Reading as an Experience

When I approach a new book, I often know very little about it.

Many have been on my TBR for years–recommendations from acquaintances long forgotten–“Oh, you should read this!” Any one who finds out how much I read has a book for me, so it goes on The List. Bestsellers often end up on there, popular books making the rounds on Tumblr, and of course, the Boxall 1001. The List is over 3,000 titles long.

I will usually read a brief description of an ARC before I request it, but even then, it’s a month or two before I actually read it, since I prefer to wait until just before release to do the review. I have a general idea of most of the popular classic novels, but just an outline or topic. Only in the rare occasion that I really love the author and have been anxiously waiting a release, or it’s a book with a huge publicity push will I actually have a strong knowledge base before beginning.

Why do I do so little research about the books I read? Two simple reasons.

  1. I read almost a book a day. At that volume, it would be impossible for me to read pre-reviews on every single book. Nope, can’t do it.
  2. The biggest reason, though, is that I’d much rather go into a book blind. That way, every twist and turn is new, every character I meet is unexpected. It’s the same reason I often don’t watch every movie trailer anymore. I want to experience the book fresh. Sometimes with ARCs I hardly even pay attention to who the author is. I take notes with my reactions, mark down quotes, etc. With difficult books, I will often Wiki it, to make sure I am understanding what is happening–though I don’t usually do that until later in the story, or afterwards, unless I am really confused.

Reading for me is an immersive experience, and I try to get as much out of it as possible. It is enjoyable, but it is no longer just a hobby. I learn a great deal from the books I read, and so I have expanded the breadth of what I am taking in.

I’ve discussed this multiple times here before–how much I read, what I read, how I do it. I won’t get into that now. But learning is important to me, and I get really excited about it.

 

However, I’ve had a few conversations about reading as an experience this week. Not everyone reads the same way I do. And you know what, THAT IS OK!

I had one conversation where we geeked out about the toxic relationships in Wuthering Heights and analyzed the perception of that novel as a romance vs what the book really is. We talked about how we think all classics are well-written because the language is so much different than modern day English, but in reality, the authors fought with each other about their writing style as much as we do now.

But you know what also makes me really excited? Talking to someone who struggled with reading for years, hating it because they had trouble with dyslexia or any other reading disorder. But then someone gave them Harry Potter (or Twilight or Percy Jackson or INSERT BOOK HERE) and it opened up words for them. And it may take them a month to read one book but now they can do it and we can geek out together about our favorite stories. And it has nothing to do with the great masters of writing or the state of the world. It’s just words on a page that fit together to make a story that we all can share.

 

My point is this–read what you like. For years I read Nora Roberts and Rachel Gibson smut. I read every JD Robb In Death book in order for like 4-5 years. Maybe longer. That’s no longer my thing, but if it’s yours GREAT! If you’re an adult who loves YA, thumbs up. If you’re a kid who likes adult fiction, YES! Comics, newspapers, magazines, shampoo bottles? Done.

I’m kind of joking about the shampoo bottles, but I can’t say I haven’t done it when there’s nothing else in the bathroom.

Paperbacks, hard covers, ereaders, audiobooks. All valid sources. Guys, let’s stop arguing about what people like to read, and get excited about everyone who loves it as much as we do. Bookworms have gotten made fun of since the beginning of time. Let’s not beat up on each other too.

I firmly believe that reading is a process. It starts with that first book we fall in love with, and we just keep going. Every next book drags us a little further down the line. Maybe one day we step out from our normal genre into something new. Maybe next time it’s a bit more advanced than what we are used to. That process can be fast, or it may take a long time and be really gradual–and it may change hardly at all. My grandfather read Westerns his entire life…until the last year or two when he started reading Amish Christian fiction. So don’t let me or anyone else pressure you to step outside your comfort zone, but I do encourage it, when you’re ready.

There is a whole world of books out there! And you know I have a full List of recommendations for you!

Happy reading everyone!

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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

For months I’ve been seeing this beautiful blue starry cover across Tumblr, and a gazillion Booklrs raving about (what I thought) was a pair of philosophers falling in love. I rarely read Goodreads reviews before adding a book to my TBR–I tend to just jump in to the story, preferring to discover along the way. My library never had it available, but they finally released the audiobook to me, and I am so glad they did. I think it was almost better in that format probably!

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I quickly learned that this wasn’t about the two ancient philosophers at all, but two teenage Mexican boys living in the desert city of El Paso. I generally can only read audiobooks while doing something–chores or walking–so falling in love with this story motivated me to walk more often! Except guys, it damned near broke my heart! Do you know how hard it is to keep pace while crying? I’m sure I got some weird looks on the trail.

Ari and Dante’s friendship is completely beautiful. For those of you who haven’t heard of this book before–it isn’t just a coming of age story, it’s also a coming out story. It’s powerful, sad, happy, scary. About every emotion you can have, you will have it while reading this book. A must read this year, absolutely.

And if you like audiobooks, definitely listen to this one. The narration is extremely well done!

 

Jane Eyre

I keep seeing this post floating around on Tumblr about how Charlotte Bronte fell in love with Jane Fairfax from Emma, and so she wrote a fanfiction about her as a governess. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but that post was enough to get me to read both Emma and Jane Eyre somewhat back to back!

