Category: Discussions

Sarah’s Book Shelves Turns 4…and How My Reading Habits Have Changed Since

March 10, 2017 Discussions 55

how my reading habits have changed


I’ve never paid much attention to my blog “anniversary” before, but there’s always a first time for everything! I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for four years now. Some days I still feel like the new kid on the block (and I am compared to some bloggers).

I’ve been reflecting lately on how my reading taste and habits have changed since starting this blog and thought the anniversary of Sarah’s Book Shelves was an appropriate time to share how becoming immersed in the book world has broadened my horizons considerably…making my reading habits fairly unrecognizable compared to my pre-blogging days.

I never anticipated how much I would enjoy being a part of the book world, talking and writing about books, interacting with so many fellow reading nerds, recommending the right book to the right people at the right time, thinking creatively about where to take the blog next, and helping all of you solve your book and reading problems!

Thank you all for hanging with me all this time!

How my reading habits have changed since starting this blog

I read much more widely and diversely…
I’m now willing to give most any type of book a try. I’ve added short stories to my repertoire and have had some successful forays into dystopian (Station Eleven, my review) and science fiction (The Martian, Dark Matter). I’ve also ventured into more esoteric literary fiction that I never would have touched before starting this blog and become more aware of reading stories that are different from my own life.

I’m more focused on a book’s writing and intangibles…
A book’s style has become more important to me at the expense of plot. Nothing feels better than realizing a book’s style is for you within the first few pages. But, on the flip side, it’s harder to use publisher’s blurbs (which are generally focused on plot) to predict which books you will connect with.

I’m reading more new releases than ever before…
The buzz surrounding a hotly anticipated new release is intoxicating. And it’s fun to be in the know about all the shiny, new books (and to be able to recommend them to people). But, it also means I’m reading less backlist than I used to. I’m working on finding a balance that includes lots of new releases, but also leaves room for backlist books (putting those backlist books on hold at the library is helping!).

I’ve started quitting (aka DNFing) books that aren’t holding my attention…
I’m a “check-the-box” kind of girl, so prior to blogging I finished every single book I started. What a waste of time this was! I wish I could go back and start DNFing books years earlier. There are just too many great books out there to waste time on books that aren’t satisfying you in some way.

I now greatly appreciate short, tight books…
I used to love those massive chunksters that can double as doorstops (I even have a whole recommendation list devoted to them). I didn’t care if it took me a month to read one book. Now I feel like I’m missing out on so many other books by devoting that much time to just one. It has to really knock my socks off to be worth it. The last book that did that was A Little Life (my review). 

I now read with an eye towards recommending books…
I’m not just reading for me anymore. I’m constantly thinking about who else might like the book I’m reading and what other books are similar to it. This shift in thinking recently led to a list of Books That Aren’t For Everyone…But WERE For Me.

I’m more conscious of fitting reading in every single chance I get…
If I have a free minute (and I mean a literal minute), I try to pull out my Kindle. While stretching at the gym, while waiting in line at the grocery store, if I’m a few minutes early to pick my children up from school, etc. 

How have your reading habits changed over time?

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How Does Litsy Fit Into Your Review Strategy?

October 20, 2016 Discussions 20

Litsy

I recently joined Litsy (a relatively new app that’s like a cross between Instagram and Goodreads) and originally thought, since Litsy is image-centric, that my preference for e-reading would make me more of a lurker than a poster (who wants to see a million pictures of my kindle?!). But, I’ve enjoyed it far more than I ever thought I would!

Now that I know I like it, I’ve been pondering how it might fit into my overall reviewing strategy and would love to hear what others are doing. I want to avoid just duplicating what I’m doing on the blog and other social media. But, what niches will Litsy help me (and you) fill? Here’s what I’ve been doing and thinking…

Facebook

  • Post all blog posts
  • Share occasional interesting book/reading articles

Twitter

  • Post all blog posts
  • Share quick thoughts on reading and specific books
  • Share other bloggers’ work
  • Communicate with authors and other bloggers

Goodreads

  • Share what I’m reading in real time
  • Post full book reviews and ratings

Pinterest

  • Post all blog posts
  • Share other bloggers’ work

Instagram

I barely have a presence here…I post extremely occasional pictures of reading spots and books, but I’m definitely more of a lurker.

Where does Litsy fit?

  • Share what I’m reading in real time
  • Share quotes
  • Review audiobooks (I don’t currently review them on the blog)
  • Rate all books
  • Post quick reviews of select books with accompanying image

Lingering Litsy Questions: 

  • Does it make sense to consider Litsy my place to share quick thoughts on books I don’t review on the blog?
  • Or should I also post quick reviews of select books (maybe particular favorites) that I do review on the blog?
  • Should Litsy be my place to share quick thoughts on why I DNF certain books?

