dystopian · spoilers · thoughts

When is a spoiler a SPOILER?

A few months back, I wrote a blogpost on The Handmaid’s Tale.  Without much consideration for the current tv show on Hulu, I discussed the emotions felt at the end of the book.   In my mind, the book was exempt from spoiler alerts based on its age (published in 1985) and the fact that it had been turned into a movie (1990).  The book is also a work of dystopian fiction, which by definition is a story about “an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.”  To me, dystopian novels automatically mean “No Happy Ending”.  This holds true for 1984, A Brave New World, A Clockwork Orange, Divergent, The Maze Runner, Ender’s Game and The Hunger Games.

The Hulu series briefly crossed my mind and was instantly overridden by the fact that movies and tv shows rarely stick to the book 100% and like Game of Thrones, may divert entirely due to circumstance or creative license.  To mitigate giving away any plot twists or actual spoilers that may appear in the book or movie, I decided to stick to discussing the emotions I felt when reading the book.

The Handmaid’s Tale left me feeling completely out of breath, paranoid, angry, and just emotional in general.  I’d guess these are typical responses when reading Dystopian fiction, however, The Handmaid’s Tale hit closer to home.  Unlike the majority of dystopian fiction where the lead characters are either young-to-middle aged men (1984, A Brave New World,  Fahrenheit 451) or teenage heroes (Divergent, The Maze Runner, Ender’s Game) who’d never know a different existence The Handmaid’s Tale featured a married female in her 30’s who experienced the entire world tipping upside down within a few short years.  Unlike those books about teenage super humans who save the world, this book felt so much more “real”.  It punched me in the gut and left me reeling.

Shortly after hitting “Publish”, a reader commented on the post being a Spoiler Alert, which led me to crowdsource feedback from friends on when a Spoiler Alert is actually a spoiler alert and when a notice should be included in a discussion about a book or a movie.

First on my list of questions for Spoiler Alert exemptions were the age of the book and the general public knowledge of the plot.  We’d never consider references to the soldiers jumping out of the Trojan horse as a spoiler, we all know Romeo and Juliet are fools and die, and everyone born after 1960 knows Luke is Darth Vader’s son.   So when does a book reach that point where the plot twists become common knowledge and even those who haven’t read the book know the outcome?  When does a spoiler alert stop being required?

Apparently, according to the majority of my circle, the polite, responsible answer is NEVER.

So with that, my dear readers, your humble writer apologies and promises to include Spoiler Alert! on any future posts about literature written after the 1800’s.

Cheers and happy reading!

Favorite Books

You Are What You Read…

There’s a chalkboard sign on my desk that reads “What you THINK you become.  What you FEEL you attract.  What you IMAGINE you create. – Buddha”.  This little sign has prompted many a good daydreaming thought sessions, particularly with what I let myself think and feel.

Last year, I started binge watching Sons of Anarchy with the goal of making it through all 7 sevens.  After a few episodes, I began to notice myself feeling a lot more jumpy in public.  After watching a few seasons, I was a nervous wreck while running.  The roar of a passing motorcycle sent chills down my spine.  I found myself diligently assessing every trail head and corner for predators, all the while telling myself “it’s just a tv show.”  It’s an absolute credit to the producer’s talent that they can create something so powerful it affects our daily life.  Unfortunately, for me, it was a very very negative impact.  Even though most of the people I talked to about it thought it was silly, I gave up watching.  Within a few weeks, the trails were welcome safe havens again and I stopped shuddering involuntarily every time a motorcycle blared past.

There were 2 things I learned from this weird experience. 1) Binge watching violent tv can seriously alter your emotions.  2) I need to be more selective about what I’m letting into my brain.

There are a lot of really excellent although highly violent books in my library.  The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series, Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, anything by Stephen King.  I spent a lot of time reading some fairly violent books in 2016, which may have contributed to the weird Sons of Anarchy experience.

My normal book selecting MO is to read whatever is recommended by my reading friends, has an interesting sounding title or looks interesting on the library shelf.  For 2017, I decided to be a lot more selective in my reading choices.  In the process, I spent a lot of time reading Amazon reviews, reading a lot of YA fiction and returning to my own childhood favorites.  The question that kept running through my mind was: Can a book be a GOOD book, without a lot of sex and violence?

