Tag: Discussions

Why I DNF Over 30 Books A Year

June 4, 2019 Discussions 40

Why I DNF Over 30 Books a Year

 

My regular readers / podcast listeners (my podcast is Sarah’s Book Shelves Live) know that I’m an unapologetic DNF’er of books. And, that I wouldn’t have it any other way. But, I recently realized that not all my readers / listeners understand why I DNF over 30 books a year (so far this year, I’ve DNF’d 18 books, 32% of the books I’ve attempted).

Given this feedback, I thought it would be helpful if I laid out exactly why I DNF so many books. Keep in mind, the reasons below work for me and may not work for you…and that’s OK! But, if you were to ask me the single best tip for jumpstarting your reading life…I’d tell you to DNF more books.

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Why I Start a New TBR List Every Single Year

March 7, 2019 Discussions 26

Why I Start a New TBR list every single year

 

I used to have a spreadsheet of books I wanted to read (i.e. a TBR list) that numbered well into the hundreds. Every time I heard about a book I was interested in reading, I added it to the spreadsheet. Books only came off the spreadsheet when I actually read them (i.e. way more books went on the spreadsheet than ever came off).

When it came time to choose a new book to read, I consulted my spreadsheet. But, I realized I didn’t remember what half the books on there were about or why I’d ever added them in the first place. Plus, I wasn’t using any kind of categorization system, so I literally picked through hundreds of options every time I chose a new book. It was exhausting.

A couple years ago, I tried out a new system…and, realized I’d gradually stopped consulting my massive spreadsheet entirely. And, the best part about my new system? I start a new TBR list every single year!

Why I Start a New TBR List Every Single Year

  • Every year, I start a new TBR list that’s housed in an email draft in my drafts folder (just because it’s the most convenient place for me to access the list from my laptop and my phone).
  • The TBR list has a few different categories that are useful for helping me choose what to read next. More on this below.
  • At the beginning of the year, I consult last year’s TBR list and move any books I didn’t get to, but still really want to read over to the following year’s list. I don’t take this part lightly. In 2019, I moved over less than 10 books from my 2018 TBR list.
  • Since I started doing this, I’ve found that some books I removed from my TBR list have come back around to me. And, that’s the sign of a book that’s worth making time for…when it comes back around to you.

How I Organize My TBR List

Here’s how I organize my TBR list. This format won’t work for everyone (i.e. it probably won’t work for you if you’re not a blogger yourself), but it works for me. And, some variation can work for most people.

By Publication Date 

I divide this portion of the list by month. I keep track of when books are coming out, who recommended them to me, and if I have them in ARC form. Here’s an example…

February

  • Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken – 2/5 pub date (Tyler Goodson loved, Southern Living Best New Books Winter 2019, Liberty on ATB, Bustle 2019 Fiction, EW Anticipated) – ARC/DNF
  • American Pop by Snowden Wright – 2/5 pub date (Southern Living Best New Books Winter 2019) – Coke family novel – ARC/DONE
  • The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer – 2/5 pub date (Georgia Hunter on my podcast, EW Anticipated, Novel Visits, Amazon Best Books of Feb) – ARC/DONE

This works for me because I generally read by publication date for the blog. But, you could organize this section in whatever way supports how you like to read…seasonally, by mood, by genre, etc!

Nonfiction November / Audiobooks

Anytime I hear about a nonfiction book I’m interested in, I add it to this section of my TBR list. My audiobook listening is 100% nonfiction, so I fit a lot of nonfiction in there. I also save some nonfiction to read in hard copy form during Nonfiction November (details here).

So, when I’m looking for an audiobook, this is the only part of my TBR I need to consult, which narrows the choices to a manageable number. Same for Nonfiction November!

Possible Summer Books 

Every May, I put out my annual Summer Reading Guide, so I’m always on the lookout for books that would be a good fit for it.

Anytime I hear about a book I think could be a good fit for summer that isn’t already on my radar (i.e. it isn’t in my “By Publication Date” section), I add it to this list.

Backlist

As you probably know, I read far more new releases than backlist books, but I keep saying I want to read more backlist.

