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The Half-Yearly Update

Hi folks,

It’s been just over six months since Elaine and I started Lit Books, and we remain amazed by how time seemed to have just flown by! It’s been a steep learning curve and I think we are now beginning to almost, sort-of get the hang of it, but only really sort-of. One of the things that we’ve really come to enjoy is ordering and receiving new books — it still feels like Christmas whenever we get a new box of books — and we are pleased to report that our stock of books has continued to grow steadily.

Our customers have been asking us to come up with a list of our bestsellers, so we have obliged and published our list of bestsellers here. While it certainly provides some insight into our customers’ reading habits, the list has to be taken with a pinch of salt as it is never our policy to purchase more than a few copies of each title. This mean that sales of a title that takes a while to restock may be lower than a title that we purchased in bulk to, for example, facilitate an in-store event.

Another interesting development is how we have really started intensifying the number of literary events at our store. Since the store’s opening, we’ve hosted several authors, live recordings with BFM’s Bookmark programme, book launches, etc. We are also going to be doing a Murakami-inspired jazz performance to show that literature isn’t confined to just the written word.

Another quick word of thanks to all, and keep following us here or on social media to keep up with developments!


Min Hun and Elaine

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Malaysia: Turning a New Chapter

Elaine and I would like to congratulate all Malaysians in making the brave decision to vote for change in the recently concluded GE14. As with our fellow citizens, we, too, were glued to our television screens in anxious trepidation — I at the bookshop with some of our regular customers and she in her hometown of Kota Kinabalu — as the polling numbers came in. There was both joy and anxiety as it became clear that we were bearing witness to the start of a new chapter in our country’s story.

GE14 notched many firsts for our relatively young country: the first time we’ve changed the government; the first time bastion states have fallen into the hands of the opposition; the first time that the deputy prime minister (elect) will be a woman; etc. It is no surprise then that a spirit of renewal and optimism has effused the national dialogue and consciousness. But what may be the most important lesson of the election is the proof positive of the possibility of change — a possibility not in terms of a lofty philosophical concept but in terms of the sheer ability of the Malaysian political and governance framework to admit of change. This was a change which former cynics said was impossible.

I used to number myself among those cynics and though I did not see the #undirosak movement as useful, neither did I think that my vote was going to make much of a difference. To be proven wrong was a welcome surprise, and prompted immediate feelings of regret for not having kept the faith.

As impossible as it was, it has happened and we must not squander the opportunity to make the most of this new beginning. Lest we forget, we the Rakyat are complicit in allowing the previous administration to become the oppressive cangue around our necks. The possibility that the new administration may devolve into a similar construct is very real: power corrupts, after all, and the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. It is done.

— MH

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World Book Day 2018: It’s all Greek to me

Falling on April 23 annually ever since it was instituted in 1995 is the UNESCO World Book and Copyright Day, which pays tribute to books and authors. The date was chosen as it is a symbolic one for world literature: Shakespeare, pre-eminent Spanish novelist Cervantes, and Spanish chronicler Inca Garcilaso de la Vega all died on this day in the year 1616. April 23 is also the date that marks the birth or demise of other prominent authors, such as French novelist Maurice Druon, Icelandic writer Halldór K. Laxness, Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov, Catalan author Josep Pla and Columbian writer Manuel Mejía Vallejo.

Since 2000, a city is designated World Book Capital for a one-year period beginning on April 23 each year. The chosen city undertakes to uphold the World Book Day’s impetus through its own initiatives. This year, Athens, Greece has been conferred the honour. According to the website, “Athens was chosen for the quality of its activities, supported by the entire book industry. The aim is to make books accessible to the city’s entire population, including migrants and refugees.”

And so it is that we have chosen a Greek theme to commemorate World Book Day at Lit Books. The legacy of classical Greek literature is immense — from Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey to Sophocles’ Antigone, these enduring, epic works of heroes, gods and tragic lives continue to dominate contemporary literary imagination. The literary tropes derived from these Greek classics remain as compelling today as they were some two millennia ago.

Here are four novels inspired by classical Greek literature, and one, a modern Greek classic.

