Read All About It

One of my friends asked me a question the other day, that got me thinking.  We’d been talking movies, which led to books, which led to me mentioning a couple of books I’d read lately.  And then he said, “When do you get time to read all this stuff?”

And I kind of stopped and wondered.  Because I really do read a lot.  I’ve read exactly 70 books so far this year.  My best year was 2008 where I read 138 books.  In the past five years, from 2005 to the end of 2010, I read 705 books.

Wow.  I never added that up before.

How do I know how many I read?  Well, I’d heard a few years of someone who said they read two books a week.  I figured I might be around that range (I’m actually averaging something more like 2.7 books/week right now), but I figured, short of stacking the books and counting them up at the end of the year, I could track them.

So, geek that I am, I built an Excel spreadsheet to track them…then I got more geeky.  I tracked how many were fiction versus non-fiction.  Then I started tracking how many of them are comics, audiobooks or regular print books.  I figure I now have to add in an “eBook” category, seeing as how that’s getting bigger for me this year.  Turns out I read about 3/4 fiction versus 1/4 non-fic, and about 50% of what I read is “traditional” print books, about a third is audiobooks and the rest is comics.

Which leads to another question…when do I have time to enter all this crap in a spreadsheet, but that’s for another blog…

Anyway, who cares, right?

Well, yeah, but hey, it’s my blog, so I can basically talk about anything…

So, in that spirit, one last number.   I guess the biggest number for me is, I read about 45,000 pages a year.  That’s pretty crazy.

But then again, I come from a family with a lot of addictive tendencies.  I guess I’m glad my addiction runs more to opiating my brain through reading than opiating my brain through pills and alcohol.  Fair trade, as far as I’m concerned.

So how to I accomplish this?  I think the secret is the audiobooks, myself.  That’s the biggest surprise for me, as I really thought I’d hate them.  I was always one of those kids that didn’t like to be read to.  I can read it, dammit, give it to me to read! So it was with some trepidation that I started my first audiobook in August of 2005.   HARRY POTTER & THE SORCERER’S STONE.  And, even more, this was a book I didn’t think I’d get into, because I’d tried reading it to my kids not that long before and we all seemed bored by it.  I’d previously read THE WIZARD OF OZ to my daughter and we both fell in love with the  book.  Not so much with Harry Potter.

So I stuck the disk in the car player one morning as I started up the car for the 45 minute drive into work.  I figured I’d give it ten minutes, then yank it if it wasn’t grabbing me.

It seemed to only take a few minutes to get to work that morning.  I was hooked by the story, hooked by Stephen Fry’s excellent reading…I was hooked by the whole concept.  All day, I kept wondering why it had taken me so long to do this.

I blew through the first book pretty quickly.  Getting a solid 90 minutes to 2 hours every day can really pound you through some stories.  I finished the second book within a couple of weeks.  Same with the third.  I’d gone through three books in a month.  But the books were bigger, so the audiobooks were longer and longer.  Still the 4th book, GOBLET OF FIRE still only took slightly under three weeks.  ORDER OF THE PHOENIX, just over three weeks.  Same with HALF-BLOOD PRINCE…and then…well, then I had to wait for J.K. Rowling to catch up with me.  But in the span of about 12 weeks or so, I’d gotten through six books…three of which were Stephen Kingian doorstops!

I moved on to the CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, which were just okay, then the SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, which I really enjoyed up until the really crappy non-ending 13th book.  Then it was the HITCHHIKERS GUIDE TO THE GALAXY books, which I’d previously read in high school and loved even more the second time around.  In fact, I did a bunch of series after that.

Since then, I’ve done a lot of driving back and forth to work, as well as some traveling for work, a couple of trips to Florida, etc.  I’ve gone through almost 140 audiobooks.  I’ve found some readers that I love, such as the aforementioned Stephen Fry, as well as Tim Curry, for simply enjoyable reading and others like Bill Bryson (reading his own stuff) who comes across like that favourite funny uncle.  There’s others that should never be allowed to read aloud again, most notably Scott Sigler (who, interestingly, made his name with audio works).  You can literally hear his mouth drying up and the smack of lips at times.  Then there’s Scott Brick, a guy I really didn’t like when I heard him read the Dune series, but either he’s grown as a reader, or the subject matter makes a difference, but I can’t imagine anyone else reading Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt series.  He’s brilliant.

