Are you a snobby reader?

I can’t be the only one who gets defensive when someone asks, “What is your book about?”

Maybe I’m just really private (which I am), but when I develop an intense attachment to a novel,  I guard that novel like a dog guarding a raw t-bone steak.

Books are undoubtedly my BFFs––I am a loyal BFF.

I think it is for this reason that I feel uncomfortable trying to explain to someone “what my book is about” even though this seems like a ridiculously easy task.

Picture this:

I’m on the train. It’s roughly 2 o’clock on a weekday; the train is not full, but it’s not empty either. I have a seat to myself.

Randomly, the man in the seat in front of me turns around. He doesn’t seem crazy, or homeless, or drunk, so I relax.

He looks at me, and then asks me if I know which stop is up next. Easy enough question with an easy enough answer.

But it doesn’t end there. The man spots the book in my hand, the one that is still suspended in front of my face.

I see his eyes moving across the cover. He might as well be checking out my cleavage, I feel such a level of discomfort. Finally, he speaks, with a nod of his head: “I read this book in high school. It’s good.”

I’m holding a beautiful edition of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heightswuthering-heights-quotes-1

“Yep. One of my favs,” I say with a hesitant smile.

If this man is earnest about his love for the book, then perhaps I might be willing to chat. But it’s just as possible that he’s merely trying to strike up a conversation. If that is the case, it’s a conversation I don’t want to have.

“I can’t remember much of it, though. Doesn’t the main character go blind?” he asks.

I furrow my brow, thinking. “Blind? No.” A pause. “Are you thinking of Jane Eyre?”

Jane Eyre?” The words sound foreign to his mouth; he looks confused. “No…No, I think you’re wrong. I specifically remember the author was something-Brontë.”

Trying to restrain my facial expressions from doing anything, well, rude, I slowly and carefully say: “Well… Jane Eyre was written by Charlotte Brontë, the sister of Emily Brontë who wrote this.” I punctuated my final word by shaking Wuthering Heights vaguely in my hand.

The stranger was frowning; it was the frown of intense concentration. Finally a light bulb came on. “Maybe you’re right, girl.”

Girl? I cringe.

“You must be some kind of book expert or something.” He was laughing now.

Go away.

“You like… study books for a living?” More laughter.

Actually, yes I do, asshole. 

Thankfully, the train is coming to a halt at the next station. The man looks away from me, checks out the name of the station written on the platform, and then gathers his belongings and leaves the train without so much as a ‘goodbye.’

Typical.

when-im-trying-to-read-a-book-and-someone-is-talking-to-me-59384

Perhaps this scenario merely serves to demonstrate that I’m rude, that you should never talk to strangers, or that I consider myself superior because I know about the Brontë sisters. (These are as much questions as they are statements.)

For me, the problem is this: no respect!

I’m more than happy to explain to someone what Wuthering Heights is about if they seem interested in reading it.

I once had an old lady at the grocery store tap me on the shoulder because she noticed when I opened my purse that I was reading Stephen King’s IT. She told me that she saw the movie version and had been terrified of clowns ever since. To get over her fear, she was considering reading the book. She wanted my opinion.

I left the grocery store that day feeling elated. I wanted to make friends with that little old lady so we could talk about IT once she finished reading it (which she promised she would).

So here we have two similar experiences in which a stranger acknowledges my book and tries to converse with me about it. The reactions are entirely different.

I wonder if I’m the only one who gets defensive? Does this make me a “Book Snob”?

Am I wrong to protect my book like an aggressive, snarling dog? Or should I consider situations as opportunities to share the undying love between Healthcliff and Cathy, which is, without a doubt, absolutely important. 

Finishing a Bad Book: To Stop or Not To Stop?

Finishing a Bad Book: To Stop or Not To Stop?

I recently stopped reading a book I thought was very bad. Argue with me if you want, but Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn was not good. The only thing it had going for it was the “mystery” – and by mystery I mean a series of cliff-hangers that are nothing more than cheap literary tactics to keep your audience interest in a story that would be otherwise uninteresting without them.

I read half the book and then decided I had better things to do – like talk to my dogs, or open and close my refrigerator door in search of food to satisfy a boredom-induced hunger.

