On the End


“…we cannot exclude the possibility that there might be some other form of matter, distributed almost uniformly throughout the universe, that we have not yet detected and that might still raise the average density of the universe up to the critical value needed to halt the expansion… This should not unduly worry us: by that time, unless we have colonized beyond the Solar System, mankind will long since have died out, extinguished along with our sun!”

– A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking

Someday all of this will end. Everything we have created, forged out of necessity or love or hate will be diminished to nothing. Someday everything we have learned, taught, become aware of, or done will be a distant speck on a timeline that, depending upon your viewpoint of time, will come to an end. That leaves more questions than answers.

Does what we do really matter? In the big picture, do our actions really have as big of an impact on the world as we think they do? Is any of this worth saving or fighting for?

Certainly, with a shift in perception it can seem that way. We can make ourselves believe that our actions have an impact on the day-to-day of our lives. That our actions, fueled by our views, will create something better not just for ourselves, but for everyone. But at what point do we recognize the inevitability that this isn’t forever?

Perhaps it stems from a fear of death. Or maybe we can’t come to recognize that we’re a brief flash in history, ticking away a second at a time. We can believe that our actions are worth doing, but in the big picture, what are we really? How can we define a race of people lurching toward an end, struggling to come to terms with what exactly it is we’re supposed to be doing in the few short years we’re alive?

It could be that definitions don’t matter. Life exists just as it is. Our deeper purpose isn’t to be understood, but instead to be considered lightly as we reflect upon our own lives. Our collective actions, gathered throughout history until this present moment, created everything we have and, to some degree, what we are. Maybe we aren’t meant to come to terms with what’s in the future?

But what kind of people would we be if we didn’t try?

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It’s Not How Much, But What


When I started writing some years ago–writing seriously, that is–I was, admittedly and not surprisingly, naively curious about, well, everything related to writing. I gravitated to bigger writing blogs and came upon one in particular full of budding writers thirsty for advice on how to be a successful author. The blog’s owner, who was plenty experienced, sure, preached with utmost certainty that if we wanted to be successful writers that we absolutely needed to have a blog as a platform to reach out to the voracious readers ready to devour our books. Certainly not bad advice at all, so I logged a new blog post just about every day. Full of new experiences to share with the world, the words flowed in my books as well as on the blogosphere.

And yet, over time, the blog posts slowed, but the writing did not. It seemed that, perhaps, I had learned a sufficient amount to continue without regurgitating what I had already said before–something I noticed the blog mentioned above seemed to do, just in different words–I published a few more books, and the blog posts essentially came to a halt. Book sales continued to trickle, seemingly with no change whether I blogged or not.

Flash forward to a few days ago when a blog post from Chuck Wendig soared into my inbox all about how, really, writer’s don’t need to blog. Blogging should be something you want to do, not something you should feel badly about not doing. It detailed about how if you’re told agents will only take writers who blog and have massive blogging platforms, then you’ve been lied to, and that publishers should, and will, work with writers to combine their marketing efforts. I’ve also seen, and posted, my fair share of posts apologizing for not posting followed by empty promises to blog more, only to have my blog fall a bit stagnant again. That’s when I realized what needed to happen. I needed to rediscover that bit of enjoyment I received from blogging. At first, I was learning so much about writing all the time that I always had something new to talk about.

Mr. Wendig also touched upon this gem: Writers don’t need to blog about writing. As consumed as we are by the craft, blogging should be an outlet, an outpouring, even, of things we find interesting. Of things we love and enjoy. Certainly that includes writing, but us creative beasts have more interests that just writing, so I’m aiming to really explore deeper into the things that interest me and what I have to say about them. A few things I plan to talk about (and would love to discuss with you):

Philosophy – A few months ago I discovered a hidden love for philosophy. Searching ourselves to find out who we are beyond the basic ideals is something I find really interesting. Discovering, discussing, and debating the implications of our actions, the inevitable aspects of our life–death, love, to be human–is something that I’ve been implementing in my own writing, and it’s something I’d like to explore more.

Being a father – My son, Harvey, recently turned three months old, and I find it more difficult every day to remember what it was like before he arrived. So much happened that surged my life forward in the past 12 months, and he is certainly the biggest part of it.

