Discussion: The Problem With Online Communities (Part 2)

Last year, I made a pair of posts (here and here) about some of the issues I’d noticed in some of the online communities that I was a part of, and in particular a Goodreads reading challenge group. I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to revisit this topic, but unfortunately it seems that the same group is still struggling with some of the same challenges. The group that I am part of is a user-driven reading challenge, which creates a list of prompts for next year’s challenge using a series of suggestions by group members, which are then voted on. When a certain number of suggestions are reached, a poll is set up where members can vote on their favourites and vote against their least favourites, and the winners of each poll make the final list for a total of 52 prompts (one per week). As I mentioned last year, this group has always been one of my favourite Goodreads groups because it is by far the most interactive and avoids many of the problems I see in other groups, but once again it has devolved into an environment where members are feeling singled out and attacked. While my focus for this post is on that one group, I also want to touch on a couple of other problems I’ve seen in other challenge groups I belong to.

I am apologizing in advance that this has become a very long post, but it is something that has been bothering me all week and I felt the need to get it all out.

Group Dynamics: Changing Rules Based on Discussions

Last year, many members of the group pointed out an overall negative atmosphere which left them feeling that the group was not as fun as it had been in the past. A lot of negativity seemed to stem from certain members, myself included, asking questions about the voting process since we had noticed some unusual patterns or things that have changed compared to previous years. For example, several members questioned why in the past we had consistently had a full Top 4 after each poll, whereas that year we frequently saw less than 4 results. While the moderators in charge of the voting did offer an explanation, it left some of us confused. It felt as though any attempts to question it further were treated as just complaining, even when the members who were posing the questions were just seeking information.

This year, this kind of challenge seems to have not only persisted, but become an even bigger issue. It is natural for the voting process to be dynamic and evolve over time as the group offers their feedback, and that on its own is not necessarily a problem. Where is does become a challenge is when the rules are changed frequently and rapidly. In the course of about 8 weeks with one poll per week, there have already been about 5 changes to rules. Some of these rules were necessary to ensure there were more opportunities for everyone to participate regardless of time zone, and some were based on member feedback about the list itself.

One of the issues we saw early on this year was that the moderators frequently had to get involved in the suggestion threads to remind people of the most basic rules which are in place every time. Members are asked to either make a suggestion for a prompt, OR second one that has already been suggested.  The same person cannot do both in the same poll. In order to make the poll, a prompt must be suggested by someone and only one other person needs to show interest by seconding it. The suggestion thread remains open until a specified number of seconded suggestions is reached, and then that thread is closed and a poll is opened for people to vote on. This is outlined quite clearly in the list of rules provided at the top of each thread. It seems that we have quite a few new members participating this year who were still learning the rules, since in the first couple of polls, we saw many people who were both suggesting and seconding. It sometimes led to confusion in the threads about which prompts had made the list to be voted on, and which were still available to be seconded.

In the span the 8 weeks we’ve had so far there have already been several changes. For example, the group had originally voted that there would only be one “multi-week prompt” (a set of 2-4  prompts linked by a theme or more direct connections between books) allowed on the list. A 4-week prompt was chosen from a poll devoted only to multi-week prompts, and many of us were under the impression that no other multi-week prompts would be allowed. After a small amount of discussion where some users indicated an interest in more multi-week prompts, the rules were changed to allow them in any poll. This led to some frustration from members who had been under the impression that the decision to limit ourselves to one, as voted on earlier in the year, would stand. I understand that not everyone in the group agreed with the decision at the time since many people had voted to allow more, and it seemed that the moderators changed the rule in response to that feedback. It left the rest of us feeling a little annoyed that the results of the vote were ignored because of a few people speaking up in the chat, but in the long-run, it wasn’t a big deal.

Over the course of the next few prompts, the rules changed a few times again. A rule was implemented to drop the total number of seconded suggestions per poll from 20 to 15, because people seemed to think that having 20 options to choose from was splitting the votes too much, and leading to difficulties getting a clear winner. Shortly after that, another new rule was implemented asking people who had participated in the previous suggestion thread to wait for the latest thread to be open 24 hours before participating, to allow other members to have a chance. The suggestion threads in general tend to fill up very quickly, and those of us who are on the forums more frequently would often end up participating more. Again, neither of these rules were necessarily a bad thing on their own, but it was more to do with the frequency of changes when we’d already had considerable confusion at the start of the year about the basic rules.

The moderators rightfully pointed out that anyone who read the list of rules at the start of each thread shouldn’t have a problem, but it was clear that this was not always happening.  follow the discussions about the voting process quite closely, and even I was very surprised by some of the rule changes. There were a couple of changes implemented that seemed to happen rather suddenly, after a tiny bit of discussion where it seemed like no conclusions were drawn. For example, I was surprised to open the thread for one poll and learn that we were moving from 20 suggestions down to 15. I had seen the discussion about it, but it didn’t look like any conclusions had been made.  When we implemented the 24 rule, I was under the impression that it was for one poll only, so I was surprised to find that it was now the rule in every subsequent poll. Maybe part of that is on me for making assumptions, but it still left me feeling a bit blindsided by the changes. I went along with them anyway since they were really not a big deal, but I remember feeling confused.

I was also a bit irritated by the “But what about me?!” attitude that I saw through some of the discussions. Many members complained that the suggestions happened so quickly that the thread was opened and closed before they even had the chance to participate. Keep in mind that there are generally 13 or more polls through the year, and they open at different times and often on different days, so there are plenty of opportunities to participate. The main reason I was irritated by this is because the overall attitude seemed to be that it was unfair to have threads open where any portion of the group wouldn’t have a chance to participate. I have nothing at all against the group trying to be as inclusive as possible, and I’m all for opening one or two suggestion threads that would benefit people whose schedules don’t allow them much time to participate otherwise, but it seemed that these complaints came from only a handful of people who had very different scheduling needs from each other. In a group with over 100 people actively voting, it is next to impossible to schedule things so they can catch everyone. In reality, I would think the voting process is more important than the suggestions unless someone has a prompt they would really badly like the suggest. As expected, when a thread opened at an alternate time to allow more or different people to participate, it wasn’t very active until some of the more regular members came back in. It left the impression that the moderators were trying to bend over backwards to appease everyone. As much as it is disappointing to miss out on the suggestion thread, I think each of us needs to understand that sometimes real life gets in the way and there are still plenty more opportunities to participate available.

