Reader’s Question: How do you choose which book you’re going to read next?

Wow,this question is almost as hard to answer as “What’s your favorite book?” (Only ask me that if you’ve got a couple of hours.)

How do I choose my next read?…Hmmmm…

I’m going to be difficult and ask another question: Do you mean how do you choose which books to add to your to-read list, how do I choose which book to pick up next from my nightstand/check out from my to-do list, or how do I choose a random book from a library shelf?

I would really like to just say, “I don’t know.” But let me give it my best shot by answering each of these questions and providing tips based on what I’ve found helpful.

can't beat book addictoin

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How do you choose which books to add to your to-read list?

This is perhaps the hardest question to answer, because my to-read list seems to grow longer every week. I don’t really have one method to choose books. I like searching Goodreads.com for the latest YA or Fantasy books. It also allows me to keep track of my favorite authors and build online libraries. I’ve recently discovered another useful site called whatshouldireadnext.com. It provides dozens of suggestions based on books, series, and authors. I like to go to these sites first before going to anyone else, because it lets me search for recommendations based on my own preferences. I’ve learned over the years that no one knows what I like to read better than me. If you go on these site, don’t worry so much about whether you’re going to find any books you like or which ones to check out first. Just save any books that look interesting to you.

However, other people can be good resources. If you have family members or friends who like the same kinds of books that you do, don’t hesitate to ask them what you should add to your to-do list. I’m sure they’d love to give you a few recommendations. Unfortunately, most people in my social circle have different tastes when it comes to books. I was so lucky that I had the chance to work in a library during college, and I still walk into libraries often and strike up conversations with librarians about books.

Bookstore employees are also good resources when it comes to building a to-read list. Perusing bookstores is a great way to add new books to your to-read list, and the people who work there are often very well read. I would have missed out on some great reads if I hadn’t gone straight to the professionals. Never be too afraid to strike up conversations about books with people who work with books!

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How do you choose which book from your to-read pile/list to read next?

I don’t just check out one book when I visit the library. Two-four books per library visit is usually a standard for me. I do have a system for what I’m going to check out next. I always try to make sure that I know my priorities before I walk into a room full of books.

1. Any new books that I think are worth buying automatically jump to the top of the list. I usually try to find them in a library before I buy them, especially if I’ve never read anything by that author before.

2. New releases by my favorite authors are also priority. This was my favorite perk when I was a library worker. I got to request new releases first. This rule is really a no brainer!

3. Other than that, I try hard to make sure that books don’t stay on my to-read list for years. If you haven’t already, I would recommend that you search your local libraries for the books on your to-read list before you leave your house. I found this out after only a couple of visits to the library where I showed up with a long to-read list and high hopes…and left with nothing. By finding out which books are available, you can divide your to-read list into four mini-lists: available, put on hold, inter-library loan, and find somewhere else. I am never afraid to request a loan if I know that another library has a book that I’ve been wanting to read for a long time.

One final note: Allow yourself some flexibility every time your visit the library. If something you wanted to check out isn’t there, put it on hold and check out something else. You don’t have to keep a rigid 1,2,3 list.

I have a far less scientific approach when it comes to picking a book from the pile of books on my nightstand. Sometimes I open the book that least interests me first so that I can return it to the library and get another one if I don’t like it. Sometimes I can’t wait to open the book that interests me the most. And sometimes I just have to close my eyes and point to a book. Either way, I know that I’ve done the research and have a good selection of books to choose from. You might have to find your own method for choosing your next read if you are a “to-read pile” kind of person.

Huge TBR pile

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How do you choose which next random book you’re going to check out from the library?

I always like to leave myself room to check out at least one random book. That way I can let the books that catch my eye actually get a chance to make it from my to-read list to my check out pile sometime soon. Because, let’s be honest, my real to-read list is over twenty pages long.

If you’ve never walked around the library and just pulled random books off the shelf, then you’ve never had a proper trip to the library. Give yourself time to look at whatever book catches your eye. Remember, you know your reading style best.

The first thing that catches my eye is usually a book’s cover. That’s what draws me in. It’s usually pretty easy to see if a book is going to interest me or not. For me, dragons, magic lamps, and swirly writing are all good signs that a book might interest me. I’ve checked out books on this criteria alone many times. 