Speaking of life surging forward, I finally landed a full-time job using my college degree. A couple of weeks ago I accepted a position as the communications specialist at a company called CDS Monarch, which is a not-for-profit organization that provides services for intellectually and developmentally disabled individuals, veterans suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and/or military sexual trauma, and seniors. It’s a lot of great work, and an organization that helps a lot of people. So, if you’ll excuse this shameless plug, check us out on Facebook and Twitter. I will certainly be talking about this some, too, as well as some of the great new marketing and public relations skills I learn.

So, I’ll leave you with that. I’m sure I’ll stumble upon other things to talk about, but I’m looking forward to the future of this blog.

Also, make sure you scroll down and read the great guest posts from Wednesday. There’s some awesome content from some awesome people.

Take care, and to those who celebrate: Happy Easter.

GUEST POST: Britt Skrabanek: I’ll Be Happy When…


Happiness. We put so much pressure on that single word, don’t we?

It’s all too easy to get stuck in this mental cycle of thinking happiness will magically arrive once we get something we thought we wanted more than anything else—when we accomplish something we worked our asses off to get.

I’ll be happy when I get that promotion.

I’ll be happy when I buy that house.

I’ll be happy when I write that book.

Do we feel happy after obtaining or accomplishing any of these things? Not for very long. Like coming down from a high, we crash and we wonder where it all went wrong.

Hey, what happened to my happiness I deserve? I worked so hard for it, and now it’s gone.

The build-up we attach to thinking happiness comes after a certain thing causes this self-destructive roller coaster of emotions.

As a writer, I know this feeling well. And I see it all the time in other writers.

I hear many aspiring novelists say that they’ll be happy when they finally finish writing their first book, so they can share it with the world. They envy others who have published their novel, thinking they have won the key to happiness.

I know this, because I used to be an aspiring novelist. I used to feel these things.

I used to think that if I published books, I would be able to become a full-time writer. I pictured myself looking out the window, typing away with a cat in my lap, creating meaningful art to share.

Since then, I’ve written and self-published three books. And I still have my full-time job.

After each book release, I felt disappointed. Yes, I was proud of myself for my hard work. I was. But what kept holding me back was the pressure I put on my own happiness.

Because I said…

I’ll be happy when I publish my first book.

I’ll be happy when I publish my second book.

I’ll be happy when I publish my third book.

Here’s the really interesting thing about finding happiness. It’s not hard to find. It’s actually right there in front of us.

Recently I ran a free Amazon promotion on my first book, Beneath the Satin Gloves, for a re-release I did after reediting the whole damn thing.

The promotion was a smashing success, with hundreds of downloads. My goal was to get more reviews. Then, I got my first Goodreads review…and it was one star, no comment.

I blamed the review for stealing my happiness. I wanted to quit writing—not for the first time—and I began second-guessing my path and purpose in life. Just like that.

Sure, it sounds ridiculous as I reveal this vulnerability to you guys, but it’s true. And, we all do it.

Again, I put too much pressure on my happiness, because I said I would be happy when I got reviews for my book. Well, I got one didn’t I? Shouldn’t that have made me happy?

Finding Happiness

The picture of me you’re seeing is a selfie I took right after this happened. It was a beautiful sunny day here in Portland and I took a walking break at work.

There’s a lovely urban park not far away. It’s surrounded by tall buildings and a busy freeway, but the park is spacious and peaceful, a sanctuary inside of the chaos.

It was here that I snapped out of my unhappiness. It was here, on a Wednesday afternoon, that happiness washed over me.

Nothing happened. There was no five star review for the same book to make me “feel better,” or some other grand revelation. I was simply happy.

And when I look back at some of the happiest moments in my life, they happen when I least expect them.

I think this is something we should all keep in mind. I’ll be happy when I live.


Britt is the spirited indie novelist of Nola Fran Evie, Everything’s Not Bigger, and Beneath the Satin Gloves. Her blog, a physical perspective, is a whimsical snapshot of life, musings, and the glory of the written word. Britt is blissfully married, has two delightfully incorrigible cats and loves to experience the world—all of its quirky beauty inspires her endlessly. When she’s not writing, she’s a bike riding Yogi who loves to dance.

