Monday, November 28, 2016

Puppy Dogs and Picture Books

My family got a puppy going on two months ago.  She’s a red merle Australian Shepherd, four months old by Christmas, with pretty curls at the tips of her ears and amber eyes.  We named her Ginger (for Rogers, not the one on Gilligan’s Island). 

Training her has been an experience to say the least.  House training aside, we must teach her not to jump on things, not to scratch at things, not to bite things, not to eat things like eyeglasses, not to attack our two cats, not to chew at our pant-legs, not to bark constantly, to give, to sit, to stay, to lay down, to get off, to come, and not to beg or get up on People Furniture. 

It’s exhausting, and probably the only reason we persevere is because Ginger is so stinkin’ cute.  I mean, just look at her:

Photo Credit: My Mom.  Picture Book Collection Credit: Myself

I’ve been foregoing a lot of reading of actual novels that I want to read, and researching Australian Shepherds and dog training instead.  Most of the books talk about psychological things like positive reinforcement (giving treats when the dog is good versus negative reinforcement of yelling at them when they are bad), and saying “Good sit!” or “Good stay!” whenever the puppy happens to accidentally do those things. 

The books remind humans that dogs are not born speaking human.  We are literally teaching this baby dog a new language, one that she won’t be able to speak even when she does understand it.  This made me think of that picture book, I’ll Teach My Dog 100 Words by Michael Frith (illustrated by P.D. Eastman). 

Like the story’s narrator, the boy who’ll teach his dog all sorts of things like “Jump the fishbowl, bring the bone,” we’ve started training Ginger with such lofty goals.  We don’t want her to beg for food or jump up on the couch.  But she is SUCH a handful.  And since 2017 is scampering toward us as fast as a little teething Aussie ready for her dinner, I’m beginning to think we should copy the narrator of this book and say,

“I think I’ll start next year.”

Monday, November 21, 2016

How To Read A Book: A Detailed Tutorial

Know how to read.  Since you are reading this blog, I assume this has already been completed.  Good; I like to be able to start a checklist with something all ready to be struck off.  If for some reason you are miraculously able to understand this tutorial without reading, may I suggest taking a short break to look into The Literacy Network, or perhaps make a trip to your local library and ask one of the helpful circulation desk staff for assistance.  They’d love to help.  That’s what they’re there for.  

Okay, now to the more serious obstacles.  Find a book to read.  Since this is not what to read but how to read a book, I will leave this choice up to your discretion.  Although I would like to remind you that I have some recommendations, there are also TONS of places to find book recommendations, including but not limited to Goodreads,, blogs, newspaper articles, magazines, and again, LIBRARY STAFF.  You know how I said they'd love to help you learn to read?  The other purpose of their existence is to help you find what to read. They're kind of like human search engines, and if you're a library regular, they can get to know you enough to personalize a reading material search more accurately than any online computer program.* 

Once you have a book to read it is vital that you find the time to read it.  This is a stumbling block for most would-be-bibliophiles, because what with work, school, chores, errands, bills, family, friends, holidays, hobbies, etc. it can be hard to find the requisite time to read. 
In this way reading can be similar to exercise.  Exercise is good for the body, and important to keeping it strong.  It’s hard for many people to find time to exercise at home, much less go to the gym.  Likewise reading is exercise for the mind—and, I believe, the soul—and it can be hard to make time to read in the comfort of one’s living room, much less make a trip to the library. 
One thing I remind people who tell me they don’t have time to read is that from a historical perspective our culture has more “free time” than ever.  Look at the pre-lightbulb society.  Just to survive people had to work all daylight hours, and maybe even had chores to do in the evening, all before crashing into rather uncomfortable beds made of straw in order to get a little rest before the next day’s toil began. 
We should be thankful that our society has so much free time, for social media, for television and movies, for music, for events and pursuit of hobbies.  We all have free time until we fill it up. 
So to those who hope to read more, I’d recommend this: look at your schedule, how you fill up your off hours.  Some people may reasonably have very little time to devote to reading.  There are children to parent, accounts to be balanced, dishes to wash.  But others may have lots of time that currently is spent watching television or surfing through YouTube randomly.  Imagine how much you might read if those moments weren’t frittered away.
Again, if you have a priority to read, then you will read.  You will find the time.
Alright, you have the time. Now the place.  Find a chair.  Is it comfortable?  No?  Then a) it does not belong to the Spanish Inquisition, and b) it is not a good Reading Chair.  A good Reading Chair fits the general guidelines of being comfortable: roomy enough to stretch in, but cozy enough to curl up in without feeling agoraphobic.  It should be soft enough to sustain a reader for hours without discomfort, but not so plushy that the reader falls asleep. 
            The placement of the Reading Chair is also important. In winter it should be away from drafts. Unless you are reading about Shackleton or Oliver Twist and the cold gives an additional dimension of verisimilitude.  But otherwise in winter there should ideally be a fireplace or at least a nice warm afghan (again, not TOO nice and warm.  We aren’t looking for a Nap Chair in this particular search). 
            There also should be adequate light.  Even if your book is on an e-reader that has a light-up screen, this can be taxing on your eyes after a length of time.  So if you feel yourself squinting, either from bright or dim light, find a good reading lamp to add to your reading area and adjust the light accordingly. 
            Optional pieces to add to the ambiance of reading:
- A table for snacks and drinks and to put your bookmark so that it doesn’t invariably get lost. 
- An ottoman to stretch out your feet. 

