What I’m Reading, June 2015

I know, I know, I’m super late at posting this. If you’re lucky you’ll get July’s book reviews by the end of the month. Don’t hold your breath, though. Enough intro, on to the books.

Manga! I read several manga volumes over Memorial Day weekend. I’m not going to rate them here.

Baby-Sitters Club: I’m on a quest to read the whole series (which will get its own post eventually), and I read a few of these books over the last couple of months. I’m not assigning ratings to them either because most of them are just okay, but they hold a lot of nostalgia value for me.

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel: I listened to this one. While there were some parts of this book that I disagree with, Peter Thiel does a good job of explaining everything he discusses. It’s not perfect, and some parts could be fleshed out more, but if you want a good guide to building something totally new, this is your book. (4/5)

Redwall by Brian Jacques: I didn’t grow up with much fantasy, which is why I’m trying to catch up now. This book is part of those efforts. And honestly? I couldn’t keep myself focused on the story. It wasn’t a bad story, but there was a lot going on all the time and I had a hard time telling everything apart. I probably would have liked this as a kid, though. (3/5)

The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World by Chris Guillebeau: I loved The $100 Startup, so I had high hopes for this one. It didn’t disappoint. In fact, my main complaint was that I already knew a lot of the stuff in the book, but that’s the point of self-help-esque books: they tell you things you already know and then you forget to act on them later. (4/5)

American Gods by Neil Gaiman: I tried so hard to like this book, knowing that lots of my Goodreads friends love it. But in the end… I didn’t like this story. Almost nothing grabbed my interest in the first couple of hundred pages and the gods aspect of the story felt flat and boring. There are about a hundred pages later in the book where things actually happen, but for the most part this book was pretty dull. (3/5)

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple: A mom disappears and her kid pieces emails, bank statements, and more together to figure out where she went. This book was delightfully messed up and more than it seems on the surface, but I can’t say more without spoilers. If you like messed up characters and semireliable narrators, you’ll like this one. (4/5)

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn: Remember my love of messed-up characters? This book fits the bill perfectly. A reporter goes back to her small hometown to investigate a murder and gets tangled up in lots of things. The main character was complex and flawed. The story kept moving at a steady clip, and boy was I not ready for the twist at the end. Zooming through this book in an afternoon was totally worth it. (5/5)

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon: I tried to like this book, but in the end so many of the characters were alike. Interesting premise (though come on, polyamory has been a thing for years!) but didn’t grab my attention enough to grab the second book. (3/5)

Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace by Nikil Saval: I listened to this book. While it took awhile to get into, I finally found myself enjoying the history and other tales of the workplace. (4/5)

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho: I tried to like this book, but in the end it came off as preachy to me and honestly I don’t see why so many people have called this book lifechanging. Most of the lessons were obvious, the characters were boring, and this could have been told much better. (2/5)

Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxanne Gay: I wasn’t sure what to make of this book. Some of the essays had me screaming “Yes! YES!” out loud (which gets you weird looks when you’re out running, by the way). Others rambled without settling on a central point. Still, it was interesting to hear bite-sized perspectives on feminism. (3/5)

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou: Another one I wasn’t sure about at first. It took some time, but in the end the story and its lovely prose grabbed me enough to forgive some of the flaws. (4/5)

Crusher by Niall Leonard: This book was kind of boring to me. The prose was clunky, the characters were dull and one-sided, and a lot of the story left me asking why… but not in the “what’s happening next” way, more like the “why is this happening because it makes no sense” way. (2/5)

Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieh: The CEO of Zappos wrote this book, and it’s often cited as an excellent guide to company culture and service. It’s one part memoir, one part company culture guide. What this book does well, it does very well–explaining how Zappos got to where it did. However, a lot of this book also left me annoyed at the characters in this story. Still, I didn’t actively dislike it, and the book does enough well for me to get something out of it. (3/5)

What I’m Reading, May 2015

Golden Son by Pierce Brown: I was really looking forward to this book after Red Rising, but the sequel fell flat. Sure, there was plenty of action, but most of the book was political talking talking talking. When a big chunk of a book is dialogue, the characters need to be easy to tell apart. Not the case here, and Brown complicates this by not using speaker tags regularly. I hear this is a trilogy, but despite the cliffhanger ending, I can’t bring myself to care about the third book. (3/5)

