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.