Pulp… fiction and non-fiction

  • Malaysians love their gadgets and gizmos
  • But book lovers love those smelly things

Pulp… fiction and non-fictionI AM a Luddite who loves his desktop computer. Sure, tablets and notebooks are great supplementary devices, and today’s smartphones rock. However, for me, nothing beats the sheer power and versatility of a desktop.

It is the ultimate gaming platform and the ultimate workhorse combined in one.

So, label me a contradiction. I cover technology but I am an old-fashioned guy at heart.

While I love me some CRPGs (computer role playing games), I still prefer the old SATT (sit-around-the-table) type of RPG where you roll funky dice, engage deeply with some friends and immerse yourself in your character — where the gaming is conducted, as Dr Sheldon Cooper said in The Big Bang Theory, on the most powerful graphics chip ever: The imagination.

(Of course, Sheldon — being such an alpha-geek — was referring to those old text-based CRPGs like Zork!)

But hey, that’s just me. And that “that’s just me” is backed up by actual market data. According to market research firm GfK Malaysia, sales of tablet computers in Malaysia reached over 260,000 units in the fourth quarter of 2011, a 509 per cent growth compared to the same period in 2010. Tablet sales were also catching up with laptop sales, the firm was quoted as saying in a ZDNet Asia report.

According to another research firm, IDC, of the 698,000 units of personal computers that shipped in Malaysia in the fourth quarter of 2011, only 28 per cent were desktops.

So yeah, the technology world moves on, leaving me in its wake. The early adopters among my friends have been trying for years to get me to catch up. Many have tried by using that other great passion of mine: Reading.

I travel everywhere with a backpack, and while the contents largely vary (sometimes they include a notebook computer, I confess), the one constant is that there will be a book in there. I love using the terrible public transport system we have here for one reason only — the interminable waits give me a great chance to catch up on my reading.

When Amazon first came out with the Kindle, one friend showed me all the great books he had downloaded. (Yes, he had friends living in the United States who bought everything for him, since apparently Malaysians are nasty little credit card cheats who couldn’t be trusted with online payments.)

I was almost tempted because at that time I was lugging around a 1,000-plus-page paperback monster, a compilation of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth series, which was a b***h to read standing up on the train.

But I persevered in my “old-fashionedness.”
When the first iPad came out, another friend whipped his out and showed me how great the device was for reading comics (or graphic novels, if you’re that type of a fan). He was being cheeky, too, since at that time I was working for Microsoft Malaysia. (“So, how are the Windows Tablets coming along, eh?”).

Again, I was almost tempted. I had just finished my umpteenth re-reading of Alan Moore’s Watchmen, and the colours on my battered old copy were starting to fade.

But I’m a stubborn old coot.

Indeed, one of my colleagues at Microsoft had been trying for months to get me to convert to e-books. “I have my whole library in here! It goes where I go! Isn’t that amazing?!!”

Whenever I whipped out my paperback, he would whip out his Kindle and show off his titles. It was like being in a locker room-cum-library.

Pulp… fiction and non-fictionBut I am an old fogey.

See, I am not only a bookworm; I am a bibliophile. I love collecting books. I sometimes buy new versions of books I already own because the new one has a nicer cover. I don’t want to admit how many different versions of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings I have bought over the years, some of which I have given away.

Just two weeks ago, I bought yet another version of Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea series — yes, only because the new Penguin version has a classy cover. I also retain one of the earlier copies I bought because it is the only version that has those fantastic woodprint illustrations by Ruth Robbins (pic). (Her depiction of the character Ged and his familiar is one I use as an avatar on many an online platform!).

There is something about a book, that amalgamation of thought and pulp. For some of us, it’s the tactile sensation. Touch is very important to the human psyche, so much so that when something affects us emotionally, we’re “touched” by it.

And there’s smell, too. The Huffington Post recently hosted a video from Abe Books, which states, “Chemists at University College, London have investigated the old book odour and concluded that old books release hundreds of volatile organic compounds into the air from the paper. The lead scientist described the smell as ‘a combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness.’ “

Sure, I might go the e-book way for when I travel overseas; or even for some magazines. But I am a grognard. You can take away my books by prying them off my cold, dead hands.
This article appeared previously in The Malaysian Insider

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