Book review: Hadron #1 Dark Matter – 2/5 stars

I started reading Stephen Arseneault’s Hadron series #1, a book named “Dark Matter”. I got as a free eBook on Amazon and it’s been clogging up space in my Kindle library. So I decided to give it a try. At the time of writing, I had read a little over half of this book and there’s only one way I can describe it – frustrating.

There are a lot of reviews of this book out there that criticize it for being a ‘prepper’ book, glorifying doomsday preppers and pure redneck Americanism. But I’m OK with that. I’ve never read a novel about preppers and so this idea of a band of people surviving some sort of total system breakdown through the blatant use of guns is fresh to me. That’s one reason I started reading this book – the author makes no qualms about it in the beginning – this is not a book in and of itself. This is a prelude to all the sci-fi stuff that happens in the rest of the books. Read this book only to get context of what will happen next. Perhaps some of the same characters survive and go on to become central characters in the rest of the books?

If you think about it, any other combination of characters than the ones displayed in the book might not survive the events that happen. If they have guns but no one with a military background, or they have all that but no mechanical engineer with an agriculture degree who also brews alcohol, or have everything but no chopper flying father-son duo. Any of those missing characters and the story could turn out different. I found that to be a compelling idea. This is a somewhat Tolstoyan in vision – how can I explain what happens next, without explaining what happened before?

But that’s where I’ll end the comparisons with Tolstoy. The writing, the editing, the mollycoddling of the reader, are all a little too much on the nose. For each of those reasons, I’d like to take off one star out of the rating. Allow me to explain.

  1. The writing – There’s one rule, one simple rule of long form fiction writing. You must never break this one rule, no matter how innovative you’re trying to be, or how different you think your English to be from the English spoken around the world (i.e, even if you describe your language to be “American”, you still follow this rule) – always write in Active voice. I can’t say it more calmly. For years, I’ve written things, copy pasted them into hemingwayapp.com and had to rewrite the entire thing because I wrote it in passive voice. Now, when I paste things in, I get the gold standard of good writing – zero sentences in passive voice.
    • For a long time, I didn’t understand why this was such a problem. “Passive voice is so easy!” I would say to myself, grumbling. But now that I’ve read this book, I take it all back. Hemingwayapp is right. Passive voice is the worst thing you can inflict on your readers. Even spelling mistakes don’t hurt as much as passive voice. Most of the time, I can’t tell who in the story is performing a particular action or speaking a sentence.
    • Sentences like, “Tres was signaled” or “The neat stack of boxes was carried to the back of the trailer. ” are so frustrating and jarring that they completely throw the reader’s flow off. Till this point in my review, the only two uses of passive voice are the sentences above. It’s so stupid that the author decided to write the entire book in passive voice and that his editor let it slip, and the advanced readers let it slip, and the reviewers giving glowing reviews let it slip.
    • The author often forgets that in a conversation of a few people, a simple ‘she said’ would explain so much to the reader. This means that most of the dialogs are spoken by ghosts and the reader is left grappling for context. Sometimes, it’s obvious who said what, but compounded with the grammatical mistakes, this tends to get confusing and irritating fast!
    • At one point, I started questioning my own sanity. Had I received a bad copy of the eBook? Is this an ARC that slipped into production? Is there an update in Amazon that I can download to get an active voice, free-from-errors version? Nope. This book is in passive voice and that is torture. Why am I sitting through it? The idea is slightly novel to me and I’ve already spent my time on half the book, I aim to breeze through the rest.
  2. The editing – Was there an editor to the book? I went back and checked and couldn’t find any. I wrote an email to the author, being as polite as I could to ask if there was an editor, but ended up not sending it, because it sounded insensitive and attacking. But it’s clear that no one looked over the author’s shoulder while he hit publish. There are missing opening quotes throughout the book, so you’re never sure if it’s a dialog or narration. There are instances where the author mixes up ‘to’ and ‘too’ and forgets ‘of’ from phrases like “couple of homebodies”. There are many scenarios where actions are mixed up, so it’s unclear which character did what first.
    • These are all things that a good editor could find. Heck, even a mediocre editor could spot them and nag the author to eventually fix them. I noticed that the book is available in paper through an independent on-demand publisher on Amazon. Perhaps they could have done something to help the author out of this mess? The worst thing is that the book came out in 2015 and the author has had enough time to revise it a hundred times on Kindle, but has chosen not to.
  3. Lastly, I want to look at how author presents the book. This being the first book in the series, and perhaps the worst written one, the author has placed it on a perennial full discount. You can download it for free from Amazon and read it. That’s how I got into it. At the beginning of the book, the author explains that though it is the first book in a scifi series, it’s not a scifi story in itself, but a survival one. That’s all fine, but then the author goes into a long, two page explanation of what will happen in the book and what one should expect from it. Why? What is the point of the book if the author is going to give me the tl;dr version right at the beginning. This is not news or a buzzfeed article. I want to read the story, so why are you irritating me with an explanation of the story right before the story?
Stephen Arseneault, the author was thinking exactly this when he wrote the introduction to the novel, at the beginning of the first chapter!

