Reading Stats: 2017 In Review

Because I can’t ever stay on top the trend or curve of things, here I am, arriving a beat late with a year-end review of my reading stats.

Oh well.

This wrap-up isn’t about how many books I read this year. Some like the challenge of reading a certain number, but I stress myself out enough with trying to write enough, that I shy away from setting a number for books read. Last year, however, I read a post by Rachel Manwill over at BookRiot.com that included a reading tracker that I liked to help me with seeing where I fell in my range of reading. Mostly, I wanted to know if I really was reading #ownvoices, but I downloaded Manwill’s tracker and modified to match what I most cared about. I included gender of author, #ownvoices, category (Adult/YA/Middle Grade), genre, and mode (print/audio).

Some of my basic stats are below. I realized that I had technically read more than the 78 books tracked, since I did not include re-reads, of which I had many more than usual this year.

authorgender_2017

Author Gender – I didn’t have any that were explicitly self-identifying as non-binary, so that stat is unknown.

mode_2017

Mode – Print vs Audio

category_2017

Category: A=Adult, YA=Young Adult, MG=Middle Grade

genre_2017

Genre

It is no surprise to me that female authors outpaced male authors for my stats. For some this is part of the challenge they’ve undertaken, but that has never been an issue for me.

I like seeing that even though contemporary stories are still my mainstay, I continue to read several other genres. “Mystery” was almost entirely dominated by a single author – Louise Penny and her Chief Inspector Gamache series. Those books really helped get me through a challenging year. They also contributed to my new audio book numbers, which I never would have had before a year and a half ago. Having a new job with a commute gave me motivation to try audio books again. I’ve loved the alternative mode of reading.

I am most disappointed with my #ownvoices statistics:ownvoices_201720% is a really poor showing, especially from someone who claims to be an advocate. Obviously this doesn’t mean I’m not an advocate, but it really highlights how much further I have to go in putting my money where my mouth is. I discovered one problem is that any time I got a Kindle First email (Amazon Prime benefit of getting a free Kindle copy of a book each month), I consciously chose an #ownvoices author, but never got around to reading them. Goal for this month: start in on that list!

If you are interested, Rachel Manwill has an updated tracker you can find in her BookRiot post from last month. Or here is mine, modified, with a less pretty “results” tab. Haha.

Some of my top book picks for 2017:

A Great Reckoning (A) – Louise Penny

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (A) – Gail Honeyman

The Hate U Give (YA) – Angie Thomas

As Brave As You (MG) – Jason Reynolds

Here’s to another year of great books ahead! List your top 2017 reads in the comments!

I had a hard time coming up with a good song for this post. I decided on “Last Train Home” by the Pat Methany Group because A) it’s a good song and B) doesn’t it sound nice just to hop on a train and curl up with a good book or two as you watch the world go by?

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When Writing Is Hard: 2017 Version

This post of mine came through my FB memories feed last week. I talked about when writing gets hard. Not simply challenging, but “it’s too hard, I can’t do it.” I wrote the following:

“…writing looked like insomnia. I had some great characters lined up and loved them and their stories. My plot was solid enough to get going and had lots of room for good exploration. I had the will to write it, but just… couldn’t. I forced words onto the page like an insomniac squeezes her eyes shut hoping that will force sleep – or words to come.”

I look at that post now and man, I didn’t even know.

On Wednesday, November 9, 2016, I stopped writing.

I didn’t really start again until April of 2017.

And I struggled.

And struggled.

Finally, words trickled out again. I focused on writing that I knew. Characters that I have already loved. Revisions. Re-writes. I tried out NaNoWriMo again.

None of it’s been easy this year, but in the short spurts of good writing, I’ve felt hope in the process return. I’ve clung to the way I feel when I write and knowing that if I can just get myself going on a daily basis again, the words will flow, and my spirit will find ways to keep rejuvenating.

A writer friend shared this article from the Paris Review about why we should continue to write fiction in 2017, this train wreck of a year (broadly, not necessarily always personally, certainly).

“The need to be present, vocal, and accounted for as citizens is especially obvious in 2017. The moment demands constant vigilance and participation—and the idea of turning inward, even briefly, can feel shameful.”

I know I have not been alone in this. I’ve seen lots of posts throughout the year from writers who have struggled as I’ve done.

