A clarification, the what I’ve been reading – everything’s crazy edition, and a memory

The clarification

This is not a book review blog! The fact is that I am in some ways reluctant to call it a blog at all – it’s just my not-very-organized thoughts, usually but not always about what I am reading – but I don’t really know that there’s any other name for what it is. So, I can accept that it is a blog, despite my reluctance. But I most definitely don’t consider my thoughts on what I am reading reviews.

Reviewing is, in my view, a highly specialized art. A good review puts a book (or other piece of writing) in a larger context, and then evaluates how well that piece of writing does what it sets out to do within that context. If you are thinking that this definition excludes most of what appears in the “Reviews” section on Amazon, as well as most posts on Goodreads, well, you’d be right: I don’t consider the majority of such posts reviews, either. By my definition, they are opinions – sometimes insightful, sometimes less so. But they aren’t reviews.

(I don’t consider this blog a book opinion blog either, though I do occasionally offer opinions. Really, all I’m trying to do in my reading posts is document what I’ve been reading and, sometimes, analyze why I’m reacting to it as I am. In some cases I think my reaction is mostly about the book(s). In others, I think it’s mostly about me.)

I did try to write a review once. I don’t think I did a very good job; what resulted was, at best, an opinion piece. After that one try, I decided that writing reviews wasn’t what I wanted to do here, so I stopped. Instead I periodically post on what I’ve been reading. That’s really all I want to do, and since I’m not trying to monetize this or anything, it works just fine. While there are Amazon/other links to pages where you can buy books from here, these aren’t supporting me or this site in any way. A few of those links do support the American Indian Library Association (I would be doing this with all the links, but my link-provider no longer has access to information) and I think a few may support Sirens (because I grabbed those links from the Sirens Readers Challenge page).

But the purpose of this blog is to provide a record, not to make money for me or for anyone else.

And in that vein…here’s the…

What I’ve Been Reading Lately, Everything’s Crazy Edition:

A memory/request

in all this thinking about what the goals of this blog are and what I’m reading, a memory has surfaced. Years ago, I had the opportunity to read a story called Younger-Older Ones by Rina Swentzell, published as a limited edition letterpress book. The story has stuck with me, though it’s been a long time since I read it – it had interesting things to say about the tension between individuality and community, as I remember it (I might be totally wrong).

Regardless, I am trying to track down a copy. If anyone knows where I can find one, I’d be most grateful for the information! You can reach me via email (see the About page). Thanks in advance!

CHECK, PLEASE! by Nogozi Uzaku

Somehow, in my sporadic and lazy return to blogging over the past few months, I forgot to write about Check, Please! How could I have forgotten? This book/webcomic lifted me up and got me through a very difficult week earlier this summer. I can’t remember how I discovered it – maybe it was Rachel Hartman’s blog interview with author/illustrator Nogozi Uzaku – but once I began I was hooked.

Check, Please! is a comic about college hockey, growing up, and baking, among other things. The first three years of main character figure skater-turned-hockey player Eric Bittle’s years at (fictional) Samwell University are available online and in Kickstarter-funded self-published editions, but a volume with just the first and second years (plus additional content) came out in September 2018, with the third and fourth years slated to be released in Spring 2020. Uzaku has also created a ton of supporting content (that link just goes to some of it; there’s so much that it’s difficult to link to it all!) for the series, which is well worth checking out.

I came across Check, Please! back in June, during a weekend when my partner was out of town and I was having an attack of the blues. Because my library had Check, Please!: #hockey available as an ebook and it sounded like a good antidote to my mood, I downloaded it – and then spent the rest of the weekend reading, first the book I’d downloaded, then going online to catch up through the third year, then reading through all the extra content. By Sunday I had ordered all three of the self-published books, and as soon as they arrived I devoured them too. It was the kind of this-book-is-perfect-for-right-now reading experience that I hadn’t had in quite a while.

