Late to the Proverbial Book Party

IMG_9361.jpgHave you ever come to an author or book after everyone else has read it, and wondered, “How did I miss this?”

This happens to me fairly frequently. In the past, it was because I stubbornly ignored popular recommendations, figuring that any book that everyone was reading had to be overrated. (I was young and stupid and didn’t end up starting Harry Potter until Prisoner of Azkaban was out. Lesson learned.)

Nowadays, I’m not sure how I miss the in books. Maybe because I don’t pay attention? Maybe because I have so many books to read that they just keep getting bumped to the bottom of the pile? No idea.

Well, I just discovered Liane Moriarty. Her books were recommended by a few people, but I just never got around to reading anything by her. Then I found Big Little Lies at Goodwill, and the rest, as they say, is history.

At first, I didn’t think I was going to like the book. The writing style seemed odd to me and it took me a few pages to get into it. Also, there are mini-interviews interspersed in the story, dropping hints about an event that happened, but not telling what happened until the end.

Describing it now, I’m not sure why it worked for me, but it did. Eventually, the words on the pages disappeared, and I was in the story.

Now I want to read everything she’s written, which is always a nice feeling. It’s like I’ve discovered this wonderful secret, and my universe has expanded. Yes, I realize I didn’t discover her, but it feels like I did, so don’t burst my little bubble.

I’ve been resisting reading Game of Thrones, but writing this post, I realize that I’m doing the same thing I did when I was younger. *sigh* I think I’m going to have to at least give it a try.

Have you ever been late to the party in discovering a books or author? Any books that everyone else has read that you’re not interested in?

 

Promoting Kindness

I feel inadequate to talk about this, but I’m going to, because even if I don’t cover it well or completely, at least I may help others think about it.

The world is in turmoil. I think everyone knows that. And from what I see, everyone wants to place blame somewhere. I’m very afraid of the mentality I’m seeing: “if you’re not with us, you’re against us.”

I can understand the attraction of this idea, but I think it’s problematic on a number of levels. The most important one being: You don’t eradicate hate by promoting hate and divisiveness.

An Eye For An Eye Leave The Whole World Blind

Meeting hate with public shaming and more hatred isn’t likely to tame it; that’s like pouring gas on a fire. When you shame someone, most people don’t respond with, “Sorry; I was wrong.” They respond with anger and defensiveness, trying to explain their side. It reinforces their own idea that they’re right, because you’re treating them like the enemy. No matter how wrong thinking people are, almost no one is a villain in their own mind, and if you really want to bring people together, you won’t treat them as one.

That doesn’t mean that certain behaviors are acceptable; they aren’t. But you can hate the behavior and still show love and kindness toward the person.

People Can Change When Shown Compassion & Understanding

Daryl Davis is a black man who gets to know KKK members. As of December 2016, thirteen of them befriended him and turned in their hoods. Would he have been justified in hating these people who hated him for nothing more than the color of his skin? Yep, absolutely. Would it have changed anything? Unlikely.

Balpreet Kaur was the focus of ridicule online when a man snapped a picture of her. She’s a woman with facial hair. Instead of responding defensively (which would have been understandable), she explained that she’s a Sikh, and that looking different from most people does not interfere with her ability to be of service. As a result of her kind, lovely response, the original poster apologized to her, and she got lots of support. I first read this story in 2012, and I’m still thinking about it. My hope is that everyone who read her story thought twice about cyberbullying from that point forward.

Christian Piccolini became a white supremacist at 16, looking for a place to belong. After he opened up a music store and had contact with people of different races and religions, he said, “I received compassion and empathy from the people I least deserved it from.” That changed his thinking, and he’s now a member of Life After Hate, an organization that helps people leave violent extremist groups.

Understanding Matters

I don’t know what the solution to everything is. But people who seek to tear others down aren’t usually people who feel good about themselves. It’s not a good excuse, but it is something to think about. Making already insecure and angry people feel worse isn’t the way to change the world. People gravitate toward hate groups in order to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance.

People make changes when they feel understood, and more importantly, when they understand others. It’s easy to hate what you don’t know and understand. (This goes for both sides.) But it’s not as easy to hate something known. It’s like Ender said in Ender’s Game:

In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them.

