The Allure of Reading Challenges

bookI fall for reading challenges every year (I also fall for Blocks of the Month quilting projects).  Each year starts so fresh and shiny, and I always think I can change (the implication is to be better) and accomplish lofty things.    This year, I thought I would be realistic and keep in my own safety zone…no “diversify your reading” challenges for me.  I am to embark on a big change in my life this year that will demand a lot of stressful activity; and I think that will be enough.

So I was going to stay with goodreads challenge.  Then I came across a couple of blog posts that lists reading challenges well within my areas of reading interest and is totally do-able since I have no intention of doing anything but read in the various genres that come my way by browsing library shelves, reading book reviews, and blogs.

I came across a masterlist of reading challenges at GirlXOXO  Almost anything for any interests.  So I chose a few (too many, probably) to pursue.  They are:

  • Audio Books Reading Challenge
  • Cloak and Danger Reading Challenge
  • Craving for Cozies
  • Cruising through the Cozies
  • Foodies Challenge
  • Library Love Challenge
  • Share-a-Tea Reading Challenge (My previous post)

There’s quite a few but they overlap and I’m hopeful.  I think that is the wonder and beauty of the New Year:  we start with such hope.  No matter what, we should work to sustain that spirit of hopefulness.  Part of that is forgiveness and compassion.  Hope is a renewable resource depending on how well we forgive ourselves our perceived missteps.

May your challenges be voluntary, your mis-steps few, and your self-compassion generate more love and hope.

I’m a Sucker for Reading Challenges

Last year,Last year what I thought was a completely do-able reading challenge with one book a month, each month outside my normal mono-focus on the mystery genre.  I actually got going in January by reading a book made into a movie, The Giver, which I liked.  I noted it on Then I lost the will to persevere.  I did read a lot, a whole lot, of books but they were either in my favorite category or something that captured my fancy.  In this respect, it was a great year.  I refuse to feel like a failure, after all, I am reading and enjoying stories.

This year, 2017, I found several reading challenges that sound do-able.  The first one I’m going to write about is run by Becky from Becky’s Book Reviews and is called the Share-a-Tea Reading challenge.     The rules are few and simple:  drink tea, read books, and share.  No minimums or standards to achieve.  I think I’ve already achieved two of the three.


I’ve already read three books, although the first one was started at the end of 2016.  They are:

  • Brownies and Broomsticks by Bailey Cates, a really cute cozy mystery about a young woman, a baker, who moves to Georgia to help her aunt and uncle run their bakery.  This first in a series tells us of her discoveries:  she’s from a long line of hereditary hedge witches; and there’s a dead body.
  • I also read The Taking of Libbie, SD by David Handler.  The next in a series about a former cop who is now a millionaire.  He is kidnapped by bounty hunters due to a mistaken identity.  Once the identity problem is resolved, he investigates.  I adore this series.
  • And then I read the marvelous The Great Reckoning by Louise Penny, one of my favorite authors.  She writes so lyrically about the human condition and the effects of history, corruption, art, literature on people’s thoughts, actions, and their souls.

And the teas I drank, to name a few, since I drink tea all day long!  My fitness program incorporates at least a gallon of liquid a day, which for me is mostly tea.I was on vacation…

  • Mate Chai by Citizen Tea
  • Double Chocolate Mate by The Republic of Tea
  • Matevana by Teavana, which they don’t make any more, to my great sorrow.  Fortunately I discovered Citizen Tea!
  • and probably others, I can’t think of.  I drink iced tea most of the day, though it’s just decaffeinated made from a mix (see I didn’t even apologize for that incredible gaffe in front of aficionados).   As always, I bravely live my life out-loud whether I intend to or not.

May your day and days be filled with refreshing beverages of all types and stories that delight you!


I Read Genre Fiction and I’m Proud

genresandthemes_thumbOver the years, I’ve read in different genres, loving every minute of it.  Sometimes people expect someone like me with advanced degrees in Literature and Library Science to be more erudite.  Not so much anymore.  I love genre fiction because it’s a good, fun read.  Sometimes it’s beautiful, challenging, scary, and heart-breaking.  There are unexpected gems in all the genres. In my checkered reading past, I’ve read science fiction, fantasy, historical novels, romance novels, and mysteries.  Sometimes I read one exclusively and sometimes I read a smattering of all of them.  Sometimes I read two or three genres at once.  No loyalty whatsoever except to a good story, fantastic characters, good writing, and a surprise here and there.

