How I Decide What to Read Next

Johnny from sci.casual wrote this on my book reviews from Monday:

You’ve got eclectic tastes – how *do* you answer the question “what should I read next”?

I’m glad he asked that, because it’s a good question, and it requires a longer answer than I prefer to give via comment form.  In the book blogging world, many book bloggers are super organized about this.  It’s common to keep a TBR (to be read) list, and to read and review brand new books from one or two chosen genres.  I admire that organization, but the way I pick what to read next is much more arbitrary.  Here’s the short version — I keep a list on Goodreads, and then I pretty much just read what I want to read.

Here’s What I Like to Read (with examples from my Goodreads TBR)

Genres/types of books I read a lot:

  • Memoirs
  • Realistic YA
  • Fluffy summer novels
  • Literary novels
  • Nonfiction
  • Thrillers
All images from Goodreads 


There’s not necessarily one genre that is my favorite, although if I had to pick it would probably be literary fiction, because of the vast range of stories and styles it encompasses.  But the things that really interest me are how humans interact together and how we process things.  I love reading about other cultures and immigration.  I love languages.  I love realistic portrayals of life, history from an individual’s perspective, and even poetry if individual poems can be taken together to tell a whole story (think Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse).  Truly, stories are my passion — as opposed to small talk, for example.  I can do small talk for awhile, but it doesn’t tell you anything about the person.  It’s what you do because you have to be together, like when your cashier is ringing up your groceries.  But once you get to know a person, you know their stories — the things they’ve done, the people they know, the hobbies and passions and experiences that make them who they are.  That’s substance.  And that’s how I choose books to add to my TBR — if the story sounds interesting and realistic and meaty, I add it.  That’s it.  It’s a bonus if it sounds like it’ll make me think and reconsider my opinions.

But How Do I Choose What to Read Next?

The short answer: I read what’s available.

The long answer:  I don’t like spending a lot of money on books, especially ones I haven’t read yet.  If I don’t like a book, I don’t want to have wasted money on it.  So I do pretty much all my reading through libraries.  I have a library card for every city I’ve lived in.  I grew up going to the library weekly, so I’ve gone through a lot of books.  And if you know how to tap into interlibrary loan, you’re pretty much set up for whatever you want to read.  In the last few years or so, I’ve gotten into borrowing ebooks, because one of the libraries I have a card for has a fantastic selection.  So while I prefer physical books, I’ll take an ebook any day of the week, too.

When I don’t have anything to read, I scroll through my Goodreads list.  I search for titles in the library catalogs to see who has what.  And usually I find one or two books on my list, so I’ll check those out and begin the cycle again.  But, a lot of books I read are fairly new and thus unavailable in libraries yet.  If this happens, I just pick a library book that’s not on my TBR.  And though I’ve slacked off on this a bit recently, I typically have a book or two sitting around that I received through a book review program.  I try to read these in a timely manner, but if it doesn’t sound interesting to me at the moment, I read something else.  My mom always has good recommendations too.

Not a lot of thought goes into what I read next, which is why my review posts can be a mishmash of random books.  I read what I like, and that’s the way it will stay.


History: Best Learned in a Classroom?

If you’ve read my about page, you know that I’m currently majoring in Marketing and Spanish.  I didn’t add my Spanish degree until second semester of sophomore year, though (before it had been a minor), so this year, I got stuck doing some required gen eds I normally would’ve taken as a freshman.  I had to take a second literature class last semester, and also European Civilization 1.

The lit class was a breeze.  The professor was finishing up her doctoral thesis, so we had hardly any homework.  (Also, the level of analysis she gave was really more suited to a high school class, in my opinion, but I wasn’t complaining.)  But the history class was another story.  A lot of majors have to take Euro Civ 1 and 2, so it was a big lecture.  And the professor was one of those who likes to scare freshman.  She was personable, but she didn’t put up with people not taking notes or having their phones out.  And she wasn’t one to give students material, either.  She walked in every day and started talking, and we were expected to figure out what was important and what wasn’t.  There was no outline or study guide, or even a PowerPoint.  She showed photos of artifacts she’d seen and trips she had taken, and that was all.  She was your typical freshman professor — like hey kids, it’s time to get serious.

