10 Books I Didn’t Expect to Like (But Did!)

By most people’s standards, I read a lot. And I don’t read in just one genre. I love YA, horror, romance, thrillers, science fiction (as long as it’s not too hardcore), fantasy (though not usually the damsels and dragons type), self-help, memoirs… if it has words, I’ll pretty much attempt it.

That’s not to say I’ll like it. I like books with strong plot, and while there’s some literary fiction I love (Pride and Prejudice), there are far more that bore me to abandonment (The Goldfinch). Historical fiction, science fiction, and fantasy all have a tendency to get too bogged down in details I don’t care about.

Here’s a list of books I didn’t expect to love (but did!).

1. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon– When my friend told me I HAD TO read Outlander, I simply said, “I’ll add it to my TBR.” At that point, I didn’t have any expectations about it. When I found out it was historical fiction, I would have been a bit dubious if I didn’t trust this friend’s taste in books.

I read the first 50 pages and thought it was fine, but the book is thick, and I didn’t think I could get through the whole thing that way. “Keep going,” she said, “It’s just about to get to the point where you can’t put it down.”

Oh, she was so right. Right around page 80, there’s no turning back. The book is magical and I love everything about it, though I’m not sure why. It’s not usually something I’d like. But I do.

2. On A Pale Horse, by Piers Anthony– My writing critique partner handed this book to me and said, “Read it; you’ll like it.” I said thanks and put it down to gather dust. One day, for no particular reason, I picked it up and read about Zane, who accidentally shoots Death and has to take over Death’s duties. But that’s not all… he’s part of a conspiracy between Satan and people who want to stop evil. When I finished it, I was mad at myself for not reading it sooner.

3. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, by Bryn Greenwood– I think I find a way to put this on almost every list of books I recommend. (Sorry not sorry) I got this one through the Book of the Month club, and while I didn’t think I’d hate it, I wasn’t prepared to love it. I started it at around 9 p.m. on a Saturday night after it had sat on my bookshelf for a few months. My husband was snoring on the couch while I read straight through to the end. He said he tried talking to me a few times and I didn’t respond. It’s a hard book to explain, but it’s worth every moment spent with it.

4. Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens– I guess I really had no idea what I was getting into with this one. I knew it was about Oliver and he was an orphan, but that’s about it. While that’s true, it’s about so much more. It’s about young Oliver trying to survive against all odds in Victorian London. Through everything he goes through, Oliver remains hopeful and innocent.

5. A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, by Betty Smith– This book was actually recommended to me by the same person who recommended Outlander. (Note to self: Always listen to Lea’s recommendations…) I only read this because I needed a book for the Popsugar category: a book in a genre I’ve never heard of. (“Bildungsroman: a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character” -Merriam-Webster.com)

When I read this described as a “quiet” novel where nothing much happens, I was prepared for a slog.

But it wasn’t like that. It was kind of quiet in that it was just about stuff happening to Frannie, but I liked Frannie and wanted to follow her. I wanted to know what happened to her and her parents and brother. I wanted her to be successful.

6. Olive Kitteredge, by Elizabeth Strout– (chosen by Ramona at While I Was Reading) Another quiet literary book that doesn’t seem like my thing, but a friend of mine chose it for our book club, so I read it and prepared to be the dissenting option. (I knew the other two people in my group would love it.) This is a book about Olive, told from the points of view of different townspeople. For some people, Olive is a grumpy old woman, thoroughly unlikeable. But to other people, she’s a loving and caring person.

I liked how this book reminded me that a single person isn’t just a single thing. A person can wear many faces, and be seen different ways by different people. I’m not sure I liked Olive at the end of the book, but I respected her. She was interesting and worthy of having a book written about her.

7. We Are Called to Rise, by Laura McBride– (chosen by my book club) This is told from three very different points of view: a middle aged married woman, a young male soldier, and a child. Their lives intersect in one important moment. It took me awhile to get into, but once I did, it was worth it.

