Archives for : Reading

A Reading Problem

I have a problem. It’s not a big one, like “what am I going to do with my life” or “if I propose to this girl, will she say yes” or anything like that. It doesn’t have the capacity to ruin lives or marriages or continents, but it is worrisome. So, it is more of an issue than a problem.

I’ve already briefly discussed this issue on this blog before, but it continues to grow.

The truth is, I own too many books. And I keep buying more. I would have to take months and months from work just to put a dent in my pile. I have a stack of books by my bed, another on the floor, and shelves on my bookcase stacked sometimes two-deep with books that I haven’t read.It is not that I do not intend to read them, as I bought them for that purpose. And it is not that I don’t have the time, as I do. It is just they are multiplying faster than I can read them.

But I do have a theory as to the cause behind it.

When I was a kid, I absolutely loved to be read to. My parents and sister would read my brother and I books every day, as it was one of the only things that would calm us down. I loved the escapism aspect of books for the same reason I love movies and video games, as it takes you away from everything and plops you down into a world where anything is possible. If you want to read about former president Taft fighting werewolves, there is probably a book about that somewhere. Or what about a killer clown hunting children over decades? Or a story about a boy wizard embracing his destiny? Or a true story about a free man being sold into slavery? Anything you could want to read about probably already exists in some form or another.

But, for all my love of reading and knowledge, I learned to read books later than other kids.

I can’t remember the exact age, as I was pretty young, but as other kids were learning how to read, I simply didn’t. It wasn’t a problem or anything, I just wasn’t engaged with the idea. I loved being read to, especially before bed, but I had no real interest in doing so myself. That is, until I discovered science – specifically dinosaurs.

I remember learning how to read using a book about dinosaurs, as well as the other standard books we all used to learn how to read – Fraggle Rock, Robert Munsch, Berenstein Bears, etc. But dinosaurs were what stoked the fire. And the more I read, the more I wanted to read.

As my dad once told me, “You learned to read late, but once you did, you didn’t stop.”

I flung myself into books and soon I was reading along with the other kids, then surpassed them. I progressed onto young adult books while in grade 3/4 (I still remember reading the novelization of Home Alone 2: Lost in New York when I was around 8 or 9). Then, in grade 5, I was the only kid in my class who was reading an “adult” book for my book report.

And what was that first book suited for adults that I was reading when I was only 10?
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton.

From that point on, there was no stopping me.

I spread out from Crichton to medical fiction, as it was what I was familiar with at the time. After reading a few more novels, I spread my wings to horror and Stephen King. I devoured King’s books so much that I started having to specially order his lesser-known books from the bookstore so that I could read them. After that, I proceeded to fantasy and science fiction.

Now I read a little bit of everything, as my tastes are extremely eclectic, but there are some books that stay with you, no matter how many times you read them. There is a trend on Facebook where you list the “10 books that have stayed with you,” and I’m going to list them here and attempt to explain why.

1) Animal Farm by George Orwell
2) Dracula by Bram Stoker
3) The Stand by Stephen King
4) Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
5) Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
6) The Dark Tower by Stephen King
7) Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
8) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
9) Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
10) Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

1) After reading it more than 15 years ago, Orwell’s masterpiece still remains at the top of any list I create about books. The main reason is because Animal Farm taught me about layers and subtext. On the surface, it seems simple – farm animals can talk and are unhappy with the way theyare treated, so they rise up and take control of a farm. But, in reality, it is a satirical look at Stalinism and greed. And you do not haveto be aware of the subtext of the Russian revolution to enjoy it, as it is simply a great read.

2) I have detailed my affection for Dracula in an earlier post (, but it comes down to the fact that this book showed me why classics are so revered, opened my eyes to the horror genre (of which I am still a huge fan), and demonstrated that not everything needs to follow traditional narrative flow. Add those to the fact that it is a good read, and you’ve got yourselves a keeper.

3) Even though I had been a fan of Stephen King’s for years, I didn’t read The Stand until first year university. I had wanted to read it years and years before, but never could find it in stores or even special order it. But I did find it in a bookstore one day, and devoured it. It is probably one of the few books that I would describe as “epic.” It is told from a variety of different perspectives, features an intimidating villain (who, unbeknownst to met at the time, was tied into King’s other works), and tells a story about what people do at the end of the road.

4) Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Don’t Panic. Towels. Zygons. Marvin the depressed robot. The Infinite Probability Engine. Deep Thought. 42. Super-intelligent mice. ‘Nuff said.

5) Like The Stand, the Lord of the Rings (LotR) trilogy helped introduce me to the “epic” genre of novels. I remember reading this trilogy and then immediately reading it again, just to make sure I understood everything.LotR not only had a pretty good story, but also an impressive amount of history andbackstory that you are not even aware of while reading the main series. Reading the Appendices at the end ofReturn of the King is like reading a completely separate story into itself, which links back to the main story in subtle ways. It is one of the most detailed series I have ever read, and I still marvel at the care and effort Tolkien put into creating such a rich world.

6) I started reading the Dark Tower series after The Stand, as King was planning to release the last few entries into the series, soIwantedto be caught up in time for their release. As a whole, it is not a perfect story and has a lot of meandering, but it hits some incredible heights, and Roland the gunslinger is a hell of a character. And it ends in a way that only the Dark Tower series could … because Ka is a wheel, and its only purpose is to turn.

7) My sister Sara bought me my first ever Sherlock Holmes book – The Hound of the Baskervilles – so you can blame her for my Sherlock fandom. I have read all the stories and books many times, and even dressed up like the great detective on Halloween on more than one occasion. Personally, I like Holmes because, as brilliant as he is at some things (and there are a lot of them), the humble Watson is superior in others. Many of my forays into “classic” literature stem from reading Holmes, and my collection of the stories/novels is one that will always be nearby if I ever feel the need to be outsmarted by the smartest man in the room.

8) Frankenstein was probably the hardest book for me to come up with on this list. But I chose it because it was the first horror book I read after Dracula, and started me on a path to read all the “classics,” such as The Wolf-Man, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, The Island of Doctor Moreau, Doctor Faustus (another sister suggestion), The Portrait of Dorian Gray, etc. And reading those books greatly influenced my own writing, as my novel “The Black” draws its influence from those books, as well as science fiction.

9) The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling is not the best or even the most well-written book series. But, what the series does have is an impressive amount of world building, a thick mythology and a lot of character development. There is a reason why the adventures of a boy wizard has touched so many people and become a world-wide phenomenon. I really enjoy the books, and still read them to this day. I still remember reading the last book in only a few hours, as I couldn’t wait to find out how it ended. I then passed it to my brother Daniel, who also read it incredibly quickly, before passing it back to me, so I could read it again for a second time later that afternoon – taking my time, so I could relish the experience, having already known how it ended. And there aren’t many books out there that filled me with that amount of passion and enthusiasm.

10) Jurassic Park, for being the first adult book I ever read, deserves to be on this list. However, it also tapped into my childhood obsession with dinosaurs (which I have written about on this blog more than a few times), and there is nothing so powerful as revisiting something that you lived, breathed and ate as a kid. Jurassic Park will always be one of my most influential books, no matter how many I read.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some reading to do.

But, now I am curious, what are your most influential books that you have read?

The true myth

Books are extremely important to me, and they have been ever since I learned to read.

When my parents taught me (and my twin brother, Daniel), we took to it slowly, like a nervous cat testing the water. It took a while to get my brother and me interested in reading – for a long time, we were content being read to before bed.

But as my Dad has said numerous times since: “Once you started reading, you didn’t stop.”

As I started to read, I began to devour books so fast that my parents could not stock my bookshelf fast enough. So, I would re-read books over and over again, until the new shipment came in.

At school, I would plead with my parents to purchase a bunch of books from the book order forms for me, take books out of the library by the cartload and purchase books at the bookstore every time I was within running distance of one (which was often).

The more I read, the more I wanted to continue reading. I loved the escapism inherent to being transported to another world or life, the “a ha!” moment of a mystery novel, the well-crafted pun, etc. I became a reading machine.

