What are your favorite things to read that aren’t books?

I’ve lamented a good deal on this blog about my reading slumps and how I wish I read so much more than I actually do. But it occurred to me recently that I never actually stop reading–I just read different things. When I’m struggling to focus on a book, I often dive headfirst into Twitter, for better or worse.

Another favorite of mine is advice columns: even at my reading slump-iest, I never, ever fall more than a couple days behind on Ask a Manager, Captain Awkward, or Dear Prudence.

I also spend tons and tons and tons of time reading longform articles online, usually ones I’ve found through Twitter or one of the myriad email newsletters I subscribe to. My favorite genre of these are deep-dives into scammers and government and corporate corruption (especially in Silicon Valley), followed closely by celebrity profiles and cultural criticism.

The fashion blogs Tom & Lorenzo and Go Fug Yourself fill up many of my hours, though I rarely if ever pick up an actual print fashion magazine thanks to the mainstream fashion press’s rampant body-shaming.

Finally, while I’m not a fan of audiobooks, I do spend a lot of time listening to podcasts, which I view as a first cousin to reading online content. My ongoing favorites are Stuff You Should Know, Sawbones, My Brother My Brother and Me, the Dear Prudence podcast, the late great Thirst Aid Kit (which I hope shall ride again), and NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour. I also love heavily season-based or one-off shows like Dirty John and Slow Burn.

All this got me thinking: why am I so hard on myself for “not reading,” when I’m clearly never “not reading”? (The answer is, of course, perfectionism, generalized anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder! But my point still stands.)

As the internet becomes more and more dominant in our lives, I have to wonder if our ideas about what constitutes “reading” and even what’s reviewed and analyzed on our beloved book blogs and in literary criticism will change, too.

Fanfiction has already crossed over into the mainstream, with Francis Spufford writing a much-anticipated “unauthorized” Narnia novel. (It’s fanfic, dude! You’re just writing fanfic.) Fifty Shades of Grey is part of that same blurring of the lines between “fiction” and “fan,” just a little tawdrier.

So what will it look like when we come to see internet texts–in all their ever-shifting, precarious (look at what happens when beloved outlets like The Toast and The Hairpin go offline) glory–as just as worthy as books?

I feel like print magazines are in a similar nebulous space, and they’re much older than the internet, so maybe there’s no hope for internet words after all. The New Yorker is my favorite magazine (which is why I was so thrilled to be in their letters to the editor section earlier this year, *shameless plug*), and it happens to be one of the snootiest highest-browest literary publications out there. But even then, I never seem to count the time I spend sitting down with an issue of The New Yorker as “reading” in the same way I’d count the time I spend reading a book.

I’m curious what the rest of you think. What do you read when you’re not reading books, and how do you feel about it? For those of you who do read and love audiobooks, do you have trouble convincing yourself that it’s “real reading” (and do you think podcasts count at all)? What words do you weigh as worthier than others?

Let’s chat all about it in the comments!

10 things moving will make you realize about your books (a story in 10 gifs)

celebration close up decoration design
Image description: A red heart ornament tied to packing paper and string. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

1. You’re never going to read that one. Really. Let it go.

Queen Elsa Frozen Gif 1
image description: Elsa from Frozen singing “Let It Go.”

2. You’re never going to re-read this one. It’s dead weight. Let it goooo.

Queen Elsa Frozen Gif
image description: Elsa from Frozen, still singing the catchiest song in the world.

3. You’re never going to re-read this one either…but you loved it so much the first time that it’s unimaginably precious anyway. Into the box it goes.

Gollum Gif
image description: Gollum hissing about his precious.

4. Hardcovers are so heavy. Stop buying hardcovers.

Mr. Potato Head Gif
image description: Mr. Potato Head from Toy Story’s arms fall off as he struggles to lift Tinker Toy dumbbell.

5. But this hardcover is so pretty…

Beauty and the Beast Gif
image description: Belle from Beauty and the Beast hugs a book

6. You forgot you had this one. You remember reading it. You remember that salsa stain and each individual dog-ear. It’s like running into somebody you used to know, the person who makes you realize now just how much you’ve changed. Usually for the better, but maybe a little bit for the worse? You lie on the floor and think about life and death and stuff for awhile.

