Posted in Reading

Because I Was Reading

A few years ago, I convinced myself that I knew my books (all 700-ish of them) so well that I could identify them merely by touch. I sat on the couch with my eyes closed and my hands over my ears while my husband brought me five books at a time. Then, keeping my eyes closed, I ran my hands over the covers, flipped the pages, felt for bookmarks, inhaled their scents, and generally absorbed their bookiness through my pores before making my guess.

I didn’t get a single one right.

This was very disappointing and also somewhat embarrassing, and the “See-you’re-crazy-I-told-you-so” smirk on my husband’s face only made matters worse. However, I still maintain that I know SOME of my books that well. He obviously just didn’t bring me the right ones.

Whether or not I know my books as well as I thought, it doesn’t take away from how much I love them. Reading is still my favorite thing to do, and I did it a lot in 2017, finishing 60 books that spanned fiction, nonfiction, YA, middle grade, adult, children’s, poetry, short stories, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, realistic fiction, historical fiction, comedy, classics, graphic novels, comics, audio books, and novels in verse. Whew! I consider that a job well done.

However, dedicating the hours necessary to finish 60 books in a year does mean there are times when other areas of life are neglected.

Chances are…

If you called me and I didn’t answer, it’s because I was reading.

If I showed up a little late to your gathering, it’s because I was reading.

If I left the tea kettle whistling until the water boiled away, it’s because I was reading.

If I forgot to feed the dog, it’s because I was reading.

If an announcement about a delayed flight made me smile, it’s because I was reading.

If I had tears in my eyes at a coffee shop, it’s because I was reading.

If I didn’t realize a cat had crawled into my lap, it’s because I was reading.

And if I fell asleep on the couch with the light on and a bookmark stuck to my face, it’s because I was reading.

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A few of my favorite 2017 reading spots (& reading companions)

In fact, the reason why this post didn’t come out on December 31st like I planned, is because I was reading. I was determined to finish one more book before the end of the year. (And I did.)

So, the question is… WHAT was I reading?

I read a lot of things last year, and I liked most of them. Here are a few favorites. (For a full list of what I read, check out my Goodreads page.)

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* The Empty Grave by Jonathan Stroud – An excellent end to an amazing series. Read my full review of this fifth and final book in the Lockwood & Co. series here.

Print* Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick – Sonnenblick has outdone himself with this novel. I didn’t think I’d ever love any of his books more than Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie, but Falling Over Sideways got it just right. Just absolutely perfectly right. An excellent read for middle schoolers, parents, teachers, and anyone who loves a good story.

25814154* The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell – I can’t express how much I loved The Madwoman Upstairs. It’s everything I wanted and needed from a summer read. Wit. Charm. Passionate book discussions. Literary scavenger hunts. Scandals. Secrets. A creepy old tower. The Brontes. This novel had it all. I listened to it on audio, read by Katie Koster, and it was fantastic. So fantastic, I bought the paper copy. Now I’m tempted to start over and read it again. So good.

24902132* Leaf and Beak: Sonnets by Scott Wiggerman – This poetry collection sat on my shelf for too long before I finally read it. Now, I don’t know why I waited. The sonnets follow the poet on his daily walks around his Austin neighborhood and are organized by the seasons, but there is nothing trite or expected from these elegant poems. The sonnets are both vivid and subtle, allowing the reader to stroll pleasantly through the verse while also inspiring her/him to pause and reflect at regular intervals. An excellent collection.

920607* The Arrival by Shaun Tan – Is it possible to “read” a book with no words? If you don’t think so, then you haven’t read The Arrival. This wordless story of a man leaving his homeland for a new country communicates the immigrant experience in a beautiful, intimate way.

17465707* Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro – I bought this book based on its adorable cover, and the inside didn’t disappoint. Still Writing is written in short essays, anecdotes, and tips. It reads easily and is a positive and encouraging take on the writing craft, while also being realistic. I took a lot of notes while reading it and put it down to write multiple times. (That’s how you know a writing book is good—it makes you WRITE.)

23203257* Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart – Lily, a transgender girl, and Dunkin, a boy with bipolar disorder, are both struggling through 8th grade. Their friendship will tug at your heart. At least, it tugged at mine.

19364719* Slasher Girls & Monster Boys edited by April Genevieve Tucholke – This anthology of teen horror stories by some of today’s best YA authors is way more gruesome and creepy and dark than I expected. I liked almost all of the stories, and several stayed with me long after I finished them, especially “In the Forest Dark and Deep” by Carrie Ryan. Thanks to that story, I’ll never be able to watch Alice in Wonderland without cringing again.

22840421* My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows – This book CRACKED. ME. UP. It’s a historical fantasy comedy romance. (Yeah, that’s a thing.) It’s like… if Game of Thrones met The Princess Bride except half the characters could turn into animals. You know what, just read it.

