Category Archives: What I’m Reading

E-Reader Guilt? Get Rid of It and Enjoy the Story

I saw this on Twitter and wanted to pass it on: Humans Have the Need to Read, from the Guardian.

I think there is a lot of e-reader guilt going around these days. In some circles, having an e-reader feels a bit like pulling out a pack of smokes in a British Columbia – bad.

I love books, but I love my e-reader too. When I’m travelling, I’d rather not fill up my already over-stuffed suitcase with books, and I really like that I can make notes about passages or highlight interesting quotes without worrying about folding over pages or damaging the book.

I like my e-reader in the tub, too. So far. I have dropped many books in bathwater, but not the kindle, not yet 🙂

When I was a kid, I read anything I could get my hands on: cereal boxes, books, magazines, road signs – if it had text, I read it. Except for comics. My parents didn’t think much of comic books, but I had a secret stash of Archie which I was allowed to look at in the summers only. Perhaps if comics had been marketed as ‘Graphic Novels,’ things would have been different in our house.

Anyway, those comic books never did me any harm. When I’m speaking to kids or teachers or parents, I encourage the kids to read in any format that interests them and ask the parents and teachers to act, not as censors, but as advisers.

And now, I encourage readers to read in any format. Drop the e-reader guilt, if you’ve got it and enjoy the story – that’s what stimulates our brains and keeps us thinking.

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Illinois Woman’s Press Association (IWPA 2012 Contest)

It’s that time of the year already. The IWPA 2012 Communications Contest is upon us and once again, I have been asked to be one of the judges. Active since 1885, the IWPA acts as both an advocate and a voice for women in press and I am honoured to participate in this annual event.

So for the next week, the phone is off the hook while I read through the many entries that arrived in a big box late last week – everything from Feature Stories to News Reporting. If this year’s entries are anything like last years, I can look forward to passionate, interesting and engaging writing. What better way to spend the next little while!

If you want to know more about the IWPA, their website is a wealth of information, links and much more. From their site:

The past 126 years of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association c ombined with the 70+ years history of the National Federation of Press Women has been a powerful force in supporting literacy, women’s issues, the First Amendment and freedom of information. We have developed powerful partnerships with such organizations as the Council of National Journalism Organizations, the National Women’s History Museum and the World Press Freedom Committee.

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Governor General Literary Awards Finalists Announced Today

Today the Canada Council for the Arts released the list of finalist for the GG Awards. I’ve copied the English Fiction list here but interested readers can get the full list the Canada Council Website.

My son gave me a Kindle Reader, just because he is such a great kid, and I think I will download a few of these titles to try it out. At first I was a little wary of the whole idea of reading on an e-reader, but my little den is overflowing with books, so I am looking at the reader as a space-saving device. So far, I have downloaded only one very small book, one I am using for research for the novel I am working on. I like that the reader is so light – easy to stick into my purse and carry with me wherever I go. It has a very long battery life, so, unlike my IPhone, I don’t have to remember to plug it in every night. I really like the search function, and the quick access to a dictionary. I think I am converted, although I still love traditional books and will continue to buy the ones I plan on keeping.

Our next book club book is The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival, by John Vaillant and I’ve got the hardcover edition because I’ve enjoyed and wanted to keep his other books. It costs more, almost double to buy a traditional book, but sometimes it’s worth it!

GG Fiction List:

David Bezmozgis, Toronto, The Free World
(HarperCollins Publishers; distributed by HarperCollins Canada)
(ISBN 978-1-44340-399-3)

Patrick deWitt, Portland (Oregon) [originally from Vancouver Island], The Sisters Brothers
(House of Anansi Press; distributed by HarperCollins Canada)
(ISBN 978-0-88784-289-4)

Esi Edugyan, Victoria (British Columbia), Half-Blood Blues: A Novel
(Thomas Allen Publishers; distributed by Thomas Allen & Son)
(ISBN 978-0-88762-741-5)

Marina Endicott, Edmonton (Alberta), The Little Shadows
(Doubleday Canada; distributed by Random House of Canada)
(ISBN 978-0-385-66891-0)

Alexi Zentner, Ithaca (New York) [originally from Kitchener, Ontario], Touch
(Alfred A. Knopf Canada; distributed by Random House of Canada)
(ISBN 978-0-307-39944-1)

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Super Busy Year Reading – How Great is That?

