The Rebirth of Reading

About a year ago I bought a house and moved in with my Other Half. After having a relationship for six years, we had thought that it was high time – regardless of the challenges that we knew would present itself during the adjustment phase. And, we had anticipated quite a few. We were and still are both two very singular people with our own rhythm and routines. We had also had to adjust from living a life between weekends, to finding the kind of balance that people needed to that saw each other every day.

It’s been a journey worthy of a blog post itself, though admittedly one I’d never write because I feel that there are some things you just don’t talk about in public. Simply because one of the most beautiful things about our relationship is the converstaions that can happen in private…

But, conversations weren’t always all we had. In general, like the exhausted, overworked adults of this century, we found ourselves mostly watching television at night. Over the past few years I had accumulated quite a few series that I wanted to get into and my Other Half was more than willing to share in the viewing experience. Of course, this became a habit and pretty soon – it was all we generally did. This was very new to me, certainly a big adjustment. I’ll be lying if I say that I don’t like watching television, but I’ve always tried to limit myself, especially during the week because I’ve been brought up to believe that it is a tremendous waste of time.

They even preached it to us in school through teaching Roald Dahl’s The Reading Killer.

Yet, because of life and the general rhythm of things, the television suddenly became quite a fixture in our daily routine. And secretly, I think both of us started to resent it.

Having grown up as a reader, having gone through school with three or four books in my bag at a time – I hadn’t loved reading in as much as I had needed it. I had been fiercely protective of my time with my books. Like all reading children, I hid books on my lap in class, snuck them away between the covers of my textbooks and carried them with me always, as one would a weapon of self-defense. The only thing that made inroads into my reading time was my own writing. And in hind sight, even that was a minor sacrilege. Because I now feel that you cannot write if you don’t read enough to make you humble.

And, hypocritically, I’ve been preaching it a lot. During November, my main message to my NaNoers are to read. To broaden their minds. To acknowledge the books that made them want to write. I’ve stood up in front of scores of people, cornered many an unsuspecting sitcom fan and unleased the passion of my thoughts of fiction. Yet, I had abandoned it for television.

Something had to give and it all started with a really bad book. I will not say the title of it because this article isn’t a review in as much as it is a musing but – in January I downloaded a free book from Samsung Kindle and it… repulsed me. There wasn’t a scrap of originality in it, not a wink of creativity. It was loosely put together, slightly silly. Pretty much like every television series after Season Four. I had closed the book, deleted it from my phone and promptly started reading a book from Charles Dickens simply because I knew that it at least had proven its worth.

It had substance. It felt alive.

And it reminded me why I loved reading so much.

The natural progression was to want more. I began digging into my own library again, finding the books that lay on my cupboard, half read, half forgotten. My Other Half began to follow suit and soon we found ourselves sitting in front of the television, staring at the images that were shown to us and realizing that we much preferred out own. The Conversation happened, a confession that we didn’t want to watch as much television anymore. The relief that followed was a release.

We decided to make books a priority again, to feed our minds instead of simply using our eyes. I took to Goodreads and pretty soon, we had a reading list several books long. Sanctions were put on the television. We wouldn’t stop watching completely (because I can’t give up Blacklist…) but we decided to limit how much we watch. An episode a night at most. Two over the weekend.

The result has been enlightening. After The Conversation we spend our Sunday lying in bed together, simply reading with our dog and cat wedged in between us.  Silence drifted through the house but it wasn’t uncomfortable. It was the kind of silence that people had when they were content.

When they were being transported into other worlds.

I’ve missed those worlds and my soul has taken to reading like a body to food after a fast. With the act reborn, with the hobby retaken, reclaimed, I look forward to every moment that I can have a moment. Where I can steal a breath to turn a page or two.

And it is enlightening.

And it is a relief.

I will not put my book down easily again.

2016 Reading Challenge

2016 Reading Challenge
Alyssa has
read 4 books toward
her goal of
25 books.
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Movie Review: The Hobbit’s Treachery

One of the last posts that I did before I went on my incredibly long sabbatical from blogging was commenting on my disgust with The Hobbit movie. At that time it was the first movie and I still mentioned that I preferred watching Jack Reacher with Tom Cruise rather than the slow reeled 1/3rd of my beloved childhood book. My recollection on that article is rather vague (it was still on NerdTrek.com) but I DO remember comparing it to a Hallmark movie.

