Audiobooks – Part 2: Many favorites

As promised in my last installment in which I introduced my hobby of Audiobooks, I shall now go through a long list of my favorites recommendations. This post may be a bit all over the place but I perhaps you’ll find something you may like and it was worth it~

(Here is my full Goodreads list for those interested, and links to specific bookshelves shall be shared intermittently below)

 

First off, this doesn’t even technically count as audiobook but sometimes there’s nothing like a BBC radio drama–well, not always BBC but usually the BBC. Instead of one actor reading an entire book, the lost art of the radio drama employs multiple actors and gets rid of those pesky “he said” and “she said”s to efficiently tell the tale in a manner best suited to this particular medium. They are often much quicker listens than the unabridged texts and more entertaining.

Several classics come to mind, but above all The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy stands out as the greatest. Trippy sci-fi and trippy comedy, nobody does it better than Douglas Adams! Interestingly, before any other iteration it was meant to be a radio show originally and that was always Adams’ preference. The saga started way back in 1978, and do check out the 2004 and 2005 series too.

Other noteworthy radio dramas include The Hobbit by Tolkien, Neverwhere and Good Omens by Gaiman, Foundation by Asimov, and Neuromancer by Gibson.

If you ask very nicely I may even send you the files but you didn’t hear that from me; support your local BBC and buy legit whenever possible 😉

 

Next I feel I must continue on the subject of Neal StephensonSnow Crash as said is my the best ever, but pretty much any Stephenson tome will give hours upon hours of thought-provoking big ideas and exciting writing.

The pseudo-sequel postcyberpunk The Diamond Age is quite well done, but my second favorites are tied with the epic hacker thriller Cryptonomicon and philosophical extreme geek discourse that is Anathem. I am due to even listen to those a third or fourth time eventually. Reamde is another fun tech thriller, and by the way next on my list whenever I find the time is Seveneves.

 

On the subject of quality science fiction, I’d be remiss if I did not mention the late great Philip K. Dick. A powerful and timeless author who prediction the confusion of reality-questing modernity more than anyone else, P.K. Dick’s novels are not too long and pack quite a punch hence well suited to the audio format.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is an obvious recommendation (and Blade Runner is indeed currently back in the public consciousness!), but my ultimate top pick is the theological tale of madness VALIS. That one needs to be reabsorbed every few years for maximum pondering. Other listens include the also-currently-back-in-the-public-consciousness tragic nazism of The Man in the High Castle, and the random enjoyable mindfuckness of Counter-Clock World.

What should I listen to next? I was thinking either Ubik or A Scanner Darkly. 

 

If I may feel more literary, there’s always acclaimed Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. The dreamy magical realism style makes for gooood listening on those long melancholic nights of travel and introspection…

So far I have only listened to a few favorites The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Norwegian Wood, with the former being a slightly superior book in my opinion but the latter’s more grounded nom de plum stylings a better fit in the audio format. Kafka on the Shore made for an interesting production employing multiple actors but it just doesn’t seem to work as well. Honestly, as my reading tastes evolve, I find Murakami becoming more hit or miss. But the hits when hitting are still amazing.

 

Next up is my ‘not even reread’ section. What I mean is, because of my low-attention span I am a quirky yet stubborn reader so I have figured out my best method for audiobooks is to listen to one of my favorite novels that I have already read. It’s a great way to reread and absorb the content more deeply.

However, some audiobooks are so engaging even I can listen to an entire book for the first time and actually pay attention to most of it. These are the not-even rereads.

Often, that especially goes for books written by performers in which the performers say aloud their own works. Especially with comedy books. Yes Please by Amy Poehler was a great surprise in one of the best memoirs I had come across. A lot of charm and heart, with guest speakers. So far it’s the only audiobook I’ve gotten others to listen to! Bossypants by Tina Fey was also wonderful in a similar vein, and The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer didn’t quite work as well but did showcase a perspective worth listening to. And now I have just noticed that pattern has emerged with regards to comedian demographics. I should mix it up. So how about next on my list is Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.

 

Just a few more of my very favorite favorites to round it out:

There are the nonfiction social justice books, such as Life Inc. and Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus by Douglas Rushkoff. I learned a hell of a lot about the system, man. The controversial Going Clear by Lawrence Wright displays a fascinating study of the Scientology Cult, an unbelievable true story of American insanity that left me on the edge of my toes.