A few years ago, a professor on the college’s writing committee discovered I had published a couple of books and asked me about them, thinking she could invite me to do a committee sponsored writing program.  When I revealed that I write non-fiction about Wicca, Witchcraft, Tarot, and shamanism, she recoiled.  Yes, just like in the books.  In telling the story, I call it a “back the witch up” moment.  Later on at a committee meeting, I and another member mentioned that we knew a couple of published writers.  When we said they wrote romances and paranormal romances, this professor wailed (she really did!), “Doesn’t anyone know a mystery writer!”

Oh yeah, I thought, the acceptable genre.  And that’s it.  People judge you about what you read.  Of course they judge you all the time.  It’s time to get over it; time to stop letting judgy people get the upper hand in your life. Back in the day, when I commuted to work on a bus  I always chose my reading material carefully.  Fantasy and science fiction made me feel smarter and cooler so I read those. Romance novels I left at home.  I believed (and I’ve learned I’m not alone) that people saw me as a lovelorn spinster who could only find love in the pages of a book.  Maybe they did and would.  Shows how much anyone knows about anyone.

A friend turned me on to a terrifically fun and thoughtful blog, a romp through the delights and foibles of romance novels, or Romancelandia, as they call it.  Smart Bitches and Trashy Novels  is as much fun as reading the novel, sometimes more.  It’s snarky, bitchy, loving and honest look at books, movies, and other not-book things. The blog supports a community of enthusiastic and knowledgeable readers.  It’s a joy and delight to read, even if I don’t read the books.

In 2009, these Bitches wrote a book and I just read it and loved it to death.  Beyond Heaving Beyond Heaving BosomsBosoms:  The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels (Simon and Schuster, 2009) is still in print and available in libraries near you.  It is a celebration of the books, the evolution of the romance novel, and a great analysis of typical plots and devices.  It’s all lovingly and exuberantly presented in a highly readable text.  There is laugh out loud moments and some very smart insights.

The majority of readers are women, the majority of book buyers are women, and the largest area of publishing are romances.  And yet, as the authors Wendell and Tan point out, the writers and publishers in this genre act like they are a discriminated minority.  You can see it in book reviews on goodreads.  Romance writers rarely criticize another writer; and romance writers read voraciously!    I thought it was very interesting.

I know I’m a very easy grader when it comes to goodreads.  That’s usually because I like everything I read to the finish.  If I can’t stand something, I rarely read it till the end.  Life is too short to drink bad tea and read books you don’t like.  I read this book to the finish and smiled and guffawed to the end.  Not only is this written with wit, affection, and style, Beyond Heaving Bosoms is a cogent and understanding analysis of the romance novels and the genre’s readers.





2016 Reading Challenge

I hesitated very long at 2016 about New Year’s Resolutions.  I’m not really anti-resolutions but I’m rather tired of letting myself down even with reading.  I did find one that looks absolutely do-able.  So I copied the challenge and then promptly forgot about it.  I found it again while looking through my files.  There was less than a week left in January.  Still do-able.  Eureka.  I’m going to give this a try.  I’ve already read the January book and I will post a review of it tomorrow.  And guess what?  If I don’t make it through the year, I will forgive myself.

I did also say that I would read 50 books for the Goodreads Reading Challenge.  

2016 Reading Challenge

Reading Challenges: The Joys and the Sorrows

My last post was a year ago and it was a happy post talking about my commitment to a 2015 Reading Challenge.  There were 26 different things to read and many outside my normal reading pattern.  I was also part of the Goodreads reading challenge where you state how many books you wish to read.  I low-balled my number so I wouldn’t let myself down.  Because

I really blew off the 2015 Reading Challenge I posted.  Part way through the first few months of 2015, I decided that I wanted to stay within my reading comfort zone.  I really did not want my reading material to be challenging.  Reading is a comfort and a joy for me.  Sometimes it’s an escape.  For me, 2015 was not such a bad year but there were challenges, some of them extreme especially for the loved ones around me.

What I did do is blow through my Goodreads challenge and read 300% over my low-balled figure.  I listen to audio books while I drive, while I do housework, while I quilt, and while I sit around and vegetate.  I read the printed word, both ebooks and physical books, as well.  I do believe that the audio books probably outnumbered the print books.  Score for quantity and quality.

I have found a 2016 Reading Challenge I like.  I may give it a try.  It’s one book a month and I managed to squeak January in under the wire.

2015 Reading Challenge

2015 Reading challenge

2015 Reading Challenge

Popsugar, a website I never heard of,  posted a 2015 reading challenge.  I learned the hard way to not accept reading challenges that require you to post the number of books you will read.  This one I thought I could do or mostly do.  The challenge lists 50 categories to choose from.  Some are outside my less than lofty taste level, but I thought I would give it a try. It lists 50 books defined by quirky categories.  It’s technically 52 books, since one is to read a trilogy.

