Saturday, September 23, 2006

Off the Edge Celebrates

If sometimes I paint a pessimistic picture of the lack of intellectual discussion (particularly literary) in a country where the regular print media has been dumbed down (ostensibly to appeal to a 'younger generation' of thickos)*, one publication here warms the cockles of my heart.

This month Off the Edge is celebrating it's first anniversary as a separate entity from the financial newspaper which spawned it. Congrats to Jason Tan and team for producing a glossy mag which is both intelligent and visually delicious, which talks art and literature and politics, which isn't shy to be appropriately subversive at times, which isn't afraid to feature the occasional piece of locally written fiction, and which is prepared to explore issues in depth. Happy birthday!

My only wish (and a selfish one at that) is that more of the features were available online so that I could pick them up and run with them on this blog, and that they were archived. (Some articles from previous issues can be found here.)

Anyway ... in the current issue there is a (very!) lengthy interview with Datuk Johan Jaafar who in Deputy was former Editor-in -Chief of Utusan Malaysia and is now deputy chairman of the Malay literary board Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka. The whole thing is worth a read, but I give you this snippet because it is most quoteworthy:
Are we producing good works of literature now? Ask yourself, what was the last good malay novel you read? If you ask me I would say Hujan Pagi (by A. Samad Said) published more than 26 years ago. Where are the tomes, the canons, the masterpieces? Sadly, today's literature has little time for the poor, the downtrodden, the rakyat or even the successful. We are still nostalgic for Shahnon Ahmad and Samad Said's works becasue we're not producing good contemporary novels.

The most-read Malay novels are the popular ones - picisan, they call it. At least 20,000 copies of any one of these titles are printed. one such novel, retailing at RM49 is selling more than 50,000 copies, and it will take at least five years to finish the stock. People don't read serious stuff anymore. Period.
Picisan? A Malayisation of "fiction"? Nice!

(It occurs to me to ask though ... where are these classic Malay novels? I never see them in the bookshops and I would like to buy them. Raman tells me it is very hard to get copies and even he doesn't have them on sale! Don't DBP need to get their finger out and actually promote their books???)

Other good stuff in this issue includes an article on Goenawan Mohammad, Indonesian poet and man of letters (also by Eddin), Rahel Joseph's review of Suketu Mehta's Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, and an interview with Leow Puay Tin about her curatorship of texts for Second Link. And much much more.

So thanks Off The Edge for keeping this litbuff happy. Each issue is a keeper. But please, celebrate your birthday with a decent website!

* If you find insulting the assumption made by local newspapers that being young and cool equates having nothing between your ears, it's time you started making your voice heard, I think. I certainly don't believe it to be true.

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22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hmm.. a good popular book sells like 2000 in Australia, but over here some books sell more than 50,000. And they say _we_ don't read. As for the young people, they ARE making theor voices heard, it's just that they're not here. Many other forums are full of what obviously are teenage viewpoints (yes I can tell.)

bibliobibuli said...

anonymous - that's no small figure, is it?

the young people are here, though you can't see them, i can, via the links on my sitemeter which lead me to their websites and blogs.

and i reckon that this dumbing down by the will be yet another reason for mainstream press to be sidelined.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your endorsement of Off The Edge. Their first issue made me decide to take a subscription. I particularly enjoy their Hypermarket section (beautiful charts!!!) along with the very quirky snapshots of individual consumers. The Edge did start a winner here. I hope the magazine will retain its individual voice - esp now that it's going to be hived off its parent. Zarina.

Anonymous said...

Yup I should have said.. they're not making their voices heard here. 50000x49 = that's almost a quarter million ringgit per book. How I wish.. :)

Yvonne Lee said...

Hi Sharon! Thanks for posting this!

Great to know that you're a fan of OTE too. May praises be heaped on Jason and his team.

I was told too that Jason is one the best journalist/editors in town....out from the mouth of a high brow author, okay...

I collect every issue and my favourites are Hypermarket pages and yes, dear ol' Pat Teoh's Teohlogy.
(not to mention, they gave me 4 pages coverage/free-feng shui consultation earlier this year....hehehe..)

Yes, Happy Birthday to OTE and many more great issues to come!

Anonymous said...

As for the classics, they're available from abebooks :)

Eric Forbes said...

Yes, I enjoy reading OFF THE EDGE too. I believe it is the best English-language magazine in town and I look forward to future issues. I especially enjoy the book reviews and the short stories. And the interviews. The short stories ought to be compiled.

Ted Mahsun said...

Where are the tomes, the canons, the masterpieces?
They're not around to be read because DBP doesn't want to republish them. I'm also pretty sure there are a quite a number of good malay literary works out there... it's just that no one highlights them enough. Perhaps he thinks literary fiction means fiction about people with low-income.

Ooh, btw, "picisan" means "popular" in this context, but the real meaning is "low-quality" or "low-value" :D

Chet said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chet said...