The answer was overwhelmingly yes.

There were 4 books that really shone for me this year as good old fashioned “Good Stories”.

  • The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman – Beautiful written, heartfelt, emotional…I cried and cried and cried…and then gave the book to my best friend who cried and cried and cried.  Absolute must read.

 

  • The Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder- This book is the crown jewel of American western/cowboy literature, in my opinion.

 

  • The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley- I read this book in high school, which sparked a decades long love affair with Arthurian legends.  Told from the perspective of Arthur’s sister, Morgaine, The Mists of Avalon provides a rare glimpse of the Arthurian legends through a female’s perspective.

 

  • The Mermaid’s Sister by Carrie Anne Noble- This was a surprise find while browsing on my Amazon Kindle one night. The most excellent example of a good old fashioned “Good Story”, The Mermaid’s Sister is full of romance, adventure, gypsies, and coming home.

 

Wishing you many nights wrapped up in “good old fashioned stories”.

Cheers!

classics · finance · minimalism · Self Help

Wrapping up 2017: The Millionaire Next Door, Madame Bovary and Babbitt

As I finalized my books read list for 2017 the other day, I started reflecting on the year’s book choices and realized many of them were rooted in challenging the status quo, particularly the thoughts and habits built around consumerism and finance.

“The Millionaire Next Door”, was recommended by my mentor as a tool to frame how we were setting our financial goals as a family.  I expected a “get rich quick” theme or endless lecture similar to Dave Ramsey or Rich Dad, Poor Dad.  What I got instead was a life changing paradigm shift.  The Millionaire Next Door really opened my eyes to how we personally and culturally define “success”, how we measure ourselves against a name brands and labels, and most notably how research shows that the “rich” among us are not the ones buying big flashy expensive new things.  Without a doubt, this book changed my life.

While The Millionaire Next Door sat brewing in my brain for several months, I picked up Madame Bovary, a classic French novel written in 1856.  The story follows the beautiful Madame Bovary who drives her family to ruin with her boredom and endless search for meaning in frivolous material pursuits.  Unfortunately for Madame, the unhappiness she finds in her very normal and simple life cannot be cured by her many debt-inducing purchases, the birth of her only child, nor the affairs with handsome interesting young men, leading poor Madame to commit suicide while her husband and child deal with the fallout of her selfish decisions.  While the language can be a bit old fashioned, Madame Bovary is every bit as relevant today as it was 160 years ago.

The universe popped “Babbitt” into my hands shortly after Madame Bovary.  Sinclair Lewis did an amazing job capturing the mind and emotions of a middle aged man who had already achieved significant wealth and success but was caught between his desperation for his youth, more money, further success, his endless lust for acceptance by his peers and being happy.

I absolutely hated Babbitt and his grandiose speeches, his wishy washy nature, his constant need to be loved, admired and respected by his peers.  His constant scheming, planning and ladder climbing left me grossed out and I felt like nothing Babbitt did ever felt genuine or true.   Again, a credit to the author, who created a character so wholly flawed you can’t help but feel sorry for him, even though you hate him.

Until next time, may you find the time to curl up with a good book and a pot of tea!

Cheers!

beach read · Book Review · series books · Summer Read

Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale

everything we keepIt’s been ages since I’ve had a chance to sit down and write anything.  Luckily, nightly reading has still been a priority and keeping me sane!

This year, I’ve been pretty obsessed with old school YA mystery like Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys.  They’re quick, interesting, intelligent and as a bonus, the whole family enjoys the audio books.  While I do enjoy a good “adult” book now and then, the emotional strength needed for books like The Girl on the Train or Little Bee has just been too much for me this year.  Even finishing The Maze Runner series proved too much emotionally, which led to a good browsing through the Kindle Unlimited section one night and an introduction to Kerry Lonsdale, a writer from California.

Lonsdale’s debut novel, Everything We Keep, follows Aimee and her childhood sweetheart through a compelling tale of love, betrayal, mystery and self-awakening.  Lonsdale weaves a tale that is as romantic as it is mysterious.  This story twists and turns in so many delicious directions that it’s impossible to put down while the characters are so perfectly flawed that you can’t help falling in love with them.

