[TSS] Napping after ‘American Gods’

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Last month, while still in the heat of deadlines, I read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods over the course of ten days. Normally, for a book of this length (the version I read was 588 pages) it would have taken me about two days to finish, but since I was in the middle of deadlines, I didn’t have as much reading time as I would have liked.

Also, I found myself reading every single word, slowly, letting myself be pulled into the atmosphere of the book. Gaiman’s writing is like that, I find; where I’m usually one to gallop through a book, flipping pages, inhaling the story, with his books I tend to take my time. The whole thing becomes quite a joyous ramble.

Over those ten days of reading American Gods, I had two Saturdays during which I was able to devote a good five to six hours to the book. On Saturday mornings I take my son to drama class and then to dance class; consequently, I have time to read while I’m waiting for the classes to finish. That first Saturday, I continued with my reading of American Gods, and, as often happens when I dip into a good book for an extended period of time, when we got home, I picked up the book again and kept reading.

I’m normally a late riser, so another thing happens most Saturdays. By around three or four in the afternoon, I’m tired, and in need of a nap. On that Saturday, I read American Gods until I was in danger of dozing off, and then I did what I normally do on Saturday afternoons. I took a nap.

And I dreamt about American Gods. Not the characters, or the story, but the book itself, the atmosphere woven by the words, the greyness, that sense of something real underlying the not real underlying the real.

It was truly the most awesome thing ever. And, I thought, probably something that wouldn’t happen again.

Except that it did. The next Saturday followed the same pattern – I devoted another five or six hours to American Gods, and then I slept, and I dreamt, and it was the same dream. There I was, deep inside the landscape of American Gods.

I’ve never experienced this before, but I know one thing. At whatever future date I reread American Gods (and I expect I will), I’m going to sleep right after. Because that dream was amazing, and I’d love to have it again.

Gaiman’s words are really magical.

The Fidget Fitness Experiment

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I was reading the post The Monitored Man in the New York Times the other day, in which writer Albert Sun discussed the different activity trackers he’s been testing out, and I noticed this interesting tidbit:

But even the best tracker can’t recognize all of your movements. As I sit writing this, my wrists are motionless, but my leg is tapping to music. My activity trackers don’t seem to notice — fidgeting won’t be reflected in the calorie counts they show me. That’s too bad, because there’s an interesting body of research suggesting that a propensity to fidget is one reason lean people stay lean.

Intrigued, I clicked on the link about lean people staying lean, which talked about a study conducted by Dr. James Levine in which it was discovered lean people had a tendency to fidget and pace around, and this might be what keeps them lean. What really interested me? This fidgeting and pacing has the potential to burn about 350 calories per day, without trips to the gym!

I Googled around a bit, and discovered fidgeting and pacing are known as NEAT, or non-exercise activity thermogenesis: “the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise. It ranges from the energy expended walking to work, typing, performing yard work, undertaking agricultural tasks and fidgeting.”

This was getting more and more interesting.

Until about five years ago, I was one of those people who could eat whatever they wanted and not gain an ounce. In fact, some of my most painful years in adolescence revolved around the whole issue of being too skinny and not being able to gain weight.

When I started gaining weight five years ago, I felt quite cheerful about it. For one thing, clothes shopping became much more pleasurable; clothes actually fit me, and I could stop frequenting the teenage-style stores I’d had to resort to before.

It was around that time I stopped fidgeting and pacing. I’d made a concerted effort to stop doing so, although I can’t remember why. I didn’t stop completely – when in the middle of a particularly stressful deadline, you could almost be guaranteed to find me sitting in front of the computer with my right leg jiggling frantically up and down. But most of the time, whenever I sat, I stayed still.

Since then, I’ve gained more weight than my body feels comfortable with. Even when I was really thin, I had some years when I didn’t exercise regularly, during which I felt unfit – I’ve always judged my personal fitness by how much huffing and puffing I do when I take the stairs. With the extra weight, I’ve been failing the huff and puff test consistently.

