How Minimalism has Improved Both My Book Collection and My Reading Experience

The claim in the title might be a strange one, because I do not consider myself a minimalist. Of course, not all minimalists are digital nomads who live out of their backpacks or people whose bare, white homes only contain a bed, a chair, a cup, and a fork. Minimalism looks different for everyone, after all, and people rarely conform to stereotypes.

However, I have a book collection, a manga collection, and a video game collection. I still own dvds of my favorite movies, and geeky knickknacks such as figurines. All of these collections have gone through several decluttering rounds and the remainder is displayed neatly, but they aren’t what you’d consider ‘minimalist’. Hell, plenty of people would argue that having a collection of any sort is counterintuitive to minimalism in the first place. Whether they fit under minimalism or not doesn’t matter, however: I like having these items around, so I’ll keep them.

Before these decluttering rounds a couple of years ago, however, I realized I was getting overwhelmed by my own stuff. I began to declutter, and procrastinated on working on my master thesis by looking around for inspiration on the internet. Marie Kondo and minimalism eventually caught my attention. I initially felt that minimalism was a bit too extreme, but I discovered there were some useful aspects to the movement. I began following several minimalist YouTubers, who advocate simple and intentional living, and I read Fumio Sasaki’s Goodbye, Things, which I found thought provking.

Though I do not consider myself a minimalist and I do not agree with everything, I like the idea as a countervoice against consumerism, materialism, and accummulating stuff one doesn’t really use or need. It made me look at my own stuff, my relationship to these items and shopping in general.

To me, minimalism isn’t about what I do or don’t own, or how few items I own. It’s a helpful tool in deciding what brings value to my life. This element of minimalism is applicable to what’s often perceived as the very antithesis of the movement: collections! Here is how minimalism has helped me with my book collection.

It helps me declutter my book collection
This one is obvious, but it deserves to be mentioned. If you’ve read my previous post on why unhauling books is a good thing, you’ll remember there are various benefits to unhauling books, such as space and no longer having any books collecting dust on your shelves that will never get read (again).

Previously, I (probably subconsiously) considered my book collection as a collection of trophies, telling everyone what I had read. As embarrassing it is to admit, some books would take up valuable shelf space as status symbols to impress others. My experience reading Ulysses by James Joyce was absolutely dreadful and I despise Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe with a passion. I will never read these books again unless someone holds a gun to my head. There are also less extreme examples: I had a lot of books that were highly regarded but I personally didn’t find anything special, such as Dune by Frank Herbet. Eventually, I realized there was no reason to hold on to these books. Keeping these titles out of a misplaced sense of pretentiousness is not only silly and superficial (and honestly, nobody cares what books I have on my shelf), but holding on to every single book I’ve read as a ‘trophy’ is not sustainable in terms of space management. At least, not when I still want to be able to walk through my home.

I’ve had several rounds of decluttering and a lot of books were donated or given to friends. I decided that I only wanted to keep the books that, in the words of Marie Kondo, ‘spark joy’. I keep my favorites, books that I’d want to read multiple times, or books I’m very excited to read in the near future. It means that a lot of classics and literary works haven’t made the cut and a significant part of my remaining books are fantasy. Most of my collection might consist of ‘genre fiction’ which doesn’t have a good rep, but I don’t care. Of course, some classics and literary books still remain, such as Lolita and The Count of Monte Cristo, but that’s because I loved them, not because they are highly regarded. I still have a few books lying around I’m pretty sure I’ll donate after reading them, and that’s alright too.

It helps me get a better sense of the books I enjoy reading the most
Especially after discovering GoodReads, studying as an English major, working in a bookshop, and discovering BookTube, I added a massive amount of books to my TBR. These books were either hyped as the best thing since sliced bread, or I felt that I ‘should’ read them due to the themes and critical acclaim. That’s not to say that all of these books didn’t deserve the attention, yet I found my interest waning. Deep down, the book didn’t really interest me. I used to read these books anyway, but usually, my initial lack of interest was indicative of my lacklustre reading experience. I not only began ruthlessly removing these types of books from my wishlist, but also had a good look at my physical TBR. Did I still want to read this? Was I genuinely still interested in this particular book? If I was still excited, the book would stay. If not, off the book went.

As time passed, however, it became easier to determine whether I was genuinely interested in a book or not. Minimalism can not just apply to things, but also to time. Do I really want to spend my precious time with a book I have no interest in, simply because others loved it or I felt that I ‘should’ read it? The answer is no. Futhermore, it also made it way easier for me to DNF a book. If I don’t like it for whatever reason, I DNF the book and don’t look back. Life’s too short to read books I don’t like, no matter how ‘important’ these books are. The only exception are review copies.

