You know I take a lot of books out of the library. I currently have a lot of books out of the library. Having a lot of books out of the library right at this very second doesn’t stop me from adding even more books to my hold list, many of which immediately look much more appealing than the ones I have currently sitting next to me, unfinished or as yet unopened. Perhaps this is the problem with considering the library your personal book storage area — I can just put some of these back for now and look at the other ones, and swap them around at will. It’s just storage after all, it’s not like they vanish into the void if I don’t read them. I will just go back into storage and get them again when I need them! Like my summer clothes when it gets warm.
I do not own any summer clothes, but I am trying to relate to you, normal humans with normal human lives.
In order to facilitate this process, I threw up some polls on my Instagram yesterday, one for each book I have out from the library currently. Two options:
👍 – Keep the book, read it now, or read a chapter before deciding
👏 – Send it back now, maybe take it out again later, perhaps never look at it again, with an understanding that if you selected this option and did not also message me to tell me the book was absolute garbage and would definitely be a waste of my time, I would definitely know and hold a grudge forever
I wasn’t feeling well last night — or today (yawn disease, it’s very serious) — so only took a quick look at the polls before slipping into a 12 hour light coma. I figured I’d look at the final totals after 24 hours and send what needed to go back out with Phil on Friday, when a whole bunch should be ready to be picked up. When I went to sleep, all the polls were leaning fairly heavily in whichever way they were leaning, and split pretty evenly among which ones I should read now and which should go back.
Well, when I woke up, they’d pretty much all shifted over the line into “keep and read now.” Every single one of them.
I’ve only got two eyes and to be honest, the one on the right is swollen closed a good 40% of the time, (am I winking? am I preparing to audition for Hook 2? is it trigeminal autonomic cephalalgias? I like to keep an air of mystery.) so while I appreciate your individual participation efforts, collectively you’re all terrible.
That said, everyone does enjoy a good quiz or participatory poll in which we get to voice our opinions and preferences about things that ultimately don’t matter in the grand scheme of the world but still allow for the space to hold Very Firm Ideas, so here are some book related This or That? style questions for you to answer.
I suppose this could be the difference between a character-driven book or a plot-driven book, though many books with heavy character development can also have tight and contained plots, and many books focused on a specific event can have a very defined cast of characters. But setting aside the books in the middle of the Venn diagram here, which do you prefer?
For following one character or perhaps group of characters, I think of something like A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, or maybe A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. Yeah, stuff happens, but mostly you’re on a long meandering path through life with these specific characters. For a more isolated event type thing, maybe something like a suspense/thriller novel such as The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena — a child disappears, we find out who is responsible; or The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker — the book starts with the onset of a virus and ends when the virus goes away.
So, for you: one character(s) or one event?
This one is pretty self-explanatory, but the next couple of questions are about series in general, so I suppose I should ask if you even like series to begin with, understanding of course that you could prefer one or the other but still pick up your non-preferred option if you’re feeling compelled enough.
I don’t think we need examples for this one, so for you: a series or a standalone?
When you find a book you like, do you want to just spend as long as possible in that particular world with those particular characters, or do you want several books-worth of one deep story arc?
For a series with multiple stories, I’m thinking things like say, The Baby Sitters Club — all the same characters, different stories. Or maybe the Shopaholic series. Again, same main character, different main events in each book. I think long running detective novel series could fit here, too, where it’s a million different murders and the same detective solving each one in different books and honestly isn’t anyone suspicious of this detective yet?
A series with one arc is pretty easy to come up with a bunch, what with the rise of the dystopian trilogies from a little while back. So something like The Hunger Games or Divergent – it’s several books, but there’s going to be an end to the overall story at some point.
For you: in a series, a lot of the same people or a lot of the same story?
This is one of my biggest problems — I want to be in on anything fun and exciting that people are enjoying, but like many or even most people, I imagine, I struggle to keep up momentum when I have to wait a long time between books. And I have a terrible knack for hearing about things just a little late sometimes, and joining in right when the second to last book has just come out. And then I have to WAIT. And if I have to wait a long time, I have to go back and reread the earlier books to prepare for the finale when it comes out.
