Summer 2015 Reading

Magical books

Magical books (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My last blog was all about the writing I’ve done this summer (and since then, I’ve achieved my Camp NaNoWriMo goal – yay!), but as any worthwhile author will tell you, you can’t write if you’re not reading. So I’ve been doing what a good writer should do, naturally.

The reading list that I set for myself this year is an ambitious one. (Read it here.) On it are 27 books, including several series. Christopher Paolini’s The Inheritance Cycle has been on my to-read list for three years now, and I finally finished it. But those books are dense and ate up a lot of my reading time. As I approached the halfway point through the year, I wondered how I was doing.

I’m happy to report that as of mid-July, I’ve finished 13 of the 27 books. Maybe Inheritance didn’t set me back too far, after all. Of course, I read a lot during our two-week vacation. I worried I was being overly ambitious when I packed the entire Divergent series, as well as a book that a friend lent to me a few months ago. But I read the whole borrowed book on the plane trip from east coast to west coast (Talk to the Hand by Lynne Truss – I highly recommend it, particularly if you’re a fan of British humor), and I plowed through all but a couple hundred pages of the Divergent series over the two weeks.

Ahead of me, I still have at least one doozy (Diana Gabaldon’s Written in My Heart’s Own Blood – all of the books in her Outlander series are formidable), plus Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games series. I know I re-read it last year, but I want it to be fresh when the final movie comes out this fall. Also, I’ll start reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to my seven-year-old in the next week. I’m excited that he’s finally old enough to comprehend the story – we may have another Potter geek in the making.

Other than my non-fiction books (which I rarely list here, unless it’s what I consider entertaining non-fiction, such as Talk to the Hand), I’ve stuck to my book list pretty well. Early on, I decided to read Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone because I’d seen the movie and was interested in seeing what kind of extra character developments happened in the book. I’m glad I did. Woodrell’s use of language is unique, and as a writer, it’s always helpful to mix it up with a different style from time to time.

The only other detour I’ve made was Lisa Genova’s Still Alice (also a book-turned-movie). This was a book I had to read. I’m going back to teach full-time in the fall, and the faculty at my school has a summer reading list. Still Alice was the only novel on our list of choices. I’ve jotted down the titles of several non-fiction books that interest me, but I wanted a good story – and I got it. But frequent criers, keep your tissues handy.

I’m sticking to my list and loving it. I hope to finish Lois Lowry’s The Giver series by the time the kids go back to school (I’m halfway through the second book, Gathering Blue), and then I’ll keep plowing ahead.

And never fear – if I actually make it through this whole list, I already have several new books waiting. (She rubs her hands together and cackles with glee.)

What’s in a Title?

http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/88295374

Recently, when speaking with a group of kids about being an author, one of the questions was how to come up with the perfect title. Good lord, I wish I’d been able to give an adequate answer. Instead, I pointed out titles of books I knew they’d read, like John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. It started the conversation, at least, but it didn’t give them a fool-proof formula. Such a thing doesn’t exist.

I used to keep a list of what I considered brilliant titles. The problem, of course, is that they have nothing to do with anything I’ve ever written. And even tougher than coming up with book titles was deciding what to call all those pesky chapters lurking between the covers. (It never occurred to me until recently that I could just use “Chapter One” or simply “1.”)

It’s not just the little people like me who deal with this. I’m re-reading Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle, and while the book titles are decent, the chapter titles are inconsistent and often the pits. Yes, this is opinion speaking, but whenever I read some of them, I think, This guy was trying way too hard. Other times it seems like he just gave up. The first couple times I read these books, I didn’t give the chapter titles much thought, but this time around, I’m in a pickier mood. (Recently, I heard of a scholar who criticized the Bible for using subtitles for the various sections. It gives away what’s about to happen, she says. While I discounted her argument at the start, it’s niggled me enough to make me write this post.)

Unless you’re writing cookbooks or some other form of non-fiction, in which you need chapter titles and subtitles for quick reference’s sake, why bother with fiction? At first I thought it might just be a young adult thing, but then I remembered an adult series, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, which uses chapter titles throughout. While these are great books, the chapter titles leave a lot to be desired. Sometimes they’re melodramatic (“I Shall Go Down to the Sea”), and sometimes they kind of act as mini spoilers (“In Which Jamie Smells a Rat”). Other chapter titles read like throw-away lines that simply reminded the author what she was writing about in this particular chunk.