Circe by Madeline Miller
In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child — not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power — the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

With vivid characters, mesmerising language and page-turning suspense, Circe is an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, love and loss, as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man’s world. (Trade paperback, RM65.90)

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
This unique retelling of the legend of Achilles and the Trojan War is marvellously conceived and a thrilling page-turner. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their differences, the boys develop a tender friendship, a bond which blossoms into something deeper as they grow into young men. But when Helen of Sparta is kidnapped, Achilles is dispatched to distant Troy to fulfil his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear. (Paperback, RM55.90)

House of Names by Colm Tóibín
Named a Best Book of 2017 by NPR, The Guardian, The Boston Globe and The Washington Post, this is the tale of Clytemnestra in ancient Mycenae, the legendary Greek city from which her husband King Agamemnon left when he set sail with his army for Troy. Clytemnestra rules Mycenae now, along with her new lover Aegisthus, and together they plot the bloody murder of Agamemnon on the day of his return after nine years at war.

Judged, despised, cursed by gods, Clytemnestra reveals the tragic saga that led to these bloody actions: How her husband deceived her eldest daughter Iphigeneia with a promise of marriage to Achilles, only to sacrifice her; how she seduced and collaborated with the prisoner Aegisthus; how Agamemnon came back with a lover himself; and how Clytemnestra finally achieved her vengeance for his stunning betrayal — his quest for victory, greater than his love for his child.

Tóibín brings a modern sensibility and language to an ancient classic, and gives this extraordinary character new life, so that we not only believe Clytemnestra’s thirst for revenge, but applaud it. Told in four parts, this is a fiercely dramatic portrait of a murderess, who will herself be murdered by her own son, Orestes. It is Orestes’s story, too: his capture by the forces of his mother’s lover Aegisthus, his escape and his exile. And it is the story of the vengeful Electra, who watches over her mother and Aegisthus with cold anger and slow calculation, until, on the return of her brother, she has the fates of both of them in her hands. (Trade paperback, RM72.50)

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
Named Book of the Year 2017 by The New York Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Observer, The New Statesman and The Evening Standard, this novel is a contemporary reimagining of Sophocles’ Antigone.

After years spent raising her twin siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, Isma is finally free, studying in America, resuming a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream: to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew.

Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Handsome and privileged, he inhabits a London worlds away from theirs. As the son of a powerful British Muslim politician, Eamonn has his own birth right to live up to — or defy. Is he to be a chance at love? The means of Parvaiz’s salvation? Two families’ fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined in this searing novel that asks: What sacrifices will we make in the name of love?

Home Fire is an urgent, fiercely compelling story of loyalties torn apart when love and politics collide. (Trade paperback, RM74.90)

Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis, translated by Peter Bien
This stunning new translation of the classic brings the clarity and beauty of Kazantzakis’ language and story alive.

First published in 1946, Zorba the Greek, is, on one hand, the story of a Greek working man named Zorba, a passionate lover of life, the unnamed narrator who he accompanies to Crete to work in a lignite mine, and the men and women of the town where they settle. On the other hand it is the story of God and man, The Devil and the Saints; the struggle of men to find their souls and purpose in life and it is about love, courage and faith.

Zorba has been acclaimed as one of the truly memorable creations of literature — a character created on a huge scale in the tradition of Falstaff and Sancho Panza. His years have not dimmed the gusto and amazement with which he responds to all life offers him, whether he is working in the mine, confronting mad monks in a mountain monastery, embellishing the tales of his life or making love to avoid sin. Zorba’s life is rich with all the joys and sorrows that living brings and his example awakens in the narrator an understanding of the true meaning of humanity. This is one of the greatest life-affirming novels of our time.

Part of the modern literary canon, Zorba the Greek, has achieved widespread international acclaim and recognition. This new edition translated, directly from Kazantzakis’s Greek original, is a more faithful rendition of his original language, ideas, and story, and presents Zorba as the author meant him to be. (Trade paperback, RM79.90)

**Take 10% off these titles until April 30.

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Congratulations to GTLF for winning the LBF’s Literary Festival Award!

We are thrilled by the news that the George Town Literary Festival has won the London Book Fair’s Literary Festival Award 2018! This is such a positive affirmation of the literary scene in Malaysia, and a tribute to the hard work of the festival’s many tireless organisers. Our heartiest congratulations!

“This is a win for culture, for literature, for free speech and expression. This is a win for discourse, diversity and conversation. This is a win for Penang, for George Town, for all who love literary festivals and for all who love our festival. This is a win for Malaysia, for what we are, and what we can be. This is a win for all, for all of us who love the word and what it represents to us, to SE Asia, to the world. This is a huge honour for the work we have done, and the work that we will continue to do. Thank you ALL so very, very much,” 

Bernice Chauly, Festival Director of the George Town Literary Festival.