I do focus on backlist reading every December when I’m no longer reading new releases and this is the portion of my list I consult during that time.

Right now, Tell the Wolves I’m Home (recommended by Ashley Spivey when she came on my podcast) and The Age of Miracles (since I loved Karen Thompson Walker’s new book, The Dreamers) top this list.

“Must Try Before the End of the Year” List

This section is my personal favorite! It’s where I put books that I missed when they came out, but I’m hearing so many raves about that I definitely want to at least try before the end of the year.

This is the part of the list I turn to around mid/late November when I’ve stopped reading new releases and ARCs. I also put a lot of books from this list on hold at the library and work them in throughout the year as the holds come in.

How do you organize your TBR list? Would you ever consider starting a new one every year?

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Which Best Books of 2018 Lists Do You Agree With?

December 20, 2018 Annual "Best Books" Lists 8

Best Books of 2018 Lists

 

Real Quick: If you missed yesterday’s post, Sarah’s Book Shelves is getting a PODCAST! And you can listen to a 5 minute trailer now wherever you listen to podcasts. More details here!

Last year, I set out to find out which bookish media sources I agreed most with about the best books of the year…and the ones I agreed least with.

And, I found that I pretty much didn’t agree with all the “traditional” media sources, but that I did agree with smaller Facebook groups, podcasts, and bloggers. Unfortunately, some of my best bookish media sources from last year haven’t yet published their Best Books of 2018 lists. I’m not sure why since I’m sharing this post a day later than I did last year. But, I’ll update my results as soon as the Best of 2018 lists from sources like From the Front Porch podcast, Sorta Book Nerds Facebook Group, #SpiveysClub Facebook Group, and Modern Mrs. Darcy come in.

I kept track of as many Best Books of 2018 lists from major bookish news sources as possible and calculated what percentage of their Best Books of 2018 I liked / didn’t like. Now that I know my Best Bookish News Sources, I can use these publications or podcasts to pick better books moving forward!

The Best Best Books of 2018 Lists I Most Agree With

These are my Best Bookish Media Sources…

  1. New York Times 10 Best Books of 2018 (20%)
  2. Library Journal (17%)
  3. Bookpage Editors Picks (13%)
  4. Southern Living (12%)
  5. Publisher’s Weekly (10%), Esquire Magazine (10%), NPR (10%)

My Thoughts:

  • Y’all, I’m shocked at this list! Three of these sources (NYT 10 Best Books, Bookpage, and Publisher’s Weekly) were my WORST from last year! 
  • The overall % agreement was lower for my best sources this year. Last year, my top sources were ALL above 20% and my #1 source (Sorta Book Nerds Facebook Group) was at 50%.
  • I suspect some of the sources that are publishing their lists late will come in and knock some of these out of the top spots. Stay tuned…I’ll update you when they publish their lists!
  • There were a couple specific books I agreed with critics on (Educated, The Great Believers, An American Marriage, Bad Blood) this year…far more of them than last year. I think they carried me since they appeared on so many lists this year.

The Best Books of 2018 Lists I DON’T Agree With

These are my Worst Bookish Media Sources…

  1. Library Reads (-30%)
  2. Washington Post (-15%)
  3. Time Magazine (-10%)
  4. Bustle (-3%), Shelf Awareness (-3%)

My Thoughts:

  • So…Library Reads topping my worst list is surprising. I’ve been using their monthly picks lists as recommendation sources all year! But, not only did it top my worst sources list based on their Best Books of 2018 list, but I checked my recommendations sources stats from the entire year (I use my Rock Your Reading Tracker to keep this stat!) and realized their unsuccessful recommendations completely canceled out their successful ones! So, big takeaway for me…put less stock in this recommendation source next year.
  • Bustle is on this list for the second year in a row.

