Hello hello! Wow it’s me, back on the blog again (I know what is this maddness?!). I’ve decided to try pick it up, but with a slower pace (maybe a post every week, maybe a post every two weeks, I’m not sure yet). Anyway, here we have the first post back and it’s a rare unicorn: a discussion post.
The other day as I was casually perusing the blog-sphere (and completely ignoring my other responsibilities) when I read a review by someone who said they hadn’t finished the book. They were about half way through and these were their thoughts.
Which got me thinking: Do you have to finish a book to review?
Many a time I have reached for pen and paper about half way through a book, deeming it too furstrating to not vent about. I have started rants no less than seven pages in before because a book has annoyed me so much. But I’ve never published a review before reaching the end. I always give it those last few pages as an attempt of redemption, a final chance.
I have DNFd books. I’ve come to the overall conclusion that life is too short to read rubbish. Even if bookstagram is shouting that it’s the best thing since sliced bread. But I’ve always decided to not review them, because I feel somehow bad for the book? Almost like I don’t have a right to review it, because I never actually read the end? Which isn’t necessarily a choice I’d pin others too, or even agree with.
Because what if no-one never finishes the book? Does a book that is never finished just receive no reviews, and then do people keep picking it up, wondering if it’s any good, find it’s not and abandon it. Could we break this whole cycle by being honest and just saying why we DNFd it?
But if you do review books that you DNFd how far through do you have to get through? If you read a paragraph, a page? A first chapter? Right up to the second last chapter? At what point can you review and what do you tell the reader? The page number you go to? The sentence? The percentage through and the last four characters you read?
And then there’s what’s fair on the book. What if people aren’t giving it a chance? What if the author can’t write beginnings but the end is just perfect? Well then arguably the author should probably learn to write beginnings. But still.
I can (kind of) see if both ways, but my overall conclusion is that no, I think you can review a book you DNFd. I think as long as you say you DNFd it, why can’t you give an insight into why? Surely reviews are to inform other readers, and you can save them wasting their time if you say why it rubbish. I do think it’s helpful to put how through you got and an overall page number would be good.
So let’s throw the question open. Do you DNF books? Do you review them? Do you like it when people do DNF reviews? (I do but that’s because they’re usually a little ranty and I love a good rant). Let me know in the comments!
Young people throughout YA literature are mature, independent and acute. While a strong message to any youth who feels powerless due to their age it does restrict the presentation of growth and give the illusion that many teenagers or young adults have it all worked out, while many of us reflect back on those years as confusing, unsure yet of who we would become.
I am glad it cannot happen twice, the fever of first love. For it is a fever, and a burden, too, whatever the poets may say.
Daphne duMaurier, Rebecca
My first feelings on immaturity would be romance. Having gone to an all girl’s school relationships weren’t apart of my world view until I hit 18, however I could still see my attitudes maturing towards them. At school I had ‘crushes’ on people I thought I should rather than actually did: movie stars or pop singers when in reality I have to know a person’s character and personality before I find myself falling for them, and rarely have ‘crushes’ based on looks alone. When I went to university and started having real relationships, my first one lasting a whole three weeks, I wasn’t yet comfortable being myself in a romantic relationship and it wasn’t until my current boyfriend that I’ve ever had that. Emotional maturity in relationship, at least for me, took time and, let’s be honest, a handful of failed attempts and learning curves.
This is something I feel is rarely reflected in YA literature. Many teen protagonists remain with their childhood sweetheart for years and I’d say their relationships almost stagnate, the couple rarely developing or growing apart which often occurs to childhood sweethearts. Teenage protagonists often know what they want from a relationship when going into it and, although I appreciate these strong character traits, it can often be disarming as the protagonist is showing the emotional maturity of an adult. Learning from failed relationships, discovering who you are and not quite knowing who you will be yet is something all teenagers and young people go through. The lack of these themes make characters unrelatable and present an unrealistic view of teenage romance.
You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.
The issues surrounding presenting teens in committed adult relationships is something I’ve touched on before in a previous post about the issues with the portrayal of romance in YA so I won’t dwell on the topic here. Rather we shall side step to another prominent issue with the mature youths flooding the pages of YA: a lack of youthful blunders. Our protagonists are increasingly showing themselves to be confident and capable at many tasks: from ruling kingdoms to outsmarting kings they are heralded for their bravery and skill. But as a teenager and now, in my early twenties, I find myself constantly making mistakes. From drinking a tad too much in a safe environment and, although ultimately nothing disastrous happened, learning your limits to realising the importance of honouring commitments in a timely manor to learning how to juggle friends, first loves and family my youth was full of learning curves that I would not define as entirely uncommon.
