Tick tock. The guy turns the corner onto another street. Tick tock. The street is paved with concrete and the sky is blue. Tick tock. The guy needs to walk to the end of the street but there are so many obstacles in the way. Tick tock tick tock. Clouds gather across the sky and the air smells different. Tick tock. Now the smell of the air is changing to a new smell and the obstacles are multiplying…tick…tock…
Books can be bloody brilliant or they can be a slog. Over the last few years I’ve picked up a good few slogs. Some just cannot hold my attention and after a few chapters they get deserted and I never know where the characters end up or how the plot develops. But some do just enough to keep me invested slightly. Maybe the premise was incredibly interesting and there are hints at plot twists a few chapters down the line. So I keep reading. Each chapter is like an episode of The Walking Dead. Unimaginative but with a hook at the end that just manages to salvage the situation. During each chapter I can be thinking about quitting and starting something else but then something happens. Something always happens and it is just about enough. Sometimes a book can keep these little tugs at you chapter after chapter and it can pull you all the way through the slog to the end whilst you’re yawning through it.
I have a pocket watch and the ticking sound it makes can be surprisingly loud when you’re aware of it. Once you know the sound is there you wonder how you didn’t notice it before and it can be distracting. During a slog of a novel this is the kind of thing your ears will hear. You find yourself re-reading the same sentence over and over due to the tick-tocking sound of the watch penetrating your mind as you try to get lost in the story. You find yourself pausing to look at your phone. You notice sounds outside that you don’t usually notice and you wonder what they are. Your mind wonders. You wonder what ever happened to a footballer that used to play for the team you support and are intrigued as to what he is up to these days. So mid-chapter you put the book down and find yourself on Wikipedia reading about this player and find he’s now retired and became a manager. You read about the club he’s managing and learn about that club’s entire history before remembering that you’re supposed to be reading a novel where there’s a guy needing to get to the end of the street before it’s too late and the air there has a funny smell. What was that smell again? Musty? Best get back to it. Difficult when there’s a constant ticking sound distracting you though. So you decide to pick up the pocket watch and take it to another room and put it under a pillow. There! Now you can read in peace. However, on the pillow is your iPad and there are notifications flashing on its screen. You pick it up and end up on Snapchat where some pretty girl has sent a video out of her and her friends downing shots in some bar and having a good time. The song on in the bar is a great tune and you haven’t listened to that band for a while so you open Spotify and play some tracks of theirs and go to the fridge to grab a beer. What a nice relaxing evening! But crap, what about the book? The guy still needs to get to the end of the damn street! Oh well, too late now. Attention spans aren’t what they used to be and now you’ve had a beer it will be even worse. Might as well try again tomorrow. Maybe a film will entertain you better this evening.
Some novels just aren’t written that well even if the plot is kind of interesting. I always get sucked into post-apocalyptic novels. Who doesn’t? It’s cool to see the whole World go to shit. It’s easy to get drawn into a world where society has crumbled and there are threats for characters to face at the end of every burning street. But once the World is over then what? Where now? Is there a cure or some fix to the situation? This question can make you continue but it is difficult if the story is not well written or if there are few plot developments after the World ends. But you carry on honourably with this chore. Though you notice the ticking and it is a reminder that each second you have in this world is precious and finite and you’re currently wasting it on a sub-standard novel. We simply don’t have enough time to spend hours reading mediocre stories.
