Getting Back to Books
One of the things that I’m doing just for me.
One of the first books I remember reading was The Outsiders by SE Hinton. Just to be clear, The Outsiders wasn’t the first book I ever read; not by a long shot. Even as a child, I had a pretty good sized library that included classics from Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, and Margaret and H.A. Rey. But The Outsiders was different. It was the first book I can remember that really resonated with me and made me think about language. In fact, it may be the book that began my love affair with the written word.
“When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.”
For my money, that is one of the great opening sentences of any book ever. It’s up there with, “The sky above the port was the color of television tuned to a dead channel,” from Neuromancer. Or, the “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” opening from A Tale of Two Cities. Actually, now that I think about it, maybe it’s not that good but, in the 7th grade, I wasn’t quite ready for Dickens.
I discovered the world of JRR Tolkien around 8th grade and The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings kind of changed everything in terms of how much I started to read. My reading really hit its stride in high school when I discovered science fiction. In addition to reading short fiction and the required “classics”—including spending about six weeks going through A Tale of Two Cities with my English teacher, Mr. Kennison—I was reading sci-fi by Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein and my friend Mark, who was a massive Frank Herbert fan, introduced me to the Dune series. There were actually a couple science fiction and fantasy bookstores that we used to go to fairly regularly. One was called A Change of Hobbit in Santa Monica that had an incredible selection and hosted book signings from some of the biggest writers in science fiction. The other store was The Magic Door in downtown Upland, which was walking distance from my house at the time and it was where I first saw the work of Frank Frazetta who became a huge influence not just on the books I read, but how I developed as an illustrator. In fact, if you’re interested, there’s a terrific documentary about Frazetta called Painting with Fire that goes pretty deep into his life and the influence his work has had on both literature and art. There were two books of his that I would flip through every time I went to the Magic Door but for whatever reason I never bought them. Last year, I found both of them on eBay and they were new old stock, which meant that they were in pristine unread condition and they both now reside in my library of art books.
In 1984 I read a book called Neuromancer by William Gibson that changed the trajectory of the type of books I read for years. I had seen Blade Runner in 1982, which inspired me to start reading Philip K. Dick and Harlan Ellison, but Neuromancer was something different. A big part of it was the way that Gibson crafts his sentences in sort of a liminal stream of consciousness, which really resonates with the way I think. After Neuromancer, fantasy and even “regular” fiction really didn’t interest me as much the dystopian cyberpunk worlds created by Gibson, Bruce Sterling, and Masamune Shirow, among others.
Fast forward to just before Christmas last year, when I bought a Kindle. Actually, let me back up a little. My reading had dropped off pretty dramatically over the last several years so I decided that I would get a new iPad to replace my aging iPad Mini 2, which other than the fact that the battery no longer holds a charge is still a terrific device. I’ve always loved the form factor of the Mini, so when the Mini 6 came out and Apple redesigned it to basically look like a small iPad Pro, I thought that’s the one to get. So I bought one, but I found that the jelly scroll issue was really noticeable for me, so I returned it and just kept using my Mini 2 though less and less because of the battery issue and I was finding that it was actually getting hard on my eyes. When the iPad Air 5 came out, I thought as much as I love the Mini, a bigger screen would mean a better reading experience. While that’s mostly true for things like email or surfing the web, for reading books it still didn’t feel right. I have to say that I think the iPads are amazing devices, but because they are so capable at so many things, it’s easy to become distracted from the task that you really want to be doing, which in my case was reading. And as I said, the book reading experience on an iPad is really not great, especially for someone like me who feels a lot of eye strain looking at screens anyway, so back it went. I didn’t think about it again until around November of last year, when a friend suggested a Kindle, which I never really considered before because I’m so deep into the Apple ecosystem. But I did some research and spoke to a few other friends who were really effusive about how much they enjoyed theirs and I ended up buying a Kindle Paperwhite. From the moment I set it up and put my first few books on it, I knew I was going to love it. It really is a fantastic reading experience, and the device itself is brilliant in that it knows exactly what it wants to be and doesn’t try to stray from anything other than that.
I’ve set a modest goal for myself to read at least one book a month for 2023. I know there are people like Matt D’Avella who reads 80 books a year and Adrianne has a friend who read over 40 last year. But I wanted to set a goal that was both doable and would allow me to exceed it if I want to. For example, this month I’m finishing up Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, which I actually started last month and Build by Tony Fadell. These couldn’t be more different from one another and that was totally by design. I wanted to read Station Eleven ever since we watched the series on HBO Max. It’s really good, but while I appreciate the additional context that the book provides, I think I prefer the narrative liberties they took with the show. That said, I love the way Emily writes and I’ve added Sea of Tranquility to my reading list.
Reading is one of the things that I’m doing for me, like dipping my toes into music. Both of them are things that I can do and enjoy simply for pleasure and without any expectation or attachment and they also give my brain a chance to take a break from the myriad of things that are bouncing around in it at any given moment.
I never had a Sony Walkman growing up and not because I didn’t want one. I just didn’t like the design of them, especially the yellow “Sports” versions that seemed to be everywhere in the late 80s and early 90s. I did have a couple Walkman knockoffs that were made by Aiwa that I loved much more than the Sonys—and it all came down to the design. The Aiwa units (and a couple I had by Akai) were sleek but still very industrial. That’s why I love the look of these brilliant portable cassette players from we are rewind (in orange, of course). The chunky all-aluminum design speaks to my minimalist heart and the fact that it’s got bluetooth means I can still use my favorite noise-cancelling headphones.
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