Finding What to Read (Part 1)…

Being Part the First:

In Which I Declare My Official “To Read” List

During the past three years of grad school, I did very little writing and very little reading.  I finished one novelette-length short story.  I read two novels (both “Wheel of Time” books, and actually only half of the second), half of another novel and a few small volumes of short stories.

Since graduating a few months ago, I’ve upped the amps on my writing.  But my reading is still continuing at roughly the same pace.  Largely, I’d felt so deprived of writing while I worked on grad school that I wanted to focus my free time on writing, at least until I was in the thick of my novel and making solid progress (i.e. at least until I had actual draft wordcount on the novel, and not just background stuff).  But my slow reading these past few years hasn’t stopped a tsunami of excellent fiction from exploding into my consciousness.  It’s for that reason that my “To Read” list has grown into something of an unmanageable behemoth, and an unstoppable juggernaut.  To make anything like a dent in that list I’d have to take a few months off from work and dedicate a lot of time exclusively to reading.  Which… ain’t gonna happen.

At some point, I’m going to pivot some of my time to reading a little more again.  Because it’s not like other writers are going to stop writing awesome books just because I haven’t had time to read them.  And if I don’t read those awesome books, I might die unfulfilled.

Right now, my “To Read” list is broken into four parts, and looks like this:

I. Books I Own

A Clash of Kings* by George R. R. Martin

Mistborn: The Final Empire¹ by Brandon Sanderson

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

The Way of Kings¹ (signed) by Brandon Sanderson

The Children of Amarid¹ (signed) by David B. Coe

The Name of the Wind¹ by Patrick Rothfuss

A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin

A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin

The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction by Philip Athans with introduction by R. A. Salvatore

The Writer’s Digest Guide to Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card and the Editors of Writer’s Digest with introduction by Terry Brooks (this is a combo volume of Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy and Writer’s Digest’s The Writer’s Complete Fantasy Reference)

These books are higher on my “To Read” list by virtue of actually being in my possession.  I’m currently half-way through A Clash of Kings.  After that’s done, I’ll probably read either Elantris or The Children of Amarid.  The other George R. R. Martin books, however, I’ll probably hold off on, for now – the other books in my possession are higher in my mental “want to read” list than those, and there are other books not currently in my possession that I want more to read than those as well.  (I’ve talked before about how, despite having a lot of respect for clear and incredible talent Martin possesses, his unaccountably cruel world and unsympathetic characters leave me a little… unsatisfied

I expect that those books on this list which are the beginning of series will leave me happy enough to want to read the rest of those series (Sanderson’s “Mistborn” trilogy and “Stormlight Archive” series, Rothfuss’s “Kingkiller Chronicles” and Coe’s “LonTobyn Chronicles”).  So those later books in those series will also end up on this list (and in Sanderson’s and Rothfuss’s cases, this includes books that as yet do not exist).

The writing books, meanwhile, I haven’t looked at near as much as maybe I’d like, and as probably I ought.  They seem really information and useful – howbeit I know a lot of what’s contained therein already, but it’s kind of enjoyable and entertaining to read these kinds of books just the same. 

And then there’s this list:

II. Books I Do Not Own But Want to Own and to Read

(In no particular order)

A Memory of Light** by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

Leviathan¹ by Scott Westerfeld

The God Engines by John Scalzi

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms¹ by N.K. Jemisin

His Majesty’s Dragon¹ by Naomi Novik

Boneshaker¹ by Cherie Priest

Spellwright¹ by Blake Charlton

Here There Be Dragons¹ by James Owen

Fablehaven¹ by Brandon Mull

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairlyand In a Ship of Her Own Making¹ by Catherynne M. Valente

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

The Steampunk Bible: a really, really long subtitle by Jeff VanderMeer (ed)

Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority of these books are the first in a series.  And I’m really, really, really keen to read them all.  Of course, this list could technically include the following books in the series (assuming I like the first, which I imagine is a fair assumption) as well as the following books in the series from the first list which I don’t yet own.  But implicitly I’m putting later books in a series on a level with the first book, so that listing the first book implies I also want to read the later books.

It’s worth pointing out here, that when I say “Own” I mean as in this in the sense of physically possessing a printed copy.  On paper.  With a front and back cover.  I don’t yet own an e-reader, but if I did, these books I’d still want in hardcopy form, where possible. 

It’s also worth noting that Ready Player One is the latest addition to this list.

