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.

Novelist given psych exam, locked away by police for work of fiction he published at 20

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[UPDATE: According to the L.A.Times, McLaw was not removed from his job and taken for treatment because of the novels. Apparently, he wrote a four-page letter that alarmed authorities, and they've known about the novels for a couple of years.

It's frustrating, because I heard about this story a week ago when it first broke, and I was waiting to see what would shake out before writing a post. If I'd waited until this afternoon instead of this morning, I wouldn't have relied on the ridiculous early news report, which was disseminated widely and which explicitly linked his books to administrative action.

I'll leave the original post below, for the obvious reasons.]


You may have heard about Patrick McLaw, a twenty-three year old teacher in Maryland who has been kicked out of his job, is being investigated by the county sheriff, has had his home searched, had the school where he taught searched, has been forbidden to go onto county property at all, is being given a psychological exam in a location that the police will not name, and is not free to leave, according to the cops. Has he been arrested? Authorities will not say. Try not to be surprised when I say he’s black.

His crime? Three years ago he self-published a science fiction novel, set 900 years in the future, about the race to stop a school shooter.

You can read about his story at The Atlantic. I encourage everyone to read it; it’s short and it matters. If you’re curious about the book, not only is it still on Amazon, but the publicity has bumped it quite high in the sales rankings.

I guess it’s possible that there’s something else going on here beyond administrative freak out, but I would be surprised. This sort of over reaction from a school administration is all about the fear and power of petty bureaucrats who are terrified of being seen to have done too little. Any possibility, however slim, that they might be dissected in the media, post-catastrophy, about what they knew and why they didn’t act, drives them like fanatics.

It doesn’t help that so many school officials seem ready to accommodate the most paranoid parents in their district. It all feeds the little voice inside them that says thinking up the plot of a book is the same thing as fantasizing about it.

Based on the news reports we’ve had so far, Patrick McLaw has broken no law. It’s possible he’s being told that he has to do everything he’s told to keep his job, but I can’t understand how a sensible member of the judiciary thought publishing a novel three years earlier was probably cause for a search of the guy’s house.

It’s disgusting.

Dark Fantasy StoryBundle is now live

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Hey, you guys. You know what a StoryBundle is, don’t you? There are several novels all bundled together into one package, and you can pay whatever you like for them (with a $3 minimum). If you’re willing to pay above a certain dollar figure ($12), you get extra books.

Well, currently there’s a Dark Fantasy StoryBundle running for a limited time. You can spend three measly bucks and get five novels. For $12 (or more) you get nine.

Plus, if you so choose, 10% of your purchase price can go to charity. In fact, you can support the ALS Association, the charity that has been benefiting from the ice bucket challenge, but without the social shaming issues that come from “challenging” people. If you think ALS has already received its fair share of support lately, the other options are Girls Write Now and Mighty Writers. There’s a “Learn More” link on the page to tell you more about those charities, but I just want to say that I grew up in Philadelphia and anyone who wants to throw a little love to Mighty Writers would earn my gratitude (not that the other programs are not worthy, too).

You also get to choose what percentage of the purchase price goes to the authors and what goes to the folks at StoryBundle, which is a great way to do things.

All the books are DRM-free. The other authors include a Hugo-winner and a couple of best-selling authors (as well as, somehow, me). The fiction here is *dark* urban fantasy without romance plots, so if you like my work, you might also like these other books. PLUS, it’s super easy to buy the bundle as a gift for someone else.

Anyway, if you guys wouldn’t mind helping to spread the word about this, I’d appreciate it. And check out those books. I’m downloading my bundle right now.

The Bundle will be available until Sept 17. If you’re interested, don’t put off the purchase. It’s going to go away soon.

Here are the covers:

All 9 StoryBundle Covers

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

In which I invite another author to kiss my fat ass

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Usually, when I see a stupid thing on the internet, I laugh and maybe tweet about it. “Look! Someone spilled a pile of dumb on the internet!” Then we’ll all share a laugh together and I’d go back to blocking “Emergency Cat” accounts. If I think the source of this particular piece of blockheadery is a pernicious sort who is actively courting the attention, I won’t bother.

But some things are annoying enough that I feel moved to blog about it. Here’s the deal: When Guardians of the Galaxy came out, a lot of people were talking about how upbeat it was, as though it was this bright, cheerful thing. They were also contrasting it favorably with Man of Steel, an objectively terrible movie no matter how thrilling the special effects were.

Me, I didn’t think GotG was all that upbeat. In fact, I thought it was pretty dark (without being grimdark) and said so.

You don’t have to click through on that link. Basically, I embedded a Kameron Hurley tweet about the movie’s success being the “sound of grimdark being over”, then I talked about the actual darkness in GotG, why it was a welcome contrast with MoS, and the piece ended like this:

So, don’t expect GotG to be light, cheerful fare. It has more than its share of darkness. The difference is that it also has clever, dedicated protagonists who are capable of prevailing in the end.

That’s it. That’s the whole deal.

I don’t know how that got interpreted as As fantasy authors Kameron Hurley and Harry J. Connolly observed, the success of Guardians of the Galaxy heralds “the sound of grimdark being over. over on io9. If I’d agreed with Hurley’s tweet, I would have just retweeted it, not written a fucking blog post. Anyway, I tried to clarify this in a comment over there, but it didn’t go and I’m too busy to fuss with blog comment systems.