By presenting young people who don’t have these simple yet defining experiences readers are given few literature reference points for their feelings of failure. Novels rarely present characters learning from their mistakes as they are often strong willed and rarely achieve such simple blunders and even more scarcely do these blunders have small impacts on their character development, instead favouring larger effects on the plot. As our empowered youths hit the pages we are seldom given a chance to realise teenagers are still be empowered through common and simple failings, and these do not make their voice any less important.
Families are messy. Immortal families are eternally messy. Sometimes the best we can do is to remind each other that we’re related for better or for worse…and try to keep the maiming and killing to a minimum.
Rick Riordan, Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters
Family is a complex dynamic presented in YA. While often not present on the rare occasion a protagonist has a sibling or parent it is hard to see any genuine reliance. Young protagonists are often independent, capably fending for themselves the reasoning for which delved into through a complex and harrowing backstory. However, although some teenager are unfortunate enough to have no family to rely on, few are as self sufficient as those presented in literature. Being reliant on an adult or sibling, requesting advice from a family member or needing emotional support is something many of us need from time to time and the responsible young heroes and heroines that litter YA rarely require these elements. The theme of family is largely unexplored in literature despite being something readers can often relate to and, again, the parental role many protagonists take within their family dynamic make them unrealistic. In my early twenties I have friends still living at home, some who ring their parents every week and others who, like me, have little support from their parents. These wealth of relationships are seldom explored yet are so defining to any young person.
With an ever growing pressure for young people to appear older beyond their years and a desperate need for independence that few of us can actually afford these days, increasingly returning to our parents homes after university, the complexities of immaturity are more prominent than ever. Youth is, overall, a chance to learn and people are never truly as put together or independent as they want to appear. I know 25 and 40 year olds who have started their careers again, seen people flee to their family home after years of independence and know people reaching 30 who still don’t know what they want from a relationship. None of these people are weak and all flavours of teenager and young person should feel empowered without the need to feel they should grow up too fast. If adult authors don’t address the complexities of youth they run the risk of invalidating their young readers feelings.
Youth can not know how age thinks and feels. But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young.
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
In conclusion I’d say the complex years that YA addresses is a confusing and pivotal point in defining a readers character. And, while I realise there is a definite need for the empowering, aspirational and strong teen protagonist their also a need to validate teens fears and to empower readers with the knowledge that it’s ok to act young when you are young, and it’s ok to not always be strong at such a tender age, and they are not alone in making simple mistakes.
You will have probably, by now, have spotted my semi regular words posts. Where I scribble down words I don’t understand and then type them up, do a bit of Googling to bring all you lovely blog readers their meanings. Here’s 30 more words I’ve recently learnt and, as usual, tell me how many out of 30 you knew. I’m thinking I should start keeping a leaders board or something.
Iridescent – luminous colours
Acerbic – Sharp and forthright
Tinctures – Medicine made by dissolving a drug
Ampule – small, sealed glass capsule
Amethyst – A very pretty pink gem stone.
Cloisters – A covered walk in a convent, cathedral or monestry
Brusquely – Abrupt in speech
Calcifying – harden by decomposition
Siphoning – Draw off a liquid using a siphon. Weirdly I think we’ve had this one before.
Sibilant – making or characterised by a hissing sound, like a whistle
Susurrant – soft whistling or ruffling sound in old English. I wasn’t aware I’d read any old English books but apparently I’ve read many as the word made the list twice.
Porous – little gaps in rocks for air or water
Buttresses – stone or brick built to strengthen a wall
Honorific – Given as a mark of respect but having no actual duties. My university had a cat as it’s president, I think that may have been honorific.
Akimbo – hands on the hips and elbows turned outward. It’s that scowling pose teachers take when your five and didn’t eat your carrot sticks.
Acina – a berry family to which the blackberry belongs. And I don’t mean the phone.
Stalwart – loyal, reliable and hardworking. Well that’s going straight on my CV, bringing down the word count there.
Orator – a skilled public speaker
Derisive – express content or ridicule
Apex – top or highest part of something especially when forming a point like a roof.
Sellsword – mercenary hired to highest bidder.
Assent – expressing approval.
