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.

Atypical Protagonists: Six Anti-Heroes From Great Works of Fiction

This essay was written by Chris Ciolli.

Everyone loves a hero. Except when we don’t.

Because let’s face it, sometimes heroes are hard to take. In a less-than-perfect world full of less-than-perfect people where right and wrong exist among so many shades of gray, sometimes traditionally heroic protagonists fall flat, even when they triumph against their “evil” foes.

That’s where anti-heroes come in. With fewer redeeming attributes and more Achilles heels than your typical protagonist, anti-heroes show readers another side of human character, however disagreeable.  Inspiring reactions ranging from sympathy to disgust, literary anti-heroes figure among the world’s most famous literary icons.

Who could forget the emotionally fragile but patently obnoxious Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye or creepy but strangely vulnerable Humbert Humbert in Lolita? If nothing else, such characters serve to remind us that it doesn’t take a good guy to go down in history, literary or otherwise.

Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Scarlett is much lauded as a spunky survivor, and a strong female protagonist by a lot of people who didn’t read the book, or don’t remember her racism, greed or generally thoughtless self-serving antics very well. Let’s face it; she’s exactly the type of ambitious, argumentative and social-ladder-climbing woman that most of us love to hate.

Anything goes to further her ends. Pursuing a married man while married herself, stealing her sister’s intended, anything goes when it serves her purposes.

Ignatius in A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

By far one of the most unlikeable book characters I’ve ever read about, Ignatius J. Reilly is a masterfully written, if hard to stomach anti-hero. He’s intelligent and educated but lazy and unmotivated, a sweaty thirty-year-old who hides from his numerous phobias in his room and takes advantage of his mother’s goodwill.

Ignatius is arrogant and judgmental and if you can’t laugh at his antics, this book is not for you because more often than not he’s too loathsome for words. Cruel, arrogant, and judgmental on a regular basis, Ignatius accepts no responsibility for his actions or personality. There’s always someone or something else to blame.

Disclaimer: Despite the fact that A Confederacy of Dunces is set in my favorite U.S. city (New Orleans) and won a Pulitzer, I was so revolted by Ignatius that I couldn’t even laugh at the scathing satire and comedy of errors that make the book shine for so many other readers.

Grendel in Grendel by John Gardner

In this retelling of the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf, monster Grendel is the star. Throughout the book, Grendel whines about…. ahem, reflects on the meaning of life, the nature of good and evil, and the power of literature and myth.

Somehow, despite his bad-humor, grouchiness, not to mention murderous and people-eating behavior, Grendel is a sympathetic anti-hero. We feel bad for him. He was raised by monsters, (okay, his mother) but somehow developed the power of speech. Which is all but useless, as his mother is mute and humans want nothing to do with him. Poor, lonely Grendel, on some occasions admiring the humans from afar, and still others killing and eating them.

Gatsby in the Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

All that glitters isn’t gold in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary masterpiece, and the book’s namesake, Jay Gatsby is far from admirable, despite his great wealth.  Of course the great majority of Fitzgerald’s cast of flappers and their male companions are varying degrees of despicable.

Jay Gatsby is the dark side of the excess of the Roaring Twenties personified. After making his fortune bootlegging, this anti-hero sets out to spend it on lavish get-togethers to impress a vapid and selfish woman (Daisy Buchanan) who is already married to someone else. Even so, Gatsby remains something of a mystery, and despite his many flaws, is much easier to like than Daisy’s husband Tom, or Daisy herself.

Lázaro in Lazarillo de Tormes by Anonymous

In this Spanish picaresque classic by an unknown author, Lázaro is born into a poor family and learns to wheel and deal to support himself from a young age.  Banned for a time during the Spanish Inquisition and later allowed to circulate in a censored version, the book describes the title character’s misadventures in the employ of a cast of outwardly respectable but corrupt masters that include a blind man, a priest, a squire and a friar, among others.  In many ways a victim of his circumstances, Lázaro learns the hard way that to survive, he will have to abandon any vestige of honor, scruples or respectability.

Narrator in Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk

The female narrator in Chuck Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters is hard to sympathize with and even harder to trust, no matter how badly her face has been disfigured or how many ridiculous identities she takes on (Daisy St. Patience, really?). Instead of understanding her parents’ grief when they find out her brother died from AIDS, she acts out for attention.  Even after her face is shot off, she plays fast and loose with the lives of others, stealing and taking drugs, setting fire to houses, and doing as she pleases with no regard for the consequences.

