Thoughts On: Reading Goals

“Thoughts On” is a monthly feature on thewasofshall where I give my (often rambling) thoughts on a topic relevant to reading, literature, or the book business. To see previous (and future) topics, click here. To participate, scroll all the way down.

Since the first of the year is notorious for goal setting, it’s also a prime time for book-related challenges to pop up: like the annual one hosted by GoodReads, Book Riot’s #ReadHarder challenge, PopSugar’s Ultimate Reading Challenge, Authors A to Z, Flights of Fantasy, and maybe one or two more. If you’re a reader who a) likes to track what they read or b) likes to stretch their reading habits, challenges are awesome ways to not only read more but to also read smarter. The very act of participating requires some on-the-side planning to make sure that the book choices you make throughout the year will conform to the challenge’s rules. Additionally, if your challenge is purely a numbers game, you’re forced to figure out how many days or weeks you’ll have to finish a book before moving on to the next one.

I’ve participated in the GoodReads challenge since 2011, but my numbers pledged went as high as 70 while my numbers read were as low as 19. There’s been a lot of talk on why a particular reader is participating in the challenge (or why they’re not), but for me, it’s never about whether or not I read my desired number of books. Instead, I like keeping track of what I read and I do that on GoodReads – so my participation in the GoodReads challenge naturally follows suit. Eventually, as I read less and less each year, so too will my pledged number each January 1st. It’s like a fun game where all the fun is participating and the results are ultimately unimportant.

This year, however, I decided to participate in a more focused challenge: BookRiot’s #ReadHarder challenge, which posits 24 broad themes from reading a book by someone of the opposite gender (easy peasy) to one written when its author was over 65 (not so easy peasy). As I mentioned above, it’s forcing me to do a bit of research before I simply pick up a book that’s at the top of my tbr pile. To help myself, I created a page which outlines each task and which book I’ve decided to read to fulfill that task. I spent almost an hour asking myself, Which books could potentially fit each task? Out of those titles, which sound interesting? Or are currently on my tbr list? Or are ones that I already own? Because I also told the bookternet that I wanted to read a number of books in 2015, I got busy matching titles on that list with my #ReadHarder list – which resulted in yet another question: which book could I match with a specific task to narrow down how many books I would pledge to read?

If you’re a member of GoodReads, you’re able to poke around my Stats page and see just how many books I tend to read per year (which is how I get my pledge number in the first place). Even though I read 4/5 of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series – which, combined, totaled 4,056 words – I still only read 19 books and my total pages read was the lowest it’s ever been. Not very encouraging to a person whose theoretically pledged to read 24 books for the #ReadHarder challenge, 26 titles for my Top Ten Tuesday post, and however many other titles that pop up. That’s a solid 50 books right there – not only higher than my total goal of 41 but also way higher than my average of the last two years.

It’s almost like I’m setting myself up for failure.

Except, kind of, I’m not. Because, like I keep mentioning, I don’t take my participation in the GoodReads challenge all that seriously. I also am viewing my participation in BookRiot’s #ReadHarder challenge as an excuse to read some of the books I’ve already told myself that I want to read but, for whatever reason, haven’t. Like Lauren Beukes’ Broken Monsters, Louise Erdrich’s The Round House, or Jill Lapore’s The Secret History of Wonder Woman. These all sound like fantastic reads but, because I don’t own a copy, am in the middle of a series, or am thinking about a different book when it comes time to pick my next read, these titles languish on my tbr list. Now, I’ll get to read them.

Also, and most importantly, the reading goal that I actually hope to accomplish this year is reading 30 minutes per day. However many books that amounts to or however many tasks that completes, reading on a daily basis is my main priority. I’ve talked about making reading a habit, but I’m still not consistently hitting my goal. So, yes, completing all 24 #ReadHarder tasks or hitting my 41-book goal would be awesome, but I’m not stressed out if I don’t make it – because I really just want to keep reading day in and day out, from whatever book of which I happen to be in the middle. And, ultimately, that’s my reading goal for 2015.

Have your own thoughts on reading challenges? Share them! Post them to your blog, link back to this post, and then comment letting me know!

Thoughts On: Book Reviews

“Thoughts On” is a monthly feature on thewasofshall where I give my (often rambling) thoughts on a topic relevant to reading, literature, or the book business. To see previous (and future) topics, click here. To participate, scroll all the way down.

Writing and giving really good book reviews is hard. You have to figure out exactly what you liked (or didn’t like) in a story and then articulate that clearly enough so that others fully understand your reasoning. You have to get across your idiosyncratic pet peeves even if this is the only review a person is going to read.

In short, you basically have to let that person into your head using only words. And that’s hard, man, really really hard.

