Kinder than Solitude by Yiyun Li–A Review


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Kinder Than Solitude is a book that I received from NetGalley in exchange for my unbiased review. The story opens with the death of Shaiao, whose poisoning led to her lingering in a vegetative state for twenty years before succumbing. The mystery of her poisoning is connected to a group of three Chinese friends, Ruyu, Boyang and Moran.

The book cycles through the three viewpoint characters between the past when Shaoia was alive just around the time of Tiananmen Square Protests and the present immediately after her death. Although the book is labeled a mystery, it isn’t a traditional mystery because no one’s on a quest to solve the mystery. Instead we get the minute to minute ruminations, tedious conversations, angsty wanderings of the three characters. There’s a lot of angst, a lot of sadness and passivity, and the lot of the reasons cannot be excused away lightly due to tragedy or bad circumstances. The reasons are a lot stupider–the characters are simply unable to see beyond the dark prison of themselves for the light of cheer. Yes, the writing is crisp and Yiyun’s observations are piquant and perspicacious, but really the story is joyless little tale of profoundly miserable characters. And in the end the twist on mystery doesn’t save the book from its drudgery, as the culprit is still whom you expected it to be all along.

Every page has a quotable passage, and not the jejune hallmark offerings either, but highlight a penetrating analysis of the human heart. Either way, the preponderance of resonant observation could not save the lot of dialogue from feeling tedious. Every occasion of dialogue turns into the most dreary interrogation because everyone questions everyone else’s motives over the most trivial things. For instance, if someone said hello, the other person would ask, “why are you telling me hello?” the other would reply, “Are you saying there’s something wrong about asking hello?” and on and on they would go.

Why is this book three stars, not two? The writing. Yiyun Li has talent nevertheless that shines on every page, but dear God the characters …. It felt like such a waste.

Still I’d say you should read Kinder Than Solitude because the profundity of Yiyun Li’s writing is worth it.

by Wando Wande

Swann’s way, the Yale anniversary edition

Proust, yeah that Proust who writes books with paragraph long sentences about nothing. Many think him the example of dull indulgent literary fiction; others sing odes that somehow fail to rouse the most passionate of readers to try his books, and there are those for whom Proust is another author to namedrop in front of the pulp fiction reading masses.  When NetGalley offered a new edition of Swann’s Way (Volume one of the seven volume In Search of Lost Time, also know as Remembrance of Things Past) published by Yale University Press,  I decided I might as well see all about Proust for myself.

Yes, it is a long read, and yes, it veers towards the ponderous and the tedious, but it is not uninteresting. Even though the reading does demand a certain patience and concentration, I found myself drawn in. His observations of childhood were engrossing, more so because of his precise explorations of its exaggerated fears and the outsized anxieties. The attention to detail can overwhelm, but they do weave magical tapestry of  feeling and depth.  His explorations of characters, e.g. the narrator’s aunts and grandmother, captured humans in their most ordinary and their most captivating moments.  

An important theme of the volume is memory and its fickleness, its uncertain divagations, its distressing lack of assurances. A lot of passages were  long and impressionistic, dreamscapes so dense with images and vague feelings that I had to read a few times to comprehend the breathtaking immensity of it. Take the book cover image of a Madeleine, for instance:  the narrator’s simple act of tasting a Madeleine unleashes a torrent of feelings and flitting images that last for more than two pages.  After a while, you sense that the point of reading Swann’s way is not to consume wholesale, but to savor in piecemeal fashion–this is not a text you can read quickly like the latest pulp fiction novel.

As I understand it, this edition is a revision of the 1923 Scott Montcrief’s translation, revisions done by the editor and Proust scholar,William Carter. His annotations on French culture and French historical references were helpful in gaining a deeper understanding of the text.  And the prose style was modern and readable enough for my standards. If you have been wary about trying Proust, you can do no better than trying a copy of this edition.

Kicking the Sky by Anthony Sa

I recently joined NetGalley, where you can sign up to read books in exchange for reviews. I picked up  Kicking the Sky, by Anthony Sa, a coming of age tale set in the Portuguese immigrant community in 1970’s Toronto.  The story takes places after the disappearance of twelve-year-old Emanuel Jaques aka The Shoeshine Boy. The twelve-year-old narrator, Antonio Rubelo, and his friends, Manny and Ricky, make a pact to be brothers and see each other through good and bad.  They need all help they can muster in a neighborhood full of hustlers, prostitutes, and massage parlors.

