My family and I have been social distancing for about a week now. Honestly, this has required very little from us. A few canceled social events, no music lessons, or dinner dates. We’re introverts by nature, my husband works from home, and the girls have been on Spring Break. So, nothing much changed, except the understanding that staying home is more necessity than choice and the girls won’t be going back to school next week (it’s closed).
All the same, I’ve had to fill my time. I have to consider filling more time in the future. My children and husband have found and are currently playing Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, a video game that apparently requires all three of them to fly and defend a space shuttle. I know nothing about it except they sound like they are having a blast.
Meanwhile, I’ve spent the entire day obsessively collating my Goodreads library. And I do mean all day. I began while drinking my first cup of tea this morning and have just finished. (It’s about 7:30 pm now.) Well, finished is maybe a stretch. I’ve come to a stopping point…a pausing point. It’s worth remembering that this is what my Goodreads shelves look like. And nothing goes on a shelf unless I actually have access to it. So, I own all those “want to read” books.
It might not be too much of a stretch to imagine I’m transferring some of my generalized Coronavirus stress into compulsive, all-absorbing, ultimately meaningless tasks. But let’s not go there. As I said, it’s not affected us personally in any huge way yet. But I think that yet is important.
I started by making sure all the books on my shelves have listed page numbers. It drives me absolutely nuts to not know what is a short story, novella, or novel when picking out something to read. So, I periodically do this; sort my library by page length and individually search out page numbers for any book coming up as unknown. It’s a slow process. (Why doesn’t everyone include page length when they upload to Amazon?)
On a side note, I cannot tell you how much it irritates me that audiobooks don’t get listed page numbers. I mean I get it, their audio files and don’t actually have pages. But I need Goodreads to incorporate some way to show their length. Need I tell you! All those unknown in a row that I can’t fix get under my skin.
Then, I moved from there to checking all the anthologies, compilations and boxsets I have. I found too many instances in which I had books 1 and 2 in a series and then a compilation of books 1-5, for example. There was a lot of deleting going on. And when I say delete, I mean I even went to Amazon and deleted it from my cloud. I no longer own a lot of single books.
You have to understand that deleting books is really hard for me. It’s not normal, the resistance I have to trashing a book (even a digital one that barely even exists). But there just isn’t any reason to own these books more than once, except that it was time-consuming to find them and consolidate my shelves. And I’m not going to pretend I found them all. But I found a lot.
I also deleted several anthologies outright that I’d picked up a few years back when anthologies were all the rage. If I haven’t read them by now, I’m not going to. There are actually a couple more to go. But at some point, I was organized enough to mark each individual book included in them. So, to delete them I need to track those books down and delete their listing too because I won’t own them anymore. But I put that off until tomorrow.
I found three books I suspected of book stuffing. This isn’t something you hear much about anymore and I don’t know how these three managed to survive on my shelves. Actually, that’s not true. It’s too easy for things to hide on my shelves. That’s part of the reason for today’s exercise in thinning. Needless to say, these were deleted.
All in all, I deleted hundreds of books. Soon…I have to work myself up to this…I’m going to go through and delete anything I’m no longer interested in. My tastes have changed quite a bit and there is a lot of detritus on my shelves that could go. But I need to read each synopsis before I’m willing to take the leap. And that will take a lot more time. Luckily, as I said before, I have time to fill in the near future. I’m going to make the most of being homebound.
Of course, I haven’t spent the entire week collating my Goodreads shelves (just all of today). I’ve spent quite a lot of time playing Overwatch.
I brought my support SR up to 2466, in case you’re wondering. (I only queue support/healer in competitive mode. No one wants to depend on my crappy aim, trust me. I main Moria, Lucio, and Mercy.) I’m never gonna make top 500 or anything. But considering this is the first shooter game I’ve ever committed to playing (and I’m a 43-year-old woman), I’m pretty thrilled to almost touch platinum.
I’m WondrousBeet6 on Xbox if anyone ever wants to play. I’m awkward as hell at first, but I promise it’ll fade.
Other than gaming, I’ve also listened to a ton of audiobooks while working on diamond paintings. This is the one I finished last night. I’m actually pretty thrilled with how it came out.
I have a whole stack of unstarted ones. So, I figure I’ll be putting a dent in both my audio library and my diamond painting stash.
