Thursday, January 19, 2017

Recommending Books, Sharing Books: Do You?

A few days ago, my stepdaughter Valerie asked me if I had heard about/read/owned a few books.

And my response was:
What are you looking for, my pretty?
To be fair, many of them I had read, owned, and would recommend. For example, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and Everything I Never Told You are two I am thrilled to recommend. I've heard good things about Room, but I just cannot safely approach it. I started Wild, but I couldn't get too far because it hit too close to home. I enjoyed the perspective of Americanah, but I gave away my copy a week before Valerie mentioned it.

So, I grabbed the handful of Jodi Picoult novels I had been collecting for her, tossed in a few others I really wanted to share with her (including one I had purchased an extra copy of, just in case), and high-tailed it over to her place before she could change her mind.

Oh, and on the top of the stack was the copy of Room from my library. I truly hope Valerie reads Room right away, for my sake. To be fair, I have had the book since the days of Borders because it was so well-received by the reading community. I worry that it may be hard to read for the mother of two small children. I'm the grandmother of four small children and I didn't have the courage. I had strangers offer me encouragement, and I still wasn't brave enough. Let's hope Valerie's courage will buoy my reading of that well-received book.

To be fair, I am a dangerous person to ask about a book. As soon as my friend Melanie uttered the phrase "looking for a good book," I was off to the races.
This would have accommodated
the Children's Classics delivery. Part one.

She got books. Her sons got books. I'm sure there were a couple in there for the dogs. I included classics, new releases, and a variety of genres.

I gave her so many books, she brought them back in stages. I had forgotten which books I shared with her. However, her rule was, "If it didn't belong to me or the boys, it must be Chris'." (For the record, she was right.)

When Melanie ventured into the world of audiobooks, I was at a loss. I knew nothing about them: how to listen to them, how to buy them, where to buy them, how to share them, how to find recommendations and ratings, and how to give them as gifts.

Oh, don't worry, I figured it out in no time, and Melanie has been subject to unsolicited audiobooks from time to time. (I warn her beforehand in case she needs to wave me off the carrier deck.)

This has renewed my interest in book hunting. As a book lover and avid, er, collector, I like to peruse every new and used resource I can find. Alas, lately the quest has bored me. My collection is so ample that if I don't currently own it, I've read it and given it away. Now, however, the hunt is not only for a book or two I might enjoy, but for others and their reading interests.

When someone asks for a recommendation, or wonders aloud if you have or can recommend a book, how do you respond? Are you enthusiastic, or do you approach the topic with caution? Do you keep extras of some books around so you can hand them out as needed? (Please tell me I'm not the only one who does that...)

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

New Year, New Pledge: Resisting the Urge to Purchase Every Book

I love books. I adore cheap books. Free books make me giddy.

This summarizes my 2016 buying frenzy. With more than a little help from online vendors, I found dozens of inexpensive e-books and low-cost audiobooks to load on my Kindle. I subscribed to three different email services advertising cheap e-books. (Maybe four. Possibly five.) Book Bub and I are close friends. I haunt Amazon's Kindle e-book Web pages. Goodreads and I correspond regularly.

My Kindle is so full, I don't know where to begin. (I'd tell you how many books are on there, but I don't want to count that high, then subtract expired library books. Lazy? Nah, man: survival.)

So, without further ado, let me say: Hi, my name is Chris and I am a book hoarder.

Don't get me wrong: I am thrilled, for the most part, by the e-books I have purchased. Some of them duplicate print books in my library. A few free ones may not be my exact cuppa, but don't mind a (cheap or free) gamble: how else would I have discovered my surprising attraction of murder-mysteries? I also have lots of books to share with friends, as Kindle permits.

However, I have a literal library (a 10x12 bookshelf-lined room of print books), and now my Kindle is equally loaded. Some days, the weight of these unread books is too heavy to carry.

So I have made a decision: I am stemming the flow of purchased books into the house for the next three months.

I have done this before with great success. After a book purchase fast, I have emerged reinvigorated and focused on choosing the right book, rather than a book.

I have been testing the waters for the past month, reserving at my library the books I want to read. I can spend hours perusing Overdrive's e-book and audiobook inventory. I can "shop" my brick and mortar library, and even stop by various nearby branches for additional options. Books purchased for a buck or two at a "friends of the library" sale are easy to hand over to the next reader, stranger or friend.

