Let’s Talk Bookish: How are you doing on your reading goals so far this year?

Hello, and welcome to The Pigeon! Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly discussion hosted by Aria @ Book Nook Bits, and this week’s topic was suggested by Amber @ Escape Life in the Pages!

Did you set any reading goals for yourself at the beginning of the year?

I’m an extremely planning- and checklist-oriented person, and I most certainly penciled in some 2022 reading goals! One was to read 100 books by years’ end, something I’ve been able to do three years running. I also wanted to tackle twelve classic or modern classic works of fantasy, and get closer to completing the full canon of Shakespeare’s plays. (It’s the ex-thespian in me––I had to.)

How are you doing with them? Any you’ve already met?

The 100 goal is going splendidly: as of writing this, I’ve already read 60! The fantasy challenge is about a month behind, and a little more draining than I expected it to be. In hindsight, I’m not real good at reading any particular genre at volume––I get tired of even my favorite things rather quickly. In fact, I’m afraid I might have to abandon that one 😶

The Shakespeare project, though, has been great. I go an act at a time, whenever I have an extra hour in a day to spare, and I’m finally at a place where the plays––and other older texts, Elizabethan-onward––are comfortable for me to read. Watching productions of them before reading has been a big help, and the same goes for treating the plays like rehearsal scripts and reading some of the characters’ dialogue out loud to an empty room. It works, okay?

In summary, none are met. But for at least two, I have hope!

Are there any goals you want to add?

Perhaps! I’ve finally decided on my majors for university in the fall, and they’re both in the realm of science: geology, and geography. As such, I’d love to try and engage with them more through some nonfiction titles. Maybe like one, every other month, for the rest of the year?

Did you set any blogging goals? If so, how are you doing with those?

I’ve been really careful to keep the blogging low-key––I’m already a full-time student with a novel in the works every now and then, and the last thing I need is another strict, self-imposed deadline. So, no blogging goals per se, but I’m delighted to report that I’ve posted at least once a month, every month so far, and averted my previous pattern of loooong school year dry spells. In my book, that counts as keeping the blog alive and I’m really pleased with it.

Thank you all so much for reading! I’d love to hear anything and everything about your reading, your goals, or your year in general in the comments below 💕

Let’s Talk Bookish: How Many Books Is Too Many?

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly discussion series hosted by Rukki @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion. This week, we’re discussing purchasing habits…and whether or not we overdo them.

I should first say that my staunchest opinion on the ‘right’ amount of books is this: it is the right amount of books for you.

If you’re happy to buy more than you have any hope of reading, I agree. If you prefer to own none and opt for the library instead, I think you’re right there, too.

But, personally, I’m somewhere in the middle. While I’m more than okay with filling my bookshelves, I do sustain a hope, however naïve, that I can and will read all of them. In that case, my ‘too many books’ is yearly buying that outstrips my reading. I don’t have data from past years, but this year, according to my spreadsheet, I bought 43 books, which is under half the number I’ve read so far, total.

Now, barring the fact that I’ve only read 28 of them (🙈), I think this is a suitable number for a collection I’m trying not to grow too quickly. For instance, I’ve gotten rid of at least that many, for a thoroughly braggable amount of Zia Records store credit, and if you further exclude the titles I have locked in to future TBRs, only 5 truly slipped through the cracks. For someone who wants to read everything they buy, I think that’s pretty good. Ultimately, the numbers are on my side, which is certainly more than could’ve been said for me in past years.

Because, as my present fastidiousness may have suggested, I definitely used to buy too many books. (The above disclaimer still stands: too many books for me.) I made weekly trips to the bookstore, kept no track of my new books and whether or not I’d read them, and often allowed myself to bring home more titles over the course of a month than I’d ever have hope of finishing.

On its own, this wouldn’t be a problem, if it just happened not to bother me, but it later became an actual source of stress. I’d feel guilt, which I’d assuage with more books, thus amplifying the problem. I’d feel like I couldn’t check out books from the library with so many waiting for me at home (absurd; you can always check out books from the library). And I’d overbuy “smart” books that I was unlikely to actually get to––classics, which are only a moderate piece of my reading pie, and nonfiction, which won’t even break double digits for me this year.