While most series start strong and fizzle out, Everything We Left Behind was even stronger (and better) than Everything We Keep.   It feels like Lonsdale really hit her stride with Everything We Left Behind as she takes Aimee and James through a few more twists and turns.  While these books aren’t high suspense thrillers, aren’t true mysteries or even true romance novels, they do borrow a little bit from each genre to create a good story.

If you’re looking for a little down time with a book by the fire but need some space from the big emotional riveting books this Christmas break, check out Everything We Keep, Everything We Left Behind or All the Breaking Waves.

Cheers!

Book Review · Bust · Summer Read

Review of Little Wolves by Thomas Maltman

I just finished reading the 2013 novel, Little Wolves, by Thomas Maltman.  After reading, I scoped out the reviews on Amazon and was completely surprised by 2 things:

  1. the very low number of reviews on Amazon for a book that is 3 years old (only 132 at the time of writing this post)
  2. all of the 4-5 star reviews

For me, this book ranks a solid 2 stars.  It is full of inconsistencies that disjoint and disrupt the flow of the story, starting with the title itself. Little Wolves surprisingly has nothing to do with Wolves.

While it started out heavy with action (a murder-suicide), the momentum of the book quickly transitioned into a muddled collection of memories, flashbacks, references to Beowulf, random tall tales Clara remembered from her father, references to darker character histories that were never fully explained, random references to Werewolves and Wolf People, a broad parade of one-and-done characters who add nothing to the plot, all while limping along with the actual story.  It was like a high school student’s book bag exploded and the contents of every book combined in random quantities to create Little Wolves.

Writing this review, it has become apparent that the WHO and the WHAT of this book wasn’t obviously clear. Who was the main character? Clara? Seth? Grizz? Was the book about a murder-suicide and what drove a young man to commit such a heinous crime? Was it about Clara’s search for her family history? Was it a thriller about a very messed up small town that held violent secrets that everyone knew about but kept hidden?

The extent of the secrets the characters hold is never fully fleshed out and none of the character’s stories ever fleshed out into a whole tale, not to mention the endless characters parading through this book.  I couldn’t figure out why Clara’s father was obsessed with werewolf stories and keeping any information about her mother completely secret, why her husband was obsessed with seeing the Devil and what it brought to the story, why Seth did what he did, why Lee was consistently described as mentally slow but never demonstrated this trait at any point in the book, why Clara couldn’t ever find the lone mountain the city of “Lone Mountain” was named after.  Little Wolves would have been a much stronger tale with fewer characters whose back stories, relationships and purpose were more clearly defined.

To give you an idea of just how muddled this book was, I kept expecting Clair to turn into a werewolf.  Spoiler alert…she didn’t.  Bummer.  Overall, this book was a bust for me and I couldn’t strongly recommend it to anyone.

The weekend wasn’t a total HopsnLit bust, however.  After trying one for the first time this weekend, I can definitely recommend a Bellini.  Unlike Little Wolves which was dark, deep and violent and left me in a funky mood, Bellini’s are crisp, refreshing and light, and left me in a very cheerful disposition.

Until next time, happy reading.

Cheers!

 

beach read · Book Review · Books to Movies · children's books · Greek Mythology · Mythology · Secret Hideout · series books · Summer Read

Percy Jackson & The Olympians vs Harry Potter

PERCY JACKSON THE LIGHTNING THIEFAnticipating a nice slow week at the beach, I set off on Amazon and Overdrive for something interesting.  I was craving something Harry Potter-esque without the deep tomes.

Cue Percy Jackson and The Olympians.

The first book in the series book popped up on my Amazon Kindle Unlimited freebies with a heading like  “If you liked Harry Potter, you may enjoy Percy Jackson.”  Amazon was right.  I absolutely enjoyed Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief.  It was an excellent beach read that could not be put down.  I even got a sunburn because I couldn’t be bothered to move while reading!  These books are easy reading and I read the first two in two weeks.

After I’ve finished a good book, I usually head over to Amazon to check out the reviews and see if there were any insights or interesting tidbits that I missed or see if anyone else felt a certain way about this character or that event.  When skimming reviews for Percy Jackson, I was blown away by how many people felt Rick Riordan had followed a bit too closely in J.K Rowling’s footsteps.  This was interesting, because while reading the book, not once did I think “Wow..this is just like Harry Potter”.

