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5 Ways Reading Habits Can Change Over Time

The book collection that once dominated my house is now gone. It was a proud collection. I showcased hardcover classic novels in the living room to make guests think I was more well-read than I really was. The guest bedroom was stocked with paperback bestsellers, just in case our overnight visitors couldn’t sleep. Several closets had shelves stacked with books in the back. Whenever the power went out, there was something to read.

Now, the collection is gone. I’ve sold or donated most of the books and kept only a few that I might read again. It’s not that I have anything against books. In the last couple years, my family has gone through a decluttering phase, and now we have more space.

A few years ago, I wrote a post about how reading habits change over time. Since then, I’ve stopped keeping books. I guess that is my most recent habit change.

Dysfunctional Literacy

20 years ago, this book didn't exist. 25 years ago, this book didn’t exist.

This struck me as weird.  One of my kids came home from school with a “Making Connections” chart for a reading activity.  Students were to write down a fact or an event from what they were reading and then write down how they related to it.  It was kind of like showing your work in math, except it was for reading, and I just thought everybody made connections when they read, but I guess a lot of kids don’t, and the kids that don’t make connections probably aren’t good readers.  Anyway (after I worked through all that internally), I realized I’m probably lucky that I just naturally make connections when I read.

For example, I just read an article in the USA Today that shows how reading patterns have changed over the last 20 years by comparing its bestsellers lists of 20 years ago with current lists.  When it comes…

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Awkward Moments in Dating: The Coworker

Dating stories are usually interesting because something almost always goes wrong.  Even when the dating turns into a long-term relationship, something is going to go wrong at some point, and that makes a great story.

It’s been over twenty years since this incident with my coworker happened, but there are some things you don’t forget, no matter how long ago they occurred.  This dating story centers on an awkward breakup, and I still cringe a little when I think about it.  I’m not talking about stuff like “We’ve grown apart” or “It isn’t you, it’s me.”  In this case, a woman broke up with me because I said something stupid.

First of all, I probably shouldn’t have been going out with this woman at all.  I had just gotten out of college, and this woman and I worked together.  Even early in my career, I had a strict rule about dating women at work.  There’s a familiar saying, “Don’t defecate where you eat,” and defecation might be a crude way to describe dating (I don’t treat women like that, I promise), but I understood the sentiment.  Too many things can go wrong when you date somebody from work.

There were a couple reasons why I broke this rule.  First, she was a couple years older than I was, and she had a high position at the company/firm/corporation but wasn’t my boss.  This was the early 1990s, and sexual harassment was already a nation-wide social issue.  At the time, our company was aware that even women could abuse their authority, and so a dating situation like the one we were in would be frowned upon.  In other words, she wasn’t going to make an issue out of our dating if something went wrong.  She had more to lose than I did.

Plus, she had money.  It wasn’t just that her salary was higher than mine.  Her family had money.  She had gone to a prestigious university.  I had gone to a state school.  When we first met, she had looked down upon me (maybe not because of the state school; I simply didn’t carry myself with much authority).

Her opinion of me changed after I bailed her out of a bad situation at work.  She had made a careless mistake, I caught it and fixed it before anybody else found out, and I kept my mouth shut.  Professionally, that lack of self-promotion is my weakness.  I’m reasonably intelligent, but I lack ambition.  When I fix other people’s mistakes, I don’t care if anybody else knows about it.  I think she liked that quality, intelligence without the arrogance.  Plus, I looked pretty good in my 20s.  I wasn’t top ten material, but I was in the top half of my age bracket.  Some social awkwardness made me seem more unattractive than I really was, but I had my good moments.

Other guys disagreed with each other about how nice-looking this coworker was (I never participated in these conversations, but I overheard them at work).  She had a couple features that some men don’t care for but I find attractive.  Maybe she could tell I was mildly infatuated and that made me more attractive to her, especially after I had bailed her out.

