Thursday, December 02, 2010

Silverfish Writing Programme - new intake

It has been quite some time since we last ran this programme. (We have been a little busy and we also wanted to rethink the individual modules.) To those who have been writing to us to inquire about our next intake (and there have been quite a few of you), please note that the next programme will begin on Saturday, 15th January 2011, at Silverfish Books in Jalan Telawi, Bangsar. The programme will be revamped to include different modules and exercises.

The proof of a writing programme (or any other) is in the results. The aim is to discover serious writers, not those looking for magic solutions or pills. Not everyone will be interested in getting published (a surprising many aren't) but most are interested in writing well, be it for pleasure, to entertain friends or even  therapy -- fiction or non-fiction. Writing is hard work, but there is a method to the madness. We prefer not to call it a creative writing course for a reason;  we do not believe that's what it’s all about. It is about telling stories in  written form, about engaging your reader and about being relevant. There is absolutely no reason an author living in Malaysia cannot be world class, as Shih-Li Kow has proved.

Registration (with full payment) can be done either in person at Silverfish Books at 58-1, Jalan Telawi, Bangsar Baru, Kuala Lumpur, or online at our website. (There is a link on the home page, Fees for the entire ten-week programme will be RM1000.00, but there will be 10% early-bird discount for those who register before the 1st of January 2011. Please bring a laptop if you have one, and you find it easier to write on one. Otherwise, simply bring a good pen.

Read more about the programme ...

Silverfish Writing Programme

Does publishing need the Silicon Valley way?

Publishing used to be a simple straight forward affair: get your author, edit, proofread, do the layout, design the cover, choose your paper, send it off the the printer, and pray. But things have become complicated, so complicated that there doesn’t seem to be a publisher in the world who seems to know what’s going on. Ebooks, agency models, self publishing, POD, Google editions, dead-tree editions, e-readers, tablet computers, smart phones, etc., are all conspiring to make the world an unsafe place. And with so many of them being incompatible with one another, every one seems to have an opinion, including tech magazines.

In his story, Why book publishing needs the Silicon Valley way in Computer World, Mike Egan argues why, “Book publishing would thrive by working more like the technology industry .”

“The book publishing industry is in trouble. Book sales are declining, and the quality of books is in a precipitous freefall. The reason is that the industry is clinging to an obsolete business model. And the whole process of discovering new talent is broken beyond repair,” he says in the first paragraph.

Is the book industry in trouble? I guess it is, except for those still whistling in the dark. Book sales are declining. But are the quality of books in freefall? Although I wonder sometimes why some books get published, I am not sure I agree with that. The industry is clinging to an obsolete model. Agreed. And the whole process of finding new talent is certainly broken; and it’s about time publishers got rid of those agents and started doing their jobs.

It is a strange piece but he has some interesting points. “Browsing a bookstore is like picking through trash in a garbage dump looking for something of value. Meanwhile, entire generations of brilliant authors never get the investment necessary to enter the system.”

The first point is true. Entire generations of brilliant authors being ignored? True, publishers often make appalling decisions but Egan has, obviously, never been a publisher: reading through manuscripts is not much different from browsing a bookstore, and far more painful. There are very few gems in there.

Computer World

Social reading

Martyn Daniels asks in his blog Brave New World, So What Is Social Reading? “... (social reading) is somewhat of a challenge to understand and some would suggest nonsensical because of the multiple interpretations that can be applied.”

When I was much younger, reading was, indeed, a social activity, as much as music was. We didn’t read aloud to one another, but we shared books (just as we shared records.) “This is very good,” was all the recommendation that was required. The challenge was to find new books, new authors, and new genres, before your friends. Now that I run a bookshop, reading remains a social activity: we recommend books to our customers, and they suggest books to us.

I Googled the term and got 208,000 hits, though not all relevant. This story caught my eye: “Goodreads has opened its API that will give partners free access to the book lovers' social network and the book reviews, meta data, and literary discussions ... Developers using the API can pull Goodreads ratings for over 2 million different titles and reviews for over 500,000 titles. Goodreads has more than 4 million members and more than 110 million books cataloged. While other online stores may offer customer book reviews, Goodreads members are (not surprisingly) active with their review contributions,” said the ReadWrite Hack.

Digital Book World said, “Americans spend nearly a quarter of their time online on social networking sites and blogs, according to the latest Nielsen research, and the most conservative estimates predict eBooks will represent at least 10% of book sales by the end of the year,” which does raise questions about the average American’s time management (or boredom), and the rather optimistic (or wishful) ebook sales forecast. (After 10 years, digital music downloads account for only 10%).

As Enhanced Ebook University website says, “Books are social. It’s rare to meet someone who reads and doesn’t care to tell anyone what he’s read.”

Since we are such suckers for buzz words, expect to hear the term more often.

Brave New World
Digital Book World
Enhanced Ebook University

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Is Amazon stock a bubble?

When the bubbles burst in March 2000, it did feel as if Amazon got a get-out-of-jail-free card. Why is this company such a darling? How does it make money by giving aways its profits in massive discounts? Is the Kindle on its way to becoming the world’s most famous shelf-ware? How long can it go on defying gravity? And, the answer to that question seems, “Forever.”

It appears as if no one was willing to say, “The Emperor has no clothes.” Andy M Zaky, a contributor to Fortune, writes: ‘The online retailer's shares are valued at more than three times Apple's and more than two times Google's. And there's no reason why.’

He continues: ‘Whenever a stock can potentially drop 50% and still be considered overvalued, that's when you know the stock is a bubble. Amazon (AMZN) far surpassed bubble territory ages ago but investors still continue to plunge billions of dollars into the company. If the stock were to crash to $80 a share today from $164, it would still be trading at a significantly richer valuation than Google (GOOG), Apple (AAPL) or even Research in Motion (RIMM).”

Zaky doesn’t think it makes any sense, considering that both Amazon’s top (growth) and bottom line (profits) have underperformed compared to Apple, Google and RIM. ‘A company can always reduce costs and improve margins to move more of its revenue to the bottom line, but the hard part is actually producing, marketing and selling a product that people want to buy,’ he says. In other words, business is still about business.

‘When RIM was trading at $150 a share, sophisticated investors knew the stock was a bubble. This case is no different. There is no matter of 'if' in this analysis. It's a matter of 'when.' Amazon will lose 50% of its value over the coming years. At $150-$160 a share, investors are flirting with financial suicide,’ he concludes.

Read the whole story


Bouqinistes of Seine-side sell cheap tourist trinkets

We all know how the French protect their independent booksellers and treat them like vintage wine. In Paris, Seine-side booksellers, known as bouqinistes, have existed in the city for 300 years and are a tourist attraction for book lovers from all over the world. They are famous for selling everything, from ancient editions of books to secondhand contemporary novels, engravings and prints, magazines, collector’s stamps and antique postcards. The city hall gives them their lots for free and they are exempted from paying taxes, in return for which they have to follow certain rules: they must sell books in three out of the four boxes in their area. The city hall says they have a duty to preserve a cultural heritage.

So, imagine the horror of the authorities when they discovered these shops selling cheap tourist souvenirs (surreptitiously) to augment their income. The problem is that they are located in tourist areas and most of the tourists don’t read French, and plastic Eiffel Towers sell better than used books.

Twenty odd booksellers waged war with established bookseller, in 1620 to be allowed to sell their books under the bridge. It was during the French Revolution that these became a permanent feature. Napoleon 1 allowed these bouqinistes to spread out from Quai Voltaire to the Pont Saint-Michel, but they were not to sell anything “immoral.” Napoleon III allowed them to install boxes filled with books on the parapets of the quays on the Left Bank, and city hall handed out permits each year.

