Judging Your Book Choices

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I was on Twitter the other day, and someone asked the question, “If you were on a first date with someone and asked them what their favorite book was, what would be a dealbreaker?”

I read through the comments, because that’s what I do. I was surprised by how judgemental people were. Some of the popular ones for women were: Infinite Jest, anything Ayn Rand, Lolita, Catcher in the Rye. For men, they were things like Eat, Pray, Love, Twilight, and 50 Shades of Gray.

When did we all become so willing to judge people based on a single metric? Like, I can understand if someone named Lolita as their favorite book, and then said, “I thought the relationship between Lolita and Hubert Humphrey was inspirational and healthy,” then okay, I can understand why you’d nope out.

But the book is considered a classic. (Full disclosure: I haven’t read it.) What if someone started talking about it being their favorite book based on literary merit? Would that change things?

I’m honestly distressed by this trend of judging people based on a single metric of opinion, and I’m really over people being judged based on their book choices.

We like what we like, and there’s a huge difference between behavior and opinion. People hold opinions for a lot of different reasons. I’m not going to judge you based on your book choices or your clothes choices or even who you voted for. I will judge you based on how you talk to the waitress who just took our order and how you treat my other friends (even if you don’t like them) and how you react when I tell you something important to me.

I’m always puzzled when I read articles talking about how most readers have a favorite book, and then a fake favorite book that they tell people about so that others judge them differently. The first time I read that, I thought, “Is this a thing? Why is this a thing?” But now I get it. If people are judging based on your reading material, then it makes sense that people might want to pretend.

I’m always curious why people love a book I hated, but I’d never judge someone for it. Tastes are different, and I like learning about other people through their entertainment choices. There are so many books out there that aren’t for me, but that doesn’t automatically make the person reading them into someone I wouldn’t like. Learn to get along with lots of different people, and I guarantee, life will be happier.

And don’t judge other people based on their choices, when those choices hurt literally no one. Just don’t.

What’s your favorite book(s)? Do you judge others based on their book choices? If so, help me understand why.

 

 

Rereading Harry Potter

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I recently decided to reread all the Harry Potter books in order. It just seemed like the right thing to do.

I don’t know how long it had been since my last read; at least five years. I only know that because I’ve been on Goodreads for five years, and I hadn’t “read” them yet.

I know some people get apprehensive about rereading beloved books, but in general, I don’t. Even if they don’t hold up, I tend to remember why I loved them and that makes it okay, even if there are more flaws than I remember.

For me, Harry Potter was just as good as it always was, maybe even better. It was lovely to watch Harry, Hermione, and Ron grow up all over again. For me, they’ll always be 17. It was just as hard to watch the deaths of the people and creatures I loved, but the triumph of good over evil was just as gratifying as ever.

When I did a search about “rereading Harry Potter,” I came up with lots of blogs and articles talking about the books’ flaws, and I think that’s the easy way out. Criticizing something is easy, and for some reason, it’s trendy to criticize things that are popular.

Loving something despite its flaws, acknowledging them and still being able to say, “That was a fantastic ride” is something else. Being critical of things has become almost a virtue in modern society. It’s not cool to like something too much or be a fan. Being too sincere is actually a flaw according to many people.

But I remember the purity of being a Harry Potter fan, of standing in line at the bookstore at midnight, waiting for the book to release. I remember the debate: Is Snape good or evil? The drama: Will Harry live or die? No, I can’t recapture exactly what that felt like, but I can remember.

Rereading Harry Potter was fun, and I didn’t try to notice the flaws. I read it and loved it and accepted it just as it is. And to me, it’s still perfect.

What books are still perfect to you, despite their flaws?

11 Reasons Rereading is the Best

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Last week I wrote a blog post: 12 Reasons Spoilers Are the Worst. I think spoilers can ruin an experience because you can only read something for the first time once.

Saying spoilers are the worst but rereading is the best might seem contradictory, but it’s not. Reading something for the first time and reading something for the second time (or the fiftieth time) are completely different experiences.

