The Benefits of Daily Reading

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

– Stephen King

Hey, King said it best.

Recently, I was asked by Carmen Jacob of UpJourney for my opinions on the benefits of daily reading, as someone who reads quite a bit. It’s a cool article, with thoughts from 26 daily readers from various walks of life, including authors, speakers, lawyers, and entrepreneurs. My answer is the third one down, but yes—the whole piece is worth adding to today’s daily read. Check it out:

The Benefits of Reading (According to 26 People Who Read Every Day)

Quick Reviews of the Last 5 Books I’ve Read

As much as I love analyzing stories, it’s sometimes a challenge to take the time to do a detailed review of every single book that I read; last year alone, I read over 100 different books, and while this year has been a bit slower it’s still over the 50 mark.  That said, I thought it might be fun to do a quick overview of the last five books I’ve read, with my thoughts on each:

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Chimpanzee – Darin Bradley – With the USA’s millennial generation currently drowning in student debt, this book, much like the Circle,  is a dystopia perfectly crafted for our time. There’s some interesting science fiction ideas in here, but what really matters are the big themes, which are masterfully plotted and executed.  Chimpanzee is one of the leaner, meaner and more interesting dystopic books in some time.  (And by the way, what a great cover!)

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2001: A Space Odyssey – Arthur C. Clarke – Not going to get into the whole book vs. movie debate, but I will say this: the book doesn’t get nearly enough credit.  While the movie’s genius is in its openness to interpretation, the book’s genius is found in its specifics. Exploring the beginnings of humanity and ending with its possible future in a realm beyond understanding, it doesn’t get much more epic than this.

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Saint Odd – Dean Koontz I was surprised by just how much I loved the initial Odd Thomas book. Odd himself was a quirky, likeable character, and his town of Pico Mundo felt real. That said, I haven’t been as fond of the direction the series took after that point. I really enjoyed the third book, Brother Odd, but the other ones took a track that was different than what I expected–not necessarily bad, just different–and I missed the Pico Mundo town folk from the first and second book. The Annamaria storyline never quite clicked for me. Saint Odd brings us back to Pico Mundo, and in many ways back to the beginning of the series. Interestingly, what’s strange about Saint Odd is how small the scale is; whereas the previous books have been building toward some sort of epic, metaphysical conclusion with the fate of the world hanging in the balance, Saint Odd never quite goes there, and delves into the supernatural far less than its predecessors.

Overall, I have mixed feelings, but my affection for the Odd Thomas character is no less strong, and it’s both enjoyable and saddening to accompany Odd on one last journey back to Pico Mundo.

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Between the World and MeTa-Nehisi Coates – A brilliant, heartbreaking and vulnerable piece of writing that may very well revolutionize the conversation on race in the United States.  I’ve been reading Coates’ articles in The Atlantic for some time, but this book takes is writings to an entirely new level.  Probably one of the most important works of this year.

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The Kite Runner Khaled HosseiniOkay, I’m really floored that I didn’t read this sooner. One of the most profoundly emotional stories I’ve ever read, this is a brave story written by a writer who truly knows its subject matter and has something he wants to say to the world. Can’t recommend this enough.

So now, fellow readers, how about you?

What’s the last book you read?

The Proof has Arrived

Though Pale Highway is still a little ways from release day, the first prototype copy of the book finally arrived on my doorstep yesterday, direct from Red Adept Publishing. It’s impossible to describe what a cathartic feeling it is to see the story fully realized; what was once just an idea in my mind is now a physical object, a gateway to a world that has moved beyond the grasp of its creator and will soon belong to the readers far more than it belongs to me.

Out of everything that I’ve ever written, Pale Highway has been the story that has impacted me the most. It’s truly amazing to be able to share it with the world this way, and I can’t wait until it’s finally available for others.

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DFW on “fiction”

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I don’t think I’m talking about conventionally political or social action-type solutions. That’s not what fiction’s about. Fiction’s about what it is to be a fucking human being. If you operate, which most of us do, from the premise that there are things about the contemporary U.S. that make it distinctively hard to be a real human being, then maybe half of fiction’s job is to dramatize what it is that makes it tough. The other half is to dramatize the fact that we still “are” human beings, now. Or can be.

– David Foster Wallace

The Never-Ending Line

He was an artist with no name. When your work speaks for you, who needs a name? The unnamed artist’s tool of choice was charcoal, for its unique ability to smoothly blend dark and light together. That’s what he liked about it. Its mysteriousness, its messiness, the way that the black smudged into muddled shades of grey.

On the day that he started his masterpiece, the unnamed artist prepared for several hours. He stared at the white paper before him. The charcoal sticks were lined up alongside it, symmetrically. Everything was perfect and untouched.  He wasn’t nervous in the least; he was ready. He began by drawing a solid dot in the corner of the page, to mark the beginning.

