Is Life Too Short for Re-Reading?

Do you read the same book multiple times? If so, why, and what does that say about you?

With Dr. Carl Sagan’s help, I’ve made the point before that the human lifespan is too short to read all books ever written. You can’t hope to read a tiny sliver of a percentage of them all. Therefore, time spent re-reading a book is time not spent enjoying a book you’ve never read.

Re-reading a book is different from ordering the same meal at a restaurant or re-watching a favorite TV show or movie. Reading a book is a significant investment in time—many hours or days—repeating something you’ve already done.

At this point, you might ask, defensively, “So what? Since I can’t read them all, why not re-read a few I enjoy? And since it will take a few days, why not spend that time doing something I know I’ll like?”

Fair points. Also, I must say, you avid re-readers are in good company. Here are the thoughts of some famous authors on this topic:

  • “Each time you re-read you see or learn something new.” Ernest Hemingway
  • “There’s nothing wrong with reading a book you love over and over. When you do, the words get inside you, become a part of you, in a way that words in a book you’ve read only once can’t.” Gail Carson Levine
  • “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.” C.S. Lewis
  • “An unliterary man may be defined as one who reads books once only. . . . We do not enjoy a story fully at the first reading.” C.S. Lewis
  • “No book is worth reading that isn’t worth re-reading.” Susan Sontag
  • “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” Oscar Wilde

Reddit has an interesting discussion of this topic. Commenters cited several different reasons to re-read. Some just found it comforting. A few re-read a favorite book during the same month every year, and associated that time of year with that book.

Over at Melissa’s Book World, Melissa says she falls in love with favorite books and their characters. If forced to choose between never starting a new book again or never re-reading a book again, she’d choose never to start a new one, since she couldn’t bear to part with her favorites.

Sara Jonsson came up with 10 good reasons that we re-read, including some interesting rationales like “the movie adaptation is coming out,” and “you have a test on that book tomorrow.”

I’ve noticed the experience of reading a paper or electronic book visually is different from listening to an audiobook. It still counts as re-reading, but the experience is different.

From my research, it appears the prime reason to re-read is the comfort it brings, the familiarity of the known. However, it’s not completely familiar. It’s like trying to go back to your childhood home again, or trying to dip your toe in the same river. You can’t. The experience is different. The book hasn’t changed, but you have.

In subsequent readings, you know what will happen. You won’t have that same sense of wonder, that same eagerness for the action to advance. You have time to relish the clever foreshadowing, the subtle ways the author set things up for the climax, the techniques the author used to draw you in to loving the main character. You couldn’t have noticed these things the first time.

The difference is most stark when decades separate the initial reading from the re-reading. You’ve likely forgotten a lot, so re-reading may repeat some of the joy of a first read. Also, you’ve matured significantly; your interests and outlook have changed. You might dislike a book you once enjoyed, and say you’ve outgrown it. Or you may enjoy other aspects, less concerned with plot and setting, and more with characters, style, and theme.

I’d say reading is important, even vital. If you feel the need to re-read on occasion to sustain your love for the reading experience, then go ahead and re-read, especially books by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

The Ring of Gyges

Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could make yourself invisible at will? Do you wish you could just disappear and reappear when you wanted to? If you had the Ring of Gyges, you could.

The philosopher Plato discusses the Ring of Gyges in The Republic. He uses the ring as an allegory, similar to his use of Atlantis and his famous allegory of the cave.

In Plato’s ring allegory, Gyges is a shepherd in the country of Lydia. An earthquake uncovers the opening of a cave, which Gyges discovers while tending his flock of sheep. He goes into the cave and finds a bronze horse statue with its torso opened up. Within it is a man’s corpse with a golden ring on one of its fingers. Gyges takes the ring. He finds that if he turns the ring’s collet (the part that secures the stone in place) so its stone points toward the base of his finger, he disappears. If he turns the collet 180 degrees so the stone points to his fingertip, he reappears. He goes to the palace of Lydia, seduces the Queen, kills the King, and becomes King himself.

Why am I telling you about the Ring of Gyges? It’s because I make use of that ring in my upcoming story, RippersRing72dpi“Ripper’s Ring,” which will be launched in early May. In my story, a troubled character in East London comes across the ring in the summer of 1888, and starts killing prostitutes. He becomes the murderer we know as Jack the Ripper. Now you understand why they never caught the Ripper. When you read “Ripper’s Ring” you’ll also learn how the Ring of Gyges works, and why Gyges found it on a corpse inside a horse statue in a cave.

Some of you are thinking, “A magic ring? Hasn’t that been overdone? Does the literary world really need another magic ring?” You’re recalling Aladdin’s ring in Arabian Nights, the Ring of Solomon, J.R.R. Tolkien’s One Ring, Wagner’s Ring Cycle, the rings in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, and Marvolo Gaunt’s Ring in the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling.

