My Life of Crime as a Book Pirate

When I was a kid back in rural Pennsylvania, I went to a lot of flea markets. At one of the larger ones, there was a book seller who sold paperbacks with the covers ripped off.

Because I read everything, I read the part that said that if the cover was ripped off, the books had supposedly been destroyed and that they were stolen.

But as a kid who didn’t have a job and loved reading more than anything, it didn’t seem like a big deal. I figured if it were really illegal, the cops would have shut it down. It was a big stand with tons of books, in business for all the years of my childhood, so I figured it was somehow okay.

I recently found some of those books in the boxes I’ve transported to Texas. I know now that those stolen books really are a big deal, and that the author and publishing company didn’t receive their fair share. So, I recycled all the ones I didn’t care about, and have put the ones I do on a pile to re-purchase.

I might buy them from Goodwill or Half-Price books or some other secondhand shop, but at least doing that, I know that the author got their royalties at one point or another.

Don’t get me wrong, I do buy new books and frequent my local library. I do my best to support other authors. I’m hoping to be published one day myself, and I’m a big believer in the golden rule.

I do have a confession to one single incident of book piracy as an adult. When I lay out the case for you, let me know if you would have done the same thing.

The date is July 19, 2007. In two days, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows will be released.

I’ve bought every book at midnight since Prisoner of Azkaban. My husband comes home from work that fateful Wednesday night, and says to me, “I have something to tell you, but I’m not sure if I should.”

Turns out, he somehow found a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows online. Someone had gotten ahold of the book and taken a photograph of every. single. page.

As the evening wears on, I go back and forth, my conscience fighting with the rare opportunity I’ve been handed: the ability to know if Harry lived or died two days early! (Also to find out if Snape was a good guy or bad guy. I was Team Snape from the moment he killed Dumbledore. I just knew!)

Finally, I say, “Give it to me!” And he does.

I read that book all night, and finish at 6 a.m. the next morning, my eyes bleary and my head aching. I drink some coffee, take a shower, and go to work. The knowledge that Harry lived keeps me awake, and I brag that I know the truth. I refuse to give anyone any spoilers; that wouldn’t be fair. I say if they still want to know, I’ll tell them Monday, after everyone else had gotten a copy of the book (and the info would probably be available on the internet anyway).

I did; I read my pirated copy of the book. But I don’t really feel that bad about it.

At midnight on July 21, 2007, I stood in line like everyone else, and got my legit copy. Then I went on to buy it in paperback as well.

I don’t know whatever happened to the copy I’d gotten illicitly. Knowing me, I probably deleted it as soon as I had the “real” version in my hand. Which, I might add, I read again that weekend.

Everyone has the temptation that turns them criminal. Now you know mine.

Have you ever pirated a book? What would have you done in my situation with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows?

What got me thinking about this was a very interesting article by Maggie Stievfater about how piracy does actually make a difference to authors. I encourage you to read it. It’s not just about loss of sales, but the possibility that a series could be cancelled due to lack of interest. If that had happened with the Raven Boys, I would have cried.

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Remembering What I Read

img_7738One of the people in one of my book clubs commented that she usually doesn’t remember many details from what she reads. It surprised me, because I assumed that everyone was like me and remembered details from the stories. I remember names, places, plots, etc. if I like the book. If I don’t like it, I don’t remember it as well.

Getting perspectives on how other people read is always interesting for me. To me, part of the fun of reading is going back and thinking over parts I loved, thinking about the characters as if they were real people I met for coffee, and maybe flipping through to find sections I loved.

It’s not unusual for me to think about a book, and read an “abridged” version of it, skimming and flipping through to only revisit my favorite parts.

For people who don’t remember details, it seems to be more about the experience of reading. They enjoy going on that journey, and whether they remember every bit of it is irrelevant. They had fun, and that’s all that matters.

