Sunday, February 18, 2018

Writing about Castles (Featuring Dragons!)

One of my earliest memories comes from the first time my family and I lived in Germany—of me escaping from my parents, walking on a red carpet, and approaching a gaping castle gate. I can’t recall if these are all one castle or several, but every now and then in the present, I get a glimpse of what I might have seen as a toddler.

Fast forward to the second time I came to Germany during my sophomore year in college. After a quick trip to a local backerei, my parents took my brother and me to visit a couple ruined castles, the first being Reussenstein. Dad kept asking me if I remembered anything, but I didn’t. Then he told me about the time he took my brother and I there when we were kids. I had wandered off, and Dad thought I fell off a cliff. Turns out, I had gone back to the car.

Bleary-eyed and jetlagged, the visit during my sophomore year seemed surreal, touching the stone walls, breathing in the damp air, seeing the layout of the forest and towns below. Four years later, I can’t get enough of ruined castles, and I even have favorites among the ones we’ve been to.

Over those years, I can’t say I’m an expert—does such a thing exist?—but I’ve learned quite a bit. Here are just a couple tips for you writers who may dabble in castling whether it be in real life or in books.

A City within a City

“Guys, I want a castle.” —Flynn Rider, Tangled

A castle isn’t just an overly fortified mansion with a throne room and a dungeon. More often than not, it’s a self-sustaining civilization on its own, meant to withstand a siege and still be able to carry on with life in times of peace. As such, most castles would contain everything from a barracks and weaponry to a chapel and kitchen.

The three main parts of the castle include the outer wall, the courtyard, and the keep. Once you have those parts, it’s easier to establish where the other rooms are. And one of the things I’ve found about most European castles—at least the ones that are still intact—most of them are not set up like an American hotel. In other words, they don’t always have a nice little hallway right outside all the rooms allowing for a structured layout. Instead, most of the rooms are adjoining.

Citadels and Strongholds

Size matters when it comes to castles, particularly when it comes to building costs and upkeep. Smaller castles are easier to maintain but may be harder to defend whereas larger castles require greater costs to maintain and are harder to attack. Likewise, the style and material of the castle will often depend on where it’s built. Many older castles are assembled with the local stones, giving the building a more rugged look, while more recent castles appear more finished and may have imported stone.

Also, as much as I’m a fan of Lord of the Rings, I always wonder how Minas Tirith was maintained by a country that barely managed to fight off the forces of Mordor. Seriously, where did all the resources come from? Edoras (even though it’s more of a walled city) and Helms Deep, on the other hand, seem like more realistic and sizable castles.

Schloss Neuschwanstein

Movies tend to make castles look much larger than is practical. Castles were and continue to be incredibly difficult to maintain. Not all ruined castles are in ruins today because they were attacked. Some fell into decay because they were abandoned. Other castles, like Schloss Neuschwanstein, were built at a later time for decoration and for their architecture, nearly bankrupting the country, rather than for practical defense.

Practicality and Towers

Did you know that most towers in castles curve up and to the left? This feature is for defense purposes. Should the castle ever be breached, the defenders would have the upper hand because the center pillar of the tower would block all incoming right-handed swordsman while the defenders would have all the room they needed from the top.

In the Palace of Rygia actually addresses this point when one army uses left-handed swordsmen in their attempt to infiltrate the castle.

One of my pet peeves in films is when they don’t care about how towers are structured when in fact, they are one of the biggest defensive points if the castle is breached. (Sorry Beauty and the Beast fans, but nobody builds towers with stairways going both directions.)

Counterclockwise Staircase, Hohenurach
Photo Credit: Michael T. Klein

Of course, there are exceptions. If a particular point needs to be defended from below rather than above, a stairway may curve to the right instead of the left. I’ve seen maybe one or two stairways that are the exception, such as the one in Neuschwanstein (maybe King Ludwig II was left-handed?).

Secret Passageways

Good news! Secret passageways aren’t just found in stories. They also exist in real castles. The castle in Nottingham, England happens to have a tunnel because there are a lot of caves in the area, and sandstone is great for carving out tunnels. Likewise, Burg Hohenzollern (Germany) has a secret passageway that leads from the courtyard to the outer wall. Even Schloss Linderhof (Germany), which is more of a palace than a castle, has a hidden door (which isn’t actually very hidden because the tour guides insist on pointing it out).