Result of all this? I got a better sense of my likes and dislikes, and most books I finish are books I really enjoy.

It helps me be more critical of the books that find their way on my shelves
To add on to my previous point, I’m more critical of the amount of books that find their way into my home. For example, I’ve realized that I’ll read thrillers only once most of the time. It seems a bit of a waste to buy a physical copy I’ll end up getting rid of, so I’m trying to decide between getting a library subscription or an e-reader for these titles.

I also won’t buy anything that I ‘should’ read, but only if I’m genuinely interested in a book. Whenever a book piques my interest, I actually keep it on my wishlist for a while; I sometimes realize that my interest has passed after a couple of weeks. It saves a lot of money!  That’s not to say I’m not buying any book ever, but my purchases are more intentional and I only stick to books I want to read soon.

Finally, it keeps my physical TBR smaller. I’ve been working to downsize my TBR pile, and this has helped me to make sure it won’t grow bigger again. A very large TBR was stressful and overwhelming to me, and it actually prevented me from rereading my favourites because I had so many unread books! I also don’t want to have books sit on my shelves for years, only to DNF them after 100 pages because I don’t like them or because my tastes have changed over the years.

My purchases have been intentional and come from a genuine interest in reading these books in the near future.

It made reading less stressful
The reading challenge on GoodReads, overwhelming TBRs… I’ve realized that when I attach too many numbers and ‘things I should’ to my hobby, it becomes too stressful which negatively affects my reading experience. After all, books should be about their contents and the experience they provide, not about numbers or stats. I already had the sense to avoid readathons because they are simply not my thing and I never really bothered with reading stats, but I also don’t feel like stressing about my TBR and my GoodReads reading challenge. So I’ve decided to keep both numbers low and manageable.

Even if I do not consider myself a minimalist, I do feel that there are aspects that are applicable and helpful even to those of us who like maintaining a collection. It has helped me evaluate my relationship with items and to determine what brings me value. Of course, my life is not perfect, and neither is my book collection. It just means that my hobby, something I do for fun in my spare time, has stopped being overwhelming or stressful.

2020 Reading Goals … Or the Lack Thereof?

Happy new year everyone!

The title might make you raise an eyebrow, but before we get to that: last year, I wrote about my goal of reducing my TBR. I’m happy to say that I’ve managed to do so! I went from 69 to 29 owned unread books!!

I first wanted to give myself another number of unread books to reach before the end of 2020, but I decided against it. Why? Because I do not want to pressure myself. Of course, I’m going to make sure that my TBR doesn’t get any bigger (I really don’t want a large TBR any more), but I can get to reading the remaining pile (and whatever does come in) on my own pace.

To that end, I’ve set my GoodReads reading challenge to 25 books. For me, this is quite low, especially because I also include manga these days. I do not want to worry about some arbitrary number, but I do like having the list of the books I have read that given year. I’m not even sure if I’ll read a Brick this year, because I don’t currently own a book that qualifies, but who knows? It’s not like I’m not going to buy any books this year…

The main reason for the lack of reading goals is that there are some other goals I’d like to focus on this year. Things like drawing, saving money, getting an exercise routine and a decent sleeping schedule in, and perhaps more importantly: getting used to my new job! Last month, I quit my job as a bookseller for several reasons, and I’m starting at another company as a technical administrator next week. Something completely different, but there’s training on the job and I’m very excited to learn something new.

Of course, I’m still going to read books! I really enjoy reading before bed, for instance, and I’m bound to spend at least some spare time reading. There are several titles I’m excited to get to this year, both owned and on my wishlist. Imaginary Friend (Chbosky), The Skyweaver (Ciccarelli), The Wolf in the Whale (Brodsky), the final book in the Mistborn series (Sanderson), Godsgrave (Kristoff) … the list goes on, and I haven’t even included any manga series I’d like to continue reading yet. I also intend to keep reviewing books (whenever I find one I want to write about) and write other posts, albeit on a very loose blogging schedule.

So I’ll still be reading and writing, but no reading goals this year! I actually like the complete lack of pressure in what’s essentially a hobby, and I’m excited to see what I’ll read and write about this year!

Favorite Books of 2019

With barely two days remaining, it’s time for the usual ‘favorite books of the year’. I’ve read a lot this year, both books and manga. There were some that I felt ‘meh’ about, but overall I’ve discovered some wonderful titles this year. Only a few of them made it to my favorites list, which I’ll share below.