What I find most helpful are chapter titles that place the reader. For instance, in Rick Riordan’s The Heroes of Olympus series (great books, by the way), the chapter titles are simply characters’ names. Although narrated completely in third person, this tells the reader whose perspective is represented in each chapter. (The only problem I see with this is when you accidentally open to the last chapter and see that it’s narrated by a character that the author wants you to believe is dead. Whoops.)

Both Stephenie Meyer and Veronica Roth used this character-name approach in books later in their series (Twilight and Divergent, respectively). This is especially helpful, considering these books are both narrated first person. Paolini tries it once in Eldest. It’s the first time he switches to a perspective other than Eragon’s. Instead, it’s his cousin Roran, and the oh-so-imaginative title of Roran’s first chapter? Right, it’s “Roran.” Which I would be fine with if other chapters weren’t titled “Requiem” or “The Beginning of Wisdom.” Like I said, sometimes he tried too hard, and others, he didn’t try hard enough.

I know, for someone who admittedly can’t write a good title unless she just lucks into it, why am I complaining? I guess I’m really not. I’m just wondering aloud (or in print). Chapter titles are convenient if you have a table of contents. And there are some brilliant ones out there. “The Boy Who Lived” comes to mind. (Please tell me you understand that reference – but just in case you don’t, it’s from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. What a great chapter title to pull you right into an amazing series.) So I guess they can’t all be bad. I’d just like some consistency, please.

Until reading Outlander and re-reading Eragon, I never gave chapter titles much thought. Some books have them, and others don’t. But now that I’ve started thinking about them so much, I know I’m going to scrutinize everything I read. Do I make predictions when there are titles, or do I forget the titles as soon as I finish reading them? Out of curiosity, I’ve picked a few books, different genres, different time periods, a diverse range of authors, and here’s what I’ve found:

Books with Chapter Titles:

Books with Only Numbered Chapters:

Books with Part Titles but No Chapter Titles:

There are other books that defy these kinds of categorizations, such as John Green’s Looking for Alaska and Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone. To see their unique chapter distinctions, I guess you’ll just have to check them out.

After looking back at all these books, some of which I’ve enjoyed multiple times, I realize that the chapter titles (or not) aren’t what I usually take away. Only when they get in the way are they problematic, such as with Outlander and Eragon. Yet with The Heroes of Olympus and Harry Potter, they actually helped orient me in the fictional worlds I was visiting – and sometimes even encouraged me to keep turning the pages. (She’s finally going to tell us about horcruxes! Oh wait, she isn’t. Darn, I guess I’ll just have to read another chapter…)

There isn’t a right or wrong way – or even one type of book that must follow one particular format. If I could, this is what I’d tell that middle school girl who asked me about titles: write what feels natural. If coming up with a creative name for each chapter feels contrived, don’t do it. But if titles are your thing, give them a try. At the end of the day, writing your story is the most important thing; fiction titles really should be secondary.

It seems that authors pick what they deem right for whichever books they’re writing at the time. After going over all the different types of chapter designations on my shelves, it’s obvious that I can’t just throw out one or another; there are some pretty awesome books that I don’t want to miss out on just because their chapter titles might put an idea in my head about some possible outcome.

Besides, you never know when an author is trying to trick you. Sometimes they can be pretty sneaky.

Happy 2015 Book List!

Score! Christmas Books

Score! Christmas Books

The past two years, I’ve created lists of books that I hoped to read in the upcoming year, and here I am, doing it again. 2014’s list was much more ambitious than 2013’s (23 books versus 14), and I am proud to say that I finished 17 of them. And I even got way sidetracked for a while. (Some of the books that sidetracked me I won’t ever read again, but at least they gave me blog fodder.)

I enjoy making this list just after Christmas because this is the time of year when people get generous and give me books, gift cards to bookstores, or both. This year being no exception, I am prepared to meet 2015 with lots of new fiction.

New Books!

New Books!

First of all, I am going to vow right now that 2015 will be the year that I finish Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle. It’s been on my list two years now, and I just can’t leave those books hanging any longer. The first three are slow-paced, but my husband assures me that the last one really picks up, so I’m just going to knuckle down and read them.

A wonderful thing that’s happened in the past few months is that my first grader has gotten into chapter books. It wasn’t until he was almost six that we realized that he has several learning disabilities, and he’s a poor audio learner, so reading books without pictures went right over his head. But since we’ve been helping him with his working memory and dyslexia, I’ve noticed a huge improvement in his reading ability and comprehension. This summer, I plan to start reading Harry Potter to Peter, and I hope he gets as much joy out of that series as I do.

