When Do You Stop Reading?

I ran into a little snafu with my plan to read and review all the books on the short list for the Sarton Literary Award . . . what do I do if I don’t like a book? I tend to only write reviews for books that I feel I can give 4 or 5 stars to–books that draw me in and make me want to read more. While a 3 star book, for me, is something that I liked (or at least enjoyed elements of it); it isn’t one that will stay with me forever or one that inspires me in some way. Anything below that, is either painful for me to get through or I found simply awful.

Now, I’m not saying any of the Sarton books will fall in the 1 or 2 star category (I hope not) and I still have every intention of reading all the books on that list. But, what do I do if something is–in my opinion–a 3? For example, one of the books I have read so far is filled with rich, beautiful, powerful description. I would love to have that capacity to provide that sense of place, and develop an atmosphere that almost becomes a character itself. But, in terms of plot and characterization, the story didn’t work for me. I didn’t find myself caring for the characters, and the story seemed over-dramatic without very much ever really happening. While I wish to support my sister authors, I also don’t want to lead people into reading books that I wouldn’t really recommend.

Yesterday I read an article written by Sadie L. Trombetta on Bustle called “10 Signs You Should Give Up On a Book You’re in the Middle Of (No Really It’s Okay)” and she lists the following 10 reasons:

1. You Hate The Main Characters

2. You Keep Falling Asleep While Reading It

3. You’ve Read Other Books In The Meantime

4. You Keep Getting Caught Up In The Grammatical Errors

5. You’re Only Reading It Because It’s Hot Right Now

6. You Haven’t Laughed Once

7. You Already Googled The Ending

8. You Keep Eyeballing Your TBR Pile

9. Your Daydreams Are More Entertaining

10. You’re Dreading Bedtime, AKA Reading Time

[Bonus points for anyone who finds the glaring error in her article, which kind of made me laugh.]

I’m not sure I agree with her entire list, but it did get me thinking about when I stop reading. I used to read everything, no matter how much I hated something. I believed that someone put hard work into it, so I should at least have enough respect to finish it. Or sometimes there was just enough . . . something . . . to make me see a book through to the end. Recently, however I’ve started to say “No” this book is not for me and put things aside, even though I might slog my way through half the book before I give up.

What makes me give up? For me, it is a combination of three things:

  • An inability to empathize with any of the characters:I don’t have to like the character, but I do have to understand the character’s motives
  • A confusing plot: It all comes down to story for me. If I can’t understand what is happening, or find any through line that keeps me moving forward, then there really isn’t any reason to read.
  • Poor editing: Face it, it is easier than ever to publish a book nowadays (if you aren’t trying to break into traditional publishing). Often, books are put out before they are ready, without editing, copyediting, or even revision. Heck, even traditionally published books seem to be suffering from speed and less care. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read recently that made me wonder “why could this person get a publishing contract, when other people can’t?” But, I digress. If a book is filled with typos, misspellings, poor grammar that clearly isn’t a choice, or long rambling passages that do nothing to further the story and could have been cut, I think it is perfectly fine to set that book aside.

Still, there are times that I stick it out. Maybe I am intrigued by how the author is going to pull this off. Maybe I hope that somehow it will get better. Maybe I see a glimmer of possibility. Usually, however, I am disappointed and end up wishing I had stopped.

Don't Read

What makes you stop reading? When do you draw the line for writing book reviews?


The Power of Books

World Book Day!

I know, I know, it’s just another random day chosen to celebrate a random thing. (I mean, do we seriously need to have a national potato chip day--which also happens to be my birthday–and things like that?).

But World Book Day is a day to truly celebrate.

After all . . . I love books.

I heart books

Why are books so powerful? Why is P.O.W.ER about a world where half the population (the female half) is deprived access to the written word? Why do I want to celebrate the power of books?

Because books have the power to change the world.

Books are friends when you feel alone.

Books provide dreams when life feels hopeless.

Books celebrate universal truths–that we all have a story, desire love and community, hope for the impossible, yearn for connection, seek solace, feel pain, have secrets, fear something . . .

Books have the power to bring people together across cultures, across time, across distances.

As I get to know more authors, and make connections beyond their books, I thrill every time I read something that makes me realize how much we connect through words.  I find phrases that inspire me, I find words that fulfill me, I find messages that sing to me. I find connections that I might not have found except through their books.

