The Reading Life

This week’s Mind the Gap: How do you prefer to read, with an eReader like a Kindle or Nook, or with an old school paperback in hand? drew my attention….stand by your screens.

My name is EBL and I am a Geek. I work in IT and have done for too many years to admit. OK, it’s more than 25. Actually it’s 26. Some of you weren’t born when I set up my first server in Novell Netware and learned Edlin to handle the batch files.

Read the strap line: this is a nostalgia blog!

I am also a Book Nerd. I had read all the Junior Library books before I was ten and progressed to the Adult section under the watchful eye of the Lady at the Library, who was like a surrogate mother to me. I have no idea of her name, which now strikes me as odd, although it didn’t at the time.

I love books and I love gadgets. So e-readers should be a no-brainer.

And yet, and yet…

I only bought my device in April last year. I had not been impressed by the demos I saw in shops and was a little addicted to the smell of ink. You know the smell I mean; the smell when you open a new book, fresh from the publisher, and riffle those virgin pages. That inky scent wafts out and you are carried away in a haze of antici……

…pation (as Tim Curry would say), the first eyes to scan those pages, the first hands to turn them, smoothing them lovingly until they settle like anxious birds. Or is it just me?

The promise of being able to carry a reasonable library about in my bag seemed pretty appealing; I travel for work frequently so I could see where it would be helpful. I wouldn’t have to carry multiple books or face running out of something to read on those long, dark nights in the hotel room.

The ability to download instantly was a threat to the bank balance; but the option to trial a sample chapter addressed the risk of hasty and regrettable purchases. An e-reader would have saved me from some serious pain by letting me realise that just because some books are popular does not mean I am going to enjoy them (Dan Brown, I am looking at you).

The green credentials were appealing. Save those trees! OK, producing the actual thingummybob would have environmental impacts, but paper is a toxic process too, and we need forests to breathe for our sorry planet.

The final decider was the fact I could resize the text which was important because of my eye problems last year; I had built up three shelves of books which I couldn’t read during that time. It was physically painful to see them piling up and gathering dust, forlorn, unread, despondent and pitiful. One day, I promised them, one day….

So the e-reader was purchased and Project Gutenberg was raided for beloved classics at no cost. I discovered that I could get a newspaper delivered every day for less than the cost of a Sunday paper in the pulp. That was fantastic because where I live there is no newsagent accessible on my way to work, and who wants to read the paper at night?

I have been using the thing for about nine months, and I am using it less and less every day. As soon as I was able to read normal books I started doing so and rediscovered a love of dead tree. I love the feel and smell and heft of a book. What I have learned is that I integrate it all into the reading experience. By which I mean, I want to know how far through I am, really, not by looking at a progress bar. I want to be able to flick back and forth between chapters and stick my finger on a page two chapters ago because I remember a description or an event which is relevant to the story: what was he carrying; where was the car parked; what time did the clock on the mantelpiece say; what colour was the doctor’s coat, or hair, or front door? Sometimes it’s because the writer has made a mistake and jarred my reading, like a continuity error in a film; more often it’s a clue or a link that is important.

My e-reader presents the words, but not the sensory experience of a book. It has no personality. Whether I am reading Lord of the Rings (about 1700 pages) or The Snow Goose (about 50 pages) or a newspaper, the look and feel is the same. I left the thing lying around for over a week because I forgot about it and read a paper novel instead. I don’t forget paper novels, even when I want to (Dan Brown!).

I re-read one of my favourite books on the e-reader. I was completely unengaged. It was a shock. That is a book I read at least every couple of years because I love it so much, and every time it produces something new and interesting and beautiful I hadn’t noticed before. This time – nothing. I only knew how far through I was because I know the book so well. I had no real sense of progress while reading, no early heightened tension that I was nearing the end because the pages were running out, no feeling of achievement (not quite the word I want – perhaps commitment or solidarity with the writer?) as I looked back at pages read and a shared journey.

