364. Audiobooks

I’ve been listening to audiobooks lately. Since, er, my disappearance from this space.

One thing that I learned very quickly about the working life is that you don’t have time for shit anymore. Your job (plus travel to and fro) basically owns 3/4 of your waking hours. With the 1/4 that you have left, there isn’t a lot of things that you can do. You will have to start thinking about how you want to spend your time after work.

Watch TV? Play a computer game? Hang out with a friend? Work on a side project?

Choose carefully. You can only have one.

And on those particularly difficult days, you don’t get any of them at all. Because all you have left at the end of the day is energy enough to plop yourself into bed.

I was doing remarkable well for the first half of the year trying to overcome the Librarian Threshold. I was blazing through them books. Heck, I finished my reading of American Gods in 2 weeks! Talk about speed and dedication to boot!

But then work happened.

At first I thought I’d keep a book hanging around the office. All those extra time in between tasks aren’t gonna fill themselves, amirite?

But no. I found quickly that reading a novel while everyone else is working isn’t exactly upstanding work behavior.

(while I know that the eminent Mr. King – may he live ten thousand years – said that social correctness should be the least of the writer’s concerns, I’m afraid to say that I don’t have half the cojones to follow through with his advice. I remain to this day terribly afraid of what people might be thinking about me)

It was in this time of need that I discovered the wonders of audiobooks.

Where can I begin about the wonders of audiobooks?

Some people are of the opinion that having a book read word for word out loud to you is a tedious process. “I mean, just read the goshdarned book, amirite?” But think of it this way: every day, I spend an average of 2 hours on the road. There are better days, and there are worse days, but let’s stick to that nice, round number. 2 hours on the road each day.

The radio in my car is busted. It wasn’t always busted, but I have long since given up on trying to get it fixed. So that’s 2 hours on the road, from Monday to Friday, that I’m not doing anything but trying not to space out. 10 hours a week. 40 hours a month. Heck, that’s a full week’s worth of work hours right there! Multiply that by 52 weeks in a year and you get 2080 hours of trying not to space out!

And like every stereotypical chinaman, I must squeeze every last bit of goodness out of the things I have.

I was fortunate enough to start off my audiobook adventures with one of the finest works on the medium: Mr. Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, read by the man himself. Even more fortunate I was to continue that exhilarating ride with Mr. Hill’s Horns.

Five months down the road, these are the books and I have read thanks to the medium:

  • The Graveyard Book
  • Horns
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
  • Coraline
  • NOS4A2
  • The Cuckoo’s Calling
  • Charlotte’s Web
  • Gone Girl
  • The Martian

And the list keeps going on for as long as I have people willing to read books out loud.

If you are an author who allows/pushes your books to be converted into audiobooks, or if you’re an audiobook performer, or if you’re someone in or marginally related to the industry… From the bottom of my heart: Thank you all.

You make the 2080 hours spent on the road worth the while.

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341. A Song Of Ice And Fire

After the explosive end of Breaking Bad last year and the mind-melting conclusion of The Dark Tower a few months ago, I was left with a vague feeling of emptiness inside of me, something TvTropers would know as Awesomeness Withdrawal.

Somewhere in June (or I think it was June; my memory is failing the less I use it), I thought that Mr. Martin’s earth-shaking A Song Of Ice And Fire series would do well to fill in the epic gap left behind by the two aforementioned works. With 5 novels published and 4 seasons of 10*hour-long episodes, it would entertain me for a couple more months before I find other things to watch/read.

(I have also gotten me the critically acclaimed True Detective and Les Revenants series, but just can’t bring myself to binge watch either of them due to the density of each episode… Maybe later)

So far so good, I think.

My plan is to read the novels before watching the episodes; and if what I’m told about the bloodthirsty showrunners is true, then I’ll suffer no lack of suspense while watching the series. This is for a number of reasons:

ONE: I’m highly squeamish.

For all the love I have for thrills, I lack the emotional fortitude to deal with it. I spend most of my time in movie theaters with my fingers plugged into my ears in anticipation of a jump scare. One of the first scenes I’ve seen from Game of Thrones, ironically, is the scene where [SPOILER ALERT] The Mountain smashing the Red Viper’s head in. Nasty stuff.

