Stories are where we find ourselves, where we find the others who are like us. Gather enough stories and soon you’re not alone; you are an army.
– Sam J. Miller, Blackfish City
I thought I already had a “read it” post on Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin because I think about this book quite a lot. But apparently I hadn’t written one yet, even though I’ve certainly quoted (and will continue quoting) from this book frequently.
It’s one of those books that I’m never quite done reading. After I finished it cover to cover, I have found myself coming back to it here and there, discovering something new each time. Le Guin encourages you to think about how your writing is put together, the granular qualities of your prose and how those grains come together to form something bigger than their sum. Each chapter is accompanied by excerpted text illustrating the concept and ends with exercises to practice that particular element of the craft.
If you already write, I think you’ll find something in this book useful. It is not a book that will teach you exactly how to tell a story (check out Damn Fine Story if that’s what you’re looking for–post on that here), but it is a book that will help you think about how the clockwork bits of story, the actual words, fit together and work.
The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander is a hauntingly beautiful alternate history novella. It’s partially set in the era of the Radium Girls, partially set in an AU modern day, and partially set in timelessness and memory. The prose is lyrical and the POVs are distinct. It’s a story about injustice and cruelty. It’s a story about history and narrative and truth.
You should go read it. It will give you the feels.
Not That Bad is an anthology of essays about rape culture edited by Roxane Gay. It is heavy and heartbreaking and critical. It touches on so many different aspects of rape culture, the parts that get overshadowed or justified or excused because they are (eponymously) not that bad. It’s hard to read, and it should be, because it’s hard to face up to the truth of how our society views and values women (which is to say, not as people, and not as much as men).
Because sidelining women’s stories/voices/visages, and also glorifying—thus neutralizing—their suffering, are not only prerequisites to sexual violence against women, but also ensure that sexual violence isn’t seen as sexual violence but as totally normal, sanctioned behavior.
– from “Why I Didn’t Say No” by Elissa Bassist
Shelve under required reading. Take your time with it. Think about the different experiences and how they are all unique and all the same. Take breaks and take care of yourself when you need to.
I read a lot of books this year.
I set an initial goal of 50 and woefully underestimated how much I was going to read. Especially since one-third to one-half of my work day is reading now.
Here’s a review breakdown on the books from this year (pulled from Goodreads).
This was honestly kind of all over the place because I couldn’t quite figure out what I wanted a rating to mean. What makes something three-star vs four-star? Solely story and plotting and characters? Does prose factor in? I just made it all overly complicated for myself. This year, I’m going back to the scale that Goodreads uses basically: 1 = didn’t like it, 2 = it was okay, 3 = liked it, 4 = really liked it, and 5 = loved it.
And for fun, the first 12 and last 15 (because of how the page ended up being formatted) books I read in 2018.
Because, as you already know, I have an AirTable and also a spreadsheet for tracking reading data, here are some of my stats from 2018:
- Total read: 123
- Author gender (M/F/NB): 15/49/1 = 65 different authors (roughly a 24%/75%/1% breakdown)
- Authors of color: 19
- Nonfiction/fiction: 18/105
- Owned/Bought/Borrowed: 76/13/32 (2 read online for free)
- Re-reads: 9
I still ended up buying more books than I should have, but it was a vast improvement to my behavior in previous years. But now I have ALL THE LIBRARY CARDS, so this year should be even better.
I had more re-reads than usual because I went back to read all of T. Kingfisher’s stuff since her tone very much inspires the project I’m currently working on.
Also, I ended up reading mostly on my Kindle this year. I still love all my analog books, but I have to admit that the built-in backlight of the Kindle (note to self: consider upgrading Paperwhite at some point) makes reading under the covers so convenient. Plus, I always just have another book ready and waiting. Mostly, this just means I’m a bit more choosy about which analog books I’ll buy or borrow.
Next year, I want to read more authors of color and nonbinary authors. I also want to push my genre boundaries a bit. I’ll read just about any genre, but my go-to one tends to be fantasy. But since my writing dabbles all over the place, I’m planning to make a deliberate effort to read more horror and sci-fi. And more non-fiction, I think.
My book goal for next year is 100.
It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed a book quite as much as I enjoyed this one.
Dread Nation is an alternate history novel set in the Civil War era, but the War Between the States has been interrupted by the rise of zombies. It has a combat school, an ass-kicking heroine who isn’t afraid of kicking ass (and isn’t apologetic about it), and a running joke about corsets. And on top of all that, it delves into power systems, racism, and exploitation.
Things I totally love:
- The characters are so well done. Jane, our heroine, is compelling and flawed. Her voice is strong and unique. She is unapologetic about what she thinks needs to be done, and she has strong loyalties to those she cares about (even if she doesn’t always want to admit she cares about them).
- Throughout the story, Jane’s relationships to the (really excellent) side characters changes and strengthens. There’s no artificial conflict or breaking apart of allies for the sake of drama.
- The chapter titles are a hilarious bit of subtext, and each chapter begins with excerpts from letters written by Jane or her mother.
The plot is very much tied to and driven by the characters, and it propels you forward. I read around a third of it before bed a couple nights ago and then finished it yesterday morning. Just couldn’t stop reading.
Right now, it seems like everything being published is some kind of trilogy or series, so this is the first of one of those. Some really interesting questions were raised (Gideon? Jane’s mother? Ida? Miss Duncan?), so I’m going to be on the look out for book two.
If you don’t already know about it, Tor’s eBook club is well worth checking out and joining. Each month, you get a SFF book download (for the price of your email address, which we all know you just throw around willy-nilly all over the internet anyway) courtesy of Tor.com. This month, it’s The Black Tides of Heaven by Jy Yang, a book that has been burning a hole on my to-read list — I’ve heard basically nothing but good things.
