Monday, October 26, 2015

How I Can Afford to Read So Much, Part 2: Money

I read between 150-200 books per year. If I were to pay list price for even a fraction of these, I would be living on the streets right now. Fortunately, there are many ways to acquire books that do not require paying full price.

Of course, this is unfortunate news for writers attempting to live on the royalties of their works. As a writer attempting to live on the royalties of my own work, I understand that this post is somewhat problematic. 

It is therefore with a deep sense of irony that I share this information with you.

That being said, here's how I can afford to read so much and still operate within the parameters of my baby budget.

First, I don't buy books very often.

My process for acquiring new reading material includes the following steps.
  • Check with family and friends. Most readers have a circle of people with whom they share books. I'm super fortunate right now to have a strong reading community within my own church. Rare is the Sunday that passes by without some sort of covert book drop between services. 
  • Check the library. Since I was a child, I've visited the public library once a week. I carry home a promising stack of books, hoping for the best. Because I refuse to spend time on books that don't hook me right away, some of these are abandoned after only a few pages and returned unread. If your library doesn't have a particular book that you've been wanting to read, you can request it through inter-library loans. Even better, there's generally an online form you can fill out (usually through the library OverDrive App) to request that your library purchase a title outright. Speaking of which...
  • Check OverDrive. If you have a public library card, you can use your card number to access e-books and audio books through the OverDrive library app. You can sync your account across devices to ensure that you're never without reading (or listening) material. 
  • Check Amazon Kindle. You don't need to own a Kindle to download the Kindle App onto your phone or tablet. With just a few clicks, you have access to daily free downloads and deeply-discounted digital copies of hundreds of titles. I must warn you that these discount pages are full of tawdry material (much of it self-published), but there's just enough good stuff available each week to make it worth your while to check out the sales. It helps if you have other bookish friends who keep an eye on these lists and post good deals to their social media sites, leaving you to ride their coat tails to the best stuff. 
  • Check out Netgalley. If you can get approved as a reader, NetGalley will send you free digital copies of the specific pre-release books that you request in exchange for honest online reviews. Each publisher sets its own qualifications for whom they will extend invitations, but if you're a teacher or a librarian, you're especially going to benefit from this system. 
  • Make holidays work for you. Near Christmas and/or your birthday, simply forward your "To Read" list around. Enough said. 

Second, what I do buy, I buy on the cheap. 

I haunt flea markets, library book sales, yard sales, and discount racks. Given a little bit of time, most of the books I want to read turn up for a few dollars or less. If I see a quality copy of a book that I already own going for less than $1, I'll often pick it up just so that I'll have an extra copy on hand to give away. What's $.75 invested here and there when compared to the joy of sending my next young visitor on her way with a little gift bag full of good books?

Third, I have a book budget. 

It's not huge, but it's built into my monthly expenditures. That means if I really want a book, I buy it without worrying that I might fall behind on paying my bills. 

Some books are good enough to warrant pre-ording. Some are worth standing in line for at midnight on release day. Some are so heavily anticipated that I'll shell out $40 for the hardback and feel no pain. Given how little I generally have to spend to get my hands on a huge amount of quality reading material through family, friends, local libraries, and other sources, I consider that occasional $40 well-spent.

Fourth, I know that these aren't the only methods. 

I can't wait for other readers to sound off and tell me what methods they use to fuel their reading habits without breaking their banks.

Feel free to chime in below or through the comment section on Facebook. I can't wait to hear from you.

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For more like this, see also:
How I Can Afford to Read So Much, Part 1: Time
By Request: Great Read-Aloud Recommendations
Love Song for a Very Specific Type of Nerd

Monday, October 19, 2015

How I Can Afford to Read So Much, Part 1: Time

It's mid-October of 2015, and as today, I've read 155 books so far during this calendar year. 

As you can imagine, numbers like those don't come about by accident. I don't just "happen" to read a lot of books. I make reading a priority.

Make no mistake: reading's not my only priority. I maintain healthy relationships, work a full-time job, publish my own work on the side, stay active in my local church, go to movies, watch TV, keep my house clean, exercise, travel, mentor, and prank my sister. I say all of this only to dispel the notion that people who read a lot must neglect other areas of life. That's just not the case. The sheer volume of reading that I do (pun intended) does not lessen my enjoyment of "real life." If anything, it enhances it. 

But how can I afford to read so much, you ask? I'll admit that when it comes to reading, I have a few advantages.

Reading Advantages:

First, I'm not raising children. Those of you who maintain families need no further explanation. Without a household to maintain, my spare time is mine to do with as I please; and most of the time, it pleases me to read. I read during meals, while folding laundry, while washing dishes. If I get up early or stay up late to read, no one interrupts me. It's wonderful. 

Second, I read and process quickly without sacrificing recall. I have no explanation for this other than that it's just the way God put my brain together. Of course, I don't remember everything that I read, but I remember enough to make broad reading worth my while. 

