You Don’t Have to Finish That Book. Really.

Twenty pages left, and I can’t finish this book.

This is deep and psychological, you guys. I’m sure it is. I was fine with reading it—20, 30, 100 pages at a time. I almost missed a bus or two, completely engrossed. Yet here I am, barely making it through a paragraph of the last couple chapters. I even considered returning the borrowed book to my best friend’s shelf because ‘oh, I’ll be back to finish it.’

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But I won’t. I know I won’t, because I did the same thing with that biography this summer. With almost every Stephen King book I’ve ever started. Nearly with 1984, though I finally finished that one on my third try.

So here I am. My friend is showering, and I’m staring at the familiar blue cover. Twenty pages. Not even. You loved this book. It’s almost done. What’s the hold up?

Because I don’t want it to be done?

Because I know, I know, it’s one of those content-y books, where the juice is in the middle and I’m avoiding disappointment?

Because my attention span SUCKS?

As I opened the book and attempted a way-too-conclusive-sounding paragraph (last night, and the night before, and just now before writing this), I couldn’t make myself care. After a couple sentences, I just closed the darned thing altogether with a sigh of oh, this isn’t any fun anymore.

Cue massive wave of guilt:

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What I find interesting about this isn’t my inability to finish the book—like I said, my attention span SUCKS (in all caps). It’s the fact that this so-called failure bothers me so much. Like I’m doing a disservice to the author by not letting them finish their 300 page point. Like I’m abandoning something. And what if the book is like Of Mice and Men? What if it doesn’t hit you until the end?

(Of Mice and Men is only 100 pages. Mostly dialogue. Not a fair comparison.)

Still: Guilt, guilt, guilt.

But this guilt is all nonsense. Not finishing a book doesn’t hurt anyone, not really. It’s okay to skim articles, to fall asleep during a movie, to only watch the last period of the game, to not finish a book. It’s okay. This is playtime. This is you trying to be enlightened, or entertained, and you have a right to that.

On his productivity blog, Chris Bailey wrote a similar simple but honest story:

“In my second year of University, I decided to subscribe to The New York Times (Sunday delivery). Every Sunday morning, before my roommates woke up, I would wake up early, press a fresh cup of coffee, and sit down with the paper, skimming the week’s articles. This continued for a couple of months, until May, when my roommates went home for the summer.

That’s when I realized something. I didn’t actually enjoy reading The New York Times. In my head, I liked the idea of being a guy that reads The New York Times every Sunday.

Like Chris, I want to be a person who reads things. Important things. And of course, I want to care about and finish those things.

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If only.

But I’m not that person. I’m a hyper-interested person, emphasis on the “hyper.” I play the field, sampling a chapter or two of every book that catches my eye. Then I feel bad about it, because isn’t that, like, literary promiscuity?

But there’s nothing to feel bad about. Really. And I would much rather be a person who is honest with myself then a person who finishes every. single. book. out of pride.

So give yourself a little permission, bloggy friends. Permission to read when you have something to read, to write when you have something to say, to go to the party when you have someone to see…but also, permission to not finish the book, to not force words that you don’t care about, to leave the party early.

(…unless you’re reading Of Mice and Men. You should really finish that shit.)

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Watermarked: How Rivers, Oceans, and Leaky Faucet-ing Won Me Over

It rained a lot in British Columbia.  It wasn’t really wet, as rainy weather goes; In Victoria, “rain” seems to mean “a mist gracefully puttering from the sky.” The light sprinkle was a little lacking in pyrotechnics, at least by my standards.  “Do you ever get, like, storm storms here?” I asked my uncle.

He shrugged. “Not really. Maybe 3 or 4 since I moved here, if that.”

I shuddered at the thought. “Man, I could never live like that…love storms way too much.”

Never. Overstatement, I know.  Of course I could live like that.  Besides, Vancouver Island’s water action trumps any old rainstorm because it is surrounded by the freaking ocean.

Downpours and lightening strikes might lose this round (though I do still love them).

Later, as I dipped my toes ceremoniously into the chilly West Coast ocean, I wondered why I cared so much about rainstorms. I wondered, too, why hitting both oceans in one month felt so profound and incredible–it’s just water, right?

