Friday, March 27, 2015

26 Books in 2015: An Interview with Andrea

When I found out my friend Andrea was following a reading plan for her New Year’s Resolution, I got really excited about her project. Each time I’d see her and hear her updates, I was intrigued by the plan and inspired by her challenge. I thought you might be, too, so I interviewed her about it.


R: First off, where did you get your reading plan?

A: I got my reading plan from Pinterest—where all New Year's Resolutions go to shine brightly for a month or two and then fade into oblivion.

R: What made you decide to follow it?

A: I decided to follow it because the only way I can ever get things done is if I make a list. I love lists. Well, I love crossing things off of lists. Sometimes, at work, I add things to my to-do list that I've already done just to cross them off. Or, I'll add things like "eat lunch." So, I figured if I really wanted to read more books this year, I needed to make a list. This list seemed like more fun than just going through whatever I had on my shelf.

R: So how far are you along at this point? It looks like you get 2 weeks per book, which seems fairly reasonable, depending on the length. Or boring-ness.

A: I just finished my 8th book, so technically I'm a few weeks ahead of schedule! However, I did cheat a little bit because I think I was probably about 75% done with the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire when I started the plan and I counted that one as my "Book that was made into a movie.” Its funny, when I started I thought it would be really hard for me to finish a book every two weeks, but it hasn't been too bad. There have definitely been ones I finished in only a couple of days (Yes Please) and others (coughcough The Scarlet Letter coughcough) that took me more than the allotted two weeks.

R: Which categories are you most afraid of?

A: I think I'm most afraid of either "A book of poems" or "A book at the bottom of your 'to be read pile' ". I'm not a big poetry person and I told myself I couldn't choose a book of children's poetry (which would likely rhyme and thus is preferable). As for the other category, I mean, there's a reason it's at the bottom of the 'to be read' pile, right?

R: Besides the poetry one, are there any more rules you laid out for yourself?

A: No other rules besides the poetry one. I've heard there is value in reading poetry; your life might even be enriched by it! So if I'm really trying to try new things (on the book front), I shouldn't choose poetry that I read in elementary school.

R: Is this more books than you would normally read in a year?

A: I think it is—but I don't normally track the number of books I read, so I can't say for sure. I do know that it usually takes me longer than 2 weeks to read a book because I'll only pick it up every few days.

R: Have you considered tracking your books in GoodReads or participating in any other reading communities?

A: No, I haven't. I'm not really sure why...maybe it would feel too much like school.

R: What kinds of books do you normally read? Is it an eclectic mix?

A: I kinda bounce back and forth between fiction and non-fiction, so I do like to mix it up a bit. My favorite genres are probably memoirs and travel books. Weird, I know. For this challenge, I am trying to pick books from genres I don't often read, though. Who knows, maybe I'll really like mysteries! I went to the library yesterday and checked out my first Agatha Christie book, so I'll find out pretty soon!

R: Where do you tend to get the books you read?

A: I usually get them from the library or by borrowing from a friend. A few years back I told myself I wouldn't buy any new books until I read all of the ones on my shelf first, so I've been trying to stay away from buying new. Although, maybe by the end of this challenge, I will have gotten through all the books on my shelf and can lift the self-imposed book buying ban! Here's to hoping!

R: Do you read physical books, digital books, audiobooks?

A: I read physical books almost exclusively. Partially because I don't have an e-reader so I would have to use my phone, but I really do like the feel of an actual book better than a digital version. I also tend to flip pages by accident with e-readers because I'm too fidgety and I think I can see my progress a little more with a real book. However, this summer I'll be traveling for work for about a month and doing a lot of driving, so I may switch to audiobooks for a little bit just so I don't fall behind.

R: How are you choosing what to read next? Are you employing any strategy/system, like going down the list top to bottom?

A: Choosing what to read next has been, for the most part, random (and a little hard!). Sometimes library availability and due dates play a small role, but basically I've jumped around depending on what I'm feeling. However, I deliberately chose not to start at number 1 on the list because I didn't want to feel trapped. I just finished a couple of YA novels in a row (Red Rising—A book by an author you've never read before, and I'll Give You the Sun—A book picked solely because of the cover) so now I'm moving to another genre to keep it interesting.

