... Kate O'BRIEN

O’BRIEN Kate [1897-1974] Novelist. Born in Limerick, Ireland. Novels As Music and Splendour (1958); The Flower of May (1953); That Lady (1946); The Last of Summer (1943); The Land of Spices (1941); Pray for the Wanderer (1938); Mary Lavelle (1936); The Ante-Room (1934); Without My Cloak (1931: winner of the 1931 Hawthornden Prize for Imaginative Literature and the 1931 James Tait Black Prize) Play Distinguished Villa (1926) Nonfiction My Ireland (1962); Farewell Spain (1937) Biography Theresa of Avila (1951)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

2006 Guardian First Book Prize

THE LONGLIST of 10 books for the 2006 Guardian First Book Prize comprises four novels, a collection of stories, a poetry collection, two biographies, a memoir and a natural history tome: an assorted cocktail of genres, if ever there was one. A shortlist will be declared in November 2006 and the winner in December 2006.

Harbor (Portobello) / Lorraine Adams
Poppy Shakespeare (Bloomsbury) / Clare Allan
A Thousand Years of Good Prayers (stories) (Fourth Estate) / Yiyun Li
In the Country of Men (Viking) / Hisham Matar
Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living (Picador) / Carrie Tiffany

Waiting for the Night-Rowers (Enitharmon) / Roger Moulson

Running for the Hills (Memoir) (John Murray) / Horatio Clare
Lonesome George: The Lives and Loves of a Conservation Icon (Natural History) (Palgrave Macmillan) / Henry Nicholls
A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveller (Biography) (Simon & Schuster) / Jason Roberts
Donne: The Reformed Soul (Biography) (Viking) / John Stubbs

I am especially partial to the following titles:

Running for the Hills (John Murray) / Horatio Clare
A Thousand Years of Good Prayers (Fourth Estate) / Yiyun Li
In the Country of Men (Viking) / Hisham Matar
Waiting for the Night-Rowers (Enitharmon) / Roger Moulson
Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living (Picador) / Carrie Tiffany

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Reading List

Sacred Games (2006) / Vikram Chandra
The Meaning of Night: A Confession (2006) / Michael Cox
A Spot of Bother (2006) / Mark Haddon
Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) / Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Black Book (2006) / Orhan Pamuk (a new trans. from the Turkish by Maureen Freely)

Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy (2003) / Carlos Eire
The Year of Henry James: The Story of a Novel (2006) / David Lodge
In the Blood: A Memoir of My Childhood (2006) / Andrew Motion
Adrift in Caledonia: Boat-Hitching for the Unenlightened (2006) / Nick Thorpe

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Autumn 2006 Nonfiction Highlights

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid (Doubleday, 2006) / Bill Bryson
Seminary Boy (Fourth Estate, 2006) / John Cornwell
The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty: Delhi, 1857 (Bloomsbury, 2006) / William Dalrymple
Mirrors of the Unseen: Journeys in Iran (Picador, 2006) / Jason Elliot
The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History (Fourth Estate, 2006) / Jonathan Franzen
The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of the Universe (Faber & Faber, 2006) / Michael Frayn
The Complete Polysyllabic Spree (Penguin Viking, 2006) / Nick Hornby
Things I Didn’t Know: A Memoir (Harvill Secker, 2006) / Robert Hughes
In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India (Little, Brown, 2006) / Edward Luce
The Things That Matter: What Seven Classic Novels Have to Say About the Stages of Life (Pantheon, 2006) / Edward Mendelson
In the Blood: A Memoir of My Childhood (Faber & Faber, 2006) / Andrew Motion
How Novels Work (Oxford University Press, 2006) / John Mullan
Connemara: Listening to the Wind (Penguin, 2006) / Tim Robinson
A Time-Torn Man: A Life of Thomas Hardy (Penguin Viking, 2006) / Claire Tomalin
Shadow of the Silk Road (Chatto & Windus, 2006) / Colin Thubron
Much Ado About English: Up and Down the Bizarre Byways of a Fascinating Language (Nicholas Brealey, 2006) / Richard Watson Todd
Guerra: Living in the Shadows of the Spanish Civil War (Doubleday, 2006) / Jason Webster
Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia (Canongate, 2006) / Rebecca West

