Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Of China, Life And Death And Its Many Spring Moons.

The recent launched of the the Beijing Olympics reminded me of a period in my reading interests, some twenty odd years ago, when I was intrigued with events inside the Bamboo Curtain, at a time when China had yet to open itself to the world.

Books like Red Star Over China, written by acclaimed journalist Edgar Snow, and The Soong Dynasty by Sterling Seagrave, provided fascinating historical perspectives and insights about China during a period of turmoil and struggle between the late 19th and early 20th century.

But it was the individual but rare accounts of life and struggles amid a nation trying to find its identity - from feudalism under the Manchu Dynasty to China's emergence as a republic and communism under Mao Tse Tung - that left lasting impressions on me.

To this end, two particular books and the stories that they told - Life and Death In Shanghai and Spring Moon - remained vividly in my mind after all these years. My recent re-reading of them did not diminished the impact they had on me when I first read them so many years ago but instead reminded me of the strength of the human spirit during times of adversity and I highly recommend them to readers.

And by the way, after recovering from my recent accident, it does feel good to be able to blog regularly again.

Life & Death In Shanghai by Nien Cheng
An autobiography published in 1987, Nien Cheng's memoir is an exceptionally gripping story of a woman caught in the upheavals of the Cultural Revolution and excesses under Mao Tse Tung's China.

Poignant and haunting, Life and Death in Shanghai is a detailed and courageous account of her imprisonment, incarceration, persecution and torture during the Cultural Revolution of the 6os'. A former adviser for Shell Petroleum China, her refusal to admit to being "an imperialist spy" led to six years of solitary confinement, torture and harsh deprivations in 1966. When finally released in 1973, she found out that her only daughter, Mei Ping, had been beaten to death by the revolutionary Red Guards.

Providing fascinating insights of life in Mao's China, Life and Death in Shanghai is an intimate, honest and addictive literary classic of a woman's determination to survive and the courage, triumphs and ascendancy of the human spirit in times of adversity and tyranny.

Spring Moon By Bette Bao Lord
Nominated for the American Book Award for First Novel when it was published in 1990, Spring Moon is an epic spanning five generations of a Chinese family and is set amidst a background of tumultuous events when China abandons its ancient tradition of an imperialistic monarchy and adopts the philosophies of a socialist order.

Seen through the eyes of Spring Moon, the headstrong daughter of the aristocratic Chang family, the epic provides an intimate glimpse of traditional China and the joys, sorrows and struggles of a great family amid uncertain and often, violent, social and political upheavals of late nineteenth- and twentieth-century China.

Thronged with memorable characters, compelling and exceptionally well-written, Spring Moon is an engrossing read and a spell-binding story of one remarkable woman - a woman ahead of the times - and of a love that is forbidden and a China in tremendous turmoil.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Back From The Dead And The Indomitable Spirit Of Charmaine Tan.

Sometimes, there are moments in our lives when things happen that changes the way we look at and live our lives. One of these moments occurred to me some three months ago when after dropping my kids at the school, a monster of a truck, against the flow of traffic, came charging at me after I did a right-turn.

The thoughts at that moment : "Damn, this is it." and "What about my kids?", the impact and the resultant black-out remained vividly in my mind three months down the line. Waking up in the hospital, disorientated and unable to move my legs, prompted another worry that I might be paralysed.

Well, I am not dead and neither am I paralysed. Guess somebody up there was looking out for me but the accident broke both my legs and right arm, fractured my hips and landed me in hospital for the past three months.

Moments like this reminded me of the unpredictability of life, of the importance of your loved ones and not taking them for granted, and more importantly, spending as much time as possible with my family, especially my kids. In the face of what I just went through, all other pursuits and considerations are actually distractions and are secondary.

There is an old saying that I could not remember in its entirety but it goes something like this : "I come this way but once, so any good...." Essentially it means that we live only once and we should be kind, compassionate and do as much good as we can while we are here. So, I intend to be less critical, more accommodating, compassionate and open-minded to others. And where possible, volunteering at some of the local charities.

While the focus of this blog will still be on books and the literary scene, my blogging will also take on a social bend, using my various blogs to promote social causes especially for the less-privileged.

Besides the change in perspective, there was another lesson learned - strength in adversity. This was largely due to an elderly gentleman, Marcus, who was my next-bed neighbour and in for colon cancer treatment.

Though clearly in pain, Marcus showed remarkable courage in facing his condition and also much grace in cheering me up during my hospitalisation. A fellow book lover, he also related a story that touched me profoundly - a story of courage, of dreams and hopes.

Charmaine Tan is one of the authors of the book "Pick Me Up", a community project by the "Make-A-Wish" Foundation Singapore. Her story, “Ceryni’s Secret”, is one among a compilation of short stories written by more than 40 people for the book - a collection of true stories about how people overcame their circumstances and turn their dreams into reality.

Nothing unusual about a published author except for the fact that she has a congenital eye condition which visually-impaired her, losing 95 per cent of her eyesight, and is also suffering from end stage kidney failure.

Despite her sickness and disability, Charmaine's love for writing resulted in “Ceryni’s Secret”, a 12,000- words story written in three days and it represented her first published effort. It also fulfilled her dream of being a published author.

