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Literary Glance: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

Despite the stigma of being a fantasy novel/series, A Game of Thrones has been a bestseller for a long time.  Maybe stigma isn’t the right word anymore. Nowadays it can be cool to read fantasy.  You can dress up in a costume as a fantasy character and go out in public, and everybody will want to take their pictures with you.

Back when I was a kid, if you dressed up as a fantasy character and went out in public, you’d get beat up.  I almost wish that I was a kid today just so I could dress up as Jon Snow or a White Walker and go to a comic book convention and be cool, but I’ve gotten too old for all that.  At my age, I’d have to go as George R.R. Martin, with a costume of a baseball cap, goggle glasses, a fake grizzly beard, frumpy clothes, carrying a blank-paged book with a Winds of Winter cover.  That’s probably all I could get away with.

Despite its current social acceptance, there are a lot of reasons why some people hate reading fantasy.  If you’re not familiar with a world, it can be tough to visualize.  The rules of magic can be inconsistent.  Fantasy languages can be boring.  Some authors spend so much time on describing new creatures and new settings that there’s no characterization.

What makes A Game of Thrones so different from other fantasy novels?  Instead of just asking somebody who’s read it, I decided to start it myself.  I’m not ready to read the whole thing yet, but I read a couple chapters anyway.  Here is a short excerpt that demonstrates why Game of Thrones would appeal to readers who don’t normally appreciate fantasy:

Ser Waymar Royce was the youngest son of an ancient house with too many heirs.  He was a handsome youth of eighteen, grey-eyed and graceful and slender as a knife.  Mounted on his huge black destrier, the knight towered above Will and Gared on their smaller garrons.  He wore black leather boots, black woolen pants, black moleskin gloves, and a fine supple coat of gleaming black ringmail over layers of black wool and boiled leather.  Ser Waymar had been a Sworn Brother of the Night’s Watch for less than half a year, but no one could say he had not prepared for his vocation.  At least insofar as his wardrobe was concerned.

His cloak was his crowning glory; sable, thick and black and soft as sin.  “Bet he killed them all himself, he did,” Gared told the barracks over wine, “twisted their little heads off, our mighty warrior.”  They had all shared the laugh.

It is hard to take orders from a man you laughed at in your cups, Will reflected as he sat shivering atop his garron.  Gared must have felt the same.

Even though this is fantasy, the description in this excerpt wasn’t overwhelming.  Just about anybody can relate to the fashion, the all black, and the contempt others feel for a guy who is trying too hard.  The writing is grounded in enough reality to make a non-fantasy reader forget that this is a fantasy.  Even if you’re not into dragons, magic, and frozen zombies, you can get into the petty squabbling of a bunch of humans unaware of what’s about to happen to them.  It’s a cool idea for a story.

I’ve heard that later in the series, the pace slows down, and too many descriptions and minor characters bog the story down.  Even if that’s true, the writing quality supposedly doesn’t go down until the fourth book, and that means tons of people are finishing three books in a fantasy series.  That’s a heck of an accomplishment.

A lot of readers are eager for the final two novels in the series, and maybe George RR Martin will finish them sometime.  I hope he finishes the next one soon.  It would be better to walk around a comic convention with a real Winds of Winter novel than a fake one.

6 Reasons To Read A Book More Than Once

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been rereading a lot of books, and my daughters think it’s kind of strange.  They claim they don’t understand why I’d read something a second or third time.  I laughed at them because they rewatch movies, television shows, and YouTube videos all the time.

Dysfunctional Literacy

Nick Charles with Asta instead of his wife Nora It’s no mystery why it’s a good idea to read some books more than once.

First of all, you don’t need a reason to read a book more than once.  When I was a kid, reading a book was the only form of entertainment you could do twice.  You could go to see a movie once in the theater, and the next weekend it would be gone forever, replaced by another movie.  If you missed a television show, you waited six months for a rerun, and then that show was most likely gone forever.  There was no cable, no internet, no tablets.  But books?  If you liked a book, you could read it as many times as you wanted.  Sometimes we read a book more than once simply because we could.

