The Thousand Lives of a Reader

book-1276778_1920 (2)“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”
—George R. R. Martin

When I was much smaller than I am now, my family would often “lose” me because I would hide behind a chair in the sitting room with a book and read until I fell asleep. And while I don’t remember every single book that I read, I do remember, vividly, what I loved so much about them.

In a world full of brown carpets and white lace curtains, the colors, textures, and creatures that Dr. Suess introduced me set my mind on fire. I yearned to roam beaches with Sneetches, whether star-bellied or not. I almost tasted the river of chocolate and the blades of candy grass with Willy Wonka. I felt the talons of Farley Mowat’s Owl, Wol, gently pressing into my shoulder as my eyes traced the words that described him. When I read Jacques Martin’s books, I could smell the cool, heavy rain as it pattered on the forest leaves.

When the world told me to sit on a bus as it bounced along the pot-holed roads to drop me off, I was wielding a heavy iron blade with Aragorn. I was sitting in Gryffindor tower next to a fire with a pile of spellbooks stacked around me.

In the quiet summer afternoons when the world wanted to close the blinds and rest, I slipped into 1920’s Japan and learned what it felt like to sleep like a Geisha, with my head on a small, hard wooden brace instead of a pillow.

When the world turned dark, and I felt like the loneliest person alive, I wandered with Merlin and learned that there is an important difference between being alone, and being lonely, and I felt my fingertips tingle with a spell.

In my relatively short life, I have floated over the shoulder of a young Jewish girl during WW2. I watched as a country vet pulled a newborn calf into the world. I have felt the heat of a dragon’s fire on my skin. I have felt the damp of rain in my cloak and the cold edge of a blade against my ribs.

I have travelled around the world a thousand times, backwards and forwards through time. I have been to Middle Earth, and Westeros, and a hundred other worlds outside of our own. I have been a woman, a man, a child, a spirit, a beast, and a shadow. And all without leaving Canada.

Books have taken me on countless journeys to places I wouldn’t have even imagined. They have taught me what it is like to really, truly live in another’s shoes. They have pushed my mind beyond its limits and opened my eyes to truths and to lies. Because of them, I have lived a thousand lives, and will live a thousand more before I am done.


*As a Canadian, who lives in Alberta, I feel obligated to mention that should you wish to donate to the Red Cross to help evacuees from Fort McMurray who are fleeing from the devastating forest fires that have laid waste to many, many homes, and displaced so many families, you can do so here.

‘Tis The Season

Falling SnowI find winter to be a romantic season. Perhaps the most romantic of all, with the softly falling snow that quiets the world and the cold that encourages closeness and flickering fires. I mean, is there anything more lovely than curling up in front of a fire with a book while a Christmas tree sparkles in the corner?

If you were with me last year, my adoration of the season won’t be a surprise. After all, it is host to my favorite holiday―Christmas. But I often find myself in a minority when it comes to my love of snow and all that is winter, so to make myself feel as if I am one of many, I searched out (and found) some absolutely lovely words about the colder months.

Even if you aren’t a fan of the frost you should at least be able to find some appreciation for the lovely writing that went into these:

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says “Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.” ―Lewis Carroll

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.” ―Edith Sitwell

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” ―John Steinbeck

“A cold wind was blowing from the north, and it made the trees rustle like living things.” ―George R.R. Martin

“In the winter she curls up around a good book and dreams away the cold.” ― Ben Aaronovitch

“A snowball in the face is surely the perfect beginning to a lasting friendship.” ―Markus Zusak

“Snow was falling,
so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more
than prettiness.”
―Mary Oliver

“The snow began to fall again, drifting against the windows, politely begging entrance and then falling with disappointment to the ground.” ―Jamie McGuire

On that note, I would like to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas (Yule, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Navidad, Noel…), or whatever else you celebrate during the winter. Stay cozy!

Do you have a favorite seasonal quote? Share it in the comments!

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.

Welcome to my Bookshelf

Welcome to my BookshelfI find it fascinating to observe the bookshelves of others. When I visit friends or family, my eyes will inevitably wander to where the books are, whether stacked on an intimidating shelf in the sitting room, or piled in a small stack on an end table.

You can learn so many things about someone from what’s on their shelf, and I don’t mean just the books alone. Aside from books, I’ve got seashells, a few keepsakes, a beautiful picture of my grandmother on her wedding day, and some candles.