In fact, I started reading adult books long before anyone in my class moved beyond The Babysitter’s Club and Goosebumps. My very first adult book was, naturally, Jurassic Park. And the books only got bigger and more complicated – such as Clan of the Cave Bear, Stephen King’s It and more. I started to experiment with different genres, narrative styles and themes, but always returned to two types: horror and science.

I relished the challenge of trying to understand what was going on in the universe that was created within my mind, and I honed my reading skills to the point where I became an extremely fast reader.

My passion for the written word could explain why I decided to go into journalism and why I am currently working on two very different novels and a short story in my spare time.

But it was not until university, where I took an English class on a whim, that I really learned what it was to investigate literature.

In that class, all about Gothic literature (naturally), we explored three types of horror stories – vampires, werewolves and witches. We carefully dissected one of my favourite books, Dracula by Bram Stoker, and the hidden literary agenda slowly began to unfurl. Suddenly, a red flower was not simply an ornamental thing, but it served a purpose. The random encounter with a character was part of a greater plan. The path of the hero was written out long beforehand. And while the characters, events and situations differ, a large majority of stories shared a similar structure – known as “The Hero’s Journey” (or the “monomyth”).

I’ve been wanting to write something about “The Hero’s Journey” for a while, but could not think of a “novel” way to do it (if you’ll pardon the pun). Then, I found a video on YouTube, and I realized that I could not do it any better, or in a more original way, than this video did with puppets.

It’s more common than you think – from Star Wars to the French Connection, from Harry Potter to Happy Gilmore. Watch and see!

My love of literature

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about reading for pleasure, without actually doing any of it myself.

Let me back up by saying that I am an extremely avid reader. I read the newspaper every morning, as well as countless blogs, press releases and articles for work. However, ingesting all this news has produced an unexpected side effect.

When I arrive home from work, it is difficult to pick up a book (or magazine or other such literature) and read for pleasure. It becomes a chore, which is something that reading should not be and never has been for me before.

I started reading later than other kids, which my parents say is not unusual for twins, since we also started talking a bit later than most kids (though my brother and I did have a “secret” language which we could both understand, but sounded like gibberish to everyone else … believe me, there’s video evidence of this).

But as my Dad is fond of saying, “Once you picked up a book, you never stopped.”

And I didn’t.

I inhaled books and progressed up the reading ladder quickly.

I started with children’s books, but quickly progressed to young kids, then young adults and finally to ‘adult’ books. By the point I was in grade 4/5, I was reading Michael Crichton and Stephen King books by the pound. I was a machine, who not only understood what I was reading, but did so quickly and enjoyed them.

It was shortly after grade 5 that I was on a “books that inspired the great horror movies of yester-year” kick that included Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Picture of Dorian Grey and more, and read what was to be one of my favourite books ever – Dracula by Bram Stoker.

Vampires always held a weird fascination with me, and it was only natural that I would eventual read the classic novel. And to my surprise, I enjoyed it so much that I would continue to read it multiple times a year.

What still stands out from that initial reading is the fact that it was written differently, in the form of diary entries of the main characters. It was not the traditional style of narration, and it made me feel like I was reading a secret that I should not be. Add the fact that it initially unfolded like a mystery, possessed an interesting cast of characters and had subtext that requires multiple readings – I was hooked.

My copy has been so enjoyed over the decades that I had to buy a new copy when I took a course in university entitled “Horror and Terror: Variations in Gothic.”

While Dracula remained my favourite book for a long time, many books joined it in being repeat reads, including a wide variety by Stephen King, as well as the Harry Potter books, every Sherlock Holmes story/novel, the Lord of the Rings, etc…

But then, many years later, my sister suggested to me a tiny little book that I had heard of in passing but never really considered. Since she usually never steers me wrong, I went to Chapters and picked it up and polished it off within an hour or so.

The story was simple enough: the oppressed rebel against their oppressors and believe things will be different, but the new government slowly but surely devolves into a very similar beast.

I am, of course, talking about George Orwell’s masterpiece, Animal Farm.

It is a short read from the mid 1940’s, clocking in at about 110 pages or so, but it remains relevant, interesting and holds true even 70+ years later. Disguised as a fairytale about animals taking over their own farm and forming a new society, it is actual a morality fable about the corrupting nature of power, communism and greed.

