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Reading Makes You Live Longer… but is it worth it?

At the end of my annual physical, my doctor told me I probably need to make a couple lifestyle changes. She suggested that if I exercise more and eat more leafy greens, I could probably extend my life by a few years. I told her I didn’t need to do that because I read a lot of books.

For future reference, don’t tell your doctor that your health plan consists of reading all the time. Even if your doctor has a sense of humor, which is unlikely, you’ll get lectured about healthy lifestyle choices, such as exercise and a healthy diet. Reading a lot, despite some recent research, probably won’t be one of your doctor’s recommendations.

That’s okay. When it comes to medical advice, don’t listen to me; listen to your doctor.

Dysfunctional Literacy

Get up and live your life, you bookworm!! (image via wikimedia) Get up and live your life, you bookworm!! (image via wikimedia)

Everybody who enjoys reading knows there are a lot of benefits from it.  People can become more knowledgeable when they read.  People who read fiction have more empathy than people who don’t read.  Reading can also improve our critical thinking skills.  Now a study shows that reading makes us live longer too.

The study shows (supposedly) that people who read 3 ½  hours a week or more live at least two years longer than people who don’t.  There are a few more numbers in this study, but I don’t like numbers, even though I probably should like numbers because I like to read.  Then again, I don’t like to read math books, so it makes sense that I don’t like numbers.  Still, it seems like two years is the average extended lifespan for people who read books.

Wait a minute.

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Literary Glance: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is probably the first book I’ve ever read that makes a reference to Robotron, my favorite arcade video game from the 1980s.  In fact, Ready Player One makes references to a bunch of stuff from the 1980s.  The first couple chapters of Ready Player One have already made references to a bunch of 80s pop culture like, Oingo Boingo, Family Ties, John Hughes movies, and, of course… video games like Robotron.

As somebody who grew up in the 80s, I appreciate seeing all these references.  It’s part of what makes Ready Player One fun to read.

I could be biased.  Maybe I appreciate this book so much because I’ve finally discovered somebody who loves Robotron as much as I did.  Back when we’d play arcade games in the mall or at the pool hall, and everybody else was obsessed with crap like Frogger or Donkey Kong, I was wasting quarters on Robotron.  Nobody listened to me when I told them how awesome Robotron was.  Of course, I have a monotone voice, so my passion sounded forced, but it should have been obvious to them.  Here’s a perfect description of Robotron from Ready Player One:

I booted up my emulator and selected Robotron: 2084, one of my all-time favorite games.  I’d always loved its frenetic pace and brutal simplicity.  Robotron was all about instinct and reflexes.  Playing old videogames never failed to clear my mind and set me at ease.  If I was feeling or frustrated about my lot in life, all I had to do was tap the Player One button, and my worries would instantly slip away as my mind focused itself on the relentless pixelated onslaught on the screen in front of me.  There, inside the game’s two-dimensional universe, life was simple: It’s just you against the machine.  Move with your left hand, shoot with your right, and try to stay alive as long as possible.

I spent a few hours blasting through wave after wave of Brains, Spheroids, Quarks, and Hulks in my unending battle to Save the Last Human Family!  But eventually my fingers started to cramp up and I began to lose my rhythm.  When that happened at this level, things deteriorated quickly.  I burned through all of my extra lives in a matter of minutes, and my two least-favorite words appeared on the screen: GAME OVER.

I remember the Robotron wrist.  As a guy in high school, you couldn’t complain that your wrist hurt from playing Robotron because people would make fun of you, accusing you of hurting your hand doing something that had nothing to do with Robotron.

Ready Player One could be a lousy book and I wouldn’t recognize that simply because the narrator and I share a love for Robotron.  I bonded with this book, at least with a couple pages of it.  I understand that not everybody loves the 1980s.  To me, a little bit of Oingo Boingo goes a long way.  Family Ties was good for only a few seasons.  I liked only a couple of John Hughes’s movies.  But Robotron…. I could never get enough of Robotron.

