4 Things to do This New Year

1413067_water_newThough it’s almost February, it’s never too late to get started on something new. It only takes one day to start becoming the person you want to be and today could be that day. There are a million things you can do, but my advice is this: Start simple. Don’t plan so much that you overwhelm yourself and fail, take baby steps.

It goes back to the old adage: How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.

  1. Spend More Time in the Sun

Too many of us rely on supplements and food for our Vitamin D needs. We also hear about skin cancer, and how we don’t want to tan. However, the sun has gotten a bad rap as of late. It is the original source of Vitamin D and studies show that being in the sun makes you less stressed, and feel more free. Take some time to lie out in the sun this summer.

  1. Fast

The best thing I did for my health in the past year was begin to skip breakfast. More and more studies show that those who eat their meals within and “eating window” (typically between 4 – 8 hours).  You don’t have to fast every day, but fasting can really be good for the body. Think of it as your reset button. It allows the body  a period of being able to regulate itself and get back in a form of ketogenesis.

  1. Read

Do this more often. It is better for you than almost any other hobby or activity. Even reading comic books actively engages the brain and makes you smarter and less likely to have brain disorders later in life.

  1. Learn a New Language

It’s not as hard as you think, and it can be done in a lot less time than you think. The benefits of learning new language are immeasurable, and will automatically make you look smarter (which is what everyone wants) you can go the route of something like Rosetta Stone, but it’s easier to learn other ways, as your developed brain is better at learning languages now than when you were a child.

Change is vital, improvement the logical form of change.
~ James Cash Penney

The Books of 2012

CaptureThe Books of 2012

Every year, and I suggest every reader do this, I keep track of every book I read and the page number. Mostly for my own edification, but I like to try and beat my page count every year. I don’t count books with pictures. (I’m fond of graphic novels) 2012 was a decent year, I read 33 books for a total of 11,428 pages.  I’m glad to say I’m on track to easily beat that this year.  Without further introduction here is the list that was 2012.

  1. 77 Shadow Street Dean Koontz

 

I am pleased to say that Dean Koontz, one of my favorite authors (top 3 all time) is one author I can say I’ve read everything. Including his out of print paperbacks when he wrote some science fiction stuff.  He once said he would never reprint those, I hope he changes his mind.  Anyway,  this book, was entertaining, though it reminded me of Dragon Tears which is an amazing book.

  1. A Separate Peace  John Knowles

Classic number one this year. This book is perfect if you’re a guy. You can relate to the central character very well, and though a lot of the “war tones” are lost on kids who read it now, it remains relatable in context of boyhood to manhood.

  1. Bethany’s Sin Robert McCammon

 

Entertaining short read, a horror novel of mediocre proportion and entertainment.

  1. Boy’s Life  Robert McCammon

The best book I read this past year. An amazing adventure set in the time everyone yearns for:  That time where you’re not quite a child and not quite an adult. This book is beautiful and poignant.

  1. Burglars Can’t be Choosers Lawrence Block

 

I don’t take many trips into the realm of mystery. However Block makes it entertaining with his snarky burglar and easy writing. These books you can polish off in a day, and you know it was a day not wasted.

  1. Cold Days Jim Butcher

If you’ve never read The Dresden Files you’re really missing something special.

  1. Cowards Glenn Beck

 

Not the best political book I’ve read, but not the worst.

  1. Dreadful Tales Richard Laymon

If there is one author I wish was still alive it would be Richard Laymon. He didn’t live long enough and didn’t write enough. You’ll get a thrill with anything he’s written.  These short tales of horror are no different.

  1. The Great Gatspy F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

I was surprised how much I liked this book. Not only was the writing perfect and flowing like a jazz song, but the lessons to be learned from the characters can benefit a lot of people today, including the cast of Jersey Shore.

  1. Guide to The Presidents Steven Hayward

This past year I wanted to learn more about each president. So I did.

