Book Suggestions for Reluctant Adult Readers

A couple weeks ago, my friend Ashley tweeted this:

We got into a short discussion trying to come up with suggestions for her friend. I wondered what other books she’d liked, to try to get a feel for her taste, and she said her friend didn’t know. Her impression was that her friend thought she should read, but had no idea what she actually liked to read.

Now, I just want to get this out there first — I agree with this. Reading is, of course, a good skill to have, and I don’t think that never reading at all is a great idea, but the idea that everyone should enjoy recreational reading is, in my opinion, flawed. Reading for pleasure is a hobby, and just like watching movies or building model airplanes or running cross-country, it’s not for everyone.

However! I would encourage adults who have never enjoyed reading a book to give it another shot. Lots of us got our first exposure to books in school, and for many of us, the books our teachers picked out were not exactly what we would have picked for ourselves. Not everyone enjoys the classics or literary fiction (I know Teen Me sure didn’t), which is what I know made up most of my high school English curriculum. And while some of us decided to venture outside of our assigned reading lists to find books we did love, others, understandably, gave up.

Or maybe they didn’t. Maybe they kept trying, but the books they picked up didn’t resonate. Or maybe something else (poor eyesight, short attention span, dyslexia, or any number of other reasons) made the act of reading itself unappealing.

And maybe they’re fine with that. Which is okay. This post is not intended to shame anyone. Some people just don’t enjoy reading. I don’t enjoy sports or crafts, and no amount of attending football games or covering things in Mod Podge is going to change that. There is no single perfect fit for everyone when it comes to hobbies.

But according to this 2015 study by the Pew Research Center, 3 out of 10 of adults have not read a single book in the past 12 months. And while it’s very possible/likely that a good number of those are people who will never like to read, no matter what, this post is not for those people. Go, non-reading people. Live your lives. Be content and fulfilled.

But I have to believe that some of them would enjoy reading, if they could only find the right book. Just a few days ago, best-selling author James Patterson announced he was launching BookShots, aiming to publish short, catchy novels that can be read in one sitting, designed to ensnare non-readers. There is definitely a contingent of adults who would like to read, but don’t, for whatever reason. I know I see these sorts of requests pop up on Facebook all the time: I don’t read much, but would like to change that. 

So if this is you — or, more likely given the readership of this blog, if this is your friend — this post is for you.

For those who have never really found a book they loved with their whole heart, but still think it could be out there, I wanted to put together a list of book suggestions. James Patterson’s bite-size books will be great for people who find the length of the typical novel daunting, but there are lots of reasons people don’t read that have nothing to do with page count. So I took to social media, asking for help, and the Bookish Internet turned out in force!

I think any book could be the book for someone, but this is a list of titles people thought would be most likely to pull in someone who’s never really understood how a book can make a person cry, or laugh out loud, or stay up all night. A list of books submitted by my social media followers isn’t very scientific, but it’s a start. Much as it might seem simple to tell someone just read about what interests you, turning your interests into a list of books can be overwhelming, even for a seasoned reader. This list may not be comprehensive, but hopefully it’ll at least give you a good jumping off point.

There are plenty of lists of books for reluctant teen readers (and those lists are GREAT), but not so many for reluctant adults. This list contains adult, YA, and even a couple MG, across all genres. I’m not separating out the YA/MG from the adult, since this entire list is already intended for adults. If I have something under the wrong heading, please let me know – I haven’t read all of these, so this categorization is my best educated guess.

I struggled with how detailed to get in this list. Some people’s suggestions came with caveats (this book is really long, but anyone with even the remotest interest in the Civil War will gobble it up) or really specific audience recommendations (this is great for people who are really into WWII stories and espionage). Ultimately, I decided to stick with just a basic genre differentiation, as writing a paragraph’s worth of description for each title would’ve made the list really hard to browse. The Amazon links provide all the extra detail you need.

Titles in red were suggested by multiple people (I could break it down further — how many suggested each — but my social media following really isn’t extensive enough for further detail to be all that meaningful).

* marks a book that is part of a series.