 
 
 

GUEST POST: Michael Hallisey: Writing is an Act of Intimacy Between the Author and the Reader


Writing is an act of intimacy between the author and the reader. A disingenuous word stands out and credibility is lost. Too many people aspire to write for the wrong reasons. Often times a person wishes to write as a means of sharing a different passion entirely; being a love for music, the need to share one’s own story, or to satisfy the wish for fame and fortune. The love to write should satisfy the need to tell a story, regardless of the subject; and, to do so in the cadence of a dance where the words supply the music.

Writers are at their best when they are at their most vulnerable. When they allow themselves to be honest, and strip themselves naked, welcoming others to judge. Perhaps those who aspire to write are begging for acceptance, and fail to see the dangers to such exposure. While those who do write, are able to peer back into the reader and see the truth that lies within.

Nearly twenty years ago, I traded in my journalism career for one in the corporate world, because it provided a stable lifestyle to support a family. Just a few short years ago, I obsessed over the stories of others who overcame obstacles in pursuit of their passion, and I picked my pen back up. Today, I’m out of the corporate world. I’ve followed my passion and I surround myself with people who do the same. I write their stories so that others can be inspired as I have become. When you follow your passion, opportunities present themselves. You just have to be patient enough to look, strong enough to work towards, and to be brave enough to go after them.

M_HalliseyMichael Hallisey
Managing Editor
Spotlight Newspapers
www.spotlightnews.com
www.neongods.com
www.nysmusic.com

OFFICIAL WEBSITE LAUNCH: Christopherstocking.om


You may notice a couple new things around here.

1) A brand new, dark theme to fit my style of writing that has emerged over the past few months. Things are getting darker with each word, friends. But what lies beyond that darkness, deep within the story, are themes that I love to show. Power. Struggle. The consequences of intolerance and, perhaps most importantly of all, personal introspection to try and become something better than we are. There is light in every darkness, although it may often appear as a shadow. No one ever said light has to shine brightly.

2) A brand new name. Christopherstocking.com. Christopher Stocking is who I am. This is my space. My slice of the interwebs for me to share and explore, and I hope, if you’re a returning friend, you’ll continue to return; and, if you’re new, I hope you’ll stick around, sign up for email updates, and share your thoughts with me.

A new website for a new brand of writer, and I’m really excited to show you guys what’s new, what’s up, and what’s to come.

It’s going to be fun, friends.

SO! To honor this exciting new website launch, I will be featuring three awesome blog posts from three exceptional writers who I’ve had the honor of knowing and following. They’ll be talking about some great topics, so you’ll definitely want to watch this space to see what they have to say.

So, allow me to be the first to welcome you to the new Christopherstocking.com. More news and excitement will be rolling out over the next couple of weeks, so I hope you’ll hang out and bring some discussion.

Until next time, friends.

On Learning Philosophy


In my last post I speculated, “A writer who takes his or her work seriously must also be a philosopher, to some degree.” This got me thinking more in depth about what exactly it means to be a philosopher, and what sort of theories are out there. How deeply can we look into an idea of something? What does it mean to die? Can we suffer the turmoils of death while still living? Fortunately, having a Kindle gives me access to a ton of free, public domain books, so I downloaded several books on philosophy from the greats: Plato’s Republic, Aplology, Aristotle’s Ethics, and Friedrich Nietzsche’s On the Future of our Educational Institutions, Beyond Good and Evil, and The Antichrist. I’ve finished Beyond Good and Evil, and am now working my way through both Apology and The Antichrist, and it seems as if I’ve uncovered something I’m really interested in.

However, I’m still in that fledgling stage of philosophical observation and interrogation of life’s presuppositions as well as attempting to gain some sort of personal and cultural understanding of the world and the universe. The way we sort of stumble our way through the darkness of unfamiliar territory, looking for something to hold on to to guide us. While I’m a firm believer that science will tell us everything we need to know and will show us the way to understanding, I never discredit or ultimately dismiss the potential for other options and explanations in the search for truth. Philosopher and professor Cornel West said, “A philosopher is a lover of wisdom,” and while labels and generalizations often lead us to incorrect or biased assumptions about complex organisms, it’s still important to maintain personal labels to serve as a pseudo-enlightenment for ourselves so we may push our interests–in this case calling myself a philosopher as I explore my love of wisdom, knowledge, intelligence–to obtain a greater understanding that allows us to freely create and observe without bias on any level or spectrum. I’m attempting to look deeper into what it means to die and if we can prepare ourselves for death. What does it mean to be an educator? To advocate for the future by way of spreading our perceived truths to those who will potentially use it to further their own prospects of intelligence and wisdom. To find the observable changes and habits of our culture to provide a better understanding of who we are as well as why, so I may then write about it, put it in my fiction, to create something stronger, smarter, and better to hopefully create some sort of change or meaning.

