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Why Taking Reading Breaks Can Be a Good Idea

I haven’t been reading many books lately. It started last month when I went on vacation to someplace warm and sunny. Ontario is such a dark and cold place during the winter that I wanted to spend as much time as I could in the sun during that week without getting burned or tanned.

As is usual for my vacation habits, most of the reading I did consisted of visiting social media and checking out blog posts and short articles on my RSS feed.

Now that I’ve been back home for a couple of weeks, I’ve noticed that I still don’t have the desire to jump back into my normal reading habits. That’s okay. This happens occasionally.

You see, I spend a great deal of my reading time in the science fiction and fantasy genres. The interesting thing about staying so closely connected to a couple of genres like that is how easy it is to spot and predict patterns in them after a while. There have been multiple times when I’ve been able to correctly guess what the entire course of a story will be after finishing the first scene in it.

Part of this is due to the fact that readers expect certain things from their favourite genres. If a character mentions the existence of a long-lost magical amulet on page one, any writer worth his or her salt is going to make sure that amulet shows up again  later on in the storyline.

I’ve spent so much time in these genres that I’ve become well-versed in the numerous tropes that exist in both of them. I also know how their various types of storylines generally flow and can pick up on authors who decide to buck those trends pretty early on.

These are all things I’m saying with love for the science fiction and fantasy genres. This happens in every other genre out there, too, and it’s not a bad thing. There’s something reassuring about knowing that, unless you’ve stumbled across one of those rare authors who has put a lot of work into purposefully disrupting these conventions, the chosen one is going to prevail in the end no matter how dire his or her predicament may seem right before the climax.

The nice thing about reading breaks is that they give you a chance to step away from these patterns if you also tend to stick to the same genre(s) with every new title you pick up. Sometimes my breaks are short and punctuated by a stack of non-fiction books about history, food, medicine, or other topics I find appealing. Other breaks find me not reading any full-length books at all or visiting portions of the library that I typically skip over altogether.

Some of the book-lovers I know have never talked about their need to take breaks from reading. I don’t know if this is because they’re always interested in starting something new or because they simply don’t mention it when they wait a while between finishing one book and starting the next one.

It would be interesting to somehow gather statistics on this, don’t you think? Oh, the things I could do with that data in Numbers. There would be more pie charts and graphs floating around in there than you could shake a stick at.

Fellow readers, do you ever take reading breaks? If so, how often do they happen? What do you do when you’re not immersed in your favourite genre(s)?

Weekly Wednesday Blogging Challenge: Most Romantic Memory

Hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s Top Ten Tuesday post, I am not a very romantic person. For example, my wonderful spouse and I have been together for going on 15 years now, yet we have never once celebrated Valentine’s Day. It’s simply not a holiday that appeals to either of us.

So you might not be surprised to hear that my most romantic memory has nothing to do with chocolates, jewelry, roses, or whispering sweet nothings into anyone’s ears.

Instead, it’s about wisdom teeth and what happens after you’ve had all four of them extracted in the same surgery. Let’s just say that I was swollen, in pain, dreaming about bizarre things, and loopy from the medications I’d been prescribed for the recovery process. At one point, I was convinced that I’d just seen a terse news broadcast about how Canada had stolen Alaska from the United States and refused to give it back again.

So along with typical, post-surgical tasks like making sure I took my pills at the right time and had soft food to eat until the stitches in my mouth could be removed, my spouse got to have what must have been a pretty funny conversation with me about how our country would definitely be returning Alaska to the Americans. I was not convinced at first that our government was going to be willing to do that, but he reassured me that all would be well in North America the next time I woke up. And it was.

The rest of my memories from those first few days after that surgery are pretty hazy. As soon as the latest dose of medicine finally kicked in, I’d slip in and out of sleep for hours. When the meds started wearing off and the pain grew stronger, I’d wake up enough to eat or drink something. At one point, I do remember being spoon-fed applesauce. It was more delicious than any applesauce I’ve had before or since then. I was so grateful to not have to do complicated stuff like hold the spoon or guide it into my mouth without spilling.

Falling in love is amazing, but long term relationships are about so much more than the butterflies you feel in the beginning. I think it’s a beautiful, romantic thing when people take good care of their spouses/life partners every day of the year, especially when it involves eating applesauce and convincing Canada to give up her thieving ways. 😉

How about all of you?

Top Ten Tuesday: Favourite Couples in Books

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

I’m not a romantic person in real life, and I don’t generally find myself that interested in romance novels or stories spend a lot of time talking about characters falling in love. (Y’all, how on Earth did I ever manage to get married? Ha!)

