The feel of a book

I know it’s been a while since my last post – apologies. Tomorrow is the big day for me (following that post about my kidneys) – tomorrow I go in to see a kidney specialist. Nothing may come of this visit except more tests; or I could be facing a new diet, lifestyle, tests, who knows. I don’t. I find that a bit scary, to be honest. I sometimes like writing creature feature stories, even a little horror on occasion, but nothing is as frightening as an unknown visit with a specialist. Pretty sure Stephen King tried to capture that once or twice, most recently with Doctor Sleep.

Needless to say, being able to focus on my writing hasn’t been a thing the last few weeks. I’m too distracted by real world concerns to focus like I should. I feel guilty about it, but mostly because I know I have half worked pieces that need finishing, stories to share, and feedback to gather.

What have I been doing to fill the void and distract me? Reading.

“But you’re always doing that,” you might say, and you’d be half right. What makes this reading a bit different is that they have all been physical, paper in hand books. Late last year I went through a phase where I stopped myself from buying new digital books and focused on decluttering my digital to-read pile. While there are still books in that pile, largely guides to writing, the fiction half is just about done. Most of what remains are one-offs that I grabbed because (frankly) they were a dollar on special and I knew the day would come when I would need something to read.

But starting this month, I’ve been working on reading actual paper books. You might say it’s become somewhat of an obsession. I’ve read five books so far and started or sampled three others. I don’t remember having this super power in the past, but something about reading the paper edition is easier on my brain. My eyes have to strain more than with digital – no easy font adjustment here! – but I’m ripping through books at a rate that is surprising even to me.

As I read, I am reminded of something I’ve never really discussed with anyone before. I’m reminded that some books have a taste in my mind. I won’t claim its synesthesia, but there are certain flavors to books. A fun, quick to read space opera will have a completely different flavor in my mind than deep epic fantasy. In fact, it’s often this mental taste I’m after when I’m “in the mood” to read something. Sometimes I’m looking for the taste of a romp with ancient, forgotten alien civilisations. Sometimes I’m in the mood to follow an epic quest. Each one tastes different to me, resonates differently in my head. They have a different flavor in my mind.

And what, pray tell, brought this up? This week I acquired Tad Williams’ Shadowmarch quadrilogy (tetralogy? The verdict seems to be out on what a group of 4 books should be called.). I think I might have read book one before, but it’s been a long time, and I know I never read the sequels. What struck me as I started the first book is the thickness of the book mentally.

I am, admittedly, a horrible speed reader. They say the secret to reading faster is to look at the words, not subvocalize them. I’ve played with that approach, and it’s true, it’s quicker, but I have a deeper resonance with a book when I’ve recited it in my head. Given how fast I read books as it is, my inner voice must talk a mile a minute. Books like Shadowmarch aren’t high literature by any means (sorry, Tad!), but they have a brooding sense where I find myself reading each passage slowly and with attention. Tad likes to throw hints and subtle clues in the most innocuous places, so reading one of his books should be done with due diligence. To these kinds of books, my mind assigns a taste of deep and thick. I don’t know how else to describe them. Space operas, my other favorite examples, have a jumpy, springy feel in my head. Which makes using the word flavor to describe them wrong too, come to think of it, but it’s the best word I have for it.

Anyone else feel that way about books?

On reading books

It will be no surprise I like books. If it is, perhaps we should sit down for a cup of something warm and caffeinated and talk about how we’ve parted ways so terribly. Growing up, of course, books were a thing of paper and cardboard, bound in glue or cloth. They were an always present weight in my pocket or hand, carrying me away from this world of the mundane. Secretly, I think they were bound with something a little more intangible – dreams and nightmares, adventure and excitement. I won’t give the child savant version of this tale – my reading of choice was, is, and has always been on the more pulpy side. There are times for great tomes and insightful reflections through our books, but typically I read to escape. I will even overlook bad prose (to a point) if the story is “fun” enough.

