what i'm reading: the bridge by bill konigsberg -- important, powerful, essential teen fiction

The Bridge, by Bill Konigsberg, is the best YA novel I've read since Eleanor & Park in 2012.

Unfortunately, I know that many readers won't go near this book, because of its subject matter: teen suicide. This would be a terrible missed opportunity. It's a great book that both teens and adults -- especially adults who have contact with teenagers -- should read. Yes, it's sad, but it's also hopeful, and it's powerful, and it's necessary.

Konigsberg, author of several excellent YA books, approaches the subject with a brilliant twist that makes the whole book work. Two teenagers stand on New York City's George Washington Bridge, feeling suicidal. They don't know each other; their presence on the bridge at the same moment is a coincidence, a quirk of fate, if you will.

The story unfolds four times. She jumps, he doesn't. He jumps, she doesn't. They both jump. Neither jumps. Each timeline explores the ripple effect of each choice.

Through this device, Konigsberg avoids many pitfalls that other books about teenage suicide have suffered from, accused of either glorifying suicide, or over-simplifying it, or blaming others, or making it situational, without examining mental health.

This is also just a really good book. The writing is brilliant, the characters are fully realized -- including the adults, which is rare for this genre. The sadness is leavened with humour and with hope. The story takes place in New York City, in a privileged world which, in reality, is not an easy world for children.

The book is also notable for what it's not. It's not glib or facile. There are no quick fixes. But there are pathways that may lead to better mental health. There are options.

I find it sad and frustrating that so many people will not read The Bridge. They'll say: "It's too sad." "I don't want to think about that." "I read for enjoyment, and that's not an enjoyable topic."

I've heard this about many books that explore painful and upsetting themes. It's a shame, because a book like The Bridge is an opportunity to understand others more deeply, to see people and their choices in a more nuanced way, even to think about how we can try to help.

I probably should have more empathy for people's reading choices, but... I don't. If you read this book, will parts be sad and painful? Obviously, yes. Will you cry? Probably. And what of it? You'll feel something. You won't melt. You won't break.

Millions of lives have been touched by suicide. Mine has been; yours probably has been, too. The ripple effect explored in The Bridge is happening all the time. For me, a book like this is a way to understand this better, perhaps to bear witness, from a respectful distance.

For some people, the topic of the book will be too close. It reflects their own reality, and they may not be in a place where they can absorb the story. I get that. But to people who insist that every read be sunny and cheerful, perhaps try moving outside your comfort zone. It's worth it.

* * * *

Reading The Bridge made me remember -- many times -- one of my favourite monologues from the series "The Blacklist", spoken (of course) by the character Raymond Reddington (James Spader).

Have you ever seen the aftermath of a suicide bombing? I have. June 29th, 2003. I was meeting two associates at the Marauch restaurant in Tel Aviv. As my car was pulling up, a 20 year-old Palestinian named Ghazi Safar detonated a vest wired with C4.

The shock wave knocked me flat, blew out my eardrums. The smoke…it was like being underwater. I went inside. A nightmare. Blood, parts of people. You could tell where Safar was standing when the vest blew. It was like a perfect circle of death. There was almost nothing left of the people closest to him. 17 dead, 45 injured. Blown to pieces. The closer they were to the bomber, the more horrific the effect.

That's every suicide.

Every single one.

An act of terror perpetrated against everyone who's ever known you. Everyone who's ever loved you. The people closest to you are the ones who suffer the most pain, the most damage. Why would you do that? Why would you do that to the people who love you?


what i'm reading: ghosts of gold mountain, the epic story of the chinese who built the transcontinental railroad

Ever since reading, in 2006, The National Dream and The Golden Spike, Pierre Berton's books about the building of the Canadian railroad, I've been interested in the Chinese railroad workers. Two details stuck in my memory: Chinese workers retaining their food traditions (and the racism and abuse they encountered over this) and that they went on strike. I was excited to know that these underpaid, undervalued, and abused workers organized themselves to fight back.

So when I saw a very positive review of The Ghosts of Gold Mountain: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, I immediately requested it from my library. Gordon Chang, one of the preeminent historians of the Chinese experience in North America, writes from an American context, but the story applies to Canada and other countries, as Chinese labour built railroads all over the world.

