Malaysians are reading more than the oft-quoted two pages a year, going by book news on the home front. The 2022 highlight for Buku Fixi was when three of its novels — Introvert, Unbox and Nikina — became bestsellers due to TikTok videos that it certainly did not plan.
“This was a totally new marketing channel for us and even ensured that our KL International Book Fair takings of about RM683,000 became the highest they have ever been since we started in 2011,” says founder-publisher Amir Muhammad.
As for non-fiction, he was happy to publish Danny Lim’s We Are Marching Now: The Inside Story of Bersih 1.0, saying, “I believe we need more Malaysian accounts that are not only factual but witty and fast-paced, as contrasted against the memoirs of dyspeptic old men that for too long have defined ‘local non-fiction books’.”
Fixi’s focus for 2023 is reaching sales of RM1 million at the 40th edition of the fair, which will run from May 26 to June 4. Among the titles it will bring out is the final part of the young-adult (YA) fantasy series Gram by Syafiq Aizat, popular because it is like a halal version of BL (boys’ love romance), Amir adds. He also hopes to publish translations of contemporary novels from the Arab world, which he will research as a trade delegate to the Cairo International Book Fair, currently on until Feb 6.
Lit Books co-owner Elaine Lau says two books to look out for in March are Hanna Alkaf’s Hamra and the Jungle of Memories and The House of Doors by Tan Twan Eng.
Penang-born Tan’s first historical novel, The Gift of Rain (2007), made the long list for the Man Booker Prize. His second, The Garden of Evening Mists, was shortlisted for the same award in 2012 and won the Man Asian Literary Prize. The House of Doors takes readers back to British Malaya and draws on real events in the author’s home state in the 1920s. It explores love, betrayal, public morality and private truth under the shadow of (the British) Empire.
Hanna came out with her debut YA novel, The Weight of Our Sky, in 2019. Her second book, The Girl and the Ghost, was a 2020 Kirkus Prize finalist for Young Readers’ Literature. Hamra, a Malaysian spin on Little Red Riding Hood, is about a girl who runs into the Langkawi jungle behind her home and steals a magical jambu from a tiger. The creature stalks her and she must set things right, or her whole family will suffer.
Malaysian-born but Hong Kong-based Sue Lynn Tan hit the YA scene with her debut work, Daughter of the Moon Goddess, early in 2022. Before the year ended, its sequel, Heart of the Sun Warrior, made it to the shelves. It concludes the epic story of love, sacrifice and hope as Xingyin, the daughter of moon goddess Chang’e and the mortal archer Houyi, confronts a grave threat to their celestial realm.
Over in the non-fiction section, Vivy Yusof’s The First Decade has been creating a buzz since its December release. The book charts the co-founder and creative director of FashionValet Group’s journey from blogger to entrepreneur.
I Want to Die But I Want to Eat Tteokbokki, a South Korean runaway success by Baek Se-hee, is a bestseller at local bookstores too. The part memoir, part self-help book records Baek’s dialogues with her psychiatrist over 12 weeks. The young social media director at a publishing house talks about feeling anxious and persistently low, how she doubts herself but is highly judgmental of others, and hiding her feelings well at work and with friends. A book to reach out for in times of darkness?
This article first appeared on Jan 30, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.