Tag Archives: Books

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

What I’m Reading Over the Holidays

I was originally planning to write about walking meditation today, but I’ve been dealing with a stubborn headache the past few days that’s kept me from doing the research needed to properly put that post together. It’s such a cool concept that I want to make sure I do it right. So we’ll save the walking meditation discussion for a later date and have a quick chat about winter holiday reads now instead.

Honestly, is there such a thing as having too many posts about books? I vote no! For those of you who haven’t met me in real life, I’m pretty quiet in person…unless we somehow get on the topic of books I’ve read, am reading, or want to read soon. This is one of those things that can make me light up, especially if it happens to be a title I have a strong opinion about.

Luckily, my local library seems to have have endless supply of reading material, and I’ve been reaching the top of the list of some very interesting titles as December speeds by. I should warn you that nothing in today’s post is going to be about Christmas, New Years, or any other winter holidays. They’re simply what I hope to read over this period of time, and this year it’s a beautiful hodge-podge of genres and themes.

These are the books that are currently in my to-read queue. I can’t promise that I’ll finish all of them, but I will be giving them a shot as 2018 comes to an end.

As much as I love science fiction, it’s definitely not the only thing I read. This list is pretty representational of the wide range of fiction and non-fiction that I’m working my way through at just about any point during the year, and everything is listed in order of when I’m hoping to read them. I generally try to read the titles that are due back at the library first unless something really exciting pops up in my queue.

How Long ’til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin

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

In Search of the Canary Tree: The Story of a Scientist, a Cypress, and a Changing World by Lauren E. Oakes.

I Wait for the Moon: 100 Haiku of Momoko Kuroda by Momoko Kuroda. Translated by Abigail Freidman.

The Best American Science and Nature Writing by Sam Kean.

Jell-O Girls by Allie Rowbottom.

Dealing with Dragons The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Book 1 Patricia C. Wrede.

Happiness: How to Get into the Habit of Being Happy by Gill Hasson.

Happy Times in Norway by Sigrid Undset.

In the beginning of January, I’ll be sharing the list of everything I finished reading over the past year.  (It doesn’t make sense to me to count a book that I only read a chapter or two of before putting it aside for something else). A couple of the bloggers I follow have already published the lists of what they read which is wonderful. Hopefully this trend will grow in the future. It’s so much fun to see what everyone has read and possibly find some new authors or series that you might not have heard of before.

Have you read any of these titles? What will you be reading over the next couple of weeks? Finally, what’s your most effective and/or unusual home remedy for headaches?

10 Things I Love to Read About

On Monday I blogged about the 10 Things I Won’t Read About. It was surprising to see how many of the people who read my posts have similar aversions to those topics.

Today I’m talking about 10 things that would make me keen to pick up and read a book. I tried to make this list as detailed as possible, so you won’t be seeing vague entries like “science fiction” here.

Instead, I’ll be drilling down to specific topics that I’d be excited to read about with little regard given to which genre they might pop up in.

1.  LGBT+ Historical Novels, Especially Mysteries.

I’m fascinated by how people in the LGBT+ community lived during eras when they had to keep such important parts of themselves hidden away. This is still something that happens with LGBT+ people in many countries and cultures today, of course. Seeing how this has changed or is changing in some parts of the world gives me hope that someday it will improve everywhere.

Watching LGBT+ characters attempt to solve a mystery while also holding tightly onto their own secrets also makes this sort of storyline even more nerve-wracking than it might otherwise be. I want some parts of the plot to be revealed while hoping that other portions are only shared with people who will treat the main character kindly.

Example: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. (I’m currently read this book, so please don’t share spoilers for it!)

2. Colonizing Mars (and Other Planets).

To put it mildly, humans made a lot of terrible mistakes when they invaded other countries and continents. While there isn’t any life on Mars* that could be destroyed if or when humans begin living there, there are still plenty of ways for that social experiment to have devastating consequences for everyone who participates in it.