Schloss Linderhoff

Defense and Landscape

Before I visited Europe, I thought castles could be built anywhere. Turns out, they’re usually built in places with strategic advantage.

In southern Germany, with all the surrounding hills, castles are located above local towns, giving the castle the ability to see approaching enemies and making it difficult for them to approach the castle at all.

However, English castles don’t always have the advantage of steep hills and gaping cliffs, but they do have another advantage—water. The Tower of London, for example, used to be protected not only by its thick walls but also by a moat, before it was drained around the 1830s.

Just a couple of points on defensive points: rounded towers are better than ones with corners because there’s nowhere for enemies to hide. Gaping windows are not practical or defensible for outer walls.

Defense and Dragons

“Ah, Frodo, Erebor! Built deep within the mountain itself, the beauty of this fortress city was legend. Its wealth lay in the earth in precious gems hewn from rock and in great seams of gold running like rivers through stone.” —Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Dragon Bridge, Ljubljana

If your story is set in a fantasy world, you have to take mythical attacks into consideration as well as human invaders. For example, a stable with a thatched roof wouldn’t stand up to dragon fire as well as one with tiles or rock shingles. If the story has magic, protective shields or cloaking could can come in handy.

But if you’re going to build a defensible fortress that can protect your characters against dragons, please, please, please don’t just include the ever-so-convenient pillar for said characters to hide behind. It’s overdone, annoying, and appears in nearly every dragon movie (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Desolation of Smaug, How to Train Your Dragon, etc.). I’m pretty sure that if somebody hides behind a pillar and fire is nearly enveloping them, they’re going to end up with at least second-degree burns (How to Train Your Dragon 2 partially addresses this problem with exposed characters).

Know Your Era, Know Your Culture

If I could say any point is the most important, it would be this one. For every rule, there’s almost always an exception. And castles tend to vary from country to country and even from year to year. Castles with rounded towers tended to come after ones with square towers.

Don’t just read this post. Do further research! Especially if you’re writing about a real castle. If you can, visit the place or talk with somebody who has. Study the landscape, the architecture, the culture.

A couple fictional books set in or near actual castles include The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood and The Raven Master’s Secret.

Nottingham Castle

If you’re making up a castle of your own, you have a little more freedom but be sure to take the time to make it feel like a real place. A couple books with well-written fictional castles include The Alliance Series, The Books of Pellinor, Prince Caspian, and the River of Time series.

Let’s chat! What’s your favorite fictional castle? How about your favorite real castle? Have you ever visited a real one? For those who have been castling, which do you prefer, castles intact or castles in ruins? And writers, how would you go about defending your castle from dragons?

Enjoy this post? Be sure to sign up for the quarterly Word Storm Newsletter! The next newsletter features yet more castles, specifically castles in ruins, and a FREE e-book.

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Film references: Tangled, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Return of the King, Beauty and the Beast (2017), The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Desolation of Smaug, and How to Train Your Dragon 1 and 2.

Literary references: L. Nicodemus Lyons’ The Alliance Series, Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, Elvira Woodruff’s The Ravenmaster’s Secret, Alison Croggon’s The Books of Pellinor, C. S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian, Lisa Bergren’s River of Time series.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Slow-Paced vs. Fast-Paced Books: What They Say About Their Readers

Earlier this year, I mentioned I wanted to read another 1,000-page book. Then, to start off the year, I checked out a bunch of graphic novels. Maybe I’m preparing myself or maybe I’m procrastinating. Either way, I like to think that I enjoy all sorts of fiction. Sure, I have some preferences, but just because I enjoy lengthy classics and studied for an MA in English Literature doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy commercial fiction as well.

As I was reading Les Miserables last year, I got to thinking about slow-paced books versus fast-paced books. And it seems like, in the writing community anyway, writers are discouraged from writing slow-paced books. After all, according to what I’ve seen, it’s the writer’s job to hold the reader’s attention and keep them turning pages.

But, that hasn’t been my experience as a reader. If one applied the same principle to half of the classics out there, they would wouldn’t exist the way they do. Even with all the abridged classics out there, determined readers still seek out the unabridged versions. It’s almost as though some readers scoff at the length and the negative attitude that they can’t get through it. One-thousand two-hundred pages? Challenge accepted!

