Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Reading Short: A Short Books Reading List

It occurred to me the other day, when I received a DM on Twitter from a book blogger/writer friend, that it’s been “radio silence” from me online lately, both here on the blog and also on Facebook and Twitter.

So a quick update: I’m fine, but I’m also going through some big personal life changes, which I’ll probably blog about at a later date, when things have settled down into more of a rhythm.

With everything that’s been going on (including an upcoming, very very big move), I’ve been feeling a lack of focus, a restlessness that makes it hard for me to sit still and actually do anything. And believe me, that’s been having a huge impact on my reading.

The last time I talked about my reading, I was in the midst of three chunksters. Needless to say, I haven’t picked them up for a while!

So the other day, I found myself thinking about “reading short”: books that are 200 pages or less. With that in mind, I decided to put together a Short Books Reading List. Looking around online, I saw several such lists, but they were all heavily weighted toward literary fiction, which isn’t really my cup of tea (not unless there’s more than a dash of mystery, suspense, horror or fantasy in them).

Here’s what I’ve put together so far:

1. A Short Guide to a Happy Life by Anna Quindlen

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I’m cheating a little with this first one, as it’s not fiction. But it is by a novelist, so that sort of counts, right? And since it weighs in at 64 pages, it definitely makes the page count criteria.

2. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

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This book, which weighs in at a slim 160 pages, has been in my TBR pile since forever. I love Shirley Jackson’s short stories, so it’s about time I read this, I think.

3. Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offill

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This one just squeezes onto the list at 192 pages, and while it’s not a genre book, I’ve been intrigued by its unique writing style ever since I first heard about it.

4. Heartburn by Nora Ephron

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Confession: Nora Ephron is the reason I diligently massage face cream onto the back of my neck every night. :) I’ve had fun reading her novels in the past, and at 179 pages, Heartburn has a solid place in my Short Books Reading List.

5. Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

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So okay, at 208 pages this book shouldn’t have made the list. But I’ve been wanting to start The Southern Reach Trilogy for a while now, so this seemed like a good way to do it.

6. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

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I’ve always wanted to read this book, and the 160 page count in this volume actually includes three other short stories, so it’s well within my page count criteria. Kind of makes up for Annihilation, right?

7. The King by Donald Barthelme

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“King Arthur is rediscovered doing battle with the Nazis, and the grail to end all wars appears to be a bomb.” Need I say more? (157 pages)

8. The Madman of Bergerac by Georges Simenon

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It’s been a really long time since I last read an Inspector Maigret novel. This one, book 15 in the series, weighs in at 144 pages, so it’s a perfect fit for my list.

So that’s what I’ve come up with so far. I don’t know if I’ll actually get to any of these books, but it feels good to know I have some short reads on hand for just in case. If you have any recommendations, please let me know in the comments – I’d love to expand this list!

Newsletters I Love

Back in February I posted about how happy I was that I’d been able to maintain “Inbox Zero” for ten days. Two and a half months later, I’m still able to post that I’ve been maintaining Inbox Zero! Well, more or less. I now keep all email that needs to be acted on or replied to sooner rather than later in my inbox, but everything else gets deleted or filed away.

But here’s the funny thing. As part of getting to Inbox Zero, I’d deleted a whole slew of newsletters that were just junking up my inbox and making more work for me. But a month later, I just ended up replacing those newsletters with a new batch of newsletters.

And I’m loving it!

The main difference? These are newsletters I enjoy reading. Some of them are daily, and yes, I read them every morning. Others come once a week and I read those on the mornings they come in. I thought I’d share with you some of my favourites:

Austin Kleon’s weekly newsletter

Austin Kleon newsletter

Every week, Austin Kleon, the author of Show Your Work and Steal Like an Artist, sends out a newsletter containing a list of 10 things he thinks are worth sharing. There is almost always something in his weekly list I want to click on, and often it’s the kind of click where one thing leads to another and I end up learning a whole lot or getting really inspired. Which is why I really love this newsletter. (I also like Austin Kleon’s books, too.)

Now I Know

Now I Know

The Now I Know newsletter by Dan Lewis arrives in my inbox every morning, and I never know what interesting thing I’m going to discover when I open it. And you don’t just get a well-written piece about something interesting—you also get a bonus fact, which is sometimes even more interesting than the piece itself, a link to a quiz, a related piece from the archives and related links. A few weeks ago, for example, I learned that

The phrase “worth fifty-eight points in Scrabble” is worth fifty-eight points in Scrabble.

Which, by the way, I found interesting enough to tweet!