This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper: This book was delightfully messed up. The writing is raw and emotional, and all the characters have distinct stories that made me feel for them, which meant I zoomed through this book in an afternoon. If I ever write a book about my messed-up family, I can only hope to tell the story as well as this one. (4/5)

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah: I’m a sucker for World War II stories, especially set in France, which meant I really liked this book. The story was complex and moving, the characters were multidimensional and interesting, and the plot grabbed me from the beginning. The story was slow in a few parts, but overall this book was very well done. (4/5)

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin: This book was… okay. I enjoyed reading the narrator’s story at parts, but the flow of the story annoyed me. I couldn’t bring myself to care at some points, wondering when the story would get to the point. This just in: I strongly prefer plot-driven stories than character-driven stories like this one. (3/5)

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan: I liked the overall story; think Victorian era with dragons. The main character and narrator is a dragon naturalist in a time when women were not generally encouraged to do much more beyond marry well. This book is the first in a series, and since it’s a life story told in a series, I suspect the good stuff is yet to come. I’d read a sequel. (4/5)

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt: This is the first audiobook I completed reading, and it was an excellent first choice. The book is easy to follow and read by the author. He explains the concepts of moral psychology in great detail, but not so much detail that you feel bogged down. Everything is easy to follow while still remaining research-centric. This book needs to be required reading for everyone who thinks they’re right when it comes to religion or politics. (5/5)

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman: I really liked this book overall. It moved slowly in parts, but overall it explained how we think in a way that’s understandable to everyone. I won’t tihnk about thinking the same way again. (4/5)

Proof: The Science of Booze by Adam Rogers: This book was a lot of fun. It covers every stage of alcohol, from the yeast to the hangover. Each chapter got its own storyline that made the science of that stage into something entertaining and educational. And while the chapters were dense, they were easy to digest and understand… without the hangover. (4/5)

Blackout by Mira Grant: I finished the second book in the series and made grabby hands for the third book. Book three did not disappoint. Holy crap. My main complaint was that the book just… ended without much in the way of wrapup. I was all set to give this book an easy five and then it ended and I wasn’t sure what to make of that ending. The entire series is worth reading, so go read them. (4/5)

Without Their Permission: How the 21st Century Will Be Made, Not Managed by Alexis Ohanian: This book is one part memoir by a founder of Reddit, one part telling the stories of making without waiting on someone to give you permission. I enjoyed reading it, even though the book left me wondering what the focus really was. P.S. Alexis, I still haven’t finished editing my book yet. (4/5)

Vicious by V.E. Schwab: I wanted to like this. I tried really hard to like it, but in the end it fell flat. By the time the characters and story were developed enough for me to care about them, the story was already half over. I loved another of her books, so this may be a case of liking the YA books more than the adult books. (3/5)

The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick: I listened to this book, and while it was more technical in places, the history was still easy to follow. My main gripe was that the audiobook was read at a lower volume than was comfortable to listen to while running, which was complicated by my crappy headphones. (4/5)

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell: This book was delightful. The plot was simple, the characters were delightful, and the story was believable and real. The 1999 references in the setting were well-done without being over the top. (4/5)

What’s next? I’m not sure. My to-read stack is growing, and some manga has made its way to the pile as well. I’m not sure how I should count those books, even though I’ve already reached my 2015 reading goal… in May. Time to go for last year’s total again.

Attention, Audiobooks, and Me

Confession: I am terrible at doing nothing. Or to be more accurate, I’m terrible at doing only one thing at once.

This doesn’t mean I’m always multitasking, having my mind on Twitter and IRC and whatever I’m working on all at once; in fact, the opposite is true. Our brains were’t meant for multitasking, and switching between these tasks all day, every day, means that instead of doing all the things, I find myself getting very little done. If I don’t respond to something during the standard workday, now you know why; if I let myself lose focus on one thing, it takes a long time to get back in the sweet spot of getting things done while not beating myself up for doing other things during the day.