The third part of the list is this:

III. Books I Do Not Own But Want To Read, But Not Necessarily To Own

Mainspring¹ by Jay Lake

The Adamantine Palace by Stephen Deas

Crystal Rain by Tobias S. Buckell

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

Anathem by Neal Stephenson

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

The Last Page by Anthony Huso

Sixty-One Nails¹ by Mike Shevdon

The Clockwork Three by Matthew Kirby

The Heir of Night by Helen Lowe

Among Others by Jo Walton

Perdido Street Station by China Miéville

The Gardens of the Moon¹ by Steven Erikson

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

The Hunger Games¹ by Suzanne Collins

The Maze Runner¹ by James Dashner

When I say I don’t necessarily want to own these books I mean that in the opposite sense that I meant the previous list.  I certainly wouldn’t mind a paperback or (if I owned an e-reader) an ebook edition.  But where space and money are an issue, I’m less likely at this point in time to choose to want to own physical, hardcover copies of these books.  I reserve the right to change that designation and desire if, upon reading any of these books, they so fully blow me away that they move into a fifth category (i.e. Books I Have Read, But Do Not Own, and Want to Own). 

Most of these books fall here either because I’m only peripherally aware of them and were intrigued by them (but not blow-me-away excited about them), or because I am unsure of how awesome the book will really be.  I fully expect each and any of these to entertain me, but I’m not expecting them to excite me, as yet.  I of course hope to be unexpectedly surprised and excited.  That periphery awareness is, in part, why some of these might in fact be the first in a series and yet I have not marked them as such: while aware of these books in particular I’m not close enough to or excited enough by said book to be aware that a series exists.  Nonetheless, several of these are, in fact, the first in a series

In the short term, anyway, I’d be just as happy checking most of these out from the Library as I would to own them physically.

And finally, there is this list:

IV. Nonfiction and Other Books I’d Like Possibly to Own And At Least to Read And Study At My Leisure

The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires by Tim Wu

The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structures by Christopher E. Vogler

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

How To Write Magical Words: A Writer’s Companion by David B. Coe, A.J. Hartley, Faith Hunter, et al.

These are mostly writing references.  So having a ready-to-hand copy is probably helpful if you want to refer to it while in the act of writing.  Having an e-book version might, in fact, be the most ideal for most of these.  On the other hand, depending on how useful I find the book, I might inf act want only to check the book out from a Library to sample it before deciding I wanted a copy on-hand.

So yeah.  Not counting sequels and series, that’s over forty books on my “To-Read” list.  And almost certainly I should be counting the other books in those series.  So yes, my earlier assessment was right.  It will take a long time to go through this reading list.  It’s so large that, frankly, I’m a little daunted even to try to attempt to read them all.  I’m just not as fast a reader, anymore, as I was when I was much younger.  That’s a part of my youth I wish dearly that I could get back.

At this point, I had intended to say a few words on how these books ended up on my list: how I became aware of these books or decided I wanted to read them.  But having put down my list in this form, this was quite enough for one blog post.  Next time, then, I’ll talk about how I find out about what I want to read.

For now, though, share your own “To Read” lists, why don’t you?  Is there anything not on my lists that you think should be there?  Have you recently read anything that is on my list, and care to opine on it?  Don’t be afraid to go on at length.


¹Denotes books which are, as I am presently aware, the first in a series.  Some books may be the first in a series and not market thus because I am unaware of that fact.

*Denotes the book I am reading now.

**Denotes the book I will drop all the other books on this list to read as soon as it becomes available to me.

28 thoughts on “Finding What to Read (Part 1)…

  1. Don’t be afraid to go on at length he says… be careful what you ask for, she replies. 😉

    My To Read shelf is crammed, and my To Read list is even worse… many of the same titles you’ve got here, but I can only take fantasy in pieces (gasp!), so I tend to switch it up with urban fantasy or contemporary romance, or just anything of a different vein. Sometimes worldbuilding feels like a lot to wade through, regardless of the quality. (This would be one of the reasons I decided that writing fantasy might not be my cup of tea–at least for now.)

    I’ve a few reviews of what you’ve got on your lists (linky linky!), and am looking forward to picking up some of the other titles. Rothfuss’ Name of the Wind, Westerfeld’s Leviathan, Priest’s Boneshaker, and of course AMoL by Jordan and Sanderson are on my radar.

    Definitely grab N.K. Jemisin’s Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. It was an amazingly fresh read. Loved it. Same with the sequel.

    Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl? Meh. Felt like he didn’t explore an area that was begging to be explored… but check it out and see for yourself.

    Re: Writing references. Add Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Charmingly funny, heartfelt, and soulful. So good!

    And if you’re at all interested in zombies, definitely find Mira Grant’s Feed, the beginning of her Newsflesh Trilogy. Zombies, blogging, conspiracies, fun.

