Friday, February 28, 2014

Volunteers to read to children

I received this Facebook message from Shantini Venugopal just before I sent out the March newsletter:


About: Promoting literacy and creativity among underprivileged children in Malaysia via rotating mini libraries and volunteer reading programmes
Description: The Revolving Library is a social initiative to provide underprivileged children in Malaysia access to a massive collection of children's books.
The project: launched in March 2012, is based on the concept of rotating mini libraries. The idea was inspired by the collaborative consumption movement.

Each new orphanage/shelter/centre on the TRL circuit receives a mini library of about 50 to 100 books. These mini libraries will be moved from one home to another every two to three months, giving the children at each home the opportunity to read a wide selection of titles. Rotating the mini libraries also means that we get maximum mileage from each donated book and there is no need for a huge physical space to house the entire TRL collection.

Phase II - Volunteer Reading Programmes

March 2013 saw the start of the second phase of the TRL project - setting up volunteer teams for each centre on the TRL circuit. These "lit teams" will run reading programmes aimed at raising the literacy level at each home.
If you'd like to donate books, volunteer or find out how else you can contribute, please get in touch with us here or email us at We would love to hear from you!

The Team

The Revolving Library project is run on a voluntary basis by The Revolvers. We are a bunch of book lovers who want to share our passion for reading and books with the children at these homes by providing resources that will help them develop a love for the written word.

Want to be actively involved in the project? Join us here:

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Frederic Grellier, French translator

It was the Friday afternoon at the Frankfurt Bookfair, the last day of the 'trade' component, when many people have their hair down and feet up, thinking of the flight home. Someone from the Malaysian stand where I chill out when I am winding down (and where I always feel welcomed), approached my table and said, "'Che Raman, ada orang mau jumpa," and ushered in two people, one of whom looked like he was visually impaired. They introduced themselves as Frederic and Christine, and explained that they had been sent over by my friend (and Sri Lankan publisher) Sam Perera whom they had visited earlier. We started talking and soon got carried away with mutual enthusiasm for all things concerning books, reading and publishing, while Christine was patiently indulgent.

Frederic Grellier has been a professional literary translator for twenty years, having rendered into French some fifty crime novels, mainly American and British. I didn't know it when we met at Frankfurt, but I found out later when I watched his video on TedxTalks that he lost his sight very gradually, and also late. (I couldn't help thinking of Borges, whose loss of sight coincided with his appointment as the head of the Argentine National Library!) Frederic was trying to translate his fourth book when he realized that his sight was failing. He says on Ted Talk, "At first, I did not even want to hear about accessible technology. I considered changing careers, but after two years, probably because I had come to terms with losing my sight, I resumed my career as a translator with great happiness."

Certainly, he had some initial difficulty understanding and coming to terms with the technology, and learning to read by hearing rather than sight. He knew Braille but, having learned it late, did not use it professionally. As he likes to say, "I now read with the ears. And, in my opinion, it still is reading: my focus is on style, sentence structure, repetition, fluidity and rhythm."

All this is, of course, strange and fascinating to a sighted reader like me. Well, at least, initially. A computer voice is a computer voice; it would read like a robot, devoid of any sense of rhythm, nuance, emphasis and beauty. But then when you think about it, so is the printed word -- both the traditional book and digital. It is the reader who supplies the rhythm, decides where the stresses are, deciphers the subtle nuances and bathes in the beauty of the prose, which is also the reason why different people have different images in their heads that they can call their own.

"Without the computer revolution, I could not even consider exercising this profession. Only ten years ago, when I wanted audio-books in English -- keeping abreast of literary production is still the least thing for a translator! -- I had to buy used audio-books in the United States, the cost of new ones being prohibitive, and find a good soul who made the trip to impose a suitcase full of tapes, in order to save the cost of shipping. Quite complicated! Today, when an editor tells me he has just published a novelist, I just have to download the audio-book in a few clicks. What progress! And e-books open up new perspectives."

I have been told that when one sense diminishes, others make up for it. Still, it would have been crushing to lose one's sight, and I cannot help but admire Frederic's grit.

He adds, "I do not want either to portray an overly idyllic picture of my situation. In general, I need to spend more hours at my job to get the same result to that of a non visually impaired person, because the ear can never compete with the agility of the eye."

