All Quiet on the Western Front: A Testament to Humanity

all quiet on the western front

This essay was written by T. Lloyd Reilly.

A search for the realities of humanity or of humanness can steer one into strange places and reveal unexpected gems.  This happened to me a few months ago in a book.  For some reason or another I had escaped reading “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque.  This probably should have been read when I was a teen, or perhaps as a part of a college lit course.  As an aficionado of classic film, I could not imagine how I skipped this story.  I found it at the bottom of a box at a garage sale.  I passed several of my favorite authors digging into the box to get to this book, and find myself quite pleased with the choice.

In a world rampant with tales of war, it seems unlikely that a tale of a group of enemy soldiers of America, in a war that occurred long ago, could divulge so many truths about who we are and what we feel.

A tale of a group of German teenagers enlisting in the Kaiser’s army during World War I, the narrative held me captive.

I usually read quickly, but I consumed this saga in a single sitting.  There are only a handful of books that have stimulated me in such a manner.  Each of them is worthy of an essay in themselves, but this particular book came at a particularly poignant time in my life.  I was enduring the end of my sister’s life from leukemia and found myself, as is usual, with a loss of importance, questioning the beliefs and feelings I had developed about life and beyond.

In this book there is an ongoing narrative of the day-to-day movements of the main characters as they wind their way through the bunkers and rear areas of the Great War.  A description of attacking the enemy lines and losing more than half the company is accented with the survivors attempting to get something to eat afterwards and being refused because the cook had instruction to serve the entire company or none.  When told that the entire company was present and that the rest of the contingent lay in pieces either on the battlefield or in medical tents the cook still refused until given a direct order from an officer.

The cook had simply done what he was told, and the lack of deviation probably came as a self-defense action.  By doing what is right in front of him, he did not have to think about the horror of the place he lived.  Any escape from reality is a tool all the characters shared.  Playing cards, smoking cigarettes, taking about girls back home, and how much of a jerk the sergeant was were just some of the diversions used to make it between times of horror.

One scene of particular interest came when several of the teens went to visit a wounded comrade.  The wounded man, Kemmerich, lay on a bed complaining that his foot hurt.  He had no clue that he was, in fact, absent the entire leg due to an amputation meant to save his life.  When one of his comrades let slip that he had lost his leg the wounded soldier laments its loss and the fact that he could not realize his dream of becoming a forester.

While Paul, the narrator, attempts to console his friend, one of the other visitors eyes the wounded man’s boots and realizes that they are in better shape than those he wore and schemed to take them for himself.  The thought of having a decent pair of boots served as motivation to enable his willingness to go back into battle.  Creature comforts supplanted the deeper emotions of fear and dread that awaits the soldier on the battlefield.

Kemmerich suffers for a while and finally drifts off into unconsciousness before dying.  While still lucid, the wounded hero implores the narrator to give his boots to the other man.  Paul’s reaction to Kemmerich’s death erupted in a dash out of the tent and around the area, realizing that running made him forget the death and feel more alive and then hungry.  Again, creature comforts displace the dread that all must have felt most of the time.  The dead man’s boots find different homes as the book go on, reinforcing the ideal of practicality in the face of that which is unbearable.

Living within their means and surviving that which is seemingly impossible to endure rings throughout the book with every page.  When the narrator gets a leave to go home, he finds less then he wished and found confusion seeping in.  He could understand a day-to-day struggle when being shot at, but grew confused by the same struggle in those whose lives are not immediately at risk.

The daily realities that the narrator expounds upon all have a flavor of true humanness.  The things that a combat soldier must tolerate seem to bring out the humanity instead of disallowing it.

Perhaps the most poignant scene comes with the death of the narrator’s friend, Katczinsky.  Wounded by a bomb, he is discovered by Paul scrounging for food.  While being carried to safety by Paul, another bomb from the very plane that initially caused his distress lets loose another bomb which kills the man while leaving his rescuer untouched.  Perhaps, continuing to search for food, the creature comfort, might have saved his life.

Paul suffers through many trials and tribulations that speak to his character and brings the reader to the thought that he is a noble warrior deserving of escape from harm.  The reality is that he is just a teenager that has experienced things that no young person should have to.  He gradually grows jaded to life and death and it is in his final moment that he reveals that which is still within him.  While sitting on the wall of his trench he spies a butterfly and, forgetting where he is, reaches for it revealing too much of his body and is shot dead.