I’ve returned from paradise, reluctantly and to make leaving Maui even more difficult, it’s snowing in Lotus Land. James is home for reading week, and I want to devout every hour to doing stuff with him, but, alas, I have two days outside work this week and a lot of reading to do.

While I was away, the 2011 Mate E. Palmer Professional Communicators Contest of the Illinois Women’s Press Association (IWPA) sent the first round of work to read for the Print Media category. For those of you who don’t know, the IWPA has an annual contest to provide an opportunity for communicators across the state to gain recognition for their work as published journalists, book authors, photographers, as well as in advertising, among various categories. The IWPA is the oldest state affiliate of the National Federation of Press Women.

I am truly honoured to be one of the judges and a little nervous too – after all, I know the competition will be stiff – so much talent!

Then there are the Red Cedar Awards – my living room is full of books for kids and reading them is pure pleasure, except there are so many. I’ll be ready for our next meeting, though and again, there is so much talent, that picking the best of the best is not easy.

And finally, book club. I have bought the books (March: The Places in Between, by Rory Stewart and April: A Farewell to Arms). May, it’s my turn to pick the book and I am thinking Zola.

I have no time to write, which is okay now that the final edits for The Darkness Between the Stars are done :), but I’d like to start a new book, if only I didn’t need sleep.

Re: My invite to Costa Rica that I blogged about earlier. I’m going!!! March 1st and I wish I could put all of this reading on an eReader, but not possible. Maybe by next year?

I have lots more to say about the trip to Costa Rica, but will save that for another time. Stay tuned.
Julie

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Red Cedar Awards: What Am I Reading?

This year, I am part of the selection committee for the British Columbia Red Cedar Awards, Fiction – a terrific honour, and my living room is full of books – I actually get to read and call it ‘work,’ and nobody can question what I am doing!

As great as ebooks are, I have to say that the feel, smell and touch of a brand new book cannot be surpassed. So far, I’ve read some terrific books for kids from grades four to seven, and in April, when we somehow decide on the final fifteen, I can guarantee a summer reading list that will ”blow your socks off.” I kind of like that expression – it came to me from out of nowhere!

I have also been chosen one of the judges for the Illinois Women’s Press Association (IWPA) – The IWPA has the annual contest to provide an opportunity for communicators across the state to gain recognition for their work as published journalists, book authors, photographers, as well as in advertising, among various categories. The IWPA is the oldest state affiliate of the National Federation of Press Women., along with:

Jennifer Brown Banks
Ashley Mouldon
DeAnna McCleary
David Berner
Joe Nowak
Sylvia Alston

Pretty soon, 30 essays or more should start arriving via snail mail!

And for my Bookclub this month, we are reading: Peter Carey’s Parrot and Olivier in America – have to have this read by next weekend. So in answer to, “What am I reading?” Everything.

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Red Cedar Awards 2010/2011

The leaves are falling, dusk is arriving earlier and Halloween is only weeks away, which means, it’s almost Red Cedar Awards time again. Pretty soon information of how you can participate will be up on their website, so keep checking back.

This year I am thrilled to have been chosen as one of the readers/judges for the Red Cedar Awards – as I blog, I am looking at a rather large box of books, but I’ve got until April to get through them – so I guess I’ll have a really good reason to curl up on the couch and do my favourite thing; bury my nose in a book.

Always keep in mind: Good writers are voracious readers. Reading is isn’t a luxury, it’s part of the job!

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The Rhythm of a Writer’s Retreat End Week One @ Val David International Writer’s Res

A writer’s retreat is an odd thing. At first it is almost stressful — the newness of everything — the sense of not knowing where one is in relationship to the geography of the land, to the language, if different, to all those strangers who may or may not be known. Then, a little time goes by; perhaps two or three days and one begins to get a stronger sense of a new place. It’s still foreign, but less so. You’ve sourced out the important things: book store, photocopy store, grocery store and of course, here in Quebec, the SAQ (The Société des alcools du Québec),which began in 1973.

By the fourth or fifth day, you know where to get the best food, who serves the best coffee and who is unfriendly. You make discoveries like the one I did today – a little boulangerie on Rue de Riviere (sorry about the spelling) where everything is fresh and organic and you can sip on a coffee and munch on a garlic, pesto pizza under the shade of towering pine trees with the sound of the River behind you.