After discussing with my favorite bibliophile, we both agreed the reviewers panning Percy Jackson as a Harry Potter knock off had done a lazy comparison of the two books.  Yes, they both involve magic.  Yes, they both have a ridiculously smart female character that the male characters depend on.  Yes, they both have a somewhat silly sidekick.  But honestly, that could be any young adult series in this genre and calling Percy Jackson a cherry pick on Harry Potter is a bit like saying The Hunger Games cherry picked from 1984 or The Maze Runner.

While the Harry Potter books derive directly from the vast imagination of their author who created an engagingly dynamic world, the PJ books overlay classical Greek mythology into modern day life.  Riordan does this incredibly well and weaves the Greek myths into a coming-of-age tale while also adding his own spin and a little bit of modernization to the personalities, stories and descriptions of the Greek Gods and mythical creatures.  His characterization of Ares, for example, as an aggressive biker thug was spot-on.   Riordan peppers the books with ancient Greek phrases that add a little dash of mysticism to the stories, while also feeling a teensy bit familiar.  I liked knowing the history and myths surrounding the Greek gods and creatures and seeing how Riordan wove them into this tale.  It’s easy to see how this series would inspire young readers to follow the PJ series with something else rooted in Greek mythology.

While there is a fair amount of magic involved in PJ, it is always limited by the original Greek myths; unlike Harry Potter, in which magic itself is a main character capable of many great and seemingly unlimited things.

Unlike Harry, who grew up an orphan with his terrible extended family, Percy has a loving mother and a distant, somewhat disappointing relationship with his father, Poseidon, the Sea God.  While Harry’s parents are lodged forever in the story as the perfect loving parents who died battling evil, Percy often grapples with anger, confusion and irritation with his missing father while balancing the usual preteen love and annoyance with his incredibly understanding and supportive mother.  Percy’s complicated relationships with his parents are handled incredibly well in an age appropriate manner that kids can relate to.  Harry’s parents, on the other hand, are put on a pedestal and frequently out of Harry’s reach, making it a bit harder to relate to that parent-child relationship.

The world J.K. Rowling created for Harry Potter was absolutely unlimited in place, description and location.  As the primary setting for the HP books, Hogwarts plays a huge role in the story of Harry Potter and with all of the quirky personality it displays, can essential be considered a character itself.  The three friends set off on the occasional adventure elsewhere, but Hogwarts occupies the majority of their adventures.

The PJ books are again limited to Greek myth and the modern world.  These books read more like the Odyssey, with Camp Half-Blood acting as a temporary home base while Percy and friends race around the world to ancient places like Mount Olympus, The Underworld, The Sea of Monsters, and the island of Polyphemus which are hidden in modern locations.  The description of LA as the secret entrance to the Underworld, for example, was particularly delicious.

And finally, we reach the comparison of Hermione to Annabeth.  Both are presented as incredibly smart and capable young ladies who seem ages older than their male counterparts.  This frequently leaves them as the voice of reason and in the case of Hermione, the default caretaker of the group.  For the most part, Hermione was a bit of a know-it-all outcast and a bit of a show-off with a chip on her shoulder.  She was frequently trying to prove herself as a Muggle Witch and maintain her place among her peers.

Annabeth, however, as the daughter of Athena, tends to show more restraint and wisdom for her age.  Her knowledge tends to show itself in her extensive planning and unlike Hermione, who tends to always be right, Annabeth has been known to falter, particularly with the Siren’s song.  Unlike Hermione who tends to always be the caretaker, Percy and Annabeth tend to share caretaker duties.  Their relationship feels a bit more equal than the relationship between Harry and Hermione.

And of course, we can’t forget about the Greek Gods who dip in and out of the PJ stories, interfering and guiding, setting traps and leaving life lines.  While Harry Potter has some minor religious undertones now and then, the PJ characters deal heavily with the presence of celestial beings.  They waiver between believing in the Gods, being a pawn of the Gods and being part of the Gods.