Today, there are 216 bouquinistes along the Seine selling 400,000 books, and the city hall warned 40 of them to stop selling tourist trinkets. The city currently has 100 applications for 22 lots remaining; obviously there is still a demand for selling books by the Seine -- with or without plastic Eiffel Towers.

Read full report

Publishing Perspectives

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Do you really own the ebook you just bought?

A report says that a recent appeals court decision in the US suggests that “software makers can use shrink-wrap and click-wrap licenses to forbid the transfer or resale of their wares.” What that implies is that just because you bought it, it does not mean you own it.

How does this apply on a book? When you buy a physical book (that is, the dead tree variety), you own it, right? You can resell it as a second-hand copy, or a collector’s item (if it is rare or a first edition), put it in a library where people can borrow it, or even sell it at ‘remaindered’ bookshop. For one thing, a certain amount of physical deterioration is taken for granted, and collectors are known to spend an enormous amount of money to acquire rare books.

But in the case of ebooks, who owns it? Can one resell it? College students who can ill afford the price of new text books thrive on the used book trade. Often it does not matter if it is not the current edition. Will they be allowed to borrow them from libraries?

Says Greg Beck, the defense attorney in the case who represented an eBay seller sued by Autodesk, “The other ramification, there is no reason a similar license could not be put into the cover of a book. It wouldn’t be difficult for everybody to implement this.”

Not surprisingly, the American Library Association argued against it saying, “It feared that the software industry’s licensing practices could be adopted by other copyright owners, including book publishers, record labels and movie studios.”
Scary, isn’t it?

The most unwanted authors

A report in the Telegraph says that “givers donated more Dan Brown books to Oxfam than any other author”. Copies of The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons topped the list of unwanted books that were given away to the charity. (Of course, it is entirely possible that sometimes people do give away their favourite books as well.)

(The story is also interesting in that it has links to several websites with heading like: Dan Brown: 50 factual errors, Dan Brown’s 20 worst sentences, and others.)

The top ten are:

1.Dan Brown
2.Ian Rankin
3.Patricia Cornwell
4.Alexander McCall Smith
5.John Grisham
6.Danielle Steel
7.JK Rowling
8.Jeremy Clarkson
9.Maeve Binchy
10.Bill Bryson (New

The report says that, “The survey gathers information from the charity's network of 686 shops ... Oxfam is Europe's biggest high street retailer of second-hand books and the third-biggest bookseller in the UK ... The charity sells £1.6 million of books a month, enough to pay for 64,000 goats or 800,000 bags of seeds, or provide safe water for 1.7 million people.”

There is no mention if Oxfam will be accepting ebook donations.

The Telegraph

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Opening an indie bookshop

Ever since Silverfish opened its doors, I have had dozens of people walk in and say how they too have always wished they could open a bookshop and goyang kaki. (One customer even said we had stolen her name -- to which another said that “Termite Books” was still availalble.) Some ask for advice, and I give them the best advice I got from Thor of Skoob Books: don’t expect to make much money.

But if there are some of you who are still thinking of opening a bookshop, you could do worse than read this story by Robert Gray in Shelf-awareness of his interview with: ‘Donna Paz Kaufman and Mark Kaufman--of Paz & Associates: The Bookstore Training & Consulting Group--who facilitate a workshop retreat, Opening a Bookstore: The Business Essentials, and partner with the American Booksellers Association to provide training for people interested in entering retail bookselling.’

Gray quotes the Kaufman: "Our goal ... is to reach prospective store owners early in the decision-making process, so that they're on the right track from the moment they open their doors rather than having to dig themselves out of a hole."

“"Before the advent of the 'information age,' we suspect that many booksellers opened stores with a Field of Dreams attitude--if you build it, they will come. With a great deal at stake, our trainees realize how much they don't know; they see the number of indie bookstores that have gone out of business and want to know why ...”


The Wankh award

Yes, you are right. It is what you think it is, but it is not named after what you think.

The Guardian is inviting nominations. The story says: ‘The Wankh awards shall be named in honour of that classic of science-fiction, Jack Vance's Servants of the Wankh. The 1969 novel, the second in Vance's Tschai quartet, has had to battle a barrage of titters over the past half-century, thanks to its title. In Vance's world, the Wankh are one of four warring races who inhabit a distant planet. In the Britain of saucy postcards, Carry On movies and Benny Hill, they are a cause for such hilarity that later editions were edited to change the titular alien race to "Wannek".’

The award is for the smuttiest title and works of fiction. Some examples are given for this Guardian award: Drummer Dick's Discharge and Shag: The Story of a Dog. Fanny Hill and Moby Dick are considered obvious, so look for something creative. It does not say if they will be giving out a prize every year. Anyway, follow the link below and see if I have missed it.

The Guardian

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Kama Sutra audio book

Word has it that the Kama Sutra has one basic flaw: it is impossible to try the variation suggested while reading the book at the same time. Now a British publisher has solved the problem by releasing an audiobook of the famous 1600-year-old Indian sex manual. No more turning pages as you get on with the 64 ways of making love. The audio book cost GBP 8.99 per download.

The book was first translated into English in 1883 by Richard Burton, and has been enhanced in many forms by creative publishers since. In 2003 it was published as a pop-up book, and, in 2006, as an "idiot's guide" -- the former being infinitely more interesting.

One presumes the download will be available internationally. Perhaps, in the spirit of good citizenship, and to avoid nasty accidents, the publishers should package it with an idiots guide to British pronunciations and accents. You know what the Brits mean by "ass".

The Guardian

What motivates a book buyer

Arielle Ford writes in the Huffington Post of how she asked her online friends how they chose their next book. This is what she found out:

1    I am in a few book clubs
2    I always buy my favorite authors' books the day they come out
3    I read newspaper book reviews
4    My friends recommend books
5    I just go to the bookstore and see what jumps out at me
6    I go by recommendations from magazines, emails and newsletters
7    I am attracted to them by their title, and story summaries, and eye appealing artwork
8    I am a back cover kind of gal! If it reads well, I buy it
9    At my local bookstore, I read the shelf talkers (written by the staff) on which books they enjoyed and why
10    I'm influenced by cross-promotion campaigns, like Amazon's, where they keep track of book reviews I write and leave on their site, and so I get emails promoting new books coming out in that genre.

Huffington Post

So many books ...

129 million books

As of Sunday, 1 August 2010, Google says there are 129,864,880 books in the world. Boy, is that mind blowing, not to mention humbling. Talk about too little time.

In the story, Books of the world, stand up and be counted!, software engineer, Leonid Taycher, says, ‘Well, it all depends on what exactly you mean by a “book.” We’re not going to count what library scientists call “works,” those elusive "distinct intellectual or artistic creations.” It makes sense to consider all editions of “Hamlet” separately, as we would like to distinguish between -- and scan -- books containing, for example, different forewords and commentaries.”

So how did Google come up with the number? They considered ISBN’s to be an unreliable guide. For one, ISBNs only came into existence in the 60s (even I have several books without those) and were widely adopted only a decade later, and that, too, in the Western world. Many books not meant for commercial distribution, and from other parts of the world, do not bother with it. The story says, ‘... they have been used in nonstandard ways. They have sometimes been assigned to multiple books: we’ve seen anywhere from two to 1,500 books assigned the same ISBN. They are also often assigned to things other than books.’

Collecting data

Anyway, to get to the point, Google collected data from over 150 sources like libraries, WorldCat, national union catalogs and commercial providers, to obtain over one billion raw unique data, analysed it for duplication and arrived at a number around 600 million.

Then using further analysis of redundancies and duplication -- sometimes the same book had more than one publisher, or were published under several titles, or even libraries holding multiple copies of the same book, all with unique records -- The number was whittled down to 210 million.