Fantasy

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

*The Cainsville series by Kelley Armstrong

*The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

*A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

*The Emperor’s Edge series by Lindsay Buroker

*The Farseer series by Robin Hobb

*Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

*The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

*The Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Book Store by Robin Sloan

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

*Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

*Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Vicious by V.E. Schwab

Science Fiction

*Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

The Humans by Matt Haig

*The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

The Martian by Andy Weir

*Red Rising by Pierce Brown

*The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold

Realistic Fiction and Romance

The Cordina’s Royal Family series by Nora Roberts

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

The Husband’s Secret by Laura Moriarty

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

Something Like Normal by Trish Doller

A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Winger by Andrew Smith

Historical Fiction

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

*Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham

*Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

The Revenant by Sonia Gensler

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Wish You Well by David Baldacci

Thriller/Horror/Mystery 

11-22-63 by Stephen King 

*The Alex Delaware series by Jonathan Kellerman

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

*The Jack Ryan series by Tom Clancy

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

*The Hunt by Andrew Fukuda

*I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

*Kiss the Girls by James Patterson

Misery by Stephen King

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

*The Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben

*The Pendergast series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn 

The Stand by Stephen King

*The Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

World War Z by Max Brooks

Non-Fiction/Memoir

1491 by Charles C. Mann

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

And the Dead Shall Rise by Steve Oney

The Color of Water by James McBride

Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz

Devil in the White City by Erik Lawson 

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

The Order of the Death’s Head by Heinz Zollin Hohne

Stiff by Mary Roach

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Humor

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me by Mindy Kaling

Why Not Me by Mindy Kaling

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Other authors mentioned with no specific works referenced: A.J. JacobsCraig Johnson, Dan Brown, David McCulloughJ.A. JanceJ Maarten TroostJohn Elder RobisonNeil GaimanRainbow RowellSteve Berry, Terry Pratchett, Tracie PetersonJennifer WeinerHaruki Murakami, Karen Kingsbury.

When people just gave me authors without specific titles, they tended to have fairly extensive bodies of work, so take a look at their author pages and see if any write on subjects that interest you. This list includes writers of non-fiction, inspirational fiction, mysteries, fantasy, romance, and everything in between. I’d be really shocked if all of the authors listed above were your cup of tea — but I’d be equally shocked if none of them were.

A few interesting things I’ve noticed while compiling this list:

  • Length seemed to have very little to do with how much reluctant adult readers liked a book. While I think a big component of kids being reluctant readers is actual reading ability, with adults (according to my very unscientific study) it seems to have far more to do with enjoyment. The overwhelming consensus seemed to be that if an adult was interested in the subject matter and the pacing was good, the actual page count was not a turn-off. (That said, not everyone is into reading doorstoppers, and that is totally okay. There are plenty of titles on this list that have lower page counts).
  • The three most-recommended titles by a wide margin: The Martian by Andy Weir, Vicious by V.E. Schwab, and Devil in the White City by Erik Lawson. A sci-fi, an urban fantasy, and a historical non-fiction. Interesting genre spread.
  • Most-recommended genres were thrillers and non-fiction. Thrillers I could’ve guessed — the pacing tends to be quick, without a good place to set a book down — but non-fiction was a surprise, at least to me.
  • That said, there is a lot of crossover fiction above. I put each book in the category it most closely resembles, but a lot of these titles defy simple categorization. There are several books featuring time travel that read like historicals. Tons of the books outside the Thriller category have the pacing of thrillers. And so on and so forth.
  • Lots of these books are what are considered “gateway” titles. Books such as Twilight and Harry Potter are widely known for sucking in people who previously wouldn’t have considered themselves readers, but there are also genre gateway books. Don’t think you like fantasy? Try A Darker Shade of Magic. Not into sci-fi? Try The Martian. Think non-fiction is boring? Maybe pick up Devil in the White City. Maybe it still won’t be your jam…or maybe that genre you didn’t think you liked is better than you think.
  • I wrestled with whether to curate the suggestions I was getting according to what I consider objectionable or problematic, but ultimately I decided not to, for two reasons. 1) I’m not familiar with every author/book on this list, and I certainly don’t want to narrow the list to only books I’ve read, so even if I did curate, it wouldn’t be consistent; and 2) I don’t feel it’s my place to define what’s objectionable or problematic for someone else. What bothers me about a book or an author, you may be totally fine with. Or you may agree with me, but still want to read the book anyway for any number of reasons. So I’m including every suggestion I’ve received, even the ones that made me go hmmm. This is a list for adults, and as such, I’m trusting that anyone using it is capable of using the links provided to determine what they are comfortable reading.
  • Many of these books begin a series, which tend to be great for reluctant readers, as you can stick with something you know you like for multiple books. (There are some books not marked as a series that actually do have sequels or companions, but the first book was originally written as a standalone.) I know series aren’t for everyone, though, so I’ve tried to mark them all, so you don’t accidentally wind up reading the first book of a twelve-book saga when you wanted a standalone.

As always when it comes to matters of taste, YMMV. You may see some titles here that you really struggled with, and I’m positive there are many great books I haven’t included. (If you can think of any you feel should be included, please suggest them in the comments and I’ll add them!) My best suggestion is to follow the links, read the descriptions of the books you’re considering (including the page count – some reluctant readers might devour Pillars of the Earth, while others might find its extensive page count prohibitive), and make an informed decision based on the taste, ability, and comfort level of your intended audience, whether that’s you or someone else. Keep in mind that this is a list for adults, so many of these titles (though certainly not all) will contain mature content.