Events take a dark turn when Emanuel is found raped and murdered.   Antonio finds himself, hurt, vulnerable and full of questions, but the adults in his life are too busy, too hard-pressed to guide him as they too are struggling to survive in their rundown neighborhood. The confused circumstances set stage for Antonio and his friends to come under the influence of James, whom I would describe as a one of the shadiest characters I have had the pleasure to read.

The mystery of James runs through the heart of the book.  Is he a good man rundown on his luck, or is he another pervert like Emanuel’s murderers? Antonio himself does not know what to think. And his feelings are complicated by the fact of his own awkward sexual attraction to the twenty-one-year old James. Antonio is a engaging character in his own right. He tries to do right by his friends. He tries to be the man his father wants him to be. It is heartbreaking to see his innocence tainted by the harsh world he forced to confront.

Another central theme is the Portuguese immigrant experience.  His parents try to keep alive their native culture in the face of a hegemonic culture that seeks to reduce their identity to nothing more than cheap workers.  The various aspects of Portuguese culture were a delight to read especially since I know nothing of Portugal.

Setting aside the lurid episodes of child abuse, physical and sexual, homophobia, racism, the awkwardness and confusion of prepubescent sexuality, the book does a good job of balancing the dark with hope.  There were a few exciting boys-will-be-boys episodes. The prose, however, was not to my liking because I found it too ‘simple’. Child narrators do bore me easily; however the issues in the book were far from simple, so the depth of the story easily overcame my distaste for his prose style.

If you do not mind a dark, gritty read, I recommend this book wholeheartedly.

Mandate of Kendan-Chapter 3

See the beginning here.
The next morning, I awoke alone.  Ogami should have been at a corner of the room, cradling a sheathed sword to himself, rocking to an unsung rhythm of dispossession. Sometimes, he would be set the sword on a miniature altar, and bow before it like one would do before the black idols of the Sister’s Three.  The one time I imitated him, he pulled me off sharply and demanded what meaning the sword had for me. Words and thoughts frothed in my throat as I had thought it would be obvious that since the sword held a meaning for him, then it held a meaning for me.

Here I was alone before the sword on the altar, and the light planing through the door, and the all too disorderly sense of the quiet around.  I darted to my feet with a mind to examine the lacquer finish on its sheath, especially the inlay of five flowerets circumscribed within pearly circles. The sword was a sacred thing to Ogami—I rushed out of the room—I, of the tewai, had no right to touch or to pollute it.

Ogami was not in the common room where he would be carving temple dolls.  I shambled barefoot to the verandah. The morning felt tempestuous with the fast and furious twittering of birds, but Ogami was nowhere in sight in the front compound.  Sometimes, I would find him stilled over the red fan of flowers drooping from the flame of the forest tree.

Maybe he had left?

Of course not! How cowardly. You had to recognize weakness and insecurity in your self, see what it is and beat it into submission.  Practicing a thousand sword strokes was perfect to that aim.

I began with my wooden sword. One … two … three … in due time, with my perfection, would come Ogami’s smile.  123 … 124 … 125 … as Ogami would demand, every stroke had to be composed, full of spirit, just as powerful and effective as the first, or I had to start again. My spirit must be unyielding and yet able to soothe a baby’s cry. Such level of control, I think as a adult, impossible.  But as a child then, I thought Ogami mastered it, and therefore I could achieve it. I only needed to dig deep find that ore of reserve and control. How wrong I was.

778 … 779… 780 …. My legs were trembling violently, and my breaths etched in the back of my throat … 800…801…802… In due time when I was worthy enough, Ogami would bequeath me his precious sword.  I could not lose heart or wax loose to mediocrity … 997…998… 1000.

Kendan isowarei Chawadan!  I crashed onto the hard ochre ground in a splat, the bamboo sword clanging away from my feet. My chest was burning, and my stomach felt vacuous. And the sure sky and silent sun, Kendan had pushed the sky up from the earth and fought the ocean mistress for her sun earring.  He was strong indeed. How could anyone hope to be like him?  Certainly, not me with my pathetic hands trembling uselessly and my lungs that would not stop burning in exhaustion. And Toba wanted to learn how to use this sword—ha! He would not last long against Ogami’s strict training.