Daily Science Fiction

Daily Science Fiction

If you like short stories and you’re a fan of science fiction or fantasy, you’ll enjoy the Daily Science Fiction newsletter, which gets delivered to your inbox every weekday. Despite its name, the stories are a mix of science fiction and fantasy, and since they’re flash fiction, they’re quick reads. The quality of the stories is high (they’re a paying market, and are on the list of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s markets which qualify writers for membership in SFWA) and opening this newsletter is definitely an enjoyable way to start the weekday.

Do you have a newsletter you can’t wait to receive in your inbox?

Breaking in a new laptop

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And the moral of this particular story: don’t transfer over to a new laptop (or PC) after 9:00 pm. Because here it is, midnight, and I’m STILL getting everything set up.

I’m so thankful I’ve been using Chrome, though. Once I downloaded it then entered my account details, it was almost like being back home again! All my add-ons are here, my bookmarks and the passwords I’d saved (most of them, anyway – the important ones I keep in Roboform). And even my history! It was nice being able to type just a few letters and having the usual sites pop into the URL window.

And of course, the important programs:

Windows Live Writer (which I’m writing this on right now) gave me the most problems. It took forever for it to show up after I clicked on it after installation. I took so long, in fact, that I had already clicked Uninstall in the Uninstall Programs window, thinking I had my download had been corrupted and I needed to reinstall it again (have I mentioned, patience is not particular virtue of mine?).

A bit of time was spent trying to figure out how to transfer all the templates I’d already made for the Dynamic Template plugin for Windows Live Writer over to the new laptop (turned out it was as easy as copying the old templates (found under AppData/WLWTemplates in the old computer) and uploading them to Dropbox where I could then install them on the new laptop.

In the past, I’ve had to buy new laptops or PCs in an emergency situations – you know, where your current laptop has gone kaput and you’re stuck without any sort of computer except some old netbook that takes ten minutes to boot up. This time around, I’ve been rather lucky. My laptop has been on its last legs for a while, and I’ve known this time would come. So I’ve been more or less prepared. And as it happens, the book-reading demon’s laptop was in an even worse state than mine (it was about six years old, which in computer age, I gather, is rather decrepit) and we were already on the lookout for a good sale price for a laptop for him.

We found one, it looked rather good, so we decided to buy two. And it was a good thing, too. It turns out my old one was just hanging in there for me, because once I got all the files transferred to the external hard drive, it started acting all funky – I couldn’t even open up Chrome.

I still have to download iTunes. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that will work out okay. I don’t want to get to bed too late. Trying to be a sort of morning person and everything, right?

I promised myself I wouldn’t complain about Windows 8. So here I am, not complaining about Windows 8. (I’m kidding – it’s actually not as bad as I’d anticipated. Maybe that’s the key to a smooth transition to something new – have very low expectations.)

And hey! I’m now scheduling posts, so I’m writing this the night before! I’ve been wanting to do this for a while …

Don’t you just hate all the work of transferring over to a new computer/laptop, even though you’re happy you’ve got a new one? And do you schedule your posts?

The To-Do List Conundrum

I’ve always been fascinated by planners and productivity blogs and things like that. I’ve even given GTD (Getting Things Done) a try. And nothing’s ever "worked" for me before.

Now I know why.

Last year, I went the DIY way and made my own planner, which I used to a certain extent before my excitement about being productive fizzled away. The reason, I’ve realized, is this:

I never really had a whole lot of different things to do.

Not that I wasn’t busy, because I was, especially with all the indexing I was doing. But back in the day, my to-do list tended to be the same every single day: Index. Write. Exercise. That was it.

No wonder I got bored with my planner.

But now, here we are, and boy, has my life changed. In other words, I am busy, really busy, but unlike the busy-ness of before, when I’d be swamped by a deluge of indexing deadlines, I’m busy doing a lot of different things. There’s still the indexing, but now also the freelance writing and blogging, plus the marketing required for this new branch of my business. And the personal side of life, which has been really heating up, since both Ward and Dylan are in upcoming Canadian Opera Company performances. Not to mention the fiction writing, which still obsesses me but now that I’ve gotten back into a daily writing habit, it’s not an obsession that’s frustrating any more, thank goodness.

Last week, I took a look at all the things I had to do each day – big things, little things, important things, not so important things – and I knew I had to get a handle on it all.

But the big conundrum: electronic or paper?

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I’d been using the Carrot To-Do app for a few weeks. It’s a fun app to use (there’s nothing like being called a "lazy human" by your productivity app) and after a while, you realize you really don’t want to make Carrot upset at you. But I was finding I needed more than an app that lets you list and prioritize your to-do’s, no matter how much fun the app was to use.