Immersing myself in a book is a complete and utter abandonment of the daily routine. I let go of the world around me and enter another, with all my heart and mind and even soul. It’s a risky business, opening a book. If you choose the wrong author they can scar you. It’s a drug, and you want to get the good stuff, not the stuff cut with something cheap and nasty and damaging, like the time we gave a friend a crumbled Oxo cube and told him it was top quality grass. He smoked it and told us it was really good shit, and couldn’t understand why we fell about laughing. Bless teenagers for their pranks. You don’t want an Oxo cube novel.

I’m sorry, dear little e-reader, I know you tried really hard. I do have some use for you, but it’s more restricted than either of us hoped. I still admire your sample chapters. I still like your text resizing when I am having an off-day. I appreciate being able to buy trashy novels really cheaply to fill my time, or download classic texts for nothing to enjoy. Let’s stay friends. Sadly you will never be able to replace my many shelves of dusty, crumbling books, some with pages yellowed and crumbling after only 40 years. You can’t replace my reference books yet, although one day one of your descendants will try.

Several years ago I read a book by Nicholas Negroponte about his vision of the future for technology and he talked about electronic newspapers. The e-readers we have don’t come close to what he recognised as essential – the feel and convenience of something you can roll up, fit into a pocket, that weighs almost nothing. My newspaper subscription is now cancelled. The thing doesn’t even update through the day. I was still reading the news websites to find out the latest on stories I was interested in. I now consume news on the go, and even an electronic newspaper fails to meet my learned expectation of instant gratification to know the latest regarding Richard III’s skeleton or the results of a by-election or the progress of snow from west to east. To be fair, that’s what “news” means.

I tried, my friends, I tried so hard to commit utterly and faithfully to my dear little e-reader. It was not its fault, it can only do what it can do, as can we all. Its limitations were built in and it performed mightily within them. We aren’t compatible for a full-time relationship, but I think we’ll keep in touch and spend the odd evening in each other’s company.

And in the end, is this the wisdom I have found? To work within the boundaries of what is, to work creatively and joyfully to find my way in reading to the fullest extent that I am able, and not to bemoan or begrudge what is not possible. I have choices I never used to have, and if the world does not meet my exacting expectations, then I can still obtain pleasure from what is around me. Those three or so shelves (maybe four, who’s counting?) are still waiting patiently for my time and attention, and it shall be theirs.

Namaste.

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EBL’s One and Only Style Guide

Lately my mind has been distracted by thoughts of writing. Ooh, look, pretty, pretty writing!

In particular, by thoughts about my own writing, why it is so rubbish, whether I have the capacity or intention to improve it.

Let me take you, back, dear friends, to last November. I finally succumbed and signed up for NaNoWriMo because an idea for a novel had been rumbling in my brain and I had managed to work out what that novel was. I wrote like a demon, in the sputtering glare of candles made from the tallow-grease of bankers, my quill dripping scorching acid on the vellum of politician hide. I wrote my quota, oh yes. It was all about the numbers.

Now I would quite like to turn my carefully numbered words into beautifully crafted words, but I don’t know how. I read and re-read. I am occasionally struck by a passage and think, “Not too bad, that bit!” Then I remember Johnson’s sage advice:

“I would say to Robertson what an old tutor of a college said to one of his pupils: ‘Read over your compositions, and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.'”
Boswell: Life of Johnson

My heart sinks. How can I know what is good?

I read all the advice and guidance, I read the blogs. So many of you write so beautifully and so wisely about how to write. I yearn to emulate your creativity. I started to try to write every day, and to read more, paying attention to the structure and craft as well as the story. I bought John Banfield, for heaven’s sake!

