A Return to a Bad Reading Habit: Anxiety and Comfort in the Known

I have struggled long and hard to come up with a post topic for today. It’s too late the night before and I’m just beginning to type. This is why I don’t last minute things. I finally thought of a topic, and as I mulled it over in my mind it seemed familiar. I flipped through my old posts and what do you know, I’ve tackled it before.

That’s never a good sign.

Specifically, I wanted to talk about getting stuck in books you know. While rereading my post, A Bad Reading Habit: Anxiety and Comfort in the Known, I had to cringe. Why? One, I’ve fallen off the wagon yet again and keep picking up books I know off the shelf instead of getting new ones finished. Two, months ago I started doing the same thing with my regular TV shows. This particular habit I hadn’t realized until last week when my mom tried to turn on a season premiere and I tensed from head to toe and nearly starting yelling at her. Can you say over-reaction? I was floored.

The good news, if there is any, is that compared to when I wrote the first post, my social life has improved. Actually, my social life has exploded. The day job life has semi-imploded. I’m not sleeping well. My exercise routines are constantly interrupted. And I am struggling to balance coursework with writing and the day job.

I’ve been making a lot of big changes in my personal life recently and making big plans. Obviously, these things are major sources of anxiety for me. I’m not dealing with them properly because they’re bleeding over into other facets of my life in strange ways. Who has a panic attack over TV?

Granted, the world around us is not helping me feel better. Yesterday (as I type this) over 50 people were killed at a concert. Two young women were stabbed to death. And a cop was struck by a car and stabbed by a perpetrator who then ran a truck into pedestrians on a sidewalk. That last one was very close to home. I won’t even get into climate change and starving animals being destroyed or anything else.

It’s difficult to feel hopeful in these times. It’s difficult to motivate myself to look forward and work towards the future. I find I’m very emotional lately and dealing with even fictional surprises seems to be more than I can handle on a regular basis.

That’s the end of my whining. I guess I’m sad today. I’m going to give myself a break and allow myself to revel in the safe and familiar when things get bad. But I’m not allowed to hide there.

Interesting Finds

As usual, I am all over the place with the items I’ve culled from the internet. But there’s gold here. Enjoy!

This kid dropping the mic on hate fills me with hope for the future.

I can’t decide if I’m inspired to sign with a portrait like these other writers or not. I’ll practice.

I know it’s the end of September and Harvey the storm is behind the people of Texas (not to negate any long term effects, mind you), but the Post put up this fascinating infographic—see what you’d be standing in if your city was hit by Harvey-level water. I’d be standing in 1.4’ of water. My previous address would be under 6.6’.

Prepare to drool over these bookstores. I’m equally saddened and relieved one isn’t close to me. I’d never leave.

I will never be accused of being an optimist. Honestly, it’s always wrung hollow for me. I’m a realist, a pragmatist. This article helps explains why I feel that way, and I’m on board for new optimism.

This woman led historical house tours on a plantation—some of the comments she heard from people trying to explain away slavery and racism had every hair on my body standing up in rage. But it’s still worth the read!

Everything you ever wanted to know about medieval manuscripts. When I’m rich and famous I will have one!

Update On: A New Way of Keeping Tabs, Reader Edition

Can you believe it’s nearly the end of September already? My August dragged its feet, but right now it feels like I blinked and the solstice has hurried itself closer. Sunday night I submitted my final exam for my current course, so right now I am exhilarating in the warm swell of post-exam lassitude. I’m also fighting a bug; I apologize for any apparent lack of coherency today.

Since we’re three-fourths-and-a-bit of the way through the year, I thought it was about time I wrote an update on my previous post, A New Way of Keeping Tabs: Things in My Face, Reader Edition. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure my wall tracker is helping me accomplish my reading goal.

When it comes to writing, my tracker is more about helping me stay on top of my volume goal. When I use it—by which I mean when I don’t fall behind with the actual tracking—I never miss a week of getting my words in. I’m not finding a similar sense of accomplishment carrying over to my reading.

For instance, I just finished my 27th book of the year. In the grand scheme of things, that’s a decent amount read. In my little world, that’s pathetic. The main issue keeping me from getting more read completed is my lack of making it a priority. I don’t make time to read, plain and simple. I squeeze it in when I can, which isn’t enough. The exact same issue is tied to my writing; however, because I have deadlines, I get more writing done.

Yes, I’m terribly hard on myself. And I have a lot on my plate right now. But I have so many unread books—all of which are sitting directly behind me, accusingly—and I want to read all of them because they’re going to be amazing. I’m annoyed with myself because I can’t seem to make reading important. I live to read, so what is my problem?

I don’t have an answer, but I do know beating myself up about it is probably not going to help in the long run. Still. The numbers sitting on my tracker disappoint me; perhaps I need to channel that disappointment into action instead of letting it get me down. I have three and half-ish months to catch up. Let’s see if I can do it.

Have you challenged yourself to read more this year? How are you doing?

Rereading, Or Coming Back at the Right Time

This past weekend, I attended the readercon When Words Collide. I know I’ve talked about it before, but just in case: it’s a writing conference that also caters to readers, hence the name. This year marked my fifth year of attendance–yes, I can’t believe I’ve been to that many.

