Why reading five books at a time isn’t crazy

Crocheted Kindle sleeves
Crochet sleeves for my Kindle

Adding a fifth book today to my ‘currently reading’ list on GoodReads isn’t as crazy or confusing as it might look.

Earlier this week I read an article on LinkedIn about how to be a more productive reader that really resonated with me. Ever since joining GoodReads just over a year ago at the recommendation of some friends, I’ve rediscovered my love of reading, and have made a more concerted effort to read more.

When I joined at the end of March last year, my goal was to read 12 books before the end of the year. Being able to monitor my progress led to me finishing double that amount, including the long-term reading project of Ulysses. I’m now looking likely to exceed my 2016 reading goal of 32 books in the next couple of months at the rate that I’m reading, although I’m not likely to exceed 100 books per year as the author of the article does.

Usually I would have two or maybe three books on the go, often flitting between fiction and non-fiction as the mood struck me. A third book was added after starting to read books on the Kindle app on my phone in December last year and having access to books while on the go.

Edwin gave me a Kindle for my birthday, not only because he knows I love to read, but because he blames reading on the bright screen of my phone as the cause of my complaints about needing to go to the optometrist. Since receiving the Kindle, I’ve noticed that my reading speed has gotten faster. As commented in the article on being a productive reader, it’s possible to read faster on a Kindle than a hard copy book. Plus, reading is a skill, the more you read, and the more often, the faster you will become.

Today I bought an ebook and opted to pay the additional amount for the narrated Audible version. I’m interested in testing out listening to more audiobooks as another way of reading more books. So while I crocheted a new cover for my Kindle this morning (I wasn’t happy with the first one I’d finished on a plane) I decided to start listening to my audiobook, making it the fifth book on my currently reading list.

I listened for an hour and half while I crocheted, I listened for 25 minutes while on the treadmill and I listened for another half an hour while doing the dishes. So over the course of today, I managed to add an extra two and a half hours of reading into my day. Wow!

So by having books available to you in different formats – hard copy, ebook, audiobook – it really does open up so many more possibilities and enable you to get through more books than you think is possible.

For the record, I’m currently reading the following:
Hard copy: The Buccaneers by Edith Wharton which is on my bedside table and Collected Stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez a short story collection where I’m reading one story a day during my lunch break at work.
On the Kindle: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg which I am slowly making my way through, reading a chapter or idea and then letting it sink in over the course of a week or two and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante which is the third book in the Neapolitan series and has short chapters.
On Audible: The Forgotten Family by Beryl Matthews, which while it isn’t my first audiobook, it’s the first one I’ve listened to that wasn’t originally on a CD.

How many books do you have on the go? Do you read in different formats, or stick with one book format?

Published! In Was Gabo an Irishman?

Towards the end of last year I received an email with an invitation to submit a story for an anthology of essays by foreigners uncovering how the works of the great Maestro, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, had shaped their opinions of, or revealed to them, the real Colombia.

I was very excited and immediately knew that I wanted to write about the magical realism of life in Santa Marta that I’d seen firsthand when I first moved to Colombia.

At around the same time I participated in a workshop as part of my work where visiting professors from my home state of Victoria delivered a capacity building program to Colombian PhD supervisors and doctoral candidates. While I fit into neither of these categories, I found the program informative for my work and quite motivational for my personal projects, particularly the piece about writing a thesis or a journal article, and the work involved to craft the story in a coherent way, and tips for making time to write.

I told the professor, Ron Adams, about the invitation and he was very encouraging. And so I started to write. I planned out the story looking at what I wanted the overall theme to be, and also made a list of the anecdotes I wanted to include.

Despite not sticking to my writing plan for a number of entirely valid procrastination excuses, I managed to finish my story and submit it from a hotel in Chile right on the deadline with a mixture of triumph, anticipation and guilt at not having kept to my plan and submitting something that wasn’t quite as polished as I had hoped – but then is it ever really going to be perfect?

In January I received the exciting news that my words would be published, not just virtually on my blog, or in some dull work report, but actually in printed in ink and bound into a book that would be for sale. My story about the beliefs and superstitions I lived amongst in Santa Marta was going to be included alongside two dozen other writers. As I told Edwin that my story was going to be printed in a book, he was very excited, although his excitement grew even further when he learned that he was my muse and that his name was going in print as well.

You see, as we discuss the pros and cons of starting a family together, it is Edwin’s strong desire to leave a legacy behind. He wants our story to be handed down and for our genes and surnames to entwine into a living breathing person. That is the legacy he wants. I think it is quite a common sentiment for many people, however I am not one of them. I don’t see numerous offspring as perpetuating my impact, or importance, in the world after I am gone. It’s not how I need to be remembered. I’m not sure that Edwin’s mind will be changed, even now that our love story is written down and published and being read by thousands of strangers, yet for me, this is more like what my legacy looks like.