Monday, August 21, 2006

Opening Lines

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

“We were in study hall when the headmaster entered, followed by a new boy not yet in school uniform and by the handyman carrying a large desk.” Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary (1857)

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877)

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” Franz Kafka, Metamorphosis and Other Stories (1915)

“My grandmother’s life and her death, in 1958, made a vivid impression on me. She came, as the stories and anecdotes about her say, suddenly out of the horizon, like a camel, with nothing except some baggage and three boys in tow.” K.S. Maniam, The Return (1981)

“I was born in Ceylon in 1916, at a time when spirits walked the earth just like people, before the glare of electricity and the roar of civilization had frightened them away into the concealed hearts of forests.” Rani Manicka, The Rice Mother (2002)

Sunday, August 20, 2006

William NICHOLSON ... The Trial of True Love (2005)

NICHOLSON William [1948-] Novelist. Born in England. Novels The Trial of True Love (2005); The Society of Others (2004) Juvenile The Noble Warriors trilogy: Jango (2006); Seeker (2005) The Wind on Fire trilogy: Firesong (2002); Slaves of the Mastery (2001); The Wind Singer (2000: winner of the 2000 Smarties Prize Gold Award and the 2001 Blue Peter Book of the Year Award)

Saturday, August 19, 2006


The Complete Polysyllabic Spree (2006) / Nick Hornby
The Things That Matter: What Seven Classic Novels Have to Say About the Stages of Life (2006) / Edward Mendelson
The Novel, Volume 1: History, Geography and Culture (2006) / Franco Moretti (editor)
The Novel, Volume 2: Forms and Themes (2006) / Franco Moretti (editor)
How Novels Work (2006) / John Mullan
Nation and Novel: The English Novel from Its Origins to the Present Day (2006) / Patrick Parrinder
Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them (2006) / Francine Prose
The Child That Books Built (2002) / Francis Spufford

Friday, August 18, 2006


By Eric C. Forbes

THERE WAS MUCH TALK recently dissecting the reading habits (or lack thereof) of Malaysians. The high prices of books, as always, was cited as the main reason why Malaysians don’t read (or don’t read enough). I don’t think the high prices of books is the real reason for people not reading. We often see parents and their offspring willing to spend their easily-earned money on movies, CDs, DVDs, Irish coffee and designer sandwiches, digicams, laptops, iPods, fine dining experiences, fast food, cellphones, car accessories, computer games, kitchen extensions and curtains, fitness club memberships, tuition, etc., but when it comes to books, somehow they are hesitant to spend. Why this double standard? A very strange phenomenon indeed. Most people somehow prefer to hang out in multiplexes doing practically nothing. After all, we are living in the age of idleness and nothingness!

Human nature being what it is, people tend to overstuff their bellies with food and their bodies with all kinds of accoutrement, but deprive their souls of nourishment.

So what can we do. Truth be told, there is really nothing much we can do to encourage those who don’t read to read. I think most people basically don’t see the need to read at all. You know, nowadays you can do very well in life even if you hate reading. I know many people who have done so. However, for those who are serious about reading, try buying a book a month (since books are expensive), but make sure you buy a great one. In a year, you would have read 12 great books. Just imagine12 greats books! Beats going to the university and getting a degree! That’s not too bad a place to start.

Malaysians on the average read two books a year according to statistics. This figure is too good to be true. Most of the people I meet or know do not read at all. This is no crime. Believe me, there are far worse crimes than not reading. Some of the nicest and kindest people I know do not read at all. (But then, some of the most despicable people I know do not read at all either.) Not reading does not make them any less human. But we can’t deny the fact that reading is a good habit to inculcate.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Roxana ROBINSON ... A Perfect Stranger (2005)

IF you have yet to experience the writings of Roxana Robinson, read her and you just might like the stories she spin with such effortless grace.