It might be something entirely different for you. Pull out whatever book that you think might interest you and read a few pages. This is actually something really smart to do with books from your to-read list, too. If you start to snooze, put it back. No harm, no foul. But you might pick up something that you really love. Don’t be afraid to just pick a book off a shelf. Most libraries have recommendations and new release selections that are updated often. Look them over, even if you know none of them are on your to-read list.

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I know that wasn’t super detailed. The truth is, I don’t have a foolproof inner radar that points me towards my next favorite book. It’s honestly just a combination of an ever-growing to-read list, a good relationship with Goodreads and my local librarians, and a finely-tuned reader’s sense. Reader’s sense is what I call the feeling that a book lover has inside that tells them what they do and do not like in a book. If I haven’t said it enough, this should be your first and last resource for deciding which book to read next, which books you should add to your to-read list, and which books you shouldn’t even check out.

I hope, in some sense, this answered your question. I promise that I will do my best to answer any other questions that come my way. You keep asking and I’ll keep babbling on and on until I reach a conclusion! 🙂

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What Is Your Biggest Pet Peeve as an Editor?

I wanted to address this question. Multiple people have asked me, “What is your biggest pet peeve when you edit _____?” The “___” refers to whatever I was talking about at the time: academic papers, manuscripts, freelance work, my own work, etc.

I usually don’t know what to answer, but I’m going to try my best now.

Everyone who knows me heard stories about the people I worked with at my college press. One author in particular gave me a lot of grief. I called him “hyphen guy,” because he loved to use hyphens in his text. And he’d put them in such awkward places: stop-light, inter-state, etc. As you can imagine, it got to be quite annoying.

Even hearing me talk about it now, two years later, you can’t miss the exasperation in my voice. You’d think that hyphens are my biggest pet peeve.

I don’t think that’s true. My biggest pet editing peeve is actually…commas.

Notice I didn’t say people who use too many commas or “comma guys.” My problem isn’t with people who use commas. (Unless I find someone who doesn’t believe in the Oxford comma. Then I’m ready for a showdown.) It’s with commas themselves. I’ve thoroughly convinced myself over the last few years that commas are the most confusing part of this utterly confusing language.

If you’re still a student, I’m about the blow your mind. Those rules your English teachers are trying to cram down your throats…they really don’t matter!

Well, okay, I’ll back up for a second. They do “matter.” You have to know  how to write in proper English. For instance, items in a list have to set apart with commas. Introductory phrases and clauses also have to be set off by commas. Commas are used with dialogue and strings of adjectives. And, of course, the rule of thumb is that a comma should be inserted wherever you hear a pause when you read a sentence out loud.

Ah, the age-old rules of comma usage. I remember them well. These are actually a paraphrase of the rules in one of my grammar books. But if someone tells you that these these rules are set in stone, they are sadly mistaken. In fact…

If you really want to rattle some cages, look your professor in the eye the next time he says, “There shouldn’t be a comma there. There isn’t a pause.”

Look him in the eye and say, “There is a pause.” Then watch the look on his face while you overly pronounce the pause where you placed your comma. It’s either going to be comical or frightening.

If you can’t take that, I would strongly suggest you stay out of a career that requires you to pour over manuscripts, or documents, for that matter, with a red pen.

In the real world, you’ll hear things like: “Oh, I’m sorry, but we follow an editing standard that doesn’t recognize the Oxford Comma” or “If the author wants those commas there, then you should drop it. It’s just her writing style.”

I’ve heard both of these statements. They made me feel sad…and mad…Yes, I’m smad. It’s a real emotion. It’ll catch on. 🙂

The hard part is, I have problems with commas, too. I could say a sentence five different ways, with five different commas. Does that mean they’re all correct? No…wait, yes…maybe? It’ll probably depend on who is “grading”  writing and if they care about the intent behind it.

I can pretty much guarantee you that someone out there is going to have a problem with one of the commas in this article. So go ahead, let me have it! Just remember that the comma is the one who actually deserves your scowl and disrespect.

That’s right. I don’t respect you, comma!

*Jumps under desk and curls into a ball* Please don’t tell any of my commas that I said that. I don’t want to get ambushed by commas in the next manuscript I  read.

🙂 So…whatcha’ thinkin’ guys?

The Winning Review

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I’ve told y’all about the three book review/articles that launched by freelance writing career and piqued the interest of future employers who did not care one iota about YA books.

I asked if y’all wanted to read one, and here’s the one you chose. Enjoy! Let me know if this piqued your interest.