  1. Odd Apocalypse Dean Koontz

 

A great addition to the Odd series by Koontz.  Though I’m sure not intentional, when it comes to this series the odd ones in the series are better than the even numbered ones.

  1. Perks of Being a Wallflower Stephen Chbosky

I was surprised by this book too.  I try to read the book if I know I’m going to see the movie, and the book surprised me with poignant charm and wit.

  1. Power vs. Force David Hawkins

 

Interesting, though it almost seems like someone was trying to sell me a bridge with this one.

  1. Real Marriage Mark Driscoll

A great primer for a young couple just starting out or an older couple wanting to continue their journey in a Godly marriage.

  1. Room Emma Donoghue

 

The viewpoint of this book is the most interesting thing. Told from the perspective of a five year old boy everything that is threatening takes on an innocent quality, even when dealing with suffering in the book.

  1. Rose Madder Stephen King

Not the greatest King book, though the story kept you hooked the ending was horrible, making the rest of the book a muddled mess.

  1. Skulduggery Pleasant Derek Landy

 

A teen series about a girl who finds out her Uncle consorted with a detective who is also a skeleton.  I don’t think I will finish this one.

  1. Snow Country Yasunari Kawabata

A beautiful book of early 20th century Japan.  If nothing else read this book for the stunning visualizations and descriptions

  1. Stories for Nighttime and some for Day Ben Loory

 

Odd, but entertaining.

  1. Swan Song Robert McCammon

One of the best post-apocalyptic books I’ve read in a long time.

  1. The Burglar in the Closet Lawrence Block

 

The second in the aforementioned series. Rodenbarr continues his shenanigans and gets into more trouble just trying to be an innocent burglar.

  1. The Gunslinger Stephen King

This was a reread, but I’m still counting it because this is my list and I’m the boss. The first book to the greatest series of all time.

  1. The Light Between the Oceans M. L. Stedman

 

One of the best books on choices and redemption I’ve read.

  1. The Midnight Lair Richard Laymon

A fun spelunking adventure with caves and tourists…and cannibals.

  1. The Prisoner of Heaven Carlos Zafon

 

A sequel to Angels Game which is a sequel to Shadow of the Wind. Though all of these books can be read stand alone. Should have stuck with Shadow of the Wind, it doesn’t need sequels.

  1. The Shining Stephen King

Great book and such an entertaining read. After reading this book I can no longer stand the movie.  (Though is it now Okay to admit that no one actually likes Stanley Kubrick?)

  1. The Stepford Wives Ira Levin

 

Ira Levin is an author who gets to the point. All of his books are short and to the point. They are also thrilling.

  1. The Twelve Justin Cronin

The second in Cronins’ The Passage series, the book was entertaining enough, but as with most trilogies you need a second book to get to the third.

  1. The Weird Sisters Eleanor Brown

 

I would have enjoyed this book more if I were a girl and had a sister. The reason I wanted to read it was the Shakespeare angle. If you’re a woman or have a sister you’ll really enjoy this book.

  1. The Wind Through the Keyhole Stephen King

It’s in The Dark Tower series, how is this not a good book?

  1. Untitled Julie Kaewert

 

A fun mystery about books and murder.

  1. The Brief and Wonderful Life of Oscar Wao Junot Diaz

An amazing book. Not only will you admire the characters, but you’ll learn a lot of history in the process.

  1. Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War H. W. Crocker

 

A good primer for those who want to  know more about the battles and commanders.

“I was reading the dictionary, I thought it was a poem about everything”

~ Steven Wright

Why Reading Fiction is a Novel Idea

We all know about the importance of reading, but what about fiction as opposed to non-fiction?  When it comes to quality fiction (paranormal romance and manga omitted) it is almost more important than non-fiction. You can learn about everything from non-fiction – the world, history, health, culture and so on – but the fact remains that fiction teaches you about yourself, and in many cases shapes you.

