Fiction Blog, Musings & Bookish Things

Which Books Are You Grateful For?

Despite all the negativity surrounding Thanksgiving, the holiday endears itself to me more each year. Why? At its essence, the American tradition of Thanksgiving is about coming together with family, sharing a special meal, and taking just one day to express gratitude. 

Thanksgiving turkeyThanks to Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving), Thanksgiving has started to be overshadowed by Christmas shopping, But, as Americans have become desensitized to the “amazing” deals, and Black Friday sales have pushed themselves into Thanksgiving night, there’s been a quiet call to reclaim the good parts of Thanksgiving. The family time, the gratitude, the restfulness. Yes, please.

For the second year in a row (and in my entire life), I’ll be spending Thanksgiving away from my family (and, almost as regrettably, my Uncle Dave’s famous smoked turkey). Now, I know you might not be an American or a meat eater, but I have a strong feeling you’re probably a reader. So, fellow bookworm, would you indulge me in a little bookish gratitude?

In the spirit of Thanksgiving and our insatiable craving for book recommendations, drop the title of a book you’re thankful for in the comments. It could be a book that brought you joy, helped you through a difficult time in your life, or even one you wrote yourself!

Gone GirlWhat book am I grateful for? I’ll give you a simple answer and a serious answer. I’m thankful for Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn for getting me through the bulk of a 14-hour plane flight from Australia to the U.S. No matter what I do, I cannot sleep on planes for more than a few minutes at time, so having that novel engross me to the point where I lost track of time was a huge relief.

On a more serious note, I recently found myself grateful for one of my own novels. A reader shared that reading The Courtesan’s Avenger had served as an escape from her depression and that the themes of the novel resonated with and inspired her. That is exactly why I write, and it meant so much to me that something I imagined could do that for her. I was also thankful to “pay it forward,” as several books have helped me through tough times or made me feel less alone.

Now, before you scurry off for turkey or holiday shopping (no judgments), share your own bookish gratitudes in the comments. Feel free to add non-book gratitudes too – mine include my husband and our feline son, the friends who invited us to share Thanksgiving with them this year, and the internet for connecting me with you!

Fiction Blog, Musings & Bookish Things

Should Books Be Written on Soapboxes: Social Responsibility & Literature

As someone raised in the Midwest, I learned at a young age not to discuss sex, politics, or religion. While I’ll gab about the former with the right people (and after a glass or two of red wine!), I tend to avoid politics and religion. From a cultural standpoint, I learned by example that discussing these issues seems pointless and sometimes rude. How can I, as one little person, cause any real change in the world? Why waste my time trying to alter someone’s mind on such divisive topics? What does someone’s political affiliation or religious beliefs matter if they’re a good person?

protestFrom a personal standpoint, I feel I have no right to discuss these issues. Since I don’t have a political or religious association of any kind, who would take me seriously? How can I ensure the information I learn is even factual? And, given how much I hate conflict, why open myself up it?

However, with the current state of the world, politics and religion are becoming increasingly difficult to avoid. And perhaps rightly so. Between the radical propositions made by President Trump, Alt-Right/Nazi rallies (a phrase I never thought I’d type in present-day context), and devastating climactic events, politics and religion arise in nearly every conversation. And as I sit there, mouth clamped tightly shut while friends and family members rattle off their views and theories, I have a realization.

While I don’t often voice my views on contentious issues, I’ve written them into my books.

In the Desertera series, I’ve woven in several topics I care strongly about — sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. I advocate for a positive view of female (and all) sexuality. I grapple with the de-criminalization of prostitution (an issue I’m still uncertain about). I support homosexuality by making it a non-issue in society (except for where it prevents the nobles from having biological heirs). I condemn classism and social stratification. And, especially in the final books of the series, I’ll warn the reader about climate change.

Listed bluntly like this, I marvel at my boldness. I do have opinions — quite a few that would shock my fellow Midwesterners — but I’ve made them more palatable, I hope, by lacing them in fiction. And I’m not alone. Not by a long shot.

Most of the literary fiction I studied in college contained moral or political messages for the reader. Many of my author friends use their writing to advocate for causes or social issues. Hell, Science Fiction as a genre basically serves as a warning from the future (it’s one of the reasons I’ve always been attracted to it). You’ll find the same agendas in nearly every form of artwork at nearly every stage in history.

This brings me to the crux of this article: As an author, do you feel a social responsibility to stand on your “soapbox” in your writing? And as a reader, how do you feel when authors “preach” a message within a novel?

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer.

On one hand, inserting your views into fiction can be a noble endeavor. It gives readers with similar views a safe place in entertainment. It allows readers with different views a chance to consider a new perspective without being personally attacked. And it offers you, as the author, to remain at arm’s length from the topic.

On the other hand, shouldn’t fiction just be fiction? In a world where the news constantly showers us with depressing topics, our social media feeds fill with contention, and our dinner table conversations get usurped by arguments, we need a break. Isn’t it just as noble for books to offer pure entertainment and unbiased escape?

I go back and forth on this issue a lot.