For me, it’s not like that. If I can’t remember details from a book I liked, it will frustrate me, and I’ll have to go back and reread. I’ve actually done that when I know someone else is reading a book I like. I’ll reread the book in hopes that we can have a detailed and interesting discussion about it.

Do you remember details of books (or movies) you liked, or do you just remember generalities?

10 Reasons Books Are Better Than People

  1. IMG_9580

    This is an actual T-shirt I own (and love!)

    If a book is boring or irritating, I can just close it. If it were bad enough, I could burn it. Not that I’d ever do that (I’d just give it to Goodwill or Half-Price Books), but I could.

  2. A book will never let their annoying children run in front of my cart at Costco, as I try to navigate the overcrowded aisles with 150 pounds of cat litter in my cart. ‘Nuff said.
  3. Books don’t take it personally if I don’t like them or don’t feel like answering their calls that day. Seriously, it’s not you; it’s me.
  4. Books make me smarter. Some people make me feel dumber after spending 10 minutes with them.
  5. Books are quiet. The world is filled with noise. It’s nice when I don’t have to worry about it.
  6. Books don’t get insulted about my opinions of them. Authors might. But I can say whatever I want to a book, and it won’t get all huffy. If I trash a book to other people, I don’t get accused of gossiping.
  7. If I want to know what a book’s going to be like, I can read the cover copy, read reviews, or even read the first page before committing. There’s no way to tell, when I first meet a person, if they’re going to be someone I can really talk to, or if time talking to them would make me dumber. (See #4) Some people disguise it well, at first.
  8. I can reread my favorite parts. I can’t rewind my favorite moments with people. Sometimes when I’m hanging out with my favorite people, I forget to pause and enjoy the moment. But with a book, that moment will always be there.
  9. I never have to figure out social cues. When is it time to leave? Where’s a good point to stop the conversation? Am I boring that person? Do they know they’re boring me? Should I tell them about the food stuck in their teeth? None of that. I close the book, and the characters will wait until I return.
  10. I can read about anything I want, and no one gets their feelings hurt. In real life, some people are offended when talking about controversial topics. It can be difficult to have discussions with some people without them becoming heated. But not with books. Nope. I can read opinions I agree with, ones I disagree with, or even balanced information on a topic to develop an opinion, and no one gets all huffy about it.

Do you agree with my list? Is there anything you’d add to this list? Anything you disagree with?

How To Read Childhood Favorites the “Right” Way

IMG_9546I love rereading books that I used to love. Nostalgia books, I suppose you could call them.

It used to never be a problem for me, but as I’ve gotten more serious about writing, and as I’m critiquing other writer’s works on a weekly basis, it’s gotten more difficult not to read things with a critical eye.

Two years ago, I made the mistake of gifting my all time favorite book to my critique partner. As I reread it after I gifted it, I started seeing areas I knew he would criticize. And he did criticize those areas, and many more I hadn’t anticipated.

Suddenly, I didn’t love the book as much as I used to. It wasn’t the perfect example of a novel that I’d thought it was. I was disappointed, and for a long time, didn’t want to read any of my old favorites, worried that I wouldn’t love them as much as I used to.

Recently, I got the urge to reread The Forbidden Game trilogy, by LJ Smith. Without overthinking it, I started the first one.

I ended up reading it in two minds. My critical reader found all the flaws. (And there are flaws.) But my nostalgic reader found all the reasons I’d always loved it. And my nostalgic reader was louder.

It’s easy to find the flaws in something, to pick it apart, to criticize. That’s why anyone can do it.

And as a writer, it’s important that I can be constructively critical to my work and to the work of other writers who want to improve. Sometimes, as a reader, it’s important to do too. It’s good practice, and helps judge what works and what doesn’t.

But there are sometimes when I don’t want to pick things apart or find ways to improve something. Sometimes I just want to enjoy it, recapture that uncomplicated pleasure that came with reading it in the past.

The meaning of a particular book and how it resonates with the reader can change over time. There have been books I’ve connected with more or less over time, depending on where I was in my life.

