How Becoming a Book Blogger Has Changed Me as a Reader

For those of you who don’t know, 52 Letters turned one last week! After a year of reading and reviewing books, I thought I’d take a day and reflect on how being a book reviewer has changed me as a reader–for the better, and for the worse.

It’s made me a more aware reader.

By “aware” I mean that I’m paying more attention to the mechanics of stories: plot, character development, writing style, pacing. These are things I understood but never really though of while I was reading before I started reviewing. Now, when I read a book, I’m already thinking through what I’ll say in the review, which means I’m paying attention to these aspects.

This is a good thing when the book is good. I get to sit back in awe of the author’s writing ability, I get to really understand what about the book makes it exceptional.

Unfortunately, it also makes me aware of when a book is bad. This can make it a lot harder to finish reading a book, or to feel motivated to use spare time to read more of it.

Possibly, it’s made me a more self-conscious reader.

I don’t want to say that YES–I AM SELF-CONSCIOUS ABOUT THE BOOKS I READ, now that I know other people will know I’m reading them. I think I still have enough self-confidence to read the books I want to read, and then to share them with the blogging community.

However, before I was a book blogger, I unabashedly indulged my cravings for trashy, plot-less YA romances–especially those of the paranormal kind. I knew they weren’t well written, but I enjoyed them. Nowadays, I feel like I have to find something about the books I read that quantifies why they were good (once again, plot/characters/writing ability), and I feel weird saying that what I liked about a book had very little to do with complexities such as those. On the one hand, since I’m becoming more aware of what I’m reading anyway, I know I wouldn’t enjoy those books as much if I went back to them, but I also know that there is a part of me that just doesn’t want to put it into print.

I’m more aware of new books.

I don’t have a Goodreads account, never have, don’t really plan to. I’ve always been more of a “walk into a bookstore and stare at the shelves until I see something I like” reader. As a result, I never really paid attention to whether a book was new or not, whether there was hype surrounding it or not. Since joining the book blogger community, I’ve been exposed to the hype, and I can tell which books are new and making waves based on other people’s reviews.

It’s slightly overwhelming, the idea of actually keeping up with all the new books that come out. I still like reading books based more on if they strike my fancy than if I’ve seen other people rave about them. Still, I like that I have this new awareness, and I like that now when I walk into a bookstore, I can see books and go “oh, I know you” simply because other people reviewed their ARCs.

It’s made me a more diverse reader.

Recently, I’ve been pushing myself to stray outside of my fantasy/contemporary YA comfort zone. Reading challenges helped with this a lot–which I never would have learned about if I hadn’t started this blog. But beyond simply trying to meet a quota, being a book blogger has made me want to be a more rounded reader. I’m actually reading nonfiction (something I never would have believed if you told me that a year ago) and revisiting middle grade books. Seeing books that other people review, I’m exposed to books that I never would have looked at in a bookstore, which pushes me to go out and read them.

Most of all, it keeps me reading.

I’m in high school, and if I’m being honest with myself, I know that I probably would have put reading on a (far) back burner if I didn’t have this blog. Needing to have reviews to post keeps me reading, and I’m glad that I have a kick-in-the-pants to actually keep me reading. I love reading, but it’s easier to come home from school and watch Netflix than pick up another book. 52 Letters reminds me of what I like to do–discover new worlds and characters and then fangirl over them–and keeps me doing it. Of all the ways that being a book reviewer has affected my life, this one is the most important for me.

Poetry: Aha Moment

Suddenly, she cannot sleep

Tossing and turning

An uncomfortable search for comfort

Restless thoughts stumble

Into the shadowed land of

Profound

 

They say if you cannot sleep

You are awake in someone else’s

Dreams

And she wonders who would be dreaming

Of her.

She tosses and turns

And wonders if the ancients

Ever thought to have a god of sleep

To go with light and love and life

 

The next night

Just like the last

10:00, studying

Tea kettle shrieks

Automatic motions shush it

Reach for a tea bag

Drop, pour, stir.

