Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

My nose in a book

I’ve written quite regularly about losing my reading mojo over the last seven years or so. About once a year or so I bemoan the fact that I’ve lost my mojo, and that I have been way behind my Goodreads target. Every so often there’s a post claiming that I got it back, where I’ve read a couple of good books. The general trend though has been down! I reached a high of 45 books back in 2012. Last year I reached my all-time low of only 16 books (including audiobooks), barely scraping past 50% of my target of 30 books. It’s perhaps not surprising given other things that were going on in my life last year, and the fact that I was also participating in a daily blogging project for the entire year. Still, I could tell that I was struggling to read, and so this year set an achievable target of only 20.

But this year, as I mentioned here, I seem to have rediscovered my reading mojo. I enjoy listening to audiobooks when I walk (for exercise), though it takes quite a few kilometres/hours to get through a single book, and that means I get through several hours of a book per week. And I’ve been reading. A lot. (My target this year was 20 books. I’m already at 30.) Many years ago now, when I first stopped working full-time, I decided that I couldn’t read during the day or I would never get anything done. So reading was only permitted post 5 pm. I gradually got into the habit of not reading until after dinner, and then that slipped, and I almost forgot how to read.

But this winter I’ve been indulgent. I’ve looked forward to the weekends, as there have been a couple of Saturdays or Sundays (rainy days, of course) when I have curled up on the couch and read a book in a day. Saturday’s book was Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, which I gobbled up. I’ve rediscovered the joy of a good book, of a story that captures me. I even read a paper book! I’ve stayed up late, reading. I’ve got out of bed late – I’ve been awake but reading. I’ve spent some days when I never even turned on my laptop. I need to sort and edit all my trip photos to make a new photobook (or two), but I’ve barely made a start. I wanted to review some parts of my photography course from 2018 and do the exercises that I missed in the second half of the year. As always, I need to spring clean my office, but it hasn’t been done or even started. My attention is elsewhere. My nose is in a book. Or more accurately, my iPad’s Overdrive (library) or Kindle app.

Reading, I am reminded, takes up a lot of time!

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I need to keep it short and sweet on today’s Microblog Monday, after my last post, which was not a microblog post, despite it being about Microblog Mondays.

I’ve broken away from my usual modern literature reading in the last month, to read some enjoyable and interesting non-fiction, including Hillary Clinton’s What Happened, Sheryl Sandberg’s Option B, and most recently, Sue Perkins’ Spectacles.

Some thoughts about aging, the first being the need to plan well in advance, and to make decisions before you think it is necessary, because by the time you need to have made some of these decisions, you’ll be much less capable of doing so.

Secondly, people often talk about maintaining dignity in old age, confusing it with pride, and implying that this is only possible when you are independent. However, I become more and more convinced that true dignity is being able to admit when you need help, and to accept that with grace.

The weather is warming nicely, and we’re all starting to be a bit hopeful that this year we might actually get a summer, after the disappointments of last year.

With spring well and truly here, with bright light earlier in the morning and later at night, the need for spring cleaning is becoming more and more obvious, and will need to be tackled soon.

I may not have cleaned, but I’m feeling quite smug that I only need to buy three more Christmas/birthday (thanks to my sister and a sister-in-law who both have birthdays on 20th December) presents before the end of the year.


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Learning to listen

I’ve always listened to the radio, and I download their podcasts when I miss interviews I wanted to hear, but I’ve never listened to audiobooks (as, to be honest, I feared they would send me to sleep), until a few months ago when I became frustrated when the third book in a four-book series I was reading wasn’t immediately available from my library. So I downloaded the audiobook from the library, thinking “I’ll give it a try,” as I plugged in my earphones and set off on a walk.

The person reading the book was completely wrong, sounding like a man in his 70s, old and wizened, when the main characters were all young people, and even the side characters wouldn’t have been older than their 50s; it felt so wrong that I could not continue, and I decided that maybe audiobooks were not for me.

Recently, though, I’ve been doing a lot of photo editing on my computer, which is time–consuming and visual, and so I thought that maybe I should try another audiobook. I opened my library app, and saw that they had recently acquired Lady in the Van by Alan Bennett, fully produced for radio by the BBC, and so I downloaded it and began listening straight away. I loved it, tried another – this time it was Option B by Sheryl Sandberg – that didn’t have the same high production values as the BBC book, but was simply the voice of a woman who sounded about the age of Sheryl Sandberg, and so made sense.

I’m now on my fourth audio book – 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and narrated by the author – and I’m enjoying that too.

So now, when I have some simple tasks to do, I’m listening to audiobooks, because otherwise I feel that I don’t get around to actually reading enough books, and I have four hundred on my to-read list, and really, really don’t want to miss out on them.