Penchant – a tendancy to do something
Visceras – internals chest organs. I may have got this one from Stalking Jack the Ripper.
Staccato – a music thing where each note is performed far away from the last.
Belied – fail to give a true impression
Taper – gradually lessen the thickness. Like a snake with a pointy tail 🐍
Portent – a warning that a terrible event will occur
With the Priory hype and hearing my friend slog through the last Throne of Glass novel I’m starting to realise I have no interest in massive books. This seems cruel, to right off a novel I haven’t even started just because of page number but honestly the size really puts me off.
Firstly you have to consider the practicalities. Big books are a pain to cart around, they weigh down my little bag and hurt my weak shoulders which lack any sort of muscle due to my phobia of exercise. I have so many pages to rifle through to find which bit I last read and it’ll inevitable fall on the floor, making a big noise and denting the cover. Or possibly the floor. And then I have to get a new floor and will probably have that horrible buzzing in my ears from the bang.
I’d have to put it lower down on my bookshelf so it doesn’t fall on anyone, and now I’ve got to reorder my entire shelf. The whole bookcase vibe would be off so I’d shuffle the series around to be together and then I have to reorder everything because I’ve started now. And then it comes to Bookstagram. I can’t hold it up due to the aforementioned lack of exercise so I have to place the thing on the floor where is casts awkward shadows and inevitably looks oddly rectangular on camera, jumping out as larger than the other books in the shot. I could put it spine up but the spine is so big it dominates the shot. Although it would be great to lean other books on knowing they wouldn’t topple next to that mass.
But I digress. And as you can see from a purely practical point of view, big books are a pain. But from a reading pont of view, I’m also not so keen on them.
You can be in one fictional world for too long
Even Hogwarts has it limit. Yes I said it, even the fantastical world of Harry Potter which, let’s face it, every kid dreams about, would get boring if I were sucked in for 900 odd pages. I’m not saying any of the Harry Potters were too long, they really weren’t, I’m just saying as a reader I want to explore a wealth of worlds and not be stuck reading one for a few months. Actually, maybe Harry Potter is a bad example since I did actually read them back to back… Sometimes I like to visit Victorian London, sometimes that cliché magical world full of mahogany dressers, strewn with castles and medieval peasantry, and sometimes I crave the traffic filled streets of modern New York, full of tattered jeans and bright city lights.
It’s not just the setting that gets tired. Most massive books visit a handful of locations along the way to try keep it interesting, but the writing style gets stale, the characters get old, the dialogue gets repetitive. Basically all the unique aspects that conjure together to build a novel become stale. The plot starts to drag as you forget what happened two hundred pages ago, the pacing is obviously off if the author felt they needed this many pages to write it, and honestly I’d just want to read something else.
Then there would be the inevitable complexity that comes with such a large book. I’d be doing a constant brain work out to try and remember who X was when they appeared five hundred pages ago but I remember nothing of them since. Multiple plots wold drag over hundreds of pages all with their own complexities and nuances, and I struggled to keep up with Biff and Chip and their magic key so a more complex story would be quite taxing. Basically it would exercise my brain too much, and we all remember how I feel about exercise.
The final reason I’m put off massive books is hype.
I’m not talking about the hype for that particular novel but for other ones. I’m a greedy reader with a worrying social media addiction, if a book pops up on Bookstagram a lot, is featured all over book Twitter or a friend goes on and on about it I’ll want to read it. Neigh I will need to read it. And I’m just going to resent that massive read I’m stuck with for the next fortnight. And we all know if I put it aside to read something else I’m never going back. What if there’s a sequel released for a book I loved?! What if there’s a sequel released for a book I haven’t read yet but everyone is talking about it? These things are unpredictable and I just can’t commit to a massive book while there’s still so much potential for other more pressing reads.
Overall I’m not a fan of these massive fantasy books. I’m not saying don’t write them, go for it, I’m just saying I probably won’t read them. Even with the growing trend to finish a book series with an epic I’m still deterred. I’ll just Wikipedia the ending.
What do you think? What’s the biggest book you’ve read? Do you enjoy bigger reads? Let me know in the comments!
Just sneaking my Blogtober post in for today! Here is another book haul, all about the books I got over summer and my predicted ratings for each.
Afraid to say that I’ve already read this gem and it was an easy five stars, I loved it.
Boys Don’t Cry
Weirdly enough I now have two copies of this and have read neither. I don’t know much about it so I’m guessing it’ll be four stars.