What does that mean for the reading industry if some readers like slow-paced books and others like fast-paced books?

Slow-Paced Books: What are they?

A fine line often lies between slow-paced books and boring books, but a slower novel does not necessarily equate a boring one. Though most slower books are often associated with monstrous books like Les Miserable (aka “The Brick”) at 1,200 pages, some slow-paced books can fall within the 300-page range.

Slower books take more energy and concentration to read. When I first picked up The Name of the Wind, I almost quit after the prologue because I wasn’t reading it at the right time. I was sitting on a chair, watching the movers haul our furniture in the house, occasionally getting up to direct them to the right room.

After less than a page, I gave up on this fantasy and picked up Wonder, a 200-ish page Middle Grade novel. It turned out to be a much easier read, and I could easily come back to it despite constant interruptions. A couple days after the movers had left, I settled down in the living room with some peace and quiet to read The Name of the Wind. I finished it within a matter of days.

I had to apply the same amount of concentration while reading Les Miserable (a great for traveling despite its size) and The Wake.

Petition to stop readers and reviewers from saying and writing “This book was boring! And I read Moby-Dick.” What does that even mean? Moby-Dick is tough, but it’s far from boring.

What do slow-paced books say about their readers?

Readers who enjoy slow-paced books probably enjoy intellectual stimulation.

After I graduated from the University of Nottingham, I spent about six months reading fast-paced YA novels. I was tired of slow, long literature. *gasp* But it didn’t take long for me to miss the intellectual challenges of university, so I started checking out some more difficult books, starting with Moby-Dick.

In the end, it took me seven months to read, but I enjoyed it. And not just for the bragging rights—for the content. I was fascinated that Melville could connect something as base as whaling with religion, art, biology, environmentalism, literature, you name it. Even somebody who’s not into whales could probably find something that applies to their field of study within the book’s pages.

Readers who live fast-paced lives may enjoy books that are slower.

And it was around that time that I realized that I like reading slow-paced books. Often times, my life is so hectic, I need a breather. Sometimes a long, slow book is just that. Having moved every year for the past six years, reading the same book for a couple months actually feels like some stability. (This month we’re approaching one year in our house! Whoot!)

Slow-paced books generally tend to have more development.

That isn’t to say that fast-paced books can’t be well-developed. I would consider A Darker Shade of Magic to fall under the fast-paced category, but the world and character development is excellent.

That being said, many slow books go off onto tangents that are completely unrelated to the plot. Often times these tangents are annoying. Do readers really need to know everything about how to slice up a whale? But sometimes these tangents are fascinating, like how Ishmael (Moby-Dick) thought the dragon from legend of St. George could have been a whale. (Whether I support that theory—I don’t—is another matter entirely.) Another fascinating tangent include the settings within The Books of Pellinor. Sometimes, the setting is vital to the plot, and other times, the narrator was just capturing the beauty or the destitution of the place.

Fast-Paced Books: What are they?

In a society that moves quickly, fast-paced books are designed to be page-turners. A book that hooks the reader, forces them to procrastinate on everything else, and makes them stay up late to finish the book is often considered the ideal fast-paced read. Of course, some books may be fast-paced and still not be read in one setting because the reader has another life, in which case, the book is finished in two sittings or within a matter of days.

For me, right now, a fast-paced book is one that I can finish in one or two sittings, within a day or so. I feel like I’m always looking for the next good book that will pull me into the story and make me want to finish it as soon as possible. The last book that was a real page-turner for me happened to be The Beast of Talesend.

Unlike slower books, fast-paced stories don’t really have time to stop and admire the scenery because the characters are probably trying to outrun a dragon, defuse a bomb, or something exciting like that.

What do fast-paced books say about their readers?

Fast-paced books tend to connect more with the reader’s emotions.

That’s not to say that slower books can’t evoke emotions, but fast-paced books focus more on doing so. Graphic novels are great at evoking emotions because they’re also visual.

Many readers pick up fast-paced books to be entertained.

It’s not a shallow thing; it’s just the way some readers are. I often pick up books to be entertained. Not all books have to be intellectual. Besides, I’d rather pick up a book to be entertained than to watch a movie or show. That way, I still get to use my imagination without somebody else doing it for me. What’s the fun in that?