Here’s why I say rereading is the best:

  1. Because I already know what’s going to happen, I can read at a more leisurely pace, luxuriating in the story. The first time through, I often race to get to the end as quickly as possible.
  2. It’s fun spotting details that foreshadowed what was going to happen. When I catch them on the first read-through, it makes me feel smart. But because I read pretty quickly, I do often miss details that I catch the second time through.
  3. It’s like visiting an old friend. Because I know my friends so well, we often repeat stories, but it’s still fun to hear them (or tell them) again and again. Because even though we lived it and we know how it ends, reliving the journey brings it all back. Rereading a beloved book is like that.
  4. When life is stressful, I don’t want any surprises. There are many times I have high hopes for a book and it turns out to be a disappointment. When I’m stressed out, I don’t want that. I want to turn to something I know won’t let me down.
  5. I can appreciate the author’s skill. This didn’t used to be a reason for me to reread, but the more I write, the more I can see when an author executes a book skillfully, and then also less than skillfully. It’s delightful to study a beloved book for how the author made it awesome. (Though frankly, the answer to this is often “magic.”)
  6. If a sequel I’m excited about is coming out, rereading refreshes all those details. I got on board with Harry Potter after The Goblet of Fire. From then on, when a new book was coming out, it was so much fun to read each of the books that came before so that I was fresh from reading them for the sequels. It got me even more excited for the sequels. I’ve done this with other books too, like This Savage Song/ Our Dark Duet.
  7. To study a specific aspect of writing. There are times when I’ll be like, “I really need help putting more emotion on the page… who does that well?” And then I’ll seek out a book that moved me to study how it was done. (Again, usually, it’s magic.)
  8. Reading in tandem is fun. If a friend is reading a book I love, I’ll often reread that book so that when we discuss it (and we will discuss it), it’s fresh in my mind. There’s nothing I love more than sharing the worlds I enjoy.
  9. I want to refresh some kind of lesson/ learning. I reread Pollyanna almost every year. I try to live by the central idea of that book, that there’s always a reason to be glad. I also reread some of my favorite writing books. Recently, I reread Big Magic because I felt like I needed a reminder that creativity wants to come out and play with me, even if it doesn’t always feel like it.
  10. Sometimes I can’t afford the distraction that a new book would be. When I enjoy a book, I literally can’t put it down. Adulting gets put on hold. I read and read until I finish. There are times when I want to read for 15 minutes or a half hour, and I can’t afford to go past that. That’s when it works to pick up a book I’ve read so that it’s not so hard to get on with adulting.
  11. It’s relaxing. There’s not the same anticipation that there was with reading a book for the first time, so I can just enjoy it.

All that being said, there are some books that if I could magically forget what happened so I could go back and experience it again for the first time, I absolutely would! Since that isn’t possible (yet), rereading it is as close as I’m going to get.

What book(s) do you love to reread?

My Favorite Books from January

I finished 14 books in January, putting me on track for the 150 I want to read this year. Of those 14 books, here were my favorites.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue/ The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, by Mackenzi Lee (YA Historical fiction, LGBTQ+)

If history had been as interesting as these books, I would have liked it a lot better. Mackenzi Lee explains that she did take a few liberties with history, but overall, she tried to make them as historically accurate as possible. They’re fast-paced adventure stories with great characters.

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Paper Valentine, by Brenna Yovanoff (YA mystery)

Usually when people say a book is “atmospheric,” that’s a clue for me to stay away because it’s more about setting than plot.

Not true in this case. It is creepy and atmospheric with a mystery I only partly had figured out by the end. I couldn’t stop turning pages, and I loved the relationship between the main character, and her best friend (who’s a ghost and still haunting her). The best friend died from her anorexia, and it’s discussed in a realistic, moving way, but it doesn’t take the focus from the plot.

I look forward to reading other books by this author.

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Long Way Down, by Jason Reynolds (YA contemporary, poetry)

This book is hard to describe. I kept putting it down and picking it back up, so I ended up reading through it in one day.

It’s a contemporary novel about a teenage boy whose brother was shot due to gang violence, and he’s “supposed to” get revenge. In the elevator, on his way to shoot the guy who did it, he’s visited by various ghosts who tell their own stories. It never gets preachy or heavy-handed.

