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?

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The Best Way to Arrange Books

When I was a kid, I lived in an old farmhouse. My room had a chimney running through it. By the time we lived there, the chimney didn’t work anymore, and we didn’t have a fireplace. I had three bookshelves surrounding my chimney, and I didn’t really have a method or arranging my books. I just stuffed them in wherever.

As I got older, I still just put my books wherever, but I also had a shelf of my favorites, some of which are still my favorites today.

That haphazard way of arranging books lasted until I moved to Texas. We had moved three times previously, and my Ikea bookshelves were in pretty rough shape. I wanted a real library with real wooden bookshelves.

I had never unpacked all my books in any of the places I lived. I just never had the shelf space and wasn’t even sure how many books I owned. (I’m at 1,770, in case you’re curious.)

With that many books, there’s only one way to deal with them. I had to go with sections and alphabetize within section.

My largest section, by far, is fiction. I have all short story anthologies shelved separately. I have a shelf for memoir/ biography, several for psychology texts, a shelf for graphic novels, and then a couple shelves of mixed nonfiction. That mixed shelf has an eclectic mix of paranormal phenomena, mythology, gardening, home repair, and pretty much anything that wouldn’t fit on the other shelves.

I’ve seen people talk about shelving by cutesy things like color or size, and while that might be, in some ways, more aesthetically pleasing, I have all the happiness I need just by seeing all the books I own, unboxed, and in one location.

How do you shelve your books?

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Backwards Bookshelves… Why??

Have you heard about the latest trend? Backwards bookshelves. It’s where you take your lovely books and turn them around so the spine doesn’t show.

Some proponents of the idea say it’s “simple” and “clean” and “beautiful.”

I say it doesn’t make sense.

I’m a practical person. I like using items for the purpose for which they were intended. I sit in chairs. I eat with forks. And I read books.

I’m not saying these items can never be used in a decorative or interesting way. But turning books backwards seems to relegate them solely to a decorative purpose. And that makes my heart sad.

The whole reason I love my bookshelves is so that my books are displayed and I can find what I want. When I’m not sure what I want to read, I browse the shelves, looking at the interesting spines with their multitude of shapes, colors, and the continuum of wear.

Turning them the other way washes out their individuality. Each book could be the same as the one beside it.

Decorator trends are best left in magazines.

I’m going to keep my books right side out.

Would you ever do this?

20 Books of Summer- Successes and Failures

I loved the idea of setting a goal to read 20 books from my shelves in a set period of time. I’ve been wanting strategies to cull books that I don’t really want, and my “well, I’ll get around to seeing if I want to read that eventually” doesn’t work.

What I Read

  1. The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass, by Phillip Pullman I really enjoyed these, though I thought they got better as the series progressed.
  2. Roseblood, by AG Howard I didn’t really like this one. I kept hoping it would get better, but it wasn’t my taste.
  3. Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett This one was sent to my by a friend, and I kept meaning to get to it, but just never did. I loved it.
  4. The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena It was a mystery/ thriller that just fell flat for me.
  5. The Mouse and The Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary This was chosen by a friend for our Popsugar challenge, for a “book set in a hotel.” It was a delightful kids’ book, and a nice break from so much meh.
  6. The Unseen (Books 1-4) by Richie Tankersley Cusick I blogged about this series here, and ranted about it on Goodreads, but suffice it to say, I was not a fan.
  7. Tweak: Growing up on methamphetamine, by Nic Sheff I ended up listening to it on audiobook, and it was a good memoir about addiction and recovery.
  8. Wish Girl, by Nikki Loftin I actually bought this book because I met the author at the local SCBWI conference. It was a sweet story and an easy read.
  9. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton I’m about halfway through this one, and enjoying it. A friend sent it to me after I reread The Secret Garden and talked about how much I’d loved it.

The Good

  1. I read 14 books from my list (and am working on 15), and got rid of more than that. I tried (and abandoned) Wicked. I’ve completed one other Gregory Maguire book and hated it. That meant that all of his books went into the donate box, guilt free. (And I had quite a few of them… I don’t remember where I got them.)
  2. I felt a sense of accomplishment, getting through so many books. It’s always nice to set a goal and work toward it, even if I didn’t quite meet it.

The Bad

  1. I hated reading from a pre-set list. I picked 20 books plus 5 alternates, and I struggled with them. I ended up reading 5 books in a row that I didn’t like, but I wasn’t ready to abandon. I wanted to pick something for my next book that I was a little more sure I’d like, but it wasn’t anything on the pre-picked list.
  2. When I started this, I didn’t know it was going to be a stressful summer for me. That meant that it was especially important for me to read things I enjoyed. Reading 5 books in a row I didn’t like was discouraging and made me want to stop reading off the list.

The Verdict

I’m going to set a quarterly goal of books to read off my shelf, but I’m not going to pre-pick them. That way, I can read whatever I’m in the mood for, but still cull my shelves, making room for new books.

