Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Too Many Books: An Attempt at Unhauling My Shelves

Alright, team. It's June (even though you'd never know it, thanks to the major gloom period in which Washington State currently finds itself sufficiently sunk). But despite the dismal weather, the conclusion of the Finals Weeks of my younger siblings mark that Summer is officially here! And of course, with it comes Summer Reading Challenges from all corners (but that's for another blogpost!). 

This June, I wanted to do something a little different, to make sure I'm not just checking out a million library books again this summer. I'm trying my absolute best to read down my shelves, and Reading Challenges are a great opportunity to make sure that the book I'm pulling are ones I already own. At the same time, I recognize it's almost impossible to plan for how to tackle these various challenges, when my shelves are overflowing with so many available reads! 

The worst thing about it all is that there are definitely books on here that have been camped out for... a while. 

There are, of course, a couple of reasons for all of this. For starters, the reality is, my book-buying habits have changed in the last six years or so since I graduated college. Back in those days, and high school as well, I kept a pretty tight roster of books that I had been given or bought myself, typically restricted to a designated shelf on the tall bookshelf I kept for myself in my room. 

Nowadays, I run wild. I'm a compulsive library-book-grabber. I place holds on ten or so books at a time, and then am invariably overwhelmed when all of them come crashing into my local branch at once. But I'm also someone who buys ebook deals on whims, my Kindle loaded up with random romance novels I bought because those sorts of books to go on sale for $1 to $2 a piece on a daily basis. I trawl multiple "ebook discount deals" Instagram accounts on the weekly, and race through entire rows of books until I find one I can justify spending money on, thanks to the tiny serotonin drop in the empty, rattling bucket of my thirsty brain that comes once I see a new title appear on the screen of my ereader.

And more than anything, I'm now at a place in my life where I have feasibly purchased too many books I am not entirely interested in reading. That's from a lot of different factors: picking up discounts at Goodwill because "maybe I'll want to read this someday," meticulously putting together a plan before visits to Powell's in Portland and then inevitably having the whole mess fall apart once I see what titles aren't there, having my annual Bloggoversary celebration purchasing 5 books every July turn into overly-precious sentimentality of books I want to postpone reading "until I can really enjoy them"... the problems are unique, for sure.

I buy books because I want to become the kind of person who reads the Classics I loved back in my English program; books because I want to be the kind of person who reads lengthy, critically-hyped Fantasy tomes; books because I want to gain back some kind of street cred I boasted of in high school about being one of the "smart kids" by reading stacks of Nonfiction at a time. The problem is, while I like Classics, heavy Fantasy, and Nonfiction, I don't always reach for those books first. And then they gather together on my shelves, and they gather dust. 

Of course, I have no idea how many are there. On account of the last estimation - when I did a similar sort of reorganization project last January - the total count broke down something like this:

TBR Shelves - 264 physical copies

Kindle - 171 ebooks 

Total: 435 books unread

And like I said before, I do a LOT of library time on a regular basis - typically for cookbooks, but also through the Libby ebooks system, because it's so damn convenient - and on audiobooks facilitated through the same platform on my iPhone. 

And again... that count was last January. There's been a year and a half of book buying since then, a year and a half of Book Outlet, Goodwill, and more. I can't imagine how high that number is now, but honestly, I'm also deeply unwilling to do that much counting. 

Not when I can just count the books I've managed to clean off of my shelves, instead. Because it's absolutely time for a bit of an unhaul process.


the Process 

So, here's how I ended up swinging this: I took a look at each individual shelf on my TBR bookcase, and went line item by item about which titles I thought were worth keeping. The ones I already knew I was interested in just went back onto the main shelves, but those that I was unsure about went into their own stack. The ones I was sure I didn't want, had their own designated area of my room, too. By the end of it all, I was hoping I would have three distinct outcome areas: clean and organized shelves, the "goodbye" stacks, and a couple of piles to take my time sorting through over the next couple of days. 

All told, that's exactly how it ended up shaking out... but it really did highlight how many books I had, too. Because it took me four days total to get through them all without burning myself out on decision fatigue.

Between the four main genre sections I organize on my own shelves- Classics, Contemporary, Sci Fi / Fantasy, and Nonfiction - I had a lot of thoughts about the whole process. 


Classics

For starters, I own a lot of Classics for someone who hasn't really picked up a ton since her English Literature major in college. I still have a love and appreciation for the genre, of course, it's just more difficult to prompt myself into tackling "stretch" material on my stony lonesome, rather than making memes about it in a group message with other like-minded undergrads. 

I also blame the English Department for how I went through a period of just picking up as many vintage Mass Market Paperbacks as possible, which was a definite mistake. In a social circle where everyone was constantly bragging about the amount of Dickens they've read, or whether they'd finished Jane Austen's entire catalogue (one girl, I remember, would always laugh at these convos and remark on how she'd done that back in high school), it felt like reading Classics was almost a numbers game. But the problems with that system were myriad: half of these are books I'm never going to read (Don Quixote, The Old Curiosity Shop), and as for the ones I actually will, I'm certainly not reading in MMP format. Into the "give away" piles with ye... 

Damn, remember when I was super into Virginia Woolf? Thanks, "Intro to Modernism" class, one of about five or so English classes I reminisce on with some degree of fondness. There were twelve people who made up the roster, including the teacher, so I could never skip without being missed, and it took over twenty minutes of walking two days a week to get there. My good feelings towards the strange cast of characters assembled in a random building on the offshoots of West Campus - the girl who also tended bar at one of the places on The Ave and would say hello when I ordered drinks, the solo engineering major who answered the question of favorite author with "Tom Clancy" to resounding silence - have absolutely rubbed off on the fact that we read Mrs Dalloway, and now I can't read Woolf without thinking of them. The problem is, I haven't really read Woolf since I graduated. I'm still hanging onto these titles, though. 

It's nice to know that no matter how much Shakespeare I've read across my life this far, there's still always something left to read. I knew I was a fan of the Bard back in high school, and I've been taking my sweet time languidly drifting through his extended canon ever since, so I don't run out of new things to read too fast along the way. Plus there's a ton of extra materials on my shelves about him, from critical commentary to biographical context, and that's worth saving, in my mind, too. Of course, there are also a few up here I have read already, but enough time has passed that I've totally forgotten about it. Keep to all, as well... 

Phew, I sure have a lot of D. H. Lawrence for someone who's never read D. H. Lawrence, though. As someone who's always had a healthy fascination with Banned Books, it's no surprise that I'm intrigued, though my copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover is yet another MMP from the '70s. Clearly, the effects of the aforementioned Modernism class continue on throughout the shelf. Not willing to get rid of these until I've given him a little bit of a chance...  

It's nice to know it's not ALL the English Department's fault, though. I absolutely can get rid of some of these on the sheer basis of "The Movie Is Actually Better"... and even in cases within those, there's no reason to keep hanging on: I've never liked Phantom of the Opera - musical, movie, soundtrack, in any case - and the Joan Fontaine / Laurence Olivier version of Rebecca is the only reason I picked up the book in the first place. Toss to both. 


