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).

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 Dresden Files

Readingis one of the joys of my life.  I love books and bookstores.  I love going to the library–since the books are free there.  I have written about reading as though it were a hobby, but I really feel that it is so much more.  It is more of lifestyle.

I have enjoyed reading Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files books.  They are an interesting blend of modern mystery and fantasy.  I would not really consider myself a fantasy reader.  I have only read two of the Game of Thrones books, after all and I have not read any of the Lord of the Rings (stop gasping….I will read them someday…..I have the books, I have seen the movies…sorry.  Don’t run away!)

Back to Jim Butcher.  I have read almost all of the Dresdenbooks, though I have read them out of order and am slightly confused, I have enjoyed all of them.  I took some time to check Wikipedia and discovered that they had made a television series out of the books, and shot it in Toronto, and even had the beautiful Joanne Kelly appear for a couple of episodes (okay, I am totally smitten with her…If I knew where they filmed Warehouse 13, ….I had better stop now before the restraining order gets filed)

Now, I’ve lost my train of thought…..Joanne Kelly….beautiful……ah yes, the Dresden Files.  So, basically, I bought the DVD’s of the series.  Sadly they only made one season.

I have watched two episodes, and I can only conclude that they had some difficulty bringing the story to the screen.  The production isn’t bad, but they were certainly hampered by budget, and by trying to cram dense storylines into 40 minutes.  The acting is good, but character development seems to have also been hampered by time.  Too often the conversations were stilted because they had to give away parts of the plot.  I know writing is difficult, but that kind of thing can be tough on a series.

It seems to me that the show could have been fantastic.  There are moments when the potential is obvious.  The source material is excellent….I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.

If you have the time, read the books.  If you’ve got even more time, check out the series.

 

A Friend in Need…… Indeed

My friend needs a hobby.  Obviously, as a proponent of hobbies I feel like everyone needs a hobby.  My friend, however, needs one more than most.  Most people have hobbies, whether they see them as hobbies or not.  Some people follow sports, some follow TV shows (collecting their seasons either by buying the DVD’s or acquiring them from some online source),  and then some take up jogging.

My friend, though athletic, doesn’t want to take up a fitness trend.  There are lots of them out there now–there are quite a few infomercials dealing with that–and I know some people who have become absolutely ripped doing them.  My friend doesn’t want to pursue the kinds of hobbies I do–building model trains or cars doesn’t suit him.  Maybe he doesn’t think he has the dexterity (maybe he doesn’t) or the patience, or even an eye for colour (he’s American so he would prefer I write that he doesn’t have an eye for color–but it’s my blog dammit, and I will write the way I want.

I know, I should probably let him pick out his own hobby.  And normally I would do this.  Really, who wants someone telling them what to do.  Well, in fact, in the end, he will choose for himself.  I just want my readers (few in number, but strong in wisdom) to give his some advice.

Left to his own devices my friend has considered some hobbies on his own, though the results have only given me cause for worry.  He has proposed indulgence in heroin and other recreational chemicals, and though he was kidding, the fact that the joke crossed his mind means he is bored and wants to do something.

His latest proposal is pipe smoking.  I can’t gauge his seriousness because our Skype connection doesn’t allow for really good reading of facial details.  I suspect he is serious.  Then again, do people still smoke pipes?  I don’t recall seeing anyone do that in a long time.  I know that there are still tobacco shops (at least in Canada) but I thought that they were mostly for people who want to buy Cuban cigars, or rolling papers for smoking marijuana–though I do go there to buy pipe cleaners to clean my airbrush– but they always have to root around in a drawer for them, so they can’t be that popular–can they?

My friend has shown an affinity for some TV shows, but he gets bored easily.  He could become a movie watcher, but I am not sure he has the patience.  Basically he needs something that he can pickup, and drop at a whim, that won’t take up too much space, won’t require too much concentration or money, and doesn’t involve a huge effort.   I am not sure he wants other people to be involved or not.

I have presented a negative picture of my friend, and as for thinking of a hobby that is very intentional.  I have proposed many things, only to be shot down, so I have stopped doing that.  However, my friend is a good person, a GREAT friend, incredibly moral and loyal, puts other people above himself far too often, as well as being funny and helpful.

He does crosswords, and he might be working on a Codeword book I sent him.  In addition to that he is a voracious reader, and has a huge amount of stories buried deep inside him.

I want to help, but frankly, I am stumped.

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.

Commuting Distractions

Commuters have lots of complaints.  Crowds, noise, smells, rude people, selfish people and delays seem to be the common ones,  For me, however, commuting allows (mostly uninterrupted) time for a variety of hobbies that I classify as commuting distractions.  There are a lot of them, and with each of these blogs I will highlight one of them.

One of best ways to kill time on the commute (and avoid killing your fellow commuters) is reading.  In a good year, when I am not concentrating on other hobbies, when there isn’t a strike, when the person beside me isn’t bleeding music out of his ears and when I can find books that aren’t a slog, I get through about 50 books.  In a bad year, that total is probably 30, probably because I read at home.
Finding books to read is occasionally a challenge.  Yes, I was an English Literature student at university, but I don’t always want to read the classics.  My degree may have prepared me for life in the 17th century (and not much else) but that doesn’t mean I want to spend all my time there.
Fortunately, most of my friends and family also love to read and they often make great recommendations.  I also, sometimes, make a good guess when judging a book by its cover and discover a great read.
As we are in the 21st Century, I have decided to embrace technology and buy an e-reader.  I haven’t used it yet because I have a few books in the queue.  I have the latest Ian Rankin book and people have been urging me to read The Game of Thrones.  When I get through them, I will fire up the e-reader and see where that takes me.  I chose the Kobo because I can access the library catalogue with it.
Loyal readers, if you have any good book recommendations, please list them in the comment section of this blog.  Your help is appreciated.

Comic Book Day

Today is Comic Book Day.  You can walk into a comic book store and walk out with a free comic book.  It makes me wonder what I am doing inside, typing this, rather than at my local comic book store.  Sadly, I had made other, unchangeable, plans before I found out that today was comic book day.  For those of you who are reading this, you should be out there getting your comic–after you finish reading this of course.
As you might of guessed, comic books, and the superheroes they were full of, played a big part in my early years (and later years, but that isn’t the point really).  The epic struggles depicted on those pages were great food for my imagination.  Every month my heroes fought the villain, overcame great odds and personal doubts, and eventually triumphed.
These days comic book characters have made the jump to the big screen.  Yesterday the long awaited Avengers opened.  I wanted to be among the first in line, but sadly it will have wait until later this week–but it will be this week.
Comic books might get a bad rap but, honestly, how can anything that promotes literacy be bad.  Besides, comics haven’t just been about superheroes for a long time. They have been used to tell a wide variety of stories with appeal to more than just your stereotypical teenage boy.
Enjoy Comic Book Day everyone.