And lastly, while I’ve focused on novels in this post, remember there are many other ways to read. If novels aren’t your thing, maybe try short story collections or graphic novels or comics; there’s lots of excellent storytelling going on in all formats today. Or if the physical act of reading isn’t a good option for you, try audiobooks. I know lots of people who do most of their reading via audiobooks, while driving or exercising or folding laundry (or just staring at the wall — NO SHAME if that is you). Most of the above listed titles also have an audio version, which should be available through the same link.

The bottom line is that if you want to be a reader, but just haven’t figured out how to make reading work for you yet, it’s never too late to try again.

Have you read any of these? See one you’d like to try? Know an adult reluctant reader who might be willing to give one of these books a shot? Let me know in the comments, and happy reading!

Get thee a community

Photo taken by Carla Schooler at the 2015 SCBWI Midsouth Fall Conference

I just returned home from the 2015 SCBWI Midsouth Fall Conference, and whew. I am tired. Not only physically tired from days jam-packed with amazing panels and breakout sessions, followed by nights spent laughing with friends until we couldn’t hold our heads up or our eyes open. But also mentally tired from all the wisdom that was shared, and creatively tired from untangling the knots that had been littering my latest WIP.

I could sleep for a solid day, no problem.

But first, if you’re a writer, I’m going to tell you something important. Something that I’ve known for a while, but that attending this conference reinforced in an undeniable way. Are you listening? Good.

Whether you are a NYT Bestselling Author or a dreamer still plugging away at your first novel, community is vitally important. Maybe it doesn’t seem like that should be true — writing is most often a solitary pursuit, after all — but trust me on this. Without community, most of the authors I know would not be authors. Yes, even the naturally talented ones. Yes, even the ridiculously successful ones.

Without community, the voices of doubt can be deafening. Without community, rejection can be crippling. Without community, giving up may seem like not only the easy choice, but the obvious choice. The smart choice.

I’m lucky. I know this. I live in a city that has one of the most vibrant and supportive writing communities in the country. Most of my best friends are writers, and several of them are successfully published and willing to double as mentors.

These are the people who have slogged through all my various manuscripts when they were rougher than sandpaper, and helped me hone and revise them into something worth reading. They’re the ones who helped me craft a query letter and put together a list of agents. They’re the ones who clinked glasses with me when I signed with my agent. They’re the numbers I text when I get good news, and the ones who respond with a flurry of raging emojis when I get a pass.

They’re also the people who cried with me when I got my diagnosis, who have made me dinner and taken my children to gymnastics. We have celebrated birthdays and marriages and holidays together, road tripped together, run races together, and moved more boxes from Old House to New House than I can count. We have had the same conversations so many times we can rant each other’s rants.

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The Nashville writing community, New Years 2014

This is my writing community. This is my family.

Right now, you’re probably doing one of two things. You’re nodding along knowingly, because you have a community, too, and you relate to everything I’ve just said.

Or you’re despairing, because you feel like an island, and have no idea how to change that.

To that I have two things to say. One, you’re not an island. I promise, there are those out there in the same stage you’re in, suffering from the same doubts and insecurities, working toward the same goals. Somewhere out there is a friend you can lean on, confide in, celebrate with. You just haven’t met them yet.

Two, you are capable of finding them. No matter how shy, how insecure, how introverted, how geographically isolated, how young or old, how experienced or raw. You can do this. It will involve stepping outside your comfort zone, doing something that scares you. But you can do this. I believe it with my whole heart.

Maybe you can muster enough strength for a Big Action, by joining an organization or going to a conference or a retreat or book launch and introducing yourself to strangers. I’ve done this, and trust me, I know it is terrifying. I’ve gone to book launches and hovered in the back, pretending to read the spines of the books on the shelves just so I wouldn’t look out of place. I’ve signed up for a retreat where I only knew one person, and felt the urge to run and hide in a corner with my laptop instead of talking to people. The fear can be paralyzing. But if you can push through it — even if it’s just to introduce yourself to one person, the least-scary-looking person at the event — maybe that’s all you need to do. Sometimes one person is all it takes.

And if that person doesn’t end up being Your Kind of People? Try again. And again and again. It’s daunting, but remember, a person is only a stranger once.

