All work and no reading make me something something

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I spend the winter sitting by a desk only going outside when the sun hasn’t risen or has already set. Every year I think I know what I am getting in to but somehow I find myself surprised by my lack of time.

This year was no different. I started off strong. I used my commute to read and to send emails to family and friends in an attempt to maintain the resemblance of a normal life. I think that lasted two weeks. Then my book just turned into another object I hauled back and forth between home and the office and emails to friends turned into emails for work.

But now it is spring. Now is the time to crack the spine of a new book. Now is the time to sit by the lake and plot the next chapter in my novel. Now is the time newness and growth.

I already have a couple books lined up to read.Come Thou Tortoise

First up is Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant. This novel is the first I am reading as part of a book club that I joined through my local library. It is Grant’s debut novel and sounds delightfully unusual as one of the narrators is a 300-year-old tortoise.

I also have David Adams Richards’ Road to the Stilt House (1985) in my to-read pile for April. I’m excited to get back to Richards’ novels, though this has been called his darkest novel so I am preparing myself for a challenging read.

As for my novel, I have no specific goal except to write every chance I get and to work to give myself those chances. To that end, I’ve given up all but one of the time-sucking websites I use to frequent, which has already opened up so much more time in my day, and I’ve made good use of the focus view on Word – the extra step to look online makes me think twice about random browsing.

Spring is a hopeful time for me. My hope for this spring is to read a few good books and write a few memorable lines.

I’ve also made the leap to Twitter, so I hope I get to chat with more people about reading, writing, and all things books. Find me @rereadpages.

BJL

Going back to the source

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What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
(Act II, Scene II, lines 43–44)

I can’t believe it passed so quickly, but December 9 marks the one-year anniversary of
re: read pages. I’ve had a great year with this blog and the books I’ve read and shared with you. The fact that I have 55 followers fills me with a giddy delight.

I thought that after a year together, I should share my name. My name is from a novel and not from the above quoted play, though Romeo and Juliet plays a role. My name is from Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart.

But before we get to that novel, let me introduce myself.

Hello, my name is Bryony.

Pardon, you say. Yes, Bryony.

I love my name. I never get bothered by mispronunciations or repeating it to people the first (or third) time we meet or spelling it out to everyone from government employees to Starbucks baristas.

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I can thank my mother for my name. She received Touch Not the Cat from her father. It was 1976, the year it was published, and she was already the mother of two boys with classic names. When she finished reading it, she knew if she ever had a girl that she wanted to name her Bryony. Two years later, she finally got her chance.

One of my favourite stories about my name happened on the day I was born.

My mother delivered me and the doctor announced that I was girl and asked what my name would be, to which my mother responded, “Bryony.” And he said, “It’s a girl you know.” Ha ha ha. Makes me laugh every time.

But getting back to the novel that gave me my name, Touch Not the Cat was a best seller and, while Stewart’s novels are known for a blending of mystery and romance, Touch Not the Cat also has an element of the supernatural. The novel follows Bryony Ashley as she deals with the hit-and-run death of her father and the resulting legal fallout surrounding her childhood home, Ashley Court, a crumbling estate with more sentimental value than actual worth.

Her father left a death bed warning of an unnamed danger that Bryony hopes to uncover with the help of her lover, a person with whom she has had a lifelong telepathic connection but is not sure of his identity. She suspects one of her second cousins – twins, James and Emory, who has inherited the Court as a result of a trust, or their brother Francis – as the telepathy runs through the Ashley line. But as she picks apart the meaning of her father’s last message she is no longer sure of whom to trust, even her lifelong companion.

The mystery of her father’s final words requires Bryony to delve into her family’s history, especially that of Wicked Nick, a relative from the early 1800s with a poor reputation that brought about his untimely death when he was shot by the brothers of his lover. Stewart includes scenes from Nick’s life at the end of each chapter and quotes from Romeo and Juliet at the beginning. It was Nick’s father, William, who was obsessed with Shakespeare and Romeo and Juliet, and who had the key to understanding the mystery Bryony is trying to solve.

Some of the novel falls a little hard on the ears of modern readers. For example, getting past her deep love for someone she calls cousin, no matter the distance, but more importantly her seeming disinterest in how her life will unfold following the upheaval the loss of her father represents. She is unconcerned for herself, beyond identifying her lover, and is focused only on deciphering her father’s message, and not even the danger he refers to but the mystery of “William’s brook.”

Perhaps, besides moving the plot along, Bryony’s focus also reflects Stewart’s stated viewpoint on the actions of her characters. Stewart said she would “take conventionally bizarre situations (the car chase, the closed-room murder, the wicked uncle tale) and send real people into them, normal, everyday people with normal, everyday reactions to violence and fear….” With this in mind, it is easier to understand Bryony’s choices and rationales.

On a whole, Bryony is no pushover. She knows when to stand her ground and when to yield. She is observant, kind, and perseverant; a quality my mother appreciated when she read the book the first time.

As preparation for this post, I asked my mom for her thoughts on the novel and character from which I gained my name. She still likes (and recommends) Touch Not the Cat – she believes she has read it around six or seven times – and enjoys how the story of Bryony’s ancestors is brought forward into the present. While the character of Bryony didn’t influence her decision to choose it for me, my mom found the name to be romantic and full of an adventurous spirit. I like to think I am both of those things.

And, despite my experience of a lifetime of correcting people, my mom says she never had a problem pronouncing it correctly. Ever the teacher, she says she just followed “the phonetic rules.” For those who want to double check, Bryony is also in the dictionary as it is a poisonous climbing vine native to western Eurasia.

