Sunday, December 16, 2007

Poems from Guantánamo

Poems from GuantanamoThe collection of poems written by prisoners held in the Guantánamo Bay detention centre, Poems from Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak has been released in the UK.

Among the 21 poems (by 17 writers) are what one prisoner etched onto foam cups with a before pen and paper was allowed. Shaikh Abdurraheem Muslim Dost was a Pakistani poet and prolific author before his detention. (The poems were scratched into the cups provided with lunch and were removed with empty plates by the guards after each meal. But Dost reconstructed them from memory after his release in 2005. Many were writers before they were detained and many are first timers. Most remain behind bars.

It was collected by Law Professor Marc Falkoff who has represented several of the prisoners. He noticed pieces of poetry or even completed works in the prisoners’ correspondence with him and decided to collect them.

Here’s one by Moazzem Begg (as quoted in The Guardian).

"Dreams are shattered, hopes are battered,
Yet with new status one is flattered!
The irony of it-detention, and all:
Be so small, and stand so tall."

The Guardian

Sir Salman Rushdie doesn't recommend the fatwa

SalmanRushdieSir Salman Rushdie was in Budapest recently and 1000 people showed up for his autograph in a three-hour public book-signing event. Five of his novels, Midnight's Children, Shame, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, The Moor's Last Sigh, and Shalimar the Clown have just been published in Hungarian simultaneously. His new novel, The Enchantress of Florence -- a novel set in 16th century India and high Renaissance Florence -- is due to be published by Random House in 2008.

When asked about the 'fatwa' his reply was, "It was not good. Is that enough? I wouldn't recommend it. If it's at all possible to avoid being sentenced to death by the insane dictator of a country far away, you should try it."

Good advice.

Hungarian Literature Online
and other sources

Literary prizes, Twit Lit and the iPod

Literary prize judges

First there was singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega on the judges panel for the Orange Prize. After that was model Sophie Dahl. Then in 1999 the choice of Jerry Hall on the panel for the Whitbread Book of the Year created a bit of an uproar when she backed Harry Potter for the prize. (Seamus Heaney's version of Beowulf eventually won the prize.) This year singer-songwriter Lily Allen is an Orange Prize judge.

The Royal Society of Literature's chair, Maggie Gee, has questioned the "shortage of serious writers" on a panel. Authors Philippa Gregory and Bel Mooney, journalists Kirsty Lang and Guardian Review editor Lisa Allardice are the other judges.

The honorary director, Kate Mosse, points out that "everybody is a reader; though some are writers, others are not."

True. Just as in football. England has 50 million football fans who think they know more about football then the managers. Should we have player selection by SMS's then?

The Guardian

Twit Lit?

I haven’t stopped being appalled at the term 'chick lit' and now comes along another one 'twit lit'. This report in the Guardian suggest that '(this) season's bestsellers reveal the British male is undergoing a surreally extended midlife crisis'.

The top seller is Jeremy Clarkson's car-journalism anthology Don't Stop Me Now, a hardback, featuring 61 Sunday Times pieces about the Ford Sportka, Audi S4 Cabriolet and Caterham Seven Roadsport SV. Next is On The Edge, about a 'near-obsessive attraction to speed and the smell of petrol'.

So, that is 'twit lit'.

And for the more intellectual there is this number one on the Amazon list: Do Ants Have Arseholes?

The Guardian

Reading books on the iPod

Reports say that Apple is developing a new-generation iPod MP3 player with a book reading mode. The new-generation of iPods will allow people to download and read books and view blockbuster movies. Apple is working on a widescreen version of the new video iPod to ease reading of print material.

Apple has reportedly asked a number of the world's major publishing houses to commit their full libraries of books to their electronic archives from which customers will be able to download text versions of bestsellers into their video iPods.

Current list of books available runs to more than 400 titles, including classics such as Great Expectations, Nicholas Nickleby and Jane Eyre. Prices range from as little as 50pence (RM3.50) up to GBP4.50

The Hindustan Times

This and that

Libby ReesSecond book by Britain's youngest author

Libby Rees was only nine when she wrote her first book, Help, Hope And Happiness, a 60-page self-help on how to cope when parents separated. Now she is 12 and has published her second self-help book, At Sixes and Sevens, about moving from primary to secondary school. Like her first book she hopes it will be translated into Dutch, Japanese, Italian, Taiwanese, Mandarin and other languages. Her new book will be published early next year.

The Daily Mail

Amazon ordered to stop free delivery in France

The high court in Versailles has ruled that may not offer free delivery on books in France. In suit brought in January 2004, the French Booksellers' Union (Syndicat de la librairie Francaise) accused Amazon of offering illegal discounts on books and for selling some books below cost.

The court gave Amazon 10 days to start charging for the delivery of books. Retail prices of books are tightly regulated in France. Using ‘loss-leaders’ and selling products below cost to attract customers is illegal, and book retailers must not offer discounts of more than 5 percent on the publisher's recommended price. Free delivery offered by Amazon exceeded the legal limit, the union said.

The New York Times

Arthur C ClarkeSir Arthur C Clarke turns 90

Happy Birthday, Sir Arthur C. Clarke. He will be 90 today Dec. 16, author of the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was made into that 1968 cult classic movie by Stanley Kubrick's, the one that started it all. He is the last surviving member of the "Big Three" of science fiction authors (the other two members being Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein).

Other trivia (from Wikipedia): the command centre of the Apollo 13 craft was named "2001" after the movie. Arthur C Clarke has an asteroid and a species of dinosaur Serendipaceratops arthurcclarkei named after him.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

Norman Mailer wins Bad Sex award

It has become probably the most 'fun' award in the industry -- it is far more fun looking forward to it than the Man Booker -- and I do look forward to reading the extracts each year.

Castle in the ForestNorman Mailer has been posthumously awarded this year's prize for this passage in his novel The Castle in the Forest: "So Klara turned head to foot and put her most unmentionable part down on his hard-breathing nose and mouth and took his old battering ram into her lips." Wow, talk about

Here is a selection I like (for others and ' more graphic versions' please visit The Guardian website:,,2217735,00.html

Will by Christopher Rush: O glorious pubes! The ultimate triangle, whose angles delve to hell but point to paradise. Let me sing the black banner, the blackbird's wing, the chink, the cleft, the keyhole in the door. The fig, the fanny, the cranny, the quim - I'd come close to it now, this sudden blush, this ancient avenue, the end of all odysseys and epic aim of life, pulling at my prick now, pulling like a lodestone.

Apples by Richard Milward: She had on no knickers, and my heart went crash-bang-wallop and my eyes popped out. She hadn't shaved, and her fanny looked like a tropical fish or a bit of old carpet.

Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart: Her vagina was all that, as they say in the urban media - a powerful ethnic muscle scented by bitter melon, the breezes of the local sea, and the sweaty needs of a tiny nation trying to breed itself into a future. Was it especially hairy? Good Lord, yes it was. Mountains of kinkiness black as the night above the Serengeti with paprika shoots at the edges - the pubic hair alone must have clocked in at half a kilo, while providing the inspiration for two discernible trails of hair, one running up to the navel, the other to the base of the

Boy Meets Girl by Ali Smith: Was that her tongue? Was that what they meant when they said flames had tongues? I was hard all right, and then I was sinew, I was a snake, I changed stone to snake in three simple moves, stoke stake snake, then I was a tree whose branches were all budded knots, and what were those felty buds, were they antlers? were antlers really growing out of both of us? was my whole front furring over? and were we the same pelt? were our hands black shining hoofs? were we kicking? were we bitten? We were blades, were a knife that could cut through myth, were two knives thrown by a magician, were arrows fired by a god, we hit heart, we hit home, we were the tail of a fish were the reek of a cat were the beak of a bird were the feather that mastered gravity were high above every landscape then down deep in the purple haze of the heather were roamin in a gloamin in a brash unending Scottish piece of perfect jigging reeling reel can we really keep this up?

Tokyo bookselling

Kanda book districtFrom Asahi Shimbun. According to the report, Tokyo's Kanda-Jinbocho district, an area in the middle of Tokyo full of old shops (some over 125 years old) and narrow alleys, and for Japanese bibliophiles a veritable holy land, is in trouble.Measured by the number of businesses operating there it isn't bad, but in terms of sales it is low. And the problem: Japanese do more talking and texting these days than they do reading. A generation ago they spent their extra cash on novels; now it goes to pay the phone bills.

Another complaint: These days, there aren't many titles that you can't get through your local big-box bookstore or by searching through Amazon's virtual catalogue.

Kanda has now become a tourist destination with an increased 'stroller' traffic, but with the
inevitable increase in business opportunities others are moving in. Kanda has now become a tourist destination. Gesturing with his thumb towards the recently opened noodle shop next door, one owner says, "We have nothing personal against them, but their gaudy advertising doesn't really go very well with the look of the neighbourhood ... (and) no one wants to smell food when they're browsing for books."

Though others have come in to occupy the prime locations, 30 new bookshops have also moved in, but mostly on the first and second floors and on the back alleys because ground floor units are out of reach for them. The new stores target collectors of anime, manga, children's books and various subculture literatures. And many are internet merchants.

Scoffs an old timer, "Young people prefer visual things that are easier to understand ... (they) see a book as more of a decorative element than reading material." And adds, "They don't see how much they're racking up every month on telephone charges. But with a book you know exactly how much it will cost you -- the price is on the cover.''


Full story:

Publishers mine book groups

KiteRunnerLooks like there is a new book force in town and whether it is good or bad is entirely a matter of opinion.

Given the success of books 'discovered' by book clubs like The Kite Runner (which, though well written, has been described by some people as Hollywood-ish (see latest issue of Time Magazine -,9171,1622583,00.html), and written by someone who does not live in the country he writes about) major publishing houses are looking towards book reading clubs to reveal their next big hit.

Never before have a group of eight to ten (mainly) women sitting around a table discussing a book have held so much power. Ms Esther Bushell, a former English teacher from Old Greenwich, Conn, must be a powerful lady indeed. She leads ten book groups. And she began as a reading group coordinator only five years ago.

According to thee report, film companies are trying to get in on the act as well. Russell Perreault, director of publicity at Vintage Books says, "They're asking us how to get clubs to read books before the movie version comes out." Copies of Evening, Reservation Road and Atonement, all Vintage titles adapted for the big screen.

This was what was traditionally known as word-of-mouth marketing. (Or auntie power. Uncles are normally quite useless at this.)

Full story:

In brief

Taslima Nazreen on the run again

Taslima NazreenBangladeshi feminist writer Taslima Nasreen has been flown out of the Indian city of Calcutta after violent protests by Muslims, calling for her Indian visa to be canceled.

Rioters blocked roads and set cars alight. At least 43 people were hurt. More than 100 arrests were made. Critics say she called for the Koran to be changed to give women greater rights, which she denies. Ms Nasreen fled Bangladesh in the early 1990s after death threats and has spent the last three years in Calcutta after an initial stay in Europe.

Kremlin lament’s growing contempt for literature

The former Soviet Union was once the best-read country in the world, but modern post-communist Russians prefer trashy reality TV and glossy magazines.

This lack of reading has even affected the bedtime story for children. In the 1970s, 80% of parents read aloud to their children. Today the figure is 7%.

Independent publishers rule

According to Alison Walsh of the Irish Independent, Indie publishers are giving the big boys a run for their money. Since they cannot match the financial muscle of the big publishers they are getting books from elsewhere, bypassing the 'gate keepers' (the literary agents?)

Andrew Franklin, publisher at Profile Books, who has had two of the biggest hits of the past few years, Eats, Shoots and Leaves and Why Don't Penguins Feet Freeze? says: "Independent publishers look at things mainstream publishers wouldn't publish. They make some difference to what is being published, but secondly, they publish in a different way: they can be more experimental in how they publish and the audiences they try to reach, just because they are not part of a great big machine that churns out 1,000 books a year."

And one of the biggest successes in recent years has been fiction in translation such as Carlos Ruiz Zafon's In the Shadow of the Wind. Others are like The Life of Pi (two million copies) and The Tenderness of Wolves.

Not bad, yah?

Full story:

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Bestseller in Vietnam

Vietnamese best sellerFrom the Korean Times. Vietnamese writer Nguyen Ngoc Tu is only 31 years old and has taken Vietnam by storm by selling 80,000 copies of her latest novel The Endless Fields.

The Endless Fields received Vietnam's most prestigious literary prize, the Vietnam Writers' Association award for fiction in 2006, has been translated and published in Korea. 'In the book, she steps away from Vietnam's routine subject of war, and touches on the life of people living in the poverty-stricken countryside of Vietnam.'

'Although the wounds of war remain, I wanted to move on and write about a new subject. Still, although war may not appear directly, its
presence is no doubt felt throughout this story as well,'' Nguyen is reported to have said.

Upon its release in Vietnam the report says, 'At one point, criticism towards the novel was so harsh that it lead to Nguyen being summoned to the ideological education committee in Ca Mau Province for self-criticism ...'

For her next project, 'Nguyen ... plans on writing a novel related to the rising number of inter-racial marriages involving young Vietnamese women.'

'There's no problem with intercultural marriages based on love, but when it is something that is purchased on conditions other than love, that is saddening. I definitely want to write on this,'' she said.

