How to Have True Dialogue on the Internet

“Should Roe v. Wade be overturned?,” was the question asked by one of my friends on Facebook the other day. Normally, I would have scrolled on past, sure that if I were to weigh in, it would become a raging inferno of disagreement, insults, and hurt. The divisiveness of our country scares me, but for that very reason, I decided to engage, to “run toward the problem as a person of good will,” as Arthur Cooke said and I quoted in my last post. I decided to comment and ended up just conversing with someone on the other end of the abortion opinion spectrum, practicing the good internet communication skills I’ve been reading about.

You see, from what I can tell, that divisiveness is growing daily, fed by a windstorm of people who are all too willing to shout their opinions anonymously over the internet but not willing to listen, and a vacuum of people with strong opinions and loving hearts that desire peace, but who are unable or unequipped to speak up. What we need is dialogue, true dialogue, because we all share a democracy, and that dialogue only happens when people of all persuasions both speak their minds assertively, not aggressively, and listen actively.

It’s not that I think such dialogue will or even should make us all agree. I have no more hope of that happening than I do of my husband and I agreeing on everything 100% of the time. But at the least, we should all feel safe, connected, free to speak our opinions, eager to hear others’, and willing to do what needs to be done so that others feel the same way. At most, our federal and state laws and policies should reflect compromise, if not understanding. Our democracy, our families, neighborhoods, cities, communities, workplaces, and states are what we make of them.

But how does one create dialogue, especially around polarizing topics like abortion, on the internet? And to what end?

Think about how the internet started. It was just a few academicians who wanted their computers to talk to each other, to connect. Those two have been joined by millions more over the years. It organically grew from a simple desire to connect, and it does do that in many wonderful ways, like:

  • helping people find real-life love, through dating sites and apps
  • connecting people with resources they might not have known about otherwise
  • enabling families to stay in touch more easily and dynamically

Facebook, for instance, has given me the opportunity to connect in real life with friends I hadn’t seen in 30 years, and would have had no other way to find them without Facebook and friends connecting with friends. Without the internet, I wouldn’t have found certain support networks for mothers of kids with ADD and other disorders. I wouldn’t have been able to connect with thousands of other book aficionados in the #writingcommunity or with various agents and publishers on Twitter, or with other book reviewers and fans through #bookstagram on Instagram. And don’t even get me started on how helpful ordering my groceries online or Amazon is. I keep in touch with my parents and siblings across the country via Marco Polo. These are all things that would not be possible without the ubiquitous power of the internet.

But it has also enabled inflammatory and hurtful speech to spread so much more quickly and widely than anything else in human history. Joe Battaglia, author of Unfriended: Finding True Community in a Disconnected Culture, says:

The words "Unfriended: Finding True Community in a Disconnected Culture" in white and yellow over a blue background

“A spirit of unforgiveness has been unleashed in our land, and it’s consuming us. The internet fosters this spirit, and we must consider the alternative to extinguish this wildfire of the tongue before it burns our entire land with bitterness.” (see full review here and deal ($11.52 instead of $14.99 through Amazon) here.

And Patricia Wallace, author of The Psychology of the Internet, adds:

A head silhouette in a loose configuration of a globe, with internet cables attached to it.

Because people experience disinhibition on the internet and feel relatively free of serious adverse consequences because of physical distance and reduced accountability, they often use tactics that go far beyond what they might use in person.

Examples of these tactics include threats, name-calling, and harassment. Wallace attributes these actions to anonymity, which is “another potent ingredient in the internet mixture as it applies to aggression.”

Most Americans tend to agree with Battaglia and Wallace. Two surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2014 and 2018 reveal that while 88 percent of them feel like the internet has been a good thing for them personally, the percentage of people who feel like it’s been good for society as a whole went down by 6 percent over those four years.

You’d think, with how much we use the internet, and the plentiful opportunities for its negative use, that someone would’ve developed an authoritative manual for how to communicate in any one of its vast number of platforms, forums, channels, groups, sites, or platforms. Instead, given that there isn’t one and anonymity or false identity is possible if not prevalent, can successful, important dialogue take place on the internet?

Yes it can. Indeed, it should. There are, in fact, many books on good old-fashioned communication that can easily be applied to internet dialogue. I’ve quoted Crucial Conversations before, for instance. These are the guidelines they provide for having conversations about important topics, at least the guidelines that I feel apply to internet discourse especially.

  • Start with your heart: if you’re not good with yourself, when conversations become crucial, you’ll most likely resort to ineffective forms of communication, like defensiveness, debate, etc.
  • Realize that there are more options than agreeing or fighting, and say you’d like to find them together
  • Search for the elusive “And” by clarifying what you really want and don’t want, and asking what others want and don’t want. Look for overlap (i.e., things you have in common).
  • Make it safe: step out of the content enough to state that everyone’s views are respected, and everyone needs to brainstorm solutions or compromises.
  • Establish mutual purpose and respect: somewhere in that overlap is something you and whoever is arguing with you have in common, even if it’s only fairness. You need to want to get to know the other side or person well enough that you can at least understand what that is. And you need to not be afraid to say who you are and what you think is right.
  • If a misunderstanding arises in the conversation, which it will, contrast to fix it, meaning, for example, something like: “The last thing I want to do is say that I don’t value your opinion, because I do. I can see you really feel it’s important that_________. I also feel that ______ is important, but my view differs from yours in that________.”

Authors Roger Fisher and William Ury say, in their book Getting to Yes:

Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, (which you can get for $7.19 instead of $17 on Amazon) that everything in life is negotiation, whether we’re negotiating with our spouse about where to go to dinner or our child about when to go to bed, and it can be done, even when people are

  • rude,
  • accusatory, or
  • vehemently opposed.

Here’s how:

  • Never bargain over positions, because doing so tends to lock people into theirs.
  • Put yourself in their shoes.
  • Describe the problem in terms of its impact on you rather than what the other side/person is doing or saying. “I feel scared when…” as opposed to “You’re a racist.”

Like Patterson, et al., they also recommend focusing on people and what interests you have in common with them, no matter the situation. Easy enough to do in theory, but can it be done in practice?

Erica Simon, in her book You Deserve the Truth: Change the Stories that Shaped Your World and Build a World-Changing Life (very good book, by the way. Full review here. Deal here), says we need to change the stories we tell ourselves when they’re not working for us any more.

One of the things that isn’t working for me, that even scares me on a daily basis, is not only the fact that so many people die by guns every year, and that I worry about my kids being shot and dying while at school, but also, and perhaps more so, the fact that we can’t have sufficient dialogue in our country to find a way (a compromise?) to solve The Great American Gun Debate so that both sides are satisfied (i.e., everyone is safer AND gun rights are still protected). Let’s see if we can talk about this, hmmm, perhaps using the principles I talked about above?

More to come on that…

a three-dimensional hand reaching out of a computer screen and shaking another's hand

The Why’s and How’s of Dialogue in the Digital Age

Say you’re scrolling down your Twitter feed, and you come across someone spouting something particularly opinionated, rude, or derogatory. Just a quick scan of their post reveals that it’s about something you heartily disagree with, and/or is expressed in such a prejudicial way that you immediately scroll past it. You think, “Why should I engage with that person?,” especially if you’re on a platform where you don’t actually know the person in real life.