This need to maximize my getting things done means that I don’t do games or movies or TV shows or Youtube videos well. I have to devote all my attention to these things in order to follow what’s happening. But still, the guilt creeps in. When I’m devoting all my attention to one of these activities, especially lately, I think: What ELSE could I be doing? Can’t I take on something else to maximize productivity and therefore feel less guilty about all that time I do spend browsing the Internet or chatting with people or playing casual phone games? This isn’t from lack of trying. I’ve tried doing other things while watching a movie or show, but eating a meal is about as complex as this multitasking activity gets. Interestingly, I don’t feel this way about reading books, probably because I can listen to soft music while reading and because I truly enjoy books.

Why do I bring this up? I started running last month. The idea of running or walking without a destination in mind is simultaneously fun and guilt-inducing. Why am I wandering around? Sure, these activities are helping me get into shape, but isn’t there something else I can be doing too? What about listening to something besides the same songs on my phone? The guilt and antsiness don’t show up (or at least, don’t show up as much) if I’m walking with a destination in mind. But when I’m wandering or just going on a run (where the destination is the same spot I left), the antsiness creeps in. Can I be doing more right now? Why do I complain about not having enough time for everything if I’m just going on a run with no destination in mind, with nothing new to consume?

This feeling isn’t unique to running. I experience the same feelings to a lesser extent while doing chores around the house, but the ability to stream new songs without using mobile data mostly alleviates the guilt. Music is the obvious solution here, and I have a small collection of tunes on my phone for this purpose. But lately the tunes have become repetitive, despite containing many of my favorites. I needed something new.

Audiobooks were the next solution. My brain doesn’t process spoken works of fiction well, so I was hesitant at first. A couple of months ago I brought an audiobook on a road trip for a friend’s wedding, and I had no idea what was going on at all. Something about Disney World and being immortal, but the back cover could have told me that.

Nonfiction was a different beast, I told myself. Nonfiction books are practically designed to be read in chunks. Especially if the nonfiction dealt with light topics that don’t require analysis after every paragraph, I could probably listen to and process a work of nonfiction. So I went back to my local library’s audiobook selection, selected a book on moral psychology (The Righteous Mind), and then hit play while cleaning the house on Saturday monring.

And you know what? It worked great. I was already familiar with some of the experiments in the book, but even the new findings were easy to take in and process while doing an activity that didn’t require all of my focus. I took the audiobook out on a walk yesterday afternoon and took in everything fine there too, despite missing a few parts when a car zoomed past.

I haven’t finished the current audiobook yet, but so far it looks like nonfiction audiobooks and I are going to get along just fine.

(Side note: if Baby-Sitters Club audiobooks are a thing, let me know because my familiarity with the storyline and the short book lengths would make these audiobooks just right.)

What I’m Reading, March and April 2015

Better late than never, right? Since it’s been awhile since I’ve posted a new review post, here are some more short reviews. (Okay, the real reason you’re getting six-word-ish reviews for most of these is because I was eating a delicious ham and apple sandwich and killing time while writing most of this post.)

Onward!

The Trouble with Goodbye by Sarra Cannon: This series is a new adult and different from Demons but I still enjoyed it. (4/5)

Red Rising by Pierce Brown: Some WTF elements and unneeded scenes, but I liked it enough to check out the sequel. (4/5)

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr: This tickled my French and WW2 nerdery, and even though it dragged along in parts, I zoomed right through the book. (4/5)

No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State by Glenn Greenwald: Love love love. If you have any interest at all in privacy issues, this is the book for you to read. I recommend reading a physical copy or on a large ereader because there are many images with text in them to read. (5/5)

Dataclysm: Who We Are by Christian Rudder: This book is written very casually, which helps the layperson with no mathematical knowledge pick up on the topics very quickly. Rudder brushed over a few topics, but overall this is an enlightening read. (4/5)

Deadline by Mira Grant: Oh. My. Goodness. This book was fast-paced and well-written and I need the third book NOW. (5/5)

The Martian by Andy Weir: Great voice for the story, well-written, and the technical stuff isn’t so technical that a layperson can’t follow along. (5/5)