And herein lies the true meaning of ‘too many books:’ it’s so many that owning them no longer makes you happy.

Look, we’re tired mortals who fill our nests with possessions and our time with all the little joys we can find. I think the pressure to read new, American publishing’s reliance on hardcover releases, and the arbitrary legitimacy attached to a larger book collection are troubling, but I also think that keeping books is one of life’s great pleasures; one I’m certainly not going to begrudge anyone enjoying.

But if you want to keep to a number you can conceivably read, I’d advise: 1) buying for the reading habits (volume and genre) that you have, and not the ones you want, 2) keeping track of what you buy, and 3) only going to the bookstore with a plan in mind.

Otherwise, load your house with as many books as you like, and I won’t stop you. Only this: however you acquire books, don’t feel like you have to do it that way, and don’t feel like you’re not allowed to, either.

Thank you so much for reading! How do you feel about this topic? Where do you draw the ‘too many books’ line? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below 💕

Let’s Talk Bookish: Do You Keep Up With New Releases?

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly discussion series hosted by Rukki @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion. This week’s topic was suggested by…me! Anyway, you can’t *not* do your own topic, so I’m back from a long hiatus, and hopefully here to stay. (Though with a caveat––I’m taking some rather demanding classes this semester 😅)

There’s a lot to be said for reading books as they come out. Series hype! Supporting debut authors where it counts! Publishing buzz! The ever-rewarding boon of relevance! Fancy book box editions! (Not my thing, personally, but, by all means, if sprayed edges and reversible dust jackets are your thing––go nuts.)

But, as this seems to be the prevailing mode in online bookish circles, allow me to offer a path I find just as rewarding: walk into a public library and get your hands on a book from 2012. And not a bombastic bestseller that’s still in print, either: something by a midlister you’ve never heard of, with a modest amount of reviews on Goodreads, showing every sign of having all but disappeared off the face of the Earth.

That––as often as Publishers Weekly announcements, online hype, and table displays, if not more––is how I find my new favorite books. (I suspect it has a lot to do with the library part. I was raised wandering in and plucking anything/everything off the shelves, and I paid hardly any attention to publishing years until I started daydreaming about my own. Watch out, 2032! Or, at this rate, 2045.)

For one thing, there’s an immense pleasure to be found in delving back into past years and finding buried treasure. What I love about 2012 (and 2014, and 2017) is that it’s like tasting the other treats at the bakery that makes your favorites. I’ll see The Lunar Chronicles in Stitching Snow and Strange the Dreamer in A Crown of Wishes. And if you miss dystopians, as I do, there are hundreds––nay, thousands––of attempts at the next Hunger Games waiting for you in the archives. (If you’re a fan of witchy contemporary fantasy, may I suggest young adult from between 2016 and 2018? Or, if space YA is more your speed, releases from the summers of 2015 to 2018?)

Also, just incidentally, if you buy books, it’s entirely likely that you buy more than you can get to in a given year, and you probably have works from 2014 onwards sitting untouched on your shelf. That’s how I wound up devouring Snow Like Ashes in a single day. All too often, I think, our occasional failures in promptness can become a source of shame. But you bought those books for whenever (and if-ever) you feel called to read them! The last thing you need is book-guilt telling you it’s too late to get in on the Sawkill Girls action: seriously, Claire Legrand is a treasure, and once you read that, you absolutely have to pick up her 2012 romp The Cavendish Home For Boys and Girls.

While it’s totally natural to lose interest in books you bought years ago, it is never, strictly speaking, “too late” to enjoy a 2009-era paranormal with a love triangle. You have my full permission.

And, on that note, I should admit that I feel a little bad for those 2009-era paranormals, if only because there’s something disheartening about how quickly things become old news in our media landscape. Movies from 2018 that no one talks about anymore, music that’s seen its day and faded, bookish copycats for phenomena long past––these places are where I turn when I’ve had enough of the scramble for the next big thing.

I’ll admit, too, that my backlog reading comforts me as a writer. Should I ever be lucky enough to publish something, it will, more likely than not, be largely ‘forgotten’ in short order. But once my distant debut year passes, I can find solace in the fact that someone, somewhere, will still pick it up and read it every now and then.

