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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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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.

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Lit Review: ‘Such a Fun Age’ by Kiley Reid

Such a Fun Age is Kiley Reid’s debut novel which has drawn much admiration for its witty and sharp observations of modern life couched in fluent and pacey prose. The novel’s protagonist is Emira Tucker, a 20-something black babysitter fresh out of college with little direction and limited means to orient herself. Unlike her group of more successful friends—one of whom is a medical professional and another an upwardly-mobile business executive—Emira depends on her babysitting gig to make ends meet. While her well-off white employers, Alix and Peter, are generous enough to remunerate her above scale, Emira is aware that her situation is neither sustainable nor desirable (although that doesn’t stop her from buying a leather jacket when she comes into some money unexpectedly later on).

Events are set into motion when she is accosted one evening at an upscale grocery store by a security guard caught in the throes of white paranoia. Tasked by Alix to take two-year old Briar out from the house late one evening, Emira is accused by the security guard, on the word of a too-good Samaritan, of kidnapping her young ward. After a brief but heated confrontation reminiscent of the many #WhileBlack episodes that made the rounds on the internet this past year, Peter, the girl’s father, arrives to defuse the situation but the damage is done.

The Grocery Store Incident (GSI) will be a pivotal moment for several characters in the novel (incidentally all white) but, and this is not without a little irony, not for Emira who’s too busy trying to make rent and eat. Characters notably affected by the GSI are:

  1. Mrs Alix Chamberlain, Emira’s employer and go-getter who’s lost her groove after leaving New York City. A social media type who initially got famous by writing polite letters to brands and corporations for freebies (and subsequently changed her name from Alex to Alix) and founder of the #LetHerSpeak woman’s movement, Alix is equally troubled by the GSI and her apperception of the stagnation in her professional and personal lives. Following a conference call with her inner circle of friends, all of whom are highly accomplished and of the “I’m being a good friend right now and asking how much weight you’ve gained” variety, Alix decides that she needs to put her life in order, which in her world means first keeping hold of Emira as her sitter whatever the cost. Ostensibly to keep her precocious two-year old Briar company, but, more importantly, as a project that would somehow be equally validating for both her and Emira.
  2. Kelley Copeland, a seemingly well-intentioned witness to the GSI who video-records the exchange between Emira and the security guard (as a precaution in the event that things went south). It turns out that Kelley is a successful IT-type and both he and Emira eventually start dating. However, it becomes quickly apparent that Kelley has a type: all his friends are black, he is completely immersed in black culture and casually dips into black lexicon in both speech and manner. Kelley is super-woke, which brings with it all the baggage such enlightenment implies. Additionally, it turns out that Kelley may have had a run-in with Alix in the past.

Alix and Kelley become increasingly involved in Emira’s life, constructing a narrative for her that becomes stifling and unwelcome particularly when Alix resorts to cunning means to manipulate her sitter. Emira, who has no interest in being a martyr and is bound to Alix only by her affection for Briar, finds the growing attention and the high-handed approaches of both Alix and Kelley unbearable, and things come to a head. Neither Alix nor Kelley are malicious, of course, and they both demonstrate genuine concern for Emira’s well-being. However, it becomes problematic when the two of them start seeing Emira as an extension of themselves rather than who she really is.

Gushing reviewers have compared Reid’s Such a Fun Age to the novels of the other young, virtuoso writer, Sally Rooney. Central to the two writers is the way they impute meaning to millennial life which is often unfairly depicted as shallow and trivial. But Reid, as with Rooney, writes sympathetically of the unique challenges of modern life, which in her case is the hyper-aware, hyper-polarised sociopolitical landscape (read “fun” age—see what she did there?). Reid also has a sterling ear for writing dialogue, be it in describing the lively exchanges between Emira and her friends in black vernacular, or the kid-friendly tone when Emira is dealing with Briar (Reid was a babysitter before she became a writer and that experience probably came in handy).

