Developing as a reader

Recently I have been thinking back on my reading journey and how I have developed as a reader.  But not in the sense of growing up and finding new reading tastes.

I was always a reader, even through high school, I read for pleasure and hated to dive too much into things.  I also actively was suspicious of books we read in class and looked for reasons to hate them.  However, I defend this position by the fact that the books I read in class that were annoying, boring or terrible vastly out numbered those that were ok or good (in my opinion, everyone has different feelings about school books). 

Starting my own creative writing projects has really helped in my ability to critically read and evaluate books.  While I’m never going to be an author (outside of the science sense to the term) and I’m not as good at others in critiquing and evaluating books, I come miles compared to past self.  It makes me wish I’d taken more of an interest in creative writing earlier in life. One, because of all the friends I’ve made from it, but also because it would have made English classes easier and interesting.  I would have gotten more out of them, from the basics of grammar to the fancy terms and techniques used to keep people interested.

There are just so many things I could have learned in high school that might have stuck with me but didn’t because I wasn’t interested in ‘that type’ of writing at the time.  Essays and scientific reports, sure I wanted to improve, but I never really wanted to learn and apply creative writing techniques to my own writing.  I could understand why they existed and why they might be used to spruce up writing, but this information for me was just that: information.  It wasn’t really something I was interested in actually learning.  At the time.  

Now that is a different story.  

Part of it was the way all this was taught to me.  It wasn’t in a way I was interested in.  For example I remember a long discussion on what the meaning of the colour of the curtains in a scene in a book had to do with the overall story.  It was something like they were blue which reflects the main character’s depression, but the main character wasn’t even in the room and really did the author really care that much about the curtains?  This memory and others like it still haunt me and to this day I still dislike thinking about symbolism in books, even though I know it can be interesting to learn about and add depth to the books.  Themes in books is another area that I I love and hate to think about. 

This is slowly changing, and I am becoming more interested in these sorts of things in the books I read, yet, I feel if I had taken more of an interest in creative writing or book reviewing sooner I would have appreciated English class more.

It’s amazing how much more I would get out of high school classes if I took them now that I’m done all schooling then when I was forced to take them.

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Long versus short: opinions please!

I recently read a book with really short chapters.  Normally I don’t pay attention to this sort of thing, but these chapters were so noticeably short that I noticed it.  Some were only a page or two, though a few were longer at 10 pages or so.  

As I never really noticed chapter size before (I am perfectly fine stopping in the middle of a chapter, page or even sentence), I never really had an opinion on which I preferred.  I knew others had an opinion, and I swear most of the BookTubers I follow have said they prefer shorter chapters. 

As a child my dad would be all ‘you have to go to bed after you finish that chapter’ but it was always Harry Potter with massive chapters and 90% of the time I had just started the new chapter so got to stay up like another hour.  

However, this book that I read with short chapters showed me that I actually prefer longer chapters.  Short chapters have the opposite effect on me then they seem to have on other people.  Others like that short chapters make them feel like they are making progress in the novel as each chapter is another part of the novel you got through.  For me, however, short chapters make me feel like I am getting nowhere.  The chapter ends but it has only been two pages.  It makes the book feel longer to me whereas after a long chapter I feel like I have gotten somewhere and made progress.  Some people like the book being broken up more often, but since I can stop in the middle of a chapter, that doesn’t really effect me as much as others.  

So, what is your opinion on the matter?  Do you prefer long or short chapters?  Is there other reasons for liking one over the other that I have not considered?

Body functions in books aka protagonists pee too!

thoughtsQuick!  Name the last book that you read that the MC went to the bathroom.  Can’t think of one?  I doubt you are alone.  

For me the book that immediately comes to mind are Tamora Pierce books.  Not all of them include this little detail, but most do.  The female protagonists even have periods!  

It might seem weird, but just the off-handed comment about the main character going to the bathroom or needing to pack extra clothes right before a last minute trip because they are expecting their period makes me super happy.  It makes the protagonists real people!  It doesn’t demonize the fact that as a woman I have a period and have to think about the consequences of that.  It normalizes menstruation for young girls who are self conscious of it.  

The fact that most authors ignore this very common, realistic, mandatory body function frustrates me.  Your main character eats, otherwise readers would find it weird that they didn’t so why can’t they also go to the toilet?  Sure there is a bit of a taboo about this, but including it, as I mentioned before, normalizes it and actually helps young people with their body image. 

Don’t know how to include it in your story?

How often have you had an interesting conversation in the washroom?  If you are in high school, a setting in many contemporary books, I would hazard it would be fairly often because you have some limited privacy there.  When you are about to go into battle battle or slay a dragon how likely is it to have a nervous bladder?  A long run from a monster poses a challenge for woman that men don’t tend to have.  Ditto long treks or hikes or journeys with a mixed group of woman and men.