Thank you for reading! How do you feel about new releases vs. the backlist? Do you have a preference? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below 💕

Let’s Talk Bookish: What Is One Book Everyone Must Read?

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly discussion series hosted by Rukki @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion. This week’s topic was suggested by Mikaela @ Mikaela Reads!

Reader, you knew this was coming.

What can a humble soul like mine do with the opportunity to tell you to read any book of my choosing, other than put forth my very favorite, my ride-or-die, my dearest, most beloved rant-starter––

I say this with all the conviction I can muster: you simply must get your hands on a copy of Jane Eyre.

When I did, in high school, it wrenched me out of my teenage stupor and showed me what magic looked like. I clung to my Vintage paperback edition, the one with the silhouette on the cover, desperate to discover if this guarded but deeply passionate girl would find the belonging she so craved. I wept when it escaped her and wept harder when it found her again.

I can’t say for certain whether the magic will strike you the same way, but I’ve collected five of what I think are the book’s best qualities for your perusal, and it is my delicate hope that you’ll find at least one of them will leave an impression on you in the pages of my favorite book.

1. Charlotte Brontë Writes Some Banger Prose

It’s often said that Jane Eyre is ahead of its time (it was published in 1847) for the agency it gives its female lead, but I’m of the opinion that its most modern sensibilities lie elsewhere: in its writing style.

Where I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d always find the classics I read to be dense and distant, the immediacy of Jane Eyre, the intuitive flow of its paragraphs, and the deeply personal way we get to connect with Jane as a narrator struck up a match against my mostly YA, mostly fantasy sensibilities, and brought me to a place where I could finally find myself in the books of the past.

This is why I’m always naming it as a great first-time classic, despite its length. Its digressions are artful, and not overwhelming. Its descriptions are rich, but pared down just enough to keep a deliberate, never-faltering pace.

I’m still amazed by how quickly the hypnotism of the first page sets in: two paragraphs and I’ve sunk into the book entirely. I’d never had a classic come to me so naturally before, and the best part? Every other classic has come to me more naturally since.

2. Jane Eyre Is The Gothic Standard

If you like dark, lonely manors with dubious histories, possible(?) ghosts, and fires with no discernible cause (or is there?), Jane Eyre is the best of the best. Brontë is an expert at using her setting to the fullest: from Lowood, the dreary boarding school where Jane spends her childhood, to Thornfield Hall, the mysterious estate where she finds work as a governess, every detail is gorgeously rendered.

The vivid atmosphere of Jane Eyre is precisely what I mean when I say books set in our world use worldbuilding, too. Brontë perfectly externalizes Jane’s inner turmoil with her brilliant use of weather and landscape, the very world built to give us her complexity made manifest.

I should mention, though, her handling of the maybe-paranormal is also excellent. She lets us sit with the discomfort of not knowing what is or isn’t, strictly, real, and the natures of some of her phantoms even go undefined permanently, yielding some wickedly fun arguments about just how much of the supernatural Brontë’s world allows.

3. The Romance!! Ugh THEM!

No discussion of Jane Eyre would be complete without touching on its complicated––and controversial––main couple. To those who find a power dynamic in a romantic subplot to be iffy, the Jane/Rochester thing most certainly will not be your cup of tea, but your honor I love them!!1!!!

For the uninitiated, Edward Rochester is the surly, secretive guardian of Adèle, the child Jane comes to Thornfield to teach, and over the course of her stay there, Jane develops a truly devastating crush on him that had me putting down the book to dry heave into the abyss over, because the Yearning was just too much.

Jane and Rochester are the slow burn of all slow burns, the blueprint of every stalwart-heroine-meets-absolute-Byronic-disaster pairing (Reylos, Jurdan shippers, and/or Darklinas, listen the fuck up), and they have absolutely wrecked my shit.

If any of this sounds good to you, you should’ve picked up Jane Eyre yesterday. I expect a full report on my desk next week.

4. …But There’s Also A Standout Supporting Cast

Despite my, uh, strong words about our romantic leads, neither actually wears the crown of my favorite character. That honor, dear reader, goes to St. John Rivers, an ethically conflicted priest who has a substantial role in the last third of the book. I find him so compelling because he illuminates what I consider to be the book’s central question (though this has been a point of contention for almost two hundred years’ worth of readers, mind you): in the face of our happiness as individuals, how much stock should we put into structures of conventional morality?