The author has only attended school up to the 10th grade, growing up in a poor household, but enjoys reading. 'Literature is not something that you are taught, but it can be picked up by reading many books ...'

How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read

NEWS: Don't read, fake it

HaventReadI know of someone who carries a book around to impress chicks. All he does is leave the book on his table, with the right facing side up, while he has his teh tarik -- talk about coffee-table books. The trick is to keep the stains away, he covers all his books in plastic. But then, he also reads.

Now, if only we could eliminate the reading bit. Jay McInery writes about a brand new book in the NY Times. (You have to register with NYT to read this story but it is free.)

A new book, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, is now on the best-seller lists in France, a country where books are still regarded as sacred objects and where, as described by McInery, '... the writer occupies a social position somewhere between the priest and the rock star.' According to him the '... anti-intellectualism of the title seems more Anglo-Saxon than Gallic ...' and he quotes Oscar Wilde: I never read a book I must review; it prejudices you so. (So is that where our anti-intellectualism comes from? We will blame the Brits for that one too. I have always wondered why French footballers look so much smarter than ... never mind.)

In reply to a question Pierre Baynard, the author has this to say: 'I know few areas of private life, with the exception of finance and sex, in which it's as difficult to obtain accurate information ...'

Bayard’s book says '... at times it seems like a tongue-in-cheek example of reader-response criticism, which emphasizes the reader's role in creating meaning. He wants to show us how much we lie about the way we read, to ourselves as well as to others, and to assuage our guilt about the way we actually read and talk about books ... (there) are many ways of relating to books that are not acknowledged in educated company, including skimming, skipping, forgetting and glancing at covers.'

This is one book we will be looking out for.

Meanwhile in the UK

From The Guardian Unlimited. A survey shows that '77% of UK readers revisit books they've enjoyed on first reading ... with 17% of readers polled claiming to have read a favourite book more than five times.'

And the reasons for re-reading: 59% return because they never tire of their favourite book, 34% find something new with each re-reading and 8% because they haven't read anything else as good.

Here is the top 20 revisited reads in the UK:

1. The Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling
2. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
3. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
4. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
6. 1984 by George Orwell
7. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
8. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by CS Lewis
9. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
10. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
11. Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
12. To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee
13. Flowers in the Attic by Virginia Andrews
14. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
15. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
16. The Bible
17. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
18. Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding
19. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
20. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

And in the US

Recent figures in the US suggest that the average reader tackles only four books a year, with 25% confessing to reading nothing at all.

This and that

iTunes university

iTunes now offers free knowledge from top universities in the US -- including MIT, Sanford, Berkeley -- and it is all free. (I listened to one lecture on d-i-y typography design. I noticed that there is also something on creative writing in there.) The site, which was launched with 16 institutions earlier this year has had video and audio content from it downloaded more than 4 million times.

An iTunes report says: 'Already, more than half of the nation's top 500 schools use it to distribute their digital content to students -- or to the world.'

Check it out now. (iTunes is a free download for both Macs and PCs.)

No more wait for paperback?

It is not uncommon for readers in this country to 'wait for the paperback' given the outrageous prices (given our weak currency). Of course, there is the so-called trade-back or C-format (hardback size with a soft cover) released for us poor cousins but while it is easy to read it still costs in the region of RM70.00 -- steep for most readers.

This news from Picador to launch new fiction in both hardback and paperback is most welcome. It is apparently being done to combat the ailing market for hardback literary fiction. (Read about the sales figures for this year’s Man Booker shortlist.) But do not hold your breath yet -- book distributors in this country are not the brightest in the world. (They don’t read.) Remember how long it took The Harmony Silk Factory to hit our shores, and that too in that grotty A-format? Pan Macmillan says they will release high-end hardback and B-format paperback editions simultaneously from next year.

Webster's Word of the Year

For 2007, Webster's New World College Dictionary has chosen "grass station" as its Word of the Year. It is play on the word 'gas station' (Americans call petrol, gas remember). So this is a grass station -- one that dispenses ethanol and biomass fuels, some of which are distilled from actual grass.

Apparently this term is 'so sizzlin' hot it has already appeared ... (in) The New York Times.'

The report also says this 'doesn't mean grass station will show up in Webster's anytime soon.' It will probably appear in Oxford first. In 2006, Webster's Word of the Year was 'crackberry'.

Library books 126 years late

A Guardian Unlimited report says that 'Chile has returned 3,778 books that its military had taken from Peru's national library -- more than 126 years overdue'. According to the report these were books pillaged by Chilean soldiers in 1881 after the capture of Lima during the 1870-1883 War of the Pacific. 'Chile shipped the books, most in excellent condition, to Peru this week via DHL, where they'll be returned to Lima's national library.'

Wahhh!!! Educated soldiers! Others sack and loot. Chilean soldiers borrow books and return them. (Never mind about being late, let's not get picky).

Author's murder conviction upheld

The Supreme Court has upheld the murder conviction of novelist Michael Peterson, who is serving life in prison for killing his wife, Kathleen, whose body was found at the bottom of a staircase in the couple's home in 2001.

Peterson had argued in his appeal that evidence was improperly obtained from his computer, and also that the judge had made a mistake by admitting evidence about the 1985 death of a Peterson family friend in Germany.

Peterson's novels include the 1990 novel about the Vietnam War, A Time of War, and a 1995 sequel, A Bitter Peace.

First Man Asian literary prize goes to Chinese writer

Chinese author Jiang Rong has won first the US$10,000 Man Asian Literary Prize for his novel Wolf Totem.

According to the judges, 'Jiang's book, set on the desolate grasslands of inner Mongolia, tells the tale of nomads and settlers and their (relationship) with wolves during China's tumultuous Cultural Revolution, exploring man's place in nature.' Jiang says he spent 30 years thinking, and 6 years writing Wolf Totem.

Funny though, that one. Wasn't Mongolia one of the countries excluded from the first Man Asia Literary Prize?

mailerNorman Mailer dies

I have to confess that I avoided reading Norman Mailer probably because I read The Naked and the Dead when I was still in school, and was probably put off by its density. (I guess one should never read some novels when one is too young for it, like Dostoeyvsky for example) I did read a couple more after that though, The Fight being one and another was an anti feminist rant. I thought he took himself too seriously. I infinitely preferred the filppant charm of Gore Vidal.

Anyway, Norman Mailer, the author of 30 books -- including The Castle in the Forest published this year -- died of renal failure at the age of 84 on the 10th of November 2007.

