Monday, November 03, 2008

When is a Novel like a Durian?

It's really nice to see Preeta Samarasan interviewed by Masami Mustaza in today's Malay Mail ... but what an embarrassment that the headline in the print version screams :
Cameron Highlands Native has a Story to Tell
though it looks as though the online version (which will be up in a few hours) has put things right.

A related question. (Warning - Rant coming up.) Is Malaysia the only country where journalists interviewing authors feel they really don't need to read the book beforehand? I hear this over and over from authors, both local and visiting from overseas. Sometimes there is a legitimate excuse (your editor only gave you a day's notice beforehand - and yes, this has happened to me) but mostly it's a lack of professionalism in the industry as a whole.

Talking of the Malay Mail, I missed blogging about Mr. Raman's very interesting column Why I Read Fiction.

Ever heard a novel compared to a durian before? The comparison though is wonderfully apt :
I have come full circle and read mostly fiction now. Oh, there are the bummers, of course, and often all that pandering, stereotyping, clich├ęs and bad writing gets to me such that I sometimes seriously want to tell the author never to write again. Still, I persist. It is like going through a basket of durians: you are pushed on by a memory of a really good fruit you once ate; you want to rediscover it, you want to feel again that creamy texture, you want to experience that divine bitter sweet taste once more. So, you are willing to go through an entire basket, through a lot of poor ones, average ones, okay ones, good ones before you finally get to that great one. Yes!

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think the bigger embarrasssment is the line in the article that reads "Was there a JK Rowling-esque story behind Evening is the Whole Day"? That is truly cringe-worthy!!!

TR

Kak Teh said...

oh dear! I cringe when I read headlines to my stories. The one I did on the askar melayu in london read: Regimen Melayu 'invades' Buckingham palace!

Okay, will read the review now. Once again, congrats Preeta, hope to see you in london again.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Kak Teh! Will let you know when I'm in London again.

Well, if it makes anyone feel better, no, Malaysia is *not* the only country where journalists don't read the book beforehand :-) . I don't know what to do -- half of me wants to just refuse these interviews because they don't read the book and then they misquote me egregiously (can't they understand simple English?!?), but I don't want to be a diva. I don't like divas and I can't really afford to be one yet anyway. I need the publicity, so I always say yes, but then this is what I get. The same inane questions over and over again, and the inability to understand my answers. Gah!

-- Preeta

bibliobibuli said...

i understand authors being peed off.

once i had to do a telephone interview with a very famous writer and i'd only been told about the interview 2 days before and been given her enormous book. there was no way i could do more than dip into it and then go online and read as much as possible so i could sound reasonably intelligent. as it was she very quickly handed me over to her husband (and co-author) on the phone, said she'd be back in a minute ... and then never came back.

sometimes it tisn't easy for journalists but you have to try to do the best you can. i don't really feel prepared until i have read everything by an author but that certainly is not possible in most cases. also you really aren't not paid for reading time.

Anonymous said...

Malay Mail spelt Preeta's name wrongly beneath the photograph...

- PPDD

Aravin said...

preeta, are you coming down to seremban any time soon. b'coz i am just aching to get my book signed by you. you truly are my favourite asian author. you rock. pls reply

Gette said...

Ugh, I get that a lot - getting sent off to interview someone who is supposedly famous but not getting enough time to research because it always arrives at the last minute!

I get stressed out when sent to interview over-interviewed people. What is there left to ask that they haven't already answered somewhere?

Anonymous said...

Bib,

once did the interview over IM/webcam, took one day. Got the book beforehand, wow the hoops you have to jump through to get a review copy.

Greenbottle said...

as a READER i don't particularly care what the reviewer write about the book per say. I feel happy if the reviewer just go and have a good lunch with the writer and just describe what he/she feels about the writer and let the conversation flows and if the writer cares to say any particular thing about the book that's fine. if not , just describe what he /she is like...if she is a bitch or a good girl or an obnoxious bastard or a good guy whatever the case may be.

i find good reviewers have a knack of writing nothing much but makes me want to read the book he/she reviews all the same....

Anonymous said...

Er, Greenbottle, what you're describing is an interview, not a review. A review is by definition an article about the book, and in places that are not as short of writers as Malaysia is, it's considered highly inappropriate for a reviewer to ever meet the writer, let alone have "a good lunch" with him or her.

Aravin, I can't come to Seremban lah, very sorry! Thanks for your support and enthusiasm, and I hope to run into you in KL one day :-) .

I don't mean to be too demanding of journalists; I do understand that they're very short of time and that in Malaysia they don't get paid for reading time. All I ask is that they maybe check out my website first so they don't ask me questions they could easily answer with 5 minutes of effort (e.g. "What is your book about?"), and also that they don't MISSPELL MY NAME or say I'm from Cameron Highlands lah, aiyo! I got nothing against Cameron Highlands -- I love it -- but I'm not from there!