If I wait for a complete series, though, I miss out on all the fun excitement and buildup hype as the series is released, and I HATE missing out on things that look exciting that I could have joined, I WOULD ALSO LIKE TO WAVE THE FLAG AND WEAR THE MATCHING JACKET. But on the other hand, I can read everything in one big swoop, and people who are very big fans are enthused that I am finally GETTING IT, and I get that because I truly love it when someone gets into something I have been into forever and demand round the clock text updates while I try to keep myself from exploding with glee that THEY’RE GETTING IT, THEY’RE SEEING IT.
For you: do you want to be in on it from the start and join the fandom from the ground up, or wait until it’s all done and possibly miss out on the excitement build up, but get the satisfaction of bingeing the whole thing?
Okay, look, there’s space for everything in all of our reading. There are a lot of important books out there. A lot of heavy books out there. A lot of stuff to make you think, a lot of stuff critics are going to call “beautifully” written, a lot of stuff that is going to challenge you and maybe make you uncomfortable and maybe be hard to get through AND A LOT OF STUFF PEOPLE CALL LITERARY FICTION which I totally know is a valid classification but causes an immediate SOUNDS LIKE HOMEWORK recoil reaction in me. And there’s also the other stuff.
Remember when 50 Shades was first a Thing and people were calling it Mommy Porn (shut the fuck up) and people were hiding that they read it or being kind of ashamed to admit that they read it or being outright shamed by smug asshole think pieces about why dumb silly women were reading dumb silly things when the men were reading Important Books (they were the fuck not) and ugh, you remember all that, right? Thank fuck that’s over, and don’t bother to tell me if it’s not, because I will read a book of wall to wall sex broken only by pages dedicated not to plot or dialogue but merely instructions to rest my chicken finger there on the page because nothing important like sex was going to happen on that page so it won’t matter if it gets a little greasy, I do not give a shit and I am not embarrassed, I am a goddamn adult and do what I want.
THAT SAID, there are a lot of very important books out these days, a lot of books that are hard or challenging to read, a lot of stuff we should read, and that’s all very good, but it’s lead to a whole new kind of guilt feeling, one not attached so much to what I am reading but more attached to what I am not reading at the moment instead. There are a lot of books these days I want to read and more than that, feel obligated to read, like feel like I must bear witness to this book, it is a responsibility and something I must do, and every time I hold up a different book, it feels — TO ME, I do not know what everyone ELSE is thinking because that is not my business but that will not keep me from thinking MY things — like I am announcing what I am not reading rather than what I am, and everyone is reading very Big and Important and Heavy Things and thinking Thoughts about them and I am over here like “I WAS TOLD THIS ONE HAS FAERIE SEX.”
So this is the question: understanding that we are all adults and we all have very limited time to read. Understanding that we do all truly want to be well-rounded people. Understanding that we all know the importance of exposing ourselves to hard topics and deep dives and new perspectives. Understanding that none of us are putting any value judgments on each other EITHER WAY. And understanding that for a lot of us, finding the time to read a single book a month at best often means choosing between the lightweight escape and the more culturally important or lofty “literary fiction” book (whether it is non-fiction, a novel, YA, etc) that everyone is talking about. Which way are you going?
For you: if you’ve got the time and brain space for one book a month, is it The Important One or The Other One?
Okay, five is enough for now because I just thought of fourteen more. I’m going back up to the title right now, braving the spikes, to add “Pt 1.” I will gather more opinions from you another time.
I mentioned in another post that I do not buy a lot of books. It’s not that I don’t want to own books (it is, it is that I don’t want to own books), but owning the number of books I would end up owning would be impractical on so many fronts.
First of all, we only have one bookshelf, and it is in my child’s room. She owns a lot of books. I cannot resist a Scholastic flier or a book fair and I’m not sorry. She also came into my bedroom the other day and said to me, “Didn’t you say you’d buy me anything I want as long as it’s a book?” Hmm, yes… that does sound like something I’d say. The manga has begun to arrive.