If you’re interested in reading my previous years’ fiction lists, here are 2013 and 2014, and here are the books that I actually finished in 2014:

The Rim of the Prairie by Bess Streeter Aldrich

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

The Death Cure by James Dashner

The Kill Order by James Dashner

An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Looking for Alaska by John Green

11/22/63 by Stephen King

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson

The Host by Stephenie Meyer

The Lost Hero (Heroes of Olympus, Book 1) by Rick Riordan

The Son of Neptune (Heroes of Olympus, Book 2) by Rick Riordan

The Mark of Athena (Heroes of Olympus, Book Three)
by Rick Riordan

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

The Casual Vacancy by J.K Rowling

Mark My Words: Mark Twain on Writing by Mark Twain

And here are the books I plan to read this year:

And Another Thing… Douglas Adams`s Hitchhiker`s Guide to the Galaxy Part Six of Three by Eoin Colfer

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)

Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle

Paper Towns by John Green

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

Lisey’s Story by Stephen King

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry

Messenger by Lois Lowry

Son by Lois Lowry

Eragon (Inheritance, Book 1)by Christopher Paolini

Eldest (Inheritance Cycle, Book 2) by Christoopher Paolini

Brisingr (Inheritance Cycle, Book 3) by Christopher Paolini

Inheritance (Inheritance Cycle, Book 4) by Christoopher Paolini

The House of Hades (Heroes of Olympus, Book 4) by Rick Riordan

The Blood of Olympus (Heroes of Olympus, Book 5) by Rick Riordan

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Four: A Divergent Collection by Veronica Roth

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I know it’s a long list, but I have lots of hope to finish a good number of these. Some are brand new, some beloved repeats. And I hope to be interrupted by books as yet undiscovered. (I’m always up for suggestions!)

Happy reading in 2015!

Why Do Authors Write Such Depressing Books for Adolescents?

It’s Thanksgiving, and I am actually ahead on my blog for the week – and that’s something to be very thankful for.

Thanks to Scarlett Van Dijk for hosting my post on her blog this week. I had a lot of fun writing it. It’s my answer (or at least a part of the answer) to the question of why authors seem to write so much depressing material for adolescents. Check it out here, and then spend some more time with Scarlett’s blog; I think you’ll enjoy it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sarah

 

When Books Disappoint

English: Open book icon

English: Open book icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was so proud of myself earlier this year: I’d created my 2014 book list, and I stuck to it. I read nine of the 23 books on that list in the first quarter of the year. That’s pretty good, right? I could even afford to get a little sidetracked. Which I did as soon as my birthday hit in April. Yes, I kept plugging away at my book list, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to treat myself to some new fiction.

I love books, but I also love my goals – to a fault. I’ll drive myself (and my family) crazy with them. At war with myself over the new books that I want to read and the books that I already own that I should read, usually the new fiction wins. I mean, it has the whole excitement factor with it. And in April, I discovered two new-to-me authors, both young adult. I can blame a movie trailer for one, and the other came recommended by several people. If you read this post in April, you may even know which books I’m talking about.

Being the dutiful goal-reacher that I am, I continued reading whatever it was I was in the middle of at the time, and I let my husband go ahead and read the new books. We were particularly excited about the newly-purchased series, whose first book-to-movie adaptation was due to be released in theatres over the summer.

As soon as Thomas finished the first book and moved on to the second, I had to know: “Was it as good as we thought?”

Poor dude. He didn’t want to burst my bubble. His answer was, “Well, it’s not The Hunger Games or Divergent.”

But of course, what is? I set my standards pretty high, but at the end of the day, I don’t want to read books that are just like the ones that I already like. I want variety, originality. But I also want excellence.

So I eventually got around to the series and plunged right in. It wasn’t a challenging read, but that’s okay. It was more action-oriented, which I already expected, after seeing the movie trailer. It also raised a lot of questions, which I love. But…

I was getting toward the end of the book, pretty much after the big plot reveal. Of course, the plot was still moving forward because there are sequels, but things were winding down. Then something gruesome happened, something that was written purely for its shock value. This one scene was written 1) to freak out the characters and 2) to appeal to the adolescent male readership. Marketing is important; I get it. There was still hope for the overall story. On to Book 2.