The final scene seems tragic, yet, it fits perfectly.  The certainties of war come into focus all throughout the book while the search for simple human dignity is desperately being sought by the narrator and his cohorts.  It speaks to what is, and not what is wanted.  In living day to day with the ugliness of war, the characters teach lessons of humanity while ignoring the horror.

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T. Lloyd Reilly is a writer with over twenty five years of writing experience. He has lived what some would consider more than one lifetime and has acquired a wide range of knowledge and life experience which he wishes to share through generous application of the written word. For more information about him go to: http://about.me/tlloydreilly.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Mordac.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane Meets Memory Lane

This is an essay by Brandon Monk.

“I remembered that, and, remembering that, I remembered everything.” Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

I’ve written before about the idea that taking a trip down reading memory lane is a worthwhile way to re-kindle your reading interest. An old favorite–a book you read for pleasure as a child–can take you back to the days when reading was a care-free experience. Often, the mandatory reading school imposes robs us of the pleasure. Those who continue to read find ways to carve out time to read the things they like.

But, what if you have no pleasant reading memory? I recently read Neil Gaiman’s, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It’s a book that captures the essence of what it’s like to read for pleasure. The main character is bookish, the setting is fantasy, and the book engages the mythic inclinations hard-wired in our minds.

I see Gaiman’s book as picking up where I left off when I wrote the piece about taking a trip down reading memory lane eighteen months ago. Sometimes it takes a new book to fill the gaps in our thought process. The Ocean at the End of the Lane does that for me. It’s the closest I’ve come to the feeling I had when I’d read something I loved as a child since I’ve been forced into adulthood by the passage of time. It gives me new hope that even without a pleasurable childhood reading experience we can fill the gaps in our adult lives and find a way to read for pleasure.

Gaiman invokes three things in the book that make it have the effect it does:

1. Gaiman’s main character takes us back to our childhood.

Gaiman must have poured much of himself into the main character of the novel. His bookish ways, the manner in which he views the world, his old-soul makeup. He’d rather be reading than adventuring. But, as children, we always end up doing something other than what we want and it’s often those things that make us grow the most.

Gaiman recognizes, though, that even as adults we’re still pretending to be something we aren’t. We’re still forced to do things we don’t want to do and the way we keep ourselves in tact is by taking some time to be alone with our inner-selves and even our inner-child.

2. Gaiman invokes our sense of nostalgia.

The novel begins with an adult main character returning to his childhood home. The novel becomes a reflection on his childhood past. The effect of this is to take the reader back in time to our own childhood. Gaiman guides us, through the narrative, to our own past. Those experiences are a combination of pleasant and unpleasant events that have shaped us into the people we are. Gaiman’s novel acts as a guided meditation down memory lane and it can supplement or fill the gaps of our childhood reading past.

To explore this aspect of the book, I recommend reading slowly enough to allow time for reflection. Make annotations in the book or in a notebook of the memories brought to the surface by your reading. The interaction you have with the novel can cause you to remember things you’d thought were long forgotten. In that way, the book serves as a path by which you can arrive at some of those sentimental places that exist, now, only in your mind.

3. Gaiman’s fantasy setting carries us far enough away from the real.

Fantasy settings allow us to step out of the world where we’re expected to know how everything works, and to have an answer for every uncertainty we experience. If a fantasy setting is done right, there are enough things there to remind us of our real lives, but it’s equally important that we be asked to temporarily suspend our rational thought processes long enough to accept the fantasy the author’s created. Gaiman masterfully mixes the two. We can both relate to the world we’re told of, yet not completely understand what will come next.

The benefit to the reader is that they’re given a break from the real. They’re given an opportunity to live in the world created by the cooperative effort of the author and the reader. Just enough distance is created by the fantasy to give space for you to explore our own thoughts and remembrances.

Gaiman’s novel does what I could never do in a non-fiction piece. It creates a fantasy that fills the gaps or reminds us what we used to be like when we were willing to admit we don’t know how everything works. It’s a novel that takes us down memory lane and it can, I think, re-kindle our love of reading even if we have no pleasurable reading memory of our own.

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Brandon Monk is a Texas attorney. He created readlearnwrite.com to foster the love of amateur reading in adults.

