Reading with your children: proper books vs tablets

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Opal Eyes/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

By Nicola Yuill, University of Sussex

Most of us have an opinion about whether we prefer reading on screen or paper: but what difference does it make for children? The truth is that technology is now encountered from babyhood. Anecdotes abound of toddlers swiping their fingers across paper rather than turning the page, while parents and teachers express their fear of screen addiction as tablets introduce new distractions as well as new attractions for young readers. The Conversation

Ofcom figures tell us that children’s screen use rises sharply towards the end of primary school (from age seven to 11) and in the same period, book-reading drops. Increasing screen use is a reality, but does it contribute to a loss of interest in reading, and does reading from a screen provide the same experience as the feel of reading on paper?

We looked at this in our research on shared reading. This has been a neglected topic even though it is clearly a common context for children when they read at home. It might be their regular homework reading of a book from school, or a parent reading them a favourite bedtime story.

Warming up

We asked 24 mothers and their seven to nine-year-old children to take turns – mother reading or child reading – with popular fiction books on paper, and on a tablet. They read Barry Loser: I am not a Loser by Jim Smith and You’re a Bad Man, Mr Gum by Andy Stanton. We found that the children’s memory for the descriptions and narratives showed no difference between the two media. But that’s not the whole story.

The interactions of parent and child were found to be different in the independent ratings from video observation of the study. When they read from paper rather than a screen, there was a significant increase in the warmth of the parent/child interactions: more laughter, more smiling, more shows of affection.

It may be that this is largely down to the simple physical positioning of the parent and child when using the different media, as well as their cultural meaning. When children were reading from a screen, they tended to hold the tablet in a head-down position, typical of the way they would use the device for solo activities such as one-player games or web-browsing.

This meant that the parents had to “shoulder-surf” in order to share visual attention. In contrast, when parents read to their children on paper, they often held the book out to support shared visual engagement, tucking the child cosily under their arms. Some children just listened without trying to see the book, but instead curled themselves up comfortably on the sofa.

Paper or pixels?
Megan Trace/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Keep taking the tablets?

Our research joins a growing list of studies comparing paper and e-books, but the answer isn’t a simple one. Shared reading is different to reading alone, for a start. And we may be interested in whether screen or paper makes a difference in how children learn to read, to understand, and enjoy reading. In short there are multiple perspectives to consider – developmental, educational, literary and technological – if we are to decide which medium is preferable.

Most studies have compared children at the earliest stages of reading, using paper books, e-books with audio and dictionary support to help less-skilled readers, and so-called “enhanced” e-books with multimedia, activities, hotspots and games.

Text with audio support helps children to decode text, and multimedia can keep a reluctant reader engaged for longer, so a good e-book can indeed be as good as an adult reading a paper book with their child. But we don’t yet have long-term studies to tell us whether constant provision of audio might prevent children developing ways of unpicking the code of written language themselves.

They think I’m reading; I’m playing Candy Crush.
George Rudy/Shutterstock

Re-design for life

There is also increasing evidence that adding multimedia and games can quickly get distracting: one study found that young children spent almost half their time playing games in enhanced e-books, and therefore they read, remembered and understood little of the story itself. But there is plenty of guidance for e-book developers on the what, where and how much of designing multimedia texts.

And that brings us back to perhaps the defining conclusion from our own study. Books versus screens is not a simple either/or – children don’t read books in a cultural vacuum and we can’t approach the topic just from a single academic field. Books are just books, with a single typical use, but screens have many uses, and currently most of these uses are designed round a single user, even if that user is interacting with others remotely.

We believe that designers could think more about how such technology can be designed for sharing, and this is especially true for reading, which starts, and ideally continues, as a shared activity in the context of close long-term family relationships. Book Trust figures report a drop from 86% of parents reading with their five-year-olds to just 38% with 11-year olds. There is a possibility that the clever redesign of e-books and tablets might just slow that trend.