12948* (Not a favorite, but still one I want to mention) – The last book I read in 2017, the one I finished just a few hours before midnight, was The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, and I can’t decide what I think of it. I’m keeping my thoughts to myself for now because my book club will be discussing this classic horror novel in a couple of weeks, and I don’t want to give away all my conversation topics here, but I would love to know what others thought of it. Have you read it? Did you like it? (I promise not to steal your opinions for my book club. All clever critiques will be duly attributed during our discussion, I promise.)

So… the next question is… What will I read THIS year?

I hesitate to even post these titles because, if history is any indicator, books that I put on my “must-read” list often meet with procrastination, forgetfulness, or disappointment. But this year’s list is a winner, I can feel it. Here are ten books I definitely want to burrow into in 2018:

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  • A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (I already started this one and am enjoying it so far.)
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (This has been on my reading list for years. A friend gave me a beautiful purple copy for Christmas, so now I have no reason not to dive in.)
  • Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (No, I’ve never read it. Don’t shun me. A student gave me a copy—again a gorgeous one—so I’m going to give this classic a try.)
  • If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino (My friend recommended this book. The summary sounds just as strange as the title. Wonderfully strange! I’m so excited to read it.)
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (I’ve watched this author’s TED talks and read her interviews. Everything she says is eloquent and gorgeous, so I expect her book will be the same.)
  • Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman (This has also been on my reading list for years. It feels like time to read it.)
  • Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford (I got this sequel to one of my favorite middle grade novels for my birthday but haven’t made time for it yet. I can’t wait to see what Milo is up to.)
  • Dreadnought by April Daniels (I’ve heard great things about this YA novel about a transgender superhero.)
  • Eva Moves the Furniture by Margot Livesey (Nova Ren Suma recommended this book during my workshop with her at Highlights. I don’t remember why anymore, but when Nova Ren Suma recommends something, you read it.)
  • The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming (A student highly recommended this book to me, and it meets my goals of reading more nonfiction and reading outside my comfort zone. Plus, the girl is brilliant, so I trust her.)

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Well, there you have it. Books, books, and more books. I’d love to hear about your own reading achievements. What was your favorite read in 2017? What are your goals for 2018? And tell me what you thought of The Turn of the Screw! (It’s ok. You can be honest.)

Posted in Lists, Reading

Why My 2016 Reading Goal Has a Cap

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In 2015, I read 78 books. My goal for 2016 is to read at least 50. And no more than 75.

I love books. Reading is my favorite thing. So why would I put a cap on my reading goal? Because I don’t just love books, I’m obsessed with them.

I read in the morning. I read before bed. I read while eating lunch. I read while standing in line at the post office. I listen to books in the car. I collect books and stack books and decorate with books. When I can’t sleep at night, I count books.

Is it possible to read too many books? No! Of course not! Except… maybe it is. At least for me. Because I’m not only obsessed with books, I’m obsessed with lists and crossing things off them. I rarely leave breathing room between books, rarely read only one book at a time. And sometimes—I don’t like to admit this—sometimes I opt for the shorter, faster, easier read instead of the longer, more challenging title just so I can add another checkmark to my list. When I try to remember every book I read last year, several titles slip my mind. Good titles. Good books.

So this year I’m trying something different. This year, I am still going to read a LOT of books, but the second part of my goal will make me pace myself a bit, consider my choices, slow down. Slowing down is not a bad thing.

Of course, there’s still the possibility that I won’t be able to make myself slow down. It’s possible I’ll still be tempted by those short novels or that I’ll fly through even the most dense of texts. So what happens if I finish book #75 in November? What will I do when faced with an entire month of no reading? Holiday travel without a novel? Christmas gifts I can’t open until the new year?

Maybe I’ll write. Maybe I’ll watch movies. Maybe I’ll catch up on articles and blogs. Maybe I’ll learn to sew. Maybe I’ll bite off all my fingernails and eat copious amounts of chocolate while counting down the seconds until I can finally get my fix. Honestly, I don’t know what I’ll do. I’m a little bit scared and a little bit excited to find out.

Here are a few books I hope make the cut this year:

  • The Thing About Jellyfish – Ali Benjamin
  • Dumplin’ – Julie Murphy
  • Misery – Stephen King
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson
  • Places Left Unfinished at the Time of Creation – John Phillip Santos
  • Parasites Like Us – Adam Johnson
  • Now and Forever: Somewhere a Band is Playing & Leviathan ’99 – Ray Bradbury

 

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Weigh in! What do you think of my reading cap?
Is it possible to read too many books? What’s your goal this year?

 

Posted in Life, Reading

How I Got Here: My Life With Books

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I’ve been reading a lot lately. What is “a lot”? Well, my goal was to read 50 books in 2014. As of the end of July, I’ve already finished 46. So, a LOT.

