Category Archives: Personal Life

Not Everything Deserves a Response

There have been references to the argumentative nature of the Internet for as long as I’ve been aware of such a thing, much less an active participant in it.

Without giving away my age, I was around back when people got into never-ending arguments on message boards about topics that ranged from the serious to the downright silly.

For those of you who don’t remember those halcyon days,  message board discussions sometimes went something like this:

 

Thread title: Dogs Are Great

Anne: Here’s a humorous story about my dog not realizing that it’s Daylight Savings Time and waking me up an hour early for breakfast. I really wanted to sleep in, but he was so excited to spend time with me that I ended up getting out of bed early. Aren’t dogs the best?

Bernard: Oh, so you must hate cats then.

Anne: Wait, what?

Bernard: Obviously, everyone who loves dogs also hates cats. If you didn’t feel that way, you would have included cats in the beginning of this thread since they also like to ignore Daylight Savings Time.

Charlie: Yeah, what Bernard said. You really should have thought this rude thread through before posting it for these fourteen reasons that I will now list in exhaustive detail.

Diego: Well, I agree with Anne. Cats are the worst pets that have ever existed for these fifteen rebuttals to Charlie that I’ll now list in exhaustive detail.

Anne: ………..

Depending on how Anne responded once she realized that her innocuous thread about the joys of dogs had immediately been hijacked to argue about whether dogs or cats are the superior pet, this thread could go on for multiple pages and many days.

It didn’t matter what the original purpose of the message board was. I saw it play out on every one I ever visited. Maybe these kinds of arguments are an inescapable part of human nature in general.

At any rate, this pattern of behaviour carried over to social media as soon as such a thing existed. It’s shown no sign of of stopping since then.

No, this isn’t going to be a rant against social media or the Internet in general. Like many other tools, they can be used in all sorts of constructive or destructive ways depending on the intentions of the person behind the screen.

What I did want to talk about today is why not responding is sometimes the best possible thing you can do when someone online – or offline, for that matter – is determined to argue with you no matter what you say or do.

It Takes Two to Argue

I was originally going say that it’s impossible to argue with yourself, but I have seen a few examples of people so determined to win a debate that the lack of an opponent doesn’t do much to stop them.

Still, most arguments require at least two people to sustain them. If one person simply refuses to play the game, it becomes much more difficult for the other one to keep pressing their points. I don’t personally find any fulfillment in debating, but I’ve noticed that many people who do get a thrill out of any response you give them.

It’s not necessarily about the merit of the arguments themselves, it’s about the act of getting the other side to respond in any way.

Nobody’s Mind Will Change

There is nothing Anne can do to convince Bernard that her original post was intended to be lighthearted and happy. He is so determined to drag his own feelings about dogs and cats into every interaction he has that he’ll probably never stop.

Likewise, Bernard will never convince Anne that cats are better than dogs. That wasn’t why she originally signed up for this message board or started that thread. She has no interest in arguing with a stranger on the Internet on a topic she already has an opinion on, and there’s nothing Bernard can say or do to change that.

You’re Not the Cause or the Solution

A certain percentage of people have urges to do things like stir up conflict, always be right, or push their opinions onto everyone they meet regardless of the social context.

Nobody that I’ve known has ever learned to examine the reasons why they behave the way they do based on a conversation with a stranger. If or when they decide to work on changing those parts of themselves, they’ll seek out help on their own terms.

But you didn’t cause their behaviour and there’s nothing you can do to fix it. They are who they are just like you are who you are.

I Choose Peace

There’s something liberating about choosing not respond to everyone who wants to debate. The Bernards of the world obviously have the freedom to rant about cats and dogs as much as they wish, but they’ll soon learn that I’m not someone who will jump into fruitless arguments with them.

There are plenty of other folks on the Internet who are willing to do that, and I wish them well with their virtual battles.

How do you decide what you will and won’t respond to online?

4 Things That Inspire Me to Buy a Book

This post was written as a response to Candy Korman’s What Inspires You to Buy a Book? If any of my readers decide to write their own responses, I’ll edit this to include a link to your post. 

Raise your hand if you sometimes have no idea what to read next! I know I have this problem from time to time, and it’s not because my to-be-read list needs to be padded out. My TBR is as long as it ever was.

So many books are being published these days that it can be hard to know where to begin even if you’ve narrowed your search down to a particular genre. (Sometimes I have trouble even getting that far!)

I’m going to be honest here and say that I don’t buy a ton of reading material these days. My local library does an incredible job of bringing new titles into circulation soon after they’re released, and I already have dozens of Kindle ebooks that I need to finish before I can justify buying more of them. When I do eventually buy new stuff to read, though, these are the criteria that matter most to me.

This list is written in order from the most to least influential things that will encourage me to buy a book.

