The 7 Deadly Sins of Reading

Yes, there are heinous sins that can be committing when you are a reader. No one is perfect. The reason I know about all seven of the deadly sins of reading is because I’ve committed each of them at one time or another.

So what makes something a reading “sin”? It’s actually quite simple: anything that can take away from my reading experience, the experience of others, or causes structural damage to the book. The point of reading is two fold: first, to gain knowledge and second, to be entertained. If you find that you have committed any of these sins than please, don’t beat yourself up. Everyone makes mistakes.

  1. Reading someone else’s book before they do

Now this is just plain mean. If someone gets a book, or if you get a book for someone else, it is simply common courtesy to allow him or her the time to enjoy their book before you jump into their comfy seat. Now I know this one can be very hard, especially when you are a fast reader and your friend/family member is a slow of distracted reader and they have the sequel in the series you want to read. Just have patience and do your best to find another book. They will finish eventually.

  1. Dog-earing pages

When I read through a book I don’t want to see a bunch of turned down corners. This is especially bad if the person who is reading the book is busy or easily distracted because they dog-ear twice as many pages. Now I know some of you may be thinking this is just a personal pet peeve and that it shouldn’t be listed among the major reading sins, but consider the purpose of a book mark. You can buy a fancy one that slides onto the page, get a free one when you go to a bookstore, or even grab a piece of toilet paper to mark your spot (I prefer to fold a sticky note in half when I’m desperate, but to each their own). This is similar to the sin of slothfulness. Just stick something between the pages.

  1. Skipping to the end of the book

What is the point of reading the rest of the book when you already know how it ends? This is especially applicable if that book happens to be a mystery novel. The only exception to this is when you are struggling to get through the book and you need to know if it’s worth it. This happened to me when reading the last book of the Eragon series. I felt like it was dragging on and on, and wanted to see if it was worth it. (It wasn’t). So just keep reading and remember the joy is in the journey not the end goal.

  1. Refusing to read a book because it would ruin the movie

This is like saying I don’t want to look at any work by Picasso or Rembrandt because it’ll make your neighbors artwork look bad. What!? First off, you should never deny yourself the opportunity to experience greater art because it will ruin the lesser work. That just sounds plain silly. Talk about masochism.

  1. Breaking the spine

It just invites everyone else to do the same. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a book with a broken spine and felt like I was only contributing to the day when it eventually broke in half. Be polite and don’t do this…

Or this…

And especially not this…

(The spine was already broken. I felt terrible about having to do this to a book, but it needed to be done for the greater good).

  1. Rejecting a book before you try it

“How do you know you don’t like it until you try it?” How many parents have tried that on us, right? But seriously, you can’t know until you’re at least given it the good ol’ college try. You don’t have to finish it, just like you (hopefully) didn’t have to finish your green beans if they made you gag at the dinner table. But don’t say it’s bad unless you’ve actually tried it. I have never spoken a bad word about the Twilight books because I’ve never read them. The movies on the other hand…

  1. Continuing to read a book when you don’t like it

Again, masochism. Don’t torture yourself if the book sucks. Now I know this is a weird thing to include in the Seven Deadly Sins of Reading, but think about it. There are so many good books out there that are begging to be read. If you spend your time reading a terrible book (or just a book you don’t like) than that gives you less time to read the books you will like. When people are forced to read books they can’t stand then they may end up hating books. In which case the sin falls on the enforcer. Books, as I said previously, are meant to be enjoyed. If you aren’t enjoying it than you aren’t doing it right.

So when you decide to pick up a book just remember that there are commandments that need to be followed so that you can enjoy reading to the fullest and not make anyone else miserable. Now go find that book you love, grab a nice cup or tea, hot cocoa, or whatever your preference tells you, and get comfortable. Happy reading.

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A Man Called Ove: A Book for Everyone

Over the years I have read many books that take root in my mind and become a part of how I think. In those same years I have found very few books that plant a seed in my heart and become a part of who I am. A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman reached out and taught me how to be a better man.

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Ove is Ove. There is no better way to put it. After the death of his wife and being let go from his job of over a third of a century Ove has nothing to live for.

What follows is the heart touching account as Ove, the grouchiest man anyone has ever met, who looks at the world as if it’s full of idiots, discovers what he still has left to live for, and the community is forced to take a fresh look at the man they thought they had all figured out.

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I heard so much hype about this book. People said it was the greatest book they had ever read, others that it was the best-written book they’ve read in years, as well as further praise. When I bought this book it was because I was trying to use a sale and needed to spend $50 at B&N to save $15, and this was the only book I could think of that I wanted. As soon as I got home I began to worry. What if it isn’t good? Why didn’t I buy any of the other countless books on my book list? I talked to my wife and she told me to shut up and read the book before I ruined it for myself. So I did.

