Category Archives: Personal Life

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)?

What I Read in 2018

In January of 2013, I began blogging once a year about everything I’d read that previous year.  This tradition began when my dad asked me how many books I’ve read in my entire lifetime. I couldn’t begin to give him an answer to that question, but it did make me decide to start keeping track from that moment forward. The previous posts in this series are as follows:  2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013.

Over half of the books I read in any given year are for a review site that I volunteer for under a pseudonym. I always omit those titles from this post for obvious privacy reasons, but I am able to talk about everything else that tickled my mind since the last post in this series.

Once again, most of the science fiction and fantasy I read was for that review site I mentioned earlier in this post. This section of the list was much longer than it might appear.

The young adult genre remained a popular one for me. There’s something nice about reading stories that are (generally) a bit more cheerful than the ones written for serious adult audiences.

My poetry consumption was way this year. I made a concerted effort to read more of it after noticing last year that it had been a long time since I dug into this genre.

I finished fewer biographies than normal in 2018. While I started quite a few of them, I found it a little trickier to keep reading this year than I normally do.

It will be interesting to see if all of these trends continue in 2019. If any of my readers have decided to join me in keeping tracking of what you read, I’d love to see your lists for the past year!

Biographies, Autobiographies, and Memoirs

“A Forever Family: Fostering Change One Child at a Time” by Robert Scheer

“Marjorie Her War Years: A British Home Child in Canada” by Patricia Skidmore

“Educated” by Tara Westover

Fiction

“Marilla of Green Gables” by Sarah McCoy

“Caroline: Little House Revisited” by Sarah Miller.

History

“Runaway Wives and Rogue Feminists: The Origins of the Women’s Shelter Movement in Canada” by Margo Goodhand

“Children’s Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain’s Young” by Peter Higginbotham

“Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, and Criminal in 19th Century New York” by Stacy Horn

“The Bedroom: An Intimate History” by Michelle Perrot

Mystery

“The Broken Girls” by Simone St. James

Poetry

“Collected Poems” by Chinua Achebe

“Copper Woman and Other Poems” by Afua Cooper (Poetry)

“How Lovely the Ruins: Inspirational Poems and Words for Difficult Times” by Annie Chagnot

“Cartography and Walking” by Adam Dickinson (Poetry)

“Love & Misadventure” by Lang Leav (Poetry)
“A Bedroom of Searchlights” by Joanne M. Weston (Poetry)

Science and Medicine

“The Bad Food Bible: How and Why to Eat Sinfully” by Aaron Carroll

“Lyme: The First Epidemic of Climate Change” by Mary Beth Pfeiffer

“When Humans Nearly Vanished: The Catastrophic Explosion of the Tora Volcano“ by Donald R. Prothero

“Patient Care: Life and Death in the Emergency Room” by Paul Seward, MD

“Treknology” by Ethan Siegal

“Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World” by Paul Stamets

“Best Before: The Evolution and Future of Processed Food” by Nicola Tempa

Science Fiction and Fantasy

“A Sincere Warning About the Entity In Your Home” by Jason Arnopp

“Semiosis” by Sue Burke

“The Last Neanderthal” by Claire Cameron

“Only Ever Yours” by Louise O’Neill

Sociology and Psychology

“An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments” by Ali Almossawi

“Mass Starvation” by Alex de Wall

“Big Hunger: The Unholy Alliance Between Corporate America and Anti-Hunger Groups” by Andrew Fisher

“Leftover in China: The Woman Shaping the World’s Next Superpower” by Roseann Lake

“The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People Who Treat You Like Dirt” by Robert J. Sutton

Young Adult

“A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo” by Jill Twiss

“Out of My Mind” by Sharon M. Draper.

“Odd and the Frost Giants” by Neil Gaiman.

“No Laughter Here” by Rita Williams-Garcia

“Blue” by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

“Comfort” by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

My 20 Most Popular Posts of 2018

Wow, this year flew by! Just like I did for 2017, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at the most popular posts I published on this blog over the last year.

At the end of 2017, I talked about how surprising it was to see which posts ended up being the most popular on my site. Once again, there was a healthy representation of all of the topicsI talk about, but my posts about blogging and writing tended to dominate the top of the list.

I have no idea what prompted this change, but it’s going to be interesting to see if it continues in 2019.