Already Loving the Author’s Work

I’ll immediately go out and buy the newest book from particular authors as soon as it becomes available because of how much I’ve adored everything else they’ve ever written. The number of people who have made it to this list is small, but once they’re added to it they will almost certainly be on it for as long as they continue writing.

For example, Sarah Waters is one of the folks on this list for me. She has a way of reimagining what the past might have really been like, especially for non-heterosexual women, that will always hold a special place in my heart.

She also only publishes new material every few years, so I have plenty of time to wait for her next story before finishing the last one.

Personal Recommendations

Confession: I’m a little hesitant to take book recommendations from folks who don’t know me well. My tastes are so specific that I’ve found it’s more effective to get to know someone well first before I start asking them what I should be reading next. They’re welcome to give recommendations, but I’ll be more interested in checking out their ideas once they know more about what I really love in a story.

For example, one of the things that can irk me about the science fiction and fantasy genres is how women are treated in certain parts of it. I love those genres in general, but I have little patience for storytellers who haven’t figured out to how include female characters without shoving them into the sidekick or love interest boxes. This also applies to stories where members of minority groups are given the same treatment.

Give me great storytelling by all means, but also make it intersectional and relevant to the lives of many different types of people.

Yes, I apply this rule to the way I interact with others, too.  It’s fairly rare for me to give out recommendations to folks I haven’t gotten to know well. It takes time to get to know what their preferences are. I’d rather say nothing than tell them about something that they have no interest in or that potentially stirs up painful memories for them.

A Great Blurb

I won’t go into specific details about the types of stuff I look for in a blurb since this is such a subjective topic. What I consider to be a must-read plot might bore you to tears and vice versa!

There are a few things that I think every blurb should take note of, however.

One, it should tell the readers what the storyline is about. Has anyone else run across vague or misleading blurbs? I see them every so often, and I get irritated every time I realize that I’m reading something that was not anything close to what was mentioned in the blurb at all.

Two, it should not give away the entire plot. I’ve been seeing quite a few blurbs lately that basically summarize the entire story for the audience. Not cool.

Three, it should encourage the reader to ask questions. Will the lonely young woman find true love? Will the detective find out who is killing her neighbours before she becomes his newest victim? Even if I know what the answer will be ahead of time, I still want to approach the plot with a sense of wonder instead of knowing everything (or nothing) about what is going to happen in it.

Well-Rounded Reviews

I choose to believe this dog has opinions about books, too.

While it is possible to write something that universally appealing, I place more trust in reviews and reviewers who mention the stuff they didn’t like about a particular novel or other form of entertainment as well as everything they thought was wonderful about it.

To me, a great review is one that reminds you of sitting down casually with friends and discussing what you’ve all recently read, watched, or listened to.

That is, I always want to know if a reviewer thought the pacing was a little off in the middle or if a certain character could have been fleshed out a bit more.

Small details like these actually make it more likely that I’ll buy a book because they show the reviewers were probably paying close attention and thinking critically about what they read, especially if there are multiple conflicting opinions on the same topic.

If the storyline includes something that is commonly triggering, I also want to know about this well before I even start thinking about reading the first paragraph. The list of things I absolutely refuse to read about is vanishingly small, but it exists and I hate being surprised by those topics.

Yes, compliments are important, too. A review full of nothing but compliments is definitely a pleasure to read, but it strikes me as eerie when every single reviewer agrees that something is perfect the way it is. Diversity of opinion is critical when I’m deciding what to purchase and read next regardless of how much I might or might not end up agreeing with any particular reviewer.

What encourages you to buy a book?

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What Should I Write About Next?

Once or twice a year I like to check in with my readers.

What fitness, mindfulness/meditation, and scifi/fantasy topics would you like to see me blog about here?

I haven’t been writing many meditation posts over the last several months because, frankly, my foray into unguided mediation hasn’t been going well. Even guided meditation has been challenging for me. Normally, I like to hold off on posts about stuff that isn’t working for me until I find some kind of solution for it.  Would you rather read about someone who is currently struggling or who used to struggle and then found a way to make it better?

Writing reviews of sci-fi and speculative films has been a true source of joy for me this year. It was originally something I started doing because of how much I enjoyed my friend Alexandria’s movie and TV reviews. She’s introduced me to some  stories I probably wouldn’t have picked up on my own but ended up liking quite a bit.

I also love the process of analyzing the plot and discussing what I did and didn’t enjoy about it. Do you all find this kind of content useful? What films would you recommend watching next?

My workout schedule has remained pretty uneventful this summer. Everything is good on that front, although I’m not entirely sure how to blog about something that hasn’t brought any new or unusual challenges to my life lately. Maybe it’s time to try something new?

I do have a list of ideas for future blog posts that I’ll continue to drawn on, but I always enjoy hearing your thoughts as well.

What kinds of posts do you find most enjoyable here? Do you have any ideas for me?