But in these modern times, there are other reasons to read a book more than once.  Even with so…

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Writer’s Group Horror Story: The Book Store

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I should have seen the warning signs before I gave this writer’s group a try.  First of all, the meeting was held in public, at the back of a book store.  Over 30 people were crammed around a couple tables to read their manuscripts and get feedback.  Writers weren’t even supposed to make copies.  We had to read our words in front of the entire group and then get instant reaction.  To me, that was a lousy way to run a writer’s group, but I was desperate.

This was in the early 1990s, and I was trying to get a novel published.  I had a humorous mystery about a fake psychic who got coerced into hunting a serial killer, and it was tough back then to get honest feedback for your writing.  You can read Writer’s Group Horror Story: The Vulgar Guy  for more background information.

Anyway, about an hour into the meeting, a guy my age (early 20s) started reading a graphic sex scene that he had written.

And the guy didn’t use metaphors to disguise what he was talking about.  He used the bluntest of four-letter words, and he shouted them angrily as his male character called his female partner a bunch of dirty names.  And he spat out the words to this blunt scene with an intense fury.

And he was doing this in public, in a book store, next to the children’s section.

It was a little awkward listening to this guy read the sex scene really loud in public.  I could feel myself blushing (and I was a 25 year-old guy), and I stared at the table, and the immature part of me wanted to laugh, but if I had started I wouldn’t have been able to stop.  Whenever I glanced up, I saw other writers at the table making eye contact with each other and looking around.  Customers moved around us like we were diseased.   Kids peeked from behind shelves and mothers pulled them away.  I thought about leaving, but you don’t get up during a writer’s group reading.  That would be rude.

Looking back, maybe I should have intervened and told the guy to stop because there were kids around, but I was a rule follower.  Our writer’s group procedures stated to not interrupt while somebody was reading.  It was my first time in this writer’s group, and I didn’t want to be the new guy who thinks he’s better than everybody else and then breaks established rules.  To some writers, breaking writer’s group protocol would be worse than reading a graphic sex scene next to the kids section.

If this had happened today, somebody would have taken cell phone footage.  I would have been paranoid that we were on one of those shows where they put unwitting fools into awkward situations.  I would have thought this was staged for a prank video.  But that kind of stuff wasn’t done very often back then.

The five-minute sex reading felt like an hour, and when the guy finished, a silence lingered over the group.  Edgar Allen Poe might have called it stone dead silence.

We were supposed to provide feedback, but nobody said anything.  I had a few questions.  How could a writer be so lacking in self-awareness?  How could a writer read a sex scene out loud without shame while there were kids around?  How was any other writer going to top that performance?

Nobody offered any critiques.  I actually wanted to say something supportive to the guy.  When you get silent feedback, you know you sucked, and he started fidgeting, probably realizing that his writing wasn’t as good as he thought it was.  That’s a lousy feeling.  I’m an expert on that feeling.  I was inwardly cringing for the guy, but I couldn’t think of any positive reaction to a vulgar misogynist piece.

Somebody else finally volunteered to read, and that was it.  I don’t remember much else.  I just remember keeping my head down and hoping nobody I knew (especially from work) had seen me there.

After the meeting, everybody stood around and mingled.  Even a quiet guy like me talked.  I mentioned my fake psychic idea to a couple other writers, and they pretended to be interested, and they told me about their story ideas as well.

I noticed that a lot of people wanted to talk to the vulgar guy.  It was like he was a rock star.  I thought he would have been shunned, but I had completely misread the situation.  He even got phone numbers from a couple women.  Back then, we didn’t have cell phones, and you actually had to write down information, so you could always tell when people were exchanging phone numbers.  Ha, I thought, those women probably thought they could save vulgar guy.  Or maybe they were into that kind of thing.

I stayed a few minutes longer to buy a couple books.  I figured if the book store was nice enough to let us interrupt their business, we should at least buy some stuff.  And then I realized I was the only one from our group buying anything.  After a few minutes, everybody had left, and the store was almost empty.  Even worse, nobody had cleaned up.  The writing group area was still messed up, with coffee cups littering the tables and chairs scattered everywhere.

I was mortified.  I had cleaned up after myself, but I was the only one.  I felt bad for the book store.  They had thought they were getting over 30 automatic customers on a weeknight and instead they got a bunch of misfits who scared off families with vulgarity and then didn’t even buy anything.  That was worse than not leaving a tip.