Worse yet, what if you post what you think is an innocuous comment in a Facebook group only to get lambasted by people calling you names?

Image by Concord90 on Pixabay

Or say you’re watching the news and a story about another mass public shooting comes on. You watch with a deadened heart, feeling incredibly sad but knowing without a doubt that, somehow, the same cycle of events will play out after this shooting as has played out around the many others before it: an outpouring of support for the victims and their families, a resurgence of the gun control/rights debate, and then a fading to nothing as that debate settles into a stalemate once again. So you change the channel or site you’re on, since it’s much easier to do that than dwell in the frustration, no matter which side you’re on. What can you do about it anyway?

How about if you’re a parent of a teenager who comes home from school and tells you that his friend has declared herself “pansexual,” and he asks what that is and what he should do about it. Basically, he wants to know what to think because he has little frame of reference for this, and how to navigate the already-complicated social labyrinth of high school with this additional facet incorporated. You google an easy way to explain the term, tell him to still be friends with her, give him a pat on the back and an “I know you’ll figure it out” statement of confidence, but inside you’re thinking: “I have no idea what to tell him. It’s not like I dealt with this a lot when I was in high school.”

What if I said to stop scrolling and engage, to finish watching that news story about the shooting and even think about it, or to explore ways to really help your teenager understand the dynamics of the society, at least as much as they can be understood? You’d probably say, “why?” Why should you try to understand someone else’s perspective if you’re never going to actually interact with them? Why should you try to learn more about the other side of the gun debate, or any debate for that matter, if you’ve got your mind made up, they’ve made up theirs, and no one’s ever going to change their mind or compromise? And certainly there’s no way to understand teenagers or high school and the new-ish world of LGBTQ, so there’s definitely no reason to try, and even less to help your teenager understand.

Image by geralt on Pixabay

While there’s definitely credence to the fact that teenagers and high school are hard to understand, even when you’re that age and at that level of education, there’s less credence to your resistance to engaging, learning, and helping (or rather, our resistance because everyone does it in some way or another). This isn’t to say we’re wrong or horrible people for doing so; that isn’t what this post is about at all. This IS to say that there may be more of a need to do so than you think, and ways to do so that you maybe haven’t thought about before. And, there might be more benefits to you that you hadn’t realized before.

“More of a need?” you say. “How can that be? More tools? Surely, if the tools existed to solve problems like shootings and the Great Gun Stalemate, someone would’ve figured out what they were and applied them already! And how on earth could there ever be any benefit to me for talking to that insensitive, close-minded brute on Twitter?”

To which I reply: “Most definitely, not even close, and unimaginable boons.”

So you shake your head and say to yourself: “She’s finally done it: she’s gone bonkers,” with your finger poised to close this tab and open Pinterest in another to search for no-bake cookie recipes that don’t dry out (an almost impossible quest, mind you).

Bear with me. I’m only partially crazy, I promise.

Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, says, “America’s problem today is not just anger; it’s contempt. Most people say that civility is the solution. I don’t. That’s too low of a standard. The solution is loving your enemies.” 

In fact, he has a book that just came out entitled exactly that: Love Your Enemies: How Decent People can Save America From the Culture of ContemptThink about that title. What’s your first reaction to it? Could it be somewhere along the lines of:

  • “Our government was shut down for a month. If that’s not a sign of contempt, I don’t know what is. If our president and congress can’t work things out, how is there any hope for the rest of us?”
  • “The contempt in America is so out of control, there’s no way decent people could save America.”
  • “I’m a decent person, but there’s no way I can sway the tide, let alone save the country.”

In an address given at the Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University in October of 2018, Dr. Brooks provided sound reasoning behind the need for decent people to try, and practical ideas for doing so. “The secret to healing our nation,” he said, “has to be related to the way we heal our relationships with each other.” In that respect, loving our enemies is less his admonition than a reminder of the same directive given to us by Jesus Christ in the Bible. In fact, one wonders if Jesus, even in his earthly guise, could see more than 2,000 years into the future, and give us exactly the piece of advice we need to straighten out the mess America currently finds itself in.

The fact that Arthur Brooks, like Jesus, doesn’t say “love your country” or “just be good and everything will work out,” but instead specifically names who we should love–our enemy–seems indicative, I think, of deep wisdom, at least on the part of Brooks, if not divine vision on the part of Jesus. The way we got into this mess is the depersonification of others, at least in part, by seeing other people as somehow less human than ourselves.

Dr. Brent Slife, a professor of Psychology at Brigham Young University, agrees. “People often avoid complications by abstracting other humans,” he writes in his book Frailty, Suffering, and Vice: Flourishing in the Face of Human Limitations, “insulating [them]selves from people who espouse different viewpoints” (113). “The cultural emphasis on individual separateness is part of the problem, [though]. The idea of individual separateness…paints the world as a resource “out there,” potentially available to meet our personal needs” (106). If one views the world and other people as “out there,” “other,” or just a way to meet one’s needs, then it follows that, if the world or the people in it don’t meet our needs in one way or another, it becomes more so.

One might even say, like Slife, that: “Commodification is the next logical step in this model of relationships” (106). But “commodifying people is another kind of self-inflicted wound because it makes it all the more difficult to form the special, committed, caring relationships we so clearly need.” (By the way, Frailty, Suffering, and Vice is available on Amazon for $20 off its normal price of $69.95 here. At $48.85, it’s an expensive book, but one that contains a lot of well-researched and fascinating truths. You’ll end up referring to it all the time, saying to yourself the whole time: “Yes, people do that! So true.)

So, to fix things, the first step is to see everyone as human, which means to realize that they, like us, have strengths, weaknesses, backstories, challenges, fears, opinions, hopes, disappointments, dreams, etc. Authors Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler, in their book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, say, in response to the question of why talk with them in the first place:

Say a friend said some things to you that most people might get upset over. In order for this person to be able to deliver the delicate message, you must have believed he or she cared about you, or about your goals and objectives. That means you trusted his or her purposes so you were willing to listen to some pretty tough feedback.

Crucial conversations often go awry not because of the content of the conversation, but because others [or you] believe that the painful and pointed content means that you [or others] have a malicious intent. How can they [or you] feel safe when they believe you’re out to do them harm [or vice versa]?

Consequently, the first condition of safety is mutual purpose. [This] means that others perceive that we are working toward a common outcome in the conversation, that we care about their goals, interests, and values. And vice versa. We believe they care about ours. Consequently, Mutual Purpose is the entry condition of dialogue. Find a shared goal and you have both a good reason and a healthy climate for talking.


Find a shared goal and you have both a good reason and a healthy climate for talking.

cRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS: TOOLS FOR TALKING WHEN STAKES ARE HIGH

The second step, according to Cooke, is to get rid of the bad habit of contempt. The best way, he says, is not to just stop it “cold turkey,” say, by “turning the other cheek” and either scrolling past someone stridently proclaiming their opinion on Twitter or even agreeing with someone who celebrates the passing of laws that decidedly weaken abortion restrictions. The best way is to replace the habit with something else that can be just as habitual, but not as harmful.

What should that habit be? The Dalai Lama says to replace it with warm-heartedness. Answer contempt with warm-heartedness. But what does that mean? “Go in search of contempt in your life,” says Cooke. “If you avoid the conflict, you can’t solve the problem. Run toward [it], as people of goodwill.”

