I’ve been reading more than this, but I haven’t been reading as much as I’d like. The last eight weeks have been…like unexpected fireworks in every direction. Including under my feet. Often beautiful, always startling. And it just keeps on going.
But when I can read, in the midst of all this, it’s grounding. I’ve found some of the following to be really fantastic.
My partner is out of town on an extended trip, through the end of February. My reaction to the loneliness: charging through my TBR pile. I’ve gotten through a lot of books in the last two weeks. Most of them I’ve really liked, too, which is heartening. We’ll see if I’ll be able to keep up this pace through the end of February…
Ok, so I didn’t actually quit. I kept my job. I just stepped down from a major responsibility that’s been draining me for the last two years. To celebrate, I took a week off – my first real vacation in too-long-to-count – and I’ve been reading. Lots! Here are some of the things I’ve read:
I’ve been reading more than Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley, but that’s what I read most recently and it has wiped pretty much everything else out of my brain. I’m always kind of – worried, I guess, is the verb – when a book has a lot of hype. And Firekeeper’s Daughter sure has hype – Boulley received a seven-figure advance, the book is not only a NYT bestseller but won both the Morris and Printz awards, and Barak and Michelle Obama’s production company bought the TV rights and is making it into a series for Netflix. I’m probably forgetting a few honors. There have been many.
So I was wary about picking this one up, despite the fact that topically it is right up my alley: crime/thriller, Indigenous heroine with explicit explorations of identity, written by an Indigenous author.
But this book cracked me wide open.
It’s good. It’s really good. It deserves all the hype it’s getting, and more.
I’ve been reading…I just haven’t been posting.
Just two books on this list. My reading has been slowed down with the turn of seasons – although again, I have actually read more than this. But I felt like these two books, one of which I loved, and one of which I had such a problem with I could not finish it, work as a single list.
- The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec. Loved this book. Just loved it. It’s a Norse myth-inspired story, and I found its prose both modern and uncannily myth-like. But most saliently for this particular list, it presents the idea of “witch” in a way that to me is both original and compelling.
- A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee – this was a DNF for me, in part (but not only – I had other issues with it too) because I found it offensive in a way peculiar to me. I feel strongly that any author who mentions the Salem witch trials (or really, any historical event) in a work of fiction, no matter how casually, has a moral obligation to be aware of the actual history of this event and to take it into account in their mentions; otherwise, they are perpetuating the belief system that led to those twenty executions (and to other lost lives as well). If you don’t know anything about the history of the Salem witch trials, this is a good summary. We Ride Upon Sticks is, in my opinion, an example of a novel about witchcraft that talks about the Salem trials and gets it right – something far too rare.
There are more – even though I have been slowed down – I just can’t think of any right now. I’ve been too busy, but also, despite the fact that I enjoyed all three of these (esp. She Who Became the Sun), I’m in a bit of a reading slump. I was surprised to stumble across the suggestion (in this post) that reading slumps are a product of the social internet! This is definitely not my experience (and I know it because I’ve experienced reading slumps before I experienced the internet, and I participate in the social internet only minimally anyway – this blog is about it, and it’s not very social), and I was initially a little offended by the suggestion.
But in thinking about it, I came to what feels like an important realization about my reading: I’m a reader, not a fan. And this makes my situation different than that of those who are both fans AND readers. Clearly, the author of the post is both. I’d argue that the kind of slump that’s produced by the internet is more properly termed a fandom slump, since (as the post author argues) it has more to do with participation in reading communities than with reading itself.
What about what *I* term a reading slump – the inability to find a book that I want to read despite longing for something new? I think that’s a separate phenomenon. So does the author of the post, in fact. For this type of slump, she suggests, “Set aside a book you haven’t read yet by an author you love.” I suspect this is a suggestion that works for fans, but it doesn’t work for me. For me each book – not each author, each *book* – is a passage into another world. It stands alone. Even books set in the same world show different slices, different moods, of that world. There are few authors whose books I will always read – I can probably count them on one hand – and I can think of no examples of authors who’ve never written a book that I’ve found problematic, no matter how much I normally love their work (see, for example, Winterkeep).
(There are authors who, having tried a few of their books, I will not read again. But that doesn’t solve the reading slump issue!)
There are a lot of readers/fans out there, and those readers do to some extent drive what’s being written and published. I don’t know if my reading slumps correspond with the abundance of books that appeal to me in their concept, but that are associated strongly with reading fandom, at any particular time, or not. Something to consider.