Norman Kingsley -- or Nachem Malek in Hebrew -- was born in New Jersey on January 31, 1923. His father, Isaac Barnett, was a South African emigre but the dominant figure in the family was said to be his mother, Fanny Schneider, who came from Long Branch, where her father was the town's unofficial rabbi.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Manga Shakespeare

Romeo and JulietThis caught my attention in a Wired Magazine report. British publisher, Self Made Hero, is bringing out manga editions of several Shakespeare works, including Hamlet. And Danish prince lives in the year 2107 on an
Earth ravaged by global warming.

And in the article How Manga Conquered the U.S: a Graphic Guide to Japan's Coolest Export, Jason Thompson takes a five page look inside the 'manga industrial complex' in Japan. You want more? Wired's visual history of manga in America is a 1.9meg pdf download with the whole story told in the form of a manga, complete with right to left Japanese panel layout.

In short expect manga to be sweeping the world sooner rather than later. The report says 'manga sales in the US have tripled in the past four years ... with titles like Fruits Basket, Naruto, and Death Note, and in some bookstores 'the manga section is bigger than the science fiction collection.' Europe has, apparently, caught the bug, too. 'In the United Kingdom, the Catholic Church is using manga to recruit new priests’ and one British publisher 'has begun issuing manga versions of Shakespeare's plays, including a Romeo and Juliet that
re-imagines the Montagues and Capulets as rival yakuza families in Tokyo.' Wow! We must try and get hold of those.

But in Japan there is a feeling that the best days of the US$4.2 billion-a-year industry, which started in the shadow of its defeat in the second world war, have passed. Still, it is reported that the paperback editions of Bleach, from a series about a ghost-spotting teenager that ran in the Weekly Shonen Jump for six years, have sold some 46 million copies (in a country of 127 million people). And 'manga isn't just for freaks and geeks' the report says. 'Ride the Tokyo subway and you'll see greying salarymen, twenty-something hipsters, and schoolgirls all paging through a manga weekly or a graphic novel.'

We have seen some graphics novels, mostly from America, creeping into our bookstores in Kuala Lumpur. But these are still novelties and can be expensive. In Japan, manga ranges from those that come in the size of big-city phone-books printed on cheap newsprint to those on glossy art paper. 'They're teetering in messy piles at convenience stores, stacked in neat slabs at every subway station, and for sale just about anywhere someone might be inclined to pull a couple of hundred yen (US$2 to US$4) from their pocket ... The most popular series then get repackaged as paperback graphic novels.'

Full story:

October prizes

October is the month for giving out prizes. First there was Doris Lessingawarded the Nobel Prize for "that epicist of the female experience, who with skepticism, fire andvisionary power has subjected a divided civilization toscrutiny." Not bad for someone who did not finish high school (but read a lot).

Then there was the Man Booker, won by Anne Enright's The Gathering, few people's favourite book judging by sales of a little over 3000 copies (compared to over 100,000 copies to date of Ian McEwan's). And, after reading the reviews (an exhilarating bleakness?), it looks like sales are not likely to pick up even after the prize. A movie perhaps? A very non-Booker year, if ever there was one.

UnbearableMeanwhile, Milan Kundera has won the Czech Republic's State Award for Literature for the first domestic publication of his novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Why is that news? Because Kundera, though born in Czechoslovakia in 1929, moved to France in 1975 and has been a French citizen since 1981. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the 1984 novel was first published in the Czech Republic only last year, and it topped the best-seller list for weeks. Anyway, Kundera wrote a letter to Culture Minister Vaclav Jehlicka expressing thanks for the award, which includes a US$15,700 prize. Kundera did not attend the awards ceremony due to unspecified health problems.

And in NewYork, a goat farmer, a boxing fan and an Iranian-born novelist havewon Whiting Writers' Awards, prizes worth $50,000 each, for 'emerging writers of exceptional talent and promise.' The Whiting awards were established in 1985 by the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation ‘dedicated to the support of the humanities and of creative writing.

Judges and critics decided the winners of all the prizes above. Here is one decided by public vote: Nora Roberts won book of the year at the third annual Quill Awards. "Romance rocks," Roberts was reported to have told the crowd after accepting her award, which was voted online by the public, for her romance/thriller novel Angels Fall. Whatever.

Sex writer sues porn star

Violet BlueThey are both called Violet Blue, except that one is a writer and the other is a porn star. Journalist Violet Blue is (apparently) a well-known sex and sexuality writer and blogger (amongst the 25 most influential people on the web according to Forbes, and an author who has written 15 books, ranging from Best Women's Erotica 2008to the Ultimate Guide to Fellatio).

She has now filed suit this week against Violet Blue, a porn actress, for using Violet Blue as her stage name, alleging that Ada Mae Johnson adopted not only the writer's name, but also the distinctive black bangs for performances in films such as Shut Up and Blow Me #29, Whore of the Rings and Who Violet Blew.

(Writer) Violet Blue (her real name) has filed suit in a San Francisco federal court Monday, accusing Johnson of trademark violation, as well as unfair business practices. (You don't say.)

Elsewhere, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act is overly broad and violates the First Amendment. It has struck down a 1988 law requiring adult entertainment producers to keep records on their models and
performers. This makes life more difficult for the US Justice Department in its efforts against child porn, and websites hosting amateur user-produced porn.

Full story:

From the Frankfurt Book Fair

My friend Raj, who goes to Frankfurt every year, reported that this year's fair was the best one yet. This Frankfurt book love fest has been going on for 800 years (800 - you read that right) and is must visit according to him. He has been telling me that for a long time. But I am still not convinced enough to go, not until we have a decent list worth showing. Otherwise, malu lah. The last thing we need is condescension. 'You are quite good for a Malaysian writer' kind of shit, as some of our own reviewers are prone to say. We are either good or not good. Period.

Guardian Unlimited reports some highlights:

· Julia Franck has won the third German Book for her novel Die Mittagsfrau (Lady Midday), a 432-page historical novel set in Berlin between the two world wars. The work has been described by the judges as "spellbinding in its verbal immediacy, storytelling energy, and psychological intensity".

· German publishers and booksellers have launched their own German-language version of Google books, called Libreka! It is a full-text online book search database and currently covers 8,000 titles with a further 50,000 on the way.

· Bond actor Sir Roger Moore is to write his autobiography and the Frankfurt bidding opened at £1m.

·The story of one of Sudan's 'lost children' who has since become an international hip-hop star has attracted much interest. War Child, the tale of child soldier turned musician Emmanuel Jah, went to sealed bids.


Literary Podcast

Sam Tanenhaus is the editor of The New York Times Book Review. He who took over that job in April 2006, having worked for many years as a writer, reporter, and editor. He was a Pulitzer finalist in 1998 for his biography of Whittaker Chambers.

In his weekly podcasts, you can now listen to him talking to authors, editors and critics about new books. The files are in MP3 format, and instructions for subscribing to the weekly podcasts are are on the website.