St. John (hence the profession) is used really elegantly in Brontë’s exploration of what it means, and what it costs, to devote yourself in totality to a doctrine. He’s a great foil to the fraught relationship with religion Jane’s childhood gave her, and a deliciously complicated subplot all his own, besides.

Beyond him, his sisters Diana and Mary, Helen Burns, Mrs. Fairfax, Blanche Ingram, and Adèle are always a pleasure to revisit, and I glean more from them every time.

5. It Doesn’t Tidily Fit Into One Interpretation, And That’s Great, Actually

If you’re familiar with the book, you might notice one very conspicuous absence in all my gushing about it: I’ve made no mention at all of Bertha, a supporting character whose very spoilery role in the story has been the subject of much debate. If you happen to share my interpretation and don’t allow for any contradictions, she more or less gets erased in your reading of the book, and there’s really no accounting for her in a way that shines a favorable light on some of the other characters.

Is she the shadow to Jane’s conflicted soul? What about her feelings, then? Is she the narrative’s condemnation of [redacted]? Why, then, does that person get to [spoiler]?

If you let it, Brontë’s apparent neglect on Bertha’s part can grow to encompass, and then, effectively, ruin your reading experience, but if you take your cues from her handling of the maybe-paranormal, maybe-not elements, there’s room for plenty of contradictions in the world this book builds. Bertha, in fact, is the one who makes room for them: this is the right thing to do, but yet this is the consequence.

I don’t think I fully appreciated this until Brontë’s last novel, Villette, found its way into my hands this summer, with intentional contradictions abounding. Looking back at Jane Eyre, it became my favorite all the more, even considering the fair fight Villette gave it.

It’s just too splendid of a book to ever have true competition in my eyes, and, in the end, I love it far too well to foist anything else into your hands.

Enjoy, reader. You have quite the treat ahead of you.

Join the conversation! Have you read Jane Eyre? What did you think? And, if there is one book you think everyone must read, what is it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. 💕

Let’s Talk Bookish: What is your posting type?

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly discussion series hosted by Rukki @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion. This week’s topic was suggested by Nicole @ Thoughts Stained With Ink!

This week’s topic gives me a unique opportunity to take you behind the scenes of my humble blog, and give you a glimpse at my rather nit-picky process, so, sit back, relax, and make sure to hit me up about any typos. Here on The Pigeon, we (me, my glasses, and my third coffee of the day) are constantly vigilant 🧐

How I Write

Each post begins in just about the last place you’d expect someone to draft a blog entry: a good old fashioned lined notebook.

I started doing this, ironically, because my first book review was for school credit, in eighth grade. From there, I reviewed a good chunk of the books I read the same way, long before I started posting them. After experimenting with length, I landed on about four full pages of longhand every time. This size is just enough to go into detail in my reviews, but it (usually) keeps me under a thousand words.

Every time I sit down to write a review, I do it all in one go, like an in-class essay. I’ve done it enough that the process, arduous as it might sound, has become almost frictionless for me, and I always come out of a review-writing session refreshed. (Other posts, like wrap-ups and Let’s Talk Bookish entries like this one, are newer to me and thus a little rockier on the draft, but I write them all out on paper in their own special notebooks, too.)

I’m rather biased on this count, but I find paper to be indispensable in any attempt to work through my bookish thoughts: it’s a tactile, kinetic experience, demanding more care than just typing, and it forces me to think about where I’m going before I get there, in a way that I just don’t when I’m at the keyboard.

My pages are certainly filled with cross-outs, but it’s definitely more costly with this method to start from scratch when I hit a wall, so I often find myself working a little harder to move on with what I’ve already written rather than scrapping it at the first sign of difficulty.

Ultimately, though, I keep using pen and paper because it yields some of the things I seek out most in writing: depth, structure, and a decisive ending.