Earlier this week, before I clicked "purchase" on a writing "prompt" book, I paused. I reviewed the table of contents and didn't get as excited as I thought I would — so I made a decision: rather than pay to play, I opened my public library's catalogue. There it was, the exact same book, this time in print. I promptly reserved the book and closed the Amazon browser tab.

Oh, Amazon has nothing to worry about: I also signed up for Kindle Daily Deals email. One would think that might be dangerous, but I assure you: receiving the list of sale books allows me to consider purchasing a finite number of books, rather than tempting me with suggestions, recommendations, and access to my wish list. I did this with Audible, and my impulse purchases have decreased to a trickle.

I will continue to use Amazon, Audible, Goodreads, Book Riot, Book Bub, and other resources to discover what's on the shelves, and to find out what my fellow readers are consuming. Fewer choices can make me a better consumer.

How do you control your purchases

Coda: No sooner did I publish my pledge than I purchased a new book. In my defense, the library would not have had it in time to read for my book club, and it was on sale at the bookstore. Plus, I had to go get a weekly calendar booklet anyway. (How's that for rationalization?)

Monday, January 2, 2017

7 Favorite Books of 2016: A Year in Review

2016 was a great year for reading. I consumed 80 books in three different formats, a personal best this century. 

To be fair, a handful were children's books, but Goodreads assures me the average length of books on my "read" shelf in 2016 was 298 pages, so I rest easy with my total (thanks, Joe Hill!).  

My Exceptional Reading Year included an inordinate (for me) number of re-reads: six books. For the most part, I credit this to catching up on original or first books before launching any sequel or companion books. However, Good Omens was re-read via Audible just for fun — and it remains one of the funniest books I have read.

Audiobooks changed my reading habits: one-fifth of the books I read this year were audiobooks, and three of those were re-reads. This format gives me an opportunity to read while I run or work out in the gym. I listened to Caitlin Moran read her immensely funny memoir, and I discovered Juliet Stevenson reading Sense and Sensibility. Audiobooks are not always the best format; I kept getting lost during The God of Small Things, and David Sedaris' essays waxed a bit too long for a listen. 

Additionally, I was surprised to discover that nearly one quarter of the books I read were on my Kindle. I own most of those in print, but I found the Kindle version more convenient; my bedside lighting is not stellar, and I have limited nightstand space. 

(Full disclosure: I recently purchased new furniture in part due to the nightstand size; however, my cats aren't keen on sharing their nightstand space with each other, let alone books that can be oh so fun to rearrange. As a result, I read my books on Kindle — and occasionally on audio — for the convenience of my cats. Do not judge my indulgences, and I shall afford you the same courtesy.)

Here are seven of my favorite books I read this year, in no particular order.
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe — I began this book because of the narrator and finished it because it was a beautiful read. I have never been in the mind of a teenage boy, and Benjamin Alire SΓ‘enz was a wonderful guide. There is no Big Reveal at the end of the book, but the truth still feels large, and it was gorgeously wrought.
  • The Year of YesShonda Rimes is an amazing person, and very wise. She hit her stride after the commencement speech and never slowed down. Would I call it a memoir, a self-help book, a feminist book, a humor read? Yes.
  • The Cure for Dreaming — Cat Winters writes good books, so I recommend them all. However, this one I read in late October, and its examination of early 20th century suffrage was revolutionary.  
  • The Underground Railroad — Imagine... no, don't imagine the world Colson Whitehead brought to life in his novel. Read it. It will change your perception of antebellum America. 
  • Life After Life and A God in RuinsMust be read in this order. I reviewed the first book a few years ago. Together, they command readers to re-think what life is, their own and others.
  • The Invisible Library — I am a sucker for library and librarian stories, and this is a good one. I recently reviewed this book, which is the first of a trilogy. I can't wait to start the second volume. (The third book will be released in the U.S. on January 20.) Find out more about this trilogy on the author's website.

What books did I read in 2016 I would I not recommend?

  • The Museum of Extraordinary Things — Weird, disappointing, and hard to follow.
  • The Bookseller — The premise was intriguing, but the resolution was unsatisfying. Read my review here.
  • Everything We Keep — The story stretched out so long before the second act that the resolution was singularly unsatisfying. The story coda, which attempted to bring the story full-circle, was awful.
  • Big Magic — A self-help book that did not provide any new or interesting information. (Full disclosure: I avoided reading the author's chart-topping memoir, and I really disliked the movie.)