Contemporary

Okay, some of these are definitely from my Mom. And my Aunt. I have a bad habit of just collecting books lent by other people on the principle that if someone else I know has already read them, then regardless, I will have someone to talk about them with once I've finished. However, if I'm never going to actually end up reaching for them at all, then what purpose does any of this serve? That being said, I'm going to take my time searching through them for topics that are more my style. Sorting, sorting...

So many of these are just because of that dumb scratch-off poster. A couple of Christmases or Birthdays ago - can't remember which - I had asked one of my siblings for a scratch-off poster of the Classics (again, my brain is rotten), but bemoaned the fact that all of the titles amplified by their inclusion in it were written by men, or published more than a century ago. She gamely pivoted to buy me a "Modern Classics" posted instead, which highlights titles from the first decade and a half of the Twenty-First Century... and unfortunately, while the list is more diverse and dynamic in terms of identity, they also frequently repeat author names, and include too many titles I know I'm not going to read. I'm sick of pretending I'm going to read Jonathan Franzen or Wolf Hall... if I really want to read them in the future, the library, I'm sure, will have them. Now the only thing left to consider is whether I should do away with the poster, as well. 

So many of these are just because I heard someone, somewhere, mention they liked it. Curse you, Goodreads and Bookstagram! I'm so terrible about seeking out new Contemporary releases in hardcover because someone else wrote a pretty review about its pretty cover and I thought it would look oh so pretty if I read it, too. Alas! It's never my cup of tea, and that makes it more than worth dumping out after one too many failed attempts. I've spent way too long being mocked by the copy of Fates and Furies I know I dislike too much to finish. Away! 

Oh man, I love Jennifer Egan. Talk about a favorite author from college: I read her for the first time in my Freshman year (required) Intro to English (non-major-specific) class. It was one of two books I read specifically for that first-ever Quarter on UW's campus, and it set me up for reading quite a lot more of her other work over the years. I didn't know I had all of these! Sure, I'll get rid of the one I didn't really like - I feel like I'm the only person in the world who thought Manhattan Beach was her LEAST interesting novel - but the rest of these are sticking with me. 

This is a lot of Celeste Ng and Kristin Hannah for someone who's never read either of those authors. And unlike Egan, I'm pretty much okay with getting rid of most of them. My younger sister loved Little Fires Everywhere, and I had a friend give me Everything I Never Told You, but based on genre, topic, and setting alone, I know I'm not interested, and someone else would be super jazzed to pick up these kinds of titles at Goodwill, instead. Ironically enough, I never bought any of these Kristin Hannah's either, and similarly, I know I won't read them. Well, maybe Four Winds. The rest can be contributed towards my mom's bedside table, instead. 

To be honest, out of most of these genres, I'm having a hard time determining which of these I should hang on to... which is wild, because I truly do not read a lot of Contemporary. I think maybe it's an effect of just not knowing enough about the material to make a decision, but then again, it's about letting go of the weight of other people's opinions, too. Goodbye, fancy hardcovers and sticker-emblazoned paperbacks. I barely knew ye... nor did I want to. 


Science Fiction / Fantasy

Okay, for a genre that takes up two full sets of shelves, it was somewhat outrageously easy to organize these once I got that hidden stack of Romance novels out of the way (There were only six, but they're bulky!). 

And furthermore, just putting my hardcovers together in one concrete, organized combination frees up SO MUCH SPACE. I think that has a lot to do with consistent sizing, too, so special shoutout to the Fantasy and Sci Fi people for resisting the urge to make all of their books weird-shaped. (Ahem, here's looking at you, Contemporary.)

If I just take out books that I've given to my brother to read, that he's passed back on to me, that eliminates a whole lot of books, too. But does this mean I'm bad at giving presents? I think a bit of minor consultation with him is required to see if any of these bad boys deserve a second chance. I'll probably end up keeping more than I give away. 

In fact, I'm retaining almost all of these, being that they're a genre I reach for the most often, and I'm not willing to give up my dreams of being a big, bulky Fantasy reader just yet. The one thing I will say, is that there is definitely not as much Sci Fi as Fantasy on these shelves... and that honestly feels like a bit of a bummer! Still, I've got to read down at least a few of these before I start picking up any Science Fiction... can't go around undoing all of my hard work that easily! 


Nonfiction

So many of these are books I originally bought for Mom! Again, does this mean something? I mean, everyone's tastes are different, so just because I purchased presents for other people, it doesn't mean I should automatically plan on reading the same. That being said, though, a lot of what I buy her are various Cooking Memoirs, which is one of my favorite subgenres as well... but maybe I can do away with a few of these random ones. 

In fact, I think I'm going to have to do some sifting through of all these Food and Gardening Memoirs. Clearly, I have a type, even beyond the stuff I've bought for mom. It helps that I know myself quite well, but what I often think I do is resort to these kinds of titles for things like impulse purchases, because I just kind of figure I'll end up reading them eventually. Sometimes its true, but more often than not, it just leads to a surplus of books sitting on my shelves for a long time. Are there any that I can just speed read a little of, to tell whether they'll really work for me? 

I honestly can't believe I've been hanging on to some of these books since my ill-fated flirtation with earning a Poli Sci Minor in college. Seriously, there are titles that I recognize from syllabi of classes long passed, when I thought to myself "We only read three chapters out of this thing this whole semester... clearly I can get my money's worth by finishing them on my own time!" Now, not only do I just not pick these kinds of things up anymore, but all of this information is, at a bare minimum, six years old... and there's a whole lot that's happened in those six years that has passed. These pretty much all need to go. 

Lots of Books about Books, and Books about Writing. Again, clearly, I have a type... and I know for a fact that I pick up a lot of these for the same reasons that I pick up the Cooking Memoirs. It's really nice to know I have favorite genres I can return to time and again, but I'd rather actually spend my time reading books, more than buying them... and furthermore, I'd rather be WRITING, than reading about writing! These deserve a little more scrutiny, as well! 


Goodbye to you...

In total, I'm getting rid of well over 60 books from my personal shelves. The greatest majority of these are from my To Be Reads, just like I said, but I've also managed to pull eight books from my Already Read shelves, as well as the eighteen books from my Big Box of Romance Challenge that I decided I didn't need to hang on to. Plus a few extra ones I found by digging around my coffee table, or picking up loose papers on my desk. 

I'm not terribly hung up on the number; again, that wasn't really the point of the experiment. The more valuable thing, to me, is the feeling that's left: that everything still on my shelves is here because I really, genuinely want it to be here.

And all of this makes me feel a LOT better about starting to plan out all of my Summer Reading Challenge game plans, too. These oh-so recently rearranged shelves make it super easy to start plotting which ones I'm looking forward to reading most. Hopefully with this kind of help, I'll be able to break out of this Springtime Slump, and get to reading regularly again!  


Have you ever done an unhaul on your shelves? What is the total number in your TBR stack right now? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Quote Freebie - Quotes from Books I Want as Tattoos

"Top Ten Tuesday" is a weekly bookish meme, brought to you by That Artsy Reader Girl!

I've always known I was going to get tattoos. More than that, I always knew what I wanted them to look like. 

