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Fight Brain Drain. Read a Novel.

What does it cost our brains if we don’t read long-form works? According to this study by Emory University in Atlanta, maybe…..a lot. Click here to read the UK Independent article on the impact of novel reading on brain function.

I’ll wait.

Welcome back.

I found this story thanks to awesome writer Kate Shrewsday. It couldn’t have come at a better time for me.

My reading—especially my novel eyeball time—was suffering. I was in the throes of final edits on my own book. When I introduced any other voice into my head, I feared distractions. The loss of my characters. The inability to finish my unique plot.

Somewhere along the shifting path of my own story, I lost my capacity to read a novel. Really immerse myself.

Bad, bad Andra.

I have Kate to thank for pointing me to this research, for showing me the value in reading novels even when I’m trying to write them. Maybe ESPECIALLY when I’m trying to write them.

I mean, who can scoff at 5 DAYS of enhanced brain activity for every novel read?

I don’t have to imagine how much more I can write.

I’ve seen it.

Have you noticed a spurt of creativity after reading a novel, Dear Reader? What were you reading? Please share your inspirational books in a comment today.

Kill City Blues (Sandman Slim, #5)
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Kill City Blues (Sandman Slim #5) by Richard Kadrey

4.11 of 5 stars 4.11  ·   rating details  ·  1,928 ratings  ·  179 reviews

James Stark, aka Sandman Slim, has managed to get out of Hell, renounce his title as the new Lucifer, and settle back into life in LA. But he’s not out of trouble yet. Somewhere along the way he misplaced the Qomrama Om Ya, a weapon from the banished older gods who are also searching for their lost power.

Lisa at Northwest Frame of Mind introduced me to the awesome Sandman Slim. I never read urban fantasy novels, but I’m always up to challenge myself and my ideas about reading. Kill City Blues is the weakest book in this series. (Even though there is something about reading that includes visiting the devil in hell while one is in the middle of Mississippi. In the middle of a very dark night. When she knows she has to go out on a very rural road and walk by herself for five hours the next morning.) If you haven’t met the Sandman, you should put the series on your reading list. Just maybe stop before this one. Or not. Richard Kadrey at 3 stars is still pretty good.

You can read my full Goodreads review here: or check out Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series here: Sandman Slim No 1

As long as you keep submitting Reader Questions, I’ll answer them. Since this one happened in the bathroom at the beauty salon, please forgive my lack of hat.


The FIVE STAR reviews keep rolling in. To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis is available in paperback and e-book formats at these outlets: Click to Purchase To Live Forever.

47 Comments Post a comment
  1. I’ve just read and my brain is buzzing!

    April 17, 2014
  2. Wow. Thanks for the glowing link, Andra. I think brain activity is enhanced for the same reason regimes who fear free thought burn books: because the writing of others is a global think tank. From War and Peace to Mein Kampf, all free thought is there, some good, some terrifying. And to immerse oneself in the ideas of someone with whom one identifies is just electrifying. I’ve just finished The End of Mr Y, Scarlett Thomas. Epic: but now I’m uneasy eating anything but vegetables. To find out why, one has only to read 🙂 Excellent post. Welcome back.

    April 17, 2014
    • I think you’ve hit on something with your comment, Kate. I think that’s why writing is looked down upon as an art form compared to other forms of art……’s perhaps the rawest form of self-expression, the most incendiary.

      I’ll definitely look up this book, too. Thanks for sharing it here.

      April 17, 2014
  3. I just did mine on Sunday, and felt ever so much better for it. Now that I’m doing my own color, I like saving that $90. But it is time consuming, troublesome and tedious. Guess that’s why the pros get paid…

    The novel you write about today would not be one I’d care to read. Generally, ones with hard core stories of paranormal aren’t my thing. I do like magical realism (like To Live Forever). The only exception I could think of are the Dan Brown novels with the chain of murders (what was the name of that one, with the bodies strewn across Rome?)

    Mostly I enjoy novels where the characters have more of a clash with their culture, and undergo self examination via introspection. Of course you know I love Ellen Gilchrist but she doesn’t seem to be writing many novels anymore.

    April 17, 2014
    • I didn’t think I’d like it, either. I guess I was fascinated by my history in parochial school and the way he bent Biblical and other religious eschatology to suit the story. So, so creative and really excellent, especially in the first book. I love it when I go into a thing thinking I’m going to hate it and end up being wrong.

      April 17, 2014
  4. I think my brain activity has stopped. Yup, I think I have gone brain dead. I think I need a mental jump start. Or a vacation. Or maybe they are related and I need both.

    April 17, 2014
  5. That whole Sandman Slim character sounds great. Reminds me of Johannes Cabal the Necromancer by Jonathan Howard.
    Whenever I need a reminder of story structure and “THE JOURNEY” I re-read Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. It’s a short but powerful read.