From that dot, he drew a landscape. Everything was connected in one long, continuous line of charcoal. That was the challenge he’d set forth on, that day: to create an entire world in one line, never separating from the paper’s thin surface, never lifting his hand.

Mountains, oceans, forests, volcanoes, all of it. One line.  Continuous.  Connected.  Looping back toward the center, he drew a hunched over figure. This figure didn’t look quite right, so he edited it to look a bit more, well–what was it?

Oh, it was a human being. Of course.

That was good, but it wasn’t enough. A single human? No, it was lonely.

He drew another figure beside it. Two human beings stood out in the center of the paper, as if they were the only thing that mattered. They were prominent, the most important piece of the drawing–but they were still connected to the unbroken line. Trapped. Up until this point, he’d been in control of the picture. However, any artist will admit that, at some point, one loses that control. In order to succeed, the art must take on a life of its own. The artist stopped and waited for this to happen, tensely pressing his hand against the paper, unconsciously smudging it.

It didn’t. The figures were still connected to the line, and they looked miserable about it. The unnamed artist struggled to fix the problem and disconnect them, but it was too late. You can’t erase charcoal.

He started drawing again. He drew large crowds of people to accompany them, but each one was equally miserable, equally stuck. He couldn’t draw them separately from the line—to do so would be to betray the entire philosophy that had created the drawing—but he wanted them to separate themselves from it, to actively pursue freedom.

They continued to be stuck, and they became miserable. They became angry. They hated him for creating them. They denied his existence. The most livid looking ones became smudged beyond recognition.  In his head, the artist could hear their voices. They demanded answers. They wanted easy solutions. If they didn’t get these things, they loathed him for it, screamed at him. The drawing he’d worked so hard on became painful to even look at. All he could do was accept the tragedy for what it was. He slowly accepted the idea that maybe he just had to walk away from his artwork, put it away, never look back.

He noticed something.

Without realizing it, he’d drawn one of the figures separate from the line, completely by accident—and that lone figure was smiling. Unfortunately, the figure didn’t see the artist. It was looking for him, sure—but in the wrong direction.

But that didn’t matter, because it was smiling, and it was guiding the others in a new direction toward the corner of the page—the place where it could escape from its white prison, leap out into a world beyond its initial understanding, and find independence. It forged its own path. Others followed. Other unique characters appeared, inspired by the first one, and they created their own directions, their own paths.

The figures weren’t doomed. Deep inside, they knew what the right choice was. They knew how to escape from the continuous line. Even if the smiling ones couldn’t see him, they weren’t content to sit there and brood. They wanted to do things. They wanted to create lines of their own. They wanted to strive for truth and self-create their own individual destinies. The artist knew that someday, they’d find their way off the page. Today just wasn’t that day.

The unnamed artist put down his charcoal. He smiled to himself, and he waited.

The Eye-Dancers

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As my previous posts have probably made clear by now, I’m a devoted fan of comic books, superheroes and science fiction. So when I first came across Michael S. Fedison’s YA novel The Eye-Dancers, a book that so affectionately wears its comic book loving heart on its sleeve, my interest was piqued.

The Eye-Dancers begins by introducing us to Mitchell Brant, a self-conscious fourth grader with parents on the cusp of divorce, a box full of Fantastic Four comics, anxiety problems around girls and a compulsive lying habit. He’s an average kid with average luck, but this is swiftly thrown into disarray when he suddenly begins experiencing terrifyingly lifelike dreams of a ghostly little girl with spinning blue eyes. He’s not the only one; his two best friends, Joe and Ryan, are having the same nightmares. Banding together with their brainiac classmate Marc Kuslanski, the seventh graders form their own sort of makeshift Fantastic Four and set off on an adventure that will take them beyond the confines of this universe.

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The science fiction ideas here are interesting—parallel realities and the multiverse are pretty familiar subjects to most comic readers—but as a whole, Fedison focuses on the development of his four lead characters. Each of the boys has a unique personality, with unique fears and anxieties.  Whereas most YA books tend to focus on high school angst, Fedison instead makes the choice to set his story right in the boys’ middle school years, which gives it an entirely different tone; middle school stories, as a whole, are less about anger and more about pained unsureness. Whereas high schoolers are marching toward the cusp of adulthood and looking forward, middle schoolers are standing right at the exit door of childhood—and looking back, worriedly.

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There’s a cheerfully adventurous, Stan Lee-era comic book tone to this, but like the best comic stories, it’s tempered by melancholy, sadness and redemption. Similar to the classic 90s TV series Quantum Leap, the science fiction elements are here mainly to advance the story, and not so much as the focus.

But what really makes The Eye-Dancers special is its innate likability. The book is clearly a labor of love, written by a writer who is putting all of his favorite things together into one one work, toiling away out of pure passion, telling the exact story that his heart wants him to tell. After reading The Eye-Dancers, it’s impossible not to cheer him on—and to hope that he has more books waiting in the wings.