An Announcement

I just wanted to let all my readers know how grateful I am that you’ve read and enjoyed my posts. This will, however, be my last entry on this blog.

As much as I still love books, reading, reviewing and writing about them, I no longer feel like this specific type of project is what I want to invest my limited time and creative energies in.

I’m not going away though. I’m merely taking on a new blog, a new project that will allow me to explore my own writing, and possibly post more often as well. You can check out my new blog at maddwierdpoetry.wordpress.com. I’ll be sharing my writing and poetry on this blog every Tuesday and Friday to start. That blog will have more information about my Instagram and social media I’ll be creating for this project as well.

Thank you so much for the interest in my work. If you decide to look at my new work, I hope you’ll enjoy that too. Either way, thanks for the support.

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The Screen Before the Page

Okay everyone, I must come before you to admit a grievous sin. I willfully and knowingly watched a screen adaptation of a famous book before reading the source material. May the Book Lord forgive me. In this case, I am talking about the Emmy-Winning series The Handmaid’s Tale, adapted from Margaret Atwood’s sci-fi dystopian novel that, for some reason, really picked up in popularity in November of 2016, along with many other classic sci-fi dystopia books, like 1984, Brave New World and similar books. Huh, go figure.

I’ve actually read those other two books, and with the sudden uptake in interest in this particular genre, I decided I should eventually read The Handmaid’s Tale too. Then I saw the book would be adapted into a TV series and figured, oh better get a definite leap on that one then, so I can read it before I watch it. Of course, I probably have upwards of fifty books or so still on my to-read list that I “definitely have to read, asap” because of a film or TV adaptation. It’s really not fair at this point. I’d say Hollywood needs to find some original material, but I’ve seen what happens when they try to do that and I’ll just say no thank you.

Anyway, I figured I would just wait to pick up the book if I heard the series was any good. I had plenty of other books to get on reading, and decided not to make Tale my top priority. Then, it turns out the series was very good. Great, now I had the pressure of reading something before tackling a series I also have to watch because it’s turning into it’s own critically acclaimed, award-winning entity.

Then, one day, I got access to a Hulu account, and it was right there, looking at me, judging me from the “Top Shows” queue. Elisabeth Moss’s stupid talented face stared at me from underneath that big white bonnet. Before I knew it, someone had clicked on the show and I accidentally watched the first two episodes. I meant to just check out the first one, honestly.

Then I proved I was willfully sinning by watching as many episodes as I could cram into an evening until I finished the series. I really enjoyed it, and was glad I did watch it by the end, but still. Watching movie/series before I read the book, what was I thinking? You know what’s worse? I still haven’t read the book! Gaaaaah! What am I doing to my bookworm reputation?!

Now, observant readers might remenber that I also only read Game of Thrones after I watched the series, or the seasons that were out by then anyhow. That is true, but even the show and series’s staunchest fans will admit the books are so thick that they shouldn’t necessarily be required reading for any fan.The Handmaid’s Tale is, by contrast, a single and relatively slender book that is ridiculously easy to get your hands on, what with the rise of popularity in dystopian classics. I guess I just have to call it guys, right now. I’m… I’m a bad person, an irredeemable moral reprobate.

Except hold on, that’s exactly what those big bad patriarchal Gilead dudes in Tale would want me to do, blame myself, feel terrible and seek penance. Look guys, the truth is there’s just a whole lot of content; books, shows, movies, you name it, that everyone is made to feel like they have to read. That definitely puts a lot of pressure on anyone trying to remain “in the know.” I was partially motivated to read and/or watch Handmaid’s Tale because I love me some quality sci-fi, but even more so I was pushed by the book’s sudden resurgence in popularity.

So what, am I just blaming everyone else for my Cardinal Book Sin? Well, as much as that technique usually works for me, no I am not, not completely. I think I also put too much pressure on myself sometimes, that bookworms in general do when it comes to this subject. We can’t always read everything first. I mean, should we even want to. We talk about movies ruining the book a lot, but what about when you haven’t read the book, so the movie can’t ruin it for you? If you’re brave enough to pick up a book that a movie you didn’t like was based off of, isn’t it likely that whatever you find will be better than that trainwreck of a film you watched? From my own experience, I gotta say the statistics point to yes. What’s more, with high quality adaptations like The Handmaid’s Tale or Game of Thrones, you’ll often end up getting even more of a great thing.

So maybe watching the movie or show first like some filthy plebeian isn’t the worst thing I could do as a bookworm. Thinking about and flipping the situation around, it could really provide a nice change of perspective.

What Type of Bookstore are You?

I’ve recently gotten a job working downtown, and I got to say there are a lot of things I like about working downtown, things that almost make up for the ungodly traffic I face commuting to and from work. The most important thing, as far as I’m concerned, is how many bookstores are within walking distance of my workplace. I thought I was extremely lucky to have two bookstores in my college town (three including the college bookstores, but you shouldn’t because all they sell are overpriced college merch and text books that cost one human kidney a piece, which gets tricky by your junior year when you run out of kidneys,) but I’m surrounded by even more bookstores now.