Here’s the description from Tor:
Mokoya and Akeha, the twin children of the Protector, were sold to the Grand Monastery as infants. While Mokoya developed her strange prophetic gift, Akeha was always the one who could see the strings that moved adults to action. While Mokoya received visions of what would be, Akeha realized what could be. What’s more, they saw the sickness at the heart of their mother’s Protectorate.
A rebellion is growing. The Machinists discover new levers to move the world every day, while the Tensors fight to put them down and preserve the power of the state. Unwilling to continue as a pawn in their mother’s twisted schemes, Akeha leaves the Tensorate behind and falls in with the rebels. But every step Akeha takes towards the Machinists is a step away from Mokoya. Can Akeha find peace without shattering the bond they share with their twin?
The book is available now through Nov 16th, if you’re interested. And you should be. Because basically-free excellent SFF books.
I log my reading pretty excessively. Originally, I started with the spreadsheet and the bullet journal. But then I was also trying out Airtable for it, and I couldn’t decide if I like Airtable better for it or the spreadsheet so I started using both. So now the logging goes into my bullet journal (in the form of a list and also small notes I make to myself), an Airtable, a Google Sheet, and Goodreads.
…I’m not obsessive, you are.
Anyway, the point of this aside is not to tell you about my excessive book logging habits. It’s to tell you about the weirdest Goodreads book recommendation I’ve gotten so far.
I actually laughed (well, chortled) out loud at this:
Nothing about Nine Goblins says that I should read Game of Thrones in German. (I can only assume Die Herren von Winterfell translates to something like The Men? of Winterfell — I don’t speak German, but from context and a lifelong interest in languages, I can guess with some confidence that Das Lied von Eis und Feuer means The Song of Ice and Fire.)
I logged Nine Goblins by T. Kingfisher not too long ago. It’s an excellent little fantasy novella about a goblin squadron, an elf veterinarian, a war, and creepy magic. It has a high degree of both slapstick personality and appropriately horrific depictions of war/death. It is very T. Kingfisher slash Ursula Vernon (who is a favorite).
It is nothing like Game of Thrones. Like not even really a little bit. The two are not related. I would not go up to someone who really enjoyed Game of Thrones and was looking for book recommendations and say “Hey, you like epic fantasy that reads vaguely historical, have you tried this little novella? A unicorn gives birth in it and there’s a funny and graphic description of that process.” And I wouldn’t do it vice versa either (although in my experience, it works a little better in the latter direction).
The reason I wouldn’t cross-recommend these things is because, well, it doesn’t make any sense. Unless your recommendations are purely just, you like this one super broad category so here’s another book that fits in that category even though it doesn’t have anything else in common with the first. It’s like if you told me you liked Dune, and I told you to go read a book about deserts. They are both interesting and good and have a lot of sand, but liking one doesn’t mean you have any interest in the other.
I probably wouldn’t even find this recommendation so funny knowing the fallibility of algorithms save for the “View all books similar to Nine Goblins” at the bottom. Hm. I should click that link and see what else it thinks…
I’ve read a bunch of writing books. And if I’m going to be honest, I’m going to read a bunch more writing books. In part, it’s because there’s still a part of me that’s looking for the secret even though I know there isn’t one. (Except, write.) (But also, maybe it’s in this other book over here…) But mostly, it’s because I like to read writing books.
I like the memoir-y tomes that talk about the struggling novice writer and the eventual triumph. The ones that meditate on the inner life of writers. The ones that make me think, maybe these are my people.
I like the books that present yet another way to look at structure and plot and character and narrative. Anything to try to help me figure out my own thoughts on those things.
So. I read books on writing, and as I do, the magpie part of me likes to pull out the shiny bits from each of those books and collect them.
When I found myself furiously scribbling notes and collecting quotes for reading during the dark times, I figured it was time to just endorse this whole book: Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig.
If you’ve never read any Chuck Wendig, well, you should give him a try. He has a lot of books and a prolific blog and a hilarious Twitter feed — lots of different ways in which you can familiarize yourself with his writing. (Seriously, check out some of his Twitter exchanges with author Sam Sykes. One of them even became a horror movie.)
He has a very particular style, especially when he is talking about writing (or politics), that is equal parts hilarious, profane, and profound.
In Damn Fine Story, he breaks down the elements of a good story and tries to verbalize how to be a good storyteller. He goes through structure and character and theme, and uses a lot of Die Hard and Star Wars references to get his points across. The book is irreverent and joyful and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is, in short, very much Chuck Wendig.
In lieu of just quoting the whole thing to you, you should go grab a copy and read it for yourself. And if you know any writerly friends, it would make for a good holiday present.
Beautiful, lyrical, poetry in prose. I don’t think I’ve ever read quite a voice like this before. It’s gorgeously lush.
The Mere Wife is a modern retelling of Beowulf set in suburbia. I’m not quite sure how to categorize it — fantasy, contemporary fiction, magic realism? I’ve mostly settled on fantastical because that seems most apt. It focuses on women and the power women wield, the price of protection and love, and different kinds of monsters. It reads like two stories happening at once — the literal text read as is, and the story that the decadent prose is concealing. It’s hard to tell which one feels more true.
If you’ve read Beowulf previously, the parallels to and deviations from the text are fascinating. (I like the Seamus Heaney version though it’s been years since I’ve revisited it. It turns out Headley has a new translation forthcoming from MCD x FSG also — I might wait to revisit Beowulf until that’s out.) If you haven’t read Beowulf, that’s okay. You don’t need to in order to enjoy this book.
Some people will be turned off by the writing style — if you only like windowpane writing, this might not be for you; this text makes you work for it a little — but I urge you to give it a shot.