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Recommended Reading

LastConception-CoverReview of The Last Conception
Onely: Single and Happy
13 September 2014

“To my mother. To my wife. To my husband.” Authors commonly dedicate their books this way. Nice, but boooring. (To everyone, that is, except the mother, wife, or husband.) Gabriel Constans dedicates his book The Last Conception “To Love, in all its manifestations.”

We here at Onely are interested in all aspects of the single experience and particularly like to learn about single people from different backgrounds than ourselves (Lisa and I self-identify as white, upper-middle-class, agnostic, heterosexual women). The beginning of Constans’ novel allows us into the world of single scientist and first-generation Indian-American lesbian Savarna, whose parents–still unaware of her sexuality–have been pressuring her for years to marry and give them a grandchild. Any unmarried, child-free reader whose parents have pressured them in this way will wince along with Savarna as her parents become increasingly fervent in their matchmaking–all while Savarna is trying to figure out her relationships with two different women. (I refer to her as “single” because initially she is not part of an “official” couple.)

Appropriately, as an embryologist, Savarna spends her working hours manipulating eggs and sperm to help women conceive. She herself, however, doesn’t feel the tick-tock of her biological clock. If she did, this book wouldn’t exist. (Or it would be very boring.) We have several layers of tension going on throughout the story. Savarna the happily child-free woman vs. her grandchild-wanting parents. Savarna the American vs. her Indian parents. Savarna is not religious, but her parents who travel to India once a year for some ceremonious gathering that Savarna has never attended and vaguely considers cultish.

Through the course of the book these subtle battles wage, peak, resolve and eventually weave together into an ending so satisfying I really wish I could share it here. I’m afraid to say much more because I don’t want to put out any spoilers. Let’s just say that ultra right-wing conservatives would hate this book, especially the conclusion. (All the more reason to read it!) One of our favorite words here at Onely is amatonormative, which means the normalizing of a few specific kinds of love relationships while marginalizing all others. The Last Conception kicks amatonormativity in the ass.

Which is why it gets one thumb up from our blog. The other thumb is busy turning the pages for a second read-through.

–Christina

Read entire review and more at Onely: Single and Happy.

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Print Is Hanging On

Pew: E-Reading Surges, but Print is Hanging On
by Andrew Albanese
Publishers Weekly
16 January 2014

E-books are rising in popularity, but print remains the foundation of Americans’ reading habits. Such is the conclusion of a new post-holiday survey from the Pew Research Center. The survey, conducted in the first weeks of 2014, found that most people who read e-books also read print books, and that just 4% of readers are “e-book only.”

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In addition, the rise in e-books may also be sparking a slight rise in reading, or a least a stablization. Overall, “76% of adults read a book in some format” over the previous 12 months, up slightly over the last survey conducted to report on e-reading activity during the 2012 holiday period. According to the survey, the “typical American adult” read or listened to 5 books in the past year, and the average for all adults was 12 books.

The survey also found that the tablet market is continuing its rise. Some 42% of adults now own tablet computers, up from 34% in September, the survey found, suggesting more than a few adults found a tablet in their stocking this holiday season. But don’t bury the e-reader just yet: the number of adults who own dedicated e-readers rose to 32% from 24% in September. In all, fully half of all Americans (50%) now own either a tablet or an e-reader, up from 43% in September.

For the most part, the survey revealed a widening profile of reading in America—including print, digital, and audio, with more Americans reading in multiple formats. As of January 2014, some 76% of American adults ages 18 and older said that they read at least one book in the past year. Almost seven in ten adults (69%) read a book in print in the past 12 months, while 28% read an e-book, and 14% listened to an audiobook. “In general, the vast majority of those who read e-books and audiobooks also read print books,” the survey notes, with significant overlap:

87% of e-book readers also read a print book in the past 12 months, and 29% listened to an audiobook.

84% of audiobook listeners also read a print book in the past year, and 56% also read an e-book.

A majority of print readers read only in that format, although 35% of print book readers also read an e-book and 17% listened to an audiobook.

Overall, about half (52%) of readers only read a print book, while just 4% said they only read an e-book, and just 2% only listened to an audiobook. Some 9% of readers said they read books in all three formats.