Then, the story continues, ‘We still have to exclude non-books such as microforms (8 million), audio recordings (4.5 million), videos (2 million), maps (another 2 million), t-shirts with ISBNs (about one thousand), turkey probes (1, added to a library catalog as an April Fools joke), and other items for which we receive catalog entries.’ So counting only products between two covers, Google arrived at 146 million.

Then removing duplicates found as a result of numbering the same publication differently (like series and government documents) the final number arrived at (as of Sunday, 1 August) was 129, 864, 880 and counting! So now we can plan our reading.

Google blogspot

Monday, August 02, 2010

Author does not want copyright back

Alan Moore the writer of celebrated graphic novel (aka comics), Watchmen, does not want his copyright back, according to a report in The story says: “Visionary writer Alan Moore claims that … DC Comics made him an astounding offer that only he could refuse.”

“They offered me the rights to Watchmen back, if I would agree to some dopey prequels and sequels,” the comics legend told

“So I just told them that if they said that 10 years ago, when I asked them for that, then yeah it might have worked,” he said. “But these days I don’t want Watchmen back. Certainly, I don’t want it back under those kinds of terms.”

The Watchman has been regarded as ‘the most groundbreaking graphic novels in history’ and with some ‘unimpressive, and often terrible, movies’. Moore has even ‘demanded removal of his name from any film adaptations of his comics, and even refused royalties’ said the report.

“I don’t even have a copy of Watchmen in the house anymore,” he said. “The comics world has lots of unpleasant connections, when I think back over it, many of them to do with Watchmen.”

Magazines bypass dead-tree editions

A report says that, fuelled by the iPad, several magazines are going directly into digital.

“While some publishers eye the Apple iPad hopefully as way of migrating the print experience into a rich, multimedia domain as never before, others are already leaping over paper entirely to reach new readers with original digital publications.” says the report.

In one of the latest developments, Virgin (owned by Richard Branson) has announced plans to launch its first consumer magazine on the Apple tablet without a companion print (Kindle or web) edition. Called the Maverick magazine it include actual articles rather than promotions, Virgin says. Maverick will launch in the beginning of October

“By Branson’s logic, the publishers of print magazines cannot price their digital versions low enough, because they don’t want to compete with their higher-priced print editions,” whereas he can price his very low because he does not have the overheads of a print edition. The selling price for the Maverick has not been announced yet.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Waterstone's for sale?

A story in the Daily Mail says that Simon Fox, chief executive of retailer HMV, has indicated that he would consider selling the Waterstone's book chain, though he said its disappearance would be 'tragic', in an interview with Financial Mail following the company's results. Waterstone's barely made a profit in the year up to April.

He said, "Clearly making less than £3 million profit on sales of over £500 million is not a good place to be. But I'm optimistic that the new strategy will continue to bear fruit." However, he admitted that he would consider anything that could "enhance shareholder value". Adding, "If anyone came along with a large bag of money for any part of the business, we would take that very seriously. But that is not the case."

The HMV group, with Waterstone, is the last major book retailer in the UK (after it acquired Dillons and Ottakar's) with other rivals such as Borders and Books Etc having collapsed. Waterstone's has struggled to compete with online rivals like Amazon.

No announcements about selling groceries, though.

Daily Mail

Amazon now sells groceries

A MacWorld report says, “ has launched a grocery delivery service in the U.K., following the recent kickoff of a similar service in Germany.”

Is this a sign of the times, or what? Last year there was a report of Borders selling children’s “educational” toys. Guess, if Tesco can sell books, why can’t Amazon sell salt and sugar? After all, they are both considered FMCGs -- fast moving consumer goods -- by the industry. Their competitors in UK are Tesco, Sainsburys and Waitrose that have overnight delivery services.

Amazon is reported to have 22,000 products in their grocery store, ranging from cleaning products to fresh fruit to beer and pet food. Customers have two options for delivery. For an annual fee of GBP49.00, customers can subscribe to Amazon's Prime membership, where an unlimited number of items can be delivered free.

Another option is Free Super Saver delivery, which takes between three to five days after items are dispatched, according to's website. Delivery time can be more if customers decide to consolidate their items into one shipment.

For fresh items, third party vendors offering those items on the site's Marketplace will be responsible for shipping. For one example, a two-pound bag of cooked king prawns from vendor The Fish Society will be delivered by courier within a day after the purchaser arranges a delivery time. The cost of delivery is listed as GBP5.21. A four-pack Banana King Granny Smith apples, which retails for GBP1.39 had a shipping cost of GBP 7.50.

Amazon has run a grocery service in the U.S. since July 2006


History of chocolate

This is not quite literary news, but what the heck.

Chocolate, a Mexican drink, is generally considered to be introduced to Europe in 1550, with July 7 declared Chocolate Day, the day the new world conquered the old. Cacao cultivation in Mexico, Central and South America dates back to at least 1250 BC according to archaeologists. The Mayans grew cacao trees in their backyards and brewed ceremonial drinks with it. In the fifth century, Aztecs drank xocoatl (bitter water) flavored with vanilla and chili pepper. (So the new fangled chili flavoured ones, one buys in Europe these days is nothing new!) The bean also served as legal currency in Aztec society. For example, one could buy a turkey for 100 cacao beans.

Then in 1504, Christopher Columbus (may have) brought cacao beans to Spain during his fourth and final voyage to the Americas. Hernan Cortes, the Spanish conquistador who subdued Mexico (with guns, germs and steel), wrote in 1519 that chocolate is “the divine drink which builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink permits a man to walk for a whole day without food.” (Surely, many will agree with that.) He brought the cacao beans and chocolate-brewing apparatus back to Spain when he returned in 1528.

Hot chocolate became very popular with the French royalty after Marie Therese married Louis XIV in 1660. Courtiers at the Palace of Versailles, regarded the drink as an aphrodisiac. London’s first chocolate house opened in 1657. British confectioners figured out how to add sugar and cocoa butter to create a paste that could be packaged as “eating chocolate.”

The rest is history.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

This book video is awesome

This has to be the best video to promote reading I have seen. Commissioned by the New Zealand Book Council (a not-for-profit organization that serves to promote more reading, foster a love of books and promote New Zealand authors) and produced by Anderson M Studio, this two-minute animation has won two Film Craft Lions awards at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival.

This is not computer generated work. It uses paper cutting -- cutouts and pop-ups -- and stop-motion animation. It is superb. Just watch it. The video is called Going West by New Zealand author Maurice Gee.

The New Zealand Book Ccoincils’s mission statement reads: “Bringing books and people together. Like no other human activity, reading opens up our imagination. It enables us to understand those around us. It allows us to project the future and reach back into the past. Readingcan entertain, challenge and educate. We believe that reading can transform people’s lives.”

Doing a darn good job, I must say. Congratulations.

Publishing Perspectives

Stephen Hawking’s new book

When Stephen Hawkings’ first book on popular science, A Brief History of Time, was published on 1988, I remember I acquired it by mail order from the Good Book Guide. No apologies given, I am a nerd and I love mathematics and physics. (Call me names if you want). It was an idiot’s guide to stuff like black holes, the Big Bang and light cones. Still, it was for very clever idiots who already had some grounding on some of the theory. It reportedly sold nine million copies, though it is questionable if all those who bought it read the book from cover to cover. It also made it to several best seller lists. Nice way to impress chicks, though. (I think it was after that that science books became popular, including Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything.)

A new book by Hawking (coauthored by Leonard Mlodinow), The Grand Design, is scheduled for release in September by Bantam Dell, and is reported to be on the "the ultimate mysteries of the universe." I will probably preorder it. The authors say, 'we are very close to understanding not just of the workings of our universe, but of its very beginnings’ as they work their way toward the unified theory, the one theory that explains it all, the holy grail of all science.

As for the battle between religion and science, Hawkings had this to say in an interview with ABC News' Diane Sawyer in June of this year, "There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works."