Cress by Marissa Meyer: Finally read the third book! The first book is still my favorite of the three so far, but this one holds its own. Can’t wait for the fourth book. (4/5)

The Maze Runner by James Dashner: Despite so many friends liking this book, I couldn’t get into it at all. It dragged along and left me asking why, but not the good kind of why that keeps you turning hte page. It was more like a “Why on earth is this happening” why. No plans to check out the rest of the series. (2/5)

Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us by Kate Bornstein: I liked many of the points and analysis the author brought up on trans* and gender issues. However, the reason this book gets a 3 instead of a 4 is because the book rambles a lot. There were parts where I had trouble following the author’s train of thought and wondering if there was one in the first place. Still, I might check out her other work if it’s written in a different format; I’ve heard good things about My Gender Workbook. (3/5)

Godspeed by February Grace: Disclosure–I follow the author on Twitter. This is a beautiful story with love, steampunk, and mysteries. (4/5)

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline: I tried to like this book, but I only cared about the historial aspect of the orphan trains because the present-day element wasn’t well developed at all. The relationship that was supposed to be built between the two main characters was shaky and ill-established at best, and the story suffered for it. (3/5)

Mistborn: The Final Empre by Brandon Sanderson: The first half is slow, but I’m glad I stuck with this story because the second half was jam-packed with action and relatable characters. Reading the second book is going to happen. (4/5)

Where She Went by Gayle Forman: This book is told from Adam’s point of view and takes place about three years after If I Stay. And as much as I liked the first book, this one is even fuller of raw emotion and romance, hitting me straight in the romantic feelings. (5/5)

What’s next: Golden Son by Pierce Brown. This is the sequel to Red Rising, and I’m about two chapters in now. I haven’t had much of a chance to sit down and read, but that’ll happen in the next few days, especially given my current book stack.

Why I don’t reread books

A few months ago I read an article in The Guardian that pointed out a somber fact: I’m roughly a third of the way through all the books I’ll ever read. Considering I’m in my late twenties and am about a third of the way through my life, this really hits home the fact that I’m going to read finitely many books.

When I was a kid, I would reread books all the time. I’m not sure where or why this habit began; after all, I had access to a school library, a county library, a church library, and of course my own book collection on a regular basis. But despite all these wonderful places to obtain new books, I still found myself rereading many of the same books over and over again. Books were my friends, something I could turn to in during a time when I didn’t have too many friends. If I chose to read a new book, I might not like it. That didn’t stop me from reading, but in a way it stopped me from grabbing something completely new.

But over the years, something changed. I started making new friends who like books as much as I do, friends who read more voraciously and more variety than I ever read in my childhood. These were the friends who devoured the Sweet Valley Twins and Terry Pratchett and Brian Jacques and Tolkien and so many other authors I never read as a kid… all because of my desire to reread the same books. (Though I’m probably not missing much with the Sweet Valley Twins.) I ended my accidental book fast and found myself on Goodreads in search of more things to read, only to realize I had no idea how to discover books. Even though I love bookstore and library shelves, browsing a physical shelf overwhelms me because of the sheer number of books. Which ones are good? Which ones aren’t? Did I just skip the novel that will change my life? So I’ve started relying on online browsing and friends to curate my tastes a little more in the hopes that I can use one book as a jumping ground for something completely new. For the most part, this has worked, but I still have a long way to go.

Now, in fairness, my tastes in books have changed since childhood. I didn’t read too much science fiction and fantasy as a kid, and many of my current friends gravitated toward those genres even then. But there are still many books outside those genres that I had access to back then but just never got around to reading, instead clinging to my dog-eared paperback friends. It’s time to change that.

According to Goodreads, I’ve read 559 books as of this writing. I’ve abandoned about six more that I can remember, a surprisingly low number. This number doesn’t include all the books I’ve ever read, although I’ve tried to add books from my childhood as they return to my memory. Assuming I don’t remember titles for half the books from my childhood (a conservative estimate considering how quickly I’ve gone through some books), let’s say I’ve read 1200 books so far. This is a reasonable assumption and roughly on par for what the author of that Guardian article has read so far.

If I continue reading over a hundred books a year every year, I can read far more than 2,000 more books during the rest of my life. And I’m going to make those books count.