Enough with the magic rings already, you’re saying. Well, my ring is different. Not only does it turn its bearer invisible, but it also provides the bearer some mental visions of all the ring’s previous owners. When my troubled character comes across the Ring of Gyges, he learns its history and what it can do.

Now back to Plato. What was that ancient Greek philosopher doing discussing a ring of invisibility? He stated that the ring separated actions from consequences; that is, an invisible man could commit an immoral act (as Gyges did by killing the King) without fear of retribution, since no one could connect him with the crime. Further, Plato believed that if a person had such a ring, his eventual commission of immoral acts was inevitable. In other words, no one can resist the temptation of invisibility and the power it conveys.

No one? Well, in The Republic, Socrates doubts the temptation is as inevitable as Plato thinks.

My scientifically minded readers are laughing at the whole idea of human invisibility. After all, the human eye only works because light interacts with the rod and cone cells in the retina at the back of the eyeball. If the eyeball is invisible, light passes through without interacting. In other words, an invisible person is also blind. You could get around that with partial invisibility, allowing only the retinas to remain opaque. It would be a bit creepy—two partial eyeballs seeming to float around, but at least you could see.

How did I resolve that problem in my story? I didn’t. Sorry. I chose the course most writers do and ignored the problem. At least I’m admitting that here.

If you come into possession of the Ring of Gyges, just keep it. Better yet, destroy it. Whatever you do, don’t bring it to—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Author Interview — Stephen Blake

You may have noticed I have not yet interviewed all the authors who have stories in the newly famous anthology Avast, Ye Airships! Today I’m pleased to bring you one more; I’m interviewing Stephen Blake.

Stephen BlakeOn his website, Stephen describes himself as just an ordinary bloke (he’s English), and a fantasy and science fiction loving geek.  His Twitter page describes him as “Writer & exaggerator. Cat, Dog & Guinea Pig Wrangler. Tai Chi Enthusiast. Cornish and Proud.”

Now, the interview (British spelling and all!):

Poseidon’s Scribe: When and why did you begin writing fiction?

Stephen Blake: I’d always spoken about writing, always dreamed that I might be able to do something. It took a redundancy, illness and a lot of encouragement from my wife to actually go for it. I should say that a trip to a convention (BristolCon 2012) also made a difference. I’d always had ideas for stories but never did anything about it. Finally meeting authors who were real people, who sometimes held down jobs and seeing that they were not that different from me – it got me thinking. I realised the only difference between us were my own excuses – so I got rid of them (the excuses that is; all the authors I met are fine and did not meet their demise).

P.S.: What are the easiest, and the most difficult, aspects of writing for you?

S.B.: Ideas seem the easiest. In fact I probably have too many. Having free flowing ideas is great until you can’t decide which one to work on next.

The most difficult aspect for me is that of personal discipline. I’ll procrastinate and dance around getting on with a job but once I start I am usually very productive. It’s just the getting going part.

I should say I also struggle with the reading in public. Unless you write so well as to not need to promote your work, it seems that giving a reading is an important part of being an author. I get nervous but I read in public at least once a month now and I’m dealing with it better all the time.

P.S.: How did you become interested in writing steampunk?

S.B.: I find the whole idea fascinating. I grew up watching things like “Island at the Top of the World,” “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and “Warlords of Atlantis.” Steampunk, for me, encapsulates adventure and excitement. The possibilities are huge. You can go fantasy and discover lost races, you can go sci-fi and have clockwork automatons. The setting, usually the Victorian age, is so interesting. Remember how interested they were in the supernatural, the thing to do back then was to have a séance. Someone will say you can do all these things in any setting or time period. All I’ll say is ‘steampunk’ lets you do it with style.

P.S.: What other authors influenced your writing?

S.B.: I’ve always been a voracious reader. Childhood favourites stay with me now, such as Enid Blyton, C.S.Lewis, and Roald Dahl.

At school I always had one book out of the library over and over and that was a collection of Greek myths. Even now, I enjoy reading them.

More recently I’ve enjoyed R. A. Salvatore, Gareth Powell, Kim Lakin-Smith, and Joanne Hall. I read all kinds of things. I’ve not long finished some Agatha Christie and Robert Louis Stevenson. I like reading all sorts, I even believe Stan Lee has had an influence on me, hence my characters always seem to have a disability of some sort or they are a social outcast. I think as writers we can learn from one another. I’m like a sponge trying to take in every lesson I can.

AvastYeAirships (4)P.S.: You wrote “Beneath the Brass” for Avast, Ye Airships!  Can you tell us a bit about the story?

