Monday, 29th October, 2012 § 2 Comments
Wednesday, 3rd October, 2012 § 1 Comment
I’m almost finished with this book. It’s not bad. It’s no great shakes but it’s not bad. CERPEN (literally, ‘short story’) is an anthology of Nadia Khan’s early writings most of which first appeared in print in several local magazines. Mixed in with the stories are a couple of never-seen-print-before short-film scripts she wrote hoping some producer will throw money her way for the rights. Girl has dreams. Good for her.
I’m no literary critic and if you’ve been following my blog you would heartily agree so I cannot go in depth into a review as to why such and such a book is lovely. If I like it, I like it. And I like CERPEN. It’s…cute. They aren’t cute stories but that’s how I felt. Even after I’ve read ‘Puaka Pak Jaha’ which was far from cute. Oh, and while reading this book I discovered she is the daughter of Hatta Azad Khan who wrote “Syy!”, arguably Malaysia’s best sitcom of the 1980s. So that would explain her writing genes.
Now I feel like picking up Kelabu, the author’s FIXI debut. I already know the twist in the story (damn you, Internet!) but not the whole story.
Monday, 1st October, 2012 § 3 Comments
I have been remiss with regards to this blog. I have excuses of course. Oh, loads of them. Ramadan, work, family, just laziness. But the real reason? I haven’t been reading anything worth writing about to the point that I actually took a break from reading. A bookworm who doesn’t read! Just stop breathing, why don’t I?
But here’s a new month. Hopefully a fresh start. Let’s get crackin’.
Monday, 3rd September, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Here’s what I love about Ted Naifeh’s book. It’s basically a story with a familiar theme: a young girl moves to a new place and a new school and has to make new friends. Except there are strange goings on in her new place (her granduncle Aloysius spooky old house to be precise) and there are even stranger things in the woods of her new neigbourhood.
But those aren’t what I love about this book. They are great and familiar tropes but what hooked me in was the dark route the author chose to take. There are at least three instances in this collection that would make the unreasonable parent throw this book in disgust and petition the local and school library to ban it from their shelves. Without spoiling it too much, two kids get eaten by a night creature (one of them was bullying the other so it was a comeuppance, but still…) and a baby is exchanged with a goblin and the baby sold at the Dark Market in Goblin Town. Well here’s the thing, these disappearances were not resolved in favour of the humans at all. The goblin gets to stay in the crib pretending to be a human baby at the story’s end (Courtney is told that human babies are kidnapped and sold to strange creatures all the time and besides in this case the baby’s mother wouldn’t know the difference anyway) and it was only mentioned in passing that the bullied kid would be missed by no one. No mention at all of what the neigbours thought of the missing bully.
Well, I guess I did go and spoil it after all. Here’s one more: the only reason the night creatures visited the bully was because they were told to by Courtney herself. So this is a story about a kid who ordered a hit on her tormentor. Now you see why I love this book. It tickles my dark soul and pushes all the right buttons in me. If you’re still shocked, let me assure you that all the violence and auctioning of a baby happens ‘off-panel’.
Courtney soon discovers her weird granduncle is actually very nice but he does have a secret which he eventually shares with Courtney. This first volume is a collection of four previously published graphic novels in which were in paperback and black and white. This time around the adventures of Courtney Crumrin is bound in hardcover and in colour and if you are just as weird as me you should get this book and share with your little siblings or children. They’ll thank you for it.
Sunday, 12th August, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Only two reasons why I even bothered with this book. Firstly, I’m sort of a fan of the show. I like history and some of the items that are featured are very interesting. Second, the book was like 60% off at Amazon. Can’t resist a bargain.
The book is surprisingly good. Just like the show, it has a bit of humour and Rick is a natural storyteller. It’s not difficult to tell stories I suppose when a lot of zany characters walk through your door looking for some quick cash. In fact, from what Rick tells us the show is a sanitized version of a typical day at the World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop. Practically ignored while he was growing up because his parents were too busy working, Rick Harrison feared as a child that he would never see adulthood because of his seizures that would relegate him to the bed for days. This was where he would spend his days reading any books he could get his hands on and he credits those days as his real education. He also has a natural gift for numbers. So the bald overweight guy with the smoker’s laugh isn’t actually a dumbass.
His employee Chumlee though isn’t as book smart and looks it while his son Big Hoss is smart but doesn’t look the part. They both get to tell their stories (they were meth addicts in their teens and cleaned up their lives while their other meth buddied didn’t). Rick’s dad The Old Man also pitched in but it’s Rick’s book so he gets most of the pages.
The most interesting part of the book for me was when he describes some of the characters he has encountered in the twenty years he’s been working in the pawn shop. There’s the billionaire who browses in his shop without buying anything ever but everytime he comes in, there’s a new girl by his side. There’s the Asian lady who looked like a bag lady but took out a roll of hundred dollar bills from her sock to make a purchase. The family who live their lives as professional gamblers and visit the Gold & Silver whenever they need cash for the casinos (which is often) and the thieves and conmen who sometimes get away with their scams and causes Rick to lose thousands of dollars. And then there’s Bizzle. The Bizzle story is amusing, touching and just a little bit heartbreaking and he’s one of those people that you would never meet if you were not managing a pawn shop.
It is a well written book. A Tim Keown is credited alongside Rick Harrison as the author and I’m guessing he’s the ghost writer. I usually avoid ghost written memoirs but Rick’s voice comes out loud enough in this book that I believe that Rick actually did the writing while Mr. Keown merely polished the rough manuscript.
A surprisingly deep book about a hustler with a heart.
Friday, 3rd August, 2012 § 4 Comments
Travel memoirs are especially difficult to sell, more so than just a regular memoir. It needs a hook to capture one’s interest. If you’re a Hollywood celebrity or an explorer then the battle to grab attention is half won already. If your travel memoir has a specific agenda then that helps as well (for example, Nisah Haron’s Kembara Sastera). Also helps if you’re an established author. But if you’re relatively unknown in the publishing world and you self-publish your adventures gallivanting across Europe, then the challenge to get noticed is just that tad more difficult. Izni Zahidi knows all about those challenges.
In her blog, she lists the frustrations she had to go through to get her book published before deciding to just publish the darn book herself (a quote from her blog post: “One [publisher] even told me that I can publish the book when I become famous”). Good thing she lives in an age when vanity publishing has been made so much easier and accessible. But is her book any good?
The 265-page book tells of her journey across Europe as a newlywed, living in four different countries within two years. Izni Zahidi had always wanted to travel abroad and if it wasn’t for the many obstacles she had to face she would have. Her opportunity came when she was offered a spot in a water resources management programme which enabled her to stay in France, Britain, Denmark, Hungary and take occasional sightseeing trips to locations nearby, including Egypt (which qualifies as ‘nearby’ when you’re in Europe, I suppose). Izni chronicles her two year journey abroad with infectious glee. Travelling abroad for the first time, she observes the people she meets and the places she visits with childlike innocence and wonder and if you’ve never been to Europe before you would probably share her wide eyed curiosity as well.
But if you have been to Europe, then The Longest Honeymoon brings nothing new to the table. There’s always the matter of the elusive ‘hook’. I can see why that one publisher facetiously asked Izni to wait until she was famous before offering them the opportunity to publish her manuscript. Outside of her friends and family, I would be hard pressed to think of anyone who would be interested to read it. The Longest Honeymoon is not a badly written travel memoir. Far from it. It is interesting, honest and occasionally amusing but it is a travel memoir of (let’s face it) an unknown Malaysian and it is difficult to ask anyone to fork out RM30 (or USD$12.89 at Amazon) in order to read a newlywed Malaysian woman experiences living and studying in Europe. It needs a hook. Where is the damn blasted hook to capture the potential reader’s interest? There’s always the ‘legal alien living abroad’ angle but other than that there’s nothing. Her travels, while exciting for her, was not entirely unique. Many Malaysians, married or single, man or woman, have been to Europe. It is not terra incognita for us. It is also unfortunate that Ms. Izni forgot to include any photos within the book. Not that it’s a requirement but seeing as how it’s a travel memoir it would have been nice to see some photos of her travels.
Her travels would have been more widely read if she had posted it for free in her blog…well, actually she did blog about her European sojourn but she elaborates more in her book. Still, if you want to support a fledgling writer you can click her website and purchase a copy of The Longest Honeymoon. It’s not available at the local bookshops.
Thursday, 26th July, 2012 § 1 Comment
I recently received this wonderful children’s book which I ordered online from Amazon two weeks ago. You may or may not have seen the animated short. It’s about a Mr. Morris Lessmore (Less is more, get it?) who lost all his books (even the very words in his journal) to a great hurricane that blew away his house, his books and himself.
Literally at a loss for words, Mr. Lessmore wanders morosely until he notices a woman being pulled along by a squadron of flying books. The woman perhaps noticing Mr. Lessmore is less than happy (his whole body is monochrome after losing his books while the world around him is bright in colour) sends her favourite book to accompany Morris and take him to a place where she was sure he would be happy: “a building where many books apparently “nested”". In other words, Morris Lessmore arrived at a library. He finds a new lease of life here, taking care of the orphaned books and repairing the damaged ones. One book is healed by having Morris read it. The very act of reading the words contained in the book makes the book seem new and fresh again. Reading and being read breaths new life to the books and to the person reading it and perhaps that is the point of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. Reading is a curative exercise.
It is also about loss. While the stories in the books are timeless, Morris Lessmore ages and one day he leaves the library the same way the woman whom he encountered all those years ago left; by being pulled into the sky by books flapping their pages. Who then will look after the orphaned books?
This may be a book marketed at children but the message and the allusions will be much more appreciated by an adult. I have yet to see Morris Lessmore at the local bookshops and as I have stated above, I bought mine from Amazon. I also sent a copy as a gift to author Nisah Haron and she has reviewed it, much better than I have, in her blog. Note: She writes in Malay.
