A small change to my reading habits

Habits build up over time, often without conscious thought. I like to read before I go to sleep, but I also read at other times. Most recently, this has included a decent length of time when I get in from work (grab a bite to eat and a drink, and sit down with a book for a good half-hour or more), as well as ten minutes while eating breakfast. I sometimes get more time in during the day, but that depends on what else is happening, and the three times mentioned above (breakfast, after work, before sleep) are pretty regular.

kindle-2616647_1280A few weeks back, I started reading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series, but straight away I ran into a problem‌—‌the chapters were too long.

This needs an explanation.

I’ve never felt comfortable stopping reading just anywhere. I always aim to finish a chapter, or at least to reach a section break. Stopping mid-flow feels wrong. In a well-written book, the chapters and sections are part of the structure of the story‌—‌the writer chose to change scene, or to provide a break, for a particular reason. I can recall hearing Brandon Sanderson (I think it was on his Writing Excuses podcast) talking about wanting the reader to take a break at the end of each chapter‌—‌each chapter is it’s own mini-story, and needs to be assimilated before continuing to the next mini-story.

In the same way, I don’t enjoy watching films in sections either, or listening to only part of a piece of music. I need to experience the work as the creator intended.

So when I started The Blade Itself (The First Law Book One), I knew I’d want to give each chapter the time it deserved. This wasn’t a problem when reading before sleep‌—‌I had some flexibility in this. Likewise, after work, I could continue reading until I’d reached the end of a chapter.

But over breakfast, my time is limited‌—‌I have to be out of the house by a certain time in order to get to work. I wouldn’t have time to necessarily read complete chapters.

One of the things I love about my Kindle is how it tells me how many minutes reading is left in each chapter, and I could’ve used this. I could have made sure that when I stopped reading at night, I did so with a shorter chapter coming up, one that I could get through in ten minutes‌—‌but what if I was in the midst of some very long chapters? I could have pushed through the chapter in the morning, skim-reading‌—‌but I wanted to enjoy these books, and that included the writing itself. I could have simply read in the hope that a scene-break would appear at a sensible time‌—‌but what if it didn’t?

Then I found my solution.

I don’t only read fiction. Since starting writing, I’ve been reading more and more books about writing‌—‌the craft itself, marketing, mindset, and anything else related to publishing. These books often have some kind of narrative flow, but that’s secondary to the information. Also, non-fiction tends to be written in shorter, easily-digestible chunks‌—‌ideal for reading when you only have a few minutes spare.

You can probably see where this is going.

I now have two books on the go at any one time. I read fiction when I have longer stretches of time, enabling me to immerse myself in the story as the writer intended. But I also have a non-fiction book on the go at the same time. I use my phone for these books (either using the Kindle app or a pdf reader, as some of these books I only have in that format), which has another advantage‌—‌if I have a spare couple of minutes (for instance, if I’m waiting to pick one of the kids up from an activity) I can consume another short section of non-fiction.

It’s only a small alteration to how I read, but I can see the advantages already. I won’t be as ready to put longer-chapter books aside for ‘later’ (so I’ll finally get round to all those Brandon Sanderson books sitting on my to-be-read list), and I’ll also be getting a little bit of ‘learning’ in each day from the non-fiction.

Always good to find a win-win solution!

The Importance of Reading Part 4: Living Other Lives

 

There’s a quote I’ve seen a lot recently:

I’m a reader, not because I don’t have a life, but because I choose to have many.

It’s a great antidote to all those broad-brush stereotypes of readers being boring, but what does it actually mean? When we read, we’re transported into new worlds, and experience new characters. But it’s just entertainment, isn’t I? It’s fun while it lasts, but we have to return to the real world at some point. That written world has no bearing on our own lives, right?

Wrong.

Think for a moment how we learn about the world. As babies and toddlers we learn through exploring‌—‌sticking things in our mouths, reaching out and touching things, and so on. But we also learn from those around us. The way we view the world is initially very much influenced by those close to us, and for a baby that generally means family.

