Reaching the Goodreads Challenge

Like almost everyone I know that likes reading, I’ve been using Goodreads for a while now. Mostly I use it to keep track of books I want to read at some point in the future. However quickly my “read” (i.e. in the past tense) shelf grows, my “to read” shelf grows faster. I’m fine with that, as there are so many great books in the world and I would like to read as many as I can, while also making time to re-read those that really spoke to and/or entertained me.

For the past two years, I have also publicly set a reading goal for myself on the Goodreads site. The only way I know to access it is to go to the main page and scroll down. It’ll be somewhere in the right sidebar. If you’re also an avid reader, you likely know what I’m talking about. Initially, I started doing this yearly reading challenge to get back into reading more. I’d been spending too much time with Netflix and not enough with the written word. Goodreads helped me fix that.

I’ve just met my 2014 reading challenge by finishing 24 books. I have actually read more than this, technically. To some people that does not sound like a lot, but between work, social time, sleep, and my habit of often reading somewhat long or challenging books, it is a higher total than I’ve reached in a given year since graduating from college.

Next year, I’m not going to set a reading goal. Why? Because I’ve decided that I’m going to be focusing on writing. And this time, I’m not just going to say that I’m going to do more writing. I’m getting too old to let ideas percolate until I feel like I “have time” to sit down and write them. Life has resisted being anything resembling convenient or helpful, and I need to make time to write, starting as soon as possible, or give up on the idea of ever being published. Even if I end up self-publishing, it will never happen if I don’t actually do the writing.

I’ll still read, of course, but my focus will be on creating stories, honing some of them, taking active steps toward being a writer. I used to write and read all the time, when I was young. Growing up, adulthood, responsibility, self-doubt, and a bunch of other factors slowly drained that away from me, but I took back reading, and now I am going to take back writing. I want to learn how to love it again, the way I did when I was a kid and wanted to write all the time. Life was so much more fun then.

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.

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.

My Problem with Speed-Reading

A while ago I read (or, more accurately, skimmed) an article about an app that could train you to read a novel in 90 minutes. On the one hand I thought, “Wow, that’s impressive.” (I’m sure it’s not, to some people.) On the other hand, it made me feel … disappointed is the best word I can come up with. Disappointed that this is how people view reading, as something that should be done as quickly as possible, or else it’s a waste of time.

I understand the appeal of reading a book that quickly, as there are so many books out there I want to read, and I know there will be more, that it would be beneficial in that sense to be able to get through a book in 90 minutes. I could greatly increase my number of total books read, broaden my reading experience, etc.

But both as a reader and as a writer, this emphasis on speed-reading bothers me.

There have been times, particularly in college, when reading a little faster was necessary. I’m not arguing that you should never read quickly just to finish a book, if it’s required for your school or work to do so. But other than that, if you’re reading for pleasure, why would you be in such a hurry to be finished? If I choose to read a book, not for any assignment but because I think I will find it interesting or enjoyable, I like to spend time with it. A book is a great place to be, better, sometimes, than the real world. Particularly in very engaging books, I don’t want to rush through that world. But if I start speed-reading, then slower reading would be hard to go back to.

Then, of course, I consider speed-reading from the point of view of a writer–more specifically, a writer who intends to publish novels. Any serious writer will spend a lot of time and effort creating the content you’re reading, wanting to craft something readers will find worth their time. If I spend a year on a book (drafting, revising, etc.), I don’t want someone to pick it up only to toss it aside in an hour or two. Although real writers write for themselves, they also write for readers, and the thought that something created with care is worth only the smallest fraction of someone’s time is discouraging. There would likely be many writers who understandably reason that they should not put so much effort into their work if the people enjoying the final product are not going to appreciate it properly.

I am against this notion that a “solution” is needed to read novels faster. Internet articles? Yes, read them as fast as you can, particularly the ones that seem like they were written in ten minutes. Or even this one, which should certainly not take you longer than that to read… you’ll get the idea. But a story that someone has taken the care to craft so that they can be proud of it? Spend a little time with it. Don’t be so scared of books.

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.

Short Story, plus updates

Hi.

I know it’s kind of been a while. I have reasons, but what good will explaining do? And I don’t know how long it will be before I get back to regularly posting. For this I feel bad, but I’m just trying to figure out how to get my life in order. I think I might have SAD, and it mostly manifests in a complete lack of desire to do anything at all in the winter months.

I did update my What I’m Reading page a few weeks ago, finally, after forgetting about it completely since September or October. New stuff in current reads and last read. I must try to remember to keep up with it. Check it out now if you are curious about the book Just Kids, one of the best things I’ve read in a long, long time.

And finally, I’ve put up a new piece on my Featured Short Story page. It’s long overdue. I was originally intending to do a new one every month or two. Then I didn’t write anything for a while.

For the near future, I’ve been thinking about going through pieces I wrote for various classes in college, and posting anything that doesn’t seem embarrassing to share. I wrote some good stuff back then. Some of them, notably the two pieces I based on The Tempest, I’ve already shared on some blog or other, but I doubt if I could find those pages again. It’s also very doubtful that I’ll do further work on these, or get them published. I submitted one or two to contests or journals, none were ever taken, so they probably won’t ever be. However, they’re still good and I do want them seen, so they’ll go here. For the most part they’ll be normal posts. A few might be deemed worthy of the featured short story page. We will see.

And that’s all I’ve got. So here I go, off to try harder and maybe actually fucking accomplish something.