Archive for category Book Tips
A couple of years ago, about this time in the year, my husband and I decided to pack up our belongings, stuff them into storage, and move into my brother’s home until I had my third child. We were unsure of our future job and future living conditions (such a long story. I’ll tell you more another time). I had to make some weighty decisions about what I loved in our home. We held a garage sale, sold several clothes items in consignment, and … gulp … weeded out our home library.
As an English teacher for five years and a literature student for five years before that, I had amassed quite the book stash. My mom also meticulously kept most of my books from my childhood. So ultimately, I had to make some big sacrifices. Many book lovers will agree – throwing or giving away a book is not unlike giving away a piece of yourself.
Through this process I learned book collecting was not as important as keeping my family organized. I had to roll with the seasons of our life. I decided we could weed out the bulk and learn to rely on a good library system for our books. If you have to face a similar situation, here are some questions to consider when thinning out your home library:
1. Do I love this book and reread it often? There are books in my life I could never sell or donate. For example, To Kill a Mockingbird, Pride and Prejudice, The Poisonwood Bible, and the Harry Potter series. I reread at least one of these books each year, and I like to have them on hand when my need to reread strikes, often on rainy days or sick days. If you don’t have a desire to reread a book, you can probably stick it in the “Give Away” or “Sell” pile.
2. Does this book mark a significant moment? When I travelled in college, I would buy books from the places I visited. One of my favorite books is a book of poetry by New York authors about New York City. I don’t reread the book very often; however, the book serves as a reminder of my visit, and I like the cover. Remember, however, to not look at every book as the most important keepsake to mark a significant moment. For instance, I decided to ditch several wedding present books because I had never read them, and I had other tokens of my wedding day more special to me (like my wedding ring…and my husband).
3. Was this book a gift? My husband once received a book as a groomsman’s gift. The groom picked a different book for each groomsman (He bought Tyler Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller), and then he wrote a thoughtful note inside the cover. Cool gift, right? Well, we, of course, will never part with this book. We want to keep the memory of this friend’s thoughtfulness, and we also really like the book. On the other hand, I received other books as gifts with a simple “To-From” inscription, and the book itself offered no special insight to me. I sold or donated these books, deciding an organized home was more important than keeping something just because someone gave it to me.
4. Do I Have Room? Seriously. If you do not have room for a personal library, you just don’t have the room. Have you noticed your kids play with their toys more when those toys are organized? Same philosophy with books. If you only have a small space, focus on displaying a few age appropriate and classic books and utilize your public library for everything else.
5. Is the book damaged? I still had my threadbare copy of the Little House on the Prairie series from my childhood. I decided to give this set away because, even though I planned on reading these books with my children, I wanted to update them. I also threw away chewed and ripped board books.
6. Does this Book Fit My Philosophy? If the book is not something you like or enjoy reading for yourself or your kids, then get rid of it. I personally do not like movie character kids’ books. They are usually horribly written and boring. Yet, my kids choose these books from the library give away pile, receive them as gifts from family members, etc. So, when I feel our library getting a little too full, I chunk these books first – when the kids are not looking of course. For myself, I look at a book and think, “Would I recommend this book to someone else?” If not, I get rid of it.
In another post, we will talk about ways to give away, sell, or repurpose books.
My husband and I watched The Hunger Games a couple of weeks after its premier, cashing in on a free babysitting opportunity (no midnight showings for these old fogies). Watching a movie adaptation as a book-lover is always tough. Initially, I want to see the world I’ve imagined come to life on the screen. However, as most book-lovers, I almost always leave deflated. Because (let’s be honest) even with Hollywood’s expensive cameras and glossy starlets and fancy computer animation, most directors can’t compete with the power of the human brain.
I must say this about book-lovers though: We like to attend movies, and at the end say to our illiterate friends, “The book is so much better.” We give ourselves moral superiority, offering this declaration to prove (undoubtedly), “If you loved to read as much as I did, you would enjoy life so much more. Also, I’m better than you.” Most of us don’t mean to come across as a public service announcement for NBC’s “The More You Know,” but you know we do.
Here are some helpful hints to attend book-to-screen films, enjoy the experience, and not make our friends feel like intellectual sloths:
1. Keep eye-rollage to a minimum: Your friends will see it. Try not to couple the eye-rollage with audible sighing, groaning, or doing that tsk thing with your tongue. Restrain yourself by stuffing fistfuls of popcorn in your mouth or a Junior Mint (“It’s chocolate. It’s peppermint. It’s delicious…It’s very refreshing!”)
