Saturday, January 26, 2013

12 Ways to Read More Books This Year

Cindi Trainor/Creative Commons License
 “I wish I had the time to read.” I hear customers say this at the bookstore almost every day as they pick out piles of DVDs. Even some of the employees lament that they don’t have the time to read as much as they’d like (or at all). They say this, of course, after break room conversations about how fast they went through all the seasons of The Wire. It’s telling that I don’t hear many people complaining about wishing they had more time to watch TV or surf the net.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of priority, and if reading is something you truly want to do more of, you’ll find the time. If you’re thinking along those lines, here are some suggestions to help motivate you. All of the tricks won’t work for all people, as we all read differently. Find one or two that work for you.

I’ve written these with those who only read infrequently in mind. The voracious readers among you probably already do some of these things -- or not. You may have your own tips. If so, share them in the comments section.

1. Pick a book all by yourself.

Maybe the reason you haven’t finished a book lately is because you let popularity dictate your choice. Regardless of the sales figures, sparkly vampires, teen wizards, and 50 shades of S&M aren’t to everyone’s taste. Try this: go to a bookstore, either physically or online, and look around. Read the jacket flaps. Find something that sounds interesting to you, regardless of whether or not it was recommended by Oprah, your hairdresser, or NPR.

2. Keep a book with you at all times.

I once had to go to jury selection, and I ended up waiting in an auditorium for hours. This was before iPhones, mind you, and out of the hundred or more people there, I was the only one who thought to bring a book. The time flew by, especially with Maupin’s Tales of the City to entertain me. Times have changed, and while you can now entertain yourself with apps and web surfing on your phone, it’s ultimately time wasted. Keep a book in your purse or in your glove compartment. Or, buy an e-reader, and take it with you everywhere. The next time you’re stuck in a line or a doctor’s office, you can make some progress toward your goal. Your time will feel better spent to boot.

3. Be consistent.

Reading when you can steal the minutes is fine, but think about times you can read that you could make a habit. You could read during your lunch break or while on the subway. You could decide to read for a set amount of time before bed every night. Even fifteen minutes will make a difference, and it could help you relax at the same time. It is said that it takes 21 days to form a habit. Make it a goal to read at the same time for three weeks, and you’ll create a routine.

4. Read one book at a time.

Plenty of people juggle multiple books, and that’s cool -- if you’re actually finishing them. When I started working at the bookstore years ago, I let my sampling get out of control. At one point I realized that I had bookmarks in about two dozen books, and I hadn’t finished anything in months. I made a strict rule that I had to finish a book before I could start another. It worked. Now I’ve relaxed my rule a bit (I’ll usually read a fiction, a non-fiction, and something for review), but I remind myself to keep it in check. Reading only one book at a time means you’ll be pickier about what you start, and that’s a good thing, too.

5. Go somewhere to read.

If you live in a household with more chaos than calm, then you might have to leave it to claim some reading time. Take a book to the park or visit the coffee shop without a laptop. See tip #3 and make it a regular habit.

6. Give up something.

Giving up just one weekly hour-long television show would allow you to read 6-12 more books a year, depending on the length of books you enjoy. (If you want to tackle Atlas Shrugged or Les Miserables you might finish only one.) The average reader takes about a minute per page, so that’s 60 pages for skipping just one drama you can watch later on DVD.

7. Take it down a notch.

Every book doesn’t have to be War and Peace. Read something upbeat or thrilling. Read something downright trashy if you feel like it. Read fiction in your favorite guilty pleasure genre. Grab a creepy horror novel, a Jackie Collins glitz-fest, a detective story, a celebrity tell-all -- whatever floats your own boat. Once you’ve rediscovered the pleasure of reading, you can tackle the big stuff. Or not. It’s your choice.

8. Skim.

Not the whole book -- that would defeat the purpose. Sometimes great books have parts you hate, though. Les Miserables has that interminable battle sequence. Some people I know didn’t like the poetic interludes in Possession. Here’s the thing: your teacher isn’t looking over your shoulder. No one will ever know. You’re allowed to skim what you think are the boring parts to get to the good stuff, and it will keep you from giving up completely on a book you otherwise like.  I’ll say it again: you’re allowed.

9. On the other hand...

If you really, really hate it, quit. Just...stop. It’s one thing to read beyond a dull first chapter to see if a book picks up the pace at all, and another thing to feel like turning each page is torture. It’s better to pick up a book you’ll actually read than to slog for years through something you truly don’t enjoy. If this is happening too often, you might need to choose more enjoyable books from the get-go (see #7).

10. Tackle a list.

It’s motivating to cross items off a list, as it gives a sense of accomplishment. Choose something you’d like to read all of, whether it’s National Book Award winners or all of the Hard Case Crime paperbacks. The list can be long enough to take a lifetime, or short enough to last the year. Choose something that resonates with you.