It makes sense, even sounds easy, when said like that, in the abstract, but what does that actually mean, and how does one do that in today’s online world?

By developing a strong heart, which is the third step. “Developing warm-heartedness is not for the weak in heart–contempt is for the weak–but for the strong-hearted. Those who are in touch with their own souls and in control of their own lives are stronger,” says Cooke.

It might be argued that, if President Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi were to apply just these three principles to themselves, the Great Government Shutdown of 2019, which really only victimized the American people, not themselves, could’ve at least ended in a compromise. In that situation, they were each acting like a mother or father threatening to, or in fact not, feed their children as a way of manipulating their spouse into agreement.

The need for conflict resolution is great right now.

How do I know that, beyond what I feel when I scroll through my social media feeds, watch or read the news, and talk with friends and acquaintances? I could cite statistics about the tens of thousands of people who die by guns each year, but that commodifies the victims and doesn’t take into account those on the other side of the debate, who can’t be so easily quantified. I could give the number of abortions done every day in the United States, but that too neither adequately conveys the number of people affected by those abortions nor the number of people who hold strong opinions on either side of that debate.

I could also talk about demonstrations, protests, op-ed pieces, certain YouTube videos or podcasts, etc., but not even they capture the extent, depth, or complicated nature of the contention sizzling through our interactions both abstract and concrete, and our subsequent actions.

The worse that contention gets, though, the more I want to do what I can to lessen it, for these reasons:

  1. When it comes down to it, it’s just us. There is no impartial, non-human being that can mediate solutions between dueling couples, family members, or countries so that both parties are happy and divorce, family dissolution, or war is prevented. Not even God, Allah, or whatever higher being you believe in (if you do) will interfere unless absolutely necessary; they, like good parents, want to see if we can resolve conflicts on our own.
  2. It is what we make it. Everyone, to some extent, thinks that our governments, our leaders, anyone who’s tasked with guiding us or setting rules, is somehow not “us.” We tend to blame others for our conflicts, but everyone from the highest leader to the lowliest homeless person is human, subject to the whims of nature, the caprices of sickness, and the lure of power. At any one time, the world is what we make of it: how we respond, collectively and individually, to what’s going on around us. Ideally, we have a world in which all of us can be happy, but we all have different ways that we envision true happiness, most of which don’t involve the rest of the world. What we don’t realize is that…
  3. What we should be making is connections, not destroying them. One of the cornerstones of true happiness is connection, according to Brene Brown in Daring Greatly, Slife et al. in Frailty, Suffering, and Vice; Hilary Jacobs Hendel in It’s Not Always Depression, Jesus in the Bible, and many other experts. This doesn’t mean you have to throw a huge party even if you’re an introvert, or hug everyone even if you’re fiercely independent. It does mean acknowledging that we, as humans, are “profoundly social creatures.” Says Slife: “Because our social nature is so pervasive, it is easy to take it for granted. Like the air we breathe, the centrality of our nature is usually apparent only when something goes wrong. For this reason, it has been easy to think that virtue and the good life are all about the individual.” In reality, though, you can’t have a good life totally and completely alone.
  4. Admitting that, though, and admitting that we’re all as vulnerable to death and problems as the next guy, is REALLY, REALLY hard. Living in that vulnerability while still striving for “the good life:” even harder, if not impossible. Deep down, we’re all scared, sad, or mad at someone and/or something.
  5. So everyone puts up a variety of defenses to keep themselves from feeling those “core emotionsof fear, sadness, or anger. Hendel provides a list of more then 40 in her book–everything from eye-rolling, stonewalling, and racism, to addictions–but I would venture to add a few more and the caveat that there are probably as many variations on those defenses as there are people on this Earth. The point is that most of us will do almost anything to avoid truly feeling and working through those core emotions, even though we have no idea we’re doing it.
  6. On the other side of helping each other through those emotions is a whole-hearted life, and that life can be wonderful, no matter what your circumstances. Cooke/the Dali Lama call it “warm-heartedness.” Brene Brown calls it “whole-hearted,” and Hendel calls it the “open-hearted state of the authentic self.” It’s a state of being in which one feels calm, curious, connected, compassionate, confident, courageous, clear, vulnerable but sufficient, and grateful. Can you imagine living like that, no matter your difficulties? Talk about “unimaginable boons.”

So, yes, there is more of a need, and in the coming months, I’ll talk about ways to ameliorate that contention and contempt, ways that are simple in theory but all too difficult to put into practice. They include communication techniques derived from books on negotiation, relationships, and the internet. They include strategies for finding common ground, also derived from books (because that’s what I do). They may even include a few philosophies and tips on developing warm-heartedness, or whatever state of “-heartedness” you want, even in the face of hostility, from thought-leaders like Brene Brown. They will all illuminate concrete ways you can and should “run toward it as people of goodwill.”

In future posts, I’m going to talk about how to apply those techniques, strategies, philosophies, and ways to specific issues like gun control, our society’s complicated response to LGBTQ+ people, race relations, women’s rights, abortion, immigration, and others. These posts will include lists of all the books written on each subject, and short assays of the top three to five, as determined by search results or social media polls I’ll conduct in the weeks leading up to each post’s release.

There have been more than 250 books, for instance, on the subject of guns and gun violence in America but only a handful of them actually talk about solutions. And of those, even fewer talk about solutions that seem to take into account all points of view. I’ve been reading those. This is so that, if you want to educate yourself on any particular issue, or maybe even the side of it you don’t understand or agree with, you can. And if you don’t want to, or don’t have the time to read through any of those books, you can ask me to, and I will, and summarize it for you in the context of the pursuit of collective “heartedness.”

It is my very sincere hope that you will find something useful in these posts, something that gives you hope that a resolution can be found no matter where your opinions lie on those issues, and a desire to commune with your fellow human beings for your benefit and the good of others. I aspire to the possibility that a beginning of that resolution can be found in conversations sparked by my posts, in the comments here or in social media.

In fact, I dream, of peace. Join me, won’t you?

“Distractions”

While writing the above, I’ve also been busy

  • working,
  • writing,
  • playing,
  • moving out,
  • moving back in,
  • learning how to live with and still love my husband, who has Crohn’s and anxiety, with me having depression (which is no small feat),
  • seeing my therapist,
  • cross-stitching,
  • connecting with friends and family,
  • gaming,
  • signing up for writers conferences, and, of course,
  • reading.

Here are the books I’ve been reading, with short summaries and deals for you.

  • Believing Christ: the Parable of the Bicycle and Other Good News, by Stephen E. Robinson: “The great secret is this: Jesus Christ will share his perfection, his sinlessness, his righteousness, his merits with us. In his mercy he offers us the use of his perfection, in the absence of our own, to satisfy the demands of justice.” This explanation of Christ’s Atonement is what this whole book is about. It is an exploration of each element of that explanation in 124 pages.
  • And the crux of it, the reason for providing this explanation, says Robinson, is because a lot of us don’t believe Christ. We may believe in Him, but we don’t realize that it’s okay for us to have shortcomings, as long as we understand the true nature of the partnership we are in with him, and to work with Christ so that he can make us into celestial material. This explanation, and the comfort it provided, was very timely for me. I’m in a spot in life where I’m definitely feeling like I’m doing all I can and more, and it’s still not enough to hold my marriage together. After reading this, I think I understand what it really means to rely on Christ, while still striving to be the best person I can possibly be. This speaks peace (and a little bit of hope) to my soul.