2. Keep your mouth shut: Don’t feel the need to fill in the gaps, especially during the movie. Your friends especially hate when you stage-whisper details during key plot moments of the film. “You see Cinna actually CHOSE to be the stylist for District 12. That’s important because before this Hunger Games, District 12 was always an embarrassment. They would dress them up as slutty coal miners before Cinna.”
3. Nitpicking is not flattering: Most of the time your buddies stomach your book-geek obsessiveness with loving tolerance. They even see your monologues on a book’s awesomeness as endearing and cute in a quirky way. However, this all stops at the movies, especially if you spend the entire drive home obsessing over the details. Friendly advice: don’t bring a notebook to keep a running list of mistakes or worse, a dog-eared paperback of the novel to use as a reference, reading specific passages to prove your point on the way home.
4. Keep head shots of actors who SHOULD be the main characters at home: Sometimes (most of the time) the actors on screen don’t pull off the personality you picture from the book. For the most part, I think the actors of The Hunger Games were spot on.
5. Remember films and books are different mediums: Books and movies use different elements to tell a good story. Films can cut back and forth to keep the story moving, and when done correctly, this adds to the pace and scope of the narrative. A book holds its strength in the narrator (jumping back and forth with narrative in a book tends to be disjointing and, typically, reflects weakness in the writing). For instance, in The Hunger Games, the novel does not reveal the control room, delivering horrific revelations for Katniss, Peeta, and the other tributes. However, the film cuts back and forth from the games to the control room, which I thought was a great move in contrasting the reality of the games and the distorted culture of The Capitol. As long as the film keeps the flavor of the book, I’m usually satisfied.
For the record, I absolutely loved the movie adaptation, one of the best I’ve seen based on a book/series I loved. I’m sure having Suzanne Collins on the screen writing crew helped this transition.
What advice might you have for fellow book geeks attending the movies?
In my first years of teaching high school English, I would assign my students to read a novel, such as To Kill a Mockingbird, and I would hear, “That book is racist! Why do I have to read this?” We would read passages from The Illiad or The Odyssey and students would say, “Wait – sex slaves, violence, multiple wives and lovers, revenge and gore? Why do I have to read this?” Later, we would talk about Oedipus and read Antigone, and my students would say, “This is gross! Incest? Stabbing out your own eyes? Why do I have to read this?” (Notice a pattern?)
What was my answer? “You’re right. And you’re wrong. Yes, you still have to read it.”
I tried to explain how we could not look at a work based on our own world view.Then, in my last years of teaching, an author named Thomas C. Foster wrote a book called How to Read Literature Like a Professor, and he provided a better way to explain this.
Foster has an entire chapter entitled, “Don’t Read with Your Eyes” (emphasis on the your). And he’s right. We can’t read books written decades, centuries, millennia before our time and expect them to hold the same values. In the same vein, you can’t read even modern works expecting them to hold your same values. Well, you can. But then all the stuff you read starts to sound the same.
To Kill a Mockingbird, standard in the high school canon, uses words for black Americans (even the good characters use them) we would not dream of saying today. However, you have to read the book through the eyes of the Great Depression or even the 1960s to understand the scope of the author’s purpose.
The culture in the days of The Illiad and The Odyssey had issues for other things – cowardice chief among them – yet they did not see a problem with sex slaves, regular slaves, concubines, etc. For Antigone and the whole Oedipus issue, I would tell my students, “The Greeks thought it was gross, too. Hence the eye-stabbings, hangings, wailings and misery!”
Am I saying we should just agree with ancient Greeks and be okay with multiple wives? No. I am perfectly fine with monogamy, thank you very much, but you cannot dismiss an important work of fiction based on beliefs the ancient Greeks just didn’t have. You cannot automatically rule To Kill a Mockingbird as racist and refuse to read it, when it has some of the best literature has to offer (especially to a high school student’s level of reading).
As a reader, you need to understand the context of something, understand the time period and culture, before judging it or dismissing it. By leaving your own eyes on the nightstand and reading through different lenses, you learn to appreciate literature outside of your comfort level. You even discover new layers of meaning you might not have noticed in the past. If you find yourself reading a work of literature, and wonder, “Why is this such a big deal? Why are they reacting like it’s the end of the world?” Chances are, it’s the end of their world for some reason.
