Purging books

Today, I’m acknowledging three things. #1, I am not going to live forever. (What?!?) #2, I am never going to live in an English country manor with an enormous library with shelves to the ceiling. #3, my daughter and granddaughters are not going to see it as a positive thing if they inherit thousands of books. Okay, four things: #4, my paperback Soylent Greencopy of Harry Harrison’s Make Room, Make Room with the movie tie-in picture from Soylent Green, cover price 95 cents, whose glue has disintegrated so the cover is just a holder for the loose pages, isn’t worth any money now and never will be.

So I’m purging my shelves

The Marie Kondo approach didn’t work for me. You know – take all your books out of the shelves and touch each one, and only give shelf space to the ones that spark joy. I’m not the exact same person every day, and I don’t trust myself to guess what will spark joy for Future Me.

Deciding if you can safely purge

The best advice I found online is The Booklover’s Guide to Purging Books, which recommends using Google to help figure out what to get rid of:

  • Can you get it digitally for free?
  • Is it obsolete? This applies mostly to nonfiction.
  • Is it worth something?
  • Is it still in print? I would add, is it available as a paid ebook?

Once you’ve done your research, you can decide:

  • Would you absolutely love reading it again?
  • Is it a book you cherish and want to keep? (Ah, there’s that spark of joy!)

And I would add to that:

  • Is it cited often? I like being able to pull my Modern Library edition of Poe Poeoff the shelf to read The Raven when I come across a reference to it. Same with Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics and Shakespeare’s plays. I know I can easily find these things online but what if the internet’s down?

Which brings me to the zombie apocalypse. Or, if you prefer, the lingering illness or debilitating injury. I can easily imagine a scenario in which I’m trapped at home and have no internet or even have no electricity, so couldn’t charge up my Kindle. (And by the way, I’m on my fourth Kindle; they don’t last forever.) This is the real reason I’ve accumulated so many books – the fear of having nothing to read (Twitter calls this abibliophobia).

I’m pretty sure that once I’ve finished my purge, there will still be plenty of things to read in my house. So I’m making a start today with the top shelf of my science fiction paperback bookcase – Aldiss through Bova, with a smattering of others that snuck in because their own shelves were full.

How do you manage to keep your bookshelves under control? I have a feeling I’ll be working on this for a long time. Any tips gladly appreciated.

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Zombies and bestsellers

I just finished reading World War Z by Max Brooks, which is #87 on the list of 100 books the algorithm in The Bestseller Code (Jodie Archer and Matthew Jockers) thinks you should read. I enjoyed it – my review is on Goodreads if you’re interested – and one of my compatriots in this 100-book journey suggested looking back at The Bestseller Code to try to understand why this was chosen.

Theme and topics

The algorithm says that bestsellers limit their focus. They give 30% of their paragraphs to just one or two topics. This focus brings both depth and a story that can be easily followed by the reader. WWZ clearly hits this mark: everything in the book is about the zombies – how the plague got started, how it spread, how it affected the world, and how humanity fought back.

As for secondary topics, an important one is work – TBC mentions Stephen King’s assertion that readers love to read about work, and in WWZ, which is structured in the form of interview notes with people who lived through the crisis, almost all the interviews are with people who were doing their jobs. We read about pilots, astronauts, soldiers, doctors, and sleazy profiteers.

Maybe the absence of human closeness as an important secondary topic – it comes up some, but not a lot – helps explain why this is ranked #87 on the list and not higher. On the other hand, the book is sound on dogs, another important feature to the reading public. And it includes lots of modern technology, with descriptions and even footnotes about military vehicles and weapons.

Pace and plotting

Bestsellers break up the tension with scenes of ordinary life, giving readers a chance to catch their breath. I think the lead-ins to the interviews serve this function: they provide a little background about the person being interviewed and the life they’re living now, after the worst is over.

The algorithm identified 7 patterns in ups and downs of bestseller plots. I think WWZ matches one of them pretty well. It’s the same one that fits Stephen King’s The Stand, another story where humanity is decimated by a terrible plague and the world is changed forever. The key seems to be that the curves need to be steep enough to grab the reader. WWZ gives us a plummeting downhill slope from warnings and blame to the great panic; gives us something to cheer about when people figure out how to fight back; and then drags us down again with what’s happened to the world and the seemingly endless task of eradicating the remaining zombies.

