Icefields by Thomas Wharton

IcefieldsI’m often asked why I write about books in my free time (and for free, no less). For a long time, I struggled to come up with a concise answer. Writing about my reading comes with a lot of positives–community, encouragement, inspiration, challenges, exposure, reinforcement–but I’ve always stopped short of saying these were reasons that Another Book Blog exists.

After reading Icefields by Thomas Wharton, I thankfully don’t have to. Suddenly, after five years of doing this, the reason for this blog has become very clear.

There’s a moment in Icefields where two characters are talking about poetry and journalism, and the moving target that is writing. With each field, the goal is never perfection. The best a writer can do, they surmise, is produce something that simply approaches what he or she really feels. That’s because even getting close is incredibly hard.

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“How Should One Read a Book?” by Virginia Woolf

Woolf ReadI used to think that constant hand wringing over book choices was the exclusive domain of anxiety-ridden bloggers.

  • Am I reading enough classics?
  • Should I be reading something “smarter”?
  • Do I read too many dead white guys?
  • Should I read more non-fiction?
  • Do audiobooks even count?
  • Is 50 books a year enough?!

We all do it. We’re all self-conscious. We all write at least a post a year as a solemn decree to read what we want, when we want, and let the snobs be damned. Then we go back to asking the same questions again and the cycle never ends.

As it turns out, this process has been going on for at least a hundred years, as evidenced by Viriginia Woolf’s read-whatever-you-god-damn-well-please essay, “How Should One Read a Book?” (Available for free right here.)

So today, on what is Woolf’s 136th birthday, let us give Virginia the stage. Let her ease our worries, and clean our guilty slates for a year of reading whatever makes us happy in 2018.

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The Fullness of Life by Edith Wharton & Keeping Quiet by Pablo Neruda

In her short story, “The Fullness of Life,” Edith Wharton wrote about a woman who dies. In heaven, she is met by the Spirit of Life, who rewards her with the chance to live for eternity with her soulmate, something she did not get to experience during her time on Earth.

Seems like an easy decision, right? But here’s the catch: the woman still feels a dutiful attachment to her former husband, who has yet to die. In a classic bit of Whartian tragedy, he’s always considered her his soulmate, and will surely want to spend eternity with her once he, too, passes on.

Thus, her dilemma: does she selfishly take the Spirit’s offer and spend eternity with her true soulmate, or does she stay loyal to the man she married?

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Making Friends With the Habit of Listening

The best piece of advice I ever received was to wake up in the morning as if I’m doing it on purpose. Getting out of bed with a sense of ambition or eagerness is a simple, yet effective, life hack. It sets the tone for your entire day, it makes every action afterwards feel like a choice instead of an obligation, and it’s healthier than snoozing. Unfortunately, I’ve rarely (if ever) been able to do it.

I’m a night owl by nature and an early riser by vocation, which means getting the minimum six hours of sleep is an accident, at best, and a defeat, at worst. I don’t drink coffee, which means I get out of bed like Garfield on a Monday. So how am I supposed to get up and get going like Winnie the Pooh chasing some honeybees?

To put it bluntly, I am not and I will likely never be that person. Mornings just aren’t my thing. But that doesn’t mean I can’t benefit from this “wake up with purpose” attitude. For me, the “morning” aspect of that advice was never the important part to begin with. What it’s saying is that there are huge benefits to be found in a positive outlook and just a little bit of intent.

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When Life Gets You Down, Keep Climbing

A good friend of mine is going through a pretty difficult time. He’s approaching his mid-30s and is saddled with two young children. He is the sole bread winner in his family, but he pays the bills with a job he hates. He is deeply in debt. He feels trapped, and scared, and entirely without options. He is not only laying down the tracks in front of himself, but the rest of his family, too. Meanwhile, he can hear the train coming. The sound never goes away.

I am equally close with my friend’s wife. The three of us were inseparable in college, thanks to the fact that she basically moved into our two-man dorm room five weeks into first semester. She texted me about my friend yesterday, and she, too, feels scared, and trapped, and alone. Her husband is deeply depressed, and she doesn’t know what else to do.

None of us do. This is a battle he’s been fighting for a long time.

I tried, as best I could, to give her some advice. I think it helped, if only for that day. Sometimes that’s all we need. Something to get us to the next day. But I haven’t stopped thinking about it, what I could have said.

Today, I was reminded about my favourite passage from one of my favourite novels, Skippy Dies by Paul Murray. While it doesn’t provide any answers in terms of what my friend can do to help himself, it definitely gives it some context: most of us get to the point he is at right now. Most of adulthood is about disillusionment.

“You spend your whole childhood watching TV, assuming that at some point in the future everything you see there will one day happen to you: that you too will one day win a Formula One race, hop a train, foil a group of terrorists, tell someone ‘Give me the gun’, etc. Then you start secondary school, and suddenly everyone’s asking you about your career plans and your long-term goals, and by goals they don’t mean the kind you are planning to score in the FA Cup. Gradually the awful truth dawns on you: that Santa Claus was just the tip of the iceberg—that your future will not be the roller coaster you’d imagined, that the world occupied by your parents, the world of washing dishes, going to the dentist, weekend trips to the DIY superstore to buy floor tiles, is actually largely what people mean when they speak of ‘life’. Now, with every day that passes, another door seems to close, the one marked ‘professional stuntman’ or ‘fight evil robot’, until as the weeks go by and the doors —’get bitten by snake’, ‘save world from asteroid’, ‘dismantle bombs with seconds to spare’—keep closing, you begin to hear the sound as a good thing, and start closing some yourself, even ones that didn’t necessarily need to be closed.”

— Paul Murray, Skippy Dies

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