Three Awesome Reasons Why Books Are Rebellious

Well, I felt like writing about books today. This is mostly because one of the things that getting back into reading regularly again several months ago reminded me was how wonderfully rebellious books are πŸ™‚ And, yes, I’m talking about pretty much every novel here – from the pulpiest paperbacks to the most high-brow hardbacks.

After all, whilst I could spend this article reminiscing about all of the “edgy” novels that I read during my teenage years, I thought that it would probably be a lot more interesting to look at books in general. Which, incidentally, brings me on to my first point….

1) Your own path: Firstly, books are rebellious because you have to find your own path. There are so many books out there that it’s perfectly possible to read a hundred books and then find that everyone you know has only maybe heard of two or three of them. So, in our hyper-social age, the path of a reader is a refreshingly solitary one.

Likewise, whilst there are well-known books, there isn’t really that much of a “mainstream” with books in the way that there is with films or videogames. As such, when you read, you have to look for authors on your own, you have to know your own tastes and you have to forge your own unique path through the many millions of books available. And, in this age of mass media, this is pretty rebellious.

Then, of course, there is the actual experience of reading. When you watch a film, you will see exactly what every other viewer sees. But, with a book, everyone pictures the story differently. In other words, you actually have to use your imagination and think when you are reading. You might even learn something about yourself too. And, in this age, these things are at least mildly rebellious.

2) Books can do more: Because a novel is primarily the work of one person sitting down and writing, books have a lot fewer limitations than more “mainstream” things like films, TV shows, videogames etc… do. And I’m not even talking about things like “special effects budgets” either (although it is interesting to note that, for example, a sci-fi novel from 1992 can still be even more spectacular than most modern CGI-filled films).

Because a book is usually the work of one author, that author has a lot more creative freedom than a large group of actors, programmers and executives do. In other words, books can tell the kind of inventively imaginative stories that film companies, game companies etc… don’t think that mainstream audiences will instantly like or understand.

For example, the sci-fi novel I’m reading at the moment (“Linesman” by S. K. Dunstall) is an epic saga about intergalactic politics, with a main character who interacts with spaceships by singing to them.

Clive Barker’s “Weaveworld” is a novel about fragments of a lost world that are hidden in a carpet. “The Arrivals” by Melissa Marr is a bizarre western set in a post-apocalyptic alternate dimension. I could go on for quite a while, but books can tell the kind of imaginative stories that film studios don’t think that you want to see…

In other words, with books, there is actually something for everyone. You have a lot more choice than “generic superhero sequel #345“, “gritty realistic drama #403” or “multi-player action game #267“. And in this age of cinematic universes, hyper-popular TV shows, mainstream gaming culture etc… this is kind of rebellious.

3) Durability, access and control: A book is a physical object that doesn’t require batteries, wi-fi or “updates”. As long as you don’t set it on fire or anything like that, it will probably work as well in fifty years’ time as it does today. If you find an old or a brand-new book, you don’t have to worry about “system requirements” or anything like that – as long as you can read, then you can read it.

Likewise, if you have a word processor or a pen and paper, then you have the tools to start writing a book. And, the best part is that because stories (in English at least) all use the same 26 letters, there is no difference between a “low budget” novel and a “high budget” one in the way that there is with films, games etc… The quality of the writing depends on the skill of the author (and possibly their editor too).

Not only that, if you happen to buy a physical book which later changes publishers or has some kind of formal issues, the publisher can’t remotely “delete” it or remove it from your shelves without breaking the law. You can freely re-sell your physical books or buy them second-hand. Likewise, when you buy a physical book – it’s yours. There are no greedy subscription fees or anything like that.

In other words, in an age where everything is moving to “the cloud” or turning into subscription-based online services and where tech companies/game companies are always pushing people to “upgrade” in order to access the latest things, good honest books are one of the relatively few things that actually treat the audience with respect. And, in this era of history, this is gloriously rebellious πŸ™‚

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

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Three Thoughts About How To Use Multiple Story Threads

Well, when the longer short story project (which I probably won’t post here) that I was writing at the time of writing this article started to turn into a larger story than I expected, I suddenly realised that I needed to split it up into chapters and to add a second story thread to it too.

If you’ve somehow never heard of this before, it is where – for example- the odd-numbered chapters of a story focus on one storyline and the even-numbered chapters focus on a different, but related, storyline. If you’ve read a few novels published within the last few decades, you’ve probably seen at least one example of this.

