Tag Archives: reading

2013 Reading List

So after reading 137 books in 2012 and writing a book about it, I felt a fair amount of self-imposed pressure to keep it up in 2013. I didn’t want it to be a fluke. Clearly it wasn’t a fluke, just an insatiable love for reading.

I dove in to so many great worlds through books in the past year. The number doesn’t really matter, just that joy of reading.

Of course we like numbers. This year I hit 146.

That sounds crazy. And intimidating. If you want to read more, don’t focus on my crazy numbers. Just find some books you love and start reading. I’ve got plenty of tips for you.

I’ll be putting together a top five (or 10 or 15) list of my favorite books of the year, like I did last year, but I’ll need some time to whittle that list down (Update: Here’s my top 10 fiction of 2013). Though it will probably include The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Martian and something by Rainbow Rowell.

I had a few trends this year, including getting into some great new authors (John Scalzi, Hugh Howey, Rainbow Rowell, Neal Stephenson and Mira Grant), tackling a few classics (I’m not big on classics) including Call of the Wild, The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass, Chinua Achebe and Anne Frank (yeah, somehow I’d never read her diary), and getting into the history of the civil rights movement (which included discovering a new hero in Pauli Murray). And like always, I read a lot of post-apocalyptic sci-fi.

You can also check out my previous reading lists: 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002 and 2001.

So let’s get to it. Here’s my reading list for 2013:

Continue reading 2013 Reading List

Some of My Favorite Books

While writing my recent book, 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, I tried to reflect on some of my favorite books of all time, and especially what makes them my favorite books.

These kinds of lists are always hard and weirdly defined and vary greatly from one person to the next. So you’ll have to bear with me. I stuck to fiction and a sense of longevity, which I’ll try to explain next.

It seems that some of my favorites are books I keep coming back to. Either I remember the plot even decades later or the ideas the stories brought up just keep coming back to my mind. To be a real favorite it needed to have that kind of longevity. There are books I loved, but years later I couldn’t tell you what happened. Those are still good books, but they didn’t quite make my vaguely defined cut.

So here are some of my favorite fiction books from throughout my reading life:

Ask me tomorrow and I’d probably come up with a different list, but there you go. Oddly enough, few of my favorite authors ended up in the list (such as Anne Lamott, Barbara Kingsolver, Madeleine L’Engle, etc.), perhaps because while I love their writing, often their stories either don’t stand out or blur together because I’ve read so many of them. I couldn’t tell you plot points in Crooked Little Heart or Prodigal Summer, but I did love those books when I read them. For whatever reason, they just didn’t stick with me (perhaps candidates for a re-read?).

So what are some of your favorite books (regardless of how you define ‘favorite’)?

Reading on an iPhone

Reading Fat Vampire on an iPhoneI’ve never been big on digital reading, but I might be converting.

My experience with digital reading usually involves borrowing my wife’s iPad. That’s problematic because it’s hers so she gets dibs. That makes it hard to read a book whenever I have an idle moment (yes, one of the many lessons in my how to read more book). I did read the entire Hunger Games series on her iPad, but in general I don’t like having to share the device.

Then last week I noticed the book Fat Vampire by Johnny B. Truant was free for the Kindle, so I grabbed it. This was potentially problematic because I wasn’t sure how to get the book from my account on my iPhone to my wife’s account on her iPad (I don’t even know if it’s possible or not—I imagine there’s a way, but this just shows you how little I’ve experimented with digital books).

I never considered just reading it on my iPhone, but the prospect of figuring out how to transfer the book and having to share my wife’s device made me give it a try.

So I read Fat Vampire on my iPhone.

iPhone Reading Verdict?
Good book. And I loved the reading experience.

I thought the small screen would be irritating. I thought flipping pages more often would get old. I thought having so many other distractions on my iPhone would pull me away from the book. Nope, nope and nope.

