Confessions of a Former Bookseller

In my early twenties I worked full-time in a bookstore whilst studying part-time. Even though I worked EVERY weekend (oh the joys of retail), it was a great year and a bit in my life. For a book addict like me, working in a bookstore was my dream come true. But like every retail job it had its array of lovely, weird and downright funny moments. I had the best customers and the worst customers but the books made it all worthwhile.

Take a walk with me down memory lane as I recount the good, bad and annoying parts of being a bookseller:

The Detective Work: A customer walks in asking about a book but they can’t remember the title or the author. All they can remember is that the cover was red and it started with the word ‘the.’ A game of ‘guess that book’ ensues. There was no better feeling than asking probing questions and finally guessing the title. I lived for those small triumphs! Continue reading

Breaking Up with a Book

Dear Unfinished Book,

Unfinised book

I will never forget being introduced to you for the first time by our mutual friend. They said you had a lot of great qualities and that I should give you a go. I know that looks aren’t everything but your outer appearance really appealed to me and you were large in size as well which I like in a book. On the surface we seemed like the perfect match.

So we met and I took you home. I was in a relationship with another book at the time but ended it amicably to make room for you in my life. Our first proper chance to get to know each other happened on the train on the way to work. You opened up to me but I found it difficult to relate to you… it was then that I started experiencing doubts. After a few more dates it has become clear that we aren’t compatible. We gave it a go, but unfortunately our short relationship is not working out.

It’s not you, it’s me. I really wanted us to connect, but we are too different. You are very intelligent and full of complex ideas, whereas I am much simpler. You are very serious and I like a bit of light to go with the darkness.

I’m sorry we didn’t work out. I hope we can part as friends. Maybe one day soon I can introduce you to someone else who will appreciate all you have to offer.

Good-bye for now. I hope you find the reader you deserve.

Best Wishes,

Jane

What books have you started and could not finish? 

 

13 Writing Tips from Stephen King

The stories of prolific author Stephen King are popping up everywhere at the moment as many of his books are being adapted into movies and TV series. This year alone there’s been the new IT movie, The Dark Tower movie, Gerard’s Game and 1922 on Netflix, the Mr Mercedes TV series and Castle Rock is coming soon.

On Writing by Stephen King cover
On Writing by Stephen King ISBN: 9781439156810, pp 291

My husband loves reading Stephen King and is currently working his way through The Dark Tower series and we’re enjoying all the TV and movie adaptions as they come out. While I’ve read quite a few Stephen King books over the years, my husband is definitely the biggest fan in our household. My favourite Stephen King book is not one of his fiction books, it’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I read it many years ago and, searching for inspiration, have just read it again. Its advice remains useful, relevant and practical. Plus, it’s inspiring to read about Stephen King’s personal writing journey. His books may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he certainly knows how to craft a story for his audience and knows who he is as a writer.

Here’s my favourite tips from On Writing by Stephen King

1. On coming up with story ideas…
“There is no Idea Dump, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky…Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”
Continue reading

Happy Endings

In my teenage years I loved reading books with happy endings. Maybe it was all that teenage angst bottled up inside, maybe it was the dream of finding love one day, or maybe I was just conditioned that way. Possibly it was because I used to raid my parents’ book collections. They are a lot more discerning these days but back then it was mum’s historical romance novels versus dad’s action packed Wilbur Smith books. As different as these genres were they all had happy endings.

But what is a happy ending? The girl getting the boy? The hero saving the world? Stop any story at a certain point and you are bound to get a happy ending. But what happens after the happy ending? Do the girl and boy go on to live a perfect life? Does the hero retire to a life of normality quite happily? Or does the couple split up once kids come along? And does the hero suffer post-traumatic stress disorder? Do I really want to read those stories?

I have since read a lot of books without happy endings. Books where the hero dies in the end. Or the girl leaves it too long to realise she loves the boy and he finds someone else. These books are usually of the literary type and leave you feeling sad, depressed, angry, irritable etc. Don’t get me wrong, they make great works of art and make me feel like I really read something worth reading. But I can only take so many of these books in a row.