I pulled myself upright and remembered Ogami laughing over Toba, his placidity against Toba’s roughness. What was it about Toba that could prompt Ogami to glide with ease and warmth? I thought I might as well find Toba in the village and ask him myself. There was no reason to sit alone and wonder what Toba was and was not.

But first, I ate a small breakfast of barley gruel, did a short musical practice on the wud, practiced fifty characters of Standard Hokima before I could go gallivanting to the village. To prepare for the trip, I needed to get control of my expansive clothes. While the ifa disported in various states of undress in the summer heat, I struggled with billowing robes, voluminous sleeves, overflowing divided skirts, the itchy thick hempen fabric.  I had to bind a sash around my legs and then around waist and chest and then around my arms to control the fabric.  And this had to be done in a proper ceremonial fashion. Too many times, I would slip with a sash that Ogami had to angrily take over its tying. For now, it was only me and my small hands, and devilish loops and knots. Toba would never agree to all these clothes. Perhaps I should protest and demand Ogami allow me the ifa inelegant liberties of their short loin clothes. I was a shunja after all, not a hekare.

Before venturing down the mountain path, I veiled my unmarked face, for I could not dare impose my disorder into an innocent’s view. Light fell through the grille of leaves and branches hedging the path.  The path declined in a predictable grade then steepened abruptly and curved towards the eastern view of the sky.  The view opened to the huts and the wall designs of red, black and white.  Women would mix clay and buffalo dung and fashion geometrical stripes on the walls.  The effect had the same warding effect of the curlicues and glyphs of the sanli. I myself felt dizzy, gazing on these wall patterns.  Maybe it was true that I was a demon spawn if I felt this disoriented.

The sun was high in the sky.  The temple gongs struck, marking the hour of Jade. The air rippled with overtones, and sound resounded through the hull of the valley, up the green terraces and over the house thatches, around the eaves of the Great Temple. Women, with grey braids crowning their heads, were stooped in the fields, planting rice seedlings before the rains would drench the land into paddies.

And far off where the road led to the Grand Temple, I recognized the sleek black profile of Ezo, his baldhead gleaming.  Even the team of buffalo stopped for his upper caste warrior eminence as he walked freely with a bamboo scroll held up in his face.  We could be kindred souls. Bound with a love for learning and martial arts, we could be bosom friends. But that would not be of the good way, of how Kendan would will things, for he was embalmed with pride of a fatriyad warrior caste sworn to defend the Ekio clan—and the shame of a rakki, a disgraced fatriyad. Ifa, shunja, we were all beneath him, even if his baldhead bared to all the fallen status of his family.  Pride and shame were his constant companions, and the book held up to his face like an iron curtain.

Wistfully, I veered towards a wide entrance leading to a copse of trees arranged in a semi-circle.  The last time I came here, a pack of snarling dogs chased after me.  But amidst the energy of boys running around a banyan tree, girls crouched in between the heavy thighs of harridans, no one took note of my little presence—I supposed the Goddess Nadmi herself had blessed my excursion.

I was a stone’s throw away from a group of boys looking up at something in a tree.  Their half-grey braids were loose over their bare shoulders. Though dirty and dusty, they all had gion. They all had faces streaked and dotted with the ash-white sanli.

“Toba, throw me a mango,” one of them demanded.

I could only make the shins and feet amongst the long leaves rippling and drooping from the branches.  The boys yipped for Toba to pluck that mango, not this mango.

“Toba, throw me a mango too,” a girl said. Around her small waist was a belt of small cages containing things I could not quite make out. Her hair was all but grey and she had a cleft lip. It looked like a lacerated caterpillar was stuck above her lips. Her eyes were overhead to the tree, my eyes were on her nose.

“Ayni, you climb up here and get yourself a mango,” Toba growled. “You know how hard it is be up here.”

“But you gave Khura mangoes,” she whined. “Ten of them.”

“She wanted five mangoes for one of her milk balls.”