Note: I read Invisible Monsters, not the newer Invisible Monsters Remix, which is said to be closer to the author’s original intentions for the book.

As readers, writers, and human beings, we are constantly surrounded by heroes and anti-heroes alike. For few people are purely one or the other. Thankfully most of us are quite the mix, only occasionally embodying either extreme.

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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 Marya

Why Read: For Education and Experience

This is an essay by Brandon Monk.

The beauty of reading is, “You can use the powers you acquire from books to live better yourself and to do something for the people around you.” – Malcolm X

The purpose of this essay is to discuss the idea of reading and to provide an additional reason to read, if you need one. We have already discussed reading for pleasure and education is, in my mind, the second reason to read as I set out previously. The third is perspective and we will discuss that reason soon. Remember, there is overlap between the ideas. So, don’t get hung up reading for too narrow a focus. Ideally, you’re reading for more than one reason every time you sit down with a book.

For now, though, let’s think about reading for education.

The things I remember are the things that are connected to some other sensation, emotion, or idea. Connections I can’t make in life I can make through books. In that way books are tools used to pass on education and experience.

I will never go to war. I will never command an army. I will never spend time in prison. These are, however, potentially valuable experiences. To empathize with others I should know something of what these things are like.

I will lose a loved one. I will be the butt of a joke. I will be ridiculed. I will be the dumbest man in a room. I will be hurt by a loved one. I will hurt someone’s feelings. I will have my feelings hurt. I will die. To prepare for these experiences I can ignore them or I can prepare through the kind of education books can provide.

I may make a decision that means life or death for someone I care about. I may be called upon to give my opinion on a matter that’s important. I may find myself defending the weak. I should prepare and books are the most efficient way to do so, outside of, perhaps practical experience. Getting practical experience, however, is not always possible. To fill the gap I must read.

Let’s explore this idea of reading for education in the context of eight ideas.

Education Leads to Self-Confidence

It is only when you have read enough that you know who you are. Then, you can become yourself, finally. Only once you become yourself can you be a benefit to other people. The process of becoming yourself requires self-education. You must conquer your own demons, your own shadow. Only then can you share that with the world.

How do you test yourself? How will you know when you are ready to share? How will you know when you are educated enough to contribute? Use books to test yourself. The greater the book the greater the test. Do you know and understand more than your neighbor about it? Can you use the book as a tool to solve your own problems? If the answer is yes then you have something to offer the world. The educated wield books like warriors wield swords.

Educate Yourself to Educate Others

The education you read for is not just your own. Children with parents that read turn into readers. Children watch what you do and do that when they are bored. Do you want your children to be educated? If you do then you must be educated yourself. You have to put in the effort to make yourself a light for your children to be drawn to.

Education Is an Evolutionary Advantage

The kind of education you read for can be an evolutionary advantage. Reading allows us to imagine things before they happen. In that way we can prepare for what may yet come. Our survival does not depend on being the strongest, fastest, or most durable. Our continued survival depends on being the best planners, the most imaginative. We rely on our ability to imagine what could happen and then enact a plan to survive it. Use your evolutionary advantage. Reading is imagining. Reading is practice in creative planning.

Books are the Most Patient Teachers

Have you ever had a patient teacher? Maybe you have. If you have you are blessed. Write them today and thank them.

Have you ever had the benefit of endless time, unlimited access, and an endless supply of the brightest minds the world has ever known? Yes, but if you aren’t reading you are letting those teachers sit in empty classrooms and give lectures to empty chairs. Books are the most patient teachers. Take advantage of them.

Being Educated Feels Good

What does it feel like to read a book and understand it? You feel smart. When was the last time someone called you smart? If it has been more than a week you may need to read more. Maybe the better question is, when was the last time you called yourself smart? If you can’t remember then you need to read. I’m not talking about vanity. I’m talking about reading to have the ability to make it through every day with your head held high no matter what happens because you know you have contributed and you will contribute more because you are improving. That is a powerful feeling.

We Need Educated Heroes

What is a hero? Joseph Campbell has probably done the best job of explaining the myth of the hero. (You should read him, by the way.)

What Joseph Campbell says is, “a hero is someone able to battle past his personal and local historical limitations.” I’ve mentioned this before, but the statistics point to the need. A third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives. Forty-two percent of college graduates never read another book after college. Eighty percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year. (Source: Jenkins Group).

People don’t read after they finish school and most houses don’t buy books. You are a hero struggling against this historical limitation.

