It was a hard day gone by, and I was finally settling in for the evening. The trials and tribulations I went through were typical of every middle-aged guy with kids, though they seemed to be an exceptional burden on me. Dealing with promotion requests at work, water-boarding my son in order to know what he was really up to today and then grounding him accordingly, then listening to my wife grumble about said son and then increasing his period of grounding, and finally downloading porn when nobody was looking had completely drained me, and all I wanted to do now was settle in on my couch and read this really cool book called Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin.
I was just about to open my paperback tome when the doorbell rang. I was perplexed, as it was almost 2 a.m in the morning and I was the only one awake. I went over to the door, shotgun and riot shield in tow, and opened the door, my shotgun pointed at the unexpected visitor.
I immediately drew it back after I saw who it was. It was an old friend of mine. Mr Julian R.R. Mantle, a former lawyer who'd collapsed due to a heart attack and whom I'd presumed dead ever since. His appearance left me stunned. Gone was the douchebag air that he brought with him during his many televised courtroom sessions. Gone was the friggin' huge bulge on the abdomen that made him the butt of many a joke ...from my side. And gone was that vicious look in his eyes that always made one feel like punching him in the face just for a little "piss off the old fag" challenge.
In his place was a much younger, lankier, non-douchebaggy guy dressed in a beautiful ornamental kimono. Indeed, if it wasn't for his familiar face and a little stubble, I may have mistaken him for a Japanese prostitute who'd come over to the wrong address.
"Hello, Julian" I blurted out, "Fancy seeing you here, in that...interesting dress."
"Oh, enough with the silly politeness, brother Chris" he said in a youthful, vibrant voice, "If you think I dressed up like a girl, just say it."
"Okay, you dressed up like a girl." I replied.
"Well then, fuck you." he said, "See? You gave me your honest opinion and I gave you my honest opinion about that opinion. Isn't it great to be honest with each other for once?"
No. I thought. It's fucking awkward. And I said as much.
"Yeah, I think I may have jumped the gun on that one." said Julian. "Anyway, may I come in?"
"Sure, but why are you here?" I asked him.
"Oh, you were about to read a book just now so I thought I'd join in."
"WHAT?" I yelled in shock, "How could you possibly know that?"
"I saw you through the window, Sherlock." he replied, "Why is it that people always become suspicious so easily?"
"Well, anyway...why would you want to come and watch me read a book?"
"Oh, I'm not here just to watch you read," he replied, "I'm here to teach you."
"Excuse me?" I said, confused.
"Yes, brother Chris. Reading a book is an art. An art that requires a change in your paradigms, in your perceptions, in your way of living." he went on, "Once you have imbibed the magical knowledge I have come bearing for you, your reading skills will go from the ordinary into the realm of the extraordinary! You'll be able to read with a sense of joy, a sense of unbridled freedom that you may have never felt before! Now let me in, brother Chris, so that I may show you the true path of HowTo:Read a Book!"
Step 1: Be proactive Edit
I walked Julian R.R Mantle into my study, and showed him the book I was going to read.
"Ah, the brilliant George R.R. Martin! What a coincidence that he just happens to have the same middle name as me!"
"Yeah, indeed..." I replied, intrigued. "Anyway, what were you going to teach me?"
"The true process of learning comes through experience, brother Chris." he replied, "You will know everything I have to tell you in due time. But first, begin reading."
And so I began reading. The prologue turned out to be creepy chapter wherein some dudes from some Night's Watch were out looking for some other dead wildling dudes. But just when I gazed into the second page, I broke down and began weeping inconsolably.
"What is it, brother Chris?" Julian asked, "Why do you weep?"
"There's....there's a smudge of coffee on the page!" I wailed out. "I....I..."
"It's okay, it's okay," he said in a soothing voice.
"I...went out on this date once!" I went on, "It was with that chick Katy, you remember her, right? And then....we were having coffee....and I was about to gift this book to her......and.....and....she said she loved me AS A FRIEND!!!! Can you believe that, Julian, she called me a FRIEND!!!!!!!!" I screamed, anguished.