With that being said, I’d like to leave you with a couple of my favorite quotes from Nietzsche’s books. despite being a severe misogynist, it’s unfair to consider his other points of view as not worthy of understanding.

“A thing that is explained ceases to concern us–what did the God mean who gave the advice, ‘Know thyself!’ Did it perhaps imply ‘Cease to be concerned about thyself! become objective!’–and Socrates?–And the “scientific man’?” — Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

“Insanity in individuals is something rare–but in groups, parties, nations, and epochs it is rule.” — Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

And, my favorite quote so far:

“The process of evolution does not necessarily mean elevation, enhancement, strengthening.” — Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist

Creating Characters: What Makes Us So Radical?


A writer who takes his or her work seriously must also be a philosopher, to some degree. We have to understand the human condition while also attempting to figure out the human condition. How does the mind work under certain circumstances? How do we function, and why do we function, the way we do when certain things happen? Not so much on a psychological level, but more in terms of how does what’s happening in our lives affect our actions, thoughts, and change our beliefs? Can our core beliefs be changed? We have to understand triggers and historical occurrences on minute, personal levels of our characters. Philosophy, the way I understand is, isn’t about right or wrong answers. Instead it’s about potential understanding of why we are the way we are, why the people of this world interact the way we do, and what results can be drawn from it as well as what might happen to us.

The particulars of this post, which could potentially end up as a monthly series, are what makes people so radical? A lot of my current writing, dark as it may have turned, deals with a lot of radical people exercising radical ideals. At least, they’re radical in the world in which I’m writing. Some characters are radical anti-theists interacting with religious individuals, while others are vigilantes with radical ideals of justice. But If we’re to understand how our characters function, then we have to understand how we function. Those are the parts of writing I find so fun and interesting. The learning and exploring that comes with creating characters who are so fundamentally different from me. Embodying a person who could be the complete opposite of who I am as a person allows me to see deeper into that life and create a more three-dimensional, richer character. And, chances are, if I’m learning, then so is the reader.

But first, what exactly defines someone who is radical? Relying on the trusty Oxford dictionary, I think this is the best-fit description of what I’m attempting to gain a better understanding of:

“A person who advocates thorough or complete political or social reform; a member of a political party or part of a party pursuing such aims.”

Examples of such individuals, extreme as they may be, would be someone like a suicide bomber, or one who might take up arms to defend his or her beliefs. What state of mind does this individual have to be in to engage in an activity such as that? I would argue that a person who would do something as extreme as taking, or risking, their own life would have to be absolutely sure that what they’re doing is right. Whether it’s in a religious sense–that they’re actions are seen as righteous in the eyes of their deity–or in a personal sense–that they’re actions will be rewarded through political or social change–they must be in an unchanging state of mind. I argue that an individual like this will almost never be able to have his or her mind changed unless presented with absolute, convincing facts that they can visibly see. This is a person who isn’t reasoned with well, especially by people with an opposing point of view, and he or she may also see them as a threat or target.

Of course we see people similar to this all over social media. People who blame one political party or group of individuals for all the country’s or world’s problems, but I don’t think they can be seen as radicals unless they are absolutely willing to fight and potentially die for their cause, whether it’s good or bad.

That being said, I think the term radical isn’t absolute, either. Are soldiers radicals because they’re putting their life on the line to protect their country? Some, perhaps. But are law enforcement or firefighters or secret service radicals because they’re risking their lives to protect and help others? I don’t think so. I think there’s a line between risking your life to protect and risking your life to further a cause.

These [radicals], however, are some of the most fun and interesting to create and write about. They’re people we can explore and see the world through their eyes. Everything and everyone in this world deserves to be understood, and by exploring the philosophy of characters through writing I think we can understand the world in a proactive and exciting way.