The Challenges of Moderating

I unfortunately feel the need to put a disclaimer on this section, even knowing that people from this group are unlikely to be reading this. A group of this size and with so many different opinions is very difficult to moderate, and in general, I think the moderators are doing a great job at trying to keep everything on track. The moderators really are doing their best to keep the process running smoothly, and I definitely don’t envy the amount of work it requires of them.

With that said, I find myself very frustrated with some of the moderators this year and especially with the way they have been responding to group members. Several times this year, myself and another member who I speak to via private message have noticed that the moderators seem to be less present during the suggestion process. There appears to be only one moderator actively involved in those threads, which in itself is problematic since it is a lot of work to keep up with the rapid pace at which suggestions often come in. A few times this year, we have noticed that the moderator did not seem to be around much during the process. This in itself is not a problem. Like all of us, she has her own life and outside commitments, and no one is expecting her to babysit the thread at all times. The problem is, several of us have noticed frequent problems that occur when the moderators are not around which lead to confusion in the process. In the past, it  has been very helpful to have the top post in the thread kept as up-to-date as possible so we can all see which prompts have been suggested, which have made the list, and which are still available to be seconded. When the suggestions come in very quickly, I’m sure it is hard for her to update as frequently as needed, and again this is fine.

When the moderator is not around, we tend to see a lot of the same problems. People are both suggesting and seconding things, people are seconding things that have already been seconded, and it becomes nearly impossible to keep track of how many suggestions we have reached on the thread. Myself and another member decided to give some feedback on the process to point out that the threads have seemed very confusing lately, and it has been difficult to keep track of suggestions. The moderators quickly became defensive and pointed out that it is  their job to keep track of the numbers and no one else should worry about it, that they can’t  be expected to watch the thread for hours and update every single time someone posts, etc. Essentially, our feedback was taken completely out of context and treated as a criticism when that was not the intent at all. Earlier in the year, I had also offered some feedback stating that we should be cautious with the number of rule changes since it might be hard for people to keep up. This also seemed to be viewed as a criticism of the mods and the general response I got was “Well, everyone should just read the rules at the start of the thread, and then there won’t be any problems.” Meanwhile, we had seen quite clearly that either people weren’t reading the rules, or weren’t sticking to them anyway, since there were frequent problems.

Recently, the moderators made a mistake that led to a member’s suggestion almost getting excluded from a poll for the second time in a row. The first time, her suggestion was made and was seconded after we had already reached the total of 15 needed. That person decided to suggest her prompt again in the following poll, and was told that she must wait 24 hours because she had participated in the previous one. Another member stepped in to point out that this wasn’t true because that person’s suggestion had come in after the thread should have been closed. It spun off into a heated debate and a lot of frustration on both sides. The moderator took issue with the person pointing out her mistake and became upset when she was told that the decision was “unfair.” I should be clear that the member who pointed out the mistake did so in a respectful way, and offered details to support her claim. The moderators focused on the fact that they didn’t like the way the issue was brought to their attention, and got stuck on the fact that if it had been mentioned to them earlier, they would have rectified the problem. This was irritating to see because it puts the onus on the group members to find the mistakes and point them out in a timely enough fashion — which I believe should be the moderator’s job. It was especially frustrating since this same moderator had already made a number of other mistakes during previous polls. To be fair, when these were pointed out she did quickly acknowledge and fix them, which just goes to the point that her attitude about it was unwarranted. It seemed that she took the complaint very personally, when that was not the intent at all.

What complicated the matter even further was when other members jumped into the discussion to defend the moderators and remind everyone of how hard they work and what a great job they are doing. That’s great and all, but that’s not at all what the discussion was about. Because of all the defensiveness, what should have been a very simple discussion turned into an argument and once again left members feeling negatively about the group. Those of us who had tried in the past to offer feedback that went against what the moderators thought felt silenced, and the moderators felt attacked. When another member jumped in to support the person who had pointed out the mistake, she was told by someone defending the moderators that her posts often come across negative and dismissive. For me, that was a comment that really crossed a line since her posting style in general had nothing to do with the topic at hand, and if anything just went to show why some of us were beginning to feel unwelcome.

Like last year, it became an issue of negativity and the discussion quickly turned to constructive criticism vs. complaining. Even the moderator herself eventually made a comment that openly stated that the she did not believe the person who had pointed out the mistake had meant to be constructive. After reading through the entire thread thoroughly and more than once, I honestly don’t understand where she got that impression. It is very difficult to provide open and honest feedback in a setting where people are likely to take it personally, and that is not something that I would expect from moderators. They are only human and it’s natural that they can feel their work is not being appreciated, but at the end of the day, I think group members should be able to express themselves (respectfully) and have their concerns heard in order to keep the group running. The result of this incident is that several group members have once again become uncomfortable posting anything at all because they are sure it will get misinterpreted. It’s unfortunate since the lively discussions in the group are part of what make it so fun to participate in. This can’t happen when members are worried about their comments being misinterpreted, and it definitely can’t happen when people feel that they are unable to post the way they want for fear of being deemed too negative.