Some random lists to get you going:

List of Hugo Award-winning science fiction

All the books mentioned on the Gilmore Girls

The Art of Manliness website’s Essential Man Library


11. Write about it.

You don’t have to be a great writer to share your book opinions online. You don’t have to spend a lot of time, either. While blogging or writing full-length reviews is an option, you can also rate the books you read and write brief comments on Amazon or Goodreads. Reviewing can be just as addictive as reading, and when you discover that others find your information useful, it can help fuel the desire to read even more.

12. Pick a reward system.

Choose something with which to reward yourself for each book you complete. If you have a sense of whimsy, it could be as simple as a gold star on a fridge-door chart. If you tend to buy more than you read, maybe you could treat yourself to a new book every time you finish one -- and only when you finish one. You might allow yourself to watch one of the DVDs you’ve been putting off watching in order to find more reading time. Only you know what type of reward will motivate you most, so choose one, and start reading.

Bonus tip:

Stop talking about doing it, and do it. if it’s something you really want to do, you will.

What helps you read more? What hinders you? Leave your best advice/most elaborate excuses below. Follow on Facebook for more bonus tips.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Quotable: Badgers, Back to the Future, and Bad Author Bios

Things I’ve read and liked lately, from the goofy to the sublime to the sublimely goofy. I think you’ll like them too.

The guy who composed your last rejection letter. (Jon David Nelson/Creative Commons)


...the next time you get a rejection letter, just remember. Don’t take it personally; it was written by a badger.

A blogger for the fantasy short story magazine Shimmer has found the truth behind rejection letters: they’re all written by badgers. Read the full article for the secrets behind the working conditions at industrial rejection factories.
 
Obviously, the Tannen gambling beat would grow more important over time as he amassed larger and larger winnings through a suspiciously improbable winning streak, though why the paper would cover even his first wager so breathlessly is hard to explain.

Jonathan Chait of New York magazine has a bone to pick with the makers of Back to the Future 2, and it’s not the plot -- it’s the local newspaper. Chait picks apart the movie’s fictitious headlines with an obsessively critical eye.

Magda Swinburne is the literary guru of the Puget Sound. In her free time she communes with salmon & frolics with her toy poodles, 'Lord Byron' & 'Peaches.' She has over 1,000 publication credits to her name and was hailed by the Seattle Sinner as the sole voice of reason in a universe of mediocrity. She’s single and loves cupcakes. Word to your mother.

Writer Karyna McGlynn’s “My Top 5 Quick & Dirty Submission Tips” article is worth a read for any writer. Even if you’re pretty submission savvy, her examples are worth it for the kicks, as you can see from her example of a badly-written author bio, above. (She’s got examples of good ones too, for the record.)

u are just more of my FACTORY friend
and not really
my ‘birthday party’ friend

The Hairpin’s series of literary text messages continues with “Texts from the American Girls.” Previous books skewered in textspeak include Rebecca and Little Women.

"The history of reading," Price says, "really has to encompass the history of not reading."

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a great piece on Leah Price’s recent book How to Do Things With Books in Victorian Britain, which examines books as objects.



 
If you follow any of these links and read something you like, I’d love to know. Follow, subscribe, or like on Facebook to read regular roundups of book-related miscellany.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Typos of the Year for 2012: The 10 Most Regrettable Errors in Print and Elsewhere

We all make them, but let’s face it: some errors are more significant than others. When  a typographical error appears on a magazine cover or in a huge news headline, someone at some point in the process really should have caught it. In the cases where a typo completely changes a sentence’s meaning to one that is drastically different from what was intended -- or possibly to something obscene -- you have to wonder if anyone’s proofreading at all these days.

I’ve excluded Twitter typos, even those that originated from big media outlets. I don’t know about you, but I have different expectations of 140-character blurbs spewed out at 3:00am while drinking bourbon than of full-fledged articles that were ostensibly checked by a copyeditor (at 3:00am while drinking bourbon).

Here, then, are the best (worst?) typos of 2012.

#10) Sylvan Learning Center needs their own tutoring services.


"Take an active roll in your student's education" reads the flyer.

As reported in a Book Dirt exclusive, a Sylvan Learning Center franchise sent out a circular encouraging parents to take an active “roll” in their student’s learning. This most likely involves tossing your kid’s homework on the floor and taking a tumble in it, which, on second thought, might be a better use of your money than hiring whoever proofed this ad.