Part of the reason for the recent spike in numbers is the discovery of two new forms of reading: audio books and the Kindle app on my phone. Since January, I’ve listened to audio books almost exclusively in the car. I’m not very up-to-date on the news of the world, and I’ve probably missed out on at least a half a dozen new pop songs, but I’ve “read” fourteen novels while sitting in traffic or running errands, and I think I’m a better person for it. Without audio books, my current total for the year so far would be 32, just about on par with my goal. But with them, I’m looking at a possibility of 80 or more books this year, which is pretty cool.

I live in a household with no e-readers or iPads (shocking, I know) but this year I discovered the Kindle app on my phone and put it to use. It’s still not my preferred format—I’ve only read four books this way so far—but I do find it useful for reading in bed. My husband can’t sleep if I leave the lamp on, but the dim glow of my phone’s screen doesn’t bother him, so I can read long after he zonks out. Unless the book makes me laugh out loud like Graeme Simsions’ The Rosie Project did. Then I’m busted and have to turn off the phone. (To read Lauren Henderson’s review of The Rosie Projectclick here. I agree with her completely.)

All this reading has made me look back on my life as a reader with Wonder Years-colored glasses.

Bookmarks

I don’t remember exactly when I learned to read, and I can’t clearly conjure up the process, but I have vague memories of not being able to read at all—staring at the words on the page of my dad’s newspaper or my mom’s novel and wondering what they said, or holding up a book and pretending to read it, making up the story as I went. I also remember, later, practicing my reading with the Sunday comics, things like Garfield that had few words and familiar themes.

That’s about as far as the memory goes. I couldn’t read, and then I could. I don’t recall much about the steps in between.

But once in a while I get a glimpse of that blurry phase in the middle. Due to fatigue or distraction, I misread something, and all of a sudden I remember that struggle, how exhausting it could be trying to decipher the BIG words on the page. Today it was the word “mythmaking” in an article in Writer’s Digest. My mind wanted to divide it after the y instead of the h and, for just a second, I was thinking, “My-what? My-thmaking?” Of course, it only took a moment for me to realize my error and move on.

That time.

A few months back, though, I was reading Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made aloud to my husband in the car. The author described a house called “Manyoaks.” About the fourth time that I said, “Man-yokes,” Mark stopped me. “What are you saying?” he asked. That’s when I realized my mistake. The house was named “Many-oaks” not “Man-yoaks.” We laughed for miles.

Once I learned to read, I was a good reader but not a voracious one. I watched a lot of TV and played a lot of video games and spent a lot of time in my backyard. Although I loved buying books from the Scholastic catalogues, I didn’t always read them. I wouldn’t call myself a hyperactive kid, but I don’t remember having the patience to sit down and read a book long enough to get into it. My mom likes to talk about how hard it was to get me to do my weekly assignments out of the “home readers” we were given. She says I was very critical of them, always asking, “Well, why did they say it that way? Why did they write it like that?” I guess I was born an editor.

I did enjoy being read to though—Mom read me the Bunnicula books and Dad read Hank the Cowdog­—and in the sixth grade when we read Bridge to Terabithia as a class, I learned how much fun it could be to study a book as a group. That love followed me though middle and high school where I enjoyed analyzing the novels and dissecting them, but still often did not actually finish them, if left to read them on my own.

It wasn’t until college when I started truly reading for pleasure. I bought books and stayed up late reading them. I wrote in the margins and swapped titles with friends. I started a journal where I listed all the books I read and discovered the value of never going anywhere without something to read.

For years, I’ve craved the “home of overflowing books,” that image that’s such a staple in books and movies about teachers and writers and scholars. In these scenes, there are always floor to ceiling bookshelves lining the walls and someone is always having to move a stack of books off a chair for someone else to sit down. There are books tucked everywhere in the room and at least two or three are always lying open. I love these rooms, these scenes. I want to be these characters.

Only recently have I realized how close I’ve come to achieving that dream.

Stacks of books around my house
Stacks of books around my house

I do live in a house of books, and I read them, and I love them, and if you want me to, I’ll talk to you about them all day long. However, thanks to the public library and audio books and my Kindle app, there’s still room for you to sit down when you come over. I’m more likely to have to move a cat off a chair than a pile of books.

In interviews, most writers say they were bookworms as children. The phrase “read everything I could get my hands on” comes up a lot, as does the description of books as their “closest friends.” In a way, I’ve been envious of those childhoods, slightly embarrassed at all the required reading I left unfinished, all the coming-of-age titles that I didn’t read until I was already of age. But I’ve come to embrace my own history with books. It may have taken me longer than some to discover the beauty of reading, but I’m here now and I’m happy. I don’t think it matters how I arrived.