Fast-paced books tend to be a form of escapism.

When I was studying for my undergraduate degree, I used to read fast-paced novels for leisure all the time. It was the way I took my study breaks and turned out to be particularly motivational while studying for exams. I’d study for half an hour to forty-five minutes, then read a chapter. Then, I couldn’t read another one until I studied again.

What about readers who enjoy both?

I’m going to be completely honest, I’m both. After a novel that progresses at a leisurely pace—and sometimes during such stories—I like a story that will drag me off on an adventure.

A thicker book might inspire thought, and a page-turner might inspire emotion. Too much of one or the other isn’t ideal. A sense of balance is needed.

In all, this isn’t to say that just because you enjoy a fast-paced story over a slower one means you’re a bad reader. Quite the opposite. Sometimes people need a break from slow-paced books. And vice versa. But in a world where everything, particularly technology, is progressing so quickly, leisurely pastimes fall by the wayside. It becomes harder and harder to find somebody who enjoys reading slower books just for the sake of the book.

But when you find somebody who likes to read the same type of books that you do, keep them close! Start up some bookish conversations. Share book recommendations. Reading may be a solitary activity, but don’t be afraid to connect with fellow readers. After all, what is the purpose of reading if not to discover to put the book down every once in a while and really live.

Let’s chat! Did I leave any elements of either pace of fiction out? Which types of books do you prefer—fast-paced or slow-paced ones? Do you enjoy plot-focused stories or character-focused ones?


Literary references: Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind, R. J. Palacio’s Wonder, Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, V. E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, Alison Croggon’s The Books of Pellinor, and Kyle Robert Shultz’s The Beast of Talesend.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Haiku Collection: Sibling Trio

I thought I’d try something new. For those who’ve read a lot of my poetry, you might have noticed that I prefer free verse. It’s—well—freeing. I like to use whatever imagery I want in whatever way it comes to me. But every now and then, I like the challenge of structure. It’s not so much limiting as it is intellectually stimulating.

Of course, writing three haikus may be a lot easier than trying to write one villanelle. For those who aren’t familiar with poetry (hi, Mom!), haikus originated in Japan and are three lines long with five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the last. They tend to be about nature.

Villanelles (or as I like to call them, vanillas) have a repeating first line from the first stanza, a repeating last line from the first stanza, and a set amount of stanzas and lines. It’s super complicated. (Seriously HOW do people write villanelles? I’ve tried several times, and I can’t get past the second stanza.)

This particular set of haikus I based off my siblings and me. There are three of us in the family—my older brother, me, and my little sister. And while we may be related, we’re each different in our own ways. Hence, the following poems, Dawn, Noon, and Midnight.

She sprinkles powdered
sugar on strudels, lemon
juice into your eye.

Earbuds drown the noise
of chatter beneath some tune
of an hour to spare.

Call of cicadas,
not the phone—now hang up and
listen, you’re alone.


Let’s chat! Which of the three haikus did you like best? Care to take a guess which one I might be? Which one are you most like?

Similar poems: Starlight, The Muse, and Dandelion Seeds

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Book Review: The Beast of Talesend

Part-Indiana Jones, part-Sherlock Holmes, Nick Beasley is the best detective for denouncing false magic, until an encounter with a very real magical item causes him to change his mind… and his form.

This year, I’ll be challenging myself to post more book reviews, particularly focusing on new releases and books I enjoy that don’t get enough attention.*

*Last year, I tried out a monthly post on Character Types, and it just wasn’t working for me. I ended up procrastinating such posts and avoiding them where I could. So instead of writing about content I don’t care for (though I still like characters!), I thought I’d focus on something I’m excited to write, like book reviews!

Book: The Beast of Talesend by Kyle Robert Shultz
Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale Inspired
My rating: 4/5 stars
One-word description: Witty

I’m not a fan of fairy tale retellings. Before you freak out, please allow me to explain. I grew up on fairy tales. I don’t know them all, but I feel like I know a lot of them pretty well. So I guess you could say I’m not a fan of leftover plots. I don’t care for leftovers from my fridge (and I like food!), so why would I want to read the same story again? (This doesn’t apply to rereads. Rereads are fun.)

The Beast of Talesend, however, is not your average retelling. As the author put it in a recent interview, it’s more of a fairy tale inspired story rather than a direct retelling. After all, the events in this novel take place long after all the fairy tales themselves. This story in particular draws from Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, and several others.

