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What Makes You Love a Book?

What makes you love a book over just liking it? For me, I have to connect to the main character on some level. The book also has to say something. One of those will make me like a book, but for me to truly love it deeply I need both.

What Makes You Love a Book?

How I connect to the character doesn’t matter. I don’t have to find them wonderful, or fall head-over-heels in love with them. They don’t have to be just like me, or have problems that I can relate to. All that matters is that I care about what happens to them next. For that, they can be a despicable villain, and I keep reading because I want to see them to get their comeuppance. Most of the time, I want to see them win. I want to be pulled along toward some emotionally satisfying closure.

As for meaning something, this probably carries a bit more weight than character. People give me grief because I can talk about theme and symbolism and allegory all day long. Some people just want a fun romp, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I enjoy those, too. But a book that I love sticks with me, and it sticks with me because there was some idea explored. The human condition, the power of falling in love, the cost of ambition, it can be anything. It’s why I’ve been leaning more and more toward “literary” fiction than genre stuff. It’s why the genre stuff I still enjoy tends to be more literary. There’s a deeper experience waiting to be had when the book has something worthwhile to say.


The Merry Writer is a writer’s game on Twitter run by Ari Meghlen (@arimeghlen) and Rachel Poli (@RPoli3). Each day there’s a new question, and each month there’s a new theme. In these posts I expand upon the answers that I’ve posted on my Twitter.

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May 28 2020: Victorian Novels and Barbed-Wire Matches

May 28 2020: At this point in my life I don’t care about having a consistent public image. There’s no through line, no story thread. I’m not worried about keeping my interests themed or easily explainable. There’s no way to reconcile my love of both effete Victorian novels and barbed-wire matches, the most brutal form of professional wrestling.  All that’s important, especially under the current circumstances, is finding the things that bring a little joy into my life and embracing them.

Of course, there is a through line. It’s an emotional one. As humans we are complex creatures. We have moods. That’s how I can be reading the complete works of William Makepeace Thackeray one moment,  and watching Mance Warner and Jimmy Havoc trying to murder one another the next. Sometimes I need refined, sensitive, and well-articulated expressions of the human condition. Other times I just need the excitement of two guys beating the hell out of one another.

We can talk about which of these is highbrow or lowbrow. Society can label one as socially acceptable while the other isn’t. Different groups will look down on one or the other, for their own cultural reasons. That fascinates me. I wouldn’t recommend a steady diet of either, personally. Both are part of the human experience, though. There’s room for both, in moderation.

May 28 2020

  • If you get anything out of these blog posts, consider buying me a coffee. You can also purchase one of my books or zines from Gumroad or DriveThruRPG.
  • I check all email and Twitter DMs, personal and professional, three times once a day. I respond  as time allows; if it requires some thought or research on my part, it will take me longer.
  • I am actively avoiding news and social media to focus on writing. Please take your information from reliable sources and certified experts, not the Mad Carrot and its puerile cultists.
  • Today is Day 72 in isolation. 
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May 18 2020: I’m Mostly Over Science Fiction

May 18 2020: I was having a conversation with the other day and realized that I’m mostly over science fiction. There was a time when I would gravitate toward anything that was even vaguely SF. I’d select a bad TV show about space ships and robots over a good one about anything else. It’s not that I’ve suddenly turned my nose up sat it. Genre alone just isn’t enough of a motivator for me.

Science fiction works best when there’s some relevant observation being made about the present. I know, there are people who think you should keep “politics” and “social commentary” out of their escapist entertainment. Bully for them. There are plenty of books, shows, and movies for them to choose from. It’s a big, wide, weird old world, and there’s room for all tastes. That stuff isn’t mine, not any more.

I will read the hell out of David Mitchell, Kurt Vonnegut, Neil Stephenson, and others who straddle the line between mainstream fiction and SF. I absolutely love Westworld, even the muddled second season. There’s more going on than character bits and futuristic tropes about cool technology. The stories are about people, and the impact their world has on them. That’s what resonates with me.

I’m Mostly Over Science Fiction

I do think that the people who want to turn everything into a cultural battleground had something to do with putting me off the genre. The people who don’t want politics in their fun put me off the fun with their politics. Some of it is growing older, having changing tastes, and connecting more with deeper emotional content than speculation for its own sake.

Some of it, though, has to do with being able to stand where I am now and envision that future. I can, chillingly, see Westworld from here. That feels not only plausible, but relevant. I can no longer see Star Trek. It feels about as possible as Star Wars these days. The Cold War, which gave Trek a lot of its context, has been over for decades. It doesn’t resonate with me any more.