Once she started talking to me on a regular basis, she caught on to my sense of humor.  She invited me into her lunch group which went out to really slow expensive restaurants, so the 5-7 of us (depending on the day) would always get back from lunch late.  I caused a stir within the group by suggesting that we get back to work on time since we were getting paid to work, and though it was controversial, the coworker took my side, and we changed our lunch habits.

Anyway, there was good chemistry and banter between the coworker and me.  With my monotone voice, others couldn’t tell our conversation was banter because my banter sounds like clinical reading.  Maybe that was another reason she didn’t mind dating me; nobody at work could tell we had banter.

Nobody at the company knew about us when we started dating.  Like I said, it would have been frowned upon.  Plus, a lot of her friends/peers probably would have thought I was socially beneath her, and I would have agreed with them.

I knew this relationship wasn’t going to last long.  Before I got married, I went into most relationships knowing that they wouldn’t last long.  I always expected the breakup to happen.  That probably caused the break-up to happen in some instances.  But not this time.

This time, the woman broke up with me because I said something stupid about her name.

And I’ll get to that in the next episode.

Best Mystery Novel Ever! The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

Calling a novel the best ever in its genre is a bit hyperbolic because nobody has read every single book in any given genre. Plus, there’s no way to prove that a book is the best ever in any category because no matter what book you choose, somebody is going to disagree. For example, some mystery lovers think Murder on the Orient Express is the best mystery novel ever, and I heard this opinion several times when the movie came out a few weeks ago.

I like Murder on the Orient Express, but I don’t think it’s the best mystery ever. If there is such a thing as a best mystery novel ever, I think it is The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett.

Dysfunctional Literacy

Nick Charles with Asta instead of his wife Nora

Determining the “best mystery ever” can be difficult because so many mysteries are so similar.  Despite various sub-genres (the whodunit, the hardboiled, the “think like a killer to catch a serial killer”), once you’ve read a couple within each category, you’ve read them all.

But a BEST MYSTERY EVER should be a unique book.  It should combine all elements (except for the “think like a killer to catch a killer” because those suck).  It should be both a hardboiled detective story and a whodunit.  It should be so good that it can’t be copied (though it might have been tried).  And that book is The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammet.

NICK AND NORA

The Thin Man is known for Nick and Nora Charles, the first (that I know about) husband-and-wife detective duo.  Maybe by 1930s standards, Nora was considered part of the sleuthing team, but by today’s criteria, she just…

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Literary Glance: The Midnight Line by Lee Child

The Midnight Line by Lee Child starts off with a breakup.  I hope that’s not a spoiler.  I try to avoid spoilers, but the relationship(?) breakup is on the first page.  I don’t think something on the first page of a book is a spoiler.  Maybe page 50 is a spoiler.  But page 1?

After reading further, I can see why the breakup happened.  The protagonist Jack Reacher is kind of a jerk.  He’s a jerk with a sense of honor, but he’s still a jerk.  He probably has a reason to be.  I’m not sure because I haven’t read many of his books.

Jack Reacher is also a bad ass.  I don’t mean that sarcastically.  He talks like a bad ass and gets himself into bad ass situations.  So far, The Midnight Line is one of those books where all the characters talk tough.  Every character is a bad ass or thinks he/she is a bad ass.

To be fair, it’s tough for me to relate with Jack Reacher.

I’m not 6’5, I don’t have Special Forces training, and I can’t beat up 99% of the population without breaking a sweat, so I can’t relate to Jack Reacher’s thought processes.  As a reader, I try to sympathize with protagonists, but it’s hard when they intentionally put themselves into unnecessarily bad situations.  In the following scene, Jack Reacher walks into a bar to interrogate a biker named Jimmy Rat who’s hanging out with seven of his biker buddies.

If I had to interrogate a biker, especially one with a tough name like Jimmy Rat, I probably wouldn’t do it by myself, and I definitely wouldn’t walk into a bar full of bikers either.  I’d get to the biker when he was by himself or at least with fewer of his buddies.  But I’m not a bad ass, not like Jack Reacher.  Here’s an excerpt of Reacher’s bad ass behavior in a bar filled with bikers.  The parenthesis are my opposite of bad ass comments:

Reacher waited.  One of the bikers drained his glass and stood up and headed for the restroom corridor.  Reacher crossed the room and sat down in his vacant chair (I wouldn’t do that, but I’m not a bad ass).  The wood felt hot (I wouldn’t worry about that right now).  The eighth guy made the connection.  He stared at Reacher, and then he glanced at Jimmy Rat.