So I’ve been on the fitness bandwagon on and off the past few years. I try to exercise regularly, but I’m just not one of those people who enjoy exercising very much. When the weather is nice, I walk a lot, and there are about three months of the year when I actually enjoy running outside. The problem is, I don’t like running when it’s too hot. Or too cold. As Goldilocks says, it has to be just right. Unfortunately, living in Toronto, Canada, means there are many months when it’s snowy and icy and about two to three months when it’s heat wave weather. In other words, I’m sedentary a lot more than I want to be.

Apparently, the tendency to fidget and pace is something you’re born with. Since I had been a fidgeter and pacer up until about five years ago, I wondered if I could re-develop the habit and perhaps enhance my fitness levels. Engaging in more NEAT activities won’t take the place of a daily workout, I know, but it seems like something that fits snuggly in the “surely it can’t hurt” category.

So I’ve been trying to be more aware of those times when I’m sitting and sedentary, and reminding myself during those times, “now’s a good time to do some fidgeting.” When I’m sitting on the couch reading, I’ve been doing leg lifts. At the computer, I bounce my legs up and down (I’ve been doing this ever since I sat down to compose this post). I’m planning on trying out a standing desk using some file boxes, and if it turns out I can actually type comfortably on my laptop while standing, I’m going to make this standing desk IKEA hack.

Have fidgeting and pacing come back naturally to me? Before today, I would have given you a cautious, “yes, I think so.” But something today cinched it for me. My sister called me on the phone, and I talked to her for an hour and forty-five minutes (you’ve had those kinds of calls, right?). It wasn’t until a few hours later that I realized, I’d been pacing back and forth during the entire conversation.

It made me wish I had a Fitbit or some other activity tracker to give me credit for all those steps!

I found more ideas for incorporating NEAT exercises into your every day life here. I especially like the idea of doing strength-training exercises while you’re sitting – as a reader, I do a lot of sitting when I’m reading. Who knew that raising your heels while seated works out the muscles in the lower leg?!

I’m not sure whether my fidgeting fitness plan will have any particularly noticeable effects. But fidgeting is something I do naturally, so why not put it to good use, right?

[TSS] Recently Read

I’ve been busy with work deadlines lately, but looking back on what I’ve been reading, it seems audiobooks have come to the rescue! With audiobooks, I’m never “too tired to read”, so it’s been a great way to keep reading despite putting in loads of work hours every day towards my deadlines.

One of my reading resolutions this year is to keep track of what I’ve been reading. In past years I haven’t been that diligent, despite various Goodreads and Pinterest lists. So I thought for today’s Sunday Salon, I’d post an update as to what I’ve recently read.