"Yes, yes. I understand." he said, with sympathy in his voice.
"And...and then...I spilled the coffee on that slut's face, and some of it fell on the book!" I wailed on, "Can you believe it Julian! THAT BITCH RUINED MY BOOK!"
"It's okay, my son. It's okay. Just calm down." he said.
After my wailing had subsided, and Julian had assured me that my wife and kid hadn't listened (though he later revealed that he'd gone and bought dinner for them and seen them off to bed while I was crying.) he said to me, "Do you know what happened to you?"
"I...I don't know Julian" I said, "I just saw that smudge...and it all came back to me. I just couldn't hold back those tears."
"This is a problem readers face all the time," Julian said, "They sit down to read their favorite book, but all the demons from their past come back to distract them. All the toxic waste that they allowed to accumulate in the garden of their minds begins to reek, and they buckle under the onslaught of negativity that such memories bring."
"You have to understand brother Chris, that we all have dark pasts. We have all done things we're not proud of, or are no longer proud of, or were never proud of. Yet people allow there misdeeds to poison their minds. The sins committed years ago haunt them throughout their lives. And that is not all," he went on "These people also begin to worry. About their work, about their wives, about whether the porn they downloaded contained a virus. These self-created fears wreak havoc within their inner world, just like the bitter tidings of their past. Tell me, brother Chris, how can you focus on reading a book if you continue to wallow in regret and fear? How can you bask in the wonders a novel brings if all you can ever see is the filth of regret and fear?!"
"I see your point, Julian." I replied, "But I have no power over such things! I cannot stop the tears from welling in my eyes! I cannot stop those horrid words from ringing in my ears!"
"Yet where were those words when you were making love to your wife? Or dozing off at work, brother Chris?"
"I...I don't know." I replied, dumbstruck.
"The mind works in mysterious ways, son Chris. At times, it allows you to reap the full produce of a joyful moment. At other times, sadly, it does everything to be a pain in your ass. Well technically, the mind controls the ass too, but you get my point don't you?"
"Yes, I do. It often seems like my own thoughts and emotions get in the way of what should have been a perfectly good reading session. But can I really do something about that? Anything at all?"
"Yes, brother Chris! You can! You can become proactive, and engineer your mind to focus on what truly matters to you! You can make yourself care more about your book than anything else in this world!"
"Really? And if I do, I'll be able to read my book in peace?"
"Like I said, taking full control of your mind is the first step towards harnessing the amazing reading potential within you, to transcend the boundaries your fears had locked you up in! For right now you may be struggling to get past two pages, but after mastering your mind you will find that reading an 800-page novel in one day shall be no problem for you at all!"
"That sounds like an excellent idea, Julian. But how do I make myself a master of my mind?"
"By habit. You see, Chris, wallowing in regret and cowering in fear is nothing more than a bad habit. And the only way to get rid of a bad habit.........."
Realizing that he was cueing me to finish his enlightening proverb, I hazarded a guess "....is to replace it with a better one?"
"Very good, Chris! And that better habit is to replace the negative with the positive, so whenever you start worrying about whether your wife is about to leave you while you're busy reading or something...."
"I make myself think about the epic plot twist that may or may not be coming up in the book instead!"
"Bravo, brother Chris! My, you're starting to learn already! But even when you're not wallowing in negativity, it helps to constantly exercise your mind to maintain control over it."
"And how do I do that, Julian? What is the exercise you speak of?"
"It shall be a very familiar activity for you. Me and my brotherhood have learned that the best way to keep your mind in a positive bend is to regularly focus on something you find beautiful. And I already know what the something is in your case, brother Chris. It's porn."
I could scarcely suppress the waves of glee that washed over me "You're saying I should keep watching porn?"
"Indeed. Make a regular habit of it. Run your eyes slowly over that attractive jawline of the naked woman. Savor the two bulges on her chest. Delicately run your eyes down her shapely bottom and legs. Embrace the feelings of excitement and lust that wash over you."
"But...but I sort of do that all the time!" I said.
