Tuesday, January 21, 2020

I Used to Read: Update

Since the end of July I've been pursuing a different strategy when it comes to reading. I'm requesting more paper books through the library in order to access content not necessarily available through their ebook collections. I'm trying to be more intentional about what I read instead of just feeding myself what I can easily find.

The tensions haven't gone away. I still fight distractions, internal and external. My job responsibilities have shifted a bit so I won't have to spend as much time on social media. Still playing games on my phone more than I ought to, but it helps that one of my confederates in that pursuit decided to give it up, at least for a while. I cancelled Netflix and I'm reading more on the treadmill than I did before, though that only works for the ebooks. I have a harder time reaching for the paper ones, sometimes, since they are just less convenient.

Overall, though, I think my reading experience has improved. I've read about 40 books in the last six months. Nine of them were re-reads. Eight were books I read for work, mostly mission books for writing reviews. Twenty-two were from the library, either paper books or ebooks. But I was able to give 4-5 stars (out of five) to almost 70 percent of what I read. Only a dozen were in the 2-3 range. Previously my most common ranking was a 3... was reading too many middling mysteries and novels. 

Two re-reads I gave fives to were:
For fiction,
  • I once again loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
  • I also enjoyed some Wendell Berry, both re-reads and first-time reads, and revisited a couple of Arthur Ransome books, a childhood favorite, and decided I'd like to read some more Fredrik Backman.
Other highlights shed light on American history, and included:
I don't have a particular goal for 2020 reading, though I'd like to read 80 books again, which seems to be my new normal. Decided to start of the year with a 90-day read through the Bible, which I'm happy about but is leaving me less time for other kinds of reading.
Note: I may have neglected this blog quite a bit, but I'm not abandoning it yet. Since we're counting things... this is the one-thousandth post I've published since launching the blog in 2006. I think I may alternate the most common topics (reading, work, missions, just thinking) and see if I can post something once or twice a month this year. 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

"I used to love reading..."

In 2017, reader and writer Philip Yancey published a blog post titled Reading Wars. It it he confesses:
"I am going through a personal crisis. I used to love reading. I am writing this blog in my office, surrounded by 27 tall bookcases laden with some 5,000 books. Over the years I have read them, marked them up, and recorded the annotations in a computer database for potential references in my writing. To a large degree, they have formed my professional and spiritual life.

"Books help define who I am. They have ushered me on a journey of faith, have introduced me to the wonders of science and the natural world, have informed me about issues such as justice and race. More, they have been a source of delight and adventure and beauty, opening windows to a reality I would not otherwise know.

"My crisis consists in the fact that I am describing my past, not my present. ... I am reading many fewer books these days, and even fewer of the kinds of books that require hard work... The internet and social media have trained my brain to read a paragraph or two, and then start looking around." 
My Reading War

Like Yancey, I read about three books a week. That started by the time I was ten and went on until about when I turned 40. But after 2010, I couldn't do it anymore.

Here's how it happened. I was given my first i-device (an iPod Touch) in February or March, 2011. In time it was followed by an iPad and an iPhone, this time my own purchases. These proved handy for reading books, yes, but for so many other things as well: texts and emails, playing games, taking in music or movies, perusing social media, and doing a variety of tasks related to work... all of which, until that point, I either did without or had to turn on my laptop for. So every time I sat down to read, these other options were just a click away.

By the end of 2011 I'd sorted and packed up my books and moved to Oregon. I had a whole new life. Not much time alone. Most volumes stayed in their boxes until Chris and I got married and rented a house, and were boxed up again a few years later, when we moved in 2015. So reading was more difficult during those seasons, too. Plus, I'd lived within walking distance of libraries for the previous 20 years. That was no longer true. The way the city lines were drawn in Eugene meant I couldn't get a library card.

I wasn't reading so much anymore.

Times a-Changin'

Now it's 2019 and my life is simpler than it was then. I have more control over how I use my time. I have my books. And I have a library card again!

But it's still hard to get back to reading when the internet and games and social media are all right there on my devices, enticing me with shallow satisfaction.

I can no longer read 100+ books a year. I'm shooting for 80. Probably seems a lot to some, but I read fast, and with fiction I may devour it the way other people watch movies or binge on Netflix.

