Monday, April 2, 2012

Taft 2012's Author Jason Heller Talks Book Love

Last month I read and reviewed a compelling book entitled, Taft 2012 by Jason Heller. I was so impressed by its unique tale and its fun storytelling that I decided I needed to know more about the man behind the words. I searched out Jason Heller and, when I found him, I asked him the question you know I am always burning to ask, "What was your first book love?" He satiated my book love curiosity by agreeing to do an interview for the Book Love Series.

Jason Heller, like many I ask, had many book loves, but said that he, "really connected with and obsessively re-read," David Eddings' classic, five-book fantasy series, The Belgariad. According to the David Eddings Wiki:
The series tells the story of the recovery of the Orb of Aldur and coming of age of Garion, an orphaned farmboy. Garion is accompanied by his aunt Polgara and her father Belgarath as they try and fulfill an ancient prophecy that will decide the fate of the universe. Along the way, various "instruments", or helpers, of the prophecy join their quest.

Jason received Pawn of Prophecy (the first book in the series) as a gift from his uncle. As Jason puts it, "He knew I had an interest in fantasy (mostly because my earlier reading of Tolkien, of course!), and he probably thought, 'Hey, this looks fantastical enough for Jason!'" It looks like his uncle was right. Jason was hooked seemingly on sight. When I asked him what he thought first drew him in, he wrote of seeing Garion, the farmboy in the book.
There’s a painting of boy on the cover of Pawn of Prophecy, the first book in the series, although it isn’t technically for young adults. As it turns out, Eddings’ intimate, detailed, warm, and sympathetic rendering of the book’s hero, the young farm boy Garion, instantly hooked me.

I wondered if Jason felt that he could relate to Garion, or any of the characters in the series, or if his reading was an experience of complete escapism. I absolutely love his answer, "Both. That’s what I loved about fantasy, and that’s why I still love that genre more than anything else. It’s total escapism—and yet, the best fantasy is very much about real emotions, real struggles, and the real world.
"  Isn't this so true? Don't we all find ourselves running to magical, mystical lands on the backs of our books, only to more deeply understand our own realities? We may not even consciously realize that is what we are doing at the time, but who hasn't left a good book with a greater understanding of some piece of the world?

Jason also reminded me of one of the beautiful memories of the pre-Internet world. It was so much easier to be surprised then...
I was around ten at the time, and Pawn of Prophecy had just been published. So I had the additional benefit of being able to buy each new book as it came out—and totally savor it. Back in the ’80s there was no Internet, of course, so I wasn’t instantly clued in as to the release schedule for The Belgariad. I would just go to the mall, walk into the bookstore, and boom, there would be the next installment in the series. It was like Christmas!

I have similar memories of seeing new Calvin and Hobbes books by Bill Watterson and my fantastic experience of reading Stephen King's The Green Mile as he originally wrote it - as a serialized novel. It truly was just like Christmas to see the continuation of your story on the shelf on what otherwise seemed like an ordinary day.

Jason has been a life-long reader, even before he fell into book love with this series. He said, growing up feeling "awkward and self-conscious around other kids...  heaven was sitting in a quiet room, getting lost in the pages of a book. Still is, really.

" He's lost count of all the times he's re-read this series, but knows he's, "read all five books of the Belgariad—plus all five books of its sequel series, the Mallorean—at least a dozen times. Every time I read it, it’s like going home." So, of course, he recommends the series to others,
The Belgariad doesn’t get a lot of critical respect, but it still holds up as a solid, witty, well-told, coming-of-age tale. Yes, it’s bursting at the seams with clichés, and it clings fanatically close to the whole hero’s-journey archetype. But I didn’t know that as a kid—I just knew it moved me, dazzled me, and swept me away.

And in the midst of dazzling and sweeping Jason away, the series also taught him. First he learned through Garion, as he learned on his journey,
Garion is taught many lessons as he matures and comes into his power (not to give too much away!) throughout the series. The biggest lessons he learns are from the blacksmith Durnik, who works on the farm with Garion and goes on to be one of his companions on his journey. Durnik’s basic philosophy—which I only wish I was better at adopting!—is this: Work hard, do it well, and let it be its own reward.
Then, as a whole, the series taught Jason personal lessons of his own.
It taught me that I had more strength than I realized. That’s an incredibly important thing to be told as a kid, especially one who grew up in some pretty adverse conditions (not to bore you with my sob story!). In fact, it’s something we all need to be reminded of from time to time.

 While Jason won't be sharing his sob story with us today, he gave a fantastic list of book loves to keep us engaged for quite some time. Get your to-read lists ready, here are some wonderful recommendations,
A list of a few books that have changed, and continue to influence, my life would have to include
  • J. G. Ballard’s The Crystal World
  • China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station, 
  • Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov
  • Frank Herbert’s Dune
  • Joseph Heller’s Catch-22
  • Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • Greil Marcus’ Lipstick Traces
  • Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness
  • Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, and 
  • everything by M. John Harrison. 
  • Oh, and I can’t forget Michael Moorcock’s iconic Elric series. I do, after all, have an entire arm of Elric tattoos! If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.
I don't know where to begin! I've read some of these, but definitely not all, including The Belgariad series. However, to this list I would like to add the book that made this all possible, Jason's own work Taft 2012. I found it timely, fun and inspiring and have been recommending it to friends on a regular basis. 

I am grateful to Jason Heller for participating in the Rivera Runs Through It Book Love Series. You can follow Jason on Goodreads, Twitter or on his blog.

Now it is your turn! If you are ready to share your own book love story with the world, e-mail me at

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