Second of all, I moved a bunch after college and then I married a guy in the military, and I’ve moved so many times. So many times. Moving books is the most hateful thing. Such a pain to pull off the shelves and gather from all around the house. So many very small, very heavy boxes. Such a pain to put BACK on the shelves.
Third of all, series. What if I buy one book of a series and it’s got a number on the spine, but I don’t like it, or I start it and don’t end up picking it back up to finish until some other time, and it’s just sitting there on my shelf with a number on it, clearly part of a set, and I don’t have the rest of the set, and it’s just existing in my house, INCOMPLETE? Who can live like that? I’d never sleep again.
Fourth of all, the way I read is a combination of mood reader/trend reader/obligation reader and it’s just inefficient to buy books — I can’t afford to buy them 15 – 20 at a time knowing that I’ll only read a few of them any time soon, leaving the rest to multiply in the night in my house, which they do. Even as a non-book buyer, every day in this house I come across a book that must be mine, because I am the one who lives here, but I have no idea when or where I acquired it or what made me acquire it in the first place and the obvious answer — book sex in the night.
The library is the solution for me. I can take out as many books as I want, read them, or read a chapter of them, or not read them at all, and send them back when I’m done. If I really liked something, I can get it again. If I thought I might like something but didn’t get to it, I can renew it, or get it again. If I started something and it wasn’t for me, I can send it back, and later if someone insists that I definitely will like it if I give it another chance, I can get it again. Nothing is gone forever, but in the meantime, someone else is storing it for me. Bless a library and all their shelves for storing all the books I have read and might want to read again, or meant to read but didn’t get a chance to, or started to read and thought maybe I’d like it better another time.
Okay, I understand that the library is not my personal book storage, but also… isn’t it? It kind of is.
I’ve talked about my extensive and obsessive holds management on a couple of platforms and it’s become clear that some people either aren’t using library holds at all, aren’t using them to their full power, or are very bad at using them. Elizabeth. So I’ve decided to do my best to tell you how I use them, though I appreciate that my methods might not be for everyone. If you just like going to the library and wandering and choosing a few books that happen to be there, that’s fine. If you only use holds when you’re after a popular book with a waitlist, that’s fine, too. If you’re suffering from “fuck, all my holds came in at once and I have normal human life obligations” syndrome, I can help you with that. If you’ve never used holds, don’t know what you can do with them, oh boy, let’s do this.
First, for those of you who have never used holds at all, you might think the holds system is limited to just waiting in line for a popular book, and you can absolutely use it that way. A sort of “set it and forget it” type of thing, where you place a hold on a book and you’re 253rd in line and you just go about your life until the library alerts you that it’s your turn. Then you go and get it. Very handy.
What you may not know is that you’re not limited to placing holds just on books not currently physically in the library. I mean, most of you probably know, but bear with me, we should bring everyone along on the library holds system journey, even the ones totally new to the concept.
In reality, what you can do is basically online shop for your books. Search the online catalog while logged into your library account and when you find something you want, you should be offered the option to place a hold. If you live in an area with interlibrary loan, this can include books that are at other branches, even really inconveniently located branches. There doesn’t have to be a waitlist for the book — it’s fine if you’re the only one interested and it’s just sitting on the shelf in there. Of course, you could use the online search to see if it’s just sitting on the shelf in there and just walk in and get it yourself, but you don’t have to.
Once you’ve submitted a hold, or 15 holds, or 50 holds, the librarians will go and get them off the shelves, if they’re physically present in your home branch, and if they’re not there but they are physically present in another branch, they will order them for you. In my library system, the inter-library loan… vehicle? — I want to imagine it’s a cargo van painted with books but it’s probably some boring car with a small library system logo on it because no one likes fun or wants to see me live my dreams — travels between all the branches once or twice a weekday and delivers all the requested books to the home branch of the person who requested it. When your books are ready, the library will alert you.