Some newer science fiction such as Ready Player One by Ernest Cline which may not always be as smart as it strives but is eminently entertaining. Gun Machine by graphic novelist Warren Ellis was a wild ride told in the grittiest of grit.

Lastly, the absolute most interesting book of them all is certainly Sapiens by Professor Yuval Noah Hareri. A sprawling history of the human race that gives a new light to all that makes us human, expressed in myth-busting factoid after myth-busting factoid. The entire anthropological record always in readable prose. It has since impacted me more than any other book I’ve read in years, giving me so much to think about with where humanity has gone and where to go next. I recommend this book to everyone, from cynics who need to get the proper big picture to naive optimists who don’t truly understand the past. An incredible book, and I just hope I learned as much as I can from initially listening instead of reading. (I did purchase the paperback of Hareri’s followup, Home Deus, so I should be all around good.)

 

That’ll have to be about it. So many memories of walking around the neighborhood and experiencing other worlds, sights and sounds and smells reminding me of the voices who told me stories…

What have I left out? So much! Classics like Orwell, or of the beat era like Burroughs, and important contemporary American authors Bret Easton Ellis and Janet Fitch. I can only fit so much in one organized blog posting, but in any case I hope you will consider some of these brief introductions and enjoy the possibilities of literature in whole new ways.

What are you going to read/listen to next?

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South Africa Part I

Being an expat living in a major Chinese city of millions – with thousands of Westerners within the English-speaking foreigner scene – you never know who you will meet and what part of the world they may introduce you to… particularly when it comes to romance!

As I’ve written about extensively, it just never seemed to work out with me and Chinese girls. I haven’t followed up on those old blogs in a while, but know this of my present situation: I have not been lonely over the past year.

In the summer of ’14, I happened to fall for an artsy South African girl. Without getting into too much detail, let’s just say there were some interesting stories along the way. I’m not going to share all those personal stories at this time. Suffice to say it’s been serious, intense, and loving.

I am however happy to share the fact that last holiday (Moon Festival coinciding with National Day) she took me on a tour of her home country. An entire new continent I’ve never been to, a whole other land. I am still in awe of all I had seen.

I must admit, it was a challenge at times. Sad though it may be, at this late stage in my life this was actually the first time I had ever met a girlfriend’s parents! Wow. Really? Well, that’s me.

I was rather nervous. There was, in actuality, the issue of class. White South Africans tend to live in the suburbs, in gated communities, walled off by electric fences. I grew up a step below, and over the past half-decade gotten comfortable living in the lesser developed end of a developed city in developing country.

South Africa in actuality may be one of the most unequal countries in the world, but I’m not saying that my girlfriend’s family are that rich. Just normal middle class. Yet even that is tricky for me to be comfortable with. I liken myself to a starving artist-writer in China mind you, not some trader-businessman.

Really, it wasn’t that bad.

All that said, the country is full of beauty like no other… I can see what people love so much about Africa.

My lovely did an incredible job of planning this trip. (How could I plan? I followed her. And it worked out very well that I did.) Everyday, off to a new place. New sights to see. New wonders to behold.

Off we went.

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Day One

We flew in from Hong Kong. Transferred at Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, to the view from the aircraft of exquisite waterfalls and Mt. Kilimanjaro. My first time entering the Southern Hemisphere. Wish I could have explored Ethiopia more. Next time.

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Though we were tired, I was determined to start exploring right after landing. Being picked up from the Johannesberg airport was almost a disappointment; I’d wanted to learn about trains right off the bat. But it was tiring after the second flight being over ten hours.

The driver took us to the guest house in Melville, the hip part of town. On the drive over I stared out the window and took pictures. The highway only showed what looked like middle-American suburbs. In fact, much of what I would see of the middle-class homes and shopping malls pretty much reminded me of American suburbs.

Melville was awesome. Full of vegetarian restaurants (we ate Mexican food the first night, yum!), used bookstores (I spent way too much money), and most importantly of all a comic book shop. Outer Limits: I got an old Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud I’d been wanting to reread and share for ages.

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They didn’t have the latest One Piece manga volume, but later I did find it at a shop in Pretoria.

And Gaiman’s Sandman: Overture still hadn’t come out yet, always late.

