My favorite books this year were all by women

Kristen Bell sloth

It’s December, which means soon we’ll have a whole new year of books to look forward to. What’s your favorite book that you read in 2016?

Without a doubt, mine is …

Uprooted

Okay, Uprooted is from 2015, but … sigh. It’s so beautiful. And powerful. And enchanting. It’s the best fantasy literature that I’ve read since Le Guin’s Earthsea cycle (my favorite series). I don’t often encounter genuine page-turners, but this is one of them. GO READ IT PLEASE.

Also, yay for positive female friendships!

I also have to give a big shout-out to Liane Moriarty, who’s my new favorite author that I discovered this year (her books are secretly amazing), and Ava Jae, who’s my new favorite debut author (go read her too, please!).

I finished my Goodreads challenge this year. Did you?

Dear book: I’m just not that into you

grumpy catWe’ve all been there. You’re reading a book and it’s just not doing it for you.

Do you …

A) Grind your teeth and finish it even if it’s taking you forever and you’d rather read anything else but this.

B) Stop immediately because there’s so many other things you could be doing, and this book sucks.

Right now I’m somewhere in the middle and having trouble deciding which to do. Will the book redeem itself? Am I just wasting my time? What to dooooo?

On one hand, I’m determined to finish it just so I can say with 100 percent certainty that I didn’t like it and/or the protagonist. For all I know, there’s a few chapters at the end that would totally change my mind.

Then I think, well, probably not. And I’m procrastinating reading this, so I’m never going to get to the end, and waiting too long between reading sessions could skew my impression of the book anyway.

What do you usually do in this situation? Were you totally happy with your decision, or did you regret it later?

Why you can only read so much

people-reading

Most of us can agree that frequent reading makes for good writing. It’s essential to read if you’re going to write and to do so often. The exception is people who say they’re readers and not writers although I doubt they’d make very terrible writers when they try to be. You can consume without creating, but you still learn about the process.

But how much does good writing rely on voracious reading? Granted, we read much more than we realize thanks to the Internet, but we seem to browse and scan more than we engage, which happens when we sit down with a book. Immersion and patience are important; we need both to craft meaningful writing. We also learn different patterns from reading prose or poetry than we do common web writing.

However, we could read forever and never set fingers to keys and earnestly compose. We can find style in the works of authors but not our own voice. Writing is an exploratory process that you can only learn about, not experience, when reading.

I can’t help but thinking of where we need to draw the line since the most common advice often conflicts with itself: “learn to write by reading” and “learn to write by writing.” Which is more true?

Listen to author Marilyn Singer’s answer, for example:

It may sound corny, but I always tell aspiring poets to read, read, read and write, write, write. I also tell them to observe the world around them, using all of their senses, and to do so with wonder and humor. And I advise them to listen to words and sentences and to pay attention to the kind of music they have.

You’re not going to “observe the world” with “all of [your] senses” when your nose is stuck in a book, but at the same time, Singer stresses the importance of “[listening] to words and sentences” and the “kind of music they have.”

The best practice seems to be a balance of reading and writing — of absorbing outside views and forming your own perspective through observation, contemplation, and imagination. Reading teaches you the music so you can make your own, but you have to take that tool and use it.

I find that reading other people’s work can refill the well of my own creativity when it runs dry, but it’s good to remember that you have your own voice and style that’s unique from everyone else’s. Take bits and pieces from your favorite authors and writers and assimilate them into your own writing, as that’s largely how we grow as writers. We listen to advice and heed example. Writing is about improving through practice; we build on layers of knowledge and understanding.

For your voice to be authentic and real, it can only ever be yours.

How much emphasis do you place on the interdependence between reading and writing?

Goodbye, Goodreads: Readers are leaving a strong community behind

goodreads-amazon

When news broke that Amazon bought Goodreads for close to $150 million, the book world freaked. People were scared and saddened — their honest, independent community was in the claws of the Amazon empire. Everyone’s in a rush to leave before the destruction hits.

This is the end of the “good” in Goodreads … isn’t it?

Maybe not. I’m not one to judge companies too early. No matter what their public face looks like, a company is a business, not a friendly neighbor. And if Goodreads is Joe Friendly and Amazon is the Mean Old Man, remember that Goodreads had a part in this transaction, too. Amazon didn’t pounce on an innocent bystander — or, if we’re still using the suburban analogy, catch him unsuspected with the water hose.

Right now, Goodread is still Goodreads, and you can’t be mad at it for making a new friend even if you don’t like the choice. So we’re all shifting that blame on to Amazon, the great evil that’s buying up the book market as rapidly as possible.

From a business standpoint, Amazon made a smart decision: Goodreads is an advantageous acquisition. But this doesn’t mean that it’s going to transform Goodreads from the ground up into something more flattering to its image.

Continue reading Goodbye, Goodreads: Readers are leaving a strong community behind

10 essential holiday gifts for book lovers

Winter reading

December is almost here, and that means it’s time to shop like it’s nobody’s business — and groan at all the prices.

This top 10 list contains items that range from the ridiculously affordable to the slightly pricey, but it’ll cover all the readers on your gift list this year. So whether you and books are strangers or total best friends, your life this next month is about to get a whole lot easier.

Continue reading 10 essential holiday gifts for book lovers

The book you wish everyone would read

We all have favorite books. Some of us love the classics. Others can’t get enough of contemporary reads, like Harry Potter and A Song of Ice and Fire. When it comes to giving books as gifts, we try to imagine what the recipient would like — fiction or nonfiction, romance or mystery, sci-fi or fantasy? But sometimes, we choose to give a book that holds personal meaning to us.