And now I have this shit, in which Richard K. Morgan links to my post (and only my post) and responds to it as thought I’m personally calling for the end of the grimdark subgenre.

As anyone who’s read the actual post (rather than the io9 summary) would know, I’m not. Maybe Kameron Hurley would like it to go away forever; I’m not her so I wouldn’t know. Personally, I’m happy to see grimdark on the shelves, because I read it. Not only that, but anyone who’s picked up my short fiction collection knows I write it, too.

In fact, I have never felt the urge to call for the end of any genre. Some I read. Some I don’t. It’s no big deal. When I go into the supermarket, I see vanilla AND chocolate ice cream in the freezer. I get to choose the one I like and leave the other for someone else to buy, maybe. I don’t require everyone to want what I want. In fact, I don’t really care what you like (unless it’s my books, in which case why not buy some, please).

But all I have to do is point out that MoS was deeply muddle-headed in its attempt to be serious and grim, and suddenly I want to take away people’s favorite ice cream.

What is it with that shit, anyway? Why do these guys reflexively read any criticism at all–even of something dumb like MoS–and interpret it as “You’re trying to ban something I love!”

Anyway, that’s the stupid thing, what I would normally just tweet about for a laugh. This is the annoying bit.

Is this a constituency so totally bombproof resistant to cultural shift that they want to go back to a fictionscape dreamed up in the middle of the last century, back when women and coloured folks still knew their place, the cop on the beat was a lovely cuddly (white) guy, war was a glorious endeavour undertaken against dastardly foreign foes, and real men walked like John Wayne?

Hey, Mr. Morgan, you can kiss my fat ass for this. And if this wasn’t meant to be addressed to me directly, you should have linked to someone else at the start of your post.

Anyway, I’m sure regular readers (both of you) will be startled to discover that grimdark is totes progressive. You know those olden days, when everyone’s art was all about capital G good and capital E evil, no nuance need apply!

Please.

For the record, the only work of Mr. Morgan’s that I have read was a trade collection of a Black Widow comic, which I thought was excellent. In fact, I thought it should be the basis of the character’s first movie. The blog post he wrote is still as dumb as a sack of ice cubes.

Also, the short fiction piece of my own I consider grimdark is the title story in my collection: “Bad Little Girls Die Horrible Deaths” even though no girls (bad or otherwise) die in the story. #spoilers

Yes, I realize that last link is basically an invitation for punitive one-star reviews. So be it.

The awful stink of writer desperation

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Last night my wife received an email from a fellow she sort of knows. He’s a fantasy writer, apparently, and after hearing that she’s married to me, he pressed her to take a copy of his novel (which comes with supplemental materials, it seems).

My next sentence will have even more commas.

There’s a lot of calling people “friends” and more than a few claims that Goodreads, et al, make certain books more visible based on an algorithm that blah blah blah. Seriously, do these sites not also sell co-op? I don’t actually know if they do or not; I’ve always just assumed.

Anyway, the whole thing reeks of desperation, it’s awkwardly written, and it makes the deadly mistake of (politely) ordering people around. That’s why I’m going to address the rest of this post to the unnamed and unquoted indie author.

Yes, word of mouth is important. Yes, readers spreading the word about books they love does good things for those books. However, that word of mouth has to be done out of love. If a you’re relying on some sort of social obligation (“I’d better give Arlene’s new book four stars before I see her at the office on Monday…”) then everyone loses, because that reader is going to resent being recruited as a volunteer PR person, the review they write won’t be honest, and anyone fooled by it is going to be disappointed. That’s not what you want.

Look, I know it’s tough. I know it’s hard to get any kind of visibility, especially as an indie author. It’s hard to get reviews, or any sort of attention. It’s like shouting in a crowd of other shouting people.

You want to know the real secret here? It’s not about the marketing. It’s not about emails to acquaintances begging for reviews. It’s about three things: the book itself, your ability to identify the people who would like it, your ability to give them a reason to read a free sample.

If you can get those three things right, you don’t have to worry about the book too much. It will take off on its own. Breaking it down:

The book itself: This isn’t a question about whether your book is “good” or not. There’s no point in arguing that your book is good (which won’t stop people, but that’s beside the point here). Is the book a story that people love and want to share with their friends? Do they read it and then buy three copies to give as gifts?

If you’re not getting that kind of response, no marketing in the world is going to help you.

Your ability to identify the people who would like it: You know how much fantasy fiction my wife reads? None. Well, it used to be none before she got tangled up with me. Now she reads mine, but I don’t think that counts. Thing is, she’s not what you’d call a geek at all. She’ll see the movies because that’s fun mass entertainment. She’ll watch ARROW if they remember to include workout scenes. When she sits down with a book, she reads about non-fiction about education reform.

Seriously, that’s her thing. She’s a homeschooling parent, and she wants to do a good job. So pressing a fantasy novel into her hands will do nothing for you except waste your time.

Your ability to give them a reason to read a free sample: See, even if you can identify potential readers of your work, you need to pique their interest. You ought to be funny, or kind, or insightful. You should be out in the world, most likely in social media, sharing things that interest people. And right beside that, you have a bio that reads “I write books. Read a free sample here.”

That’s it. Yeah, there’s more to it, obviously, but those are the basics.

I understand how frustrating it is, but some choices can actively hurt your chances of success. Sending long emails to my wife is one of them.

Good luck.