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Pulitzer Prize winning novels to dive into

The man for which the Pulitzer Prize is named after, Joseph Pulitzer, led an inspiring life and left behind an enduring legacy. Born in Hungary on April 10, 1847, he made his way to American shores as a young man even though he barely knew any English (he was, however, fluent in German and French). While working odd jobs in the city of St. Louis, he taught himself English and the law, studying in the city’s Mercantile Library.

From these humble beginnings, he rose to become a stalwart in American journalism. He is described on as “the most skilful of newspaper publishers, a passionate crusader against dishonest government, a fierce, hawk-like competitor who did not shrink from sensationalism in circulation struggles, and a visionary who richly endowed his profession. His innovative New York World and St. Louis Post-Dispatch reshaped newspaper journalism. Pulitzer was the first to call for the training of journalists at the university level in a school of journalism. And certainly, the lasting influence of the Pulitzer Prizes on journalism, literature, music, and drama is to be attributed to his visionary acumen.”

When he wrote his will in 1904, he made provisions for the establishment of the Pulitzer Prizes to reward excellence in journalism and letters — in later years, drama and music were added as well. Specifically on literature, the Pulitzer website has this caveat: “The board has not been captive to popular inclinations. Many, if not most, of the honoured books have not been on bestseller lists.” Nevertheless, these books remain essential reading for any person who wishes to fully understand the canon of western literature.

Following is the selection of Pulitzer Prize-winning novels available at Lit Books.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
2015 Pulitzer Prize winner
Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is 6, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighbourhood so she can memorise it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is 12, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel. (RM49.90)

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
2014 Pulitzer Prize winner
A young boy in New York City, Theo Decker, miraculously survives an explosion that takes the life of his mother. Alone and determined to avoid being taken in by the city as an orphan, Theo scrambles between nights in friends’ apartments and on the city streets. He becomes entranced by the one thing that reminds him of his mother: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that soon draws Theo into the art underworld. Composed with the skills of a master, The Goldfinch is a haunted odyssey through present-day America. It is a story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the enormous power of art. (RM49.90)

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
2009 Pulitzer Prize winner
At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town of Crosby, Maine, and in the world at large, but she doesn’t always recognise the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance; a former student who has lost the will to live; Olive’s own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and her husband, Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse.

As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life — sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition — its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires. (RM39.90)

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
2008 Pulitzer Prize winner
Things have never been easy for Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd. From his home in New Jersey, where he lives with his old-world mother and rebellious sister, Oscar dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the Fukú — the curse that has haunted the Oscar’s family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and, above all, ill-starred love. Oscar, still waiting for his first kiss, is just its most recent victim.

Diaz immerses us in the tumultuous life of Oscar and the history of the family at large, rendering with genuine warmth and dazzling energy, humour, and insight the Dominican-American experience, and, ultimately, the endless human capacity to persevere in the face of heartbreak and loss. (RM35.50)

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
2007 Pulitzer Prize winner
A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is grey. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food — and each other.

The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, “each the other’s world entire”, are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation. (RM75.50)

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
2003 Pulitzer Prize winner
In the spring of 1974, Calliope Stephanides, a student at a girls’ school in Grosse Pointe, finds herself drawn to a chain-smoking, strawberry blond classmate with a gift for acting. The passion that furtively develops between them — along with Callie’s failure to develop — leads Callie to suspect that she is not like other girls. In fact, she is not really a girl at all.

The explanation for this shocking state of affairs takes us out of suburbia- back before the Detroit race riots of 1967, before the rise of the Motor City and Prohibition, to 1922, when the Turks sacked Smyrna and Callie’s grandparents fled for their lives. Back to a tiny village in Asia Minor where two lovers, and one rare genetic mutation, set in motion the metamorphosis that will turn Callie into a being both mythical and perfectly real: a hermaphrodite.

