For the Love of the Cozy Mystery

 

Ever since I started playing “Criminal Case” on my iPad, I have been intrigued by solving mysteries. Many top mystery books though involve a lot of gore and violence which doesn’t really appeal to me. My mom was the one to suggest reading what is referred to as “cozy mysteries” to me. Cozy mysteries are mystery novels that are not as intense in tone as regular mystery novels and have very little violence and gory scenes.

I started reading cozy mysteries last month and ever since I have been hooked on them. Some authors I would recommend for starting out are Lois Lavrisa, Joanne Fluke, and Gina LaManna. These are all authors whose books I have read and really enjoyed. The characters are very relatable and they are fast-paced books with unique settings and often a lighthearted tone to them.

What has allowed me to open up to cozy mysteries is the fact that lately I have been in a bit of a reading rut. It has been difficult to find books that I can really get swept away in and until last month I wasn’t reading books as frequently as I used to. Now that I have a new found love for cozy mysteries I am reading more and enjoy discussing these books with my mom.

Why would I recommend cozy mysteries over more mainstream mystery novels? There is simply too much drama in the world today and a cozy mystery allows you to get away from all the tension and intensity and soak up a book that doesn’t have too much of that. Now don’t get me wrong—mainstream mysteries are still good books but I just can’t seem to attach myself to them as easily as I do to cozy mysteries.

The next time you visit your local bookstore or library I would suggest venturing over to the mystery section and consider checking out a cozy mystery. I guarantee that you won’t regret it.

How to Deal with Writer’s Block

Writer’s block is a problem that has plagued writers for years. I am almost positive that even the most successful and prolific authors have had bouts of writer’s block over the years. The issue though is how to handle this when it arises. I’m still figuring out my strategies of coping with this but here are a few tips when you’re lost for words:
• Put the difficult piece you’re writing aside for a bit and focus on something else. You may come up with ideas for the harder piece when you’re writing or doing something else.
• Do some writing exercises or writing prompts. These may trigger a burst of creativity and lead to some unexpected writing from you.
• Write when you’re most alert and awake. This will allow you to have more creative energy and be able to really focus on the project at hand.
You have to realize that every writer at some point will struggle with a piece that they’re trying to put on paper. Words don’t always come easily and when they finally do come the words may not be the ones you envisioned in your head. Sometimes the words you do end up writing though may be even better than you imagined they could be.
There is nothing wrong with admitting that you’re stuck in a rut when it comes to your writing. No one will think any less of you because you can’t expect to churn out words all the time. I know I certainly don’t. When the time is right the words will come to you and you could end up writing something quite beautiful and powerful.
Believe in yourself and your ability as a writer and come to terms with the fact that writing is a craft. It takes practice and creative and mental energy to compose great works. Try not to become overwhelmed when confronted with a writing project as this will only hinder your productivity and ability to write.
Other writers have provided advice over the years for coping with obstacles writers face including writer’s block and here are some of their strategies for confronting this issue:
• Maya Angelou wrote: “What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks “the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.” And it might just be the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, “Okay. Okay. I’ll come.”
• Neil Gaiman agreed with some of the strategies I wrote earlier and added: “Start at the beginning. Scribble on the manuscript as you go if you see something you want to change. And often, when you get to the end you’ll be both enthusiastic about it and know what the next few words are. And you do it all one word at a time.”
• Anne Lamott, author of writing books such as Bird by Bird, stated: “I encourage my students at times like these to get one page of something written, three hundred words of memories or dreams or stream of consciousness on how much they hate writing—just for the hell of it, just to keep their fingers from becoming too arthritic, just because they have made a commitment to try to write three hundred words every day.”
• The legendary Mark Twain had good advice for struggling writers when he said: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks and then starting on the first one.”
• Orson Scott Card had some great advice for those coping with writer’s block and stated: “Writer’s block is my unconscious mind telling me that something I’ve just written is either unbelievable or unimportant to me, and I solve it by going back and reinventing some part of what I’ve already written so that when I write it again, it is believable and interesting to me. Then I can go on. Writer’s block is never solved by forcing oneself to “write through it”, because you haven’t solved the problem that caused your unconscious mind to rebel against the story, so it still won’t work—for you or for the reader.”
These writers are some of the successful writers around and their advice is incredibly helpful for those who wish to pursue writing as a profession. Writing is a communal exercise and with the insights these authors have provided, you may find the will to keep on writing and get your creative juices flowing. You may not become the next Hemingway or Twain but you may surprise yourself with what you’re able to produce when you’re in the right frame of mind.
I hope that the advice I’ve provided has enabled you to continue working on the more difficult writing tasks in your life and allow you to forge ahead. You will be grateful that you did because the world needs to read your work and wants to learn from your life experiences. Whether you are writing for fun or for profit you will want to be able to keep on writing the best things possible for your audience. Writing can truly be one of the most cathartic activities around which it has been for me and I definitely struggle with it but I believe that eventually I will power through and write something poignant and meaningful.
Writer’s block will never completely go away but it will improve the more you write. You will be able to dream up new ways to express yourself creatively and be eager and enthusiastic about the writing you’re about to do. Most of all you will be creating a sense of pride at what you are able to accomplish with your writing. It can be one of the most rewarding things that you can ever plan to do in your lifetime. Never give up and remain determined to write things that will mean something in the long run.