So, so far so good. I won’t say anyone is accomplishing anything overly meaningful (though tending my bookshelves is immensely satisfying). But nor have we gone too stir crazy, which is good since we’re committed to this whole social distancing thing. I don’t really understand why some people aren’t. Of course, some people can’t and that’s another matter altogether. I recognize how lucky we are to be able to with so little disruption that I’m thinking about how to fill time, not how to fill bellies. But if you can stay home for a while, giving our health system a little room to breathe and maybe saving lives, please to. I’d be more than happy to spend some digital time with you if that helps.
I haven’t done any reading for the last three days, not even audiobooks. The reason is that I was finally able to move my Calibre library, which is where I store all my ebooks, off of remote storage (where I had to access it by wi-fi) to my actual computer (where I can access it directly). This took some technological re-jigging for which I am forever and eternally grateful to my husband.
Working with Calibre when it was on the network server was slooooow. Adding, or deleting, or editing the metadata of a book was a five minute+ process, and if I had several books to upload (or whatever), it took eons. And the bigger the library got the slower the whole process became. The result was that I did very little with it, and as any data analyst will tell you, data that isn’t tended gets messy.
You might ask how I let this happen in the first place. And that’s what I’m here to discuss (as well as two further subjects that I’ll get to later.) In order to explain my Calibre problem (outside of just having an older computer), I have to go way back to my previous review policies.
Several years ago, when I started this blog, my review policies were genre specific about what I was willing to read. I quickly found that authors—desperate for reviews, rushed, overwhelmed, etc—almost never read the review policies of bloggers they query. I could (and did) say I don’t read short stories, Christian fiction or Young Adult titles and would get a slew of requests that said, “Would you be interested in reading/reviewing my Young Adult Christian short story?” Every time. I swear.
At the time, I responded to every email I got and I spent and inordinate amount of time responding to authors whose books didn’t meet even my most basic qualifications. Authors I shouldn’t have had requests from and shouldn’t be requiring my time to respond to. Eventually it started to irritate me. If an author is willing to ask me to read their 300 page book and write a 250-500+ word review of it, the least they can do is read and comply with my one page policies and procedures. Right? Apparently not.
And to be clear, we’re not talking a request a week or anything. We’re talking 10 a day, sometimes more. You put your email out there as willing to provide free reviews and open to self-published and Indie authors and you will get flooded with requests. Period.
Each and every one seemed to think they were special. “She doesn’t generally like Young Adult Christian short stories, but maybe she’ll like mine. Better send it to her just in case” seemed to be the thought process. (Or less flatteringly, the world, represented by this blogger, owes me. I sensed this in a lot of emails.) Authors, don’t do this. I won’t miraculously like your book outside my preferred genre. I won’t even read it. And I don’t owe you anything.
So, eventually I changed my policies. I gave up on trying to get authors to be courteous. I did this resentfully, I admit, but I did it. I decided that ebooks are free to send, so I’d just open the flood gates. I basically said, “Send me anything you want. I make no promises to read it. But I’ll pick a couple books a month from the pile to review.”
Even then, when I couldn’t make it any more mindless, authors didn’t read the policies. I know because I kept getting emails offering me books, with instructions to respond for my copy, when I specifically said, “just send it.” Plus, I pettily made the email in the first paragraph 2lazy2readP&P@sadieforsythe.com. The real email was farther down the page. I got tons of emails at the too lazy address.
And here’s how this relates to now. My process for dealing with these books was that I started an email folder that I put all the requests in and then once every couple weeks, I went through and added all the mobi/PDF files to Calibre and created an A2R (available to read) shelf on Goodreads.
This worked great in the beginning. Calibre was slow, but it was manageable. As time went on however, it got unwieldy and I started to feel overwhelmed. I didn’t even realize it at the time. I got on with getting on. But eventually I discovered that I’d been dumping all these books in Calibre and meticulously logging them on Goodreads, but I hadn’t gone and actually read one in a while.
At that point I closed myself to requests. I posted a notice saying that I was accepting no new titles and was going to concentrate on reading the ones I already had. (You know I still got requests regularly though, right? Mostly from what I think are publicists who had me on lists and sent me every book they represented. Never bothering to come back to the blog and check if I was still open. Bloggers are resources, not people, apparently. Yes, I’m bitter.)
I was better about reading the requested books for a while. But eventually scrolling through hundreds of books, most of which didn’t interest me (and some of which had some serious quality issues), soured and I drifted away. All those books still sat in Calibre and I still maintained my Goodreads shelf, but it was just detritus. This was all a slow, but real process.