police by jo nesboPolice, by Jo Nesbo. The latest instalment (#10) in the Harry Hole series, when my copy arrived at the library, I knew I had to drop everything to read it. I took a day off working on my deadlines, and devoured this one. The gist of the plot: someone is murdering police officers at the sites of old unsolved murders in which the officers were involved in investigating, but there’s a whole lot more going on which I really can’t mention for fear of spoilers. Lots and lots of twists, right down to the very end. This was one very enjoyable, suspenseful read.
no mans nightingale by ruth rendellNo Man’s Nightingale, by Ruth Rendell. In this latest instalment of the Wexford series, former Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford is settling into retirement, working on his goal of reading all volumes of The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. When Kingsmarkham vicar Sarah Hussein is murdered, though, Wexford is glad to have Detective Inspector Mike Burden pull him into a consulting role in the investigation. There’s a flaw in one of the premises Rendell uses (she states that two brown-eyed parents cannot have a blue-eyed child, which is not true, as two brown-eyed parents both having a recessive blue eye gene can have a blue-eyed child) so if errors like this annoy you, this might put you off a bit. Overall, though, it was an enjoyable read with a nice twist at the end.
the invisible code by christopher fowlerThe Invisible Code, by Christopher Fowler. In this latest instalment of the Peculiar Crimes Unit series, the elderly detective duo of Bryant and May are asked by their old adversary, Oskar Kasavian, to find out why Oskar’s beautiful young wife has been behaving in such an odd and bizarre way. As always with this series, there are many strange goings-on, including an unexplainable murder and codes and symbols, plus lots of nice twists. Lots of laugh out loud moments, too. I started this one in print format, but finished up by listening to the audio version narrated by Tim Goodman, who did a great job.
bryant and may off the rails by christopher fowlerBryant and May Off the Rails, by Christopher Fowler. It seems I’m working backwards through this series, after having read most of the earlier books back to back quite a few years ago.  The Peculiar Crimes Unit has arrested the murderous Mr. Fox, only to have him break out, killing one of their own in the process. The chase is on, and we are lead through the shadowy corners of the London Underground. As always with the quirky Bryant and May detective duo, there are some very complicated twists and skillfully-placed laughs. I did this one entirely in audio, narrated by Tim Goodman, who once again does a great job with Bryant and May.
killer by jonathan kellermanKiller, by Jonathan Kellerman. It was good to see Alex Delaware back in form in this latest instalment of the series. Things start out slower than they do in most of the other books in the series, with Alex embroiled in a probate case involving the fight between two sisters for the custody of one sister’s child. But soon enough, there’s a murder, and Alex works with his old friend Detective Milo Sturgis to unravel the clues. This one’s not as intricately plotted as some of the older books, and the unveiling of “whodunnit” is a little bit out of the blue, but still it was an enjoyable read.
blood and circuses by kerry greenwoodBlood and Circuses, by Kerry Greenwood. In this earlier book (#6) in Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series, someone’s been sabotaging Farrell’s Circus, and Phryne leaves behind the comforts of life, her title and her money in order to go undercover to find out why. Throw in the murder of a circus performer and some nasty characters from the Melbourne underworld, and Phryne’s in for an interesting ride. As usual with the Phryne Fisher series, there are sex scenes, although perhaps a little less than in some of the later books in the series. I could have done without the sex scenes myself, but they didn’t wreck my enjoyment of the book. I listened to this one in audio, narrated by the delightful Stephanie Daniel.
bryant and may on the looseBryant and May on the Loose, by Christopher Fowler. I continued to move backwards through the series with Bryant and May on the Loose (#7 in the series) in audio, narrated excellently once again by Tim Goodman, although this one was a reread. I was enjoying the audio versions so much, I decided to get this one, and then as I started listening, I realized I’d read the book before – but long enough ago, I didn’t recall how things ended.  In this book, #7 in the series, the Peculiar Crimes Unit has been disbanded despite their success in solving the bizarre crimes that have come their way in the past. But the discovery of a headless corpse by one of the unit’s members gives them the chance to persuade the Home Office to change its mind – as long as they can solve the case in a week. To complicate matters, there have also been a number of bizarre sightings of a half-man half-stag creature with knives for antlers who has been carrying off young women. Intricately plotted with lots of twists, this was another enjoyable listen.
the memory of blood by christopher fowlerThe Memory of Blood, by Christopher Fowler. I obviously have no problems reading a series out of order! This one is #9 in the series, but yes, I listened to this one after listening to Bryant and May on the Loose above. This one involves a locked room mystery: the young son of a theatre owner is, seemingly impossibly, killed in his bedroom during a cast party held in his father’s home. The only clue is a life-size puppet of Mr. Punch which the killer has left behind. Along with yet another complicated plot, there’s quite a bit of history of the origins of Punch and Judy, but the information is weaved seamlessly into the plot. Another fun and enjoyable listen!

So that’s what I’ve read so far in the past four weeks or so. I see now that I’ve been focused exclusively on mysteries, but I’m breaking the trend right now, as I’m a currently a third of the way into Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

What have you been reading lately? If you’ve read any of the books on my recently read list, what did you think of them?

