Trying Not to Fret Over Literacy Stats

read-652384_960_720[1]I just finished reading a book by American journalist and Princeton University professor, Chris Hedges called Empire of Illusion (The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle), and he has a lot to say about the decline in American literacy, among many other things. The book was published in 2009 and the figures he quotes are a dozen or more years old.

Hedges says: “Functional illiteracy is an epidemic in America.” From there he reports that 7 million Americans are illiterate, 27 million are unable to read well enough to complete a job application and 30 million can’t read a simple sentence. 50 million read at a 4th or 5th grade level. Nearly a third of the nation’s population are barely literate, a number that grows by more than 2 million every year. A third of high school grads never read another book for the rest of their lives. 42% of college students don’t, and in 2007, 80% of families in the U.S. did not buy or read a book. Each stat lists a footnote citing sources that include the National Institute for Literacy, National Center for Adult Literacy, The Literacy Company, and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Here in Canada, things aren’t much better, according to a 2006 CBC documentary, which claimed that 42% of Canadians are functionally illiterate. I went online to look up more current stats and not surprisingly, the numbers vary from source to source, so like most things in life, I take all of this with a grain of salt. Common sense tells me, though, that literacy can certainly be improved, and that people, in general, appear to be reading less due to other entertainment distractions.

The book delves into other topics such as the captivation with the cult of celebrity, how people believe what they’re fed on TV without questioning its authenticity, and keep in mind that Hedges was writing about this a dozen years ago. For many Americans, their reality is whatever the latest cable news show, political leader, advertiser, or loan officer says it, and most of those elements are controlled by corporations.

This troubling information reaches far deeper and is far more important than any desire I have to sell books. Rather, it’s about the decline of language and communication and analytical thinking, and the impact on our culture, economy, education, politics, and quality of life, to name a few.

Readingabook[1]Hedges isn’t the only one who’s concerned. This week, I came across another a more current headline from Publishing Perspectives, stating “UK’s 2020 World Book Day: Reading in Sharp Decline”. You can read the piece HERE.

Throughout the book, I began to wonder what, if any, solutions Hedges has to the problems of literacy and illusion. He doesn’t really, at least nothing concrete, but I know a couple of people who volunteer to help children read in schools and in adult community centers. Helping one another to improve reading skills and create joy in reading seems like a good place to start.

Thanksgiving Gratitude and Surprises

CA_thanksgiving1[1]Last weekend, my Canadian friends and family celebrated Thanksgiving. Other than doing a little editing and book formatting, this wasn’t a productive writing weekend, but rather a weekend for family and for reflection on the many things I’m grateful for. It was also a day to remember my mother who would have celebrated her 85th birthday on Sunday the 13th.

Her ashes were scattered on Sunday. We toasted her with a bottle of sparkling wine, her favorite celebration beverage, and a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, which was her favorite holiday meal. We also began the task of sorting through the last of her belongings that I’d been storing in our spare bedroom since early June.

When we packed up her apartment in July 2018 to move her into assisted living, we thought we’d been through everything. As it turns out, we didn’t closely inspect every book and photograph. You won’t believe what we found.

Stamp album.jpgFirst, we came across what looked like a book, but what was actually The Victory Stamp Album, which is pretty much self-explanatory. The title page says that the book was made in England but published in Toronto (in England and French) by The Copp Clark Co. Ltd. I’ve never heard of them but stamp enthusiasts and others might know who they were. Inscribed on the inside of the book, is the caption, “To my dear little son Clifford with love and all good wishes, from Mother.” Clifford was my grandfather, born in 1908. Some of the stamps are missing, but others are still there. It felt like I was holding a bit of history in my hands.

 

War time book.jpgThe second surprise was a thin book called “How to Solve Some of Your Wartime Home Problems” published by Canadian General Electric Co. Limited, dated Nov. 1943. Some of the chapter headings are “How to Conserve Fuel and Still Keep Warm” and “How to Get the Most Out of the Food You Buy” that includes meat rationing recipes, like Braised Beef Heart, Beef Liver Creole, Pic Hocks and Sauerkraut, and Creamed Sweetbreads with Mushrooms”. How different our Canadian diets are today!

The third book was apparently the first book given to my mother. The cover has all but fallen off, but handwritten inside is the date 1939. Mom was born in 1934. It’s an illustrated book of Bible stories.