I don’t know about your branch, but mine is not especially economical with the notifications — I have been on the phone making a doctor’s appointment only to have my phone go off with 15 texts in a row. “So — Sor — Sor — SORRY — just a sec — just — hang on — sorry — just a — okay. Sorry about that. Library books.”
Then you just go into the library and they’re all waiting for you at the counter, like curbside pickup. Except it’s books, not hamburgers.
I bet they could make a KILLING if it was also hamburgers, though.
When I first started doing this and the numbers of books I was requesting at a time started creeping higher and higher, I worried that I was being a real pain in a librarian’s ass. However, I have since been assured by multiple sources that one, taking out lots of books is good — the more books are circulating, the more it helps the library’s budget. I don’t know how, that’s why it’s called library science, you need experts to explain that part. Moreover, the task of wandering through the library pulling the requested books off the shelves is one of the less tedious tasks one might find in a library. So really, have fifteen or twenty books at a time. It’s your job to boost circulation numbers, and it’s their job to get your books for you, and they PROMISED me they don’t hate it.
Holds can be active — they’ll pull the book for you as soon as it’s available, even the same day if it’s in the building right then, or suspended — you have taken your place in line (even the first place in line), but don’t want the book right now for whatever reason. Anyone else requesting the book can have it, and people behind you in line will jump over you, but if you’re 3rd in line when you place and suspend your hold, you are 3rd in line when you activate your hold.
When I am specifically looking for book recommendations or watching booktube videos or scrolling through bookstagram or doing anything at all that is exposing me to a lot of books I haven’t read but might like to, I always have my library account open in another tab. I search the book and if I find it, I put it on hold and immediately suspend the hold. By the time I’m done dicking around online for the night, I’ve usually added 10-20 suspended holds to my list.
Once I’m done, I check in to see where I stand with everything.
If I’m way far back on the list, I’ll usually immediately unsuspend the hold so that I keep moving along the list as people take their turns. Also, this may be particular to my library system, I don’t know, but the “on XX copies” is never accurate. I don’t know how they’re counting their copies of books — best I can figure, it includes the physical books, the ebooks, the audiobooks, whatever versions they have. Even then, I assure you, there are not 95 copies of a single book in this small town library system. Some of them will say I’m hold #5 on 0 copies, all while cheerfully moving people along the line. If there are zero copies, what are you lending, library? I don’t know what that’s about, but it’s weird and I ignore it. Point is, if I’m something like #141 on a supposed but suspicious 95 copies, I know I’m not making it to number one soon. I’ll keep an eye on my place and as I finally get to number 4, 3, 2, etc, I’ll either leave it unsuspended, or suspend it then to hold my place at the front if I’m not quite ready for it.
Next I look at the ones where I don’t care where I am in the line, first or millionth, I want it as soon as it’s available, and unsuspend those, as well. Our trips to the library will revolve around when the books I am most excited for become available. These could be new releases or backlist, doesn’t matter, I don’t know what’s going to blow my skirt up at any given time.
Everything. Else. Stays suspended. Poor management of the suspend feature is how you end up with your book cycle synced up to a reader of similar style who also is poor at holds management, landing you repeatedly in the “oh fuck, all my holds came in at once and I have normal human obligations” situation over and over again.
This does not happen to me, do you know why? Because I am an expert at holds management and also I have no normal human obligations.
My negotiation with suspended holds revolves around my husband, really — trying to minimize his trips to the library because I can’t drive — I do want you to know, though, and I don’t know why it’s important to me that you know but it is, that I can drive, I am capable of driving a car, it’s just that at the moment, I don’t have a license, because when my husband was in the military, I was allowed to have an expired license, and when he retired, I had to get an updated license, and it had been so long since I’d had a valid license (my expired license was technically valid!) that I actually had to retest and reapply, which involved getting my doctor to sign off, and she was like “oh, honey, no.” I didn’t get my license taken away, I just… have not yet gained the medical authorization to possess a driver’s license again.
I know how to drive a car! I’m just not allowed!
