I used to read all the time. In a house without television, books were our entertainment during long, summer afternoons or quiet days after school. Books were an escape, a wondrous portal to worlds I could only imagine. I made hundreds of fictional friends, traveled to distant lands, and experienced thousands of amazing adventures. On Friday nights, my dad would read to my mom, my brother, and me as we all sat together in the living room. Whether it was The Chronicles of Narnia, Little House on the Prairie, or The Swiss Family Robinson, we loved that time together.
My mom was also the school librarian and was constantly on the lookout for good books to add to the library’s collection. I can still remember going to the used bookstore during the summer and coming home with stacks and stacks of books that we’d read through. (The only downside to this is that there are now several obscure children’s or YA books that I grew attached to and have had a hard time finding again!) 😉
Through the years, my reading has lessened considerably. When the girls were small, I rarely had the time, energy, or concentration to sit down with a book. And now, even though they’re older, I’m still finding it hard to get back into my old reading habits. Putting something on Netflix is a lot easier.
I realize the irony of this situation. Here I am, attempting to become a published author, and I hardly read anymore. I have shelves stuffed full of books I’m going to read or reread someday, and every time I look at them, I feel guilty.
So, this January, I decided to do something about it. I implemented the “Read More, Netflix Less” plan of 2018.
Here are the guidelines I came up with:
My goal is to read 50 books by January 2019. For those of you who are avid readers, I know this seems like a measly sum, but I wanted to start with an attainable goal as I ease back in.
I am counting audio books in that total. Sure, it might be considered cheating by some, but I figure listening to an audio book is still engaging my brain more than sitting and watching a movie. Plus, I can clean the house AND get some reading done. It’s a win/win. (Much easier than trying to do dishes and read a paperback book. All you end up with is a soggy book and a pile of still-dirty dishes. Yes, I speak from experience.) 😉
I want to focus on fairytale retellings (since that’s what I write), books about my faith, and books on the writing craft. Not that I can’t read other types of books, but I’d really like these to be my focus. My hope is that by choosing these types of books, I’ll be inspired to write my own, I’ll grow in my walk with the Lord, and I’ll get some good reminders about writing dos and don’ts.
I don’t want my daily Bible reading to suffer from my regular reading. Which is why I will always start the day with my audio Bible reading before I read or listen to another book. That’s the goal, anyway. Most days, I’m pretty good at following through with this, although I have slipped up some. Especially on weekends when my routine is off.
I thought it would be fun to share my progress on Instagram and here on the blog. It will keep me accountable and maybe give you some ideas of some books to try for your own personal reading.
Entwined by Heather Dixon
My writing friend Rosemary gave me this book for Christmas. It’s a beautiful and imaginative retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, which is one of the stories I’ll be covering in my second book. This is not as common of a fairytale as some, like Snow White or Cinderella, so finding a retold version can be difficult. I enjoyed Dixon’s take on the classic tale. It has likable characters, an intriguing world where not all is as it seems, and an enchantment that must be undone for the sake of family and happy endings. Like most fairytales, magic and enchantments play a fairly important role in the story. Just mentioning that since I know that’s an issue for some parents. There are a few dark parts in the tale that might be disturbing for younger readers, so I would recommend it for teens and older.
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
This was a reread (relisten?) for me, but it’s a story I love to read again and again. Mr. Beagle is the master of unique similes. Seriously, every time I read his stuff, it makes me want to use more similes in my writing. He has a beautiful way with words and a witty, dry humor. There are a lot of things in the structure of the writing that authors are told not to do today, such as the constant change of perspective from one character to another. The book contains some mild swearing and a few intense passages. And again, magic is a pretty huge part of the storyline, even more so than in Entwined. But as far as worldbuilding, character development, and story, this book is amazing.
One more quick thought on this. If you’ve only ever seen the cartoon, please, please read the book. Seeing the cartoon of The Last Unicorn and saying you know the story is like saying you know The Hobbit because you watched the old cartoon. (Fun little factoid, both cartoons were produced by Rankin/Bass in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Impressive works of animation, but they don’t do full justice to the beauty of either story.) I didn’t grow up watching The Last Unicorn cartoon, which is probably a good thing, because the harpy, Mommy Fortuna, and the Red Bull would have given me nightmares. So granted, I don’t have any sort of emotional attachment to the film. But still, the book is so much better. Trust me.
