How I Choose What To Read

The other day I finished reading a novel (An Unsubstantiated Chamber by William J Jackson — do yourself a favor and get a copy) and was looking over my library to see what I wanted to read next.

With a couple thousand titles to choose from I was having a bit of a dilemma. Fiction or nonfiction? Sci-fi or mystery? Fantasy or horror? Or maybe a classic? I couldn’t make up my mind.

Then I got to thinking about Kate Summer’s article, which I’d talked about previously. I re-read the article and discovered, after I thought about it, in the matter of choosing books I was no different than most men.

I’m not a bookclub member. I don’t look to Twitter, Facebook, or G+ for recommendations. I can’t stand the clunky and cluttered layout of Goodreads and no longer go there.

Instead, I get recommendations from friends, online book reviews, or online recommendations from blogposts, podcasts, or the like. I also search Google or Amazon for books related to my interests, both fiction and nonfiction. For example, I like airships and regularly look for fiction and nonfiction books related to airships.

Of the methods listed above, getting recommendations from friends is probably the method I use the least.

Women, on the other hand, tend to be very social and tell others what they’re reading, or want to read, or freely ask who’s reading what. That is something most men simply do not do.

When I look at my own habits regarding reading, I do not usually talk about what I’m reading. On occasion I will tweet #amreading. But that has more to do with helping spread the word about other authors’s work, than it is me wanting to share with the world what I’m reading. The same with the writing of reviews.

So I find that I’m pretty much like most men when it comes to choosing a book to read and talking about what I’m reading, or more accurately not talking about what I’m reading.

Getting back to that book that I wanted to read, I ended up choosing Terry Newman’s Detective Strongoak and the Case of the Dead Elf. Now you may ask why did I choose that particular book and the answer is pretty simple.

Sometime ago Mr. Newman followed me on Twitter and we got to talking about our books and interests. I went over to Amazon and took a look at his book, read the reviews, took a look inside, and liked what I saw. In addition, Harper Collins only wanted $2.99 for the Kindle edition. $2.99 from a Big 5 Publisher is a rarity and I decided to buy. Even though I have a no new Big 5 book purchase policy.

My discussion with the author got me looking, but it was the writing and the reviews that got me buying. Pretty much a solitary decision-making process.

And if you’re looking for a book to read, take a look at Mr Newman’s fantasy mystery, it’s very good. And it’s still only $2.99!

By the way, if you have any recommendations for those you-just-gotta-read-this-book books, please tell me about them in the comments.

Until next time, happy reading!

PS — The 8-Fold Path has moved to Thursdays. See you then!

Share This!
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

The 8-Fold Path: What is Silence?

We know what sound is, both pleasant and unpleasant. What, though, is this silence I’ve been talking about? What do I mean by experiencing silence?

There are two aspects to silence. One is freedom from the external noise we all must contend with. The ever pervasive deluge of sound pounding on our ears and even on our bodies.

The other is inner silence. Wait! There’s sound within us? The short answer is yes. The long answer and what we can do about it I’ll come to in a moment.

Our Outer World

Noise pollution is rampant in our urban and suburban worlds. And we add to this noise voluntarily. The TV. Our phones. The chimes our computers make and the noise from many websites we may visit. The radio. People we associate with. Music.

External to us is wanted and unwanted sound.

The other side of the coin is silence. This may be absolute silence, the complete absence of sound, or it may be the silence of nature. I can hear you say, “Wait a minute! Nature is silent? There are all manner of sounds in the park and in the woods.” And you are right. We’ll talk about that in a minute.

Absolute silence is not easy to obtain in our modern world. A soundproof room is one way to go about it. And that is a very nice experience.

On my retreats, the cabins, hermitages, were soundproof. They were built so tightly, the retreat management advised that one should open the windows, at least a couple of them, an inch or two, in order to let fresh air in. This was especially needed if you burned candles, or used the gas light, or gas burner.

Yet even with a couple windows slightly open, I heard no external sound. There was freedom from noise, unless I made it.

Experiencing a soundproof room in a natural setting is something I think everyone should experience. It is totally awesome.

The other perhaps more easily obtainable way to achieve absolute silence is to use earplugs. I can hear you say, “What?” Yes, earplugs. There is a reason health officials recommend ear protection when you use loud noise producing tools or are in a noisy environment. Noise destroys your hearing.

When I want, or need, to reduce or even eliminate outside noise I pop in a pair of disposable earplugs. There are many different brands that reduce noise by varying decibel levels. I happen to use Hearos. The ones with a noise reduction rating of 33, which means the noise coming into your ear is reduced by 33 decibels.