To Best the Boys
I won this novel from the Fairy Loot stand at YALC and I heard it’s about female STEM characters so I’m shooting for an optimistic four stars.
One of Us is Lying
Another novel I’m afraid I’ve already torn through. I would have projected it a lot less, like three stars but it turned out to be an easy five stars. I was addicted to that novel and read it in two days.
Another novel that I may have dipped into already, although I haven’t quite finished it. I’m a bit nervous about liking it given the slow start so I’ll go a tentative three stars.
The Twisted Tree
Another girl recommended me this at the book swap. I’ve not heard of it before so I’ll go a cautious three.
I know what you’re thinking. Mad, wouldn’t I want my hobby as a job, isn’t that the dream? But I’ve been asked a handful of times whether I’d make book blogging my full time job and, even if we lived in some Fantasy realm where book blogging makes millions and my blog’s grown to the point of being able to make money, I still think I’d keep it as a hobby.
I’m going to caveat all this with if you’ve made blogging your full time job then that’s amazing. I admire your bravery in taking that step and, as a computer scientist, think it’s great that technology has allowed people to have so much freedom in their career. But, personally, I’m not dreaming of becoming a rich and famous book blogger, earning my millions in some mysterious way benign to most bloggers. Blogging isn’t bitcoin and I don’t think I could make enough money out of it, but I also know I don’t want to make it my career.
My first thought would be my job. I’m in the incredibly lucky position that I really like what I do. Its not perfect all the time, there are obviously bumps and I definitely miss the days where I didn’t have to see the 6am/7am hour, that would surely happen if I was completely in control of my own time. But, on the whole I’m good at computer science, love it and am really hoping to make a difference in the field.
The second big factor is that I don’t want to treat my blog differently. I don’t want to see each follower as number rather than a friend and watch my stats meticulously to find which content is engaging and which isn’t. One genuine comment is worth more to me than a 100 views. Blogging is my space to relax, chat about books, get recommendations and just chill. It’s not my office. I love my blog, but even doing the most fun jobs, like blogging all day, there will be some moments when you want to do something else. I like having the freedom to write posts, chat about whatever, post on social media when I fancy talking to the world, and then switch off my phone if I feel. I always reserve Sundays as a blogging break and try to not be too hard on myself about when I read and when I forget to post. If it’s not fun I just won’t do it.
The final reason I wouldn’t blog as a career is the work. Blogging, and just freelancing in general, looks hard. Planning your own hours has lots of downsides: working late in the evening, working weekends, never knowing when to switch off. Or, at least, that’s what it was like for me at university. I found that stressful and know I wasn’t very good at it.
Then there’s the hours I’d have to put in to be good. I’m a computer scientist, I understand SEO, can write code and know how to write a good website. But social media, marketing and graphic design? Yeah not so much. It takes a lot of skills to run a successful blog and I like wouldn’t want the pressure, I enjoy exploring and learning those skills in my own time, trying out things and not being too worried if they don’t work.
There would be more obligations to be a better blogger if it was my career and I don’t want that. I’m not saying I don’t want to be good at book blogging- I do. I want my writing, confidence and online marketing skills to improve. I enjoy learning these skills knowing they’re just for me, not to wack on an impressive CV or produce a steady income to pay rent and buy food.
What about you? How long have you been blogging? Would you want a hobby as your career? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Those following this blog for the best part of this year may know that I have a very limited vocabulary. I know, not what you want to read from a blogger. But hey, we’re all here to improve so here are 30 words I’ve recently read in books and just not understood, with complimentary meanings!
Please comment your score, out of 30, so I can see how many words you all knew too! And we can all revel in the learning!
Blini- A Russian pancake that looks so good on Bing images.
Abmonition- A fierce warning
Blouson- Basically a blouse but in jacket form. Imaginative naming there.
Cadence- an inflection of the voice
Modicum- a small bit of something valuable.
Pique- Stiff fabric. Basically anything after I’ve washed it.
Eviscerated- Disembowelled. Funny story, I wrote down this word twice so there was clearly a lot of fancy named disembowelling in this book.
Thresher- A person who separates grain from crops. Not to be confused with Fresher, who occasionally attends lectures.
Boon- A helpful thing
Incongruous- Something out of place in it’s surroundings. Basically me in a club.
Capricious- A sudden change of mood.
Insurrection- A violent uprising against government. How has it taken me this long to find this word in a YA novel?!