For example, I recently finished the wonderful Order of Seven by Beth Teliho (look for a more thorough review/discussion in a few days) and my soul-soared when I read these words:

“We need to believe we’re not alone and there’s a purpose to our existence. What matters is not what our story is, but rather that we have one.”

Available now for pre-order. Click on image.
Available now for pre-order. Click on image.

While I met Beth first through other means, reading her words in this complex yet beautiful book made me feel that much closer to another soul. That is the power of books.

Celebrate that power, and join in the universal story that connects us all. Read a book, buy a new one, support independent authors

What book will you read next? 


Multiple Reading Personalities: What I Have Learned

I read a lot.

I read for many reasons, and many different types of materials.

Sometimes I read things I have to read, but more often I read things I want to read. Yet, if you ask me the question “what is your favorite book or genre?” I can’t answer. I read what I feel like at any given moment. I read what calls to me. I read for different reasons. I read to feed my multiple reading personalities.

Even though I can’t name a favorite book or genre, I can–to some extent–categorize the books I read, although my categories do not in any way resemble the categories used by booksellers and publishers around the world. Maybe that’s part of my problem when it comes to my goal of publishing through traditional means . . . I don’t think in the same way as traditional publishers. My personalities don’t understand their categories.

A table of my recent books.
A table of my recent books.

For example, the above image shows books that I have read recently, am in the process of reading, or will soon be reading. The left two piles contain books I need for work and/or research. The third pile is recently finished library books and my kindle, which itself contains a number of books that fall under different categories. The book on the right is my next library book read. How do these books break down in terms of my reading personalities? I will try to define them in no particular order.

The Renaissance Woman

This is the personality who reads and rereads the piles on the left. The piles might include non-fiction, biography, memoir, or theory. I admit, my pile is theatre heavy at the moment because I am about to cover a few classes while my colleague is on paternity leave, and he introduced me to a lot of new material. The current pile contains:

  • But is it art? by Cynthia Freeland
  • How Music Works by John Powell
  • A Director Prepares by Anne Bogart
  • Think Theatre by Mira Felner
  • The Norton Anthology of Drama, Vol. 2
  • Educational Drama and Language Arts: What Research Show
  • A Concise History of Theatre
  • Barrier-Free Theatre by Sally Bailey
  • On the Kindle: Cultural Democracy: The Arts, Community, and the Public Purpose
  • Recently read: Dancing with the Enemy; To the Letter; and My Reading Life

The World/Time Traveler

When I’m in the mood, there’s nothing like dipping into historical fiction. I love learning about other cultures and times through the minds of fictional characters. I haven’t read one in a while, but it may be time to revisit.

The Escapist

Sometimes I love to dip into a book that is light and fast-paced, with very few surprises but characters that fumble their way through life in a way that reminds me of myself. It’s like eating the frosting off of a cupcake. I suppose people would classify this work as “chick lit” but I hate that term. Why is it that stories about women trying to find the balance between work, love, family and friendship are defined as chick lit when similar works about male protagonists (they exist and I read them as well) are not called “dick lit”?

The Magic Seeker

I want to believe we live in a world of fairies and magic, of griffins and dragons. I love the idea of Wicca and the possibility of accessing powers based in nature that go beyond the understanding of science. I want to live in a the world of possibility, where ghosts can be real, and hobbits can go on journeys to save the world. So, you will often find me delving into yet another fantasy novel or series. The problem, though, is that so many of these worlds are strong for only one book but many writer’s want to go on and on in series that I have no desire to read.

The Child at Heart

I love children’s books. I love middle grade books. I love reading the books that Sarah needs to read for fifth grade (most recently Tuck Everlasting which is so beautiful in so many ways). I love using “parenting” as an excuse to read another book that is intended for her. Just as I find plays for young audiences more imaginative and creative than plays intended for adults, I find books for young readers more fulfilling in many ways.

The Lost Teen

For similar reasons, I love reading young adult books about teenagers finding their voices and their positions in the world. However, I also admit that this category drives me the most insane. I get frustrated reading books that support the mean girl stereotype or reinforce attitudes toward sex and violence that seem prevalent. Again, I realize why I have such a hard time positioning my own work, because I write against that grain.