But as we grow, we meet others, especially at school. We pick up on their world-views, and our understanding develops. Most parents, though, send their children to schools that reflect their own world-view in some way. This can happen as a deliberate choice (as with faith schools) or by accident (as most people live in areas where others are similar to themselves.)

human-1602493_1280When a child is older, they might move away to university or college. They’re independent(ish) now, free to mix with a far wider variety of people. This means an explosion of new experiences, and the opportunity to see the world from so many different viewpoints. But, in that stage between childhood and true adulthood, our brains are still developing. We’re still discovering who we are and how we fit in, and we’re especially open to all these new stimuli.

It’s no wonder that people are more likely to become involved in political and social activism during these years, or that people travel to far-off places, way outside their comfort zones, to ‘find themselves’.

Eventually, we (kind of) figure out what we want in life, and we settle down somewhere we feel comfortable‌—‌which usually means being surrounded by those whose ideas and ideals chime with our own. Maybe we have a family of our own, and our world-views are passed on to a new generation.

But the world never stops changing, and unless we want to risk being left behind, we need to change with it. We need to be constantly adapting our world-view.

Think of the way some older people say things that make us cringe-worthy. Of course, they see nothing wrong with what they’re saying, because that is how they see the world, and how they have done for decades.

So how do we keep developing? The best way is to experience more of the world. Some people do this through travel, although that takes time and money. But another way of experiencing this is in reading. Through books, we are thrust into the lives of others, in situations we’ve never encountered before. So many diverse authors bring us storied and characters that reflect their experiences, and of course these are different to our own.

If the book is well-written, we start to grow in our understanding‌—‌of what it means to live in a different society, of what it feels like to belong to a minority (or a majority), of how people cope with issues we’ve never had to face. And we can use that understanding in our own lives.

A staunch pacifist reads a book about soldiers and, although they may still believe their stance is morally correct, they gain an insight into a different point of view. Then, the next time they find themselves in an argument on the rights and wrongs of violence, they are able to show more empathy for those who believe that violence can be an answer. And maybe that’s enough to turn a potential shouting match into an intelligent debate.

These different world-views don’t have to be overtly expressed in books, though. In fact, I often find books that tackle ‘issues’ head-on come across as preachy, but a great story that has characters who are not all like me allows me to broaden my experiences I might not be able to relate to, for example, a transexual Asian youngster struggling with their identity, but I can relate to a character having problems at work, even if they also happen to be a transexual Asian youngster struggling with their identity.

A good example of this (not a book, admittedly, but it’s still story) is the TV series Brooklyn Nine-Nine. As a comedy, it’s primary aim is to make us laugh. As stories, each episode is designed to give a satisfying viewing experience. But by including diverse characters it can nudge a viewer into changing their world-view. This is perhaps best highlighted in Captain Holt, a black, gay man in an interracial relationship, but he’s a person first. I can’t directly relate to him having a same-sex partner, or of being a police captain, but I can relate to him getting frustrated with his co-workers. I can relate to him having disagreements with others, or of feeling tired, or happy, or many of the other things people do. And because I can relate to a part of him, it is easier to accept those parts that are different.

man-1461448_1280Joe Abercrombie’s First Law books show another way this vicarious experience can broaden our perceptions of others. Many of the characters in these books are morally ambiguous. One example it Sand dan Glokta, a torturer who obtains information through any means necessary. He appears to have no remorse for his actions, even when he knows he is drawing a confession from someone who is innocent.

And yet, Glokta is himself a victim of torture, and his body is a wreck. Every step is a struggle, he’s in constant pain, and he can no longer take solid food. So did he become a torturer because of his past or in spite of it? What drives him?

As the reader is drawn into Glokta’s mind, these questions naturally arise, and our minds seek answers. It doesn’t matter if we like him or despise him‌—‌as we read we start to understand him a bit more.

