Nine Reasons Why You Or Someone You Know Should Actually Read Fiction

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I recall a conversation with my mom. We were talking about reading and how that compares to watching movies and she said something that has stuck with me like superglue. She said, “For those who don’t read for pleasure, they never know the richness that comes with reading a book.”

So often, I tell people that I am a writer and get this response: “Oh, I don’t read anymore.”

It makes me wonder, why the hell not? It makes me mad. I don’t say you shouldn’t watch TV or movies, but does this have to be mutually exclusive? I mean, come on!

So, here’s my list of why you should ACTUALLY read fiction:

1) Reading makes you smarter. Once upon a time, I did a jewelry show. It was a sales gig. I took the job because I got to travel and I wanted to sharpen my sales skills. Well, I ended up learning a lot about the shopping habits of women, but in the bargain I made this strange little discovery. Every once in a while, someone would come to the booth who I could relate to. Strange to say, but I mean, me personally. Not me the sales guru, the Fabio of semi-precious stones, but lil’ ol’ me.

These people, about 1 in 75, were wonderful. They got all my jokes and my references to seemingly random things. They were articulate. They were…literate! It was actually uncanny how well those people could carry on a conversation about all kinds of things.

Well, everyone of those 1 in 75 were readers. I know because I got wise to it and I started asking them. They read. So, I concluded: WOW, READING MAKES YOU SMARTER!

2) The book is better than the movie: Everyone has heard that one a thousand times, but I will say it again a different way: the book is A LOT better than the movie. Get it? Almost every movie is based on something written, and I don’t mean the script. I mean a book, a comic book ,a short story, a written story. So…seems like a no brainer to me!

3) Reading is more enjoyable than watching movies or TV: Now, at first you could debate this, reasoning that you can get the whole story in two hours versus, say, twenty-five. Yes and no and more at no. The movie or TV show, only has an hour or two to engage the audience.

That means they have to edit the story down to the highlights. It’s like watching the Cliffs Notes. YOU MISS A TON! And that ton is what gives you the richness my mother was referring to. That ton is why the book is always better than the movie. It’s the multi-layered, sophisticated and in-depth version. In other words, the highest quality rendition of the story.

4) Reading allows you to use your own mind to create stuff and therefore allows you to create the story too: Okay. So, ever watch a movie and say, “Hey, that’s not what (that character) looks like!” Or “That’s not how I would have imagined it.” Well, when you read you look at your own imagination. Your mind makes up the images you are reading about. Well, so what? It’s more enjoyable when it’s yours, that’s what. And the character and the world and the universe, become yours.

A visual medium overrides your own mental constructs and just gives you an image. It’s like this, ever had to find your way around town using a map? And then after a few times of using said map, you don’t have to use the map anymore because you learned the route. Well, let’s say you go and use a GPS. A funny thing happens. No matter how many times you travel that damn route, you don’t ever seem to learn it. Why? The GPS takes the place of your thinking mind, that’s why!

Well, if someone else has to provide images for you all the time, after awhile, you won’t be able to provide your own and you’ll just wind up a gaping, drooling fool.

5) Reading is cheaper: I mean, go to the movies and eat five table-spoons of popcorn, then compare that with an e-book or a big, fancy hard copy book. Or buy Game of Thrones episodes. Yeah, pretty obvious!

6) Saying “I’m not a reader” just sounds really bad if you think about it: I mean, what if someone said to you, “I’m not a watcher” or “I’m not a thinker” or “I’m not a speller.” Saying “I’m not a reader” makes it sound like you are unable to read, which is bad for the old personal public relations department and won’t impress any girls!

7) Reading promotes literacy and literacy preserves the language: It’s important that we preserve the language. English is the most expressive language in the world. It’s quite beautiful. No other language has the color and depth that English does. We have so many words to describe so many things and the same thing. It really defies belief. Other languages are cardboard by comparison. We should use it so we don’t lose it!

8) Reading imparts wisdom: When you read, and I am talking fiction here, you find these little pearls, these kernels of wisdom planted in the text. They just happen. They are spontaneous. These nuggets of wisdom are part of what makes reading so rich, as my mother was saying. And you simply will never, never, never get that from a two-dimensional movie or TV show. That medium is just not expansive enough to hold that much culture.

9) And all that leads me to my last and, probably, most important point of why you should read. It’s like this: A government has a very, very hard time controlling a free-thinking and educated populace and that needs no further explanation at all.

Oh, it might take you awhile. More than one book to get back in the groove, if you’ve fallen out, but as surely as I am sitting here writing this, I can tell you, that if you read, you will, sooner or later, prefer reading books to watching them. You will grow tired at the pale and vapid, by comparison, versions of your favorite stories that you pay so much for in the fancy, modern-day cathedrals called movie theaters. You will return to your roots, as a reader.

Zeitgeist: Vampires

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Ah, the zeitgeist! A fancy German word that means the “spirit of the time” or “spirit of the age” meaning, of course, the popular trend in a culture. We are all affected by such spirits in our age. Some more than others. It’s what resonates inside of as a culture, a people and as individuals.

I have chosen the ultimate zeitgeist creature for this discussion: vampire. Also, vampyre, vampyr, strigoi and other things. Essentially an Eastern European legend that, forgive me, never seems to die.