Nicola Yuill, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, University of Sussex

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Books beyond seasons

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By Nora Vasconcelos

It’s almost the end of the year and as December approaches, I can’t be happier for all the great books I have had the chance to read in 2016. Some of them were new releases, some others were published some time ago; some were famous, some others, wonderful little gems which I’ve luckily come across.

There’s not really a particular order I’ve chosen to present them, it’s merely as they come to my mind. My biggest wish is that these books will bring to you as many delightful hours as they brought to me:

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. The magic of this book comes from combining a wonderful location with a very sweet love story and the fantastic presence of books all along the story as the ones that shape the life of all the main characters. If you like France, either because you’ve been there, or because you have the idea of this idyllic country, this is a perfect book for you as wonderful tender descriptions of Paris and the little towns along the main French rivers are presented here. The story will capture your mind from the first chapter when it takes the main characters to an unexpected but charming journey in which not only they will open up to share their deepest fears and dreams but also it will take you along for an introspective trip in which one main question hangs in the air: “what would I do if I found out decades later that I’ve been all wrong about love?”.

The Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier: I’ve got to read this book thanks to the kind recommendation of my good friend Andrew Hill. The story begins with an unexpected event that makes the main character decide to change his complete life at the age of 57. An inexplicable meeting and a unique book make him drop everything and go to the station to catch the night train to Lisbon. From there, his life will become something very different. Apart from falling in love with Lisbon, I found in this book some of the most wonderful quotes ever about life, books and traveling. This is my favorite one: “We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.”

A Strangeness in my Mind by Orhan Pamuk: Placed in Turkey, this book tells the story of a street vendor who sells a couple of traditional homemade products. The magic of this novel resides in how the story presents at the same time the changes that this country faces for many decades while the vendor grows up, from a little boy to an old man. Pamuk’s masterful way of writing offers the reader a majestic read in the simplest way, developing an easy-to-read novel based on a very complex topic.

The Phantom Ship by Frederick Marryat: Publish in 1839, this book can be read and enjoyed at any time as it takes the reader’s imagination to a fantastic journey in which the main character goes from ship to ship in order to break an old curse that affects him and his family. Even when some words have the feeling of old English, the skill of the author delivers a fast-paced, easy-to-read story that will absorb you from the beginning to the end. For ship lovers and people who love traveling to exotic lands and adventures, this is a perfect read.

The only street in Paris by Elaine Sciolino: This is not a work of fiction. It’s the result of an amazing work of investigative journalism combined with the delightful narrative of a New York Times correspondent who fell in love with the rhythm and lifestyle of a particular street in Paris, and out of her immense curiosity and skill as a journalist presents a series of interviews with the owners of the stores located along this street in the form of a delightful memoir/travelogue that makes the reader wish, chapter after chapter, to take the first plane to France and go straight from the airport to the Rue des Martyrs.

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Cruising the Mediterranean

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By Sunny Lockwood and Al Lockwood

Guest Post

For those of us who love to travel, there’s rarely a question of why?

We know why: we want to see new places, learn about new cultures, try new foods, and simply have fun in a city or countryside where we’ve never been before.

The questions we ask are: Where do we want to go next? How can we get there? When can we leave?

My husband and I have had the travel bug since we were young. Now, well into retirement, our wanderlust is strong as ever. And the rewards are equally great.

Studies show that travel is good for the body, the brain and the spirit. And even though our older bodies lack the endurance they once had, we find that travel enlarges our concept of “home” and enriches our experience of wonder.

Imagine being awakened by the deep, resonant melody of church bells, bells that have rung each morning for centuries. That was our experience in Florence.

Or being enveloped in the fragrance of incense from a fortuneteller’s shop. We experienced that each afternoon in Barcelona. Our Airbnb apartment was right above her shop.

Imagine the flavor of dark chocolate gelato setting your taste buds dancing. That was our daily experience in Venice. That and the scene of shiny black gondolas sliding calmly through narrow canals.

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Our stunning world is immense. But our individual lives are brief. So if there’s something you dream of doing, our advice is do it now. While you can.