Not only is the cover aesthetically pleasing, but the story was an enjoyable read. The characters and the chapter titles are witty. I also like how developed and different the characters were. Cordelia is rather self-confident and driven while Nick is a skeptic with extensive knowledge about artifacts. In fact, his respect for artifacts like books and—even more—his determination to protect his brother make him incredibly likeable.

But there were a couple of formatting choices that I found odd. Like why wasn’t the map bigger? I can hardly read it even with my reading glasses on. I have a hunch the e-book is better quality in this sense, but a vertical map might have been easier to read. Just so you know, I’m not docking stars for formatting. I’ve read plenty of traditionally published books with issues. (Like that one time I read a misprinted book that had 50 pages missing. Ahem. *cough* I digress.)

My only complaint is that I wish the story were longer. There could have been more details, but then again, I’m drawn to long and wordy stories. Perhaps too much so. This book was much shorter than I had been expecting. At least there’s a sequel!

That being said—the ending has me hooked! With some hints that the Jabberwock may make a later appearance, I am now seriously concerned for the rest of the characters. *shudders* I can’t wait to read the next book in the Beaumont & Beasley Series, The Tomb of the Sea Witch.

I gave The Beast of Talesend 4/5 stars for a great and creative plot and witty and well-developed characters. Reminiscent of The Tenth Kingdom, I would recommend this to readers who enjoy fantasy and fairy tales but don’t necessarily want to read the exact same story again.

Does The Beast of Talesend spark your interest? Have you read it already? You might also enjoy these great books: Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, Where the Woods Grow Wild by Nate Philbrick, and This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab.

Let’s chat! Has The Beast of Talesend made it to your to-be-read list yet? Anybody out there read it? Have any fantastical book recommendations?


Sunday, January 21, 2018

Editor vs. Anxiety

Of all the stages in creating a story, editing gets a lot of mixed opinions. Writers either like it, or they don’t. Many even complain about editing. But I’m one of those strange writers who likes the editing process the best. Brainstorming is fun, sure, but I quickly get bored with it and just want to write. Then writing a rough draft can be fun, especially when I’m in the zone, but half the time I am consciously aware that my style or my dialogue or whatever stinks.

Editing allows me to combine the elements I enjoy most—writing through rewrites and clear prose. When I see something wrong with a story, I sit down, or pace, or go for a bike ride, then fix it. Sometimes it’s a challenge, but that’s what makes it all the more enjoyable. I like it when something, particularly a story, challenges me. Life would be too boring otherwise.

But every now and then, life gets difficult. That’s just the way it is. Sometimes, the stress threatens to overwhelm me. Often times, dealing with stress is not so easy as cutting down a word count or fixing some character development. It’s much, much more difficult.

Nearly two years ago, I missed the opportunity to celebrate my brother’s birthday with him because I was studying in England while he was studying in the United States. I went to fencing that particular February evening without my usual enthusiasm to stab things. (When it comes to sports or reading or whatever, I’m either all in or I don’t care. As a result, I scared all my fellow beginners.) That particular day, I lacked motivation and form. As a result, I strained my Achilles tendon and spent the next month limping everywhere.

On another bad day, I was moping in my room about my inability to walk without pain (but I could still bike just fine). So I put on a movie to try to take my mind off myself. Of course, I picked a particularly sad one and had a good cry. Finally, some pity that wasn’t self-pity. I can’t exactly say that was the exact moment, but I soon realized I needed help, and not just for my ankle. Over Easter Break, I learned that I was struggling with depression and anxiety and sought help.

Flash forward to last January. My dad took me on trip to go skiing in the Black Forest per my request. The snow blanketed the evergreen trees, and sometimes enveloped me in a white out so I could hardly see more than ten feet in front of me. When I first got off the ski lift and surveyed the slope from the top, the clouds cleared enough for me to catch a glimpse of a golden sun amid all the white.

But what if I lost control of my skis, flew down the mountain, and slammed into a tree?

My breath caught. And I froze.

I started hyperventilating, and my yellow glasses fogged up. (Never wear yellow glasses skiing, by the way. The snow kept blowing under the glassing and getting into my eyes. Go with ski goggles.) My dad, who was just a bit further down the slope, turned back to me and said, “Come on, Azelyn. You can’t stand there forever.”