Tyrion Lannister, from George RR Martin’s Song Of Ice And Fire books, functions in a similar way, although he is maybe more sympathetic than Glokta. Tyrion is looked down on (figuratively and metaphorically) by many in the books‌—‌and who hasn’t experienced something like this before? We have a point of reference, so when he does things that we see as morally wrong, we try to understand his reasoning. Like many characters in well-written books, Tyrion’s character is not one-dimensional, and this is true of every one of us. Through becoming immersed in the fictional world of Glokta or Tyrion (or Captain Holt), we develop the ability to better see more facets of characters in our own, non-fictional world. Through experiencing many lives through reading, we are better able to make sense of a world that, all too often, seems random and violent.

So reading is important because it enables us to experience far more of life than we can otherwise, and that teaches us about our own lives. As Albert Camus said,

Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.


Previous posts in this series are:

Part 3 : Imagination

Part 2: Concentrate!

Part 1: Slow Down

The Importance of Reading Part 3: Imagination

 

photo-manipulation-1825450_1280We live in a very visual world, so it is no surprise that technology has enabled us to manipulate and create images to such a high standard. Just think of films and games today, and the way they place characters in worlds so fantastically rendered that they leave our own seem flat by comparison. Combine that with state-of-the-art sound design, and place all that within a narrative structure (be that passive or active), and it is no wonder that so many people are drawn to the spectacle and the immersion of films and games.

Yet reading is still a popular activity. There are many (myself included) who would rather spend an evening with a novel than watching a film. We get more (or maybe a different kind of) enjoyment from words on a page than from moving images on a screen, even when they are accompanied by dialogue, music and sound effects.

Our minds are incredible. From a few words, we can conjure a whole scene‌—‌and we are not only limited to visuals. We can read a short scene set in a cafe, and in our minds we taste the bitterness of the coffee, we feel the softness of the sponge in the cakes. We hear the accents of those around, muffled by the sizzling of a frying pan and the gurgling of a coffee machine. We feel the muggy heat and the cold air that washes in when someone opens the door. And we add details of our own too‌—‌the man at the next table has a shaving cut by his left ear, the woman just leaving has her coat buttoned up wrong, someone has put a wet spoon in the sugar bowl and there is a congealed lump in one corner.

And this scene will be unique to us. Someone else, reading exactly the same words, will see, hear, smell, touch, taste something different.

It’s called imagination, and it’s a big part of what makes us human.

lego-708088_1280It’s also very natural. When children play, their games are filled with imagination‌—‌a few scraps of coloured paper get placed in a wooden box, and they become a meal to be shared with friends no adult can see. A few stuffed toys have adventures in far-flung places without ever leaving the four walls of the bedroom. Tiny cars travel a world that is only flat to our eyes‌—‌to the child, it is a vast city, filled with people going about their strange and wonderful lives.

Imagination is more than inventing world‌—‌it is a way to understand the world we live in. If we do not know how something works, we use our imaginations to search for a possible answer, and then we test that answer. In a situation we’re unfamiliar with, we use our imagination to play through different outcomes. Imagination allows us to as ‘what if‍…‍?’ And that is the question that leads to so, so much.

Albert Einstein said:

‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.’

When Henry Ford was asked what he thought of asking customers for their opinions, said:

‘If I had asked them what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.’

Imagination allows us to break free from the regular world and leap to new ideas. Think of any invention‌—‌central heating, the printing press, Facebook, the lightbulb‌—‌and you will find imagination at their genesis. Throughout history, milestones have occurred because people with imagination asked ‘what if?’ and followed where that question led them.

We see those who invent and discover these wonders as geniuses, and we admire them. We believe we can never be like them.