Maybe that’s just too much, and no amount of pep talks will make you physically walk into a place where you don’t know anyone. That’s totally fine. Maybe, for you, stepping outside your comfort zone involves becoming active in an online forum like Absolute Write, or following the #amwriting tag on Twitter and engaging in those conversations, or emailing another writer you know vaguely through social media and asking if they’d be interested in exchanging work.

That’s what I did. Three years ago, when I was considering writing a book and didn’t know any other writers, I emailed another blogger I’d interacted with on Twitter and asked if she’d ever considered writing, and if she’d be interested in having a critique partner. I have no idea what possessed me to do this — I am Introverted with a Capital I, and do not voluntarily reach out to strangers — but that tiny step turned out to be life-changing. Today, that blogger is not only still my primary critique partner, but also one of my best friends. Because of that email, I wrote a book, and then another and another. I found my local writing community. I discovered a sense of belonging I’d never felt before.

Photo taken by Carla Schooler

Photo taken by Carla Schooler at the 2015 SCBWI Midsouth Fall Conference

And before you say, well, you’re an anomaly, let me tell you, it happens more often than you think. At the SCBWI conference I attended this weekend, one of our keynotes was given by the writing team of Gail Nall and Jen Malone, who met online when they entered the same writing contest. Now they’ve published multiple books together. Since they live halfway across the country from each other, they’ve only met in person a few times, but that doesn’t make their friendship or their writing camaraderie any less true.

During their keynote, Jen asked all the published writers in the room to stand, then told them to sit if they thought they could’ve gotten to where they are without the support of other writers. Want to take a guess at how many sat down?

No one is surprised when I say zero, right?

At the same conference, a pair of men — obviously good friends — was introduced to me, and then the mutual friend doing the introduction said, “Guess how they met,” in a voice that told me I’d be surprised by the answer.

Yup, you guessed it. Twitter. It was only their first or second time meeting in person. Not that you’d ever know it to see them interact.

I hear stories like this all the time. Even in my own life, I have multiple good friends where our first interaction was online. Forget what Buzzfeed or HuffPo tells you — you can make friends and find community anywhere. It just takes some effort.

Murfreesboro Half Marathon, 2013 Betcha can't tell which two friends I met on Twitter first.

Murfreesboro Half Marathon, 2013
Betcha can’t tell which two friends I met on Twitter first.

Bottom line is, wherever you are in your writing and your friendships, don’t discount the importance of finding other writers to commiserate with, to cheer on, to ask for feedback and wisdom, to celebrate in times of accomplishment and grieve with in times of disappointment (and not just yours — one of my favorite things about having talented writer friends is being able to celebrate their successes, even if I’ve just suffered a failure. It’s a much better mental place to be in when you can always find something to be happy about).

Not every writer I know has a critique group, or lots of local events to attend, or a love of social media. That’s fine. But every writer I know, published or pre-published, without exception, will tell you that they would not be able to keep making books without their writing community, whether it is vast or intimate, local or online, public or private.

Community comes in all shapes and sizes and locations. Yours doesn’t have to look like mine, or anyone else’s. It can be entirely unique to you and Your People. But please, don’t try to do this alone. Don’t let fear or pride make you an island. Find the people that give you the fortitude to keep walking this road. Putting words onto paper may be a solitary activity, but Writing — as a career, as a dream, as a life — is better with a team.

 

What’s up with me

Friends, I’ve been scared of this post for a while. But I think it’s time. Because I think I’m finally in a mental place where I can handle people knowing, and I’m tired of keeping secrets.

If you’ve been paying close attention, you may have noticed I’ve had some weird personal stuff going on lately that I haven’t been talking about. I was going on a trip to Texas, then suddenly I wasn’t going to Texas. I was going on a writing retreat, then I couldn’t go on a writing retreat, and then I could go again. I was posting several times a week about training for a half marathon, then I wasn’t posting about training anymore, and then I was hesitantly back to the gym after a few weeks off. And I posted more than a few times about the amazing generosity of my friends, which maybe isn’t so out of the ordinary. But it all ties together.

Here’s the somewhat short version of a very long story.

Two and a half months ago, I noticed a lump in my breast.

Two months ago, I found out that lump was cancerous.

Five weeks ago, I had surgery to remove the lump.

Three weeks ago, doctors were running tests to determine if chemotherapy would be recommended, and to find out if I had any mutations in my BRCA genes, which would put me at high risk for ovarian cancer and also would mean I’d need to get my children tested.

Two weeks ago, I learned that my cancer is a low risk for recurrence, and that risk is not changed by chemo, which meant I don’t need it. I also learned that my BRCA genes contain no mutations, which means no increased risk for me or my kids. That meant we could go ahead with the next stage of treatment, which was radiation.