And magically, something starts to change in the way you write. Ideas turn into words and sentences turn into paragraphs and pages and new book is born, or a new poem or an new song…the creative shift is so slight, that it is almost indiscernible and you have to make yourself become aware of what is going on. And that’s when the magic really begins.

Is it time without the pressures of life? Is it the sense of timelessness and the feeling that you don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to. Or is it the luxury of being able to let ideas come, to not be rushed in your thinking or judgmental. Or maybe it’s just change. In a new situation, all animals are more alert, more in tune with their surroundings, more alert to possibilities, both good and bad. Humans are animals and no different from their four-legged cousins in this way.

Whatever it is, writers and artists at every stage of their careers should grab hold of the opportunity to spend some time away from real life in a writer’s or artist’s (often they are mixed) retreat. My best books have been born in these places. What will come from my stay in Val David? I don’t know yet, but I am sure it will be something wonderful.

At night I am reading: Nikolski and l listen to Jonathan GoldstienWire Tap podcasts — the ones where he does his monologues or talks to Gregor, Howard, Tucker, his parents and others on the phone. I’m not so keen on the straight stories…I’d rather read those.

I get the feeling someone is watching out for me

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Book Club – May – Ebenezer Le Page (Loved this book)

The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by Gerald Basil Edwards. The best thing about Book Club is that every so often we get to read a book we normally would never come across. One of our ‘textettes’ read a review of this book in the London Book Review and decided to give it a shot. A slow start for me, but eventually I could not put it down. It was Edward’s first and only book and he wrote it very late in life and it was published posthumously. It’s set on Guernsey during the WW II when the Nazis occupied that island and when one reads the book, one is there.

A long, dense but very readable and engaging story. Recommended.

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The Forgotten Legion, by Ben Kane

Romulus and Fabiola are twins, born into slavery after their mother is raped by a drunken nobleman on his way home from a good night out. At 13 years old, they and their mother are sold: Romulus to gladiator school, Fabiola into prostitution, where she will catch the eye of one of the most powerful men in Rome, and their mother into obscurity and death in the salt mines.

Tarquinius is an Etruscan, a warrior and soothsayer, born enemy of Rome, but doomed to fight for the Republic in the Forgotten Legion. Brennus is a Gaul; the Romans killed his entire family. He rises to become one of the most famous and feared gladiators of his day – and mentor to the boy slave, Romulus, who dreams night and day of escape and of revenge.

The lives of these four characters are bound and interwoven in a marvellous story which begins in a Rome riven by corruption, violence and political enmities, but ends far away, where Romulus, Brennus and Tarquinius find themselves fighting against the Parthians and overwhelming odds.

Purchase The Forgotten Legion at Amazon.com or Amazon.UK

Look for Suite101.com’s Elizabeth Gregory’s review of Kane’s novel in the following weeks.

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Book excerpt from Daniel Dinges, Get Out of the Way

Guest Blogger, Daniel Dinges has kindly provided readers with an excerpt from his new book, Get Out of the Way.

Have a read and then send me an email. Dinges’ publisher has kindly agreed to give away a free copy of Get Out of the Way. If you’d like a copy, just post a comment, as to why you think this would be a great addition to your library.