The weirdness continued. Gruesome and sometimes unexplainable (or explained on a very rickety foundation) things happened. The characters were baffled, so we were in the same boat. The story ended. The loose ends that got tied up didn’t make much sense. But there was still hope for Book 3.

Can you guess what happened? I was very dissatisfied with the ending of Book 3. And since it’s adolescent lit, I’ll put it in adolescent terms: it sucked.

Now, Sarah, you may be thinking, aren’t you being a little hypocritical? Aren’t you okay with not-happy endings?

Oh, there’s a big difference. If the not-happy ending is justified, if it’s realistic, if it fits with the character of the story, I’ll buy it. I may be very broken up about it, but I’ll bow to the author’s decision. But you know what? I still had an inkling of hope. Because there was a fourth book. Although it’s a prequel and wouldn’t change the crappy ending, I was hoping for some kind of explanation or justification. And the prequel gave an answer – sort of. It was still a very unbelievable premise for why things happened the way they did throughout the series, but I guess for 13-year-old boys, they’d buy it. I mean, people die and get shot up, so it’s all cool, right? I mean, as long as the hero gets the girl (doesn’t matter which girl), we can all go home happy.

I grasped for anything that could save these books in my very discriminating eyes, but a scene in that final book kind of killed the whole series for me. I won’t spoil what actually happened, but I’ll give you a for-instance:

Say we have a novel with zombies. They’re so in right now, so why not? So let’s have our protagonists being chased down a residential street by zombies. The only way they will survive is if they can get inside one of these deserted houses and lock the door. So what do they do? They outrun the zombies and make it into a house, and the zombies are so far behind that they feel pretty good about their hiding place.

Except.

Except the last idiot in through the door neglects to lock it. Not only that – she doesn’t even shut it! So when the zombies catch up, brainless as they are, they’re eventually going to try the wide-open door, right? But that’s okay because it makes for great tension, and when the girl realizes her idiotic mistake and has to kill a zombie in the process of slamming and locking the door, it will bring up all kinds of questions about life and death that she can now explore, and – BOOM! – we have an opportunity for character development.

Wait – you’re not cool with that? It ticks you off that she left the door open because no person in the world would possibly do that? Well, in this book that I read, although there aren’t zombies, something very similar happened, and it ticked me off that an editor would ever let something that flagrantly unrealistic pass. It was a device, and neither a subtle nor a good one, at that.

But, Sarah, these are kids’ books. Don’t be so hard on the author.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Yes, kids’ books are written differently because the audience is different, but a terrible device is a terrible device, no matter the target age. And since the advent of Harry Potter, it’s not only become acceptable but expected that parents will read this fiction, too. Not because they’re screening it for their kids (although they do that, too) but for their own enjoyment. And it’s not just the parents. People of all ages, with and without kids, read YA lit now. And they’ve come to expect excellence, just like I do, because audiences of all ages deserve as much, right? So what if 13-year-old boys don’t appreciate all the nuances yet? Give them excellence, and they’ll appreciate it, even if they can’t articulate why. It’s like a taste test. You may not realize how awful that cardboard-tasting cake is until you taste the real thing, but once you’ve had that taste, don’t ever try to pass cardboard for the good stuff again.

I’m glad that people write lit that will excite young boys. What a difficult demographic to please! But after finishing that last book and reading some of the reviews, I saw that I wasn’t the only reader who was underwhelmed. Several expressed the hopes that a fifth book might be published, in order to right all the wrongs of the previous four. Others were outright disgusted in what they’d originally thought was the greatest series they’d ever read. And what’s sad is that it could have been a “greatest series.” I know the author has the talent. There would have been lots of changes, sure, lots of work, but he could have pulled it off.

Oh well, you win some, you lose some, right? It’s not like this is the first time I’ve ever been disappointed. And as my mom tells me whenever I come across something I don’t like, I can at least take notes and know what not to do, myself. So it wasn’t an entirely wasted experience. The author made me care for most of the characters, and the story had some cool elements. It just… wasn’t executed all that well. And I suppose that’s the most annoying part. When something has potential, when it’s grasping but doesn’t quite reach, I’m so much more disappointed than I would be if I had no hope for the book to begin with.

It kind of gives me hope that if those novels can be so successful, maybe someone will look at mine.

Or maybe the author just had a favorite uncle in the publishing industry. Gosh, I’m cynical tonight.