We have already talked about how reading is good for you and even how not being a reader may be deleterious for your health. However, the real topic today is why fiction is truly important. Fiction teaches you about you.  Fiction is a mirror that looks back at you and examines your strengths and flaws. It is a compass for the ideas you have and what you think and who you are. Fiction allows you to be someone else and allows you to learn about yourself. It feeds the imagination which is even more important.

And sometimes, just sometimes, fiction comes along which changes you. That speaks to you on such a level that you walk away from the book a different person. There are few book experiences in the world like the once I’m describing, but that is what makes it so special. The Japanese have a word, ukiyo, which means a fleeting beauty and a floating world. Books that change you, that teach you hidden things about yourself are rare, and to be treasured like the world’s most precious gem.

How do you find good fiction?  This is the ever present question that all book lovers have to deal with. The answer is not singular. It can be from others, reviews (which I highly do not recommend) or just by browsing.  Someone once said that finding a book is like prostitution. You walk into the store and books call to you like lovers promising pleasures. Their spines are supple and ornately decorated to catch your eye. You can look them over, but you won’t know how good they are until you take the time to try it. Even the scent of paper and binding is a perfume meant to entice, to say, “spend the night with me, I will make your dreams come true”.

I believe fiction will always be better than non-fiction. Fiction teaches you about yourself, which other books cannot (including self-improvement books) It is the once place where you can escape and yet examine at yourself at the same time. Books are more than just for pleasure. They are for our life. They show us who we are, who we want to be. They give us lives to live and help us become who we are. A life reading is a life lived.

“A man only learns in two ways, one by reading, and the other by association with smarter people.”

~ Will Rogers

Just Read!

This is a call to all, bibliophile or not, to read. There are few things better for your mind then reading.  I cannot stress the importance of it.  This is something that should be required in every family structure, and more schools need to be pushing it. Reading does so much for a person as an individual, that the ramifications of not reading should scare you.  Reading improves all areas of your cognitive abilities, conversations, relationship and makes you smarter. If you haven’t read you haven’t lived.

I never feel bad for the people that tell me they’ve never traveled to all these places they’ve wanted to. I can tell you I have traveled to more places than people visit in their lifetime, because I read. I can learn anything and go anywhere by opening a book. I can be anything, I can travel with anyone, I can fight battles, have relationships and become a better person because I read. I have learned as much from reading as I have from school. Reading is quintessential when it comes to a growing mind.  Without reading there is no imagination or thought. Without imagination there are no new ideas, without ideas there is just placid work and, ultimately a boring life.

What should you read? For this post the fact is that you DO read. Nonfiction gives you a view of the world. With nonfiction you can learn about people, place and history.  You can learn more than others can tell you and you will be less ignorant and better able to form opinions. Fiction teaches you about yourself. It forms the way you view yourself, the way you view others and the things that are most important to you.  Every book you read is a mirror: you see a part of yourself in it.

I have always found it sad when people say they don’t read. It breaks my heart to know that there are people who would rather watch TV or surf the internet. Even scientific studies show that people who read, have lower blood pressure, have less stress, are better educated and are better conversationalists.  Reading affects your health!  Who knew that just reading could make you live longer? There is nothing better you can do for yourself then read.  If it’s something you have trouble with I encourage you to do something about it right now.

Take a month, turn off the TV, shut down the computer and sit on your couch with a book. It may be hard at first, but I promise, after a few weeks you’ll wonder what you’ve been doing with your life for so long. After that month is over you’ll be changed. You’ll be spending your money in bookstores and not game stores.  You’ll cut your cable bill, and not have to worry about wondering where the time went. And, if you find you a twiddling away the hours reading, who cares?  You are doing something that is as important as exercise.

Here it is, you stand on the edge of a new life. A life full of adventure, characters you’ll come to love, some you’ll come to hate. Relationships you thought you’d never have, things you never thought you could do, and above all, you will be whisked away to worlds you never thought were possible, but have been there all along.

That’s it.

Sit down.

Open a book.

Read.

