A Basic Tool in the Living of a Good Life

Every day I take the bus home from work, I spend a few minutes waiting at the stop outside the city’s biggest library, outside the entrance of which I see these words immortalised on a stone plaque, subtly reminding me I really should be reading more. One of my goals for 2010 was to read at least a book a month. I know this sounds ridiculous, what with certain dedicated people attempting to hit A HUNDRED in a year (!), but I had to start with something – over the last few years, my reading time has gone from being spent absorbed by books to being spent in front of a computer screen. Though blogs do equal great connections and often provide fantastic food for thought, I seem to have fallen off the literary bandwagon along the way. Which is a Big Deal, because the written word is one of the things I hold dearest to my heart! I don’t know about you, but I have several bookcases in my house, each half full of books that either have broken spines and folded pages through countless loving re-reads, or books that are as pristine as the day they arrived, never having been cracked open once. I seem to fall in love with blurbs and recommendations and hastily stock my shelves, but when it comes to making the time to sit down and actually read, these days, I’m pretty rubbish. I think it comes from the mentality of always having to be doing something “productive” – working, cleaning the house, doing laundry, writing, replying to e-mails, going to appointments… if I have three hours to myself on a Sunday night, I feel like I should be putting them to good use. Working at something. Not relishing in great literature – I almost feel guilty doing it.

But last weekend, I was given those three hours. And instead of making beds or ironing clothes, I put on some beautiful background music, poured a glass of merlot, and cracked open the Deathly Hallows. I’m late enough to the Potter Party as it is – and I love the stories dearly – so by jove, I was going to take some time to read something I truly enjoy, without feeling guilty about it! Life’s too short, sometimes, for doing the dishes.

There are lots of books I want to read this year. One that’s come up in many a conversation of late: Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz; written in the ’60s by an early cosmetic surgeon, it tells of his findings around the topic of self-image, comparing people who undergo surgery with people who simply follow a system of ideas and attitudes instead. He stumbled on several interesting phenomena: he found the plastic surgery patients often went in with expectations of self-image that weren’t met by the surgery, and continued to behave as “ugly” or “inferior” even after significant procedures had been performed. However, a system of behavioural therapy techniques and shifts in mental focus without surgery resulted in increased self-esteem. It’s no secret I’d love to get surgery if I could, but I can’t shake the advice my nearest and dearest are giving – to read this book, and try working on inner attitudes instead.

One of the first books I’m picking up post-Potter is one my eye was drawn to in a bookshop in Chicago last September – a new hardback I hadn’t had room to bring home, and one that wasn’t released in Canada until recently. It’s going to be a delve into unfamiliar territory – thriller crime fiction! Now, I’m one of the biggest scaredy-cats around – I’m the girl who went home and stayed awake for 48 hours following The Ring and to this day refuses to watch anything rated R – but I couldn’t pass up the intriguing premise of Stuart Neville’s The Ghosts of Belfast. It’s been lauded as one of the best Irish novels ever, a superb thriller, and impossible to put down, and on top of being set in one of my favourite places in the world, it’s got more than a hint of the supernatural. Which pretty much equals complete amazeballs. The premise basically follows an ex-IRA killer in northern Ireland who, now that peace has come, is being haunted by the ghosts of twelve of his innocent victims, and in order to appease them – he has to kill the men who gave him orders. Fascinating! I’m slightly nervous, but thoroughly captivated, and I think it’s great to branch out of the familiar every once in a while.

As you know, I’m also a huge lover of the classics. I’d name my first-born after Chaucer if ‘Geoffrey’ wasn’t such an atrocity. 🙂 It’s definitely a goal of mine to add a few more to the archive this year, and I’m starting with Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. I’ve been in love with the song since childhood, and the story sounds utterly haunting, desperately romantic, and fantastically passionate. I can’t wait for this one – and to watch the recent BBC remake, too!

There are a few others on the list for 2011: Rob Sheffield’s Love is a Mixtape, the “unadulterated nostalgia-geekfest” that is Dalek I Loved You, the hot pick around the blogosphere from 2010, The Hunger Games, and a recent recommendation, Primates and Philosophers, a collection of essays exploring the nature and evolution of human ethics and morality. If I can stick to it, I think this year’s going to be a brilliant goody bag of fantasy, thrills, imagination and education. What’s on your list for 2011? Anything else I couldn’t possibly miss on mine?


  1. Love the recommendations! I’ve added a few of these to my already too long list of to reads. (c: I recently finished The Hunger Games and thoroughly recommend them.