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le GuinFor me, that book is A Wizard of Earthsea (and how are these covers for Awesome Book Cover Friday nominees?) — and all of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea books, really. I can’t overstate how much I adore her fantasy writing and the tales she tells.

I’m actually not so hot on her sci-fi, but the Earthsea books? Amazing. (Just don’t judge it by the movies.) Once, someone gave one of the books to me, and my obsession with them began. Since then, I’ve given copies to people I know, or urged them to read the series if they ever came across it. If they found the time.

A Wizard of Earthsea altThe books we hold dearest in our hearts say a lot about us, and taking the time to read someone else’s favorite brings us closer to the people in our lives. It helps us understand them better, and it makes them feel good that someone else read the book they so cherish.

So if you can, make a little room in your reading schedule this year and ask a family member or friend, “What’s your absolute favorite book?” The answer might surprise you. Then, read that book and share your thoughts with them. They’ll appreciate the gesture, but tread carefully. A negative reaction could disappoint them — so even if you’re not crazy about the book, try to think of something you did like. Maybe a character or the language. Let that person know. It means more to them than you might think.

So … what’s your favorite book of all time?

Reading and writing with all 5 senses

The Five Senses by Herve TulletReading is a very sensory experience. If you pick up a book, you immediately touch the pages, see the words (a greatly underrated experience in itself) — and probably smell the book, too, regardless of whether you have a new or old copy.

Sometimes this is a bad experience — like my recent purchase of Life of Pi (soon to be a movie), a used edition that smells a lot like ketchup, much to my displeasure. Seriously. Gross.

Those who read aloud in their heads might “hear” the words (also a beneficial practice), but chances are you’re not tasting. That’s where words exhibit their power through story. The sights, smells, and sounds … a good author knows how to grab the reader with vivid, sensory-appealing imagery.

Smell might be the strongest tie to memory, but for me, nothing lures me in like a good description of a delicious meal. Every time. As soon as roast chicken, strawberry tarts, or some sort of savory dish involved, I’m hungry and wishing I lived in medieval times. Or at Hogwarts (here’s a cool breakdown of all the food and drink served at the wizard school.)

What about you? Do any of the five senses really get to you when you read? And go ahead — count the so-called sixth sense, too. Maybe ghosts really freak you out. :)

5 books to read when you’re sick in bed

I Have a Bed Made of Buttermilk Pancakes by Jaclyn MoriartyThe cold weather has kicked in, and I’m sick. Besides sleeping and drinking lots of tea, reading is my favorite get-well activity. Here are 10 books guaranteed to make you feel better faster … or at least get you in good spirits.

1. I Have a Bed Made of Buttermilk Pancakes by Jaclyn Moriarty

The thought alone of a bed made of buttermilk pancakes is enough to put you in a happy mood, but this book is filled with creative observations on life through the eyes of a second-grade teacher. There’s no better time to reflect than when you’re spending all day in bed.

Leaves of Grass: The "Death-Bed" Edition by Walt Whitman2. Leaves of Grass: The “Death-Bed” Edition by Walt Whitman

This one should give you a little perspective: As lousy as you feel, you’re not dying. Stop moping and enjoy some poetry from one of the greats. The “Death-Bed” edition contains everything Whitman wrote in final form, along with commissioned notes.

The Bed Book by Sylvia Plath and Emily Arnold McCully3. The Bed Book by Sylvia Plath and Emily Arnold McCully (illustrator)

Just because you’re stuck in the same bed all day doesn’t mean you can’t dream of others — like an elephant bed, for example. I’m not sure how much sleep you’d get in that one, though.

Calvin and Hobbes: Something Under the Bed Is Drooling by Bill Watterson4. Calvin and Hobbes: Something Under the Bed is Drooling by Bill Watterson

Reading in Bed by Sue GeeSome cartoons are just read best in bed. And speaking of that …

5. Reading in Bed by Sue Gee

A domestic drama about two friends who thought life would consist of books and carefree days.

What are your favorite books to read in bed?

Most e-book readers use cell phones and computers

nookwinners2If you had to guess, you’d probably say most people who read e-books are doing so on a Kindle or Nook, right?

Apparently not. A new Pew survey shows that among e-book readers under 30-years-old, 55 percent are more likely to use a computer, and 41 percent would use a cell phone — compare that to the 23 percent who would use an e-book reader and the 16 percent who prefer a tablet.

nookwinners5But considering how many people own smartphones these days, maybe that shouldn’t be such a shock. I can’t help but feel surprised, though, especially when I learned that most e-book readers are between the ages of 30-39. If e-books are contributing to the rise of reading in America, you might expect the highest group of e-readers to be teens or twentysomethings. The survey recorded that 47 percent of young people read long-form digital content including books, magazines, and newspapers.

Still, the 18-24 age group has the most readers overall (of print, e-format, and audiobooks) at 88 percent, followed by 86 percent in the 16-17 range. The 30-39 group came in at 84 percent. People over 65-years-of-age accounted for the fewest readers at 68 percent.

I guess e-book devices are a gadget that just hasn’t caught on to much younger readers. Why is that, do you think? Come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve seen an ad that markets e-readers to teens, who are always using cell phones — have you?

The study also confirmed that most younger readers don’t know libraries offer e-books even though it’s a desirable option to them. That drives forward the importance of stronger e-book support and advertising at libraries and in communities, including schools.

Photo credit: Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County