A lot of kids need that.  College really is tougher than high school, and it pays to learn how to study early.  But I’m a senior.  I do feel young and unequipped at times (especially dealing with apartment stuff and other legal matters), but I’m disciplined, and I know how to succeed at school.  Going from intense, focused group projects in Marketing and Spanish — things I’m interested in and may actually use — to a history class was not very fun at all.

I get that history is important.  But I’ve never really enjoyed it.  Which is a little weird — normally students who like English and writing also enjoy history.  It makes sense — history is essentially a collection of stories.  And it’s stuff that actually happened.  They say the truth is stranger than fiction, and I fully believe that.  Some of the stuff we’ve done as humans you just can’t make up.

But I just can’t get into history when it’s taught in a class.  For one, I have an awful memory.  I grasp conceptual stuff fairly easily, and I’m good at learning processes, but please don’t ask me who it was that signed this or that treaty, because I won’t be able to tell you.  I’m not good at remembering dates, and while I have a vague timeline of world events in my head, I usually have to look up the details.

The other thing is that in class, there’s too much to cover to be able to get into the interesting stuff.  Unless it’s a very specialized class, you can’t get into the personal lives of important people, or how the culture affected certain groups — there is just not enough time.  When I was younger, I read a lot of historical fiction, and that’s where any interest I have had in history comes from.  I liked learning about how ordinary people lived in certain time periods and how major world events affected their lives.  I care about history on the small scale.  I want to know how I might have felt if I had lived during colonial America, or during World War II.  I read stuff like Soldier in Blue (which I can’t find on Goodreads), Copper Sun, all the American Girl historical novels, and the Dear America and Royal Diaries series.  Books like those, more than anything, are where I learned the things I remember about history.  It has to be relate-able.

Sometimes I wonder if more of history should be taught like that.  It’s probably not very practical, because I know not everyone loves reading like I do.  Some people are interested in big picture history, and some people learn best when listening to someone else.  But there’s a lot to be said for looking at the details and making it interesting.  History is easier to remember when you can imagine it happening to you.

I spent a lot of my Christmas break studying for the Euro Civ II CLEP test, so I could test out of the second half of the class.  There were no other options than the same professor I had last semester, and I didn’t really want to waste 3 hours a week on a history class when I’ll also be doing senior projects.  History, for me, is one thing that’s best learned on my own.

What has your experience with learning history been like?


What I’m Reading: December 2016

There are lots of reasons I always look forward to Christmas break, but one of the big ones is because I get to read.  While I’ve had more time this semester to read (and write!) than normal, not having class at all means even more reading time.  So here’s what I’ve read already, and some of what I’m looking forward to.

What I’ve Read So Far

judyblumeVerdict: So.  Worth.  It.

As soon as I realized Judy Blume had written a new(ish) novel, I wanted to read it.  I grew up with Blubber, the Fudge books, and of course Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.  And the fact that this one was based on true events made it even more appealing.  At first, the extensive character list in the front threw me off, but Blume introduces characters slowly enough that it wasn’t confusing at all.  This was such an engaging, sad read, and Blume, as always, captures the very essence of human experience at all ages.  She stays in touch with her inner child but is so incredibly realistic about the way people feel.  If there was ever an author in touch with human nature, it’s Judy Blume.  I highly recommend this.

sleepVerdict:  Do not start unless you have about 6 hours to spare.

It took me from around 8:30pm to 2:00am one night to read this.  I literally did not put it down.  It was kind of funny that I picked it up — it had been on my TBR but I didn’t realize it had finally downloaded to my Kindle from the library until I went to delete another rental.  I just read another book with almost the exact same premise (see below), but I figured why not go ahead.  And this book did not disappoint.  It was suspenseful, engaging, and I caught myself actually holding my breath near the end.  If I ever write a debut novel half as good as this one, I’ll rest easy in my grave.