Another great thing about this particular audio book is that it’s read by the author himself. I always find it fascinating to hear the author’s intended inflection, tone, and attitude of their characters. I’m just weird that way. 😉
Victim of Grace: When God’s Goodness Prevails by Robin Jones Gunn
This book came at a time when I really needed encouragement. Those of you who read my last post will remember me mentioning it and the role it played in getting me back on track when I had a lot of anxiety in my writing journey. This audio book is also read by the author, which takes me back to my first writing conference when she was the keynote speaker. I hope to have the privilege of hearing her speak again this year at the Oregon Christian Writers Conference (if it works out for me to attend). Robin is one of those people whose inner beauty shines through in everything she does. She has a strong relationship with the Lord that affects every aspect of her life. I’m so thankful for this book and the refreshing reminders it gave me.
Beauty by Robin McKinley
Okay, I actually listened to the audio book of this one, too, but I like the cover on my paperback copy a lot better. 😉 This was a joy to reread. I discovered this little gem in college, when I was specifically looking for good retellings of Beauty and the Beast. Beauty remains one of my favorites to this day. I hadn’t read it for a few years, since I stopped reading Beauty and the Beast retellings for a while during the time I was writing my own version. I was too worried I’d accidentally plagiarize. Coming back to this book was like revisiting an old friend.
It takes a while to get into this book. We don’t even meet the Beast until it’s halfway over. But if you can persevere, this is a fabulous retelling. The Beast from this version is one of my favorite incarnations of the character, and I love Beauty and her sweet family. The slow progression of their relationship, the library with future books, Beauty’s stubbornness over the princess dress, and the Beast’s gentle, kind nature all add to the story.
More Than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell
This is one of those little books I always meant to read but never got around to, so I finally downloaded it on Audible and listened as I went through my day. It’s a short book that talks about whether or not Jesus is who He says He was. It’s a great tool to use as a conversation starter and a nice reminder of why we believe what we believe about Jesus. McDowell himself was an agnostic who set out to prove that Christianity was worthless … and ended up becoming a follower of Christ in the process. I love it when God does stuff like that. 😉
The Lunar Chronicles: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
Last fall, I reread … er… listened to Cinder, the first book of The Lunar Chronicles. This is another series I put on the back burner for a while to avoid accidental plagiarism. I originally read them because they have a similar premise to my books, although mine are not set in a future dystopian world that includes outer space. 😉 I have mixed feelings about this book. It’s a fascinating take on the well-known Little Red Riding Hood tale. However, it’s pretty dark in places, there’s some swearing, and let’s just say Scarlet’s relationship with her love interest is a little more “Twilighty” than I’d prefer. As you all know, I love a good Beauty and the Beast-themed story, but this one goes more into the “this guy is super dangerous and could actually kill me but I don’t care because I like him” territory. My main concern with this type of storyline is that it’s often marketed to young preteen and teen girls, who really don’t need this type of relationship goal. The worldbuilding, the characters, and the creative twists on old tales are amazing, though. And I love the audio books of this series. The reader is excellent, does fun accents, and gives each character a unique voice.
The Lunar Chronicles: Cress by Marissa Meyer
Moving on to Cress, the third book in the series. Man, I’d forgotten how long this one is! Sixty-one chapters. I just finished two nights ago. I’m kind of thinking I might take a break before I read Winter, the last of the four Lunar Chronicles. I have mixed feelings about this one, too, which is a retelling of Rapunzel. As with her other tales, Meyers does a great job with her characters and a fantastic job building a believable futuristic world. That being said, there are a few editing issues in this particular book that tend to pull me out of the story, especially when I listen to the audio version. For example, by the end of Cress, I was sooo tired of hearing about characters “gulping.” I can’t even tell you how many times she used this to describe a character’s action or reaction. What made it more distracting is that in many of the instances, I don’t think she meant “gulped” the way I picture gulping. I think she meant more of a swallow. There were a lot of characters yelping, too, and feeling things “in their gut.” This issue particularly stands out to me because I tend to have problems reusing words or phrases. So on the one hand, I completely understand how easy it is to be repetitive, but on the other hand, it stands out to me even more because I’ve learned to look for it in my own writing. It almost got to the point where I would cringe every time I heard the word mentioned.
Like Scarlet, there are some pretty dark things that happen in this one. And Captain Carswell Thorne, the main romantic interest in Cress, is a bit of a rakish scoundrel. Lovable, but not the most upstanding citizen … or gentleman. So again, not the greatest example of relationship goals. But he’s extremely likable in spite of his flaws, and not quite as obviously dangerous as other romantic leads in the series. In both books, there is technically no magic. Fantastical things that happen are all explained through science.
I think I’d be comfortable cautiously recommending these ones to older teens, but I’ll definitely be sharing a few of my concerns about the series before my girls read them.
And that’s all I’ve got for now. Seven books in two months isn’t too shabby. 😉 I’m currently working on another audio book and another paperback, so I’m well on my way to adding two more books to the list. 🙂 Only forty-three more to go to reach my goal! I’ll keep you guys updated as I continue my reading journey for the year.
What books are you reading? Any you’d recommend?