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‘Little Fires Everywhere’ by Celeste Ng

Who: American Chinese author Celeste Ng’s much anticipated sophomore effort, Little Fires Everywhere, is the winner of the Goodreads Choice Award 2017 for fiction. It follows her standout debut, Everything I Never Told You.

What: The story begins with a literal fire, whereby someone has deliberately set ablaze the Richardson house, situated in Shaker Heights, an affluent neighbourhood. The reader is then taken back in time to reveal the history of the Richardson household, as well as mother-daughter pair Mia and Pearl Warren, who have taken up residence at a rental owned by the Richardsons. Their worlds mingle in unexpected ways but eventually collide as they find themselves on opposing sides when an old friend of the Richardsons tries to adopt a Chinese-American baby.

Why: The story plays out a bit like a soap but without the sordidness. While Ng takes her time to tell the story, it by no means drags on as she drops tantalising clues throughout the book to make this an engrossing read. Although the characters are not unfamiliar — the picture-perfect suburban Richardson family versus the enigmatic artist, Mia, and her teenage daughter — the nuanced manner in which Ng paints these portraits make them compelling.

At the centre of the intersection of these lives is the youngest Richardson, Izzy, torn between the two worlds on offer: a structured, rule-abiding life of security and stability, and a free-spirited, nomadic one that can promise little but nevertheless is more meaningful and substantial. Fundamental values rub up against one another leading to an inevitable clash of worlds, which in turn spark ‘little fires everywhere’. That these sparks would set something smouldering further deep inside that would potentially turn into a raging inferno becomes the tipping point of the novel.

It isn’t quickly apparent, but at the heart of the story is an examination of what it means to be a mother and the bonds that bind. The decision to follow or not follow one’s passions and where that inevitably leads, for better or worse, is also a thread in the book.

Best/Worst Line: “All her life, she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control.”

Verdict: Ng is a deft storyteller, pulling the reader in from the get-go. (8/10)

Availability: Trade paperback, RM72.90.

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‘Reservoir 13’ by Jon McGregor

Who: Jon McGregor is the author of four novels and a story collection. Reservoir 13 was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2017.

What: Reservoir 13 is a novel about a mystery, but is not itself a mystery novel. The book opens with a girl lost upon the moors of the rural English countryside. Nearby villagers anxiously search for the missing Rebecca, Becky or Bex, as she is sometimes known. Her disappearance would anchor the novel which unfolds over 13 years, during which life in the village carries on — people are drawn in, people leave; they fall in love, they fall apart; new lives are had, older ones die. The foxes, badgers and bugs observe their natural cycles, as do the birds, butterflies and bees. But the spectre of the missing girl remains in the collective psyche, appearing in dreams, hallucinations and memories.

Why: One of the finest novels we’ve read in recent memory, McGregor’s narrative structure ingeniously pulls the reader into the book. It’s incredibly meta and sets the reader up from the start to think that a mystery is there to be solved. There are hints and foreshadowing that the resolution is in the very next line, or paragraph, or page, or chapter. The reader is driven by this singular temptation, but meanwhile McGregor creates a lush, vivid background, ostensibly to contextualise the mystery. The man lies. He is not creating a background, but another, richer foreground that will supersede the mystery.

With his austere but elegant prose, his omniscient camera flits from scene to scene in his massive single paragraph structures, controlling the attention of the reader — first to the park keeper who is conducting his annual test of the river water, next to a group of teenagers drinking down a bottle of stolen wine, then to a farmhand who is necking with the parish council’s chair’s wife, and then to reports of sightings of the missing girl who may or may not be responsible for the various incidences of arson in the village. Each year that passes in the village is told within a chapter. The villagers grow a year older, perhaps not wiser, and the same narrative device is repeated to remind readers that though everything is different, it is nevertheless the same.

This may sound a painful and clumsy attempt to stall the progress of the plot; on the contrary, the reader soon finds these secondary arcs to be more important than the resolution of the missing girl. How does Irene deal with an abusive special-needs son? Will the Jackson boys’ flock survive the winter? Will the career-minded Su Cooper adjust to being the mother of rambunctious twin boys? It is these moments in the lives of these villagers — arrayed as a field of snapshots of many separate but interconnected moments — that carry the readers’ sympathies. Resolution, he reminds us, is not found within the solving of a grand mystery, but in the consummation of each individual moment in our lives.

Best/Worst Line: ‘The girl’s name was Rebecca, or Becky, or Bex. She had been looked for everywhere… There were dreams about finding her on the night she went missing, stumbling across her on the moor in the lowering dark and helping her back to her parents. In the dreams the parents said thank you, briefly, and people muttered something about it being no problem at all.’

