Tag Archives: reading

Midnight of the Year

Steve is giving me dirty looks, guilt tripping me because I haven’t posted anything on this blog in, like, forever.

Steve and coffee mug and dirty look

Well, my excuse is that I was sick over the holidays. Two nasty bouts of flu in the space of a month. And then, somehow, I just didn’t get back on the horse…

Steve’s having none of it (stuffed bears can be so demanding!). But there I was yesterday, looking out the picture window at the view of the lake, a thick white cloud hanging so low over it it feels like I’m sitting in a kettle with the lid clapped on.

The cosiness of December has given way to cold, muck and dreariness, and it feels like I haven’t seen the sun or the blue sky in weeks. (“There is no sun. … There never was a sun,” said the Witch. “No, there never was a sun,” said the Prince, and the Marsh-wiggle, and the children…) All I want to do is to curl up on the couch with my fluffy reading socks on my feet and my fluffy reading blanket over my lap, reading a fluffy novel.

And then it all of a sudden struck me: maybe that’s just what we’re meant to do this time of year? Maybe so many of us feel tired and unmotivated in winter because it’s the time when we’re supposed to sleep. This is, in fact, the midnight of the year.

Winter splinters

Or, rather, winter solstice is midnight. I learned in Physical Geography class some years ago that the hottest time is actually just after the zenith, and the coldest immediately after the nadir. So, the hottest time of day is around 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon, and the coldest time of night an hour or two after midnight – once the temperature has had time to catch up with the amount of sunshine the earth got (or didn’t get, as it were). If you correlate the cycle of the year to the hours of the day, then right now, January 18th, is about 1:50 AM.

Lake in shades of grey with lid on

And what else are you supposed to do at Ten-to-blinkin’-Two in the Morning other than sleep? Human beings are diurnal – we’re awake in the day, and sleep in the night. At least that’s what we’re designed for, notwithstanding Mr Edison and his light bulb which screwed us all over with its perpetual artificial daytime.

And so maybe that craving for fluffy socks and blankets and books is, in fact, quite normal and healthy, and ought to be indulged as much as possible. You know how, when your kids get up in the middle of the night, you roll over and just sort of grunt at them “Go back to sleep!”? Like that.

So bring on the socks and blankets and Pride and Prejudice. I’ll talk to you in the morning – umm, I mean in spring.

Life, the Universe, and the Midnight of the Year. See you when the sun comes up.

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Required Reading

3268My friend over on Jangled Nerves just let off a blog post on classics – based on yet another post, here, that details “16 Books Every Teenager Should Read in 2016”. So, I toddled over to that post and checked out this list of required reading. I mean, I’m not a teenager – haven’t been one in quite some time (sorry if that bursts a bubble for you) – but if there’s a list of must-reads, I want to know what it is.

And you know what? Of that list of sixteen books, I’ve read all of five, or maybe six. One (or two?) I read under duress, aka Literature Class in school, the other four I read because I loved them. And I pretty much know the Cliff Notes version of several others, which is enough to tell me that I’m not, in fact, interested in reading the full-length feature.

I actually find myself rather annoyed at the title of that original post. “16 Books EVERY Teenager SHOULD Read”. Why on earth should they? Because these are good books? Good grief, if that’s the reason, picking just sixteen is ridiculous. But what’s more, this list is highly subjective. For one, it’s quite US-centric – Gone With The Wind tops the list, but it’s one of those Cliff Notes books for me. No, I haven’t seen the movie either, because frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn about that story. For another, it’s a girl’s list of books. Sense and Sensibility? Jane Eyre? Fabulous books (they are, of course, on the list of four that I read for sheer pleasure*), but I can just see giving them to 16-year-old boys to read. 19th-century emo chicks mooning over romantic heartbreak – “Oh, Willoughby, Willoughby!” and “Reader, I married him…” – just kill me now. This, coupled with horrifically disturbing weirdness like Kafka’s The Trial (see “reading under duress”, above), is what’s chiefly responsible for turning many, many teenagers off books for life. Thank you, high school English class.

It’s not that I have a problem with this list of books per se – they’re great books, from what I hear. It’s not even that I disapprove of suggesting books for people to read; far from it. No, it’s the dogmatic headline, the “Thou Shalt Read This” that gets my goat. Because like every really voracious reader, I want to make up my own mind on what to read. And I think teenagers should be making up their own minds, too.