The Philosopher

Sometimes I’m in the mood to be challenged. This is when I visit books that I know will require time and patience, as the authors take me onto a journey into the mind and challenge the way I look at the world. I just finished reading The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, and the next book in my library pile is Aleph by Paulo Coelho. They sometimes make by brain and heart hurt but, but in a good way. Books 1

The Masochist

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of young adult dystopian fiction or fantasy as I try to find the best market for my own manuscript. These books can sometimes make you want to give up on the world. I’ve also read a lot of “lost teen” books for similar reasons. These books can sometimes make me disgusted with the depiction of youth today, and make me worry about my daughter’s and the world’s future. In addition, I’ve been reading a lot of self-published work as well, some brilliant and some that makes me say “just because you want to publish doesn’t mean you are ready to publish.”

I admit, now that I’ve discovered the joys of BookBub, I’ve been downloading a lot of titles for free, so I guess sometimes I get what I pay for. I read a lot of books that show me I am a good writer. I read a lot of traditionally published books that teach me the same. Sometimes the books are so awful, I stop reading. Sometimes I get a book knowing I won’t like it, but for the purpose of understanding why these books sell. Sometimes I force my way through because I like one thing about the book, or simply want to know how they get out of the mess.

Masochistic reading is the least fun, of course.

I have a few other reading personalities as well, such as The Comic ConnoisseurThe Secret Seductress, or The Language Lover but I think you get the picture. My reading practices defy categorization, and I’m beginning to think my writing practice does as well.

Do you have multiple reading personalities? What are some of your favorites?

One Story at a Time

When you sit in the theater and watch a play (if it’s good) you enter into the world of those characters. For 2 hours (give or take a few minutes) you follow the lives of those characters, knowing what they know, learning what they learn, feeling what they feel. Perhaps you’ve been given a little background information in a note in the program so that you understand what has happened before, or maybe a messenger comes in the beginning of the play to fill you in with much needed information. Or maybe you learn as you go. However it is done, for that time you know and feel and experience what you need to experience if you want to understand the play and feel like you are part of the journey to the inevitable end.

The Last Beat of Getting Out

I want those same feelings when I read a book.

I love books that take me on a complete journey. I want to discover a world that I have not known through a character that takes me on the journey with him/her. I want to be surprised, astonished, embarrassed, sad, joyous, terrified, confused . . . along with the characters. I want to be unsure how it will end, but then I want it to end in a way that suits the story–that feels satisfactory.

Yesterday I finished reading The City of Ember by Jeanne Duprau, and I thought it was an incredible book. (spoiler alert). Duprau’s story contains all the things I love: an interesting premise, a strong young female protagonist that I liked and admired, a fascinating location and any number of surprises. As I read, I felt the fear of what would happen if the lights went out, throwing the city of Ember into endless darkness. I worried for Lina and Doon and their friends and families. I felt the rush as they tried to escape, and the awe of discovery. I breathed with Doon and Lina as they felt the wind on their faces for the first time, and looked through their eyes. I wondered and hoped with them as they made a last effort to save the rest of the city of Ember. The story ended, and it was good.

While, for me,  the story could have ended then and I would have been satisfied, I was happy to know that there was another book. This is one of the times when I welcomed the second book, because the reader wants the answer to questions. Will the citizens of Ember find their way out? If they do, how will they survive in the wide open world? Will Lina find her city? Will they meet the Builders? I was excited to plunge into the second book, and follow Doon and Lina’s story some more. My questions were answered, and then I was on another interesting journey with these two characters as they faced the challenges that their actions caused. It was another fascinating story that I devoured quickly all the way to its super satisfying conclusion.

I was content.

But no . . . there are more books to come. I read the book description for the third book in the series, The Prophet of Yonwood and my first instinct was to YAWN! (Pun intended). I have no desire to read a prequel, because I don’t want to know the hows and whys of the existence of the City of Ember. I already know enough about the Builders, and the great Disaster and the wars and greed that nearly destroyed human kind. Duprau has already given me enough information to write a back story in my mind, and created a world that I thoroughly believe without having to explain how that world came into being. She wrote characters that I like, and I have no desire to meet new characters who existed even before these characters were a blip on the cosmic radar.

Will I read the next books in the series? Perhaps, but not immediately.

To me, some of the joy of reading is being so completely drawn into a world that you don’t need to understand every nuance. As you read you live the story of another person, another time, another place. It lies also in accepting what you can’t know, or embracing that the world is what it is with no explanation.

Explaining too much takes away the mystery.

Do you ever stop with one or two books of a series because you feel like any more will ruin the story for you? Do you want to know the hows and whys of a world or do you let yourself be drawn into a world with no questions asked?



Book Endings

The EndThere’s a trend to books lately that I find troublesome.