What I’m going to do with this information

  • At the moment, not much. I’m going to wait for the last few sources to come in with their Best Books of 2018 list and then see where things fall.
  • However, I might give Publisher’s Weekly another chance as a recommendation source in 2019 (I’d cut them out in 2018).
  • Book of the Month was a top recommendation source for me last year. This year, enough of their picks were unsuccessful to cancel out the successful picks, leaving me with a 0% success rate. I said earlier in the year that I wasn’t as thrilled with their picks compared to previous years (basically, ever since they changed their judges structure). Turns out that was confirmed by the numbers. Let’s hope they can turn things around in 2019.

Find the Best Books of 2018 Lists You Most Agree and Disagree With!

  • Download the spreadsheet via the sign-up form below.
  • Follow the spreadsheet’s instructions to find your Best and Worst Best Books of 2018 lists.
  • Trust your Best Bookish Media Sources! Use them to pick books moving forward. Most publish “Most Anticipated Books” and mid-year Best Books list, which are great sources for recommendations throughout the year. Maybe you’ll even find some new-to-you sources you didn’t even realize were in line with your taste!
  • Be skeptical of book recommendations from your Worst Bookish Media Sources.

Give it a go! What Best Books of 2018 lists did you agree or disagree with? What are your Best and Worst Bookish News Sources?

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Which Literary Awards Match Your Reading Taste?

November 23, 2018 Annual "Best Books" Lists 8

Literary Awards

 

I’ve always had the feeling that award-winning books don’t work well for me. But, it’s always been anecdotal…until now!

I decided to find out for sure exactly how my reading taste lines up with the literary awards committees’ taste.

I used a spreadsheet (you can download it below to find out which literary awards best match your own reading taste!) to calculate the percentage of each major literary award’s winners (from 2012 – present) that I liked / didn’t like. And, now I know which literary awards to pay attention to (and ignore!) so I can pick better books moving forward!

My Best Literary Awards

These literary awards best match my reading taste…

  1. The Audie Awards (29%)
  2. The Shirley Jackson Awards (17%)
  3. The Thriller Awards (13%)
  4. National Book Critics Circle Awards (8%)
  5. The Edgar Awards (6%)

My Observations:

  • These top numbers are somewhat low overall…telling me that literary award winners just aren’t my thing in general. Award season rolls around, I run!

That being said…

  • The Audie Awards is for audiobooks…and I counted an Audie winner as a success for me even if I read that particular book in print format. So, this one might be cheating.
  • Three of my top awards are in the mystery / thriller category…which I don’t even read that much of! This is probably the most useful thing I learned from this exercise. Even though I don’t read a ton of mysteries / thrillers, when I am looking for one, The Shirley Jackson Awards, The Edgar Awards, and The Thriller Awards lists make good recommendation sources for me!

My Worst Literary Awards

These literary awards least match my reading taste…

  1. National Book Award (-10%)
  2. National Book Critics Circle Awards (-5%)
  3. The Pulitzer Prize (-4%)

My Observations:

  • Well, there go the big U.S. literary awards for me! I can’t say I’m that surprised.
  • Although, I am surprised at just how badly I line up with the National Book Award. Of all the big literary awards, I always thought I related most to that one. And, I did like some of the nominees, but the nominated books I like never seem to make it to the winners circle.

So, why do I tend to disagree with the big literary awards committees?

  • I do love literary fiction, but I prefer the type that’s also accessible to the average reader. I like the sweet spot between literary and commercial. Sadly, the books that are likely to get nominated for the big literary awards are the highly literary ones…not necessarily the ones accessible to the average reader.
  • Many books that won awards over the past few years are political / “issue” books. These aren’t my favorites, especially when it comes to fiction. I don’t mind political issues coming up in my reading, but I like the issues to be organic parts of the story and of the characters’ lives. An American Marriage and The Great Believers both did this really well. I don’t like it when the “issues” completely take over the story.

Find out if your reading taste matches the big literary awards!

  • Download the spreadsheet via the sign-up form below.
  • Follow the spreadsheet’s instructions to find your Top and Bottom literary awards.
  • Use them to pick books moving forward. Though I just used the winners in my spreadsheet, most awards have short and long lists, which could be great recommendation sources for you! Maybe you’ll even find some new-to-you sources you didn’t even realize were in line with your taste!
  • Be skeptical of book recommendations from your bottom literary awards.

