Finding more time to read

I’m always trying to find more time to read. Here are ten of my suggestions for how I make the time.

1. Read during meals. Probably not nice dinners, or first dates (unless you’re lucky and find another crazy bibliophile), but I usually get some reading time in every morning at breakfast and pretty much any other meal I enjoy by myself.

2. Read during your break at work. Currently I’m using my break time to go on walks in order to get more exercise, but when I’m desperate for more reading time, especially in the summer when I can go outside, it’s easy to fit in a few pages during a regular fifteen minute work break.

3. Read before bed. This one seems so easy, but it always surprises me how many people go-go-go during the day and then climb straight into bed. Not only can forming the habit of twenty or so minutes of pleasure (not work or school) reading before bed quickly add up, but it can also help form a buffer between a long day and a relaxing night of sleep.

4. Read while traveling. I’ve been blessed with the ability to read in the car, but even if directing your eyes toward print while in a vehicle makes you sick, there are plenty of other ways to fit in reading while traveling. I’ve been known to read on airplanes, buses, and trains. I read in airport terminals and even while waiting in line to board or to go through security. I think I’ve even pulled out a book while eating alone in an airport restaurant, which is sort of numbers one and four combined.

5. Read while waiting. If you have a book with you at all times you can pull it out whenever an unexpected delay arises. A ride is late? The line at the pharmacy is super long? Your doctor’s office is behind schedule? You can read!

6. Read during commercials. The mute button exists for a reason, and besides, do you really need to watch another beer or car commercial? Sure it’s just five minutes here and there, but if the book is good, sometimes you might find yourself letting the DVR pick up the TV show, or just turning it off altogether.

7. Read as a reward. “I’ll let myself read two chapters after I vacuum the stairs.” “I’ll start that new book after I do that writing I need to do.” The trick here is making sure you actually allow yourself the reward rather than continuing to pile on tasks.

8. Read first thing in the morning. This works best on days you don’t work, obviously, but I find I get lots of reading done on the days when I do it first, even before getting out of bed or eating breakfast, before I have the time to put it off.

9. Set goals. Even if your goal is only one book per month, set it and stick to it. Having something attainable to shoot for inspires you, and you’ll find that you start finding the time to read. I find that this is especially true in January and February, when I’m especially inspired with a new year’s goal, and again in November and December, when I’m desperately trying to meet that goal.

10. Pick the right books. Don’t read the books that other people think you need to read, read the books you enjoy. Don’t be afraid to branch out and try something new, but don’t struggle through a book unless you want to finish it. If you’re reading a book you don’t enjoy, you’re less likely to make time to read it, and if you’re a one-book-at-a-time person (not like me), you’ll soon find that you’re hardly reading at all.

My literary double life

I’m coming clean. I have a literary double identity. In some crowds I’m the high-literature loving MFA grad. I put books by prestigious authors on my shelves (the types of authors that might go on MFA thesis or class book lists, not those that necessarily sell gazillions of copies). In this life I balance my reading load, trying to fit in fiction (both short stories and novels) and nonfiction, and I’m even working myself up to some poetry. I subscribe to literary journals (though I’ve let most subscriptions lapse due to budgetary issues; I should amend this). I write book review. It’s in this life that I’m working on my book.

In my other literary life I inhale Wheel of Time books, various YA novels. I listen to Harry Potter on audio book (every night before bed; it’s helped with my insomnia and also keeps me distracted when I’m in bed recovering from a headache). It’s this side of my literary character that recently drove me to dig through the boxes of books in my basement to pull out a Clan of the Cave Bear book and the two books in the Island of the Blue Dolphins series thing.This side of me wants to write a YA book some day and is tossing ideas around in the back of my head. Heck, I’ve even been known to write some fan fiction.

Now don’t get me wrong here. One of these isn’t the real me while the other is a front. I love it all. I love a good, tough read as much as a quick lighter one (and I’ve been known to walk around the house, talking to myself as I analyze both). I love the time I spend working on my book (even if it is hard as all hell), and so far I’m really enjoying exploring the new (to me) genre of book reviews. When I got the new issue of Willow Springs last week I devoured it, then tore through 600 pages of YA the next day.

But I can’t help feeling, as I switch back and forth, that I’m somehow doing something wrong. You see, I don’t know many (any?) people like me. I know genre lovers who will pick up the occasional “meatier” book, and I know literary fiction readers who will read genre from time to time, but I have yet to meet someone who feels like he or she is being torn both ways. It’s as if, when I’m reading one, I can’t wait to finish so I can get back to the other. There really just aren’t enough hours in the day for my reading apparently.

