Friday, September 22, 2017

How to Read More in an Age of Technology: Part One

Reading less these days? 

The impetus for this blog comes from a recent post by author Philip Yancey, that went pretty much much viral. This once prolifically reading author has bookshelves that are now languishing as he finds his brain becoming re-wired by technology. The comments are telling, too, as many share their own stories and most agree. 

Smartphones, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, games, Pinterest and iPads are demanding our attention. Walk through any mall and three-quarters of the shoppers will be staring down at phones. And okay, I'm not anti-technology. I’m just as guilty. I mean I even sleep with my iPhone right beside me. (I know I know. Shoot me now!) But when insomnia hits, what better way to fall asleep than to listen to some droning book being read to me, or some podcast, or some soothing music? (I’m even thinking of getting a pair of those sleeping type headphones. (Okay, now you can really shoot me.)

But, as I was reading Yancey’s post it came to me that probably a lot of people are finding that their reading is diminishing these days. How can we get it back? How can we become absorbed in a novel once again? There should be a Fitbit for reading, I'm thinking, something that will keep track of how many pages we have read that day, and remind us when our reading is falling off.

To counteract this - here are a few of my own random thoughts and ideas:

1. You can’t read a book on a phone or an iPad or a tablet. Please bear with me one this one, don’t put your hands over your eyes just yet. To read a novel, I think you need a real book or a dedicated eReader. 

Here’s my story: I had one of the original Kobo eReaders. It was light. I could adjust the font to suit my old eyes, and I didn’t have that weird page turning balance thing that I have when I'm lying on my side in bed and trying to read a hard-back book. I loved it, but then after seven years the battery didn’t hold a charge. But surely I didn’t need another one, right? I have one of those big-screen iPhones. I’ll just use it. It’s got a reading app, right?

Well, I couldn’t. First of all, the screen was too bright. Even after dimming the light, it was too shiny. I couldn’t read it out in the sunshine, and what’s the point of a book that you can’t read on the beach?

But, the main thing was that I was distracted by it. I would be reading along and—oh wait! A new Facebook message! Oh wait! I got a new email! Oh wait! A text message just came in! So, I went in turned off all of those notifications. Now, I’ll just settle back and read. And yet in the back of my mind there was this little ping—Hey, maybe I should check Instagram. See if there are any new pics of the grandkids. It won’t take two seconds. Or, I’ll just zip over here and play a quick game of solitaire before I get into chapter four.

Nope, maybe it works for you, but the iPhone simply didn’t work for me as a reading device.

So, I bought another dedicated eReader, and I love, love my new Kobo Aura H2O.

I know that there are also Kindles that compare.

All I can do is read on it. It looks like a book, and it's gently front lit, so, I can read it in bed at night. I can take it out in the sunshine. It's completely waterproof so I can even read it out on the water. Or in the rain, if I wanted to.

Studies say these e-ink screens are better for the brain at night than shiny, backlit screens.

If your reading has fallen off, put away the phone and the brightly lit tablet and get either a real book, or invest in an eReader. They’re not very expensive.

2. Blame the book, not yourself. I can’t tell you how many times I have opened up a novel to read, even a beloved mystery novel, and then after about four pages my mind is wandering. After chapter two I’m blaming myself—it must be happening—I’m getting too old—I can’t concentrate—I can’t read books anymore—There's something wrong with my brain.

No. There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s the book.

That's why I began this blog. Maybe it was a survival thing. I wanted to prove that there are still books out there which are unputdownable. If you find your mind wandering, keep looking. Feel free to scroll back and use this blog as a guide. I have more than two and a half years worth of books that my mind didn't wander inside of.

3. Join a book club. Not only is this fun, but you will end up reading completely out of your comfort zone. It might just be wonderful. Left to my own devices I would end up with nothing but mystery fiction on my Kobo. My book club expands me. I’m devouring and discussing books I never would have chosen. 

If you don’t know where to find a club, go and ask at your local library. If they don’t have one, give them your name and offer to start one. Another place to look is your local independent bookstore. Many have bookclubs. Also, you might want to try and do a search for “bookclubs.”