When Marcus told me the story of Charmaine Tan, I realised, besides encouraging me, he was also drawing strength and inspiration from her, vis-a-vis his condition. The story of Charmaine Tan epitomised determination, courage and strength in adversity and with strength in adversity, the fulfillment of hopes and dreams.

All the more so for Charmaine. You see, Charmaine Tan is only 13 years old.

*Readers who wish to order the book can drop an email to : or visit the Pick Me Up website. All proceeds from the sales of the book will be donated to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

*For regular readers of this blog, please be patient as it will take some time ( for my right arm to heal ) before I can resume regular posting.

*Related post :
- For The Love Of Writing

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Another Blast From The Past - Vampiric Thrills With Anne Rice.

Besides Stephen King, who got me hooked on the horror genre in the early 70s', another author whose books have left a lasting impression on me was Anne Rice, especially with her Vampire Chronicles.

I remembered picking up a copy of Anne Rice’s Interview With The Vampire in the late 70s’, largely piqued by the interesting title and wanting to try out books by not so-well known authors (Anne Rice at that time, have yet to become the highly popular author that she is now). And what a thrill it WAS!

Rather than being just creepy, evil and one-dimensional creatures of the night, Anne Rice’s vampires were imbued with so much depth, pain, loneliness and fluid sexuality that one just can’t help but identify with her vampires’ sufferings.

The lush and descriptive background that the stories were set in - from ancient Egypt in Queen of the Damned to biblical history in Memnoch The Devil - together with her immaculate grasp of history and the beauty she creates with her tales got me fervently hooked. So hooked, that I remembered eagerly waiting for her next novel in the Vampire Chronicles.

Rice's magical tales and her rare ability to make readers identify and connect with her characters' sense of alienation, their search for the meaning of their existence in a human world, and her excellent casting of vampires as metaphors for the human condition, have made names like Lestat, Louis, Armand, Marius and Akasha very special and memorable to me. And I have yet to come across vampire literature that can match the depth and breadth of the tales by Anne Rice.

Even though I have read her other books like The Witching Hour series and The Mummy, it has always been the Vampire Chronicles that made Anne Rice such a great author in my mind.

Sadly, for me anyway, since 2005, having reaffirmed her Catholic faith, Rice announced that henceforth, she will “write only for the Lord “ and that there will be no more such vampire tales.

While I respected her decision, I also mourned the loss of such rich vampire literature. So, to readers who have yet to experience the magic of Anne Rice tales, here are my favorite Rice’s tomes and I hope you will experience the same vampiric thrills as I did.

The Vampire Chronicles
Interview With the Vampire
Published in 1976, this is the first of her Vampire Chronicles and the book that started my vampiric thrills. Set apart from other works of the vampire genre by it’s confessional tone from a vampire’s perspective, it has the vampire Louis relating the story of Lestat, a vampire with a conscience. It is an engrossing tale of the despair of an alienated being who searches for the meaning of his existence, and his conflicts because he cannot find redemption and does not have the strength to end the evil that he is.

The movie adaptation in 1994, with Tom Cruise as the vampire Lestat and Brat Pitt as Louis, was a rare and surprise hit of novels brought to screen. As an indication of its popularity, Interview With The Vampire remains the best-selling book in the Vampire Chronicles.

The Vampire Lestat
Set in the late 18th century to the late 1980s’, the 2nd book in the series is a rich narrative of the beginnings of the anti-hero, the vampire Lestat. From his origins as a penniless aristocrat to his becoming a vampire at the hands of Magnus, a vampire elder, The Vampire Lestat is an extravagant and dazzling story spanning prehistoric Egypt, ancient Rome to 20th century New Orleans.

The Queen of the Damned
My favorite among the Chronicles, The Queen of the Damned explores the rich history and mythology of the origin of vampires. Dazzling in depth and lush in historical myths, the story tells of the awakening of Akasha, Mother of all vampires, after more than 6000 years of slumber. Awaken by the electrifying songs of Lestat, it is now up to him to stop her monstrous plan of ruling the world of the living.

Breathtaking, imaginative and complex in plot, it is a must read for fans of vampire literature. The 3rd book in the series was also adapted into a movie in 2002, with the deceased R&B star, Aaliyah, as Akasha and Stuart Townsend as Lestat.

The Tale of the Body Thief
Published in 1992, The Tale of the Body Thief is a departure from Rice’s previous settings in history, with the novel set entirely in the late 20th century. Dealing with Lestat’s desperation to be free from the nightmare of his own immortality and his efforts to regain his lost humanity, it tells the tale of a mysterious figure, Raglan James, who has the ability to switch bodies and thus, possesses the cure for Lestat’s depression and conflicts. A unique and unconventional tale of despair and redemption.

Memnoch The Devil
Probably the boldest and most controversial book in the series, Memnoch the Devil goes back to the beginning of Creation and is a breathtaking and ambitious tale that reinterprets biblical stories to create a complete history of Earth, Heaven and Hell.

Imaginative as only Anne Rice can be, Lestat finally meets the Devil, who calls himself "Memnoch" and he takes Lestat on a whirlwind tour of biblical history, Heaven and Hell in an attempt to convince Lestat to join him in a noble quest. Lestat even meet God and his time on earth as Jesus. Lavishly narrated, it is an epic reinterpretation of biblical history and brought the Vampire Chronicles to a close.