 

Pause.

 

She reaches for the box of tea

Inspects each side

And realizes—

 

She had only assumed the tea

Was decaf.

Poetry: All These Things I’ve Loved

I’ve loved all these things:

Friends, games, luxuries like

Cool morning hikes and play dates

Cannonballs into frigid pools

In spring

Afternoons spent curled up, reading

And long family dinners

Watching the sun set—

 

All these things I’ve loved

Dropped

Like superfluous luggage

 

“It’s the journey that matters,

Not the destination”

They promise

 

Well, goddamn

Because I think this journey is killing me

I don’t know where I’m going

(One foot in front of the other in front of the other)

But by the time I get there

I might be no one at all

Top Ten Characters I’d Like to Check In With

top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Every week, they post a new Top Ten topic and other bloggers respond with their own lists. I take part in this meme when I have something to say for the topic and I remember what day it is.

I love this prompt a lot. We all have those series that we just can’t believe ended, and epilogues are never enough of a (hopefully happy) ending. Here are some of the characters that I want to check in on and see how they’re doing in their lives once their stories ended. Admittedly, most of these are couples who I want to see have good, peaceful times together (rather than life and death and trauma). And for most of these, I want entire novels, not just a quick “check in.”

1. Viola and Todd from Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy

The ending of these books KILLED ME! There is no way to describe how much I NEED TO KNOW what happens next.

2. Everyone from Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

cover beauty queens

This book actually had a great epilogue that gave the reader a window into each of the characters’ later lives, but I want more! I need another book–another series! I love these girls so much.

3. Puck and Sean (and Corr) from Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater

cover scorpio races

There is a great line which foreshadows the ending of this book, said by the American visitor to the island, that goes something like (forgive my awful memory), “Next year, you’ll have a barn of your own and Puck in your bed and I’ll buy from you instead of Malvern”–and I need this to be true. I need to see it happen. They are the cutest couple ever, but you don’t see a lot of them actually being together, especially in the aftermath of the climax of the book.

4. Anna, Lola, and Isla (and their BFs) from the Anna and the French Kiss series by Stephanie Perkins

(Side note: can we decide on a title for this series? I have no idea what to call it…) I fell in love with these characters and loved the glimpses of each of them you caught in the others’ books, but, of course, I want more stories of all of them reuniting and being amazing together.

5. Gemma in the Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray

Gemma is one of my favorite protagonists, and the ending of A Sweet Far Thing was traumatic and hopeful at the same time, and I’d love to see where Gemma ends up.

6. Del and Livia from Going Underground by Susan Vaught

cover going underground

This couple is so perfectly sweet, I think checking in on them would just make me smile.

7. Harry, Ron, and Hermione from Harry Potter by JK Rowling

This goes without saying. More HP books would only improve the universe, and I would love to spend more time with this amazing trio.

8. The characters in Every Day by David Levithan

cover every day

The ending of this book was strange but sweet, impossibly perfect actually, and I think it would be fascinating to see how their relationship progressed past the last pages. (I know that this one is vague, but the ending is very specific and I don’t want to spoil anything…)

9. Persis and Justen from Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund

cover across a star swept sea

This book is based entirely on the dramatic irony of Persis’s secret identity as the Wild Poppy. The reveal only happens at the very end of the book, and I’m dying to see the full repercussions of her secret being exposed. (Basically, I just need all the people who underestimated her to have to eat their words…)

10. Everyone in Peace, Love and Baby Ducks by Lauren Myracle

cover peace love and baby ducks

This book is emotionally tense, with the relationships between most of the characters deteriorating before the climax. Hopefully, checking in on these characters would show some of them growing back into the closeness that they had the beginning of the story, and gaining confidence that they lacked throughout the book.

Book Review: The Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen by Howard Carter and AC Mace

Wow, this book brought back memories. I was obsessed with ancient Egypt as a kid and it was really great to get back into that world, even if I was just getting my toes wet.