8. People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks– (Another Lea recommendation!) I wrote an entire blog post on how much I loved this book, so I won’t belabor it too much. Hanna is a conservationist who’s tasked with stabilizing and preserving an ancient Haggadah. The story is about Hanna, but also about every artifact in the book, and how it got there (a butterfly’s wing, a hair, a wine stain, and salt). I love books with marks or other hints as to their history, and I loved that this author imagined the history of this book.

9. Doctor Sleep, by Stephen King– Let me explain… I love Stephen King (when he’s not being overly verbose), and The Shining is one of my all time favorite books. But I’m always skeptical of sequels, especially when they weren’t planned. When I read the blurb about this book, it sounded cheesy. But I’m not someone who can just pretend a sequel doesn’t exist until I’ve at least read it.

So my expectations were low. I tried to remind myself that Mr. King obviously doesn’t need the money, so there was no need to write a bad sequel. I should have had faith in him. This book does justice to The Shining, and Danny Torrance is still as good of a character as he was in the original. If you liked The Shining, you should read this.

10. Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie– (chosen by my book club) Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I didn’t know what to expect from this book. It’s about Ifemelu, a young African woman who moves to the US and becomes a blogger about race.  The book talks about racism without being about race.  It’s about people, and how those people fit in to the world around them.  I liked Ifemelu, and enjoyed walking with her for a little while, through the pages of this book.  She’d be the type of friend who would help me grow: honest, blunt, uncompromising.  She’d make me uncomfortable, but I’d never be bored.

Of the 10 books on this list, 7 were chosen for me by other people. Which is why I’ll never turn down a book recommendations. Sure, I’ve gotten some duds (I hated Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke), but the awful ones are worth getting through in order to find the wonderful ones.

What books have you unexpectedly liked?

Advertisements

Not Good Enough To Enjoy, Not Bad Enough To Abandon

IMG_9173

I seem to be on a run of books lately that I’m not enjoying, but that aren’t so bad I abandon them.

I always thought I was quick to abandon books. If I’m not into it, I put it away and assure it, “It’s not you; it’s me.” Not every book is for everyone, and I know that. If I find myself making excuses to put the book down, if I’m not looking forward to reading it, then unless I have a good reason to continue, I just put it down.

But recently, I’ve read a few books where I’m in a gray area. The writing’s bad or the action is slow or the characters make lousy decisions. (I want to shout at them, “Are you stupid? Who would even do that?”) But at the same time, I want to find out what happens. I have hope that it might get better. I’ve enjoyed some badly written books, so maybe it’s just taking time to find its stride?

I should know better. It’s not going to get better, and I know it. They never do.

I guess it’s like a bad relationship. There’s enough chemistry to keep going, but the whole time, you’re thinking, “I really shouldn’t be wasting my time. There are better books out there, and I want to read them all.”

*sigh*

I’ve read some magical books this year, books that suck me in and make me fall in love. Books that leave me with such a hangover afterward that I want to sleep with the book under my pillow, just to keep it close by. Books that I want to start again the moment I close the last page.

I’m always chasing that, and I know that not every book can be that way. Maybe not every book should be that way. It wouldn’t be magic then, would it? I couldn’t have that depth of love and connection to every single book.

So maybe that’s why I keep going with those gray area books. I know that the book is going into the donation box when I’m done (or back to the library), and that we’ll never hang out again. I’m just passing time until the next amazing read.

Do you ever have this experience?

Just Stop With the Harry Potter Stuff Already, Okay? Just… Stop.

img_7684My husband and I recently hung out with his family, and my sister and brother-in-law couldn’t believe that not only had I not seen Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I really, really didn’t want to. They asked if I’d read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and I had to explain that it wasn’t even a real book.

I was slow to board the Harry Potter train (see what I did there… c’mon, that was funny!). People told me how great the books were, but because I’m contrary, I didn’t read them. But by the time the third book was out, I decided that I should read the first one so I could tell everyone that they were WRONG for loving them.

Yeah, it didn’t work out that way. I loved the first book. And the second. And the third. So I was crazy with anticipation as I waited for the fourth book to come out. I went to the bookstore at midnight. I told everyone who’d listen how great the books were. And I think I lost four copies of the first book after I loaned them out and they were never returned. That’s okay though… at least I introduced people to the magic of the world.