My whole trip across Canada was watermarked. I don’t just mean I saw a lot of water flowing through the country (though, that too). I mean my internal responses to oceans and rivers and even rainy weather were hella powerful. Eventually, I caught onto the pattern.

And apparently got SUPER excited about it.
And apparently got SUPER excited about it.

Water. Water falling–from the sky, from a cliff, through the cracks. Water rushing past the train. Reading by rivers, walking through rain storms, tears. I’m a leaky faucet sometimes, and have no complaints when the world is, too. Watching the country I call home pass by my forever tear-producing eyes, with its tiny streams and life-giving lakes and salty oceans, I can’t help but take off my shoes and breathe it in because this is what being lucky feels like.*

Traveling across Canada, I became very aware of the water surrounding me, and intensely grateful of what it meant–for myself, for the life around me, for the very definition of Canada. I walked along a lot of rivers, you guys. I used 8 different showers, in 8 different cities, and had many people to thank for it. And, of course, this happened (and was awesome):

A Mari Usque Ad MarI also had those leaky faucet moments, of course. The only thing worse than being a history geek is being an emotional, embarrassingly patriotic history geek. Being an emotional music lover is just as fatal, especially since this damn beautiful country kept throwing me history and music…and water…and wonderful people. All at the same freaking time.

So I wept a few times, all warranted. Most notably, I broke down in the middle of a museum. Also in a train station. Also on the train itself.  They were tears of privilege–I missed my guitar, I loved my country, I felt strongly about how my family got here.

And when I cried, it rained. Or I made my way to a waterfront. Or the train passed by a river. I was surrounded by water, and it started feeling really special.

I’m not sure what to make of this alleged connection between water and my soul and this country and the world.  No guarantees, but I may just be re-entering “finding myself” territory. This experience may change my habits, or at least my outlook.  I might try to get a little more quality time with the canal, appreciate the taps and tubs and scenery I take for granted, light that candle that smells like the beach.

Like I’ve said before, this was never my intent with this trip…but here I go. Growing as a person. Making connections. Damn it. Sorry, guys.

At least there were a few funny, awkward stories in between the oceanfront epiphanies.

My phone tracked everywhere I took a photo last month. Pretty amazing.
My phone tracked everywhere I took a photo last month. This is the result. Pretty amazing.

Another thought bubble from the cross-Canada trip, one that I can’t seem to pop:  Until last month, I probably would have claimed that I could never live out of a small, tattered school bag. Could never deal with not knowing where I was sleeping the next night. Could never sleep on a train. And, oh man, could never feel close to someone less than an hour after meeting them.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, double wrong.

When I have never done something, sometimes I assume it’s because I could never do it. This is one of the lies my brain tells. Maybe your brain tells it, too. I am forever grateful for the people who reach out and pull me out of that. Because as much as I was “traveling alone”? None of this was done alone. It didn’t start alone, and it hardly ended that way.  I still remember studying with a girl in my history class, telling her about my trip. She looked at my small, black backpack, filled with a few books and a laptop, and said “Yeah, I traveled Europe using something about that size. You could do it easy.”

So I did.

I still remember when my co-worker, Julia, dropped off her ukelele at the office; “You can bring it with you if you want, I never use it anyways.”  She insisted that she was sure I could learn how to play it, and suggested I cover it in stickers from across the country.

I did that, too.

An old high school acquaintance Facebooked me after reading my blog, offering her air mattress in PEI. Another friend told me his wonderful folks could host me in Saskatoon. West Coast family members welcomed me with open arms.

So I stayed with them.

Friends before me had conquered enough of the train that I felt I could take it on.

I trusted their judgement. And they were right.

After awhile, all these wonderful friends and prayers and instincts sent the message that “You can trust God. You can trust some people. You can trust yourself.”  No one learns to believe something as crazy as that alone. And certainly, no one can confirm it alone. I needed a ton of help, coming from all sides–from upsides, downsides, from inside, outside, from everywhere.

Is this getting cheesy? I’m sorry. I promise it’s honest. I just owe a million thank yous. Even though my trip was through my own country, more of a backyard bash than an exotic adventure, it taught me some crazy things.  And now I know Canada–I don’t care for it any more, or any less, but I know it now.  I’ve reconnected with water, profoundly so. I am filled up with stories. I’ve visited my aunt and uncle in their hometown and it’s about damn time, really.

