Sunday, September 2, 2012

Reading and Vegetables, by Bill Blais

Reading and Vegetables
Guest Post: Written by Author Bill Blais

I hated spinach growing up. God, I hated it. It was always flaccid, slimy, flavorless and covered my teeth in that unmistakable film that always took several mouthfuls of potatoes or chicken or whatever else was on my plate to get rid of. This was back before grocery stores carried fresh baby-leaf spinach -- it was either the massive, thick leaves in the produce section or the solid blocks of chopped bits from the freezer aisle -- and let's just say that cooking vegetables well was not a highly developed art form in the kitchens of my youth.

Not that I'm complaining, mind you -- I still have a soft spot for canned peas (no pun intended) -- but my point is this: Reading, for me, is like my relationship with eating vegetables. I wasn't all that adventurous with food as a kid (I would eat plain pasta and butter until I exploded if my parents let me), but being forced to try things I didn't think I liked actually set a precedent that has since exposed me to some fabulous culinary adventures.

Pride and Prejudice -- the one without the zombies -- is one of my top 5 books of all time, but I would have completely missed it if not for my wife (who also re-introduced me to spinach, thankfully!).

Yes, I had to read it in school, along with a number of other 'classics', but if there was one proven method for ensuring I didn't enjoy a book, it was to force me to read it. Further complicating matters was the fact that I was simply too young to truly appreciate many of these pieces (and as a pudgy teenage boy trying his very hardest to fit in, reading a 'girl-book' like P&P was just not going to work). 

What I preferred to read, and what I devoured with a near-pasta-level hunger, was fantasy and science fiction (okay, this didn't win me any friends in the cool crowd, either, but I found enough like minds to make it palatable). The seeds of those other books had been planted, though, albeit in stubborn ground, and I could not shake the thought that I might have missed something in them. Eventually, I picked some of them up in later years to see if they were as bad as I remembered.

To my genuine surprise, I discovered things like laugh-out-loud humor side by side with heroic tragedy in A Tale of Two Cities, or a love story in Pride & Prejudice that transformed my (previously stereotypical) perception of romantic fiction. While fantasy and science fiction remain my first literary passions, these other experiences opened my mind to more genres and styles outside my comfort zone, including some fabulous non-fiction, like Maya Angelou's heartbreaking I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Simon Winchester's The Professor and the Madman, about the origins of the Oxford English Dictionary, or Stephen B. Carroll's fascinating text on evolutionary development, Endless Forms, Most Beautiful.

If I only ate what I knew I liked, I would never have touched a kebab or a black pudding or tasted Chicken Tikka Masala (and I would certainly never have known the simple delight of a fresh spinach salad!), and I probably would have died years ago from pasta over-consumption. 

Okay, I'm aware this isn't a perfect analogy, but you get the point: If I only read what I knew I would like, I would never have picked up Patrick O'Brian's fantastic Aubrey & Maturin series, and while I certainly appreciate the security and comfort of reading what is familiar (see: Aubrey & Maturin series), the real point is that the wider I read, the more I gain from all that I read.

You can find out more about Bill Blais's new release, No Good Deed, by clicking the link below.

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