When I consider how valuable reading has been for me though, I remember why fiction is so important still. It’s an escape. It’s a message. It’s joy. It’s a call to action. It’s a “what if?” It’s a window into making sense of the world around us.

Writing, and the result of writing, is restorative. Fiction is what has kept me sane. I wish I had worked harder to write more this past year, knowing its power. I hope I remember this moving forward, because honestly, I don’t see much external change in the horizon. It’s all gotta come from me.

I have some Great Things in the works. My one word resolution this past year was commit. And I did. I’m proud of the efforts I put into various areas of my life where I needed to focus more on this choice to commit. The year’s not done! I’m committed to making the Great Things — Writing Things – come to fruition.

How has 2017 been for you? For your writing? How have you worked to overcome the challenges?

“It’s time to wake up from this
Yes it’s time to wake up from this
It’s time to make up for it”

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Creative Commons Has Opinions About Your Thanksgiving Clip Art

The other day, a colleague of mine was in search of photos and clip art for a project that went beyond the bounds of the standard “fair use” within education. Teachers are pretty liberal with the “fair use” clause when it comes to their educational materials, btw. All those popular songs I taught my students in Spanish class? Yeah, back in the day, I burned onto CDs 60 copies of that one purchase for all of them to have a copy. IT WAS FOR THE CHILDREN.

Yeah, so if it’s not for the non-profit world of K-12 education, then all that “fair use” and “for educational purposes” nonsense goes out the window. I used to work for a for-profit online education vendor and learned all about the wonderful world of Creative Commons, which helps you search out images that allow you to both modify and use in a commercial setting.

You know how Amazon sometimes has a rush of really entertaining reviews for goofy products? Remember “Bic for Her”?

I felt a little of this when delving into the world of free-for-all-to-use image galleries of Thanksgiving images. Fear not, if you choose to use something offensive (and boy, there sure is a lot out there for this holiday), the contributors to the OpenClipArt.org database will set you straight.

This photo is all wrong, but it sure looks all friendly-like. (Also, note one of the tags: “propaganda”. Ha!) :

firstthanksgiving_cc

Image credit: openclipart.org

 

You know, just your random Native American “hanging” out with some Pilgrims. In case you didn’t know, those guys he was hanging out with kind of ruined everything after that day, and “that’s a quick history thought”:

indianandpilgrims_cc

  Image credit: Openclipart.org

 

Vegetarians are not to be left out, either – “this guy is handing a murdered bird over…” Also, if you are ever searching for a picture that depicts “dead” – this user has tagged this one to help you out:

deadturkeyandcouple_cc

Image credit: Openclipart.org

 

More murder. THINK ABOUT WHERE THAT TURKEY COMES FROM, ‘KAY?:

shootaturkey_cc

Image credit: Openclipart.org

 

May you all have a relaxing Thanksgiving and use all your clip-art wisely!

 

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Audio Book Hangover

For the past six months, a man named Ralph Cosham has been my traveling companion during my daily work commute. He doesn’t pay for gas, never offers to drive, and never buys me a Dr. Pepper. He doesn’t even thank me for the ride.

Instead, I thank him because what he has brought to my commute is far more valuable. He has brought the characters of my new favorite mystery series to life. He is the audiobook reader for Books 1-10 of Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series.

For several years, I have not had much of a commute (if at all, since I had a few in there where I worked exclusively from home), so audiobooks were not much on my radar. Last year, I started a new job and now my morning commute is 40-50 minutes in the morning and about 30 in the afternoon – perfect for being able to still do one of my favorite things in spite of dealing with annoying traffic. It’s hard to get crabby with a slowdown when it means I can listen to yet one more chapter. I’ve had pretty good luck with books I’ve chosen to listen to, but then I finally started the Louise Penny series and Ralph Cosham took a seat and stayed there.

Obviously, the books have had something to do with it – they are beautifully written and I adore the characters. There’s something magical, though, when the right reader comes along – and is the one who gets to do all of the books in the series. He’s developed the characters in my mind right along with Penny. Cosham is Chief Inspector Armand Gamache.

You know how when a book is so-so-so good that when you finish, you have that ache? It’s a little bit of sadness that it is over, even though it’s also contentedness about the ending? That book hangover? That’s what I had with finishing book 10, The Long Way Home. Honestly, that particular book is a little bit of a let down after her stunning How the Light Gets In, but still good and I savored it because I knew it was the last one that Cosham reads due to his death in 2014.

