Haruki Murakami’s latest novel comes with stickers for customisation

Literary legend Haruki Murakami has a new book coming out this summer, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, and it comes with decorative stickers for its cover.Customize-Haruki-Murakami-novel-with-a-pack-of-stickers

Um… really?

I think Murakami is a great author but selling his novel with sachets of customisable stickers (whose designs were conceived by five different illustrators who read the novel and drew out their interpretations of plot points with assigned characters in mind) is a cheapening of his own artistic talent. Does Murakami really need this extra fluff to get people to read his books? The publisher’s saccharine story about her son’s love of stickers and how adults would also appreciate reliving this childlike activity of self-expression and decoration is bogus. It is a nauseating appeal to the kind of hipsters and Japanophiles that buy into that snowflake lifestyle of being self-consciously quirky and lol-so-random and therefore will feel compelled to read unusual books for self-identification, particularly if it comes with such a kooky attachment. An author like Murakami, renowned for his works with offbeat characters and fantastical plots, and revered for his cult status among such chai-drinking fuzzy-scarf pseudo-intellectual alternative readers, is unfortunately able to get away with something so unnecessarily gimmicky to accompany his latest release. This is marketing disguised as art.

Stickers

Stickers will be society’s downfall

In that sense, it’s lamentably brilliant and it will work. What better way to boost sales in the dying print industry than to give a book more than one function? Not only can you read the thing to enjoy and appreciate its story, if you still read books that is, but you can also make your book look pretty by tarting it up with stickers that expresses your own unique personality! You and your friends can show each other your first editions and compare how individual you really are! You can show others how special you are with an accessory that signifies your literary awareness and creative worldview when it’s not on your shelf for everyone to see!

Gérard Genette defines the paratext as all the baggage from editors, publishers and other interferences that accompany a novel such as prefaces, introductions, cover illustrations, and even the author’s name and book title. The paratext arguably informs and shapes how we interpret or how we create our own opinions about a text, often even before we have read it and decided what to think. At a very superficial sweeping level, it is judging a book by its cover, or in my case, for its cover. Stickers as paratext is certainly a new one in my books (hah).

But could this be the start of something to get readers reading again? The fetishisation of books is something that a lot of people are guilty of, myself included, but as well as being a new low that grooms issues of self-image and reading-as-status-symbol, is this a potential tactic to get people reading and cause a lot of buzz over actual books again? If so, then that’s just a bit sad, really. But I guess the literary industry is scarily dependent on such marketing strategies to get its books off the shelves and talents recognised, no matter how appalling they might be.

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Qleek makes your personal media tangible, visible and homogeneous

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Back in the day (whenever that was) we all used to accumulate DVDs, CDs, photo albums and books. Thanks to the glory of the internet and advances in computing capability, we have been able to get rid of our bursting shelves, overflowing racks and stuffed bookcases and replaced them with instantly accessible and dependable space-saving virtual equivalents. Over time, smart TVs and video streaming subscriptions replaced DVDs. Spotify and its competitors replaced CDs and even some MP3 players. Facebook and data storage devices replaced the need for physical photo albums. And for bibliophiles, the Kindle replaced books.

This was certainly a natural and inevitable step in our modern lives, putting everything onto very few versatile digital systems and eliminating the burden of material stuff to clutter bedrooms and shelves. But with these convenient methods, we have lost the romance in sharing and consuming our media. There’s nothing sexy about sending a friend a USB stick of your holiday photos or cuddling up to sign into Netflix. Being born in the 90s, I became a teenager when mixtape culture atrophied so I never got to really experience that now-nostalgic process of creating and gifting a selection of carefully-thought-over audio tracks to someone I was close to. If I were to make an actual mixtape now, the experience would be inauthentic and anachronistic. And really hipster.

Enter Qleek.