Interestingly, these wasn’t one clear favorite of the year, like Watership Down had been in 2018. It’s still a pretty varied list, however, so without further ado:

doerr-allthelightwecannotseeAll the Light We Cannot See
(Anthony Doerr)

I do not read a lot of historical fiction, and when I do, I usually end up with the medieval stuff. I had heard some great things about this one, though, so I decided to see what all the fuss was about. This book deals with two perspectives during WWII; a blind girl living in France, and a orphaned boy living in Germany who has to join the army. In the end, both storylines meet in a way that’s beautiful and heartbreaking. It offers a nuanced view on the German side as well; not all of the Germans were evil Nazis, after all. The writing is absolutely beautiful and does a great job at absorbing you into the storylines of these two kids who deserved better.

echothomasoldeheveultEcho
(Thomas Olde Heuvelt)

This book is a great example of why I love slow burns. Olde Heuvelt does a wonderful job of setting up the characters and atmosphere. It’s about a guy who has survived an accident after mountainclimbing in the Alps. It turns out that the events leading up to to the injuries he suffered are more disturbing than the people around him initially thought, and that the problems won’t end there. After a really scary opening scene, Echo succeeds in maintaining an unsettling vibe and a creepy atmosphere. It’s subtle, but it really gets under your skin. Add to this the very layered characters (a gay couple), and it’s easy to see why this is one of my favorites of the year. International readers: I’ve heard that an English translation will be coming!

TheOutsiderKingThe Outsider
(Stephen King)

If you’ve read my previous post about my Year of Stephen King, finding The Outsider on this list won’t be a surprise. The premise, atmosphere and the characters were amazing, and it drives home why Stephen King is one of my favorite authors, hands down. It’s about a guy who is accused of violating and murdering a boy. With witnesses who have seen him with the victim, the case seems crystal clear. However, there are also witnesses who have seen him at a conference in another town at the time of the murder. With conflicting evidence, what is going on? I should warn that this book contains heavy spoilers for the Mr. Mercedes trilogy!

hobb-royalassassinRoyal Assassin 
(Robin Hobb)

I’m kind of surprised that there’s only one fantasy novel on this list, but here we are. Royal Assassin is the second book in the Farseer Trilogy (the first book was on my list from 2018!). I’ve also read the third one, but I like this one better. We continue to follow Fitz as he deals with the aftermath of the events in Assassin’s Apprentice, as well as all the intrigue that happens at court and raiders harrassing the kingdom’s borders. Fitz makes some terrible decisions in this book, but this only makes him human and flawed, and the repercussions are dire. This book also introduces best wolf, Nighteyes! He is such a fun companion and foil to Fitz.

miller-circeCirce
(Madeline Miller)

Another book that gets a lot of hype, but it’s very worth it. Madeline Miller has a wonderful writing style that captures your attention. I’ve also enjoyed the focus on a character that’s often overlooked in Greek Mythology and its retellings, and in here she’s portrayed as maybe not the most powerful or epic character, but one that proves a meeting point for other, more famous characters in the myths. That said, Circe is a very interesting, introspective character, with flaws and desires. Though the majority of this book takes place on her island, I loved every second of this book. I would definitely like to read Miller’s other retelling, Song of Achilles, soon.

king-onwritingOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
(Stephen King)

In my aforementioned list about My Year of Stephen King, I mentioned two of the titles getting a place among my favorites. This nonfiction book is the other one. I loved reading about Stephen King’s life and career, and his vision on writing. It’s very insightful to read as a Constant Reader, but I think (aspiring) writers could definitely benefit from reading this, despite On Writing reading like a memoir.  There isn’t much to add that I haven’t already said in my earlier post, so I’ll leave it at that.

 

 

These are the ‘real’ books that found a place among my favorites, but I also have some manga that I would like to share. I’ve restricted this to manga I’ve discovered this year, because discussing separate volumes are not as interesting.

lesbianexperience_kabiMy Lesbian Experience of Loneliness
(Nagata Kabi)

If you consider my review earlier this year, this might not be a surprise. This manga is a nonfiction, autobiographical account of a woman’s struggles with mental health, depression, eating disorders, and finding her place in life. Her honesty in describing these heavy themes resonated with me, yet the humor and lighthearted art style prevented this book from getting too bleak and heavy. The manga ends with a sense of hope, that the author might not have completely overcome her struggles, but she’s getting better. I would definitely like to pick up the two ‘sequels’, My Solo Exchange Diary volume 1 and 2.

shirai-promisedneverlandThe Promised Neverland
(Kaiu Shirai & Posuka Demizu)

