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Introducing our Online Shop

Dear friends,

We hope and trust that you are staying safe and keeping well.

The restriction movement order (RMO) imposed by the government has meant that non-essential businesses like ours had to be shut down, and Lit Books has complied with this directive, closing our shop on 18th March 2020. Thankfully, e-commerce can continue as per usual–and indeed we have been fulfilling requests from customers who wrote in to us and we are so grateful for that–but the lack of a proper online shop limited the service we could provide to you.

During this past week, Elaine and I have been frantically putting together the infrastructure and hours of data entry to create a workable online shop. You can find the link on the top right corner of our website and it should take you to a basic storefront: You can add products to your cart, you can edit your cart, and you can checkout your orders. But unfortunately, we cannot take online payment (as we do not have an account with the appropriate payment authority yet) and we still rely on bank transfers for payment.

So here’s how it works:

  1. Add your selection(s) to the cart.
  2. View your cart to finalise your choices.
  3. Click the checkout button.
  4. There is a flat RM8 fee for shipping within West Malaysia and RM12 for East Malaysia. Shipping is free for purchases above RM200 for West Malaysia and RM250 for East Malaysia.
  5. At this point, you will receive instruction to bank in payment to our bank account and to send us a screenshot of the bank transfer record.
  6. While this happens, the item will be placed on ‘hold’ which means no one else can buy the item.
  7. The item will be on ‘hold’ for roughly an hour during which time you should be able to transfer the funds and send us the screenshot.
  8. We will complete the transaction and ship the item(s) out to you on our next shipping run.

Some questions you might have:

  1. Do we have to pay using a bank transfer?
    Yes, unless you don’t mind doing an eWallet transfer to my personal account. I can presently accept Touch N Go, Grab and BigPay. Message us on Facebook or Instagram if you’d like to arrange to do one of these alternative modes of payment. However, do checkout your item first so it will be held for you.
  2. How will you be shipping the books and how long will it take?
    We ship by PosLaju by default. During this past week, customers have reported receiving packages as early as the very next day and three days at the latest (within the Klang Valley). We can also arrange for shipping via Grab Delivery or via another e-hailing service. Again, get in touch with us to arrange for alternative shipping methods but please note that the shipment fees will change accordingly.
  3. I live nearby. Can I pick up the books from your shop?
    No, because we want you to stay at home. We’d hate for anyone to expose themselves to infection during this time and we would rather rely on the professional delivery people–whom we can’t thank enough–to handle this task.
  4. This FAQ didn’t answer all my questions. How can I get in touch with you?
    The best way to reach us at this time is to message us via Facebook or Instagram. Understandably, nobody is at the store at the present time to pick up the phone. Our Facebook page is http://www.facebook.com/mylitbooks and our IG handle is @mylitbooks.

One final note: A big THANK YOU to all our customers who have purchased books from us this past week. These are uncertain times for all business owners and prospects are opaque for a small book retailer such as us. Thank you also in advance to all those of you who are thinking of supporting us during this difficult time. Every little bit helps and is so much appreciated.

A quick verse to end this rambling post (one of my favourites):

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

— Emily Dickinson

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Lit Revew: ‘Impractical Uses of Cake’ by Yeoh Jo-Ann

Friends know that I’m a sucker for cake. I am also a sucker for books with interesting titles. And so, when I came across Yeoh Jo-Ann’s debut novel, Impractical Uses of Cake, winner of Singaporean publisher Epigram’s Fiction Prize 2018, I had to bite. And what a treat it turned out to be.

Like a good lemon pound cake (a personal favourite of mine), this story has substance but isn’t dense. It strikes the perfect balance between sweetness and tartness, and it is tender and charming without being maudlin. The story gives you plenty to chew on but doesn’t sit heavy on the stomach. (Okay, that’s it for the cake imagery.)

Different types of cake – yuzu coconut cream, lemon sponge, sugee, coffee pound, and orange chiffon, to name a few – feature throughout the novel, as the main character, 35-year-old English literature teacher Sukhin, is something of a cake fiend. He loves eating them, baking them, and sharing them; it is very much part of his identity. In one hilarious and all too relatable scene (to me, at least), Sukhin is out on a date with a woman who chooses an organic soy latte over cake for dessert, and he spirals into an internal monologue where the love of cake is a criterion to be considered “his people”.

One person who does share his fondness for cake is Jinn, his former secondary school sweetheart. Sukhin stumbles on Jinn one afternoon in Chinatown, and she, to his astonishment, is now living as a homeless person in cardboard boxes in an alleyway. She disappeared several years ago and he had taken her for dead. Seeing her again shakes him to the core.

As Sukhin slowly unravels the mystery surrounding her initial disappearance and present situation, he becomes attuned to the homeless, an invisible segment of Singapore society that he had previously not given much thought. Present-day going-ons – juggling teaching, his family, and meeting up with Jinn – is juxtaposed with Sukhin’s recollections of what he and Jinn were before. Sukhin eventually comes to terms with the new reality, and along the way, finds himself fashioning ever more elaborate “shelter” out of cardboard boxes for Jinn. The whole experience changes him in subtle but profound ways.

Yeoh’s writing sparkles with wit and empathy in this poignant, quirky novel. Told in an unhurried pace that’s part of its charm, the story is a beautiful portrayal of a gentle friendship. It deftly explores how life isn’t just what happens to you but what you make of it, and how the only way to live is according to one’s authentic self.