I don’t really want to say anything more about the plot of Check, Please! because part of the pleasure of this series, for me, was discovering it as I went along. It crossed my path at the perfect time, when I needed something that made me happy. The comic is not all sweetness and light, but it is consistently fun and upbeat and I highly recommend it. I’ve been giving the book as a present at pretty much every relevant gift-giving occasion since June, and everyone I’ve given it to loves it too.

Mourning the blog

Grasses
Nothing to do with what I’m writing about – just some beautiful grasses!

I miss blogs.

I don’t mean I miss writing them. I have never been much of a blogger, as anyone looking over this particular site can probably guess. No, I miss reading them. There was something fascinating about that period when it seemed like anyone and everyone had a blog. It was a window into the minds of strangers. In contrast to Instagram, which I find to be largely about surficial presentation, blogs were (are?) about content. For this reason they were harder to fake.  One can, of course, write anything down and it may or may not be true. I could write here that I have a black belt in Judo and run a business deploying snakes as pest control, and the casual reader would not be able to know if it were true or not. (In my case, even a less-casual reader might have a difficult time tracking down the truth of any particular statement I make, as Maddy is a pseudonym.)

But what can’t be faked in writing (at least I don’t think it can) is the voice. The voice is what tells the reader, there is an underlying, substantial truth here, even if the superficial is false. It’s what Pirsig, in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, called quality.

Blogs were a window into quality of so many kinds. Of course, there were lots of low-quality blogs out there, but it didn’t matter; in the freeform days of early blogging, there were so many different blogs with so many different goals out there that it was easy to find interesting, unusual, and high-quality writing within them.

I am not an internet historian and I wasn’t even really a dedicated blog reader, so I don’t know what happened with blogs – I just noticed that many of the ones I liked to read went dark, or the authors stopped posting, and that I wasn’t finding new blogs that I liked to read. Some time after I noticed this, I discovered a lot of people (online and off) commenting that blogs are dead. Presumably people have written about why blogging died, and maybe I will try to track those writings down. But as a casual reader I wonder if it was monetization that killed the blog as an art form. There are still blogs, sure, but so many of them now are just marketing devices for the blog author or composed nearly entirely of sponsored posts (i.e., marketing devices for various products).

And so they are boring.

I guess it’s funny to write about this in a blog post. I didn’t start posting on this site until well after the golden age of blogs, and I sometimes wonder why I do it. I don’t do it for the traffic (which is good, since I get so little) and, as I write here as my reader/writer self rather than my professional self, I tend to neglect it when my professional life gets busy (hence the numerous long hiatuses in posting). But I keep coming back to it…perhaps because I miss reading blogs, and if I can’t find any to read, the only way to address that is to blog myself.

What I’ve been reading lately, thinking about genre edition

I stumbled across this post by Jo Walton recently – http://www.jowaltonbooks.com/genre-pacing-a-question-from-goodreads/. I thought it was interesting at the time, as genre is something with which I sometimes struggle, but it’s grown more interesting to me in the time since, as I’ve read some books that are certainly admirable in many ways but at the same time haven’t worked for me.

Walton’s post is about pacing and how it defines genre. She gets there by way of two other widely-used definitions of genre:

  • the marketing definition, i.e., genre tells booksellers where to place books on the shelf. This is a definition I find deeply annoying on a personal level. Marketing-based definitions seem to invariably lead to fewer and fewer books that I want to read within the genre at hand. This has happened for me most notably with young adult literature: the more the marketing machine took over the definition of YA, the fewer YA books I’ve found that I’ve liked. (I have the same experience with Pandora in that the more I interact with it, the fewer songs that I like come into rotation, which is the opposite of how it is supposed to work. I have thoughts on why this is, which I may try to explore at some point in the future.)
  • the “furniture” definition, i.e., a genre is defined by the devices it uses. Walton’s examples of this include rocket ships in science fiction and couples in romances; I’d add girl-choosing-between-two-boys (technically not a love triangle, though it’s often termed such) in YA to this list.

