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 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

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 🙂

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 🙂 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 🙂