My suspended books are my fill in books. If I wanted/needed them the second they were available, I wouldn’t have them suspended. Rather, they’re just things that caught my interest for one reason or another and I mean to get to them at some point. Sometimes books languish on there for so long that by the time I get them, I am getting books from when I was deep in an “oh yeah I’m definitely going to be a thriller person” phase and turns out I was wrong. Eight months ago.
When one of my non-suspended holds that I want right away becomes available, I look through my suspended holds and see where they’re at — this does involve tediously clicking on each link to see how many physical copies there actually are and what branches have them. If my husband is going to return some books due that day, I’ll unsuspend some holds that I’m the only person in line for that are also available at my specific branch — if I do that in the morning, they’ll be ready for him to pick up after work. I don’t like to send him in for just one book, even though he also assures me that library business is no chore, since it’s directly on his way to and from work.
No, I have to engage in my LEAST favorite book trope — “I have to do what I think is best for you even though you have given absolutely no indication that you need or want me to be high handed in this manner as you are perfectly capable of deciding what’s best for you on your own.”
If I know I have books that have to go back within a few days, I’ll also unsuspend some holds that are located at other branches — they usually show up within a day, two at most. If I think they’ll arrive at my branch before books in my possession need to be returned, I’ll switch them to active so they have a chance to arrive, saving Phillip a trip. Well, in theory. In reality, I still send him to the library with obnoxious frequency, but I do my best. Books that get pulled have a few days grace period where they stay reserved for you, so this is where I practice my most intricate juggling — when things I have must go back, how long I have before the things that have been pulled for me will be given to the next people on the list or put back on the shelves, how many books I have coming from other libraries and when I think they might arrive and sometimes — sometimes — I’ll check when a book I am next in line for is due to be returned, and take a gamble on the person who has it actually returning it on time and unsuspend that one, too.
I’ll be honest, that last bit fails a bunch, especially now that books are being held in quarantine for 72 hours once they’re returned. That’s usually the reason Phil ends up at the library twice a week.
I send books back almost as soon as I’m done with them, and I try to make it so Phil doesn’t go to the library to drop things off without also having a stack waiting there for him to collect. I’m efficient. My bed is also usually absolutely covered in library books that he unceremoniously throws onto my legs when he gets in bed at night (by “absolutely covered,” I mean I put them in my book storage, and by my book storage, I mean Phil’s side of the bed).
I have to keep pretty good track of due dates, too, because the books come in to me in batches, but they don’t leave me in the same batches. I almost never renew a whole set at once — if I know I’m just not going to pick it up soon, I send it back. I can always get it again. If I finished one from a batch of books I got two days ago and one from a batch of books I got three weeks ago, I’ll send them back together (and of course more come home, with yet another due date). It is absolutely unreasonable of me to tell you, a person with normal human obligations, to keep track of 15+ books, all with different due dates and different numbers of renewals left and absolutely nothing able to be efficiently batched together to make sure books are read and returned in an orderly fashion to suit your probably pretty orderly life. The way I do things is absolute nonsense and no one could reasonably be expected to obsessively manage their holds in such a manner, but I THINK IT WOULD BE REAL COOL IF YOU DID.
In exchange for putting up with my nonsense, I will tell you a cool trick — as soon as you hear about an upcoming book that you’re very interested in, search your library for it. If they’ve ordered it, it will say “on order,” which means… they ordered it. They don’t have it because it’s not out yet. You can drop yourself right into the first in line spot for that book as soon as it arrives. YOU FIRST.
And? And? And? If the library does not have the book on order you can just REQUEST THAT THEY BUY IT. And this varies from library system to library system, but chances are good that they will! Then get in line! And store your new book at the library in your personal book storage!
I am interested to hear how you are using library holds. Not at all, just browsing the shelves in person and picking up what looks interesting? Only for popular books where you want to make sure you’re in line? OBSESSIVELY AND IN A DEEPLY, DEEPLY COOL FASHION, LIKE MYSELF?
Thank you for your attention to my library neurosis.
Obviously we all want to read new and interesting and novel things, completely unique stuff we’ve never encountered before that ends up being like absolutely nothing else we’ve ever seen before and is also somehow incredible (because we must assume that part of the reason we have never seen certain things before is that they suck and never make it into our field of attention). Sure, yes, of course, excellent, I would like to read new and interesting and novel things.