It all started as a kid, coming to terms with the fact that I couldn't travel with all of my books alongside me all of the time. What I really wanted to do was crack my ribcage open like swinging cabinet doors, and shove all of my favorites into my chest cavity, wedged in between my heart and lungs. It wasn't enough to have them lined up on my shelves at home; I needed to carry them with me always, more than just the heavy double-stack I typically lugged around in my backpack each day, on top of the requisite textbooks. 

So, instead, I decided it might be more appropriate to pick my favorite quotes, and carry those. Much more portable. Then, I could ink them directly into my skin, like words being printed onto a sheet of paper. It was the closest kind of transfiguration I could realistically accomplish, the closest I could get to turning into a book myself. 

It's only as an adult that I've been paying more attention to what it would realistically look like to get all of these tattoos. For instance, I'm 28: technically, I've had a large amount of lead time to start building my collection. But I'm poor, and I'm terrified of needles, and I have a huge amount of anxiety and a very low threshold for low, annoying, uncomfortable, sustained levels of pain, which is pretty much what I think tattoos are supposed to require. After all, you aren't allowed to look that cool without there being some kind of penalty for it...

But I've still got the Notes section on my phone filled up with a full roster of tats. Once I actually become a real-life grown-up, I'm going to get them. It's only a matter of time, and money... and pain tolerance. 



1. "This is not for you." - House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski

The book is a metatextual postmodern marvel; getting a tattoo of words from its pages is just a continuation of its already cult status among the nerds who know that it isn't really just a book... not really. This particular phrase references its "Dedication" page, which can also be read as the beginning of the font-specific narrative of one of its many authorial voices... that dual-status kind of plays into why this tattoo is so appealing to me. 

Because of the myriad of ways this book can be read, I really like the idea of this as a tattoo because of the inherent meaning change once placed on skin, instead of paper. Personal real estate makes this less of a warning of the horror story to come, or a rejection of anyone's individual ownership of the narrative, but also, a more feminist status, a declaration of independence and autonomy.

But, you see, unlike any of the other words in my tattoo list, I want this one printed backwards, so that when I look in the mirror, I can read it, too. 

Having a younger sibling - of which I have three - who works at a funeral-home-slash-memorial-park gets you thinking a lot about mortality, but the truth of it is, I've always been that kind of kid. I remember Father Kevin, one of the best religious persons I have ever met, including this phrase in a sermon when I was about eight years old: "You are condemned to death from the moment you are born." No one makes it out of here alive, folks. The only things you're guaranteed at the gate to Consciousness are a heartbeat and a death certificate. The rest is between you, Luck and Fate. 

So, I really love the idea of a tattoo along my collarbone - printed backwards in its specifically-designated Courier font, just like it is in the source material - that lets me read "This is not for you." every morning, every day, when I'm putting my contacts in. It's a nice reminder that my loose collection of atoms and neuroses is only on loaner; some day, I have to / get to give this all back, and prove that I have something to show for it. Because it wasn't ever for me anyways... just like it's not for anyone else, either, and just like that hallway off the living room definitely wasn't that long when you went to bed last night. 

2. "They passed down all the roads long ago, and the Red Bull followed behind them, and covered their footsteps." - The Last Unicorn, Peter S. Beagle

I am a tremendous fan of The Last Unicorn. Like some of the other choices on this list, I fell in love with the 1982 movie long before I actually read the book. This classic Fantasy tale is so delightfully written, with whimsical anachronisms and beautiful descriptions, that it's up there with The Phantom Tollbooth for "Things to Enjoy When My Brain Needs a Reset." It's a reminder to not take things too seriously, and that even the strangest and most reality-defying of beasts can be overcome. 

But more than that, the story itself carries significant themes of change, experience, and personal growth, even when it is tragic. The final goodbyes to our characters are tremendously bittersweet, and I adore its truthfulness: an ending can be happy, but still carry weight; goals can be accomplished, but still require sacrifice. And that's a pretty good reminder, too. 

(But do I also wish that Red Bull was not the popular brand name of an energy drink? Kind of, yeah.) 

3. "She grew stronger by fighting with the wind." - The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden is another one of those books that has shaped my life and perspectives tremendously, but I can also agree that the movie is what sold me on the book first. Any child of the '90s with at least one parent who loved period films is no doubt familiar with the 1993 adaptation of the classic British children's novel. I know I certainly am... and its soundtrack is still among my most-played instrumental pieces of my Spotify account when I need to chill out a little. 

While the book itself is definitely a product of its time - including some high-key, definitely frustrating racism, British imperialism, and a big ol' thumbs up to marrying your cousin - it was one that still makes a major impact on me today. After all, it's one of the reasons I keep a pretty significant garden of my own, and I've always loved a good self-improvement story. It was even the basis of my 2018 NaNo project - one that borrows part of its title from this same quote! - where I began writing an updated, contemporary YA version, centered around a rooftop garden in New York.

This quote exemplifies the naturalist, romantic perspectives of not only the growth that becomes possible when you engage more meaningfully with your natural environment, but also, how much more fulfilling your life can become when you're willing to open up a little to the world outside your comfort zone.

4. "If we wait until we're ready, we'll be waiting the rest of our lives." - The Ersatz Elevator (A Series of Unfortunate Events), Lemony Snicket

As someone who entered into the first grade the same year The Bad Beginning was published - a phrase which here means "an upsettingly long time ago" - I really do feel like A Series of Unfortunate Events was a major through-line of my burgeoning educational experience. Lemony Snicket was a standout of every Scholastic Bookfair, and the subject of many a friend's elementary book reports. 

This particular quote bears weight because of how much this series shaped my early life, but also, because the sentiment is just as resounding now, as an adult. I experience pretty crippling anxiety most days... except for the ones when I've also made the mistake of having coffee, when it turns into a whole hydra of other issues, as well. But if I waited until I was ready to tackle even a quarter of the things I was anxious about, I'd go the rest of my life without ever leaving the house or answering my cell phone again. 

Which is, you know. Tempting. But unhelpful. 

5. "What's past is prologue." - The Tempest, William Shakespeare

Every single thing you've done or accomplished in your life, is only leading up to your next great story. 

The Tempest is my favorite Shakespearean work, in part because of the unique position it holds within his canon: it was the last play he wrote as a solo writer, leading up to his last-ever work only two years later co-writing. It's the perspective of an authorial voice in the shadow of his end, and it's reflected in quite a few major scenes within the work itself, specifically in Prospero. 

This quote is one of my favorites, because of how straightforward it is. You can sum up so much in just those four small words. And there's hope in it, for all of its status as a literary career's ending: because all that's gone before is just the backdrop for the greater that has yet to arrive. Which means there's always something to look forward to. 

6. "The only thing you can do easily is be wrong, and that's hardly worth the effort." - The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster

The Phantom Tollbooth is an absurdist, fun, fantastical tale which humor that's accessible for children and enjoyable for adults. It was one of the first books my Dad bought and read to the four of us kids in our family, and the Lands Beyond have been some of my favorite places to return to time and again, even as a semi-functioning grown-up-brain-faking approximate-person. 

For something that has so much fun with its words, it gave me the language I needed to describe things like my experiences with depression (the Doldrums), or externalize problems I was facing in a way that made them easier to tackle, courtesy of foul beasts like the not-so-giant Giant and the Terrible Trivium. And while I consider myself to be a proud resident of Dictionopolis (obviously), I can understand those who prefer Digitopolis just as well, and consider them worthy friends, especially when I need to calculate the tip at a restaurant. 