R: When you read a book that fits in more than one category, how do you decide which to credit it to?

A: Oh, this happens a lot and it's a difficult decision. When I started the plan I assigned some books that I knew I wanted to read to certain categories, so depending on the book, I may go into it thinking it belongs in X category. Though, if I find midway through that it might fit another category that I'm having a harder time trying to fill, I might move it over. Even though I kinda feel like that's cheating, I haven't made any self-imposed rules about moving books between categories while I'm still reading them...yet. I currently have about 8 books pre-set into categories and another 9 that I might want to read this year, but haven't decided yet.  

R: What have you learned so far from the experience of branching out in your reading?

A: I feel like I'm still at the beginning of this, so I'm not entirely sure what I've learned yet. I have found that I don't actually dislike reading as much as I thought I did, which is good, but I feel like I might have a better answer to that question in a few months.

R: Have you read anything that you liked but wouldn't have read otherwise?

A: Yeah, the book I'll Give You the Sun. It was my "Book that you choose just because of the cover" so I didn't know anything about when I started. I hadn't even read the jacket cover summary. It wasn't like I thought I would dislike it, but if you had told me I've got this book about a set of twins who are artists and they talk to the ghosts of their dead relatives from time to time and there's a secret teenage gay love story in it, too, I probably would have said, um, I'm not sure that's my cup of tea. It was pretty good though! There was an interesting structure to it that made you want to keep reading so you could fill in some missing information and the inner monologues were pretty funny and realistic. It's a YA novel, so it was nice and quick too, which I always like :)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Give a Hoot for HOOT!

For the past year I’ve been attending online writers’ workshops hosted by the editors of Hoot Review. Before, I had very little experience giving and getting critical feedback, but the Hoot chats (as I call them) have been wonderfully educational and supportive. I get feedback that I read in the privacy of my own home so if I get offended or need to whine to my spouse that they just don’t get me, I can, and no one will know so long as I make sure to write only friendly and appreciative things in the chat box.

I never know what kind of reception the pieces I share are going to have. I may read them in my head beforehand, sniggering to myself and thinking they are great, but that seems to have no correlation with how they are received by the ever-changing group assembled for Hoot chat. I don’t know if my perception prediction meter will become more accurate over time, but right now I can say it is totally uncalibrated. The day I shared my “Leg” poem (which would be my first published piece, illustrated by Hoot, shown below hanging on my fridge) with the group, I proceeded it with “you know I’m no poet, so tell me the truth” because even though I liked it, I couldn't tell on my own if it was actually interesting. Turned out they loved it and didn’t want me to change a thing, which surprised and elated me. One of the editors, Dorian, poetry professor that he is, even explained to me why the piece worked, which was both helpful and sobering: “The first line is so not-romantic, so goofy…the next line is really kind of prosaic… and the last line is so understated.”

I love the community created by the regular members. When I was getting started, I didn’t really know how to connect with writers or find people to be in a writing group with me. I was too timid to show up to a local group in person, so finding an online group seemed more appealing. Now, I regularly exchange pieces with two brilliant and talented women I met through Hoot. They write imaginative and poignant stories and poems I love to read even as rough drafts. It’s exactly what I wanted in a writing group and I’m still not sure how I got lucky enough to find them. I don’t think I could be in a writing group with just anyone, because it's hard to have patience for poetry or pieces I don’t get, so it is fantastic to get to read and be inspired by work I naturally connect with. They are also fantastic resources for finding places to submit my work, and I have to thank each of them for bringing to my attention the journals which are publishing my next three pieces!

If you're looking for a literary way to spend a few minutes, or want to get an illustrated literary postcard every month, I recommend reading and/or subscribing to Hoot! Everything they publish is 150 words or less (postcard-sized), so even if you have a short attention span, you might be able to make it through a few issues. Here are some of my favorites.