Sunday, February 9, 2014

A Good Book Is Like A Bad Cold

I don't get sick a whole lot. However, I did catch the cold thing that's been going around here lately. Possibly, it was the lack of sleep that did it. I had three or four nights in a row with little or restless sleep, including the one before I had to get my blood taken from me and one where I went to a midnight pre-release Magic tournament from which I didn't get home until 5:00am. Why, yes, I am getting a little too old for that stuff, but only because my body can't recover very well anymore. Not! because I'm too old. No, those aren't the same things!

So I got sick with this cold which I didn't realize, at first, was me getting sick since it started during the Magic tournament with my throat getting sore; I just thought it was the lack of water and how tired I was, but it persisted all through Saturday and, by Sunday, I felt pretty terrible. Sunday night, I felt especially terrible, and I woke up Monday morning feeling none to great. But I went back to sleep (not by choice) after I took the kids to school and felt a bit better once I woke up. So, now, I'm over the sick part of the sick and just have the aftereffects to deal with.

Several years ago while at the doctor's office, probably with one of the kids for one of the vast numbers of possibilities for which I could have been there with a kid, I noticed a chart. A chart about colds and flu and longevity. Basically, the "sick" part of being sick for either the cold or flu is quite short, usually less than a week, often not more than a couple of days; however, the aftermath of the being sick can last up to four to six weeks. Yes, I said weeks. A month or more of snot and mucus and coughing and whatever other lingering things can happen. There were more (I'm sure), but I mostly just focused on the snot. Look, when you're a parent, snot is one of those things that you just sort of have to know about.

It's just kind of not fair. I mean, you catch a cold and you get a sore throat and cough and, maybe, have a headache. Or whatever. And your body comes in and says, "Hulk SMASH!" and takes care of the cold. It kills it dead. DEAD! Two days to muster the troops and slap the sick right out of you. But, then, you have a month, a freaking month, of damage control and cleanup.

Yes, that's where I am, right now, the cleanup. Meaning the mucus. I feel fine except for all of the snot draining out of my body, and, really, how can there be SO MUCH after being sick for just two days? It's kind of insane. Plus, all of the snot stops up my ears and makes my head hurt. So, yea, I'm not sick anymore, but I'm going to have a week of sinus headaches as my body packs mucus into my head. Why isn't there a better way to get rid of that stuff than through my nose? Seriously.

There I was in the kitchen blowing my nose and, well, you know, checking the paper towel for color and consistency and stuff (because that tells you how much more you can expect! geez!) when I had a realization: A good book sticks with you just like snot does after being sick. Okay, so, maybe, that's a little gross, but it's true.

Some books you read, you shrug, you put it away, and you barely ever think of it again. But some books stick with you and make you think and continue to stick with you and poke at your mind every so often and it's like having a head full of mucus. I mean, you put the book away, but it's sticking with you for the next four to six weeks. And that's when you know it's a good book, when it's like a bad cold.

To carry the analogy just a step further, those books happen more frequently when we're younger, just like kids get sick a lot more than adults do. Man, I used to hate the first few months of every school year, because I knew it was just going to be one sick kid after the other, but, as they get older, they build up their immune systems (thank God!) and not every bug that comes along gets into them. And books are like that. Each new book we read as a kid is a NEW BOOK! and is much more likely to get under our skins. But the next book that's like that one is much less likely to make an impact.

Which is why, as an adult, it's impressive when you read a book that really infects you. A book that gets in there and makes you think and stays with you and has long lasting aftereffects. I have to admit, I've been inoculated against a lot of books, so it takes a lot for a book to really make me continue to think about it weeks after the fact. But those are the best books. Those are the books I look for.

And those are the kinds of books I want to write.


  1. When I'm sick like that, I'm amazed at the volume of mucus/phlegm/snot that comes out. It makes me wonder about how much empty space there is in my skull to contain so much....

    And I know what you mean about writing books that last. I hope you do it. I hope I do it. Keep at it!

  2. So you're going to be really snotty this week?
    It takes a lot for a book to wow me now as well. I agree we slowly lose that child-like wonder. Movies are the same way, although I can still be wowed by a good movie.

  3. I know what you mean. Good analogy, however I tend to enjoy the aftermath of a good book more than that of a good cold.

  4. I've got it, too. Ick.

    Your thoughts on books are interesting. Over the past few years that a lot of children's/YA literature is simply better written than most adult books. Yes, we are probably more receptive as readers at that age. But there's plenty of genuine talent in that genre, too.

  5. It's impressive how you can turn anything into a writing/reading-related analogy.

  6. Your analogy was totally disgusting but extremely accurate. There are some books that have stuck with me the years. So much so, that I reread them over and over again. That's when you know you've found a great book rather than a mediocre book. You're willing to revisit it again and again.

    Hope you're feeling better soon!

  7. I totally had to skim this post. Gross.

    But interesting observation about how we get inoculated against the influence books have on us. I've noticed that too as I've gotten older.

  8. Somehow, I don't see your slogan catching on in publishing:

    "Books: Just like snot!"

    You know how I know it was a good book, short story, or movie? After I finish it, I just sit for a while and think about it, and I don't want to start anything new right away. If it's a really good book, I'll go DO something, like clean the house or go for a walk or fold laundry, so that my mind can just work on the amazing things I just read, and not get distracted by extraneous details.

    If it's a REALLY good book, like you said, it's with you a lot longer, and it'll pop into your head all the time.

