I’m obsessed with author bios, especially Shirley Jackson’s.

Today I ran across this charming piece about one of Shirley Jackson’s author bios over at Literary Hub. (Consider this another of my eternal plugs for signing up for their newsletter, which is great.)

TheRoadThroughTheWall CoverApparently the bio–to be included with Jackson’s 1948 novel The Road Through the Wall–was written by her husband, and it includes the following delightful details:

  • “She plays the guitar and sings five hundred folk songs…as well as playing the piano and the zither…”
  • “[She] is perhaps the only contemporary writer who is a practicing amateur witch…”
  • “She is passionately addicted to cats, and at the moment has six, all coal black…”
  • “She does not much like the sort of neurotic modern fiction she herself writes, the Joyce and Kafka schools…”

I’m a die-hard Shirley Jackson fan and would have loved the article no matter what, but while reading it I was especially struck by how much author bios affect my love of books no matter who the author in question is. Shirley Jackson’s witchy reputation made her career (even as it earned her plenty of angry letters from busybodies), and I’m sure that author bios have held uncanny power over many other authors’ careers, as well.

If an author has a long and quirky bio like Jackson’s, that tells you something about their fiction; Jeff VanderMeer has a particularly strange one included in the paperback edition of Annihilation, an extremely strange–and wonderful–book that definitely has whiffs of Jackson to it.

If their bio is barren of anything other than where they live and their previously published titles, that tells you something too: Rachel Kushner’s bio at the back of The Mars Room is no more than one dry sentence long, as if the publisher (and author) are asking you to view the book in a vacuum.

Bios rarely make me feel like I know the author better; rather, they add a particular flavor of mystery that, in its own strange way, can make or break my reading experience. They are an elaborate art form all their own. A long and flowery bio at the end of a book as harsh as The Mars Room would have felt tone-deaf in the extreme, but to be left with nothing at the end of Annihilation–or a Shirley Jackson novel–would be a missed opportunity.

Of course, fairly or unfairly, I put the author bios included in memoirs under even more scrutiny. I read Cheryl Strayed’s bio at the end of Wild over and over, trying to glean some extra mystery and meaning from a book that already offered plenty. I did the same to Leslie Jamison’s bio in The Recovering: Intoxication and its Aftermath, a harrowing memoir-slash-journalistic-deep-dive about alcoholism and addiction. I’m not sure what information I was trying to grasp: that she was okay? That she was writing from a place of healed authority? Either way, my expectations were unfair, but I tried to satisfy them anyway.

Such is the power of the author bio. I don’t understand them, but I can’t stop myself from poring over them.

You can read the rest of Shirley Jackson’s lengthy and mischievous bio, along with some other charming biographical details about her work, over at Literary Hub.

How do you combat reading slumps?

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Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

You might have noticed that my blogging and reading have slowed down considerably of late–or you might not have. (I am my own harshest critic, after all, and just a tad self-centered about these things.) Either way, I’m undeniably in a reading slump right now and it’s hard not to get so irritated at myself that it makes the slump worse.

The fact that I run a book blog is just the cherry on top: I hate going too long without writing a post or two, and it’s hard to do that when I don’t have any fresh reading to inspire me.

I’ve noticed that I experience a couple of different types of reading slumps. In one, I’m busy or ill and simply don’t have the brainpower to read. Netflix and video games are my “comfort food” relaxation activities, even if I find reading to be more rewarding in the long run. When I’m too tired to read, I just…stop reading, tuning out in front of a screen instead, which causes a slump.

The other type of slump happens when I’m reading a bad and/or difficult (read: dense nonfiction) book. I’m gradually curing myself of the sunk cost fallacy–I’ve become much more willing to bail on a book if I’m not enjoying it–but again, book blogging means that I have to tolerate bad books a bit more than I would otherwise. I rarely bail on a book once I’m over halfway through, because then I’ve put in a bunch of time and won’t even get a review out of it.

Right now I’m in a dreaded double-slump: I’m exhausted and I’m reading something I’m not loving. Wedding planning is fun, but it’s a huge mental drain. Ditto my job right now: what no one tells you about going into freelance writing is that it’s also a lot of reading, for research and communication with clients and such. I’m also finding my current read to be shockingly bad (for the curious, it’s Invitation to a Bonfire by Adrienne Celt) and it’s making reading a total chore while I rush to finish it before its library due date.