I found NRR 33 earplugs highly effective at virtually eliminating noise in the office, at home, and on airplanes. What you get is silence. There are also noise isolating headphones, which for a higher price eliminate even more noise.

Natural Sound

Nature is replete with sound. Or at least can be. Crickets and cicadas on a summer evening. The crows or mourning doves can produce quite a racket. One I don’t find soothing.

But there are plenty of natural sounds that are very soothing. The wind stirring dried leaves in the autumn. The rain. A waterfall. There are, though, times when the natural world is silent. Winter is the best time to experience that or in a very isolated location like Chaco Canyon, for instance.

I’ve experienced rural winter silence. Absolutely no sound. It is spectacularly awesome and supremely peace inducing. A former co-worker said the same about her time at Chaco Canyon. The place is so remote there are times of absolute silence that will take your breath away.

Natural sounds are not bad. In fact, they are usually very good due to their soothing effect on us. Let’s face it. Our world has advanced. Our bodies have not. We’ve had very little physically significant change in over several hundred thousand years.

That’s why our world and it’s noise is so stressful. The primitive part of our brain, the part that runs all of our automatic systems, still thinks we are in the jungle, or the forest, or the savanna. And it reacts accordingly to all outside stimuli.

Even with a high degree of self-control, we still feel the effects of the “snake brain’s” autopilot responses to our world. One reason so many of us suffer from stress, anxiety, or those sleepless nights.

The sounds of nature can soothe away those feelings. And so can earplugs by eliminating the sounds that stress us.

Our Inner World

We have noisy minds. We are constantly thinking, complaining, getting even, planning our next meal, contemplating what to buy, and the list goes on. Every meditation technique is designed to still the mind. To get it to stop thinking. To stop planning. To stop worrying.

Our minds, the front part of our brains, are designed to solve problems. If our mind doesn’t have a problem to solve, it will create one. Our mind doesn’t want to be empty. It doesn’t want nothing to do.

In meditation, we basically redirect our mind to focus on something other than problem solving — real or imagined.

There are many ways to meditate. A walk in the woods or the park, where you focus on the natural world, is an excellent way to redirect the mind. To get it out of problem-solving mode.

Sitting and focusing on your breathing is another tried and true method.

My favorite is to sit and let thoughts just wander through my mind. I watch them enter and leave, as it were, not focusing on any particular one. If I sit long enough, the thoughts cease. It’s as if my mind has gotten tired of trying to interest me in a problem. That’s when my mind becomes truly silent.

Additional Thoughts

It does us little good to shut out the noise coming from outside of us, if our minds take up the slack and run rampant with inner noise. That inner noise can produce stress and anxiety just like outer noise.

The 8-Fold Path helps us to deal with both kinds of noise.

Next week, I’ll talk about where and when we can practice silence. I think you’ll be surprised at how easy it is.

Until then, unleash your inner quiet and enjoy the stillness.

Share This!
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

The 8-Fold Path: Why Silence?

Last week I touched on the benefits of silence. And that we don’t have a lot of silence in our daily lives. We are inundated with sound: some of our own choosing, most not. While I’m writing this, the “roar” of the forced air heating is quite significant. When it stops, there is a noticeable return to quiet for a few moments until a truck roars by on the busy county road I live just off of.

A quick search of the internet will give us dozens of reasons why silence is beneficial; physically, mentally, and spiritually. Let’s take a look at a few of the physical and mental benefits daily periods of silence can give us.

THE BRAIN

Daily periods of silence can improve our brains. A 2011 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that walking three times in a week for 40 minutes improved spatial memory.

If we can change our setting, we give the brain something different to focus on and correlate with known data.

Most of us live in urban or suburban settings. If possible, take a walk in a park or some other natural setting. The greater the difference between the manmade and the natural, the better for our brains. Manmade noise tends to grate on our nerves. Natural sounds are much more soothing.

Go walking — without the iPod — in a natural setting. Let the natural sounds lave you with peace and tranquility.

In addition, regular periods of silence can actually stimulate brain growth.

A 2013 study, published in Brain Structure And Function, found sitting in silence for at least two hours a day could stimulate the creation of the new brain cells related to our ability to learn, remember, and emotions.

At least two hours, you may say? Who has time for that? Indeed. We live busy lives. Although some of us may have the time and that is a wonderful thing. However if you do not, I think the 8-Fold Path can help you by giving you a lifestyle of silence.

STRESS

Almost all of us are stressed. We live in a stressful world. Noise can lead to elevated levels of stress hormones — and who wants that?