Scott Pilgrim Gif
image description: Scott Pilgrim tells Ramona Flowers that he’s going to leave her alone forever now.

7. You forgot you had this one, too. You’ve never read it. It was a gift from someone close, someone who’s gone now, someone who shared your love of reading. You love it, but you know you’re never going to read it. You gently place it in the get-rid-of box, trusting that your memory of that kind and thoughtful gift is enough.

Coco Gif.gif
image description: Miguel from Coco plays “Remember Me” on the guitar in a room full of lit candles.

8. Or you keep it, even though you’ll never read it. After all, you’ve packed up far less worthy mementos today.

Peggy Mad Men Gif
Image description: Peggy from Mad Men walks down an office hallway carrying a heavy box and looking badass.

9. The dust and wear on all of these is gnarly. Jesus. You should take better care of your books.

Cat on Bookshelf
image description: A cat climbs on the top shelf of a bookshelf, pulling a bunch of books to the floor before falling off.

But seriously–you’re never going to take better care of your books. It’s okay! They’ll probably outlive you anyway. (And you find that thought strangely comforting.)

Belle Opening Scene Gif
image description: Belle from Beauty and the Beast swings from a bookshelf ladder in the opening scene of the movie.

The thing about selling a whole mess of books to Half Price is…

adult book book store bookcase
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

…you come home with even more books. Woe. (If you’re unfamiliar with Half Price, it’s a used bookstore chain where you can sell your used books for cash or credit…and I always take the store credit.)

This time I bought cookbooks–including a badass sushi cookbook and Essentials of Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan–a paperback copy of Difficult Women by Roxane Gay, and an intriguing big fat hardcover book about the history and sociology of “the other woman” over the centuries. That last one seems like it’ll make great fiction fodder.

The problem with this is, of course, that I am currently in the process of moving. Not sure if this is common knowledge (/s), but books are HEAVY and I was supposed to be moving less of them, not more! Oh well. *hair flip*

Those of you with a Half Price in your backyard know how it is, I’m sure. What’s your favorite section? Mine is definitely the sociology/anthropology/social justice/cultural studies section (whew, a mouthful!), where I found the book about “the other woman,” because I am a nerd about that stuff. Cookbooks and literary fiction are close seconds. Obviously.

Learn from my mistakes. Go sit in your car while they tally up the offer. Wandering around Half Price Books unsupervised is dangerous.

I’m in The New Yorker this week!

In case you’re a subscriber or have a sudden hankering for a real print magazine, I’m delighted to say that I currently have a letter to the editor in The New Yorker. (It’s the March 11th edition, the one with the skier and cute dogs on the cover.)

I wrote a response to Ian Parker’s excellent profile of Dan Mallory, bestselling pseudonymous author of The Woman in the Window and noted scammer and creep in the publishing world. Dan Mallory has said in a response to the piece that the history of lies that Parker uncovered are due to his bipolar II disorder.

Hmmm. I happen to have lived with bipolar disorder for nearly ten years, and I call bull.

Luckily, The New Yorker was kind enough to ask me to expand on my tweet on the subject to explain why mental illness doesn’t make you a liar, scammer, or cheat. Greed, arrogance, and privilege do.

I hope you’ll check it out! There’s a delay between when letters appear in print and when they go up on the site, so I’ll edit this post with a link when it’s live online.

I’m a Wikipedia source now, apparently! (And other miscellany.)

It’s been awhile! Since, uh, November, in fact. This is unfortunately the longest hiatus I’ve ever had on Maggie Reads, and if you follow me on Twitter, you might have gleaned that it’s for health reasons…again. Oy vey.

The bad news is that I’m not up to writing or reading much more than 280 character snippets at the moment. The good news is that I’m getting surgery in February that should help a lot. It’s going to be a long road back to normal, but I’m hopeful that normal is, indeed, waiting for me somewhere in 2019. I hope you’ll stick around till I get there!

In other, more charming news, I saw that I had an influx of traffic from Wikipedia today and did a little digging. Turns out that my blog post about the Future Library Project was used as a source for Wikipedia’s article about the Future Library Project!

