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Posts Tagged ‘reading’

For the past three years, I’ve participated in the Goodreads Reading Challenge. The idea is that you set a goal for yourself to read a certain number of books in a calendar year; you get credit by completing (or finishing) a book that you’ve logged into the online site or phone app.

Participating in the yearly challenge keeps a book in my hand and encourages me to read every day — even if it’s only a chapter. I like the satisfaction of completing the challenges, and being awarded the badges of completion:

GR2011-13

Personally, I like Goodreads because it allows me to keep track of the books I’ve read by year (custom “shelves”) as well as keep a thorough “to read” list that I can access whenever I’m online, in a library, in a bookstore, or at a friends’ house. I also like being able to capture my thoughts about each book in a written review… I can always go back and remind myself what I thought about a book before I recommend it to someone with a vague, “I think I liked this one!”

I also like the social aspect of Goodreads (it basically being Facebook for avid readers), although I don’t think I use it to its full capabilities. What about you? Do you like to read, and if so, are you on Goodreads? How do you use the site? Any book recommendations?

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When you’re sick, if you care about your friends, family and co-workers at all, you shut yourself and your contagion in your home and promise not to infect everyone you care about with your germs. You cough, hack, sneeze and wheeze, shiver and boil all by yourself, reaching out every now and again via Twitter, Facebook, text or the ancient medium of the telephone to contact people and let them know you’re still alive. And, could someone please deliver Popsicles and orange juice to your doorstep?

One thing being sick gives you, is the uninterrupted time to catch up on certain hobbies and entertainments that usually get pushed into the far corners of your available moments, competing against one another for your attention before you fall asleep, exhausted, at the end of another day: Television. Movies. BOOKS.

Ah, books. Glorious pages of imaginable fantasy, fiction, mystery and horror! I have a thriving “to read” list that exists within my Goodreads account, but at the end of each year I like to peruse the Goodreads Choice Awards, adding anything that sounds promising, interesting, different into my queue. Last year, some of the best books I read were ones that I found through a perusal of the Choice Awards finalists for 2011: Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente, The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan, and The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta.

Catching a Christmas bug gave me the opportunity to page through the Choice Awards finalists (and winners) for 2012, and to add a number of new books to my “to read” list. After the many successful stolen titles from last year’s awards, I’m very excited and am looking forward to picking through this year’s finds.

First up, Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. I finished that one in about three hours this morning over a long breakfast-on-the-couch, nursing a glass of orange juice and clutching a box of tissues. It was a great little satire that pays homage to the English language in a unique way. Classified as a young adult book, this volume should not deter adult readers — it’s packed front to back with voluptuous, meaty words that will have you reaching for your dictionary, just as finishing it will make you want to sit down and practice the art of writing a letter again.

Right before Ella Minnow Pea, I spent the day in bed immersed in the Kindle pages of Robert McCammon’s Swan Song, trying to keep my mind occupied between the 4-6 hour time frame in which I could take more Tylenol for the body aches. Swan Song is a big novel about the destruction — and salvation — of the world. McCammon weaves a rich story from the very separate stories of disparate characters, slowly drawing them together in the years after the POTUS gives the word to start World War III, unleashing all of the United States’ nuclear power while the states absorb the missiles and bombs of other nations.

The scene McCammon paints is gruesome: a devastating portrait of a world torn apart at the seams, riddled with radiation poisoning, and the remnants of humanity that struggle on. It is a dark portrait filled with death and evil, but one that finds its own light within a few individuals whose inside faces are good and valiant. Hope does find a foothold within the devastated Earth — it is brought about by a wrestler, a little girl, and a homeless woman. Swan Song is a big book that doesn’t drag an inch. There are enough characters for McCammon to keep moving between, but not so many (Hello, I’m talking to you, Mr. G. R. R. Martin) that you begin to fear keeping their individual stories clear in your mind. Given the opportunity and time to read the whole thing, it goes by pretty quickly; while in bed, I managed to get from 35% to 100% completion in a little less than a day.