As a last point, I should note that this group has always said that it is open to feedback and often actively encourages people to share their opinions. We have a thread devoted to the process itself and people’s ideas and suggestions for how to improve upon it available year-round, and the moderators often actively solicit feedback at the end of the year from members about how the process was for them. However, for a group that claims to be so open to feedback, it often ends up feeling quite dismissive and hard to get opinions heard. After a discussion with a couple of other members, we noticed a tendency for longer comments to be interpreted as negative or rants, and for any form of constructive feedback to be interpreted as criticism or an attack on moderators. When other members jump in to remind us that the mods are doing a great job, it ignores the actual content of the feedback and switches the focus to a personal level, when that was never the intent. When members are criticized for the way they pointed out a mistake, even when they made every effort to do so respectfully, it leaves us feeling unwelcome to comment anything that is even remotely negative. It’s unfortunate that the process has begun to feel so chaotic, and I personally do believe it is a direct result of the moderators seeming less present. I honestly don’t know how much they were in the threads last year, but I don’t remember feeling that the threads weren’t updated or that the suggestions were confusing in the past. The mods are quick to point out that they don’t think they’ve been less involved either, and while that might be true, when several of us are giving feedback that the process has felt chaotic and confusing, going on the defensive doesn’t really help to solve that problem. All that does is cause bad feelings on both sides, and members really shouldn’t feel that moderators don’t like them or don’t welcome their comments. As I said last year, it is important for groups to be able to have open and honest communication and feedback, even including the negative, and I really hope this group can get back on track.

 

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Top 5 Wednesdays: Freebie – 5 More Books that Have Been on My TBR the Longest, and I Still Haven’t Read

I’m pretty sure that I’m going to set myself some kind of unofficial goal next year to read books that have been on my TBR for 3 years or more. I started my Goodreads account in 2015, and at first I mostly added classics and other books that I’d consider long-term goals to my TBR. A lot of those were things like the entire Wizard of Oz series, or all of the Anne of Green Gables books. I tend not to post about these books, but I can if anyone is interested in the classics I have on my TBR as well. These are books that I’d like to read eventually, but they are very low on my priority list. The more I began to explore Goodreads, the more I discovered new books and started to use my TBR to keep track of books that I thought might interest me and that I wanted to remind myself to read. I’ve posted about the books that have been on my TBR for a very long time several times in the past year. By the end of July last year (the closest I could find to exactly a year ago), my TBR was at 1550 books, and it now sits at 2278! I actually find it strangely fun to browse through my massive TBR list, and remind myself of all the books I’ve been wanting to read. It’s very rare that I’ll actually lose interest in something completely and remove it, but it at least gives me an extra push to prioritize it.

Top 5 Wednesday is a meme created by Gingerreadslainey on Youtube, and is now hosted by Sam at ThoughtsOnTomes. The official GoodReads group with the weekly topics can be found here.

1) Modern Monsters by Kelley York

23014835I think I actually recently considered buying this one from Book Outlet, but ended up deciding against it. I added this one to my list toward the end of August 2015 alongside many other YA contemporary books, and I hadn’t heard of it at all until I saw it on Goodreads. It is about a guy named Vic whose popular best friend convinces him to go to a party, where he ends up held responsible for something horrible that happens to a girl, Callie. Vic teams up with Callie’s best friend to try and uncover the truth and clear his name. This is one of many “issues” books that I have on my TBR, and as much as the synopsis tries to leave it vague, I think it’s pretty obvious what Vic is accused of doing. It does not seem to be a particularly popular book and none of the reviewers I follow have read it or even indicated any interest, but it seems like it could be an interested YA book to try.

2) The Rest of Her Life by Laura Moriarty

566850I think I initially assumed that Laura Moriarty was related to Liane Moriarty after reading and loving Big Little Lies, but there is actually no relation. This book is told from the perspective of Leigh, a mother of a high-achieving high school student named Kara who makes a tragic mistake, which affects not only the family but their entire community. It interested me because it was compared to Jodi Picoult for its focus on a moral dilemma and the character-driven nature of the story, so that seems like something that would definitely interest me. I’m not a huge fan of such vague synopses though, which I think is part of why I’ve put this one off for so long. It’s hard to say whether I’ll be interested in reading it when the only information given is that it is about a difficult mother-daughter relationship, and a horrible mistake. I have several of Laura Moriarty’s books on my TBR though since they all sound very intriguing, so I’m sure it’s about time I pick one up.

3) What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi

20933641I added this one to my list alongside two more of Jessica Verdi’s books, so I’m assuming I found them while looking for YA contemporaries. This one in particular is about a boy named Ryden, whose girlfriend Meg stopped her chemo treatments when she became pregnant and passed away. Struggling to care for his daughter on his own and to graduate from high school, he meets Joni who starts to make him feel like himself again, but she doesn’t know that he has a child. When Ryden finds one of Meg’s old journals, it stirs up the past and he thinks she left other notebooks for him with a message to help make sense of his future. In all honesty, it all seems a bit melodramatic, but I’m also intrigued by the story. It’s not very common to see books that focus on single fathers, and especially not single teenage fathers, so that alone is enough to keep my interest. The reviews for this one have been pretty mixed, and I feel like it’s the kind of book I’d really need to be in the mood for, which is probably why I haven’t read it since adding it to my TBR.

4) The Next Together by Lauren James

23266378I think I added this one to my TBR in the first place because it reminded me a tiny bit of The Time Traveler’s Wife, even though it is actually very different. This book is about a couple named Katherine and Matthew, who are destined to be reborn repeatedly throughout history, and every time they fall in love only to be tragically separated. I’m not the biggest fan of time travel stories in general, but something about this one keeps drawing me back to it and I think it may be one that I’ll have to try soon (at least, maybe for next year’s reading challenges). Part of what put me off is that this is not really a genre I tend to go for very often, and I think part of the deterrent was the fact that it was labelled as part of a series, and for a while I was avoiding series in general. I’ve discovered that it is just a duology, with a few optional short stories available, so it’s not even really a series. I keep coming back to this one, and that maybe a sign that it’s time to give it a chance.

