Book review by Tan Kaiyi


With the rise of the Asian Century, the global community typically shines its spotlight on the economic progress of the region. Much is made of the advancing wealth of nations like India, China, Singapore and Vietnam. But while the economic progress is an easy unifying narrative that could be woven through the different countries, equally important — but much more challenging — is charting the breadth and depth of the Asian literary imagination.

The Best Asian Short Stories 2019 is up to the monumental task. The editor of the anthology, award-winning author Hisham Bustani, highlights the main obstacle to the endeavour when assembling the collection:

“…there is no such thing as a well-defined, self-contained, concrete, unified Asian identity…”

He explains the issue by contrasting it with Europe. While similar to Asia with a geography that contains multiple language and cultures, the region “claims a unique identity and set of ‘European values’ that separate it from others…” This consequently gives a literary landscape in the region a halo of universalism. Whether it is true at heart or not is certainly up for debate, as Bustani rightly points out that some communities like Turkey are isolated from the Eurocentric ideological bloc.

Monsoon Books, the trade publisher of books on Asia with offices in Singapore and the UK, has signed up with Dutch social DRM provider Booxtream to enable direct ebook sales from its own website. With immediate effect Monsoon is also bundling free ebooks with all paperback purchases from its website.

“Monsoon was one of the first trade publishers in Southeast Asia to release its whole list as ebooks,” explains Monsoon Books publisher Philip Tatham. “We currently supply ebooks to over 70 ebook retailers globally with the majority of our ebook sales to customers in UK, North America and ANZ via the big four retailers of Amazon, Apple, Kobo and Google. However, the ebook market in Southeast Asia, which is our home territory and our largest print market, is almost non-existent and we hope to combat this by selling ebooks direct to customers. With the exception of Google, there has been little or no push by the big ebook retailers into Southeast Asia. Tech-savvy customers in Singapore, for example, have no access to Amazon’s Kindle store unless they register an overseas credit card or use roundabout methods to purchase Kindle books involving gift cards.”

‘The Guest’, a Kindle novella by Suneetha Balakrishnan, is on offer for free download for 3 days from 21 December.
The Guest is a day in the life of three people of an Indian family and the dynamics of Indian family life is not quite what we watch on TV, Balakrishnan told Kitaab. “The Guest can be downloaded into your Kindle or the free app Kindle on PC on amazon,  and its a free download for three days from 21st December 2014 (Pacific Time),” she said.

In an experiment,  the Kindle readers scored significantly lower than paperback readers on questions about when events in the story occurred. They also performed almost twice as poorly when asked to arrange 14 plot points in the correct sequence: NYT

Do people read as well on screens as they do on paper? Scientists aren’t quite sure. While the type of E Ink used in the latest generation of Kindles and other tablets has been shown to be as or even more legible than printed text, other studies have indicated that — in terms of reading comprehension — the medium doesn’t much matter.

In the SWF Publishing Symposium yesterday, Ravi Mirchandani of Atlantic Books, Jayapriya Vasudevan of Jacaranda Literary Agency and Anna Davis of Curtis Brown Literary and Talent Agency discussed new and different ways to get published

Before the arrival of digital publishing and distribution platforms (such as, agents and publishers were the gatekeepers, and authors were at the mercy of these agencies. Not any more. That is true to some extent and we all have heard about this trend but what is the whole truth? Are agents and traditional publishers still relevant? One of the Symposium tracks discussed this topic at the National Museum of Singapore.

Anna Davis said that agencies are still important and relevant to shape the career of a writer. She sees, at least in the UK where she works, more people reading books off their Kindles on the London tube but physical books are still relevant and so are traditional publishers. Physical books are doing well in the UK market, she said. Novels are still doing very well in the UK and it is possible to make good money by becoming a novelist, Anna added. An average novelist makes about 10,000 pounds a year in the UK but the bestselling authors make a lot more.