Read entire story and more at PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY.

A Cell Phone & A Good Book

From Forbes
by Parmy Olson
Tech 4/09/2013

This Simple App Could Put E-Books On Millions Of Phones In The Third World

It sounds counterintuitive, but in certain developing nations it’s easier to get hold of a cell phone than a good book.

More than one in three adults cannot read in sub-Saharan Africa, yet almost every home there has access to at least one mobile phone, according to USAID. Developing nations are among the fastest growing mobile markets in the world, but literacy is still a big problem.

David Risher, a former executive at Amazon and c0-founder of non-profit organization Worldreader, thinks there’s an obvious answer here: offer free books through all those cell phones.

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On Wednesday Worldreader Mobile comes out of “beta” mode. About a year ago it partnered with biNu, a mobile app platform for feature phones in developing countries, so that its Worldreader Mobile app would appear on the home screen.

Richer says that in the last year, 10% of biNu’s 5 million-user base have accessed the Worldreader Mobile app. That’s about 500,000 people. Risher hopes to get that number to 1 million by the end of 2014.

Worldreader’s biggest readers are in India (nearly 107,000 users), with 60,800 in Nigeria and 33,100 in Ethiopia.

Most of them are using low-end, pre-pay Nokia phones with physical buttons, that cost about $50. They will typically spend about $2-3 a month on their data plans. Out of the 6.4 billion active mobile phones in the world today, 5.4 billion are so-called features phones like these, according to Worldreader statistics sourced from Analysys Mason.

The books they’re reading are short, typically taking up 150 screenshots. Though men are early adopters, women are the “power readers,” Worldreader says, reading an average 17 books a month.

The most popular books are romance novels. Among the top five most popular books in the last month, the No. 1 was a children’s book about school, the second an basic algebra book, and No.’s 3 and 4 were entitled My Guy and Can Love Happen Twice?

Risher says it’s not unnatural in sub-Saharan African culture to see people hunched over reading their cell phones for long periods at a time. So pervasive have mobile device become that some elementary schools in Ghana have even started banning them, he notes.

Most of the books on Worldreader Mobile are in English, with a few in local languages like Swahili, French and Spanish, though the number of books overall is increasing. Currently there are 1,200 titles available, donated by local and English-language publishers.

“I think the single biggest thing that will get more people reading is putting more book on there,” says Risher. “Everything form the Bible and Koran, to romance novels.” Books on mobile phones are another way to get health information to people in rural communities, who often have access to pharmacies and relatively cheap, generic drugs, but encounter pharmacists with little sound medical knowledge.

Read complete article, with additional information, links and photos, at Forbes.

Nicholas Lives On – Part 1

Excerpt from Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something!
Grief’s Wake Up Call
by Gabriel Constans.

Nicholas Lives On – Part 1

In the fall of ninety-four, Reggie and Maggie Green were on holiday in Italy, driving peacefully through Messina with their children Nicholas and Eleanor (seven and four years old) sleeping soundly in the back seat. Out of the dark night a vehicle creeps alongside. They hear angry shouts and demands to pull over. Terrifying gunshots slam into the body of their car. Reg outruns, what turns out to be, Calabrian highway bandits. Upon arriving safely at their hotel they check the children, who they believe have slept through the traumatic incident. As they try to arose Nicholas they discover a horrible gunshot wound to his head. Two days later Nicholas is pronounced dead.

Without hesitation the Greens decide to donate his organs. This act, which to them is the only choice imaginable, soon catapults them into national and international attention. Nicholas organs go to seven people. Organ donations increase dramatically. Surprisingly, revenge is not in the Greens’ vocabulary, only the reporters ask about retribution. Reg Green says, “There is no sum of money that could give me back my son. Whereas justice heals, vengeance just creates new problems.” The Italian Ambassador Boris Biancheri tells them, “Your names and the name of Nicholas have become for Italians somehow synonymous with courage, of forgiveness and compassion.” Upon their arrival back in the U.S. they continued to advocate for organ donations and speak frequently in public about the importance of turning personal tragedy into life for others.

