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What Should I Write About Next?

Every once in a while, I like to ask my readers for feedback.

What topics related to fitness, writing, mindfulness, and/or the science fiction and fantasy genres would you like to see me blog about?

What posts here have you enjoyed the most so far?

Which ones would you like to see a follow-up to?

If you have an idea that’s tangentially related to one of these areas, I’d still like to hear. I do occasionally write essays outside of these interests.

Talk to me in the comment section here or on Twitter if you have any ideas.

Nothing Appeals to Everyone

As I mentioned last week, there are certain authors and genres I’ve never been able to become a fan of no matter how many times I try to like them.

It simply isn’t possible to write, draw, film, or sing something that’s going to appeal to every single person who stumbles across it. My thoughts on this topic were too complicated to condense for last week’s post, so I’m going to discuss them with you this week instead.

Some themes, plot twists, or tropes will appeal to one reader but will repel the next person who attempts to read them. This is completely normal, and it says nothing about the quality of the writing itself. It all boils down to the subjective nature of art and storytelling.

Subjectivity and Literature

To give you a concrete example of what I’m talking about, let’s go back to when I was in high school. My eleventh grade English teacher was a kind, generous woman who regularly allowed her students borrow books from her if we wanted something to read for the sheer joy of it.

When she noticed me reading a scary Stephen King story one week and a collection of Langston Hughes poems the next, she smiled and say she was glad to see a student of hers readings such a wide variety of stuff.

She taught her students a lot about literature in general. The authors she assigned us to study were from a wide range of eras and movements. I enjoyed all of them at least a little bit with one glaring exception: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

By the time I finished the first scene of it, I began counting down the days until we finished the last chapter and moved onto literally anything else in the entire world. I honestly would have preferred to read the phone book by the time we were halfway through that story because there was nothing about it that I found at all enjoyable. The characters were vain, selfish, and materialistic from what I observed. If anything interesting ever happened to them, the horrendously slow pacing made it hard for me to tell when those scenes were occurring.

I’ve never been able to get into F. Scott Fitzgerald’s catalogue even as an adult reader who no longer has to remember anything about what I’ve read for a future pop quiz. Obviously, there are plenty of people who disagree with me here, and I’m glad that they’re able to get something out of his writing. The fact that it doesn’t speak to me in no way means that it isn’t worth reading.

He simply isn’t the kind of storyteller that I’m drawn to. Something tells me that my teacher would have understood this if it had been socially acceptable for me to tell her how much I disliked that unit. As it was, I stayed perfectly polite and never brought up the subject. She might have privately had a list of authors she wasn’t a fan of as well!

Subjectivity and Art

The subjective nature of these things isn’t limited to literature, either.

One of the biggest reasons why I love going to art museums, shows, galleries, and other creative spaces with a small group of like-minded people has to do with how interesting it is to see how different folks respond to the same painting, sculpture, or other creative work.

When it comes to photography, I like whimsical, thought-provoking pieces like the shot of two toy robots on the right side of this post. Their glowing eyes make it easy to imagine that they’re somehow at least slightly aware of their surroundings.

There are so many different ways to interpret a photo like this one. Sometimes when I’m sitting quietly somewhere this is exactly the sort of thing I think about.

My taste in paintings is nothing like my preferences for photography. Hyperrealism fascinated me long before I had any idea that there was a name for this movement or that multiple painters have figured out how to paint scenes so realistic that I genuinely feel like I could walk into them and never notice I was in a painting at all. It was a style of painting I was pleasantly surprised to see on occasion, and I only grew to love it more once I figured out what it was called and that many different artists have explored it over the years.

Of course, not everyone is going to agree with me on either of these points. There are people out there who don’t connect with the pieces that speak to me at all just like I have been known to have trouble understanding other, most abstract types of art.

Subjectivity and Music

Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to get a group of people to agree on what a good song should sound like even after you’ve sorted out objective criteria like the quality of the singer’s voice or whether or not they’re singing on key?

I know plenty of folks who have incredibly strong opinions on this topic. Some of them even refuse to listen to certain artists or entire genres of music altogether because of how firmly they’ve made up their minds about what they do and don’t enjoy.

Yes, I’ve done this, too. There was a long period of time when I didn’t think I liked any form of country music at all. It was only after being exposed to many different types of it that I realized there were a small number of country artists that I actually did enjoy quite a bit.

There’s Something for Everyone

While nothing is going to appeal to everyone, there is something out there for everyone.

I don’t know about you, but I find that freeing.

It’s okay not to like something. Someone else out there loves it.

On the flip side, you’ll find plenty of books and other creative works that you do love if you keep searching for the things that speak to you.