We live in a world where series are king. For the world of publishing, the idea of producing one book that asks–or practically demands–further purchases from its fans as the series grows is an exciting prospect. I get that from a money-making perspective.

However, too often this leads to people writing a book that can turn into a series rather than writing the story they need to tell.

What do I mean by that? I was just reading a book. I’m not giving you specific details because this isn’t about one specific book, but many who follow this trend. What’s true for my experience of this book has been true for many others.

I really enjoyed the book in many ways. I chose it because it had a close connection to something I am working on, and I want to read more in the genre so that I can strengthen my own writing. The story was intriguing, and the character and voice strong (although I had a few issues with the character that aren’t relevant to my current topic).  As I read, I wondered how the problems and challenges would be resolved, which is always a good sign because too often I can figure it out before the end of a book which means that there are no surprises. I love books that surprise me, that I cannot predict. I formed ideas and had hopes of how the book might end, but wasn’t sure what twists and turns the author would create to bring about a satisfying ending.

Note that by satisfying I don’t mean happy, but an ending that makes sense and makes me as a reader say . . . it had to end that way.

As I began to approach the end of this book, however, I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied. Why? For a couple of reasons. First, the end felt like it was happening to the main character rather than because of the main character. She became a victim of the ending and not a motivator of the ending. But, that’s not the real problem, the real problem was the end might as well have had these words emblazoned in red ink

To Be Contintued . . .I’m not saying that stories should never be told in series form. Some epic stories require more than one book. At the same time, I truly believe one book should tell a complete story. I want to love the characters and be interested enough in what’s happening to want to find out more. I want to be drawn into the next part of the adventure. I want to care enough to seek out the next book.

I just don’t want to be manipulated into it.

“So Frodo and Sam set off on the last stage of the Quest together. Frodo paddled away from the shore, and the River bore them swiftly away, down the western arm, and past the frowning cliffs at Tol Brandir. The roar of the great falls drew nearer. . .
. . . Then shouldering their burdens, they set off, seeking a path that would bring them over the grey hills of the Emyn Muil, and down into the Land of Shadow.” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Rings)

So ends the first book of The Lord of the Rings. Yes, it asks you to continue if you want to hear the rest of the story. And yet, it is an ending. The end of the fellowship, the division of friends, the point where paths must separate. It is a satisfying ending, and even if I had never continued on to read the rest of the story I would have felt like I had come to a good stopping point. However, Tolkien was a genius because he wrote the story he needed to write, and didn’t really think about whether or not it was a series. He told individual stories that, when added together, make one great adventure.

True masters of the craft of writing can do that. In my opinion, the rest of us should focus on writing one book, one story, to a full and satisfying conclusion.

Make me want to return.

A slight cliffhanger is one thing. A hint about problems to come is fine. But a flimsy ending to the story you just told . . .

Harry Potter survived and defeated the challenges he faced, to get on the train back to the Dursley’s at the end of the school year. Sure, we as readers knew that his challenges wouldn’t end until he faced Voldemort, but still we knew that his story for that year was finished.

One complete story. One complete book.

That’s what I want to read. That’s what I want to write.

What are your thoughts about books that are clearly written with the intent of being a series? How do you feel with endings that don’t end?


Slow Down for Quality

“If you’re having difficulty coming up with new ideas, then slow down. For me, slowing down has been a tremendous source of creativity. It has allowed me to open up — to know that there’s life under the earth and that I have to let it come through me in a new way. Creativity exists in the present moment. You can’t find it anywhere else.” –Natalie Goldberg

A hand-painted filing cabinet in Levoca, Slovakia that would store hand-written records.
A hand-painted filing cabinet in Levoça, Slovakia that would store hand-written records.

I admit, I am a fast reader. Sometimes I can devour a book a day. But, my favorite thing in the world is when I come across a book that slows me down–either through the beauty of the language, the richness of the story, or simply because I don’t want it to end. One of the comments on yesterday’s post got me thinking about how binge reading–or the high paced world we live in–might be one of the biggest problems with traditional publishing at the moment. Barbarann writes this about Jane Eyre (which I love):

“Charlotte forces her reader to devour her story slooooowwwwwlllllyy. Develops her characters a hair at a time, sets her scenes so you will be in them despite your 21st Century desire to race. The book is brilliant in its slowness. “

She’s right. There are some books where you simply need to slow down and absorb. Of course,  some wonderful books can be read and re-read at a faster pace, but I sometimes force myself to slow down. These are the books that I love and the books that I will revisit time and time again. These are the books where, as you are reading them, you sense the author crafting every word, every sentence, every moment. Not that the author overwhelms the book, but you sense the time, the commitment, the care, the love. This doesn’t mean the books were written slowly (although many of my favorites were) but that the authors didn’t rush in a frenzy of getting another book out. They took the time necessary to make their story grow.