Then there’s the unexpected one.  Granted, much of it was the subject matter, but Winona Ryder reading THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK left me in tears.  Yes, in my car, on the 401, driving 130 km/h.  In tears.  Unforgettable.

I’ve got this debate with my daughter.  She says that listening to an audiobook isn’t “reading”.  Okay, I agree, it’s not reading, it’s listening.  But either way, I’m experiencing the work.  And Stephen King makes a good point when he talks about listening to an audiobook versus reading, when he says that, with someone reading, it unmasks any flaws in the writing.  It brings them to light.  If someone overuses certain words or phrases, it’s going to be very apparent in a reading.  On the other hand, if the writer is very good, the musicality of their writing will shine through as well.  I fell in love with Andre Dubus III and David Wroblewski’s writing in this way.  I rediscovered Stephen R. Donaldson and Harlan Ellison and Dennis Lehane this way.  And I’ve learned to absolutely delight in Shakespeare, who’s works were beaten to a bloody pulp by my high school teachers, who forced us to read and not experience the works and rob them of much of their power.  Shame on every one of you for that.

My point is, I think we have to consider listening to audiobooks as a legitimate form of experiencing the work.

So, heard any good books lately?

Just a Little Patience

Patience.  I’m gonna admit here and now that, the older I get, the less I have of it for morons.

Or, to put it another way, I don’t suffer fools gladly.  I don’t even suffer fools glumly.  I just suffer.

In the past few days, here’s what I’ve seen.

Three days ago, I stopped in a local ice cream place on Highway 2 called Scoops.  If you’re ever heading from Oshawa to Bowmanville (or, you know, Bowmanville to Oshawa…either way works), stop in there.  They’ve got great ice cream.  Anyway, I pulled in, parked the truck and headed in for the goodies.  When I came back out, I was just getting into my truck again as another guy pulled in beside me.  Well, he sort of pulled in beside me.

Let’s just say the parking job was so ubelievably bad that I actually had to get back out of my truck to take a look.  So, picture this if you can:  I’m parked in a space, nicely between the lines.  He’s parked on enough of an angle that his front passenger-side tire is well over the line.  The rear end is pretty much just as bad.  Now, add to this that he’s at least half a car length from being in the spot.  Yes, what you’re picturing is right.  The rear end of his car is hanging out at solid half-car length into the lane.

This is what I saw when I got out of the truck to look.  He’s walking away from the car (and not staggering drunk…trust me, I checked).  He looks back at me, looks back at his deplorable parking job, then back at me.  I give him the okay sign with my hand.  “Helluva job there, buddy,” I said.  “You nailed it.”  And what was his reaction?  Well, to steal a line from Don Henley, he just looked at me uncomprehendingly, like cows at a passing train.  All I could do, as I manuvered my truck around the trainwreck, was laugh.

Yesterday, we went to the movie theatre to see Hangover, Part 2 (which, by the way, if you liked the first one, you’ll like the second one).  There’s an absolutely insane line for tickets.  But, glancing over at the automatic ticket teller things (the ATMs of the movie world), there was one with only two couples at it.  Great, I think.  This won’t take any time at all.  I’m so stupid.

I entered that line of two at 7:10.  My movie starts at 7:30.  While we’re waiting, I send The Wife and The Kids off to get the food.  I wait.

And wait.

And wait.

And then, when I’m done with that, I wait some more.

Ast Tom Petty says, the waiting is the hardest part.  There’s a point where curiosity gets the better of me and I rudely angle out of line to look at what the morons at the kiosk are actually doing.  Knitting a sweater, perhaps?  Contemplating the infinite cosmos in limbo?  Trying to define the universe and give three examples?