And whenever one of the various book-related Facebook pages that I follow asks their followers to post pictures of their shelves, I love to look at the colors, how the books are stacked, how many empty spaces there are, and what they have that I do too.

So today I want to share my bookshelf with you. And I’ll do more than just post the picture. Since 7 is my favourite number, I’ll give you some insight into the 7th book on each shelf, depending on how well my memory serves me. Let’s begin:

The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, J.R.R. Tolkien. Much to my shame, I haven’t yet read this book. I bought it when it first came out, and then it kept getting put aside for lighter pieces. That’s one of my favourite things about my shelf; I haven’t read everything on it yet.

Lady of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley. This is part of Bradley’s Avalon series, which I love. It’s an adult, feminist take on the legend of Arthur, saturated with real Celtic traditions and history.

The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett. This was the first book that I read by Follett, and it was after I watched the mini-series. I would highly recommend both, since one won’t spoil the other. It’s a rich, standalone book that baffles in the way that it comes full-circle between the first chapter and the last.

The King’s Grace, Anne Easter Smith. My grandmother sent this book to me because of my passion for historical fiction. Though a steadfast fan of Philippa Gregory, I enjoyed reading about the Plantagenets from a different perspective.

The Road, Cormac McCarthy. I first watched the movie, and then read the book. Because it often happens that I watch a movie only to discover that it was based on a book in the end credits. Now, I loved this story. The relationship of a father and son is told with simple, honest writing, and the book is deeper because of it. However, McCarthy didn’t use contractions. Enough said.

Each one of the books on my shelf has a story outside of the one within it. Like the ones that my grandparents read and then send on to me; the pages turned by their hands, just as I turn them myself. Or the ones that I dropped in the snow or the tub or that were lost for a few years and then found again. Or the ones that are on one of my other shelves, the ones that hold places of prestige in my home, that I read over and over again.

To me, my shelf says that I’ll always believe in dragons. It says that I’m an adventurer, and even a little bit of a romantic. But mostly, it says “me”.

What does your shelf say? What is the 7th book on it?

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.

The Introverted Nerd

The Introverted NerdI am a typical introvert. My favorite kind of activities are ones that I can either do alone, or within a small, trusted group. I like to read books, go to movies, have conversations, and play video games. I like to garden and write and, on occasion, cook a nice meal.

To me, group events, like awkward family gatherings and community events are torture. I’m that person who, at parties, hangs out with the dog. And I am absolutely at ease with that. It has a heavy influence on what makes me such an attentive reader, and a detailed writer. It has helped to make me a more intellectual, thoughtful, and comfortable person.

That’s why my day yesterday was undeniably atypical. Yesterday, I attended my very first convention, and I must say, it exceeded my expectations.

You see, I am quite used to being the odd one out. The one who always has a book on hand, the one who doesn’t want to participate in party games, the one who doesn’t care for gatherings with more than a couple close friends at a time. I’ve always been a bit of an outsider, and it’s something that has given me more than a little pride.

But it has also come with its downsides, such as school bullies, peer pressure, and constantly being misunderstood. For example, if a group of people is having a conversation about something that I have no knowledge of, such as a clothing brand, I am content to listen. I don’t like to participate if I have nothing to offer. Talk to me about a good book and I’ll light up like a Christmas tree. Some see that as being awkward at best, rude at worst.

What does this have to do with the convention? Everything, my friend. Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I was surrounded by people like me. People who are proud of their love for LOTR and Zelda and Mass Effect and Assassin’s Creed. People who enjoy books and TV and games with passion. People who get lost in fantasy without feeling apologetic for it.

Yesterday, I was in a building with tens of thousands of people that were there because they are passionate about something that was completely imagined and created by other people. From Harry Potter to Alien, there were people in costume and merchandise for sale for just about everything. We added items to our collection from Zelda, LOTR, Walking Dead, GoT, Vikings, Batman, Star Wars, and X-Men and could have kept going if we hadn’t set a limit.

And to my pleasant surprise, I wasn’t the one that doesn’t fit, I was one of many. And somehow, with all of our jagged corners and awkward angles, we all fit together.

And no one was weird. No one was a loser. No one was “too into” something. No one liked the wrong things. Everyone was a nerd, but in the best way.  The atmosphere alone was full of excitement and interest and awe instead of stress and hurry and self-absorption.

I can only imagine that it is similar to how people who enjoy sports feel when they go to a live game. To be surrounded by so many people that you could find similarities to is a very profound and heartening experience.