Sweetheart Al and I choose ocean cruising as our preferred method of long-range travel. There are many reasons for this, including our modest travel budget and our declining mobility. We can no longer hike like there’s no tomorrow, jump into sleeping bags, or pedal bicycles for miles.

But on a cruise we can see the world at our own pace and in our own way while sleeping in the same comfortable bed each night.

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And we’ve chosen to share our adventures through travel memoirs.

Our newest book, Cruising the Mediterranean, brings readers along on our 12-day cruise to Venice, Athens, Istanbul, Ephesus and three Greek islands.

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Even before we left California, we started our trip by adjusting our internal clock so that we’d be on European time when we arrived in Amsterdam. We added four days in Amsterdam just because Al wanted me to see that historic city, before boarding our cruise ship.

In Amsterdam, we used Airbnb. A first for us, and we loved the experience. We stayed in the heart of historic Amsterdam. Actually, our room was in the Red Light District, so our “window shopping” introduced us to the latest in sex toys, edible underwear and items we couldn’t even identify.

We cruised on Holland America. We’ve cruised on other lines, but this 12-day trip fit our pocketbook and visited places we really wanted to see.

At every stop, we experienced something wonderful, from standing on the Acropolis as the morning sun gilded its marble monuments, to watching a rug weaving demonstration in Istanbul.

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We discovered delectable Turkish Delight during a dinner cruise along the Bosphorous Strait. And enjoyed the largest piece of Baklava we’d ever seen in a family-owned restaurant on the island of Santorini.

We’ve done our best to capture in words (and a few photographs) the wonder of our trip. Our goal in writing travel memoirs? To share our fun and fabulous experience. And to encourage others to make their own travel dreams come true.

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*Sunny Lockwood is a retired newspaper reporter, columnist and editor. Her freelance stories and articles have been published in MS magazine, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and other national and regional publications. Al Lockwood is a retired Silicon Valley engineer. He’s a fine art photographer whose work has been published in magazines and newspapers.

*All the images courtesy of Sunny Lockwood and Al Lockwood

 

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Love and drama at the Opera house

By Nora Vasconcelos

by NVS
Finding the light.

While reading the different passages of Le Fantome de l’Opera, a novel by Gaston Leroux, it’s hard not to start humming that famous tunes from the musical written by Andrew Lloyd Weber for the musical The phantom of the Opera, based upon the story by Leroux.

So, it becomes a magnificent experience going through the pages of this novel, recreating the images of the show, while discovering all those little details and hidden secrets that the book has to reveal to the readers.

Along with the well known Christine Daae (the opera singer who’s enchanted by the ghost); Raoul de Chagny (Christine’s boyfriend) and the Opera Ghost (who’s in love with Christine), another characters appear in the book. The main one is The Persian, who plays the role of the narrator, as well as the reader’s guide.

Also, in the novel, the Ghost, called Erick, is at the same time a disgusting figure that performs evil acts (much more than the ones that appear in the musical), and a lonely soul desperately looking for Christine to love him “for who he is”.

The drama increases as the story develops up to the point that it’s really hard to put the book down, while curiosity to know what’s going to be the destiny of the characters as a chase among them has started, followed by a series of dilemmas, problems and hard choises.

Then the characters, along with the readers, are driven to desperation while going through the dark and dangerous hidden places of the Opera house.

Their efforts to find a way out of the horror continue until the end of the story,when an unexpected faith awaits for all of them.

After such intensity, it’s really hard stop thinking about the passages and the characters of the story, and the feeling of having read a great book remains for a long while.

Note: This site is in French, but it’s a good reference to get to know Gaton Leroux a little bit better: http://gaston-leroux.net/news.htm

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The Future of Writing

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Text by Nora Vasconcelos

The other day I wrote about my perspective about The Future of Books, and how I deal with the interesting reality we live with nowadays in which we deal at the same time with digital and print editions and how even though I recognize the advantages of eBooks, I keep this romantic feeling towards printed books which I can hold on my hands and let my mind fly with it’s content while my senses tell my mind the way any given book smells, weights, looks and sounds.