Does your city have a particularly uneducated feel to it? If you have noticed this then you are a hero, but only if you decide you are going to go get knowledge and then bring it back to your city. If you accept the quest and then return with some form of knowledge then you are a hero. Be a hero. Bring reading back. Are all heroes welcomed with open arms? Not in modern society. Be prepared for detractors but be a hero anyway.

Access to the “Great Conversation”

There is a conversation that has been going on since man came into existence. It started with tales, “grunts from the hunt.” Now, we have endless volumes of electronic books to carry on the conversation. You can’t just jump into the conversation anywhere, though. That would be rude. At the very least, you would get some strange looks. You would likely be dismissed until you listened for a while and got up to speed.

If you read, you can learn what you need in order to participate. The beauty of this conversation is, if you are smart about how you participate and smart about how much you know about the conversation that happened before you jump in, then you can be a part of the conversation even after your body is dead.

In this conversation you will get to hear from the greatest minds that have ever existed. You will get to hear the opinions of the thinkers you most admire. Then, if you truly read their words and understand what they have to say, you can match yourself against them and improve their ideas. What more lasting tribute can you imagine? Your contribution can assure your favorite thinkers remain part of the conversation for centuries to come.

A Full Education Prepares You For Death

Our life prepares us for our death. If we read we remember that the world did just fine before we came around and we learn that the world will be just fine when we leave. Before we were born we weren’t miserable. We weren’t even conscious of our existence or non-existence. Reading tells us that many good things still happen when we are not around.

We also learn that we can leave a lasting legacy if we try. The legacy need not be for the entire world to be important. If our families benefit, it is a worthwhile legacy. They will want to know what kind of person we were and whether there was something they can learn from how we lived our lives. Write them something to pass on what you’ve learned. They will read that.

Conclusion

As a reader you are an example to all of man kind. You show them our potential. Set the right example and people will flock to you out of admiration and out of the desire to learn. This is what the best writers accomplish.

Be more than a lump of organic existence. Take yourself, through education, into the plane of ideas. Reading is, free, guaranteed passage into the plane of ideas.

Your good fortune is the access you have to knowledge. Everywhere you look, there are books. Our struggle is no longer one of resources. Our struggle is of resource management. Time is one of those resources that must be managed appropriately. Read to make the best use of your time.

Next time you must answer the mental question, what should I do? Think about this discussion.

How has reading educated you? Is reading for education and experience a valuable reason to read, in your opinion?

Photo: Some rights reserved by Dell’s Official Flickr Page

Why Read: What I Talk About When I Talk About “Pleasure”

This is an essay by Brandon Monk.

Please note: This essay originally appeared in multiple parts but has been compiled on medium.com as one 21 minute read.

“Books are the perfect entertainment: no commercials, no batteries, hours of enjoyment for each dollar spent. What I wonder is why everybody doesn’t carry a book around for those inevitable dead spots in life.”― Stephen King

Many of our teachers and schools have failed us. They took the fun out of reading by making it an assignment. They should have showed us another side to reading. The side that makes reading a superior form of entertainment. Yes, even superior to TV.

I’ve talked about how there are really only three reasons to read. I stand by that. I want to add, though, that in the hierarchy, fun ranks at the top. Reading is fun. Fun is the first reason to read. If you’re lucky, you won’t need another reason. If you always read for fun it won’t be work. You do enough work. You need release. Reading is release. Make fun your first goal. If you think you aren’t learning anything because you’re reading for fun, you’re wrong. Learning will come.

Why is Reading Fun?

I could offer an emotional appeal here. Books smell great. Their smell brings back memories. Their words remind you of a lost parent or grandparent. You may have been read to as a child. Those are good reasons to read, but they are not the primary reason.

Experience New Worlds

Reading is fun because it reminds you there is some part of the world you have not seen. New worlds are made in books. If you had the power to travel at a moments notice to any place you wanted without leaving the comfort of your living room, would you use it? If you answer yes, then you must read. Books are time travel devices. Books are transportation. Books are personal introductions to the greatest thinkers.

Books Are Workouts for Your Senses

You want to experience the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes the world offers. Books help you practice experiencing what your senses should enjoy in new places. Books introduce you to new sensations. They also give you words so you can share the sensation.

Writers are keen observers. They have been testing and naming sensations their whole lives. A book is a writer’s way to share a sensation she experienced.

Reading is Practice Being Present

Being present is being alive. Being alive is fun, right?  Have you ever tried to read without being present? If you are distracted you can’t read. Reading leaves you no choice in the matter. You will be present and enjoy yourself.