Walton’s post goes on to discuss works that use science fiction furniture but are nonetheless ultimately literary, and thus unsatisfying to the science fiction reader. That’s not where I want to go here, although her thoughts are super-interesting and well worth reading! But thinking about her definitions of genre helped me to understand better why sometimes I, as a reader, find certain books frustrating.

One example of such a book is Searching for Sylvie Lee, by Jean Kwok. I’d never read any Kwok before picking up this book; I gather she’s a well-known writer of literary fiction (which I generally don’t read, though there are exceptions). Searching for Sylvie Lee crossed my orbit because I stumbled across a review that described it as a thriller focused on an immigrant family. I enjoy thrillers, and fiction about the immigrant experience has long been of interest to me. I read the book quickly (after a long wait on the library waitlist) – it’s exceptionally well-written, I think – but I nonetheless found it unsatisfying, especially as the mystery part of the book began to heat up. I think the reason for this is that I was looking for a thriller/mystery, but this is a book that is, at its heart, literary fiction. Searching for Sylvie Lee is all about the emotional resolution; it’s not about the puzzle, the pace, the figuring-things-out. To use Walton’s terms, the thriller furniture is scenery here – it’s not the heart of the book. Given Searching for Sylvie Lee ‘s success, this clearly isn’t a problem; the book has found its audience, even if that audience isn’t me.

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is another book that I read recently and found unsatisfying. I have seen this one billed as adult fantasy (here’s one review https://www.npr.org/2019/07/23/741222646/gods-of-jade-and-shadow-spins-a-dark-dazzling-fairy-tale) and it certainly has a fantasy plot: Mayan gods materialize and act out a duel in the real world (in this case Jazz Age Mexico). But, although the author does not see this book as YA (see https://www.goodreads.com/book/36510722-gods-of-jade-and-shadow/questions#), it seemed to me that the furniture in this book (the coming-of-age theme, the plot, the pacing) – everything except the ending (which I *did* find satisfying) – was almost entirely that of YA fantasy, not adult fantasy or SFF more broadly. My frustration with YA plot devices meant that I very nearly did not finish this book. I’m glad I did finish it (because of that ending!); but at the same time, I can’t help but (selfishly) wish that the book had been written without the YA devices. I would have enjoyed it, I think, rather than having been irritated by it. But, this is presumably just another case of me not being the audience for this book.

I have not yet seen Gods of Jade and Shadow reviewed for a genre audience; I’d be curious to see if those reviews agree with me that this book is more similar to YA than adult fantasy, or if I am on my own here. But I definitely don’t agree with the author that the only reason Gods of Jade and Shadow is classed by some as YA is that SFF written by women automatically is considered such. I think she does have a point (why Guy Gavriel Kay’s Ysabel was not considered YA is beyond me, for instance); but Gods of Jade and Shadow uses so many YA conventions, whether by accident or on purpose, that by either the “furniture” or the pacing definition I think it could fairly be considered YA. Though perhaps this is a question better left to dedicated YA readers…I am looking forward to seeing what, say, Locus has to say about it.

What I’ve been reading – it’s spring! edition

It hasn’t all been about the Sirens Reading Challenge! I’ve also been reading:

I have some thoughts on some of these…maybe at some point I’ll get around to writing them up.

Sirens 2019 Reading Challenge reading update

I’ve been relatively slow in my reading this winter; too much else going on. Here’s where I currently stand on the 2019 Sirens Reading Challenge:

Guests of Honor (two more to go)

Heroes Books – Required (category complete!)

Heroes Books – Pick Five (four to go)

Middle Grade/Young Adult Books – Pick Five (not started)

Adult – Pick Five (not started)

Previous posts on what I’ve been reading for the 2019 Sirens Reading Challenge are here, here and here. I also participated in the 2017 Sirens Reading Challenge.