Give it a go! What literary awards does your reading taste match up with? How do you feel about literary awards in general?

Why I Stopped Liking Historical Fiction…and 6 Types of UNCONVENTIONAL Historical Fiction I DO Like

September 20, 2018 Discussions 19

Unconventional Historical Fiction

 

I used to LOVE historical fiction. In fact, just a few years ago, it was one of my favorite genres. But, things have changed over the past couple years. For the past three years, historical fiction as a percentage of my overall reading has decreased every single year (2015: 12%, 2016: 10%, 2017: 5%). And, so far this year, I’ve read only 4 historical fiction novels. I think I’ve gotten bored with historical fiction…and started to view the genre as perfect for my mother’s generation, but not edgy enough for me.

But, it’s not all bad news. I have really loved a few historical fiction novels lately…and they were all atypical of the genre. I’ve figured out that I can enjoy historical fiction these days as long as it’s unconventional historical fiction.

What does unconventional historical fiction mean for me? I’m going to try to unpack that here.

Explore Modern/Still Relevant Themes

Though these books are set in the past, the themes they explore are still top of mind and being discussed today. The examples of this type of historical fiction that I’ve loved explore women’s roles and identities, racism, and sexuality.

Successful Examples: 

Feature Strong Female Characters

I could also call this my badass lady category! And, these ladies’ courage and accomplishments are all the more astounding given they occurred during a time when women weren’t necessarily encouraged to attempt feats of greatness.

Successful Examples: 

Set During A Specific Event I’m Interested In

There are certain events I’m kind of a sucker for. The JFK assassination is one…especially if it involves conspiracy theories. Various disasters are another.

Successful Examples: 

Contain Simmering Tension

You can feel the tension, but it’s a quiet, simmering tension. You know something bad is going to happen, you’re just not sure what it will be or how it will go down.

Successful Examples: 

Based on Real People

There’s something about fiction being based on real people that makes it all the more compelling. While reading these types of books, I’m questioning what details are real every single second. And, I always look forward to the “Afterward” where the author generally outlines what’s true and where he/she took liberties for the sake of the story.

Successful Examples:

Have a Soap Opera Quality

Pure, unadulterated juiciness. 

Successful Examples:

How do you feel about historical fiction? What types of historical fiction work for you? Which types don’t?

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How to Inspire New Readers

August 9, 2018 Discussions 9

How to Inspire New Readers

 

When I first met my now sister-in-law, her reading life consisted of magazines and design books. Looking back on it, she said reading just wasn’t part of her routine and she didn’t feel like adding one more thing to her day. When I went to visit her last weekend, her nightstand was absolutely jammed with books! So, the question is…

How did she get from magazines to a nightstand stuffed with books?

Turns out it was a beach vacation. Magazines weren’t holding her interest during those long hours basking in the sun and, for convenience’s sake, she picked up a book her husband had read, Monkey Business by John Rolfe and Peter Troob. I’ve also read this one because MY husband had read it (and he probably passed it along to his brother, thus making it’s way to my sister-in-law). It’s a memoir by two ex-investment bankers exposing the ridiculousness that goes on at investment banks.

 

And, where could she possibly turn from the riveting world of investment banking?! The Crazy Rich Asians series, of course! Her favorite was China Rich Girlfriend…not so much the third installment (Rich People Problems). And, then she was hooked on books!

The Top 3 Books of Her New Reading Venture (So Far)

Tell Me Lies by Carola Lovering (June 12, 2018)
A novel about a toxic love affair told from both parties’ perspectives. I’ve seen this one around, but didn’t know much about it and now I kind of want to read it! It’s my sister-in-law’s #1 book of her reading journey so far!

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler (May 24, 2016)
This debut novel set in a New York City restaurant also features a toxic relationship…and some exquisite food writing. I loved it too and it was one of my favorites of 2016! Here’s my review.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin (January 26, 2016)
This fictional novel about Truman Capote and his group of socialite friends (the “swans”) is the epitome of “wealthy people behaving badly,” so I’m not surprised my sister-in-law loved it (see her reading taste below). And, I did too! It was another one of my favorites of 2016 (my review)!