Verdict: A sensitive, heart-warming tale (8/10)

Availability: Paperback, RM45

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Five books on women by women to read this month

In The Second Sex, French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir wrote that “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”. Woman-ness, accordingly, is an existential state that follows upon the myriad experiences that are specific — women’s experience, so to speak. Though this philosophical insight is not unproblematic, there can be little argument that there is a uniqueness to the perspectives and experiences of women (though this author also acknowledges that the assumption of uniqueness presupposes a patriarchal normativity which is again troubling). We celebrate International Women’s Day in March and we do so by highlighting some extraordinary women and the way in which they have brought their own unique insight into a variety of activities: travel, parenthood, grief, data analysis and, of course, storytelling.

Stories of the Sahara by Sanmao (RM74.90)
Chen Mao-Ping , or better known by her pen name Sanmao (三毛), was a Taiwanese travel writer who is instantly recognisable to her legions of Chinese reading fans who have been inspired to dream of lives less ordinary. An irrepressible writer and adventurer — the book opens with the following line: “When I arrived in the desert, I desperately wanted to be the first female explorer to cross the Sahara” — Stories of the Sahara is a testament to Sanmao’s spirit and timeless romanticism of adventure and discovery. Elegantly penned, the book invites the reader to share in Sanmao’s experiences of love and loss, freedom and peril, in a voice that deftly dances from sharp wit to languorous expression. The book was first published in 1976 to immediate acclaim, and it is inexplicable that it has taken more than 40 years for it to have been translated into English. Sanmao’s voice fills a lacuna in the travel writing genre which continues to be dominated by the white, male voice.

Motherhood by Sheila Heti (RM59.90)
Sheila Heti’s Motherhood is a powerful novel that follows the life of Heti’s unnamed writer/narrator as she struggles with the question of whether or not she wants to have children. For the narrator, she recognises that the question has as much to do with externalities as it does with her own existential struggles: with her insecurities, her sense of authentic self and her uncertain impulses and feelings of motherhood. Riven with ambivalence, she decides to pour her anxiety into a book in hopes that the end product may give her some clarity on what she truly wants. The book takes the form of a dialogue with three coins, which are flipped to give her yes or no answers to questions and concerns. The narrator’s struggle with motherhood — realising that something is irretrievably lost however she chooses, and desperately hoping that that which she loses is not irredeemable — is couched in Heti’s intimate prose which may very well be a reflection of her own struggle with potential parenthood.

The Way Through the Woods by Long Litt Woon (RM99.90)
Following the sudden death of her husband Eiolf, author and anthropologist Long Litt Woon finds herself bereft and “in free fall… I, who had always been in command and in control”. Disoriented without her partner of 32 years, Long discovers solace out on a walk one day and literally stumbles on the one thing that would lead her out of her “tunnel of grief”: mushrooms. Long, a Malaysian by birth and a Norwegian by marriage, has written a monograph on mycology, a personal grief diary and a mushroom cookbook, and woven them together into a compelling narrative that moves nimbly from one subject to the next. The books treat each subject discreetly (and are colour-coded to help the reader identify the appropriate sentiment with which to treat the paragraphs–the true mark of a scientist) which, rather than interrupts the pace of the book, creates a unique structure where the personal, the scientific and the culinary overlap and intersect. The book reveals a relationship that was at once united by love, but also by a shared spirit of adventure and scientific curiosity.

Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez (RM84.90)
“Instead of believing women when they say they’re in pain, we tend to label them as mad. And who can blame us? Bitches be crazy, as Plato famously said.” And hysterical pain is only one of many examples of the way that the androcentric world continues to marginalise and delegitimise women’s experience. Invisible Women, which won the Financial Times and McKinsey Book of the year prize for 2019, is a revelatory monograph that uncovers — and, in some cases, merely points — at the way that inventions, policies, workplaces and the like fail to take into account women’s experience in their conception and development. Central to Perez’s thesis is the claim that the fundamental evidential unit of experience, datum, is ultimately gender-biased, flying in the face of the long-held faith in the objectivity of scientific research. Seatbelts, school admissions, municipal policies on the clearing of snow — nothing escapes Perez, and they are exhaustively revealed to be fundamentally gender-biased in her excellently researched book.

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal (RM75.90)
Elizabeth Macneal’s evocative debut historical fiction set in Victorian London is an intoxicating tale of obsession and pursuing one’s passion. Iris works as a painter of dolls at Mrs Slater’s Doll Emporium but harbours ambitions to be a real painter, and she secretly does so in the cellar at night after everyone is asleep. When Iris is presented with the opportunity to model for pre-Raphaelite artist Louis Frost, she agrees on the condition that he teach her to paint. Even as she is finally living her dream, her life is about to be turned upside down due to Silas Reed, owner of a curiosities shop and a collector entranced by the strange and beautiful, whose chance meeting with the red-haired beauty at the Great Exhibition sets him on a dangerous path fuelled by obsession. The novel is a bit of a slow burner at first, but it picks up halfway through to unfurl a series of nail-biting, shocking twists to make for a truly engrossing read.

This article appears in the March 2020 issue of FireFlyz, the in-flight magazine of Firefly airlines.