    And in a completely different vein (YA contemporary romance, I suppose), Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma blew my mind (my review’s not yet published). Teens forced into caring for younger siblings fall into an incestuous relationship. It’s a tricky sell, but Suzuma manages it. Absolutely amazing.

    I enjoyed the entire Hunger Games trilogy, too, though I dragged my feet about reading it — I question hype and obsessive fan enthusiasm the same way I question mob mentality (says the WoT fangirl — haha!).

    Stephen, I really like that your posts are arriving in my inbox via RSS as entire posts and not just previews of content — though I doubt your analytics are reflecting my read if I’m not clicking through. Regardless, I like the feature, and I’m enjoying your posts. Keep up the great work! 🙂

    • Thanks for your thoughts! I’ll definitely have to look into Bird by Bird. I had a look at your review of it, and it sounds intriguing. I’m sure I really need to add both Feed and probably also World War Z (which is apparently getting the big screen treatment soon). I’m not like a zombie-geek specifically, per se, but I enjoy zombies in general as much as the next general all-purpose geek! Plus Feed is up for a Hugo, it seems (same as 100K Kingdoms, which is pretty high on my list).

      I’ve never really read anything that could be categorized as “contemporary romance”. It’s not really something that would typically interest me… so Forbidden sounds a little intimidating to someone like me… It might be worth it, though. But I’ll give even odds Dear Wife might find it a good read.

      As for the full posts arriving via RSS… yeah. 🙂 I started using a feed reader a little over a month ago or so (before that, I just went to the blogs I read directly from my list of links). And I found that those blogs where I wasn’t getting full posts in the reader actually annoyed me. And then I saw that mine was one of those. I worried about a traffic drop if I changed that, but I decided the golden rule was applicable here. Even after deciding that, it took me a week to find the setting in WordPress to change it. And I still couldn’t tell you where I found that setting, anymore.

      • I’m reading World War Z RIGHT NOW! Except I’m having a tough go of it, mostly because by nature of the book (interviews of people’s accounts of the war) it’s very intense, and not exactly the kind of reading I want to be doing before bed… nightmares, here I come! O_o

        Feed was my first ever zombie read, and I’m so glad I pushed myself out of my comfort zone there–it was a challenge for a book club. Loved it.

        Re: Forbidden. It’s compelling and addictive, and incredibly intense.

        “Contemporary romance” to me as a genre connotes love, bubbles, and particular standards of a fluffy relationship (or at least a “happy” ending), and I have a problem with this category for Forbidden because it doesn’t exactly fit the mold… it’s YA with the publisher’s note of ages 16 plus (this of course being the draw for me: “who puts a 16+ rating on a YA book? I must read this!” (Because this isn’t insight into my psyche at all–haha!)

        I tweeted a thank you for the great read to Suzuma on Twitter, saying I found it compelling and intense, and her reply was (to paraphrase): “Intense, yes. Landed me a breakdown.” I’m not surprised. It’s an interesting read, for sure.

      • Maybe I should push out of my own genre comfort zone… hmm…. Although I have no plans ever of writing a story where those kinds of relationships might appear, the experience and perspective might still be useful as a source of inspiration somewhere down the line.

      • Yay! I’m one of those who get annoyed when the web sites don’t show in RSS readers. If one really wants the data for counting those who are using RSS readers, one-pixel images (at one time these were called web bugs) (my office-mate claims this is being done… and you convinced me to check 😉 The web bug for this page is: “”. So the only thing you cost by not adding full text is people might not see banner ads.

      • Wow. That’s kinda cool. I can’t even see it, unless I highlight it. So… this forces an RSS reader to download something from the site, which triggers a hit on my stats? That’s very interesting.

      • Yes, it triggers the RSS reader to download something so the stats remain accurate. However, the one I found in your feed was to wordpresses stats. I stopped looking after I found the first one, but this wouldn’t necessarily trigger google analytics to measure the user.

      • Which is okay by me, I suppose. Although Google Analytics might be superior (I wouldn’t know enough to judge one way or another), since I’m using a site, I don’t even know if I can use Google Analytics for stats. But so far, I find wordpress’s stats mostly sufficient.

  2. Ah. Just checked to see if Amazon had the “Look Inside” feature for Forbidden, so you could get a sense of the voice — nope. It’s engaging. Deceptively so, considering the subject matter. I know I, personally, learned some of the craft of writing from Forbidden (there’s a very deliberate yet natural plotting to increase the characters’ stress levels to make them crack).

    Re: comfort zones. I like trying something different now and again, but I’m also a huge flag waver for not finishing something just because you’ve started reading it. If it’s entirely work, you won’t learn anything, and you’ll resent time wasted, too. Too many good reads out there to spend any time on ones you dread. On the flip side, if you give yourself permission to put down a book at any time, you might be more likely to legitimately enjoy something you wouldn’t otherwise have tried.