Three more books

Reading a lot these days…

  • Borderline by Mishell Baker: this was a re-read (it’s on the Sirens Reading Challenge). I liked it the first time; I enjoyed it this time around too. There are now two more books in this series. I read Phantom Pains (the second in the series) a while back, but Borderline is still my favorite.
  • Damsel by Elana K. Arnold: I found this book super-original and I admired it…and at the same time it wasn’t really my kind of thing. But my feeling about it isn’t dissimilar from previous books that, upon re-reading, HAVE become my sort of thing. I’ll have to wait and see with this one.
  • Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen: this was a Sirens Reading Challenge book. This one was *really* not my kind of thing, even while I admire what the author managed to do (vampire/other creature-infested Wild West with a heroine of color). Some of my issues are straightforward – vampires and Westerns both are hard sells for me, as are books with a world with a mashup of magical creatures (sirens and chupacabras, among others, also make an appearance in this one). Some are not so easy for me to pinpoint – while I can say that the native representation in the book seemed more related to tropes in Westerns than to any real understanding, that’s just my initial reaction and I can’t pull out exactly what bugged me. It just made me uncomfortable. I did look for a review of this book on Debbie Reese’s blog, but she apparently hasn’t received a copy.

2019 Sirens Reading Challenge

And it’s off! With this post I begin my reading log for the 2019 Sirens Reading Challenge. I finished my first book in the “Guest of Honor” section today: Aru Shah and the End of Time. This is a fun, fast-paced middle grade fantasy. It was a little on the fast-paced, wacky end for me, but even so I enjoyed it; and I think many readers in the target age range would love it. Which, given that it deals with complex aspects of a mythological system not tremendously well-known in much of the US, is pretty darn impressive (for instance, one of the terms defined in the course of the book is dharma – not really typical middle grade fare). I read author Roshani Chokshi‘s YA The Star-Touched Queen a while back, and enjoyed that one too.

I also recently re-read K Arsenault Rivera’s The Tiger’s Daughter, which is in the “Heroes Books: Required” section this year. This was an interesting one for me. When I first read it I had two reactions: first, that this book is really not my kind of thing (it features,for instance, some extremely gory demon stuff, the sort that I generally avoid); and, simultaneously, the writing, the worldbuilding, truthfully the whole book SERIOUSLY blew me away. I put it down in a kind of despair, my writer brain thinking, how did she do that???? 

I had those same two reactions on the second read; if anything, they were magnified. This book is beautiful.

I’m not sure what my next Sirens Reading Challenge book will be – I have a few from which to choose – but I will keep logging here as I read.

A few thoughts on pseudonymity and updates on reading and writing

I have a couple of longer posts brewing right now, but they are going to take a while to finish. They involve some big ideas, and writing (and thinking!) about big ideas takes time and space. But I wanted to link to this thread now, because these big ideas are related in an indirect way to pseudonymity, and @nycsouthpaw‘s posts on why he chose to use a pseudonym touch on some thoughts I’ve been having. (Another source that I think has interesting things to say on this topic is You Are Not a Gadget, though the world is a little different now than it was when that book was published.)

Maddy McBride is, in fact, a pseudonym. My reasons for using a pseudonym are somewhat similar to @nycsouthpaw’s, but unlike him, I’m not at a point where being pseudonymous is impacting my ability to do what this pseudonym was set out to do. I use a pseudonym to talk about a part of my life (reading and writing) that’s separate from my professional life, without worrying that what I post might impact my ability to do my day job.

But the dividing line between my professional life and my life as a reader and writer of fiction isn’t always so clear, and that’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

Enough of that. Updates on reading: since I posted here last, I’ve read The Book of Hidden Things by Francesco Dimitri (enjoyed it greatly up until the end – I’ll probably write about this at greater length at some point); Pacifica by Kristen Simmons; Raven Strategem by Yoon Ha Lee; and The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book by Emily and Melissa Elsen (highly recommended for pie technique – specific recipes may or may not be to your taste, but they do a great job of explaining how not just to make a pie, but to create a new recipe). Currently reading, among others, The Death of Expertise.

