Lonely Planet – Ireland

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IMG_4627Apologies, friends. It’s been more than a year (a year!) since we last met, and the fault is entirely mine.

To be fair, it’s been a rather big year. I survived a busy first year of teaching middle school, which is enough to shatter any pleasure reading schedule (yes, I read some great books – just in smaller quantities – and yes, I will tell you about them as soon as I can!). I also did a fair bit of paid writing, which always trumps blog freebies (you can read my recent work in Avenue Calgary and Spur [page 6] magazines, if you are so inclined). I trained for and ran my first half-marathon in June – a goal I have been hoping to cross off my list for a long time. And to top it all off, I got married last month to the Lager Blogger. It has been a wonderful, wild whirlwind of a year.

Now, it’s time to get back to blogging, and what better way to start than with a travel recap? Ireland’s been on my must-see list for the better part of a decade, and my husband (!) and I wanted to have a honeymoon adventure. We’re not sit-on-the-beach people, so on a very cold February afternoon, I contacted Stephanie at Discovering Ireland to see if we could arrange a road trip right after our wedding in July. Once we had the bones of the trip booked booked (a Peugeot 208 and eight nights of accommodation in converted castles and manor houses, followed by four nights in Dublin at an Airbnb that we booked on our own), it was time to start getting excited. It was time to order a travel guide.

I’m a passionate and engaged traveller, and I am fussy about my guidebooks. There’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all, although some are more consistently good than others. I’ve always had a deep fondness for the Lonely Planet. I got my first one – Europe on a Shoestring – for Christmas in 2005 before I headed to Bournemouth, UK as an exchange student. In the days before smartphones, it was a lifeline on more than one occasion. I used Europe on a Shoestring to track down hostels in Barcelona and Paris, to learn how to barter with Spanish street vendors and to calm me down in Denmark when I got on the wrong bus and couldn’t find anyone who spoke English. Lonely Planet has accompanied me up and down the east coast of Australia (where, truth be told, the Rough Guide guidebook is actually a better choice if you’re trying to camp. But that’s a story for another day), through New Zealand’s North Island, snowboarding in the Alps and navigating the Cannes Film Festival. Lonely Planet has also been a feature in a lot of other travel-related books I love (Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, Around The World in 80 Dates), and it’s always been a not-so-secret dream of mine to be a Lonely Planet writer. Could there be a better job?

Neither of us are huge fans of fixed-itinerary trips. Once the skeleton is mapped out (where we’re sleeping, mode of transport), we like to leave the rest up to our mood, the weather, our budget and a whole host of other factors that require flexibility on the go. As travellers, we’re also impossibly nosy. We want to know whether our hotels are well-reviewed, if they’ve made it into the guidebook. We want to know if the pubs recommended by Discovering Ireland are really the best pubs in Ireland or if there’s something even better off the beaten track. We want to check on things we drive by (what was that monastic ruin back there all about, anyway?). I’m a sucker for facts and trivia, and I like to know a little bit about the history behind the sights we see. I want information in the form of anecdotes from a trusted friend – and I want to build on these anecdotes with stories of my own.

This is why the Lonely Planet is so useful. It’s a little bit of a history primer (perfect for excited we’re-nearly-there-can-you-believe-it? airport reading), a little bit of a geography class and a lot of friendly, digestible recommendations (which pubs serve food and which ones don’t?). I like to add to it with a little bit of writing of my own, too. While I don’t like writing in books as a general rule (and I would never, EVER write in one of my beloved novels), I love to scrawl all over my travel guides. I’m an inconsistent journal writer. I have good intentions, but I can get distracted by the adventure (much like I do with this blog). But it doesn’t take very much energy to scribble a few notes in the margins to record an impression of a place.

We just got home on Monday, and we brought back a book full of the best stories. My Lonely Planet – Ireland doesn’t map out the myriad trips that one could take in Ireland if one was so inclined, or at least it doesn’t anymore. It maps out our trip, our stories. My Lonely Planet tells the story of the beautiful hand-knit sweaters that could only be purchased after a 1.5-hour ferry ride, of rented bicycles with baskets, of “we wish we remembered to pack hiking boots!” It tells the story of wrong turns in Dublin, of new friends, late nights, cozy pubs and hearty food. It tells the story of a pair of newlyweds who love adventure – and each other – very much. You can’t buy that in a travel guide. That’s a story you have to write for yourself.

