It’s Groundhog day!

Have you noticed that every day has a name these days? Poetry day, Star Wars day, rare illnesses day… I learn about them thanks to twitter, as one does, and that was how my feed got filled with images from the film Groundhog day last February 2nd.

In Spain we didn’t know anything about the furry weather forecaster, so the film was translated with a different title (Atrapado en el tiempo, Trapped in time), and the concept of that day was alien to me. Since the film appeared to be already ingrained in popular culture and I felt disconnected for not knowing about it, I decided to put it on my to-watch list, whose time came during the first weekend of the lockdown (the lockdown started on March 15 in my country).

The surprise came when of what I thought was going to be just a comedy I found such a profound story that I am sure would have had a shallow effect on me had it not been for the difficult times we are living worldwide. So, please, let me talk about the film in detail, and beware if you haven’t watched it, because there will be plenty of spoilers (the film is from 1993, so we all agree that I am not breaking any law, don’t we?).

groundhog day

The protagonist is Phil Connors, a self-centered, cranky, and selfish weather forecaster who travels to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to cover the celebrations and the weather prediction on Groundhog Day. The weather doesn’t let the team go back home, so they stay in town and, the next morning, to Phil’s surprise, it is Groundhog day again, he being trapped in a time loop the rest of the people are not aware of.

At this point, one can’t but notice the similarities with the confinement because all days feel the same. Perhaps not at first, when you try to adapt to the new routine, but after a few days you begin to feel trapped (you are not allowed to leave the house anyway, so it is not just a feeling). And then, if you allow yourself to consider the situation further on, you realize that everyday life might also be a time loop. There are changes, there are special days, but the majority of our days are the same day repeated over and over because it is hard to take responsibility and use our own time wisely.

In the film, Connors is at first enraged with the situation. He dislikes the small town of Punxsutawney and the locals, and he shows it constantly, causing not surprise to Rita, the producer, and the cameraman, who are already used to Phil’s bad temper. Sounds familiar? We all know people whose aim in life is to let others know they are not happy; just don’t be one of them. In these bizarre circumstances of confinement, the only thing I can complain about is being confined at home, which is what everybody else is, at least, experiencing if they are lucky: there are people in hospitals where you can’t have visitors to stop the spreading of the virus; there are people who have lost relatives and they can’t even organize a funeral because gatherings are not allowed; and there are old men and women alone in their houses, terrified to get the virus. The majority of us are in the lucky lot, so just don’t be a jerk and don’t complain.

Going back to the film, and after some groundhog days under his belt, Connors makes sure that his acts have no consequences and takes advantage of the situation by committing minor crimes, having sex with all the women he is able to, and eating candy like there is no tomorrow. Sadly, I have seen such behaviors these days. As an example, the animal shelters are reporting a raise in adoptions because people are allowed to go out to walk the dog so, suddenly, everybody wants one. I suppose they think they are clever, but NO.

Batman-slaps-Robin

However, Connors changes towards the end of the film: he decides to use his time wisely both for him and for others. He gets to know all those locals that he once despised and helps them: a boy that falls from a tree, a man who chokes in a restaurant, genuine tenderness and care to an old beggar on his last day on earth. He goes (groundhog) day after (groundhog) day to piano lessons and learns how to make stunning ice sculptures, contributing to the beauty in this world. And he is kind with his coworkers and makes the most remarkable covering of the festivities, while his love for Rita grows until, on one last groundhog day, she realizes what a loving and generous man he is, and she loves him back.

This confinement is as close as we are going to get to a time loop like the film’s. Dance in the sitting room, create art, do yoga in the afternoons, enroll in a MOOC, give as many kisses as you can. Let’s use that time wisely.

2019: A year in books

Ready for some bookish statistics? Come on in!

Statistics

Challenges: as many previous years, I set my Goodreads challenge to 65 books, an amount I easily used to read in a year… Not this one, unfortunately. With so many courses and exams, my reading has slowed down considerably and I fell short of my original plans: I have read only 45 books, of which:

Authors: I have read 18 books written by women (40%) and 27 written by men (60%). In previous years I have been closer to 50% each.

