Romance Stories I’ve Quit

This post is part of Top Ten Tuesday, although you’re going to notice, there’s only two things on the list. Maybe because I dislike these things enough for five each?

So, I like romances in my stories. Not all of them, but they’re nice, and when done right create a little warm spot in my chest. But sometimes they frustrate me. Here are those times.

Young Woman and Older Man

I’m not against this on principle. I know people who have married older men, and they’re wonderful together. And there are stories where I actually like this, like Emma. But in books that don’t do it well, I feel a little icky and uncomfortable about it. Often because there’s a weird thing with the power dynamics in the relationship, like the man is the teacher and the woman is the one developing feelings (lookin’ at you, The Paper Magician). Plus, I can’t think of a book (off the top of my head at least) where the reverse happens and a young dude in a lesser position must win the older lady (though I have a feeling that the dynamics would be different in that situation..). Maybe I’m being unfair, but knowing that’s part of the story is enough to put me off altogether.

My First Love, My Only Love

I say this as a woman who went out with one guy ever in college and then married him. I can’t stand it when the romance revolves around a girl who has gone out with one person ever in her life, and now they’re soul mates and want to spend the rest of eternity together (*cough* TWILIGHT *cough*). I think the issue I have with this is that it usually comes up in young adult novels, and how often does it really happen that you stay with the boyfriend you met in your Sophomore science class? (I know it does happen…but how often??) I prefer it even if she recently broke up with someone, or even, at the very least, had other crushes. But your first boyfriend ever?

Again, in some cases it does work out okay (Graceling) but often that’s because there are other circumstances, more of a point to the story than simply the romance. I do get very excited when young adult novels twist on this a little bit, where the main character thinks she wants to be with that one person forever, but then maybe she meets someone new. Because that’s actual life, even if it’s in a world with magic.

What do you think? Am I just being grumpy? And what kinds of stories have you sworn off? Let me know!

Reading Pet Peeves: How Do You “Mouth” Words??

When a book starts to get on my nerves, my tendency is to stop reading. As I’ve said, why should I waste that time? Well, sometimes it’s such a train wreck you can’t stop (New Moon!!!) or sometimes you don’t realize how bad it is until you’re almost done, and by then you’re in for the long haul. Sometimes you really like 95% of the book, there’s just that one thing that makes you super batty… And sometimes you’ve got to read it for a review, and you’ve got to finish it no matter how much of your brain you’re sure has turned into an overcooked marshmallow. In any case, you start to notice things, they start to bother you, and suddenly you have a new pet peeve about books that will pitch you into a rage every time you see it.

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I’m not going to call out the specific book on this one, partly because I know I’ve seen other books do this, this one just had a particular problem with it. When characters mouth words. This is, as far as i can understand, when you move your mouth as if you are speaking, but you purposely don’t make any sound. Okay. Sure. I’ve seen this, I’ve done it myself in real life. But here, I’m not talking about mouthing “Hello!” to someone when you’re on the phone, or “Oh no!” when you’re expressing fear or empathy to a person across the room. I’m talking about characters mouthing full, entire sentences. I won’t quote anything specific, but it’s somewhere along these lines:

“Oh, hi, I’ll be done here in just a minute, grab a sandwich and wait over there, thanks.”

I feel like it should be obvious why this is ridiculous, but I’m going to break it down just in case.

Firstly. When I picture someone “mouthing” words, I imagine exaggerated mouth movements to make what you’re saying obvious. After a couple of words, it’s just going to look ridiculous.

Secondly. I feel like this requires some skill in lip reading from the recipient of the silent message. How many people can do this well? I honestly don’t know, I just know that I can’t figure that stuff out.

Thirdly. The character tends to “mouth” words when they don’t want other characters to know what they’re doing/saying. But when they do it with such long sentences, aren’t they just drawing attention to themselves? Aren’t the other characters going to be wondering what the heck this person is doing? And how on earth are they paying attention to what else is going on?

So, yup. There’s something that bothers me way more than it should! What about you all — what’s bugging you in your books?

Reading Problems: Quitting on Them Books

Sometime last year, I came to a decision that’s changed my reading: I was going to let myself give up on books.

I’ve given up on books before. Three separate starts couldn’t get me through The Count of Monte Cristo, and I just could not handle the third Shopaholic book. But it was always with a lot of hemming, a lot of guilt. How could I leave this book unfinished? How could I abandon this story?

Here’s how. My Goodreads list of books to read is in the hundreds. And even that’s just the mountainous tip of the book pile. There are books that I forget to add, new novels that don’t make it to that list, and all the other books, kid’s lit and nonfiction, that I just pick up on a whim and begin. When I’m reading a book that I wasn’t in the right mood for, or that I honestly don’t like, I think of all those books that I could be reading, that I’d rather be reading.