On the whole, the novel is charming and skirts the edges of cliché but pulls back from the brink to provide a refreshing take on the rather well-used life-as-a-minority trope. There is a verve to her writing style that can be aggressive and tender in equal measure, and she expertly weaves in nuanced observations of race and modern life that are alternately funny, cutting and wry. There is a concern that the subject matter of the novel may be too localised to be relatable to readers who are neither young nor American, but Reid is talented enough of a writer to spin a compelling yarn all the same. The characters, especially the white ones, also seemed a little one-dimensional with little self-awareness, but perhaps that depiction is also a deliberate one.

Verdict: Good, and will likely be one of those massively talked about books in 2020. (7/10)

Availability: Trade paperback, RM65.90

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Heartwarming books to end the year with

As the year winds down, so do our spirits which have been challenged and tried the past 11 months leaving us yearning for quietness and solicitude in these last few weeks of the year. It’s at times like these that one wants nothing more than to reach for books that balm the soul. We present to you here a selection of fiction and nonfiction that’s sure to inspire or warm the cockles of your heart. Happy reading!

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot (RM64.90)
In James Herriot’s memoir as a country veterinarian, we are first introduced to our protagonist as a young man fresh out of veterinary school who begins his practice in rural Yorkshire. Almost immediately, he recognises that veterinary practice, especially in the country, is a completely different proposition from the sterile school environment. Herriot regales us with stories of the many eccentric characters (and their animals) that he meets, and while some of them are heart-wrenchingly difficult to read — such as the story of an old man whose ill dog is his only friend and companion — others are lighthearted and fun. Charming, heartwarming and incredibly funny, All Creatures Great and Small is a classic work which reminds us that life often comes with unexpected twists and turns, but there is nothing that a little compassion, kindness and patience can’t handle. In addition, the series is getting a new TV adaptation with shooting expected to begin in 2020.

Love for Imperfect Things by Haemin Sunim (RM59.95)
Haemin Sunim, one of the most influential Zen Buddhist teachers and writers in South Korea, has written a book full of gentle wisdom on how best to live one’s life, beginning with accepting ourselves for who we are, warts and all. Many of us respond to the pressures of work and life by striving to work harder, but we should first come to a place where we are at peace with ourselves and recognise that we are enough just as we are. Through eight thematic chapters — Self-Care, Family, Empathy, Relationships, Courage, Healing, Enlightenment, and Acceptance — the book offers nuggets of wisdom in short essays, anecdotes and quotes, complemented by full-colour, charming illustrations by Lisk Feng. A feast for the eyes and soul, this book is sure to help those on the journey towards loving yourself, your life and everyone in it.

Bolder: Life Lessons from People Older and Wiser than You by Dominique Afacan (RM79.90)
It’s safe to say that not many of us look forward to growing old — the idea conjures up visions of achy bones, disease and loneliness. This book seeks to change that perception with real profiles and portraits of people aged 70 and older living life to the fullest — they make old age look appealing, or even fun. There’s the incredible story of the 85-year-old man who swims a mile in the Mediterranean Sea every morning, and a woman who fell in love and married at age 82. Many of the folks featured in the book say this stage of their life is their happiest. Arranged by thematic chapters that include Success, Love & Sex, Happiness, Health & Fitness, and Style & Beauty, the inspiring stories of these individuals are packed with life lessons anyone can learn from. 

Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel by Ruth Hogan (RM47.90)
Ruth Hogan burst on to the scene as an up-lit writer in 2017 with her debut novel The Keeper of Lost Things. This was quickly followed by The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes in 2018, and Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel in 2019. A novel of mothers and daughters, families and secrets and the power of friendship. The book’s protagonist, Tilly, is an exuberant little girl who enjoyed life to the utmost living at the Queenie Malone’s Magnificent Paradise Hotel in Brighton with its endearing and loving family of misfits. Tilly’s mother has other ideas, however, and sends her away to boarding school with no explanation or warning. This early betrayal has substantial impact on Tilly’s development and she grows up to become a cold and untrusting adult with Eli, her dog, her only friend. She returns to Brighton following the death of her mother, and together with Queenie, discovers secrets about her mother that reveal a side completely unknown to her before. Relationships  between mothers and daughters can be complicated, and pasts are often hidden for supposedly good reason; but for Tilly, uncovering these hidden pasts won’t just sate an underlying sense of curiosity, but may well pave the way forward to acceptance and forgiveness. 

