Accidentally reading about reptiles…

srpsnakeI realized with the first two reads of the year, I have an accidental theme going on: reptiles in my fiction! With Swamplandia! it was alligators; then there is a snake in The Burn Palace. Our upcoming book club read is set in Texas, so I wonder if a lizard will figure into the plot.

That got me wondering how many of my past reads featured reptiles, so I did a quick search. Snakes are by far the most common reptiles to show up in my book reviews and summaries. Going back in time, I see there were significant snake scenes in:

As for alligators and crocodiles, there is only Swamplandia! that I can recall. There may have been a crocodile in The Poisonwood Bible.

There are quite significant cosmic turtles in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, from which I’ve read Small Gods, and in It and The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. As for actual turtles, they don’t seem as common, although the Mock Turtle in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland certainly comes to mind.

I also can’t seem to find any books I’ve read with lizards in them, although there are dinosaurs of course in Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton and The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Would you be more or less likely to read a book with a snake in it? I’d rather meet one in fiction than in real life, that’s for sure!

Here’s a list of fictional reptiles from Wikipedia and a list of Reptiles in Fiction on LibraryThing, if you’d like to seek out even more reptiles in your fiction.

Less than perfect…

It has become the norm to blog about every teeny-tiny facet of daily life, from cooking to getting dressed to home organization to raising children. I think these blogs have set an unreasonable standard for daily living, though. If you follow enough of them, you start to think that everything must be absolutely perfect all the time. This is a pretty old article at Jezebel, but it gets at what I’m talking about, and also shows that this insidious behavior has been going on for far too long.

As I walk around my cluttered, slightly dirty house, eating cold leftovers out of the Tupperware container, I have to wonder whether perfect should really be the goal. Not every meal has to be a gourmet experience, just so it can be documented on Instagram. We don’t have to love absolutely every t-shirt in our closets or banish it to Goodwill, as some fashion or minimalists bloggers exhort us; sometimes we just need something to wear. Every crafty project I have found on Pinterest and tried with my kid has failed utterly, but when we wing it and do what we feel, we generally have a good time.

Let’s make 2014 the year of not being perfect. Not reaching the perfect weight. Not having the perfect house or the perfect wardrobe or perfect children. Not living the perfect life. And being okay with that. No…loving that.

Vintage vs. Penguin: On being seduced by book covers…

Who cares what it's about? It is a very pretty book.

Who cares what it’s about? It is a very pretty book.

I have been rearranging my books, necessitated by a large Christmas haul of mostly beloved classics. I hate to admit it, but I mostly organize my bookshelves based on aesthetics– books all the same height together, for instance, or a publisher’s similar designs together. In this latest rearranging, I noticed how many black and white and silver books I had, and how nicely they go together on the shelf. Then I went through my husband’s books and picked out some of his b&w books that looked interesting. If I read them and like them, I may steal them to fill out my shelf.

I’ve always really been attracted to Penguins, especially from the Penguin Classics line with their black covers. Now I’m starting to notice that Vintage has some very attractive books, also mostly in muted or neutral colors. I have no trouble passing on books once they’ve been read, but those pretty books, they earn their place on my limited shelf space.

I do most of my reading on Kindle, but I still love print books, mostly just love looking at them and browsing through them. I especially love minimalist covers or anything that looks pulpy and vintage. What do you look for in a book cover?

Book cover: Nocturnes | Knopf Doubleday.

Blank slate…

I find myself wishing sometimes I could start all over again with a blank slate. Just wipe everything out and start anew.

I don’t mean my entire life, of course (or I should say, I rarely mean that). I have to believe that many people have had one moment or two when they wished they could just wipe the slate clean. It’s that fantasy of disappearing, picking a new name, starting an entirely new career as international spy or landscape artist or bookseller. Most of us don’t act on it, of course, and the moment passes.