TWO: I suck at following dialogue

Which is why I usually have subtitles for when I’m watching things at home. Recently, I had the opportunity to watch Mr. Fellowes’ academy award-winning Gosford Park, and I realized about 3 minutes into the movie that I would not survive it without subtitles to tell me what these people are saying with those thick accents of theirs. By reading the novels and turning the volume on louder than usual as I’m watching the series, I will at least have some idea of what’s going on in the scene.

(and I won’t have to worry about disturbing the other people in the house. It’s not like I’m going to watch Game of Thrones with other people around!)

THREE: I can’t remember names

Which is strange considering point number 2, but it’s true. With the number of characters running around the novels, I have lost track of who’s who from about page 120 onward. I’m a little better with faces, and with my facial recognition powers combined with context from the books, I’ll be able to – hopefully – appreciate the story a little bit more.

I’ve heard that the third novel – A Storm of Swords – is longer than Mr. Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings. And I’ve also heard that Mr. Martin kills off his characters without mercy. All things considered, I think it’s going to be a fun ride ahead, even taking into account how ridiculously spoilered I am.

(I’d like to take this opportunity to push for the legitimization of “spoilered” as a real word, so that it stands distinct from “spoiled”, which carries very different meanings)

I’m now 6 episode and 600 pages into the story, with all the Seven Kingdoms before me to explore. Well – here I go.

337. Don’t Be That Guy

WARNING: RANT POST AHEAD

I woke up early today, had a proper breakfast, contemplated not going to class, but ended up going to class anyway.

Today was presentation day, and also the last class of the semester. The presentation was an idea by the lecturer to help us gather some extra credit marks. I, who have had enough presentations to last me a lifetime, declined to have any part in it. And since I didn’t have any part in the presentations, I wasn’t feeling a burning desire to be in class, listening to the others speak.

The problem with college presentations (they’re the only ones I’ve ever been to; I’m not sure if corporate presentations are equally full of shit) is that they’re mostly full of shit. Despite the compulsory Year 1 course called “Public Speaking” (in my time, taught by, ironically, perhaps the worst lecturer I’ve ever had the misfortune of enduring), everyone seems to get it all wrong: they put a barrier between them and the audience; they shy from eye contact; they read from their slides; and, in one case I observed today, they completely ignore the dress code.

I’m not an expert in public speaking, and I’m not equipped to dispense sagely advice on the subject. But let me just say that you don’t have to be a chef to know that a dish is crap.

So. Presentation day. I dragged myself into the classroom with a flask full of Earl Grey Tea, a Haruka Murakami novel, and a whole stack of foolscap paper – prepared for the worst.

(incidentally, my last day of class coincided with the last sachet of Earl Grey Tea being used up. I’m sure there’s something terribly important on a symbolic level in this, but I can’t figure out what)

As it turns out, the presentations weren’t all that bad. Well, yes, the presenters still but a barrier between themselves and the audience, they still shied from eye contact, and they were reading from the slides – but at least they made an effort to obey the dress code.

Sometime during the third presentation, a case study on the Enron Corporation scandal, this guy (whom I shall refer to as POS from now on) interrupted the presenters during the Q&A, as they were responding to the lecturer’s questions. As they were still mid-sentence, he turned and said to the lecturer, “Sir, their information is incorrect.”

Wow.

And then he goes on to show off his impressive knowledge of the Enron case by dishing out the correct information, topping it all off with “I watched a documentary on it 10 times.”

I’m a big fan of correctness. Really. I’m the kind of person who would pause mid-sentence to google something that I’m not too sure about. But for the love of all things good, did he have to be such an ass about it? And it’s not like he’s been saintly either – through the semester I’ve come to know him as “guy who answers phone calls mid-lecture” and “guy who’s not paying attention but is pretending to be”.

(basically, like me. But only for that second bit)

Then finally, at the end of class, POS and his cohorts goes up to do a presentation on mergers and acquisitions. His group mates are “guy who comes late to class and is completely clueless” and “guy who wears a jersey, shorts, and slippers to do a presentation”. I tuned out before the first slide was done.

Because it’s not about the presentation. It’s about sending a message.

So in front of him, I took out Norweigian Wood and began reading Chapter 2 while he presented.

(while all the other groups wrapped up their presentations in the mandatory 15 minutes set by the lecturer; POS’s group went on for a whooping half-hour. Sometimes, it’s not the presentations that are full of shit. Sometimes, it’s the presenter)

316. The Impatient Reader

“Patience you must have, young padawan,” said Yoda.

