where have i been + more excuses not to write

20May08

seeeeema once said that only folks with too much time on their hands blog. regularly.

well, that’s not technically true, not all the time. some people make blogging a career, or part of it anyway. and others don’t blog because they have nothing to do but rather because they have so much Fun Stuff going on that they feel the need to share.

but i still believe in seema’s er, proclamation, because i realise i neglect blogs precisely when i should be filling them with fun stuff about where i’ve been (seriously, when have i ever sat down and written a proper travelogue for you people) and my thoughts on interesting people i’ve met/watched.

ANYWAY WHY AM I SO LONG WINDED

-insert fun picture to distract from my utter boringness-

Yeah even my niece is bored with me.

This post was meant to be a response to Yasmine’s excellent summary of what we got up to on Friday night at Borders – mainly trying to run through what could be a semester’s worth of comparative lit study in school in about half an hour.

Our inspiration was a local book of short stories which has recently been shortlisted for an international short fiction prize, a book which I discovered in a Borders in KL (how fitting) and set about reading because I am one of those truly heinous types who likes to look at whatever creative, local-made thing is set before me if only to sniff and believe, truly beliiieeeeve that if only I would do something, that something would be so much better.

Vile, isn’t it?

So I read it, and I messaged Y about it, and then of course we went to Borders and looked for it. Much the same way we went to Kino to delight in the horrors of another local book which, because of the headway it made in the international arena, is like The Singaporean Novel to mention, despite its failings in correctly identifying local/regional sports (for the last time, I promise – sepak tawak, anyone?). (i don’t feel bad about constantly bringing this up to point out to you how culturally barren this author is … she didn’t know yishun, goddammit)

Yeah, so we read it, and we decided it’s a bit weird. It’s not really a novel for Singaporeans, which just feels – very – wrong to me. But in answer to your question, Yasmine, whether you’d missed anything out, then maybe this:

– Must books about Singapore be made for Singaporeans?

This is such a difficult question to think about, much less give a fully-formed answer to. I suppose the only answer I can give now is : well, what do you want your book to do, right? And here, I have to interject myself again and ask: am I talking about ‘books’ or ‘stories’. Because if it’s stories, then the answer is HELL YES. If it’s books, and it’s meant to be a cute, cardboard-bound thing to be submitted for international book prizes, then well …. (enter ambiguity)

I suppose it would be ideal if the situation were ‘oh yes if it’s about Singapore then Singaporeans must must must be able to accept, understand and then love it’. But reading this piece on V S Naipaul and his difficult relationship with his home country of Trinidad puts a whole nother spin on it. And of course, it makes you wonder how much of all that nice exotic Asian/Middle Eastern/whatever fiction you’ve been reading is truly representative of the mm “feeling on the ground” “man on the street” etc.

And then you wonder – well does it have to be so?

I mean, it’s fiction right. But the instinct is to say that yes, it should resonate with well, the locals (forgive me forgive me). But where do the book sales come from anyway, and the writing fellowships?

That last thought, I suspect kuat (copyright zat-n-ad) is what promotes the creation of paragraphs with lots of – what we perceive as – unnecessary detail … detail we scorn because of our unspoken assumption that only someone who sees Singapore as foreign and exotic him/herself would need to put down on paper (?)

Oh how messy this train of thought is.

Anyway, to get a fresh perspective on that book that Y and I decided to treat as a punching bag in Borders, I googled and found a part-negative part-encouraging TIME review. I have to admit (the vile me) that it made me feel … a lot easier. Yes, I saw the word ‘caricature’. And ‘stereotyping’. But I also saw the nicer second half of the review and it did make this vile heart feel better that it didn’t have to feel sooooo bad about splashing around in a pool of unadulterated criticism for someone who – whatever I think of her writing – has actually done that something that I always imagine I’m meant to do.

OK I guess there’s nothing else to say after that right.

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4 Responses to “where have i been + more excuses not to write”

  1. 1 ad

    dont mind my mangled grammar, but i was reading parts of the review you linked. oh my god. it is SO BAD. can they stop portraying the chinese as typical materialist, confucianist, communist, rod stuck up the arse creatures versus liberal, decadent land of the free west. it’s getting too old. joon if this wena poon can write a book on lions in the winter (SUCH A LITERAL TITLE BY THE WAY), i’m sure you can. in your book you can include a chapter on “books singaporeans read”. haha. recalling your experiences working in pageone where people are more interested in adam khoos then anything else. who cares if she is longlisted, she’ll never get to remove adam khoo from being on the local bestsellers list or even russell lee. i think u should write a book! joon! u can title it roti ajaib. i still do not understand how she can be longlisted.

  2. 2 Joon

    thanks ad. but first yasmine and i have to write our sitcom about our dysfunctional families. you are very welcome to contribute.

  3. Hi everyone, your blog and comments came up in my Googles alert. I’m sorry to hear that you are disappointed in my book, but I totally understand where you are coming from. I felt that way about 15 years ago when I was growing up in Singapore. Yes, even that competitive, vindictive spirit. Like you guys, I got really jealous whenever some local author made it big, and I swore that I would do better than that person, especially since I thought my writing was better and at least my English wasn’t broken. Well it took 15 years, but now it’s my turn to get some awards and limelight. Instead of criticizing and tearing people up, you should really write and publish if you think you can do better. Yes I agree the title of my book is too literal, I didn’t like it myself, but I couldn’t think of a better title. And it’s interesting you think that my book isn’t written for Singaporeans. Well, it really wasn’t. It was written for the international community because they don’t know enough about us. I guess that’s all I have to say. It was interesting hearing your reactions, and I hope that you turn your criticism into something productive and write and publish books also to add to the dialogue. Cheers – Wena Poon

  4. 4 Joon

    thank you! i emailed.


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