Sometimes we resort to relaxing music or white noise to try relieving the stress we feel. The problem is music, no matter how relaxing, and white noise are still noise.

Silence, on the other hand, is the anti-noise, as it were. A 2006 study, which appeared in Heart, found that just two minutes of silence can release tension buildup in the body and in the mind. That sounds like a good deal to me. After all it’s only two minutes. Surely we have that much time to give to relieving stress.

INSOMNIA

It’s the pits when you can’t get to sleep. I used to hate it when it happened to me. There was nothing left to do but get up and perhaps read for a while until I felt tired.

On the other hand, daily silence can come to the rescue.

A 2015 study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found older adults who meditated had fewer episodes of depression, fatigue, and insomnia. And meditation is done in silence.

Sitting in meditation breaks the routine of busyness and noise in our lives and can break the never ending monologue our minds at times embark on.

I know from personal experience sitting in meditation and letting my mind just drift through thoughts and feelings, not focusing on anything, eventually results in my mind stopping the thought process and that’s when the stress and anxiety falls away.

SENSITIVITY

From personal experience I can tell you silence increases one’s sensitivity to outside stimuli. After a week of silence and solitude, my whole body became more sensitive. More sensitive to sounds, touch, sights, and even thoughts, my own and others. I even think my poor hearing improved for a time. At least people could speak a bit more softly, until things went back to normal.

SUMMARY

Daily practice of silence can be very beneficial, both physically and mentally. A lifestyle of silence even more so. And that’s just on the physical and mental plane.

Whether you are a person of faith or not, I believe the practice of silence, coupled with its companion solitude, can do wonders for your soul. In a sense, silence can pull you out of yourself and take you to a place where you can, even for a moment, touch that which is beyond us.

The late Canadian psychiatrist, Dr R.M. Bucke, wrote of his experience in his book Cosmic Consciousness. Dr Bucke wrote that after a wonderful evening with friends, on the long ride home, late at night, he was “in a state of quiet, almost passive enjoyment, not actually thinking, but letting ideas, images, and emotions flow of themselves, as it were, through my mind.” In other words, Dr Bucke was unconsciously meditating in silence. What happened next changed his life forever. Here are his words:

All at once, without warning of any kind, I found myself wrapped in a flame-colored cloud. For an instant I thought of fire, an immense conflagration somewhere close by in that great city; the next, I knew that the fire was within myself. Directly afterward there came upon me a sense of exaltation, of immense joyousness accompanied or immediately followed by an intellectual illumination impossible to describe. Among other things, I did not merely come to believe, but I saw that the universe is not composed of dead matter, but is, on the contrary, a living presence; I became conscious in myself of eternal life.

Those of faith will see Dr Bucke’s testimony as evidence of their beliefs. Those not of faith will possibly attribute his vision to some other cause. For myself, I see a man who was not especially religious in the span of a few moments suddenly become convinced there is something beyond himself. Dr Bucke’s experience is, however, indicative of what many mystics have found to be true: silence and solitude can connect one with the beyond.

Most of us, though, are probably seeking a more day to day benefit. And silence certainly provides that. However, as with any practice, you get out of it what you put into it. If you simply want less stress and better memory, silence can help you achieve some of that. And less stress, along with better mind function, is a very good reason to start your journey into silence. And who knows where it may end.

Next time we’ll explore just exactly what is this silence I’m talking about.

Until then, take some time, each day is preferable, to just unplug and get away to a place with minimal noise. Then just let your mind drift, not focusing on anything. Let me know what you think.

Share This!
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

The 8-Fold Path

Noise is all around us. It is part of our daily lives. Silence is a rare commodity. Something not true up to 100 or 125 years ago.

And with all that noise pollution our bodies suffer: hearing loss, tinnitus, and sleep problems to name but three.

A few years ago I went on two silence and solitude retreats. I’m lucky to have a retreat center about an hour’s drive away. Both times I spent a week at the center. The retreat was unguided. Just me, my hermitage, and a beautiful lake, prairie, and woods.

Unfortunately, even there in that pristine environment urban noise could be heard in the muffled distance. But inside the soundproofed hermitage, there was no noise. There was silence and a beautiful view out the picture window of nature in all her glory.

For a time I owned a hobby farm in very rural northeastern Iowa. Beautiful country. Hilly, wooded, and dotted with small farms. Spring and autumn did bring with them the sounds of tractors at work. Summer, the sound of insects and cattle lowing. However, it was in winter that silence reigned. For many minutes at a time one might hear absolutely nothing. Nothing. And then a pick up truck might drive by on the road some distance away. When it was gone, the silence returned.