As a writer, I do feel an obligation to make my fiction meaningful. Though, I don’t always agree with myself about what is “meaningful.” Sometimes, I want to use my fiction as a platform. Other times, I just want to offer my reader that innocent escape.

Same goes for when I’m reading a novel. Mostly, I appreciate when an author attempts to make me think deeper — so long as she writes in way that feels respectful to me and doesn’t belabor her point. Though, other times, even the slightest hint of an agenda will make me cringe and wonder, “Why can’t I just enjoy this story for the story’s sake?!”

Maybe it’s about choosing which type of author you want to be, or which type of writing is right for each particular story. Maybe it’s about knowing what your ideal reader expects. Maybe it’s about striking a balance between theme and entertainment. Maybe it’s about being sneakier, having your cake and eating it without the reader even noticing you baked it.

My specific answer keeps changing, based on whether I’m writing or reading, the story itself, the mood I’m in, even the day (it’s no coincidence that I’m writing this on 9/11). But my politically correct, moderate, agnostic answer remains the same: as long as the author respects the story and the reader, that’s what matters most, soapbox or not.


What do you think? Do authors have a responsibility to advocate for their political/religious views in their fiction? As a reader, do you expect a “message” from the author, or are you only looking for entertainment? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

 

Fiction Blog, Guest Posts, Musings & Bookish Things

Guest Post: Why Books Are Important From a Writer’s Perspective by Joe Baldwin

Joe Baldwin Guest Post

We have everything we could ever want in this cruel world. We just have to come and get it. As simple as it may seem, getting all the things what we want can be a bit tough. First off, we have to equip our self with all the necessary knowledge to get there. We also need to dodge obstacles that come our way. With that, we find ourselves going to academies and universities trying to learn all the things that we possibly can, which we may, later on, use in fulfilling our dreams and desires.

Back during the days, teachers would require students to write a college essay, they would be required to read loads of books. But nowadays, with the invention of the computer and the internet, books aren’t much of a thing than it used to be. These days, with just a click on the internet, you’ll be introduced to tons of facts and research about a certain topic. To say it simply, information is free. That being said, people don’t resort to books anymore. They find the internet more useful since it gives them access to an even wider array of data. I guess it’s safe to say that some people have forgotten the importance of books in or lives. Who can blame them, though? With all the advancement that we have going on with gadgets, why would they even bother putting their phone down for one book?

I just feel differently about it, though. Books play an important role in our lives. You’ve probably heard of this saying before: “when you open a book, you open a new world”, and I don’t think I’m the only one who agrees with this. There are loads of people whose everyday lives are intertwined with books. They won’t last a day without at least having to read a few chapters from their favorite book. Why are books so awesome? They’re packed with insights, knowledge, life lessons, love, and helpful advice.

Books just seem perfect for me. Not only does it make for a great pastime, it also opens new doors for the reader. Yeah, sure, the internet also provides us with a diverse set of reads, but it’s really different when it comes to books. Books allow us to internalize each idea, whereas the internet reads only give us a gist of an entire topic. Here are more of the reasons why books are important:

It exposes us to new writing

Even though we’re not all writers, writing is still an important aspect of our life, most especially in our jobs. It’s important to be skilled in communicating effectively through the use of writing. Sure, good writing is inherent for some people, but for most, it can be a real piece of work.

I guess you can get a few ideas from the internet in writing, but that won’t surpass the writing insight that you’ll be gaining if you’re reading a book. Why? Well, it’s because reading a book lets you into the story or concept. Reading books on a daily basis will help you understand different types of writing.

It helps us improve our self

We may think that we already know enough about the world, but we only know so much as what information the media and society feeds us with. We only become as good as society expects us to be. It’s healthy to have our own personal standard. With that, we should aim to improve ourselves. The question is how. Self-improvement only starts with awareness, meaning knowledge. We need to become more aware. There’s no better way to become more knowledgeable than by reading books because through it, we’ll begin to understand the world more, and when we do, we come to understand ourselves more.

It improves our imagination

In this world, we are limited. We can only do so much. But we are only bounded by these walls if have a weak imagination. Imagination is part of growth. It’s the one thing that makes us think that everything that’s happening can get better, that there’s still hope. Reading books gives us access to other people’s ideas and imaginations, which we can inculcate in our own.

It improves our memory

Memory is an important aspect of our life. Unfortunately, our attachment to technology is disrupting our memory affectivity. We become too reliant. It’s not like we can avoid using technology, but that’s no reason to let ourselves to fall into the pit. Rather it gives us more reason to maintain or improve our memory. Reading exposes us to different kinds of information. In order for us to fully understand what we are reading, we have to become aware of the previous events in a book or story. That being said, it urges our memory power to be at its maximum.

It gives us entertainment

A life spent only on academics and career can really tear us down. We’ll get to the point when we don’t even know what we’re doing the things we do anymore. We need to get out of our poor spirits. Books can give us exactly that. Reading books can take us to a whole new world, where all our fantasies come to life.

