With a cover like that, how could this book NOT be great?

I find that I constantly overestimate my work ethic and ability to get things done, which would be fine if I had just met myself, but after 22 years of constantly setting goals and then failing to achieve them, it’s sort of embarrassing that I don’t know myself better. At this point, I feel like I’ve proven to myself that I’m not to be trusted with the responsibilities I give myself, and I really should just be delegating these tasks to other, more competent people.

Every year at the end of fall, winter, or spring term, I set out with a number of lofty goals for myself to achieve over the break. Applications to be filled out, people to contact, Worthwhile Books™ to read; just a big ‘ol laundry list of things that I didn’t have time to do over the course of the school year and thus should take care of now that I’ve got a big and uninterrupted expanse of free time.

To give you some idea of how this usually works out, here was my to do list for this break:

1) Contact folks at Roundhouse Kick Entertainment to see if my old job is still waiting for me
2) Apply for the NATAS Scriptwriting Internship
3) Apply for the NBC Page Program (Burbank)
4) Continue work on novel
5) Write screenplay for short film

And, having been home for a week now, here’s what I’ve accomplished:

1) Eat 9 oranges
2) Bathe
3) Catch up on 15 Community episodes in two days
4) Try out 5 Guys Burgers and Fries
5) Achieve ‘Fame’ within the New California Republic*
6) Introduce my parents to Robot Chicken
7) Clear Vault 3 of psychotic drug dealing thugs*
8) Try an Old Fashioned

*Listed item occurred in Fallout: New Vegas, where I am far more responsible and accomplished and better at lockpicking than I am in real life.

Hell, I’ve been so busy not achieving my goals I haven’t even been able to do the things I thought would be distracting me from my goals – I still haven’t watched season 4 of Mad Men or become a regular at the local bars like I had thought.

But – and let’s all be sure to appreciate the gravity of what I’m about to say – I have read a God damn book.

Yeah, that’s right. With words in it. No pictures. Almost four hundred pages long. And yes, for your information, it was about zombies, but I think you’re missing the point: A book. Which I read.

To be honest, it’s sort of embarrassing – this is the first book I’ve finished since this summer. And to be honest, the book I read over the summer was a screenwriting tutorial; I can’t even remember the last fiction book I read. It might have been The Stand, which I finished lying on a beach next to The Ex Girlfriend back when she was The Girlfriend, if this gives you any idea of the shamefully small amount of reading I do.

Keep in mind, I want to be a writer. For a writer to not read things is a lot like being a surgeon who doesn’t like to cut people open, or an airline pilot who hates to fly, or a pacifist serial killer. You’ve got to take at least a passing interest in the stuff you want to do – otherwise the suggestion is that maybe you don’t really like this stuff as much as you thought.

I don’t even pretend to make the excuse that I’m too busy reading for my classes to read other stuff, because I’m not – I never read for my classes. In fact, there’s plenty of times that I’ll find myself just sitting in front of my computer, bouncing back and forth between Facebook and Wikipedia in search of something interesting, with at least three books I’ve been meaning to read lying in a box by my desk. Reading just doesn’t occur to me, much in the same way rubbing a housecat under my arms doesn’t occur to me when I step out of the shower.

In my defense, books have let me down a lot before. Some books have spiffy titles and eye-catching covers, but once you get beyond that the writing itself is cumbersome and juvenile. And don’t get me wrong – I love cumbersome, juvenile writing, because it reminds me that bad writing gets published all the time, so I’ve definitely got a shot at success. But I’m not especially inclined to spend a few weeks plugging away at cumbersome, juvenile writing to get to the end of a book, even if I paid $15 for it.

And even the elite cadre of books that I’ve finished haven’t always done so well, either. I can’t tell you how many of the paperback detective novels that I devoured throughout high school ended with the writer tap dancing his or her way through a hasty climax, clearly sick of writing the book and eager to shove this turd of a manuscript out the door. Characters infodump on one another to quickly and unglamorously reveal the last few twists and turns of the story with the help of some last minute retcons:

“I knew he was a serial killer because I heard him say it to you at the lake because I put a secret listening device there when everyone thought I was sleeping and I’ve already given the police a copy of the recording and they told me to tell you that you were cleared of all charges and I love you let’s get married.”

Books, you see, are difficult like that. While writing a screenplay or an episode of a TV series requires you to keep the plot turning at predetermined points and wrap the whole thing up in a certain time, there are no such rules for books. They’re free to meander and be boring in the middle, or to have characters disgorge monologues about shit absolutely nobody but the author cares about.*

*Like a blog or something. Disgusting.

And ending a book is difficult. It’s like landing a plane – you’ve got to bring subplots, main story, and character development to a graceful stopping point, all at the same time, without turning the whole mess into a big flaming clusterfuck that kills a bunch of people. Few authors can pull that off. God knows I can’t.

So for me to have read a book means not only that I was able to pull myself away from the computer and the TV, but that I was able to forgive the written word for its past betrayals and risk getting my heart broken again by a slapshod ending.

Learning to forgive, I think, is at least one major accomplishment for Christmas break.

Truman Capps would like to point out to any interested parties that Stephen King is the only author who consistently tells kickass, engaging stories that don’t turn into flaming clusterfucks at the end, in case you didn’t gather that from my recent status update.