Full story:

Outing Dumbledore

So JK Rowling has outed Dumbledore. Oh, come on, woman, Enough already. We know that it is hip to have gay characters in literature these days. But in all the seven books and several thousand pages you had, you did not mention (nor did you even hint) at any of the characters being gay. Why now? What's the problem? Your last book's not selling very well, or what? If ever there was a publicity stunt ... How low can you go?

Libraries spurn Google and Microsoft

New York Times reports that 'several major research libraries have rebuffed offers from Google and Microsoft to scan their books into computer databases, saying they are put off by restrictions these companies.' They are instead signing on with the Open Content Alliance, a nonprofit effort.

The report says: 'Libraries that agree to work with Google (and Microsoft) must agree to a set of terms, which include making the material unavailable to other commercial search services ... The Open Content Alliance, by contrast, is making the material available to any search service.'

Monday, October 15, 2007

Narcissistic Praise Junkies

From Wired magazine (online). This is not quite a 'literary' entry (except for some helpful English-English translations provided) but it is a lot of fun. Download it by clicking here.

A US Navy recruitment PowerPoint presentation thinks of young American MySpace generation as a 'somewhat alien life force' whose language and lifestyle is 'almost unrecognizable to adults'. According to the presentation kids in America today are 'coddled' and 'narcissistic praise junkies' and that it will be 'beyond though' to make these 'millennials' join the armed forces.

This Annual Navy Workforce Research and Analysis Conference report also finds that 67% of them are 'less likely to join the military' because of the Iraq War.

The US Navy's typical kid today: 'has always been online', 'has never known a world without digital phones', and his 'best friend may be Chinese'. The report also says:

The Most-Praised Generation

  • These kids grew up hearing nothing but praise, all the time, everywhere

  • Recent childhood has been defined by ego-stroking

  • Soccer trophy syndrome ... 'I am special'

  • Can get disgruntled if not praised for simply 'showing up' at work

  • 'Narcissistic Praise Junkies'

  • Many young adults feel insecure if they are not regularly complimented

There is a lot more. This report is hilarious.

World's worst poem

McGonagallFor years the poem by William Topaz McGonagall about the December 1879 train disaster in Scotland, The Tay Bridge Disaster, was regarded as the world's worst poem. Two lines from it were judged as the worst ever written.

And the cry rang out all o'er the town,
Good Heavens! the Tay Bridge is blown down

But now they are saying they have a new champion. The poem: A Tragedy by Theophile Marzials, contained in a 1973 collection called The Gallery of Pigeons has been described as '... the absolute epitome of awfulness'. Here it is:

The barges down in the river flop.
Flop, plop,
Above, beneath.
From the slimy branches the grey drips drop ...
To the oozy waters, that lounge and flop...
And my head shrieks - "Stop"
And my heart shrieks - "Die."...
Ugh! yet I knew - I knew
If a woman is false can a friend be true?
It was only a lie from beginning to end--
My Devil - My "friend."...
So what do I care,
And my head is empty as air -
I can do,
I can dare
(Plop, plop
The barges flop
Drip, drop.)
I can dare, I can dare!
And let myself all run away with my head
And stop.
Plop, flop,

If you think it is easy to write awful poetry, please visit the Bad Poetry website by Seamus Cooney, according to whom, 'There is a huge amount of bad poetry in the world. Although new bad poems are being written by the hundreds every day (many of them in university creative writing classes), most bad poetry is simply weak and ineffectual and lacking in interest and (fortunately) is soon forgotten. To achieve memorable badness is not so easy. It has to be done innocently, by a poet unaware of his or her defects. The right combination of lofty ambition, humorless self-confidence, and crass incompetence is rare and precious...'

Visit the website to read some of the worlds worst poems. You will be surprised at some of the names you will see there.


World champion readers

According to a survey conducted by the Academy of Sciences' Czech Literature Institute and the National Library, 88% of Czech women and 77% of men read one or more books a year or, on average 83% of Czechs read at least one book every year. An average Czech reads 16 books a year.

39% of Czechs read one to six books a year, 16% of the population read seven to twelve books a year while 14% devour 13 to 24 books a year. These are called stable readers.

9% read up to 50 books a year and 6%, known as 'passionate readers', read over 50 books a year. Wahhhh!!!

At the other end of the spectrum, 17% of Czechs do not read a single book in a year (here we call them Malaysians) compared to the European Union where the average is 42 % (who do not read).

These are some figures for some other European countries (ie., percentage of people who don't read any book at all): Sweden -- 19%, Finland ­-- 24%, Britain -- 25% and Portugal -- 67%. (Poor Jose Saramago, but then Portugal has a Nobel Literature laureate.)

Here is a brief of how an average Czech spends his leisure time each day: 41 minutes a day reading books, 30 minutes a day reading newspapers and magazines, 111 minutes a day watching TV, 113 minutes on the radio, and 86 minutes a day on the internet. That is over six hours of leisure (but I guess they would probably do other things while they are listening to the radio.) And 95% of university graduates are readers. (I wonder if the ratio is reversed in Malaysia?)

The survey is quite comprehensive. You can read it all at the Radio Praha website:

Friday, September 28, 2007

The hyphen humbled

There was a time when it appeared that there was no stopping the hyphen. From hyphenated surnames, to hyphenated Chinese first and middle names, to hyphenated nationalities, the humble hyphen appeared to rule the world. But in the story, Small object of grammatical desire, Finlo Rohrer writes in the BBC News Magazine, the days of the all conquering hyphen is coming to a end.

'Leapfrog' is reported to have lost its hyphen, and rightly so I should think. It is a specific kind of motion. A 'leap-frog' should refer to a kind of frog, don't you think? Don't even think about 'leap frog' -- sounds too close to a leap year.

According to the story, the sixth edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary has knocked the hyphens out of 16,000 words. 'Fig-leaf is now fig leaf, pot-belly is now pot belly, (and) pigeon-hole has finally achieved one word status as pigeonhole'.

I never did like the hyphen much, probably because I could never use then properly. It looked very tentative and it looked as if I was using it because I was not sure. That was true. Most of the time I was no sure. (Not as bad as the semicolon, but close -- is that word hyphenated too?)

Coming back to the article though, I cannot understand why some articles should be divorced and forced to become two words. We all know what a 'testtube' is, but why should it become 'test tube'. We know exactly what it refers to. Is it because the closeness of the two 't's in the middle makes the eyes go wonky? "Get away from there you two! You are getting too close, and in public too."

Apparently, all this can be blamed on electronic communication ... 'we no longer have time to reach over to the hyphen key.' (!!!) And since English doesn’t have a central governing body (not there are no, self appointed, language Nazis), anything goes.