I’ve never written down our story before, not even here. I have often thought about writing a post describing how we met, and I’m sure there’s a draft started somewhere but the perfect public forum for telling it was meant to be in the book Was Gabo An Irishman? Tales from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Colombia. We each have our own versions of telling the story of how we met and fell in love, each weaving different threads together and elaborating it with our individual recollections, yet the stories are very different in English and Spanish which is what I guess makes it fabulous as an oral history.

I’m seven stories away from finishing Was Gabo An Irishman? and I know that when I finish it, there will be a sadness because there will be no more incredible personal stories to absorb, admire, amaze and relate to in the accuracy of their observations.

My great thanks go to the editors and founders of this wonderful project, Caroline Doherty de Novoa, Victoria Kellaway and Richard McColl. They have pulled together all these people with interesting stories to tell and have done so in a polished and professional way. I know my story is far better for their insightful comments and fabulous editing and I’m really very chuffed to have my writing alongside such talented and accomplished people.

So now the only thing left is for you buy a copy and read not just my story of falling in love with Edwin and Colombia, but all of these wonderful tales of love, war, magic and most of all, real people.

From overseas you can purchase a copy of Was Gabo An Irishman? via Amazon at this link and by clicking through you can also read a far more enticing description.

In Bogota, the book is available at:

La Madriguera del Conejo bookshop, Carrera 11 #85-52

The Book Hotel,  Carrera 5 #57-79

If you do buy the book, I’d love to hear your feedback!

And as a final note, I’d like to share the fabulous quote preceding my story Bewitched in Santa Marta on page 187.

Crazy people are not crazy if one accepts their reasoning. – Of Love and Other Demons

 

A Book Swap Party

A couple of weeks ago I received an invitation to a book swap party being held by a colleague of mine and upon reading the rules (one book per person and something you enjoyed) I felt instant regret for having left my latest, greatest read The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert in Australia with my mum after my recent trip back. Why regret? Well you see my bookshelf here in Colombia doesn’t exactly contain a lot of good, intelligent reads. It’s actually a bit embarrassing and given that I knew the other invitees would be book and writing people, I found myself wishing that I had brought Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest masterpiece back with me to share at this event.

But life should not be about regrets, so I set about analysing the books that met the following criteria:

1. I had read, and finished, the book

2. I was prepared to part with it

There were 15 books that I had read, and of those, there 2 that form part of my Latin American collection, and therefore are loanable, but un-giveawayable.

The 13 books included 3 rural Australian romances, 2 historical romances, Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy, 1 American chick lit, 1 hideously self-indulgent autobiography, Pride and Prejudice and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

In the end, the toss up was between one of the rural Australian romances Mum had left behind and had inadvertently inspired me to write a few chapters of a similar genre and The Book Thief. I chose The Book Thief. Not just because for a book swap party it is quite apt, but because there is a story behind how I came to have it in my possession.

I wanted to share the book’s story with whoever selected my book to take home. A book is not just about the story contained within the pages, but the journey it has taken. In essence there are two stories for every book and I wanted to tell the unwritten one.

The story of my copy of The Book Thief goes like this:

This book was given to me by Emily in July 2011. I met Emily in Asheville, North Carolina during my solo roadtrip across the US and then I stayed with her and her extremely hospitable family in Connecticut a few weeks later. As I was preparing to leave and hit the road to Vermont, Emily ran inside and came out with The Book Thief. She told me that it was one of her favourite books and she wanted to share it with me. I had heard about it, but hadn’t read it before.

The book travelled with me back to my base in Los Angeles where I left it while I took a life-changing trip to Colombia. In October 2011 I took the book (and a suitcase of other personal effects) to my new boyfriend’s home in Santa Marta to await my return in mid 2012 to live in Colombia.

Two and a half years passed before I finally took it off the bookshelf and opened it up to read, prodded by the pending release of the film adaptation.

Maybe it was the high expectation I had of it being someone else’s favourite book, favourite and important enough to gift to a passing traveller, or perhaps it is the quietly sinister and odd narration, but it didn’t end up in my category of favourite books. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t a page-turner demanding me to devour it. That said, it is an interesting story and unique in it’s style. I like the peppering of German words, which really do help to firmly set the story in Germany and take you away to that place, even if you don’t know what they mean. And, it’s written by a fellow Australian.

I am swapping this book so that it can continue on its journey in the spirit with which I came to have it. I hope it passes through many more hands over the years, further adding to its own story.

There were so many interesting books shared and while I missed out on Laura Esquivel’s Swift as Desire, which would have been a great addition to my Latin America bookshelf, I came home with another book adapted for the silver screen, Atonement by Ian McEwan.