5) The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg

11387392I’m completely at a loss for how this one made it onto my TBR in the first place, since I very rarely read anything paranormal. This book is about a girl named Brie who dies of a broken heart when her boyfriend tells her he doesn’t love her. Brie discovers that she is dead and living as a “Lost Soul” in a version of the afterlife. Guided by Patrick, who seems to be some kind of angel, Brie needs to move through the five stages of grief in order to be ready to move on, by observing the aftermath of her death and realizing that her life may not have been what she thought. It seems to be a little bit like A Christmas Carol, which I did enjoy, but it is definitely very different from the kind of book I would normally pick up. I can actually see this one going either way — it could either be amazing and very powerful, or I could find it completely stupid. It’s received an overall rating of just over 4 stars on Goodreads based on just under 15,000 ratings though so that seems to be a decent indicator that people like it. Something about it seems interesting enough to give it a try, but I can definitely see why it was low on my priority list.

 

Top 10 Tuesdays: Favourite Bookish Blogs and Websites

I love to read other people’s book blogs and especially to watch Youtube channels that focus on books (although I have an irrational hatred of the word Booktube). One of my favourite things to do at the end of the day is to put on some videos of people talking about their favourite books, doing book tags, and especially talking about the books they are most excited for. I decided to divide this post into two main categories, one for blogs and websites and the other for Youtube channels. These are not all the channels and all the blogs that I follow, but these are the ones I am consistently most excited to see and check frequently. I’m leaving a link to each one, and just a brief description of why I like it. I’m limiting myself to just 10, but there are definitely many more.

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

Youtube

1) Sam @ ThoughtsOnTomes – Aside from the fact that I love Sam’s videos and the way she expresses her opinions, she has also taken the lead on Top 5 Wednesdays, which makes up a huge portion of my blog. The topics that she comes up with (and picks from suggestions) are very creative, and often very difficult, but they are a great way to look at books differently.

2) CeCe @ ProblemsOfABookNerd – CeCe was one of the first book-related Youtube channels that I subscribed to, and I was most drawn in by her absolute enthusiasm for books. She makes great recommendations, and I like that she focuses quite a bit on LGBTQ+ books and representation as well. It’s obvious she has a lot of fun with reading and talking about books, and that shines through with every video.

3) Emma @EmmmaBooks – In contrast, EmmmaBooks is one of the channels that I only subscribed to fairly recently, after finding her videos while randomly browsing. I found myself just watching one after another as they came up as recommendations for me, and I loved her content and her video style. She’s another one that I tend to have similar taste with, and her videos are fun to watch.

4) Hannah @ AClockworkReader – I love Hannah’s channel because she’s so articulate and well-spoken, and we seem to have very similar taste in books.  I have got so many ideas for new books to try because of her videos. We both read quite a bit of YA contemporary and well as fantasy series, and of course it doesn’t hurt that she is a huge Harry Potter fan too!

5) Emily @BooksWithEmilyFox – I think this is the one channel here that I don’t really have much in common with in terms of favourite genres. Emily reads a lot of sci-fi, non-fiction, and horror and those are three genres that I don’t read very often. Even given that, I love watching her videos and the way she talks about books. I think it really says something that I enjoy watching her videos even though our tastes are so different.

6) Kayla @BooksandLala – This is another channel that I’ve only subscribed to fairly recently, even though I  know she has been quite huge in the book community for a long time. I love watching Lala’s videos because of her creativity with her content, and her honest reviews of the books she is reading. I also love getting recommendations for thrillers from her videos, and I especially love to see how she has shared her love of reading with her son.

7) Chelsea @ChelseaDolling Reads – I think I also only subscribed to this one fairly recently. Chelsea’s videos kept coming up in my Youtube recommendations, and I found myself looking for them and watching all of them as they came out. I love her enthusiasm for books and she’s another one who seems to have quiet similar tastes to me for the most part.

Blogs/Websites

8) Destiny @HowlingLibraries – One of the things I really love about Destiny’s blog is how she posts so frequently, and I love the variety of content. I’m always excited to see when she’s reviewed a book that I’m considering reading, and I really enjoyed her Down the Rabbit Hole series. I also appreciate how friendly Destiny seems to be and that she is responsive to comments!

9) Kourtni @KourtniReads – This is one of the first book blogs I subscribed to, and it is one that I still check quite often. I love how Kourtni keeps me up-to-date on upcoming releases and reviews of newer releases, and she’s had some really interesting discussion posts.

10) Anushka @GoingThroughBooks – I think I was first drawn to this blog because of Anushka’s discussion posts, which address such a wide variety of topics from authors, to characters, to reading habits and blogging in general. She is another blogger I look to for recommendations, and another one that I always enjoy interacting with through comments!

 

OMG This Song Book Tag

It’s been a while since I discovered any new book tags, so I went on a bit of a hunt to find something different. I always have some trouble with music-related tags because I find they tend to be about songs that would connect with the book, and that’s something I’m just not creative enough to figure out. I found the OMG That Song Book tag just by randomly browsing a variety of blogs to see what kinds of tags were even out there, and it led me to the original video by Katesbookdate (found here). I liked this one because it gave a great chance to think about songs separately from the books themselves, but related by a common theme. It seemed like a lot of fun, so I thought I’d give it a try!

1) My Jam – A song you must listen to every time it comes on, no matter how old or how many times you’ve listened to it, and a book you’ll never get sick of

I don’t really listen to the radio much, so it’s mostly down to my own Spotify favourites playlist. Technically, just about any song on there is one that I’d feel compelled to listen to every time otherwise it wouldn’t be a favourite. I think if I had to pick one, it would have Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart.

In terms of a book I’ll never get sick of, I think I’ll have to go with the obvious and pick the Harry Potter series. I’ve already read this series so many times over the years, and it still feels as fresh to me every time.

