Category Archives: Reading

The Future of Reading?

My entire life has been dominated by books—reading them, writing them and teaching others how to read them, including adults with literacy problems.

Reading is a joy for life. I feel sorry for anyone who misses the pleasure. You need look no further than the incumbent of the American presidency to see what it does a person’s character if you don’t read.

Whatever your opinions on the pros and cons of reading from a printed book or its digital version, I’d hazard a guess, that these days, even people who proclaim that they don’t read books actually read more words daily than people did 25 years ago—thanks to computers and smartphones.

Image result for oblivious smartphone users

I’m currently on a cusp between going back into self-publishing and being traditionally published, should Hachette’s The Future Bookshelf deem my Cornish Detective as being sales worthy. I entered their open submission process on the spur of the moment, surprised to be asked for my full manuscript.

Maybe I should be feeling more uptight about the possibilities than I do, but my pragmatism and work ethic (where did that come from?) means that I’m keeping my head down, nose to the grindstone and not worrying about success and failure.

Overall, I’m happy that people are still reading books, and it doesn’t matter to me how they do so. It would be great if some readers were enjoying my books—as much as I do! In a way, looking at publishing, I’m surprised by the persistence of the traditional way of doing things, particularly from the stance of being a writer. Self-publishing an eBook takes minutes on KDP, with your first earnings paid two months later. Traditional publishing takes two years to accomplish the same thing.

In the 21st-century, people expect instant access to many things. Just look at the success of fast food, comparing the similarities to downloading eBooks or music files. Now think of traditional sit-down dining in a restaurant, a leisurely activity comparable to the way that publishers produce their books to be consumed. On that basis, it’s amazing that books are still printed, that it hasn’t become an activity for the elite.

But, there’s a cyber hawk on the horizon, which may do away with the effort of reading eBooks and hard copies. A while ago, I made a facetious comment on the Colony, about books being injectable.

It turns out, I may have been prescient, for Elon Musk proposes that people have an artificial intelligence chip implanted in their brains

Like any form of technology, it will be advertised as being of benefit to one’s life, making things easier and simpler—essentially appealing to the laziness within us—and, you’ll be superior to those who don’t have it.

Would you put your brain under the control of a megalomaniac?

I’m sure some people will be willing to so, ignoring the potential dangers.

It all makes me wonder what skills people will have in 50 years, as everything will be done for them, including thinking! They will be Borg.

Staying on relatively safe advantages of having a chip in your grey cells, it would mean that a ‘reader’ could have books downloaded into their noddle, allowing them to spout forth quotes and information with as much understanding of the meaning as a computer or smartphone.

Picasso put things well:

If you had a library of digital books stored in your brain, able to access the information within them, would you be deemed to be intelligent?

I previously posted in praise of Rich Reading which takes an effort to savour: if books are going to be downloaded into our brains, how are we to appreciate them?

We’re already in a situation where people don’t grow their food, don’t cook it any way but in a microwave and we don’t make our own clothing, throwing it away when it needs repairing. Driving a car will no longer be a skill, as the car does it for us. Few know how to build their own home or how to make a repair. How many of us can do mental arithmetic these days?

I can do all of these things, partly because of growing up poor, but also because I wanted to know how things work to satisfy my curiosity.

The way the future looks with Elon Musk’s proposal is that curiosity will be redundant….don’t think for yourself, we’ll do that for you.

How do you feel about injectable books?

You could finally get around to ‘reading’ the seven-volume, 4,215 pages of Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu.


Real Books Have Curves

As I continue my rambling way towards self-publishing my series of crime novels this summer, I had the alarming thought last night, that I hadn’t yet uploaded my first two stories to my WordPress Cornish Detective website to make them available to readers as downloads.

How to do that? Should they be in MS Word (.doc) format or as a PDF…or, both? And, how does the book cover fit into all of this? I found two helpful articles about both formats, then spent three hours faffing around attempting to get the Word (.doc) version to appear on my site. I’ve moaned about the complexity of WordPress before on this blog, so I won’t go on. One of the problems with WordPress is that it’s regularly updated, as are the plug-in widgets that operate it, meaning that online advice about how to do things is quickly outdated.

Getting a blog about writing and a website on my books up and running has felt like the Labours of Hercules.

I’ve spent most of my time in the Augean Stables!

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None of this activity feels like being a writer. And, anything I’ve read about WordPress hasn’t been reading for pleasure. As for my novels, they exist as intransigent digital files—it’s hard to think of them as books.

Weary with frustration, I shut down my laptop and went to bed with five books…I’m a promiscuous reader! 

Laying there in the company of real books, that I could feel, smell and move around wherever I wanted them, I enjoyed the sensuality of the experience.

I’m dedicated to self-publishing eBooks this summer, with POD to follow if readers ask for it, but as an activity it feels as sexy as scrubbing bathroom grouting clean!

For the reader, Kindles and other eBook reading devices have advantages, such as anonymity and being able to store many titles, but they’re not alluring or likely to encourage conversation. These are paranoid times, with mass surveillance of the population, meaning we seek ways to preserve whatever privacy we can—including stealth reading.

