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 ...

Saturday, July 21, 2007

In Malaysia, the Harry Potter shit hits the fan

Guess it was bound to happen. Major bookshop chains in the city have decided to boycott the latest Harry Potter book in the series Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows due to 'unfair' pricing by Tesco and Carrefour hypermarkets. Isn't that simply delicious? Unfair pricing? Well, well, well. Who's talking now? Isn't that exactly what major chains have been doing to independent bookshops all these years? When they sell the latest release of a best-selling author below cost at their four-times-a-year 'warehouse' sales to attract customers, what did they think they were doing? Now they are protesting? Is that rich or what? Does anyone remember how JRR Tolkein's latest book Children of Hurin was sold below cost at a recent warehouse sale even before it was even released to the public.

Talk about poetic justice. Oh, you poor thing ... boo, hoo, hoo ...

I think what has happened with Harry Potter is the best thing for the industry. Time to put the house in order, right? But knowing Malaysians we will be back doing whatever we were doing before long - whinging and whining about everything but not doing anything about anything.

Oh BTW, you may wish to listen to the recent BBC broadcast Hurray for Harry here. You may wish to hear the bit about how "independent bookshops won't be able to make any profit from the publisher's draconian arrangements."

Monday, July 16, 2007

Malaysia bans 14 books

A Bernama report states that The Internal Security Ministry (in their infinite wisdom to protect the impressionable) has banned 14 books (I counted 16) under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 and it was gazetted effective May 31.

"The ministry's Publication and Quranic Text Control Division secretary Che Din Yusoh said some of the books were found to contain facts that deviated from the Islamic teaching to the extent of possibly endangering the moral of readers and causing public disorder.

"He said the rest were banned because they contained explicit sexual descriptions and were not suitable for public reading."

The books are:

1. Al-Kafilah Siapakah Yang Dikatakan Gadis by Mohamad Abdul Hamid
2. Rahsia Di Kamar & Kunci Wanita by Tok Nujum
3. Rahsia Nombor 1 Untuk Wanita II by Tok Nujum
4. Rahsia Kenikmatan Rumahtangga by Tabib Haji Anwar Khan Enterprise
5. Masalah Seksual Lelaki & Rawatan Alternatif by Teguh Ringgit Publishing House
6. Pendidikan Seks Rumahtangga Kemuncak Rahsia Kebahgiaan by Jaafar Salleh
7. Kasih Sayang Sejati Rahsia Menguatkan Tenaga Batin by Jaafar Salleh
8. Teknik Bercumbu dan Berjimak by Jaafar Salleh
9. Onward Muslim Soldier by Robert Spencer
10. Islamic Aesthetics: An Introduction by Oliver Leaman
11. Islamic Fundamentalism Since 1945 by Beverley Milton-Edwards
12. Who Can Be Saved? And World Religions by Terrance L.Tiessen
13. War, Terror & Peace In The Quran And In Islam: Insights For Military & Government Leaders by T. P. Schwartz-Barcott
14. The Qoran: Selected Suras by Arthur Jeffrey
15. The Qur'an by M. A. S. Abdel Haleem
16. The Koran by M. H. Shakir

Cheng ... cheng ... chenggggg.

Isn't it wonderful to know that someone cares so much for us that they are watching out for us? Now, come children, don't argue. They are only doing it for your own good. When you grow up you will thank them for it. Now run along and play. Oh! Is it raining? Okay, you can stay home and watch some scantily-clad girls and their 'gangster' dudes simulate copulation on MTV. Be good now. You can lip sync and dance to the songs if you like.

James Bond rides again (among other things)

Fourteen and fifteen are wonderful ages, if you have James Bond for company. You are horny like hell but still treated like a child. You take a peek at those naughty passages in Lady Chatterley's Lover, Fanny Hill, Kama Sutra and The Perfumed Garden among others, all wrapped in brown paper. (The Carpetbaggers was later.) Unfortunately you can't read them openly because they are all considered 'dirty' books. But James Bond you can. Nothing is explicit, only suggested, and you can let your imagination fly and think you are going to burst every time you come to those parts …

But it was not just about the sex. There was the constant menacing danger (which the movie versions were never able to handle successfully, except of for the music, substituting it instead with action, gadgetry and special effects), the sudden violence, the delicious villains - Rosa Klebb, Pussy Galore, Auric Goldfinger, Dr M, Ernst Stravro Blofeld ... oh, so many. In Dr No a poisonous centipede (in the movie it was a tarantula - how predictable) crawls all over Bonds naked torso in bed (yes, he sleeps in the raw), you are beside yourself with fear on where it might bite or where it might nuzzle up, now it is crawling all over your own skin, 100 legs and a deadly venom (yikes, I still get the creeps when I think of it … if I can remember that scene from the book after 45 years, it must have been some scene yah?) Cheesy as the Bond series was, it was damn good story telling.

And the quotes (Goldfinger was a master at that):

JB: Do you expect me to talk?
AG: No Mr Bond, I expect you to die.

Or how about this one, probably the most famous quote of them all?

AG: "In Chicago, Mr Bond, they have a saying: once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, the third time is enemy action.

(Makes you wonder what kind of kick fourteen-year-olds get out of Harry Potter these days, doesn't it?)

Anyway James Bond is back (again). But this time Sebastian Faulks will write it. I was not too excited by the previous efforts, but his one is something I am looking forward to. It should be good (as long as SF does not take himself too seriously.)

Sebastian Faulks has been commissioned by the Fleming estate to write this sequel to commemorate the centenary of Fleming's birth. Devil May Care, will be published May 2008.

[Others commissioned by Fleming's estate to resurrect Bond have been: Kingsley Amis (Colonel Sun), John Pearson, John Gardner and Raymond Benson (The Man with the Red Tattoo), all pretty forgettable efforts.]