How I Edit

The great thing about handwriting (I know, this whole thing is just an ad for ballpoint pens, but bear with me) is that it builds in a layer of editing. After the piece sits in the notebook for a day or two, I type it into a text file, and rephrase and rearrange as I do so. I’ll like my self-referential last word, but maybe I want to add an example to soothe the English teacher that lives in the back of my mind, so I’ll slide that in, or take this chance to ctrl+F for repeat phrasings or word choice, so that a particularly apt piece of diction doesn’t lose its bite.

Then, and only then, will I crack open a draft file on WordPress. (The idea of composing or doing large edits in a post draft fills me with a gnawing anxiety rivaled only by my stage fright. Seriously.)

Going in and adding italics to any titles mentioned, or including headings and pictures where needed, gives me an opportunity to check spelling and grammar one more time, and, because nothing is ever enough for yours truly, I have to read it aloud, just in case.

Things will slip through the cracks––things always do––but I’ve always found editing to be its own joy, and it gives me such delight to rifle through old posts and not find anything I feel needs changing.

I do make a point of checking in on my backlog often, though. Just in case.

How I Post

My “schedule” is Tuesdays and Fridays, but as I’m sure is apparent, I don’t make a point of keeping to it. The way I see it, I’d rather have the quality than the consistency. If there’s not enough time for me to really sink my teeth into whatever I’m making (if today is post day, for example), I take a deep breath and let it slide. I tend to want to leave the anxiety of rushing to get things done at school, if it’s up to me, and since it is, I miss a post sometimes. So be it.

One thing that’s helped recently is branching out from reviews––something this very series is a part of! Try as I might, my process isn’t always conducive to full reviews twice a week, so having some other stuff in the mix keeps every writing session fresh and the blog at large more colorful.

After a long stretch of not posting last year, I’m very glad to be at it again, and especially glad for you, reader, because you’ve kept me at it.

So, thank you. And here’s to more.

Let’s Talk Bookish: On Reading Slumps

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly discussion series hosted by Rukki @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion. This week’s topic was suggested by Rafaela @ The Portugese Bibliophile!

Ah, the dreaded reading slump––weeks, months, years, with finished books nil-to-none, an estrangement from a beloved hobby, the sap of a once fruitful love of reading run dry…

It’s a miserable place to be, if you have books to finish and nothing left in you that wants to finish them, but I’m lucky enough to call this mostly a phenomenon of my past, owing to a simple but valuable realization: I am a reader who needs order.

I should acknowledge here that it’s often circumstances out of our control that put us in slump territory––school, jobs, life stress, and the like––but it’s also possible that your reading life is running counter to your needs in ways that you can fix. I used to read on a more sporadic, spontaneous basis, with long dry spells where my will to read would just dry up, but as soon as I dropped more planning into the equation, I got the consistency I craved.

Here, I share my preventative measures, with some modifications for the just-recovering reader:

1. Mix it Up!

It is my opinion that variety is the key to a self-renewing reading habit. I tend to overdo it on the fantasy, seeking out read-alike after read-alike in order to sate the desire a recent favorite spawned. After I started planning my reading, this tendency faded in favor of line-ups with a more even spread across genre and category (while emphasizing favorites, of course). A middle-grade fantasy is a light at the end of 500-page classic literature tunnel, and the classics keep the adventures from blurring together. Likewise, it becomes easier to appreciate each book on its own merit, rather than also needing it to stand out against all the similar books that came before it.

In a reading slump: read outside your usual. The novelty might be the very thing to draw you back in.

2. Limit Your Mileage

Reading a book in one sitting is a wonderful feeling––one I still engage in from time to time––but in my experience, it’s not conducive to consistency. And when your passion for reading occasionally fades, consistency is how you recover the spark. When I dislike a book, I don’t have to read more than 100 pages a day. When I love a book, I don’t let myself read more than 100 pages a day. Over the past couple years, it’s gotten progressively easier to meet that number, simply because treating reading like a muscle makes finishing a goal an act of muscle memory. Whatever the book, the end is always in sight, and it takes little more than the force of habit to get there.

In a reading slump: set a manageable goal, and meet it every day. I’d start with ten pages, or a chapter, and work up from there.