Who said, “This is a private party, bud. (Uh oh.  When a biker calls you “bud,” you know the biker means business).  You ain’t invited.”

Reacher said, “I need some information.” (I probably would have introduced myself first.  Or I would have left after I’d been called “bud.”)

“About what?”

“Charitable donations.”

Jimmy Rat looked blank.  Then he remembered.  He glanced at the door, somewhere beyond which lay the pawn shop (and everything else in the world), where he had made assurances.  He said, “Get lost, bud.” (“bud”? plus “Get lost”?  I don’t know why any sane person would still be there).

Reacher put his left fist on the table.  The size of a supermarket chicken.  (It’s important to show the bikers, and remind the readers, that Reacher has big hands)  Long thick fingers with knuckles like walnuts.  Old nicks and scars healed white against his summer tan.  He said, “I don’t care what scam you’re running. (I wouldn’t imply to Jimmy Rat that he was running scams)  Or who you’re stealing from.  Or who you’re fencing for.  I got no interest in any of that.  All I want to know is where you got this ring.”

(Maybe Reacher should have implied that Jimmy Rat was running a legitimate business instead of calling him a scammer and a fencer.  Maybe Jack Reacher is a bad ass, but he could work on his negotiation skills.  Dale Carnegie could give him a suggestion or two.)

*****

When you read a book in a series like Jack Reacher, it’s tough to decide which one to read.  Do you read the early books, which were probably better written but feel dated because they happened 20 years ago?  Or do you read the current bestseller that was probably churned out to meet a deadline?  I’m not sure.  But when you’re not sure, just take a glance, a literary glance.

Books That We’ll Keep Forever

The books that we keep forever aren’t necessarily our favorite books. I’ve enjoyed many books in my life, but I don’t hold on to them anymore. I store a bunch of books on my kindle or my phone, but they don’t take up much space, and phones/ereaders are disposable anyway.

A book that we keep forever has to have a special quality, one that probably has nothing to do with the author, cover, or plot/topic of the book.

Dysfunctional Literacy

This might be beat up, but it's been in my family for over 50 years. This might be beat up, but it’s been in my family for generations.

I don’t keep many books anymore. Up until a few years ago, though, I used to be a book hoarder.  I was proud of my collection.   But then my wife and I had kids, other stuff accumulated in our house, we started moving around a lot, and books became digitized.

With all that was going on, it was more convenient and practical to sell or give away most of my books.  I don’t miss them.  But there are a few books that I kept, and I’m glad I did.  Each book that I kept has a story behind it, and those stories are more important than the stories in the actual books.

Book With Sentimental Value- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (pictured above)

Tom Sawyer isn’t my favorite book ever, but I like it, and…

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The Introvert’s Guide To Reading During the Holidays

The Christmas season starts at different times for different people. For some, it starts this week because of Thanksgiving. For others, it might have begun after Halloween or even Labor Day. There are many challenges that go with the holiday season, such as travelling, gift choices and party etiquette, but the biggest challenge for an introvert and bibliophile like me is… reading.

Dysfunctional Literacy

If you read during the holidays, prepare to be interrupted. (image via wikimedia) If you read during the holidays, prepare to be interrupted. (image via wikimedia)

The holiday season can be a frustrating time for introverts, especially for those of us who like to read.  Even if we introverts have time off from work, we often have to use that time for extra chores/errands, or traveling, or spending time at other people’s homes.That leaves little quiet time for reading, and that can be frustrating.

Holidays shouldn’t be frustrating.  We introverts need our quiet time, and here’s how to read during holidays without causing conflict or putting ourselves in danger:

  1.  READING IN PUBLIC

Reading is almost essential for holiday traveling because traveling is really boring.  However, reading in public places such as airports or bus stations (or even the mall) can be risky because you leave yourself vulnerable to getting conked on the head or having your stuff stolen (or both).  It’s easy for evil-doers to sneak up…

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Thank You, Stephen King!