I’m usually good at practicing self constraint, but after watching the first episode of the anime airing at the start of the year, I suddenly found myself ordering the first few volumes of the manga series. It’s about a bunch of kids living in an idealistic orphanage, but it soon turns out that things aren’t as happy and safe as it seems. When the three main characters, Emma, Norman, and Ray, find out what is truly going on, they find themselves in a cat and mouse game with their lives on the line as they need to find a way to escape their fate. If this sounds vague, it’s because I’m trying to keep this free of spoilers. It’s a very tense psychological thriller/horror, if that helps, and especially the first art is great.

yukimura-vinlandsagaVinland Saga
(Makoto Yukimura)

This manga had been on my list for quite some time, so when the anime adaptation about this beloved series about vikings was announced, I decided to finally check it out. I was not disappointed! It’s about Thorfinn, whose father is killed. In order to seek revenge, he joins the mercenary band of the cunning Askeladd, who is responsible for killing his father. Though it starts out as a typical revenge story (albeit a very good one), it turns out that this arc is only the first part of the plot. I haven’t completely caught up yet because the books don’t come cheap, but I definitely can’t wait to continue reading this wonderful series!

inoue-realReal
(Takehiko Inoue)

This is probably the biggest surprise for me, since I’m usually not very interested in sports manga. I ended up reading this for review purposes for a Dutch magazine I write for, and I was amazed! I knew that the arwork would be good (I’ve also been reading Vagabond, so I’m familiar with Takehiko Inoue’s work), but I had no idea that the characters would be so sympathetic. Real is about wheelchair basketball and the role this sport plays in the lives of three teenagers. It deals with serious issues such as disability and psychological problems. Like Vagabond, it’s an ongoing manga that’s unfortunately on hiatus, but I hope Inoue will pick this up someday!

And there we have it, my favorite reads of 2019! This will be my last post of this year (and decade). I hope all of you will have a wonderful New Year’s, and see you in 2020!!

A Year of Stephen King

I already mentioned it in my 2019 Reading Goals: How Am I Doing?-post, but it bears repeating: this year, one of my reading goals was to read one book by Stephen King every single month of the year. I’m a fan of the author and I enjoyed reading several of his books, but my owned TBR still consisted of a lot of them gathering dust. I wanted to encourage myself to actually read them, and I’ve just finished the twelfth book!

This post will consist of two parts: short thoughts about the books I’ve read sorted by month, and my overal experience with doing this ‘challenge’. I will end with the question of the amount of Stephen King books I still have on my TBR.

January: Desperation

king-desperationThis one is about several people who, when driving on the highway, get dragged to a town in the middle of the desert by a very tall, theatening cop. The town, however, is abandoned, and something seems quite strange and inhuman about the cop. I loved the initial myserious and tense atmosphere in this town. You slowly find out what has happened to the residents and what’s up with the cop. It also gets quite gory and graphic with its descriptions. I also liked the jerkass writer character; he seemed the most interesting of the bunch to follow, despite being a flawed and (initially) somewhat cowardly person. I did not enjoy the more religious aspects of this horror, though. It became a Good vs Evil thing, as though the majority of the characters were directed by forces beyond their control. David especially was annoying. It’s kind of a shame, because this book has a cool villain.

February: End of Watch

king-endofwatchThe third and final installment of the Bill Hodges trilogy, so naturally you’ll have to have read the previous two books as well. Though Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers were both definitely crime novels, this one heads into the supernatural territory that Stephen King is known for. The culprit behind the Mr. Mercedes killings had developed psychic powers, and he’s going to use them to not just get revenge on Bill Hodges, but to also kill a lot of people. It’s up to Hodges and his friends to stop him! Some things felt a bit too conventient and the conflict wraps up without any real sacrifices, which kind of killed the tension. It did, however, have a satisfying (and sad) conclusion and it was fun to follow the characters. I like the first book in the trilogy best, but this was definitely a good way to end the series.

March: Misery

king-miseryOne of Stephen King’s more well known works, but I hadn’t gotten around to it before. It was great, though! It’s about a writer, Paul Sheldon, who, after killing off the main character (Misery) in his popular book series to pursue more literary endeavors, gets into a car accident that breaks his legs. He’s found by Annie Wilkes, a former nurse and his Number One Fan, and she decides to take him home to care for him. It soon becomes evident that Annie is quite unhinged, and what is going to happen when she finds out Paul has killed off her favorite character? There are only two major characters in this book, but they were really well developed! You truly get a sense of the nasty, vulnerable situation Paul is in, which offers a lot of tension. I could do without all the Misery-parts, which admittedly felt a bit tedious, but otherwise this was wonderful!