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Lying around with my leg in a cast for six weeks meant that I finally got around to doing some reading. It was quite nice not to feel guilty for reading during the day. So I thought I’d do a brief summation of the books that helped me through my convalescence.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

I really loved this book set in WWII, though it can be very harrowing. I thought it was a well-deserved 2014 Man Booker prize winner, it takes me to dark places, even in some of my favourite places in the world. I remember hearing an interview with the author who talked about someone in his town who had been a refugee from a war torn country, was separated from his wife and tried in vain to find her, concluding in the end that she had died. He established a new life with a new family in Australia. Then one day many years later, on a business trip to Sydney, he was walking down the street and saw his first wife, walking along with a family. And the question was, would he stop or not? This was part of the inspiration for his book, but there was much much more to the story.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Another WWII book, set in Germany and France, telling the story of two children growing up in the 1930s, and as young adults in the 1940s. Perhaps an easier read than Richard Flanagan’s book, but an interesting story, with interesting perspectives of the war that I haven’t necessarily read about before.

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

A very easy read, light relief after the two WWII books, though perhaps this one was a little too glib, about a man with Asperger’s (though he’s never specifically diagnosed) and his life with his now wife, Rosie. A sequel to the Rosie Project, it didn’t really find anywhere new to go, so was a little disappointing, perhaps even slightly annoying.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

I haven’t seen the movie starring Reese Witherspoon, but after reading this, I’d like to. I like the idea of doing a walk like this, but know the reality would be completely different. I could feel the pain of every blister on my own sensitive feet, and still don’t know how she managed to keep walking! I enjoyed the book much more than I expected, and walked away from it with a useful piece of information – my new walking shoes are probably a size too small.

Heavenly Hirani’s School of Laughing Yoga by Sarah-Kate Lynch

Sarah-Kate Lynch is a New Zealand writer with a good sense of humour, and I gobble up her books in a day or so. They are light, comic, and set in exotic locales – this one is set in Mumbai, India, a city I’ve been to briefly for work. Whilst they probably fall in the chick-lit (I hate that name) genre, there’s always something a bit poignant in her books. They’re not great literature, but every so often we need to read something that makes us happy. That’s the conclusion I made at the end of 2015, and I’m pleased I did!

Adoration by Doris Lessing

I usually avoid compilations of shorts stories like the plague, because I find them so unsatisfying. Just as I become committed to a storyline or a character the story ends. But stories here are slightly longer – perhaps more like novellas – and were intriguing, with interesting (if occasionally unbelievable) characters. The fact that two are set in Africa also appealed. Again, there is a war theme in at least one of the stories. Ultimately, though, not as satisfying as the few other Doris Lessing books I’ve read.

We are Now Beginning Our Descent by James Meek

I haven’t read James Meek’s most famous book, The People’s Act of Love, much to the horror of some readers I know. I started it, and got stuck. This book is less well known, but I enjoyed it, though I will admit the characters frequently frustrated me. Part set in Afghanistan and Iraq, part in the UK and part in the US, there was definitely enough here to keep me reading. There were moments in his writing that captured me – one comment about hope gave me an entirely new perspective on the concept. I appreciate any writer who can make me think like that. Maybe I’ll give The People’s Act of Love another chance.

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

Shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize, this is only the second Anne Tyler book I’ve read. They are books focusing very much on family and interpersonal relationships. They might at times be frustrating, with flawed characters, but they are certainly not boring, and this one – which covers several generations – has a few surprises that I just did not expect.

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In 2015, I read 30 books, meeting my achievable Goodreads Challenge target, having lowered my sights from previous years. Still, as 31 December approached, and as other activities encroached on valuable reading time, I was afraid I wouldn’t meet my target, and as I hate not meeting targets, I resorted to asking my husband for a quick, trashy book recommendation. I attacked it on the afternoon of the 31st, finishing it mid-day January 1st, disappointed that I hadn’t completed the challenge. But then the kindly software at Goodreads pointed out that a particular book I had recorded last year as “read,” hadn’t noted a specific “read-by” date, and so ensured that I had reached my 30 book target!

My husband scoffed at this low number, but when I think of the number of blog posts I read weekly, the number of articles I click on from Facebook or through Brainpickings or other sites I read, I’m sure that’s the equivalent of at least another 10 books (I say rashly, confident that no-one can factually dispute this estimate) I read mostly literary fiction (whatever that means), as the articles and essays I read on-line are all non-fiction, political or philosophical or psychological studies, or biographical pieces about people I admire, and people I don’t. I find that from time to time, my enthusiasm for reading needs a kickstart. This year, I’m going to continue to read the “worthy” books I mostly enjoy, but will try to intersperse them with a bit of fun too, because I’m starting to think that too much serious “worthiness” is what scares me away from reading as much as I would like.