And now I’m home. I took the bus to work today, past the Ottawa river. My heart lept at the sight of it, just a bit–a new response, to say the least.  I gazed out the window and smiled.

A Mari Usque Ad Mare.

* By the bye, the “being lucky” thing is pretty serious:  lack of access to safe drinking water affects a LOT of people around the world.  If you’re one of the lucky ones, consider paying it forward: http://thewaterproject.org/

The Most Common Writing Advice (is kinda stupid)

A common piece of writing advice, one which has always bewildered me, is this:

Force yourself to write. Write often. Write at least one thing per day. Discipline; Practice; Commitment-to-craft.

Strange.  I never thought of writing as a choice.

At least, I don’t recall ever choosing to invite semi-colons into my most intimate moments.  I never “pushed myself” to scribble in so many half finished journals. The act of typing as the hours slip by–four, five, six–barely stopping to recall “Wait. I am a human.  I have to go to the bathroom, don’t I?”

I don’t remember signing up for that.

If being a writer were a choice, if it came down to hours logged with a dictionary and office chair discipline…well, I’m not sure why anyone would bother with it at all. I certainly wouldn’t.  Creative writing seems like strange brand of madness, rather than the product of a determined spirit.

Slicing and dicing phrases, posting it publicly, feeling unsure–that’s just how it has always been. I don’t write because have to, because I know how to, or because I want to know how to. I write because I don’t know how not to.  It’s a curse, if anything. Right now, I should be studying for a test. I should also be sending much shorter, less heartfelt emails. I should certainly be less concerned about my word choice in text messages–or word choice in general, really.  And my quality of life would definitely improve if I weren’t constantly composing blog posts in my head.

Constantly.  It’s weird, I know, but I cannot stop.

Recently, a few people have asked me why I blog, how I update this blog so frequently, how I think of what to say.  I suck at answering those questions. The only response I have is: sputter, sputter, “Because I don’t not update the blog frequently.”

Yeah. Untangle that one.

I’m sure the sentence a day commitment, the brick-by-brick (or Bird By Bird, as the talented Anne Lamott would say) building towards a masterpiece works for some people.  It must.  For someone who finds writing fun or therapeutic, the advice of  “Anything! Anything! Write anything!” works, I suppose. It’s not an unhealthy resolution. My truth is in no way universal.

But generally, I would much rather read the story of someone who can’t bear to hold that story in. I want to read words which are necessary to someone–not a sprint towards an empty wordcount, not a checkmark on the bucket list.

And I want to write like that, too.

In Elie Wiesel’s testimonial novel, Night, he echoes the sentiment:

Write only if you cannot live without writing. Write only what you alone can write.

As a Holocaust survivor, a man needing to bear witness, a writer with a message, Wiesel’s works were just that necessary. (More necessary, of course, than anything I have to say.)

When you look at Weisel’s career, or the career of any writer, you realize–for these men and women, a typewriter is an extension of the soul.  Committing to writing like you would a workout routine or piano practice just doesn’t make sense. What happened to the madness? What about the urgency?

When I have something to write, I do it. I do it, among other things, as an offering to the readers because ‘You guys! I just thought of this thing! I put it into words that kinda-sorta-sometimes work.  I hope it helps you.  I hope it helps me.  It’s sad, I know, but this is really all  have to offer the world right now. So, will you read? Please? Can we talk?’

This offering only works as long as it’s me writing–me, needing to write, having something to say.  Not my arbitrary need-to-put-words-together.  Not a clog of cliches on the internet, stealing time from much more important words.

Just me.  To you.  It really only seems to work as long as you are there reading.  Every time you stop by, you are accepting my selfish, crazy offering.  Thank you for that.

So, maybe you are a writer.  Or maybe you’re a reader, or a thinker, or a speaker, or a listener…or maybe, your art is something entirely different (but equally unavoidable).  Whatever your offering is, you should do it. Do it actively. Do it because you need to. Do it because it will make the world a better place. Do it because it’s who you are.

Do it because you wouldn’t be able to stop, even if I told you to.

The Taboo Tab is Finally Here!

The Taboo Tab is live! 4 storytellers, 10 pieces, one mission: To talk about something that needs talked about.