I have two more books in hand to hopefully get me through the last remnants of this damned cold. On one hand, I’m enjoying the unfettered reading time. On the other, I’m anxious to spend some of this holiday with my family instead of alone, to hug my sister and my fur-nieces, to have our own little belated Christmas, and to celebrate my Mom’s birthday on January first. To sum up:

Dear Christmas Cold,
Please, pretty please, take these three full days of respite from doing anything at all (save eating, sleeping and reading) and give me back the remaining two days of holiday! What it really comes down to is that I can’t imagine not starting 2013 off by celebrating Mom’s birthday with family and friends.
Thanks for your consideration in this matter.
Your Host, Jennifer

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The reader in me

Solitude-SLawIn April 2011, I was browsing through a few favorite shops on Etsy and I stumbled across an ACEO (which stands for “Art Cards Editions and Originals”) by one of my favorite artists, Stephanie Phi-Mun Law. It was entitled simply, Solitude, and featured a woman reclining against a tree on a grassy hillock, reading a book.

This image resonated with me intellectually and emotionally, and I immediately added it to my cart and purchased it before it could be sold to someone else. Framed, it now resides on a small side table in my living room, next to a comfortable reading chair.

Whenever I glance at this tiny piece of art, I’m reminded of how peaceful, exciting and fulfilling it is to sit down with a good book and let its language drown out everything else. There is nothing I love better than to be immersed in a well-told story, whether it be written on a page or brought to me in two-dimensional color on a screen. I am forever in search of the next tale that will transport me to another world, a different place, a time apart from now.

Not only do I keep track of my Paper Vacations here at OneWandering, but I can also be found over at Goodreads, which is where I archive all of my book reviews. Each year, Goodreads holds a Reading Challenge where you set a goal to read a certain number of books within the calendar year.

In 2011, I set a goal for 80 books and completed it! However, somewhere between the web application and the iPhone app, lost in the dregs of the interwebs, one of the entries for a book read in 2011 got amended right before December 31  — it no longer showed that I had completed reading it. I managed to find the errant entry and fix it, but I never received my Reading Challenge badge. (Boo!)

Finishing 80 books definitely stretched me last year… towards the end I was purposefully choosing books that were less than 400 pages and I was reading at work during my lunch breaks. I knew that in 2012 I wanted to tackle the Game of Thrones series, which would entail subjecting myself to five volumes (each with a significant number of pages), so I set my goal a bit lower: 50 books. Like the reclining woman in Solitude, I wanted to give myself enough time to enjoy every page, rather than to race the calendar with a frantic shuffle of real and electronic pages.

This morning over breakfast I read the first few chapters of book number 61: Swan Song by Robert R. McCammon. It’s another “big” book, weighing in at well over 850 pages both in print and on the Kindle. Will I finish it in the next six days so it counts toward my 2012 challenge? I probably won’t even attempt it. 60 is a perfectly respectable number, and I’ve managed to beat my goal by 10 books as well as earn my 2012 Reading Challenge badge.

Now, what goal to set for 2013?!

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Completed

Well, I’ve done it! I’ve successfully managed to complete one thing this year that I set out to do almost from the get-go: I read 80 books in 2011!

Whoo hoo! I’m so glad I was able to complete this challenge — it has been a goal for me all year, one that I managed to stay ahead of until about August, when I picked up a giant, boring book and fell behind pace. I’ve branched out and read some really interesting stories, and some not-so-great ones. Most of my books were from the library or borrowed (I only buckled and bought a few). I’ve discovered a few authors I’d like to keep tabs on, and even enjoyed a classic or two that I’d never read before.

All resolutions to lose weight, save money and move to Colorado aside, I’m quite pleased that I managed to both make progress and complete this one, and will probably sign up for the 2012 Reading Challenge (although I’ll set a smaller goal — I need to share next year with some other activities other than reading books)!

Not a member of Goodreads? (Too bad! Seriously, reconsider! It’s like Facebook for readers.) For a full list of the titles I’ve read in 2010 and 2011 (along with my recommendations), check out my Paper Vacations page!

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Seated in the middle seat of the first row of the airplane, I am excited that my late boarding pass didn’t mean having to sit in the very last row, next to the bathrooms, or between the two least desirable passengers on the aircraft.

The tall, lean man next to me is wearing a country club ball cap. He has impossibly long legs, his knees reaching for the wall a good five inches ahead of mine. His tallness extends to his arms, and our elbows politely jostle against one another for space on the armrest. I notice a green (or is it blue?) tattoo on the inside of his ankle; it looks like a “C” with an “A” inside — a sports team logo? Or perhaps a college? He reads from a Kindle, his feet quiet in black Adidas flip flops. I expect him to bounce with energy, but he’s calm and intent except for periodically scratching his nose.

