Posts filed under Reading

I collect books

Filed in Reading

Hello, my name is Chet and I’m a book collector. I collect more books than I can read. Well, yes, I bought them to read, but I have been buying more than I’ve been reading. As a result, I have many unread books in my collection.

Fortunately, I am not tempted by book sales, however cheap they are. Otherwise, I will not be able to get into my tiny apartment anymore.

I do browse the local bookstores occasionally and I do buy a book when it strikes my fancy, even if it’s by someone I’ve never read, or heard of, before.

I also buy from online bookstores, but only if I can’t find a book locally. In particular, I buy from BetterWorldBooks, which has just started offering free shipping worldwide. But that’s not why I buy from them. The main reason is their literacy fund.

So I am not short of reading material. In fact, I have pulled out a selection of both fiction and non-fiction to read in the new year. The books may not be new, as in recently published, but that’s okay. As long as I’ve never read it, it’s new to me.

I got very excited looking at my 2011 TBR (to be read) stack. Hopefully, I will go beyond excited and actually read each and every one of them during the year.

This is by no means a “closed” stack; there’s room to add a few more … maybe new books purchased during the year?

My Reading Commitment

Filed in Reading, Women

I’m currently reading Comfort Woman by Nora Okja Keller. I’ve never heard of the book or the author. While I was drawn to the book’s title and cover design, I eventually decided to buy the book because it is written by a woman.

I have a reading commitment to support female writers. I’d like to think that this commitment has its roots in my university days when I was an active participant of the English Department’s Women’s Studies section. But thinking back further, I think it was shaped by reading choices from when I was a kid. Of course, in those days, I did not choose a book based on its author; I just chose what looked interesting, and based on what I’d read previously.

The very first author I read was the children’s writer, Enid Blyton. And the very first book I read by her was something about a circus (I thought the title was The Circus Comes To Town but I can’t find it in her bibliography). It had probably the first female character I ever read, and a strong one, too.

From Enid Blyton, I moved on to Agatha Christie. Over the years, there were many other writers, both male and female. And then in the 1970s, I found a book called Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. I was so taken by her that I went on and bought her second book, China Men, and later – much later! – her third book, Tripmaster Monkey. It was a gap of more than 10 years between the second and third books, and I’d been waiting all those years, so when the book was finally announced and available in England, I went and bought the hard cover version, costing more than £30 at the time, an amount I could hardly afford as a poor undergrad student. I went ahead and bought it anyway, but it did mean I could not afford to buy Toni Morrison’s Beloved which was released at around the same time.

Tripmaster Monkey had come out near the end of my undergrad years. By that time, I’d been discovering women writers, both old and new. And also women’s studies, and feminist criticism, too. It was around that time that I made a commitment to support women writers. How? By reading them. Even the not so well known ones.

I might never have heard of Nora Okja Keller before I saw her book, but the blurb on the first page of the book says she “received the Pushcart Prize for ‘Mother Tongue’, a piece that became part of Comfort Women and the novel has since won a 1998 American Book Award and was longlisted for the Orange Prize.”

Yes, despite my commitment to support women writers, somehow I had never heard of Nora Okja Keller. To be honest, I don’t go out of my way to look for new women writers; I don’t even follow the Orange Prize award which is given to women writers. Even when I’m aware of the list of nominations, I don’t go out of my way to get the books. There’s a very practical reason for this – I can’t afford to buy books by unknown (to me) writers, even though they are female and are nominated for book awards, because I might end up liking only one of them.

Instead, what I do is I wait for book sales and patiently look at each title in each sales and then pick the ones that look interesting. This is how I found Comfort Women – at the 2007 Pearson Sale.

Of course, once I enjoyed a particular writer’s work, I would keep a look out for her next book, which I would buy when available (i.e., new and often hard cover). Toni Morrison is one such writer. Another is Isabel Allende. Maxine Hong Kingston, too, although I have to admit to being disappointed with Tripmaster Monkey, but have promised myself to go back and read it again … someday.

I do buy new books, of course, but usually after I’d found the writer to be good. Yiyun Li is one such author. I’d heard a lot about her first book, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, which I couldn’t afford new but found a copy at an MPH book sales. After that, I looked forward to her next book. When The Vagrants came out, I bought it, new and expensive, and enjoyed it; less than a year later, the paperback was available, but I don’t regret buying the more expensive hardcover. There are some writers whose new books I would pay for; she is one of them, and the other is Toni Morrison.

During a recent visit to BookXcess, I saw they had Gail Tsukiyama in stock – not just one or two of her books, but almost the full list. Tsukiyama is an author I’ve heard of before, so I was excited to find her books available here (and cheap, too). I haven’t bought any yet – I still have a very long TBR list to read – but I might, the next time I’m at BookXcess.