Two more movies later, my feelings of disgust have not changed. In fact, it’s become worse.

I’m not going to rant and rave about how I’ve been a fan of the series for decades but it bears mentioning that I read them for the first time when I was about eleven. The Hobbit was a delight, a book given to me by a woman who at the time was a substitute parent who encouraged my love for fantasy rather than judging it. So, I was pretty invested in the series and very sceptical when the first Lord of the Rings movies came out. In those years however, despite my doubts, I wasn’t disappointed because they were fantastic. There was something truly magical about them, about the effort that was put into bringing to live such a massive work of fantasy. It felt real, it felt authentic. It felt daunting and spectacular.

And it didn’t feel cheap.

The Hobbit did. More to the point, The Hobbit felt as if it cheated me.

Image credited to nebezial, deviantart.com

I’ve been sort of badgered into watching the series by the same super human individual who managed to drag me to all Twilight movies. The first movie actually had me quite excited – that was until I heard they were going to make a trilogy out of it. I went back to my wee little book, looked at the pages and wondered how on earth they were going to extract almost 8 hours of material out of it. Turns out all they needed was cheap comedy, silly, plastic looking elves, hallmark like close ups (and CONSTANT close ups) and very slow, very dramatic statements that were delivered by a ten second pause before and after each delivery of the line. I don’t know what went wrong with The Hobbit’s cameras but it was a disaster in my eyes. While looking at Bilbo’s pore ridden face throughout the movie I kept wishing that the camera would simply zoom out. Just… Show me more than the world an inch from Bilbo’s face. I like Ian McKellan but even I don’t feel the need to count Gandalf’s beard hairs. It felt cheap, it was frustrating and it was infuriatingly slow. As I sat there last night, watching the movie under protest with very little hope of it being good, I realised that it was a trap. It wasn’t even a well-executed trap. The movies had simply been made to trick myself and other fantasy loving fans out of our well earned money. The changes that they made to the story line like Legolas’s near superpower like ability to just save every moment of every day, was unnecessary. Yes, I liked seeing a ginger elf girl saving the day as much as anybody but did she forward the plot? No.

Did the last movie have a plot? No.

The Battle of the Five Armies was one long, slow, badly done fighting scene. And, because they refused to zoom away from the character’s facial hair, it was frustrating as well. Not even the 3D made up for it. I don’t know whether it’s just the fact that I need to wear the 3D glasses over my own, but I’ve never really seen much of a difference. It certainly doesn’t justify the overcharged price that we have to pay for the honour of shoving a plastic pair of glasses onto our faces.

The Hobbit was completely the opposite of The Lord of The Rings. There was nothing spectacular about it and gave me less pleasure than the Classic Movie channel. Heck, I’ve had more fun watching B – rated movies.

Or Xena Warrior Princess – at least they knew how to sometimes flaunt the scenery.

It might’ve been a movie doomed to fail. The directors, writers, screen writers or who ever tried to lace a darkness into the pages of The Hobbit’s tale that was unnecessary. We know how the story ends, trying to tie up loose ends that wasn’t unravelled to begin with was a futile task. And, the cheap idiocy like Radagast the Brown’s persona made me nothing more than furious. The Istari was always meant to be majestic, to be frightening and powerful. A wizard being pulled along by a bunch of hare on a sleigh was only one step short of Ronald McDonald. Where I had respected Peter Jackson for renewing the love for JRR Tolkien’s series, I now want to put that same bird poo they laced into Radagast’s hair onto his toast for exploiting it.

Because that’s what the Hobbit was. It was exploitation of fans of the series. It was an exploitation of those expecting the wonder of The Lord of the Rings.

And I fell for it.

