Tag Archives: reading

Diary Comic: Early to Bed

For ages # and up

I was looking through some stuff the other day and was reminded of a comment one of my reviews had received, suggesting that instead of just calling something a children’s book, I should name a specific age range. It occurs to me that I have absolutely no idea how to define such things. I believe I have two major factors working against me:

  1. No children in my life. I am not a parent; I don’t babysit; my nieces and nephews all live halfway across the country; and I was the youngest child so I never even had a younger sibling to care for. In short, I have exactly zero experience in choosing age-appropriate literature for children of any age.
  2. I’m not even sure if my own childhood reading was age-appropriate. First of all, I didn’t really enjoy reading. I hated everything we ever read for school. Aside from a few books by Beverly Cleary, Gordon Korman, and Daniel Pinkwater, I don’t recall much between picture books and adult science fiction and fantasy. By the time I was a preteen, I was reading mostly Piers Anthony and Robert Asprin. Is this age-appropriate? Hard to say, I guess, though I did grow up to be a (fairly) well-adjusted and (somewhat) normal adult. All the same, I’m sure I embarrassed my mother that time when I looked up from one of the Incarnations of Immortality books to ask her what a concubine was.

I am also at a loss to define “age-appropriate” in terms of subject material. I could probably rate books in terms of vocabulary, but who am I to say what topics are or are not suitable for a child of a certain age? Most banned/challenged books become that way because someone believes it is inappropriate for children of a certain age group. When do people magically become old enough to handle any variety of topics? I say if you’re in high school, you should be capable of handling adult themes. I read Night by Elie Wiesel as a freshman. It could be argued that a fourteen-year-old is not mature enough to handle such a subject, but considering the events occurred when Wiesel himself was fifteen, the objection seems trivial.

So, how do you determine the proper age range for a book?

On Reading and Reviewing

At some point I became a book reviewer. I’m not sure when this happened, exactly, but I now receive review requests every month. Which is fine, of course: as a book lover I certainly am not going to complain about people giving me books. And lately authors have been really good about offering me books I actually might want to read. I have, however, fallen behind on my reading. I warn anyone asking for a review that it could be several months before I even crack open their book, and so far that’s dissuaded no one. I take this as a good sign, especially since my reading habit has dwindled as of late. It’s not that I don’t enjoy what I’m reading, just that I often find myself doing kakuro puzzles instead.

While I’m here, I’d like to share some random tidbits about my reading/reviewing life:

  • My complete to-be-read list is online and regularly updated. With very few exceptions, these are the books actually on my shelves at the moment, waiting to be read. The yellow is what I’m currently reading. The gray is something I am considering never reading.
  • Lately (since the beginning of September) I’ve also been keeping a list of the top of the TBR pile, which are the books I plan to read next. When books arrive, I tell the author/agent/publicist where they are on the stack. Please note that this does not include audiobooks, which I plow through every other week or so, meaning you can’t just count reviews on my blog and expect yours to show up.
  • Sometimes, regardless of what’s listed on the top of the TBR pile, I will just grab some other book off the shelf and read that instead. I figure I’m doing no one any favors if I start resenting my reviewing obligations. But this is an extremely rare occurrence.
  • I do not generally mention on my blog whether the copy I read is one I received for review or not. The way I figure it, I’m not being paid to do this, and books fall into my hands in many ways other than me specifically seeking them out, including random strangers (read: BookCrossers) sending them to me out of the blue.
  • I also don’t always mention if a book I’m reviewing is the audio version. Since all the audiobooks I earread are unabridged, I don’t feel a need to mention it unless there’s something notable about the reader.
  • The vast majority of my reading is done in bed before turning out the light. Occasionally I also read in the recliner in my study, but that inevitably results in a nap, especially if there’s a cat on my lap.

Maybe over the holidays my reading will pick up speed again. I think the first step is tossing that kakuro book.

Weekly Geeks: Read-a-thons

This week’s WG is in honor of the upcoming 24-hour Read-a-thon – fitting, since both were started by Dewey, who is still greatly missed around the blogosphere.

I’m not much for read-a-thons, to be perfectly honest. It’s not the reading part (obviously), but anything that involves staying up extremely late is a bit of a turn-off these days. I don’t know if it’s from getting up too early for work or just part of getting older, but my weekends are about catching up on sleep, not avoiding it.

So while I have no problem with setting aside an entire day to just read, forcing myself to stay awake just to do so doesn’t interest me.

However, if I were to participate in the read-a-thon, this would be my strategy:

  1. Move around. I know if I spend too much time in my recliner I will eventually fall asleep. If I move to the kitchen table, the couch, my desk, or even a cafe, I’m more likely to stay awake.
  2. Short books: graphic novels, children’s/YA fiction, that kind of stuff.
  3. Avoid classic literature at all costs. Some of it is quite good but I find it takes a lot more concentration, and thus energy, to fully comprehend.
  4. Get prior “permission” from my husband. This is less about being “allowed” to do this than ensuring that he’ll leave me alone so I can read.