Of course, not. I came there to ski, not have a panic attack on the top of a mountain. So I swallowed my fear, angled my skis downhill, and inched down the slope, bit by bit. It was painstaking work, and I took a break in the ski lodge before noon to settle my nerves with a cup of tea and copy of Moby-Dick that fit in my pocket. After lunch, I had enough courage to follow Dad at an adequate speed down some more challenging slopes.

I never ran into a tree or went flying down a slope, but I fell down. A lot.

Of course, some panic attacks are easier to get past than others. Physical situations, like standing atop a ski slope are easier for me to overcome than social anxiety. With an encouraging word from my dad, I can work up the courage to overcome my fear of heights, but encouragement doesn’t always help with my fear of people.

Last summer, I had a panic attack when somebody mentioned I should behave with more assertion, “like I did in England.” Sure, I may have learned how to talk to my professors by preparing questions about the text before class. But I had a terrible time making friends, and I hardly ever talked to my classmates.

It is one thing to say, “No, I can do this.” And ski down a mountain even though the fear is lurking in the forefront of my mind. It’s another thing entirely to have the fear of the inability to befriend people constantly lurking in my mind.

No matter how many friends I do or don’t make where I currently live, no matter how many half-decent conversations I manage to hold, no matter how many patrons I help while I’m volunteering at the library, I can’t change the friends who stopped talking for no reason.

I can’t change the way I didn’t hang out with my peers after fencing and went straight back to my room.

I can’t go back to England for the same studying experience.

But I can take advantage of opportunities today.

I can be genuine and kind to the people I meet now.

Recently, I was attending the writer’s group at my local library where I met a fellow writer who was querying literary agents. So we got to talking about our stories, and I asked him if he had an editor look over his novel yet. He said he hadn’t, so we exchanged contact information, and I said I could put him in touch with some editors I knew.

Then I got to thinking—I’m an editor. I’ve worked on books of my own before, studied literature, worked as an editor for my school’s newspaper, taught English, and worked with professional editors. Why not offer to edit the book myself? I wanted to go into editing eventually. Why not today?

So I sent him an e-mail offering to edit his novel myself, and we set up a meeting to discuss a contract. Since then, I’ve finished my first round of edits and set up an editing page for other writers looking for an editor. My specialties include Young Adult and Middle Grade Fiction with select Adult Fiction, and my preferred genres include fantasy, science-fiction, historical fiction, and contemporary. Looking for an editor? Be sure to stop by if you think your story would be a good fit!

Editing isn’t just a way for me to make money. It’s a pleasure. It’s a way for me to deal with stress. It’s a God-given gift, a way for me to deal with something in a life where some things can’t be fixed so easily.

Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I had a panic attack. Maybe it was six months ago. I don’t know. I don’t care either. But I would be lying if I said anxiety doesn’t affect me. Sometimes it does. But I can’t let my anxiety, whether social or otherwise, rule me.

Sometimes life is like reading a book, you have to take chances if you want to get anywhere. So start today. Take a chance. You may fail. And that’s okay. Failure is fine.

But what if you succeed? You may surprise yourself.

Let’s chat! Any fellow readers out there who struggle with anxiety? Remember, you’re not alone.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

2018 Reading Resolution

Let’s talk about books! Last year I set my goal on Goodreads to read at least 75. Halfway through the year, I realized I was reading too fast and upped my goal to 100. I ended up reading 109. Whoops. So I accidentally completed one of the goals on my bucket list in reading 100 books in one year.

This year, instead of challenging myself further, I’m actually going to cut back. That’s not to say I won’t read a ton, but the pressure to read 75+ books is actually incredibly overwhelming. That’s at least a book-and-a-half a week, and once you set the goal to 100, that’s a book nearly every three days. While possible, I want to set aside time for those difficult (*cough* boring *cough*) books.

So instead of a goal involving the number of books, I’ll be setting a goal involving the type of books I want to read. Then I’ll take those types, add them up, and set it as my goal on Goodreads because I like seeing the book collection and statistics at the end of the year.

1) At least one poetry collection. (Not a novel in verse.)