A Fresh Perspective on Dragons

I have a confession to make…I am obsessed with dragons. I love them!  As a fellow bibliophile, you must understand my concern when tales of space exploration started to fill up the bestseller lists. Books about dragons and vampires no longer dominated the shelves. My dilemma became this: How could I feed my hunger for a book that featured a new, fresh perspective on dragons? I thought my search was doomed to end in heartbreak…

Then I discovered Rachel Hartman’s YA novel, Seraphina. Hartman’s book breathes life into these iconic, scaly creatures. I should make one thing clear: If you are a die-hard “Knights of the Round Table” fan, you will be disappointed. If, however, you enjoy stories that are not focused solely on killing these magical beasts, you must read this book.

Hartman’s creatures are the Vulcans of dragon-kind. They are cunning, smart, and emotion-less. Hartman’s world-building skills are impressive, to say the least. The reader is instantly plunged into a post-knight, post-war world where dragons converse with humans, disguise themselves as humans, and, yes, consort with humans.

It is through the eyes of one of these half-human, half-dragon Ityasaari that readers are introduced to the politics of Goredd. Seraphina, however, is not your typical modern, kick-butt heroine. Like the dragons she calls kin, her strength lies in her intellect and her struggle to control her emotions. Hartman’s world comes alive on the page as Seraphina answers the questions that all young adults ask at some point in their lives: Who am I? Where do I fit in? Her unique heritage adds a new level of intrigue and drama to these queries.

Every new character, every new kingdom, shines with the authenticity of a well-researched story. And yet the history of Goredd is not laid out in page after page of boring commentary. Rather, Hartman lets her characters tell their own histories. You will be caught up in Seraphina’s world from the first page. You will hear her melodious symphonies. You will feel the tension in the air as she encounters enemies and makes allies. You will stand with her as she discovers the secret of her dragon heritage and takes her place among the hidden world of the Ityasaari.

This book has everything that the YA dragon lover could wish for: dragon battles, rich settings, complex characters, and perhaps even a few love interests. Hartman’s book does not disappoint. Pick up a copy today!!

Joseph Campbell and Beyond

I smile when I hear someone say, “That movie sounded just like that other one” or “That author stole that idea!” These words usually come to mind: “Well, all stories are derived from one. There are no new ideas, so there must be some similarities between these stories.”

At least, that’s what I was taught in English class. Some authors do take other people’s ideas – that’s called plagiarism. However, I firmly believe that there are no new ideas. It all depends on the way that authors spin these ideas to create their own stories. I haven’t been able to gain enough scholarly know-how to form an air-tight argument to support this theory, but there is one fascinating literary topic that I have been able to study…archetypes.

The literal definition of an archetype is “a typical example of certain person of thing; a prototype.” The idea of a psychological archetype has been traced as far back as Socrates.  However, I am more interested in the modern idea of literary archetypes that have been  refined by great thinkers like the philosopher Carl Jung and the mythologist Joseph Campbell. These men translated the idea of psychological archetypes, or “a collective unconscious,” and applied them to books.

Literary archetypes are models or reoccurring patterns found throughout all literature. These archetypes move through time and place. They are universally understood ideas. I don’t want to write a term paper on this subject, but I’m going to share some ideas of common literary archetypes. I’m sure that you’ve discovered these for yourself, even if you didn’t know what they were at the time. They come in many shapes, forms, and sizes, but I’ll just touch on a few here:

Archetypal Characters:

  1. The Hero: This character is usually considered the protagonist (simple check: the protagonist is the character that undergoes the most amount of change or growth throughout the story). This character possesses all of the necessary skills to solve whatever problem he faces and he will, eventually, step up to save the day.
  2. The Innocent: This character is also known as the Dreamer. In classic fairy tales, this character is the spotless and naïve princess who needs to be saved by a dashing young hero. The Innocent character is not tempted towards darkness and can’t understand it, which can make her seem more desirable towards both heros and villains.
  3. The Villain: The Villain character can take different forms depending on how he is perceived, or interacts with, the hero. This is the character who wants the hero to fail in his quest and wreaks the most amount of havoc on the hero and the innocents in the hero’s world.
  4. The Mentor: This character can also take multiple forms. The mentor is the character that the hero runs to for help. Whether he is a father figure or an old wizard, the mentor’s aid is indispensable.
  5. The Trickster: This character is a prime example of a group of characters called “challengers.” While the trickster isn’t always evil, he is most often portrayed as a character who stands in the way of the hero reaching his goal.
  6. The Rebel:  The rebel is a character who is alienated from society or from the cultural norms of the time. He can take many forms (i.e. the hermit vs. the leader of the revolution) and can serve either side, good or evil.