So this week’s list required some thought, and I was a little short of the full 10 books we were supposed to come up with once I finished it.  Honestly, I like it when blog hops make you think, though. It’s nice when you can automically come up with a dozen or more books to fit a Top Ten Tuesday theme, but there’s also something to be said for digging deeply to get one of these posts put together.

You’re going to see several friends-turned-lovers on today’s list. On the rare occasions that I get excited about a fictional romance, a friendship evolving into something more than that is often the biggest reason why I’m thrilled. Most of the people I’ve developed crushes on or fallen in love with have started out as friends first, so it’s always nice to see characters have that same wonderful experience.

1. Jo and Laurie from Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women.”

I really like it when characters who have similar personalities end up in flirtatious or romantic situations. Jo and Laurie not only acted a lot alike, they had some of the same flaws. That can be a good thing for certain couples! If you both struggle with the same bad habit, it can be easier to show empathy when your partner messes up in that area.

2. Alice and her partner in Claire Kann’s “Let’s Talk About Love.”

To the best of my knowledge, this was the first book about an asexual character I ever read. (I’m purposefully not mentioning her partner’s name for spoiler purposes). While there were parts of the plot I didn’t find so interesting, I was fascinated by the idea of someone having a romantic relationship without ever wanting to have sex with them. It’s not something that’s talked about very often in mainstream fiction, and I don’t know anyone in real life who is asexual to the best of my knowledge, so it’s nice to see an example of how these types of relationships work.

3. Ron and Hermione from the Harry Potter series. 

Most people seemed to think Hermione would end up with Harry. I personally assumed she’d end up with Ron’s wickedly intelligent older brother, Percy, because they were both so bookish in the very best sense of that term.

I do see the logic in Ron and Hermione ending up together, though, and I like the thought of them raising a couple of bright and probably terribly mischievous kids.

4. Annie and Liza from Nancy Garden’sAnnie on My Mind.”

There’s something about young love that’s always interesting to read. I developed crushes on others so rarely when I was in school that my dating history was almost non-existent until I was in my 20s. It was nice to read about girls who had a totally different adolescence than mine.

5. Anne and Gilbert from L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series. 

I did not like the thought of Anne and Gilbert dating when they were teenagers because of how fiercely competitive they were, but my opinion changed once they’d both had a chance to grow up and experience life a little more. They were both smart, compassionate, and very kind. I don’t know about all of you, but I always cheer at the thought of these sorts of folks ending up together.

6.Valancy and her partner in L.M. Montgomery’s “The Blue Castle.”

Once again, I can’t say who the main character ended up with for spoiler reasons, but I thought Valancy and her lover made a wonderful couple. Valancy’s life had been so drab, strictly controlled, and sometimes even peppered with emotional abuse when we first met her that this twist in her fate was a true breath of fresh air.

7. Josh and Emma from Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler’s “The Future of Us.”

Imagine getting glimpses of your possible futures through the Internet! I loved this premise just as much as I did trying to figure out if these two friends were actually going to one day end up together. The fact that it was set in the 90’s only made it better. There haven’t been too many contemporary stories set in that decade yet, so I’m happy whenever I find one.

8. Jane and Mr. Rochester from Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre.” 

The romantic subplot wasn’t one I knew about in advance because I read this book on my own for the sheer joy of it instead of  for a class assignment. Due to this, Jane’s relationship with Mr. Rochester came as a huge surprise to me. Her neglectful childhood was oddly a nice match for all of the troubles Mr. Rochester had been through. I hope they’d find some happiness in each other after all of the hard times they’d both know. There’s something so emotionally satisfying about that, don’t you think?

9. Ennis and Jack from Annie Proulx’s “Brokeback Mountain.”

I saw the film version of this tale long before reading the short story it was based on. Ennis and Jack’s gruff and pragmatic personalities worked so well together. They were perfect for each other. If only they’d live in a time and place where it was easier for two people of the same gender to share a life together.

What would you recommend I add to my list to bring it to up to 10 books? I tried so hard to think of one final couple, but I just couldn’t do it.

My Review of The House with a Clock in Its Walls

Earlier this year, I blogged about my to-watch list of science fiction and fantasy films. Since then, I’ve been periodically reviewing certain films that I enjoyed and thought you all might like, too. Previous instalments in this series include Into the Forest, Annihilation, CocoWinchester, The Little Stranger, and Astraea.

This is a spoiler-free review. 

The House with a Clock in Its Walls is a 2018 American fantasy film based on John Bellairs 1973 novel by the same name. While it was written for a middle grade audience, I think adults would enjoy it, too.

This story was set in New Zebedee, Michigan in 1955. A ten-year-old boy named Lewis was recently orphaned, so he was sent to Michigan to live with his uncle Jonathan.