I am going to include e-books and audiobooks in the category as well.  Each format provides a different experience; and it’s the experience of the story that counts with me.  I’ll post here, the books I read.  I’m also keeping a board on Pinterest which you can find here.  You can always read my reviews on Goodreads.  I will also add a goodreads feed to this blog.

So game on…or rather, Read On.  I’m already behind since I’ve already read a couple of books!


Fictional PTSD: the Post-Traumatic Stress of Reading

fictional characters

I love to read.  I love to read fiction.  My choices of fiction are for entertainment.  In the late 1970s, I came across a comic in a probably defunct magazine where a woman goes to a clerk in a book store and says, “I just want a book that starts happy, stays happy, and end happy.”  After many years in graduate school reading majestic tragedies, deep philosophies, and complex literary texts, I am now committed to things that frothy and delicious.  This started after a year, fifteen years ago, when three people close to me died.  One death was very sudden, another was my father after a short illness, and another was a friend after a long and valiant struggle with cancer.  All died too soon.  That year changed my attitude towards life, work, love, and friendship.  I learned to trust and learned to distrust.  It was a profound change.

It did change my choice of reading materials.  I didn’t want to read about the deep, tragic struggles of others because I had enough of my own.  I did, as I joked, want things that start happy, stay happy, and end happy.  It is fiction, after all, not reality.  I forgot that reality is also a fictional construct.  Life is just life and you have to live it.

The draw of fiction, for me, is the characters.  I get involved in their thoughts, dreams, and realities.  I like murder mysteries because that is what my mother read but also because of character driven plots.  I like fantasy because there is no limit to the imagining and reimaging of the world, soul, and people. Whole worlds are built, lived, destroyed, and rebuilt.

Recently I’ve gotten into reading audio books.  Because I’m a fast reader, I often miss details and audio books compel me to pay attention to all the detail.  The voice of the narrator is very important.  The first audiobook (on cassette tape!) I listened to many years ago had a male narrator in an action/adventure book.  Unfortunately, the love interest of the male main character was read in a husky, low voice.  I became convinced that the woman was transgendered, contrary to the fictional construct of the novel.  It caused a dissonance in my understanding of the novel which would have been better had the character been transgendered.  See what I mean?  It’s about how the voice conjured the character and the words.  The voice put the character and the words in opposition, they did not match.  Either would have worked if they both character and the voice had matched.

I think audiobooks and narrators have gotten more sophisticated because now I’m really enjoying them.  I usually listen to a sample since I know sometimes I just can’t get beyond the voice.  I also listen to different genres that what I might read in print.  After watching the Game of Thrones for three seasons on HBO, I decided to read the books.  It is much talked about in our library and I wanted to find out what happened beyond the television program.  I had already learned to not become attached to the characters created by George R.R. Martin because they will surely die.  As each book progressed, they got longer.  The detail more intense.  The world in which the story took place more brutal.

Book 5, Dance with Dragons is very long whether you read it or listen to it.  The chapters end in cliffhangers, the characters are brutalized to a distressing degree, and life is full of degradation no matter what the station of life.  Neither nobility of common-folk are spared death, dismemberment, maiming, torture, or the cold of winter.  I found myself deeply resenting the author.  I felt that the machinations of the author overtly and with growing hostility.  The world of the book is stark, cold, and relentlessly unforgiving.  So is the author.  I finally finished it to my relief.  It ended on a heart rending cliffhanger.  With no projected publication date for the next book.

A week later and two books later, I’m still distrustful of my reading materials.  I have retreated into some familiar series.  The audio-book I’m listening too is a trusted series with a delightfully humorous voice.  I realized that I was suffering from a fictional post-traumatic stress disorder. That listening/reading about characters in extreme distress has been mirrored in my reading reactions.  I will heal, it will take time and the appropriate application of fictional characters and plots but I will survive!

It should be noted I mean no disrespect to those who suffer from PTSD.  This book was probably a poor choice because of what is going on elsewhere in my life and my reaction is rather extreme.  It does indicate both the power of the author and the power of reading in any format.  As we give ourselves over to relationships with characters, we become elated, wounded, empowered, grieved, and aggrieved.  It is the wonder of it all.