The screen displayed the right amount of text and a comfortable size. Flipping pages more often was no big deal. If anything, having less text visible at a time made it faster to read because I didn’t keep losing my place when there were a lot of distractions. I also found it super convenient to have a book in my pocket. I take my phone everywhere, so I had a book everywhere (another lesson from 137 Books in One Year).

I’m curious how it would go reading a longer book. Fat Vampire was pretty short and that seemed to help. I might yearn for the printed page with a longer book. My only real complaint with digital reading is not having an immediate sense of how much of the book I have to go. There’s a progress bar that shows your percent read, but you don’t always see that. A physical book you can just feel how much you have to go. I like the reality of a printed book, especially that it’s easy to share and it retains value. But the experience itself is just as good, if not better for some things.

So I might be doing more digital reading now.

I guess iPhone reading shouldn’t come as a surprise. According to Jim Kukral, 62% of people said they’d read a book on their iPhone.

Fat Vampire?
OK, I know you’re wondering: Fat Vampire? I first heard about the book when researching how to create Kindle books and came across Truant’s post about taking only 29 days to go from idea to Kindle publication. That’s impressive, but it’s not enough to get me to read your book. What got me to read his book was the idea: If vampires never grow old and always heal, then what if a fat person is turned into a vampire? Will they always be fat? Fat Vampire turns the normal vampire story upside down by exploring this funny angle. The 29 days thing is cool, but the idea sold the book.

What I’ve Read in 2013

My favorite book of 2013: The Time Traveler's WifeYeah, yeah, yeah: Last year I read 137 books. What have I done lately?

In January 2013 I managed to read 14 books. If I keep up that pace I’ll be reading 168 books this year. So whatever I learned last year and poured into my booklet 137 Books in One Year, it works.

Reading what you love is still great advice. The books I loved last month I flew through. One was 766 pages, but I read it in a few days. If you love it, the length doesn’t matter (the opposite is also true: The 550-page The Book Thief took me about a week because I didn’t love it).

Finding good books is important. A lot of my favorites this month were suggestions from Adam Shields (who I interviewed in 137 Books in One Year). I also stuck to favorite authors (Anne Lamott, Madeleine L’Engle, John Scalzi, David Levithan) and favorite genres (space-focused sci-fi, post-apocalyptic sci-fi).

Libraries are awesome. Ten of 14 books came from the library. And eight of those I requested. Learn how to use your library to get the most out of it.

Here are my favorite reads from the past month:

  • The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger – A time traveling love story sounds nerdy, but it’s head- and heart-spinning. A celebration of love against all challenges, even time. It’s likely this will be my favorite book of 2013 (yes, a bold claim to make on February 4, but I’ll bet it easily makes the top 5, if not the top spot).
  • The Passage by Justin Cronin – A post- (and pre-) apocalyptic vampire novel that’s told in incredible detail (adding up to an overwhelming 766 pages). It was thrilling and suspenseful, addicting like a Stephen King novel (though not quite as bloody). It took a little bit to get used to the intricate prose, which often gave way more detail than necessary, but it also jumped around and kept the plot moving.
  • Old Man’s War by John Scalzi – This one takes the premise of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, inserts old people as the soldiers and runs with it. A fun idea and thoroughly enjoyable.
  • Redshirts by John Scalzi – An entire novel based on what happens when the expendable “Redshirts” of the original Star Trek TV series figure out how expendable they are. The set up alone is worth a mention here. The follow through isn’t bad.
  • Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott – This trippy Jesus follower breaks down prayer in a way that only she could. Short, sweet and a nice kick in the pants. Plus, it avoids some of her neurosis that can get a little old.
  • Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle -Finally, I gave a re-read to one of my favorite books. Such a great exploration of faith and child-like wonder and how an artist creates and what it means to be a person of faith creating stuff (of course she’s a little more eloquent than that).

Be sure to grab your copy of 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading. (Insider tip: It’ll be free Feb. 5-7!)