This no longer works in a fast-paced world ruled by the almighty dollar reigns. Gone are the days where book printing was considered an art form, and where books were precious artifacts treated with love and respect. Imagine a time even before the printing press, when manuscripts had to be hand copied in order to be spread to those few who could read them. In the early days of publishing and printing books, I imagine publishers took on projects that they felt were truly worthy, simply because of the time commitment it would take to get one book into print.

While not a manuscript, think about all the time and craft put into this hand drawn map of Levoca, Slovakia.
While not a manuscript, think about all the time and craft put into this hand drawn map of Levoça, Slovakia.

Nowadays, though, it benefits publishers to produce work that can be read in one sitting. Why? Because the faster we read the sooner we need another book (especially if you are a reading addict like I am). So, of course they want to sign on writers who produce work at the speed of their fingers. Of course they will only have a few authors who craft slowly, because money is time and time is money.

Ultimately we all lose in the speed.

There are, of course, brilliant writers who produce copious amounts of quality work in short amounts of time. There are also works that were labored over incessantly that are as painful to read as they were to produce. There’s no hard and fast rule as to how much time should be put into a work, and sometimes there isn’t enough time in the world to turn a bad idea into a brilliant piece of art.

However, over the past year I’ve begun to realize how slowing down and stepping back just a bit can strengthen our work overall. Don’t get me wrong, when I’m in the initial draft of anything I tend to write like I’m being chased by a hive of angry hornets.  But after that frenzy I realize that my work benefits from slowing down. The evidence of this comes from recent experiences:

  • When I first submitted my short story “Voices” to Theme-Thology: Invasion the publishers reaction was “it’s a good idea with some interesting moments but it needs a lot of work . . .” After a few tears, a lot of self-doubt, and time to absorb the suggestions and questions he had for me, I’m happy to announce that it will be the first story in the anthology which will be on sale starting September 28th (more details to come).
  • Last spring I finished the manuscript of The Power of Words including multiple revisions, or at least I thought I did. I started submitting it, including submitting to a response session at a writer’s conference. After that session, I realized I could, indeed, make it stronger if I took the time to do it. I revised again, turning it from a third person to a (predominantly) first person story ( a few chapters come from other character’s perspectives and I’ve kept them in third person). That revision, as slow and painstaking as it was, has made the story richer and (I hope) more publishable. So now, after slowing down, I am again ready to send my baby out into the world, even if I’m still afraid.
  • I’ve submitted another story called “Three-Fourteen” to the next Theme-Thology: The Day I Died. This little story has hidden in my writing files (in a much different form) for years. I knew it was time to take it out, dust it off, and revise, revise, revise. While it is still getting feedback and in revision, I’m pleased with the results and hope it too will soon be published.

Perhaps my new attitude toward slowing down and focusing on creating the best quality work I can do will only make my path toward seeing my words in print even more difficult. I think I’m okay with that, because I want to feel proud of the work I do. I can still produce quickly whenever I need to–after all I’ve been trained in the theater.

Are you a fast reader? Are you a fast writer? What’s important to you when it comes to books?

Reading Recommendations

For a short time as I ventured deeper into the world of writing, I thought I would write book reviews as a way of building a larger audience. That didn’t last long for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most important reason, in my opinion, is that reviews tend to either crush the breath out … Read more…

The Power of Timeless Words

I just read an amazing book. It contains words, as books usually do, and offers clarity that can speak to people from any generation, especially women but I think the lessons apply to both sexes. It contains poetry, imagery, honesty, insight, and peace. While I bought the Kindle version, I wish I owned a hard … Read more…

The History of My Life in Books

Some friends and I recently signed up for http://www.shelfari.com/ a website dedicated to books. It was our chance to share our passion for reading, and to create a virtual book group for more reading and discussion. This could be a good or bad thing. Good, because I will be able to have interesting discussions about … Read more…

What is Racism? I Simply Don’t Understand

    I was all excited to teach my theatre appreciation class. I had chosen a play for the class to read as an example of how a playwright will use his/her own experiences as well as historical and social contexts to write a play. I chose the Tony Award-nominated Joe Turner’s Come and Gone by … Read more…

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