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.

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‘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.

Happiest of Thanksgivings

It is Thanksgiving weekend for us Canadians, so it seems rather fitting that today also marks the posting of my one hundredth blog here on Quoth the Wordsmith.

As such, I would like to thank you, my steadfast readers, for your insightful comments, witty remarks, and thought-provoking content.

I would also like to thank Poe himself for inspiring the blog name which set me on this path (if you hadn’t made the connection before, see The Raven).

I’d also like to thank all of the authors and writers who had the gusto to push through the self-doubt and criticism and rejection in order to publish the books that I so enjoy.

Whether you are enjoying a feast today, or later in the year, I wish you the plumpest of turkeys and the stretchiest of waistbands.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. Thanks for following along.

Faulkner Thanksgiving

 

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.

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.

Wordless (or Writing Prompt) Wednesday

Take part in this exercise if you choose, or simply take a few moments to enjoy a pretty picture, the choice is yours.

If you’d like to participate, share how this picture makes you feel, what stories might take place in it, or even just list a few adjectives that it inspires in you to practice some descriptive writing.

This Wednesday, I’d like to share some personal nostalgia with you instead of a description. This picture takes me back to visiting my grandparent’s house as a child. Their farmhouse boasts about 150 years and was built by my great-grandfather’s very own hands. It can only be reached by driving down a long avenue of towering old trees. Trees that have seen horses change into cars and children change into bones. Those trees made the world seem like a fairy tale when I was small, as they dappled my skin in the summer and sparkled with frost in the winter. These trees hold all the stories of my family.

Path lined with trees

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.

Why You Should Kiss Your Editor

Manuscript PageI read a rather upsetting quote the other day that was something along the lines of, “editors edit because they cannot write”. I can’t admit to remembering the exact context or source of the sentiment, but I found it to be naive and juvenile all the same.

Being an editor is similar to being a dentist. Often, people dread paying you a visit, but they have to do it in order to show off those pearly whites (or pearly pages) to the world. Editors need to polish, shape, scrape, and clean a manuscript just as a dentist does to your teeth. It’s bad enough to have writers dread your red pen, but to have people who believe that you do what you do because you could’t make it as a writer? Well, that’s even worse.

I write during about half of my professional time, and the other half is spent editing. My writing is good enough to be published to the masses, and my editing good enough to prepare the content of my co-workers for the same. Am I an anomaly? I think not. I think that perhaps whoever came up with that idea either had a terrible experience with an editor, or has a lot of trouble editing themselves.

An editor can be the difference between a flop and a bestseller, truly. They don’t only look for spelling and grammar issues, but they’ll make sure that when you said Sally’s eyes were blue, that they don’t change to brown halfway through the book. They’ll make sure that your readers won’t stumble or lose interest. They’ll make sure that when you say that your character traveled from one place to another in a single day that it makes sense logically. Some will even test recipes and calculate the passage of time to ensure consistency.

An editor expects to receive a rough story, even though the writer spent ages smoothing it. They’ll go over it carefully, exploring the intricate webs and structures of your words, sanding it down and helping to define the shape. And often, because they spend so much time perfecting the work of others, editors make excellent writers.

For me, the two go together like peas and carrots. To write well, you have to understand language at a deeper level than someone who does not write. To edit, you have to have a passion and adept knowledge for writing. You cannot expect to write well if you have no interest in editing, and you cannot expect to be a good editor if you do not enjoy writing.

I think that too much emphasis is placed on separating the two, when in actuality, editing should be set alongside reading as well as writing. To create quality material in any capacity, for any audience, you need to practice all three skills. They complement each other in such subtle ways that to ignore one is to damage the other. And in damaging one, you cause cracks and crevices in your stories.

Editors take your story and simply point to where they think that you could improve it. And ultimately, it is your work, so any good editor will make sure that you know that you may or may not accept some of their suggestions. They’ll walk you through the changes, and will often be willing to discuss or debate anything you wish to question. Remember, if something comes back to you with a lot of red, it means that you have an editor who spent a great deal of time trying to make your work the best that it could be.

So, instead of harping on them for missing a mistake or for wanting you to make a change that you don’t want to, try to find a little bit of appreciation for how much time they put into polishing your creation. Remember that they have the soul of a reader and writer as well, and that, if you picked a good one, they likely know what they are doing.

We should all be grateful to have people around who are willing to read our work over and over and over and provide insight while fully expecting to be criticized. So next time, show them that you genuinely appreciate their time and their skill. Show them that what they did made a difference to you, and that you think that they are just important to the story as you are.

What have your experiences with editors been like? What could have been better? Do you think that writers need to have editing skills as well?

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.