In other news, I AM FINALLY WRITING AGAIN!!!! (Definitely deserves a few exclamation marks.) Or really, revising. The particular manuscript I am working on is in need of a lot of work, and I’ve had a horrible time making myself get to it – I have so many other writing projects and it’s been easy to put this off. It’s a novel (so it’s big); it will probably never be published, unlike other stuff on my plate; and I have been working on it, on and off, for SO LONG.

But I’d like to finish it, and so I committed to really working on it, at least one hour a day, for the rest of this month.

The first few days were terrible…

But after a few days, things did turn around. It’s funny how revising is a little like kneading bread: at first the words are stiff and resistant, but with some consistent effort usually they’ll become supple and malleable. Fingers crossed that this good stretch of revising continues!

Categories, publishing, and writing: some questions

I was in a Barnes & Noble yesterday, for the first time in probably eight years (while I love brick-and-mortar bookstores, I vastly prefer smaller independent bookstores – here in New Mexico three of my favorites are Bookworks, Page One, and Collected Works. I don’t see a lot of difference between Barnes & Noble and Amazon, to be honest, though I know there are lots of people who would argue with me on that). There are a lot more bookshelf labels – marketing categories, essentially – than there used to be. It didn’t make it any easier for me to find what I wanted to read, though, which I assume is the point of these labels. It just subdivided books into smaller and smaller categories, when what I was looking for was simply a good book.

My dislike of these categories may be related to why I like smaller independent bookstores: in my experience these have fewer sections and, even better, more themed displays and recommendations for particular books from staff members. These last two are easy ways for me to find books I like, whereas marketing categories just tell me whom the publisher (and/or the author) wants to target.

I know that marketing is key in book acquisition by publishers; publishing is, when it comes down to it, a business, so this makes sense (here are some articles on the acquisition process that I’ve found edifying: http://www.underdown.org/acquisition-process.htm; http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/business-legal-matters/publishing-101-what-you-need-to-know; https://diymfa.com/writing/qa-acquisitions-process; https://www.janefriedman.com/book-pl/).

So I get this. And I’ll take on faith that these categories, at least in the short term, are helping publishers make more money (or at least, have more stable/predictable profit). But do these categories lead to more good books? It seems to me just as likely that being a slave to the marketing categories (and I am not arguing that publishers are – I don’t know enough to say that) would lead to more predictability but more mediocre books…because fantastic books are by their nature going to be risky.

Obviously, getting books to the right audience does require some kind of categorization. I’m just not sure that the super-specific categories seen in places like Barnes & Noble and in Amazon’s organization scheme are serving good writing. This is related to the “Are Algorithms Making Us Dumb” debate – here’s one article that discusses this, but there are many.

I’d love to hear thoughts on this – it’s not a topic I’m very knowledgeable about, as I am sure is clear!

NINEFOX GAMBIT and other current reads

I finally read Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit, after a year of it popping up in recommendations (both personal and algorithm-based). A quick online search will tell you that this space opera is one of the few works to have been nominated for all three of the Nebula, the Hugo, and the Clarke awards (it eventually won the 2016 Locus award). I’m not super-familiar with the space opera genre – I don’t read a lot of them, but there are a few I love (ahem Ancillary Justice) and I’m generally willing to give well-reviewed ones a try. When authors get too fancy/obscure with the future technology, though, they tend to lose me – there are probably more space operas on my DNF tally than anything else (well, of genres that I do in fact read, at any rate).

Ninefox Gambit was interesting, both in general and for me personally as a reader. It’s not likely to wind up on my shelf of personal favorites, but I enjoyed it despite the fact that it did involve a lot of obscure future tech – somehow I was able to skim right through all of that and enjoy the story. I was also able to overlook (and in fact I didn’t really even particularly think about, not until I went to Yoon Ha Lee‘s webpage to see what else he has published and found a link to a what-faction-are-you quiz) the fact that the world of Ninefox Gambit contains personality/aptitude-based factions, a plot characteristic that generally triggers an immediate DNF for me (it doesn’t necessarily bother me in the right context – the houses at Hogwarts, for instance, are fine – it’s only when it’s used as the basis for larger social organization that it bugs me so much). The last SF containing this particular trope that I actually completed was Divergent, which I hated with an intense passion. (Someday I will write about why I have such a problem with Divergent, but not right now.)