So, this week I want to talk about how I’ve faced the evolution of writing and how I see it’s future. And to start talking about this I’d like to share some thoughts that came to me when a fellow book lover from the website Forgotten Books told me about how newspapers also have changed through the years, from print smelly editions to digital dynamic ones.

This reminded me of a book I read a while ago written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which title in Spanish was Vivir para contarla, translated into English as Living to Tell the Tale, in which the Colombian writer shares with colorful images his first years as a writer, trying to catch any opportunity that would lead him toward his goal of making of his passion for writing a profitable career.

While struggling to survive while persevering on his goal, he came across with a job as a reporter for a newspaper, and it’s in this part when my mind got absolutely captivated by Garcia Marquez writing as he totally managed to capture my thought and my senses to transport them in an instant imaginary trip to the newspaper building where I seemed to be invisibly walking side by side with the young Gabriel who rush from here to there to get his stories, and after that, I accompanied him from the hustle and bustle of the newsroom, to the immense magnitude of the place where the huge press printed with it’s restless movement the new editions that will be distributed few hours later.

At this point of the book, I could swear that I was actually smelling the strong scent of the ink and hearing the constant noise coming from the press printing on paper what young Gabriel has written earlier first on his notebook (an actual notebook made of paper) and later typed on a typewriter, which nowadays is pretty much an element from the past or a vintage good, of which many young generations might never heard.

Those were the time when there was no internet, no websites, no blogs and even harder to imagine… No Facebook, nor Twitter!!!! But yes, that was life in the 1950’s.

Now it all seems like an incredible story, because for writers and reporters worklife has totally transformed in just a few years, ever since the first computers came available for commercial uses, up to now when it’s actually hard to leave aside the cell phone or the table (whichever the model or the brand) even if it’s just for a few minutes, as the temptation to read or post something right away as the idea comes or the even happens.

Writing life nowadays happens in a hurry, much more than it was in the past, and I think the future generations will remember at some point that the work we do in these days with some nostalgic as it “was the way things were done in the past, when modern technology wasn’t as modern as it’s today”.

However, I have to say that I feel actually bless for having had the chance to know both words, previous the internet era and post the notebook (the computer) appearance, because this has giving me the outstanding chance not only to enjoy the changes but also the ability to work under different circumstances.

And this reminds me of a story I read a while ago when the famous (or infamous I should say) huge blackout affected the east cost of the U.S. and Canada, and this news man with the Toronto Star wrote about how after reporting the event, he actually went back to the newsroom to face the unimaginable question ‘How are we actually going to get our edition out?’ and it was then when the old-almost-forgotten typewriters came on handy. It was a time when an old fashion machine actually save the world, or at least, their world.

It also reminds me on how well the writers of the old TV series Murder, She wrote, managed to present how the main character, Jessica Fletcher, a mystery writer, first resists the change that’s coming and refuses to give up her typewriter, until one they when one of the machine key refuses to print one letter, the same one that she has to use the most as her main characters’ first names start with that same letter. Then it starts a tough process in which Jessica goes to school and starts to get acquaintance with her new PC, and, as she discovers, little by little, all the benefits that this new machine brings, she starts to feel more confident and more convince that she will never go back to her old typewriter, which she actually accomplishes, until one day when… her new notebook (computer) bakes down and she ends up finishing her urgent works with her very own and very old, typewriter.

Nowadays it’s hard to even imagine going to all that painful process of having to type a whole page only because you made a mistake, but, I’m grateful I actually had the chance to have worked with one of those machines, as now I appreciate much more my tiny computer, which I can take wherever I go, and I’m also thankful for those wonderful cell phone that allow us to connect to internet everywhere, and I’m a big fan of these wonderful tablets that make the art of traveling with a lot of information, a complete pleasure, as the only thing I have to carry on my suitcase is the tablet and not some heavy ‘tons’ of paper.

