So Many Books

Folks, it’s done. It may have been a redundant goal, to read 1000 books in 10 years. I might have read that many anyway. But here we are, a year and a month ahead of schedule, having read over one thousand books. I’ve spent so long on this project, slowly making my way, I was beginning tire. I’ll take a moment to enjoy a celebratory cake, but I’m already looking forward to my next goals. Onward!

My 1,000 Book Goal

In 2010, I decided that I didn’t read enough books. This was a foolishly incorrect observation based on not previously recording what I read in some sort of list, and—when I joined Goodreads—not reading the same volume of books as my peers. So, led by a desire to have physical evidence that I was well-read, and misled by a brief and laughable desire to make long-term goals, my number one priority became reading 1,000 books within 10 years. Starting with 2010, that would make my deadline for a thousand books December 31, 2019, 11:59PM.

Reader, as of December 31, 2017, I have read 930 books. I have two years to read 70 books. And I’ve already read 21 books in January.

It sounds like a lot. It is. But they’re not all long novels and textbooks. I read a lot of YA, poetry, graphic novels, novellas, short stories, etc. If the library has it available and I don’t think I’ll hate it, I borrow it.

And now that I’m fewer than 50 books away from meeting my goal, over a year ahead of schedule, I’ve made some decisions.

1. I don’t have to read a book a week. I don’t even have to read a book a month. I mean, I probably will, because I like reading. But I don’t have to feel pressured to do it. Not just the pressure of having a goal to complete, but the pressure of needing to keep up with what I think my peers are reading.

2. I don’t have to finish a book I don’t like. I CAN MOVE ON TO THE NEXT BOOK I WANT TO READ. This revelation blows my mind.

3. I can definitely keep my “to read” list under 300 books. It’s not under 300 right now, though. Last I checked I had 373 books on that list, according to Goodreads. I culled it when I added a book and the update said it was number 999 and I thought, “Oh man. That’s so much pressure. I wanted to read 1,000 books in 10 years and I’m fewer than 100 away from doing that and I have another 1,000 on my to-read list. Hmmm. How about nope?” Then I started deleting. It was a glorious feeling. I deleted entire series except the next volume of it I wanted to read. I deleted ones that were already on my wish list at the library. No need to double up. I deleted books that I was always told were “Classics” but I was uninterested in reading a story about another older white dude having an existential crisis triggered by a younger woman. Then, my list was down to under 400, and a huge book burden was lifted off my shoulders.

4. If I make something my #1 priority, I’ll get it done, with time to spare. I should probably appoint a new #1, and it should probably be “finish writing that damn novel,” but I have a feeling it’ll be something like “visit every continent” or “complete 5 cosplay costumes.” Hey, I read 950 books in eight years, I deserve a fun priority. At least for a little while.

"Swedes in Lowell" finally available!

My newest book, “Swedes in Lowell,” is finally, finally available.

I could tell you the complete story of how it started and how it took so long, but the short version is that, sadly, writing and creating books is not my primary source of income. Yet. I have hope that it may, in the future, but until then, the bulk of my waking hours is devoted to what’s known as a “day job” (or, “How I Afford Things”).

After nearly a year and a half of focusing on this project, I feel relief more than anything else. Sure, excitement, but mostly relief. Just a few more things to do, links to upload, announcements to make, etc., but then it’ll be really done and I can move on to my next idea.

I must tell you, I may not have anything else commercially available for a while. Next project is family-related and private, but promises to occupy all my time.

Also, if you’re not super into Massachusetts local history, and you don’t care about owning a complete collection of my works, I won’t hold it against you if you don’t buy a copy. While there are a few witty parts, most of it reads like either town meeting minutes or just lists of deaths and marriages. I tried to be true to the original author’s tone, and his purpose was to collect and distribute information rather than weave a story.

That being said, if you do read it, I appreciate it! I’ve tried to do right by you, reader. 

New Book Available September 2016

A year, a month, and a day.