"No, brother Chris. The porn may be in front of you, but your attention isn't completely devoted to it, is it? You're always afraid of getting caught, or offending Jesus, or of not having an orgasm. Your worries have followed you all the way to even this activity, haven't they?"
His words were a revelation to me. While I did indeed watch as much porn I could make time for, I had never noticed the emptiness that had crept into my porn sessions. How feeble my orgasms had become, how I just rushed through the erotic images without taking time to savor them. If I couldn't be focused even on watching naked women and their boobs, how could I possibly cope with the far more demanding task of reading a book filed with loads and loads of words that you had to put on reading glasses to see?
"You're...you're right, Julian. I have inadvertently compromised even my most favorite recreational activity, all because I was afraid of what others might think of me, or what God might do to me, or how this would affect my pending work deadlines. I completely forgot to enjoy the moment. From here on, I swear to savor every moment of porn, and of this book, to the fullest!"
"Excellent, brother Chris. You are now ready for the next step towards book-reading mastery."
Step 2: Begin with the end in mind Edit
"Just ask yourself something for a moment," he went on. "What do you wish to achieve by finishing Game of Thrones? Why did you choose to be here, reading this book?"
"To be honest, I haven't given that much thought." I replied. "I just picked it up, just like that."
"That is another grievous mistake readers commit. Opening a book to read without even thinking about what they want from it. That is a major reason why people call books like Twilight a faggy romance, or books like Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone Satanist literature. More often than not, such people simply picked up the wrong books to read, and have wasted their time chastising the books instead of looking within themselves."
I was rather taken aback by what Julian said. But when I thought about it, I realized how much truth there was in his divine words. So this is why the books some people loved reading were characterized by others as "vicious assaults on humanity." This was why my own wife had called my beloved copy of The Hobbit a shit-spewing waste of money, before I spanked her bloody and branded those words on her butt-cheeks.
"Always remember, brother Chris. Most books are neither objectively good, nor objectively bad. What determines the quality of the book is what you want from it. And too many people have wasted their money on books that were not suitable for them, or have refrained from buying books that were. They chose to follow the bandwagon instead to listening to their inner voice."
"But Julian, isn't following the bandwagon what cool people do?!"
"Those who believe such horrifying lies have forgotten one basic principle followed by good readers. Everything a book shows you is created twice, first in your own mind, and then, only then, in the book."
"But that has never happened with me! Only last week, I had bought a copy of John Grisham's Calico Joe, expecting some sort of cool murder mystery followed by a gripping trial! And it was nothing like that!"
"So tell me brother Chris, did the book suck?"
"Of course it did, anybody who's ever read a John Grisham..." I trailed off, looking at the expression on Julian's face. "Oh my God, I've become one of them!"
"It's a trap every reader has fallen into at some point in life. The world is full of people who lament of how there are no good books left to read, and how every author is becoming a 'sellout', as if making money out of books was ever a bad thing." he sighed, "All the while unaware of the fact that it was never the books, it was them."
"So I should always think about what I want to take from the book in the end, before I begin reading it?"
"Exactly, brother Chris. Now tell me, why do you wish to read Game of Thrones?"
"Well, I've always wanted to take a look at fantasy tales set in the middle ages you know," I began, "But not just any epic tale, I want this tale to show me the reality of back then as it actually was, not the kind of reality I want it to be. I want characters with shades of grey, where there are no flawless heroes and no flat, one-dimensional villains. Where the entire story is shrouded in so much grey, making happy endings difficult if not impossible. I want a tale full of political intrigues and sexuality with a huge cast of characters and more than a few point-of-view characters!"
"And do you think this book will give you what you asked for?" asked Julian.
"Given that I just plagiarized all my expectations from the book's review, HELL YES!"
"WOHOO! Now that the party is jumping
With the bass kicked in, the Vegas are pumpin'
Quick to the point, to the point no faking
I'm cooking MC's like a pound of bacon
Burning them if they're not quick and nimble
I go crazy when I hear a cymbal
And a hi hat with a souped up tempo
I'm on a roll and it's time to go solo"
"Ice ice baby
Vanilla Ice ice baby
Vanilla Ice ice baby
Vanilla Ice ice baby
....Sorry, where were we?" I said, upon realizing that we'd been rapping verses from Vanilla Ice's Ice Ice Baby for no apparent reason.
