The new year brings with it lofty declarations about reading habits. And without fail, every year, I break those resolutions. In 2015 I was going to read all the books I never read in high school. In 2018 I was riding high on the #NoNewBooks2018 book buying ban vibes. In 2019 I was going to throw out my scheduled reading and stop joining book clubs. LAUGHABLE. I sabotage myself best when it’s concerning books.
If you follow me on Instagram (or just know me as a human), you know that I love giving book talks and recommendations. I also love to talk about different book-related resources and discovery tools. A while ago, a friend of mine requested a blog post that put all these resources in one place for all you bookish babes. I am, of course, here to please.
First of all, I’m obviously going to say, “GO TO THE LIBRARY!” Librarians are on hand to offer you on-the-spot book recommendations, and they (read “I”) love to do it. It’s like a fun puzzle that needs to be solved. You can also ask me for book recommendations directly. I adore giving recommendations and would do it all day long if I could. And if you haven’t tapped into the Instagram #Bookstagram community yet, make sure you get on that! Book recs all day long!
Below is a list of websites, tools, apps, book boxes/subscriptions, and podcasts that I’m addicted to that help me discover books, talk about books, and manage my book ownership and reading life! All of these things I have tried and enjoy. Warning, quite a few things are specific to genre, so if you’re not a fan of that genre maybe it isn’t for you.
The other day, I was a little extra tired after being out later than normal for my husband’s birthday the night before. I got home and started making dinner, and my husband walked into the kitchen and asked, “Weren’t we going to go to empanada night?” Our favorite bar was hosting an empanada food truck and we had been excited for it all week. I basically had a breakdown right there because I forgot about the empanadas, desperately wanted to go get them, but was so tired and had already started making food at home. I freaked out and felt a panic attack building, and I eventually said, “I’m so overwhelmed all the time, just thinking makes me overwhelmed. I’m exhausted.”
I just planned a wedding, and that process took so much out of me. I wasn’t expecting it to be as bad as it was. I had panic attacks and horrible bouts with my anxiety. I thought I’d be back to my normal self after the wedding was done, but I’m not. I’m burnt out. And this moment has made me realize that I’ve been burnt out for a long time, not just because of my wedding.
My anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed, even when it appears that I’m not, have prevented me from doing so many things I expect of myself. It causes a kind of paralysis that then spirals into guilt and frustration, and it just gets more fun from there. Recently I’ve realized that my anxiety and existential struggles are, in ways, directly connected to our modern American culture of achievement, consumerism, and “disruption”. With the attention economy (social and traditional media) following us everywhere we go thanks to invasive technologies, this frantic culture has infected every aspect of our lives. I’m overdue for a refocusing of my life.
Luckily, I’ve happened upon four books that, when read together, validated what I was feeling and helped me start to build a plan for how to get out of this headspace. I realized that I needed to take a step back and refocus in a way that allows me to build meaningful awareness and take pointed actions in my life. These books are The Year of Less by Cait Flanders, Braiding Sweetgrass by Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino, and How To Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. I recommend these books to everyone.
Happy New Year! I hope you all were able to celebrate in a way that made you feel happy and optimistic, and I hope you have your first book of 2019 all picked out! I don’t know about you, but I’m spending the day on the couch reading FOR SURE. I’m looking forward to 2019 for many reasons. First and most important, I’m getting married! But I’m also looking forward to a new year of reading and general self-improvement (ha).
For the past six months, and for the next six months going forward, I will be very focused on planning my wedding. It’s only going to get more intense, so with that in mind I am trying to be extra kind to myself. I’m not going to set any major goals or push myself too hard, unless it’s about getting this damn wedding planned and executed in a semi-successful manner. Of course I’m going to continue to work on taking better care of myself in all ways, increase my exercise, decrease my shitty food intake, get more sleep, etcetc, but I’m not going to beat myself up about it.
In reading, I’ve decided to have a year of “free reading”. I’ve set a Goodreads goal of ten books, which we all know is nonsense for me. I’ll be reading well over that, but I don’t want to worry about making my goal or stressing over how much time I have to read. I’ve had multiple friends talk to me about how frustrating they find the weird social media pressures that Goodreads can put on you as a reader, so I’ve also started using Bookriot’s Book Tracking Spreadsheet to keep stats on my reading in a way that is very nerdy and pleasing to my librarian heart and brain!