For instance, when you read Pride and Prejudice, and you are confused as to why Elizabeth Bennet is so embarrassed at the ball at Bingley’s house, you need to figure out why. Our American eyes would probably think, “I like the Bennets. They actually say what’s on their minds and liven up a perfectly dull party.” Yet Jane Austen’s eyes point us to a time and culture where dancing every dance and flirting with all of the men of the regiment brought more than a roll of the eyes. Later in the novel, why would Elizabeth speak adamantly against her silly sister Lydia heading off to flirt with the officers at Brighton? You need to understand her culture and framework. Elizabeth was looking at the possibility of not only losing respectability, but also livelihood – not only for Lydia – but for the entire Bennet family (plus, you know, dealing with her conflicting feelings about dreamy Mr. Darcy). A poor reputation (namely for young women) was not only bad for the social life, but a one way ticket to poverty.
So, when do I put my own eyes back on? When should we throw in the towel on a novel despite setting aside all of our own values to see its worth? Well, honestly, whenever you decide. However, I encourage you to give it a try. Personally, I draw the line when I can no longer find anything beautiful or redeeming in a story. The only time I remember walking out of a movie was a few years ago for District 9. I kept trying to muster through the grotesque scenes and violence, but I couldn’t get past it to see the beautiful. The only novel I didn’t finish reading for a class in college? Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. Trust me. It’s not worth it. Well, I say that, but I had a friend who ended up writing her senior symposium paper on this novel and defending the redeeming qualities of the scatological in fiction. I admired her for it, but it did not make me want to read the book. As a reader, you have to use your own gauge and standard, but I challenge you to widen your scope and stretch yourself.
What books pushed you beyond your comfort zone, but made you better in the long run?
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of reading in the life of a stay-at-home mom. I recently read this guest post by Justin Zoradi on Donald Miller’s blog, which discusses how the most successful adults are those who continue to read and learn after leaving school (either high school or college).
Even though most moms know we should be reading more or spending time bettering ourselves, all moms know the last thing we need is something else to do (or having another reason to feel guilty). So, here are some easy ways to find a good book.
1. Keep a booklist: Keeping a booklist allows you to find a book quicker when you are shopping online, at the library, or browsing through the local bookstore. Buy a small journal or notebook where you can jot down book titles and easily access your list when you find yourself surrounded by books. I keep a booklist notebook in my Evernote account. I can easily access this on my phone or computer, and I can clip and add book ideas when I am browsing the internet during nap time.
2. Get Connected: Using social networking sites like Good Reads, Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter gives you access to good books. Good Reads is a great social site for book nerds, where you can add books you are currently reading, find books you would like, read reviews, etc. Searches on Pinterest allow you to find books your friends have pinned, giving you a wide selection of choices on your next book run. A simple status like, “Hey, what’s a good book I could read?” on Facebook will generate a ton of responses from your friends. Don’t forget to add the suggestions to your Book List!
3. Ask a Librarian: For some reason, librarians love books, weird, huh? Typically, their first love is NOT shushing people, throwing the evil eye at those pesky teenagers hogging the computers, or voicing concern at your five-year-old who is climbing on top of the tables. Again. Librarians actually love to recommend books. Ask them! You’ll make their day. Also, my library regularly offers a featured section, where they display new reads, books made into movies, or holiday-themed books. Browse through those on your next trip to the library, too (or add to your Book List).
4. Watch Television: I know, strange advice. Morning shows like Today as well as prime time talk shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report frequently interview current authors. I’ve found several new books to read from Lester Holt, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert, plus they are, you know, handsome and charming. Not a bad way to get a book recommendation. NPR features books throughout their daily programming as well. Listen to your local public radio station while picking up the kids from school or when you are out shopping (your kids will LOVE it.) I do not recommend trying to add titles to your book list while driving. Check on npr.org later to get the details you need.
5. Go on a Book Browsing Date: Need a cheap date night away from the kids? Head to your local book store, buy some coffee, and browse around the shelves with your hubby. Linger over the featured sections, peruse the aisles together, read sections of the funny passages. It’s fun! (Don’t forget to take your Book List with you).
6. Seek out Book-Loving Friends: Joining a book club or finding a book reading partner works just like finding a workout partner. When you have someone reading with you, you are more apt to find time to read. Plus, having a night out with similarly-minded friends away from the house? Sign me up.
7. Find a Book Reviewer You Like: Though I must admit I have not read many of Stephen King’s books, I trust him when he recommends a book. He’s a writer, and he knows good writing. When I am browsing books, and I see his seal of approval, I am more inclined to buy or check out that particular book. Finding a book reading blog or a podcast about good books can give you an added filter for good material. Then, you have more time to read something you like without having to search too hard for it.
So tell me, how do you find a good book to read?