Reading Heroes

booksFebruary is “I Love to Read” Month.

I do love to read. And I don’t need a “Month” to inspire me to read. But maybe you do.

I was fortunate to be born to two parents who read; (they still do). Their parents were also readers. One of my early memories is my grandma reading the “funnies” from the newspaper to my siblings and me. She also read us Bible stories from a huge illustrated book. I still have that book.

I remember my dad reading a book to me about brownies (fairies, not Girl Scouts or desserts). I might not have remembered it but I read it myself when I was in Grade Three, and I realized it was the book Dad had read to me when I was only three or four.

My parents would regularly sit in the living room, each reading their own book. My mother often spent her meager pin money on books.

Up to Grade Five my teachers read books to the class in the few minutes after lunch each day. Among the most memorable were Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, the beginning of my enchantment with the words of Mark Twain.

The example of these influential readers probably entrenched reading habits in my life. Reading provided me with the best escape and a good excuse (sometimes) to delay doing my chores. (Parents want their children to read. Consequently I often got away with not setting the table the first time I was asked. “As soon as I finish this chapter!” I rarely got away with anything else, but reading trumped some chores!)

I read to my girls when they were pre-school aged. When they were older, during a tumultuous time in our family life, we had the habit of jumping into my bed to read a chapter or two together before lights out, even though they were perfectly capable of reading to themselves. My daughters still remember that we read Black Beauty together and the fun we had “reading” our big atlas.

My daughter began reading to my granddaughter the day she came home from the hospital. People thought she was crazy, reading to a newborn, but it paid off: at six months, my granddaughter was saying “no, no, no”, a line from her favourite book and she spoke in full sentences before she was a year old. I attribute her advanced language skills to all that reading.

Perhaps you haven’t had the advantage of heroes who showed you that reading is an integral and enjoyable part of your life. It’s never too late to start reading.

If you’re a parent, begin by reading to your children or grandchildren. You might choose short stories and then move up to longer novels. I recommend the classics, like the aforementioned, Black Beauty and Mark Twain books. Little Women, Jungle Book, The Chronicles of Narnia, Little House on the Prairie, Harry Potter are also worth reading with children. I’ve read or reread many of these titles as an adult and I enjoyed them all.

When you read with kids, you can help them learn vocabulary and grasp advanced ideas, which they might not be able to do on their own. Sometimes we didn’t read an entire chapter because the discussion of the concepts was more important than getting finished.

If you’ve not been a reader, you might enjoy starting with some of those so-called children’s books. Or if you are particularly interested in certain topics, you might choose books relating to that topic. It helps you stay the course much more easily than if you read something in which you have no interest or that is beyond your reading skill. (It will improve, I assure you.)

Schedule reading time. If you could devote an hour before bed each night to read, it’s probable that you would finish almost any book within a month, most likely in less time than that. You could go from reading no books to reading twelve each year, a huge improvement!

Carry a book with you. Our days are fraught with wasted time: waiting in line at the bank, waiting for your late lunch date, doctor’s waiting rooms, all prime reading opportunities. I generally read a “purse book” (I always have a book in my purse) each month.

Reading does not have to be a solitary activity. Joining a book club is a great way to find new reads you might not otherwise discover. It’s fun to share the experience of a good (or even a bad) book with others. Often your club members shed some new perspective on the book that can lead to some enlightening discussions.

You can have an informal book club with just one other person. I have a friend that likes to discuss certain books with me. My sister and I share good books.

Reading doesn’t have to be expensive. We all pay for libraries with our tax dollars. We have an obligation to use these valuable resources. (I gleaned this concept from a recent biography I read called The Billionaire Who Wasn’t. The subject, Chuck Feeney, who gave away his billions, hence the book title, believed libraries are to be used, regardless of your wealth).

Recently I’ve enjoyed the Calgary Public Library’s e-book section, presently carrying around 18,000 titles and growing. I can always find something interesting. Currently there is no charge to get a library card if you live in the City of Calgary. Download e-books to your tablet and voila, mobile reading!

The benefits of reading are legion. Increased knowledge, sharper vocabulary, and improved writing skills are just three benefits I’ve enjoyed because I read more. My understanding of the world seems clearer because I get the literary references that I used to miss. (I now understand what a Lolita is; I didn’t before I read the book, though I had heard the expression.)

If you read more you will be able to read more. When I started my serious reading journey I struggled to read a book a week. I now read three per week, fairly effortlessly, although I do prioritize reading. Someone suggested I’d have more time if I read fewer books. I felt like they suggested I stop breathing.

You don’t have to be as obsessive as I am to benefit from reading more books.

Read more because you will benefit and those around you will benefit, especially the children in your life.

Reading Month is a good time to begin.

Horse Sense Now Available Online

Horse Sense cover
My regular readers may recall that I have recently taken up a new interest: writing and performing Cowboy Poetry.