Archetypal Themes:

  1. *Light vs. Dark: This is perhaps the most universally understood, and oldest, theme found in literature. This theme represents the struggle against good and evil. It can be shown either literally or figuratively.
  2. Old vs. New: This is another classic theme found throughout literature. Think of all the stories where revolutionaries fight about an old government, the environment clashes with civilization, youths rebel against adults – these stories all fall under this theme.
  3. Rags to Riches: This is the classic pauper to prince story line. This theme does not have to involve the hero or refer to monetary gain. It refers to a sudden and intense reversal of fate. As such, Riches to Rags can also be used.
  4. Isolation or Alienation: Here is where the Rebel and the Hero are often used to refer to the same person. This theme can be used at the beginning or end of story, or throughout the whole thing. It can represent both good and evil. It is an often used, but complex, theme.

Archetypal Events:**

  1. Call to Adventure: Something bad happens and the hero is called to action. This involves him leaving his normal life or “the ordinary world” in some way. The hero refers to the main protagonist. He will not always be alone, but he will make the next decision.
  2. Refusal of the Call: Often, but not always, the hero will refuse the call at first. After all, not many people have the drive or the ability to run straight into danger. Something or someone will have to drive him towards the Unknown World.
  3. (Supernatural) Aid: This is where the Mentor enters the scene. His aide is not always supernatural, but it will help the hero decide what road to take.
  4. Crossing the Threshold: This refers to the first step that the hero takes on his journey. It may involve something as big as stepping through a portal into another world or something as small as leaving the town limits.
  5. The Road of Trials: This event encompasses the majority of the book. The hero and his allies meet friends, enemies, and challenges along the way. There has to be multiple setbacks and triumphs involved in this event. The hero cannot reach his goal without enduring some hardship.
  6. The Ultimate Ordeal: The hero always has one main goal in mind. There is one challenge that his journey has been leading up to. Here is where he makes his final stand with his allies.
  7. The Reward: After the ordeal is over and the hero claims victory, he receives his reward. The reward isn’t always what he expected, but whatever it is – an object, an idea, whatever – it will be worth the journey in some way.
  8. The Road Back: This is the book’s denouement. Here the hero has to decide if he wants to return to his old life and then begin the journey if he wishes to.
  9. The Ressurection: Often, the hero will have to go through one more personal challenge before he can return home. This may involve an unforeseen complication or a change of heart.
  10. Back to the Ordinary World: The hero and his allies return home with the prize that will fix everything!

**Together, these events make up what Joseph Campbell called the monomyth. Today, we call it “The Hero’s Journey.” **

You see, Joseph Campbell believed that the monomyth wasn’t a magical template. Steps can be removed, moved around, and tweaked. However, it does includes the archetypal events that can be considered the building blocks for virtually any piece of fictional literature. Take a minute and think of your favorite book.

Do you see the elements of Campbell’s monomyth in it? Also, can you think of one classic Disney animated movie that doesn’t follow “The Hero’s Journey”?

Why is this so familiar? As I mentioned earlier, archetypes are images and ideas that are universal. Everyone can understand the hero figure, the struggle of light vs. dark, and the entire hero’s journey. These reoccurring themes are easy to understand, because they are tied to our very existence. Whether authors write what they know people will recognize or whether readers are the ones who pick up a book and make the connection themselves, is question that we will likely never be able to satisfactorily answer. I would say yes to both.

You might still be saying, “I see the connections you’re talking about, but why would you want to label all literature with something as simple as ‘The Hero’s Journey’?” I see what you’re saying. There are millions of variations that authors can make to Campbell’s monomyth, but the connections cannot be denied. I’m going to take this even one step further and say that I like to label all literature with one theme – Good vs. Evil *(see Light vs. Dark from earlier.)  That can be even harder to comprehend. Again, why would someone want to ignore all of the differences between various works of literature in order to put them in the same basket?

Why? It’s because it allows me to say what I said earlier: “All stories are derived from one.” I don’t think “The Hero’s Journey” is the smallest building block of literature. The smallest block is good vs. evil. Isn’t that the daily struggle everyone faces in their consciousness and unconsciousness? Isn’t that the simplest concept that is universally understood?

Yes!