I realize I may never be a super-reader again, enjoying both the depth and breadth of reading I once knew. Short of civilization collapse or the zombie apocalypse, the internet and its many distractions seem here to stay, and I'm addicted.

But lately I've been thinking more about reading quality rather than the number of pages I can read or hours I can spend with my nose in a book. I want to read differently. More intentionally. And that is going to take some different strategies.

Kindle Vs. Paper

Being the frugal type, I usually count on the library for new books, unless they are things I can buy for work and reimburse. And whether I buy or borrow, I've grown to prefer ebooks. They are just so convenient. I can browse for them on my phone. Often get them immediately. I don't have to schlep them around. I can choose the font and font size; read them in the light or in the dark. On the treadmill. Wherever I am. And if they're from the library, they even return themselves!

But here's the thing. Libraries have been collecting paper books much longer than they've been investing in electronic ones. They have more of them. Especially for those like me who prefer books that stand the test of time but may not make the bestseller lists.

I think I need to read more paper books. Read more of the good stuff. Learn what I want to learn, consume what I really want to consume, not just picking from a small collection I can get for free from the library's Kindle collection. Paper books? Yes, they may have fine print, but I have reading glasses if I need them. They may not glow in the dark, but I still have a lamp or two I can turn on! 

Making Plans

Today I took a look at my want-to-read list on the book-tracking website, Goodreads. It's pretty long. These are mostly books I can't get in Kindle editions from my library. Some of them are on Hoopla, an alternate library interface, but that's clunky and prone to crashing.

So I logged into the main catalog. Right! They still have real books! Easily found half a dozen from my list. Most were checked in. I placed my holds. The library will send them to my closest branch. I should have 3-4 by the end of the week. We'll see how long it takes me to get through them.

Still too easily distracted? Probably so. But here's something that lowers the pressure a bit: This summer our library system joined the ranks of those that no longer charge overdue fines. Another way the world has changed. It's not just me.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Don’t Go There: Travel & the Problem of Over-tourism

“The question is, do you want to go to a place – or show people you’ve been to the place?” 

—Eduardo Santander, Executive Director of the European Travel Commission

I once accepted a free consultation from a young financial advisor trying to grow her business. The key question, she said, was how I wanted to spend my retirement. Travel, perhaps?

Ha! In those days I was spending enough time overseas or on the road I thought it would be nice to stay home. Read and write. Putter about, and probably volunteer somewhere. Have a pet and a garden. Still sounds good to me!

On the other hand, my travel was mostly work-related rather than recreational and it took me more places off the beaten track than on it. So, I entertained wistful thoughts of visiting France or Italy … hanging out on the Mediterranean… seeing Machu Picchu or the Great Wall of China.

Too Many Tourists

More and more people are joining the global middle class and have the same ideas about travel. They want to see all the places they've heard about. The tourism industry is booming. But all is not well.

Watch Top 10 Places Ruined by Tourism:

Or, if you just want to know what made the list:

1. Amsterdam (Netherlands)
2. Majorca (Spain)
3. Venice (Italy)
4. Angkor Wat (Cambodia)
5. Galapagos Islands (Ecuador)
6. Bali (Indonesia)
7. Iceland
8. Dubrovnik (Croatia)
9. Thailand
10. Mt. Everest (Nepal)

Any of those places on your bucket list? I know my limits well enough to say Mount Everest is safe from me; I'll just read "Into Thin Air" again. But I'd like to see some of the others. Have only been to three of them, two more than a decade ago. I remember thinking it would be better if there weren’t so many foreigners there (and in some other places I’ve been). But that hardly seemed charitable when I was a visitor myself.

To be sure, I’ve felt the crush of overcrowding as bad or worse in places frequently only or primarily by locals. There’s nothing like an Asian bazaar to trigger claustrophobia. The local name of one of the first I visited was “The push-and-shove." It was well named.

Over-tourism in the News

Well, this summer has seen a spate of news stories about the problem of over-tourism.
  • How to Be a Better Tourist (BBC) describes the problem and provides helpful suggestions for sorting out your own priorities as a tourist.
  • It’s Summer and Everyone Is Writing about Overtourism (Skift)  includes links to other coverage and suggests the tourism industry itself should accept blame, not merely the tourists themselves. After all, they are doing everything they can to encourage the situation.