What She’s Learned About Her Reading Taste

  • She loves the “rich people behaving badly” genre. Is that actually a genre?! Sure, it is!
  • She’s started venturing into darker fiction (i.e. Sweetbitter) and is enjoying those so far. Y’all know I’ve got more dark and messed up novels up my sleeve for her!

Where Is She Now?

She calls reading “addictive.” She keeps a book with her at all times (and hardcovers are her format of choice). She reads all over the place…in car pool line, in doctor’s offices, and she’s texted me from her garage where she’s reading in her car until she has to relieve her babysitter (Amen!). She now officially considers herself a reader…and has the nightstand to prove it!

How To Inspire New Readers

  • Start easy. Dear God, do not give a new reader a slow book that takes work to get through! Start with something that’s easy to get engrossed in.
  • Stay in the new reader’s wheelhouse for a bit…until she can figure out what characteristics of her preferred genres especially appeal to her. Then, you can start to apply those characteristics to other genres.
  • Encourage the new reader to make reading a part of her regular routine. Find a regular time in the day or week that reading can easily fit into. For me, that’s before bed, while waiting in any sort of line, at the pool, and a little most afternoons.

And, my sister-in-law adds…

  • Do your research before you decide on a book…increasing the likelihood you’ll enjoy the book!
  • Don’t feel obligated to finish every book you start. As John Irving says, “Grown-Ups shouldn’t finish books they’re not enjoying.” And, y’all know I whole-heartedly support the DNF!

How do you inspire new readers? Or, are you one yourself?

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Letting Go of Feeling Guilty for Not Reading Classics

June 7, 2018 Discussions 27

Not Reading Classics

 

A couple months ago, GQ Magazine posted an article titled 21 Books You Don’t Have to Read…and many of them are classics. As I non-English major in college, I’ve read an embarrassingly small number of the “classics.” I read some of them in high school, but honestly, The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill A Mockingbird, and The Great Gatsby are the only ones I remember. Wait, I think I read Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and The Sun Also Rises too, but I couldn’t tell you a thing about them.

This is kind of embarrassing since people assume, because I’m a book blogger and avid reader, that I am (or should be) well versed in the classics. I’m absolutely not. I haven’t read Jane Austen (which kills my mother), Tolstoy, or Flannery O’Connor. And, I hadn’t read Margaret Atwood until a couple years ago. I’m still trying to make time to read something of hers other than The Handmaid’s Tale (my review).

We were assigned a huge term paper (the kind that involved tons of research and took most of the year to write) our junior year in high school and most of my classmates took this opportunity to delve deep into one of the classics. What did I do? I delved deep into true crime. I wrote my paper on Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. It was an odd choice and I’m sure my teacher toyed with not letting me do it. But, I don’t regret it for a second. I still love true crime to this day and have a continued fascination with Truman Capote.

Every year, I say I’ll make time for a classic or two. But, it never happens and I feel bad about it and I’m not sure why. I’m not in school anymore. I don’t HAVE to read these classics. I’m pretty sure people aren’t going to think I’m stupid because I haven’t read them…and, if they do, I don’t want to be friends with those intellectual snobs anyway! But, I still feel guilty.

So, thank you to GQ Magazine for releasing me from this guilt!

Some Classics GQ Says You Don’t Have to Read

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
I can do without masculine bluster…

Hemingway’s novels—with their masculine bluster and clipped sentences—sometimes feel almost parodic to me.

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
I mean, I thought Circe was “written in an impenetrable style”…so, I’m sure this one isn’t for me.

[…] written in an impenetrable style that combines Faulkner and the King James Bible, Blood Meridian is a big, forbidding book that earns the reader bragging rights but provides scant pleasure.

John Adams by David McCullough
Dry and boring do not work for me right now…I don’t care if I’m supposed to be learning something along the way.

[…] his books are written with great care and impressive attention to detail. They also happen to be the driest, boringest tomes you’ll ever sludge through.