Formats: I have read 7 digital books, 14 audiobooks, and 24 physical books.

Languages: I have read 22 books in English and 23 books in Spanish. All the audiobooks were in English, as always.

Origin of the books: of those 24 physical books, 18 were borrowed from two public libraries, one was a classic epic English poem that the teachers of my literature course provided to print, and the rest came from my own shelves.

Genres: without getting into details, I have read 21 non-fiction books, 6 comics, 4 poetry books, and 14 novels.

Pages: According to Goodreads, I have read 11,840 pages. The shortest book was a short story by Stephan Zweig (75 pages), and the longest was the third book of Justin Cronin’s trilogy The passage (768 pages).

Other numbers: I have re-read one book; I have read 2 books together with a reading group; I have read two classic English poems; and I have read 2 books on writing in English.

Best books of the year

Among the non-fiction books I have read, I particularly enjoyed Becoming, Michelle Obama’s autobiography; Atomic habits, by James Clear; and Learning how to learn, by Barbara Oakley.

I re-read again The princess bride at the beginning of the year and that makes it, of course, one of the best books of the year. It’s amazing how this book ends up in the top list every year, ha! The great alone, by Kristin Hannah, also standed up among my fiction reads.

I have read a couple of classics that surprised me positively, taking into account my reluctance to pick up these kind of books. Evelina, by Frances Burney, was one of them.

Finally, I have discovered another favourite author: Julian Barnes. I borrowed one of his novels from the library and immediately read a second one. Now I want to read them all.

**********

I hope you have had a wonderful 2019, and I wish you an even better 2020.

Happy New Year!

Am I too old to start a new degree?

It is said that you will find time for the things you really want to do, but it is clear that those who agree on this are not working eight hours a day while studying a Law degree.

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As an adult, studying is a sacrifice. It is no longer what you are supposed to be doing, and by spending the time and effort it requires you are subtracting quality time from the off-hours you would dedicate to your friends, family and hobbies otherwise. It is also unbelievably satisfying: the thrill of the new books at the beginning of the course; the mastery of your organizational skills (especially if you are enrolled in online courses),;the grades at the end of the semester that mean you are still capable of understanding and retaining new knowledge. And the process of learning itself is its own reward when the motivation comes from within.

When I started studying Law after my veterinary degree, people used to ask me if I liked it. I just couldn’t understand the question, first because one cannot like or dislike things that they don’t know yet and, second, because as a result of deepening your knowledge about a subject you deepen your interest in it. They also proclaim that, ‘I couldn’t study again at my age,’ which happens to be my age as well. And, you know, when I visit the study room at my university I always find students beyond retirement age engrossed in their books, not to mention some cases among my Law classmates of people who couldn’t afford to study when they were young and enrolled in their first degree at the age of 50. These people are my role models.

After finishing the degree, the masters’ degree, and the Examination for Access to the Legal Profession, I decided to continue studying another degree, a degree in Legal Sciences of the Public Administration, which all Law students seemed to be doing as being complementary to the Law studies, so it felt kind of mandatory.

And now, with the Public Administration degree almost finished – I have only four subjects left – I have decided to finally indulge myself with something I was looking forward to studying: English Philology.

In my university the degree is called English Studies, and includes culture of the English-speaking countries, English grammar per se, translation, communication in Spanish… But the subjects I am more excited about are the ones about Literature. This semester in particular I am studying Medieval literature, submerged in ancient epic poems I had never heard of.

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It is still a surprise how much I am enjoying reading about these texts: the historical context, the topics, the structure of the poems… Learning has become a source of pure pleasure again, and I am wondering if I shouldn’t have started the degree in Spanish language and literature first; I feel that I would get much more out from the classic texts now than I did in school, when you only focused on memorizing authors, dates and titles of literary work.

As a result of my new endeavor, these days you can find me walking around the room reading poems out loud so I can appreciate the alliterations on the verses, or inventing kennings following Beowulf’s example. Besides, my partner is incredibly encouraging, so much so that he looks for further readings and radio programs about the poems I have to read, and sometimes I have to catch up with him regarding the texts that he has just acquired all the knowledge about, which makes me laugh because it is supposed to be me who is studying literature!