The book carries with it about a hundred or so different and important messages, and each worth learning (and relearning again). The importance of trying new things, and putting in effort, despite the dangers of being unsuccessful, runs throughout, and it's one of the ones I need to hear the most often. 

7. "Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle." - Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

Fun fact about me: in high school, my calling card was ridiculously long and overly-detailed English projects, including - if not especially - research papers. We were required to do one a year, and while my Freshman and Sophomore experiences were definitely worthy of merit (Modern Falconry, and the Injustice of Book-Banning, respectively), I really hit my stride with my Junior and Senior installments. Junior year was a perspective on Nancy Drew and the Women's Movements of the 20th Century, and I handed in two copies: the required six-page-max length, plus a twelve-page version, just for funzies. Senior year was The Impact of Charles Dodgson's Personal Life on His Writings As Lewis Carroll, Particularly Alice in Wonderland. 

I read about five or six different books about Charles Dodgson for that project, and explored not just his various biographies, but psychological perspectives, philosophies represented in his characters, his passion for photography, and the enduring legacy of Alice in Wonderland in children's books, fashion, movies, and more. 

Do I remember much of what was in them now, over a decade later? Absolutely not. But maybe that makes some of them worthy of a reread. What I do remember, was how completely I had fallen in love with the actual story, not just the Disney-fied version I'd watched as a kid, or the overly-sentimental antique-lovers perspectives that seem to accompany every overly-twee tea party on Pinterest.

Here's the thing, though: I don't know if this is going to be the actual quote I want to go with... as it so happens, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass happen to be chock full of really great ones! This is just the one I've been leaning towards right now. 

8. "They would rather be outlaws a year in Sherwood Forest than President of the United States forever" - The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain

Another fun fact you might - or might not - know about me, is that Tom Sawyer was a pretty important character for childhood Savannah. I've read this book every single summer since I was in the second grade, and have done so multiple times in various interims throughout the years, as well. Like with The Secret Garden, it's one that I've done some major reflecting on while growing up (aka, this book is ALSO high-key racist in some very unfortunate period-accurate ways), but that's kind of been part of the importance of revisiting it so often: I grew up with it. I learned more about the world as I learned about Tom's world. It always feels like there's something new to take away. 

Take, for instance, this quote: it's not exactly a standout. It's not necessarily something that the book is particularly known for, or one that gets printed on tote bags or anything. But for some reason, reading the novel this past summer, it really popped out from the rest of the text. I'd rather live in Sherwood Forest than the White House, too... and it's a reminder that fame and distinguished titles don't stack up even a little bit to independence, family, fun, and doing the right thing, either. 

9. "There's something at work in my soul that I do not understand." - Frankenstein, Mary Shelley 

It has ALWAYS been the case that at some point in my life, I was going to get a Frankenstein tattoo. I read the book for the first time at sixteen, and it hit me over the head like someone striking a church bell, and the reverberations have echoed in my heart ever since. I'm lucky to have been able to revisit it multiple times in various college courses, and even more times since, and beyond it all, it remains a steadfast favorite. 

The thing is, I feel like this quote isn't the typical one people go with, either: "Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful" feels like the more popular tattoo choice, which you can easily verify with the power of the Internet.

The reason I like this particular quote so much, instead, is because it leans into feelings of uncertainty. Themes of learning, self-reflection, and humanity's continued inability to comprehend the ramifications of scientific progress are obviously a main factor in Frankenstein, but I like the idea of pushing further into that "grey area" feeling that we all, as thinking, emotional humans, still wander into when we consider the essence of our being. 

There's something at work in my soul I don't understand, too. But not getting it, is just part of the journey to knowing myself better in the future. 

10. "Beside the lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze" - "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," William Wordsworth 

I don't particularly like Wordsworth, and poetry isn't tremendously appealing to me, so I'll keep this particular explanation short and sweet: this section of the poem rather famously describes a grouping of daffodils on a Spring day.

If you've been around myself, or this blog, for any definite amount of time, you know why daffodils are incredibly important to me, and I think this is a fitting way to memorialize that particular relationship in tattoo form. 






What's in YOUR Top Ten? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Was So Excited To Get... and Haven't Picked Up Yet

"Top Ten Tuesday" is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

SO, I've already done a little bit of addressing recently - in my Camp NaNo celebration post, in case you missed it! - that I haven't read a whole lot of books lately. Yes, it's a bummer, and yes, it's messing with my mental health a little bit. 

The worst part of the whole thing, by far, is just how little it has to do with actual access to books I'm fully looking forward to reading. At last count, it was nearing the 400 mark, between the nearly-100 novels I have queued up, ready to go whenever on my Kindle, and the bookshelves looming imposingly in the corner of my room, next to my window, which boast over 250 variously genre-d titles themselves. 

I know it's time for a bit of a reading nook clearing and unhaul, kind of like I managed to do last year. (Unfortunately, a very busy March-April-May has left me with virtually no time for Spring editing of my closet or bedroom, so that's got to happen some time before Memorial Day... or else I'll go venturing into Summer REALLY behind!)

But Rome wasn't built in a day, and nor was nearly 400 books accumulated over one really bad reading season. These books have been stacking taller and taller since I graduated college and moved back into my childhood home in 2016, and not moving much of anywhere else has allowed the hoard to continue unchecked. 

The truth of the matter is, I'm a huge mood reader... it's impossible for me to pick up a book if it doesn't fit the vibe of how I'm feeling. And while there are plenty of books on my shelves to suit pretty much every mood, it's hard to make books I've held onto for years, stand up to the likes of new releases freshly picked from the library. 

Still, I won't give out hope. Someday, however long it takes, I know I'm actually going to make it through some of these reads! 

Here are some of the books I'm still holding on to... because no matter how excited I was when I first picked them up, I just haven't been able to muster the same enthusiasm for opening the front cover! 


1. Across the Green Grass Fields, Seanan McGuire

Okay, let me explain: Seanan McGuire is one of my favorite authors of all-time, point blank, period. My love for the Wayward Children series has been passed around to multiple friends, it's one of my most reliable Fantasy genre recommendations, and I absolutely treasure each of the hardcover copies I own, all lined up neatly on my shelves.

The problem is, the reticence I feel towards cracking this one open has absolutely nothing to do with not wanting to read it, but instead, wanting to read it TOO MUCH. Like I said, I'm a mood reader! I'm absolutely unwilling to "waste" a really amazing read at a time when I'm just not vibing with it; hence, I hold onto the books in this series for months at a time, until I can find a good opportunity - like a vacation - to really slow down and savor it. 

I'm also hanging on to copies of Middlegame and Over the Woodward Wall for this exact same reason. I just care too much to waste a great read! 


2. The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith

This book seemed to be the talk of the town last summer, particularly on Bookstagram and Tumblr. I don't know if it was actually the book itself people were so entranced with, but serial rewatchings of the stylish and sun-soaked 90s film adaptation with Gwenyth and Jude and Matt Damon, plus news of a Dakota Fanning-helmed upcoming TV adaptation as well. Regardless, I picked it up at the end of July with the intention of reading it on vacation in August... and it just didn't end up working out like that! 