My Two-Minute Super Bowl Sunday

Muted light gives the place a warm, intimate feeling common to the best pubs; its glow is a soft, all-encompassing glow, a welcoming gleam that blends everyone together. Happy, contented people fill the room; the noise is more than a din, less than a roar.

I perch on a tall bar stool, comfortably placed next to a wide ledge that’s just the right size for my wine glass and a couple of appetizers snagged from the trays offered by the passing wait staff. It’s hot in here, but not hot enough to feel oppressive.

It’s a scene, I imagine, that’s being played in bars and pubs across North America on this Super Bowl Sunday. With one exception: images flicker across the screen of the large television hanging on the wall, but no sound emerges; its volume has been turned off. A glance around the room reveals no-one is giving the television any attention.

And then, suddenly:

“Quiet, everyone!” The voice rises above the noise; it holds authority and more than an edge of excitement. The crowd gives a soft murmur, and the noise dies down.

Someone turns the volume on the television up, louder and louder.

It’s the Super Bowl.

All eyes in the room turn to the screen, and there is an expectant hush as the camera zooms in on the beautiful, smiling blonde woman.

Renée Fleming begins to sing the American national anthem. The room is soft with the silence, its collective breath held as Fleming’s voice soars effortlessly. When she hits and holds that second-to-final high note there are many, many cheers. And when it’s all over, the room erupts with even more cheers, with whistles, with “bravas”.

Someone mutes the television again. The din returns. The game has begun, and once more, the images flicker silently across the screen. No-one is watching.

That, my dear friends, was how I spent my Super Bowl Sunday this year. The afternoon had started with the opening performance of the Canadian Opera Company’s The Masked Ball (Un ballo in maschera), in which my ten-year-old son, Dylan, has a small role as a supernumerary. Afterward, we headed over to the after party held at Fionn MacCool’s, a pub across the street from the Four Seasons Centre, where the Canadian Opera Company performs.

Yesterday was the first time an opera singer has sung the national anthem at the Super Bowl. And I had the pleasure of experiencing that historic moment in the company of a crowd of professional opera singers. It was absolutely priceless, a moment I will always remember.

What about you? How was your Super Bowl Sunday? Did you watch the game or do something else?

A (Sort of) Bookish Blast From the Past

Earlier last week, my sister Dawn posted a couple of pictures to Facebook that were definitely a bookish blast from the past.

Well, sort of. Because, unfortunately, I have no memories of giving her this book:

tennyson1

Dawn also posted a picture of the post-it note I’d stuck inside:

tennyson2

The note did jog some memories. I still don’t remember actually buying this book for my sister, who would have been in her mid-teens at the time (the "at school" bit means I was in university). But I do remember strolling through a huge book sale at one time or other during my university years – in my mind’s eye, I can see these long tables stacked with books, in a large room somewhere. I think the book sale might have been held at University College at the University of Toronto, which is my alma mater, but my memories of the event are terribly vague so I’m not very certain about that.

What makes me laugh, though, is this, from my note: "It’s kind of tattered, but it’s really old."

I obviously was worried my teenaged little sister would unwrap her gift and go, "Ugh. Why did Belle get me a used book?" So I was already protesting in advance – Yes, it’s tattered, but Dawn, that’s just because it’s really really old!

What possessed me to buy an old book of Tennyson’s poems for my sports-loving little sister who wasn’t really hooked on reading, I don’t know. But it’s sweet that she still has the book – and that she kept my little note!

These days, though, Dawn is a reader, so maybe somehow that younger me saw this happening, and knew Tennyson’s poems would be something she’d treasure one day …

Five on the Go–The Fiction Edition

For an extremely brief moment on the morning of January 1, 2014, I considered the following resolution: I will read only one book at a time.

Hahahaha!

I think it took all of two seconds for me to realize how horridly I’d fail at such a resolution. And so, thankfully, I didn’t add that to my 2014 list of intentions.