I know that this slump will pass in time because the wedding will be over soon (gosh! so soon! I have so much to do!!!), work will cool down eventually, and Invitation to a Bonfire will soon be a distant memory…but it’s so hard to not throw a mini reading tantrum. I want to be back to my regular avid-reading self right now, dammit!

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image description: a GIF of Veruca Salt’s epic tantrum from the original Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory movie.

So, I thought I’d throw it out to my readers: How do you deal with reading slumps? I’d love to hear about it, and if you have any surefire cures, I think leaving them in the comments should count as your good deed for the day. Don’t you?

On hiatus

Hello, good readers! As I’d mentioned a couple weeks ago, I’ve been extremely sick recently thanks no thanks to my endometriosis. This week I found out that the next step in my treatment will indeed be surgery!

On one hand, this is great news: it means I’ll hopefully be feeling better soon. On the other, it means I’m going to be very stressed, busy, and out of sorts for the next few weeks while I reshuffle responsibilities and recover. Oy.

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In light of that, I’m going to give myself a break and take some time off of blogging–probably about a month. Till then you can email me or find me on Twitter and Goodreads. (You didn’t think I’d stop spewing my opinions on the internet entirely, did you?)

In the meantime, may all your pre-orders arrive a few days early, may your library holds come due at a manageable pace, may all the covetable books be on sale, and may every story you read be magical. Ciao for now! ☺️

Tell me your favorite library stories!

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’m feeling deathly ill (again) and there’s a good chance of major surgery on my horizon, so I’m not the happiest of campers today. To combat my icky mood, I thought I’d throw a library love fest on the blog today!

I absolutely would not be able to run this blog without access to the Saint Paul Public Library system. I spent the early part of this year stony broke, and libraries were (and are) a safe, free place to sit and work. They give me access to new book and movie releases without me needing to break the bank. (They have a particularly cool “Lucky Day” system where extra copies of books and movies are available when the hold/wait time would otherwise be prohibitively long.) Their selection is enormous, their request system is easy to use, and every branch I’ve been to is beautiful, well-lit, comfortable, and full of great staff. Almost every book in my Friday Bookbag is a library book!

I can’t sing SPPL’s praises enough, but they’re far from the only libraries that have nurtured me over the years. Here are a few of my best library memories:

  • As a kid, calling my local library a “lie-bury” for an embarrassingly long time.
  • Checking out a book from the Grand Rapids, Minnesota library and sitting on a nearby sunny pier for hours, watching the baby Mississippi River go by.
  • Helping to found Remer, Minnesota’s Centennial Library with the help of other awesome volunteers. Remer is home to under 400 people and it’s located far from any other library system, so the need for a volunteer-run library was enormous. I moved away a long time ago, but it’s still going strong!
  • Most recently, taking my little brothers to the enormous (and amazing) Hennepin Central library in downtown Minneapolis. My 10-year-old brother went nuts for the children’s section and my 13-year-old brother was literally speechless at their well-stocked, ultra-cool teen center. I was so proud :’)

What are your favorite library memories? Big or small, I want to hear about them. School libraries, little free libraries, bookmobiles, book clubs, and swaps are all fair game. Spill the beans in the comments!

Victor Lavalle tackles Stephen King’s latest in the New York Times

 

I’ve got two book reviews and a ballyhoo coming down the pipe, but this week has gotten off to a wildly busy start for me, so in lieu of an original post today I thought I’d share this lovely NYT review of Stephen King’s newest novel, The Outsider.

Victor Lavalle starts off recounting a personal experience familiar to most (if not all) writers:

The first time I wrote a short story I ripped off Stephen King.

(My first short story was a gender-swapped version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone titled “Salinda and the Ruby.” Good times.)

Lavalle goes on with more about the plot of The Outsider as well as some interesting thoughts on cultural appropriation–King has a patchy record in that regard in my opinion, but Lavalle seems to think he’s done a good job in this book.

(Related: If you haven’t read Nnedi Okorafor’s classic essay on King’s use of the “magical negro” trope, get thee to this hyperlink immediately.)