In those moments of absolute silence in the winter on my hobby farm or sitting inside my hermitage, looking at the trees and the lake, a peace would descend upon me and fill my soul.

I’m not one for organized religion. To tell the truth, I’m not into religion at all (although I do have an affinity for mysticism). However, in those moments of silence, it was as though I’d been transported to something beyond myself. The experience was indeed mystical. “Be still and know that I am God.” The psalmist was definitely on to something. Or Elijah, in the cave, where he heard God — not in the noise — but in the still, small voice.

Silence is golden. In the cacophony surrounding us that truth is easy to forget. In stillness, free from sound, I am free to know myself. In solitude, away from others, I must come to grips with who I am. Then and there I come to the realization if I’m truly someone whose company is desirable. For if I’m not likable to myself, how can I like others? If I do not love myself, how can I truly love others?

Not all of us, though, can take the time off to go on an extended retreat. Although I do recommend you give it a try. The experience can be life-changing. But for those who can’t afford a retreat, there is an alternative.

Over the next several weeks I want to share with you a way I found to capture the beauty of silence and to live in that silence every day. And you don’t have to become a hermit or retire to a cloister to do it. The method will work for everyone everywhere. It is independent of faith or philosophy, although either can enrich the method.

I call it The Eight Fold Path For Living Daily In The Silence.

I hope you’ll walk with me on this path and in so doing reap the benefits of silence, and its companion solitude.

Comments are always welcome. If you’ve experience the joy of silence and solitude, please share your experience. Until next time, peace!

Share This!
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

My Notable Reads of 2016

We are three days into the new year. There are 355 days until Christmas. Just in case anyone was curious. Most of us aren’t quite yet looking in that direction. We’re still making the adjustment from 2016 to 2017, still writing 2016 half the time on whatever we need to date. So I’m going to take one more look back at 2016 before I shove off on my 2017 adventure.

For me, 2016 was a good year. Especially in the reading department. I read some really great books and stories. There are a lot of good writers out there. I mentioned a few in a previous post. Classics, new releases, traditionally published, and self-published. In fact, I was very impressed with most of the self-published books I read.

At the end of this post, I give you my list of 2016 reading material in case you want to check out some of the great reads I came across; links are included where available.

Today, I want to highlight for you what I thought were the best of the lot, the cream on the milk.

Non-Fiction

I read a lot of non-fiction in 2016. Most of it was in the form of online articles as part of my research for my books. I did, however, read two non-fiction books out of general interest in the subject matter.

The more enjoyable of the two was E.M. Maitland’s The Log of HMA R34: Journey to America and Back. This book is a day by day and sometimes hourly by hourly chronicle of the historic 1919 round trip flight of the rigid airship R34. The R34 was the first aircraft to make the difficult east to west flight across the Atlantic from Europe to America and was the first to make a complete round trip. Her flight demonstrated that trans-Atlantic commercial flight was possible.

Commodore Maitland’s style is at once informative, lively, witty, and entertaining. Making it an excellent travelogue.

The book is available for free and every airship enthusiast and armchair traveler should have a copy.

Short Stories

I love short stories. Perhaps more than novels. Even in a good novel, my interest at time lags. Especially when the author hits a dull patch of road, which inevitably happens. Sometimes even with the best of writers. Rarely does that happen, in my experience, with a short story. Even a mediocre one.

All of the short stories I read this past year were good. The ones of exceptional merit (aside from generally recognized classics) were

Wasteland” by R Entwisle

SoulWave” by RR Willica

The Garden and the Market” by Richard B Walsh

The Room that Swallows People” by G Jefferies

Cinder” by Crispian Thurlborn

Of those five excellent tales, I do want to single out “Cinder” by Crispian Thurlborn. It is an exquisitely lyrical story of terror that is replete with haunting atmosphere, incipient dread, and unrelenting suspense. It is by far one of the most well-crafted stories I’ve read in a long time.

But do check out the other 4 on the above list. They are all well-written, imaginative (especially “SoulWave”), and prove that indies can give us a story as good as any publisher or magazine editor can.

Short Story Anthologies

Anthologies are at best uneven. Even if the stories are by a single author. No one is consistently at his or her best. And that goes without saying for the 4 anthologies I read.

On the whole, they were good and are worth getting. The one I enjoyed the most was The Spike Collection by Martin Skate. Mr Skate’s hilarious slice of life vignettes are highly entertaining. A collection not to be missed.

Novels

The two dozen novels I read were a mix of speculative fiction, mysteries, humor, horror, and historical fiction.

There were two clunkers in the lot: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne, and The Time Machine by HG Wells.