I downloaded a couple of other to-do list apps, but they just didn’t feel right to me. A planner/to-do list system is just so personal to each user, I think, and no amount of tweaking worked for me.

So why not print? Well, the thing I’ve discovered is this: I almost always have my phone with me, even when I’m at home (which I usually am during the day, although at night i can often be found shepherding Dylan to and from his many different activities.) To make a to-do list function well for me, I absolutely have to have what I’m using close by at all times.

But I really like paper-based systems. I like the feel of my pen writing things down on the paper, and if that paper happens to be gridded, I’m even happier. But unlike my phone, if I use a paper planner I won’t always have it on me.

Or would I?

I decided, finally (last night, actually) that it’s just a matter of developing a new habit. I can have my written to-d0 list right in front of me when I need it, as long as I make it a habit to always having it nearby. Right?

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So I found that DIY planner I’d created last year, and I opened it to the first blank page (I’d used up about a third of the book last year). I stamped a date on each open spread, starting with today’s date (I stamped about two weeks’ worth of spreads) and then I put a "must get done today" list on the right hand side of the first spread, and a running to-do list of things I’d like to get done but which aren’t urgent, on the left hand side.

There’s room for doodles, and I plan to draw a box and brainstorm ideas every night, too. The book is a sturdy Moleskine with gridded pages (yay!) and although it’s hardbound, it’s not so heavy that I’ll feel like I’m carrying an elephant on my shoulder when I stick it into my handbag.

It’s here in front of me as I write this blog post (on the list for today: "write blog post" – hah! You see? It’s working already!).

We’ll have to see how it goes.

What about you? What kind of planner/to-do system do you use? I’d love to hear about your methods, since I’m still tweaking the one I’m using!

My Top Ten Guilty Pleasures

I’m on a campaign to strip the guilt out of all my guilty pleasures. Needless to say, it’s not easy going (have you noticed, we humans seem to be hardwired for guilt?). But in the meantime, I thought I’d share my top ten guilty pleasures with you. You probably won’t be surprised that my list contains quite a few bookish things …

1. The Snacking Reader

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Anyone else do this? I LOVE to eat while I’m reading. The habit started when I was a kid; put a book in my hands and I’d automagically reach for an apple. I remember the first time I read a Hercule Poirot mystery that featured Ariadne Oliver, I was so happy: here was a fictional mystery writer who loved to eat apples all the time (presumably, then, while she was reading, too).

If I didn’t have kids, you’d probably find me sitting at the dinner table every night with a book propped on the salt and pepper shakers, long-suffering spouse by my side. However, once you have kids, you find you have to do that role-modelling stuff. So usually I just eat much slower than everyone else, then when everyone’s all done and hopping mad to leave the table, I graciously give them my leave and then surreptitiously whip out the latest read.

2. Red Wine and um, Salami

[I was going to upload a picture of a salami

but then thought better of it. You’re very welcome.]

The secret’s out! I like to have a glass of red wine every night (purely for medicinal purposes, of course). Since it’s for medicinal purposes, the wine itself doesn’t qualify as a guilty pleasure (don’t you just love how that works?!)

My problem? I like my wine with food, but since I usually relax with a glass of wine late at night, I’m not about to haul out the grill and cook up a rib steak (much as I’d like to). I’ve found that salami (the dry cured kind) works just as well with red wine. It’s not particularly healthy for you, true – but the way I look at it, it surely must be healthier than an 8 oz rib steak, right? When, that is, I can stay disciplined and only have a few slices (and that, my friends, is a battle to be saved for another post).

3. Plants vs. Zombies

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Lest you start thinking all my guilt comes from food (although, now that I think about it, there’s a very clear association there …), let me introduce you to my current addiction: Plants vs. Zombies. I love my iPad version, which I bought for a whopping $2.99, and which has given me much gaming pleasure. I’ve defeated the adventure mode level three times now, and am trying to accumulate enough to purchase the final bonus game pack.

My eight-year-old has it on his PC and loves the game, too, so lately a lot of our dinner conversation has centered on PvZ strategies (accompanied by a lot of eye-rolling from Ward, who refuses to go near the game. But that’s just because he’s an Angry Birds aficionado).

4. Cracked.com

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I don’t really know why I feel somewhat guilty about having the Cracked.com feed in my Google Reader, but I do – just a little bit of guilt. But I grew up reading MAD and Cracked magazines, you know. Not that it’s nostalgia that has me reading Cracked.com these days. I just find a lot of the posts quite fun – and I especially like the posts they do on conspiracy theories and hoaxes. I love the snarky humor, and of course, there are quite a lot of bookish and film topics. But I always have this funny feeling while I’m reading a Cracked.com post that surely, I’m a little bit old for this kind of thing now …?

