Four Things That Make Me Close a Book

This may be the first of several posts about reading. (Or it may not.)

I’ve been thinking about the process of reading. It seems to me that reading a piece of fiction is more than scanning a text with the eyes and understanding the words. It’s more complex than that. Something happens in the reader’s brain to create the book for that reader. In a way, the reader’s brain works with the writer’s creation to make a new thing. This new thing exists only for that reader, while they are reading. They may think about it afterward, remember it, talk about it with others, or even write about the experience, as one does after seeing a movie.

I will start with a few things (aside from incoherent writing) that stop me from reading a book, or at least make me reluctant to read. They make me want to leave the Mind-Movie Theatre.

  1. Animal abuse
  2. Graphic violence or grossness as the point of the book
  3. A main character or characters I consider hateful
  4. Long sections of nonstop action unrelieved by dialogue, description, or backstory

I am reluctant to read books with scenes that describe animals suffering or being killed, even if the book as a whole is interesting. Human suffering and death are not as repugnant, unless described with gratuitous detail.

Strange, isn’t it? Especially because this abhorrence has grown stronger with age. I seem to recall being able to shrug it off as “only a story” when I was younger. Maybe I can no longer do that because I know too much.

There are books whose point is to induce disgust, or a kind of stomach-churning fascination. Fine, but I’d rather not read them.

Flawed characters are all right, but when a book has no characters with a few sympathetic qualities, I want out.

Reading page after page describing people slashing, stabbing, and hewing each other is too much like work. The mental movie-maker starts to protest. “I’m all out of fake blood,” it whines.

Am I squeamish, cowardly, or in denial? I’m not sure. Am I saying writers should purge such elements from their books? Not at all, but I do want to know they’re there before I commit to reading.

This brings up the matter of “trigger warnings.” While I don’t think it’s necessary to spell out every possible thing that may shock or offend some readers, I do think we authors owe it to our readers to clearly indicate the nature of a book in its description. Words like “harsh,” “gory,” “brutal,” or “explicit” give readers a good idea of what to expect.

Writers and readers, what puts you off reading a book? What do you think of trigger warnings?

Featured image from Pexels.

Yellow foliage of Rugosa rose with red leaves of ornamental cherry in background

Leaves and Berries

Around here, leaf-drop happens in November, often along with wind and rain. Southeast winds blow as rainstorms arrive and stiff westerlies as they leave. Northeast winds bring cold air from the British Columbia interior. All these winds mean the leaves from the several trees (maples, ailanthus, and birch) that surround my garden are distributed throughout the neighbourhood. But there are always enough of them to swell the compost pile.

This fall was relatively windless, so the leaves fell close to home. The compost pile is overflowing, with the surplus piled up on the side of the driveway for pickup by the municipality.

Huge pile of leaves on compost heap
Leaves piled up for collection, OTBT in backgroun

Last Tuesday, the winds arrived. First from the southeast, and then the west. Result: a mess. Yet another major raking session was needed. I topped up both compost pile and the pile to be collected. While raking, I noticed leaves from parts unknown, i.e., from trees in other parts of the neighbourhood.

On the other hand, autumn leaves can be quite photogenic.

Yellow maple leaf caught in ornamental grass Pennisetum alopecuroides "Little Bunny"
Maple leaf captured by ornamental grass Pennisetum alopecuroides “Little Bunny.”
Red leaves of Bergenia cordifolia
Leaves of Bergenia cordifolia turning red for winter.
Yellowing foliage of irises and asters in front garden November 2022
Iris and aster foliage yellowing in style.
Red/orange berries of Cotoneaster franchetti
Berries of Cotoneaster franchetti. They’ll be gobbled up by birds soon.
Cotoneaster franchetti twigs, leaves, and branches against blue sky
Since the leaf-redistributing windstorm, we’ve had some chilly blue sky days.
Last few leaves on Magnolia branches against blue sky, with hummingbird
The last few leaves clinging to the magnolia. There’s a hummingbird in the middle of the photo, next to the little cloud. It looks like another leaf!

Meteorological winter is here! It certainly feels like it today, with the temperature hovering around the freezing point.

quote marks and talk bubbles

The Art of Commenting

I began blogging in 2010. It took me a surprisingly long time to figure out that if I wanted my posts to be read, I would have to indicate to other bloggers that my blog existed. That meant doing more than “liking” posts; I had to contribute my thoughts in the form of comments. Once I began doing that, my blog gained readers, “likes,” and followers. Now I am part of a large community of writers, thinkers, and opiners.