“…but he had a serenity that came with the choice of a life he wanted to live. And this serenity and certainty I have seen only among those who have the armor of books close by”

~ Michael Ondaatje

Complicated Relationships are Far From Fiction

At what point does a relationship fail?  Is there a point, in hindsight, where you can look back and see the kinks in the armor of what you thought was a strong foundation?  Many of us can, but that doesn’t help with the fact that we didn’t save the relationship, and now, like many of the ancient wonders of the world, the relationship stands in ruins. What was once a great monument is now a lasting testament of what could have been, what went wrong and how it could possibly have been avoided.

Games to Play After Dark is such a book.  Perhaps the darkest book written in recent years on the nature of what relationships can become from humble beginnings, the book sets itself as a standard for what can become of people that we have loved so dearly.  Let me take a moment to clarify what I mean.  This book should be read, it is more important than any nonfiction book on the subject of relationships because of the message that it brings to the table.  What a lot of couples fail to realize is how much their selfishness and lack of understanding within a relationship can undermine its foundation. People tend to think that skeletons in the closet are dead and cannot harm anyone, while in some cases this is true; in the case with meaningful, loving relationships those skeletons become monsters, preying upon even the most stout of foundations until they are driven to the ground.

The book starts humbly enough with young love blossoming into a long-term relationship with kids, a mortgage and the settling into comfortable routines, but the roads that the characters follow lead to hopelessness. Do not let the dark nature of this book dissuade you, Sarah Borden has done a remarkable job of dealing with the intricacies of a maturing relationship and what consequences can lead to the choices we make within that relationship. I’ve recommended the book to many people who have told me that it was too dark and depressing to finish. To me I think that speaks more to how well the book is written then what people think. People are scared to imagine this could happen to them.  That they may not being doing everything they can in their relationship.

When it comes to relationships people have a very hard time understanding or evaluating the truth. We have an inner dialogue that goes: “Should I tell him that, Would she care to hear about this part of my past, am I willing to share this with her”?   These are questions that we may ask on a daily basis, but we usually whisk the answers under the carpet, quietly telling ourselves that it doesn’t matter, when it really does. What Borden has done here is remarkable:  She has been able to put into words an accurate description of a deteriorating relationship and the visceral nature from which the rest of our lives are affected from that deleterious climate.

This review is not stated to be a panacea for what is wrong with a certain relationship, in the case of the characters you can point things out from an admires perspective, but that is one of the main points of the book: Of course you can see it in their relationship, but what are you missing in your own?  What has been eating away at the life you’ve built together?  The book shows that most relationships are built one brick at a time and torn apart the same way.  The ironic part is that there comes a point where we don’t even realize we’re pulling bricks out of the foundation until it’s too late.

The book also presents the theme of fault. Whose fault is it that this is happening?  Is it the way I was raised?  Is it something she did or he said?  Borden shows that the fault only lies with the parties involved and that it tends to be the fault of both people. This is not always the case, there is a point in the book where the wife has an affair with another man.  People have told me that it is her fault because she broke and went outside the marriage. This is not true, the problems started long before the affair and the adultery was an ultimate symptom of what was going wrong all along, not the main problem. (This brings up an interesting side point: Which is worse, having a huge breakdown in the relationship from someone cheating or a slow, painful decadence of the relationship from the lack of things within it?) Scapegoats are easy to find when you need one for convenience.

Sarah Boren has done a masterful job of dissecting what a relationship can become. Don’t think of the book as dark or depressing, think of the book as a warning:  In a way this is not fiction at all, thousands of couples are going through the exact things described in this book. We hope that the couples stories’ in real life our different.  The ultimate lesson of the book is the ending, the fact that no matter where you are, you can wake up, realize what’s going on, and fix it.  The ultimate lesson is it’s never too late to stop the deterioration, and ultimately, that is the hope that the book gives everyone of us.

“Be honest, brutally honest. That is what’s going to maintain relationships.”

~ Lauryn Hill