Verdict: Friggin’ incredible. It’s not a perfect 10 because readers stubbornly clinging on to the need for plot development (a justifiable need, in our opinion) may be frustrated by this book. (9/10)

Availability: Trade paperback, RM79.90.

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‘Frankenstein’ turns 200 today

by Fong Min Hun

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: or, the Modern Prometheus, published 200 years ago on Jan 1, 1818, is still among the foremost novels dealing with the themes of unfettered human creativity and the consequences thereof.

Frankenstein, for the uninitiated, is the story of Victor Frankenstein, a brilliant chemist obsessed with reproducing natural miracles. His scientific investigations are turned towards the search for the mystery of life when his mother dies suddenly of scarlet fever. Unable to accept her death, Frankenstein dedicates himself to the search for the immortal spark of life.

Frankenstein’s obsessive labours are successful; but rather than the creature of beauty he had envisioned as his aim, he creates a hideous, distended monster which immediately brings about profound feelings of disgust and regret:

I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart… Oh! No mortal could support the horror of that countenance. A mummy again endued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch.

Frankenstein turns his back on his creation. But as with all newborns, the Creature yearns for love and acceptance. Spurned by his creator, the Creature turns to others for succour but kindness does not come easy for the aberration. Enraged by his abandonment, the Creature kills Frankenstein’s young brother William in revenge, and threatens further harm unless the scientist created him a mate. Frankenstein initially agrees but cannot bring himself to create a second creature, subsequently causing the Creature to kill his fiancee Elizabeth.

The plot is sensational — at least for its time — but the philosophical questions raised by the novel continues to challenge contemporary readers. While Frankenstein’s subject matter of a reanimated corpse may seem quaint, its warning of the danger of science unleashed remains relevant. Unlike Pandora who unleashed the horrors of humanity through sheer curiosity, Shelley’s eponymous protagonist Dr. Frankenstein — the “Modern Prometheus” — laboured under morally justifiable grounds to uncover the secrets of the gods only to birth a tragedy. And just like the story of Pandora’s box, once the secrets are unleashed, there is no way back.

Shelley’s Frankenstein celebrates the 200th anniversary of its publication in 2018. Lit Books is pleased to announce that we will be joining the rest of the world in hosting a Frankenreads event on Halloween 2018 to celebrate the year of Frankenstein. Stay tuned for details closer to the date!

If you’re looking for a collector’s edition of the novel, Lit Books carries a wonderfully tactile faux leather hardcover edition, artfully accented with foil details for RM110.

 

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The first 14 days…

Hi folks, Min Hun here. Every now and then, I will be writing a bit about what’s been happening at our store, and what I’ve been reading. This would be an example of such a thing. 

It’s been two weeks since Lit Books opened its doors to the public, and lessons have been learnt:

  • Malaysian readers  are an enthusiastic and sometimes zealous bunch;
  • It’s difficult to not hoard books for one’s self;
  • The logistics of the book business, especially for a small, independent bookshop, can be infuriating.

Two weeks is no doubt insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but the level of enthusiasm greeting our presence has been humbling, to say the least. We are very grateful to visitors who dropped by after reading about us on social media (special thanks to TimeOut KL, Poskod.myTongue in Chic  and Says.com for the feature pieces) as well as to our friends and neighbours in the community. Your presence has helped alleviate some of the anxiety associated with all new enterprises, and we look forward to seeing you again.

In the meantime, we are playing around with some ideas of what we would like to do events-wise in the new year, and we will keep everyone posted via this blog as well as through social media. These include:

  • Author readings – which local author would you be interested in?
  • Book clubs – we’re hosting our first group in January, but perhaps an in-house book club?
  • A collaboration with a broadcast partner?
  • Group of book reviewers – if we can swing an agreement with our distributors and publishers, we’d like to form a group of book reviewers. We might be getting advance review copies and there’s no way Elaine and I can go through them all.

Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Stuff I’ve recently read (that just happens to be available in store)

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

Who: Matt Haig dips his pen in myriad ink pots, writing in various genres. How to Stop Time is his first adult novel.

What: How to Stop Time is about the life of one Tom Hazard who suffers from anageria, a genetic disease that slows his ageing process to about a fifteenth of a regular person’s. There is both loss and suffering in the centuries he’s been alive and the story picks up in the here and now where Tom attempts a reconciliation of his existential grief and a normal life. Oh, there’s also a Secret Society in the mix.

Why: At its heart, How to Stop Time is a romantic fantasy. It feels like a confessional, similar to Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire sans the supernatural gothic horror. It probably wouldn’t give away too much to say that witch hunters are involved. And did I mention a secret society?