Photo:  Some rights reserved by ajvin.

2 Tips for Watching Movie Adaptations of Books & “Ender’s Game” Review

enders game movie book adaptation

This essay was written by Williesha Morris.

“Ender, the enemy’s gate is down.”

The double meaning wasn’t lost while reading “Ender’s Game” or watching the movie adaptation.

“Ender’s Game” marks the first time I’ve ever purposefully read a book just before seeing a movie. I typically avoid watching movie versions of books for fear it would ruin my carefully, although not well-formed, visualizations of the story.

Though I have a faulty memory, snippets of books like “The Secret Life of Bees,” “The Notebook” and “Cold Mountain” have not been tarnished by the dramatizations on the big screen, even though many of these movies have been critically acclaimed. I just can’t bear to watch them.

But because “Ender’s Game” was an important novel in my husband’s childhood, and my in-laws enjoyed it as well and were kind enough to get me a copy from the library, I was determined to read it in time to see a viewing the following week.

For me, this was huge. I’m not the avid reader I once was as a child. In fact I typically only read short business e-books. But this time I was determined.

And I finished the book in three days.

Three days!

The achievement alone was more exciting than the opportunity to see it in IMAX.

Here are some tips before viewing a movie based on a book. (Read: Following this section are spoilers. If you haven’t read the book or seen the film, you may want to stop after this section. But come back!)

1) Remember the time frame the book was created: There are several scenes changed or fleshed out based on the cinematic technologies of today. We should all be grateful we live in a time where books from the 80s can be created into something suitable for today.

2) Remember the goal of Hollywood: Filmmakers want a movie with interesting characterization and, for movies like this, increased drama, action and romance. Those equal big box office bucks. Just the implication of those three movie elements is what keeps LA churning out movie after movie, even at the expense of taking creative liberties with novels. So you have to expect this will happen and not be turned off by it.

Given that Orson Scott Card once deemed the book impossible to be filmed but was very pleased with this movie, I dove into both the book and the movie with a very critical eye. Thanks to early versions of the trailer, I had Harrison Ford as Graff and little Asa Butterfiled as Ender in my head the whole time (with occasional flashes of Abigail Breslin as Valentine). But after getting halfway through the novel, I began to understand why Card was so skeptical at first.

Valentine and Peter’s plot to take over the world one Net forum at a time was painfully abrupt, difficult to understand and dragged the momentum of the book to a screeching halt.

While I can understand the negative ramifications of focusing an entire book on one character, it seemed completely unnecessary, the political scene was too complex, and the connections to the siblings’ lives at the end of the novel was not a valuable enough payoff to make it an integral part of the plot.

Peter’s transformation from sociopath to politician was too jarring. Had he and Valentine plotted to find out what was going on with International Fleet’s schooling or get in touch with Ender, that would have been more plausible. But this was really the only issue with the book I had. The exclusion of this subplot in the movie was definitely the most positive element.

Other great elements of the film where it deviated from the book included not calling the aliens “buggers,” but by their official term (used in later books in the series) “Formics.” “Buggers” sounded antiquated and childish.

The lake retreat and battle school scenes in particular were extremely well done, and they were really useful in imagining those moments while reading the book. Card’s details of the flying maneuvers was difficult to follow at times, and the trailer scenes provided a much needed point of reference in my mind. Creating lifelike battle scenes in Command School and having Ender and his teammates together in the same room were also great choices for the filmmakers to make that were different from the book.

Ender’s character was still lovable, complicated and dangerous, just like in the  book. However, the movie decided to soften the edges around his relationships with other characters. While his friendship with Bean was very rocky in the book, filmmakers chose to make their characters like each other almost instantly.

I was also pleased with how they handled the fight scenes. They chose not to kill off Stilson or Bonzo. Instead, it is implied Ender only hurt them to the brink of death. I was also pleasantly surprised Ender did not have a confrontation with Bernard. Instead, their combativeness is non-physical, brief and ends with them being together in battle as friends.

However, the nature of these friendships and Ender’s softer side is where the film failed to reach critics, many of which wrote their reviews as though they were completely unfamiliar with the book’s plot.