That is why there are common threads between every single piece of fiction. If you can recognize that common ground, then you can step back and understand the archetypes used in literature, and then, I believe, you can fully appreciate the twists and turns that authors incorporate into their own stories.  The struggle between good and evil is at the center of every book. It’s the way that an author chooses to show that struggle that makes spending a whole afternoon reading worthwhile.

I’m going to wrap up with some examples of archetypes in literature. And because I am who I am, I’m not going to use traditional examples (Star Wars, The Hobbit, etc.) Instead, I’ve chosen two uniquely different YA books: Eragon by Christopher Paolini and Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. Two very different stories, right? We’ll see!

And I hope that you’ll be able to notice the archetypes in your favorite books now and, perhaps, even use them when you write. Share your thoughts below. Did you find this helpful? Did you learn something new? Or is this information “old hat” for you? What familiar archetypes have you picked up on in books and movies? Have you seen another version of “The Hero’s Journey” in your favorite stories? Would you use Campbell’s template to write a movie-worthy book or would you rather let your readers discover the universal truths in your story on their own?

***Caution: Major Spoilers

Eragon

  1. The hero, Eragon, is called out of his normal life when he finds a dragon egg.
  2. Eragon doesn’t want to leave his Uncle’s farm. Even when the dragon hatches, he hides it in the forest so that he can stay. It is another outside action, the death of this uncle, which pushes him to accept the call.
  3. The mysterious Brom, who knows quite a bit about dragons and dragon riders, becomes Dragon’s mentor.
  4. Oddly enough, Brom also acts as the Threshold Guarden as he shepherds Eragon on his journey into the unknown world outside of Palancar Valley.
  5. Eragon faces many dangers as he journeys towards his goal: the Varden. Along the way, he has to battle storms, environmental hardships, monsters, and the King’s henchmen. He also comes in contact with more allies. He is changed by the knowledge that he can perform magic and the death of his mentor and closest ally, Brom.
  6. The hero manages to get through every obstacle until he reaches the Varden. The ultimate ordeal is a battle that takes place between Eragon and the Varden fighters and the King’s henchmen. Eragon is forced to go head-to-head with his most dangerous adversary yet, a Shade. He is able to defeat his enemy in the end and ensures victory for the Varden.
  7. Eragon does not receive riches as a reward. He gains the knowledge that he helped his allies win the battle. On top of that, he wins the personal reward of finding a powerful teacher.
  8. Since this is the first book in an epic series, Eragon does not make a physical journey back to his home. This physical step of “The Hero’s Journey” is cut out.
  9. Eragon’s resurrection moment comes when his new teacher revives him from the brink of death. Eragon receives a new purpose in life: to journey into the Elves’ forest to find his teacher . He has become a new person: confident, selfless, a true hero.
  10. The hero has now fully accepted his role as a Dragon Rider. He sets off to find his teacher with the knowledge he has gained and the hope that he will be able to use it to destroy the Evil King someday.

Twilight

  1. Bella is called out of her normal life when she has to leave her mother and move to Forks to live with her father.
  2. Although she has to move, Bella is reluctant to accept the change. She is also hesitant to make contact with the unknown world, Edward’s world.
  3. Jacob acts as Bella’s mentor when he informs her about the myth concerning his tribe. This leads Bella to learn the truth about the Cullens.
  4. Bella steps over the threshold when she makes the decision to trust Edward, even though he is a vampire.
  5. Bella’s journey involves a series of ups and downs that includes gaining the respect of his family, dealing with jealousy from other guys, and trying to balance her relationships with Edward and Jacob. She does gain real allies along the way in the form of Edward and most of his family.
  6. The true villain of the book doesn’t arrive until another group of vampires discovers the relationship between Edward and Bella. The ultimate ordeal occurs when Bella and her allies have to destroy a vampire that tries to kill Bella. Bella doesn’t destroy the villain herself, but she does have to face him in an act of selfless bravery and she suffers the most throughout the ordeal.
  7. Bella’s reward is, quite literally, her life.
  8. Bella’s journey back to the “ordinary world” beings when she wakes up in the hospital.
  9. While there, she is physically resurrected. She also undergoes another type of resurrection when she reaffirms her love for Edward. She has become a different person and she will fight for what she wants.
  10. Bella returns to Forks with Edward by her side for prom. She has not returned to “normal,” but she has managed to combine her world and the unknown world. She has returned with her prizes: her life and her love.