"50000x49 = that's almost a quarter million ringgit per book. How I wish.."

No, actually that's almost 2.5 million rinngit. But how much of it will actually go to the author? Factor in editor, publisher, design, distribution, etc.

And finally, a magazine decent enough to buy and read (as recommended by Sharon and a few others in the comments). Thanks, everyone!

Greenbottle said...

"picisan" is a mildly uncomplimentary or even derogative word to refer to books that are not 'serious'...much like what some people regards books by say grisham, danielle steele and all those old mills and boons ...

'picisan' books are very popular with silly young malay girls especially... one 'famous' author is the prolific AHDIAT AKASAH who makes hundred of thousands of ringgit and selling hundred of thousands volumes of his formulaic novels ...i never read them so don't exactly know what they are all about but girls go troppo everytime a new book of his come out...

there is a healthy malay fiction scene in malaysia right now , the only thing is silly girls (for girls are mainly the readers) only read junk...

there are a few SERIOUS young malay writers out there, Hizairi Othman and Feisal Tehrani are two most well known ones... hezairi othman famously won RM100,000 first prize in a malay short story competitoon several years ago and more famously soon dissapeared after this...he has not been heard since and some believed him to be kidnapped and most likely dead now...

Feisal Tehrani is our Martin Amis...he is the master of malay word play..his master's thesis was on gabriel garcia marquez and his books are convoluted like marquez..or so i heard for i've read any yet...and his books have won many malay literature awards... i believe he has stopped writing now and becoming very fundamentalist in his Islamic religious belief now...he has a blog that deals with islam and all that...he's getting more and more interesting ...

also heartwarming to see is that there are some really good/serious non malay writers writing in malay...one that come to my mind is Uthaya P Sankar...but i think he also kind of slow down now...

The Eternal Wanderer said...

Congrats indeed to Off The Edge! I have actually just bought my first issue this month, though I have started reading it since the Anwar Ibrahim issue, that one was the first time I picked it up and stood reading it for almost an hour at MPH!

Reagrding classic Malay novels, I heard that Dewan Bahasa are doing some updating of the Malay classics and might be doing an English translation of them. Their rational was to encourage more people to be exposed to the Malay classics. This was about a year ago, I think.

My only exposure to Malay classics were my SPM days... I still have a photostated copy of Hikayat Malim Dewa buried somewhere in my storeroom!

Oh, Bibs, just to let you know that I received the package! Thanks!! ^_^

lil ms d said...

has the new OTe come out already? it musthave sld out at my local mamak mag shop because i can't find it!

my dad and i always fight over the mag - good stuff.

bibliobibuli said...

it's nice to know the magazine is so widely appreciated

anon - why should the calssics be available form abebooks and not from our local bookstores, tempting our wallets as we browse? something is defintiely cock-eyed

greenbottle - thanks for all that information and for educating my ignorant self. time to explore ...

eternal wanderer - hope you're right on the reissues. glad the package reached you and sorry it took so long.

ms d - i bought the septemeber issue in times bsc which is usually where i see it. here's a list of stockists.

lainieyeoh said...

mmhmm, I like reading OTE too, it's about the only mag I make a point to look out for.

As for malay classics. Maybe it'll be easier to borrow the books? I've not seen them in bookstores, that I recall.

sartorean said...

Incidentally...

http://tehranifaisal.blogspot.com/2006/09/dalam-off-edge-september.html

bibliobibuli said...

many thanks for the link, sartoean

Anonymous said...

"why should the calssics be available form abebooks and not from our local bookstores, tempting our wallets as we browse?"

No demand. No good publishers. No space.

Anonymous said...

Yup good link.

"..nilai-nilai masyarakat Malaysia telah berubah kepada tidak baik dan tidak bermoral.."

Very interesting. I wonder what his stand on censorship is.

Anonymous said...

"No, actually that's almost 2.5 million rinngit."

Goodness, you're right.

"But how much of it will actually go to the author? Factor in editor, publisher, design, distribution, etc."

Say 3% ? that's 75K per book. Not too bad for stuff you can do with your eyes closed innit ? :) I so wish I could write in Malay :P

Tunku Halim said...

The author should get about 10% of the retail price. So that's RM250k. Time to brush up on our Malay?

Anonymous said...

'picisan' books are very popular with silly young malay girls especially... one 'famous' author is the prolific AHDIAT AKASAH who makes hundred of thousands of ringgit and selling hundred of thousands volumes of his formulaic novels ...i never read them so don't exactly know what they are all about but girls go troppo everytime a new book of his come out...

there is a healthy malay fiction scene in malaysia right now , the only thing is silly girls (for girls are mainly the readers) only read junk...

..you haven't read his book and yet you're putting your words about a prolific author. Worse still you categorically degrade the Malay girls reading such books as silly. Are they really silly or is it you being silly? Better put your foot in your mouth and speak.