Bibelots

a place for the curious

Read harder or not at all

two people sit comfortably across from each other between two library shelves full of books

Getting comfy with books

I’m going to try a reading challenge this year. Not to prove how many books I can ram into a year – I’ve never been the type to sit around and boast how big, how far, how many – but to push the boundaries of exactly what I’m comfortable reading. And what I’m not.

It’s too easy to stay in your happy little comfort zone. Sometimes, when life is busy or tough, knowing your comfort zone and residing there is good and, even more, necessary. Sometimes you need to push the reading envelope a little.

This time of year there are plenty of reading challenges around. There’s one from Pop Sugar that’s quite nice, but I balked when I read their challenge of ‘A book with a blue cover’. Don’t judge a book by the proverbial, right?

Goodreads has you covered if you just want the numbers, but I do not. It’s nice though as they let you set your own goal.

I loved the look of the #BustleReads 20 book challenge. But I loved it a little too much. If I’m feeling comfy, it’s hardly a challenge at all. Yes? Yes. Still, I wholeheartedly reserve the right to go back there and plunder it if I get bored with my final challenge choice.

The challenge that I’ve gone with had a few goals that properly made me screw up my nose in discomfort. It’s still got some easy hits for me as well though. 500+ pages? Sure. Done. Horror? Um, how many can I have? Just one? Oh. But there is more challenge than ease, and so the winner is…

My preferred challenge

The 2016 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge

The challenge by Book Riot is a great list (that unfortunately is done as an image. Hello, modern web much?) You can get a text version of the list over at Goodreads.

For my own amusement, I’ve broken it into some useful groups. The point for me is to extend myself. I’m not bothered if I don’t tick all the boxes, but I do want to try and tick all the ones that make me break into a sweat.

Well, it doesn’t say it has to be an adult, right?

  • Read a book out loud to someone else

Uh, really? Do I really have to do that?

  • Read a food memoir
  • Read a biography (not memoir or autobiography)
    {I’m surprised by how much I don’t want to do this}

Oh, I didn’t realise how infrequently I do this

  • Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie Award
  • Read a book about religion (fiction or nonfiction)
  • Read a book about politics, in your country or another (fiction or nonfiction)
  • Read a play
  • Read the first book in a series by a person of color
  • Read a book that is set in the Middle East

I’ve done this lots before, but I’m due again

  • Read a collection of essays
  • Read a book with a main character that has a mental illness
  • Read a middle grade novel
    {for Australians, this is a book aimed at kids aged around 8-12}
  • Read a book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie – debate which is better
  • Read a book by or about a person that identifies as transgender
  • Read a book that is by an author from Southeast Asia
  • Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years
  • Read a book originally published in the decade you were born
  • Read a book under 100 pages

Too easy, I do this all the time

  • Read a horror book
  • Read a nonfiction book about science
  • Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900
  • Read a nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes
  • Read a book over 500 pages long
    {done, I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things}

Is it even possible not to do this?

  • Read a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel

That’s all from me

It’s time to start reading.

Who owns this book?

A question about unread books was posted on twitter today. It gave me pause for thought:


There’s little doubt that this question has more to do with hoarding than reading, but for me it soon became a question about ownership.

Wisely, Octavia (@ReadSleepRepeat) was careful to include e-books. If she’d just said ‘books’, I could have cheated by trying to interpret that as ‘paper books’, before walking around my house counting a few dozen unread books*.

Thinking of all my copyright-free e-books, I asked Octavia whether her query was also about books you get for free — the answer was a resounding yes.

Uh-oh.

With that answer my slightly-smug feeling of  ‘I don’t have too many unread books’ started draining away.

library, black and white photo

Books, beautiful books
National Library of Norway

Here’s my problem. When I’m bored I’ll trawl through places like Project Gutenberg or the Internet Archive, searching for things that sound curious, intriguing or, at least, eminently readable. There are now hundreds and hundreds of tiny, little book bibelots, stored on my kindle and computer, waiting my possible perusal or swift reference.

Do I own these books? Of course not. Not in any financial sense. Do the ones I love belong to me as much as any book I’ve paid money for? I guess the answer has to be yes.

The question then becomes one of whether these great hoards of digital books can be counted. And to that I can say a resounding ‘not in this lifetime’. It’s just not possible. While I’m at it I might as well try and count all the pages on the internet. These books keep going out of copyright, getting uploaded and being downloaded.

It’s around about now that it all gets a little philosophical. Just who owns what anyway?

Octavia’s question was a good one as it got me to thinking. A wonderful outcome on any day. But, ultimately, it’s just not the question I want to answer. Ask me this:

What’s still out there that you haven’t yet managed to read?

The answer is, of course, everything. I can’t ever own all of it, but it’s all there. And, so, here I am. With the universe and everything in it still left to read.

