Some say I have a vivid imagination. Maybe it comes from reading so many fantasy books, my favorite pastime. My brain is loaded with images of all kinds and they swirl around actively seeking an outlet. Recently one product of all this mental stimulation is the dream of a tropical vacation on a faraway isle. I see the palm trees swaying in the gentle breeze below a clear blue sky. Nearby swimmers are playing in the sea among the white-crested waves. A few surfers are attempting to mount their boards, but the waves are too small and they are patiently waiting for larger ones. Families are perched in beach chairs sipping on tropical drinks from the nearby tiki beach bar. Carved wooden animals grace its front and people are also sitting on stools eating yummy snacks. There is an assortment of people doing various things like playing beach volley ball or just catch. Parents are applying sunscreen as the sun is intense and hot.

Any tropical destination is simply beautiful. Tahiti, Hawaii, you name it. They are rife with thick green foliage and colorful flowers. You simply must wear one in your hair as you walk around the small villages that are typical in island locations. There is plenty of local color to observe. Meanwhile the great resorts of the world offer amenities galore so you can be pampered while you also explore. It is relaxing and stimulating all at the same time. A tropical vacation beckons to me.

However, I have a limited budget. I have saved up enough to take this vacation one time, but I have also been dreaming about putting a swimming pool in the back yard. While a vacation comes and goes, a swimming pool is forever. It is there for you every day. I could decorate the covered patio to look like a tropical paradise. Some flowers in pots, some sea shells strewn about, and a bit of fisherman’s netting all would make it a special place. So what to do? The vacation or the pool. Your fantasy dream of the beach and your toes in the soft, warm sand or swimming laps by moonlight. On my budget, I have to make a choice and it won’t be easy. I weigh the pros and cons. I want both and I know I can’t have it. So I let myself ponder for a few days and arrive at my final decision. I will go for an above ground pool.

It is expensive indeed and will take most of my vacation budget. It will also require maintenance and supervision when kids are invited over. My tropical aspirations have died. But a pool is a locus of fun activities for the whole family and neighborhood. I will get a lot of on-going pleasure from owning one. I like to swim and was a water baby as a child so it is not surprising that I opted for the large above ground pool. No kiddie pool for me at my stage in life.

An avid reader will find any and all places to indulge. I am seldom without a book of some type. It can be light and fun summer reading such as the kind you would take to the beach, or it can be a weighty tome for times when you are off by yourself at home. For vacations, I tend to opt for lighter fare that doesn’t mind a few distractions nearby. When you are basking in the sun and enjoying the warmth of the sand at the beach, it is a great time to pick up that book you have been neglecting. No matter the screaming kids nearby. And then there is the crushingly glorious sound of crashing waves. People are scurrying about trying to get some shade and are putting up their beach umbrellas for protection.

Given that reading is not ideal with too much sun glare, I also want my own umbrella to sit under to enjoy my book in the shade. I look around and see many kinds large and small. Some are metal in construction and some basic wood. I don’t care. I want it to be easy to erect and just as easy to take down. It can’t be too heavy as I have to tote it along with my ice chest and towel. I don’t want to risk twisting my wrist in the process. They now make lightweight umbrellas if you don’t mind not having a vast amount of shade. They are big enough to cover your limbs and maybe your lunch.

I saw a mother struggling with an umbrella while two unruly kids sat by watching intently. Each child wanted to grab another end of the thing and they kept pulling it apart. There was a lot of squawking going on. Each child has his own agenda. The mother was practically in tears. The kids were being exposed to the sun and kept bemoaning the fact that they had no sunscreen. I saw no progress being made. I was sure that the umbrella wasn’t sturdy enough to withstand this onslaught and sure enough it came apart. I heard a loud disconcerting rip. Then the kids tried to poke the fabric back in place. They bent the wire spokes into all kinds of uncompromising directions. This umbrella was not long for this world.

Not long after this scene, the lifeguard came to the rescue. He seemed to appear out of nowhere. But he brandished a large yellow umbrella that he placed strategically over the mother with one deft movement of his left hand. Where did it come from? Inside his little hut? No matter. The problem was solved. The kids scrambled to get under and it was just big enough to accommodate them. The mother started to open the sacks of lunch she had brought and placed sandwiches on the towel beneath the umbrella. Thermoses of lemonade were next. She offered me a glass, knowing I had patiently witnessed this trying scene. As for me, I was firmly ensconced under my umbrella, happy as a clam.