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Qleek aims to make our immaterial personal data physical again. Qleek wants to return our video, audio, text and other media data to a thing that we can hold in our hands, collect, swap, stack, play and share just like the good old days. Media data would be incarnated into hexagonal wooden tiles call Tapps and when a Tapp is placed on Qleek’s nifty reader, the chosen tile would sync and play to the appropriate output device.

I think this is pretty damn cool.

Data would become tangible again. There is something satisfying about the tactility and haecceity of materialised media, of holding something in your fingers that you know is the thing you’re holding, rather than a jumble of random files on a hard drive. The satisfaction touches the same nerve as that of die-hard bibliophiles who will always prefer the physicality of a book to an impersonal Kindle.

Data would be visible. The pictures show how Tapps can be collectible and commodified. Qleek’s Tapps straddle the best of both worlds: no more heavy boxes of books and DVDs to shift when you move flats and taking up space in your home, and on the other end of the spectrum, no boring and unsatisfying impersonal approach to finding a film or retrieving a file. This lovely quote I am shamelessly lifting from Christopher Mims’ article on Qleek from Quartz succinctly explains how important this visibility is on how we consume media:

As neurobiologist Mark Changizi has observed, ebooks, the web, and other libraries of digital media have no geography. Humans have an enormous capacity to remember things by locating them in space and time, so the lack of spatial constancy in our media—the way we are forced to “teleport” from one object to the next, as through a hyperlink—means we are hardly ever engaging this portion of our memories.

“In nature, information comes with a physical address (and often a temporal one), and one can navigate to and from the address. Those raspberry patches we found last year are over the hill and through the woods — and they are still over the hill and through the woods. And up until the rise of the web, the mechanisms for information storage were largely spatial and could be navigated, thereby tapping into our innate navigation capabilities.”

There was an intermediary period in the development of our technology in which we got interfaces that were both electronic and physical—the control deck of this Russian nuclear power plant is a great example. But now we’ve lost even those.

These days, the closest we get to engaging our spatial memory with our virtual interfaces is the layout of apps on our homescreens. To cope, we’ve replaced spatial memory and navigation with search. While search is powerful, it cannot exist outside of the devices that enable it, and by relying on an algorithm to recall what we’ve forgotten rather than our own intuitive sense of where it is in the world or in our libraries, we forfeit control over which parts of our knowledge we have access to

Qleek_at_home_6And finally, data would be homogeneous. Not sure I picked out the right word to describe this but I mean that all the Tapps have the same basic wooden tile structure but each one conceals different types of media to be used for different outputs. The fact that Qleek’s tiles can all hang side by side on the wall and then instinctively correspond to different output devices dependent on the individuality of each Tapp is probably the most impressive part about Qleek to me, unless I have the wrong end of the stick.

The potential for Qleek is mind-blowing. It could go far beyond its obvious appeal of storing gap yah photos in a sleek and easy way. Qleek’s Tapps could hold just about any type of data beyond media. It could conceal a beacon that can triangulate geolocation data. A Tapp could double for something as simple as a fob. Because a Tapp automatically updates data each time it is placed on a reader, users can view a newly uploaded episode of their favourite series, or tune in to a new broadcast lecture… The possibilities are endless.

Qleek is on Indiegogo and has under four weeks until it has to reach its fundraising goal. This is probably one of the only things I’ve come across that has actually inspired me to get behind a particular project so if you’re reading this and even mildly interested, I implore you to help Ozenge (the team of inventors behind Qleek) to reach their goal, even if it’s for a novelty Tapp to prove you contributed.

Book | A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

Didn’t I warn you that my blog would be left abandoned to the wind? Here’s a short post.

Let me confess to some unashamed literary snobbery right now. I didn’t fancy reading this book at first. It was a recommendation from my sister. I’m not saying she has bad taste – she doesn’t – but we differ very much in what we enjoy reading. We have read many books that we have both enjoyed (and she recommended Naive. Super to me which I liked) but her reading habits are very different to my own. She can get through books a lot faster than I can because she is a page skipper (such criminal behaviour!) and because the kind of books that she likes are kinda similar to this in density and investment.