How does Litsy fit into your review strategy? Do you review every book you read and/or review on your blog on Litsy? If not, how do you choose which books to review there?

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Do You Have Trouble Giving “Lighter” Books 5 Star Ratings?

August 30, 2016 Discussions 51

Do You Have Trouble Giving "Lighter" Books 5 Star Ratings?


As I’ve mentioned over the past few months, lighter books have been working well for me this summer. I’m not sure whether it’s because of the season, my overall slumpy reading year, or the general bustle of my life, but lighter books are hitting the spot more often than “serious” books. Some of my very favorite reading experiences could probably be considered “brain candy” and selecting lighter books overall has pulled me out of my 2016 reading slump.

So, if a book is among my favorite reading experiences of the year, it should probably have a 5 star rating and be a contender for my Best Books of 2016 List, right?! Unfortunately, it turns out that I’ve been giving these types of books 4 stars instead of 5. If those same books had been more serious, I likely would have given them 5 stars. It’s like I’ve unintentionally self-imposed a 4 star ratings ceiling for “light” books. Or like comedies not being nominated for Oscars…instead being relegated to the Musical or Comedy category of Best Picture at the Golden Globes. I hate that this happens with movies and I hate that I’ve done it with books.

Why do I have such trouble giving “lighter” books 5 star ratings?

Am I really that much of a snob?! Do I think my favorite books of the year must all be serious and important? I would answer a vehement no to both of these questions if asked, yet my data proves me wrong. Of my twenty 4 star books this year, a quarter of them are light reads that I’d probably have given 5 stars if they were more serious books. A few of them are among my favorite reading experiences of the year (The Swans of Fifth Avenue, Siracusa). 

What about the blogging echo chamber? Am I feeling subconscious pressure to only give top ratings to serious books? 

Have I changed over time? When I look back at my Best Books of the Year lists, I included “lighter” books every year until 2015, which was also the year I started blogging more regularly.

So, what should I do now?

  • Change my ratings mentality moving forward? Make a conscious effort to be more open to giving “brain candy” a 5 star rating if it was a top notch reading experience.
  • Retroactively change the ratings of light books that I regret not rating 5 stars? I don’t like the idea of retroactively changing ratings, but I’m also short-changing these books. Hmm…
  • Keep an ongoing recommendation list of Top-Notch Light Reads? I’m pretty sure I’m going to do this one.
  • Create a separate “Best Books of the Year” list for light reads in December? Or just make sure to include my favorite light reads of 2016 in my overall Best Books of the Year list?

Do you ever find yourself hesitating to rate a lighter book 5 stars? How do you handle it?

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How Do You Feel About Epilogues?

June 14, 2016 Discussions 45

How Do You Feel About Epilogues


Prior to this year, I rarely noticed Epilogues and much less thought critically about them. But, this year, a few of my more successful reads (and their Epilogues) have gotten my wheels turning. In each of these examples, an unsatisfying Epilogue marred an otherwise enjoyable read. The silver lining is that, since Epilogues are tacked on at the end, it’s easy to just mentally lop them off your memory of the book! Let’s talk about a few of the specific types of Epilogues that rub me the wrong way…

The “Where Are They Now?” Epilogue

In this type of Epilogue, the story comes to a satisfying end…then, the Epilogue kindly offers an US Weekly “Where Are They Now?”-style rundown of where each character ends up decades later. Do we really need to know this? What if you end up hating a particular character’s outcome? Why mess with that satisfying ending in the first place?

Recent Example: Only Love Can Break Your Heart 

The Neat and Tidy Epilogue

This type of Epilogue ties the story up in an overly neat and tidy bow…leaving no room for interpreting the ending. I used to like books that tied everything up in this way, but have moved away from that over the past couple of years.

Recent Example: The Nest 

The “I Don’t Buy It” Epilogue

This type of Epilogue takes the story in a direction that rational thinking makes it hard to buy into…leading to lots of “oh please, that would never happen in real life” types of things floating around my brain.

Recent Example: The Expatriates 

What about successful Epilogues? Are there any? I had a very hard time coming up with any examples other than the Afterward (it’s called Historical Notes in the book, but I think it can count as an Epilogue for our purposes) in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. That Epilogue served a clear purpose and added another dimension to the story.

How do you feel about Epilogues in general? Can you share any examples of Epilogues that worked for you?




What Makes A Book Work For Me…And You?