And while I was able to keep watching the Harry Potter movies in spite of the unfortunate choice in actors to portray Dumbledore after Richard Harris’ death, I don’t have it in me to listen to a new reader for books 10 and beyond of Penny’s. So, I’ve been sad.

Here is what Penny had to say upon Cosham’s death back in 2014:

Just received the desperately sad news that Ralph Cosham passed away yesterday. I’m so sorry to have to tell you – I know for many of you it is like losing Armand. For Michael and me, we’ve lost a cherished friend. I can barely bring myself to believe it. His wife Beverly and family and friends must be devastated. I tried to post a photo of him, but for some reason I couldn’t, so the best I can do is this link to the last interview he gave just over a month ago, to the Washington Post. Oh, Ralph – dear man. Our thoughts and prayers to Beverly and family. And our thanks, dear Ralph, for your kindness and warmth and intelligence, your passion for your work and life. Thank you for bringing Armand et al alive, forever. But mostly, thank you for your friendship. We love you.

“I know for many of you it is like losing Armand.” < — THIS.

And now I am reading, not listening to, book 11, The Nature of the Beast and doing my best to slow down – because that was another joy of listening to these good books, a slower pace to savor and enjoy – and not forget what Armand Gamache sounds like and eagerly await for Jean-Guy Beauvoir to say “Sure” or “Pretty sure” because Cosham had a way of saying those minor phrases for Beauvoir that just… fit.

Sometimes watching a movie that came from a book feels risky, for lots of reasons, but one of them is losing what a character looked or sounded like in your head, but in this case, I am almost worried that I’ll lose the sound of these characters going to print. Some might think I am abnormally attached to Cosham’s portrayal of these characters – I mean, a whole blog post about it? I don’t care. This is what reading is all about. Entering another world and these days, it sure is a needed escape. I appreciate an audio book reader who can make it happen just as well as if I read it on my own. It’s a gift I happily extol.

For all of you audiobook connoisseurs (pause for a moment to applaud myself for spelling that word right, the first time, all on my own), have you gotten attached to certain readers? Share in the comments!

Instead of a video, I think it’s more appropriate to have a sound file instead. An excerpt from chapter one of Cosham’s last Penny recording (link, in case the embed didn’t work below – https://soundcloud.com/audible/the-long-way-home)

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The Little Things

On one of my walks last week, I saw a couple of things that made me smile, and I thought, I haven’t shared this kind of post for a long time, so let’s resurrect it because heaven knows, many of us need these bits these days – as often as we can get them.

A few random things that made me smile:

A 4-day writing retreat in Albuquerque, New Mexico (okay, that’s kind of a big thing, but I had to include it)

Coming home to a family that misses you when you’re away

A kid, doing stunts on his two-wheeler who stops because his brother behind him yells “Stop! Look at this! One-handed” as he rides his bike with training wheels

A girl playing doctor with her big, stuffed bear on her front lawn

11-year olds who still don’t know quite how to use a telephone

Hugs from teachers who are excited you helped fixed something for them

Awesome colleagues

Ralph Cosham’s narration of Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache mystery series

My husband telling the dishwasher salesman all about our tuba player kid to pass the time while filling out paperwork

My friend’s live tweets as a first time viewer of The West Wing

The day that happens every once in a while when I feel confident about my writing

And you? What are some of your random bits that have made you smile lately?

 

 

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Finding Grace: Reading and Writing

I went for a walk yesterday, needing to clear my mind. During that fast-paced walk, I wrote a long, angry blog post in reaction to Charlottesville and to the reactions from others from the top of of our government on down to my friends on Facebook.

I’m not altogether sure I shouldn’t still type out and post all that I wrote in my head, except I have an interview today and while they’ll want to see my passion, it’s probably better if I don’t yell at them. So maybe I should exercise the grace I’ve sought and let the rage settle, at least for today.

As you can see, though, writing has ultimately done its job. While that angry post was only written in my head, it was, in some ways, still written. Catharsis still had its moment.

I didn’t start the summer with a lot of words. I’m not ending it with a ton more. However, I’m once again finding my voice. I’m finding the grace to accept my process, which can move very slowly at times. Part of that process has been these posts on finding grace. Another part was finding that precise song for my playlist to help me tap into a character I’d not yet fully embraced. I wrote about that song last week and how that works for me. And that story is coming back to life, the one I started over a year ago, but had to set aside for awhile. Ideas for how to fix other writing are coming back, too.