What do you think?

A Clever Way of Encouraging Reading

A post from the Word Lovers group appeared on my Facebook feed this morning, directing me to a story which impressed me.

High school English teacher Ryan Buck deserves praise and the $2,000 grant he received from the Book Love foundation to purchase books for his classroom library.


Graphic Novels

I’m currently reading Pride of Baghdad, written by Brian K Vaughan and with artwork by Niko Henrichon. It’s a thought-provoking story about freedom and oppression, using the device of having a pride of lions escape from Baghdad Zoo during an American bombing raid. Inspired by a true story, it’s received lavish praise which it thoroughly deserves.

Image result for Niko Henrichon lions

Initially, I discounted graphic novels as being glorified comics. Then, I noticed that the film The Road to Perdition, starring Tom Hanks, was based on a graphic novel. I enjoyed reading it and saw how the moody, gloomy artwork inspired the noir look of the movie. This made sense, as film-makers have long used storyboards to lay out the plot in a visual form.

Image result for The Road to Perdition,  graphic novel

I’ve gone on to read many more graphic novels. I tend to avoid superheroes in lurex bodysuits, though the Brian K Vaughan’s anarchic Runaways gang are fun—imagine having supervillains for parents, who neglected you and whose evil plans you tried to thwart.

Instead, I look for graphic novels telling tales of real life. Will Eisner, Harvey Pekar, Alison Bechdel, Robert Crumb, his wife Aline Kominsky-Crumb and Daniel Clowes all have something to say about the human condition.

Harvey Pekar

In the fantasy genre, I loved Krampus: The Yule Lordby Bromwhich admittedly is more prose than pictures, but the artwork is astonishing and who could resist a story where Father Christmas is the villain?

Image result for Krampus: The Yule Lord, by Brom,

I’ve just requested The Arab of the Future by Riad Satouff from my local library, which might help explain the political turmoil of the Arab world to me better than any news report. Graphic novels can be effective in tackling politics, as the stunning Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, showed about Iran during the Islamic revolution.

Image result for Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi,

Literary classics have been turned into graphic novels too: I recently read Poe’s short story The Fall of the House of Usher and I liked the graphic novel version of Jane Eyre.

Do any of you read graphic novels?

Any suggestions of what to read next?

Cult Authors

The most common use of the word ‘cult’ is a dodgy religion, one which involves brainwashing and that excludes the world through secrecy.

Areas of the arts, particularly film, music and writing are breeding grounds for cults, with enthusiastic followers knowing about work which is largely obscure to the masses. Being labelled a cult author could be seen as a comment on how commercial you are, though there are successful writers who have cult books.

By the qualifier of sales alone, most cult authors write in a literary way. There are some, such as Haruki Murakami who prosper, and whose readers could be labelled a ‘tribe’ or ‘nation’. Even deceased writers, such as Charles Bukowski, still have healthy sales while remaining an acquired taste. 

Image result for book wind up bird chronicle

Some authors who wrote a book that once had a cult following, have achieved recognition from masses of readers. The best-known recent example is Stoner by John Williams. John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces is the perfect example of a book that took years to be published, then won adulation for its deceased author, before becoming a novel read by only a few.

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Then, there are the less well-known novelists, who none the less have enthusiastic readers who hunt out-of-print titles and wait for the latest release.

Some of my favourites are Richard Brautigan, Mick Jackson, Brady Udall, Charles Lambert, Justin Cartwright, Tim Gautreaux and Donald Harington.

Image result for book mick jackson

If you’re looking for a laugh with richly-imagined situational comedy, seek out Brady Udall‘s Mormon novels or Donald Harington‘s Ozark Mountains sagas. Richard Brautigan’s style is unique and his stories can be funny, sinister and moving in their emotional intensity.

Image result for books Donald Harington

Mick Jackson, Charles Lambert and Justin Cartwright are British novelists, whose fluid writing style is a joy to read, yet they’re largely overlooked in favour of hacks who’ve got lucky with a bestseller.

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Tim Gautreaux is a poet, short story writer and novelist, and his novel The Clearing is one of my favourites.

Image result for book The Clearing gautreaux

Do you follow any cult authors?

What hidden literary gems do you know about?

Frequent readers make the best lovers

Proof, if proof were needed, that readers are sexier and more intelligent than the average person comes from the reports mentioned in this article:

Frequent readers make the best lovers, say dating-app users

This can only mean that writers are stupendously attractive and brainy!

I certainly agree that readers make better lovers—it helps me, for sure—all I’ve got to do now is find someone to be there when it happens! 

Reading in Bed

For as long as I can remember, I’ve read in bed before going to sleep.

I read in other places, of course, including on the ‘throne’! I’ve known several people who had bookshelves in their bathrooms, so they plainly expected you to be gone for some time and to come out from your ablutions more intelligent than when you entered.

