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Posts Tagged ‘bookworm problems’

Most of y’all know I’m a longtime reviewer for Shelf Awareness (best. gig. ever). That usually means I get a delicious stack of print advance copies to try out every month. But due to the pandemic, my last stack of physical ARCs arrived in mid-March. (Shortly after that, the stay-at-home orders came down, and many publicists and editors – including mine – couldn’t get to their offices to distribute books.)

Since we usually read two to three months ahead (those books I got in March all had pub dates for May, though some of them have been pushed back), we had to shift to e-galleys quickly. I was (am) not a fan of this idea: I love physical books, their heft and feel and smell, and I also don’t want one more reason to scroll on a screen. But my sister has lent me her long-disused Kindle Fire, and after several weeks of denial/procrastinating/avoiding reality, I finally have it set up for digital reading. (I’m requesting books through both Netgalley and Edelweiss, and the experience in both places has been mostly fine.)

It’s not as good as a “real” book, and I’m still reading physical books when I can: either rereading old favorites or working through my long-unread stacks. But the e-reader experience is much better than scrolling through files on my laptop, and it means I can still do the freelance work I love.

Like so much of life under quarantine, it’s not what I would have chosen, but here we are. I am (simultaneously) frustrated, trying to make the best of it, and intensely grateful that these are my problems.

Are you reading digitally in these strange times – or do you normally? Any tips?

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flavia de luce series books mysteries

I love a good series, as you know – especially a mystery series. (I’m also fond of young adult trilogies and other series, such as Miss Read’s tales of life in Fairacre, but the mysteries are getting a lot of attention from me right now.)

I stumble onto the occasional series at the outset, like the Amory Ames mystery series by Ashley Weaver, whose first book I devoured and then reviewed on Great New Books this spring. The sequel came out this fall, and I eagerly dove into the second installment of Amory’s adventures. (I’m hoping there will be a third!)

The only problem with this method: it’s a long wait between books.

But more often than not, I discover a series when there are already a few books out: Maisie Dobbs, Flavia de Luce (see above), Harry Potter, Chet and Bernie. It’s always a true pleasure to dive in and read multiple books in a row featuring characters I love – especially if the characters and plots grow deeper and more complex over time. But then, of course, I have to wait for the next book to come out.

My friend Jaclyn says she can only read one mystery series at a time, and my friend Jessica says she’d rather wait until all the books in a trilogy (or sometimes, a longer series) are published, instead of torturing herself by reading one or two at a time. But I tend not to be able to wait.

Of course, if the series is already complete – like Agatha Christie’s Tommy & Tuppence adventures or Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries – I can devour them all at once, with impunity. But with series that are still being written, I possess a shocking lack of restraint.

My tendency is to gobble up whatever’s available, even if it means I read five or six books in a row and then have to wait months (or a year!) for the next book in a series. I can’t say it’s a perfect strategy, exactly, but I don’t seem to be able to help myself.

Do you binge read? Savor a series one book at a time? Or employ another reading strategy altogether?

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Over on Instagram this month, I’ve been enjoying Jessica’s #31bookpics challenge. She came up with an eclectic list of bookish photo prompts, and I’ve relished looking through my shelves for books to fit each one.

Early in the month, the prompt was “underrated,” and I pulled together this stack.

underrated books yellow roses

These are all books by authors who are much better known for their other work: Anne of Green Gables (Montgomery), A Wrinkle in Time (L’Engle), Charlotte’s Web (White), All the Light We Cannot See (Doerr). I have no quibbles with this – I’m a lifelong Anne fan and I loved All the Light (and who doesn’t adore Charlotte?). The fame, in every case, is well deserved.

But there’s something delicious about knowing and loving an author’s more obscure work, whether you come to it after reading the better-known books or discover the author through the “back door.”

For me, Montgomery, Doerr, White and Maud Hart Lovelace belong in the first category: I read and reread Anne of Green Gables and the first few Betsy-Tacy books as a little girl. (My sister is named after Betsy Ray.) It took a while for me to move on to Montgomery’s other work and Betsy’s high school (and later) adventures, but when I did, I adored them.

I’d only peripherally heard of Doerr before All the Light swept the bestseller lists. But after reading that, I snagged a beautiful hardcover copy of Four Seasons in Rome in a used bookshop in San Diego, and loved it just as much. And my E.B. White obsession, though it began with Charlotte and Wilbur, has expanded to include pretty much everything the man ever wrote.

In other cases, though, I read the lesser-known works first, and they’re still my favorites.

I bought Walking on Water, L’Engle’s wonderful book on faith and art, from a college friend who was selling off some of her books. I loved it so much I sought out A Circle of Quiet and L’Engle’s other memoirs before I ever read A Wrinkle in Time. Julia Cameron is best known for The Artist’s Way, but my college boyfriend (now my husband) plucked The Sound of Paper off a bookstore shelf and gave it to me for graduation, so I read it first. It is still true north for me.