The Art of Reading Faster

Reading is a favorite pursuit of many but it can be daunting when faced with lengthier novels and assigned academic reading. How is it possible that some people are able to read this kind of material faster than others? Is there truly an art to speed reading? This article will explore techniques that instruct readers on how they can perfect this sought after skill. Let us begin on a journey that will help you to become a great speed reader.
One article entitled “How to Learn Speed Reading” that can be found by visiting http://www.wikihow.com/Learn-Speed-Reading gives a step by step guide to increasing your productivity while reading. The first step proposed is to stop visualizing the spoken word and focus on blocks of text. The second step is to hold the book or screen at a distance as you read to absorb more text at once. Once you have mastered these steps, progress by hiding words you’ve already read so you won’t be tempted to re-read them to understand the context better.
A key part of an efficient reading experience is to read without distractions in a space that is quiet and well lit. Posture is essential as reading while in bed can make you more tired. Additionally, you should try to read at a time when you’re most awake and focused. Concentrate on the most crucial aspects of the text first and ask yourself insightful questions about what you’re reading to stop yourself from daydreaming or becoming distracted by your thoughts.
Even when practicing these techniques, you should try to understand the different types of reading and practice good reading techniques such as carefully reading instead of skimming to understand more difficult parts of the book you’re reading. When you’re practicing these steps, try reading an easy and light book first so you won’t have to think so deeply about the material. You should time your reading speed by perhaps setting a timer and seeing how much reading you can do in a set amount of time. When you encounter a text such as a magazine or newspaper, look at the section headings and headlines to see what you want to read and what you already understand.
Another article written by the Student Counseling Service at the University of Chicago that can be found at http://counseling.uchicago.edu/page/speed-reading-method presents some techniques that have already been mentioned but also suggests using a pen to guide your eyes as you read. You can begin reading at your normal pace and mark where you left off before re-reading the same passage for a minute at a faster speed than before. It has you reiterate this step by reading three times faster than your slowest speed and then asking yourself how much you remember from the passage. The counseling service recommended practicing this process for 10 minutes a day for two weeks to become more comfortable with the art of speed reading, increase your reading speed, and improve your understanding of the text.
A speed reading expert, Dr. Richard L. Feldman, from Columbia University wrote a 10-step article entitled “Speed Reading: 10 Tips to Improve Reading Speed and Reading Comprehension” found on http://www.learningtechniques.com/speedreadingtips.html. His ten steps are as follows:
1. Read earlier in the day when you are most awake and can maintain focus on important material.
2. Organize your reading materials by their degree of importance and then read the material in the order of importance. This will help improve your reading speed.
3. Skim for main ideas in nonfiction books by scanning the table of contents and beginnings and ends of each paragraph. Understanding the book’s structure will help you to know which parts to skim and which parts require more careful reading.
4. Turn headings and subheadings into questions to ponder and then examine the text to find the answers to these questions.
5. Use a bookstand and have your book angled at 45 degrees to avoid straining your eyes.
6. Write short notes after reading letters and then refer to these notes when you’re ready to reply to the sender.
7. Avoid highlighting key portions of the text as this will not improve comprehension of the book.
8. Preview the text before beginning reading.
9. Adjust your reading speed to the type of reading material and purpose for reading.
10. Enroll in a speed reading class taught by an expert on the subject.
Glendale Community College wrote a five method primer on self-pacing while speed-reading. Their primer is on its website at http://english.glendale.cc.ca.us/methods.html. The five methods are named “The Hand”; “The Card”; “The Sweep”; “The Hop”; and “The Zig-Zag.”
“The Hand” is a method that has the reader place their right hand on the page and move it straight down the page so you move your eyes down as you read. Do this at a slow and even pace.
“The Card” technique has you use a card or a folded piece of paper above the line you are trying to read and draw it down the page slowly and evenly and try to read the passage before covering up the words. Slide the card down faster than you can go.
“The Sweep” has you use your hand to draw your eyes across the page. Cup your right hand and keep your fingers together. Using a light and smooth motion, sweep fingers from left to right underlining the line with the tip of your finger. Use your whole arm to move and balance on your arm.
“The Hop” has you lift your fingers and make two bounces on each line. Each time you bounce, you hopefully will read sets of three or four words. This makes it easier for you to keep a steady pace as you read.
“The Zig-Zag” has you take your hand and cut diagonally across the page for three lines and then back to the text. Scan the entire page and pick out the main ideas.
According to a 2012 Forbes article that published the results of a speed-reading test sponsored by Staples as part of an e-book promotion, the typical speeds at which we read and understand at different points in our educational development are as follows:
• Third grade students—150 words per minute
• Eighth grade students—250 words per minute
• Average college student—450 words per minute
• Average “high-level” executive—575 words per minute
• Average college professor—675 words per minute
• Speed readers—1,500 words per minute