I read 80 books in 2018, the most I’ve ever read in a year! But I anticipate that my reading time will go down for a while as I try to work on wedding centerpieces and chasing guests down for RSVPs. But I don’t want to just NOT set a goal. I enjoy logging my books in Goodreads and seeing them listed together in the yearly reading challenge, so I figured I would just set a dummy goal.
Another thing I’ve done is retire from all book clubs but one. This will eliminate a good amount of scheduled reading that I always seem to have to push through. The biggest change I will need to make is NOT putting books on hold at my library unless I’m planning on reading them right away. Library books, while better than buying a ton of books that just pile up, tend to set another kind of reading schedule in my mind. I feel like I need to read all my library books in the order they’re due back, not the order I WANT to read them in, and that stresses me out. This is all nonsense, but it bugs me just the same.
I currently have 57-ish books checked out and like 13 holds. A bunch of those holds are not ready for me to pick up. They’re all hot buzzy books with long wait lists. How will I read them all before they’re due?? And any book I was hoping to read next is now immediately bumped because I NEED to read N.K. Jemisin’s How Long ’til Black Future Month RIGHT FRICKEN NOW because there is no way I’ll be able to renew. So that copy of Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi that I borrowed from my coworker months ago will still be sitting on my bedside table, untouched.
See how this creates an issue? So, no more library holds unless I intend to read it as soon as it gets in. And only one or two holds at a time. I need to keep my reading schedule loose and open so I can embrace more spontaneous reading!
I have so many beautiful, exciting, fun books on my shelves at home. I’m desperate to read them, but because I own them I always push them aside in favor of the library or book club books. In 2019, I’m really hoping that I will have more moments where I finish a book, set it down, and don’t have the next book picked out already. I’d love to finish a book and then browse my own bookshelves to find a book to read based on how I’m feeling in that moment, not what I wanted to read two weeks ago. Let’s see if I can accomplish this.
And with all this in mind, my only true goal in 2019 (other than accomplishing the act of getting married) is to get to a point where I don’t order anything from Amazon anymore. I want to cut my dependence on the website and shop, instead, more locally. The ultimate goal is that next year’s Christmas gifts for my family will be 100% bought NOT on Amazon. I have the whole year to practice and get ready for the test haha. While I don’t really use Amazon for books all that much anymore, I’d like to make it a habit to visit a different local book store here in Pittsburgh once a month. It would be a nice opportunity to spend time and money in different parts of the city, see what cool stuff is out there, grab that buzzy new book I’ve been drooling over, and see some adorable book stores I haven’t been able to visit yet!
Life has been really hard lately, and the anxiety and stress from the news and the outside world has had the same effect on me as probably most people: I’m extra tired, I’m extra grumpy, and I’m extra overwhelmed. While I try my best to do my part–contact my elected officials, support local and national groups, volunteer–I’m only one person. What all of this has really pushed me to do is take care of myself. I hadn’t been to a general practitioner in 13 years until 2018. I also just went to the dentist for the first time in 8 years. I saw a therapist for the first time in 8 years. And I treated myself to a full read/reread of Harry Potter! But, embarrassingly, this is just the beginning. I have many more medical appointments to make, little life upkeep things that need to be done. I desperately need my passport and a new prescription for my glasses. There’s just, shit to do. I’m really looking forward to 2019 as a year where I can maybe get a handle on it. As someone who has spent a lot of time putting my energy outward into activities and other people, this almost feels selfish. I feel bad spending my money and time on my health, which is weird. It’s something I’m working on, but it still gets to me. 2018 was a year of what felt like a lot of little steps backwards and away from things. For the first time in a while I didn’t feel like I actually accomplished anything. Here’s to 2019 being a building year!
What about you? What are your reading and life goals for the year to come? It’s cool if the answer is “nothing” because for some of us, that’s a goal in and of itself.
I had a weird reading year. I set a Goodreads goal of 50 and surpassed it handily, reading 76+ books in 2018. Once again I totally failed at my annual Shameful Book Club, so much so that I think I’m going to retire it for next year. I enjoyed most of the books I read in 2018, really disliked a handful, and really liked quite a few. I also, in a very rare move for me, reread quite a few books this year. I reread some Shirley Jackson, Robert Galbraith, Stephen King, and JK Rowling (yes, I know she is also Galbraith but I reread both series this year). I don’t normally reread, but I was in need of comfort so I returned to some of my favorites.