April: Sleeping Beauties

king-sleepingbeautiesThis is the book I keep forgetting I’ve read, which I suppose is telling. Women everywhere do not wake up when they fall asleep, and they are eventually wrapped into a cocoon. The women attack any poor fool trying to wake them in a homocidal rage before falling asleep again. The majority of this book takes place in a women’s prison. The men are left to fend for themselves in a world that increasingly falls into chaos. The women, however, wake into a new world. The setting is interesting enough, with the potential to provide insight in gender politics, yet the execution felt a bit lacking for me. I think the gender politics were a bit too stereotypical. In the ‘fun’ department, the characters were simply not as compelling as what I’m used to in King’s works. Some were interesting, but the cast was too big, which resulted in a lack of focus. Though slow books are common with Stephen King, this one occasionally becomes a slog to get through.

May: The Wind Through the Keyhole

king-windthroughthekeyholeA Dark Tower book that takes place between the fourth and fifth book, but I think it’s better to read it after finishing the series. It’s a story within a story within a story. During their quest for the Dark Tower, Roland and his Ka-tet need to sit out a storm. To pass the time, Roland begins telling a story about one of his missions as a Gunslinger. This story is basically a sort-of whodunnit with werewolves. Within this story, Roland tells another story about the adventures of Tim Ross, which greatly expands on the lore of Midworld. I really enjoyed revisiting familiar characters and the expansion of the lore in this way. The Dark Tower series is finished, but I definitely wouldn’t mind if Stephen King would expand the world even further like this! This is only interesting for people who’ve read the series, obviously, but it was still a good fantasy story. 

June: Cujo

king-cujoAs a dog lover, I was actually dreading to read this one. And yes, the concept is definitely heart breaking. Cujo, a friendly St. Bernard, gets bitten by a bat and goes rabid. The segments were Cujo slowly loses his sanity were heartbreaking to read, and considering his size, he definitely is a massive threat to anyone unlucky to stumble upon him. What I didn’t like, however, was all the ‘padding’ involving the soap opera love life of one of the main characters cheating on her husband. This bogs down the pacing and made the first half admittedly a bit of a pain to get through. It takes a good while for the novel to finally pick up. But when the main character and her son get stranded in the middle of nowhere due to their car breaking down, terrorized by Cujo, it definitely picks up the pace and gets quite tense. The ending punches you in the gut; it’s just a shame Cujo took so long to get good.

July: The Outsider

TheOutsiderKingI admit, the blurb intrigued me right from the start. A man gets arrested for violating and killing a boy. There are multiple witnesses who have seen the man with the victim shortly before the murder, so there seems to be no question about who the culprit is. Or is there? Because, apparently, the man has also been seen attending a conference at the time of the murder. With conflicting evidence, what has actually happened? However, tension is rising in town after the gruesome murder and its supposed culprit have been made public. The Outsider starts as a typical police procedural, but also deals with mob mentality and has an interesting supernatural twist that kept me on the edge of my seat. I loved this one due to its characters and the way it builts tension! Be warned, though: it contains heavy spoilers for End of Watch.

August: The Stand

king-thestandHitting two birds with one stone, this was my Brick of this year. It’s quite a fan favorite, so I had high expectations for this one. A flu kills off most of the world’s population. The remaing few are intially left to fend for themselves, but they soon flock towards either Mother Abagail or the villainous Randall Flagg. The fate of the remaining humans hang in the balance! The Stand includes a wide cast with compelling characters, and I loved that King took his time to set up the story. Nonetheless, it fell a bit short for me, for the same reasons as Desperation: The Stand ends up being a Good vs Evil, God vs the Devil kind of thing, which I didn’t like and it felt like it removed the agency for the characters. I also felt Randall Flagg was an anti-climax after all the built up, but I guess that’s kind of his thing as the same happened in The Dark Tower.  I still enjoyed this a lot, but it didn’t really meet the high expectations that I had.

September: On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft

king-onwritingThe only nonfiction book on this list, but as a Constant Reader of Stephen King, I loved this. It’s part memoir, part writing advice. This book gives a lot of insight in Stephen King’s childhood, early life, his first steps as a writer, the struggles in his early career, and his eventual success with his first published novel, Carrie. Did you know that Stephen King actually got a lot of rejections when he started out? He also writes about his alcoholism and the accident in 1999, both of which greatly impacted his life. He also gives writing advice, on what he feels does and doesn’t work, and how to get your first draft actually done. It comes down to reading a lot and writing a lot, and to make sure you actually sit your ass down and write! This is a very insightful and personal read for both fans of Stephen King as well as aspriring writers. It’s a shame that I hadn’t read this any sooner!