Winter and Writing


I have a pretty significant dislike for the cold. The bracing chill accompanied with freezing wind makes for a less-than-pleasant outdoor experience. Not to mention the time it takes to bundle up in scarves and hats and gloves and coats and whatever other layers are required to ensure I don’t lose a finger to frostbite (I know, I know, I live in New York, I should be used to it by now).

But, all complaining aside, I still have an appreciation for the aesthetics of  the cold season. I appreciate the blanket of snow shimmering in the sunlight. The dark trees beneath a cold, gray sky, once resembling life, then vibrant color, now are bare to show the final cycle of life. A dim farewell to the season. However, when the snow does eventually fall and cover those empty tree limbs, it almost disguises them with a sort of beauty that makes the idea of death–of and ending–okay. Like a thin, glinting veil over our eyes to ease the despair that may come with such finality. It creates the idea that an absolute, crushing end might be a little less final if we can see past the bare emptiness of it. A preservation of life that will eventually return if we can find something to help us hold on.

As a writer, it’s my responsibility to not only tell a good story, but to show one was well. Example: the idea of winter symbolizing death, but showing that we are capable of moving on from it and finding ways to cope with it (Hopefully I did that well). It’s my job to try to make you see something in a way you hadn’t before, or to feel a certain way about a point of view, an experience, a lifestyle that maybe you hadn’t considered. It’s my job to evoke emotions and feelings about fictional characters and trick you into thinking these are real people with real problems who, if they don’t deal with them, will suffer from catastrophic repercussions.

A key aspect of accomplishing my job successfully is descriptive writing. Unfortunately, it’s also something I’ve been a bit lacking in. Not that I struggle to get my point across, but I’ve never been one to go into the deep, minute details of each scene, every minuscule point of a character’s face, or every minutia of a person’s feelings. I’ve been told my writing somewhat resembles Hemingway. To the point. No messing around. Nothing unneeded. It’s just the story and the reader. No fluff. And while that’s well and good, and, well, a bit of an honor, really, it’s not entirely what I want my writing to be. Certainly we don’t have much control over our voice. It develops into what it is, and I don’t think there’s too much we can do to change it. However, I think we’re capable of altering it to some degree.

Our voice is kind of like the roots of our writing. We see what other writers do, how they describe something, tell a story, and why it’s working, and then we try to blend it with our own. Like little word thieves, if you will. Of course you could argue that those influences are the roots of our voice, and with practice our voice then becomes fully grown. But, stick with me here. If our voice is indeed the root of our writing, then those influences, paired with the grueling practice of writing, can then develop our voice into something great.

But once we find our voice (again, a counterargument could be that we never actually find our voice, but instead we just hone it to the best polished product it can become), are we able to change it? I think so. I think we can never lose that essence–the roots–of our voice, but it’s certainly able to be altered. We’re always getting better at writing, no? Every time I look back at an old piece of work I can’t help but cringe a bit because I see all the ways I could’ve written that scene better or told that person’s story in a more dynamic way. In order to do that, in some cases, I need to write more descriptively, which is something I have been working on.

My next work, Wasteland Gods, is currently in the beta reading stage. It also took me close to nine months to write. Taking that long to write something, to me, is both good and bad. It’s good because, well, that was nine months of me gradually becoming a better writer, meaning I can put out a better finished product. It’s bad because taking nine months to write a book means the beginning is almost inevitably far worse than the end, strictly from a technical standpoint. Eventually, however, when I did finally reach the end I was able to go back and read through the draft, adding in all sort of cool details and writing tricks that I had developed over those months, making the work stronger. Of  course it involved some chapter rewriting and extensive edits–all part of the revision process, of course–but in the end I was quite pleased with how it all turned out.

All of this is to say that our voice is important to constantly develop as writers, and this happens without us knowing. But if we actively work to get better, noticing our actions and how our writing develops, then we are absolutely on the right path to really doing something immense and meaningful with our writing.

If you’re still here, you’re a trooper. And thank you for reading.