Read, Research, and Be Spooky

Our intrepid librarian braves the world of witches to deliver the magic of information

Our intrepid librarian braves the world of witches to deliver the magic of information

Our library is filled with staff and students ready to get their fill of treats for Halloween.  Luckily no tricks, the joy of living in a fairly rural and polite region of the country.  Earlier today I was at the administration building for a meeting and the children from the child care center came through.  The halls were filled with laughter and talk, something unusual for a more serious and business-like building.  There were dinosaurs, Iron Men, Spider Men, princesses, she-devils, chickens, construction workers and the like.  There were rushes on candy and a lot of smiling faces.  Everyone looks forward to their Halloween visit.  I was glad to be there. I worked at a somewhat rural community college library as a reference librarian, and there was a period of about three years where the questions on October 31st took a decidedly macabre turn.  I think it may have been the same group of young men trying to overset the librarians.  Having grown up with three exuberant brothers and other prankster male relatives, I could handle that stuff without flinching.  The questions weren’t that weird, but definitely a little off the usual research questions.  “Did Mary Shelley do weird stuff with cats?” and the history of the electric chair were two of them as I recall.  Our library celebrates this holiday very creatively.   We use it as a fundraiser for our social events.  It’s always been fun and creative.  This year we had a department vs. department decorating contest.  For my department, the librarian action figure emerged from her sabbatical to, as the picture demonstrates, to deliver information to the witchy and wicked.  I would share their questions but that would violate their privacy and I would have to turn you into a frog.

Who needs a house to fall on you when there's a copy machine.  Don't kill the trees or this could happen to you.

Who needs a house to fall on you when there’s a copy machine. Don’t kill the trees or this could happen to you.

Alas, we did not win the contest, but we had a great deal of fun decorating, laughing, and touring other departments.  And of course we had a party with lots of good food.  Happy Halloween.

Best Library Meeting Ever…because there were dogs!

dog and handler

A dog and handler at a Library meeting

Last week, I wrote about the South Central Library Council Annual Meeting and the inspiring presentation given by the current President of the American Library Association.  As we broke for lunch, part of the program for the second half arrived.  Dogs!  I mean handlers and their therapy dogs.  Immediately, the room became convivial and a lot of people, including me, forgot about lunch and headed straight for the dogs.

The second half of the program was led by Tina Winstead, the program coordinator for the Healthy Libraries, Healthy Communities  grant from National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Mid-Atlantic region.  The six month grant was aimed at educate and encourage libraries about healthy lifestyles in order to encourage programs aimed at their communities.  The program consisted of kick-off events, participation (and competition) in The Active for Life program sponsored by the American Cancer Society.  There was online book discussions and webinairs.

This meeting was the culminating event of the grant.  Dr. Sandra Barker, Director for the Center of Human and Animal Interaction (Chai) spoke about the activities of the Center and the health benefits of interactions with animals.  Any woman who can name her center after my favorite tea blend and loves animals (did you notice her last name?!) has got to be interesting and savvy.  The Center is attached to a  VCU’s medical center and the Department of Psychiatry.  Her talk, “The Human-Animal Bond and Health:  Implications for Healthy Libraries, Heathy Communities.

The “Dogs on Call” program supports the research studies as well as the therapy at the medical school.  The dogs, adult only, must pass rigorous requirements including grooming and nail-cutting within 24 hours of each visit.  They must pass the Medical Center Volunteer training — and by they, I mean the dogs and the handlers — and they must register with one of two external programs:  Pet Partner’s Program or Therapy Dogs Inc.  In addition, they must complete Chai’s Dogs on Call training program.  It’s a lot of work just to get in the door!

The program has few restrictions on who the dog can visit and is careful about allergies and people who are afraid of animals.  Physicians must approve visits for people with infectious diseases, open wounds, IV, and emergency areas.  The dogs don’t visit the cafeteria, probably to their great disappointment.  Patients with a history of violence are also not visited.

The Center had done many studies with psychiatric students, with children who have cancer and other difficult diseases, and they have also studies the stress relieving benefits.  These interactions do support the notion that interactions with companion animals are of a benefit to people, “A consistent relaxation pattern was found among the physiological measures following interactions with dogs [from the distributed PowerPoint handouts].

therapy dog and handler

therapy dog at the library program

They have also studied dogs in the workplace –companies that allow their employee to bring dogs.  It was a small study but it got picked up by the media so the Center enjoyed a little more than 15 minutes of fame.  As Dr. Barker pointed out, more study is needed.  The results indicated that the participants scored higher on the indicators of job satisfaction including pay, communication, promotion, benefits, rewards, and operational procedures [paraphrased from the distributed handout].