    I’m in the land of biographies and non-fiction at the moment, but I think I will have to check out Ghosts of Belfast…it sounds really intriguing.

  2. A heads up on Wuthering Heights: prepare to hate every single character, (I mean it, every last one, from start to finish) but to fall paradoxically in love, in spite of yourself, with the story they create. It’s a strange sensation, pretty rare in literature as far as I can tell 🙂

  3. I have the same goal. I used to read constantly when I was younger and now it is so rare that I read anything that isn’t related to my studies. I struggle so much with calming my mind and sitting still these days.

  4. I never had time to read ever since I started working. I wish I could go back to when I had all the time in the world to spend on books. I used to read a lot of fiction/mistery/thriller/young-adult novels (well, because I was a young-adult then.. hehe). I haven’t even visited my book shelf in years!

    The Ghosts of Belfast sounds interesting.

    1. I can’t wait for it to arrive! I just glanced at my bookshelves recently and realised I hadn’t read half of what was on there. And it’s time to do something about it so I can actually ANSWER friends when they say “oh, how was that one?” 🙂

  5. Wuthering Heights is an all-time favorite for me, and I think it’s near time I re-read it. It was the book I chose for my thesis (along with Jane Eyre – another classic). I’m currently reading The Hunger Games (and loving it!). Good luck on your reading mission!

    1. Thank you! I can’t wait to start the Hunger Games. And I ADORE Jane Eyre – I remember taking it to “free reading time” in English class when I was about 13 or 14 and my teacher being completely gobsmacked, lol. A proud moment 🙂

  6. I’m trying to focus this year on ONLY reading when I’m reading. I find more and more I have to have music, or a podcast, or a tv show on; I’m texting, or eating, or half talking to somebody. I need to just sit down and READ, do one thing, and do it well. That’s going for a lot of my life. 😉

    1. Same here! I always have multiple things on the go, it’s a bit of a tough adjustment just switching everything else off and focusing on the one thing. A good thing to work on, though 🙂

  7. I’m always reading three books at the same time. I just finished “To the End of the Land” by David Grossman. Amazing in the true sense of the word. His language is so rich, you could serve a sentence for dinner and be full.

  8. I also miss reading…there’s nothing more relaxing than settling down with some great music and a good book…a book a month sounds do-able for me…

    Thanks, Emily, for another gentle nudge about what I should be doing…


  9. You know, lately reading has gone on the back burner. I have no rhyme or reason for it, but it has nonetheless. I’m glad you posted your goal. I believe it’s reasonable, and I may even adopt it as my own 2011 goal! 😉

  10. One book that many people mentioned on my post on Friday was “The Help”. I have read it and really liked it so I think it is worth checking out if you haven’t read it yet!

    Another book I love is “Tuesdays with Morrie”. If you haven’t read it, then I highly recommend you do! Such a great book! I usually try to read it once a year!

    Good luck with your goal! My goal for 2011 is 48 books – so 4 books/month. I will be riding the bus to/from work starting next week so I think it’s do-able as I get so much reading done on those bus rides!

    1. Lucky girl! I’ve never been able to read on the bus or in cars or anything as I get really nauseous when I do… very bizarre 😦 48 books this year is an amazing goal!! Thanks for the recommendations!

  11. I know how you feel. In trying to recover my true self, I’ve returned to books, which I enjoyed in great quantity during my childhood. Now, I like to have at least one fiction and one non-fiction going at a time. There’s nothing like curling up with a good book, huh?

    1. Oh definitely. Funny you mention childhood books – I was talking with Sweet the other day about the books I was raised on, and he’d never heard of them! I suppose it’s a cross-continental thing… but I am going to keep an eye out for dear old Noddy and the Secret Seven 🙂

        1. Oh my goodness!! That just made my day! Is it awfully strange I’m thinking about building my future children’s bookshelves half a decade before I expect them to even make an appearance? 🙂

  12. I need to start reading again, too! Why is it that we make time for so many other things, but not for reading! Thanks for posting this reminder!

  13. Ooo, if you’re interested in evolution and primates and the relation between humans and their counterparts, one of my favorite books is “Next of Kin” – it’s a personal tale from one of the participants in the infamous Washoe Project and is really interesting about the cognitive ability of chimpanzees to utilize human language.

  14. Oh! I love your spirited outlook on everything… I’ve missed reading too! I agree with you, it really helps cultivate your mind and your thoughts.

    I’m like you, I jumped on the Harry Potter bandwagon pretty late. The last book I read with enthusiasm was the Chamber of Secrets, back in September, but I couldn’t get into the third book because all the spoilers I’ve heard about sorta killed my energy on the story.