Don’t Hate The Person

Hate the behavior. Hate the violence. Hate the rhetoric. But when possible, show compassion for the person. Because most people who join these groups aren’t evil; they’re just seeking belonging, understanding, acting out of fear, etc.

Is there a way to promote love and compassion without implicitly condoning bad behavior? I’m not sure. I’m afraid that showing love and compassion to everyone who needs it will be misconstrued as trying to stay in the middle and “not take sides.” I don’t want to do that, but I really believe that hating and shaming anyone creates a bigger problem. I want to be part of the solution.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. But please, no politics.

The Pros and Cons of Writing in Coffee Shops

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Epoch Coffee, Austin TX

For the past four weeks, I’ve been taking my cat for daily medical treatments. The vet’s office was about 20 minutes (or so) away from home, so instead of running back and forth, I parked myself in a local coffee shop and worked there.

I’ve always had this romantic notion of working in coffee shops. JK Rowling talks about her time writing Harry Potter in coffee shops, and it’s always seemed like the perfect place to get work done.

There’s coffee, and fewer distractions, and usually plugs for my laptop. What more could I ask for?

Well…

The Good

  1. It’s an uninterrupted period when I can get work done. I have difficulty setting aside time to write. Because I enjoy it, it feels like it should be low on my priority list. I’m working on that, but it’s still a thing.
  2. * Fewer distractions of a certain type. There’s no laundry to be done or dishwasher to unload. There are no dogs begging for attention, or cats laying across the keyboard.
  3. Great atmosphere. I love the way coffee shops smell. In independent coffee shops, I love the artwork, and the interesting decor. I enjoy the torn up couches, and watching the variety of people who patronize them.
  4. *Essentially no wi-fi. The coffee shop I most frequented had unsecured wi-fi (which I’m always wary of), and it was slow. So slow, I didn’t use it. Which was good because I wasn’t getting sucked down the rabbit hole of Facebook, etc.

The Bad

  1. More distractions. But wait… you just said there were fewer. Yeah, fewer homestyle distractions. But there’s music I don’t always like playing over the speakers. One day, there was a guy tapping his flip flop shod foot on the floor. It made a slapping sound, and I wasn’t the only one who was thinking about stabbing him.
  2. My favorite seat was sometimes taken. I spent the most time in a coffee shop that had armchairs and couches, as well as wooden chairs. Finding seats where my feet touch the floor is difficult. This place had one particular chair that seemed sized perfectly for me. I could put my back against the back and still have my feet touch the floor. But I wasn’t the only one who liked it.
  3. Gathering up all my stuff when I went to the bathroom or leaving it to fate. I’m not a very trusting soul (at least not with my laptop). Maybe it’s because, as a therapist, I worked with lots of people who stole. I’d see other people leave their laptops and be amazed at their ability to trust. I did it once or twice, but it was too uncomfortable. After all, I only have to be wrong once. Of all the things I own, my laptop is my most beloved.
  4. If I want to listen to music I like, I have to wear headphones. I’m moody when it comes to liking music when I work or not. But no matter what, I’m not a fan of headphones. The earbud type hurt my ears, and the over ear ones can be cumbersome to travel with.
  5. It’s too noisy. Sometimes I just like silence. I took to wearing headphones with nothing playing, just to block out some of the noise. Most days, I left with a headache.
  6. Lots of temptation. I try not to eat a lot of baked goods, but scones are a special love of mine. Coffee shops always have tasty looking scones, muffins, croissants, etc.
  7. It was freezing! In the winter, I laugh sadistically at my husband when he begs to turn the heat up and just tell him to put on more clothes. This place was so cold that when I walked outside into the 109 degree afternoon, it actually felt good.
  8. *Essentially no wi-fi. If I wanted to look something up, it was slow to do so. I didn’t blog while I was there because I couldn’t get online. (And yes, I could have written them offline and then posted them later. But I didn’t.)

The Verdict

It’s not my thing. Even the positive of having a certain time set aside to write doesn’t outweigh all the reasons I didn’t like it, in my opinion. I’ve read articles by people who love working in coffee shops so they can be surrounded by people but not have to interact with them, but I’d argue that I was interacting with them, far more than I wanted to. I was listening to the buzz of their conversations, their flip flops slapping, fighting with them for the good chair, not leaving my stuff so it didn’t get stolen.

