Top 5 Childhood Authors

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Almost every day after school, I was at the library doing homework but more precisely picking out my next book to read. It all started with the Bob Books, then came Little Bear, Henry and Mudge, Frog and Toad, No Fighting, No Biting! and many others I cannot begin to list. While I  enjoyed everything I read, these are the authors that kept me reading.

5. Tedd Arnold

tedd-arnoldWhat drew me into Tedd Arnold’s books were his watercolor illustrations. The colors fold into a mix that makes the characters come to life. Parts and More Parts are his most memorable books, teaching readers about the body. The protagonist is a bit of a hypochondriac but he learns jumping out of your skin is not only an idiom but the most normal thing about you.

4. Dav Pilkey

Dav-Pilkey-KaiSuzuki-photoOne day the word “underwear” was shared and got a huge laugh in class but not from the disapproving teacher. That same day, an undressed hero was born. Dav Pilkey shows that reading is nothing short of fun and his books are that and more. Knowing how he has struggled with dyslexia and ADHD, it is nice to know he is having fun while teaching his readers to question things through his satirical storytelling. Some of my favorites are Kat Kong, Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot, and of course Captain Underpants.

3. Andrew Clements

andrew_clementsAin’t ain’t a word! Actually, it is and so is frindle. Andrew Clements classic story about calling a pen a “frindle” instead has stuck with me ever since I started writing book reports. His stories have taught me there is a world of multiplicity out there, one where your creative side is someone’s welcome mat. His books that inspired me include Frindle, Lunch Money, where a student writes and sells his own comic books, and No Talking, where a class makes a running bet of no talking after a lecture on Mahatma Gandhi.

2. Daniel Handler

Lemony_SnicketThrills and treachery from a mysterious and sarcastic narrator makes for the perfect series of unfortunate events. Daniel Handler, also known as the aloof Lemony Snicket, wrote the first book series I read to completion recounting the lives of the Baudelaire children, A Series of Unfortunate Events. The dark charisma he musters in his writing reveals a world of believers in the face of deceivers. Handler returns with a new prequel series of noir called All the Wrong Questions.

1. Roald Dahl

roald_dahl        The one writer that always made it on my reading list is none other than the wonderful wordsmith Roald Dahl. There is no one sweeter than this sweet tooth storyteller! From the unnerving witchcraft of The Witches and the ugly that can fester inside us from The Twits to the hidden potential of a psychokinetic sixth-grader and an orphaned boy and his giant peach, it is no wonder he has been deemed one of the world’s greatest storytellers. There is never a dull moment with Dahl! 

How Reading Fast Slows You Down

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On to the next book!

“It is not just about being well-read, it is about reading well”

Writing a book and literary blog has me thinking if I will have time to read all the books I want. I know I still can but it requires enough time management to pull off. How will I ever balance the time I spend reading with the time I spend writing? Simple, just learn how to speed read. Speed-reading is a straightforward practice. By extending the landscape of your peripheral view and minimizing the information or “skimming” for the most important information written on a page, you are on your way to being a speed-read demon! Read again.

When you read this sentence, as a reader, you cannot predict the following sequence of the message being told without having to see and read each and every word. Are there certain phrases you can notice based on diction and punctuation that serve no other purpose but to be an aesthetic and transitory choice? Most certainly, but not every sentence is worth skimming. This is not new age flash fiction. One word makes all the difference to the meaning presented versus the one personally given. Of course, the point of speed-reading then becomes less about sensibility or memory and more about tangibility or information.

I thought I would be able to devote more time, and in effect more quality, to my writing if I could just get from cover to cover in the least amount of time possible. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, my writing suffered. Speed-reading restricts a complete understanding of a text by acknowledging only the information it provides and not the expression of it. What does reading mean for me if I am just flipping pages as fast as I would recite the alphabet?

Speed reading proves ineffectual if you intend on retaining and comprehending what you read. Otherwise, it is a remarkable feat to see how fast you can turn a page without receiving a paper cut. Your writing on a subject will be a reflection of how well you read that subject too. It is not just about being well-read, it is about reading well. Friends of mine tell me how fast they read, some coming in at less than a few hours. I cannot help but wonder why they read so fast other than to get to their next book as soon as possible. Now I am not saying it is not possible to retain a story’s characters and events within such small amounts of time, but memory does not always end up being 20/20 hindsight.