An Unlikely Match, by Sarah M. Eden: What can I say about this book? Regency? Love it. Romance? Love it. Ghosts? Even better, especially in the hands of Sarah Eden. Loved Nicholas Pritchard and his easy-going nature. Loved the setting. Everything about it was great.

Pride, by Ibi Zoboi: A Pride and Prejudice retelling, set in modern-day Brooklyn with a black cast. The writing was excellent: immersive, fresh, and flavored. Characters were satisfyingly real and true to form, with the addition of Madrina, the main character’s neighbor/mentor/surrogate grandmother/spiritual and cultural icon. She added a facet to the story that wasn’t really in the original one, and definitely made this version unique. Readers familiar with the story might begrudge the predictability of this version, but it’s told with enough variation to make it quite interesting. But because the vivid style, the setting can be fascinating and/or abrasive. The reader is in the main character’s “hard-knock” life with her. She didn’t seem to be anywhere in the ballpark of her version of Mr. Darcy, which was also different from the original. It’s $12.59, down from $17.99, on Amazon.

Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: and How You Can Make Yours Last, by John M. Gottman. John Gottman so knows what he’s talking about when it comes to marriages. If you’re in one and want to stay in one, get this book. It’s $3.79 through Thriftbooks.

Immortal Creators, by Jill Bowers. The premise of this book is that the contents of certain books cross over into reality, and their authors become Immortal Writers. The book that Scott Beck wrote about a megalomaniacal alien race coming to invade Earth has come to life, but Scott has no desire to fight them, or write whatever needs to be written to prevent them from attacking Earth, but he doesn’t appear to have a choice. Until a strange sickness befalls him…. While I enjoyed this book, I felt like I was “dumped on the front porch of the strangeness” of the plot, instead of being led into it, as Orson Scott Card instructs in his book How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. It would have been stronger if Scott’s introduction into the world of Immortal Writers had been slower or if more he would’ve had more flashbacks that enabled me to relate to him more.

Magicians Impossible, by Brad Abraham. I may have mentioned this one before. It’s Mission Impossible meets Harry Potter, fast-paced, intricately-plotted, and magical. Holy cow! It’s $4.48 on Betterworldbooks.com.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman. He is a master storyteller, and this fantasy–told with a literary bent–is charming with bits of sinisterness around the edges. It’s $3.79 through Thriftbooks.com.

Skyward, by Brandon Sanderson. The premise is that humankind has been almost driven to extinction and what few groups are left are hiding out in the caves of a faraway planet that is surrounded by an atmosphere of debris. They’re frequently attacked by an alien race. Spensa, the main character, is a young girl whose father was a pilot fighter in the decades-long battle with that race. He turned “coward” and died, and now she’s fighting to become the best fighter pilot of the human race now, to redeem him and get some kind of revenge, with the help of a talking, sarcastic, smart, and totally secret spaceship. It was hard to relate to Spensa for quite a bit, as brash and immature as she started out being, but her progress from that to a more mature, smarter, more aware and friendly person was a beautiful thing to behold. I’ll definitely be getting the sequel to this book. You can get a signed, hardcover, new edition for $13.85 from Barnes & Noble. Dude! I’m tempted to go get me another copy there just for the autograph!

Improvement on the way

You may have noticed that I haven’t been posting as frequently as I was in the past. This is due, in part, to a long bout of sickness at our house, marriage problems, the holidays and my full-time job as a book editor. But also, it’s because I’ve been rethinking the direction my blog should take. I really want to help people through books, video games, and movies…through stories. Those things–especially books–are my passions; they’ve helped me so many times in so many ways. They’ve been, at times, any one of these things:

I want to help you to be happier, to enjoy life more, to solve problems, to get closer to your potential, through books and other stories. So…here’s what’s on the way:

Conversations About Books on Important Issues

There are a lot of nonfiction books out there on issues such as gun control, immigration, women’s rights, prejudice, etc. These issues, as well as the divisiveness we’re all experiencing over them, have been on my mind a lot lately. I would imagine they’ve been on yours too. So that I can

  1. understand all sides of those issues better, and
  2. give you a run-down of what’s out there so that you can, in turn, read those books and have more informed conversations with your spouses, neighbors, friends, enemies, city council members, state senators, governors, congressional representatives and senators, I’m going to get copies of as many of them as possible and tell you things like:
  • What’s in them?
  • Are they based primarily on research, opinion, or something else?
  • How positive/constructive are they? Do they do more than just point out the problem?
  • Are real-life examples given?
  • What are the author’s qualifications for speaking authoritatively on this issue?
  • What do they have in common with other books on the subject? How do they differ? If I had only $10 to spend on a book and 10 minutes to read it, which one would be the best to read?

I’ll be calling this new direction “jamieTALKS: Common Ground,” modeled after the well-known TEDtalks, with voices of the experts delivered in digestible chunks. It will start with a summary of tips on how to have a civil conversation, how to compromise, and how to listen, gleaned from books such as Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High by Kerry Patterson and Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury. This is because I dearly hope that these posts I write will spark conversations that lead to actual changes in the fabric of ALL of our lives, changes that make us safer, happier, and more content. 

…While Still Talking About the “Fun” Books, Video Games, and Movies

This doesn’t mean, however, that my reviews of books and video games will go away. I’ll just provide them in a different way, and less frequently. Because I’ll be doing a lot more research, I expect to only post every two weeks on Fridays, although this may change to once a month. Each post, however, will be much more “meatier” and, hopefully, useful to you.

…And Deals

Of course, I’ll also still share the best deals I can find, after scouring the internet, on the books I recommend, or let you know when they go on sale.

several coins squeezed together in a clamp, resting on a small calculator which rests, in turn, on top of a paper with columns of numbers running down it

So watch your inbox for notification of my next post, or if you haven’t yet subscribed to my mailing list, please do so so you can be notified. 

Ultimately, it’s my hope that this new direction will inspire a better “everybody narrative.” We’re all participants in the stories of humanity; let’s learn how to be better “authors” together! Happy new year!

Kiss of a Stranger

Bronchitis is not fun, people, but coming “back to life” afterwards is. I’m recovering from a bout of it. The week before, I nursed my kids through croup, pink eye, and a cold. From recent experience, therefore, I can tell you: coughing up a lung is not good, but regaining energy and rejoining civilization is wonderful. If you’re able to be among people, be thankful. If it’s hard for you to be around them long, don’t, but be glad that you can. And enjoy your energy. And, if you can’t avoid getting sick, make the best of it and READ! I’ve got a book recommendation for you, in fact. It’s an easy read, one that won’t tax your brain too much, and it’s heartwarming. In fact, it’s romance. Read Kiss of a Stranger by Sarah Eden.

What’s Kiss of a Stranger About?

From GoodReads:

When Lord Crispin Cavratt thoroughly kisses a random woman in the garden of a country inn, he assumes the encounter will be of no consequence. But, the woman is not only a lady of birth, she’s also the niece of a very large, angry gentlemen. The man—her uncle—claims Crispin compromised his niece beyond redemption. The dismayed young lord has no choice but to marry Miss Catherine Thorndale, who lacks both money and refinement and assumes all men are as vicious as her guardian uncle.