Seriously.  It ain’t rocket science people.  You choose the movie, choose the time, choose how many tickets, decide on food if you must, then friggin’ pay.  It should take only slightly longer than it did to read that last sentence.

So, why am I still standing there, with another couple in between us and those at the kiosk, almost ten minutes later?

Well, the one reason is, the line up is still insane.  And everyone else was smarter than me and went to one of the other three kiosks.

After a solid ten minutes, I say, loudly, “What the hell?”  The guy and his date in front of me look back at me in commiseration.  He says, just as loudly, “This is his fourth go at it.”

He keeps stabbing at the buttons ineffectually for another minute or so, then gives up, leaving the guy in front of me to have to first cancel out his unfinished request before he can start his own.

And then…

And then…

This guy’s just as bad.

At this point, the woman behind me says, “I feel like I’m being punked here.”  I laugh and nod.  That’s gotta be it, right?  Somebody’s going to come out laughing, put their arm around my shoulders and point at the hidden camera, and we’ll all have a big laugh before I rush into the movie.

Nope.  The guy in front of me, perhaps trying not to look quite as stupid as the last one, gives up after three tries, and cancels it out for me.  He mumbles sorry as he moves off.  Of course, I’m going to feel really stupid myself if the kiosk is acting up.

It’s not.  I blow through the sequence, setting a new land speed record and within about a minute of hitting the first button, I’m catching the tickets being v0mited out the little hole at the bottom.  It works flawlessly.  My tickets are finally in hand at 7:27.

So, I feel redeemed.  But I also feel fear at the average intelligence level I’m sharing with those around me.  Because seriously?  I ain’t that smart.  I remember someone sarcastically telling me years ago that you needed an IQ of at least 25 to bark.  I don’t think these guys make it.

Then, finally, today, we’re at a market, grabbing some groceries.  And we all know how much I enjoy getting groceries.  And though the aisles are all wide enough to accomodate two average-sized humans side-by-side, time and time again I found myself trapped behind someone who would stop in the middle of the aisle, and if they weren’t quite blocking it all the way, they’d put their cart at such an angle as to fully block it off.  This didn’t happen once or twice, it happened at least five times.  I had one woman coming in my direction stop.  Look at me.  Then carefully and deliberately angle her cart into the aisle.  And you can say “excuse me” all you want, these guys won’t move.  They just won’t.

So after a while, I just took to grabbing the cart (like little Miss I’m Deliberately Blocking You), shoving it out of the way, and walking by them.  As they give me the hairy eyeball, I smile and in my sweetest voice, say, “Excuse me.”

Morons.  Why do we have to suffer them?

Oh! Those Sullen Teenage Emotions!

One more day.  If we can get through one more day, we may not have to kill them.

There’s a wide range of animals that eat their young.  The term “filial cannibalism” is used to describe animals that gobble their own kids.  Polar bears do it.  So do burying beetles (I gotta ask why they wouldn’t just bury them instead of snacking), hamsters, wolf spiders and a bunch of different fish.

All of them eat their young.  And it’s not for the taste.  God knows what a sweaty, hormonal 14-year-old boy would taste like, even with spices and a nice Chianti.

My point is, they eat their young.  And I know why.

It’s likely to just shut them up.

As I’m writing this, I keep asking myself, am I going too far this time?  I mean, I’m talking about my kids  here.  The same daughter that just 11 days ago I was all weepy-eyed about.  Ah, the vagaries of parenting, huh?

But like I said, we’ve put up with it this long.  I’m pretty sure I can get through one more morning.  Pretty sure.  Not positive.

What’s this crazy morning stuff I’m talking about?

I was afraid you’d ask.  Because, really, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

So, when our daughter got her driver’s licence, the one that allowed her to drive on her own (I can’t keep them straight any more) we started allowing her to drive herself to school.  Why not? we thought.  We have a car just sitting there in the driveway all day, and it saves us driving them.  So it was on the condition that she would drop her brother (who was then in Grade 8 and at a different school, albeit right beside her high school) off along the way.  Good deal right?