A Monster CallsThe literary snob in me is usually attracted to books that have won some kind of award. This book won plenty but I was still put off. I’m not into teenage fiction, particularly from a trashy genre like horror. Stop throwing your rotten fruit.

But at the end of it, I was impressed.

The book is about a boy called Conor who is visited each night by a strange nightmare – a tree in his backyard talks creepily to him. Conor has to put up with this tree while dealing with his ill mother, snashy friends at school and generally the troubles of being a young kid going through maturity.

I hate limp teenage drivel about overcoming yourself and melodrama over things that would make your eyes roll, but this book doesn’t turn out to be like that. Without giving it away, it’s worth that read because it pulls off themes that teeter on the border of cliché and ends up being about something completely unexpected and pulled off in a nice way. It also has some stunning visuals as you read along.

If you want a short and pleasantly surprising read, this is definitely worth an hour or two of your day.

That’s that. Thanks for reading.

Book | Why Look at Animals? – John Berger

This week Last month, I read Why Look At Animals? – a compilation of essays and musings by John Berger that deal with the role of animals in our modern society as well as meditate over human behaviour, nature, art and human progress. Berger’s standpoints a lot of the time are depressingly Marxist and neo-Darwinist but the writing style is light and accessible and can actually be taken seriously.!!d8P1)gCGM~$(KGrHqMOKkEEwQOfWmnGBMSC0-tZ8g~~_35

The essay “Why look at animals?” looks at how animals have changed from kindred beasts that we used to interact with every day, share in our labours and revere with respect and reliance, versus now where they exist as a commodity or as often quoted in the book, a “marginalised spectacle” thanks to the logic of capitalism. Animals have become reduced to being things outside of themselves in human eyes, whether as representations of social status or else symbols of exoticism and civic/historical alliance, or else as empty promises of transcending our own emotions and biological limitations. Animals sit listless in zoos or lurking within human homes and streets. We have now become completely separate to animals despite how biologically and emotionally similar we are to them and Berger stresses how capitalism’s powers have corrupted this relationship to an irreparable extent:

“The marginalization of animals is today being followed by the marginalization and disposal of the only class who, throughout history, has remained familiar with animals and maintained the wisdom which accompanies that familiarity: the middle and small peasant … That look between animal and man, which may have played a crucial role in the development of human society, and with which, in any case, all men had always lived until less than a century ago, has been extinguished. Looking at each animal, the unaccompanied zoo visitor is alone. As for the crowds, they belong to a species which has at last been isolated”

Another essay, “Ape Theatre”, elaborates on the results of animal captivity and marginalisation by talking about his experience at a zoo in Basen. This essay is more focused on Darwinism, evolution and the rejection of creationism. It is structured anecdotally while providing lots of neat facts and philosophy about how similar apes are to us in how they can communicate and experience the same emotions as we do. This essay was written during a time where the discovery of our 99% genetic similarity to apes created a wave of thought concerning evolution and the instability of religion. Nevertheless, Berger’s position is poetic by confronting these two trains of belief and in the way we see our world.

“Birth begins the process of learning to be separate. The separation is hard to believe or accept. Yet, as we accept it, our imagination grows – imagination which is the capacity to reconnect, to bring together, that which is separate. Metaphor finds the traces which indicate that all is one. Acts of solidarity, compassion, self-sacrifice, generosity are attempts to establish – or at least a refusal to forget – a once-known unity … To create is to let take over something which did not exist before, and is therefore new. And the new is inseparable form pain, for it is alone … Alone, we are forced to recognise that we have been created, like everything else. Only our souls, when encouraged, remember the origin, wordlessly.”

Deep stuff, innit.