REGGIE: Nicholas was a very gentle and intellectual boy. He had the usual tantrums every kid does, but he was unusually well behaved. I was already in my sixties when we had him and was astonished at how easy he was growing up. He didn’t seem to cry much.

One of the great things was he was such good company. He seemed to be interested in everything. Going out with him on my back or with him sitting next to me in the car was very fulfilling.

He was rigorously honest. When we came back from Italy, after he’d been killed, Maggie said, “I never remember him telling a lie.” I said the same thing and thought, “We better not tell anybody, because they’ll think it’s too much.” But of course now we’ve told everybody. I just couldn’t resist . . . I wanted to do my best. I didn’t want to deify him . . . because there’s always that temptation. Whenever I’m asked to describe Nicholas, that always stands out . . . his honesty.

He loved games and dressing up to play different roles. Robin Hood was his most enduring . . . he kind of owned that role. Maggie always made a big thing of Halloween, getting dressed up and all. They’d make things from scratch weeks beforehand. Nicholas was terribly proud of his costume. Everything had to be exactly right . . . he was awfully fussy. His gentleness was very pronounced . . . he wasn’t a rough boy.

MAGGIE: He was quite comfortable playing alone. He was a little bit different from the other kids but it was never a problem for him or the kids either. They liked him. He was different but he wasn’t a stranger. He was very friendly and willing to play with anybody. He never noticed that people did things differently then he. When he wanted to wear his bowtie, that’s what he wore. He never got caught up in Ninja Turtles or that kind of thing. He was more interested in reading Robin Hood with his dad or Treasure Island.

REGGIE: It didn’t strike him as strange that he was doing this. Like Maggie said, he never noticed that they weren’t doing the things he was. He wasn’t a leader exactly, but he had such good ideas that people often ended up doing what he was doing. Eleanor (Nicholas’s younger sister) still misses him. Early on she would say, “It’s not so much fun anymore without Nicholas to play with. He isn’t here to show me what to do.”

She was four when he was killed. We haven’t gone out of our way to talk about him but we haven’t closed off either. If the conversation turns that direction we let it go that way. Her attitude is sort of wistful. She says, “Do you remember when Nicholas did this? Wouldn’t Nicholas have liked that?” Her memories are surprisingly accurate. She spoke of an incident that occurred in Canada, three or four years ago now, and her memory conformed to what I recall as well.

She was on the backseat of the car at the time Nicholas was shot but slept right through it . . . which is what we thought he had done. She awoke to find that he’d been shot at the same time we discovered it. She doesn’t remember the horror of it . . . the loud angry voices and the shots themselves, which could have been quite terrifying.

When we came home she went back to sleeping in the same room where they’d both slept. She’s had no nightmares and no more tantrums than her father has. There are no obvious, as far as we can see, major psychological scars.

MAGGIE: I’ve heard of families who lose a child and then never speak of them again. They don’t dare say the child’s name to the mother for fear of upsetting her. I can’t understand that. We have many pictures of Nicholas around. Coming across an unexpected photograph can be difficult, but most of the photos are comforting.

REGGIE: One doesn’t want to forget. I mean, if the price of reducing the pain is to forget, then I don’t think it’s worth it. I always remember as much as I can. Day by day the memories fade a little. I try to write things down on paper. Those photographs to me . . . although there is a shot of pain about coming across one unexpected . . .or you know, a piece of clothing . . . something that has a special significance. I saw some of his books the other day and it is hard . . . but they’re very precious also.

MAGGIE: Eleanor has adopted Nicholas cowboy boots. They were an important element in many of his costumes. She wore them until she finally outgrew them. Either they mean something to her or she just felt, “Now they’re mine and I can do whatever I want with them.”

REGGIE: I don’t think of Nicholas being “present” in a spiritual sense. I’m agnostic, which means I don’t know, but it’s very unlikely that he’s somewhere, as it were. To me his being lives only in my memory. I sometimes try to think about something that happened, because it’s a precious memory for me . . . just as it would with other things as well. You know . . . like, “What did my friend and I do that weekend back when? What did he say?” I like that. I play with those old memories.