State of the Sushi, April 2015

While this site is all about me and the things I like, it’s not a true lifeblog, at least not the types of lifeblogs that I wrote ten years ago. But there are some things that Twitter and other social sites aren’t quite as great for, and getting the big picture update of one’s life is one of those things. Enough stuff has happened lately that it all seems like a blur, so here goes.

Fitness! I mentioned that one of my 2015 goals was to get off my butt and get moving. I barely made any progress on this during the winter, but then lots of things happened. Spring happened, which was a welcome arrival for me because my body was sick and tired of winter. But an even better thing happened than spring (and no, I don’t mean fall). Accountability happened. It’s well-known[citation needed] that having an accountability buddy makes you more motivated to accomplish a goal. This applies for just about everything, from writing a novel to going to the gym. I still have no plans (or money) for a gym membership, but several friends are also tracking their fitness and trying to get healthier. I’ve joined them in this quest, and having several someones to stay accountable to has been really helpful. I’ve already reached my 50k for the month (yes, 50 kilometers; that’s roughly 30 miles, or a mile a day). It’s the 17th, so I may have up my goal. More on that in a minute.

While we’re still talking about fitness, I also started running recently. In a surprising turn of events, I have not started to hate everything yet. It started innocently enough; I was walking home from somewhere a few weeks ago and reached a downhill stretch. “You know, I’m already walking pretty fast,” I told myself. “I could go down this hill a little faster.” So I started running down the hill and got home relatively unscathed. That’s when I started thinking to myself, “Hey, I could make running a regular thing.” I’ve done exactly that since. I’m still alternating between walking and running, but I’m pulling off a 15-minute mile consistently (and not dying in the process) by combining the two. In related news, a friend and I are doing a 5k next weekend. It’ll be my first; it’s her second since she did one a couple of weeks ago. Also, ducks are involved.

Camp NaNoWriMo/Wikiwrimo! These are going together because they are, at least for my purposes, the same thing right now. See, I have a terible track record with Camp NaNoWriMo. I usually try to work on a second draft, and for some reason that doesn’t work well for me. That’s why I decided to work on Wikiwrimo for camp. Since writing 50k words in a wiki full of existing content is a challenge at best, and since tracking characters is easier than words in a wiki, I decided to add 50k characters of content to the wiki. Most of this content has come from adding 2014 stats and content to the regional directory, and so far I’ve finished the rest of the world outside of the US (and Ontario, since that province has a lot of NaNo regions). I’m at around 45k characters added so far with plenty more to add in May. This way, all the 2014 regional info will be updated before new Municipal Liaisons are selected and some old ones step down. Since a lot of regional pages don’t exist and I’m creating them as I go, this has added a lot to my character count as well, meaning I’ll hit 50k soon and will probably up my goal.

But what would I up my goal to? I thought about 75k, and then I remembered that I’m at 50k for my exercise goal as well. Why not up both of those goals to 75k? Or more challenging, keep the two counts as close as I can for the month. When I up (or lower) one goal, that lowers the other as well. Hmmmmm. That could work.

(Oh, and the funny part? This has taken about as much time as writing a novel, even if 50k characters is much smaller than 50k words.)

Reading! I’m well on track for 60 books this year, and I’m going to try and finish reading book #50 by the end of this month. This will put me very close to on track for 120 books like last year, especially keeping in mind that I don’t read too much in October and November. Okay, let’s be honest, I’m almost certainly shooting for triple digits again, even if it means reading another big batch of Baby-Sitters Club books one night.

Writing! …Okay, I haven’t done as much writing lately. That’s a lie. I’ve written in my paper journal a LOT ever since things from meatspace have started to calm down. But I haven’t touched my fiction, and as you can probably guess, I haven’t written in here at all. Time to get back on that train.

Social life! Let’s see, what has happened over the past few months? I hosted an out of town friend, I hosted a taco party for Valentine’s Day with people who would snicker at that term as much as you and I are, I went to a conference on diversity in tech and gaming, I went to Charleston for a friend’s wedding, I met a cousin who was visiting from South Korea (and hosted her for a weekend of her stay), I went to a few board game nights, and I saw a live Welcome to Night Vale show. That’s just since the beginning of February. Whew. That is a lot now that I look at it all typed out. I’ve been cherishing all my free time on the weekends because introverts gotta introvert.