I can only assume that extroverts experience something similar to this quite often, as they enjoy more outwardly social activities with others. For me, it was rather overwhelming to consider going to such an event just because of the sheer number of people who would attend. The first time that we went to Ikea, we walked in, saw how many people were there, and walked right back out.

But at the convention, it was surprisingly quiet. There weren’t any obnoxious hollering jerks, there was no shoving or cutting in line. It was like a fairly polite, mostly soft-spoken mass of people with shared interests. And it was fantastic.

Needless to say, I think I have awakened a rather hungry beast inside of myself that can only be fed with more conventions and fan activities. I’ve even started to think about getting into cosplay.

All in all, for a nerd, or a geek, or an extrovert, or whatever else you want to call me, it was an experience that I won’t soon forget. Whatever you enjoy, make sure to take some time in your life to join with other fans and artists. It opens up a whole new world of inspiration and solidarity that will make you proud to show your true colors.

Have you ever been to a convention? Would you ever go? Are you an introvert, or an extrovert? How does it affect your writing?

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.

Reading by the Season

Seasonal ReadingAs fall approaches, I find myself craving books that I first read when the leaves were turning and tumbling to the ground. I am, as many of you probably already know, a dedicated re-reader. Some books that I have read I will only ever read once, but some I try to read once a year.

Those books, the annual reads, tend to call to me at specific times each year. For example, right now I could do with a bit of historical fiction by Philippa Gregory or a long afternoon with The Hobbit, but come November, I will be itching to read Harry Potter all over again, or His Dark Materials.

In the spring, I like to settle in with something from Mary Stewart or James Herriot, and in the summer I make way for books like Dove and The Hunger Games.

And I can only assume that this is because I am a nostalgic person. When I read these books, I’m taken back to the very first time that I pulled open the cover and ran my fingers over the pages. I can remember the sense of wonder that followed me through every chapter, and I remember falling in love with the story one word at a time.

When I was younger, I would become so entangled in a story that I would start to become it at times. When I was reading the Redwall series by Brian Jacques, I would relish the descriptions of food; heavy creams and honey drizzled over fresh, warm bread, pitchers of berry juice and spiced cider, and soft, smoked cheeses encrusted with nuts.

This obsession would drive me to survive of mostly breads and cheeses and juices for the duration of the book, causing my mother to question why the honey and cheese always disappeared so quickly.

Likewise, when I first heard of Lembas from LOTR, I wanted it. But the closest I could get was by purchasing Sesame Snaps. I would sit up in my room, and every time Sam and Frodo would eat the elven sustenance, I would too. I so desperately wanted to be in the story with them.

The same thing would happen when I was very young, but not with food. I remember reading about fantastic worlds with magic, and heavy woolen cloaks, and mystical beasts and feeling an ache in my heart that I couldn’t be there too.

This depth of reading takes you from the simple experience of being a watcher to being an active player in the story. You become entwined in the words, feeling every weather change, tasting every wine, and wielding every sword as if you were there yourself.

This is the beauty of fiction and the ultimate purpose of writing; to have experience that you, or others, may never have otherwise. To feel the scales of a dragon, or to have a heavy crown placed upon your head. To become a hero or a heroine, or to wreak havoc on the world.

I believe that my seasonal cravings for books are borne from this total immersion into stories. Just like the Sesame Snaps, reading the books again during a season that is either well-described or poignant in the book makes me feel even closer to it. It is the difference between being an observer and being a participant. Whether to stand by or to act.

So now, as autumn settles in, bringing with it cool nights and stunted days, Bilbo calls to me from the worn pages on the shelf, beckoning me to join him once again as he trudges through damp, dank forests and dark cold caves. It’s not really surprising that he is on my mind though, seeing as he and Frodo share a birthday two days from now.

Do you read any books seasonally? Do stories affect you in the same way? What stories call to you the loudest, and which do you get lost in the most?

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.

Dry Spells

Dry SpellsA couple of months ago, my grandfather sent me a box full of books. I had been complaining about having nothing to read, and books are where we always find common ground. He has never suggested a book to me that I did not like, so as I opened the box, inhaled the smell of old books, and started to pull them out, I was feeling that unique high of a reader; anticipation and indulgence all swirled into one.

There were maybe 20-30 books in this box; I can’t even imagine what shipping must have cost him. I found homes for all of them on my shelf, and left the one that he had spoken the most about on my end table (Sailing Around the World, by Joshua Slocum). Around the same time, I had ordered 4 books from Chapters as a birthday present to myself, so, as you can imagine, I was inundated with reading material.

