Sunday, 30 January 2011

How to guarantee roaring book sales


MONDAY STARTERS By SOO EWE JIN ewejin@thestar.com.my


YOU have to hand it to the Americans. They really know how to market themselves.

Just before Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother hit the bookstores, its author Amy Chua wrote an essay for the Wall Street Journal entitled, “Why Chinese mothers are superior”.

The resulting controversy certainly boosted sales of this book.

Suddenly, everyone wanted to give Amy, a professor at Yale Law School, a piece of their mind, even without reading the book.

As one reviewer remarked: “The book is actually rather tame... the frenzy over an excerpt was more exciting than the actual book.”

And, true to form, Hollywood is already thinking of bringing the book to the screen.

I am sure Amy’s two earlier books, Day of Empire and World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability, will generate even better sales now.

Across the Causeway, we see Singapore’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew generating as much debate with the release of his latest book Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going.

And closer to home, the Interlok issue continues to fester even though I get the feeling the majority of those who commented have not even read the book.

As the people in public relations, and also the politicians, will say: “Bad publicity is better than no publicity.”
If only such book-related controversies are a reflection that we are indeed a book-loving society, then not only will more books be sold, but prices will also come down because of increasing demand.

In this fast-paced world of ours, I wonder how many of us really find the time to read books.

Malaysians now read an average of seven or eight books in 2010, according to a study by the National Library on the public’s reading profile. This is certainly a vast improvement compared with 1996, when Malaysians read an average of two books a year.

The average may go up a bit more if the National Library includes the new generation of e-Book readers.
Friends who invest in e-Book readers often tell me how many books they have downloaded, all accessible at the touch of the screen. Yes, but do they ever get read, I wonder.

I am one of those strange people who read a number of books at any one time. They are placed in strategic sections of the house, one in the living room, one in the toilet, one in the bedroom, you get the idea.

Occasionally, I may get a book that I simply cannot put down, and so the book will go wherever I go.

Recently, I finished John Grisham’s latest novel, The Confession, in three sittings. But that was still not as good as my dear octogenarian friend, Peter, who stayed awake till the early hours to finish the book even faster. I must be careful what I buy him for Christmas next year.

A friend gave me a clip-on reading light recently and I find that when everyone has gone to bed, and all the lights in my home have been turned off, that little light always reminds me that light shines brightest when it is darkest.

In the same way, I believe, reading can truly enlighten darkened minds – if we choose our reading material with care.

  • Deputy executive editor Soo Ewe Jin is struggling to clear his bookshelves of books that his two sons grew up with but finds that the process is very difficult because every book holds such fond memories of his early parenting days. He is happy to declare that unlike Amy the Tiger Mother, he is just a Pussycat Father.

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