One week ago, I started radiation therapy. That’ll go on for six weeks. Every weekday. It doesn’t hurt, yet. I hear it might as time progresses.

After that, I’ll get to do some form of hormonal therapy. We haven’t decided exactly how severe to go with that yet. Whatever we choose will continue for the next five years, at least. Along with regular doctor visits and tests to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned.

I’m not going to lie — this whole thing has sucked. A lot. I haven’t wanted to talk about it, because cancer patient is not a label I wanted people to assign to me. Friend, mommy, geek girl, YA writer, blogger, lover of action movies, queso enthusiast, TV aficionado, a cappella nerd, Twitter addict, book cheerleader — these were all aspects of myself that didn’t change with a cancer diagnosis. And throughout this whole crappy ordeal, despite having this One Big Thing constantly looming over my life, I haven’t cared less about any of those things.

I’m still me. I’m just me with cancer.

When I got my diagnosis, I told a small group of close friends and family, because it felt like something I didn’t want the world knowing yet, but I couldn’t keep from those who knew me best. That was the best decision I could have made, because my friends — most of whom I made through writing — have been invaluable as I’ve faced this.

They’ve brought me chocolate and wine and action figures and books and queso and movies. They’ve gotten me out of my house when I needed a distraction (two days after I got my diagnosis, when I knew I had cancer but still didn’t know the severity because Nashville had an ice storm and scheduling meetings with specialists was a nightmare, I went with a friend to see Jupiter Ascending. Which on the one hand is a weird thing to do two days after finding out you have cancer, but on the other hand, is the perfect thing to do. Nothing seems all that dire when you’re watching were-Channing Tatum rollerblade through a bouquet of space explosions. With bees). They’ve sent me gifs that made me snort in public, and they’ve recommended ridiculous shows for me to binge-watch on Netflix.

They’ve also prayed over me. They’ve handed me money to help with my medical bills. They’ve sent me emails and texts that moved me to tears. And they’ve contributed towards or prepared enough meals for my family that we had to borrow an entire upright freezer to store them all.

It’s in our dining room. My house in no way has enough room for an upright freezer.

Every time I look at it, I smile.

And every time I’ve told a friend what I’m going through, what my family is going through, it’s felt like a burden lifted. I always dread the telling, but it’s never been bad.

So now, even though I’m kind of terrified for the world to know about this, I think it’s time. I’m not sure how my brain is going to react to this going from a thing only a few people know to a thing everyone knows. Already, I get overwhelmed sometimes. Sometimes I can’t even bring myself to respond to a well-meaning email or text — not even to say “I’m not in a good place to deal with this right now, but I appreciate that you’re thinking of me.” Sometimes it’s all just too much.

If you’ve fallen into this category of reaching out only to be met with silence, I apologize. I will probably continue to do this, at times. I don’t mean to. I don’t want to. Just know that if I do this to you — if you try to encourage me and I don’t respond — it’s quite literally not you. It’s me. It’s entirely me and my weird, overwhelmed brain that still forgets sometimes that it’s piloting a body that mutinied on itself.

There are two questions I’ve been asked more than anything else over the past two months. They are:

How are you feeling?

and

What do you need?

I’ll try to answer them now. The answers don’t change. Or at least, they haven’t yet.

I feel fine. I still have some lingering soreness from my surgery, but I don’t feel sick at all. I’m not tired. My appetite is good. I’m back to exercising regularly, and while I won’t be setting any personal bests at this half marathon next weekend, I feel good about my ability to complete it.

I’m still reading. I’m still writing. None of my dreams have changed.

I’m told that after a few weeks, radiation will eventually make my skin feel constantly sunburned, and that it will get progressively worse until treatment is finished. I’m told it may make me tired. I have markers all over me for them to be able to line up my treatments — literally sharpie marks dotted all over my torso and covered by clear stickers, that feel like nothing but make me look like a Freemasons map. They make it hard to find anything to wear — the markers go all the way up to my collarbone, and we’re not exactly in turtleneck season — and that can be kind of frustrating and self-conscious-making. If you need me for the next six weeks, I’ll be the girl in the t-shirts. Always t-shirts. For every occasion.

But for now, I feel good. I feel like me, both physically and mentally.

As far as what I need, that’s a trickier question. Thanks to several friends and family members being unbelievably generous, I think that we will be okay financially. We have insurance, and while co-pays and co-insurance still add up to quite a hefty sum, it’s looking like we’ll be able to handle it. And that is a huge, huge blessing. Honestly one of my very first thoughts when my doctor said, “your biopsy came back positive for carcinoma,” wasn’t, “Am I going to die?” or, “What is this going to do to me physically?” — it was, “We can’t afford this.”

