Tag Archives: reading books


images-12We’re waiting for another nor’easter to blow its way up the coast. In houses all over New England and the Maritimes, children are lying, breathless, under their sheets, waiting for the sound of snow.

The silent stealthy steps of snowflakes, tiptoeing around the house. The grumbling of snow plows scraping  the streets. The unusual quiet of cars as they hover past on cushioned tires.

I remember those mornings. I’d turn on my AM radio to WRKO, trying to hear school cancellations between the morning chatter and pop tunes. I lived in Winchester, so I’d try to stay awake as they ran through all the school districts but I’d invariably fall asleep waiting for our town’s announcement and have to start over through the A’s and on.

I did it again when my kids were little. I’d have CBC on this time, trying to hear the announcement of cancellations, listening for the howling of the wind, the sound of shovels. If school was cancelled, I could grab another half-hour’s sleep, the kids would be happy, we’d all hang around in jammies all day. They’d watch too much television, we’d have creative snacks, the day would creep by in delicious slo-mo.

If there wasn’t an announcement, I’d have to spring into super action, sort out where all the warm clothes were, clear off the steps, maybe shovel the drive, especially if I had to drive them to school.

So I’d lie there, rigid, not sure if I could relax or if I had to leap out of bed. Listening. Trying not to fall asleep. Listening so hard my ears nearly grew.

I loved snow days, as a kid and an adult. I still love them. Tomorrow, I expect we’ll be sheathed in swaths of powdery snow. Here in the Maritimes, we have a day or two of  mess, and then it melts off, so the kids here have to run out when they can and make big big snowmen to persist through the melting. I hope they get a day off, though I know it’s tough on parents. Snow days are one of those most magical things about childhood. A gift from Mother Nature or Jack Frost.

Happy nor’easter, and may your power ever burn bright…

I’ve got a bunch of good books and a warm cat. Perfect.

Performance-Enhancing Drugs for Writers and more from Grant Snider

Performance-Enhancing Drugs for Writers and more from Grant Snider.


love this!

“We don’t need more writers! We need more readers!”

Somewhere back in Nanowrimo land, I read a commentary about the piles of dreck being produced through the month. The quote above comes from that commentary, but I can’t find the reference this morning, peering as I am through the slits of eyes produced by profound weeping as I realize another dream is lost, down the drain. That writing dream. You know. THAT one.

I’ve produced a lot of that dreck. I know. People have ever so sanctimoniously, kindly, gently, and viciously told me so. (Just GET all those -ly words in one sentence! That takes skill, that does!)

I’ve been “working on writing”, interspersed with sessions of intense parenting, higher education, day jobs that consume my soul, and fighting the urge to nap, for the past 20 years or so. Should I succeed now, I’d likely kill whoever called me an overnight success. Wait, that’s a good idea for a plot…

And therein lies the rub. Like many people, especially the insufferable woman who sat beside me the other day, plots are a dime a dozen. At least in the idea stage. The stories, the ones that grip your heart and make you sink into an alternate reality – well, those are harder. For me, anyway. I imagine insufferable woman could just whip them off in a second, or so she tells me.

There are hundreds of books produced every year. Many of them are simply awful. (see: 50 Shades of Grey) Some of the really bad ones get made into movies, even, and their authors lie about and eat bon bons forevermore. This leads many of us to think that we, too, could wield that magic.

But like the lion in the Wizard of Oz would say, “Whadda they got that I haven’t got? Courage!” I somehow can’t get myself to offer my dreck to the wider world. I feel I should do better. So I paralyze and refuse to write and don’t. And, quite frankly, my skills get rustier and rustier.

So, a few tips for those who want to do this crazy thing (and by the way, my assembly of writing books is going up for sale on Kijiji in a moment).

1. Write. Yah, you knew this.

2. Learn to touch type. My mother never let me take this class as she thought I’d end up as a secretary or something. She didn’t see the time of keyboards. I still type fast, but my error rate is huge, and my hands get weary using only four fingers total. It wastes time, and frustrates my flow of thoughts.

3. Read. Write reviews of the books you read. This will make you look for the things you read that worked, the things you didn’t like, and, more importantly, will stick those things in your mind for when you write your own stuff.

4. Avoid writing courses. I’ve taken dozens of these. They either tell me what I already know, or decimate my confidence. Free ones are okay. I’ve paid thousands and am genuinely no further ahead. Read instead.

5. If you must take courses, pay attention, participate, suck the pith out of them. Squeeze them dry. Pester the teacher for additional help, especially if they’re good. Find kindred spirits in the class and form a reading/writing group for afterwards. This will be the most useful thing of all.

