Tag Archives: reading

Reading

Reading is a mythic symbolic act in which squiggles are assigned to letters to create words and sentences and paragraphs and meaning. It really is a form of magic. And like many things in this life, it’s possible to overdo it.

Although I could read fine, I didn’t become an engaged reader until my teens, mostly because I was bored with the books I was offered. In grade 8, I discovered S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, and never looked back. I devoured books by Erle Stanley Gardner, Agatha Christie, Ursula LeGuin, Lloyd Alexander, Johnathan Wydham, and H.G. Wells, before moving onto Kurt Vonnegut and Tom Robbins. By university, I was engaging with Philip K. Dick, Mary Shelley, Douglas Adams, Samuel R. Delaney, Delacorta, Italo Calvino, and The Tao Te Ching.

My MA focussed on hard boiled American fiction, mostly from the late 1920s to the 1950s. I was quietly in love with Raymond Chandler, while appreciating Dashiel Hammett’s edge, discovering David Goodis, Jim Thompson, Leo Malet, and others along the way. I read, re-read, and analyzed thousands of pages of fiction and criticism and philosophy over a six-year period. (Is that a record for a Master’s thesis?) Once the dust had cleared, I made the unsettling discovery that I couldn’t read any more. When I picked up even a magazine article, an anxious nausea welled up making me stop. This lasted about a year-and-a half. And then I got into Umberto Eco, James Joyce, H. Rider Haggard, Jeanette Winterson, Ali Smith, Kate Atkinson, Michael Cunningham, and Bruce Wagner.

When I started my PhD, I was unsure and concerned about what the renewed academic work would do to my reading (or writing). Because the research wasn’t literary, I wasn’t required to read fiction, and I think that helped. I did, of course, read reams of academic work, realizing that now I actually read this type of writing much faster than when entering a fictional world I want to savour.

Once the PhD was done, I started reading things with lots of pictures; National Geographic, Eyewitness Travel Guides, and comics (which have opened up a new research area for me). I started catching up on about ten years of missed TV and movies, thanks to the Toronto Public Library’s vast collection of DVDs (old school, but free!). One of the (many) series I discovered was Wire in the Blood, in which a forensic psychologist and a DI unravel and track down serial killers (you may be noticing a recurrent theme by now). Intrigued by the complex plotting, I discovered that the series was based on books by Val McDermid, so now I’m working through them. So thanks to picture books and DVDs, I’m reading books without pictures again, and looking forward to future discoveries.

©Catherine Jenkins 2017 all rights reserved

Spring 2007

One of the classic spring activities for Canadians is the traditional opening of the cottage. This usually takes place on the 24th of May weekend (with the traditional closing date being Labour Day). Depending on the cottage, it’s age, how well it’s protected and sealed from the elements and other natural infestations, opening can take more or less time, but one generally hopes to accomplish cottage opening efficiently so the remainder of the weekend can be enjoyed lying in the sun sipping beer or some other (usually alcoholic) beverage.

As our cottage is a log cabin that was erected by my Granddad with assistance from my Mum in 1945, it is neither modern nor terribly well sealed. Consequently, opening can take a little longer.

What exactly is meant by “opening” the cottage? Opening is a series of chores, some simply domestic, like cleaning floors and toilets, etc., while others are more technical, like getting the power on or cajoling the water system into functioning, while still others pertain to outdoor chores like mowing the lawn and removing storm windows.

While this may sound quietly idyllic, relatively simple and fuss-free, one never knows what one is walking into until the door is unlocked. The clean-up may entail the removal of mice and/or other rodents (dead and/or alive), nests of said rodents, their droppings and/or the scattered remnants of meals and/or nesting materials. Best to wear a facemask to prevent the inhalation of fine particles of fecal matter (which may contain Hantavirus and God knows what else). Gloves are also strongly recommended.

On the first day, I was able to get the electricity on with the flick of a switch. Although the water system proved a bit fussier, with the pump requiring numerous primings and much fiddling, it eventually pumped up fine. I also removed the winter storms, just in time to watch mammoth clouds push across the lake and dump a torrent of rain. It was the first test of the newly re-shingled roof, at least the first test to which there was a witness. The roof performed admirably, the only leak occurring around the stovepipe. Glad to have at least some of the outdoor chores accomplished before the storm hit, I turned to the interior.

I vacuumed up mouse droppings and old insulation that had fallen from the attic, I scoured the toilet and sinks, I disinfected the countertops. And then I assembled about a dozen boxes of kitchen articles that had been deposited at the cottage three years ago when my parents left their apartment to move into a retirement home where such items were no longer needed. In the course of unpacking these boxes, I chanced upon a live mouse (not sure who was more startled) who I then reintroduced to the great outdoors through mutual agreement.

The first night I had difficulty sleeping due to persistent rustling sounds emitting from the kitchen where all the remaining boxes were lined up waiting to be unpacked. The following morning, I decided to continue unpacking the boxes on the lawn. I witnessed another mouse leap from a box beside the one I was working on and scurry away into the lily bed. Later, I discovered that one or the other of the mice I had evicted had abandoned its nest, leaving half-a-dozen pink and squirming babies. After a moment of sorrow and regret and having dismissed the feasibility of nursing them myself, I gently picked up the entire nest and carefully moved it to the shelter of the woodpile, telling myself that maybe they’d survive, but know it was highly unlikely. As awful as it felt, the upside was that I’d saved the cottage from yet still another generation of marauding mice.

I completed my cleaning by washing every plate, dish, saucer and glass in the place and carefully stacking them all in the disinfected cupboards. The second night, there was no rustling, no scurried footfalls overhead. Having removed all the live mice, the cottage itself was very quiet, allowing me to focus on the sounds of the surrounding woods and lake. Through the night, a family of Canada Geese honked, occasionally joined by the loons, and crickets ground out their tunes, while chipmunks and squirrels chattered at their territorial boundaries and rustled in the leaves.

In subsequent visits, I’ve cut the grass, restained the garage, filled in some potholes in the road, taken a run to the dump, installed new signs and purchased some new Muskoka chairs. I’ve also seen a fox on the front lawn, seen a few deer and watched various hawks and other birds scouring the property for food. I’ve watched people playing on the lake.

I’ve read books. I’ve sipped blender drinks. I’ve almost gotten too much sun. And mostly, I’ve enjoyed the calm of being in nature, among the trees by a lake, away from the demands of my daily urban life.