Not surprisingly, with Rice’s portrayal of God as a flawed being and the idea that Jesus sacrifice was insufficient, Memnoch the Devil came under severe criticisms from Christians as being heretical and blasphemous.

*Related posts :
- In Memory Of Gary Jennings
- A Blast From The Past - My Journey With Stephen King

Friday, February 22, 2008

A Blast From The Past - My Journey With Stephen King.

Looking at how Duma Key, the latest book by Stephen King, is rapidly climbing up the bestsellers chart reminded me that the horror master has not lost his magic touch and at the same time, brought back many fond memories.

My journey with Stephen King began more than 30 years ago, in the 70s', when I was still a boy. Like most children during the 70s' who made do with hand-me downs, including books, I remembered being attracted by the book cover of Salem's Lot, brought to school by a better-off classmate. The black cover, with an etching of a girl's face and a drop of blood at the corner of her mouth, captivated me. Well, guess what I did? I "borrowed" the book (it's still with me) and so begun my journey with Stephen King.

Over the years, I have read most of King's books, including his earlier novels Carrie, Cujo, Christine, Firestarter and even books that he had written under a pseudonym, the "Richard Bachman" novels like Rage and The Regulators. So ardent am I a fan of his, that I have also watched all the movie adaptations of his work (unfortunately, the adaptations are all bad except for Misery).

Spell bounded by his rich imagination and his gift for telling compelling stories, Stephen King was largely responsible for my induction into and love for the horror genre. And every time the word "horror genre" comes up, his name will automatically pop up in my mind. So, going down memory lane, here are my all time favorite Stephen King books :

Salem's Lot
The book that started it all. Published in 1975, it came about when Stephen King asked his wife : "What if Dracula came to modern America?" "He will probably be knocked down by cars in Sixth Avenue!" said his wife.

Originally titled "Second Coming", this is the only book in my life that I finished in one night and it left me scared *stiffless. Set in a small town, it tells the story of the arrival of an old vampire, his corruption and decimation of the town populace and the struggles of a man to fight this menace. Rich in characterization and plot, it stands out among the many vampire novels during that time.

*Readers are advised that I, sometimes, take liberties with the English Language and there is no such word as "stiffless."

The Shining
Having watched the movie adaptation of this book, with Jack Nicholson as the derange father, I felt the movie paled in comparison in fleshing out the sense of eeriness of the hotel and the helplessness of the young son.

Published in 1977, though a simple premise of a couple with a young son isolated from the outside world in a old haunted hotel up in the Colorado mountains, the story fleshed out brilliantly the eeriness of the hotel and the helplessness of the young son in trying to deal with both the demonic forces and a murderous father. King's description of the derange morphing of the father got me hooked on this book and made me think twice about looking too long at a mirror.

Even among favorites, there are "favorites". I have read "IT" a total of 4 times over the years and I had never gotten tired of it. Published in 1986, it is one of King's few books of the monster-horror genre. Set in Derry, Maine (like most King's books), it tells the story of a evil clown who lurks in sewers and lures children to their death.

Spanning across their childhood years to growing up as adults, it also describes the heroic efforts and determination of a group of children in fighting this evil. King's superb characterization of the group's fears and their triumph over evil, especially the stuttering leader Bill, made "IT" a book to remember for a long time. And "IT" was definitely no clown.

The Talisman
Imagine a book that can transport you to another world, a parallel universe, a world so different and enchanting that you do not want to return. That was what the magic of "The Talisman", my all time favorite, did to me. Published in 1984, the book was King's collaboration with Peter Straub (another great horror master).

Wonderfully told, rich in characterization and plot, it tells the story of a boy, Jack Sawyer, and his travels in a parallel universe - The Territories - in search of the "Talisman" to save his mother. I was spell bounded by the rich imagination of the authors with their description of this parallel world and its inhabitants. Most of all, their concept of "Twinners", our twins in the parallel world, made this book such a wonderful read and further introduced me to the magical world of the "fantasy" genre.

When I first read the synopsis at the back of this book, my first thought was : "This is so unlike Stephen King, what is there to be scare about a fan and an author?" How wrong I was! Published in 1987, "Misery" was unlike King's previous books with its story about a rabid fan and her favorite author.

With only two main characters in the story, only King can turn it into a bestseller. His story of an author being kept prisoner by his number one fan and forced to bring back a character from the dead was a masterpiece. And the movie adaptation was, in my view, the only one of the many King's adaptations that was able to fleshed out the story. Kathy Bate's portrayal of the fanatical fan was fanatically good.

*Related Posts :
- In Memory Of Gary Jennings

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Phyllis A. Whitney - A Lifetime Of Words.

For a person with a voracious reading habit, there was a recent piece of writing that I wished I never laid eyes on - an obituary. Beloved American novelist Phyllis A. Whitney, whose romantic suspense tales has sold millions of copies, passed away recently at the age of 104.

Born in Yokohama, Japan, the superb and gifted story teller wove her magic for more than 80 years and words were her life even before she began writing professionally. She started writing at the age of 12 while still a student, and worked in libraries and bookstores, eventually serving as Children's Book Editor of the Chicago Sun and the Philadelphia Inquirer in the 40s'.

