Reading habits

A good friend of mine from college and beyond (we only met senior year–somehow, despite the tininess of our campus, the similarity of our interests, and the fact that we were both English majors) is getting her Master’s in Library Science and recently asked if she could interview me for one of her classes. I had a lot of fun with the interview, and she had some interesting questions which got me to think about reading things a bit more thoroughly than I have before. She gave me permission to put up the interview, so here it is, lightly edited. (B is her, M is me.)

B: I’ve been asked to interview adults who are heavy readers of material they are not required to read for their jobs in order to learn something about their reading patterns. Since I know you read children’s and YA for fun (as well as for work), don’t feel like you need to leave those genres out completely. I am, however, especially curious about your non-juvenile (as in the category of materials, natch, not a judgment on your reading tastes) reading habits.
B: What do you like to read? Favorite genres? Any genres you really dislike?
M: I am definitely a genre reader, primarily sf/f but also mysteries. I don’t often venture into the adult contemporary fiction/literary fiction realm, which is the major difference between my adult reading and my YA/juv reading. So, I guess what I mean is I really dislike literary fiction. 🙂
B: As do I. 🙂
B: Any sub genres that you like?
M: I tend to like things with a historical flavor, although often not steampunk. Sadly, because I love the idea of steampunk. But historical fantasy, along the lines of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Chalion series is of my favorite things ever. Mystery wise, definitely things with a classic Brisith flavor. And as far as sf goes, I think I don’t have a clear sub genre preference, but I like character based rather than plot or science based.
B: Just curious… ever read graphic novels?
M: Not really–I’m not against them or anything, just not my cuppa.

B: Are you embarrassed about your reading preferences? Do you do anything to “hide” your books’ identity?
M: In general, I’m a pretty proud genre reader. If the cover of a particular book is embarrassing, I might not hold it up so everyone can see it, but in general I tend to not like books with embarrassing covers anyway.
B: Are there any genres that are prone to putting bad covers on good books?
M: SF! Especially ANYTHING by Baen. Horrible, dreadful covers. I HAVE NOTICED.

B: How do you decide what book you’re going to read next to read next?
M: That is a complicated question, determined by all sorts of factors like the stages of the moon and the imminent toppling of my TBR stacks. The short answer is, it’s usually the one I’m either most or least excited about. Most is obvious, least because I want to get it over with and go on to something else. Or else, the one that’s been checked out the longest and is guilt-tripping me from the bottom of the stack.

B: Do you exhaust the entire works of certain authors or do you skip around?
M: Mmm, there are certain authors whose entire backlist I make it a stated goal to read, but it’s over time. In terms of actual reading habits, I might read 1-2 books/month by an author if I’m super excited, but it tends to wax and wane a bit.
Except Georgette Heyer who I read and re-read semi-obsessively.
B: I can only read Robin McKinley books one at a time… there are only so many of them and I’m not looking forward to the day when I run out.
M: Yeah. OTOH, she is still writing!
B: I still haven’t found a good starting place for Heyer.
M: Hmmm. Unfortunately, it really depends on the mood you’re in at the time, so it’s hard to give remote recommendations.
B: I’ll probably just pick something random one of these days and then be obsessed. 🙂
M: Good plan.

B: What recommendations influence your reading choices? E.g. best-seller status, reviews, conversations with friends, etc.
M: Mostly trusted bloggers–the ones I’ve been following for awhile and know will recommend good things. Also, certain friends (such as yourself!) and some of my colleagues. Since I work in a library and hang out with our teen staff a lot.
B: Any favorite blogs?
M: Bookshelves of Doom, Book Smugglers just because they’re smart–we don’t always like the same things. Fuse #8 is good professionally, though I don’t usually read for fun at that level. Um, Charlotte’s Library and Chachic’s Book Nook are both more personal blogger friends who I usually trust. And….they’re all Attolia fans. Man, I just noticed that connection. *headdesk*

B: Do you browse to find books or do you look for specific books?
M: It depends, again. I do a lot of holds, especially for new releases. At this point, a lot of my reading is recommendation based, so I do often have something specific in mind. But every so often I just browse the shelves and often find some surprise favorites.
B: How do you browse in libraries or bookstores? Do you have any strategies for browsing in these spaces?
M: Mmm, for adult reading, I tend to browse the genre sections, looking for authors I know I like but haven’t read all of.
B: General browsing in the stacks kind of sucks, but I love browsing displays. I’m a sucker for gorgeous covers.
M: The stacks at the main library I browse at (I use 3 different libraries in 2 different systems) are nicely divided so it’s not too overwhelming. 🙂 Also, I usually check out the new book displays to see if I missed anything.

B: Do you ever ask librarians or bookstore clerks for help?
M: If I were in a bookstore and couldn’t find a specific thing I was looking for, I might ask for help finding it, but in general, no. Unless you count asking myself, which I don’t.
B: Ha ha. Any reason why you don’t ask?
M: I’ve been using libraries for long enough that I don’t have much trouble navigating the system. And I’m comfortable looking things up in the catalogue. When I first moved here, I had to have help finding things within the children’s stacks downtown, because they’re circular shelves and it’s very confusing, but I had the call numbers ready.
B: But never recommendations?
M: Only unofficially, as in from colleague to colleague.