If you’d like to read other people’s lists, my friends Terry Tyler and Tom Williams both recently blogged about their 20 most popular posts as well. The first year I did this, I made it a top 10 list. This year I doubled that number to match what they did. Terry and Tom, you’re good influences! If anyone else blogged about this topic, I’d love to link to your site as well. Just leave a note in the comment section with a link to your post.

20. A Peek at My Never-Ending List of Sci-fi and Fantasy Films to Watch 

19. 4 Reasons Why You Should Attend Nuit Blanche

18. 5 Reasons Why You Should Become a Reviewer for Long and Short Reviews

17. Why Do Library Holds Arrive Simultaneously (And Other Questions I Wish I Had Answers To)

16. Characters Who Need a Date 

15. 6 Things I Wish My Gym Teachers Had Done Differently 

14. 4 Things I Want to Accomplish This Autumn 

13. Why Walking In the Rain Is Underrated

12. What Is the Perfect Reading Spot? 

11. Science Fiction and Fantasy Rules That Shouldn’t Be Broken 

10. I Love the Fuzzy Edges of Science Fiction 

9. The World Needs More Blogging 

8. Blogging Changes I’m Making This Winter 

7. 10 Things That I Won’t Read About 

6. Why HALT Is One of My Favourite Mindfulness Exercises

5. Why Negative Reviews Can Be a Positive Thing

4. Families Are Forever: A Review of Pixar’s Coco

3. 15 Things I’ve Learned from 15 Years of Blogging

2. Is It a Good Idea to Take a Blogging Break? 

1. Why Creative Writers Should Read History Books

What to Do on Christmas If You Don’t Celebrate It

Merry Christmas to everyone who will be celebrating it tomorrow! I hope it’s a joyful time for you and your loved ones.

As someone who doesn’t observe this holiday anymore, it’s always interesting to talk about what I do when everything is shut down and see what other people have come up to pass the time on the biggest holiday of the year in western society, too.

Obviously, the answer to this question is going to be different for everyone. People who live in tropical or Mediterranian climates are going to have a far different range of possibilities than those of us who live in chillier, snowier places. If your weather is nice enough for a hike or other outdoor activity, I envy you just a little bit today. That wouldn’t be a very pleasant thing to do here….although obviously not every Canadian is as averse to the cold as we are!

My hope is that this post will give you a few ideas of things to do when just about everything is closed. For readers who celebrate Christmas, I also hope it will give you a glimpse into what your friends and neighbours might be up while you’re celebrating today and tomorrow. There’s something to be said for learning about how other people live, in my opinion.

A typical “Christmas” is quiet for me and my spouse. Businesses and non-essential governmental buildings are closed here in Canada, just like they are in most other western countries. Many stores remain open on Christmas Eve, but they generally have reduced hours on that day and are packed uncomfortably full of people doing last-minute shopping. I avoid that scene as much as humanly possible.

Instead, I make non-traditional foods like chocolate chip cookies and tacos or fajitas, depending on what ingredients we have on hand. This tradition of sorts started when I first moved to Canada, realized my spouse and I would be alone on Christmas, and didn’t really feel like going all out for a holiday I was quickly losing interest in anyway.

We already had the ingredients for Mexican food and cookies on hand that first year, so that’s what we ate. Since then, we’ve done something similar to this when we could. There’s something nice about having a hot, simple meal that doesn’t take a lot of time to make and requires far fewer dishes than the average Christmas dinner. (Did I mention that I wash all of our dishes by hand? I don’t normally mind this chore, but it can be a little tricky to keep on top of them when we’re eating a multi-course meal).

If you love making fancy dinners, by all means make one. This is simply what works best for us.

The dress code is casual and generally involves wearing pants. Well, okay, sometimes it involves wearing pants. So much depends on what stage of the cooking process I’m in and how warm our apartment is. We have such efficient insulation in our building that sometimes it gets a little too warm to wear all of those layers when the oven is on and the sun is shining brightly through our windows.

At some point during the day, we’ll often turn on the latest science fiction or fantasy film that we’ve been meaning to rent or rewatch. There’s something relaxing about seeing Frodo once again attempt to return the One Ring to Mordor while delicious scents waft out of the kitchen. I also enjoy getting to know brand new characters instead if we’re in the mood for something we haven’t already watched.