“You do everything she wants. Five mangoes for one milk ball. How’s that fair?” Her lips worked in consternation. She slowly turned her face towards me, then her eyes narrowed.  The rib-like sanli tightened over her ebony cheeks. I palled.  I was more than willing to climb up and get her a mango if she would stop looking at me.

On other days, I would have stood in the shadows and watched their rambunctious ministrations from a far, but today should be different … maybe not.  What was I going to tell Toba anyway? Give me a mango too?  But mangoes were the body form of the goddess Padmi, so I could not eat them. And I could very well not impugn my Shunja self on his person.

Shadows seemed to seep from the weaves of mango leaves and smear and stretch out from the crown of the tree top. Perhaps I was getting dizzy. Water, perhaps water would be best, but the tree …  something like a storm cloud layered just over the bulbous treetop. I blinked. The cloud still drizzled over leaves, black, grey, forms that seemed to imprint the fabric of space. I stood mesmerized at the silhouette while everyone else yapped at Toba to his bidding, and Ayni was sliding from patient irritation to a petulant whine.  But most worryingly, the amorphous cloud slunk down the edges of the treetop and weaved in and about the heads and torsos. Half-shifting shadows glided over the red ground, glittered in various shades of grey, incomprehensibly balled up to an entity blacker and more solid in front of my person. A face? No face, but malformed indentations of grey, something fibrous could be a hand. It was as if something existed between the real and unreal, between body and spirit.

My blood quivered in my veins. Beats pumped out to panic. Flee or stand tall, as Ogami would have me be before this pestilent incorporeal presence? The field of my vision collapsed onto this being, and the sense of déjà vu swarmed by the moment.  Maybe this was another part of me, the damned part of my being, looking back at me, and demanding I acknowledge it. This was of the tewai, and I was of the tewai, and so we must be one in perdition.

Reader, the truth of the apparition was much simpler as you shall see later. For now, my small legs were wilting wobbly, and I found myself backing away from the odious apparition.

“Kesse, out of my way!”

All became white and stark, as I had backed up against somebody.  I turned around sharply, my veil unraveling off my face.  Kendan’s mercy!  It was Ezo, lips curled raggedly and his eyes tightening.  Kendan’s mercy! I had touched him and defiled his high person. His snarl twisted more fiercesomely, and there the shine of his fatriyad dagger on his waist. All sense of decorum vacated my soul as I fell down prostrate before him.

“Forgive me, forgive me,” I mumbled.

He kicked my head, one, two, three …. “A shunja shit head touched me! I should kill you for this.”

He should. Even though he was thirteen, he had the right to cut down an inferior in the open streets.

My breaths raced, and I could feel the ground heating up under my nose. How much mercy should I expect for my sin? But Ogami had told me never to depend on a man’s mercy. You had to act first, take the initiative and if you could not, force your way to the upper hand even if it meant becoming a man without gion. How then now, when I had clearly transgressed his honor?

“Oi Rakki! You’re the one who keeps walking around with a scroll like an idiot,” Toba shouted from afar. “I tell you one day, you’re going to fall into a ditch.”

“Kesse, mind your business and go shovel shit in the fields,” Ezo barked then kicked my head once more to make his point.

“You kick him again. I’m coming down from the tree and kicking your behind too.”

“Kesse, if you touch me, I’ll cut you down.”

Toba gave a wild laugh. “With your puny knife? Where’s your sword, Rakki?”

Kendan save us! Being a rakki, a disgraced fatriyad, Ezo could not carry a sword like it was the right of the warrior caste. I wished Toba had not said that as I could feel the furious wind from Ezo darting past me and blustering for the mango tree. It would be most evil if thing spiraled out of hand.  I picked myself up from the ground and rushed to Ezo’s side. I managed to get a hold his long sleeves and pulled him back strongly.

“Kesse,” Ezo bellowed, spinning into my face.

“Demei, it was I who dishonored you.” I did not look away to the unlucky left as I should have.  I stared into the fibrils blood feeding into his pupils and waited for his good judgment.

He bared his teeth, tossed his gaze away to the green horizon, muttering, “Why am I dirtying myself with shit-shoveling rabble?” He shoved me off, opened his scroll over his face and walked away.