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After a longer than usual and excellent workout, I’m enjoying a very smooth flat white, double shot, of course, and I’m still reeling at hearing the woman before me ask for a half- strength latte, though she qualified that as a semi-shot, which in Wellington is actually a quarter strength, but maybe I’m just being pedantic. It’s a cold spring day,  and in deference to the month, I’ve refused to wear a winter coat, though I do have a scarf keeping the back of my neck warm. It is sunny, though, and so in spots, out of the wind, it will, in fact, be quite warm, but there still isn’t anyone sitting in the outside seating today, despite it looking like summer out on the water, with some kayakers and a few yachts heading out for Friday afternoon on the harbour in a brisk breeze.

So I’m enjoying my coffee, and the chill music, and the bustle of the cafe, and my book, the recent winner of the Man Booker prize, which is very promising so far. My reading mojo has returned recently, even though Goodreads tells me I’ve only read 28 books so far this year. Maybe I’m reading more know due to the fact that I keep putting e-books on hold at the library, and they keep coming available all at the same time, so I have to adhere to those deadlines. Some of the 28 have been very good, but I haven’t rated any with five stars yet, as I’m quite stingy with my ratings at that level, though generous with two stars ( it was ok) and three stars (I liked it).  Still, I have high hopes for Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings, and enjoyed Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen very much, and hope I can get my hands on the other shortlist nominees soon.

Even though the cafe is busy this morning, it is relatively peaceful, as I’m sitting on the quiet side, and so all the conversation from the other patrons is just a hum in the background,  and there are none of the piercing screams from children that I’ve endured previously. Come to think of it, the noise level has improved considerably since the management put up this sign. You’ve got to love their style …

Behave or the Kraken will get you

Behave or the Kraken will get you

* even though I’m posting this on Saturday.

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In my youth I was a voracious reader. The problem then was always a shortage of books. Now there’s a shortage of time – and yes, I know I’m self under-employed right now, but there’s still far too much to do and not enough time. And there’s the internet. So I don’t read nearly as much these days. But I still love it, even if I lose my reading mojo from time to time.

I’m not always choosy in my reading choices. Occasionally I just need something light that I can race through, even if at times I do cringe at exactly what I am reading. (I do have some standards though – there are some books/genres I don’t touch). A quick easy read often allows me to renew my enthusiasm for what I like to call Real Books. It is rare for me to find a book I can’t finish.

But there are some books that are harder to get through than others. I persevere with them, getting through them a few pages at a time. Others languish on my “currently reading” list on Goodreads for months. I like them, but not enough to devote a lot of time or energy to them. Some of these books get a second chance, and I find if I read them at a different time, with a different mindset, I can get something from them, and often finish them easily.

Abandoned books

Abandoned books

But inevitably there are books I just do not enjoy. I feel as if I need to persevere, that I’m missing something if I don’t finish them, that I’m admitting to a character flaw if I stop half-way through. It’s worse if they’re books I’ve bought – then I feel as if I’m wasting money if I don’t finish, and so they might get shifted to what turns out to be my perennially-reading list. As long as I think I might finish them, then I haven’t wasted* my money.

In recent years, I have conceded and begun abandoning books if I just can’t get through them. I’ve abandoned two Booker prize winners – Anne Enright’s The Gathering (all I remember of it is “whine, whine, whine”) and John Banville’s The Sea (unrelenting and ultimately uninteresting gloom and doom) – and two of the popular Kate Atkinson’s books. I couldn’t get past the first chapter of Behind the Scenes at the Museum. Dealing with a character’s conception, the first words were “I exist!” The ridiculousness of this (not to mention the biological inaccuracies of the timing of conception – I know too much for my own good) insulted me. I pushed past those first paragraphs, but I couldn’t continue. Equally I found her Life after Life book – much lauded, including by members of my own bookclub – so gimmicky and so pointless (less Sliding Doors than a very tedious A Thousand Ways to Die), that, despite going into it with an open mind and forcing myself through several chapters, I eventually threw it aside in disgust. I’m officially giving up on her as an author. I feel liberated by the decision.

I’ve decided I need to embrace the idea of abandoning books I dislike. Life is too short to read bad books, when there are so many wonderful stories and authors out there.  What about you? Do you feel the same guilt at not finishing a book? Or do you abandon with … well … abandon?


That’s my logic, and I’m sticking to it.

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