The Courage to Be Happy by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga (RM69.90)
The Courage to Be Happy is the sequel to Kishimi and Koga’s global best-seller The Courage to Be Disliked where a philosopher gently leads his interlocutor, a young man, to greater self-awareness and acceptance. Written in the form of a Socratic dialogue, Courage utilises the theories of psychologist Alfred Adler to outline a way forward to a life of happiness and fulfillment. Alas, at the start of the sequel, we find that the young man has returned to the philosopher, bitter and disappointed that the Adlerian theories had let him down. Yes, he had taken decisive action with respect to his own life and quit his job to pursue a vocation as a middle-school teacher. However, he quickly hits a brick wall and blames the philosopher for having led him down the wrong path. Of course, our philosopher isn’t about to take these accusations lying down and patiently explains Adler’s ‘Philosophy of Courage’ to the youth in a conversation that lasts the entire night. In this book, authors Kishimi and Koga present Adler’s theories as a philosophical guide for life in contrast to the first book, which was more focused on outlining Adler’s theory. 

This article appears in the December 2019 issue of FireFlyz, the in-flight magazine of Firefly airlines.

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The Lit Rewind Ep 04 – Bob Holmes

Welcome to the fourth episode of the Lit Rewind.

Every now and then, our bookshop hosts events that brings together writers and readers to discuss all things literary. So when The Edge Options approached us to jointly launch a book by one of their columnists, Bob Holmes, we jumped at the opportunity. Further sweetening the deal was the fact that Bob’s book, Shanks, Yanks and Jurgen, concerned the history and revival of the best football team in the world, Liverpool FC.

While the launch did not rival the famed European nights at Anfield, it came pretty close thanks in part to The Edge’s kind sponsorship of the refreshments for the evening. The event was kicked off by The Edge’s CEO and Publisher Ho Kay Tat who is a life-long Chelsea fan. But we won’t hold that against him… much.

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The Lit Rewind Ep 03 – Tunku Halim

This is the third episode of the Lit Rewind.

Every now and then, we get interesting bookish people into our shop to discuss all things literary — be they their books, their thoughts on a book, or on the craft of writing in general.

On Sept 28, a hazy Saturday afternoon, we held an intimate discussion session with one of Malaysia’s most prolific writers Tunku Halim, who is the first Malaysian author to have been picked up by Penguin’s new Southeast Asia imprint. Joining us to discuss his collection of short fiction, Scream to the Shadows, was Sharmilla Ganesan, radio journalist and writer. 

We started the discussion by asking Tunku Halim how this new collection of stories came about. Tunku Halim’s Scream to the Shadows is available in-store, as are several of his other books including his children’s history book and his biography of Tunku Abdullah.

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The Lit Rewind: Ep 01 – Tash Aw

UPDATE 31 AUG 2019, 1.29PM: The podcast is back up and running! We’re now hosting the recording via Soundcloud and the player and link is visible in the top-right corner of our homepage. We’ve also posted the link below. Send us a message on FB or Insta if the link doesn’t work for you.

UPDATE 31 AUG 2019, 11.31AM: Dear friends, we did not expect the recording to be as popular as it turned out to be and the sheer number of downloads and streams crashed our website. We are now seeking an alternative solution to hosting the website and will make an announcement here when we have done so. We apologise for the inconvenience!

Welcome to the first episode of Lit Rewind, our very own podcast.

Every now and then, we invite authors and other guests to our shop to discuss books, their work, and answer questions from our very enthusiastic crowd of readers. 

On a stormy Thursday evening in August, our shop was filled to capacity with about 100 eager fans waiting to talk to and meet Malaysian author Tash Aw. Tash’s novel, We, the Survivors, was published earlier this year. We began our interview with him by asking him to describe the novel. 