Thanksgiving is a time to appreciate family and friends, but since I’m a book/writing blogger, I’d like to focus a moment on authors for whom I’m thankful. I appreciate that I live during a time when so many authors can publish a wide variety of books, so many that a reader’s selection is limitless.

I’m thankful for James Patterson writing so many cheesy books that I always have something easy to critique on my blog. I’m thankful for authors like Dickens, Twain, Tolkien, Howard, Christie, Rowling, and many others who have given us bibliophiles countless hours of cheap entertainment and enlightenment.

But most of all, I’m thankful for Stephen King.

Dysfunctional Literacy

(image via Wikimedia) (image via Wikimedia)

A few weeks ago, a friend of my wife came over unannounced and uninvited with her family.  Any visitors we get are because of my wife.  I don’t have friends, so nobody comes over to see me.  My wife has lots of friends, and sometimes we end up entertaining families of people whom I barely know.  Most of the time I don’t mind, but I don’t like it when the visitors are unannounced and uninvited.

In this case, the family had a teenage son who, according to his parents, is addicted to video games and hates to read.  He’s capable of reading, my wife’s friend said, but he won’t do it unless it’s a school assignment.

“At least he completes his school assignments,” I said to my wife’s friend.

“Yeah,” the son said to his mom, but she gave him a dirty look.

I could sympathize with…

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Literary Glance: Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks has had a decent career outside of writing.  He’s acted in a couple good movies.  He has won a couple awards.  His son is on a TV show.  Nobody has accused him of sexual assault yet.  He has stayed married for a while, I think.  By Hollywood standards, he’s doing alright.

Now he’s written a collection of short stories called Uncommon Type: Some Stories.  Normally I roll my eyes at celebrity books, but I decided to give his a chance.  After all, he’s Tom Hanks.  He didn’t write a children’s book.  It’s not a political book.  And it’s not a Hollywood insider book.  It’s a book of short stories.  That’s an unusual approach for a celebrity, and I appreciate unusual approaches.

I know nobody cares what I think of Tom Hanks’s writing.  Fans of Tom Hanks won’t care if I don’t like it because they like Tom Hanks.  Tom Hanks doesn’t care because he’s rich, even without his writing.  At least, he shouldn’t care.

But maybe he does.  Maybe he’s just as insecure about his writing as every other writer.  That would be funny, one of the most successful actors of a generation nervously reading reviews of his book.

After a glance of his first short story “Three Exhausting Weeks,” I’ve decided that Tom Hanks should not write in the 1st person point-of-view.  That is my only criticism.  Since I can picture Tom Hanks in every phase of his life, I visualize the narrator of this story as Tom Hanks.  Even if the narrator had been female, I would have pictured her as Tom Hanks.  That’s not necessarily his fault.  It’s the price of being Tom Hanks.  When you’re Tom Hanks, a lot of readers might visualize your protagonist as Tom Hanks.

Here is a scene where the 1st person narrator is being seduced by a long-time friend:

“You know what?” she said to me.  “It’s Sunday.”

“I do know that,” I told her.  “I live in the moment.”

“I admire that about you.  Smart.  Caring.  Easygoing to the point of sloth.”

“You’ve gone from compliments to insults.”

“Change sloth to languorousness,” she said, sipping wine.  “Point is I like you.”

“I like you, too.”  I wondered if this conversation was going someplace.  “Are you flirting with me?”

“No,” Anna said.  “I’m propositioning you.  Totally different thing.  Flirting is fishing.  Maybe you hook up, maybe you don’t.  Propositioning is the first step in closing a deal.”

While I was reading this scene, I thought, of course the woman is flirting with Tom Hanks.  Every woman would flirt with Tom Hanks.  Even women who don’t flirt would flirt with Tom Hanks.  My wife would flirt with Tom Hanks.  I’d flirt with Tom Hanks.