2) Throwback – A song that reminds you of the cringey-est time in your life, and a book you read that you wouldn’t like if you read it now

I think the cringey-est time of my life would have to be the years where I decided to have a DeviantArt account with some free verse poetry. I’d always been interested in writing and got completely stuck any time I tried to write a story, so I started writing poems instead. They are absolutely terrible. Like most emo teen poetry, it was mostly about the annoying popular kids at school, and things like that. I was in late elementary school/ early high school at the time, and it was the years where I frequented sites like Habbo Hotel. It’s so embarrassing looking back on it! It’s actually hard to choose a song that reflects this since there were many songs that I really liked those years, and none of them are very strongly associated with the cringiness of it. If I had to pick something, I would say probably Candy Shop by 50 Cent and Olivia. I wasn’t even a huge fan of the song, or of 50 Cent in general, but it is one song that for some reason is strongly associated with those years.

I can’t say for sure whether I’d like this book as much if I read it now, but I absolutely loved Let Me Call You Sweetheart by Mary Higgins Clark when I first read it. It was one of the first adult-level books I read, and I was absolutely blown away by it. I read it when I was in seventh or eighth grade, and thought it was amazing. Unfortunately, I haven’t liked any other book by Mary Higgins Clark as much since, except for the other one I read around the same time. I’ve found the last few underwhelming, and it makes me wonder if I’d like this one as much if I tried it again.

3) Replay – A recent song you have on repeat, and a recent favourite book

I very recently discovered New Rules by Dua Lipa, which isn’t even that recent since it is already a year old. For some reason, I was completely convinced that Dua Lipa was a rapper and didn’t look into anything she had done. I actually discovered this song through Malinda Kathleen Reese’s Google Translate Sings version and decided to look up the original. I love Dua Lipa’s voice, and the video is great!

One of my most recent favourite books in Autoboyography by Christina Lauren, which actually also came out last year so I guess that’s appropriate. I’d been looking forward to reading that one for a while, and absolutely adored it!

4) Gets Me – This song is me, and this book is me in book form

Wow, it’s much easier to come up with books for this one than it is for songs. I’m leaning toward Just Give Me a Reason by Pink and Nate Ruess, because I definitely have that kind of tendency to overthink things. The song is basically about Pink worrying that her partner is losing interest, meanwhile he doesn’t think anything’s wrong. Aside from the fact that Pink is my all-time favourite artist, it just seems like the kind of jumping to conclusions that I might do.

In terms of books, I would have to go for either Fangirl or The Upside of Unrequited. Both main characters have social anxiety, and I related so strongly to them. I also tend to lump these two books together a lot, I’ve just realized, but they are both basically me.

5) Wut? – Weird but I like it, and a book that stuck out to you for whatever reason

I think the weirdest song I’ve ever liked has to be The Night Santa Went Crazy by Weird Al Yankovic. My brother had his albums when we were younger, and we both thought this song was hilarious. It’s actually quite disturbing, but I think part of what was so weird about it is that it was sung so peacefully that it just gets stuck in your head before you realize how weird it really is.

In terms of a book that stuck out to me, that’s pretty vague. I think one of the weirdest books that’s ever stuck out to me is the Lumberjanes series by Noelle Stevenson. I’ve only read the first two so far, but they are really bizarre. I actually didn’t realize going into them that there would be fantasy elements. I thought it was just a straightforward story about friends at summer camp, so it was a bit off-putting at first, but I ended up loving it.

6) Let’s Go! – Best pump-up song, and a book that inspired you

Going for another obvious choice on this one, but I’d go with Eye of the Tiger. It’s actually not really a song that I listen to very often, but it is very motivating. This song was my high school’s theme song since our mascot was the tigers, so it was played fairly often.

In a kind of unusual way, I would say that Jane Eyre inspired me. It was one of the first classics that I read after avoiding them for quite a while, and it very quickly became a favourite. It inspired me to get back into reading classics and give them a fair chance. There haven’t been very many since then that I loved at much (I think Rebecca is the main exception), but this book at least inspired me to try.

7) Chill – favourite chill/relaxing song, and a book you’d curl up and read on a rainy day

I think Ed Sheeran would have to be my go-to relaxing music, especially Photograph. I’ve also recently been obsessed with Happier and Perfect. Even though some of his songs are actually very emotional, his style tends to be so low-key and relaxing.

I’d pretty much curl up with any book on a rainy day. It seems like the perfect time to read! If I had a whole day ahead of me to relax and read, I’d probably pick something very compelling, like Big Little Lies or any of Jodi Picoult’s books.

8) Addicting – A guilty pleasure song (catchy and addicting but not a whole lot of substance), and a guilty pleasure/trashy/fast/light read

When I think of a guilty pleasure song, I tend to automatically think of the 90s boy band songs that I used to love. Honestly, I still like listening to some of my favourite N’Sync and Backstreet Boys songs, like Tearin Up My Heart or I Want It That Way.

This may be my most embarrassing choice here, but for me a guilty pleasure read is the Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park. I can’t say it’s something that I read often, but it was my absolute favourite when I was younger and it’s still really fun sometimes to revisit it. Junie B. Jones is absolutely hilarious as a narrator, and every time I read these again, I have a lot of fun.

9) Nostalgia – Throwback you look back on fondly, and a book you read forever ago that you look back on fondly or reminds you of a happy childhood time

There are many throwbacks that I look back on fondly, but if I had to pick one I’d go with The Boy Is Mine by Brandy and Monica. This was one of my first introductions to R&B, which quickly became my favourite kind of music. It is still one of my all-time favourite songs, and both Brandy and Monica are among my favourite artists.

A book, or more accurately a book series, that I look back on fondly would definitely have to be the Berenstain Bears books. And I am definitely among those people who were completely convinced that it was Berenstein Bears, not Berenstain. I collected so many of these books, and I actually still find them quite fun to read sometimes. I read these so many times!

