Tournament of Books 2019: Warlight

I just finished reading the fourth Tournament of Books 2019 book, Michael Ondaatje’s “Warlight“. It’s in the first round of the competition, running against Azareen Can Der Vlier Ollomi’s “Call Me Zebra“.

This book should have been named “Utter Drivel”. It’s not a bildungsroman, not a war story, not a spy story, not a story about post WWII London or Britain. It’s not a story at all, just a collection of unbelievable and uninteresting scenes, repeated again and again, and connected by wild circumstances that are yet again, unbelievable. The characters are, you guessed it, unbelievable phantoms with nothing to make them feel real, likeable, or anything really. It’s as if you’re wandering in the fog with Ondaatje, neither of you having any sort of clue where you are and where you’re going. It’s not even truly bad, it’s just boring and pointless, which is what makes it so frustrating.

I’m surprised that it was published, and even more surprised that it made it into the first round of the Tournament of Books 2019, while excellent books like “Speak No Evil”, “A Terrible Country” and “America Is Not the Heart” were left to battle it out in the Play-Ins. I haven’t yet read “Call Me Zebra,” but it’s going to have to be terrifically bad to lose against this pointless book.

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Tournament of Books 2019: Warlight

How I Started Reading More (Again)

A few more insights into how I got back to reading, beyond using a reading journal, as it has come up in conversations lately (people are gearing up for 2019 resolutions, I guess):

  • I started with detective novels, easy reads, things that were fun and not too challenging to dig into. M.C. Beaton, P.G. Wodehouse, John Scalzi were my friends. I was trying to rebuild a habit, and so the last thing I needed was to start with books that I would resist reading. My mind had to learn to treat reading as a pleasant pastime and not “homework” anymore, so the more challenging books came in only about a year after I started.
  • I used streaks to challenge myself to read 10 minutes a day, every day. Why 10 minutes? Because I felt that this was the minimal amount of time required for me to start easing myself out of the choppy, constantly distracted and interrupted reading habits that I had picked up after years of using social media.
  • I deleted the Facebook and YouTube apps from my phone, and after a great deal more struggle and a few relapses, Twitter. Instead of browsing them when I had a minute or two to spare, I used the Kindle app.
  • I put reading in my new year’s resolutions (yes, I have been doing those for the last three years, and I’ve been pretty successful in meeting them for the last three years, but that’s a different post). At first it was just for a certain quantity of books (24), and then it was for a certain number of books of each kind — challenging books and long books.
  • I set up a Goodreads account and started a reading challenge there. As with the resolutions, it’s important to keep the goal not only attainable under normal circumstances, but also attainable when things go horribly wrong with your life. Start lower than you think, and ignore other people’s goals. You’re doing this for yourself. If it’s 5 books, 10 books, 20 or 20, it should be what you can do. I chose 24, because that was 2 books a month, and something that I felt I could get to without resorting to reading only short and simple books.
  • I cut out TV almost entirely from my life. This wasn’t just about reading, it was about making more time in my day for things that were more important to me, but it definitely helped with my reading. I cancelled my cable subscription and I watch about 2 hours of TV a week.

This has been my journey back into reading. Take from it what you wish, but if I can distill them they’d look like this:

  1. Decide you want to do it. If it’s not coming from you, it won’t happen.
  2. Set up systems of daily reminders and goals. These can be private or public, they can be analog or digital, as long as they help you keep on track.
  3. Make it pleasurable. Start with easy reading in a genre that you enjoy, maybe with a writer that you know, and keep your goals easy and attainable even not on the best of days.

 

How I Started Reading More (Again)

My Reading Journal, or How I Taught Myself To Enjoy Reading Again

Ironically enough, by the time I finished with my MA in English Literature a few years ago I had “lost” the habit of reading. From someone who used to read at every available (and not so available) moment I had turned into a non-reader almost entirely. This bothered me so I set up to rectify it by “gamifying” reading until I had tricked myself back into the habit again.

Field Notes had just come out with their Arts and Sciences, the perfect format for my plans. The idea wasn’t only to create a journal where I would log my thoughts on each book as I read it, but create a little set of “achievements” that I could unlock for each book as I read it. For each quarter of the book I read, I got an achievement, a little logo that symbolized the book which I drew on a separate page. The accumulation of those silly little symbols was enough to push me forward as I learned to enjoy reading again. I kept that up for three Field Notes Arts books and then when I ran out of them, I simplified the format and moved to the Moleskine Two-Go, which had just come out. The Field Notes Arts notebook wasn’t fountain pen friendly so I used a Karas Kustoms Render K, a Blackwing pencil and the Caran d’Ache Bicolor 999 double sided coloured pencil.

On the first year that I tried using this system (from March 2016) I got from not reading any new books (just my old familiar favourites) to reading almost 20 new books. On the second year (2017) I got up to 42 books. This year to date I’m at 58 books, and I’ll probably read 60-61 books by the end of the year. I no longer need to spend time drawing little “achievement badges” as my reading habit is back here to stay. I do, however, still keep a book journal even though I’ve started using Goodreads since 2017. It’s a satisfying way to keep track of my reading and organize my thoughts on the books that I’ve read.