After graduation from Chicago's McKinley High School in 1924, Phyllis began to write seriously, starting with short stories. A prolific writer, her first hardcover success came in 1941 with A Place For Ann, a book for teenagers, and by 1960, had 37 books and hundreds of short stories.

Hailed by Time Magazine as "one of the best genre writers" in 1971, her popularity reached international proportions by the mid 1960's, particularly in England and the Scandinavian countries.

While she had great success with juvenile mystery, turning to adult fiction brought her international fame. Striking a chord with readers, her adult romantic mysteries always had a vulnerable female protagonist, offered optimism and have happy endings. Among her bestsellers were Feather On The Moon, The Flaming Tree, Daughter Of The Stars and her last novel in 1997, Amethyst Dreams.

Re-known for her exhaustive research, Phyllis A. Whitney also won many literary awards and accolades.

In 1961, Whitney's sixth juvenile mystery, Mystery of the Haunted Pool, received the prestigious Edgar Allen Poe Award for best children's mystery story of the year from the Mystery Writers of America. She won the same award again three years later with The Mystery of The Hidden Hand.

In 1975, Phyllis A. Whitney was elected President of the Mystery Writers of America. In 1988, she was named a Grand Master, the pinnacle of achievement for a mystery writer, by the Mystery writers of America, honoring her high quality work and contribution to the genre. With this lifetime achievement award, Phyllis A. Whitney joined the exalted ranks of former honorees like Alfred Hitchcock, John le Carre and Agatha Christie. She also received another lifetime achievement award - the Agatha in 1989 from Malice Domestic.

Phyllis A. Whitney's 1956 novel The Trembling Hills was also recently reprinted in the United Kingdom as part of the Hodder Great Reads series "celebrating the best and most-loved popular classics of the 20th Century." All in, she wrote more than 75 books and her works have been published in more than thirty countries.

* Fans of Phyllis A. Whitney can sent their condolences here

* Related posts :
- For More News From The Literary World

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Boy Who Saw Angels.

A Short Story by My Den
All he wanted was to die at home. On 20 Jan 2007, with his parents by his side, *Adrian got his wish and was finally relieved of the pain he bore for four years. Adrian was only seven years old.

"Look at those round eyes!" a delighted Joanne said. "Going to be a very handsome man when he grows up!" echoed Dan, both joining in the celebrations of *David and *Mary on the birth of their first child.

Adrian's birth was an answer to a long wished-for prayer and filled his parents lives with purpose and hopes. With his ever-present laughter, Mary loved to bask in the compliments heaped upon her son by both friends and strangers. But things changed when Adrian turned

"The sudden onset of fevers, chills and flu accompanied by the loss in appetite and rapid weight loss were serious enough for the hospital to conduct blood tests and a bone marrow biopsy on Adrian. I am sorry but Adrian is suffering from acute leukemia," said Dr. Wong. David's and Mary's world collapsed.

The next four years of Adrian's life were spent in and out of hospital, undergoing painful chemotherapy. "It was so painful to see Adrian undergoing chemo, injecting drugs to the brain through a catheter under the scalp," choked Mary. There were also the side effects - the constant nausea, vomiting, mouth sores and lost of hair that three year old Adrian had to coped with.

"Please Ma, no more chemotherapy," pleaded Adrian on hearing about his third relapse in Sept 2006. "I just want to live normally with whatever time I have left. I want to go to school, to Disneyland and I want to be at home when I die." Adrian knew he would die without treatment.

"It's time to let go," with a lumped in his throat, David told his wife. "Let's grant him his wishes and allow him to enjoy whatever time he has left with us."

For the first time in his life, Adrian went to school, something which he always longed for. A trip to Disneyland, Hong Kong, was also made possible with the help of "Make-A-Wish" foundation which grants the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses. Adrian waited every night for his father to come home from work so that they can spent time together. He enjoyed his time left in this world tremendously.

Holding her son's hands, "Adrian! Look out for the angels!" Mary besieged. In the early hours of 20 Jan 2007, Adrian's condition took a turn for the worse. He was so cold and in so much pain. Choking back tears, she could feel her son's life slowly ebbing from his tiny hands.

Summoning a last drop of strength, Adrian look at his mother and shouted :"Mama, I can see angels, angels, angels!"

Adrian will always lived in my heart. A brave young child whose life was cut short by a terrible illness and my heart goes out to his parents. Tribute should also go to "Make-A-Wish" Foundation for making possible the wishes of children with terminal illness.

*Names were changed to protect privacy

*More stories by MyDen
- A Live Unlive

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Short Story Writing Contest.

For aspiring writers, head over to BeboAuthor for the perfect writing contest. Totally free to enter and requiring no registration, the short story contest is open to anyone and other than erotica, all genres are accepted.

Just send in a short story of at least 1,000 words and win attractive prizes ranging from one year’s free hosting, including domain name, for a WordPress blog, one year Flickr Pro account, Amazon vouchers to Entrecard credits. So, put on your creative caps and submit your entries before March 21, 2008.

*About BeboAuthor (from the website) :
"I first set up this blog to give those with author pages on Bebo a place to advertise and promote their work outside of Bebo. The aim of that was to have another way to get visits to their pages and hopefully a little bit of support and constructive criticism too. I began to review or advertise these author pages through my posts.

