Category Archives: Reading

Today is World Book Day UK & Ireland

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Reading – I just saw that March 7, 2019, is World Book Day in the UK and Ireland. Since I am currently in Singapore I guess I can celebrate as it was once part of the British Commonwealth and also because my grandfather immigrated to the US from the UK. Besides, I think that this is a good cause to support! This is not the only day it is celebrated around the world. From their website:

In other countries, World Book and Copyright Day take place on 23 April. Celebrations take place all over the world to recognize the magical power of books – ‘a link between the past and the future, a bridge between generations and across cultures. 

World Book Day was first celebrated on April 23, 1995, after its designation by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). That date continues to be recognized as World Book Day in much of the world. April 23 was chosen because it is the date on which  William Shakespeare died (April 23, 1616). I guess that means I will be able to celebrate it again next month!.

Per the Days of the Year site, you should celebrate World Book Day by:

. . .  find[ing] the time to do some reading. Do you have a book you just can’t get around to finishing? Today’s the time to curl up on the couch or a blanket outside with a cup of coffee or tea and enjoy every last page.

If you have children, this could be the perfect day to teach them about the joys of reading. . . .  Imagination is a child’s best friend, so make sure you contribute to keeping that little imagination as active as possible. Pick a topic your child is interested in, and spend part of this day exploring the magical world of literature together!

Yet another way to go about celebrating this day would be to get together with some friends for a reading of a book you all love.

Find a way that you can celebrate World Book Day! I think the importance of books is best summed up by this quote from author Alan BennettA book is a device to ignite the imagination.”

 

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There is a Technique to Remembering What You Read

Books
Reading – I came across the article “How to remember what you read: What to do before, during, and after reading anything” a short time ago and thought it had many ideas worth sharing on how to remember what you read. Among those ideas are:

  • the more you’re able to connect the information you get from reading, the more knowledgable you’ll become
  • if you want to remember what you read you need to be specific and intentional
  • remembering what you read comes down to hitting three factors: Impression, association, and repetition
  • There’s simply too much to read if you don’t curate your reading list
  • forcing yourself to read books you’re not interested in just wastes time (that is why I sometimes call a Rule of 50 to quit reading a book)
  • if you’re looking to remember and use what you read, it’s better to know how you’re going to use it
  • skimming and doing ‘pre-reading’ is a great way to solidify what you’re reading in memory
  • use active reading – the process of reading with determination to understand and evaluate how and if to use the information you’re reading
  • a technique such as marginalia (handwriting notes in the margin and marking up key patterns for follow-ups) or sketchnotes (drawing notes and ideas) will make you a more active reader and help lock information in your memory.
  • as you read and come across new ideas, try to associate them with familiar memories as a means of creating a bond between old and new
  • when we connect memories or thoughts to different experiences those moments are stored in our neocortex—a part of the brain that is much easier for us to recall.
  • one of the best ways to remember what you read is to find opportunities to use it
  • if you’re reading to remember and grow either personally or professionally, you need to be more deliberate

Sadly. a study published in Time magazine found that Americans read, on average, just 19-minutes a day. And that number drops to 10-minutes or less for people under 34. According to a University of Michigan Health study, at a minimum, people should be reading for 30 minutes a day.

How much do you read each day? Generally, I try to spend 2-5 hours reading each day.

Interview with Author Emilia Bernhard

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Interviews – A few weeks ago I read and then wrote a review of the mystery “Death in Paris”. After I posted my review I contacted the author, Emilia Bernhard, and arranged to interview her.

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Myself: When did you first realize that you wanted to become a writer?

Bernhard: I don’t think I did realize, really. I always wrote, and at an early age, I was told I was good. Except for about five years when I had the worst and most painful writer’s block imaginable, I don’t think a day went by without my doing some form of writing — I kept a journal, I wrote letters and e-mails, I wrote essays for school and articles after I became a graduate student. And even today I write at least something every day; it would feel odd not to. So I think I was always a writer.

Myself: What is the first piece that you remember writing?

Bernhard: A composition while I was in detention in sixth grade (age 11)!

Myself: What is your academic and work background?