This brings me to the present and my newly functional Calibre file. I just spent three days, three damn near full days reading the blurb of every single book in my review request pile (and often several reviews) and deciding what I might actually be willing to read and deleting the rest. I deleted something in the vicinity of 400 ebooks. I kept about 120, which is still too many.
You have to understand how hard it is for me to delete books. It’s not like a paperback that I can give away and believe that someone else might love. It’s just taking something that exists and making it not exist. I find this really difficult. This is part of why I kept all the books instead of just deleting uninteresting ones as they came in (which in retrospect would have been a much better path).
And lets also be honest about the fact that I’ve had some of these books for years. So, I can’t even really call them review requests. I think it’s safe to say no one is waiting for my review of them anymore. Regardless, they came to my by request and I have kept them. And now I have a manageable pile that I might actually read. If nothing else (and most importantly), I can look at them without feeling like I’m drowning. I can actually find titles I might be interested in, because they’re not buried in a thousand titles that I have no interest in.
As to my second agenda point, I thought it might be interesting to list some of the reasons I chose to delete books. The major one was that a book didn’t match my interest. That’s fine. No book is right for everyone and I inadvertently set up a system where I’d get a lot of books that didn’t suit me. I’d thought, statistically, I should receive a certain percentage that did. But honestly, that didn’t work out. The vast majority of what I received didn’t match my preferences at all
I started my first pass by deleting all the nonfiction I wasn’t interested in, which was all of it. If I’d been interested, I’d have read it already. There were a lot of books about war, especially WWII. I think one of the publicists I referred to above represents war related non-fiction writers. (Keep in mind even a casual glance at my blog will inform you I read almost all fiction.)
Then I went for all the memoirs, biographies, autobiographies and travelogues by people I’d never heard of. There was everything from continent hopping to a non-participatory purveyor of child pornography, drug addicts to French cuisine. Then I binned all the Middle Grade and most of the Young Adult (good lord, so many Young Adult books).
Then I whittled down all of the thrillers. I had a lot of thrillers. Especially thrillers set in England. There were tonnes of ex soldiers, wounded soldiers, Scotland yard and MI5 (and of course the American versions too). They all kick islamic ass and save the girl (sometimes that girl is all grown up, sometimes that girl is a child. But save her the synopsis suggested he would.) Again, I think I must have been on some publicists list. So many of the emails came from the same person, in the same format, and there were dozens of them.
After that it was just a matter of reading the blurb of each book and deciding what I would be interested in and what looked good enough to keep. And this is where the fuzzy decision-making came in. Below is a list of things I noticed that caused me to hit the delete button instead of the keep. And I know this might feel really negative, but keep in mind this is a post about what I didn’t like. There would be an equal number of things I did like if I was writing that post. But that post could be summed up as the opposite of this one.
So, here we go:
The cover. I don’t have to like the cover, but it has to be quality. I understand that when a book first comes out it might not have the best cover (especially since I often got early copies). But if the book has been out several years and the cover still looks like it’s done in crayon [you think I’m joking, but I’m not], then I’ll take that as indicative of the level of quality I can find inside.
If I can’t read the font on the cover, be it too fancy, too blocky, too faint, too dark, too shadowed, too anything else there was a good chance I’d delete it instead of try to find it more legible somewhere else.
The blurb. Just the blurb. I read SO MANY bad blurbs. But bad in different ways.
There has to BE a blurb. I don’t mean when Goodreads hasn’t imported it. That’s correctable. (In fact, I fixed this for several books during this culling process.) But some publishers/authors seem to prefer putting review quotes where the blurb should be. I’ve said this before, I don’t care who likes the book or how much, if I couldn’t easily discover what it’s about I deleted it.
If the blurb is 15 paragraphs long and details the entire storyline, I took this to infer that the author was incapable of brevity and deleted the book.
Contradictorily, if the blurb was two lines long and told me nothing informative I deleted it. The mystery really didn’t entice me to delve deeper.
If the blurb started out with ‘This book is about…’ I took it to mean the author wasn’t able to show, instead of tell, and assumed the book was equally as unsubtle. This is different from ending the blurb with something like, “The text explores the themes of X, Y and Z.” I could handle that. But just plopping the plot points on a platter like a dead fish was a no-go.
If I found grammar mistakes or typos in the blurb I deleted the book. This happened a disturbing number of times. I think people forget to proof their blurb along with the book.
