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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Armada

There’s no getting around it. I am a HUGE geek. We all know this. Ready Player One appealed to that part of me 100%. It was such a fantastic first book for Ernest Cline that everyone I know has been talking nonstop about the release of his second book, Armada. It’s been one of the loudest releases I’ve seen in recent history–maybe because it not only spanned Booklr, but also most of Nerddom.

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I knew I wasn’t going to be able to wait to get my hands on this one. No way. And, as luck would have it, I didn’t even have to buy it. The wonderful folks at Blogging for Books put it on their list of availables. Thank you BfB! This is certainly one of the most beautiful books I will have in my collection this year (the only one beating it is the Bloomsbury UK Harry Potter Collection, and well…nothing is going to top that). I couldn’t wait to tear into this thing.

And then I started seeing the reviews. The very lackluster, unenthusiastic reviews.

Oh no.

Oh…no…

Maybe it’ll be ok. Maybe it’s just because Ready Player One was just SO good, this sophomore book isn’t quite living up to that standard. I’ll try to keep an open mind and go into it not comparing it to the first.

I quickly learned that 1) It’s impossible to not compare it to Ready Player One. and 2)…

…I really want to just post this as my review and walk away:

But, I owe you more than that. So brace yourselves.

The key difference between the two books, is that in RP1, you’re actually in the game, you’re living the action. It’s extremely dynamic and you can almost feel the bright color and warmth of the digital world. But Armada isn’t like that. It’s just a sad, ambitionless, video game obsessed high school kid stuck in front of a screen. It’s not dynamic. There’s no action. Picture yourself on a hot, summer Saturday, laid out on your buddy’s bed eating Cheetos while he plays XBOX for hours…and you watch with nothing to do. That’s about what this book is like compared to RP1.

Sounds fun, right? Yeah, I almost didn’t make it past the first 40 pages because of that. To be honest, the only reason I kept going, was because on page 45, Ernest Cline made a Leeroy Jenkins reference that finally made me laugh.

The good news–the plot does strengthen after awhile. A bit. There’s a super secret government agency tasked to save the world from an alien invasion, and has been training the world’s teenagers to fight via video games. It’s now finally time for the war to begin.

(What I found really amusing in all this is that I’m pretty sure I had a few of these exact conspiracy conversations with my ex and his friends. Even more amusing…that’s where my love of the Leeroy Jenkins meme came from.)

Maybe it’s just too soon after RP1, or maybe RP1 was just that great–but Armada just seems forced. My head was ready to explode from all the space game references that were packed in like Skywalker twins in a trash compactor. It reads like a publisher said, “Quick! We need another book!” And Cline ran off with all of this geeky obsessionness and just threw together every space reference he had. It was that first, plot second, character development last. Don’t get me wrong, I love geeky obsessions, but we need more plot points and sentence structure, before being bombarded by lasers.

I had a conversation with a new friend of mine the other night about books with unlikely characters, or unbelievable plots, and how they will ruin a book. Now, I read a lot of fantasy and some science fiction. My mind is stretchable, I have quite a big imagination. Whether I believe in aliens or not, it is the author’s job to MAKE me believe in his aliens for the span of 300 pages. In RP1, Ernest Cline made me believe that I was inside of a computerized AI system. Unfortunately, his sophomore book fell way short of that. In his epilogue, his narrator says, “This human understands enough to know when he’s being messed with.” And that is exactly how I felt the entire time I was reading Armada. I could not suspend my disbelief, and so the book never resonated with me. And when the end hit, well, it’s just a good thing the book is so pretty, or there would be a dent in the wall.

Also…understand that I’m sitting here cringing because this is probably one of my most brutal reviews given to someone still living. I’m not sure I could have done it if he wouldn’t have written such a strong first book. I’m just so disappointed in this second book…and I don’t think I’m the only one. Ernest Cline, if you’re out there…keep writing. Keep being your damn geeky self, and bring us more! We will wait!

Blogging for Books provided a copy of this book for an unbiased review.

Late Night Thoughts on Fanfiction

The thing I love about fanfiction isn’t the smut.

Ok.

It’s a little bit the smut.

But mostly, it’s that we as readers are never satisfied with THE END. Even after reading the most briliantly written book–maybe even more in that case–we always want more. What happens after the war is over and the rubble is swept away? The mystery is solved, so Sherlock and Watson just go back to smoking their pipes?!

NO! Of course not!

These characters are real to us. They are family, it’s personal. We may not have invented them, but we are invested and they must continue on with their lives as we do.