Did you participate in 20 Books of Summer (or a different reading goal)? How’d you do? What do you think of reading challenges in general?

5 Reasons I Don’t Like Hardbacks (And One Reason I Do)

IMG_9156When I used to work in mobile crisis, we periodically had downtime. One day, when my partner was out for the day, I worked with an older guy. When he asked if I wanted to go to a bookstore, I couldn’t say “yes!” loud enough.

We ended up in this dim, narrow bookstore which mostly had hardback books. It smelled the way old bookstores should: book glue, dust, and leather. This guy explained that he liked this store because they had so many hardbacks, and he could get them “wrapped.” As in, wrapped in some kind of plastic to preserve the cover.

I was perplexed. This might be a naive thing to say, but I didn’t think people voluntarily bought hard backed books. I thought people only bought hardbacks when they couldn’t wait for the paperback. And in the Kindle age, even that’s not necessary.

Another friend of mine prefers hardbacks because she likes to keep things neat and new-looking, and hardbacks are easier to do that with. I suppose I should be a good supporter of other authors and buy the hardbacks, but I’m just not into them. Even if I find a cheap copy of something I want at Goodwill, if it’s in hardback, I’ll probably pass.

  1. They take up too much room on my bookshelf. I only have a limited amount of space, and I want to maximize the number of books they can house.
  2. They’re too big/ bulky/ heavy. Hardbacks are heavy! I have to hold them two-handed, which is annoying, since I like to read when I eat, am in the bathtub, sometimes when I’m outside playing with the dogs. Plus, hardbacks weigh down my purse and make it feel like I’m carrying bricks.
  3. The paper cover! Do I leave it on and let it get raggedy? (I’m really hard on books) Or do I take it off, likely put it in a safe place (so safe I can’t find it) and then lose it?
  4. I have to wait. Or buy it twice. I wanted to buy Our Dark Duet when it was released back in July, but I have This Savage Song (the first in the series) in paperback. Since I prefer series to match, when possible, I knew that no matter how I bought it, I was going to have to re-buy it in paperback. The library wouldn’t get it quickly enough to suit me. So… I went with Kindle. It doesn’t take up any room on my shelves, and I won’t have to get rid of it when I buy it in paperback.
  5. They’re not recyclable. This isn’t a huge issue for me because the idea is that I’ll keep my books. But I know, from reading bookstore blogs, that sometimes they throw out books because there are just too many of them. The DaVinci Code and Twilight come to mind. (I’m not hating on either of these books; I just remember the article identified these two as ones they get too many of.)

A caveat:

Hardbacks are more durable. They’re normally made from better paper, and the binding is put together better. So, if I owned my collection in hardback, I wouldn’t have tape holding together my copies of Watership Down and Lightning (by Dean Koontz). I actually own Harry Potter and most Dean Koontz books in both hardback and paperback for that reason.

Are you Team Hardback or Team Paperback?

So Hard To Say Good-bye

img_7738Over the past year, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my book collection. I have so many books that my shelves are overflowing. Finding a particular book is an exercise in rearranging. At least I’m shelving them in alphabetical order, so I can find what I’m looking for when I’m looking for it.

I’ve been trying to work my way through reading the books I already own, and then if they don’t meet one of my criteria, sending them to Half-Price Books.

I recently grabbed a romance off my shelf, read the back, and it looked okay. I was going to read it, but then found something else I wanted to read more. And the romance is still sitting where I left it when I decided not to read it.

I thought about re-shelving it, and then realized that if I saw it in the bookstore today, I wouldn’t buy it.

It’s not that it’s a bad book. It’s by a famous author, and I’m sure it’s entertaining. But it’s just not my taste anymore, if it ever was. Should I keep it on my bookshelf, taking up valuable real estate on the off chance I might want to read it one day? Or do I recognize that there are other books that I’m excited about reading, and that it’s okay if I’m just not into it?

Kind of answers itself, doesn’t it?

I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to let go of books I’m probably never going to read. It feels like I should read what I already own. But there are so many books I’m dying to read. Series I want to complete. New authors to explore.

Sometimes I read a book from the library and would love to own it, but I put off the purchase because my shelves are already overstuffed. It seems irresponsible and indulgent to buy more books, especially a book I’ve already read, when I have so many others I haven’t gotten to.

While I was contemplating this, I closed my eyes and pictured my beautiful bookshelves full of only books I love. Ones that mean something to me, that I want to read. That I’m excited about.

It’s like a shelf full of personalized vacations. Something that brings me joy instead of stress.

I think it’s time to take a careful look at the books I own, and instead of asking, “Would I read this one day?” ask “Do I want to read this?” If the answer is no, I know what I need to do.

Thank goodness for Half-Price Books.

Do you have trouble getting rid of books you don’t love? How do you handle the buy/ keep question?