Media Bistro

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Independent bookshops celebrate

Mega bookstores are reeling in the economic downturn, but independents are celebrating with increased sales and more outlets. A Morning Star Online report says, “Around 100 new outlets have opened in the past two years, with the sector reporting a one percent rise in sales even though consumer spending on books is down.” Yesss!

A quote: Meryl Halls from the Bookseller Association said: "Successful independent booksellers are bucking the trends on the high street by offering their local communities the sort of service that sets these shops apart and making their position in their local village, town, city or suburb integral to that community.”

UK has 1200 independent bookstores, but they are “Holding their own,” says a Guardian report on the Independent Booksellers Week

Interesting things are happening in the Klang Valley, too. I've heard of two new independents opening for business -- Bookalicious at The Summit in USJ and another called the Book Warehouse in Subang Jaya. Both appear to be set up to give Book Xcess a run for the money. I have only been to the former. The shop is quite pleasantly laid out (without hundreds of copies of the same title on several shelves) selling a mixture of remainders and current titles. Their focus, currently, appears to be on bestsellers and children’s, with some books in  Chinese. I am sure more independents will be opening soon. The remainder business is easy to get into and does not require much book knowledge, although if one has some it will be a boost, but with major publishers re-looking at their business models, this might not last very long.

(Book publishers and distributors appear to be the only major business people who are intent on slitting their own throats. Ten years ago, books not sold would be pulped so as not to ‘spoil’ the market. Now, they kill their own golden goose by ‘remaindering’, selling them cheaply to third parties, who then flood the market with them, destroying it.)

I heard a rumour recently that Borders (Malaysia) is up for sale. Any truth in that?

Morning Star
The Guardian

Foyles’ new bookshop

I don’t believe there is another bookshop in the world with customers like those of Foyles. A Mecca for book lovers from all over the world, the 107 year old bookstore on Charing Cross Road is Europe’s largest, with over 200,000 titles over five floors.

I still remember my first visit -- pilgrimage? -- in the early eighties (after having listened to its glories for decades). I remember this humungous bookstore (by the standard of those days) with rows and rows of dusty shelves packed to the ceiling with books. How will they find anything here, I thought? Still, I asked, “Do you have a copy of The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross by John ...” “Yep,” the salesperson said before I could finish, and disappeared behind the wooden shelves, for a moment, and re-emerged with the book I wanted. I was impressed. (Foyles underwent a full refurbishment following the death of Christina Foyle in 1999. This was completed in 2004, and re-established it as London’s leading bookshop.)

Foyles is currently celebrating record sales figures. The company, which is still owned independently by the Foyle family, opened its first branch in 2005 at the Royal Festival Hall. Selfridges followed in 2007 and 2008 with the opening of two stores at St Pancras International and Westfield White City. It is now looking for a new site.

Foyles claim to employ more than 80 expert booksellers ‘who will be happy to offer any help or advice ...’

This is London.

David Davidar quits Penguin Canada

The book world is abuzz with the news of David Davidar quitting Penguin Canada. This former poster boy of Indian publishing -- he founded and developed Penguin India from a basement office in South Delhi to the top of the country’s publishing in English -- plans to returned to India to focus on his writing, the Times of India says. The author of bestselling novels The House of Blue Mangoes ( that I tossed aside after reading 50 pages) and The Solitude of Emperors (which I did not bother to read) was appointed president of Penguin Canada in 2004.

News emerging from Canada, however, gives the story a slightly different spin. Publisher’s Weekly says of the ‘surprise resignation’: “... the company issued a statement Friday afternoon announcing that Penguin’s former rights and contracts director Lisa Rundle charged Davidar with sexual harassment in an action yesterday. The statement added that Davidar was asked to leave the company last month, and while it had been unclear just when Davidar’s resignation, announced Tuesday, would become effective, Penguin said he will have no further involvement with the company.”

Rundle has also file ‘wrongful termination’ charges against Penguin, claiming damages of $423,000.

However, more sordid details emerge from The Globe and Mail.

Ms. Rundle claimed that she was fired for complaining about Mr. Davidar’s “harassing and vexatious behaviour.”

Mr. Davidar said he intends to fight the charges ‘vigorously’.

Last year, he (Davidar) is said to have written (emails) that he “could do very little except think of [Ms. Rundle],” that she was “utterly gorgeous,” “a vision in pink sipping a champagne cocktail,” and that she should not be “stubborn” or “fight” him.

(According to the claim), Mr. Davidar appeared at Ms. Rundle’s hotel room door (in Frankfurt), “wearing excessive cologne, with buttons on his shirt undone down his waist.”

Ms. Rundle claims she climbed on a windowsill to avoid her boss and again asked him to leave. “He forcibly pulled her off the ledge and grabbed her by the wrists, forcing his tongue into her mouth,” says a source.


The Globe and the Mail

Publisher’s Weekly

Times of India

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The future of magazines

Is the Wired Magazine’s iPad Edition the way forward for magazines? Editor-in-Chief, Chris Anderson says that it is ironic “that Wired, a magazine founded to chronicle the digital revolution, has traditionally come ... each month on the smooshed atoms of dead trees” and that it “is not lost on us”. Until now, that is. He adds, “We have always made our stories accessible online at, but as successful as the site is, it is not a magazine ... The tablet is our opportunity to make the Wired we always dreamed of.”

While acknowledging the 'wow' factor, many comments on the site balk at the USD4.99 price per issue. But that did not stop the download of 24,000 copies in the first 24 hours, or 17 copies a minute. (The Business Insider had initially estimated that 2500-3000 copies of the e-magazine would be sold.) Wired sells over 87,000 copies at newsstands and 632,000 by subscription. (Incidentally, Apple has announced that 2 million iPads were sold in less than 60 day since the launch.) No subscription model for the digital version has been announced yet.

According to, some of the innovative features include:

1. Every page in the issue is individually designed for optimal viewing on the iPad screen in both portrait or landscape orientation.

2. Content organized in vertical stacks rather than magazine-like spreads.

3. Animated 360° images show readers every side of Iron Man and let them explore the history of Mars landings.

4. Unique slide shows take readers through multiple views using touch for image progression.

5. Four editorial videos including an exclusive clip from Toy Story 3. All video is embedded into the app allowing for automatic load, display in HD and access without a connection.

6. Music to enhance storytelling, including an exclusive listen inside Trent Reznor’s recording studio.

7. Enhanced advertising. Nine advertisers have taken advantage of premium sponsorships in Wired’s June digital edition, allowing them to incorporate interactivity and enhancements including 360ยบ images, slide shows and videos.

Kindle fails college test

Rik Myslewski writes in The Register that, “According to a report by The Seattle Times, the USD489, 18.9 ounce (0.54kg) Kindle DX, with its 9.7-inch monochrome e-ink display, is getting bad grades from college students.”

The survey found that: “80 per cent of MBA students at the University of Viginia said they wouldn't recommend the Kindle DX as a study aid — but 90 per cent enjoyed using it to read for pleasure.”

Amazon distributed Kindle DXs to students at a number of US colleges, and found that the way students use textbooks, traditional hard-copy is more usable because it is easier to thumb through, search, and scribble on it than on an ebook. (Typically, college students will have several books open at the same time when working on a paper, something the Kindle would be woefully inadequate to handle.)

According to he Seattle Times, some students “liked the Kindle DX's long battery life and portability, along with the fact that putting a book on it doesn't require the death of a tree. However, they weren't jazzed by the inability to scribble notes onto or easily highlight snippets, nor did they appreciate the lack of color in an ebook's charts and graphics.”

So, how will the iPad fare on campuses then? Methinks, while research is not what it will be used for, it opens up a whole new possibility in textbooks. Imagine a fully interactive medical or engineering book application. It is mind blowing, though it might take a while to get there. Or, not.

