Why I quit making reading lists — and why I’m back


I didn’t keep track of a single book I read in 2018.

Given how immersed I was in cataloging everything I read up until my kids arrived, that felt strange. Even after I found myself with little energy and less desire to keep up with full-blown reviews, I was updating Goodreads with the audiobooks I’d listened to, at least.

But for 2018? Cold turkey. I was tired. Reading had become less a pleasurable pursuit than a strange struggle to “keep up,” both in the book blogging world and outside it. I felt like I’d created something with write meg! and I needed to crank out content to appease … someone.

Publishers? Readers? Myself?

So I stopped. If it doesn’t give you joy, why do it? And, to be honest, it was all I could do to keep my eyes open until 9 p.m. Once the kids were in bed, I was right behind them. My job is very busy. The house is always a mess. So many responsibilities tug at me day in and day out, and I needed to loosen the hold of those that I could.

Here’s the thing, though: being a reader is part of my identity. I don’t feel like myself without my books. Novels are a vacation. A trip from reality. A chance to escape, to punch out, to be “someone else” for a while.

Without books, I’m … me. Exhausted mom of two.

I wanted to find my way back to reading … but without the self-imposed pressure I’d come to put on myself as a blogger and reviewer. There had to be a better way.

So I rediscovered books in 2018 — just for myself. The kids were sleeping more. Our household was less disrupted. I returned to novels like reconnecting with a best friend — just without the requirement that I evaluate every single one. I was tired of my obsession with counting everything.

Life was stressful enough. I just wanted to read.

So I did. But I didn’t review or catalog. I didn’t set reading goals, nor did I keep a running list of what I’d purchased or finished or borrowed.

2018 became the year of the lost book.


Turns out … well, I miss my lists.

I am lists. Lists are me.

When I don’t have them? There’s … nothing. A total blank where my favorite reads from 2018 should be.

Did I not read anything compelling last year? Nothing memorable, influential, worthwhile? This can’t be true, especially knowing I give most books the 10-page test — if it doesn’t hold my attention after 10 pages, I quit.

Yet without my trusty spreadsheets and up-to-date Goodreads account, I struggle to think of a single title I loved in the last 12 months.

That just won’t do.

So I’m back. Last week I flipped on the lights of my dormant Goodreads account, shaking the dust from every surface. I’ve finished three audio books since January 1, and absolutely loved Katherine Center’s How to Walk Away. I’m thick in the middle of Michelle Obama’s Becoming and love it so much, I don’t want it to end.

And, of course, there’s my kids’ bedtime reading. The rhyming undercurrents of my daily life.

For Hadley, it’s Five Little Pumpkins. For Oliver, Where Do Diggers Sleep at Night?

I mean, where do they sleep at night?

Do they dream of holes they dug?

Do their moms reach front to backhoe when they give a good night hug?

These are the questions of our era, friends.

And with little readers in the making (and much more reading for me!), I look forward to answering them.

Make new friends, but keep the old: Kindle vs. paperbacks

When an Amazon Kindle arrived under my Christmas tree in 2012, I was tentatively excited — but still unsure about the whole “e-reading” thing.

A lifelong paperback lover, I worried that reading on a screen would feel too much like work — too close to my 9-to-5 spent in front of a flickering computer monitor, not enough like the relaxation I crave. Though much smaller, I’d already tried reading on my iPhone and hated it.

And part of me felt like a traitor, honestly. At a time when online retailers were contributing to the demise of brick-and-mortar bookstores and we began to worry if print was dying, here I was: reading novels on a glowing device, buying e-files and casting aside my hardcovers. With hundreds of physical books in my library, would I no longer be interested in them? Would I get addicted to Kindle convenience and give my paperbacks away?

It sounds silly, maybe: e-reader guilt. But it was there.

The first book I read in digital format — Why Can’t I Be You by Allie Larkin — was . . . well, it was weird. I remember thinking I couldn’t concentrate on the text the way I can when holding a physical book, and I actually wondered if I’d retain any of the plot.

But I was pumped for the Kindle because, you know, it was a cool new gadget, and I was interested in getting review copies digitally. Because space was a premium at home and at the apartment I would later share with Spencer, the appeal of having dozens of books on a device in my hand — instead of stacked around our overflowing living room — couldn’t be denied.

Book I have not readMore than two years into my relationship with my Kindle, I can honestly say that many of those fears — especially the ones about getting rid of my physical books — never came to pass.

As I’ve started recording my books for 2015 on a spreadsheet, I’m tracking not only what I’m reading but how I’m reading it: physical, digital, audio. Where I was once a purist who couldn’t fathom the appeal of audio books, I’ve completely converted — and now spread my reading pretty evenly amongst the three mediums.