I love the books. If I got my letter to Hogwarts tomorrow (a few years later than most people), I’d be on Expedia buying a ticket London, heading to King’s Cross station before you could say “Accio Adulthood.”

The books aren’t perfect, of course. But they were good, and fun, and I enjoy re-reading them.

In my mind, there are seven books. The series is over. I don’t want to read the screenplay or see the spin-offs. I was happy with the ending, and anything else is likely to ruin it for me. It’s like when I have the perfect dinner, and eat one bite too many of dessert. Then I feel sick and start to regret the whole meal. Or when I go to paint night, and I like my painting, but because I’m done with it before everyone else, I fiddle with it, adding strokes or details, and eventually add too much and then I hate it.

Enough is enough. Seriously.

The Harry Potter series is seven books. As far as I’m concerned, the others don’t exist. Leave me be in my happy world of denial.

Why I Love To Re-read

In December, I read All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, by Bryn Greenwood. I stayed up until 2:30 a.m. reading it, and then I went to bed. In the morning, I started reading it again. I later posted a picture of me re-reading it, which then started a conversation about re-reading books.

Version 2

Some people never re-read a book. Others, like me, love to re-read. I have a few books I read almost every year. When I love a book, I might read it twice, back to back. I own several books that have post it notes stuck in my favorite parts. That way, if I’m having a bad day, I just go back and read the super-abridged version, and it never fails to cheer me up.

Re-reading a book I love never gets boring to me. It’s like visiting old friends. Sometimes I find details I missed during the first reading. Or I may make connections I missed. As a writer, a second reading can allow me to appreciate the structure of the book, or character development. Some books may have a particularly great ending that I enjoy going back to read over.

In particularly stressful times in my life, I read books I know I love; I call them “comfort books.” When life is hard, the last thing I want to deal with is a mediocre book. Plus, since I’m a moody reader, if I’ve already read a book, I know exactly what’s wonderful about it, and exactly which mood it will suit.

Are you a re-reader? Or do you read once and only once?

 

Judging Matters of Opinion

img_6830

Bet you never thought you’d see these two books pictured together!

I like the Walking Dead, Longmire, and Man in the High Castle.  I couldn’t care less about Game of Thrones.

I liked Twilight and 50 Shades of Gray, but I liked The Girl With All the Gifts by MR Carey and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury better.

I see judgmental articles online all the time about what it means if someone likes “trashy” books like Twilight and 50 Shades.  I also see tons of response articles with people saying they won’t apologize for their taste.

Why is this so common?  Why is it such a thing for people to pass judgement on other people’s choice of entertainment?  What in particular does it say about me as a person that I can enjoy the entire spectrum of novels, all the way from the widely criticized to the highly revered?

In my opinion, the answer is not much.

What it says about me is that I have broad tastes and that I enjoy many things.  I enjoy things, not because I’m supposed to or they’re popular (or unpopular), but simply because they entertain me.  I’m all about relishing what entertains me, unapologetically.  I don’t feel the need to hide fondness for romance, or to brag about it when I’m reading classics.  Because while one might expand my knowledge and thinking, the other is something I like.  I don’t need reasons to enjoy something, just like I don’t need to explain why, for me, mint chocolate chip will always win over vanilla.

If you see me sitting at the coffee shop, and I’m reading a book that you consider awful, think about this: yesterday, I may have been reading a classic or difficult book.  And if I am reading that “difficult book” while I’m standing in line at the grocery store, don’t assume that says anything about me.  I’m likely to also have something by Nora Roberts in my purse.

I read a lot, and I don’t judge other people for any reading habits, other than when they say, “I like to read, but I don’t have time for it.”  If you don’t like to read and don’t do it, that’s cool.  But if you claim you don’t have time, I call shenanigans.  There’s always time for what you like.

Anyway, the point is that judging people based on their taste in entertainment is silly.  And if you weren’t sneaking peeks at what I’m reading, maybe you’d have time to finish that book that’s been sitting on your bedside table for the last six months.

Not that I’m judging.  😉