There was never a romantic relationship between Ender and Petra. Critics were tough on this element of the movie, and for the wrong reasons. Yes, Ender and Petra did nothing more than occasionally hold hands and look longingly at each other. But it wasn’t because they were children or they didn’t have chemistry.

She was never a critical part of Ender’s life in the book. They were simply friends who helped each other and respected each other in the end. I think if critics understood this, they would have had different complaints about the film, namely Petra’s overreaching role, talking with him before the “graduation” battle and being the last person he sees before discovering the Formic hiding place. None of these elements were in the book, and I was disappointed they attempted to pull something romantic out of nothing.

Movie critics who read the book had the same misgivings that I did. It was also unclear how much time had passed during Ender’s training, but the movie is already nearly two hours long, so it was understandable things had to be rushed. But it did take away from getting deeper into Ender’s complex psyche, and it also made his friendships seem forced.

There may be other book-then-movie adventures in my future, but for now, I’m happy this one turned out pretty well. I went into the movie already with a love and appreciation for the book’s characters, and it made watching it much more meaningful, even when the movie wasn’t perfect.

Let’s talk about book-to-movie adaptations. What are your favorites? Which ones do you hate? Let me know in the comments. (I expect to see a lot of Tolkien fans pop up.)

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Williesha Morris is lucky enough to have two sides to her business: she is a freelance writer and blogger and also is an administrative consultant/VA. She gets pumped when she’s able to meld the two together. When she’s not working, she’s usually spending way too much time staring at Facebook or giggling with her husband. Find her at My Freelance Life.com and on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo: Courtesy of Nerdist

On Going Dark: Why We Read Scary Things

scary stories halloween reading

This essay was written by Chris Ciolli.

Before I even begin, I have a little confession to make. Since the age of five or six or so, I’ve been as afraid of the dark, as I am enchanted by it. When the sun goes down, it seems anything can happen, but most often what happens is bad news.

After reading Roald Dahl’s Witches and seeing the movie for reading class in elementary school, I had nightmares for months. The settling noises my parents’ log cabin made come evening had me skittish; jumping any time the floor creaked (which was often).

In my 20s, I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the first time, and promptly traveled to Transylvania for spring break where I amused my-then-boyfriend, now husband, to no end, carrying garlic in my purse and sporting cross-shaped earrings day and night.

It’s safe to say that I didn’t grow out of my overactive imagination.

As a fully-grown, mature adult living in a drafty, early-20th century apartment building in Barcelona, with my half-Siamese, Lulu, and a full-blooded Spaniard, I still have to be very careful to read scary books during daylight hours, or suffer the restless nights, waking up in a cold sweat.

Note that scary doesn’t necessarily translate to horror. Science-fiction, dystopian classics, and even true crime can be just as disturbing. Of course when I get far enough into a story, it’s nearly impossible to resist racing through a book to reach a resolution…even if I don’t get there until 3 a.m., and at that point I’m afraid to close my eyes, because I know my mind will continue playing out unsavory scenes in my dreams. So why do I keep picking up these books up?

Because despite it all, there’s something in my mind that’s drawn to the darkness, even as it’s deathly afraid. Some part of me wants to know how the action unfolds in these stories, even as the rest rejects them in favor of lighter reading. It could be that I know I owe it to myself to embrace the existence of all sides of human nature.

Like it or not, we don’t live in a Disney vacuum where singing princesses, forest creatures and townspeople are either inherently good or evil. To overcome the cowardice and evil that are part and parcel of the human condition, we must first recognize and accept that they exist. In the end, reading about them is much easier (and more socially acceptable) than cozying up to serial killers during visiting hours at the big house, or scarier still, exploring our own dark sides first-hand and risking becoming a living nightmare like Alyssa Bustamante, the teenager who reportedly killed her young neighbor to see what it “felt” like or Armin Meiwes, who killed and ate a volunteer he found on the internet.

Scary comes in rainbow-colored hues, vivid shades of terror, evil, and doubt. It’s all around. Ignoring it won’t make it disappear. Facing it full on in written form is terrifying, but in the end, very good practice for standing up to our inner cowards in the sometimes terrifying situations real life presents.  As a writer and a reader, I know that staring down these scary books has made me stronger in a multitude of ways.

But instead of taking my word for it, why not test-drive the concept with the list of five books below? You’ll likely find that a healthy dose of fear and the serious reflection that comes after terror makes for a more well-rounded reader, writer and human being, even if it loses you some sleep.

