Wednesday, December 29, 2021

2021: A Reading Retrospective

I seem to enjoy using the words "reflection" and "retrospective." Hmm. 

It’s apparently customary for people who write and read to reflect on their writing and reading at the end of the year. Even if, like me, you consider reading your vocation as well as work, yet somehow don’t have “reading goals.”*

My to-be-read pile: 
nothing but good times ahead

I do track what I read (because it involves writing in a notebook, as much as for any other reason, and what is not to love about writing in a notebook?) and I (separately) record thoughts as I read. I am also, on occasion, moved to share thoughts publicly, sometimes in formal reviews and sometimes on Instagram and/or Twitter in a #SundaySentence post.


However, I don’t have goals like “read XXX books this year” or “revisit Author Name’s work” or “read a lot of books about maps,” although I have, in various recent years, done both of those last two.


This past year, as in the year previous, I consciously broadened my reading horizons. I read books by people who are underrepresented in the publishing world, so a good dose of thoughtful work on systemic racism/sexism/ablism (and also joyful work by those writers). I also read books on subjects that sounded interesting: maps, nature, plus random other things (popular music, growing up in difficult circumstances). I’ve also chosen to read books released by small publishing companies.


From this year of reading, although I won’t share numbers or specifics, I will share these two thoughts:


First, I strongly suggest ignoring “best of” lists unless you or someone you know has a book on one and, then by all means, pay attention and celebrate. But also, it’s good to read more widely than someone else’s “best of” judgment.

Second, I suggest that you choose works you wouldn’t otherwise easily run into. (Remember lingering in a bookstore or browsing library shelves? May we experience those joys again.) You can still read the old faithfuls—Lord knows these days a weekend “comfort read” is a well-deserved pleasure for anyone breathing at the end of the day.

But also, consciously go beyond. Read a book in translation, a work by someone with a disability community (I’m looking forward to the novel True Biz, by Sara Nović), a book of historical fiction from a small press, an #ownvoices memoir. You won’t regret it.

However you feel about the book itself, the experience will be valuable—much more valuable than, say, whipping through ten picture books so that you’ve read a predetermined “goal” number of books by arbitrary time. That said, if you haven’t read a picture book in a while, you could! The range of people publishing, and the works they’re sharing in various formats, grows more interesting all the time.


I’ve found that these types of reading “goals”—the resolution to read books that challenge my expectations and complacency, that provide unexpected pleasures, that a small business believes in—have enriched my life in a way that “read all the XX nominees” or “read all the bestsellers” or “read XXX number of books” doesn’t.


Your mileage may vary, of course. Because it’s YOUR life that you’re seeking to enrich through reading, not someone else’s. And more power to that goal—enriching your life through learning and enjoyment is enough.


*“Writing goals” are something else entirely. They're harder to avoid for writers, for one thing. And although I have had a visibly productive writing year in aggregate by many measures, some days my “writing goal” was “do some.”)

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

"What Can I Give You?" at the NOWW Blog

I've been a member of the Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop, a regional group providing opportunities for writers, for almost as long as I've lived here. 

Naturally, the past eighteen months have provided many opportunities and challenges, and NOWW has been proactive in moving programming online.

In the autumn of 2020, I attended a workshop with the then-eWriter-in-Residence, Susan Olding, in which she spoke of two ways to enter a work of writing: through content and through form. As we explored finding our way into a piece of writing through content, she suggested considering an object nearby.

I looked out the window and saw a wooden ladder on the porch. As one does.

From that seed, an essay grew, and when the NOWW Magazine editor asked if I had something for an upcoming issue, I made time to revise it. It appeared in February. And now it appears on their blog, and I can share it here. 

"What Can I Give You?" at the NOWW blog. 

It's about ladders, and crocheted blankets, and what our ancestors meant to leave us, and what meaning we make of what they left. And I hope you enjoy reading it. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2021


It's December, which is BOTH just another month AND a month where people do "round-up" or "best of" or "lessons learned" activities. 

I also do that, in my small way, BOTH because I'm drawn to nostalgia (remember the electrifying feeling of knowing that COVID vaccination was coming??) AND because I don't like to leave all the yucky accounting-type jobs to the new year. (Though truthfully, I do procrastinate most of them as long as possible.) So here are some things. Mostly random. 

A random photo to match these random thoughts.

1. Here's something I need to revise. In July, I said I don't like oat milk. Turns out I do like it well enough when it's packaged for coffee, which is all I really use milk products for these days. So I guess that's a benefit for the planet. Can we ignore the multinational corporation doing the packaging?

2. Here's something I have known before but face again, and frankly, I've never really liked it. Making choices means saying "no" to things. Closing doors. Relinquishing things and experiences, perhaps even before they happen. 

Recently, Shuniah House Books has chosen not to participate in an indoor sale sponsored by ThunderCon, a group likely to attract more than a few folks interested in reading and buying books like The Iterations of Caroline. We have reasons, and I'm content with the decision, but it's hard not to feel a momentary pang. 

3. Here's something I recently heard myself say and went "OH." It's long; get a coffee. 

I have enjoyed using Leuchtturm notebooks for organizing and tracking my life for oh, eighteen months or so. Since this past September, I've been wondering what system to use in 2022. I had a Filofax ring system for many years and liked it fine. I've also very much enjoyed using Paperblanks notebooks in the past year for a variety of projects (you can see me rhapsodize about them on Instagram). 

And no, I don't get paid from any of those companies, because although the amount I spend on notebooks seems vast to ME, it's not even a snowflake in a storm to them. (Yes, it's snowing today. Why do you ask?)

I have long found it restful to draw lines on paper. Straight lines, curvy ones. Doodles. Representations of objects and mere ornaments. I have wondered if I'd enjoy keeping a bullet journal, but I don't like drawing THAT much. Then again, the official Bullet Journal method isn't all about the beauty; it's about doing what helps you do things that are important to you. And if having a functional way to track days is all I want, I can make that. 

My internal response was, "if you used a notebook as a bullet journal, imagine how quickly you'd go through notebooks." (Which is not necessarily true, either--some folks use only one or maybe two for the full year. Not your 80-page Hilroys, of course--the A5-sized big jobs.) 

And then I said "OH." Because I am not like one who doesn't already own a notebook or two. I even enjoy using them, instead of keeping them "for nice" or "for writing that's worthy of this nice a notebook" (If you know you know; I can't explain it). 

So, to recap: "using up notebooks" ... that's NOT a bad thing ... and I enjoy drawing lines, more or less ... and I can do whatever I want ... so I'm playing with a bullet journal in December and maybe into 2022.  

No commitments. Because if there's one thing I learned YET AGAIN in 2021, it's that however much I enjoy predictability and routines, even (or especially) in times of unpredictable global events, I can also be flexible. Sometimes. In small things. Oat milk for coffee, bullet journal things.

Happy December, however retrospective you choose to be.