Three More Reasons Why Reading Is Better Than Gaming

So, a couple of nights before writing this article, I was watching random gaming videos on Youtube and found myself feeling nostalgic for the days when I played more computer games. By contrast, the novel I’d planned to read just felt kind of “drab” and “ordinary” compared to all of the cool fan culture that surrounds gaming.

[Edit: This article was originally prepared before I got a slightly more modern refurbished computer, which can actually play some modern “AA” and indie games. So, whilst I no longer have the same anger about modern system requirements as I did when I wrote this article (and have slightly toned down these parts before publication), the point probably still stands.]

But, although there are a lot of good things to be said about gaming, I thought that I’d argue the case for books today. In particular, why they can be better than games. I’ve probably talked about this before, but I felt like revisiting the subject. Even so, apologies if I repeat myself during this article:

1) Single-player, offline fun: These days, games seem to be drifting more and more towards online multiplayer, which is great if you’re a highly social person who also likes the length and times of your gaming sessions to be dictated by other players. If you aren’t, then it isn’t so great.

Likewise, there seems to be more and more of a requirement for games to be constantly online. Whether it is modern internet-connected consoles, constant “updates”, DRM requirements for some games (which can also be used to exclude users of classic computers), greedy things like micro-transactions or even the dreaded “software as a service” rental model, games are moving online. Even if you’ve got a good internet connection, then this is still an extra thing to rely on, an extra thing to go wrong and/or an extra thing to get in the way.

Books have none of these problems. By their very nature, they are a solitudinous form of entertainment that can be enjoyed at the reader’s own pace. Likewise, because they are made of paper, they don’t need an internet connection either. In other words, they’re more like the classic games of the 1990s in this respect 🙂

2) System requirements: I’ve talked about this many times before, but it is worth repeating. Books don’t have system requirements 🙂

Yes, an older or more linguistically-complex book might take longer to read. But, if you can read, then you can read it. You might have to look up unfamiliar words or make a guess from the context they are used in. You might not understand literally everything about a “difficult” book. But, if you can read, then you can read pretty much anything.

Now, compare this to computer games. They have system requirements.

If you want to participate in current gaming culture or if you just want to play an interesting-looking new game that you’ve heard about, then you’d better have splashed out on a powerful modern computer before you even think about playing it.

In other words, games have a load of extra barriers to entry that books don’t. The greatest irony of all is that, unlike games, modern books will often be written in a more “readable” way than older books are. They are something that is actually easier to pick up and read.

Likewise, if you can’t afford a new book, then it will usually either be in libraries (although, with the current UK government, maybe not), come down in price over time and/or eventually appear on the second-hand market. By contrast, unless you only want to play older games (which are often better) then you’d better be able to splash out hundreds or thousands on the “right” kind of computer before you even buy the game.

3) Variation: This is less of an issue these days, thanks to the awesome popularity of indie games (even if they often have ridiculous system requirements, despite their “retro” graphics), but one of the main reasons why there is such a popular fan culture around games is because there aren’t that many major games.

After all, “AAA” games cost millions and require hundreds of skilled workers to make. As such, not only are there less of them but they will often be aimed for the largest and most “popular” audience too.

In other words, games are a bit like Hollywood movies. If you happen to like what is “popular” at the moment, then you are in heaven. If not then, although there might be indie games for you, expect to feel a bit left behind.

Books, on the other hand, have a lot more variation. Pretty much any genre or type of story you can think of is covered. If you want a Lovecraftian parody of “Scooby Doo”, a thriller about zombie vampires in a rural village in the 1980s, a hilarious time travel based sci-fi series, a murder mystery set in Tudor-era Hampshire, a “film noir” where the detective is a vampire etc.. Then books have got you covered 🙂

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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Three Possible Reasons Why Paperback Cover Art Was Better In The 1980s

Well, the day before I prepared this article, I happened to discover an absolutely awesome (but slightly hidden) second-hand bookshop in Petersfield. One of the things that amazed me about this shop was the sheer number of 1980s/90s horror and sci-fi books it had 🙂

And, although it might be a few days before I read and review any of these books, I noticed myself buying at least a few 1980s books purely based on the cover art. It didn’t matter if I’d already read them before or if I’d never even heard of the author, their cover art was miles better than anything produced since. Here are a couple of examples:

These are the covers for the 1984 Arrow (UK) edition of Peter Beere’s “Urban Prey” and the 1986 Star Books (UK) edition of Shaun Hutson’s “Relics”.