Sometimes I like reading predictable books. I like knowing that after many misunderstandings and missed opportunities the girl will eventually end up with the boy. Or I like reading a book where after a serial killer kills a few people the detective finally tracks them down and they get their comeuppance. In books we can get the nice clean endings we so often don’t get in real life.

Some people ridicule the happy ending in books believing they are a lower form of storytelling. But I don’t. Happy endings will always have a place in my reading repertoire.

And this blogger lived happily ever after …

Do you like reading books with happy endings?

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey: A Review

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (kindle edition, 401 pages, Pub Feb 2012)
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (kindle edition, 401 pages, Pub Feb 2012)

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey tells the story of Mabel and Jack, a couple who live on the edge of the Alaskan wilderness. The spark has gone out of their marriage and their lives. Mabel keeps indoors in their small cabin, mending and cooking and finding little joy in life. She was the one who convinced her husband to move to this wilderness as she wants to be away from people and the memory of the child she lost at birth. One winter’s evening she goes out on the frozen river, hoping for the ice to crack and her misery to be over. But it holds and so her sorrow continues.

Jack is breaking his body trying to clear their land to plant crops. It is work for a young man and if he doesn’t succeed it will ruin them. He works on, knowing his wife is unhappy but he barely has enough energy to stay awake through the evening meal.

All this takes place in the freezing cold Alaskan wilderness in the 1920s, home to bears, foxes, wolves and other wild creatures. One night it snows. Taken in by the sight, Mabel goes out into the yard and seeing her husband throws a snow ball at him. They find a moment of light in their otherwise bleak lives. And carried away with the emotion, Mabel asks her husband to help her make a snowman.

They create the figure of a girl out of snow. The next morning the figure is gone – footprints leading away from where it stood, the red scarf and mittens that adorned it are gone. Over time, Mabel and Jack keep catching glimpses of a blonde haired little girl with a fox by her side. Are they getting “cabin fever” or is there a real child out there? Or is she something out of a fairytale – like the story of The Snow Child that Mabel read when she was young?

I will leave it there as I don’t want to spoil the plot. This book was simply magical. The writing is so evocative that reading about the Alaskan cold had me reaching for a blanket to snuggle up under. It kept me guessing as to whether ‘the Snow Child’, Faina, is a real girl or a magical creature created out of the couple’s longing for a child.

I loved the imagery of snow and wild beasts and the descriptions of life on the land. Passages like this one:

“How could this land ever be farmed? Wherever the work stopped, the wilderness was there, older, fiercer, stronger than any man could ever hope to be. The spindly black spruce was so dense in places you couldn’t squeeze an arm between them, and every living thing seemed barbed and hostile – devil’s club thorns that left festering wounds, stinging nettles that raised welts, and at times swarms of mosquitoes so thick he had to fight panic.”

Eowyn Ivey’s writing is meticulously crafted yet it is effortless to read. If only I could read more books like this one …

Which authors’ writing styles do you admire?

Very Bad Reading Habits: Kindle edition

Back in May I made a confession about my very bad reading habits. Not wanting to toot my own horn, but it remains my one of my most read blog posts. Now that I have recently become the owner of a kindle, I have entered a whole new reading experience. I thought it might be interesting* to repost my original blog post and update it for the e-reader. My kindle touch observations are below in blue (*It is entirely possible that I might be the only one interested in this.)

 

I have a confession to make … I have some very bad reading habits. In a perfect world, I would be a perfect reader – the kind of reader who buys a book, dutifully reads it from cover-to-cover and reads in total silence. I am not such a reader.

My Bad Reading Habits are as follows:

I’m a skipper: I regularly take peeks at the pages ahead of where I am at in a book. I do this for several reasons:

  • to see if a slow book is going to get any more interesting;
  • because I like to pre-empt where the plot is taking me and want to confirm my suspicions (I do this a lot when I’m reading crime or mystery books);
  • if I am really enjoying a book where the heroine has a couple of choices for love interests (because I like to know which love interest I should be supporting from the start); and
    because life is too short to waste on a book that isn’t reeling me in. If it starts getting better mid-way, I know to persevere and keep going.

Note: If I love a book, I usually refrain from doing this and will let the author take me on a journey where the destination is unknown. Even though I can barely stand the surprise!