    Maybe I’ll pick it up again, but my mom is sending me some books from the States that I’ll probably read instead. That should remedy my reading deficiency. Most of them are a bunch of new age spiritual books on mindfulness (which I’m sure I’ll tell you all about!) and there’s another that made me really curious when I saw the movie: “My Left Foot”, by Christy Brown. It’s the autobiography of a man with severe cerebral palsy that can only use his left foot. He became a great painter in his lifetime, which is significant because he only used his left foot to paint. And he typed the whole book using his left foot, too. I saw an exercept and it sounded really rich and refreshing. I think his style will help mine.

    1. That sounds like an amazing book. Someone I know went to something called “We Day” recently and said there was a speaker who had no legs – and he’d gone to this temple atop hundreds of stairs solely by using his arms. It was amazing and so inspiring.

      I hope you pick up Harry Potter again! I missed the 6th book, but it really is wonderful stuff 🙂

  15. I’m looking for some really good, inspiring books to take with me to Prague. The first one sounds really intriguing, so I may have to check it out. Let me know if you have any recommendations you think I would enjoy. I’m looking for books that are easy to read, but inspiring (kind of self-help-ish….)

    Word? 😉

  16. that first one sounds amazingly interesting. you see lots of people getting plastic surgery these days and you have to ask yourself if they really feel better after. em i know it wont make alot of difference but i just want you to know you are one of the rare souls whos just as beautiful on the inside as they are outside and you dont need surgery at all!!!!

    i’d love to read more this year too. right now i’m on ‘my sister’s keeper’ and loving it to bits. & i will get you on twilight one day lol!

  17. I am so terrible for feeling that need to fill my free time with “productive things.” I mean really, is multitasking so important that I can’t take a little time to sit down and just read? Silly. I am in the middle of a fantastic Thelonious Monk biography and I really need to make more time for it!

    1. It is silly but I think we’re all just growing accustomed to having to be on the go all the time… if we take time out, it seems like we should be doing something more productive… it’s great always wanting to be productive but I have to remind myself every once in a while to take time for me if I want to be any good to anyone else 🙂 Now get back to that book of yours!

  18. I am sort of convinced that without books in my life, I would have gone completely insane at more than one point in my life. I always have a book with me, though it’s one of those things that I am struggling to find balance with work, chores and everything else.

    Generally, I pick up books that are just good stories and tend to lean a bit toward the romantic. I read a lot of modern fiction, so I want to pick up some more of the classics this year.

    1. I’ve heard it’s amazing! I’m the same way with movies – a lot of the classics (like Gone With The Wind or Casablanca) I’ve managed to evade my whole life lol. I will have to add GWTW to my list 🙂

  19. Ohhh Em, you have inspired me to get into reading too.. Once the kids go to bed, I just find ways of being productive.. and need to set aside for myself. The first book you posted seems veeery interesting, and might go pick it up!

  20. I also miss reading, but I find it really hard for me to carve out time for it now. I don’t really understand why, I mean I am unemployed and all.

    But anyway, I got The Help for Christmas and it is supposed to be really good. So that would be my suggestion!

  21. I loved Wuthering Heights when I was in high school but bought a beat up old copy to re-read soon 🙂 I’m totally enjoying the Potter Party so far, but I’m quite behind. I have so many books I want to read this year… I’ve challenged myself to read 45. Let’s see if I can do it..!?

  22. You are going to LOVE The Hunger Games. I just finished the second book, Catching Fire, and I can’t decide which one is better!

    I will tell you I HATED Wuthering Heights. To me it wasn’t a love story, it was just spoiled brats running around causing each other to have bad lives. Like a bad soap opera.

    If I were to make a recommendation off the top of my head I’d recommend American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld.

  23. So I guess it makes me lame too that I’m only “resolving” to read a book a month. Hehehe! I’m so busy that even doing that is asking alot of me, but I’m going to for sure, no matter what! That mixtape book looks like my cup of tea, I think I’ll throw it into my book pile for this year! Let us know how it goes!
    I can’t wait to just curl up with a glass of wine and read until I fall asleep 🙂

  24. Great post as usual Emily! I don’t usually comment, but I do enjoy the read, you have a way with words that keeps me coming back for more. I just wanted to say that I too feel that I should read more, I tend to listen to countless audios on personal development and business philosophy while driving through the city streets on my daily travels, but nothing beats a little quiet reading time.
    As far as Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz,…I’ve got the audio version, which I’ve listened to a few times, and could share with you, via Skype if you like. I love psychology, so it’s an audio that really gets me thinking, and mostly reminds me of what I need to improve in myself, LOL! My wife loves to read Harry Potter as well,…she’s read them all, and she reads way faster than me, LOL!