But even I have to admit that the hyphen cannot be entirely done away with. Whether it is 'e-mail' or 'email' is a quibble. They both mean the same thing and the latter is easier to write. But a 'walking stick' and a 'walking-stick' are quite different. If you come across the former: run.

Full story:

Man Booker finalists' sales figures

Chesil BeachI had a bit of a shock reading the UK sales figures, quoted by Mark Sanderson in his Literary Life column in the Telegraph, for this year's six Man Booker finalists. Only Ian McEwan's slim volume On Chesil Beach appears to be doing fairly well (according to Nielsen BookScan August 18th figures) with 110, 615 copies sold. The sales of the much-praised Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist stood at 2918 copies and Lloyd Jones' Mister Pip, close behind,  at 2802 copies. (We presume that they were all in hardback. But you will get the perspective when you consider that, considering purchasing power parity, the hardback in UK costs half of what a paperback costs locally.) In fact the five finalists' combined sales, besides Ian McEwan's, comes to 10,155 copies sold.

And this happened after the announcement of the long list. The sales figures in April were: Ian McEwan, 99,660 copies. Mohsin Hamid, 1519 copies. Lloyd Jones, 880 copies.

So what gives? Of the six short-listed books I have only read On Chesil Beach. While it is competently written and does have its moments, which is the least I would expect from an author like Ian McEwan, I am afraid I was not terribly excited by it. In fact, I don't even know if I would call it a novel. It is part of a much longer story perhaps, like a starter with no main course and no desert -- and I am not a very happy person when they overdo the lettuce in the salads, anyway. (Don't get me wrong; I will be taking quite a few sentences from that book and calling them my own.)

Do we really have a really bad crop this year? Have writers and publishers completely lost the plot? Or is it the end of the world?

Book marketing in Kenya

When I came across this story by Wanjiru Waithaka in Business Daily Africa, Is it time to change the way books are marketed in Kenya ? I wanted to ignore it. Then I thought, "What do they know about marketing that we don't?" It appears they don't. Many of the gripes of the industry over there is the same as it is here. Books are, probably, the only commodity marketed by people without product knowledge. Would you buy a computer from a salesman who knows nothing about computers? Or music from a salesperson who does not listen to music? Or rice from a merchant who does not eat? You get the drift.

Here are some excerpts from that article. (Why does it all sound so familiar?)

(Publishers focus) on school texts (because) publishing is a business like any other. "Publishers want to make money and textbooks is where we can get volumes, take for instance the 7.5 million children in primary school because of free education."

Publishers say the problem is that Kenyans don't read ... (they) also say that potential authors do not write stuff that is relevant for the Kenyan reader ... "They should write stories with the audience in mind. But 90 per cent of manuscripts we receive are written as though for a foreign audience."

Kenyans don't prioritise buying books outside of the school system and have a preference for foreign books. "The Kenyan psyche of believing that everything foreign is good is a big problem."

"People who say Kenyans don't read are not right but very few publishers do market research to find out what will sell. They publish then hope it sells. This is a challenge for publishers to take up. We should take a little money from the revenues textbooks generates and invest in other areas ..."

Then there is this one:

"Publishers should market books more aggressively rather than just publishing a book and throwing it out there ... Look at the hype created by JK Rowling"s books (Harry Porter series) even before they came out, this was done by her publishers ..."

So, they are not all that different from Malaysians in this respect. And, by the way, if you want to make money like Ms Rowling without too much effort -- with much higher odds than she ever had when she started -- there is one sure way (and, it is guaranteed, no writing skills will be required for this) ... it is called the lottery ticket.

Full story:

Monday, September 17, 2007

Rejection letters

Animal FarmDavid Oshinsky writes in the New YorkTimes - No Thanks, Mr Nabokov

No can scoff at Alfred A Knopf's record of producing 17 Nobel Prize
winners not to mention 47 Pulitzer Prize-winning volumes of fiction, nonfiction, biography and history. For most of the 20th century, Knopf was the gold standard in book publishing. It still is and will probably continue to be. But some of the rejection letters (and reasons for rejecting certain works) sent out by the publisher are hilarious:

Pearl Buck's novel The Good Earth: rejected on the grounds that Americans were 'not interested in anything on China.']

George Orwell's Animal Farm: the rejection came with an explanation that it was 'impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A.'

Others included:

Jorge Luis Borges : '... utterly untranslatable'
Isaac Bashevis Singer: '... it's Poland and the rich Jews again'
Anaïs Nin: '...there is no commercial advantage in acquiring her, and, in my opinion, no artistic'
Sylvia Plath: '... there certainly isn't enough genuine talent for us to take notice'
Jack Kerouac: '... his frenetic and scrambling prose perfectly express the feverish travels of the Beat Generation. But is that enough? I don't think so'.

And Knopf also turned down manuscripts by Jean-Paul Sartre, Mordecai Richler, Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita ('too racy') and James Baldwin’s Giovanni's Room ('hopelessly bad').

And the clincher: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank -- 'very dull ... a dreary
record of typical family bickering, petty annoyances and adolescent emotions.'
(The Diary of a Young Girl was rejected by 15 other publishers but went on to sell 30 million copies.)

Full story:

Roald Dahl beats Harry hollow

Roald DahlFrom the Guardian Unlimited

Roald Dahl -- birthday 13th September -- died in 1990 (seven years before the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and a good decade before the madness started) but remains the most popular children's author among young adults in the UK. The survey has found that JK Rowling is only the fourth most popular author. This is a surprise because the latest and the last and the most successful in the series, Harry Potterand the Deathly Hollows and the latest movie, were only published less than two months ago. Looks like all that hype could only push the teenage wizard up that high in a survey of readers between 16 and 34 years old commissioned by ITV3. (Guess the operative word is readers.) One wonders where on such a list he will feature five years from now? (Those of you who did not join the HP midnight queue at a mega bookstore on the 20th July and surrender your life's savings for a copy of the Deathly Hollows, but who are nevertheless kiasu enough to want one, this is a piece of useful info: the latest HP was spotted in the 'bargain bin' at Czip Lee's in Bangsar Baru earlier this week. Check it out.)

The top ten:

1. Roald Dahl
2. CS Lewis
3. JM Barrie
4. JK Rowling
5. Anthony Horowitz
6. Jacqueline Wilson
7. Dr Seuss
8. Philip Pullman
9. Francesca Simon
10. Enid Blyton

Full story:,,2166909,00.html

Antibooks and guy books

Book of BondSherman Young writes in the Sydney Morning Herald – Leave the antibooks on the shelf.

The good news is that we are not the only ones lamenting the demise of a reading and writing culture. The bad news, of course, is that we never really had one.