Readers expecting a lush adventure with the protagonist at the centre of key historical events in the past 500 years will be disappointed. However, there is a brief encounter with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald in the roaring 20s, as well as a run in with Beethoven and Shakespeare.

Best/Worst Line: ‘The first rule is that you don’t fall in love… There are other rules too, but that is the main one. No falling in love. No staying in love. No daydreaming of love. If you stick to this, you will just about be okay.’

Verdict: It’s a straightforward book which tries hard to transport the reader away to Tom’s fantastical life. Unfortunately, the protagonist is a bit of a downer, which gets in the way of his, and our, having a good time. A good book to pick up in between heavier reads and for a quick one whilst lying down by the beach. 6/10

Trivia: English character actor Benedict Cumberbatch will produce and star in the film adaptation of the book – makes sense with the book’s cinematic romp across time.

Availability: Paperback, RM55.90. Mention the phrase: “Time is Money” at our cashier to get 10% off while stocks last.

A Boy in Winter by Rachel Seiffert (Published 1 Aug 2017)

Who: Author whose debut novel The Dark Room was shortlisted for the Booker in 2001, and whose subsequent work has been listed for various other prizes.

What: A Boy in Winter is set over three nights in Nazi-occupied Ukraine in 1941 following the retreat of the Soviets. Apprehensively greeted by the Ukrainians as liberators, the Nazi occupants quickly become instruments of terror and fear, shattering all trepidatious hope of a return to a bucolic, pre-Soviet countryside. The story is told mainly through the lens of three protagonists and their families – Yasia, a peasant girl who dreams of hearth and home; Pohl, a high-minded and moralistic German engineer grudgingly enlisted into the Nazi army; and Yankel, the boy in winter of the title.

Why: Seiffert is unsparing but sympathetic in the book. She accurately captures the terror of the Nazi invasion, and the fear and dread inspired by the Schutzstaffel’s (SS) assault squads – legions who defy all demands of morality, justice and rationality to comprehensively destroy hope in the mercy of conquerors; in the compassion of neighbours; in the basic tenets of human decency. The lives of the protagonists are intertwined in despair with little room for heroism. The novel’s inflection point is obvious–it plays off the illusions of the main characters, each of whom respectively thinks that pragmatism, heroism and morality will see them through. Then the SS officers round up the Jews.

The complacency builds to the point where one gets an almost irresistible urge to shake them by their collars and shout at them to wise the #$! up! But that doesn’t happen. It seems unimaginable even within the scope of poetic license that hundreds of men and women would allow themselves be led to slaughter; irrational, even. The complete surrender described is unthinkable save that history does bear out this sad point.

A Boy in Winter is not an unfamiliar story (think The Book Thief), but it is one that is nevertheless refreshing in Seiffert’s adroit hands.

Best/Worst Line: ‘He could have taken twenty, thirty, forty. He could have selected so many – men and women both: they wanted to be chosen. But he refused them. He did nothing. And Pohl could see nothing on the pages but his own pride and blindness; nothing but a rope to hang him with.’

Verdict: Spare prose reasserts the bleakness of the Ukrainian winter and the grey terror of the Nazi occupation. The book fails to delve deep enough into the psychology of the players so character motivations and responses are sometimes left to the reader’s own imagination, especially that of the titular boy in the winter. 7.5/10

Availability: Hard cover, RM122.00. Mention the phrase: “Winter is Coming” at our cashier to get it for RM99.90 while stocks last.

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Get your hands now on the best nonfiction of 2017

So many books, so little time – ‘tis the constant lament of bookworms the world over.

We feel you.

Here’s where the year-end best books lists tabled by the likes of The New York Times, The Guardian, The Financial Times, BBC News, and Goodreads come in handy – they are a good place to start with picking a quality read. The following titles are 2017’s highly acclaimed non-fiction titles available at our store now.

 


We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe
By Jorge Cham & Daniel Whiteson
PHD Comics creator Jorge Cham and particle physicist Daniel Whiteson teams up to explore everything we don’t know about the universe: the enormous holes in our knowledge of the cosmos. Armed with their popular infographics, cartoons, and highly entertaining and lucid explanations of science, they give us the best answers currently available for a lot of questions that are still perplexing scientists. Cham and Whiteson also make a compelling case that the questions we can’t answer are as interesting as the ones we can. With equal doses of humour and delight, Cham and Whiteson invite readers to see the universe as a possibly boundless expanse of uncharted territory that’s still ours to explore. (Hardcover, RM131.95)

 

Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us
By Sam Kean
It’s invisible. It’s ever-present. Without it, you would die in minutes. And it has an epic story to tell. In Caesar’s Last Breath, bestselling author Sam Kean takes us on a journey through the periodic table, around the globe, and across time to tell the story of the air we breathe, which, it turns out, is also the story of earth and our existence on it. With every breath, you literally inhale the history of the world. Tracing the origins and ingredients of our atmosphere, Kean reveals how the alchemy of air reshaped our continents, steered human progress, powered revolutions, and continues to influence everything we do. Along the way, we’ll swim with radioactive pigs, witness the most important chemical reactions humans have discovered, and join the crowd at the Moulin Rouge for some of the crudest performance art of all time. Lively, witty, and filled with the astounding science of ordinary life, Caesar’s Last Breath illuminates the science stories swirling around us every second. (Hardcover, RM144.90)

 

Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve And/Or Ruin Everything
By Kelly Weinersmith & Zach Weinersmith
From noted researcher Dr. Kelly Weinersmith and the celebrated cartoonist Zach Weinersmith (creator of the hugely popular web comic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal) comes a hilariously illustrated investigation into future technologies. By weaving their own research, interviews with the scientists who are making these advances happen, and Zach’s trademark comics, the Weinersmiths investigate 10 different emerging fields, from programmable matter to augmented reality, from space elevators to robotic construction, to show why these technologies are needed, how they would work, and what is standing in their way. (Hardcover, RM119.95)

 

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy
By Ta-Nehisi Coates
“We were eight years in power” was the lament of Reconstruction-era black politicians as the American experiment in multiracial democracy ended with the return of white supremacist rule in the South. In this sweeping collection of new and selected essays, Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the tragic echoes of that history in our own time: the unprecedented election of a black president followed by a vicious backlash that fuelled the election of the man Coates argues is America’s “first white president”.

But the story of these present-day eight years is not just about presidential politics. This book also examines the new voices, ideas, and movements for justice that emerged over this period – and the effects of the persistent, haunting shadow of our nation’s old and unreconciled history. Coates powerfully examines the events of the Obama era from his intimate and revealing perspective – the point of view of a young writer who begins the journey in an unemployment office in Harlem and ends it in the Oval Office, interviewing a president.

We Were Eight Years in Power features Coates’s iconic essays first published in The Atlantic, including “Fear of a Black President,” “The Case for Reparations,” and “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” along with eight fresh essays that revisit each year of the Obama administration through Coates’s own experiences, observations, and intellectual development, capped by a bracingly original assessment of the election that fully illuminated the tragedy of the Obama era. (Paperback, RM89.95)

 

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry
By Neil De Grasse Tyson
What is the nature of space and time? How do we fit within the universe? How does the universe fit within us? There’s no better guide through these mind-expanding questions than acclaimed astrophysicist and bestselling author Neil deGrasse Tyson. But today, few of us have time to contemplate the cosmos. So Tyson brings the universe down to Earth succinctly and clearly, with sparkling wit, in tasty chapters consumable anytime and anywhere in your busy day. (Hardcover, RM85.90)

 

How to Survive a Plague: The Story of How Activists and Scientists Tamed Aids
By David France
This multi-award winning book by David France is the riveting, powerful and profoundly moving story of the AIDS epidemic and the grass-roots movement of activists, many of them facing their own life-or-death struggles, who grabbed the reins of scientific research to help develop the drugs that turned HIV from a mostly fatal infection to a manageable disease. Around the globe, the 15.8 million people taking anti-AIDS drugs today are alive thanks to their efforts. Not since the publication of Randy Shilts’ now classic And the Band Played On in 1987 has a book sought to measure the AIDS plague in such brutally human, intimate, and soaring terms. Weaving together the stories of dozens of individuals, this is an insider’s account of a pivotal moment in our history and one that changed the way that medical science is practised worldwide. (Paperback, RM82.90)

 

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body
By Roxane Gay
Bestselling author Roxane Gay has written with intimacy and sensitivity about food and bodies, using her own emotional and psychological struggles as a means of exploring our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health. As a woman who describes her own body as “wildly undisciplined”, Roxane understands the tension between desire and denial, between self-comfort and self-care. In Hunger, she casts an insightful and critical eye on her childhood, teens, and twenties-including the devastating act of violence that acted as a turning point in her young life-and brings readers into the present and the realities, pains, and joys of her daily life. With the bracing candour, vulnerability, and authority that have made her one of the most admired voices of her generation, Roxane explores what it means to be overweight in a time when the bigger you are, the less you are seen. Hunger is a deeply personal memoir from one of our finest writers, and tells a story that hasn’t yet been told but needs to be. (Paperback, RM89.90)