S.B.: It’s a journal, kept by a young woman who has been put into an asylum. There’s nothing wrong with her but she accused her brother of attacking her and he’s made it seem like she is mad. Pirates rescue her and it is her account of all that befalls her during that time. It’s love, peril, airships and automatons but not necessarily in that order.

P.S.: In your website, you mentioned having joined a critique group. How has that group affected your writing?

S.B.: Well hopefully I’m reducing the vast amount of commas I apparently use. Mostly it is just very supportive, knowing that people are going to be honest with you and give you constructive criticism. I struggle sometimes with confidence – believing myself to be more lucky than talented. I know that these people (Victoria and Inez) will be brutally honest, so that when they say “it’s good”, it really means a lot.

Airship300P.S.: Your story “Lord Craddock: Ascension” appears in the anthology Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion. What is that story about?

S.B.: It’s about fighting slavery, fighting stereotypes and preconceptions and using those preconceptions to your advantage when trying to take down slave traders. It also involves automatic carriages and jumping automatons.

Bristol has history of being part of the ‘triangular’ slave trade route and I liked the idea of someone fighting racism and slavery in a steampunk vigilante kind of way.

P.S.: Before writing your stories, do you imagine a scene, a character, or a plot outline?

S.B.: I get an idea. Usually it’s a ‘what if?’ scenario. After that I just think about it and see how it plays out. It’s usually no more than the beginning and end. I normally take a while to figure out what happens in the middle. I can just think and scribble notes for months before I actually start typing a story.

Recently I had a story accepted for an anthology typed out and submitted within ninety minutes. I don’t see that happening often though, if ever again.

For “Beneath the Brass,” my first thought was, what if Stephen Hawkins was alive in that time period? What if he became a pirate? In the end the story is not about the pirates but about Miss Alice Reynolds, the lady stuck in an asylum. Until you start typing away on your keyboard you can never be entirely sure how it will unfold.

P.S.: What is your current work in progress? Would you mind telling us a little about it?

S.B.: I’ve a few things on the go. My big work in progress is tentatively called “Blood Key” and is a YA fantasy with elements of steampunk. It’s the tale of a young girl who ends up in a world not seen by us since the days when the Celtic druids travelled there. It’s the story of her trying to get home and those who want to use her to get the magic flowing again and seize power.

I’m also working on a really interesting project called “The Adventures of Dayton Barnes.” It’s an anthology of children’s stories designed to encourage young boys to read. It’s very fascinating because each story will actually be chapters. I’ve written three stories for it but that is not the end. I now have to work with the other authors to make all our stories fit seamlessly together as if it were a single book. I’ve got to say this has tested my imagination no end. I can dream up tales of Victorian steampunk, demons and zombies quite easily – trying to put myself in the shoes of a mid west American twelve year old has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever written.

Poseidon’s Scribe: What advice can you offer aspiring writers?

Stephen Blake: Go for it – that is the best advice. You’ve got to give it a go. The more you write the better you’ll get. Lord Craddock was my first attempt and it got published (after an awful lot of editing mind you). For some time I believed that was a fluke and yet here I am with a story in Avast, Ye Airships!, and soon I’ll have another three stories in a children’s anthology, “The Adventures of Dayton Barnes.” All because I just stopped talking about how I’d like to write and did it.

One other thing I realised early on is that writing is like music. One person hears a song and it evokes an intense feeling of dislike within them. Another hears the same tune and they feel it touches their very soul and fills them with happiness. Write the stories you want to write and they’ll find an audience, even if it’s only you (but that is highly unlikely!).

I could go on and on. Join a local group of writers. Read lots. If possible meet authors and compare notes. Keep trying for anthologies because you’ll meet great editors who will take your writing by the scruff and knock it into shape.

Thanks, Steve! All my readers will soon be regular followers of you on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads, and will become avid readers of your blog.

Poseidon’s Scribe

12 Reasons to Change Your Name

Pen NamesAs a writer of fiction, you might choose to be published under a name other than your real one for a variety of reasons. The use of pen names, (or nom de plumes, literary doubles, or pseudonyms, if you prefer) is not uncommon. Although I’ve blogged about one reason for pen names before, I figured I’d provide a more comprehensive list of reasons today.

• The first three on my list have to do with Branding.
1. To separate your books into different genres or types or styles. For each name, readers know what to expect.
2. To give the reader the impression the book is an autobiography. You can adopt a character’s name as your pen name, as Daniel Handler did by choosing Lemony Snicket as a nom de plume in A Series of Unfortunate Events.
3. To share the same pen name with other authors, making it seem like a book series was written by one person. With the Tom Swift series of children’s books, several authors wrote under the single pen name, Victor Appleton.