Maybe what I should do is look at this as an opportunity. I may be just one person, but maybe I can bring about a bit of change. Maybe I can get the literary fiction people to enjoy and find real worth in more genre work, and maybe I can get genre readers to turn more of their attention to those books by small presses, those books that I have to order specially from the bookstore. I’m just one person, but I figure there have to be more people like me out there, and even if there aren’t, hey—one is still better than none.

In the meantime, I’m reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog (in translation from the original French, definitely literary fiction). At the top of my figurative to-read stack I’ve got a few YA books, three adult fantasy novels (two of which I’ve borrowed and should really get to soon), a nonfiction reportage-type book, and two books of short stories. Then there’s the novel I’ll be reviewing when it’s published in April (unless I can get an ARC sooner). And the question I always ask myself is: What on earth am I going to read next?

2010 books: the best of the best, the worst of the worst

Now that I’ve gone through all the books I read in 2010, it’s time for a roundup of those I enjoyed the most and those I enjoyed the least. At the end of the post I’ll have some stats on how many books I read total and how I did on meeting my goals for the year. But first, in no particular order, my top five new reads. For those of you that saw my list on Bark, I’m aware that this probably doesn’t match. Different day, different state of mind, different thoughts.

5 Favorite Books of 2010

1. Towers of Midnight, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
2. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins (though to be honest I have a very difficult time picking a favorite in this trilogy; I sort of picked this, the first book, by default)
3. The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides
4. The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri
5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

4 Most Disappointing Books of 2010

1. Dragonspell, by Donita K. Paul
2. Travels in the Scriptorium, by Paul Auster
3. Wittgenstein’s Mistress, by David Markson
4. Girl Trouble, by Holly Goddard Jones Continue reading “2010 books: the best of the best, the worst of the worst” »

2010: A year in review in books (part III)

Read part I and part II.


September was the start of Spartan football, and at halftime of the first game, I came down with a mysterious illness. This was perfect timing, since I lost my health insurance about ten days later. Of course, at that point we still thought it was just a cold. I canceled my birthday party and had two job interviews, during which I tried my best not to sound like death. It must have worked, however, because I was hired as a contract writer and editor with the State of Michigan. Six days after my interview, I started work.

Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
The second book in the Hunger Games Trilogy, I didn’t feel the letdown so common to sophomore trilogy books. This book was intense and surprising, and the characters took even more shape. I can’t really talk specifics without risking giving away the first book, but in a general sense, I continued to be impressed by the risks Collins took in developing such an unusual and intriguing heroine. Plus, this book ended on the gutsiest of all cliffhangers. But lucky for me, I had the third book ready to go.

Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins
Ah, the book that started it all for me. Thankfully, when I picked up the book, I didn’t remember a serious spoiler I’d accidentally happened across a few weeks before when, like an idiot, I’d decided to read a review. Like Catching Fire, this book took risks, and there were times when I wasn’t sure what to think. But it was a good feeling, because the author had succeeded in leading me off the beaten path of cliche and archetype. Characters faced choices again and again that, not only was I not sure how I’d react, I wasn’t sure how I wanted them to react, or even what I thought the best choice of action was, proving that Collins had successfully complicated both her story and her characters. Some people have made complaints at the ending of the book, and at the way this book deviates from the previous two, but when I put it down, it felt right to me. Continue reading “2010: A year in review in books (part III)” »

2010: A year in review in books (part II)

Continuing from where I left off last time.


May was the month of full-on thesis panic. First, I had my committee changed, then we couldn’t agree on a defense date, and for a bit it looked like I’d have to defend the first possible week, meaning that I’d have to turn my thesis in at the beginning of the second week of May. Since I was still having trouble finding that magical rightness for the final 35 pages or so, this was not a happy thought. However, my wonderful committee members ended up going out of their respective ways to make sure that I had a little extra time to get it right. That meant that the panicked phone calls to my parents where I broke down and claimed I was just going to drop out—with one month to go—ended. That was nice for everyone involved. On the downside, though, my work with Willow Springs was coming to a close, and though we were still in full swing getting the next issue to print, it was very bittersweet knowing that it would be my last issue with the magazine.

Travels in the Scriptorium, by Paul Auster
Still in thesis reading frenzy, I picked up this Auster book for two reasons. First, I was concerned that my thesis list was leaning heavily toward female authors. Second, I’d read Auster before (The New York Trilogy) and enjoyed him. This book, however, was anything but enjoyable. I was so bothered by the book, in fact, that I wrote a blog post about it for Bark. Talk about overusing device! For a bit I thought about taking the book off my list and replacing it with something better—and the lateness of the date be damned!—but then I remembered that we learn just as much, and sometimes more, from the books that fail. So I kept it. And it ended up being an interesting discussing topic during my defense.