 

* Is it just me or does the phrase ‘unread books’ conjure up images of story-less books roaming the midnight streets looking for words to devour. … No? Just me, then?

Listen up

People recording a radio play - black and white photo

Making a story,
The Netherlands Nationaal Archief

So, you’re going to make a podcast.

Great news. At least for me. You see, I’m a podcast addict. I walk. A lot. And everywhere I go I take a little audio show with me. If I’m on the train and there’s no  book to hand, there are a million podcasts awaiting my ears.

My question for you is: How are you going to capture my attention in this great flood of podcasts? Maybe you’ll ask me what I like and want to hear more about. Surely it’s all about what you’ve got to say, not how you say it.

Story before method, right?

Well, no. Not quite.

As any good (or struggling) writer will tell you, getting the story on the page is just part of the job. The rest will see you doing endless hours of editing and redrafting. It’s the same for everyone. Story creation is the hot rush of ideas and making stuff up. No-one makes anything flawless first time around. And we all know it. A poor edit can ruin a great idea.

Why then do so many podcasts consist of unedited talking heads? There are some great podcast topics out there. But they don’t make my adrenaline rush when I see them in my feed. I might still listen, but they are, sadly, filed under ‘quite nice’. Or worse, ’eminently skimmable’.

I organise my podcasts, not by topic, but by when and where I listen to them. One playlist is called ‘pay attention & listen’. It’s usually empty, because as soon as any of these guys land, I’m itching to listen in. I won’t do them the disservice of listening on a crowded street. I’ll find a quiet corner and make sure I don’t miss a single word. They demand it of me. Unedited talking heads do not.

If you want me to listen, give it some care and loving attention. Make it so I can’t not listen. Craft me something wonderful.

So, make it. But make it good. Right now could be the golden age of podcasts and you could be a part of it.

Yes, I love podcasts. Make it so I love yours.

A matter of gravity: women in space

Last week, The Mary Sue had a small piece about the dull and quite insane question of ‘periods in space’.

In typical Mary Sue form, their approach was both tongue-in-cheek and appropriately dismissive. Their story refers to a longer NPR article about the same question. Neither of them are, in reality, about answering the question. They’re about women, NASA and feminism.

In fact, the NPR article is so focused on NASA’s culture, it seems to skip over the fact that a woman first went into space in 1963: Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova. That’s not to say the Soviets were sending women up every other month. After they nabbed this important ‘first’, it was another 19 years before any more woman cosmonauts were launched into space – for the curious, that was Svetlana Savitskaya.

In the article, there’s a snippet from a NASA report in 1971:

“The question of direct sexual release on a long-duration space mission must be considered. Practical considerations (such as weight and expense) preclude men taking their wives on the first space flights. It is possible that a woman, qualified from a scientific viewpoint, might be persuaded to donate her time and energies for the sake of improving crew morale; however, such a situation might create interpersonal tensions far more dynamic than the sexual tensions it would release.”

– NASA technical memorandum, 1971

This snippet reminds me of a scene in an old Heinlein story; All You Zombies. Written more than 10 years before the NASA report, it too talks about sexual tensions:

“It was when they first admitted you can’t send men into space for months and years and not relieve the tension. You remember how the wowsers screamed?—that improved my chance, since volunteers were scarce. A gal had to be respectable, preferably virgin (they liked to train them from scratch), above average mentally, and stable emotionally.”

– All You Zombies, Heinlein, 1958

Both story and snippet in turn remind me of a fierce and angry piece by science fiction author Alice Sheldon – James Tiptree Jr. Her short story ‘With Delicate Mad Hands’ was republished in a collection, ‘Her Smoke Rose Up Forever’. It focuses on a young woman with a disfigured face. Her name is CP. Her nickname is far worse. It’s this scene about CP that came to mind as I read the NPR article:

“And to these tinderboxes you want to add an even reasonably attractive woman, sonny? We know the men do better with a female along. […] But on board a long flight, what we need sexually is a human waste can.”

– With Delicate Mad Hands, James Tiptree, Jr. 1981

I won’t quote any more. The words are ruthless. Tiptree at her best. Written 10 years after the NASA report, the sentiment is clear. When Tiptree wrote, she wasn’t extrapolating. She was responding. She always was. Her fiction is as harsh as the truth.

I read Tiptree as a young woman. I would sometimes find her in a pile of other stories about space and space adventures that were mostly written by men. I knew she was different. Her words filled me with fire. It wasn’t until much later that I realised she was a woman and a fierce and unrelenting feminist. I imagined that much of what she wrote was as a response to the other stories being told at the time. But snippets like this NASA report make it clear it wasn’t only in response to fiction. It was to the world.

The question, the extract, the stories. None of them are funny. They aren’t happy. And they don’t end well. They just are.

It’s good to take a moment and remember why all of this matters. Why people matter. People, refugees, women – any and all of us.

Better‘ isn’t good enough. It’s better, and that’s all.

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