With that in mind, I felt that anyone interested in writing should have a place to promote their work which is why anyone can leave their links here in the link submissions page or else in the genre of their choosing. I occasionally talk about some of these unpublished works but I also review books, share any writer’s resources I find and talk about as many different areas of writing as possible.

I like the idea of writer’s sharing their ideas and readers having a chance to get to know writers who, with a bit of encouragement and advice, could someday be published. Although I have focused on young writers in particular, this blog should be for anyone interested in reading or writing."

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Mangling Wednesday - What You Says?

Mangling Wednesday is a new category that I am starting and is a light-hearted attempt to put into print the hilarious moments that I come across in my daily life - moments when the English Language is mangled in daily conversations.

There is no intention to mock anyone and neither am I as linguistically sound as I wish I was, and I am as susceptible to committing these faux pas as the next person.

Mangling Wednesday also features a fictional and pompous Professor X, and his attempts to correct, in his own words, " those grave grammatical sins!"

What You Says ?
(Overheard at a cafe about his date yesterday.)

"So, I asked her what she want to eat. She says: "I doesn't know. You choose ok!" So, we went to Long John Silver."
"So, what you all do next?" asked his friend.

Unable to contain himself any longer and biological programmed to correct grammatical mistakes, Professor X walked over to the two teenagers and with a huff, said :
"First of all, when you are relating an event in the past, you should say ".....what she WANTED to eat," and it is 'she SAID' and not 'she says.'"

"It was also atrocious that your......girlfriend said : "I doesn't know!" Only
'he' or 'she' take a 'doesn't know' and 'I', 'you' and 'they' use 'don't know' or 'do not know'."

Turning to the friend : "And it is not "So, what you all do next?" but "So, what did both of you do next?"

"Furthermore, to inject eloquence into your conversations, use 'And' or 'Then' instead of the incessant 'So' that both of you are so fond of!"

The young man glared at Professor X for a second, then turned back to his friend and continued with gusto : "So, I says to her......."

Sunday, February 3, 2008

For The Love Of Writing.

Writing in itself is a remarkable experience. It is an act of discovery and of joy, and it gives meaning to thoughts, feelings, hopes and life. And writing a book is an even more impressive achievement - a labour of love that can take months, maybe even years. But what if we are lacking in the only tools we have for writing - our hands?

Imagine the severe limitations, the frustrations of being unable to express ourself in print if we are unable to use our hands to write those words that are crying to be written. But the human mind is, in fact, boundless, and here are some inspirational examples of authors who, through sheer determination and grit, transcended their physical limitations and produced brilliant works of literature :

1. The Diving Bell And The Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby.
About the author : Jean-Dominique Bauby was a prominent French journalist and editor of French Elle when he suffered a massive stroke in Dec 1995 at the age of 43. When he regained consciousness 20 days later, he was completely paralysed except for being able to move only his left eyelid.

Writing Method : To describe Bauby's method of writing as painstaking is a gross understatement as he literally wrote the 139-page book letter by letter. He would compose whole paragraphs in his mind, editing and memorising sentences for hours, got someone to recite the alphabet and he would blink when the letter he required was reached.

His Book : The Diving Bell And The Butterfly is a poignant memoir about living with Locked-In syndrome, a neurological disorder in which a person is of sound mind but almost completely paralysed. An extraordinary book that paints a luminous portrait of a mind dancing within a frozen body, it was an international bestseller and sold 150,000 copies in its first week of publication in France.

Wistful, witty and written with considerable humor, it is a remarkable tribute to the majesty of the human spirit. The book was also made into a movie in 2007 by American director, Julian Schnabel and won the Best Foreign Language Film at the 65th Golden Globe Awards.

Sadly, Jean-Dominique Bauby passed away two days after the book's release at the age of 44.

2. My Left Foot by Christy Brown.
About The Author : Christy Brown is an Irish poet and painter who was born with cerebral palsy. As a child, he was incapable of voluntary movements and despite the advice of the medical community to institutionalize him, his mother remained supportive of him. Remarkably, at the age of five, he grab a piece of chalk with his left foot and scrawled a mark - the letter "A"- on the floor, stunning his family in the process.

Writing Method : As suggested by the title of his autobiography, he used his left foot to write, type and even paint, but was also helped by his brothers, who recorded as he dictated.

His Book : Imprisoned in a world all his own and seemingly without any means to communicate, My Left Foot is an inspiring account of Brown's life and the struggles he had to overcome. Published in 1954, when Christy Brown was 22, it is a triumphant story of his battle to learn to read, write and paint, all with the aid of his left foot, and his yearning for acceptance and fulfillment. Giving readers a first-hand account of what it is like to be a person with severe cerebral palsy, My Left Foot is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit.

Christy Brown passed away in 1981 at the age of 49 and his book was adapted into a movie, with Daniel Day-Lewis as Christy Brown, in 1989.

3. A Brief History Of Time by Stephen Hawking.
About The Author : Recognised as one of the most brilliant theoretical physicist in history, Stephen Hawking was stricken with Lou Gehrig's disease when he was a 21-year-old graduate student at Cambridge University. He subsequently lost the use of his limbs and voice, and is now almost completely paralysed.