More than 100m copies of Fleming's 14 original Bond novels have been sold since Casino Royale was published in 1954.

Full report:,,2123271,00.html

The coolest wizard of them all

Guardian Unlimited reports that Ian McKellen as Gandalf has been voted the UK's favourite film wizard. Yay! He received 44% of the vote in a poll of 3000 movie fans. Must be that beard.

Prof Albus Dumbledore was next with 17% of the votes, though I wonder if it was for Richard Harris or Sir Michael John Gambon that the votes went. I would have voted for Richard Harris.

Harry Potter came in a lame third with 9%. Look, the rules are simple. If you want to be taken seriously as a wizard grow a beard and make sure it is white. It doesn't matter if the wizard is a Brit, Indian or Chinese. The same rules apply.

The full list:

1. Gandalf (The Lord Of The Rings) 44%
2. Dumbledore (Harry Potter) 17%
3. Harry Potter (Harry Potter) 9%
4. Merlin (The Sword in the Stone) 6%
5. The Wizard of Oz (The Wizard of Oz) 2%

Full story:,,2122097,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=10

In an unrelated story The New York Times says that "Potter Has Limited Effect on Reading Habits".

Full story:

Monday, July 02, 2007

Are book groups killing reading?

From The Herald.

That's an interesting one. We always thought bookclubs promoted reading. They got people to buy books, read them, discuss them with friends and elevate their conversations to a slightly higher level than television watchers. Of course, there are wide ranges of bookclubs, even in a small city like Kuala Lumpur. Some are gatherings of like minded friends meeting once a month to discuss something more interesting than the next contestant to be eliminated from American Idol (duhhh…), some focus on certain types of subjects the members would like to know about, then there are those exclusive by-recommendation-and-personal-invitation-only type, and many in between. All in all, bookclubs have had pretty good press.

Then came Oprah, and with her a host of others, and with them the bookclub went mainstream and became industry. It has now become another cynical marketing by giant publishers with huge resources. Now everyone who watches Oprah must have 'her' book on his/her shelf (in the living room presumably, where everyone can see the book) mostly unread. Yes, the question has been raised: does Oprah even read 'her' books, or does she base her choice purely on reviews done by her staff or, worse still, publishers' lobbies? I would pose the same question to Richard and Judy. According to the report, apart from the 'homogenisation of our reading culture' by reducing the choices available to the reader, it promotes one 'driven by social desperation more than by a love of literature'. It appears that reading is now more and more being dictated by a tiny minority. But still, there is the joy of sharing with friends a newly discovered obscure gem. We don't see this new kind of bookclub involving the TV, radio, the internet and the newspapers usurping the role of the less formal meetings at homes, in libraries and coffee houses.

The bookclub is dead. Long live the bookclub.

Full story:

And now for the 'Carnegie of Carnegies'

From the Guardian Unlimited

Philip Pullman has won the poll to choose book lovers' favourite winner from the Carnegie medal's 70-year history. Pullman's Northern Lights (Carnegie winner 1995) beat off all competition from other previous Carnegie winners to win the Carnegie of Carnegies.

The report says that in an online public poll Pullman took 40% of the total votes cast and also received the highest number of votes from overseas - a total of 36% from North America, Europe, Asia and Australia combined. His books have been translated into 37 languages and have sold over 12m copies worldwide.

The "Carnegie of Carnegies" celebrates the 70th birthday of the medal. For the annual Carnagie librarians across UK nominate titles for the longlist. For the "all time" award a list of 10 previous winners were offered for the online poll by a group of 'experts'.

Northern Lights is the first in Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. In 2001 The Amber Spyglass, the final book in the series, became the first children's prize winner to take the overall Book of the Year Whitbread award.

The following 10 Carnegie Medal Winners were in contention. (This is a good place to start if you have always wanted to get into children's books, but you were afraid to ask.)

Skellig David Almond (1998)
Junk Melvin Burgess (1996)
Storm Kevin Crossley-Holland (1985)
A Gathering Light Jennifer Donnelly (2003)
The Owl Service Alan Garner (1967)
The Family From One End Street Eve Garnett (1937)
The Borrowers Mary Norton (1952)
Tom's Midnight Garden Philippa Pearce (1958)
Northern Lights Philip Pullman (1995)

Full story:,,2108541,00.html

Writers write as Iraq crumbles

From The Daily Star in Lebanon.

A slew of new novels ranging from philosophical treatise to magical realism, and racked throughout with humor, are emerging from Iraq in the form of first-time translations into English. It appears that while politicians are tearing the country apart, its literature is trying desperately to hold it together. (We have not read any of these books, but it looks like we will be looking out for them. If anyone of you have, perhaps you would like to post a brief review?)

Poet and filmmaker Sinan Antoon's novel I'jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody is said to be about a young student thrown into solitary confinement for ridiculing Saddam Hussein. Then in September, we will see the The Loved Ones by Alia Mamdouh, known for her daring portrayals of female sexuality.

Saqi Books (Silverfish has a range of pretty interesting titles from this independent publisher) and the American University in Cairo Press have reportedly published three very different novels that delve into the complexity of the Iraqi experience. 'From Baghdad to Bedlam by Maged Kadar is described as less a full novel than a memoir, but the twists and turns of Kadar's life are so surreal that his story reads, most of the time, like riveting fiction. In Basrayatha: Portrait of a City, writer Mohammed Khudayyir apparently creates an imaginative twin to match the city of Basra. "None of us can imagine a city without a storyteller or a storyteller without a rostrum," is a line from the book. The Last of the Angels by Fadhil al-Azzawi is described as more experimental and is set in the city of Kirkuk, Saddam Hussein's hometown.

Full story: