The State of my Hobbies (part one)

 
 
I don’t want to jinx it, but it certainly seems like spring is underway.  The snow is almost gone and things are looking up.  The only question for this blog is to address the hobbies.  We will call this part one–because I am sure I will miss something.

Darts

This is going well.  I have progressed well and I have several playoff games upcoming.  I have most enjoyed my darts season and will definitely continue it.  My biggest obstacle is that I don’t have my board up yet.  I am wavering between installation methods, causing a complete lack of home progress.

Nanoblocks/Loz blocks

There are a few kits I have my eyes on, but I haven’t stepped up and got them yet.  My display space is pretty much taken up.  Until I do some reorganizing, this may stay on hold.  Of course this would change if Toys R Us carried more of these kits.  I am much more likely to buy on impulse when I am out than when I am surfing the web.

Trains

I have lots of train projects on the go, just nothing completed.  I had big plans for this weekend before illness caused me to slow down–don’t worry, I’ve just got a cold and don’t have the energy to concentrate on stuff.  Even writing this short blog requires frequent rests.

Reading

I have decided to try reading some harder books.  What I mean by that is I am trying to read some more challenging books.  I am on pace to read about 60 books this year.  I decided that I would try and read some Pulitzer or Man Booker prize winners.  It would be great if I could read them all, and I might make that a goal next year.  The current book I am reading is Ghost Written by David Mitchell.  It is very well done and I recommend that anyone looking for a good book to read it.

Puzzles

I still do the crossword puzzle every day, but the one I am doing is only challenging because they have a lot of geographical clues and modern music clues that I have no idea about.  I can usually solve it, but I get frustrated at some of the “cheap” clues they give.  I haven’t done any Sudoku puzzles lately, nor any logic puzzles.  Maybe spring will reawaken these pursuits.

Writing

I am hoping to do more of this.  I still harbour the dream of being novelist/writer.  What I have learned is that it really depends on me and my discipline.  Of course I could say that about a lot of things.  I won’t let go of this dream.

Blogging

This is something I enjoy a lot.  The truth is, I haven’t written as much as I would have liked.  My students seem to enjoy my English teaching blog.  Unfortunately, I have to spend a bit of time reminding them to read it on Facebook. I will need to find ways to attract more people to this blog.  Maybe I will have to write about more controversial topics…..or Justin Bieber.

Gardening Landscaping

Though this may be a hobby for some, it really means work for me.  I have at least a week or two before I need to start on this, but it probably wouldn’t hurt to start getting the supplies.  I cut the grass far less than I had to shovel snow, so this really isn’t a problem.

My Thoughts on the 50 Book Challenge

In the past two weeks my Facebook friends have inundated me with book requests.  It seems they have joined something called the 50 book challenge.  Okay, they haven’t inundated just me, they have probably inundated everyone.  I don’t want to discourage reading, but there are a couple of things that rub me the wrong way.

The goal is, obviously, to get people reading.  As well as being an important goal, it appears to be a necessary one.  I say this because another post claimed that a large number of people haven’t read a book since high school, or that the average family hasn’t been to a bookstore in years.  Since no mention was made of the library, I will take these “statistics” with a grain of salt.

If you fall into one of the above categories, I feel pretty confident in saying that 50 books seems like a lot.  I am a daily commuter, and therefore, have plenty of time to read.  A book a week isn’t really a challenge–unless someone is talking too loud on their cell phone or the crossword puzzles are particularly difficult that week (I do those too.)  I certainly wouldn’t want someone to read 25 books and feel like a failure.  Twenty-five books should be as equally celebrated an accomplishment as 50 would be.  Heaven forbid someone only reads 49.

I understand this is part of that New Years Resolution deal.  As someone who has resolved to lose weight every year, and not always reached that goal, I know how disheartening that would be.  However, if this is the way you motivate yourself, I hope it works out.

As I said, I don’t want to discourage reading.  I love reading.  I just don’t want this to turn people off reading like some high school English teachers have obviously done.  Please enjoy reading your books at whatever pace you manage.  If you don’t get through a book a week, relax.  If you enjoyed your read, it doesn’t matter how long it took.

I had never heard of this challenge before, but a quick online search reveals that this is not a new challenge.  It has been going on for years.  I wonder why it has gained so much momentum this year?