So, I thought that I’d look at some of the things that you can do with multiple story threads. And, yes, whilst these can be applied to different types of stories, they are best suited to stories that use third-person narration (which can easily jump between locations and characters without confusing or annoying the reader).

1) Emotional contrast: One interesting thing that you can do with multiple story threads is to give each one a slightly different emotional tone. For example, you could have a story where one plot thread contains more serious drama and the other contains more comedy.

Not only does this provide more variety for both you and your readers, but this contrast also means that each chapter evokes stronger emotions because it is contrasted with the chapters before and after it.

This is a fairly old technique which goes all the way back to the “Grand Guignol” theatre of the 19th and 20th centuries. I saw a recreation of this at the Abertoir festival in 2009 and the interesting thing was that, between two horrifying, shock-filled short plays, there was an utterly silly comedy play. This comedy play meant that the terrifying melodrama of the play directly after it was twice as shocking because – a few minutes earlier – you were laughing.

So, yes, this is an old technique. But it works really well πŸ™‚

2) Mini-cliffhangers: I’ve talked about this before, but multiple story threads are an essential part of the thriller and horror genres because they allow for lots of mini-cliffhangers.

Simply put, if you end a chapter with a small cliffhanger of some kind, then the reader has to read through the next chapter – which contains your second storyline- before they can see how the cliffhanger is resolved. Of course, the chapter that the reader has to get through in order to find out “what happens next” can also contain a mini-cliffhanger of it’s own, which pushes the reader to read the next chapter etc….

If you’ve ever read a modern thriller novel, you’ve probably seen some version of this technique and, along with things like shorter chapters and a more “matter of fact” writing style, it is one of the things that makes these novels so gripping. But, of course, it can also be used in a slightly more subtle way in stories in other genres too.

3) Depth, variety and redundancy: Although each chapter should be relevant to the story you are telling, multiple plot threads allow you to add a lot more variety and background detail to your story. After all, if you are showing two related storylines that are happening in different locations, then this makes the “world” of your story feel larger and more expansive.

In addition to this, multiple story threads give both you and your readers some variety too. Having two slightly different storylines can allow you to take a break from each one at regular intervals, which means that you’ll be less likely to get bored of your story or feel uninspired by it. The same can be true for your readers as well.

Plus, another advantage of multiple story threads is that they give your story a certain level of redundancy too. In other words, if your reader doesn’t like one of your story threads, then they’re probably going to keep reading for the simple reason that a better story thread is just a chapter or two away.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Today’s Art (20th July 2019)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the first comic in “Damania Reheated”, this month’s four-comic webcomic mini series. You can find links to lots of other mini series featuring these characters on this page.

And, yes, this comic update was inspired by real life. Specifically, visiting a large bookshop in Petersfield last summer only to find that there was literally no horror shelf. Seriously, not even the token single row of shelves filled with 30-50% Stephen King books that was common in large bookshops during the ’00s.

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Reheated – Horror Shelves” By C. A. Brown

The Joy Of… Second-Hand Books

Well, I thought that I’d talk about one of the most interesting types of books today. I am, of course, talking about second-hand books.

First of all, second-hand books are often slightly older. Not only does this mean that readers can find all sorts of hidden gems that they wouldn’t see on the pristine bestseller-filled shelves of a major high-street bookshop (I mean, old second-hand 1980s splatterpunk horror novels and the occasional 1960s/70s sci-fi novel were the things that kept me reading when I was a teenager), but it also means that authors can get new fans from books that their publishers have long since stopped promoting.

This brings me on to another cool thing about second-hand books, they are pieces of history. Although the difference between collectable “vintage” books and ordinary “second-hand” books means that, unlike in the halcyon days of the ’00s, you’re less likely to find lots of awesome old 1970s-90s horror novels, 1960s/70s sci-fi novels etc.. in charity shops these days, second-hand books are still brilliant pieces of literary history. They allow you to travel back in time to what popular fiction used to be like a decade or two ago.

Like libraries, second-hand books also encourage readers to “take a chance” on authors that they haven’t read before, in a way that expensive new books might not allow them to. Whether someone is curious about an author and shops for a second-hand copy of one of their books online or just randomly browses the shelves of a physical second-hand bookshop or charity shop until they find something interesting, second-hand books allow readers to discover authors that they might not have otherwise read.