Now that Ready Player One is being made into a movie, I’m not so sure that it will be successful.  Its strength as a book might be its weakness as a movie.  A few million people buying a book makes a book a blockbuster.  Only a few million people seeing a Spielberg movie would be a disaster, and I’m not sure that a movie based on so much 80s culture and video games will be that appealing.  I like the 1980s, and I like what I’ve read so far of Ready Player One, but I’m not sure I want to see it as a Spielberg movie.

Then again, maybe Robotron will be in the movie.  I’ve always wanted to see Robotron in a movie.  It might be worth it to see Ready Player One just to see Robotron in a movie.  Sigh!  I miss Robotron.

University Library: Ted Tinkle’s Girlfriend

(image via wikimedia)

I don’t remember the last names of the guys who lived on my dorm floor at the State University.  I remember my roommate Kirk, and I think of guys like Eric and Tim and Shane, but the most memorable guy was named Ted Tinkle.  Everybody liked saying Ted Tinkle.  We weren’t making fun of him when we said his last name.  We just liked the way his full name sounded, and it fit his personality.

Ted Tinkle wasn’t dumb, but he was a little scatterbrained sometimes.  He would occasionally show up to classes on the wrong day.  One professor would shake his head whenever he saw Ted Tinkle and mutter “Ted Tinkle, Ted Tinkle.”  Ted Tinkle sometimes called his friends the wrong name.  It took him at least a month to call me Jimmy instead of Johnny.  I was willing to let it go, but my roommate Kirk usually corrected him for me.  Ted Tinkle always looked shocked that he had gotten my name wrong and would apologize afterward.

I was jealous of Ted Tinkle because he had a cool girlfriend.  She was cute, and I was the only friend of his that she’d talk to a lot.  She knew about comic books and science fiction, and she understood all the nerd references I made.  Ted was a good-looking good-natured jock, not talented enough to get any athletic scholarships but good enough to be a stud in the intramural leagues.  Ted Tinkle’s girlfriend would hang out with me while he was participating in his league games, and he didn’t care.  He knew I wasn’t going to hit on his girlfriend.

His girlfriend’s name was Paula, but I don’t remember her last name.  You’d think I’d remember her last name, especially since I remember her boyfriend’s name, but it’s been over 30 years.

Paula always wore jean skirts.  It was the mid-1980s, and it didn’t matter what the weather was, she always wore jean skirts.  Back then, I was a sucker for jean skirts.  A couple guys once mentioned (when Ted Tinkle wasn’t around) that Paula seemed to always have a jean skirt on, and they meant it as criticism, but I didn’t care.  I was a fan.

Paula and I occasionally ate breakfast together in the dorm cafeteria because we were two of the few early risers in our dorm.  Every once in a while, it felt like Paula was my girlfriend, but I had to be careful with something like that.  Looking back, she must have known that I had a thing for her, so what she did kind of ticks me off now.  But it was 30 years ago, and I have to let this stuff go.

One morning we were eating breakfast, and out of nowhere Paula asked, “Do you have a girlfriend?”

A bunch of ideas staggered through my head.  Was Paula breaking up with Ted Tinkle?   If she was breaking up with Ted Tinkle, how long would I have to wait before I made my move on his ex-girlfriend?  Would he get pissed off I went out with his ex-girlfriend?  I mean, Paula was awesome and would be worth it, but this kind of thing could be really awkward.  Then I remembered that I had to answer the question.

“Not right now,” I said.

Not right now, what a dumb answer, I thought.  I should have just said no.  Sometimes when I write about my past, I get mad at myself for the stupid stuff I did and said.  “Not right now” was pretty stupid, but this is just the beginning of what happened at the University Library later that semester

Anyway, I was trying to play it cool because I thought Paula was about to tell me something about her relationship with Ted Tinkle, and whatever it was, I was going to act like it wasn’t a big deal to me.  I couldn’t act like I was excited they were going to break up.  I had to be neutral but sympathetic.  Since I was a guy with a monotone voice, I could do neutral, but I had to be careful with sympathetic.