I also want to make a note that at the time that I compiled this list, there were still several weeks left of 2018. I’m still reading books, and it’s possible those books would have ended up on this list, but I had to cut myself off at some point ;)
Below are the 22 books that really stood out to me this year. They are not the only books I really liked, but the ones that stuck with me the most. I tried to include trigger warnings as I remember them, but some might have slipped through my memory. (warning, this is a long post)
This was my fantasy pick for 2018.
I love Neil Gaiman! Much like Alice Hoffman and Stephen King, I feel like I will enjoy anything that Gaiman puts out, but I am woefully behind on his works. I haven’t really read a whole lot, although I own copious amounts. So when I was trying to decide what fantasy novel to pick this year, Stardust caught my eye sitting on my shelf! I thought the movie was really fun, but slightly juvenile. I hoped that the book would be a bit more mature, a bit more complex, and maybe a bit spookier. I was super wrong.
Here is the description from Goodreads: “Life moves at a leisurely pace in the tiny town of Wall – named after the imposing stone barrier which separates the town from a grassy meadow. Here, young Tristran Thorn has lost his heart to the beautiful Victoria Forester and for the coveted prize of her hand, Tristran vows to retrieve a fallen star and deliver it to his beloved. It is an oath that sends him over the ancient wall and into a world that is dangerous and strange beyond imagining…”
I felt incredibly blah about Stardust. The tone was very confusing to me. There were parts that were very intense, mature, and yes even a bit spooky or graphic, but they were then followed up by some incredibly childish nonsense. I know I’m reading a fairy tale quest inspired by children’s literature, but I’ve been reading those my whole life. The ones I read as a child (like the Snow Queen) were more engaging and intense than this book. Frankly, I was bored.
This was my fantasy pick for 2017.
Right off the top I want to acknowledge that Marion Zimmer Bradley and her husband have been accused of some really awful child sexual abuse. I did not know that when I bought this book, but I probably won’t be buying anymore of her work. If I feel the need to read further in the series (which I don’t), I will borrow the books.
This audio book is fifty hours long. FIFTY HOURS. LONG. Y’ALL. So understandably it took some time to get through. I’ve been riding a serious witch high lately, learning about moon religions and pagan practices. The world has been very scary, and I haven’t felt very powerful as a human and especially not as a woman, but learning about these practices and the honoring of female strength has really been uplifting for me. That’s why I selected this one for my April fantasy read in 2017. Mists of Avalon seemed like just what I needed at this point in time. I was not 100% correct, however.
So as many know, Mists is a retelling of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table told from the perspective of the powerful women involved in putting Arthur in power and working toward saving their country and identities. It’s pretty much a badass version of the saying, “Behind every great man is an even greater woman.” I don’t know where that saying came from, and I generally hate it, but in this context it’s pretty interesting. Another incredibly interesting (or depressing) thing about this book (and series) is how it examines the demise of the old religions, the pagan traditions, and the matriarchal attitudes that were more common before Christianity became the law of the land.
2017 was the summer of Dunkirk, seriously. I saw the movie in theaters twice (I firmly believe it’s one of the best movies ever made. I will talk about why for hours), I read Atonement which has important plot points and scenes based in Dunkirk and around the entire ordeal, and I got engaged on a beach…after seven years of dating, I’d call that my own personal Dunkirk.
I loved Atonement, and thank god I did because I have a quote from the book tattooed on my right inside forearm. And the reason why this book is extra shameful for me is that I got that tattoo years ago before I even read the entire book. I read just far enough to find a cool quote about writing and then was like, “THAT’LL DO!” But I did love the movie, and I’m really happy that I enjoyed the book just as much. It was beautifully written, totally gut-wrenching, and thoroughly entertaining. And man, Briony is quite the character. This was the perfect beach read (pun intended).
Well, 2017 was not a 100% success. I was unable to finish my personal reading challenge, aka the Shameful Book Club. I read 10 out of 12 books, leaving 2 in the dust of yester-year. I’m even more behind on posting my thoughts on the books I did manage to read. I learned a lot, however, and will be tackling 2018 differently. This personal challenge has evolved quite a bit over the three years I’ve been attempting it, so eventually I will get it to a place that is manageable.