Most of us have our devoted ships, and we will go down to the depths with them. For me, it’s Johnlock and Drarry. And Hannigram. GODDAMN YOU BRYAN FULLER WHAT THE HELL?! I am amused by a few others, but those are the two I read the most.

Don’t come near me with your Sherlolly and Dramione. Get it away from me! *Shudder*

But I digress.

The world of fanfic is comprised of countless writers and artists who create amazing works for their OTP. The theories and stories range from almost cannon and totally plausible, to completely off the wall and nonsensical. Everyone has their niche. There are some seriously talented people out there. The stories are beautiful, funny…and yes, many are gloriously dirty. And really, they can’t even be called stories, as some are longer than the books they are about. The art is just as gorgeous, some based stricly off the canon characters, modeled after someone’s fanfic, or the artist completely creates their own interpretation of the fictional world. I cannot reblog it all fast enough.

Reading Drarry before bed has become my “guilty pleasure.” Except I don’t feel guilty about it. What better way to unwind at the end of a stressful day of fighting fires at work and filling my brain with new information, than to dive into my favorite place of all–The Wizarding World of Harry Potter–with a few fun twists thrown in? I especially like the ones from after the war–8th year or later, when they adults, trying to find their way. A little hate, a little lust, a little love. It’s all great fun.

What kind of fic are you drawn to? Who are your OTPs?

Dark Corners

So, I have a bit of a treat for you today. It’s like nothing I’ve ever posted on the blog before, and I’ll be honest, I’m a bit nervous about publishing it. I posted a rough draft on my Tumblr this morning, writing as I was inspired, but the tenses were a mess, and it was just what I woke up with out of my dream. I’ve rewritten it, fixed everything, added some. I’ve never written anything like this before, but I quite like it. For those of you unfamiliar with fanfiction, Drarry is a combination of Draco and Harry from Harry Potter. It’s a pretty common mashup, and one I’ve recently begun following.

This isn’t to everyone’s taste, but read on if your interested! Oh, and it’s pretty mellow. No R rated stuff here.

OK. Deep breath. Here goes.


 

“Look, let’s just get this over with, ok? I’m about as thrilled about this study partner thing as you are.”

“Deal. I can’t believe old McGonagall is making us do this.”

Harry and Draco find a quiet spot deep in the library stacks, settle down, and start passing books back and forth. They definitely aren’t happy about it, and fight the whole time at first. Not much gets accomplished besides quarreling, as per the usual.

Then something cruel is said about families, and Harry gets really upset and quiet. Draco, used to him fighting back, is concerned, so he makes some asshole comment about Harry giving up the fight.

Harry looks up with wet cheeks and said, “My parents are dead, Draco. Don’t you ever remember that?”

He gets up to leave, and as he’s gathering his things, Draco takes his hands and pulls him close. “I’m sorry, I’ve been an idiot.”

Harry is stiff at first, but then just sort of sags into Draco with relief and even though there is no music, they sort of sway together in the dark corner of the stacks.

“Draco, what are we doing?” Harry asks after a moment, pulling away slightly. This is nice, but he realizes what he’s doing, and with whom…and suddenly he feels…odd.

“Dancing in the stacks after curfew.” Draco dares, his lip slightly curled.

“No, I mean…we hate each other. We’ve always hated each other…” Harry trails off, feeling slightly silly now, but he doesn’t know what else to say.

“Have we though? Or has it just been easier to keep fighting like we were still kids, pretending we don’t care about every single look?”

Harry looks at Draco, his arch nemesis since they were boys. There’s always been such a strange pull, but yet… “We are on opposite sides of this war, Draco. You’re playing a very dangerous game.”

The smirk disappears from Draco’s face and it turns suddenly serious, a crease forming between his brows. “…dangerous game indeed…”

Draco pulls Harry hard toward him, and covers Harry’s mouth with his.

Harry feels all the breath go out of him at once, the way he did when the dementors attacked, and for a moment he fears he’s about to lose his soul.

But it isn’t a dementor. It is Draco. And it’s not his soul that Harry loses, it’s his heart, all at once, and completely. He grasps the back of Draco’s neck and kisses back hard, until they both need air, and when they stop, it’s Draco who has tears on cheeks.

Harry, short of breath, tries to hang onto him, knowing Draco is going to slip away. “You have to try and get out. He doesn’t need you. I need you. Don’t do whatever He’s asked you to do.”

Draco lays his head, just for a moment, on Harry’s shoulder, and whispers, “It’s too late.”

And then he’s gone. And Harry is alone.

 

Fangirl

Ever since Rainbow Rowell came onto my radar, I have been dying to read Fangirl. The very title screams HALEY YOU MUST READ ME!

