This may not be a word, but it is a perfect description of some books.
I am the type of reader that usually devours books in one sitting, but that is more of a reflection of my reading speed, rather than the merit of any books. When I find a book to be “unputdownable” it means that I start reading it after 9pm and do not go to bed until it is finished. It is a usual thing for my attention to be grabbed by a book in the daytime, but the real mark of a book’s “unputdownable-ness” is if I stay up past my teacher bed time to finish it.
Last night, I had this experience with Touch by Courtney Maum.
This book follows trend forecaster Sloane Jacobson as she engages with a big technology firm to workshop the latest technology. Her partner of 10 years is a French neosensualist and spends his days typing away on his phone or laptop, ignoring her.
I started this book at 10pm and finished it at 12:10am and barely put it down in between.
Because of this COVID-19 world, I was sucked into this book that focused on how we grapple with needing touch and personal connections in this world of technology and automation.
It was unputdownable because I wanted to live vicariously through Sloane and her physical experiences. As, Sloane tries to advocate for more touch and more connections and all I could think was “I want that too.” I know I cannot have that and will not have that at least for awhile, but I felt that momentary loss while reading. Hand shakes, hugs, making out with strangers…all frowned upon during a pandemic and taken for granted by us pre-COVID and by the characters in the book. I know that I never will again.
Whenever I do not like a book or enjoy the reading experience of it, I feel terribly.
I know that authors spend a lot of time crafting a narrative that they are proud of, that makes them a livelihood, and that makes them an author. So, when I read someone’s work and hate it, I feel ashamed. I wonder what’s wrong with me that I did not like it. Then, I go onto Goodreads and I find that I cannot be honest in my review.
This thought/feeling/fear/habit is one that I have mentioned in previous posts and has been on my mind this past week. I read Diary of a Mad Fat Girl by Stephanie McAfee and I just hated it. It was about a quirky, impulsive, funny, and confident (mostly) art teacher, so, by all accounts, I should have loved it. And I didn’t. I found the young female characters to be irrational stereotypes. The younger males were all overly handsome nice, solid, calm, rational, lacking personalities, and boring. The older males were misogynistic cheaters and the older women were wealthy, harmless eccentrics or openly hostile and conniving shrews. The women were always fighting and the plot lines were absurd (Often I like absurd plot lines, just did not like it here.)
That being said, it was what I felt and what I thought. It does not mean that I am right or that I interpreted the characters the way that the author intended. That is why my Goodreads review was “Listen, I didn’t really like this one.” The understatement of the year, but appropriate. I do not think it is my place to rip an author apart because of how I felt about her characters and story. Sometimes, fellow readers will have the above critiques about books that I love. We are all different people with varying tastes and preferences. Books too.
That is why I try to honest about how I felt about a book or interpreted a book, but never accuse an author or book of being awful. That’s not a fact. When I find something to be awful, it is because I did not enjoy it or it was not to my taste. Reviewers would do well to remember this. Myself included.
How do you handle reviewing books you do not like? What books do you like that no one else does? What books do you not like that everyone else does?
When I say I read everything, I mean that I read EVERYTHING.
One of my comfort reading activities, especially after reading or watching something that I really enjoyed or was unsatisfied with, is to take to Tumblr and find fan-fiction for that book or movie or a favorite character.
And, I am not afraid to admit it.
In high school, I stumbled upon LOTR stories and Harry Potter stories. After reading Cassandra Clare’s Draco trilogy, even today, I sometimes cannot separate her story from the Harry Potter canon.
I know that fan-fiction is not thought of as “literature” or as as a respected form of reading or writing, but I love it for what it is. How many budding authors have fine-tuned their craft while creating new universes and situations for beloved characters? How many characters have become beloved because the fan-fiction world took notice of them and gave them storylines they were lacking in a book or movie? How many of us have gotten to enjoy a continuation of our favorite series because someone took the time to write about it for us? How many of us have enjoyed a character/YN pairing that allowed us feel something?…whatever it might be.
Of course fan-fiction has its own issues: quality of writing, questionable themes, and even creating personas for real people, but on the whole, it is a fantastic concept. People are reading more, writing more and exploring more complex emotions through the genre. As an educator and a reader, I love that.
Now, I also love when authors create published fan-fiction…like Jo & Laurie.
Margaret Stohl and Melissa De La Cruz wrote this fun reimagining of Little Women, for readers like me, that maybe wanted a different ending to the book. Some critics of this book slammed it for being “glorified fan-fiction,” but that is exactly what made me enjoy it. I would be lying if I said that I never searched for fan-fiction where Jo and Laurie’s relationship ended differently when I was a teenager. I appreciate that two established and talented authors made something that told the story I was looking for in the early 2000s.