There are other cool little essays like comparing the eating habits between different classes and why one (no prizes for guessing which) is will be insatiably unfulfilled over the other. Also here’s an extract of this cool poem:

Out of the single night
came the day’s look,
the wary animal’s glance
on every side

Once the animals flowed like their milk

Now that they have gone
it is their endurance we miss

This post ties in seamlessly with the fact that I went to the zoo the other day. London Zoo. Bit of a bittersweet situation. Obviously it is great to spend hilarious times with friends and see all the different animals but you can’t help but wonder how aware the animals are of their own captivity. Seeing endangered species whose only means of existence is within the confines of a zoo is also quite depressing. Depressing’s not really the right word for it. But seeing this rockhopper penguin isolating himself to just stare at the edge of the enclosure says it all really.

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Book | NW – Zadie Smith

Warning: this book post will relate very closely to the fact that I have moved to London.

Wait, what?!

I have moved to London. Bye bye, Edinburgh… Hello, London! I love Edinburgh, I really do, but not only could I not get a job there this entire time, but it’s not really where I want to be for the mid-to-long-term future. Does this mean I have a job here…? Um… no… After much deliberation, weighing up pros and cons, switching between yes and no day in and day out, upsetting and appeasing a lot of people, I decided to just take advantage of the sudden opportunity given to me to move. I don’t really want to go any further about how I came to be here but all I can say is that I am one jammy bastard being in the position I am.

nwLet me now awkwardly segue into discussion of the book. NW‘s title, for those who don’t know anything about London, refers to the postcodes of northwest London, (coincidentally not that far at all from where I am staying). In NW, Zadie Smith probes into the lives of four characters who all know one other from their shared youth, all of them having different backgrounds, races, classes, aspirations, social groups, life choices… The novel takes each character in turn and goes deep into their histories and minds to paint a sombre picture of contemporary London life in the northwest.

In terms of overarching tone, I was expecting something along the lines of Smith’s hilarious first novel, White Teeth. NW is not as bubbly and vivid, however it is much more experimental in narrative form. NW is a mishmash of various forms, using streams of consciousness, standard focalised prose, lists, fragmented chapter headings… Doing something like this is often gimmicky and unforgivably Modernist but Zadie pulls it off because each form seems to successfully reflect the busy polyphonic lives that intertwine in cosmopolitan London while preserving an authentic inner psychology. Through these interesting forms, NW delves deep into the relationship between the inner and outer self, what characters hide from one another and from themselves, showing how what one’s perceptions and expectations of another are nothing like what they should be.

The first character, Leah, exemplifies all of this. She conceals her desires (or lack thereof) in life from her own husband while herself falling for the sob-story of a distraught young woman she used to know who comes to her door in need of help. Leah’s development that takes up half of the novel is abruptly cut to make way for a new form and focus on another character. Besides Felix and Nathan, Natalie’s narrative is sandwiched between these two and her story takes on the novel’s other half. Natalie grew up with Leah and her good friend, Keisha, in a council estate. She digs her way out of poverty and into the privileges that being a successful middle class lawyer offers, but at what cost? Natalie seems disillusioned by denying her socio-economic origins and her life is filled with responsibility and banality: her life is defined by the narrative form’s numbered passages that convey her life, passages that refer to cultural commodities of her growing up, such as Friends, The Wire, Amy Winehouse, etc.

There is a nostalgic feel throughout the novel to a time of innocence and youth, to a time where everything was infinite and unchanged. These characters are all in their thirties, stuck with marriages, jobs, responsibilities and the frustration of being boring and middle-class. Characters that are less privileged are depicted as happier, freer, more authentic but they in turn are unhappy with their lot for various reasons. The grass is always greener on the other side. Pretty much everyone in NW is dissatisfied with carrying on or “making it” in life to some degree. And as such, plot lines are left unfinished or exposed, there is little resolution. There is an itching incompleteness to NW that suggests a general malaise of contemporary life; the title therefore hints these characters live their lives in such confinement created by both their social/cultural pressures and defined geographic space.

Decent novel, would recommend. It is pessimistic and depressing but a great novel for thorough and intriguing characterisation. I am excited to be living here so hopefully my own experiences in London will not be so despondent…