But I don’t ever want to get to the point where I look at a beloved book, and only see the flaws. That serves no purpose. And I certainly don’t want to avoid rereading a favorite book out of fear.

All books have magic, and magic is a personal thing. But the key is that we, as readers, have to be complicit in creating that magic. It doesn’t exist without a reader who’s willing to be immersed in the book.

A book that resonates with me, at any point in my life, doesn’t have to be perfect. That’s an unrealistic standard. If it made me feel something deeply at any point, then it was “perfect” for me at that moment.

So, from now on, when I’m rereading a book, I’m going to keep in mind that it’s okay for it to have flaws, and those flaws don’t diminish its value one bit.

After all, at one point, I didn’t even see the flaws. They were always there, but I was so immersed in magic that I missed them. And I’m not going to let anyone take that away from me… not even myself.

Why I’ve Started Giving Books As Gifts

I’ve always been a lousy gift giver. I want to give great gifts, but my brain mostly doesn’t work that way. My sister-in-law is one of those talented people who always seems to know the perfect gift. Over the years, she’s gotten me a subscription to Writer’s Digest, a subscription to the Book of the Month Club, and Alice In Wonderland pajamas. And this clock:

screen-shot-2017-01-02-at-9-09-13-pm

Every once in awhile, I’ll be out somewhere and spot the perfect thing. But mostly… not.

A few years ago, I had an inspiration to start requesting other people’s favorite books as gifts. It seemed like a fun idea, and I liked seeing what other people picked. Then I realized that one thing I know pretty well is books. People come to me for recommendations, and since I read across many genres, I’m usually pretty good at figuring out what others will like.

As adults, most of us no longer want to receive more stuff. Sticking to consumables just makes sense to me, but does anyone really want to receive more food at Christmas?

Enter books. They’re personal gifts that never expire. They’re decorative. They’re fun. And best of all, they’re thoughtful gifts that I can actually give. It’s fun to think about what each person on my shopping list might like.

What’s the best gift you’ve given or received?

12 Books I Read (Almost) Every Year

Version 2I love a lot of books, and as I said a few days ago, I re-read when I’m stressed out or just in the mood, but there are a handful I tend to read almost every year. (I wanted to do a nice even 10… but this was as far as I could pare down my list).