 

The Undoing Project
By Michael Lewis
Forty years ago, Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky wrote a series of breathtakingly original papers that invented the field of behavioral economics. One of the greatest partnerships in the history of science, Kahneman and Tversky’s extraordinary friendship incited a revolution in Big Data studies, advanced evidence-based medicine, led to a new approach to government regulation, and made much of Michael Lewis’s own work possible. In The Undoing Project, Lewis shows how their Nobel Prize-winning theory of the mind altered our perception of reality. (Paperback, RM51.90)

 

Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst
By Robert M. Sapolsky
From the celebrated neurobiologist and primatologist, a landmark, genre-defining examination of human behaviour, both good and bad, and an answer to the question: Why do we do the things we do? Sapolsky’s storytelling concept is delightful but it also has a powerful intrinsic logic: He starts by looking at the factors that bear on a person’s reaction in the precise moment a behaviour occurs, and then hops back in time from there, in stages, ultimately ending up at the deep history of our species and its evolutionary legacy. Named a best book of the year by The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. (Hardcover, RM89.95)

 

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow
By Yuval Noah Harari
Author of the critically-acclaimed Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari, returns with an equally original, compelling, and provocative book, turning his focus toward humanity’s future, and our quest to upgrade humans into gods. Over the past century humankind has managed to do the impossible and rein in famine, plague, and war. This may seem hard to accept, but, as Harari explains in his trademark style – thorough, yet riveting –famine, plague and war have been transformed from incomprehensible and uncontrollable forces of nature into manageable challenges. For the first time ever, more people die from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals put together. What then will replace famine, plague, and war at the top of the human agenda? As the self-made gods of planet earth, what destinies will we set ourselves, and which quests will we undertake? Homo Deus explores the projects, dreams and nightmares that will shape the 21st century – from overcoming death to creating artificial life. (Hardcover, RM99.90)

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First look at our store

Hi folks,

A quick post to give everyone a first glimpse of our store. We’ve finalised the design and we’re excited about what our wonderful designers, Wunderwall, has come up for us.

At this point, Elaine and I are trying our best to hurry the process along because we can’t wait to start filling the shelves with books and merchandise. We can assure you that no one is as eager as we are to get things done so that we can throw open our doors. We hope you’re looking forward to it too.

In the meantime, do subscribe to our newsletter from the link on the sidebar. We haven’t been sending many updates yet but that will change soon. Cheers!

Min Hun

Here are some of the 3D renders of our proposed store:

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Holy $@#&! We’re opening a bookshop!

The story of how this bookshop came to be shares similar beginnings with most of our other Really Good-Bad Ideas. It typically begins when the excited party (me) decides to share his fun but impractical idea with the sober voice of reason (usually Elaine). The conversation goes something along the lines of the following:

— Hey, I’ve got a fantastic idea!
— What is it now?
— Let’s open a bookshop!
— No.

Unfortunately for Elaine, my outlook in life is somewhat Hegelian in the sense that statements antithetical to mine own are seen as opportunities for synthesis and evolution rather than an outright denial of the statement. Chagrined but unbeaten, I kept at it.

For three years.

During that time, clandestine market research was conducted typically involving my chatting up cashiers at local bookstores, some advice was sought, and distributors consulted. I must admit that my findings were not entirely encouraging. Bookselling, at that time, seemed was on a downturn: internet things, the decline in Malaysian reading habits, dodgy retail environment, etc.

It was enough to dampen my enthusiasm for the project. But strangely, even as my enthusiasm waned, Elaine’s began to grow. So much so that after another six-month season of soul-destroying, ball-shrinking corporate consultancy, she said let’s do it. And do it we did.

But if we are going to do this damned fool thing, she said, we have got to do this damned fool thing right (I paraphrase). She was right, of course. My vision of an industrial shack piled high with books helter-skelter in some godforsaken corner of the city was probably not going to be sustainable over the long-term.

So it looks like yes, holy $@#&! We’re opening a bookshop.

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Our Location

Our shop is located at:

Unit P-1-11, Level 1, Tropicana Avenue
12 Jalan Persiaran Tropicana
47410 Petaling Jaya
Selangor

Tel: +603 7886 6988
@: info@litbooks.com.my

Opening Hours
Monday & Tuesday: Closed
Wednesday to Sunday: 1pm to 7pm

Getting Here via Public Transportation
The easiest way to get here via public transportation is to hop on to the Sungai Buloh-Kajang MRT line and get off at the Surian MRT Station. Exit via Gate A and get on board the feeder bus (T807) at the station. The busses depart regularly and you should get off at the second stop ‘Tropicana Avenue’.