On a daily reading habit

In January 2021 I gave myself a challenge to read for thirty minutes a day, every day for a month.

Prior to lockdown in March last year I read on weekdays on my commute. I had two and half hours a day on trains and tubes and at least some of that time was for reading. Then we shifted to working from home. So many upsides to that; and one significant downside. I stopped reading.

It has always felt self-indulgent to read at home. I guess it feels self-indulgent to read at all, but when I’m on train there’s not much else I can do so the two things have become closely connected in my mind. As I wasn’t on a train on an almost daily basis, I wasn’t reading.

Naturally, that didn’t mean I stopped buying books. I just stopped reading them. Or, slowed is more accurate. It’s not like I didn’t read anything between March 2020 and January 2021, I just didn’t do it very often.

Some things I know. Watching TV too much isn’t great for my mental health. My mood slips gradually the more TV I watch and sometimes it takes a while to catch it. At the end of the working day I am tired and it seems like watching TV is a low energy activity and picking up a book will be too much effort for my eyes and brain. I love reading and making time for it makes me feel better, yet somehow it’s hard to do when I’m not on a train.

With the change of routine and the uncertainty of 2020, unusually I felt the need for new year’s resolutions. I needed some small goals and structures for my non-working life, so I decided to give myself twelve monthly challenges, starting in January with reading for thirty minutes a day, every day.

In January, I cracked through about twelve books, plus finished off a few I’d started reading but not quite completed. There was one I started but didn’t like, so discarded it. I’ve grown out of reading books I’m not enjoying for the sake of completeness. I found that if I started the day with thirty minutes reading, I’d often spend another few hours in the afternoons and evenings reading too. I’m not going to tell you that reading consistently made me a better person in some way, because that’s not what it’s about. I can’t say I was more productive or more creative or more informed. It just made me happier.

The twelve monthly challenges thing lasted until March. Then I lost interest. The daily reading habit has stuck. It’s nice to wake up in the morning knowing the first thing I’m going to do is read my book for half an hour. My days are better because of it.

Writing is a funny thing

I had a bit of break at Christmas and I took the opportunity to think about how the elements of my life fit together and where I’m spending my time. I decided I was going to work out how to reduce the amount of time I spend commuting and that I would put writing on the back burner while I sorted that out.

Ever since then I’ve been writing loads. Opportunities to reduce my commute are few and far between so that hasn’t been taking up as much time as I thought. My novel is very much on the shelf, but I have a collection of short stories underway. I’m writing fiction based on my roleplaying games and am chronicling our current campaign at the London Storytelling Carrion Crown Campaign blog.

I haven’t written this much in ages and I think it’s because I’m supposed to be doing other things.

I’ve started so I’ll finish

Our lives are controlled by the things we believe and we’re not totally aware of everything we believe. Our beliefs can be revealed to us in the little phrases and sayings that we like to use. One of mine is ‘I’ve started so I’ll finish’ and variations on that theme. The belief is that if I’ve started something I should finish it. While that can be a useful piece of advice, because some things are better finished, it can more often be a source of stress. It is not true that everything should be finished. The things that are unfinished because I no longer want to do them become part of a to-do list which can get overwhelming.

Sometimes, the best thing to do is to admit you’re never going to finish something and get rid of it. So, in the spirit of making my life less stressful, I’ve been through book mountain and found thirteen books I’m not going to finish reading.

1. A Time of Exile by Katherine Kerr. I picked it up from the book drop at work as I needed something to read on the way home. I read about fifty pages and I’m not going to read any more. I don’t like the style of writing – it’s too high fantasy for my taste. Back to the book drop.

2. Dark Secret by Christine Feehan. I actually got three-quarters of the way through this, but one day I put it down and didn’t pick it up again. It’s paranormal romance and I don’t like the highly traditional gender roles advocated by the book. Charity bag.

3. Labyrinth by Kare Mosse. This was given to me and I do think it’s the polite thing to do to read something given to you. But I tried and I just didn’t engage with it. Charity bag.

4. The Historian by Elisabeth Kostova. See above.

5. & 6. Magic Study and Fire Study by Maria V. Snyder. These are parts two and three of a trilogy I foolishly bought all together. I read the first one, Poison Study, and I really didn’t like it. I haven’t been able to bring myself to read the other two. Charity bag.

7. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. I bought this because a friend raved about it. That was before I read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin on his recommendation and realised I hate his taste in books. Charity bag.

8. Winterbirth by Brian Ruckley. I’ve made two attempts at this and I just can’t get into it. To me, it seems like a massive, poorly executed, rip-off of Game of Thrones. Charity bag.

9. Medusa Rising by Cindy Dees. It’s Mills & Boon with a modern military setting. Did. Not. Like. Charity bag.

10. Once by James Herbert. It started off ok but got really slow in the middle. Once I’d stopped reading it I developed an aversion to starting it again. Charity bag.

11. “Dumbth” by Steve Allen. I understand this man is supposed to be funny. I don’t think so. The premise is interesting – 101 ways to think better – and there are some great concepts in here. Unfortunately it’s all conveyed covered in nasty, judgemental, mean-spirited mocking of people perceived by the author as stupid, rude or uneducated. Reading it was a horrible experience. I want to burn it.

12. Wolf of the Plains by Conn Iggulden. Should be the sort of thing I would enjoy, but the writing wasn’t great. It is heavy on exposition and I got bored. Charity bag.

13. Wildwood by Roger Deakin. This one I’m actually a little sad about. I so wanted this to be good, but I’ve given it a couple of tries and I was bored by it. I know someone who wants to read it and hopefully he will enjoy it.

Kindles and page fondling

I got a Kindle for Christmas. Yay me. Not exactly newsworthy on its own, but I noticed something interesting the other day. When I’m reading a book I get a tactile experience that reminded me of the habit forming behaviours that go along with smoking. With the Kindle, my hands are fidgety.

I’m not a luddite in any sense. I love technology and usually can’t wait to get my hands on new kit. I’ve only delayed getting a Kindle this long because of the sheer number of unread books in my house. I thought that having a Kindle would mean I wouldn’t read any of them and I promised myself I could have it when I’d read all the unread books. What actually happened was that I kept buying books so the unread books pile is not that much smaller. I decided I would ask for a Kindle for Christmas, continue to read the unread books and only buy new ones for the Kindle.

Over the last few days I’ve had a bit of a cold so I grabbed a couple of books and headed for a snuggly blanket-laden sofa. I finished Others in hard copy then picked up my Kindle on which I am reading the first book club book of 2012 (it’s awful, but more on that at the end of the month) and read that for a bit. Then I started on Finders Keepers in hard copy.

I had noticed with the Kindle that if I’m not careful I press the forward page buttons on the side and lose my place, so I have some difficulty finding a comfortable holding position. It doesn’t yet feel quite right in my hands. When I picked up an actual book to read I found myself fondling the pages. There’s something about the feel of the paper books are printed on – this particular book was using a soft but thick paper that was especially pleasing to the touch.

Part of the difficulty in overcoming addictions like smoking is the way our bodies get used to certain actions and sensations. So, it is not just the addiction to nicotine, but also the addiction to having something in our hands, to the feeling and motions, to the habit of the actions associated with smoking a cigarette. When you give up smoking, as I did five or six years ago, you have to give your hands something else to do.

It made me wonder if some people who are clinging to the printed book as the ultimate media for delivering fiction dislike e-book readers because they don’t feel right in your hands. They feel different, and therefore, a bit strange. A little disconcerting, even. I wonder if the nay-sayers have an addiction to the physicality of books rather than to the content of books.

Maybe I’ll just get a cover for my Kindle that is pleasing to the touch and that will solve the problem. Maybe that’s why most seem to be in suede.

100 Books in 2011 challenge: Reflections

I read 86 books in 2011. Not quite the 100 I was aiming for, but not an insignificant number.

Out of those books 50 were by male authors and 36 by female authors. That’s a slightly more even split than I expected. I tend to read types of fiction dominated by male authors and while I have thought that I should make a point of seeking out female authors in these genres, I haven’t yet done so. Next year I plan to prioritise female writers.

Sci-fi – 7
Fantasy – 12
Horror – 5
Romance – 7
Literary – 5
Classic – 9
Historical – 2
Thriller – 6

I read 32 non-fiction books, which is more than I thought, and makes me feel like I should break that down a bit.