To all those people out there who spoke highly of this book: thank you. It has been a long time since I read anything that I needed to read as much as this.

There are not many novels I would recommend to everyone. Certain books are wonderful but they don’t jump genre preferences, so they aren’t for everyone. A Man Called Ove is a book for everyone. It’s a book about the importance of principles, the difficulty of grief, and the value of loyalty. I expected to read a heartwarming novel about a grouch. Instead I read a life-changing book about a misunderstood man.

What was my favorite part of this book? I loved the analogies. “Ove looks at the book more of less as if it just sent him a chain letter insisting that the book was really a Nigerian prince who had a ‘very lucrative investment opportunity’ for Ove and now only needed Ove’s account number ‘to sort something out’.” From that description I can see exactly how he views the book without having to be told emotions, what his face looks like, or anything else. For a man who talks so little his expressions provide more than enough dialogue on their own.

I wish I had thought to highlight all these great analogies, but I guess that gives me a reason to read it again.

So again, thank you for those people who had positive things to say about A Man Called Ove. Without your praise I may never have picked up this book, and I may never have found another book to be added to the shelf of favorites.

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The Lonely Hobby

It’s pity party time.

When I started my blog I did it for one reason: to share my thoughts about books and bookish things, and find people who love these things as much as I do. I mean, I’d love to make money off my blog like some people do, but currently I only have like a hundred people who follow me, so I’m working on it. But really I just want to talk to people about the things I love because let’s be honest, I can’t find anyone in my area who loves to talk about books like I do.

Now I know what everyone is thinking: “That man needs to join a book club.” And to be honest, I would love to.

“So why don’t you?”

Well the central problem is that I work six days a week and still manage to have no money at the end of the month, so I work more and have significantly less time to do things like blog, continue writing my book, let alone go to book groups.

“So just make friends with people who like books.”

I won’t go into detail about the making friends topic, which has been enough of a struggle as it is. But the other challenge is finding people who like to talk about books. With a few exceptions, whenever I try talking to people about books that we’ve both read the extent of the conversation is usually as follows:

Other Person (OP): So what kind of books do you like to read?

Me: Most of them. I just finished reading What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell.

OP: I’ve never heard of that one, but I loved Outsiders.

Me: Oh yeah? I read that one a while ago and also loved it. I love how he can take something completely ordinary and make it fascinating and in the end tie it all together with the overall topic.

OP: Yeah it was pretty good. He’s definitely an interesting writer.

Me: I was pretty skeptical with some of his claims, but his approach was so methodical I had a hard time disagreeing off hand. In that book specifically it seemed like he answered the question so easily that I felt there had to be more. What was your favorite part?

OP: I don’t know, I liked the whole thing. It was interesting.

The depth, or rather lack thereof, that people want to talk about books is the problem. When it comes to fiction I enjoy examining the characters and discussing what they were able to bring to the overall story (or as is sometimes the case, what they failed to bring to the table). I love taking a look at the plot and examining how the author used different tools to accomplish the things he did. When I talk about Stephen King I don’t want to have a two second conversation about how the book was good and I like his work. He is a master of plot building and character development. When I finish one of his books I feel like I know the characters. I get wrapped into the plot so that when he builds the suspense I get hooked and can’t let go.

So when I say that reading is a lonely hobby it’s because too many people seem to think that reading is a solitary pastime. It isn’t. You can read aloud, you can read by yourself and then get together with friends and acquaintances for discussion, or you can debate books that you and a friend liked or disliked. When I finish a book I want to talk to someone about it and share my thoughts, but 90% of the time I just can’t. I write a blog, publish it, and then move on to the next book. All of my thoughts, opinions, and feelings find themselves organized and placed into my mental filing system in case the day comes when I find someone who’s read the same book and wants to talk about it. Until then, I continue to build the library in my head in the hope that someone will come to check something out.

Happy Reading.

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A Fatal Grace: A Chilling Mystery

a-fatal-grace

I have finally read a mystery where I successfully guessed the culprit before the end!

YES!!!

As I say this I feel strange. I could have sworn that I had successfully beaten the author of a mystery book before, but this is the first. Sometimes I’ve guessed part of it, but never all of it. It’s a special feeling to know that I solved the mystery, and better yet that I did so using the strategies I wrote about earlier. All mystery authors have a method. Once you discover it your chances of beating the author at their game become that much greater.

A little over a year has past since the events of Still Life and the town is enjoying the Christmas Holliday when another body is discovered electrocuted in the middle of a frozen lake. When Inspector Gamache arrives to investigate he finds little love lost between the victim and the Three Pines residents. With just about everyone having a motive to see CC killed the suspect list is long, and Gamache will have to work fast to find the murderer as the weather turns worse and other forces seem to be moving against Gamache for reasons of their own.