Spanning eight decades — and one unusually awkward adolescence — Jeffrey Eugenides’ second novel is a grand, utterly original fable of crossed bloodlines, the intricacies of gender, and the deep, untidy promptings of desire. (RM49.90)

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
2000 Pulitzer Prize winner
Traveling from India to New England and back again, the stories in this extraordinary debut collection unerringly chart the emotional journeys of characters seeking love beyond the barriers of nations and generations. Imbued with the sensual details of Indian culture, they also speak with universal eloquence to everyone who has ever felt like a foreigner. Like the interpreter of the title story, Jhumpa Lahiri translates between the strict traditions of her ancestors and the baffling New World. Including two stories published in The New Yorker, Interpreter of Maladies introduces, in the words of Frederick Busch, “a writer with a steady, penetrating gaze. Lahiri honours the vastness and variousness of the world”. (RM39.90)

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
1981 Pulitzer Prize winner
After more than three decades, the peerless wit and indulgent absurdity of A Confederacy of Dunces continues to attract new readers. Though the manuscript was rejected by many publishers during Toole’s lifetime, his mother successfully published the book years after her son’s suicide, and it won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. This literary underdog and comic masterpiece has sold more than two million copies in 23 languages.

The novel presents one of the most memorable protagonists in American literature, Ignatius J. Reilly, whom American author Walker Percy dubbed “slob extraordinaire, a mad Oliver Hardy, a fat Don Quixote, a perverse Thomas Aquinas rolled into one”. Set in New Orleans with a wild cast of characters including Ignatius and his mother; Miss Trixie, the octogenarian assistant accountant at Levi Pants; inept, wan Patrolman Mancuso; Darlene, the Bourbon Street stripper with a penchant for poultry; and Jones, the jivecat in space-age dark glasses, the novel serves as an outlandish but believable tribute to a city defined by its parade of eccentric denizens. (RM79.90)

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
1961 Pulitzer Prize winner
This classic has been voted the most life changing book by a female author.

A black man has been charged with the rape of a white girl. Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the 30s. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina of one man’s struggle for justice. But the weight of history will only tolerate so much.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a coming-of-age story, an anti-racist novel, a historical drama of the Great Depression and a sublime example of the Southern writing tradition. (RM59.90)

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
1953 Pulitzer Prize winner
Told in language of great simplicity and power, this is the story of an old Cuban fisherman, down on his luck, and his supreme ordeal — a relentless, agonising battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. Here Hemingway recasts, in strikingly contemporary style, the classic theme of courage in the face of defeat, of personal triumph won from loss. (RM42.90)

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
1937 Pulitzer Prize winner
Widely considered The Great American Novel, and often remembered for its epic film version, Gone With the Wind explores the depth of human passions with an intensity as bold as its setting in the red hills of Georgia. A superb piece of storytelling, it vividly depicts the drama of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

A sweeping story of tangled passion and courage, it tells the tale of Scarlett O’Hara, the spoiled, manipulative daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, who arrives at young womanhood just in time to see the Civil War forever change her way of life.

Many novels have been written about the American Civil War and its aftermath. But none take us into the burning fields and cities of the American South as Gone With the Wind does, creating haunting scenes and thrilling portraits of characters so vivid that we remember their words and feel their fear and hunger for the rest of our lives. (RM49.90)

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
1932 Pulitzer Prize winner
When O-lan, a servant girl, marries the peasant Wang Lung, she toils tirelessly through four pregnancies for their family’s survival. Reward at first is meagre, but there is sustenance in the land — until the famine comes. Half-starved, the family joins thousands of peasants to beg on the city streets. It seems that all is lost, until O-lan’s desperate will to survive returns them home with undreamt of wealth. But they have betrayed the earth from which true wealth springs, and the family’s money breeds only mistrust, deception and heartbreak for the woman who had saved them. The Good Earth is a riveting family saga and story of female sacrifice — a classic of 20th century literature.

Nobel Prize winner Pearl S. Buck traces the whole cycle of life: its terrors, its passions, its ambitions and rewards. Her brilliant novel is a universal tale of an ordinary family caught in the tide of history. (RM44.90)

*The Pulitzer Prize winners for 2018 will be announced on April 16.

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Six inspiring and empowering books for International Women’s Day

In recognition of International Women’s Day on March 8, we will be celebrating women writers and books about women throughout the entire month. To kick things off, we are offering 10% discount of the following six titles in our shop. While women-centric, these titles are not just for women but rather for  anyone looking to broaden their understanding on feminine themes and contributions.