That being said, I’m an extreme introvert who’s happiest when I don’t have to leave my house for several days in a row. I like quiet, and I see no problem with eating meals alone or not talking to other people for extended periods of time.

What’s your opinion on reading or writing in coffee shops?

How I Choose What To Read Next

I’m a moody reader, so I never know what I’m going to be in the mood for next, and I like most genres. Sometimes my book choices are deliberate, and sometimes they’re more whimsical. Here’s how I pick:

  1. A group I belong to picked it. In general, I try to prioritize these. I belong to a FaceBook YA Book Club for writers. August’s book is Caravel, by Stephanie Garber. This was recommended awhile ago by a friend, and I just never moved it to the top of my list. Now it is. I also belong to a small book club with two friends of mine. We choose a book and all pass it around. It’s supposed to be a three month cycle per book, but I think we’re a bit behind this time around (or maybe it’s just me). For that, I read LaRose, by Louise Erdrich. It was slow reading, but it’s always interesting to step out of my comfort zone and read something I wouldn’t have picked.
  2. Someone recommended it. People know I read a lot, so they’re always recommending books to me. I *try* to get to them before I forget who recommended them. By 1999, approximately half a million people had recommended the Harry Potter series to me, and I stubbornly ignored them because “it couldn’t be that good.” I don’t do that anymore.
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    Part of my wish list.

  3. I just felt like it, okay? Sometimes, I wander around my house, see a book, and I’m like, “That’s the one.” No rhyme or reason.
  4. I’m in a sad mood or feeling meh, and I need comfort. I have a bunch of go to books for when I need a pick me up. If I need to cry, I read Where The Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls. I have no idea how many times I’ve read it, but I cry. Every. Single. Time. If I’m feeling stuck in a rut, and need adventure, I might read Watership Down, by Richard Adams, or Lightning, by Dean Koontz. If I just need something familiar, I might read Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, or Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte (though I usually skip the whole first section at Lowood school).
  5. I was at the library, and it screamed at me to get my attention. I try not to look at the “new fiction” shelf, but sometimes I hear the books calling my name. I know that means that other books will be neglected… but… new books.
  6. I was thinking about a passage from it, and just had to reread it. This happens to me once in awhile. I’ll be thinking about something else, or I’ll watch a movie or read another book, and a particular passage I like comes to mind. Then I’ll either flip through the book to reread just that part, or I’ll reread the whole thing. This happened recently with The Face, by Dean Koontz. No spoilers here, but there’s a part where a cop does something illegal with good intentions, and for some reason, that popped into my head, and I had to find and read that section.

As you can see, I don’t really “choose” what books to read. It’s all kind of random. But the orderly people in my life would say that I’m more governed by chaos than not, so it makes sense. I’m working my way through the 20 Books of Summer, and keeping to a pre-set list is difficult!

How do you choose what books to read next? How do you keep track of books people recommend?

Finding the Perfect Notebook

FullSizeRender.jpg-1I kept a journal as a teenager. It was one of those tiny ones with the lock that wouldn’t actually keep anyone out. I wrote about the really important stuff that went on with me. And I wrote in it less and less as time went on, stopping sometime in my late teens/ early 20s.

A few years ago, I started keeping a journal again. I had just moved to a new state, was feeling lonely, and was going through a period in my life where I was feeling dissatisfied and couldn’t figure out why. So I grabbed an 8.5 x 11 Mead notebook and started writing things down. I don’t remember if I happened to have it laying around, or if I went out and bought it, but it was a 5 subject notebook with pockets, and it took me seven years to fill it.

When I was done with that one, I tried finding the perfect journal again, but couldn’t find anything that met my specifications. So I ended up getting another Mead notebook, and this time it only took me two years to fill.

Over time, I started using Washi tape, gluing little mementos inside, doodling in the margins. I’ve taken some inspiration from smash books in that sense. The Mead notebook works… but I feel like there’s got to be something better out there. I crave better paper and a nicer cover.

I want something spiral bound (so it folds in half), 8.5 x 11 (or thereabouts) with good paper (doesn’t matter if it’s lined or unlined). I prefer pockets, but it’s not a deal-breaker. I often write with gel pens or fountain pens, so I can’t use a thin paper that bleeds through. I bought a Yoobi notebook for another purpose, and I can only use one side of the page because of bleed-through.