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 it’s the middle of July.  Instead of having a high temperature of -25 C (-13 F) like we did when I published that post last January, it’s supposed to feel like 40 C (104 F) today including the humidex. I’m lucky enough to have air conditioning, but our home air conditioner does have some trouble keeping up when the weather grows that hot and humid.

Luckily, there’s something about leaping into a good book that helps me forget even the strongest heat wave.

My summer reading preferences tend to veer off into two different directions. I either want to read serious classic literature or lighthearted beach reads that don’t require much analyzing at all. (So much depends on exactly how humid it is outside and how well my brain cells are swimming around in my skull. Ha!)

I have no idea why my brain has made the connection between these two types of stories and summer. All I know is that these were the sections of our local public library I’d often visit first after school let out and I needed something to occupy my time for a few months.

Summer Sisters by Judy Blume

Summer Sisters was the first Judy Blume tale I read that wasn’t meant for kids. I stumbled across it a couple of decades before I reached the target age range, but I still loved the idea of making a childhood friend who remained with you throughout your life.

My family moved around a lot when I was growing up. The friends I made once we finally settled down for good turned out not to be people I had anything in common with at all in adulthood. This gives me a soft spot for people who were able to maintain their childhood friendships twenty, forty, or even sixty years later. It must be incredible to have such a long, rich history with someone like that.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

The first thing I’m going to tell you about this book is that you should never try to fry green tomatoes. My one and only attempt at making this dish did not end deliciously. Fried tomatoes have such an odd texture that I don’t ever want to taste them again.

The storyline itself was well done, though. It was about an unlikely friendship between a sad, middle-aged woman named Evelyn and Mrs. Threadgoode, a lonely nursing home resident. As they got to know each other better, Mrs. Threadgoode began telling Evelyn a complicated story about two friends who grew up together and ran a restaurant in Whistle Stop, Alabama that served coffee and occasionally might have been the scene of a violent crime or two.

Summer makes me feel nostalgic, so reading about what life was like from roughly the early 1900s to the1940s tickled my imagination.

 

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Some middle grade books can be just as appealing to adults as they are to their intended audience. If you ask me, this is one of them.

Winnie, the main character, had to decide whether or not to drink water from a spring that had the power to make someone immortal. I loved the descriptions of the water in that spring, especially since Winnie visited it during an uncomfortably warm portion of the year from what I can recall. There’s nothing as refreshing as a glass of cold water on a hot summer day, although I don’t know that I’d be interested in living forever.

 

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

Okay, so technically My Sister’s Keeper wasn’t set during the summer. I first read it during such a hot and humid portion of this season that it still feels like a summer read to me.

The dilemma the characters dealt with was one that I thought could have been solved much more quickly than it was. Anna was a young girl who had been conceived specifically to be a donor for an older sibling who had leukaemia. She’s endured numerous medical procedures over the years in order to keep her sister alive, and by the time she turned eleven she’d had enough.

I formed my opinion on the ethics of this (fictional) case almost immediately. That didn’t mean I was any less interested in seeing if Anna could become legally emancipated from her family or what would happen to her sister after Anna was no longer forced to give away parts of her body to her sibling.

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

To be perfectly honest with you, I am not a huge fan of Faulkner’s writing style. His descriptions remind me of a few people I know who will take ten minutes to recount a story that could have easily been shared in one or two. My patience for that sort of thing is limited to days when I have all the time in the world to read (or listen) and don’t mind getting lost in a long description of what someone’s wagon looked like before the narrator eventually sees fit to tell me who is riding in that wagon and where they’re going.

Without giving away any spoilers, the journey on said wagon was a deeply emotional one. I simply need to be in the right frame of mind in order to properly enjoy it (and to keep the 15 narrators straight in my mind!)

 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

As someone who had mixed feelings about Romeo and Juliet, I sure wasn’t expecting to enjoy A Midsummer Night’s Dream like I did. There’s something about a warm summer night that makes falling in love – or, in some cases, lust – just a little more appealing than it would be at other times of the year.

If possible, I highly recommend watching this play outdoors on a warm evening. I was lucky enough to do that once, and it made the storyline come alive for me. There was something about feeling the humid air against my skin and hearing crickets chirping in the distance that made me feel like I’d been transported hundreds of years ago to when this story was first performed.

 

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Yes, I know I’ve talked about this book several times before in previous posts. One of the things I liked most about the earliest scenes were their descriptions of what summer was like in the 1930s before air conditioning was invented. This was a very small part of the plot, of course, but people back then came up with all sorts of inexpensive and inventive ways to remain as cool as possible. I enjoyed reading about their solutions, and they made me very grateful to live in a world where air conditioning exists.

 

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

 Not only is The Bluest Eye set during the summer, I first read it over summer vacation as well. The sharp contrast between the warm setting and the cold descriptions of a young girl who had endured terrible abuse made me very curious to see how it ended. This book does include descriptions of the after-effects of rape, so reader be warned.