Girl Up
By Laura Bates
Founder of Everyday Sexism Project Laura Bates has written a hilarious, jaunty and bold book that exposes the truth about the pressures surrounding body image, the false representations in media, the complexities of sex and relationships, the trials of social media, and all the other lies women are told. This unapologetic, empowering book sets the record straight. (Paperback, RM79.90)

Women Who Read Are Dangerous
By Stefan Bollman
What is it about a woman reading that has captivated hundreds of artists over the centuries? This book explores this popular subject in more than 70 artworks — drawings, paintings, photographs, and prints — by iconic artists such as Henri Matisse, Edward Hopper, Suzanne Valadon, August Sander, Rembrandt, and many more. In chapters such as “Intimate Moments” and “The Search for Oneself,” Bollmann profiles how a woman with a book was once seen as idle or suspect and how women have gained autonomy through reading over the years. Bollmann offers intelligent and engaging commentary on each work of art, telling us who the subject is, her relationship to the artist, and even what she is reading. With works ranging from a 1333 Annunciation painting of the angel Gabriel speaking to the Virgin Mary, book in hand, to 20th-century works such as a stunning photograph of Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses, this intriguing survey provides a veritable slideshow of the many iterations of a woman and her book. (Hardcover, RM101.90)

Attack of the 50 Ft. Women: How Gender Equality Can Save The World
By Catherine Mayer
In this inspirational book, the co-founder of the Women’s Equality Party sets out compelling evidence for the social and economic benefits of gender equality and lays bare the mechanisms holding women back. Everywhere women are, at best, second-class citizens. Progress towards equality hasn’t only stalled; in many places, it is reversing. But things needn’t be this way. Mayer takes readers on a journey to Equalia, the gender-equal future that could be ours. (Trade paperback, RM83.90)

Broad Strokes: 15 Women Who Made Art and Made History (in That Order)
By Bridget Quinn
Major women artists have traditionally been excluded from the mainstream art canon. Aligned with the resurgence of feminism in pop culture, Broad Strokes offers an entertaining corrective to that omission. Art historian Bridget Quinn delves into the lives and careers of 15 brilliant female artists in text that’s smart, feisty, educational and an enjoyable read. Replete with beautiful reproductions of the artists’ works and contemporary portraits of each artist by renowned illustrator Lisa Congdon, this is art history from 1600 to the present day for the modern art lover, reader and feminist. (Hardcover, RM149.90)

Sensation: Adventures in Sex, Love & Laughter
By Isabel Losada
Isabel Losada brings her unique blend of humour, curiosity and honesty to the still-taboo subject of sexuality and pleasure. This is a brave, funny and often vulnerable quest to find out how we can make our sex lives better. On behalf of all women, a slightly terrified Isabel begins with a women’s workshop where she has to get naked; she journeys through the first international conference on clitoral stroking; is informed of 11 different forms of orgasm (10 of which she hasn’t had); and endures Kegel exercises and mystical sensations with tantric masters. Irreverent, yet open-minded, Sensation is both moving and challenging. For anyone who has ever been tempted to dip their toes into the deep waters of sexual exploration, this book plunges you straight in. (Paperback, RM62.90)

Bad Feminist
By Roxane Gay
In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman (Sweet Valley High) of colour (The Help) while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years (Girls, Django in Chains) and commenting on the state of feminism today (abortion, Chris Brown). The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture. Bad Feminist is a sharp, funny and sincere look at the ways in which the culture we consume becomes who we are, and an inspiring call-to-arms of all the ways we still need to do better. (Paperback, RM79.90)

Get these six titles at 10% in March. Prices listed are before discount. 

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ARC Review: Michio Kaku’s ‘The Future of Humanity’

The great starship Ingenue has completed its overhaul at the spacedock on Moonbase Luna. Having finished a routine survey of Jupiter, which doubled as a test run of its new ion drives, the Ingenue is now being outfitted with the necessary equipment and personnel to commence Phase I of the colonisation of Europa. The crew, sent up via the space elevator just the previous week, is being transported by way of automated drone shuttles to Ingenue. They will spend the vast majority of the journey preparing their colonisation capsule to land on and begin the human exploration of Europa.

The capsule will separate from Ingenue as the starship enters the orbit of Jupiter, but the great starship itself will allow itself to be drawn into the gas giant’s gravitational field. Crewless, the AI on board will make the necessary calculations to slingshot the starship to a carefully identified location designated only as Delta Sigma.