I took a moment to enjoy the feeling of the sure ground under my feet. Then I came to children peering their tattooed faces at my now revealed shame. Kadmi deliver me!  It took a few moments for them to feel the reprobation of my presence.

“It’s a—” a boy’s eyes bulged. “Shunja!”

They scattered away, leaving me to wilt before Toba up in the tree. I was afraid for a moment that Toba himself might fall down in fright.

I hurriedly tied the shawl around my face. “I thank you greatly for your assistance, demei—”

“I remember you. You’re with Old Tree!” Toba said. “

“Old Tree, demei?”

“Why do you talk like a sadhai stuck in a privy? What’s with me demei? The rakki’s the demei, a stupid one too.”

Well, everyone was a demei to me because everyone was above me. I supposed that would be hard to explain to an ifa with gion. I avoided his searching his brown eyes as I tried to think of a more elegant way to take my leave.

Toba sighed angrily. “The Old Tree took my bush rat.”

The name Old Tree was most distressing to my pure ears. “Please, refrain from calling him such a discourteous name.  He is my Ogami—”

“I don’t get it.  You can play swords, but you let the rakki walk over you.”

Toba was indeed dull, but it would be disharmonious to tell him so.

“Was the sword just for show?” Toba demanded.

I looked at his face, the long grey silver of his hair falling in with the translucent leaves.  “I know all my stances, demei.”

The branches shook. “Don’t call me that.”

“Forgive me, Demei—”

“If you’re going to call me that, ask your Ogami if he can teach me the stances too.”

“Ifa tend to life. That would be disharmony.”

“Bah!” The branches susurrated as Toba slid from a main branch to the central trunk. “How do you know that anyway? People keep saying this and that is disharmony.”

“I read it in the Tratsa.”

“You can read?”

“Yes? You can’t?”

“Sadhais are the only people I know who read. And there’s the block head rakki…”

I did not like when he insulted the high person of the fatriyad either.  I wondered if insolence was usual to the ifa. Perhaps this was related to their lack of education.

I said finally. “Maybe not a sword, but my Ogami can show you how to use a staff.”

“What good is that? I want a sword like the one Kendan used to defeat the five-headed elephant … Tell him I’ll give him mangoes in exchange for lessons …. Catch!” came the voice overhead.

Green orbs fells from the tree, and I twisted side to side to catch them all. The mangoes were just soft enough to yield under pressure.  How exactly was I to explain elegantly to Ogami Toba’s inelegant request?

“Toba!” Ayni screamed, struggling with the bind of a loincloth around her chest, and tramping over to us. “Shunjas aren’t supposed to eat mangoes.”

That was most certainly true.

“I’m telling your Oppa, that you’re talking to a Shunja.”

Toba’s small black feet jutted out the branches. “Do what you want. You’re not getting any of my mangoes anyway.”

Her auburn eyes narrowed at me, and moments turned irately. With a huff, she tramped away, her bare feet kicking up the loamy soil.  I felt sorry more than slighted.  She made across a lawn littered with strutting birds and disappeared behind a red-black spiraled door.

Toba thumped out of the tree, a raffia bag slung around his chest. “Don’t mind her.”

Well then, I did not like the development.  The prospect of facing his father, making Ayni displeased was most disharmonious.  This excursion was clearly an ill-thought idea straight from the tewai itself.

I looked over the forbidden mangoes in my hands and hoped Ogami would eat them. It would be a terrible thing to waste them. “Forgive my unpleasant intrusion.  I must return to my Ogami.”

Toba held back my shoulder. I shuddered. He really should not be touching me.

He stood in front of me, smiling like he was commander of something.  Of what or whom, I did not know.

“Talk to your Ogami, will you?”

“I shall—” But I descried Ayni behind him zooming onto with … a black furry thing in her left hand.  My eyes flew wide.  I pulled Toba to my side away from her onslaught. Mangoes tumbled onto the ground, and then I saw that the black object was an enormous spider with snapping menacing chelicera.

“GO AWAY,” Toba yelled.

“Give me some mangoes,” she said.

“Take the mangoes from the ground.” Toba swished around me to get away from her fanged hands.