Thankfully, most of the less-than-stellar books were library loans.

Here is the complete list of books read in 2016. Most of them are good reads, so I hope you find a few to add to your nightstand (or e-reader, or listening device). I have indicated the format of each book (e-book πŸ“² , print book πŸ“– , or audio 🎧 ) and whether they were borrowed from the library (via nerd face πŸ€“ ).

  1. Passage πŸ“² πŸ€“
  2. Bear Counts πŸ“²
  3. Ish πŸ“²
  4. The Roll-Away Pumpkin πŸ“²
  5. The Deep and Snowy Wood πŸ“²
  6. Plum Spooky πŸ“– πŸ€“
  7. Octopuppy πŸ“²
  8. Between the Plums πŸ“² πŸ€“
  9. 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People πŸ“² πŸ€“
  10. The Year of Yes 🎧 πŸ€“
  11. Thirteen Chairs πŸ“²
  12. Commonwealth πŸ“–
  13. The Invisible Library πŸ“²
  14. Good Omens 🎧
  15. Thin Mint Memories πŸ“²
  16. The Forgetting Time (½) πŸ“² πŸ€“
  17. Lamb 🎧
  18. The Cure for Dreaming πŸ“– πŸ€“
  19. A Mew to a Kill πŸ“²
  20. Sense and Sensibility 🎧 πŸ€“
  21. Fates and Furies πŸ“² πŸ€“
  22. Summer House With Pool πŸ“²
  23. Between the World and Me 🎧 πŸ€“
  24. Ghostly Echoes πŸ“²
  25. Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls 🎧 πŸ€“
  26. The Underground Railroad πŸ“–
  27. The Uninvited πŸ“²
  28. Who Goes There? (The Thing) πŸ“²
  29. Big Magic πŸ“– πŸ€“
  30. Dorothy Parker Drank Here πŸ“–
  31. A Spirited Tail πŸ“²
  32. The Goodbyes πŸ“–
  33. Secondhand Souls 🎧 πŸ€“
  34. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe 🎧 πŸ€“
  35. Everything We Keep πŸ“²
  36. If Books Could Kill πŸ“– πŸ€“
  37. The Bookseller πŸ“²
  38. Unlikely Friendships πŸ“² πŸ€“
  39. Homicide in Hardcover πŸ“– πŸ€“
  40. Ghostly Paws πŸ“²
  41. The Sleeper and the Spindle πŸ“– πŸ€“
  42. The Body Reader πŸ“²
  43. Blackout πŸ“– πŸ€“
  44. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl πŸ“² πŸ€“
  45. Vacations From Hell πŸ“– πŸ€“
  46. 168 Hours πŸ“–
  47. Farewell, Dorothy Parker πŸ“–
  48. When Breath Becomes Air πŸ“–
  49. In the Heights πŸ“–
  50. Crenshaw πŸ“²
  51. How Do You Sleep πŸ“²
  52. In the Shadow of Blackbirds πŸ“² πŸ€“
  53. NOS4A2 🎧 πŸ€“
  54. The Humans (play) πŸ“–
  55. Random Harvest πŸ“²
  56. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? πŸ“²
  57. Vader’s Little Princess πŸ“²
  58. Darth Vader and Son πŸ“²
  59. Darth Vader and Friends πŸ“²
  60. Good Night, Darth Vader πŸ“²
  61. Americanah πŸ“² πŸ€“
  62. Winter of the World  πŸŽ§ πŸ€“
  63. A God in Ruins πŸ“² πŸ€“
  64. Rip Van Winkle 🎧 πŸ€“
  65. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow 🎧 πŸ€“
  66. The Fall of Giants 🎧 πŸ€“
  67. Life After Life πŸ“² πŸ€“
  68. How to be a Woman 🎧
  69. Twenty Yawns πŸ“²
  70. True Grit 🎧 πŸ€“
  71. It All Changed in an Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs πŸ“² πŸ€“
  72. The Museum of Extraordinary Things  πŸ“² πŸ€“
  73. The Luckiest Girl Alive πŸ“–
  74. Grandma Drove the Snowplow πŸ“²
  75. The Map πŸ“²
  76. Beastly Bones πŸ“²
  77. Impossible Things πŸ“–
  78. Girl Waits With Gun πŸ“²
  79. Library of Souls πŸ“–
  80. Emerald Green πŸ“²

What did you read in 2016? Anything you can recommend? Do tell!