1358844Verdict:  Funny, as usual.

Girl wakes up with amnesia and has no idea who she is — exact same premise as Before I Go to Sleep.  But this was a much fluffier version, a Kinsella classic.  While there are obviously elements of suspense (how can there not be, with this premise?), the surprises are more reality show-esque than the horrible truths revealed in Before I Go to Sleep.  I actually listened to the audio book, and ended up laughing out loud, as I usually do with Kinsella novels.  But maybe not as much as I would have if I had read it — I’m not sure.  Generally I’m not crazy about audio book narrators.  However, it’s really hard to go wrong with Kinsella.


TBR for December

To Review

jeffJeff graciously offered me a copy of this collection of memoirs in exchange for a review, so be looking for that within the next few weeks!  I’m excited about this because I love memoirs, and have really enjoyed his blog so far.




sayinsThis is my next book from Blogging for Books, which I chose because 1) I love languages and 2) I love coffee table books.  Someday I hope to have a coffee table full of books, and this will definitely be going on the pile.  Look for the full review by the end of December!



To Read

Lately I’ve been realizing how few non-white authors I have read.  While I follow a few non-white bloggers, that’s not enough.  In addition to the TBR I already have on Goodreads, I’ll be searching for more non-white authors to read over break.  Feel free to let me know in the comments if you have any recommendations!

What I’m Reading: November 2016 – Learning Outside the Classroom

My whole family has a legacy of loving education.  We like to learn stuff, and we all like to read.  My dad is a huge history buff, and as an ex-Marine, you can often find him devouring a book about World War II and other conflicts.  My sister, and brother to an extent, inherited this love of history.  My brother has done school projects on famous generals and war machinery.  His main interest, though, is building things, and he prefers to learn by watching YouTube.  My sister, on the other hand, reads everything — history books, theology, care and keeping of farm animals — you name a topic, she’s probably read something about it.  My mom prefers to read biographies and novels — we joke that “based on a true story” is her favorite genre.  I’m more similar to her in reading taste than anyone else, but I read more popular stuff than anyone in my house.

The only similarity we all have is that we all read to learn.  Even my brother, who doesn’t love reading, has done it.  It’s part of being in my family.  It’s in our DNA.  Recently, I’ve been thinking about learning outside the classroom.  I hope to go into the marketing industry, and I know that learning doesn’t end when classes do.  So here’s what I’ve been reading to try to stay on the up-and-up.


Hubspot’s Marketing and Sales Blogs

I started following these as a result of my Marketing and Public Relations class.  I’m genuinely interested in the Marketing blog, and often read (or at least skim) an article every day or so.  The Sales blog is not my favorite, but since so many jobs are described as sales and marketing, I figured it couldn’t hurt.  I kind of have to force myself to read the sales articles, though.



This is the blog of David Meerman Scott, a self-made marketing expert.  He’s the author of our textbook for Marketing and PR, which I’ve enjoyed so far.  He’s been studying the marketing aspects of the presidential election, and it’s been very interesting to read his take on the candidates’ marketing techniques.



Inc., Fortune, and Entrepreneur are a few that I read articles from on a semi-regular basis.  Honestly, a lot of times I’ll read articles because they touch on something I’ve had to research for a class.  In a couple of my classes we had to take the day’s topic and find a news article that related to it, and these magazines were invaluable.  I also follow all three of these on Twitter, which is easier than visiting each site every day since I’m not a legit subscriber to any of them.


Since I’m searching for full-time jobs, I spend a good chunk of time researching the companies that are posting on the job boards.  I don’t want to waste my time applying to a company I don’t actually want to work for.  While I don’t do extensive research on every single company I put in an application for, I make sure I at least visit the website and have a pretty good understanding of their mission, customer value, and company culture.  I consider this learning because I’m finding out what companies like to emphasize about themselves, and I can compare this to what I’m learning in my classes about how this should be done.

What I’m Reading September 2016

I randomly started receiving Fortune at the beginning of the summer, and I’m not really sure why, because I didn’t subscribe.  I think it may be a perk of the business honor society I was invited to join last spring.  Regardless of how it began, I’ve found I enjoy reading about the featured businesses, and it’s definitely good for getting my head in the game as I’m about to graduate.


