“You don’t support the author, you heartless monster!”
“Think about the Almighty Algorithm™“
“Think about the writers!”
Apparently, there’s been (ongoing) discourse on Book Twitter about whether readers should be allowed to rate books less than five stars.
Perhaps I’m surprised there are still people on Twitter after the Musk takeover, but I stumbled across the blog post Reviewing and rating books: A deeply personal act by Krystal Gagen, and forgot just how passionate terminal Twitter users get about their interests. Gagen’s post was great reading. You should check it out.
Is it really a thing, a cause attributed to something else entirely, or just a figment of our writerly imaginations?
The answer tends to lie somewhere in the middle. We’re living in a post-COVID society, and there’s a lot of shit happening in the world, not to mention our very crazy personal lives. Sprinkle in everything online that is trying to distract us from even having one solo ad-free thought, and BAM! we’ve forgotten to enjoy old pleasures and partake in formerly enjoyable hobbies.
I have a WordPress draft that I update when I finish a book, and at the end of the year, it transforms into my Year Wrap-Up, of which there are EIGHT so far. Eight years of wrap-ups. So I went to check this year’s process, and my Actually-Read Count for this year is dismally low. A paltry effort.
Three books in five months. And two of them are from the same series—the Hannibal Lecter series by Thomas Harris, to be precise. The third is a kids’ book: Matilda by Roald Dahl.
The last time I read Matilda by Roald Dahl, I was an avid reader in primary school who 1. Had no internet at home to distract me, and, 2. Had definitely read way more than three books by the end of the fifth month of the year, and utilised challenges like the MS Readathon as excuses to read more books.
Technically, I discovered audiobooks circa 2003, back when my my classmates and I were introduced to the CD read-along versions of kids books and they were this fancy fandangled gizmo that even cheesy “journalism” TV programs were fascinated by, and also in 2009, when my Season 1 DVD of The Vampire Diaries came with The Vampire Diaries audiobook…which I proceeded to never listen to and only ever read the physical copy before finally decluttering both and sending that audiobook to the feared recycle bin.
After last month’s blog post about the attention economy and book reading, I discovered my local library had finally signed up with Libby. Libby is an app every reader, their mother, and dog’s mother, seems to be talking about. If you have a library card, Libby allows you to read magazines and ebooks and listen to audiobooks for a 14 day loan, like going to the library without having to leave your house. Neat!
There’s a subreddit called r/52book, where people share their journey to read one book a week—52 books a year—and a lot of 52bookers love raving about Libby. So I thought…Why not?
There’s a huge debate that rages on and on and on and on and on. Are audiobooks real books?
The attention economy is destroying our ability to read books.
Of course, books aren’t the only hobby being destroyed by our inability to focus. How many of you reading this have struggled to sit through a Netflix TV series or whatever of the bajillion streaming services are out there, and just sat there, without scrolling IMDb on your phone or switched between 10 tabs of Twitter and Reddit and Tumblr (for the six people who still use Tumbr) and even Yahoo Answers (rip in pieces)? Have you gone to watch that VERY important YouTube video about ‘This 1 thing will stop procrastination in its tracks’ or The Ultimate Blog Post on Neat Writing Tips to keep you inspired, then suddenly you’re reading the Wikipedia article about Thomas Mayne, the inventor of Milo, then you’re scrolling down the endless loop of 1800s crazy cat ladies posing with their cats on Reddit, and holy shit, where have all those hours gone? It’s 3am and you’ve got to get ready for the day in a couple hours, and you haven’t written a single word of your magnum opus or read a single page of everyone’s favourite book of the minute, Madeline Miller’s Circe, and instead you got stuck on the Wikipedia article about 1800s Shakespearean actors who are the godmother of pre-WWI European poets.
There is a widespread assumption on the internet and in the real world that reading is the one and only true hobby. Everything else is time-wasting and fluff and pointless and why should you even bother doing it?
We’re on the home stretch for 2020, and that’s probably a good thing. At the start of 2020, everyone was full of such hope and promise, even though there were bushfires that had been raging through Australia since September 2019, and the U.S. Election was just around the corner. Now there’s a pandemic that’s effected the whole world, and unique little issues that plague each and every country. What that means is a lot of people’s lives have been thrown off-kilter.
With a lot more people at home (except the essential workers, who everyone seems to forget), we’ve had more time to watch YouTube and Netflix and the 60 million other streaming services, and we’ve been told by entrepreneurial and business savvy people that we should use that time wisely. Read more books. Educate yourself, make yourself smarter this pandemic season! In my last blog post, I spoke about the “stigma” of young adult fiction, and how the stigma is bullshit because everyone is always critical of something:
If you’ve ever spent more than a hot minute on bookish parts of the interwebs, then you’ve seen the massive, roaring debate about whether young adult fiction is “proper” literature. The sheer majority of BookTube, the book reviewers and talkers of YouTube, seem to read and review YA, with the odd classic or “reimagined” classic smattered here and there. I came across this issue again recently when Christine Riccio, the biggest BookTuber, released the video ADULT BOOKS VS YA BOOKS. Way back in May, mind you. Thanks algorithm. But it got me thinking thoughts, and boy oh boy are there thoughts to be thought and things to say and words to be written about this supposed stigma against YA fiction.