Outsized labour under outsized conditions

To say that the Railroad Chinese (as they are called) toiled under difficult conditions would be a monumental understatement. Whatever one can say about those conditions, no matter how hyperbolic it might sound -- it was worse. 

Avalanches, snowslides, mudslides, blizzards, extreme cold, extreme heat. Smoke, fumes, choking dust, unrelenting sun. Explosions, cave-ins, falling trees. All manner of hazards, often at the same time. The men laboured by hand, with picks, shovels, gun powder, and worst of all, nitroglycerine, without the benefit of any steam-powered tools or safety equipment. 

Food, water, tents, and any other needs were hauled on sleds and by pack animals, and the costs were deducted from their pay. 

(Here's a note about gun powder, then called "black powder," that I enjoyed.

Many of the Railroad Chinese, however, were probably familiar with black powder, which their ancestors had invented in the 9th Century and was commonly used in fireworks, guns, and cannons back in their home region of China.)

Besides the complete absence of safety regulations and safety equipment, there was a total lack of concern for, and interest in, the workers' lives on the part of their employer. Both the Central Pacific Railroad Company (CPRR) in the west and the Union Pacific in the east earned coveted government funds based on how many miles of track they laid, with large incentive bonuses for the company that laid more track. And because everyone grossly underestimated the time and phenomenal effort needed to build the western leg of the railroad, the pressure to work quickly was enormous. 

Why Chinese labour?

Naturally Chinese workers were paid less than white workers -- but that isn't why the western part of the transcontinental railroad was built almost exclusively by Chinese workers. 

White Americans didn't want these jobs. When a call for labour went out, a few hundred white men might show up, but at the first rumour of a gold strike, they'd be gone. Using Chinese workers was suggested, but the CPRR was reluctant, purely for racist reasons. They considered bringing in large numbers of Mexican workers. They recruited some "freedmen" -- Black people who had recently been enslaved. They even considered using former Confederate soldiers who were still in prison. Finally, they turned to China, and the experiment paid off, beyond anything company leadership could have imagined.

Besides lower wages, using Chinese labour had other advantages for the company. Bringing equipment and labour from the eastern US meant a long, slow, dangerous journey by boat, down the east coast, around the tip of South America, and up the west coast. It was actually easier and cheaper to bring workers to California from China. 

Chinese men were recruited by the thousands and tens of thousands. They weren't typical immigrants: they didn't necessarily come from extreme poverty, nor were they escaping war or persecution. This was an opportunity to earn more money than they could at home, so they answered the call. They came alone -- sometimes with people from their region, or with male relatives, but never with wives and families.

They were also the best railroad workers the company had ever seen. Using many techniques they imported from China -- such as building monumental retaining walls without the use of mortar -- the Railroad Chinese worked harder, faster, and more efficiently than their white counterparts anywhere. Even the most hardcore racist CPRR men came to admire both their work ethic and the results of their labours.

But you can't eat admiration or send it home to your family.

The strike

Chinese workers weren't only paid less than their white counterparts. They also had no opportunity to advance into higher-paying positions, no matter what their skills or experience. They lived outside or in tents that they procured and paid for, while their white supervisors lived in converted train cars, with kitchens, beds, and other comforts. Their jobs were the most dangerous by far on the project, so they assumed the greatest risk, were paid the least, and endured the worst working conditions.

Unfortunately, despite all this, the Chinese workers earned significantly more than they could in their home province. So they persevered. But not passively.

On June 24, at the height of the construction season, precisely when the company most hoped to make rapid progress, 3,000 Railroad Chinese, in a fully coordinated and informed effort, put down their tools and refused to work. From Cisco to Truckee, almost thirty miles, Chinese at scores of sites and in hundreds of teams stopped working in unison. One news report called it "the greatest strike ever known in the country."

In this bold act of resistance, the strikers may have been inspired by a smaller labor stoppage by fellow Chinese railroad workers in California nearly a decade prior. It was said that in 1859, an unscrupulous Chinese contractor withheld the wages due 150 Chinese who were working on a rail line near Sacramento before the CPRR. They rebelled, attacked the contractor's assistant, and threatened him with violence. The frightened clerk took refuge in the station house and was saved only by the arrival of the local authorities. Through the years, Chinese workers, long after the incident had passed, likely told and retold this story of strength through collective action.