The fact the average attention span of a human brain has most likely decreased over the last two decades is interesting and I think for me at least it has affected my novel reading abilities. The internet has changed things in so many ways and it has affected how quickly we want to be entertained whilst lowering the amount of time an article, book, song, tv programme, comedian or film has to grab our attention. These days there is such a battle for a person’s attention that great things may not ever be given a chance to entertain us. Instagram gives people a picture or real short video and even if it’s great and original it will receive a quick “like” before we immediately move on. Snapchat is the same. Twitter gives somebody 140 characters to play with and whatever you write needs to be snappy and to the point. I’ve noticed on Facebook that people care less about the long ranting status updates I sometimes post. People used to read them when they were a paragraph or two long but now I feel not many people can be bothered or care at all. This is probably because I get more lame as the days go by so I matter less and have less interesting things to say. But it’s also due to changing attention spans I feel. A funny picture gets more likes and comments than a written status. An amazing 10 minute video that gets shared will get overshadowed by a 10 second half decent video. It’s this changing attitude and desire for on demand and instant cures for boredom that have affected reading for some people perhaps. We have Kindles and can download samples of books instantly and if the first chapter (maybe even the first page) isn’t immediately the best thing ever then it can be left and forgotten about after a few seconds. If this theory is true then it is admirable to carry on further with the mediocre novels. Maybe once the guy gets to the end of the street something genuinely awesome happens and then you’re finally fully strapped in for the journey. Sometimes you need to give something a chance and that’s more the case than ever.
Recently I finished a book that I would call a slog and it was the first book I’d finished cover to cover for maybe a whole year. That’s probably the longest I’ve gone without finishing a book during the time I’ve been able to read. During this time I’ve started many books and gave up. Some of these books weren’t even bad at all. Some had my attention. But in the battle for my precious attention something else just ended up winning and then I’d never get back around to it. With this latest book I decided that no matter what I was going to get to the end just so I finally could pat myself on the back after completing a book again in this crazy world that constantly wants to pull our attention in every direction except towards the thing you were trying to focus on. And the story ended up worthwhile too. It didn’t blow my mind or change my life but I’m glad I read it. It’s a world I stayed in for a while and managed to experience all it had to offer even if it didn’t offer that much overall. After finishing such a novel I decided that I did after all still possess the capability to read stories until their conclusion. I had roughly 100 books unread stored on my Kindle and maybe 30 or so unread paperbacks lying around the flat. Many of these stories are probably worth reading and I remembered that some of the things on my Kindle were books I had researched and knowing how much of a freak I am when it comes to reading reviews they must be quite good.
There were quite a few fantasy novels on my Kindle that I must have obtained a couple of years ago when I’d just bought the device. I had no memory of any reviews of these books but I trusted that they were good. The strange thing is that I rarely read fantasy novels. I liked to think that I liked a real world setting. But maybe I don’t know myself like I thought I did. My two favourite sets of books of all time are the Harry Potter books (common favourite because they’re that damn good) and the Dark Tower series (although the ending annoyed me. Like the tv programme Lost it is all about the journey and not the destination some say. That’s sort of true. But is it so much to ask for a great series of novels to also have a satisfying ending? Does something so epic with a lot of hype always have to let us down due to our own unreasonable expectations? Given how long Mr King spent writing these fantastic books he must have had plenty of time to think up a great ending and he has one of the best imaginations on the planet. Anyway, I guess I should get the hell out of these brackets and back to the blog now). Both of which are of the fantasy genre if they have to be labelled. I also love the tv programme Game of Thrones (who doesn’t?) and the RPG Skyrim. Both have fantasy settings also. Maybe I am a massive fantasy fan and didn’t really realise it. I saw a novel on my Kindle called The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. I researched it a little and found that this 1,000+ page novel was part one of a ten part series with the third one currently being written. The reviews I skimmed over (had to skim since once I get started on reviews it could last me longer than it would take to read the damn book sometimes) stated that this novel was amazing and worth getting through and wouldn’t feel like a slog. So I thought I’d give it a go. If I can get through a novel that is 1,000 pages long with the promise (threat) of nine further books of similar length then I must surely finally be over the inability to actually read books from cover to cover. So in I jumped. Foreword, prelude, prologue all before the first chapter. What a test of endurance and attention span this would be.