So why don’t I just read those instead?

I have more books on my list than I could read in a lifetime. I shouldn’t feel obligated to waste more of that time than I have to.

Do you abandon books? Does it kill you inside, or are you fine with it? Or maybe I’m just spouting blasphemy as far as you’re concerned? Let me know, and tell me some books you’ve ditched!

The Bone Season (The Bone Season, #1)Here are some recent ditches of mine, some because I just didn’t feel like it as much as I thought I would, others because I just could not enjoy myself, at all (you can guess what’s what!):

  • The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
  • Kafka by the Shore by Haruki Murakami
  • The Magicians by Lev Grossman
  • Dodger by Terry Pratchett
  • The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
  • Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Bookish Problems I Have

Though there are not ten listed here, this post is part of the Top Ten Tuesday meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme: what are some bookish problems you have? Some of these are goofy, some have to do with space, and some are just weird ways I read.

  • Not Enough Shelves. Though I’ve done some culling in my book collection, I still deal with double-stacked shelves and books piled under desks (I’m kicking some right now). I’ve gotten my collection down almost to it’s purest form, so the next solution is more shelving! …Except that there are no more walls.
  • Too Many Books to Read. Sometimes, when I’m shelving books at the library, I look at all the new books and think, “Wow, I want to read a dozen of these.” Then I remember all the books on the graphic novel shelf, in the fantasy section, the classics, those children’s books, and then all the unread books back home…I have to stop touching the books then before I slide into a tear-soaked panic.
  • TSUNDOKU. I know I have books to read at home. And I have library books I’ve been renewing for weeks. But then I go to the store and suddenly I have five more books. It is a very real problem.
  • My Dog. Sometimes when I’m reading she starts licking the corner of my book, trying to figure out what’s more fascinating than she is. Or I’ll be dutifully rubbing her ears, but god forbid I stop for 1.5 seconds so I can turn the page, causing her to nudge my arm or whap me with her paws until I start again. (Yeah, much worse problems to have. And I realize, I made her this way, but she’s so dang cute.)
  • Can’t Always Visualize Characters. I feel like this sounds bad, but I don’t always manage to fully visualize people when I’m reading. If I slow down in my reading to think about it, I realize that most of the time people are like fuzzy outlines in my head, and unless I put a considerable amount of conscious effort into imagining them — THIS is what their hair looks like, THIS is what the dress looks like — they stay that way the whole time. Maybe that’s why I like comics so much…?
  • Flipping Ahead. I flip ahead through pages to see how much longer a chapter or an entire book is, so I can measure how many pages I have to go. Sometimes this is good — I don’t want to start 20 pages of unbroken text when I want to go to sleep in 10 minutes — but it makes me feel impatient about finishing a book, and I’ve even accidentally spoiled things for myself in the past, and I hate spoilers with a fiery rage. Reading on my Nook helps with this, since I can’t easily flip ahead, but then I find myself overcome by WANT to flip forward.

There’s my list — do you have any bookish problems? Let me know, or make your own list!

Unfinished Books: Preventing Disappointment

A little while ago, I gave myself permission to give up on books, to leave them unfinished if I felt I wasn’t enjoying myself. While I have a list of books I’ve given up before, I’ve always felt guilty about it — like it’s me, letting the book down. Which is silly, but, also, it’s my brain, so. But, telling myself not to feel guilty (or at least less guilty) has helped me cease reading when the book wasn’t doing it for me.

The past few months I’ve been having an extra problem with it. There are at least a dozen books I’ve cracked open and then put aside before even reaching the halfway point. While in retrospect I agree with my reasons for ditching those books — not in the mood, could only think of other books I wanted to start while slogging through this one — I still don’t really like doing it, since I’m wasting precious book time. So I’ve been thinking: How to keep this from happening entirely?