After eight days without work, the workers' food supplies had dwindled, and the CPRR wasn't allowing their suppliers through. Most -- but not all -- workers returned to work. Chang writes:

Though the company did not concede to the strikers' demands, it would be a mistake to conclude, as most historical accounts do, that the Chinese "lost". The workers, in a well-coordinated effort involving thousands, spread over miles of the train line, had defied the company, and it is clear from internal records that the Chinese collective action had deeply shaken the principals. They had also gotten bad press. The company leadership would not forget the confrontation and realized that the workers could never be taken for granted. What is more, it appears that the company also quietly improved pay following the strike, at least for skilled and experienced Chinese workers, over the subsequent months. Wages for them went above $35 a month. Three years earlier, when Chinese first began working on the CPRR, their pay had been $26 a month. For some, it jumped 50 percent higher. . . . 

. . . The strike might be understood as being as much, or even more, a clash of cultural logics rather than an incident seen in standard Western labor-management terms. Collective action could be seen as an important expression of will, a matter of achieving "face" and self-respect. The specific outcome was less significant that the act of defiance itself. . . . The self-discipline and organization of the striking Chinese did in fact favorably impress the railroad leadership.

Their wages did increase. And after this, strikes and stoppages by Chinese railroad workers took place on many lines and construction projects in California. That's winning.

What might have been

There was a moment in time when things looked hopeful for Chinese immigrants in their new country. 

There was great curiosity among the public about the Chinese workers, and the press reported on it often. The overwhelming majority of these stories were very positive -- writers hailed the workers' skills, their bravery, and their incredible work ethic. Of course most of the reporting was laced with bigoted language and stereotypes, as was the custom of the times, but the public formed a very favourable impression of the Chinese work force. There was a growing movement for changing laws so that Chinese people could become American citizens. 

It looked hopeful... until it didn't. Economic downturn and xenophobia led to scapegoating, expulsion, and horrific violence, including lynchings and the burning of Chinese-owned businesses.

This pattern echoes so much American history. There were hopeful moments when the Pilgrims landed. There were hopeful moments after the Civil War, especially in multicultural metropolises such as New Orleans and New York. But the forces of bigotry and hatred were organized, violent, and usually had the weight of government behind them.

Outsized research, too

Gordon Chang and his team of researchers at the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project, out of Stanford University (where he is a humanities and history professor) have uncovered an astonishing amount of material, despite the daunting challenge of having no first-hand accounts from workers themselves. Tens of thousands of letters were exchanged between railroad workers and their families in China, but not a single letter or diary has survived, or at least none have been found.

Despite this, the Stanford researchers have uncovered a trove of material from a huge array of sources. Chang uses what is known, plus his informed imagination, to create a vibrant tale of struggle and triumph.

The stories of the Railroad Chinese have been forgotten, omitted, and expunged from American history. This book goes a long way towards changing that.


fact: you cannot wave the confederate flag or the swastika flag and rightly call yourself a patriotic american

This post has been half-written and sitting in drafts for many months. Days after an armed mob tried to violently subvert the results of an election seems like a good time to finish it.

* * * *

Here's a statement that should be completely obvious.

You cannot wave the Confederate flag or the Nazi flag and also be a patriotic American.

History Lesson #1

In 1861, a group of terrorists attacked the United States. This was an act of war, by a group who would soon be known as the Confederate Army. 

Representing a self-declared country, the Confederate Army fought against the United States in a prolonged act of treason that lasted four years. 620,000 people died in this conflict, at a time when the population of the country (excluding Indigenous people) was about 31 million.

Until 58,000 Americans lost their lives in the Vietnam War, more Americans were killed in the Civil War than in all foreign wars combined.

Thus someone who waves the Confederate flag aligns themselves with treason and with enemies of the United States.