Each year there are big name guests, just as there are at any kind of festival. This year, Guy Gavriel Kay was one of the guests of honour. I haven’t read a ton Kay’s work, but those which I have have left their mark on me as a reader and a writer. He always makes it onto my favourite writers lists.

Anyway, Saturday morning writer David B. Coe basically interviewed Kay for 50 minutes. Not only did I learn so much about applying other passions to one’s writing, but it was so much fun to sit and watch because Coe basically bounced in his chair the whole time. Yeah, he’s a huge fan of Kay.

There was too much to take away to discuss here–especially about an ancient Chinese dynasty. But Kay said one thing that truly resonated with me as a reader. I can’t recall it verbatim, so here is my translation:

There’s a reason I’m such a big believer in rereading. You can pick up a book and nothing about it will work for you. Then six months later you’ll pick it up and it’s one of the best stories you’ve ever read. Those six months change you into a different person. We’re so mutable as humans, and what we bring to a book, even one we’ve read before, is always changing.

Currently, I’m rereading Kelley Armstrong’s Cainsville series because the final book is coming out today and I can’t recall everything that has happened in finite detail. Plus, I hated the first book when I read it. Armstrong is one of my favourite authors and I have never disliked anything I’ve read by her. But her main character and I did not mesh, and my dislike of her coloured my reading of the first and, I’ll admit, second book.

Coming back to them now is amazing. I’m not in such an anxious place myself now so my personal life isn’t colouring the main character like it did the first time (also knowing how she grows as a character further into the series helps too). This allowed me to enjoy the story so much more. In addition, because I read the books as they come out each August, I didn’t realize the timeline is so short across the series arc. The second book has picked up a couple of weeks after the first one ended. And I’m seeing so many little things that meant nothing to me when I first read them that I know are foreshadowing parts in books further along. It’s awesome!

I’ll also add that this is not the first time I’ve come back to a book and it worked much better the second time around. I’ve done the same with Wuthering Heights, one of my favourite books of all time; Sex and War, an excellent study on the nature of sexual violence as a tool of war; The Hobbit; and The Scarlett Letter, which I basically didn’t comprehend the first time I read it at 13 years old.

I have always argued that people should reread books. I think you take away something new, or at least appreciate something new, every time you read them. Kay’s statement has only bolstered my argument: you get to learn something new about yourself each time too.

Part of me felt guilty starting Omens because I have so many unread books on my shelves. But I’m loving meeting everyone all over again. I made the right choice.

Are there any books you’ve reread that hit the mark the second time around?

Historical Fiction

Guess who forgot August 1st was the first Tuesday of the month? Then just lost her mind in regards to posting this? Yes, that’s me waving! I’m just diving in.

A few weeks ago, my Teenreads newsletter hit my inbox and I carefully perused the latest YA titles that’ll be hitting shelves soon. I love the Teenreads’ breakdown because they don’t simply list all of their titles, they also provide genre labels.

I happened to see “historical fiction” so I stopped to read the book’s synopsis. I was shocked to learn that the book in question was set in the 1990s. I’m a ’90s baby. And I am not old—I’m not even 30! As far as I’m concerned the ’90s are not historical fiction. It might have gotten my back up.

Later, while I was trying to sleep, I couldn’t help but wonder what I do consider historical fiction. Stories set in the ’70s? ’60s? ’50s? I couldn’t decide. So I decided to look into it.

This speech by Sarah Johnson of the Historical Novel Society turned out to be an excellent resource. Two parts jumped out at me while reading.

First, her definition of Historical Fiction: “My journal, the Historical Novels Review, has a working definition, which we use for consistency purposes in deciding which books to review. To us, a ‘historical novel’ is a novel which is set fifty or more years in the past, and one in which the author is writing from research rather than personal experience.”

Second, this statement that I feel explains how the label became affixed to the novel that sparked this post in the first place: “I’d say that books are called historical fiction by the publishing world only when no other words could possibly be used to describe them.”

Now I have to backtrack a bit because my research has led me to discover that not everyone knows, or can decide on, what historical fiction actually is.

I came across this site in my travels that I completely disagree with for a number of reasons. The main one is applicable to this post: Despite what the writer says, alternate history is not historical fiction—it’s fantasy. Maybe general fiction depending on what happens and to whom.

For me, historical fiction does it’s best to portray history as close to the facts as possible. Depending on the author, they may have to change a few or many things to make the story work. Compare these prime examples: Diana Gabaldon and Philippa Gregory. Over two lengthy series, Gabaldon has made the conscious choice to change two—yes two—historical events in all of her books to make the story work. She stays true to history to a near fanatical degree. Gregory, on the other hand, has always played it a bit fast and loose with her characters, but she stays true to the major historical points and (in)famous people she depicts.

It all comes down to two things: one, historical fiction depicts the true past; and, two, the writer has done their research, not written a memoir or used their own memories to create the setting. If you’re interested, this thread on Library Thing covers a lot of what I, and Sarah Johnson, believe about historical fiction.

What are your thoughts on historical fiction? I didn’t know I had such strong feelings.