Paula took a breath and asked, “What do you think about Brenda?”

Brenda?

Damn.

What a lousy thing to do to a guy, I thought.  Paula could have led off with the question about Brenda instead of getting my hopes up and then crushing them.  A woman should never ask a guy if he has a girlfriend, not unless she’s interested in him.  Back then, I didn’t think Paula knew what she was doing, but I’ve changed my mind.  That has to be a high or an adrenaline rush for a woman, dangling availability in front of a guy and then snatching it back.

Paula explained how she and Brenda, the girl who had talked to me at the University Library, lived on the same floor.  Brenda thought very highly of me, she said.  She mentioned that Brenda always talked about our conversation at the University Library. Brenda was available, Paula said.  That was it.  Brenda was available.  I didn’t really care for Brenda too much, though.

Even worse, I realized Ted Tinkle’s girlfriend was a meddler.  I knew meddlers could be trouble, but I didn’t know how bad this was going to get.  Suddenly, I didn’t like Ted Tinkle’s girlfriend anymore.  It’s funny how quickly things like that can change.

*****

To be continued.

And you can start at the beginning with University Library: State School .

5 Lessons Learned from Watching ‘Game of Thrones’

When it comes to Game of Thrones, it’s tough to avoid spoilers. Hackers have released scripts and scenes from upcoming episodes. YouTubers have put up videos of those scenes without spoiler alerts before the episode was even broadcast. Fans have talked about spoilers on message boarders without warning anyone. I’ve learned this year that if you want to avoid spoilers about Game of Thrones, you have to avoid Game of Thrones until you’re ready to watch it.

But you’re safe with me. Here are some lessons I’ve learned from watching Game of Thrones (spoiler-free past Season 6).

Dysfunctional Literacy

Lesson #1- Do NOT sit on that throne. Lesson #1- Do NOT sit on that throne.

Out of all the reasons to watch Game of Thrones (violence, nudity, ripped-from-history storylines), learning life lessons isn’t one of them.  Nobody watches Game of Thrones for morality lessons.  If they do, they’re probably disappointed.

Sympathetic characters get killed in horrible ways, and villains seem to thrive.  That’s a horrible morality lesson.  But if you don’t watch with a good vs. evil perspective, Game of Thrones can give you some practical advice about how to be successful (and avoid getting yourself killed)

All of the lessons below are taken from Game of Thrones quotes.  I’m not going to explain the context of the quotes (except for a couple) because that might potentially spoil the show for somebody who hasn’t watched it yet.  But even if you haven’t watched it, you can learn from these quotes.  Plus, if you use these quotes in…

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Bad Sentences in Classic Literature: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

My youngest daughter doesn’t understand why Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is such a big deal. She’s reading it now, and so far she thinks it’s overrated. I’ve told her that the whole Harry Potter thing was new to people 15-20 years ago, but my daughter has been surrounded by Harry Potter stuff (books and movies) her whole life. It seems stale because she was raised with it.

Even though Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was a landmark blockbuster, it still has its flaws. At the very least, it has a few “bad” sentences in it. But I’m not going to mention that to my daughter.

Dysfunctional Literacy

Even award-winning, record-breaking debut novels can have bad sentences. Even award-winning, record-breaking debut novels can have bad sentences.

Maybe Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone isn’t a classic novel yet, but it probably will be.  It’s been over 15 years since it was published, and people are still reading it.  Most books are forgotten months after they were published.  I’m betting the Harry Potter books will continue to be read for several generations, so I’ll go ahead and call it a classic now.  If I’m wrong, 50 years from now people can come back and mock me for it.

