As regular readers of this site probably know, I got back into reading regularly about a month and a half before writing this article. This followed a 2-3 year period where I only read infrequently at most (seriously, I’ve read more novels in the past two months than I have in the past two years).
So, I thought that I’d write about some of the things that I’ve learnt from getting back into reading regularly. I’ll also try to avoid repeating anything that I’ve written in previous reading-related articles too.
1) Modern books are actually good: When I was a teenager during the ’00s, I considered it a point of pride that I mostly read old novels from the 1960s-90s. Ok, this was mostly because these were easy (and cheap) to find second-hand. But, I liked to think that there was something inherently better about older books. Kind of like how older computer and video games are faster, cheaper, more challenging/enjoyable and more honest (eg: no micro-transactions etc..) than modern “AAA” games are.
Yes, of course, I also read a few modern books and I also read some modern novels during my twenties too. So, it isn’t like I haven’t read anything modern but, for quite a while, I thought that old books were better than new ones.
Yet, when I recently got back into reading regularly, I’ve actually found myself reading more modern (21st century) books than older books. Yes, I still try to read a mixture of old and new, but I’ve found myself drawn more towards books from the past two decades or so. This really caught me by surprise. And there are a few unexpected reasons for this.
These include things like the fact that the narration in modern books is a lot more streamlined and readable (albeit at the cost of some distinctiveness/descriptive depth), the fact that modern stories will often be a lot more gripping (since they have to compete with games, boxsets, the internet etc.. for people’s attention), the fact that modern stories tend to contain fewer dated elements, the fact that modern paperbacks (eg: from the 2000s and early 2010s) can now be found cheaply second-hand etc…
In short, modern books are actually good. Ok, old books can also be really good too. But, modern books are better than you might think if you’ve mostly read older books.
2) Don’t get too used to one author: When I first got back into reading regularly, I literally just read Clive Cussler novels. But, after reading about eight of them within a couple of weeks, I suddenly found myself setting a rule that I wouldn’t read two books by the same author in a row. Yes, I’ll still read multiple novels by the same author, but I try to read other books in between each one. But, why?
There are several reasons for this. The first is that even the best writers can get tiresome if you read too many of their books in a relatively short space of time. After binge-reading eight Clive Cussler novels, I haven’t read a single one since. Every time I’ve thought about it, I’ve just thought “oh god, more of the same…“. So, variety is the spice of life. If you want one of your favourite authors to remain interesting, then read other authors too.
Secondly, it makes you better at reading. Although it can be tempting to find an author you love and settle into reading lots of their books, the relaxing ease that comes from getting too used to one writer’s narrative style can really come back to bite you when you run out of books by that author and have to read something different. Reading different authors regularly means that you have to constantly adapt to different narrative styles, which means that – after a bit of practice- you’ll find reading different books easier than you might do if you just stick to one or two authors.
Thirdly, reading lots of different authors means that you get to see one of the strengths of the written word. In other words, seeing how lots of different people tell stories shows you how much of a “personality” books have when compared to films, TV shows, videogames etc… It shows you that books are one of the most human forms of creativity out there.
3) Let books win you back: Although reading is often seen as some kind of “sophisticated” activity that is better than watching films, playing games etc.., you’ve got to actually find this out for yourself. Seriously, don’t just treat it as received wisdom. You won’t really know whether it is true until you put it to the test.
In other words, have a basis for comparison. One of the good side-effects of watching lots of TV shows/films, playing lots of games etc.. during the 2-3 years when I didn’t read many novels was that – when I returned to reading regularly – I could quite literally feel the difference. Books not only had that immersive feeling that I’d sought so hard in games and TV shows, but they were also cheaper and more gripping too. Likewise, I was delighted when I found that an old book like Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon” could be just as atmospheric as a brilliant film like “Blade Runner“.
Yes, I’ll still play games (in fact, there will probably be a “Doom II” level review posted here tomorrow) and watch TV shows, because these are fun things too. But, after getting back into reading regularly, I’ve found myself feeling less drawn to these things than I was a couple of years ago. Seriously, after reading a few novels, I watched an episode of a familiar detective TV show and found the story, characters etc… to be a lot more “shallow” than I expected. So, the lesson here is to let books win you back. Read books that you enjoy and you’ll find that they’re as good as, or better than, other forms of entertainment.
4) Books are less “edgy” these days: One interesting thing that I’ve noticed about the more modern books that I’ve read since I got back into reading regularly is that they’re often a bit less “edgy” than older books from the 1970s-90s can often be.
For example, a 2010s horror thriller novel like Jocyelnn Drake’s amazing “Wait For Dusk” might still be noticeably steamier and more gruesome than the average Hollywood horror movie but, compared to an old 1980s horror thriller novel like Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus” or a 1990s horror novel like Poppy Z. Brite’s “Exquisite Corpse”, it’s relatively tame.
Yet, this isn’t quite the bad thing that I’d feared that it might be. The slight decline in edginess in modern books usually just means that writers have to rely on more sophisticated things than “shock value” to hold the reader’s interest. This usually results in deeper and more gripping stories.
Likewise, the fact that film/TV censorship has thankfully become more relaxed during the past couple of decades means that modern books don’t have to be edgy in order to set themselves apart from film/TV. Whilst this may sound like it’s a bad thing for books, it just means that the “edgy” elements of modern books carry more dramatic weight because they stand out more when compared to their more frequent/intensive use in older novels.
5) Don’t judge a book by it’s cover: Ok, this is a really obvious one, but I have been reminded of the wisdom of this old saying at least once or twice since I got back into reading regularly.
For example, the novel that I mentioned earlier – “Wait For Dusk” by Jocelynn Drake – has some mildly salacious cover art that makes it look like the kind of novel that is best read in private. Yet, aside from about 5-10 pages, the cover art doesn’t reflect the actual story. For the most part, the novel is this brilliantly gripping and complex horror thriller story that is kind of like a mixture of “Underworld” and “Game Of Thrones”, but way better! Yet, if you just glanced at the cover art, you’d probably mistakenly think “it’s an *ahem*… adult… novel” and miss out on a brilliant story.
So, yes, choose your books based on the genre, the blurb, the author, multiple reviews etc… rather than the cover art. Because, even during the 2010s, cover art can sometimes tell a very different story to the book that it’s attached to.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