April 21, 2016 Discussions 34

What Makes A Book Work For Me...And You

As many of you know, I’ve had a somewhat disappointing reading year so far. Continuing to pick up books that end up not working for me has gotten me thinking about what exactly DOES make a book work for me. The good news is I’ve pinpointed a few characteristics that have worked across multiple books I’ve loved in the past few years. The bad news is some of them are fairly intangible and hard to predict based on a book’s blurb…making accurately choosing books that will work for me pretty difficult!
 

Good Balance Between Plot and Style

I usually like at least some plot, but style and character are still extremely important to me. A plot-based book without style and character will generally not work for me, whereas a book that relies heavily on style and character can often (but not always) work for me without plot.
 

Focus on the Mundane, With Dark Undertones

When you’re reading casually along about boring daily life and a dark bomb is thrown in with no warning.
 

Examples: Why They Run the Way They Do, The Throwback Special

Characters’ Backgrounds Revealed Little by Little

This feature stands out most in quieter books that aren’t heavily plot driven. Gradually learning surprising new information about the books’ characters adds a bit of suspense and keeps me wanting to read more. Think of it as “what else do I get to find out about this person?” rather than “what’s going to happen?”
 

The How/Why, Not the What

A story where the you already know the ending; the suspense lies in how you get there or why it happened.
 

Examples: Everything I Never Told You, My Sunshine Away

Gorgeous Writing

Well, yes, obviously! But, what does gorgeous writing actually mean (for me)?! I like writing that is clean, unpretentious, and perfectly describes something in a unique way. I do NOT fall for writing so flowery or esoteric that you can’t decipher what the author is trying to convey.
 

Examples: Infinite Home, Shotgun Lovesongs

Certain Themes

I think this is a characteristic that can change over time and is influenced by someone’s stage of life or particular experiences. Some themes I’m drawn to right now are maintaining your identity through motherhood, marriage, and social commentary. 
 

Examples: Summerlong (maintaining your identity through motherhood), The Wife (marriage), The Dinner (social commentary)

What makes a book work for you?




The Dreaded DNF (Did Not Finish)

March 29, 2016 Discussions 54

The Dreaded DNF (Did Not Finish)

The DNF is a relatively new concept for me. I used to be one of those people that powered through every book I read, no matter how little I was enjoying it. But last year, I resolved to DNF more books. And I was quickly taken with the concept; DNFing 21 books last year and 6 so far this year. So, all this got me thinking about how I (and others) handle the dreaded DNF.

Is there a difference between a sample and a DNF?

In addition to DNFing, I picked up a sampling habit last year. If I’m purchasing an e-book from Amazon, I always download the sample first. And, I usually download two or three samples before deciding on my next book. When I choose not to purchase a book I’ve sampled, it doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t ever read that book, just that I’m not going to read it right then.
 
I approach ARCs (“advanced reader copies”, provided by publishers) a bit differently; I start each of those with the intention of reading the entire book unless it doesn’t work for me. And, therein lies the difference between a sample and a DNF for me. It’s all about intention. I don’t actually intend to read all the books I sample. I consider a book I intend to read, but ultimately decide is not working for me, a DNF.
 
Do you consider a DNF and a sample the same or different things?

How much of a book do you typically read before you officially DNF?

I usually try to make it to the 25% mark of a book that isn’t working for me before deciding to DNF. But, I’m completely willing to DNF at whatever point I start to dread picking up my current read. I’ve DNF’d at 2% and 80% (and everywhere in between) in the past year.

Do you have a general rule of thumb for how long you’ll give a book before you DNF?

How do you handle DNFs on Goodreads?

I’m wrestling with my strategy for this one. Goodreads doesn’t really make handling DNFs straightforward. There’s no official place to mark a book as DNF and no generally accepted way to handle ratings for DNFs. I created my own exclusive DNF folder and move a book from “currently reading” to “DNF” once I’ve made that decision. Ratings are a different story…

When I look up a book on Goodreads, I want to know how many people (or % of readers) have DNF’d that book. That’s helpful information for me. Given Goodreads doesn’t currently have a way to gather or share this information, I’m inclined to rate a book I’ve DNF’d. I realize there are issues with this (namely, how can I fairly rate a book that I didn’t finish?) and sometimes don’t rate DNFs for that reason. But, if I feel like I’ve read enough of a book to get a decent feel for it, I will rate it (likely 1 or 2 stars). I just feel like my DNF should be factored into the overall rating somehow…and this is the only way to do it at this point.

I wish Goodreads had a simple checkbox to indicate that you DNF’d a book and how much of the book you read…and then figured out some back-end algorithm to factor those into the overall rating. Or, report that information separately, but next to the overall rating.

How do you handle DNFs on Goodreads? Do you assign them a rating? How would you like Goodreads to handle DNF tracking?