So, if you are also too old to study, I am pleased to make your acquaintance. We will take advantage of the quietness of the hours before sunrise, or maybe we will be the last in the house to go to bed. We will turn in assignments on time while complaining there is an echo coming back from the fridge. Every single day we will wonder why the hell we are torturing ourselves like this, but no expense will be spared at the exam results’ celebrations. And we will learn. Medieval literature, Microbiology, Criminal Law, Macroeconomics. We will learn.

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Learning how to learn, by Barbara Oakley and Terrence J. Sejnowski

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I don’t know about you, but I have always felt that the only thing I wasn’t taught at school was how to learn. Is it not ironic?

I’m attending an online English course and at some point we were discussing non-fiction books, when the teacher mentioned Barbara Oakley’s MOOC Learning how to learn. I enrolled in the course that very evening and, whereas I found it really interesting, I started the book before finishing the course due to my preference for the written word.

In the book, Barbara explains the techniques you need to master in order to learn better, and she does it in a didactical manner, even making you practice with her own book through reminders in every chapter about scanning through it first, addressing a series of questions at the end to see if you understood the material, etc.

She talks, among other things, about chunks of time, focused and difuse mode, active recall, memory palaces… And she bases their explanations on research about our brain’s way of working and storing new information. The book is intended to be read by young people or together a child with an adult and, therefore, she uses easy-to-understand metaphors so that all readers can understand and apply the techniques to the subjects and materials they need to learn.

But don’t underestimate the quality of this book: if the first sentence of this post resonates with you, you will get invaluable benefit from the reading of Learning how to learn. The techniques won’t be novel to you, I’m sure, but Barbara presents them in a comprehensive form, adding examples to help you get started, and basically compiling them together so you have the feeling of finally knowing everything you need to know about memory and learning.

Now, I am aware that when you read all this you’ll be tempted to make excuses like “I don’t have time for this, I need to study”, and by that you mean coming back to your familiar study routine of opening the book, highlighting half of it in bright yellow, and forgetting most of it the day after. Changing these old patterns is been also a challenge for me who, after 36 years studying, still follows the same unproductive path for learning my subjects at the university, but I’m making an effort now in order improve how I learn. As Barbara says, practice makes permanent, and by implementing the techniques you will end up having more time for other things!

I wish someone had the idea of including a subject on how to learn in schools curriculae when I was a child. It is frustrating when you have to educate yourself years later on the matter; it would have been easier to acquire these habits at a young age but, anyway, this is where we are at the moment. So, please, if you are a person who believes one must learn new things throughout her life, read this book – you won’t be disappointed!

HIIT your limit. Hight Intensity Interval Training for fat loss, cardio, and full body health, by Dr. Len Kravitz

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I received a copy of the book to review

Maybe you don’t know this about me, but I worked in a gym as a fitness instructor for almost nine years. Back then, in my classes, I never thought about working smarter, but harder: I was basically focused on getting my clients the sweatiest they could be within an hour of aerobics, steps, cycling, etc. That’s what they demanded, too, feeling their time was worthy by achieving that sweaty goal. Only some guys at the weight-lifting room would try different techniques to improve their muscle gain by controlling their sessions at the gym and their food intake to crazy-to-me levels.

But it turns out if you want certain results, you have to educate yourself and work smarter, right?

Back then I was working out for 20 hours per week. The time I was not exercising, I would eat insane amounts of every food available, including ice-cream, pastries and junk food. I was thin, lean, as hard as a rock. And perpetually exhausted.

That should have told me something, but there are things you can only acknowledge in retrospect. When I left that job, I couldn’t dedicate all that time to exercise anymore, so I did (and still do) what’s recommended -three to five sessions a week- while trying to eat less even though I was −and I am– hungry all the time (spoiler alert: when you stop exercising you are as hungry as before; your stomach is an independent entity altogether).