Style and voice

Readers like voices that speak with authority, like Jane Austen’s famous first line in Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” And many modern readers like language that sounds like the way people talk, which TBC calls the journalistic (as opposed to literary) style and, by the way, identifies with women writers. The structure of WWZ does this brilliantly. The interviewer barely appears, so each piece is the transcribed speech of a person who lived through events and has had time to reflect on them and decide what they think about it. While I was reading the book, my only quibble was that not all the voices were differentiated from each other.

Characters with agency

Finally, readers like characters who do things. WWZ‘s 100-ish interviews are all with people who did something. The algorithm identifies this through analyzing word choice. Flipping back through the pages of WWZ, I see flying, guard, make a stand, risk, drop, climb, slam, shoot, grab, drilled, jazzed, all showing characters doing stuff. The book also has some good, strong female characters. And let’s not forget the dogs, who sniff, hunt, launch themselves, and lure.

If you’d like to learn more about the Bestseller Code 100 or join us on our journey, check out the official book group site at Roberta and Karen’s It’s A Mystery blog.

 

 

Living better the Nashville way

I went to an all-day seminar last weekend with my friend Maureen and a group of people from my old office. We got a great group price on tickets. As it turns out, some elements of the conference weren’t exactly my cup of tea (like the woman who planted herself in our friend Tanya’s seat during the morning break and refused to budge – we got the last laugh, though, because after lunch the venue moved our group to a VIP suite), but with 9 speakers, I came away with a bucket full of ideas for making life better.

Intentionality (Dave Ramsey)

  • You become what you think about. Be intentional about what you think about.
  • Decide to change, then change. Set goals that are specific, measurable, have a time limit, are your own, and are in writing.
  • You’re not failing if you don’t quit – you’re experimenting. Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.
  • When choosing between options, think about where you want to be in 10 years.

Priorities (Christy Wright)

  • Spend your time on what’s important to you. Cut out what doesn’t matter, and do more of what you love.
  • Be 100% present. If you tend to get caught by social media (who doesn’t?) think about two questions: 1 – is it more important to know what the rest of the world is doing than to experience what I’m doing? 2 – it is more important for the rest of the world to know what I’m doing than for me to experience it myself?
  • Say yes to your own priorities, not everyone else’s. For people-pleasers: there’s a difference between doing something to be loving and doing it to be loved.

Gratitude and generosity (Chris Brown)

  • You can be resentful or you can be grateful. Gratitude makes you want to give to others.
  • You don’t have to feel rich to act rich – the magic number for feeling rich is always double whatever you have. Be generous.
  • Gratitude breeds contentment and generosity. Try this: every morning when you wake up, think about two things you’re grateful for. Write them down on a running list.

Money (Rachel Cruze and Chris Hogan)

  • Don’t compare yourself to other people. (You’re probably only seeing their highlight reel, anyway.)
  • Stay out of debt, have a plan for your money (a budget), and think before you spend. Rachel Cruze recommends the everydollar app for budgeting.
  • Save for emergencies, then to have 3-6 months of living expenses, and then for the future.
  • Give a little until you can give a lot.
  • Talk about money with your partner and your kids, even if it’s uncomfortable.
  • Plan for retirement so you don’t have to worry about money.
  • Talk about your retirement dreams with your partner. Make the dreams vivid and specific, so you know where you’re going.

Relationships (Les Parrott)

  • The four horsemen that ruin relationships are criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling.
  • In contrast to the world of work where the “praise sandwich” has a bad reputation – poor performers may not get the message, and be surprised when they lose their jobs – in a personal relationship, wrapping a negative between two positives makes the message go down easier.
  • Marriage doesn’t make you happy; you make your marriage happy.

Parenting (Meg Meeker)

  • Kids need to know they’re important to their parents. Spend time with them.
  • Don’t take teenager behavior personally.
  • Model great character – integrity, patience, courage, and perseverance.
  • Praise for character, not just for achievements.

Growing up (Anthony O’Neal)

  • Be determined to be the best you can.
  • Be uncomfortable. Don’t let comfort kill your dreams.
  • Mistakes in the past don’t define us, they refine us.

The presenters are headquartered in Nashville, and several of the speakers had that passionate bible-belt presentation style that got the crowd on its feet. They all have books and podcasts. The ones I plan to check out myself are from Christy WrightRachel Cruze, Anthony O’Neal, and the star of the show, Dave Ramsey.