Oh yeah, and it’s written in poetry. Which sometimes slows reading down for me, but not in this case. It did take me a few pages to get used to the style and voice, but once I did, I was all in.

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Red, by Erica Spindler (Romance)

This is an old favorite of mine, written in 1995. To describe it as “romance” doesn’t do it justice. It’s not the same old boy meets girl, boy pursues girl, boy marries girl story that we’ve all seen.

It starts off with teenage Becky Lynn, an ugly duck living with an abusive family in a small town. When some teenage boys rape her and no one believes her (or cares), she takes off on her own and makes a life for herself. It follows her through finding her dreams (and then losing them). No matter what terrible things, Becky Lynn continues to remake herself until she gets the happy ending she deserves.

Seriously, if you like romance but aren’t into same old/ same old, this one is fantastic.

 

What’s the best book (or books) you read in January?

 

12 Reasons Why Spoilers Are the Worst

Some people don’t care about spoilers, but those people are wrong. Spoilers are the worst! (For the record, I’m mostly going to mention books, but this applies to movies and TV shows too.)

Spoilers Are the Worst

  1. I can only read something for the first time once. That feeling of discovery, that I can’t consume pages (or watch it) fast enough is a magical feeling, like falling in love.
  2. Trying to figure it out is half the fun. I love reading a mystery or thriller and looking at clues to try to figure out whodunnit or what’s going to happen in the end. I’m more engaged in the reading experience than I would be if I already knew what happened.
  3. I want to experience it as it happens. If I didn’t care about the experience of reading, I’d just go to Wikipedia and read the summary. (I’ve actually done this occasionally on sequels where I was curious enough to want to know what happened, but not so curious that I wanted to invest time in the next book.) For me, it’s like the difference between enjoying a gourmet meal and being fed glucose intravenously.
  4. Writing an enjoyable story is hard, and spoiling it for someone else makes it so they can’t experience it as the author intended. Writing anything: a book, a movie, a TV show, is an art. Most published authors wrote the story deliberately, in a certain order. Spoiling that is disrespectful. If the author wanted to write just a summary, they’d write a summary.
  5. Spoiling a story ruins the secondhand discovery. I love discussing stories with people when I know what happens and they don’t. Or when they know what happens and I don’t. It’s so much fun to watch someone enjoy something that I love as it unfolds.
  6. We can all use more good surprises. I like opening Christmas (or birthday) gifts and having no idea what I was given ahead of time. I love when someone texts or calls me out of the blue (someone I like, anyway). And I love when a story brings me something I didn’t see coming, yet was inevitable.
  7. If I wanted to know what happened in a book, it’s not that hard. It would take me less than 30 seconds on the Internet. Therefore, when people don’t warn spoilers and they’re RIGHT THERE in my face, it makes me crazy. Spoiler alert is twelve letters. Just type it.
  8. Most of the spoiler alerts that snipe me seem to be for no good reason. I’m talking about online, now. When you post “OMG, Harry Potter appeared and saved Rick and Michonne!” you’re just posting a fact. (This is a made up fact, BTW. No spoilers here.) You’re not adding to the conversation. Couldn’t you just as easily post, “OMG, can you believe that ending of The Walking Boy Who Lived??” Spoilers that are buried in text or articles can usually be avoided.
  9. I’m always behind the times, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care. Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired in 1996, and I just started watching it in 2018. In general, I don’t watch TV alone because I’m an addict. Once I get hooked on a story, I can’t stop. A friend insisted I had to watch the show, and I’m now in season 3, loving every moment of it. I’ve actually had a certain plotline spoiled for me because people still love and talk about this show 22 years later. It’s changed how I watch the show, and I’m not happy about it.
  10. Anticipation increases enjoyment, and unpredictability increases anticipation, according to a 2015 study reported in Psychology Today. What does that mean? It means that most people enjoy looking forward to things, especially when they don’t know exactly what they’re looking forward to.
  11. They make it harder to suspend disbelief. We don’t know what’s going to happen in real life, but when we know what’s going to happen in a story, it makes it harder to get immersed. If I know that a particular storyline is coming up, rather than concentrating on what’s happening now, I’m wondering how the writer is going to get us there, whether I want to or not.
  12. It’s the journey, not the destination. Cliche, but it has a lot of truth in it. Why do sports fans watch a game instead of just tuning in afterward for the score? Why don’t booksellers include the ending of the book on the back cover? Why do movie trailers not tell the ending? Because we want to experience it “live,” as it’s happening in that moment for whoever is reading/ watching.