“The shunja touched it. Get me another from the tree.” Ayni darted the giant spider for Toba’s arm, but he swung around me again to evade. I tottered from side to side to every scream of Toba.

“Take the mangoes from the ground!” Toba shouted right by my ringing ears.

As she tried for Toba’s face to the side of my cheek, her black spider blotted out my view with its squamous thorax. And my patience whooshed away to the whimsies of the ugly heat.  I, before the appendages could touch my forehead, dove for her small wrist, spun her away from me. Before I would pop the elbow and dislocate her shoulder, she cried high and terrible,“Ow!” Her cry fell deaf on my ears as I grabbed the spider and smashed it to the ground.

All was still again for an instant. We looked at each other, uncomprehending the vicissitude of the moment.  Toba stepped out from me and stared at the black hair splat on the ground. Her nose wrinkled uncontrollably and her eyes roved madly at the spider legs twitching slowly to stillness.

“You killed Cudi.” She exploded to tears. “I took care of Cudi for three months and you killed my Cudi—Waaaaaaah!”

Kendan save me. The death of the spider was rather unfortunate. Ogami would declaim my lack of self-control. One does not kill indiscriminately. I could only mumble repeatedly. “Forgive me, Tomei-Demei.”

A matron, grey crown, muddy brown loincloth, stopped by, took a good look at me, and commenced a frantic warding, nose, brow, sky, nose, brow, sky. Ayni explained. She cried so more. I gulped, paralyzed without hope. Her wails beckoned all to come and see what the Shunja had done. They, adults, wagged at me, they pulled Toba away from me, they poked their staffs at me.

“The tewai take you!” A crone pelted holy rice at my face.

“Who owns it anyway? It should be bound and gagged,” a man asked

“In my day, they made all shunjas commit the good way,” another said.

The good way, the way of reclaimed gion and blessed eternal rest. Sun and sky were blinkering in and out of view. Around me, faces, crooked teeth, misshapen eyes, were swelling larger and blacker, blotted out the blue and white of sky. I could feel the weight of anger bearing hot and heavy over my face. I stepped back, but staffs nudged me back to the center. And then their voices grew harder and harsher down my ears, “Who owns it? Why was it still alive? What brought disharmony to their threshold? Who, what, why?”

Reader, there are questions one should not deign to ask.  Some questions will lead you to the crevasse of ruin, to the precipice of madness, to the island of dullness.  If Kendan has deemed it unknowable, why risk asking and asking? That is of pride and disorder.

But there I was, before esteemed superiors, facing questions I had no facility to answer, my lips trembling, my eyes dimming.  In that moment in my ten-year-old self, the seedling of an urge sprouted, the urge to slit Ogami’s throat.


Ok readers.  I have been worried about this for a while because I worry the opening chapters are too slow.  But I’m not quite sure how to condensce all the nuisances before layering out the action.  Well, read on tell me if it works.

An Absurd Oddity

Welcome to open mic.

People yak, they wonder why if Henry is twenty minutes late because he’s screwing the perky intern, they spill coffee over their precious macbook pro. A minute ago, someone exalted the pleasures of cannabis and organic shea butter. Now someone is playing their acoustic guitar, singing about love, true love, great love, deep love, love, love, love. Then someone comes through the backdoor, a glock in hand.

Bang. Next! Bang. Next! Bang. Next! Bang … I will not bother you with the blood and screaming because there’s no blood and screaming. People are still yakking, still wondering if Henry now had been screwing the best friend Amy, and now they spill coffee over the iphone. And the music… love, love, love. The singer is less canorous than before, definitely less vibrato in her voice.

And bang. Next! Bang. Next! Bang.

The gunman stands before the singer now. She lifts her head and raises her hands in the air, says “I’m just the guitarist—” Bang.

The gunman takes the stand, and the guitar. He plumps himself on the stool and begins a movement from the Concierto D’Aranjuez.


Free and notable on the kindle today

Amazon has changed it so that  I can’t look at 60 covers at a time. This makes browsing the free books a painful experience. Also it disadvantages the books in lower search ranks.