Writing Method : Using a special infra-red device which detects blinks from his eyes, he communicates with the computer attached to his wheelchair, allowing him to "type". Through an electronic voice synthesizer attached to the computer system, it also allows him to "speak".

The Book : A Brief History of Time, published in 1988, was an iconic piece of science writing which has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide and was on the London Sunday Times bestseller list for a record-breaking 237 weeks. Using a minimum of technical jargon, Hawking helps the average man understand highly complex topics like the origin and nature of the Universe, black holes and gravity with vivid clarity.

*Related posts :
- Poetry & The Innocence of Children
- Of Old Book Stores & Literary Gems.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Poetry And The Innocence of Children.

They say children say the damnest things but children can also come up with beautiful poetry - simple and from the heart. Their innocence, together with an imbued ability to be in awe of the natural beauty surrounding us and the wonders of life as they grow up, makes them natural poets. Unlike most adults.

We lose something, don't we, as we aged and travel on this journey called life. Tempered by pragmatism and numbed by the harsh realities of life, we no longer feel inspired and rarely are there times of exhilaration or that "eureka" moment, and neither does life allows us the luxury to be melancholic or even time for self-reflection - all necessary ingredients for writing poetry and along with poetry, an appreciation for life.

I certainly can no longer come up with the poems that I had written in my childhood, poems that were kept in a dusty box and tucked away, and re-discovered recently in The Magic of Poetry. Sad actually, for poetry is the language of life.

So, it was with great delight that my 9 year-old daughter told me about her maiden effort at writing poems. Her "What Is Red?" was a simple but delightful piece of poetry that gave me more insights about her than many sessions of father-daughter chats.

Written with a natural rhythm, it shows me her ability to feel, to appreciate and enjoy the natural beauty surrounding us and the simple things that life has to offer, a fast disappearing trait in an age where children are sometimes rushed to grow up, taught to be like adults before their time, without enjoying the best times of theirs and everybody else lives - childhood. It also reminded me what I had lost.

That it came in 2nd after her teacher had submitted it to her school's poetry competition, makes me even prouder of her.

What is Red?
is a rose
as beautiful as can be.

is an apple
as juicy as can be.

is a chilli
as spicy as can be.
is a strawberry
as sweet as can be.

my favorite colour
how beautiful
it is!
- By Teri
Aged 9.

"A poem begins with a lump in the throat, a home-sickness or a love-sickness. It is a reaching-out toward expression; an effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where the emotion has found its thought and the thought has found the words." - American poet Robert Frost

* Related posts :
- The Magic of Poetry
- The Joy of Writing

*For more poems of startling originality :
- View with a Grain of Sand by Wislawa Szymborska
- The Best Poems of The English Language by Harold Bloom

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Of Old Bookstores and Literary Gems.

There is just something magical about old or second-hand bookstores that makes me feel at home. Sure, modern bookstores like Borders and Kinokuniya, all gleamingly bright, lushly carpeted, neatly merchandised and having the "hip" element makes them a nice place to shop but to me, nothing compares to the 60s' and 70s' feel that a run-down old bookstore have.

Perhaps it's only me, at an age where I start to miss the many old familiar landmarks, cultural icons and old neighbourhoods that are fast disappearing in the face of relentless modernisation, and old bookstores, with their musty smells of old books, dusty shelves and counters that have seen better days and haphazard merchandising methods that have no apparent system to them, represent a trip down memory lane - back to a time when I was a boy, spending many splendid afternoons browsing old books, rummaging through dusty tomes and the joy of unearthing literary gems. Almost like a time-machine.

So it was with great delight that I chanced upon an old bookstore, tucked away in a row of old shops, on a recent trip to town. And what a find it was, turning up 2 sizzling reads :

1. People Of The Book by Geraldine Brooks.
A Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction in 2006 for her novel, March, Geraldine Brooks' People of The Book is an epic and fascinating tale based on an actual 15th century Hebrew manuscript, the Sarajevo Haggadah.

Stunningly written, it begins in 1996 in Bosnia, where the rare book, feared destroyed, turned up in a bank vault and the task of analysing and conserving the book falls on rare book conserver, Hanna Heath. As she pores over the ancient manuscript, she finds tiny clues as to its history littering its pages - an insect wing, saltwater marks, wine stains and a fine white hair and begins on a journey to unravel the stories behind the book.

From anti-Semitic 19th-century Vienna to the Spanish Inquisition in 17th-century Venice to 15th-century Barcelona, People of the Book takes us on a journey of historical grandeur and spans centuries and continents, and follows the trials and tribulations of individuals who, driven by circumstances and conscience, created and preserved the Haggadah amid war and persecution. Breathing life into the history of a rare illustrated Hebrew manuscript, People of The Book is an electrifying tale that takes us on a journey from the Haggadah's salvation back to its creation.

2. The Solitude Of Emperors by David Davidar.
A former CEO of Penguin India and the author of acclaimed novel, The House of Blue Mangoes, David Davidar's new work is an unflinching look at fundamentalist beliefs in modern India.

