Internet Killed The Literary Stars (Or Did It?)

There’s a lot of grumpiness these days about books, book selling, book publishing, the “proper” format of books, Amazon’s assault on books by publishing and selling lots and lots of books, and how nobody reads books no more.

Did you know that if you’re reading my blog on a screen of some type, it’s not literature (and you’re probably a subliterate ignoramus who DOES. NOT. LOVE. BOOKS.), but if I print it out on paper it is suddenly transformed and worthwhile? Apparently that’s the case.

Yep. Lots going on. I’ve written about it a bit before (like when I posted about the “Ebook Apocalypse“), and I’m active on the battlefield as an author who used to be with one of the Big 6 publishers but has now gone entirely independent (see my “Astonishing Adventures of Doc Wilde” Kickstarter project, live until April 28th, 2012, please take a look and help a strugglin’ wordsmith out).

Are things really all that bad? Or are they just different? Could they even be better?

I saw some reports recently that indicate that the doom and gloom may be uncalled for. Continue reading

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How Reading Deepens Your Mind And Makes You A More Complete Person

“Reading great literature, it has long been averred, enlarges and improves us as human beings. Brain science shows this claim is truer than we imagined.”

That’s the takeaway from a great column in the New York Times which summarizes current neuroscience research into the effects of reading, and fiction, on the brain. It’s fascinating stuff, going into how the brain actually seems to experience sensations and actions that are read in much the same way that it experiences actual sensations and actions. This means, within your mind, as you read fiction you are not simply imagining what’s happening on the page, you are literally experiencing it on a deep level. And it can help you develop more fully as a person.

None of this will come as much of a surprise to anyone who already appreciates the power of story, or its essential place in our psyches, nor to anyone familiar with the effects of visualization exercises on physical activities like sports, in which a certain technique can be practiced in the mind with measurable improvement in the actual activity. But it certainly is a reinforcement of our need for narrative as a tool for not only adding enjoyment to our lives, but for deepening them.

There’s are reasons that people who read tend to be the people most worth knowing, and it’s not just that they’re better educated (though that is overwhelmingly true).

Researchers have discovered that words describing motion also stimulate regions of the brain distinct from language-processing areas. In a study led by the cognitive scientist Véronique Boulenger, of the Laboratory of Language Dynamics in France, the brains of participants were scanned as they read sentences like “John grasped the object” and “Pablo kicked the ball.” The scans revealed activity in the motor cortex, which coordinates the body’s movements. What’s more, this activity was concentrated in one part of the motor cortex when the movement described was arm-related and in another part when the movement concerned the leg.

The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto (and a published novelist), has proposed that reading produces a vivid simulation of reality, one that “runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.” Fiction — with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions — offers an especially rich replica. Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.

The novel, of course, is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. And there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters.

Fascinating stuff, and that’s just a taste. You can (and should; I’m always amazed at how few people actually click through to see a recommended piece) read the rest here.

And if you haven’t seen it yet, and would like some Oscar-winning, funny, moving,  bookish whimsy, check out the marvelous video I link to here.

Ebook Apocalypse!!!

The night is coming. The night that will never end.

Board the windows. Lock the doors and push our beautiful, heavy bookshelves against them. Hopefully we prepared enough, we stocked up on canned peas and sacks of potatoes and stacks of mass market paperbacks and hardbacks, some of them used and old and bound in cloth rather than shitty cheap crappy cardboard.

Outside, the wind howls like a cliched banshee scream.

They are coming, and we fear it will not matter how well we prepared, for they come on silent wings, their numbers are legion, and they don’t use doors, or windows. Like dire fairies of data they come through the walls, through the very air itself, at the speed of light.

And they want to eat. “BOOOOOOKS….” they moan. Because they want to eat our books, all our beautiful books.

The ebooks have escaped the labs. OH. MY. GOD. Continue reading

Pulp Reading Group (Mar 2009): Fafhrd & The Gray Mouser

Over on Goodreads (www.goodreads.com), I recently joined a great reading group called “Pulp Magazine Authors and Literature Fans.” The group discusses, as you might figure, pulp fiction, and every month chooses a book to read and talk about in the forum. Last month’s choice was Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, which I didn’t have time to get to (but read many years back, and remember enjoying it).

This month, the choice is Fritz Leiber’s The Swords of Lankhmar, the only novel-length tale of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

lankhmar1
(That’s not the cover of The Swords of Lankhmar, but is the great Mike “Hellboy” Mignola’s cover to another collection of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories).

Fritz Leiber (along with Robert E. Howard and a few others) was instrumental in the actual creation of the fantasy genre known as “sword and sorcery.” Leiber, in fact, was the man who coined the term. His stories are sardonic and bawdy and full of wit, full of action and invention, comic and tragic, sometimes damn near Shakespearean…If your notion of heroic fantasy literature is based on the yards and yards of Tolkien ripoffs and D&D novels (themselves, ultimately, Tolkien ripoffs for the most part), Leiber will prove a true literary treat.

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are two of the greatest characters in fantasy, a pair of good-hearted rogues of flexible ethics and decidedly Dionysian morality, as adept with their wits as they are with their blades. Fafhrd is a towering red-bearded barbarian from frosty northern lands, the Mouser a slight trickster from the urban sprawl who dabbles a bit in the arcane (with often questionable results). They adventure through the world of Nehwon (read it backwards), which is full of corruption and vile magics and things to do. And the adventures are so well written, they tickle the mind:

…Then [Fafhrd] shrugged and said loudly, “What’s so special about these rats? Do they do tricks?”

“Aye,” Slinoor said distastefully. “They play at being men. They’ve been trained by Hisvet to dance to music, to drink from cups, hold tiny spears and swords, even fence. I’ve not seen it–nor would care to.”

The picture struck the Mouser’s fancy. He envisioned himself small as a rat, dueling with rats who wore lace at their throats and wrists, slipping through the mazy tunnels of their underground cities, becoming a great connoisseur of cheese and smoked meats, perchance wooing a slim rat-queen and being surprised by her rat-king husband and having to dagger-fight him in the dark. Then he noted one of the white rats looking at him intently through the silver bars with a cold inhuman blue eye and suddenly his idea didn’t seem amusing at all…

Simply put, there is no finer writer than Leiber in fantasy, and he’s a damn sight better than most in any genre:

The Demoiselle Hisvet stood as tall as the Mouser, but judging by her face, wrists, and ankles was considerably slenderer. Her face was delicate and taper-chinned with small mouth and pouty upper lip that lifted just enough to show a double dash of pearly tooth. Her complexion was creamy pale except for two spots of color high on her cheeks. Her straight fine hair, which grew low on her forehead, was pure white touched with silver and all drawn back through a silver ring behind her neck, whence it hung unbraided like a unicorn’s tail. Her eyes had china whites but darkly pink irises around the large black pupils. Her body was enveloped and hidden by a loose robe of violet silk except when the wind briefly molded a flat curve of her girlish anatomy…

If you’re a completist, the first book in the series is Swords And Deviltry, but The Swords of Lankhmar is the only novel in the cycle, and there’s nothing particularly spoilery or incomprehensible about reading it without reading the other books. Hop over to Goodreads and join the group, join the discussion. Or just read Leiber on your own, as a gift to yourself.