So, although it’s hard to actually imagine what the future will hold, and how writers will have to evolve with it, I’m totally up for the ride!

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The Future of Books

Text by Nora Vasconcelos

Books and more booksAs ebooks beocome more popular, I keep of having mix feeling about them.

On the one hand, I feel amazed by how wonderful these ebooks are, as you can simply file them in your ebook reader or your tablet and take them all around, as many as you want, without even having any problems with space. This is a wonderful thing while traveling.

On the other hand, I always miss the exciting feeling of having an actual book in my hands, feeling them and even smelling and listening to them as I turn the pages.

I also miss the outstanding feeling of wandering around the bookstores. I remember it was just a few years ago when going to the bookstore was one of the most exciting experiences as I was able to get almost any book I wanted at any given time.

However, this has been changing very quickly and nowadays it’s harder to find those huge bookstores in which everything was around. Now even though the bookstores keep a big selection, most of the time when a book’s not found on the shelves you’re often offered a book order by the same boostore.

So I keep on having these conflicted feeling in which I like ebooks and at the same time dislike them (for taking over printed books), and I keep on wishing that at some point bookstores will find their way to be the amazing places I’ve always love, and I keep on wishing that the Memorable Bookstores I’ve visited, will remain as great as they are.

At the same time, I’m grateful for the digital iniciatives like Project Gutenberg that aim to spread the love for books by sharing with the world thoushands of ebooks.

This kind of digital universal libraries remind me of an essay written by Isaac Asimov called The Ultimate Library, in which the author foresaw in 1980 what was going to be like the library of the future, in which, according to him, everything would be digitalized and people could reach any book just by connecting to a personal gadget such as a TV Set.

In his article, Asimov shows all the advantages of a Global Computarized Library that will contain all the knowledge of books around the world.

At the same time, the writer explained the benefits of the practical applications of the knowledge gotten from those digital books, and said that this wouldn’t be end the publishing business, it only would transform it, Asimov said.

So, while the books world keeps on changing, readers like me keep on trying to adjust fast to these new technologies, and in my case, I keep on treasuring more and more my big collection of printed books.

As for the new generation, the same Asimov said it well, it will be difficult for them how was the world without digital libraries.

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12 Books of Christmas

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By Nora Vasconcelos

Now that the Holiday season is around the corner I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite Christmas stories, and here they are:

1) Fallen Angel, by Don J. Snyder. Christmas time in a cottage called Serenity is the best place to help Terry McQuinn heal old emotional wounds. At the same time, he finds himself in this places that he had almost forgot as time passed by, the same as the relationship with his father. The cold weather and the snow accompany him, unaware that some new visitors to Serenity will change his life forever.

2) Silver Bells, by Luanne Rice. This book tells the story of Christopher Byrne and his son, who find the path back to happiness and family love thanks to a rough time spent in New York city, and the help of Catherine Tierney, who unexpectedly becomes a key element for all of them to finally be able to have a happy Christmas.

3) The Last Dickens, by Matthew Pearl. Not exactly a Christmas story, but, as part of the story occurs in winter and it places the reader in the time when Charles Dickens toured around the East Cost of the U.S, I always relate this book to the Holidays season.

4) Sherlock Holmes: A Case at Christmas and Other New Adventures, by N.M. Scott. For me good mysteries are always welcome, and who else that Sherlock Holmes himself to flavour a little bit the season. In this collection of stories, Scott retakes the characters created by Conan Doyle to bring many more enjoyable adventures, placing some of them during the holidays.

5) Murder never takes a holiday, by Donald Bain. As part of the series of books based on the TV series Murder She Wrote, this book features two stories. In the first one, A little Yuletide Murder, Bain takes the main character, Jessica Fletcher, to her hometown, Cabot Cove, where the mystery writers hopes to spend a joyful Christmas. However, as always it happens to Mrs. Fletcher, a murder comes on her way to prevent her to sit down and relax. The second story, Manhattans and Murder, places Mrs. Fletcher in New York city, where she’s determined to solve another mystery that’s has happened right in the middle of her book tour.

