What I Talk About When I Talk About Re-Reading and Curating My Personal Library

I started thinking about this post when I re-read Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series this winter. Since I’ll be spending next week re-reviewing that series (based on my re-reads), today seemed like a good time to share this post.

I never thought of myself as a person who re-reads books. I even mentioned that I wasn’t a re-reader when I talked about curating my personal library.

I was wrong.

It turns out I am totally a re-reader but I still had a lot of curating to do because I didn’t have books that I wanted to re-read on my shelves. I discovered this in a very concrete way when I picked up the Queen’s Thief series for the first time in seven years. And wound up buying three sets of the series over the course of one month.

As soon as I heard about the reissues of Megan Whalen Turner’s books, I knew I’d be buying a set as soon as they came out. My plan was to re-read the entire series once the reissues were in hand so that I’d be ready when Thick as Thieves came out. My plans changed when I found out I’d be reviewing Thick as Thieves for School Library Journal (reader, I screamed). Thick as Thieves is marketed as a standalone but I wanted to have the series fresh in my mind so I could really be sure this book would stand on its own. (Spoiler: It totally does.)

SO instead of re-reading shiny new editions, it was time to pull out my rag tag set. My “original” set of MWT books includes library sale copies and one ARC. The library sale copies included two hardcovers I acquired at my first ever library job as a shelving page. Then I found a paperback of book three (and discovered there was a book three!) when I was working as a library clerk. I received an ARC of A Conspiracy of Kings in 2010 from Caroline Ward, one of my favorite library school professors who gave me her copy when I finished her Children’s Literature course. (Caroline is the best and gave every student in her class a book to keep.)

Maybe everyone else who re-reads all the time knows this already, but I felt such nostalgia when I picked up this series again and re-read these books I had picked up years ago. I love this series in a way that I love few things and it was amazing to rediscover these stories.

I also realized that even though I knew the broad strokes of the series by heart, I still had room to be surprised by the intricacies of the series. I’ll spare you all the details but I also discovered that while I remembered favorite lines and scenes, I often forgot their framing in the larger context of the story which added another layer to my (re)reading.

Anyway, I had a blast re-reading the series and realized I loved it so much that I became one of those weirdos with multiple editions.

So now in addition to my rag tag set I have a full set of hardcovers. I love having these because the series has changed so much (remember The Thief was originally published in 1996). Even The Thief and The Queen of Attolia are far enough apart that the aesthetic changes a bit although they have the same trim size. By the time The King of Attolia is published, the series was due for a complete reissue. I have to admit that these covers are some of my favorites. I really like the subtle nods to the characters–especially on A Conspiracy of Kings where you can pinpoint the exact scene used to show Sophos on the cover.

Since I love that cover art so much, I decided I should also get a set of paperbacks. I like this version of The Thief a bit more because it feels like it really is Gen and Hamiathes’ Gift. The cover for The Queen of Attolia has always given me chills. It works interestingly as the cover for that particular book but also in the context of the rest of the series.

And then it seemed like the series might have been done except for some tantalizing hints from MWT that she had more to say. Until lo Thick as Thieves was announced along with a complete reissue, special bonus content, and maps for the first time ever. I love these covers and have been poring over them basically since they were announced trying to pick out all of the details. The reissue makes sense with current cover trends and it also works with the direction the series is taking. Thick as Thieves is the first story that doesn’t focus directly on one of the main kingdoms (Eddis, Attolia, and Sounis) and as such it has a new cast of characters and a new setting. While I love the hyper-realistic artwork of the 2006 reissues, I don’t know what they would have pulled for potential art from Thick as Thieves. Seeing the series as a whole with this latest story, the new covers make so much sense and underscore the grand stage of these books.

Also because I have fallen so far down this rabbit hole (and accidentally found an ARC of The King of Attolia through sheer happenstance) I’m trying to complete a set of ARCs but that might be more than my budget and sanity can stand.