It’s important to keep our life balanced. Reading books is one of the best ways to do so. Why? While you’re busy with school or work you’ll always have a book to keep you away from all your troubles. Imagine feeling all hopeless about your job, that it almost makes you want to quit. No worries, then because there’s a book you can rely on that’ll take you to other places of the world where you meet new people. It’s just like going on vacation.

It doubles our knowledge

Yeah, sure, school is already doing fine educating us, but it’s just not enough. Knowledge is ever static. It changes every second. That being said, we can’t always rely on what was taught to us at school. Reading books is great if you want to become more knowledgeable.


About Joe

Joe BaldwinJoe Baldwin is a native US resident & professional Article writer for https://essaylook.com. He studied English literature and creative writing. He has experience with online web content including blogs, web page content, news, public relations, press releases, and long form sales and industrial presentations.

Fiction Blog, Musings & Bookish Things

My Reading Habits: A Questionnaire

A few days ago, Charles French and Zach Chopchinski nominated me to share my reading habits via a reading habits questionnaire. I must say, the book nerd in me had a lot of fun geeking out over these questions and pondering some of the scenarios. I’m not going to nominate anyone in specific for this challenge — so if it seems like a fun post for you, go ahead and consider yourself nominated! Okay, here are my answers: 20150620_150428

You have 20,000 books on your TBR. How in the world do you decide what to read next?

Right now, I am only reading books from my book review queue and those that are important for my author-entrepreneur business. Therefore, I would read whatever is next chronologically on those lists. Now, once my book review list has dissipated, I will go back to my old method of staring at my bookshelf and pulling at my hair until my eyes land on a book that I know I must read right now.

You’re halfway through a book and you’re just not loving it. Do you quit or commit?

I’m an all or nothing type of person. I rarely ever quit a book halfway through. Honestly, the book would have to be highly offensive to me (in a moral sense) for me to stop reading. I’m a big believer in sticking through books outside of my comfort zone and/or that are poorly written for the lessons they can bring me as a writer.

The end of the year is coming and you’re so close yet so far away on your GoodReads challenge. Do you quit or commit?

Again, I would try to commit. Or, in my continual efforts to tame my inner-perfectionist, I would probably lower my goal and reprimand myself for being too optimistic. As long as I used the time I could have been reading to do something even more important (ie: writing), then I am okay with a reduced reading goal.

The covers of a series you love DO. NOT. MATCH. How do you cope?

I would survive, but it would annoy me. One of my favorite aspects of series is a cohesive theme and style throughout the book covers. I do not care if the covers are “bad” or not, but I think it is important from a branding and aesthetic perspective to keep covers consistent. If they re-released old books with the new covers, I would seriously consider selling my copies and re-buying them with the matching covers.

Everyone and their mother loves a book you really don’t like. Who do you bond with over shared feelings?

Usually my friend, Jess, and I are together on these issues. We tend to have similar tastes when it comes to the “blockbuster” books. However, I can always vent to my husband, even if he does not share my opinion.

You’re reading a book and you’re about to start crying in public. How do you deal?

This depends on where I am. If I’m in an airport, I will just cry my heart out. After being in a long distance relationship (and thus having many a joyful reunion and sorrowful parting in airports), I literally have no shame in airports any more. No. Shame. As for work, a library, or confined space (like a bus), I would probably close the book and wait until I got home to read through the weepy part.

A sequel of a book you loved just came out, but you’ve forgotten a lot from the prior novel. Will you re-read the book? Skip the sequel? Try to find a summary on GoodReads? Cry in frustration?

Typically, if I love a book, I will remember it pretty well — even over time. However, if I do forget a lot about the book, I will go and skim through the first one, perhaps reading the last chapter or two to recapture the emotions I felt during the book’s conclusion so I can carry them into book two more clearly.

20150620_150313You don’t want ANYONE borrowing your books. How do you politely tell people “nope” when they ask?

“I’m sorry, but I don’t lend my books out anymore. I have had too many books go walkabout when borrowed, and I’m tired of having to replace them.”

You’ve picked up and put down five different books in the past month. How do you get over the reading slump?

When I’m in a reading slump, the best thing for me is to find a short book that I can blaze through in a few quick sittings. This gets me back in the groove of reading and whets my appetite for longer tomes.

There are so many new books coming out that you are dying to read! How many do you actually buy?

Other than independent books, I prefer to buy all of my books secondhand to save money. Therefore, if they are traditionally-published, I would probably buy zero and (im)patiently wait a few months until I could find them for next-to-nothing. As for independent books, I would buy them relatively soon, but I would spread out the expenses over a few weeks so it did not hurt my wallet as badly.

After you’ve bought a new book you want to get to, how long do they sit on your shelf until you actually read them?

I am terrible at buying books and then waiting forever to read them. I guarantee there are classics that I bought in high school that are still sitting on my bookshelf unread. If the book is written by a friend or an author I really like, I will probably get to it in a month or two. If anything else, it will probably sit on my shelf for at least six months (if not years) as I slowly read my way through the books that got there first (again, by months or years).

And those are my reading habits! Again, if you’d like to answer, feel free to do so in your own post or in the comments. Side note: the banner and images in this post are snapshots of my actual bookshelves — feel free to evaluate my reading tastes as you will.