There is nothing worse than book damage due to mold from excess humidity. Those who live in certain climates are particularly prone to this problem. If you have ever been to New Orleans or the Midwest in the summer, you know what I mean. In any case, any book lover will squirm when you mention this plight. Most people don’t do much in the way of protection for valuable tomes and thus some valuable and beloved books become harmed. Collectors, budding or veteran, need to know the ropes when it comes to preventing loss to one’s precious collection. A dehumidifier is most definitely in order.

I, myself, have had this problem and have had to toss away more than one favorite read. It pains me to do so and I usually struggle to find an instant replacement. This takes considerable time, which is not always available. I hate to see my book accumulation in decline and I lament every speck of mold. It took me a while to tune into a solution in the form of a simple appliance. Let me tell you how.

A dehumidifier basically removes excess moisture from the air, known to cause foxing of paper and other sorts of significant mold damage. It cannot be repaired. You either live with it and accept the devaluation of the item, or you prevent it ahead of time, the preferred approach. You can’t be too vigilant with artwork either. It undergoes the same transformation as do rate books. Prints and original works on paper can succumb to moisture overtime, even if the art is framed. It has nothing to do with the age of collectibles. It will simply happen when moisture exists a great deal of the time.

Out comes the dehumidifier in the museum and rare book shop. Curators and entrepreneurs know how to preserve value by plugging in this trusty device. A lot of money is saved by using basic principles of conservation. You may feel out of your element in selecting a good one, but it can be done quickly online. You can ask the professionals by phone or email, or go to reputable sites on the Internet like Humidity Helper and read the descriptions and reviews.

You will find various styles and sizes at every price point within the average range. Depending upon the size of your room and the types of objects in question, you will make a choice. If you have a budget, you needn’t worry. The low cost of a unit may not indicate its quality, only its capacity. Mold, allergens, and mildew be gone! People who store books in basements are particularly prone. On top of a monetary loss from humidity damage, there is also the matter of personal health. Some models also are effective in reducing or eliminating telltale odors.

So take a tip from this blog and get yourself an acceptable dehumidifier if you are a fellow traveler in the book sphere. You will save yourself a lot of grief-and money!

It’s time to fix up the place and do a little light remodeling at home. My spare room is a would-be office and this is where my renovation focus will be. I have boxes of books sitting in the garage that need a new and cleaner home. In short, I want to get a handyman over soon to build some bookcases right into the wall. I have one large one with no window or door. I have made a few sketches but need a more professional hand to arrange the right proportions and add a few custom touches. I would love a pull out shelf that can serve as a modest computer desk and a cupboard or two for storage.

I am also thinking of adding a small gun safe into these cool built ins. After all, it is an all-purpose unit, isn’t it? Are you surprised? Yes, I am considering a weapon, a wee pistol, for protection. There have been a few in–home burglaries lately and I don’t live in a security building. I am getting more and more nervous these days about the negative statistics. It seems to be getting closer to home. I have queried my friends and they all have the same complaint. It doesn’t matter if it is a good or bad neighborhood. The crime problem is the same. Day or night, thieves are on the prowl.

So a gun there will be. According to the law, I have to house this weapon safely in a true gun safe. I suppose they are all made of metal and offer fire, corrosion, rust, and water protection. The gun will not be accessible for little child-like hands or robbers. While the unit will be visible, it will also have a false wooden front. I don’t want it to be that obvious! Mmm. Maybe it is a good deterrent.

So I am pretty excited about an entire wall for practical purposes. It will address all of my needs, but mostly the space issue for hundreds of books. Yes, I am an avid reader and I keep everything I have perused. I do loan out books and also get some in return. It is kind of a personal library of sorts and I am proud of it. This wall unit will be worth its weight in gold if it can house everything effectively.

I decided that a built-in desk would safe space in the room so I could also have a daybed for guests and maybe a small chest of drawers. A computer station is usually unsightly in any case and I don’t relish its plastic essence at home. They don’t make nice ones in my opinion except for a real office. My wall unit will do double duty in practical ways. And I don’t think it is going to cost all that much. I will use prefab planks of wood that are already nicely painted or stained and some metal brackets. Once the books are in, the whole thing will have a coherent look.