Years ago, when I first delved into the lore, I remember turning to my friend Keith and saying, “Now, Keith, I want you to answer me totally honestly. If you–if they were real, would you become a v–”

“Yes!”

We all know what vampires are and what they do, and are mostly familiar with the basic mythos surrounding them from Vlad the Impaler to Dracula to Edward Cullen. But the question in this blog is not what they are or what they do, but why they stick with us like they do. I mean, come on! Do we ever tire of vampire tales. No, we don’t. I mean, we just don’t.

So why do they resonate so well? Why do they represent this spirit of the age for all ages?

Big Lance had a theory. It went like this. Vampirism is really a metaphor for sexually transmitted disease. After all, the “infection” is transmitted through the blood, through bites and exchange of bodily fluid and the swoon from drinking the blood compares with the sex act itself.

I believe he had a point.

I never got into vampires before Anne Rice‘s “Interview” and outside of enjoying Bram Stoker’s original, never cared much for other renditions. I did like how China Mieville portrayed them in The Scar, but then, I like how China Mieville portrays everything.

I read Twilight and was disappointed with them in that book, not that that is such a surprise, but I admit, I liked the first Twilight movie. I thought the movie was better than the book. But, that leads me to my theory of why they resonate.

They are the perfect creature for eternal love and by that token, eternal loss.

They are wonderfully romantic, even when–or especially when–they are drinking from a woman.

I think most people would agree with that, but why? How is that even remotely romantic? I dare say, if I were to take a woman out and attempt to drink her blood, most women would shut me down, quick. They wouldn’t even think twice about it and afterwards, after I left and she was safely tucked away in her apartment, she would not remember it with anything but disgust and fear and perhaps, a little pity. And this would be despite her bookshelf that is FILLED with vampire romance novels!

So…that leads me to this: they are the perfect creature to explore our own human nature.

Now, the vampire has the unique ability to defy death and sickness, two things humans cannot overcome. Even if you NEVER get sick, you will die. Eventually.

Or will you?

For certain, the body will die. That much we can say without question. I would, however, venture to say that most people believe in some kind of life after death scenario. Some kind of soul, human spirit, ghost. Medical science is familiar with OOB’s or Out of Body Experiences. More than one person has “been standing there watching” when they lay him out and do the operation. Most people believe in such a thing, not all. But assuming that the human organism possesses a non-material aspect, one could postulate that when you die, some part of you survives.

Then in comes speculative fiction. What if that part of you, was all of you? What if your body survived its own death? What would that look like? And what if in order to maintain that state, you had to drink human blood? To what lengths would you go? How would you feel about that and how long before you tired of living, and yet, lived on anyway?

Anne Rice’s vampires go “into the ground” every seventy or so years. In other words, they simulate death. They need a rest, a release. Some go insane, others jump on a funeral pyre and commit suicide and beg the survivor to spread the ash so they won’t come back. Some slump into apathy and otherwise resign to their fate.

And some, find ways and means to keep it interesting and create reasons to celebrate, to carry on.

I don’t know about you, but that all sounds eerily familiar to me.

In this light we see ourselves without all the societal props. Through the eyes of the vampire, we begin to see beyond the immediate need to work, to make money, to collect possessions. We get a break from the hectic live-live-live pace of raising a family and doing everything we can before it’s too late. Suddenly, we see, its never too late and then we glimpse eternity.

We glimpse just how long eternity can be. And that scares us more than death ever could. Only then do we see what horror really is. An eternity trapped in this earthly existence feeding on the life of our friends and watching all those we love die and die and die again, while yet, forced to live on. Forever.

Eternal love. Eternal damnation. The perfect creature to see ourselves and the universe that has us.

That is how, I believe, vampires form the zeitgeist.

New Cop Hero

Jake Gyllenhall is my new hero. 

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No, really he is. The brooding detective in Prisoners. His performance, in my opinion, stole the show. I actually went to see Hugh Jackman’s performance and was basically captivated by Gyllenhaal’s. Now, I don’t use those words lightly–hero, captivated. I don’t normally talk like that.

I put this movie up there with Silence of the Lambs. It was that good with incredible characters and a richly complex and perfectly woven plot. I was so happy when I saw the high ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, because this was one movie where the preview had me, but I won’t go if Tomatoes splats it.  

Anyway, I’m not going to summarize the plot. I don’t see the point. I will summarize Jake Gyllenhaal’s Detective Loki performance though. 

Riveting.

Let me delve. Here is the neo-archetype. The new cop hero, part street punk, part forensics genius and expert clue hunter and most importantly, here is the younger generation’s exemplar attuned to the criminally insane just enough to understand them, just enough to know them, and just enough to be haunted by them and the ugly things they do.

Brooding, soft-spoken, marked, perhaps, by the signs of a life begun on the streets and passionate about one thing: his job.  

I would see this movie again just for that. 

They should make more movies with this Detective Loki played by Jake Gyllenhaal.

I feel safer already. 

 

Mathematic Harmony

Did I go to see the new Wolverine because I thought it would be a good movie? Nah. Did I go with any expectations whatsoever? Nope. Did I care about hole-ridden plots, cheesy melodrama and dorky ninjas that danced around like unemployed cirque du soleil actors? Nah ah.

Then why did I go?

There exists a very simple mathematical equation that explains this phenom: Hugh Jackman + Wolverine = Happiness.

And I may go see it again because guess who I want to be when I grow up.