Mary at Mary and the Words tagged me yesterday, so I’m going to do this today. She saw it on Jessica’s blog, The Awkward Book Blogger, and from there could not track down the original source. I didn’t know what else to write about this week, so let’s do a tag!
How many books are too many for a series?
A series should go on for as long as it needs to, as long at the author doesn’t start repeating things ad nauseum. Once that starts to happen, I lose interest and stop reading. I pick up on repeated elements, and sometimes I will start counting things (like the phrase “much and more” from later A Song of Ice and Fire books), which distracts me from the book itself. It also varies from genre to genre. If a fantasy series is twenty books long, I’ll shy away from it because most fantasy series require you to finish the entire series to tie up all the loose ends. But a twenty book mystery series is different, because each book will have some kind of story that wraps up by the end, even if the main characters’ personal lives develop and change throughout the series.
How do you feel about cliff-hangers?
I don’t enjoy them. Authors, please write some sort of conclusion. Even if the characters are in a precarious situation, there are ways to provide closure from one book to the next. It feels like cliffhangers are used as a way to get the reader to buy the next book in a series, which seems like a cheap trick to me. If the story is well-written, engaging, and has charismatic characters, then the reader will want to read the next book even if there isn’t a cliff-hanger.
Hardcover or paperback?
Yes. I will read both. I will buy both. It just depends on what’s available, and whether I already have part of a series I want to complete. If I’ve started collecting a series in paperback, I will probably finish collecting in paperback. If I started collecting it in hardback, I will collect the hardbacks. I just want it all to match. One of the most annoying parts of my book collection is my (complete) set of Will Thomas’s Barker and Llewellyn mystery series. I bought the first few in paperback, because that was what was available. But then the series was picked up by a different publisher and started publishing them in hardback. So I bought them in hardback. But the second publisher (St Martin’s) doesn’t have the rights to the first books, so I have a completely unmatched set, and it annoys the heck out of me.
I’m sure you’ll be shocked when I say my favorite book is The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s followed by (in no particular order) Dune by Frank Herbert, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold, and The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart. There are plenty of others that I love, but these are the top titles for me.
Least favorite book?
I’ve got a few of them…
Heir of Fire (Throne of Glass #3) by Sarah J. Maas: The opening line begins with Celaena being sneaky on a rooftop and then devolves into a discussion of local flatbread. The book goes downhill from there.
Winter’s Heart (The Wheel of Time #9) by Robert Jordan: I’d been getting more fed up with the characters, digressions, and repetition for a couple of books by the time I reached Winter’s Heart. By the time millionth time I read the phrase “I wish Rand/Mat/Perrin was here. He knows how to talk to women” I was ready to strangle the lot of them. I skipped the sections that didn’t involve one of the primary characters, and it still took me weeks to finish it.
City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments #1) by Cassandra Clare: Is there a character more annoying than Clary Fray? I don’t think so. Unless it’s Tessa from A Clockwork Angel, but at least she has the setting of Victorian London going for her. Also, I want to punch Jace in the face. I don’t care if he has a tragic past. You can have a tragic past and not be an asshole. A jerk is a jerk is a jerk. They get punched in the face.
Wizard’s First Rule (Sword of Truth #1) by Terry Goodkind: The hell was this book? Aside from a Lord of the Rings knockoff by an author who fancied himself a Deep Thinker Who Wrote Deep Things About Truth? I don’t even know why I finished this book. It was like a train wreck. I wanted to look away, but I just couldn’t.
Love triangles, yes or no?
No. They are overused and not actually triangles.
The most recent book you couldn’t finish?
There have been a few books recently that I didn’t finish because of circumstances– a library book was due back and I couldn’t renew it, or there were ARCs I needed to read and review instead. But I intend to go back to most of the books I’ve most recently put down. When I look back at my bookish records, it looks like the last two DNFs are as follows:
The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader’ by C.S. Lewis: I tried to read The Chronicles of Narnia last year, and despite their short length and quick pace, I found the books to be unbearably twee. If I’d actually read them when I was a child, I would probably like them more. But I didn’t, so I don’t.
The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory: This marks the final Philippa Gregory I will bother with. I’ve attempted four of her books and didn’t finish any of them. It’s clear to me that she doesn’t actually like any of the women she writes about. She managed to turn a child-Margaret Beaufort (who grew up to be a fascinating and politically brilliant woman) into an insufferable prig. Also, so much clumsy info-dumping.
A book you’re currently reading?
As I write this, I’m in the midst of Melmoth by Sarah Perry and The Lays of Beleriand by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien. I plan to start reading Roverandom by J.R.R. Tolkien sometime today.
Last book you recommended to someone?
Someone on the Shelf Space Bookclub’s Discord server was looking for closed circle mystery recommendations the other day. That is, they wanted a murder mystery book where the suspect(s) were part of a limited group of characters who were isolated from the rest of society. I suggested Hell Bay by Will Thomas, which is part of the Barker and Llewellyn series. It takes place on a little island off the British coast, and thanks to a storm and the machinations of the dastardly villain(s), the cast of characters is cut off from the mainland. I also recommended that they check out the entire series if they liked historical mysteries.