Do I absolutely hope that I can drum up the kind of attention span it takes to read this with a chilled glass of rose and my sunnies on this coming summer? Absolutely. At the same time, the deck furniture is in severe disrepair... maybe I'll have to settle for lounging on the couch instead. 


3. Trail of Lightning, Rebecca Roanhorse 

I've been hearing nothing but praise heaped on Roanhorse for years now, and I was so excited to finally purchase Trail of Lightning and Black Sun for myself at various points of last summer. I'd even gotten as far as packing ToL on vacation in August, and had figured that it was my best chance at not only knocking out one of my most-anticipated reads, but one final slot on my Seattle Arts and Lectures "Summer Book Bingo" card. 

Unfortunately, 'twas not to be. I forgot two crucial elements of success: 1, how totally melancholy I get in the final weeks of August, and 2, that I've somehow found myself incredibly sensitive to violence in my advanced age (28). Both of these combined to be a total non-starter, as I was barely able to make it through the first few, brutal chapters. 

Do I intend to pick this one up again? Yes! And Black Sun, too! But it's going to take some time to get there... if I can actually manage to get my reading engine revving again soon, this isn't exactly going to be one of the ones I finally pick up first. 


4. Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain

I don't know... I bought this book at some point in the two weeks after the legendary culinary storyteller's death in 2018, swept up in the fervor of interest in his canon of work that always manages to succeed the loss of an industry giant. I was a fan of his TV shows beforehand, but hadn't ever felt like I needed to grab his writing before, and relished the opportunity to get to know him better, in his own words. But there's just something about trying to pick up an author's work so quickly after their highly-publicized end... like no matter how great it is, you know how the REAL story ends, in such a tragic way. 

I know I'll read this at some point. I'm still very much looking forward to it. 



5. Circe, Madeleine Miller 

The somewhat comforting thing is, I know I'm not alone in saying that Song of Achilles tore my chest open, flipped me inside out, and rested me belly-down in a bed of coals by the time I was done with it. I truly don't remember the last time a book has made me cry so hard before, and this is coming from someone who went through a serious Greco-Roman period in middle and high school, and was VERY MUCH AWARE of how the story of Achilles was supposed to end already. 

I think this is exactly why I am both so excited and slightly terrified to eventually read Circe. I know this one is going to hurt, in the best way possible. I just need to find the right time to make an attempt. 


6. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley

This was actually a total impulse purchase made last summer, in the throes of my annual bloggoversary celebrating, and one that pretty immediately vindicated itself based on the fact that I found an exact replica of my Value Village $5 purchase for nearly four times the price at Barnes and Noble within two hours of picking it up. 

Despite the fact that I still haven't read it yet, it's actually resulted in the purchase of THREE other books about Arthurian legend since then, which I've just generally sort of been accumulating. Could Summer 2022's hottest trends actually be round tables, broad swords, and fighting for the throne?  




7. The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, Stuart Turton

I heard the hype. Bought the book. Bought a copy for my best friend. Best friend read the book, and loved it. Heard about how much my other friends loved it. So far, attempts to sit down and actually read this book: THREE. 

I don't know what the deal is. Honestly, the first few chapters I've managed to make it through have just been such a slog. It's not like it's fun from jump; I have been told by numerous people that you just need to stick through the first fifty or sixty pages before it starts getting to be more of a good time. So, I get that I just need to keep at it. It's just bordering on the impossible to muster up the enthusiasm to actually do so. 




8. The romance novels I actually own in mass market paperbacks... and in one case, HARDCOVER

Here's the thing: am I ashamed I read romance novels? No! Did this absolutely use to be the case? Yes! But now I'm way less willing to put up with the BS of others, and way more willing to wear my Out of Print "Fabio Reads" tee out in public, around people I know. I'm very upfront about what I've been reading, and sometimes, that is absolutely just a slew of romance novels. 

But you know what feelings have stayed the same? That they're just so much more convenient to read on Kindle! 

I know there's something about mass market paperbacks that pisses everyone off - the fact that they're cumbersome and bizarrely shaped, the fact that their spines are so damn thick you have no choice but to crack them if you actually want them to stay open for any period of time, that they spit bookmarks back at you when you flip them open - but honestly, I've got a hardcover romance novel that I haven't managed to pick up yet, either: Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie. It was a Goodwill purchase in recent years that just so happened to be the bulkiest novel I now own, and it barely fits on my bookshelves, let alone in my hands. 

At what point do I just put my hands in the air, donate all of them, and decide to get a free library copy on my eBook instead? 

9. Oh My Gods: A Modern Retelling of Greek and Roman Myths, Phillip Freeman

Like I mentioned earlier, I had a serious Greco-Roman period as a middle and high schooler, in ways that manifested themselves in poring over D'Aulaire's illustrated Book of Greek Myths and Edith Hamilton's Mythology in truly embarrassing ways, and that dovetailed neatly with the publication of the Percy Jackson series, which my friends all swapped around the lunch table. 

This collection of modern retellings was penned by none other than Phillip Freeman, preeminent author-slash-Classics scholar, who has also written collections on Celtic mythology, as well as the lives of Sappho, Julius Ceasar, and Alexander the Great. I think it's the outrageously appealing cover and bonafide pedigree of its origin that has held me off of reading this for so long... I know I'm going to enjoy it, it's just about finding the time to dedicate myself to a fairly chunky read. 

10. The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch 

You guys, not to continue to illustrate the point of how much I despise mass market paperbacks, but I made the mistake of buying this seriously hefty read in a MMP format back in like 2011, and have never been able to muster up the ability to read it in such a dauntingly difficult state. 

I'm truly considering just donating this copy, and buying a new, more reliable sized one instead. I'm already 70 pages in to it, and I'm liking the plot, characters, the whole thing. It's just sticking with such a cumbersome brick of book in my hands that's the problem! 




What's in YOUR Top Ten? Let me know, in the comments below!

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Surprise: I Wrote 100K In 29 Days to Beat Camp NaNo!

Yes, yes, I know I haven't been here in a while. It's been a really long time... not since about midway through February, actually. 

Though it's worth pointing out that I haven't been on Goodreads in longer... in fact, according to my GR Reading Challenge, I have only completed 3 books this year, which is somewhat embarrassingly close to the truth. (Okay, okay, so maybe it's higher than 3 by this point. But it's definitely not higher than 10, which is going to be a problem come December, considering that I had originally intended to read 60 books this year.) 

Even back in that February post on the blog, you can see pretty clearly that I'm bordering on desperate to try and scrape together some books to read, with a Readathon weekend. While I'm inevitably successful, the whole thing is tinged with this kind of icky feeling that I've been feeling in regards to one of my most long-running past times for a while now.

Part of this is simple: because I truly could not compel myself to read anything. And that totally sucks, because reading is something that I know is really, really good for me. As a kid, it was my major coping mechanism, one of the only things that helped propel me through days of school, being dragged along to my siblings' various events and extracurriculars, and spending lots and lots of time on my own. As an adult, it still serves as one of my primary means of relaxation, a kind of break from the rest of an overbearing reality. In my family, I'm the big "reader," and not reading for such an extended period of time started to wear on not just my mental health, but sense of identity. 