What have you read, watched, or listened to that you’ve never been able to enjoy? What creative works have you tried and been surprised by how much you loved them?

No, You Don’t Have to Finish That Book

I spend a lot of my time online talking to other people who love to read. Over and over again, I keep running into conversations about stories that someone doesn’t like for any number of reasons but forces themselves to keep reading anyway.

It’s one thing to continue reading something that’s been assigned for a class or book club, but making yourself to read something you don’t like for no reason at all doesn’t make any sense.

No, you don’t have to finish that book. It truly is okay to stop reading one sentence, paragraph, chapter, or act into the plot.

If you need more convincing, keep reading.

There Are Hundreds of Millions of Other Book in the World

As of 2010, there were 129,864,880 books in the world. (I tried to find a more up-to-date statistic than that, but I didn’t have any luck. If any of my readers know what the current number is, I’d love to hear it).

No matter what genre you’re into or how particular you are your reading material, there are far more stories floating around out there than you will ever have the time to check out before you die even if you spent every single waking moment doing nothing but reading for the next 50 years.

Why waste your time on something that doesn’t appeal to you when you could be back at the bookstore or library finding a different title that is right up your alley?

There is nothing like the feeling you get when you find a story that’s perfect for your tastes. This should happen as much as possible for everyone who loves to read. The less time you spend on “meh” book, the more time you’ll have for the ones that you really love.

Pleasure Reading Is Supposed to be Pleasurable

Yes, I know this is an obvious statement, but sometimes I think people forget that you’re supposed to enjoy the tales you pick out when you’re looking for something to fill your spare time.

It’s one thing to slog through the fine details of a contract, user manual, textbook*, user agreement, or some other form of reading that is meant to give the reader important knowledge instead of entertaining them. These reasons for reading are an unavoidable part of life, and they do serve incredibly important purposes for anyone who needs more information about when their phone contract runs out or what to do when their fridge makes that really bizarre sound.

Reading for the sheer pleasure of it is different. The only purpose of this type of reading is to give you joy. If you’re not enjoying it, you might as well go find something else that does make you happy.

*Although I will admit to reading textbooks for fun in the past, too!

You Might Like It More Later

Just because a book doesn’t appeal to you right now doesn’t mean you won’t have a different opinion of it in the future.

Not liking a specific story the first time you tried it could happen for any number of reasons. For example, you could have picked it up before you were ready for that particular tale or at a time in your life when other types of writing were more appealing to you.

The first time I read C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, I honestly didn’t know what to think of it. The scene where Orual, the main character, sees Pearl, her sister, again after assuming that Pearl had died was beautiful and poignant, but the plot flew over my head because I wasn’t familiar with the myth of Cupid and Psyche and I was a little too young for the subject matter in general.

It was only when I reread it a few years later that I started understanding the themes Mr. Lewis was exploring in it about love, selfishness, doubt, suffering, and gods whose actions don’t make any sense at all to us humans.

With that being said….

Nothing Appeals to Everyone

I may have to write a follow-up post to this post sometime, but not every author or story is going to appeal to every single reader no matter how many times you try to change your opinion of it.

It simply isn’t impossible to write something that appeals to everyone in the entire world.

I know several people who only read nonfiction. Some readers love mysteries but wouldn’t touch a horror novel with a ten foot pole. Others wants  cutting-edge science in their fiction but will run screaming from the slightest hint of romance in the plot.

This only scratches the surface of all of the different types of writing and storytelling that are out there.

There are certain authors and fictional universes that I’ve never been able to get into no matter how many times I give them another shot or how hard I try to enjoy them. This doesn’t mean that those books are bad or not worth checking out in any way. They’re simply not my cup of tea for all sorts of different reasons.

There are many other people out there who deeply love them. Some of them are wildly popular, and I’m glad that they’ve found their audience even though I’m not part of that audience.

If you struggle with putting books away without finishing them, I hope I’ve given you some food for thought. It truly isn’t necessary to keep reading something that you can’t bring yourself to like.

Do any of my readers have this problem? How often do you give up on reading a book before you finish it?

Saturday Seven: Cold and Flu Season Reads

Saturday Seven is hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

We’re well into the depths of winter now here in Ontario. Cold and flu season is in full swing. I spent the last several weeks fighting and just recently finally getting over a stubborn cold myself, so communicable winter illnesses like these have been on my mind. How do you stay healthy when everyone is sniffling and coughing their way through January? Will we ever come up with a cure for the flu or the common cold?

