Monday, 29th October, 2012 § 2 Comments
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.
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.
Tuesday, 3rd July, 2012 § Leave a Comment
A well timed book this, what with the General Elections looming and for the first time in Malaysia’s history there is a distinct possibility that the Opposition could win the mandate of the people. Should that happen, Zaid Ibrahim asks, what will the ramifications be if “long-running tensions between the monarchy and the political establishment are not resolved”?
As anachronistic as the idea of a monarchy in a democratic country may be, Zaid Ibrahim argues that the Malay monarchs do have a role to play in Malaysia. And there lies the problem: there seems to be two different interpretations of the role of the Malay Rulers. Some of them see themselves as something close to an absolute monarch (Zaid cites the Sultan of Perak’s refusal to grant the then Chief Minister of Perak, Nizar Jamaluddin to dissolve the State Assembly in 2008 and instead asked Nizar to step down) while another interpretation and a more popular one because you know, it’s in the law books, is that the Malay royals are bound by the Constitution on what they can or cannot do. The Malay Rulers may have special privileges and rights that are not enjoyed by the rest of the nation but they must still live within those rights. It is when they are seen to be overstepping those rights that people start grumbling.
As the subtitle of the book suggests, Malaysia needs to be governed according to the Constitution in which the Palace has a part to play but there has to be a clear distinction between the Palace and His Majesty’s Government. The Rulers’ insistence in involving themselves in business and local politics is one reason Malaysian politics is in such a mess right now. The gist of Ampun Tuanku is not so much a criticism of the present conduct of the Malay rulers but rather a clarion call for common sense.
Sunday, 6th May, 2012 Comments Off
As of now I am a fan and totally in love with Jenny Lawson. I’ve never heard of her nor her blog, The Bloggess, and only ordered her book because Omnivoracious (Amazon’s blog) was promoting it and I was desperate for something funny to read. This has to be one of my best blind buys ever because Jenny Lawson is hilarious. The best most books can get out of me is a small chuckle whenever I read something funny but with Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) just about every page made me laugh out loud. That’s no mean feat, people. It’s a bizarre memoir which as the title states may not be all true but the problem is that just about every recollection she fits in this 300+ page book is just plain crazy that you might be forgiven if you think everything in the book was made up. Then she crushes all doubts when she produces photos to back up her claims and there goes another belly laugh.
I am unable to write a review of this book that can convey the absurdity of Lawson’s life so I won’t. I know that sounds like a cop-out but honestly no review can ever do this book justice. You just have to trust me when I say it is one of the most hilarious memoir ever written even if it’s only 99% true. Lawson’s life isn’t all ha-ha he-he but even when she touches on the sad episodes of her life (her two miscarriages, finding out she has a rare form of arthritis, finding her dog dead from snakebite) she still manages to be irreverent albeit toned down. There is a lot in her life that may not seem hilarious but Lawson refuses to feel sorry for herself and preferred instead to look at the lighter side of it. Good for her.
Here’s an out of context excerpt:
“And that’s how I ended up shoulder-deep in a cow’s vagina, squishing out the semen baster as a bunch of teenage boys looked on. It was the closest I’d ever come to doing porn. Suddenly the cow’s vagina tensed unexpectedly and I realised that my arm was stuck. I screamed involuntarily. The teacher panicked, thinking that the sudden contraction was an indication that the cow was going to sit down quickly, and told me to pull out my arm gently, because if the cow sat down it could break my arm. This was disconcerting, both because it sounded painful, and also because “I broke my arm in a cow’s vagina” is not something you ever want to have to explain to anyone.” (from the chapter ‘If You Need an Arm Condom, It Might Be Time to Reevaluate Some of Your Life Choices’)
By the way, the cover is of a taxidermied mouse dressed as Hamlet which she bought online. She named it Hamlet von Schnitzel. Her husband, Victor, thinks she has a problem.
Thursday, 3rd May, 2012 § 1 Comment
(Disclosure: The author of this book is an online friend and there is a paragraph within the book that alludes to me, though anonymously. Therefore claims of bias might be raised but are unfounded, I assure you)
If you are not familiar with Nisah Haron, she is an author with several novels and at least one children’s book to her credit. She also maintains a blog and it was in this blog that she first chronicled her travels to the UK and the city of Dublin, Ireland. Kembara Sastera (A Literary Travel) is a collection of those blog posts.
So yes, it is a blook. Ugh, I hate that word but it is a book derived from a weblog so it’s an accurate description. Why then should anyone bother to pay when it’s free online? Well for one thing, if you’re like me (and that would be awesome!) you would always prefer to have a hard copy in hand rather than reading from a screen no matter how convenient it may be. And as I have mentioned above, Nisah Haron is an established author so she can write. No ghostwriters needed here. It’s all her.