Anything else? I think that covers the big stuff, but I’m willing to talk and write about any of these things in more detail. So ask away!

Terry Pratchett Book Recommendations

In case you didn’t hear, fantasy author Terry Pratchett died today. He was 66.

I have a confession. The only Pratchett novel I’ve read is Good Omens, his collaboration with Neil Gaiman. A couple of you might remember that time I met Neil Gaiman. Ever since Neil Gaiman signed my copy of the book, this only increased my desire to add Terry Pratchett’s signature as well. Alas, it was not to be.

I tweeted this confession, and book recommendations immediately followed. Given Pratchett’s enormous bibliography and many possible places to begin reading, I embraced and welcomed these recs. Since tweets are by nature ephemeral, I’m documenting these recommendations for future reference. Maybe these recs will help you too.

(Note: these are not listed in order of being written or popularity, or by who recommended them. I started this, but it got unwieldy quickly.)

Guards! Guards! (multiple recs)

Monstrous Regiment

Going Postal

The Truth (multiple recs)

The Long Earth

Small Gods (multiple recs)

The Color of Magic (note: this is the first Discworld novel)

Reaper Man (multiple recs)

Lords and Ladies

Fifth Elephant

Thud!

Snuff

Interesting Times

Night Watch

Hogfather

Dodger

The storylines featuring the watch and the witches (not sure which books these are, for the recommender did not specify)

There was also a general suggestion to read them all in order, a technique I usually embrace when reading series. This excellent pictoral guide to Pratchett’s books also came up, along with choosing your next books based on which characters you love.

Even though these are a lot of books, they give me an idea of where to start. Where do you plan on starting (or continuing) your Pratchett adventure?

What I’m reading, February (and early March) 2015

Hello, Internet! (Hi Sushi!) My lack of blogging is due to lots of things: winter blues, whatever makes my toes itchy and miserable in the winter taking over my fingers (and therefore making typing miserable), the fact that I spend a lot of my work day looking at screens (this becomes a problem when your hobbies also involve screens)… but I have been reading like no one’s business. So in order to make myself post again, here are some six-word reviews of what I’ve been reading lately. Because even I can manage writing six words per book.

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson: Liked the Primer, not the rest. (3/5)

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz: Heartbreakingly beautiful gay Mexican teenagers. Love. (5/5)

The Awakening by Kate Chopin: Appreciated feminist ideas. Story is bleh. (2/5)

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins: Dense, tends to ramble. Still interesting. (4/5)

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer: Good book, but 1st was better. (4/5)

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James: Rather boring for a scary story. (2/5)

Book of Enchantments by Patricia C. Wrede: Entertaining short stories. I’d read more. (4/5)

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf: Good thesis but dull at parts. (3/5)

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman: Entertaining and I love the MC. (4/5)

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs: Flat characters but still good story. (4/5)

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: Suspenseful but crashed at the end. (4/5)

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart:
Text.
Written.
Like.
This.
So.
Annoying. (2/5)

Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age by Cory Doctorow: So much love for this book. (5/5)

What’s next? I’m not sure. It depends on whether any of my library holds come in tomorrow since I’m first in line for several of them, both physical books and ebooks. (Yes, I’m one of those people who keeps her library holds maxed out almost all the time.) But since I read three books this weekend, it’s probably time for a brief book break. Clearly I’m spending that book break writing about books. That’s how I roll.

Want to see these reviews sooner? Follow me on Goodreads and get my ratings as soon as the books are done.

Ebooks, borrowing, and Overdrive

Let’s talk about books.

I recently discovered Overdrive, a service that lets you borrow ebooks from your local library. Since winter is here and I don’t like leaving the house when it’s cold outside, I installed the Overdrive app on my phone in the hopes of finding some good ebooks in my local library, then created an Overdrive account to make my life easier.

The app itself is very minimalist. You have to add library systems manually or browse for locations. Since you can search by zip code, finding your local branch isn’t difficult provided your library system is on Overdrive. (The library where I grew up is not on Overdrive, for instance, which is a shame.)