I never filled my children’s plates with food and then insisted they finish every last bite. I did (and still do) insist that they eat some vegetables with their dinner – but I don’t cook them spinach, because I know they hate it. I quite like cooked spinach, thank you very much, but if the kids would rather have it raw with salad dressing, so be it. There is no law that says “Thou Shalt Eat Thine Spinach Cooked”, nor is there one that says “Thou Shalt Read Kafka”. There are far too many good books in the world to force people to read according to a predetermined list. The ticket is to offer the veg, to suggest the book titles. I love Jane Austen – but if you don’t, why not read Sir Walter Scott instead? Ivanhoe is a darn good yarn.

Life, the Universe, and Books You Ought To Read. But only if you really want to. When you’re done all those other great books you’re reading at the moment. And the ones your friends suggested. And that one that just jumped at you from the bookstore shelf. And… Ah, never mind – just keep reading. And let me know when you hit on a good one, I’ll add it to my list of books to check out. I might get to it when I’m 80.

*PS: the other book from that list, the one I’m not sure if I’ve read or not, is Death of a Salesman – I remember being forced to read some kind of weird gloomy drama in undergrad English class; it might have been that. You can tell it made a big impression on my life. The other two I loved were, of course, The Horse and His Boy, and The Hobbit.

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Reading Break

IMG_20151230_092227A friend of mine posted a meme on Facebook on Sunday. It went something like this: “Enjoy your last pyjama day. Tomorrow, we have to go back to adulting.” Sigh, yeah. Adulting. That’s where you have to get up in the morning, get dressed, and be responsible. You can’t just stay in bed all day and read books.

What, that’s not how you spent your holidays? I sure did. I had a great reading break. (That, my dear college students, is a break for reading, not from reading. Just in case you were confused on the matter.) Okay, maybe I didn’t stay in bed all day. I got up. I put on my house coat and slippers – sometimes even my leggings and a big T-shirt – and I went downstairs. And then I sat on the couch, and read books all day. It was awesome.

Even as a kid, that was what I loved most about school holidays, the freedom to indulge in fiction first thing in the morning. And I use the word “indulge” consciously: I was raised with the attitude that reading is indulgence – it’s being a couch potato, something for rest and relaxation in the evening and on days off, not something you do on a normal school or work day in the middle of the day. So parking my rear on the couch and vegging out with a book feels very holiday-ish and self-indulgent. [Heh – “vegging out” – “being a couch potato” – what’s with all those derogatory references to vegetables? The English language seems to be rather biased towards carnivores.]

I really had planned on doing a few other things during the holidays, as well – like maybe excavate my workshop and make some pottery; or go hang out with friends. But it all fell by the wayside. The people I did hang out with quite extensively were Sharan Newman‘s Catherine LeVendeur and her cousin Solomon of Paris, ca. AD 1145. (It’s a really excellent series; I’d highly recommend it if you like historic mysteries – I haven’t read anything this well-researched since Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael. Unfortunately, the earlier books are from the early 90s, so not as easy to find; I had to get several of them by Interlibrary Loan. But they’re well worth the effort.) And when I ran out of Catherine books to read, there were a couple new Shanna Swendson ones – e.g. the third in her Fairy Tale series (that’s the one on my Kobo, on the top of the stack). From 12th-century France to 21st-century New York with rogue fairies running amok – what’s not to like?

So, yeah. I had a good vacation. The house went to pot, we spent days eating Christmas leftovers (isn’t that the whole point of Christmas dinner, to have leftovers?), I didn’t talk to any of my friends – but I read my fill. For a little while, at least.

Life, the Universe, and a Reading Break. Do I really have to go back to adulting now?

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Reading Habits

books (1)There’s been a fun reading quiz going around the blogosphere (last to pick up the challenge: Kate and Zach), and even though I wasn’t specifically named by anyone, I’ll pick up the gauntlet anyway. I’m also not going to peg anyone else, in a “Tag! You’re It!” fashion, but if this is something that looks like fun to you, consider yourself tagged.

