Tag Archives: Literary Readings

Only child on why we read

Only Child in front of some of her books, obviously some she bought, not borrowed.

There’s been much hoopla about Toronto’s mayor and his executive committee wanting to cut Toronto Public Library services, like closing branches. I’ll cover that in another post. But it’s made me think. Why do we read? Why do I read?

I’ve been a book-lover and reader since I learned to read in grade one (back in the grey ages, of course) – from the Bobbsey Twins books and Nancy Drew books my mother bought me to when I discovered the library – the then brand new S. Walter Stewart Branch and began to visit it frequently, borrowed books and read them. Since then, thanks to the library, I’ve increased my unwritten list of authors. Most of what I read is mystery novels, memoir and some non-fiction best-sellers that could be loosely described as dealing with today’s social conditions. “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell is one example. This latter category I read to be informed, but the two m’s, I read for the enjoyment, to get out of my life, to escape from the crap continually shoved my way.

True, the people in both types of books have their problems and conflicts, but they are THEIR problems and conflicts, not mine. I can get out of my sometimes miasma of living and get caught up in someone else’s life whether fiction (the mysteries) or real (memoir). Unlike life, often a solution to the character’s problems is found. Even when it isn’t, I still can take comfort in knowing I’m reading it, not living it. And sometimes I can find a solution to what ails me in my often ridiculous life, although that is usually from the non-fiction social conditions books.

When reading a book that grabs my interest, I do get tangled in the various characters’ lives and can love, hate, emphasize and even think, “that character needs some come uppance,” and know that a good author will have this happen. Real life can be a different matter. Sometimes I believe what goes around comes around, but not seeing it happen can raise doubts.

Not in a well-written book – you see it all happen. When you have to put the book down, or shut down the e-reader, to get on with your life, the book’s characters stay with you and you can’t wait to get back to them. When you’ve finished reading the book, you get that feeling of closure, that things have been sorted out (usually – a few leave you hanging which I don’t like) . In real life, often the same crap keeps happening no matter what you do and it can all be very worrying.

Reading a book – print or e-book – can take  you out of  yourself and your misery if only for awhile. My cousin buried her mind and soul into reading novels when her husband was dying. But if you have money problems, health problems, even time problems, reading a good book can help ease the pain. And the public library branches have so much to choose from. And it’s free with a library card…as long as you return the book on time.

Why do you read books (print or e-books)? I’d like to know.



Only Child Writes

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Filed under Bobbsey Twins, Books, E-books, E-books vs print books, Escaping problems, Libraries, Life demands, Malcolm Gladwell, mystery novels, Nancy Drew, Only child, Only child memoir, public library services, Reading, Toronto service cuts

Only Child on aging eyes and writers’ healthcare

Only child struggling to read while wearing those old glasses

Last week I got the green light on my eyes. In December I  had finally, after six years, had my eyes tested by an optometrist. It’s not that I hate wearing glasses. I inherited both Mom’s and Dad’s bad eyes – the duo of myopia and astigmatism and have been wearing glasses since age 21. You see, when you get into bifocals (add the reading glasses part) the cost of glasses increases. As a freelance writer, editor and writing instructor, I am faced with a dilemma – I need glasses to see to work but I also need the money to pay for them. With house repairs, new computer equipment, professional organization fees, and other bills pouring in, eyes and glasses hit the bottom of my “must do,” list.

Until late last year. When I stood up in front of other Canadian Authors Association Toronto branch  members to read from my novella (Fire Underneath the Ice, co-authored with Rene Natan under the pseudonym R.S. Natanevin and yes, available at amazon.com) and had to remove my glasses to see to read, I knew it was time. I could no longer function with these badly-designed glasses (the reading part covered only one-sixth of the lens at the bottom and the left lens was scratched). So, I got new glasses and cool sunglasses which did wonders for my sight but not my purse. However, the optometrist found something disturbing – white clouds in the cornea or cornea opacity in both eyes. He arranged for an appointment with an opthamologist but the earliest date available was March 28, 2011. Three and a half months to worry about whether I’d need laser surgery, pills, prescriptions or a corneal transplant. And listen to some of  my friends’ opinions, including I needed to see an opthamologist now.