MAGGIE: In some ways I’m quite childish about it. On important occasions I sometimes credit Nicholas with arranging the weather . . . that he would be delighted with such. Like when it rained after the drought or when we had perfect weather for the dedication of the bell tower (a memorial for Nicholas) after worrying about it for several days. I kind of indulge myself in not being rational about it.

There are some things I feel I ought to do, like put together some photographs and write down memories for me and for Eleanor, which I still plan to do.

In a way we’ve been given a gift by being able to talk about Nicholas to a lot of people. With Reg giving speeches to groups or people like you, we get a lot of opportunities. People say, “I’m sorry to intrude”, but really it’s an opportunity for us to speak about him. Everyone likes to talk about their children and I think everybody whose lost a child would love to, but some people don’t get a chance or don’t know that it would be good . . . how helpful it would be.

REGGIE: It was thrust on us. As soon as Nicholas was shot the hotel was crowded with journalists from Rome, from all over Italy, to ask about the story. It was the lead story on the television for a number of days. It was even bigger news when we decided to donate the organs, which we thought was a purely personal decision. After the first days of questioning about what we might have done to be unsafe or draw the robbers to us, etc., the only question then was, “Where have you donated the organs?” From the time it took us to drive back from the hospital to the hotel they had already heard about the donation. They also asked, “Don’t you hate Italians?” Or, “Does this mean you forgive the killers?”

It was obvious to us over the first few days that this was a major thing for Italy and it could have major effects. We were seen by the Prime Minister. Everybody we met said something about it, particularly in that part of Italy. It was quite clear that we were seen as a symbol for change . . . certainly in Italy. When we came back to this country there was a mass of people at the airport as well, with the same questions. It wasn’t just an Italian issue, it was worldwide and it was obvious that we were in a position to do a lot about it.

Every year five thousand families donate organs in this country, even though it’s far less than needed. A lot of people have gone through what we have.

We simply thought, “He’s gone, there’s no way of bringing him back. Anything we do can’t possibly hurt him, but it can help other people.” To donate just seemed so obvious. We didn’t even have a discussion about it. One of us just turned to the other and said, more or less, what I just said and we both agreed.

There’s a sizable minority of people that donate, but it is difficult. People tell me that parents come into the hospital distraught or angry. A lot of them are angry at whoever “did it” or at the hospital for not somehow “saving them”, or at their husband, wife or self, for not having prevented it. Anger is often a powerful deterrent. People kind of lose their minds on occasion. They can’t cope with it.

We had a couple days to get used to it. Nicholas was in a coma for two days. We didn’t give up hope, but he was obviously not going to live. In fact, as soon as I saw the bullet wound I thought, “This is very, very serious.”

Our overwhelming feeling was of sadness, not anger. I was just so sad for the world . . . that it could do something like this to such an Innocent child. Nicholas had never hurt anybody in his life. He had no malice in him. It seemed like such a sad thing to have happen. That was my emotion throughout. I don’t ever remember getting angry about it . . . not even at the trial.

The reason I reacted this way must have been due to the influences of my childhood . . . mothers . . . fathers. I was an only child and had the right kind of books and lessons. My mother was very strong and sympathetic. She didn’t like to blame other people or look around for a scapegoat. School . . . all the books one read . . . everything gave me messages about the person I wanted to be. I always regarded railing at fate as being a weak sort of response. I’ve never believed that fate singled me out for blame or praise. I always had a happy life.

MAGGIE: I always thought that Reg was very intellectual about virtue and those things. I don’t know how he’s done it, being agnostic, but he seems to have done so very thoughtfully and established a code of behavior for himself . . . of some deep truth. It struck me when I first met him that he was one of the most virtuous people I knew. And luckily, we didn’t have all the religious talk. So, I don’t know if he used the power of intellect at that time to deal with it or not, but he already had a strong foundation.

I was raised as a Presbyterian but have always been quite casual about it. But I found at that time that it was quite necessary to pray and I found that being in a Catholic country . . . with all the trappings of faith around . . . was very comforting. (She mentioned later during lunch that she repeated the Lord’s Prayer when he was killed, as well as, “Do unto others and forgive them their trespasses.”) It didn’t send me back to church, but the comfort and support . . . of what lay beyond and what hope there might be.

