The Health Benefits of Reading

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The WSJ has an interesting article on “reading parties,” (skip the comments). People are getting together to read in silence, which is fine, I guess?

The really interesting thing is the list of health benefits to reading, which is included in this handy graphic.

Hot-linked Pseudo-Venn Diagram of the Benefits of Reading

“Reduces stress” is vital, and “Improves listening” makes me think I should have my son read three or four times a day.

But I’m still stymied by the idea of reading parties. I get that it can be pleasant to meet new people doing the thing you love (especially if you’re the type to bring “impressive” books so everyone could see how smart you are) but it still seems like putting yourself in a position where the people around you will, with your permission, police your own behavior. “I’d never stay off Twitter for 30 minutes if I were alone, but if I have all these people watching me…”

I’m not saying there’s something wrong with it, but it’s not a choice I would make. If I realize the book I’m reading can’t keep me so absorbed that I stay off Twitter, I put the book away. Then again, I’ve never been the sort who tried to impress people with my reading choices.

ADDED LATER: I took the speed reading test. While my comprehension was perfect (partly because I knew I’d be tested) my wpm was 261, slightly above average. That surprises me, because I’ve always believed I was slower than average. I guess I’m just slower than everyone I know.

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

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The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike, #1)The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars for a book that started poorly but became compulsive reading as the story went on.

This book flies straight down the center of the genre, in that everything anyone talks about is somehow related to the main plot, it’s a long series of conversations (interrogations, really) one after another, with clues hidden in the details that don’t line up, and a crime as improbable as any.

Not that I care about a whodunit. I never try to follow the clue by clue, guessing the real killer or whatever. I just enjoy the characters and their secrets.

How *have* private eye novels been doing? I have been under the impression that they’re out of favor, and that maybe “Galbraith” is keen on resurrecting another moribund genre. It doesn’t really matter, because this book, despite a few rough patches, was great fun (once you read beyond the unpromising first few chapters). I’ll be grabbing the sequel.



Buy a copy.

Gaudy Night, by Dorothy L. Sayers

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Gaudy NightGaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m reading these books all out of order.

Harriet Vane is my favorite Mary Sue in all of literature, largely because she’s so complicated and difficult, for herself and for everyone around her. Lord Peter Whimsey (and I don’t care what anyone says, but that’s the best/worst character name ever) is brilliant, super-rich, heroic, funny, well-educated, and completely in love with her. She loves him back but won’t marry him because he saved her from the gallows the first time they met, and she hates the imbalance between them. She can’t bear to marry someone she’s supposed to feel grateful toward.

I kept expecting this to turn into a murder mystery, but really it’s about doxing a particularly vicious pre-internet troll. That makes it the most interesting murderless mystery I’ve ever heard of.

Anyway, I suppose I should have fallen in love with Oxford–the text certainly wanted me to–but it didn’t happen. I did have to employ Fantasy Reading Protocols for the allusions the extremely well-educated characters employed, but that was part of what makes it fun. Also fun was seeing Harriet grapple with a new level of psychological depth in her novel-in-progress while Sayers herself populates the book with a whole platoon of wonderful characters.

I don’t think of this as the sort of book I enjoy. It’s not dark, it’s not violent, it’s not full of grief… Still, I stayed up all hours to finish, and whatever I read next will suffer by comparison.

Good book.



Buy your own copy.

City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett

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City of StairsCity of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Like any detective novel, City of Stairs starts off with a doubled narrative. The first is the story of the investigation itself; the second is the story that is uncovered–a story of secret jealousies, agendas, and betrayals that led to the murder in question. The first narrative is the uncovering of the second.

But while City of Stairs starts off like any detective novel, the second narrative quickly transitions away from the murder toward the history of the ruined city that comprises the setting of the story.

This city was once the capital of a world-spanning empire, backed by the might of mysterious and powerful Divinities. Then, one of their conquered slave states developed a weapon against the gods and, upon their deaths, the empire was not just overthrown but also physically ruined.

Who murdered the beloved old professor looking into the forbidden history of those Divinities? What are the former conquerors plotting to overthrow their new masters? Why did the gods help one people but not the others?

Into this mess comes a bookish, brilliant, bespectacled woman, Shara, who is the preeminent spy in her young empire, along with her secretary, a huge, ass-kicking nihilist named Sigurd.

Sigurd will be a fan favorite, I predict; he nicely fulfills Jim-Butcher-like levels of Exaggeration (reference: http://jimbutcher.livejournal.com/1698.html ) but it’s Shara who carries things. Her voice–analytical, disillusioned, detached emotionally except when she’s not–makes the book work.

However, this is a book about stories, and they’re stories that the characters tell each other. While there are some action scenes, much of the text is taken up with puzzling over old myths and secret history, so it’s talky. In a good way, but still.

