Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Weekly Poll 1/27/10: Connecting with Other Readers

The question from last week was this:

What is your favorite way to connect with other readers?

  • reading group/book club
  • blogs
  • online social tools, such as Twitter or Facebook
  • other
My motivation for asking the question was that I'm realizing the importance of making reading a community event because discussions about books can help make the material more relevant to your life, spark a renewed interest in reading, and develop reading habits that span new genres or authors.

What I thought was the more traditional answer ("reading group/book club") didn't get any votes.  I have posted in the past about my problems with sharing the reading experience with others, but I did join an online book discussion, which I think is the modern equivalent to a reading group, and I enjoyed myself.  I am at least open to getting involved in more such adventures.  Now that I'm getting over my "fear" of sharing my 'joie de lire' with others, the only problem I still have with reading groups is that you have to make sure you have time to read a book on a set schedule, which is something I can't always accomplish.  I like that reading is not a scheduled event for me--I like picking up a book without knowing there's pressure to finish it by a deadline.  And yet, I think book groups are possibly the ultimate way to interact with other readers because the focused discussions with multiple inputs can help you think about the material in new and exciting ways.  I'm just not sure they're practical for all schedules...

The most popular answer was the second one: blogs.  One of my favorite things about reading blogs is that they are like mini-book clubs every day.  You can go online and read reviews of books to find something you want to read, or you can find discussions on books you've already read and join in on the fun by leaving your own comments.  Sometimes the comments section is just as exciting as the post, with whole discussions taking place among the readers of the blog.

The third selection also didn't get any votes: online social tools.  If you had asked me five months ago if I thought Twitter was a good way to connect with other readers, I would have laughed.  Now that I'm a Twitter-fanatic, though, I honestly have to say that Twitter just might be my favorite way to connect with other readers.  With Twitter, you can get a lot of contacts and meet new contacts through other contacts, all the while perusing profiles of said contacts for finding links to blogs or other online resources you might otherwise not have found.  Also, using the hashtag (#) feature makes it so you can have an organized discussion focused around a particular theme/topic with other Twitter-ers.  While I like blogs for content, I like Twitter for helping me find those blogs.  It's a cool tool to help you get to the good stuff.

One person did vote for "other."  I'm curious to hear what the "other" was--I know there are many more ways to connect with readers than I listed (which is why I included an "other" option), but I'm curious to find out if the "other" that was voted for was something I hadn't even considered.  There might be a whole new way of making connections that I never thought of and that I might consequently be missing out on...

One of my many fellow readers who inspire me to dig deeper with the content I'm reading is Julie, the writer of the Literary Jules blog.  Julie helps remind me that reading is about so much more than taking in the words on the pages in front of us--it's about experiencing new ideas or cultures or worlds and allowing ourselves to grow from those experiences.  In fact, her recent post on feeling small every time she thought about the Haiti crisis prompted my own reflection on the books I've read that have filled me with hope.  Because of that reflection, I began re-reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and I'm reaping the benefits of the beautiful writing in that book all over again.

The important thing is that we, as readers, are making connections--if for no other reason than you might inspire another reader to pick up a new book.  How has connecting with other readers helped shape your own 'joie de lire'?

Happy reading and connecting!

P.S. The new poll question for the week is up in the left-hand sidebar: Are you more inclined to buy an author's book if you know that (s)he has a strong online presence and interacts with fans?  I look forward to seeing your responses!

Saturday, January 23, 2010


A word that has been floating around quite a bit lately is hope.  With the crises going on in the world today--especially the crisis in Haiti--it's nice to stop and think about things that have offered us hope.

I wracked my brains for a book that I've read that left me feeling hopeful after I read it, and the book I came up with is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

The title is a mouthful but memorable; part of me started reading the book simply so I could figure out what a 'literary and potato peel pie society' would consist of and why someone would start such a society.  My dear friend Shannon recommended the book to me months before I actually read it, and at first I was a bit skeptical because the book is written and presented as a collection of personal letters sent among the main characters in the book.  Once I got to the third letter, though, I was hooked.  Reading letters rather than a more typical narrative made the story feel more "real" because it was like discovering a treasure trove of saved letters from a historical era.

The book is set just after the Second World War in Guernsey, a British island that had been inhabited by the Nazis for part of the war.  The primary character, Juliet, is a writer who had written light pieces for a newspaper during the war to provide hope for the residents of London during desolate times of bombings and raids.  After the war, her life--as well as the world around her--is in shambles.  She has no real direction for herself when the book begins, but her life takes her on a journey when she finds someone who shares the love of one of her favorite authors.  Through letters, she learns that this man is a part of a group called the "Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society," and she becomes intrigued.  She plans a vacation to meet the man and his literary society to re-spark her writing efforts.  While there, her life--and writing--changes directions.  The book offers a look into post-war England and shows the characters as they--and those around them--put their lives back together.  The plot alone is enough to fulfill its status as a hopeful book, yet the characters and setting also drew me in.  The characters' triumphs were my triumphs; their discoveries opened my heart and spurred me on through the book.

Those aspects of the book are not all that make me feel hope, though--the language is both whimsical and profound, and the ideas explored include both the minute and philosophically deep.  One of my favorite lines in the book--because of its whimsicality--is this:

The two of them together benasties the mind.
How can you not love a book that uses a word like benasties?  I also like that I learned new words, such as inveigle, while reading.  The characters, most of whom are avid readers, discuss more than their daily lives--they discuss ideas and philosophers and hopes and dreams.  One such line that stuck with me is a quote a character provided from Seneca:

As Seneca says, "Light griefs are loquacious, but the great are dumb."
I applaud Shaffer and Barrows for writing such a timeless and hopeful book.  What books have you read that left you with feelings of hope?

Happy reading and hoping!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Books At Midnight: Weekly Debate: Posting Schedule

If you go over to Books At Midnight, you will see that instead of a weekly poll, Jenn has started a weekly debate.  Her question of the week is this:

Bloggers, when do you think is the best time to post: morning, noon, evening? Readers, when do you like to see a blogger post?

My initial reaction is that it doesn't matter, but I think that's because I tend to not notice schedules and don't hold other people to them.  My own personal preference used to be to write my posts and check for other posts first thing in the morning, but then I started sleeping in, or a crisis or two would happen in the morning, and I had to move my posting/reading time to later in the day.  At the moment, I'm digging my evening hours in the blogging world as a way of unwinding from my day, but I'm sure that will change when I've had a bad day and don't feel like posting at night...  For me personally, I hadn't given much thought to whether my readers would be upset or turned off if I didn't post during a particular time.  But then Jenn brought up an interesting point in her take on the debate: Does the time of day you post affect your ability to get comments from readers?  So now I'm questioning my own posting habits and wondering if they should be more regular.

What is your take on the debate?

While I welcome your comments on the debate here, I also encourage you to check out the original over at Books At Midnight and also leave a comment there (or even provide a link to your own posting on the debate).

Weekly Poll 1/20/10: Reading More than One Book at a Time

Long before I took an unscheduled break from my blog (in other words, before not having a schedule during my break between semesters made me forget to do anything productive at all), I asked my readers how many books they typically read at one time.

I had asked the question because I used to be a staunch believer in starting a book and reading it until I finished it before opening another book.  (This policy only counted for "fun" books and not required academic reading.)  That had been my policy until about a year ago when I started a book I liked but didn't like enough to have it as my sole reading choice.  Okay, and because I was too lazy to go downstairs to get the book I was reading when I had a bookshelf full of unread books right in front of me.  I then had an "upstairs" book and a "downstairs" book.  I would read one in the mornings (the "downstairs" book) and one in the evenings before going to bed (the "upstairs" book).  Since we moved to a one-story apartment, I no longer have that excuse of being too lazy.  Somehow in the midst of reading more than one book at a time, I got addicted.  I liked having a choice.  I liked knowing that I could read a few minutes out of one book before moving on to another book simply because I felt like it.  Before I had become a multiple-book-reader, I thought that reading more than one book at a time would take away from my 'joie de lire.'  I thought that I'd forget something important about the story or get the characters confused or ... I'm not exactly sure what I thought would happen.  Just something negative.

I've found the opposite to be true of my reading experience, though; I've found that reading more than one book at a time forces me to make connections among the materials I'm reading.  I start to see patterns in characters' behaviors, word choices, dialogue, and writing styles because the differing authors' writings are fresh in my mind as I go from book to book.  I've found that I'm enjoying the books I like more and not feeling as pressured to finish the books I don't enjoy.  It has increased the fun factor of reading for me.

You may be wondering what kind of responses I got for the poll.  I only got one response, and that response was that the voter typically read three or more books at a time--a fellow multiple-book-reader.  I blame the low vote count on my inability to stick to a consistent schedule for posting (one of the major no-nos of blogging if you intend to maintain a following), and so I'm renewing my commitment to this blog.

And with that, I've posted the next weekly poll question in the left-hand sidebar: What is your favorite way to connect with other readers?  I look forward to seeing your responses and talking about connecting with other readers next Wednesday.  Until then ...

Happy reading and voting on the weekly poll!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Childhood Challenge: THE DOLLHOUSE MURDERS

There are books that I read as a child that have left deeper imprints on me than others; I'm sure my readers can appreciate that simple statement, and I hope you can also agree with it as you look back into your own reading history.  What's funny is that many times I remember a book fondly without remembering specifics.  I can't recall characters or details about the plot, but I'll remember the feeling I had when reading the book.  I decided to give myself a little challenge for the year and read one book each month that I remember enjoying as a child reader to see what my thoughts are now about the book.  For the most part, I won't have a problem finding these childhood gems because while I don't remember details, I can remember the title and/or author.  Of course, there are those books whose titles/authors I can't remember, and their covers will be haunting my dreams all year long as I challenge myself to find them despite the lack of author and title information.

My chosen book for January is The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright.  I can't remember what age I was exactly when I first read the book, but I do know that I had read it at least by the fifth grade.  I also know I read it more than once--it intrigued me, and reading it just once wasn't enough to satisfy my 'joie de lire' cravings.  Amazon is my bookseller of choice, especially when I'm looking for older books that may or may not still be easily found in bookstores, and I was excited to be able to buy the book to grace my adult bookshelves as a reminder of my younger reading days.

From My Memory
I can't remember not being a fan of ghost stories--I don't like horror, per se, but I do enjoy a thrilling, well-told ghost story.  My favorite segments of Unsolved Mysteries were those concerning the paranormal, and many sleepovers of mine turned into games of telling stories of the supernatural variety.  I devoured books that centered around ghosts, but I wasn't a fan of the Halloween-type ghoulish characters.  I craved ghosts based on real people with real histories, set in houses or countrysides worthy of those ghosts.  When I say 'real,' I don't mean that the ghosts have to be based on historically accurate people--I simply mean that I prefer ghosts to be based on the memory of a character already gone who is important to the story.  Of all the ghost stories I read, though, the one that stayed with me most was The Dollhouse Murders.

Thinking back on the book, I couldn't remember anything specific about the story except that a girl found a dollhouse and that the dolls in the dollhouse acted out a murder that had taken place years before.  What I could remember about the book is that I stayed up late into the night reading it because I couldn't put it down and that it left me with that deep, 'joie de lire' feeling that made me feel satisfied and wanting more all at once.  I thought it a perfect choice for my Childhood Challenge (though it may have been a more appropriate choice for October than January...), and I was excited to get the book to read again.  My initial rating of the book (based on memory alone) is a 5-star rating (out of five stars possible).

Current Re-Reading
This morning, I sat down with my old-time friend, one I hadn't read in nearly (gulp) two decades.  Maybe more like a decade-and-a-half.  It was rather gratifying to finish a book on the same day I started reading it without it taking over my ability to function for an entire day.  My first complete thought as I started the beginning chapters was, "I had totally forgotten all this!"  The plot was much more complicated than only focusing on the dollhouse; in fact, there were several chapters of important information I had forgotten about.  I had forgotten the main character, Amy, had a sister; I had forgotten that Amy resented her sister at times because she had a mental handicap that left Amy in charge of her many times; I had forgotten the dollhouse was in her aunt's attic.  In short, I had forgotten the bulk of the story.

The story pushed me forward, and it was like reading a new book because I had forgotten so much.  I was hooked and didn't want to stop reading--luckily I started it in the morning, so reading it didn't involve missing out on any sleep.  Even as an adult, I was pulled into the story and felt those familiar deep-seated feelings of comfort and addiction as I scarfed the book down.  The story was written for readers a couple decades younger than myself, and yet I still love the book.

Betty Ren Wright has an amazing way of presenting the story with just enough detail to engage your mind while not overloading you with details that would take more pages to explore.  The information she presents in 149 pages could easily have been expanded to fill well over 500 pages.  Even though she skimps on the details, she doesn't make you feel like there is information missing.  Instead, she makes it feel like she expects you, as the reader, to fill in the rest.  The characters in the book are complex, and the story's resolution doesn't make it feel like part of the story is missing (though it still ends too quickly for my tastes).  The ending suggests possibility, which makes me sit here and imagine what the family must be doing now that the story has ended.  In short, it has all the elements of what make a book memorable for me while being intended for young readers.  It is a gem of a book, and I am glad that I discovered it as a young reader and even gladder that I rediscovered it as a not-as-young reader.

My adult rating is still a 5-star rating--especially if I'm rating it for younger readers who enjoy mysteries and ghosts.  The book makes me wish the adult equivalent could be written to further explore the characters and that fabulous dollhouse....

What's interesting is what I will remember about the story now that I've reread it as an adult.  As a young reader, the dollhouse affected me most--not only because there was a ghost in it but also because I have a long-standing obsession with miniature things.  Everything's more exciting if it's miniature--even those small cans of Coke.  The dollhouse in the story is filled with miniatures, and I remember wishing I could have a dollhouse of my own just like it (I even wanted the ghost).  As an adult, though, the thing I think I will remember most about the story is the evolution of the characters: Amy's (the main character's) growth in her relationship with her mentally challenged sister and Clare's (Amy's aunt's) growth in her ability to face her past.  Sure, the dollhouse is still pretty amazing, but the subtleties of the characters' relationships are what I think sets the book apart as a must-read for young readers.

While I was perusing the internet to find images, I found another blogger who talked about her memories of reading The Dollhouse Murders: Elizabeth of 'Underage Reading' wrote "Nostalgic affection or genuine book ardor?"  I hope you enjoy her post as much as I did.

I challenge you to also pick up some books you loved as a young reader and to further recommend those books to young readers around you.

Happy reading (or re-reading, as the case may be)!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Why I Changed My Mind on the Kindle

I love books.  I love the way books feel in my hands, the sound of turning pages, the smell of new books, and the look of the covers.  There is something magical about looking at an unopened book, knowing that between the covers are the words that build possibility.  In fact, my "happy place" is being curled up with a book in my hands.  With my deep-seated feelings about books, I am a loyal collector.  Every time my family moves, the first thing we have to look for in a new house/apartment is whether or not there is enough wall space to support our many bookshelves.  So when I first heard about the Kindle, I was appalled that people would choose to read books on an electronic device rather than in real form.  I had never had any experience with electronic readers, and beyond using them to read newspapers or magazines or other documents, I couldn't imagine why I'd ever consider getting one.  One of my good friends, Sarah, brought hers on her trip to visit me last May, and I chided her for selling out.  I'm not sure why I felt that Kindles were signs of selling out, but that's how I felt.  I played with hers and shrugged, saying, "What's the big deal?"

Later that summer, I was getting ready to pack for a week-long vacation in Alaska.  Since I know I can't sleep on planes, I wanted to make sure I had plenty of entertainment for myself for the six-hour flight from Houston to Anchorage, but at the same time, I refused to pay to check baggage and was determined to fit everything into a carry-on.  The stack of books I had sitting by my duffel bag taunted me; I wanted to take them all but knew I'd have to stuff the bag to fit even one or two in.  Over the next few days, I found myself being drawn to the Amazon Kindle page; finally one afternoon, my compulsive index finger hit the "buy" button.

When my Kindle arrived, I still had mixed feelings about whether or not I would actually enjoy reading on my new device, but I trudged on and downloaded some books to prepare for my Alaskan vacation.  Out of curiosity, I started reading one of the newly downloaded books to take it for a test drive.  Once my eyes adjusted to the blinking dark screen when you hit the "next page" button, I found that reading on the Kindle felt like reading a book.  The actual feeling of the device is obviously different--there are no pages to be turned, and sometimes you feel like you fly through a Kindle page because only so much can fit onto the screen.  Yet, the words were still there that took my mind on an adventure and allowed me to revel in my 'joie de lire.'

Six months later, I regularly use my Kindle and appreciate the many free books that are offered (not to mention the books that are much cheaper on the Kindle than in hard copy).  And yet, I still hold a love of books--when I read a really good book on my Kindle, I have to stop myself from going out and buying the hard copy to have sitting on my shelves (though I'm still considering buying The Help because it was too good to not have on my bookshelves).  While I still buy books at bookstores, my bookstore-perusing habit has slowed as our apartment has reached its limit for book space.  It's nice to know that I can still buy the books I want to read without overflowing our small apartment because the Kindle doesn't take up much space. 

I'm not sure if it's actually the case or not, but I feel like I read books faster on the Kindle--there's something about it measuring your progress for you, with a percentage bar at the bottom of each page telling you where exactly you are in the book, that makes reading feel more fluid.  I also like the features that allow me to bookmark pages, highlight passages, and take notes; I have issues with marking up my copies of books because there is a certain voice inside me that tells me all my books need to be kept in pristine condition (when I finish reading a book, it looks exactly like it did before I opened its pages).  The Kindle lets me get past that since the pages are on a screen, and any marking can be deleted without showing traces of it ever having existed.  The one major drawback to digital books is that you can't lend them out to spread the 'joie de lire' with those around you unless you lend out your entire electronic reading device.

I work in an English department, and many of my colleagues feel like I once did about the Kindle: They turn their noses up at it and shake their heads that people would use such things.  I smile and nod, saying, "I used to think that, too."  After breaking down and trying out the newfangled device, I now have two places in my heart for reading: one for my shelves of books and one for my Kindle books.  If you find yourself rolling your eyes at anyone professing their love of an electronic reader, keep in mind that reading comes in many forms and that you, too, may find yourself using such a device one day.  It's a good thing my friend Sarah doesn't bother throwing around the phrase "I told you so."

Happy reading, whether you're reading a hard or digital copy of a book!