Bernhard: I have a Ph.D., and I work as a lecturer (professor, for Americans) in 19th-century British literature at the University of Exeter, in the UK.

Myself: Do you live there in Exeter?

Bernhard: Yes.

Myself: Do you think that living there has affected your writing?

Bernhard: No. I scarcely even look out a window when I write, except when I stare at nothing while thinking! Lots of good cafes to sit in and revise, though.

Myself: How do you relax? What are your hobbies?

Bernhard: Well, my top hobby is reading. I also love to dance (ballet and tango), and I’m starting to get back into taking ballet lessons after a long gap. And I love going to the cinema or watching films at home. Oh, and I walk twenty-five miles a week, but that’s not a hobby: I do it to lose weight.

Myself: What else would you like to share about yourself?

Bernhard: That I’m cute as a button and don’t suffer fools gladly.

Myself: What’s the earliest book you remember reading for yourself?

Bernhard: “The Story of Ferdinand“, by Munro Leaf. I still love it.

Myself: Did you read much growing up?

Bernhard: I did nothing but!

Myself: What book that you read as a child stands out in your memory?

Bernhard: Hands down the answer here is “Jane Eyre”. I found it on a shelf in my classroom when I was 12 years old. I remember the cover vividly: it was purple, and in the center was a photo of a young woman holding a candle. I think it might have been abridged, because there’s a whole bit in the novel where she lives with some religious cousins, and I don’t remember that being in what I read; I was quite surprised to come across it when I re-read the novel as a young adult. I loved the book. I loved Jane — I was bullied, and I admired her quiet stoicism — and I was much struck by Mrs. Rochester. I still love it as an adult: I think “Reader, I married him,” is one of the most perfect sentences in fiction. And I still think the bit where she lives with the religious cousins could be left out!

Myself: What have you read recently?

Bernhard: Two biographies of Peter Sellers, both of which I put down before finishing — Peter Sellers seems to attract biographers who wish to inject antic wit into their biographies, and that didn’t work for me. Before that, “The Position”, by Meg Wolitzer, and her “The Wife”, which I loved, loved, loved; a biography of the Duchess of Windsor; and a book called “I Was Anastasia” that I picked up at random in the library. I read fast — I average a book in about three days — so I tend to read pretty widely.

Myself: What is your favorite genre? book? character? author?

Bernhard: Hmm…I guess I would say “intellectual novel” is my favorite genre if that’s a genre. I like best books in which there is subtext, and/or books that are well written.

I don’t really have a favorite character or author, because my job means I’ve read and taken to my heart so many characters and authors. I’m awfully fond of “David Copperfield”, book and character, and of “Great Expectations”. But a book I’ve turned to again and again when I need a comfort read is Maeve Binchy’s “Light a Penny Candle”. It was her first book, and it’s surprisingly good.

Myself: Where is your favorite place to read?

Bernhard: On my sofa or in bed.

Myself: Do you prefer paper or eBooks? Do you listen to audiobooks?

Bernhard: I absolutely prefer paper to any other format. Every time I open a book, even if I’m just idly looking at it, the first thing I do is smell it. You can’t do that with an e-reader, or with audiobooks! I love the different smells and feels of different papers, so paper reading is the one for me. I do listen to audiobooks, usually when I’m doing something that requires my hands, and I have read eBooks — but my issue with them is that I’ve already forked out for the Kindle, so I’m not going to fork out again for books to read on it — so the Kindle is just for books that are free to download.

Myself: What books do you recommend to others? Give as gifts?

Bernhard: I give “Jane Eyre” to every twelve- or thirteen-year-old girl I know well enough to give a gift to, and I’ve been recommending “The Wife” all over the place. Aside from that, I tend to try to suit the recommendation to the person. Tell me what you’re like, and I’ll tell you what you might like…

Myself: Why do you write?

Bernhard: For me, that’s like asking, Why is hair? I just do.

Myself: What makes you sit down and want to share your stories?

Bernhard: I’m still not really sure I do! My best friend pressured me to submit a novel to agents, and that’s the only reason I got this book published. Sometimes I think there’s nothing wrong with just writing for the pleasure of it, but then sometimes I think there’s no point in writing without an audience reading.