  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman – Short but terrifying, Coraline is a cautionary tale about parallel realities and how what seems to good to be true almost always is.
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – A totalitarian Christian theocracy has taken over the United States. Women are forbidden to read. ‘Nough said.
  • The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding – It doesn’t get much scarier than a bunch of children left to their own devices with no adult supervision.
  • The House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski – Footnotes, fonts and unreliable narrators can overwhelm in this strange book, but more overwhelming is the sense of panic at the possibility of being consumed by the bleak maze that grows in the house on Ash Tree Lane.
  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – The true story of the chilling murder of a Kansas farmer and his family by complete strangers.

For additional Halloween reading, check out Amarie Fox’s recent post.

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Chris Ciolli is a Barcelona-based writer and a translator. She’s an unashamed book and coffee addict that travels every chance she gets. She also spends a lot of time playing with kitchen tools and art supplies. Read about her travels at MidwesternerAbroad.com, and check out her art at TriflesandQuirks.com.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Sean Winters.

Why Reading Should Be a Shared Activity

why you should read together

This essay was written by Julie Bates.

Why Share Reading?

Reading is a one person activity – right? Well, that depends.

Sometimes reading can be a wonderful escape from the real world and the tensions that send you seeking a universe far, far away. Other times nothing enriches the experience of a good read than sharing it with another.  Good shared reads allow you to share the wonder of exploring alien worlds, compare notes on exotic recipes or decide if the book the media suddenly adores is worth picking up or is exponentially overrated.

It Builds Intimacy

My husband and I read each other’s books. He’s learned to appreciate my eclectic taste in fiction and I appreciate his more scholarly interests.  We’ve had some wonderful discussions surrounding the plot of whatever book he has finished after me. Confession here – I read fast, and I tend to stay up late for a good story. He appreciates the need for eight or more hours of snoozing.

We’ve tried exotic foods read about in books and looked up places on the internet. I remember us looking at Turkey’s Hagia Sophia museum online after reading a richly textured description of it in Anne Perry’s The Sheen on the Silk.

You can partially quote a really good line and receive a grin of acknowledgement from your significant other while leaving others baffled. Jokes, inside information, favorite characters become fodder for your moments together.

Good reads promote good dialogue. We’ve discussed the plausibility of whodunnits, physics (which he understood and I didn’t and needed some explanations) and whether or not we would try recipe X. Confession here – I read the cookbooks. He agrees to be a guinea pig as long as I don’t get too weird. He now agrees that kale can be made edible.

Your Children Benefit

Everyone wants their kid to be smart right? Everyone wants that intimate connection that comes from shared moments. Reading builds that seamlessly. From the moment my son was born, my husband and I read to him. We read Dr. Seuss, We read Magic Tree House and the entire Little House on the Prairie Series.

It was the lifesaving component of the nighttime ritual. You know, the one where you say it’s bedtime and your kid replies in that whiny, tired voice, “I’m not sleepy,”  initiating bedtime guerrilla warfare.

Plunking a tired, cranky kid in bed doesn’t work. I’ve tried it, got the tee shirt and been back in his room 3 million times because, “I can’t sleep, I need water, it’s dark and I hear a weird noise.”   What saved my sanity, such as it existed, were books.   Bedtime was when we would pick a book, he would lie in bed and I or my husband would read, usually a chapter or less if he dropped off.

I read to my child until he took the book (Despereaux) out of my hands and said “I want to read it for myself!”  He went on to read all the Harry Potter books before fifth grade only to be bummed to discover he could not get AR (Advanced Reader) points, because all but the first volume are considered middle school books.  I discovered we could talk about The Lord of the Rings as well as Hatchet.

Even now that he is a teen, we talk books. We don’t always have the same taste. I’m not into Dr. Who, and he doesn’t really enjoy some of the history I read, but we still have wonderful, literate discussions born out of all the books we read together.

Shared reading experience opens your mind

I belong to a reading group. A lot of what is read is philosophy. which is not my area of expertise. Some of these individuals started talking about what these theories meant, and my mind was blown. What seemed simple on the printed page had interpretations that had never occurred to me.