More often, though, I look around myself and wish I could start again. Often it’s little things, such as wiping out all of my online identities, or redoing my house decor or wardrobe from scratch. Less often, I wonder what if… Pursue an entirely different career? Sell everything and move the family to the South of France?

These moments pass as well. It’s fun to fantasize, but in the end, it seems like too much work.

Whenever I get a new notebook, I feel a sense of satisfaction, starting with a fresh, clean page. The possibilities are endless. I can do anything with this fresh start. Once I start to write in the notebook, the satisfaction gradually fades into discontent. And then comes the inevitable moment when I want to throw the notebook in the trash, go buy a pretty new one, and start all over.

Well, it’s certainly less drastic to trash a notebook than to trash a whole life.

Welcome, 2014…

In an effort to revitalize my interest in this blog, I am going to try to post something new every day here. It may be a photo, a quote, a link or just some random thoughts, but I will try to make it at interesting, at the very least. Not promising anything.

Yes, I have heard that blogging is dead, and I half-agree with that assessment. But since this is broadcast to almost all the social networks I’m on, I figure I’m covering all the bases with one post.

The real reason I’m doing this is to try to keep the days from just drifting by like a fog. 2013 seems like it barely happened now. I’m still writing 2012 on my checks, when I write checks. Some big milestones were reached. My son started kindergarten, for one. He’s pretty much reading now. We made some very nice improvements to our house. All in all, I’m fairly content.

But am I? Something still niggles, a vague feeling of dissatisfaction, like there’s something I should be doing but I can’t put my finger on what that is. If I accomplish anything in the new year, I would like to figure that out.

If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that the best way to figure stuff out is to write until it comes out. Hence, back to the blog.

Making resolutions doesn’t work. I have learned that over and over again. But the beginning of a new year is a good time pause, take a breath, re-evaluate. Decide to try something different and see how that works.

Change… Making it happen.

Over the past year or so, I have been focusing on inner change: envisioning what I want to be and making that reality. This has mostly been a subconscious process, and progress has been incremental but real.

It’s important to elevate the subconscious to the conscious so we can understand what is working and possibly re-create it. I feel like my efforts to change myself have been successful, so now I am turning my attention to the world around me. How can I effect change–real change–in my world?

What kind of change am I talking about? On a personal level, I mean becoming the person I want to be, doing what makes me feel passionate and engaged, and enhancing my core well being. At an external level, I want to strengthen community, increase openness and connection, do good work, and contribute to progress. It sounds like a lot, but I believe it is possible. In fact, I can already see it happening around me.

Here is the process I followed. I have to stress that this is not a system where you go through steps 1, 2, 3 and voila! Change has occurred. It’s a much more organic, intuitive process than that, and as I said before, a lot of it happens under the surface, so it can be hard to recognize change as it is occurring. Also this process is cyclical, not linear; once you get to the end, you loop around to the beginning again, and so you are constantly spiraling in on the change you want to effect.

It all starts with Leadership – we are all leaders. Leadership means making up your mind that you want change and commit to it. You may not even know exactly what the change is yet. The important thing is to be open to it, because otherwise you will throw up obstacles and make excuses for why the change cannot happen.

Then comes Vision. Again, you may not know exactly what it is that you want. But it is important to have a vision of how you want the change to look and feel, in yourself or in the world. Often we don’t allow ourselves to want positive change, because it may feel selfish or greedy. By creating a vision of the change we want, we can accept our wants and thus move closer to making them reality.

Next, engage with the Community. These are the people in your life: your family, friends, colleagues, support network. Talk about change and what you want with your community. Change is often subtle; discussing it with your community helps make you aware that the change is actually happening. It makes it real. Engaging with your community also opens up opportunities for feedback and support. You may be surprised by how many people join with you in working toward your vision.

