Pleasure reading should be pleasurable

Makes sense when you think about it, right? Yet so many of us feel obligated to finish a book once we’ve started it, and feel guilty if we set it aside. We really should read it, because a friend recommended it, or it got a good review, or it’s on a topic we really ought to know more about, or everyone else is reading it, or we put it on our to-read list four years ago (but we can’t remember why), or it’s a classic…fill in the blank however you like.

But unless a book is assigned reading for school or work, then presumably you’re reading for pleasure, and pleasure reading should be pleasurable. Not that you shouldn’t ever explore a new genre or try a book that you find a bit difficult, but if you’re 25 or 50 or 100 pages in and you’re just not that into it, then by all means, put it down and pick up something else instead! You have this librarian’s permission.

This is something I have worked on for years myself. I was inspired partly by Knopf editor Marty Asher, who said something along the lines of “I don’t have time to read anything but great books” (and that was almost a decade ago). Of course, you might well think a book is going to be great and it turns out not to be: you can only judge so much by the cover, title, author, first sentence, first page, flap copy, reviews, etc. Most of us don’t choose books we think we’re going to dislike on purpose.

And yet it can be so hard to put down a book we’ve invested some time in already. It feels like giving up; it feels like failure. And who knows? We’re optimistic; maybe it will get better in another 25, 50, 100 pages. But no: at some point you begin to feel certain that this book is not the one for you, at least not right now. (“Every reader his/her book, every book its reader“).

One side effect of my free time having been somewhat curtailed of late is that I have become much better at putting down a book that doesn’t hook me quickly. This is usually not a reflection on the book’s quality; it’s just not for me, not right now. For example, I have decided to return M.T. Anderson’s Symphony for the City of the Dead to the library – despite the fact that it was personally recommended to me by a reader I trust, and that it was a finalist for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults – because I just can’t get excited about the siege of Leningrad right now.

What can I get excited about? Young adult fiction, apparently: I’ve read nine YA novels so far this year, including some truly stellar books (all right, let’s name names: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Like No Other, Dumplin’, Roller Girl, Echo, A Step Toward Falling, Bone Gap, Rain Reign). I’ve also read (and re-read) some excellent picture books. And, I got to read Gayle Forman’s upcoming adult novel Leave Me, which is just as good as her YA; I read it in just two days, and I have a three-month-old baby, so that should tell you something. (The thing it should tell you is “read Leave Me“!)

So there you have it, from a librarian: if you don’t like what you’re reading, and you don’t have to read it, put it down and read something you love instead. That’s the beauty of the public library: millions of books just there for the borrowing. Don’t do what I did and spend an entire month trying to slog through a book you aren’t that excited about: you’re not being graded, and ticking a box on a checklist you made yourself isn’t nearly as satisfying as spending time reading a book you love. In fact, I think there’s a song about this. Let it go…

[All that said…my library is hosting a 2016 Reading Challenge with some interesting categories, and one book can count toward more than one category. Click through to read more if you’re interested in participating.]

2015 Year-End Reading Wrap-Up

Number of books read in 2015: 197

Picture books: 84 (actual number is higher but I didn’t add them all to LibraryThing)

Partially-read books: 16

Books read in 2015 minus picture books and partially-read books: 97

YA books read: 45

Average number of books read per month (including YA, excluding picture books and partially-read books): 8.08

Audiobooks: 14

Total page count: 51,949 (This is approximate rather than exact. I used data from LT without filtering out audiobooks, picture books, or partially-read books; however, page count information is missing from LT for any book I read in galley form, or added well in advance of its publication date, so I figure it all evens out, pretty much.)

Author gender breakdown pie chart from LT (48.43% male, 51.57% female)

Female/male authors: Still almost exactly equal for my library overall, though the balance has tipped in favor of the ladies this year.

Five-star ratings: 20, including a few re-reads (Fangirl, From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, I Capture the Castle, Station Eleven, Bossypants)

Here’s last year’s wrap-up, and here’s the one from 2013. And if you like reading other people’s recaps of their reading years, as I do, here’s Jessamyn West’s “Year in Reading” and Linda’s (ThreeGoodRats) “Year of Reading” and “TBR Pile Challenge 2016.”

I haven’t settled on any reading-related resolutions (say that three times fast), though I’m open to ideas. As usual, I’ll be trying to make my way through the books that I own but haven’t read yet; library books tend to jump the queue, since they have due dates.

