Friday, March 20, 2009

Raman's Sound Off

What do Malaysians want? asks Mr Raman of Silverfish in The Malay Mail. Among the points made about the local publishing scene:
Books are coming out thick and fast, and some of them are of international standard.

Take the recently published Ripples and other stories by Shih- Li Kow. Amir Muhammad gave it an absolutely positive review, and everyone who has read it is full of praise. This book deserves to be in every Malaysian public and school library. But will it? Or will that space be reserved for a badly edited title of uneven quality by the “right” publisher?

Then, there is the question of the media. Here too, a foreign visitor looking at our literary pages will wonder which country he, or she, is in. I have been told that most book reviewers work freelance, and they choose what they want to read (except for the very famous titles which everyone fights for).

There are many reasons why they are mostly disinclined to choose a local book.

Firstly, foreign books are seen as more glamorous. Secondly, there are the prejudices based on past experiences regarding quality. And thirdly, they will have to write their own reviews, and not be able to do cut-and-paste jobs after lifting stuff off the Internet, as some quite obviously do.

... Malaysian writers do well overseas, so why not at home? I believe that with the right support, a homegrown Malaysian author can become a success internationally. What we need to decide is if that is important (or not important) for the nation.
Why keep making such a big issue of this "homegrown Malaysian author" business? Does being overseas make what they write any less relevant to us? Not a bit of it.

Shi-Li's book, yes, is very good and does indeed deserve to be in every library and every school. But when Raman talks about :
... a badly edited title of uneven quality by the “right” publisher?
is he referring to Urban Odysseys published by MPH? * Why can't he actually say so? Why this pussy-footing around, instead of being clear and direct?

* Amir Muhammad in the comments says he believes he's talking about the books published by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka. Another friend who sent me the link believes it is Urban Odysseys.

Update (7/4/09) :

Apparently wasn't Urban Odysseys. I apologise for getting the wrong end of the stick, as did others who read the article. Still don't know what books is being referred to, I'm afraid!

23 comments:

Amir Muhammad said...

I don't know the backstage goss, but I assumed by 'right publisher' he meant DBP, whose books are indeed automatically bought by libraries. Maybe I'm wrong!

bibliobibuli said...

this is precisely the problem with ambiguity! but i think i'm right

bibliobibuli said...

changed post a bit just in case you are right and i am wrong!

Anonymous said...

Well, if MPH is the "right" publisher - that's cool in its own way too isn't it? Wasn't so long ago when there weren't any reputable/semi-reputable publishers at all ...

As for the homegrown Malaysian writer business... well I think it's not just about the writer... but also about the publisher. Do we want to have a "juara kampung" writing ecosystem where local works are only consumed locally (and that in minute quantities), or one that is world class in that it can consume, produce and sell on a global basis? It seems that we have the consume part down pat, the production part on its way and now the only question left is the selling part. I think what I am getting at is, we want this to be a two-way conversation - our voices need to be heard not just by ourselves.

And yes, our writers overseas represent us too, yes, but they represent a very specific slice of us. Migration changes a person in many and subtle ways.

Oh dear I am not sure if I expressed myself at all correctly - all these thoughts are still percolating and this is just my initial reaction ...

-Jen

Anonymous said...

"This book deserves to be in every Malaysian public and school library. But will it?'
Isn't the right person to answer that question the publisher of Ripples? Instead, Mr Raman is "guessing" whether they will buy the book? And then write what he hopes is a "provocative" article to plug a book published by his own publishing house, and whine about how the National Library isn't taking notice? Instead of wallowing in self-pity and taking cheap shots at unnamed publishers, get up and do some actual work. From what I've noticed in Malaysia, selling local books isn't easy. And he seems to make lots of assumptions about everyone else, reviewers etc. How fun for him, to use newspaper space to just be cranky at the whole world! Yawn. I should ask my grumpy grandpa to have a column in a local paper too.

- bored reader

Anonymous said...

My grandma wants a column, too!

Anonymous said...

Raman sounds like a bitter old queen...what's crawled up his skirts this time? If he IS talking about Urban Odysseys, then of course lah MPH will give maximum exposure to its own books. Does Raman give more shelf-space to Urban Odd or to Kow's Nipples in his own shop?