    April 17, 2014
  6. That video made me laugh!
    Thanks for the article, Andra! I love a good book and this confirms why.

    April 17, 2014
    • I’ve gotten to where I enjoy making them. I hope people don’t stop asking me questions. I have one more in the queue right now.

      April 17, 2014
  7. Oh, and to answer your question, reading has always inspired me to write. But usually certain books like SABRIEL by Garth Nix, THE ORDINARY PRINCESS by M. M. Kaye (a book for children), LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien. I write fantasy books, so these are my go-to books. They remind me that books can transport a person to other places. I’ve enjoyed my visits to these places (and I’ve been there multiple times).

    April 17, 2014
    • I used to read and wonder “why bother writing anything when this is so amazing/exquisite/powerful/etc”. But when I hit upon a combination that hadn’t been done, a book that really hadn’t been written the way I wanted to do one, and I had to write it to be able to read it, I decided to try.

      Before I could travel, reading was my way to see the world. In a way, it inspired the wanderlust I have today. I think it’s probably why I walk into places I’ve never been and feel like I’ve seen them before. I read about them somewhere. I imagined them vividly, and my mind made them real before I got there.

      April 17, 2014
  8. My hair, after many months, is nearly all “roots” — combo of my original brownish/blondish/muckledun and a soft gray — and I’ve pretty much decided to live with it. My extravagance is my salon-done nails. 🙂

    As for reading, your book was my most recent. I don’t read (books) nearly as much as I used to, but this article (and my overflowing bookshelves) is definitely motivation to get back to it!

    April 17, 2014
    • My hair is totally white at the sides in big patches, with scattered gray everywhere else. I’d look like that Frankenstein woman if I let it go. I don’t think that would be a good look for me……..

      April 17, 2014
  9. Your roots look just fine. 🙂 About novels . . . I found many years ago that reading novels deepened my ability to do good character work as an actor. So they’re good for my craft. And I love them now.

    April 17, 2014
    • Carolyn, I think it’s really interesting how much character development for writing and character development for acting have in common. I think I do a better job on the page, because I don’t feel as exposed as I did on the stage.

      April 17, 2014
  10. Great study on the neurology of reading! I’ve not read the Sandman Slim stuff, although I enjoy Jim Butcher’s novels. Maybe I’ll check them out. Certainly enjoyed yours! Buy your book and as an added bonus increase your overall brain function, not a bad marketing ploy. 🙂

    April 17, 2014
    • Most of the people here who are going to buy my book have, so this is more an overall reinforcement that reading – ALL reading – is important. I’m getting out and speaking to groups and doing events now, and it alarms me to hear the number of people who tell me they never read. Yes, because I’m a writer who’d like to make my living by writing books. But also, because I know how much reading has contributed to my own life. What are people losing because they don’t make time to read? How are they changing their brains/attention spans/opportunities? That’s what I try to leave people with in my talks. I hope I’m inspiring more people to read PERIOD, not just to read ME.

      April 17, 2014
      • I agree with you on all of it. hope you continue to make an impact.

        April 17, 2014
  11. Oh pshaw. Those aren’t roots. The shit I was rockin’ before I finally grew a pair and went back to the old salon – now THOSE were roots. 🙂

    I recently read a debut novel called Soy Sauce for Beginners which I found really fun. I’ve been reading a ton of non-fiction mostly, so I do need to build up a new stock of novels. I miss them. Yours made me thirsty for more.

    April 17, 2014
    • I’ve seen that book in the list of books people who’ve bought mine have purchased or viewed. If you liked it, I’ll definitely check it out.

      April 17, 2014
      • I think I enjoyed the rich descriptions of the setting. Travel is such a passion of mine, so any book that richly describes the sights, smells, sounds, feel of a place I’d like to visit draws me in every time.

        April 17, 2014
  12. tarakianwarrior #

    I’m getting my hair done tonight!!! I think I just might go white/hot pink – not sure though – I usually decide when I get there…so far Mike’s favorite is the purple and blue – who’d have thought that? Ha – he’s so conservative, amazing he ended up with me. Not sure on the hairstyle because my daughter-in-law cut her hair the VERY same way I was going to cut mine – not going to copy her (especially because she looks so damn cute). 🙂 Good luck on the roots.

    April 17, 2014
    • What roots? 😉 Charmaine took them all away.

      I hope you’ll post photos of your new do, Lori. I always enjoy seeing the results.

      April 17, 2014
      • tarakianwarrior #

        I must say I really enjoyed your response. 🙂 Thanks Andra. I do have a lot of fun with my hair.

        April 18, 2014
  13. You’re kind of smart, making us do all this intense reading. 😉 I do like an intense research study, however.

    I draw a lot of inspiration from novels, and I like to listen to them as well as read them (when I do get a chance.) I remember the last inspirational thing – not a book but a podcast – gave me an idea for seeding in some tension for my current WIP novel’s main character — a high school boy in the mid-90’s — in order to move the plot forward. My book is in a stalled stage — certainly not from a dearth of ideas, but from an inability to schedule the attendant writing time, which I intend to address in the coming few weeks.