I know there are plenty of people out there who either like or don’t mind spoilers, and I say, to each his own. If you want to know the ending, I’ll tell you. But PLEASE be respectful of my wishes and don’t tell me.

But Doree, don’t you love re-reading and re-watching things? Doesn’t that contradict everything you just said?

Indeed, I do. But no, it doesn’t. Stay tuned. Next week, I’ll explain why not.

My 10 Favorite Posts of 2018

It’s always interesting to see which of my posts were the most popular over a given year. Of my 10 most popular posts, only two were actually published in 2018.

For whatever reason, my most popular posts are often from previous years. Here are 10 posts that I think should have gotten more love last year.

10 Reasons I Love Happy Endings: Some people think happy endings signal a book that isn’t as important or good. I disagree.

The 10 Worst Couples in Fiction: There are just some couples who irritate me or who are just terrible for one another. These are the worst.

How Querying is Like Online Dating: It really, really is.

Do Happy Endings Exist? Maybe?

#sorrynotsorry 5 Books I Love That Others (Claim To) Hate: I don’t think anyone should apologize for their choices in entertainment.

Ten Things I’ve Learned From My Writing Critique Group: Honestly, I don’t know what I’d do without them. I’ve learned way more than just ten things.

Please Stop- Tropes I Hate: Enough is enough. (These mostly apply to YA)

Shut Up And Take My Money! Tropes I Love: I’ll never stop loving these. (Again, mostly YA)

7 Reasons I’m (Mostly) Over Sequels: With few exceptions, sequels tend to be meh.

10 Ways To Waste Time Instead of Writing: Why do writers dream of writing, but when they sit at their computers, waste time? (No, seriously… why?)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rooting for a Terrible Character

I recently read The Boy at The Door, by Alex Dahl, to fill a “Nordic noir” category for a reading challenge.

As I was trying to pick out a book, I read some Goodreads reviews, hoping to get a sense if I’d like the book or not. And what was interesting to me was how many people said they hated the main character, Cecilia.

A quick, spoiler-free summary is that Cecilia is asked to take a boy home from swim practice one night, only when she gets to his house, it’s obviously abandoned. So she brings him home, and from there, a series of events happen that threaten the “perfect life” she’s created for herself, because that life is based on lies.

I can see why people didn’t like Cecilia. She’s selfish, manipulative, unapologetic, a complainer, and a perfectionist.

But she’s also pretty open and honest with the reader. There are reasons that she is the way she is. She’s also kind of vulnerable, wanting to keep the life she’s so carefully crafted.

As Cecilia’s secrets were revealed, none of them surprised me. Yet I felt increasingly sorry for her as this life she’d crafted fell apart.

It got me to thinking about how a lot of people probably would feel that the “bad guy” got what she deserved, and on one level, that’s probably right. Actions have consequences, and everything that happened to her was a result of the terrible choices she made.

On the other hand, she never meant to hurt anyone. She was only thinking of herself when she did things, which is not an enviable trait. And yet, it’s clear that she didn’t think through the consequences of her actions. She was just so terrified to lose what she’d built that she was in constant reaction mode.

I’ve always found the saying, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions” to be an interesting one. While that’s undoubtedly true, it’s also paved with bad intentions. Why don’t we get any credit for our intentions? Why do others tend to judge us based on the worst thing we ever did? We all make mistakes, so why can’t we be more forgiving of the mistakes of others?

I didn’t like Cecilia. I wouldn’t want her as a friend or as a relative. But reading this story, I absolutely felt sorry for her and hoped that things would work out for her in the end.

Have you ever disliked a character but hoped they’d have a happy ending?

(And incidentally, if you want to try Nordic noir, I absolutely recommend this book.)