3. Keep Track

I’ll be perfectly honest: variety and habit are both incredibly useful, but the real gamechanger came in the form of a spreadsheet. I’d been reaching for and missing my Goodreads goal of 100 books in a year for a while at this point, but, suddenly, the reward of logging the titles myself (and ctrl+F-ing various symbols as a way to keep numbers on genre, publishing year, and page count, which aren’t exactly at your fingertips on Goodreads) made up the difference. For some, tracking books adds to the pressure, but my school-warped mind simply needs all those checks in a row, and feeling like I get “credit” for finishing books is a more powerful incentive, even, than closing that back cover.

In a reading slump: if you haven’t already, try a list or spreadsheet. (Star stickers are optional but encouraged.)

How do you feel? Have you clawed your way out of similar slumps with dissimilar methods? Are you a fellow spreadsheet-keeper? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. 💕

Let’s Talk Bookish: Prologues & Epilogues

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly discussion series hosted by Rukki @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion. This week’s topic was suggested by Fives @ Down the Rabbit Hole! Also, special shoutout to Wren @ Wings and Fables, whose lovely LTB posts encouraged me to start participating 🙂

Prologues, where it concerns fantasy and sci-fi, are a tactful approach to an arresting problem: if you want to promise readers a sweeping adventure, but your hero is an everyman going through the motions in a quiet village away from the wolves, your quickest fix is to cut to the action elsewhere.

This is why “Star Wars: A New Hope” begins the way it does––not with Luke kicking the dust on Tatooine, but with a thrilling chase through a spaceship under siege. In a prologue by any other name, the editing gives us a taste of what’s in store, and that inviting first glimpse is, even knowing that prologues aren’t beloved among all, pretty much why I still can’t quit them.

On epilogues, though, I’m much more divided––I sometimes feel robbed if a book jumps years into the future for its final word, making explicit what was otherwise delicately implied. Instead of lingering on a powerful image that says it all, the very worst offenders will put the breaks on a book and actually say it all, charting out in paragraphs lives that were just recently complex enough to span whole chapters.

My biggest complaint boils down to one word: this approach is reductive. (Unless, of course, we’re working off a framing device, like our narrator recounting the story from years afterward; one that gives our story a good reason to fast-forward at the end.)

An epilogue, in my opinion, functions much better if it falls in step with a good prologue, and depicts a dynamic mini-drama unfolding in the span of its pages. This is rather difficult for an epilogue to do, though, as a post-script to a story that has already ended. What can you do then but offer what the reader already has?

There’s a great example of these two devices in each of the books in Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse. The original trilogy, beginning with Shadow and Bone, has “before” and “after” chapters bookend-ing each installment, and later books, like Six of Crows, don’t mark what is effectively a prologue or epilogue as such, but hand the first and last numbered chapters off to characters whose perspectives aren’t shown elsewhere. (This allows me to see, however briefly, my beloved Joost.)

The “prologues” in the Shadow and Bone trilogy hold some of the most delicious writing in the series, allowing a stylistic departure into storybook-like prose against the more parsed, first-person style of the books proper.

What really works to Bardugo’s advantage, though, is the mechanical power the prologues hold. In all three books, that critical first chapter ends with a dilemma unsolved, or, put differently, a threat yet to be made. In Shadow and Bone, we linger on a young Mal’s face hardening into resolve away from the notice of the adults in the room; in Siege and Storm, a fugitive praying for shelter where she’s uncertain she’ll find it; in Ruin and Rising, a minor villain completely unaware of Alina inching nearer to the upper hand.

The “before” chapters do precisely what a good prologue does: in taking a new angle, they promise forward motion in a way our first chapter, stuck in our characters’ heads as they go through the motions of their daily lives, can’t.

Take them against the “after” chapters, and the latter comes up short. Rather than a detail, all three of these epilogues land with a statement. Even as Siege and Storm, the middle volume, ends with an explosive finale in the offing, and that last line is meant to gear us up for it, it’s still, in essence, the telling of what we already know.

All told, it makes sense, because it’s more fitting to begin a story with a question, and close it with an answer. But questions are unfailingly the more interesting of the two. A good prologue feels like being invited in. Even the best of epilogues, however, cannot help but feel like being escorted out.

What do you think? Am I too hard on epilogues? Have I convinced you to give prologues another chance? Tell me below!