Rejected


My first attempt at some sort of traditional publication has ended in rejection, sadly. I wrote a post-apocalyptic short story entitled When The Last Soul is Claimed about the Grim Reaper’s fate after she claims the final soul on earth and submitted it to Tor, the short fiction imprint. After about three months of waiting I received a reply yesterday:

Dear Mx. Stocking,

  Thanks so much for submitting to Tor.com, and for your patience while we evaluated your story. Unfortunately, “When The Last Soul is Claimed” is not quite right for us. I wish you the best of luck placing it elsewhere.

Best,
Tor.com Submissions Staff
(AM)

I’m fairly certain the “Mx” was a typo.

Admittedly, I was somewhat confident that my short story was good enough, and due to the volume of submissions they get I’m quite sure they really aren’t able to provide any feedback. That being said, I still kept the idea of rejections as a prevalent outcome of this endeavor, and I’m certain that’s one of the reasons why receiving the email wasn’t soul crushing, nor was it painful. In fact, it provided me with a surprising amount of inspiration to get back to it, to move on, and shop my story around elsewhere. I made significant work on Wasteland Gods yesterday, and even surprised myself when one of my favorite characters met an untimely demise.

I’m ultimately surprised at my reaction to my first rejection, and I’m somewhat excited to hang the letter above my desk where I have no doubt others will join it. Rejection is an inevitable part of this business, and while self-publishing has reduced both the amount and severity of rejection I’ve received–so far, anyway–I’m confident that I’ll be able to land something somewhere as I work on transitioning to more traditional publication attempts.

Classics Kick


Since my declaration of decreased social media, I’ve decided that I need to read some more classics. The only real exposure I’ve had to them is what we were required to read in high school, and most of the time I didn’t do the required reading. I think there comes a certain level of reading maturity that we have to hit before we can appreciate certain books, and I just hadn’t hit it then. But now I’m more eager than ever to read them.

I have mixed feelings about the classics from a writing standpoint, one of which being that in order for us to keep up as much as possible with current writing trends, reading something as old as the classics won’t really keep our writing current. However, there is so much to be learned from reading the classics.

Classics teach us the tricks of the trade. They show us such exemplary fundamentals of writing, themes, and characters, and they often touch on such important topics that I think are often overlooked in today’s fiction of vampire romances. (On a side note, it’s interesting that, for me at least, comparing something to vampire romance books seems to be becoming a cliche.)

So, to start off my classics kick, I read Of Mice and Men, which was one of the books I think I read most of in high school, in its entirety Monday. One of the things I especially enjoy about classic books is that many of them have interesting introductions by professors and people of literature who briefly analyze and provide some insights into the book, which are fun to look for while reading.

Along the Erie Canal.

Along the Erie Canal.

That leaves me with yesterday’s read. It was unusually warm, and the wind had been especially strong, but I couldn’t just sit in my apartment. Across the street, over a narrow trail line by two rows of trees, is the Erie Canal. Since my wife and I moved here in February, I’ve taken many walks alongside the Canal, weather permitting. There are paths on either side of it with benches and picnic tables and grills, so it’s really a nice spot that doesn’t get a ridiculous amount of traffic. I enjoy sitting and watching the boats, and oftentimes there are ducks passing by, so it’s really a peaceful spot to sit and, most recently, read.

So, yesterday, I went out and began my next classic read, The Scarlet Letter, which I’m enjoying. I’m told, mostly from the back cover, that it reveals a lot about the influence of New England’s past on American attitudes, which is something I recently got into. It’s interesting to see how the past influences the present, and can sometimes show the origins of present behaviors. Also, from what I read in the preface, this book was fueled by the death of Hawthorne’s mother, which apparently gave him a new sort of look at writing, and it launched him into an inspirational sprint unlike any he’d had before, since he’d somewhat unsuccessfully relied on writing short fiction.

Now comes the part where you can help! I’ve got my stack of classics, and I’d like for you guys to either recommend which book I read next and/or tell me which ones I need to get–as I know I’m really lacking good, classic books.

20141015_093600

The book on the very bottom is a biography of Emma Goldman that I had to read for an old college history class but would like to re-read. I just happened to grab it with the rest of the classics collection.

The list includes:

  • Of Mice and Men
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  • Wuthering Heights
  • A Tale of Two Cities
  • The Wizard of Oz
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
  • To Kill a Mockingbird

Which classics are your favorite? Do you think classic books are still relevant in today’s constantly changing book marketplace?