Chapter Eleven
Hand Grenades and Atropine

There were all kinds of other things to learn, of course. Most topics were just skimmed over. For instance, the two days of hand-to-hand combat training we got. I don’t think I would feel good about having to defend myself against a skilled, trained, and experienced adversary with that little training. For most of these topics, it was just preparation for advanced infantry training, which would come next for most of us.
I remember a particular CBR (Chemical, Biological, Radiological) lecture very well. It had been an unusually cold day for April, and by midmorning, we were all shivering. The lecture hall was warm. and as we thawed out, we began to get sleepy.
The instructor began the session by announcing that if anyone were caught sleeping during the lecture, he would be invited to demonstrate the use of an atropine injector for the class. The class was very informative, but boring. Then we got to the atropine injector. Atropine was and is the antidote of choice for nerve gas. It looked like a cigar tin. Inside were a large long needle and the dose of the drug. You use it by slamming the end of the tin against the body. A very strong spring propels the needle through the clothing into the body and injects the dosage.
The recommendation was to inject it into the meaty part of the thigh at the back. Just about that time, the instructor noticed a sleeping trainee in the back.
“Send the trooper in seat forty-one down to the stage.” Up he came, still half asleep. “You were sleeping, right?”
“Uh, yes, Sergeant.”
“Sit down.” The trainee obeyed.
“Here, inject yourself with this.”
“Sergeant?”
“Slap the end on your thigh.”
“Aaaaaaah!”
The trainee had slept through the part about the meaty area behind the bone. Instead, he slapped the injector right down on top of his thigh. The needle imbedded itself in the bone, and the whole thing stuck there waving like a flag in the wind.
They got a gurney that had been stationed nearby and wheeled him right out. I think this had happened before. The incident has always stuck with me, so to speak. In ‘91, during Operation Desert Storm, the Israelis issued atropine injectors to the general population in case of chemical attack by Iraq. I remember a CNN report about one incident where a number of citizens panicked after a missile attack and took the atropine. Many of them were hospitalized. I immediately got a mental picture of the trainee in basic.
The hand grenade toss was another of those special moments. It was squeezed into the schedule one afternoon near the end of rifle qualification. I was doing great on the rifle range, so the DI asked me to come along in the morning to help set up the grenade range. We put out all the munitions and loaded the practice grenades, all under the watchful eye of the range officers for the day. Unlike most of the jobs the training company personnel did, the duty for this range was spread out. Everyone got a turn. The reason was that this was the most dangerous job in the place.
They would eventually have to stand in a foxhole while trainees threw live ones. You could see the stress on their faces. Nobody enjoyed this exercise. Throwing hand grenades looks so macho on the movie screen. In real life, it is a different business.
The grenade we were using at that time was very powerful and very deadly. Most trainees couldn’t throw one far enough to get out of the range of the blast. The grenade itself was about the size of a baseball, only much heavier. It was smooth and looked different from the pineapple of WWII. The firing mechanism was functionally the same. You pulled a pin from the handle at the top. When you threw it, the handle flipped off, arming the timer. When the time was up, it exploded.
There were a couple of things to keep in mind. The thing did not always explode on time. It could detonate anywhere from three seconds to eight seconds after the handle came off. Forget about counting to three before you let go. The other thing was that the handle was made out of a very light aluminum. If you squeezed it hard, it would bend. This flexibility led to a phenomenon called milking. If you got nervous and started squeezing the handle before you threw it, you could actually start the timer without any visible sign. You would not figure it out until the thing went off in your hand, killing you and whoever happened to be nearby.
The rest of the company showed up after they were done at the rifle range. The afternoon started with a lecture about these weapons, range safety protocols, and the schedule for the afternoon. Next, we threw duds that weighed the same as the real thing. From the number of them that ended up short of the flag that represented a safe distance from the blast, I would agree that most of us could not throw one far enough to be safe without taking cover.
We then threw simulators. Duds with a real firing mechanism attached. You pulled the pin, and it went off with a small bang, like a firecracker after the fuse delay. I had spent most of the morning putting them together. This was supposed to get you used to arming and throwing in one fluid motion.
Finally, it was time for the real thing. A single trainee would climb into a throwing pit where an officer was waiting. His job was to save your life if you screwed up by freezing with the grenade in your hand, dropping it, or doing something else stupid and deadly. No wonder the range officers were so happy to be there.
Eventually, it was my turn. I already had met the instructor while we were preparing the grenades that morning. His mood had not improved. With each new recruit, he was getting a little more nervous. The lieutenant gave me the instructions. I picked the thing up with my throwing hand, held it across my chest, and grabbed the pin with my other hand. At his signal, I pulled the pin, swung back my arm, and pitched the thing as far as I could. I guess I hesitated too long before I took cover. The lieutenant grabbed me behind the neck and slammed me into the ground. I didn’t mind. The grenade exploded as advertised. I got up and thanked the instructor. I do not know if the other recruits felt the way I did.