And, while all the blood and cardiovascular tests show I am an extremely healthy person, I am overweight. And it’s not that I say so; the doctor has told me I should lose some weight. But I can’t. And it’s kind of frustrating when you swim three times per week, run two times per week, go everywhere by foot, eat less than your stomach would like to… and still you don’t look good. The only thing that comes to mind is “maybe I should eat even less or run for 15 minutes more”, coming back to what I said about focusing on quantity instead of quality.

A few months ago, YouTube “recommended” me a HIIT (High Intensity Intervals Training) video. I tried it out and was amazed: I could only do half of it and I felt that my body couldn’t have been worked more intensely in those 20 minutes. That was when the book I am reviewing today (yes, all this was only the prelude of a book review) came into the picture to help me understand this kind of training better and schedule my own routines.

In my opinion, this -and a park- is all the equipment you’ll ever need to get fit

The first half of the books is dedicated to biology and physiology and includes data and research to better understand how the body works during and after exercise, focusing on HIIT in particular and what the benefits of this training are. For those of you who have already tried it, you would have noticed that you can do much more in less time, but it also helps improve cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and cardiorespiratory fitness faster than other kinds of training.

There is a section dedicated to help you stick with your exercise program, for which I really recommend you read James Clear’s Atomic habits in order to better approach a change in your daily routines either to include exercise or any other new habit. There are also frequently asked questions that I found very informative –“Can I reduce the number of fat cells in my body? No.” I’m still crying over this–. And, at the end of the book, there is advice on how to cut calories with small changes – I can’t apply the majority of them, since I hardly ever eat out, I don’t drink sodas or alcohol, nor do I have sugar with my coffee, etc.

Finally, we have the HIIT workouts. I like that the author recommends reducing your normal workouts and add HIIT ones instead of increasing the total amount of weekly exercise, which was what I had in mind when I started reading the book, and had an exponential increase in anxiety because you don’t really know if you will ever find the time to do it all.

Regarding the workouts themselves, I found them very beginner-like, thought to be done only with a certain exercise mode instead of creating different exercises for every interval, which is what I have been trying lately and found more enjoyable. Don’t get me wrong – I truly believe they are good workouts, but doing running work and recovery intervals is what I have always called “Interval Training”, but not “High Intensity Interval Training”. I know you can increase the intensity, of course, but I guess I was expecting something more like this.

I think the book is primarily targeted towards people who hasn’t developed a steady habit of exercising, so they can start by including these short but effective workouts in their weekly routines and get fast results. For the rest, the book will make you aware of those intervals you only did from time to time and how it is better to focus more often on them without increasing the total amount of time devoted to exercise, in order to achieve your aimed weight and fitness level.

In any case, it is a matter of adapting your routines. I will sure change more of my steady-state running, swimming and walking workouts to intervals, and I will also keep an eye on including different high intensity exercises a couple of days per week.

And now it’s time to start exercising!

HIIT your limit. High Intensity Interval Training for fat loss, cardio, and full body health
Dr. Len Kravitz
Apollo Publishers
216 pages

Book on Goodreads
Book on Amazon

2018: A year in books

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It is that time of the year again.

2018 has been a wonderful year – many of the goals achieved, some wonderful surprises that have come right until the last day of December; I have moved into a flat where I can watch the moonrise, and I have spent time with my loved ones, who are all fine…

But let’s talk about books, because this post was meant to be a summary of my bookish statistics of the year. Ready?

I have read a total amount of 61 books, of which:

  • 31 were written by women and 30 by men.
  • 30 were in English and 31 in Spanish.
  • There were 20 audiobooks (all of them in English), 7 ebooks and 34 regular books.
  • 19 were books from the public libraries of my hometown and other places I have visited this year.
  • Regarding genre, 31 has been non-fiction books (all of the audiobooks were non-fiction, by the way).
  • 10 were comics.
  • I’ve read 2 poetry books.
  • 4 were re-reads.

I didn’t reach my Goodreads goal of reading 65 books, but it has been a busy year. I should start counting text books for the challenge!

