Still Not Reading

I have mentioned before about how I seem to be unable to concentrate on books since the start of the pandemic. Last night, I went to bed earlier than usual, intending to try to continue with Cindy Bruchman’s second book in a series. The third one might be published this year, and I am only halfway through that second one.
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/48559025-inside-the-gold-plated-pistol

This is no reflection on the story or the writing, both of which are compelling. I read the first half of the book in two sittings.

Then there was a pandemic, followed by lockdowns. And despite all the vaccinations, it continues.

At first, I thought this was a golden opportunity to read more. To really get into the TBR list of books downloaded on my Kindle Fire, and perhaps open some real books too. But it was not to be.

Within days, I could no longer concentrate on books. I would lie in bed at night re-reading the same pages, or flicking back to a previous chapter to remind myself of why a character was in a certain situation. A year earlier, i had read over twenty books, good going for me.

Then it all stopped.

It wasn’t as if I was unduly affected by news of the pandemic at first. I wasn’t worrying about it to the extent of noticeably affecting my mood, or my sleep. I was still reading lots of blog posts every day, and writing more than ever. But when I tried to settle down in some peace and quiet to read, it didn’t happen.

It will soon be two years since I have finished a book, and that upsets me. Not only do I like to read and review books published by friends in the blogging community, I have many more that I was still routinely buying. That has also had to stop, as there is no room left on the bookshelves, and too many downloaded onto my Kindle Fire.

All I can do is to hope that this strange spell will break soon, and I will be a happy and contented reader once more.

It feels like a curse waiting to be lifted.

Literary inspirations

At a time when I am finding it impossible to finish reading a book, and also experiencing a slow-down in my desire to write, I thought I would reblog this 2015 post about my love of books, and some recommendations of those I have read in the past. Some of you (Jude, Sue, Cindy, David) have already read it. But since 2015, I have welcomed many new followers.

beetleypete

I have never written about books on this blog. Considering the amount of words I have written about so many other things, this fact has just struck me. It has been a glaring omission, and one I will attempt to rectify with this post. It will not be a series, so don’t worry.

Many blogs on the Internet are about books and literature. Some recommend good new reads, most promote the work of the blogger themselves. Others quote from classical literature, or delve into its origins and meanings. I won’t be doing any of that. Do I write because I used to read, or did I read because I wanted to write? The answer is probably neither of those options. I started writing at school like most of us do, as it is compulsory. But I didn’t read for that reason, I did it for enjoyment, education, and a desire…

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Thinking Aloud On A Sunday

Reading Your Own Writing.

I have mentioned many times recently how I have lacked the concentration to read this year. Since January 2020, I have started three books, bought seven more for my Kindle, and two paperbacks. And I have not finished reading a single one. I am hoping that my desire for reading will come back soon.

However, I have been reading my own fiction. Ever since I started to feel ill three weeks ago, accompanied by the constant rain that stopped me wanting to venture out any more than I had to, I have been revisiting my own fiction from a different prespective. I have approached it as a reader, not the author. Some of my earlier short stories could do with better development, but I am happy with how I progressed with those, especially the series of photo-prompts.

I went back over some of my better serials, reading them first as a serial in parts, then as the ‘complete story’, in one go. When writing them, I read them constantly. I edit as I go, read the edit, and then read the whole thing before pressing ‘Publish’. But I read it as a writer; looking for errors, duplication of words or phrases, incorrect character names, and so on.

I have never read it as a reader, coming to it fresh.

I soon came to the conclusion that I don’t think they work as well as a complete story. They are written to be read in parts, and that seems to jar when getting through around 30,000 words. Although I am happy to compile them for readers who prefer that, I definitely think they read better as a serial, and flow better too.

Some of my serial fiction has complex structure, as in ‘The Old Remington’, where the events of one day change the past the next morning. Or ‘Little Annie’, which was told backwards from the ending. Two serials are very personal to me. ‘Benny Goes Bust’, which has a lot of ever so slightly altered details of my own life woven in, and ‘Vera’s Life’, based on the true story of my family and their neighbours during WW2.

