Everyone is reading the same book on Kindle Paperwhite

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The other day, I noticed that everyone on the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite adverts on the London tube (spotted along the Victoria Line and Jubilee Line) is actually reading the same book. You know those adverts where they have someone waving a Kindle and spouting something along the lines of “OH MY GOD I CAN READ IT AND ITS LIKE PAPER”? Yes. The book on screen in all of those ads is exactly the same! A simple search later revealed that the book in question was “The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared” by Jonas Jonasson. I wonder, did Jonas Jonasson or his publisher get a cut from doing this “spot”? I always look at books in display cases to see what they thought should be their mannequin’s reading material. Has anyone else noticed that they put exactly the same book in every picture?

Curious as to how this book was selected, when I googled for information relating to “The Hundred-Year-Old Man” and its relationship to Amazon Kindle, the most prominent fact that seemed to come to the fore was that earlier this year the kindle version of the book had actually been sold for the staggeringly low price of 20p at one point. TWENTY PENCE! FOR A BOOK! Now I have not yet read the book, but the very idea of selling a book for 20p (0.40 SGD) naturally arouses suspicion that perhaps the book was a gimmick or had something seriously wrong with it to the point that they had to sell it for 20p to move those units. Perhaps it could even be a trashy novel with popular appeal like Fifty Shades of Grey. (Incidentally, there is also a parody novel called Fifty Sheds of Grey which is also on Kindle’s 20p list). But a quick google of the book seems to indicate that it is a serious real book. In fact now it is now listed as being back to a ‘normal’ price of £3.99 on Amazon UK.

I think one tends to be immediately outraged to hear that any real books have been priced at 20p; I would be inclined to assume first that the person who has taken the cut must be the author or publisher rather than the massive e-retailer. But, in this case it was actually Amazon and Sony which had absorbed the cost of the book in the bid to attract more people to their e-book handsets. Turns out the 20p gimmick was simply a result of Amazon attempting to price-match Sony’s discounts on those same books.

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Even if the author or publisher does not suffer financially from such a move, it seems like a very bad thing to value a book at something as low as 20p; like a a perfunctory token. Even if they are only to be temporarily priced at 20p, I wonder if in the long write people may come to expect that books CAN be expected to be valued at such prices in future. It is one of those things, like how writers often find that they do not get paid as much as they should do – when in actual fact all the content and meaning is in the writing itself! I do find it ludicrous that a designer and printer can always expect to get paid on time because they produce tangible deliverables, but something like being a copyeditor/writer is sometimes times harder to define and assign value to, when in fact it could very well be the most important part of the process! It seems like a bit of a mean-spirited thing to have a price war over e-books in particular – the thing is that they do not have a physical form, so the way in which we attach a price tag to them could in fact be completely arbitrary. The whole system and economy of the pricing of e-books could go either way right now, and I dislike the notion of a “price war” because I think you should either have it at a reasonable price (but then what would that be?) or completely free, rather than leveling it as CHEAP and almost worthless.

I think that in an ideal world, all e-books should be free because it is already in a format that cannot be controlled – in any case if consumers are used to not paying for e-books then it will be hard to ever re-institute prices on e-books after the precedent has been set on “selling” e-books for practically just pennies. Consequently, all printed books should understood to be sold at a price that must come at a reasonable premium because there is an inherent respect amongst people for the print format of the book. Logically, over time, as digital platforms become more and more prevalent but also cluttered and full of “noise” (due to the oversaturation of media and advertising) it will eventually become more and more desirable to have a physical, tangible form of a book that we can hold and touch and experience – the same way old physical playback formats like VHS and vinyl persistently retain a distinctive appeal despite there being many new digital methods of recording, playing, and distributing/selling music. On top of that, in an ideal situation, all readers should be educated and discerning of what they choose to read or not read. E-books in the public domain or which are offered for free do not pose a threat to the commercial viability of new books because people always desire good, intelligently written and fresh new literature to read and consume, and it will be commonly understood that this comes at a cost because of the immense amount of work, time, energy and authorial brilliance that is necessary to produce new literature.