Do I still prefer print books? Well, yes and no. Nothing can replace the feel of a real book in your hands, fingers sliding across smooth pages, the sweet heft and look of it. I love real cover art; I like having a physical sense of being halfway through a story, versus “50 percent” through. A real book never needs charging, and it doesn’t have to be stowed before take-off.

But my Kindle has a place, too. I love it when I’m on the go, especially traveling (more room in the suitcase!), and the backlight is awesome. Our living room is pretty dark, and I’ve yet to find a comfortable place to read a physical book without having to squint and angle the book just so. The Kindle takes all that away. Plus, when I want to stay up and my husband wants to go to sleep? I can shut off the lamp, dim the Kindle and make reading in bed comfortable for both of us. Boom!

I miss “real” books when I want to re-read a passage from a previous chapter, or flip back to get a sense of a character I might have originally overlooked. I miss “real” books when a novel has a particularly glorious cover I wish I could gaze at, or when a quote really grabs me — one I wish I could underline and dog-ear. “Highlighting” on a Kindle? Just not the same.

So I switch it up. As we get closer to Baby J’s arrival, I’m trying to get through a backlog of novels I’ve now moved twice: some books I wanted to read as far back as 2008, stories lodged in my library patiently waiting their turn. Though I have no formal “Kindle/print” system, I’m on a sort of every-other-book method.

And it’s working well. I’m still enjoying the books I’ve collected over the years with the convenience of the Kindle for everything else. I mostly use my e-reader for review books these days, and I’m getting the hang of requesting digital copies from the library. Which is free! I love free. Free is good.

Like all major changes, the transition from physical to digital was strange at first — but with time, I’ve come to appreciate the awesomeness of each.

And toting around my Kindle takes “never leave home without a book” — in this case, twenty — to a new level.

View from the middle

My bookshelf

I live for the middle.

The beginning of a book, with its set-up and character introductions and attempts to land you in the action? Well, it’s necessary, certainly. But not my favorite thing.

And the end, with its explanations and wrap-up, unsolved questions or lackluster surprises? Its complications? That’s all right, but I usually wind up wishing I could un-read what I’ve read and return to the middle.

Because the middle of a story, oh . . . when I’ve invested enough energy and time to get to know these people and feel what they’re feeling so much that I can’t wait to return to their world, to hurry between chapters? That’s the magic time. When the road stretches far for both of us, off into a horizon even I can’t see, and anything at all could be possible . . . well, that is it.

That’s why I read.

Because I’m such a middle-lover, I tend to bounce quickly between books. I don’t want to spend too much time on set-up or character introductions. Those notorious info-dumps totally turn me off, and if I can’t wade into the novel immediately? I’m not interested.

I have a collection of books on my nightstand I’ve been trying to get through for months. I flit between them — fiction and non-fiction, young adult and literary. I usually have one of each type going at once, reintroducing myself to the story that holds my attention best at the end of each day, but . . . it does get confusing at times.

And sucky, too.

If I could skip all the introductory material in each book, I probably would. I like feeling settled into a story, when I know the principle players and can simply rejoin them on their adventures. I don’t like meeting someone new . . . but I must.

To get to the middle, I must start at the beginning.

And so it goes.

You may never see me reading . . .

“How do you read so many books?” my boyfriend asked me recently. “You know, I never see you reading.”

I laughed initially, thinking about how that could be possible. I never leave home without a book, tucking my latest read into my purse or gym bag. Novels litter my trunk and the backseat of my car; they’re stacked precariously in piles around my office, taking up residence alongside my file folders and old newspapers. My bedroom boasts my white bookcase stuffed to the gills with books, now double-stacked and wedged into any available space.

My books are everywhere. And I’m always reading.

But Spencer is right. When together, we’re off taking photos, watching movies or playing Tetris. We’re baking or chatting or web surfing. I don’t read in front of him because, in my mind, that’s a solitary activity — something I do on my own. To unwind. And since Spencer prefers to read things like magazines and how-to manuals, if at all, it’s not something we can do together.

Most of my reading time comes late at night. My dad hung a little shelf above my headboard when I was little and, um? Best shelf ever. I’ve had a bright bedside lamp perched there for more than a decade (never the same one, unfortunately; only Target’s finest $8 desk lamps for me). At this point, I’m pretty sure it would be biologically impossible for me to fall asleep without a book in my hand. More often than not, I wake up in the morning to find my current read splayed on the floor with a bookmark discarded near by. I won’t even remember falling asleep.