Currently I have reached chapter 9 of this mammoth novel but there are no worries as to whether or not I will complete it. I am well invested in this world. It is very well written and does not at all feel like a slog. I don’t find myself wishing pages and chapters away. I don’t need a hook at the end of a chapter to keep me plodding on. I don’t realise I am holding and looking at a Kindle. I don’t hear the ticking of the pocket watch. Notifications that pop up on my phone can wait. I am so sucked into this living and breathing world that has been created. Every sentence is a joy. And this is the kind of book I’ve been missing. The kind where you can’t wait to get home from work so you can get a few chapters done and see what happens next. The kind of story you’re thinking about whilst in the supermarket buying some bread. It’s a real page turner. Well, it’s on a Kindle so there are no pages to turn. Maybe that “page turner” phrase will be rendered obsolete once the e-reader sadly kills the paperback industry. We should call riveting novels screen touchers from now on. The Way of Kings has me constantly touching the screen to see what happens.
When you think about it it’s a no brainer that fantasy novels are the easiest to get absorbed in. The novels that are based in real world settings have to have interesting characters and an interesting plot. A fantasy novel needs to have that too definitely but also it has the element of constant discovery going for it before you even think about the plot or characters. In a real world setting the Earth has one Moon, magic isn’t an actual thing, we know all the kinds of animals that may feature in the story and though there may be a supernatural flavour added to the mix that is usually unique and the premise of the story. In a fantasy setting the world is your oyster. You can just go wild with your imagination. Why have one Moon when you can have many? Why not include magic where spells can turn stones into gold? Why not invent strange creatures like giant lobsters that pull carriages? Then there are different cultures, politics, histories, philosophies and religions to think about. It’s interesting just to find out about the World that an author has created if it has been done well. Currently in The Way of Kings as an example there is a curious custom where women keep their left hands covered up in public at all times. This can be achieved by a glove or via the dress they are wearing having a longer sleeve that buttons up over their left hand. You can’t help but wonder why they do this and what the public in the story would think if they saw the left hand uncovered. This kind of thing only happens in fantasy novels and I think it’s really cool. We read to escape the mundane and to temporarily live in a different world as envisioned by another person. Sometimes it’s better to escape to a reality that is even further detached from the mundane world we live in. It’s nice to experience a world where literally anything is possible. Who doesn’t want a pet dragon and the ability to cast spells?
I admire authors and their ability to use their imagination to create whole worlds down to the tiniest details. I don’t think I could do it. If I were good at telling stories and decided to be an author then having thought about it I would have to try to come up with some unique fantasy series. You could have the most fun writing them and look at the success that stems from the successful fantasy stories. It’s incredible. The Dark Tower series is about to become a film series as of 2017. Look at The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones. They’re successful books that sold millions globally capturing the minds of many. And then the author’s vision was captured on film bringing the words to life and bringing further success. Then there are the costumes, toys and other merchandise that are physical things relating to the story that people like to own. The stories fuel fan fiction and become legends themselves. They’ll never die and they become part of our world. It’s unbelievable that all of it can stem from one individual’s mind. They literally made it all up in their heads and transferred it all to a computer by typing it out into words in black and white. And that spawned a whole new story for millions to enjoy around the globe. Hats off to them. It goes to show what can happen when the JK Rowlings of the world are day dreaming on train journeys and start to throw their day dreams onto some paper.
The overall point to this blog post got a little lost due to my faltering attention span (goddamn Facebook notifications). My point was simply that words are awesome. It’s great to read and write. I love reading stories and love reading the blogs of others on here. And I love writing on here too. I feel a bit sad that the fact that everybody has a camera on their phone now has lead to quick fire pictures and videos totally overshadowing the written word. I will always value WordPress above Instagram. I’ll always rather read somebody’s thoughts than see an image of what they’re having for dinner. And I’ll always be a day dreamer who loves to get lost in a fantasy world created by the awesome words of a talented human imagination.
Thankee sai. Long days and pleasant nights x