For people taking this challenge I would like to offer some advice

v     If you feel yourself behind schedule, there are lots of quick reads out there.  You can sacrifice some of the “classics” you have chosen for some guilty pleasures.  Quick read choices for me include Robert B. Paker, Barry Eisler, and Patrick Robinson.  You can blast through these in a day or two.

v     Don’t neglect your library.  Supporting writers by buying books is great, but taking trips to the library is also a  good way of developing a habit–which is an unstated goal of the 50 book challenge.  I am a big supporter of the library because I just don’t have enough shelf space for books I have already read.

v     Don’t read too many books of the same author in a row.  It can get tiresome.
If you are going to proceed, I would like to offer you a short list of wonderful books.  I have mostly not included a long series of books (such as the phenomenal Ian Ranking detective series).  I have tried to wait before putting this list together because I am sure that I will think of ten more just after I post this….but one has to know when enough is enough and just get the thing out there.

I welcome any comments on this blog, or on my Facebook page if that is where you found the link to get here.

Recommendations

Waterland–Graham Swift
A Prayer for Owen Meany–John Irving
The Crying of Lot 49–Thomas Pynchon
Slaughterhouse Five–Kurt Vonnegut
Barney’s Version–Mordecai Richler
Bluebeard–Kurt Vonnegut
The Sun Also Rises–Ernest Hemmingway
90 Day Geisha–Chelsea Haywood
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo–Stieg Larsson
JPod–Douglas Copeland
Hitching Rides With Buddha–Will Ferguson
Fear and Trembling–Amelie Northomb
Lost Girls and Love Hotels–Catherine Hanrahan
A Separate Peace–Knowles
Pattern Recognition–William Gibson
The Quiet American–Graham Greene


Good Luck Everyone

 

Bittersweet Accomplishments

Readingis a passion of mine.  There is a problem.  When you find a character you love, you tend to read all the books.  While they last this is great.  In the last few years, I have enjoyed Ian Rankin’s Rebus, Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, and Barry Eisler’s Rain.  When the book supply is finished, you’re left without a character to read.

In the above examples, there will be other books.  Maybe every year or so, the author will write one…maybe.  I guess I should consider myself lucky.  When I came upon these authors they had written quite a few books, so it took quite a while to get through their catalogue.  However, now I am caught up, and there will be a long wait between books.  Before, as soon as I finished one, there was another one waiting for me.  Now, I will have to wait a year or so.

Luckily for me, my bus is full of commuters who also like to read, though I am noticing more people doing “work” on their tablets or laptops.  By work I mean Candy Crunch, but that’s another story.  If I have the courage, I ask them for recommendations.  If I feel shy, I just try to read the title or author and remember what they are reading for the next time I go to the library.  I probably won’t hit upon the literature I read for my degree, but it should be passable commuting fare.  Since I’ve read all the classics, and quite a few post-modern tomes, some escapist fiction won’t kill me.

Recently I have been reading the Inspector Banks series by Peter Robinson.  One of my commuter buddies recommended it.  He said that the first few were a little slow, they would pick up later.  I have read ten of them, and the last few have been really good.  Happily, I have at least ten more to read.  That should get to spring, especially if I read a couple of other books between those adventures.

There is a great sense of satisfaction when you come to the end of a series, but there is also a feeling of loss.  Bittersweet is too romantic a word,….but it seems to be fitting.  Maybe I need to go back and read all the Musketeer’s books.

Feel free to recommend some book series to me.  I will need something for late spring.

The disappointment of a pathetic crossword

These days I have settled into a pattern for my commute (no I am not talking about the schedule–I never manage to catch the same bus two days in a row).  After getting on the bus I do the crossword from the previous day’s newspaper (perhaps newspaper is not the right word for the free Metro newspaper), then maybe the Sudoku.  After that, I turn on my e-reader and get into whatever novel I am reading.

Though this sounds good, I am becoming rather upset with the crossword puzzle.  I guess I feel as though the puzzle is rather weak.  I don’t feel challenged.  Don’t get the wrong idea.  I am not a crossword puzzle snob.  I can’t finish the New York Times Sunday Crossword.  I am an average crossword puzzle solver who is terrible at any clues that revolve around geography or capital cities.  However, this puzzle bothers me over little things.

What are these little things?

This puzzle seems to think that using possessive s on every clue is a good thing to do.  I don’t know how many clues I have read that included phrases like “Mr Lenon’s” or “limo driver’s”–and those are the good ones.

Really, I think the puzzle creator is being lazy.  Since I am doing the free newspaper crossword, I can’t expect much…. but I shouldn’t be fed a constant diet of crap.  At least once a week, I would like to be faced with an interesting puzzle.

I think tomorrow I will crack open my book of logic puzzles instead.

What is and What is not a Hobby

Before the year is out, I have several lists to make.  Some of them are private, but some I am willing to share.  Some you’ll like, and some… you’ll wonder why I’m sharing them…such is the nature of blogging.

The first is the list of things that are not hobbies, and outside of this list, should not appear in this blog.