Now is the time for Integration. Even though this seems to be the “action” step, it is likely that you have been acting all along. By integrating the changes you want into your everyday routines and the flow of your day, though, you make yourself aware of change as it is happening. Each day, remind yourself of your wants and how you are acting to make them a reality. Consciousness also helps you stay flexible and adaptable. If your routine is disrupted or the unexpected happens, you can consciously adapt to that and keep working toward your overall goal.

As I said before, this process is a cycle. After Integration, returning to Leadership, then Vision, then Community helps maintain focus and build on what you achieved before. Of course, the point is not the end result necessarily, but the journey. As long as we are alive, we don’t stop changing. By becoming aware of the process and taking charge of it, we don’t have to be at the mercy of what happens to us. We can become the agents of change in our own lives and in the world.

I found this article helpful: 10 Life Lessons You Should Unlearn. Those subconscious behavioral patterns that have been ingrained in us since childhood are often are biggest roadblocks to real and lasting change. The best advice from this article: play hard, don’t work hard. We are designed to learn through play, and the bonus is that we get to have fun, too.

How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read

“Non-reading is not just the absence of reading. It is a genuine activity, one that consists of adopting a stance in relation to the immense tide of books that protects you from drowning. On that basis, it deserves to be defended and even taught.”

How To Talk About Books You Havent Read on Brain Pickings is a great piece that helped crystallize some ideas that had been swirling around in my brain. I spend a lot of time thinking about what I will read, what I will read next and whether I should continue reading what I am reading now. My reading time is limited, and I want to spend it in the best way possible for me. Since I’ve become so conscious of what I read, I have consistently read books that I have enjoyed more and that have made me think more.

There is that tinge of guilt that comes with not reading something, especially if it is a deliberate choice. I really ought to read ______ (fill in the blank with important literary work here). Well, this post banished all those guilty feelings. I can read, not read, skim, give up, just read the review in the NYT, as I choose, because it all becomes part of my collective library. Even the books that I don’t read have meaning to me.

The post even provides a system of categorization of unread books: unknown, skimmed, heard about, forgotten. Those books too may be weighted on a scale from an extremely positive opinion to extremely negative. I immediately put this rating scale into practice when going through my library and trying to decide what to read or reread next. A forgotten book associated with an extremely positive feeling got put on my “to read” shelf, while one with a negative or even neutral opinion was placed in the donate pile, as I knew I wouldn’t want to reread it.

I realize that not everyone delves so deeply into their reading life as to categorize books they haven’t even read yet, but it is a comfort to know that I am not the only one to do so. Indeed, there is a whole book dedicated to the subject. To be truthful, I probably won’t read that book, since this summary on Brain Pickings gave me all the food for thought I needed.

Walking the world wide web…

I published my first book 17 years ago. It was called Walking the World Wide Web, and it was an edited selection of all the best websites out there, with detailed reviews. It’s hard to believe now, but the web was so young in the mid-90s that it was possible to list a large percentage of the available websites in a book, and not a very thick one at that.

I remember that one of the sites I reviewed in my book was Boing Boing. It’s one of the oldest sites on the web, and it’s still going strong. Back then, it was a catalog of wonderful things — meaning things on the Internet — and that’s essentially what it still is today. But it remains immensely popular because it’s very good at helping people find good stuff to read and look at on the web, which has become an increasingly difficult job for any casual web surfer.

Sometimes I wonder what my career would have been like if I had built on the success of my first book and become a web curator like Boing Boing or Kottke. Who would have guessed back then that such a thing as website curation could be a career, and a lucrative one at that?

I think we are going to need good curators more than ever in the near future. I have read that Google will be making some changes to its search algorithms so that websites can no longer rely on SEO and keywords to get to the top of search results. Instead, links and social networking shares will be major factors in determining which sites float to the top. This is good news for all of us web surfers, because our Google search results will be more likely to show us quality content, rather than all that search engine-optimized filler. But it means there will be a need for more curators who are finding good sites, writing about them and sharing the links with a broad audience.

And I suspect — or maybe I hope? — that busy people will be more willing to pay for good curation.