Tears for the Soulless

When I was in school, I read a massive fantasy series which I followed over the course of a number of years. The books had a number of characters in them, a number of sub plots and different scenarios that came and went and although I enjoyed all of the stories, I had one favourite character, the character I couldn’t wait to read about. I’d skip bits, read the sections with this character in and then come back to the original time line that I had abandoned. Then, in a not unforeseen twist, this character died halfway through the series and, although I had suspected that it might come (I’ve always had a knack for feeling where a story was going to go) the blow was still a very hard one. I remember sitting in my room, crying my eyes out. My mother, who was use to dealing with a somewhat stoic teenager who never really showed any emotions, was shocked because I never cried about things that happened to me in Real Life. I was told that it’s a book but I found in that one sentence my mother missed a fundamental point. You see, even though the character didn’t have a corporal body or even a soul if you will, that character had become very real to me as the world had and the death there hit me almost as hard as a death would here.

You see, I had come to love and admire the character. I think it’s a very difficult thing to explain to someone that doesn’t really read or immerse themselves into other media but the fact is that the emotions that we feel while reading is real. I made the mistake when I was still barely a teenager to write a major character death into one of the stories that I was working with at that stage and the blow of that struck me so hard that I went mute for a week. I wasn’t prepared for the emotions that it would bring up inside me, from the other characters in my heart that had witnessed that. The story might’ve been written down in the crooked drawl of someone who never really bothered to decide whether she’s right or left handed and the grammar might’ve been terrible – but the world and the emotions were very real. I learned something that day and then again the day when I saw my favourite book character die and that is not to underestimate the impact that a virtual world and reality can have in our lives. I also believe that authors shouldn’t underestimate that either in this day and age where it’s so easy for the fans to get touch with them.

I read another series a couple of years ago called ‘The Hollows’ by Kim Harrison. To me, the books were amazing but then again, I started reading them in a time that I was under and immense amount of social stress. My mother had taken gravely ill and I had to come back from England either to be there when she died or to help the family and her put back the pieces if she survived. I found the Hollows during that time and I think due to my wish to escape my real life, I leapt into that world full mind, heart and soul. I fell in love with the characters and was so impressed with the author because she did what very few other people had done well. She wrote in a sexual tension between two characters that she confessed later surprised even herself. The thing was that these characters weren’t actually the ‘main’ couple and at some point I believe that the author realised that she was going to have to do something to get rid of that or to try and resolve it. By the seventh book, the sexual tension had gone, leaving in its place a hollow between the characters that once again broke my heart and made me put down the books series. I had loved the characters too much to see them move away from what I had hoped would be an inevitable happy ending. My love for the series didn’t die but it was left hollow and bitter.

And then of course, there was Mass Effect 3 – the story which I spoke of in length in my previous post. Along with millions of other fans, I completely immersed myself in the world. I worked with the characters, walked with them saw their trials and felt the love that they portrayed so well on the screen. They became very real to me because I carried them around in my head where I had no ‘walls’ to protect me. I’ve been thinking about this for a few days and I’ve realised that books, video games, even television programs are actually quite dangerous to someone like me because they penetrate through a barrier that physical people can’t. I am very hesitant in my emotions in my real life and I always feel as if I stare at people over a kind of chasm. I watch them do what they do from a distance but very few things actually touch me. It’s a safety mechanism naturally. In school I was the tall, awkward red head with a book under her arm that had to suffer through more bullying than I ever would admit. If I ignored people and refused to let their emotions touch me, I would be safe. And, I’d be safe in the realm of books and games where I felt these emotions that I struggled with in my own personal life so acutely. Mass Effect 3 was like a reality check, the realisation that I’m not truly safe from my own emotions anywhere. And, perhaps that immersing myself in different world is no protection from them. Like the character’s death had touched me, the ending of Mass Effect 3 did so as well. The difference being that the character’s death in the book series was not only foreseen but it was explored, handled and dealt with in the world that created it. I went through a mourning period where I didn’t touch the books but then, when I was ready to pick them back up again, I could see how the character’s death affected everybody, how they went through their own mourning period and emotions. That all gave me a way to move forward and enjoy the books again. The problem with Mass Effect was that they didn’t close it properly. I’ve mentioned this before but I feel that it’s such a crucial point that people should take note of.