 

 

 

 

All The Light We Cannot See

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All The Light We Cannot See Photo: Simon & SchusterI’ve been tempted by All The Light We Cannot See a few times over the past couple months, and with an upcoming trip to the UK (a pair of nine-hour flights, plus several train trips), I finally caved and loaded it up on my Kindle.

After a couple of months of very sporadic reading (ultraheavy education theory books and ultralight wedding magazines) during my first-ever teaching contract this spring, I felt I was due a good novel, and this striking piece of fiction fit the bill.

It’s truly beautiful storytelling (it won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction). One day, if I can write something half as good, I’ll be a very happy lady. There are two parallel storylines at play here. A young blind girl and her father, a museum locksmith, flee Nazi-occupied Paris in 1940. Meanwhile, an orphaned German boy develops a fascination with radios, which earns him a place among the Nazi military elite.

The pace of the plot is pretty much perfect, and by the time the two storylines converge, I couldn’t put the book down. Coincidentally, I started the novel as Matt and I travelled through Manchester, where we spent a few hours at the Imperial War Museum North, which has a comprehensive chronological timeline display of the impact of both world wars on everyday people. I finished it right after we arrived in London, the morning of our visit to the Imperial War Museum London, an entirely different experience with its comprehensive, stunning and sobering Holocaust exhibition. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. The whole experience made for very interesting – and very thoughtful – reading.

There’s lots to love about All The Light We Cannot See – lyrical, descriptive writing, achingly sympathetic characters, beautifully-imagined settings and the magic of radio. It stayed with me for days.

Better Than Before

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Better Than Before Photo Credit: GretchenRubin.comTheoretically, one of the nicest things about being a teacher is the long summer break. And next summer, I’m sure I will enjoy the break to its fullest (especially with a wedding, honeymoon and hopefully some camping thrown into the mix). But this year, the summer isn’t exactly downtime. After all, I’ve been a full-time student for the majority of the year. With impending student loan repayments, upcoming wedding costs, a big trip to the UK and day-to-day living expenses, I can’t really afford to put my feet up completely. And, as I discovered in this interesting new read from Gretchen Rubin, I actually don’t think I’m wired that way anyway.

Athough I’m working until late August (I’ve picked up some off and on temp work, and continue to write for Avenue Calgary amid other freelancing opportunities), it’s the kind of work that leaves time for fun reading. Enter Better Than Before, the latest offering from the author of The Happiness Project (which, incidentally, was the first book I ever blogged about here). Rubin has a lot going on in this book, which offers up a study of different personality types (which she calls the Four Tendencies), how they are affected by habits (good and bad), and how each type can actively work to develop and foster new habits. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to developing habits, but Rubin observes that habits and happiness are often intertwined.

I didn’t find that this book broke a ton of new ground (after all, isn’t it just common sense to notice that people are different from one another, and therefore that people are motivated by different internal and external factors as they pursue individual goals?), but what I really liked was Rubin’s straightforward way of explaining why some people find it easier for habits to stick than others.

She identifies a Four Tendencies framework that is really simple, but effective. Broadly, your tendency is your personality type – in other words, whether you are intrinsically or extrinsically motivated, a rule follower or a rule-breaker, etc. You can read more about the tendencies on Rubin’s website (or even better, you should read this book). The tendencies are Upholder, Questioner, Obliger and Rebel, and according to Rubin, most people are Obligers or Questioners. Even before I came across the quiz at the back, I immediately identified as an Upholder. I'm An Upholder

“Upholders respond readily to both outer and inner expectations: they meet deadlines and keep New Year’s resolutions without much struggle or supervision. Upholders take great satisfaction from moving smoothly through their daily schedule and their to-do lists. They meet others’ expectations—and their expectations for themselves. 

However, Upholders may feel uneasy when expectations aren’t clear, when they’re worried that they’re breaking the rules, or when they feel overwhelmed by expectations they seek to meet. They enjoy habits, and form habits fairly easily.”

It’s not every day that you find most of the core elements of your personality laid out so clearly. I think that because I identified myself so quickly in the Four Tendencies, I really enjoyed what followed, which is Rubin’s (also an Upholder) analysis of habit as it relates to each personality type.