Listening to my friends discuss subjects ranging from physics to religion made me contemplate deeper meanings that I normally wouldn’t have.  They made me think rather than blindly accept what was on the page. While I will never be a debater, I have benefited from being exposed to many points of view. Who doesn’t want to expand their mind?

Good books increase friendships

I’ve had lovely discussions about books with people I’ve never met before. One of us would see the other with a book and comment about it and conversation would ensue.

Sometimes I’ve had someone say, “If you like this author, try so-and-so.”  Scribbling down the name, I’ve gone to my local library and discovered a brand new read, which I could then share with someone else.

Good books are contagious.

So why share what you’re reading?

If all the reasons I’ve already stated are not enough, think about what it does for you.  You have something to share – your opinion. Some reads inspire passion, others curiosity, others are so excruciatingly bad, we never finish, but they all affect us in some way.

Why not share that feeling? Not everyone will want to listen, but someone will. That could be the start of a beautiful relationship.

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Julie Bates is a writer and former teacher living in North Carolina. She likes to read anything that is well written, entertaining or thought provoking.

For further reading on making reading a shared activity please consider:  Reading and Writing in Relationships: How Partners Encourage Learning and Enjoyment ; How Reading Can Improve Your Love Life.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Michael Bentley.

Supporting Characters Who Deserve Their Own Books

huckleberry finn supporting characters

This essay was written by Chris Ciolli.

Protagonists are fine and good. Protagonists are necessary. But what happens when, for whatever reason, they’re more than mildly disappointing, not to mention less-than-interesting? If we’re lucky, there’s a supporting character (or a few) around to pick up the slack and keep us interested.

Sometimes, if we’re really lucky, the author comes to the same conclusion as the reader, and the said supporting character eventually moves to the forefront to claim his rightful place as a protagonist in future books. Of course even when these literary sidekicks don’t get their due, they manage to steal the show in a big way, helping heroes and making sure readers stay entertained.

Here are some favorite supporting characters from modern bestsellers and literary classics.

Luna in the Harry Potter Books by J.K. Rowling

Often portrayed as seriously strange and something of a space cadet, over the course of the entire series, Luna is revealed as brave and loyal, not to mention more entertaining and less whiny than the boy wizard himself on many occasions. It seems safe to say that many bookworms would happily devour a book that was all about Luna.

Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Forget Romeo. He’s rather fickle (he is after all, in love with Rosaline at the beginning of the play) and boringly tragic (or is it tragically boring?). Mercutio, on the other hand, is bawdy, tempestuous and irresponsibly aggressive. If it weren’t for his death at the hands of Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, Romeo wouldn’t have killed Tybalt, and Romeo and Juliet may have ended up happily married, and where’s the fun in that? Besides, it takes a strong character to carry off a pun as he dies.

Rue in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Rue is a nice compliment to Katniss’ sometimes sullen cynicism in the first book in Collin’s best-selling series. Young but not innocent or foolishly trusting, Rue is kind, smart, and fast and easier to sympathize with than Katniss and Katniss’ affection for Rue is a big part of what makes Katniss leap off the page as a three-dimensional, compassionate protagonist.

Huckleberry Finn in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Even Mark Twain understood that Huck was worthy of a book of his own. He’s way more lovable and interesting than spoiled, selfish Tom. Despite his unfortunate circumstances (poverty, an abusive parent) Huck has a strong sense of right and wrong and buckets of common sense, as evidenced by how he saves the Widow Douglas.

Magnus Bane in Clarissa Cray’s Mortal Instruments series

Clary and Jace, Jace and Clary–they’re so conflicted, so tortured, so in love, and part angel besides. Forgive me for preferring Magnus Bane. Who cares if he’s part demon? He’s one of the most entertaining characters in the series and is exceptional in that he’s a strong gay character written into a young adult series. Plus he’s got lots of crazy clothes, amazing magical powers, and even better one-liners – some serious, some sarcastic, but all entertaining.

Phoebe in The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Phoebe is Holden Caulfield’s kid sister. But more than that, she’s someone we can trust in a book where Holden encourages to trust no one. She’s a surprisingly compelling ten-year-old, a heady mixture of kid and grown-up that instinctively knows her big brother needs someone to take care of him.

Leah in the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer

Forget all the other vampires and werewolves, Leah is the only female werewolf, and one of Meyer’s strongest and most believable female characters. She has her heart broken and has to live with it daily, but manages to stick it out to support her family and friends to the best of her ability.