We freelance writers getting up there in age have to consider our health – and what will pay for it. When my father had his surgery for lung cancer in 1958, there was no healthcare in Ontario, Canada. Mom had to foot the bill for his surgery and hospital stay. Today, there is healthcare in Canada (since the mid 1960s). Coverage is supposed to be universal across Canada but isn’t. In many provinces, some medical options once covered have been kicked out. Some, such as eye examinations kick in again when you are 65, but not the glasses – they’ve never been covered under universal healthcare. And if you have feet problems, forget it. Orthotics are expensive and visits to podiotrists add up. There are supplemental insurance plans, including for freelance creative people, but have you looked at the premiums? And the coverage is only 80 per cent. Everything is a la carte and when you tally up dental, eyes, feet, back, etc. you might as well do what my dentist once said, “The insurance is too expensive. Better to visit the dentist and pay the cost once a year.” That was over five years ago and the dentist is on my “health waiting list,” waiting as in when I have the money or hit emergency – whichever comes first.

So I do this looking-after-my health in levels based on biggest need. I have nine  health problems (the ninth is stress over the other eight). The latest biggie, the eyes, I had to face last week. And I was scared. Many times I considered cancelling or postponing the appointment and when I lost the opthamologist’s business card I wondered if that was a sign to do so. But I’d bookmarked her biz info on the Internet, so a quick call to the office  confirmed time, date and yes, it was covered by OHIP. So I showed  up – late – I got lost (that’s another story for another post) but despite the crowded waiting room and the ranting patient ahead of me to sign in, I decided to keep my politeness – unless I got bad news.

I didn’t. After waiting 45 minutes (I brought a book to read) I got in for the first check. Then the dreaded drops were put in my eyes and I had another half hour wait (this time not reading). After going through my eye history with the opthamologist and her checking my eyes, the verdict was some scarring on the corneal but it doesn’t affect my eyesight (thanks partially to those great glasses, no doubt). She figured I had some injury or infection – maybe as a child (I don’t remember) and that has caused the scarring. I have to see her every two years and the optometrist annually, but the rest of the “prescription” is to always wear my sunglases when out in the sun, wipe over my eyes with a wet washcloth each evening ( to remove any bacteria) and of course, keep the glasses clean.

Whew! Now, I have to save up to pay for the two pairs of glasses. I got on a plan at the optician’s; I have until December to pay. And they had a half-price sale when I purchased my glasses.

Some medical obstacles  you can work around. I’ve learned the importance of not giving up no matter what the chatter from others.



Only Child Writes

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Filed under Health, Health Seniors, Healthcare coverage, Hereditary, Insurance, Only child, Vision

Only Child recommends writing critique groups

Sharon reads excerpt from her memoir

I couldn’t have done it alone. I got help writing my memoir about growing up an only child of elderly parents in the ’50s and ’60s when your dad is dying of cancer.  The help came from my East End Writers’ Group – a writing group I started 10 years ago because I couldn’t fine one in my geographical area. I’m seeing my past and writing about it from my point of view. It’s subjective and often writers get too wrapped up in their own prose or poetry and literally can’t see the forest for the trees. Those leaves and branches can block what seems obvious to others listening to and/or reading your work.

For example, my memoir blends in some social and other history of the times. “Blend” is the key word, not go on and on about the history. One chapter I’ve quoted from in a previous post (“Time is Not on My Side,” 2009/11/20) “Riding the Rails with Dad” tells how Mom and I travelled with Dad on the CN railway my Dad worked for. I wanted to put some history of the CN in the chapter but got really carried away. The critique was “you have too much history.”  So, I cut, cut and re-blended. The idea was to keep in some parts that tie in with Dad’s time at the railway and our travels. Gone went a whole diatribe on steam engines, except what I experienced as a little girl. Stayed were some of my Dad’s peculiarities relating to working for CN. One was his obsession with being on time – after all he was a timekeeper.

Another chapter covers tales out of school. Some suggestions focused on rewording and some on verb tense. In and out of school I was bullied a lot by one girl whom I refer to as “the Bully.” One of my classmatess, Tom, sometimes came to my rescue, but sometimes he teased in the process.  Originally I wrote :

“Four times a day, including lunchtime, the Bully and I do the 15-minute walk to and from school, often accompanied by other classmates dawdling up Donlands. Some like……turn west along O’Connor, but Tom, the strawberry thief, continues on wih the Bully and I. The Bully teases me and I’m too timid to tell her off. Tom, disgusted by her behaviour, slashes back at her, telling her to ‘leave Sharon alone. ‘ And no, that doesn’t reward Tom with free strawberries. In class, Tom, who sits kitty -corner in front of me, listens as the Bully taunts me. I blink to stop the tears from sliding down my cheek. Tom swings around and stares mournfully at me with his baby blue eyes.

‘Don’t cry,’ he says.”

Excerpted from You Can Go Home. Copyright 2010 Sharon Crawford.

