Tools of the Trade: Magazines

Last year for my birthday/Christmas (they’re very close) I was given some gift cards and some cash (sweeeeet), and I did something different with it: I bought two magazine subscriptions: National Geographic Traveler and Real Simple.

I LOVE magazines, and getting them in the mail every month or so is like getting another present all over again. Magazines are great if you only have short chunks of time to sit down and read, and I find they often inspire me to seek out books to read as well. Real Simple has book recommendations in every issue, and Nat Geo Traveler will often include book recos related to the places they are featuring.

Of course, you can use the library for magazines, or only buy them when a particular issue strikes your fancy, but I’ve found the subscription to be one of those little splurges ($10-20 for a year) that gives me a ton of happiness.

Get it:

Nat Geo Traveler: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, National Geographic. P.S. When my kid’s older, I’m totally getting him the Nat Geo Little Kids magazine, but I do not promise not to hog it!

Real Simple: Barnes and Noble, Real Simple

Do you subscribe to any magazines? Have you ever?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Tools of the Trade – book swaps

A while ago, my neighborhood hosted a community book swap. Show up, donate your books and dvds, come back a week later and take home as many books and dvds as you want!

Truth be told, the Saturday of the event I had forgotten about it until the last minute, so by the time I showed up it was rather picked over. However, I STILL came home with about 6 books I’m excited to read. None of these books are new releases, but I found a couple of authors I’d been wanting to try, and a couple of old favorites, and a couple of new-to-me books by favorite authors, so it was a very nice mix. Next year, they’ll probably end up back at the book swap where they can be loved by someone new.

I think book swaps are a great way to connect with fellow book lovers, and a great way to be efficient about your bookshelf space and your reading budget. And, you know, the environment and stuff. See if your library or a community group puts one on, or host one yourself! I think that would be a ton of fun.

I will include a cautionary tale: my husband and I backpacked around Europe for our honeymoon, mostly staying in the cheapest hostels we could find. Many hostels have take a book, leave a book areas, and I would often utilize these. In some ways having a limited selection was really nice because I was forced to read outside my comfort zone, and I found some great books this way. However, at one fateful stop, I picked up a really intriguing mystery. I got sucked into the story and the characters and I couldn’t figure out whodunnit. Then, as I finally got to the big reveal…back cover. What?!? The last 5 pages or so were ripped out and I spent the rest of the trip fuming because I’d missed the ending.

But in general, this is not likely to happen to you. You’re more likely to bring home some new friends, try something new (this is easier to do when it’s free), and free up some space on your shelves.

Have you ever gone to a book swap? Would you consider hosting one?


Tools of the Trade: The Bookmark

Ah, the bookmark. This can be anything: a humble scrap of paper, bank notes (I once found a $20 bill in the Lord of the Rings), airplane ticket stubs, toilet paper (don’t lie, if you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably done that), or on rare occasions your iPad mini (oops). What makes the bookmark a tool of the trade? Well, obviously you can use it to mark your place in a book when you stop midway through. But on a deeper level it signifies a reading philosophy.

Some readers often have 5-6 books going at one time. Some readers will chip away at one book, chapter by chapter, a little before bed each night. I can’t do either of those things. My brain isn’t capable of switching between different storylines and plots (though I can occasionally handle a non-fiction and fiction book at the same time) and after seven years of marriage my husband just rolls his eyes when I say I’m going to read “for just a little bit” before bed, as this inevitably turns into me finishing the book at three in the morning – and I don’t even have to like it. I get sucked into the story and just can’t stop, unless the book is truly horrible, and even then I generally need to know how it ends.

I have always, always been a sit down and read a whole book kind of girl. Now that I have a young son, and my husband is working a more traditional schedule (i.e. he’s not gone for whole-book lengths of time after our baby goes to sleep), I just don’t have the time to do that anymore. It’s either read a little at a time, or not at all. So I’m trying to train myself to be a bookmark user. If I can’t make myself stop in the middle of a book, I’m either looking at very short nights or not reading. Neither of those options appeal to me. At all.