That leaves him trapped between an unwanted marriage and a hasty annulment. The latter would taint his reputation, but it would ruin Catherine’s. And she’d be penniless, as her uncle is an abusive cad who just wants her inheritance and would kick her to the curb.

So, Crispin begins guiding his wife’s transformation from a socially petrified country girl to a lady of society. But then they find out that they get along quite well, which surprises and confuses both of them. They each privately begin to wonder if theirs may become a true marriage of the heart, while putting up indifferent faces in case it doesn’t. But their hopes are dashed when forces conspire to split asunder what fate has granted. Indeed, a battle of wits escalates into a confrontation that might kill more than just their hopes.

Who Would Like Kiss of a Stranger, and Why?

This is obviously a Regency romance, a “chick book,” if you will, so if you’re not into that, don’t get this book! If you do like Regency, romance, or even a little bit of sexual tension, get Kiss of a Stranger. It could have felt contrived or sappy, but the main characters are original enough, and the external dynamics that help their relationship develop unique enough, that it felt charming.

Of course, there’s no swearing or sex, although there is a little bit of violence.

What’s the Deal?

It’s $3.99 on Kindle. (Note: That isn’t an affiliate link. That’s just the best deal I found. I don’t get paid for telling you that. You’re welcome.)

My Cyber Monday Wish List

I’m no fan of Black Friday, but I can totally get behind Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday. And this year, instead of spoiling my kids, I’ve decided I’m going to be a better parent and spoil myself. I’ve already got my Cyber Monday Wish List of great deals on stuff I want put together. Here’s SOME of my wish list:

Kindle Fire 10

Why? Because this:


And that’s just the Books Kindle function; I’ve got a couple hundred books on mine. And countless (well, almost) movies (including Interstellar, songs, and games. My Kindle Fire goes everywhere my phone does.

And Amazon will be selling them for 33% off ($99 instead of $149). I’ve got a Kindle Fire 8, but am dying to upgrade.

Mystery and Romance Books

I’d like to whittle down my TBR list by buying and reading Jane and the Ghost of NetleyDrops of Gold, and An Unlikely Match, using BooksAMillion.com’s
buy-two-mystery-or-romance books-get-the-3rd-free deal.

Forza Horizon 4 for Xbox One

I will be getting SOME gifts for my kids, and my youngest only has two items on his Christmas list, one of which is this game. And it’s
$20 off on Gamestop’s website.

Speaking of which, I’m also dying to get a…

Nintendo Switch

because it’s the one console we don’t have, I’m dying to play Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and GameStop will also have a deal going whereby, if you get a Switch, they’ll give you a  $50 GameStop Gift Card. Score!

What’s on your Cyber Monday Wish List?

Children of Blood and Bone

It’s been a tough few months, I tell you. Life has been very interesting, in some ways very good, and some quite bad. I’m finally getting over my insomnia, something I’ve struggled with for years (see this post about what it’s really like to live with it). I’m enjoying my job as a full-time book editor. I have two wonderful boys, even after years of infertility. My kids are healthy and happy, for the most part. I’m healthy. My husband’s physical health is doing better. I have amazing neighbors, friends, and family, on both my side of the family and his, who have been my shoulders to cry on, listening ears, sounding boards, examples, and confidantes. I just got to vote. My family and I have enough to eat each and every day. We live in a comfortable home. I’ll never run out of books to read, or, for that matter, hobbies to enjoy.

But, my marriage is in a whole new phase of hard. My husband has some issues. I have some issues. Together, we have some issues we haven’t been able to resolve, even after 19 years of marriage. We’re both committed to staying together, at least for the sake of our kids, if not also because we’re not yet ready to abandon what he and I have worked so hard for years to build (our family and a stable financial situation) nor on the possibility, however small, that we can figure out how to overcome our problems.

So, I just keep plugging away, taking each day as it comes, praying, helping others, accepting their help, and doing my best. Writing. And reading. Most recently, I finished listening to Children of Blood and Bone Tomi Adeyemi. I have never read a more vibrant, dramatic book than this one. Holy freaking cow. Even through it’s 85 chapters (yes, 85), I was spellbound. This is a book that anyone who likes to be immersed or completely transported by a book should get. It had everything: a unique and well-developed setting, a fast-moving but rational plot, and a magic system that was unique and fundamentally integrated into the characters’ identities and the advancement of the plot. Its three main characters were all fully developed: complex and capable of being understood in both their good and bad choices. It was very interesting, in fact, to observe that most of their choices were based on their reactions to fear. Indeed, fear and all of its variations, as well as the myriad ways that humans react to it, seemed to me to be the ubiquitous theme of this book.

What Was Children of Blood and Bone About?

Before the story of Blood and Bone begins, some traumatic events happened to the characters, and they have lived in fear ever since. Zélie Adebola, one of the three main characters, used to have magic, but it was ripped away from her and her people.  She remembers when “Burners” ignited flames, “Tiders” beckoned waves, and her “Reaper” mother summoned forth souls. But then, under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good, in his father’s name. Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy.

Who Would Like/Not Like Children of Blood and Bone, and Why?

In Zélie we see those people who react to fear with anger and a desire for revenge. In Amari, the “rogue princess” and second main character, we see those who are shut down and paralyzed by it. And in Inan, the crown prince, we see those who try to channel it into something they think is more virtuous, like duty.  In all of them, we see the effects of the never-ending dichotomy that we humans in the real world always seem to be entrapped in: the belief that the only thing that matters is who has the power and who doesn’t. This book, like much of human history, is a reflection of the fact that very few people can see other options, other ways to live outside of that dichotomy. Yet, like Zélie, Amari, and Inan, there are many who desperately want those options, especially when that dichotomy takes away family members and those they love.

In fact, Tomi Adeyemi, the author herself, expresses that desire for an alternative very strongly in the author’s note at the end of the book. In it, she explains that, while the story is fictional, the emotions portrayed by the characters are very real, fueled by shootings of black men by white police. And those emotions are very real, gut-wrenching even. I felt them in the book; I feel them whenever I hear of anyone unarmed getting shot by the police, but especially when I hear of unarmed black men getting shot by white police. But yet, Tomi, like I and many others, stops short of identifying what those options might look like. It’s like she’s as trapped as Zélie, Inan, and Amari, and the rest of us in the real world in this never-ending cycle of pain inflicted and felt, where it’s only too easy to see what or who is causing the pain, but almost impossible to see a concrete way to stop it.

I would even go so far as to say that we’re like Amari, the daughter of the ruthless and vengeful king. She emerges from her paralyzing fear of him to (spoiler alert) strike down its source, only to realize as she’s doing so that the very act makes her just like the source (end spoiler). She wonders, as do I and as should everyone else alive today: is there another way, besides striking down the source, to make everyone see the cycle for what it is and work together to make it stop?

Personally, I think, and as this book (and Dark Breaks the Dawn by Sara B. Larson, and Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, and many others) shows, the trouble comes with power. We humans appoint people to be in charge so we don’t have to deal with the complexities of managing large groups of different peoples, or the punishment of those who’ve done wrong, and then get mad when those people abuse their power. The truth is that, if we were to analyze all human leaders over time and across the present, we would find that the majority don’t handle it well. And I would be willing to wager that that is caused more by the power structures of human societies than by weaknesses in the men themselves. Very few men or women can handle, I think, any significant power being bestowed on them without becoming hungry for more, greedy, myopic (i.e., focused only on the group of people they’re supposed to protect to the exclusion of others), violent, jaded, or paranoid.