But after a few weeks or reading my own stuff as a ‘reader’, I have decided that ‘The River’ might be my best work so far. Not only did I manage to tackle a setting in small town America, but it also stretched over a period exceeding twenty years. Without sounding boastful, and having just read the whole thing again yesterday, I reckon that one is pretty good.

If I say so myself.

Suddenly Struggling

2020 has been a strange year for everyone, no doubt about that. But whether it is the pandemic, my age, or some psychological change inside me, I am definitely struggling this year. As it went on, I found myself discombobulated, and everything started to suddenly become a struggle, even simple everyday things that most people get on with without a second thought.

I have already stated that I am going to be blogging less. That’s because I am really struggling to keep up with domestic chores and household tasks, and need to allow more time for those.

I am also reading less; nothing at all, to be completely honest. After loading up my Kindle and reading around forty books in two years, (not that many, but a lot for me) I haven’t finished a book so far this year. I find it hard to concentrate, and keep reading the same page over again, or looking back when I have forgotten something in the plot.

I am struggling with films too. I have notebook pages filled with Netflix recommendations, as well as almost 100 unwatched films on DVD, sitting on a shelf behind me. I flick through them intending to watch something, then decide I can’t be bothered and put them back.

I have hardly taken a photo either. Despite owning five digital cameras, I rarely even take one out. On my recent holiday, it occurred to me that I had already published photos of the places I was visiting, so took less than thirty shots in that week. Then I am struggling with the new version of Photoshop Elements, which seems to have changed the way I used to resize and save my images. I cannot be bothered to fight with any more technology, so just posted some photos in full-size files instead. I stopped caring about the space used.

Of course, you all know I have been struggling with the concept of the Block Editor. But I have decided to stop going on about that, as it just makes me angry and solves nothing.

Many of my dearest blogging friends are dealing with things that are much worse. Bereavement, illness, medical treatments, and disease. It makes me feel guilty to keep moaning about WordPress, so I am going to stop that now.

When I look back on 2020 in years to come, if I get the chance to do that, I will remember it as the year that I appeared to struggle with almost every aspect of my life.

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade!

This lovely post from Jennie shows what can be done to continue the education of children in these difficult times. She is always an inspiration.

A Teacher's Reflections

It happened quickly.  Schools closed for two weeks.  Teachers went in on Friday to do a deep cleaning, from surfaces to toys, even markers and the cover of every book.  Over the weekend the closings of public places skyrocketed.  On Monday schools were mandated to close for three weeks.

As a teacher, I need to reach out to children and teach.  But how?  There is little for them to do outside of home.  And then it struck me.

I can read to them online!

Surely there was a way to do that.  I had read aloud the book The Poet’s Dog on my blog.  Maybe YouTube would work for the children?  I watched a tutorial on how to set this up.  On one hand my heart was pounding with excitement, and on the other hand I was filled with terror.  This non-techy person was on the end of the 10…

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The Books of my Blogging Friends

I am always happy to buy most books published by my friends in this blogging community.

I never ask for free copies, but sometimes take them when available.
Mostly, I buy them. That way, I can review them as a ‘Verified Purchase’.

That’s a small price to pay (usually) to promote anyone I respect as a writer, and consider to be a friend.

But I thought I would add a note, for your information.

Just lately, I have purchased or pre-ordered quite a few of your books, albeit on Kindle editions only.
It is going to take some time to get to them all, in between the books I have bought that are not by bloggers.
I only read in bed at night, so how much I get through depends on how tired I am, and how early I go to sleep.

So just to let you know, in case you wonder why I haven’t reviewed them yet.

Guest Post: Jennie Fitzkee

Jennie is an American blogger. She is a truly inspirational teacher of young children, with a real love of reading, books, and education.
She is not only the teacher I wish I had had, but the one we should all have had.

https://jenniefitzkee.com

Here is her guest post.

How Reading-Aloud Made Me the Teacher and Person I Am Today.

My very first day of teaching preschool in Massachusetts, thirty-two years ago, was both career and life altering. Lindy, my co-teacher, asked me to read the picture books to children each day after our Morning Meeting. Sure (gulp)! I was new, scared, and unfamiliar with many children’s books. I had not been read to as a child, except for The Five Chinese Brothers from my grandmother. I still remember the page that opens sideways, with the brother who could stretch his legs. One book, and to this day I remember it vividly.

