Category Archives: reading

Lightening Up

A week ago I was at a nearby antique store. It’s a pretty cool place, located inside a monstrous old factory. The rows of antiques flow from massive room to massive room, the walls dematerializing from sheetrock to exposed brick as the spaces become less “done” and truer to their history. The aisles loop around, taking shoppers back from the final, huge warehouse space and back into human-scaled territory. I followed the u-turn of rows–like a rainbow slumped on its side–to a veritable pot of gold. Around the corner I found waiting for me a used book section consisting with numbers of science fiction and fantasy rivaling that of any new book store. And these weren’t just some grandad’s old, beat-up collection of seventies serial sci-fi (although that category was represented), there were tons of modern authors like Gaiman, Williams, Salvatore, Hamilton, Harris and Reynolds. Every category from steampunk to high fantasy had a representative in attendance. I ended up grabbing an armful of two-dollar bargains, seizing the opportunity to both expand my bookshelves and explore some new-to-me urban fantasy. I also picked up a Philip K. Dick complete collection (I’ve been dying to read the real Minority Report), and a handful of random, easy-on-the-brain fantasy titles, including a new Redwall book from Brian Jacques (I have a thing for mice and squirrels with swords).

In all, the selection I chose was fluffier than the usual–nice, short, fun books. And that made me start thinking about the term “Summer Reading” and why we feel compelled to lighten our mental load during the hot months. Does it have something to do with our old schooltime habits? Tossing our proverbial pencils in the air as the last bell rings and turning to more leisurely pursuits? Or is it embedded in our need to shed the heavy weight of winter? As our parkas, boots and sweaters are peeled off, as our diets become leafier and infused with flavors of citrus, do we continue to jettison of all things bulky and cumbersome? As soon as March has a firm hold on us, the tables at the bookstores entitled “Beach Reads” come creeping into the center aisles. I don’t go anywhere near the beach during the summer (despite the fact I live a mere twenty minutes away–it has something to do with heat, sharks and sand sticking to my sunscreen like Shake-n-Bake), but I nevertheless gravitate towards this pile of printed matter like a bird towards the equator. I like to think it’s my inner Peter Pan calling the shots, the little girl who used to sit on the lush grass and read under the shade of a giant tulip poplar insisting I take some time to run through the sprinkler just for the heck of it. It’s hard to deny her that urge; the pure, uncomplicated enjoyment of the shade, a nice swing, and a good book is hard to match.

Summer inspires much in all of us: a compulsion to try our hands at gardening, a yearning to put match to charcoal–and if you’re from the Eastern Shore a desire to sit at a table covered in newspaper and pound the shit out of crabs while eating corn and guzzling beer. But, most of all, I think summer reminds us to find the fun in life, if only one chapter at a time.

Read With Kids Challenge

The good folks over at RIF (Reading is Fundamental) just sent me an email regarding this year’s Read With Kids Challenge. The mission is simple–get adults to spend time reading with children. The goal is huge–log 5 million collective minutes spent reading with kids from now (well, April 1. I’m a little late) until June 30. Log your time individually, or with a team of three or more adults, and not only do you enrich a child’s life (sweet), you’re entered to win a trip to Disney World (double sweet). Also, the winning team gets to choose both a featured RIF program and a school in their community to win a special children’s book collection. The sweetness doesn’t stop!

One of my favorite moments from my vacation in Florida this past Christmas? Lying side-by-side with my niece on her bed as she quietly read one of the books I’d given her (A Little Princess, my favorite when I was her age), and I read mine. Every once in a while I’d tell her to stop and read out loud the sentence she was on. She got a kick out of that. Of course, I occasionally had to skip a sentence or two when she did the same to me–can’t always play totally fair with the young ones when propriety is at stake.

I’ve already spouted on about the need for child literacy, and since most of you who pop by here are writers, I’ll spare the lecture. But, if you’ve got a little carpet crawler, monkey-bar-maniac or other wee (insert cute diminutive) available, snap ’em up and get to readin’.

Have no tots with which to share the book bug? You can always send money.

RIF needs that, too.

Ebooks from a reader’s standpoint

As a writer, I love the concept of ebooks. Those of us shuttered out of the business because of high overheads and the Bestseller Factor know the window of opportunity that could be flung wide by the success of ebooks. Lower publisher costs = bigger stable of authors. But, today I’m thinking like a reader. After all, I am one.

A while ago J.A. Konrath (a talented author and a champion of all writers) did an interview on blogger’s A view from Garnet’s World. In it, he states–along with a list of other criteria–ebooks will only succeed if they are ninety-nine cents or less each. Now, we can quibble over the exact number (less than a buck seems a tad low), but I think the idea is sound. Here’s why:

I have a wish list on Amazon a mile long. For every book I buy, ten others go onto this list, never to be bought. I often peruse it, I sulk over it, I add a few of its ranks to my cart–and just as quickly put them back. The fact is, I don’t have the free cash to put up for every single author I think I might like to add to my burgeoning bookshelves, no matter how much I’d love to support each and every one of their careers. When I do have spare cash, I tend to buy within my genre, soothing my guilt with platitudes of research and education about my specialty. And it’s a shame. There are so many authors out there I’ve come across and dismissed, not because of any fault of theirs–on the contrary, they usually wow me with their ranges of style and concept–but because I know the cash cow can’t put out much more than she already has, and most times paying the Man is more important than purchasing a novel. For instance, this morning I read a stellar excerpt from award-winning YA author, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls. It was only two pages, but I instantly fell in love with her voice. I went to Amazon, found the novel, and inserted it into the black hole that is my wish list.

Were ebooks more popular, were publishing less expensive, were Mr. Konrath’s dreams of a buck novel a reality, I’d have snapped up Wintergirls (and all her other titles), along with everyone else on that list. I’d branch out, find new books, tons of them, tons of tons of them. Instead, I have to comb through my list of the dead, searching for the one name that cannot be ignored, casting aside all others like faceless soldiers from a long forgotten war. With paperbacks averaging seven bucks a pop and hardbacks, well, they’re just crazy, my hands are tied. Like Mr. Konrath also said, it makes no sense that a single hardback book starts out at close to thirty bucks, while a whole season of our favorite TV shows are under twenty. Reading is just too expensive a hobby. And that is the biggest shame for writers and readers alike.