To give you a little more clarity as to what I'm talking about when I say "more than a Slump," here are three titles of blogposts I have seriously drafted in my absence.

The last book I really have finished was way back in March - a severely lackluster romance novel - and not only was it boring, overly simplistic, and honestly, not very good at all, but it's also the only book I actually managed to finish in that entire month. I also read a nonfiction book - about a man's memories of his family, and their food, which is usually a total ringer genre for me - and I genuinely was enjoying it, but only made it halfway through, because after returning home from vacation, I found myself totally not compelled to read it. 

So, instead of continuing to pound my head against a wall that I knew was just not going to budge, I decided to turn my attention somewhere totally different: towards writing instead. 

I was languishing in feelings of just total ineptitude and lack of motivation, sitting at my kitchen table on March 30th. Something fluttered around in my brain - like a torn sheet of paper, pinned to a corkboard above a heating vent - and I thought, "What if I decided to do Camp NaNo this year?" On impulse, I signed on, made a Project description, and even whipped up a fake book cover, which I do for all of my projects. In the end, the only way I knew I'd be really committed was if I brought someone else into it, too... so I texted my brother.

And that was it! The day before Camp started, and I was locked in. 

The reason I chose my brother as my solitary confidant, was because this particular Project also feels like it belongs to him: it's based off of a series of cooking lessons I gave him last summer, in anticipation of him moving into an off-campus apartment for the first time. He had never had to deal with his own kitchen - let alone roommates - before, and I was worried about his ability to meal plan and provide for himself all on his own... so I built out an entire eight-week curriculum, including a Midterm and Final, that incorporated all of the information I figured a total beginner needed to know.

I had subjected my brother to a total of eight cooking topics and their affiliated PowerPoint slide decks, each between 35 and 75 slides in length, allied with an accompanying eight weeks of Cooking Labs, in which he was tasked with shopping for and preparing an average of four to five recipes a week. I figured that working off of all of that material would manifest its way similarly to how I do my regular NaNo writing based off of incredibly detailed outlines.

I realized within a week, that it really, really worked: not only were all of those loosely collected documents definitely a functional foundation for this new format of writing, but I was able to utilize each of those bullet points and slides as a jumping-off point for paragraphs and paragraphs of text. Instead of feeling like I had to rake over the grooves of my brain and hope to collect enough words to arrange on a page, I felt like I was flying. 

And my brother was just the best about it. He cheered me on as I sent my updated numbers every single day - sometimes even multiple times a day - and acted appropriately flabbergasted when they started climbing by the thousands across only hours. 

I finished the 50K challenge in two weeks even. So I soon set my sights on loftier goals... and handily hit 100K words on Day 29 out of 30. 

And after I was finished, I sent a 3,000 word, gif-laden, self-aggrandizing email to my parents and all of my other siblings about it. Absolutely none of them had any idea I was working on something like this at all... not even an inkling that something was up with me. 

(Yes, this was slightly concerning, but I was so excited I was more than willing to overlook it.) 

  • Shortest Days: 186 / 185 words
  • Longest Day: 7039 words
  • Major Life Events: all-day volunteering with various local organizations, visits with friends, seeing two different family members in their various local theater productions, having my sister come up for a weekend, driving over to the Eastside to see my brother, attending our extended family's Easter Brunch. 
  • Major Distractions: changing out my Fall / Winter wardrobe for my Spring / Summer clothes, Food Network’s Tournament of Champions, Season 14 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, figuring out how to start my garden in a year where it just won’t stop hailing in Washington State.
  • Average per Day: Approximately 3,336 words (about six single-spaced pages per day, for 30 days straight)

Unlike my other NaNo challenges - which you can read about elsewhere on this site, including from back in November 2020 and November 2021 - or even my recent experiences with reading, absolutely zero percent of this situation was painful. In fact, far from it: the only way I even managed to get that much written was because I was having an absolute blast the entire time. Nothing was a slog, or a drag, or a curse, or a hurdle... in fact, I don't recall any other project I've worked on in recent memory that allowed me to have quite as much fun! 

Not only am I now refueled and ready to take on new challenges, but I'm so excited to continue supporting this developing manuscript of mine. Even during the process of writing, it was pretty incredible to see how it has all been coming together - even more so than my usual process with writing out 50K - and I already find myself coming up with more exciting ideas about how to go back, revise, and make it all even better again. I keep brainstorming concepts for new subchapters and elements that could be published online, and I spend my time daydreaming about one day, being able to make this a kind of pseudo-career. At the very least, a very joyous and time-consuming hobby

And believe it or not, I have hopes that sometime soon, my reading problem will recover, too. I've been thinking lately about my own propensity for taking part in various Summer Reading Challenges, and while there's no way I'm up for that level just yet, it might be nice to see exactly how much I can incorporate into other parts of my schedule in the next few busy months. 

For now, though, I'm enjoying where I'm at. I'm still writing a ton, volunteering my time and attention to local groups that have my heart, going to parties and spending time in our (rare) bouts of sunshine with friends, and most vitally of all, it's gardening season, and I've got some home improvement ideas to pitch to my parents that I'm sure they'll strike down without repentance (Composting system in the backyard? Adding a screen to the door on my balcony so I can keep it open in summer? New deck furniture so I can actually spend time sitting down outside without getting splinters in my jeans?). 

And of course, I have my manuscript to work on whenever I want it. And that's pretty damn exciting to think about. 


So, that's how I totally crushed Camp NaNo! Have you ever taken part in a non-November challenge? How did it go? Let me know, in the comments below!

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Reading the Long Weekend: a Three Day Attempt to Read As Many Books As Possible

I'm about four books behind on my Goodreads goal already, though it's definitely not for lack of trying: I've started and stopped in five (!!) different books for the last month or so. They've all varied pretty significantly - Nonfiction, Mystery, Romance - so getting burnt out on one genre is not the cause, and in spinning my wheels, I'm exhausting two of my most-reliable slump-busting tricks (reread a past favorite, and pick from your reliable favorite topics). 

I have no idea what's causing this slump, nor how to fix it. Clearly, some kind of change has to be made.

It's not the first time I've been faced with such a challenge; if anything, I'm kind of an expert. In the past year, I published two of my favorite-ever posts on the subject, with a distinctly D&D lens, in the "Lawful Good" and "Chaotic Neutral" guides to reading more. 

I'm also pretty darn well-versed in regular practices to ward off slumps, by way of staging Speed-Dating rounds with my TBR shelves - which, you might remember, number into the hundreds of titles - which has been documented on my blog before, as well. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like not knowing what to read next is my problem... instead, it's just simply sitting down and dedicating myself to the task. 

So you might not be surprised to see me taking my own advice from 2019, and staging a bit of a read-in for one this weekend.


Why Now?

It's President's Day Weekend! The three day break from normal life is a great reason to disconnect a bit from social media, take a perspective shift from my regular day-to-day focus, and dedicate myself to getting back to the renewing hobbies that matter to me. 