I’m someone who tries to finish a book regardless of how much I’m enjoying it. I keep a Book List and I have for the past five years. I’m always trying to beat my previous record for the number of books completed in one year. I’ll admit, sometimes beating my “record” drives my desire to read. If I haven’t read it cover to cover, it doesn’t make it on “Book List 2013.” And if it doesn’t make my “Book List 2013,” then I fall behind and lose to 2012!

Giving up on Gone Girl was a sacrifice I’m happy I made. Yes, I could have easily finished it – Flynn’s writing is easy to read, I’ll give her that – but I can’t stand reading a book with bad characters. And I don’t mean bad as in evil; evil characters can be wonderful. I mean bad as in unbelievable and clichéd, with no personality traits to make them relatable in any way or any quirks that make them interesting. Usually I would push through, taking weeks to finish reading a bad book, just to have marked
“finished.” While reading this one, however, something snapped.

Before attempting Gone Girl, I finished reading a fabulous novel – The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I thought it was wonderful, with characters that made me a little weepy. In two days I devoured the 500 page book.

I have been reading a lot of non-fiction lately, so getting involved in a purely enjoyable novel was so much fun I put my books on the Crusades and History of the English Language aside and devoted my time wholly to this work of fiction. When it ended, I was left with that wonderful post-novel feeling of loss and confusion – blinking at the world, wondering how it could still be going on like normal after everything I had just experienced.

But anyway, what I’m trying to say is that I put the bad book down. I took the book mark out. I put it back on my shelf.  Actually, I did this two times. The first time I took the book mark out, I felt guilty – what am I doing? I’ve started it I’ve got to finish! – So I picked it up again. But again, I found it so annoying that I took the book mark out for good and did not pick it up again. I’m happy I did not.  I almost feel like a new person.

So, what happens when I start another book and it ends up bad? How much time do I give it before I give up? Should I give up? How do you know when a novel is good or bad? – 10 pages, 50 pages, 100 pages, on the last page? If I can’t get into a book, is it due to what’s going on in my life at the moment or is it just not interesting?

I have almost 50 unread books in my bedroom that I buy used online or in book stores. I feel like if I’m going to own them I MUST read them. I suppose, too, I could go to the library. But if it’s good, then I want to own it to add to my own library.

These are all problems I face. I need advice.

Why Do You Comment?

Why Do You Comment?

Many weeks ago, my blog was Freshly Pressed. I was in a state of blog-euphoria.

I had more comments than I’ve ever gotten in my life – 264 to be exact – and I (hopefully) replied to all of them; this I did joyfully.

That blog post got 378 “likes”. I must confess, sometimes when I’m reading some of the current Freshly Pressed, I check to see how their “likes” and comments compared to mine.

I acquired 335 followers. I felt my blog career taking off in front of my eyes.

Anxiously, I tried to come up with a new entry that would top that one. I figured it would be a piece of cake considering that particular post – The best thing about summer – was a last minute decision, took five minutes to put together, and contained more pictures than actual writing.

A month later, I made my next post. I got 13 likes and 1 comment.

 

In the blogging world, opinions are easy to come by. Something has to be REALLY intriguing in order to keep readers reading.

This doesn’t just apply to Word Press; you see the same thing in the news. How many of you only read the headline of a news story, assume you got the jist of it, and move on? I’m sure you all do it. I know I do.

According to a study of Google News, 44% of readers scan the headlines without actually reading the full articles. Is this surprising? Not really.

Think about how we interact with Facebook and Twitter. Social networks are training our minds to see the world in 150 words. (I confess, I do not tweet, although you can find the link to my twitter account on the left hand side.)

Bill Keller for the New York Times wrote a very intriguing article entitled “The Twitter Trap”, stating: “Whether or not Twitter makes you stupid, it certainly makes some smart people sound stupid.”

Our generation has become as primitive as caveman in regards to our level of concentration. I’m convinced this is why my post was Freshly Pressed and why so many people actually commented – because it was short and concise… with pictures!

 

I’m at 374 words and I’m sure I’ve lost more than half of my readers already. But I haven’t made my point yet, so if you’re still reading then stay with me! Focus!

Why do YOU comment? What is it about the author, their page, their writing, or their format that intrigues you and makes you want to give your two cents, even if it’s only to say “great post!”?