The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides
To put it succinctly, this book was amazing. I read all but the first dozen or so pages in one sitting, unable to put the book down. For those that don’t know, the book is about the suicides of five sisters, which take place over the course of approximately a year. This fact is presented practically on page one (maybe it’s even on page one, I can’t remember exactly). There’s no melodrama here, no wondering will-she or won’t-she. Rather, it’s the story of a family’s struggles and missteps, as observed by the neighborhood boys (the book is told in first person plural). In some ways, I think putting the fact of the suicides up front goes a long way toward forcing the reader to look at the lives of these girls, as well, and that’s one reason why, though I know there’s a movie version of this, I have no intention of seeing it; that’s something that I can’t imagine will translate well to screen

The Great Hunt, by Robert Jordan
This is becoming something of a yearly thing for me, so I won’t talk too much about these books other than to say that I still love them. This is the second book in the Wheel of Time series. I needed something to read that wasn’t related to school. Continue reading “2010: A year in review in books (part II)” »

2010: A year in review in books (part I)

First, my apologies for not posting here in so long. I’m going to try to post weekly in 2011, at the very least. We’ll see how that goes. It occurs to me only now just how horrible I’ve been. For instance, I never posted the pictures from my Europe trip that I promised. I got back on the last day of June. Yeah. I’m a horrible person.

But this post is not about apologies. It’s my 2010 year in review post, and it’s largely centered around the books I read. So sit back and enjoy, or skip. Because it’s going to be a long one.

First, the goals. For 2010 I set a goal of reading 52 books and 20,000 pages.

And now, the books (with a few life notes for reference).


My wonderful parents payed the change fee on my return ticket back to Washington and allowed me to stay in Michigan over the new year. Back in Washington it took a bit of getting used to to be in the apartment alone, but I settled in as well as can be expected. I worked on my thesis and on Willow Springs. I also finished two thesis books this month, since despite all my assertions to read like mad over the summer and through the fall, I was a bit behind.

Dragonspell, by Donita K. Paul
I picked this up before flying back to Michigan because I wanted something completely mindless. Plus, it had a cute picture on the cover. But silly me thinking that something shelved in the fantasy and science fiction section would be primarily fantasy. This author couldn’t have been more blatantly preachy if she’d chucked a Bible at me. I finished the book (obviously, or it wouldn’t be on my list) because there was this one tiny humming dragon that was super cute, but it was propaganda to the point where I was actually moved, for the second time in my life, to go online and post a book review on the seller’s website. Now, I can stomach religious mythology (I’ve read the Narnia books, for instance, and will probably read [most of] them again at some point) but this was overboard. And what’s the author’s response to reviews that politely pointed this out? Well, apparently I’m a God-hating cretin (not her words, but very much the sentiment).

Ava, by Carole Maso
This was a reread for me, for maybe the third time. And I loved this book. Was completely captivated by it. However, when I picked it up in January, it didn’t sparkle like it had before. It’s a lyric novel that asks for a lot from the reader (for instance, there are no chapters, no paragraphs, even, and much of it reads more like poetry; the narrative structure is unlike anything I’ve ever seen) and perhaps I just was at a point where I couldn’t give it, because when I reread this book again a few months later (it was a thesis book), it had that old loveliness back.

The Gathering Storm, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
Also a reread (it was only published in late October of 2009, but as it was the 12th book in what is perhaps my favorite series of all time—and super long—it merited a quick reread). I tend to blaze through books the first time I read them, so it was nice to go back through this monster of a book at a slower pace. And it was just as good the second time. Sanderson, the author selected to finish Jordan’s masterpiece after he died, doesn’t quite have the hang of some characters in this book (and who can blame him—there are hundreds of characters!) but the world itself felt the same, and I was able to let go and let him take me along for what was an awesome ride.

Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson
Marilynne Robinson is one of those authors I kept meaning to get around to, and I was so glad I did. Glad enough that I added this book to my thesis list. Looking back, though, I can’t really say what drew me to her other than the fact she was one of those authors I was supposed to have read. Because if someone would have described her style to me, I think I might have run the other way. Long sweeping narrative (though that isn’t a great way to describe it either), lots of description—those are things I tend to avoid. In some ways, then, this book taught me to expand, that there are ways to make really anything work. That’s it’s not so much what you do, it’s how you do it. Continue reading “2010: A year in review in books (part I)” »

What makes a readable and relatable character?

Look at the cute kitten

Not everyone loves kittens, even when they are this cute.