These are book covers! The cover for “Urban Prey” looks like an awesome mixture of an Iron Maiden album cover and something from “Blade Runner” (and it was published two years before Iron Maiden’s “Somewhere In Time” too). The cover for “Relics” looks like a really cool mixture of a horror movie poster and a heavy metal album cover. They are striking, dramatic, detailed and artistic book covers 🙂

So, why were paperback novel covers so much cooler in the 1980s? Here are a few of my speculations about the topic:

1) Mass entertainment: Although videogames, home video, television and cinema existed during the 1980s, they were either more expensive and/or more primitive. Likewise, options for portable entertainment were much more limited too. Not to mention that, although the Net Book Agreement was still a thing in the UK, books were probably cheaper to buy or borrow than videotapes were.

As such, with less competition from other mediums, paperback books were more of a popular entertainment medium than they are today. Since there were more people reading books, publishers had to make sure that their books stood out on the shelf. And, one way of doing this is with vivid, dramatic cover art that tells a story visually and/or suggests some kind of mystery.

So, because people read more books during the 1980s, there was even more of a reason for publishers to commission eye-catching cover art.

2) No internet: These days, finding out about books and authors just requires a quick internet search. And, if you’ve got one of those trendy smartphones, you can even look up reviews for an unknown book whilst you’re browsing in a bookshop. However, if you don’t have a smartphone, then you have to make judgements about an unknown book based on actually looking at it (and this can lead to finding some real gems 🙂 ).

This is probably one of the reasons why impressive cover art mattered more during the 1980s. After all, if you can’t guarantee that potential readers have heard of an author before, then you need to impress them with cover art. You need to make a cover that makes them want to read more. You need a cover that makes the book look too cool to ignore.

Likewise, the fact that the world wide web didn’t exist in the 1980s also meant that there was no online shopping. Although online shopping is really useful, most book covers are only displayed as small thumbnails on websites. This seems to have led to a design philosophy that focuses more on things like minimalism and/or having just one striking image on the cover.

On the other hand, books from the 1980s were designed to be viewed “full size” on shop shelves. As such, there was more of an incentive for publishers to use detailed artwork on their book covers. After all, the reader is going to be taking a closer look at it, so the quality and level of detail has to be higher.

3) Art materials: Whilst photography (and non-digital image editing) obviously existed during the 1980s, digital image editing tools were very much in their infancy (if they even existed). As such, if a publisher wanted a book cover that depicted a fantastical, historical, futuristic etc… scene, then it was probably much easier and cheaper to hire a painter than it was to stage a photograph.

As such, sci-fi/fantasy/horror book covers from the 1980s were usually produced by professional artists who often used the same traditional materials (eg: oil paint, watercolours, gouache etc…) that famous historical artists used. Yes, they probably also used some later technology (eg: physical airbrushes etc…) too – but novel cover art from this time is still very much “non-digital”.

This gives these old book covers a much more dramatic and timeless quality. Not only that, every artist has their own style, which also gives these covers a bit more personality and uniqueness too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Top Ten Articles – August 2019

Well, it’s the end of the month and this means that it’s time for me to collect a list of the ten best articles about writing, making comics, reading books etc.. that I’ve posted here over the past month (As usual, I’ll also include a few honourable mentions too).

Despite being busy with various things, this month’s articles turned out better than I expected. Not only that, I also managed to review thirteen novels this month too – my favourites were probably: “Cabal” by Clive Barker, “Kill The Dead” by Tanith Lee, “Anno Mortis” by Rebecca Levene, “Meddling Kids” by Edgar Cantero and “Lies, Damned Lies, And History” by Jodi Taylor.