Does anyone out there have notebook/ journal recommendations? If you journal, what do you use?

Metaphors and Mad Science

Today’s blog is a guest post, presented by a friend from my critique group. 

Guest blog by Jeff Shaevel

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Writers are constantly working with metaphors. Sometimes they’re direct, as in the phrase ”a tsunami of information.” Sometimes they’re indirect, as in Harry Potter, when J. K. Rowling uses the character Buckbeak as a metaphor for another character (Sirius Black) because both were persecuted for crimes they didn’t commit. Metaphors are powerful tools for improving readers’ experience by comparing to the known (the force of a tidal wave) or to something easier to relate to (the mistreatment of a beloved animal).

There’s another place where metaphors are important: game design. There are many abstract games—such as checkers, Go or most card games—that have no metaphor. The pieces are pieces. The rules are actions to be performed. No effort is made to relate the activity to anything in our world.

Many games, however, are enhanced with metaphors that give context, and sometimes they help make better sense of arbitrary rules. Chess, for example, has a military metaphor, the battle between two armies tearing each other apart and attacking the enemy king. Furthermore, the knight is usually represented by a horse (or figure on horseback) to help remind the players that, like the animal from which the metaphor is drawn, the piece can jump over other pieces.

In designing a game, picking the right metaphors can make all the difference in how much fun players have or how engaged they are in the action. “Chutes and Ladders”—a Milton Bradly game adapted from an ancient Indian game of “Snakes and Ladders”—depicts images of children performing good deeds, which result in a reward of climbing a ladder to further progress, and images of bad deeds, which result in falling down a chute to lose progress. A trivial exercise in shifting tokens becomes a series of stories about the consequences of good and bad actions, and much more fun.

My other half recently created a dice game and it took some effort to find the right metaphors to make the game both entertaining and educational. The game is “Mad Science!” and uses dice with scientific symbols (like atoms, beakers, and test tubes). The objective is to roll the dice to make sets of matching symbols. The more items that match, the higher the score. You can keep rolling, but dice that don’t match go into a “waste pile” and if, over time, more symbols end up matching there than you’ve scored, your lab explodes and you lose points paying to clean it up!

The game could have been about regular numbered dice and matching numbers, but the metaphor of the “waste pile” both makes it easier to remember the rules and gives people the opportunity to talk about science, experiments and the risks of explosions.

There is a campaign to get the game published, by the way. Please check it out on Kickstarter and let us know what you think.

What metaphors have increased your reading (or gaming) enjoyment?

Not Good Enough To Enjoy, Not Bad Enough To Abandon

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I seem to be on a run of books lately that I’m not enjoying, but that aren’t so bad I abandon them.

I always thought I was quick to abandon books. If I’m not into it, I put it away and assure it, “It’s not you; it’s me.” Not every book is for everyone, and I know that. If I find myself making excuses to put the book down, if I’m not looking forward to reading it, then unless I have a good reason to continue, I just put it down.

But recently, I’ve read a few books where I’m in a gray area. The writing’s bad or the action is slow or the characters make lousy decisions. (I want to shout at them, “Are you stupid? Who would even do that?”) But at the same time, I want to find out what happens. I have hope that it might get better. I’ve enjoyed some badly written books, so maybe it’s just taking time to find its stride?

I should know better. It’s not going to get better, and I know it. They never do.

I guess it’s like a bad relationship. There’s enough chemistry to keep going, but the whole time, you’re thinking, “I really shouldn’t be wasting my time. There are better books out there, and I want to read them all.”

*sigh*

I’ve read some magical books this year, books that suck me in and make me fall in love. Books that leave me with such a hangover afterward that I want to sleep with the book under my pillow, just to keep it close by. Books that I want to start again the moment I close the last page.

I’m always chasing that, and I know that not every book can be that way. Maybe not every book should be that way. It wouldn’t be magic then, would it? I couldn’t have that depth of love and connection to every single book.

So maybe that’s why I keep going with those gray area books. I know that the book is going into the donation box when I’m done (or back to the library), and that we’ll never hang out again. I’m just passing time until the next amazing read.

Do you ever have this experience?