Character is one of the biggest things—if not the biggest thing, depending on who you talk to—that will influence whether or not a reader likes a book (or story, or essay, etc.). Plot (that dirty word!) is probably the other, followed by language. But what makes one character better than another? What is it that  separates a likable fictional creation from an unlikable one?

For me, the answer to this question usually has to do with character motivation. Do I  believe the character would act as he or she does? This means getting to know a character’s background, history, culture, social motivations, emotional responses, opinions, and a whole slew of other things, of course. But I’ve noticed an interesting trend lately in that there is a whole group of readers out there who dislike characters for acting in ways the reader can’t imagine acting in his or her own life.

Some examples:

  • Clare Abshire from The Time Traveler’s Wife
  • Any of the five Lisbon daughters in The Virgin Suicides
  • Edna Pontellier in The Awakening
  • Faile Bashere or Perrin Aybara (and many others) in The Wheel of Time
  • Anna Karenina from Anna Karenina
  • Nora Helmer from A Doll’s House

Gender issues aside (since I’ve already covered this over at Bark), I think, as I said above, the commonality here is that these characters all make choices that the reader feels he or she wouldn’t make if put in the same place and so, somehow, this is an unrelatable, unlikeable character.

I too have fallen into this in the past, but that just makes me more sure that, when this happens, it is usually the fault of the reader rather than the author. Not, of course, that that means the author bears no burden for making well-rounded and believable characters, but the question is who is the character supposed to be believable to?

A few months ago someone told me she hoped I wasn’t writing a book with sex or profanity,  because she refuses to read books with those elements. Well, I am. There’s both sex AND profanity. And my main character is angry and often lashes out at people. But these elements aren’t included because I want to shock, or because I somehow feel cooler for including them: They come from the characters.

But then other people tell me they don’t want to read books that feature these types of characters. They ask, “There’s enough of that in the world already so why do you have to write about it?” I can’t speak for all writers, but I know why I do.

Because I’m interested in these characters.

I’m interested in pulling away the layers to get at the rawness that exists in all people: The lies told, the contradictions inherent in every day, the cruel thoughts and, sometimes, actions. But I also like the way these dark things jut up against brighter things: the moments where people act for each other, when they breakthrough to a new piece of honesty. To have one or the other—the struggling homeless man who never steals, attends mass every Sunday, and has an all-around cheery outlook on life, or the cruel rich man who cheats on his taxes and his wife, treats anyone lower than him with disdain and scorn, and hates kittens—this is not believable! Not even in genre—even Darth Vadar had that whole pesky I-sort-of-don’t-want-to-kill-my-son thing.

In the end, I feel it’s my job as a fiction writer, when I see something ugly or shameful, to not look away, to not try to ignore it, but to instead look a bit closer.

Updated Writing List

Always nice to remember the books I meant to read. Here’s my current and (planned) upcoming reading list.



What are you reading? And always remember to support your independent book seller!

Thesis writing and offensive viewpoints

I think it’s actually thesis news on my blog here, and if it’s not it should be since I started over in September, and I know I haven’t posted since long before then.

I’m working on a novel for my thesis, one of the few students, I think, who is. And I see why. It’s draining to come back to the same piece day after day, to not get a break from the characters and their lives. Don’t get me wrong–I’m loving writing these characters, and I’ve somehow managed to find a soft spot for each of them–but it’s challenging. Especially when it isn’t going well.

Tonight, however, was one of my best writing nights so far. Yeah, some of the middle of the scene I’m working on is pretty flimsy, but I feel that I’ve always had trouble with conflict. Tonight’s scene dealt with the usage of the word raped to describe, well, things other than actually getting raped. What I found most challenging about this scene was to write it from the point of view of a character who is uncomfortable at how much another is offended by the usage rather than from the point of view of the character whose opinion I share (which, if you know me, you know what it is). I’ll be curious, in my meeting next month, to see how well I pulled off separating my own opinions from those of my characters.

So now my question: What books/stories/films have you read/seen that put you in an uncomfortable situation in regard to your own beliefs? For me it’s currently Lolita, a book which I love and am currently rereading as part of my thesis list.

Summer Reading

It’s strange to me to be starting summer in mid-June, but that’s how it works on the quarter system. Last week I officially completed my first year of graduate studies, and that’s means two things: First, it’s time for me to start writing my thesis and, second, that it’s time to start on my summer reading. I’ve amassed quite a stack of books to read over the past months, and my goal is to read at least a book per week all summer.

What am I reading, you ask? Here’s a list:

I’m sure there’s going to be more (much more), since I’m reading for my thesis, but I also know I’m going to need some lighter books to break up some of the more challenging ones. Just a few days ago I finished a wonderful book about an owl (Wesley the Owl).

What are you all planning on reading this summer?