Lastly, I came across a photo of my grandfather Clifford’s grandmother, whose name was Jane Anne Taylor before marriage to the Mason clan. In other words she was my great, great grandmother. I had no idea. Looking at more family photos of my aunts, I can still see some resemblance. Simply amazing. My kids and I learned some valuable family history on Sunday, and I’m thankful that my mother kept these things, and that her memory will live on.

Welcome Guest Blogger, Darlene Foster

Amanda in Holland.jpgMy guest today is author Darlene Foster, the creator of the popular Amanda Travels series featuring Amanda Ross, a twelve-year-old Canadian girl who loves to travel to interesting places. The seventh book in the series, Amanda in Holland – Missing in Action, has just been released by Central Avenue Publishing and is available through most bookstores.

In this book, intrepid traveller, Amanda Ross, is in Holland to see the tulips with her best friend, Leah. They travel the canals of Amsterdam, visit Anne Frank House, check out windmills, tour a wooden shoe factory, and take pictures of the amazing flowers of Keukenhof Gardens.  But, things are missing in Holland – rare tulip bulbs, a gardener, a home for an abandoned puppy and Amanda’s great-uncle who didn’t return from the war. Is Amanda capable of finding these missing things without putting herself in danger?

Darlene Foster photo.jpgDarlene bases her novels on her own travels. Ever since she was a little girl living a ranch in southern Alberta, she dreamt of travelling the world, meeting interesting people and writing stories. It’s no surprise that she’s now an award-winning author of the exciting Amanda Travels series featuring spunky twelve-year-old Amanda Ross, who loves to travel to unique places. Readers of all ages enjoy travelling with Amanda as she encounters the unknown and unravels one mystery after another. When not travelling herself, Darlene divides her time between Canada and Spain with her husband and entertaining dog, Dot. She is proof that dreams can come true.

A recent five-star review for Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action

This book was quite a bit of fun. Foster combines a middle-grade fiction plot with a colourful tour of Holland, including its famous sites, snippets of history, and its wonderful flowers and food. I had the great fortune of visiting my grandparents in Holland when I was Amanda’s age, and her experiences in the book mirror my memories in great detail. It was a blast to traipse along beside Amanda and enjoy the country once again.

The main plot focuses on the recovery of a lost puppy, but secondary plots weave through the story, and all come together nicely at the end. There’s a bit of mystery and some danger to keep the tension up. There are also some very moving scenes when Amanda visits Anne Frank’s home and a war memorial dedicated to the Canadians who helped liberate Holland during WWII. A lovely book for young readers and absolutely perfect for readers who plan to travel the world.

  1. W. Peach https://dwallacepeachbooks.com/

amandapostcardsallfront.jpgThe Amanda Travels series introduces readers to new cultures and countries by weaving mystery and adventure into the stories. They are perfect for tweens or reluctant older readers and appeal to teachers and librarians looking for new material for their classroom. Adults enjoy the adventures as well.

Darlene will be in the Vancouver area reading from and signing her books at these locations:

Albany Books, 123 – 1315 56th Street, Tsawwassen on Saturday, October 19th from 1:00 – 3:00 PM

Chapters, Pine Tree Village, 2991 Lougheed Hwy, Coquitlam on Sunday, October 20th from 1:00 to 4:00 PM

Social media links

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DarleneFosterWriter/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/supermegawoman

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/darlene6490/

Website: http://www.darlenefoster.ca/

Blog: https://darlenefoster.wordpress.com/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3156908.Darlene_Foster

Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/DarleneFoster/e/B003XGQPHA/

Weird and Wacky Special Days

long_one[1].jpgLast week my husband said, “Happy lost socks day,” to which I replied, “Huh?” He told me he’d heard on the radio that this was lost socks day. At that point, he glanced at the three unmatched socks abandoned on his side of the dresser.

Skeptical about whether such a day truly existed, I looked it up and sure, enough, May 9th is indeed officially known as Lost Sock Memorial Day. I found a website called Holiday Insights which lists a whole array of unique and in some cases bizarre special days.

Many months ago, I read a marketing tip advising authors to find a special day to tie in with their books. Who knew that Valentine’s Hallowe’en, Labor Day, Canada Day, and so forth barely cover the massive number of special days we can celebrate. Here’s a few more festive occasions in May that you might want to acknowledge, or not.