Do you find that you’re more likely to comment if the blog is formatted in an easy-to-read, “Twitter style”, so to speak? Do huge blocks of text intimidate you into finding something different to read?

For this entry, I have purposely broken up my paragraphs, making them only a sentence or two long. Does this make it easier to follow?

For me, I’ve commented only a few times and it’s usually when someone makes a unique, interesting observation about life that I can really relate to; someone who’s clever, witty, sarcastic and capable of entertaining me. If I like it enough to comment, I leave a substantial reply. I usually follow them too. But if I comment and the author doesn’t reply, I feel unloved and sometimes unfollow them – just FYI.

P.S. – I’m going to assume that, when you comment, you’re not linking back to your own blog. Those people are annoying. Another FYI.

Three Short Book Reviews

Three short book reviews

My Vague Rating System:

0/5 (I couldn’t even finish it)

1/5 (I finished it but I don’t remember a thing about it)

2/5 (Alright. Decent ideas; bad writing made it irritating at times)

3/5 (Pretty good. Fun, enjoyable read but lacking some development or lacking my complete attention)

4/5 (Good. Interesting, fun, enjoyable; would maybe read it again)

5/5 (Great! Loved it; would read it again in a heartbeat)

On Writing – Stephen King

I’ve got four books sitting beside me on my shelf, “writers guides”, instructional books for creative writing, outlining how to develop characters, setting, plot and point of view (among other things.)

I’ve probably only read a handful of chapters out of all the books combined. They’re interesting but generally unhelpful. I always feel somewhat guilty for not finishing them, assuming that real writers should be able to read, understand and execute these so-called “tried and tested” writing methods.

That’s what was so refreshingly wonderful about On Writing – he doesn’t think they’re helpful either. King admits that if you’re a good writer you can become a great writer, but crappy writers don’t make great writers. His advice is quite simple, down-to-earth.

I’ve narrowed down the points I think are really great to remember (for me anyway): read and write a lot (if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write); “plot” isn’t everything, an ending will come to you (which I found humorous considering King’s reputation for totally ridiculous endings); write with the door closed; set a word limit every day; practice using your minds-eye; do not write with the passive voice.

Although I haven’t put this quite as poignantly as Stephen King, I can certainly assert that I learned more in this short, 280 page book than I have reading chapters of various books such as “a guide to the narrative craft” or “a practical guide for intermediate and advanced writers”.

I recommend this to anyone – not necessarily just aspiring writers, but readers too. King’s such a natural storyteller that this was as easy to get into as any other of his books. I give this book 5/5.

Dune – Frank Herbert

Dune was packed full of plot. There was lots of information; lots of things going on; lots of history, and a strong development of politics, religion and technology. Right from the beginning, Herbert throws you into the story. There’s no slow introduction, no bogged down “telling” or long back-story. This is good because it forces you to pay attention, though it can be confusing for the first couple chapters.

Although I’m not a huge fan of sci-fi, I was particularly intrigued by Herbert’s development of the political situation between the worlds, the religious beliefs and messianic prophecies. In this respect, there are lots of complex, overlapping ideas, which I really enjoyed.

One of the only complaints I have about the book are the characters. I found many of them to be flat and interchangeable. I’m huge on character development while some people thrive on a complex plot, and therefore I didn’t find Dune as captivating as it could have been. In particular, Paul’s mother, Jessica, annoyed me, which is a problem considering I think she was supposed to be a genuinely likeable character. Although she was supposedly a powerful Bene Gesserit, she often seemed weak and needy.

Because I loved and appreciated the amount of careful thought Herbert took in writing this book, the complex ideas, the peoples, worlds, languages and planetary ecology, I give this book a 4/5. I wouldn’t read it again because I didn’t care what happened to anyone.

Damned Nations – Samantha Nutt, M.D.

Samantha Nutt, medical doctor and the founder of War Child, has experience and expertise on issues of war, having spent much of her life traveling to conflict areas such as Iraq, Somalia, the Congo and Afghanistan, working for UNICEF.

With a strong interest in international development and foreign aid, I found Damned Nations completely compelling due to Nutt’s real-life experience in countries torn apart by war, especially in her focus on the horrors of rape inflicted upon women and young girls. It was shocking and depressing, but it’s because of this that I enjoyed it so much. I think people need to be shocked by what goes on in the world.

