When I was young, I used to be addicted to virtual worlds, spending every waking moment in worlds populated by Orcs, Elves and Aliens. Except when I grew up, virtual worlds were called books.
A good day was reading two books; a great day was reading three. And a perfect day was avoiding conversations with anyone 😉
Good books are good friends, expanding your mind and providing new vistas and memories, time after time. You can geek out with old friends and a favorite turn of phrase when revisiting an older story, or take a short holiday in a new book; be a stranger in a strange land.
Even when times were tough, my mom would take me down to the used bookstore each month, where I was allowed to fill a single brown grocery bag with tattered but beguiling goodies. Optimizing for books in terms of size and shape resulted in a pretty odd tangle of reading material! But once I discovered The Hobbit, Tom Swift and Heinlein, it was all over: the wonders of science fiction won out over the size of the books, with a slight seasoning of fantasy to fill up the corners.
You don’t get out much when you live on a maggot ranch, so reading books and riding horses were pretty much my only entertainment there. But university changed everything for me. It taught me that girls existed, computers could be taught to play games, and that there was more to music than Disco. I’d drag in my big speakers from home and we’d crank code on the late shift, powered by chocolate-covered coffee beans, chai tea chats and classic albums from my fellow coders. They’d taken pity on my sad lack of musical knowledge and taught me to love music: Celtic to Classical, with Miles Davis, Pink Floyd, Cowboy Junkies and Gregorian Chants in between.
But even with all this new entertainment available, books remain a big part of my life. Enough so that I am finally trying to write a few of my own! I co-authored a textbook on building online video games a few years ago, and have a second textbook underway. Most of my free writing time is going into alternate history, science fiction type books; the research and plot development have been thrilling to do, but dialog and character development have proven quite tricky so far. If this were a work project, I’d just look up the answer, but figuring stuff out is half the fun for a personal project, so I’ve been re-reading dozens and dozens of books — good and bad — trying to distill what makes a book good. Bit by bit, I am getting there. Most of the stories on this blog are writing exercises of one form or another. It was quite difficult to start, as I am a very — probably excessively — private person and I don’t like exposing anything on what I think. But over the years I’ve gotten less bad at it. Doing conference lectures was a big help. They make me dig deep into a topic and figure out how to communicate the essence without overwhelming in detail.