4. Talk about books with your friends. I know, you might get some strange looks when the first thing you say when you sit down for coffee is, “Read any good books lately?” But you might come away with some good and interesting suggestions. And a reading partner.

5. Write book reviews. Recommend a good book on your Facebook page. Do a search for book review blogs. Many are joint efforts and are always wanting new book reviewers. (I know. I've been asked.) This blog of mine, this labor of love, has forced me to read, even when I wanted to zip over and play solitaire.

6. Devote an hour a day to reading. Really? Is that too much? You’ll go for a walk for an hour, or spend an hour at the gym, or watch TV for an hour. Make it a priority to read every single day. Okay, half an hour. But schedule it in.

7. I mentioned how cool it would be to have a Fitbit for reading, well, there sort of is one. It’s called the Goodreads reading challenge. I do this every year. Here is my own link. 

When 2017 began I decided that I would read 30 books this year. In past years I’ve aimed for 24. Because I easily managed that, I decided that this year I would up it to 30. Not sure I'm going to make it. While you’re at it, have a look around Goodreads which is like a Facebook for readers. I find book recommendations there and often find myself scouring the book reviews for books I might like.

How do you keep reading when bright screens, click bait and five second sound bites keep tempting you? I'd love for you to share your ideas in the comments.  

NEXT TIME: Part two: More on reading books in an age of technology.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Can you hear the dueling banjos?

As the summer nears its end, so does my list of thriller-suspense-novel-beach-read recommendations. Today I’d like to end this summer series by recommending The River at Night by Erica Ferencik. This is one I could not put down.

The novel begins: 

Early one morning in late March, Pia forced my hand.

And, we’re off. Four old friends; Pia, Rachel, Winifred, and Sandra get together every year for some sort of vacation or "adventure.” Most of the time their idea of "adventure” has the four of them sitting on a beach somewhere and sipping wine. Except this year. 

Pia, the definite leader in the group, has determined that they’re all going to do something different and exciting. And what's more exciting than white water rafting in Maine? Well, fine, except, the only one who really wants to go is Pia. The rest shift between not wanting to go somewhere where they have to camp outside at night, to being outright afraid of fast moving water. She allays their fears. They have a great guide, the very capable Rory. Nothing to worry about. It'll be fun. So, okay, they all give each other pep talks. How bad could it be?

Well, bad, as it turns out.

Their adventure begins on a unfortunate footing—literally—when the jeep their guide, Rory is using to take them to the raft, sinks in the mud and they are up to their knees as they attempt to push it free. He tells them that this neck of the woods is usually dry. That this has never happened before. By this time I can almost hear the dueling banjoes in the distance. That should have been a clue to turn around now. Except, they don’t. 

Good suspense is when you want to yell to the characters in the novel you are reading, "Don’t go there! Turn back now! Don't go down the basement without a flashlight! Don't go out on that river! Are you crazy?"

But, they don't turn around. The five clean up and then head out on a raft with the very hunky easy-on-the-eyes Rory as their guide. Maybe this won’t be so bad.

The author has an amazing way of describing the water, from the calm, meandering blue river, an easy to paddle and pleasant to be on, to the crazy rapids and currents and places that these four women, even with their experienced guide, are not prepared to tackle. The river is a character in this book.

No more spoilers, but there are definite parallels between this book and Deliverance. Remember that movie? Remember that book? Only this time it’s females who are on a river adventure.

As you know, if you follow my blog, a good story draws me in, believable characters make me want to read on, but if a book isn’t well-written, it’s only half a book. If the language isn't beautiful and imaginative, I'll put it down.

Here’s one example of the excellent description:

Nests of hair twined with bites of bone and tiny pinecones snarled from under the orange ski cap.

Who is that person with the bones tied in her wild hair? Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out.

The theme of human vs nature is a common one in books, and always remains popular. Goodreads has a list of these kinds of adventure books which includes the aforementioned Deliverance by James Dickey. The list also includes The Old Man and the Sea 
and Life of Pi 

Here's the list that Goodreads has compiled. Can you think of others that are favourites of yours?

Next time: Reading less? Here are my thoughts.