Friday, October 28, 2005

Adventures in Audio Books

As I've mentioned before on this weblog, I’m a big fan of audio books, because it allows me to get through a lot of books I wouldn't otherwise take the time to read.

For instance, I don’t think I would ever sit down and read the “Harry Potter” series, but I've really been enjoying listening to it. Harry Potter is the perfect kind of book to listen to. I would almost feel guilty for taking the time to read a children’s book like this, but if I’m listening to it while I’m doing other things it really is a delight.

(PS—If you want a good laugh, watch this video of someone who crashes a Harry Potter book release to ruin the ending of the latest Harry Potter book. The clip starts out a bit slow, but it has a brilliant finish. Along with “World Warcraft with Leroy” this has got to be one of my favorite Ifilm clips. I suppose you could argue both reflect on my unique sense of humor..)

The only problem with audio books is they are expensive. In good old Grand Rapids, I was a big fan of the library. In Japan, the options are a bit limited. A friend did me a huge favor and illegally downloaded all the Harry Potter books off the internet for me. (Shhh! Don’t tell anyone). The only big problem is that they are Window files, so I can’t listen to them on my CD player. Instead I have just been taking them with me into the internet cafĂ© to accompany my internet surfing, but unfortunately that does cut into my “NPR time”.

The other option is of course book trades, and this especially is where I have been exposing myself to a lot of material I wouldn't otherwise. For instance, a friend had “Ronald Reagan’s Autobiography” on CD, read by the Gipper himself. Not something I would have spent my own money on, but it was interesting to listen to in my apartment.

It is of course the prerogative of every politician to write self-serving autobiographies. So I don’t begrudge Reagan the fact that he continually harps on his belief in the importance of cutting government programs, without presenting the other side that a lot of those programs provide helpful services to those in need. After all it’s Reagan’s autobiography, and it’s his chance to toast his own platform.

What gets me more is the blatant lying. Like when he talks about Nicaragua. Much as he did during his presidency, he portrays the Contras as freedom fighters, and the Sandinistas as ruthless dictators. And he claims anyone who disagreed with him during the 80s was proven wrong by the election of 1990.

Right, so the fact that the Sandinistas voluntarily left power after losing a democratic election proves that they were ruthless dictators? Those ruthless bastards! How dare they lose an election! That proves Reagan was right about them the whole time. I would hate to imagine what Reagan would have said about them if they won the election. “See, they still have their strangle hold on power. It just proves they're dictators.”

And of course the autobiography has a lot of noticeable omissions. Like the complete absence of any mention of Iran-Contra, or Reagan’s opposition to the Civil Rights Act.

The same friend who loaned me Reagan’s autobiography recently bought “How to think like a billionaire” by Donald Trump, and “How to find joy and meaning in your work” by the Dali Lama. He asked me which one I would be interested in borrowing first.

“What does the Dali Lama know about a hard days work?” I asked. “I’ll borrow the Donald Trump one.” I don’t want to be a billionaire necessarily (well, I do I guess, but I don’t want to work for it), but I've been reading a lot of books on finance recently, (I’m trying to do better on managing my money, something that has never been a strong point of mine), and I figured the Donald Trump book would fit right in.

Boy is that Donald Trump guy an asshole. I didn't learn a single useful thing from his book. The whole thing is just him talking about how great he is. And I mean the whole book is like that.

In fact, almost every paragraph contains in it something that evokes the memory of Monty Burns writing his autobiography. “In closing, dear reader, I would like to thank you. ‘What’s that?’ you say. A misprint? Me thank you? Yes, for you see, I have enjoyed writing this book almost as much as you have enjoyed reading it.” I’m quoting from memory, but it’s something like that, isn't it?

That, added to the fact that the guy who they got to read the book for the CD sounds amazingly like Troy McClure, makes the book an excellent parody of itself. Once I clued into that, I really enjoyed it a lot more.

(Donald Trump talks about “The Apprentice” a lot, which I've never seen, because I've been in Japan the past four years. Maybe I would have gotten more out of the book if I had seen “The Apprentice”.)

Link of the Day
Let’s get really geeky here for a minute by talking about “Star Trek” in depth. Star Trek actually has a strong fan following in Japan. Justin and Chris, if either of you are reading this, might remember the long conversation we had with Issei about Star Trek, at the close of which he remarked how glad he was that he had finally gotten the chance to talk about Star Trek with a foreigner.

And of course, there is the Japanese tie-in with Ensign Sulu from the original series.

The problem, and in all my years of being a Trekkie I never realized this until I came to Japan, is that there is no “L” in the Japanese alphabet. So “Sulu” cannot possibly be a Japanese name.

It turns out, according to this website, that the character Sulu is actually a Japanese-Filipino person who was raised in the San Francisco, hence the name. I guess, given my years of watching “Star Trek”, it’s kind of embarrassing that I didn't know that. Then again, maybe it would have been more embarrassing if I knew it.

Of course, given Japan’s historic antagonism with virtually every other Asian country, you can imagine that the idea of a Filipino-Japanese pan-Asian sort of character would not be too popular in Japan during the 60s. So they renamed the character “Kato” for the Japanese version. (Again, referencing the same website as above). This explains why Issei could talk to me about Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, but would just give me blank looks whenever I mentioned Sulu.

So there. Use that little tidbit at your next cocktail party.

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