Reading is a More Difficult Pleasure

Not all pleasure comes from easy tasks. Reading is a more difficult pleasure. It is a more difficult pleasure, but there can be fun in understanding something that requires your full attention and effort. Like difficult exercise that tears muscle fibers to build them stronger, reading difficult material prepares the brain to tackle harder tasks. Have you ever felt satisfied by pushing yourself beyond your physical limits? That is fun. Experience the mental equivalent. Read.

Read to Uncover Plot

Reading can be as hard as struggling to understand an expertly written piece of imaginative literature or as easy as strumming the pages to gather the pieces of a simple plot. I’ve talked about uncovering plot. Uncovering an interesting plot is fun. We desire to see stories unfold. Our lives are stories unfolding.  A great book reveals the lives of others in the same way, right before our eyes and at your own pace.

Read to Laugh

Sometimes, you can even read to laugh when a laugh is what you need. Books deliver. If you let them, books read your mind and give you exactly what you need. Have you ever laughed from what you read? If you answered no, you should experience it. If you answered yes, share how much fun it is in the comments or with a friend.

There is a book for every sense of humor.

Read for Social Pleasure

There is social pleasure in reading. Pull out your favorite book on the subway. Let people see you read. Your reading communicates to the people around you some things about who you are. You are a reader. You read despite what others may think or say. You take advantage of your time on earth. Show off who you are.

Share what you read as well. Like a well-watered rose can’t wait to show its flower you can’t wait to share what you’ve read. Before you had nothing to share, you might have thought. Now, with reading, you have an entire library to share.

Read to Experience Multitudes

Walt Whitman says, we “contain multitudes.” True. A multitude of interests, a multitude of desires, a multitude of thoughts. Everything we do is in multitudes. Books satisfy some of those multitudes by being multitudes themselves. One day when we wake up we may have a very different interest than then one we had the day before. Books are there to satisfy those multitudes in the most efficient way we can imagine. Books satisfy multitudes, not at the surface level, but in enough depth that our thirst is quenched.

Multitudes are the opposite of monotony.

Read to Never Be Bored

I have never met a bored reader. Being bored is the opposite of fun. One day you may retire. You may have a day with nothing planned. One day you may need to escape day to day life.  Some days I joke about wanting a shed in the backyard with nothing in it. A place where I can go and sit. Some people have vacation houses or deer camps. All of these are “places all your own.” Books can be your “place all your own” until you get a real one. Then, when you get a real one you can take your books with you.

There are other reasons to read. We will talk about education and perspective, but this week do some reading for fun.

Why is reading fun to you? Leave a comment.

Photo by Paul Jarvis.

Why Read: An Answer Painted in a Broad Stroke

This is an essay written by Brandon Monk.

Please note: This essay originally appeared in multiple parts but has been compiled on medium as one 21 minute read.

I have been thinking about the answer to the question, “Why Read,” for about two years. The question first became my focus as I reflected on why I had not read the first years out of formal education.

At the time, I think I was desperate for answers and lonely. I read for answers to the big questions like how to exist and even why exist.

As I started to read again I tried to think about why it was that I was reading what I was reading. Over time, I think I have boiled it down to three reasons.

We read for pleasure, for education, or for perspective. There is overlap. If you are reading for pleasure, education, and perspective you are reading at the highest level. This is the reader’s highest achievement.

For Pleasure

By this I mean read what you like.

Read for entertainment without worrying about any secondary gain.

The only focus you are aware of is your own amusement, diversion, or enjoyment.

For Education

By this I mean read to learn.

Read for knowledge. Develop your power of reason or judgment.

Read in preparation for life. Test your knowledge by making mature decisions.

For Perspective

By this I mean read to understand the state of one’s ideas.

Read to adjust the way you look at the world.

Read to understand how two people, places, things, or ideas interact.

Does it matter why we read?

In order to read, to have incentive to pick up a book, you have to start with the reasons why.

As a student I used to hate the teachers that used to explain things by saying, “Because I said so.” No response annoyed me more.

If I ever taught, I vowed, I would always explain why something was the case.

I realize we aren’t in class and I realize I’m not your teacher, but I wanted to put forward the reasons to read in a broad stroke. I will come back to these reasons in more detail in the future.

In the mean time, I want you to consider for yourself, why you read. Share your reason with me in the comments. If I’m missing something, tell me. I want to get this right and would love to hear what you think.

Photo: Some rights reserved by jenny downing.