My Reading Wheelhouse: the books that give me the vapors


Cat leaping toward books in a bookshop
My spirit animal in action


Being such an avid reader, I have grown to understand those types of books which make me weak in the knees, give me the vapors, and generally have me leaping in the air to grab any book that fits my specific loves.

In no particular order, I love the following categories.  I included some examples of how I describe them.  These books may not have all been 5 stars but they fit this concept, in my mind at least.


What I want to attempt to read more of in the future:

  • Short stories– What I tend to find is that many short stories pack a punch with strange twists or awkward interactions at the center.  I don’t generally enjoy those as they leave me a bit sad and cold.  I like more emotive than plot based short stories. I read The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpha Lahiri and it was a bullseye for everything I was looking for in a short story collection.  It was evocative, thoughtful, poignant and very beautifully written.  I fell in love with the cover of the Clarice Lispector work of Complete Stories and so when I read some fantastic reviews of it, I went out and bought a copy. I anticipate that the hunt for more lovely short stories collections will be something that I continue in 2016.
  • Non-fiction tales about death and dying– Not really the party pleaser of topics, but recently I have been drawn to a more nuanced understanding of death, dying, grief, and all the things that go with it.  Not for any specific reason, but I think reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara last year opened this door on the nature of suffering and questions of the inevitability of death.  I have a few books waiting in the wings for when I feel able to devote the mental and emotional space to reading them.  They are: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande and an ARC of the  newly released When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.
    • Science Fiction– I am late to this party.  There have been a few scifi books that made indelible impressions upon me (I’m talking about you, Dune !) but it isn’t a genre that I felt confident in exploring.  But last year’s Read Harder Challenge had a science fiction book as one of the tasks and in researching it, I found a treasure trove of material.  I was swept away by Moxyland by Lauren Beukes.  It was fun, sporadic, modern and filled with action.  I also read The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell which blew my mind with the plot complexity, the rich characters and the depths of the themes explored.  This year I have ventured a little deeper into the genre with N.K. Jemisin’s The Killing Moon.  That book came from a discussion of The Sparrow I had at a party and it was suggested that I look into her work.  What a revelation!  It hit so many of my most loved categories- lush writing, a swashbuckling tale, with political intrigue thrown in. I am looking forward to the second book in that series.  And then I just read an amazing book, which is probably no surprise to anyone else in the reading world… Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. What a stunning read!  And in all fairness, it isn’t a straight genre read or a straight literary fiction book, but something in between.  But that in between was magical.

Any suggestions along the themes I listed above?

My Reading Philosophy- Always Be Reading (A.B.R.)

While I have always been an avid reader, I always read one book at a time, and I finished every single one.  Even when I was struggling with either the content or the tone, or hating the characters or the writing, I held on.  I wanted to be able to identify what I liked and also what I didn’t like, and I felt an obligation to the author (a little co-dependent, I know!) to see their work through.  I also think I was hoping that there would be a twist or a “magic moment” where it would come together for me.  As you can probably imagine, it rarely happened like that.  It was only when I let this simple axiom go, that I was able to read at a pace that was remarkable, even to me.  Now I will “drop it like it’s hot” if anything isn’t working for me.  I’m ruthless.  There is too much out there to focus my time on.

Building my library

While I read quickly, I wanted to be able to take in more content, and especially using the downtime in my day more efficiently.  The first step for me was the purchase of an eReader about 5 years ago.  I chose a Nook, from Barnes & Noble, when I read that it had apps that would integrate with the public library system. I come from a family of public library readers.  Some of my best early memories in childhood was being driven to the biggest and most modern library in our county and spending the afternoon in the stacks, marveling at all the stories we could take home. I have never lost that feeling of profound gratitude for the library system.

Before owning an eReader, I would frequent the semi-annual Friends of the Library sale that my town held and build my To Be Read pile for the year.  An old store was rented and converted into a massive book sale, and it was practically a holiday for me.  I would take the day off, get there early with my rolling cart and cash money in hand, lining up with the elderly, just chomping at the bit for the doors to be opened by the lovely volunteers.  I had a system which included a list of books I was searching for, and a method of navigating the endless tables of books laid out haphazardly.  (Hint- start in the furthest table back where the hardcovers start and move toward the door, quickly scanning and pulling, then do a second perusal for items that may not even be on your list.)

After owning the nook, I fell in love with the ability to have multiple books at my fingertips- a traveling library, as it were.  Then I fell quickly down the technology rabbit hole.  An upgraded iPhone, a Kindle paired with the Overdrive site and mobile app meant that I could truly borrow and download library books from my local libraries, something that I wasn’t able to configure well on the nook version I had.  And I didn’t have to carry a big or heavy book with me all the time.  Suddenly, I had amassed a strong library of both digital and physical books, just waiting for me to pick them up.

The evolutionary leap in my reading

So at this point I had a lot of tools, and access to many books, but my reading philosophy hadn’t changed.  The real shift happened when I was listening to a podcast and the host was extolling the virtues and benefits of listening to audiobooks as supplemental to reading books.  While this wasn’t a novel idea, something he mentioned clicked with me.  He talked about how he was always wary of mixing up the stories, but realized one day that he followed many TV series and never confused them, so why did he think he would confuse books if he read more than one at a time? (!!!) Eureka!