When e-book readers appeared on the scene en masse (I refer to the dawn of the Kindle era, though of course there had been “e-book readers” of a variety for years before that), I was not an early adopter. I was, however, an earlier than others adopter, buying a used 1st generation kindle on the cheap.  The appeal of the e-reader to someone like me is the nearly mind-boggling concept that in your hands you can hold a library’s worth of books, read on demand, travel anywhere. Back when the built-in 3G option was more common, this also meant being able to buy new books whenever you wanted, at a moment’s notice, no matter the time of day. That kind of freedom is like sitting down to an all you can eat buffet. The cover price may be a little pricy, but once you’re in it’s a feast.

Before I go on, I should say, I love my Paperwhite. Crisp text, a backlight, and a really long battery life. It is the ideal for reading on the go. I even enjoy my $50 Fire, though largely I use it as a spare reader (oh the convenience!) and for comics (because I am a kid inside).

Late last year I started on a mission – to read the backlog of digital books I had bought on $1 and $2 sales on Amazon.  Most of these were initial volumes in series that I wanted to read, but never felt up to spending $10-$12 on (sorry). When the books came up on sale, usually because a sequel had just been released, I grabbed them. But over time, that’s left me with a digital  mountain of reading material. Plus, there are the books I have picked up via Story Bundle. I  intend to make my way through that mountain still.

But lurking on the side, I also have a TBR pile of physical books. I picked up Stephen King’s new collection of short stories, Bazaar of Bad Dreams at the store the other day. Something about holding that in my hands, turning the pages, triggered memories of why I like reading physical books in the first place. That feeling of immersion and achievement as you read, something that is lost reading a digital copy. No matter how light we like our digital devices and how much that adds to their appeal, there is something magical about the weight of a book in your hand.

So looking ahead to 2016, I will aim to make it one of my goals for the year to engage more physical books. Get paper cuts, smell the scent of a used bookstore,  dive into the pages. Some things I will still read digital, of course. In addition to my (shrinking!) backlog of e-books, there are some authors where it  only makes sense to get the digital book. This is particularly true of the smaller press and indie authors I’ve come to enjoy, but also books that I know I will love to read – and then set aside. Better to have a digital bookshelf of have-reads than a pile in the house.

And there are advantages to reading physical books again. For starters, not everything is digital. I mentioned my love for the pulpier fiction earlier. A lot of books from the 90’s and before, unless termed popular enough or classic enough (or turned into a TV/movie) will never see digital space [legally]. Reading the physical book is the only way to get to a lot of those.

I read physical books more slowly. I don’t rush when reading digitally, but I recognize that it takes me longer to read a physical book. Maybe it’s the need for light and setting, absent when I’m able to read a digital book anywhere on anything. But I also feel like I read a book more fully when I’m reading the paper copy. Subjective as hell, but there you go.

I will continue to post the books I read in Goodreads as I read and finish them, but in tandem with this desire to read more physical books, I’ve decided not to do a reading goal in Goodreads this year. I know it’s all in good fun, but I just want to enjoy the act of reading. Goodreads is a fantastic tool for cataloging as you read books, finding new recommendations, etc.. I just don’t want to use it as a competitive tool.

So that’s a lot of words for what is now a Saturday. If you see me on the BART, or lounging in a chair, go ahead and ask me what book that is in my hand. I’ll be happy to tell you about it. Just don’t be surprised if I ask what you’re reading.





In an odd reading mood

I’m in a mood to read some nonfiction. Not a bit of it, a lot of it, as if the mood itself weren’t odd enough for me. I have some book reviews coming up in the next week for the usual flavor of titles you see on here, and my TBR pile is still a towering mound of interesting look books (thanks Pyr, Tor, and JoFletcher!). Just don’t be surprised to see my commentary and reviews for some unexpected reads.

Writing (Photo credit: jjpacres)

At a deeper level, and giving this some thought, I think part of it has to do with cleansing the palettes – plural. Not just the reading palette, which I’m sure is understandable, but also the writing palette. My lack of writing updates lately, my playing with different writing apps, these are all symptoms of a bigger problem. I won’t label it writer’s block – nothing is preventing me from writing. But I don’t feel inspired to create anything, and when I do, it quickly feels repetitive and derivative.

Don’t worry, it’s a phase, I recognize it as a stage in the process, and this time I’m going  to try a different tactic to combat it.

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