6) ‘Tis the Season, by Ann M. Martin. This children’s story touches the heart of everyone who reads it as it tells the story of little Flora and Ruby, who had recently lost their parents and are trying hard to fit themselves in a town where Christmas is all around.

7) and 8) Mrs. Miracle and Call me Mrs. Miracle, by Debbie Macomber, are two books in which Mrs. Merkle, often called Mrs. Miracle, goes around different places finding ingenious ways to solve those little problems that people around her face, exactly those little problems that seem impossible to be solved and that once they are solve, bring love, happiness and a very merry happy Christmas to everyone.

9) Skipping Christmas, by John Grisham. Imagine all what can go wrong during this time. Add then the idea of skipping the holiday. The result: A complete disaster. One that Luther and Nora Krank won’t be able to solve unless they accept some help from whom they less expect it.

10) Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop, edited by Otto Penlzer, owner of the Mysterious bookshop in New York City. This book compiles mystery short stories placed during Christmas time, written specially for the Bookshop by famous authors such as Anne Perry, Mary Higgins Clark, Lawrence Block, Ed McBain and Donald E. Westlake.

11) A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. Of course this good old classic can be never missed during the celebrations. I’ve read and re read this story over and over, and I never get enough of it. I never get tired of going through its pages while I allow myself to get lost in the story as if I were a silent witness of what’s happening to Mr. Scrooge during that ghostly night destined to save his soul.

12) A Rumpole Christmas, by John Mortimer. If Christmas time is not really your thing, you can always take revenge of it by reading the adventures and misfortunes of Horace Rumpole, a moody character, who experiences all kind of situations during the Holiday Season while trying to make the least of this joyful time.

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A long journey from Virginia to Chile

GUEST POST:

The Avocado Republic of Chile, because it’s Too Cold to Grow Bananas by Walker Rowe*

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At 3 AM on a Tuesday in 2006, an assistant winemaker from VIA wines in Talca, Chile picked me up at the airport in Santiago.  It’s such a long flight from the USA, 13 hours, that coming and going one gets used to stirring about at such an ungodly hour.

I had come all the way from Virginia to work at the winery and write a book about my experience working the harvest.  This was to be my third book on wine, and my last, as I have nothing more to say on the subject, having moved onto other material.

As I embarked, a Napa Valley fermentation scientist who helped me line up this unpaid position arranged with the vineyard that I bring 100 kilos of yeast in my luggage.  It filled my two suitcases completely and left scant room for clothes.

To give you an example of just how much yeast that is, in Virginia, where I was a partner in a winery and where I planted two vineyards, we bought yeast in 500 gram packages.  At my house, when I wanted to make 5 liters of wine I would put in 5 grams of yeast.

So here I was with enough yeast to make 100,000 5-liter carboys of wine in my luggage, a lifetime supply for any of the boutique wineries of virginia.  But at Via Wines, where they make 5 million cases of wine per year, that would last for, well, that would last for, I have no idea.

Anyway, it was all for naught as when I arrived at the winery and opened my suitcase, out flowed the smell of fresh bread. The packages had burst in the luggage hold.  Several thousand dollars of yeast had been exposed to air.  So it was all spoiled.

Such was my first foray into Chile, the country I have adopted as my home now. Having seen it first in 2006 and having grown attached while frequently going back and forth, I moved here full time in 2010.

Chile is that narrow country at the bottom of the word that no American and few Europeans can locate on a map.  If they know it at all, they know it as home to towering snow-capped mountains, volcanoes, and constant earthquakes.  Or they might know it from the film “The 33” about the 33 miners who spent months trapped underground in a copper mining here as the world watched on.  Antonio Banderas and Juliette Binoche starred in that film.  When he came to Chile, all the women swooned.   When Juliette Binoche came, I fell in love all over again.

