Reading Can Be Hard

 
 
 
What makes a book a hard read?

With some books I just blast through them like a manta ray cutting through the water.  Other times, I am a salmon swimming upstream.  Some books are gone in a day or two while others take weeks.  In the following paragraphs, I consider some of the obstacles to fast reading.

Physical Characteristics

Some books are just longer.  Dickens couldn’t seem to write anything shorter than a phone book.  His shortest novel probably still comes in at over 700 pages.  Granted, he was selling his stuff one or two newspaper pages at a time.  Whatever the case may be, some books are longer, so they take longer to get through.

Some fonts are hard to read.  You know how most books these days contain a little blurb about the typeface.  They all glamorize their choice of typeface, but that doesn’t mean they are perfect.  Some are just plain difficult to read.  They look dense and really clutter up the page.

Dialogue versus Description

Dialogue is much easier to read than long paragraphs of explanation and description.  I imagine a 300 page novel that is all dialogue probably won’t take more than an hour and a half to read.  This is especially true when they stop writing the he said, she said parts and just have the people ping pong back and forth.

Depth

A deep book.  A book with a lot of meaning and symbolism, as well as self referencing will require slower reading.  The book I am currently reading (Ghostwritten by Mitchell)  is a book like that.  All the stories are connected, but only with great subtlety.  It requires careful reading, and re-reading.  One does not always want to miss what’s going on.

The Reader

I have been horribly sick, and concentration has been hard to come by.  I should have read two or three books in the time I took on the last one.  I blame the cold.  On some days, I just didn’t want to read.  I was too busy hacking and coughing (not to mention shaking and sweating).

A Life Unlike The One I Am Living

The truth is that I wish I were a ski bum.  I am not sure that is a job, or if that lifestyle even exists anymore, but I wish it were so.  There are so many occupations which I wish I could do besides my current one…but as I see the snow pile up outside my door as I type this, I get the feeling that skiing should somehow be part of it.

I spent one day this week out on the mountain.  One day, in nature, away from the TV and computer and it was glorious.  It was cold, really cold, but glorious nonetheless.  If only I could ski all winter, and bike around the world all summer.  Maybe I should get an agent.

I have digressed from the topic of this blog.  Perhaps that is because this blog is about dreaming and thinking about better things that an 9 to 3:30 job.  I don’t exactly do that 9 to 5 thing that some people call a job.  I don’t even where a suit.  I know, I shouldn’t complain but that is what everyone does.  Maybe even the guy skiing all winter has something to complain about.  For the life of me, I can’t figure out what that would be, but maybe it is true.

I had a great day and I want another one.  Rather than put up with the commute and the rude behaviour of the other commuters, I would like to be on top of the slope, sitting on a crudely made bench or snow bank drinking my coffee.  Instead of hearing about subway delays or grumbling from the commuters, I would like to hear the wind whistling through the trees.

The worst part of this is that I am writing this on a Sunday night, and after a short sleep it will be Monday morning.

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.

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).