So today I’m raising up the bookmark as not only a tool of the trade, but as a representation of the brave new world of reading in small doses.

Do you use bookmarks? How many books are you generally reading at once? What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever used as a bookmark?

Toolkit of the Trade: When You Don’t Feel Like Reading

Occasionally I’ll find myself in a reading slump. I’m not interesting in picking anything up, and when I do, I just don’t enjoy it. I doubt I’m the only one who goes through phases of not wanting to read anything, so I thought I’d devote a “tools of the trade” post to some of the strategies I use to rediscover my love of reading. Multiple strategies: therefore toolkit, rather than tool.

1. Tried and True: reread old favorites. For me, this is usually Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night. No matter how bland or just plain awful the last ten books I’ve read, whenever I pick this book up I am struck again by the beauty of her writing and the depth of her characters. Gaudy Night reminds me of why I love to read, and how rewarding it can be to get your teeth into a really great book. Read the book that made you fall in love with reading, or the book you loved most as a child. Pick up your favorite author and settle in for a long visit with an old friend.

2. And Now For Something Completely Different: try something new. This can backfire if you end up picking something completely random and hate it. So try something new, but check out reviews or get a personal recommendation from someone you trust. Switch genres, try non-fiction, check out children’s/YA lit, finally get to that book your spouse or best friend has been trying to get you to read for years but it just “wasn’t your style”.

3. Know Thyself: grab a book on a subject you’re already passionate about. This is sort of a compromise between the first two strategies. Read about some of your other hobbies, or get a beginner’s book to something you’ve always wanted to try. In my case, this is usually travel related. I love travel memoirs, accounts of historical journeys, and straight-up guide books. I can almost guarantee you that whatever you love, there will be a ton of books about it: cooking, gardening, knitting, travel, sailing, hiking, politics, etc.

4. Watch It! (Or, The Book Was Better.) Watching a movie adaptation of a book I’ve loved will almost always get me fired up about rereading the book or series. It doesn’t even matter if the adaptation is good or not. “Ugh, that was horrible! I’m going to read the book right now to erase it from my mind!” or “Wow, that was so great! I can’t wait to reread the book!”

5. Just Do(n’t) It: embrace it. If you don’t feel like reading…don’t. Nobody’s going to make you. Everything in life has ups and downs, and I’ve found that reading is no different. Take some time to just relax, catch up on house projects, pursue other hobbies (like sleeping, for those of you with small children), phone a friend, whatever you do feel like doing. Eventually, you’ll start to be interested in reading again, and pretty soon you won’t be able to tear yourself away from the book in order to do such unimportant things as eating or sleeping.

So, those are some of the strategies I take when I’m going through a reading slump. What do you do when you don’t feel like reading?

Tools of the Trade: Book Club

Later this week I have my second ever meeting of a book club. It’s hard to believe that I’ve never been in a book club before, but part of it was that I just never knew anyone who lived near me that had one, and another part of it was that I was always “too busy”. Now I wish I’d joined one sooner. I’m very introverted, but I can talk to anyone about books. And this is a group of people who get together for the sole purpose of discussing books. How awesome is that?!? Full disclosure: part of my extreme delight in these evenings may have something to do with the fact that the host happily makes us all dinner, and even makes mine dairy free.

I think it’s also been good for me to expand my range of reading. None of the books on the list are books that I would ever choose to read for myself, so it’s nice to get a little push out of my comfort zone and broaden my horizons. Left to my own devices, I get on kicks where I’ll read nothing but mysteries for months on end, then maybe jump to fantasy, then science fiction, and back to mysteries, and rinse and repeat.

One of the reasons I love discussing books with people is that reading is such an interactive experience. What you bring to the book is as much a part of the reading experience as the words on the page in front of you, so no two people will ever have the exact same reaction to it. Listening to other people’s interpretations helps me think about the book in a new way, and in a great discussion, helps me think about other books in a new way.