October: Insomnia

king-insomniaSo I read Stephen King in October, and I chose one of his less horrific books. Insomnia is about an elderly man, Ralph, who suffers from insomnia (you guessed it!) after his wife dies. He begins to hallucinate, seeing colors, balloon strings floating above people’s heads, and tiny men who cut them. There is actually a reason Ralph is seeing these things: he’s meant to stop a terrible event from happening in his town. This book has a surreal quality to it, which is perhaps not surprising as the main character is sleep deprived. It might get a bit vague for some people. It’s also very much a slow burn, but I enjoyed the insight into Ralph’s head — the fact that he’s an elderly man made it very refreshing and insightful! I also enjoyed the references to The Dark Tower and It — this book is probably best appreciated after reading those, but you can still read this if you haven’t.

November: Cell

king-cellI had heard this book is … not the most popular of King’s bibliography, so I went in with no expectations. To be honest, people turning into zombies after some pulse through their cellphones messing with their brains sounds a bit dated. That said, I was pleasantly surprised! Cell has a very strong opening, starting right at the outbreak when our main characters scramble to get somewhere safe and worry about their loved ones. I could definitely understand the main character wanting to get in touch with his son, but this was obviously not easy. The second half is where the book gets vague, dealing with telepathy and hive minds. It wasn’t bad, it just seemed a bit too out there for my liking and the villain was about as interesting as a glass of water. It didn’t have the tension that the first half had, and that’s a shame. Still, this wasn’t as bad as people made it out to be. It just isn’t one of King’s best, either.

December: The Institute

Book Review - The InstituteAnd here we are with King’s most recent work. In the middle of the night, the child genius Luke gets kidnapped and his parents are killed. He is brought to The Institute, a facility that runs horrible experiments on kids with (some) telepathic and/or telekinetic powers. It’s a matter of time before the kids are shipped towards the sinister back half; no one ever returns from there. After a slow start involving a character whose reason for being there is not immediately apparent, Luke slowly discovers the Institute’s purpose. He vows to escape and bring it down. King does a great job building its characters and the setting, and you really fear for these kids as you find out more about The Institute. There is also hope, though: you can’t help but root for Luke as he fights for both himself and his new friends.

Overall experience

I pretty much enjoyed reading all of these twelve books, two of these even landed a position among my favorites, but I probably won’t do this again (even if I ever have enough books on my owned TBR to do this). ‘Having’ to read one Stephen King book each month felt a bit constraining at times. There were occasions where I wanted to pick up another book, but ended up going with Stephen King instead because I hadn’t read any yet for that month.

It certainly confirmed that I don’t like challenges and readathons (I actually wrote about this before), and though this was definitely doable, I’m still very much a mood reader that doesn’t like to be constrained by themes or author. I’m also worried that I might get sick of it if I read too much of one thing. I suppose it helps that King is such a varied author (despite being mostly known for horror), but I want to read what I like, whenever I like.

Amount of owned Stephen King books on my TBR

I would have liked this to be ‘zero’. After all, I had promised myself a copy of The Institute after I had finished all the other King books lying on my shelf this year, and I’ve clearly read this title in December. If I had written this last week, I could have said ‘zero’. However, my work gave me a gift card for Christmas and had some cheap copies of Stephen King books coming in. I bought Christine, Everything’s Eventual, and The Eyes of the Dragon for an excellent price. So yeah, my owned TBR of Stephen King books is three. But I did feel that I succeeded in my goal; it’s no longer a large pile of Stephen King books that have been lying on my shelf for a couple of years!

So, I hope you enjoyed this themed post. I will be posting my annual ‘favorite books of the year’ next week (because you never know, I might just read a favorite in the last week of the year!). Happy Holidays!

Donating Books

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about how to unhaul books. I discussed some general tips on how to declutter your book collection, and also made a section about what to do with the books you’re getting rid of. Selling them or trading them in at your local second hand bookstore is an obvious choice, but if you have a lot of books to unhaul, or books that are not worth the hassle of selling them, donating is a good alternative. After all, your books will be getting a second life!

But!

A while ago, I saw a post on Instagram by Bealeest, who donated books to a thrift store and found out that these books were trashed because (apparently) nobody wanted them. Now, before we all get our pitchforks, I think we do need to realize that, with all the decluttering trends the last couple of years, thrift stores have been pretty much swarmed with a large amount of stuff. Space is limited, and something that no one picks up is just taking up space. As a result, some of the stuff we donate is trashed. Not just in my country, The Netherlands, but in other countries as well. And, unfortunately, this also includes books.