If this scene were in the 3rd person, maybe I could imagine a character who wasn’t sure if the woman were flirting with him.  But this is Tom Hanks.  Even if the character isn’t Tom Hanks, he’s still Tom Hanks.

Maybe Tom Hanks should write under a different name.  Unfortunately, the book wouldn’t get the publicity and perhaps nobody would read it, and that would defeat the purpose of a celebrity book.  If I were Tom Hanks, I’d want everybody to read my book too, so I’d put my name on it.  But I’d write my stories in the 3rd person.  At least the first story in the collection would be in the 3rd person.

*****

A few years ago, Tom Hanks wrote a piece about his love of typewriters.  I gently mocked it because he used his op-ed opportunity to gush about typewriters when there were other issues he could have talked about.  I’m sure he has some uncommon typewriters in his collection.  Maybe he used an uncommon typewriter to write these stories.  Now he has a book called Uncommon Type.  I’m sure it means something.

*****

Here are two books that I wrote under a different name.  Maybe I’m Tom Hanks.  Okay, I admit, I’m not Tom Hanks, but what if I were?

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!                  Now available on Amazon!

Now only 99 cents each on the Amazon Kindle!

Has Anybody Read Any Good Books Lately?

The upcoming holidays can mean a little more time to read than normal. If you’re traveling, maybe you can read in the car or on the airplane (but not if you’re the driver or the pilot). If you’re at a party or a family gathering, you can pretend you’re checking messages while you’re really reading a book and not seem rude. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll get a few minutes to yourself where you can actually sit down at peace and read.

I’m pretty sure next week I’ll have a little extra time, and I need a good book to read, a sure thing. The last time I asked for a book recommendation, several people suggested The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. That worked out great because both my wife and I read it, and we rarely read the same books.

Since I might have some reading time and I don’t want to waste it on just any bestseller, I ask again:

Has anybody read any good books lately?

Dysfunctional Literacy

These are all good books, but I've read them, and I'm not in the mood to read them again. These are all good books, but I’ve read them, and I’m not in the mood to read them again.

I have a little bit of extra time this week, so I’d like to read a book, maybe two, but I don’t want to waste my time with a book that isn’t any good.  I went to the book store a couple days ago and walked out with nothing, not because I’m a cheapskate (Actually, I am a cheapskate, but that wasn’t the reason I walked out with nothing), but because I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit myself to any of the books I looked at.

I don’t have reader’s block.  Reader’s block is when nothing interests me.  This is a little different.  I think I’m getting too hyper-critical.  I’m getting annoyed at bad dialogue in novels.  I’m losing interest in long paragraphs with lots of description.  I get suspicious…

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The Literary Rants: Must-Read Novels

Here’s a recent MUST-READ list that was spotted on a weekly entertainment website. This new MUST-READ list was titled “ 12 Must-Read Books If You Love  Murder on the Orient Express.”

That’s a lot of pressure to put on people just for enjoying a book or movie. If they love Murder on the Orient Express, now they MUST READ 12 other books, some of which might not be that good.

For example, Before the Fall by Noah Hawley was on this MUST-READ list. Before the Fall was okay, but I wouldn’t call it MUST-READ!!! Now I can never trust another MUST-READ list again.

And that’s the problem with MUST-READ lists.

Dysfunctional Literacy

Whenever there's a must-read list, this one's on it. This novel is on almost every must-read list, so it must be pretty good.

Whenever I see a Must-Read Novels list, I automatically don’t want to read the books on the list.  It’s a stupid knee-jerk reaction, I know.  The authors probably didn’t ask for their books to be put on the list.  I just don’t like being told what to read anymore.

There are only two legitimate reasons for a book to be a “must-read.”  You fail a class if you don’t read it.   Or you get fired from a job for not reading it.  I don’t have to worry about failing classes anymore, and I don’t have to read books for my job (I have to read stuff that’s worse than most books), so there are no must-read books anymore.

I understand that using the term must-read is hyperbole.  I have nothing against a little hyperbole.  And I usually don’t like…

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