I really enjoyed this creative, new take on Jo’s relationship with Laurie, with her family, and with her writing. And you may too!
In sum, fan-fiction, I like what do….most of the time.
When I was in AP US History (not bragging,) my mind was blown.
Over the summer, our teacher required that we read Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen. I was appalled by all of the “lies” that I had been told. Why was I only learning now, at age 16, that Columbus was maybe not the hero I thought he was?
This idea could be a much longer post about the prevalence of classism, racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, elitism, the patriarchy etc. in our history books. And maybe I will make that post someday, but this post is about how I learned about important people and important facts that do not often make it into history textbooks. I read about women, BIPOC, queer people, and every one in between, often left out or rewritten in standardized texts. I read about struggles and triumphs. I read about the people who fought, voted, and spoke out. I read about events that became more real to me as I read about a historical figure with thoughts and feelings. Reading history beyond textbooks and beyond school humanized events for me. These “alternative history” books give readers, like me, the emotional connection that a textbook is often lacking.
Both were engaging and often moving reads. Both of these groups have been (and often still are persecuted) for who they are, but are such important parts of our country and our country’s history. I learned a lot from these texts.
Highly recommend picking up both books or either and expanding your historical knowledge base!
Ever since the Stay-At-Home orders went to effect, I have been buying books.
I traditionally am not a book buyer. With the immense volume of books I read per year, I normally rely on the library. After a few weeks without this wonderful community resource, I started to buy used books and then new books. I accumulated books from all over the country.
Now, the library is open for curbside pick-up and I am still buying books. This results in the reader’s favorite and least favorite problem: A rather large To Be Read pile.
Just kidding, there’s more to come, but my thesis statement is right there in the title…well, in a much more blunt way than it needs to be. I do not really hate my kindle. I just do not like reading on it all that much.
I write this on the porch of a house, tucked away in the mountains, that I have rented for the week. Time, always in short supply at home, is abundant here.
That means, I read three books today.
(And no judgement from anyone. Please and thank you.)
These books were paperbacks and hardbacks from my local library. How I adore reading a physical book. As a kinesthetic learner with a diagnosed attention disorder, I want, no NEED, to feel a page under my fingers. The paper in between my thumb and index finger grounds me to the story and shifts my focus from everything around me to just the story . Without that physical grounding, I feel like I never really focus on the story and I never really like the story.
But Kindles have buttons you say? I know! But the sensory experience just is not the same.
So it is not that I hate my Kindle, I just struggle with reading on it. I am not ashamed, just stating a hopefully relatable truth.
To be fair, my books took up a lot of room in my bag, so I only brought six on this trip. When I travel on an airplane, I usually fill up my Kindle. A Kindle’s ability to accommodate the enormous number of books I need for a vacation is astounding and wonderful. I AM grateful that they were invented.
In sum, Kindle, I do not hate you. I respect and admire your function. I need you often, even though our reading styles are not always compatible.
Over the summer, I am tutoring one of my former students.
Together, we have been reading The Crossover by Kwame Alexander and The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, their summer reading work.
During tutoring time this week, we got into a conversation about happy endings, or “fairy tales.” They animatedly started explaining that they cannot stand that everything they read and watch has a happy ending. They noticed that in many books the parents push their child hard to succeed, the child rebels, but it all ends up okay in the end.
I asked them what the problem with that was.
They said: “Well, because that’s not what happens in real life.”
I kindly challenged them to think about why we read and watch things: often to escape and sometimes people need happy endings, when there are none in the world. They conceded but offered up the Series of Unfortunate Events as an example of entertainment that people liked, but did not have a happy ending.
Checkmate. I’ve taught you well.
At the end of the day, I agree with them. There seem to be a lot of happy endings in what we read and what we watch these days. And my student speaks the truth real life does not always have a happy ending. So, that made me think: are we setting people up for disappointment?
I say nay.
If we read to escape, to learn, to be entertained, there is a place for a happy ending. I say this without rose colored glasses. I think happy endings bring hope. We can only endure the harsh reality if we have hope that things can be better, that we can make things better.
However, trouble can ensue when the reader starts believing that fiction is reality; that happy endings will always arrive, no matter what. And, they mistake hope for certainty and naivety.
But, that does not mean that people cannot enjoy a happy ending every now and again. Right?
I read so much, that it is always great to add new award winners, authors, and subjects to my “Read” list. Currently, along with three of my teacher friends, I am working on a reading BIPOC authors challenge. Part of our work is our own cultural, racial, and global education. Part of our work is finding new texts to recommend and teach. Part of our work is finding new authors and choosing them purposefully. Part of our work is finding less known authors. And, part of our work is just finding great books.
These are the categories (Note: I have already done two books so far.)