But why can’t we? Maybe we don’t have the theoretical knowledge, or the design skills, or other specialised knowledge, but if their ideas came from their imagination, we have that, don’t we? Yes, we might have grown out of the habit of using it, putting off ‘childish play’ when the adult world seemed to demand more certainty, but imagination is not in finite supply. We can develop our imagination, just as we can develop our memories, or our muscles. The more we use our imagination, the stronger it becomes. Then, when we are in a new place or an unfamiliar situation, we can use our imagination to see possibilities, and to guide us. Maybe, our imagination will show us a way of combining ideas, or will hint at a way of filling a gap in our own lives and the lives of others. Maybe, if we allow our imagination to run, we can see something special.

octopus-1235006_1280So it is useful to develop our imaginations, and one of the best ways of doing this is through reading. When we watch films we can be passive, letting the story flood over us. But when reading, we have to use our imaginations. Those squiggles on the page need translating into scenes and characters and actions.

But the development of our imaginations doesn’t end with the reading itself. A good story draws us in, and we are there, inside the narrative, living vicariously through the characters. We start to imagine how we would act. We imagine what we might do differently. Sometimes, if a story stays with us for long enough, our imaginations build a whole world around it.

Fan-fic is an example of this‌—‌people who are so immersed in their favourite story-worlds that they create brand new stories, taking the characters to places the original writer probably never imagined. And then, maybe, the imagination continues, and the reader develops new characters and settings, and imagines original stories of their own (or, if you believe there are only a limited number of stories in the world, they imagine original retellings of these stories.)

So if you do not want to read to relax, or read to improve your concentration, then read to develop your imagination.

The Importance of Reading Part 2: Concentrate!

sleep-2324347_1280When I worked as a teacher, we were always advised to split lessons into small chunks, because otherwise the attention of the students would start wandering. This seemed to make sense, especially when there was so much being said about how attention spans of today’s youth were so short. And having short activities that changed a lot did help keep students motivated.

But I don’t think this was down to attention span alone.

Many of the students I worked with played video games. Ask them what they’d been up to, and they’d talk about the games. When GTA3 came out, it was pretty much all some of them talked about. They spent hours playing the game, and complain that they were tired in school because they’d been up until the early hours.

If they could concentrate on one game for so long, what does this say about their attention span?

Of course, video games are designed to draw you in and keep you playing. They trigger dopamine rushes through constant rewards, and the fast pace, combined with beat-heavy music, increases adrenaline. Compared to hours driving round in a fast-paced game where you can control your own actions (and especially when you’re rewarded for doing things you’d never get away with in everyday life), doing ‘schoolwork’ is dull. Racing around a virtual world for hours is easy, but a few minutes taxing your brain to solve a maths problem using only pen and paper can feel like an eternity.

television-and-radio-2741799_1280The issue isn’t attention span but concentration. It’s easier to do something fun than something we find boring. It’s also easier to enjoy an activity when it gives instant rewards, and when it engages so many of our senses. This is why many people prefer watching films and TV over reading fiction.

And this is one reason why reading is so important.

To explain, let me back up a bit.

When we read, all we have are words on a page. We need to decipher these words, and the sentences they form. We use different parts of our brain to see, to decipher, and then to understand. We need to create our own image of what the writer is describing, and we need to engage our empathy to catch the emotions in the text.

All this takes time. Think about a story like Fight Club. The film is longer than average, clocking in at 139 minutes. The book is fairly short, about 200 pages (under 50,000 words), and this takes the average reader over 200 minutes to read.

Let’s take another example‌—‌The Lord Of The Rings (the complete trilogy). The extended versions of Peter Jackson’s film versions clock in at around 650 minutes (almost 11 hours). The book is over 1000 pages, taking just over 23 hours to read.

Reading a book takes more time and more concentration than watching a film. So why bother? Why not get the story at a faster pace, with less effort? After all, it’s still a story, right?

But they’re not the same. There’s a richness to reading that is missing from film and TV (just as there are things that audio-visual media do better than text). Yes, reading requires more effort, but there are still rich rewards in the pages of a book.

Keen readers know this instinctively. They know that sometimes a slow passage is simply a lull in the pace, and that their perseverance will be rewarded when action kicks in over the next few pages or chapters. They know that long descriptions set the scene, and might well give insight into characters and events. They know that the dialogue is not simply characters talking, but is also character and story development. Even if a reader cannot articulate this, they understand that each word is important.