I realize it’s an ultra-hipster-trendy move these days to insist that you loved a book before it was cool, or knew about an author before he or she became popular. But as I said above, I adore these authors’ more popular works. I am happily in the majority of readers who follow the interstellar adventures of Meg Murry or wish they could spend an afternoon in Avonlea with Anne.

But I’m always so pleased to discover an author’s overlooked work, or to introduce some lesser-known favorites to fellow bookworms who may never have heard of Rilla of Ingleside (Montgomery) or Emily of Deep Valley (Lovelace). For me, it simply expands the pleasure of reading. And really, anyone who hasn’t read E.B. White’s pitch-perfect essays is missing out.

What are your favorite overlooked books?

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book stack late august sunflowers middlemarch
As you know if you follow me on Goodreads (or read my periodic book roundups), I spent a large part of this summer reading George Eliot’s Middlemarch for my occasional book club. Though I was put off by its size, I figured it would be easier to tackle with friends, so I checked it out from the library and gave it a shot.

Spoiler alert: I did not love it. But I kept reading, for several reasons.

First of all, accountability is a powerful thing. I’d never read Middlemarch and I wanted to be able to say I’d given it a good effort. I didn’t finish before book club – but I made it to page 650 (out of 800 in the edition I had), so I was satisfied with my effort. (Two other members who attended the meeting didn’t finish either.) I also liked (some of) the characters, especially practical Mary Garth, and I enjoyed Eliot’s pointed, witty narrative asides.

I know several people (including my pen pal Jaclyn) who love this book. And I figured that it’s probably a classic for a reason: I expected I would be glad I’d read it. So I decided to finish it, even after the deadline (my book club meeting) had passed.

As I was finishing up Middlemarch, I faced another bookish dilemma. I review several books each month for Shelf Awareness, and I get to choose which books I review. It means I don’t usually have to finish a book I’m not enjoying – which is my general policy these days. (As Anne says, life’s too short.)

I sent the following email to my editor:

I’m reading the new Isabel Allende novel (The Japanese Lover) and Recipes for Love and Murder by Sally Andrew. Allende is a widely respected novelist, and I’m sure this book will be hailed as a great effort and as Literature. (I remember enjoying The House of the Spirits.) But I’m not loving it. In fact, I’m liking Andrew’s book a lot better – it’s a clever South African mystery and I really like the narrator.

I know you generally tell us to review what we like – but sometimes I worry about skipping over a Big Book or “literary fiction” in favor of a mystery or something less “highbrow.” My question is: should I make a real effort to review the “big” books even if I don’t really like them, or keep reading/reviewing according to instinct and whim? Is it a problem if the Shelf “skips” some of these books? (Am I even making any sense?)

My editor (God bless her) replied succinctly, “We are better off reviewing really good books, rather than trying to shoehorn a book into a review because of the author’s stature.” (She also suggested passing the Allende on to another reviewer who might like it better.)

I happily put down the Allende after reading her email, and relished that South African mystery. But it reminded me how powerful the “shoulds” are.

We think we “ought” to finish a book because it’s a classic, or because it’s “cheating” not to finish, or because it’s the new Big Book by a popular author. The perceived judgment we might receive if we don’t finish is strong enough to keep a lot of us reading books we don’t enjoy. And sometimes (this is the kicker) it is worth it to persevere.

I’m glad I finished Middlemarch, because it’s a classic I’d been meaning to read for a long time, and I did enjoy it. But I’m also glad I put down The Japanese Lover, because it just wasn’t my thing. Both are equally valid responses to two variations of the same dilemma.

I bet I’m not the only one who struggles with this question. Do you abandon books you’re not enjoying – all the time, sometimes, never? If you’re a sometimes-finisher, like me, how do you decide?

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parnassus books nashville

It’s no secret that I am a serious bookworm. I have a dedicated table for my to-be-read pile, a library holds list as long as my arm, and at least one stack of review copies waiting to be perused at all times. (Currently it’s two stacks.)

I read widely, and I like to think I read broadly. I love many different kinds of books, including (but not limited to) memoirs, mysteries, young adult and middle-grade novels, adult fiction (both general and literary), poetry, and popular nonfiction. My shelves on Goodreads are almost as full as my real-life bookshelves (which are bulging). I am always reading several books at once.

I have two English lit degrees, a constantly shifting calendar of review deadlines and a pretty good sense (I like to think) of what constitutes “quality” literature. So sometimes I think I “should” be reading only the high-quality stuff: shiny new literary fiction, classics that have stood the test of time, nonfiction books dealing with Important Ideas. And I do read all those things. But in the past couple of years – even before I chose it as my word for 2015 – I’ve noticed that I’ve always got at least one “gentle” book in progress.