The story of my name is one that I’ve shared many, many times. And I love that I have a copy of the book that bears my name on my bookshelves. This past spring, in May, Mary Stewart died at the age of 97. She wrote 20 novels as well as three children’s books and a book of poetry. To celebrate the gift of her writing, the source of my name, and one year of re: read pages, I am giving away a copy of Touch Not the Cat. Just leave your favourite character name in the comments below and I will do a random draw to select a winner.

Structure vs. Chaos

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Lately, I’ve been feeling like one of those inflatable tube men that are put up in front of businesses that are having sales – flailing my arms, full of hot air, and not accomplishing much. Re read pages was supposed to help me focus on my writing by getting me to actually write, but I feel like it has become just another thing for which I’m not writing enough.

October is going to be different. And since I don’t just want to hope I’ll be different this month, I am making an October writing plan and giving my writing goals for re: read pages and my novel (a lot) more structure.

This is what I will have coming up this month:

Books to Read

Lives of Short Duration by David Adams Richards – Richards’ third novel, time to get back to reading my way through his works

Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart – this will be the second time I’ve read this novel; Stewart died this past May at the age of 97

The White Deer by James Thurber – another reread, this is a novel I first read with my mother when I was little

Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville – a debut novel and historical fiction, my two favourite things

On Writing Wednesdays

I will also restart my discussion of various aspects of writing. To help support my novel writing, I’ve decided to dedicate each month to an area I am interested in/struggling with in my novel. For October, the topic will be description, and I plan on talking about examples of great descriptions, cutting unnecessary fluff, using description to add foreshadowing, and getting the details correct, and offering a sample of what I feel is my best bit of description produced in October (yikes!). I’m flipping my Wednesday and Friday schedule for this week, just so I can introduce my plan, so Friday will be a post on description, but next week everything will be back to (the new) normal.

My Novel

The goal for the month is 14,000 words, dispensed in 500 words (minimum) per day segments. This is doable. I’ll update my progress every Friday, including the weekly word count (yikes 2.0!). I really need to get words on a page because, as Jodi Picoult has said, “You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”

The hard part will be making it a habit to sit down at the same time each day (at the end of the day when the kids are in bed) and hammering out those words. Hopefully I will become a more efficient writer with each evening’s work.

So there is my October writing plan. I’m hoping making a game plan will keep me more accountable, but feel free to shout at me if I start missing deadlines or if you have some suggestions about how to keep on track I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

– BJL

I am a feminist

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Last night I went to an event featuring the amazing journalist and author Caitlin Moran. A crowd of 500 people, mostly women, plus the spillover crowd listening in the auditorium below, laughed and learned for almost two hours as Moran discussed some of her favourite topics: feminism, masturbation, and cheese on a fork. And it was brilliant.

Moran has long been a writing celebrity in her native UK (she has been writing professionally since she was a teenager and has won numerous awards, including Columnist of the Year in 2010), but started gaining wide attention in North America with the publication of How to Be a Woman (released here in 2012, see a great review here), a memoir structured around Moran’s feminist epiphanies and musings.

She was in Toronto to promote her novel, How to Build a Girl, which is being released today. The novel seems to be a fictionalized twist of Moran’s childhood, as it follows teenager Johanna Morrigan as she reinvents herself from a small-town awkward screw-up to a fast-talking music journalist. Though the novel was brought up, and a small passage about how to deal with an XXL penis when having sex was acted out, the interview felt conversational rather than just a plug. Journalist Johanna Schneller did a great job of staying out of Moran’s way and just letting her talk while still guiding the conversation.

I first heard of Moran last year through a podcast of the Munk Debates discussing if men were obsolete, Moran spoke for the no side, and soon after I was devouring the hilarious How to Be a Woman. Though re: read pages has a focus on fiction, I strongly recommend picking this book up, regardless of your gender, as her perspective is valuable to anyone interested in equality.

I don’t agree with everything Moran believes, but, as she said last night, women don’t need to wait for one woman to lead all us all, but, instead, we can each contribute our piece to the feminist fabric. Moran’s contribution just happens to be as funny as it is important.

  • BJL

Raising a Reader

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My mom was a primary school teacher for over thirty years and teaching children to read was one of her greatest joys. She said that the moment you could sit a kid on your lap was the moment you should start reading to them. So when I started having children, I wanted to instill the same love for reading that my Mom gave to me.

My first son loved books from the start. He would always sit still and listen. And now, at the age of three, he picks out from the library and reads simple board books on his own. He was born a reader, and he needs no encouragement to select reading as an activity.

My second son, who turned one in May, is a completely different person. Since moment he learned how to rollover, he has been on the move. He learned to crawl and climb at an earlier age than his big brother, and once he started walking there was no keeping him in one place. The idea of sitting with him, book in hand, and enjoying a good read was laughable.

Until recently.

In the past month, he has started to pick up books to read rather than to eat. He will clamber up the couch or on to my lap, book in hand, and turn the pages, tapping on pictures that he likes (usually birds). He still doesn’t sit still for all the words, preferring to flip the pages, but he is actively choosing books.

Little Bird's first favourite books

Little Bird’s first favourite books

I was so excited, but I was also relieved.

Which made me wonder – why was I so anxious for him to want to read? Not just to be able to read, general basic literacy, which still a long way off, but to be a reader for pleasure. To be a kid who will read outside of school hours and assigned reading.

What is the value in reading? Why is it important to read?

I want to really look at not just my reasons for wanting my children to be avid readers, but the facts and arguments for encouraging reading to all children. I’m sure I’ll turn up some interesting research, so check back for my follow up, but for now, please let me know inthe comments why you value reading.