Kindle POV: I am doing this less with my kindle – if at all. The reason being that I still don’t know how to work it properly and the couple of times I have tried to look ahead, I ended up losing my place and having to flick through the electronic pages trying to remember where I was. Skipping is so much quicker with a real book!

I’m an abandoner: I buy the book. I start it. And if it doesn’t suck me in, I abandon it. This makes me feel incredibly guilty. It’s like buying an item of clothing that you never wear. Some women have a shoe habit, I have a book habit. The abandoned book sits beside my bed, looking at me reproachfully. Then it gets exiled to my bookshelf when another book takes its place in my heart. I think to myself that ‘one day’ I will pick it up again and read it. I seldom do. It sits there and eventually ends up being donated to a charity shop in pristine condition. I like to think that someone else will give it the attention I never gave it.

Books I have abandoned and should have read include: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts and A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin.

Kindle POV: Maybe it’s the novelty of downloading an electronic book but so far I haven’t abandoned any of my e-books (though I cheated my way through Jane Eyre Laid Bare by skipping ahead –  just to get the book over and done with). I don’t think there is the same amount of guilt associated with abandoning an e-book. Perhaps because it is but a line on a menu screen, unlike the big chunky book that sits beside your bed, staring you in the face.

Also, e-books are mostly cheaper so it’s a bit easier to abandon. But if you decide not to read it, you can’t re-gift it, pass it on to a friend or give it to charity. And that is a great shame.

I’m a devourer: I read books like I eat cake – too quickly for my own good. I should take more time to savour the words instead of gobbling them up so fast I forget what I’ve just read. Just think of how long some poor author has slaved away over one sentence and I’ve probably missed its beauty because I’m whizzing by.

Kindle POV: kindle is making me more a devourer than ever. Maybe because I like smacking the screen with a finger to turn the page. A quick scan read – next page. Hmm … don’t think this is a good thing. Could it be that my ownership of an e-reader is making me an even worse reader? Perhaps a prolific reader but that’s no good if I can’t remember the plot of the book I just read.

I’m a judger: I tend to turn my nose up at snobbish books. You know the ones that are published dripping with literary praise and are accompanied by reviews that use words you’ve never heard before. If I can’t even decipher the review, I know the book will give me trouble. These books scare me. I fear that I will need a dictionary, thesaurus and a PhD to get through each sentence. They also stop me from doing my usual speed reading which then causes me to abandon them. I distrust books or authors who place themselves above the teeming reading masses.

But I feel I need to read more of these books. I need to get outside of my comfort zone and find out why the literati are raving about the kind of books you will never find for sale in Target. As long as it’s not a case of ‘The Emperor’s New Book’ where people think it’s cool to like something because no one wants to admit they have no idea what it’s about.

Kindle POV: kindle was made for the mass-market reader. Just look at how cheap all the ‘paperback’ e-books are on Amazon. Yes, I am trying to read snobbish books but I don’t want to spend over a certain amount for e-books as I think I might as well buy the physical book for that price. And is it just me or are the ‘literary’ books super expensive as e-books?

I’m a non-sharer: It’s MY book! All mine! My precious! No, you can’t lend my book because 9 times out of 10 you’re not going to return it … I don’t like to lend books unless you’re family and I can raid your shelf afterwards to get my book back. But if I am moving and need to offload 6 boxes of books then you’re welcome to take your pick!

Kindle POV: Hee..hee… well the kindle is perfect for a non-sharer like me because you can’t share. But I’ve gotten better with my sharing since writing my original post so it is a bit sad not to be able to pass a story on.

I’m a multi-tasker: I admit to reading two books at the same time. I usually do this if the current book I am reading is in danger of becoming abandoned and there’s another exciting book waiting behind it, ready to prove its worth. I also have a nasty habit of reading whilst performing other tasks. I read on public transport and listen to music at the same time – usually to block out noisy commuters. I read during TV ad breaks so I can get in some reading time. (It’s difficult to find time to read.) And I read whilst eating lunch or dinner (often to the poor book’s detriment).

Kindle POV: It’s so easy to have multiple books on the go with kindle – and to carry them all around at the same time. Geez, I really do have terrible reading habits. Not to mention sounding like a walking advertisement for Amazon.