Anyway, moving on. I trawled the Gay and Lesbian section. I know that one needs to communicate, “GAY SEXZ here” on your book, but when every book has the same cover of  half naked twinks, I tend to skip them because I assume that the story mirrors the cover’s lack of originality.  Famously Fifty shades of Grey has a non racy cover, I’ll bet that the sedate cover was instrumental for its success.  I suppose it’s a tussle, drawing people with sexy covers, or going for something more muted so that shy readers can dive in. I think though this is a differential strategy.  If your hot gay sex book will be displayed mostly among books of different genres, then I think the “GAY SEXZ here” cover is optimal. However if you book will be mostly displayed among other LGBT books then I’d think that the “GAY SEXZ here”cover is subobtimal. How does your book stand out from other books of similar content?  but what would I know? Some authors said their sales doubled when they put two half-naked men on the cover. I suppose it just means that you can’t underestimate how much sex sells. Moving on.

So here is an LGBT book, Gold Standard by Kyell Gold rated 4.4 stars.

I don’t think the cover is great.  I think the cover risks more than it needs to, drawing the wrong reader.  But the cover is different, it hints to me that the author is a different too.  Frankly I was drawn to the title because of its hints of finance.  Sadly the book isn’t finance and such, just a collection of gay themed  shorts.  Free now as of 12/15/12.

In the same of striking different covers of LGBT books, here is The Diary of Dakota Hammell by Kody Boye. And The Tragedy of Louis Décor also by Kody Boye.  Both free.

I’m a sucker for anime, so here goes a free Manga title, Fighting Yamako-chan #1 by Tom Ramirez.

Renaissance and trippy cover equals BIWINNING! Am I allowed to say that anymore?  Anyway look at the book A Famine of Horses: A Sir Robert Carey Mystery (Sir Robert Carey Series) by P.F. Chrisolm.

Free and notable on the kindle store today.

Ok, I was trawling through the free ebooks today.  Some of the covers caught my eyes. Like this one, Darkness Falls (Darkness Falls Series, Book 1).
Girls with swords always get my attention. This is Supposedly a romance, looks ostensibly YA.  Might worth a look at free, even though I’m not a YA reader.

And oh, there’s the Amanda Hocking book,Hollowland (The Hollows, #1), free today.  Who knows when it might revert back to paid.

Here’s a strange book, Rita – A Love Story.  As of posting this, it has an exact 3.0 rating because it has one one star, one two star, one three star, and so on. I find that it’s funny.  The cover is catching too.  Clearly an Nigerian girl on the cover.

This is interesting in a weird way. I don’t believe in soul mates, such beliefs skirt too much in the religious metaphysical territory.  The universe chugs along without care on what we humans do or don’t do.  Soul mates, karma, fate, are, I think, wonderfully indulgent and presumptive ideas. However, this book,The Life of Meyer (Meant to Be), written by a male author, would have me think seriously about the idea of a soul mate. What can I say, the cover is eye-catching though.


Finally this book,Freeing a Tiger’s Soul (Tiger Series), has the funniest cover today.

Yep, that’s an axe in his pants. How does that work?  I won’t be downloading that, but it definitely drew my eye.

For more free books on Amazon.

Free Fiction

Free Romance

Free Fantasy

Free Science Fiction

Free Mystery/Thriller


Free Historical Fiction

Free Literary Fiction


So where are all the free ebooks in the kindle store?

If you have played on Amazon search long enough, you’d realise that their search isn’t very robust.   For example, what if you want only dollar books, or two dollar books, or books under five bucks?  You could sort your search.  But to get the list of one dollar books requires you to jump through the search pages, and even then Amazon doesn’t let you jump pages, you have to click through every single page.  You have to change the page number on the url itself to jump pages.  I doubt the average customer knows that.

Suppose you wanted to look for discounted books, or books with free shipping? Good luck.

Free ebook searches are somewhat easier. You could look at the top 100 free books..  But what about the rest of the free books on Amazon?. Even if you put ‘free’ search word, you get both free and non-free books together, so you have to sort by price.  Anyway, here are some convenient links to all the free ebooks, not just the top 100. You could do an image view instead of a list view to see 60 books at a time. Very handy.