The focus on aid was particularly interesting, especially when she discussed programs such as World Vision or overseas volunteer work – or voluntourism as it has come to be known. As someone who had briefly had a sponsor child and has done volunteer work in Peru and Thailand in both schools and orphanages, I was happy to read about the repercussions of such methods of “assistance”. I’ve always been aware that these types of trips are more helpful to the person doing the volunteering than those receiving the “help” but I hadn’t taken the time to look up the issue for myself.

I doubt I’ll ever go on a volunteer trip again, and if I do, I would do a lot of research into the type of organization I would be going with.

Damned Nations was very inspiring and intelligent. I give this book a 4.5/5 because, while I loved it, it’s not the type of book you read over and over.

First Impression of the Eiffel Tower

First Impression of the Eiffel Tower

When I initially planned my twelve-day trip, it was with the intent to spend those days wholly in London. However, as I began to think of all the nearby places I could so easily reach, spending nearly two weeks in the same city seemed like a waste. A family member suggested taking a day or two and going to Paris. It seemed like a great idea; it would it add some variety to my travels. Paris had never been somewhere that held great interest for me, but I felt it necessary to go – doubtless, if I didn’t go now, I probably never would.

Somehow, my boyfriend and I ended up with Paris scheduled for four days of our trip (we’ll blame the airlines; they dictate, after all). Neither of us was sure what we were going to do during those four days, but four days we would spend.

On the day of our arrival, it was raining. Also, we had woken up at 3 a.m. to make our flight from Edinburgh, so needless to say I was sleepy and really wanted a nap. It was early afternoon, but I was nevertheless dragged through the pouring rain away from my warm bed and toward the Eiffel Tower.

Perhaps it was a mistake allowing our first glimpse of this iconic tower to be in the pouring rain while my shoes were filled with water, my jeans sticking to my legs and my hair a tangled mess. As we got closer, I could see the top peeking out from behind buildings. I started to get excited. We rounded the corner onto Champ de Mars and we stopped to “take it in”.

“Cool,” I shrugged, cowering from the pelting rain.

“That’s it?” he said.

“It’s neat.”

“It’s okay. I expected more.”

“Yeah, me too.”

The two of us started walking toward it,  side stepping puddles that had formed on the gravel walkways.

“They couldn’t pave this?” he asked.

“What?”

“It’s dirt.”

“It’s fine.”

“I’m just surprised they wouldn’t pave this. It’s the Eiffel Tower.”

“True.”

We walked closer, the rain easing up long enough for us to gaze up at the 1,063-foot structure. To get away from the puddles – and since my feet were already drenched – we walked on the grass.

“Look at this – cigarette butts everywhere.”

“My feet are wet,” I whimpered.

“How is this supposed to be romantic?”

“It’s not.”

Pause.

“Again – how is this romantic?”

“It’s not.”

Although our first meeting with the Eiffel Tower wasn’t the greatest, I will admit it did redeem itself. We went back later that night, after I had gotten my nap and changed into some dry clothes; after the rain had stopped and the sun came out, turning the sky a brilliant bright blue. We wandered around while the sunset, enjoying the warmth while it lasted, and visiting the amazing Arc de Triomphe. Then, when the sun had completely sunk behind the horizon, we found ourselves back in front of the Eiffel Tower, alight and dazzling.

“Okay, I sort of see why it’s a big deal now,” I admitted, letting go of my grudge toward our first, rainy meeting.

“Yeah… I guess this is pretty romantic.”

Photo by Mike

Books + Travel. What does it equal?

Books + Travel. What does it equal? 

Before I start, I’d like to thank every person who commented, liked or followed my blog after my last post was Freshly Pressed. That was so unexpected and such a pleasant surprise. It was so nice to hear everyone’s thoughts and I thank every person who took the time to read it!

Due to an overwhelming amount of support for On Writing, I decided to start reading King’s book first. I’ve been in Europe for the past two weeks, so the only real time I dedicated to reading was during my flights to and from London. But of course, right away I was hooked. I absolutely love Stephen King’s style of writing. There’s something so casual and relatable about it – especially in this book; it’s like knowing him personally. But enough about that (for now) seeing as I’m not yet finished.