Anyway, here are the lists, enjoy 🙂

Top Ten Articles – August 2019:

– “Three Ways To Make Familiar Horror Monsters Scarier
– “One Essential, But Overlooked, Element Of Fantasy Fiction – A Ramble
– “Four Reasons To Read Books By Lots Of Different Authors
– “The One Time You Should Avoid Writing Advice – A Ramble
– “Three Random Tips For Making Your Zombie Story Stand Out From The Crowd
– “Three Thoughts About Writing Short Fantasy Fiction
– “Three Benefits And Downsides Of Reading A Lot
– “One Way To Improve The Filler Comics In Your Webcomic
– “Three More Thoughts About How To Make Zombie Stories Scary
– “Three Lessons Writers Can Learn From 1980s Horror Fiction

Honourable Mentions:

– “Three Awesome Reasons Why Books Are Rebellious
– “When Is It Ok To ‘Break The Rules’ In Your Writing?
– “Small Recaps Are Useful For Your Readers! Use Them! – A Ramble

Three Benefits And Downsides Of Reading A Lot

Well, I thought that I’d talk about reading books again today. This is mostly because, ever since I got back into reading regularly several months ago, I’ve noticed a few things about reading a lot (either in the past and/or in the present) that are simultaneously awesome and annoying.

1) Your nostalgia will be different: One of the interesting things about books is that they aren’t really “mainstream” in the way that film, TV and videogames are. Whilst this has both benefits and drawbacks (for example, you can find an utterly awesome novel that is better than pretty much every movie/TV show you’ve seen… but no-one else will have heard of it or read it), I thought that I’d look at how it relates to nostalgia.

If you are a reader then, barring a few popular novels like the “Harry Potter” books and “The Da Vinci Code”, your nostalgia will be probably slightly different from everyone else’s. When you look back on the things that shaped your imagination and accompanied you during your earlier years, they will be different to what everyone else thinks about.

For example, when I’m feeling nostalgic, I’ll sometimes re-read some of the old 1980s/90s horror novels that I first found in second-hand shops and charity shops when I was a teenager during the ’00s. These are, to me at least, really nostalgic books. Yet, if I asked a random person on the street what “2000s nostalgia” looks like, they probably wouldn’t mention a collection of 20-40 year old books.

So, if books are your main form of entertainment, then your nostalgia will be different to most other people’s. On the plus side, this makes your nostalgia a bit more personal, unique, meaningful and cool. On the downside, it means that popular nostalgia won’t always resonate with you to quite the same extent.

2) You’ll encounter great books: This is both a good and a bad thing. If you read a lot then, by the law of averages, you are going to stumble across a truly great book every once in a while. This is the kind of book that lingers in your imagination, that feels like “THIS book was written for ME!” and/or makes you not want to finish it because that would mean that the story is over.

When you find one of these books, it is a truly awe-inspiring experience. Because of the added depth/immersion that the written word gives stories and because you have to use your own imagination whilst reading, it is a more vivid and unique experience than finding a really awesome movie, TV series or videogame. It reminds you why you read books and it enriches you in ways that you can’t even put into words. It is amazing.

However, the downside of all of this is when you finish that great book and look for the next book to read. This next book will be judged by the standards of the greatness that has come before it and this means that good or ok novels that you probably would have really enjoyed in other circumstances can sometimes seem off-putting in the days after reading a great book.

So, you either have to search for another great book (and they can be pretty rare) or go through the rigmarole of reading the first chapters of a few other books until you find a really good one that doesn’t seem like too much of a step down.

3) Book piles: Unless you read your books on an electronic device that needs to be recharged, doesn’t include second-hand novels and will probably become “obsolete” when the company that makes it wants to sell you a new one, then you will probably have at least a few book piles.

For those who don’t know, this is when your bookshelves run out of space and the only way to store the rest of the books is in ever-growing stalgmite-like piles that look a little bit like this:

This is a detail from a painting I made of my main book pile a few months earlier. At the time of writing, many of the books on it are different and the pile has grown very slightly taller.

Book piles are awesome for so many reasons. The covers and spines can add extra decoration to a room (unless you need to turn the books sideways to make room for more). They let you see what you could read next and what you’ve enjoyed in the past.

Book piles also make somewhere feel like home too (if you have book piles, you’ll understand this. If you don’t, then you probably never will).

Plus, if you spot a book pile somewhere else then you know you are in the company of a like-minded individual and, best of all, if you’ve got a few book piles then you can find all sorts of buried treasures in them that you’d totally forgotten that you even owned.

Not only that, knowing how to structure a book pile so that it contains the most books possible in the least amount of space whilst also remaining structurally stable is the kind of skill that can come in handy in all sorts of areas. Seriously, you’ll become a better Tetris player at the very least.