The Stories that we Grew up on – “The City and the City” by China Miéville

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On the plane ride from Singapore to London, I read China Miéville’s The City and the City in its entirety. It is a compelling read, and I must admit I had previously thought he was some sort of steampunk writer based on what very (very!) little I knew of his previous books (of which I admittedly had not read before), but I have to admit I found myself much more inclined to want to read him after I read that he had once said that he wanted to write a book in every genre — likewise I always think I would like to write a song that transitions into every other genre. So… I think we must have some things we can agree on.

The book’s style is hard-boiled; the novel was apparently written as as a gift to his terminally-ill mother with a fondness for the mystery novel. The language is very readable, and for a novel that invokes Kafka in its cover reviews, it turns out to be a completely precise and logical affair. But I guess this sort of preciseness is necessary to sustain the peculiar conceit of the novel’s setting being in a city that shares its physical space with yet another city. You would imagine this sort of “overlay” could result in a setting that is distortedly surreal, but fortunately I think it has been hemmed in very believably with restraint and control.

Now this is a spoiler alert! The crux of the “The City and The City” begins with Inspector Tyador Borlú, a seemingly Balkan-style detective being assigned to the murder case of a young North American archaeology student residing in Ul Qoman who was apparently murdered in Besz, and her being seemingly embroiled in some intrigue in her belief of the existence of “Orsiny”, a supposed third imaginary city which exists in-between the spaces of the cities of Ul Qoman and Besz.

Ul Qoman and Beszel exists as two cities which actually exist in the same geographical space, however, people in each city are required to “unsee” the other city – distinguishing them through “key signifiers of architecture, clothing, alphabet and manner; outlaw colors and gestures, obligatory details, and supposed distinctions in national physiognomies”.

So how does a city exist in the same space as another city? Perhaps it takes inspiration from the idea of quantum superposition (in its most layman definition) to be how something like an electron can actually exist in all of its theoretically possible states at the same time, but it is simply that when it comes to measuring or observing it, only one of its possible configurations is observed. It is funny, since George and I have discussed this (it seems, not too long ago), but I know I gloss over the technicalities of it, whereas he studied it (in part) as a thing in Physics (and Philosophy?). I think I am attracted to it as I have always viewed the city as a place with a separate layer of meaning that could be manipulated even without manipulating its actual physical architectures. I mean, this is the crux of the Singapore Psychogeographical Society and the projects I’ve been doing for the last few years.

Anyway, in the novel, the idea is that Inspector Borlu is having a hard time because he had assumed this case would be handled by “Breach”, this nefarious, scarily ubiquitous all-seeing-eye that polices for illegal crossings, such as in the case of someone who might have crossed illegally from Ul Qoman to Besz (e.g: possibly the murder of the girl).

However, Borlu’s task becomes much more complicated when he learns that it will not be handled by Breach because it had actually been a legal crossing. And because the crossing had been legal, Breach was “not invoked”. We are also told that “(Breach) is not the passage itself from one city to the other, not even with contraband; it is the manner of passage (…) the smartest dealers, though, make sure to cross correctly, are deeply respectful of the cities’ boundaries and pores, so if they are caught they face only the laws…”

As the novel wears on and the investigation deepens, we find out more about the notion of “Orsiny”. The interesting part is when Borlu cannot tell what is potentially “Orsiny” and what is “Breach”. it is harder to tell even from reading the novel in general. If Breach is truly just the thing in-between, then is there truly an Orsiny? A place that everyone in Ul Qoma think is in Beszel and a place in which everyone thinks is in Beszel and not in Ul Qoma? A place that is crosshatched but even more than that? Where is Breach delineated? Is there truly a systemic transgression in which there can exist a secret parasite city where there actually should be nothing be “Breach”?…

I could continue but I think you can read it for yourself. Also, actually I am really excited about the neologisms – dopplurbanology, grosstopically, topolgangers, crosshatching, unseeing, unhearing… I think of course that the idea of unseeing or unhearing doesn’t require a novel in which they are all separated. This happens even in real life where people cannot agree on things but choose to be blind to certain scenarios, and this quote is particularly poignant:

“How could one not think of the stories we all grew up on, that surely the Ul Qomans grew up on too? Ul Qoman man and Besź maid, meeting in the middle of Copula Hall, returning to their homes to realise that they live, grosstopically, next door to each other, spending their lives faithful and alone, rising at the same time, walking crosshatched streets close like a couple, each in their own city, never breaching, never quite touching, never speaking a word across the border. There were folktales of renegades who breach and avoid Breach to live between the cities, not exiles but insiles, evading justice and retribution by consummate ignorability. Pahlaniuk’s novel Diary of an Insile had been illegal in Besźel (and, I was sure, in Ul Qoma), but like most people I had skimmed a pirated edition.”