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Lit Recap: What Dementia Teaches Us About Love

Few things in life are as heartbreaking as bearing witness to the steady decline of a loved one. It is particularly tragic when the decline pertains directly to that sense of self and identity which makes a person distinctive, special and, perhaps more importantly, makes them the unique individual that we have come to care and love over a lifetime. But this is precisely the area in which dementia — described as the disease of the century — affects. 

It is a great irony of our age that the medical technologies and breakthroughs of the day have done so much to prolong and extend life, and yet it is precisely because of this extension that cases of dementia have been increasing. Though the exact cause of dementia has yet to be determined, there is a definite and observable correlation between dementia and old age, which raises the spectre of new challenges for countries such as Malaysia where average life expectancy is on the rise. 

In her recently published book, What Dementia Teaches Us About Love, Nicci Gerrard provides a comprehensive account of how dementia affects us — as patients, caregivers, society — and the challenges that exist now and in the future in coping with a growing number of dementia sufferers. Having lost her own father to the disease, Gerrard’s book is a moving account of personal tragedy but also explores important philosophical questions such as the meaning of self, and what it means to live a meaningful life. 

At Lit Books, we were inundated with readers who reported their own challenges of living with or interacting dementia patients, and who picked up Gerrard’s book in search of information, perspective or perhaps just to locate a shared experience — caring for a dementia patient can be a lonely undertaking. In view of this great interest in the subject matter, we invited Dr Rishikesan Kuppusamy, consultant neurologist at Pantai Hospital Kuala Lumpur, and BFM89.9 presenter Lee Chwi Lynn to talk about the book and on dementia in general at a public panel discussion held in our shop recently. Edited excerpts from the discussion is reproduced below. The podcast will be available on BFM89.9 sometime in September. 

Lee Chwi Lynn: Doctor, can you take us through the definition of dementia?
Dr Rishi: Dementia is a syndrome. It’s like a fever — you could have fever because of an infection, because of cancer — so dementia is just an umbrella term. What it essentially means is it’s a chronic condition and it’s degenerative — that means it will progress over months and years, resulting in loss of memory, although memory is just a small subsidiary of this. It also involves losing the ability to carry out your day-to-day tasks, things you’ve already learnt, things you’re already good at: driving, cooking, managing your finances. That’s what dementia roughly means.

Everyone has had the experience of leaving their house and thinking, ‘Did I lock the door, did I switch off the iron, did I do these things.’ At what point in these little flickers does somebody need to consider to go see a doctor?
Dr Rishi: If you’re losing your keys, you forget where you parked your car, you should just tell yourself what I tell myself every day: You’re fine. That’s normal. The fact is that this disease makes you completely oblivious that you are losing it. It’s usually the people around you who will say something is off — you’re embarrassing yourself or you’re making cock-ups which are atypical of yourself. We’re not talking about forgetting where you parked your car because you know you forgot where your car is. These are people who didn’t even know they brought their car and they have problems with managing space, parking, and so on. The involvement here is not just one isolated thing like forgetting your keys; it’s a multi-factorial domain.

The book deals with this question of identity. At what point does someone not become themselves anymore? A little bit of a philosophical question for you, but what is the self?
Dr Rishi: In dementia, there is a gradual evolution of change because the disease is multifaceted. It’s not just the component of memory, but losing executive function, which is loss of ability to carry out an already learned skill. You have these inhibitive values — for example you used to be someone who’s very quiet and someone who likes to listen but now you’re the loudest one in the room. Bit by bit you start becoming somebody else. I think this is a very abstract point. But the truth is it’s difficult and the system doesn’t really recognise this because we identify you by name, by IC number, by your fingerprints and your signature. We have a system that’s built for that but we are lost when it comes to this.

Min Hun: The book offers two very good views on what the self is. On one hand you have those who say the self is no longer the self if you sever all connections with people around you. If I can no longer be a son, or a husband or employer, then I am no longer myself because I can only define myself in relation to another person.