He says he takes more time to read. Well Frederic, it has been years since I stopped speed reading. I read far more slowly now, savouring the words and enjoying the minutiae in the prose. Skimming and scanning is for newspapers and magazines, anyway. And maybe trashy novels.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Children's Book Awards by Scholastic

Scholastic is pleased to announce our sixth annual Scholastic Writers’ Award. This Award is a writing competition for those who love to use words creatively, for those who want to share ideas, and for those who love to tell stories. It provides a unique opportunity for schools to showcase their students’ achievements, encourages youths to write, and gives young writers a chance to realise their talent. (Click image to see full pdf version.)

Students aged 10 to 18 are invited to submit an original short story from the title choices listed in the contest form. This writing competition – previously exclusive only to our Scholastic Book Clubs members – has a growing reputation and strong support among students and teachers who have been involved in past years. For the first time, we are opening the competition to all schools in Malaysia and Singapore.

The 2014 Scholastic Writers’ Award offers an Apple iPad 16GB with Wi-Fi for Grand Prize winners (x2), USD200 for First Runners-up (x2), and USD100 for Second Runners-up (x2).

The schools of the Grand Prize winners will each receive a trophy and 500 books from Scholastic to equip their libraries.

Entry forms can be obtained from Scholastic Book Club January 2014’s Wizard and Ace catalogues, or through our website at

Entries must be received by Scholastic no later than Wednesday, April 30, 2014 and winners will be announced in October 2014.

Enclosed is the Award poster for full contest details.

For further inquiries, please contact:

Daphne Lee

Yan Liew
Assistant Marketing Manager

Thursday, February 06, 2014

The myth of the 10.000 hours rule

I was reading this story: Debunking the Myth of the 10,000-Hours Rule: What It Actually Takes to Reach Genius-Level Excellence in Brainpickings. Familiar with this? Basically, it is a theory (no, a hypothesis) it would take that 10,000 hours of constant practice before anyone gets good at anything -- no let me correct that -- to become a genius! Now they are saying that it's only half true. Half true? As much as that?

On the other hand, there is the Creativity Debate which asks, "What is more important, talent or practice?" Let's talk about writing because that's where I have the most experience from the Silverfish Writing Programme (a 10-week writing workshop) that I run.

  • Some participants are obviously talented. You can see this in the way they craft their first stories. But they do not put in enough effort to hone that talent due to distractions from the workplace, or other personal problems. One thought she didn't have to work since she was already naturally talented. (She told me that she knew everything I was going to say. Maybe she quit because I was not dispensing pills.) Will she become a genius, or merely another wasted talent? What do you think? (Sometimes I get troubled young adults. It's a shame, because they are fun to work with once you get over their initial 'I'm bored with the world' attitude. Writing would be good therapy for them if only they persist.)
  • Then there are some who are not obviously talented, show some aptitude, have good attitudes, and who are keen to learn and willing to work hard. I would think that 10,000 hours would certainly produce some good competent workhorses, and at least some degree of success. They may not be geniuses, but they would be way above the average. Most published writers fall into this category anyway. Some become editors, critics and reviewers, or take up some other role in the industry.
  • A third group consists of people with no talent for writing, nor aptitude for learning it, and one wonders why they are in a writing programme when their talents lie elsewhere. Maybe they like the glamour associated with writing, or they'd like to discover for themselves. 10,000 or even 20,000 hours.
  • Then there are those hell-bent in picking a genre they don't have an aptitude for.
  • Now, when you meet someone who not only has talent, but who is also willing to work hard ... not just 10,000 hours but 20,000 or even 50,000 ... that's a real buzz! Makes everything you work for worthwhile.

Whatever the case maybe, psychologist and journalist Daniel Goleman (best-known for his influential 1995 book Emotional Intelligence) debunks the 10,000-hour mythology to reveal the more complex truth beneath the popular rule of thumb: he says in Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence (Harper, Oct 2013):

"Ideally that feedback comes from someone with an expert eye and so every world-class sports champion has a coach. If you practice without such feedback, you don’t get to the top ranks. The feedback matters and the concentration does, too — not just the hours."