As titled, this post was inspired by my recent trip and my ridiculous traveling habit: buying books.

That’s probably the stupidest thing to buy while traveling. Why? Well, unless you have the money to spending on buying rare or limited edition books abroad, you’re buying paperback novels you can probably find at any bookstore in the world. And if not, Amazon will certainly carry it – probably with a decent deal on shipping too.

But there’s something about used bookstores that give me chills of delight. There’s something about used bookstores in Europe that make me squeal with pleasure. Venturing inside, squeezing between narrow, cluttered shelves, I feel like a character in a novel myself – or at least like Indiana Jones or Robert Langdon.

It’s not just the buying of the books that I enjoy, it’s the reading them too. Most of the time, I seem to go through more books traveling than I do while I’m at home. A couple years ago while volunteering in Thailand, I bought and read The Beach because it was set in the very place I was staying. Last summer when I was in India bought and read Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure by Sarah MacDonald. Then in Nepal, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series, which I finished in less than a week. Some would say that’s a waste of time, but I remember the books (and the trip, of course) very fondly because of the relaxing time I spent reading there. I especially like reading books that take place in the city or country in which I’m traveling. It seems to enrich the experience – for me at least.

My father thinks I’m ridiculous. He’s on the side that says reading a three-book series while on vacation is a complete waste of time and money. “Why go to Kathmandu at all?” was probably what he said once I got home and lovingly unpacked my books from my small backpack. (I think I actually left some clothes in Nepal so I had more room to bring the books back).

Of course, those books MUST come home with me. I have this policy – if I read it, I keep it. It’s probably the most illogical policy ever, considering how expensive books are getting and how much room they take up in a suitcase or backpack, but that’s my policy nonetheless.

On my latest trip to London and Paris, I didn’t go too crazy. In my purse I carried On Writing. At the Globe Theatre in London I bought a book called Shakespeare’s Britain. At the famous bookstore across from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Shakespeare and Company, I bought a book called Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties.

While the purchase of these books makes more sense (souvenir wise) than buying Stieg Larsson novels in Nepal, I still recognize problems of compatibility between reading and traveling (unless you’re going to Mexico or Cuba, in which case what else is there to do but read?).

Now, I ask – am I the only one? Do you think buying novels while traveling to be a waste of space and money? Do you think that reading while on vacation to be a waste of time?

P.S. I ask that no one mention a Kindle, Kobo or any other electronic reading device. That’s a whole other issue, and no, I’m not investing in one. Yes, I know they take up less space and save innocent trees.

The best thing about summer

**This blog post was Freshly Pressed in May 2012. Thank you WordPress and faithful readers!**

What’s the best thing about summer?

Most people would answer differently than I would. Don’t get me wrong, I like sunshine and warmth; I love being able to drive with my windows down; I LOVE getting my hopes up about camping and then not going because I have no one to go with; I love BBQs and being able to wear neon without attracting strange looks; I love bargaining with my father––if he picks up the dog poo and mows the lawn, I’ll buy him some ice-cream.

No, my favorite thing is being able to read. I know what you’re thinking. You can read any day of the year! No, not exactly. During the summer, I can kick my textbooks under my bed (I really did that. Damn you, Adelante Dos) and pick up a book that has been waiting all year to be opened––something I picked out.

Throughout the course of the year ––that is September through April––I seem to accumulate a wide variety of shiny, expensive, new books. Taking a break from studying, I always seem to find my way to Chapters. Sometimes I buy a book or two, thinking “Oh, I’ll read it this weekend if I can manage to do some studying first.”

I never manage to do some studying first.

At the end of two semesters, I have a lot of books.

And so, I long for summer so I can retreat to my backyard, set up camp in a lawn chair with a cold beverage (sometimes an iced capp, if I’m feeling fancy) and start a new book.

(However, I have a problem with distractions and I can’t seem to read outside, so the majority of the time I spend talking to my dogs or texting. But that’s okay.)

Here is a list of the shiny new books sitting in my room that I plan to get through within the next three months:

Myexperimentswithtruth-2

one-flew-over-the-cuckoos-nest-penguin-classics-bo_SWBOTc4MDE0MzEwNTAyMg==

If you have read any of these, I’d love to hear your opinion 🙂