Today's topic is one of the most popular events of every BBAW - Interview Swap. This year, I was paired with Carina of Reading Through Life and below is her answers to my questions: 

1) I understand that you are a Canadian teacher teaching in Abu Dhabi, could you please share with us what inspired you to teach there? And, what are the challenges do you face while teaching in Abu Dhabi

It's kind of a long story, actually! I've always wanted to teach overseas (and specifically ESL), but was trying to get myself established in my home school district first. I had been moving to different schools over the first few years back in Toronto, because there aren't really many permanent jobs to be had in my subject area; and last year, it became obvious that there won't be a place for me anywhere for a while still. That coincided with my partner having moved to Dubai a few months before in order to take a job, and it just seemed like the time had come for me to go for the overseas experience that I'd wanted for so long. The public school system in Abu Dhabi is currently undergoing a radical educational reform and was hiring English teachers, so it all just fell into place.

As for challenges ... well, largely the challenges are due to the low English ability of the girls I teach, and the nature of the reform itself. I teach in high school, and while some of the reform (ie the assessments) have been rolled out to them, other vital parts of the reform (ie the focus on biliteracy and simply the time to have learned the English necessary to succeed on the assessments they're expected to do) has not. Add to that the fact that - at least at my school - we have rather large classes where the abilities are completely mixed, and it can sometimes be quite challenging. But it's a great experience as well, and I wouldn't take it back for anything.

2) How do you find the time to read and write despite the tight schedule of being a teacher? What are your hobbies aside from reading and writing? 

To be honest, I don't always manage to balance my schedule very well. I was doing okay mostly until I moved to the UAE, and then my time spent reading - and blogging - took a huge hit. I'm starting to re-find that balance now, though ... basically I just try to spend any free evening time I have reading instead of watching too much television or doing other things. The blogging is still lacking a bit behind, but I'm really hoping to re-engage and find more time now that I'm settled in more in the UAE and don't have to worry so much about all the new things going on around me. Aside from reading and writing - I like to travel, and cook, and my partner and I like to geocache and explore new places. 

3) You mentioned on your blog that your reading tastes range from the mile to the extremely eclectic. What kind of books would you classify as 'eclectic'? 

I'm not sure how accurate that might be at this point, as I seem to have fallen into a kind of a pattern with my reading that didn't exist to the same extent when I started blogging (and back when I wrote that section of the blog). I tend normally to read a lot of memoirs, YA, non-fiction about Islam and other topics. I also read a little bit here and there about other topics and in other genres, though, like about running, food ethics, ADHD and depression, abuse, eating disorders, education, politics, sexuality ... it can sometimes get a bit all over the place, hence the "eclectic". But that seems to be hit and miss these days - I sometimes feel like I'm losing a bit of my reading eccentricity and falling into neat little categories more often than not.

4) What is your favourite genre? Why?

I adore reading narrative non-fiction and memoirs of people who aren't necessarily famous. I think it's that these books teach me more about the world and expand my horizons a bit more than they might be normally. It's also a bit more clear-cut going into the book whether I'm going to like it or not; if I find the topic of a non-fiction book or a memoir interesting, I'm more willing to put up with mediocre writing than I might be when reading a novel. Other than that, I'm not really sure why I like non-fiction so much. I just seem to keep gravitating towards it, even when I'm actively trying not to! 

5) Which title(s) is the best you have read this year and tell us more about that book. 

That's tough! I seem to have re-found my groove, as I've read lots of great books this year. A few that stand out are Stiff, American Gods, Snakewoman of Little Egypt (which I'm reviewing today!), and The Night Circus (which I'll be reviewing later this month).

Stiff is a non-fiction popular science book by Mary Roach, and it's basically a look into what happens to our bodies after we die, how we use (and have previously used) corpses in all kinds of medical research and other uses, and generally how scientists work with cadavers. I fell in love with her writing in this book, as it's a nice balance of "science for everyday people" (but not too dumbed-down) and wry humour. I've since gone on to read one of her other books - Bonk, to be reviewed later this month - about the science of sex, and it's also great.

American Gods is somehow the first Neil Gaiman book that I've read, and it made me extremely sad that I'd waited this long to do so. It's basically about what happens when the "old gods" of the world (like those of ancient Egypt, and also including things like leprechauns) brought over to America face off with the "new gods" of media, the internet, and so on ... all superimposed on the background of a good old road trip. It's seriously fantastic, and nothing I say here can do it justice.

Snakewoman of Little Egypt by Robert Hellenga is about, among other things, what happens when the main character tries to start her life fresh after her release from prison, where she had been incarcerated for shooting her husband (a preacher and community leader in a snakehandling church) after he forced her to put her arm into a box of rattlesnakes. And yes, that's the simplest way I can explain the premise of the book. And it's brilliant, particularly in audiobook format.

The Night Circus ... I'll leave you to find out about that one for yourself. Trying to figure out what's going on is half the fun.

6) Finally, would you read a book which has received lots of hype, despite the bad writing? To you, which is more important: the writing or the plot? (Though it's ideal to have the best of both worlds, what would you choose if you are given only an option to choose?) 

That's a rather timely question, given that I just read the Fifty Shades trilogy a couple of weeks ago, and will be reviewing the books in a few weeks. I generally don't like reading books that have tons of hype, particularly if they hype comes along with lots of lots of criticism of the writing. For example, I held off for quite a while from reading the Twilight series as well. In the end, I decided to read it just so that I could legitimately critique it when the subject comes up, which is pretty much the reason that I read Meyer as well. Though, to be fair, it was more important for me to read the Twilight books since so many of my students were talking about them, and it wasn't fair for me to argue with them about the themes or content when I hadn't actually picked them up and read them myself ... something that I definitely won't be doing in a teacher/librarian role with the James books. In the end, I'm almost always just as unimpressed with these hyped-up books as I expect to be, particularly if they're known for having bad writing.

Having said that, what is usually most important for me in a book is the plot rather than the writing. Not that I want the writing to suck, or that I will tolerate it much if it does ... but I find that good writing with a crappy story is harder to get through, for me, than a good story with mediocre writing. I managed to get through a few thousand pages of both Twilight and Fifty Shades, for example, even though the writing in both is decidedly not good. (I'm not saying the plot is inspired, either, but it's at least compelling enough to allow me to finish reading.) I can't say that I'd have gotten through that many pages of a book with lovely writing but no plot.

Thank you, Carina, for being my interview swap partner this year and I enjoyed reading your answers! I'm glad to know you through this interview swap and I look forward to reading more of your posts! 
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6 Responses
  1. She is new to me! Wonderful interview!! I am learning so much about fellow bloggers!

    Happy BBAW!! Here is my BBAW: Interview Swap with Emma Cazabonne post.

  2. Blogger10 Says:

    Great interview! And I enjoyed reading yours on Carina's page as well. :) Enjoy BBAW!!

  3. Sandy Nawrot Says:

    I just said on another blog a minute ago...there are more blogs on these posts today that I DON'T know than I do! It wasn't like that three or four years ago. And OMG I loved Stiff! That was such a bizarre and entertaining book!

  4. Anyone who enjoyed Stiff and American Gods is an automatic friend to me. LOL What a wonderful interview. I can't wait to visit Carina's blog.

  5. The Bookworm Says:

    Great interview ladies. I have been wanting to read Stiff for some time, it sounds so different.

  6. Thanks for the interview - I really enjoyed answering your questions, as well as reading your answers to mine.

    Hope you're having a great BBAW overall! I'm loving reading all these posts and getting a peek at so many bloggers I've never come across before.

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