The e-book world domination or 'The End is Nigh!'

Whenever, and wherever, book professionals get together the talk is always about an alarmist, end of the world scenario, where the planet is dominated by e-books. (This includes those from Frankfurt.) Comparisons are always made with the music industry. There are no figures for 2013 yet, but in 2012, 198 million CDs were sold in the US compared to 118 million digital album download. (Nielsen SoundScan). Talk to anyone and they will day that no one buys CDs anymore! I am baffled too, considering that, apart from album art and notes, there is little difference in the quality and price.

Back to books, while almost every grown human in the world listens to music in some form, a vast majority of the population on the planet will not read even one book a year that is not required for their academic pursuit. Of course, textbooks are also books, just like those that list phone numbers, teach you computer programming, how to get rich or get clever quickly, and other genres that many of us, book purists, wouldn't even consider them deserving of such an appellation. There are books you'd leave in the hotel room when you checkout, and there are those you'd keep for decades. I have yet to come across a book statistic that splits e-book and print sales by genre. If any of you have please, let me know, for I think that would be very revealing.

But arguments get a lot more emotional when digital books are discussed, as opposed to digital music. The history of recorded music is a little over 100 years, whereas mass produced books go back some 600 years, and clay tablets and papyrus started around the 3rd millennium BC, and throughout its evolution the book has become better looking (often exquisite), more functional (a design so simple that the OS hasn't changed for over half a millennium, no batteries, no charging and always on) and convenient. (To me, e-books have not cracked the third quality more or less, but not the first two.) BTW, I read both, filling up my e-reader with hard-to-get and, often, free classics. That said, if I like a certain book, I'll hunt down the print version whatever the cost.

Below are some interesting stories about e- and print books in the media in the last month:

  • When asked which media teens preferred in physical form, over 60% of girls and boys aged 16 to 24 years old said physical books. (The NY Times)
  • Researchers find that reading a novel exercises 'muscles' in the brain. (The LA Times)
  • The most popular price point in the US for e-books is USD 1.99, and in the UK it is GBP 0.99. Profitability is something else. (It will surprise you.) (Luzme)
  • Some 28% of Americans read an e-book last year, up from 23% in 2012. Even as e-books rise in popularity, Americans are still reading print books. Even those who read e-books also read print books: only 4% of readers are "ebook only".  (Digital Book World.)
  • A struggling second-hand bookshop owner was stunned when his takings soar 4,000% as dozens of customers descended on the store after posting about his plight on Facebook. (The Daily Mail.)
  • How Book Porn Is Revolutionizing The Book World! (PolicyMic)

Looks like, as the Chinese say, an interesting year!

Rehman Rashid at Silverfish Books

Rehman Rashid was at Silverfish Books on Saturday, 18 January, 2014 at 5.30pm talking to a full house about: Articulating a Nation. For those who missed the talk here is a short YouTube video with some highlights.

Rehman Rashid's A Malaysian Journey, when it was first published in 1993, practically exploded on the Malaysian cultural and literary conciousness with its warts and all, non-tourism approach to the society and culture. It was a nation we all knew existed, which we loved (and still do) immensely, but dared not (and many of us still dare not) speak its name. It was a book that dared to escape (no, tear off) long-existing literary (and cultural) shackles of parochialism that had confined us to our own race and religion for so long, and to embrace our real identity as all-inclusive Malaysians. A Malaysian Journey told us that it's all right to love ourselves, Malaysians, for what we are; no apologies needed. One could say, it was a much-awaited (and needed) turning point in Malaysian literature.

Rehman Rashid's A Malaysian Journey commemorated its 20th anniversary in 2013, with a new edition in hardback, with a new preface and end-paper maps. The book, that was hailed as a 'modern Malaysian classic', still is now, perhaps more than ever before, speaking to a new generation of readers, explaining why things are the way they are in this country.

Articulating a Nation  focused "on the need to speak for others in a nation now composed entirely of them." A reviewer has written in that "as more Malaysians become like Rehman, the accuracy of this book will fade into fable." Sorry, not happening. More Malaysians are, certainly, thinking like Rehman Rashid, but we are also seeing more circling of wagons.

Rehman Rashid was, as always, articulate and engaging. It was an interesting evening.