This month, we will address the topic of “Death and Grieving.”

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We don’t talk about death and grieving much, do we?

Spoiler alert #1: Everyone dies, eventually. And most leave loved ones behind when they do.

Spoiler alert #2: Sometimes, things happen that we can’t explain, control, or “move on” from on command. Sometimes, the worst happens. Sometimes, it’s not okay right now. We need to be allowed to share that.

People die. People grieve. People break down at inopportune times. But, as they struggle their way back up, some people share their stories. These are some of those people.

As contributor Caitlin Corbett says in her article “Better“:

“We should not wallow in our sadness, but we should not deny it either. I know that I’m damaged and I make no secret of it, and by accepting this and moving on from it I understand that everyone is damaged in their own way. And that’s okay. It is my hope that I will always be open to accepting other peoples’ damage and that I can give them a safe space to be damaged. That is what we owe each other.”

Some of the most beautiful and insightful pieces on death and grieving I have ever read. Join the conversation.

Check it out today: https://shaunanagins.com/the-taboo-tab/death-grieving/

8 New Ways to Study (when the old ways stop working)

It’s midterm week. The week where I have all the major tests/stress happening. You know, the week before reading week.

I always find this funny, but it’s the same every year: Midterm week comes right before “reading week.” Maybe it’s just my luck, but year after year my professors seem to all think that we want to get exams “over with” before the week off, giving us a bit of a vacation–or, as some profs reason, to give us time to study for our other classes with post-reading week midterms.

I don’t have any classes with post-reading week midterms.

I’m not trying to bitch and moan. I actually like these weeks. I thrive on the pressure. I have two midterms and a paper due in one day (that would be tomorrow, folks), and while that is making me sweat a bit…I like sweating a bit. I like it for awhile, at least. But every now and then my eyes glaze over or my brain gets overwhelmed with information and I just can’t study like this anymore.

Fine. But I still need to study. So the question is, what’s a student to do when the nose-in-a-book method becomes ineffective?

Here are some go-to alternative study methods:

Watch it. There are documentaries out there about just about any and everything. As long as you watch your sources, you can take a break from studying and still let the information seep in by seeking out a film relevant to your courses. Two nights ago, I found a great biography on Ho Chi Minh via http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/, which I threw on to take a break from head-spinning Southeast Asian History readings. As a History student, my “break” videos usually come from history.com, the CBC archives, biography.com …and every now and then, Youtube and Netflix have something interesting to offer.

Listen to it. When I was living in France, I was also taking an American History course and trying to study for a paper on the Harlem Renaissance. This was such a specifically American subject that information, even secondary sources, were less-than-accessible from the libraries in this small French village. I’m an auditory learner, so my solution then was downloading lectures from iTunes U…and it has pretty much been my go-to ever since.

It’s easy: Type just about any subject into iTunes. Click “iTunes U” in the left hand “Filter by media type” menu. Chances are, you will find some academia about it available for free download. Then go for a run on the treadmill or take a nice walk while you listen to people talk about stuff that you really should know for that paper (just make sure to cite it if you use it!).

Another possibility for auditory learners, especially when facing  “defining terms” type assessments, is recording oneself defining terms that need memorizing, then playing it back while walking/treadmilling/playing tetris/baking a cake/etc. Either way, it’ll seep in.

Why do you keep mentioning the treadmill?  Sometimes, when what you have to learn is REALLY thick and dull, the only way to stay awake is if you’re moving.  I am convinced that I only passed 10th grade biology because I brought my science class material to fitness class with me. Reading during the low-intensity part of cardio was the only way I knew to stay awake while reading that stuff. When I’m confined to a desk, I also find that I’m more productive with a drink by my side, even just a glass of water. I guess that if I’m going to need the odd 5 seconds away from work regardless, a cup of coffee is a better call than a “quick” check to Facebook or Twitter.

Twitter-ize it.  One of my most successful study nights happened last spring, when I decided to work through the information by creating a temporary new Twitter account and using it to write definitions, biographies, important dates, documents, or ideas–in 140 characters or less.  It forced me to really, really know what I was talking about and what was important, and to categorize things properly. You don’t need to create a Twitter account to do this (quite frankly, it’s a bit of a pain), but squeezing your words into simple boxes takes consideration and comprehension, so it’s a great way to learn your stuff. Bonus: It’s also a great lesson in the English language. It’s also kinda fun.