Selfie Sightseeeing

As some of the articles point out, Instagram and its ilk are a driving force. Evidently you haven’t really seen Paris if you don’t have your own pictures, and a picture of yourself with each of its famous spots (see articles like 43 Most Instagrammable Places in Vancouver). But how many people go there just to say (and show) they have, rather than showing interest in the place itself? Already this summer the staff of the Louvre staged a walkout because they were frustrated about the overcrowding; long lines, piles of garbage, and standstill traffic can make eager sightseers cranky, too. I like a good art museum. Am not sure how much trouble I'd take (or make) to see (and say I'd seen) that one.

Everyone Wants to See Flam

My husband is a big action-movie fan, but has a contemplative side as well. And when he wants to relax, he puts on Slow TV: Train Ride Bergen to Oslo. It's the view from a seven-hour train journey through beautiful Norwegian countryside, with mountains, water, and trees nothing like those where we live now. It's lovely. Maybe someday we will go?

The other day we were wondering how the communities along the route survive. Is there industry, agriculture? And if we went, what else might we stop and see along the way? I Googled some station names and started to learn about a village called Flam, population 350, which has been a tourism center since the late nineteenth century. Ah, tourism is what's keeping them alive. And that means there are probably things to do in and around Flam, right?

Yes, but the interest is too much for Flam to handle. They get 160 cruise ships and 450,000 tourists a year, most of whom stay only a day. It's worth seeing, evidently, but the waters of the fjord are getting polluted; no more fishing. Among other troubles, there are reports of public defecation; the only public toilets are in the train station.

What Is Travel at its Best?

With the travel industry, social media, etc. so ready to suggest what to do and where you go, perhaps we need to be more discriminating. Not just go everywhere we can, or everywhere we're told. Give up any FOMO tendencies. We would do well to know ourselves and what we want. As I think of my best experiences and favorite memories, they have to do with discovery and human connection.

If what we like is connecting with people, finding places of peace and beauty, and finding what makes a place unique, we may do better to give up the chance to see the headline sights. Maybe go with less of a plan or agenda and let others guide us. Perhaps making the journey one of discovery, rather than the conquest of checking things off a bucket list, of cramming in all the must-see and can't-miss sights.

But all this helps me be content to be missing some stamps in my passport. To accept that I haven't been there and done that. What else have I seen and felt and experienced along the way, instead?

As it turns out, a great deal.

Your thoughts?  

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

"Do you have a PDF of the book I can use to compare to and restore my [censored] copy?"

The other day I got an email from a hotmail address. Subject line: I'm writing about your book, "Through Her Eyes."


Dear Mrs. Smith,

This afternoon I went to a book sale and picked up a pristine looking copy of your book for my home library. Turns out, however, that the previous owner didn't always agree with your opinions and defaced parts of your book with whiteout or black ink. She went so far as to whiteout whole paragraphs and to retitle one of your chapters. (I could send you pictures as evidence if you'd like.)
I don't want a censored book in my library. I find this kind of censorship repugnant- especially since she subbed her own words in for yours.

I considered just throwing it away and ordering a new book, but I'm on a fixed income. Do you have a PDF of the book I can use to compare to and restore my copy? Restoring the paper copy, even if the results are a bit messy, is my goal.


Scam or legit? It sounded so much like website comment spam that I googled several sections, expecting to find the this ruse documented. Nothing.

The idea that this person doesn't want to read an ebook version but to "restore" the paper copy they bought to an uncensored state seems pretty weird. The offer to send pictures could be a ruse to suggest sincerity. The rest to appeal to my vanity. And of course the text of the email contains nothing that would necessarily restrict their meaning to any particular volume - just the use of my name in the salutation and book title in subject line.

As it happens, although I still have a small stash of paperback copies, I don't have a PDF of the final version or even a copy of the Kindle edition (which the publisher pulled out of circulation). It's nice that it's still in print - at least print on demand.

The email was fishy enough I'm not going to respond. But I thought I'd post it here to give Google a hand.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Now we are cat people.

In February we got a kitten, then 10 weeks old.