Food & Wine graces my coffee table alongside Wine Spectator. There are others, but these are my favorites in which I get the latest, greatest wine reviews. They cover the gamut to satisfy any aficionado, and recently there was a bonus. One of these illustrious gourmet magazines featured wine coolers as well, so now I am up to speed on proper refrigeration. I expect that a new wine cooler is going to come on premises soon. They give all the specs, prices, brands, and measurements. Along with online reviews, I can’t go wrong.

I am not only passionate about wine for entertaining, but also for myself – for relaxing and sipping, especially when curled up with a good book. I have enough of a collection to merit a wine fridge of my own so I can unburden my regular one as soon as possible. Wine can take up a lot of space. Plus, it needs temperature control, which you don’t get with the family fridge. Using the reviews I have been reading, I am going to select dual digital control, a 32 bottle capacity, stainless steel design, interior lighting, noise and vibration free operation, and more. It’s going to run at least three hundred dollars. It is going to make a big difference in how long I have to wait to uncork my beverage. Red line likes to breathe at room temperature!

As a reader, I have a certain perspective on what is important in life. Some people like to wine and dine, and that’s commendable; but for me, it is all about dine and read. Yes, I combine the best of both worlds and couldn’t be happier. The wine fridge has its place in my home just as my shelves of books occupy vital space. It is a marriage of convenience and love. Both count for a lot of personal contentment during my leisure time. Neither gets short shrift.

Do I just drink any wine within reach? Not so. I feel that certain wines go with certain books. You don’t pair a white with a heavy tome like The Red and the Black. You don’t drink red with books you would read on the beach during vacation. There is a bit of an art to it. Light fare such as Nicholas Sparks speaks for itself. When you delve into literature, you can get selective. The Hunger Games? Not sure. I would go with red since it is an intense story. How about historical fiction? If you are reading up on Napoleon, the Civil War, or the Great Depression—why not red as well. For The Secret Garden, go white. You can have a lot of fun debating the book/wine pairing idea with friends who share your passion.

You can spark up some pretty intense conversations with strangers on this subject, so it is a great way to socialize and make new friends. You can then invite them over to sample any of your special selections. Meanwhile you have a lot ahead of you if you have a significant book collection and want to start the pairings in advance.

Do you ever look in the store or online and see a great bookshelf and think, god, I want that! And then you see the price and it’s—nevermind! Why are bookcases so expensive? Half the time, they aren’t even made out of real wood. My old bookcase is bursting at the seams, so I had to do something. I mentioned to my dad that I liked the look of built-in bookcases and you know how the daddies of girls are—that was all he needed to hear. Really, I think he wanted to spend some time together and have an excuse to use all those expensive tools he keeps in the garage. Either way, though, I was in.

I showed him the shelving units I liked best and he picked two tall bookcases with a kind of entertainment center in the middle I can put my TV on. It would be the easiest to build, he said. We used to do things together like this when I was little; we built our old dog, Lucy, an impressive dog house years ago. My dad ordered the wood and we set a weekend aside to get the actual work done.

My dad cut the wood because he is much better at the saw than I am. Then he brought it to my place and we sanded and painted everything white. You might think that’s boring but it is actually the color of my walls, so the bookcases blend in very nicely.

That took us about the whole first day.

The next day he came over with a nail gun and an air compressor to run it. I thought that sounded way better than swinging a hammer all day long. He’s got this little “hot dog” air compressor (He used to have a different one, so I asked him what kind this was as he was lugging it into the house, and that’s what he told me. It definitely made it seem cute) that very nicely attaches to his pneumatic nail gun. It only took a minute for the compressor to get up and running. My dad warned me that it might seem loud, but we were actually talking while it was running and I could hear him just fine. I liked that it ran on electricity—his old one was gas powered and it had to be outside. We were able to get all the nails in pretty quickly so that the bookcase assembled like a dream. I really liked it. I think if I decide to do more assembly projects like this, I might get my own air compressor and nail gun!

Now I have both a great, custom-made dream storage unit and I got to spend time with my dad. Definitely a win-win.

What do you think? Have you ever made something like this? Would you use manual tools or do something like we did, a pneumatic nail gun and an air compressor?