Perhaps the greatest gift out of the party was the inspiration to write this post. The desire to put my fingers to the keyboard instead of my crochet hook and get back to writing.

World Book Day & What I’m Reading

AmorToday is World Book and Copyright Day, promoting reading, publishing and copyright and also Spanish Language Day so while I listen to the live streaming of the national Gabolectura a simultaneous reading of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s No One Writes to The Colonel across Colombia’s libraries, plazas and parks – I figure it’s a good time to share what I’m currently reading in Spanish.

I’ve written before about the disappointing lack of a reading culture in Colombia, yet the death of the nation’s most famous author and Nobel Prize in Literature winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez last Thursday has catapulted literature and reading to the front page and top of mind in all Colombians. In response to the passing of this national icon (although he lived in Mexico) the country is in mourning and the government has organised a week of activities celebrating his life and literature. One of the initiatives is today’s national reading of his novella No One Writes to the Colonel and giving away over 12,000 copies of the book to promote reading and to encourage families to read aloud. So great is the movement that mi novio, who rarely picks up a book, has said that now he wants to read Gabo’s most famous work One Hundred Years of Solitude. I hope he will, and I hope that it encourages others to read his work and savour delicious descriptions and eccentric characters. I know am.

I have to admit to reading very little apart from the newspaper in Spanish. When I read novels I like to devour them and reading in Spanish is a much slower process for me, however I like to always have a book in Spanish on the go alongside another in English. For Christmas mi novio gave me Amor by Isabel Allende. It is an anthology of stories of love in all its forms with a personal commentary and Isabel’s own memories followed by selected passages from her books. I think it is the perfect format for non-native Spanish speakers and it definitely suits my reading style in Spanish as it includes short excerpts from books I’ve already read in English and I can easily pick it up and read a few pages and put it down again without losing the sentiment between readings. It’s also nice to know I’m reading her actual words and not those of the translator interpreting her phrases into English equivalents.

So, while I’m reading a book in Spanish by a Chilean author on this day of international celebration of books and Spanish language, I’d like to encourage you to add a book by a Latin American or Spanish author to your reading list and open your mind to another perspective.

 

El Alquimista – reading in Spanish

I have just finished reading my first book in Spanish.

The Alquimist cover, in Spanish
The copy I gave mi novio

Yay me!

It took me awhile, but I finally got to the end.

It started in Bogota in September last year. I was wandering the streets one Saturday morning and in a little plaza off Calle Septima, I found a tiny used book store. Unlike most bookstores we’re used to, there weren’t any aisles to browse, just shelves of books behind a glass counter.

I asked if they had The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, indisputably my favourite book, one I have read at least 7 times in English and gifted to others many more times. I figured that since I already knew the story so well, I would understand it even if I didn’t know all the words.

They showed me a few copies and I selected a lovely embossed paperback that felt slightly furry. It was beautiful. In between a couple of pages I discovered a homemade bookmark of tiny pressed flowers arranged and laminated. That was a lovely surprise.

I started reading and it was slow going because I noted every unfamiliar word in my book and at the end of each section, I consulted the dictionary, translated and reread the passage again.

My progress stalled when I went looking for a copy for mi novio in Santa Marta. It seemed that in a city of half a million people there was only one bookstore, and they didn’t have a copy of The Alchemist. I tried a stationery store that had a few books as well, and the large supermarket chain Exito, and even held out hope to find a copy from a street vendor but I couldn’t find it anywhere in Santa Marta. Out of options, I decided to give mi novio the beloved copy I’d bought in Bogota.

Cover of El Alquimista, the 2oth anniversary edition
My copy of The Alchemist

I found my current copy of The Alchemist, a 20th anniversary commemorative hardback in the spiritual section of a fancy bookshop in Cartagena’s old city and I brought it back home with me to keep practising my Spanish.

During certain times, I get the urge to reread The Alchemist. Usually it’s a feeling of being out of control or when I’m feeling like the road ahead is long, boring and hard. Paulo Coelho’s words help me to see that everything is connected and it is all part of the journey.

Being away from mi novio for such a long time is so hard and one day I decided I needed to read The Alchemist to feel better. Since I’d already started it in Spanish, I said to myself “Righto, I should finish reading it in Spanish.”  But I didn’t want to trudge my way through it with a dictionary in hand so I made the decision to just jump right in, forget about the words I didn’t know and just keep reading.

This is probably one of the best things I could  have done. I came across about 3 or 4 words per page that I didn’t understand. Some I figured out just by reading, and others I guessed. Only a handful still baffled me, but the most important thing was I was reading and following the story! When learning another language one of the eureka moments is when you are able to read a book in that language. Starting with books you’ve already read in your native language makes it easier to follow the story in another.