Stein- A nice big beer mug. I actually think I knew that…
Mired- Stuck in mud or a splatter of mud.
Expediently- Convenient but often immoral.
Tatterdemalion- This is just a really long word for tattered?! Who invented this thing??
Suture- A stitch. No surprise I didn’t know that one then.
Livery- A type soldier’s uniform.
Bowyer- A person who sells bows.
Philanderer- A man who often enters into casual sexual relations.
Wherewithal- Something, like money, needed for a specific purpose.
Anachronistic- Something from another time. Like seeing a mobile phone in a period drama, I’ve been reliably informed.
Imbibed- Drinking too much.
Incorrigible- A person not reforming their behaviour.
Proclivities- And inclination towards a certain thing.
Before you ask, despite the picture, I am not talking about boats. I’m talking about the characters we’re pairing together, and whether they’re portraying healthy relationships, or whether romance in literature could leave readers feeling inadequate about themselves or their relationships.
I started thinking about this back in university when my housemate and I rewatched Friends. Friends is the TV hit show phenomenon that crowns sitcoms glory days. It was big and, being 90s show, had a ridiculous amount of problems. Crowning these off was the focus on the toxic relationship that formed the heart of the show: Ross and Rachel. We see petty jealousy, manipulation and outright lies all thrown in the comedic light and portrayed as appropriate. But, I hear your cry, that was the 90s. We’ve learnt since then.
But I’d argue that young people are still growing up under the influence of unrealistic and toxic relationships, especially those in YA. And here are a few red flags I’ve seen almost celebrated in YA literature.
The first issue that comes to mind is the superficial, attractive hero trope. He fancies the heroine, sure, but his dry wit, degoatory humour, unrealistic looks and desperate need for character development hardly make him an great person. And fair enough, he often gets that character growth but he’s not the ideal boyfriend before that and shouldn’t be portrayed as such. And, while we’re on the topic, we can’t hold up the ‘not that pretty’ but strong and smart heroine, emphasising that her character is what matters most while making all the men attractive. Because men’s personalities matter too here and women are not that superficial. The brooding, over attractive hero who can’t show emotions and rather takes them out using his dry wit and crazy fight skills isn’t going to empower many male readers.
YA is ripe with love stories. We’ve read it all- the slow burn romance, the friends forever but start to see something new lovers, the enemies that change for each other, even the instantly hitting it off pairings. But have we really seen a break up? Have we seen a character get over someone and find someone new? Because, news flash, you’re first date at 17 is unlikely to be the groom at your wedding several years down the line. I’m not saying it’s impossible, I know real life childhood sweethearts and people who seem pretty happy with their first pancake, but for me and many of my friends that was definitely not the case, and it’s not projected nearly enough in literature. This unhealthy stereotype can lead readers to struggle with breakups, feel inadequate if their first relationship didn’t work out or idealise something that was never there, hardly empowering.
The lack of comfortably single heroines would be my next gripe. How often have we screamed at our protagonist that she has bigger problems than the midly attractive men chasing after her? I like romance as much as the next reader, but so often it just feels forced into a plot where the characters were platonic at best. Unnecessary romances aside, I just don’t think every protagonist, side character and remotely in the novel woman needs pairing off. The portrayals of an unrealistic need for romance and relationships that each character has could lead readers to feel inadequate or unhappy with being single, which is, of course, never the case. There is no need to fixate on relationships so much in novels or in real life: readers and characters need to feel comfortable being single.
The final toxic relationship habit that receives far too much page time that I’m going to discuss is looking around. Zuzana’s remarks about Akiva in Daughter of Smoke and Bone? Scarlett saying she’ll check out the Count while still with Julian in Legendary? That’s just cruel. A relationship shouldn’t ever make you feel second best, or a settle for. Lovers should build each other up and be clear with their feelings, not just date someone in the interim while waiting for Prince Charming, which those crude remarks can leave people feeling. Normalising partners, particularly women, looking around and commenting on attractive male characters with disregard for their partners feelings can encourage readers to disregard others feelings.
There are other, less common, relationship problems splashed across the page throughout YA: Sky being forced to date someone she doesn’t like because she and Zed are Soul Mates in Finding Sky, Agnieszka dating a man literally 100 years older than her or Clary dating her best friend Simon despite having no feelings what so ever in City of Bones. Having only discussed a few issues in this post, I conclude the portrayal of romance in literature should be reassessed, but what do you think? Do you agree? Feel free to drop an opinion in the comments section!