I’ll cheer on all you read-a-thoners, most likely from the comfort of my own bed, shortly before going to sleep. :)

Banned Books Week 2010: September 25 – October 2

Starting tomorrow, we once again celebrate Banned Books Week. I don’t generally attend any events, but it’s a good reminder that there are those people out there who want to choose what you or your child may and may not read. The official site has some great activity ideas and a fascinating map of where books have been recently banned. Its a lot more geographically spread out than I’d expected.

When we were reading Beloved by Toni Morrison in high school, one of the other area schools banned it over a single paragraph (if you’ve read it, you know which one), to which we all rolled our eyes. I didn’t particularly enjoy reading Beloved and I would have loved to have not been assigned it, but I didn’t see any purpose for the ban. If you can’t handle adult literature by the time you’re 16, you probably shouldn’t be taking a literature course so advanced that you’re assigned books on the level of Beloved.

My personal experience with banned books is fairly limited. I mean, I’ve read plenty of them, but I usually didn’t know they were challenged beforehand.  I’ve only read two of the books on the top ten most frequently challenged list. (Side note: it amuses me how almost all of them claim to be “unsuited” for the age group, because evidently children cannot think for themselves until they start college.) Come to think of it, I don’t even have any banned books on my TBR pile. Huh.

To celebrate, I’ll probably release some banned books into the wild. Let people make up their own minds about whether or not to read them.

P.S. – Oh hey, that top ten list was from 2008. I’ve read six of the entries from 2009. How about you?
P.P.S. – How cute are these bracelets!

More Pet Peeves

Check out the original list. Evidently I’m not done yet. Here are some more tips for writers who want to avoid irritating me their readers:

  • Avoid repetitive statements. He shrugged his shoulders. What else, pray tell, can one shrug?
  • Give your characters distinct names. I don’t mean unusual, necessarily, just noticeably different from each other. Once I had to quit a book after only a few chapters because I couldn’t keep Johnny, Jack, Jackie, Jerry, and Jimmy straight in my head. (No, I’m not making that up.)
  • Be consistent with your names. It’s fine to refer to Jack Smith as either “Jack” or as “Smith”. You can even call him “Smith” in the narration and “Jack” in the dialog from time to time. Just don’t switch back and forth constantly. Pick one and stick with it.
  • Have someone read your book aloud to you, preferably someone who’s never seen it before. Make notes while you listen, but don’t read along. Realize that this monotone is how every reader will “hear” your book in their head.
  • Careful with description. If the clouds around the mountain have nothing to do with moving the story forward, don’t spend three paragraphs on them. Readers don’t want to be stuck in a white room, but we also don’t care about the cuckoo clock’s personal history unless it becomes important later.
  • If you want to write a movie, write a movie. Don’t write a book. I cannot stress this enough.

Any more I’m forgetting?

Open post: to read or not to read

This is an open post. Comments welcome and encouraged. (Not that they aren’t normally, but this time I’m actually asking for opinions.)

My to-be-read pile, generally referred to as Mt. TBR, is occasionally overwhelming. (Ignore the colors; the only one that means anything of interest is yellow, which is what I’m currently reading.) One of my 101 things in 1001 days is to get Mt. TBR under 50 books, even just temporarily. I’m over 150 days in and have not been able to reduce the size of the pile, despite having read over 30 books in that time.

So I’m thinking it might be time for a cull. The following are books I’m thinking of chucking unread. (And by “chucking” I mean wild releasing.) If anyone has any thoughts on any of these, please let me know. I’m willing to keep anything on the list if someone says it’s a good read. But for now, here are my maybes:

  • The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul by Douglas Adams – As much as I love Adams, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency left me wanting.
  • Push Comes to Shove by Wesley Brown – I was lured in by the promise of a free book from Concord Free Press but the subject matter doesn’t sound like my cup of tea.
  • Virtual Light by William Gibson – Neuromancer was okay but hard to follow, so I’m not sure it’s worth it for me to read any more Gibson. (I also have Pattern Recognition on Mt. TBR, but a friend told me it was really good.)
  • James Herriot’s vet tales quadrilogy – I like Herriot just fine, but I have a feeling a bunch of touching stories about injured/sick animals might make me cry more than is strictly healthy.
  • Taliesin by Stephen R. Lawhead – As much as I like Arthurian legend, I’m not sure I really need to read another one unless it’s totally awesome.
  • The Monk by Matthew Lewis – A friend “lent” this to me years ago. I assume he never wanted it back since he’s since moved to Florida. It looks…dense. Is it good?
  • Rabbit, Run by John Updike – As far as I can tell, this is about basketball and a selfish man. Nothing in the Amazon reviews convinced me it was really worth reading.

So what do you think? Any of these something I should not pass up? Any that you’d like me to send to you if I do decide not to read it? (That holds for any of them except the Adams one, because that one belongs to my husband.)

And if you want to add books to Mt. TBR, well, I suppose that’s okay too. I’m always up for a good recommendation.

Weekly Geeks 2010-24: Shiny Book Syndrome

This week’s WG is about Shiny Book Syndrome, or the overwhelming urge to read the book you acquired most recently, leaving “piles of poor unread books on [the] shelves to collect dust.”