To get through every page without skipping a word (and I do falter and have to back track to words, even sentences, I missed if I am not careful) is a challenge but it does not have to be. Why bother reading fast if the margin for error is higher than your comprehension? While it seems the only benefit speed-reading has is surveying the page for grammatical errors and typos, it is a potential malpractice we can correct. Instead of measuring the pages to minute scrutiny, find the right pace.

Pacing allows you to read at the speed where you will best comprehend a text. Staples tests how fast you can read with real pieces of literature and my results were 282 words per minute which is close to the average of 300 for adults. Staples’ test also shows you how long it would take you to read certain pieces of literature after the results. I do not know if the test is giving me the benefit of the doubt or adding insult to injury, because I do know it took me a month to digest the brick that is Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, and that was with devoted hours set aside every Thursday through Sunday.

My general rule of thumb tends to be lenient with a chapter or more for reading and a page or more for writing each hour. I do this with the same attitude as Anne Lamott’s “small assignments” from her book Bird by Bird. Lamott says to read and write in balanced and gradual amounts, enough to fill a “one-inch picture frame,” to avoid getting bogged down by the rest you have to read or have to write (17). A paragraph is much more manageable than a whole page, let alone an entire book.

I am satisfied with my pace and it may be slower than yours, but reading the fastest is not what is important. Reading to comprehend regardless of when you finish reading is. Challenge yourself, read something unfamiliar to you; I would not have thought twice about reading Bleak House given its intimidating length but I was better for knowing the difference between Lord Doodle and a Dandy (by the way, not so different).

Slow and steady is the approach I take and I may not win the race of time. What I do win is the pleasure and quality of reading long after having read.

The October Country by Ray Bradbury | Review

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Author: Ray Bradbury

Illustrator: Joseph Mugnaini

Publisher: Del Rey Books | Ballantine Books

Published: 1955 (originally), 1996

Genres: Horror, Fantasy

Pages: 336

“It’s poor judgement,” said Grandpa, “to call anything by a name. We don’t know what a hobgoblin or a vampire or a troll is. Could be lots of things. You can’t heave them into categories with labels and say they’ll act one way or another. That’d be silly. They’re people. People who do things. Yes, that’s the way to put it: people who do things.” – Ray Bradbury, The October Country, “The Man Upstairs”

Short story collections embody a certain theme that almost sound the same as the ringing of a bell. Each story told has its own retelling of that same theme to the point of feeling redundant rather than revisited. Ray Bradbury’s The October Country eerily transcends any recycled sense of thematic bottom-feeding. His stories are so different from the next, you cannot help but wonder where the theme starts and ends until you realize it just is. The vulnerability and strength of the human condition are at the core of these stories but each are expressed from the unlikeliest of perspectives. For example, in the stories “Homecoming” and “Jack-in-the-Box,” the outsider becomes the insider and the insider becomes an outsider respectively. The sensationalism over death and how sensationalism is its own death can be seen in “The Crowd.” What is strangely satisfying about these stories is not just their ability to be told on Halloween (the illustrations by Joseph Mugnaini will attest to that) but their representation of simple, ethical truths under the guise of the dark denizens from the October country.

The October Country is not a hard read and its progression picks up speed when you least expect it. An endearing moment I kept recalling and enjoyed the most is found in Bradbury’s foreword May My Voices Die Before Me, where he talks about finding his voice or himself. He shares his love of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Edgar Allan Poe, and other inspiring writers but noticed their voices could not be his own; they could only be his loves. The October Country is genre-breaking and erodes the conventions of traditional tales of horror and science fiction by giving it more than a sense of brash realism. Here Bradbury emphasizes the emotive silence and subtlety of thought until it bifurcates from a personal peak and reaches an undeniable and ubiquitous inevitability (death, loneliness, insecurity, et cetera).

I appreciate the honesty behind the fiction when some stories’ endings are arguably vague. The fantastical possibilities are presented to you as feasible and believable possibilities in a short, but natural transition of time and place. As Bradbury said in his foreword about his other short story collection The Martian Chronicles, “[It] is five percent science fiction and ninety-five percent fantasy…” (x). No fantasy is worthy of being categorized as fluff when it stands for those hidden feelings lost in thought. The first and last stories of The October Country, The Dwarf and The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone, felt familiar to me, being a writer who is always figuring out what being a writer can and will mean. No one has to be a writer to relate to Bradbury’s stories however. With an emotional intelligence on sentimental, attentive, and precarious levels, The October Country holds eminent potential for relatability.

Final Rating:

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It’s Lit!