If the rest of these books take place in Three Pines, than this small quiet town is going to become a very dangerous place to live, what with there being thirteen books now. Though series is spread out over the course of many years, so it’s not as dangerous as it could be.

The problem with reviewing books in a series is that there’s not much left to say that I didn’t say for the first novel. A Fatal Grace is a fantastic, clever, charming sequel to an already great debut novel. If Louise Penny’s work continues to be this good than I look forward to reading the rest of them.

Now, I’ve heard some people call this a cozy mystery series. I’m not sure what constitutes a cozy mystery, but I don’t think this fits in that generalization. I’ve ready some cozy mysteries from Donna Andrews and others including Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon and Some Like it Hawk, and the Inspector Gamache Series has its own uniqueness. It has a depth to the characters and the plot that I have found to be uncharacteristic with the trends that run in cozy mystery genre. But I do acknowledge that my experience with cozy mysteries is limited. For all I know I’ve just found my gateway book into the sub-genre.

So I will say it again. If you like mysteries then you should try this series. Start in the beginning. There is development and background information you will need from the previous books to fully understand the relationships that exist. So get off that sofa or wherever else you’ve ensconced yourself to read this post and find yourself a copy of Still Life. If it turns out this isn’t your cup of tea, than let me know. I’d love to know why someone wouldn’t like these books.

Happy Reading!

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How to Read a Mystery Novel

There is a big difference between solving a mystery and solving a mystery novel. The mystery novel is specifically designed to lead you in the wrong direction until the very end where you kick yourself for not being able to have figured it out before. At least that’s usually how my experiences ends, anyway. I like to think that I’m good at solving puzzles; I keep telling myself that in the hope that one day it’ll be true. But the sad reality is I struggle with puzzles, riddles, mysteries, and even poems, which I consider to be the dastardliest of all puzzles ever. Regardless, I mentioned in one of my previous posts for Agatha Christie’s, Appointment with Death, that solving book mysteries is a game in itself, but I felt the process needed it’s own post. These are a few tricks that I’ve learned along the way that have helped me.

  1. It is never the person you expect.

While reading the book, keep track of whom the detective and side characters accuse. This is a common strategy used to mislead you into creating assumptions and building false evidence, thus leading you away from the murderer and towards a crowded time-out corner filled with people just like you who were duped. I’ve found that the best way to keep track is to use an index card as your bookmark and write down the names of all the characters. As they are accused, check them off the list. Those who are left are the most likely suspects.

  1. Look for the person who has the most to gain.

Motives are aplenty and many of them will seem the most likely option; however, this is another way in which Christie will try to lay down false trails and obvious options. Don’t accept the gifted horse. All too often the most crucial clue is hidden in a single obscure sentence. If you miss it, don’t despair; there will be other clues you can piece together as you go. Remember, the person you are looking for is never the obvious choice, so don’t let it distract you. Keep your eye focused on all the characters, not just the ones wrapped in pretty bows.

  1. Don’t let characters slip into the background.

A crime has been committed; the criminal isn’t going to want people looking at him or her too closely, and that includes you. This goes back to the importance of keeping a list of characters: with Agatha Christie, everyone is a suspect and all too often the one we’re looking for is the one who we are most likely to forget.

  1. Who can you rule out instantly?

Those who seem to have an iron clad alibi are not always as they seem. If you think it’s impossible for them to have committed the crime, think again. This is Agatha Christie’s most powerful tool for deception. We may see an impossible option, but just wait; that impossible option may not seem as impossible when the detective explains just how the murder was committed and covered up.

Now I should add that it can be difficult to remember to do these things while you read. I have continued to read many mysteries since Appointment with Death, and I am still yet to completely solve one before the end. The reason for that being I forget to follow these rules and someone always falls into obscurity, only to be revealed in the end. So next time you decide to pick up a mystery novel, remember these tips and you just might find yourself reading the end with a look of smug satisfaction on your face after having guessed the culprit before the reveal.

Happy Reading and may the odds be ever in your favor.

 

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The Secret of Chimneys: Not All Is As It Seems

the-secret-of-chimneys

I don’t know what it is about mysteries lately, but they’ve got their hooks in me. I finished reading Still Life, by Louise Penny, and had a couple days before I could get the sequel, so I started reading The Emperor of Ocean Park, by Stephen L. Carter. It was good but not what I wanted, so I grabbed Under the Dome, by Stephen King, with the same results. I thought about trying a fantasy book but I didn’t even get as far as selecting one to read. Obviously I’m in what is commonly called Sherlock Syndrome: an unrelenting need to engage in mysteries for the intellectual challenge of outsmarting the criminal. Since I currently live in Rexburg, ID where nothing exciting happens (aka. no one is murdered on a semi-regular basis) the obsession craves the next best thing: fiction, and because I still think I can beat Agatha Christie at her own game I decided to tackle The Secret of Chimneys. What happened was that I second guessed myself so many times I ended up twisted into knots and kicking myself when the villain was finally revealed.