You might wonder why an American like me would give up the USA and move to Chile?  Well, for someone my age, 54, who is somewhere between retirement and the need to work, whose kids are off at college, and who was living alone in a farm in the woods with 30 sheep, 2 dogs, and a cat, I felt the need to go live with a woman.  So I gave up that lonely existence where, here, I live all alone on a farm in Chile with 1 dog, a cat, and a horse, sans woman.
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I would say that what drew me here more than anything was the weather. It’s like California, but without all the people.  But what a mistake that was. I had been sold a false bill of goods.

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Having lived all my live on the rainy and frozen east coast of the USA and having planted all kinds of crops and gardens, I was thrilled here that in the frost-free, dry weather of Chile I could plant bougainvillea, lemons, oranges, lavender, and roses and wine grapes without having to spray them each week to ward off mildew or worry about sub-freezing weather.  All of this is true:  the rain free weather here makes Chile an agricultural paradise.  That is because rain as it splatters spreads spores and thus disease, which is why California is where farmers grow most of America’s fruit and vegetables.

But what I did not know at the time was Chile in winter is freezing cold and, well, chilly, like the name says.  It’s cloudy today as I write this. We have had record amounts of rain this year at the end of the Southern Hemisphere’s winter, in September.  And because of the El Niño warming of the ocean this year, those rains have stretched into October, something I have never seen before. It’s supposed to be sunny and warm now.  Tomorrow it will.

Bundled up in my warm house in Virginia the cold would have been no problem.  But as I explain in my new book on Chile, The Avocado Republic Chile, in Chile, the problem is in winter it’s colder inside than outside, because there is no heat.

No one has central heat here.  Electricity and natural gas are too expensive. Chile could buy lots of that from its neighbors Bolivia, Peru, or Argentina, but they do not get along with any of them, still seething over 100-year old tensions and war.  Chile has no diplomatic relations with Bolivia.  Chilean investors spent billions to build a pipeline from Argentina, but the Argentine government abruptly cut off the gas in 2006 because of the corruption and chaos in that country that makes even the simplest of endeavors all but impossible.

Such is life here in South America. It’s one long telenovela (soap opera).  All of what happens here provides much material for the writer who, in my case, focuses on the irony of that.  It makes for funny reading too.  I’d like to think I write like George Orwell, i.e., his non-fiction, whose stock-in trade was to travel to India, Spain, France, and coal-covered Northern England and flush out through satire what makes those situations absurd.

So, this is what I tried to do with my book, write sort of a memoir and travelogue. But I’m not travelling anymore, as I am here to say.  Please take a look at my book, if travel writing and foreign cultures is what you fancy, and let me know what you think.  

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*Walker Rowe is an American expat writer living in Curacaví, Chile. He publishes Southern Pacific Review

** All images courtesy of Walker Rowe

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A complete delight: “Inside the Crocodile – The Papua New Guinea Journals”

By Nora Vasconcelos

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Much more than just a memoir or a travel journal, Inside the Crocodile is a wonderful read. From the very first page, Trish Nicholson catches the readers’ attention, taking them into a delightful journey.

The pages pass fast as curiosity increases. And this is because the author has shared her experiences while living and working in Papua New Guinea – which celerates its 40th Independence Anniversary this September 16th- with genuine openness, talking the same about the good and the bad or difficult days, in this country that became her home for five years, while implementing a development project with World Bank funding.

Trish Nicholson

The differences between her homeland, Scotland, and her new place, an island in the Pacific Ocean, were very big, but Trish arrived there with an open mind and the wish “to understand other ways of life.”

Dressed up in bilas for the Prime Minister’s visit.
Dressed up in bilas for the Prime Minister’s visit.

She was aware that she should have to accept “discomfort and uncertainty,” and she sure did it. As her time in the island passed by, she endured several episodes of sickness and incertitude. But she faced all those challenges with strong determination and the conviction that when the rest of the people believe that “yes usually meant probably not”, for her, it only meant that she just had to find another way.