Humans are fascinating creatures as we live on hope. The hope that things will get better, that there is an ending and that there is justice. There’s a reason mythology portrays that hope is the only emotion left in Pandora’s Box. It’s what allows us to put our current circumstances aside if they are less than savoury and allows us to carry on, in the hope that tomorrow will be better. Mass Effect 3 ended that hope because all the stories, all the lives were left mid stride. And yes, they are fixing it now after fans demanded it but the writers should’ve done so from the beginning. I think something all writers, whether they do so for games, or books or television, should be aware of is the impact and perception that people have of their work. They must bare in mind that for every teenager hauled up in his bedroom with a controller, there’s one adult sitting out there, playing a game because it allows them to deal with some personal trauma. I read a story of a man whose mother played Mass Effect because she was suffering from cancer and the game took her mind away from the pain. Another woman wrote of how the game allowed her to deal and move forward after her son’s suicide. For myself, I played it after I was attacked in November of last year. I couldn’t sleep and playing the kick ass character of Commander Shepard helped me get my mind off of that man with his knife. Like the characters are a part of a story, so are those who read it or play it or watch it. And, with a world as immense as Mass Effect, it’s only natural that everybody will find something with which to associate. You owe it to people to give them that closure because they are those who cry for your characters.

George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones for television

I’ve recently discovered that HBO has made a television series of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones book, the first one in the series of The Song of Ice and Fire. Needless to say, I cannot contain my excitement when I discovered (after some careful ferreting) that it’s got a very good cast. (Disappointingly, one of my favorite actresses, Jennifer Ehle, was set to star in it, but had to withdraw due to unreleased reasons). Names like Sean Bean, (Boromir from Lord of the Rings), Lena Headley (Sarah Connor from the Terminator Chronicles) and Peter Dinklage (Trumpkin the dwarf in Prince Caspian) popped up and even now I’m grinning because Peter Dinklage had been the ‘face’ that I had used when thinking of Tyrion Lannister, the character he is set to play.

I suspect that HBO has spared no expenses, and already – Game of Thrones is labeled as the most anticipated television show of 2011. To me, it comes as a welcome relief from the vampire and werewolf craze our world has been caught up in. I never got into the Twilight Saga and urban fantasy is (sadly) a bit of a same old, same old concept (vampire meets girl, vampire likes girl, girl likes other vampire, magic in between and sex and biting. And biting during sex.…) I’ve been absolutely yearning for real fantasy (one of the reason I’ve started my reread of Robert Jordan’s Epic Wheel of Time series and my almost obsessive hunt for Maggie Furey’s Artifacts of Power), the genre which I have dedicated more than fifteen years of my life to.

Magic, swords, dragons and kings somehow never get old. Certainly not as old as sulky teen vampires…

So, I am awaiting with much anticipation the release of this series on South Africa’s screens. I realize that it might take some time for it to get here, but – I can wait.

Because Winter is Coming.

Robert Jordan – The Eye of the World

This post contains spoilers for the book.

I’ve finished this book today, though not for the first time. I think, to date – I’ve read it about five times and I have to say, I’ve enjoyed it every single time. Of all the books in the Wheel of Time series, this one is by far my favourite. It’s simple, the quest basic: Three boys taken away from their homes by a sorceress because one of them might change the fate of the world. They run from assassins, monsters and all manner of unspeakable things, each learning something of themselves along the way.

Unlike later on in the series, the cast is still small and you have all of the principle characters travelling together. I think one of my biggest critique on the series is that later on Jordan (Light rest his soul) brought in too many side stories, too many side characters. I find that later in the books all the characters (especially the women) are very much alike. It’s like having a bunch of clones running around in various places.

Not so in this book.

Everyone is clear and defined. Their features, their personalities, their personal hopes and dreams. Even the cold and serene Moiraine Sedai shows a bit of who she is, of the events that’s shaped her until this moment. You are unsure of everyone’s fate, unsure of where life would take them and, with the knowledge that the later books give you, you cannot help but pick up the small clues which point each character in his or her destiny.

And, I loved the surprises.

Mashiara by *FarArden on deviantART
My favourite scene (and I am not the romantic type) is when two characters who’s had a strange rivalry ever since the book started, have a quiet moment in the dark together. Admitting love but not giving in to it. The pain, the soft words and the genuine emotion that radiates off of the page trapped me and made me realize that there is nothing so good as well thought over dialogue.

To me, this book truly stands out among the rest and the wonder that I had felt reading it the first time is echoed every time I touch the pages. If I ever get to write my own books, may my first one be as good as this one.