    But I disagree with you that amazing books are more prevalent when we're kids. When I think back to when I was a kid, there were books that wowed me (The Phantom Tollbooth, e.g.) and books that I liked but wasn't amazed by (Hardy Boys books). I'd say the ratio is about the same as an adult, except that I read SO MUCH less now. As a kid I'd go to the library and get a whole stack of books for 2 weeks. Now, I'd never do that. I read for about 20 minutes a day, tops, and a lot of that is news and smaller articles because sometimes I just don't have it in me to get into a story or book.

    But I'm sure there are many, many, amazing stories out there. I haven't finished (or barely started) my review of 2013 yet, but I can think of two books and a short story right off the bat: "Emergency" by Denis Johnson, and both of Nick Harkaway's books, that wowed me like that. That's not bad, for a guy who doesn't get to read much.

    (That's not to take away from "Shadow Spinner," which was amazing in a different way; I know you meant it as YA but it's totally not, and I was thinking the other day that you should write more short stories from that world, like "Evil That Men Do." Maybe you should write them and have them published on someone's website...)

  9. Don't believe in colds. Don't get them in our home. Sorry you got one and sorry you are having such a long recovery period.

    I still love a good book and retain many of them in my mind for years. Even when I can't remember the titles or authors sometimes, I still remember things about the book.

  10. Amen to that! I have only a few books that have 'infected' me, but they definitely are still rolling around in my mind.

    Also, I'm in the cleanup stage too, and it's nasty. At a certain point I just have to wonder how much snot a human being is capable of making.

  11. Oh man, I'm down with a head cold right now. Actually, I have really bad allergies, so it doesn't take much to push me over the edge, but when I get started into one, it's always at least two weeks to feel human again. Of course an amazing book never leaves you. I pick up titles all the time and just grin thinking about how much I loved that one.

  12. Sorry you've been feeling under the weather.

    Thank you. Love love, Andrew. Bye.

  13. JeffO: I know! How does it store all of that gunk?

    Alex: Well, mostly, that was last week. I mean, it was last week that I was -really- snotty. This week, I hope, is just kind of snotty.

    Donna: I tend to not enjoy the aftermath of a cold at all.

    TAS: I'm sure there is, but I didn't read YA geared stuff when I was YA. At the time, it was mostly romance stuff aimed at girls. I've been reading adult fiction since middle school.

    Pat: Thanks. It's probably because of years working with teenagers.

    Elsie: There are not a lot of books I've ever bothered to reread.

    L.G.: And I kept it fairly tame.

    Briane: Yeah, me either. I guess I need to keep working on it.

    Unfortunately, I don't find a lot of books that really blow me away. Almost all of the books that I think of in that "amazing" way are books that I read when I was a teenager.

    Jo: But do colds believe in you? That's the real question.

    ABftS: And how does it make it so quickly?

    Crystal: I am glad, though, that amazing colds don't stay around like that. I mean once they're gone for good, that is.

    WPW: thanks

  14. Great analogy.
    My family is recovering from Strep. I'm the only one who didn't get it. The kids basically took a week off from school, and have to play catch up!

  15. Sometimes the bad books stick, too, but they are...greasier, I guess. Or less infectious. There are books I thought were absolutely terrible, but pieces are still there. Maybe it's like being vaccinated and they're the dead virus reminding me what kind of writing sucks.

  16. What a beautiful comparison. I guess that makes a life changing book like an STD. Or something. I love it.

  17. David: We hate when Strep comes around.

    Jeanne: I don't remember much about the bad ones other than that they were bad. Usually. Snow Crash is an exception. I still get a bad taste in my mouth from that one from time to time.

    Rusty: Maybe like cancer. It might go into remission, but it can always come back.

  18. Sorry you've been sick. My hubby had the flu during the holidays and had a bad cold that went into bronchitis. When I was fourteen and had to have my tonsils taken out back then you spent seven days in the hospital. My mom got me a boxed set of Judy Blume books to read while there. Even today if I am really down and sick with something I read those same books.

  19. Oh, I didn't miss an analogy post! Yeah! This is especially a good analogy for me right now.
    I definitely want to write those kinds of books. I want to READ those kinds of books.
    I used to ALWAYS finish a book I started. I felt like I'd made some kind of non-verbal yet binding agreement that I'd finish. I got ever that as a 12 year old when a friend's mom, who was a librarian, had given me this book about a kid living in a dilapidated house that was condemned to be demolished, and the family was just trying to make ends meet. It was terrible. My mother kept insisting I read it since IT WAS A GIFT. And not to be wasted, but I thought man, if I spend my life reading books out of guilt then I'll never have time to read the books I really want to read.
    Am I the only one who had/has that problem? I mean, I'll give a book a good 15-20% before I give up (I hate that the Kindle doesn't do page numbers, but I totally MATHEMATICALLY get why it doesn't.) I think life is too short to read crap out of guilt.

    Tina @ Life is Good
    A to Z Team @ Blogging From A to Z April Challenge 2014
    @TinaLifeisGood, #atozchallenge

  20. ...and it's unfortunately been so long I forgot to subscribe...

  21. G_G: Hmm... I don't have any "sick" books. I suddenly feel incomplete.

    Tina: I still mostly finish books I start. My wife lets me know when it's time for me to quit reading something, at this point. You know, when she can no longer deal with me complaining about how bad something is. It is a system that works.