On the downside, there is never enough room for all the book piles you need (requiring you to restructure them or send books to the charity shop every now and then), you’ll never have the time to read literally everything in your book piles and non-readers might react with criticism/ridicule when they see even a modest book pile or seven.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Four Reasons To Read Books By Lots Of Different Authors

I’m not sure if I’ve talked about this before, but I felt like talking about some of the benefits of reading books by lots of different authors rather than just sticking to a couple of favourite authors. Although this is more of an issue if you binge-read and/or read quickly, some of the stuff in this article will probably apply regardless of your reading speed.

1) It keeps your favourites enjoyable: For the first two or three weeks after I got back into reading regularly again, I became a fan of Clive Cussler. I eagerly binge-read Cussler novel after Cussler novel. But, after reading eight of them, I just couldn’t get into the ninth one I’d planned to read. It just seemed like more of the same. I’d become bored of an author that I really enjoyed.

This taught me a lot. In short, when it comes to books, you can have too much of a good thing. If you only focus on reading books by a small number of authors, then you will probably get bored with them at some point. They will go from being amazing to being drearily mundane.

So, setting yourself something like an “always read a book by a different author to the one you’ve just read” rule can protect your enjoyment of your favourite authors – and help you to discover more favourite authors too.

2) It protects against feelings of loss when you finish a series: A few weeks after I got back into reading regularly, I discovered Jocelynn Drake’s amazing “Dark Days” series. Although I was following an “always read a book by a different author to the one you’ve just read” rule by then, there was often literally just one other book between most of the “Dark Days” novels I read.

Leaving aside the prequel novella, the main series is only six novels long. So, I ended up finishing it within less than a month and felt absolutely miserable when I realised that it was over. After this, I’ve become a lot more reticent about reading more than 1-2 books from any given series within the space of a month.

Not only does reading lots of different authors mean that you’ll get to savour your favourite series over a longer amount of time, but frequent exposure to other authors also means that you won’t get too over-attached to any one series – so there’s much less of a feeling of loss when a series ends because you’ll know from experience there are lots of other great books and/or series out there too.

3) It makes you a better reader (and writer): In short, every author has a different writing style. And, if you get too used to one author’s writing style, then this can make reading books by other authors a bit more difficult. It can make everything else seem too fast or slow paced, too descriptive or superficial etc.. by comparison.

By regularly reading books by different authors, you constantly have to get used to different writing styles and this will make you a better reader. Not only will it mean that you’ll adapt to different styles more easily, but having experience of reading lots of different writing styles will help you to see why an author uses the style that they do.

Likewise, whilst there’s no shame in abandoning a book you really don’t enjoy (and reading something you enjoy instead), having experience of reading lots of different writing styles means that you’ll be more likely to give each book a bit more of a chance. Whilst this might not always work out well, there are quite a few books out there which only really get good after you’ve read the first 50-150 pages. So, you’ll find books that can really catch you by surprise 🙂

Not to mention that, if you’re a writer too, then this will also help you to find your own writing style too. After all, if you’re only influenced by one or two authors, then your writing style will be a second-rate imitation of those writers’ styles. However, if you are influenced by lots of different authors, then it becomes a lot more difficult for the reader to pick out each influence – so, your style will seem more unique and distinctive.

4) You’ll know yourself better: No-one wants to read a book they don’t enjoy. This is why people will sometimes stick to reading just one or two favourite authors. But, pushing yourself to read lots of different authors means that you have to know what qualities to look for when searching for books to read.

After all, if you’re looking for new authors online or in bookshops, you’ll often have to make a snap decision about whether a book is worth taking a closer look at or not. So, knowing what qualities you enjoy in a story (rather than just knowing the names of a couple of authors you enjoy) means that this process becomes a lot faster and easier.

In other words, to know what types of books you’ll really enjoy, you need to know yourself. So, reading books by lots of different authors and asking yourself why you enjoy the books that you enjoy can be a way of finding out more about yourself.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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 🙂 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 🙂

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Books – A Comic by C. A. Brown

Well, it has been literally years since I made a comic-format blog article and, although this one ended up being a slightly introspective ramble about getting back into reading books about 8-9 months earlier (after not reading much for the 2-3 years before that), it was so much fun to make.

However, due to making these articles/comics quite far in advance, I made this comic several months before I ended up getting a more modern refurbished computer (so the cynical parts about system requirements etc.. are a bit out of date. Plus, expect modern “AA” indie game reviews to start appearing here occasionally from about November onwards 🙂 )

Enjoy 🙂

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

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Books – A Comic” By C. A. Brown