One thing is clear. Future publishing lawsuits will be less about copyrights and more about patents.

The Register

Intellectual thieves

Anna Goodal says in The Independent, “Shoplifting in bookshops is on the rise – and you'd be surprised at how literary the thieves' tastes are.” And a book that's popular with the thieves: Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment.

The report says that most bookshops have to write off thousands every year to account for theft. It does look like book thieves have good taste, and one would imagine they would actually read the book and display it on their shelves after that to impress friends -- not so much what they have stolen, but what they have read.

The most stolen books in New York are Bukowski, Kerouac and Burroughs, which could lead to profiling: anyone who still dresses like a 60s hippy might get frisked at the door. The book most lost in London’s larger stores is the A-Z. Thoroughly understandable, that. It is the first thing one needs on landing in the city, and if one doesn’t have money, one steals it. This is closely followed by trade paperbacks.

“In general, though, it is the smaller, "curated" (hah, that’s a nice word) bookshops where you find the more discerning thieves.” the story says. That is, independents. Top books stolen in a bookshop in Hackney are Penguin and Wordsworth classics. A shop in Brick Lane has lost A-Zs and Dostoyevsky.

All this is, of course, completely understandable. A non-reader wouldn’t know what to look for in the first place besides the ‘latest in thing’, which -- even if he nicks it -- will end up in a bin somewhere. But a discerning thief, a reader, is something else. He knows what he wants, and will do everything he can to get it. They are like art thieves.

Remember the scholar book thief of Bodleian Library? (

The Independent

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Humans are cavemen

Women have always said it. Now it is confirmed, only that we are all Neanderthals, including women. After four years of work, the Neanderthal genome has been sequenced, though not quite completely, but sufficient for scientists to compare it with those of homo sapiens, us.

Apparently, according to these early studies, human and Neanderthal genome is almost identical at the protein level, our building blocks, and most people can trace some of their DNA to Neanderthals.

“The Neanderthals are not totally extinct. In some of us they live on a little bit,” says Svante Paabo, evolutionary geneticist at the Max Planck Institute. Cool. And that includes women, too.

A working sequence was assembled from the DNA in the bones of three 38,000-year-old Neanderthal women, found in Croatia’s Vindija Cave. The sequence now covers about 60 per cent of the entire genome. Although incomplete, researchers were able to compare the Neanderthal genome to the human at 14,000 protein-coding gene segments that are different between humans and chimpanzees. Researchers have linked these proteins to changes in humans’ cognitive development, physiology and metabolism.

Researchers also compared the Neanderthal genome to genomes of five people from China, France, Papua New Guinea, southern Africa and western Africa. Among non-Africans, between one and four per cent of all DNA came from Neanderthals. Many studies have suggested a Neanderthal-human inbreeding.

Paabo  gave comfort to people of African descent disappointed that they lack Neanderthal ancestry by saying that they probably had contributions from other archaic humans.

Macmillan faces World Bank ban

We thought this only happened in Malaysia; book publishers sewing up the school text-book market. It is said to be the ‘rice bowl’ of the politically connected, the road to riches. That’s where the market is. Many don’t even have to try to get their books adopted by schools and libraries. The public does not even get to see them, because conventional marketing is too much trouble, and sales unpredictable.

British publisher, Macmillan is facing a six-year ban from taking up any educatioal book contracts financed by the World Bank in Sudan after the publisher admitted to “bribery payments” to secure a deal. Dumb. First of all, never admit. Lie. Lie like hell, even under oath. Second of all, call them “kow-thim” payments. Obviously, the Brits can learn a thing or two about corruption from Malaysians.

The Multi-Donor Trust Fund is run by the World Bank on behalf of international donors for development projects in the African region. Macmillan said it is "deeply shocked" at the discovery, another sign of an amateur, and that it will not tolerate improper behaviour as a company. Right.

The ban has already been reduced from eight years because of the speed with which Macmillan admitted the "corrupt payments", and further reduction could be offered for “cooperation” in getting to the bottom of the affair -- whether that involves a scapegoat is unclear.

Truth is, one would be shocked if there are no bribery payments involved, no?


Author rejects Hollywood

First it was Jonathan Franzen rejecting Oprah, now Victoria Hislop has rejected a USD300,000.00 Hollywood offer to make a movie out of her debut novel, The Island. What ? An epidemic of integrity?

News has it that she has preferred to sell her book, about a leper colony off Crete, to a Greek television network for much less money. Apparently, she was worried how Hollywood would handle the movie. Surely a few singing teapots are harmless, even if they are stupid. How about a high-speed car chase while the British woman traces her ancestry through the island of Spinalonga.

Anyway, the Greek company, Mega, will produce a 26-part series with 300 local actors, probably following her book closely.

The Independent quotes Hislop: "I was simply not happy with the approaches from America. I was worried what might happen to my story and my characters ... I feel much happier ... knowing that the Greeks, who took the book to their hearts, will care about making the series and keep loyally to the plot."

Now, her book will sell, and she will be taken seriously.

The Independent

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Random House’s New Approach in Asia

Random House chairman, Markus Dohle, has named the managing director of Random House Australia, Margie Seale, to explore business opportunities in Southeast and Northern Asia on behalf of Random House worldwide.

Seale takes on these new responsibilities in addition to her existing ones. This is a new effort by Random House to publish in the region after it ended its Japanese joint venture (which started in 2003) in September 2009, and in February divested its four-year ownership of Random House Korea that was established two years earlier.

A statement from Random House says, "we continue to believe in the great publishing and business-development potential in the Asian market for Random House, and Margie is perfectly placed to identify and to advise us about opportunities there for us."

Random House, Inc. is the world's largest English-language general trade book publisher. It has been owned since 1998 by the large German media corporation Bertelsmann. Random House also has a movie production arm, Random House Films, and is currently developing a division responsible for creating story content for media including video games, social networks on the web, mobile platforms, in print and on film.
Interesting to see what they find in Malaysia.

Publisher’s Weekly

Reading as an aphrodisiac

A Daily Mail report says ‘there now a novel way to woo your lover: Read to them in bed’.

Apparently, one can ‘forget the scented candles and silky lingerie. A bedtime story is the perfect aphrodisiac’.

And then it gets even more bizarre. ‘Seven in ten men regularly read to their wives and girlfriends to help them relax before going to sleep, a study found.” On which planet did they carry out that survey?

‘And two in three women say they are more affectionate to a partner who reads aloud in bed.’ So Sufian was right all along: books are great chick magnets. However, one suspects Borges and Cortazar are not what one should be reading to a lover in bed (though they should look great on your table in the mamak shop, wrapped in plastic, of course -- curry stains are so unsexy.).

The study found that the best books in bed for men are Romances (makes sparks fly). Women prefer Romantic classics, travel guides and restaurant reviews (huh?). 81% of Scottish men ‘use the power of words to improve their relationships’, but ‘only 64% in the South-West of England do’.

The survey of 1,000 people was carried out by coffee brand Carte Noire. Maybe Perpustakaan Malaysia (the National Library) would like to carry out a similar survey in Malaysia.

The Daily Mail

US$300,000 library book fine for George Washington

A report in the BBC says that the New York Society Library, the oldest library in the city, has uncovered a “surprising book thief”: George Washington. “The first president of the United States of America borrowed two books from the New York Society Library in 1789 but failed to return them” the report says, or let us say that he is 220 years late.

The library says they will not pursue the fine. Hmmm.

Legend has it that George Washington never told a lie. Obviously, no one asked him about library books. The first president apparently borrowed the two books from the library -- at the time the only library in the city -- on the 5th of October 1789. The two tomes -- Law of Nations, a dissertation on international relations, and a volume of debate transcripts from Britain's House of Commons -- now appear to have vanished.