Just think of all the awkward situations you can get your characters into!  Think of the plotting potential!

You are a reader!

thoughtsThe average person in the US (and likely Canada and many other countries of the world) reads less then 5 books a year.  If, like me, you think that is a very small number, congrats you are likely a reader!

Now, the word reader means a person who reads.  Despite what anyone might tell you, it does not specify what type of things you need to read to be a reader.  It can be books, poetry, short stories, novellas, zines and magazines, fanfiction, instruction manuals, ‘trashy’ internet erotica, role-playing posts…..the list is a long one.  The list I provided is also only things that a ‘reader’ might read, but reading is something essentially everyone does on a semi-daily basis.  Reading a menu or a price tag would make you a reader by the above definition.  

However, in colloquial terms ‘a reader’ tends to be someone who reads ‘a lot’ (and also the types of things I mentioned above and not the ‘everyday’ things), but as the average person reads fewer then 5 books in a year, anything more then that can be classified as ‘a lot’.  That means 10 books a year can make you a reader.  So that ‘only one book this month’ you read?  Congrats, you are still a reader!  ‘I only read a few magazines or fanfic’.  Still a reader!  

Don’t let the words of others define you or bring you down.  You may not read as much as you want or as much as the gatekeepers to reading might say you need to, but if you think you are a reader, CONGRATS!! You! Are! A! Reader!

The year of the re-read

thoughtsI re-read a lot of books in 2016.  Some I had read only last year, others closer to 8 or 10 years ago.  To put a number on that, about 15 books of 51 were re-reads (I say about as I’m not too sure where I stopped in the the Young Wizard books the first time).  

But I’m not upset by this.

Firstly, I got to revisit old favourites and discover they are still really good books.  Others I re-read and they didn’t hold as much water, but that was part of why I wanted to reread them. 

Re-reading books is something I used to do quite often.  As a child it was because I didn’t have exposure to books as much as I do now.  I didn’t know what was coming out or can out recently so I couldn’t ask for them from the library.  Also my home town library is tiiiiiny (same with my school one) so it was hard to find new things to read.  I also have a lot of old favourites. 

As a young adult I typically re-read because I really want to read something by the time exams hit in university, after a semester of refraining from all contact with books.  At this point I need a distraction and my self control is at an all-time low so the best way to combat the problem and get back to studying is to read an old favourite.  This way I know what is going to happen and don’t feel the pressure to stay up all night because I really need to know what happens next!! as a do with many books.  I can stop in the middle of the action to continue to study (in theory, at least!).  I can read through the book in a hurry since I already know all the little details.  Typically my go-to reads for exam periods is Tamora Pierce (Protector of the Small most often).

Last year I didn’t re-read anything.  It was all new books after finishing off my schooling for good.  It was a fun year!

This year there has been no Tamora Pierce as I revisited Harry Potter, some Maria V Snyder and Diane Duane.  I suspect I’ll get back to Tamore Pierce next year as there might be (finally) a new one of hers out.  

I have no regrets about re-reading so much!  Sure, I found new favourite when I did read new books,  but while reading new books is fun but there is a risk of reading a bad book.  Many of the books I read this year were merely ‘meh’ or average books.  

So if anyone gives you flack for re-reading ‘too much’ send them to me!  I will defend re-reads to my dying breath!  Please don’t ever feel like you are not a ‘good’ reader because you re-read old books instead of new to you books. 

The last page

thoughtsAre you the type of person to read the last page/chapter before the end of the book to see how it ends and then finish reading the book or do you need to read the book in order, no skipping allowed?

For me, I never really understood how people can skip all the good stuff to spoil the end!  yet my mother swears by this reading method: first read the first few chapters to get a sense of the book, plot and main characters, then read the last few pages of the book to know how it goes, then read all the middle.  It’s apparently something to do with not wanting to wait to see how it ends and makes the reading part more enjoyable and I think it also has to do with her reading books over the course of weeks so she doesn’t need to wait forever to figure out how it goes.  Yet, that just seems to suck the fun out of the book!

What do you think?  Which type of person are you and why?

I will saw, though, that I will still read books that I have been spoiled for if I wanted to read it before I was spoiled, but I do also go and spoil myself for books that I don’t really want to read but am interested enough to want to know what happens.  So in a way you can say I do actually ‘read the last chapter’ before reading the middle in certain cases. But that’s different?

I really want to know how you do it!  Please tell me!