- Poppadumdum

Amir Muhammad said...

But then again, the DBP books that I have aren't badly edited, although some are a bit on the boring side. It's just the only publisher I know of which has instant access to libraries.

Anonymous said...

That's true.. DBP's stuff isn't bad, it's just that Amir is anti-establishment, so it's not that he will find anything published by them as good.

Been to Raman's shop.. small. Not squidgy.

bibliobibuli said...

but i doubt that he would have made the compariosn between the dbp books and "ripples" ... more likely he's comparing it with another book of short stories in english? but he really can't bring the charge of "badly edited" against it. and especially not as it is far better edited than some of his own collections ... and not to mention much better proofread (even shih-li's bok contains some very ouchy errors)

Baronhawk said...

Grouchy publishers, punchy statements, veiled accusations, spirited discussions...

one would have thought that this blog posting, its commentaries and the real world relations to the events mention herein are indeed a plot line and story's telling that one would expect to see within the published books.

Truly, the Malaysian publishing circle and literary community hides a seedier side that perchance is worthy of it to be titled a "soap opera" genre. Badly edited of otherwise.

It seems I would need to gird myself with Sue Ellen's courage as well as JR's cunning to ride my version of the literary steed into the precincts of the "published author." Bobby's Innocence just doesn't seem to cut it anymore.

hmm... where should I emigrate too... closer to my old alma mater perhaps.. Miami IS a nice place to be. The barefooted Malaysian in Miami... that could just be the trinket to help sell my manuscripts.

Anonymous said...

Urban Oddysey is unlikely to be placed at all libraries nationwide. He couldn't be talking about that. So,it seemed like he meant the Utusan books, its' novel contests, etc. Got government connection what...

bibliobibuli said...

yeah actually, that would fit. but why not say so more directly?

Baronhawk said...

Maybe because Utusan has been known to sue for libel against those who impinge against its 'image.'

Amir Muhammad said...

Utusan went to the dogs many years ago.

bibliobibuli said...

yes, i see.

but going back to this national library issue - i've met the people who do the buying and if Raman approaches them, chances are they will be happy to buy his book for all the branches. shih-li's book should fit the bill very nicely. the school libraries are of course a different issue,

Chet said...

I think if Malaysian publishers have a checklist of to-do's for marketing their books, "contacting National Library to sell book to them" should be a recurrent item on the list. In fact, the publishers should have a contact at the Library that they just call up about a new book each time it's out in the market.

Didn't Xeus sell some copies of her Dark City to National Library?

bibliobibuli said...

the contact i know is puan hafiza.

nat library yes bought "dark city" in huge quantities and were very happy to have a locally written, locally published book to buy. selling books to nat library isn't rocket science but you do have to contact them!

Jordan said...

He couldn't possibly have been referring to Urban Odysseys. Haven't read it yet, but judging by Eric's standards the writing in Urban Odysses must be both fascinating and flawless, like every other book MPH publishes, otherwise the editors wouldn't even want to work with it. Am I right?

Amir Muhammad said...

Eric just promised me a review copy of Xandra Ooi's book! So I am happy.

Anonymous said...

Sharon wrote in her post:

"is he referring to Urban Odysseys published by MPH? * Why can't he actually say so? Why this pussy-footing around, instead of being clear and direct?"

There are various reasons why people don't come out and say what they mean.

How many of us have not said, in private, "This book isn't very good" and then gushed in public about it.

- Daphne

bibliobibuli said...

flawless is relative, Jordan! it's a very necessary book but there are weaker pieces and stronger pieces and that is the only way that such a collection actually can be. of course an editor has to love their baby!

daphne - if you are a journalist, well you owe it to everyone to be honest about what you think. but yes, i've come across instances of double-facedness as i've told you.

Anonymous said...

Well I have never NOT been honest abt my opinion of a book in a review or in person. And if I didn't think much of a book I would not endorse it or agree to launch it. I know some who have no qualms expressing reservations abt a book in private and then promote it in public.
- Daphne