A while back, I wrote a post on The Importance of Poetry. It wasn’t until college that I really discovered the joys of reading and writing poems because before then, I hadn’t found any that I particularly liked. Since then, I have been making an effort to create more poetry, as is evidence from the whole page I have on poetry and my monthly poems.

Last year, I finished a short collection, Ode to London and started reading Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. I can’t say I actually finished the latter, but it’s still on my shelf, waiting for me.

2) Two rereads.

I enjoy visiting my local library, but I also like buying books. If a particular story stuck with me, or was indie published and I wanted to support the author, I’ll go out and buy the book. That and I just like books. But what’s the pointing in owning a bunch of books I once enjoyed, only to never read them again? There’s no point.

It’s time to endeavor to read books I’ve enjoyed so much that I went out and bought a copy. Just a couple I’m currently eyeing include Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire. I know I just read them a couple summers ago, but they’re sooooo good!

3) Three nonfiction books.

My brother isn’t much of a reader, but when he does read, he sure shows me up on reading nonfiction. While I insist on reading about dragons and con artists because I find them interesting, my brother would pick up books on wherever we’d be traveling next so he could give an accurate report on his vlog. I may not read the same types of books, but I don’t just want to read fiction.

For this goal, I will not be counting poetry or plays, even though they’re sorted with the nonfiction section at the library. No, I’ll be looking for something more along the lines of a biography or a how-to. Just a couple books on my To-Be-Read List include The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, In a Different Key: The Story of Autism, and The Art of War.

4) Four classics. (Hey, I’m sensing a pattern!)

Books written within the last 100 years are fun to read, but classics can be too, even though some have been written within the last 100 years. (Can we just establish what a classic is, exactly? I’ve been wondering about this definition for years. What determines if a book is a classic or not? Perhaps another post for another time.)

Sometimes I’m baffled by the types of books that became classics. I didn’t care for The Great Gatsby. And I still don’t understand what is going on in The Sound and the Fury. Honestly, I don’t understand most American literature. English literature all the way! I may or may not be biased…

That being said, many times, classics tend to surprise me. I go into the book usually knowing nothing about it, and there I find a wonderful story.

5) Five indie-published books.

As an indie author myself, I figure it’s only fair to read what other indie authors have written. And some of those books can be amazing, let’s be honest. My favorite indie-published book I read last year being Where the Woods Grow Wild by Nate Philbrick. The narrative swept me away, and I forgot that I was even reading so I finished the book in two days.

A couple indie books I am particularly looking forward to include The Beast of Talesend by Kyle Robert Shultz and Embassy by S. Alex Martin.

6) One book published before 1800. (Die, pattern!)

Yes, I realize 1800 is a very specific date. But most of the books I’ve been reading since I’ve graduated from grad school are recent releases. The latest books are important, I won’t deny it, especially for those interesting in publishing. It’s good to know the latest trends. But the old books are important too. They laid the groundwork for fiction as we know it today. It would be a shame to ignore them.

I’m currently trying to work up the courage to check out Le Morte d’Arthur. I wrote an essay on the first book when I was studying for my MA, and I checked out like, four different copies and decided to bike with them all AT ONCE. Never again. Le Morte MY ARMS.

7) One book over 1,000 pages long.

Cutting back on my ambitions, am I? Hmm, maybe not.

I thoroughly enjoy long books. There’s nothing like sitting down with a volume you have to hold in two hands (or rest it on an armrest/table?) and hope it doesn’t fall on your face when you’re lying on your back. That and I like the idea that a good book will last longer than a week.

In 2016, it took me eight days to read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (1,006 pages). Yes, I know I’m insane. But 100 pages a day is pretty manageable. Last year, it took me two-and-a-half months to finish Les Miserables (1,232 pages). How long do you think it will take me to finish War and Peace at approximately 1,392 pages?

In total, my goal this year is to read 17 books. Sure, I’ll probably read more. But this year, I want to focus on the type of books I want to read instead of the number. Quality over quantity.

Let’s chat! Do you have any bookish New Year’s resolutions? What’s your goal for reading this year? Are there any book types you want to read more of?


Literary references: Ode to London edited by Jane McMorland Hunter, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, John Donavan’s In a Different Key: The Story of Autism, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, Nathan PhilbrickWhere the Woods Grow WildKyle Robert Shultzs The Beast of TalesendS. Alex Martins Embassy, Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, Susannah Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, and Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.