Whether it’s a classic or not, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has some bad sentences in it.  It’s easy for for me to spot bad sentences because I’ve written a lot of them in my time.  If my English teachers would have red-marked my paper for writing something similar, then it’s a bad sentence.  If my writing group peers…

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Literary Glance: Paradise Valley by C.J. Box

When I picked up Paradise Valley by C.J. Box, I didn’t realize it was a serial killer novel.  Seriously, from the cover, Paradise Valley doesn’t look like a serial killer novel.  Usually there’s a bloody weapon or a terrified woman on the cover of a serial killer novel, but the image here is almost peaceful.

It was my fault that I didn’t know Paradise Valley was a serial killer book.  I usually read the book jacket before I grab a book, but since this was a bestseller on the library’s New Arrivals shelf, I snatched it before an old lady next to me could get to it (I don’t mean old lady in a derogatory way.  It’s just her most noticeable characteristic.  To her, I’d probably be the bald guy, or the awkward guy, or that guy who looks like a serial killer).

Anyway, she gave me a dirty look when I picked it off the shelf, and I would have asked her if she was interested in it, but she had a cart.  Once a library book goes into a cart, it’s not coming out.

I saw several James Patterson books in that cart, so I knew the old lady was more concerned with quantity than quality.  The next time I go to the library, I’ll pretend to slide a copy of Finnegans Wake from the bestsellers shelf and suggest it to the old lady.  If she’s going to give me a dirty look anyway, I might as well give her a reason.

Looking back, I should have given her Paradise Valley.  I’m not saying it’s bad or anything.    It’s just a serial killer book.  I’ve read so many serial killer novels that most of them seem generic now.  At least in Paradise Valley, the detective already knows who the killer is and is trying to set a trap, so we didn’t get the typical shock and horror and piecing together of clues.  The reader doesn’t have to go through all that learning curve stuff again.

Amazon calls Paradise Valley Book 4 in the Highway Quartet, but some reviewers are calling it book 3 in a trilogy, so I’ll go with what Amazon says.  Either way, it’s not the first book in the series, but it didn’t take long to figure out what has been going on, even though I hadn’t read the previous books.  It’s often frustrating trying to read the 4th book in a series first.  Then again, if you can read the 4th book and understand what’s going on right away, why would you read the first three books?

The serial killer’s name in Paradise Valley is the Lizard King, and it makes sense once it’s explained.  The Lizard King isn’t the worst serial killer name ever.  James Patterson made up a serial killer called The Dealer.  That was pretty bad.  I think The Dealer should have been the official end of serial killers.  I’m not for limiting free expression, but if I could limit free expression in any one area, I’d probably say no more serial killer novels, at least for a few years.

I mean, as far as free expression goes, hate speech is bad, and some people want to limit that, but you can argue about who determines what hate speech really is.  Reasonable people can disagree about what actually makes hate speech and what its boundaries are.  But more serial killer novels?  If we say no more serial killer novels, is anybody really going to be outraged?

If it happens, it’s not C.J. Box’s fault that serial killer novels would get banned.  Paradise Valley just happened to be the book that caught my attention, that certain book that was at the wrong place at the wrong time.  I’d blame James Patterson and The Dealer.  When you need a literary scapegoat, always blame James Patterson.

*****

Before you read another book that you’re not sure about, check out Dysfunctional Book Reviews!

5 Rules for Writing Every Day

Writers tend to despise rules. That kind of independence is what inspires us to express ourselves, and we use words instead of voices or music or visuals (or property destruction) to make our point.

The rules about writing below aren’t necessarily rules; maybe they’re more like tips or guidelines, but whatever they are, they help a busy but lazy guy like me get some form of writing done almost every day.

Dysfunctional Literacy

English: my typewriter If I’m going to write every day, I’m definitely not going to use one of these! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In every writer’s class I’ve taken and every writer’s group I’ve been in, there was always somebody who said that the most important rule to writing was to “write every day.”  I’m usually pretty good at following rules, but this one has always been stated with such pomposity that I’ve wanted to argue, except I’m a quiet person who doesn’t like to make scenes, so I’ve always kept my mouth shut.