What I have learned is:

  1. Writing here almost every day is fun and means I can avoid my novel
  2. Writing here almost every day relates to my novel very little
  3. I enjoy writing here more than writing my novel

I write in this blog in a stream-of-consciousness, conversational, devil-may-care way. It’s not supposed to be great literature (which is just as well), and it’s not supposed to be eternal (also just as well, although ironically thanks to Internet caches it may well outlast some novels). It’s a bit of fun, a playground to try out new things occasionally, and a chance to share toys with other kids.

I have written in a number of styles: academic texts and papers; work reports and strategies; letters; teenage poetry (not so much a style as a hormonal imbalance). I can do them all fairly well (except the poetry), and have been told so directly so I am confident of it.  I have never written a novel, although I have read thousands.

The styles, my dears, are not at all the same. This is not a Huge Revelation, but what I am learning is that I may prefer blog-style, and may never finish my novel. I am a little sad about that because I am still quite passionate about the story and I would like to share it. It still perturbs my thoughts and prods me to pay it attention.

I have too many hobbies, and no matter how I structure my life I must decide whether to focus on a Great Work, or dabble at the water’s edge, tracing lines in the sand. My confidence suggests dabbling is less risky; I can’t really fail badly at it, or if I do, it doesn’t matter. This approach has driven my life, but lately I am more inclined to take greater risks and reap greater rewards; I am starting to grow into my purple.

Fear, as we know, is the source of conflict (hey, bloggers4peace – got you in again!), and I am conflicted.

And I enjoy your company so very much.

Namaste.

 

Not writing but drowning

I want to write. Really I do. I enjoy it, and feel so much better inside when I manage to do it.

And yet, and yet…

It’s Sunday evening and I haven’t touched the keyboard since Friday. December is the busy month, and I have been preparing for the joyful end of it, preparing for family arriving, and presents to be opened, and food to be consumed.  We love Christmas in EBL Towers, in a kind of pagan, mid-winter way, celebrating life and light and warmth when the evidence of our eyes as we look out the window is that the world is cold and dark and still. We thumb our noses at the wintry depths, so as the wheel turns and the solstice meets our deepest wish for abundance, growth and fresh greens, we are joyful.

I was relaxing after my yoga practice today and thinking about how we are so connected with the wheel of life. When I get to the relaxation at the end of the exercises, I breathe deeply and let myself go out into the world, let the boundaries between me and everything else fall away. I remember that we are all stardust, and get quite hippy in the head. Today I listened to hear what the world was doing on a frosty Sunday morning.

There was an occasional car going down the lane, although none came past our house. A few birds were chirping in the branches of the lilac tree, or scrabbling at the roof tiles. Pesky sparrows; they add an extra layer of insulation to the house though so I should be grateful. The world was quiet and listening too, so we listened together for a little while.

Even as I lay there, reaching out, the listening became a listing which began to write itself on the wall of my mind. “Laundry,” it said authoritatively. “Then wrap presents and finish knitting that hot water bottle cover you want to give to Person Who Likes Knitted Stuff. Dust and tidy. Hang up wet laundry, put in the next load. Do mother’s lunch. Sort out the box of stuff to be unpacked. Order the flowers for Friend Who has Everything. Send that recipe to Person Who Wants to Make Cheesecake. Make fish and sweet potato curry. Wash up. And oh yes, if you really must, check your blog and finish that novel.”

Well, my dears, I haven’t got through the list at all. My goodness me, I have not. But EBL is a hippy frood, who not only knows where her towel is, but put it through the wash and has a nice clean one out on the towel rail already. EBL decided to do the list in a different order.

So here I am, my dears, writing something. I haven’t done everything on the list, but I have done the essential essentials. Then I decided the next essential was to try and write. I have put the novel on hold until after the festivities, but writing, there’s the rub. I do want to carry on with that.

Is there inspiration in laundry? Brother Lawrence might have thought so. He understood that there is inspiration in everything around us; in his case he saw it as evidence of the presence of God, but you may call it something else. If you feel that it may be true, in whatever form you find most useful or meaningful, then the trick as a writer is to tap into it, and give birth to the inspiration within, yes, even in laundry.