# 9) The Titanic travels through time.


Photo via Poynter

A caption in the Ottawa Citizen gets the dates wrong for both the Titanic’s launching and sinking, placing both in modern times. It’s an easy mistake, I guess, considering how often the Titanic has been involved in time travel scenarios, hosting everyone from the cast of Time Bandits to the kids in the Magic Tree House books series. (A friend of mine says that no wonder the Titanic sank -- it was loaded up with time travelers.)


#8) The AP calls Jill Kelley a socialist.



A later-corrected story Associated Press story on the General Petraeus scandal referred to Jill Kelley as a socialist rather than a socialite. The story was picked up by a slew of media outlets before a correction was made.


#7) One in three black men did what?



Hypervocal called it “the greatest typo/correction in internet history.” It’s certainly one of the most cringe-worthy. Writer Amanda Hess’ failure to add an n to the word men led to the line “One in three black men who have sex with me in the District is HIV-positive.”

While this was my favorite typo of the year with a prurient bent, it was by no means the only one. Those who don’t have delicate sensibilities might also enjoy this commencement foul-up, a shocking sports injury, and a headline typo that turned a baseball player into a pretty sick fetishist.


#6) Misspelling makes a Vegas sheriff more like a plumber.

Photo via LAWeekly

Just one rogue letter t made the LA Times into the butt of jokes. The author of the article said that “butt cracks” did not appear in the copy he submitted. He’s not upset with anyone, though, admitting that the copy editors "have saved my ass so many times."

#5) The Daily Mail thinks it was about time Etta James died.



An absence of quotation marks completely changes the tone of the UK’s headline about singer Etta James’ death. “At Last singer Etta James dies” was later changed to something more somber-sounding, but not before it was saved for posterity, thanks to the power of the screenshot.

It’s a little reminiscent of the joke headline from The Onion’s book Our Dumb History: "Proust finally dies."



#4) Romney loves Amercia, and Amercians run with it.



Campaign typos weren’t confined to any one party, but the Romney campaign’s gaffe certainly ended up as the butt of the most jokes. The campaign’s mobile app encouraged voters to photograph themselves with superimposed templates saying “I’m with Mitt.” One of the template choices read “A Better Amercia,” leading tons of people to take and share joke photographs, not to mention a Tumblr blog devoted to the collection of “Amercia” photos. 


#3) The Brattleboro Reformer goes for the Triple Crown.


A local Vermont paper subscribes to the philosophy that if you’re going to do a thing, do it big. The “Let is snow” headline repeated the same typo three times in gigantic type, on the front page, no less, without a single staff member noticing. Gawker says that the Reformer has a history of laughable gaffes, once running a headline about a nativity collector which read “Away in a manager.”


#2) A correction needs correcting. 


The Toronto Sun misspelled “correction” when making a correction. No word on whether or not they issued another correction, or if, in fact, the paper is still caught in a never-ending series of correction-making.


#1) Thou shalt not forget to proofread.


If you think it’s embarrassing to make an error in a headline, try being the guy who makes a typo when carving in a giant slab of granite for posterity. Actually, try being the guy who makes three typos (carvos?).

The monument in question was installed (for a total cost of $20,000) at the Oklahoma State Capitol, and it wasn’t long before observers noticed the misspelling of both “sabbath” and “maidservant,” as well as a missing apostrophe. A rep for the memorial company blamed Old English and the fact that people aren’t used to it, not realizing that the King James translation used on the monument is well past both Old and Middle English, and is in fact Early Modern English.

If it were Old English it would look like this, which is a pretty far cry from “Thou shalt not steal”:





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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Favorite Books Read in 2012: Noir Dance Contests, Killer Hands, Lovable Doofuses


Because I tend to read older books, it’s a cause for celebration that among the books I completed in 2012 is a book actually published in 2012. The oldest book on this list is from 1881, so that means my average year of publication for my favorites is 1936. A good year: Aldous Huxley and Sinclair Lewis were on the bestseller list, Thin Man and Charlie Chan movies were on the screen, and Amelia Earhart was in the air.

Here, then, are the books I most enjoyed reading in this century, though most were written in the previous one -- or the one before that.

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They by Horace McCoy (1935)



Hard-boiled writer Horace McCoy’s best-known novel takes place in the world of marathon dance contests. If that sounds like an odd milieu for noir fiction, then you’ve bought into the Time/Life book version of dance marathons. The real marathons were grim affairs, exploiting young and homeless men and women who shuffled from contest to contest for the free food and shelter. The audience, in the midst of the Depression themselves, came to gawk at the poor saps to feel better about their own pitiful lives. 

McCoy knew the seamier side of these contests, having worked as a bouncer at dance marathons, and he turns what’s already a pretty bleak scenario into a compelling whydunnit. The protagonist confesses to killing his dance partner on page one. The rest of the book describes the sequence of events that led him to tell the judge at the novel’s start that by shooting her, he was doing her a favor. If that’s not noir, I don’t know what is.