I wanted to write a post about the different types of bookstores I’ve noticed downtown, but then I felt that I should do something more exciting. Why talk about what types of bookstores there are when we can figure out what kind of book store you are? I’m fiddling around with some fancy quiz creating engines to bring you one of my rare and special quiz posts!!!!!! Without further ado…

https://www.playbuzz.com/madelinew18/what-type-of-bookstore-are-you

 

Why All the YA Verse Novels?

When I was in high school, a specific set of books was very popular with a wide swath of students, not even students that were especially bookish. Some read nothing else, as far as I could tell, which surprised me. Specifically, Ellen Hopkins was fast turning into the belle of the ball at my school, with books like Crank, Burned and Glass, amongst others. First glance at each of these books will tell you one thing, besides how edgy the covers were trying to be for their teen audience; these books were crazy thick. I’ll admit, I wondered how I was supposed to defend my title as one of the schools biggest bookworms if everyone started reading books as thick as a small town’s phone book. I had to investigate these books, see what was up.

Well, when I got my hands on one of Hopkin’s books I opened it up and found the heft was real, but the pages were relatively bare. Sparse lines of poetry dotted each page. So they were verse novel (or novels in verse, as they are also called.) The extra thickness of each book was only accommodating how few words were on each page. These kids were maybe reading more pages than me, but I could hold my head high still, knowing that I was still bookworm champion of my school, that these books weren’t really as dense as what I was reading every day. I started to think of them as “cheating books,” books you read to seem cool, edgy, and well-read, when really you were ready a dozen or so words per page, tops.

So that was my first impression of YA and children verse novels, for the most part; cheating books built to make kids feel more well read than they are. I wasn’t a fan of the realistic “tough stuff” genre that Hopkins and her books represented, so I didn’t really feel compelled to go deeper than that. YA verse novels remained in my periphery for quite a while after that. Like so many sappy song lyrics might’ve warned me, I didn’t realize what I had until it was gone. Love That Dog, The Crossover, Inside Out and Back Again, I was aware these books existed, and were pretty popular at that, but I never let them enter my circle.

As I migrated out of the Young Adult section and into regular Adult reads (no, not those adult books you pervert,) in library and bookstores, I noticed one particular type of book was not following me. While I could find matured versions of many YA books I loved, from high fantasy to urban fantasy to some sci-fi. Look, I had specific tastes, okay? Novels in verse all but disappeared from the shelves. That’s when I first realized that the popular verse novel was, for the most part, a YA phenomenon, which struck me as odd. There was nothing inherently juvenile about those books. If you went by the content, it was usually quite the opposite, with the books typically aiming for a gritty and serious air.

Perhaps it was this mystery around why I couldn’t have these books, or perhaps it was my general increased interest in poetry as I discovered some poets I’d come to love, like Mary Oliver and Billy Collins (I wouldn’t learn much about the wave of Instagram poets until later.) Either way, I started to read a few more verse novels and try to piece together why they couldn’t break out of the YA genre with any widespread success.

Was my original instinct right? Were these books just trying to trick kids into reading books with more pages and no pictures? Were adults too smart to fall for this trick? Maybe grown ups didn’t need those books because they didn’t need to pick a book of so many pages for a book report. Well, that’s the cynical answer anyway, or the most cynical one I could come up with. Would that really make it the truth, though?

I started to build a kinder answer too, another side that thinks more of the teens that love reading these books, which maybe was not possible while I was actually stuck with them in high school. Are teens and kids the only ones adventurous enough to read these books? Novels in verse remain some sort of alternative, fringe phenomenon for adult readers, even as poetry gets more popular with the rise of Instagram poets getting on the bestseller lists. Adults will dip into poetry in the short little pieces typical of these  internet poets, but they won’t crack open a whole wacky novel in this style. Only teens are adventurous and experimental enough that they managed to turn the verse novel into a booming genre.

Those are the closest things I have to answers on the matter of YA verse novels. Pick from either side of the coin you feel like; the cynical or the hopeful, a trick of the YA publishing industry or a demonstration of literary curiosity and adventurousness. Depending on the day, I sometimes believe in one and sometimes the other.

How Many Books Could I Read in a Lifetime?

Like so many book lovers, I have a huge pile of books that I need to read, and in this digital age, I also have a long list of books I’d like to read listed online. Just looking at my Goodreads account the other day, I saw my “to read” list has a staggering 113 books. I thought the piles of books cluttering up my room were intimidating, until I saw that number. That list, though I update it when I can, is by no means complete. I’m sure I have books waiting to be read somewhere that I forgot about or just didn’t care to add to the list. How long would it take me to actually get through this TBR pile (that’s To Be Read for all you book noobs, try and keep up,) taking into account that I’m definitely going to be adding more books to it even as I diminish it? Would that even be physically possible?