But also I want to read the same things over and over until I die, and I’m not sorry about it.
While I will absolutely read the same books over and over again until I die, I think I am only about halfway finished with life, probably, so will also allow for the idea that I would like to read different versions of the same things over and over again until I die.
That said, here are fourteen unnecessarily specific features/tropes/plot points I like in books. If I hear one of these things is in a book, I am going to read that book. If one of these things is in a book and I read that book and I don’t like the book, I will be bewildered and howl to the skies, which are actually just my bedroom ceiling because I don’t go anywhere, “BUT IT HAS THE THING I LIKE, WHAT THE FUCK.” To be fair — or spectacularly unfair — though, I’m not only overly specific about these things, but also incredibly picky in a way I will not be able to fully explain, as well.
Knowing I am a fussy asshole about them will not stop me from feeling a mighty and righteous betrayal should one of these things fail me. I was born like this. I can’t do anything about it at this point.
I will do my best to explain things in a way that doesn’t boil down to “this is this way because this is the way it is,” and provide examples, as well. Some of these are infuriatingly nebulous, some go all the way back to books I read thirty years ago that imprinted on me or something. Some I am wildly dedicated to, yet can’t provide an example of it being done in a way that satisfies me properly. Including them may feel like I am breaking some sort of rules, but we’re less than 400 words into this post, so you can still scroll back up to check and see that I haven’t set any rules and I do what I want.
We’re over 400 words now and I haven’t even gotten started with the list, if that gives you any indication of what sort of supplies you should lay in for the rest of this journey.
Here are the 14 excessively specific yet somehow also vague features, tropes, and plot points I like in books and will read variations of over and over until I die. All book titles link out, something I will have to verbally inform you of until I fix this beshitted blog.
Ok, this one I can definitely trace back to being a kid the first time I encountered it – The Westing Game, obviously. I have been looking for The Westing Game in different books for thirty solid years. Another that I remember from childhood is one called Serendipity Summer, one I can’t actually find on Goodreads or Amazon, so perhaps halucinated it? I believe it was by Paula Danziger or someone in that general area, you know what I mean. Two sets of siblings have to spend their summer together, and their parents set them up a sort of scavenger hunt/list of activities to do in NYC. If they complete everything, they win some international trip at the end of the summer. I think. I am not certain. I have not read either The Westing Game or Serendipty Summer in 30 years, so I have no idea if they hold up, or if I even have an accurate idea of what they are. The point is, I like a book with some kind of game element, and not just children’s literature, those are just the two I remember inspiring this. Another example is Ready Player One.
A scavenger hunt or a mystery set up by an eccentric billionaire or even some sort of Amazing Race-like competition would work here, and I can imagine there might be some mysteries/thrillers out there with a similar feel, but more of a higher stakes sort of thing — like instead of completing a game to win a prize, it’s following clues from a killer to catch them before they kill the protagonist/someone else. Did I just describe mysteries? You know what I mean. Murder, but make it a game.
Let’s knock out another childhood-originating concept. When I was a toddler, I went to an in-home daycare. My sister, less than 2 years younger than me, also went there, and my brother, who no one ever remembers exists because he’s 8 years younger than me and to be entirely fair, I routinely forget to mention he exists, also went there, so my family had a pretty long relationship with the woman who ran it. When my brother was still attending, I was in the third/fourth grade and reading like a child raised before the internet existed, because that’s what I was. Knowing I was plowing through books at an absolutely unreasonable rate, the woman who ran the daycare gave my mother a box of her daughter’s old books for me, which is why so many of my formative books are a bit… dated. Anyway! The Caitlin Series by Francine Pascal, you know that one? It’s about a girl who attends a super upscale boarding school, with horses and stuff, and maybe she isn’t a really great girl, even though she kind of seems like an excellent person on the surface. There’s an accident that she is responsible for but lets someone else take the blame for, and she spends the trilogy just developing into a non-shit human as a result. That doesn’t matter. The point is, from there on, boarding school books are my thing.