BBC News

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The most stolen library books

The Scotsman says that "JACQUELINE Wilson has overtaken Harry Potter author JK Rowling as the writer whose books are most stolen from Scotland's libraries." JK Rowling only comes in at No.6, just step one ahead of Edid Blyton. A rather steep fall in just one year. A total of 129,450 books have disappeared from the shelves.

The report sys that "Thieves have instead been taking work by the likes of children's author Wilson, American thriller writer James Patterson and romance novelist Nora Roberts."


1. Jacqueline Wilson
2. SQA school books
3. James Patterson
4. Francesca Simon
5. Nora Roberts
6. JK Rowling
7. Enid Blyton
8. Julia Donaldson
9. Matt Groening
10. Jodi Picoult
11. Stephen King
12. Stephenie Meyer
13. Irvine Welsh
14. Ian Rankin
15.Roald Dahl

The Scotsman

Neuri lit crit

Or, scanning brains to determine why we like to read.

A Guardian report says: "'Neuro lit crit' is the study of how great writing affects the hard wiring inside our heads. But can we decode the artistic impulse?"

"It is the cutting edge of literary studies, a rapidly expanding field that is blending scientific processes with the study of literature and other forms of fiction. Some have dubbed it "the science of reading" and it is shaking up the one of the most esoteric and sometimes impenetrable corners of academia. Forget structuralism or even post-structuralist deconstructionism. "Neuro lit crit" is where it's at."

Or, as the colonel said to the caterpillar: "Hurrmph."

According to the story, 12 students in New England, belonging to a group called the Yale-Haskins Teagle Collegium, headed by Yale literature professor Michael Holquist will, later this year, be given a series of specially designed texts to read. They will then be loaded into a hospital MRI machine and have their brains scanned and mapped to determine their neurological responses.

But do neurological responses of the brain of people who read Marcel Proust, Henry James or Virginia Woolf differ from those who read only newspapers or Harry Potter books? Is there a Darwinian dimension to literature? Did evolution influence literature or did literature influence evolution? "It is hard to interpret fiction without an evolutionary view," says Professor Jonathan Gottschall of Washington and Jefferson College, Pennsylvania.

The Yale-Haskins Teagle Collegium certainly thinks so. Professor Richard Wise, a neuroscientist at Imperial College London says,"Reading is a very hard-wired thing in our brains. There are brain cells that respond to reading and we can study them."

The Guardian

Monday, April 05, 2010

Treasure Island -- the sequel

When I was a child one of my 'favouritest' books was Treasure Island. Perhaps it was that book more than almost any other that convinced me how enjoyable reading could be. As much as I liked Huck Finn, it was all that swashbuckling, drama, danger, hidden treasures and pirates that had my adrenalin flowing. Oh yes, and Long John Silver who is the pirate we have come to compare all other pirates with since. (Come to think of it, the Pirates of the Caribbean series were so lame in comparison -- almost like candy floss.)

News now has it that a "... sequel to the adventure story Treasure Island is being written by the former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion." Sorry about this, but I am really not excited. Why would Andrew Motion even think of writing a sequel to a masterpiece? Maybe they are paying him a lot of money, but does he really need the bread that much, even if it is one of his favourite books and that he wants to create a tale "packed with its own adventure, excitement and pathos"?

Maybe, just maybe, there are some things that should be just left alone.

Robert Louis Stevenson originally wrote his tale of pirates for his stepson in 1883.

BBC news

Pop-up books go 3-D

A Reuters report says that the pop-up book is so passe. Excuse me? Apparently, South Korean scientists have developed 3-D technology for books that makes characters literally leap off the page. What? Is it on a screen? Does one have to view it through 3-D glasses? Goodness, what is happening to the world?

I have always loved good pop-up books. Even pop-up greeting cards. Maybe it is the engineer in me, but the sheer imagination behind some of these pop-ups boggles the mind. Are we going to lose all that for some 3-D computer simulation? I haven't felt so sad for a long time, not even at the possible demise of the physical book (which, of course, is not going to happen).

But 3-D animation is different. It will kill the art of pop-ups, just like the electronic calculator killed the slide-rule. (How many people know what a slide-rule is? What if you are told that the Empire State Building was designed entirely using one of those? Maybe, even the pyramids were designed with them.)

The repost says: "At South Korea's Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology, researchers used 3-D technology to animate two children's books of Korean folk tales, complete with writhing dragons and heroes bounding over mountains."

Frankly, one cannot understand why they bother. With the release of the iPad, even that will become passe very soon. So, let us enjoy the paper pop-ups for a while more, please.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Yet another reading campaign

A report in the Malaysian Insider says that the Malaysian Information Communication and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim does not want youths to be too absorbed with computers, but to read books too. He advised people not to be overly obsessed with computers to the extent that they no longer read books.

(Without saying why) the minister is reported to have said it was dangerous if the people were too absorbed with computers because it could affect the learning process especially among the younger generation who are the country's hope of making Malaysia a developed nation by 2020. Could it be possible that the reason people are spending lot of time on the computer is, in fact, to read stuff that they think is banned by the government?

“The fascination with computers should be balanced by the fascination for books so that we do not become slaves to computers and neglect reading... this is dangerous to learning,” he told reporters at a media conference after launching the 1 Malaysia Reading Programme organised by the National Library. (No, that was not me tittering!)

The minister also said (without giving details of a survey, if ever there was one) that the reading habit among Malaysians had improved, with people reading an average of eight to 12 books a year compared to only two books four years ago. (I am still not tittering!)

Describing obsession with computers as a major hindrance in inculcating the reading habit, Rais said there was a need for continuous programmes to inculcate the culture of reading among the public.

Then the minister said the ministry would invite the country’s icons like former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and astronaut Datuk Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor Sheikh Mustapha in its campaign to promote the reading habit. (Sorry, at this point I had to laugh out loud.)

By the way minister, will we be able to read anything we want, or will it be only those that are approved by the book police?

The Malaysian Insider

Man Asian Literary Prize Restructured

The 2010 Man Asian Literary Prize is to be restructured. According to the website, "From this year the Man Asian Literary Prize will be for a novel written by a citizen of an Asian country and first published in English in 2010. Translations into English of works originally in another language are also eligible, provided they are first published in English in 2010."

Now, this is not a restructure as much as a complete about-turn. The original idea appeared to be about discovering new authors and new novels. And it appears (not surprisingly, some would say) to have failed. Unfortunately, all good and noble ideas will have to be ultimately sacrificed at the altar of Mammon. First problem: readers want to read prize-winning novels now, not in a year's time when they are eventually published. Second problem: publishers may not want to publish a novel in a year's time only to see it flop. Besides (sigh), they are -- even if they don't read at all -- the 'gatekeepers' -- currently, at any rate -- of literature.

More interesting will be the list of countries that will be considered Asian or, rather, those that will not. Will Mongolia be considered one? How about those 'troublesome' states in the Middle East, the region we refer to as West Asia? How about Australia and New Zealand, those wannabes? Life is so-oo difficult, isn't it?

The prize money for the winning novelist will be increased to US$30,000, more than double the present amount of UD$10,000, but the translator's prize remains the same at US$5,000 (thus setting up an institutionalised bias towards Anglophone writing). Entries will be by publishers who may enter up to two eligible books that are published in 2010.

The website says detailed rules for eligibility will be released soon.

Man Asian Literary Prize

Writing Schorlarship Offer

The Department of English at City University of Hong Kong is pleased to announce a one-year full Tuition Scholarship, to be awarded to a 2010 candidate for our new, international, low-residency Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing. The winner will be the applicant who submits the sample of creative writing that demonstrates the greatest potential for success as a professional literary author. Applicants in any genre are eligible, as long as they meet the acceptance criteria for this postgraduate degree. There is no restriction as to country of residence, age or nationality.