But does this mean that we should excuse the actions of any and all leaders, whether they be kings, presidents, police officers, teachers, parents, etc., if they abuse their powers? Of course not! Maybe the answer—the third option, if you will—is more complex than that. Actually, more complex and more simple. Maybe it requires that each of us take more responsibility for our spheres of influence, helping (or at least proactively trying to understand) our neighbors near and far. Maybe it requires that we get more involved in our communities both off- and on-line, not just being civil but proactively warm-hearted and grateful, like the man in the video below explains. Maybe it requires that we make our power structures more diffuse so that no one person has too much power. Maybe it requires that we love and forgive everyone, as seemingly impossible as that is.

 

Is all of that too idealistic? Decidedly so. Too difficult to execute? For sure. Necessary for us to stop police brutality (or any kind of abuse), despots, mass public shootings, wars, etc.? Probably. It’s certainly better than the power dichotomy, or the reactions to fear that each of the three main characters of Children of Blood and Bone represents. After all, aren’t we all, quite literally, children of blood and bone ourselves? Isn’t that, at least, a starting point: our shared humanity?

But then, maybe the best reaction—and the example of the solution for us—is found not in any of those characters, but in another one altogether, that of Zane, Zélie’s brother. Though we’re never really allowed into his head, we see, through his actions, that his focus is on protecting his family, and her in particular. That focus seems to make it hard for feelings like bitterness or anger to take root in his soul. Even though he has a hard time understanding Zelie and the choices she makes, which often put her and him in danger, he can’t not protect. He, in my mind, is the hero of the story. If I could be like him, focused on the protection of not only my immediate family but also my whole human family, I think I would have less reason to fear for the future.

So, Should You Buy This Book?

I would go so far as to say it should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand what it feels like to be oppressed (which should be all of us). I’d venture even farther by saying that you’re cheating yourself if you don’t get the Audible version. Bahni Turpin’s rendering of the accents and emotions of the characters makes listening to the book a truly immersive experience, somewhere between a book and movie (just without pictures). Children of Blood and Bone, though set in a fictional world with magic we know nothing of, is an accurate and gut-wrenching reflection of how humans handle power and fear. Hopefully, we can take from it the motivation, the example, and maybe even a magic of our own making to make this real world a better place.

What’s the Deal?

Between Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BetterWorldBooks, Thriftbook, BooksAMillion, and eBooks, Barnes & Noble had the best price, at $10.76 for a paperback copy.

Nutrition Facts, Anyone?

Because I listened to it on audiobook, as opposed to read it on my Kindle, I can’t give you an exact count of instances of profanity, sex, violence, positive themes, or negative ones. I can tell you, however, that there is a lot of violence and death, some swearing, no sex but some kissing, lots of positive themes like familial love, charity, devotion, and a good many negative ones, like revenge, greed for power, killing for sport, etc.

What It’s Like to Live With Insomnia

I’ve suffered from insomnia for at least two decades. This means that, for at least 3 or 4 nights out of every week, I either have trouble falling asleep or wake up frequently during the night. When insomnia goes on for that long, it tends to “co-exist” very closely with depression, and becomes cyclically related to it. I’ve had sleep studies done, met with a sleep doctor (that is a thing, by the way), a psychologist, my gynecologist, and my family practitioner various times, taken medications, herbal supplements, done cranial electrotherapy, pretty much everything you can think of. It’s gotten a lot better, primarily due to medication and cranial electrotherapy (of all things), and in so doing, has allowed me a clearer perspective of what it’s like to live with insomnia, removed as I am now, somewhat, from it.

Why is it easier to see what insomnia’s like—even for one who has had it—when one is bothered less by it? Because insomnia is pervasive. It’s not just about frequently feeling tired. It’s so much more than that. This is what my experience was/has been like:

What It’s Like to Live With Insomnia

  • perpetual exhaustion – Mine was due to a variety of factors, not the least of which was a very strong circadian rhythm that didn’t allow me to take naps. I couldn’t just “sleep it off.” Ever. Plus, I’m a mother, wife, family member, friend, employee. I couldn’t just stop my life to catch up on sleep. I chose to push through it (in the process, looking quite crazy, I’m sure).
  • lack of concentration –  Not just some times or a little. All the time. Which makes it hard to work, clean, remember details about where one is supposed to be on what day and at what time.
  • weird myopia – As much as I would’ve like to not drive when I was sleep-deprived (after the really bad nights, I didn’t), I had to to get to work, grocery shop, etc. I found myself focusing almost obsessively on the car in front of me, making sure I stayed the proper distance from it on the freeway. It was too hard to also be fully aware of the cars in any other lanes beside my own, so I would get in a lane (usually the middle or one of the right two) and stay in it for the duration of my journey, which I tried to keep as short as possible.
  • irritability – again, all the time. Which means I wasn’t me most of the time.

Benefits of Insomnia

There are so many things I missed, and probably even more that I didn’t miss that I probably should have. I blame the loss of some of my friends and some of the difficulties in my marriage on my insomnia. In so doing, I still accept full responsibility for my actions or lack thereof. I don’t claim that my experience is representative of anyone else’s who suffers from insomnia. I recognize, even, the benefits that have come into my life because of it, the way it forced me to

  • rely on my Savior
  • accept help from others
  • focus just on the relationships in my life that were important
  • appreciate the simplest of things in life, like a good nights’ sleep

 

If you have insomnia too, know that I feel your pain. You’re not alone. If you don’t, I appreciate you reading about my experience and educating yourself. Appreciate, as do I, every minute of sleep you get.

American Family, A Review and a Giveaway

Sometimes it’s hard to put a finger on why one likes or dislikes a book. Other times, it’s easy. For me, as a professional book editor, frequent book beta reader and reviewer,  and writer, it’s easier than it might be for some. That doesn’t mean, however, that if I dislike a book, it’s for reasons that I think other people will share. Even if I think a book is technically deficient, with too much “telling” versus “showing,” for example, someone else might still think that book is great.  Obviously, not every book is every person’s “cup of tea.” Such is the case with Jackson Baer’s An American Family.

This is a contemporary suspense thriller about a family whose wife and mother disappears suddenly. She just vanishes while out running one evening, and Isaac, her husband, and Ramie and Carter, their two adult children, are left to figure out how hard they should look for her when there are absolutely no leads, or whether they should move on with their lives. It wasn’t my cup of tea, for various technical reasons and because I didn’t connect at all with the characters, but fans of mystery and contemporary books might appreciate what An American Family tries to accomplish.

What is An American Family About?

From GoodReads:

Isaac Childs has the perfect life—until that life comes crashing down when his wife Ramie vanishes. Isaac learns that his wife’s disappearance is the ninth in a string of similar cases. In the wake of this news, he struggles to cope, to be a good father to his daughter and college-bound son, and to reclaim something of an ordinary life even as he conceals his troubled past. After the FBI makes an arrest, and his wife is presumed dead, Isaac begins to move on. Yet will his secrets catch up with him? Has he conquered his vices for good? And what of the FBI’s theory that the case isn’t completely resolved, after all?