That’s how long I’ve been working on this project, as a tertiary-or-lower priority. Looking back, if I had just quit my job and poured all my effort into it, I might have been done in a month. But I took a few detours and remained open to additional work that would improve the book, and so, finally, here it is.

I’m pleased to announce that by the end of this month, my translation of Olof Berntson’s “Svenskarne i Lowell, Mass.” will be available for purchase. If you’ve been waiting for more of my poetry, I am now filling you with disappointment, because unless you’re super interested in the Swedish immigrant history of Lowell, MA from 1857 to 1917 and love reading meeting minutes, I don’t recommend buying it. It was only on my tenth or eleventh pass at reading it that I began to appreciate it, and it’s my own damn history.

If you’d like to buy it anyway, just to support me, I understand and appreciate it, but please take my disclaimer seriously. I found two jokes in the entire book. Nobody’s cause of death is listed. The one time Berntson mentions a feud in a church, he merely calls it “sad times” and moves on to the next boring thing. I did this for my family first and have no expectations of it gaining any traction beyond my relatives.

One of the reasons it took me so long to get it together is that I kept finding more family history documents, and wanted to include all of them. Sadly, few of them can be published, so I had to decide within the last few weeks to publish just the “Svenskarne” translation as a stand-alone book. And I’m finally ready to release it into the world. 

Translating Century-Old History

            In some ways, preparing this translation is the same as preparing my poetry collection. I spend hours in front of the computer, pondering the best way to say something, realizing how little of the language I know (English first, and now English and Swedish). There’s joy in it, in creating and shaping, and there’s also frustration, and boredom from repetition.

            In other ways, it seems like their book-type-shape is the only similarity. I created every bit of my poetry myself, whereas in this Swedish book, someone else put in the effort to gather facts, figures, names, dates, and other bits of historical accuracy. Creative writing vs history. First language vs a mish-mash of terrible Swedish. A book that requires an open mind vs a book that requires an index (what have I gotten myself into?).

            I keep adding to it, too. First I was just going to translate it, publish it so the fam can actually read our history. Then I thought I’d include an appendix with all the family history from its publication date to present day: every birth, death, marriage, every occupation, and even though it began as a small thought, the more I research it, the more I realize it’s about twice as much work as the original author put into it. And if there’s an appendix chronicling more current history, certainly there should be an appendix with photos and the like: portraits, business cards, post cards, letters, etc. Extra blank pages in the back, so everyone can write in whatever happens in the future. And possibly not-so-obviously, an index.

            Unsurprisingly, I expect to think of several more ideas before this thing goes to print. Not because I’m searching, but because apparently when it’s your destiny to do something, the fates won’t let you do it half-assedly.

            This project’s growth has forced me to push back the publication date again and again, but I hope I sound confident when I say Damn it, this thing’s gonna be available by July, so help me. So I might as well give it a late-June bookday, like my previous work. Publishing one book a year seems like a respectable pace. 

Writing 400 Reviews

I'm writing on the eve of creating my 400th review on Goodreads. Since it isn't my job to review books, I can't say that they're consistent. Some are just one word (and when that's the case, that word is usually "Nope"), some just a paragraph, and others require a more thoughtful and in-depth exploration. And, as I've rated over 1200 books, it seems that only every third book affects me enough to warrant sharing my thoughts. 

One reaction that took me too long to learn is stopping. Not so long ago, I would force myself to finish every book I started. I have to be honest: it didn't make me a better person. It would only make me miserable. Since then, I've applied this "stopping" to other storytelling media that fails me. Including (and here's where I lose people) The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and Doctor Who; a dozen comic titles; and several podcasts. That's not to say I won't ever return to these stories. They simply failed to meet my standards over a period of time, and I moved on to other things that did meet my standards. 

So now when I'm in the middle of a book I hate, I stop. My "to-read" list includes almost 1,000 books, and I'm thirty: I just don't have time to waste on things I don't like. If I have the next Jacqueline Carey up on deck, why would I force myself through another 200 pages of something I've been rolling my eyes about since page one? Instead, I'll reward my good taste with abandonment of that which annoys me, and pick up something I know I'll like, if not love. 