Of course, good book reviews come with practice. You read a heck of a lot of literature and figure out those pet peeves. You understand to what degree something irks you, how language affects your reading experience, and how important the ending (or the slow beginning, for that matter) is. You can give reason to the most specific degree possible. You’re able to explain, in the most detailed (yet fluid) words, exactly what was wrong or right in a story and why that thing either annoyed you or made you fangirl. And then, after all that, you actually start writing or recording reviews, honing your language, format, and thought breaks. You learn to take notes while reading, build a framework before writing, and then craft a cohesive argument around your points of discussion, using specific examples from the text to back up your thoughts.

Reading reviews is so incredible easy, though, and belies the actual effort it takes to craft them. As a reader, you skim the summary to see if you’ll even like the book being discussed. Then you might read the first paragraph of the review. If that seems interesting, you’ll either keep reading or just skip down to the rating or talking points. But what if the reviewer didn’t include a starred rating? What if they didn’t go back through their own review and pull out two to three main points of discussion? Doing these things is not for everyone, and it isn’t fair of a reader to expect these things to occur all the time in every review one reads.

If you don’t know, I run a (fledgling) YouTube channel where I post (rambling) videos of myself talking about the books I’ve read. Actually getting around to recording a video is hard, though, as it often happens weeks after I’ve finished one book and already started a second. I take notes while reading, but I don’t write scripts before I sit down to record, and the argument I end up making sometimes forms itself while I’m recording. I know that only a handful of people are going to watch these, but I still find them easier to make than traditional print reviews – even if I’m covering the same information and it’s more work to record and edit a video than it would be to write and format a review. I use a starred review system, and do my best to end my videos with the main tenets of my argument, but I don’t provide summaries of the novels about which I’m speaking. Viewers, thus, have to already know the plot of the story AND sit down to watch the whole video or else skip around and risk missing information (from my experience, there’s no good way to paragraph-break a video).

As a reader, though, I like to read book reviews. I like to start with a summary of the book in question, find a starred review somewhere near the top, and then read through bulleted points – whether before, within, or after the review itself. What helps even more is if I know the reviewer’s go-to books for each rating they offer. In a best-case scenario, I can see how they rated a specific book vs. how I rated that same book, which gives me perspective on whether I should even trust what they like or didn’t like within a story. What if their pet peeve is my narrative kryptonite?

Which begs the question – are book reviews for readers or reviewers? Is the way in which you read reviews different than how you write them? Do you find yourself relying on the same one or two review sources – even if you haven’t read any of the books they recommended or actively disagreed with their opinion?

Have your own thoughts on book reviews? Share them! Post them to your blog, link back to this post, and then comment letting me know!

Thoughts On: Book Buying

“Thoughts On” is a monthly feature on thewasofshall where I give my (often rambling) thoughts on a topic relevant to reading, literature, or the book business. To see previous (and future) topics, click here. To participate, scroll all the way down.

Episode 8 of Book Riot‘s podcast Dear Book Nerd brought up some great questions about book buying, book abstaining, and guilt over where (and how) reader’s find and read new literature. As a librarian, I am a strong supporter of promoting the services and goods libraries allow, one of which is FREE BOOKS (I really don’t know how to underscore this more). I’m also, however, an avid reader, and most of the books I read are often new releases from living authors. And these authors are trying to make writing a full-time job – which means they need reader support in the form of books sold to make that happen.

So what’s a girl to do?

I often abstain from buying new books simply because of the cost. $20.00 + per book is just too much for me to spend on an item that I will most likely only read only once or twice. (Maybe more.) So, these are the books that I’d most likely borrow from the library. I have no problem buying new books on sale, though, so if this particular title was from an author I already liked (and knew I’d continue to like), I might buy it if I could find a good sale somewhere. (E.g., Barnes & Noble often discounts new releases 30-40% the month they come out.)

Add to this the fact that I also like supporting brick and mortar stores – places that might be independent businesses or trying to stay profitable (and relevant) in the advent of online booksellers and e-books. Most of the time, actually buying books depends on circumstance – am in in Target and there’s a sale on Cartwheel for a specific genre or author I like? Do I have time to stop into Used Book Superstore and browse? Is there a library book sale going on? Does Barnes & Noble have something relevant in the clearance section? (Etc.)

Purchasing books is not part of a routine, nor do I specifically set aside a book buying budget. (Although maybe I should.) I just get so much pleasure from browsing and seeing familiar titles in-store that oftentimes choosing to take one home is pure impulse. Could I give more thought to supporting authors and the books they write? Absolutely. Will I do so monetarily? Probably not. Sometimes, it all boils down to supporting authors in other ways – such as raving in one of my video reviews, talking them up to friends and family, or actually purchasing a copy of one of their books for my library (because, yo, I can do that). Maybe it’s as small a gesture as following them on Twitter and just saying out to the world, “Man, your book was awesome.”

