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