Posts Tagged With: Reading

Reading and Imagination

Imagination is a fire.

No, think about it. Fires start small and can either peter out if they have insufficient fuel, or can catch and blaze away forever.

A log will burn for a good long while, but you can’t easily set a log on fire with a match. The match will burn out long before the log catches fire.

A recent article argued that the glut of YA fiction is turning off young readers and “robbing our teenagers of the change to become literate adults.” (I won’t link to the P.O.S. article because I don’t want to encourage page hits.)

Aside from the asinine assertion that reading can cause illiteracy (I know that’s not what the author meant, but it could have been worded in such a way as to NOT suggest that.), the article basically laments the fact that reading things like The Hunger Games and Twilight is keeping teens from reading “classics,” and thus, contributing to the illiteracy of society.

Oh noes! Western Civilization is going to collapse because little Timmy McGee is reading X-Men comics instead of Ulysses!

Now, I can go on and on about what constitutes a literary classic. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone when I say if I had started reading Faulker or Joyce or Woolf when I was 12, I would be a very different person. I wouldn’t have developed a love of reading for one. Without a love of reading, I probably wouldn’t be a writer.

Elitists love to separate fiction into Literature and Pulp. All genre fiction is automatically shuffled into “pulp,” unless, by circumstance it becomes so ingrained into culture it becomes impossible to ignore it (and even then they’ll hold their noses when they speak of it).

All literature has value, however. It boggles my mind how someone can bitch about teens choosing to read instead of playing video games, watching TV, “hanging out” where ever teens hang out these days, etc. It’s crazy.

See, a good fire, needs to be started properly. If you want voracious, “literate” readers (and by literate, I assume the author of that despicable piece means “readers who like & appreciate what I consider to be Literary Fiction” rather than people who are able to read and comprehend), you have to get them hooked on reading.

So, start small. If you want that log to burn, you use kindling (yes, you can use an accelerant, but sometimes, an accelerant will burn too fast and not actually cause the log to catch fire). You lay a foundation of small sticks (or wadded paper), and gradually pile on larger and larger sticks and branches. Once the fire is good and burning, THEN you add on the logs.

Good fiction, whether it’s YA or not will make readers WANT more fiction. So what if it doesn’t have anything profound to say? Not everyone finds the same thing entertaining or enlightening. Fiction of 100 years ago was written in a totally different style and can often be impenetrable to today’s youth. Why would you want to force them to slog through that before they have a good foundation? That won’t make them lifelong readers. Instead, it will only teach them that reading is boring WORK and I don’t know anyone who will willingly spend their free time doing boring work when they could be doing literally anything else.

Reading should be fun. It should help you escape. Show you new worlds, new ideas. Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction should be the kindling we use to light the fires of imagination in our young people, not a data point to use while we rant about the decline of our youth.

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eBooks vs. Print

One thing that really bothers me about American society today is how there are a lot of very vocal people who insist that a thing be one way or another. There can be no compromises. There can be none of this having both, one must choose.

I think it’s crap.

In particular, I’m talking about these debates between printed book and eBooks. I’ve heard multiple people insist that one format is superior to the other, always has been, ever shall be, and anyone who thinks differently is stupid, foolish, or just a bad person.

Screw that.

I like books. I love flipping through a book with gorgeous art. I love the smell of old books (as long as they’re not moldy). When I want to show off a book or display them on shelves, nothing beats a printed tome. But when I want to read a book, particularly one that does not rely on picture or graphics to make its point? I find eBooks to be more convenient and easier to read.

I want both.

I love my red-leather bound, gilded page edition of The Lord of the Rings. It looks great on my shelf, it feels great, but the next time I read it I am going to turn on my e-reader and read the eBook version I bought last year. It’s lighter, it doesn’t require me to set it on a table to read for an extended session, and I take carry it with me wherever I go without back strain because Amazon’s WhisperSync allows me to keep my place between my Kindle app and my e-reader.

Some people have a better reading experience with printed books, regardless of size, format, or weight. That’s great. Good for them. We can both enjoy the reading experience we prefer and it does not affect anyone else’s reading experience. The words are the same, the method by which the light and patterns which form those words and enter our brains does not matter.

The divisiveness rampant in today’s society sickens me. “X is better than Y. Y is bad and if you like Y you are bad.” The only reason I can think for it is there are a lot of people to whom the Internet has given voice who have a pathological need to not only be right, but to make sure everyone with whom they come into contact knows they’re right and agrees with them.

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Reading and Writing

I’ve heard many times that a good author also has to be a voracious reader. In my youth, from elementary school through high school and college up until 2006, I was a voracious reader. I would devour a book a week, sometimes more. Then, in 2006, during my capstone class for my English degree, our instructor had us read The History of Reading by Alberto Manguel. He had us analyze every paragraph of every chapter, often telling us that we were coming up with the wrong interpretations. Now, this is not meant to be a judgement of the book itself, but that class literally sucked ALL the joy out of reading for me. I hated the class. I hated the book. I wrote a several-page course evaluation that caught the attention of the department head, in which I told them what a colossal waste of time the class had been and how I failed to see how analyzing that book paragraph by paragraph was supposed to summarize and collate all of my experiences as an English major and prepare me for the real world (that I already had a full-time job with the company for which I still work was irrelevant).

Since then, I have found reading to be an absolute chore. There have been a few exceptions: I tore through Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia in 2-3 days. I read Redemption (In Her Name), a trilogy omnibus by Michael R. Hicks and Origin by J.A. Konrath in about 5 days for the four books. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss took me close to six months. I still haven’t finished Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson or Raven’s Heart by M.S. Verish. Now, maybe it’s a writing style thing, but I liked The Name of the Wind. I just couldn’t stay focused on the book. And that’s been my conundrum in a lot of cases. I can sit down with a book, start reading it and say to myself “OK, I get the world and the premise. The characters are interesting…oooh! Squirrel!” Origin and Redemption were the first books I read on my Kindle and the first time since that class that I wanted to keep reading instead of doing other things. Previous books since that class I finished because I didn’t have anything else going on and I felt I needed to finish the books. It was almost as if I was resigned to finishing them out of obligation rather than a desire to see the story through.

On the other hand, it could be the medium. Redemption and Origin I read on my Kindle Keyboard (the e-ink one), whereas The Name of the Wind I read on my Kindle Fire, a device on which I found reading to be more difficult than a paperback or an e-ink ereader. I love e-ink for reading. LCDs…meh. Monster Hunter International I read on my new Kindle Fire HDX 8.9″, a device that’s still LCD, but has a MUCH higher resolution and crisper screen than the 1st generation Kindle Fire.

I suppose time will tell if I can ever be as enthusiastic a reader as I was eight years ago. I am going to try to read more books this year than I have in the past eight (that shouldn’t be hard; I think I may have read maybe a dozen books in the last eight years, a number I find shockingly low and both embarrassing and depressing). Furthermore, I am going to try to put up reviews on Goodreads for the books I read. I’ve spoken before how reviews are the second best thing a reader can do for an author (the best thing is actually buying the book), plus writing a review is more practice writing and I do endeavor to improve my craft. Reading more and writing more can only assist me in that goal.

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