I am delighted to announce that my first book of Cowboy Poetry, (so far), Horse Sense is now available online at Amazon: 

Horse Sense is a collection of the poetry I wrote in 2015. It’s based on my experiences, growing up with horses on a farm, and the experiences of my friends who live and make a living in the country.

I am so pleased that my mother, Ilene Goldbeck contributed her private horse sketches for the book. The tribute poem I wrote for her 75th birthday is included in the book.

In Horse Sense, you’ll find stories that will resonate with you, especially if you grew up in the country. I chose to print the book in large font so my audience and I might not need our reading glasses! It’s a short book, but the point of poetry is to be succinct!

I invite you to read Horse Sense. Hopefully it will inspire you to attend a Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

The Cowboy Poetry community is full of interesting characters, some of whom remember farming and ranching before its domination by corporate conglomerates. Some still practice the old ways, growing our food and collecting and telling stories along the way.

Music is a major part of the Gatherings, mostly the real, old western, story-telling songs. Some performers bridge the gap between the classic oldies and newer music that has the same integrity. Not generally stuff you hear on the radio anymore.

Visit to learn more about a gathering near you.

I’m off to Elko Nevada for the largest Cowboy Poetry Gathering in the USA. I will report on the activities in the next issue of the ACPA Barbwire Dispatch. December’s edition is linked here for your viewing pleasure. Happy Trails!


Books I Read in 2015

I love reading posterPeople are shocked to learn that I read 156 books in 2015, an average of three per week. It’s part of my on-going goal to read 1000 books in ten years and educate myself along the way. I hit 890 on December 31, 2015, which leaves me with only two to read each week in 2016.

I began last year with a vacation where I read a book a day, 21 books in 20 days. Airports help. I flew stand-by and stayed in the airport for 11 hours, after being bumped twice. Luckily I don’t mind. I read three books before the plane left and one on the flight.

I read from many genres. I started the year with more fiction than usual but ended up reading about one-third fiction and two-thirds non-fiction, which includes health, food, self-development, writing, speaking, marketing, business and politics.

This year I discovered the Calgary Public Library’s amazing online offerings. Last I looked they had over 17,000 e-book titles. I created a wish list. Whenever I need a new book to read, I go to my wish list to see what’s available. (They carry a limited number of licenses for each book so you do need to wait sometimes.)

Before e-books, I would judiciously choose books for my trips, hoping I wouldn’t run out of reading material. With access to so many books online, I no longer worry about being caught without something to read.

Everyone wants to know about my favourite reads. Here are a few highlights from 2015:

Best fiction: Ragged Company, by Richard Wagamese, a heart-rending account of four homeless people whose lives change after a major event. I really felt their pains.

Other notable fiction titles: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. I read a few Tom Robbins books, which are far out but entertaining: try Jitterbug Perfume. I enjoyed A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry and The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

On the non-fiction front: Two books by Mark Kurlansky entertained and educated me: Cod and Salt. I was amazed by the politics and history around these two basic foods.

Several Short Sentences about Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg showed me a new way to approach writing. It’s on my personal library wish list. How to Lie with Statistics (a book that was already printed 24 times by 1954) proved enlightening and still relevant 60 years later!

Your Perfect Presentation by Bill Hoogstrop was the best book on presentation skills I read last year. (By the way, no presentation is perfect!) The Long Tail by Chris Anderson and Brandwashed by Martin Lindstrom were two of the best marketing books I read.

I also read a number of memoirs and biographies of famous and infamous people including Nikola Tesla, Jann Arden, Mark Twain, Willie Nelson, Susan Schmidt (an ex-polygamist), CS Lewis, Helen Keller, Barack Obama, Catherine the Great, Malala Yousafzai (Taliban shooting survivor) and Joni Mitchell.

I was touched by A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead, examining the lives and deaths of over 200 French women sentenced to Auschwitz during WWII. I was struck by the fact that the survivors suffered from multiple health issues after their release, proof of the importance of good nutrition or the harm caused by poor nutrition.

I learned about harem life from Daughter of Persia by Sattareh Farman Farmaian and about First Nations issues in Dancing with a Ghost, by Rupert Ross. I read Quiet by Susan Cain, a fascinating look at introverts and how they don’t get as much respect as extroverts. (By the way, Cain’s TED talk is among the top viewed talks.)

I read a number of books on conquering procrastination and I plan to get around to implementing what I learned sometime later this year! LOL!

Sadly, I gave up my book club. I was unable to attend the first five meetings this season so I bowed out. I will miss the variety they provided to my reading list and the rich discussions we enjoyed.

Reading books has given me an education beyond my expectations. I am a better writer and speaker because of all this “training”.

I realize that three books a week is impossible for most people. I’ve so enjoyed my reading journey that I urge people to read more books, even if it’s one per month. It’s not so hard if you make reading a priority. Watch less TV. Carry a book wherever you go. Embrace online technology.

With regularly scheduled reading time, I promise, you’ll become a faster reader and your life will be enriched beyond your expectations. Happy reading!

I’d like to know what your favourite books are so I can add them to my to-read list.