Inspired by the Mumbai riots of the early 1990s' between Hindus and Muslims, Davidar's ambitious and disturbing new novel has Vijay at the heart of the story, a young man who left his suffocating small town home in south India to cosmopolitan Mumbai to work as a journalist for a small but respected magazine - The Indian Secularist. He finds himself in the middle of violent riots and sees the chilling effects of a country caught in a surge of fundamentalism.

Written as a novel within a novel, Davidar's deep understanding of India, its people and cultures is demonstrated by the colourful characters that peppered his story - from the idealistic Rustom Sorabjee, Vijay’s mentor and boss at The Indian Secularist, to his roommate Rao, the wastrel son of a wealthy landowner to the ganja-smoking, poetry-spouting and messiah-like Noah Yesudas. Brutal and honest, The Solitude Of Emperors is a stunningly perceptive novel about India and looks at intolerance and sectarian violence unflinchingly.

*Related posts :
- The Top 5 Books For 2007
- Great Books For The Holidays

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cassie Edwards Accused of Plagiarism.

An article in the local newspaper recently caught my eye. Headlined :"Romance Novelist Accused of Plagiarism," the article - where popular romance novelist Cassie Edwards was criticised for allegedly using other writers' material in her books without attribution - actually stunned me.

Apparently, Cassie Edwards, the author of more than 100 novels with about 10 million copies in print, had been caught with her hand in the cookie jar after a romance novel website, SmartBitchesTrashyBooks, compared numerous excerpts from her novels with passages from magazines and non-fiction books found through Google's search engine.

Getting it right
One of the examples juxtaposed text from Edwards 1997 novel, Savage Longings, with a passage from George Bird Grinell's The Cheyenne Indians, an ethnography published in 1928. The plagiarism was startling with the stolen passages and words standing out like an ocean beacon shining in the dark of the night.

Worse, she has now angered the biggest name in the romance genre : Nora Roberts, the bestselling romance novelist whose works has sold hundreds of millions of copies. "Given the side-by-side comparisons I've read, it seems clear Ms Edwards copied considerably portions of previously published work and used them in her books without attribution to the original source. By my definition, copying another's work and passing it as your own equals plagiarism. As a writer, a reader and a victim of plagiarism, I feel very strongly on this issue," she told The Associated Press.

Plagiarism guide
And the accusations of plagiarism seems to be growing. In an interview with Newsweek, nature writer Paul Tolme, accused Cassie Edwards of copying his work on the endangered black-footed ferrets in her romance novel Shadow Bear.

What took the cake was Edwards defence. In an interview with Associated Press, she acknowledged that she sometimes "takes" material from reference books but did not know she was supposed to credit her sources. Come on! A writer with at least 25 years experience not knowing basic protocol and etiquette? Even much lesser mortals like me know the need to first ask permission and attribute accordingly any borrowed content, notwithstanding the doctrine of fair-use.

Having been a victim of content theft myself, I can certainly understand the anger felt by those whose works have been stolen by Cassie Edwards, but while plagiarism - something that is very common and happening with increasingly regularity in the Web - is a nasty habit that lesser mortals like me have to live with, it has never occurred to me that it can happen in the hallowed halls of established and published authors.

If the accusations are true, it just goes to prove that nothing is sacred anymore, not ethics or hard work - just instant gratification, money and fame. The joy and pride in the efforts that are needed for any success seem to be traits that are fast disappearing in modern society where the incessant need for instant success without wanting to put in the efforts required has led to an erosion of values like ethics, hard work and integrity. That it is happening in the hallowed halls of the literary world just makes it so much harder to accept.

*Further reading :
- Romance Novelist Accused of Copying - The New York Times.
- Paul Tolme Amused by Cassie Edwards - Newsweek.
- Plagiarism by BeboAuthor

* Other interesting literary news :
- The World's Most Published Author.
- Robert Ludlum & The Business of Ghost Writing.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Life Unlive - An Untold Story.

A Short Story By My Den
"How is Patient No. 2 today?" Doctor Ang asked. "Same as usual, staring into space," replied nurse Devi. Entering the ward, Doctor Ang saw the back of Patient No.2, with her long white hair, sitting in front of the window. In her 70's, she is the longest-staying patient in the Institute of Mental Health. Nobody knew her name and all efforts to trace her family and relatives were fruitless. She was found dumped at the Institute's gate one morning 53 years ago.....

"Stop!, Ah Mui, no!," shouted her mother. Ah Mui was banging her head repeatedly into the wall, the living room was a mess of broken glass and porcelain. Blood was streaming down her face and dripping onto the floor. Since she was 8 years old, Ah Mui has been suffering from fits accompanied with violence and destructive behaviour. Now a teenager, she had on occasions, attacked her mother, siblings and even strangers during her frequent bouts of fits.

Writing guide
With her husband having abandoned the family and three other children to care for, Ah Mui's mother found it extremely hard to cope and care for her. There were also the gossips and friction in the family to deal with : "I think she is possessed, better don't go near her," neighbours would warned their children. "We cannot live here anymore as we are frightened of her. Ma, you have to do something!" implored the eldest son.

While her fits has always been a part of Ah Mui's life since she was young, it deteriorated rapidly 3 years ago when one day.......