Have you made a bookish resolution for the year? Do you have any recommendations? Are there books being published this year that you’re eager to read? I’m looking forward to Maggie Stiefvater’s final book in the Raven Cycle,  Jon Klassen’s next hat-related picture book, We Found A Hat, and I hear there will be a new Ann Patchett novel this year.

 

 

 

Winter re-reading

When I was younger, I re-read books constantly. I re-read less now, partly because working in a public library, I’m hyper-aware of all the new books being published, as well as all the old ones that have a good long shelf life (pun intended). But I’m re-reading three* books right now, so I’ve been thinking: Which books do you return to over and over? Is there a particular time (say, when you’re traveling, or after finishing a very long book, or one you didn’t like much) or time of year that you like to re-read?

Cover image of Greenglass House*The three I’m re-reading/re-listening-to now are Greenglass House by Kate Milford; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling, read by Jim Dale; The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, read by a full cast. I read Greenglass House for the first time last year and I think re-reading it may become an annual winter tradition.

Here are a few of my other favorite books to re-read:

  • Cover image of The Golden CompassHis Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman (The Golden Compass is the first)
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  • The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman
  • Griffin & Sabine by Nick Bantock
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  • The Boggart by Susan Cooper
  • The View From Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg

I think I’ll re-read The Princess Bride this year also. I’ve been meaning to for a while…although I could re-read it every year for the next thirty years and still not catch up to how many times I’ve seen the movie.

 

 

 

And Little Louis: author-illustrator collaboration

Like most other picture book readers, I’m a big fan of Jon Klassen (I Want My Hat Back, This Is Not My Hat, etc.) and Mac Barnett (Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, Leo: A Ghost Story, etc.), so naturally when they collaborate I am excited. Their book Extra Yarn is a favorite, but I have been wondering about something.

I have been wondering about Little Louis.

littlelouis

Particularly, I am wondering if Mac Barnett handed (or more likely e-mailed) the manuscript to Jon Klassen and let him take it from there, or if they discussed how the illustrations and text would fit together. If it was the former, I wonder what Barnett had in mind for Little Louis, and how far that was from what Klassen came up with. Did it make him laugh? Or were they in on it together?

I used to work in publishing, but I don’t know much about picture book publishing, other than that some authors and illustrators work together more closely, others less closely. I asked Barnett and Klassen on Twitter but they haven’t replied. The question stands…

Screen Shot 2016-01-07 at 10.56.41 AM

 

Do you debut? Focus on first books

I only realized how few new debuts* I read when I was offered the chance to contribute to another Reader’s Shelf column in Library Journal,New Year, Nearly New Books: Favorite 2015 Debuts.” Looking back through nearly a year’s worth of reading, there weren’t very many for me to choose from, but I did really enjoy The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister. If you like magic and illusion, turn-of-the-century America, and (possibly) unreliable narrators, it would be a great book to curl up with this winter.

*”New debuts” isn’t redundant, I don’t think: an author’s first book is a debut whether it was published ten years ago or ten days ago. And if it was ten years ago, then hopefully there have been a few since, and you’ve got some catching up to do!

Do you seek out debuts? I don’t make a point of it, though I certainly don’t have anything against them – if it’s recommended to me or gets glowing reviews or has a great hook, I’m just as interested in a first novel as a tenth, and discovering a new writer is a pleasure. Really, the only downside to reading a new debut is that you’ll be waiting for the next one instead of diving into an author’s backlist.

Do you like to read everything an author has written, or do you read more selectively, even if you really like the author? Do you like to read an author’s work chronologically, reverse-chronologically, or does the order not matter to you?

Books on the radio

I was invited to be on Wisconsin Public Radio at the end of December to talk about audiobooks: why people might try them, how to find a book (or narrator) they like, when they might even be preferable to print books. Being on the radio was fun! It’s archived on WPR’s Central Time website (though I haven’t listened; I don’t want to hear how many times I said “um”). If you want to download or listen online, it’s from 5:30-6pm (unless you need to catch up on your local Wisconsin news and chit-chat, in which case, go ahead and listen to the whole thing).