I plan to post updates on the challenge and recommend some of the great new reads that I have found.
Do you have any must-reads for any of these categories? I love recommendations!
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about why and what I tend to re-read. There is one book that I have been re-reading for the last 20 years.
That is a very strange thing to be typing.
The book picture above is the one that has always stuck with me: Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. This epic retelling of the King Arthur legend through the point of view of his mother, his sister, and his aunt was recommended to me by a friend when I was in seventh grade. The mini-series had just come out and the book had magic, strong women, and sex in it. Needless to say, I was in.
If I ever have to pick a favorite book, I usually say this one. Is it perfect? No. Is it controversial? Oh yeah. But, I pick it not for what others would rate it, but because it is the one that I cannot stop thinking about. It is the one that reflected some of my adolescent thinking and my adolescent struggles.
Even at the time, I realized the profound effect that book had on me. I saw strong and smart women struggling for their independence against an emerging patriarchal society. Something I was noticing women in the world around me doing in the early 2000s. I saw women at the center of a religion, healing, and caring and eventually overcome by war and foreign men during a time when I was questioning the religious tenants that I was being raised by. I saw one of my favorite legends through the eyes of a misunderstood, young woman trying to find her place in her family and society, something I thought I was. And of course, in my emerging awareness of sex and hormones, I was addicted to the love stories. I realized all of this at the time. Although, I’m not sure I would have used these words.
Because of this book, I felt like I had the power to conquer anything. I became more interested in world religions and women’s history. Even though the book is fiction, I felt like I was learning that women had a role in history. And I was very into the kissing. Needless to say, I read it again the next year and my friend group passed it around. Mostly because of the kissing. Unfortunately, my mother had seen the mini-series, and told me not to read the book any more because it was “not appropriate.”
I did stop reading it, but neglected to mention that I had already read it. I bought a copy for myself like two years later and she resigned herself to the fact that I was reading it and going to continue reading it. She must have been horrified at the thought that a book with sex, strong women, and paganism was in my hands and that I was empowered by this book to be more vocal about who I was and what I believed. I was relieved. That book came to me at the exact right time.
From that point on, I have re-read the book every few years and my reactions have reflected my own experience at the time. In my teens and early twenties, I identified with the same strong, upstart characters and was still very interested in the kissing. Mostly the kissing. In my mid-late twenties, I hated those characters and was ambivalent towards much of the kissing. All the drama. No one was following any rules. The older characters were too controlling. The younger ones were too whiny. All the men were the worst, except for one, very liberal thinking one.
In my thirties, I have read it once and I find myself with much less anger and frustration towards the characters. I am more in-tune with where all the character’s emotions are coming from. I understand the tough choices the older generations must make. I understand the frustrations of the younger generations, who just want to change. I’m little over the magic and the fantastical elements, although I think they are beautifully written. I still like some of the kissing, although it seems a little uncomfortable to be doing it while lying in the grass or the hay.
This is a book that I know I will read forever. I will carry my memories of the reading experience forever. My reading experience will change and grow forever. This is a book that grows with me and I with it…even though I am not super into fantasy anymore.
Tropes get a bad reputation in the literary world. And I get it.
They are seen as “the easy way” out for writers and any book with these tropes cannot possibly have the same literary value as a text without them.
I even stumbled upon a checklist of tropes and how to avoid them in writing.The blog post claims that readers of YA are sick of them (and some are) and avoiding them or innovating them can help make your writing better (very true.)
As a reader who reads often reads for comfort and enjoyment, I think I like tropes. Well…some of them. They are predictable, relatable, and deliciously cringeworthy. There is something to be said for knowing how something is going to end.
My favorite tropes are “All adults are useless,” especially in a boarding school setting and “The love triangle.” As a 32 year old adult and teacher, I shouldn’t like these tropes. No one is ever in a love triangle basking the symbolism of choosing between their past and present or two sides of themselves through a romantic partner. And, I am an educator! I would never leave students unsupervised long enough for them to solve a murder. It is our job to pay attention!
What I like about these tropes is that they allow for the ultimate literary fantasies to be played out. Isn’t it wonderful to immerse yourself a world where the main character can prove their daring and intelligence, running around and solving conflict without interference from overbearing adults with no sense of fun or visible moral compass? If you are a teen, this trope reinforces the idea that you have a voice and that you can change the world. Isn’t it also wonderful to imagine that you have the choice between two great partners that represent different sides of yourself, choosing who you really want to be with and choosing who you really want to be in the process? Oh, to be young and fictional.
If all of that is wrong, I don’t want to be right.
I do hate forehead kisses and fainting to change the scene…but that is for another day.
How do you feel about tropes? Favorites? Least favorites?