I started folding up the chairs and asked an employee about where to stack them, and she said they’d take care of it.  I almost apologized for the vulgar guy, but since I hadn’t done anything to stop him when he was reading, I didn’t mention it.  The apology would have seemed empty.  I found a couple more books and bought them.  I couldn’t make up for 30 other thoughtless writers, but I could do my part.

The writer’s group never met again.  At least, I never heard about it.  When I contacted the group leader a few days later, he said the book store wouldn’t let us back in and that he was trying to find a new location.  I never heard back.  I guess word got out about the vulgar cheapskate writer’s group.

A few years later, the book store closed down.  A few years after that, the plaza was vacant.  A few years ago, the condos and town homes went up.  I wonder how much the writer’s group caused the domino effect.

As bad as that was (especially for the book store), it wasn’t even the worst writer’s group experience I’ve ever had.

*****

It’s tough being polite in a rude world, but it’s not impossible.  The first step is reading  Crap Is NOT a Bad Word!: and Other Topics Polite People Don’t Discuss.

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!

Now available on Amazon!

Is Ass a Bad Word?

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Ass is often thought of as a bad word, but maybe it shouldn’t be.  It has only three letters, while most bad words (like the s-word and the f-word and the d-word) have four.  Plus, the word ass has two main definitions, while most bad words have only one general meaning.

When I was a kid, I thought I could get away with saying the word ass in front of my mom because everybody knew it meant donkey.  But I got my mouth washed out with soap anyway.  I didn’t think that was fair.  Was my mom a mind reader?  How could she tell if I meant buttocks or donkey when I said the word ass?

I knew that ass could mean donkey and that it could also mean buttocks (those were the words the dictionaries used in their definitions), but I could never see the connection between buttocks and donkey.  I mean, I didn’t lose any sleep over it, but I gave it some thought.

It’s not unusual in English for a word to have multiple meanings. It’s unusual for a word in English NOT to.  But very few vulgar words in English have non-vulgar multiple meanings.  So how did this happen?  After a little research from a couple dictionaries, I discovered that the multiple meanings came from multiple original languages.

For example, the donkey version of ass comes from Latin asinus which means an African mammal, the ancestor of the donkey.  The Old English version is assa, and the old Irish version is asan.  The first known use of ass is before the 12th century.

The buttocks version of ass comes from the German and Old Norse word ars which meant buttocksArse is a cool word, so cool that Middle English adapted it (ars), and somewhere along the way, arse became assArse is way cooler than ass, but I probably would have gotten in trouble for saying it.

Back when I was a kid, I swore (in a non-profane way) that I saw an old Bugs Bunny cartoon that used the word jackass, but my parents didn’t believe me.  How could ass be a bad word if jack-ass was in a Bugs Bunny cartoon?  I thought my logic was infallible (Infallible wasn’t part of my vocabulary back then), except we couldn’t record TV programming back then and that cartoon never came back on again.  At moments like that, I felt like the world was against me.

Just so you know, that cartoon exists.  I found a portion of it on YouTube, so I feel vindicated.  I recently bragged to my mom that the Bugs Bunny cartoon with the word jack-ass wasn’t my imagination and it wasn’t a lie, but she didn’t know what I was talking about.  Getting punished for saying the word ass leaves more of an impression on a kid than it does a parent.

I’m still not sure that ass should be a bad word.  If anything, butt should be a bad word because it has four letters and its only meaning is rear end.  It has no alternative definitions to give a wise-ass kid coverage.  If you call somebody a butt-face, everybody knows what you mean.  There is no ambiguity.

I’m a believer in context, but not everybody else is.  If you’re worried about getting punished for saying ass, don’t do it.  If you must say something like ass, say arse and pretend you’re a pirate.  You can get away with almost anything if you’re pretending to be a pirate.

*****

What do you think?  Should ass be considered a bad word?  Have you ever been punished for saying the word ass?

*****

When it comes to bad words, ass is just the beginning.  I got punished for saying a lot of other stuff when I was a kid.

It ticked me off so much that I wrote this ebook, Crap Is NOT a Bad Word!

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!

Now available on Amazon!

