The Reader Speaks (and updates a page)

Once in a while I actually remember to update my “What I’m Reading” page, and today was one of those days! I’m in the middle of numerous books right now and I have a huge TBR list right now that’s likely to only get larger. I have a Goodreads link on the sidebar that you can check out if you want to see more of the books I’ve read and want to read.

I can definitely say The Crane Wife is my favorite book that I’ve read in the past few years at least. I really loved it and I plan to read it again several times in the future, after I get my own copy of it. For some reason I can’t seem to find it in any bookstores… I don’t think it would necessarily be everyone’s taste, but it is absolutely perfect for me. I almost wish I’d written it.

If I find another favorite book, then that section of the page will be updated, but The Crane Wife will also stay.

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Print Books are just Superior

Through a combination of daily Bookbub emails and the android kindle app, I’ve started reading some books in ebook form. I haven’t read many yet, because even shorter ones can take me months to finish. I read several books at once and, generally, I’m more likely to reach for physical copies than the kindle app. It doesn’t inspire me to open it.

It might be partially because of my device. Maybe when I inevitably get a true ereader (or a tablet, more likely), with a screen that displays something more like a real book’s full page, it will improve the e-reading experience. That said, I still think I will forever prefer turning a page to swiping a screen.

Ebooks might be more practical at times, certainly. In the sense of the paper it saves, more environmentally friendly. On a long trip, you could bring a large collection of books without taking up much space in your luggage. And the content is the same–but the reading experience simply is not.

I feel like print books welcome me into the story. They draw me in and ask me to stay a little longer. Having something to hold on to allows me to believe that in some way or another, the story is more real. The tactile connection is important. Ebooks are cold, distant. They don’t care about me reading them.

Perhaps it is the very fact that physical books take up space–owning them is more of a commitment. Maybe it’s a generational thing. When I was a child, computers were much less a part of daily life and e-books were not yet a product. I grew up on print. I can’t help wondering if this convenient but impersonal form of books is going to create a generation (or many) that do not understand the importance and magic of reading. That makes me sad.

I don’t really care that much what kind of paper print books are made of. If they find a better, more environmentally-conscious material for physical volumes, that would be fantastic, and I would fully endorse making books in the greenest possible way. I also believe that good books cannot be a waste of paper.

However the process changes in the future, I ask everyone–publishers, consumers, printers, etc.–to consider the wonder of print books.

Books that Inspire

I’m currently reading Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. I find myself wishing that I had read it as a child–not because it’s written for children (I don’t know if it was) or because I would have enjoyed it more then than I am right now. I wish I had read it when I was younger because it is so well-written and such a wonderful tale that I know it would have been one of those books that I read over and over, one of those that inspired me as a writer.

As I read I’m comparing the book to the movie that came out a few years ago, and I am surprised at the amount of differences in just the first third of the book. This is definitely a case of the book and movie being almost entirely separate stories (I mean, in the movie, Yvaine never says “fuck”). So, although I have some idea of how the story goes, there are enough differences that I get to have that feeling of wanting to know what will happen next.

I would say the story has many typical elements of fairy tales and the fantasy genre (that is, before urban fantasy became popular). The details, though, are unique enough that I don’t feel like I’ve read the same story a thousand times. Since every basic story has been told already, as they say, it’s all in the way the story is told, and this one is told brilliantly. The way that details are revealed allows for just the right amount of suspense, in my opinion. I have a somewhat low suspense threshold and when it’s crossed, I get bored, so I’m happy with just enough to keep it interesting. And the language, oh my. It’s not news that Neil Gaiman is an excellent writer, but there is something about this book in particular… the quality of the writing fits so well with the setting of the Faerie world. In my opinion it’s quite ethereal, a little surreal, but not insubstantial or unbelievable in any way. Maybe I would still believe in Faerie if I had read this book when I was younger.

