When I was a kid and then a teenager, and then a university student, and then a homesick Canadian living in London and then a person who had a real job with actual lunch breaks, I read voraciously. In my early years and my teens I would hole up in my bedroom, curled up on my side on the bed with the book resting at a 90 degree angle next to me, flipping and flopping it depending on which side of the page I was reading.
I was taught to read with Dr. Seuss – some of my earliest memories are of sitting on my dad’s knee, sounding out The Cat In the Hat and my very favourite line in all of literature “glop shlop with a cherry on top” (from Oh the Things You Can Think). My first chapter book was the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It was a Christmas present when I was six along with two other “chapter books”. I was entranced. I read it over and over and over and over and OVER again. One day my mum gently suggested I might like to try some of my other new chapter books but I thought this was quite ridiculous. No book could ever be as good as the Wizard. But eventually I was convinced to open the cover of a Bobbsey Twins book and I have pretty much been hooked on mystery novels ever since.
I made my way through them and the Enid Blyton Adventures and Famous Five series and then moved on to Nancy Drew, mixed it up with all the Anne of Green Gables books, Beverly Cleary, the Narnia series, Judy Blume and all the other usual suspects.
Eventually I exhausted the school library and the local library and moved on to my parents bookshelves and found Agatha Christie, Ivanhoe, Jane Austen, Barry Broadfoot and John Steinbeck. I probably stumbled on (and devoured) East of Eden about 5 years before I should have – and consequently thought reading the Red Pony and the Pearl in jr high to be a colossal waste of time. My dad bought me my copy of Catcher in the Rye when I was 11 and I still have it – its instantly recognizable burgundy cover with yellow text worn around the edges from being read almost as many times as the Wizard of Oz and Anne of Green Gables, marked up with notes from having to study it many years later in both senior high and university (x2!). Like all teenagers, it spoke to my angst years where nobody understood me and I would burrow even further into my room but now accompanied by my walkman and it’s yellow headphones (as ubiquitous as the white apple ones today!) – endless Bryan Adams, Duran Duran, Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode, Glass Tiger, Platinum Blonde, New Order. Totally dating myself here, right?
In University I would try to score a “comfy” bench… comfy being a relative term… in between classes in the SFU applied science building. I was an arts student but the AQ was made up of cement benches. The applied science building had cushioned ones. Often my breaks would be 4 or 5 hours and if you know SFU, it’s on the top of a mountain. Going up and down between classes took up too much time. A cushioned bench was a luxury! There I would pull myself through piles of history textbooks for my major as well as Thomas Hardy, Joseph Conrad, Herman Melville and countless other dreary, dull classics for my lit classes for what I thought would be an English Lit Minor, but that somehow morphed into an archeaology minor. The Margaret Laurence semester was a breath of fresh air! Reading for pleasure went out the window and I forever blame uni for making me feel like reading fiction is the ultimate guilty pleasure when I could be reading something useful.
As a homesick Canadian living in London after university, I fell upon my Aunt’s books and she introduced me to Maeve Binchy and then I discovered Marion Keyes and fell into a steady diet of Irish literature that fascinated me with it warmth and humor and gentle way of exploring harsh topics. I would while away the hours lying on the deck chairs in the sun in many London Parks (Stanley Park… take note: deck chairs. For real) when I wasn’t working in Chelsea or window shopping on Regent Street or Kings Road. Talk about a fish out of water. A poor starving shop girl working in the richest part of London! My customers spent more on hairbrushes than I spent on groceries all week. Reading was free entertainment.
After returning to Canada I went through a phase of what one lit prof called “chip dip lit”: John Grisham, Michael Crichton, Ridley Pearson, Patricia Cornwell. My brain was still too fried from university to want to read anything that required too much thought and I didn’t want to analyze another book for hidden meanings when really, sometimes the kitchen sink was just that.
But eventually I started to creep back out into a broader spectrum of reading material. I would still curl up on my side in bed with the book propped up, but I spent more and more time in Starbucks on my lunch hours in an armchair, being the only 30 something in the place with their legs curled up underneath them or cross-legged with the book resting on their Chuck clad feet.
And now, my attention is so divided and so short. For years I read one book at a time, savouring it, sometimes reading it all in one sitting, never starting another until I turned the final page in the current one.
Now I have 3 or 4 on the go in an eternal state of being half read. I never seem to finish one – I just start another. At Christmas I turned off all the machines for a few days and wallowed in a novel – one I read for pure pleasure. Not a business book, not about photography, or design, or dogs or marketing or food. It was wonderful. I forgot the satisfying feeling of tiredness that sinks in after finishing a book because you’ve become so absorbed by the characters and their lives and emotions.
I tried e-books for the first time last year on my iPad. It’s great for certain situations like commuting or traveling but I still can’t get cozy with one – just like I can’t get cozy with a hardcover book. And that’s a key reading requirement for me. So I still gravitate to soft covers.
Sometimes I fear the world of blogs, news snippets, soundbites and eye tiring screens has ruined our ability to concentrate on reading anything with any depth in it for more than a moment or two. It makes me sad. All those worlds we shut the door on. I notice it in myself every day. But that is a discussion for another time.
One thing that has always been a constant for me with books is food. I can’t eat without reading and I can’t read without eating. Be it books, magazines, newspaper or cereal boxes. Snacking on apple slices, raisins, cookies, or as an occasional treat as a kid, smarties. (I could make an entire box of smarties last through a full day of reading!). It’s not a mindful way to eat but it’s something I’ve always done – nibbling away in teeny tiny bites to make whatever snack I had been given or had made last as long as possible. The part in Little Women where Jo March talks about eating an entire plate of apples while reading in the attic completely makes sense to me!
But honestly, the best one is and always has been, a plate of cookies and a glass of milk - now tea. And these chocolate chunk toffee cookies were put to that task. They were chewy on the inside, crispy on the outside, with the sweetness of white chocolate to balance dark cocao-y goodness. The toffee was just a little je ne sais quoi. Along with the fact that I had extra toffee chips to use up.
- 1¼ cup butter
- 2 cups sugar (white or brown will work)
- 2 eggs
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 2 cups flour
- ¾ cup cocoa
- 1 tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 cup semi sweet chocolate chunks or chips
- 3 1 oz squares coarsely chopped white chocolate
- ½ cup of toffee chips
- preheat oven to 350F
- cream the butter and sugar together till fluffy
- add eggs and vanilla and mix well
- sift or whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt
- add chocolates and toffee chips and stir in gently
- drop onto a greased cookie sheet (or use a silpat or parchment paper) by the tablespoon
- bake at 350F for 15-20 minutes
The book in the photograph is Pride and Predjudice – my well worn copy. Elizabeth Bennett is my favourite literary heroine after Anne Shirley. Kinsey Milhone comes third and Dorothy Gale is in fourth. I’d love to say it’s what I was actually reading when I ate these cookies but it wasn’t. These accompanied Arlene Dickinson’s Persuasion – she’s one of my favourite, most respected real-life business women and her books is an interesting look at using the softer, genuine approach to working with people. I’ve learned a lot so far.
What about you? What are you currently reading? Do you have a “must have” reading snack? Or a spot you love to curl up in? Is it paper or e-book?
*** author’s note: I know my posts have been sorely lacking in photography tips and hints lately. I promise they are coming back. Life has been hectic with work and prep for FBC2013 which is fast approaching with just a month to go.