6. Get a group together to share your writing with. Make sure you are on the same level. This is tougher than you think, and it is terribly irritating to have someone ask you the meaning of words or tell you they haven’t read anything much since the Twilight series when you write historical fiction. Plus it is really really hard to critique really bad writing without being mean-sounding.

7. Read some more. TV or movie renditions of writing do NOT count. It’s not the same. Read widely, outside “your” genre. Well, except romance. Don’t read that if you don’t like it. It will just lead you to think you can write it, and good romance isn’t easy, either. It’s easy to shower scorn on things you don’t understand. I know. Bad romance (writing) isn’t something you want your kids to remember you for.

8. Buy books. Go to readings. Talk to authors. For me, going to the Bloody Words Conference – I plan to kiss their feet. I’ve tried to do what they do, and I can’t. I bow before them, trying to let my envy go and to embrace them with all my heart for the pleasure their books have brought me.

9. If you can, give up. It’s tough out there. It’s lonely. And it can be soul-destroying. After trying for so many years, I feel like a Hollywood starlet, who went west to become a movie star, tried and tried and got some bit parts, a little taste of possible glories, but never a big break. Now she’s old, tired, and wherever she goes, she can hear the whispering, “Of course, she never really WAS anyone…

10. If you can’t give it up, make sure you have other things to fall back on in times of duress. Friends help, but no one can patch the gaping hole in a heart when you’ve very nearly almost made art and have just missed. You need something else that deals with internal trauma. Work out, make something out of clay or cloth or wood or anything tactile that does not involve words. Physicality is key when you’ve been working so hard with the verbal mind. Go punch someone. Maybe the insufferable woman. That would be fun.

Try not to look pathetic.

Stop me before I hurt myself….

I can’t keep up!  Everywhere I look there are books books books I want to read read read! I have a stack of to-be-reads that is threatening to squash the dog, and then there are the ebooks that no one can see but me, but they are growing in piles, too.  And yet, and yet – everywhere I look there is another one I feel I must read.

I thought I was safe reading Geist Magazine. It’s published in Vancouver and usually altogether too twee for me. I feel as if I should be smokin’ some BC gold and threading my toes through long sweetgrass if I am going to read that magazine – and it’s so Vancouver-centric I often smell the pacific blowing through. Being more of an Atlantic gal, I like my stories needlessly grim, preferably involving weather, religion, and perhaps some abuse. Or laughter and families. So first, it blew me away with a lukewarm review of Johanna Skibsrud’s The Sentimentalists. This Giller prize winner left me cold. I did HAVE to read it, though, and bought it on an e-book so I could consume it as soon as possible, while the publishing house scampered to ramp up production. I would have expected a glowing fawning report, like so many of the other reviews. It wasn’t. How refreshing.

But the killer was “The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them” by Elif Batuman. Now, who could resist such a title? The excerpt, where an Aeroflot employee talks about a Russian phrase, “resignation of the soul” just poured spice on the review and I felt I had to read this book, now.

I can’t stop myself. It’s like eating a box of chocolates – you read (or eat) and read and read until you feel you must burst, and then, you read some more. I have three books out from the library now. I hate the library. First of all, it’s like free candy and I inevitably grab more than I should.  It’s too wonderful, the way books leap out from everywhere with tempting titles and back copy and subjects. They beg me to take them home.  But only for a while. And there’s the rub. I am always in the middle of at least two other books, and when I bring those library ones home, they want to be read first. But the other books object. “Just finish me”, they whisper seductively, “you know you want to…”

Or they say, “Hey, the print on that library edition is too small, don’t you prefer to read me?” My e-book thingie is a terrible temptation. It weighs nothing, it holds huge books without hand strain, and I can read it without my glasses on my very worst sight days.

But I can’t use it in the tub. Or the library books. So of course I need more books, of the bathtub variety. Or magazines. Like Geist. Or the excellent New York Review of Books. Which just starts the whole thing again.

Added to that is the feeling I should be writing my own books. So my brain wrestles endlessly between the need to read to learn how to write, and the need to write to learn how to write. And then there are the books specifically on how to write, which I buy and then never read. But they are there, sending me ethereal vibes, throwing dust on themselves so that I feel guilty about not reading them.

I feel like I am on a moibus strip, endlessly travelling, unable to pause. And it’s all glorious. For the first time, I can wallow in reading. Unless the dog needs walking, or I need to write something, or I feel the need to move.

The old addiction questions come back to me:

read alone? yup.

read before breakfast? yup

affecting budget? yup

people speak to me about my reading? yup

is it disturbing my ability to work? yup yup yup.

I suppose, years from now, I’ll be on the street corners, begging for loose change for the used book store, but for now, I’m going to plunge the depths of my addiction. Now is that Russian book available for Kobo?