The interesting thing about Lewis and Jonathan was that they didn’t seem to have any sort of relationship before the opening scene of this film. It made me wonder why he’d been selected as Lewis’ guardian! There was a reason for that, but you’ll have to watch it to find out.

While most of my aunts and uncles lived far away from the communities I grew up in, I did see all of them at least occasionally while growing up. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to go from not knowing a relative at all to being raised by them.

I liked the fact that the characters acknowledged how odd that transition was before diving into what Uncle Jonathan was capable of as a warlock and what was really going on in his magical, clock-filled home.

There wasn’t one clock in Uncle Jonathan’s house, there were dozens – or maybe even hundreds – of them. The vast majority of them were perfectly ordinary and were only capable of telling you what time it was.

Yet there was one magical clock hidden somewhere in the house that had the power to end the world. If Jonathan couldn’t find it soon, the bad guy might beat him to it.

The Characters

Owen Vaccaro as Lewis Barnavelt.

Lewis, the protagonist, was a bookish and intelligent 10-year-old boy whose parents had recently been killed in an automobile accident. He was sent to live with his uncle after their deaths.

Jack Black as Jonathan Barnavelt

Jonathan, a quirky bachelor, was Lewis’ uncle and guardian. He worked as a warlock and was quite good at his profession. While he had good intentions when he took in his nephew, he knew absolutely nothing about raising children. Some of the funniest scenes in this film showed what happens when someone who doesn’t understand anything about children attempts to parent one.

Cate Blanchett as Florence Zimmerman

Florence was an old and dear friend of Jonathan’s who lived next door to the Barnavelts. She was sensitive, caring, and by far the most intelligent character in this tale. I’d love to see a spin-off about her someday.

Kyle MacLachlan as Isaac Izard

Isaac was the antagonist in this story, but I can’t share anything about his backstory without giving away spoilers. Like Florence and Jonathan, he had developed the ability to perform various types of magic.

Colleen Camp as Mrs. Hanchett

Mrs. Hatchett was the nosy, grumpy neighbour who spent a great deal of her time spying on the Barnavelts and complaining about all of the strange things that can happen when one lives in a magical household.

My Review

One of the many clocks in Jonathan’s home.

I loved the humour of this film. Yes, it was written for a preteen audience, so there were the obligatory bowel movement and other body fluid jokes you’d expect for this age group. There were other scenes that were clearly written for adult viewers, though, and I don’t mean that in an x-rated sort of way at all. Instead, the storytellers showed how easy it is to make mistakes when you have no parenting experience and have suddenly found yourself raising a grieving 10-year-old.

That might not seem like good fodder for a joke, but it strangely was. I had so much compassion for Uncle Jonathan even while I laughed at his sometimes incredibly odd ideas about how a child of that age should be treated and how much influence they should have over stuff like what they eat for dinner or when they go to bed.

Jack Black’s goofy persona was the perfect fit for who Uncle Jonathan was, but I was also impressed with how this actor handled the more serious scenes Uncle Jonathan eventually experienced. He brought a lot of depth to a character that could have easily been written as nothing but fodder for comedy.

This picture-perfect casting repeated itself with everyone else in this film. Every actor was well-suited for his or her role, including the supporting characters who didn’t necessarily have a lot of screen time but who still managed to make their roles memorable. I always enjoy finding films that pay such close attention to matching actors to the roles that they play.

Be sure to pay close attention to what’s going on in the background of the scenes. Occasionally there are surprises lurking where you might least expect them, and I loved picking them out.

While I know that this movie was based on something that was written in the 1970s and set in the 1950s, I was disappointed with the gender-based insults that wereso carelessly thrown around in it. There were several times when Uncle Jonathan made sexist comments that made me wince. They were supposed to be written in the context of him having playful banter with another character, but I don’t personally see anything amusing about using gender-based slurs as a retort. As much as I enjoyed the plot itself, these scenes dampened my urge to recommend it to others without warning them about it first.

It would be one thing if those terms somehow played an important role in understanding the context of the storyline and the world in which it was set. I do not think that every potentially offensive reference should be edited out of classics when they are retold for modern audiences, but I do believe there’s something to be said for updating non-critical parts of a story that are understood in a completely different light now than when they were originally written. This was a case where those terms could have easily been been exchanged for non-sexist insults instead.

I like to end all of my reviews on a positive note, so the last thing I’ll say about The House with a Clock in Its Walls is that it was quite creative. It blended the wonders (and occasional frustrations) of childhood beautifully with the many references it included to more serious, adult topics like how to deal with grief or what it truly means to be a family. This is the sort of film that can be enjoyed by kids and grown-ups alike in my opinion.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls is available on iTunes.