Myself: Is there anyone who has influenced your writing?

Bernhard: My father, without a doubt. He read everything I wrote until I finished my first academic book, and without him, I wouldn’t be the writer I am. Then there’s a whole host of writers I’ve read and admired: they all sit around in my head and occasionally inspire a joke or the structure of a sentence or scene.

Myself: How did you pick the genres for your stories?

Bernhard: It’s just whatever feels right. Although they seem always to include a murder, and that’s been true since I was in college thirty years ago.

Myself: Where do your story ideas come from?

Bernhard: Well, the idea for this novel, “Death in Paris”, came because I wanted to have someone drown in his soup. I thought the “died in his sleep/soup” confusion was very funny (sadly, I still do), and so I built from that line; I made up a story that would connect to that line. The idea for the mystery itself came from a very old murder that’s always seemed odd to me.

More generally, I would have to say I don’t know where my ideas come from. Sometimes I’ll just have a set-up (“two brothers”) that pops into my head, or there’ll be an idea (“jealousy”) and I build a story around it.

I don’t believe in inspiration as an outside force that descends, but I do believe we have a lot of things roiling around in our subconscious-es and unconscious-es, and sometimes something randomly comes bobbing to the top, entering the conscious mind — I’d call that inspiration, and I think it’s where my ideas come from.

Myself: Where do you do your writing? Why there?

Bernhard: I write on a desk I bought from Ikea that is essentially a long piece of wood laid across two trestles. I have desk daydreams; I fantasize about a desk that’s as long as an upended door — maybe even longer! — with a center drawer for my pencils and some paper and a pale wood smooth surface. I’m pretty sure that’s my ideal desk because it suggests a kind of blank emptiness, which I find intensely soothing but very rarely encounter in my home. Oh, and I turn the desk either so it faces a window or so it’s at right angles to it because I love natural light and like to glance out the window at the sky while I’m writing.

Myself: What is your schedule like when you are writing?

Bernhard: Well, because I have another job that’s very intensive in fall, winter, and spring, I generally write my first drafts in the summer. Academics are working all the time, but in the summer the work we’re expected to do is research and writing. So I fit writing my initial drafts around the academic writing I do in the summer. Because I can do the revisions in little chunks, I do it during the school year, for between an hour and two hours a day.

Myself: As a part-time writer how do you fit writing into your daily schedule?

Bernhard: Well, I have no family. As Joan Baez said, “I am made to live alone.” And I realized early on that I don’t have the temperament to be a mother, so I’m not one. This makes it much easier to write, but of course, I still have a job. So I set myself a low goal, 1,000 words a day, and I try to stick to it even on work days. I’m most awake in the evening and at night, so I’ll usually do the 1,000 words then. Some days it takes an hour; some days it takes much time and hair-pulling. And some days I don’t make it, which is fine. But I do write at least one paragraph a day.

Myself: About how long does it take you to complete the first draft? How long do your revisions take?

Bernhard: First draft – six weeks to five months. Revisions take much, much longer — up to three or four years. And it’s still never perfect.

Myself: How much research do you put into a novel?

Bernhard: An ENORMOUS amount. I look up everything I don’t know. For my first mystery, I read up on French law, the structure of the French police, and even the architectural history of Paris. And I use Google Maps obsessively. Walking the streets via Google Satellite is hugely useful to me.

Myself: What tools (software?) do you use in your writing?

Bernhard: Just a Macbook and a pencil, a red pen, and paper.

Myself: What are the hardest and easiest things about writing?

Bernhard: The hardest thing about writing is writing the first draft and trying to remember, while doing so, that the awful and inadequate glop you are producing will NOT be the finished product — trying to remember that this is how first drafts always are, and they always get better.

The easiest thing about writing is not doing it! Someone once said that the only thing writers like better than writing is finding ways to avoid writing, and that’s 100% true in my case. There’s always something to tidy, or organize, or watch on TV, or laundry to do or a cup of tea to make, that can delay sitting down to write. I don’t think this is out of fear of the blank page; I think in my case it’s out of fear of the hard work. Almost anything seems smaller than the production of good writing does.