Writing every day is a great rule if you’re a full-time writer, but I have a full-time job that has nothing to do with writing, and I have a family, so it’s not easy to simply “write every day.”  Life is stressful, and trying to write every day (when I tried it) made it even worse.  In order to write…

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Literary Glance: The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

I was going to start off by saying that The Lying Game by Ruth Ware has a stupid title.  But then I thought maybe stupid is a harsh word.  As an aspiring author, I should be more precise and diplomatic with my word choice.

Maybe it’s better to say that The Lying Game is not the best book title in the world.  To be fair, I’m not sure what the best book title in the world is, but The Lying Game is probably not it.

First of all, the word game is overused in book titles nowadays.  Just offhand, I can think of The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, Game of Thrones, The Most Dangerous Game, and The Westing Game.  Even James Patterson is cashing in on the word game with Murder Games.  The word game always implies something deadly in fiction.  Book authors are supposed to be masters of the written word.  They could at least use a thesaurus and come up with an original word.

Plus, this lying game in The Lying Game was made up (from what I’ve read) by a few teenage girls.  The female characters would lie to people and see if their lies were believed or not.  This sounds like something teenage girls would do.  I’ve never been a teenage girl, but I’m a dad with two of them.

Plus, when I was a teenage boy, I dealt with a lot of teenage girls, and this lying game sounds like something girls might do, but they probably wouldn’t call it a lying game.  That’s too obvious.  Girls would make a code word or code phrase for a lying game.  If an adult hears girls talking about a lying game, the adult knows what’s going on, and girls who are lying as a form of entertainment would probably be more clever than that.

Since I’ve never been a teenage girl, the code phrase that I would have used would be different from what teen girls would use.  I was a chess club type nerd boy in school, so I would have come up with something stupid like The Polygraph Society.  Then I would have lost every challenge because I’ve always been a crappy liar.  I was a crappy chess player too.

It sounds like the characters in The Lying Game did something as teenagers that is coming back to haunt them as adults.  It’s one of those books that’s told in a bunch of flashbacks while the character’s thinking.  So far, there’s only been one narrator, and I’m not sure how reliable she is.  It seems like I’ve read a lot of books structured like this recently, so I’m tempted to skip to the last couple chapters just to see what the big deal is.  20 years ago, I would have considered that as cheating, but I’m older now without as much time left (I don’t mean that in a cryptic way; I’m busy with a job and a family… and pets.  If it weren’t for the damn pets….).

I know I have to be careful when I’m critical of books.  An author like Ruth Ware is making a bunch of money and millions of people are reading her books, while I have a blog and a couple ebooks that a few people maybe have read.  So there’s a good chance that I’m wrong about all of this.  Maybe there’s no good synonym for the word game in the thesaurus.  Maybe somebody Ruth Ware knows actually played a lying game and called it a lying game.

I would ask my daughters what code phrase they would use for a lying game, but I don’t want to give them ideas that can be used against me.  I think they have enough of those already.

*****

What do you think?  Is The Lying Game a good title?  If you’ve ever been a teenage girl, what code name would you come up with for a lying game?

Literary Glance: House of Spies by Daniel Silva

House of Spies by Daniel Silva so far has lots of thinking and planning in it.  In the first couple chapters, characters think a lot.  They think about their lives, their careers, and their relationships, and that’s usually done while sitting at an office, walking down a street, or eating a meal.  That’s a lot of my life too, the planning and thinking about things, not the espionage.

I’m not criticizing House of Spies for having think/planning in it!  I promise.  I still like it.

The planning and thinking (that I’m NOT complaining about) is interrupted by a terrorist attack that is written differently than most fictional violent scenes:

The venerable Garrick Theatre had seen world wars, a cold war, a depression, and the abdication of a king.  But never had it witnessed anything like what occurred at 8:20 that evening, when five ISIS terrorists burst into the theatre and began firing into the crowd.  More than a hundred would perish during the first thirty seconds of the assault, and another hundred would die in the terrible five minutes that followed, as the terrorists moved methodically through the theatre, row by row, seat by seat.  Some two hundred fortunate souls managed to escape through the side and rear exits, along with the entire cast of the production and stagehands.  Many would never work in the theatre again.