Plus, in an age where e-book piracy is unfortunately a thing, second-hand physical books offer a much more ethical, fair, legal and mutually-beneficial alternative to this that both allows readers to find cheaper books and also contains some “built in” protections for authors/publishers too.

First of all, for literally every second-hand book sold in the weeks, months and/or years immediately after first publication, someone has to have bought a new copy first. So, unlike piracy, authors and publishers are guaranteed compensation for their work at the most crucial time (eg: when a book is most heavily-promoted and/or prominently displayed in bookshops).

Yes, second-hand books do sometimes get sold and then later re-sold, but there is always a time gap between a book’s first publication and it going on sale second-hand (again, allowing for a crucial initial run of new sales directly after a book is released).

Thanks to the laws of supply and demand, the second-hand market also contains some “built in” protections which mean that any “losses” from second-hand sales are fairly scaled depending on an author’s popularity and sales figures (eg: bestselling authors will still have millions of new sales before lots of ultra-cheap second-hand copies start to appear. On the other hand, second-hand copies of lesser-known, independently-published and/or mid-list books will be rarer and/or more expensive, meaning that there is more incentive for readers to buy a new copy).

Second-hand book sales also help to support charities, libraries (eg: “withdrawn” books) and small-medium sized businesses too (even if those businesses often have to use major websites as an intermediary for online sales).

Another cool thing about second-hand books is that someone has been there before. Although you’ll sometimes find interesting things like notes in the margins, forgotten bookmarks, the author’s signature and even, once, an old plane ticket – it’s more about the relaxing feeling that the book isn’t pristine. That it’s something unpretentious that you can curl up with and enjoy, without worrying about creasing pristine pages or anything like that. In other words, it is a book that is clearly meant to be read.

There’s also the practical argument too. Second-hand books are a form of recycling. A form of recycling that doesn’t involve lots of factories, pulping machines etc… and which ensures that books don’t go to waste.

Finally, another reason why second-hand books are awesome is because they still give readers all of the rights they had in the pre-internet age πŸ™‚ In this age of “subscriptions”, “streaming” and dystopian DRM added to many digital goods, it is so refreshing to be able to actually own a physical book, to be able to give books to charity, to be able to make a choice between buying a cheaper (but slightly worn/used/old) book or splashing out on a pristine new copy, for the book not to demand subscription fees from you or to become obsolete etc…

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

Three Tips For Keeping Up Your Reading During Hot Weather

Well, I thought that I’d talk about reading today. In particularly, how to keep reading when the weather is hot enough to make reading books seem like far too much effort.

I mean, this might just be me, but I’ve found that – since I got back into reading regularly a few months ago, reading is easier and quicker when the weather is colder.

When the weather gets too hot, it can easily drain your enthusiasm and make the idea of just watching a DVD or playing some computer games feel like a much more relaxing and enjoyable prospect.

So, how can you keep up your reading when the weather is really hot and sweaty? Here are a few tips:

1) Read fun books: This one is fairly obvious but, when the weather gets too hot, it probably isn’t the time to push yourself to read high-brow fiction (although, if you really love this type of fiction, then skip to the second point on this list). In other words, you need to choose books that are just pure escapist fun.

You need to choose stories that move quickly, that make you want to know what happens next and are written in the kind of informal “matter of fact” way that you can read without thinking about too much. Whether they are thriller novels, romance novels, zombie/vampire novels, TV show spin-off novels or movie novelisations, go for books that you feel are just pure fun πŸ™‚

There are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, if the weather is hot enough to make reading seem like an effort or a chore, then you need something to remind you of how fun books are supposed to be. Secondly, if you read a fairly informal or fast-paced novel, then you’ll probably read it fairly quickly, which can help to boost your confidence in your reading speed.

2) Read short books: Another thing to do is to go for shorter books. Yes, these days, shorter books are becoming less and less common but they still exist. Not to mention that many older paperback novels (from as recently as the 1980s/90s) often tend to be shorter than modern ones too.

The main advantages of reading short books during hot weather is that there’s less to read (which helps to compensate for less enthusiasm/reading speed), they tend to tell more focused and streamlined stories (which are more likely to hold your interest) and you’ll finish them at about the same rate that you might finish longer books during colder weather (which helps to keep up your confidence about reading).