Agatha Christie: 5

Sam: 0

Summary:

Anthony Cade thrives on adventure. Little does he know that his decision to deliver a manuscript to a publishing house in London will thrust him into the middle of a political conspiracy surrounding the death of the king-to-be of a small eastern European nation. Soon Anthony, Scotland Yard, and the French Sûreté find themselves converging on the popular country estate of Chimneys where not everything is as it seems.

What more is there to say about Agatha Christie and her books? She is the queen of mystery. In my amateur opinion she is yet to be matched. Her stories take readers on a ride through a deceptively twisting plot leaving all but the most observant behind.

This book in particular is one of my favorites by Agatha Christie. Granted, I’ve only read five of her books, but from those I was especially impressed with this one. The Secret of Chimneys doesn’t follow any of her regular detectives, and I liked that. I especially liked Anthony Cade. He was smart, observant, and charismatic, but he also made mistakes and when he did he didn’t try to hide them. But just like most of her other books all the suspects are gathered together in the end in proper Christie fashion where the truth is revealed, and I was once again surprised by the result (but not too surprised. I did suspect them at some point in the play but had moved my suspicions elsewhere). My advice for this book, trust your first instinct.

Happy reading.

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How to Read More Books

how-to-read-more-books

When I tell people that I read 83 books last year I always get some variation of the same response: “How do you read that much?”

Some people think I read at the speed of light, which is astoundingly far from the truth. My mother can read a 300-400 page book in thee hours. She is a fast reader. I can read a 300-400 page book in about eight hours. That’s faster than some, but in a race I would be the octogenarian on a vespa. My secret is that I just read all the time. I read when I’m making dinner, in the car (when I’m not driving, of course), before bed, and even in the bathroom. I read whenever my workday is going extra slow and any other time I can manage it. So if you think you can’t read as much because you’re not fast, here are a couple of things I’ve found to make it easier.

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  1. Schedule a time to read.

We’re all busy, so finding the time to add something else to our day is not always easy. When I decided to start exercising everyday it was definitely hard. I had to schedule a time first thing in the morning, which also meant waking up earlier in order to get it done. But that means that you can do the same thing with reading. Schedule a time each day specifically for reading and commit at the same time every day.

  1. Put your electronics in time out.

We live in a technological age. We all have TVs, computers, smart phones, tablets, or any combination thereof. Being bored is not something we experience much any more. So when you want to read, turn off all your electronics and put them in time out. You have now eliminated most of the distractions in your life (though if you have kids, investing in a sound-proof room or heavy padlocks will probably help as well).

  1. Pick up a book.

This may seem obvious, but it isn’t. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve finished a great book and went to move on to another one and couldn’t pick a single book I wanted to read. When this happens, which it probably will if you haven’t read frequently in the past, start by grabbing the first book that remotely catches your attention. Remember, you can always put it back and grab a new one if you don’t like it, but the key is to start.

  1. Find somewhere to sit.

This one is also remarkably hard for people today. It goes back to us being busy; we want to constantly be doing things. If you can fight this urge, take your book, sit somewhere comfortable, turn on some relaxing music if you think it may help, and open up to page one. Do not get up unless you are done reading for the allotted time or your child is threatening to break down the door. It may be hard at first, but if you keep going it will get easier and you’ll start to look forward to reading time.

  1. Begin reading!

Again, obvious, but this comes back to what we talked about in the second step about getting distracted. As soon as you sit down and begin reading, if you’re anything like most people, you begin feeling guilty about taking time to relax and start thinking about all the things you need to get done. Resist this urge as well, but even saying that I know that it’s not easy. In fact, this will probably be the most difficult part for some people. But just keep reading! Those things will get done eventually. Who actually gets all the things on their to-do-list done every day anyway? I’m lucky to get half each day. And no, it’s not because I read so much… That’s preposterous.

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So remember: reading isn’t about how fast you can plow through a book; it’s about how much time you spend reading and how much you enjoy it when you do. If you begin to love reading (and if you read books you enjoy, I promise you will), then you won’t be able to stop. It will become a habit that will only ever make your life better. So go make time to read that book you’ve been putting off. Take some time out of your busy day to relax and enrich your life. You absolutely deserve it.

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