• You may have reasons to shield your true identity.
4. To keep your real name in reserve until you’re a more established author. Eric Blair used the name George Orwell for this purpose, though it’s not clear what he was waiting for!
5. To protect your reputation. As a don at Oxford University, C. S. Lewis got published under the names Clive Hamilton and N. W. Clerk for this purpose.
6. To maintain your privacy. Enough said.

• There may be problems with your real name.
7. To choose a name more appropriate to the genre you write in. Pearl Grey chose the pen name Zane Grey for his Westerns.
8. To present yourself as the other gender. As a woman, you might feel your military adventure novels would sell better with a man’s name as the author, and similarly for you men who write romance novels.
9. To enable readers to more easily pronounce your name. Face it, some names are difficult to say.
10. To distinguish yourself from someone else. Your real name might spell or sound like another person (or thing). The British statesman and author Winston Churchill always wrote under the name Winston S. Churchill (I know, not much of a pseudonym) to avoid being confused with the then-famous American author Winston Churchill.

• Sometimes the publisher has reasons for suggesting a pen name.
11. To enable several of your stories to appear in the same magazine. Thus Robert A. Heinlein became also Anson MacDonald and Caleb Strong to avoid the appearance that a single author was monopolizing that issue.
12. To keep from saturating the market. If you write very fast, publishers might fear the public will see your name too often and tire of your novels too quickly. For this reason, some of Stephen King’s books were published under the name Richard Bachman.

Sure, there might be additional reasons for using a pen name. You don’t really need a reason, after all. It’s a personal choice and nobody’s business except yours and the publisher’s. (You’ll want your publisher to know your real name so they send those huge advance and royalty checks to the right account!)

Other good sites or blog posts that list reasons for pen names include this one, this one, and this one.

Oh, yeah, in case you were wondering, my real name isn’t—

Poseidon’s Scribe

September 14, 2014Permalink

Hook ‘em, So You Can Reel ‘em In

How will you begin your next story?  The beginning, called the ‘hook,’ is important.  These days readers don’t have much time.  Other things like TV, video games, and the Internet compete with your story for their attention.  If your first sentence or paragraph doesn’t grab them, they’re on to doing something else.

Here are some examples of great hooks used in novels as chosen by the editors of American Book Review:

  • Call me Ishmael.  Moby-Dick, Herman Melville 
  • Marley was dead, to begin with.  A Christmas Carol,  Charles Dickens
  • It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.  1984, George Orwell
  • You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.  Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
  • Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.  The Trial, Franz Kafka
  • Mother died today.  The Stranger, Albert Camus
  • There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.  The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis
  • He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.  The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway
  • It was a pleasure to burn.  Fahrenheit 451,  Ray Bradbury
  • The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting.  The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane

These beginnings work well for several reasons.  They give us an early idea what the story will be about.  They establish the tone of the story, and something about the attitude of the narrator’s voice.

But most of all they seize our attention and compel us to want to read more.  What gives them this quality?  It’s hard to find a common attribute just by looking at them.  They seem to appeal for different reasons.

Writer Darcy Pattison has grouped the different beginnings into categories.  This is helpful since one category might work better for the start of your story than another.  Knowing the category can give you a starting point for developing your hook.

Many of the beginnings in the list start with a sense of the ordinary, and then give the reader something that clashes or is jarring somehow.  We’re left with a puzzle, an oddity, a question that can only be resolved by reading further.  So read on we must.

Those without that twist added to the ordinary seem to possess a different quality.  They settle us in, set a mood, fluff up our pillow, put on some appropriate music.  We’re now comfortably in the story, transported to the author’s world right from the start, and now that we’re there we might as well read on to see what the place is like.

Each of these beginnings without exception is easy to read.  None have rare or difficult words to stumble over.  All have rhythm, and almost poetic brevity.  Not a word is wasted.

How do you write an opening like these?  Heck if I know; these are some of the best ever written.  Ask one of the world’s greatest authors.

With that task added to your to-do list, perhaps we could set our sights a bit lower for now.  How do you write an effective story beginning?  For one thing, it takes time and many trials.  The beginning is the hardest part to write, usually takes the longest, and usually involves the most revisions.  You might decide to skip the hook and come back to it later as the story evolves.  You might like to write a first version of the hook knowing you’ll revisit it over and over.  In any case, be prepared to spend the time and thought to craft it right.

To learn much more about how to write story hooks, read Hooked by Les Edgerton.  What an invaluable resource!

With regard to beginnings, we’ve reached the end.  Remember to check back at this site next week for further ramblings about writing by–

                                                                 Poseidon’s Scribe