4/5 stars

cover king tut

Description (written by me)

This book was written by Howard Carter, the famous Egyptologist, after the earth-shattering discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen. Written a year after the initial discovery, the book gives the reader a taste of the history of the infamous boy king, introduces them to the necropolis that is the Valley of the Kings, and takes them through the laborious process of preserving, cataloging, and protecting a discovery of this magnitude.

My review

This book was startlingly readable. That sounds horrible to say, but I was expecting a dry, boring account–and luckily I was wrong. This book balances being comprehensive, complete, and reader-friendly, and was a perfect pick for my Nonfiction Reading Challenge.

The thing that struck me most about this book was the sense of voice. Howard Carter’s writing style gives the reader a feeling of personal connection to the excavation and to the Egyptologist. By the end of the book, I had a clear sense of this man: a serious, patient, and slightly arrogant archaeologist who above all respects and treasures ancient Egyptian culture. At times, Carter’s voice became sarcastic–and when describing the cloud of press and paparazzi that surrounded the site, positively sassy. On the whole, however, Carter is a respectable and admirable man who has and undeniable passion for what he does and a clear sense of just how blessed his team was. Without such a strong narrator, I don’t think I could have finished this book.

tut 3
the view of the shrine from the antechamber, guarded by two statues

One note on the writing style: while it was enjoyable and easy reading most of the time, it was written by an Englishman in the 1930s, and some of the sentence structure and diction took some getting used to. For example, he uses “manifest” as an adjective to mean “clearly, or obvious”–which is not grammatically wrong, but does strike a modern reader off-balance. He also has a love-hate relationship with commas, sometimes using a ridiculous number in one sentence, and other times neglecting to use them when they were definitely called for.

tut 5
Objects were removed from the underground tomb on stretchers, brought into the light where desperate press waited with cameras

The Discovery of the Tomb is also wonderfully informative, covering a range of topics to give the reader a complete understanding of the discovery. All throughout, I found myself surprised and smiling at tidbits of information. For instance, they turned a nearby and empty tomb into a darkroom for the photographer, and used another tomb, farther away at the edge of the Valley, to store items once they had been removed from the tomb but before they were shipped back to museums.

Carter wrote this book (technically the first volume of a larger publication, republished in the 1970s as the book I read) before he had even opened the shrine that held Tutankhamen’s mummy. The book was to serve as a preliminary account of the discovery, presumably to satiate the masses who craved to learn and see the wonders of King Tut’s tomb. Carter knew the audience he was writing for and took the opportunity to educate his readers not just on the discovery.

tut 2
a view of the Antechamber showing a pile of broken chariots and two of the three animal couches

The first chapter teaches the reader about the information known about King Tut and the historical climate of his reign. The second and third chapters discuss the home of the tomb, the Valley of the Kings, both in ancient times and modern day, with a distinct focus on tomb robbing. The special attention Carter paid to looters fascinated me, as it was a subject I hadn’t learned much about before. The fourth chapter sets the scene by giving information about Carter’s archaeological career and the seasons leading up to the discovery; indeed, it is not until the fifth chapter that the tomb is actually discovered. While this might strike some readers as tiresome, I found it to be interesting and comprehensive.

local workmen were enlisted for the excavation and removal of the discovered objects
local workmen were enlisted for the excavation and removal of the discovered objects

Carter’s sense of excitement and awe is strong through the rest of the chapters as he describes the discovery of the tomb. He gives the reader a powerful understanding of what was in the tomb and what it felt like to uncover it, as well as the historical implications of each piece. He spends at least one more chapter describing the tedious and impeccable process of removing each object from the Antechamber (the iconic room the discovery is known for, and the only room excavated during the duration of this book). As I had never studied restoration or preservation of artifacts, this chapter was undeniably fascinating.

tut 1
a view from the Antechamber of one of the animal couches and the items piled around it

Another chapter, short but full of emotion, is devoted to the trouble of dealing with the constant stream of journalists, dignitaries, colleagues, and desperate tourists who flocked to the excavation site. It was probably one of my favorites to read. I had never considered the politics of such a dig, or the magnitude of the attention news agencies paid Tut’s tomb.

tut 6
press and tourists waited from a wall above the entrance of the tomb, hoping to see objects as they were removed

I have to admit that chapter 7, A Survey of the Antechamber, which recounted over 100 items found in the cluttered room, got a little boring. Or, if not boring, repetitive. Parts of the book reads like a long acknowledgements, but I would not say that this is a bad thing, and it did make me respect the narrator more for the lengths he goes to include everyone who took part in the work.