No pressure.

For myself, I find I need to reach the still, calm point within me. I cannot drown myself in words if I am already drowning in busyness.

I don’t know how it might work for you. While I can’t hear the Muse if there is too much noise and bustle around me, I can imagine other people find it exhilarating and powerful to be surrounded by activity and chatter and commotion, and that the energy wakens and liberates their own experiences so that their words then flow.

Namaste.

Once upon a time….

Before I was seduced by the glamour and promises of glittery, shiny, popular NaNoWriMo, I found it hard to write every day. Other things happened to get in my way, like work, family, friends and basically having the attention span of a …

Sorry, back again now. Where was I? Oh yes.

Then it was like a miracle. I decided to do the November writing shuffle and try to meet a 50,000 word target. I wrote almost every day, come hell or high water. We have had flooding here so I’m not joking. The Hellmouth thing was hushed up though. It’s all true, but they hunt you down if you try to talk about it. I’ve probably said too much already.

Where was I, again?

Oh yes, the miracle of writing. Prior to NaNoWriMo, when capitals were at the beginning of proper nouns and sentences, I struggled to write regularly. I tried the fifteen minutes a day rule, I tried prompts form various places, like Plinky, or Daily Post. I tried doing those 30 days of Whatever lists. I tried, my dears, but I did not succeed.

You know what they say, of course. No, not that, the other thing. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! Honestly, do keep up!

So I tried NaNoEtc and I succeeded. Now it’s December and all those anti-writing, word-hating, finger-deadening, mind-swallowing, ideas-munching demons are back and I can’t write every day. I have done a little bit of work on Da Novel, but not as much as I would like. I have started a few posts, but they have been pretty shambolic. The least shambolic have been posted up for good measure, just to show willing.

Is it the post-NaNo stress? Did I just hold life back, but now it’s overwhelmed me? Did I win the battle, but lose the war? Is Santa to blame – because I would be doing better without his shenanigans, I can tell you.

I’ve been having fun though, visiting Offspring in the West, knitting a very little bit (that’s another target for this weekend: to finish a gift by next Tuesday), reading all the great blogs I found in November, as well as those I already followed, trying to restart the yoga now my eye is getting better, and also dealing with life’s harsh realities.

Must be off now though – quiz to print for tonight’s episode at the Village Hall.

Thanks for dropping by.

 

NaNoWriMo Finale – Looking back in celebration

So here we are, on the final day of NaNoWriMo, and clutching our total word counts in delight or not, pride or not, amazement or not.

NaNoWriMo, how do I thank thee? Let me count the ways…

  1. Without you, I would not have written my story without the push to achieve the word count. It has been sitting on my computer in embryo for months.
  2. Without you, I would not have read so many great blogs without the immersion in the process. I loved discovering all those great bloggers and learning from them.
  3. Without you, I would not have considered that I dare call myself a writer. I learned that being a writer is about what I do, not what other people say.
  4. Without you, I would not have discovered that the difficulties I faced were normal and surmountable. If other writers face them and have ways of dealing with them, then I can too, and it doesn’t mean I can’t write.
  5. Without you, I would not have found help in thinking about structure and form and all those things that turn a good idea into an actual novel.
  6. Without you, I would not have discovered that I can write a novel, and actually I can’t write short stories (at least, not yet).
  7. Without you, I would not also have rediscovered the pleasure I take in blogging. I may not continue an almost daily blog, in the interests of humanity, but I know I genuinely want to do it more often than in the past.
  8. Without you, Sigoth may never have plotted his own novel. OK, he’s still not actually writing – but maybe by next year.
  9. Without you, I would not have learned that, for me, writing is an important tool for my own mental well-being. I feel happier and calmer by writing regularly.
  10. Without you, I would not have had the nerve to finish a list of things at less than ten. Oh, wait…

I can be all cheery because I reached the word count. I’ll let you into a secret though. I don’t like to fail targets – it’s why I like project management. I accepted the deadline because I was already confident I had a full novel to write, and I already knew I could produce volumes of words from having written a dissertation. I do SMART.