On the bright side, the other novelist I discovered at the time was John Green. And boy, does he ever deliver. So my birthday books weren’t a total bust, after all.

Bread and Circuses and Why I Write

The chase

The chase (Photo credit: focusshoot)

I grew up on all kinds of nature shows. My dad has always been fascinated with all things wild, and since he was in charge of the remote, I saw quite a bit of PBS and Discovery Channel back in the day. Later add channels like Animal Planet, TLC, and NatGeo, and I was in nature heaven. Was.

Steve Irwin 1962 - 2006

Steve Irwin 1962 – 2006 (Photo credit: pauliepaul)

My kids love these kinds of shows, too. When we can find them. My elder son recently took an interest in reptiles, and so my husband told him about Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, and looked for some of his old shows on the web. I’m glad for this resource because good luck finding anything like that on TV. We finally found a different reptile guy with some shows on Netflix, but it’s rare to find a good nature show on TV anymore.

Then this week I just happened to see this article about Animal Planet’s Call of the Wildman: “Animals Are Injured in This ‘100 Percent Fake’ Reality Show.” Not only is it bothersome that apparently animals were drugged for a good number of these shows, but the attitude behind it all is what drove this deception to begin with. In 2008, Animal Planet’s president Marjorie Kaplan said, “We’re looking to be an entertainment destination, not a natural history channel.”

I suppose this makes sense, considering that I can never find the good old lioness-chasing-a-hyena type show anymore. Still, it sickens me how so-called reality TV (or what the article calls “guided reality”) has taken over.

Think about TLC – The Learning Channel, for goodness’ sake! What do you learn there? I’ll tell you: what not to wear, how to make a cake that looks like a person, and how bratty, four-year-old beauty pageant contestants behave at home (and worse).

Who came up with the idea that we need to watch how people supposedly live in order to be entertained, anyway? Hey, I’ve got an idea: follow me around with a camera all day. I’ve got two young boys. It should be entertaining, right? Well, maybe not. I know! You can jazz it up by putting us into some kind of controversial situation. Or rile my kids up, and make them drive me crazy.

Someone please tell me when reality became so fake.

As my mother pointed out when I mentioned the Animal Planet article, human nature hasn’t changed much over the millennia. As we did in Ancient Rome, we continue to do now: give us bread and circuses (food and entertainment), and we’re pacified. Just because we’re not watching slaves-turned-gladiators slaughter each other anymore doesn’t make us more sophisticated. Instead, we exploit people who are too ignorant to know that the world is making fun of them (or worse yet – they don’t care and just want the money); we turn ludicrous contests into “must-see” TV; and we stage all kinds of nonsense in order to make people think that the so-called “Wildman” is a hero.

I’m not saying that all TV shows are worthless or that tuning in upon occasion is bad. Hey, my husband and I used to love watching Top Shot and cooking competitions on the Food Network. But at some point, enough is enough. Nowadays, people think that the only way you can break into the music or cooking or fashion industry is to win a competition on one of these shows. And if you don’t, you’re worthless. Whatever happened to trying to break into your industry of choice the old-fashioned way – by forging out there and proving yourself without all the attention and sensationalism? And whatever happened to being entertained by, I don’t know, a professional entertainer instead of a “real” person’s stupidity?

All of this got me thinking. As my regular readers know, I am an avid reader, and my dream is to be a published novelist. Years ago, I was forced to consider both why I read and why I write, which goes right back to bread and circuses, right? No, I’m not talking about reading The Hunger Games. I’m talking about reading and writing indiscriminately.

Back in the days when I attended my friend and mentor Ari’s fiction workshops, he sometimes cornered the class by making us think about things we often take for granted. We knew that, according to the Gospel of Ari, we always had to read something, but he also wanted us to consider why we were reading. And we went around the room, each of us saying why we read. On another occasion, we had to say why we write.

Here are the answers that Ari did not want to hear: “I read to escape” and “I write for the money.”

I can’t remember what I said, but if Ari were to ask me now after years (okay, over a decade) to think about it, I have plenty of answers. I don’t read fiction to escape but rather to augment my life. I read to find out what could happen if. I love it when an author creates a setting (dystopian America) or a character (vampire) that is obviously not real, but I believe anyway. I love it when a story transports me to a new place, and I don’t even have to leave my couch. And as an introvert, I can meet all kinds of new people without ever having to introduce myself.