Literary Glance: Murder Games by James Patterson

Nobody takes fictional serial killers seriously anymore.  At least, some authors don’t.  Take Murder Games by James Patterson and Howard Roughan as an example.  It starts off with a prologue from an alleged serial killer’s point-of-view:

So you want to be a serial killer…

Sure you can go around just shooting people, bang-bang, but I’ve found that guns, while sometimes the right tool for the job, often leave me unsatisfied.

“Bang bang?”  How can I take a serial killer seriously when he says “bang bang” in his introduction?  Maybe this guy really isn’t a serial killer and is instead just showing off for the reader.  The narrator of this scene might be unreliable, and I wouldn’t know until the end of the book.  But as an introduction, I can’t take this serial killer seriously.

To be clear, I got tired of serial killers back in the mid-1990s.  In he early 1990s, serial killers were fresh.  Silence of the Lambs was a best-selling novel before it became a cinema blockbuster.  After that, a bunch of serial killer novels came out, and the whole thing got old for me.  Then vampires came along, and serial killers got taken down a peg or two.  Now it’s zombies.

Anyway, serial killers still seem stale to me.  Maybe they’re new again and I’m too out of it to know.  It doesn’t matter because this serial killer in Murder Games has a lousy nickname:

But lately people have taken to calling me The Dealer, which I happen to like, so I’ve taken to it as well.  There’s a nice ring to it.  The Dealer.  Clean.  Authoritative.  Quite proprietary, too, given my methods.  I’d trademark it too, if I could.

I mean, the best serial killers, the ones whom people tend to remember, always have manage to have a good moniker, the kind that seems to suit them perfectly.  Otherwise, what’s the point?

The Dealer.  If that’s not the worst serial killer name ever, it has to be close.   Jack the Ripper, now that was a serial killer name.  Then there’s the Boston Strangler.  Even Hannibal Lechter is a cool name.  But now we’ve resorted to some loser called The Dealer.

The Dealer is definitely not a first-string serial killer, and here’s why.  A ripper rips his victims.  A strangler strangles his victims.  But what does a dealer do?  He gives out cards.  Or he hangs out on a corner looking for customers.

The Dealer sounds like a third-rate super villain in a fill-in issue when the regular comic book artist/writer gets sick.  It’s the loser of a villain Spider-Man beats up in that issue when he’s lost his powers but fights crime anyway.

The worst part is that The Dealer is satisfied with his name.  No self-respecting serial killer would appreciate that name.  Yes, he’s called The Dealer because he leaves a playing card on his victims, but another serial killer has already used the card trick.  That serial killer was named… the Joker.

The Joker is a much cooler serial killer name than the Dealer.  You have to take the Joker seriously because you see the irony in the name.  But the Dealer?  That just gives serial killers a lame reputation.

When I was in high school, we had a gang called The Vipers, and everybody was afraid of them until they graffitied a bunch of stuff as the Vippers.  (“The Vippers wuz here!”  “The Vippers kick ass.”)  Once the school started calling The Vipers The Vippers, their reputation was done.  Even the nerds laughed at The Vippers.  Even when the nerds were getting beat up by The Vipers, they laughed at The Vippers.

Don’t get me wrong, this was a 1970s gang in a town filled with pale guys who had necks of red.  Our gangs didn’t kill people.  But being called The Vippers almost drove them to murder.  Instead, I think they all dropped out and got jobs.

You know serial killers are overdone in fiction when a name like The Dealer is considered acceptable.

Of course, I haven’t read the whole book.  Maybe The Dealer really is a crappy inept serial killer who deserves having a crappy name.  If that’s the case, then the joke is on me.

But either way, I almost feel sorry for fictional serial killers.  Nobody takes them seriously anymore.

*****

What do you think?  Are fictional serial killers stale yet?  Is The Dealer a cool name for a serial killer?  Long live the Vippers!!!

Writer’s Block vs. Reader’s Block

Last week, I mentioned reader’s block to some colleagues. When they looked at me puzzled, I remembered, oh yeah, not everybody knows what reader’s block is.