What do I mean by “gentle” in this case? Sometimes “gentle reading” means a quiet, bucolic story, like Miss Read’s tales of village life, or the Mitford series by Jan Karon. Sometimes it’s a beloved book from childhood (I reach for The Long Winter every February). Sometimes it’s the next book in a favorite series, comforting because it deals with known characters or familiar territory. And sometimes it’s a totally silly “fluff” book – chick lit or a cozy mystery – that I choose not for its great writing, but for its fun and predictable plot. (I also can’t read anything too creepy before I go to bed – or I won’t be able to fall asleep!)

I still occasionally beat myself up about this tendency. Those reading hours are precious, and I do dedicate many of them to high-quality, often more demanding books. But sometimes I simply need to curl up with a good story whose main value lies in escape and entertainment. This week, for example, you can find me digging into Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple series (light mysteries set in 1920s England), and savoring Elizabeth Bard’s gorgeous second memoir, Picnic in Provence. (That one is gentle, but it’s so well written that it’s hardly a guilty pleasure.)

Do you read several books at once, too? Is there a “gentle” (or “fluffy,” or “guilty pleasure”) category in your rotation?

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Nov 2013 008

My friend Jessica over at Quirky Bookworm is turning 31 today (happy birthday, Jess!).

In honor of her birthday, she’s hosting a #bookwormproblems linkup – so we book nerds can moan together (while being secretly delighted) about the problems that come from our book addictions.

Nov 2013 012

  • My biggest #bookwormproblem is in the first photo above: too many books, too little storage space. I have to stack and slot books on top of the shelved ones to fit everything in. (And that’s only one of my half-dozen bookshelves.)
  • The second problem is in the second photo above: a massive, teetering set of To-Read stacks. What on earth do I read next? (The answer, in the case of this photo, was Early Decision, which was excellent.)
  • I don’t cry in public very often, but when I do, it’s usually because I’m reading an affecting book on the subway and have to furtively wipe away tears.
  • I’m a fast reader and I’m always reading more than one book at once – which means I’m constantly lugging several books in my shoulder bag, back and forth from work. (I commute on the subway.)
  • Related: I have a serious horror of getting caught without something to read.
  • Also related: I always pack far too many books when I go on vacation.
  • Like Jessica, I’m a reviewer for Shelf Awareness, and I have a constantly shifting calendar of review deadlines in my head. This gets complicated if it overlaps with the next problem…
  • Library deadlines! I have a horror of paying library fines, and I often check out new releases that can’t be renewed, so I get panicky if a book’s due date is approaching and I haven’t started it yet.
  • I often get well-meaning book recs from people who don’t know me (or my tastes) well. Example: the friend of a friend I met a couple summers ago, who immediately turned to me and exclaimed, “Have you read Fifty Shades of Grey?” (Um, NO.)
  • However, sometimes a friend convinces me to try a book I don’t think I’ll like, and I end up enjoying it – which means I have to eat my words. Most recently, my sister pushed a couple of Emily Giffin books on me: one was so-so, but I did enjoy the other one. And most famously, Valerie convinced me to try Harry Potter, and (bless her) she never even said “I told you so.”
  • Related: I hate admitting to a friend that I didn’t like a book he or she recommended.
  • Sometimes when I like a book, I start following the author on Twitter, only to discover that I like the real-life person much less than his or her characters.
  • I have a huge collection of bookmarks, but I can rarely find one when I need it.
  • If I buy one or two books in a series, I get a serious urge to collect them all. (Witness my growing Dorothy Sayers stack.)
  • Related: I often can’t stop myself from buying a new release in a beloved series right when it comes out, usually in hardcover. (I can’t wait to buy the latest Flavia de Luce book in January.)
  • I am a stickler for grammar, punctuation, etc., and repeated typos (especially common in advance copies of books) set my teeth on edge. (I also write and edit for a living.)
  • Occasionally, I learn a word’s meaning from a book but I don’t know how to pronounce it – which is also Leigh’s bookworm problem.
  • I get emotionally attached to fictional characters. I miss them after I finish their stories, and I get seriously annoyed when a film interpretation of a character doesn’t match my mental image.
  • Related: I am critical of movie adaptations of my favorite books, most notably Little Women. (I read it so many times when I was young that when I finally saw the movie, the characters – especially Laurie – seemed all wrong and I couldn’t stop thinking about what they left out.)

This list grew longer than I thought it would! But I love being a bookworm, and I secretly love having most of these #bookwormproblems. (Except I really do wish I had more bookshelf space…)

It’s your turn – if you have #bookwormproblems, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

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