Today I thought it would be amusing to talk about books that approach these questions from a wide variety of perspectives. My list begins with one of the most common ways that germs enter a body, explores what happens when an epidemic occurs, and ends with the one of the greatest medical discoveries of all time.

Three of these books are non-fiction, and four of them are fiction.

5. Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach. 

One of the most common ways to catch a cold, the flu, or other diseases is to touch your face after you’ve touched someone or something that is carrying those germs. That virus then travels from your eyes, nose, or mouth into your body and begins replicating.

While this book spends most of its time talking how the digestive tract works in general, it also discusses the body’s defences against germs and how someone’s diet can affect their chances of getting sick. I was simultaneously fascinated and also a little grossed out by the author’s descriptions of how all of these things work.

 

1. Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It by Gina Kolata. 

Imagine how terrifying it must have been for our ancestors to watch their loved ones die from this strain of the flu or from the secondary infections they developed as a result of it. Normally, influenza kills people who are very young, very old, or who have underlying health conditions. It must have been even more frightening to see so many young, healthy adults succumb to it.

Antibiotics and life support machines didn’t exist in 1918, so there was little the hospitals could do in general to help patients who had severe reactions to this virus. People either recovered or they didn’t. All the doctors and nurses could do was watch and wait.

What I enjoyed the most about this book was how much detail it went into why this strain of the flu was so deadly, how it disrupted the daily schedules of the people who encountered it, and why it faded away.

2. The Stand by Stephen King.

The Stand was the first story I ever read about a virulent strain of influenza accidentally being released and killing off 99.4% of all humans. It ignited my interest in this genre.

While the plot soon veered off in other directions, the first few chapters went into great detail about why the U.S. army weaponized this virus to be so deadly in the first place, how it ended up being introduced into the general population, and what happened once people began dying in droves.

 

3. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. 

As regular readers of this blog know, I’m a huge fan of Margaret Atwood’s stories in general. What appeals to me the most about Oryx and Crake is how much time she spent describing what the world would be like after all but a handful of humans died in a terrible pandemic.

Some species flourished after mankind died off either because or in spite of all of the ways we bio-engineered them. Other species weren’t so capable of looking after themselves without a friendly human to feed them and keep them out of mischief. The buildings, trees, and land in general also changed in many ways as the Earth quieted down.

4. The Plague by Albert Camus. 

Don’t read The Plague if you’re easily grossed out by detailed descriptions of disease or what happens to a body after someone dies. The communicable disease that these characters come down with is a particularly nasty one, and there were never enough people around to take care of the ill or bury the dead.

With that being said, there are a lot of poetic passages in this book once you get past the descriptions of what happened when the characters fell ill.

5. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson.

Most post-apocalyptic novels assume that everyone who comes down with the disease that’s destroying humanity will die. This one describes a world in which infected people remain alive but are changed into something that is no longer human. By the time the first scene began, there is only one human left in the entire world.

That’s all I can tell you about the plot without giving away spoilers, but I was fascinated by the idea of a virus that permanently and severely changes someone’s personality, habits, and ability to communicate rather than outright kills them.

 

6. Miracle Cure: The Creation of Antibiotics and the Birth of Modern Medicine by William Rosen. 

Finally, we come to the idea of a cure. The introduction of antibiotics changed how modern medicine was practiced in so many positive ways. Surgery became much safer, and with the threat of infection greatly reduced we were eventually able to start performing risky procedures like organ transplants as well.

Before I read this book, I had no idea how dangerous it used to be to give birth, have surgery, or even do something as ordinary as accidentally cutting yourself and then developing an infection in that wound. No one was too young or too healthy to avoid a terrible death if the wrong strain of bacteria entered their body during one of those events. I wonder if a similar drug will ever be invented that cures the common cold or the flu?

My fingers are crossed that we’ll someday have such a thing. In the meantime, stay healthy this winter!

Maintaining a Low-Sugar Diet Through the Holidays

Last August, I began seriously cutting back on how much added sugar I ate after a friend mentioned all of the positive changes she’d seen from doing that.

Not only did I lose a few pounds unexpectedly, my skin became clearer and I have more energy now than I did last summer. My early afternoon energy slump has ended, and I don’t crave sugary snacks the same way I used to. Cutting back has brought so many positive changes to my life that I’m planning to stick with it.

Is my diet 100% added-sugar-free now? No, it isn’t. I have occasional treats, and I know there is still a little bit of added sugar in some of the food I buy like spaghetti sauce. At this point, I’m not interested in completely eliminating every source of added sugar from my diet.

Going 100% sugar-free would require me to cook and bake stuff that I’ve rarely if ever made purely from scratch, from bread to homemade spaghetti sauce. Maybe someday I’ll want to give this a try, but for now I’m happy with the way things are.