At City University, we seek to develop Asia's future writers, and this scholarship is offered to attract the most talented writers to our programme. This summer, we begin our first class of writers for the MFA in Creative Writing specialising in Asian Writing in English, the first programme in the world to offer this specialty. Based in the English department, the innovative 45-credit, two-year programme will accept a limited number of students in creative non-fiction, fiction and poetry. The degree is benchmarked to international standards for the MFA. The Hong Kong native author Xu Xi assisted in its development and joined the Department as their first Writer-in-Residence on March 1.

"We anticipate the majority of applicants to be from Asia," Xu says, "but many writers in the West, both of Asian and non-Asian ethnicity, are increasingly drawn to Asia, especially China. They're not always best served by MFA programmes in the West where there's little focus on either a contemporary or historical Asian perspective or Asian literature." The faculty will all be writers who 'know Asia, live Asia, read Asia, write Asia' as the programme's advertising says. The top criterion for admission will be the quality of creative work.

This initiative is part of an overall strategy to develop the creative curriculum at the university. Professor Kingsley Bolton, Head of English at City University says, "Our English Department is a very young one, but probably one of the most dynamic and innovative departments of its kind in Asia. In the next few years, we are aiming to make the English Department here a leading centre for creative writing, drama, and cultural studies, not only for Hong Kong but also for the whole of the Asian region." The MFA is generally considered a professional degree, qualifying students to work in professions where good writing skills are required, as well as providing the groundwork for an international writing and publishing career.

The low-residency graduate degree model is relatively new in Asia. A long-established pedagogical model in the U.S., such programmes are especially suited for the creative arts. In particular, this programme is ideal for working professionals who cannot afford to spend two years as full-time graduate students in a traditional writing programme. Structured for individualised learning, students work via distance learning with writing mentors on a one-on-one basis during the semesters, and attend brief 'residencies' at the university two to three times a year. The low faculty-to-student ratio allows for intensive feedback on the student's work and approximates the professional editor-writer relationship.

The first residency is scheduled for summer 2010. The internationally renowned novelist Timothy Mo will be Visiting Writer and the faculty writers for the 2010 class features an international cast from Hong Kong, India, the U.K, Canada and the U.S., with connections and roots in China, Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and elsewhere. The writers include Tina Chang, Marilyn Chin, Luis Francia, Robin Hemley, Justin Hill, Sharmistha Mohanty, James Scudamore, Ravi Shankar, Jess Row and Madeleine Thien. For applications, please visit For further information, please email or call Xu Xi at ++852.3442.8732.

March 11, 2010

Monday, March 01, 2010

Boys read as much as girls

Richard Garner writes in the Independent that while a recent study of the reading habits of 100,000 children by the University of Dundee shows that boys read as much as girls, they choose books that are far less challenging and easier to understand, and this gets worse as they grow older. And, girls keep scoring higher on reading tests.

In the 13 to 16 age group, the favourite girl's book is Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer, the vampire romance series that has sold 85 million copies worldwide. The boys' favourite is The Dark Never Hides by Peter Lancett, one from the Dark Man series, illustrated fantasy novels aimed at reluctant teens and young adults struggling to read. The study also notes that both sexes choose easier books to read once they reach the age of 11 and move to a secondary school.

But Professor Keith Topping, head of the study, also reports, "As with adult reading, kids will not always read to the limit of their ability ... Even high-achieving readers do not challenge themselves enough as they grow older."

By the way, a similar survey two years ago found that boys opted for harder-to-read books than girls.

The Independent

Silverfish International Editions

Some might have noticed the pdf and html information sheets posted on the Silverfish Books website for Farish A Noor's Qur'an and Cricket and Shih-Li Kow's Ripples and other stories. These are the first two books Silverfish has decided to market to the US, UK and the Eurozone. Qur'an and Cricket is currently available on Amazon (US and UK). Barnes and Noble, and The Book Depository (US and UK). (We have not checked other online bookstores yet but if one Googles Qur'an and Cricket one will get an idea of how widely it is available.)

We have just uploaded Ripples and it should be available soon. We have noticed that Amazon is pretty efficient when it comes to listing; they have the book on their site within two or three days. Barnes and Noble reacts in about a week, while The Book Depository takes much longer (and they still don't have the cover image on).

We are planning to select about ten Silverfish titles for upload in the course of the year. Our titles are currently being used in more than twenty universities around the world, with no promotion on our part, purely by word of mouth. By making our books available through the retail giants and other distributors and wholesalers, we want to make it more affordable for colleges and universities in the US and UK to use these titles. Our biggest problem before this was shipping cost.

Titles we upload may be ordered (in the US) through Ingrams,, Baker & Taylor, Barnes & Noble, NACSCORP and Espresso Book Machine, (in the UK) through, Bertrams, Blackwell, The Book Depository, Coutts, Gardners, Mallory International, Paperback Bookshop, Argosy Ireland, Eden Interactive Ltd., Aphrohead, I.B.S - STL U.K, Libreria Ledi, and Eleftheroudakis

Silverfish Books

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dante's Inferno: The videogame

We literary types are a snooty lot. We wonder, sometimes, which planet video-gamers are from, or if they even can be classified as intelligent life form. Of course, since we have no time for these 'childish games' we have little idea how sophisticated they can get, and even if we do, we would still question, condescendingly, their contribution towards the advancement of the human race and civilization.

Okay. While no Nobel prizes are about to be awarded for this genre anytime soon, this headline in caught my attention: Dante's Inferno proves it: Classic literature is a videogame gold mine. Really?

The story says that Electronic Arts has made a videogame of Dante Alighieri’s epic adventure through the circles of hell, to be played on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Now, the development team is looking at other classic literary works for inspiration. Wow! I may become a gamer yet.

From the video commercial, it does look awesome. But what do I know? I am most definitely not a gamer, and this could very well be one of those 'been there, done that' type as far as videogames go. The Wired review more or less says that. Gus Mustrapa calls this hack-and-slash action game 'derivative'. Apparently, it 'pilfers' every nuance from God of War, a game by Sony. Still, Mastrapa calls it a 'ballsy take on literature ...' with "phallic imagery that ... is about as blue as you'll ever see in a videogame that isn't rated Adults Only."

Mastrapa adds, 'The game's best moment is when it goes big. The reveal of Dis, the massive city of the dead, is striking: Just before Dante batters down the doors and starts trashing the place, the camera pulls back to reveal the citadel's smouldering walls. Dante, atop a giant demon, is dwarfed by this metropolis of the damned. Hell feels like a big, big place brimming with unfortunate souls.

"The Old Testament morality of Dante's Inferno got into my head after hours of sin and punishment. By the time I made it to the final circle, where traitors, liars and politicians suffer, I made a mental note to do my best to be nice to others. After centuries, fire and brimstone
still do the trick."

I, so, want to play this game!

Oddest book title award, again

Father  ChristmasApparently, they received a record number of submissions for this year's The Bookseller's annual Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title. The shortlist will be announced on February 19 (later this week). This will be followed by a public vote to determine the winner. 90 submissions came in this year.

Among the titles in contention this year are: Advances in Potato Chemistry and Technology, Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich, An Intellectual History of Cannibalism, The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin, Dental Management of Sleep Disorders and Mickey Mouse, Hitler and Nazi Germany.

Scientific and academic titles will always sound weird to everyone else. Personally, I think they should not be allowed to participate, but I admit they can sound funny, like the following: The Changing World of Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Curbside Consultation in Cornea and External Disease, Food Digestion and Thermal Preference of Toad, and Map-based Comparative Genomics in Legumes.