The Rise of Novels in General

The Rise of Novels in General

I’m often in a position where I feel that I need to defend YA fiction in general. Sometimes, it helps to take things out of their current historical context in order to really see the big picture. People should look at the history of the novel in general. One hundred fifty years ago, novels were actually considered lowbrow entertainment in general. The term ‘lowbrow’ actually comes from the nineteenth century pseudoscience of phrenology, which should tell you everything you need to know about the accuracy of this idea. Novels were primarily read and written by women during the nineteenth century, and the misogynistic men of the day would talk about what inferior forms of art they were, and how they were destroying the brains of anyone who read them. Basically they said the same things that people say about YA entertainment today.

When Charles Dickens and similar white male writers arrived on the scene, suddenly novels were regarded as respectable. It still took a little time, and the idea that novels were an inferior form on entertainment persisted into the twentieth century. Today, it is a belief that is so out-dated that people won’t always believe you when you tell them that it used to be something of a popular belief. It is possible that the exact same thing is going to happen to the YA fiction that people regard as so pedestrian today.

However, this negative perception has never stopped me or any of the other adults that I know from reading what we wanted to read and liking what we wanted to like. If what you like doesn’t hurt anyone else, I think you should be able to like anything and everything that you like, and you shouldn’t try to let other people take your enjoyment away from you.

The idea that reading makes you smarter is something that almost everyone has heard over and over again growing up, which is why a lot of people scoff at the idea. However, in this case, our moms were definitely right. You also don’t have to read technical manuals for fun to get all of the benefits of reading, either. You can read fiction that you actually enjoy, and you’ll still get the benefits of reading.

When you read, you are literally translating the text into images and into other sensory details. You are trying to imagine the images in your head. Words are just patterns of marks on the page. You are mentally processing all of these patterns, which will help with your pattern recognition skills. However, when it comes to fiction, it sometimes goes even further than that.

When you read fiction, you are getting a glimpse into the contents of someone else’s mind. The writer has created a new world for you to explore, and you are imagining that world and projecting yourself into it in many different ways. You are trying to understand the protagonist of the novel in many different ways, and that requires analyzing his or her interior monologue contents and his or her actions, and trying to develop a mental model of this person as a result.

Socializing in general actually helps exercise your brain a lot, contrary to popular belief. Other people’s ideas and personality traits are going to challenge you mentally. While a lot of people think of reading as the sort of thing that primarily introverts do, when you read a work of fiction, you really are interacting with someone socially. You are interacting with their ideas. You are spending time in a world full of characters that they have created. You are getting to look inside their heads, to a certain extent, in addition to looking inside the heads of the characters that they have created. You get all of the cognitive benefits of socializing, in addition to all of the cognitive benefits of reading through pattern recognition and translating the text of a book into images and feelings inside your own mind.

Obviously, some books are going to be more mentally stimulating and challenging than others. Books full of sentences that are long and that have long words are going to be more cognitively stimulating than the books that have short, simple sentences. Books that are full of surprising turns of events and books that keep you guessing are going to exercise your brain more than books that seem so predictable that you will feel as if you already read them before you even start reading. However, even those books are going to stimulate your brain more than a lot of other activities.

If you’re like me and you spend a lot of time writing about the books you read and analyzing the characters, themes, and plot devices, you’re going to stimulate your brain even when you’re not actually reading the book. Writing is an active process, and analysis is a particularly active process that often requires you to use a lot of your brain in the process of going about it.

The Message of Labyrinth

The Message of Labyrinth

I love Labyrinth for the sheer strangeness of everything that happens. A lot of fantasy worlds seem to be copying one another over and over again, which means that it can be kind of hard to surprise fans of fantasy. Labyrinth has a truly bizarre concept and a truly bizarre world, which would make it at least somewhat interesting even if it had nothing else going for it at all. However, Labyrinth actually has a fascinating theme that should be relevant to a lot of fantasy fans.

Almost all of the fans of Labyrinth that I talk to are women, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. We’re also not just there for David Bowie. I’m actually not all that into David Bowie, personally, as a musician or as anything else. I do think that he did a great job in this movie, though. He was perfect in the role of the villainous goblin king. There aren’t too many films in general that have female protagonists going on complicated journeys in order to save people or grow and change themselves, and that’s what we have here.