History Lesson #2

From September 1939 until May 1945, the United States was engaged in World War II, often said to be a righteous and "good" war. Along with the Allied nations, the United States fought the Third Reich, also called Nazi Germany. More than 400,000 Americans died in the "European theatre".

I include only American deaths here, as I assume the people who carry Nazi flags are not concerned with the deaths of British, French, German, Italian, Polish, or other people, be they civilians or soldiers.

The Nazi flag was the symbol of an enemy -- a fascist government, an occupying power, and a creator of one of the most horrific genocides in world history. Waving this flag can be construed an act of treason or sedition.

A note about "enemies"

As a person who opposes war in almost all scenarios, I hesitate to use the expression "the enemy". Working-class and poor people were killed, maimed, and suffered devastating losses during these two wars, whether they were from Alabama, Pennsylvania, or Bavaria. Elite Nazis were allowed to retire in comfort in South America, while Nazi scientists were recruited by the US government and lived out their lives under assumed identities. The real enemy is war itself, and the ruling class that profits by it.  

But these flags were symbols of governments. Although ordinary people may have adopted the flags and the propaganda that went with them, the flags themselves were symbols of governments and philosophies. Both the Confederacy and the Nazis were the enemies of the United States. They were also the enemies of the stated values and vision of the United States. 

Yet some percentage of Americans carry these flags and claim to be patriots. 

Although these people have become much more visible in the last five years, their movements are not new, nor are their beliefs.

Do the white nationalists who wave those flags understand this? I'm quite sure movement leaders do. But the rank-and-file militia members, the yobs who were incited by Donald Trump, are not known for their intelligence or their grasp of current events or world history. They live in an alternate version of reality, where Barack Obama was not born in the United States, Hillary Clinton runs a pedophile ring out of a pizza restaurant, Joe Biden is a Communist, and Trump won the recent election in a landslide, among other fantasies.

We know that, to these people, the Nazi and Confederate flags symbolize white nationalism, white supremacy, bigotry, and hatred. This is what drove our abject horror and revulsion at a POTUS declaring "very fine people on both sides" after the violent demonstration in Charlottesville in 2017.

But these flags are also symbols of an imagined past, where women were submissive and servile, Black people were (at best) kept segregated, LGBT people did not exist, and the white "workingman" got a fair deal and had a better life. Immigration was limited to their own ancestors, who (they believe) came to North America legally, spoke English, and quickly assimilated. (PS: not only is that not true, many of their ancestors weren't even considered white at the time!)

So while these flags have come to symbolize extreme racism and a kind of generic hatred for the modern world, we should never forget their original meanings. 

You cannot wave the Confederate flag or the Nazi flag and also be a patriot.


a reading plan for 2021: big stacks of nonfiction, plus some fiction, and series for mind breaks

2018: Titles and reading projects that were languishing on my List.

2019: The year of the biography. The first time I created a reading plan for the year.

2020: I liked having the 2019 plan, and created a new plan for 2020.

In each case, I read many titles from the plan, and many off-plan -- enough that I feel I've accomplished part of a goal, but not so much that the goal became a chore. 

For 2021, I consulted The List, and selected sub-lists of nonfiction, fiction, and YA. Add to that the authors I want to read or read more of (from the 2018 list), plus the long-term goals that may or may not advance. 

Recently I made a brilliant discovery: I enjoy reading on the treadmill! I use a treadmill for exercise in bad weather or if for some other reason I don't want to outside. In the past I've always listened to music while walking to nowhere. A few weeks ago I tried reading, just as an experiment, and found that I love it. This new habit has made it possible to increase time spent on two of my life goals at the same time. Amazing!


Ghosts of Gold Mountain: the Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, Gordon Chang (reading now)

Sometimes You Have to Lie: The Life and Times of Louise Fitzhugh, Renegade Author of Harriet the Spy, Leslie Brody (A surprise gift from Allan.)

The Sword and the Shield: the Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., Peniel E. Joseph

Janis: Her Life and Her Music, Holly George-Warren (I read biographies of Janis Joplin as a teenager; this new book sounds fantastic.)

Poisoner In Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control, Stephen Kinzer (Ever since reading Kinzer's Overthrow, I am interested in almost anything he writes.)

