The two main papers publish more than a thousand pages each week (I wonder how many trees that is). One has two pages of book news, the other has no fixed schedule. Local book news? Forget it.There is slightly more than that in the Star. Thor's column on Tuesdays which is sometimes spot on (especially when he talks about local writers), but at other times loses me and my eyes glaze over. (Sorry!) ... Perhaps an article on something literary gleaned from the Guardian which I've already read online (but if you are going to take literary articles from any newspaper in the world, please, make it this one). ... A page of short reviews on Thursdays - a pretty mixed bag . Yes, a little more in Starmag on Sunday, I enjoy the reviews and Daphne's articles about kids' books are excellent because written by someone with a passion. I don't read the NST 'cept on Sundays, but used to buy the Wednesday edition when there were literary pages.
Book pages don't attract readers? If you take books as your starting point, you can write about almost anything in the world anyway (I've visited sado-masochism, greasy spoon cafes, the Iraq War, issues of gender, millinery, cookery, and the female orgasm in the last few days!)
Blogging has taught me this: there is a readership for news and opinion pieces on books and authors ... providing that the writing is lively and takes the reader into account. Trying to be deep level literay (and the NST's pages tended to veer that way) will just make books seem lightyears away from the interests of most people. Drop the L word! But at the same time, don't underestimate your local readers. who are capable of a deeper level of intellectual engagement than the newspapers throw at them.
But yes, I agree with Raman's bottom line ... if a nation of readers is to be created, the newspapers must play a significant role.
I'm hungry for more than the local papers provide. I stick them on the recycle pile or use them as disposable plates for my cats after 5 minutes skimming ... and then spend hours online reading the book pages from overseas newspapers ... and reading blogs.
Was very interested in what Raman says about a local Chinese newspaper taking literature seriously and sponsoring an award :
A Malaysian Chinese daily (I have spoken to their CEO) has a biannual international literary competition and award for fiction, poetry and journalism which has been touted as the Chinese equivalent of "The Booker'. This project apparently attracts top writers from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and all other countries in the world, and Malaysian writers in Chinese are most definitely world class. This same newspaper also has regular literary pages with discussions on a diverse range of topics by local and foreign writers. I was shown a page where the discussion was on the works of Borges and Bukowski. (Note to readers of English newspapers: no, they were not the villains in the last Star Wars movie.)Amazing! I really didn't know. (Please tell me more if you did.)
Raman accuses a local newspaper of merajuking during the Literary Festival.
I actually don't know the truth of any of this, and I don't know how the publicity could should have been managed differently (I was coordinating the sessions and speakers so was mentally elsewhere during the lead-up) ... but it broke my heart that despite bringing something this enormous to KL and putting the country on the world literary map, despite months of hard work and stress ... there was next to no publicity for the whole venture and no write up in the press about it afterwards (just a mention in the education pages of the Star!).
Even those publications which pride themselves on having a finger on the pulse of the arts scene largely ignored us. Where else in the world would that happen? Though all the papers were happy to interview the writers we'd invited ... Hijuelos, Paul Bailey, without mentioning the Litfest ... or just in passing.
Maybe Raman stood on toes (he's pretty good at that!) ... maybe Raman didn't get the publicity machinery into place in time ... but the silence from the press hurt deeply.
Hurt me, anyway. Am I too sensitive?