The quiz is about your Reading Habit. Okay, yes [scuffs shoe in the dirt], I’m afraid it’s true. [Mumbles:] Hi, I’m Angelica. I have a Reading Habit. [Everyone:] Hi Angelica!

Uh, wait – Reading Habitsss, plural? Not Habit, singular? Oh. Well, yes, I have those too. Just forget what I said earlier, about my, umm, habit. Who, me, addicted to books? Naaah.

Okay, here goes. THE TRUTH ABOUT AMO’S READING HABITS:

books (5)You have 20,000 books on your TBR. How in the world do you decide what to read next?

Simple: I look at the pile and go “What do I feel like reading?” And that’s what I read.

You’re halfway through a book and you’re just not loving it. Do you quit or commit?

Quit. Why on earth would I read something I’m not enjoying? Oh, because I might want to find out how it ends? Okay, here’s a secret tip: it’s a book. You can flip to the last chapter, and get the lowdown without wasting your time on inflicting pain on yourself…

The end of the year is coming and you’re so close yet so far away on your GoodReads challenge. Do you quit or commit?

GoodReads challenge? What GoodReads challenge? Oh, is that one of those “I’m going to read 100 books by the end of the year” things? I had enough required reading in university; I don’t set myself “goals” for my reading. I read what I like when I like it. Isn’t that the whole point of reading?

books (2)The covers of a series you love DO. NOT. MATCH. How do you cope?

Umm, I think the only matched set of books I own is Austen (see picture) – or rather, one of the sets; the other Austen one(s) are mismatched too. I buy most of my books second hand or else piecemeal. I mean, I like matching books, but it’s obviously not a high priority…

Everyone and their mother loves a book you really don’t like. Who do you bond with over shared feelings?

Hah. It’s probably snarky of me, but if everyone and their mother loves a book [movie, singer, TV show, clothing style] then by definition I’m suspicious of it. So what “everyone” thinks has at best a negative influence on me. [Exception: I read Harry Potter just to see what the fuss was about, and to my great surprise got hooked. But then, it’s a great story.] As for who I share those feelings with, I have more than one family member and friend who has the same snobbish attitude, so there is never a shortage of people with whom to commiserate and share recommendations for really good books.

You’re reading a book and you’re about to start crying in public. How do you deal?

I don’t usually read in public… especially not anything likely to make me cry. But that’s because I’m not out in public a whole lot.

A sequel of a book you loved just came out, but you’ve forgotten a lot from the prior novel. Will you re-read the book? Skip the sequel? Try to find a summary on GoodReads? Cry in frustration?

Re-read. Or re-skim. (Yes, that’s allowed. There’s no book police that says you can’t skip through a book. Really!)

books (4)You don’t want ANYONE borrowing your books. How do you politely tell people “nope” when they ask?

I don’t usually have issues with people borrowing my books, because my friends who are readers also take care of books and will return them to me. But if it was a person I wouldn’t trust with my darlings, I’d have two words for them: Public Library. And I’d wrap up those words in some polite phrasing of not wanting to lend my books because I might just get a huge urge to read that particular volume in the next two days, so, sorry…

You’ve picked up and put down five different books in the past month. How do you get over the reading slump?

Reading slump? What’s that? Sort of like an eating slump, where you really can’t get into eating lunch, and you force yourself to eat some chocolate cake because eating is a virtue and must be carried on?
Pardon my sarcasm. But these questions are bringing up something really interesting: there is an underlying attitude here that reading is a virtue, something one ought to do. In my world, shaped by my upbringing, reading is an indulgence, something you get to do. No lists of “so many books of required reading”, no forcing yourself through a book you hate – and no “reading slump”… (I think there’s a full blog post in here somewhere.)

books (3)There are so many new books coming out that you are dying to read! How many do you actually buy?

Those same two words again: Public Library. My local one has this awesome feature that they’ll buy just about any book you suggest (if it’s available through their usual channels). You might have to wait half a year for them to get and process it, but you can get to read it eventually. And then, if I read it and absolutely love it, I’ll go buy a copy to keep.

After you’ve bought a new book you want to get to, how long do they sit on your shelf until you actually read them?

Depends on what it is. If it’s a new fiction book in a series I love, it usually doesn’t even make it to the shelf before it gets read. Non-fiction, again, I’ll likely get it from the library first, and then I’m on a time limit before I have to return it, so I better get to it right away… or else I just take it back unread and it can sit on the library shelves until the urge to read it strikes again.