• World speed reading champion—4,700 words per minute
• Average adult—300 words per minute
The article’s author then put these rates into context by applying them to typical reading materials of very successful businesspeople. For newspapers and blogs, at the average adult speed of 300 WPM you would spend 33 minutes a day on that part of your reading routine.
For magazines with an average length between 60 and 150 pages, you would spend 75 minutes reading one magazine and successful individuals normally read about five magazines per day. For them, the reading time over a course of a month would be 50 minutes a day. For books with an estimated word count of 100,000 words and the goal to read one book a month, that comes to 11 minutes a day at the average adult reading speed.
Factoring all of this in, you could easily spend at least two hours a day reading at the rate of 300 WPM. For more of the author’s insights on this topic, visit http://www.forbes.com/sites/brettnelson/2012/06/04/do-you-read-fast-enough-to-be-successful/ .
The Staples speed-reading test can be found on http://www.staples.com/sbd/cre/marketing/technology-research-centers/ereaders/speed-reader/.
One reader of this article gave her tips for speed-reading which included reading in phrases rather than word by word and learning to skim the article for its core concepts. The layout of the article would also impact how fast you are able to read it.
Another insightful commenter mentioned that absorbing more useful content could be obtained by listening to the news as you drive to become well-informed and able to reference important stories. You could also listen to audiobooks at the maximum volume to cram more content into a busy week.
One reader mentioned that there should be some scholarly analysis into how reading speed correlates with typing rates as many individuals spend a good part of their day typing. She compared the speed of listening to a book on tape versus reading it in print and then compared this to how fast that text could then be transcribed by writing or typing. She found that reading and typing at the same time averaged out at between three and four times faster than the typical speaking rate of a book-on-tape reader.
An interesting article that criticized the outlandish claims of some speed reading instructors and courses was published on the website of the Skeptic’s Dictionary at http://skepdic.com/speedreading.html. One of these speed reading instructors, Howard Berg, author of Speed Reading the Easy Way, claims that he is able to read 25,000 words per minute which is about 80-90 pages a minute. A professor at UC Berkeley, Anne Cunningham, examined test results that measured eye movements while reading that determined that the maximum amount of words a person can read accurately is about 300 per minute. People who claim to read 10,000 words per minute are really just skimming the material.
The author of the article believed that a better way to increase reading speed would be to enroll in a community college course that would improve study skills, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. It would certainly cost less than a speed reading course such as the Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics course.
The Evelyn Wood speed reading course is a very well-known program with techniques that have been practiced by US presidents including John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter. John F. Kennedy had Evelyn Wood instructors teach top-level staff members how to increase their reading speed as did Richard Nixon. Jimmy Carter took the course and was able to reach a 1,200 word per minute reading rate with a high comprehension rate. The techniques of the Wood program which was acquired by Encyclopaedia Britannica were explored in a comprehensive book entitled “Remember Everything You Read: The Evelyn Wood 7 Day Speed Reading and Learning Program.”
One technique mentioned was the visual-vertical approach which involves eliminating vocalization of words and replacing it with a visual perception of the material that entails sweeping the eyes vertically down the page. The book stated that the full emotional impact and intellectual understanding of most passages in books is enhanced with the visual-vertical approach to reading.
Another technique is the multiple reading process or layering technique which involves seeing and accepting words and phrases out of their expected order. The layering technique is a five-step process which includes:
1. Overview
a. Quickly skimming the book to determine its organization, structure, and tone
b. See what the cover and jacket state about the contents and author
c. Examine the preface and introduction if there is one
d. Flip through the pages at about one second per page
2. Preview
a. Read at about four seconds per page to draft an outline of the details of the book.
b. Divide the chapter you are reading into sections if it is a nonfiction text. If the work is fictitious, you can preview the book by identifying main characters, setting, time period, and general direction of the plot.
c. Look for key facts and concepts paying close attention to the introduction, summaries, and questions posed by the author.
3. Read
a. Preview the first subsection in a nonfiction book and read that section at your fastest comfortable reading speed and make notations to pinpoint important or difficult material to study later on. This will help you to remain actively engaged with the book.
4. Postview
a. Review the entire reading assignment and think about the relationship of each part of the book to the whole.
5. Review
a. Regularly try to remember what you’ve read and see how it relates to other course materials
It is evident now that there are a variety of techniques for reading faster and with practice perhaps you could also become a great speed reader. Try to remember though that speed reading shouldn’t replace savoring the experience of a good book. The various ways to speed read could certainly apply however to lengthy assigned readings for academic courses. Hopefully this article has allowed you to understand the methods of speed reading and helped you to determine whether speed reading is a skill that you wish to perfect.

