April 19, 2007

Thai books

My first post here is on Thai books. I hope this is of use to those out there interested in reading Thai books. As much as anything, though, I'm writing this to help boost my own determination to read more Thai literature.

I should start off by saying that my experience in *buying* Thai books is still more extensive than my experience reading them. Being somewhat lazy, I gravitate towards short stories and things of easily digestible length. But I love to buy books, and I have my favorite authors. Even if I've only read a few of their short stories, I probably own most of their catalogue. My reading list is huge. So it goes.

To me, the Thai book market seems like it has a very high signal-to-noise ratio. But that perception may just be a function of supply and demand, filtered through my own expectations of what a worthwhile reading experience is. When I started out building my Thai library, I asked quite a few Thais I knew for suggestions, but many Thais don't read "book books" (as opposed to comic books, magazines, etc.) for leisure. So I've developed a modest amount of expertise on my own, through buying the famous books, the award winning books (most every bookstore has a special section), browsing lots of shelves, and sometimes just plain dumb luck in running across a gem.

If you're ever in Bangkok in the first week of April, and you're at all biblically inclined, do not miss the National Book Week Fair (งานสัปดาห์หนังสือแห่งชาติ). It's held in the rather massive Queen Sirikit Convention Center (200,000+ square feet!). I went in 2005 and went twice this year. Everyone in the book industry has a booth of one size or another, from the used books sellers (think tables of "all books 20 baht"--a treasure hunt) to the big publishers (Matichon, Nation Books, Amarin, etc.), to specialty publishers (be it Buddhism, cookbooks, romance novels, you name it). Prices are heavily discounted all around. It's a giant book outlet sale. I overspend every time I go. Not that that's a bad thing.

So, on to the books.

In my experience, one good place to look is at SEAWrite Award winners. The SEAWrite award has been given out since 1979, with awardees in several varying categories (poetry, novel, short stories, play, etc.), awarded by country (every ASEAN nation has awardees, but you'll generally only find the Thai ones in Thailand). Here are a few SEAWrite-winning authors:

วินทร์ เลียววาริณ -- Has around 20 books in print, including a number of books of short stories, which are easily digestible and quite interesting. Has won two SEAWrite Awards (1997 and 1999), one for his political novel ประชาทิปไตยบนเส้นขนาน, and another for his short story collection สิ่งมีชีวิตที่เรียกว่าคน. I particularly like the three-volume set of เรื่องสั้นแนวทดลอง (experimental short stories), which are as much visual as they are verbal: หนึ่งวันเดียวกัน, วันแรกของวันที่เหลือ, and โลกด้านที่หันหลังให้ดวงอาทิตย์. I also got the chance to tell him I enjoy his work at this year's Nat'l Book Week Fair. :)

ปราบดา หยุ่น -- A prolific younger writer, he has an informal style which caused some older folks to protest his receipt of the SEAWrite Award in 2002 for his short story collection ความน่าจะเป็น. I recommend that one, but it's the only one I've read, though I have several more on my reading list. He also wrote the screenplay for the movie เรื่องรักน้อยนิดมหาศาล (English title "Last Life in the Universe"), which I liked.

ชาติ กอบจิตติ -- Has written a number of modern classics, including the short novels คำพิพากษา and เวลา (which one the 1982 and 1993 SEAWrite Awards, respectively). The former was made into the movie ไอ้ฟัก a couple years back. Sadly, these are still on my reading list, though I've read a number of his short stories.

Other books on my reading list:

The fiction works of คึกฤทธิ์ ปราโมช. Specifically, สี่แผ่นดิน, ไผ่แดง and หลายชีวิต are ones to look into. Prime Minister in the 70s, he also wrote broadly on a variety of non-fiction topics (and acted in "The Ugly American" with Marlon Brando).

จดหมายจากเมืองไทย by โบตั่น is written from the point of view of a Chinese immigrant to Thailand. The book takes the form of letters written home to the protagonist's mother in China. This technique was used by the author to criticize aspects of Thai society, by examining them from an outsider's perspective.

Another technique to improve your Thai is by reading Thai translations of of English-language works. Reading a Thai translation of a work you're familiar with in English is excellent practice, and you'll be able to grasp meaning from the context that much easier. There is quite broad translation, though availability tends to wax and wan. I own translations of J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and J.R.R. Tolkien, to name a few. There's also everything from the Laura Ingalls Wilder books to Steven Covey, too. Lots of potential there.

Of course, availability is important. If you're in the U.S., dokyausa.com is the website for U.S.-based branches of the large ดอกหญ้า bookstore chain. Their site is pretty awful, design-wise, and sometimes their prices are exorbitant, but when I was in the States I found a few good deals there. (If you live in L.A. or NYC, there are brick-and-mortar stores, too.) Also check out dcothai.com, especially the Thai language books page--if you're outside of Thailand you'll get stung a bit on the shipping, but it's a good place to get your Harry Potter, LOTR, or Dan Brown in Thai. If you're in Thailand, also check out chulabook.com or dokya.com.

If you're tight in the budget department, check out wanakam.com or CRCL's bitext page. The former is a site collecting amateur Thai translations of various world classic short stories and novellas, and the latter collects Thai stories and aligns them with their English translations, so you can read the Thai side-by-side with the English, if you choose.

(For anyone interested in English translations of Thai literature, check out dcothai, or thaifiction.com, or the aforementioned bitext database.)

[Note: Similar versions of this post exist in other corners of the web. I've modified it here.]

No comments:

Post a Comment