100 Books in 2014

PhilomenaMy book club read the book Philomena, by Martin Sixsmith and we met to discuss this week. The book is purported to be about a mother’s search for her adopted son. But the majority of the book is about her son trying to find himself and his birth mother. It should be called Anthony. We chatted about the themes in the book. The consensus was lukewarm.

For me, the book is monumental, not for itself but that it’s the 100th book I’ve read this year. That seems like a mountain of books, but honestly, since beginning my reading mission in 2007, this has been the easiest year to meet my goals.

(If your eyes glaze over when you see numbers, skip the next two paragraphs).

In 2007 and for the next two years, I read a book a week. Partway through 2010, I realized I was reading two books per week so that became my new goal for 2010 to 2013. At the start of 2014, I had read 579 books since 2007. With a bit more effort I knew I could get to 700 in 2014.

Then I decided, why not strive for 1000 books in ten years? That meant I had to read 421 books in three years, 140 books per year. The hundredth book puts me at 679 so far. 321 books with 28 months to go: 2.5 books per week. Let’s call it three.

It may seem obsessive, but it’s quite exhilarating to be accumulating knowledge on a wide variety of topics, including health, business, politics, marketing, speaking, writing, spirituality, food, gardening, real estate, self-help, history, various other non-fiction, poetry, and even a few novels.

People are shocked to learn of my reading habits. It has become such an integral part of me, I’m not as impressed as I once was. Here are my tips for those who desire to read more.

Make reading a priority. We all waste time every day. If you truly love to read you will find some wasted time. And read!

Carry a book. I always have one in my purse because I realized much of my wasted time is waiting…in line at banks and supermarkets, at appointments, even at restaurants and coffee shops when clients are late. (I sometimes purposely get there really early so I can read a few chapters!) I read about two “purse” books each month.

I also have partly read books throughout my house: one where I sit in the living room, one on my nightstand, sometimes, one in the kitchen. I rarely read two novels simultaneously. The last time I tried, one book had a man who had lost a daughter and the other had a woman who had lost a son; I had a hard time staying on track: which book am I reading?

Trade TV watching for reading. The average North American watches 35 hours of TV each week, a full-time job! Watch one less hour of TV each day and devote that time to reading. At one hour a day, everybody can read one or two books a month. Soon your books will call you away from most TV.

Schedule reading times. My husband likes to sleep in on weekends. I usually can’t sleep past eight. So I read for two hours, keeping the house quiet for my sleepyhead husband. I often read a novel on a Sunday afternoon. On vacations, I plan to read a book each day. Airports are a great place to read books since so much waiting is required. And a four hour flight whizzes by when a mystery is unfolding in your hands. I can usually read a book before I get there and one to get home.

I appreciate e-books when I travel. Before I go, I load up my iPad with books. I always bring a couple real books because airlines won’t let me use electronics on take-off and landing which can last many “chapters”. Sometimes I take books with me I don’t expect to want to keep so can I leave them behind in public places, surprises for strangers.

I naturally read more in winter as I’m not distracted by my garden, golfing and summer socializing! I guess that’s one good thing about living in Calgary: long winters for reading. (As I write this on September 8, it is snowing!)

Start with one book. Many despair that they could ever read three books a week! Start with one a month. Then two. You will become a faster reader. That’s what happened to me. I got faster so now I can read more. I can read 100 pages per hour unless the font is miniscule or the language archaic.

I have no idea when this will stop. But I have a list of over 400 books to read, books recommended by somebody I respect, and there’s so much to explore at the library, I expect to keep reading. The number doesn’t really matter. It’s just fun to challenge myself and then reach those goals.

Keep a record. One of the best things I’ve done is to keep a spreadsheet record of my reading. I record the dates I read the book, the title, author, source, who referred it to me, and whether I’d read again, recommend, want in my library or am happy I read it. I also include a description or any quotes that grabbed me. Very valuable. I often forget whether I’ve read a particular book. I simply search my spreadsheet. Also when people ask me to recommend books, I can remind myself of my favourites and choose books I think will be appropriate.

