Friday, November 04, 2011
The No Power Diaries: Rediscovering an Old Love
A little background (well, a lot of background... this is going to get very long): as a young child, I loved reading. I consumed any type of book I could get my hands on. I read at a much higher level than my age would have suggested, allowing me to borrow from my mother's reading library from about the age of seven. I read the novel "It" when I was nine years old -- maybe not the best parenting decision, but ironically its my sister who now has a fear of clowns, not me -- and was a regular reader of mystery novels, real life crime stories and, yes, even the "classic" novels. As a young sports fan, I also read as many sports books as I could. I particularly loved autobiographies of athletes; at a young age, I took them entirely at face value, not realizing until later in life that so many of them are either whitewashed or glorified takes on the athlete or embellished tales to make the athlete's life sound more interesting.
As I got older, my obsession with sports became such that almost every book I read was a sports book. This wasn't a bad thing, per se, as some of the most well-written volumes I've ever read were on the subject of sports. It was in this period of my life that I read books like "Ball Four" -- a book that was out of print at the time and took more than a month of searching at multiple used book stores to find (remember, this was in the early days of the Internet, before Amazon.com even existed) -- and "North Dallas Forty". It was also the time I started reading "Sports Illustrated" on a weekly basis, which was the beginning of the end of my love for books.
By this point in my life, I knew I wanted to be a sportswriter, and I started to consume as much sportswriting as possible. It was the mid-'90s, and access to the World Wide Web was no longer something reserved for the tech elite, and so I was regularly able to read great writing from the Washington Post, LA Times, New York Times and dozens of other newspapers. Of course, this took time, time that I'd previously used reading novels. So something had to go.
Around the same time, I reached the point in high school where a student is forced to read the same set of "classic" novels that every student for the past 50 years has had to read, and every student for the next 50 years will be forced to read. I have nothing against many of these books; they're classics for a reason. But I had a couple of English teachers with whom I disagreed with philosophically on a number of points -- including one who told me that he believed calling sportswriting a form of writing was "an insult to the English language" -- and, well, I started to like reading less and less. I'd end up getting books assigned by teachers and reading the absolute minimum to complete the assignment.
By the time I got to college, I was spending so much time working at a newspaper, reading, writing and editing articles, that the last thing I wanted to do when I got back to my dorm room was read more. I took one Modern Lit class -- first semester, freshman year -- and that was probably the last time for years that I read any book that wasn't about sports. It just so happened that this coincided with the acquisition of my first DVD player. I'd purchased movies prior to owning a DVD player, but I realistically only had about 5 or 6 movies on VHS; DVD changed that drastically. I bought DVDs like nobody's business, growing my movie collection by sometimes five or six titles a week. In my last three years of college, my DVD collection grew from zero to well over 100, and movies, not books, became my go-to form of recreation when I had a couple free hours.
This trend continued over the last decade, to the point that when I transitioned my purchases from DVD to Blu-ray, I'd already amassed nearly 500 titles, and my Blu-ray collection is now into the triple-digits and growing. My book collection? Well, from 2002-2005, it was non-existent. I just simply was NOT reading.
So what changed in 2005? Thanks to my roommates at the time, I was introduced to the world of comics. Now, I can hear many of you scoffing already, "comics aren't BOOKS", and while I wouldn't dismiss the industry as a form of quality writing entirely, I'd agree that reading a comic, or even a full-length graphic novel, is not the same as reading a book. But the simple act of reading comics regularly got me back into the habit of reading something that wasn't sportswriting on a regular basis, and got my mind back into the habit of craving well-crafted interesting narratives in any form.
From 2005 to 2011, I'd gone from reading one comic title a month to nearly 20. In terms of page count, I was easily reading a book's worth of material a month, just not in book form. The time factor that had previously become an issue was no longer a roadblock -- well, obviously I was devoting time I'd previously devoted to other activities to comics, but there was no reason this couldn't transition into book reading too -- it was just a matter of HOW to get back into books. Sadly, this wasn't as easy as it would seem.
I remember in 2005 asking my mother to get me a copy of "The Celestine Prophecy", which she happily did. I wanted to read it on the recommendation of a friend, and started reading it at least half a dozen times, but never got more than a few pages in. In 2009, I was in Vermont for the wedding of a friend and found myself at a bookstore where I bought a boxset of the Sookie Stackhouse novels -- I figured they'd be good to have since I was up there for a couple extra days in a hotel with no Internet access and limited cable TV options. I got a couple chapters in to the first book and haven't picked any of them up since.
Then, a couple weeks ago, I finally had a breakthrough, and it was all thanks to comics. I was at New York Comic-Con, attending a panel called "Dark Horse Does Vampires Right with Buffy & Angel." I'd anticipated that this would be just a standard Buffy and Angel panel, but as it was, it was a run down of all of Dark Horse's vampire and vampire-related series, including a new series called "House of Night," based on the novel series that began in 2007. The cover art they showed from Jenny Frison -- one of my favorite cover artists working today -- was stunning, as was the interior art by Joelle Jones. But what really intrigued me was the story itself. Anne Marie Tallberg, a rep from the series publisher, did a great job selling the series on those who'd never read the books or even heard of the series. After the panel, I ended up talking with a few other people about "House of Night" and was sold on getting the books, or at least the first one.
I ended up buying the first "House of Night" novel, "Marked", on the last Wednesday in October. I read a couple chapters that first night, then a couple more Friday night, but things were obviously moving slowly. It wasn't that there was anything wrong with the material, it's just that every time I went to read, I'd end up picking up my phone and checking Twitter, or sitting down at my computer to read a few articles I'd bookmarked, or even just streaming an episode of "Community" to my AppleTV to watch in bed. Then the power went out.
With no power at home, I was forced to conserve any power I had in my phones and iPad, so using them for entertainment wasn't the all-night option it had previously been. On top of that, with Wi-Fi out, 3G data was running painfully slow in my area, so the various Internet distractions I'd usually experienced were drastically reduced. And with power out of the equation, the obvious way to entertain myself during the cold hours at home became reading.
As I read, I realized what I'd been missing. "Marked" was engaging, funny, and written in a way that allowed me to visualize this entire world, without being beholden to a director's vision or an actor's portrayal, which makes this week's news that they're making a "House of Night" movie so much more amusing to me. If that had been announced two weeks ago, who knows if I would have ever even bothered to pick up the books -- one of the reasons I struggled to read the Sookie Stackhouse novels is that while reading them I kept picturing "True Blood", and the differences from the TV series (which obviously came AFTER the book series) bothered me.
With the power outage extending beyond the weekend, something really strange happened: at the end of my work day, I looked forward to going home to read more of "Marked." Then, when I finished "Marked", I immediately wanted to go and pick up "Betrayed." I ended up putting that off for one night (the first night my parents made their couch available to me at their house that has no power, but has heat and hot water), but picked it up the next day and I'm already about a third of the way through the book. I'll probably finish it by the end of the weekend, then move on to "Chosen", which I've already picked up. I'm going through this book series almost as quickly as I did episodes of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" when I was first introduced to that in 2004.
But more than this series specifically, I'm just enjoying the process of reading again. It took an extended power outage for me to realize just how much ambient noise and light was constantly filling my home, and to be able to have that all turned off and lose myself in a book is kind of a wonderful thing. I don't know that I'll quite be able to do it as easily when the power is turned back on, but I'm looking forward to trying (like, REALLY looking forward to it... c'mon, CL&P, get your shit together...).