(This one is 100% personal preference.) If the female lead was introduced as “young, beautiful X,” or “exotically beautiful,” or (as was especially common in the thrillers) “mysterious and sexy X,” I likely deleted the book. If being beautiful or sexy or attractive to the male lead was the characteristic the author thought most important to say about her (important enough to be mentioned in the brief blurb), then she likely wasn’t some one I care to read about. And/or that author isn’t one I can trust to write representative women.
Reviews. And there are several sub points here too.
If the book has been out several years and there are no reviews, I have no interest in being the first. I deleted the book.
If the book has universally poor reviews. I deleted the book.
If the book has too many suspect 5-star reviews I deleted the book. Suspect means:
Several reviews all on the same day and none on other days
Several reviews from accounts with no other reviews, etc.
Too high a percentage of reviews that don’t actually address the content of the book, just generalized praise.
If there was even one prominent review citing poor editing and formatting.
If several reviewers pointed out the book is a precipitous cliffhanger I deleted it.
Page length. This is subjective, but if the plot in the blurb doesn’t feel as if it could support the 600+ pages of text I passed it up. Or if it feels like too much to fit into the 115.
If I saw evidence that the author aggressively engaged a past reviewer or attacked someone over a negative review I not only deleted the book I bleached my kindle too.
If the author sent me so many emails that seeing the book made me feel harassed, I deleted the book.
Below are the books I chose to keep. I’ll not list all the titles, but you can see it’s manageable number and feels amazing to me.
There’s another point I want to make with all of this though. It’s not the reason I chose to write the post, but I don’t plan to miss the opportunity. It’s one I make a lot. Authors too often forget that there is a real person on the other end of the review request email. I have seen some real doozies in my time. Like the guy who just sent me a link to his book and said, “If you read mine, I might read yours.” I took a certain, “You know what, fuck off,” glee in deleting his book. I had similar feelings about the Christmas book with the Santa looking up at the big glowing cross. I have always maintained that I don’t enjoy Christian fiction. And have a certain amount of resentment when I receive overt ones.
But more than feeling taken advantage of, I think authors don’t understand that sending a reviewer a book also sends a certain amount of obligation. Please remember that it is a minor imposition. Even when invited to submit, you are still stepping into someone’s space with a request. It requires something of the recipient.
This post is too perfect an example. I spent nearly 3 full days dealing with ebooks that authors sent me. That is a lot of my time. I’ve recently opened myself back up to review requests in just the opposite way I used to be. I accept only physical and audio books and I only take one at a time. So, I’m back to responding to emails.
I recently sent this email to an author who requested a review from me.
Thank you for contacting me about reviewing your book. My policies state that I and current only accepting “physical and audio books in the Science Fiction, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance and LGBTQ+ genres.” Your nonfiction/philosophical ebook fits none of those parameters.”
His response was basically a shrug. He essentially said, “Well, enjoy it anyway.” He did not care at all that he’d queried a reviewer that wouldn’t be interested in his title. And I assume it’s because he doesn’t think it matters. But 3 full days of re-ordering ebooks proves that it does! Please don’t just shrug at reviewers’ time. And that’s what he did. He basically told me he didn’t care that he’d wasted my time. Please don’t just ignore the fact that reviewers usually tell you up front what they wish to receive and, in doing so, what they wish not to receive. You are not the exception to the rule.
Yes, I historically exacerbated the situation with my open policies. And if I had less trouble deleting book it wouldn’t have been as much of an issue. But the “I’ll just send it anyway” attitude is what is driving a lot of reviewers away reviewing. (It’s why I’ve posted very few review requested reviews lately.) As is the lack of effort authors are willing to put into the exchange.
I got the above request on the same day that I got the email that was addressed to:
Dear Book Reviewer (Couldn’t find your name on your website).
My blog is called See Sadie Read. He emailed Reviews@SadieForsythe.com. How hard do you think he looked for my name, if he couldn’t find it? Do you think he read my policies if he couldn’t even find my name in the title of the blog? Maybe he did. But… Yet he’s comfortable asking for several hours of my time.
So, as I do once a year or so, I’m taking this opportunity to remind authors/publishers that what may be one email on your end might be the 50th on the receivers end. That ebook you think, “Oh, I’ll send it just in case,” or “I found an email, no need to read farther,” might be causing a log jam in that reviewer’s Calibre and contributing to their loss of love for the hobby as a whole. Don’t cut the corners. Read the policies. Comply with the procedures. Don’t send your book to a reviewer if it doesn’t match their preferred genres and/or format. Remember you are dealing with a person, a person who is probably doing what they’re doing out of generosity. Don’t bite the hand that’s offering you those coveted reviews that the market experts tell you your book will die if it doesn’t get 50 of. (We could discuss if this is actually true or not.)
