It has been a long time since I did an official survey on the blog, and many things have changed since then. So I’m posting one today, and I’d love to hear your thoughts! As always, you’ll be able to sign up for my monthly newsletter and receive a bookish gift guide (with gifts that aren’t books), but I’m adding a new reward to say thank you for filling out the survey–if you include your mailing address, I will send you a personalized postcard! (If you live outside the USA, be sure to include your country.)
But enough of me talking–it’s time to hear from you!
It sounds stupid, but sometimes, you just want to get angry. If you’re in the mood to get riled up about injustice, here are some books to get you started.
The Witness Wore Redis a fantastic read about a woman who escaped a cult-like branch of the Mormons. The treatment of young girls and women is particularly horrifying.
The Shame of the Nation. This book is for you if you are an educator of any kind. The de facto racial segregation of our schools, and the truly awful state of many of the schools that serve mostly minorities, will either shock you or cause you to nod along grimly. Either way, it’s a fascinating read.
Not For Saleis like an introduction to human trafficking around the world. It’s by no means exhaustive, but it shares stories of terrible wrongs around the world along with stories of people who are working to make things right.
Catch-22. If you want to be cynical about war and government, I can’t think of a better book than this classic. It made me angry, even though my experience with military life has been minimal.
The Restaurant Critic’s Wife might only make me outraged, to be honest. The way the main character’s husband forced her to give up a career and a city she loved in sacrifice to his own career made my blood boil.
Overwhelmed/Unfinished Business. In a similar vein, both of these books talk about the roles of women at work and in the home, as well as focusing on the unfair policies that cause both men and women to feel overwhelmed and unsatisfied. If you’ve ever wondered if it’s really possible to have a work/life balance, these books will be of interest.
The Color Purpleis another classic that will leave you angry. This one focuses on, among other things, the disenfranchisement of being a black woman in the 1930s.
What books have left you outraged? Let me know in the comments below!
So maybe you’ve never been one for sci fi, but you want to try it out. Or your best friend has been raving about the latest YA novel, and you have no idea what she’s talking about. Whatever your reason for wanting to try a new genre, it can be intimidating if you don’t know where to start. Keep reading for my best tips on how to get started with the new genre of your choice.
Keep it short. Don’t start with Dune, even if it is a SFF classic. Those 600 pages are likely to cut short your foray into your new genre, so start small. Start with The Hobbit instead of LOTR, and you’re much more likely to want to explore more later.
Ask a friend who’s into that genre. If your BFF has been raving over The Hunger Games or Everything, Everything, ask her if she thinks you’d like that book. If not, see if she has a suggestion for a book in that genre you would like.
Look for an author who is considered classic for that genre. But don’t go too old–choose Terry Pratchett over J.R.R. Tolkien, for example. If you want to get into horror, you can’t go wrong with Stephen King. Even if you’re not familiar with the genre and who might be considered a “classic” author, you can check the NYT bestsellers. I know nothing about romance, but if I wanted to get started, I’d look into Danielle Steel. Anyone who has sold over 800 million copies of her books probably knows a little something about her genre.
Have you ever picked up a new genre? How did you go about it?
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been pretty stressed out lately. I struggle with anxiety on the best of days, and the last few months have been filled with illness, financial strain, and the struggles of friends. Of course, when I start to feel stressed, I usually turn to books (or, let’s be honest, Netflix). In this week’s What to Read When, I’m going to give you a few of my favorite de-stressing books, and I’d love to hear your favorites in the comments!
The Happiness Project. I’m obsessed with projects, and I love reading about Gretchen Rubin’s attempts to make herself happier, healthier, and better at the things she loves most. (I also really enjoyed her book Better Than Before.) Reading about someone else putting their life in order makes me feel a little bit like my life is being put in order, which is something I always want when I’m stressed out. The Power of Habit is another book that gives me the same feeling.
Something juicy. Now’s the time to pick up that YA high school drama that’s been staring you in the face. No need to feel guilty–reading the juicy details of a fictional character’s life can sometimes make you forget, or at least feel better about, the things that are making you anxious in your own life.
A funny memoir. Yep, this is another thing that I’m totally obsessed with, but you should never underestimate the power of a funny memoir. You can read about the struggles and triumphs of someone else’s life–this time, a real person–from a humorous perspective, which will hopefully inspire you to take a similar perspective on your life. Some of my favorites include Bossypants, #GIRLBOSS, and Hyperbole and a Half.
Don’t forget to leave your favorite de-stressing books in the comments!
Rainy days are some of my favorite days, and in Florida, we sure have a lot of them. When it’s raining, I want a book to curl up with–the longer, the better. In particular, I love books that are a little dark or sweeping or even (gasp!) atmospheric. With that in mind, here are some of my favorite go-to rainy day books.
Jane Eyre. This classic has to top the list. Jane Eyre is a Gothic classic, full of romance and drama and darkly supernatural events. Plus, it’s thick enough to get you through a few days of stormy weather.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane. If you want to go even darker, almost into scary territory, Neil Gaiman is for you. The Ocean offers up a magical, frightening world that will continually make you question what is real and what is imagined.
The Phantom Tollbooth. This is a favorite childhood book of mine, and its tales of magical lands and a young boy’s adventures there will capture your attention on any cloudy day.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I love this fun mystery series with its irascible young protagonist, Flavia. If you really get into it, there’s a whole series that will keep you occupied as long as the rain keeps up.
The Children’s Book. I actually didn’t enjoy this book very much when I read it; it’s a little too sweeping and dramatic. Still, it’s long and atmospheric and perfect for a rainy day.
The Magician’s Elephant. This book is so sweet, and the illustrations it’s filled with are beautiful. It’s a strange but cozy story for you or your kids.
Blackout and All Clear. I don’t think I need to say anything more than I said in my first review. These books clock in at over a thousand pages, and I only wish they could have been longer. They are sweet and sad and beautiful.
The Westing Game and Mr. Penumbra. I originally reviewed these books as a book pairing, and it’s still so fitting. They’re both a bit dark, a bit mysterious, and a ton of fun. You’ll want to take a whole afternoon to read them in one sitting.
The Story of Land and Sea. This book is the kind of atmospheric I can get behind. It’s beautifully written, and if you’re interested in dissecting themes and metaphors, this is rich territory for you.
Have you recently been reading only YA, or celebritymemoirs, or cozymysteries? I know that feeling. Sometimes it’s fun to binge your favorite type of books, but eventually you’re going to get sick of them. Here’s how to avoid that burnout and get out of a book slump.
Ask your friends (or your favorite book bloggers!) for a recommendation. I guarantee that even your best friend with identical reading taste hasn’t read exactly the same books that you have, but if you’re feeling especially brave, ask someone whose tastes don’t usually line up with yours at all. Maybe you’ll end up with a graphic novel that will blow your mind, or a nonfiction book about a topic you never knew you could be interested in.
Pick a random book off your library’s new release shelf. Don’t even read the back cover; just find a book with an interesting title or a pretty cover and take it home with you. Bonus points if it’s a brand new author as well.
Follow the Amazon rabbit trail. Find the Amazon page of one of the books you’ve enjoyed most recently, and then click through to some of the “also bought” books listed. Keep going until you end up in a totally different genre than you started in.
If your local library or used bookstore has a 50 cent bookshelf, purchase a couple of those books. For a couple of bucks, what’s the worst that could happen?
Try some of these tips the next time you feel like you’re in a book slump and see what happens! Push yourself into a new genre, author, or style, and you might just find your next favorite book binge.
I grew up reading books like The Book Thief, Number the Stars, The Upstairs Room, and The Hiding Place, but it wasn’t until I saw the 2016 Newbery books that I started to question the number of WWII books that have flooded my bookshelves. Two of the four books (Echo and The War that Saved My Life) are set, at least partly, during the time period of World War Two. As best I can figure, only seven of the previous Newbery books have been set during WWII, and with the popularity of recent books such as All the Light We Cannot See and The Nightingale (both of which are, I believe, currently on the NYT bestseller list), I’ve started wondering–do we have too many World War Two books?
I’ve often thought about the pull that we feel toward WWII and Holocaust stories. I think part of the draw is the very clear distinction between good and evil. It’s rare in real life to have a person or group of people that almost all readers will agree were in the wrong, and not just misguided but truly evil. WWII books make it easy to know who to root for, and this makes the reversal–books written from the perspective of Nazis–even more effective.
Another reason, I think, that these books are so popular is that World War Two is still very recent. It is fresh in our collective memory; there are still many people alive who witnessed the events of this time period firsthand. We are still making sense of something that was totally senseless, and our books are an important part of that. And maybe, to some extent, we are trying to discover how we can avoid another war like this. With the threat of war constantly looming around the world, maybe we’re looking for clues from the past to help us avoid repeating these events in the future.
But then again, maybe we’re just looking for a good story. The dramatic backdrop of worldwide war and horrific concentration camps offers a compelling setting for almost any type of story, whether it’s a thriller, mystery, coming of age story, time travel, or literary narrative. Even books that I found enjoyable but forgettable, such as The Sweetness or The Mine, are more memorable just because of their setting. It’s an easy way to catch our attention as readers, to signal that there is something important in this story, higher stakes than your average [fill in the blank] story.
Will I ever give up on WWII books? It’s not likely. Flygirl, A God in Ruins, and The Men with the Pink Triangle are still on my TBR list, and I am looking forward to reading the newest set of Newbery books. I sometimes wonder if writers have plumbed the depths of World War Two and Holocaust events so deeply that there is nothing new to say about them, and I have in fact read some WWII books that were derivative and boring. But then I pick up a book like Code Name Verity or Life After Life, and I realize that there are still fresh ways to look at this horrifying time period, something that will make me laugh and cry and feel more connected to humanity. And maybe that’s the best way to redeem such horrible events–to never forget them, but to use them as a catalyst for creating bonds with the rest of humanity.
Do you think authors have written too many WWII books lately? Let’s discuss!
Ever have one of those nights when, for whatever reason, you can’t get to sleep? Maybe you’re worried about something, maybe you’re sick, or maybe something woke you up in the middle of the night. No matter what’s keeping you up, I’ve got a list of my go-to books and tips that will help you get ready for a good night of sleep.
Go for something familiar. 2 am is not the time to pull out that brand-new doorstopper that’s been staring you in the face all week. Pick something that you already know the plot of and you won’t be kept awake by wondering what happens next.
On a related note, avoid thrillers. Don’t pick up anything that’s described as “the next Gone Girl.” I’ve been there before, and believe me, it never ends well.
Choose a biography or memoir. Real life is fascinating, but it isn’t typically compulsive reading. I’d suggest something by RussellFreedman if you’re into historical biographies, or maybe Pretty Good Number One if you want something modern (review to come soon!)
Along the same lines, read something nonfiction. It will engage your mind without enthralling you (a good thing when you’re trying to fall asleep). I recommend something by Gretchen Rubin or The Power of Habit.
Avoid graphic novels and comics. It’s so easy with their quick chapters to convince yourself that “just one more” won’t hurt. If you actually want to get to sleep, save those pretty illustrations for later.
We’ve all been there–gotten so absorbed in a book or a series that once you emerge, you find it difficult to deal with your lingering feels. Maybe you can no longer relate to the real world, or maybe you’re just finding it hard to dive into a new book when you one you just finished was so amazing. Here are my best tips to help you overcome that book hangover of yours!
Step 1: Talk through your feels. Do you have a friend who recently read the same book who is willing to talk for an hour about the squee-worthy romance, the tearjerker of an ending, or the shocking plot twist in the third act? Great! Make a coffee date with that person to talk all about the book that broke your heart. If not, go online. Goodreads (just to name one option) is stuffed full of book lovers just like you who are ready and willing to debate the merits of your book.
Step 2: Start looking for your next book. Maybe you want to read something similar to the book you just read, because you’re not yet ready to leave that fantasy world (or dystopia, whatever). But your best bet is probably to read something completely different. If you loved that book so much, anything similiar to it will probably pale in comparison, at least for a while. So if you just finished an epic fantasy series, check out a fast-paced thriller. If you enjoyed your long, atmospheric literary fiction, maybe pick up a graphic novel next. Read a memoir if you’ve gotten stuck in a dystopian book hangover. You get the picture.
Step 3: Keep trying. Sometimes it just takes time to get over your book hangover. Every once in a while, it’s nice to linger in the atmosphere a book has set for you. I remember when I finally finished Anna Karenina (of all books), how I felt like I had spent so much time with the characters that they were practically my friends, how even though I was satisfied with how the story ended, I wanted to linger with the characters just a little while longer. That’s totally cool. Feel free to daydream about the characters, the plot, the setting, whatever did it for you in your latest, greatest read. But keep trying new things. Eventually you’ll find another, totally different book that strikes you in just the same way, and you’ll get to start the cycle all over again.
Have you ever suffered from a book hangover? How did you deal with it?
Recently, I was sick for two weeks straight (basically from Christmas Eve past New Year’s Day). Although I still had a fair amount of energy, I didn’t really want to read anything too hefty, and I got really selective about the books I picked up. It started me thinking about the best books to read when you’re sick, so here’s what I’ve come up with.
Audiobooks are an easy way to keep yourself entertained when you’re sick. Sometimes when you have a headache or your eyes are too tired to scan the page, this is the best kind of reading you can do. I’m still working my way through season 3 of Veronica Mars, but once I finish, I can’t wait to read the new Veronica Mars books this way–I’ve heard that Kristen Bell herself is the audiobook narrator. I would also recommend memoirs (one of my favorite easy read genres), especially those narrated by the authors themselves. Bossypants is a fun read, and I bet it would be even better if you listened to Tina Fey read it herself.
Cozy mysteries. I love me some cozy mysteries. They’re usually short, don’t contain a lot of violence or gore, and never get too stressful. Some of the most fun, relaxing cozies I’ve read lately include the Hannah Swensen series (I read at least three of these while I was sick over Christmas), Gone But Knot Forgotten, and A Scone to Die For (review coming soon!).
Children’s books. You just know when we’re talking about children’s books or MG books, I’m going to bring up Sharon Creech. Her books are like comfort food for me. They’re easy to get into, quick but engrossing reads, which is perfect for a sick day. Let me also advocate for Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson. This Newbery book is a fantastic read. It will make you cry a bit, but it will leave your heart warmed at the end.
Magazines. I admit it! I don’t usually read magazines, and I have several issues with them in general (the way they teach women that they’re not good enough is the main one). But when I’m sick, the short and simple articles are easy for my brain to digest. I keep a stack of Bon Appetit, Seventeen, and Rachael Ray Every Day under my bed for just such an occasion.
Here’s what I avoid:
Short stories. You might think they would be perfect for a shortened attention span and lessened energy because of their length, but for the most part, short stories are written to pack a punch. They’re supposed to make you think, make you uncomfortable, and when I’m sick I definitely don’t need to feel more uncomfortable than I already do.
Literary fiction. I already struggle with books that are considered “classics” or “atmospheric,” and they will definitely not hold my attention when I’m sick.
Anything scary. Okay, I kind of avoid that most of the time. But my main goal for sick day reading is comfort and ease, not anything that will make my brain hurt or my heart beat faster.
What do you read when you’re sick? I’d love to add some titles for my next sick day.
P.S.This post is the first in a new series I’m starting here on the blog–it’s called What to Read When. If you have any ideas for a future post in this series, I’d love to hear them! Just leave me a comment and let me know.