Which turns out to be a very a good thing, since I currently have five novels on the go, and I’m very happy with all my selections. I’d hate to have started out the new year with such a big resolution-fail.

The really nice thing is that a couple of the books I have on the go are outside my normal "reading zone", and I’m really enjoying them. (My reading zone typically consists of mysteries, urban fantasies, and middle grade fiction.)

Print Books and Ebooks on the Go

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

I’ve been reading, and loving, The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. While it might technically be called a mystery, I guess, it really isn’t, and it’s far more literary than most of the books I read. I find I prefer reading The Goldfinch in small, delicious chunks, with my notebook at hand, ready to scribble down phrases that captivate me. I don’t normally read like this, and I’m finding I really like it, for a change of pace from my normal reading method, where I devour the story and turn the pages as quickly as I can.

the signature of all things by elizabeth gilbert

The other book I’m reading that’s outside my normal reading zone is Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things. It’s described as "a glorious, sweeping novel of desire, ambition, and the thirst for knowledge" and seriously, I hardly ever read books that are glorious and sweeping novels of desire, ambition, and the thirst for knowledge. Also, it’s historical fiction, and I generally tend to steer clear of historical fiction.

But I’m loving it! Gilbert’s writing is sumptuous but oh-so-readable, and she drew me in from the very first chapter. The unfortunate thing with this book is I have it on loan from the Toronto Public Library’s ebook selection, which doesn’t allow for renewals (not that I’d be able to renew this one anyway, as it’s got a holds list). I’ll probably end up buying the ebook so I can finish it.

the invisible code by christopher fowler

Moving on, back into my reading zone, I’ve been delighting myself with the latest and deliciously quirky Bryant and May book, The Invisible Code: A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery, by Christopher Fowler. I’ve read several of the books in this series (not in order, though …) and each one is always such fun. The Invisible Code is no exception, and it’s fun to see Bryant and May, both "senior" detectives – especially Bryant – ambling through the world of cellphones and Facebook.

Audiobooks on the Go

I also have a couple of novels going in audio.

dry bones by peter may

I started listening to Peter May’s Dry Bones, narrated by Simon Vance. This is my introduction to Scottish forensic scientist and biologist Enzo Macleod (and it’s the first in the series – finally, I’m starting a series at the beginning!). I’m only a couple of chapters in so far, and am enjoying Vance’s narration immensely.

prisoners base by rex stout

And I’m near the end of Prisoner’s Base, a Nero Wolfe mystery by Rex Stout, narrated by Michael Pritchard. This is a reread in audio; like the Agatha Christie mysteries, I’ve listened to all the audio versions currently available (that I can find, anyway) of the Nero Wolfe mysteries. Along with Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, they are what I like to call my "comfort listens" – I can have them on in the background even when I’m working, because I already know the stories so well. I can tune in and tune out, filling in the blanks whenever needed!

What about you? What are you currently reading, fiction-wise? Do you stick with one book, or are you more comfortable having several on the go?

The Reading Stack #2

Here’s my reading stack #2 from the library:

reading stack no 2

All nonfiction in this stack, in keeping with my reading resolution this year to read more nonfiction. Mind you, my intention is to read more nonfiction as research for my writing, so perhaps this reading stack #2 doesn’t really qualify as helping me to fulfill this particular resolution!

1. Freehand: Sketching Tips and Tricks Drawn from Art, by Helen Birch

Because another one of my resolutions is to “make good art”, as Neil Gaiman says. For me, that would be both writing and art – not that my artwork is any good, mind you. But there was a time when making visual art played a larger role in my life, and I’d like to get back into the habit this year.

Make good art.

2. Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do, edited by Meredith Maran

My writer-self loves reading books like this. For some reason, reading about other writers’ creative processes both motivates me and inspires me to keep on writing.