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But, for one reason or another, this book has eluded me. The library holds are always astronomical, no surprise there. And of course it is NEVER on a used book store shelf. I mean, who in their right mind would ever give this one up?

No, my only option was to buy new. So when Rowell announced the Special Edition preorders 6 months ago…oh yes. I am pretty sure I ordered my copy that same day.

And a few weeks ago, I received my very own bubblegum pink copy. This was one of those moments when my husband just looked at me like “Why the hell is she screaming?”

This is the same man who gets excited over socks.

But I digress.

WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME THIS WAS DRARRY FANFICTION?!?!?!

I mean, I should have expected it. I do follow Rainbow Rowell on Twitter. But, YES. Now I understand why everyone is so excited for Carry On to come out!

If you can’t tell by all the capitals in this post…I loved this book. You know…just in case. I figured I’d tell ya. Cath–she’s me, circa 2005. Completely introverted, no social skills outside of my small town universe, and a new roommate. I am not sure I was never not anxious in the dorm diners, and parties? Those were terrifying. So yep, I get Cath 100%. I’m pretty sure she even looks like me, with her glasses and her hair always pulled up.

When I write these reviews I’m always overanalyzing the plots and characters…but there’s nothing for me to criticize here really. I am going to have a major book hangover after this one. It’s the kind of book that you’re rereading in your head while you’re cutting melon in the kitchen. I know that, because that happened earlier this evening. I was CRAVING this story after my walk, but I had to get the melon breakdown out of the way first. (Damn dieting.)

I’m sure this is considered New Adult Romance, maybe Young Adult Romance, something along those lines. But it also deals with bipolar disorder, depression, alcoholism, divorce, anxiety. I’m sure I’m missing some important theme on the list. My point is, this is not fluff, though it is a book that is “easy” to read. By that I mean you will be immediately transported into Nebraska and Cath’s world, and you’ll forget about everything else.

Yes yes, yes yes, yes yes yes.

WWW Wednesday 5/27/2015

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What are you currently reading?

The Turn of the Screw, The Aspern Papers and Two Stories by Henry James

The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd

 

 

What did you just finish reading?

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by JK Rowling

The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain

Among the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont (Review tomorrow)

 

 

What do you think you’ll read next?

The Marble Faun by Nathaniel Hawthorne (groaaaaaan…we’ll see if I get all the way through this one)

Killing Jesus by Bill O’Reilly

Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler

The Hogwarts Library

I touched a bit on my excitement for expanded series when I reviewed Four recently. JK Rowling is the master of pleasing her fandom with Pottermore. She also put out The Hogwarts Library, as a nod to Hermoine. These three short books raise proceeds for Comic Relief and Lumos. None of the books take long to read, but are a marvelous edition to the original series. For us die hard fans–they definitely tickle our need for everything magical.

Quidditch Through the Ages

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To be honest…Quidditch was my least favorite part of Harry Potter. I think it is mostly because no matter what happened Griffindor ALWAYS won (or almost always). Kind of takes the fun out of the sport, doesn’t it? I mean, high school sports are always full of drama, but there was always so much nastiness in it.

Still, reading about the history of Quidditch was pretty interesting. I have a better grasp on the teams now, when they go to the big cup game, and I am firmly against baskets! My favorite part was reading about the cranky old witch who wrote the first game down in her diary. Damn idiot boys throwing leather balls into her garden!

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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The middle book in the set is pretty much just an encyclopedia of the different creatures in the wizarding world. While the descriptions of some of the beasts are interesting, there’s really not much to it. (Although someone’s been up to some mischief with a quill…) I am curious to see how they will turn this A-Z reference guide into a movie, and how many of the critters will make it!

The Tales of Beedle the Bard

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Being the great lover of fairy tales that I am, this book was my favorite of the three. How amusing to read stories where the witches are the protagonist, instead of the evil ones like in the fable we grew up with! Of course, The Tale of the Three Brothers was familiar, but The Fountain of Fair Fortune was the one I loved the most. It was such an uplifting story.

The commentary by Dumbledore added so much more to the book too. Like all the others in The Hogwarts Library–it’s sometimes easy to forget that these aren’t genuine nonfiction. More than once, out of habit, I started to add one of the notated books to my Goodreads, only to blink into reality and facepalm myself. Those aren’t real reference books! For hardcore Harry Potter fans like myself, the Library only extends our world just a bit further…and our madness too. It just can’t be helped.

I would encourage any fan of the original series to pick these up. They are cute, look great on a shelf, and support great charities for kids in need. And that’s something Dumbledore would have been pretty proud of.