No one messed up, so we all got back to the barracks in one piece. I did not envy those officers having to play that game every month or so.
It was about this time that the whole company got into trouble. Our company commander was pleased with our progress and decided to let the company go to lunch without any officers or instructors. This was against post regulations, of course, and it was meant to show his trust in our ability to act like soldiers. It meant that the acting NCOs (noncommissioned officers), of which I was one, would have to form the company and march to the mess hall; and after lunch, re-form and march back to the company barracks.
Things were going great until we got close to the mess hall. At that point, we noticed another company approaching from a different direction. It appeared to be closer than we were. If they got there first, we would have to wait around outside for that unit to eat. Only one company was allowed in the mess at a time. There was always the chance that the mess hall would run out of food. That happened too often and was one of the most frustrating parts of our existence. Nothing like getting to the mess hall after five or six hours of strenuous activity and finding out that lunch was going to be a scoop of soggy string beans and lumpy mashed potatoes. One night, we had come home late from the range to find that exact situation. When we got to the chow line, there was almost nothing there. The soldier behind me actually got tears in his eyes. There was very nearly a food riot.
We decided to speed up. So, we went to a double step. Eventually, the other company noticed we were going faster and would get there first. It also sped up. We responded and increased our speed to a trot. The other unit followed suit. As we turned the corner, we were barely ahead. The last 100 yards turned into an all-out mad dash by a company of hungry trainees. We got in front of the hall and quickly organized ourselves into a neat column. Just then, the other company got there. A real lieutenant walked up and asked to talk to the officer in charge about our flagrant violation of a post regulation. Of course, all of our officers and DIs were back at the company barracks.
The incident was reported to the training battalion headquarters, and our company commander got a stiff reprimand. He quickly demonstrated his displeasure with our performance. Our consequence was two extra hours of physical training every day for a week. There is nothing like doing sit-ups at three thirty a.m. in a mud puddle to teach you the error of your ways.
One of the milestones of the course was the bivouac. It was a two-day camp out, army style. We marched out into the undeveloped part of the fort and set up camp. We slept in pup tents, dug foxholes, ran around, and fired many blanks through the rifles. The foxhole part was a real pain.
The ground around the fort is rock and clay. A regulation foxhole is six feet deep. We spent all afternoon working our butts off, and most of us did not have a hole that was even four feet deep. When the mobile kitchen showed up, the cadre finally showed pity on us and let us stop.
Nighttime was the fun part for the company DIs. We were sleeping in two-man tents with our packs and rifles inside. The game was to see if they could steal the rifles out of the tent without waking us up. The penalty for getting your weapon stolen was lots of extra duty. That had actually been a big problem in Korea. Teams of enemy soldiers would sneak into a camp at night and steal a bunch of weapons. Then, the whole force would attack. Many of our soldiers died that way.
The only way to make sure that did not happen, they said, was to place the two rifles in your tent at a right angle to the entrance on the ground and sleep on them. We were told that it was impossible to steal them if you did that. It was also a good way to wake up with a terrific backache. I learned later that evening that you could, in fact, steal them anyway. All you had to do is make sure the troops were sleeping soundly and take your time. I decided sleeping soundly in the field is a good way to end up dead. As usual, folks did screw up and get themselves some extra duty.
About eleven, Sergeant Green woke me up and asked me to take a walk with him to check the perimeter. We moved off into the woods, and he started showing me some tricks he had learned about moving silently in the jungle. We were out about an hour sneaking up on guards, stealing rifles and whatnot, just like the rest of the cadre. I don’t think I learned anything earthshaking. We did get some time to talk informally about life in the army, his family, and the usual things. It was a special time.
We were sitting on a log a few yards off one of the main trails. That way, we had a good view of anyone coming down the trail, and no one could see us.
“Is this like it is at night over there?” That was what was mostly on my mind, of course.
“Naw, the jungle is so thick that it’s pitch-black at night. You have to rely on your ears and senses of smell and touch. Charlie is so good he can steal stuff from your foxhole with you in it. Next morning, stuff is just gone.” It was too dark to see his expression, but his voice said a whole lot more than the words. “They do that just to scare the shit out of you. They could kill you just as easily. Night, that’s the roughest time.”
“How long will it be before you have to go back?”
“Oh, a year or so, maybe. My wife is just getting over this trip. I hope she feels calmer about it by then. Right now, she wants me to get out.”
I wondered why he was staying. “Why don’t you get out?”
“I enlisted right after high school. I don’t know how to do anything else. I’m staying in for my twenty if I can.” We talked for a while and then moved on.
Then, of course, there were the rattlesnakes. Fort Wood is famous for them. We all carried one unauthorized piece of equipment: a snake stick. That was a long tree branch with a fork at the end. They were not too big of a problem when we were out there. I only saw a couple. The DIs said they got so bad at times that the exercise had to be canceled.

Get Out of the Way by Daniel Dinges

Read Daniel Dings’ Guest Post or my Interview with him on Suite101.com

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