Just think of how many people died due to accidents, violence, disease, and malnutrition when Europeans first began living in Australia, the Americas, and other parts of the world. I hope I’m wrong about this, but I expect the death rate for the first few waves of people who move to Mars to be quite high as our species figures out how to survive on a planet that doesn’t even have a breathable atmosphere for us.

*to the best of our current scientific knowledge.

Example: The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson.

3. Diverse or Unlikely Heroes. 

I love it when writers create protagonists who don’t fit the audience’s expectations of what a hero should look like. There have been so many examples of young, straight, white men saving the world in various fictional universes that I’m always happy to see people from other demographic groups get an equal chance to fight bad guys, too.

Example: Buffy Summers from the 90’s TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

4. How Medical and Scientific Advancements Happened

This is by far the broadest category on this list, but I’m intrigued by how scientists and doctors solved any number of problems in the past that are either unknown in westernized cultures today or no longer exist anywhere in the world. The nice thing about reading about medical and scientific advancements is that the author generally spends most of their time talking about how that invention, cure, or breakthrough happened and how it changed society as a whole.

It’s been my experience that these sorts of books don’t spend much time at all discussing the graphic details of, say, a specific disease or injury. A portion of the first chapter might talk about the typical results for people before the invention of a certain drug or treatment, but generally everything else will be about how the researchers figured out a solution to the problem. I’ll endure a  brief discussion of surgery or gore early on if I’m otherwise interested in the topic and the author soon moves on to how that issue affected society as a whole and how the treatment or solution was eventually found.

Example: Breakthrough: Elizabeth Hughes, the Discovery of Insulin, and the Making of a Medical Miracle by Thea Cooper and Arthur Ainsberg.

5. How Social Justice Movements Actually Change the World.

It wasn’t until I became an adult that I learned that Martin Luther King, Jr. was widely hated by the mainstream culture before his assassination. He was seen by many white Americans as someone who was pushing for too much change too soon. This wasn’t something that was covered in any of my lessons about him in school, although after reading his wife’s memoir about their life together I wish it had been.

Sometimes the people who originally fought for a more just world aren’t around to see how all of those long years of hard work will begin to pay off.

Changing laws and public opinion on an issue takes time. It’s not generally something that will happen overnight, but it can happen. This is a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about over the past year or so, and it’s making me want to read more about what previous generations did to fix the things they saw that were wrong with their societies.

Example: My Life, My Love, My Legacy by Coretta Scott King.

6. Foster Care and Foster-Adoption.

For the past three generations, various relatives of mine have fostered and adopted children. Honestly, this would be my #1 choice for becoming a parent if I had the desire to raise children. There is an urgent need for foster parents here in North America, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the same could be said of many other parts of the world as well.

Having so many extended family members who were foster children makes my ears perk up every time a fiction or non-fiction book is written about this topic.

Example: Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter.

7. Rabbits Enjoying Adventures. 

Anyone who has known me longer than ten minutes will have some inkling of how much I love rabbits.

Anytime they show up as a main or secondary character in a story, I’m immediately interested in finding out what will happen to them.

There aren’t a lot of authors out there who write about rabbits going on quests, so I jump into every example of this niche I can find.

Example: Watership Down by Richard Adams.

8. Hopeful Visions of the Future.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m thirsty for stories that have a hopeful outlook on what is in store for humanity a few decades or centuries from now. The news is so full of fear and apprehension these days that I look for happier perspectives on what life will be like for future generations wherever I can find them.

Example: All of the Star Trek series.

9. Vengeful Ghosts Who Had a Point.

Many different types of ghost stories appeal to me, but the ones I enjoy the most are about folks who had excellent reasons for being so angry and restless in the afterlife.

There’s something emotionally satisfying about figuring out their backstories and seeing if the protagonists will finally be able to help them find the peace they were denied when they were still alive.