Our protagonist, Sarah, is a teenage girl who seems to be stuck in childhood fantasies and seems to be having a difficult time managing her hobbies and her responsibilities. I think that’s a situation that a lot of us geeks can relate to, regardless of gender. I like the way this film explores that message by actually transporting Sarah into the fantasy world of her dreams. We all have fun hanging out in certain fictional universes, even if they’re full of curses and violence and all sorts of other things we would never want to encounter in real life. Well, Sarah does encounter them in her real life now, which completely changes the context of everything.

A comforting fantasy becomes frightening and horrifying. She risks losing her baby brother to the Goblin King, and possibly losing her own life in the process. The setup allows Sarah to realize the importance of her real life and all of the people in it, as well as the importance of the fantasy. What I liked though is that the movie didn’t end on a note about adults having to give up fantasy fiction or geeky things, which is what you would expect from a movie like this, especially given the time period.

At the end, when Sarah has triumphed over the Goblin King, all of the fantasy friends that she made while in the Labyrinth talk about how they’ll always be there for her when they’re needed. As such, the message is more about balancing one’s fantasy life with one’s real life, as opposed to giving up one’s fantasy life entirely. I think that’s a good message, and one that will appeal more to modern geeks than a lot of the other stuff about geeks from the films of the 1980s. Geek culture was very much stigmatized in the 1980s, which can be hard for us younger Gen-Y people to remember. We got to live in the world in which the nerds won, and we missed out on most of the battle. Lots of 1980s movies look like sad relics as a result. Labyrinth avoided falling into that trap, which helps make it one of my favorite movies.

Some people have criticized Jennifer Connelly’s acting in the movie. She definitely has improved over the years, and she does have some pretty weak moments as Sarah here and there. However, it isn’t anywhere near enough to really damage the movie. Sarah is still a protagonist that you can relate to, even if some of her mannerisms seem a little artificial at times. Jim Henson’s puppetry is just fantastic in this movie, and it really helps to show off all of his talents. Some people would say that the puppetry dates the movie, but personally, I really think that a lot of the puppets look more realistic than a lot of the CGI that people use today. CGI from the 1990s often already looks dated, and I think Jim Henson’s puppets hold up better. I think modern fantasy fans would still love Labyrinth.

Labyrinth Versus Modern Fantasy Movies

Labyrinth Versus Modern Fantasy Movies

Labyrinth is still one of my all-time favorite movies. It came out before I was born, but that still hasn’t stopped me from loving it even more than a lot of the more recent movies that have come out since then in the exact same genre. Labyrinth was made during a time period in which you could have a fantasy movie that wasn’t some big, epic showdown involving the forces of good versus evil in the manner of Lord of the Rings.

Don’t get me wrong: I like Lord of the Rings as much as anyone else. Having said that, this formula has been repeated time and time again with a lot of other movies and stories that aren’t anywhere near as good as the Lord of the Rings, which is why I wish it wasn’t the default way in which fantasy stories were told. Plus, it just gets really formulaic and boring after a while. We almost always know who the bad guy is going to be, and there’s no moral ambiguity at all. A lot of the time, I barely feel any connection to the characters who are onscreen, which makes it really hard to care about anything that’s going on up there at all. A lot of the time, it just feels like the whole movie was just an excuse for an action scene that never seems to end. Anyone who is sick of movies like that should definitely try 1986’s Labyrinth, which is like the anti-modern fantasy movie.

Labyrinth benefited from its era in some ways. Sure, some people are going to make fun of some of the style choices involved with the movie. David Bowie has the kind of hair that didn’t look out of place in a 1980s movie, but would look more out of place in a movie today. I think it fits well with the setting, but opinions are going to vary. Still though, fantasy movies were really niche back then. Studios didn’t expect them to be huge moneymakers one way or another, so they didn’t feel any great need to try to make sure that they would appeal to absolutely everyone. In practice, this almost always means trying to appeal to young guys as much as possible, since Hollywood only sporadically remembers that women exist.