Productivity-Off. I coined this term in second year, when a friend from home tweeted that he was working on some second language worksheets while I was painstakingly translating French documents into broken English. I messaged him back, suggesting that we race each other to finish of our respective assignments first.

This is now a thing. It’s called a productivity-off, and after introducing it to my roommate at the time, it got me through second year.

You know how pitting kids against their siblings will get them ready for bed in record time? Turns out a little bit of competition can bring out an incredible level of productivity in fully grown adults, too. Why? Because games make things work.

Play with it. Outside of productivity-offs, there are so many ways that games can make things work. Last month, my 8th grade brother insisted to me that he would “NEVER be good at this French grammar stuff.” I sent him to the French section of quia.com to find games that related to the concepts giving him trouble. Now, he has informed me that he rocks irregular verbs.  Why? Because he found a way to interact with them and to face a game-style challenge that got his competitive side up.

Keep this in mind: If you have a map quiz, there is probably a flash game that can help you play through learning the geography you need.   If you have a history test, trivia quizzes could be a fun “break” that tests your knowledge. If you have a friend around, you can play the Wikipedia Game and navigate between content from your respective courses–especially if those courses are worlds apart. You could learn something new to boot.

Reward yourself. If you don’t have someone else to be competitive with, and the internet doesn’t offer a way to get your game face on, you can still sometimes pull out that drive by setting goals and rewarding yourself when you get them done. This takes a little more self-discipline, and I know that a false sense of urgency is not always readily available…but if you know there’s a beer in the fridge just waiting for you to finish that article, usually that article will get finished.

Keep your study spot sacred. I spend a lot of time with my computer in my bed and on the couch. This might seem silly, seeing as I have that cute little cloffice sitting there just begging to be used.  Here’s the deal, though: I use my computer for my leisure time, for watching TV, talking to friends, monitoring memes…you know, the important things in life. I avoid doing those things at my desk, save for the odd conversation that pops up while studying.   Why? Because I have trained myself to get into work mode the minute I sit at that desk.

The cloffice is where I get serious–at least, as serious as a girl who studies with documentaries and flash games gets.  If I’m writing something substantial, if I’m doing readings, if I’m writing study notes, if I’m recording study notes, if I’m memorizing scripts–that’s cloffice time. I’m not perfect with it, but I guarantee you that I get a whole lot more done when I’m in a place that has been set aside for, well, getting a whole lot more done.

Speaking of which….think it’s time to go home for some cloffice time.  Maybe record some concise term definitions. And maybe, just maybe, earn that cold beer in my fridge.
Happy studying!

Non-boring, non-fiction. It happens.

Here’s some faulty middle school logic for you: I was a super dorky kid. Super dorky kids are supposed to be intellectuals. Intellectuals are supposed to read impressive books.  They are also supposed to care about politics, listen to interesting music, know stupid trivia, dig computer culture…and understand physics, I suppose, though I knowingly fell flat on that one.

I embraced this so-called intellectual thing pretty hard growing up. I could be the smart kid, right? Never mind that my report card was mediocre at best. Never mind that it took me until the end of high school to even hit the ever-elusive “honour roll.”  Never mind that, quantitatively speaking, I did not always live up to the intellectual side of my super dork image. I could still be the smart kid, right? I could compensate for these set backs by hiding failed math tests and regularly using words like “compensate” and “quantitatively.”  NO ONE NEEDED TO KNOW.

I played the part pretty well. For one thing, I often claimed to read books that my intellectual alter-ego would be totally into. I was an honest kid, don’t get me wrong, and my attraction to my dad’s heavy non-fiction wasn’t exactly untrue.  I was really interested in Pierre Berton’s collected works, and I did really read “Guns, Germs, and Steel” with enthusiasm. Well, I read the first part…of the first chapter. But eventually, these books were all sentenced to hang out and collect dust on my side table.

In my defense, I was fifteen, and bubbly, and dorky.  Drinking my weight in diet coke and playing Guitar Hero with my friends took precedent.  Looking back, “Vimy” was a cool book and I wish I had given it more of a shot, but otherwise I hardly regret how I spent my teenage years. Best laid plans, carpe diem, etc etc.

