Monday, November 29, 2004

The trouble with our libraries

Interesting article in The Star's Kuala Lumpur Metro today. Reading at book stores the rage now (strangely, the online metro said "book sores") basically says that Malaysians prefer to read at book stores than libraries.

Honestly, this is old news for me. I used to spend every Sunday curled up in the MPH Reader's Lounge reading a book. I try to ignore the snoring dude that always seems to be there whenever I'm there, and read a book on interior decorating or the latest bestseller. The ambience in MPH's Subang Jaya store is the best - way better than the one in Mid Valley where there is barely a place to seat, but I digress.

The state of Malaysian libraries - at least the ones in Klang Valley - is pitiful. Why do people not go to the libraries? Here are the reasons:

  1. It's inconviniently situated - the National Library for one, is located on the busy and difficult-to-access Jln Tun Razak.
  2. The books there are old, old, old. Bestsellers, new books etc are just plain hard to find. I didn't even realise that libraries buy best selling books (until I read book blogs from overseas). I used to think libraries just buy books that you don't see in bookstores!
  3. Dress codes. No wearing singlets, slippers, short sleeves, short skirts in a library. Didn't know libraries became the moral centres of the universe suddenly.
  4. There are just too few of them!

Malaysians don't read much. I think below 10% of us read regularly. The first reason is probably the most obvious one: books are damn expensive-lah! Sometimes, if I go beserk, I could spend 1/4 of my pay on buying books! Honestly, if they want a reading nation, they'd have to give libraries a budget for books, and not shelve the expenses for buying books under 'misc'!

Our only saving grace is from Pay Less Books (a place for 2nd hand books) or rent-a-book stores.

I'll be in dreamland if libraries:
  1. Are found within the residential area instead of out there in the city somewhere. The more accessible, the more readers you'll get! Walking to the library! What a dream!
  2. Have new, current, best-sellers on their shelves so that I can save my money.
  3. Don't have all the nice books under reference section.
  4. Don't have those silly dress code rules anymore.

I live in Subang Jaya, and I think it's just absolutely appalling that we don't have a library. (We do have a Multimedia library, but I don't like reading books on computer screens!) If only the powers that be would spend $ on a well-stocked library instead of building useless gardens with giant bird sculptures.

The best-est library I've ever been to was the library in Johor Baru. That was like, more than 10 years ago (oh no, I really feel my age suddenly). They had Asterix & Obelix comics, for goodness sakes! I used to count the days where I'll get to visit the super-secret adults' section. Too bad we moved to KL - where libraries are so few and far in between - before I could.

Any bigwigs listening to this rant? If so, please do something about our libraries!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Bad bosses make good stories

Am currently reading Toby Young's How to Loose Friends & Alienante People and have decided to put aside Marion Zimmer Bradley's stories about Darkover for the tale of the fall of a great man (in his head, that is).

In essence, How to Lose Friends is a long, well-written gossip rag about the glitzy going-ons behind Vanity Fair, a particular magazine I'm rather fond of. And we all love gossip - especially one that mentions a certain well-known draconian Vogue editor.

I'm talking about Anna Wintour, in case you're not in the know. Some of us in the journalistic world take perverse pleasure at novelists ribbing editors, especially those with a reputation like Wintour's.

Wintour is one difficult lady, according to Young and to popular legend. It is suspected that the author of The Devil Wears Prada based her portrayal of her novel's cruel boss on Wintour - she was once one of her assistants.

Indeed, after reading Young and Lauren Weisberger's account, I find some similiarities. But I can't remember them off-hand now to list them for you right now. But I can tell you what makes Wintour so "ballsy" to say the least.

According to Young, Wintour lives like a Queen (she is paid a cool US1mil a year) and uses the company's petty cash account like her own Swiss bank account, she doesn't ever ride in the elevator with anyone (except maybe the Queen of England or anyone worth sucking up to, I suppose), gets annoyed if anyone talks to her without her permission, yada yada yada.

She makes one of my old bosses - the one I worked with once upon a time in an ad agency not so far away - look like my fairy godmother.

But hey, maybe Wintour will one day rise up and write a tell-all biography on how wrong Young and Wesberger is. (Shrug)

For now, we common folks without Prada to wear can enjoy the gossip.

PS: Another book on bosses behaving badly worth checking out could be The Nanny Diaries. It's currently sitting in my library, unread. But after Young's deconstruction of the politics in Vanity Fair, I'd possibly be more hungry for Bad Boss Lit - so it's probably next on my To-Read list. Also, Sydney Morning Herald has a piece on Bad Boss Litt. Is it the Next Big Genre? Chick Lit, after all, is so yesterday.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Getting lost in the library

Was back at the apartment yesterday and decided to pick a book from my library to read. My little library is a wonder. It's filled to the brim with books - nearly 1,000 of them, and 60% of them I've not read!

Unfortunately, I couldn't decide what book to read. Almost all the books there are worth reading and I want to read it all at once! In the end, I picked How to Lose Friends and Alienate People by Toby Young and a Star Trek Voyager novel.

I've been reading too many non-fiction books these days (too many of them on politics!). I need to return to the land of imagination once more. So I am reading Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Fall of Neskaya right now. The book has not set my imagination on fire yet.

There a sense of sadness when I drove away from the apartment, knowing that I left behind all those lovely books alone well I concentrate on just for a few. But I'll be back later ...

We're quickly running out of shelves for the library. I kid you not, my sister and I have added perhaps 200 over books to the collection just this year. I'm starting to wonder that perhaps I should utilise the space above my toilet for book shelves.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Su Tong's allure

Some people consider Su Tong China's best writer in the 21st (and 20th) century, and they're right. Well, I consider him that.

I got to know about Su Tong after watching the immortal Zhang Yimou movie Raise the Red Lantern. Then I found his book, Rice, and was enthralled. In the book, you get to see the disintegration of a family. I seem to remember with great clarity that one of the characters is really disturbing. She has a feline quality to her character, and an undercurrent of vengeance in her spirit, expertly masked by her drowsy mannerisms.

Su Tong, in my opinion, just captures the spirit of the Chinese excellently. The tragedy, the sadness inherent in our millenia-history, the blight of our flawed human nature ... he makes it all so beautiful and poetic for some reason.

But he isn't what I call an easy author to read because sadness just permeates every page of his books ... and I'm the sort that likes to be happy when I read! Hah.

The most gorgeous thing about my work, and my sister's, is that we both get free books. Can you imagine what amazing luck it was that my sister brought home Su Tong's latest translated novel, My Life as Emperor, home? Now, if only I could set aside some time to read it (I still have a few "assigned" novels to read and review).

Meanwhile, if you want to try reading Su Tong, do start out with the novella Raise the Red Lantern. It's one of his finest.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Review: A Cold Heart by Jonathan Kellerman

Whoowee! Like, how long since I graced this blog already? Never mind, don't answer that.

Since reading Michael Connelly, I've been delving more and more into mysteries. Discovered a new author called Jonathan Kellerman while going through the books cabinet at the office and decided to have a go. Honestly, he isn't as good as Connelly. However, he is sure prodigious! He must've written a bazzilion mystery books, most of them featuring the psychologist/nosy detective Alex Delaware.

A Cold Heart is my first Kellerman read. Here's my review: Careers cut short