All in all, it’s an irritating and frustrating book to read. I’ll still finish it though. Why? Just for the credit (on Goodreads). I’ve spent a good amount of time on the book and I’m not going away without some of the promised ending. In case I find the ending to be exciting and the cliffhanger to be intriguing, will I pick up the next book, or any other books written by Arseneault?

Not in a million years.

2018 and 2019 in books

2018 has come and gone. I had a goal of reading 15 books in it, and I fell short – I read only 12. Though, considering that one of them was War and Peace, I’d say I’ve read enough books.

Very quickly, the highlights are as below. If you want the full list, it’s on Goodreads (no login required afaict).

I thoroughly enjoyed the Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu. It’s part 1 of a 3 book series and I hope to read the rest of it soon.

All Our Wrong Todays was a gut-wrenching time travel story. I reviewed it here. I also reviewed The Devourers here. It’s an epic tale that takes the history of India and weaves an excellent story into it. I believe I’m a fan of historical fiction now. From War and Peace and Poland (which are more fact) to Devourers and Three-Body Problem (which are more liberal with their facts), I love this form of writing that melds truth and fiction together.

My favorite non-prose was Woman World by Aminder Dhaliwal. It’s a beautiful look at a pseudo-post apocalyptic world that doesn’t have any men in it. Though, I must say – since there are no men in the world, it’s not really an apocalypse. It’s quite pleasant, in fact.

I also read a book I’ve long held on to – Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer. It’s pure YA, and perhaps aimed at an even younger audience. But it’s full of surprises and a very interesting take on fairies. It was a fun read!

Moving on, I hope to read a lot more in 2019. I’ve set myself up for even bigger failure – my new goal is 19 books for the year! (It’ll only increase with each passing year, maybe I’ll catch up with the goal one of these years)

I’ve already got a few books that I want to read lined up –

  1. Today Will be Different by Maria Semple – I’ve read and loved “Where’d you go Bernadette?” and I have this one sitting in paperback at home. I’ve heard good things!
  2. The Symposium by Plato – why the heck not? It’s a good story till now (I already started reading it in 2018). Loads to learn!
  3. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K Le Giun – I wanted to read at least one Le Guin book this year and this one seems just as good as any to start off the author’s works. Is there any other you’d recommend instead?
  4. V, Gravity’s Rainbow, and The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon – I want to read a lot of Pynchon this year. Let’s see how it goes. I read somewhere that I should read V before Gravity, because of something something. I have Lot 49 sitting in paperback at home. Maybe I’ll tackle that first.
  5. The Dark Forest, and The Wandering Earth by Cixin Liu – these are the other books in the series I talk about above. The first book was really, really, really good!
  6. Dubliners, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce – I’ve wanted to read Joyce for some time now. I am going to read these in preparation for –
  7. Ulysses by James Joyce – I’ll probably read this in eBook form, considering its supposed sheer size. War and Peace was conquered in a similar fashion!
  8. Murder by Misrule by Anna Castle – I have the eBook burning a hole in my Kindle app. Will read it and mark it as done!
  9. Young India by Lala Lajpat Rai – I’ve noticed this book around. It too is burning a hole in my Kindle app. But more importantly, it should be an interesting historical document.
  10. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf – I read A Room of One’s Own in 2016 and it had a profound impact on my thinking about creativity and ‘own space’. I think I should read one Woolf book a year.
  11. Bonus points – Walden by Thoreau and Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson – Will I be able to reach these? Let’s see!