I had a lot of favorites this year, including The Princess Bride, Under the Banner of Heaven, and Practical Magic, but the one I can’t stop talking and writing about is The Haunting of Hill House. Just ask my friends who were over on Halloween for a movie night…I cannot and will not shut up about this book. It really grabbed me and meshed with a lot of other books I was reading at the time; the right book at the right time. I’ve been very attached to Shirely Jackson lately, and this book really spoke to me.
So, like many of my book lovers and librarians before me, I have fallen into a crisis situation concerning the number of books I have in my apartment and on my tbr list. My To Read list on Goodreads is over 2,300 at the time of this post, the number of books I have checked out from the library is currently about 60 (down from 87), I have hundreds of books in my apartment currently (but that’s hardly the total number I own…I have them stashed everywhere), and I buy at least two new books a month for my book clubs, not to mention my impulse emotional book buying (which I’ve been doing a lot of post-wedding dress shopping). This needs to stop. I can’t fit these books in my space anymore, and what is worse, I can’t read them all. Most of the books I own I haven’t read. So that is why I am going to take a bold step for 2018: I won’t be buying or checking out any new books to the best of my ability. Sure, I’ll have slip-ups, and for my one book club I’ll still be buying the book because sales are donated to Planned Parenthood, but this new rule will at least keep me in check.
So what does this mean? It means that I will actually be reading books I own! And then perhaps I’ll be able to get rid of a few of them. I’m sure I’ll really hate a couple…can’t love them all. So for Shameful Book Club I will only be selecting books I own, which adds another layer to my shame because I took the step of actually buying these books and yet still haven’t read them. For most of my other book clubs, I’ll have to just let go. This is going to be insanely difficult for me, because I’m a book club enthusiast and belong to five currently. I’m constantly looking to join more. But if they don’t read a book I own, I won’t be able to participate.
While I’m going to hate this, I know it’s the right move. It will free up so much of my reading time and give me actual choice over what I’m picking up. My reading is so dictated by book clubs and library due dates that I hardly ever get to read spontaneously or catch up on personal reading. This is partly why I haven’t read most of the books I own. About 37% of the books I read last year were books I had to read for book clubs alone. That doesn’t include books for work or projects.
This also means I won’t be checking out books from the library. Since I work at a library and find it emotionally satisfying to check out arm fulls of books at a time, this will also be a challenge. Again, I’m sure there will be a slip-up here and there, but hopefully I won’t have more than two library books checked out at a time. My plan is to read as many of my currently checked out books as I can, and as I return them I won’t be replacing them. It’s hard for me to resist impulse check-outs, especially because I read so many book blogs and lists. I’m always snatching up the new best seller or forgotten classic that industry folks recommend. But if I’m doing that, I’m not reading my own books, and I’m filling up my living space with more piles.
What do I hope to achieve? A better understanding of my own collection, for one. I have such a random selection of books, and I’d like to see what it all feels like and looks like in terms of representing who I am as a person. I’ve been reading a lot about the art of book collecting and how crafting a personal collection is different from amassing a personal library. I will still have a library, but it would be fun to identify and build off of budding collections in my existing library.
I’d also LOVE an opportunity to weed my own library, but my anxiety and book obsession will not allow me to ditch books I haven’t read. I want to read them, assess them, and then either keep or dispose of them in some way. This ties back into the overall vibe of my personal collection and how I want to curate it. I know that seems a bit odd to think about curating your own books, but to me it seems like an interesting project and a cool way to express myself. Freeing up shelf space would also be amazing. Our apartment, while bigger than our last, lacks a bit on storage. Having shelves for things other than books would help with that. If I’m able to get all of my library books returned, that will free up an entire bookshelf. AN ENTIRE BOOKSHELF!!!
Another interesting idea that I read about was buying books with specific reasoning in mind. I recently saw an article written by a young poet who discussed how she rarely buys books, but when she does it means a lot to her. She proceeded to go through and list every book she bought in 2016 and why exactly she bought that book. I know I won’t be perfect in 2018 when it comes to #nonewbooks, but if I approach it with this idea in mind, I will be working on good habits and have a really interesting collection to talk about at the end of the year.
What about you and your book buying habits? Want to join me on this foolhardy journey?