3. Breakthrough!: Proven Strategies to Overcome Creative Block and Spark Your Imagination, edited by Alex Cornell

An assortment of creative types give their solutions to getting through those creative blocks: “a lively compilation of strategies for combating creative block offered by a who’s who of leading graphic designers, typographers, cartoonists, photographers, illustrators, musicians, writers, and other creative professionals.” Sounds good to me.

4. Writers and Their Notebooks, by Diana M. Raab

I have this thing about writers’ notebooks, mainly because I keep trying to make a habit of keeping one. I can’t tell you how many half-finished notebooks I have lying around. I was decluttering earlier this week, and found so many notebooks that are about half-full (better than half-empty, right?) I’m getting much better at it, though. Keeping a writer’s notebook is a habit kind of thing, I’ve discovered.

5. Quotology, by Willis Goth Regier

This one is all about quotes, including how they are collected and organized. Apparently there are fifty-nine types of quotations! One of my creativity resolutions this year involves quotes, so I thought this might be a helpful read.

6. Illustration School: Let’s Draw Cute Animals, by Sachiko Umoto

This one is just too cute for words. Seriously. I couldn’t resist it. See for yourself:

illustration school lets draw cute animals

7. A Blueprint for Your Castle in the Clouds: Make the Inside of Your Head Your Favorite Place to Be, by Barbara Sophia Tammes

A self-help book … although there’s also Sherlock Holmes’ mind palace, right?

8. The Collage Workbook, by Randel Plowman

Back to my “make good art” resolution. I’ve always found collage challenging, probably because it’s so playful. I get way too serious about things like this sometimes.

9. Garfield’s Sunday Finest: 35 Years of My Best Sunday Funnies , by Jim Davis

garfields sunday finest

It’s Garfield! I simply couldn’t resist this one.

I’m pleased to say I’ve finished Writers and Their Notebooks. So that’s one down, and eight to go (let’s not mention my reading stack #1 …)

Any plans to read nonfiction this year? Writing this post I realized a lot of the books have something to do with the resolutions I’ve made. Are you reading any books that will help you stick with your New Year’s Resolutions?

The Reading Stack #1

Does this ever happen to you? A whole stack of holds at the library all coming in at the same time? It happens to me all the time. And every single time, I feel so excited. It’s like being handed a huge treasure trove.

Until, of course, I remember the adage, "So many books, so little time." My excitement dims a little then, I admit.

It’s a good thing one of my 2014 resolutions is to make reading a priority.

This is the first stack. I’ll leave the second stack for another post. And actually, I’m thinking I might just make these reading stacks a regular thing here. (I don’t dare say "a new feature" because that will jinx things for sure and this post would likely be the last time anyone reads a post here titled "The Reading Stack".)

reading stack no 1

1. From Where You Dream, by Robert Olen Butler

2. Parasite, by Mira Grant

3. The Invisible Code, by Christopher Fowler

4. 365 Days, by Julie Doucet

6. Advice to Writers, by Jon Winokur

7. Finding Merlin, by Adam Ardrey

8. An Autobiography, by Agatha Christie

9. Encyclopedia Paranoiaca, by Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf

Do you feel excited when you walk into the library and see a whole bunch of books on hold for you? Have you read any of these books? Are any of them in your to-read list?

Stepping Out of the Comfort Zone

I have this funny feeling most of my posts this month will be about goals, intentions, resolutions – all those things you want to change in your life that suddenly start popping up with real frequency and intensity at the start of the new year.

I’m starting to see that, if I realize every single one of the numerous potential changes I’ve been playing around with, my entire life would be very very different. Different for the better, of course.

This hasn’t happened to me in past years, at least not with the same kind of intensity, but I do know why it’s happening now. It’s that old adage, if you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting. And never has this adage been so clear to me as it is right now, this moment – and frankly, in all the moments since 2014 started being a lot closer than “next year”.