That’s 16 books listed! Four more than I read in 2018. By simple math, I have to read approximately 2 books a month to accomplish my goal. That’s one book every 15 days! I shudder at the thought of that pace.

Wish me luck! Also, if you’ve got some suggestions or recommendations, or think I should read some book before reading one of the ones on the list here, do tell!

[Book Notes][Book Review] The Devourers

I started this book about a month ago. I was skeptical. It’s a first book, it’s by some unknown author, it’s set in India but not quite. There were many other reasons too, all of which fell away, shattered, burnt, and then stomped upon by this glorious, marvelous, alien, absurd, beautiful novel.

If I wanted to sensationalize this novel, I would say four words to you – “Cannibalistic European Werewolves in Calcutta!”

But this novel doesn’t need that (besides, that statement above is completely wrong). This story is wild and beautiful and violent and gory. It deifies murder and condemns humans. It questions some social mores and reinforces others. This novel is a fictional history and a tight ropewalk across time. This story is not in control of the narrator and sometimes, not even in control of the author. It flows, like all the blood that it spills, sometimes visibly and sometimes invisibly.

This story needs no sensationalization because it is already, inherently sensational. It goes to those dark places you do not want to go and which the writer did not know his own mind went. And it. is. blashphemous. Oh, it is blasphemous. It is ugly in its blasphemy and yet somehow pure and organic. This book should be burned in squares and read in colleges. This book should be debated and revered. This book should be shredded and yet should survive generations, to show a future civilization, that this too, was something a contemporary thought of.

Or, perhaps, it should not. The violence is without obligation. The rating should be nothing less than “for people who will not puke at every page”. This book should be read by everyone yet no one. There are passages I could not go through with a sane mind, which begs the question – what of the author? Well, I can only say that the author is a genius of another level. He is so vivid in the descriptions yet somehow, there’s always a fog over the entire story, perhaps because that is how we read our history – with a dim view of what must have happened. It is almost unbelievable that this story exists, that too from an Indian mind.

When I was, over the last month, in thrall of the story, I met with a friend and went into a reverie about the book. At some point, she looked me straight in the eye and woke me up from my stupor by asking me that one dreaded question that has destroyed many a career before making them – “tell me how it ends”. The implication is clear. I’ve read way too many first-time novels which were wonderful pieces of literature till they were not. A weak ending, an odd plot point, a stubborn author not willing to let editors do their job. There are many examples of such books which sat in my memory as I pondered over this question. Every time I read the book since that day, I was ever afraid of her question and what the answer would be. Would it be as terrible as I’d come to think it could? There certainly was a strain on the story. It reached a climax too late. It piled on too much towards the end. It tried to tie up too many loose ends.

But my prayers were answered. The novel walks that middle path quite well. It is a wholly original story (the irony of using that phrase, which itself is not wholly original!) and it elevates folklore to a new level. This. This is what Indian authors are capable of, if only they return to their own roots and take ownership of their stories.

Do not ask me if you should read this story. Ask yourself – are you ready to be jolted out of your seat and into the ugliness of this world that the writer so casually flips through, as if it were part of our real history? Human history is not free of bloodshed and meaningless violence, but I’ve never come across an example where it is just laid out, so simply, so absurdly, so purely, while still making it clear – this is fiction. Then why, oh why, is it so bloodcurdling?

There is a phrase in the book that aptly describes the story – “in revulsion and glory”. The story is deeply homosexual. True to its form, both scenes of utmost violence and of deep passion are vivid and colorful and this may very well not be for everyone.

Notes

Page 8, last para, it should be “the moonlight diffuses”

Page 52, last line, “I relieved” seems oddly worded.

Page 57, this is such a beautifully written book. It elevated even the most gruesome, the most banal, the most ugly. There’s a line here that says “her faced gemmed with flies.” That is not a phrase that I believe I’ve read anywhere, ever.