The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use News Releases, Blogs, Podcasting, Viral Marketing, & Online Media to Reach Buyers Directly

This is the textbook for the Marketing and PR class I’m taking, and I can already tell it’s something I would’ve picked up on my own.  First off, it’s written like a blog, so it’s easy and interesting to read.  Second, the ideas can be applied to all areas of life, not just to business websites.  The main point is that content rich websites invite the most customers to a business because that proves the company to be a reliable resource, and that makes so much sense to me.  This can be applied to personal blogs, small business plans, and even stuff like making friends.  If you can relate to whoever it is you want to interact with and be valuable to them, all sorts of natural partnerships follow.


This is the second book I’ve downloaded from NetGalley for review.  I’m slowly making my way through it — so slowly, in fact, that I think I put it in my “what I’m reading” post for summer.  Once I get into it, it’s actually very interesting, but I’ll save my final verdict for the review, which I hope to post before the end of September!



81779I don’t know if I can actually count this since I haven’t started it yet.  But I have to read it for Euro Civ, so it’s here on the list.  I am not excited about this book.  I took a philosophy class for humanities credit sophomore year and hated it.  I understand the importance of philosophers, and I know that we owe a lot of how we view the world today to Greek philosophers like Plato.  But honestly, it’s horrible to study.  I think philosophy is better learned on one’s own; it’s something you can glean from life and develop even if you don’t realize it’s happening.  However, professors still think it’s relevant, apparently, so here I am.

I’m also reading blogs, of course — sometimes it’s the only pleasure reading I get to do during school, which is one of the reasons I love them so much.  Here are a few of my current favorites:

Cover photos from Goodreads, Fortune photo from


Guest Post: How I Got Into Poetry

I’ve talked a bit before about my sister over at The Casual Philosopher, which in her words is “a platform for my random discourse with myself on things that interest me, which can be as relevant as book reviews and societal muses, or as stupid as figuring out exactly what makes an actor’s face memorable.  I’ll tell you a secret: on Eddie Redmayne, it’s the muscle around the mouth, the orbicularis oris.”  We’re both bookworms, but while I am mostly into YA and occasional memoirs, she prefers the classics and poetry.  With much more pride than is really necessary, I introduce Rhoda Marshall.

I talk about poetry an awful lot on my blog, and I’m sure some of you (if you follow her, and if you don’t, you should) are tired of my constant blather. But believe it or not, I wasn’t always into poetry. None of my immediate family is as into poetry as I am, and I’ve only been really into poetry for about a year and a half, though it feels like I’ve been here my whole life.

I can distinctly remember my ignorant younger self saying I wasn’t a poetry person. I’ve always been into books, but I used to quite dislike poetry, though, thankfully, I never got to the point where I really hated it. I think sometime during my brief public school career, a teacher introduced me to Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends, which got me rather hooked on Shel Silverstein, to the point where I collected all four of his children’s poetry anthologies, but I called myself a “Shel Silverstein person,” still not a poetry person.

Through high school, of course, I was made to read and analyze poetry, which I didn’t mind too much, because I really just don’t mind school. I had specific poems I liked, and I even memorized several of my own accord, but for some reason, I still didn’t say I liked poetry in general, which, looking back on it, seems odd to me, what with those memorized poems and all. I had even written about five poems before I bought the book that catapulted me into poetry-person-dom.

Perhaps my conversion to a poetry person was more of a gradual change than a turn-around, but even if it was, I can still peg the exact point that my fate was sealed. I was in a Barnes & Noble in Virginia, at Christmastime with all my cousins. I was going through one of those reflective periods that people kind of go through in cycles, where you feel the need to examine and understand the poignant parts of life and history so that you can look at the happy parts of the world with more understanding and appreciation. I wasn’t looking for anything real specific. I always have a list of books I’d like to buy, but none of it was especially pressing. So I’d wandered around for a while, picking books up and putting them back down, when I found myself in front of the small section of poetry. I was poking through Dante’s Divine Comedy, which we read a few years ago in lit class, when my attention was diverted to another title: Some Desperate Glory, by Max Egremont, a book of Great War poetry.