The book I read to the children on that first day of school was Swimmy, by Leo Lionni. It was magical for me, and for the children. The story line, the art, the engineering, the words… it was a taste of something I knew I had to have. And, I couldn’t get enough.

The next few decades I consumed children’s books. I realized that the more I read aloud, the more the children wanted to hear stories and be read to. I displayed books in my classroom front-facing, so children were drawn to picking up and ‘reading’ the books. In this way, the children wanted to handle, hold, and turn the pages of books. This was a big deal! It was true hands-on learning, with exploding questions and interest. I was the yeast in the dough, or perhaps the books were the yeast. Oh, our Morning Meetings grew. We had to include a children’s dictionary on the bookshelf so we could look up words that were new. That was fun!

By this time I had become picky about good books. Whenever I read a good book, it sparked so many questions and conversations, that sometimes it took ‘forever’ to get through the book. The first time I read Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky, it took forty minutes to finish reading the book. I started with the inside cover, a picture of the courtyard, and simply asked questions; “Where is this?” “Does this look like Massachusetts?” “What is different?”

Reading picture books triggered big discussions. I often stopped to ask questions. Sometimes I would simply say, “Oh, dear…” in mid-sentence and let the children grab onto that rope. Yes, I was throwing out a lifeline, a learning line, and it worked. It was exciting, always engaging.

Before long, I started reading chapter books before rest time. This was unconventional for preschoolers, yet it felt right because children were on their nap mats and needed to hear stories without seeing pictures. I started with Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, and have never looked back. The first thing children learned was ‘you make the pictures in your head’. This is thrilling, because we now have non-stop reading and multiple discussions, without pictures. Thirty minutes of pretty intense reading-aloud. My chapter books include the best of the best.

My teaching had become language based and child centered. Often there were ‘moments’, things that happened because we were reading all the time. Reading had spilled over into my curriculum. The day we had set up a restaurant in housekeeping, children were ‘reading’ menus and ‘writing’ orders on clipboards. I was spelling out the words to one child and listening to questions about the menu from another child. I doubt these moments would have happened had I not read so often in the classroom.

I wanted to tell families what happened, about moments of learning, and of course about reading-aloud. So, I started to write more information in my newsletters, and include details. I wrote, and I wrote, sharing small moments and relating those moments to the big picture in education.

I attended a teacher seminar, and Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, was the keynote speaker. As he spoke I wanted to jump up and rush over to the hundreds of teachers in the room, screaming, “Are you listening to this man?” “Do you realize how important his message is?” Instead I wrote him a letter and included one of my newsletters to families that spoke about the importance of reading-aloud. That sparked his interest in my chapter reading, and he visited my classroom to watch. I’m included in the latest version of his million copy bestselling book.

My public library asked me to direct a library reading group for second and third graders. This was another new adventure in reading. I read The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes, among many wonderful books. Again, these were new books to me, and I loved it. This past summer I embraced YA books, thanks to reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I read every Kate DiCamillo book I could lay my hands on. Every one.

My reading and reading-aloud continues to grow. Thank you Read-Aloud West Virginia for getting the message of how important reading is to the public. We are making a difference.

Jennie

I have followed Jennie’s blog for a long time now, and I don’t even have children. But I get inspiration and wonder from reading about her dedication to teaching, and her love of the kids she cares for. Please read her blog. And if you have small children, you will want to follow her heartwarming stories of a life devoted to education, kindness, and compassion.

More on books, and reading.

It would appear that my decision to get the Kindle Fire Tablet was a good one, at least in respect of reading books. After barely managing to read one or two books a year for over a decade, I have finished no less than fourteen books since January. Many have been reviewed on my blog too, adding an extra benefit to my revitalised reading.

After overcoming the early frustrations of reading electronically, I can now see the benefits, particularly in bed. The Tablet has a ‘shading’ feature, so I can have the light from the screen and text reduced and it is not so harsh. It is also easy to hold or to prop up on a fold of duvet. I used to mainly read in bed at one time, and now I find myself retiring early, keen to get on with my current book. Without any distractions or noise, I manage to read a lot of chapters in bed, though I have restricted myself to a two-hour maximum, in the hope of avoiding excessive screen time for my eyes.