But now we can. It’ll be a long road — years — of tests and treatment and doctors visits. But it won’t break us.

We are also good on food. As I mentioned, we have a whole freezer full of meals.

So really, what I need right now is to smile. Encouragement — even if I fail to respond — is always appreciated. Prayer, if you are a person who prays. Laughter. Distraction.

The weekend I got my diagnosis, my friends showered me with these things. A gift card for my favorite local Mexican place. Gift cards for books, digital downloads for movies. Bottles of wine and boxes of chocolates. Countless texts and emails until it felt I was swimming in love.

It was like I was being wooed, but not romantically. Wooed back to myself.

(This is why these people are my best friends. They know me well enough to know exactly what I’d need in a time of crisis.)

And it’s still what I need.

So far, cancer has been scary and uncertain and inconvenient and frustrating and painful. It gets overwhelming at the weirdest times, and I never know when I’m going to shut down and become unable to engage on it in any capacity. But it’s also been strangely eye-opening. I’ve never felt such an outpouring of love before. I already knew, cognitively, that my friends were amazing and loving and generous. But now I know it with every piece of me, deep in my heart and soul.

I don’t expect to blog again about this. I’m not going to become a Person Who Blogs Their Disease. (There is nothing wrong with that at all. It’s just not me.) Even this post is a stretch for me. It’s a little terrifying. Or a lot terrifying. Next time I blog, it will be about something book or writing related. I hope.

But like I said, I have the most amazing support system that a girl could wish for. I have a wonderful husband and family going through this with me. I feel good. I’m at peace with the long road of treatment and testing ahead, and I’m at peace with the decisions we’ve made thus far. I’m ready for this to be a thing others know about me, even those I don’t know very well.

So here you go, Internet. My scary secret. I’m nervous.

Gifs welcome.

Review: I WAS HERE by Gayle Forman

I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Recently I was contacted by a publicist at Viking Penguin asking if I’d be willing to conduct an interview with one of their authors, who would be in my area soon. I’m not sure why they picked me, but I’m glad they did, because that author turned out to be Gayle Forman, author of international bestseller If I Stayamong other popular books. If I Stay was recently made into a movie, which means Gayle is now understandably busy, so I leapt at the opportunity to read her newest book, I Was Here, and then sit down to talk with her.

When you know you’re going to meet the author, there’s always a bit of nervousness that comes with reading their book. No author expects every reader to love their work, but so many of the authors I’ve met are such lovely people that I desperately want to be able to tell them I enjoy their stories.

With Gayle, I needn’t have worried. Not only was she kind and generous and wise in person, but I loved her book. Like most of her work, the subject matter is difficult, but it’s handled well, with care and honesty. It may actually be my favorite one of her books.

You can read my interview with Gayle on Young Adult Books Central, as well as enter to win a hardcover copy of I Was Here.

The Plot (from Goodreads):

When her best friend Meg drinks a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a motel room, Cody is understandably shocked and devastated. She and Meg shared everything—so how was there no warning? But when Cody travels to Meg’s college town to pack up the belongings left behind, she discovers that there’s a lot that Meg never told her. About her old roommates, the sort of people Cody never would have met in her dead-end small town in Washington. About Ben McAllister, the boy with a guitar and a sneer, who broke Meg’s heart. And about an encrypted computer file that Cody can’t open—until she does, and suddenly everything Cody thought she knew about her best friend’s death gets thrown into question.

I Was Here is Gayle Forman at her finest, a taut, emotional, and ultimately redemptive story about redefining the meaning of family and finding a way to move forward even in the face of unspeakable loss.

My Thoughts:

After reading Forman’s debut novel, If I Stay, and its sequel, Where She Went, I knew Forman was not afraid of tackling difficult subjects and handling them with care, which is why I was interested to see her approach to one of the most upsetting and relevant topics in our society today, teen suicide. Though the subject matter is far from pleasant, it only takes a glance at the headlines to confirm that this is a very real problem facing teens. It is my hope that I Was Here and books like it will help kids experiencing thoughts of suicide realize they are not alone, and raise awareness in the people who love them.

I Was Here follows Meg’s best friend, Cody, as she learns to navigate life without her other half following Meg’s suicide. We never meet Meg except through Cody’s memories, and while there is an element of mystery and suspense as Cody tries to make sense of why Meg would kill herself, I Was Here is ultimately a book about grief, and how to move on after unspeakable loss.

It feels strange to say I enjoyed a book centered on such a grim topic, but I did. I Was Here constantly walked the line between hopeful and tragic, light and dark, guilt and healing. Cody could be a difficult narrator at times, partially because she was in such a painful emotional state and partially because Cody was naturally standoffish, but the other characters provided balance and occasional humor, which I appreciated.