I’m also fascinated by how the actions of a small group of people can continue to negatively affect their descendants and/or community for generations to come. This regularly happens in non-paranormal ways in real life, and there often aren’t any easy answers for how to end those cycles once they begin.

Exploring this topic in a ghost story is a wonderful way to neutrally ask questions about justice, reconciliation, and what the current generation should be morally obligated to do to fix the mistakes of people who lived and died long ago.

Example: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill.

10. The Daily Lives of Prehistoric People.

I sure wouldn’t want to be part of a hunter-gatherer tribe in real life, but I love reading about characters who lived in that kind of society.

There is something fascinating to me about all of the different skills one would need to survive when you need to make, hunt, or gather everything you and your family need to survive.  I’m also drawn to the idea of living in such a tight-knit culture. It’s not something I’d want to do all day every day, but I do see the benefits of forging such strong bonds with others. Having so many adults working together must have made everything from raising children to looking after a sick or injured relative easier than it is in more individualistic cultures.

If there are Neanderthals or other now-extinct human (or human-like) species in the storyline, I’ll be even more interested since there are so many things that a skeleton, stone tool, or cave painting can’t tell you about what a group was actually like.

Example: The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron.

What topics are you always eager to read about?

10 Things That I Won’t Read About

This Thursday I’m planning to write a follow-up post to this one to discuss the themes and topics in books that I’m always interested in reading about. Since I’ve made several past references here to the sorts of stuff I dislike, I thought it would be a good idea to share the full list of things I won’t read about before diving into everything I love.

I’m the sort of reader who gleefully jumps from one genre to the next based on everything from the recommendations of certain people in my life to what I stumble across in the new arrivals section of my local library.

This list is going to do the same thing. No one genre can contain it, and any genre I read will occasionally include titles that fit one or more of the points on this list.

1. Sexy, Sparkly Monsters. 

I will happily read all sorts of stories about vampires, zombies, werewolves, and unnamed creatures stitched together by Dr. Frankenstein so long as these characters are not romanticized or de-fanged in any way. While I might feel other emotions ranging from compassion for them to concern for their future, monsters are first and foremost supposed to be frightening. If they don’t give me that initial jolt of fear, I won’t be very interested in them.

I know I’m in the minority here, but I also don’t find monsters sexually appealing in any way. This is even more true for the dead, and therefore possibly rotting, ones.

2. Sympathetic Portrayals of Bigotry.

There’s a massive difference to me between writing about a character who is deeply prejudiced against specific groups and the author or narrator working – consciously or unconsciously –  to make bigoted ideas themselves more palatable to the audience.

I believe that it’s a good thing to create three-dimensional characters, protagonists and villains alike. In no way would I expect every bigoted character to only be represented by their worst flaws. That isn’t how prejudice works in real life. Someone can be perfectly charming to friends or relatives while still doing and saying terrible things to the objects of their hate.

The juxtaposition of these personality traits can make excellent fodder for a story, but I still don’t believe it’s ethical to ever make excuses for the existence of hate or for the people who spread it.

3. Graphic Violence.

Occasional references to rape, torture, murder, and other acts of violence are okay with me, especially if they were integral to the development of the plot. However, my imagination is far too vivid for me to read detailed descriptions of these things without them coming back to haunt me later on.

I prefer types of conflict that don’t do that to me. This photo of a woman who dropped her ice cream cone is only tangentially related to this point, but the distraught expression on her face is about as much despair as I can handle before needing to move onto more cheerful subject matter.

4. Deus Ex Machina.

That is, I don’t like contrived endings or when characters who have been wrestling with a complex problem for hundreds of pages suddenly realize that the solution to their conflict was a simple fix a few sentences before the final scene.

I’d much rather have a sad ending than a happy one that doesn’t fit in with the tone of the rest of the tale.