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This is my second read-through (I listened to the audiobook when I was in college), and I love Jane Eyre even more now than I did the first time. Of course I always get more from a book by actually reading than listening.

Jane is such a prim, proper, plain-looking character. If you look up an images search of the way she’s been portrayed over the years, she always looks so delicate. But Jane Eyre is anything but soft. She maybe a woman with very strict ideals–but she fights for those ideals with conviction and a steady conscience. Not much can sway her.

This book is so much more than a love story. Of course, the romance is there, but that really isn’t the important part of the narrative. What else do we have?

  1. Child abuse
  2. Poverty
  3. Epidemic
  4. Feminism
  5. Mental Illness
  6. Importance of family ties and friendship
  7. Hypocrisy
  8. Disability

And the list could go on and on, but this is the major stuff that I noticed. All this from a Victorian/Gothic novel. You don’t see that happen to often.

I did have one question to pose, maybe someone out there can answer it for me.

One thing I am always curious about with 1800s women’s literature is why they never give the names of places (and sometimes dates). It’s always –shire or S(…setting). Is it a lack of creativity regarding places, or was there some unspoken rule about listing where the setting was? London is always mentioned, and Bath, but anywhere else is left to mystery. It’s always so frustrating to me, and I can not help but wonder why this is!

Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea

Some books have been on my TBR for so long I can’t remember when or why they got added. When I finally get around to reading them, I almost feel obligated, even if I am not interested in them anymore.

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Chelsea Handler was one of those. Slapstick humor…not so much my thing anymore. But, who the heck knows how long she’s been on my list. Probably since Are You There, Vodka? came out in 2007. Seems about right. And since it was on audiobook, which is best for these sorts of memoirs, I decided to give it a try.

Raunchy is the only word I can really use to describe it. And while I am not a modest or easily offended person…this one was a bit (ok a bit more than a bit) over the top. Whoa Bessie. This is one of those that will offends in every single way possible. I’m pretty sure it is the entire purpose of the book. And when that’s the only point? It doesn’t make for quality entertainment, in my opinion. I may have smirked a few times, but mostly I just shuddered, and there were quite a few “ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwws.”

No thanks.

Marcelo in the Real World

The last audiobook I reviewed was about an autistic child and his imaginary friend. At the end of the book, Max was starting to grow up–so it was only fitting that I read another book about a person on the autism spectrum–this time a young man with a unique form of Asperger’s. Marcelo feels the emotions of music inside of him–something he knows as the IAM.

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Marcelo has always gone to a special school, but his father has challenged him to work in his law firm for a summer–or else. He must try to comply with society’s “rules,” or he will have to go to public school in the fall.

At first, Marcelo is extremely awkward and uncomfortable, but he is extraordinarily intelligent, so while he doesn’t have the normal social graces, he begins to fumble along. He even begins to make friends and find passion for things he is working on.

I loved Marcelo. He was so sweet, and so lost. I was thrilled when Jasmine took him under her wing. To say I shipped them is the wrong term because he is asexual, but I loved their friendship absolutely.

Normally when we think of autism and Asperger’s, we think of children, so it was interesting to view this take on our world through an adult experience. Marcelo in the Real World is a coming of age story with a very unique perspective.

This is a painful book to read, in that Marcelo is so intelligent, so conscious of everything people are saying and doing, but no one else really understands that. The author portrays bullying at its worst, even from family members. Marcelo is never safe from people who think they can control him because he processes information differently. It is such a unique perspective from which to view our world, and one few of us ever get to experience…but most of us really should see.

 

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend

While for the most part, most of my reading is done with my eyes, I generally have an audiobook going as well. It takes me a realllllly long time to get through audiobooks, though, because I can’t just sit and listen to one. I have to be doing something–laundry, dishes, and lately, I’ve been listening to one while working.

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I just finished Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicksand I am so glad I listened to this. Some books are just better on audio, and this is one of them.

It is the story of an autistic child, Max, and his trials at a public school, from the point of view of his very intelligent, very realistic imaginary friend, Budo. Max loves learning about military strategy and playing with legos, but he absolutely does not like extra kisses and bonus poops. He has a wonderful teacher at school, parents who are trying very hard to make life just the way Max prefers it, and Budo is always there to make sure he doesn’t get “stuck.”

Things get all topsy-turvey, though and while I’m not going to spoil it and tell you what happens, suffice it to say, there is a major crisis and something goes very very wrong. Budo has to figure out how to solve a very big problem in the real world–which for an imaginary friend is not an easy thing to do.

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend made me laugh, it made me cry, and it really really stressed me out. It’s written from the mind of one in elementary school, so the language is very simple, and sometimes the mental capacity is very frustrating. I found myself screaming sometimes, as an adult, as “not a parent” with not a lot of patience, because I wanted Max and Budo to do something just a little faster, or better, or different. But…that wouldn’t have been the story.

I really did love this. And I’ll be looking for more from Matthew Dicks. Whether you read this, or listen to it. Make sure to pick this up. Parents and teachers, especially, will love this I think.

 

Fulfills PopSugar #7:  A book with nonhuman characters