From your list of libraries, you can access the Overdrive site for the library of your choice. This is key; not all Overdrive books are available at all libraries.

Unfortunately, the individual library’s Overdrive site isn’t really mobile-optimized. Well, it kind of is, but tapping on the links to view a book would probably be difficult for people with big fingers. Heck, my own small fingers had a hard time. At least you don’t have to type in your login info every time; the individual library’s Overdrive site can save your login info so you don’t have to type in your library card number on a tiny keypad.

These gripes may be minor, but added up, they made the experience frustrating enough that I gave up on the app. That’s okay because you can browse libraries’ ebook collections on Overdrive’s website in a regular browser. The website will save your library’s login info if you let it, so no digging through your wallet for your library card and trying to remember your PIN. And personally I found browsing the book selection on the website much easier than on the app.

Many books come with multiple checkout options; you can download a Kindle or PDF copy, or you can just read in the browser. I opted for the Kindle copy to test this since I was already familiar with reading books on my phone’s Kindle app. My experiences with the Overdrive app told me I did not want to try reading a full book within the app, so Kindle it was.

This is where the fun part begins. I told Overdrive to download the book to my Kindle app. It took me to the Amazon site to confirm the checkout. In a regular browser, this worked just fine: I’m almost always logged into Amazon and could confirm the checkout. But if you check out the book on a mobile device, the browser takes you to Amazon to confirm the checkout… and chances are good you’re not already logged in. The frustration was compounded by accessing the main Amazon site, not a mobile site. Fumbling around to log into Amazon on my phone was even worse than the minor gripes I had about the Overdrive app. This problem probably goes away if you’re reading on an actual Kindle as opposed to an app, but I don’t have a Kindle to test this on.

But once you download a book, you’re set to read, and I had no problems with that. Sure, there are some gripes about how the mobile Kindle app handles and displays the library books, but besides that, reading the book presented no major problems.

What did present a major problem was using Overdrive in conjunction with my library’s catalog. The main library catalog is inconsistent in including the Overdrive collection. Some books (like Remote) don’t show up in the library’s catalog despite being on Overdrive, while the ebook edition for other books do. I still haven’t figured this one out, but overall my biggest gripe is having to search for a book twice if it doesn’t come up on the first search. This should be solvable, so get on it, AFPL.

Still, despite all my gripes about Overdrive, I’m still using it as a supplement to physical books. But screw the app; I’ll stick to the Overdrive website and downloading the books there.

What I’m reading, January 2015

Another year, another book review post. Part of the reason I’ve been putting this off is because January has been a disappointing month for the books I’ve read. There were some good ones, but there were also a lot of disappointments. So instead of the traditional review post, I’m going to write six-word reviews and stop beating myself up about not doing this sooner.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami: Should have been 200 pages shorter. (3/5)

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain: Introversion != social anxiety or antisocial. (3/5)

The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin: Mostly the blog, but still good. (4/5)

Wool by Hugh Howey: Just couldn’t get into this book. (3/5)

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo: Satisfying ending to a good trilogy. (4/5)

The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson: Educational, entertaining, but very few women. (5/5)

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke: Slightly disappointing ending but good read. (4/5)

Landline by Rainbow Rowell: Disappointing compared to her other books. (3/5)

Feed by Mira Grant: Fast plot and zombies. Good book. (4/5)

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: Didn’t stand up to the hype. (3/5)

A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray: Alternate universes unlike my novel. Whew. (4/5)

The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski: Intriguing plot, characters, and alternate universes. (4/5)

Crewel by Gennifer Albin: Good parts but book fell flat. (3/5)

Including the Baby-Sitters Club and Baby-Sitters Little Sister books I’ve read on my quest to finish the series, I read 21 books in January. So about that goal of sixty books…

Up next: I’m picking up three books at the library tomorrow. Which one will I read first? Who knows. All I know is that I’m sick tired of first person present. I’m a little less sick of first person considering the number of first person book I’ve read in a row. If one of these books has a third-person narrative, it’ll definitely get read sooner than later.