I think part of the reason Ninefox Gambit didn’t trigger my DNF instinct despite these two issues is that Lee doesn’t over-explain. Because of this, observing its world was kind of like watching an ant farm – I didn’t always know what was going on, but I could accept, watch, and enjoy.

The other part, equally if not more important, is that Lee’s writing, from a technical standpoint, is fantastic. I’m not sure that I’ll pick up the two sequels to Ninefox Gambit, but I will definitely search out his short stories.

In other reading news, I just gave up on Age of Assassins by RJ Barker (this also came highly recommended – but the first two chapters suggested it’s not my style, and there are a lot of other things I actively want to read right now) ; next up is either Pacifica or The Book of Hidden Things. I’m going to try to keep writing about my reading here too, so stay tuned.

What I’ve been reading, long-delayed edition

In no particular order. There are some notable exceptions on this list, but mostly I’ve been feeling meh about what I’ve been reading lately…another reading slump maybe?

And with my 4-year-old niece:

Back online

…we’ll see for how long.

This past week’s reading:

  • An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard: I really enjoyed this. Engaging, excellently written, a good curl-up-under-the-blankets read.
  • The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy: This was a DNF for me (setting issues – this was supposed to be early 1940s New England but I just didn’t buy it – but also see previous posts on YA.).
  • The Found and the Lost by Ursula Le Guin: she was the master. And though I didn’t used to be a big novella reader, the benefit of a volume like this is that I can pick it up, read one, put it down, and come back to it later – something I find difficult to do with novels. I’ve been doing the same with The Unreal and the Real for the past six months or so (short stories rather than novellas, but also fantastic).

I haven’t decided if I’m going to try for the Sirens Reading Challenge this year; it’s getting kind of late in the year. But I haven’t been reading much for fun (part of why I haven’t been posting) so it might be good

Autumn

It is still August and the calendar tells me there’s another month or so left of summer. But even here in central New Mexico, where summer weather may persist into the first weeks of October, lived experience reveals the “technically” aspect of calendric facts. No matter what the calendar says, autumn is here. I can see it in the tomatoes heavy on the vine; I can smell it in the late summer wildflowers.

I love autumn but the older I get the more bittersweet it is. Some of this is because I’ve grown into a gardener, and watching the garden die each year saddens me. Some is increasing awareness of my own mortality. But there is sweet that comes with this bitter: the seeds of next year’s garden, the appreciation of my own life.

So too in my reading and writing. With summer’s end I have less time for reading. But I woke this morning re-energized about a ms. which has been languishing for some time. Perhaps the sweet of this autumn, for me, will be in the writing…

My first-ever negative review (I think): FLY ME

I’ve just been reading Fly Me, which among other topics touches on women’s roles in the early 1970s. The story of a flight attendant (“stew”) living in Sela del Mar California in 1972 who gets caught up in drug smuggling and hijacking, this book has gotten some good press (it was one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Summer Reads this year) and I thought it sounded interesting.

I hated it.

I hated it for a number of reasons. Many of them fall into the “this one was not for me” category, but the biggest one has to do with authenticity of voice. I found Suzy (the protagonist) completely unbelievable.

One of the themes of Fly Me has to do with Suzy wanting to be in the driver’s seat – to take charge of her own existence. Anecdotes about Suzy’s time at Vassar, particularly her last semester (taken at Yale in the spring of 1972), are a strand of this larger storyline.

Vassar went co-ed in 1969, during what would have been Suzy’s sophomore year. This fact is, so far as I can tell, never once mentioned in Fly Me. I hated this book so much that I might have missed something in my rage, but if this particular point, given the overall story, was made at all it was made in passing, which makes NO sense given that it was this decision that allowed Vassar students to complete their degrees elsewhere…and given that there would have been men enrolled at Vassar for 3 out of the 4 years Suzy spent there.