Last night I was reading this instead of going to sleep and I was reminded in a way that rarely happens these days that I am supposed to be writing. Of all the other interests I have cultivated, nothing makes me feel as satisfied as writing, and there is no other medium through which I can express myself so well. If I didn’t have bills and student loans and all that to worry about, I would just write full time starting NOW.

Imagination on Vacation (I Blame Television)

Like the vast majority of Americans, I watch a lot of videos of various kinds. Tv shows, movies, and a huge variety of videos (although few actually original) of different lengths and subjects abound all over the internet. And since wi-fi is everywhere these days, you could quite literally spend all of your life, or at least your free time, in front of a screen.

Well, so far I’ve stated the obvious. Now I’m about to sound like your grandparents (or even your parents, probably):

When I was growing up, things were very different. We had a television, of course–everyone had a television–but at my house, we just had basic cable. A lot of people I knew just had basic cable, while many others paid for premium channels. Now, it’s essentially impossible to only get basic cable. They simply don’t offer it anymore. Granted, I don’t know what the cable options are because I’ve never had to sign up for it myself, but I think “basic” cable no longer means the major networks on channels below number 10 and the local access channels in the teens.

I had access to the fancy cable at friends’ and relatives’ houses, and although I particularly enjoyed the golden age of Nickelodeon shows, I never felt like I really needed it. I spend much of my time reading, drawing (badly), or playing imaginative games, often by myself. There is certainly a place for sitting and doing essentially nothing in all our lives. The Italian term “dolce far niente,” although probably not intended to mean being a couch potato, captures this idea nicely. But then, we also need engaging activities that inspire and motivate us–and where is the place for that sort of activity when there are more movies available than we could ever watch in our lifetimes?

I am not denying the artistic merit of some films and shows, or the value of visual storytelling. When it comes down to it, sometimes words are not enough to really capture the image or concept. As a writer, this is something that frustrates me constantly and makes me wish I were able to draw well. So various lengths of cinematic material have their place in quality entertainment. The one thing that is generally true of all movies, shows, short films, etc., though, regardless of their level of either quality or inanity, is that the role of the viewer in the entertainment/observer relationship is passive. In order to watch a video, all you need to do is press play, look at the screen, and not interrupt playback. This is not to say that film cannot make you think, of course. It can.

Reading is an active pursuit. I suppose it would be possible to read a headline or a short phrase by accident, but in order to read a book, a short story, a poem, even a full sentence, you have to make a conscious decision to be engaged in the activity. Your own mind is responsible for picture the words create. Reading cannot simply happen by staring at an open page. You have to make your eyes move from word to word. If you’re reading a physical book, you have to turn pages. If reading an ebook or an online article, you’re often required to scroll, click, or swipe to continue reading the piece. And so, regardless of the quality of the content (or whether the book is better than the movie), the act of reading must be purposeful.

I’m trying to get back into the habit of reading. I do not do it very much anymore. I most often read for no more than two or three hours in a given day. I never stay up late into the night lost in the words of a book. In fact, I rarely read more than fifteen pages at a time without stopping to take a break, most frequently to mess around on the internet. When I was young, I used to spend entire days reading. There were many books I re-read (so I have not read as many books as most people I know who love reading), some many times. I read Lloyd Alexander’s The Arkadians probably ten times in my preteen era.  (I highly recommend it.) I got such a rush from reading. It would spark my imagination. All that I read fed into my store of images and stories, blending together and transmogrifying into new ones, like a personal mythology. When I decided I had to write, ideas would flow freely. Tales would play in my head and I would do my best to copy them down, not generally suffering from any hesitation or writer’s block.