There's more of a general lack of people in the house. I live at home with two parents and a younger sibling, almost all of whom are actually - somewhat miraculously - absent for bits and chunks of time this weekend, for reasons as different as wanting to catch up with work, or having musical rehearsal. I'm not begrudging any of it at all; in fact, I'm looking forward to using the silence for my best advantage.

There's also a lack of distracting events or activities taking up my time and attention. Last weekend was an absolute jam-packed social schedule, as my younger sibling was celebrating a birthday that happens to coincide with Valentine's Day, and next weekend is going to be even worse, because I actually have to spend extended periods of time away from my house. As soon as I had drawn up my schedule for February, though, I immediately penciled this weekend in for myself, and I want to make sure I'm making use of that limited down time. 


How I've Been Preparing:

Cleaning up my home spaces so that I feel like I have an easy reason to exist without getting distracted by clutter or "things I should really be doing instead." Do I still have a few things on my to-do list, to tackle before the end of the weekend? Absolutely. But now I know that my affairs are in order to complete them easily, without disrupting my flow too much. 

Picking out a stack of books that vary in size and intensity, and even format (hello, trusty Kindle!). I'm meshing these with some of the books I've been trying to read already, so with any luck, I can finish off a few of those while I'm here, too. 

Making sure the family knows. Yes, it's hardly the first time I've done a self-imposed "Readathon" weekend, so they know the drill, but then again, the last four times I've attempted to use a meditation app in this house, I've been interrupted by either someone calling my phone or kicking down my door. 


The Books I'm Reaching For:

A couple of library audiobooks. I'm still not a huge fan of audio-specific "reading" - not like my podcast-obsessed younger sibling, nor my brother, who manages to make his way through audiobooks at a truly blistering pace - but I'm getting used to it, and saw some success with listening during my last-ditch December run on my 2021 Goodreads Challenge. So, I picked out a few new reads, limited to nonfiction (particularly Food and Memoir), and low-intensity Romance. 

Foundryside, Robert Jackson Bennett

Working on a Song: the Lyrics of Hadestown, Anais Mitchell

Network Effect (the Murderbot Diaries #5), Martha Wells 

I'm also trying to wrap up a couple of recent reads that I haven't necessarily DNF'd yet, but have stalled out somewhere in the middle over. An Everlasting Meal, by Tamar Adler, is actually one of my favorite foodie reads, but one I don't feel like I can speedread, and A Murder is Announced, a classic Agatha Christie, hasn't been one of my favorites of one of my favorite authors, but I don't feel like giving up on it just yet (but if there's at least one more bizarrely stereotyped depiction of German people, I'm going to lose my mind). 


Alright, team, how many books do you think I'm going to get through? (Here's a hint: it's at LEAST one, because I managed to make my way through an audiobook just this afternoon!) Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Closing Up the Box: My Final Paranormal Romance Reading Update of 2021


After a year like 2020, you'd think I'd want a little respite from doom, gloom, and forces beyond human control. However, when my brother surprised me with a box of 20 backlist Paranormal Romance titles for Christmas in December 2020, it quickly became clear that 2021 was going to be filled with much of the same, only in a mass market paperback format. 

Was anyone forcing me to read all 20 in one year? Of course not. But did I pretty much immediately decide I was going to do it anyways? Oh yeah. I researched each on Goodreads, compiled a preliminary ranking of which titles I thought were going to come out on top, and strapped in for a year of attempting to cram as many of these questionable titles into my regular reading schedule as possible. 

While I didn't make it through all 20, I did try my hand at 17, and came back with results that were... mixed. Things that had compelling plot summaries and high ratings turned out to be flops, while those that came jam-packed with bananas narrative twists and head-scratching character choices ended up as my personal favorites. But even bad Romance makes for more than just an incredible Lady Gaga song. It also results in some of the funniest reviews I think I've ever written. 

But now the year is over (and we're already a month and a half into the next one). So let's wrap this challenge up for good, shall we? 


For starters, make sure you've read the previous posts first:


"Racist Vampires, Alien Drama, and Psychic Crystal House Explosions" : Midnight Lover, Dream Eyes, and How to Lose an Extraterrestrial in 10 Days

"Celtic Rockstars, Vampiric Chosen-Ones, and Deeply Un-sexy Succubi" : Immortals: The Crossing, Touch the Dark, and My Fair Succubi

"A Summer Fling with Psychics, Werewolves, and Lots of Uncomfortable Staring" : Out of Mind, Dangerous Tides, Master of Wolves, Nico, and The Portal 



Back in January 2021, I went into this challenge with a couple of different perspectives as to how things could possibly go. On one hand, I was very aware that these were backlist titles, the furthest of which reached all the way back into the '90s and early '00s. On the other hand, you never know where your next favorite read is going to come from. I went in with tepid amounts of hope, and an overabundance of enthusiasm. 

Here's what I expected: 
  • A lot of vampires. Maybe a few werewolves and ghost boyfriends thrown in for good measure, but primarily, my lens was skewing heavily in the creatures-of-the-night direction. I kind of figured it based on the impulses generated from my middle school years of desperately seeking out Amelia Atwater Rhodes and R. L. Stine novels in the teens section, not even counting the rocket success of the Twilight saga in my teenage years. In my mind, Paranormal fiction will always come wearing a cape and fangs... or at least it did, at the beginning of this adventure. 
  • Kind of stereotypical or trope-heavy portrayals, things that relied heavily on conventional monster depictions and romance-novel favorites. Listen: I've only been reading hardcore romance for a couple of years now, and those kinds of preconceptions about the genre are really hard to shake... especially because, in some ways, a lot of them are true. So my expectations of the Box were that I'd find a lot of softball writers in here, kind of like trawling the boundaries of Fan Fiction, with reading expectations being met as to genre and characters off the gate, so that they could focus more on developing the Romance elements of it. Obviously, I could not have been more wrong. 

By the end of February 2021, I had finished my first couple of titles, and man was I... confused. To be fair, one of the three ended up not only being a generally positive experience, but a full-out five-star read, as well as the resulting favorite book out of the entire mix! The other two, however, were a one-star for reasons that genuinely left me angry, and a DNF, based on the sheer general inability to balance extremely heavy subject matter with increasingly frustrating lighthearted Romance content. 

As the reads went on and I started to get more of a hang for the process of completing them, I still managed to be surprised by what I was picking up: 
  • For starters, the foibles I was experiencing that kept tripping me up when reading had more to do with being older Romance novels in general, rather than being bad Paranormal Romance novels in particular. Sure, racism, sexism, violence, lack of diversity and representation... all of the heavy hitters were present. But these aren't specific to the genre, but instead, things that are more in keeping with books that were published before seemingly obvious designations of "how people like to be treated" had been established in the public mindset. On the flip side, the more recently published content was much more diligent about that sort of thing, which is something very in keeping with today's Romance market. 
  • That being said, there were more recent books included in the box than I would have expected... to a point. Like I said, '90s and '00s Romance abounded, but there were also plenty from the later half of the '00s, too, as well as into even the late '10s. I really was able to appreciate the scope of the content, especially when connected to the variety I was experiencing in subgenre and plot contrivances, too. 

FINAL STATS

Books Read Cover-to-Cover: 8! 