All in all, the PJ books are enjoyable, quick to read and I enjoyed the incorporation of the Greek Gods.  I wouldn’t classify them as anywhere near Harry Potter knockoffs, and hope those shunning this series as an HP knockoff give it another chance.

Until next time, happy reading!

 

ps.  Due to the fact that nectar and ambrosia kills mere mortals, a shot of Greek ouzo will do just fine.  Opa!

 

Bad Ass Women · beach read · Mimosas · Self Help · Summer Read

The Doctor Is In

If there is one type of book I can’t resist, it’s a good old fashioned self help book.  I just can’t help it.  They’re fun, easy to read and occasionally you’ll find a gem in the heap of unconventional life advice.  Self help book are like the flea market of literature.  You never know what treasures you’ll pull out of the pile.  We’re at the beach again this week and my trusty Kindle companion has been Dr. Ruth Westheimer.  Prior to reading “The Doctor Is In”, my knowledge of Dr. Ruth consisted of: cute little old lady with a funny accent giving sex advice.  Post read, I want Dr. Ruth to be my spirit animal. the doctor is in

At only 4’7″ tall, this German Jew refugee has led enough life for ten people.  After escaping Germany on a kindertransport and earning a degree in housekeeping from her Swiss boarding home, she relocated to Israel, becoming a sniper (!) for the Israel army.  In Israel, she became a teenage bride and migrated to France with equally young husband.  After a brief marriage, Dr. Ruth chose her education over marriage and spent the next five years in France.  After another marriage, the birth of her first child and relocating to America, Dr. Ruth found her home and a slew of degrees in New York.  It wasn’t until her 50’s that this wickedly funny therapist found her calling and catapulted to fame on her radio show.  The rest as they say, is history…a history spanning over three decades, 35 books, and countless tv and radio shows.  Dr. Ruth is now a staple of American pop culture!

With a history like hers, it would have been very easy for Dr. Ruth to settle where she was and stick with her lot as a child refugee, a migrant house keeper, a poor single working mom.  Instead, she made the best out of every situation, often edging her way into opportunities, experiences and adventures that were both interesting, scary, and worth the risk she took to get there.

After reading countless self-help books written by numerous bad-ass women, I can say that Dr. Ruth without a doubt, takes the cake.  While most self-help books for women encourage confidence and taking risks, Dr. Ruth’s age and background bring a depth of energy, experience and reality that can be somewhat lacking in other books of this sort.  Yoga books in this genre, in particular, can be harder to connect to.  The author’s story can feel out of touch or out of reach, particularly when they pack up their life and spend months at yoga retreats in exotic locations.  As an ambitious woman with loads of impatient energy and an honest writing style, Dr. Ruth is easily relatable.  We’ve all employed a sneaky trick or two to catch a man,  plotted and schemed for way to advance our careers or relationships, and jumped into things head first while still feeling totally unprepared , scared, worried, and impatient.  This complete relatable-ness makes reading “The Doctor Is In” comparable to sharing secrets with a giggling grandmother over mimosas at a bridal shower.  It’s fun, it’s enlightening and it’ll leave you in a good mood.

Happy reading my friends!

 

 

 

Books to Movies · dystopian · Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One

The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale is big in my circle right now, with some reading the book and some watching the Hulu series.

The common consensus: alarming, relevant, shocking.

With the popularity of dystopian tales in recent cinema, it’s surprising The Handmaid’s Tale hadn’t popped up before now.  It’s the perfect blend of religious fanaticism and government gone bad to control man-made environmental and population crisis.  Think Divergent meets 1984 meets The Third Reich and you’ve got The Handmaid’s Tale.

A long beach weekend allowed me to dig into Margaret Atwood’s popular dystopian world.  With every page, my bathing suit and bare legs became increasingly apparent as I sunk further and further into the bleak Republic of Gilead and thick red habits.

In Offred, Atwood creates a character so devastatingly traumatized by what has happened to her, that she seems almost flippant in her mannerisms and attitude.  To deal with the complete shock and sensory deprivation of being a handmaid, whose sole responsibility is to procreate for The Wives (rich infertile women), Offred halting and delicately brings forth controlled memories of her previous life and loved ones, always careful to keep herself from stepping too far into herself.