Here is the animated short which won an Oscar at this year’s Academy Awards:
Wednesday, 25th July, 2012 § 1 Comment
This is one title of King’s that seem to divide his fans in the middle, between those who loved it and those who hated it. I’m of the former. King’s strength, as I’ve stated before in other reviews of his book, lies in his ability to weave a tale that would make the reader be interested in his protagonists (and in this case, some of his antagonists as well). The Stand isn’t about the man-made plague that destroys most of Earth’s population but it’s about how the survivors cope with the aftermath. Some join the Good Guys while others quite willingly embrace the Dark Side. The horrors aren’t many in this book. Oh they exist, make no mistake but if you expect a scary “BOO!” scene every chapter you would be sorely disappointed. King throws his characters into the deep end so to speak and force them to swim or sink in a world that goes from normal to utter chaos within a week in summer. People with quiet lives, jerks with sycophantic friends, psychos on a killing spree, all find themselves in an unfamiliar situation without any authorities to guide, lead or admonish them. And then every time the survivors go to sleep they are beset by dreams about an old woman and a tall dark man. Each calling the survivors to come join them.
I read the expanded, Director’s Cut version that comes in around 1300+ pages and while real-world responsibilities often interrupted my reading (which is why it took me more than a month to finish it), I never lost interest in the story. That’s testament to King’s writing. There were some parts where I seemed to skim…it was when the Good Guys started forming a committee and did nothing but talk…but that was probably my personal loathing of committee based decision making. Does that mean if events in The Stand came true I would be one of those who would join the Dark Man? After all, he didn’t bother with meetings and elections. He just got the electricity running again and the schools opened. Although he brought back crucifixion as a deterrent to breaking his law. A bit harsh I thought. But then again, it was a harsh post-apocalyptic world.
Oh God, I am leaning towards the Dark Side!!
(Post-script: like some of King’s novels this one is all about the journey and not so much about the destination. By that I mean the climactic scene where the bad guy gets his comeuppance is a bit anti-climactic. A literal dues ex machina. I think Stephen King just said, “Aw, to hell with it. Just end this book!”)
Tuesday, 17th July, 2012 § 8 Comments
Yasmin Ahmad died in 2009. She was a copywriter who later became well known for her annual Merdeka television ads for Petronas and later became even more famous for her movies. I’m not a fan and I knew of her more from the controversy of at least two of her movies than from watching the movies themselves. One, Muallaf, was even banned from screening in Malaysia if I’m not mistaken. (EDIT: Okay, I was mistaken. Muallaf was never banned. But she was seen by some as ‘controversial’ because she made movies that did not feature mat rempits).
She was loved by her friends and fans because of her pluralistic and liberal outlook in a nation that only pays lip service to such ideas and this book is a collection of memoirs of that liberal woman from the people who knew her best. “Yasmin How You Know?” (saying “How you know” in a staccato manner was her habit apparently) is hilarious, touching and even made me who was ambivalent towards her work miss her deeply.
Here are some excerpts:
Yasmin on Orang Putih (literally white people):
“You know what orang putih are to me? Albino Punjabis.”
Yasmin on what to do before going to bed:
“Seek forgiveness from God and to forgive everyone who has hurt you”
Yasmin and how she got Kok Wai Ming the typist to type her copy first (fondly remembered by Irene Ho, Yasmin’s colleague and Ogilvy and Mather):
Circa 1980s, all copywriters had to write their copy by hand, then pass it to the typist, Ms Kok Wai Ming, to type on the only computer in the department. And the queue would be horrendously long.
Yasmin being Yasmin, would finish her copy only at the very last minute.
Once I saw Yasmin so frantically late, she actually went on her knees: “Kok Wai Ming, please type for me first, please…”
Kok Wai Ming: “Cannot!”
Yasmin literally begged: “Please, please, Kok Wai Ming. I’ll even give you an English name if you type for me first.”
“What name?” asked our typist.
“Massive,” said Yasmin, “Massive Kok.”
The design of the book is unique. Slip it out of its envelope and it looks like a notepad one would have on one’s writing desk. The back of the book says that “this book is not damaged. It is intentionally designed with the “yet-to-be-perfected” look. Read it, and you’ll understand why. God willing.”
I did. And I did.
Wednesday, 4th July, 2012 § Leave a Comment
The first Malay fiction that I read from cover to cover (see my review here) receives a hardcover limited edition treatment and as I’ve stated in a previous post (see here), I loves me some hardcover. And a limited edition run? Bonus! Maybe someday when I’m dead, Amir Muhammad is in self imposed exile and the author, Khairulnizam Bakeri, has gone Hollywood this book might be considered a hard to find classic and worth RM10 more than its cover price! YAY!
My copy is number 130/200. Would have preferred a lower, single digit number but I didn’t have first dibs. This book is only available online at Fixi’s website or at book events like the Selangor Book Fair currently being held at Shah Alam. The hardcover limited edition is in conjunction with the book’s film version set for release in early 2013.