Tag Archives: reading

Bedtime Stories.

I’ve been reading the encyclopedia at night.

This is my second set of this encyclopedia. The first set I bought in the early 90s, when I still had children at home. The woman who was selling them door-to-door was agreeably stunned when I welcomed her with, “Come in! You’re just the person I wanted to see!”

I had been contemplating an encyclopedia purchase for some time, and had been critically examining the different publishers whose works were at the local public library. One famous name encyclopedia got crossed off my list because it was far too comprehensive: it told me everything I never wanted to know about the subjects it covered. When I said that to the saleswoman, she thought it was hilarious. (I didn’t blame her!)

This brand of encyclopedia had impressed me because, in addition to its manageable size for easy handling by people with small hands (which included me as well as my kids), the layout was easy to navigate to find topics, and it was written at a common-sense reading level that would neither overwhelm children nor bore adults.

I sank a lot of money into the first set of this encyclopedia, signing up for the annual update and a specialty update volume. Eventually my budget dictated that the updates had to stop, but I got enough mileage out of the set while homeschooling my kids to make the whole investment worthwhile. When my youngest son left home, I gave him the complete set.

Years later, when the company held a clearance sale of their 2010 edition (pictured), I decided that the very deeply discounted price justified my investing in a set of my own. This time, I did not splash out for any supplemental volumes, because now there was a flourishing internet to supply any updated information I might want to know. Otherwise, for most of what I need to research, it’s always been faster for me to find things by flipping through real pages than waiting for a website to load and re-load virtual pages.

For the following several years, I mainly used the encyclopedia for research having to do with my writing. Over the past few months, I’ve launched into a long-term goal: to read the whole set, cover to cover. My best time for reading is bedtime, which is when I need to unwind from days which are filled with assorted chronic pains. I decided to start at the end of the alphabet, and recently finished the last volume.

There are a lot of advantages to reading an encyclopedia at bedtime. There are short entries for when I’m tired enough not to need to read myself to sleep, and long ones for when I need to escape into the printed page for a while.  And since sleep health professionals advise to stop screen reading in advance of retiring for the night, there’s plenty of material in an encyclopedia to provide years of preparation for falling asleep easily.

Have you ever read an encyclopedia for enjoyment?

What are you reading at bedtime?

Do you switch to paper pages before going to bed?

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A Reader’s Insight: Ian J. Battaglia (Chicago Review of Books).


If books have any magic at all, it’s the ability to bring a reader so seamlessly close to another’s lived experiences and memories – even fictional ones – that it’s as if some of the wisdom, power, and overall emotional tenor of that life was your own. It’s this empathetic space, between memories and dreams, in which books seem to be most potent to me.

Seen at

The Resonance of Memory in “Tokyo Ueno Station”

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Writers: What Motivates Your Characters?

While using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to analyze the effects of the ill-advised social and economic lockdown tactic under which we’ve been suffering for many weeks, it occurred to me that the challenge of writing plausible fiction about realistic characters could also benefit from application of the same paradigm.

Change: The foundation of character development and story arc movement.

If change does not occur to fictional characters, their story will go nowhere. In my post Spare Change“, I showed how to evaluate the general extent of change that characters must experience in their personalities or their motivation, by using a tool called a Punnett Box.

Today’s post uses Maslow’s Hierarchy to illustrate the layers of the human condition which form the motivation for behavior.

The pyramid is a study of drive. Each layer of the pyramid contains elements that must be reasonably satisfied before a person can turn full attention to satisfying the needs of the next higher level.

The layers are not mutually exclusive: the boundaries between them are permeable, so there can be some amount of movement back and forth between two adjacent levels. Therefore, a person can begin to experience the urgency which fuels the drive to achieve goals that support the achievement of Safety while still actively seeking to keep Physical Needs satisfied, as long as those efforts are successful.

Feeling that more advanced level of urgency is what underlies planning for the future; for example, it takes a lot of time and energy to start over afresh every day seeking food, water, clothing, shelter, and an opportunity to reproduce. Such were the daily challenges that faced people when they were still hunter-gatherers. The innovation of agriculture – first accomplished with simple digging sticks, and later infinitely enhanced by the invention of the plow – alleviated much of the uncertainty attending human existence, as better nutrition helped lower the death rate and increase the birth rate. This permitted people to better plan for the future, and to strive to thrive, not merely survive, which enabled the establishment and advance of civilizations.

The social structures that accompany the rise and evolution of civilizations can be regarded as part of the process of becoming “civilized” – essentially, the gradual “domestication” of human nature, even as human beings domesticated animals. While this “taming” of people has been defined differently during various times and in most places, and is still far from complete, the steps of the pyramid can be seen to echo the path of progress or improvement in the human condition, the struggle for which underlies all the conflict and change that must accompany character development in fiction.

Being completely pushed off the pyramid has been a perennially popular plot for three centuries: Robinson Crusoe (Daniel Defoe, 1719), The Swiss Family Robinson (Johann Wyss, 1812), The Mysterious Island (Jules Verne, 1875), The Martian (Andy Weir, 2011), and the movie Cast Away (2000) have each explored how isolated individuals or small groups of people may realistically try to solve that problem by using their bare hands, what’s between their ears, and the technology of their times. This scenario can also be a premise for stories with fantasy, dystopian or post-apocalyptic settings.

But not every story needs to challenge its characters in such a massive way. During a character’s climb up the pyramid, acquiring a longing for or losing one’s grip on a cherished goal, achievement, or state of being that appears in the Hierarchy of Needs can be the change that motivates behavior, no matter what the genre of the story. This is because the pyramid’s levels are a way of describing what can happen in the lives of real people, and the more the reader can identify with a character and his or her dilemmas, the more plausible the plot will be.

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