So those are all the reasons why I love my book club. What about you? Have you ever been in a book club? What is the main reason you like it?

Tools of the Trade – Boutique Stores

The wonderful thing about the internet is that if there is a specific book or movie you are looking for, you can almost certainly buy it with a few quick searches, a few clicks of the mouse, and have it delivered right to your door. However, I don’t find internet shopping to be very browser (hehe) friendly, because there is JUST SO MUCH STUFF! And you never know if it’s going to be any good or not. Reviews can be helpful when you’ve narrowed down your selections, but not always. Having more of a selection is not always a good thing – sometimes more is just more, not better.

Enter the boutique store. This is a store that either due to physical size or philosophical reasons stocks merchandise that has been carefully curated. That means actual people are going through products and selecting those they love and believe in, and only selling those. Now, by “boutique,” I don’t necessarily mean high-end pricing, but it is a fact that it is cheaper to just sell anything and everything than it is to spend time (that old saying about time being money is true, especially when it comes to spending employee time) reviewing products, testing them with their children, getting opinions, and then deciding whether or not to stock it. So if you utilize boutique stores, please do not take advantage of the time and money they put into choosing products and then go and buy it cheaper from a big box store. This will only hasten the decline of specialty stores. By the way, if you think the big box stores are going to keep their low prices when all the other stores start to fold, I think you are in for a disappointment. (Also as an aside, some studies have found that the more choices we have, the less happy we are. See here, for example.)

So, now that we’ve sorted out the economy, what does this have to do with you, dear reader? Specialty book stores or catalogs are a great place to find new things to read. Because they have a limited, high-graded selection, when you try a new book or author, the odds of it being good are very high. I think they’re also a great place to find gifts for your own or someone else’s children, especially since they often have age categories to help you narrow it down. So instead of guessing, you’re getting a recommendation from a company that specializes in providing these types of recommendations, and they will help guide you towards an age appropriate selection.

I’m not trying to say that all big box stores are bad, I certainly use them myself, but I think there is and should be a place for specialty stores as well. Plus, the browsing and dithering experience is out of this world. Send me a catalog of any of these stores, and I could happily ogle it for hours, bookmarking every page as I find something new I desperately need.

Here are some of my favorite specialty bookstores:

Chinaberry: This is probably the best selection of children’s books I’ve seen, particularly for the baby/toddler crowd. They also sell eco-friendly toys, and beautiful and fun Christmas decorations, amongst other things.

Scholastic: I have such happy memories of reading through the scholastic catalog as a child, and ending up with a pile of new books to devour. Now, of course, they’re online as well, but they still provide good reviews and age guides for books.

Bas Bleu: Part of their slogan is “Champion of the odd little book,” which I completely love. Their website is pretty barebones (their catalog is much better), but they have a wonderful selection of mysteries and novels, as well as some really fun gift ideas.

And because I can’t resist:

ThinkGeek: If you have nerds on your shopping list this Christmas, you must check out this store. I buy something from them almost every year for my husband and/or brother.

Also, I can’t miss this opportunity for shameless self-promotion:

Lector’s Books! I have two different storefronts where I sell items I’ve designed. One is for readers, and the other is for geeks and nerds.

Do you shop at boutique or specialty stores? What’s your favorite?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.


Tools of the Trade – Your Local Library

Imagine a bookstore where you can leave with armfuls of books without paying – and you can even ask for help finding what you want. Rather not venture out into the wild blue yonder? Imagine a digital bookstore open 24/7 where you can download audiobooks or e-books without ever getting off the couch, again, all for no charge.

This magical place exists, of course, and it is your local library. Now, the “without paying” is not quite true, since you help fund it with your taxes, but since you’ve already paid for it, make as much use of it as you can!