This got me thinking about whether there were better, more responsible ways to donate books. The heartbreak some of us booklovers must feel at the thought of books carelessly trashed aside, it’s very wasteful and not great for the environment. Furthermore, our decluttered items shouldn’t become someone else’s problem to deal with.

The good news is: there are definitely other options! So here’s a list. I’m well aware that options will vary depending on your country, but I hope these tips will inspire you!

Friends, family, neighbors & coworkers
The easiest option is also the one that’s the closest! If you know readers, you could simply ask them if they’re interested in one or several of your books. If you know several people, perhaps you can also change it into a fun social activity, like a book exchange.

Social media
There might be some groups on Facebook, or other social media, where you can put up stuff (including books) for donation. Try to see if there’s one around your area! Some might be related to only books, some might include all sorts of things.

Free little libraries
Over the past years, a lot of free little libraries have sprung up. Places vary from someone’s front yard, public areas (such as train stations, supermarkets, and community centers), and even cafeterias at some people’s work places. They’re a great way to exchange books! The idea is that you take a book and place one back in exchange, but I’m pretty sure there’s no rule in bringing more than one book. It’s also a fun way to discover some gems. Do look around in your area/local community to see where they are.

Schools
Depending on the books you’re trying to donate, schools might be a good option. Lots of schools have (small) libraries, and more often than not, they don’t have the budget to buy a lot of books. Children’s books are obviously a good choice for primary schools, but some high schools/secondary schools might be happy with YA and classics. I’d ask before arriving with your box of books on the doorstep, though.

Prisons
It’s probably not the first place you’ll think of when trying to find a new home for your books, but prisons usually have libraries! Again, give them a call beforehand, but they might be more than happy to take your books.

Refugee Centers/women’s shelters
Depending on the titles and genres you’re trying to donate; some refugee centers are also looking for books. There are of course refugee centers for immigrants, but you could also consider women’s shelters. There are kids in both who might be missing out on books, and I’m sure adults might be interested too.

Charities
There are various charities that take book donations, and either make sure they get to those in need, or sell them and use the proceeds to fund their charity. There might be more charities who would be happy to take your books than you think! It will take up too much space to list them, and they’ll vary for each country, but Google is your friend!

Libraries
Some libraries take donations, depending on the titles and their condition. Like schools, charities, and refugee centers, they don’t have a lot of budget to buy books, so they might be grateful for some of the titles you’re bringing in.

Thrift stores
Despite the example mentioned earlier, some thrift stores might still be happy to get books. I think the wisest course of action is to ask before donating your books, otherwise, they might get trashed.

I’m sure there are some very useful options that I’ve missed. Feel free to share them in the comments!

Review: Hands Up by Stephen Clark

HandsUp_ClarkHands Up
Stephen Clark

Publisher: WiDo Publishing
Publishing year:
 2019
Pages: 272
ISBN: 9781947966208
Language: English
Genre: Crime
Rating: 2.5/5

Note: I’ve received a free e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This did not influence my review in any way. 

When rookie cop Ryan Quinn shoots an unarmed black man, it affects the lives of more people than just his own. While Ryan struggles with his guilt and tries to find redemption, the police do their best to cover up their mistake. The victim’s family is not about to let that happen; they want justice and the truth to be out there. When Jade, the victim’s sister, learns that there’s more to the story, she will go to any length to get her revenge. Matters get more complicated, however, when her estranged father Kelly Randolph shows up after being absent for years. After the loss of his son, he’s determined to make up for abandoning his family. However, his crime-filled past might catch up to him in ways he might not expect.

As you’ll gather from the synopsis I just wrote, this book deals with sensitive yet (unfortunately) relevant issues of racism and the Black Lives Matter movement. I’m both European and white, and though racism does exist in my own country, the context is completely different. That said, I definitely appreciated that I learned more about the topic through this book. The way these police shootings especially disrupts the lives of (potential) victims is definitely this book’s strongest point. Though it was described to me as a crime thriller, the story mainly focuses on the domestic and emotional problems that arose as a result of the shooting. The personalities of Jade and the rest of her family were flawed, which made them feel human and realistic as they dealt with their emotions and the loss of their loved one. Even if I found Kelly to be rubbing me the wrong way a bit, expecting brownie points because he claims he’s a changed man. He meant well, I guess, so that’s probably a personal gripe.

Hands Up did not just provide a perspective on the victim’s side, however: Ryan Quinn is misguided due to his (privileged) environment and his initial world views, but he is not actually a bad person. I also appreciated his point on view on what has happened, which made this book rounded and more realistic.

