Brain Candy versus Soul Chai

Kevin’s Hearne’s second book, Hexed, will be out in another two weeks, and chances are I won’t even notice next week go by at all since I’ll be participating in wedding ceremony madness. And, no, not my wedding. Heaven forbid.

I’m anticipating it with great pleasure (the book, not the wedding, though I’m sure that’ll have its moments), and in the meantime I’ve been trying to figure out exactly where I place his first book (Hounded) in my hierarchy of reading. I’ve been a bit bamboozled, you see, because the book was so blasted easy to read. I flew straight through it, didn’t get hung up or bored at any point, and generally loved all over it like it was my new favorite plush toy.

After initially finishing it, a question popped into my head: Is this book Brain Candy?

It was almost too fun to be anything else, but I mused over that question for all of a minute before I decided, absolutely and unequivocally, that, no, it was not Brain Candy. It was something else. Something all its own that I hadn’t categorized before. So…what was it exactly?

I finally figured it out, I think. But to differentiate between Brain Candy and this new, far more delicious and satisfying treat, I must define what I’m talking about.

Brain Candy means easy reading with a serious enjoyment factor, but also with an element of minor laziness, because I already know about the world, the characters, and the way the story is likely to go. It’s candy because I don’t really have to try. I just pop it in my mouth, sit back, and enjoy.

The best example of Brain Candy? Star Trek novels.

I don’t have to think hard about Star Trek novels because I’ve been watching the show, in its various incarnations, for years. I can probably (but not always) predict them, and they’re not always well-written or very complex (though sometimes they really are), but I’ll read the hell out of them anyway because, by god, it’s Star Trek, and that’s some way-back-when childhood nostalgia, man. And who doesn’t like to read about some of their favorite, most idolized characters doing even more awesome stuff? Nobody, that’s who.

But here’s another variation on Brain Candy: SF/F flavored romances of the not very complicated or plot-filled variety. Why? Because I can. Because when I’m tired and I don’t want to think too hard–when I want something entertaining, and I want to smile stupidly because, awww, look how cute they are– while still dipping my toes into the genres I like, well…need I say more?

On the other end of the Brain Candy spectrum, if I think the story and the characters of one of these novels go well beyond my ability to stomach them–or if the events of the novel are so outrageously ridiculous as to make me helpless with disbelief–I get to make fun of them to my friends over tacos or pizza, and that’s always a good time.

So that’s Brain Candy. And as easy as Hounded was for me to read, it doesn’t fall into that category at all. Here are a few reasons why:

– I didn’t go into Hounded knowing a single thing* except that there would be a Druid character. Even so, I got sucked in quickly and couldn’t pull myself away.

– I liked almost all of the characters. I even remember their names. Go ahead, ask me. Let’s see if I get the pronunciation correct (oh, and I practiced it. Don’t think I didn’t).

– Hearne does a lot more research for his book than any kind of Brain Candy novel would involve, for sure, no question, and it shows.

– There are tons of things I liked in his book that I didn’t foresee, and while, on occasion, I might have had a general idea about where the story was headed, I didn’t know for sure until I got there. I actually had to work to keep on my toes, and that’s ace!

– Action everywhere, and it wasn’t overdone! And plot, too! My god, spoil me more.

– The writing was engaging because Hearne gave the main character a great voice, and not because I convinced myself to ignore lackluster prose.

– At no point while reading did the phrase “Well this is trite crap” enter my head, nor did I ever roll my eyes.

– I’m anxious for more of this series, and I’m happy to say as much. You’ll see me at Borders at noon on release day. Yay!

So, as you can see, this does not qualify as Brain Candy. Hounded was enjoyable because it was exciting and new and well done, not because I got to be a little lazy. And so, I’ve derived a new category of which Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles is the founding series. It’s Boba Chai for the Soul. Or, for short, Soul Chai.

