Like Cotton Candy?

Occasionally, I get to talk books with people who don’t write. Recently, I had an interesting conversation with someone about memorable books. She said often books are not memorable. They are like Cotton Candy. You eat it, you enjoy it, but then it is gone and it really doesn’t leave you wanting more. You don’t remember the story, you don’t remember the names of the characters, but while you read the book it entertained you enough that you continued reading until reaching the end. Then, like cotton candy, it’s over, done, gone, the sweetness of it nothing but a memory and one you quickly forget. 

This bothers me. No, not in a ‘this is so sad’ way or in an ‘I think I need a hard drink’ way. It bothers me because I look at writing as a highly criticized art form where hearts and souls are often poured into each word. It bothers me because, at the core of telling a story, you should want the reader to feel something, not just forget what he or she has read. You want them to laugh, cry, cringe, say “what the heck?” You want them to remember your words—not all of them, but the ones that have impact. You want them to say, “Dang, I need a cigarette.” You don’t want them to say, “eh, that was okay, but not enough so that I remember something about it.”

cotton-candy-497209_1920I hate the idea that someone can pick up a book, read it and just be done with it without so much as a thought given to what he or she just read. It’s like a passing moment in your life, like walking down the street and looking straight ahead, not turning your head to see what is on your right or left. Your eyes stay straight. You don’t turn to look at the person walking by you, or the car accident on the corner of Main Street or the homeless man asking for change, sir, can you spare a quarter? You don’t see the storefronts so you would never know there was a barber shop with a pole out in front covered in red, white and blue stripes, or a jewelry store with big wooden doors that appear uninviting, or the little coffee shop with the four tables set out along the edge of the sidewalk like a cafe, or the fact that there might be an adult store next to a Christian bookstore, and on the bookstore’s other side is a bar with all the finest liquors you can find. It’s a mindless walk that means nothing in the grand scheme of things. 

I think back to all the times I walked to school as a kid, first to the elementary school six blocks away, then the middle school that was about ten blocks away, then just up to the top of the hill where the bus came to take us to the high school. From first through fifth grade, I would make a left; from sixth through eight grade, I went straight for three blocks then made a right and went straight for about another six blocks or so; from ninth to twelfth grade, I stopped a the top of the block, leaned against the Hagins’ fence or the stop sign and read whatever book I had, unless someone was there with me. I remember these things because they were part of my life back then. But do I remember these things because I was attentive to my surroundings, or was it because I walked them every day of the school week? Was each day nothing but a bit of cotton candy that I regurgitated up the next day and ate it all over again? Of course not. I paid attention to my surroundings, to the mean dog six houses up from ours, to the pretty woman with the dark hair and green eyes who always waved, to the cop who lived three house from the top of the block. I paid attention. I absorbed my surroundings and I remember them, even to this day.

I reckon this bothers me so much because, as a writer I tell stories I want you to feel and I know how hard it is to do that, to move someone’s heart in any direction. 

I guess the concept of a story being like cotton candy, enjoyable for a second but then forgotten, is tantamount to someone saying ‘meh,’ or shrugging to anything. Was it good? Meh. Did you like the story? Shrug. What did you think of it? Meh. Would you like some cotton candy? Shrug. I guess. 

I guess? Meh. Shrug.

I can only shake my head to this. 

Maybe I’m reading too much into this. Maybe I’m so close to the subject of writing being an art form that hearing someone say they read a book through to the end but couldn’t tell you anything about it, not even one of the characters’ names, is disturbing. 

Then I really started thinking about it. How many books have I not finished in my lifetime? A few. How many books have I started reading, gotten bored with, then put them away? Yes, a few. How many of these books do I remember? Umm … not many. Are those books like meals I didn’t like, so I didn’t finish them? Those books didn’t even make it to cotton candy status. Does that mean the cotton candy books are better? At least with those, you actually finish the meal, right? You were entertained for a minute, right?

Cotton candy is pretty much air and sugar, nothing of substance. Is that what you want in a book? A bunch of air and sugar and nothing of substance? I can’t get behind that thought. I do not want a cotton candy story. I don’t want to write one. I don’t want to read one. I want to read a story with some substance, something that will leave a taste in my mouth, good or bad, just not indifferent. I want a four course meal that I can tell others, hey, you need to try this four course meal. Don’t settle for cotton candy. Don’t settle for a meal you don’t like, and either throw it out or finish it anyway. You deserve better. 

Now, I ask you, my faithful readers, have you ever read a story that was like cotton candy to you? If so, how do you feel about it? Thank you for answering and I look forward to hearing from you. Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.


A Little Bookstore

When I was a child Sunday’s were lazy days. Most stores were closed. If you didn’t get your groceries during the week, you were mostly out of luck. You certainly couldn’t get alcohol on Sundays. For us, Sunday meant watching football, playing outside and reading, the reading being the chief pass time.

ithink-thereshould-be-a-toidaydedcated-to-reading-book-s-everyone-23441056My parents piled us into the car on Sunday afternoons and took us to this little book store out on Edmund Highway. It didn’t look like much—a small building that could have passed for a convenience store minus the glass windows in the front. It was owned by a couple who I only knew as Al and Laura. To get an idea of who they were, when I think of Al I think of Edward Hermann. Laura always reminded me of a white Uhura from Star Trek. Both of them were very nice.

Al and Laura didn’t peddle new books, they sold used books, which made the prices cheap, cheap, cheap. They had a great return policy also: you bring in a book, you get a credit toward other books. Each Sunday we gathered our books and comic books and turned them in. Then we used the credit to purchase more. In essence, it was a trade in system. There was a nice little perk to it: if you didn’t have money, all you had to do was trade in a book or two and you could get a book or two in return and not spend a dime.

Mom and Dad looked through the novels and my older brother and I always headed to the back where they kept the comic books. Dad always told us how much credit we received for our comics and we would pick out the same amount worth (with the occasional little bit over when we had extra money). I was into the vampire and horror based comics. I can’t remember what my brother was into. 

After checking out, we headed home and spent most of the rest of the day reading comics (and later, novels). Sometimes, if we wanted to be nice to each other, me and my brother traded comics.

Going to Al and Laura’s store was something I looked forward to each week. I was always disappointed when we didn’t go. It’s a slice of my childhood I would love to revisit. 

Al has since passed and I’m not sure if Laura is still alive. The store is long gone, taking with it one of the joys of my childhood.

onebcToday, a lot of the old bookstores are gone. The brick and mortar places have given way to the digital era. There aren’t many Mom and Pop stores like Al and Laura’s, and I don’t know of any system like theirs: bring a book, get a book in return.

When we were kids, our parents had us reading, if not during the week, then every Sunday. Those lazy afternoons are where my imagination got its exorcise, where my love for scary literature was cultivated. 

The reading population is dwindling, and as a writer, that’s a sad thing. It’s even sadder to hear, ‘I love to read, but I don’t have the time.’ Don’t have time to read? This is the world we live in. We read every Sunday for hours at a time. 

I enjoy reading. I enjoy dipping into someone else’s world. I enjoy the harmony of words, the beauty of a well-written story, the coming to life of characters. I owe that to my parents and Al and Laura, the owners of a little book store on Edmund Highway. Today, I want to encourage you to stop at some point during the day (or maybe just on Sunday afternoons), grab a book, sit and read. Let yourself relax—the world will still be there when you finish. 

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.