I don’t know if the world needs another book review site. Right now, it seems like a good idea for me, a way to exercise my writing and literary review muscles. Beginning this, I don’t know how it will turn out, but if I’ve resolved to exercise my body this year, shouldn’t my mind exercise as well?
Understand, I’ve always wanted to be a writer, deep down the desire never left me. Three things got in the way: constantly striving for perfection, fear of failure, and, well, life. I struggle with the first one every time I sit down to tell a story, tripping on editing, stumbling on word choice. The second one seems insurmountable. I’ve let the fear grow into a huge monster that wraps one hand around my entire body and squeezes until I can’t breathe. I use the last one as an excuse to avoid the monster.
Two of the most consistent pieces of advice a writer gives is: read a lot and write every day. Last year, I resolved to read more. I was a picky, snobby reader. I have favorite authors and tend to stick with them, especially when things like food and clothes for three kids take priority over buying the latest books. (For an English major to be too lazy to go to even my tiny library…smh)
Once upon a time, I gobbled up anything that sounded interesting. Once upon a time, I found books in the library, borrowed books from teachers and friends and, very rarely, purchased (because I couldn’t live without some stories). Once upon a time, my mother found more pleasure books than schoolbooks every week in my backpack. Once upon a time, my grades and library fines were so low and high respectively, that my mother grounded me from books!
I missed reading. I started reading when I was four, taught by an amazing woman, who I blame for all the worlds she opened. When I got married, my husband loved that I read books in a series. That meant he would always have a present for me on any gift-giving occasion. I just had to let him know which book came next. I only stopped reading regularly during my second attempt at college while breastfeeding my third child. Life happens. I traded pleasure books for literature and got a degree in English/Linguistics (with Honors, BTW).
My husband also pointed out that most of my books were just taking up space and getting dusty. I thought about it. A childhood dream of mine was to have a room full of books. But he was right. Tiny house, three kids, limited resources, time and space, uggh! I had to declutter. It took me years, but now I have two (packed) bookshelves: one for my favorites which I just can’t let go and one for the classics, the schoolbooks, the references I can’t live without (and actually have helped the kiddos in their English classes…and my husband when he went back to school!). Who got my books? Well, the library, of course.
Then…after one particular accomplishment in my life, my husband rewarded me with a Kindle. I love tech. I love books. How could this be a bad gift? Well…at the time you still had to pay for all the good books and they weren’t cheap. The classics available free? Read them, analyzed them, bored, bored, bored. But…the Kindle was a spectacular compromise. I could read as many books as I wanted (could afford) and take up no space in our tiny house. I didn’t risk a toddler ripping and drooling over the paperbacks. I could drop the thing in my purse without the weight of two or three books dragging me down.
I still didn’t read as much as I wanted. Limitations: time, money, etc…
Then, technology catches up with my desire. There are tons of websites dedicated to free and cheap books. Some of them even have a Kindle format. Some of them have direct links to Amazon. I have Amazon Prime. Now I could “borrow” books without leaving my home. My library even started catching up with the era. I borrowed audible books from the library and one book a month from Amazon. Still…limiting.
Plus, the free books were so bad I couldn’t read them. What were these independent authors thinking? That it takes one person with a good idea to create a King-like following? Seriously, these people needed an editor. Bleh!
I put away my Kindle and tinkered away in my spare time with my own stories. I never had enough time. I’m still working on them. But… The best advice is to read a lot and write a lot.
After a while (being the tech junkie I am) I bought a new Kindle for myself, the paperwhite one, the streamlined, touchscreen, no keyboard thing. Amazon has added Goodreads. Digital books have gone down in price. Life hands me a few bucks every now and then and it’s like spending my allowance back in the day. I have a list of books to read. Nothing takes up space (save for the hardbacks I purchase of my favorite, cannot-live-without stories).
I’m remembering what it was like back in high school when I would read while blow-drying my hair, riding a bus, getting dressed, walking between classes. I made time. I’m relearning how to do that. And guess what? It’s working. I’m spending less time getting precious minutes sucked away from me. I’m prioritizing everything on their own levels. My house is cleaner. My life (while not exactly scheduled) runs a bit smoother. I’m getting more and better sleep. And, in those spare moments I carve out for myself, I either read or write. It is pleasant. It relaxes me. I remember now, why I read so much back then and how it kept me from going crazy.
GoodReads proved to be less of a social hindrance for me than I expected. It helps me keep track of what I’m reading. It helps me set and achieve goals. Last year I set a completely doable goal of 15 books. By New Year’s I found that I’d read 21. Way to overachieve, I thought. This year, I doubled my goal and am already 9 books over schedule. Yeah! In addition, I’ve been inspired to write a little something about every book I read. In my mind, it helps future readers who pour through those reviews before, during and after reading a book. It also serves as a creative outlet when I get stuck on my own stories. (No. I’m still not published. But you can find snippets of my stuff on Serial Narratives or Wattpad. I am conquering my fear one step at a time.)
There is a trifecta that works for me and I’m going to spend a few minutes telling you about them because, there’s a thread of a theme, a method to my madness. You’ll find that I’m still cheap and I tend to stick to certain genres only branching out when I get completely bored. I don’t read every single new book out there with rave reviews. I don’t read every popular thing. Although now I’m more open to new books than I used to be. I’m closer to the ravenous, book-hungry, middle-schooler I once was.
My morning routine starts like this: open Amazon and sign into account. Open BookBub in another tab for the latest in freebies and cheap books (cause new writers just want to get out there). Find something that sounds interesting. Open GoodReads and compare a few reviews with those from Amazon. Don’t ever rely on the first page of reviews. They seem a little too perfect. Go to the second page, run through the 3 stars. Make a judgment. Is it worth my time and money to try to read it? Is it something in the genres I like? Does it have way too many 5 star reviews for the 3 stars who say the thing needs editing?
My mood decides whether or not I get it.
Now I have a stockpile of books in my Kindle ready to read and review. I even have an Audible account and listen while I cook and clean and pick up the kids and do all the wonderful things a mother of now teenage kids does. Waiting for them, I read. Eating alone, I read. Standing in line, I read. While they are watching something on Nickelodeon for the umpteenth time, I read. After they go to bed, if I’m not writing, I read.
After reading this, I feel like a walking advertisement for Amazon. Forgive me, please. The Kindle, the free books, Kindle Unlimited just fits into my life so easily. It won’t for everyone. I’m not saying to go out and purchase anything. But…if you’re reading the about page on a book review site all the way to the bottom, you either already have a Kindle, or will soon get one and love it.