The report states: In Australia in 2004, 32 Australian novels were published by mainstream publishers, down from 60 in 1996. This is mirrored in our spending on Australian fiction, which dropped from $125 million in 2001-02 to $73 million in 2003-04.

Sherman Young attributes this to the rise of the 'antibook': ... printed objects motivated by mammon rather than ideas. The key to an antibook is a hook designed to convince us to part with a few dollars. A hook that contains a life-changing promise, a movie tie-in, a catchy, timely premise or an author who is famous for just about anything except writing. Beyond the hook, there need not be much at all.

Meanwhile, in an article titles 'Guy books' are most coveted rarities by Michelle Pauli in Guardian Unlimited finds that The Great Tool Emporium and Cab Forward: the Story of the Southern Pacific Articulated Locomotives are some of the most sought after books in the United States. These are amongst the most requested titles on Also on the list are: The Book of Bon, or, Every Man His Own 007 by Kingsley Amis, and Football Scouting Methods by Steve Belichick. And as if to counterbalance the male domination The Principles of Knitting, Knitting Lace and I Do: Achieving your Dream Wedding by Jessica Simpson is also much sought after.

And the most sought after fiction: Nora Roberts' Promise Me Tomorrow. Ahem. And I looked for a hardback edition of Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose.

Read more:,,2168191,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=10

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The lament of the Great Malaysian Novel - again

From The Star: What an amazing setting Malaysia is; It has all the ingredients for a great novel and there are peoples from all cultures, castes and creeds. But just where is the Great Malaysian Novel and why does Malaysia feature so little in literature?

So we had another, 'aw, shucks, why don't we have a Great Malaysian Novel' article in a local newspaper. Again. 'Aw, shucks, why doesn't someone in Malaysia win a Nobel prize, aw, shucks, why don't we win the football World Cup, aw, shucks, we are such a great country, aw, shucks ...'

Unfortunately 'aw, shucks' alone is not going to cut it. Maybe that's what we do best - daydream. We have the (once) tallest buildings in the world not because we built it, but because we bought it (and paid a bunch of foreigners one hell of a lot of money for it too - boy, they must really think we are suckers), so let us not kid ourselves. We have had Malaysians parachute down the North Pole (we bought that), a Malaysian man is scheduled to be in space soon (we have paid the Russians a lot of money for his ticket) and we probably have more shopping malls per square kilometre than any other place on earth (or the universe). Money we can manage - we have not been known as Suvarnabumi for nothing. Work is another matter.

The Great Malaysian novel (or the great Malaysian anything) is going to happen when somebody does it, not when somebody talks about it, or we wait for a government grant, or organise another competition (which we are so fond of) ala Akademi Fantasia. It will happen when the air we breathe becomes less poisonous. It will happen when we are willing to open our windows and let sunshine in. It will happen when we stop patting ourselves in our backs for coming out 189th in a class of 200. (Look, there are people worse than we are. Aren't they disgusting?) It will happen when media stops self-emasculation for profits and political largesse and starts reporting news again. It will happen ...

Full story:

Pakistani Literature

MohsinHamidFrom:Guardian Unlimited

While the world continues its love affair with Indian Literature in English, one wonders what happened to its Pakistani counterpart? Why have Pakistani novelists failed to achieve the same high profile? With the inclusion of The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid in this year’s long list for the Man Booker Prize, there is hope that this might change.

Apart from Sadat Hasan Manto's Mottled Dawn: Fifty Sketches and Stories of Partition (which is translated from Urdu) the only Pakistani writer I have read is Hanif Kureishi (and I don't think he qualifies because he was born in Kent). I have had Aamer Hussein's The Other Salt on the shelves for a while, but have not got round to reading it. Of course, I have read Bapsi Sidhwa's Ice Candy Man. And how about Nadeem Aslan's Map for Lost Lovers (which I have not read yet)? Come to think of it I have probably read more than a few but I have not seen them as such. Pakistani writers probably face the same problem Canadian artists (especially musicians) face: being lumped
together with their larger neighbour.

But I suppose it should not come as a big surprise (considering our own experience in Malaysia) that Anglophone writers in Pakistan should be marginalised by 'majority' nationalist sentiment. English is the official language, that is language preferred by the officials, while Urdu is the national language, the one preferred by everyone else. And then let us not forget censorship.

Which is all a shame. With one associating Pakistan primarily with 'bombs and mullahs', one would have thought a little more written in English might help the world see that another side exists. Fortunately for them, I believe Pakistanis probably have somewhat more testicular fortitude than Malaysians. Things can still change.

Full story:,,330565912-99930,00.html

The Poetry-only shop

Open PoetryFrom Seatle P-I.

Imagine a bookshop of just 480 square feet stocked with 9,000 titles, all poetry. How on earth do they survive? But some how poets J.W. Marshall and Christine Deavel do. They actually make a living running one of two poetry-only bookstores in the US.

Called Open Books: A Poem Emporium, the bookstore which is located in the basement of a bungalow has managed to make a profit for twelve years it has been in operation, with sales described as steady. And one of the co-owners is always there at the front desk. "It is part of our home life," Christine, 49, says in the story.

She adds: "Most people in the book business know they will not make a lot of money ... we find other rewards. There are still poetry lovers ... that is a form of payment for me."

Visit their website:

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Brunei wants the Nobel

From the Borneo Bulletin

In an article headlined Translation Key To Promoting Local Writers To World, as Rosli Abidin Yahya reports on a meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan between a group of literary figures and the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports, Pehin Dato Major General (Rtd) Hj Awang Mohammad, and a senior government officer, Dato Paduka Hj Mahmud bin Hj Bakyr to express their concern over the future of literature in Brunei Darussalam.

"Translation is very important, as this would ensure that our writers are introduced to the world," they said, adding that the ultimate goal is to see a local writer receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 10 to 20 years" time.

Apart from their proposal for major works of local literary writers to be translated so that their books could be promoted globally, they would like to see 'the development of literature activity centres in all districts is vital in ensuring that literature is promoted to the masses'.

Will they win it before Malaysia?!

Full story:

Khushwant Singh doesn't like RK

From Outlook India

KhushwantNaipaul criticised the current boom in Indian writing by saying, "I know of no literature in the history of the world which has been created for foreign readership, foreign publishers, foreign critics."

Now Kushwant Singh has his dig. He says of the three pioneers of Indian writers in English: Mulk Raj Anand was a Marxist propagandist, Raja Rao turned ... to exploiting the mystical and spiritual aspects of India and R.K. Narayan (was) a simple storyteller. "... none of his novels or stories has the ingredients I consider integral to fiction: sex, violence or pithy turns of phrases." (Narayan remains to this day the most widely read Indian.)