Top 5 Wednesdays: Books I Love with Tropes I Hate

I don’t know why, but I always have a really hard time coming up with lists of tropes that I love or hate. I think I tend to focus more on how the trope is executed, so I won’t mind an overused one as long as it is done well. I tend not to like tropes when I feel like they’ve been done to death, and especially when most of those cases are not even done particularly well. I get really tired of reading books that feel like they are telling the same basic story over and over with slightly different characters, which is why I tend to make a conscious effort to vary my reading during the year so I at least don’t read too many books of the same genre or style in a row. I’ll follow one or two YA contemporaries with some fantasy, for example, just to mix things up a bit. There are some cases where the author manages to take a normally cringe-worthy trope, and subvert it or at least make it unique enough to feel a little fresh.

Top 5 Wednesday is a meme created by Gingerreadslainey on Youtube, and the official GoodReads group with the weekly topics can be found here.

1) Love Triangles – The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

7938275To be fair, I don’t hate love triangles as much as most people seem to. I’m just sick of seeing them in every single book or series that I read. It’s so unrealistic to have nearly every main character have two (or more) people in love with them, and to have strong enough feelings for both that they couldn’t possibly choose between them. What I especially hate in most of the love triangles that I read is that it is often immediately obvious which partner the main character will pick. I would actually love to see more books where the childhood friend actually manages to win their friend’s heart, over the random new guy (or girl, but often seems to be a guy) who the person is instantly drawn to. The Hunger Games series was one of the strongest examples of a love triangle that was done well. I was genuinely shocked by the person that Katniss picked because I was leaning so heavily toward the other person, and honestly thought that she was too. The further away I got from the story, the more I came to understand why she picked the person that she did and came to love them as a couple, but this series definitely kept me in suspense. It’s possible that it would have been more predictable if I read it now than when I first did, but at the time, I was caught off-guard, and I loved that!

2) Insta-love – The Sun is Also a Star and Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

9780552574235Yoon_9780553496680_jkt_all_r1.inddI’m pretty sure insta-love is one of the most universally hated tropes, and it tends to bother me because I hate books with poor character development. I tend to find those go hand-in-hand. I really have a hard time buying into relationships between characters who have literally just met and don’t know anything about each other, beyond an initial (often physical) attraction. In many cases, the relationship becomes the focal point for those characters to the point where all other character development stops. The two of them become defined solely by their relationship and interactions with each other, and I don’t get a strong sense of who they are as individuals. Even though both of Nicola Yoon’s books have relationships that develop very quickly, I still really loved both of these books. In The Sun is Also a Star especially, the quick connection made sense given that one of the characters was being deported, and I loved how the author used that. Their relationship developed quickly, but (at least as far as I remember) it wasn’t an immediate “I love you and now we will be together forever,” but more of a strong interest and connection with an uncertain future. In Everything, Everything, the relationship between Olly and Maddy also happened very quickly, which made sense given her very limited interactions with other people, but it was so adorable that I really didn’t mind.

3) “Love Cures All” – Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

29456598It really, really bothers me when authors try to present characters’ relationships being a complete cure for any kind of mental illness they may have. I’ve read many books where characters’ symptoms of schizophrenia or compulsive behaviours completely stop, but only when their love interest is around. Or, books where characters who have a long history of anxiety or depression suddenly have no problems anymore as soon as they fall in love. To be fair, I can understand people feeling better through their relationships with friends or partners, and it’s possible that some of these books are attempting to go for that temporary approach, but they often come across as seeming like a magical cure. It’s just not realistic for a relationship, especially as teenagers, to completely cure someone’s mental health. The two books I picked for this one both include characters who have social anxiety, and whose relationships with their love interests helped them, but didn’t necessarily take away all of their problems. I think Starfish is a great example of the opposite of this. The main character has social anxiety and a very difficult home life, and her friendship/relationship with her childhood friend helps but doesn’t completely remove her social anxiety. It also did a great job of showing the other side — how her anxiety can sometimes frustrate him, but he showed a lot of patience and did his best to be understanding and support her.

4) Girl Hate – Those Other Women by Nicola Moriarty

34316345I think this trope doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it bothers most other people, because I think sometimes it is very realistic. In general, I’ve seen many complaints about this trope that it promotes the idea of women as being catty and rude toward each other unnecessarily, where they should actually be supporting each other. I don’t always have a problem with this trope because I think it is often true to life. There are many women who do behave this way toward other women, and it is often for no real reason. I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to have female characters in books who do tear each other down, but it definitely seems to be an overused trope and it often happens for no reason (or almost solely because of a man). I think Those Other Women did a fantastic job of subverting this trope. It focused a woman who, bitter over her husband cheating on her with her best friend, starts a Facebook group for women who don’t want to have children, as a response to a group she sees that is exclusive to mothers in her area. It spins out into a huge rivalry, with some very interesting perspectives about the attitudes of women towards others (ie. working moms vs. stay-at-home moms, parents vs. non-parents). It was very well done, and I thought it did a great job of showing multiple sides of the issue, and showing how these kinds of attitudes don’t really help.

5) Unlikable Protagonist – Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia

enter-title-here-book-coverAgain, this is a trope that I don’t necessarily hate, but it is often not done very well and it can be really hard to enjoy a book when the main character is annoying. I don’t have to like or agree with what characters are doing in order to enjoy reading their stories, but I am getting a little tired of seeing so many alcoholic women as protagonists in thrillers. I find there are generally two kinds of unlikable protagonists: the ones who are just flat-out irritating to read and that you don’t even like as a person, and other who you may not like, but at least make compelling characters. I think Enter Title Here easily falls into that second category. I’ve mentioned this book several times in the past, always with the disclaimer that the main character, Reshma Kapoor, is not likable at all. She’s an extreme perfectionist and overachiever, and she will do whatever it takes to get what she wants. The Goodreads synopsis really does not do justice to this one at all. Even though she was not a likable person, I couldn’t help but root for her and get invested in her story because she was just so fascinating to read. I would love to see more characters who may not be the best person, but who have an interesting story and especially where their annoying traits actually contribute to their story, instead of just being frustrating to read about.