Dream Syntax: The Book – PREORDER IT NOW!

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After days of intensive work, I’m glad to announce that Dream Syntax the Book is almost complete and ready for preorder! NOW WITH 102 MAPS FOR EACH OF THE DREAMS – the most time consuming part of this project ever. And I’ve even made a mockup of what it might look up above there, in case you can’t imagine how the book will look like. Yes, I was so excited about it that I even photoshopped an image of what I imagined the book should look like.

Dream Syntax is the first book by Debbie Ding, containing maps and stories of Debbie’s dreams, 102 of them, from the last 6 years. It is written, illustrated, designed, and self-published by Debbie. I’m only doing a small limited edition of 500, which will be individually hand-numbered, and it should arrive on 5 Sept 2013, just in time for my solo exhibiton on the 6th at Galerie Steph (MORE ABOUT THAT COMING SOON).

If you’re in Singapore, you can even place a preorder for the book now at http://dreamsyntax.bigcartel.com/. You can self-collect or add a little bit more for local postage within Singapore. I should be figuring out the postage rates for International postage in the next few days, so stay tuned. Please support Debbie’s first book!

Here’s a peek at the wet proof from my printer (First Printers):

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So how did this book come about? Well, 6 years ago I began collecting my dreams in map form, over various notebooks and papers. Eventually I realised this could take the form of a book. The book became a never-ending project. Eventually, a line had to be drawn! I decided to arbitarily stop at 100 entries for this book. But in the course of working on the book I had two more dreams. So I added them in. And then there were 102 dreams in the book. So that was the final cap for this book. But of course, the dreaming still goes on and on and on…

This is what the first notebook looked like from 2008:

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When I was hard at work laying out the entire book at breakneck speed, I had another peculiar dream about numbers. Obviously, it did not make the date cut-off for this book, but I think its still worth a mention:

Now, I’ve had many dreams about words and letters, but never any dreams about numbers. But after spending hours wrestling with page numbers and entry numbers, I had a dream that was basically all about numbers. In my dream, I was at the computer, writing out another dream in which there was a character called “3” and I was known as “1”. My father came into my room and saw me typing out the story, and asked me “Why do you always have to play character 1? 1 is the smallest number! Why don’t you play a bigger number?” And I said, “Don’t be silly, 1 is also the most important!” I also knew that “1” was merely a role, a kind of stock character that many actors might play at a certain point in the course of one’s acting career, like Hamlet or King Lear. At that point I decided to go outside to buy an unagi eel for my supper (this must be because that day at dinner, Kent had been going on about how his favourite food at a certain Japanese restaurant was UNAGI fried rice). Stepping out of the house, I walked down the street and past a room full of girls who were all 7s, past a middle-aged 26 sleeping inside a clear perspex box. The person at the 7-11 was a 47. I realised everyone was actually just a number, but I just hadn’t properly noticed it before because I was not looking at it in the right way. I got back to my computer and started drafting out a map of these numbers I had seen. Over the internet, I also told George this strange revelation, “people are all just numbers!” When I told him this, he asked me what number he was. But then, I realised that I did not know what number he was…

Anyway. For more dream stories like this…

 

PREORDER DREAM SYNTAX: THE BOOK
http://dreamsyntax.bigcartel.com

SGD 30 (SELF COLLECT) / SGD 35 (LOCAL POSTAGE WITHIN SINGAPORE)

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DREAM SYNTAX
First Published September 2013
ISBN: 978-981-07-7491-2
Designed by Debbie Ding
Written by Debbie Ding