A friend jio-ed me for a steamboat dinner a few weeks ago at Thomson Plaza. I reached said Plaza in good time, but I might still be making my rounds of the first floor if not for the fact that, while I was on my second round, said friend whatsapped to remind me that the entrance to the steamboat place we were meeting at was outside of the mall itself. We ordered quite quickly, and the meal included the best sliced pig liver I ever cooked for myself – surprisingly, thinly sliced pig liver turns out quite well when poached in tomato stock.
Sometime during the dinner (to be honest, this could have been later during coffee, or even later when I drove her home – that is how my memory is these days), my friend talked about how she was no longer reading on her Kindle, she was in fact the proud owner of a Kobo, which wonder of wonders connects to the National Library’s catalogue of e-books and allows for convenient borrowing of said e-books.
I decided to get my own Kobo there and then.
I would say, about 4-5 years ago now (very probably longer), reading at least a book per month had been a part of my identity. Since then, it probably hasn’t even been a proper book or two in a year. I have often thought about exactly how that change happened, and reckon that the time I spent reading books was taken over by (a) reading shorter pieces on my computer and phone, liking the relative reduction in effort, devolving into laziness, (b) YouTube and Netflix binges – YouTube in particular does not stop suggesting stuff for you to watch, and I am not disciplined enough to not binge – and (c) listening to podcasts and people-watching during my commute to work, which used to be by MRT and afforded some time to have one’s face buried in a book, but then came to be by Grab (the much higher costs were guilt-inducing for a while, emphasis unfortunately on the “a while”), and therefore even more truncated. I’ve tried to “recover” by buying books now and then – guilting myself to read – but all that did was to add to the to-read pile.
I got my Kobo two days after, and in less than a week finished my first library e-book, a heart-wrenching crime novel with an impetuous, super-brave, foul-mouthed, prickly, vulnerable, defiant, fierce teenage heroine who will make you cry for her and call her stupid and want to hug her hurt away all at the same time, called “We Begin At The End”, written by Chris Whitaker. (Please please please go read it, and let me know you’ve read it, so we can talk about it.) (I would normally say I will go buy it, just so I can refer to it as we talk about it, but I am unlikely to forget that story soon. Though, with my memory the way it is these days…)
Then it was on to Tana French, who was on my list of authors whose books I need to borrow from the library, this particular author because an ex-colleague had recommended her. It’s interesting – I had searched for Tana French in the library’s Overdrive catalogue, and the first book that came up was the Chris Whitaker novel (probably because Tana French was one of those whose praise was quoted on the cover or within the book?), and since it had won some first crime novel of the year award and I am a sucker for such recognition, I had gone for it.
And then came the Tana French books, and I realised that some belonged to a Murder Squad series, so I chose the first of them, “In The Woods”. This also turned out to be such a satisfying read, but also sad, the kind of sad that stays with you for a while. With some distance from the book (am now on to the second in the series), I realise that the writer plays a trick on us, and the trick is actually telegraphed at the start, and the trick is that the protagonist, far from a good detective and therefore smart and together and reliable, is irresponsible and damaged, so damaged he irrevocably wrecks the best relationship he has, so that for the second freaking book in a row I’m lounging on my bed telling an imaginary person how stupid they are. Grr. (Also grr-inducing – ok, more like sigh-inducing – was French’s writing; for example, how in a few quick paragraphs she creates this fast platonic pal-dom between the protagonist and his colleague. Reading it made me realise I have never had and never will have the creativity or granular observation skills to write like that; this also made me a bit sad. Such good writing!)
The thing with e-book borrowing though is the library does not keep a record of the e-books you’ve borrowed, so I don’t know for sure today how long it took me to read those two books, but I know that the last books I’d physically borrowed from the library were travel guides. To Switzerland (went paragliding in Interlaken; they did not tell me that a pre-condition for soaring in the sky for a number of extremely unforgettable minutes was lugging 30kg of the contraption that would serve as your wings up a hill (the only time a walk up a hill was more interminable was in Indonesia, during a route march up some sort of dune, heavy radio set, heavy boots, sands shifting so that each step was so hard, and so futile, thighs burning but needing to double-time it because otherwise there was no getting out of that hell, sliding back was not an option because it would mean having to do the climb all over again), but oh the sky was so welcoming, and the terrain so laughably unrecognisable from all that way up), Taiwan, a different part of Taiwan, and most recently Hokkaido. (Darn you COVID!)
I shall have to stop borrowing after this Tana French novel – my to-read pile awaits!