As for why I write, if I’d had the guts, here is what I would have said:

Of course I want to make money writing fiction. That’s why I’m not getting a useful degree that will get me some high-paying job. I’m young enough to still have the hope to make a living writing novels.

But that doesn’t mean writing any old novel. Unlike Animal Planet, I’m not going to change my M.O. mid-course to make a buck. I sometimes joke that if I decided to write Forty Shades of Pink or something raunchy like that, I would make it big. But at what cost? And besides, I can’t write that kind of garbage, anyway. At the end of the day, I can only write what brings me joy – which is what I want to read but simply hasn’t been written yet.

So I continue to be a starving artist (or nearly so).

There are writers out there who can memorize a formula and whip up a story that fits the mold. And people will continue to read them. People who maybe haven’t stopped to think why they read. People who have never considered that fiction can be more than an escape or sensationalism.

But I am not one of those readers or writers, so I’ll keep writing what moves me. I’ll go against popular culture and do something really real for a change. I’m happy with who I am and what I do – with not a single camera in sight to document how I go about my life – and I’m trying to raise my kids to find that same satisfaction. It’s going to be tougher for them than it was for me, but thank goodness for parental controls, archived TV shows, and zoos. We can keep it real just fine on our own.

A Book Affair

Books

Books (Photo credit: henry)

I’ve never been one to blow through my paycheck on a shopping spree. I do buy clothes more often than my husband but not nearly as often as most women. I never buy jewelry. I don’t have a lot of knickknacks or art, although, with a mother who is an artist, I certainly appreciate great artistic talent. I don’t care about TVs, home theatres, or electronics gadgets. I am only occasionally tempted by purses or things with multiple pockets and compartments (and the bigger the better). Really, the only item in existence that is a potential budget buster for this girl is a book.

This past week I helped set up the Scholastic book fair at my son’s school. Book lovers can imagine my agony as I unpacked and shelved all sorts of treasures. The few books whose covers were torn during transport went back into the original boxes, never to be displayed; every time I found one, I wanted to offer it a home, even if I’d never heard of it before. And every time I found one I had already read, I wanted to say, “Oh, oh! I read this—has anyone else? You have to read this!”

I often avoid bookstores if I don’t have extra spending money because the temptation to buy is so great. At the end of 2012, I wrote a post about the books I hoped to read this year. Of course, I haven’t yet been able to read nearly as much as I hoped, but I’ve already gone through several that I adore and can see myself going back to again and again (including one title that was at the book fair, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus). But within days of publishing that list, what do you think I did? I went out and bought more books. Now, I know there’s no way in the world that I’ll be able to read all of those books this year. I suppose I could shut myself in my room with a box of tissues (just in case), but it’s not like I have a maid to take care of the house, a nanny to watch my kids, or a trust fund to pay for it all.

Why do I keep plaguing myself with these books? Why can’t I stop? There are much more harmful vices, I know, but even if I’m not destroying my relationships or running up credit card debt with my habit, I’m certainly running out of places to put each new purchase. I converted my china cabinet into a bookcase, and now I’ve taken over most of the top of my spinet piano, as well. Whenever I want to have fun and internet browse for my dream home, houses with built-in bookshelves automatically jump to the top of my list.

Part of me wonders why I never became a librarian. I didn’t want to spend any more time in college than I absolutely had to, however, so forget the master’s in library science. But I could still work in a school library somewhere. Whenever I volunteer in my son’s school’s media center, I bask in the atmosphere of so many well-loved published works. And since I went to school there, too, and received much joy browsing those shelves as a girl, it’s even more of a magical experience. I listen in wonder as kids come in, excited to find a new book, and the media specialist rattles off titles that she thinks will interest boys and girls of all different ages. She’s my hero.

My husband has always been a great gift giver. At birthdays and Christmas, he’ll ask what I want, and often I list a number of books that I’d like or say, “You know what I like to read. Just surprise me.” He’s responsible for many of the tomes that crowd our shelves and spill over into the rest of our house, including the Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, and The Hunger Games series. He discovered early on that I couldn’t care less about jewelry, perfumes, flowers, spa days—in other words, things that would delight most other women. The first gift he ever bought for me (and the only piece of jewelry he’s given me, except for the wedding rings we exchanged) was a watch. I’d been going on for a while about how I needed a new one, and I still wear it today, almost fourteen years later. My mom jokes that it’s my engagement watch. But what she forgets is that Thomas followed the watch with a book, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, by one of my favorite authors, Stephen King. I think I know which gift really won my heart.