And, of course, I had to dedicate much more shelf space to the full set:

Since picking up MWT’s books I’ve also started re-reading other favorites from my shelves including Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Saving Francesca and its companion The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta. I’m currently re-reading Diana Wynne Jone’s Dalemark Quartet which is interesting because I only barely remember reading it and also because the series is currently out of print so tracking down copies took some time.

I think a lot of my choice to start re-reading right now is escapism. The world is scary and unpredictable, especially lately, so it’s nice to be able to return to stories where I know exactly what to expect and that I will love it. As more and more of my favorites go out of print or become scarce in the library, I also find that I like having copies on my shelves so I can read them at the drop of a hat.

Those are the things I’m keeping in mind as I decide what gets to stay on my shelves. Is this a book I loved? Is it a book I will re-read and love again? Is it a book I’ll miss if it’s gone? These questions aren’t easy to answer and sometimes my choices change. But for now it’s as good a criteria as any to decide what books have earned the right to take up space in my heart and on my shelves.

Do you re-read books? Do you spend a lot of time thinking about what books you own and why? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

What I talk about when I talk about curating my personal library.

When I was younger I didn’t buy books. I read books at a great enough speed and in enough quality that the library was the only way to go. When I started working in a library I went through a brief and horrifying phase where I would rescue discarded library copies because I might read them someday. Then I started working at Books of Wonder with an employee discount and things really got out of hand. This doesn’t even factor review copies and gifted books from over the years. Not to mention author signings of which there are many because I live in New York.

I always read closely on my first read–taking time to write down quotes I want to remember and, now that I’m a reviewer, making sure to note key information and pages with important points to reference in my review–so I rarely re-read books except for a handful of exceptions.

People talk about dealing with their books in a lot of ways. Culling. Sorting. Organizing. Hoarding. Admiring. Brag shelves. TBR piles. Bookcases. Stashes. I’ve always thought of it as weeding since I have a library background.

Then last year I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondล and I started thinking about getting rid of books in a different light. (I haven’t reviewed the book on here but I cannot recommend it highly enough. I really like the idea that you can take and leave what you want from her approach and also that you can find your own perfect balance.) One of the main tenets of the KonMari method is that you focus on what you want to keep instead of what you no longer want. You also keep things that bring you joy.

Now instead of thinking about it as weeding I have started to think about curating a personal library. What titles do I want to have on my shelves? What books do I want to own? What books would I re-buy if I lost them? And so on.

Again, as someone who doesn’t re-read, it’s not always enough to say I enjoy a book or that I want to come back to it. Sometimes even having a signed copy that I bought isn’t enough.

Then there are the difficult books with the prickly topics. Do I want to own a book that reminds me of when my aunt died? What about the novel with a strikingly resilient and strong heroine and a plot also mirrored some of the worst years of my life? Or the book that was painfully beautiful and romantic but also made me physically ill with its description of a character’s fingers being broken?

I think about books in a few ways when they’re on my shelves. There are books I want to keep close (the books I might flip through or reference, books from authors I admire or favorite stories I can’t stop thinking about, books that have a personal connection to me), there are books that make me smile (favorite stories, classic titles, things you would pry from my cold, dead hands), and then there are the mementos (books I got signed by authors I can almost call friends, titles from BEA, a book I’ve had since I was a child).

So the books I asked about before? I probably won’t be keeping those.

I’d prefer to keep room on my shelves for my three copies of The Hobbit and the copy of Ella, Enchanted that my mother got me years and years ago during her freelance stint at HarperCollins which I got signed years after. Instead of keeping books that cause me stress and make me sad I’m keeping my set of Chris Van Allsburg picture books, my multiple editions of Emma and Little Women and my full set of R. L. LaFevers ARCs.

It’s a process and what I keep or don’t keep changes constantly. But that’s how I’m thinking about the books I own now. Not so much as what I do or do not want, but the personal library I choose to curate to represent who and what I am at this moment.

That’s me. What about you? How do you curate your personal library? Tell me in the comments.