ROBINSON Roxana [1968-] Novelist, short-story writer, biographer. Born Roxana Barry in Pine Mountain, Kentucky, U.S. Novels Sweetwater (2003); This Is My Daughter (1998); Summer Light (1987) Stories A Perfect Stranger and Other Stories (2005); Asking for Love (1996); A Glimpse of Scarlet and Other Stories (1991) Biography Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life (1989)

Novel Sweetwater (2003)
Stories A Perfect Stranger and Other Stories (2005)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Reading List

A Walk on the Wild Side (1956) / Nelson Algren
The Man with the Golden Arm (1949) / Nelson Algren
The Fahrenheit Twins (2005) / Michel Faber
Ancestor Stones (2006) / Aminatta Forna

Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2006) / Kwame Anthony Appiah
Ghost Train Through the Andes: On My Grandfather’s Trail in Chile and Bolivia (2006) / Michael Jacobs
Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny (2006) / Amartya Sen
The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian Culture, History and Identity (2005) / Amartya Sen

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

2006 Booker Prize for Fiction: The Longlist

THE FOLLOWING NOVELS have been longlisted for the 2006 Booker Prize for Fiction. I am glad that many of my favourite books of the year have been included. However, a couple of my favourites were excluded: Jane Harris’s The Observations (Faber & Faber, 2006), Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale (Orion, 2006) and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun (Fourth Estate, 2006), all three of which are excellent first novels in many ways. There are three former Booker Prize winners on the longlist: Peter Carey, Nadine Gordimer and Barry Unsworth. Will Carey win his third Booker Prize with his new novel? There are three Australians on the longlist: Peter Carey, Kate Grenville and M.J. Hyland? Carey first won the Booker Prize in 1988 for Oscar and Lucinda (1988) and in 2001 for True History of the Kelly Gang (2000). However, Theft (excellent though it is) is not Carey’s best work. Grenville won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for The Secret River (2005) in 2006, while her last novel, The Idea of Perfection (1999), won the 2001 Orange Prize for Fiction. A rich harvest for Random House (Jonathan Cape, Chatto & Windus, Doubleday and William Heinemann) with five writers on the longlist, while Penguin (Hamish Hamilton and Viking) has four on the longlist. On the whole, the longlist has quite a good balance of new and established writers.

In reviewing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s second novel, Alastair Sooke in the Daily Telegrah wrote, “What a travesty that Half of a Yellow Sun is not in contention for the Booker prize this year. The stark maturity of its vision is so startling that the great African novelist Chinua Achebe refused to believe the book could have been written by someone so young (Adichie is only 28). From the very first page you understand what he means ... The characters burrow into your marrow and mind, and you come to care for them deeply—something that is all too rare when reading some of the tricksier contemporary novels.”

1. Theft: A Love Story (Faber & Faber, 2006) / Peter Carey
2. The Inheritance of Loss (Hamish Hamilton, 2006) / Kiran Desai
3. Gathering the Water (Doubleday, 2006) / Robert Edric
4. Get a Life (Bloomsbury, 2005) / Nadine Gordimer
5. The Secret River (Canongate, 2006) / Kate Grenville
6. Carry Me Down (Canongate, 2006) / M.J. Hyland
7. Kalooki Nights (Jonathan Cape, 2006) / Howard Jacobson
8. Seven Lies (Jonathan Cape, 2006) / James Lasdun
9. The Other Side of the Bridge (Chatto & Windus, 2006) / Mary Lawson
10. So Many Ways to Begin (Bloomsbury, 2006) / Jon McGregor
11. In the Country of Men (Penguin Viking, 2006) / Hisham Matar
12. The Emperor’s Children (Picador, 2006) / Claire Messud
13. Black Swan Green (Random House, 2006) / David Mitchell
14. The Perfect Man (William Heinemann, 2006) / Naeem Murr
15. Be Near Me (Faber & Faber, 2006) / Andrew O’Hagan
16. The Testament of Gideon Mack (Hamish Hamilton, 2006) / James Robertson
17. Mother’s Milk (Picador, 2006) / Edward St. Aubyn
18. The Ruby in Her Navel (Hamish Hamilton, 2006) / Barry Unsworth
19. The Night Watch (Virago, 2006) / Sarah Waters

The shortlist of six will be announced on September 14, 2006, the winner on October 10.