In addition to this, reading shorter books can also allow you to read more high-brow fiction when the hot weather is sapping your enthusiasm for reading. And, yes, there are plenty of short, but high-brow, novels/novellas out there. Some examples include “The Stranger” by Albert Camus, “Sulphuric Acid” by AmΓ©lie Nothomb, “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess, “Heart Of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad, “The Passion” by Jeanette Winterson, “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley, “The Red Badge Of Courage” by Stephen Crane etc…

3) Plan ahead: One of the things to watch out for during hot weather is finishing a book and then not bothering to pick up another one (because something else seems more relaxing). So, planning ahead is even more important than usual.

In other words, in addition to working out what you are going to read after you’ve finished your current book, try to work out what you are going to read after that book too. Keeping 2-3 books queued up and ready to go means that there’s less risk of losing interest in reading after you’ve finished your current book.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Three Reasons Why You Should Abandon A Novel You Don’t Enjoy Reading

Although I’ve already written about when and how to abandon books that you aren’t enjoying, I thought that I’d look at some of the reasons why you should do this.

After all, if you read regularly, then there can often be a feeling that you should just keep reading a book even if it’s something that you really don’t enjoy. Getting over this reflex can have all sorts of benefits, even if it takes a little while to learn how to do so without feeling like you’re doing something wrong (you aren’t! Unless the book is a set text, abandoning it is the right thing to do).

So, why should you abandon books that you aren’t enjoying?

1) It keeps you reading: If you’ve started reading a book that you don’t enjoy, then one of the first signs of this is that reading it feels more like a chore than anything else.

It feels like you’re back in school/college/university again and have to slog through one of the more dusty set texts (on penalty of getting a bad grade if you don’t). It feels like you’re wasting your time. It feels like you’ve just volunteered for something arduous. It feels like you’ve been swindled by cool cover art or an awesome blurb. I could go on…

And, when this happens, you’re probably going to procrastinate or let yourself get distracted. In other words, you’ll be doing things other than reading. Needless to say, if you want to keep reading regularly or to remember why you read regularly (hint: it’s supposed to be fun), then this sort of thing isn’t good.

So, if you want to keep reading, then don’t be afraid to abandon books that you don’t enjoy and read something that you do enjoy instead. Think of it as literary self-defence or something like that. Abandoning a book that you don’t enjoy protects your enjoyment of literature as a whole.

2) Time is more valuable than money: Even if you binge-read fairly quickly, books are still one of the most time-consuming entertainment mediums out there. Even the longest and most drawn-out of modern Hollywood movies (and don’t get me started on this topic…) are nothing compared to even a medium-length novel.

Books, of course, repay you for this by providing a type of storytelling that is deeper than the most well-written TV box sets and more immersive than the latest VR technology. When a book is good, all of this time feels like time well spent.

Time is more valuable than money. Even if you’ve splashed out on a brand new hardback novel that you later find that you don’t enjoy, then the 4-12 hours you’ll spend reading it is more valuable than the Β£10-30 you’ve spent on it. At the very least, you could spend that time reading a better book instead. Yes, you might feel like you’ve wasted money if you abandon a book that you’ve bought, but you’ll have saved time. And, time is more valuable than money.

So, if you really aren’t enjoying a book, then don’t feel bad about abandoning it and reading a better one instead. After all, everyone only has a limited amount of time and you might as well spend it well.

3) You can’t read every book (so, make each one matter): Following on from my last point, there are more books published within even the last decade than anyone can ever dream of reading – let alone all of the books published during the centuries-old history of the medium. It is impossible to read every book ever written.

So, if you can’t read every book, then you should focus on reading the best ones. On reading the books that you really enjoy reading. On reading the books that are so compelling, atmospheric, profound, imaginative etc.. that they take up residence in your imagination long after you’ve finished reading them. On reading the books that make you think “I’m really glad that I read this“.

So, you shouldn’t feel bad about dropping a book that you don’t enjoy. You can’t read everything. I mean, you probably won’t be able to read all of the really good books ever written (because there are too many of them), so why miss an opportunity to read another good one by reading a less good book instead?

This brings me back to the underlying theme of this article. Time spent pushing yourself to read a book that you don’t enjoy is time you could be spending reading a book that you really enjoy. So, don’t feel bad about abandoning books that you don’t like.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