First off, can you believe we’re already over halfway through 2018?? I don’t even know what to do with that information. So far, it’s been a good year for me. I’m looking forward to the next half, both to the exciting plans and the big unknowns. Thank you as always for journeying with me and being such fun, supportive readers. ❤
One of the things I’ve done in 2018 is read.
No, really. I have. Try to believe it.
It’s been a bit of a different reading year for me. I haven’t read as much as I normally do. I don’t mean that I haven’t spent as much time reading, but I guess I’m just not reading as quickly. My goodreads goal is lower than usual, and I’m still a little behind, which isn’t like me. I know reading isn’t about numbers, and if lower numbers mean more comprehension and appreciation of the books I do read, then I’m glad. But I don’t know, I feel a little sluggish this year book-wise. Maybe everybody has slower years. Maybe I just need to give myself grace and let myself go at the pace that I need.
Well, there’s no maybe about that. I know I need to do that. We all do. Give yourselves some grace and go at your own pace, my peeps. (Heyyy that rhymes. I should put it on an inspirational poster. *hands several out*)
ANYWAY. Enough chitchat. On to the main post. (I think I say some version of that every single time. My introductions always end up becoming mini posts themselves. Good grief.)
three ways my reading life has changed this year
1 } Audiobooks
One reason I’m reading less this year might be that I I am listening to more audiobooks, which take longer. My family has been listening to audiobooks together at night for a year or so, which is a tradition I love, but I don’t think I would have delved into them on my own if I hadn’t been forced to. This January I developed some headaches and eye pain while reading. To my great relief and gratitude, the combination of reading glasses and regular neck stretches to relieve tension have made that pain manageable, but until I figured that out, I really couldn’t do much actual reading. Not a good state of affairs for a bibliophile like me. That’s when audiobooks came to my rescue.
I’ll say this about audiobooks: they can be tough. I’m much more of a visual learner than auditory, and I have trouble finding things to do while listening to them. I found that I dislike just sitting there listening—I need to feel like I’m doing something productive with my body. When you’re reading a book, you’re at least holding it and flipping through the pages (or swiping if it’s an e-book). Plus, I love how when I’m reading I can hear what’s going on around me and feel included in it even if I’m not directly interacting with it. With audiobooks, I feel much more isolated from my surroundings.
All that to say, I totally understand why they are not some people’s cup of tea. However, after being conscripted into their service, I have found several benefits. For one thing, they force me to slow down, pay attention to each word, and savor the book. There’s no skimming or skipping here (unless you fall asleep for parts. Which, ahem, may have happened to me on occasion.). I often struggle pay attention to the language and word choice in books, which is detrimental to me as a writer. Audiobooks help fix that.
Even better, audiobooks can bring stories alive in a way paper books simply can’t. The different voices and accents, the sound effects and music some productions put in, the sound of another human who is partaking of the same story—it’s a special experience. Some books benefit more from audio transformation than others. My absolute favorite audiobook is Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan. It’s a middle grade novel set in World War II about three children living in different parts of the world whose stories are connected by a magic harmonica and a love for music. Because music plays such a large role in the story, the fact that an audiobook can incorporate all the songs and instruments mentioned is perfect. Plus, since the kids live in different places, the accents of the narrators make those characters feel more real.
As with anything, practice makes perfect. I’ve found that if I haven’t listened to an audiobook in a while, it’s harder for me to get into one. But if I use them regularly, it’s easier for me to be still and absorb the story through my ears.
2 } Diverse books
I honestly hate using the word diverse because it’s so politicized and overused these days, but it really does describe a big change in my reading life recently: as I named a shelf on goodreads, I’ve been reading more books with characters that are “not just white people.” I didn’t do this intentionally; somehow I just picked up more books about cultures that I am unfamiliar with. And I’m so happy about it.
I love learning about different parts of the world, and I love seeing how other cultures are unique and yet how people are fundamentally the same. Stories do a wonderful job of that—they give us a peek into another world, telling us what it looks like, what food there is, what customs exist. But they also provide a window into another human’s heart, and even though the surroundings may be foreign and that human may look or even think nothing like us, there is always at least one part of their heart that we can relate to.
Here are a few books that have been especially eye-opening to me:
You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins / multi-generational saga of an Indian family that moves to America—HIGHLY recommended (+ the audiobook is phenomenal)
Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai / a novel in verse of the journey of a young girl fleeing to America from Saigon due to the Vietnam War
Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea by Sungju Lee / the subtitle says it all but honestly guys, I can’t believe this actually happened. It’s just—super eye-opening, tough and dark but also inspiring
Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper / middle grade novel about a young African American girl growing up in the early 1900s under the shadow of the Ku Klux Klan (also she wants to be a writer & I love watching that journey)
They Say We Are Infidels: On the Run from ISIS with Persecuted Christians in the Middle East by Mindy Belz / this’ll be one of the best books I read in 2018; fascinating & moving account of the Iraqi Christian communities & what ISIS has done to them—super relevant (see my goodreads review of it for more thoughts)
3 } Reviewing books
I noticed recently that if I finish a book and don’t review it, I carry around a sense of incompletion, a niggling feeling that there’s something I need to do. I want books to change me; I want to learn from them and both remember and apply that knowledge. I hate reading something and thinking, “Oh, that’s good, I want to remember that,” and then, well, not. I still remember in the back of my mind that I wanted to remember something but I don’t know what it is. So I subconsciously fret about it and try to remember whatever it was that struck a chord in me. If I let too many of those instances build up, it’s honestly not good for my mental health.
The solution? Review each book when I finish it. And I don’t mean review as in some lengthy essay or detailed list of pros and cons. I just need to record something, a few impressions, a favorite quote or character or scene, or whatever random things stand out to me when I think back on it. Somewhere, whether in my journal or on goodreads, I need to string together a few words that describe a portion of what I feel or think about the book. I think I just need to be able to articulate some of my thoughts about it to prove to myself that I actually read and absorbed it. Most people probably don’t have this compulsion, and I know there are plenty of other reasons to review books. Do whatever works for you.
I do have to be careful that I don’t put too many requirements on myself about what I write. Sometimes I get too wrapped up in perfectly capturing my thoughts about a book—I want to perfectly articulate every fleeting opinion and idea the book conjures up in me. Which, of course, is impossible. The reason why I started making myself review books in the first place was to remove stress, so if I find find that reviewing causes more stress than it alleviates, I should give it a break. And honestly, some books don’t deserve a review. Not all books have to be something I learn from, and not all books are going to change my life.
(Take a chill pill, girl.)
And I feel like that was basically a therapy session for myself. xD It is really nice, though, to be able to scroll through goodreads and see what I thought about each book I read. I think I’ll really appreciate that in the future.
Now I really want to hear from you—how has 2018 been treating you? What’s your reading life been like? Are you an audiobook lover or ardent hater or somewhere in between? What are some of your favorite books about other cultures? And do you find it helpful to review books?