There *is* space devoted to Suzy’s rationale for spending her last semester at Yale (although it also gets things wrong; to casually call Yale Vassar’s “brother school” given the issues that followed the Vassar-Yale study of 1967 seems nuts to me; and I don’t think Yale was one of the 12 colleges that were involved in the formal transfer program Vassar set up, but I could be wrong). Even giving the author the benefit of the doubt here, Suzy’s ability to go to Yale for a final semester would have rested on the decision of Vassar to go co-ed, so it’s odd that this is never mentioned.

This might seem like the kind of nit-picky detail that only someone who happens to know the history of coeducation at Vassar would be bothered by, but the coeducation debate at Vassar (and by extension at the other Seven Sisters) is an awfully big fact to leave unsaid – it was as much a part of the 60s and early 70s landscape as were all the other little historical “cameos” in Fly Me, and it would have been much more so for a student who attended Vassar and chose to finish at Yale. All single-sex colleges of the time were grappling with their futures. The idea that a Vassar student would go to Yale for a final semester in 1972 without any reference to these issues (beyond a passing “oh, if I’d entered college in ’69 instead of ’68 I could have gone to Yale!”) stretches credulity past the breaking point.

This exclusion is even more critical given Suzy’s failures while at Yale. These failures cause her to believe she can’t “cut it with the very best anywhere, even at a place with boys.” It thus sets up the idea that Vassar, and women’s colleges more generally, are inferior to Yale, and by extension men’s/coed colleges. I don’t think this is necessarily inauthentic – some people did (and some still do) think that way – but to put such an idea into the book without exploring it further is problematic to me.

The misrepresentation of this particular period of Vassar’s history is presumably an accident; I’m guessing the author just didn’t do the research (based on this interview, it seems he himself thinks no smart woman going to college in 1968 would ever have chosen Vassar over Yale if she’d had the opportunity to choose Yale, so I’m guessing he doesn’t know much about Vassar beyond the stereotypes from the earlier 1960s). But it is one example of many of how I found Suzy’s story to sound not like that of a young woman in 1972, but like that of a young woman in 1972 as imagined by a young man in 2017.

Updated to add: I found this review from LA Review of Books, and while the reviewer appreciated Fly Me much more than I did, she agrees with me about Suzy’s unbelievability and (to a lesser extent) about the book’s prose, which I didn’t mention here but I also found problematic.

I have yet to find a review that points out the misrepresentation of Vassar in 1972 though…please let me know if you do find one, or if you find evidence that I missed something in the book itself!

What I’ve been reading, July 2017 travel edition

I had planned to write extensive reviews of the various things I’ve been reading, but the fact is that I’m not great at writing extensive reviews. At least not on demand, and not while traveling, especially not while traveling for work. So instead, here’s what I’ve been reading with a few short thoughts.

Acquired at ALA:

  • Disappeared by Francisco X. Stork. This is a bit of a departure from Stork’s previous work, as it’s a thriller (though still written for the young adult market). At the same time all the elements that I love about his writing – a fundamental kindness towards humanity, the struggle with the “real world,” an underlying attention to issues of spirituality – are in it. I’m not objective about Stork’s work as (like Cashore) he’s one of my favorite authors, but I thought this was a fantastic read (and possibly one of my favorites of his). It’s due out in September 2017.
  • Leona: the Die is Cast by Jenny Rogneby. Swedish thriller (the Swedish version was published a few years ago; the version I got is the English translation, the paperback of which is due out on August 1, 2017). This one wasn’t for me.
  • Murder in Saint-Germain by Cara Black. Mystery, part of a series about Parisian PI Aimée Leduc. Again, not for me.
  • White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht. This is the story of a young Korean woman kidnapped and forced to work as a Japanese “comfort woman” during World War II. I read it while sitting at a cafe waiting for my short-term apartment to become available and cried myself into a pulp – and this despite some unbelievable elements. Maybe not the best choice for reading in public, but definitely moving! It’s due out in January 2018.
  • Minik: the New York Eskimo by Kenn Harper. This biography of Minik, one of six Polar Inuit brought to New York by Robert Peary, is another heartbreaker. Minik was seven when he arrived in New York, and four of his traveling companions (including his father) died within months of their arrival. The fifth returned to Greenland, but Minik remained in New York. While I’ve long known the story of the Inuit group in New York (it’s one of the more shameful chapters in American anthropological history), Mink’s story after that first year was new to me. The back cover copy reads “…Minik never surrendered the home of going ‘home,’ never stopped fighting for the dignity of his father’s memory, and never gave up his belief that people would come to his aid if only he could get them to understand” and this is a fair summary of the book, I think. The are passages from Minik’s own writings included in the biography, and these I found especially compelling. This revised and updated edition of Give Me My Father’s Body is due out in September 2017.