Comments on this passage included: “Tom disappears,” brackets around “I blink to stop the tears from sliding down my cheek,” (for a reword), a grammar correction for “the Bully and I” (with “I” crossed out and “me” substituted. And I call myself an editor? You can see the subjectiveness creeping in here).

Of course, I fixed the grammar error and reworded the business with the tears to “I blink to try to keep the tears inside.” But I didn’t do anything about Tom disappearing. The chapter focused on my grade school days – or tales of the most momentous occurrences – good and bad – not Tom, my friend and classmate;  he was only part of the whole.

So, you don’t have to change your writing just because a member of your critique group says so. What I find is that if a number of them agree on one point I better look at it and it probably needs at least some tweaking. Also any critique is worth examining because even if you don’t agree, it might trigger a better way of writing something.

Writing critique groups are good also to find flaws in point of view, verb tenses, the balance between dialogue and narration, setting and time problems. The list goes on. But the critique is not all about finding the baddies – it is also pointing out what is good in your writing and also keeping the critique constructive, not destructive. We can get enough of the latter in the form of rejection letters from literary agents or publishers <g>.

My East End Writers’ Group (www.samcraw.com> is an in-person group meeting once a month. But there are many online writing critique groups. Either can work – whichever you are comfortable with. But check into them carefully to find out what is required of you. If they are asking you to critique 10 stories for your one, you might want to give them a pass. It’s a given that you’ll have to do some critiquing of others’ work, but watch the ratio. Also watch the tone of the critique – if you can, ask others who belong to the group, what it’s like, or if it’s an in-person critique, you can sit in for one session and audit it. Some critique groups focus on one writing genre, others are mixed. Some focus on one writer’s work per session and require you to read and critique before the session. Some meet weekly; some monthly, and of course the online ones may also have submission number and time requirements as well.  So be aware of the group’s requirements and if you are comfortable with them.

I certainly have benefited from critiques received in my group and also from listening to and critiquing others’ work.




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Filed under Literary Readings, Memoir writing, Only child, Only child memoir, Writing critique groups

Reading from a Memoir-in-progress

Last night I had the opportunity to read a chapter excerpt from my memoir at the Canadian Authors Association and Professional Writers Association of Canada (both Toronto branches) first annual literary night. I’m not new to reading my prose in public but it’s been awhile since the locale was a pub. The Madison is a lovely pub in central Toronto but pubs are noisy. We were situated in their VP Corner upstairs – outside of the main pub area but that corner has no door. So I had to use my “outside voice,” which is not a problem for me. In fact one of the audience (also a reader with no voice-projection difficulty) told me he liked my reading partly because I was loud and he could hear me.

But it was a great experience, not just reading, but listening very attentively to the others read. The variety of stories and poetry was inspiring…even though some  of the audience got up and left part way through – and not to be rude, but that’s the nature of readings. A few readers and friends also arrived late, but that was ok. If Mel Sarnese of the CAA hadn’t come at all, I wouldn’t have heard her read (and she has a good “outside voice,” too) part of her suspenseful short story. As we had 10 minutes each to read, Mel had to leave us dangling. Now I have to buy the anthology her book is in (Canadian Voices published by Bookland Press 2009, available at http://www.amazon.ca and http://www.chaptersindigo.ca). But isn’t that one purpose of public readings – get the audience interested in the book – to buy it if and when it is published?

Another purpose is to see how you actually fare at reading your writing out loud. Writers sit alone in front of their computers (even if at Tim Horton’s or Starbucks) and commiserate with their writing. What you write and when you speak it are  two different situations. Reading it out loud often points out what really works and what doesn’t. Every word repetition and grammar error shouts at you.

But you can iron out the grammar and word kinks before reading in public. You can read aloud on your own (preferably recording it and playing it back) and then you will see not only glaring grammar errors but where your voice sputters, waivers, or if you are reading-fast-like-a-racing-car.

You can also join a writing critique group – preferably in-person. Not only will you get the reading practice but you will get feedback from other writers. They come to your work fresh with an objective view while you have been wrapped up in the old subjective. I’ve been running a writing critique group in Toronto for almost 10 years – the in-person kind and I’ve learned a lot as well as helped other writers. And yes, here comes the plug – the group is The East End Writers’ Group and information about it is on my website at http://www.samcraw.com. Just click on “East End Writers.”

And what did I read? The beginning of my chapter, Riding the Rails with Dad. If you want to read some of it, you’ll have to go to my blog posting of November 20, 2009 for a snip of the chapter. Like Mel Sarnese I’m not giving all the goods away upfront.




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Filed under Literary Readings, Memoir writing, Only child, Teaching