Oldest book you’ve read by publication date?
I’ve read the Mesopotamian tale, The Epic of Gilgamesh twice. Once for my Classics 398 class in college, and once on my own, just for the heck of it. It was written on clay tablets as early as the the third millennium BCE, and is the oldest known work of fiction. It’s not a complete work, and in sections it is quite fragmented, but it’s fascinating to read about Gilgamesh the king and his beloved friend Enkidu as they go on their adventures. It is quite touching, too, in later parts of the epic when Gilgamesh is grieving a terrible loss. It’s one of those stories that shows that, no matter how much society changes, people have always been people.
Newest book you’ve read by publication date?
I recently finished an ARC of Dance With Death by Will Thomas, which is due out April 13 of this year. It’s so new it’s not even on shelves yet. And I loved it, because Will Thomas is a fantastic writer who knows how to keep his readers engaged after twelve books. And I’m looking forward to the next installment, thanks to that fantastic ending that opens up a world of questions about what Llewellyn will do next.
J.R.R. Tolkien. Also Lois McMaster Bujold, Neil Gaiman, Hilary Mantel, Jane Austen, the Brontës. And if she keeps writing such excellent books, Katherine Arden will be joining them on this list.
Buying books or borrowing books?
Yes. I will buy my favorite authors’ books, as well as books I think I will most likely love, or if I think I might like them and I find a good deal at the used bookshop downtown. Recently, I’ve been buying longer nonfiction works because they’re often dense and I don’t want to feel pressured to finish them during the library’s three week loan period. But I also love using my library, because it allows me to try new-to-me books without worrying about the cost or wondering where I will store them. I got my library card within the first few months of moving here for college, and I’ve kept it up to date ever since. It was the best $1.00 I ever spent.
A book you dislike that everyone seems to love?
I either dislike or have a mediocre opinion of a lot of the fantasy novels and series that most SFF readers adore. The Wheel of Time, for instance, or any of Brandon Sanderson’s books. I thought the Mistborn books were fine, but they didn’t blow my hair back. But everyone on the Discord server I’m on and on BookTube thinks they’re the best thing ever. Also, I dislike a lot of the popular YA fantasy novels that are hyped because so many of them rely on tropes without doing the trope well or using it in a creative manner. Or they just have bad writing without the benefit of interesting characters or an engaging story.
Bookmarks or dog-ears?
Bookmarks. I have a lot of them hanging about. Every time I buy a book from the used bookstore downtown (which is often, even in pandemic times), I get a bookmark. I have a large coffee mug full of bookmarks. I use bookmarks as cat toys. I collect bookmarks from bookstores I visit when I travel. I will use receipts and random bits of paper as bookmarks. If, somehow, I don’t have a bookmark on hand, I will memorize the page I’m on.
I don’t crease the pages of my books unless it’s an accident.
A book you can always reread?
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. Basically, any of my favorites. I’m always up for listening to the audiobook of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, narrated by Simon Slater, the Penric and Desdemona novellas by Lois McMaster Bujold as narrated by Grover Gardner, or Martha Wells’s Murderbot series. The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison is another audiobook I’m always happy to listen to, and I’ll forever reread or listen to Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy, particularly the first two books, The Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills.
Can you read while listening to music?
Yes, as long as the music matches the tone of the book. I won’t listen to Spotify’s ‘Lute Music for Alchemists’ while reading a space opera, for example. I also don’t like to listen to music in a language I am more than a little familiar with, as I’ll just try to listen to the words or decipher the words in the language I’m studying. This works out just fine, as I usually listen to classical music or instrumental film soundtracks.
Sometimes, I’ll read without music, but I like to have some sort of sound going in the background, even if it’s a white noise like rain or ocean waves. I have tinnitus, so having a constant ringing in my ears sometimes makes it difficult to focus on what I’m reading if it’s completely silent.
One POV or multiple?
Whatever works, as long as it’s done well. Multiple points of view can be more difficult to pull off because the characters each need a distinctive voice and a solid reason to be carrying the narrative thread. Otherwise, I’m sitting there wondering why I’m reading about some rando on the other side of the world when I’d much rather be reading about the characters I started the whole adventure with. Sure, it expands the world when you add perspectives, but are they really necessary? Did I need fifteen pages from The Man Who Called Himself Bors at the beginning of Robert Jordan’s The Great Hunt? No. Do we need any of the new perspectives that George R.R. Martin threw at us in A Feast for Crows or A Dance With Dragons? Probably not.
Do you read a book in one sitting or over multiple days?
I used to have the time to just sit down and start a five hundred-page book in the morning and finish it later that day, but I have a job and responsibilities and other hobbies and stupid housework, so I rarely finish a book in a single sitting anymore, unless it’s very short or a graphic novel. These days, it will take me days– sometimes weeks– to finish a book. I long for those days when I could get lost in a book for hours on end. They were the best.
Who do you tag?
Whoever wants to do this, feel free to do it.