As in all of Forman’s books, there is a romantic element to I Was Here, but it took a backseat to Cody and Meg’s story. I enjoyed watching Cody and her reluctant love interest come together, and fans of subtle, slow-burn romance will appreciate how their story is woven into the main narrative of trying to put together the pieces Meg left behind.

The mystery – why Meg killed herself when, to Cody’s eyes, she had shown no indication that she was suicidal – takes both Cody and the reader down a disturbing rabbit hole that is both illuminating and horrifying. I was concerned at first that the book may attempt to distance itself from its subject matter, taking the easy way out, but I shouldn’t have worried. I Was Here faces its demons head-on, even when Cody would prefer to stay steeped in denial.

Even though the book winds up where most people probably assume it must, the journey Cody takes to get there is in turns heartbreaking and hopeful, and at the end, I came away satisfied. I’d recommend this book to fans of Forman’s previous books, as well as anyone interested in a raw, thoughtful story of depression, loss, grief, and healing.

The Fault In Our Stars: Demand Our Stars Nashville Event Recap

Last night, I had the pleasure and privilege of watching hundreds of teenage (and adult) fans go absolutely bonkers over the stars and author of the the latest upcoming teen movie. Except that this time, the movie isn’t about sparkling vampires or teen wizards or futuristic freedom-fighters. It’s about a girl dying of cancer, a boy with one leg, and how they fall in love as they make a trek to meet the author of their favorite book.

The movie is The Fault In Our Stars, the author is the ubiquitous John Green (who was recently named to TIME Magazine’s list of the Top 100 Influential People), and the story is one that, quite possibly, some of the young fans in attendance last night could relate to. (Read my review of the book here.)

Nashville was fortunate enough to win a stop on the Demand Our Stars tour, where John Green would meet fans, answer questions, and show exclusive clips from the movie, accompanied by young stars Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, and (the almost equally ubiquitous) Shailene Woodley.

Due to some serendipitous string-pulling by some well-placed friends, I was able to snag a Media pass to the event, which meant:

1) I didn’t have to stand in line all day. (Tickets to the event were free, but entry was on a first-come-first-serve basis, which meant some fans lined up before dawn that morning to ensure their spot.)

2) I was this close to the stars as they walked the red carpet. (How close? Well, you’ll see in a minute.)

By the time I arrived at War Memorial Plaza around 5:45 (the stars were set to arrive at 6:30), the crowds were INSANE. The general admission line stretched the entire length of the courtyard and looped back around itself. The fans were mostly teenage girls, many in groups, many with a parent or two in tow. Lots of them clutched copies of The Fault In Our Stars, and some held other copies of John Green’s other books as well, hoping for signatures. Mix 92.9 had a tent set up where they’d been doing giveaways of wristbands and other YA books all afternoon. Despite the fact that some fans had been standing all day (and possibly awake all of the previous night), it was an overwhelmingly festive atmosphere.

 
After I checked in, I was put in the media pen by the red carpet. Teenage girls pressed all around the edges. Some in the pen had seen the movie that morning and said it was fantastic. The girls on the perimeter couldn’t wait to see it, telling stories of how much they loved the book. One girl relayed enthusiastically how she finished it during social studies class and cried so hard she had to be sent to the guidance counselor.

The stars were supposed to come down the red carpet at 6:30, but unbeknownst to us outside, Nat Wolff (who will also be playing the lead in the upcoming movie adaptation of John Green’s PAPER TOWNS) and his brother Alex surprised the crowd waiting inside with an impromptu live musical performance. Sadly, I didn’t get to see this, but I hear they were amazing.

At around 7:00, a roar went up from the crowd closest to the street. The stars had arrived. In a way, it was good I wore my tall and highly uncomfortable shoes, because there was no way I would have been able to see through the field of waving hands as fans strained for signatures. I just had to hold my camera over my head and hope for the best.

John Green came down the line first, and the crowd reaction was spectacular — which would be expected if he were, say, Chris Hemsworth or Jennifer Lawrence or a member of One Direction. But this was an author. A 30-something guy in glasses and a checkered shirt who types words into a computer and makes videos on YouTube. Yet when he arrived, many of the young fans burst into tears, and I heard several gasp excitedly, “It’s him, it’s really him!” It was kind of a magical thing to watch these kids get just as excited about the author of a book as they would a movie or rock star.

John was very gracious and tried to sign as many things as possible, but he couldn’t get to everything because there were just so many. He joked with a fan about how crazy it was to have events like this since he suffers from anxiety, and talked to reporters about how much he loves this movie and the cast.