Reading at work was easy when I was a librarian and a teacher, as it’s expected, but I once had a dreadful job on a production line in a factory that made artificial cream. I was second in the process, standing on a raised platform 12′ high, manning a stainless steel bath which tilted in a cradle operated by a large lever. Huge pipes supplied me with liquid ingredients, pumped from silos large enough to contain a bus. I filled the bath with the correct proportions of ingredients—lecithin, milk powder, gelatine, sweetener and vegetable oil, stirring it with a giant wooden spoon to prevent clogging, before tipping the mixture into another pipe which descended to filters and blending mechanisms. These pipes decreased in size until they entered the packing room, where the jollop was poured into pots to be sealed with foil lids. I was up there with nothing do for twenty minutes, in between batches, so took to reading a paperback—until the floor manager saw me. I was banned from reading…worker ants aren’t meant to use their brains.

Incidentally, the single and double ‘cream’ we made had an extra ingredient for a couple of weeks, as a lazy operative failed to clean one of the filters, which was awkward to dismantle. He went on holiday, and his replacement discovered a dead and rather rotten rat in the filter! They didn’t issue a recall for the thousands of pots of cream affected.

Laying in bed with books for companions is relaxing. I’ve lived alone for a while, but have read to wives and lovers, and occasionally been read to. There’s something that’s charmingly soothing about being told a story, like regressing to childhood.

Image result for couple reading in bed painting

I’m not sure that I could easily get to sleep, without reading first. I like to ring the changes, so have four books on the go at the moment—a novel, a poetry collection, a lovely art book by David Trigg called Reading Art: Art For Book Lovers and a popular psychology book. About 90 minutes of reading sees me nodding off, and after turning the darkness on, I send a wish to my self-conscious about my WIP before descending into sleep.

Image result for Reading Art: Art For Book Lovers

Reading in bed is a great pleasure and one that I enjoy without disturbing anyone, being a solitary soul. In the past, I’ve read to various wives and lovers at bedtime—and even been read to a few times—happy times.

Nonetheless, an inconsiderate partner who reads for hours, bedside table light blazing, can be a pain. Legendary Hollywood actress Jean Harlow supposedly divorced her third husband because he read in bed, as mentioned in this article:

Reading in bed is valid grounds for divorce

A discreet clip-on book light helps to keep the peace.

Do you read in bed?

To yourself, a partner or a child?

Do you have a clip-on book light?

Or, do you read from an ebook reader?

Or, an audiobook?

Do you ever dream about what you read?

What are you reading at the moment?

Reading In Bed by Mernet Larsen

Meeting your Favourite Author

I came across this quote recently, from J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye:

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.” 
J.D. SalingerThe Catcher in the Rye

It made me think of a contradictory epigram, from Arthur Koestler:

To want to meet an author because you like his books is as ridiculous as wanting to meet the goose because you like pate de foie gras.”—Arthur Koestler

All the same, it made me wonder which of my favourite authors I’d like to have a friendly chat with—for the purposes of this flight of fancy, I’ve allowed time-travel to include deceased writers. In no particular order, my wish list includes:

Guy de Maupassant, Richard Brautigan, Michael Connelly, John Connolly, Dennis Lehane, Barbara Kingsolver, Alice Hoffmann, J B Priestley, James Lee Burke and John Steinbeck.

Who would you like to talk to?

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The Good, the Bad and the Meh!

I was thinking about which authors I love, that I wish were more widely read, after finishing a novel by John Williams. He’s been acclaimed in recent years, finally receiving recognition for his wonderful story Stoner.

Set in academia, the plot sounds slight, concerning the career of an English professor and his dutiful ways and thwarted love life, but the writing is powerful and memorable. 

John Williams only wrote two volumes of poetry and four novels, which were all different in subject matter. I recently enjoyed Butcher’s Crossing. This would probably be classified as a Western, and shelved in that genre in a bookshop, owing to its 19th-century setting, but it’s writing of the highest order. There are no gunfights, but plenty of gore; it reminded me of Moby Dick in the way it portrayed a man’s obsession and flawed relationship with Nature. John Williams is definitely one of The Good.

Image result for john williams butcher's crossing

Bad writers are legion, and, unfortunately, they often prosper. I’ve pilloried Jeffrey Archer before on this blog, so won’t go into a rant. Sufficient to say, the man is a scoundrel and horse-whipping is too good for him. For those of you not familiar with his loathsome career:

Jeffrey Archer – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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He writes with the skill of an illiterate ten-year-old, yet his novels have sold millions. It goes to prove that it’s not what you can do, but who you know that counts when seeking recognition. His contacts in the business world helped to launch his career, saving him from bankruptcy.

As for The Meh, writers who are lauded but who leave me cold, there are quite a few. Sadly, they often write what is known as ‘Literature’. By that I mean, more than anything, they are taken seriously by critics, win awards, appear at literary festivals as the main attraction and their opinions are sought on global affairs. They’re admired for their intellectualism, but their ability to tell a story leaves me going ‘huh?’

Something tells me, that Jonathan FranzenPaul Auster and Douglas Coupland would have a hard job telling a decent joke, and I’m not sure I’d want to be seated next to them at a dinner party.

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Who do you love, hate and feel apathy for? 

(I just had a thought—perhaps one’s reading tastes would make a perfect predictor of compatibility in a romantic relationship!)