Dysfunctional Literacy

The author completely lost his train of thought as soon as he put his manuscript on the writer's block. (image via wikimedia) The author completely lost his train of thought as soon as he put his manuscript on the writer’s block. (image via wikimedia)

Most people don’t understand how frustrating reader’s block and writer’s block can be.  When I have reader’s block, I can waste an entire day wandering down aisles of book stores looking for something interesting to read. When I have writer’s block, I just stare like I’ve witnessed something traumatic.

A co-worker of mine doesn’t even believe that reader’s block exists.  He thinks it’s something that I made up.  In this day and age, I can’t believe I work with a reader’s block denier, but that’s the world we live in.  After he loudly proclaimed that reader’s block was all in my head (which kind of proved my point), he admitted that he doesn’t read books.  Typical denier, I thought.  Maybe it was my fault for trying to explain reader’s…

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Writer’s Group Horror Story: The Vulgar Guy

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25 years ago, if you wanted anybody to read your writing and give you a free honest critique, you had to join a writer’s group.  There were no blogs for writers to get feedback.  Literary agents rarely sent anything except a form rejection letter.  Publishers didn’t send anything back at all.  Family members always loved what you wrote (or pretended to).

It was tough finding a good writer’s group after I had graduated from college, and I had to suffer through a few disasters before I found the right fit.  This was before the internet, so I had to search through the ads of newspapers, looking for a writer putting a group together.  I went to book shows and writer’s conventions, trying to make connections.  I’m an introvert.  I was horrible at making connections.  I was always jealous of extrovert authors.  Authors who could talk without effort, they had it made.

Back then, if I had wanted to publish an independent book, I’d have to use my own money to make copies and sell them from the trunk of my car in parking lots.  I couldn’t just write an ebook like The Writing Prompt and put it up on the internet.

Now available on Amazon!

No, 25 years ago, if you were an aspiring author with no connections, you had to suffer through the writer’s group experience.

One of the first nightmare writer’s groups I tried met in the back of a book store.  I learned about it in the want ads of a local newspaper.  I lived in a major city at the time, and there were bookstores (and aspiring writers) all over the place.  This bookstore belonged to a franchise that no longer exists and the store took up way too much space in a plaza that also no longer exists.  The lot is for a condominium/townhome complex now.

The book store put us near the back (wise decision) close to the children’s book section (stupid decision).  We were meeting for the first time.  There were close to 30 of us sitting around rectangular fold out tables.  All of us had brought a manuscript, and volunteers had five minutes to read and then five minutes to listen to feedback.  That meant maybe nine or ten of us would get a chance to read.  That wasn’t bad because I hadn’t expected a large group and I was suddenly feeling shy about my work-in-progress.

The group leader was a middle-aged balding gentleman who explained the writing group procedures.  The meeting would last two hours.  Each volunteer would get five minutes to read and five minutes for feedback.  If a reader went over five minutes, the extra time would be deducted from the feedback time.  Listeners were asked not to leave during a reading.  We also agreed not to interrupt the reading.  All questions and clarifications would have to wait for the feedback and discussion time.

I hadn’t expected the group to be this large, and the routine was new to me.  Earlier groups that I had joined through university connections were around six people.  I thought maybe this writer’s mob could break up into four or five groups, but I was too quiet to interject and the group leader asked for volunteers to read.  I was new to this and figured the group leader would know what he is doing.  I’ve learned since then that hardly anybody knows what they’re doing.

It was about 7:00 on a weeknight.  The book store wasn’t crowded, but there were several customers lurking around, staring at this collection of misfit writers.  I won’t get into a person-by-person description of all the aspiring writers, but we had to have looked like a bunch of misfits.

The group leader chose volunteers, and everything went smoothly at first.  One woman wrote about a traumatic experience in 1st person, and we weren’t sure if it was a true story so that was uncomfortable.  Some writers had deep thoughts, and I wondered how my fictional piece about a fake psychic who got coerced into solving a murder to save his business would fit in.

I was so wrapped up in how others would respond to my dopey detective story excerpt that I had a tough time paying attention.  Even though I’m a good reader, I’m not the best listener.  My mind wanders, even when I’m paying attention.  I tried listening to other writers’ stories, but I didn’t pay attention enough to give good feedback.  I fake smiled a lot.  I didn’t really contribute to the discussions.  I was turning into a writer’s group failure.

