Tag Archives: Books

Take a Hike

When you crack a good book, it’s easy to forget that someone toiled long, lonely hours to produce what you now so effortlessly hold in your hand. At some point somewhere, a writer sat alone in a room thinking, imagining, creating. He put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) with no guarantee of success, no promise of payout, no rules or roadmap to follow. Yet still he set out, steeling himself for the long, arduous road ahead, doing his damnest to remember always that the reward is in the journey, not the destination.

ups and downsIn this way, writing is much like hiking: there are a hell of a lot of ups and downs along your way to the summit, but that’s what makes the whole experience so profoundly satisfying. Along the trail you may encounter magnificent vistas where the entire mountain range spreads out before you, or you might find yourself mired in dark, choking forests where you can barely see ten feet in front of you. There are bleak, windswept ridges and dank, pungent hollows. Places where life springs abundant, others where it struggles to gain a toehold. Later, when you show people your pictures, they see you smiling atop some proud peak, exhausted but elated, battered but not beaten. Despite all the hard work, you accomplished what you set out to accomplish. And success is a beautiful thing, something people love sharing and appreciating.

backpack gearLess glamorous and typically uncelebrated are the countless hours you spent preparing for your adventure. The trips to EMS or REI or LL Bean, where you selected the right boots, the perfect pack, the vast array of backcountry gear you’ll need to survive on the trail. The practice hikes you took in the forest preserve or state park near your house. The route you mapped out, then double and triple checked. The emergency contacts you notified of your planned whereabouts. The field first aid course you completed…just in case. And, certainly not least of these, all the mental calisthenics you engaged in while convincing yourself that you were up to the momumental task ahead.

trash-binSimilarly, no one ever sees an author’s first or second or tenth drafts. No one pores over his outlines and notes, seeing all the scratch marks and revisions. No one counts the crumpled sheets of paper in his wastebasket or the deleted paragraphs in his computer’s recycle bin. No one realizes how many nights he’s lain awake in bed contemplating a particularly irksome character conflict or plot hole. No one really grasps that for every minute you spend reading, the author spent an hour or two or ten writing, revising, and polishing those same words. Instead, all the reader sees – because it is all the reader is meant to see – is the author’s triumphant summit photo, the culmination of all his hard work, that perfect snapshot.


This is the magic of good writing. It allows us to pretend that all the author’s prep work, all his practice and toil, all his false starts and missteps, never occurred. It tricks us into believing that his story always existed, a perfectly-wrought conflict between perfectly-formed characters in a perfectly-rendered world. It’s an expert illusion, one that authors and, indeed, all types of artists, have been practicing for millennia. And we’re happy being deceived. When words flow effortlessly off a page or when brushstrokes come alive on a canvas or when the very music we listen to seems to dance with life, we forget about the writer or painter or musician. All we see is beauty, pure and magnificent, an expression of something we cannot ourselves articulate, but to which we can all relate in some primal way.

For now, I’m still gathering my gear, planning my route, building stamina and strength. I’ve summitted some minor peaks in the meantime: I’ve finished my first novel, built this website and a small but thriving Facebook fan page, written several short stories I really like, and continued sending out submissions in the hopes of getting published…all while pressing forward with my second novel. I know I’m making progress even though the summit isn’t yet in sight. I can feel it out there, waiting.

Even if you don’t tag along with me through all my preparations, all my practice runs, I hope you’ll join me at the summit someday. I hear the view’s incredible.

You Can’t Get There From Here: Why Books Are > Movies

I saw Ender’s Game tonight with Marta and some good friends. The six of us were excited – we all bought tickets online last Sunday – and we made a night of it, grabbing some beers and munchies at Harry Caray’s before piling into the Navy Pier IMAX for the main event.

Don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything, and this isn’t a movie review. It’s just that, after leaving the theater, I couldn’t shake this nagging thought. So, here it is:

Books are better than movies.

I mean no offense, so before you get too worked up, know one thing: I love movies. See for yourself:


It’s a little ridiculous, I know, but Bull Moose Records in Portsmouth made it pretty hard to resist with their enormous collection of used DVD’s at bargain-basement prices. It used to be somewhat of an issue, in fact, when I would burn one (or more) of our precious few hours during a visit home browsing other people’s cinematic leavings. One man’s trash…

Anyway, I hope this helps prove that I’m not some sort of nutty movie-hater. I also hope it helps illustrate how much I love books.

For me, it starts with the look of it. Skinny and petit or thick and burly? A squat, compact paperback, or a sprawling, stately hardcover? A bold, flashy cover, or something understated and demure? Teeny-tiny font, crammed so tightly on each page that from a distance, it might be mistaken for some Impressionist painting of a solid black rectangle, or great big block letters that remind me of the times I used Courier New to stretch a school paper to its required length?

Then I notice its feel. Maybe it’s heavy for its size. Maybe the spine is a little too stiff and needs to be broken in. Or maybe, if the book is old, the spine is cracked and loose. No matter. When I flip from cover to cover before I start reading, the pages zipping beneath my thumb, all I’m thinking about is what wonders are waiting for me inside, buried within all that paper.

By now the smell has hit me, especially if the book is well seasoned. It reminds me of the attic above my dad’s woodshed, the way those old farmhouse boards, dried by age, smell sweet and mellow and easy. Old books, like old boards, have the best nose.

One last thing (and Marta thinks I’m a huge dork for this…she’s probably right): I stamp the inside cover with my own personal brand.


I get this from my grandmother, I’m convinced. She used to write her last name in every book she owned to ensure their safe return when lending them out to friends. What can I say? I blame her.

Book stamped, it’s go time. If the author has done his job, the story grabs me and won’t let go. I forget about the look and feel and smell of the book as I’m transported somewhere else, another time, perhaps, where I can inhabit another mind.

I can inhabit another mind.

Reading a book is like seeing the world through two sets of eyes – your own and the author’s – superimposed upon one another. It’s a mutual effort, reading a book. To be sure, the author worked his ass off to write it, but now it’s up to you to breathe life into it by reading, by imagining, by seeing. Your participation is required, and participation breeds investment. You’re there, wherever there is, right along with the author and his characters, through thick and thin, for better or worse.

I loved Ender’s Game when I first read it twelve years ago, especially the ending. It caught me totally off guard, just like realizing that Verbal Kint had really been Kayser Söze all along. The movie we saw tonight wasn’t bad – it was beautiful to look at, I had no real beefs with the acting, and the screenplay was reasonably faithful to the book – but yet, I couldn’t help feeling disappointed when the credits rolled. As amazing as it was to see this sci-fi masterpiece up there on that great big IMAX screen, digital surround sound roaring in our ears, it couldn’t compare with the way I imagined it when I read the book. I just wasn’t there.

And for me, when it comes to stories, being there is everything. If I’m not there, then I’m here, and here is where I live every day.

Now, you’ll have to excuse me, but I think I hear the Starks and Lannisters calling. I have somewhere to be.