Free Fiction

Free Romance

Free Fantasy

Free Science Fiction

Free Mystery/Thriller


Free Historical Fiction

Free Literary Fiction

Amazon reviews

With Amazon allowing reviews to be commented on, you get a lot of strange discussions.  Most of the time, people can’t stand to see others didn’t like the book as much as they did.  They post stupid back comments to one-star reviews “It is just abig book.” or “If you hated it so much, why did you read it?” or they do stupid things like point out grammatical errors or even more asinine, “Go write your own book before hating someone else”  As if one needed to be a writer to be a book critique.   Or those whose only comment to the reviews is something to the effect of how the review is an idiot, or an intellectual lightweight.  this they only show by asserting their dubious intellectual cred.

To be honest, there are some inane reviews on Amazons, escpecially the one-star reviews. Personally I think that if you want well-reasoned review, look at the two-stars.  They tend to be more rational and more informative.

However, the commenting has spurred some interesting discussions and there are times when honest discussion is borne, and rationality is restored.  But yeah, these are rare.

Then we have the authors who comment on the reviews, which I find counterproductive.  Though, I do think that it has the effect of making the reviews more polite.  But more often than not, it makes the author look insecure and desperate.  If you are an author, don’t comment on your book reviews.  That only invites pain and shame.

kindle nay-sayers.

There is a bit of bruhaha these days on two articles, first was the article Jonathan Franzen that lambasted the self-pub revolution and Amazon. He came off as a caricature of literary types, arrogant and contemptuous.  He made rather stupid and far-fetched political analogies.

And there was article by Ewan Morrison that compared the ebook phenomenon to a bubble– a very wrong and ill-conceived comparison.  The ebook phenomenon is a  gold rush with deflationary pressures on pricing.  A bubble is a gold rush with a inflationary pressures on pricing.  All bubbles have something in coming, skyrocketing prices.  Dot-com bubble, stupid stock prices.  Housing bubble: housing prices went through the lroof.  Tulip bubble: you guessed it.  So you have skyrocketing prices fueled by cheap money.

This is emphatically not what is happening with ebooks.  The pricces are trending to zero. Supply outstrips demands. Last  I checked the Amazon stocks aren’t skyrocketing. Ok sure Amazon stands to make a lot of money even if individual authors don’t.  However, Amazon is entitled to make a profit on their investment.  They made the technology, they have a high traffic website. They deserve their money.  Now you may say, in this ebook revolution, books are being devalued.  There may come a point when  the public would refuse to read books anymore because they are afraid of stepping on self-pub bad eggs.

Not true.  If anything, it would make trad pub more valuable in the long run.  Not only that, you can’t underestimate the intelligence of the crowd.  Already, we have book clubs, book bloggers, reviewers.  A lot of the self-pub works are hidden from sight.  If your book isn’t featured on the bestselling lists of Amazon, your books is effectively hidden from the average reader.  It isn’t hard to avoid self-pub.  Just buy the 12/13 dollar ebooks, or the ebooks where it says “price set by publisher”

The market is increasingly bifurcated between the masses who muck in the dollar-three dollar ghetto and  those who buying the ten dollar ebooks. I fail to see the Armageddon argument here. The sky isn’t falling.

I personally don’t understand why criticisms against self-pub involve glamourising the gatekeeping function of the big publishers  These ebook detractors want messiahs, or saviors who will lead the masses on the good books to read and the bad books to advoid.  But they equally forget about the trad-pub well-edited but shitty books that are ignored by the public everyday.  The books that bookstores return to the publishers to be pulped and forgotten.  The books that sell for pennies in thrift stores.  They forget the sheer waste of the publishers they like so much. They forget the celebrity books, the fluff books.

They betray a snobbery of masses.  Believe me, Joe Plumber can decide for himself what he’ll read.  He knows what is a good yarn and what is bad yarn.  If he’s too afraid to decide for himself.  He asks his friends for recommendation, or consult book bloggers.  See right there, magic, wisdom of the crowds.  Joe Plumber found himself a book read.  If the book is badly edited, Joe Plumber can either return it, or tell others to stay away from the author.  See, the beauty of the market.  Cream rises to top, albeit cream that a billion Joe Plumber’s want not the cream that a few hundred literary types from New York want.

Arguments about the evils of self-pub boil down to snobbery and envy. If you don’t like self-pub  books, don’t read them.  Go buy the ten dollar ebooks.