Let’s Talk: When do YOU read reviews?

A lot of times I read books well before the publication date because they are ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) or well after because I do what I want. Sometimes even when I am at a launch party for a book, it’s either something I read before the event or something I won’t get to for months (or ever depending on the book–I know, I’m the worst).

Anyway, that wasn’t the case with P. S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han. Nicole and I went to the launch party for this book (I am a superfan of this series) but because BEA started the next day, I didn’t get to reading it until a couple of weeks later.

During that gap between my getting the book and my reading it, I noticed something interesting. I didn’t want to read reviews of it. I knew I would be reading the book in the very near future so when a blog I read posted a review, I would make note and save it for later. I did same the same thing while reading the book.

Once the book was finished and my review was written, I went on a commenting blitz finally reading all of those reviews and generally flailing about John Ambrose McClaren the book.

So my basic question here for readers/bloggers is When do you read reviews? Do you read reviews of books you know you will be reading soon? Do you read reviews before or after you have written your own review of the book?

For me, I’ll read reviews before I read (which is why spoiler warnings matter!) or after. I will read reviews while writing my own review or before or once it’s written. The only deterrent I recently discovered is that I don’t want to read a review of a book while I’m reading it or when I will be starting it in the next few days (unless I’m reluctant to read it and then I’ll read them to pre-game).

So, let’s talk in the comments: When do you read reviews?

Let’s Talk About: Reading Deeply vs. Widely

I’m sure this doesn’t cast a wide enough net to catch every reader, but I have a working theory that there are basically two types of readers.

There are readers who read deeply and there are those who read widely.

Deep Readers are the readers who read everything an author has ever written. While they may not always read a variety of genres they will make the exception for select favorite authors. These readers will stick out a middling book waiting for the series to return to its previous glory and will follow an author’s oeuvre despite bumps in the road.

Wide Readers are readers who look to a variety of authors and genres to find books. Sometimes they will finish a series or read multiple books by an author. But just as often they will read one to see what the buzz is about and move on. While there is still room for favorite series and even authors, these readers are much quicker to walk away when a series/author’s work becomes frustrating or dull.

In tracking my reading habits more closely here on the blog, I know that I am a Wide Reader. It is rare that I will have read every book in a series but if you ask me about the first book the odds are good I’ll have an opinion. Similarly I might not read every book by a bestselling author but chances are high I’ll have read at least one or read some reviews on it.

In trying to work through some of my owned books to read I have been finishing more series as I get to sequels but generally I am okay with walking away from a series in the middle. I also have a very select few authors from whom I will read anything they publish (middle grade is still an exception to this and a weak spot, but who knows. That might change.)

So tell me: Do my reading types seem accurate? Do you read deeply or widely?

Let’s talk about it in the comments!

 

Let’s Talk About Dust Jackets

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about books and how I treat them as I read them.

If I am reading a hardcover I remove the dust jacket to read the book. If I have the option I do not buy books with damaged dust jackets. I want my book to look pristine. I check under the dust jacket to see what publishers did to the front and back boards as well as the spine.

(I also do not dogear pages. I don’t even crack the spines for paperbacks. If I am reading a paperback/arc it usually goes into a plastic bag before it goes into my purse.)

That said, the hardcover usually gets tossed into my bag and sometimes gets smudges or discoloration on it (Loop it turns out is a white book and now has a grey blotch on the back cover). If the book is black or another dark color I usually end up with stained fingers.

Recently it occurred to me that some people actually use the dust jacket to protect the book or leave it on when they are reading. If I receive a copy that’s already a little worse for wear, that’s okay. I’ll keep it. If it’s special to me I won’t “upgrade” to a new one (see my mismatched copy of Megan Whalen Turner books comprised of discared library copies and a used arc).

But if I get a book in new condition I want it to stay that way. Especially the dust jacket.