So I started to adapt by adding an audiobook to the rotation, with a novel.  At first I chose non-fiction audiobooks, in an effort to have a true differentiation between the books I read and books I listened to.  But I found that they required a larger amount of attention than I was always able to give.  Whereas a longer novel was something I could really enjoy, as long as there weren’t a large number of characters that were hard to differentiate in the narration.

Success with that experiment led me to push the boundaries a bit more- I decided to have a digital book going, an audiobook going AND a physical book.  And this is where I have had the biggest breakthrough.  I am now able to use little gaps in my schedule to A.B.R.- Always Be Reading!  Stuck in the waiting room at the doctor’s office- pop in the earbuds for the audiobook or open an app on my phone.  Standing in line at the bank- open the Kindle app and jump back in where you left off.  No one to lunch with at work- not a problem anymore since I always have access to a good story.  And I love using the Goodreads feature of tracking your progress on what you are currently reading.  Because I have the Goodreads app on my phone, when I do shop for physical books, I have my TBR pile at my fingertips at all times.

And the stats show just how successful this method has proven to be.  Another interesting aspect of this experiment is that I have less patience for books that I am not connecting with anymore.  I am not afraid to move it to the Did Not Finish shelf on Goodreads and move on.  Time is too precious to waste, and there are too many good books out there.

So tell me- have you changed your approach to reading and had success?  Or how do you like to read?  Any interesting failures in your reading plans?  Let me know your thoughts below in the comments.


Weekend Book Haul

I went on a book hunt this weekend,  stopping at a few great bookstores with very strong used book sections.  Here are the things I look for in a used bookstore:

  • variety of newish hardbacks, some high quality volumes of classic hardbacks, and quality trade paperback books
  • a mix of high brow literary fiction with NYT best sellers
  • surprises in the stacks- I would rather see more authors than half a shelf of one author’s collection of works

And I know that so much of this depends upon the community that the bookshop serves, as used books require sellers of said books.  I have a really varied list that I hunt for, so I can usually find something in any used store.  But I also always hold out hope that I will find a treasure – a pristine hardback , first edition copy of a favorite book, or a unique and beautiful cover of a favorite, or something out of print and rare.

Bookshop #1-

Book Haul
The first of two book hauls today, 1/18/16. Two used finds- Homer and Langley by E.L. Doctorow, The Fifth Season by N.K. Jennison and an exciting new book with a fantastic title of Your Hear is a Muscle the Size of A Fist by Sunil Yapa.


At the first bookshop I found a good quality copy of a book that I have been seeking for over a year- E.L. Doctorow’s Homer & Langley.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Doctorow, whose literary trophy shelf has got to be overflowing by now, delivers a small but sweeping masterpiece about the infamous New York hermits, the Collyer brothers. When WWI hits and the Spanish flu pandemic kills Homer and Langley’s parents, Langley, the elder, goes to war, with his Columbia education and his godlike immunity to such an ordinary fate as death in a war. Homer, alone and going blind, faces a world considerably dimmed though more deliciously felt by his other senses. When Langley returns, real darkness descends on the eccentric orphans: inside their shuttered Fifth Avenue mansion, Langley hoards newspaper clippings and starts innumerable science projects, each eventually abandoned, though he continues to imagine them in increasingly bizarre ways, which he then recites to Homer. Occasionally, outsiders wander through the house, exposing it as a living museum of artifacts, Americana, obscurity and simmering madness. Doctorow’s achievement is in not undermining the dignity of two brothers who share a lush landscape built on imagination and incapacities. It’s a feat of distillation, vision and sympathy. (Sept.)

The other used book I grabbed is an almost pristine paperback copy of an author who I am so excited to read after having been pointed in her direction by many people whose taste I trust, and that is The Fifth Season by N.K. Jennison. And I will be choosing either this, or her other work, The Killing Moon,  for one of the categories in the 2016 Read Harder Challenge – Read the first book in a series written by a person of color. Since I was already planning to read her work, this is just a bonus!

And the last book is a new release, published this month- Sunil Yapa’s fantastically titled book, Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist.  It’s been compared to one of my favorite novels of 2014, The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner.  Yapa’s is set in the tumultuous times of the WTO protests in Seattle of 1999.  It’s getting great buzz, and the author will be touring for the book, so I hope to have it read before he comes through.

Bookshop #2-

The second stop was a place that I usually go to search for Penguin Drop Cap books.  I only have letters A (for Austen), H (for Hesse) and P (for Marcel Proust).  Unfortunately, they only had M (for Melville) and it was new.  Part of the fun, and stress, is to get used editions to build my library.  I decided not to get that one, and instead perused the stacks to see what else I could find.

I was happily surprised to see a hardcover of the newly released And Again by Jessica Chiarella just sitting on the shelf waiting for me.  I read some good press about it and since it was being sold at a used price, I figured I would take a chance and grab it.   It’s a debut novel about 4 people who are given the chance to participate in a new program to give them their former bodies, free of illness and genetically perfect.  I find the premise very compelling, so I am hopeful about this work.

And then I have wanted to read a Christopher Isherwood work since I saw the movie made of A Single Man, directed by Tom Ford, starring Colin Firth (sigh- Mr. Darcy) and Julianne Moore.  Instead of worrying about picking the wrong pathway book into his work, I figured I would just start with this one, especially when I saw the beautiful cover.  I will probably hold onto this book for a while, without starting it immediately, just knowing that this gorgeous edition is sitting on my shelf for the right time.

All in all, I would call this a very successful book haul!

Exuberant Love of All Things Literary