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
A missing story is a no-go…especially with fantasy.

It never seemed to me that Tolkien cared about his story as much as he cared about rendering, in minute detail, the world he built.

A Few Classics I DO Still Want to Read

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
In my first Readers Recommend post, one of my blog readers said it’s one of the few classics that will make you laugh out loud. Plus, it helps that I don’t remember this one being on a single school reading list when I was in school.

Persuasion by Jane Austen
Because a number of people have said this is their favorite Austen novel.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Because my mother keeps telling me I must…and I love the first line.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
I’ve heard it’s dark and the closest a classic will get to “thriller.”

Tell me, how do y’all feel about the classics? Do you feel guilty not having read some of the big ones? Or, am I the only one who hasn’t read them all?

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Why I Generally Don’t Like Thrillers…and 6 Types of Thrillers That DO Work For Me

May 8, 2018 Discussions 25

Why I Don't Like Thrillers

 

Y’all have heard me complain about my prickly relationship with thrillers for years now. And, based on all that complaining, you’d think I’d just avoid the genre entirely. But, I don’t. Because, when I do find a thriller that works for me, it’s one of my favorite reading experiences! And, then I keep trying and failing to replicate that experience.

Ever since Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train were such mega-hits, publishers have been churning out psychological thrillers at a feverish pace, chasing that lightening in a bottle success. My personal opinion is that this has put a ton of mediocre to terrible thrillers out there. There are the ones that rely on some outlandish gimmick to surprise the reader, the ones that are completely predictable, and ones that involve the supernatural or paranormal…all of which drive me crazy.

So, I’ve been trying to choose my thrillers wisely and really consider what makes a thriller work for me. From what I can tell, I prefer thrillers…

With A Surprising, Yet Not Outlandish Ending or Twist

This is the #1 thing a thriller must have for it to work for me. After I finish, I want to be able to look back on the story and say, “I did not see that ending/twist coming, but it totally makes sense in hindsight.” And, it’s unfortunately really hard to ride that perfect line between surprise and inevitability.

Successful Examples: Emma in the Night (my review), The Wife (the Alafair Burke version), Gone Girl

That Delve Deep Into a Topic

Certain thrillers are defined by a topic they delve deep into and I like how the topics differentiate these thrillers from everything else out there…and help you learn something in the process.

Successful Examples: Emma in the Night – narcissism (my review), The Guest Room – sex trafficking (my review), The Sleepwalker – parasomnia (my review), You Will Know Me – elite women’s gymnastics (my review)

That Feel Like or Are Something Else

Some books are technically considered another genre entirely, but read like a page turner. Again, this helps these thrillers stand out from the very crowded pack.

Successful Examples: Dark Matter – Sci-Fi (my review), Bull Mountain – Grit Lit (my review)

With a Bit of Romance

Normally, I can’t stand cheesy romance in my fiction. But, the romance I find in thrillers is usually of the darker, more twisted (rather than cheesy) variety…and I can totally handle that.

Successful Examples: Quicksand (my review), The Roanoke Girls (my review), Dead Letters (my review)

That are International

I’ve had good luck over the past few years with translated thrillers. Most were run-away bestsellers in their home countries and then made their way to the U.S. market. There’s something about an international thriller (European in these cases) that has a completely different feel than U.S. thrillers. There’s more subtle emotional tension rather than a reliance on suspense driven by action.

Successful Examples: Based on a True Story (spoiler discussion), Fear (my review), After the Crash (my review)

That Feel Literary

I’m not sure how to define this except to say that I know it when I see it. Often, thrillers rely on plot-based action, but I love it when a thriller also has strong character development and great writing. 

Successful Examples: Since We Fell (my review), Social Creature

How do you feel about thrillers? Are you a fan or not? What types of thrillers work for you and what thriller elements bother you?