Vaccinations at a health post
Vaccinations at a health post

Inspirational at all time, the book is also full of humorous anecdotes that occured to her either while trying to make her new office and house work with the things she had at hand or that some colleagues lend her, or while travelling around the country.

The rhythm of the story goes easy, creating vivid images of a country that has more than 800 hundred indigenous languages; a population composed by more than 7 million people, and which has managed to keep its own culture and traditions despite modernity, bureaucracy troubles, foreign influences, and globalization.

Approaching a landing strip at Tefalmin.
Approaching a landing strip at Tefalmin.

For most travellers, this island remains a mystery, or it’s seen as an exotic destination. And this is one of the wonders of The Papua New Guinea Journals, because it describes the country from the eyes of a visitor who took the time to get to know the people who live there, their problems, worries, traditions, hopes and dreams. And it’s also this truly humane side of the story told by Trish, that makes this book a remarkable moving story and that is able to open the readers’ eyes, minds and hearts, so that they can see the island and its inhabitants as a country worth knowing, and not just as another place to visit, or a short stop on their way to their next destination on a tour.

Trish completed more than 600 pages with her experiences while living in the island. From those memories, preserved in paper, she wrote her travelogue in a very dynamic way. Lively exclusive photos, that only can be seen in her book, give the readers a unique opportunity of seing with their eyes what they’ve already pictured in their heads, while reading Inside the Crocodile.

Travellers, antropologists, sociologist, aid and development workers, and of course book lovers will find in this book a refreashing and very pleasant source of inspiration.

* All photos courtesy of Trish Nicholson

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Breathing new life into old characters: a safe bet or a big risk?

By Nora Vasconcelos

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For 55 years, To Kill a Mockingbird, was considered not only a classic of modern American Literature, but also an inspiration for lawyers and readers who found in Atticus Finch, a role model and an inspiration to act with integrity no matter how hard and challenging the circumstances were.

Today, as the world is reading the “long lost” second part of this novel written by Harper Lee, they’re set to discover different faces of the personality of Atticus Finch, some of them which have already uncovered by the media, during the previous days.

Some readers have shared on social media their surprise on the new turn the beloved character takes in these book, Go set a Watchman, and some others have even asked if it was really necessary for the author to have written a sequel.

It’s said that, when the manuscript was discovered, it had been written even before To Kill a Mockingbird. One more mystery that remains about Lee’s works, as well as the recent news that say that it might be a third book written by the same author.

Either way, the appearance of this new novel has been the cause of many many book chats all around the world, and that has kept me thinking about the big chances that authors and publishers take when they create a new piece of fiction based on a well-known, and often beloved, character.

Not so long ago, the Algerian writer, Kamel Daoud, published his first novel, The Meursault Investigation, in which he shares the point of view of the brother of the “Stranger” who was killed by Meursault, in the famous novel by Albert Camus, The Stranger (also called The Outsider).

The story written by Danoud, is placed in today’s Algeria, and shows it through the eyes of his main character, who was seven years old when the original crime happened.

The novel was awarded the first prize by the French Académie Goncourt, last May, and it has received positive comments by the critics and the readers. In this case, things have gone all well for the author.

A complete different situation is the one that faces Pablo Katchadjian, an Argentine author who is currently dealing with a lawsuit, due to the work he has done with “The Aleph”, a fictional piece written by the also Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges.

Katchadjian remixed Borges’ stories, adding his personal writing, to compose what he called “The Fattened Aleph“, which has resulted now in formal charges of intellectual property fraud. According to Katchadjian, it’s work is only a “legitime experiment”.

In some other cases, developing new stories based on famous novels has been more and act of love for the characters and a deep curiosity of the readers, that takes them to complete unfinished stories, such as The Mystery of Edwing Drood, the last manuscript, left incomplete by Charles Dickens; or the many authors who have developed new mysteries, only for the pleasure for them to be solved by the famous Sherlock Holmes.

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