The 105 photographs included are wonderful. The text links to them well, with some of them interspersed in the actual text, while most of them are included in an appendix at the back. Having a visual reference for all of the objects being described definitely helped me follow what Carter was saying and appreciate the beauty of the artifacts discovered.

All in all, this was a pleasant, informative read and I’m glad I decided to pick it up.

52 Letters Just Turned One!

Hey guys! 52 Letters in the Alphabet just turned one year old!

bday 2

*cue confetti and balloons*

I can’t believe I’ve had this blog for a year! It’s crazy to think that I’ve actually stuck with this and made this blog what it is today. I’m really proud of 52 Letters as it stands today, and I’m so glad that one year ago I was crazy enough to start this.

A year ago, I was a crazy freshman with a funny name for a blog and absolutely no idea what she was doing.

A year later, I’m a crazy sophomore who might finally be figuring out what she’s doing. Maybe 😉

A massive thank you to all of my amazing followers! Every like and comment makes my day. Joining the book blogger community has been hands-down the best part of having this blog. Thank you, thank you, thank you–it’s been a blast.

*cue more confetti*

I’ve had over 200 posts and I’ve read over 80 (guessing here) books since this time last year. I’ve written…a lot. I’ve fangirled over books and thrown textbooks across the room (because…high school). I’ve talked about a lot of random things, and you guys have listened–and I think that is amazingly wonderful.

Basically, I can’t wait to do this again!

Let’s see where year #2 takes me, shall we?

click for gif credit
click for gif credit

Book Review: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket (A Series of Unfortunate Events #1)

I read these books when I was first grade and loved them. Rereading the first book was a very weird experience, good and strange at the same time.

3/5 stars

cover bad beginning

 Goodreads description:

Dear Reader,

I’m sorry to say that the book you are holding in your hands is extremely unpleasant. It tells an unhappy tale about three very unlucky children. Even though they are charming and clever, the Baudelaire siblings lead lives filled with misery and woe. From the very first page of this book when the children are at the beach and receive terrible news, continuing on through the entire story, disaster lurks at their heels. One might say they are magnets for misfortune.

In this short book alone, the three youngsters encounter a greedy and repulsive villain, itchy clothing, a disastrous fire, a plot to steal their fortune, and cold porridge for breakfast.

It is my sad duty to write down these unpleasant tales, but there is nothing stopping you from putting this book down at once and reading something happy, if you prefer that sort of thing.

With all due respect,

Lemony Snicket

My review

I enjoyed this book. It’s definitely quirky in a way that probably appealed more to a younger me. It’s clearly the start of a long series in that it feels more like an exposition than a book–which it is, and which is not necessarily a bad thing.

The characters are likable if not terribly complex. The book is told in third person (for the most part), which ends up keeping the reader somewhat distant from the characters. I still felt an emotional connection with the Baudelaire orphans, especially the baby, Sunny, who I just wanted to hug through the entire story.

The voice Lemony Snicket brings to the tale is interesting: the story is technically told as if Snicket is telling the account himself, and it occasionally flashes into first person. The voice is melancholy and sassy at the same time–a combination that is hard to describe but entertaining to read at any age. I love the fact that Snicket uses “big” words and then describes the meaning; I remember that it made the books very approachable as a young reader, and it adds to the strong sense of character the narrator possesses.

