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 are a bit out of date.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 πŸ™‚ )

Enjoy πŸ™‚

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

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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

Three Reasons Why Authors Write Books That Are “Difficult To Read”

I’m not sure if I’ve talked about this before, but I thought that I’d talk about the topic of “difficult to read” books today. I’m not talking about books that cover grim or depressing subject matter, but about books which are written in an unusual, experimental, formal and/or avant-garde way that might leave the reader feeling confused and/or having to read the book at a much slower pace than they would normally expect to.

Since, believe it or not, there are actually good practical reasons why some authors do this. When it is done well, it can really add a lot to a story. But, why?

1) Atmosphere: All novels contain a balance between descriptions and actions. If a story focuses more on actions, then it often tends to be a lot more fast-paced and easy to read. This comes at the cost of some characterisation and atmosphere, but it results in a much more freely-flowing, informal, fun and gripping story. If you find a book that is easy to read and relax with, then it probably focuses more on actions than descriptions.

On the other hand, there’s also a lot to be said for focusing on descriptions instead. Descriptions are the things that make characters seem like real people and which make the “world” of the story feel deeper and more immersive than even the latest virtual reality technology. However, descriptions are slow-paced and will often involve more complex, formal and/or poetic language, which can be more “difficult” to read than matter-of-fact descriptions of actions can be.

So, sometimes a book can be “difficult to read” because the author has chosen to focus more on the atmosphere and characters instead. Think of it like the graphics settings in a computer game. If a game is running on the highest graphics settings, where everything looks crisp and hyper-detailed, then it is probably going to run slower than if the graphics settings are lowered to the absolute minimum.

2) Clever stuff: Simply put, books can do a lot of stuff that no other storytelling medium can. Authors can do all sorts of clever stuff that film directors, game designers etc… can only dream of. But, if you aren’t used to this, then it can sometimes come across as confusing. So, if you see something a bit weird or confusing in a novel, then there is usually a good reason for it.

To give you a famous example, take a look at Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall“. The novel’s narration jumps around between time periods with very little warning and, whenever the main character appears, he is often just referred to as “he” without being introduced by name. At first, this will be confusing to read, but there are good reasons for it.

“Wolf Hall” is a historical novel about Thomas Cromwell, so calling him “he” (rather than introducing him by name) whenever he appears creates both a feeling of intimacy and also helps to remind the reader that Cromwell is the focus of the story (eg: he’s so important that he doesn’t need to be mentioned by name).

Likewise, the random flashbacks-within-flashbacks and time jumps mirror how memories work. After all, we rarely remember things in a logical order. So, when you get used to these quirks, the story gains a level of depth that you probably wouldn’t find in a film or TV show.

Another famous example is probably the cyberpunk genre. In these sci-fi stories, the reader will often be bombarded with lots of futuristic jargon with barely any time to work out what it all means. Although this might seem really confusing, it is done for a really good reason.

These stories are set in chaotic, dystopian, hyper-capitalist technology-filled near-future worlds. As such, the best way to get all of this stuff across to the reader is to “drop them in at the deep end”, leaving them reeling at the sensory overload of the futuristic world they’ve found themselves in.

You’re meant to feel overwhelmed and disorientated when reading a cyberpunk novel because this is what the characters have got used to living with. After all, if a time traveller from the 1950s appeared today, they would probably be extremely confused when they heard people talking about social media, hashtags, smartphones, videogames etc…

3) Challenge, effort and prestige: As bizarre as it sounds, some of the most enjoyable things out there can be the most difficult. Anyone who is a fan of fiendishly difficult 1990s computer games like “Final Doom”, “Rise Of The Triad: Dark War“, “Blood” etc.. will know what I’m talking about here. That feeling of victory when you beat a level of the game through sheer determination, perseverance and practice.

And, sometimes, the same is true for books. If a book is good enough, then grappling with any confusing parts of it is part of the fun. It is what makes reading the book such a rewarding activity. All of the extra mental effort you put into reading it will also mean that the story will probably linger in your imagination for long after you’ve put the book down too.