I’m a follower: I happily admit to jumping on many book bandwagons. Sometimes books are bestsellers and hugely popular for a reason – ‘cause they’re so good! I don’t mind being sucked into a massive marketing vortex and spat out the other side. Hell, I’ve even worked on book marketing campaigns and believed my own hype. While there’s something nice about discovering a good book or author before the masses and declaring ‘I liked them before they were popular’, as long as you enjoy the book, who really cares how you came by it.

Kindle POV: An e-reader is great for jumping immediately on a reading trend. I can download a book in less than a minute. But it doesn’t always work that way. I recently saw a book in the bookstore that I really wanted to read. I went online to Amazon only to discover that the e-book version wasn’t going to be available until next year. But I wanted it now! So I bought the book. When I want to read something, I will read whatever edition I can get my hands on.

Last confession … sometimes, very, very occasionally, I dog-ear the pages. And it makes me feel very, very bad.

Kindle POV: Can’t do that on this device but I am managing to smear all sorts of things on the touch screen. Still, that is not as bad as dog-earring a book.

Conclusion: It seems that my kindle may be giving me a whole new set of bad reading habits. But it doesn’t seem to matter as much when you are using an electronic device. I feel much worse mistreating and disrespecting a physical book.

Stats Appeal: My New Obsession

Hit me baby one more time …

I haven’t just been bitten by the blogging bug – I’ve been seduced by stats. That’s right, WordPress statistics. They’ve become addictive. I publish a post and then sit back to see who it will reach, using the stats that are built into WordPress. I love watching the column of the graph climb and climb from one hit to three, maybe four if I’m lucky!

I check it before I go to bed and then rush to boot up my laptop as I’m getting ready for work, hovering over my keyboard whilst spooning cereal into my mouth. Who’s been reading my blog while I’ve been sleeping? How many hits did I get overnight? Where are they from? Did anyone like me? Did anyone feel compelled enough to leave a comment or follow me? How did people find me: through WordPress, a link on someone else’s blog, after I’ve visited their blog and left a comment, or through a search engine? It’s all completely fascinating.

Now I get why it’s called the web

When I first started blogging two months ago, I likened this experience to being a drop of water in a very large ocean called the blogosphere. Now I feel more like a busy little spider, spinning a web. My tiny web gets a little bigger with each post, reaching out over the internet. I am connecting to others, busily spinning their own webs. We link to each other’s webs and so we help each other grow.

Flogging and Lost Mojo bring people to me

I get a kick out of the random search engine terms that bring people to my blog. It’s funny that at least one person a day is typing in ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and ‘flogging’ which leads them to me. I really hope they aren’t too disappointed that my Fifty Shades of Grey post isn’t actually a ‘how-to’ guide. There are also quite a few people searching for their lost mojo which again brings them to this blog. Even a spammer told me that’s how they found me. I guess spammers can have mojo issues just like the rest of us.

Hey, do you think I just increased the likelihood of even more people who are googling ‘flogging’ and ‘mojo’ coming to my blog? I think my next book purchase will be Search Engine Optimization for Dummies

Blogging All Over the World

I love seeing which countries visitors are from: USA, Canada, Australia, India, Italy, UK, Turkey, the Philippines, France, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Ireland, Iceland, one lone hit from New Zealand etc… Words and books really can unite the world.

If you build it, followers will come …

I enjoy checking out the blogs of people who ‘like’ one of my posts. I’ve found some really cool blogs to follow this way. And it just feels nice that someone out there paused long enough to click the ‘like’ button. Hopefully, they read the post as well!

It’s also exciting to see my followers grow from 1 to over 60 in the past 2 months. Of those, only three of them actually know me in real life (hi sisters and dad). I get a real thrill when someone decides I am worthy enough to follow. I can only hope that they will come back now and then to say hello.

BTW, I always feel like a cult leader when I talk about ‘my followers’. Now if only I could get non-WordPress people to follow me as well …

But the way I measure my blogging success is not through followers, it’s through comments. Out of all the stats, comments are what give me the biggest high. I like it when someone has read the same book and feels compelled to respond to something I said. Or people just drop-in to say they liked a post or they share the same thoughts as I do on a particular subject. This two-way communication is really what it’s all about for me. I guess it also gives me a bit more confidence in my writing ability. Maybe one of these days I’ll actually call myself a ‘writer’ or a ‘blogger’ instead of a dabbler. But there’s still so much to learn …

Are you an avid stats watcher? What funny search engine terms bring people to your site? How do you measure your blogging success?