In a moment of characteristically indulgent self-reflection: did I take a goal that I was confident would be easy (low expectation and low challenge) or did I avoid setting myself up to fail (managed expectation with genuine challenge)? I have never done NaNoWriMo in previous years, but this year I had a story clearly in my head and over 10k already written. My novel is well over 60k now.

If I look at myself from the outside, as best I can, I am amused to notice I am already playing down the fact I did write a lot of words. I am giving reasons for why it was no big deal, why it wasn’t special. Well, I am British, after all.

It has taken me a number of years to reach this target, not just 30 days. So I will give myself a small pat on the back, and move on. Well done for persistence, EBL, you old tortoise, you.

I had to write this story. It simply would not fit inside my head any more. Whether anyone else ever reads it is less important; it isn’t going to bring about peace in the Middle East or feed the starving. It is now birthed. As any parent knows, the next bit is harder still. Potty training might be tricky. To be honest, I am dreading the teenage years already.

Whatever writing you have done this month, I hope you are happy if you have written at all, or that you have enjoyed reading what others have written. I have managed both for this short while, and I am grateful. Now I plan to continue at a reduced rate, and catch up on my knitting as well.

Namaste.

 

NaNoWriMo day 25 – looking back in contentment

It is a truth universally acknowledged that it is not very fashionable to be contented. We must all strive ever harder for more and more things, most of which need to be upgraded, replaced or renewed at ever-decreasing intervals.

So today I had an unfashionable day. Various offspring might be inclined to comment wryly that perhaps, mother, you don’t have any other kind of day. To which I might retort, somewhat tartly, that actually yes I have, thank you so very much, as recently as 15 August 1976. Now go and do something useful, like the washing up.

Unfashionable? Why so, EBL?

Let me tell you. Today I was simply content with the things going on in my life. I don’t need no education, I don’t need no thought control, advertisers leave this kid alone!

I didn’t promise this was going to be an exciting post, did I? No? Thank goodness for that. I don’t like to break promises. To prove it, I kept one today which I made to myself, so no living humans were at risk of harm. I reached my 50k word count for NaNoWriMo. Yay.

Regular readers will be aware that yesterday I came within a gnat’s whisker of it anyway, so this is perhaps not a surprise. I was, however, buoyed up to read that an author whose work I quite enjoy blogged to say he had written 40k since 1 November on his new novel, and he reckoned that was 90% of the job done. He’s a real author and publishes lots of books and is actually quite popular, so I felt in good company. Admittedly his first draft is more likely to resemble a real novel than mine, but it’s a good start.

Lots more work to do on my novel, but the barrier is overcome, the basic body of work is there. In a sense, the Rubicon is crossed. I am now editing, not writing afresh. I have produced something akin to a novel. For the moment, I am content with that.

I am also aware hard work is to follow, but I am content with that too.

Further contentment ensued as I sat in front of the fire, caught up on emails, did a job I had been putting off, and then in the afternoon, went to visit Sigoth’s parents and his cousin and new spouse on a visit from NZ. Tea, cakes and chat are pleasant occupations for a Sunday afternoon. This is especially true if they are provided by other people so that there are no significant implications of the washing up or clearing away variety. What made this even more enjoyable (I know! More!) was the fact that we spent quite a lot of time talking about books.

Oh, the luxury! I haven’t had a good book discussion in ages. We had similar tastes as well, so books Sigoth’s Cousin had enjoyed and recommended are now on my list of possible purchases. I realise I miss this kind of conversation very much so I will now have to get my thinking cap on about how to do something about that. Sigoth and I can have rousing discussions, even rumbustious ones, including some robust exchanges of views (for which, read “arguments”), but in the end we are only two people who have spent so long together now that we can read each other’s thoughts. It’s like talking to yourself.