5. Britain’s Got Talent on Youtube at 2 a.m.

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It’s not that I feel guilty about watching Britain’s Got Talent on Youtube. I don’t – everyone knows how much I LOVE this kind of TV talent show, and Britain’s Got Talent is one of my favorites. No, it’s the fact that I always seem to get a hankering to watch it at 2 in the morning, right around when I really should be falling asleep. One thing always leads to another (aka searching out old favorite clips) and before I know it, it’s 3 a.m.. Which, at my age, is most certainly Not a Good Thing.

6. Magazines

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I admit it. I’m a magazine junkie. Just ask Ward – he’ll give you all the confirmation you might need. When we made the big move to the city (trading down about 2000 sq. ft. in the process), I had to face the big question: what to do with all the magazines I’d accumulated over the years? Sadly, there was only one answer. I just hope they all found good homes with good people who will, at the very least, create cool artsy collages with them.

Where’s the guilt in being a magazine junkie, you might ask? Here’s the thing: most of the magazines in my stash were still unread. Yup. Of course, things are a little bit better now, because I’ve gone digital with almost all of my magazine subscriptions, so at least they’re not physically piling up taunting me with all of their naked unreadness.

7. Blank Notebooks and Journals

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I simply cannot resist a blank notebook. I’ve amassed boxes and boxes of these over the years, many of which sport a line or two I jotted down in some fit of motivation (I’m rather prone to these short spurts of motivation which quickly peter out to nothingness, I’m afraid). My absolute favorites are Moleskines, which, as it turns out, is actually a good thing, because it’s rare to find a Moleskine on sale, and my accumulation habit usually has a lot to do with bargain bins.

This is what happens when I pick up a brand new blank journal at a store (usually nicely marked down): I hold it in my hot little hands and dream about all the creative nuggets that I’ll write into the beautiful blank pages … Alas, you all know the end of this particular story, no?

8. Browsing the Kindle Bestselling Freebie Lists

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I know. You’re asking yourself, “why on earth does this count as a guilty pleasure?” But it does. You see, my TBR pile is ginormous. It really and truly is. And every day I’m online, I come across yet another great title to add to the title, courtesy of all the wonderful book bloggers I know who post such fabulous reviews. I have holds galore at the library, and honestly, am never at a loss when it comes to reading material these days.

But does that stop me from browsing the free lists? Nah. Not at all. So I stuff my Kindle full of free books, and feel such guilt because I’m actively growing this TBR pile when I should really be trying to reduce its size. To make matters worse, I’ve found quite a few treasures in the bestselling freebie lists on Amazon (probably because my “secret weapon” is scanning the sample chapters first before I’ll even consider downloading a a book, free or otherwise), which, of course, means more authors to put on my “to watch out for” list. It’s a vicious cycle, folks.

9. Gel Pens

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I actually DO use all the gel pens I buy, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling guilty about it. Probably because I buy them every chance I get. There are gel pens in every corner of our place, and I know Ward’s eyebrows always go up a fraction of an inch (or centimetre, as we say here in Canada. No, actually, we don’t. We still say inch. Which is kind of funny, when you think about it) whenever I get another fresh new batch of pens. Not that he ever says anything. But still, I feel the guilt.

In other words, gel pens are another thing I can’t resist, and I love nothing better than shopping for them at the art supply store, where you can buy them INDIVIDUALLY! (Seriously, I can spend days standing in front of those little pads they mount to the shelves so you can test out the gel-ness of the pens.) These Sarasa gel pens by Zebra are my go-to pens; I use them for writing in my notebooks (you know, the ones in point no. 7 above, whenever I feel that short spurt of motivation). But I also love the more colorful pens, too. Guilt, guilt, guilt. Yes.

10. Deep Fried Anything [Well, Almost Anything]

image Onion Rings

Here we go, back to food again. I do draw the line somewhere when it comes to deep fried foods, though. The 75 deep fried foods here, for example – probably not my kind of thing. But I do tend to gravitate toward deep-fried deliciousness. I discovered this when I first started on Pinterest and realized I pinned an awful lot of pictures of yummy deep fried foods. And not only was I pinning them, I was also sending the links to Ward, with the endearing line “Make this, pretty please?”

So, needless to say, our deep fryer has been getting quite a workout lately. Which ultimately means I am now in need of a workout (or ten) myself. Ahhh, guilt, you are such an easy thing to spawn …

So there you have it – my top ten list of guilty pleasures. What about you? Any of my guilty pleasures fit the bill for you? What guilty pleasures do you indulge in every now and then?