"Ah Seng, I am home!" shouted Ah Mui's mother. With no sign of her alcoholic husband, she started to call out to Ah Mui but instead heard crying coming from her room. The scene that greeted her in the room chilled her heart.

Writing guide
Ah Mui was crouching in a corner, her clothes in tatters and hair dishevelled with blood and bruises on her face. "What happened, Ah Mui?" she cried. All Ah Mui could uttered was : "Papa...he...very pain here..." she pointed to her groin. Ah Mui was only 11 years old.

Out of shame and not wanting to subject her family to further humiliation, Ah Mui's mother did not report the rape to the authorities. Since that fateful day, her husband has not been seen and Ah Mui's condition degenerated rapidly.

"Who is making all that noise so early in the morning?" Duty Nurse Chin grumbled, irritated that the loud wailing had woke her from her much needed rest. Looking out the window, she was shocked to see a young girl been tied to the gates of the Institute, wailing and struggling to be free of the ropes.
The magic of words
So began Ah Mui's stay at the Institute of Mental Health. For 53 years, Ah Mui had never talked, just the occasional mutterings that nobody understood. Staring blankly at the walls all day long, her nights were always accompanied by her wailings.

Each day passes placidly and for 53 years, Ah Mui never had any visitors, not her mother, siblings or relatives.

Going through the paperwork, Nurse Devi just couldn't help being distracted by Patient No. 2 : "Just who was she ?," she wondered.

Patient no. 2 passed away in her sleep last night, leaving no trace of her identity. No siblings, relatives or friends were by her side when she slipped away.

*Author footnote :
As a reflection of the times and the stresses of living in a modern society, the incidences of people suffering from mental illness have being rising worldwide. A taboo subject in most societies, many are shunned, treated like pariahs and dumped at mental institutions by their families, just like Ah Mui, many.... with lives unlive.

*More stories by MyDen
- The Boy Who Saw Angels

Saturday, January 5, 2008

A Pleasant Surprise From Blog Catalog.

Five days into 2008 and what a way to start the new year!

A recent participation in Bloggers Unite In Acts Of Kindness, an event organised by Blog Catalog, had turned into an unexpected but pleasant surprise as my post was among the top 20 as announced in the campaign results.

While there was never an intention to participate for the purpose of winning any prizes or garnering attention, and especially in a kindness campaign where everyone participating is a winner, the unexpected result nevertheless provided a positive boost as the campaign included hundreds of bloggers around the world coming together in acts of kindness.

Taking part in Bloggers Unite In Acts Of Kindness has also changed the way i perceived certain things. To be honest, there was a certain discomfort with coming out with a post about my contribution to the campaign and the initial feeling i had when i realised that my...simple act was within the top 20 was actually one of embarrassment as within certain cultures, especially Asian, and definitely the older generation, drawing attention to good deeds is actually not the norm.

But having seen the viral nature of blogging, from the Myammar crisis - where local bloggers were the first to alert the world about the abuses by the regime - to Blog Action Day to the Bloggers Unite in Acts Of Kindness campaign, i realised a lot of good can actually come out if the message is spread. A reply by Rich of CopyWriteInk to my comment on his article about this campaign, aptly summed it up :

"It took me almost ten years to learn that sometimes the result of saying nothing is the same result as doing nothing. Times have changed. It used to be that everyone did good deeds and didn't talk about them. But something changed. People stopped doing good deeds because they believed they were the only ones. Nowadays, it requires a few brave people to stand up and say that they did something good to inspire others."

Bloggers Unite In Acts Of Kindness, with the multitude of bloggers who took part, clearly demonstrated that blogging can be an effective platform for change and reinforced the views in one of my earlier article - Blogging, Society and What It Means To Me - about the impact of blogging on society and its effectiveness as a platform for dissemination of information.

Like all the great innovations and ideologies in man's history that started with a simple idea or a conviction, it is to the credit of the administrators at Blog Catalog, most notably Tony, Nine, The GoodKnife and Rich, for having the gumption to come out with the campaign and harnessing the power of blogging to do something good for society, especially in a cynical modern world where acts of kindness are sometimes viewed with disbelief or as being hypocritical.

Bloggers Unite In Acts of Kindness have also reinforced a view that i had about Blog Catalog : It is an exceptionally unique blog directory and networking site. Unlike many other networking sites, their responsive behaviour towards members suggestions, most of whom are using the services for free, and genuine efforts in constantly improving the Blog Catalog experience for users is something that is very rare in the wild frontiers of the Web where almost everything is about building eyeballs and traffic in the shortest possible time, and the resultant monetary value they can fetch when these sites are sold.

Together with keeping a tight lid on spam, the Blog Catalog team have succeeded in creating a strong sense of belonging in its community members and in attracting large numbers of respectable and notable bloggers throughout the world, and as a result, the standards of the members' discussions is a notch or two higher than other networking sites, making them a delight to participate.

Blog Catalog is a networking site with a difference and with the social conscience it had recently displayed, truly deserves the "Premier" tag to its name.

If there is one New Year wish that i have to make, it will be to see Blog Catalog grow from strength to strength, to the size and popularity of MySpace or Facebook, while retaining its core set of guiding principles that made it such a wonderful experience.

*Related posts :
- Bloggers Unite In Acts Of Kindness
- Blogging, Society and What It Means To Me