Page 152,

A leash, I didn’t say. “Thank you,” I said.

By Jove this book has such colorful language! The way it starts and stops, the way it leads the reader through the thought processes of the characters. The way it surprises and shocks the reader at the same time as it does so to the characters. Indra Das is truly a magnificent writer who will come up with many great stories in his lifetime!

Page 155, oh beautiful blasphemy.

Page 165, what the heck do onions rotting in honey smell like? This book confuses my senses more than anything I’ve ever read!

Page 177, what is the River of Paradise, a canal that flowed through Chandni chowk?

Page 190,

“little more than monkeys that forgot how to swing from the trees.”

Seattle has a lot of Christian missionaries who stand on the streets, smiling, trying to convince you that their religion is the best. If these people irritate you, simply get a printout of the cover of this book, with this paragraph on the flip side and hand it to them whenever they disturb you.

Page 199, this is a great book to wake up to. It jolts you. It burns through whatever sleep you had and whips you into thinking, ‘this also exists in the world?!’

Page 201, one of the things that always amazes me about great writers is how they can describe, in apparent detail and vivid imagery, things that have not happened (at least to me). Things such as death, unconsciousness, and being in a stuffed stupor. How amazingly the author describes one such event, making it so amazingly clear how it would happen. The more I think about it, the more this is my favorite para in this entire amazing book.

Page 204, there’s a line on this page, “all else was fled”. When I googled that phrase, it showed up exactly 3 times in old books. That shows the level of original thought by this author!

Page 235, “a glittering human scab on the water”, ugh, so beautiful! So ghastly!

Page 250, should this be “infinite moment” or “infinitesimal moment”?

Page 283, comedy appears in the strangest of places in this book!

Page 287,

“Lightning cracks the edge of the world, rewriting the vanishing sunlight.”

Note to the author – I hate you, dear author, for you have ruined me for a great many books now. The deep color you have shown me, the way you have wrenched my eyes open to this absurd world of yours, how will I come out of it? How will I dive headfirst into lighter novels? How will I read funny stories without feeling that they are all monochrome?

Update – But I have already moved on! I have picked up All our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai and it is a riot of a book! I am cracking up in the bus like I’ve not in a while! A perfect follow up to this gruesome novel. The Devourers will visit me over time, but for now, I’m gladly sated at how it ended and what wonderful visions it showed to me.

Photo by Internet Archive Book Images

A small note about completing War and Peace

Today, I’ve finished reading the epic tome, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. I posted 20 days ago on social media that I was just three books away from the ending and I’ve given every moment of reading to this ridiculous (what’s another word for) epic.

Now that I’m done with the story, I will go back to the beginning and start again. I just want to go through all of the two thousand three hundred and twenty two notes and highlights that I’ve made across the book before I make them available publicly on my blog. It is a revision, yes, but this book deserves this second read.

There’s so much to say about this book but all of that will be said in my notes. Those notes will sit as a reference for me to come back to over time. I’ve realized the value of such notes sitting on my blog. I recently went back to my notes on A Room of One’s Own to figure out my thoughts on some related topics. I hope to use opportunities such as this to build a corpus of knowledge sitting publicly that I can always come back to and build on. If you find it interesting enough, you can refer to those notes too.

It has been an interesting and long journey. I’ve spent many hours peering through the lens of Tolstoy’s characters at an age gone by, and many of the questions Tolstoy raises are vital to understanding world history. All those topics too, will be reflected in my notes.

Relishing Failure

Last year, I read exactly one book. It took me three months to finish and I knew by the end of the year that this was a problem. So, I decided to give myself a goal for 2017 – read twenty books.

Of course, I failed. I read 13 books and 4 comics. Adding those comics brought my total to 17, bringing me closer to my goal, but that was such a shameful act that I didn’t add any other comics I read to my list. The goal, after all, was to read full-length books.

But it felt good. Not being able to beat the goal felt good for the first time, because it meant that I aspired to something, that I achieved something over what I had done last year. It took me about one month to read each book. I am a slow reader (basically because I’m a recovering one) and life, and other things often came in the way. ?