Ansel Elgort followed next, far more dapper and charming than I would’ve ever expected him to be after seeing him as Caleb in DIVERGENT. Watching him in person, I suddenly understood exactly why he was cast as Augustus Waters. He radiated charisma, speaking kindly to the fans while smiling and signing and waving. When he spoke, he was charming and intelligent. I didn’t get to ask him a question, but I heard him mention to a reporter that he loves being in movies that have been adapted from books, because he understands so much more about the character. With a script, all he has is what’s in the movie, but with a book adaptation, he has so much more to draw from. It was clear that he had a great fondness for Gus, and I’m excited to see what he’s done with the character.

Shailene Woodley came next, soft-spoken and beautiful as she sincerely thanked the multitudes of fans who were excited to see her as Hazel and praised her performance as Tris. She too talked about how much she loved working on this movie and with this cast, and it was very evident that the three leads of the film and John Green had all grown very fond of one another.


Nat Wolff (who reminded me a bit of a seventh-year Neville Longbottom) came last, full of smiles and laughs. He mentioned later that the show he’d performed inside with his brother was his favorite show he’d ever done. He echoed Shailene and Ansel’s sentiments about loving his experience on TFIOS, and talked about how excited he was to be starring in PAPER TOWNS.

After the stars finished working the red carpet, they were ushered inside. I went up to the balcony and collapsed into my seat, my feet throbbing. The floor was the general admission area, and it was PACKED. The chairs had been taken out in order to accommodate more people, but the screaming audience didn’t seem to mind, even though they’d already been standing all day. Ten minutes of the film and behind-the-scenes footage was shown, highlighting text from the book interspersed with scenes from the movie. The sound was cranked up to ear-splitting levels, which was the only way the dialogue could be heard since crowd went crazy every time they saw one of their favorite scenes brought to life.

Without giving away much in the way of spoilers for those who haven’t read the book, the scenes we were shown included:

  • Isaac egging a car
  • “It’s a metaphor.”
  • “I’m in love with you, Hazel Grace.”
  • Hazel’s wasted Wish
  • “Okay?” “Okay.”
I’ll let you guess which one got the biggest reaction from the crowd.

 
After the preview finished playing, John and the stars came onto the stage for a Q&A, and the crowd went wild again. I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the audience is functioning without a voice today. I haven’t heard a crowd scream like that since the New Kids on the Block concert I attended last summer.
 

The questioners in the crowd brimmed with enthusiasm (some with tears), and the topics ranged all over the place, from the movie to the book to interesting tidbits about the folks on stage. Probably most people’s favorite response was when Ansel was asked if he had any hidden talents, and he did this:

(Video by YouTube user Carrie Germain)

One person asked what their favorite part of filming was. Ansel answered that his was the days they spent in Amsterdam. He and Shailene would walk around the city together, getting to know each other as friends. Shailene’s was the egging scene, which was also Nat’s first day on set. John loved them all, but he skipped the day they filmed the love scene. Because there is getting-your-book-made-into-a-movie weird, and then there is…that. (That was the only day he skipped — he was fortunate to have the opportunity to be invited to the set for the entirety of filming.)

The cast was asked their feelings on John, and they promptly had A Moment on stage. “John is probably my favorite person in the world to talk to,” Ansel said. Shailene agreed. “You really are unprecedented,” she said in obvious awe. “There’s no one in the world like you.”

None of the cast were Nerdfighters, or knew about vlogbrothers, before they started working on the movie. However, now they all would consider themselves part of Nerdfighteria. Ansel even threw up a Nerdfighter gang sign, which promptly endeared him to everyone who hadn’t already been wooed by his killer dance moves.

John was asked who his “John Green” was as a teen. The one author who spoke to and inspired him more than anyone else. He answered Kurt Vonnegut. “He reminded me I was real.”
 
They answered questions until 8:00, then left after giving the audience their heartfelt thanks.

It was an amazing night, and not just because that’s the closest I’ve ever stood to a movie star. It was inspiring to see the impact that books — and not just TFIOS, but all books — had on these young people. While we waited outside for the event to start, the girls near us chattered about the other books they’d read and loved. At one point, a girl behind me yelled to someone across the courtyard, “Talk nerdy to me!” in reference to the sticker she was wearing promoting The Fifty-Seven Lives of Alex Wayfare. It was moving to hear the crowd go bananas over their favorite scenes from a book. It was lovely to watch the young stars on stage express their wonder and admiration for an author.

I’ve heard from a few who have already seen the movie that it’s wonderful, and I’m excited to see it. But I’m more excited about the spirit that prevailed in War Memorial Plaza last night, and the unquenchable excitement of a generation of readers.

All photos used in this post were taken by me.