So there you have it: Life, the Universe, and my Reading Habit. Habits, sss! What about you?

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Jane vs. Jane

I was reading Kara Jorgensen’s blog this morning, and it got me thinking. Today, she posted on “10 Bookish Confessions”, giving a list of ten facts about herself and her relationship with books (reading as well as writing them). Now, I’m not going to follow suit and give you one of those Lists of Ten, fun though they may be – some other time, perhaps. No, what got me thinking was the first item on her list. (The second item, her book-related charm bracelet, didn’t get me thinking, it brought a slightly greenish tinge of envy to my face. It’s just too cool.) Anyway, the point was: “My favorite classic is Jane Eyre.”

CharlotteBrontePortraitAnd that started my train of thought on Jane-Eyre-People vs. Jane-Austen-People. Jane vs. Jane. Just to be clear on that, Jane Eyre was not, repeat NOT, written by Jane Austen. Got that? NOT. I don’t know how often I’ve heard someone say “Jane Austen? Oh yeah, I love her books. Jane Eyre is great.” Uh, no. Yes, they’re both Janes and have something to do with romance stories from the 19th century, but that’s where the commonalities end. Jane Eyre is a fictional character created by Charlotte Brontë in the middle of the 19th century; Jane Austen is a writer who created fictional characters (including a Charlotte or two) at the beginning of said time period. But for some reason ignorant people (i.e. anyone not a rabid fan of either of those Janes) keep muddling the two.

IMG_20150427_123501Which is a travesty, because those two Janes are very different. Actually, Charlotte Brontë, rumour has it, disliked Austen’s writing (I know – how could she?). That should tell you right there.

I don’t mind Jane Eyre. I’ve read it a time or two (or three), and own a couple of the movies – I like the one with Ciarán Hinds and Samantha Morton; I have it on VHS, taped off the TV when you could still do that, and definitely would like to get a DVD of it. But I don’t love it like I love Jane Austen. Now, I know or have heard of several people who are absolutely crazy about Jane Eyre. Mr Rochester is their romantic ideal. Personally, I could take him or leave him – leave him, more likely. I don’t go for all that capital-D Drama, the overwhelming (and capital-P) Passion, the capital-everything-plus-boldface ROMANCE. I’m not sure what it is, but Jane Eyre is just a little too intense for me. I always skip over the first few chapters of the story, because I can’t handle accounts of child abuse, and I get the idea (that Jane’s had a horrible childhood) without reading every detail of it, thank you very much. So I usually start reading or watching at about the point where Jane becomes a governess, and finally has some control over her life. She’s a great character, of course – what a woman of strength! And what an ending! “Reader, I married him” – that line is almost as quotable as “It is a truth universally acknowledged…”

Jane_Austen_coloured_versionAlmost, but not quite. At least for me. Actually, those two lines are quite indicative of the differences between the two Janes. See, one of the things that make me love Jane Austen’s novels so much is her sense of humour. Austen is funny. I mean, the first line of her most famous book is a piece of tongue-in-cheek satire! The Brontës, on the other hand, take themselves and their characters very seriously. Jane Eyre is nothing to laugh or even quietly chuckle at – her story is serious, heart-gripping, adrenalin-pounding, sweeping passion. Evil relatives, pathetic death scenes, hot-tempered despotic men, a catastrophic house fire, physical exhaustion to the point of nearly dying – it’s got it all. In Austen, the worst catastrophes you get are along the lines of a cad running off with a girl, another girl hitting her head when jumping off a rock wall, or a third having to ride the stage coach alone without a servant in attendance. Her death scenes invariably take place off-screen, and the only case of debilitating physical exhaustion is Fanny Price getting a IMG_20150427_123745headache from having to walk through the park in the heat. Austen’s heroes are always gentlemen, calm, rational and self-controlled. None of that Rochesterian “I must have you for my wife or perish!” stuff. Austen’s writing is full of what the Marianne of the 1995 Sense and Sensibility movie would disparagingly call “polite affections” – but Marianne would have found herself completely at home in Brontë’s world.