Cut out distractions.  See Step 3 for examples of distractions that keep you from reading in the first place.  These same variables may interrupt your hard-earned reading time.  If possible, let the people around you know your schedule of reading, and ask not to be disturbed.  If your friends still interrupt you, perhaps it’s time to break up with them.  Books before bros, people.**
            But the real distractions are of the electronic kind.  First, stop watching Monty Python videos on YouTube after I added that link in Step 4.  This was a test, one which both of us has failed.  Next, it's time to turn off your cell phone.  I know it’s hard.  I feel the urge, too, its little glowing rectangle calling to me to play games or check e-mail or update my facebook profile or google the production background of the MacGyver reboot.  So turn it off.  If you’re reading on a tablet this is impossible.  So turn off the internet at least.  Then when you’re tempted to search Wikipedia or text a friend, the little airplane icon will gently reproach you for your addiction, and you’ll be reminded to go back to your book.
Just read.  This is a “retrain your brain” exercise.  Our culture now is multitasking, multimedia, multipurposed.  It’s time to go back to a simpler time, when people would sit down to a task or pastime and keep at it for hours.  You’ll feel that need to get up and change the laundry, or check the score, or get something to eat.  Fight it.  Your mind is wired by truncated texts and fast-paced action shows and little blurbs running across the screen of TV and computer, so now you expect everything to move this quickly, and when it does not your mind will think of things that it can “switch” to.  If possible, force yourself to read for as much time as you’ve set aside.  Hopefully this will be a good long time.  And by the end of it, who knows?  You may have lost track of all that time, and been absorbed in a world completely created out of words.

*Yes, that was a blatant and biased plug for library patronship.  And I am not ashamed.
**I’m honestly not sure whether I’m kidding or not.

Monday, November 14, 2016

"Yes yes" Reviewing Kenneth Oppel's "Every Hidden Thing"

In continuation of my poor fortune in reading, I was recently disappointed again. I finished the book at least, which is more than I can say for many of the volumes I’ve picked up at the library over the past month. 

The book is Kenneth Oppel’s Every Hidden Thing. The selling point? Romeo and Juliet looking for a dinosaur. Sounds awesome, right?

Actually the selling point for me was that it was by Oppel, who in my past experience has been one of the best YA authors I’ve had the pleasure to read. My favorite steampunk novels are the Airborn trilogy. I enjoyed the bat-fantasy series of started by Silverwing. I even enjoyed the creepy prequels to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Yet after the rather grim and dark content of the aforementioned Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein series, I was hoping for a return to the lighter action-filled adventures of a couple of lovestruck teens in the sun-scorched Badlands looking for dinosaurs at the dawn of paleontology. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

How Profanity Shuts the Door

There really isn’t such a thing as luck. But if there was, I’d be having a rather long stretch of the bad version lately when it comes to reading.

Before I elaborate, I have to go on a rant. Perhaps it’s because I’m spoiled by literature where people—albeit created characters—tend to use language in a much more creative and distinguished manner. Perhaps I’ve read too many Victorian novels where puritanical censorship forced authors into that distinguished creativity. Perhaps I personally am prudish, unrealistic, and wishing to enforce a rigidity to language which is against the very nature of language itself. 

No matter the reason, I am sick of swearing.