You can check out the format of the entries for fiction and non-fiction below. The unlined left side of the spread (verso) is where I do a little doodle that reminds me of something central in the book, and explain the star rating that I gave the book in each category. I really recommend that if you choose to create your own analog reading journal, you create your format yourself. Mine has changed over time, particularly for non-fiction, and it works with my reading goals for the year.

This is the index, which is useful for reference later on and is a good way to check my reading progress throughout the year.

My Reading Journal, or How I Taught Myself To Enjoy Reading Again

“Triggers” Daily Questions and a Moleskine Pocket Peter Pan Limited Edition review: All Children, Except One, Grow Up.

Ever since I’ve read the book “Triggers” by Marshall Goldsmith about six months ago I’ve been searching for ways to track the progress of my Daily Questions (“Did I do my best to…”). I tried using my journal for several months, then used a Google Sheet for two months, and in both cases something was missing. The Google Sheet was great for statistics and tracking, but not as satisfying and meaningful as writing my daily scores down (and I didn’t really find the statistics useful). The journal was much better, but as my goals changed it was time consuming to create a new table each time, and I needed a way to for me to justify my daily scores.

Enter tracking system number three: a Moleskine pocket Peter Pan limited edition notebook and an index card. Let’s start with the notebook:

The Peter Pan Moleskine limited editions showcase some of Moleskine’s best design work in recent years. Both the colourful covers, the drawing and the lettering evoke the spirit of Peter Pan without resorting to Disney-esque tropes. They’re naive without being childish, colourful without being brash, and the quotes on the covers are brilliantly selected.

Inside the covers are more illustrations in the same vein and even the famous “In case of loss” is set in a hand lettering like font. The palate of the entire Peter Pan line is limited (navy, orangey-yellow, green and white) but it never feels that way.

The back cover. Again, extra points for aligning the design so well with the back pocket. It almost seems like they’re flying into it:

This edition comes with stickers that are a lot of fun and well drawn in a naive style:

And the B-Side of the sleeve instructs you on how to build paper planes and also uses quotes from the books or that reference the book:

So that’s the review of the notebook itself. I highly recommend all of the Moleskine Peter Pan notebooks — they rank alongside the Denim and some of the Harry Potter limited edition notebooks as my favourites of recent years. I didn’t buy it specifically to try to use it as a Triggers Daily Questions tracker, but it was languishing in my “to use” pile and a used notebook is better than an unused notebook, so I decided to give it a spin.

The idea of writing down my Daily Questions each time was what made me stop using my journal for this purpose in the first place, so I decided to write them down once on an index card (which I would slip in the notebook’s back pocket), and then number each question, and date the card. Every day I would write down a score for each daily question, and a very short justification for the score. The justification is short to make it easy to write them down (if it’s a hassle I’ll have a hard time sticking with it), and that’s why I chose the pocket notebook (it’s also light and easy to carry around). When I feel like I need to change the questions up, I’ll create a new index card, put an end date on the old index card and archive it in the notebook’s back pocket. Every day will be dated in the notebook, and I use the appropriate index card if I really want to reference that particular day in the future. This may seem a little clunky for reference purposes, but as I learned over time, I don’t really go back to reference my past answers, so that’s not a meaningful setback.

I’ll check in a few months and document how it goes, but judging by my previous experience, this looks like a pretty good setup for now.

“Triggers” Daily Questions and a Moleskine Pocket Peter Pan Limited Edition review: All Children, Except One, Grow Up.

Quick update

  • I’ve started reading my 54th (!) book of the year, John Scalzi’s “The Collapsing Empire”. I’m not skim trading anything, it’s just that my newly acquired Kindle Paperwhite allows me to fill more empty time with reading.
  • Adding more strength workouts to my training schedule has made me appreciate yoga more.
  • I’ve played Matt Leacock’s “Forbidden Sky” cooperative board game and it is fantastic. I’ll post a review once I’ve run through it a few more times.

  • It’s still not raining here, which is worrying.
  • I’ve been back to writing every day, even if some days it’s only 200 words.

Keep at it, don’t let them get you down, you’re awesome! Swing for the fences.

Quick update

New books: Winter and The Lost Continent

Bought these at Shakespeare and Company in Paris, which is not what it used to be (a fantastic secondhand bookstore), and has lost a great deal of its character and charm (no more wishing well), but still stamps books. For the sake of nostalgia I bought these there. Ali Smith’s “Autumn” was a delight, and I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t read any Bryson yet, but I have heard good things about him.

As for the last pile, Neil Gaiman’s “Art Matters” is a lovely little book, excellent as a gift, and the illustrations are magnificent. The rest still await for me to finish reading Ann Leckie’s “Ancillary Sword“.

New books: Winter and The Lost Continent