The main thing is that after such a long break, I am reading again, and enjoying it immensely.

Once I have worked through the downloaded e-books, I might just start on the piles of hardbacks filling the shelves in the office room. 🙂

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Books, and reading.

As I have started to read again, after a long break, and because I was reading a book in bed before I went to sleep last night, it is understandable that I woke up today thinking about that subject.

I am not getting on that well with electronic reading. On the plus side, it is great to be able to read an ‘illuminated page’, with no need for additional lighting. And I can store a lot of books on something the size of an A4 sheet of paper. The downside for me is that the page-turning feature can be over-sensitive, frequently flipping back to previously read pages without warning. It also freezes up more that I am happy with, leaving me having to restart, to return to the last page I was reading.

So many of you report no issues with this, I am beginning to wonder if I have a faulty Kindle Fire. But it may also have something to do with me, and my unfamiliarity with using Tablets.

When it comes to the books, I have now read five of them in one month. Considering I only finished one book during the whole of the previous year, then that is progress indeed, and definitely a result of having the new way of reading, as well as not having to further clutter diminishing space with large paperbacks or hardback copies. I have enjoyed the books written by other bloggers, and have been pleasantly surprised by the high quality, readability, and refreshing subjects and themes.

That has not been the case with the mainstream books though. Despite great reviews, and large sales on Amazon and elsewhere, I was disappointed to find that familiar ‘formula’ writing very much in evidence. Characters conceived so that they can be featured in sequels, or living in stylised, unrealistic situations that are hard to identify with. Many years ago, I regularly read at least one book a week. I used to follow authors, including Dean Koontz, Stephen King, and some more serious writers. When they had a new book out, I would buy it immediately, believing I would be sure to like it.

But then they started to feel ‘familiar’. The names were changed, but the plots similar. Things happened in those books as I had come to expect them to, and I became convinced that we were all reading much the same story, with just the locations and characters altered slightly. That was one of the main reasons I stopped reading novels, and switched to non-fiction instead. After almost twenty years, I have returned to fiction, in the hope that things had changed. In many respects they have, but in some cases, I can see it is just the same old story. Literally.

So I am not sure about reading again. I feel a little cheated by some writers, but refreshed and inspired by others. Maybe that has always been the case? Not sure.

I am still thinking about it.

E-Reading: First Impressions

As I promised, I started to read the previously stored e-books on my Amazon Fire Tablet this morning. I began with the very impressive ‘Yeshiva Girl’, by American blogger, Rachel Mankowitz. Here’s a link.
The Book is Ready
I got into this very good book quickly, helped by the fact that I was reading it tucked up in bed, after waking up far too early today. I was soon 45% into the book, (yes I know, impressive) when the ‘issues’ began. I must have touched something without knowing, as the book morphed into a tiny square in the centre of the Fire Tablet’s screen. After numerous attempts to ‘spread’ the text with my fingers, I finally got back to full size, and continued to read.

But as I flicked the screen to the next page, I was confused. This didn’t seem to follow on from the page I had just read. Sure enough, I soon discovered that the Tablet had moved me on three pages, instead of one. I flicked back three pages until it made sense again, and continued for a minute or two. Then I sneezed, which the Tablet apparently does not compute. After using a tissue, I returned to my reading, to discover that the book was now back to the cover page! I had to scroll though the entire 46% of the beginning of the book, to get back to where I had started.

Happy to be back on the right page, I read it, thinking that I might finish the book completely, at that rate. That made me very happy.

But then the auto-alignment feature decided that I wanted the screen to be in landscape format, instead of portrait. Twiddling it around eventually solved the problem, but then it started to fast forward three pages instead of one again. Every time. I had two options. Fling the annoying device out through the closed window, (it was cold this morning) or put it down for a while, until I calmed down. I made the sensible choice, and plugged it in on charge next to the bed, (the battery warning had also come on) before getting up and forgetting the rest of the book for today.

I will be going back to Rachel’s book, (if it lets me) as it is most enjoyable. But in the meantime, if any of you very experienced e-readers have any tips about using the things, please let me know in the comments. (With screenshots, if possible. 🙂 )