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url 2016-04-28 02:50
Learning from Books as a Reader (Changing Reading Tastes)

A lot of y'all seemed to like my 5 Fantasy Authors I Fangirl Over post, so I thought that I'd go over more books that I've read and learned from as a reader about my own reading tastes. (And I don't mean learning facts - though I once did write about that as well).

As a reader, my reading tastes are always changing. And I realized that:

A.) I don't like when fantasy books start off with the main character as a kid (though the MC is an actual adult). I actually like middle grade novels; I like the voice, I like the characters, etc. But when fantasy books begin by showing us the main characters as a child - or even begin at age fourteen and then head to age seventeen - I start to wonder when the story will actually begin. Plus, the voice isn't the humorous, upbeat middle grade voice; it's the voice of an adult showing you how the character came to be where they are now. On a practical level, I can acknowledge that that's the way our lives work - if we're truly coming of age, there's no one "starting point." We learn many, many lessons along the way. At age fourteen, something guides you as you continue developing on through to seventeen and such. Yet I no longer have the patience to slog through those beginnings to see what kind of character I'm following (yeah, a younger version of you reflects the older version but not 100%; I'd like to think that I'm much more interesting now than I was at a younger age lol). Stories with an older, more "classic" writing style, also often considered a more "literary" style, tend to do this because pacing is of less importance. And I find myself skimming the beginnings when they do. Take, for instance, The Lies of Locke Lamora. I'm only on page 10 or so. I'm already bored not because it's badly written but because that's the kind of beginning I'm not a huge fan of. On a surface level, the writing is great. It's establishing the suspense of who Locke Lamora is and how he got to be the way he is and what exactly he is now, given his criminal start as a child. But for this reader, I'm ready for something else to happen.

B.) I've said before that I like when romance is a side plot, but what I really meant is that I like when it's tightly tied to the main plot. To me, that's a slight difference. Take for instance the Captive Prince trilogy. I hesitate to call it a fantasy romance, though in many ways that is exactly what the books are. And that's because the romantic aspect is tied very, very tightly to the political intrigue of two princes trying to reclaim their thrones. Every one of their conversations has this undercurrent of tension, even when they're discussing what they'll do next to thwart the Regent. I looove books with that kind of tension. I often dogear the conversations and scenes that I love best -- frequently, those are the romantic scenes, and if the book has tied the romance tightly to the other plot, that means almost every conversation is one that I'd like to dogear. And those are the books that I love best. Another great example? Summers at Castle Auburn. The romance there also involves other obstacles that the couple often discusses when they're together, and when you've read the book and know how both sides have grown and how they see things, you can go back through and read the scenes again, see how much is left unsaid. Definitely dog ear worthy.

B. Part II) I love romances where the main character thinks that he/she loves another person while the romantic interest waits for them to realize, hey, I'm better for you. YES. I love romances tied to the coming of age plot. The main character is innocent and naive. He/she has a crush on someone else. He/she doesn't see what's right in front of him/her. See, even though I recognize the practical elements of starting off as a kid, I feel like this right here is another good way of showing how the main character goes through a lot of change in a short period of time. Here's a lesson that the main character learns and grows from. Some people might consider this a love triangle - I don't. The tension is so perfect in these scenes, where you as a reader can tell that the real romantic interest is there; we have to wait until the main character realizes it as well. *Sigh*

C.) My favorite kind of openings give us a hint of who the main character is while setting up the major conflict. The Winner's Curse has one of my favorite openings. From the beginning, you know that Kestrel likes to gamble with sailors and frequently wins because she's more clever than people expect. She also disobeys her father in gambling; this is what she does on her own time, for herself. You already get a sense of her character within those first couple of pages, and then not long afterwards she's at the slave block... and buys Arin, which sets off the central conflict for the book and trilogy. I also just bought Riddle-Master. In the first chapter, the main character is ordering his family around - telling them to get to their individual duties. We see his responsibilities, we see his every day life, we see his love for his family. And yet we see his family recognize his lies (they have a specific dynamic with each other), and he has to admit to what he did when he was grieving for their parents. We get a sense of their backstory and how that loss has affected each of the family members but also how the backstory then sets off the central conflict (he set off on an adventure when his parents died, answered a riddle, won a prize-- but, oh, the prize meant more than he realized). It's such a brilliant beginning that I immediately bought the entire trilogy; I felt like my brain was getting bigger just by reading it.