Here’s the full list for January 2013:

  1. Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott
  2. Many Waters by Madeleine L’Engle
  3. The Arm of the Starfish by Madeleine L’Engle
  4. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  5. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
  6. Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
  7. Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
  8. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle
  9. Feed by M.T. Anderson
  10. Divergent by Veronica Roth
  11. The Passage by Justin Cronin
  12. Redshirts by John Scalzi
  13. First Day on Earth by Cecil Castellucci
  14. Every You, Every Me by David Levithan

What have your read lately?

My Top 15 Books of 2012

So I read 137 books in 2012. I already gave the full list, but below are my top 15 favorites from the year. I shared this list in my recent book, 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, in which I explain how I managed to read so many books (and talked to someone who read a lot more books than me).

I tried to narrow my list down to a top 10, but there were just too many good books to talk about. So here we go:

  1. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
    Most of this book takes place in a multi-player online game (like World of Warcraft, only bigger), which makes it very geeky. For that reason I’m always a little hesitant to recommend it. But if you can get past that (and the author makes it very approachable), it’s an incredible story. Geeky and fun, full of pop culture references (both real and made up), fast paced with plenty of action. I already want to read it again.
  2. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
    Every time I tell people about this book they look at me like I’m crazy. It’s a funny story about two teens dying of cancer. See? Crazy. But it’s amazing. The teens are sarcastic and funny and full of life, even though they’re on the verge of death.
  3. Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
    I have a hard time getting into nonfiction, but this book tells a story that is so captivating it’s easy to forget it’s real. It helped that I got into running this year and found this book to be very motivational. Check out my blog post explaining the book and my own journey into running this year.
  4. Every Day by David Levithan
    This book didn’t just have a unique idea—a person wakes up in a new body every day—but the way it tackled that idea was so interesting and engaging. There were so many unique things: Like the fact that the main character doesn’t have a gender because they don’t have a body or the author’s willingness to go to difficult situations, like the body of a druggie in withdrawal, a suicidal case or an illegal child laborer. Plus, the actual story centers around a really good romance that gets to the idea of what we’re actually falling in love with.
  5. 11/23/63 by Stephen King
    Time travel and thwarting a presidential assassination? What more could you want? This one is long, but with Stephen King’s writing that’s no worry. There’s a love story in this one too, which makes the whole thing even more engaging.
  6. Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson
    This one and World War Z are very similar—varied accounts of the robot or zombie uprising. The different perspectives make both books engaging, but Robopocalypse keeps coming back to the same characters and letting you see how they’re getting along. That makes it more cohesive and interesting, gripping to the bitter end.
  7. Without Warning series by John Birmingham
    At first glance, this series sounded stupid: A mysterious and impenetrable “bubble” descends on the United States and wipes out every living person, isolating most of the contiguous United States. But good stories aren’t about what happened, they’re about what happens now. (For example, I think LOST derailed when they tried to explain what happened. The show was interesting when they focused on what happens now. Mythology and explanations can be interesting, but they can also be a distraction.) Weird set up aside, the what happens now in Without Warning was engaging. It was fast-paced, apocalyptic action and—like a good Stephen King or Joss Whedon story—you never knew when a character might get killed. The second installment slowed down a little bit, but the finale picked up again.
  8. Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick
    Post-apocalyptic zombie horror. This one was crazed, edge of your seat action. The story had a lot going on, it kept up a frightful pace and the characters were engaging. As fast as it was, I also liked that the author knew when to slow down and let you feel safe again. My only complaint is that it’s the first in a trilogy, so there’s no sense of closure at the end (something I realized in horror with 40 pages to go).
  9. For the Win by Cory Doctorow
    I read three novels by Cory Doctorow this year and I was tempted to put all three on this list. But I went with For the Win as the best of the three. It’s one of those multi-thread stories where the threads eventually overlap and intertwine. As usual for Doctorow, he explores an interesting tech scenario and pushes it further. Good stuff.
  10. Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate
    This is a story told as a poem that can easily be read in one day. It’s the heart-breaking tale of a Sudanese boy who comes to Minnesota as a refugee. The free verse style does an excellent job of communicating the language barrier. It really  helps you understand the perspective of a refugee.
  11. Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
    A good kick-in-the-pants book for creatives. Short, simple and full of fun illustrations. Check out my review and interview with Austin Kleon over at Church Marketing Sucks.
  12. Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz
    I discovered this book during my first real trip to the South and it was timely. I’ve always been interested in the Civil War and coming to terms with the current take on the Confederacy has always been kind of weird. Good book to help me process some of that. My blog post exploring the book.
  13. Wrecked by Jeff Goins
    A great little book about how to deal with the incredible brokenness of life. Check out my review and interview with author Jeff Goins over at Church Marketing Sucks.
  14. The Search for Wondla / A Hero for Wondla by Tony DiTerlizzi
    I found this series to be delightful. It was just full of, well, wonder. Very childlike and engaging.
  15. Gone series by Michael Grant
    Another sci-fi story with a bubble, this one with a lot of trappings of Stephen King (oddly enough, he has his own bubble story I read this year). Gripping, engaging story, even when the premise seems ridiculous. In this case, all those bubble trapped teens started developing super powers. The series has ups and downs, but I think it’s worth riding it out to the end (the last book comes out this year).