    1. I’ve had friends recommend the audio of Psycho-Cybernetics as well as the book – it’s straight at the top of my list 🙂 Between you and your wife it sounds like you both have wonderful taste in books!

      1. Yes, most definitely we have a great range of books to choose from! I’ve always loved to read, and I just thought of it now for some reason, but when I was in junior high school,…grade 7 & 8, I actually wrote some short stories that I still have. It’s funny reading them now,…I can see how my life experience has changed my perception of certain things over the years, because it sure came through in my writing at that time. I’ve never shared those with anyone actually,…and probably won’t, LOL! Anyway take care, I’m looking forward as always, to reading your blog posts!

  25. Hi Emily,

    I know what you mean about reading. I have my library with about 800 plus books. I try to put them in ziplock bags which must really make me sound eccentric, but it is only because I have a bad silverfish problem if I don’t. Nothing makes me more frustrated than finding a dead silverfish in e pages of my books or holes in my book pages thanks to the silverfish family. I also cannot stand my books getting dogged eared and so on so I wrap them in plastic.

    Like you, I always have tonnes of excuses for not reading during my down time. Like playing my PS3 or chatting online and so on.

    Haha! You stayed awake for 48 hours after watching the Ring? Was it the Japanese or the American version? I watched the Japanese one and was wary of TV sets and phones for a week. The Ring was indeed creepy to begin with.

    My reading list for 2011 so far would include:

    -Strategy and Change by Tom Bisio
    -Thinker Toys by Michael Michalko
    -Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of Kang Hsi
    -Children of Dune and the rest of the Dune series
    -Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go

    For something different, I recommend you try reading The Way of Tea: Reflections on a Life with Tea by Aaron Fisher. It will transport you to another world where there is peace and serenity. This is definitely one of the few books that I would reread.

    I hope you stick to your reading schedule this year! That would give you more to write about! 🙂

    Irving the Vizier

  26. I love reading! I finished Water for Elephants this past weekend and it was great. I’m now onto something more chicklitty – In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner. Next up is Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey. Thank you for the Wuthering Heights reminder – that’s one I had on my must-read list long ago and never got around to.

  27. These picks look great, especially that Ghosts of Belfast. For sure adding that to my list. In regards to Amy’s comment, would love to hear more about Water for Elephants as I saw someone writing about that recently and it sounded great!

  28. i haven’t read any of the books you read, love adding new ones to my list!

    i also recommend Orange is the New Black or The Glass Castle or Water for Elephants or The Help. Or just join goodreads and you can find a ton of recommendations there. happy reading!

  29. Have you read anything by Jodi Picoult? I always get wrapped up in her books because they’re moral dilemmas and serious page-turners. And I’m a sucker for young adult stuff, so if you ever want any ideas for that I’ve got too many haha.

  30. I stopped reading for ages – then I discovered the library here and took out 10 books… and I’m loving reading again! I’m a huge James Patterson fan, and Kelley Armstrong as well. Anything mystery and I’m hooked. Oh and I stumbled upon “Saving Grace” by Ciara Geraghty and it’s really good, such a page turner. I always make time for some night-time reading now, it’s a great way to calm down after a big day at work.

  31. It’s as though I wrote the first paragraph of this entry myself, I can relate to it so well! I definitely do not read as much as I used to and should put more time into picking it up again. I got a Kindle for Christmas and so far it’s helped with how much I read, but I’ve also been on vacation so I will probably be struggling to find time to read recreationally once classes start again!

  32. I don’t want to put you off, nor do I expect I will, but I hated Wuthering Heights. Hated it. Which was so disappointing to me because I’d heard it’s like, *THE* love story. I’m glad I read it, because I agree that it’s important to read the classics. I also hated Jane Eyre. I don’t enjoy reading the Bronte sisters I’m afraid, and I think it to be down to their characters – although I come to appreciate them, I don’t long to reread them like I do Jane Austen or something. I’ll be interested to hear what you thought of it when you’re done!! 🙂

  33. I’m constantly reading and feel totally unbalanced when I don’t get to read a little each day. Having a Kindle has made it so much easier for me to get my fix – but I know it’s not for everyone. I always have books to suggest and would love to hear what your other readers suggest, as well….

    Here are a few off the top of my head:
    – The Help
    – The Time Traveler’s Wife
    – anything by Jasper Fforde (he’s hilarious!)

    And PS You’ll absolutely get sucked in by the Hunger Games series!

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