Lord of the Rings barely has any female characters at all, and they all tend to be developed in relation to the male characters onscreen. Most of the other epic fantasy stories that you will see onscreen will have the exact same flaw, which is going to alienate a good portion of the audience. Don’t get me wrong: I still like a good portion of these stories. I just wish that more of them tried to appeal to women. Telling pretty much the exact same story but making the protagonist a woman would go a long way, which is what the Hunger Games franchise has helped demonstrate. A lot of Hollywood executives still seem to think that series like the Hunger Games are the exception, rather than the norm. I only hope this situation changes, or movies like the Hunger Games series and Labyrinth will continue to be made sporadically.

I can be rapt while reading a really good book. I can be blown away. Really taken in by a compelling story. I don’t want to stop. I can drift off into another world and forget the daily grind and nagging chores. I can especially forget the housecleaning that is begging to be done. Take a look around my room and you will see. There are things everywhere. Maybe that is where they are meant to be! Then I can find them in my own way on my own time.

I appreciate a well-written tome, one that grabs me right from the start with good writing and an exciting story. There is nothing better to get you out of your narrow little world. If it is non-fiction, I luxuriate in what I can learn. It makes me want to put off the vacuuming that really should be done before I fall into a pile of dust, never to reappear again. A little of the powdery stuff never killed anyone, unless you have bad allergies, which I don’t. My friend Janine, on the other hand, has spent hundreds of dollars buying a special vacuum cleaner for allergies, to remove and filter out all of the nasties that hide in the layers of her carpet so that she doesn’t suffer from hay fever the moment she steps in the front door of her apartment.

My imagination might be running away with me, but face it, books have more to tell than the act of cleaning, as vital as it might be. They have more to tell than any practical task. Besides, I don’t mind the mess. In fact, I can ignore quite well. I like to lift a finger only to turn a page, or if I am on Kindle, to click to the next one. Any format will do as long as I can read…

If you don’t have the reading bug, take it from me, you will love it. There is no end to what you can choose. It doesn’t have to be what is popular or what your friends like. It is up to you what, when, why, and how you will indulge. Reading will become your lifelong friend and companion when nothing else will do. It is there at virtually no cost and can be approached once again when the mood moves you. As for me, I collect and save my books, but I may not share lest someone forget to return the favor! Not everyone is respectful of others property, even if it is digital.

So here I sit with a cup of mocha latte, a few biscuits, and my favorite book of the moment. I can go on for hours this way with few breaks. Come laundry day, you can find me shoving clothes in the dryer, but that’s it. And it is by necessity. As for the carpet, well, what about it?

It is easy to ignore the mess when you like to read. Some books you can’t put down; they are that good. Some things can wait and some can’t. You choose. As for me, the books win every time there is a war between a good read and a household chore. Yes, I can ignore the mess.

I’m out of my teens, but I still like to read the books that are marked as YA. There’s a minor stigma attached to doing so in today’s society, and I really don’t think that that should be the case for anyone. One of the main reasons why I still read YA books is the simple fact that a lot of these stories are simply good stories. I don’t really care that much if something is a YA book if it is a good book with good characters and good themes.

A lot of the best YA fiction that I ever read was written well after my teenage years. In other cases, I just hadn’t heard of the stories back then. It’s easier to learn about older books these days in the Web 2.0 years. When I was still a teen, you were pretty much at the mercy of what your local bookstore had to offer. Online shopping just wasn’t as big back then. Feeling like these books are completely off-limits to me now feels like an act of deprivation, and that’s just not the way in which I want to live.

Honestly, some of the books aimed at adults are pretty simplistic in terms of their prose style, characters, and themes. They just get marketed towards adults because the subject matter is going to be too inappropriate for teenage readers. We all know that ‘adult’ tends to be used as a synonym for ‘lewd content’ as opposed to a synonym for ‘sophisticated.’ Finding less lewd material in books is honestly a good thing by my standards, so that’s just another point in YA’s favor.

It is true that plenty of popular YA books really are very bad in terms of the values that they portray, the literary quality, and the quality of the characterization. However, that just means that it’s really important to find the good stuff when you’re actually on the lookout for new YA novels. It’s pretty easy to do that nowadays, especially since many people will write blog posts on this topic almost exclusively nowadays. You can look at the Amazon reviews as well, and you can read the previews that Amazon has on hand. Finding the good stuff was harder even ten years ago, so it feels like people today have no excuse. You should be able to find the YA books that rise above the crowd, unless you’ve decided in advance that they just don’t exist.