“YOU DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO OMG YOU DON’T KNOW ME YOU DON’T KNOW MY LIFE YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT I’VE BEEN THROUGH UGH I HATE IT STOP JUDGING ME I KNOW WHAT I WANT OKAY I’M A GROWN UP NOW STOP TRYING TO CONTROL MY LIFE!”

Yeah, that’s pretty much it.


When I was 16, I was serious about writing. I mean, really serious about the craft. I was going to change the world by the sheer force of my words, dammit! I was going to make history, to become the greatest storyteller the world has ever known!

In retrospect, I’m glad that Past-Me did not go and write a crappy novel and get it published. It would have been too embarrassing for words. But it’s true: I was young, I was eager, I was excited, and I was determined. I wanted to make things happen and I wanted them to happen NOW!

Still, the self-aware side of me did a little reality check, and even as an invincible 16-year old, I knew that my writing was nowhere good enough to make history or change the world (I’m not yet sure if the two are mutually exclusive, but let’s just pretend they are). I decided then that I should read some serious literature to get this intellectual soil all fertilized, y’know what I mean?

I bought a couple of novels with my parents’ money, and the ones that I didn’t buy, I borrowed from friends who owned them. I read Mr. Steinbeck’s The Pearl; I read the Sherlock Holmes stories; I attempted to read a John Updike novel and eventually just gave up; but most of all, right at the top of the list, I knew I wanted to read, and complete reading, Mr. Tolkien’s legendary work that is The Lord Of The Rings.

When the movies came out, I was about 12 years old. I didn’t care much for it then – I didn’t care much for movies in those days – and so my first brush with Tolkien’s work came one day after PMR, when I sat in the open-air school hall and, on the portable TV that they wheeled in for us, watched the extended edition of The Fellowship Of The Ring.

(say what you want about Peter Jackson being a money-grabbing opportunist, but his work on Tolkien’s legendarium is really unsurpassed)

With a little research, I found out all about how Tolkien’s work is easy one of the cornerstones of the fantasy genre and a shining gem of western literature. And I knew then, if there was a work that I had to soak in and really absorb into my mind, it was the epic story concerning hobbits.

I started reading the 350,000-word story at the beginning of May or so. I completed the whole thing within the month. But this isn’t to say that I was so engrossed into the story that I devoured it so, no – I was completely bored for most parts of the first volume, a little engaged towards the second half of the second volume, and by the time I trudged over to the third volume, my mind was already numb. I could not, for the life of me, fathom why anyone would use so many words to describe something that I would describe in much fewer words.

(I even toyed with the idea of writing the abridged version of The Lord Of The Rings – with just the good parts about battles and fighting and stuff. What a pretentious little prick I was)

The only reason I finished the whole story in a month, you see, was because I was an impatient reader. I did a reading speed test around that time, and I found that I read about 300 words per minute with 70% comprehension. I figured it was good enough for me to go on with life. I finished reading Ms. Rowling’s The Order of the Phoenix and The Half Blood Prince in 2 weeks. I read Mr. Leroux’s The Phantom Of The Opera (the actual novel, none of that lit class condensed version) in 3 weeks. There were so many important books to cover, and I figured that the faster I read, the more books I’ll finish in a shorter time, and the better it’ll be.

Except here’s what I found out about doing things quickly: sprinting through a field of flowers doesn’t leave you much time to smell the flowers, or to help the scent of the flowers grow on you. Despite my intentions to soak in Tolkien’s imaginary world, what I really did was take the bullet train through the region. And in the end I came out blank, wondering why people hold it in such high esteem.

Impatience has hardly gotten anyone anywhere, I think. Many a bad decision had been made in a moment of impatience. Tolkien took 12 years just to write the story, and that’s without all the nitty gritty worldbuilding stuff. I don’t think most of us can even stay in one job for 12 years, much less on a single project.

There is a Lord Of The Rings bookset that I bought when I was 17 (I bought it thinking that it was the DVD set. It’s kind of a funny story). It had been kept all wrapped up in the TV cabinet for the past 6 years or so. earlier this week, I took it out, unwrapped it, and put it in my room. Earlier this afternoon, I began to read the story again, only slower this time, taking my time to take in the details.

It wasn’t as tedious as I remembered it.

306. What Grinds My Gears

Idina Menzel throughout the years:

Wicked [2003]: “…And if I’m flying solo, at least I’m flying free!”