"Nothing, it's just that I'm so glad you're attempting to change the way you look at the art of reading. And that alone calls for celebration!"
We then finished our performance of Ice Ice Baby, before Julian revealed to me the third and final step towards reading effectiveness.
Step 3: Read in the moment Edit
"Always read in the now. Not in the past, and not in the future." Julian said.
"But whatever do you mean by that, Julian?"
"Haven't you ever wondered how the story shall continue after you finish Game of Thrones? Where the characters will go after the book is finished, who will live, and who will die?"
"Yes, I have, to be honest. But what does that have to do with anything?"
"Oh Chris, I have come across countless readers who have ruined what should have been a wondrous experience because of their inability to read in the now. Tell me this," he went on, his voice rising, "What's the point of buying a ludicrously expensive hardback edition of A Dance With Dragons if you cannot even focus on the Prologue of Game of Thrones? How can you understand the events of Page 394 unless you have read all the preceding 393 pages, in order?"
"That's right brother Chris, you can't! And yet readers forget that time and again, allowing their impatience to overcome them and rushing through page after page without ever stopping to make sense of what was going on! Only recently, I came across a tragic example of the phenomenal damage this impatience can cause. I'm talking about the horrific tale...of Peter Dinklage."
"Yes, brother Chris. Good old Peter Dinklage. A fine actor, and an intentionally hilarious mate to boot. Unfortunately, he suffered from the chronic inability to read in the now.
When he got the part of Tyrion Lannister for the HBO adaptation of the book you're about to read, he chose to read George R.R Martin's series for himself. Yet, his impatience got the better of him. He had scarcely started on the first page of Game of Thrones when he abruptly flicked to the second. And then to the third. And so he kept flicking through the pages, never stopping to drink in the wonders each page brought with it, not stopping to make any sense of the admittedly complex plot and character motivations. He then butchered the following three in a similar manner. And you know what happened to him in the end?"
"He went crazy because the books didn't make any sense to him?"
"Exactly, brother Chris! He was a broken man, awash with frustration and tears by the time I got to him. "How can I do my role justice!" he had cried out, "All I see are words, Julian! A load of incomprehensible, disjointed WORDS! Is that all my character is? Is he just A BUNCH OF WORDS!!!!!" he thundered out."
"Like I was saying" Julian cut me off, "I told him that these books were shining examples of brilliant high fantasy writing. That his character was such a likeable yet arrogant yet not-so-arrogant yet...complicated person that he would thoroughly love portraying him. But Peter just couldn't see Tyrion for who he was. It was only when I got to the root of his torments was I able to mentor him on howto:read a book. Fortunately, my help went a long way in rehabilitating him. He's still busy with A Storm of Swords as of now, but he has definitely made remarkable progress."
"Well, that's good for him." I said, relieved that the story had a happy ending.
"Unfortunately, brother Chris, what happened to Peter Dinklage is just a one-off. Most of us will never get a second chance to enjoy our books to the fullest."
"Wait, you could always go back to them-"
"But what if you inadvertently stumbled upon some spoilers because of your impatience?"
"Then the damage cannot be undone." I said in awe. Julian's wisdom had floored me yet again.
"Always remember, brother Chris, to give these three steps the importance they deserve. Keep following them whenever you read a book. And remember, the journey of a thousand pages begins with page no 1. Small victories in your reading battles with lead to even bigger victories. Do not deny yourself your destiny of passionate and joyful reading. And remember, always remember, what lies in front of the book, and what lies behind the book is nothing compared to what lies within the book.
He then got up from his seat, gave me a hug, slipped something into my pocket and walked away into the night. I felt around in my pocket to find out what he'd slipped me. I took it out, bewildered at the time, unaware of the significance of his gift. It was a blank piece of paper.