I have no review goals in mind. Unlike my "1000 books in 10 years" reading goal, it doesn't matter to me how many I review. I saw my review counter at just under 400 and thought, "Damn. That's a lot of books to talk about." Maybe I'll make it a centennial thing and revisit this topic at 500. If I'm not too busy reading, of course. 

 

Poem-A-Day

Throughout the process of getting The White Stairs ready to publish (and publishing it, etc), I've continued my 2015 resolution of writing at least one poem every day. I've fallen a bit behind, but I always catch up, so that on any given day, I don't owe more than a few poems to myself. It began as an exercise to keep myself writing, to get into a habit, and to expand my poetry base. Today is day 166 of the year, and since I've yet to write today's poem, I have completed at least 165 poems this year. 

They're not all gems. Some are limericks, haiku, other short forms that don't have names. I have a few I'm very proud of, and I have many that will never be read by anybody but me (until I die, at which point Hyperform has been charged with publishing everything, even the crap, because I'm dead, so what do I care?). Generally I see potential in one out of every seven or eight. 

This dedication is usually good. Hell, I have almost 200 poems from this year alone. But I don't write just poems, and don't want to write just poems. Poetry is, for what it's worth, what I do best. Besides sleeping. I'm excellent at sleeping. 

So there are times when I want to set aside the poetry and write more of my sci-fi thing that doesn't know what kind of thing it is, or my fanfic (shut up; my writing, my choice), or filling in the holes of that unfinished novel. But I don't. Still--poetry. This year, at least. And hey, I got a book out of it already. Must be doing something right. 

The White Stairs is published, dudes

Guys. My book is published. You can go online and order it and it will arrive in a package at your home in a few days, where you can hold it and flip through it as you sniff the freshly-inked cream-colored pages. Or, you can go online and order it and it will arrive on your Kindle immediately, and more cheaply. Personally, I try to only read poetry on actual paper I hold in my hands. Beyond the tactile component, I know (as a poet myself) that formatting is a nightmare, and e-books can't always remain true to the form the author intended. 

You can check out the cover and description on my Writing page.

You can purchase it online at Amazon and on my webstore

I'll probably do some light marketing, but really, I'm just looking forward to a tiny break in the madness. Still writing poems, oh yes, but with less ridiculous stress and more good-style stress. Ah, see? I have to get back to wording good. In time. 

 

On the Merits of Goodreads: A Review of Reviews

I read an article the other day criticizing Goodreads as a source of objective book reviews.

For anyone who frequents Goodreads, or the Internet in general, this should be obvious. I can’t imagine the kind of slow news day when it’s a shock to discover that a site for sharing opinions is subjective.  

But I understand the point the author was trying to make: if everyone gives good reviews to all the things, how can we ever hope to separate the good from the bad?

And yet, I've managed use Goodreads for precisely that purpose. How did I do it, you ask? How was I not fooled by the high ratings and rave reviews of books that are terrible?

Darling, I’m a reader. That means I’m an investigator, naturally curious, suspicious, and apt to explore myriad sources before deciding to do anything. My “to-read” list includes over 700 books, and I simply don’t have the time to go reading everything that everyone says is great. I've learned the hard way that if I take five minutes to reasonably research a potential “currently-reading” tome, I can save precious time by not reading something I’d find awful, even if it’s highly rated and reviewed. I have it down to a science. It’s streamlined, because I do it almost daily. Follow these steps and you, too, can avoid reading books you’ll hate:

1.      Read the summary on the back cover, or, in the case of Goodreads, the book summary. If it doesn’t sound interesting, don’t read it. (It’s possible that it’s still a good book, and you’ll enjoy it, but seriously there are so many other books whose summaries will entice you, just don’t bother with this one yet).