What were your favorite books of 2012?

My New Book: 137 Books in One Year

137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With ReadingI read a lot of books last year. A lot of books. 137 to be exact.

So I put together a little booklet sharing some tips and ideas for how to read a lot. It’s called 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading. You can go ahead and buy it for the Kindle or the print version, but when I officially launch it on Feb. 5 the digital version is going to be free for a few days. So you might want to wait.

The booklet includes 10 tips for how to read more, with practical ideas like taking a book with you everywhere you go and reclaiming idle moments. It’s basically examining my reading in 2012 and trying to figure out how I read so many books. I’m sharing what works for me and it might work for you.

While the title feels like a lot of bragging, the booklet also includes an interview with someone who read even more books than me.

I hope you’ll check it out on Feb. 5 and help me spread the word.

2012 Reading List

Every year I like to catalog my reading, look back on what I’ve read and what I’ve learned. This year was a bonanza.

For some reason the reading clicked in 2012 and I read more than any previous year. Way more. Like double my previous high. I’m not sure what happened, but I fell into a rhythm and just became addicted to reading. How addicted? 137 books.

I know, right? I’m not sure how I did it either.

OK, that’s a big lie. I have some ideas about how I managed to read so many books (and no they don’t involved ignoring my loved ones or giving up TV) and I’m currently forming them into an ebook that I hope to release in the next month (yes, a book about books—deal with it).

But until that’s ready, let’s take a look at what I managed to read in 2012.

Favorites in 2012? I’m still trying to compile a top 10 list, but my top favorites would probably be Ready Player One, The Fault In Our Stars and Born to Run. You can also check out my Goodreads page to see rankings on all these books and what I’m reading now.

Finally, check out my previous reading lists: 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002 and 2001.

Continue reading 2012 Reading List

The Stephanies & First Book

I Support First BookTomorrow is your last chance to grab a copy of The Stephanies and support First Book. We’re sharing half our profits from the month of November with First Book, and with tomorrow being the last day of the month, it’s your last chance.

First Book is an organization that gives kids in need access to books. What’s so great about books? Aside from being awesome, literacy is the best predictor of a child’s future success. If they can read, they’re more likely to do better in life. The biggest barrier to literacy is not having access to books. It’s kind of a simple—if a kid can’t get easy access to a book, they’re not going to learn how to read.

So First Book is about giving kids that first book, giving them access to books so they can learn how to read so they can do better in life. It’s simple, but it’s awesome.