A Mind Spread Out on the Ground, Alicia Elliott

Mad at the World: A Life of John Steinbeck, William Souder

Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit (Working my way through these amazing essays.) 

The Skin We're In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power, Desmond Cole

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present, David Treuer

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, David Wallace-Wells

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, Cal Newport


Charlie Savage, Roddy Doyle (One I've missed by a favourite author.)

Gilead, Marilynne Robinson (Author I've been meaning to read; first of a trilogy.)

The Cold Millions: A Novel, Jess Walter

There There, Tommy Orange

The Resisters, Gish Jen

True Story: A Novel, Kate Reed Perry

Blacktop Wasteland: A Novel, S. A. Cosby

Girl, Woman, Other, Bernardine Evaristo

The Stone Angel, Margaret Laurence (I will try again to read this Canadian classic.)


The Bridge, Bill Konigsberg

Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything, Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

A List of Things That Will Not Change, Rebecca Stead

Continuing to read more by:

Frans de Waal

Carl Safina

Robert Sapolsky

Giving my brain a break between nonfictions:

Martin Beck, Per Wahlöö and Maj Sjöwall

Parker, Donald Westlake as Richard Stark

Long-term goals

Orwell still to read: three titles

Dickens still to read: four titles

Re-start weekly chapters of Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 and Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919. (Project started in 2018 but abandoned later that year.)


what i'm reading: never cry wolf by farley mowat

I have read many essays and op-eds by Farley Mowat, the legendary Canadian naturalist, but until now, had never read any of his many books. (He was incredibly prolific.) When visiting Russell Books in September, I noticed a copy of Never Cry Wolf and picked it up. I'm so glad I did! It's a short, easy-to-read book that would appeal to any nature lover, not only wolf enthusiasts like me.

Never Cry Wolf: The Amazing True Story of Life Among Arctic Wolves, first published in 1963, chronicles three seasons that Mowat spent observing wolves in the Keewatin Barrens, an area north of Manitoba, in the Northwest Territories. Farley was originally working for the government, sent to study how to control the wolf population that was supposedly laying waste to caribou herds. Armed with faulty equipment and faulty assumptions, Mowat discovered that everything the government -- and all of society -- believed about wolves was false. 

Mowat camped in very close proximity to wolf families and was able to observe them in almost all aspects of their daily lives. His descriptions of the wolves are incredibly vivid, some of the finest nature writing I've ever had the pleasure of reading. 

Mowat's writing, in fact, transcends nature writing or any other genre. The first part of the book is a send-up of government bureaucracy, and of academic researchers. It's decidedly over-the-top and very amusing.

Next, once in the wilderness, Mowat writes with awe and wonder for his lupine subjects, and with simple respect for the few humans he encounters. This is the heart of the book. It's a fast and very engaging read.

Then, in a brief third section, Mowat forcefully and eloquently argues against humans' extermination of wolves, and calls on us to heed the facts and change our ways. I'm tempted to share a story from this third section, but it's very disturbing, and perhaps best left to discover on your own.

* * * *

I won't go into any detail about what Mowat discovered and the myths he shattered. Suffice to say that there are very few wolves, and they kill very few caribou. The tiny percentage of caribou that are killed by wolves helps ensure the survival of the species. Mowat quotes an Inuit saying: The caribou feeds the wolf, but it is the wolf who keeps the caribou strong.

Wolf and caribou have lived together as predator and prey for time immemorial. The threat to caribou is the same threat to polar bears, and whales, and elephants, and tigers. There is only one animal who is a danger to the survival of whole species (including their own), who destroys habitats, who kills for sport, who lays waste to populations. And it's not wolves.

* * * *

Never Cry Wolf was published in 1963. Since that time, the facts that Mowat wrote about have become common knowledge. Yet wolf slaughter continues, and protections are stripped away or ignored. Without the myth of the bloodthirsty wolf, we can see this for what it truly is. Man kills wolf to eliminate the competition. 

Everywhere there are still wolves, the wolf is still in danger.


greetings island: the best e-card site you've never heard of

Tl; dr: Greetings Island is the best e-greeting-card site. 