At the end of the series, her love triangle isn’t magically dissolved and the question of what being a female werewolf means for her future is far from resolved, either. Meyer’s written novellas like The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner about supporting characters in the past. Perhaps in the future she’d be up for letting us know in no uncertain terms what happens to Leah.

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Chris Ciolli is a Barcelona-based writer and a translator. She’s an unashamed book and coffee addict that travels every chance she gets. She also spends a lot of time playing with kitchen tools and art supplies. Read about her travels at MidwesternerAbroad.com, and check out her art at TriflesandQuirks.com.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Robert – Jemimus.

The Ethics of Buying Books

book buying ethics

This essay was written by Amarie Fox.

As a millennial, I often hear from friends that they don’t feel as if they should be forced to pay for art. By art, let me be specific. I am encompassing everything from films, to music, to yes, even books.

Perhaps, it is the false sense of entitlement in the digital age – where everything is free and instantly available for download – which allows for this kind of thought process to dominate. I grew up in an age where I actively witnessed the mentality shift and lose focus.

Music and films became mere things, free domain, ripe for taking, simply because they were hosted on the web. At this point, even books have encountered that sphere. There are websites that specialize in sharing downloads for newly released titles. Of course, this is a legal conundrum in itself, but that should not be the first deterrent for why someone might stop and question what it is they are about to do.

What about considering who is behind the finished product? In a moment of selfishness, fueled by the urge for instant gratification, in the lawless Wild West that is the Internet, no one usually thinks outside of his or her wants or needs, though. For me, that is far more troubling, because the issue takes on additional meaning. It signals a lack of human awareness or connection. Both of which, I deem as contributing factors in choosing to support any type of creator.

Over the years, as a rebellion to this popular and never-ending rapid advancement of rampant stealing (let’s not call it by any other kind name), I have become a strong advocate for upholding the ethics of actually purchasing a physical piece of art. I’ll take the time to say, that yes, I acknowledge that for some people, this may not seem like a life shattering issue, but at the core, I feel it is. Especially if you happen to consider yourself an avid reader or writer.

Writers As Avid Book Buyers

One of the more ineffective arguments I often hear is: ‘All writers should read!’ Okay, this is a perfectly valid (almost obvious), but the truth is, I have known many people who call themselves writers and have not picked up a book in years. That is what I like to refer to as a closed-off, selfish writer, whose motivations are badly misplaced. After all, if you love the act of writing, naturally you should also love other writers. As much as writing is a lone activity, once something is published, it takes on a new communal meaning. It is speaking to a larger audience and begging for feedback and swapped ideals.

However, if you expect your words to be read, but then never absorb any other ideas from anyone else, you’re missing the point. You’re not a writer as much as you’re a lecturer.

In this same line of thought, if you’re a writer and have never purchased a book, or rarely do, you’re not any better than the writer who avoids reading. The two go hand in hand.

In 2010, one of my favorite literary magazines, Tin House, launched a campaign called Buy a Book, Save a Bookstore, which required that all authors to include a receipt for a recently purchased book along with the unsolicited manuscript. The new policy didn’t end there: “Writers who are not able to produce a receipt for a book are encouraged to explain why in 100 words or fewer. Tin House will consider the purchase of e-books as a substitute only if the writer explains why he or she cannot go to his or her neighborhood bookstore or why he or she prefers digital reads.”

Now, this may seem drastic, even slightly dramatic, but let’s consider something vital in this initiative: Tin House isn’t saying they want a receipt of a book you purchased that was published by them. No. They are raising a different awareness and question. Why in the world would any writer not actively be buying books on a regular basis?

The way I see it is if you don’t, you have absolutely zero business publishing a book yourself. Writers should be aiming to support the institution that they, in turn, wish to one day support them financially.

Price of Books

I asked my friend, we will call him Jim for the sake of anonymity, “Jim, why don’t you buy books?” Jim looked at me as if I had grown four heads and said, “I’m not paying twenty bucks for something I’m going to read once.”