May 15 – National Chocolate Chip Day (that’s today. Eat a cookie.)

May 16 – National Sea Monkey Day (why? I wonder)

May 17 – Pack Rat Day (I know people who celebrate this daily)

May 18 – No Dirty Dishes Day (unless you’re on holiday, is that even possible?)

May 18 – Visit Your Relatives Day (maybe they’ll do the dishes)

May 20 – Be a Millionaire Day (wonder how that one works)

May 23 – Lucky Penny Day (a rare event indeed, here in Canada)

May 24 – Don’t Fry Friday (never do)

May 25 – Tap Dance Day (love it!)

May 28 – National Hamburger Day (aren’t most days?)

Of course, more serious holidays are also listed, but the point is there’s pretty much an occasion for everyone. If you like to make greeting cards, just imagine what you could do. If you’re looking for rather unique approaches to marketing your books, the opportunities are endless, so have at it.

An Inspiring Family Conversation

Cartoon of Girl WritingI don’t often discuss my writing projects with my family. In fact, many writers I know don’t discuss their work in general, some because they feel it might jinx it or diminish their enthusiasm. Others believe that non-writing friends and family wouldn’t be interested. Let’s face it, there’s a reason no one’s made a TV show or reality contest about novel writing. It’d be pretty boring to watch.

My husband, daughter, and future son-law are all accountants, and my son is a science major working in the tech field. You can well imagine that my job doesn’t really fit into conversations easily, which is fine. It doesn’t bother me that no one’s ever asked “how’d your writing go today?” Most days, the answer would be pretty vague and monosyllabic.

This weekend, my daughter was helping me add hyperlinks to my ebooks and later, while we were having dinner she asked when my next book would be published. She also asked me about my creative process. She wanted to know if I create a situation, incident, or plot and then weave my series characters to fit that, or do I look at my characters first and create a situation to fit them? It was a great question, which launched a discussion about the creative process.

You see, my husband also paints water colors as a hobby. My daughter is a terrific writer and articulate communicator in her own right. She exceled at novel analyses in English classes and wrote songs and played guitar in her late teens. Both my husband and daughter have friends who are professional artists, so creativity isn’t completely foreign to their world.

It was a fascinating discussion because I learned things about my husband’s hobby that I never knew (he often gets up at the crack of down and experiments with drawings before he leaves for work), and I learned how my daughter’s friend arrives at the themes and decisions that appear in her paintings.

Through the half hour or so we spent sharing experiences and ideas, I became more excited at the prospect of finishing my current WIPS, of exploring topics in ways that I hadn’t considered in a long time. It was enlightening, inspiring, and a great boost. Isn’t it amazing where inspiration comes from?

A Mini-Break To Start 2019 Off Right!

To wind up this three-month break from the day job, tending to family needs and other obligations, I’m excited to be heading off to sunny, warm Puerto Vallarta tomorrow. We’ll be joining my daughter and future son-in-law for fun, relaxation, and site-seeing.

This is my second trip to this wonderful city, but the first time we get to share the experience with family. It could be our last Mexico trip for a while, but who knows?

mexico, 2018The photo is a glimpse of the resort where I’ll be staying. I’m bringing lots of sunscreen and books on my iPad, and yes, a little light editing for those early mornings with coffee in hand, when the days feel fresh, creative, and promising.

I’ll also bring my laptop, but don’t guarantee that I’ll actually look at it too often. Those two-for-one happy hours and all that sun tend to sap my energy as the day goes on.

I won’t be blogging until the last week of January, when I’ll catch up with all of the great bloggers I follow. Until then, adiós!

New Year, New Start

Happy New Year 2019 To Reach Design New Year 2018Happy New Year! How’s your year going so far? Those who’ve followed my blog for a while know that I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but I do have ongoing writing goals and household projects that manage to get done, more or less.

I’m reluctant to project the completion of any writing projects in 2019, due to my mother’s serious health issues, but I am turning a new page and trying to focus on all the positive things coming up in 2019.

My daughter’s wedding in September will be one. A vacation in Mexico in a few days is another, and then there will be the completion of my daughter and son-in-law’s newly built house. Can’t wait for all of that!

I’ll write every day this year, as I have in previous years, and monitor my mom’s situation and that of my nineteen-and-a-half-year-old cat, who appears to be in his final year as well.