Do your reading preferences shift from one season to the next? What genres do you like to read during the hottest part of the year where you live?

My Favourite Canadian Books

Happy belated Canada Day!

One of the most interesting parts of moving to Canada was getting to read some of the amazing books that have been written by Canadian authors over the years.

From what I’ve observed, there seems to be a lot of Canadian literature that isn’t necessarily that well-known in the United States. While I can’t say for sure if this is true for other countries as well, I hope that all of my readers, Canadian and otherwise, find something that piques their interest on this list.

On one final note, I narrowed this list down to books and authors that I hadn’t heard of at all before I moved up north. This meant leaving out some fabulous writers like L.M. Montgomery and Margaret Atwood simply because so many people across the world have already discovered their work.

The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence

The Stone Angel has actually become one of my favourite books of all time even though Hagar, the main character, was often a pretty unpleasant person to those closest to her. What I enjoyed the most about the storytelling was how real it felt. As I believe I’ve mentioned on this site before, Hagar went through some incredibly difficult experiences throughout her long life. She was treated poorly by both her parents and the much-older man she married as a young adult. It was so interesting to get to know this character and come to understand why she was so stubborn and prickly at the end of her life.

Annabel by Kathleen Winter

Raising an intersex child can come with some additional challenges, especially for a family that decided to keep this part of their child’s identity top-secret. I knew almost nothing about this topic before I read this book, but I was impressed with the way the author explored everything from how gender identity is formed to how a secret can take on a life of its own.

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

It took me a couple of tries to get into this story, but once I did I couldn’t wait to find out what else Saul remembered about his life as he lay dying in a hospice bed. There is something about looking back on one’s life and finally attempting to put all of the pieces together after years of ignoring them that really speaks to me.

The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy

 I was especially interested in discovering how the three youngest siblings in this tale compared their childhoods. There is something fascinating about seeing all of the similarities and differences siblings will remember when they were raised in the same home. My family only had three children in total, but I’d say that all of us would still describe our childhoods in different ways based on how our family culture evolved as we grew older.

I also enjoyed this peek into Chinatown, Vancouver from so many decades ago. The families who moved to such a faraway place that often rejected them were very brave.

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

Reading about an eleven-year-old girl being kidnapped in Africa before being sold into slavery in the United States isn’t an easy experience. I can’t recommend this book to anyone who is triggered by violence or sexual assault, but the storyline is well worth the read for everyone else. Aminata was an incredibly brave character. I loved seeing how she changed over the years as well as how her yearning to return home and be with her family again never wavered no matter how many years she spent far away from her birthplace.

Missed Her by Ivan E. Coyote

Not only is Ivan a gifted storyteller, she’s hilarious as well. I’d especially recommend this book to members of the LGBT+ community who grew up in small towns or anyone who has ever wondered what that experience is like.

Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer

Longterm readers may recognize this author. I’m  a huge fan of his writing, and I’ve talked about his books here several times before. Someday I might have to dedicate an entire post to him.

Calculating God was the first thing I ever read from Robert. At the time, I was quickly growing uninterested in religious themes of any sort in novels, so it took me a while to decide to pick this tale up. I made assumptions about it’s content that turned out to be pretty off the mark. While it did ask questions about the nature of faith and why sentient beings choose to believe a wide variety of things about the existence (or non-existence) of any deity, the vast majority of the plot was actually about a palaeontologist who was stunned when an alien wandered into the Royal Ontario Museum, his workplace, one day and asked for help.

This is the sort of thing I’ve since been recommending to people who might think they’ll never like science fiction. Not only was it an excellent story, it was thought provoking and a smart introduction to my favourite genre as well.

What are your favourite Canadian books? If there are any fellow immigrants or longterm world travellers following this site, what authors were you most excited to discover when you settled into your new country?

My Favourite LGBT Books

Happy Pride month! Today I thought it would be fun to share some of my favourite LGBT-themed books in honour of all of the Pride festivities that have been and are still going on here in Toronto. Rainbow flags are popping up everywhere, and that’s always a heart-warming thing to see at this time of… Read More

Anything But Books Tag

Thank you to Stephanie from Adventures Thru Wonderland for tagging me in this. To the best of my knowledge, this tag was originally started by ReadorRot.  Name a cartoon that you love Futurama. I should warn you all that this isn’t the kind of cartoon that was meant for children. The jokes in it are… Read More

15 Things I’ve Learned From 15 Years of Blogging

I’ve been blogging at lydiaschoch.com for almost eighteen months now. Since I imported all of my old posts over from my previous site, the archives here begin in July of 2010 instead of November of 2016. I’ve been blogging much longer than that, though! Over the past fifteen years, I’ve had several different blogs.  With… Read More