The main difference between my memory of these books and my impression reading them as a sixteen year old is how much the plot emotionally affected me. I have a clear memory of trying to get my grandmother to read the books when I was young and having her say that they were too sad. I remember being seriously confused, because the books struck me as funny and eccentric, not sad. This time, I almost couldn’t get through the book. Count Olaf is abusive–and not in a quirky way–and it freaked me out that I found these books fun as an elementary schooler. I think the difference comes from the fact that I now have context to understand the real life implications of the Baudelaires’ plight–and it is fairly horrific.

Still, I don’t think these books are necessarily inappropriate for younger kids. I remember loving reading them, and I can understand how Count Olaf would be an entertaining villain (in a “gross and weird” villain sort of way) for younger readers. Nothing in the plot is scarring or would deserve a “trigger alert.” This series strikes me as good books to keep in mind for young children who want to read books with more complicated diction and plot without serious MG or YA themes. (That was what they were for me, at least.)

I can’t decide if I am going to continue reading the series. I remember the later books were more enjoyable and I want to revist them, but the series has 13 books, and I don’t know if I’m ready for that kind of commitment. I’m in an awful reading slump right now, so I might need more Lemony Snicket before YA sounds good again. We’ll see. 🙂

Poetry: A Tired Ballet

Our lives are a tired ballet

Ducking around social stigmas

Folding ourselves into delicate poses

Of model citizens

Faces schooled to hide the pain

Of holding unnatural positions

So much weight—

Expectations are not light

Like dreams, you know—

Balanced on tiny, struggling bones

 

Hair pinned back, stiff skirts, shoes laced tight—just so

Only numbered positions allowed

Smile—look graceful!

Be a swan, as if you cannot feel the chains

Coiled around your ankles

 

You have to learn when you’re young,

They say,

And even your bones

Subjugate themselves to the will of the dance

Just try to survive

As you twirl from responsibility to responsibility

Dizzy with stress but you’ve got to

Stay on your feet

March Wrap Up

march wrap up

March was a good month in regards to my life and my blog–not so much for reading.

I literally read one book. I gave up on Winterspell (so melodramatic) and read The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket (and haven’t even reviewed it yet). I literally had no book reviews (ahhh!). I’m feeling sort of pathetic in that regards. But I am making progress in the Tutankhamen book I talked about in my Reading Update.

I had 21 posts in March! In fact, that bumped me up to my 200th post since starting this blog, so I had another rant. I got three blog awards–The Liebster Award, The Creative Blogger Award, and the Inspiring Blog Award–which was so great! (Thank you!)

In the writing world, I wrote six poems and got back into writing for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenges. My poems were Rain, Like Tears, Innocent Ladders, She Wanders, Others Talk of Love Affairs, Mr. President, and Clear as Day. For short stories I wrote Desert Gods and The Spoiled Child. The second story got a ton of positive feedback, which was wonderful. (Thank you to everyone who commented! It was amazing.)

I also talked about my crisis of confidence and why I might not listen to all the writing advice out there. In my WIP novel, I hit 50,000 words (and nearly jumped with joy)! I wrote about 17,000 words this month, of which I am very proud, though I have to admit that spring break really helped. Free time is so freaking amazing.

While I didn’t have any book reviews, I did have a lot of book-related posts. I took part in two book tags: The Coffee Book Tag and the Taylor Swift Book Tag. This was my first time doing book tags, and I really enjoyed it–and am on the lookout for more. On Tuesdays, I talked about my top ten Standalone Books of All Time, Books for People Who Like Magical Worlds, Books on My Spring TBR List, and Books from my Childhood That I’d Like to Revisit.

I guess I should talk about my personal life, but I honestly can’t really remember anything specific. Good, not great, not bad. I had spring break, which was nice. Wonderful, actually. There were lots of tests before the break because the quarter ended, and getting back into the rigor of school isn’t exactly fun. There, obligatory personal life statement done.

My goal for April is essentially to Read. Capital “r.” Actually READ–all caps. Seriously. Unfortunately, I’m not out of my reading slump, and nothing on my TBR list is grabbing my attention.

We’ll see how April goes 🙂