I guess, like the author, I don’t always remember that everyone is not like me (or like each other, for that matter). What I found most useful about Better Than Before had less to do with my own habits – Upholders tend to be pretty self-motivated, anyway – and more to do with other peoples’ habits. For example, I immediately spotted Matt as a Questioner (and I’m sure that he Questioned me asking him to take a personality quiz on the train from Edinburgh to Manchester to confirm my suspicions). His habits are different than mine because his motivations are different. As they should be, because we’re not the same person!

Like I said, I’m not sure the content is groundbreaking if you have a pretty strong awareness of yourself. But this one really stuck with me (kind of like 10% Happier stuck with me), and if you enjoyed The Happiness Project, this will probably be right up your alley.

Sharp Objects

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Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (Photo Credit: Random House)Over the holidays, my brother’s girlfriend Cara tore through Sharp Objects, and then left it for me.

I loved Gone Girl, and she said it was a quick read, so I took her up on her offer. She was right! I polished it off on a couple of busy nights over the Christmas break, although the subject matter may not make it the best before-bed read. It’s a murder mystery, a reporter story and a thriller all in one.

I really liked this one. Like Gone Girl, the themes are adult and dark, and it does have a decent twist (although it wasn’t a WAIT, WHAT? twist like Gone Girl’s. Have you read it? If you haven’t, and you haven’t seen the film, you really should. It’s great). I predicted the ending, but not the pathway that Gillian Flynn took to get there, so it was still a worthwhile mystery. Cara and I both work in different branches of the journalism industry, and it was nice to see a female reporter as a protagonist, although Camille Preaker’s mental instability would likely be a real-life roadblock. You have to be made out of tough stuff to work as a reporter (which is why I mainly stick to lifestyle work these days).

One bad personal note – I ate a pomegranate and it dripped all over the book, so it looks like I either killed someone while reading it, or had a very bad accident. So I’m sorry, Cara. I owe you a book. I really enjoyed reading Sharp Objects, and it was quick and easy over the holidays. It’s no Gone Girl, but it’s worth a look.

Golden Boy

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Golden Boy (Photo: Simon & Schuster)This is a very long-overdue post. August sort of got away from me – I took on some exciting freelance writing assignments (including some for Avenue magazine, a well-regarded local Calgary publication, that I’m quite thrilled about) and unfortunately, one of the downsides of getting paid for my writing (well really, the only downside) is that blogging sort of takes a backseat. Classes started up again this week too, which has meant a few days of chaos and stress. Don’t worry though – I haven’t stopped reading. You can expect reviews for Jane Christmas’s excellent travel book What The Psychic Told The Pilgrim, the beautiful book of poetry by Cynthia Rylant called God Got a Dog and the other books I muddled through in August shortly.

Today though, I want to tell you about Golden Boy, which is one of the most gripping novels I’ve ever read. I can’t believe that Abigail Tartellin is only 26 (or that she was waitressing when she got called by a publisher for the rights to this book). She’s amazing, and she’s only going to get better – and quite frankly, she puts small-time writers like me to shame. She has a real gift and her book is brilliant.

I gave up my bookstore job this fall in favour of a different opportunity with slightly better pay and more sociable hours, but I’m sticking around once a month to run a book club for teenagers there in the fall. So I attended the Fall Gala at Indigo Signal Hill on Saturday night to promote my new venture, and my friend Meg couldn’t recommend Golden Boy highly enough. Convinced by her enthusiasm and glowing review, I had a look and I was intrigued.

Max is the 16-year-old intersex son of a high-profile golden couple in a satellite town of Oxford in Britain. Max is well-adjusted, funny, compassionate and everything a 16-year-old should be, until a shocking betrayal forces him to re-examine everything he thinks he knows about himself.

I won’t give anything else away, except that it’s twisty and brilliant and poignant and sad and very, very well done. I have barely been able to put it down since Sunday, and have been reading it in fits and starts around my ethics and law readings for my education classes. I just finished it ten minutes ago and my face is streaky from mascara and I feel like I need to hold everyone in my world just a little bit tighter.

Please read Golden Boy. I think I may have found my new favourite novel of the year. Thank you again, Meg, for recommending it!