Yeah, well, for two seemingly intelligent adults, we’re reasonably dumb at times.

See, what this entailed was getting my son up and out the door in time for our daughter to drop him off and get to her own school on time.  And The Boy didn’t necessarily cooperate, as his morning classes started a good 15 minutes later than hers…which meant he was getting to school way early.  I mean, jeez dude, he had to occupy himself for, like, twenty minutes, dude!

So he tended to drag his ass in the mornings, cutting it right down to the wire.

So, this is what the last few minutes prior to departure sounded like.

The Girl: “HUUUUUUUN-TAAAAAAR!  Hurry up!”

The Boy: “Stop!”

The Girl: “UUUUUUUURRRRRRRGH!” (my best approximation of unbridled inarticulate rage)

Me: “Madison!  Relax!”

The Girl: “He does this every morning!”

Me: “So then you should expect it every morning.  It shouldn’t be a surprise!”


The Boy: “Stop!”

<Insert assorted bangings, thumpings and other sounds of teenage female displeasure>

The Girl: “Oh my God! He’s so irritating!

Me: “No, he’s just your brother and you love him.”

The Girl:  “Yeah, right.”  <insert more sounds of estrogeny displeasure>

The Girl: “I’ll be out in the car.” Then, louder, “HURRY UP!”

The Boy: “Stop!  You only slow me down when you do that!”

<insert sound of front door slamming>

Me: “Dude, seriously.  You need to kick it into gear.”

The Boy: “I’m not late!”

Me: “If you don’t leave by 8:10, you will be late.  It’s 8:09 and you aren’t even downstairs yet.”

The Boy: “I got lots of time.”

Me: “Dude, let’s get the ocean in motion.”

<insert the sound of the car horn honking>  The Boy takes his time, strolling out to the car.

So, this is my morning, every morning.  The Wife, wisely, chooses to stay in bed with earplugs in until they leave.  Obviously she’s smarter than I am.

And really, it doesn’t matter what we do.  We ask for The Girl to be nicer to The Boy.  You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, we say.  She says she doesn’t care about flies, she just wants Hunter to move his butt.

We talk to The Boy about moving his butt.  He says he’s not late and she needs to relax.

We’ve even had her leave him if he’s not out the door by 8:10.  The Wife goes nuts, and The Boy simply trots out the door and accepts that, this day, he will be late.

Monday morning, they both have their last exam.  Then, mercifully, my daughter never has to attend high school again, so there will be no more of The Dragon Girl/The Dragass Boy war.

Well, at least not for getting to school on time.

God I hope this is something we can look back on ten years from now and laugh at.

Assuming, that is, that I haven’t decided to eat them.

Complication as a Mutant Ability

Forty-five dollars.  And some change.

That’s the cost of a free box of Chocolate Cheerios.  This could only be the result of my spouse’s ridiculously evil mutant ability.

I guess I need to back up a touch and explain what the hell I’m talking about.

About a month ago, my wife, who has become quite skilled at ferreting out free stuff–coupons, samples and such–excitedly showed me a couple of coupons for a free box of Chocolate Cheerios.  Okay, I’m sorry, but I’m not one of those that subscribe to the belief that chocolate is an essential food group, let alone a breakfast staple.  My wife, however, does.

Regardless.  It’s free.  So it ain’t no big deal, right?  “Okay,” I say.  “Next time we go grocery shopping we’ll pick it up.”

“Yeah well,” she says.  “I can only do it one day.”

“Whaddya mean?”

“The coupon.  It’s only good for one day.  June 21st.”

“One day?”

“One day.”

So, not only is my first reaction to Chocolate Cheerios a rather enthusiastic BLARGH noise, now I have to dance to the tune of the General Mills’ piper?  Seriously, this is what the combination of the three letters WTF was made for.

Anyway, I, being male, promptly forget the coupon, forget the cereal and forget the date.

Flash forward about a month…

Today, June 21st, has been an eventful day.  My wife has this tendency to grind her teeth at night.  Lovely habit, that.  I just love the noise of enamel on enamel in the night.  Not.