 

Top 10 Tuesdays: Books You’d Mash Together

This is a really, really difficult topic for me. With these kinds of more abstract prompts, I always end up feeling like I haven’t actually read enough books to really make them work, even though I’ve read a ton of books. It definitely doesn’t help that I’m not having the best day, so my creativity isn’t at it’s finest either. Mash-ups are very difficult for me because I tend to find most books so self-contained, that’s hard to imagine them working well with others. With the fantasy series I’ve read, I also find they tend to follow a similar basic pattern so there isn’t necessarily much need to mix them together. I also tend to read quite a bit of YA contemporary, so I don’t necessarily see an easy way to mix those unless I think the characters would be good friends. I’ll give it my best shot though.

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

1) The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling and The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater – Mostly, I just think Gansey and his friends would be an interesting combination with the Marauders, or even with Harry and his friends. I’ve only read the first book in the Raven Cycle so it’s possible my opinion will changes with the rest of it, but for now I think they could mesh well. It also helps that when I first read The Raven Boys, I thought it had a very similar feel to when I first read Harry Potter.

2) The Illuminae Files by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman and The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer – This was actually the first pair I had in mind when I saw this week’s topic, because I wanted to see Kady and Ella interact with Cress, but the more I think about it, the more I think it would just work well in general. It’s a massive group of characters to mash together, but it would make a very interesting dynamic.

3) Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia – This was one of the few YA contemporary combinations that made immediate sense to me. Cath is a fanfiction writer with a huge following, and Eliza is the author of an anonymous webcomic. I thought it would be great to pair the two of them together to create an illustrated version of Cath’s Simon Snow fanfiction series, and in return Cath can help her with story ideas (not that Eliza necessarily needs any help).

4) Autoboyography by Christina Lauren and Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli – I think in a sense I already kind of naturally pair these books together since they were both very strong YA contemporaries that featured male leads who were gay, but both books had such great and quirky characters. I don’t see Simon and Tanner as a couple at all, but I can somehow very easily see them as great friends.

5) Pendragon by D.J. MacHale and Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire – Pendragon unfortunately seems to be a lesser-known fantasy series, but it definitely features a character who travels to a variety of strange worlds. It’s been such a long time since I’ve read them, so I can’t actually remember how the series ends but I do remember that Bobby Pendragon spends several years travelling from world to world, and doing his best to help them through the turning points they are facing. It would be a huge adjustment to go from that kind of life to go back to a regular high school or even adult life.

6) Strong Female Protagonist by Brennan Lee Mulligan and This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab – This might also be a bit of a weird mix, but there is something kind of interesting to me about having a former superhero who is trying to live a normal life, who is living in a city that is overrun with monsters. I can just see Alison trying to go about her normally day and survive college, doing her best to hold herself back from getting involved in the chaos around her (and probably getting involved anyway).

7) The Hating Game by Sally Thorne and The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion – I would also love to see The Rosie Project mashed up with Big Bang Theory, mostly to see Don and Sheldon try to interact. I think a mashup of The Hating Game and The Rosie Project really could go a few ways. On the one hand, Don could try to step in and set up Lucy and Josh using his own unusual kind of logic. Or, I could also see a story where Rosie and Don try to work together in the same office despite having very different styles and frustrating each other completely.

8) Atonement by Ian McEwan and The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger – These two books have always been inextricably linked in my mind, since I read them close together and absolutely loved both. I’m not even entirely sure how well they would combine, but I would imagine it might be interesting to have Bryony travel to different periods of her life, and possibly try to stop herself from affecting her sister’s relationship with Robbie.

9) The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – Both books have a similar atmosphere, and I can easily see Margaret delving into the story of Jane Eyre and Rochester, and writing about it. I would imagine she would uncover some kind of hint about them, which would motivate her to start researching them and their lives. It’s not quite the same thing as getting to speak directly to the characters, but I can see her piecing together their lives through diaries, letters, etc. and coming up with the whole profile.

10) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi – Again, I don’t think this is the ideal match for either of these two books, but I’d be interested in seeing how characters from Shatter me can navigate the Hunger Games using their special abilities. Plus, I would love to see how Katniss and Warner interact. I really don’t see it going very well.

Discussion: Sequels, Prequels and Everything in Between

Several years ago now, my local movie theatre offered a screening of the Australia production of Love Never Dies, the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera musical. This came as part of a series that the movie theatre offers, where all kinds of stage productions are offered alongside the usual movies. The Phantom of the Opera is one of my all-time favourite musicals (second only to Wicked), but I was torn about whether I wanted to see it. I knew the music would be incredible, and it was, but I wasn’t sure Phantom really even needed a sequel. The play is set 10 years after the events of the original story. Christine Daae, now married to Raoul and with a 10-year-old son Gustave, travels to Coney Island where she has been invited to sing by Mr. Y, a mysterious tycoon who owns an amusement park called Phantasma.

While I really enjoyed the show, I also found it a bit jarring at first given all the changes to the familiar characters. Raoul has become a heavy drinker who has little patience for Christine and Gustave. Madame Giry, the somewhat mysterious ballet mysterious from the first play, has become a harsh and almost conniving character, intent on doing whatever it takes to build her daughter Meg’s career, and shift the Phantom’s focus from Christine to Meg. Only the Phantom really has remained unchanged, still obsessed and in love with Christine. When I first saw Love Never Dies, I had to almost separate it from The Phantom of the Opera in order to truly enjoy it. The characters were all so different from what I was used to, and it was hard to reconcile myself with these new versions, even with the 10-year time gap in the story. It’s really not so surprising that the characters would change after a decade. At first, I treated it as a completely separate musical that just happened to feature some of the same characters, and over the years I’ve started to really love it! I still don’t really believe that Phantom needed a sequel, but the music won me over.