One of their studies interested me  because it dovetails with my college’s Paws for Stress Relief end of the semester programs; our library partnered with PAWS for the Spring 2013 program and plans to continue.  The question the Center explored was “Does interacting with dogs really de-stress college students?  One of the posters said, “Be calm and Pet a Pooch.”  The results indicated that there was a significant difference in stress levels, that 93% experienced a decrease in stress.

Overall, the researchers at the Center have found that there are strong physical and mental health benefits for interacting with dogs including reduced mortality, reduced pain perception, increased physical activity, improved cardiovascular function, reduced depression, anxiety, stress, fear, loneliness and increased prosocial behavior, social support, and empathy.

By extension, libraries who run similar programs may well be able to help with some issues that patrons experience including [excerpted from the distributed handout]:

  • decrease stress, anxiety, and loneliness for patrons
  • decrease employee stress
  • create a more inviting and relaxed atmosphere
  • attract new users
  • and increased interaction in small groups and with group leaders

Dr. Barker made some recommendations to libraries who may be thinking of implementing a program that includes companion animals [excerpted

  • develop policies and procedures before launching activities and programs
  • establish requirements for animals and owners
  • determine appropriate times and locations
  • do a risk assessment
  • address people’s’ allergies and fears
  • educate the public
  • start small and build on success

    An old therapy dog named Sam

    An old therapy dog named Sam

The session ended with  applause and free apples from a local orchard.  I never did get a picture of the golden retriever, the owner and the dog were so popular I couldn’t get a good snap.  As someone who used to have a golden retriever mix, I know their sweet and loving personality is always wonderful to be near!  A day well spent in a world full of library goodness…and dogs!  Two of the best things ever.

Libraries are the Best Thing Ever….Except for Maybe Chocolate

girl sitting on a book statue at Brentwood TN public library

Brentwood TN’s public library

On Friday October 18th at our regional library council annual meeting, the President of the American Library Association, Barbara Stripling gave an inspiring talk on how libraries change lives.  How Libraries Change Lives is the message of her presidency, and as a former school librarian and current library school faculty member, this is a subject near to her heart, as it is to all or most librarians.  As part of her presidency, she is urging all citizens to sign the Declaration for the Right to Libraries and to understand that libraries are more than warehouses for books but are also vibrant centers of learning, community conversations, and innovation.

She began by saying that changing the world is an enormous and intimidating concept surrounded by trite rhetoric and little action; and to be truly effective, an individual who wishes to change the world endeavors to have an impact on the lives of others, one life at a time!   We don’t alway hear about the impact we have on others but as we live, work, play, and learn we need to have faith (my word not hers) that our impact may be felt in small or large ways.  When we empower individual voices to speak and to sing, we change lives.

Libraries are safe places to have democratic conversations away from the hurley burly of hyperbolic rhetoric and name calling.  Our communities

have the right to have strong libraries.  With each need comes opportunities and challenges, or as Stripling put it, “chopportunities.”

Libraries empower the Individual.  Libraries provide places and materials for people to imagine, create, communicate, discover, achieve, and develop qualities such as perseverance, self-confidence, and grit (I especially like that one).  Stripling said it’s hard to develop grit by yourself.  It’s sort of the other side of the growth of a pearl.  You can’t become a pearl without the presence of the grit to rub up against.

Libraries support literacy and learning.  In our environment, there are new literacies, social responsibility, and technologies in which to the individual needs to become fluent.

Libraries strengthen families and promote intergenerational conversations and interactions.  Libraries are great equalizers in terms of class, income, and status.  The second level of the digital divide, with the first being access, is the lack of skills in using the technology.

Libraries protect our right to know.  Libraries provide access to materials that study all sides of an issue, popular, unpopular, acceptable, and unthinkable.  Libraries and librarians make us think about our privacy, and social responsibilities.

Libraries strengthen our nation.  Libraries are democratic in their conception and hold a special place in our history and the building of the nation.

Libraries preserve our cultural heritage.

Libraries help us understand each other better.  We can develop greater empathy and understanding of how we see each other.

In an era where libraries are threatened, defunded, and questioned, it’s important to be able to articulate and communicate the importance of this ideal and the reality.  We do have the right to our libraries whether we read fiction, study for our classes, research a new invention, or learn to read and survive in our world.  The world of information is changing but the need for knowledge and wisdom is eternal.  Your library is the place to seek and create.  Sign the declaration , host an event, and/or use your local library.

Chocolate is better than libraries…except the library won’t give you pimples, expand your waistline, cost you money, or go straight to your hips.  So maybe libraries are even better than chocolate….and you have to admit that is really good!