But not everything in a book is automatically on the page. A good writer will hint at things rather than spelling them out. There might be a particular phrase that is crafted to trigger an emotion, or to remind us of something that we have (almost) missed earlier on. An aside from a character might alert us to something happening off-page.

These things are not obvious, and so we have to concentrate if we are to pick up on them. To get the most from a book, we don’t merely read the words‌—‌we are called to analyse the text, and to consider both what is written and what is alluded to.

learning-164331_1280This is an important skill to learn. In life, we don’t get everything handed to us on a plate (at least, the vast majority of us don’t). Not everything is explained to us in terms we understand. We can’t have what we want the instant we demand it. To get anywhere, we have to work‌—‌and that takes effort and concentration.

Reading teaches us to concentrate before we are rewarded. It also teaches us to focus on both what is obvious and what is hidden. It teaches us to avoid distractions‌—‌not only from the world around us, but also from ourselves.


So reading helps us slow down in our fast lives (to read my thoughts on this, click here for The Importance of Reading Part 1), and it increases our concentration. But it is also important for other reasons, and I’ll continue with my thoughts on this topic in a couple of weeks.

The Importance of Reading Part 1: Slow Down!

 

Reading is one of the greatest ways of spending time.

Okay, so I’m biased. I’ve always loved reading, and now that I’m writing seriously, I’m continually being reminded of the joys of reading. But I’m also learning more about the importance of reading.

I don’t meant the importance of being able to read. Of course it’s important to be able to decode written language. Without reading skills, we would be unable to understand instructions or warning messages, and our communication with others would be limited. Where once reading was the reserve of the wealthy educated, today being unable to read is something that causes shame.

reading-2557256_1280But there’s more to reading than simply understanding the words. Reading is an active pursuit‌—‌when we read, we decipher lines to discover the words, and then we analyse the flow of those words to uncover meaning. Reading is a journey, and we have to partake in it. The words mark a course, and we, the reader, have to put in the leg-work to reach the destination.

Maybe this is why other forms of story entertainment hold a greater pull. TV and films can be experienced far more passively, social media (in which our ‘friends’ contribute to stories played out in real time) plays out in smaller chunks that are easily digestible. Gaming is active, but in a different way to reading‌—‌the immersive element does not rely on our own imagination so much.

Yet reading is still incredibly popular, and I think this is fantastic. I believe that reading is not only enjoyable, but also incredibly important.

I posted recently about an episode of The Allusionist podcast that highlighted the mental health benefits of reading, but this is only one facet. Reading does so many things for us as readers.

Over the next few posts, I want to explore some of the reasons why I believe reading is so important.

I could have put all these reasons in one post. I could have come up with a list, or a series of images or something. But I’m going to take my time over this. I want to take things slowly.

And that dovetails nicely into my first reason:

Reading gives us the opportunity to slow down.

people-692005_1280Most people’s lives are hectic. Technology is wonderful, but it’s a double-edges sword. When technology started changing the way people worked, there were those who anticipated a time when a single person could do the work of twenty others, and in a fraction of the time. They envisaged a world where work took a few hours a day, and then we lived a life of luxury.

Yeah, right! Technology enables us to do more, and so our bosses‌—‌and their bosses, and so on‌—‌expect more out of us. We work long hours‌—‌yes, we can get far more done with technology, but so can everyone else. To stay ahead, we have to do even more.

And when we get home, there’s the constant bombardment of stimuli.

I can remember when there were three channels to choose from on TV, and they all shut down late at night. We had one television in the house‌—‌if you didn’t want to watch what others did, you went off to do something else.

Now, we have countless channels. Then there are subscription on-demand services. We have access to instant videos on YouTube. We have social media. We have real-time video communication. We’re inundated with messages.