That said, considering this was advertised as a ‘crime thriller’, due to the focus on the domestic drama, there was a lack of real tension. I wouldn’t advertise this as a thriller. It could have been a social commentary. However, though The Black Lives Matter was present in the beginning, it appeared to be moving out of focus in the second part even though justice was eventually served. Police corruption and social divide were present, but I think more could have been done with these issues, especially to raise tension and make the social commentary more profound.

Though above issues weren’t enough to justify my rating, my next issue does. In the second part, there are two characters who are suddenly thrown into a complicated romance. Though it’s clear that one character uses the other to get justice (which I did find initially believable), it was also made clear that the characters do love one another and it made me cringe. I think the author was trying to make two characters from different worlds see each other’s perspective, but I don’t think a romance was the way to go about it. It felt forced, rushed, and undermined the manipulative actions of one of the characters.

Though the prose is easy to read and does a good job of portraying the characters, I also felt the writing to be a bit too clinical; there was a lot of telling rather than showing, which meant that the characters and atmosphere didn’t come across as well as they could have. For some reason, I also noticed that Ryan’s perspective was written in first person, while Jade’s and Kelly’s were both written in third person. I couldn’t quite discern why the author had done this, possibly to create less distance between the reader and the shooter? I personally found it a little jarring.

This review might seem critical, but Hands Up definitely wasn’t a bad book. I appreciated the different perspectives and the insight it offered into the characters whose lives were disrupted. I do feel Clark could have handled the romance plot better and given the social commentary aspects a bit more oomph. I also wouldn’t market this book as a crime thriller — it lacked too much in tension. Instead, the book holds more merit in providing a nuanced view in a controversial issue along with insight in how such events disrupts lives.

2019 Reading Goals: How Am I Doing?

At the start of the year, I’ve made a post about my reading goals for 2019. I figured it’d be nice to share how I’m doing half way through the year. Except it’s already September. Seriously, where does the time go? Still, I do think September is still ‘half way through the year’ enough to make a post like this.

Goal #1: Reduce my physical TBR
On January 2, I was at 69 unread books. My current TBR is… 40, including 3 manga and a light novel I’m supposed to read for a review in a magazine about Japanese popculture. It’s technically lower than 69, but not as low as I’d hoped. This is a bit confrontational, so hopefully I’ll do better the next few months!

Goal #2: Buy fewer books and read what I have
I did read a number of books that have been sitting around on my shelf for a while, but a surprising amount came in regardless. Some were free; either because a friend got rid of them and they had been on my wishlist, or because I got them in a goodie bag or an ARC/proof from work. I’ve been lending both books and manga as well, which doesn’t do wonders for your owned TBR. Still, I did buy books. I did keep a list, so I’ll probably laugh hysterically when calculating how much I’ve spent this year, but all of these were very intentional buys. I especially ended up buying a lot of manga; I’ve discovered The Promised Neverland and Vindland Saga, and I’ve been loyally buying new volumes of Golden Kamuy and Vagabond. Either way; even though I’ve bought books, I did stick to doing so intentionally!

Goal #3: Accept a very loose blogging ‘schedule’
Well, considering I haven’t updated the previous month, I suppose I’ve passed this one with flying colors!

Other goals?
Yes, there were other goals, which I either neglected to mention or thought of later. I’ve already surpassed my GoodReads challenge by a landslide! I hadn’t counted on reading so much manga, which made it significantly easier. It makes the number a bit meaningless, considering it was meant to represent my owned TBR. I refuse to change the number, though. After all, it’s only a number!

I’ve also finished this year’s brick, The Stand by Stephen King. I definitely enjoyed it, even though the ending was a bit of an anticlimax and I didn’t enjoy the religious aspects. The characters were great, though! Which brings me to another goal I had decided on sometime in February:

Read one book by Stephen King every month!
I decided to add this goal because a large chunk of my TBR consisted of Stephen King books, and I wanted to encourage myself to read those too! Thus far, I’ve managed quite well, and I’m happy to say that at least my pile of owned but unread Stephen King books has decreased significantly!

January: Desperation
February: End of Watch
March: Misery
April: Sleeping Beauties
May: The Wind Through the Keyhole
June: Cujo
July: The Outsider
August: The Stand

So far so good, and I have four months left. I have Insomnia, Cell, and On Writing sitting unread on my shelf, so technically I’m one short. I’m very excited about The Institute, however, so I might add that one to my list! I might do a post later this year with what I thought of all the King books I read in 2019.

In the end, some goals haven’t gone as well as I’d hoped so far, but slow progress is still progress! Who knows what the next few months will bring for my reading? For all I know, my TBR will be 0 by the time 2020 rolls around. 😀

Yeah, who am I kidding?