    Maybe I can break out.

    Oh and that podcast is Writing Excuses — “fifteen minutes: because you’re in a hurry, and [they’re] not that smart.” For anyone who has never listened, I recommend it; it’s a great tool for both seasoned and novice writers.

    April 17, 2014
    • Well, if I say you should read, nobody cares. But if EXPERTS say it…….. 🙂

      I hope you’ll get time to work on your book soon, Rob. I enjoy your writing, and I’d love to read it.

      April 17, 2014
      • And I would be glad to give you a first crack at being a beta reader . . . possibly even an alpha.

        April 17, 2014
    • Let me know. Happy to do it.

      April 17, 2014
  14. I’m so happy you liked Sandman Slim, Andra and thanks for the nice link! I’ve been without a great book for a few weeks now but your past couple of posts are full of promising titles…my list is growing again. 🙂

    April 17, 2014
    • That’s part of the point of these. I find the best books from this community, and I’m always happy to get new recs. I’m so glad I took yours.

      April 17, 2014
  15. Roots? You call those roots? My roots are so long and wide, they could be carrots. Like CB above, I now do my own coloring, which really works fabulously; cheaper, but messier.

    Which book? Hmm? I’ve been into a string of historical fiction lately, the most recent being “The Aviator’s Wife*” – and, well, of course, my most enjoyable time with Merry and Em. What happens, though, is I get hooked into these wonderful characters and then spend all sorts of time finding out more stuff about them.

    For instance, interest in Anne Morrow Lindbergh* led me to a book of essays, “The Quiet Center”, and a bit by her daughter Reeve Lindbergh, entitled My Mother’s Open Door. Then, I thought I saw, oh, yes I did, another essay in David McCullough’s “Brave Companions” about pioneer pilots, but, wait, what’s that in the index? A reference of non-other than Meriwether Lewis.

    Loved this post – and line of thoughts.

    April 17, 2014
    • I still need to read The Aviator’s Wife!! Thank you for reminding me.

      I love the rabbit trails posts like this generate. I so enjoy reading the comments.

      April 17, 2014
  16. White or Red with roots angst?

    April 17, 2014
  17. I haven’t finished any new fiction since I completed your wonderful book. I’m currently reading The Orchardist, and enjoying it immensely. I’m also just finished reading The Devil’s Backbone, for a second time, because I wanted to trace the Trace with you! 🙂 I recently finished Tom Shadyac’s book, Life’s Operating Manual and found that inspiring me towards more simplicity. He has really impressed me. I don’t know if a book inspires me towards more creativity, but I am never without something wonderful to read. 🙂

    April 18, 2014
    • Ooh! I will have to check out The Orchardist if you like it.

      April 18, 2014
  18. As many novels as I have read, my brain still feels dead,,,,,this morning:)

    April 18, 2014
  19. I wish this study had used a few control groups in addition to the 21 novel readers so we could compare results and determine whether reading novels has a more pronounced effect on the brain than:

    watching movies, playing video games, meditating, doing yoga, dining out, texting, drinking wine, eating chocolate, going for 444 mile walks, parasailing, taking a bike ride, talking to a close friend, having sex, etc.

    Since everyone read the same novel, it’s hard to conclude that novel reading is better than other activities, such as reading poetry, attending a concert, watching a ballet, etc.

    April 18, 2014
    • Nancy, multiple studies are being conducted around the world on this topic at the moment, and I’m sure we’ll continue to see interesting results.

      April 18, 2014
  20. I have lost count of how many books I have read in my life time. I remember when I was in high school my mother would take my sister and I and we would each check out 20 books apiece. My mother and I would switch out our book pile in about 8 days and we would read each others books. That was 30 or 40 books every 2 weeks. Looking back at those times it is hard to believe. Then again, that WAS our only entertainment other than going outside to ride my bike or play basketball in the hot Texas sun. There was no such thing as computers, Internet or social media to suck up hours of my time. I am thinking I should be a rocket scientist if that article is correct. LOL

    April 18, 2014
  21. Lance #

    I just finished your book. It was fantastic.

    I’ll get a review over to amazon today or tomorrow.

    April 19, 2014
  22. One of these days I will write down what I read. know I would be so glad if I did. Recently I’ve read a murder mystery series by Stuart Kamisky which takes place in Moscow, and features Inspector Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov , a one legged policeman, and his band of dedicated colleagues who manage to solve crimes and stay alive inn the changing political landscape. It’s predictable at times, but a fun read. Also I’ve read Labor Day, by Joyce Maynard, which led me to re read her other books, especially her nonfiction account of her time living with JD Salinger. Reading not only boosts our brains, it makes us more empathetic. There’s a study about that too.

    April 19, 2014

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