Kushwant Singh's top twelve are:

  1. A house for Mr Biswas -- VS Naipaul
  2. Midnight's Children -- Salman Rushdie
  3. A Suitable Boy -- Vikram Seth
  4. Shadow Lines -- Amitabh Ghosh
  5. Cuckold -- Kiran Nagarkar
  6. The God of Small Things -- Arundhati Roy
  7. Interpreter of Maladies -- Jhumpa Lahiri
  8. The Trotter-Nama: A Chronicle -- I Allan Sealy
  9. Chinnery's Hotel -- Jaysinh Birjepatil
  10. The Hero's Walk -- Anita Rau Badami
  11. Filming:a love story -- Tabish Khair
  12. The Assasin's Song -- MG Vassanji

Full story:

Indonesia book burning

From the Sydney Morning Herald

At least 30,000 Indonesian school history textbooks of the 1965 coup attempt and slaughter of more than 500,000 alleged communists have been burned in Indonesia since March this year after the administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono banned several texts implicating the military in the events.

Publishers, academics and activists are planning a constitutional challenge against the ban.

"We have failed to deal with our past," says Mr Nababan, executive director of the Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Studies. "We have to find out the truth otherwise we have no capacity to heal the wounds."

After the resignation of President Suharto in 1998, the national school curriculum was revised and the new texts included. The ban on the books, which question claims that the Communist Party was solely responsible for the coup, was imposed recently following pressure from the military, ultra-nationalists and fundamentalist Muslims. A criminal investigation into the books' authors was also ordered.

Franz Magnis-Suseno of the Driyarkara School of Philosophy says, "The book burnings show us (the government) is incapable of dealing with events intellectually."

Tell that to the Malaysian members of parliament.

Full story:

Monday, July 30, 2007

Who is Jane Austen?

Jane AustenA Reuters report

Few would be surprised at a reaction like that in Malaysia. But in the UK?

David Lassman was having difficulty getting his own novel published. After repeated rejection, he decided on an experiment. He laboriously typed chapters from three of her books, keeping everything the same as the original but changing the names of characters and places. First he sent Northanger Abbey, renamed Susan, and was told by various publishers that the book was not suitable for their current lists. then he sent Persuasion. Again the same results. Then, finally, he sent Pride and Prejudice, renamed First Impressions with Mr Bennet becoming Mr Barnett and Netherfield becoming Weatherfield (from TV soap Coronation Street), to 18 publishers.

The following lines opened the plagiarised version:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.

"My dear Mr Barnett," said his lady to him one day, "have you heard that Weatherfield Manor is let at last?"

(If you are old enough), dig out that old school literature copy of Jane Austen, its probably in one of those cardboard boxes in the storage space under the stairs, take it outside the house and dust it, open the first page and see if you can spot the difference.

Full story:

Parents' bedtime story problem

From The Guardian

The survey of 1,000 parents with children aged five to 10 in Britain, done by Learndierect, found that 30% of parents had problems helping their children with maths and that one in five had difficulties with English homework. According to the survey 12% of parents said they struggled to understand books they read to their children. It is estimated that there are 26 million adults, in UK, who struggle with English or maths.

The survey said one in 10 parents struggled even to understand the bedtime stories they read to their children, and 23% skipped passages they could not read or invented words to get to the end of a sentence.

And guess what: reading stories is, actually, enjoying a renaissance in the UK. 73% of families prefer reading it to playing in the park or watching TV.

Shocking as it sounds, is this really surprising? A recent University of Manchester study covering five developed countries showed reading in the Anglophone countries, UK and the US, to be the lowest. (Explains a lot, does it not?) The French spend three times as much as the Brits and the Americans reading books, and the Dutch and the Norwegians twice as much. But still, all is not lost. The situation is improving (unfortunately too slow for many.)

On a more positive note, the report says: Learndirect's research found that, on average, parents read to their children four times a week for 20 minutes, which Dr Spungin said was encouraging.

Full story:,,2133285,00.html

Wonder what the rate is in Malaysia. How many parents read at all? How many teachers (even those at tertiary level) read anything other than the prescribed text? How many employees of the various libraries (including the national library, starting with the Director General) read?

Generally, there are three types of parents who seek advice from us at Silverfish Books:

The first type is upset that their child spends all the time playing computer games or watching television. We normally advice them that they (the parents) should leave some of their own books lying around. Children do not like reading to be stuffed down their throats, they are curious animals and will normally want to read things their parents are reading (particularly if they think it is forbidden). Then we ask what books they themselves read. The answer comes back that they don't. And we feel like repeating the Malay proverb of a crab wanting to teach its kid to walk straight.

The second type is very honest. They don't read because they never had the opportunity when they were young. But they don't want their children to grow up like them. So they seek advice on the type of books their mini children's library should contain. (There is one lady with a two year old who already has his favourite books.)

The third type of parent reads, and had have children who devour books. They ask us for advice on developing that reading habit and pointing them in new directions.

Germans come to grip with their history

A Reuters report.

meinkamphSince the end of World War Two, Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf has not been printed nor made available in Germany (is it banned in that country?) although the book, which translates as My Struggle, has been published in most countries, including Israel, and is available online.

In Germany, '... only purchasers who can prove an academic purpose may secure a copy of Mein Kampf. Otherwise, it is not available in Germany, as the copyright holder, the state of Bavaria, refuses to authorize the printing of new copies'.

Hitler dictated the book whilst in prison in Bavaria in 1923, which outlines a doctrine of German racial supremacy. Mein Kamph was published in Germany in 1925. It became a standard text in German schools after Hitler won power in 1933.

Now for the first time since World War Two, there is a call for the reprint of that most 'sensitive' of all books, which many Germans you speak to now hope never existed, by Professor Horst Moeller, director of the Munich Institute of Contemporary History. (You can tell a Geman that his mother is a feminine dog, but never ever mention this thing. It is worse, much worse, than a horribly visible tumour in the most embarrassing parts of his body. We respond with polite silence, but often we want to say, 'We know it was horrible what happenned, but, hey, pass the guilt onto us.')

Professor Horst Moeller argues that 'the existing publishing ban gives the book a dangerous mystique.' The copyright is held by the state of Bavaria, which refuses to authorize the printing of new copies. The copyright, however, expires in 2015, after which anyone will be able to
publish the book. The good professor fears that when that happens, 'You can be sure it will be sold as a sensation.' He calls for the printing of a new annotated academic edition as soon as possible with a critical commentary on the text.

Not surprisingly, Jewish groups object, saying that the book would offend Holocaust survivors and send the wrong signal about Germany. Professor Salomon Korn, the vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany says, "The danger I see is that there could be a misunderstanding ... He is also worried that World War Two survivors might be offended ...