Now, I could have said many things to Jim. Most of which would have been curse words. This is because I will never grasp the whole “affordability of books” as an obstacle. Sure, I understand if you are a person who doesn’t write and wants to live a very minimalistic life. I have some friends who just don’t have the space for books, but again, they don’t have aspirations of actually becoming writers. They just love to read and when they can check a book out from their local library, they don’t see the point in buying one and reading it once. That is fine. Different strokes, right?

Humans are smart. When we see an obstacle, the goal is to work our way around it.  The price of a hardcover book should not stop you in your tracks. I have often told people, especially Jim, that I think books should actually cost more than they do. Thirty dollars, tops, for a beautiful hardcover? That is a steal. If you don’t believe me, calculate the number of hours the author actually spent writing the book – probably months and years. Then, add up the art team and typesetting crew, all the people behind the scenes that make a book look the way it does. Expenses of the finished creation hardly rival the amount of time and energy put into producing it, don’t you think?

Personally, a book represents many things. It is a gateway to knowledge, a time machine to the past and imagined future. It is even a mark in my memories, because I associate certain times with whatever I was reading. When I browse my shelf and run my finger across the spine of Milton’s Paradise Lost, I am transported back to a year ago, on the beach, where I was sitting cross-legged in the sand, listening to the ocean and the children building sandcastles.

I didn’t tell Jim this. It is my own personal connection with reading; he wouldn’t have cared to hear it. Instead, I brought up the idea of a book as art. Obviously, not many of us can afford to actually go out and buy an original piece of art. But, with a book, you’re getting that – the artist’s original visual interpretation of a text.

A lot of people refer to this as “book fetishism,” but in all honestly, people should care how a book looks. I condone judging books by their covers, because I have always believed that if anything is going to save the publishing industry, it is the ideal and promise of an attractive cover. Of tapping into our materialistic culture and working with it, instead of against it.

Plus, the publishers should owe us a certain amount of  accountability. They should be held to a standard. A high one. The consumer should not tolerate sloppy work, such as a blurred typeface, due to horrible printing job, or a binding that falls apart after several sessions of reading.

As for the innovation of the e-book and e-reader, yes, it does have its advantages. I won’t downplay the encouraging factors. At the same time, I won’t get into the debate of digital v. traditional: it is a dead end. Something that has certainly been discussed enough.

All that I would ask of you is to acknowledge the lower standards that come with producing e-books. A publisher and bookseller can choose to sell a certain product for a few dollars less than the actual book. This is the equation of robbery and seems outrageous to me, personally. I don’t see the point in paying $12.99 (or higher), when I can go out and get the hardcover for a few dollars more. Convenience? Probably. But, to what end?

No Perfect Reader

Don’t mistake this for something it is not. I am not claiming that there is a “perfect” reader. My real aim is to allow for us to examine our actions when it comes to a human creation. Ask: why did I do this something and not that something else? There is no free lunch, we all know that by now, but there is also no free art. There is a man or woman behind it, who labored away.

If you haven’t been a bookshop in a while, I beg you to go into one. I’m not saying lazily click your mouse and snag something off of Amazon. Leave your house and really browse.

As for the fear of buying something you won’t enjoy, you have to let that go. Take some chances in life; support something that is bigger than you or me.

If you’re interested in seeing some of my favorite “Beautiful Book” starter collections, I have included several links below, if available:

1. Penguin Drop Caps Collection (2012 – ongoing)

2. Penguin Clothbound Classics (ongoing)

3. Penguin Threads

4. Word Cloud Classics

5. Virago Modern Classics

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Amarie Fox is a writer and artist. She recently graduated with a BA in English Literature. She plans of making an origami swan out of her diploma. Her recent fiction work has been published by Little Fiction, NIB, and Literary Orphans. More information at amariefoxart.wordpress.com.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Devon Christopher Adams

Don’t Forget to Create

This is an essay by Brandon Monk.

Give yourself a chance to use what you learn.

Don’t be fooled, books can be consumed in excess.

Read to converse with the great minds and absorb what they can teach you, but do not forget that your ultimate responsibility is to create something, not just consume.

You can create in a conversation by bringing a particular idea to the discussion. You can write a blog post to share what you learned. You can tweet and share with your friends. Write a book. Draw. Paint. Give a speech. Share a particularly creative reading with a book club.

You have a responsibility to remind people how smart they are and empower them through creation.  You will be able to do that because you have rehearsed with your books.

Photo:  Some rights reserved by fotologic