When it comes to commenting on blog posts, this is what I do:

  • I usually comment only when I have something to say (other than “Great post!”).
  • It’s easier to comment soon after a post has published, rather than when a couple of dozen other readers have said it all. It’s a bit lame to say, “What everyone else said,” or “Me too!”
  • I’m more likely to comment if a post has few or no comments, especially when there are quite a few “likes.” If there are lots of comments and I don’t have anything new to add, I “like” and leave.
  • I’m uneasy about commenting late in the day when I’m tired, because it’s too easy to word a comment badly and offend or mystify someone. When my gut says “Don’t do it!” I listen.
  • If a comment I’m about to post sounds patronizing or condescending, I don’t post it.
  • If I really have nothing to add, I don’t comment, but I “like” the post to indicate that I’ve read it.
  • Sometimes a “like” means “I like it!” but sometimes it’s just a way of saying “I read it.”
  • If I find a post offensive or totally unrelatable, I neither “like” nor comment, unless I can come up with a civil way of disagreeing that may add to the conversation.
  • I never say that a post is “fantastic,” “fabulous,” or (cringe) “awesome.” It’s theoretically possible that a day will come when I encounter a post that’s accurately described by one of these words (except “awesome”), but it’s unlikely.
  • The posts I find hardest to comment on are those where congratulations or condolences are the only possible responses. It’s hard to say those things in an original way. Instead of scrolling through dozens of near-identical comments, I skip to the end of the comments queue, say something brief and sincere, and don’t worry whether it’s original.
  • Otherwise, it’s often interesting to read others’ comments and even comment on them. I love it when that happens on my blog; it’s as though guests at a party are connecting without my help.
  • I always respond to comments on my blog, if only to acknowledge and thank the commenter.

When I read blog posts first thing in the morning, using a tablet, any comments I make have to be thumb-typed. I much prefer a real keyboard, but I’ve developed a fair amount of speed and accuracy on the tablet’s keyboard. I was delighted to discover where the apostrophe, parentheses, and hyphens were hidden. And I must say the word suggestions above the keyboard are handy (although sometimes a bit peculiar).

Fellow bloggers, what are your thoughts on comments? Please comment!

Snow on front garden shrubs February 2021

Climate Anxiety

As I write this, on November 7th, it’s snowing. Real snow, that’s sticking. A couple of inches have accumulated already, and will probably persist into tomorrow, as the temperature is near the freezing mark. A brisk northeast wind is adding to the feeling that winter has arrived early.

Let me just remind readers that I live in Victoria, British Columbia, where snow is rare most winters. Green Christmases are normal here. I don’t know if this is the earliest snowfall ever, but it’s the earliest I’ve experienced in my 30 years here. I haven’t really started on fall garden tasks. I haven’t even raked leaves, as many are still on the trees, and still green.

I haven’t done much of this yet!

A freak early snowfall is one thing, but this is the fifth in a series of weather extremes in the last two years. The first was the “heat dome” of June 2021, during which many high temperature records were shattered. On June 28th, my max/min thermometer recorded the unheard of high of 37C. In the BC interior, a small town was destroyed by fire on a day that saw temps near 50C. Exactly one year ago, torrential rain (287 mm. or 11 in. recorded here in November 2021) caused major damage in several communities and minor to moderate flooding all over southern BC. Right after Christmas 2021, came a week of extreme cold. That max/min thermometer recorded a low of -10C on December 27th, something I had never experienced here.

The next extreme was a three-month drought last summer. Almost no rain fell between July 7th and October 21st. Summer lingered endlessly. When rain finally started, it was pretty much at normal levels into November, but after the most recent system exited the region, seriously cold air moved onto the south coast from the now chilly interior of the province. According to meteorologists in Washington State, a “backdoor cold front” is pulling this cold air onto the coast and turning any precipitation that occurs to snow.

After all this, I’m apprehensive about what might come next. Blizzards, heat waves, tornadoes, hurricanes? The dynamics of weather have changed. Prediction models aren’t working any more. Everything’s unprecedented.

Weird light at sunset. Orange light due to wildfire smoke.
Orange sunset caused by wildfire smoke.