Very Bad Reading Habits

I have a confession to make … I have some very bad reading habits. In a perfect world, I would be a perfect reader – the kind of reader who buys a book, dutifully reads it from cover-to-cover and reads in total silence. I am not such a reader.

My Bad Reading Habits are as follows:

I’m a skipper: I regularly take peeks at the pages ahead of where I am at in a book. I do this for several reasons:
• to see if a slow book is going to get any more interesting
• because I like to pre-empt where the plot is taking me and want to confirm my suspicions (I do this a lot when I’m reading crime or mystery books)
• if I am really enjoying a book where the heroine has a couple of choices for love interests (because I like to know which love interest I should be supporting from the start)
• because life is too short to waste on a book that isn’t reeling me in. If it starts getting better mid-way, I know to persevere and keep going.

Note: If I love a book, I usually refrain from doing this and will let the author take me on a journey where the destination is unknown. Even though I can barely stand the surprise!

I’m an abandoner: I buy the book. I start it. And if it doesn’t suck me in, I abandon it. This makes me feel incredibly guilty. It’s like buying an item of clothing that you never wear. Some women have a shoe habit, I have a book habit. The abandoned book sits beside my bed, looking at me reproachfully. Then it gets exiled to my bookshelf when another book takes its place in my heart. I think to myself that ‘one day’ I will pick it up again and read it. I seldom do. It sits there and eventually ends up being donated to a charity shop in pristine condition. I like to think that someone else will give it the attention I never gave it.

Books I have abandoned and should have read include: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts and A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin.

I’m a devourer: I read books like I eat cake – too quick for my own good. I should take more time to savour the words instead of gobbling them up so fast I forget what I’ve just read. Just think of how long some poor author has slaved away over one sentence and I’ve probably missed its beauty because I’m whizzing by.

I’m a judger: I tend to turn my nose up at snobbish books. You know the ones that are published dripping with literary praise and are accompanied by reviews that use words you’ve never heard before. If I can’t even decipher the review, I know the book will give me trouble. These books scare me. I fear that I will need a dictionary, thesaurus and a PhD to get through each sentence. They also stop me from doing my usual speed reading which then causes me to abandon them. I distrust books or authors who place themselves above the teeming reading masses.

But I feel I need to read more of these books. I need to get outside of my comfort zone and find out why the literati are raving about the kind of books you will never find for sale in Target. As long as it’s not a case of ‘The Emperor’s New Book’ where people think it’s cool to like something because no one wants to admit they have no idea what it’s about.

I’m a non-sharer: It’s MY book! All mine! My precious! No, you can’t lend my book because 9 times out of 10 you’re not going to return it … I don’t like to lend books unless you’re family and I can raid your shelf afterwards to get my book back. But if I am moving and need to offload 6 boxes of books then you’re welcome to take your pick!

I’m a multi-tasker: I admit to reading two books at the same time. I usually do this if the current book I am reading is in danger of becoming abandoned and there’s another exciting book waiting behind it, ready to prove its worth. I also have a nasty habit of reading whilst performing other tasks. I read on public transport and listen to music at the same time – usually to block out noisy commuters. I read during TV ad breaks so I can get in some reading time. (It’s difficult to find time to read.) And I read whilst eating lunch or dinner (often to the poor book’s detriment).

I’m a follower: I happily admit to jumping on many book bandwagons. Sometimes books are bestsellers and hugely popular for a reason – ‘cause they’re so good! I don’t mind being sucked into a massive marketing vortex and spat out the other side. Hell, I’ve even worked on book marketing campaigns and believed my own hype. While there’s something nice about discovering a good book or author before the masses and declaring ‘I liked them before they were popular’, as long as you enjoy the book, who really cares how you came by it.

Last confession … sometimes, very, very occasionally, I dog-ear the pages. And it makes me feel very, very bad.

What are your bad reading habits?

The No. 1 crime against books