It takes place over the course of two years, starting with the day after Ramie’s disappearance. This scope, in my mind, was the first of this book’s challenges. While it allowed Isaac, Olivia, and Carter, lots of time to examine their lives closely and work to fix a lot of the personal issues that came to the forefront in the emotional aftermath of Ramie’s absence, it also cast perhaps too large of a net. In trying to show how each of them coped over those two years, it wasn’t as strong as it could have been if it had focused on just Isaac’s struggles or just Olivia’s, I think.

More About American Family

Isaac’s come to the forefront almost immediately as he remembers a past one-night stand that he had. He paid the girl (a minor at the time) to keep quiet and never told anyone about it, not even his son when he started dating the same girl. These facts alone make him hard to relate to and support, even though he was the main character and I wanted to root for him. I wanted him to get his wife back, and for them to be happy. If he had been more tormented by his indiscretion, more honest, more forthcoming, I could have been. It wasn’t that he wasn’t haunted or emotionless, but it felt like those emotions were only given a little bit of lip service. Baer does in fact state that “many nights, Isaac woke to frightening dreams where he would see Ramie. Sometimes she was happy, other times she wasn’t breathing.” But that was such a small part of the narrative, as was the fact that we, as readers, are told this, rather than allowed to experience it with Isaac, say, in a particularly haunting dream from which he wakes up shaking or crying.

Jackson Baer

Which brings me to another technical detail that got in the way of my enjoyment of the book, but which might not bother other people. There are several instances of “telling versus showing,” meaning that we’re told about certain details or character emotions rather than given the opportunity to live through the discovery of those details or the feelings of those emotions with the characters. The third-person narrator, for instance, tells of a pill addiction that Ramie used to have that caused her to crash the family car into a tree a few years before her disappearance. The detectives tasked with solving her disappearance, in combing through every detail of Isaac’s and Ramie’s past lives, discover this and question him about it, but he doesn’t tell them anywhere near the truth of what caused the accident. The narrator tells us, however, that “this actual accident is the near accident Isaac alluded to when he spoke with the FBI agents earlier.” This relating of facts directly from the narrator to the reader took me out of the story completely for a moment, when I was already struggling to stay in it.

Likewise, when Isaac meets a new woman some months after Ramie’s disappearance, we’re told that he “took notice of this woman’s natural beauty.” I don’t know many men–even my husband–who would see a beautiful woman and think to themselves: “I’m taking notice of this woman’s natural beauty.” They would think: “Wow, she’s got great _____,” or be struck by the color of her eyes or think “I really like her smile.” When a narrator provides those kinds of details about a character’s appearance and how another character perceives that appearance (i.e., what details he/she notices and doesn’t notice), I’m able to get a better picture of how the one character looks and what the perceiving character is really like.

But Isaac isn’t the only character with whom I had a hard time connecting. Olivia, their 17-year-old-ish daughter, is more or less a foil kind of character, one whose reactions to the main character’s actions help us understand those actions a little more deeply. That is, until, she starts dating her therapist, who is 12 years older than her. One of them is white, the other is black, and they’re both women. I was taken aback by the the fact that the therapist was willing to date someone she initially met as a client. And the relationship that develops between Olivia and the therapist doesn’t seem to relate to Olivia’s grief over her mother’s disappearance, even though she began that therapy in order to understand her feelings regarding it. So, Olivia, in her own way, also seemed a little emotionless and hard to relate to.

Again, though, I realize that most people won’t read a book and like it or dislike it because there are too many instances of telling or too little to relate to in the characters. They connect, or don’t, with the feeling the book gives them. If you like books–especially mysteries or thrillers–that are primarily dark, but move toward a happier resolution, then you’ll probably like An American Family. Along those lines then…

Who Would Like An American Family, And Why?

As mentioned, those who like mysteries, thrillers, dark books, books that move toward happier resolutions, or just books that are contemporary and somewhat broad in scope, will like this book.

What’s the Deal?

As you know, I like to share deals I find on books so that you can find ones you like at low cost. Since An American Family  was just released at the beginning of October, there aren’t any deals on it, but the author is willing to give away two copies, one book each to two lucky winners. One is an e-book and the other is a hard copy. Fill out the Rafflecopter form below to enter.

Also, subscribe to my newsletter for exclusive details on his life and writing!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Nutrition Facts, Anyone? (Warning: possible spoilers)

Swear words (d*, f*, h*, g*d*, sh*): 60

sex scenes: 0, although there is allusion to some

LGBTQ+ relationship(s): 1

violence/gore: yes, in the descriptions of the criminal behind Ramie’s disappearance, and the circumstances surrounding it

positive themes (hard work, family, love): 4+

negative themes (dishonesty, infidelity, pedophilia, addiction): 10+

 

Book Review: The Atopia Chronicles by Matthew Mather

It’s been a busy week getting ready for Halloween, but also one in which I also received a lot of encouragement from my writer friends and reworked my synopsis for Forced. I’m excited to embark on the 7th draft of that manuscript, with a plot that is now more intricate and truer to my character’s natures. Such a process! I finished reading The Atopia Chronicles by Matthew Mather a while ago, but haven’t had a chance to review it until now. It was an intriguing but ultimately disappointing read. Let me tell you about it.

What Is Atopia Chronicles About?

From GoodReads:

Dr. Patricia Killiam is rushing to help save the world from itself by giving everyone everything they’ve always wanted. The question is: is she unwittingly saving the world only to cast it towards an even worse fate as humanity hurtles across the brink of forever. What could be worse than letting billions die? In the future, be careful what you wish for.  The Atopia Chronicles are an exploration of the meaning love, life and the pursuit of happiness in a world teetering on the brink of post-humanism and eco-Armageddon.

Who Might Like Atopia Chronicles, and Why?

I was intrigued by the premise of this book, and the fact that it was epic sci-fi. But ultimately this book was a disappointment. I only read 68% of the way through, and decided I couldn’t push on any longer. In the form that I read, which was an anthology-like compilation, I think, of several short stories all set in the same world, it was WAY longer than it needed to be.

It was based on a fascinating concept and had a very detailed exploration of a society taken over by technology. It could have been told well in half as many pages and with fewer characters. Also, I almost didn’t read past the first chapter because the first main character is so not likable. If I were Matthew Mather, I would have picked any one but her to start the story.

But, if you’re an epic sci-fi fan, and are into thorough world-building, I would definitely recommend this book.

What’s the Deal?

The Kindle version is $4.99.

 

Top Ten Books to Get Your Reluctant Reader for Christmas

When my kids—who are now 15 and 9—were younger, I read to them every night at bedtime. And they both used to be good readers. As they’ve gotten older, it’s become harder and harder to muster the energy to fight them to get off their screens for the time it takes to read to them, or to read to themselves as homework. So, I’ve become more purposeful, strategic, and creative in my approach to getting them to read. I do this because I believe strongly that there are books out there for everyone to enjoy, and reviving my kids’ love of reading will help them be happier in the long run.

But being more purposeful, strategic, and creative doesn’t mean that I’m forcing them to sit down and read Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations in one sitting. It means that I try to parent in a way that is firm but also ties in with their interests and builds on their strengths. I encourage them to explore what, if anything, might make them happy about reading. I emphasize balance and moderation in all that we do. I’ve still got a lot to do; we all know that parenting is a process, not a destination. But here are 10 books that I and my kids have enjoyed or greatly benefited from. They’ve helped us in our journey of improving my kids’ reading experiences, and, with the deals I’ve provided, might help you too!

