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.)

10 Thoughts on Reaching 41

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I turned 41 earlier last month, and it’s made me thoughtful.

I’m not someone who freaks out over age. I really do believe it’s just a number, and I don’t feel the way I think I should. I still don’t always feel like an adult. I sometimes feel like I’m faking it, like someone’s going to call me on it and say, “Shut up, kid!”

That being said, I have learned a few things over the years.

  1. Do what you love. Make time for it. If you don’t, what’s the point?
  2. Let it go. If the lady at the grocery store is rude to me, I shake it off. Most people, even the cranky, miserable ones, don’t actually want to be cranky and miserable. She’s not part of my life, so why not just move on with my day?
  3. Smile at everyone. Look them in the eye. Say please and thank you. From people’s reactions, they’re often surprised by this. I’m not the person who loves being out among others, but when I am, I try to add to the world by spreading a little bit of positivity wherever I can.
  4. Don’t be a doormat. Just because you understand or try to empathize with people doesn’t mean you have to allow them to treat you in a terrible way, especially if they are a part of your life. Dump the toxic people.
  5. Don’t apologize for what you like. Everyone’s got opinions, and I swear the emperor has no clothes. Whether it’s YA or Fifty Shades of Gray or bad horror movies, if you like it and it’s not hurting anyone, enjoy!
  6. Age is just a number, and not a particularly meaningful one. I see lots of lists about things you shouldn’t wear after 40 and books you shouldn’t be reading after 20, and so on. They’re all stupid.
  7. Find your tribe. They’re out there, and they like the same things you do. I’m a socially awkward introvert with a sense of humor most people don’t understand, and I like books and characters more than I like real people. Yet, I’ve managed to find amazing people who don’t make me self-conscious. I can say stupid things and don’t feel judged. It’s a beautiful thing.
  8. We all make mistakes. Ah, it’s such a simple phrase, but it’s such a hard one for me. Sometimes I’m okay with not being perfect. Other times, I perseverate on every mistake I’ve ever made until my head feels like it’s going to explode. I try to remind myself that I don’t judge others for their mistakes, so I shouldn’t judge me either.
  9. Be kind to everyone, even yourself. Everyone deserves to be treated with kindness. It’s easier to be kind to others when you treat yourself well.
  10. Everything makes sense in retrospect. I’m someone who believes that everything happens for a reason. When I look back on the things that have happened to me, both bad and good, it all seems to make sense. Maybe that’s me just putting meaning where none exists, but I’m okay with that. Even if I’m making meaning, the point is that I have meaning in my life.

Deciding If I Liked A Book Or Not

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Have you ever finished a book and thought, “I can’t decide if I liked it or hated it”?

Normally, it’s pretty simple for me. If I can’t put the book down and function in real life, I loved it. If it takes me a long time to read because I’m not obsessed, then I didn’t like it.

It doesn’t happen to me often that I can’t decide, but when it does, it causes me to go into deep thinking mode. What was it I didn’t like about the book, and why?

Normally, when this happens, it’s because there are things I both loved and hated about the book, causing a tug of war in me. For some books, the ending is enough to turn my like into dislike, but others cause more complicated emotions.

I recently read a book that I really wanted to like, but just couldn’t. It didn’t draw me forward. I liked the idea of it and where it was going, which was why I kept going back to it. But I tired of it easily and even put it down in the middle of chapters sometimes.

When I got to the twist in the middle of the book, that invigorated me quite a bit. But then I hated the ending. The whole book led up to this one moment, and it felt like a letdown.

When I finished reading, I kept mentally going back to the good parts of the book and thinking about how the bad parts could have been made better. I wanted it to be a different book, and that’s how I figured out that I didn’t like it, after all.

I like when books cause complicated emotions in me, make me think and feel, but it makes me sad to decide I don’t like a book that had so much potential. Maybe that’s what it’s really about for me… all that potential unrealized.

Does it ever happen to you that you can’t decide if you like a book or not? What makes it hard for you to decide?

 

10 Things Most People Don’t Know About Grief

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When I was in my Master’s program, we had to do a yearlong unpaid internship. I wanted to work with the Seriously Mentally Ill, people with diagnoses so serious that they need extra support to function in society.

I didn’t get the internship I wanted. Instead, I was assigned to work in Hospice. If I had to rank where I wanted to work, grief would have come last. So of course, that’s where I needed to be.

It ended up being an amazing experience, and I learned a lot. I’m from the “suck it up and deal” school of grief management, so I had to learn everything about grief, including how to be sensitive to how others grieve.

Here are some of the things I learned.

  1. There is no wrong way to grieve. Before I worked in hospice, I really believed that my way was the best way and that people who were more open to feeling their emotions were doing it wrong. The truth is that people grieve in a myriad of ways, and most of them are healthy.
  2. People grieve the way they live. This is the single most important piece of information I ever got. Expressive people tend to grieve more expressively. People who tend to turn inward do the same with grief.
  3. There’s no end date. Sometimes other people set a deadline for the grieving person, that they should stop being upset in a year, or two years, or whatever it is. The truth is that grief doesn’t just end. It often does hurt less over time, but sometimes, especially anniversaries, birthdays, and milestones can make the grief fresh and new.
  4. Grieving people DO want you to reach out. They don’t expect you to have the right words (though there are wrong ones), but they want you to acknowledge their pain. Contacting them on anniversaries, birthdays, etc. is a thoughtful and welcome gesture.
  5. There are wrong things to say. These include things like, “Aren’t you over it yet?” or “It’s time to move on.” Depending on the belief system of the person, “It was meant to be” or “They’re in a better place” can also be hurtful.
  6. Grieving people want to talk about the one who died. Bringing up the lost loved one won’t “remind” them; the loved one isn’t far from their mind anyway. It’s important to say the loved one’s name and share memories to show that even though they’re gone, they aren’t forgotten.
  7. You can’t ever be prepared, not really. Whether the death is sudden or you knew it was coming, most of the time, you’ll wish for one more day with your loved one. In some situations, you can start the grieving process ahead of time, but it’s always difficult, no matter what.
  8. It’s not your responsibility to grieve in a way that makes people comfortable. Death and grief make people uncomfortable. Real, raw feelings make people uncomfortable. If the way you grieve makes someone uncomfortable, that’s okay. Take ownership of your feelings and let others take ownership of theirs.
  9. People will say stupid things, but it’s probably not intentional. When people get uncomfortable, they say things as a way to make them feel better or more comfortable. Even though it often doesn’t work, they’re not trying to hurt your feelings. We’re not really taught what to do with emotion, so we’re all just floundering around trying to deal. (raises hand)
  10. There are five stages of grief, but people don’t usually go through them in a linear fashion. The stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. They can happen in any order, and you can go through any stage more than once. The stages can also overlap, like you can be in bargaining and anger at the same time. In a nutshell? Grieving is a mess. It’s important to be kind to yourself as you grieve and understand that all those feelings are normal.

I could probably write a list much longer than this one, but ten is always a manageable number. Is there anything you’d like to add?