For $10 they can donate four new books, so hopefully we’ll be able to give a few books. It’s kind of cool to not only write a book, but to help others learn how to read books.

The idea of not having books is kind of unfathomable to me. We have literally thousands of books in our house. The kids both have at least a hundred books in their rooms. We like books. I hope in some small way we can pass on that love.

So if you haven’t done it yet, grab a copy of The Stephanies. We’ve got the original paperback, a “Color-Your-Own” version, and digital versions for the Kindle, iBook & Nook, and the standard PDF version. We’ll donate 50% of the profits to First Book.


Lexi’s Last Day of Kindergarten

168th Day of School - Last DayIt seems like only yesterday Lexi was heading off to her first day of kindergarten. She was over-the-top excited and Milo burst into tears.

Today was her last day of kindergarten. She’s older, wiser and taller.

The last day celebration included a cookout with Pete the naturalist at the Dodge Nature Center, featuring mini hot dogs (Milo ate half the pack) and pizza. Then we headed back to school to hear about some of her favorite things from throughout the year and every student received an award for following one of the school’s five overall rules.

Lexi was recognized for “safety,” because she always brought the right gear. I think that means I should get an award for sending my kid to school prepared (which usually meant stopping her on the way out the door and insist she wear something more appropriate). She also got the award for making sure everyone else was being safe too, which I’m pretty sure means she’s just bossy. She practices all day long on Milo, so it’s good to see it’s paying off.

It’s been a fun year watching Lexi grow. I think the social aspect of kindergarten—learning how to interact with other kids, following the rules, being prepared—has probably been the most important, though it’s also been cool to see her learning the academics. She’s learning how to read, slowly and with more and more confidence. Having a kindergarten teacher for a mom, some people expect reading to be a serious and early milestone in our house. But it’s actually counter-productive to teach kids to read too early (Abby could give you all sorts of reasons why—I’ll leave that blog post to her). It’s important to let them go at their own pace. And it’s been fun to see that with Lexi, to see her start to read signs in stores and read stuff over our shoulder. She’s still gaining confidence with reading books, but she’s getting there.

I’m also trying not to be too proud that one of her favorite things in school was writing.

Finally, the end of the school year means the end of a little project of mine, the Days of School. It started with me taking pictures on the first day of school (I have an addiction to feed). Then as we waited for the bus on the second and third days of school Lexi kept asking me to take pictures. So we started taking a picture every day. I think we only missed one or two days when Lexi actually went to school, and of course we missed all the days she was absent (and since she had mono in the fall, there were a lot of those). But in the end we have 151 pictures of Lexi going to kindergarten.

As we went outside to take her picture today I told her  we were taking her last picture. She told me, “Nope, you’re taking pictures in first grade too!” So we’ll see how long this thing continues.

Check out the Days of School:

Lessons from a Reader: Keep Your Opinions Out Of It

I’ve been reading a lot lately. I’m currently on book number 18 of 2012. With all that reading there are some things I like and some things I can’t stand.

One thing I’ve always wished I was better at was taking lessons from what I read and applying that to what I write. Being a writer you’d think that would be obvious, but it never is. I’m the kind of reader that wants to know what’s going to happen next, so I usually fly through the text and don’t slow down enough to learn some lessons as a writer.

So I’m going to start posting these notes to myself, these lessons from a reader so maybe I can start saving some of this insight.

Keep Your Opinions Out Of It
When you’re writing fiction, I don’t care about your politics. In Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer the character’s mother (Who also happens to be a writer—oh my gosh, stop making your characters writers, it comes across as lazy! Research another career.) goes off on Fox News and the president encamped at a Texas ranch. Gee, which president could that be?

Obviously the author is not a fan of George W. Bush. But who cares? It doesn’t help the story. You just turned your character into a stereotype and needlessly annoyed half your audience. And for what? Nothing.

There are times when political opinions are necessary in fiction, but make them necessary. They should make the character three dimensional, adding intrigue and depth, not cardboard flatness.