Somewhere on my blog is a draft of a list of all the books I’ve ever read. I keep it as a draft because it feels like something that should not be set in stone. It should be kept open, waiting to receive new names to grow the list. But for this post, I’d like to take the books I read and describe the books, or my thoughts around those books, in a few sentences. Bear with me…

  1. Slaughterhouse-Five – This is what I spent January with. It’s a sad tale of how absurd wars are and how oddly they affect people. As I was reading it, I kept remembering Catch-22 and how it too showed the absurdity of war. When SLF merged the war and it’s post-war abducted-by-aliens narrative, things went for a toss, but in a seamless way, because if you believe in war, it’s not going to take you a giant leap to believe in aliens.
  2. Where’d You Go, Bernadette – Ah, Bernadette! This was one of the most exciting novels I’ve ever read! The characters are crazy and the storyline is just brilliantly absurd. Recently, when I was in a bookshop, I told the owner, Dion, that I’d read this book and marveled at the beautiful way Seattle is portrayed in it. If you want to know Seattle from the eyes of Maria Semple, read this book. If you want to laugh at the absurd life of one Bernadette Fox, read this book!
  3. The Golden Compass – I’ve wanted to read this book since a long time, ever since I saw the movie. From what I remember, the movie was only half the book and reading this completed the story for me to a certain level. Perhaps I’ll go back some day and finish the series.
  4. A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms – This book has been sitting on my shelf since a long time and I really just wanted to read something of GRRM and this was perfect. The stories are nice and tie into the main storyline very well. There’s just so much in this world to explore!
  5. Prisoners of Geography – This is only one of two non-fiction books I’ve read all year and I’m okay with that. It’s a great book, with loads of amazing stories and insight into why countries act the way they do with their neighbors. But reading it, I also realized that I’m not a non-fiction reader. I prefer fiction, even fictionalized accounts of events such as James Michener’s Poland and the book my wife is reading right now – The Other Einstein.
  6. Marvel 1602 – I mentioned before that I won’t include 4 comics in the list. Those comics are Archies rebooted with new style of artwork and a more mature theme. Even so, they’re still my childhood Archie comics. Marvel 1602 is the brainchild of Neil Gaiman and he is one of the most fantastical authors I’ve read in a while. His ability to create strangeness out of the ordinary is almost infinite! Then, give him the Marvel universe and let his mind run wild and this is the result. It’s more story than comic (so I guess it’s a graphic novel?) and well deserving to sit here on this list, even though it got a little tiresome and predictable in some areas.
  7. We have no idea – When Jorge Cham (from the famous PhD comics) said that his new book was coming out, I knew I had to have it. It took me a while to get around to this book, but it was a delight. It gets a little tiresome towards the end simply because there are so many amazing questions that get asked in every single page that one can spend an eternity trying to answer them! In some sections, I sat with a notebook and just kept writing down ideas that poured in. If you ever want to write science fiction, read this book and let your imagination run wild on it!
  8. The Unknown Errors of our Lives – This collection of short stories is one of the saddest I’ve ever read. Right from the first one, Chitra paints this picture of life in the US that’s shiny, repugnant, restrictive, celebratory, and very, very dark. There’s sadness in almost every page. It took me a while to recover from this book. But would I recommend it? Absolutely. If you want to know the struggles of Indians in the US, or are going through those yourself and want to read some foresight, some hindsight, and something that you can relate to, read this book. Borrow it from me! I’d love to get it off my shelves for a while so it can’t haunt me!
  9. Origin – Oh yes, Dan Brown came out with a novel and I read it and it’s awesome! I love Brown for his unabashed self-promotion. It’s very clear that he’s the hero of his novels and his character has a style that will sometimes make you want to throw the book away! But once you get past the first few chapters, you stop bothering with the absurd brand references (I don’t even know these brands!) and focus on the one burning question – what the heck was the discovery?!
  10. Why you will marry the wrong person – I’m being cheeky by adding this book to this list. It’s more of an article, extended into a book. I paid good money for the article and for good reason – other than telling us all off for marrying people so blindly (“so you dated for a few years? Do you know why and how your other half is mad? Is their madness compatible with your madness?”), this book also introduces this amazing idea that we should submit to extensive and rigorous psychological testing to help us find the right person to marry. I guess Tinder doesn’t cut it for the authors of this book.
  11. Embers – Gimme a book about the Old World and I’ll enjoy it like a well aged piece of cheese. Embers is poignant and beautiful. I discovered it from a Stanford book club RSS feed and Sandor Marai’s turn-of-the-century Hungarian world is bleak and colorful at the same time. It has layers upon layers and as the story unfolds in to the night, it opens up into this wonderful life lived by these two old men and asks the one important question we will all ask in our old age – “was it worth it?”
  12. The Shape of Ideas –  Grant Snider is one of my favorite web comic authors and his book is fun and inspiring and a great way to pull oneself out of a fug! I read this book once but whenever I’m feeling down or have writer’s block, I’ll read one odd page from this book and it’ll help me get right back on track!
  13. Dandelions – Finally. This book was an excellent way to end the year, simply because it is an unfinished book. The author, Yasunari Kawabata, committed suicide before he completed this book. I really enjoyed the characters’ constant back and forth, almost a bickering, which leads them to reveal the story to us in peels of an onion, slowly, and surprisingly. One of the things I loved was that the story had no preface, but a postface, explaining some things about the book. When I was younger, my Dad once told me how he’s read every book in his studies from end to end, including all prefaces and notes from the editors, authors, etc. and he recommended that I do that. Well, Dad, I find that to be very wearisome because most of these authors just drone on about random things unrelating to the concepts or the stories I’m trying to read! When I read Plato’s Apology a few years ago, it was a forty page book with a fourteen page introduction! That was horrifying to me! Two pages in, I abandoned the droning of the translators and commentators and went straight to the text! It felt so gratifying to be reading the actual words I came to read instead of reading some random person’s boring analyses of the life and times of Plato.

