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.
These are almost “choose your favorite child” level of difficulty questions. But I DO have a favorite child and so I will try to answer. Keeping in mind that maybe the preferences are SLIGHT.
1. Following one character for a long time. I followed Kinsey Milhone for 25 books and I would follow her for another 50.
2. Series. Okay, this is a strong preference. I love a series. If I enjoy a book, I want more of that book.
3. Moderate preference for multiple stories. Probably simply because these series tend to be longer than those centered around a particular event/arc.
4. Very slight preference for waiting. Mainly out of contrariness, or worry that the book won’t be worth the hype.
5. Strongish preference for The Other One. I like Important Fiction for all the reasons. But I love the easy escapism of the airport book. Love it. See above re: Kinsey Milhone.
I’m going to say I’m really in the same camp as Suzanne.
1. I much prefer to follow an event in a single book. Which leads us to…
2. I prefer a series. If I like the book and like the world, I want to stay there for as long as possible. Which leads into…
3. I prefer that series to have multiple arcs. So same characters different events in each book.
4. I am torn. I can never remember what happened in the previous book when the new one comes out so I prefer to wait. However, I like to be caught up in the excitement. I think I prefer to wait on series that continue the event and not wait on series with new plots in each book. I would like to mention that usually the books with all of the hype are of the continued plot type which goes against my preferences.
5. I try to read the “important” ones but (depending on my state of mind) I prefer OTHER.
1. Character. There’s nothing worse than terrible characters that you don’t give a fuck about.
2. Series (mostly)
3. Multiple stories, because sometimes it just gets dragged out – Prime example Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake did not need to be five books long.
4. Completed. Because I read fast, and hate cliffhangers that last for a year waiting on the next book to come out.
5. I also have strong feelings about The Other One. I have a stressful job and children. I don’t want to waste my downtime reading Important Fiction. I am never going to read Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann (sorry Lucy).
“THREE DARK CROWNS” IMPLIES ONE BOOK PER CROWN, I object just on PRINCIPLE.
2. No strong preference
3. One arc
4. I want to get in at the very first possible moment if I could be there at inception I would be.
5. I don’t care either way but generally I tend to lean Important somehow not on purpose but it just seems like the books I like are the ones everyone else hates.
4. Noted. I will message you every single half-baked idea I ever have for a book. I have no plans to ever write a book, but just in CASE. I mean, you never know. Gotta make sure you’re there from the very first “okay so there’s this guy.”
First: I am LOVING the book blog posts. As a librarian, I can confirm that thinking of the library as your personal book storage is absolutely the correct way to think of it and please use it that way. I mean, libraries are plenty of other things as well, but book storage for everyone is a main purpose.
Now onto the questions.
1. Mostly, an event and its repercussions. It’s rare that I like a character enough to spend a long book just focused on them without a lot else going on. Now, long family dramas with multiple characters that last for several books–I’m all in. But rarely just one person, I get bored.
2. Series or standalone REALLY depends on the book. A lot of series make really good trilogies and then the author gets popular so they spin it out into 5 or 6 books and just UGH. Or, great idea, worked great for one book, and then the author decides to do more and the rest just doesn’t fit as well or retreads the same areas.
A truly great standalone book is so satisfying. If I’m reading literary fiction, I want a standalone book. For fun fluff, give me a series. I’m not thinking about it very hard, I want to know it’ll be fun and I don’t really care that events in book 6 are contradicting the world rules you set up in book 2. Give me some snappy dialogue, some smut, and a happy ending.
3. Either is fine.
4. I’m not patient enough to wait for a full series. If I wait, I’ll forget about it. I love when I don’t discover a series until it’s finished, but I’m not going to wait for it.
5. There’s two separate questions here. First, I am contrary and will not read a book when it’s the book that “everyone” is reading (eg The Goldfinch, or Where the Crawdads Sing, or The Help). Mostly, I think this is a holdover from when I was a public librarian and I got so dang sick of EVERYONE talking about whatever the “it” book was that I simply refused to read them. Either I’ve already read it (because librarians often discover the books first) or I won’t until it’s no longer popular.
If you had asked this question 18 months ago, I would have said I read mostly literary fiction. I love well-written, character-driven novels in any genre. I don’t care if they are NYC housewives or alien explorers solving mysteries if the characters are well-developed and the writing is creative, I’ll read the book.