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The Best Books of 2017 Lists I Agree With…and the Ones I Don’t

December 19, 2017 Annual "Best Books" Lists 52

Best Books of 2017 Lists Agree With


As you probably know if you’ve been reading my blog lately, I’ve had this feeling that I was on a completely different page than the serious literary critics about the Best Books of 2017. But, I didn’t really know for sure…

Then, a light went off…I could find out for sure exactly how far I was off from the serious literary critics. And, even better, which bookish media sources I should pay the most attention to (my best) and which I should ignore (my worst)? And, you can too (by using my free Excel template, available for download below)!

I kept track of as many Best Books of 2017 lists from major bookish news sources as possible and calculated what percentage of their Best Books of 2017 I liked / didn’t like. Now that I know my Best Bookish News Sources, I can use these publications or podcasts to pick better books moving forward!

The Best Best Books of 2017 Lists I Agree With Most

These are my Best Bookish Media Sources…

  1. Sorta Book Nerds Facebook Group, an offshoot of the Sorta Awesome podcast (50%)
  2. Modern Mrs. Darcy / What Should I Read Next? podcast (33%)
  3. Book of the Month Club (25%)
  4. Amazon (23%)
  5. From the Front Porch podcast (23%)

My Observations:

  • I’m calling these bookish media sources “the people’s sources,” meaning their followers lean more “regular readers” vs. book industry insiders. They have broader appeal and lean toward compelling stories and entertaining books.
  • The majority of these sources are podcasts, which I didn’t even listen to over a year ago!
  • I’m a bit surprised that Modern Mrs. Darcy made this list as I’d always thought she preferred lighter, happier books than I do. Goes to show what you can learn from looking at the numbers!
  • Amazon is a goldmine to have as a Best source…they publish Best Books of the Month lists each month, which are a great recommendation source that I hadn’t been taking regular advantage of!

The Best Books of 2017 Lists I DON’T Agree With

These are my Worst Bookish Media Sources…

  1. Kirkus (Literary Fiction -43%, Debuts -25%)
  2. New York Times 10 Best Books of 2017 (-30%)
  3. Publisher’s Weekly (-20%)
  4. Bookpage Editors Picks (-16%)
  5. Bustle (-14%)

My Observations:

  • These are the opposite of “the people’s sources.” Let’s get a bit snarky and call them “the literary snobs.” They take themselves very seriously and lean towards heavy, “important” books.
  • They tend to be compiled by the book editors at each publication.
  • I’m surprised by Bustle‘s presence in my Worst group, as I do normally like their book coverage.
  • I often cite Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly reviews in my Book of the Month Club commentary posts since they publish reviews in advance of publication date. I won’t be doing this moving forward!

Some Random Tidbits

  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward appears on 13 out of 23 (56%) of the lists. This is the epitome of a heavy, important book that, while I could objectively see why it appealed to the critics, I didn’t actually like (my review). And, while I appreciate books that convey important messages, I also want to enjoy reading them. And, there are books that accomplished both for me (i.e. this year’s Beartown and The Hate U Give).
  • Same goes for Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, appearing in 12 out of 23 (52%) of the lists.
  • Where is The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne, which was my favorite book of the year and is a serious, important book (my review), but is also a compelling and entertaining story? It only made a measly 4 (17%) of the lists (not surprisingly, 2 of them are among my Best Media Sources)! 

Find the Best Books of 2017 Lists You Most Agree and Disagree With!

  • Download the spreadsheet via the sign-up form below.
  • Follow the spreadsheet’s instructions to find your Best and Worst Best Books of 2017 lists.
  • Trust your Best Bookish Media Sources! Use them to pick books moving forward. Most publish “Most Anticipated Books” and mid-year Best Books list, which are great sources for recommendations throughout the year. Maybe you’ll even find some new-to-you sources you didn’t even realize were in line with your taste!
  • Be skeptical of book recommendations from your Worst Bookish Media Sources.

Give it a go! What Best Books of 2017 lists did you agree or disagree with? What are your Best and Worst Bookish News Sources?

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The Best Changes I Made in 2017

December 15, 2017 Blogger Events 32

Best Changes I Made in 2017


My family went through a lot of change this year and much of my mental space and emotional energy was focused on that. My other outlets had to slide in where they could, so I wasn’t focused on intentionally adding more change to the situation. But, more change did find me.