At $500, the startup costs for this venture were a little daunting and included a hefty pet deposit and increase in rent for our apartment, various supplies, and a sizable "adoption fee" required by the charity we got her from, as nobody else seemed to deal in kittens.

Yeah, she's a rescue cat, as they call them now. This may be virtue signalling, like making sure people know you compost or are deeply committed to recycling. When I was a kid you'd say you'd picked up a stray, and that's probably just how it happened. Made you sound like a bit of a cheapskate or someone who didn't care about quality. I guess things have changed.

Nala is marked by an M on her forehead, as it turns out all true tabbies are. We joke it stands for "Marti's cat."

I'm surprised how quickly I've become Nala's person. Or one of them. I'm afraid we both dote on her quite a bit.

There's something about touch, about the soft fur and all the purring; it meets a need I didn't realize I had. And taking a break from work to play with the cat or do something for her seems to do something for my outlook and energy level, too.

We talk and think about Nala a lot, but it seems to go further than that. We send each other cat comics. We watch cat videos on Facebook. We watched The Lion in Your Living Room, and I went through a whole series on Netflix called Kitten Rescuers. We lurk in the pet section of Walmart or PetSmart, comparing food or litter options.
Perhaps none of this would have happened if Nala was one of those standoffish, disdainful felines. But she's not. She follows us around, wanting to be petted or fed, and dashing ahead when she thinks she knows where we're going. Sometimes her paws or tail get stepped on; no help for it. She doesn't hide or sulk, though... she's right back there looking for attention.

This cat jumps on my desk and walks into my video conferences for work. (It's a little embarrassing, but always makes my coworkers smile.) Nala talks to us. Sleeps on our bed. Plays games with us... like "how high can you jump?" (see picture) "pounce," and "fetch"! (That one took us by surprise.)

Of course, all the kitty love leaves a mark, and not just on my heart. The claws were too small to do harm at first. As the weeks went by that began to change. Soon our furniture was in danger and I was covered with claw marks. Did a bit of research and ended up buying special scissors to trim her claws periodically. She doesn't like it, but my wounds have healed.

This week Nala is six months old. Happy half-birthday, kitten!

Friday, April 19, 2019

Why I (Don't) Blog

See also a post from about a decade ago, Why I Blog.

Haven't posted anything on the blog in some time... and it's been sporadic for years. My original purpose, approach, and even the title for this blog no longer seem wise. Sure, transparency, authenticity, and vulnerability remain popular values in our world. But living them out on the internet seems increasingly risky. I'm not sure what to do about that.

Things got a little trickier when I got married, both because my husband didn't seem appreciate me writing about our life together and because now I have someone to talk to, someone who's always there, and the need for self expression and connection has ebbed a bit.

Then I joined my organization's communication team. That gave me not only another outlet for any remaining writing impulses, but more projects and publications. With deadlines. I like deadlines. I'm much happier working with a bit of pressure and structure than without it. But I don't have much energy left when I'm done. And since, in February, our staffing decreased by 25%, I never seem to get done. 

When I write for my organization, I have to keep their brand and not my own tastes and preferences in mind. So maybe it's worth keeping this blog around. I could (theoretically) post things here that I could not share someplace else.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

"To be known as someone who simply wants to live with them."

Well, off I go. Saturday we leave on our trip to the other side of the world with much expectation that God is going to show Himself in some life-changing and surprising way.

I've agonized over my presentation on culture learning, trying to chose what content is appropriate for a one-hour presentation to this particular audience, wondering what might result... dismissal? disinterest? engagement? input? invitations to travel the world and teach? or just a "we'll take it from here"? I really don't know what to expect or what to hope for. And I have been quite anxious about this and other aspects of our journey.

If you are a person who prays, think of me at 4pm Jan 14. Or 12-15 hours before that, if you live in the US, to account for the time difference.  I could use your prayers for this presentation / discussion.

Here's a video I hope to use to open it up. Of course I can't be sure technology will cooperate. This video can't be downloaded, evidently, and I hate to rely too much on internet access in a conference setting, in a different country, and on someone else's laptop. So I may just read the quote.

Still, I can share it with you here:

“More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence.

"Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress.

"But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.”