-- Preeta

Greenbottle said...

oh! silly me. yes you're right of course ms preeta.i was thinking about an interview - which can be combined with a book review too right?

and i do think that a good reviewer doesn't neccessarily have to read the whole book to write a good review. i half suspect that most don't even go past the second chapter of most books they review...imagine reviewing another sophie kinsella shopholic series...or another deepak chopra book...

and i think book reviewing is one of the most boring 'jobs' on earth...probably even worse than working as an accountant or a lawyer ... a tired cliche but true nevertheless...

Anonymous said...

Agree with you Preeta. All it takes is a bit of work, checking up, preparation, before meeting the interviewee.

If an interviewer doesn't know the basic facts of the subject matter or the background of the interviewee, how can he/she come up with interesting questions?

That's what separates a good journalist from the pack of hacks.

- Poppadumdum

Anonymous said...

Someone interviewing me asked me, "What's your book about?"

"It's about 400 pages," I replied.

bibliobibuli said...

sorry to have been offline guys. my computer was seriously sick and the internal organs have now all but totally been transplanted. the good news is i'm back in business with a whizzier machine. the bad is my chequebook hurts so badly lah.

X said...

Bib,

I could have fixed it cheaper :) a lot of these people replace things that don't need to be replaced :) anyway I don't do that much any more, but the next time that happens, shoot me an SMS, you know my number (016-201xxxx) -- it's the least I can do :)

X said...

Hold, people are paid to read? on top of what they are paid to write? where? :)

Anonymous said...

An editor, for example, is someone who is paid to read. But since we're just talking about reviewers: I would be willing to bet that the wages of people like Michiko Kakutani and James Wood factor in reading time :-) .

And Greenbottle, sorry to burst your bubble of cynicism (haha! what an oxymoron!) but they *do* read every book they review, very carefully, and it shows. And yes, one absolutely does need to read the whole book to write a truly intelligent review. Nevertheless, you do have half a point -- these top reviewers are not the ones reviewing Sophie Kinsella and Deepak Chopra. I'm not sure where those writers get reviewed, and I'm also not sure if their reviewers read all the pages every time.

-- Preeta

X said...

Preeta -

Isn't an editor paid to correct mistakes and polish grammar? I don't think they're paid to read per se, are they?

X said...

"It is like going through a basket of durians: you are pushed on by a memory of a really good fruit you once ate; you want to rediscover it, you want to feel again that creamy texture, you want to experience that divine bitter sweet taste once more. So, you are willing to go through an entire basket, through a lot of poor ones, average ones, okay ones, good ones before you finally get to that great one. Yes!"

So the effective cost of a good book is something like Rm300-600 (if we assume that each book costs Rm30 and you have to buy and read 10-20 books to find a good one.)

Anonymous said...

X -- you're thinking of a line editor/copy editor. An *editor* is paid to read and think about large-scale issues of character, pacing, plot, etc., not "mistakes and grammar." Aiyo! I can think of a lot of people who would be horribly offended by that description of their job :-) .

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

Preeta -

A line/copy editor is still an editor :) and even so, that's beside the point. That's not being "paid to read" :) the reading is incidental :)

Anonymous said...

Er, "incidental"? How on earth do you make useful observations about character, plot, and pacing without careful reading?!? The reading is anything but incidental! Close, thoughtful reading is the *main* element of an editor's job (and the distinction between line/copy editing and "editing" isn't mine -- it's industry terminology. An unspecified "editor" means someone like Sonny Mehta or Janet Silver -- people who have launched and formed the careers of today's best known writers. Anyway, for what it's worth, my own editor defines her job exactly that way -- "I'm paid to read."

-- PS

X said...

Preeta -

But she isn't paid to write. I can't see your average reviewer/interviewer anywhere being paid to read stuff that they should read. Which was my original question, is there somewhere in the world where reviewers and interviewers are paid for reading time as well as writing time?

Anonymous said...

I think so, X -- like I said, I think the wages of the famous reviewers (like Michiko Kakutani, James Wood, Alex Clarke) factor in reading time. But someone correct me if I'm wrong -- I've never checked, this is just my suspicion based on what I know of these people's lifestyles and the fact that they don't have other jobs :-) .

-- Preeta

Masami Mustaza said...

I'm quite embarrassed with the headline too. Because in the first few paragraphs I did mention that the author was from Ipoh, not Cameron Highlands. And I think I should take it positively that I was able to put in a cringe-worthy line in my article - at least it created some reaction from the readers. - Masami Mustaza, Malay Mail.

bibliobibuli said...

quite right, you put Ipoh in the article and someone else got it wrong in the headline!