My ”good intention”-themed gr. 9 bedside table. At least it looks impressive. Like I said, NO ONE NEEDS TO KNOW.

I have grown up a bit since then, of course. Developments include me limiting diet coke intake (see also: discovering coffee) and learning to play music on a real instrument, though I still maintain I was far better at caffeinated guitar hero (see also: the glory days). My bedside table of good intentions, which featured a few smart/neglected books, has been upgraded to a full-sized good intentions bookcase headboard. Sure, my record of following through with the reading is much higher, but so are the stakes—this is now a major part of my academic career.  I have surrendered to the power of the textbook.

Do I like reading these non-fiction books? Sometimes. Sometimes, they’re dry and awful. Other times, they are in my second language and it makes my head hurt.  Mostly, they’re just sorta things I have to read because school says so.  But every now and then, I will pick up an academic book on my own accord and ACTUALLY read it through (yes, really). Every now and then, I will find something interesting enough that I will seek to learn more via size 10 Times New Roman print.  In, you know, a book. From, you know, the library.

Yes, really.  It isn’t common.  Most of my reading time is consumed by school. But there are four particular books that I have read through in the last couple years that I can vouch for.  These books are genuinely interesting and page-turning despite being super non-fiction. I know for many of you, the distinction of “super non-fiction” isn’t exactly a bad thing. Still, I find that it can so often be boring. These books are anything but.

4) A woman’s place: seventy years in the lives of Canadian women, compiled by Sylvia Fraser

I actually first discovered “A Woman’s Place” in high school, back when I wrote my first paper on Chatelaine magazine.  Chatelaine, which you may know as “That magazine my mom gets ’cause it came with our cable plan for some reason,” has been around and appealing to Canadian women for almost 85 years.  By Canadian standards, this qualifies as a long-ass time.  I’m more than a little partial to anything about Chatelaine, having spent hours marveling over microfilm of the magazine at the archives. No, I’m not still gunning for “smart kid” position, I just like the friggin’ archives. I like seeing history in raw form.  But even if your idea of a good time differs from mine, I still recommend checking out Fraser’s timeline of oldschool Chatelaine articles. Reading how women saw themselves, their families, their country, and each other? Really interesting stuff.

This was totally a thing. Ask your grandma. Actually…don’t ask your grandma.

The bad news is that “A Woman’s Place” was compiled in 1997, so it’s currently lacking about 15 years of interesting Chatelaine history.  The good news is that for what it does cover, this book is amazing.  Fraser successfully compiled top images and articles in this book, creating a resource that does more than just tell you how Canadian women lived in the 20th Century– it shows you.  If you’re anything like me, you’ll get totally addicted to reading up on the 1940s housewife scene. Relationships, health, employment…not to mention the period when feminist Doris Anderson acted as editor.  This woman was so hardcore that she actually turned down  the opportunity to publish Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” article because, and I quote, “we had already written about all that stuff.”

Excerpts of Chatelaine are, in my opinion, the most easy-to-read and interesting first-hand account of Canadian women’s culture.  After all, this stuff was written with the purpose of entertaining the nation’s ladies.  I’m definitely still entertained.

Just like that. Exactly like that. (Sorry, had to.)

3) The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media by Ilana Gershon

I can actually confirm that reading this book has led to so many amazing conversations, ideas, and writings that I’m losing track. After one such conversation the other party, my friend Niki, headed straight to the library to check this book out. She agrees that it’s good. It’s really, really good.

The fact of the matter is that lots of young adults suffer breakups. Older people suffer breakups too, I know, but I can’t really speak to the volume or complexities there. What I can speak to is that in first and second year university, I was surrounded by the pieces of several teenage hearts literally scattered all over the floor. Then people started new relationships, or flings, or whatever worked in between.  Lots of falling and hormones hanging around. In short, early twenties relationships can be messy.  And the internet only makes it messier.  Ilana Gershon seeks to answer the question that so many of us are asking: how does your  efacetwittertumblrbook respond when the shit hits the fan in your relationship, exactly? How do relationships, nevermind breakups, even WORK in this new media environment?