Shovelling snow.  Despite the fact that I will have to do this for the next few months, and despite the fact that the news people/weather forecasters, having survived the end of the Mayan calendar, are now calling for the snowiest winter in living memory, this is not a hobby.  It requires specialist equipment, and at times inhuman persistence, but it is not a hobby.

Drinking egg nog or hot chocolate.  Making the perfect cup of either of these two delicious things should be considered a hobby, but drinking them does not satisfy the definition.

Commuting.  Though it requires a certain tenacity, not to mention resistance to cold Canadian mornings, it does not qualify as a hobby.  The things that make it go faster (reading, playing video games, shaking my head at what some people are wearing, and trying to stare at some of my beautiful fellow commuters) are hobbies, but you knew that already.

Guessing the contents of presents before opening them.  This is definitely fun, and requires some innate talent, but is not a hobby.  I would wager to say it would make a great career if we could turn it into a carnival act, but it’s not a hobby.

Eating ramen.  In Japan, this is a hobby, or a career, or a lifestyle…maybe even a religion, but not in my current world.  Sometimes I wish it were, but that’s another story.

Cleaning.  Fantastic if you like it.  Creepy if you like it too much.  A necessity for sure.  Not a hobby.

Sleeping.  I covered this in an earlier blog (if you haven’t read it go check it out) and things still haven’t changed.  It isn’t a hobby…despite my students’ insistence.

Shopping.  I know, I know, for some of you out there this is a hobby……..but I just can’t wrap my head around it, so I am going to have to say no.  Feel free to convince me.  I’m not saying it can’t be done.  I don’t believe it can, but you might have a good argument.  Maybe.

Feel free to add to my list.  And expect more lists as the year draws to a close.  Some will look back at the past (as in what I accomplished this past year) and some will look to the future (what I hope to accomplish in the upcoming year). 

Video Games

Maybe it’s a guy thing–though things are changing–but guys love video games.  Some of my readers might say that boys love video games, and these men are just boys inside.  I can’t really argue with that too much.  Of course, as a hobbyist, I have been channelling the little boy inside me for a long time.  And that little boy likes his video games.

What does this really mean?  It means that I thumb through the weekly flyers for Best Buy and Future shop to see what games are out.  It means that I burrow deep into the “on sale” bin at department stores looking for gems in the rough.  It means that the sound of the arcade (mostly in movie theatre lobbies these days) calls whenever I pass.

Despite my affection for the games, I am not really a good player.  My hand eye co-ordination isn’t bad, my reaction time isn’t bad, but I just don’t have the intangible quality that separates the dabblers from the standout players.  I can complete games, but I probably don’t play them on the highest difficulty levels.  I win, but I don’t win convincingly.

As a hobby, video games don’t really get a lot of my time and attention.  I have a couple of portable ones when I need some distractions for the bus.  I have a less than modern system for the TV, and a couple of games.  I mostly play computer games, like Age of Empires, Sim City, and other games.  I like games that can be played in a couple of hours or less–having to spend a lot hours in front of the screen doesn’t appeal to me–my eyes get buggy and the headaches begin.

The new crop of video games that require full body movement are quite interesting.  I wonder how far this technology will go in the near and slightly distant future.

Analog vs Digital

It has been a couple of months and three books since I started using the Kobo.  Now, there should be a moment of reflection.

The obvious advantages of the Kobo really seem to be weight.  Compared to the second book in the Game of Thrones, the Kobo is much, much lighter.  I started this book on Friday morning, just after the bus left my stop,  and by the time I got to the subway station my arms were tired.  I am regretting not buying the Kobo version.  I might have to, just to save myself.

Currently, I have about 21 books on my Kobo.  Without adding any memory, I should be able to add about 79 more.  I haven’t actually purchased any of these books, relying instead on the benefits of public domain,  I am pretty sure I can easily find those 79 books.  Good thing I like the classics.

The downside of the Kobo falls into two categories.  Durability and capability.  Both of these are affected by my own responsibility.   The Kobo itself seems durable enough, but what if I drop it?  I tend to get sleepy on a warm bus, after a long day of work, followed by reading.  As far as capability goes, I really need to read the instruction files.  Currently I have the font set pretty large, making it easy to read, but making the chapters much longer than they might be in book form.  I am pretty sure that Dr Fu Manchu isn’t six hundred pages long.

So, two months in…. I am enjoying the Kobo, but still enjoying the analog version of books as well.

Commuting Distractions–Logic Puzzles

Having too much time on my hands in the bus is both a good and bad thing.  My bus is frequent enough that I don’t spend a lot of time waiting for it, but I certainly spend a lot of time on it.  I read, do the crossword, maybe a sudoku, a codeword when I have them, play video games and lately, I have been doing logic puzzles.