Myself: What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Bernhard: You don’t need to be published to be a writer; look at Emily Dickinson.

You shouldn’t look to other people to validate your writing, but you must be the harshest critic to yourself that you can be, no matter how good you think you are: always question all your judgments and every word (except maybe the prepositions).

Don’t wait for inspiration. Write every day, even if it’s just a little bit because writing is a job like any other: the more you do it, the better you get.

First drafts are horrible, and the experience of writing them is horrible. The revision is where you make it good. My father always said, “The first time, you don’t have to get it right; you just have to get it down.”

About 80 to 90% of what you write in your early drafts will be bad. If you write one good sentence in the early days, you’re winning.

Don’t put anything in a story or novel that isn’t in the service of that story or novel, unless you’re just writing for yourself (which is fine; see my first piece of advice).

Cut cut cut cut cut cut cut.

Revel in the pleasure of writing. In those rare moments when you feel like it’s all going perfectly, enjoy it! Enjoy, too, the extraordinary fun of being able to create a complete world, with complete people performing actions. And enjoy making your writing better. Never underestimate the power of the right revision.

Never stop writing to make mayonnaise or open a bottle of wine. Robert Louis Stevenson stopped in the middle of a sentence in order either to make mayonnaise for his lunch or (depending on the story) to open a bottle of wine for his lunch. He had a brain hemorrhage and died while doing that, and he never finished the sentence. Or the book it was in.

Myself: What novels/works have you published?

Bernhard: A mystery, “Death in Paris”, and a scholarly book about Lord Byron’s philosophy of knowledge, “The Development of Byron’s Philosophy of Knowledge: Certain in Uncertainty”. Also a number of academic articles.

Myself: What are you currently working on?

Bernhard: I’m working on my second mystery, tentatively titled “The Books of the Dead”.

Myself: What else would you like to share?

Bernhard: Three things come to mind:

  1. Donald Trump is a dangerous idiot who is peddling a fantasy of power to people who feel powerless. Please don’t vote Republican now.
  2. Age can bring a depth of understanding and feeling that is to be welcomed. Youth is often over-rated.
  3. The voices of the seemingly ordinary and uninteresting are fascinating and deserve to be written and heard — the complexity and bravery of a life occur inside, not necessarily in large actions and demonstrations.

Myself: How should your fans follow you or get in touch?

Bernhard: I have a Facebook author page: Emilia Bernhard Author Page. I’m also on Twitter: my name is @1LaMew. They can follow me on Instagram at emilia_bernhard. Or they can contact me via the University of Exeter.

Download Books Newly Added to the Public Domain

Reading – I hadn’t thought of this before until I read an article about it the other day, but no books have been added to the Public Domain in the past 20 years. Works from 1923 were originally to go into the public domain in 1999, after a 75-year copyright term. But in 1998 Congress hit a two-decade pause button and extended their copyright term for 20 years, giving works published between 1923 and 1977 an expanded term of 95 years. Thousands of new works were added to the Public Domain this year on January 1.

Many new books (those from 1923) were added to the Public Domain this year. Among the books added (with a link to where they can be downloaded from) are:

Project Gutenberg, which already had over 58,000 free downloadable books, has added these five titles from 1923:

To get a full picture of what has been added to the Public Domain, check out the article “January 1, 2019 is (finally) Public Domain Day: Works from 1923 are open to all!“.

Do You Have Too Many Unread Books?

Books
Reading – I came across the article “Stop Feeling Guilty About Having So Many Unread Books” a few months ago and thought it had some good ideas worth sharing. In particular, I liked these opening sentences:

Is your bookshelf teeming with more books than you have time to read? Or do your unread books induce feelings of guilt?

If so, you may be practicing the ancient Japanese art of tsundoku, that is, buying more books than you’ll ever read.