Meanwhile, today is UNESCO’s World Book and Copyright Day, which is what prompted this post. I wanted to celebrate today by acknowledging, and re-affirming, my reading commitment to women writers.

“The once and future e-book: on reading in the digital age”

Filed in Gadgets, Reading

I found this article through Richard’s Notes, which I found very interesting as the topic is one that is very close to my heart.

The article is long – and at times, winding – and I have to confess to not having read every word of it. But what I got out it, helped me to know I am not alone in reading ebooks.

First off the bat, John Siracusa gives quite a bit of space to one of the pioneers of the ebook business – Peanut Press – and its evolution through various owners, including Palm Digital Media which employed him in 2002 to develop their web store. Peanut Press – which went on to become PalmReader and eReader, a name it still uses today – was the first ebook company I bought from, and which I still buy my ebooks from until today. So it was nice to read about the company’s history, so to speak.

Siracusa also discusses the “baggage” carried by ebooks as the electronic cousin of the printed book – the word “ebook” is actually meant to refer to the content, while the print version, “book”, refers to both the content and the medium. This print version definition, however, has carried over to the electronic version so that “ebook” has come to mean both content and medium.

I can understand this confusion. When I was writing an article about ebooks for Quill, a local magazine produced by MPH Publishers, I ran into a similar confusion trying to describe a physical ebook reader and ebook reading software, which would also be called ebook readers (but of the virtual variety).

It’s partly due to this confused expectation of an ebook as a medium that many book lovers have rejected ebooks – because ebooks don’t have the same touch and smell as a “real” book. To overcome this rejection, manufacturers of ebook reading hardware have tried to come out with ebook readers that look like “real” books and even allow pages to be flipped, but only in a virtual sense.

The above is just my take on the general objection against ebooks as a medium, but Siracusa discusses it in more detail in the section called “The device” in his article.

Siracusa takes on another regular objection to reading ebooks – the quality of the screen. Some of the objections he mentions include “I can’t read an entire novel off a screen!”, “I’ll stick to paper with its vastly superior contrast ratio” and “Eye strain! Eye strain!”

According to Siracusa:

With very few exceptions, all the unfavorable comparisons of bitmapped displays to print on paper are technically accurate. I’m here to tell you that they don’t matter.

The amount of time people in the industrialized world spend reading text off a screen has long since nullified this complaint. Literally billions of people have proven that they’re willing and able to read huge volumes of text off absolutely horrible screens. Think of text messaging on pagers and early cell phones, for example. Text messages are short, you say? I’m willing to bet that the average American will read substantially more text off his or her cell phone screen this year than from a book.

People are clearly willing to read text off screens. Plain, old, often awful screens with tiny, ugly text and large pixels. Vast amounts of text, read over extended periods of time. Up to 40 hours a week at work alone, in the case of most office workers who sit in front of a computer all day. And more at home for pleasure. Hell, you’re likely doing it right now (unless you printed the PDF version of this article or are being paid to read it).

I’ll say it again: people will read text off screens. The optical superiority of paper is still very real, but also irrelevant. The minimum quality threshold for extended reading was passed a long, long time ago.

Siracusa goes on to discuss digital rights management, and how Apple missed the opportunity to take over the ebook market. You can read all that in the actual article itself, but the other thing that was really interesting to me personally was his own reasons why he finds “reading off of this tiny PDA not just tolerable, but (apparently) satisfying enough to keep me from returning to paper books”:

Here’s what I came up with. First, I was more likely to have my Palm with me than a book. When I had an opportunity to read during the day, my Palm was there, and a paper book, had I been in the middle of one, would not have been. (Incidentally, this also lead to a vast expansion of the definition of “an opportunity to read.”) Second, I could read in the dark next to my sleeping wife without disturbing her with bright lights and page-turning noises. (The tan-on-black reader color theme was affectionally known as “wife mode” at Peanut Press.) Third, I was loathe to give up the ability to tap any word I didn’t understand and get its dictionary definition.

I totally identify with his “I was more likely to have my Palm with me than a book” reason. I carry my Palm TX with me whenever I’m out and about. I even have it in bed with me at night. And I don’t just use it for reading – okay, I’m digressing here a little – but also for games, music, and a notepad in place of real pen and paper.

I especially like the last two sentences in his article – an appeal to non ebook (human) readers out there:

… maybe you’ll never be satisfied by reading anything other than a paper book. All I ask is that you give it an honest try.

Books are not welcome during Chinese New Year

Filed in Family, Reading

So, it’s the end of another month. There were two things I did this month that I was happy with.