  1. Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls- I read this book for the first time in elementary school. My copy is pretty much falling apart. This book never fails to make me cry, but I love it. It’s a book I go for if I’m feeling a little nostalgic and a little sad. Having a good cry cheers me up, and then I’m ready to get back to my normal cheerful self.
  2. These Happy Golden Years, by Laura Ingalls Wilder- I read the whole series as a kid (and then re-read it maybe 2 years ago), but this is the one that appealed to me. I grew up with Laura on TV and in books, and this book reminds me of sitting at home as a kid on a cold winter’s night.
  3. Watership Down, by Richard Adams- This book, told from the point of view of rabbits, never fails to delight me. I was obsessed with this book from the first time I read it, looking up every word I didn’t know (mostly flower references). I quoted it, and when I wrote stories, named my characters after the ones in this book. It’s an epic adventure, and I loved the fact that it developed from a father telling his kids a story.
  4. Pollyanna, by Eleanor H. Porter- I strive to live my life like Pollyanna, always finding a reason to be glad and count my blessings. Reading this book every year reminds me of the person I want to be.
  5. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen- I love Elizabeth Bennett, and she and I share a love of laughing at the follies of ourselves and others. Like Elizabeth, I can sometimes jump to conclusions. Though I’ve never said anything quite as regrettable as Elizabeth said to Darcy, I have said and thought things I wish I hadn’t.
  6. Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes- This book caused a lot of controversy, but I loved it. I love books about controversial topics because I love books that generate discussion. Spoiler alert** This book may ultimately be about dying, but it’s also very much about life.
  7. Where The Heart Is, by Billie Letts- Novalee Nation is an unlikely heroine. In the beginning of the book, she’s so inept that she ends up living in a Wal-mart, and ultimately having her baby there. As time goes on, she makes connections with people and finds an unlikely family. She stops letting her past define her, and makes herself into a strong woman.
  8. Francesca, Baby, by Joan Oppenheimer- I found this book at a used book sale when I was a kid. Without knowing anything about it, I brought it home. It’s about a young girl struggling with an alcoholic mother. First published in 1976, it’s definitely somewhat dated. But I love the characters, and I love the way the book handles the topic of mom’s alcoholism. Mom is, at times, a pathetic character. But she’s not a caricature. It’s an easy read, and one I tend to go for when I need something on the lighter side.
  9. The Silver Link, The Silken Tie, by Mildred Ames- This was another used book sale find. It’s about two misfits, and how they find one another. It was also my introduction to a character with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. (Though it’s never specifically named, that’s what it is.) Being a misfit myself, I love main characters who feel out of place, but ultimately find their tribe. Oh, and there’s a subplot about mind control and a speculative fiction element involving shared dreaming.
  10. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte- What can I say about this book that hasn’t already been said? I know some people find the relationship between Mr. Rochester and Jane to be problematic, but I love it. Yes, he makes mistakes, but he pays for them. And ultimately, they may not be right for anyone other than each other.
  11. Remember Me, by Christopher Pike- In typical Christopher Pike fashion, the plot is a bit convoluted, but ultimately, it’s fun. I love the idea of a girl sticking around long enough to figure out who murdered her. I reach for this one if I need a quick read, but don’t want something I’ll get so into that I can’t put it down. (Since I’ve read it a billion times, I can put it down anytime.)
  12. The Forbidden Game series, by LJ Smith- I love the settings and format of these books. The first one is set inside a board game, in an old house where people have to face off against their nightmares. That pretty much hits all my “shut up and take my money!” points. Nightmares? Check. Creepy houses? Check. Board games? Check. The last one is set in a defunct amusement park, which is also a big ol’ check mark. This is a series I read when I’m not feeling well and want to spend some time resting on the couch. The books aren’t long, and I can make it through all of them in a day.

Do you have any go-to books that you read every year, or you reach for if you’re stressed or having a bad day?

What I Read In 2016

img_73542016 was a great year for reading. I ended up reading a lot of books I really liked, which is always nice.

I recorded a lot more information about what I read this year, including year published and genre. It was a lot of work, but kind of fun to see too. I still haven’t found an app I really like, so I just use a document on Pages, plus Goodreads. (If you have a Goodreads page, friend me!)

I ended up reading 117 books, for a total of 221,641 pages. I abandoned 3 books this year, though I plan to return to one of them. In case you’re curious about my criteria for abandoning books, you can find it here.

I read 81 new books, and 36 were re-reads, which are noted with asterisks.

My favorite book of the year was All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, by Bryn Greenwood, though I also loved: This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey, Made You Up by Francesca Zappia, People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, Six Months, Three Days by Charlie Jane Anders, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

What was the best book you read in 2016? Have you read any of my favorites? What did you think of any of those?

The complete list of what I read:

Heart Shaped Box, Joe Hill
In the Unlikely Event, Judy Blume
*Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
Olive Kitteredge, Elizabeth Strout
*Watchers, Dean Koontz
Devoted in Death, JD Robb
My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante
Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Stephen King
One Plus One, Jojo Moyes
Six Months, Three Days, Charlie Jane Anders
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Jessee Andrews
We Are Called to Rise, Laura McBride
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky
* The Face, Dean Koontz
Story Engineering: Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing, Larry Brooks
* Where The Red Fern Grows, Wilson Rawls
Eleanor and Park, Rainbow Rowell
My True Love Gave to Me, Edited by Stephanie Perkins
Knight’s Wyrd Debra Doyle & James D. Macdonald
I’ve Got a Time B*mb, Sybil Lamb- did not finish
Everything, Everything, Nicola Yoon
The Mystery of Hollow Places, Rebecca Podos
Thirteen Reasons Why, Jay Asher
Still Alice, Lisa Genova
The Day We Met, Rowan Coleman
*Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, JK Rowling
Brotherhood in Death (# 42), JD Robb
* The Secret Garden, Francis Hodges Burnett
Beatrice and Virgil, Yann Martel
* The Martian, Andy Weir
*Naked in Death, JD Robb
The Library of Souls, Ransom Riggs
Bossypants, Tina Fey
* Sushi for Beginners, Marian Keyes
* Morrigan’s Cross, Nora Roberts
*Pollyanna, Eleanor H. Porter
* Watership Down, Richard Adams
* Dance of the Gods, Nora Roberts
* Valley of Silence, Nora Roberts
* Slumber Party, Christopher Pike
Room, Emma Donoghue
* Mr. Darcy’s Diary, Amanda Grange
*Every Breath You Take, Judith McNaught
*Truly Madly Manhattan, Nora Roberts
Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez- did not finish
People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks
*Peppermints in the Parlor, Barbara Brooks Wallace
*Who Moved My Cheese? Spencer Johnson, MD
*What Dreams May Come, Richard Matheson
*Daddy Long-Legs, Jean Webster
A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness
Issola, Stephen Brust
*These Happy Golden Years, Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Lightning Thief, Rick Riorden
Sea of Monsters, Rick Riorden
The Stepford Wives, Ira Levin
Made You Up, Francesca Zappia
Titan’s Curse, Rick Riordan
The Battle of the Labyrinth, Rick Riordan
The Dude and The Zen Master, Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman
*Lover Eternal, JR Ward
The Outliers, Kimberly McCreight
A Tyranny of Petticoats, Edited by Jessica Spotswood
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Helen Simonson
The Way Back to You, Michelle Andreani & Mindi Scott
*Blithe Images, Nora Roberts
The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
A Green and Ancient Light, Frederic S. Durbin
Lone Wolf, Jodi Picoult
Eat to Live, Joel Fuhrman, MD
*Where the Heart Is, Billie Letts
*The Host, Stephanie Meyer
Party of One, Dave Holmes
The Last Olympian, Rick Riordan
Dark Town, Kaja Blackley & Vanessa Chong
All the Bright Places, Jennifer Niven
There Will Be Lies, Nick Lake
The Obsession, Nora Roberts
I Am Providence, Nick Mamatas
*Francesca, Baby, Joan L. Oppenheimer
The Honey Thief, Elizabeth Graver
Mr. Perfect, Linda Howard
The Truth About Alice, Jennifer Mathieu
A Head Full of Ghosts, Paul Tremblay
*Dance Upon the Air, Nora Roberts
*Heaven and Earth, Nora Roberts
*Face the Fire, Nora Roberts
*Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell
Coraline, Neil Gaiman
The Girl With All the Gifts, M.R. Carey
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
*The Cold Dish (Longmire 1), Craig Johnson
Annihilation, Jeff Vandermeer
For Women Only
I Was Here, Gayle Forman
You, Caroline Kepnes
*The Shining, Stephen King
Doctor Sleep, Stephen King
Death Without Company, Craig Johnson
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Holly Black
Kindness Goes Unpunished, Craig Johnson
The Liar, Nora Roberts
Another Man’s Moccasins, Craig Johnson
*The Darkest Part of the Forest, Holly Black
This Savage Song, Victoria Schwab
The Woman in Cabin 10, Ruth Ware
The Dark Horse, Craig Johnson
Little Paris Bookshop, Nina George
Infomocracy, Malka Older
I, Robot, Isaac Asimov
Junkyard Dogs, Craig Johnson
Hell is Empty, Craig Johnson
Divorce Horse, Craig Johnson
Hidden Bodies, Caroline Kepnes
All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, Bryn Greenwood
The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin
Before I Fall, Lauren Oliver
Wait for Signs, Craig Johnson
*The Night Circus, Erin Morganstern
Wildflower, Drew Barrymore