Use your library! If I had bought every book new, I would have spent $20,000 so far! ($30 x 679 books). But I didn’t. I borrowed most books. Bought many used for $2 or less. Got some as gifts. And bought a few new, often at discount at Costco or as e-books. I estimate I’ve spent less than $700, including gift cards I’ve received, in nearly eight years, about $90/yr.

Join or start a book club: Your reading list will expand when others add to it. There is nothing more fun than discussing a great book with others who’ve just feasted on it too. My club has led me to read books I never would have thought to read. Some are among my all-time favourites.

One of the most important gifts you can give yourself is making time to read. Your knowledge will begin to expand immediately. Your vocabulary will grow: I’ve calculated I learn about 20 new words from every book I read. Reading strengthens your writing. I’m convinced I’ve improved.

One of my few regrets in life was not having a degree. One day I discovered a quote to the effect that everything is written down in books. If one can read, one can be educated. That made sense to me and I haven’t looked back.

Most people think I am educated in the traditional sense, often inquiring about my education history. I proudly tell them that my school is Life and my degree is self-directed and on-going. Then I tell them about the number of books I read and/or have read. It impresses. But it doesn’t matter to me. I do this for me, not to impress (unless someone is being elitist and snooty, then I might indulge in some chest beating).

I’m enjoying my book journey. Won’t you join me?

Ode to Horses

Originally Published April 11, 2011

horseimageI remember those exhilarating dewy morning rides.  I rode towards the sun, squinting and delighting in its warmth on my face.  My grey half-Arab mare, Jill, would sneak snacks of wild oats as we meandered towards my breakfast in a hedge of saskatoons.

I often didn’t even bother to dismount.  I would loosely wrap the reins around the horn.  Jill would snack on tender grasses in the shade of the Saskatoon bushes. I would perch sideways on the saddle, leaning into the bushes to feast on succulent berries freshly washed by the cool morning dew and unreachable by anybody on foot.

I remember seeing lots of birds on those idyllic mornings.  Are there fewer birds today?  Or am I not where birds are because I live in a city and I’m not out at 6AM when birds are at their best?

We sometimes rode to the river where I’d drop a fishing line in the water, never long enough to catch anything. I was fascinated by the volume of maggots working their stinking magic on the carcass of a horse I once discovered in the bush.  I reveled in the triumph of crossing a scary stream, controlling my steed through an area where she was almost sure to be skittish, or successfully negotiating a steep hill.

Those moments shaped my persona.  My connection with the earth was conceived or perhaps confirmed by those experiences. My courage and confidence grew and each time I survived a scary moment, my self-esteem was bolstered.

I’ve always been grateful that I got to grow up around horses.  Horses gave me the feeling of flying as I galloped down shady dirt roads.  Horses served as my comrades as we meandered along the perimeters of oceans of silky barley tassels.

I liked being the centre of attention on the back of my mom’s grey Arab gelding, Rusty.  (I always thought it a stupid name for a grey horse.)  Rusty carried himself with pride, arching his neck, lifting his feet and waving his tale like a banner.  Eyes were drawn to him.  As an attention-starved teenager, I thrived in his limelight.

Rusty also taught me never to trust a horse 100% (or any animal or human for that matter).   After riding by Mrs. Graham’s petunias-in-a-wheelbarrow display at the end of her drive 25 days in a row, Rusty would shy at it on the 26th day, nearly unseating me, as I was usually gawking at something in another direction.

Horses taught me responsibility through doing chores, namely feeding horses, cleaning their stalls, and hauling water.  As kids on the farm, we had to feed the animals before opening our gifts on Christmas morning. Chores were always finished in record time.

This time of year, I get nostalgic for those early spring-like days when I would saddle up Jill for the first time, possibly in months.

There was always the pungent odor of thawing manure, mixed with the slough-y smell from the standing ice/water just under the snow.  The sun felt warm but there was still a chill in the air because of the “ice-fields” of snow.  I can hear the sloppy crunch and feel the irregular rhythm as Jill’s hooves broke through the crusty skin atop the snow, into the slush below.

Flocks of geese would be trumpeting their return to the north, crocus flowers would peek out from island clumps in the seas of snow, and pussy willows would be threatening to burst.