Book Synopses

thoughtsThis is supposed to be a Top 5 Wednesday post, but since I can’t off the top of my head think of a good list of books for this topic (the only one I can think of is the first Harry Potter book, the synopses in the Scholastic book flyer made it sound really boring and then our teacher read it to us….), I though I’d do a discussion post instead!  ….On a Thursday!

Let’s face it, a book summary can make or break a book.  Yet, writing just the right thing to summarize a book in order to appeal to the masses is the hardest part of of the entire process.  Or so they say.  It’s  delicate balance of giving enough detail to entice readers but not give away any major plot points as most people hate spoilers.  When done just right even a mediocre book will have flocks of people running out to buy it.  Done wrong and the book’s sales and reviews will reflect that.  

Every book is (hopefully) different, thus there is no right way to write a book summary and some books forgo the summary altogether and opt for an excerpt.  That being said, there are a few general no-no’s for book synopses and I thought I’d share with you some of my pet peeves. 

Firstly (and something the author doesn’t really have much control over), I hate reviews on the back of books, I wish that trend had died before it started. When I look at the back of a book I want to see a blurb or a summary of what is inside the book not a review of often times not even the book I’m holding but praise for the author’s previous novels.  When I want to see reviews I look at Goodreads or Amazon. 

I also can’t stand when the blurb/excerpt picked to entice readers is the first kiss of the two main characters.  It’s boring since it’s 90% of the excerpts I have read.  It personally makes me not want to read the book because I want more then just romance and a short kiss scene doesn’t actually give you a feel for what the book is about.  It also often spoils a moment that the author is trying to make you feel ~something~ whether it’s the ‘finally they kissed’ or the second-hand embarrassment or the ‘cuuuute’ feeling they are trying to get out the of scene.  Since you have no context you don’t get that feeling.  You don’t know the characters yet so you have no connection to them or what is happening.  

Generally speaking I dislike excerpts for this reason because they involve people that you have no connection to yet or events you have no knowledge of.  However, when done right excerpts can be very powerful.  Just read one of my personal favourites:

‘Commanders. Good ones, people with a knack for it […] they’re as rare as heroes. Commanders have an eye not just for what they do, but for what those around them do. Commanders size up people’s strengths and weaknesses. They know where someone will shine and where they will collapse. Other warriors will obey a true commander because they can tell that the commander knows what he- or she- is doing.’ Raoul picked up a quill and toyed with it. ‘You’ve shown flashes of being a commander. I’ve seen it. So has Qasim, your friend Neal, even Wyldon, though it would be like pulling teeth to get him to admit it. My job is to see if you will do more than flash, with the right training. The realm needs commanders. Tortall is big. We have too many still-untamed pockets, too curse many hideyholes for rogues, and plenty of hungry enemies to nibble at our borders and our seafaring trade. If you have what it takes, the Crown will use you. We’re too desperate for good commanders to let one slip away, even a female one.

It’s something like that, I don’t have the book handy and I know it’s edited down more but that is it.  To me, this summary sucked me right in. 

 

Another thing I dislike is when the summary of the book is comparing it to other books to try and sell it to you.  All of the ‘This is the New Hunger Games!!” and the ‘mix of Throne of Glass and Red Queen” or what-have-yous.  Sure they give you a sort-of idea of what the book is about but you go into it expecting something that likely isn’t there.  Or you go into the book knowing there is a high chance it’s a rip-off or mash-up of other works and not original.  Plus if you didn’t like the book it’s being compared to (Twilight, anyone?) the odds of you picking up that book are very slim.  

However, one thing that does work for me is if the book is sold to me ‘if you like these authors then check out this book’.  It’s a subtle difference, but for me it’s comparing the writing styles and the genera of the books and not the books themselves and makes be much more likely to pick up the book.  

Straight up lies about the book is something unforgivable and while very few books will lie in the summary, there are a good handful that will bend the truth, pitching the book as something it is not or over- or under-emphasising something major. Past character cameos is one of the things I can’t stand.  Sometimes the summary will play up the fact that old characters from a previous novel or series will show up in this one to get you to read it, and it’s true they do.  But there has been a time or three when I have read a book and the cameo is small and unimportant to the story.  Nice to see but not really what I was lead to believe it would be. 

The final thing I will mention before this post becomes too long or negative, is when the book does not clearly indict it’s in the middle of a series.  Sure this is also a cover design flaw (a way to sell more books because if you don’t know its the third book and not the first one the odds of you tracking down and buying the first one increase) but it really should be a higher priority to emphasize that the book is not the start of the series.  Doubly so when you really do need to read the first one for the next one to make sense.  Thankfully most books do a decent enough job of telling you ‘here there are other event before this book takes place, you might want to check that out’ but not all books do so, which is a great frustration to me.