Anyway, this is the first of Robert Jackson Bennett’s books I’ve read, and it’s terrific. You should read it, too.



View all my reviews

California Bones by Greg Van Eekhout (Goodreads review)

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California BonesCalifornia Bones by Greg Van Eekhout

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tremendous fun for fans of heists and magic, set in a modern day Los Angeles unlike the LA in our world. It’s twisty, creepy, and I’m off to take a shower after reading about people dunking themselves in nasty canal water.

First in a series.

Recommended.


Grab a copy right now.

Amazon news that might actually be true

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New reports suggest that Amazon is considering launching an Oyster-like “Kindle Unlimited” service that would allow readers, for $9.99 a month, unlimited access to hundreds of thousands of titles.

The really exciting thing about this for Amazon fans is that it appears that they’ll include audiobooks, too. That’s pretty cool.

This is something I’d be very interested in, depending on the contract terms. A Kindle Unlimited program would be a great way to introduce readers to my work; the real issue is how often those readers would venture outside the program for their books.

Great books for cheap (Humble Bundle)

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There are a bunch of (DRM-free, multi-format) sf/f ebooks available right now (for maybe another week) through the latest Humble Bundle. What’s more, as per other Humble Bundles in the past, more books will be added as the timer counts down.

This “bundle” benefits the SFWA medical emergency fund and First Book, a program that puts new books in schools full of underprivileged kids, because god forbid we should ever fund education properly.

Check it out. Even if you are only interested in half the books, you’d be getting a good deal and helping worthy causes.

Get Together for Seattle-Area Folk, 6/14, 3pm

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Hey, if you’re in Seattle, why not join me at the UW Bookstore on Saturday, 6/14, for a 3pm reading by Greg Van Eekhout. Greg’s new book is called California Bones. Here’s the description:

When Daniel Blackland was six, he ingested his first bone fragment, a bit of kraken spine plucked out of the sand during a visit with his demanding, brilliant, and powerful magician father, Sebastian. When Daniel was twelve, he watched Sebastian die at the hands of the Hierarch of Southern California, devoured for the heightened magic layered deep within his bones.

Now, years later, Daniel is a petty thief with a forged identity. Hiding amid the crowds in Los Angeles—the capital of the Kingdom of Southern California—Daniel is trying to go straight. But his crime-boss uncle has a heist he wants Daniel to perform: break into the Hierarch’s storehouse of magical artifacts and retrieve Sebastian’s sword, an object of untold power.

For this dangerous mission, Daniel will need a team he can rely on, so he brings in his closest friends from his years in the criminal world. There’s Moth, who can take a bullet and heal in mere minutes. Jo Alverado, illusionist. The multitalented Cassandra, Daniel’s ex. And, new to them all, the enigmatic, knowledgeable Emma, with her British accent and her own grudge against the powers-that-be. The stakes are high, and the stage is set for a showdown that might just break the magic that protects a long-corrupt regime.

You can read an excerpt, too.

Anyway, it sounds great. I’m going to be there. I plan to be at the Big Time Brewery at 1pm, resolutely not getting drunk. Depending on how well Greg’s travel arrangements go, he might be there, too. Maybe I’ll bring some galley copies of the paper edition of Twenty Palaces to give away. Or something.

With luck, traffic arriving for the UW Commencement ceremony will end before 1pm and Greg’s event will end before the outflow traffic resumes.

“Edit” is not synonymous with “fix”

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I just saw the umpteenth iteration of “If only this had been edited!” which I’m not linking to because why and also because it’s always and everywhere. You can’t swing a dead pixel without hitting some forum comment lamenting that There Are Errors Where There Shouldn’t Be.

So.

The verb “edit,” when it’s applied to text, does not mean “fix.” I don’t care what the dictionary says, it doesn’t. It means “change.”

Obviously, yes, we hope the changes we make will be improvements. We’re trying to fix things when they’re broken, correct inconsistencies, smooth out sentence structures, fix verb tenses, switch out that off-key word with a clearer one, whatever. Edits are an attempt at improving things.

However, sometimes an edit creates a conflict with something else in the text. Sometimes it’s just a flat out error. What’s more, as a reader we can’t tell if an error was added in the first draft and missed in revisions or if it was added on the very last pass through.

Hey, mistakes happen, even when you edit.

Randomness for 3/6

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1) First sentences of famous novels, diagrammed.

2) Guy creates Kickstarter to interview loving couples to find out what makes relationships last. His results.

3) Pedestrian rollercoaster not as cool as it looks. Why couldn’t they just make the stairs twist so you could go up the loop?

4) Medieval Pet Names.

5) Ursula Vernon on becoming tired of reading fantasy. I’m having similar feelings.

6) Star Trek Into Darkness: What Came Next. lol

7) In 2005, a fifth-grader wrote a letter to her 20-year-old self.