Top 10 Books for Reluctant Readers

10. Fly Guy by Ted Arnold

Evan, my 9-year-old reluctant reader, and I discovered these about three years ago at the library. They’re not text-heavy, and they’ve got big illustrations. When I give Evan “buck-a-book” challenges—where he gets $1 for each book he reads (more for chapter books, etc.) to earn money for toys he wants, etc.—these are his go-to books. They’re easy and dynamic (i.e., you often have to twist the book upside-down to write text in all different directions). And I think there’s something about the “gross factor” that appeals to him (i.e., it’s about a kid’s pet fly and their adventures in garbage and imagination).

Fly Guy and the Frankenfly is $4.99 on Amazon.


In big green letters: "Fly Guy and the Frankenfly", with an illustrated green fly with bulging eyes and screws protruding from the sides of its head, walking with hands outstretched like a zombie,

9. Amazing World of Gumball by Megan Brennan (Author), Ben Bocquelet (Creator), Katy Farina (Illustrator)

Sometimes, the best way to get your kids to read is to get them books that tie in with what they’re watching on other channels. My kids used to love the Amazing World of Gumball when it was on Netflix, so they gobbled down the Gumball books I got for them.

The Amazing World of Gumball Original Graphic Novel: Cheat Code is on sale on Amazon for $9.30. That’s more than $4 off it’s original price.

"Amazing World of Gumball: Cheat Code" above a picture of a villainous, armored wolf scowling down at Gumball and his siblings, who are all dressed and looking like fighters...on top of some kind of game controller.

8. My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss

This book doesn’t have a lot of text either, but it’s so cool in its message and the way it’s portrayed. It’s not your typical Dr. Seuss book at all. It’s about how our emotions relate to colors. It’s a great way to help young  readers (and even older ones) articulate their feelings. Of the book, GoodReads says that it was based off a manuscript that he wrote in 1973, but didn’t publish during his lifetime. He couldn’t find the right visual artist to effectively convey the message he wanted. Somehow, the right artists found the book, or vice versa, in the early 90’s, and “using a spectrum of vibrant colors and a menagerie of animals, this unique book does for the range of human moods and emotions what Oh, the Places You’ll Go! does for the human life cycle.”

And I found it for only $3.95 on BetterWorldBooks.com, with free shipping.

"My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss" in black in front of a large red circle surrounded by squares of various sizes and colors, on a black background.

7. Go Away, Big Green Monster by Ed Emberley

Some may scoff at my inclusion of this book on this list, but I think it’s a very useful book, thank you very much. In the same way that My Many Colored Days artistically connects emotions and color, Go Away Big Green Monster connects nightmares with pictures. Its premise is that it’s best to disassemble whatever’s scaring the reader, in the same way that the narrator’s disassemble the face of the Big Green Monster, page by page, until there’s nothing left. You could say that this could be a young kid’s first “self-help” book.

And a new, hardback copy is $2 off on Amazon.

"Go Away, Big Green Monster!" by Ed Emberley in a large yellow square, partially hiding the face of a "monster with a large blue-ish greenish nose, yellow eyes, and squiggly purpose hair, in front of a black background

6. Fortnite Season 6 Guide

Some may scoff too at the inclusion of a book about a popular video game on a list of books to get reluctant readers reading, but if they’re as interested in the game as my kids continue to be, this is a good book to get. There may be a million YouTube videos about other people playing the game (which I don’t get, by the way. Why would you want to watch someone else play the game when you could be playing yourself?), but very few of them are actually designed to help other players (i.e., your kids). Likewise, one can find game chat boards and walkthroughs online, but those aren’t always the most helpful either. This puts more power at your kids’ fingertips, and it gets them reading. It’s a win-win.

And this particular book is recently-published, with a ton of tips and strategies. Of all the books on Fortnite in GoodReads, this was the highest-rated. It’s $18.12 for three books, down from $18.95.

"Fortnite Season 6 Guide 3 Books in 1: Advanced tips & strategies for jumping into season 6"

 

5. Top Gear: Top 500 Coolest Cars Ever Made by Matt Master

Again, fiction might not be your child’s “thing,” and cars might, so a book like this, especially because it ties in with another one of my kids’ favorite Netflix shows, is Top Gear’s Top 500 Coolest Cars Ever Made. It’s too bad we can’t go back to the good ol’ days when Jeremy and the producers of Top Gear got along so we could watch them make “bumper cars” for old ladies and race/get stuck/race through the wilds of Africa, right? But I digress. This book is $5.25 on Amazon.

"Top Gear: The Cool 500 The coolest cars ever made" in caution-tape yellow and black, over a grayscale compilation of various new and old luxury cars.

4. Big Nate by Lincoln Peirce

People debate about the effectiveness of the graphic novel in getting kids to progress in their reading abilities, but I say, get them to really enjoy reading first, and their desire to read harder and harder books will develop as a side effect of their growing interest in whatever they’re reading about. My oldest read all of the Big Nate books, and has now passed them down to my youngest.

And Big Nate on a Roll is $3.49 through NewEgg.

"Big Nate on a Roll" above a cartoon Nate on a skateboard.

3. Geronimo Stilton 

Forget the kids, I loved these books. They’re kind of like Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH meets Get Smart, the TV series. Geronimo, the main character, is a newspaper reporter/unwitting adventure seeker, and he tells his tales with lots of color and excitement, like this:

They’re chapter books, but with flair. And the first one, Geronimo Stilton and the Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye, is $4 off it’s original $7 price on Amazon, making it $3.99.

"Geronimo Stilton: Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye" above an illustrated mouse with a terrified expression on his face holds on to someone who's controlling the motorcycle he's riding.

2.  Destiny 2 Collector’s Edition Guide by Prima Publishing

Along the lines of connecting what your kids read with what they’re really interested in, if they’re anything like me, they will probably have played, or at least heard of the Destiny video game, especially a new expansion pack has just been released. If they haven’t played all the way through Destiny 2 yet in preparation for getting the Forsaken expansion pack, they should, and they should read this too. Yes, they might be able to figure out what they need to get unstuck, if they’re stuck, from watching various YouTube videos (I think IGN Walkthroughs and Happy Thumbs Gaming are the most helpful), but this book has everything they’ll need not only to complete the game, but immerse themselves in it. It is a TOME. It’s huge. It was $40 when we bought it, but now it’s only $23.64.

"Destiny 2 Collector's Edition Guide" showing three versions of the large, hardbound book: one with a slipcover showing a large metal planet hovering over 3 armed people, and two without showing characters from the game, one with white and red armor, and the other with gray and yellow.

 

Now, are you ready for my number one recommendation? Drum roll please…. It’s…

1. Guinness Book of World Records 2018

What?, you say. “That’s not even a ‘real’ book,” you say? I say, for purposes of getting your reluctant reader to read, probably for hours on end…with nary a screen in sight…this is one of the best. This year’s edition, like all the ones before it, was full of odd and amazing pictures and descriptions creatively laid out. It matches, I think, the shorter attention span of today’s readers, but because of it’s thickness, encourages them to read a ton, just in sizable chunks.

And it’s almost $10 off. You’re welcome.

"Guinness World Records 2018"

There you go!

Let me know what your kids think of these books

or

If you’ve found other books that your reluctant reader(s) has/have enjoyed, what were those books?