Tag Archives: reading

What stories represent and what they tell us about ourselves

This week I wanted to discuss something on the more serious side of writing and representing the real world through story. So without further ado, allow me to take to the stage of the blogging world.

Gorgmenghast.

peake2

The name quietly stirs in your mind as you read the tale of its 77th Earl, Titus Groan. Complicated words, but colorful imagery. Small events and tragedies, we take for granted in our epic fantasy tales but under the careful magnifying glass of Mervyn Peake’s imagination, you feel its weight on your tired eyes.

The Gormenghast trilogy is quite different from your standard fantasy epic, even if you put in A Song of Ice and Fire in the mix. When you read it, you can see why publishers at the same had a hard time categorizing it. This was one of the reasons that prevented these novels from being published and recognized in writing circles.

If I described the Gormenghast trilogy, on face value it wouldn’t stir much interest let alone be considered a treasure in the literary world. Yet, while I read Gormenghast, I was wondering why the story stirred something inside of me. The writing and description was extraordinary but something about the story made me realize its true value.

I couldn’t put my finger on what is was though.

The story is about the life Titus Groan from birth to….well until the author died and never really completed the series. However, it shows how his life is ruled by rituals and traditions that have lost their meaning. Somehow, everyone in the castle goes along with this, as if its some sort of law.

Gormenghast was and is the law. Defying it, challenging it and any form of rebellion was unheard of that it even drove Titus’s father mad.

There is no escape, only submission.

mervyn peake illustration of dr. jekyl and mr hyde

After reading a bit about the author’s life,  I learnt that in his early years he lived in China. The way Gormenghast, the castle, and all its inhabitants live separately from the rest of society sort of reminded me of the Forbidden City.

Then it hit me.

No questions, go along with everyone, obey traditions that have lost any meaning and relevance in today and forget any individual happiness?

Maybe I’m over thinking this, but it felt like the story was representing a sort of Gothic form of collective societies. I’m not saying all collective societies are bad or every single characteristic they possess makes them bad. But anything in excess is usually bad, even individualism (I’m looking at you Ayn Rand).

atlasshrugged200

Back to my point, the Gormenghast novels seemed to resonate with some of my childhood (and even adulthood) experiences regarding collectivism. I grew up in a culture that emphasized on following traditions to the point that they had, figuratively, broken life down into an ordered grocery list. If you fall out of line or do something not accepted or done before, you risk being ostracized.

From a psychological point of view and personal experience, this conflict between choosing for yourself and following what the group does come at a price regardless of the choice you make. Now, if you reject certain traditions not only are you ostracized but you also, within your community, loose that sense of assurance you’re accepted. Maybe to some people that doesn’t sound so bad, but it can have devastating effects on a person’s emotional health.

And forget about ‘middle ground’ in these situations. It’s a dead concept.

Gormenghast offers readers a story about a family, specifically a boy, whose whole life has been planned before he takes his first breath. The senseless rituals he has to commit to have lost all meaning but no one dares question carrying them out or their relevance.

This reminded me of several arguments when I questioned certain traditions and mentalities about the collectivist society I was born into. Any direct question was pretty much met with the same answer (maybe an adverb or adjective if I was lucky):

Because that's what's best because- *insert rest of answer*

Because it’s what’s best because- *insert rest of answer*

This was especially true if I brought up about the role of women in today’s society. Out of my own stupidity and the sweet taste of rebellion (plus the added bonus of pissing off relatives), I wanted to insist certain values were….quite Victorian in nature.

Though doing this would’ve been more productive use of my time:

normal_headdesk

Nevertheless, books like the Gormenghast novels capture difficult concepts to weave into a story, let alone be the central theme.  Also, certain values that are morally grey are harder to come across effectively. But its these stories that bring a wealth of culture and the ability to look at ourselves and the world around us more closely.

It is these stories that we keep in our hearts and minds much longer than your standard white knight saves the world from dark wizard.


Climbing the Publishing Ladder: Why reading books from other cultures is a hidden treasure

Think about it.

Maybe it might be my skewed perception, but most (fiction) books I see on the shelf are from English speaking authors. We do have books from Haruki Murakami and Paulo Coelho to tingle our exotic reading tastes, but I was always concerned with the lack of availability of countries’ treasures.

Classics are translated, of course, cause…they’re classics. But, still there are some translated classics out there not as popular or as widely read.

I never moved into a new sardine can (dorm) without this book on my shelf

I never moved into a new sardine can (dorm) without this book on my shelf

Reading books from other countries helps understand other people’s culture and what they value in stories

It might also help avoid certain stereotypes.

My apologies to American readers.

My apologies to American readers.

Glagoslav Publications is a publishing house dedicated to translating Eastern Europe’s hidden treasures to not only western Europe but the rest of the English speaking world. Modern Ukrainian literature seems to be one of their priorities  since it is at its “peak of renaissance, and the post-1991 period has seen an incredible diversity of literary genres and themes.”

They’re also going to be publishing books by authors from the “culturally diverse former USSR.”