Two years ago, there was a similar situation when Harry Potter and the Cursed Child first came out. I will say upfront that I am one of the minority who really enjoyed this story, but again I had to essentially separate it out as its own entity to truly appreciate it. I knew going into it that this would be very different from the rest of the series since it was in a completely different format (not to mention by different authors), and I think that helped to keep my expectations more realistic. It is definitely not as good as the main series, but treated on its own I had fun reading it and I liked the characters a lot. This play was another case of a story where a sequel may or may not have really been necessary. I’m torn on this one because I would love to see more of the Harry Potter universe, but at the same time, there is so much pressure on sequels to deliver that it’s really, really hard for them to ever live up to expectations.

I should be clear — when I’m talking about sequels, I’m not talking about books that are part of the main series. Even though books 2 and 3 in a trilogy, for example, are technically sequels, I’m referring to sequels to a completed story. Yet another example was when I read After You (and later on, Still Me) by JoJo Moyes, the sequels to Me Before You. As I’ve mentioned before, Me Before You is one of my all-time favourite books, but I didn’t see any need for there to be any more. I liked After You, and loved Still Me, but neither was quite as strong as the first book. While it was nice to be able to see what happened to Louisa after the main story was over, it still left me wondering whether it was really necessary. Sometimes it’s fun to be able to imagine what happens to your favourite characters, and it seems that authors have become less willing to leave us those gaps. I’m sure a lot of that is due to fan demand for what is canon, but I kind of feel like it’s taking away sometimes from a more self-contained story.

I think the same can be said for prequels and other “between the numbers” books in a series. To be honest, these always frustrate me a bit because I can never really be sure when I am supposed to read them to maximize enjoyment of them, while avoiding spoilers for the rest of the series. In the past, I’ve always treated these books as completely bonus content and read them only after I had finished the rest of the series, but it is sometimes hard to take them so out of context and try to remember where they might fit. There are also books like The Assassin’s Blade, a prequel to The Throne of Glass, which as far as I can tell was published 2 years after the original story started. I’m planning on starting Throne of Glass this year, but I keep getting confused about whether to start with the series itself, or The Assassin’s Blade. I’ve even tried checking online, and I’ve seen both listed as the “correct” place to start.

To be honest, I’ve always found it a little annoying when authors go back and add things to the story after the fact. I’ve always felt that if they really wanted that content to be in the book, then it would have been in there from the start. It seems that in the past few years especially, this has shifted a lot because of fan demand. People want more and more of their favourite characters, which is definitely not a bad thing. It’s great to see people so invested in a book or a series that they want it to continue. It just leaves things a tiny bit confusing for those of us who are late to the party to figure out where to start.

On the other hand, there are also situations where the bonus content just seems completely unnecessary. For example, Stephanie Meyer released Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined, a 400 page gender-swapped version of the original, featuring Beaufort Swan who meets the mysterious Edythe Cullen. Full disclosure — I have not read this version, so it’s possible that I’m mistaken. From what I have seen, however, this book is almost exactly the same as the original Twilight. I didn’t love Twilight that much to begin with, so it left me with absolutely no interest in trying the new version, but I was left wondering why it was even released. I could understand people wanting more stories featuring some of the characters they loved, but what exactly was the purpose to redoing it this way?

I was left feeling the same way with Four, the collection of “between the number” stories from Divergent. Again, full disclosure — I liked Divergent, but it is far from my favourite series. I honestly had very little interest in reading this collection but ended up picking it up as part of one of my reading challenges, which specifically required a “between the numbers” book of a series. At the time, this was the only series that I had read that even had these kinds of books, so I was left with little choice. There were a couple of stories that gave a bit more of Four’s backstory, and a few others that were retellings of specific scenes from his perspective instead of Tris’s. I was left feeling that the book didn’t really add very much, nor did I found Four’s perspective particularly different.

I think the final and most frustrating example of a “between the numbers” book that was not done very well was the Noughts and Crosses series by Malorie Blackman. The problem I have with a lot of this kind of bonus content is that it is not always the most accessible for those of us who don’t use e-readers, and it’s not always obvious that it even exists. This series had two short stories that occurred between the first two books. I was lucky enough to have one of them, called Callum, included in the version of the first book that I got from the library. The other one, An Eye for an Eye, was nowhere to be found, so I assumed that like most of this kind of content, it was supplemental and wouldn’t make too much difference if I hadn’t read it. I was very frustrated to find out, when I read the second book in the series, that this short story was actually essential to certain plot points and interactions between characters, to the point where those scenes made little sense if you didn’t know what had happened. I was annoyed that I had to stop reading to try to go online and find out what I had missed. I guess technically it was my own fault for not reading the bonus content, but not much could be done when I couldn’t find a copy of it.

In general, it seems that series are getting longer and longer. We’ve moved from getting mostly trilogies to getting series of 5 or more books, with plenty of extras available. It’s great to see that people are so engaged with a series that they want to see more, but it also makes it a bit tougher to pick up a series later on. It can be overwhelming to want to try a new series, and see that there are 10 or more books to read if you want the whole story, including all the extras. I don’t mind the additional content when it really adds something to the story, but unfortunately that is not always the case. Sometimes the story really is strong enough to stand on it’s own. I loved The Hunger Games, for example, and although it might be interesting to find out more about some of the other major characters, I’ve never really felt a strong need for more either. Sometimes I get the sense that the bonus content is really a way for authors to make up for missing out on stronger character development in the books themselves. In other cases, it’s a great addition since there may not have been room in the main story for more, or that book wasn’t from the perspective of the characters that people want to delve further into. I used to be very opposed to this kind of bonus content on principle, but I’ve started to become more open to it — as long as it seems to genuinely add something.

Discussion Time – What do you think of sequels/prequels/between the numbers books? Any great examples of when it was done right (or even done wrong)? Please try to avoid spoilers!