With these questions spinning through my head, I decided to turn to a source English majors would normally never think of trying; math. That’s right, I wanted to calculate how many books I could possibly read in my life time, and compare that to how many I’ll want to read. Could I ever satiate my reading appetite? The cold eye of a calculator might give me the answer, if I could handle it.

First came the morbid part, estimating my remaining lifespan. Just how many years do I have left to cram full of books? Well, a quick internet search told me that women living in Illinois, my home state, have an average life expectancy of 81.57 years. I rounded that up to 82 for my calculations, because whole numbers are easier to handle and I’m much too terrified of my own finite mortality to round that number down or leave it as is.

Of those years, I’ve already lived 23 of them, meaning I can statistically expect another 59 years or so out of my life. At this point, I was trying hard to not get overwhelmed by existential gloom, so let’s talk about my reading rate. Please.

Generally, I’ve been able to read a book a week ever since I was old enough to read stuff denser than picture books. Sometimes that number is longer, and sometimes it’s shorter, given different book lengths and how interested I am in reading this or that book at any given time. I felt like a book per week was a decent average rate to use for this real-life word problem. Even if my eyesight or health starts to fail in my later years, audio books mean I could still keep up that rate, maybe even increase it with all the time I might spend being old and infirm. How many weeks, then, do I have to read? Okay, we’ll have to make one more brief stop in the whole “contemplating my fleeting life on this earth” realm, so let’s make this quick.

With 52 weeks in a year, 59 years translates to 3,068 weeks. That’s 3,068 more books I could probably fit in my lifespan. Well, that’s certainly more than the 113 books I have listed on my to-read page on Goodreads. That number seems puny now, an easy goal. I could technically finish those books in just over two years, if I had to. Here’s the tricky part though. I’m not just reading those books. I’m reading any and every new book that catches my fancy. The books that make up the bulk of my TBR list are books that fail to interest me as much as whatever new text I’m grabbing at. What I really need to figure out is the rate at which I discover new books I want to read.

The problem with this figure is how allusive, how fluid it is. How often I find new books to read depends largely on how often I can get to a bookstore, (which, sadly, is sometimes not very often,) or how often I bother to look at new books online. Not to mention, when does a book go from merely interesting to definitely on my TBR list? I can’t say for sure. While it’s probably not a perfect tool, I think Goodreads will have to come to my aid again. I don’t necessarily put a book on my Goodreads every time I feel like I want to read it, but I do update it regularly enough with books I want to read that I’ll accept it as an accurate enough measuring tool in absence of anything else. Any fans of precise data might want to turn away now, because I’m about to get extremely speculative and vague with your beloved numbers.

Goodreads does allow me to see when I add books I want to read to my list, and the number definitely varies. After the large chunk of books I added when I first joined, making up for lost time by finding and listing all the books I wanted to read, basically transposing my TBR pile online, things started to slow as I added new books as I discovered them. Sometimes I’d add only one book, and sometimes I’d add as over a dozen, usually after I lead a book blog or review that listed multiple books I should try. Averaging out the number of books I added over the months and years I’d been on Goodreads.

Oh boy this is where the math gets murky, because some of those books I added in 2017 I actually read in a previous year, not added them online until I saw them one day in 2017 and added them then. I tried to use my memory to count only books I was sure I’d added to my TBR pile in 2017 and finished in 2017, if at all. I’m sure my memory was far from perfect, but let’s assume I got it close to right for my sanity.

All total I added 63 books to my Goodreads book lists, read and unread alike, in 2017. The year isn’t even over yet, and that’s already more than I could hope to read in a year, given my average reading rate. Apparently I’ve read roughly twenty something books this year. Given how many weeks have passed, that’s below my own set average, but as I said, I sometimes forget to add new books right away, so I figure I’m closer to my average than Goodreads says. Either way, unless I can count on some day becoming a voracious reader while not increasing the number of books I add to my TBR pile, I’ll have an extra dozen or so books each year that I add to my list but will not be able to read in that same year, which will have a snowball effect I won’t be able to catch up to, no matter how big a number 3,068 is.

Really, I always figured that I’d never read all the books I ever wanted to before I died. Taking some statistics from my immediate reading habits and TBR pile made that even more obvious. While using Goodreads to check my reading statistics, I of course found more books I’d read in the past and books I wanted to read, so even now the already vague, nebulous stats I listed here are outdated. I guess I didn’t need math after all, not to learn how much my eyes are bigger than my book stomach, so to speak. I wanted to impress myself, and you fair readers I suppose, with an in depth and thoughtful analysis of my reading abilities, but in the end only added to my insanely big TBR pile and realized how futile trying to read that whole list would be. Thanks a lot, math! Well, time to get back to reading. I’ve got some serious progress to make.