Her understanding of the situation in Gilead, the toxicity of the land, the population decline caused by an epidemic of infertility, the suspension of the Constitution, the religious upheaval, The Sons of Jacob, The Eyes, The Aunts…all are brought forth piece meal, placed randomly within memories, leaving the reader to sort and piece the history of Gilead together as Offred quickly buries and escapes the pain and disappointment of a past reality for the pain and disappointment of the present reality.

Offred’s utter helplessness and the very last shreds of self holding onto sanity tunneled a giant hole right through my chest and I often found it hard to breathe while reading.

Like any book of this popularity, the Amazon reviews are off the charts.  Many of the one and two star reviews claim Atwood’s novel is too slow, too boring, too un-relatable.  The five star reviews tend to treat this book like a cautionary tale, similar to “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson.  For me, this book served as a mirror, a perfect piece for self reflection.  Since reading, I’ve found myself mulling over what it means to be a woman, the roles and responsibilities, the parts and pieces, the relationships, the rights, the rules, and the regulations we hold one another to.

This book left me emotionally drained, clinging to my husband’s body for stability in the night.  Reader beware, there is no happy ending to this tale.

 

Bad Ass Women · Favorite Books · Grab a Martini · Self Help

How to Dress for Success by Edith Head

how to dress for successWe’ve gotten quite a few graduation announcements and invites this year and I’ve been so excited to mail off Congratulations cards with a few little gifts tucked inside.  Of all the gifts I received over the years, there are several books that were literally life changing and would make fantastic graduation gifts.  One of those books was How to Dress for Success by Edith Head.

This book changed my entire approach to fashion, shopping, personal style and gently nudged me on the path towards minimalism.  Prior to reading this book, my closet was full of ill-fitting fast fashion, a thousand different styles for every body type but mine, and a bunch of clothes that I would never wear.  This book opened my eyes to the reality of doing more with less.  While Edith Head never even mentions the words “capsule wardrobe” or “minimalism”, the concept is clear: a few quality pieces of clothing that fit well, are well kept, and accessorized properly can make a killer wardrobe.

For those interested in classic vintage style, this book is a gold mine.  With that said, much of the book is full of old school wisdom that seems more appropriate for the 1950’s than today.  However, the concepts, ideas and suggestions are perfect for young professionals looking to make their mark as stylish and well groomed without breaking the bank.

 

 

 

Self Help

My Super Secret Weapon…How to Win Friends & Influence People

how to win friendsLast week I had the task of presenting to a group of people who had previously been given incorrect information about my project.  Setting the record straight is never easy and it was a daunting task that left me nervous and sweaty right up until show time.  It took me a good month to create the 30 minute presentation, which luckily, went off without a hitch.   Many of the guests thanked me afterward and their smiles and friendly conversation were a sign that the presentation had hit its mark.

When one of the guests asked for advice in her own similar campaign, I immediately recommended she read “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie.  My entire presentation was guided loosely by the advice contained in this 80 year old book, starting with “Smile” and “Remember names”.

Knowing the topic was already heated and folks were bringing reactions to previously incorrect information with them, it was particularly important to follow “The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it”, “let the other person save face”, and “show respect for other person’s opinions”.  Starting an argument with these folks, tossing the previous informant under the bus, or belittling their concerns would win me no friends and would definitely not earn me their trust or respect.  Instead, I used a few more of Carnegie’s timeless gems by “talking in terms of the other person’s interest” and “making the other person feel important” while also “appealing to the nobler motives”.

With the entire presentation designed to defuse the situation by avoiding being argumentative, respecting and understanding people’s current concerns and reactions, and letting them know they were important to me, I was able to get the result I wanted: an audience who had overridden incorrect information with correct information.

This book not only gave me the tools to run a smooth presentation, it changed my entire life.  By nature, I am an observer and often waited for people and things to come to me.  As you can imagine, there was a lot of disappointment in observing opportunities headed my direction only to lose them because I didn’t know how to meet those opportunities head on or blew the networking tied to those opportunities.  After reading “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, I stopped waiting for things to happen and instead applied the skills from this book to go get them or at least meet them half way.  More than any other book, I recommend everyone read this one, particularly high school students and college grads starting the interview circuit.

Until next time, happy reading!