The woman on my left can’t sleep or stay engrossed in her book. She stretches her legs out to the wall, but being comfortable requires slouching when you’re just a little too short. When the plane started to taxi down the runway for takeoff, she quietly crossed herself in prayer. I wonder if she’s praying to arrive so that she can visit someone, or to return home safely. She inquired about my book — Revolutionary Road — as I sat down, but I failed to ask about hers until our descent. She had finally begun reading in earnest about halfway through the flight, and as our altitude dropped she must have gotten to a really funny part because she proceeded to laugh continuously, although sometimes trying to hide her guffaws behind her hand, until the landing gear touched the ground in Denver.

Halfway through the flight, the pilot turned on the “fasten seat belt” sign under advisement of an upcoming rough patch of air — we were to fly between storms. When the plane continue to fly calmly through the air, a few people had to be reminded to stay seated. An older gentleman in the aisle seat across from us finished his paper, and wanted to retrieve his Wall Street Journal from the overhead compartment. He waited patiently, obliged to obey the flight attendant, but the seat belt sign stayed illuminated. After about 15 or 20 minutes, the tall man suddenly put down his Kindle, unbuckled his seat belt and stood up. Without saying a word, he retrieved the papers from the overhead compartment and handed them to the thankful gentleman with a smile. Then he promptly sat back down, buckled up and resumed reading his Kindle.

“That was very kind of you,” I said.

“He waited very patiently,” the tall man replied. “I figured I’d risk it.”

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On the fourth of July I found myself stretched out in a hammock, enclosed by a screened-in porch, head raised slightly on a small pillow. A lazy ceiling fan stirred up a small yet consistent breeze, a cooling touch against my slightly sunburned legs, rendered pink from my mid-day swim under an almost cloudless sky. I draped one leg towards the ground in order to gently rock myself. 

In my left hand I held a book while my right hand kept the pages from advancing too fast. Sixteen pounds of large, brown tabby cat jumped up next to me, demanding to be pet and then retreating to the end of the hammock where he picked at the taut rope with blunt toes and sharp teeth.

I looked toward my own plain toes and drafted a less-than-140-character description of my current situation:

Do Not Disturb

Heeding my own advice, I did not get up and get my phone to send the message. Instead, I turned the page and began another chapter.

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I recently wrote about deferring my innermost thoughts with words on a page, of immersing myself in books to give my brain a chance to put it’s own words into cohesive sentences. So far, four days into 2010 I’m doing a pretty good job of inhaling books as if they were the very air I need to survive. I find myself reaching for the spines of fantasy books — my favorite genre — despite the fact that towards the end of 2009 I found myself branching out and enjoying tales from other parts of the bookstore.

Last night I picked up my fourth post-Christmas book, and the Author’s Note caught my eye and then resonated deeply within the library of my heart. The book was The Snow Queen by Mercedes Lackey (perhaps my favorite author), a Tale of the Five Hundred Kingdoms. Now, I know that the fantasy genre isn’t everyone’s cup of literary tea… and that knowledge is exactly why I’m not going to tell you to run out and buy this book (although it is a delightful series that puts a clever spin on the behind-the-scenes aspect of fairy tales, and it totally worth reading).

I’ve attempted before to explain why reading is so important to my mental health, why sometimes a book is the only medicine for what ails me. And here, on this single page at the start of my fourth dose of post-2009 medicine were the words I wasn’t able to string together on my own. So what I am going to do is share with you this note from my favorite author, with the hopes that it will resonate with you, too.

This has not been the best of years. It has not been the worst, either, but this year seems to have been fraught with things going wrong for everyone I know. Friends have lost family, lost jobs, lost health.

For me, this was the year of being nibbled to death by ducks. Every time we turned around, it seemed, something else went wrong. Illness seemed to haunt us. […] Soldiering on, the one thing I kept telling myself was that in all of this, I would get affirmations that people needed fantasy. When their lives were horrible, they always had a happily-ever-after to curl up with and make the world go away for a while. Heaven knows I certainly did. And I would hear that over and over from others […] they would tell me they read to get away.

Dorothy L. Sayers used to say that mystery stories were the only moral fiction of the modern world–because in a mystery, you were guaranteed to see that the bad got punished, the good got rewarded and in the end all was made right.

I’d like to think that fantasy does the same thing. It reminds us that this is how it should be, and maybe if we all put our minds to it a little more, this is how it will be. The good will be rewarded. The bad will be punished. Sins will be forgiven.

And they will live happily ever after.

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