The younger generation. Can you believe them? They don’t even know what a book is. These Millennial snowflakes will see a goddamn book—paper of glorious smell and touch and taste—and they will try to click the book.
Father, I cannot click the book, they likely say, looking utterly bewildered at this ye olde extinct relic of the olden days.
Is it an iPad? Where is a joystick? Where are the pocket monster creatures? What do I plug it into? Where do the batteries go? How do I turn it on?
The wisened member of the Older Generation knows better. They grew up with the three R’s—reading, riting and rithmetic—so obviously this repository of wisdom and genius and pure big brained 1000 IQ knowledge, will be able to point the dumb, gadgets ‘n gizmos obsessed child in the right direction. After all, absolutely no child has read a book since I was a child. Get off my lawn!
The nightmare changed everything for Allison Britz. One day, she was just your typical high school sophomore; she excelled in track and field, was an A-student set for the Ivy League path, and had loving parents and an assortment of close gal pals. One nightmare changed that. Awakening from a vivid dream in which she had terminal brain cancer, Britz decided it was a warning. A prophecy. And she would do everything within her will to make sure that never came true. It started with sidewalk cracks. The old childhood rhyme Step on a crack, break your mother’sback, roared in her mind with a vengeance. Avoiding sidewalk cracks would ensure the safety of both Britz and her parents. That was just the beginning. Soon, Britz was walking between classes on tiptoes, avoiding cracks, counting her footsteps out loud, having a certain number of steps to walk between locations. After obligatory driving lessons with a Christian driving instructor, Britz began believing her thoughts were religious in meaning, and began new religious rituals. Over the following weeks and months, the dangerous list lengthened: she avoided hair dryers, towels, most of her clothing, the colour green, certain foods (except foods she had bargained to herself were “okay” if she avoided walking on cracks), her mobile phone, and computer. She sabotaged friendships, believing the well-intentioned words by her friends were threats to her livelihood. Eventually, she got to the point where she believed that failing an exam worth 25% of her grade would delay the inevitable brain cancer. Her GPA and friendships all but obliterated, Britz in a moment of desperation called her mother, and eventually was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) by a local psychiatrist.
This paints the image of Obsessed: A Memoir of my life with OCD by Allison Britz. 2019 has been a bit of an interesting reading year for me. I’ve read more books than I did in 2018, but it’s been more nonfiction than fiction. Reading about mental illness, and learning how they are stigmatised by society, has been helpful and useful. So many mental illnesses are horribly portrayed and misinterpreted by the general public, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is no different. Most people picture someone washing their hands into red rawness, or even worse, as someone obsessed with alphabetising their books or pencils. I’m so OCD! is the catch-cry of the person who has no idea how debilitating OCD can really be. I learned many years ago how damaging these stereotypes are, and how the latter is indicative of a separate illness, Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD). Of course, the compulsive hand-washer is still one of the many types of OCD, but it is far from the only, and it is great to find a book like Obsessed, which talks about another, yet still invasive, form of OCD.
Today’s the day you buy the gorgeous hardcover of the book you’ve been wanting to buy for an eon and a half.
There’s a 10 per cent off sale on Book Depository. Maybe you just want to head into your local bookstore and gaze off into the abyss that is the Vintage Classics. Perhaps you’re picking up a book (or four) from the library and you wander over to the discount rack. Forty cent books! you exclaim—internally, of course, since you are in a public library.
You’re on your Kindle, or Nook, or your Canadian knockoff Kinnook, and you see a couple more books that were on your TBR (the To-Be-Read list, for the unaware), and a couple that aren’t, but who can resist the allure of 99 cent cheesy romances or Gutenberg classics downloaded straight into the neverending book bag that is an eReader? Your mother comes over. She knows you love books, and she found a couple while she was decluttering the spare room after watching Tidying up with Marie Kondo on Netflix. You scoff. Chucking out books! you sneer derisively. Books are sacred. Books are good. All other forms of media are EVIL. What is this—a Ray Bradburydystopia?
Can’t finish a book? Enlist your friends for help!
I used to be the sort of person who struggled and slogged through a book for months, completely intent on finishing it, no matter how long it took. Other books piled up around me—many for years and years—as the evil book in question stared at me wherever I went, mocking, taunting me, saying Why aren’t you reading me? You’re still on page 37. Come on, pick me up!
Meet the dreaded DNF, also known as the “Did Not Finish” book. This is the book you’ve picked up, started to read a few pages, and then it dawns on you…this book is awful. Yet, for some reason, insanity compels you to keep reading, page after page after page. It doesn’t get better. You procrastinate by going on Goodreads or Amazon to check out reviews. This book gets amazing halfway through! says one ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ review. So you keep reading. You’re halfway through and it still doesn’t seem to be getting any better. You begin to curse that Amazon reviewer. It must’ve been a friend of the author, you think angrily, throwing your cold mug of tea across the room, startling the cat. They have to be paid reviews!
For many years, I thought it was sacrilegious to give up on a novel. Sure, I DNF’d a couple of books over the decade, but for the most part, I kept reading until the very end. Over the past year, I’ve found it much harder to read a lot, and that’s made it a lot easier to DNF. When you’re not reading very many books in the first place, why should those books all be ones that you’re not enjoying? It’s a surefire way to turn you off reading for life—it’s almost as effective as the terrible literary fiction they make you read in high school (I’m looking at you, Bypass by Michael McGirr!).