My work-in-progress, a modern day Gothic novel, has a dystopian feel to it. I’ve left off references that place it within any specific year, mainly to try to keep it from feeling dated, so it could take place in the future. I toyed with throwing in a few low-key cyberpunk elements, because there are parts that feel like early William Gibson.  In the end I decided that making the Gothic tropes was already enough work. Ultimate, I care more about writing a good book than one that tics the boxes for genre conventions.

May 18 2020

  • If you get anything out of these blog posts, consider buying me a coffee. You can also purchase one of my books or zines from Gumroad or DriveThruRPG.
  • I check all email and Twitter DMs, personal and professional, three times once a day. I respond  as time allows; if it requires some thought or research on my part, it will take me longer.
  • I am actively avoiding news and social media to focus on writing. Please take your information from reliable sources and certified experts, not the Mad Carrot and its puerile cultists.
  • Today is Day 63 in isolation. 
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May 17 2020: Literacy as Resistance

May 17 2020: People ask me why I spend so much time reading “old books”. They means classics, although sometime I think people see books in general as outdated technology. I’m retro! The truth is that I see literacy as resistance. Stating that I read, and that I read things that aren’t just light entertainment, is was way of showing that I don’t stand with the know-nothings that currently run far too much of the world. It hearkens back to a time when being educated, not being ignorant, was a badge of honor.

Yes, I am admitting that I am pretentious. Look at me, I read books, I am smart. Worse, I am proud of that fact, and I look down on people who think reading is stupid. Not the poorly educated, or the learning disabled. People who make a conscious and active choice to be ignorant. Understand the difference.

I do read living authors as well. That’s something I need to call out more, because they need book sales more than Thackeray or the Brontë sisters. Maybe I should do something akin to Warren Ellis, and throw out a post on what I’m reading along with a synopsis and a link. I mention them less because they have less household-name recognition. It muddies the messaging when you don’t know who they are or what they write.

Literacy as Resistance

The reason I don’t read more is two-fold. Possibly three-fold, depending on how you parse it. First, I prefer physical books. The selection of books in English available locally is limited. It can be costly to get them shipped in. Space in this apartment is at a premium. That leaves me with ebook, which is fine, but I hate my ereader. The controls aren’t compatible with my arthritic hands, the battery life is worthless, and it gets hot. All of which comes down to, I just need to get a new ereader.

The second reason is that I watch streaming content when I could be reading. It’s something my wife and I can do together, especially in quarantine. I vacillate on cancelling the services and trying to convince Katie that we could take walks instead. Which reduces consumption, but doesn’t add more reading time. Killing Netflix and HBO is like turning off the router to have internet-free time, though. I’d do it if it were just me, but Katie uses it too.

May 17 2020

  • If you get anything out of these blog posts, consider buying me a coffee. You can also purchase one of my books or zines from Gumroad or DriveThruRPG.
  • I check all email and Twitter DMs, personal and professional, three times once a day. I respond  as time allows; if it requires some thought or research on my part, it will take me longer.
  • I am actively avoiding news and social media to focus on writing. Please take your information from reliable sources and certified experts, not the Mad Carrot and its puerile cultists.
  • Today is Day 62 in isolation. 
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Journal

Read a Different Book Once a Year

Would you rather read the same three books for the rest of your life or be able to read a different book once a year in a genre you enjoy? If I’m reading this correctly, if my favorite genre is, say, science fiction, I could only read one science fiction book per year and never re-read it. I’m glad my tastes are eclectic and I don’t have a favorite genre. Unless, of course, you count “classics” or “literary fiction” as genres.

My other assumption is that I’m only restricted to one book in my preferred genre. I can still read as much as I want outside of that genre. If this is the case, then the answer is clear. The one book will be a treat. A birthday. Christmas. Summer vacation. I can still enjoy other things, explore other genres, discover great authors and new ideas.

Read a Different Book

What would this mean for someone like me, whose reading is all over the place? I can only re-read one Dickens novel a year? Only one Gothic romance? Experience on Shakespeare play? I don’t think it would be a bad thing if I could only read one business book. I eat those up like popcorn, and don’t know that I actually learn much from them. The same with books about writing.

I would have to curate my reading list. Make every book count. This isn’t a bad idea, actually. I may need to start making collections in my bullet journal to cultivate this into some sort of action plan.


The Merry Writer is a writer’s game on Twitter run by Ari Meghlen (@arimeghlen) and Rachel Poli (@RPoli3). Each day there’s a new question, and each month there’s a new theme. In these posts I expand upon the answers that I’ve posted on my Twitter.