What about you? Do you read with the jacket on or off? Do you treat your books carefully? How do you carry books in your bag? (This last one is especially of interest to me as I feel like there has to be a better way than my totally busted used shopping bag strategy.)

Let’s talk about it in the comments!

Let’s Talk About: Reading Habits (Especially with Series!)

A few weeks ago two of my coworkers who I am going to call “Forrest” and “Thor” (because this is my blog and I do what I want) were talking about reading different science fiction series. Forrest was surprised that Thor hadn’t read Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker books because they are totally his speed.

I joined the conversation late and seconded Forrest’s assessment. That’s when something interesting happened that got me thinking. Forrest asked if I had read the series. I said I had read the first one and never gotten invested enough to continue the series. Forrest expressed no surprise at that and said something along the lines of “You read everything.”

Anyway, that got me thinking more generally about reading habits.

I read widely. Not always in a variety of genres (I don’t enjoy thrillers and I don’t enjoy pure romances–such is life) but I do try to cover a variety of authors. If you check my review index by author you can see pretty quickly that a lot of the authors only have one or two book by their names.

What does that mean exactly?

Aside from reading widely, I tend to be pretty ruthless. I walk away from books I am not enjoying by the 50-100 page mark. I walk away from authors after three unsatisfying books by them. I cut books from my to read list constantly. I do not finish every series I start.

That last one and the thoughts from my coworker are what really got me thinking. I’ve seen a lot of people say that they are “bad” series readers. Many new years resolutions among bloggers have included plans to finish more series (serieses?).

I never feel remorse about leaving a series. Sometimes I will feel regret and wish that the series had continued to enthrall me, but most times I am okay considering the first book a standalone. In fact, if the first book does not function as a standalone that is an immediate strike against it because I do not like being manipulated or teased by my books.

So what is the difference that pushes a series into that “must finish” category? I’m much more likely to read a series I started from the beginning (ie a series I follow the pub schedule with). Loving the first book is also an obvious factor.

Beyond that I’m not sure what makes the difference. I know I am less likely to start a series if I know it’s going to be more than 4 books. There are exceptions but not often. I also generally read more fantasy series than I do contemporary.

(This also doesn’t address the marketing machine aspect of supporting books by buying a series of course but if you want to talk about that too, go for it.)

So let’s talk:

  • What kind of series reader are you?
  • What are some factors that guarantee you will finish a series?
  • What are some book series that you read and loved or are currently working on?

Let’s talk about book baggage (figurative not literal)

I’ve been thinking about books I didn’t enjoy. In particular two books I read last winter come to mind. (And I’m going to have spoilers below so if you see the book title and know you want to read it just skip the next paragraph.)

One book I know I didn’t enjoy because of personal hangups. Golden by Jessi Kirby is about a lot of things but the thing that felt most weighty to me was the fact that the main character was applying for a huge full-ride scholarship to a very expensive college. And she proceeded to sabotage herself at every turn up to and including the moment when she walks out of the big scholarship speech competition. At which point I was done with the book. I have no patience for certain things in books (one is reckless driving) and I was furious watching the heroine throw away this opportunity. Now, other people loved this book. And that’s fine. But as someone who struggled and worked really hard to get scholarships for college and grad school, I just couldn’t identify with the main character here at all.

The other book was Wither by Lauren DeStefano. I actually really enjoyed this book. But I read a good chunk of it while my mother was having her brain surgery for twelve hours last year. I finished the book after the surgery while I was commuting to and from the hospital and work. But every time I think about it now I get a horrible feeling which I recently realized stems from bad associations that have nothing to do with the book. I liked the book as much as I could in those circumstances. And I like the author. But I’ve been hesitant to continue the series because I don’t really want to go to that emotional place again.

Which brings me to the crux of this discussion post (which I’m calling Let’s Talk): How do you separate your own personal baggage from a book? Or is it something that does have to be separated? Do you think these kind of hang ups have to be disclosed or is the subjective nature of book recommending and reviewing implied?

Let’s talk about it in the comments.