Unfortunately, there’s no clear right answer about what book-buying circumstances trump others – and I think that Dear Book Nerd doesn’t try to answer the handful of questions that popped up from this one listener’s inquiry. (Although they did a pretty awesome job trying.) There’s just, perhaps, an unanswerable question best left in flux.

Have your own thoughts on book buying? Share them! Post them to your blog, link back to this post, and then comment letting me know!

Thoughts On: Making Reading a Habit

“Thoughts On” is a monthly feature on thewasofshall where I give my (often rambling) thoughts on a topic relevant to reading, literature, or the book business. To see previous (and future) topics, click here. To participate, scroll all the way down.

Forming any type of habit is hard. If the action was something you really loved to do – and had copious amounts of time in which to do it – then you wouldn’t really have to try and make it a habit, right? Habits take foresight, planning, and some willpower, too. No matter how great a start, there’s always that day where you let your actions slip… and then suddenly you’ve not done the thing you set out to do for days or weeks (or sometimes even months).

However a bibliophile’s best intentions, making reading a habit is hard work. Even if reading is your favorite thing in the world to do, sometimes the book you’re reading sucks. Sometimes something else important (or interesting) gets in the way. Sometimes you run out of time. Sometimes you don’t make time.

In the past week, I started working at a second job – which doubled my time spent away from home each week from a reasonable 21 hours to 42, plus a daily commute between 45 and 70 minutes six days per week. I used to have whole days off where I could go shopping, watch a movie, read in the middle of the day, do the crossword puzzle for the span of a whole cup of tea… the possibilities were endless. Now I get two full days off out of every fourteen, and sometimes I’m out of the house for a full 12 hours.

Making time to read – when a scant 30 or 60 minutes has to be spread across all the blogs, YouTube channels, and podcasts to which I subscribe; the TV series I really want to watch (both current and backlogged – ah!!! Orphan Black!!!); my ever growing pile of magazines; the walks I need to take with my dog – can sometimes feel like a chore. Sometimes I’m sick of giving that only hour of free time to a book, day after day. Sometimes I feel like watching the pilot episode of yet another TV series on Netflix because, ahem, I’m paying $8 a month and I haven’t watched anything since the middle of June. (And yes, I keep track.)

So why do I read, day after day? Why do I give up Tumblr time or Orphan Black time or sleep time?

Because I love to, and I’ve decided to make reading part of my daily routine.

Yeah, I really love to sleep. But I also really want to find out what happens in Westeros. There will be some days where I’ll sit in front of the TV for an entire season of Doctor Who. Maybe I’ll watch YouTube videos while simultaneously scrolling through Tumblr and losing the (SO. FREAKING. ADDICTING.) game 2048. I might even make the excuse that the best place to wait for my laundry is sprawled out on the couch while I catch up on stuff I’ve DVR’d. But come bed time, I’ll be in bed reading.

So what if it’s only 30 minutes. Who cares if, at 25 pages a night, my current read, A Dance with Dragons, is going to take me over a month to finish. What matters is that I make time to read, every night, day after day. And when other stuff gets in the way, and I forgo my nightly habit? I start over again the next.

Some tips to form your own reading habit:
1. Figure out where and when you’ll read.
What’s the best time for you: At night before bed? Between work and dinner? While exercising? While driving to work? Is there a place in your home that doesn’t already have a function? Get creative and comfortable.

2. Find a format that works for you.
Are you into holding physical books? Do you prefer the portability of an e-book? Do you like the hands-free aspect of audiobooks? Unless you’re stuck on one format, try some out and see what works when.

3. Create some sort of way to track your reading. (If you really want to make reading a habit, this is a must.)
There are great riffs on “don’t break the chain” memes – which give you positive reinforcement by showing you how many times you’ve performed the action you want to make a habit – or you can make sometime less formal like buying a cheap calendar you don’t mind staring at the whole month and crossing off days or creating some type of chart or table in your word processor. Whatever the tool, figure out what works for you.

4. Read, yo. (And don’t beat yourself up when you don’t.)
Reading every day/night for a specified amount of time or pages is the most surefire way to make daily reading a habit – but slip ups habit and the best advice I can give is to not give up. Only have time for a quick ten minutes? Awesome! Skip a day? No problem! Just start again the next.

5. Adjust as necessary.
Tweak your plan as necessary or else scrap it completely and pick a different goal such as reading x books per year/month/week. Again, find what works for you.

Have your own thoughts on making reading a habit? Share them! Post them to your blog, link back to this post, and then comment letting me know!