We had been in the writer’s group session for about an hour when it happened, the moment of horror.  The writer was a young guy, younger than me with a full beard.  That’s all I remember, except for what he read.  I don’t remember the exact words.  We didn’t provide each other copies of each other’s material.  But I remember what his story was about.

It was a sex scene.

And it was graphic.

And the guy used blunt words.  He used the f-word, the a-word, the c-word (both of them), and the p-word (both of them).

And the male character talked dirty during the scene.

And the male character who talked dirty used vile language about his female partner.  He called her the b-word, the c-word, and probably a few others that I blocked out of my memory.

And the guy reading the vile sex scene yelled out his words.  He yelled out all the f-words, the c-words, and every p-word and c-word you can think of with a fiery passion.

And he was doing this in public, in a book store, next to the children’s section.

I knew this was going to get really uncomfortable.

To be continued!

Literary Glance: The Silent Corner by Dean Koontz

Dean Koontz has been writing books since I was a kid, and his latest bestseller is The Silent Corner.  A long time ago, I saw somebody describe Dean Koontz as “the poor man’s Stephen King.”  If I had been Dean Koontz, that would have ticked me off.  Even if it had been meant as a compliment, it still would have ticked me off.

Calling a writer a “poor man’s” version of another writer doesn’t make much sense because their books cost the same.  If you’re poor, you can afford to buy a Stephen King book just as much as you can afford a Dean Koontz book.  Stephen King might make more money from his writing than Dean Koontz does, but both of them make way more than the average writer, who makes almost nothing.  If Dean Koontz is a poor man’s Stephen King, I wouldn’t mind being a poor man’s Dean Koontz.

Both tend to write in the same genre, though neither really stick to one genre anymore.  From what I’ve read, both have interesting ideas and can move a story along, and both can somehow mangle a sentence in a minor way.  I’ve demonstrated this with several Stephen King books in the past, but today I’m focusing on Dean Koontz.

The Silent Corner has an interesting plot (but I usually don’t discuss plots in a Literary Glance), and the author moves slowly at the beginning, but not slowly enough to make it boring.  The chapters are relatively short, but not James Patterson short.  Here’s a sample of the deliberate pace near the beginning of Chapter 7:

While Gwyn took the finished muffins out of the oven and put the pan on the drainboard to cool, the ticking of the wall clock seemed to grow louder.  During the past month, timepieces of all kinds had periodically tormented Jane.  Now and then she thought she could hear her wristwatch ticking faintly; it became so aggravating that she took it off and put it away in the car’s glove box or, if she was in a motel, carried it across the room to bury it under the cushion of an armchair until she needed it.  If time was running out for her, she didn’t want to be insistently reminded of that fact.

That’s what I mean about moving the story at a deliberate pace.  There’s a little bit of movement or conversation, and then there’s description or some introspection.  Sometimes there’s a bit of wordiness that maybe an editor could clean up.

If time was running out for her, she didn’t want to be insistently reminded of that fact.

That could be:

If time was running out for her, she didn’t want to be insistently reminded of it.

Yeah, it’s just a couple words, but to me, using the word it instead of that fact makes the sentence smoother.

And later on in the chapter:

Staring into her coffee cup as though her future might be read in the patterns of reflected light made by the ceiling fixture, Jane said, “…

This was one of those sentences that I had to read twice, even before Jane got to her dialogue.  Maybe it would have been better as:

Staring deeply into the reflected light in her coffee cup, Jane said, “…

I’ve tried staring at reflections in my coffee cup made from ceiling fixtures, and I get nothing.  Every time.  The least productive time in any given day is when I try to stare into the reflections made in my coffee cup.  Most of the time, I can’t even see a reflection.  Maybe I’m making my coffee too dark.

Or maybe there’s something wrong with me.  Maybe I’m the only person who can’t see a reflection in my coffee cup.  Even if I could, I wouldn’t try to read my future in it.  I’ve heard of reading the future from the lines in the palm of my hand, but I’ve never heard of reading them from the reflections in my coffee cup.  But now I’m thinking too much about staring at reflections in my coffee cup.

I’m going to buy a thermos.