There you have it. These are the books I read and these are my thoughts on them. If you want to look at my Goodreads year in review, here it is. It’s a nice feature Goodreads has. It tells me that I read a total of 3,644 pages. Those were some good pages!

If you’ve made it so far, I’d like to talk about something. Over the last two years, I’ve been reading Tolstoy’s epic tome, War and Peace. I started some time last year and this year, I’ve moved the needle from 50% 0f the book to 77%. It’s really not one book. It’s fifteen books and two epilogues, each with twenty to twenty-five chapters of ridiculous length. If I listen to my wife, I should be able to introduce these sub-books to the Goodreads listing, immediately putting me over my stated goal of twenty books, and then some. But I won’t do that. This book is more of a research project and relaxation system rolled into one. Whenever I’ve had a long day at work, I uncurl with a few pages of War and Peace and love how I’m transported to this amazing world where Napoleon has invaded Russia and hopes to conquer and get out. God only help these buffoons. If only they had “Prisoners of Geography”, they’d understand that Russia is not a simple thing to be quickly run over and forgotten. Russia is a crazy world, with one foot firmly in Asia and the other well in Europe. Russia is Old World and New. Russia is a sleeping dragon better left undisturbed. I read and laugh with the characters, cry with them, get surprised when they die or turn up alive. I am living this book out over the years and when I do finish it, which I am slated to in 2018, I’ll mark it as completed and either start on some other similarly long story, or restart this book, so I can once again live this beautiful book through.

That was my 2017 in review. I truly enjoyed failing at my reading challenge. It was a pleasure to read so many amazing books and feel this immense sense of achievement at having read so much, even if it’s a drop in the bucket of how many books get published every year!

Now, I’m off. Time to start the next book. I’m going to begin 2018 reading Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem, which I picked up from the Bellevue Amazon bookstore, after overhearing someone talk about what an interesting book it is! After that, it’s on to a few books I acquired at a charming little bookstore in an magical place called Sunriver over in Oregon. But that’s a story for another time. ?

Photo by Kilkennycat

Thoughts on a required reading page for blogs

I’ve been following Colin Walker’s thoughts on a ‘required reading’ page since Monday and have been thinking about it myself. His own thoughts were based on Dave Winer talking about the idea.

What is a required reading page to me?