Plus, of course, there’s also the matter of bragging rights too. Seriously, finishing a “difficult” book really gives you a feeling of achievement.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

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™‚

Obscurity And The Written Word – A Ramble

A few days before I wrote this article, I was reminded of one of the major differences between film/TV/videogames and novels. The novel that I’m (still) re-reading at the moment is a spin-off novel based on the “Final Destination” horror movie series. This was a novel that I first read in 2005/6 and, when I first found my old copy of it, I thought “I remember this! I’ll look online for other books in the series“.

It was quite an eye-opener. Whilst DVDs of the films from this series were reasonably cheap, most of the spin-off novels (all less than two decades old!) were surprisingly expensive out-of-print copies. Whilst I was pretty amazed that I unwittingly owned a book that had become a collector’s item, it also crystallised one of the major differences between prose fiction and other mediums.

Namely that it is much easier for books to be obscure than it is for stuff in other genres. After all, if you see an interesting film or play an interesting game, then there’s a good chance that quite a few people have heard of it. There will be Youtube videos about it, fan art about it and maybe even mainstream press coverage too. On the other hand, if you find a really interesting novel, then there’s a fairly good chance that most people haven’t even heard of it.

There are, of course, a lot of reasons for this. Books take more time and effort to enjoy than other mediums. Publishers’ advertising budgets are lower, so only a few big name authors tend to get promoted. The experience of reading a book is slightly different for every reader. It costs less to produce a book, so there are many more of them. Reading is an inherently solitary activity. I could go on for quite a while, but there are a lot of reasons why books will often be more obscure than things in other mediums.

And, yes, this can be somewhat off-putting at times. I mean, when I got back into reading regularly a few months ago, I soon felt the familiar feeling of disconnection that comes from enjoying a medium that really doesn’t have a mainstream fan culture in the way that games, films, TV shows etc.. do. Or, rather, one that has a very limited mainstream fan culture. Seriously, aside from classic literature and a few big name authors, books really don’t get the kind of press that games, films etc.. do.

And, yes, this can make being a reader, rather than a gamer or a film/TV buff, feel somewhat lonely. But, it isn’t all bad news. For starters, the obscurity of most novels means that there is a whole culture that is “hiding in plain sight” in the modern world. Whilst film franchises might be well-known about, there are loads of even better book franchises that no-one has heard of. And discovering one of these is like finding hidden treasure or joining a secret society or something like that.

Likewise, this obscurity also gives books a level of freedom that other mediums can only dream of. After all, the more mainstream something is, the more it has to appeal to a mainstream audience. Because most novels won’t become well-known, this gives authors a lot more creative freedom. This includes everything from the choice of main characters to the types of stories told to things like censorship-related issues (seriously, read a 1980s splatterpunk horror novel. It’ll make even the most gruesome modern horror movies look tame by comparison.)

Plus, because books don’t require things like special effects, teams of programmers etc… books can do things that films, TV shows and games can’t do. Or, to put it another way, even the cheesiest and most “low budget” novel can be considerably more impressive than even a mid-budget film, game or TV show.

This obscurity also means that books can be years ahead of other mediums too. For example, this horror novel from the mid-2000s actually seems like it’s from the mid-2000s, rather than the “1990s in disguise” that films from the time often inhabited. This sci-fi novel from 1992 reminded me a bit of a sci-fi movie from 1995-99 (like “The Matrix” or “Ghost In The Shell”). I could go on, but because books don’t have to fit into mainstream expectations, they can often be years ahead of more popular storytelling mediums.

The obscurity of books also means that, if a genre that you aren’t a fan of becomes popular, then there are still loads of other good books out there. I mean, whilst superhero films and online multiplayer games might be all the rage these days, lots of new books in all genres are still being published all the time.

So, yes, books being the most overlooked and obscure storytelling medium out there these days isn’t an entirely bad thing.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