Other examples: Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld. Looking for Alaska by John Green. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.
I am hoping to get a lot of recommendations for this one, even though recommendations might be spoilers. By “secret identity,” I don’t mean superheros or the like — though I suppose I could. No, the particular version of this I like is when two people are talking online, and either one or both of them doesn’t know they know the other one in real life. Maybe they’re just friends in real life, or maybe they hate each other, doesn’t matter. It’s fun when neither of them know they’re talking to each other, and it’s fun when one knows and they other doesn’t and they’re trying not to get caught. Or something like Eliza and Her Monsters, where Eliza is writing a very well known and popular web comic, and the people around her are all very aware of it, but none of them know she is the writer. Same as Fangirl, really — which I did not really like, but please search this post for the word “asshole” for a reminder.
Other examples: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum. Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertali. My Favorite Half-Night Stand by Christina Lauren.
I think this could also pretty easily be referred to as a “found family” trope, which I also enjoy, but more specifically, I like when a friend group is all male or all female (non-binary inclusive, sexuality not a factor). More than that, I like when the friend group is solid. Maybe there are conflicts, arguments, etc, like you’d find in any friend group, but conflict within the friend group is not the plot of the book. Perhaps they are on a mission, or are solving a mystery together, or it’s just a slice of life book following this group of friends. Not “what happens when two of the guys in the group go after the same girl,” or any conflict that centers the plot around disruption of the group. Also, no token opposite sex members of the group — I like straight up explorations of female friendship or male friendship, without any sort of plot points revolving around gender. Just bros being bros, you know? Can we get some men platonically loving the shit out of other men up in here? Two that I can think of are two of my favorite books: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving and A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.
For this one, I specifically mean just existence on a spaceship. I’m not super interested in the plot being a space mission, or the cast of characters being a spaceship crew with the plot focusing around the trials and tribulations of piloting a spaceship. Rather, I mean just people existing on a spaceship. Maybe they’re on a long travel somewhere, or maybe people just live on spaceships now, I don’t know, I can’t see the future. I can think of a few different things that fall into this area for me. Across the Universe by Beth Revis, the Illuminae Files, the podcast Wolf 359 (y’all. Y’ALL. YOU MUST.), Battlestar Galactica, which I watched while I was on 12 weeks of bed rest and flat refused to eject my child until I finished it. One of the very first fan fics I ever read, which was about the vampire Armand and Tempus on a long haul space journey where of course they were awake while everyone else is in cryo-sleep because they’re VAMPIRES and it was called Kiss of a Kinder Sun and if you can find it I’ll owe you something enormous that I probably won’t follow through on.
It makes sense to bring this one up now because IN KISS OF A KINDER SUN? THE SPACESHIP WAS CALLED LINNET AND IT TALKED TO ARMAND AND TEMPUS AND WAS COOL. I don’t know what it is about this one, but I like the idea of some kind of always-accessible universal AI that knows everything and can do everything and automate everything and maybe I’m just pathologically lazy and want a robot to do things for me and also be my friend? The Thunderhead in the Scythe series by Neal Schusterman is a good example here, too.
Another one that follows closely from the one before, because I was thinking about how The Oasis in Ready Player One basically has everything you need, you can do everything there, everything is accessible, wish-fulfillment kind of stuff. Warcross by Marie Lu is another book that has an immersive virtual world, and I’m not sure yet how deep it goes, but I have Slay by Brittany Morris on my TBR. It’s about Kiera, an honors student who is one of the few Black kids at her high school who spends her free time playing in an online game called SLAY, which ends up having real world consequences. This also fits the secret identity category, since no one knows that Kiera is actually the game developer, as well. VERY EXCITED FOR THIS ONE.