* * * *

I love greeting cards -- birthdays, anniversaries, thank yous, "glad you're my friend". I used to love spending time choosing unusual and relevant cards for family and friends. No Hallmark drivel, and no holidays that are meaningless to me -- but lots and lots of birthdays and thinking-of-yous. 

I also used to send winter-season cards to a lot of people. My partner and I would carefully choose what card would represent us that year, and every year the list got longer and longer... At some point our list was out of control, and card-sending became a huge chore. Time to cut back! Or maybe to end the practice?

When we moved to Canada, and I discovered that Papyrus products, my card of choice, were outrageously expensive here. On a month when I had a lot of birthdays on my calendar, the price of cards alone, without postage, could easily top $30! Of course the practice of sending cards is environmentally unfriendly, so this was a good excuse to drastically reduce. I decided to send paper cards only to elderly relatives who wouldn't see cards online.

But then... the e-card issue. Most sites are loaded with ads. That's a deal-breaker for me. So my quest for a great e-card site began. 

I used Jacqui Lawson cards for a while. The cards, based on Lawson's art, are animated and accompanied by music. At $24/year, it was a good deal, but the cards are all of a similar style, and I got tired of it.

I used Punchbowl for a while. Their selection is good, but their pricing model doesn't work for me. Punchbowl has three paid levels -- right now it's $3, $5, and $7 per month -- but only the highest level is ad-free. I think advertising-free cards should be the most basic paid benefit, even if it's the only benefit. And $7/month is more than I want to spend on cards. 

This year I did a big survey of e-card sites, and combed through many "best e-card sites of 2020" posts. Most sites were objectionable for various reasons. I thought about using a general design site like Canva, but for me, that's too wide a field -- too much work. I need something more specific.

This year's clear winner was Greetings Island. The site has everything I'm looking for -- great selection, excellent usability, a wide range of personalization options, and an ad-free experience for both sender and recipient. 

For me, $32/year -- $2.60/month -- is a very good deal. There is also a free (ad-supported) version with fewer options for personalization.

In addition to sending cards online -- either through the site, by email, or through social media -- Greetings Island lets you download and print your card. This is still a good option for a workplace or someone on your list who is not internet-friendly.

I hope Greetings Island keeps their card selection updated. It would be nice to continue using it for at least several years.


in which i inadvertently discover a downside to working at home

I've always loved working at home. 

I loved it when I first started writing fiction and working as a freelance proofreader in 1985, and I loved it even more when I started writing for magazines in the mid-90s. 

As much as I find great satisfaction in my new career as a librarian, I've always missed the working-at-home lifestyle -- all the comfort, flexibility, and increased productivity, plus the company of my dogs, and the absence of so many annoyances.

Returning to working at home was a huge silver lining of the pandemic for me (and not the only one). 

Towards the end of 2020, my workload sharply increased, and I began working longer and longer hours. Working from home, this was very easy to do. Being a morning person, I simply began work earlier and earlier. It's one thing putting in some extra time for a project deadline, but working an additional three or four hours every day is not healthy. 

I started feeling stressed and anxious about work, waking up at night with work on my mind. My job satisfaction started to decline. I felt like I was chained to my desk. My job as a library manager is part librarian and part administrative, and I enjoy both roles. But increasingly I felt that I wasn't a librarian at all. I felt like a machine churning out work. And I felt this, despite being in touch with all my branches by phone, and seeing other librarians by Zoom, and making decisions about libraries all day, every day.

I spoke to my manager, and we're discussing ways to reduce my workload. I also spoke to my union reps, because I'm not the only staff struggling with an outsized workload.

Coincidentally, two weeks ago, some events at my home branch caused me to go back to working in the branch (possibly temporarily, that is still unknown). To my surprise, I immediately started working less! The physical separation between work and home was all it took. Instead of working in the early morning, I'm getting ready to leave the house. And once I come home in the evening, I don't log in. I leave work at work. 

I also immediately felt better just from being in the library. The library, my happy place! I walk into a library, anywhere on earth, and I feel my heart lift. I feel at home. I feel inspired. That's one of the many reasons I chose this as a new career!