It is going to be interesting to see how this low-sugar diet affects me over the next few months in a few different areas, though.

Changing Tastebuds

The funny thing about switching to a low-sugar diet is that it changes your perception of how sweet something is and how much of it you want to eat.

Fruit and carrots taste much sweeter than they used to taste. They’re almost becoming a new version of candy to me because of how sugary and flavourful they are.

To give another example, I bought a pie for Canadian Thanksgiving last month thinking it would be a special treat after spending two months watching what I ate so carefully. While it did taste good, it was so sweet that I didn’t want much of it at all. The savoury dishes my spouse and I had that weekend were much more enjoyable, so I suspect I won’t bother buying or making a dessert for Christmas.

What will Christmas season treats be like in general this year?

Well, there is a flavour of speciality herbal tea I’ve already stocked up on for the winter. It happens to be a sugar-free variety that tastes so wonderful I’ve never felt the need to add anything sweet to it. It’s delicious just the way it is.

I might buy a couple of bars of dairy-free chocolate for the winter if or when I notice interesting flavours at my local grocery store. I also expect to eat them much more slowly than I did in the past. If carrots taste almost like candy to me, dark chocolate might not taste bitter at all anymore.

Fewer Treats

So far, I’m not stocking up on dairy-free Christmas treats like I’ve done in the past. I bought Halloween candy last month, and I still have plenty of it left to nibble on here and there.

Having a lot of sugary treats in the house also make it harder to stick to a low-sugar diet. There is something about having to bundle up and walk to the store that discourages me from actually doing that most of the time when I have a sudden urge to eat something decadent.

I’m not saying I won’t buy anything sugary this holiday season. Grocery stores often sell delicious holiday-themed candies and chocolates this time of the year, and I’m not opposed to trying one or two of them if any of them are dairy-free as I mentioned earlier.

The difference will be in how many I buy and how often I eat them. Some of my Halloween candy actually got stale a few weeks ago because I was eating it so slowly. That’s never happened to me before, but I like the fact that I can be satisfied by much smaller and less frequent portions of sweets these days.

Holiday Sicknesses

My final prediction for the holiday season has to do with getting sick.

Every Christmas I used to eat far more sweets than normal because they were sold everywhere and it always made me so happy to find a few of them that were safe for me. On or soon after Christmas, I’d come down with a cold or other mild illness.

Obviously, the sugar itself didn’t cause me to get sick. Late December is prime time for all sorts of respiratory illnesses to get passed around as people meet up for celebrations and spend much of their free time indoors in crowded places in general. I’m sure that most of the blame for my annual Christmas cold can be placed on all of the germs that thrive during that part of the year.

I have read, though, that sugar can curb your immune system just enough that a germ you might have normally been able to fight off is able to make you sick.

It will be interesting to see if this pattern repeats itself now that I’m eating sugar far more sparingly.

Go Low-Sugar with Me

If you’ve been thinking about adopting a low- or no-sugar diet, now is the perfect time to start.

It only took a couple of weeks for my tastebuds to begin adjusting, and I didn’t take a cold-turkey approach to this dietary change. It can be as simple as putting one teaspoon of sugar into your morning coffee instead of two.

Small changes can make a big difference over the long haul. Don’t think of this as temporary experiment. Make it a permanent lifestyle change, but go as slowly as you need to in order for every tweak to your habits to stick. They build on each other, especially once your tastebuds become more sensitive and fruit begins to taste sweeter than it did in the past.

The more tweaks you make to what you eat and how often you eat it, the easier it will be to stick to the next small change as well.

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Who to Follow on Twitter If You’re Into Health and Fitness

Earlier this year I started a new series of posts on this blog about Twitter accounts that share the same theme. This week I’m going to be recommending accounts that tweet about health, nutrition, and fitness. To be honest with you, I’m quite picky about which Twitter accounts I follow when it comes to these… Read More

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The Handmaid’s Tale: Jezebels

This post includes spoilers for “Jezebels” (Season 1, Episode 8) of The Handmaid’s Tale. As usual, the link on the left has full summaries of all of the episodes that have aired so far.  This week’s episode was another unusual one. The plot returned to focusing on Offred, but Moira was definitely competing with her for this viewer’s… Read More

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The Handmaid’s Tale: Faithful

This post includes spoilers for “Faithful” (Season 1, Episode 5) of The Handmaid’s Tale. As usual, the link on the left has full summaries of all of the episodes that have aired so far. This post is my reaction to what happened.  I was happy to see the pacing pick up this week after the slower storytelling… Read More

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