Dave Winer seems to suggest a page which would link to articles that deeply affect the blogger, or explain their motivations and give context. Colin took the idea further and talked about old posts which the blogger would want to highlight. There could be external links which the blogger would want the reader to get acquainted with before weighing in on the subject the blogger talks about.

Why are we talking about it?

Two years ago, Derek Sivers and party introduced the idea of the /now page. It’s an easy way for bloggers to talk about what they’re doing right now. There was a marked effort to explain that this page would not be automated, so that the blogger frequently updates it and nurtures the page as a window into their lives. You can read my /now page here.

These ideas – a now page, and a required reading page, are extensions of a blog and a way to empower bloggers to build a blog as an extension of their lives. Sure, you can post what you’re working on on Instagram, and rant about it on twitter. But when it lives on your blog, you care about it more, and so does your reader.

When I was thinking about it, I felt that the required reading page is better implemented by the blogger simply choosing to write about the topic they care about. If you want people to notice a certain article, just blog about it, quote it, and explain your take on it. Ask the reader for their takeaway too. Perhaps, in that sense, a required reading page is every page on your blog. If you care about it enough to write about it, I’ll know that you recommend that I read it too. That is how it works right now, and that’s why I read Dave Winer’s post – because Colin Walker was talking about it.

But when you look at the way people blog now, a lot of bloggers have, since a long time, maintained a page of reading which they want to highlight. Famous bloggers often have a page which lists their most popular blog posts (a great example is this page by Leo Babauta) and others often point to external reading that they value. It’s time this too is formalized into a format and a ‘named’ page, so as to guide future bloggers (and current bloggers) and help leapfrog the blog from a stream of thoughts and articles to a centerpiece of activity and a deeper reflection of the blogger’s life.

p.s. Named pages are useful in both kickstarting a blog and maintaining it for your readers. Examples are the About page, the /now page, the Colophon page (which talks about your tools, your blog’s history; sort of an extended About page; here’s an example), and now, hopefully, the required reading page. As Colin says in his post about the Required Reading page –

I’m going to spend some time considering what I might have on mine.

How to read today

I just read Lipi Mehta’s article on TheReader about her habit of reading and how it disappeared.

I faced a similar situation at one point in my life when I realized that I’ve stopped reading. I used to read a few books a year, at least but of late I’d struggled with even one. This is the advice I gave to myself and to Lipi as a comment on the site –

So many of us began our lives as readers and then slowed or stopped. I got the mantle of “William Shakespeare III” in 9th class for my habit of writing, which to me is nothing more than an extension of my habit of reading. The phrase, “you read a lot”, has stuck with me throughout my life.

But just like you, I don’t read as much any more. I moved on to the Internet a long time ago and things just seem to go along. Here and there, I’d read a book. Then I was gifted an iPad and I thought, “this is it; now I’ll read a lot!” That didn’t happen.

Of late, I’ve discovered something – if I can pick up a book with a good font and just devote every evening to it, I’ll get through it. I read James Michener’s Poland like that recently. It was just me and the book every evening after work. It irritated everyone around me, but I stuck to it and did finish it. I tried to do the same for “Bullet or the Ballot Box”, a book about the recent history of Nepal. But I had to return the library copy. I then realized that I must move on to eBooks. I found the ebook and did the same thing I did for Poland, this time on my phone. I got through the book and made extensive notes too.

Now, I’ve decided to tackle “War and Peace”. It’s a massive book. I know this not by the size of the book in my hand, but the number of chapters iBooks lists in the index. But I’m toiling through it, one line at a time. I read whenever I get the chance – travelling in the bus, waiting for someone or something, a few pages before I sleep.

I know I’ll get through this book too. It’ll be disjointed and broken. The experience will not be as character-building as the books in our childhood were – we used to read voraciously, swallowing ideas and notions whole. Now, it’ll be a miracle to just get through the book.

But here’s my suggestion to you – load up a book on your phone. Find eBooks or borrow them. Just don’t make the mistake of loading up a library. Make it one book at a time and read as much as you can, as often as you can. Suddenly, you’ll realize that you’d have gone through most of the book and the plot will be able to climax. That’s when you’ll thank yourself for taking this advice!

Cheers!
Nitin