The rest of the day is spent napping, relaxing, playing games (generally of the computer variety, although occasionally I’ve amused myself with board games and puzzles), or doing other quiet things that don’t require outdoor time. It’s nothing at all like the Christmases of my childhood, but I’ve come to look forward to this time quite a bit all the same.

I have heard of people going out for Chinese food on Christmas, as those restaurants tend to stay open. It’s not something I’ve tried yet myself, but maybe one year I will.

Do you celebrate Christmas? If not, what do you generally do on that day? Regardless of whether you personally observe it, what is this holiday like in your country in general? I know that not everyone who reads this blog comes from a culture where Christmas is well-known or even practiced at all.

People Watching and the Holidays

Like many other places, Toronto’s malls, subway system, and other public places are bustling with activity at this time of the year. No matter when someone might use or visit them in the month of December, there will be far more folks there than will be the case in January when the new year has finally arrived and everyone has settled back into their usual routines.

One of the things I like about this point in the winter holiday season are the opportunities it gives for people watching. I will be returning to the usual subjects for this blog soon, but I can’t stop thinking about this topic and thought it would make a good one for today.

There are so many folks out and about now that all of the stories they tell with their body language, facial expressions, and the occasional, accidentally overheard conversations provide endless scope for the imagination. You can learn so much about them by paying attention to how they behave when they think no one has noticed them.

I love seeing how people and animals interact with strangers, loved ones, and everyone in-between. You can learn a lot about someone based on how they present themselves and how they behave in public.

Dogs wiggle in excitement when their favourite, or sometimes any, human walks around the corner and into view. The occasional pet snakes, parrots, rabbits, and cats that I’ve seen folks carry around don’t seem to have a strong opinion about our species either way. Small children stare wide-eyed at the holiday displays, decorations, and advertisements in stores. Friends reunite, families figure out what to eat for lunch, couples embrace, and a million other interesting things happen simultaneously wherever large crowds of people gather.

There’s nothing like watching strangers live out these fleeting moments in their lives. The writerly portion of my mind can’t help but to make up stories about who these individuals are and what might happen to them after they’ve finished their to-do list and gone back home.

Not knowing if my guesses are actually correct or not only makes me more interested in continuing to play this game. Everyone that I’ve ever met has portions of their personalities, identities, and interests that aren’t easily or immediately noticeable when you first meet them. I love it when I notice little hints about these parts of themselves however those hints might be shared.

To be perfectly clear, this isn’t about stereotyping anyone or assuming that because they’re X they must love/hate/be indifferent to Y. (Let X and Y stand for whatever your imagination desires. I did not have anything specific in mind when I typed that sentence).

Instead, it’s about seeing how real people behave on a perfectly ordinary day that stands a very good chance of being neither the worst nor the best one they’re ever going to experience. In fact, they might not remember anything about it at all six months from now. They’re simply a regular person (or, in some cases, animal) going through the routines of their lives.

It’s the patterns that interest me the most. There are certain behaviours that just about everyone seems to share, especially when they’re feeling happy, hungry, or tired. On the other hand, I love seeing glimpses of the things that make each person unique.

I’m still looking forward to the quieter days to come in January, but in the meantime I’ll keep a friendly eye out for all of the things you can learn about strangers by noticing how they behave in public.

Do you like people watching? If so, when was the last time you did it?

Why Do Library Holds Arrive Simultaneously (and Other Questions I Wish I Had Answers To)

Lately, I’ve been taking a break from my normal interests like reading science fiction and exercising outdoors in order to try other stuff. One of the consequences of this has been that I haven’t come up with as many blog post ideas related to those topics as I’d normally be playing around with. I suspect… Read More

4 Reasons Why You Should Attend Nuit Blanche

Nuit Blanche is a free annual art festival that occurs overnight or at night. The first one happened in 1990 in Barcelona. As the tradition spread to other cities and countries, they used their own language’s words for White Night as the name for this event. Here in Toronto, Nuit Blanche generally occurs in late September… Read More

4 Things I Want to Accomplish This Autumn

There’s something about the autumn season that makes me want to write out lists and accomplish things. Maybe it’s because of how much I generally looked forward to school beginning again when I was a student. A blank notebook can hold an endless number of possibilities. Several months from now they’ll be full of lecture… Read More