Working at home, I missed customers -- hearing staff help them, jumping in to answer a question or suggest a resource, or just seeing them use their library. In my home branch, we recently fully opened to our pre-pandemic hours (with controlled numbers of customers allowed inside). All week long, we heard, "This library is a lifesaver!," "We're so happy you're here!," "We missed you so much, so glad to be coming inside again!". This gave me a great morale boost. I thought, ah yes, I'm not a machine. I'm a person, providing a service, to people. 

It took almost nine months, but I finally experienced a downside of working at home.


how do you read? in which my reading habits unexpectedly change

Librarians like to ask readers about their reading habits.

How do you read?

What format do you most prefer? Do you have a secondary format?

These days, most avid readers have found a use for e-books -- travel being the number one reason -- but generally prefer print. But some people read only e-books, and some only print.

Many people listen to audiobooks in their car or during their commutes, often listening to one book and reading another. Some people are audio only, especially now that most audiobooks are available digitally.

One book at a time, two books, multiple?


Every day, or how many days per week? What time of day?

Where? Bed, couch, outside in good weather?

How long do you give a book that you don't care for -- how many pages or chapters? (Please don't say you force yourself to read books you don't like! Life's too short and there are too many better books for you!)

Do you ever go back to a book you didn't like... and does your opinion ever change?

* * * *

This is on my mind because my reading habits have suddenly changed. I've been a voracious reader my whole life, and in my late 50s, I am suddenly reading differently.

After a lifetime of reading one book at a time, I now find myself cycling back and forth between one nonfiction and one fiction, or sometimes two nonfiction and one fiction. I don't know why, but suddenly having more books on the go is helping me read more.

I've been walking on the treadmill a lot, and have started to read lighter fiction (which for me means a crime or detective novel) while walking to nowhere. Ticking two boxes at the same time, how great is that! This week I'm going to try reading nonfiction on the treadmill. I'm skeptical but I might as well try it.

Another change: series. I never read series. If a series sounds interesting, I would often read the first book to get a taste, and stop there. There are just too many books I want to read to get stuck in a series. Plus, I find the writing quality of most genre books disappointing at best, and I never bothered to search for higher-quality series among them.

Over the last few years, I've been reading the Wallander series by Henning Mankell. I loved the TV adaptations, so I tried the books and was very pleasantly surprised. I read them in between heavy nonfiction tomes, over the course of several years. (I do the same with YA.)

Now, on advice from a friend, I've discovered the Martin Beck series by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, a married-couple writing team with an abundance of umlauts. This is said to be the original Nordic Noir; I'm really enjoying them. Allan reads the Parker series by the great Donald Westlake, writing as Richard Stark. These books are crime potato chips -- fast, delicious and completely addictive -- and I plan to go for those, too. I'll probably read them in random order, in between other books. The recent death of John Le Carré made me think of reading the George Smiley series. I read a few as a teenager, and think I would really enjoy them now, so I threw them on The List.

This is very strange to me! How can I suddenly be reading series?!

Like most avid readers, I mostly read print, but sometimes read e-books. They're great for travel, or for a portable version of a giant tome that I can't carry around, or when lighting is poor. I read e-books on my phone.

However, unlike most people I know, I cannot listen to audiobooks (or podcasts). I simply cannot concentrate. I either end up thinking of something else, or if I'm in a car, watching the scenery, and end up missing big chunks of the story. On our drive from Ontario to BC, we had a few audiobooks and radio interviews lined up. If Allan was driving, they just put me to sleep.

As for when and how often, for many decades I read in bed before sleep, but fibromyalgia made me give that up. I also read on the subway... but moving to the suburbs made me give that up! After these changes, I was always dissatisfied that I wasn't reading enough.

Now in my intentionally less-busy lifestyle, I've made reading part of my personal habits checklist (my stripped-down version of a bullet journal). I try to read for an hour or so after dinner, and always on the weekend. I usually read four or five times per week, but adding treadmill time has increased this. I also try to read on my lunch or dinner breaks, but usually end up playing games on my phone.

I usually read sitting at a table, with the book flat in front of me. In nice weather, I read on the deck or previously, in the backyard. (This is the best part of living in a house rather than an apartment.) If I'm reading an e-book at home, I prefer the couch, in the dark.

Your turn.