Travel books usually have a theme. Trekking cross-country on a bike, for example, or in search for the best street food in the world. Nisah Haron also had a specific aim in her travels and that is to discover the rich literary culture of the British and the Irish and the contributions they have made to world literature. All that in just under two weeks (she was on a budget). Beginning at Birmingham, she works her way north to Manchester, the Lake District, Edinburgh, across the Irish Sea to Dublin, London and back to Birmingham before flying back home. In between all that, she squeezes in visits to Stratford-upon-Avon and the bookworm paradise better known as the Hay Festival at Hay-on-Wye. True to her objective, Nisah Haron makes an effort to visit anything connected to books and the arts at every stop she makes. Don’t expect her to gush about the incredible shops selling incredible wares because this book has none of that. Unless its books. Then yeah, it has plenty of gushing over books and bookshops in Kembara Sastera.
The Hay Festival? Gush.
The James Joyce Center? Gush.
The Writer’s Museum, Edinburgh? Gush.
The Cambridge University Press? Gush.
Charing Cross Road, London? What do you think?
Kembara Sastera is also packed with photos of the places Nisah Haron visited (basically the same ones in her blog) which sure helps the reader appreciate the chronicles of her travels even more, and the photos are not just in the middle of the book like you’ll find in most books but just about on every page and in colour as well. Visual aids! Yay!
This book is simply a treasure for the Malaysian bookworm. Never before have I read a travel book in Malay that focuses solely on a particular nation’s literary treasures. Her travels also showed her and us the care and thought given by the Brits and the Irish to their authors and the ideas they brought forth. Over there men and women of letters are respected and honoured almost to the point of worship. Their homes are preserved, statues are erected in their honour, there are museums dedicated solely to authors and of course their books are kept in print even if demand is low and the author long dead. We Malaysians clearly have a long way to go.
Can’t afford to visit the book lover’s paradise that is the United Kingdom? Reading Kembara Sastera is the next best thing. And if you can afford to visit the UK, the book can act as a travel guide.
Kembara Sastera retails at RM30 but you can order a signed copy online from Nisah Haron’s online bookstore, Ujana Ilmu, for RM27 (not including postage and handling). So that’s a plus.
Here’s hoping there’ll be more travel books like Kembara Sastera in the near future either from Nisah Haron or others because there’s nothing a voracious reader likes more than to read a book about books. To us, it’s like porn but without the shame and guilt.
Friday, 27th April, 2012 § 1 Comment
I’ve always been fascinated by the American Civil War, a conflict that still resonates today in the US and of which I know next to nothing about except Lincoln gave a famous speech at Gettysburg then was shot while watching a play. Some argue that the war was not about slavery but was more about State’s rights but the counter argument for that is, what were those rights that the states wanted to defend if not the right to keep slaves?
James McPherson’s book came highly recommended by people who know better than me so I decided to take the plunge with his Battle Cry of Freedom.
Topical to Malaysia too if you think about it. We’re having a proxy civil war of our own right now.
Sunday, 18th March, 2012 § 1 Comment
A collection of Kee Thuan Chye’s opinions on Malaysian politics and politicians that were first published in various online websites from 2009 to 2011. Kee is most famous for his play We Could **** You, Mr. Birch an excerpt of which is included within this book along with excerpts of his other plays The Swordfish, Then The Concubine and 1984, Here and Now.
Yes, it’s a collection of previously published online articles that were available for free so why pay for it now? Because chances are you, dear reader, never read Kee’s take on Malaysian politics of the previous three years and No More Bullshit is a great book to relive those post-’08 days when the mood of many Malaysians were uplifted when they realised that “Hey, we can make a change after all!” especially seeing as how election fever is back again this year. Time to recharge those anti-Establishment batteries. No More Bullshit can help you with that.
Tuesday, 13th March, 2012 § 5 Comments
You know what is funnier and more irreverent than Terry Deary’s series of Horrible Histories books?
It’s Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories on DVD!
Though the Horrible Histories books are Euro-centric, they are just as fun to a Malaysian who may be interested in British and European history. After all a bit of general knowledge never hurt anyone. The TV adaptation is a great complement to the books. Writing for a generally young audience, the adult writers may have had their work cut out for them (no swearing, no sexual situations) but luckily history is usually so bloody, horrible and nasty that there is no limit to the material that the writers can use to entertain the kids and educate them at the same time. And Horrible Histories leaves all the nasty bits in.
Are the books factually accurate? Yes. Are they comprehensive enough? Of course not. They make a great introduction to subjects most grown ups, never mind kids, would find boring. I call those grown ups accountants. Once you’ve gone through the books, sit back and watch the first two series on DVDs (Series Three will be out soon) and have a fun time. Each series has like 12 episodes in them and that’s about 6 hours worth of sketches. Of course you can always search for the sketches on YouTube if you prefer to go down that route, ya cheapskate!
History. Not just for kids.