I’m going to focus on three major changes, all of which I didn’t really intend to make this year, but came about accidentally / out of necessity. One is blogging-related, one is reading-related, and one is neither, but all of them are long-term and on-going.

Linking up with A Month of Favorites hosted by Traveling with TEstella’s Revenge, and GirlXOXO.

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link).

Listened to Online Business-Related Podcasts

This year, I started listening to some online business-related podcasts (The Strategy Hour, Brilliant Business Mom, The Chopped Podcast, Simple Pin Podcast, and Online Marketing Made Easy) and they completely changed my thinking about this blog. For a long time, I’ve had vague ideas of shifting from blog to business, but I didn’t have a consistent business-focused mentality about it. These podcasts helped me shift my thinking from “hobby” to “business (even a small one).” 

There are certain things that many online businesses (including blogs) do as a matter of course, but that book bloggers don’t do for some reason. These podcasts have helped me see that I can and should do this stuff. I’ve already implemented a number of simple tips from these podcasts and have been plotting how to tackle some bigger ones.

I’ll be sharing more about what to expect from Sarah’s Book Shelves in 2018 in a later post, but a lot of it stems from pairing this with my next change…

Figured out How to Pick Better Books

Since starting this blog, I’ve chosen what books to read by combing publishers’ catalogs and various “Most Anticipated Books of X Season” lists, which give you the book’s premise, the publishers’ selling points, and author blurbs (those quotes from well known authors that are on the cover of new books…endorsements, if you will).

I finally realized this system has not been serving me well! The early information I was using to make decisions came from the very people who want to sell as many books as possible (i.e. publishers). So, of course they’re going to slap “THE thriller of 2017”-type labels on books that may or may not be very good. I don’t blame them (it’s their job to create hype), but I don’t have to listen to them.

So, I started thinking about a new system for picking books. Many of my favorite books of 2017 were recommended to me by trusted sources and weren’t on my radar during all that catalog combing. I realized the source of the recommendation is way more important than the book itself.

Over the last few months, I tracked all my recommendation sources and numerically figured out who gives me the best (and worst) ones. I’ll be using this system to pick books moving forward (and I hope you’ll join me!) and integrating this theme into everything I do on the blog next year, including…

  • My Most Anticipated Books of Winter 2018 list (coming on December 26) will mostly be books from trusted sources who, in as many cases as possible, have already read the book. For the first time ever, I did not look at a single publisher’s catalog to create this list.
  • A tool to help you figure out which Best Books of the Year lists are most compatible with your reading taste (coming on December 19).
  • I’m working on a Reading Tracker that will enable you to easily figure out who your go-to and no-go recommendation sources are throughout the year (plus, a bunch of other good stuff)…which will be available for sale in January.

Started Exercising for Longevity

This last change was forced upon me when I threw out my back in February, but I learned some valuable lessons that will serve me well over the long-term.

Up until Winter 2017, I ran a lot (including occasional races) and did Sprint Triathlons. Throwing out my back forced me to drastically cut back my exercising and I haven’t competed in a race since Thanksgiving 2016. The long recovery and endless hours of physical therapy since then have taught me how to exercise for longevity…and that longevity should be my goal now that I’m approaching 40.

What does this actually mean?

  • Don’t go all-out every workout. I should go hard about 2 days a week and convert some of my weekly workouts into recovery workouts at an easier pace.
  • Spend more time on recovery. For me, this includes foam rolling, recovery yoga (I love Jasyoga’s videos), sleep, and stretching.
  • Increase the strength training, cut back on the cardio (which is hard on my joints). I’m now strength training 4 days/week and doing cardio 2 days/week rather than the reverse. And, my strength work is heavily focused on glutes, hips, and core to protect my lower back.
  • Appreciate the ability to just go for a run…at whatever speed feels good to me that day.
  • Listen to my body. If something hurts, stop whatever I’m doing. If I’m really dragging, take some rest. My body is probably telling me something.

What were the best changes you made this year?

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