2.      Look up the author. What genre is their strongest? Who are their influences?

3.      What have your friends said about this book? This author?

4.      What have other authors you admire said about this book? This author?

5.      NOW check out the ratings and reviews. Read at least one five-star review and one one-star review, and see what amazed or bothered people. Pay attention to the authors of these reviews: if the five-star review isn’t well-written or gushes instead of critiquing, and the one-star review is a comprehensive and thoughtful piece, well, decide who you take more seriously. Look at what else these reviewers liked or hated and how it compares to your own shelves.

6.      Read the first page. Goodreads has a “preview” option for some books now, you can check them out at your local library, or you can try to find it as a cheap or free e-book (many libraries offer e-books for loan, it’s saved me literally hundreds of dollars in the year and a half I’ve been borrowing them). Book doesn’t grab you, don’t read it.

7.      If you’ve been tricked into reading a book you’re hating, STOP READING IT. When this happens to me(which is rarely), I either leave a review saying I couldn’t read it and give it no rating, or if I’m upset enough that I was tricked into reading it, I’ll give it the lowest rating and a review describing why I thought I’d like it, why I was so disappointed, and why I stopped.

For example, the last time I loathed a book enough to stop reading it—and therefore gave it a bad rating and review—was a book recommended to me by two friends, rated very highly by an author I love, and summarized as urban fantasy a la American Gods, which I loved. Needless to say, I hated the protagonist from page one, and only read a few chapters before the blatant sexism became unbearable. How did this happen? I have a system in place to prevent myself from wasting time on books I won’t like! Alas, no system is infallible, though it is efficient: Since 2010, I’ve only read 53 books out of over 550 that I rated 2 stars or fewer. The majority of those are 2 stars, or “it was OK”, so I didn’t even hate all of them.

You’ll find that I rate books highly. I’ve read over 1200 books that I can remember, rated over 1100, and reviewed over 300 on Goodreads. My tendency to give high ratings is a direct result of only reading books I think I’ll like. I’m not a professional book reviewer: I have no obligation, or desire, to read books as assignments given to me by some boss.

Sometimes I enter a Goodreads First Reads Giveaway and end up with a copy of a book that has no ratings or reviews, but "in the spirit of the First Reads Program", I rate and review it. I only enter giveaways for books whose premise sounds interesting, and I end up researching the author and publisher (if I'm not already familiar with them) before I even enter to win it. I've been lucky that I end up loving the ones that I do win, but I try to offer my rating and review only to books that I would purchase on my own anyway. It doesn't help anybody if I have to review a chri-fi book just because I won it in a contest. I'm not the intended audience, and I don't want a free book so desperately that I'd read something I know I dislike. Got the library for that. 

I, for one, don’t trust reviews of books by people who aren’t interested in the genre. If someone dislikes sci-fi, but reads and reviews a sci-fi novel, that person’s opinions have no value to me. I want to know what other people who read and like a lot of sci-fi are saying about it, especially authors I like, because they write books they want to read, I like their books, so it’s likely I’ll also like what they like. Lots of liking going on.

Then there’s Romance. I’m not a fan of the genre, unless the romantic aspect is at least tertiary or lower in order of importance to the main story. I’ve read many books that fall into the Romance category as well as the other categories for which I read it (usually urban fantasy/paranormal), but I’ve read fewer than six straight-up romance novels. And when I review them, I make it clear at the beginning of my review that this is a genre I avoid, and say whether I’m reviewing it in relation to the genres I prefer (which leads to a lower rating) or specifically as a book of its genre, making the disclaimer that I don’t really have a base for comparison but I’ll do my best.

These are the kinds of reviews that I would trust: when the reviewer is honest about where they’re coming from and genuinely attempts to rationalize their impressions. Just because I don’t read Romance doesn’t mean the book is bad. Someone who loves Romance might love it. It’s when people want to hold every story up to the same standards that things get rough. They’re searching for only those books they can shelve in “high art” (which, please. As though you or I would care what some condescending twit bloated with self-importance thinks about anything). I love James Joyce. I also love Janet Evanovich. It’s called existing as a multi-faceted human being.