Let’s keep running one right into the next one, because for this one, I’m talking about stuff like Ender’s Game – kids at a school specifically designed to train them to be specialized at something. I particularly like the sci fi genre for this one, but fantasy as well — Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder is one that comes to mind. I suppose Never Let Me Go fits here as well. Anything about a specialized academy of some sort — I’m reading A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik right now, which I think is a good fit, and I have Catherine House by Elizabeth Thomas on audio that I have high hopes for, as well. I think Lev Grossman’s The Magicians fits here, and I especially like the aspect of “I didn’t even know such a school existed, much less that I’d be a candidate for such a place, and yet here I find myself.” Harry Potter-esque, I suppose.
I think this one comes from reading The Boxcar Children, The Secret of NIMH, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. They’re not strictly survival, but the aspect I like is characters in situations that require them to develop plans and methods and devices for doing things that protect their position, like how the rats built a whole civilization with enormously advanced technology, considering their rathood, or how Claudia and Jamie sourced money from a fountain and slept in museum display beds. The Martian fits this as well, with the protagonist left alone on Mars having to develop his own methods for survival through trial and a lot of error and repurposing what he has. Another good example for my needs is the show The Wilds on Amazon, depicting a group of girls stranded on a desert island after a plane crash. This is actually a pretty wide genre for me, because I also include any kind of civilization building — whether a post-apocalyptic thing, or a group of people striking out on their own kind of thing. Even The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker fits in here for me, thinking about the kids left on their own when their father is infected with the virus, and the two college kids who don’t know what else to do but pitch in and help, utilizing “borrowed” cars and homes.
I assume this is more accurately called dystopian, and that’s fine. Specifically what I like is “wow, look how advanced we are, look how great everything is, pay no attention to the fact that something/many things are deeply fucked up here.” Obviously The Hunger Games comes to mind, with everything in District 1 being so great at the expense of literally everything else. Scythe is another good candidate here, with the concept of having conquered death. I’d even put The Circle here — the adoption of a massively handy yet massively invasive piece of technology and the consequences.
I don’t know how to explain this except to say that I want to read more books like the Silo series by Hugh Howey but don’t know how to ask for them. Please help me.
By obsessive romance, I mean like the stuff that gets reviews about how irresponsible the author is to even have written it, don’t they know that children could read these things and think it’s okay to become that deeply entwined with another person, or to think it’s an appropriate model for healthy relationships, and how dare the author publish such a thing, ZERO STARS.
No. No. FIVE STARS. FIVE STARS FROM ME. I am on board with the completely irresponsible depiction of romantic relationships, as I am not a child and there is no law. I prefer when the obsession comes from both sides and is wildly dysfunctional, but can also get into one-sided obsession as well, especially if it develops into two-sided obsession. Is this the world I want to see? No. Is this what I hope my own child finds in a romantic partner some day? HELL NO. Am I going to read about Travis Maddox in Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire every other year until I die? Absolutely.
I think Twilight can also fall in here, if more examples are needed. Two people absolutely wrapped up in each other to the point that you think “maybe get some fresh air, guys?,” except no, don’t get fresh air, stay right up each other’s butts, please.
This one’s got a lot of room for activities. For this, I think of things like Liane Moriarty books that have a large cast of characters, all connected in some way — family, social group, etc — and we get some of each of their perspective as they go through the same series of events. Or it could be books with rotating POV, where the characters are unconnected but experiencing the same events from different sides — John Marrs does a lot like this, like The One and The Passengers. Anxious People by Fredrik Backman is a good one here, too. Another option — multiple POVs from seemingly unconnected people that end up with all the various plots converging somehow at the end. I don’t want to tell you any examples for this one in case you don’t want to know but, like, totally unrelatedly? Apropos of nothing? Read Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon. You know. If you feel like it.
I like fan fiction, okay? I JUST LIKE FAN FICTION.
Anyway, these have been the 14 extremely specific but possibly also non-specific elements/tropes/plots I like in books. I am interested to hear if you have any of your own, and I am especially interested to hear any recommendations you might have to fit one or more of these categories, which of course I will then take as some kind of binding contract and commit myself to reading every single one with an eye toward looking out for the specific thing I like and how your suggestion fits it, embarking upon yet another project no one ever asked for yet I feel absolutely morally bound to complete.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.