 

Contentment, if we can only recognise it, is a wonderful gift. My batteries feel recharged, after a virtual soak in a hot bath for the soul.

I wish you bubbles and candlelight and clean, soapy goodness, real or virtual (or both) as you prefer.

Namaste.

NaNoWriMo day 24 – looking back in lists

Just ticking off the words: 49,891 so far. Or as NaNoWriMo would say, “Words Remaining 109; Words Per Day To Finish On Time 19”. That looks achievable.

Anyway, I have another 10k in hand from pre-November, and as I mentioned previously, I don’t care about word count per se. I just don’t like to give false impressions to those who take the challenge properly. After all, I reckon both “The Uncommon Reader” and “War and Peace” count as published literature, even if one is a novella and the other is a doorstop.

Yesterday was a day for ticking things off a list.

My first job, as I indicated yesterday , was to upload my posts, and to read the blogs I follow (thank you all for being so lovely and warm and witty and inspiring!). I had shoddy Internet connectivity all morning until I gave in and switched the router off and on again. Sometimes it’s best to get back to basics, unless you are a politician, in which case you are an idiot. (Although that’s an oxymoron.) My interpretation of back to basics is that you start with solid foundations and build up from there. In political terms it appears to mean leaving vulnerable people to die in the gutter and sending single mothers to asylums or condoning the casual wife beater because he uses a stick no wider than his thumb.

Anyway, moving on…it would seem the technotroubles have left me a little irritable this morning. I haven’t had my coffee yet, either, although the smell of it brewing is soothing me slightly. Lord, give me patience, right now!

Back to the list then. Sigoth spent the day putting up long-awaited shelves in the bedroom alcove. Admittedly that was his list, but a list is a list. He’s such a treasure. I think part of the reason was to leave me to get on with this alleged novel. He has plans for one himself, so hopefully he will make a start on it soon. We keep talking about the plot but it’s a bit tricky. We agree it might be better as a series of related short stories, but Sigoth likes to have everything ready before starting, whereas I charge in like a bull in a china shop and just write any old rubbish.

I admit, but only to you, dear friends (ssh, don’t tell Sigoth), that he has a point. Although I wrote 3344 words yesterday in a sort of edit mode, I spent too long doing it because I was trying to sequence everything. I wrote minus-822 words at one point after I slashed a section in a frenzy of self-criticism. That was largely caused by not writing in order. It doesn’t help that there are lots of flashbacks either – at what point do I introduce them to the reader? At this point it mat help to imagine EBL clutching her head in mortal anguish.

In real life I am a project manager. I do plans and contingencies and risks and deadlines for my actual paid living. It’s true. Not only that, I do it pretty well most of the time. I manage IT projects to time, quality and budget. I should have a medal.

EBL, wait to edit later. This is still November! Patience, cherie.

I also realised I need to learn Spanish. Either that or I have to relocate part of the story from the Spanish civil war to the Germans walking into Paris, as I do have sufficient French and, indeed, German. It puts me out by a few years but might be better. The actual conflict is less important than the fact it was a conflict, if that makes sense. I just need trauma, people!

So, lists. I wish you wouldn’t keep distracting me…

The next thing to tick off was changing the bed and washing the sheets, which I accomplished with aplomb and grace, as always.

The rest of the list included things like washing up, dusting and hoovering, and sorting out the linen cupboard. Not so successful, in that they didn’t happen at all. It is generally understood that artists have to suffer for their art, so I have to manage to cope with a dusty house and chaotic linen cupboard. I’m being brave about it; I knew the risks when I started this job. Plus the house is always dusty but now I have an excuse. You can’t argue with Art. She always wins. (Unless you are a politician – see above.)

And finally, as the Two Ronnies would say, a glass of wine, Sarah Lund, knitwear and adrenaline. Some things are sacrosanct.

Tak for læsning.