A Good Taste of What’s to Come: Buzz Books Spring/Summer 2013

Buzz Books 2013: Spring/Summer was a great taste of what to expect for the spring and summer season in books. Included were 28 excerpts from books in various genres and while some were books I can’t wait to read, others did not appeal to me as much. I felt it was a good mix of genres and could appeal to a diverse readership.

What was included within the book were excerpts from books by debut authors which provides readers of this book the opportunity to get a good feel for the writing style of the author. One favorite was Anton DiSclafani’s The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls which was about a 15 year old girl whose involvement in a family tragedy caused her to be sent in the late summer to the camp which will be released in June. This is a period novel so those who enjoy history may be interested in the book.

There were also some interesting nonfiction selections including Lily Koppel’s The Astronaut Wives Club which is already in film development about a group of wives of the first American astronauts beginning in 1961 with Mercury 7 to the Apollo mission of 1969. This provided a glimpse into their world which is filled with magazine covers, reporters converging on their front lawns, and visits to the developing Cape Canaveral. Decisive by Chip Heath and Dan Heath helps readers with their decision-making processes.

This was the first sampler from a publisher that I have tried and I liked how it provided lengthy excerpts from the books so you could make an educated decision on whether you wanted to purchase the book when it was released. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who wants to find out about noteworthy books before they are released. I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, Publishers Lunch.