The rest of the terrorist scene is as methodical as the terrorists’ technique.  The author goes scene by scene, place by place, to describe how the terrorists hit several locations simultaneously.  It’s well-written.  It’s also kind of unemotional.

Murder/killing scenes are tough to get right because authors sometimes get melodramatic.  In this scene from House of Spies, the reader doesn’t know any of the victims.  We just learn that several hundred people get murdered at one time.  Other authors would often include anecdotes about individual victims, to give the reader a sense of the fear, helplessness, sorrow, or pain.  Some authors will devote entire chapters to make an irrelevant character feel real, jut to casually kill off that character and never mention him/her again.  But this scene is clinical.  The reader feels almost nothing.  But the reader knows that the massacre was thought out.  And planned.

Popular spy books and popular spy movies are often opposites.  A spy movie has lots of action with just a little bit of thinking/plotting, enough to give the audience a slight reason for all the action (and sex).  The planning/plotting doesn’t even have to make sense, as long as the action (and sex) is cool.  A spy book should be plotting/planning with a little bit of action/sex to keep readers from falling asleep.

For example, most James Bond movies don’t look anything like the books they’re based on, except for From Russia with Love (and maybe a couple others). The Jason Bourne movies might be closer to the books, but the books were almost as stupid as the movies.  At least, I thought the books were stupid when I read them.  And I read them when I was in high school.  If I thought a book was stupid in high school, it was either really stupid or it went over my head.  I don’t think the Bourne books go over anybody’s head.  But I still liked reading them.

If you like your spy novels with lots of action, House of Spies might not be for you, at least not from what I’ve read so far.  If you like to read about characters thinking, this is great.  I don’t mind thinking in my espionage books.  Some great spy novels have lots of thinking in them, and that makes sense.  A spy who doesn’t think or plan will end up dead.  Even I know that, and I’m not a spy.

So I’m not complaining about all the thinking and planning!  I’m going to keep reading House of Spies, maybe just because of all the thinking and planning.

House of Spies follows another Silva novel The Black Widow, with the same main character, so I might have to go back and read The Black Widow first.  I just might go to the book store, or I might buy it on my Kindle, or I might not read it at all.  No matter what I choose, I’ll think about it first.  And plan.

The Chipotle Paper Bag Essay

When I went to Chipotle today, the paper bag essay was written in Pig Latin. 40 years ago, I was pretty fluent in Pig Latin, so once I started translating the essay, I realized the paper bag essay was just about how high quality Chipotle food is.

I went into a rant (my rants are relatively tame) in front of my daughters about how Chipotle paper bag essays used to be written by literary authors and how Pig Latin must be what you do when you can’t get a literary author to write a paper bag essay. My oldest daughter reminded me that I used to complain about the literary authors who wrote the paper bag essays.

She is right, and now I’m embarrassed. I wish I had a paper bag to put over my head.

Dysfunctional Literacy

It's tough to read an essay like this, but at least nobody can watch you eat. (image via wikimedia) It’s tough to read an essay like this, but at least nobody can watch you eat. (image via wikimedia)

First of all, I don’t want to seem like I’m giving Chipotle free advertising.  I don’t have anything against the fast food chain; I’m just not that kind of blog.  Besides, Chipotle doesn’t give me free advertising, so why should I help them out?

Anyway, Chipotle is printing short essays from several prominent authors (like Jonathan Franzen and Joyce carol Oates) on the chain’s paper bags and cups.  The Cultivating Thought paper bag essay isn’t a bad idea, but it would have been more useful 10 years ago before smart phones and tablets.  Still, I guess it’s better late than never.

Literature in restaurants isn’t a new idea.  Ernest Hemingway supposedly wrote his six-word story on a napkin in a public place, but it probably wasn’t at Chipotle.  His tale, “For…

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