Wikipedia article screenshot

How cool is that? It’s not even one of those weird stub articles that’s written by someone with an axe to grind. It’s a very professional-looking, well-rounded Wikipedia article. I’m honored to be included, though who knows if I’ll last till the next edit.

In other news, I celebrated a lovely Christmas with family and got to both give and receive some fantastic books. My wishlist this year was pretty much entirely cookbooks and my loved ones gave me some terrific ones. Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen by Sean Sherman and Beth Dooley, Now and Again: Go-To Recipes, Inspired Menus + Endless Ideas for Reinventing Leftovers by Julia Turshen, and an Instant Pot cookbook were all on the menu. I can’t wait to give them a spin. (Especially Salt Fat Acid Heat–like everyone else, I adored Samin’s Netflix series.)

My cousin also gifted me The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks and There There by Tommy Orange. I’m excited about both but especially about There There since I had it on hold at the library last month but was unable to pick it up because I’ve been so sick. I was crushed to miss it because it’s literally a 4-to-6-month-long wait for it in my local library system! That’s a loooooong time when you’re excited about a book, but now I don’t have to go back to the back of the line (or be back in line at all). Great timing, cuz.

As I said, I also gave a bunch of books for Christmas, with the help of NPR’s 2018 book concierge, which gets better and better every year. (It’s a giant widget of book recommendations that you can filter by all sorts of criteria.)

Here are some of the books I gifted this year:

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou, for my dad: A book about Theranos, a disastrous startup that lied to lots of people about their blood test results and was generally a terrifying/wacky/out-of-control company. The book is written by the journalist who initially broke the story for the Wall Street Journal.

Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi, for my brother who just left for college: A college romance (it’s a YA novel) that takes place mostly through text messages. My brother’s gay and unfortunately this romance is m/f but he loves the premise and promises to forgive me. (LOL.)

Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen and Warcross by Marie Lu, for my high school-aged brother: These are the only two books that I read before deciding to gift them. They are two badass YA novels that, to me, showed how rich and diverse the YA category is becoming. OMS is about a Jewish teen undercover at a Nazi boarding school and Warcross is about a teen hacker who hacks a futuristic Fortnite/World of Warcraft-style video game. Both totally awesome and (I hope) right up my brother’s alley.

Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel José Older, for my middle school-aged brother: This one’s about a group of orphans banding together and fighting bad guys during the Civil War, except they all have dinosaurs. How cool is that?!?!?! It also has the coolest cover ever:

Dactyl Hill Squad Cover

Best. Cover. Ever. Right? I hope my brother thinks so too!

So, those are all my bookish updates. I hope you’re all having a peaceful end of the year, and if you’re not, I hope you at least have some good books to get you through. I’m not sure when I’ll be back on the blog, but I’ll definitely be back. See you soon!

(And if you’re so inclined, please continue to cite me on Wikipedia, okay? It’s very flattering!)

Why I read women (or, why “universal” literature is bunk)

book book pages books browse
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

If you’ve spent any time on my blog–if so, thank you! –I think you’ll soon realize how few books by men I seek out, read, and write about. Scanning back a few months, the last two books by men that I’ve mentioned were Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (in September) and November Road by Lou Berney, in a Friday Bookbag all the way back at the beginning of August.

It’s not that there aren’t books by men that I enjoy. To discount the artistic ability of nearly half the population would be absurd, right? (Ha.) It’s that, for me, reading is personal. I have always read what I want to read, and I want to read about women.

Luckily, at least in this regard, I grew up homeschooled. (The only formal schooling I got before college was one hellish year in kindergarten.) While the experience was a mixed bag, one thing I remain grateful for was that my mother did not insist I read classics, leaving me instead to read…well, everything else.

Before starting this blog, I ran a YA book blog titled “Bibliophilia – Maggie’s Bookshelf” (clearly, I’m not particularly creative with blog names) from 2009-2013 or so. I took it down some time ago–it was full of embarrassing coming-of-age content that I no longer wanted to broadcast to the web–but the experience was profound. It was my first exposure to ARCs, reviews, the ins and outs of publishing, and most importantly, the incredible diversity of books that are out there if you’re willing to find them.