The post goes on to discuss how to alleviate the symptoms, even going so far as to suggest numerous challenges to read the books you already own.

Funny, a friend and I were just discussing this yesterday, and we felt the opposite about this. See, too often we feel that intense desire to read some specific book (usually the newest, though not always), but we put it off for whatever reason in favor of something else. And then that feeling fades, and we have trouble, months down the road, getting that same excitement to build. We agreed that it’s actually a better idea to read something while you’re champing at the bit to do so, because otherwise it may well end up being just another book collecting dust on your shelves.

Now, this isn’t to say that one should only read their newest books and ignore the older ones. Rather, if you’re feeling really eager to read something in particular, then read it. The mood may not strike again for quite a while.

Pet Peeves

Everyone has little things in books that bug them, ranging in reaction from minor irritation to a full-on “if this is there I will stop reading immediately.” Here are some of mine, in no particular order:

  • A man falling in love with a prostitute (a.k.a. the hooker with the heart of gold). It’s been done, people. Done to death.
  • Conflict/drama caused entirely by people not telling each other things. This drives me insane. Yes, I get that people have secrets, but too often characters hold back because (1) they have a martyrdom complex and don’t want to burden anyone with their problems, or (2) they think people just wouldn’t understand, and don’t even give them the chance to decide. It’s dumb, and it’s even worse when it’s the entire reason pretty much everything in the plot happens. If I can read a book and think “if they’d only told each other everything from the start, we could have avoided pretty much the entire story,” it really irritates me, and it’s a sign of weak writing.
  • Large amounts of foreign language. I was going to say it only bugs me when it’s not translated, but it also bothers me when people say things in a foreign language and it’s immediately translated into English. The occasional word is fine, but paragraphs or entire conversations get very tiresome. It’s a great word-padding trick for NaNoWriMo but I’d rather it were left out of published novels.
  • Conversations that are described instead of printed. Jane Austen was particularly bad about this, but she’s far from the only offender. The only exception to this is if the information would be a repeat of what the reader already knows.
  • Stories that don’t end. Now, I don’t need all the loose ends to be tied up, but I do need a story to have a satisfying (though not necessarily happy) ending. When it just stops and it’s left totally up to the reader to decide what happens (such as in The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber), I feel like I’ve completely wasted my time reading it. If I wanted to write my own ending, I would have written my own story. Finish what you start!
  • Authors that don’t do basic research. I’m not talking about little anachronisms in historical fiction; I mean truly basic information that anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the topic would know. James Patterson is a good example. He sets many of his novels in the DC metro area (which happens to be where I live) and then makes such glaring mistakes as inventing a mysterious city in Virginia called Church Falls and asserting that locals refer to the Smithsonian Institution as “The Smithy”. (We don’t. Seriously, nobody says that.) If you want to make up stuff, don’t set it in a real place. All you’re doing is irritating the natives.

I’m sure there are more I’m not thinking of. What are your pet peeves in books?

Booking Through Thursday – Encouragement

This week’s BTT is about Encouragement. That is:

How can you encourage a non-reading child to read? What about a teenager? Would you require books to be read in the hopes that they would enjoy them once they got into them, or offer incentives, or just suggest interesting books? If you do offer incentives and suggestions and that doesn’t work, would you then require a certain amount of reading? At what point do you just accept that your child is a non-reader?

I was one of those non-reading children, and once I was into chapter books the few things I did read were only because other people did. My sister, whom I idolized, was a big reader. It was because of her that I ever read any Piers Anthony, D. Manus Pinkwater, Douglas Adams, or Robert Asprin. I read A Little Princess and some unicorn series because my grade school friends were really into them. I always participated in the Summer Reading Program at the local public library (which had the best children’s librarians ever, by the way), but there wasn’t much incentive for me, really, considering the prize at the end was just another book. I remember getting a book in the gift exchange in fourth grade and being just incredibly disappointed, especially since everyone else got toys. The books assigned at school were no help either. I still fall asleep just hearing the names of such standard English Class fare as Johnny Tremain, The Incredible Journey, A Separate Peace, and The Scarlet Letter.

The change came during my freshman year of college. I didn’t own a television, and after a while I became so desperate to read something – anything – that wasn’t a text book that I picked up Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice. I’d liked the movie, so I figured I’d give the book a try. I loved it, and luckily was able to find copies of the next three books in the series at the college library. (Being in the Honors College gave me the unexpected perk of being able to check books out for an entire semester, which came in handy considering how little free time I had for pleasure reading.) After that was the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (aside: this is one series I’d want an e-book reader for, since the mass market paperbacks have a tendency to fall apart and anything larger is super heavy), and by then I was hooked. I needed to have a book on me at all times, if only to pick up for a few minutes before class started. These days I have three books going at any one time: my regular book, an audiobook in my car, and a paperback in my gym bag for reading on the exercise bike.

So I guess this is a long-winded way of saying to just let them be. You can’t – and probably shouldn’t – force interests. If they want to read, they’ll get around to it eventually. If not, then not. Pleasure reading isn’t the be-all and end-all of pastimes. I enjoy reading, but I know plenty of perfectly intelligent and well-rounded people who don’t. It’s just one of those things.

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