I thought I was the only one who did them because I had never seen anyone do them.  Sudoku seems to be the favourite, followed by people reading, and then followed by whatever iPhone game is popular at the moment.  I have never seen anyone doing a logic puzzle.  And no one has ever asked me what I was doing, or stared at me to figure out what I was doing……. until Friday.

On Friday I met someone who was interested and who wanted to know where I got the book.  This is no big deal, but it means that I am, in my mind, no longer the only one doing these things.  I am part of some group.  Since the book was published and sold in a big bookstore chain, I should probably have realized this before now….but this seems more personal, more real.

Logic puzzles are not the best thing for the bus.  There is less to write than a crossword puzzle (I use circles and “ x”s), but more to pay attention to.  I had been managing it pretty well, but I realized that for the difficult puzzles, it is difficult to concentrate.  Add to this fact that I am often sleepy during the morning commute and on the verge of dozing off on the evening commute and you can see the problem.

I will persevere though.  Logic puzzles are fun, and challenging.

I became a fan of logic problems when I was in high school.  We spent a week in mathematics class doing them.  I did acceptably well on the test, but now I would be able to ace it. (okay, that’s ego talking–let’s just say I hope I would do better now.)

Over the years I have bought some puzzle magazines because they contained a few logic puzzles.  The only problem was that I didn’t do the rest of the magazine and it sat around for years until I finally threw it out–no I am not a hoarder, but I am not a constant purger either.  My current book is 160 pages of logic puzzles.  I got it in the discount section of the bookstore (I guess they aren’t popular) and have done about 25 of them.

Commuting Distractions: An E-Reader Update

I used my e-reader for the first time today.  I spent a relatively brief time downloading free e-books from the Kobo website.  I spent a much longer time trying to find available (and free) books from the library.  The first of those tasks was fruitful and I now have about 31 books to read.  The second was difficult because anything I wanted was too popular and was subsequently checked out.  In addition, some of the waiting lists were so long that I didn’t feel inspired to get on them.

As far as reading goes, it seemed rather comfortable.  It certainly took less effort to turn the page–unbelievable to think of all the energy I wasted turning pages the old fashioned way.  (I guess I can take solace in the fact that I probably burned a few calories the old way)

My first book was a bummer.  It was really short (I read it in about 30 minutes) It wasn’t particularly well written, but since it was free, I really shouldn’t complain.  I am on the second book, and all is progressing nicely.  It is better written, and managed to keep my attention for most of the trip home.

I don’t seem to have any eye strain, and the e-reader is probably lighter than any book I have ever carried on the bus, so I shouldn’t experience any muscle pain.  If I have misjudged this, I will probably wake up tomorrow with an incredible headache.

The only negative thing about the device so far is that way it counts pages.  In a single commuting session, I read about 200 e-reader pages.  I take pride in my reading speed, but that seems rather fast.  The pages are small, so you blast through a lot of them.

I talked to a woman on my bus and one of those George R. R. Martin books clocks in at over 1000 pages.  Keeping that in mind, I was temped to download Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, but that would most likely surpass 2000 pages.

Time will tell if this device will replace books for me.  Most likely I will still go to the library to check out books from time to time.  I can’t imagine my life without periodic pilgrimages to the library.

a mini review


The Book
When looking for a good book for the bus, a captivating story is the most important thing.  The book Waterlandby Graham Swift certainly fits that description.  The story is cross between coming of age novel ( as a Canadian I should let you know we love that kind of thing) and a historical fiction novel.
The story flows back and forth(through time ) effortlessly, perhaps modelled on the twisting river that provides the backdrop to the story.  The distant past is tangled up with the present and the recent past is tangled up with the future.  It is a very good novel.
The story of Crick, the teacher appealed to me because he was no Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society.  He was a teacher, striving to balance his life and his job with a very foreboding future.  He teaches history, but his history class learns about a more personal history.  It is a history full of mistakes, regrets, jealousies, joys, relationships and tiny victories.  It is a solid read, and is perfect for a commute to work.

The Movie



The book was made into a less than stellar film–Despite casting the brilliant Jeremy Irons to play the lead, and have him supported by a young Ethan Hawke.  If I had to fault the film, it was just that the book was so good.  It would take a phenomenal effort to bring it to screen the way the words bring it to life.
I bought the book in Osaka.  It was my first trip to Kinokuniya Book Store,  I took the book home and read it sitting on the floor in my living room drinking beer from large brown bottles.
I lost the book (not exactly true–but you’ll understand soon enough) when my Australian roommate moved out and hadn’t finished the book.  I wanted to keep it, but he wasn’t done with it, so I let him take it.  I don’t really regret it, but I hope he liked it and finished it.