Needless to say, 2019 will be full of ups and downs and I’m mentally preparing as best I can. These past 2-1/2 months of day-job leave have been extremely helpful to tend to family needs and responsibilities. I have one month left before returning to the daily grind. We’ll see how it goes. No matter what, I’ll learn a lot this year, try to do what I can for others, and hopefully a year from now won’t have too many regrets.

I wish all of you a happy, peaceful, prosperous, and creative new year. We’ll do our best, right? What more can we ask of ourselves.

The Rising Popularity of Audio Books

grateful-54-audiobooks[1].jpgWhen I first began selling my novels at craft fairs five years ago, I was occasionally asked if they were available as ebooks, which they were, and still are. Most customers owned Kindles and a few had other e-readers. This year, however, the most frequent question is “Are your books available in audio?”

The answer is not yet, but it looks like I’ll need to do so soon. Based on what I’ve read and heard this year, other writers are saying the same thing. While audio books are rapidly rising in popularity, however, the majority of people I spoke with don’t actually buy them, but borrow audio books from the library. This is anecdotal information, of course. Still, it does appears that this is where my market is.

First, I need to research how to go about creating an audio version of my books. If any of you are aware of a good service, please let me know. I’m especially looking for Canadian options to avoid the high U.S. exchange rate.

Also, please note that I’ll be away this week from Wednesday to Friday, but will catch up on your comments and thoughts then. Thank you!

Why Reading Is More Important Than Ever

Readingabook[1]Whenever I sell my books at craft fairs, I know that only a small percentage of attendees read novels. People generally don’t come to craft fairs to buy books, and some even tell me that they don’t read period.

How folks spend their free time is of course up to them, but a growing number of studies show that non-readers are not only missing out on great entertainment, but losing out on an opportunity to improve their mental state.

I came across a blog about a study that showed the positive impact of reading to combat loneliness, mental health issues, and dementia among seniors. You can read the blog HERE, and another link will take you to the full report (it’s 50 pages long, so I didn’t read it all), but the bottom line is that reading matters a great deal to one’s overall brain health.

In Canada, we do a good job of encouraging young people to read. Almost every parent I know read to their kids when they were toddlers and during their elementary school years. Reading and books are a big part of school life, but what about the other end of the age spectrum? What happens when real-life demands take people away from reading, and they’ve long forgotten the joy of immersing oneself in a good story?

If you know of someone, of any age, who’s suffering through loneliness, memory loss, depression, or other mental health issues, give them a good book, or take them on a trip to the library, or maybe even read to them. It’s a simple way to improve the quality of one’s life and might just help revive the joy of letting one’s imagination escape into brand new worlds. The more readers there are, the better off the world is.

Assessing Goals, New and Old

keep-calm-and-set-new-goals-257x300[1]This year hasn’t gone by quickly for me, although it has been eventful. I had two main goals in 2018 and neither of them had to do with writing. One was to finally move my mother into assisted living (the decision involved many discussions and was both physically and emotionally draining). The other was to sell Mom’s condo (which required lots of repair). The first goal was achieved on July 29, the second on Nov.  2nd.

Rather than wait for the new year to begin, I’m starting to think about new goals. I’m a big believer in goal setting. It’s the difference between getting something done and plodding along, leaving heaps of half-finished novels in piles.

I do have a number of big, ongoing writing goals that started a few years back. A few of those goals have been met while others are still in the works. Each year I edge a little closer to the finish line.

I probably won’t meet my reading goal of fifty novels this year. I just finished number forty, but I’m not sure I can read ten more books over the next two months. I’d also planned to get the sixth Casey Holland Mystery, The Blade Man, ready for my editor, but I’m behind schedule there as well. I’m just finishing draft #7 and while the book’s much better than it was with draft #6, I need another read-through before handing it over.

There are other writing projects that are not as far along as I hoped, but as you can imagine, real life family issues took priority and will take priority again as my mother’s health slowly declines. So, do I continue to make writing goals? You bet. I’d rather try and fail than not try at all.

The thing about goals is that they can be adjusted, and time limits aren’t always necessary or helpful. The point is to have at least one that matters, so I’m going to be realistic, as I decide which writing and household projects to spend time on over the coming months. Before this year is over, I just might have new goals ready to go for 2019.