5. Inspirational Fiction.

After multiple failed attempts to get into this genre, I came to the conclusion that it was never going to be my cup of tea no matter who wrote it. It is the only genre I’ve permanently given up on, and I felt a little sad about that for a long time.

6. Sermonizing. 

This rule definitely isn’t limited to religion in general, and it kicks in even if I happen to completely agree with the author’s point of view. Any topic can be sermonized if it is written by someone who is more interested in pushing a specific agenda than telling a satisfying story.

There’s a huge difference between writing a story that was influenced by your worldview and allowing your worldview to dictate how a story is told. I don’t have much patience for the latter at all.

7. One True Love Personality Transplants.

Okay, so this one might take a little explaining. I have no problem reading books that include romantic elements as a minor or major part of the plot. This isn’t an anti-romance rant at all.

What bothers me about certain characters falling in love, though, is when those experiences erase their personalities and identities.

Years ago I read a series about a character who had decided early in life never to have children. They had excellent reasons for that decision, and they stuck to it until the very end when they fell in love and suddenly changed their mind about having kids despite the fact that none of their reasons for making that choice had or could ever change.

This isn’t a type of storyline that I’m inherently opposed to, by the way. Not everyone knows what they want out of life when they’re a teenager, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with showing how a character changes their mind about a major life decision like this. It can be a fantastic way to demonstrate genuine character development when done properly.

The thing is, anyone who writes this sort of tale really should show how and why someone would change their mind about something so important to them. When such an important mind-shift is brushed away as a sign of True Love ™ five minutes after someone falls in love, I can’t help but to wonder how soon that character is going to deeply regret having kids (or moving thousands of miles away, or giving up their career, or making any other sort of drastic lifestyle change when there was no foreshadowing of them wanting those things for the vast majority of the plot).

8. Love Triangles.

If this wasn’t such a common trope in the romance genre, I’d probably read way more romance novels.

As someone who is polyamorous, I always hope the main character gets to keep dating both of the people they’ve fallen for. Why make them choose? They can love more than one person at a time and therefore free up the plot for more interesting types of conflict.

9. Needles, Blood, and Surgeries. 

Kudos to those of you who enjoy very detailed descriptions of what goes on in an operating room or doctor’s office, but this is something that makes my stomach turn.

I’d prefer to continue to know as little as possible about how exactly medical professionals fix the human body when it gets injured or sick. The fact that they’re (often) able to help people feel better is all I need or want to know.

10. Very Long Books. 

Other than J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien, I generally don’t read a lot of long-winded authors. Two or three hundred pages is more than enough space for me to get into a story in the vast majority of cases, so it would take something really special to convince me to jump into a very long read.

What topics are on your Do Not Read list?

Hopeful Science Fiction: Semiosis

Last June I blogged about my desire to read more hopeful science fiction. Since then I’ve talked about Woman on the Edge of Time and The Lovely Bones. Today I’m back with another suggestion. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message… Read More

5 Books About Mindfulness I’d Like to Read

While I still don’t maintain an active TBR list, the books listed below have caught my attention. I’ve requested almost all of them from my local library, and I’m looking forward to reading them this autumn as they become available. Look below the images of the various titles for my brief explanations on why each title… Read More

Hopeful Science Fiction: The Lovely Bones

This past June I blogged about my desire to read more hopeful science fiction. Last month I reviewed Woman on the Edge of Time as my first selection for this list. Today I’m back with a review of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure… Read More

Summer Worlds I’d Like to Visit

Last January I blogged about the winter worlds I wish I could visit. Now that we’re well into the month of August and temperates are soaring, I thought it would be a good time to revisit this topic from a summery perspective. One of the differences between this list and the one I did for winter… Read More

What to Read When It’s Hot Outside

Last winter I shared a list of books that I’d recommend checking out when it’s cold outside. All of them were set during the winter because sometimes I like to match the settings in the stories I read to what the weather in Ontario is like at that a particular time of the year. Now… Read More