B: When do you buy a book vs. check it out from a library? Do you order books online? Do you prefer brick-and-mortar stores to online retailers? When you do order online, which retailer(s) do you prefer?
M: The vast majority of my reading is done via libraries. I couldn’t afford to purchase all the books I read. I buy a book in two circumstances: when I’ve read it and loved it and must own it OR when the author is on my unofficial auto-buy list (Elizabeth Wein, Sarah Rees Brennan, Megan Whalen Turner, Robin McKinley).
When I buy books new, it’s usually online, though I’m no longer using Amazon (last 2 times, I’ve used Book Depository). When I buy them new, it’s through library booksales, used bookstores, and thrift stores.
B: Did you do most of your reading via library even when you weren’t working in multiple public libraries?
M: Ah, yes, that was still true. Even more so, actually, because I was broke. 🙂
B: I discovered the magic of Summit [a consortium our college is part of] pretty late in the game.
M: SUMMIT! I MISS Summit. One of the libraries I work at is part of a consortium, but they’re not as fast.
B: I didn’t realize I could ILL fun stuff until spring semester senior year.
M: That was my major source of books through college. I did finally get a local library card senior year, but I used it about twice.
B: Now that I have access to a 12 million volume collection that can be delivered to my desk at work, I use libraries all the time. 🙂
M: That would help. 🙂

B: What’s your stance on E readers? I’ve been sucked into the world of Kindle.
M: I don’t personally like them; I don’t have anything against other people using them. The physical book as an object is somehow really important to me.
B: Sadly, I really like the instant gratification. And the fact that my case has a built-in light. Also, holding physical books is painful so I like that using the Kindle is easier on my hands.
M: That makes a lot of sense.
B: Which reminds me, they have The Thief for two dollars in the Amazon store right now. I should take advantage of that.
M: I heard about that. Gah, MWT.
B: I think it’s about time to reread them. I will, of course, buy print copies as well.
M: It’s always time!

B: What frustrations do you encounter in selecting what to read next?
M: Mostly the volume of things I want to read–there’s a constant tension between “oh, this is due soon,” and “oh, this is has been on my pile for 2 months” versus “AH, I AM SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS BOOK!” I don’t have a good system to work with that. I tend to go with how I’m feeling at the moment.
Also, if a book is not out yet and I want to read it next.
B: Which brings me to my next question. How do you manage your to-read list?
M: Well, I have a word document, 2 columns, 11-pt font, single spaced, 4 pgs. I add whatever I want to read to the end of the list, unless the author is already somewhere on there. I also print it off so I have a hard copy to take with me. I cross off books I’ve read on the hard copy and delete them on the file. I bracket books I have checked out.
It’s not a super organized system–it’s chronological rather than by author or genre–but in general it works pretty well. It’s once the books get home and sit by my bed that I have problems. 🙂
B: Wow. I just use Goodreads.
M: I started my list before I was on Goodreads, and now I’m set in my ways.
B: But I do have a complicated three shelf library book system at home. Physical shelves, not good reads shelves.
M: I have three stacks. They’re not quite to the top of my bed, but they’re pretty darn close.

B: How did you balance reading for school versus reading for pleasure in undergrad?
M: It usually fluctuated depending on my projects, but I did a lot of reading late at night on the weekends.
B: I ask because I’m reading a lot of fiction for school these days and haven’t worked out a good system yet.
M: Yeah, I probably read too much for pleasure, but eh, I made it.

B: What are five books/authors of non-juvenile literature that you wish everyone would read?
M: Lois McMaster Bujold, Connie Willis, Georgette Heyer, Elizabeth Goudge, and Dorothy Sayers.
B: Clearly I have to read books by all of them, since I LOVE Willis and Sayers.

B: What elements (genre, characters, setting, motifs, plot, tone, theme, etc.) comprise your dream book?
M: Oh…man…Um. I like books to be smart, but also to have heart. Writing-wise, I want to either be impeccably transparent or beautifully styled. I love books about redemption and forgiveness (if done well). I love books about characters finding new strength in themselves. I love fairy tales and myths, especially when woven into a larger story. I want characters to be likeable but flawed. Bonus points for imagination and unusual setting.
I tend to value stories where the author gets out of the way and just tells the story. This is actually the main reason I shy away from “literary fiction”. WHICH IS TOTALLY A GENRE and a completely annoying one and I don’t like it at all.
B: Yes. And the lack of heart.
M: YES.
B: EXACTLY! It’s also why I have trouble with hard science fiction. Like Snow Crash. All intellect and no emotion.
M: Mmm. Yeah. Although I haven’t read that one. I think you would really like Bujold…the Vorkosigan series is amazing.
B: Okay ,I will add that one to my list.

Thank you again, B, for doing this interview! I always enjoy talking books with a fellow book nerd.

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  1. Pingback: 2012 in books, part 1 | By Singing Light

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