Third, I always have a book with me. Always. That way if I get stuck in a traffic jam, held up in a waiting room, or otherwise trapped in tedium, the time doesn't go to waste. (For this purpose, it helps to keep a synced Amazon or Overdrive app on your smartphone: but more on that in the next post.)  

Fourth, I built reading into my permanent schedule a long time ago. This is perhaps the key point. Every January, news sites roll out articles regarding how to turn a resolution into a habit. There's a reason. Studies show that once permanent habits are formed, they no longer take mental energy to accomplish. They become automatic, and the rest of our life takes shape around them. People ask me all the time when I find time to read, but because my reading habit formed so early, finding time to "fit it in" has never really been a question. It's already in. It's just something that I do, like cleaning my house or brushing my teeth. (Well, not exactly like those things. Reading's way more entertaining.)

If you're trying to read more, fear not: you can do it. Generally, my advice for starting out is that you find holes in your schedule and plug them with words. How many of us, when we find a spare twenty minutes, spend that time mindlessly skimming Facebook or trolling Instagram? Instead, keep an audio book or e-book on your phone, pull it up whenever you can, and watch how quickly the pages fly. Once that action becomes a habit, there'll be no stopping you.

The next thing you know, you'll be the one fielding questions about finding time to read. 

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Coming Soon: How I Can Afford to Read So Much, Part 2: Money

Monday, October 12, 2015

Open Letter to the Woman Who Gave Me the Side-Eye as I Applied Deodorant at a Stop Light

Photo courtesy of Chloe
Dear Woman Who Gave Me the Side-Eye as I Applied Deodorant at a Stop Light,

Don't tell me you've never had a day slide sideways on you.

Don't tell me you've never found yourself pin-balling through your morning, breaking into a sweaty panic over how ridiculously wrong everything has gone--a sweaty panic compounded by the fact that you've run out of deodorant.

Don't tell me how you planned to buy deodorant after dropping the Oldest Child off at school, only to develop sudden car troubles that must be dealt with immediately; and by the time the car was dealt with, it was time to start work, and you still didn't have any deodorant.

Don't tell me about how all morning you felt yourself sweating; about how you worried that you were starting to stink; about how all the worrying just made you more sweaty.

Don't tell me that the only time you had to buy deodorant was during a twenty-minute window while the Younger Child was at his violin lesson, and that you wanted to hurry and slather some protection under your armpits before you actually arrived in the parking lot of the music school where people who actually know you might witness you deodorizing yourself in your car in the middle of the day.

Don't tell me you've never had a day like that.

I know that you have. We all have, and we all need to cut each other some slack when we see it going down for someone else. 

Thanks for your understanding.

Your Friendly Neighborhood ESTJ 

Monday, October 5, 2015

A Gentleman's Guide to Women's Hormones

Alexandre Cabanel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Have no fear, Gentlemen. This frank discussion of women's hormones will address none of the mechanics and focus solely on the fallout. I share this so that you can better understand what your sisters, wives, and lady friends go through. If you want the facts behind the subject, you can Google them (but I suggest you don't.)

A Gentleman's Guide to Women's Hormones 

Our bodies' fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone create the "vital see-saw" effect necessary to keep our reproductive systems running. In doing so, they usher in a host of ancillary problems, including what's commonly termed mood swings.

Here's what you need to know about mood swings: the emotions feel real.

Irrational anger, sudden-onset depression, crippling self-doubt, or some potent combination of the three--these emotions wash over us in waves, rushing in with the grim regularity of the world's most terrible tide. Even when we realize that these emotions are the byproducts of fluctuating hormones, that doesn't stop them from feeling real.

To speak from my own experience, I spend several days a month feeling like a complete loser. I wonder what I'm doing with my life. I question every decision that I've ever made, pondering what's brought me to this: the very pinnacle of failure. I've actually had to make a self-imposed rule that I won't make any major decisions about relationships, career, or life changes during these times because I'm aware that my perceptions are skewed. Although I know enough to tell myself that this isn't how I really feel, that doesn't stop it from feeling real. 

Just within the past few years, I've begun to find some spiritual victory through focusing on thankfulness and worship, but the feelings don't go away: they're always right there, waiting to crush me. Knowing that they're coming and knowing that they're fake does help to keep them in check (or at least to moderate my response to them), but it doesn't stop me from feeling them. 

Gentlemen, you need to know that most of the women in your life have discovered how to function quasi-normally while fighting floods of fake feelings (even as they struggle through actual physical complications that further weaken their defenses). This struggle requires Herculean effort, and the women who consciously fight this battle should be admired for their strength.

At this point in a post, I would normally transition into tips, tricks, or suggestions for dealing with whatever problem I've chosen to address; but I'm not here to make specific demands. 

I'm here to help you Gentlemen understand the struggle.  

How you choose to relate to the women in your life in light of this understanding is up to you.