*****

What do you think?  Is Dean Koontz anything like Stephen King?  Have you ever stared at the reflection in your coffee cup?  If you have, what did you see?

Literary Glance: The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Man, I hope my wife reads this novel!

The book is The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, and the opening scene is in London.   This is important because my wife wants to go to London for vacation, but I don’t.  I have nothing against London.  It’s just that we live in the United States so a London vacation would be really, really expensive, and I’m trying to keep costs down.  A London vacation would be better in a few years after our two daughters have moved out and it would just be for two of us, not four.

Plus, my wife prefers bright, sunny locations, beaches with an occasional mountain just for the fun of it.  I’m not sure London fits that.  London has many fine qualities, but it’s not known for sunny beaches.  I could be wrong.  Maybe I’ve been misled.  And this description from Chapter 1 seems to support my view:

One o’clock on a dreary day and the time ball dropped at the Greenwich Observatory.  There was ice on the prime meridian, and ice on the rigging of the broad-beamed barges down on the busy Thames.  Skippers marked the time and tide, and set their oxblood sails against the northeast wind; a freight of iron was bound for Whitechapel foundry, where bells tolled fifty against the anvil as if time was running out.  Time was being served behind the walls of Newgate jail, and wasted by philosophers in cafes on the Strand; it was lost by those who wished the past present.  Oranges and lemons rang the chimes of St. Clements, and Westminster’s division bell was dumb.

Dreary?  Ice?  Barges on the river?  My family can see all that where we live for free.  Maybe not the ice, at least not right now.  But my wife definitely doesn’t want to pay a lot of money to see dreary stuff.  Maybe London is dreary only on a bad day, but it isn’t known for being sunny and bright.  So if reading this book keeps my wife from planning a London vacation, I’m all for it.

If the previous paragraph doesn’t dissuade her, there’s more:

At Euston Square and Paddington the Underground stations received their passengers, who poured in like so much raw material going down to be milled and processed and turned out of molds.  In a circle Line Carriage, westbound, fitful lights showed The Times had nothing happy to report, and in the aisle a bag spilled damaged fruit.  There was the scent of rain on raincoats, and among the passengers, sunk in his upturned collar, Dr. Luke Garrett was reciting the parts of the human heart.

As much as I appreciate the author’s skill, this probably doesn’t belong in a travel brochure.  Which is why my wife should read this book.

Plus, my wife might actually enjoy The Essex Serpent, and that is important because I should take my wife’s feelings into consideration.  This book seems to have a sympathetic female character, and my wife likes stories with sympathetic female characters.  She watches a lot of television and movies about sympathetic female characters, so she’d probably like this.  She’d rather read about sympathetic female characters than antiheroes who act like jerks when they’re not saving the world.

Also, The Essex Serpent has a cool cover.  That can’t be said about many books.  And the novel itself seems to be well-written, and that doesn’t always happen nowadays either.  Being well-written should be important for an award-winning novel, like The Essex Serpent.

The best part, though, is that my wife probably won’t want to go to London after reading this book.  She might want to go to Essex instead of London, though.  That would probably be too expensive for us too.  But at least I’d be able to read a good book about it along the way.

Reading Makes You Walk Funny

Some little kid that I didn’t know in a store today said that I walked funny. He was too young to know good manners and too young to know if an adult walks funny or not, so I didn’t tell him that his face looked funny too and he was stuck with it.

That wouldn’t have been polite of me. It had been a long time since I’d been told that I walked funny, and I hadn’t even been reading on my phone.

Dysfunctional Literacy

Don't read while you walk, or this could happen to you. Don’t read while you walk, or this could happen to you. (image via Wikimedia)

Even though I sometimes read in public, I rarely walk while I read. To me, it’s common sense.  The world is a dangerous place, and I could easily walk in front of a moving bus while I’m reading, or I could get conked on the head by a mugger.  I always knew reading and walking at the same time was a bad idea, but now I’ve discovered that it’s even worse than I originally thought.

According to a study reported in USA Today, people who read or text while walking don’t walk normally.  They develop a weird stride, almost like they’re drunk.  That explains why people who stare at their phones while walking (I call them phone tools when I’m feeling judgmental) run into stuff and fall down.  Even when they’re not falling down, they’re…

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