This re-awakening has been a long time coming, and with it comes an excitement that settles in and in turn, when passion re-ignites, so does grace, because it’s easy to fill up on courtesy and goodwill when your passions swell.

It’s not just writing, of course. The corollary of writing is always reading (and for me, vice versa) and this summer I read a lot. I had the time to do so and I took full advantage. I also allowed myself a luxury I hadn’t taken advantage of for many years. The joy of re-reading. I used to do this a lot more when I was younger. In recent years I’ve gotten caught up in trying to read All The Books. Trying to stay current. Trying to catch up on all the greats – all the backlisted ones for authors I’ve discovered have more titles to their name. Sometimes I re-read something when a new book in the series is coming out and I want to refresh my memory, but mostly I feel an urgency to keep moving forward, although I can understand the problem with viewing it as such.

Thanks to Netflix airing “Anne with an E”, I got the bug to re-read Anne of Green Gables. And if you give a mouse a cookie, well… you know the rest. Reading the Anne series was like visiting a dear, old friend. It felt lovely. So I alternated: “new” book, old book. I found titles that I knew would make me feel good. Authors that never let me down. Books that soothe. Here’s my list so far:

Anne of Green Gables -L.M. Montgomery

Anne of Avonlea – L.M. Montgomery

Anne of the Island – L.M. Montgomery

Anne of Windy Poplars –  L.M. Montgomery

Anne’s House of Dreams – L.M. Montgomery

Anne of Ingleside – L.M. Montgomery

Bet Me – Jennifer Cruisie

Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell

Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertalli

Along for the Ride – Sarah Dessen

Don’t know if I’m done, yet, and have also remembered that there doesn’t ever have to be a “done” with re-reading. Middle Child is reading Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees for his English class’ summer homework, so I might have to add that to my list.

Here are some new titles of books I’ve read this summer that I’ve also really loved that were new reads:

Binti – Nnedi Okorafor (A)

Mango Delight – Fracaswell Hyman (MG)

As Brave As You – Jason Reynolds (MG)

Once and For All – Sarah Dessen (YA) < — Really, you can’t ever go wrong with a Dessen

Finding grace is always a work in progress, but for now, this is my final installment of ways that I have deliberately sought it over this past summer after realizing a lot of it had slipped away. I welcome your stories on finding grace, too.

Sometimes, “all we can do is keep breathing.”

 

 

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When Music Makes the Story Come Alive

A fellow writer in my writing organization recently asked what song we imagine for the ending credits for our novels-turned-movies. Easy! I know ‘em all. Novel 1: “The Sound of Sunshine” (Michael Franti and Spearhead) first, then “Jabulani – Rejoice” (Ladysmith Black Mombazo). Novel 2: “Brighter Than the Sun” (Colbie Caillat), then “Good Life” (OneRepublic). Novel 3: “I Lived” (OneRepublic), then “Nothing More” (Alternate Routes).

Not that I’ve thought about it that much.

Ha! If you’ve followed me at all, you know that music plays a heavy role in influencing my writing. Every manuscript has a playlist – and it’s almost essential. It’s what I listen to non-stop during my commutes or when I’m cleaning or whatever because it gets me deep into the mood of my story and my characters and who they are.

For my current WIP, I’ve struggled. I started it over a year ago and I have some good scenes written from that time, but then I stalled out. I put it aside to re-work my current project that I’m querying and that was after just stalling out of writing, period, from about November 8 of last year until almost May of this year.

I really love the characters, though, so I delved back in, and am even doing the craft book thing to help me develop the story, because that has been the missing piece.

Until I heard The Song.

One of local radio stations has been playing an old Kelly Clarkson song – “Breakaway”. A few weeks ago, I heard it, but no effect. Then I started really digging into the WIP and heard this song last week and BAM! I thought, THIS is Lizzie at the end of the story. Or not. Somehow, though, even if the lyrics don’t fit – and even if it won’t actually be the end of the story, the tone brought Lizzie to life for me in ways I hadn’t been able to grasp until now.

Though it’s still going s-l-o-w-l-y, I actually have scenes coming to me. Ideas are starting to loosen up. The characters are starting to move in and set up house in my brain. Maybe I’ll even be able to write more than 100 words in a sitting someday soon. Ha.

Does music have the same effect on your writing or ideas? What helps inspire you when you’re stuck?

The Song:

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