Some of the points brought up in the article are:

  • Recognize Reading As A Source Of Learning
  • Read More Than One Business Book At Once
  • Listen To Audiobooks
  • Abandon Bad Books
  • Ask Your Peers For Book Recommendations
  • Create Your Antilibrary

While this article is really looking at books from the viewpoint of business and self-education, much of it can be applied to casual reading. I am not a fan of reading more than one book at a time myself unless one is a technical book. When I try to read more than one novel at a time it just confuses me and I forget what is going on in the novels.

Audiobooks or podcasts are a good idea. I listen to several hours of podcasts each week and as they mention in the article, I have learned to listen at 2x the playback speed. Even with this, I am hundreds of podcasts behind!

I also agree about abandoning bad books or ones I simply do not like. I follow the Rule of 50 with my reading for the most part, though I have to say that I have not had to invoke it too often. Using peer recommendations or reviews on Goodreads will help to eliminate those books you would clearly not like, though some will slip through.

The ‘antilibrary’ or list of yet to be read books is a good idea. I have hundreds on my Kindle, though my ‘to-be-read’ queue is only around 70 books right now. That sounds like a lot, but the past three years I have read more than 130 novels a year.

Short Story and Review: “Father Avenir and the Fire Demons of Yellowstone”

Short Stories – I read the short story “Father Avenir and the Fire Demons of Yellowstone” that was posted on the Baen Books website. This short story was written by Kevin J. Anderson (http://kjablog.com) and Sarah A. Hoyt (https://accordingtohoyt.com). Mr. Anderson has published more than 140 books. Ms. Hoyt has published a dozen novels in various genres.

I categorize this short story as ‘PG’ because it contains scenes of Violence. The story is set in early America. It is hard to tell if this should be categorized as an Alternate History or just a Fantasy. A priest traveling alone in the west enters Yellowstone and confronts his demons.

I thoroughly enjoyed the 35 minutes I spent reading this fantasy. I liked the story enough, but it wasn’t clear to me where it was going. I think it needed more explanation. I give this short story a 3 out of 5.

My book reviews are also published on Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/31181778-john-purvis).

 

Apple Offers Free Audio Books

Apple Books has made six titles available for free download. They are:

Having one or more of these titles available may help the Holiday Season travel to pass more quickly. All of the books themselves are all public domain.

Grande Bibliothèque – Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Libraries – I like visiting libraries when I travel. I thought that this was a great introduction to Grande Bibliothèque in Montreal, Canada. I have added this library to my list of places to visit.

The Critiquing Chemist


While in Montreal for the day (stay tuned for next week’s post highlighting our 24 hours in Montreal), I couldn’t resist looking up Montreal’s most popular library. I was most definitely on a library high after the stunning Library of Parliament that we’ve visited the day before in Ottawa and was eager to explore another library. After perusing the list of city libraries, the Grande Bibliothèque stood apart as it was the most visited library in North America in 2011.  It was a bitterly cold Sunday morning that we were exploring Old Montreal, with a stiff wind making the chill that much more penetrating. With the weather now given context, marry someone who will readily walk into that biting wind for approximately thirty minutes to visit a library you have been reading about only that day. Luke and I were both frozen through by the time we stepped into the warm entry…

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A visit to Stockholm Public Library

Libraries – I like seeing blog posts about libraries and have made a few myself. I enjoyed seeing this one of the Stockholm Public Library and wanted to share it.

The post contains a little more travel info than just the library itself, but it is worth seeing another library I might want to add to my list of places to visit.

Love Travelling

Our final day in Stockholm and just enough time before heading back to the airport to fit in a visit to the Stockholm Public Library in Odenplan. I love visiting libraries wherever I travel and what a delightful one this was. The library, which was designed by Gunnar Asplund and completed in 1928, is one of the city’s most famous buildings with its geometrically designed neo-classical architecture and is listed as being one of the world’s most beautiful libraries.

Untitled Stockholm Public Library

Stepping through the Egyptian style doorway and climbing the central staircase, we were able to get our first glimpse into the central rotunda of the library. The rotunda is a circular book hall and is an absolutely stunning temple for book lovers like me. It contains a total of 40,000 books on three levels and retains its original mahogany furniture and leather chairs.

Untitled The Rotunda, Stockholm Public LIbrary

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