Do you ever read books and think about how you've learned more about yourself and your reading habits? What kind of tropes do you avoid and what kind of openings do you like best?


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url 2015-03-17 11:44
My Reading Tastes & Experiences

Back in December, when my book club was getting gifts for each other for the holidays, one of the members said something like, "You were the only one who chose literary type books for your list!"

For the record, my list was:

"1. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
2. Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith
3. Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins (Already read, but gave my copy to a friend, and basically I've just had it on my list to repurchase at some point).
4. The Book of Sand & Shakespeare's Memory by Jorge Luis Borges
5. The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

If people find those too weird, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel or Earth Girl by Janet Edwards."

But she was not wrong. My reading tastes are... dissimilar to most bloggers, it seems.

I think the first way in which I feel kind of different from most YA bloggers is that I don't fangirl.
When I love a book, I'll post about it a few times. In round-ups, books to anticipate sort of lists. But when I think of fangirling, I think of... how to explain? SO MUCH EXCITEMENT (polandbananabooks, aka Christine, is awesome to watch & one of the first people I would think of). I do use all caps but then I'll record a video and I'll still sound like me, lower case. I don't think I'm really explaining what fangirling means to me very well, but examples of this remind me of the Throne of Glass fandomand the Lunar Chronicles fandom. I really like both books and series, but I'm not in love with them in the way of many other bloggers. Can I pinpoint a specific thing that separates my love for those books and my LOVE for the Queen's Thief series?
I don't know. But I also think that it's me and my personality too. I'm a pretty happy and easy to amuse person. My baseline is pretty happy. It would probably take A LOT for me to make me uber happy and fangirl in the way of Christine (my almost name-twin). That's not a bad thing - for either of us. Just a thing. And I might not have explained that well either *wrings hands*.
And anyway, this feeds into what books I choose to read. There are some books that are fairly popular in the blogosphere. These I avoid. The more popular a book, the more I kind of want to avoid it. It's not just the hype, it's that I've grown to distrust popularity as a reason to read a book. I know people will want to shame you -- oh, I can't believe you haven't read X and X yet -- and I'll say the same thing, but on a sliding scale of factors that are most important to me, reading the books that everyone else has ranks really, really low. More and more often I feel like there are so many books out there that I've missed out on because I've only been blogging since 2011 and YA books have been around for MANY more years, of course.
But the thing that makes me feel the weirdest as a blogger is how well my tastes align with Kirkus Reviews. When Sam of Realm of Fiction used to blog, we'd have pretty similar tastes. Maybe 75%? I think that sometimes our scale of how much we liked / disliked elements differed - so while I really liked The Bone Season, she was more middling about it. But Sam stopped blogging, and I no longer had her to compare books with. And I began to rely a lot on Kirkus, and buy more "literary" books.
It's really strange for a blogger to flat out admit to trusting a literary journal's perspective (and a little disturbing, given whatMalinda Lo highlighted about literary book reviews and diverse books; I sincerely hope those assumptions have not factored into my choice of books). I've seen many bloggers say that they don't understand why a book is so loved in literary journals. Often the books that get the most stars are the ones with the lowest ratings on Goodreads.
But, I don't always agree with them. Take the Made You Up review. Whoever reviewed MYU read it on a very surface level, in my opinion. I loved that book and the criticisms in that review made me really dumbfounded - like what and how did this happen? So about 90% of the time, I might agree with KR. Take the review for My Life Next Door. With that review I knew exactly what I was getting when I bought the book and I liked it just for that. It's always a combination of reading the Kirkus review, the synopsis for the book, an excerpt of the writing style, and sometimes other blogger reviews. But it always makes me feel a little guilty to look at Kirkus, because they're known to be the harshest literary journal and writers frequently complain about their Kirkus review. And thinking of the way I choose my books and what few bloggerly things I do (another post for another day) makes me feel less and less like a "true" blogger. Sometimes thinking about my reading tastes and how I choose what books to read makes me wonder whether my reviews are actually even helpful to the majority of the community. Would a teen even care about literary reviews?

Have you ever had moments when your reading tastes and experiences feel so different from the community's that you start to doubt yourself? How do you choose which books you read? Have you ever relied on literary journals or thought that your reading tastes were strange?
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