I’ve read more than this, actually, but what I haven’t listed is mostly re-reading. I’m recovering from last year and right now I just can’t muster the energy to list it all. Every day, a little more energy…or so I hope.
I’ve read more than this over the past few weeks, but I’m having a hard time keeping anything straight these days.
It doesn’t sound like a lot, and it is in fact not a lot. I’ve been tired, laboring under darkness both real and metaphorical. But we’ve passed the solstice now and I see a glimmer of light in the far distance…enough that I’m able to at the very least, record what I’ve been reading.
Here’s to light returning, for all of us (including those of us in the southern hemisphere, for whom the returning light will be metaphorical at this point).
I have been thinking about a post describing how I began writing again after a hiatus of fifteen years. Writing journey stories always fascinate me, no matter how prosaic, and I feel like writing my own might be useful for me as well as potentially interesting to others. I sat down and began it — but it soon became evident that the story of my writing journey is not yet ready to be told. The right words aren’t available to me yet. Someday they will be, but at the moment the topic is, as Natalie Goldberg would say, “composting.”
Instead, I will share something related: a list of writing resources. The list below contains things – mostly books, but also a set of videos – that I have found useful in writing. Some of them were useful in the past, even transformative, but more recently have been less so (although maybe they will be again sometime). Some I revisit again and again, finding something new each time; some were more useful to me years ago than they are now, but they’ve stuck with me and are part of my canon. They are not all directly about writing, and they contradict each other. Some of them, even, are internally inconsistent. But they are all resources that have helped me on my writing journey, as my driving question has changed from, why do I write? to, how do I write?
In most cases, the links for books go to my local indie, Bookworks, but the books are available elsewhere too (most of them – Second Sight is hard to find these days!).
- Writing Down the Bones and Thunder and Lightning, by Natalie Goldberg. Writing Down the Bones is a very well-known book, more than thirty years old now, which (despite my abiding love for writing books) I only discovered this past summer. Goldberg’s approach is all about writing practice; what she means by that is the topic of Writing Down the Bones, while Thunder and Lightning covers what to do with a writing practice, after you’ve established one. Goldberg has been instrumental in getting me writing again…or maybe it would be more accurate to say, in getting me to love writing again. In addition to her books, Goldberg teaches workshops, some online, one of which I attended this past June/July. If you have the opportunity to study with her, whether through her workshops or her books, I highly recommend it!
- Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury. This short collection of essays is an old favorite of mine. Although they are more personal essays than writing guide, they are filled with practical advice on how to write. And that advice is not dissimilar to Goldberg’s, although Bradbury and Goldberg are completely different writers. As someone who writes speculative fiction, I find the pairing of this volume with the two from Goldberg, above, extremely helpful.
- Steering the Craft, by Ursula Le Guin. This one is a guide; it is a finer-grained look at writing than the Goldberg and Bradbury books, being full of exercises that focus on language. A class on how to use language from Ursula Le Guin – who couldn’t use such a thing? (Probably someone, but I can sure use it!)
- Second Sight and The Magic Words, by Cheryl Klein. Klein, currently the editorial director at Lee & Low Books, self-published Second Sight, a collection of her talks and essays (out of print now, although Amazon lists some used copies) and then later went on to publish The Magic Words, a more formal writing guide, with Norton. Klein describes herself as a “narrative nerd” and these two books are my go-to guides for thinking about how to shape a narrative. Klein’s editorial specialty is children’s and young adult literature, but much of what she has to say applies to any writing – even non-fiction.
- On Writing, by Stephen King. I was not really a Stephen King reader, though his books were wildly popular among my peers (I love this interview and most particularly Victor Lavalle’s description of his early Stephen King-influenced writing; I was busy writing similar knockoffs of Mary Stewart, which didn’t resonate so well with my friends). On Writing is part memoir, part guide, and just amazingly well-written.
- Something to Declare, by Julia Alvarez. This book of autobiographical essays by Alvarez – one of “my” writers, writers who have written books that have become part of me – is more about her life (including her life as a writer) than about the mechanics of writing. It’s not a textbook, in other words. But writing and reading are the backbone of these essays, even the ones that are about Alvarez’s life as a child rather than writing per se, and I have learned much about writing from all of them.
- Brandon Sanderson’s lectures from his BYU class. Links for these can be found here https://www.brandonsanderson.com/writing-advice/; there are other versions out there too. I listened to the audio from the 2014 version fully (these seem to have been taken down at this point), and have watched only some sessions from more recent years – but as far as I can tell, the more recent classes cover the same ground.