    • You know, that’s a good point. I’ve put down very few books ever in my day. Two I can think of immediately – one was an epic fantasy (and hell, I don’t mind trashing it – The Redemption of Althalus by David and Leigh Eddings was just awful tripe) and the other was a venerable classic. I just couldn’t keep reading Les Misrables. I enjoy the story (as filtered through the Broadway Musical and other stage adaptations), but the book is just soooooooooooo sloooooooooooooowww. It would’ve been much better if it were half as long as it was. But yeah… maybe I should be a little more liberal in my use of “not finishing a book”. If I’m not enjoying or learning something from a book, why keep reading it?

  3. Ahh I used to always finish every book I started, but no more. Not enough time, unfortunately. I set one down recently, not because I didn’t like it, I just didn’t like it enough to get through 700 pages of it. Did read enough to get a feel for the style and learn what I wanted from it though. Sometimes finishing is unnecessary?

    You just made me update my list 😉 Lots here that I also want to read.

  4. Ugh, I could not get into Lake’s Mainspring. The world was interesting, but he took waaaay too long to give me a reason to care about what happens in the end. I didn’t connect with the main character, at all.

    The Windup Girl was interesting, though, and I pretty much always wanted to know what would happen next…even if I thought it was a little bit *ehem* unpleasant at parts (huge understatement).

    Boneshaker…that was cool because I felt it was pretty original for the steampunk movement, though honestly I don’t think it was as great as the hype suggested and is no longer Priest’s best. (Villain = meh.) I think the later Clockwork Century novels (and novella) were all better, actually, but maybe that’s just me.

    Looks like I share a good number of “to be read” novels as you do! My list is also ridiculously long (Amazon says I’ve got over 190 on there now, haha), so I doubt I’ll ever get through it, being as slow a reader as I am. At least it’s something to look forward to, though, right?

    • I’ve heard a lot of both positive and less positive reviews of Lake’s Mainspring. The mixed reviews intrigue me. But that’s also why it drops to my “Want to read but not necessarily to own” list. I’m really excited about Boneshaker… and I sort of figure I have to read that first before I can move on to the other Clockwork Century books. I use Amazon to manage my “Too Read” list, too. I wonder what it would look like if I put all the sequels to the books on the list were also on the list…

  5. You’ve listed a lot of books that look like some I’d like to read, particularly those by George R. Martin (fiction) and Orson Scott Card (non-fiction). My TBR list is short, but it takes me forever to work through just the few I keep nearby. Time is just too cluttered to do much reading AND writing, so the writing has been getting preference.

    • I know exactly what you mean. I read sooooo slowly, and it’s very frustrating. So, I focus on the writing more than the reading. But at some point… I’ve got to do some more reading. Reading keeps you in touch with zeitgeist of the genre.

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  7. [Should have re-read post after I changed it when I found wordpress’ web bug. Hopefully you’ll understand my meaning.]

    I found it interesting that not counting writing books, I have read nothing on your own-book/to-read list. However, on the to-buy/to-read list, I’ve read a significant fraction or own the book.

    I have at least three lists. My to-read list. My to-read sample list. My swedish list. Låt den Rätte Komma I (Let The Right One In, a Swedish Vampire story) is very high on my list.

    • What do you mean by “to-read sample” list? Is that something where you’re not sure if you want it on your to-read list, yet, so you want to “sample” it first, give it a try? I didn’t know “Let the Right One In” was based on a book. Have you seen either the Swedish movie or the US remake? I don’t normally do horror movies, myself, but both the Swedish and US movies have gotten a lot of positive buzz…

      • Whenever I see a book reference that interests me, I download the sample to my Kindle. It has the advantage that I don’t forget them. This list is over a hundred for me. I go through them occasionally and find a few stories I can’t put down and those go on the to read list.

        I saw the Swedish movie and really enjoyed it. It didn’t come across as what I would’ve originally called horror, because I associated the word horror mostly with Friday the 13th, Aliens, etc. It is a dark film, but I found it character-driven exploring a bullied boy and his friendship with the vampire. There are a couple of gruesome scenes. I liked the cinematography, but then I’ve been to several of the locations where the film was shot so that probably makes me biased.

      • I’ve also heard the English-language remake is an underappreciated film: in part because a lot of folks that really loved the Swedish original weren’t actually interested in a remake. I watched the trailers for that one (watching a trailer in Swedish wouldn’t do me much good, as I don’t speak a word of Swedish), and it definitely looked interesting.

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