That’s what I’m looking for in Goodreads, and that’s what I try to deliver. There’s merit to the site but, as with everything else in the world, trusting it blindly without doing your own research (instead of using it as one of many tools) will result in disappointment. 

What Makes Writing More Than a Hobby

When I was younger and liked writing stories or poems just for fun, sometimes I'd write one a month. Other times, they'd descend in swarms and I'd find myself the proud parent of forty, fifty poems from an hour of boredom. Then I went to school for it. 

I can only guess that I was accepted into my writing program because I had at least some promise. I don't think my alma mater would have invited me in if I had zero talent. I mean, obviously they wanted money, but I'm sure reputation has weight too, and they probably wouldn't want anyone to read my terrible work and say "Can you believe they gave her a degree? Guess they'll give 'em to anyone that pays. Strip them of their accreditation!" 

So let's agree that someone thought I had talent. Gosh I feel all warm and fuzzy now, comforted, and...well, I just ate a chocolate chip cookie so I suppose that could be this feeling. Anyway, talent: I had that. But in that collegiate setting, listening to successful writers, the first and most important thing I learned was discipline. Talent makes a hobby. Discipline makes a career.

I'm not talking about ridiculous, instant success. Every person measures success differently. At school I was told, again and again, that the "professional" of "professional writer" means you get paid for it. That would mean that, if I spent three hours a day doing complicated and technical computer stuff and earned a living from it, but at least seven hours of the day was devoted to writing, editing, and reading, I wouldn't be considered a professional writer. That would mean that, if I wrote that often and produced really amazing stuff but I wanted people to read it for free, I wouldn't be considered a professional writer. Talent, discipline, distribution, and an audience, but because I'm not paid, not "professional". That would mean that the author of a really awful--but published!--book was a professional writer, but me with my passion was not. 

I just don't buy it. 

I have no problem calling myself a professional writer. Part of this is because I have a difficult time caring about what random people think of me. I'm fine receiving constructive criticism from educated sources with similar or better talent and passion, and I listen to those people because I want to learn from them. But to say I'm not a "real" writer because I measure my success outside a box someone else constructed is a joke. 

I write every day. I edit every day. I read every day, to explore new forms and topics and lifestyles and just learn new things. I care about what I write. Every day, even if I'm tired or sick or exhausted or busy or just want to lie around watching BBC dramas and eating popcorn. That's the discipline that I learned at school, that's what changed my habits, and that's what changed how I see myself as a writer. It was a hobby when it was a whim, and it became a job when I started treating it like one. Sure, it's more difficult, but it's also worth it. 

Besides, I measure my success first by whether my poems actually kill anyone, and so far, I can tell you, all of them have successfully not caused death. It's hard not to get big-headed when you're batting a thousand. 

Things you may find here

I thought having a food blog would be fantastic. I’m at the point in my culinary experience that I can eyeball measurements, confidently substitute ingredients, and skim recipes before inventing my own methods. Hyperform (spouse) continues to be impressed by my one-handed, stir-fry/omelet flip (though as we discovered last weekend, this success doesn’t extend to vegan pancakes. Not enough binding ingredients to prevent it from falling apart and on the burner, pan handle, floor, my foot, the Monsters, etc. mid-air). But that blog sounds like a lot of work and really, I just adjust other people’s recipes, and it’s an affinity but not a passion. Pass.

Then there are the Monsters, those fluffy felines that provide a steady stream of story fodder. I don’t doubt there’s an audience for a cat blog, but I can’t justify being the one writing it. Also nope.

Just my writing endeavors? So that, in addition to the work I put into the craft, I now have to deconstruct the how and the why and the what on a regular basis? Way to kill a dream, blog.

So. This will be like my phone calls to my mom or friends. Random stuff, varied interests, sometimes talking about my writing but just as often ranting about blue jays or cheese. Maybe I’ll even have some structure to it, like my Monday entry will be about writing. I like structure. But sometimes I have a hard time sticking to a schedule. That sounds like a topic for a future blog post!