When it arrives at Delta Sigma, powerful particle accelerators fueled by a substantial pocket of hydrogen at the site will crash electrons together, generating a massive negative energy bubble. The energy will then be concentrated on a small black area in space, not much bigger than the size of a ping-pong ball. But that’s when the magic will happen — slowly, almost imperceptibly, the small black ping-pong ball will start to widen, crackling with energy at its edges when finally it will grow to a size big enough allowing Ingenue to pass through.

And when it does, it will make history as the first object to ever travel faster than the speed of light by crossing into folded space via a wormhole.

Sounds remarkable? Reads like the premise of the next big science fiction offering from Andy Weir? Uncannily enough, the scenario described above may just be the future of humanity as outlined by futurist and physicist Michio Kaku.

A regular presenter for the Discovery Channel and a member of the new cohort of celebrity thinkers (which counts among its ranks the likes of Brian Cox and Neil DeGrasse Tyson), Kaku has the uncanny ability of presenting difficult, ground-breaking material in simple terms without committing the cardinal crime of being overly patronising.

Despite his being a rather prolific writer, this is only the second or third of his books that I have read. To be perfectly honest, there’s only so much about space-time theory, quantum physics, black holes and string theory that one can take before it all becomes a bit samey. These topics do not lend themselves to a natural narrative arc the same way that, say, a history of science might. I was therefore a bit trepidatious in accepting a review copy from Times Distribution for Kaku’s Future of Humanity.

I was pleasantly surprised that the book was focused on one central thesis: Humanity will perish painfully and inevitably unless it becomes an interplanetary species — so how can it go about becoming one? From our history of rudimentary rocketry to sci-fi-only intergalactic spacecraft, to how we might go about settling other planets — the prime candidate being Mars — through a programme of terraforming and colonisation, and the possibility of faster-than-light travel, Kaku explores the science in sufficient detail to convince one that humanity is but several key Eureka! moments away from the breakthrough.

These are admittedly very giant Eureka! moments, but Kaku’s book helps shift the focus slightly from one of possibility to one of plausibility. Drawing from his pool of knowledge and experience as a physicist and active participant in the development of science, as well as a rather robust consumer of science fiction books and movies (there are a lot of references to those throughout the book), Kaku outlines intimately and in some detail how we might finally become an advanced space borne species (i.e. a Type I or Type II civilisation on the scale proposed by astronomer Nikolai Kardashev).

In a nutshell, the Kardashev scale measures the advancement of a civilisation based on its level of energy consumption. A Type I civilisation is one that utilises all the energy of the sunlight that falls on the planet, a Type II utilises all the energy its sun produces and a Type III utilises all the energy produced in a galaxy. We are presently a Type 0.7 at the moment, and struggling to make it as a full Type I civilisation. Ironically, even as we struggle to advance and survive, the biggest challenge to us is we ourselves:

“Of all the transitions, perhaps the most difficult is the transition from Type 0 to Type I, which is what we are undergoing at present. This is because a Type 0 civilisation is the most uncivilised, both technologically and socially… It still has all the scars from its brutal past, which was full of inquisitions, persecutions, pogroms and wars.”

The Future of Humanity is, by its final reckoning, a hopeful book. Kaku is an enthusiastic commentator and takes a long view of the possibilities that are in store. The only catch is that those interested in the subject matter may already be familiar with the themes contained within this book and then some; in some respects this book may be better suited to the lapsed popular science or science fiction reader.

Who: Michio Kaku is the silver-maned professor of physics at the City University of New York, co-founder of string field theory, and the author of several widely acclaimed science books. Makes a lot of appearances on Discovery Channel.

Verdict: If nothing else, readers will discover a litany of classic science fiction books and movies that have inspired Kaku and others presently working in the field. It is also perhaps the first attempt at a comprehensive groundwork outlining what it might take to transform humanity to a space borne species. (7.5/10)

In-store Availability: Should be coming in soon!

Thanks to Times Distribution for the advance reading copy.

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How are we different from other bookstores?

On an almost daily basis, someone will come into the shop to ask us one of these questions or a permutation thereof.

‘How are you different from other bookshops?’
‘What’s your concept?’
‘Are you a library?’