Then there are these: The Origin of Faeces, Peek-a-poo: What's in Your Diaper?, Venus Does Adonis While Apollo Shags a Tree, Father Christmas Needs a Wee, and Is the Rectum a Grave?.

You can read the whole list and pick your own favourites from The Bookseller website.

The Bookseller

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Amazon removes Macmillan titles

kindle killerBrad Stone and Motoko Rich report in the New York Times

Looks like this is the first casualty following the announcement of the iPad by Apple Computers: has withdrawn all Macmillan titles from its online bookstore in what looks like the beginnings of a long drawn out book war. This is a war that has been waiting to be declared for a long time, ever since the release of the Kindle a year ago and the subsequent pricing of Amazon's 'hardback' e-books at USD9.99. Publishers have been strongly objecting to this pricing by Amazon for a long time (although the online bookshop actually makes a loss on each sale and not the publishers) on grounds that such pricing devalues books. (Macmillan titles can still, however, be purchased from third-party sellers.)

Macmillan's imprints include Farrar, Straus & Giroux, St. Martins Press and Henry Holt. Books withdrawn include A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides and Finger Lickin' Fifteen by Janet Evanovich.

Macmillan are one of the publishers that have signed with Apple, as part of its new iBookstore on the iPad tablet. Apple will allow publishers to set their own prices for e-books, which is expected to be between USD12.99 and USD14.99 for most fiction and general non-fiction titles. The discount structure is also believed to be better, with Apple offering 70% to the publishers against 50% by Amazon.

It will be interesting to see how this one develops.

Latest: Amazon concedes this round with the following statement (though they have yet to restore the buy buttons):

"We have expressed our strong disagreement and the seriousness of our disagreement by temporarily ceasing the sale of all Macmillan titles ... We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan's terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books."

Exactly. All publishers have monopolies over their titles. That's why books are not like other commodities and they cannot be sold supermarket style. That's why a book is not a shoe.

New York Times

Dictionary banned in US schools

merriam-websterAlison Flood writes in The Guardian that the Merriam Webster's 10th edition dictionary has been banned from classrooms in Menifee Union school district in southern California schools after a parent complained about a child reading the definition for 'oral sex' which it described as
"oral stimulation of the genitals". Aiyoh! Trauma habis!

It was considered too "sexually graphic" and "just not age appropriate" for 4th Grade students (who were between 9 and 10 years old). Consider the case of a parent who went into a Kuala Lumpur bookstore and saw -- horrors of horrors -- a whole row of books by Salman Rushdie, lodged a complaint and got it all removed by the management. How dare they corrupt the innocent minds of his children with ... with ... actually I have no idea with what.

Some parents have praised the move, but others have raised concerns. "It is not such a bad thing for a kid to have the wherewithal to go and look up a word he may have even heard on the playground." But, "You have to draw the line somewhere. What are they going to do next, pull encyclopaedias because they list parts of the human anatomy like the penis and vagina?"

This is not the first book to be banned in schools in the US. Song of Solomon by Nobel prize winner Toni Morrison, was suspended last year from (and then reinstated to) the a Michigan school after complaints of graphic sex and violence, as have titles by Khaled Hosseini and Philip Pullman.

Making poetry pay

Poetry speaksMark Garcia-Prats writes in Publishing Perpectives of, a site that features poetry blogs, weekly highlighted poets, and a fully searchable archive of poems in both text and audio format. There is also a poetry bookstore, a forum and videos of poetry performances. In other words: poetry heaven. The websites' motto is "experience, discover, share".

The website was launched in November of 2009 by Sourcebooks, Chicago-based publisher. Says Sourcebooks CEO, "We wanted a site that helps connect poetry readers, potential poetry reader, and poets. And we wanted to begin developing a new business model for poetry." It took five years and USD250,000 (so far) to set up the site.

The vision behind creating the website is to allow readers more direct contact with their favourite poet and to participate in the same poetry community as their heroes. hopes to create a large, active audience of poetry lovers who are willing to download individual poems in text and audio forms for USD 0.99 each, and buy poetry merchandise like books, e-books, DVDs, and CDS, and tickets for poetry performances.

From the website: "Poetry does not, in its essential nature, belong to literature. It comes before literature, when the place of books was occupied by voice and memory. It is meant not so much to be read as to be heard. And the artifice -- the rhyme, the rhythm, the language working to the limits of its capacity -- is what makes poetry stick in the mind like music. At the same time, a skilled interpreter can make a well-worn poem as fresh as if it had never been read before."

Be warned: not for the faint-hearted.

Publishing Perpectives

Friday, January 15, 2010

Dan Brown is not the most pirated ebook of 2009

Kama SutraIf you expected Dan Brown, James Patterson, JK Rowlings, or other airport bestsellers to be at the top of the list of most pirated ebooks, think again. The winner for the award of the most pirated ebook in 2009 was ... drum roll please ... Kama Sutra-aa. Yes! Originally compiled in Sanskrit by Vatsyayana in the second century of the Common Era, this ancient manual of practical advice on sex is still the one to beat. Eat my dust, Playboy. (We are assuming that not all the copies were downloaded in India.)

Interestingly, number two on the list was Adobe Photoshop Secrets and (you have to read this) Chris Matyszczyk reports in CNet News: "My own feeling, from deep beneath my T-shirt, is that the Kama Sutra and Adobe Photoshop Secrets have largely been downloaded by the same people for entirely related purposes." Obviously. What else does he use Photoshop for? Work? The original version did not have any pictures -- they just did it -- but the new ones are all illustrated with mostly fake pictures! Get it right: we are 21st century people, we don't have enough imagination, we need pictures to get us going, you know, visuals.

Number 3 on the most pirated book list was The Complete Idiot's Guide to Amazing Sex. --we are sick, man! -- before the list moves on to nerd territory. Number 4 was The Lost Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci and Solar House--A Guide for the Solar Designer came it Number 5.

Then just when you think that we should start getting worried, sanity returns, and there was at Number 6, Before Pornography--Erotic Writing In Early Modern England . We were back in form! At Number 7 was Twilight -- boring -- before we got back to more titilating stuff at Number 8: How To Get Anyone To Say YES--The Science Of Influence; Number 9: Nude Photography--The Art And The Craft (yeah, right), and finally, for those with no lives at Number 10: Fix It--How To Do All Those Little Repair Jobs Around The Home.

We are such a bunch of sick shits!

Cnet News

Middlemen in trouble

Lit agentsThe middleman has been the most reviled of species, and also the most indispensable -- they have a way of making themselves so. In the publishing industry, these are called literary agents. It seems as if we cannot live without them because a publisher will not deal with anyone without an agent. But they will not answer your emails or your phone calls, they won't even bother to tell you if they don't like your manuscript or (God forbid) read it. They will make you scrape and grovel, and spit you out like a sucked orange once you are no longer the flavour of the week. They are the self appointed Gods of the publishing world. Generally, they are inclined to treat you like the scum accumulated in your kitchen drainpipe.

But now they say they are in trouble. Should we care? According to a story in the Bookseller: "Literary agents have seen their profits tumble, with the recession, dwindling advances and publishers' focus on celebrity cited as contributing factors."

Yes, but how do middlemen lose money? It is one thing it you make less money or don't make money because there is no business, but how do you lose it? Publishers put up the capital for the printing, the (sometimes absurd) advances and have to pay for warehousing, shipping, and deal with returns. There is real risk here if a book doesn't sell. What risks do literary agents face?

There was a time when the publisher made all publishing decisions including talent scouting. Now they leave most of the latter to the "professionals", the literary agents, the self appointed arbiters of "good taste". Some are of the opinion that the industry will be better off without them. There are no literary agents in Malaysia, so we do all the work ourselves (as do the other publishers). Perhaps, we could use editors who provide good editing and critiquing services (paid for by authors) to make manuscripts publishable.

The Bookseller