If this is all too much, we do have the option of turning all our devices off, but this is hard for many to do‌—‌there’s always the fear of missing something ‘important’. And even if we do manage a digital detox, we can’t escape unless we hide in our own homes. Adverts bombard us in the high street, and music calls to us. Some adverts play videos, which are even more eye-catching. Everywhere we turn, there are images and voices scrambling for our attention.

I don’t think constant stimulation like this is healthy. We need time to slow down. However much we enjoy (and get a thrill from) this, we all benefit from moments of calm.

Reading can give us that time.

tranquility-2233620_1280It demands long periods of our attention, away from distractions. This might mean finding a quiet spot at home, or it might mean training ourselves to ignore the clamour around us (for instance, shutting off from the bustle of the morning commute).

Then, we need to give time up for reading. Rather than blasting through thirty-second videos, or flicking between different social media accounts, reading requires concerted effort over a number of minutes, maybe even hours.

And as we read, we are drawn into the story (or the journey of discovery if we are reading non-fiction). The noise around us fades away as the words take over. We step out of time and enter a new world. Our bodies rest as our imagination takes us to other places.

Reading enables us not only to slow down, but to disengage, to escape the rush of our lives. Reading gives us moments of calm. It can help us sleep‌—‌many studies have highlighted how good sleep is easier to achieve after winding down, and that staring at screens keeps our minds too active. It can give us the opportunity to take a breath and unwind.

But this is only one reason why reading is important. I’ll comment on more reasons later. Until then, enjoy the calm that reading can bring.

Book recommendations from this summer

 

Summer holidays are wonderful reading time. When it’s so hot that you don’t feel like moving, what can be better than lounging about with a book is ideal (and with e-readers, you don’t even need to physically turn pages). It’s an opportunity to catch up on some of those ‘must read’ books that have been on the ‘to-be-read’ list for far too long, or to dive into a new read.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how reading was such a popular activity around hotel pools (and you can read that here). This week, I thought I’d share a few of my favourite reads from this summer.

PerdidoStreetStation_ChinaMievillePerdido Street Station‌—‌China Mieville

China Mieville is one of those authors where I’m almost embarrassed by how few of his books I’ve actually read. A couple of years ago I read King Rat (can recall enjoying it a lot), and earlier this year I read his short novel The Last Days Of New Paris (which left me feeling like I wanted to explore the world he created in far more detail).

So I’m long overdue a read of his first New Crobzun novel. I started it expecting to be impressed‌‌—‌‌and I wasn’t disappointed.

The world-building is incredible, not only in the setting but also in the characters‌—‌insect/human hybrids, bird-men and strange mutants. It’s all wonderfully imaginative, but when it’s combined with Mieville’s prose it’s an encompassing experience.

Some of the negative reviews of this book on Amazon complain that the story is slow to start, and while there is some justification in this comment, I think it’s necessary‌—‌to care about characters so strange in such an unfamiliar place, Mieville has to take us in hand and show us these wonders first. And when the story does get going, it’s a roller-coaster of a ride.

I’m not sure how to describe this book‌—‌it’s second-world fantasy, but there are nods towards sci-fi along with strong horror elements‌—‌but I think that’s a good thing. This book feels unique, and while that means it might not be to everybody’s taste, it’s a book I’d highly recommend.

And I really should read more of Mieville’s work before the year is up.

Artemis_AndyWeirArtemis‌—‌Andy Weir

Andy Weir, of course, came to fame with The Martian, which I greatly enjoyed. But I was wary of reading his second novel‌—‌The Martian felt like it could have been a one-off, and I didn’t want my enjoyment to be tainted by a disappointing follow-up.

I needn’t have bothered, because Artemis is just as good as The Martian. It’s not a sequel‌—‌it’s not even the same kind of book. Artemis is a fast-paced thriller set on a colonised base on the moon, with a spiky, sassy main character, gangsters, smuggling, and a bit of politics and business intrigue. There’s murder and fights too.