And then the pandemic hit and I couldn’t read books for months. Like, just couldn’t focus enough to get more than a page in and I didn’t even enjoy that. Since then, the only things I’ve consistently been able to read are fluffy romance novels, the smuttier the better. I’ve discovered some really enjoyable authors (Sarah J. Maas, Christina Lauren), but strictly lightweight escape books. However, I am now an elementary school librarian and this is REALLY embarrassing when people ask what I’ve been reading lately. I force myself through a few chapters of “important” books just so I have an answer I can tell parents and colleagues without blushing.
AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL LIBRARIAN. Wait til I get to the posts about the heartbreak of carefully filling my kid’s bookshelf every holiday and birthday with a mix of stuff that’s currently popular, my own childhood favorites, and things I carefully researched according to her specific personality and interests, only to watch them be rejected and she ages out and I have to cycle them out… BUT THEN I DO GET TO DO IT AGAIN AND BUY ALL NEW ONES.
This morning I was very carefully trying not to spook her, a non-reader, as she said before she left for school that she MIGHT be interested in checking out another book by an author they just read in class.
I ALREADY PUT FOUR ON HOLD FOR HER I CAN’T HELP MYSELF.
Yes! I feel this so much. My older son is a READER, but for so many years he simply refused to read anything I recommended. Son, this is my literal job and actual area of expertise–trust me when I say you would like this book. I used to give his school librarian lists of books to recommend to him, because he’d read them if they came from her. Sigh.
Also, I had the same pandemic reading problem. My personal life didn’t even change that much during the pandemic – I’m largely unable to leave my house and continued to just not leave my house. THE WORLD JUST FELT TOO WEIGHTY.
My struggle with light books (which I DO prefer) and heavier or more notable or “important” books (and I do generally feel that a book is a book and people can read what they want but of course I still have internal FEELINGS about stuff) is that if I’m GOING to read – which I love to do! – in order to really get the ball rolling, it’s going to have to be the lighter, fun stuff. But that butts up against my desire to be IN ON WHATEVER IS HAPPENING. If people are really liking a thing, I WANT TO LIKE THE THING, TOO.
The world is weighty.
I mean, also there was the toilet paper thing and stuff. Presumably there were weirdnesses that did also impinge on your life.
But I do think that mass tragedy, even if you are not directly “hit” by it so to speak, is a weight if you are a human being who has not gone full Ayn Rand (to be fair, I have not read any of her books; I have only met people who have loved her books, and I have generally regretted those interactions; a deep adoration of Nietzsche also turned out to be a Sign that This Conversation Will Be Both Ethically Problematic And Insufferable).
Anyway. Fluff for now, possibly with a judicious admixture of Depressing Truths We Should Do Something About either from books or from other sources?
2. I think I’ll go standalone because I don’t love committing to a series.
3. Series with one arc.
4. Waiting. I was a fully grown adult before I got into Harry Potter and I have no regrets.
5. I’ll always lean toward “important” books but then burn out and need an airport book to bring back my love of reading. I can sometimes manage this balance by eye-reading the “important” books while listening to more fun stuff.
1-5: it depends. 🙂
2 & 3. Connected books that you can read separately. This is basically the answer to the conjunction of the “I do not like this book enough to read 5 more of them, and yet I want to know how the story ends” problem and the “but I want to live in this world forever!” problem. That said, if there’s something arc-y but that has decent resolution per book, I’m fine with that, and if you write well enough, I will put up with nearly any book format.
4. I have no idea, but if something’s going to rely on a single plot twist at the end to resolve everything, the author had better stay alive until they get that written down.
5. Depends on what life is serving up at the time: heavy on busy-work but not emotionally draining or intellectually challenging? Then yes, give me something to chew on. Is it a pandemic, which also has exposed hideous racism and misogyny? In that case, we will alternate the deeply disturbing personal essays and the action items with comfort re-reads and utter fluff. (non-erotica, which is unfortunate for book recommendations; it is not my jam; but so many other things are definitely my jam, including building and growing things and puttery everyday fiction and fiction that gives you well-informed glimpses inside different professions and different worlds)
I also have a chunk of learning-things/textbook-y nonfiction to read – seven books of it – but that is also waiting for times that are less fraught. I think.
(I just discovered you – thank you for existing!)