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Day Two

By the second day my ears no longer popped and jetlag not too bad, we hung out some more in Melville and bought vintage clothes at this cool place made out of trucker containers called 27 Blocks. After some errands at the bank, I got a Sim card for my phone. Another highlight was simply going to a grocery store. Again, due to the western context, it was nice to simply be in a supermarket.

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We checked out and took a tuk-tuk driver to downtown Pretoria, at the City Bowl area near the Gautrain station. There, although heavy with all the luggage, we went to yet another bookstore (found a used Warren Ellis graphic novel) to meet up with Eleni –  blogger of Greek Meets Taiwan – who lives in the area. It was tricky to find the time, but small world that it is one might as well take advantage, and had coffee with her boyfriend and talked about education.

A lot of interesting talks showing me how it really is in South Africa…

Running a bit late, we took the Gautrain to Pretoria. This was the moment. My girlfriend’s dad, first time ever in my life to meet him. Although I did talk to him on Skype the week before. It was cool, no big deal at all. Nice man.

The dad and his wife – I would meet the mother later (now that I think about, perhaps divorced parents is one of the things that brings us together) – drove us out for dinner. We stopped by at a hoity-toity golf club where I did not feel comfortable at all. But it was interesting to see their scene. I was treated to an endless array of delicious meals, put on weight, and I’m very grateful he invited me into his home and was so kind.

The house in the suburbs was as suburban as ever. Except as said in South Africa they have electric fences. Stayed in our own guest bedrooms, watched cable TV, and caught up with my online life.

 

Day Three

Already my third day in this land, and then sadly it started to get boring.

Continue reading

COMICS FAN

Goodreads: Comics

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Beginnings:

Comics One

Growing Up With Comics

 

Eras:

Marvel 80s

Marvel 90s

Marvel 2000s

 

DC 80s

DC 90s

DC 2000s

 

Currently Reading

 

Favorites:

X-Men

Superman

Batman

Transformers

 

Indie:

Independents

Vertigo

 

World:

Manga

Manga – Shonen Jump

European and British

 

Authors:

Alan Moore

Neil Gaiman

Grant Morrison

Geoff Johns

Gail Simone

Jim Starlin

Warren Ellis

Time for Warren Ellis, comics writer

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636-ray?shelf=warren-ellis

 

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That’s just a blurry pic I took at Comic Con ’07 or ’08. He is SO funny in person.

 

Warren Ellis is a damn interesting writer.

He’s British, smart, and touches on occulty themes, and yet he was not part of the original 90s “British Invasion” of comics writers such as Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Grant Morrison.

His work is violent, intelligent, sometimes dark, with a wicked sense of humor.

In my youth I read some of his Marvel work, like Thor and British X-spinoff Excalibur. I had mixed feelings, because it was that kind of “grim and gritty” style of postmodern comics. Ellis, similar to another (Irish) writer Garth Ennis, clearly hates the superhero genre. He has no use for it, other than a method of making a living sellilng comic scripts. In a perfect world these authors could do other genres without having to slum it among the capes. So they write heroes, all the while cynical and despising what heroism stands for. Still, makes for interesting stories at times.

Warren Ellis is a much sought-after writer for both DC and Marvel, but he rarely does mainstream work anymore. And that’s good.

I became a real fan of the Wildstorm era. Wildstorm, if you recall, was Jim Lee’s company within Image Comics, after all the big name stars left Marvel in the early 90s. Those early comics more than often shit, but Lee ended up with more staying power than, say, Rob Liefeld.

One of those Wildstorm books happened to be Stormwatch, which wasn’t anything great. Seemed another overblown X-Men rippoff about a government team or something. Warren Ellis came upon the title with little fanfair, and it soon gained critical acclaim. No one saw that coming.

I missed it the first time around, but around the mid-2000s I was ruffing it in Los Angeles and enjoyed going to a downtown library. They had an extensive graphic novel collection. I had little money and lots of free time. So I decided to catch up and see what I’d been missing.

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Stormwatch was cool, but eventually all the characters were killed off and something new came along: Authority. That’s what it was truly all about.

Authorty, illustrated by Bryan Hitch (of Ultimates fame) was one of the first “widescreen” comics. Every issue was epic. It starred Apollo and Midnighter — a gay version of Superman and Batman, and Jenny Sparks the spirit of the Twentieth Century. Unapologetic in its epicness, they fought gods and aliens and were always high-level high-concept.