My father died when I was eight, so I expect my mother was quite an example of dealing with that. The strength of raising a family by yourself and being very poor. And I suppose it was kind of a shock to find out that things can go wrong. I’ve always expected the worst. I find that a help really. Reg can be out for a walk and I’ll start to wonder if I can hear ambulances. That’s just the way I am.

CONTINUED TOMORROW

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Reading About Death

Excerpt from Good Grief: Love, Loss and Laughter.

How much information about dying, death and grief can we handle?

Jackie told me that after she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer she was inundated with information, suggestions, advice and stories. She felt overwhelmed, confused and disoriented. Not only was she trying to make sense of the diagnosis and all its implications, she was also suddenly having to make decisions about what kind of treatment to choose, if any.

On top of such monumental choices, friends, relatives and health professionals bombarded her with written material on statistics, outcomes, recovery, remedies and self-help and self-care groups and organizations.

I asked her if she would rather have not had all the information and she said, “No, I’d rather it was there than not. It isn’t the information per say; it’s how it is presented. I want it when I ask for it, not when others think I need it. I want to decide which things I wish to research for myself and which things I’d rather have someone else look into. I want to have some control about what comes my way and how I process it. There is enough out of control in my life as it is.”

When I inquired as to how people would know when and how much to provide she replied, “Simply ask. All they have to do is ask and do so without judgment or ‘should’ attached to their question. Support offered when requested, without someone else agenda attached, is the best medicine.”

How may pamphlets, handouts, magazines and books can we read when we are taking care of a loved one who is dying or have just had someone die?

Brian took care of his wife (they’d been married for thirty-three years) for four and a half years until she died from complications of Alzheimer’s eight months ago. He told me that, “There were days when I could barely read the road signs, let alone an entire book. Taking care of Samantha took every ounce of energy and attention I could muster. One day a good friend of mine dropped off a little pamphlet about self-care. At first I didn’t think much about it and just appreciated his show of concern. But every once in awhile I’d sit down, pick the thing up and read a sentence or two and try to do what it said. It wasn’t anything monumental, but it helped me step back from my situation off and on and take a deep breath. After Samantha died I tried to read a book or two again, but found I couldn’t concentrate for more than a few minutes. I’d read the same sentence about three times before I realized what I’d just done. People gave me books about grief, but most of them were too big and intimidating. Again, it was this same friend who simply gave me a few handouts which had some common reactions and suggestions for coping with loss, which helped the most.”

Do the words written on a page help us prepare any better for the inevitable or make the process of mourning any easier?

When Francis’s mother was dying of congestive heart disease and came on to hospice services, the social worker gave her a handout that had information on a variety of topics (about hospice care, advanced directives, how to provide bodily care, etc.). It also included a page called “Signs of Approaching Death”, which provided information on what physical changes “usually” happen as the body begins to shut down. Francis told me that the information helped her think about planning (both health care and financial) a little sooner than she might have otherwise and that the section on Signs of Approaching Death were especially helpful.

“Not long after I’d read that page, she started to decline.” She explained. “If I hadn’t known those things ahead of time it would have been VERY scary. As it was, I was able to relax a little bit and not freak out when her breathing changed and she began to slip away.”

Francis echoed Brian’s reactions about reading books on grief after her mother died and added, “I don’t mind something more extensive, as long as I can keep it awhile and look at sections I need to, when I want to, then put it down and come back to it. The books have helped normalize my experience. They’ve let me know that many others have gone through what I’m going through and that I am not going crazy.”

Twenty years ago there were only about twenty to thirty books available about death, dying and grief. There are now hundreds. The disadvantages to having so many are the difficulty in knowing which are right for you and your situation and which are not. The advantage is that there is far greater choice, they are more accessible and you are more likely to find something that speaks to you directly.

Like Jackie said, “When in doubt, ask?” Find out what kind of information they are seeking and how much they want at any given time.

If something you’ve read has deeply touched you, changed your life, provided comfort, understanding or direction, the words will speak for themselves. You don’t have to sell your experience or convince someone who is confronting illness, death or loss that the words you found so helpful will touch them in the same way.

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