Then Lavalle drops in this gem:

More than 50 novels published, and [King is] still adding new influences to his work. I can think of a great many literary writers who are far lazier about their range of inspirations and interests.

What a zinger! I’m not a fan of horror, meaning most of King’s oeuvre isn’t in my wheelhouse, but his book On Writing is one of the best memoirs you could ever hope to read and I’ve always been inspired by King’s willingness to branch out as a writer (and lately, Twitter-er). Lavalle captured King’s charm perfectly here.

In short, this review is everything I’d like my book reviews to be someday: personal, open-minded, thoughtful, a bit funny. *gets inspired*

You can read the entire review here.

Some personal news

I technically graduated back in December, but today I got to celebrate my past 3.5 years of hard work towards my degree at my university’s commencement ceremony. It was special, to say the least!

I graduated with a B.A. in Public Health Sciences with Latin honors (magna cum laude) and membership in the Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Delta Pi honors societies.

By far the best part of college was everything I learned about myself along the way. I came all the way out of the closet, met and befriended the best people I could ever hope to meet and befriend, got engaged to my incredible-gorgeous-fantastic partner, Serena, and learned how to navigate two major disabilities–bipolar and endometriosis–that I was worried would ruin my life.

Words cannot express how grateful I am for the opportunities I’ve had. I’m living my best life as a full-time writer, which goes to show that childhood dreams can come true, and I can’t wait to see what blessings are just around the corner.

I’ll be back with the book-themed content you know and love on Monday, but I couldn’t help but share this good news today. ❤

Are you a reading perfectionist?

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Ah, the Goodreads reading challenge: it’s a New Year’s resolution that’s probably more keep-able than just “working out and eating healthy” (at least it’s tangible!), but for me, it’s also a source of major overcommitment and stress.

This year, I intended to read 100 books, which seemed pretty simple at the time. I’m a fast reader, and a little under two books a week seemed eminently doable. Right?

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Wrong. Between my busy life and my own perfectionism, I feel like I’ve had to fight for every single book I manage to read this year–not a good feeling, since ostensibly reading is supposed to be fun.

Where did I go wrong?

I can think of at least one clinical reason that’s outside my control: I’ve had obsessive-compulsive disorder since I was a kid, and it often causes this same kind of overcommit-and-crash-and-burn pattern. (My obsessions and compulsions relate to organization in ways that are less “helpful” and more “quagmire.”)

But I’ve heard a lot of other avid readers and book bloggers complain of this problem, too, so I don’t think it’s just me.

After all, there are so many new books and old favorites to enjoy, and never enough time–an essay by NPR’s Linda Holmes, titled “The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We’re Going to Miss Almost Everything,” gets to the heart of this. That’s one source of perfectionist tendencies.

But worse, when you’re a book blogger, you notice that there are always others who read more than you, who write reviews better than you, who publish more content than you, and are generally just “better” at being a reader/blogger than you. It creates this weird cycle of admiration and resentment, of “I could be like that if I just put my mind to it” and then despair when you can’t measure up.

This game of comparisons that I play with myself is tremendously unhealthy, unrealistic, and unfair, and I’ve noticed it spoiling my enjoyment of reading. It’s so frustrating that my oldest and favorite hobby is getting poisoned by something so pointless.

I started this blog as a way to get myself to read more and, by extension, also to write more. It began in my final semester of college (I graduated in December 2017), when I was feeling thoroughly burnt out on my coursework and uncertain about my life path–I was initially planning to go into the public health field before I switched to freelance writing.

Reading was my escape from that, and falling in love with reading all over again convinced me that I made 100% the right choice by striking out as a freelance writer. I already accomplished my initial goals for this blog–so I think it’s time to revisit them and make some newer, healthier ones.

I want to blog as a way to celebrate the books I love and process the books I don’t. I want to blog as a way to connect with other people who love books as much as I do. And in conjunction with that, it’s time to put my foot down and read for myself and not for other people. It’s time for me to stop putting my every reading choice and habit under the microscope in comparison to others.