I should be through those books by now. I’m a fast reader, my evenings and weekends are free, and the only things that beg for my attention are my pets, who would gladly curl up next to me to enjoy a few quiet moments with a book. But I’m about 30 pages into Sailing Around the World, and it’s a good book; clever, full of dry humour, adventurous, and well-written. So why aren’t I finished?

It’s because, as sometimes happens to me, I am experiencing a dry spell. No book can hold my attention, not even Harry Potter or The Hobbit. I can’t re-read any of my old favourites. I can’t get caught up in a new bestseller. I can’t even finish a book that I started months ago. I don’t want to read in the evenings. I don’t want to read in the bath. I don’t want to read on a sunny weekend afternoon.

And it’s not that I have no desire to read, it is that nothing interests me right now. My brain is craving other forms of stimulation, regardless of how I feel about it. In some ways, it can be a blessing. When I read a book, when I become entranced by a story, I am a slave to it. I eat it, breathe it, sleep it. I physically crave it when I can’t read it. I will become so involved in it that I will read even when I only have 3 minutes to spare.

This makes me wonder if perhaps it is healthy to take breaks every so often, to lose that all-consuming feeling of curiosity and longing. After all, if I were to feel like that all of the time, it might drive me quite mad. Reading has become an addiction to me, and to abstain from it for a week or a month at a time can help me to clear my head.

I find that when I keep my distance from the pages, I am able to focus more on my own writing. Questions that have been floating around in my head for ages suddenly have answers and plots can be untangled. I have more time to explore other mediums that I relish, such as video games, movies, and theater.

And the strange thing is that during these dry spells, I do not miss reading. I do not gaze at the books on my shelf in exasperation or frustration. I do not feel as if I have lost anything, but instead, as if I am taking a vacation and will soon return to the routine that I know and love. I know that I will return to their pages soon, and that it will feel like home.

As I have said umpteen times, we are all different. How we read, how we write, and what inspires us are all individualistic experiences that help to shape and define us. There is no “right” way to read, and no “right” way to write. We are who we are, and there’s no one way to be a bookworm.

Do you ever have dry spells? Or do you read constantly? Do you take conscious breaks from books, or does it happen naturally?

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.

People Who Don’t Read

People Who Don't ReadAs much as I love to read, I also know that there are people who do not. There is a bit of nasty snobbery that attaches itself to some avid readers that makes them believe that people who do not enjoy books are sub-par. That anyone who doesn’t read the classics is perhaps uneducated or at a lower intellectual level than them.

You see content about why this person would never date someone who doesn’t read, or why that person wouldn’t be friends with anyone who didn’t like Harry Potter. It’s wonderful to have passion, but when that passion turns you into a closed-minded fool, well, you lose some of your shine.

I have friends who read casually, and friends who read fervently. I have friends who only read non-fiction, and friends who own two books total. My own husband isn’t a reader. But in experiencing the world with him, we have learned that it’s the format, not the story, that he doesn’t like. Give him a good fantasy movie or show, based off of a book that I have read, and he will appreciate it as much as I did.

Some people just aren’t given the opportunity or encouragement to read that a lot of us (myself, and a good number of my readers) were given. How many of us had books around the house? Likely most. How many of us had parents or grandparents or teachers who lit that fire within us? Would we be the same without that? Maybe not.

I personally never took to math. I can’t use tools to save my life. And I definitely get lost when trying to understand chemistry. But someone out there is just as passionate about those things as I am about books. And they are probably less likely to jump to conclusions than many a reader.

I don’t know if it is the personality, or simply the passion, that drives so many readers to pass judgement on others who don’t share their interests, but it’s quite disheartening. There are many ways to enjoy stories, and I like them in many different forms.

From audio books, e-books, and printed books, to video games, TV shows, and movies, I find pleasure in them all. Which medium we choose to receive stories is no one’s business but our own.

By limiting our dating or friendship choices to only people who read, we miss out on so many experiences. We limit our creativity, which to writers, is the very lifeblood of our profession. Why would you ever avoid letting certain people into your life over such a small thing? Yes, I read like I breathe, and I still said small.

Books tell stories, but stories are happening all around you. The only difference is that they aren’t solidified in print. Everyone has a story, and is part of a greater one. Whether they have a bookshelf or not shouldn’t be what deters you from opening your mind and following their thread.