The title captured the poignant-romantic mood I was in, so I picked it up, flipped through it, and bought it right there. I spent every dollar I had with me, then went back to continue wandering with my cousins. This book fit just the mood I had been in and continued to be in for a few more weeks. It’s a thoughtful anthology, and it was just what I needed to flip me to poetry-person-dom.

I kept this book by my bed for about a month, and would read a bit from it before I went to bed. About the time I was finishing it up, Book Week came along. During February, schools were closed for nearly two straight weeks where I live, which is highly unusual, and during the second week, my friend and I had cabin fever so bad we went out gallivanting. We visited a total of five book-establishments in five days, and bought way more books than, as poor starving students, we could really afford. Two of these book joints stand out as more significant to my poetry-loving journey than the others. One was a tiny used book shop about an hour from where we live, where, in my new found appreciation for poetry, I bought a big, blue book of general poetry, published in 1942, a chronological book of poetry from Tennyson to Whitman, and a Penguin paperback of more WWI poetry. The other, which we visited on the same day, was a local thrift store, where I bought a Reader’s Digest edition of 101 Famous Poems someone had compiled.

Book Week pretty much sealed my fate as a poetry person. As I slowly went through all of my new books, finding poems I already knew, and finding more that whispered to me, my transition to hard-core poetry lover was complete. I continued writing poetry, and did it more frequently. I regularly pick up one of my books and just flip through it, to see what jumps out at me that day. Through this, I’ve discovered loads of great poems, which have defined things I’ve believed in but haven’t been able to say concisely, such as “How Did You Die?” by Edmund Vance Cooke, and given me tools to stay inspired, such as “Thanksgiving,” by Robert Graves, to name two of the innumerable ways I’ve used and enjoyed all these words.

On my own blog I tried a Top Ten type thing one time, but they’re simply too numerous and I can’t just pick poems that mean the most to me, because if I read them and liked them enough to consider for a list, then they deserve to be on it. So here’s the first ten random poems (besides the couple I’ve already mentioned) I’ve written in my Books of Wisdom.

“Opportunity,” by Edward R. Still
“Gethsemane,” by Rudyard Kipling
“The Example,” by W. H. Davies
“The King’s Tragedy,” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
“Say Not the Struggle Naught Availeth,” by Arthur Hugh Clough
“There is no Frigate like a Book,” by Emily Dickinson
“O World,” by George Santyana
“Invitation,” by Shel Silverstein
“Big Red,” by Joseph Alvie Estes
‘Masks,” by Shel Silverstein

One other good thing that has come out of my new love of poetry is the Word Shakers. Word Shakers is a poetry club sort of thing I started with my closest friends. Its full story is on my own blog, but a few months ago, we wrote poems describing the group on the spot, impromptu. My own poetry has become more prolific because I’m now unabashedly into poetry, and here’s my Word Shakers poem, as an example. I don’t have the others’ permission to publish theirs, otherwise I’d show you those too.

“Word Shakers”
Rhoda Marshall
The world was too little for us.
Casual conversation and the fumes from the bus
That was taking us down the great wide way;
The way to apathy and gloom,
The way to miss birdsong and revel by light of the moon.
The world was too little for us.
We wanted to watch the pixies prance
Upon a Summer’s night.
So we started to get up before the light
When the magic of nighttime was still on our minds,
To shake the world that was too little for us.
To use the words which God has given,
To move the mountains and make a difference.
To make the world too much.

That pretty much concludes my journey from non-poetry to poetry-person. Now that I’ve been in it for a while, I’ve adopted my book philosophy to go with poetry as well. I think everyone has their poem. Not everyone will become a poetry lover, but I really believe there’s a poem out there for everyone, one that will whisper to them, and really mean something, so that they’ll carry it around forever. It’s only a matter of finding it.