Anyway, she’s tried a few different things, including the ubiquitous mouth guard.  It only served to knock her jaw out of alignment.  Turns out she’s developed sharp little shards of bone that have started to break through the gums.  So she’s had to go to a specialist twice for them to slice open her gums and file down those nasty things.  I know, I know, sounds like a lot of fun, but no, not just anyone can go get this done.   And yet, my wife, being special, got to go yet again today.  Woo-hoo, right?

And why am I telling you this?  What has this got to do with Chocolate Cheerios?  I’m getting there, I swear.

So I take her to the operation.  We were assured she’d be out quick which was great because I also had to be home to attend a meeting at work.  She wasn’t done yet.  So a reasonably quick visit turns into an operation and me going back and forth to the specialist twice, because I after a certain time, I had to leave, get home (hitting every damn red light all along the way), do the meeting, jump back in the car, get back downtown, find a parking spot, rush back up to the offices, locate my stoned wife, and get her back downstairs and poured into the car.  Get her home.  Along the way, she starts stressing about a report that she needs to deliver tomorrow morning.  So when I get her home, I get her boss’s phone number.  Then it’s back out to drop off the perscriptions for her happy pills, call her boss, wait for the pills, get the pills and come home.

Again, I swear I’m getting to the cereal.

I get home and, like the conquering hero I am, deliver the Pills of Happiness.  And what thanks do I get?  I get a stoned woman who’s mouth is packed with enough gauze to make her look like Brando’s brother looking at me through those half-lidded eyes and saying, “You gonna go get the free Chocolate Cheerios?” (See?  I told you I’d get around to it!)

I stare back with what I hope is my best look of incredulity (not that I really have a series of varying degrees of incredulity, mind you), and say, “You gotta be freakin’ kidding me.”

She stares back with a look that manages in its silence to clearly indicate she is not, in fact, freakin’ kidding me.  “They told me I could eat pudding.  We don’t have any, so you’re gonna have to go get some of that anyway.”

And really, it’s not the fact that I have to pick up pudding.  It’s not.  It’s the fact that, having gone through some guy slicing her gums, filing her bones, drugging the crap out of her and packing her face with gauze, she’s still, somehow, managed to determine that today is not only June 21st, but it is, in fact, The Day General Mills Decreed Thou Shalt Have Thine Chocolate Cheerios.

Colour me impressed.  Oh, and still incredulous.

But then, even stoned, her mutant ability kicks in.  She breaks out the coupon envelope, figures out a few other coupons that are coming up on expiration, starts working up a grocery list.  “No, wait!” I cry.  “I’m going out for pudding and Cheerios.  That’s it!”

“Chocolate Cheerios!”

“Pudding and Chocolate Cheerios!  That’s it!”

“Do we need milk?”

I check.  Shit.  “Pudding and Chocolate Cheerios and milk!  That’s it!”

“The doctor also said yogourt would be fine too.  Can you get me that extra creamy kind?”

Mentally, I’m doing the walk around the grocery story.  Yup, she’s taking me pretty much to the four corners of the store.  Damn her mutant ability!

She manages to build a list of about 8 items.  Plus the coupon items.

I grab the list and the coupons and run like hell for the door before she can think of anything else.

I get to the store and grab the stuff I need.  I get the pudding.  I get the milk.  I get the yogourt (extra creamy).  I head down the cereal aisle.

I see Cheerios.

I see Honey-Nut Cheerios.

I see Multi-Grain Cheerios.

I see Apple Cinnamon Cheerios.

Hell, I even see Banana Nut Cheerios.

What I don’t see is Chocolate Cheerios.  I don’t even see a space where they may have been but sold out, a victim of all those poor husbands of coupon collecting wives.

Nope.  Not one little brown circle anywhere.

Except me.  Feeling like an ass.

So I head to the checkout and pay for my purchases.

In the end, I guess it really was free Chocolate Cheerio day.

I didn’t pay a cent for them!  Instead, I paid just over forty-five dollars.

Damn that mutant ability.