Frozen [2013]: “…Yes, I’m alone; but I’m alone and free!”

Yes, we get it already. Geez, woman.

(the above had nothing to do with the topic at hand. Just another stupidly fascinating thing this author found postworthy)


WARNING: RANT POST AHEAD

You know what really grinds my gears? Sweeping generalizations.

No, I’m not being pretentious. Yes, I’m being pedantic. Yes, there is a difference; and yes, I just gave a class-A example of how pedantic I am.

I was in a reasonably good mood tonight, if a little tired from the day’s activities, until I logged in on Facebook and found a link shared by a friend: an article titled “A Gentlemen’s Guide To Rape Culture”.

Hey, one does not simply ignore a title as catchy as that.

(by the way, since the subject is preceded by the singular “A”, it should be “Gentleman”; not “Gentlemen”, which refers to the plural)

I read the bold statement that started off the article: “If you are a man, you are a part of rape culture.”

And then I read the rest of the article with my middle finger held up against the screen in metaphoric defiance of the writer’s stance.

Look. Mate. I get it that you’re trying to write an impactful opening line, and “If you are a complete douche, you are a part of rape culture” just doesn’t quite pack the same punch. I get it, okay? But in your quest for the impactful opening line, you’ve dumped the blame of rape culture onto the collective heads of some 4 billion men out of the 8 billion people living on earth. Since I was born with a Y-chromosome and have a particular set of defining traits that defines my sex, I am unconsciously or subconsciously perpetuating violence and discrimination against women?

Really?

(all around, I can already hear the voices in the distance going, “If you were truly innocent, you won’t be so defensive about it, mate!”)

Does it not count to my merit, the 99% of my life not devoted to making women feel vulnerable and threatened? The times I stuck up for the girls – not because they were weak and needed to be protected, but because it’s what people do for each other – do they not count? Are all these things wiped away in the overwhelming incriminating factor that is my manhood?

No disclaimers. No apologies. If you’re a man, you are a part of rape culture. Full stop. Now here’s what you need to do, as a man, to cleanse yourself of the original sin.

It’s a load of horseshit if I’ve ever known one.

Of course that wasn’t the original intent of the writing. But we’re rattling off based on presumptions, aren’t we? If I, as a man, am promoting rape culture through my failure to address the problem; then Mr. Writer-Of-Article, as a writer, is publishing horseshit through his failure to acknowledge the obscene generalization that is his opening line.

I mean, is it so hard to admit to a margin of error? You could have redeemed yourself with a qualifying statement – as easy as inserting “chances are” right after the comma, but you didn’t. You could have said that your experience isn’t comprehensive, and that’s forgivable. Hell, you could have just acknowledged your sweeping generalization, and I would have accepted that.

But no.

You went ahead and wrote that dumb-ass opening line for all the world to see. And it’s spreading through the internet, misspelled word in the title and all. And it’s telling people, hey, look, it’s cool to generalize, as long as you get a punchy sentence out of it. I mean, who cares for factual accuracy right?

Thanks a lot, bud. Thanks a lot.

265. I Have No Eyes, And I Must Write

I have severely underestimated the addictive influence of the game that is Skyrim.

It is 1.06A.M. as I write this, and I have only managed to salvaged the 1,000 words that I missed out on yesterday. My net productivity for the day is still 0 words. I doubt that I can sleep easy knowing this.

I’m not sure if many of you are familiar with Mr. Ellison’s post-apocalyptic, sci-fi, horror work titled I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream. If you’re not, good for you – you’re better off not knowing. If you are, God bless your soul. You have lived through horrors unimaginable by most in life.

Actually, what the hell. I’ll give you an overview, if you’re not familiar with it:

In the distant future, the supercomputers created to gather war intelligence has someone linked together, and the artificial intelligence gained sentience. Born with only hatred and distaste for humanity, AM (that’s what the AI called itself) effortlessly wiped out every human being.

All but a handful survived.

The handful AM kept in its belly. Over the years, AM had been able to upgrade its own hardware and software, and somewhere in the miles-tall caverns that serves as one of AM’s many relays, the survivors live… Though they wish they could die. AM keeps them alive, using all its knowledge of human biology and medicine, just to watch them squirm. AM allows them to live – but just barely, so that they are in a perpetual state of suffering with no way out. Not even death.