I’m already looking forward to having another one of those “I need to read The Alchemist” moments, but the next one will most likely be

“Bueno, necesito leer El Alquimista.”

Do you speak more than one language? What was the first book you read in another language?

Curled up in a bookstore

I’ve just popped into Denver to go to the Tattered Cover which has been talked about endlessly on NPR.

It is fabulous and all wooden inside. Floors, beams, ceilings, bookshelves, furniture. It’s all wooden.

It has a coffee shop, is cosy and feels like a place of great knowledge. It’s kind of like a library, but better because the hush isn’t from fear of librarian wrath but from the peace of those inside. Sipping a coffee, hiding in a cosy nook and thumbing the pages of a good book are part of the charm of this place.

It is well-lit with soft, vintage ceiling lights – no harsh fluoro lights. The books are given plenty of space to hold their own the shelf, falling over slightly in a “pick me up” repose that makes you curious beyond the cover. Staff picks and displays abound, making ever corner you turn a new discovery.

I imagine this would be a great place to escape on a cold Denver day.

I’m excited because I now have 18 hours of Isabel Allende’s Island Beneath the Sea to listen to on my roadtrip and fill in the miles of highway to my next destination.

A great volunteer experience

What are you reading? wall
What are you reading?

Awhile back, whilst on a search for new friends in LA, I decided to volunteer at the Festival of Books.

Today dawned my first of two shifts at the LA Times Festival of Books and although I’m not so concerned with making friends now as I’m about to embark on a great American roadtrip, I came away from the day after having talked to a number of Americans and having a great time.

Wearing my wide-brimmed hat I’d bought in Venice Beach, I opted for an outdoor volunteering role (in spite of the suddenly 30ºC heat) and found myself being line monitor for a number of book signings with authors I’d never heard of before. My job description said I had to ensure that the lines were orderly, people were happy and that they only had three books for signing. I also had to hand out little post-it notes for the people who wanted their books inscribed with their names. Just so’s the authors could spell it correctly.

I was kind of surprised to note that the other volunteers in my area avoided people. They avoided speaking to them and they avoided being in places where they might be asked a question from a guest at the festival, like behind the signing booths, or sitting under a tree. I put myself out there. I made, or in some situations, tried to make, conversation with people in the lines. Not only was I helping their time in the line move along faster, but I was staving off the boredom I would feel if I didn’t have conversations with people. I also used this opportunity for my own good, and found tips and suggestions from people for my roadtrip.

Most of the people I spoke with were probably of the RV crowd, and they were excited to share their thoughts on various destinations across America. I used the Sharpies and post-its to take notes. I heard about national parks and cities and various routes. It was great research.

When the authors and book signings had thinned out a bit, I stood near the stack of programs and maps to help people out. Most were looking for the children’s area. I wasn’t just going to sit about. I had volunteered because I wanted to meet people. I want to note a few of the characters I met:

  • The guy who asked me what my native language was then wore a surprised look when I said “English”. He thought I was Asian as he’d taught a number of Chinese, Malaysian and Korean students. This is the first time someone has told me I look Asian. I think this guy just looked stupid.
  • The ebayers. This type of festival goer can be easily picked by their trolleys and canvas bags laden with books. They are professionals and linger all day to get all the signatures. They are typically older- say in their fifties – are plain looking, overweight and have ruddy faces.
  • The young guy wearing a black CAA cap (Creative Artists Agency – a major Hollywood agency) perched on his black hair, a green t-shirt and jeans that gaped to show the elastic of his underwear when he sat down. He also hung around the signing area for a good portion of the day. He struck up conversations with others in the line about whether they’d read the book and then spoke at length to one of the more popular authors who said to call him after he’d read a couple of books.
  • The volunteer from Christian College with short blonde hair and tattoos circling her forearms who looked like someone from home. Her and her friend hardly said boo.
  • The volunteer author escort with shaking hands who barrelled up to me and said at rapid-fire, heightened-stress pace “I have the mystery panel here, where are they supposed to go?” I pointed him in the direction of my bookworm supervisor because I had no idea what he was talking about. I had equated mystery with potluck, and so I thought it was like some kind of mystery hotel deal, you don’t know who you’re seeing until you get there. In reality, it was a panel of mystery authors. I think the yellow t-shirt I was wearing reflected onto my hair making it look blonde.

After my shift finished I wandered through the festival, still being stopped and asked where the nearest restrooms were and the children’s area. I got to sit in on hearing a woman demonstrate how to bind books, pick up a free postcard, buy a stack of discounted Lonely Planet guidebooks and enter a competition to have a private screening of a Focus Features film. It was really fun. And I get to go back tomorrow.