I used to watch a little tv and do a lot of reading. Now it’s pretty much the opposite. It was sometime in my teen years that I really started to watch tv much more frequently, and that only increased as time went on. And since somewhere around the age of fifteen, I have not generally spent so much time working on my writing. As I said, I will not claim that there aren’t good stories to be watched, or that writers cannot get ideas from the cinematic medium. However, I can’t help but notice that when I’m not reading, my urge to write usually disappears. When I do pick up a book, particularly one that is especially creative or simply resonates with me either in its content or style, my imagination comes alive. I think that the active nature of reading motivates me to be creatively active, in a way that the sit-and-do-nothing feeling of watching television or movies just cannot achieve.

If others have had a similar experience, it implies quite a bit about the effects of too-available television and the importance of reading. Of course, this could just be my own weird head’s response to different forms of media. So you tell me: does television give you creative energy? How about reading? I want to know.

Rebellious Reading: Fahrenheit 451

Did you know that it’s Banned Books Week? It is.

 

I’ve had this copy of Fahrenheit 451 since I can’t even remember when. I might have bought it from my college bookstore during my undergrad years, or I could have found it on my brother’s bookshelves (and, you know, he wasn’t using it…). But I have never read it, somehow. A little surprising, in all my years of studying literature. A lot of people read it in primary/secondary school, before going on to college, but it was never required reading for me.

A few months ago I came across an excerpt from this book on some website, and it was bumped much higher on my reading list, but I wanted to finish some other ones first. But I know this book has been/is banned in many places over the years, and it’s pretty short, so it seemed the perfect option.

For those of you who want to participate with an easier option, you could always read Harry Potter, or a number of children’s picture books that were/are banned (like And Tango Makes Three, a book with gay penguins that is really just about love and acceptance).

There are many lists of banned books online you could browse to find one to read. And you can read them any time, not just this week! Have fun being a rebel.

 

50 anniversary edition, how special.

50 anniversary edition, how special.

Perks!

image

 

I just wanted to share this box of Latvian chocolate I was sent from a freelancing client. (In addition to being paid.) It was so sweet and completely unrequired of them, I really appreciated the thought. I have had ONE piece so far (this will last me a while) and this is good chocolate. Mmmmmm…

For those of you who might have trouble seeing, they’re shaped like roses.

I also finally finished reading the book I was in the middle of for two months. Now on to The Summer Book, which seemed like an appropriate book to read at the end of spring. And before you say it’s basically summer, actually, no, it’s still spring until later in June. Read your calendar.

I picked up The Summer Book  for $3 at the Brattle Book Shop. For more on that, take a look at this post from my other blog. And hey, I just found a New York Review of Books bookmark stuck in it! Bonus.

I still haven’t written anything… at all… with an actual narrative… for a pretty long time. I am rather sad about it and I’d like to say that I will be changing that soon, but… yeah, see my post about being that falling kitten.

In other, perhaps more relevant news, I started taking an online writing course… and decided not to finish it after two weeks. I got the feeling that I would not actually learn anything unless I spent a lot of time in the discussion forums. I had a lot of other things in my life that needed attention, and I wasn’t prepared to give up my free time to a pursuit that involved neither enjoyment nor official obligation. I tried, the class didn’t meet my needs, so I didn’t see a reason to continue. However, I still think that it would be good for me to have a structured writing platform. Or… some other word. See what’s happened to me?

Well, I hope you have some chocolate to enjoy. I’m going to sit around and dream of a chai latte.

Murakami Nails It On the Head

This is the passage in the stories of Haruki Murakami I have read that most reflects life, to me. P.S., if I’m ever unable to explain/tell you something, there is at least an 80% chance this is why.

From the story “Firefly,” translated by Philip Gabriel.

 

          Every time I try to say something, it misses the point. Either that or I end up saying the opposite of what I mean.      The more I try to get it right the more mixed up it gets. Sometimes I can’t even remember what I was trying to say in the first place. It’s like my body’s split in two and one of me is chasing the other me around a big pillar. We’re running circles around it. The other me has the right words, but I can never catch her.

 

 

I have this problem less often when I’m writing, but it does still happen. The most upsetting fact for me as a writer is the knowledge that language is inadequate.