  • books by johnny_automatic - Line and Form by Walter Crane, 1914Test the waters. Not sure about a book? Crack it open, give it a quick read. Sometimes I read the first page or two before I take an unknown library book home to see if the opening sentences hook me. A friend (who obviously doesn’t care nearly as much about spoilers as I do) reads the last page to find out if she cares to learn how the characters got there. Maybe you want to flip to the middle and see how the writing carries through.
  • Check your mood. Yeah, you’ve been meaning to read that 1,200 page fantasy novel…but is that what you really want to read right now? Maybe you’re more in the mood for a funny essay, or an emotional but quick young adult novel. I try to make sure I have the right attitude for a book so I don’t prematurely cast it aside, or feel like I have to slog through. Which brings me to…
  • No “obligation” reads. Unless you’re in school, or it’s for a job, or you’re doing a writing friend a favor, there are very few books that you have to read. Never read Jane Austen? Don’t worry, the English Majors police won’t shoot you (they may give you funny looks, though). Can’t get amped up for that popular paranomral thing everyone you work with is talking about? No big deal, you can stand to be left out of the conversation sometimes, maybe (not really, but you’ll figure it out). Basically, you have too many books to read (I don’t know about you, but my Goodreads “To Read” list is over a hundred long, and I can’t think of anything to cut) so why waste precious reading hours on something that feels like a chore?
  • Careful about those impulses. I’ve done it. You grab a book with a pretty cover and an interesting title off the shelf, only never to open it, or to start and find out that the writing isn’t very good, or that the main character is irritating (this is while I drop a book more than anything — if I can’t stand the MC why should I follow him?) I’ve had lots of good impulses — I only read Amy Tan because I snatched The Joy Luck Club of a book sale cart at the last second — but there are too many other books that I’ve grabbed on a whim only to add another book to my unfinished list. If leaving a book half-finished bugs you that much, I suggest holding back and doing a little research before you lug those books home.

I’m hoping that if I check down the list I’ll keep myself from wasting time on books I don’t feel like, or that I don’t really want to read. But mistakes happen; you are misled. Even with your anticipation the book’s just not hitting any of the right chords. And then you have to figure out if, or likely when, to give it up.

Time for Poetry

I like to read poetry (what writer admits to otherwise?) but I don’t read it often. Partly this is because I’m picky. I have a hard time finding poems that I don’t simply appreciate, but also connect with, love. I like it when poems are (or, even better, appear to be) something simple that I can read and on some level understand, and then want to go back so I can find the other meanings, or just hear again the calming, uneven sound (I also prefer when they don’t rhyme). I realize there are many poems that can fit inside my tastes, but another problem is that I forget to seek them out.

The other obstacle, which is the reason it can take me months to finish one book of poetry, is that I like to read poems out loud. It helps me find the rhythm (or at least my version of the rhythm) and hearing the words, even in my own voice, makes the poem stronger, more real to me. This means I can’t really read poems in public places, and I don’t like to do it when I’m just sitting with others. Not only would me reading something out loud potentially invade their space, but it would draw them into my space. While getting this attention could just as well be good as bad, and I’m generally anxious to share when I’ve found some wonderful piece of writing, reading poetry is a private thing for me. I like to have myself in a personal pocket of space, where it’s me and the words and my voice, whether I’m whispering or speaking loudly.

 

To close off, I want to share something from Billy Collins, a poet I’ve only recently found who’s book, Aimless Love, I am slowly drifting through. This is the last stanza of his poem, “Bathtub Families”, where he talks about the plastic animal families meant to float in a bathtub that he saw in the pharmacy.

I think what I am really saying is that language

is better than reality, so it doesn’t have

to be bath time for you to enjoy

all the Bathtub Families as they float in the air around your head.

Reading Problems: Focusing

I often lament that I don’t have the time to read as much as I want. I have to get my writing done, go to my job, finish chores, walk a dog, spend time with a husband. I look forward to things like airplane rides when I’m trapped in one spot with nothing but my book to help while away the time.

With reading lists like this, who has time for weird anxieties?
With reading lists like this, who has time for weird anxieties?

Then those moments arise, and as I try to read, try to sink into whatever book I’m working through at the moment, I can’t focus. In a different house, with the television occupied, the people I wanted to talk to off for an extended errand, the dog asleep and my car keys believed to be with previously mentioned absentees, I should have had the time to read. I should have finished reading the memoir I’m working on right now and started the novel I’d also brought along for the trip. But I could not focus. I kept thinking of vague “things” I should be doing, places I should go (though I had nowhere in mind), people I wanted nearby (though I get annoyed when they distract me).

Sitting and reading for hours, without a reason to feel guilty for it, is so rare now that I think I no longer know how to do it. I know how to read in bits, a half hour before work, in between pieces of conversation, while trying to ignore the television in a crowded room. Long, focused reading (not counting when editing my own or a critique partner’s manuscript) is a childhood skill I seem to have lost. And I want it back.

Reading Problems: Learning to Give Up

Sometimes, when looking at the “New Books” section of the library, I get a little depressed. Not because everything is so terrible — quite the opposite. There are so many new books coming out, all the time, that I want to read. What gets me down is the realization I get, that, with a backlog list a hundred miles long, I will never be able to read everything I want.