I showed up most days for my daily appointment with God, altho’ there were a few days I didn’t and had to play “catch up”, but I’m pleased to say I’m all caught up now, and ready for the new month with Him. This daily appointment may seem trivial, maybe even funny, to some, but it’s very important to me, because it keeps me grounded amidst all that’s going on around me, especially when I read the news.

Then, I finished reading three half-read books carried over from last year – The Camel Bookmobile (Masha Hamilton), Atonement (Ian McEwan), and A Loyal Character Dancer (Qiu Xiaolong).

Of the three, McEwan’s Atonement was easily the best read, and completely blew me away. The other two were different – non-Western settings for both (Kenya and China), and non-Western writer for A Loyal Character Dancer.

In fact, I enjoyed reading so much this month that I considered bringing a book along on our Chinese New Year visits to our uncles and aunts. Then I realised it wouldn’t be a good idea as the Chinese word for “books” sounds like the Chinese word for “lose”, a taboo word for many Chinese, especially during Chinese New Year.

I was then reminded of an incident many years ago when my third uncle was visiting us and I’d asked him to bring back a book that my cousin his son had wanted to borrow from me. Third uncle refused, and it was later, after he left, that father explained why. Third uncle was on his way to the 4D shop so he definitely didn’t want to be carrying “bad luck” (the book, or “lose”) along with him!

What I learned today

Filed in Personal, Reading, Stress Busters, Travels

Memories are not preserved in photographs, but in the heart and mind.

I’m on my last day of what Marilou calls “Chet’s Excellent Adventure”. I’ve spent 11 days helping out at the Bifengxia Panda Base, followed by two full days of Olympic panda watching at the Beijing Zoo.

I’ve taken nearly 600 pictures and at least 10 videos on my humble Nikon CoolPix 5900. Maybe not as much as I should but then, all I have in it is a 2GB memory card.

And then, on this very last day of my excellent adventure, I miss the two most important photography moments of the whole trip. Especially for the second one, in perfect hindsight, I realised I should’ve shot on video since the place was too dark and flash was not allowed.

It was then I realised that even without the photographs, I still have those moments etched in my heart and my mind. And I can still share them not in pictures but in words.

The first “missed” moment

Keeper Liu Juen was out in the public display with a pan of panda wowotou (bread) for 7 of the 8 Olympic pandas. I was not aware she had gone out with it, since the pandas were all asleep the last time I looked in on them (from the window of the keepers’ control room). So when I heard her voice, I went to look out the window, just in time to see her lead the pack of hungry pandas, trip, fall and get swarmed by the 7 black and white furry cuties. By the time she surfaced, the pan was empty. Usually, she would lead them on a merry jog before rewarding them with the wowotou, but today, they got their treats without having to do anything much.

The second “missed” moment

I’d asked to be allowed to watch the pandas come in after a day of public display. So at 6:00 p.m., Liu Juen said “we’re bringing in the pandas” and beckoned me to join them downstairs.

Three of the pandas were already in.

Duo Duo was in an enclosure of her own, and remained there even after the others had come in. She’d not been eating her bamboo and the keepers had kept her out of public display so that she could concentrate on some serious eating.

Feng Yi and Huan Huan were together in a second enclosure, where they’d undergone some training earlier this afternoon. The door to their enclosure was opened and they were led out to go into the big common enclosure. OMG, I was in the same space with two giant pandas and without any bars between us! One of them, sensing a strange presence (me), turned left towards me instead of right towards the big common enclosure, but was immediately blocked by Liu Juen and redirected in the right direction.

Then the hollering began. Now, the three keepers are all from Sichuan, and like people from Sichuan, they are LOUD! Even in normal conversation, they sound like they’re having a serious argument. So their lungs are in excellent condition for hollering for the other 5 bears to come back in. Four came in almost on cue, but the fifth, Tao Tao, lagged behind but finally showed up. The door behind him slid shut for the day.

In a moment, all 7 were lined up squatting in front of the divider bars. I’d had problems shooting without flash – I was told no flash because it would affect their eyes – so I decided not to take any photographs but just enjoy the moment.

Down the corridor, I saw keeper Gao Qiang approaching with a metal container. It was full of wowotou. As soon as the pandas saw him, their line broke as they stood up and jostled to get the wowotou. At one end, Chui Chui did not join in the “fight” – clever girl, as she knew the wowotou would come to her without her having to fight for it.

Soon, there was no more jostling as each panda settled back to munch on their piece of wowotou.

Looking back, I regretted not taking any pictures, and forgetting that I can take videos instead. I tried to console myself that even if I had video’d the moment, it would’ve come out too grainy. Then I realised a far more perfect recording machine than a digital camera – my heart and my mind. I may not have physical evidence of this precious moment, and my heart and mind may not have the capability to print out a hard copy, but the moment has been “recorded” and saved for playback anytime I wish.