Self-help/Psychology – 5
Philosophy – 1
History – 5
Current affairs/Politics – 4
Feminist thought – 5
Comedy – 3
Auto-biography – 2
Writing craft – 4
Paganism – 1
Science – 2

I noticed at points during the year that I was actively choosing to read books I perceived to be short and easy in order to achieve the goal of 100 books in a year. Whereas, if I hadn’t been trying to reach that goal I might have gone for a more challenging, edifying, (and for me, more satisfying) reading experience. It’s a bit like dieting, in that it drives bad behaviour. Books are chosen for being low-calorie (short/easy) rather than healthy (quality) and so the choices you make are not the ones that are best for you but the ones that will satisfy an arbitrary number.

On reflection, I have quite enjoyed doing the 100 Books in 2011 challenge but I won’t be doing a reading challenge again next year. I still have 166 books on book mountain and I think I can make more space by focussing on reading the really big ones. My reading intentions for next year are to read more female authors and get through the large hardcovers on book mountain. I did like keeping a list of everything I’ve read though, so I think I will maintain that.
Finally, my favourite books of the year. In non-fiction, my favourite was Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine, with an honourable mention for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. In fiction, it’s very close but I think Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks was the best novel I read all year. There are a few others that were very close: All the Windwracked Stars by Elizabeth Bear; Gridlinked by Neal Asher, The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie and A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin.
And that’s the end of 2011. Happy New Year everyone!


So, only I few posts ago I was banging on about posting daily and then I go on a three week blogcation. Life happened, sorry about that. I’m busy at work and got a bit sick.

The other reason is that I have started playing World of Darkness roleplaying games and they are awesome. It’s like character creation boot camp and I am doing loads of writing practice.

Normal posting will be resumed, although it might be a while before I get back up to daily posts. Still, it’s good to have a goal.

Daily posting

When I’ve finished the chapter by chapter review of A Dance with Dragons I’m going to post some thoughts on the process and what doing it has revealed to me.

One of those thoughts was that I like daily posting. But not in the sense of writing a blog post every day. What I like is seeing a new post on my blog each day. I write on the weekends and occasionally in the evenings and often what I will do is write a week’s worth of blogs in one go – except for the Thursday Things I have liked this week posts, which I tend to write on a Wednesday or Thursday.

Today I realised that I had no blog. Last weekend I did some worldbuilding for my new WIP, wrote a couple of blogs and then started re-writing a vignette which I plan to post on my DeviantART page. I think I intended to go back to blog posts but didn’t quite get there.

As I don’t have the time (I’m at work, on my lunch break), to find links to things I want to tell you about, or mess about with pictures, or have access to my notes on ADWD or the A-Z challenge, then you get this. Because I want there to be something new on this blog every day.

Now all I have to do is figure out what on earth I’m going to do once I’ve posted the review of the last chapter of ADWD. Any ideas?

A-Z challenge: L is for Library

I always wanted to have a proper library: a whole room in the house dedicated to books and reading. All the walls would be fully shelved and there would be one of those ladder things that wheels around the shelves. It would have a chaise longue or day bed for reading in the most comfort.
There would be a roaring fireplace, probably gas because I can’t be doing with the bother of a real fire, nice as they are. And of course, I would have acres of free time which I could spend lying around in my library reading all the lovely books.
I find it soothing to be in libraries, just in the presence of books. It’s restful and serene and the rest of the world melts away. Bookshops work as well, but then you feel obliged to buy something and that’s how book mountain grows.

Things I have liked this week

Astronomy picture of the day
Lots to choose from this week, so I’ve picked two: this summer triangle over Catalonia and this castle and meteor by moonlight.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Went to see this on Friday and I enjoyed it much more than I expected. The CGI was very well done. I was expecting a fun romp but the film was much more than that. Having seen it, I really want to see a remake of the original.
Starting a new writing project
After nearly three years of working on Immortal/Sacrifice I’ve decided it is time to move on. I’ve learnt so much about writing a novel with this project but I’ve reached the point where I need to take that and start something new. I said I would do the next one differently and am going to start with planning it out and building up my world. I’m very excited about the new WIP, working title Wormfeeder.