With so many things I want to read, and a list that grows faster than I can burn through books, there’s something I’ve had to come to terms with. Giving up. Sometimes you start a book, you think you’re going to like it, but then, halfway through, or partway, or after the first paragraph, you realize, this thing is not for you. I feel weird, leaving things unfinished, so usually, unless I really hate the book, or I’m only a page or so in, I’ll slog through to the end, so say I completed the journey. But how much reading time does that take away from books that I could really love, or books that I’ve been meaning to read for years? What’s the point in spending all that time — and it is so much time — reading a book if you don’t love every moment of it, if in the end you regret your choice?

So I’m learning to give up on books. I might hate them, or I might just be unimpressed, if I’m not excited to drop on the couch and crack that spine, I don’t see why I should waste another moment.

 Obvious exceptions: Books I’m reviewing, books I need to discuss with friends/coworkers, I’m stuck on a plane and I only brought one book somehow.

What do you do if you don’t like a book (you’re not required to read)? Do you soldier on? Or toss it aside? Do you have any exceptions?

Image found on google, from telegraph.co.uk

Writers Writing About Writers?

I recently finished reading Amy Falls Down, a novel about a writer that I really enjoyed. Now, for obvious reasons, I enjoy reading books with a writer as the main character; whether or not the character is a representation of the author it’s fun for me to get an insight into other writer’s brains. But do other people even care?

In the story I’m working on the main character’s magic comes from her ability to parse words and craft stories, so this is coming from someone who does it herself. For people who like to read, but are not writers, is it actually interesting to read about a writer’s life? I’d like to think it could be, in the same way I’m interested in stories about detectives and athletes and factory workers. These are lives that are so different from my own, and I love to see how they are lived and how they can relate back to my own. But, there does seem to be an inordinate numbers of writers in fiction (I just finished Flora and Ulysses, and the mother is a writer). Am I just noticing it because I’m a writer, too? Is it excessive, or self-indulgent, for writers to place more of their kind within fiction? Do Readers (with a capital “r”) enjoy it — do people who only read occasionally enjoy it — or is it annoying?

I don’t know why I’m thinking about it so much, but I’m interested in what other people have to say about it.

Reading Problems – Ditching My Books

I have a lot of books. I remember I used to keep track of my manga, which was up in the hundreds, and that’s not counting every other kind of book I cling to. I knew the pain of lifting boxes filled with those books when I moved with my parents into their current home, so when I moved out for good I knew I couldn’t take everything; forget that they wouldn’t have fit, I’d have died before I got them all up the stairs. For the first time, instead of ditching a couple books here or there that I wouldn’t read, I was determined to get rid of whole chunks, a significant amount. Some novels, yes, but also manga series I had never finished, would never return to. This went completely against my nerd-tendency to cling onto all the things I’d collected. But I needed a little more space and breathing room to move on with my life, so those things had to go.

Lately I’ve been piling up more books to get rid of. Some of them were review items which I had no real attachment to anyway, or cheap used books that piled up from my stint in a used bookstore. Others were novels or even some books from college days which I knew I would never read again.

Then there was my manga collection again. I’ve mostly confined my collection to one bookshelf, though it’s double stacked, and I’ve got stuff on the top as well. But there’s also stuff that has spilled over to the floor, no place for it to go. Looking through it, I’ve basically whittled it down to things I don’t think I’d get rid of: Emma is too precious, Fullmetal Alchemist still stands as one of my favorite things. If I haven’t finished the series yet, I’m still determined to, like with Hoshin Engi. There are some that I’m reviewing that I’ll likely get rid of once I get to the end, or for whatever reason cease to review, but I’m hanging on to them for now, on the unlikely chance that I need to go back to the beginning to check…something. But there are others that I’ve realized I’m never going to complete, I’m never going to reread…and they had to go.

I brought a couple of series to the library I work at yesterday, to see if the librarian in charge wanted them for the young adult shelf. She did. Which is great: they’ll have a shelf to live on, where people who want to read or reread them can take them out. But as she brought them out back to get put in the system, she passed me and said, “They’re off to get stickered, say goodbye!” And I almost said, no, stop, I changed my mind, give those back. Because even though I haven’t read them in years, they were things that have been around with me for a long time, moving to college, and home, and away again. I was clinging to them, even though I couldn’t remember the last time I’d cracked one open, or the last time I felt like I might want to. My house is too cluttered. I want clean shelves and open floors. And someday soon, we’ll move again, and if I’m going to be lugging something up and down stairs, and taking the time to find it a home on a shelf, I want it to be something I know deep down is worth it to me, not just because I used to love it, but because I love it now.