When I’m too tired to make much progress in a book before I shut my little eyes, though, I depend greatly upon my lunch hours to get some serious reading done. I’m not averse to eating alone; in fact, I rather enjoy it. My local haunts include Panera, Einstein Bagels and Noodles & Company, my personal favorite, and I order my lunch, grab a small table and sit quietly with my paperbacks. It doesn’t take me long to rejoin the characters I’ve only recently left, and restaurant noise doesn’t bother me. I’m pretty good at tuning things out. On any given afternoon, I can cover 50-60 pages while downing some pasta or snacking on a sandwich.

Of course, sometimes I meet friends or family for lunch. Or I have errands to run. Or I’m too busy at work to take a break at all, in which case . . . well, no reading for me.

And that’s when I break out the big guns.

I read at home.

Sometimes I feel like I have wheels on my feet. Flitting from place to place, stop to stop; everything in motion, blurring and incandescent. It’s actually rare for me to sit on the couch for a prolonged period of time, and when I do? It’s because I’ve scheduled in TV watching time, especially on Thursdays. Who can beat that line up?! “The Office,” “Parks & Rec,” “30 Rock,” “The Big Bang Theory” . . . yeah, I’m all over that mess.

But when I force myself to sit still in the evenings, I can often devour a book in a few hours. Just make sure I have a mug of chai tea for company.

So Spencer may never see me reading . . . but I’m reading all the time. I can say, very honestly, that not a single day goes by without me flipping quite a few pages. It’s my passion, obsession, devotion; it’s my life. A big part of my life.

And so is he. And my family. And work. And my writing. So I twist and turn and make everything fit.

Rainy day reads: Can your books make you depressed?

Up late last night watching “Salt,” a political thriller starring the impossibly-svelte Angelina Jolie, I felt like someone  stuck toothpicks in my eyelids. I’m not normally one to sit through an R-rated romp filled with terrorism, espionage and cold-blooded murder, but something about the flick enthralled me. Spencer, Dad, Kate and I watched the whole thing until 10:30 p.m. on a Sunday and I didn’t fall asleep. I consider this a major victory.

But then something funny happened.

I couldn’t go to bed.

I’ve noticed something about myself: I have a hard time separating reality from fiction. Whether it’s a movie, music or book, I have to make a conscious choice to focus on happy, upbeat things — like comedies — rather than darker, more serious tomes. Reading books like Room by Emma Donoghue, while compelling, leave me deeply bothered. I actually had a hard time sleeping after finishing that one, too, and you know that’s bad.

Because friends? I can sleep. I can sleep like it’s my full-time job. Anytime, anywhere . . . as long as I have a reasonably comfortable spot or, more awesomely, am in a moving vehicle of some sort, I am out. And I like it.

Many of the books I’ve read recently haven’t exactly been upbeat. Peter Geye’s Safe From The Sea, while fantastic, wasn’t exactly cheery. If anything, in many ways, it was bleak — just like the cold Minnesota landscape in which it was set. I completed the novel feeling so happy to have read it, yes, but my stomach hurt right up until the conclusion. Just like with Room. And Great House. And many other books I’ve finished lately.

Do you find yourself greatly affected by the books you read? If something is sad, are you crying in sympathy? Or, unlike sad-sack me, do you have no trouble completing novels with a difficult subject matter?

My solution moving forward is this: I’m going to shy away from “sad books.” Life isn’t all rainbows, puppy tails and candy corn, I know, but I’m making a serious choice to stay away from things I know will leave me up at night. There are many books that have had me shaking with sobs and yet I was so glad to have read them, but I have to achieve some balance. Like writing, I have to know where my line is.

And Lord knows I need my beauty sleep.

Where my last 20 review books came from

pink_booksLenore has an awesome post up (originally discussed by Marie!) about the “extra story” connecting books and readers — namely, how it is we come to find books in our hands, read them and review them.

If I have a cute or fun story about how and why I read a novel, I try to incorporate that into my reviews — mostly because, as a blog reader, I like knowing the background of a blogger’s perspective. I enjoy knowing why they would or would not have normally selected a particular title to read, and I think it’s fun to see if their perceptions changed if they were “forced” to read a book — say, for school, or at the order of a friend or significant other — and how they felt about the experience of reading something different and out of their comfort zone.

Of course, not all my background stories are interesting. (Just look at this long introduction, eh?)

So, following in Lenore and Marie’s footsteps, here’s the “extra story” of how and why I read and reviewed the last 20 books posted on write meg!:

Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani — Mooched on BookMooch; saw reviews popping up around the blogosphere and loved the cover

Rude Awakenings Of A Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler — Purchased new by me (in hardcover, no less!) at Borders; I read and loved the first of Rigler’s Austen novels

Size 12 Is Not Fat by Meg Cabot — Purchased new by me at Borders; I’m just a huge Cabot fan, and couldn’t believe I’d yet to start this series

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer — Review copy sent to me by publisher; I was thrilled to have a chance to read Heyer for the first time, and heard that The Grand Sophy is one of her best works (and I would have to agree!)

suite_scarlettSuite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson — Purchased new by me on Amazon; influenced to buy based on positive LibraryThing reviews

Along For The Ride by Sarah Dessen — Purchased new by me at Borders; I’m totally devoted to Dessen, and couldn’t wait to grab this one!