It’s chai because it’s so smooth and delicious that you can’t stop drinking it. You try to nurse it–oh how you try–you want it to last, but it’s just too good. You don’t even realize you’ve finished it until you’re slurping the bottom, dodging ice, begging the straw to give you just one more drop of ambrosia. And, sure, you’ve had many types of chai over the years, but there’s nothing like a boba** chai where, not only do you get the regular blissful experience of a spiced milk drink, but you also get the boba bits that surprise you and make you anticipate every sip, wondering how many awesome little chewy things you’re going to get next. And when you’re all out? When there’s no more chai and no more boba to fiddle with in your glass? You find yourself back at the cafe counter, begging the barista to give you another, please, and here you have your stamp card, ooh! You’re almost to your free one….

And then there’s the other big difference between Brain Candy and Soul Chai.

Candy is candy. You see it and you say, yeah sure, I could do with some of that. You pick it up off a table on a whim or just because it’s there. You’re not actually hungry, and you should probably eat something more nutritious, but, what the hell, you didn’t really want to eat your vegetables that day anyway. You’d rather go down to the convenience store on your lunch break and buy the thing with the most empty calories possible for no other reason than it saves you the trouble of spending another five dollars on a real lunch. In the meantime, your sugar levels stay up and you can say you ate something, even if it did turn out to be a little bit old and the chocolate was kinda funny looking now that you think about it….

Whereas with a boba chai…oooh, boba chai. You figure out who makes the best one in town, and then you plan a day ahead to go to that cafe. You plan, and you wait, and you watch the clock at work. You count your quarters because you’re out of cash, and you don’t want to have to buy three things to make up the difference for the credit card charge. Or, better yet, you remember this one amazing cafe in a city totally not your own (you saved the business card, after all) and, what do you know? You’re visiting a friend down there for the first time in three years. You text her the address of the cafe because it had the most delicious chai on the planet, and you are not leaving that town without buying some. Just in case, you print out the MapQuest directions from her house address to the cafe as well, and then you remind her every day for the next month that she has to take you there. When you finally arrive, you not only go, but you buy two drinks because you worry you’ll never get to return. But then you go the next day, too, because you’re not above begging or slyly planting suggestions in your friend’s head that say, “They have take-out there. You won’t have to cook for me.” You want that chai, it makes your tastebuds sing, and you’re so, so willing to go out of your way to get it…. ***

You can see the difference there, right?

And now, having made this comparison, I should point out that I’m in no way demeaning books of the Brain Candy variety. Obviously I like them, or I wouldn’t consider them for my relaxing fun times (books that make me despise reading them fall into another category entirely. I will tentatively call them Charred Pencil Shavings, aka Literary Oregano****). Yes, life would be stressful indeed without the Brain Candy, so I welcome those books with open arms, and I hope that they are fantastically sugary in every way.

But, oh, the Soul Chai. The Soul Chai has so much more to offer. And, as with trying out any new cafe, there’s the chance you’ll be so surprised, so blown away by a new variation on the flavor that it will become your new favorite brand.

Everyone has their own types of Brain Candy and Soul Chai. What are yours?

*Incidentally, in case you were wondering, sequels don’t count as Brain Candy, despite offering the benefit of already knowing the characters and setting, because they derive from a first novel about which I had no prior knowledge. So, unless the “sequel” is coming out of a massive franchise, a la Star Trek and Star Wars, it retains the status of the first book. This, of course, is assuming the “series” hasn’t degenerated into Literary Oregano.

**Boba = Tapioca balls placed into the bottom of a cold drink and sucked out with an oversized straw. Trust me, it’s good. Also fun.

***I have made up neither of these examples. First one: What ? Cafe, Tallahassee, Florida on Tharpe & MLKJ–if I leave there without having at least two boba chai (or a boba chai and a boba black tea) then my wallet must have been stolen. Second one: Bikkuri Sushi, Orlando Florida on Colonial Drive–order the garlic roll and the black tea boba. Oh my heavens, so delicious.

****I’m calling it Literary Oregano because, no lie, I think that spice tastes like pencil shavings, and I hate it. Blegh. (And, yes, I have indeed breathed in pencil shavings before. It’s practically a requirement that artists do that to themselves at some point).



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