We run through the usual answers:

  • As an independent bookstore, we personally select the books we have;
  • Yes, you can find some of our titles in other bookshops;
  • We are a bookshop with a cafe attached that serves drinks;
  • No, we don’t lend out books but we don’t mind if you pull a book from the shelf to read while you’re enjoying a cup of coffee (just be careful with them!).

While we understand that bookshops such as ours aren’t ubiquitous these days, it bemuses me slightly that people think that our concept is original. Bemusing not because I think that our customers are yokels, but because bookshops, at least for some segments of our society, have become a forgotten cultural artefact.

Don’t get me wrong — we appreciate and are grateful for all customers who walk through our doors, but the fact remains that Lit Books isn’t, and shouldn’t be, a cultural phenom. It might help, therefore, for us to describe what we are trying to do in the grand scheme of things by explaining some of what we do do in our shop.

Why do you have titles that we can’t find elsewhere in other bookstores?
For a very simple reason: because these are books that we (Elaine and I) like that we think other people might like as well. We believe that the character of bookstores, particularly an independent bookstore, is very much represented by the titles that they choose to stock (and by corollary, the titles that they choose not to stock). We don’t have a central buyer as chain bookshops do, and our selection of new books and authors is based on research and gut instinct. (This is why we stock both The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon and Heath Robinson’s How to be a Perfect Husband. No prizes for guessing who picked which title!)

Do you get your books from local suppliers?
Yes! In fact, we get the vast majority of our books from local suppliers just like everyone else. So why do our titles differ? It has to do with the way the book business is conducted where distribution rights from publishers are assigned to local distributors. However, by ordering books from the publishers’ catalogues rather than the distributors’ catalogues, we can establish our own identity by choosing books from a larger pool.

Why are you more expensive than XXX?
Lit Books adheres strictly to the recommended retail price (RRP). Every book comes with an RRP which becomes the official price of the book. Retail booksellers get a discount from wholesalers, and this discount then becomes the profit margin for the retailers. The discount that retailers get from wholesalers vary based on various factors. One of the major ones is the purchase volume. Simply put, if someone were to buy 1,000 copies of a book from you, you would be more likely to give them a greater discount than someone who only buys four or five copies. The retailer who purchases 1,000 copies can then pass the savings on to their customers. I’m one of those guys who buys four or five copies of a book.

Why don’t you buy more copies to enjoy greater discounts?
Mainly because as an independent bookshop, we don’t have very deep pockets. While we could opt to blow our entire budget on the next bestseller, that’s not really what we’re about.

So what are you about?
We want to create a bookshop that encourages people to browse and explore new authors and titles. Our target audience, to be perfectly frank, is the reader who knows they’d love a book to read but not entirely sure what it is that they want. I’d love for someone to come to my store looking for the latest Jodi Picoult only to walk away with Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. Or for someone who’s looking for the new Jack Ma biography to walk out with Siddhartha Mukherjee’s Emperor of All Maladies. This is not to say that the books that they’re looking for aren’t great, but rather that we want to provide alternatives: we want to be the path less taken.

Can we order a coffee, sit and read a book?
Yes! In fact, we encourage our readers to grab a few books, sit down and try them out to see if they fit before they decide on making a purchase. But please bear in mind that we are a mom-and-pop, and a damaged book is not a saleable book. We can’t return the book to our distributors and any damaged book directly impacts our bottomline. I don’t want to be that guy who goes around telling people not to dog-ear our books, or crease the spine, or flip the pages with greasy fingers — we are all adults and should be aware of what passes as good book-reading etiquette. We will never shrink wrap our books (except for the super-premium ones) and if you do find some still bound in plastic, it’s probably because I was too lazy to take it off myself.

Why don’t you shrink wrap your books?
Because books need to breathe. But seriously, it’s because we’d hate to sell a book to someone who hasn’t had a chance to try it out. Book buying is not that different from starting a relationship, and you wouldn’t want your potential spouse shrink wrapped and shipped to you in a box.

Do you recommend books?
Boy, do we ever! Please harass, harangue and kacau us about helping you find the right book. If I’m outside having a smoke, tick me off and drag me back into the shop. We love talking about books and we learn as much as you do during the exchange.

So that’s it, really. I hope this gives you a rough idea of what we’re trying to do. This post didn’t start out with the intention of becoming an FAQ and I had some Serious Ideas about curation I wanted to share. That will have to wait till next time. If you have any questions — any questions at all — left unanswered, please post them in the comments below and I’ll try to address them as best I can.