Fourth Comings by Megan McCafferty — Purchased new by me on Amazon; I became totally addicted to all of McCafferty’s books after reading a post by Nat on Book, Line and Sinker

The Embers by Hyatt Bass — Review copy sent to me through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program; the family drama sounded appealing!

The Penny Pinchers Club — Review copy sent to me by publisher; loved the cover!

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen — Purchased new by me at Borders; fell in love with Garden Spells and waited for it to come out in paperback!

Fitness 9 to 5 by Shirley Archer — Purchased as a bargain book at HomeGoods; I’m still trying to get in shape, and the guide was practical and entertaining!

Me And Mr. Darcy by Alexandra Potter — Mooched on BookMooch; I’m innately interested in all Austen fiction, and I thought the cover was gorgeous!

Charmed Thirds by Megan McCafferty — Purchased new by me on Amazon; I became totally addicted to all of McCafferty’s books after reading a post by Nat on Book, Line and Sinker

Frenemies by Megan Crane — Purchased as a bargain book at Borders; enjoyed other works by Crane, so thought I’d give this one a whirl

The 30 Second Commute by Stephanie Dickison — Review copy sent by author; sounded really appealing and fun

Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty — Purchased new by me at Borders; I became totally addicted to all of McCafferty’s books after reading a post by Nat on Book, Line and Sinker

Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty — Purchased new by me at Borders; I became totally addicted to all of McCafferty’s books after reading a post by Nat on Book, Line and Sinker

Best Intentions by Emily Listfield — Review copy sent by publisher; I was attracted by the mystery/chick lit vibe of it all

Crossed Wires by Rosy Thornton — Review copy sent by author; my inner Anglophile yelped with delight at the thought of reading a uniquely British work of contemporary fiction! Plus, hey, it’s pink

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson — Purchased new by me on Amazon; read a review on Presenting Lenore and wanted to read about this European adventure before I took my own trip to London in May

So, of the last 20 books I’ve read and reviewed:

Two were Mooched on BookMooch;
Six were review copies sent to me by authors, publishers or networking sites;
Ten were purchased new by me at regular price (or close to it);
Two were purchased new by me as bargain books

I’d say that’s a pretty healthy glimpse at my reading life! As I type this, I have four review books on my TBR shelf — and about 100 others that I’ve picked up in my travels (and online exploits). You’ll notice the lack of any “borrowed” books or loans from the library… probably because my local resources are lacking. If it’s not mine to peruse, I feel nervous about reading it — and soiling it, though I try to keep my books in great shape!

If I was no longer offered review copies or stopped accepting them, I don’t think write meg! would change dramatically — mostly because I have enough unread novels on my shelves to sustain me for the next year or so! But I do love the opportunity to pick up new releases as advance reading copies and snag books I wouldn’t normally read because I don’t have the fear of paying full price for something I might not enjoy — especially if I’m venturing outside my genre. Still, I continue to buy books new myself and can’t imagine giving that up anytime soon… it would be painful for me! Buying a new book is a total thrill, and I can’t wait to crack the spine and see who I’m going to meet and where I’m going to travel.

Check out more posts on this topic at Presenting Lenore and The Boston Bibliophile!

Musing Mondays: Reading time

musing_mondaysHere’s this week’s question:

Do you have a set reading time (before bed, perhaps)? Do you read more at night or during the day? Is there a day of the week, perhaps, that you set aside to catch up on reading?

I definitely do most of my reading at night! Since I’m a 9-to-5 girl, the only opportunity I would have to catch up with my latest read during daylight hours would be on my lunch break — and I’m usually out running errands or catching up with friends.

Without fail, I read every night before bed — sometimes 10 minutes, sometimes two hours. This can obviously get me in trouble . . . if I’ve hit a particularly gripping passage or I’m winding down with the final chapters of a book, I have an intense urge to just finish it already. Hence why I’m often still flipping the pages at 2 a.m. For that reason, I’ve been trying to read more after working out in the evenings — before I hit the hay — so that if I’m really drawn into a narrative, I can finish it before I’m trying to sleep.

I don’t have any particular day to catch up on reading, though I do try to finish a book each weekend. At the moment I’m in the final stretches of Alexandra Potter’s Me & Mr. Darcy, but I just couldn’t wrap it up last evening! So in that sense, this was an incomplete weekend. But I’m heading to the beach soon . . . and you know what means! I can’t wait to hunker down with my ridiculous amount of novels waiting to be read.