My local library, despite an alarming tendency to shelve all fiction together (noooooo!) is wonderful. They run an interactive, fun, and educational story time for babies and children three times a day during the week, they are well stocked, and their online system for placing holds on books is really easy to use. Also, they put on a May the Fourth event last year.

I’ve found that The Perfect Strategy for finding books at a library really depends on each individual library. Before we moved, I did best going in for a wander around. Here, however, (and the baby might have something to do with this) I do better if I place holds online and then go in to pick them up. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, talk to a librarian – sometimes they’ll even buy a book you ask for if it meets certain criteria and they don’t have it.

Seriously, use your library. It is an amazing community resource, and can greatly benefit you personally. They also often hold used book sales as fund raisers, and who doesn’t love a good used book sale?

Stay tuned later this week for a three part interview with a librarian!

Who out there is a fellow library lover?

Tools of the Trade – Bookbub

As you may have gathered by now, I am a voracious reader. I am also on a budget. That means I’m always on the lookout for how I can get books for not a lot of money. Enter Bookbub. It’s a site that sends you a daily email containing Kindle e-books that are either free or very discounted. You tell it which genres you are interested in, and it will only send you those genres.

So that’s the basic idea. I occasionally find it overwhelming – so many books, so little time! – and I have bought some books from them that I didn’t like or that were just simply not written well. I don’t know what their selection process is, it seems to have something to do with how well the book is rated on Amazon, but they don’t read every book they recommend, which is fair enough – they’d need to employ hundreds of readers to keep up (pick me! pick me!).

I have found Bookbub works best for snagging books that I already knew of and wanted to try, or authors I’m already familiar with. For a while, I felt compelled to buy every free book that looked even remotely interesting, but I’ve been able to reign that in. Some people are happy to have hundreds and hundreds of books on their e-readers that they have no intention of ever reading, but I do better with a well curated selection – I like to know what I have on my e-reader and why. I’ll either read it or delete it, so I don’t have to look at it anymore, even if I paid for it.

So that’s Bookbub in a nutshell. What about you? Do you subscribe to any free book emails?

Tools of the Trade: Goodreads

I’m starting a new feature here that I’m calling “tools of the trade”. This will be where I discuss places and things that help me in my quest to read as many great books as possible before I die. The first one up is a website and discussion forum called Goodreads.

I joined Goodreads a while ago, and frankly haven’t spent much time on it, so I’m still in the learning process. It is an online gathering of readers. You can put in the books you’ve read, rate them, organize them by shelves, get recommendations based on you previous ratings, but to my mind, the absolute best part is when someone gives you a great book recommendation, you can go on there, find the book, and rate it as “to-read”. Then the next time you’re looking for a new book (and you’ve already read all of my recommendations, naturally) you log on, and click on your “to-read” shelf, and voila: no more book recos missed because they leaked out of your brain.

Incidentally, I think the art of recommending books is much like the art of giving good presents. You know those people who conscientiously, every year for your birthday or special holiday or no reason at all, give you some lovely and thoughtful gift that reflects none of your tastes, interests, hobbies, or space availability? (I am not pointing any fingers – I come from a family of extraordinarily good gift givers, then married one, which is both awesome for my own selfish gain and incredibly intimidating when it is time to reciprocate.) I think many book recommendations are like that. People tend to assume that just because they loved something and it changed their life, then you are also going to love it and it’s going to change your life, too. Never mind that they love a good tear-jerker romance and you are more into witty police procedurals.

But back to Goodreads! There is also a social aspect of it, where you can make friends, or follow your favorite authors, or join discussion forums. I haven’t done much with this part of it, but I’d like to get more involved. I found the website just a little intimidating while learning to navigate it, but the more time I spend on it, the easier I find it. And as I said earlier, I absolutely love that I can save my book recommendations. It’s also visually organized, which works very well for me.

Is anyone out there on Goodreads? If so, be my friend –  my username is lectorsbooks (creative, I know). Are there people in your life who, when they recommend a book, you run the other way? Anyone whose recommendations you trust implicitly?