Star Count:
1 star: 3
2 star: 3
3 star: none
4 star: 1 - Dangerous Tides
5 star: 1 - Dream Eyes 

Books DNF'd: 9
Shortest DNF:10.75% - Pg 40 of 372 (The Summoning)
Longest DNF: 45.57% - Pg 194 out of 294 (Master of Wolves)

Books Not Attempted: 3


After a while, reading so many similarly-shaped and somewhat interchangeable books made for some surprising trend recognition, and notable questions answered about the genre itself. Remember, I'm new-ish to Romance, so stepping full-out into the Paranormal category was a pretty significant experience for me. 

As a new entry into the field, here's some of what I noticed, within this particularly narrow sample size: 
  • There were a LOT more psychics than I would have anticipated! Remember when I said I was banking on vampires? As it turns out, from this limited pool, I found a lot less than I had originally planned for, which was both good and bad... on one hand, it kept me from getting burnt out on one kind of read too hard, but on the other, by the end of the year, I was actually really wishing I could have sunk my teeth into a more recognizable story format. 
  • And also aliens?? If there was anything else I should have anticipated, it was for things to venture a little beyond the lines of what my typical designations of "Paranormal" are. For instance, in any other form of fiction, I would have assumed Aliens automatically meant SciFi. However, within the Romance genre, Paranormal seems to kind of serve as a general catch-all for other forms of Genre fiction, like SF and Fantasy, too. 
  • Plenty of stories featured inter-dimensional travel, and were not restricted to the earthly plane... in fact, a lot of these books had some form of tie to another plane of existence, be it distant planets, or depictions of Heaven and Hell. Occasionally, it was pretty fun: I can gladly get on board with a Fae realm, or a Demonic plane. It was just went things went a little too far around the bend - with multiple interactive groups occupying different dimensions of existence, or versions of religious levels strained past credulity - that I started to lose the plot. 
  • In terms of relationship dynamics, it was pretty much exclusively alpha male heroes, with varying degrees of self-motivation from the heroines... and involving very strange relationship dynamics that I cannot imagine being suffered with much patience here on Earth. Again, maybe this is owed more to the time periods being published, but man. Get a grip on yourselves, heroes, instead of maintaining such a hard grip on the arms of your heroines. 

And yeah, honestly, some of the stuff I saw was pretty disappointing. After all, you've seen the stats, and after a while, you know what kinds of faith I had in the books I was reading (which is honestly probably why I got burnt out on the challenge shortly after the end of summer, despite still having plenty of potential months left of reading in front of me). 

But this isn't even just about the questionable content, but also, the writing direction. SO many books with over-exposition, or an overabundance of plot detail attempting to cover up threadbare and inconsequential characterizations. Powers that were quickly learned and abandoned, depending on the necessity of the scene, and dialogue that barely followed any form of coherent sense. Can you really blame me for wishing for something greater?

This also helped really cement the perspectives I had on things I did like. I DID like a few of these books, after all... and the reasons I appreciated them ended up having quite a few elements in common. Here's what I wish I saw from more of the books I read:
  • I mean, besides less racism, sexism, and violence, and more diversity and representation? Because honestly, that was a real big one. Thankfully, the current trends in Romance publishing seem to veer more in this direction, but it certainly makes me more nervous to try out backlist titles. 
  • Larger casts of characters, with separate and recognizable personalities: in truth, three of the books I ended up mostly enjoying, Dangerous Tides, Dream Eyes, and Out of Mind, all fit this bill! Big ol' magical families, with every kid possessing new and exciting powers, all coming complete with their own matching romantic counterpart... I mean, it makes more sense, from a publishing perspective, to handle it this way, so why not try harder to build a cohesive, fascinating cast?
  • Leaning into exploring previously-known powers, rather than focusing on a novice learning a new skill set. At the beginning of this challenge, I remember actually being pretty stoked that so many of the titles were among the first in their series, because I thought that would help me identify more of a feel for what kinds of story they were. But all told, that didn't necessarily make for compelling content: I could have just as easily jumped into the ride while the engine was already running, and not missed much. 
  • Less religion, honestly. I wonder if this is more of a time-period-of-publishing thing, or if its more of a genre issue, but there was A LOT of angels-and-demons content, in some ways that were slightly more sacrilegious than others. Don't get me wrong, I can handle, but honestly? My Fair Succubi was definitely pushing it past my limit... and Servant: the Acceptance was a little too Old Testament in its depictions of violence for my tastes. Neither of these - nor Minion, either, which faces off God-blessed vamp hunters against two different levels of bloodsuckers - are reads I would have ever picked out on my own dime. 

THE FINAL RANKING


(Minor point of clarification: switch The Portal and The Empath... no idea how I mixed those two covers up, but they should be flip-flopped, so that the relatively boring and unoffensive werewolfy Empath is in the topmost row, while the high-key racist-towards-Native-Americans Portal is in the second row, next to uses-the-n-word-with-so-little-rationalization Midnight Lover. There's also some debate raging in my head as to whether bad-cop-portraying Master of Wolves belongs so high in this list in comparison to weirdly-religious Servant and high-key homophobic Minion, but I'm keeping it where it stands for now.)


But now this is finally a chapter I can close! Believe it or not, but beyond one single Sarah MacLean book, these were the only Romances I read in the entirety of 2021, and by the end of things, I was really missing out on my Historical and Contemporary faves. Still, I was glad to have partaken in the self-inflicted challenge. 

Here's what I took away from the experience: 
  • Again, I read two books I really, really liked! Dangerous Tides is one that I now actively search for on Romance shelves, in the hopes of finding out more about these incredibly gifted sisters and their unique counterparts, while Dream Eyes is definitely going to maintain a home among my shelves, for any future date when I might need to turn my brain back to a slightly-more-willing-to-participate-in-shenanigans mode. 
  • I deep-read a genre I haven't ever had cause to interact with before. Like I said, still new-ish to Romance, and haven't had much luck with Paranormal since high school. Diving back into the deep end, with both feet first, made for an interesting reacclimation, real fast. 
  • I had a project... and I LOVE a good project. Truly, I am nothing if I don't have something fun - like an embroidery project, or a cookbook deep dive - to focus on in those quiet moments between actual daily tasks. This not only made for plenty of self-motivated fun, but also made me into a truly formidable point of conversation at parties (After a few meetings with friends began with a "You'll never guess what I'm reading right now," the tide started to turn towards them asking me "So what's going on in the latest novel?"). 
  • I posted a good handful of blogposts that I wouldn't have written otherwise. And I know for a fact, based on the reactions of my friends who follow me on Goodreads, that the reviews were appreciated, too! I maintain that negative reviews are more fun to read - and honestly, write - and this entire process was an experience in that arena alone. 
  • Now my brother has to read the Dealer's Choice. At the very top of the Challenge, my brother actually even floated the idea that whatever ended up being my favorite of the whole messy bunch, he'd voluntarily pick up, too. As of two days ago, he's deep into the middle of Dream Eyes, and from what I can tell, loving every second of it. Maybe I can convince him to write a review, too? 

What do you think... should my kid brother write his own Romance review, too? Are you going to miss this Challenge? Let me know, in the comments below!