This year I really have to get out of my comfort zone, mainly because it’s become more and more obvious that my comfort zone actually won’t be that comfortable for too much longer.

comfort zone

There are so many things on my want-to-do list that have nothing whatsoever to do with maintaining my current life as it is. (See how I’m still ambivalent? I can’t quite call it a “to-do” list, because that implies I actually intend to do these things.)

Partly, it’s because things in my current life are changing, especially in the work arena (well, okay, mostly in the work arena), and I have to adapt to these changes, and partly, it’s because the things I want to do have been things I’ve wanted to do for a very long while, but up until now, I couldn’t resist the safe feeling of the comfort zone.

It’s time to really shake things up. I feel daring right now, and all I have to do is keep feeling daring. It sounds so simple when I put it like that. “All I have to do is …”

A funny thing. I actually sat down to write a post about sticking to a blogging schedule, and it morphed into this.

(By the way, I really did step out of my comfort zone with this post. I created the Neale Donald Walsh picture quote  above, using PicMonkey. It wasn’t as hard as I’d been thinking it would be.)

What about you? Do any of your new year intentions or resolutions or goals take you out of your comfort zone?

[The Sunday Salon] Filling the Creative Well with Nonfiction

This year I’m committing to something a little different from previous years’ reading resolutions. I’d like to read a lot more nonfiction as well as keeping up with all the fiction on my to-read list.

I love reading fiction because good fiction transports me into another world and introduces me to interesting characters and thought-provoking situations. I can become immersed in a good book and it’s that immersion that forms the foundation of the pleasure I get from reading fiction.

Fiction can also fuel my creativity; I’ve gotten many ideas for stories and novels as a result of seeing something in another novel I’m reading. This happens to me with television and movies, too.

But it’s nonfiction that really ups my creative output. Maria Popova talks about combinatorial creativity – how all the bits and pieces of information and memories and knowledge you carry inside your head comes together to form ideas, lots and lots of ideas if you let the process happen – and this has always been the way creativity has worked for me.

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about "filling the well". She’s referring to the idea of an inner artistic well that informs all of our creativity. It’s an analogy that I think works well with the idea of combinatorial creativity. While Cameron advocates going on "artist’s dates" – actual physical excursions – in order to keep our inner artistic well maintained, for me such excursions are more appropriate for helping me open up to the present moment, something else that’s required when I’m involved in a creative endeavour.

But the best way for me to keep my inner artistic well pumped and primed and well-maintained is by opening myself up to a flotsam of information. Anything and everything I find interesting has a place in my creativity, and the randomness of the information plays a key role. It’s in reading nonfiction that I most often stumble onto such things – interesting-to-me ideas, facts, concepts, often mere scraps of information, sometimes just a sentence or phrase – that ignite the spark that pulls together other completely unrelated pieces of information to form a shiny new idea.

Myths and legends work that way for me, too. I guess such work is really fiction, but I tend to place myths and legends in a category all its own, not quite nonfiction, not quite fiction – but definitely fertile fuel for the imagination.

So this year, along with tackling my fiction to-read list, I’ll be reading stacks and stacks of nonfiction too, with a stack of blank index cards at my side for jotting down the bits and pieces that interest me. I plan on using the index cards as a tactile, visual aid when playing with my creativity, in much the same way I use archetypal oracle cards.

Here are some of the nonfiction titles I’ll be using to fill my creative well over the next few weeks:

The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson

The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson

Finding Arthur by Adam Ardrey

Finding Arthur, by Adam Ardrey

making of middle earth by Christopher Snyder

The Making of Middle Earth, by Christopher Snyder

A London Year by Travis Elborough and Nick Rennison

A London Year: 365 Days of City Life in Diaries, Journals and Letters,

by Travis Elborough and Nick Rennison

Book of Barely Imagined Beings by Caspar Henderson

The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary,

by Caspar Henderson

What about you? Do you read nonfiction, or do you mostly stick with fiction? If you’re a writer, what are some ways you use to fill your creative well?