Once, both for that blog and for my own enjoyment, I read 365 books in a year. It’s a great fun fact.

And yet I’ve never read Moby Dick. I’ve never read Lord of the Flies or 1984 or Lolita or Steinbeck or Twain or Dostoyevsky or any of the dozens more defining books of the English-language canon.

It’s not something I’m proud of, per se, because canons exist to create common ground, and no reader is an island. I may not have read Moby Dick but I have read countless other books by authors who care a lot about Moby Dick. To be so unfamiliar with their source material is a loss, not a gain.

But I still don’t know if I’ll ever read Moby Dick, because I value fun–or at the very least, human connection–in what I read, and Moby Dick strikes me as neither fun nor about the kind of humans I care for, although perhaps I would be interested in the whale. If that makes me a bad reader, so be it.

There is also, quite simply, so much else to read.

I once began a college essay with “I have never been fond of feminism as a way of being.” It was an essay for an English literature class; an essay on Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, no less. It’s an essay I look back on with a fair amount of embarrassment, but also, strangely, delight.

Because earlier that same year, I devoured Mockingjay, hunting an elusive release day copy at every bookstore in town. I would soon be introduced to Tris of Divergent. I already loved the kooky, Southern Belle-esque feminine wiles of Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves, about a schizophrenic biracial girl who returns to a Lovecraftian Texas town to fight monsters. I was enthralled by Gemma Doyle, Libba Bray’s Victorian witchy badass who has a vulnerable side, too. I was addicted to Philippa Gregory’s “historical,” smutty novels about the women of Tudor England. Which is to say nothing of Katsa or Lauren Olamina or Offred, or–heaven help me–Bella Swan, or Merricat and Constance of We Have Always Lived in the Castle itself, or the dozens of other intense, prickly, complex heroines who have profoundly shaped my life.

I am delighted by my crappy college essay because it has the broken-clock quality of understanding that feminism, to me, is not a way of being, at least not in any cohesive sense. It is merely–and perhaps that is the wrong word–merely the acknowledgment that the lives of women and nonbinary people are not second-rate. (Revolutionarily.)

Their stories aren’t second-rate, either, something I must have understood already, based on my tastes. Based, as well, on my analysis of Jackson’s creepy, idiosyncratic, lovely novel about two sisters, an uncle, and a sugar bowl. I still think that analysis is quite good; I found that novel to be deadly serious, and still do, just as I find the lives of young girls everywhere to be deadly serious.

If I were to assemble a personal canon, here are the novels I would place most prominently within it:

  • The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
  • Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
  • History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
  • Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
  • Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
  • and, yes, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson.

It is not the canon. It is a canon, and I am always re-shaping it. It is a key to my heart and also, somehow, my heart itself. I encourage you to develop your own.

My life is not second-rate. My experiences are not second-rate. And neither of the stories of other oft-forgottens, especially the stories of Black women, Indigenous women, and other women of color. I am always reading–devouring–stories that affirm that truth, however frivolous they seem. (In fact, the more frivolous, the better.) This is an act of self-love and an act of love for the universe.

It is not that I find the male literary canon to be irrelevant. It is that it is a treasure that already has a home and a prominent shelf to itself.

And I am looking to find treasures of my own.

I’m back!

…and newly married, honeymooned, and more relaxed than I’ve felt in what seems like years. So relaxed, in fact, that I can’t quite seem to focus on books just yet. But since I can never stay away from reading (or opinion-giving) for long, I’m sure you’ll see me back here soon. I’ve got a number of library holds and NetGalley requests pending that have me extremely excited, after all. I might do a post this week just about those. Hmmm…

In the meantime, here’s a photo of me and my wife taken just before our ceremony that’s giving me warm fuzzies every time I look at it:

Photo of the Brides

image description: a photo of two very happy-looking people in white poufy dresses. My now-wife Serena is on the left. She is wearing a veil, pearl earrings, and a pearl necklace. I am on the right wearing a tiara. We are embracing in front of a brick background.

Thanks for sticking around, dear readers, and I’ll see you soon!