*****

Best books of the year

I rated 15 books with five stars, and I am recommending you the following:

Deep work (Cal Newport): for those who are worried about the time wasted on social media and willing to improve their productivity.

Writing down the bones (Natalie Goldberg): you don’t need to be an aspiring writer to read Goldberg’s inspirational book. I actually read it twice this summer.

Firefly lane (Kristin Hannah): a wonderful story about a friendship, with relatable characters.

The Guernsey literary and potato peel pie society (Mary Ann Sheffer): I know I should have read this one long time ago, and now I know you were right: it’s wonderful.

The smoke jumper (Nicholas Evans): I picked this one in the library by chance, and I enjoyed every line.

Under Gemini (Rosamunde Pilcher): it’s not the book, but the author who makes me feel at home in her stories.

*****

I hope you have a very happy New Year with all the reasons to smile.

It’s time to #Readathon! October 2018 edition

Hi guys!

Once more, I’m delighted to share with you my excitement for the upcoming Readathon. You know, from the time I participated in my first readathon more than four years ago, I have never missed a Dewey’s Read-a-thon, and in every one of them I have carefully planned every step of the most anticipated and pleasant 24 hours of the year.

First of all, this will be my first Read-a-thon in the new home, and this fact particularly excites me, since I have a very nice reading spot in my sitting room (picture below), and I also have a nice terrace where, if the weather obliges, I’ll take out my armchair to read and enjoy the fresh air.

Regarding the preparations, I have spent some time in the library, browsing, picking short books and comics. I love the thrill of finishing a book during the read-a-thons and, since I am a very slow reader, I have decided that short books are life-saving in these events.

Besides, I always have an audiobook ready because I like to go walk in the park while listening. Spending too much time sitting is bad for your health, so exercising during the read-a-thon is mandatory!

These are the books:

The Guernsey literary and potato peel pie society (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows): this is a book that has been on my kindle since forever and now I want to read it and watch the film. It’s probably the one I will start off the readathon with.

Matilda (Roald Dahl): can you believe I haven’t read the book nor watched the film? Maybe this time?

What is not yours is not yours (Helen Oyeyemi): I always pick a book of short stories because they are very convenient sometimes during the readathon. I bought it in a book fair some time ago.

The vanishing (Tim Krabbé): a short crime novel I found in the library.

Don’t look under the bed (Juan José Millás): this is a Spanish author I like reading, and I picked this short book also from the library.

Shenzhen. A travelogue from China (Guy Delisle): a comic I knew nothing about, from the library too.

Maus (Art Spiegelman): this comic has been in my shelves forever and I should be reading it during this readathon.

Now let’s talk about the important stuff: cakes and beverages!

I drink both coffee and tea, and this time I have bought two new teas with those flavours that smell delicious. One is a green tea called “Byzantine nights”… Don’t tell me this is not an inviting name for a tea! The other is a black tea called “Violet cake”. These enchanting names have me in awe.

I will also be baking a couple of things… An apple/pineapple pie (this is actually a dessert for today’s dinner, but I have made sure there will be leftovers). And theres is also pumpkin cake from pumpkins that a family friend brought from his vegetable garden.

Besides all this, I have been cleaning, ironing, etc., so as not to have the weekend filled with inconvenient chores.

And finally, I also prepared a sheet to track my progress that you can see here. I’ll see you on twitter, honeys!

*****

The Read-a-thon starts at 2 pm here in Spain. Are you ready to read?

The wisdom of listening, by Marilyn R. Wilson

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I received a copy of the book thanks to iRead book tours.

The wisdom of listening is one of those books you can pick up and open at any given chapter, read it, get inspired, and go ahead with your day, letting the ideas or the message penetrate slowly. Or you can pick it up, get hooked, and read it from cover to cover in a couple of evenings. You will love it anyway!

I decided to participate in the tour because I felt the title was calling my name. We are so absorbed in our own narratives that we hardly ever listen to what others have to say and, on the other hand, I also find it difficult to be heard sometimes… I guess this is the major problem of the modern era, isn’t it? So that’s why I thought that the book came to me in the right moment, and it has been a very pleasant read.