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart (1949)

Pre-dating the proliferation of Cold War fear-inspired nuclear fallout novels of the 1950s (See Alas, Babylon and On the Beach), Earth Abides is the first of the great modern post-apocalyptic novels. And it’s unequivocally the best. It starts quickly with a devastating virus, then deftly and simply manages to be one of the most profound books of its genre, dealing with changes from the smallest to the most sweeping. It sounds hyperbolic, I know, but Earth Abides somehow affected me in a way that even managed to disturb my sleep, as I stayed awake at night thinking about the questions Stewart raises. He doesn’t answer them all. They can’t be answered.

Almost any good post-apocalyptic novel owes a debt to this one. You can especially see its influence on the earliest (and best) parts of The Stand, and Stephen King has always cited it as the inspiration. (There are also echoes of it in I Am Legend.) The idea of lastness may be as old as Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, but as far as I’m concerned, the genre really started here. I don’t think it’s ever been bested. Read it and tell me I’m wrong.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, 2012


The plenty-hyped thriller was the most-reviewed book of the year, according to Goodreads, with 22,383 ratings. That’s usually enough to put me off, but as I’m fond of pointing out, sometimes books reach the bestseller list, not because they’re so bland as to have mass appeal, not because Oprah told everyone to read it, and not because people just want to see what the hoo-hah is all about (*cough* 50 Shades of Grey) -- but because they’re good.

With so many reviews out there, many thousands of which compare it to a roller coaster,  you probably already know plenty about it. (Quick synopsis: Wife is missing. Is husband responsible?) The cool thing about Gone Girl is that it doesn’t just twist, though, it keeps twisting. If it is a roller coaster, it’s a roller coaster that not only goes wildly up and down, but throws you completely out of the car, then when you get back in, it’s not a roller coaster at all, but a ferris wheel, which ultimately lurches to an unsatisfying thud of a stop. (Yes, I’m criticizing the ending.)

Bouvard and Pecuchet by Gustave Flaubert (1881)


Reading Julian Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot convinced me that I should read some of the works it mentioned that I was less familiar with. The novel made the title characters of Bouvard and Pecuchet sound like some pretty entertaining dunderheads, and the two definitely delivered on the dunderhead front. In a quest for intellectual enlightenment, the pair putz their way through just about every field of human knowledge, usually deciding the field itself is flawed before choosing another area ripe for some bumbling around.

Part way through the novel, I realized that the pair reminded me of another goofy-but-endearing pair of intellectual gentlemen: Frog and Toad. Go ahead, try reading Bouvard and Pecuchet without picturing them, now that I’ve mentioned it.

For your amusement, Frog and Toad, with captions by Gustave Flaubert:


“Hey! Progress! What humbug!” He added: “And politics, a nice heap of dirt!”
“It is not a science,” returned Pecuchet.


“Suppose we write the life of the Duke of Angouleme?”
“But he was an idiot!”

Sometimes they felt a shivering sensation, and, as it were, the passing breath of an idea, but at the very moment when they were seizing it, it had vanished.
 



Mortmain by Arthur Cheney Train (1907)


Mortmain appeared in the Sat. Evening Post
Arthur Train is largely forgotten now. The lawyer-turned-writer is only slightly better known for his Ephraim Tutt mystery stories. He may well have inspired a horror trope that persists to this day, though: the killer hand with a mind of its own. Train’s Mortmain (actually a short piece) predates both the film The Hands of Orlac (1924) and the French story that inspired it (1920). Train’s weird tale bests some of its imitators, and has even more of a creep factor thanks to the fact that the re-attached hand in question is taken from a living man rather than a dead one.

The surgeon who performs the bizarre surgery (with predictably awful consequences) is the unintentional star of the tale, and his weird experiments almost have a steampunk vibe to them. Early in Mortmain, the doctor is said to have taken in a starving hobo, installed a plate glass window in his stomach, then fed the man in order to watch his digestive processes. The ending to the story is a groaner, but getting there is sheer joy.

Download Mortmain free for your Kindle

This year was heavy on early post-apocalyptic fiction. I also read and liked Shelley’s The Last Man (1826), Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague (1912), and Richard Jefferies After London (1885). I spent far too much time on some books I loathed, and a few that were only worthwhile in the fact of their being howlingly bad. For 2013, I plan to enjoy a lot more crime fiction, fewer not-ready-for-legit-publication monstrosities, and a healthy chunk of Booker Prize winners (which I plan to read all of before I hit 50).

Keep reading, and I’ll tell you more. Better yet, subscribe.

What did you read/like/hate this year? Did you read mostly current books, or was your reading list as dusty as mine?