To wrap all this up, I plan to spend another couple days in Calibre going through all the rest of my ebooks (the ones I’ve obsessively gathered all on my own). Tastes change over time and I don’t read things now that I did three years ago. In fact, I read a book recently by someone I considered a favorite a few years back and found it so problematic I wanted to cry. Anything I’ve read and rated one-star doesn’t need to be kept. Probably the argument that if I’ve read it and it isn’t a favorite I don’t need to keep it at all could be made. (But lets not go too far.) I love surrounding myself with books. But it’s time to pare the library down in the hopes that I can actually read instead of just collect the books I own.
Anyone else feel my pain in the book hoarding department?
I got a new stretched canvas for my office. The office is the only place in the house that I let myself put anything I choose on the walls, theme, coordination or quality be damned. If I like it, I’ll have it.
Not to suggest that this Icanvas print isn’t quality of a sort, but the rest of the house tends to run toward large, heavily framed prints. It’s not a great photo, but Mizuki by Audrey Kawasaki is what’s above the bed for example:
Though I’ve shrunk it so it doesn’t compete for attention with the canvas that is the point of this post, that frame is almost 30×30 inches (please never let it fall on us in our sleep). So, an unframed whimsical print of science fiction books is a departure from the norm. But I so loved it when I saw it that I insta-bought it, even though I didn’t really have a place for it. (In fact, I wish I’d bought the bigger size.)
After I moved Kawasaki’s Where I Rest out of place (this* one –>), I sat staring at the books and telling my husband how happy I was to see Binti and The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet included among such giants as Asimov and Le Guin. But also how I was distressed that Martha Well’s All Systems Red (Murderbot Diaries) isn’t included. It 100% deserves to be. In fact, once noticed, its absence sapped a little of my love of the print away. I mean, look, I even tweeted at Icanvas about it.
This led me to a second thought. If I was so happy to see Binti and The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet included, and was desperate to get Murderbot added, why no excitement for The Martian? It was published in 2014, so it’s basically just as contemporary as the others. Part of it might have been that it’s written by a man and I’m always rooting to see women included. But Dune, by Frank Herbert, is one of my all-time favorite books (even if it by a man). So I decided it wasn’t the gender issue. It was simply that I haven’t read it!
All of the books included here are well known, familiar to me, science fiction. Suddenly I had to stop and think how many of them I love by virtue of being sci-fi cannon and how many I had actually read. Before that very moment I’d have told you of course I’ve read all the classics. But once I was really thinking about it, I realized that couldn’t be true. I hadn’t read The Martian, for example. So, off to Goodreads and my reading list I went. And shock followed.
I started Left to right:
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: a favorite, read
The Martian Chronicles: Ray freaking-Bradbury, NOT READ
Brave New World: read in high school
Binti: started this whole process, obviously read
The Martian: NOT READ
The Left Hand of Darkness: read it last year when Le Guin died
The Diamond Age: What!? owned but NOT READ
Solaris: also NOT READ
The Foundation Trilogy: thank god, read the whole series
The Time Machine: Wells. freaking Wells, and NOT READ
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep: NOT READ
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet: read
Neuromancer: read and loved
Dawn: by Octavia Butler! NOT READ
Dune: a favorite, read
Starship Troopers: read
Ender’s Game: read
Childhood Ends: NOT READ
Eight—almost half of the books—I discovered that I’ve not read. This is a travesty that cannot be allowed to stand. I mean, for one, If I’m going to hang the picture on my wall (even if just my office wall), I should be able to point to it and know I’ve read them all, but also I’m a sci-fi/fantasy junkie and THEY’RE SCI-FI CLASSICS. How did I let this happen? Obviously, I’m going to fix it. It’s July. I have five months until the end of the year, and by that point I will have read these eight books that I have somehow grievously neglected in my life.
I don’t think I’ll bother coming back and linking reviews here. But I am setting it as an official reading challenge for myself. I do so love to have a plan. Wish me happy reading.
Yes, I'm totally vain enough that I spread out those two in the back so they could be seen, and there is another on the wall above. They'd been stacked together to be re-hung. I have a new one at the framer's (and a small one waiting to be framed by me) and I'm going to make a collage wall of them. I'll add a picture when it's done. But, though you can probably guess Kawasaki is my husband and my favorite artist, she's not the point of this post. But once I'd posted one, I just ran with it.