The Verne novel was my third reading. The first time, when a kid, I love it. The other two reads were as an adult. The old translation was ponderous and boring. The modern translation was better, conveying some of Verne’s humor, but the story remained dull and boring.

The Wells story was my second time through. Dry as two day old toast. Endless description, little action, and the only character I cared about, Weena, the author did not. Thoroughly and hopelessly dated. The movie was better.

On the Beach by Nevil Shute was at times slow and almost dull. And then Shute uncorks the most emotionally moving conclusion I think I’ve ever read. It literally had me sobbing. Powerful is wholly inadequate to describe it.

John Wyndham’s cozy catastrophe, The Day of the Triffids, was at once a testament to the dangers inherent in our monkeying around with Mother Nature and to our penchant for creating weapons of self-destruction — as well as to our unrelenting will to survive and better our lot. A classic and deservedly so.

There were, however, a few books that were on the top of the pile. Books that were thoroughly entertaining or thought-provoking. Well crafted tales that prove the Big 5 publishers do not have a corner on giving us good books.

These indie authored gems were

Banana Sandwich by Steve Bargdill

Wasteland by Steve Bargdill

Daddy’s Girl by Ben Willoughby

Death of an Idiot Boss by Janice Croom

Bargdill’s two books are dark and gritty mainstream novels that give us plenty of food for thought. At the same time there is humor and hope. Well crafted. The Big 5 are missing out here.

Willoughby’s ghost tale is suspenseful and has a happier ending than many such tales. For those who like their terror not so dark, Daddy’s Girl fits the bill perfectly. Willoughby’s style is lean. Not excessive. He gives us just the right amount to produce the desired effects. I’m looking forward to reading more from this guy.

Death of an Idiot Boss by Janice Croom has one of the best titles I’ve come across in a long time. But the goodness doesn’t stop there. We get a hilarious, at times thought-provoking, good old-fashioned whodunit and a memorable protagonist in Kadence MacBride. Croom is a very good writer and I’m looking forward to reading more of Kadence’s adventures.

Don’t miss any of these novels. Really. Don’t miss out.

Hopefully I’ve sown a few seeds for your 2017 reading. Let me know what you’ve read. I’m always looking for a good book.

The Bibliography

Non-Fiction

The Log of HMA R34: Journey to America and Back by EM Maitland

How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis by Bryan Cohen

The Journal of Submarine Commander von Forstner by Georg-Gunther Forstner

Short Stories

Curse Upon a Star” by Sylvia Heike

Goodbye, Sunshine” by Sylvia Heike

The Red Lady’s Wedding” by Deina Furth

The Otherlife” by Dot Dannenberg

The Adventure of the Fatal Glance” by August Derleth

Wasteland” by R Entwisle

The TNT Punch” by Robert E Howard

The Highway” by Ray Bradbury

Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway

The Garden and the Market” by Richard B Walsh

“Test Piece” by Eric Frank Russell

Bone White” by Sarah Zama

SoulWave” by RR Willica

Confession” by Micah Castle

The Room That Swallows People” by G Jefferies

Ghost Carp” by G Jefferies

Cinder” by Crispian Thurlborn

Short Story Anthologies

Defiant, She Advanced: Legends of Future Resistance, ed. by George Donnelly

Oriental Stories: Five Complete Novelettes by Robert E Howard

The Spike Collection by Martin Skate

Den of Antiquity by Jack Taylor, et al

Novels

Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

Banana Sandwich by Steve Bargdill

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Wasteland by Steve Bargdill

After London, or Wild England by Richard Jefferies

Daddy’s Girl by Ben Willoughby

The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

The Time Machine by HG Wells

On the Beach by Nevil Shute

Deluge by S. Fowler Wright

The Killings at Badger’s Drift by Caroline Graham

Death of an Idiot Boss by Janice Croom

Beyond the Rails by Jack Tyler

Perilous Ping by William J Jackson

Killing Floor by Lee Child

Die Trying by Lee Child

China Trade by SJ Rozan

Start Right Here by Martin Skate

Concourse by SJ Rozan

This Doesn’t Happen in the Movies by Renee Pawlish

Reel Estate Rip-Off by Renee Pawlish

Mandarin Plaid by SJ Rozan

Dawn by S. Fowler Wright

Dust and Kisses by Dean Wesley Smith

 

Mincemeat Pie Update

I made my mincemeat pie using Crosse and Blackwell mincemeat. I have to say None Such brand is better. The saving grace was the brandy butter. 🙂 Brandy butter is easy to make: cream together butter, sugar, and brandy. Voila!

Until next time, happy reading!!

Share This!
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest