Lauren’s Rules for Reading

This morning I read a blog post on BookRiot all about people’s idiosyncratic rules for reading and what those rules revealed about personality, and of course, I started ruminating about my own personal rules, how they differ from the other book lovers I know, and what, if anything, they say about me.  I’m still not sure about that last one, but I did come up with a list…’cause there’s nothing I love more than a good list.  So, in no particular order, here are my rules for reading:

1. I always, always, ALWAYS take the book jacket off of hardback books before I start reading.  I used to just recycle them (and still do with children’s picture books because they reprint the jacket on the cover), but I’ve started putting them back on all other hardbacks when I’m finished.  I started this simply because all my friends at the iSchool gasped in horror every time I mentioned throwing away the jackets; it turns out I actually am susceptible to some forms of peer pressure.

2. I crack the spines on paperbacks.  Every. Single. Time.  I like to be able to hold the book open with one hand, and it just doesn’t happen unless you break the spine.  I know many of you are cringing right now.  Don’t worry–I don’t do it to borrowed books, only ones I own.

3. I am a reformed dog-earer, but I cannot stop myself from setting a book face down and open to the page I’m reading.  I try to use book marks, and I particularly like those stupid subscription thingies that fall out of magazines, but I’m not very good at it.  Again–not something I do to borrowed books…

4.  At night, I have to finish the chapter I’m on before I can stop reading.  During the day, I just stop wherever.

5. Related to rule #4–I HAVE to read at least a chapter every night before I go to bed, or I can’t get to sleep.  I blame my parents, although if you hear them tell the story of my favorite childhood book (Three Friends Find Spring) and the reason I loved it so much (because it’s super long and I could stay up later if I picked it), you might be persuaded otherwise.

6. The only marking I ever put in books is underlining.  I’m lucky to have a good visual memory, so I can usually find my way to favorite passages without much aid, and I find writing in the margins distracting when I reread.  My obsession with a clean page means that I always buy new or totally clean copies of books assigned for class, and I’m super picky about what I’ll buy from Half-Price.

7. I used to read 2 or 3 books at a time, but since I’ve had kids, I try to stick to just one.  I do, however, read A TON of magazines because I’m obsessed with long-form journalism, and I kind of think those have taken the place of the multiple books.

8. I solely read e-galleys now on my Nook, and then only if I can’t get a hold of a physical ARC.  Sometimes when I travel, I’ll take it with me so I don’t have to cart a bunch of books around, but let’s be honest, it’s not like I travel all that much.  It’s just not the same for me as reading a book…and what do you do if there’s a map at the beginning???????

9. My TBR (“to be read”) pile is so big that it takes up an entire Billy bookshelf from Ikea. I know, I know.  I’ve placed a book-buying moratorium on myself for the summer.

10. I hide my romance novels and YA books with bad covers on the bookshelves in my guest bedroom…

11. I put my name in the front and the date I finished the book in the back of all my books.

There they are…and of course, it goes to eleven.  Some of these I think are pretty universal, at least for the library crowd, but everyone’s got their quirks, right?  What are your rules for reading?  Leave them in the comments below!

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I Have No Shame (or, Books/Authors Other People Might Be Embarrassed to Admit They Love but I’m Not)

This season on Glee they did a whole episode on “guilty pleasures;” Wham, Phil Collins, Barry Manilow, the Spice Girls…ABBA.  All I could think was, “I’m supposed to be embarrassed about liking these songs????  I love all these songs…because they’re AWESOME.”  Then, two weeks ago, Entertainment Weekly had an article on guilty pleasures, and again, I found myself thinking, “Really?  Seriously?  Some of this stuff is just straight up great.”  That’s when I realized that I have absolutely no shame about things I like…either that, or I have terrible taste.  As usual, the truth is probably somewhere in between.  With that being said, here are some books and authors I unashamedly love, but that other people might term “guilty” pleasures. Me, I say “read away!” ’cause at least you’re reading and not just sitting around picking your nose…

(Most of the books/authors making appearances are from the romance genre…what can I say?  I’m a sucker for a swoony guy and a love story.  AND romance is a highly maligned genre on the whole–I could do a whole post on why people like to hate on a genre that is written almost solely for women…but I won’t.  For the time being.)

1. Laurell K. Hamilton–The Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series (but only through Obsidian Butterfly) and the Merry Gentry Faery series.  I was into vampires and fairies WAY before Twilight or True Blood.  I even wrote a paper freshman year of college (circa 1998) about the evolving depictions of vampires in literature/film…it was called “Sympathy for the Devil.”  That’s right, I titled a paper for a Victorian literature class after a Rolling Stones’ song.  Good times.

2. Jacqueline Carey–The Kushiel’s Chosen trilogy and subsequent companion series.  These books have some crazy kinky 50 Shades of Grey stuff going on in them, but the plot and world-building is so phenomenal.  And Jocelyn, the male protagonist in the first 3 books, is just amazing.  The first book starts really, really slowly because Carey does so much world-building, and the plotting is very intricate and complex, but the payoff is so great. Also, they have maps and an enormous list of the characters at the beginning of each book.  I LOVE MAPS AND CHARACTER LISTS.

3. Diana Gabaldon–The Outlander series.  A ton of people I know adore these books (almost as much as I do), but I still get some funny looks when I’m all, “You should read this!  There’s time travel and hot guys in kilts and Bonnie Prince Charlie and war…it’s amazing!” Also, they’re sometimes shelved under Romance, and a lot of people don’t want to venture into that section of the bookstore/library.  This series is incredibly well-researched and has the best male love interest of all time–JAMIE FRASER.

4. A Knight in Shining Armor, Jude Deveraux–This is another time-travel romance, but it’s way fluffier than Gabaldon’s books.  It is, however, one of the first romances I ever read and is a fun reverse take on A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.  

5. Anne Rice–Told you I was into vampires…and I don’t like mine to sparkle.  I like ’em scary and with existential crises.  I also think her witch books (The Witching HourLasher, and Taltos) are pretty great.

6. Dan Brown–I read ’em.  I ate that sh*t up.  So did just about everyone else I knew, but now it’s not cool to admit it.  I already told you I have no shame.

7. The Dark Hunter series by Sherrilyn Kenyon.  Swoon.

8. Jodi Picoult–I frequently go through phases with my reading, and I have a tendency to binge read authors.  I’ll read one book, enjoy it, and then I’ll read as many of their other books as I can.  That happened to me with Picoult–I read Plain Truth (about the Amish), thought it was good, then read almost all of her others.  She’s pretty much a formula writer, but when she ventures away from the formula (like in The Tenth Circle) I think she’s a lot better.  Good beach reads.

9. “Chick Lit”–I really hate that term, but since this is a guilty pleasures list, I think it fits pretty well.  Think Meg Cabot’s adult fiction, Sophie Kinsella, Anna Maxted…anything with a fun cover, humor, and a screwed up female protagonist.  I particularly like Maxted’s books, primarily because they’re set in England.  Shallow, I know, but there it is.

10. Katie McAlister–McAlister writes paranormal romance…and has a series where all the male love interests are DRAGONS.  How can you not love that?  Plus, her books are hilarious.

11. Julia Quinn–I love her Regency romances with the Bridgerton family.  Yes, they are totally silly, but the female protagonists are all super smart, and she’s great at describing clothes.

So now I hear people saying, “Lauren, do you only read romance novels with hot guys?” Obviously, the answer is NO…but I have a weak spot for romance because it was the first genre fiction I fell in love with once I graduated from the “Juvenile Fiction” section at the Round Rock Public Library.  There wasn’t a lot of YA back then, and it was all shelved with children’s lit, so I read things like The Outsiders, Stotan!, and Night Kites way earlier than I should have.  After that, all through high school and college, I read romance for fun while I read the canon for my classes.  I think it’s because I’m a super character-driven reader, and since most romance novels have similar plots, the nuance really lies in the characterization.  I don’t really read any mystery fiction (except Laurie R. King’s Kate Martinelli books and Cara Black’s Aimée Léduc series), so that’s why you don’t see any Patricia Cornwell or Sue Grafton on this list.  I don’t read any horror like Dean Koontz or Steven King, either, because I have a seriously over-active imagination and most horror makes me incredibly anxious.  But if that’s your bag, I say more power to you!  I just wanted to make the point that no one should be embarrassed about their reading choices–you’re probably in really good company.  Happy reading!

PS.  If you haven’t read Gabaldon or Carey, you should give them a try.  Honestly.  And don’t be ashamed of it 🙂

My Go-To Recommendations for “Grown-Up” Books

Most of my friends know I’m an obsessive reader, so I get a lot of people asking for book recommendations.  Not all of these people are as enamored with YA lit as I am, and I like to have some “grown-up” books to suggest for them.  I’ve read (and loved) all of these, and they’re books I consider major crowd-pleasers–ones I can recommend without a lot of knowledge about what someone likes to read because just about everyone will like them.

Here goes:

1. The Secret History, Donna TarttSoooo…this is a weird book.  Amazing, but weird.  It’s set at a fictional college in Vermont (based on Bennington College–where my cousin Luke went!) and centers on a group of students who have fashioned themselves into a sort of Bacchanalian cult.  Somebody dies during one of their revels, and the book is a little like a reverse mystery novel.

2. The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield–The best non-19th century Victorian novel ever.  Even people who hate things like Jane Eyre like this book.  It is also pretty weird.  If you’re already sensing a theme to this list, you’re probably correct.  I’m a weirdo and I like crazy stuff.

3. The Magicians, Lev Grossman–Harry Potter/Narnia for grown-ups.  Seriously.  There’s a wizarding college, and the characters go through a portal into a magical world.  There’s also a sequel, The Magician King, that’s sitting on one of my shelves right now, but I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.

4. People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks–She won the Pulitzer for March, but I like this one better.  History, religion, war, illuminated manuscripts, book restoration–what more could you ask for?

5. The Time-Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffeneger–An epic love story with a time-traveling protagonist.  So beautiful and brutal.  This book ripped my heart out and stomped that sucker flat.

6. Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer–Awesome non-fiction that combines a true crime mystery with the history of the Mormon church.

7. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks–More non-fic, this time dealing with the ramifications of poverty, biomedical ethics, and illness.  I’ll be honest, I kind of skipped some of the science-y part to get back to the narrative about Henrietta, but I still think it’s very accessible to the average reader.

8. Friday Night Lights, Buzz Bissinger–The book is SO much better than the movie and totally different from the show.  It is a quintessentially Texas book.  My only complaint is that they talk about the cheerleaders but not the drill team–what Texas high school doesn’t have a drill team?

9. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn–All the buzz last summer about this book was totally justified.  It’s great and has a killer ending that made me throw the book across the room.

10. The Help, Kathryn Stockett–Yes, there are definitely problematic aspects to this book, but it’s still a great read.  And the movie of this one is actually really good, too.

11. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold–Don’t watch the terrible movie.  Read the beautiful book.

I know a lot of folks have already read many of these–there’s a reason they make good, general “You should read THIS” recommendations.  If you haven’t, you should definitely check them out.  Happy reading!

My All-Time Favorite YA Books…this list goes to ELEVEN.

That’s right, this list goes to 11.  Why, you ask? Because I said so.  (The mom in me obviously comes out to play every now and then…)  Here’s my eleven all-time favorite YA books–each of them is a reread for me.  In the case of some, multiple rereads.  You should read them…because I said so.

1.  Rats Saw God, Rob Thomas (the one who writes Veronica Mars, not the singer)–This book is what would happen if you took My So-Called Life, set it in suburban Texas and made Angela a dude who does a lot of drugs.  Good for those of us with 90s nostalgia and a love of grunge music (there’s even a reference to the death of Kurt Cobain–something I remember SO clearly from HS).

2. Looking for Alaska, John Green–An obvious pick, I know…but I really, really love this book.  I always recommend that people start here instead of The Fault in Our Stars when they want to “see what all the John Green hype” is about.  He won a Printz Award from YALSA for this one, and I think it was well-deserved.  Miles “Pudge” Halter leaves his public school for a private boarding school in rural Alabama where he meets Alaska Young.  All hell breaks loose in Miles’ world.  Prepare yourself for laughter and tears…lots and lots of tears.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

3.  The Song of the Lioness Quartet, Tamora Pierce–The first truly YA books I ever read as a kid.  I still re-read them on a regular basis.  Alanna wants to be a knight but, bummer, she’s a girl.  So she switches places with her twin Thom, dresses like a boy, and heads to the palace.  Magic, fighting, swords, and thievery ensue.  Plus, in book 2, she gets the most awesome pet cat EVER.  I just recommend Pierce in general.  I’ve loved each of her series–no one writes better female fantasy protagonists.

4. Dreamland, Sarah Dessen–This is definitely much “darker” than Dessen’s usual YA romances, but it’s hands down my favorite.  Caitlin is such an authentic, flawed teenager, and you just can’t help but root for her, even when you’re screaming “He’s not just a ‘bad boy’!  He’s abusive! And controlling! And getting you involved in drugs!” at her.

5. The Jessica Darling series, Meg McCafferty–Some people say the last 3 books of this series are “new adult” but since I don’t believe that’s actually a thing, I’m gonna say all 5 are YA.  I mean, Anne Shirley gets to grow up, go to college, get a job, have babies, raise them, and send two of them off to war, and we STILL call that series “children’s lit”–can’t Jessica Darling and Marcus Flutie have a happy ending and it still be YA?

6. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks, E. Lockhart–Feminism, boys, secret societies, basset hounds, Bentham’s panopticon, boarding school.  All these things factor into this awesome, brilliant book.

7.  Beauty Queens, Libba Bray–What if the plane on the TV show “Lost” was filled with teenage beauty pageant contestants?  What if there was a giant conspiracy to kill them all?  What if Miss Texas went native and started running around naked and talking to snakes?  Best satire I’ve ever read.  Hilarious, thought-provoking, and innovative. 

8. Stotan!, Chris Crutcher–Another golden oldie from my younger years.  It’s about a boys on swim team.  In Washington State.  Who do some sort of crazy training program named after the Stoic philosophers and the Spartan warriors.  There is absolutely no reason I should like this book (usually I prefer to ogle swimmers, rather than read about them), but I adore this book.  Crutcher’s writing is so accessible and to the point.  Love all his other books too.

9. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card–The only truly science fiction title I love…I just wish OSC’s political and social beliefs weren’t so abhorrent to me.

10. Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson–Melinda doesn’t talk.  Anderson takes you inside her brain to find out why.  (the seasonal structure of this book is wicked awesome…just thought I’d add that)

11. Anything by Meg Cabot.  That’s right–I’ve read ’em all. Cabot’s never going to win a Printz award, but damn.  She writes some compulsively readable books.  Great humor, fun romance, smart girls.  What’s not to love?

So that’s my eleven.  I could think of more, and I’ve certainly read a lot of newer titles that have the potential to make this list, but these are tops today.  Check them out if you haven’t…I think there’s a YA book for just about anybody on this list.