The books mentioned in the article are examples hidden treasures providing a rich and cultural look into certain cultures, time periods and perspectives.

This is one step into creating more availability for these hidden treasures and their authors!

In business school, the other students and I were always being told about GLOBALIZATION and DIVERSITY. We rarely got some decent examples.

I’d say, this is one.  A very important one.


What every writer should sleep next to

You see this?

Your new Teddy Bears

Your new Teddy Bears

You will kick out your teddy bears, hot boy/girl friend and sleep next to this. You will eat dinner with these books, you will compliment them on their covers matching their inner beauty, you will take them out to a cafe or library while you write and you will keep all your promises about being in a committed reading relationship.

Donald Maass’s book and workbook are extremely useful in uncovering the potential of your novel. These books will help you overcome what you are afraid to write and shock your readers. In a good, not deranged we’re-going-to-hunt-you-down-Mr/Miss-author way.

But its easy to be overwhelmed about what you should do with your characters in your novel. After I read the book, I felt that I needed my characters to do every little thing Maass mentioned on every single page of my manuscript. My advice is to practice using short stories and get a feel for your own voice.


Climbing the publishing ladder: Waterstones, let’s talk business.

In case you’re not from the UK (no I’m not staring at my stats hoping to break another record on most views in one day *wink wink nudge nudge*),  Waterstones is a British book retailer.

When I was a kid, I was granted temporary freedom from my parents’ invisible leash whenever we walked into Waterstones. I would run wild into the largest bookstore and disappear between the tall bookshelves. My father had to summon his ancestral hunting skills to find his young cub who would bounce around between the fantasy and mythology sections.

Or sometimes I’d be looking for my parents, and a whole scooby-doo running through the multiple door scene would unfold.

I’m sure the guys at the security monitors had a bit of entertainment.

Unfortunately, when the financial crisis happened, that beautiful Waterstones branch disappeared.

I recently read an article that Waterstones is planning to continue remodeling its stores. This strategy is a means for Waterstones to kick its sales into high gear and bring back the browsing experience for its readers.  From last April, Waterstones reported an operating loss, meaning negative income.

Yeah, negative income, very bad news. It gets worse.

Its pre-tax loss was 37 million pounds compared to 20.6 million pounds in the previous year (before April 2012). The article continues that Waterstones did remain cash positive.

Now let’s see if I remember my accounting: there are four financial statements that you can examine to see how healthy the business is:

1. Balance sheet

2. Income statement

3. Statement of Owner’s equity

4. Statement of cash flows

By stating that Waterstones had positive cash, I assume they mean they have a positive cash flow (if anyone knows any better please email me). But just because you have a positive cash flow doesn’t mean YAY! WE ARE PROFITABLE!

I wish.

It means Waterstones can pay its bills but not be profitable at the same time  (I’ll explain this paradox in an upcoming post).

You probably guessed it by now, but Waterstones did mention they have strong competition from online retailers.

Which can only mean one thing! AND ONE THING ONLY!

METAL GEAR E-BOOK!

METAL GEAR E-BOOK!

 

The remodeling ‘project’ will continue over the next two years, which qualifies this plan to a medium-term plan (from what I remember medium-term is usually 2-5 years, depending).

Why is this important?

1. Waterstones is one of the major retailers in Britain. It represents, in my opinion, how big retailers are dealing with the current market pressures.  Taking out the proverbial giant brings to question how will the jacks of the book retailing world last without a golden goose? Wait…that metaphor doesn’t fit….

2. Some intro into business basics?

3. Learning about major retailers outside America.

Oh and I intend to brush up on my accounting.

I never thought I’d hear  (or write) that ever….


Climbing the Publishing Ladder: Korea’s alternative

The dedicated writer will spend hours at her cafe spot trying to create the perfect story for her beloved fans:

"No! David doesn't love Michelle! Where do these fans get these ideas?"

“I just published my ebook yesterday! How did they write these fanfics so quickly!?”

However, the publisher sits on his throne and decides the fate of your book, regardless of your fans, your dedication, your story.

"I am not pleased with this installment."

“3 installments? Make it 8. Not including Novellas between books.”

In the first segment of Climbing the Publishing Ladder, it was heavily focused on the nature of the e-book industry and concerns over the printed market. There’s also the question of leftover book stock.

Think Toy Story 3, but with books. And they don’t make it out of….You know.

So how to solve this problem?

Provide readers with a delicious cup of coffee for their body and that little extra something for their Seoul.

Publishers in Korea have opened up reading cafes to sell leftover stock at a discounted price. A better alternative to destroying all those books. These cafes have also become a great place to hold literary events and political events.

Despite the changes in the publishing market and several speculations about what will happen to printed books, Korea has provided an alternative. Just as musicians can make money through digital music and tours, perhaps, printed books can do something similar: Create an amazing reading experience. A physical space for writers, readers and anyone else to meet in person.


Who Reads eBooks? [Infographic]

Your cheat sheet on the e-book market!

SpicaBookDesign

infographic-v4

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