So don’t be a reading snob. It’ll make you a poor writer, and an even poorer human being. Sure, books are great, but they are essentially just the written form of the human experience. Choose your medium, and allow others to choose theirs as well.

Do you know anyone who doesn’t read? Do you any reading snobs? Have you ever felt badly about how much or what you read because of a reading snob?

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.

Writing: Skill vs Style

ChessThe uniqueness of writing is similar to how a fingerprint is to each individual. At first glance, they may seem the same, but upon closer inspection, they are vastly different from each other. It’s part of what I find so interesting and enthralling about writing as it is precisely what makes us like or dislike different content.

But one should note that there is a difference between style and skill, and neither should be confused for the other.

Style is what adds flavor to the writing. It is how the writer pieces together sentences and push the flow of the content towards a current. Style is word choice and dialogue preferences and common habits of the writer. Think Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

Skill is how a writer structures a story. It is how they know when to use a different word, or slip in a subtle description. Skill is the story itself, while style is how the story is told.

A good way to tell the difference between the two is to think of Gandalf; tall, bearded, grandfatherly wizard that he is. Perfect for telling stories, and even better for adventures. If Gandalf himself is what builds the story, that makes him the skill and his voice the style. In writing, our brains are the skill, and our hands on pens and keyboards are the style.

The best stories are made of the two coming together in a beautiful dance. Softly, with rounded edges and smooth surfaces. Woven so tightly together that one cannot be pulled from the other. The best writers have slowly stirred the two into their veins over time, merging them naturally.

The worst stories are made up of one or the other, with no joining of the two at all.

Without style we encounter either bland stories, or cheap copies of better ones. When writers avoid any focus on style, they tend to either copy the styles of others, or they leave it out entirely. This makes for plain, boring stories, that may have excellent structure, but fall short all the same. Think of how awful it would be to hear Gandalf read you a story in monotone.

Writers who prefer to write with skill alone tend to make excellent journalists and instructional manual writers, but their content is not exactly engaging. In order to have style, you need to search for it by spending a lot of your time reading and writing so that you can seek it out and capture it.

Without skill and only style, we have very colorful writing that makes no sense. It’s like Gandalf on acid: a side story here, an overwhelming description there, all with a dash of unicorns and rainbows in the middle of downtown Halifax. It’s vibrant, it’s sometimes engaging, but not for long. Readers generally lose interest quickly, because of the terrible writing and poor technical abilities throughout the work.

Many, many writers self-publish stories that have a lot of heart in them, but very little skill. Style is well and good until you need to understand the anatomy of a story, then it sort of falls apart like a body with no bones. You gain skill the same way that you gain style: by reading and writing until you have a solid understanding of the technical aspects of authorship.

The lack of the two coming together is yet another downfall of self-publishing, and contributes to the daunting number of mediocre e-books flooding the market. Unfortunately, it is a big reason that it is so difficult to find footing when publishing on your own, as it can be extremely difficult to make your book stand out among a sea of bucket list check-marks.

While I do appreciate that self-publishing has allowed many writers to skip over the often disappointing and difficult journey of finding an agent, submitting to publishers, and waiting for rejections or acceptances for months and months, it has also robbed us of a gatekeeper. Self-publishing has no acquisitions process, which means that anyone can publish anything for any reason, at any skill level, with or without a defined style.

When there is no slush pile to sort through, the actual gems are buried even farther down than they were before, making them nearly impossible to find. Those writers that marry skill and style together in the best ways are lost and sometimes never found. For me, it is one of the things that keeps me from self-publishing.

Do you think that style and skill should go together?

What is your favorite example of the two coming together? (I recently read Red Rising and really appreciated how the two intermingled).

How do you feel about self-publishing?

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.

Wednesday Words for Writers

Time for another picture to inspire you to think of new words in new ways. Either treat it as a writing prompt, or some wordless inspiration, it’s your choice.

What does this picture make you think of? What does it make you feel? How would you describe it?

Misty Forest

 

For me, it makes me think of Macbeth and the witches on the moor. It makes me think of Sherlock and The Hound of the Baskervilles, the only Doyle tale that I can’t read before I go to bed, lest I have horrid nightmares.

It speaks of cold and damp and fear, but it also speaks of comfort and quiet and life, depending on how you see it. Just looking at it fills my head with that strong, cool smell of damp earth and fresh pine. The smell of forests after a rain, and the absolute calm of a morning in the woods.

Care to share your own thoughts?

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.