Marilyn R. Wilson uses her career as a journalist to talk about the people she has interviewed and from whom she has learned precious lessons, but she also talks about valuable messages from films, colleagues and family members; you can learn anywhere, anytime, if only you are aware of what is being offered to you.

In truth, I think the book is meant to be an autobiography in which Marilyn comes to show how and why people have shaped her view of life. She explains she had a difficult time growing up due to the expectations of others regarding what a darling daughter, wife and mother she had to be, trying to behave in a way she wasn’t comfortable with just to please her family, and feeling deep inside that something was wrong with her. With time, she understood that one can only be happy by being herself, and the beginning of a career in journalism, interviewing artists who had to ignore criticism from even their own families to thrive in life, tought her how to find a way of pursuing her true calling.

What I liked the most is that, apart from the topics that the author wants to address in every chapter, you also take the message of receptivity and openness with which one should face everyday events as well as the remarkable ones. And I also enjoyed the cozy tone of the narration, as if you are just *listening* to a friend sharing significant passages of her life.

Follow the tour and enter the giveaway here.
Book on GoodReads
Book on Amazon
Marilyn R. Wilson’s website

 

News of our loved ones, by Abigail DeWitt

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In this novel we follow the history of a French family in a little village throughout several decades and places. Beginning in 1944, a sixteen-year-old girl is secretly in love with a boy who passes by their house riding his bicycle every day at the same hour and, thanks to her daydreaming about her love for him, the Nazi occupation of the village and the sirens wailing each night disappear from her mind. But in the end the place is bombed by the allies, and the family members will be separated at this particular moment in which lives and dreams are lost forever.

Every chapter is told from the point of view of one character in a certain stage of the family history, and sometimes we come back to this French village in the forties, but other times we find ourselves various decades later in Paris, and it is as if each chapter is an independent short story by itself because the characters won’t star in more than one although, at the end, you feel a cycle coming to an end with the whole history of every family member since that day in 1944.

This way of storytelling has been the most remarkable peculiarity of the book; I was hooked to these little portions of the family history through the eyes of different characters, like the pieces of a puzzle, wondering about this or that one, often recreating past events of one of the sisters through a thought or a conversation decades later into the chapter of another family member.

It could have been an average novel of the Nazi occupation, but the narration makes the story of this family unique, and those glimpses into this sister’s, the aunt’s or that child’s life go further into filling the atmosphere of the family and the time than a linear narration would.

Thanks to Harper books for the galley.

 

Dating in the library

Maybe I got overly excited when I chose the title for this post because I am not going to tell you a corny story about how I found Prince Charming among the shelves of the library – not that I don’t think the library is the best place to find your other half – but in truth I’m talking about dating books, which is awesome too!

Yes, I know all of you have seen on Facebook those pictures of bookshops where people can buy wrapped books to surprise themselves, but how many of you have actually seen it in reality? I have! It was this summer, in the library of the coastal village where I spend my holidays (I go so often that I have my own library card).

The librarians arranged a stand in a corner announcing “blind dates with books”, and took their time writing down inviting summaries for each book, not to mention the red hearts and ribbons:

I was delighted at the sight of it, and I carefully read every one of them to pick my perfect date. It was a romance (of course!). The librarian was really surprised someone had decided to try one of those books and when he passed the bar code, which was conveniently glued on the wrapping paper so as not to open it, he saw the title in the computer and said, with a mysterious voice, that it was a beautiful story.

I waited –with great effort – until I arrived home to open it, and… Ta-daah! I was so disappointed I had already read the book. It was “Strange weather in Tokyo“, also edited as “The briefcase“, by Hiromi Kawakami:

Blind dates don’t always turn out as we expect. I guess it was my fault: I was too naïve to think there was a romance novel I hadn’t read already! Anyway, it was so pleasant to spend the afternoon in the library, getting amazed by the wonderful idea the librarians had, reading their cute synopsis and deciding what to bring home with you.

Librarians of the world, please, do this more often!