On the back of a horse, I explored my community.  I examined nooks and crannies of the countryside, spaces unnoticed and inaccessible to anyone in a car.   I once found a clearing, completely surrounded by spruce and pine trees.  It was so quiet there.  I spent several hours sitting in that peaceful space, imagining what it would be like to live in those exact surroundings. I “built” a quaint cabin and envisioned myself lounging in a hammock with a good book, smelling the pine-fresh air and keeping time with the music of the birds.

Horses are great listeners.  I told Jill all my teenaged woes, my crushes and longings and quite literally cried on her shoulders.  To my knowledge, she didn’t tell a soul.  The perfect buddy.

Verbalizing those agonies somehow made them less painful.  A shrink with four legs.  If you think about it a horse and a shrink cost about the same, but the horse is infinitely more fun than the shrink!  And I suspect, more effective.

I love horses’ noses.  The earthy, sweaty, sweet smell; sniff the velvet part of the nose, right at the end, just above the top lip.  They say smells evoke the strongest memories and when I nuzzle a horse’s muzzle, I am flooded with memories of experiences with horses and all the associated emotions that shape my belief system.

From horses I learned it’s okay to take risks.  I have literally gotten back up on the horse’s back after dozens of falls. Maybe that’s where I developed my tenacity. I learned innovation: being too lazy to get off and walk, I’ve squeezed through many gates, lifting my legs to avoid injury.

I once was riding a horse that was spooked by a train.  I landed on the ground and landed in the hospital with a concussion.  I hadn’t seen a hospital since birth so I was quite confused to wake up in a dark hospital room.   Rather than be afraid to ride again, I learned to be more careful, having proper equipment, (I had been riding bareback), and again, to be wary of horses and other creatures.  (All was well until the engineer tooted the train’s horn).

One year my brother and I entered Red Deer, Alberta’s annual parade.  He won the first prize trophy for his Indian brave (before political correctness).  His albino gelding, Jack was well behaved enough that my brother could ride him bareback and with nothing but a twine in Jack’s mouth.  A few feathers and some cocoa paste on his skin completed the look.

I was in my dad’s Zorro costume (that my mom had sewn).  It wasn’t as effective on my grey (nearly white) mare, as his black thoroughbred stallion.  I got second prize for my “Lone Ranger” costume.  It never occurred to me until I wrote this down, that because I was with my “Indian brave” brother, they thought he was Tonto and I was The Lone Ranger!  Wrong masked horseman!

We once had a mare named Dogface: she had an UGLY head, hence her name, but she was docile enough to pull a toboggan.  We passed many winter Saturdays taking turns riding Dogface and being whipped around on the toboggan.   That helped me despise winter less.

I shared my parents with horses; they devoted their lives to this magnificent animal.  Admittedly, I was sometimes jealous but now I’m thankful they had horses as a common interest, which undoubtedly, kept them together these 53 years.  Surely they would have been richer if they had “real jobs”.  They taught us through their example that experience and happiness trump money and possessions. I know they got that from horses.

My parents followed their passion.  As a result they understood their children’s need to seek their own interests and passions.  I appreciate that when I see others who struggle with meeting their parents’ (or spouse’s, or children’s, or friends’…) expectations of their life choices.  That freedom to choose is also a skill developed by being associated with horses.  The horse is a symbol of strength and freedom.

Have you ever seen a slow-motion video of a conditioned horse galloping?  If you have you will know there is a God, to create such a marvelous, beautifully fluid masterpiece.  Their manes flowing like whitecaps.  The ripples of their muscles.  The flaring of nostrils.

And I appreciate it more because I have been six feet off the ground, feeling the pounding in my very bones, marveling as the world rushes by, and controlling the enormous energy beneath me with a touch of my hand or the turn of my foot.

I miss the smells, the feelings and the sights of horses.  I’ve moved on from horses to other interests, but I am grateful for the early lessons I learned in their company.  Too bad more people don’t have the opportunities I had.

I pride myself in my “horse sense.”  I will always count horses as major influencers in my life.

Friesians were originally bred as “war horses” in the days of knights and armor. As armor got heavier, bigger horses were needed and the Friesian almost became extinct. These horses are native to the Netherlands.