But then there’s also another perspective that no matter how you change, you’re still you. We’re not the same people we were 20 years ago; we are changing all the time. It’s just that the change is more gradual. But do I now say I’m not me because I’m not the same me that I was 20 years ago? That second idea of the self is talked about in some detail in this book and you find that these people who believe that even though they have changed, even though they might be suffering from dementia and they are no longer the same person they were before, they actually live fairly full lives: they actively go out and do things in the community. Yes, perhaps not in the same capacity as they did before, but in their new capacities. I think what’s interesting though especially within a Malaysian context is at what point do we recognise or say that you no longer have the power to decide because you’re no longer able to.

Min Hun thanks for getting us there because I wasn’t asking tricky philosophical questions for fun. It was leading to this point about being able to grant permission. In the medical fraternity, the patient’s right to choose is a huge thing. In a situation where you’re dealing with somebody who has loss of certain levels of identity and faculty, what options are there for people to make decisions ahead of time? How much does that respect the patient’s ability and right to change as well?
Dr Rishi: We call this an advance directive, that means you sign a note with your closest family members present or your legal counsel stating very clearly that in case of medical emergencies you do not want to be resuscitated. This is on a pretext that you already have a bad condition… or for whatever reason there’s a car accident or something sudden that requires certain things to be done. You’re very clear on what should be done, where the line has to be drawn.

The thing about dementia, it is a slow continuous progressing condition. If you make this advance directive in January, how sure are you in July that you won’t change your mind? This is where the problem is; it’s not so clear-cut. From a medical perspective, patients are given the liberty to make advance directives but it’s very clear that it’s for acute medical situations and not for long-term conditions where the outcome is variable and there may be issues with patients changing their minds.

Ideally, the patient has decided for himself and the family is on the same page with the patient. But this is a taboo topic here. We rarely have patients talking to their kids and saying, ‘Hey if this happens, I think it’s only right that you let me go.’ It’s not within our culture to talk about that. These are the challenges.

The irony is that advance directives are also for the benefit of the family. I’m curious whether there are specific things that are unique to our Asian culture when it comes to care-giving with our notions of filial piety, which is a very important value to us.
Dr Rishi: I don’t think it’s fair to say it’s Asian values and that’s why we are going to give our parents more. I’ve been hammered for saying this. In the western world they’ve got their own rationale, how they approach things. It’s not due to a lack of love. The system works differently. The social support allows them to do what they are doing now. The social support system here doesn’t allow you to engage an institution or a home close-by to the hospital where dad or mom were admitted. And here we have a stigma concerning nursing homes. But it’s not necessarily true; some of them are run very well. But the perception that a lot of people have is that if I send my folks to a nursing home, I’m letting them down. Sometimes you’re doing them a service because they are allowed to engage with people, activities are being done, health issues are being attended to faster. Maybe we are in denial because we feel that we have to just hold on to this value system where I care for you like you care for me but you may be giving less than what the home can provide. We have to be more open about this.

In the book there is a focus on the language we use when we talk to old people in general, people with dementia, things like not calling everyone ‘my dear’ but instead using their names, and not referring to putting someone in a home as if that person were no longer a person but an object. I’m curious, doctor, how important is language when you are talking to patients?
Dr Rishi: I don’t think this is just a medical issue; it’s an issue that encompasses all facets of life. If your neighbour was Mr Nathan, it should always be Mr Nathan even if he has now become less of what he was before — we honour what he was before by still calling him Mr Nathan. That’s the human element to medical care. He may not be able to express his thoughts in the most rational fashion but he was somebody and he still is somebody. It’s also like dealing with children in school. Just because they express something which is not typical, it’s not fair that we label it as different. That’s why I say this is not just a pure medical thing; it’s across the board. You respect each other’s presence — don’t rob someone of their identity just because they are going through some trouble. The whole idea of dementia care is until the last day he is with us, everything should be done to preserve his dignity.

What Dementia Teaches Us About Love is available in-store at RM98.90.