But what it does share with The Martian is science. I can’t comment on the accuracy of it, but it all sounds plausible‌—‌and in a novel, that’s good enough for me. The characters solve problems using physics, but science also causes many of their problems.

Oh, and like his protagonist in The Martian, the characters in Artemis do tend to swear quite a bit. Don’t know if Weir’s going to release a ‘child-friendly’ version of this, like he did with The Martian (personally I don’t see why he should), but unless you’re put off by ‘bad language’, this is another book I’d recommend‌—‌exciting and intelligent.

I’m already looking forward to whatever Weir comes out with next.

Obscura_JoeHartObscura‌—‌Joe Hart

I first heard of Joe Hart when I was writing Dark Glass. At the time, I was toying with calling my series Dominion, but when I did a search in Amazon I noticed a book called The Last Girl, a Dystopian story with the subtitle The Dominion Trilogy, Book 1. I checked out the author name, and discovered that Joe Hart had beaten me to my preferred series name.

His is a trilogy, though, whereas mine is longer. I added an ‘s’, and branded my books as Dominions. I’m sure he doesn’t mind‌—‌especially as his trilogy has done very well.

That’s not surprising, because they are good reads. So when I saw his new one on Amazon, I bought it.

Obscura isn’t Dystopian. In fact, it’s hard to describe. We have a protagonist who is searching for a cure to the version of dementia that destroyed her husband and now affects their daughter, so there are elements of medical thriller. But she’d addicted to painkillers, and as the book progresses it becomes a psychological thriller. Oh, and much of it happens in the near future, in space, so it’s also a sci-fi adventure.

If that sounds like it should be a mess, it isn’t. Hart weaves the story together brilliantly‌—‌a plot filled with misdirection and intrigue, but always remaining focused on the characters, especially the protagonist’s inner turmoil. It’s the kind of book where anything could happen, and I highly recommend it.

So another author goes on the ‘must read more’ list.


There were other books I enjoyed (the first three John Milton thrillers by Mark Dawson were fast-paced, enjoyable reads, and The King Of Space Must Die by Barry J Hutchison kept to the same high standards as the rest of the Space Team series but brought it all to a satisfying close), but I don’t have time to go into details here.

My ‘to-be-read’ list is still as long as ever, but I’m always on the lookout for more titles to add to it‌‌—‌‌any suggestions greatly appreciated.

 

Reading is good for your mental health

I got into listening to podcasts a few years ago, roughly when I started writing seriously. Initially, it was a way of learning about this whole writing and indie-publishing thing‌—‌The Creative Penn (amazing to consider that Joanna Penn has been putting this podcast out for over nine years now), The Self-Publishing Podcast (now re-branded as The Story Studio), and the sadly no longer running Rocking Self-Publishing.

Over the years, I’ve expanded the list of podcasts I listen to on a regular basis (and when I find a new one, I’ll usually listen to their whole back-list too). Many focus on writing and publishing, and this is my main way of keeping up to date with what is happening, as well as continually learning. But I also listen for the enjoyment, and I’ve branched out into other podcasts.

AllusionistLogoOne of these is Helen Zaltzman’s The Allusionist. She brands it as ‘a podcast about language’, and that pretty much sums it up. She’s done episodes on the Rosetta Stone, how one area of Argentina speaks Welsh, messages on dating apps, letter-writing, the BBC shipping forecast, swearing, eponyms‌‌…‌‌the list goes on.

But I thought I’d single out the latest episode, because it deals with reading. I’ve always considered reading to be far more than simply a way of being entertained, but this episode (A Novel Remedy) looks at some of the mental health benefits of reading. Reading can help cure or alleviate psychological problems. Helen talks to a clinical psychologist who uses novel-reading with her patients. She also explores why murder mysteries written by the likes of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers were so popular‌—‌and so helpful to the mental state of readers‌—‌in the years after the First World War.

It’s a very interesting listen, and you can find it here. And if you’re interested in language and words, I’d recommend you pop over to The Allusionist’s website and give some of the other episodes a listen.