 

Moreover, Warren Ellis’s greatest legacy would be Transmetropolitan. Those graphic novels I ever so cherished, as they kept me going during my starving artist years…

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Published by Vertigo, and that’s more like it. Actually was originally published by DC’s “Helix” imprint, but that went under and only Transmetro remained to become one of Vertigo’s most successful.

The story of gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem in that Hunter S. Thompson vein, but in an unidentified bizarre sci-fi future. There were crazies with alien DNA, a Nixonian character affectionately referred to as “the Beast”, and an even worse President called the “Smiler.”

Each issue punched you in the face and laughed loudly while doing that. Anarchy and journalistic integrity and weird post-science concepts. At 60 issues, by far a record for Ellis. Well done, sir.

 

In the 2000s Ellis continued with some Marvel projects in the midst of the more mature Quesada era. These weren’t quite rated R books from Image or Vertigo, but better than anything else out.

Nextwave Agents of H.A.T.E. was a cult hit, full of B-list characters like Machine Man and Boom Boom fighting against the Beyond corporation’s ‘Unusual Weapons of Mass Destruction.’ H.A.T.E. being a hilariously biting satire of S.H.I.E.L.D. The whole comic was full of pithy one-liners, nothing else like it from Marvel. First arc was about the dragon Fin Fang Foom and had many comments about purple underpants and lack of genitals. Only lasted 12 issues, which is unfortunately typical for Ellis.

Delicious art by Stuart Immonen.

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Meanwhile at Marvel, Mr. Ellis wrote the Iron Man: Extremis storyline. You may recognize the nanotechnological elements in the film Iron Man 3, based off the comic.

 

Outside of the superhero world, we have Fell. This award-winning comic simpler in scope, starring detective Richard Fell in a very dark crime drama.

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There were other little books here and there I read, miniseries from Image and Wildstorm post-bought out by DC.

Global Frequency, pretty cool. Typical Ellis, an elite team of agents fighting the secret forces of incomprehensible technology and great mysteries (un)revealed at the end.

Ministry of Space, an alternate reality take on what if proper British gentlemen won the space race.

Red, more spies. The bad movie was based off that, sorry.

Supergod, apocalyptic religious-transhumanist themes published by Avatar Press. I’d recommend a lot of his latter years work from Avatar.

Yet even Warren Ellis sometimes misses the mark. Personally, I had to give up on the webcomic FreakAngels

 

The ultimate Warren Ellis opus would absolutely have to be Planetary: Continue reading

Comics One

I like to share. Over the course of this blog, I’ve shared my writings, some of my taste in music, and yes my love-life. However, one aspect that I consider very important to my identity has been rather neglected. I speak of my biggest hobby of all, my first love. Comics. There are many facets to the complexity that is me Ray, but if anyone is interested in truly knowing the core of my being then you must know that I am ultimately.. a bigass comic geek. I used to go to the comic shop every Wednesday. I used to scour for good deals at used bookstores and comic conventions. I collected thousands of periodicals across all genres, and filled my various bedrooms with dozens of boxes. At last count, I had about 40 boxes. They contain over a hundred issues each, do the math. I have less now, that’s another story, but still a ton of these back in my dad’s closet in Indiana of all places.

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Now imagine 40 of these.

To introduce this series detailing my great interest in the sequential art form, let me begin with profile links from my extensive Goodreads:

According to my Goodreads shelves, I have read over 1000 graphic novels (I think it’s more, that’s just what I recalled to list)
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=comics

There are all kinds, all genres. But I must admit mostly superhero- https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=superhero

Split into DC and Marvel (I’m more into DC, least I used to be) https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=dc https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=marvel

Re: Superman
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=superman

Also, quite a lot of Japanese manga
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=manga

Such as the fun volumes of Shonen Jump https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=shonen-janpu

The “God of Manga” Osamu Tezuka
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=tezuka

I do, of course, contend that comics are as literature as prose books Noting DC’s adult imprint Vertigo
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=vertigo

Indie as well, all that which defies classification https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=indie

My favorite authors:

Grant Morrison
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=grant-morrison

Alan Moore
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=alan-moore

Warren Ellis
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=warren-ellis

Neil Gaiman
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=gaiman

Geoff Johns
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=geoff-johns