I think we are unanimous in realizing that it’s not an easy hurdle. Inspired by Gershon’s investigation on the subject I’ve personally written at bit on the subject. The internet is an exciting tool, but it has a major impact on our interpersonal relationships, especially as they develop. I am increasingly seeing it as a rather big, huge, seemingly overlooked deal–a deal which I am so grateful that Gershon was able to shed some light on.  Her insights, based on a large sample of case studies and qualitative research, have definitely placed this book high up on my recommended reads list.

2) “Gods and Guitars: Seeking the Sacred in Post-1960s Popular Music” by Michael J. Gilmour

I was actually really excited when I found this book.  My favourite places are usually either music-y and spiritual-y, so when I saw that someone had ventured to write about how the two relate (and I know they do), I was all over it.  This book actually had me texting my friends all summer with things like “Dude. You have to read this. I have never considered Bat Out of Hell this way before.”

I am always down for new ways to consider Bat Out of Hell.

For me, the most impressive thing about this book is that Gilmour is strikes an impressive balance of intellectualism and humility in his analysis–basically, the guy is is honest. This sounds really simple, but I have read so many pretentious books in religious studies classes that are so over-the-top opinionated that they actually go full circle back to making no point at all. Gilmour, meanwhile, recognizes the broadness and possible controversy within his topic, the subjectivity of music and religion, and the many lenses through which one could analyze the relationship between the two. He also recognizes his strengths and limitations as a scholar and a music fan–and believe me, Gilmour definitely, definitely has strengths in this department.

Gods and Guitars is remarkably well-researched, with so many references to different songs and texts that my insight on post-1960s popular music pretty much tripled after reading it. By connecting the role music plays in peoples’ lives to spirituality, Gilmour is able to analyze how popular music has shaped our cultural understanding life/death/love/other things that religion has historically addressed.  In my case, these connections lead to a whole bunch of “WOAHH” moments during reading.  And, of course, those text messages that start with the word “Dude,” which are always a good sign.

1) “Me Funny” and “Me Sexy” by Drew Hayden Taylor.

I could claim to have always had an interest in Native studies, but the reality is that I have several incredible teachers to thank for teaching me to always, always consider Aboriginal perspective and background when looking at Canadian/American history and culture…not just academically, but as a day to day Canadian, period.

I do this pretty actively. I take the classes. I keep up on the news.  But after preparing a heart-wrenching high school presentation on Residential Schools, my post-secondary self decided it was time to do something (anything, really) other than chronicle genocide when faced with writing papers for Native studies/Canadian studies/post-colonial history courses.

So I turned my research to jokes and sex. Why not, right? It turns out that Aboriginal heritage in the Americas has lot to offer in both of these fields.  In first year, I began the long road of comparing Euro-Christian ideas about sexuality and humour to the cultural ideology held by Aboriginal groups.

Enter books “Me Funny” and “Me Sexy,” which feature essays compiled by Ojibwa humour writer (and generally talented guy) Drew Hayden Taylor. “Me Funny,”  is essentially a collection of intelligent, insightful people being funny ABOUT being funny…and you LEARN STUFF, too.  I learned a whole lot from this one. My grade 12 Native studies teacher constantly impressed upon us that a truly beautiful and intriguing sense of humour is embedded in indigenous culture, but “Me Funny” brought that realization to a whole new level.

Of course, after “Me Funny” I just had to read “Me Sexy.”  Also amazing.  “Me Sexy” presents brilliant first-hand essays that are poignant, interesting, controversial and incredibly telling of the many perspectives on the diverse subject of aboriginal sexuality. We’re talking about ideas and identity regarding the body/sexuality/gender which fall so far from the realm of my otherwise Euro-centric perspective that a 13 page paper I once wrote could barely scratch the surface. This book, even, can barely scratch the surface. But it’s one heck of a brilliant 101 course. Overall, these books are a way to gain cultural understanding/appreciation by reading about jokes and sex. Can’t go wrong.

Are you at the library yet?

I know I’m not the only one with a favourite non-fiction read (or four). Almost everyone knows of a page-turner that also qualifies as “learning material.”  Like I said, it doesn’t happen everyday–at least, not for me. But when it does, it’s awesome.

For me, the best part is that these are the kinds of books that fuel the most interesting conversations. Here, I’ll start one right now: Read any good books lately?