This makes me realize how much I’ve taken weather patterns for granted, and how disturbing it is to realize that weather is no longer predictable, that extremes may occur at any time. I can no longer tell myself that such events are freakish and rare, and once they’re over it’s back to normal. I’m not sure what normal looks like any more. Add to this similar extreme weather events in other parts of the world (terrible floods in Pakistan, destructive hurricanes in Canada’s Atlantic provinces and in Florida, heat waves and fires in Europe and California), and I feel a constant buzz of anxiety in the background of my days, even when nothing is happening.

We’re told to adapt and prepare, to assemble emergency supplies and “grab and go” bags in case we have to evacuate. (Of course we should already have done that, since we live in a place where a major earthquake may happen any time.) I can’t argue with that, but there’s a difference, I’ve realized, between knowing something unwelcome and accepting it. Acceptance is necessary before action is possible. In between these two states is a period of creeping unease and unfocussed anxiety.

Is any one else feeling climate anxiety? How do you deal with it?

Update: Most of the snow melted the next day, but temperatures are still several degrees below normal. The next week is supposed to be mostly sunny and dry. No floods expected, at least in the short term!

digital brain

Mysteries of the ToC

When I published my latest novel on Amazon KDP several months ago, the automated quality checker popped up a yellow triangle and notified me that I had failed to add a linked table of contents. It wasn’t a deal-breaker for publishing, but a deficiency nevertheless.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Except that my Word document did include a perfectly good linked ToC. I tested every link. All of them worked. The problem, I realized, was I had created the ToC following the Smashwords Style Guide, which has step-by-step instructions for adding bookmarks to the chapter headings and hyperlinking to the relevant spots in the text. I began my publishing adventure at Smashwords, so thought this was the right way to make a linked table of contents.

Smashwords Style Guide cover

Except that whatever program ingests Word docs at KDP and spits out Kindle ebooks doesn’t recognize a linked ToC created that way. It looks for a ToC generated by Word’s automatic ToC creator (which I’ve never used). Because I publish my books on both Amazon and Smashwords, I use near-identical copies of a single Word doc (with the necessary adjustments to the copyright page) for both. But when I look at one of those books on my Kindle, instead of the full list of chapters in the “Go To” drop-down, the only sections I see are Beginning, Page or Location, Cover, and End. And yet, if I go to Beginning and page forward, there’s the ToC. And the links work exactly as they should.

I’ve been resigned to this state of affairs, with vague notions of maybe disassembling the ToCs on my Amazon documents and rebuilding them the “proper” way, and then republishing, but I haven’t gotten around to it. Fiddling around with Word isn’t high on my “Fun Things To Do” list. And republishing is a pain.

So What? yellow sticker

What I did do, though, for a different reason, is experiment with emailing ebooks to my Kindle. Kindles (and other devices) have Amazon email addresses. This was news to me, but it’s helpful when someone sends you a PDF of a book and you want to read it on the handy-dandy little reading device.

Kindle e-reader

As an experiment, I emailed my Kindle one of my early books published on Smashwords. Thinking that Mobi files are Kindle-friendly, I selected that version and sent it as an attachment to the special email address. Surprisingly, I received an email from Amazon, informing me that “We wanted to let you know that starting August 2022, you’ll no longer be able to send MOBI (.mobi, .azw) files to your Kindle library.”

Well, surprise, surprise. Even more surprising was the information that Amazon considers Epub a compatible format. So I emailed the Epub version of the book. When I turned on my Kindle, there it was, cover image and all. Yet another surprise was that despite the notice, the Mobi version was there as well, but minus the cover image.

The final surprise was—ta da!—both versions included a linked ToC in the “Go To” drop-down, even though it was created using bookmarks and hyperlinks, just like the one that wasn’t acceptable when I uploaded the Word doc to Amazon KDP.

So the Kindle’s “Go To” displays ToCs perfectly well after the Word doc has been turned into either an Epub or a Mobi, even if that processing was done by Smashwords’s “Meatgrinder.” But Amazon’s processor doesn’t recognize ToCs created by anything other than Word’s automatic ToC generator. Hence the admonishment that you really should include a table of contents to enhance the reader experience. With the accompanying yellow triangle, of course.

blue flames question mark

I suspect this issue may be avoided by uploading Epubs directly to Amazon, but to create an Epub myself I would have to use Calibre or a similar tool, and I haven’t so far been motivated to learn how to do that.

Has anyone else noticed this kind of thing, with tables of contents or anything else?