I can’t really make any definitive statements about the readers who love the Victorian Jane more than the Georgian one; whose imagination prefers crinolines and a bearded, autocratic Edward Rochester to empire waists and a smiling, civil Edward Ferrars, Mr Darcy or Mr Tilney. I only know that for myself, I’ll take Ciarán Hinds’ Captain Wentworth over his Mr Rochester, Jane Austen over Jane Eyre, because that’s the kind of person I am.

But I’m glad that both those Janes exist. Our world is richer for them.

Life, the Universe, and Jane vs. Jane. We each can choose our own.

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Luddism and Ebook Readers

booksI ran across another one of those articles the other day. You know the ones – “Social Media Are Destroying Our Connections To Real People!” “Computers Rot Your Brain!” “If You Don’t Feel Guilty About Your Use of Technology Yet, Here’s Why You Should!” This particular one is entitled “Science Has Great News for People Who Read Actual Books“, and takes a dig at ebook readers. Granted, this article is a lot better than the last one I read on the subject, which cited a study that said we read differently on a screen than on a page (we skip around on a screen, as opposed to the “linear” reading we do on a static page), and then concluded from that that you shouldn’t read books on your Kindle (because a Kindle has a screen). D’uh. Apparently the authors of that particular article haven’t ever actually looked at an ebook reader, particularly the e-ink ones like Kindle or Kobo – it looks exactly like a paper page, you don’t scroll or jump around visually. Just line after line of text, and then you “flip the page” with a touch of a button or a swipe of your finger.

Anyway, this article I read this morning actually has some interesting info: they’re citing a study that found that paper readers had a better recall of the timing of events in a story than Kindle readers. The researchers speculate that it’s because a Kindle always feels the same, no matter where you are in the story, whereas in a paper book you have the tactile feedback that tells you how many pages are left to read – so you know that when the detective ran across the red herring, you still had half the book in front of you, so it obviously wasn’t close to the end of the story.

Sure, it makes sense. And all those articles do have a point. However, have you noticed something about them? All of those pieces of writing decrying the evils of technology are on the Internet. Guess what? You won’t be able to read that article about the evils of reading on a screen on anything but a screen. That video clip about how social media cut us off from real people went viral – on social media.

There is a certain amount of hypocrisy about all of that, wouldn’t you say? And what’s more, it has an all-pervasive flavour of Luddism. “Everything Was Better in Ye Olden Dayse”, that sort of thing. “If it’s new, and especially if kids like it, it must be bad.” And that’s an attitude that is suspect right from the word Go. I’m all in favour of doing things the old-fashioned way (I made grape jelly without commercial pectin the other day, and was thrilled when it turned out), but that doesn’t mean that the new way is inferior and to be avoided. That’s Luddite alarmism, is what it is.

See, the fact about that article is that while it claims to give “Great News For People Who Read Actual Books”, what it really does is give Bad News to Ebook Readers. It sets up reading on paper as superior to reading on an ereader – and for what? Probably just so that paper book readers can feel smug, and ebook readers feel guilty.

I’m sorry, I have no use for that kind of snobbery. It doesn’t really do anybody any good, least of all us bibliophiles. Of course I love my paper books, I’d never be without them. (In fact, I built me a new bookshelf just a few days ago. No, getting rid of enough books to make them fit the existing shelves isn’t an option. Sorry.) But my Kobo is also a great way to do reading. In a little package the size of a thin paperback I have about 250 books stored – I don’t think I can fit that many hardcopies onto my new shelf, and it’s three feet wide and four feet tall. If I want new books, in some cases I can get them instantly. For example, just the other day E. L. Bates recommended a series I hadn’t read, and when I went on my library’s website, it turned out to have the first of the series available as an ebook. In five minutes I had that library book in hand, even though it was Saturday night and my local library branch wouldn’t open again until Tuesday. Thousands of classics of world literature are available for free from places like Project Gutenberg and the MobileRead website, and many more brand-new books from self-published authors on Amazon and Smashwords.

koboSo stop it with the Luddite reading snobbery already. Ereaders are a fantastic way to get at more reading material, to carry it around with you, to expand your reading horizons. They’re not inferior to paper books, they’re just different. A new way to indulge your love for reading. That’s something to celebrate, wouldn’t you say?

Life, the Universe, and Ebook Readers. Where are you getting your daily reading dose today?

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