Struggling to Read

The road to developing a habit

Photo by Craventure Media on Unsplash

My sister and I huddle in the backseat as our mom drives us home from Atlanta in the dark. The narrator on the audiotape borders shock and panic as he details blood seeping out from underneath a locked closet door that he’s been unable to open in his new home on the side of a canyon. And out of nowhe — “HOWWWOOOOOOOWWWWW” — shrieks a monster hidden inside. The door begins to creak open as the dark figure, with it’s arms drawn across it’s chest and it’s mouth in a twisted rictus, stares back at the narrator. The audiotape was The House in Cypress Canyon, by Robert L. Richards, and the reality was that I was hooked on horror.

Otherworldly Introductions

Science Fiction

I fell in love with horror and sci-fi at an early age. My introduction to both genre’s came during a family trip to visit my grandmom in Atlanta. It was a six hour trip from our house to hers, and on the trip up my mom decided to put on Ray Bradbury’s Dark They Were and Golden Eyed.

I know she wasn’t trying to change my life by playing this audiotape, I think it was more along the lines of trying to get me and my sister to stop bickering, but her simple action had more of an effect than she would ever know (until she reads this, of course).

Before long, I forgot about my seat belt holding me down — possibly more important, arguing with my sister — and I was lifted off to Mars to watch Bradbury’s story unfold.

I don’t remember much else from the drive up, other than being in awe for a few hours during my first sci-fi experience. All I knew was that while I was off on Mars, the miles were flying by under my seat, and the next thing I knew, we were in Atlanta. Though I would have been incapable of describing it as such with my six year old brain at the time, a seed had been planted, and from here on out I would have an insatiable desire to absorb anything science fiction that came my way.

Horror

As for the horror, I got a taste for that on the return trip in the form of a 1946 radio show called — cue the needle dropping on the record followed by tinny suspenseful music — “Suspense!” I can still hear that introduction when I think about it thirty some years later.

My mom owned the box set of these tapes, and I couldn’t be more thankful. On this week’s episode of Suspense was The House In Cypress Canyon, a story about a couple moving into a new house on the edge of a canyon. There are many things off about this house, and during the story the new homeowners get a bit more than they paid for.

At two or three particular parts during the tape, I remember jumping out of my seat because of the intense volume change where the “monster,” who may or may not be one of the new homeowners, howls like a werewolf and breaks the tension. My heart was racing, and once again, I felt as if I were in this house and the story was happening to me. I was terrified, and loving it.

Picking Up and Putting Down

It wasn’t long after the trip to Atlanta that I picked up my first “scary” book, whatever you call horror for children; chorror? Goosebumps, by R.L. Stine, was my next addiction. I wasn’t one of those kids who could just read for thirty minutes and put a book down, I would sit for hours, and start to finish a book, given the books were easy to read, and rather short.

Life gets in the way

However, after flying through the Goosebumps books, I didn’t read for a while. I was going into middle school at this point, and sports, friends, and girls were taking over most of my daylight hours. At night I had to do homework, and was forced to read things I absolutely hated. School had a tremendously negative effect on my reading for a long time before and after middle school. I couldn’t get interested in any of my assigned readings, and was only capable of reading a paragraph or two before my conscious mind checked out.

Photo by Teslariu Mihai on Unsplash

Every summer I had a list of books I was assigned to read but, they might as well have been different types of torture I had to endure. Sure, I read the books, but I didn’t retain anything, my senses weren’t alive while reading. I was a zombie whose eyes were just scanning from right to left, and top to bottom.

Fate gets in the way

I didn’t start reading with my conscious brain again until eighth or ninth grade when two of our required readings were Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck, and 1984, by George Orwell. These books restored my faith in finding entertainment on a page. I had once again fallen in love with reading.

A strange thing happened to me when I was coming to the end of Of Mice and Men; liquid was running down my face from my eyes! At the time, in my 12 or 13 seemingly long years on this Earth, an event such as this had never happened before, and at this point I realized how much power could lay on a page.

I was old enough at this point to realize that these were just stories people dreamed up, and I was thankful that they were required readings, otherwise I don’t know if I would’ve gotten to them on my own.

I then started reading the Resident Evil books, by S.D. Perry on my own. I loved the way Perry described the world, the monsters, and the way the suspense begged you to turn each page as a reader. However, this stretch of reading didn’t last too long either. Skateboarding and girls had entirely taken over my life. Required readings were once again the bane of my existence.

The Habit Forms

It wouldn’t be until I was in my mid-twenties that I would start, and continue to read in my free time. I have my mom to thank for this new uptick in reading. She recommended I read some books by Greg Iles.

I hadn’t read a book from cover to cover since dropping out of college (for the second time at this point), and figured I’d give it another go. I started reading The Devil’s Punch Bowl, the first crime thriller I ever read, and I couldn’t put it down. I couldn’t get enough Penn Cage, the main character in a good few of Iles’s books. Iles quickly became one of my favorite authors.

It wasn’t long before I fell into the wonderful niche of horror comedy books. I started reading John Die’s at the End, by David Wong, and it was the first time a book hooked me by making me laugh while keeping me intrigued through its suspenseful thrills. This book has been turned into a series, with the fourth book set to come out a little later this year. The second book in the series, This Book is Full of Spiders, is an absolute favorite of mine.

Recommendations

Tales From the Gas Station, by Jack Townsend, and The Last Days of Jack Sparks, by Jason Arnopp, are two more books in the horror comedy genre that I can’t go without mentioning.

If you haven’t read any horror as of yet, Stephen King goes without saying. IT, The Stand, The Shining, Salem’s Lot, The Outsider, 11/22/63, and Duma Key, are some of my favorites.

If you like fantasy Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy is amazing. The way the physics of magic is broken down is just incredible.

If you liked the Mistborn series, then I can’t recommend The Wheel Of Time series by Robert Jordan any more highly. I’m currently on the fifth book in the series, and am putting off watching the show as long as possible to avoid spoilers (even though I don’t think the first season will extend to the fifth book).

Reader beware, there are 14 books in this series, so you’re in for the long haul should you begin investing your time here. But, Brandon Sanderson started co-writing with Jordan, and actually wrote the last three books in the series after Jordan’s passing. If you like one of these authors, it is inevitable that you will like the other.

Happy Reading!

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Mike Stanley

Mike Stanley

Dragging myself through this journey by the ink in my pen and the life in my limbs. As a wise man once said, “this is how my bio ends.”