You could write dozens of papers about what Orwell talks about, and probably many have, but the cultural subtext is not even what interests me the most. What I enjoy about the book are the interactions between the animals, the foreshadowing and the belief that if we would just look a little harder, animals are not so different than us after all.

These books, Dracula and Animal Farm, remain a constant highlight anytime I read them, like re-visiting an old friend or recalling a fond memory of love long lost.

They are far from perfect – Dracula drags on at points, characters vanish and reappear with no explanation (except for Dracula, who has supernatural powers and can actually do that) and leaves many plot threads dangling at the end that you could make a scarf. And Animal Farm is so short that it is a stretch calling it a novel and the symbolism is so blatant at points that you want to shout, “I get it Orwell, communism and oppression is bad, would you please move on?”

And yet, I love the books I re-read, and I always enjoy them, whether I have days to lounge around and take my time or speed read through them.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my bookshelf is calling me … I wonder what I should read next. Any suggestions?

Childhood joy

When I was a child, I started reading later than most kids (or so my parents tell me).

From what they say, it wasn’t that I found it difficult, just that I did not feel like I needed to. They tried to engage me with a variety of books, and I’d do it for a while, but quickly get bored.

Then, they found some books that interested me: dinosaurs.

I took to reading about dinosaurs like nothing else. I read everything I could get my hands on, from children’s books with more pictures than words, to big anthologies with printing I had to squint to read.

I was so ravenous for information, that my twin brother and I would beg our parents to take us to our local museum (the Royal Ontario Museum or ROM) to see the dinosaur skeletons. But, there was a catch – to see the dinosaurs, you had to go through an area known as “the bat cave” … which had nothing to do with Batman.

The cave was a S-shaped dark tunnel that featured real and fake bats on display, and I was terrified, because what young child is not afraid of the dark? I would cover my eyes and ears and walk through as fast as I could to reach the terrible lizards.

Seeing the Tyrannosaurus Rex was always a highlight of the trip, as it was considered the “bad boy” of the dinosaur world. Who would mess with something that had teeth the size of steak knives?

But, as much as meat eaters were fun to look at and imagine having as a pet, I was always drawn to the herbivores more. I am not quite sure why, but maybe it was because that in the evolutionary arms race, they had to protect, as opposed to destroy.

Everyone has his or her list of favourite dinosaurs, and I was no exception. I would tell everyone I knew about Stegosaurus with the golf ball–sized brain, the intimidating-looking Ankylosaurus and Dimetrodon, with its trademark sail.

I was so obsessed with dinosaurs that my brother and I would check books out from our school library over and over again, as we just couldn’t get enough of the information and pictures! We checked them out so much, that when our librarian retired, she donated those two most checked-out books to us.

The obsession went even beyond that.

During our countless trips to the ROM, my brother and I would correct the tour guides on pronunciation of nomenclature, locations where the bones were found, the time frame and more. I almost feel bad for the tour guides, but they should have known that stuff, right?

Not surprisingly, my first “dream” job was to be a paleontologist and travel all over the world discovering new dinosaur species.
Honestly, how good would a dinosaur that was named “Manly” be?

Over the years, though, as I got older, that dream slowly faded. But the enthusiasm and passion still remains.

And yet, whenever I visit a museum, I always make a point to visit the dinosaurs and just marvel at them. I enjoy watching the kids staring at them in wonder, listening to the tour guides explain who is who, but most of all, I love remembering a long-forgotten fact and sharing it with a child. Because you know the first thing they will do is go back to their parent/guardian and ask if they knew that … and if they didn’t, that’s a great joy for a child to experience.

I still love learning about dinosaurs and staring at them with wonder and a huge smile on my face. I still get excited if I see a Stegosaur, Dimetrodon or T. Rex.

I still love them to this day, as that kind of fervent passion never dies – it always stays with you.

So, don’t be ashamed of a passion you still carry with you from when you were younger. Whether it is comic books, video games, magic tricks or a love of prehistoric animals, they are amazing and help make up the beautiful mosaic that is you.