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The #loveyourbookstore Challenge 2018

This November, Lit Books is participating in the first ever #loveyourbookstore challenge, a social media initiative spearheaded by publisher and CEO of Sourcebooks, Dominique Raccah, who wanted to give booklovers a way to celebrate and share about their favourite bookstore with others. The challenge runs from Nov 10 to 16. Show us some love this November and stand a chance to win prizes from Lit Books!

Here’s how you can take part:
• Visit Lit Books and take a photo of your favourite section or a book you’d like to add to your TBR list.
• Post the photo on social media — Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter — from Nov 10 to 16, 2018.
• In your post, complete this sentence in 20 words or less: “I love Lit Books because…”
• Include the hashtag #loveyourbookstore,#mylitbooks and tag @mylitbooks.
• Tag 5 friends.

Three of the best posts with all the above criteria met will win a Lit Box with bookish merchandise (a pouch by Out of Print and a Bookjigs bookmark), a paperback novel, and a Lit Books gift voucher (each box is worth RM135).

**Contest ends at 11.59pm on Nov 16, 2018. Winners will be announced on Nov 17, 2018. Winners are responsible to pick up their Lit Box from the store.**

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Lit Recap: An Evening of Murakami-Inspired Music by WVC Malaysian Jazz Ensemble

It’s not often that Elaine and I are able to indulge in two of our great loves — reading and music — together at the same time. So when Tay Cher Siang from critically-acclaimed jazz band WVC Malaysian Jazz Ensemble proposed a Murakami-inspired performance at our store, it didn’t take us long to ask ‘When?’ and ‘Can we really do it?’ And do it we did.

On Wednesday Aug 15, WVC played to an intimate sold-out crowd of 40-something attendees at Lit Books. Featuring original music inspired by Japanese literary master Haruki Murakami and covers of songs mentioned in his novels (e.g. Star-Crossed Lovers and Danny Boy, among others), the band brought the much-loved stories to a new, higher level.

The connection of Murakami and jazz is evident — Murakami’s novels, like jazz, demand interpretation on the part of the reader. The playful presence of eccentric characters and surreal scenes demand that the reader conjure for themselves the significant and meaningful connections which are not always immediately evident. As most Murakami readers will readily concede, trying to ‘understand’ Murakami can be immensely frustrating. Because of his preoccupation with the subconscious and the unconscious, his characters are typically richly textured and range from the mundane to the supernatural.

Murakami’s readers, by being forced to tease through the neural maze of these rich personalities, become strangely familiar and emotionally invested in these characters who nevertheless retain an impenetrable sense of distance. And though these characters arrive at some kind of resolution in their inner lives, this sense of closure and completion is not reflected in their outer lives, which in turn preserves the distance felt by the reader. I interpret this to be  a deliberate artifice on Murakami’s part, as a comment on the vicissitudes of reality and outer life, as against the closed systems of internal life. Nevertheless, there is interplay between the two worlds: between inner and outer life, between conscious and unconscious thought, between the world of imagination and dreams, and the world of lived experience. 

This freedom and sense of play is endemic in jazz, which, of all genres of music, best incorporates the ideas of  spontaneity, unpredictability and free play. The occasional discordant note, the sudden change in tempo and the modulations from the various competing instruments and the dependence on the various players may sometimes seem chaotic, but it is, as the German philosopher Kant would call it, a “purposive” chaos. It is purposive in that there is a significant sense of agency behind the chaos; it is not random, but controlled. Jazz seems to have a purpose but to what end is uncertain. Kant calls this the “free play of the imagination and the understanding”, and this seems to suit both Murakami and jazz just fine.

WVC’s bandleader, composer and pianist Cher Siang, a self-confessed fan of Murakami’s writing, is a scholar of the Japanese master. To our ears, he has done wonderfully well to interpret Murakami as jazz, although he confesses as much himself that Murakami–a conservative jazz classicist, would find WVC’s music unbearable. We beg to differ on this point.

WVC Malaysian Jazz Ensemble will be releasing their third studio album in September 2018.