Filipino murders, black rulers and Zimbabwe — read all about them!
KUALA LUMPUR, May 15 — When my boss (single, no kids) decided to sit and listen to details of over 200 titles of children’s books instead of exploring Singapore’s Orchard Road (or Geylang), I knew we worked for the book industry. When the PowerPoint presentation failed to work and no more colourful illustrations of Fairy Bears dazzled us onscreen, and he didn’t nod off, I knew we belonged to the book industry.
I went to Singapore for my first book roadshow this year. It was organised by Pan Macmillan, part of the Macmillan group which is as old as A Christmas Carol (both came to life in 1843). Among other illustrious authors, they are the publishers of Booker Prize-winning Graham Swift and Nobel Prize-winning VS Naipaul. Pansing Distributors, the kind folks who brought Tan Twan Eng’s The Gift of Rain to Malaysia, ferried booksellers and assorted bookish people from Malaysia for a little get-to-know of the exclusive new titles.
The idea of spending an afternoon at the Singapore National Library didn’t sound like the coolest gig, but trust Singapore to wow us with a sleek modern library, where a private elevator takes guests up to The Pod on the 16th floor. It then opens its doors to a function area with wall-to-wall glass windows to provide a panoramic view of the city.
For the roadshow, Pan Macmillan spent four hours introducing upcoming titles to those of us who will buy, sell and promote them. Although unauthorised biographies of celebrities will continue to plague us, there are still many other books coming from the UK and US to get excited about, from preschool books to hardcore historical fiction, which they say is experiencing “a comeback.”
My favourite list comes from the Pan Macmillan UK titles, where literary fiction still fights for survival amidst thrillers, romance and sure-sell titles like Yu Dan’s Confucius from the Heart. Here are some of the titles I’ll be snatching off bookshelves in 2010.
Hitting our bookstores in a few weeks is the much-awaited novel by Miguel Syjuco, winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize 2008. I had the privilege of listening to this young Filipino at the Singapore Writers Festival 2009 describe his book in person. Ilustrado starts off with the death of author Crispin Salvador.
“Missing from his apartment is a manuscript on what was meant to be a wide exposé of the corruption of power in the Philippine ruling elite. The death was ruled a suicide by investigators,” Syjuco explained. But Crispin’s accolade, also named Miguel, thinks it is murder.
“He decides to go back to the Philippines to investigate and in doing so, he is able to examine very closely the work of Crispin Salvador.” There will be poems, memoirs, essays and short stories, which will reflect on “Philippine history over the last 150 years.” I’m expecting it to be an insightful book into our Asian neighbour’s history and culture. The author has cool tattoos and is pretty good-looking, by the way, if that carries any weight.
I’ll also be looking out for The Fear by Peter Godwin, who writes on the last days of Robert Mugabe (left). It has been over a year since I started corresponding with a Zimbabwean author. Some arsonists had an un-Happy the New Year, of course, and, yes, our news actually reached Zimbabwe. When Zimbabweans tell you they’re horrified to hear that some Christians had their churches burnt by Muslims, you know we have issues!
With the online buzz, particularly Kenny Gan’s poignant article in Hornbill Unleashed that “nobody should think we are immune from suffering Zimbabwe’s fate,” it’ll be interesting to read how Mugabe, instead of stepping down after losing the 2008 election, terrorised and punished Zimbabweans for supporting the opposition during a period which Zimbabweans referred to as the Fear.
A small-scale war broke out between publishers last year at the Frankfurt Book Fair, where Conversations With Myself became the most fiercely contended book. Yes, a more reputable leader, Nelson Mandela, will also have his book out this year. We can probably shine a torchlight into a certain prime minister’s ear to see what goes on in his mind — I dare say we’ll even see a lovely glow come out the other ear — but what goes on inside a well-renowned president’s mind? Despite being in prison (for 27 years! I just celebrated my 28th birthday). The book will also contain documents from his years as South Africa’s first black president who was democratically chosen.
Although I’m not a thriller fan, I should mention that Pan Macmillan dubs Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants their Number One UK title for 2010. Here’s an interesting fact to chew on. In Germany, the Top Three best-selling books of all time are: Harry Potter at number three and the Bible ranks at number two while, incredibly, Ken Follett is more popular than Harry Potter and Jesus and outsells them with his masterpiece The Pillars of the Earth!
Fall of Giants will be the first novel in the Century trilogy, and will be out in September 2010. On Follett’s website, he says: “I follow the destinies of five interrelated families — one American, one Russian, one German, one English and one Welsh — through the earth-shaking events of the First World War and the Russian Revolution.”
A friend said he thought the roadshow would be “like one of those China exhibitions,” showcasing the latest gadgets and other exciting paraphernalia. I suppose it could very well be in the future. Surrounded by buntings and tables filled with promotional books, Pan Macmillan Asia’s Managing Director, Daniel Watts, still had to address the era of digital publishing, where e-books present an “enormous opportunity and an enormous threat” simultaneously.
Macmillan only recently battled against online seller Amazon over the price of e-books. And now everyone is chewing their fingernails after Steve Jobs announced that Apple has sold “one million iPads in 28 days,” and with that, 1.5 million e-books, which will keep changing the way we read even further.
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