I’ve written about audiobooks on this blog in the past; if you missed those posts, don’t worry, you can access them here, because the internet is forever: “I’d listen to her read a grocery list: on audiobooks” (3/12/14) and “Audiobook recommendations for a friend” (10/3/14). Or if you don’t want to click through, here’s the bullet point version:

  • How to get started if you’re new to audiobooks: Try listening to a book you’ve already read; choose a shorter book; listen to the first few minutes of a few different ones to see which narrator’s voice you like best.
  • Remember, taste is subjective: You might prefer a male or female narrator, a full cast production, American voices or other accents, slow or fast talkers.
  • How to get audiobooks: You can buy them, of course, but that gets expensive! Your local library probably offers audiobooks on CD and/or Playaways (a small device that contains one whole book), and may offer downloadable audiobooks as well through Overdrive, hoopla, or another platform. If you’re hearing impaired, you can get access to audiobooks for free in every state.
  • Value-added aspects: Some authors read their own books, which can be especially fun if they are familiar voices already, like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Sarah Vowell, Neil Patrick Harris, or Aziz Ansari. Neil Gaiman and Jenny Lawson also read their own books, which I highly recommend.
  • A social experience: Before school vacations and holidays, lots of people come to the library looking for audiobooks the whole family can enjoy on long car trips. Finding a book everyone will enjoy can be a fun challenge depending on ages and tastes!
  • Seamless switching between formats: I haven’t done this myself, but one of the callers said she switched back and forth between the Kindle e-book and Audible audiobook; Amazon owns Audible so accounts can be synced for seamless transitions between audio and print.

Do you listen to audiobooks? Do you have a favorite genre to listen to, or a favorite narrator?

 

 

Best Books I’ve Read in the Second Half of 2015

See Top Ten Books I’ve Read So Far in 2015 from July 1. I will still talk your ear off about Greenglass House and Graceling. And Trigger Warning and NPH’s Choose Your Own Autobiography are superb audiobooks. Here are ten of the books I’ve enjoyed in the second half of the year:

Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway: Cover image of Emmy & OliverEmmy’s best friend (and boy-next-door), Oliver, was kidnapped by his father when he was seven; he returns at age 17, and reconnects with Emmy and her friends. Good realistic/romantic fiction for those who liked The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney and Sweethearts by Sara Zarr.

Slade House by David Mitchell: This haunted house story is a companion to The Bone Clocks, so of course I loved it; there’s no need to read The Bone Clocks to enjoy Slade House, though, so if this is your first foray into Mitchell’s universe, you can start with this more concise novel. The titular Slade House appears every nine years so its inhabitants can harvest a soul to prolong their lives, but the last victim it lures in is on to them. Deliciously creepy. (I got an early copy and wrote the blurb for LibraryReads.)

We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh: Just as good as The Language of Flowers, but with illegal immigration instead of the foster care system and homelessness as the central issue. Not to say that it’s an “issue book”; the Mexican-American characters at the center of the story are real and complex, their dilemmas hard and heartbreaking.

Useful, Usable, Desirable by Aaron Schmidt and Amanda Etches: I’ve already written about this one here. If you work in a library, or design any kind of product or service or platform for library users, read this book!

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande: Cover image of Being MortalI’m consistently impressed with Gawande’s writing ability, and the clarity with which he communicates his message. In this case, he addresses the issues presented by an aging population, on both the societal and the individual level. An important book that is also easy to read.

The Dive from Clausen’s Pier by Ann Packer: If you’ve been having second thoughts about settling down with the guy you’ve been dating for years and are now engaged to, and he becomes paralyzed in an accident, do you stay with him? Or do you go? This is Carrie Bell’s decision, and The Dive From Clauden’s Pier is a character study of a young woman making a difficult decision about what she should do, and what that might mean about the kind of person she is.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg: Though I’m no longer in the dating pool, I enjoyed listening to how romance has changed and how it has stayed the same in recent history. The audiobook was great; it’s stand-up comedy backed up with smart social science.

Cover image of Unfinished BusinessUnfinished Business by Anne-Marie Slaughter: The author of The Atlantic article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” has written a book about the unequal value American society places on competition (ambition, putting oneself first, breadwinning) and care (providing care for children, aging parents, other family members or friends); the former is traditionally male, the latter traditionally female. In order to address gender inequality, we must also adjust the value we place on competition and care.

George by Alex Gino: George is a fourth grader who was born a boy but knows she’s really a girl. But how does she tell her family and friends? And how will they react when she does? This is most likely – hopefully – just the beginning of transgender lit for children and teens, and it’s a sweet, realistic story that avoids extremes: there’s no horrific bullying, but not everyone is instantly accepting either. George’s friend Kelly is a great character also.

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg: Cover image of Did You Ever Have a FamilyA story of grief and guilt, told by multiple narrators – the survivors of a tragedy and those related to them. For those who liked The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy, How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz, The Children’s Crusade by Ann Packer, Fellow Mortals by Dennis Mahoney, The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen.

That’s it for me for 2015. If I read any outstanding books in the next week, I’ll tell you about them in January. Meanwhile, what were your favorite books of the year?