The story goes that the protagonist and the remaining survivors hear of canned food in some frozen corner of the relay tubes. After a long, harrowing journey there, they found food waiting for them, all right – canned food. And not a single can opener in sight.

AM got a real kick out of watching them despair. But in its mirth, it failed to notice the protagonist break off an icicle. Before AM could do anything, the protagonist mercy killed all the remaining survivors. He was stopped just short of killing himself.

Furious, AM decided to make the most out of its last remaining plaything. It took him, and through some unmentionable process, degenerated him into a squirming, blob-like thing with no arms, legs, or head… Just a blind, deaf, mute jelly with all his consciousness intact, doomed to slither around forever.

The story ended with the protagonist giving what must be the most horrifying title drop in the history of title drops.

Actually, you know what? Grinding out 2,000 words, or just 1,000 more and promising myself I’ll make up for the rest tomorrow – that doesn’t sound so bad, after reliving the plot of the nightmarish story. Think I’ll go splash some water onto my face, maybe even brush me teeth to save on time later. A quick shower is probably in place too.

And if you have degrees of expertise in computer programming, or you work for the government… Please, for the love of God and all things good, please, do not let the intelligent AI happen.

I don’t think I’ll be able to handle it.

248. The Librarian Threshold

Take the number of books you bought last year. Minus that with the number of books you’ve given away. Now divide it by the number of books you’ve finished reading last year. The number you get is your Reader Index.

If your Reader Index number is more than 10, you’ve passed the Librarian Threshold.

(that’s okay, I’ve passed it a long time ago)

I’m not sure about you guys in other countries, or even in the other parts of Malaysia. But where I live in the Klang Valley, the people here buy a lot of books. I’m talking about volumes and entire series – like how I’ve heard people go Netflix binging, the denizens of the Klang Valley go on book-buying binges. With one trip to the bookstore, they’ll emerge with about 10 titles in 2 plastic bags, and most of this usually happens just before April.

Because, y’know, tax deductions and stuff.

It gets even more egregious when this certain sale called the Big Bad Wolf Book Sale comes around. When you walk into the space, you’re given a box – A BOX – to load up with books, and people usually do load their box (or boxes) full of books, because every volume is going at an average price of RM8 (that’s about USD 2.50). Why? Why not?

But books bought do not equal books read. If you took all the books in my house and stacked them one on top of the other, I’m pretty sure the stack will be twice the height of the double-storeyed terrace house in which I live. If the stack doesn’t first fall over and kill someone.

(what annoys me: when word processors do not recognize the word “storey”. My house never had 2 stories told about it – it’s not a 2-story house. It’s a 2-storeyed house, for goodness’ sake!)

I bought Mr. Gaiman’s American Gods so many years ago that the pages have turned yellow. It was only earlier this year that I found the willpower to read it from start to finish. In fact, I think in the last 3 months of being offensively bored at work, I have finished more books than I had in all of 2013. To recap:

  • Neverwhere
  • American Gods
  • KL Noir: Red
  • The Dark Tower
  • Fragile Things
  • The Storyteller
  • On Writing
  • The Wind Through The Keyhole
  • Wintersmith
  • KL Noir: White
  • The Ocean At The End Of The Lane

There’s actually double digits there. I’m happy.

(and if it looks like I’ve been reading a lot of Gaiman… Yes, I have. And I’m proud of it)

But there still remains many books that I have bought just last year: the first 5 books of A Song Of Ice And Fire; 4 anthologies; a collection of Mr. Pinter’s works; Bambi Vs. Godzilla by Mr. Mamet; The Stand and The Green Mile by Mr. King; Hidden Empire by Mr. Card; and all of John Green’s novels, minus the one titled Will Grayson, Will Grayson.

And later this evening, I will be heading out to Bangsar South to hoard more books for my collection.

As long as the volume of books purchased (after subtracting the number of books given away) exceeds the volume of books read, the unread books are just going to continue piling up, at the rate indicated by your Reader Index number. If your Reader Index number exceeded the Librarian Threshold, in no time, you’ll be fit to start a mini-library of your own, loaning books that you’ve never read away for a small fee.

(actually, that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea)

When you head out, as I will later this evening, to binge-buy books, remember your Reader Index number, and consider your proximity to the Librarian Threshold. If sitting behind a desk, reading a novel, and waiting for the late fees to roll in sounds like a great career to you, by all means, binge-buy away.

As for me, I’ll have to start working to push my Reader Index number to <1.