 




Can An Introvert Be President and Other Thoughts Inspired by Quiet by Susan Cain

March 8, 2016 Discussions 40

Quiet, Susan Cain
I finally read Quiet after it languished on my TBR list for a couple years. And, I’m glad because I learned some fascinating things about introversion, myself, and my relationships with other people. But, it was long-winded and I ended up skipping some sections I was less interested in. A lot has already been written about this book, so I thought I’d share the places my mind went rather than write a traditional review.

My Introversion

It wasn’t until later life that I realized I was an introvert. In fact, I tested “E” (for extrovert) on the Meyers-Briggs test I took in high school. If you met me (and didn’t know about my reading habits), you might be surprised to hear that I’m an introvert. One of the things this book alerted me to was that outgoing introverts do exist and I think that’s probably what I am. Looking back on high school and my Meyers-Briggs test results, I think my surroundings had a huge impact. I went to a small, all-girls school and had (mostly) the same classmates from Kindergarten through 12th grade. We all knew each other so well that I don’t think I experienced the signs of introversion that I popped up in later life.

Even now, I don’t experience every sign of introversion. While I do prefer small groups, dislike small talk, generally avoid risk, let calls go to voicemail, and feel drained after lots of socializing, I wouldn’t say I’m terribly “soft-spoken”, I don’t avoid conflict, and I don’t tend to think before I speak (but I really should work on that!).

Introversion and Marriage

I’m married to an extrovert. My husband can talk to anyone (and enjoys it), no matter how little he has in common with that person. He wants to socialize a lot and doesn’t mind small talk. He doesn’t mind people invading his personal space. He doesn’t really need or crave “quiet time”. So, how does this work?

There have certainly been growing pains, mostly surrounding the impression that I’m being rude when I don’t want to participate in some social events or need to set some boundaries. But, there are also great perks that come with his complementary personality. When we’re at parties, I love that I can go stand by him if I’m tired and know that he will carry the conversation. And now that we’ve been married almost 7 years, he knows exactly what I need in the alone time vs. socializing department and plans activities accordingly. He also socializes some during the week while I stay home, which suits us both!

Introversion and Motherhood

The one thing I wish Cain had covered more in Quiet was the impact of motherhood on introverts. My introversion became a much bigger part of my life when I became a mother. And, an even bigger part when I became a mother the second time. My days began to consist of constant noise, chaos, and someone needing something from me virtually all the time (not to mention the lack of privacy and alone time…2 year old bathroom buddy, anyone?!). I do think this is amplified because I’m a stay-at-home Mom, but it is a tough environment for introverts.

Free time is now rare and precious to me…and I’ve become very selective about how I spend it. I find myself first needing to use free time to be alone and read or work on my blog, and only after that do I want to socialize. Consequently, socializing has become a smaller and smaller part of my life, which is less acceptable out in the world (or feels that way). And, since I do crave time away from all the chaos (and, consequently, from my children), I’ve often wondered if that means I’m not the best mother I could be.

Despite the fact that Cain didn’t spend much time on this topic in her book, there is a fantastic article on her Quiet Revolution website that perfectly summed up everything floating around my brain on this topic. And, reshaped my view of myself as a mother. If you’re an introverted mother, I highly recommend reading this!

Introversion and the Presidency

On a much less personal note, reading this book in February of an election year got me thinking about the impact of introversion on modern day Presidential elections.

John Quincy Adams, incidentally, is considered by political psychologists to be one of the few introverts in presidential history. – Quiet by Susan Cain

However, according this article, there have been ten introverted U.S. Presidents. But, note that the only one in recent history (i.e. the only one to survive the 24/7 modern day election process) is our current one.

The way the U.S. elects its presidents couldn’t be more of a nightmare for introverts. These men and women are in front of people (mostly strangers) for years leading up to the election with little to no downtime. They are expected to come across as energetic, likable, relatable, and trustworthy (among other things). They are never allowed to be “off”…at least in public and they are rarely out of the public eye. Could an introvert even survive this? Much less actually excel enough to get elected?

Does this mean only extroverted people will choose to run for President? We will always end up with an extroverted President because they are the only types of people who can thrive in a campaign cycle? And, if so, what does that mean for how the President operates once he/she gets in office?

Parting Thought

Reading Quiet really made me wish that introverts were better understood. When we decide to stay home sometimes, we’re not trying to be rude…we just need some downtime to recharge. When we hang out in the corner with our closest friends at parties, we’re not trying to be exclusive…it’s just where we’re most comfortable. We really do want to talk to people…we’d just rather have a more personal conversation than talk about the weather, etc (i.e. small talk). And, just because we lament the end of our children’s nap-times, it doesn’t mean we love them less than the parents who can’t wait until their children wake up.

Are you an introvert? Are you married to one? How do you feel about introverts and the electoral process?