I’m working on eradicating perfectionism from my life wherever I can, since the thing about perfectionism is it’s not about creating something “perfect” as it is about avoiding the nasty monologue of criticism that runs 24/7 in my brain. If I let that monologue get the best of me, it’s going to eat up everything I love and continue to make me miserable. Enough is enough.

Next year, I’m skipping the Goodreads reading  challenge. This year, I’m giving myself permission to ignore it (though I’ll continue to use Goodreads–you can friend me here.)

I’m tired of being a reading perfectionist–I’d much rather enjoy reading than be some arbitrary kind of “best” at it.


Are you a reading perfectionist? Have you overcome that perfectionism? (If so, how?!) I’d love to hear all about it in the comments!

Is cataloging your home library worth it?

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Every few years I get a wild hair to document exactly how many books I own. (Spoiler alert: lots!) I’m charmed by impeccably organized shelves (yes, even the color coded ones), by personalized bookplates and meticulous handwritten lending records, and most of all, by home library catalogs that boil down all my books to one neatly alphabetized list.

It’s unsurprising, then, that I’ve tried many, many times to create a comprehensive library catalog of my own. I’ve used LibraryThing (meh), Goodreads (another meh–it’s more social network than catalog), and even Google Sheets and Excel to do it, but I always give up.

I’m a perfectionist who owns, at minimum, several hundred precious books. Cataloging them is a lot of work! Knowing how many books I have? Great. Avoiding duplicates? Double-great. Being able to look over titles and authors at a glance so I can easily come up with blog post ideas? Best of all. But even those benefits can’t quite get me over the hump of actually doing it.

Despite all that, I’m trying again. I’m using Libib.com because it’s got a clean interface and it’s free (up to about 10,000 books, that is); I’m bundling the task into spring cleaning, motivating myself by imagining old books sold back to the bookstore and new books purchased with the store credit.

Will it be worth it in the sense that cataloging my library will save me at least as much time and effort as I put into doing it? Probably not. But cataloging has always been about more than efficiency for me. It’s about the smell of old books and the realization that it’s impossible to finish everything we start.

I know I’ll never, ever read or re-read all the books on my shelves. (After all, I’m always adding more.) In a weird way, there’s something comforting about remembering that. A catalog–even a half-finished one–lets me roll around in the idea that even though I might never re-read, say, Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine again, it’s always there just in case. I can scroll through a list of titles and authors and think happy thoughts about all the lazy afternoons I plan to spend stuffing my face with words.

Is home cataloging worth it? Not exactly. Will I do it? I’ll try. It keeps me humble.


Have you ever tried cataloging your books? Did you succeed? Worth it? Waste of time? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments!

I’m not sponsored by any of the cataloging websites and software I mentioned in this post. Opinions are all mine.

Still on hiatus!

I’m still recovering from a serious health issue that’s left me without much energy to read or write this month. I hope to be back on a regular posting schedule by April.

In the meantime, enjoy this meme I just made and am very proud of, inspired by a recent walk I took around my neighborhood:

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Additionally, I am still tweeting regularly about books, writing, and disability, as well as retweeting some of the good (bad?) memes and jokes that cross my timeline. If that’s your thing, you can follow me @maggietiede.

Thanks for bearing with me, folks!

In Review: February 2018

I don’t know about you, but link roundups make me feel like I am On Top Of Things™ somehow–like taking a few minutes to skim headlines and summaries could somehow keep me afloat in an internet that moves at the speed of light. Maybe that’s a bad habit, but I’ve decided to introduce a link roundup of my own at the end of every month just in case anyone out there enjoys the same thing.

So, for your skimming pleasure, here’s my February in Review.


I read 4 books this month:

  • Wild by Cheryl Strayed (Goodreads)
  • The Answers by Catherine Lacey (Goodreads)
  • A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe (Goodreads)
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (Goodreads)

(Also, here’s your periodic reminder that I am on Goodreads! I’m always looking for new Goodreads buddies, so add me there if that’s your thing. ☺)

I reviewed 3 books this month:

I checked out 4 books from the library:

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I bought 1 book:

I read 5 short stories:

Short Story Roundup 2/7 | Short Story Roundup 2/14

I have read 11 books so far in 2018!


How was your month? Feel free to link to your own blog posts in the comments!