Other:

  • Want by Cindy Pon. This is another author about whom I’m not objective, and it’s also a departure from her previous work. Want is young adult science fiction, set in a near-future Taiwan, rather than fantasy. It has an interesting combination of political, heist, and romance elements, making for a fun and page-turning read. Others agree with me: Want has been recommended in the LA Times and the New York Times. Out now.
  • The Waking Land by Callie Bates. I have to admit I picked up this beautiful adult fantasy because I liked the cover so much…but I’m glad I did. The magic in this book is what really drew me in, but there are many other things to like: heroine fighting against the odds, interesting world, etc. Out now.
  • Fire by Kristin Cashore. A re-read of an old favorite.

JANE, UNLIMITED

Every once in a while I read something new and realize, “this is one of my authors.” And I will then track down everything that person has ever written, and (if they are alive) will wait eagerly for their next book. I don’t, of course, enjoy all books by these authors equally, but I always like to read them; even when an individual book doesn’t work for me, because of my relationship with that author’s writing I will read anything the author publishes, usually more than once.

Readers of this blog will already know: Kristin Cashore is one of these authors for me. I truly enjoy her writing, whether it’s a book or her blog. Her new book Jane, Unlimited will be released this fall, and I was lucky enough to get a (signed!) copy at ALA last week. Naturally it was on the top of my ALA pile.

I won’t spoil anything by saying that this book is very, very different from Cashore’s other three books – but at the same time, I can see connections. Imagine a mashup of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, Run Lola Run, and Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler; add in a dash of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca; and write it explicitly for 21st century young adults and in Cashore’s inimitable style, and you’ll be there.

So yeah, it was a little weird. I liked it; it was both fun and interesting. I maybe wished for a little more tying-together of the various plots in some way, but I’ll see if that feeling persists on a re-read. I did gather (from the book’s acknowledgements) that Jane, Unlimited was, in original drafts, an actual choose-your-own adventure, written in second person and with various decision points.  So maybe the lack of integration is deliberate. I also felt like the house, though definitely a character (more in some plots than others) was not as fully realized as it might have been, but again that might just be a first-read impression….

Whatever else one might say, though, Jane, Unlimited is both different and daring. I also found it fun. Definitely, I’ll be re-reading it.

Next up: Disappeared by Francisco X. Stork

The ALA 2017 exhibits experience and THE GLASS SENTENCE

Every few years, I get to attend the American Libraries Association (ALA) conference, courtesy of my partner (who is a librarian). I tag along to whatever cool location in which the meeting is being held and get an exhibits-only pass. Why bother getting a pass? One simple reason: ALA exhibits are *awesome*.

They have robots. Author talks. Publisher displays, from publishers large and small, with recently published and forthcoming books. Sometimes they give some of those books away. In fact for me the most difficult aspect of going to ALA exhibits, aside from the general overstimulating nature of it all, is not picking up too many books.

The ALA 2017 exhibits hall (at the end of the conference – the exhibits are in the process of being deconstructed by a crane in this picture!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(There are lots of other things in the ALA exhibits as well as books and book-related booths, like displays on library automation software and databases. I like those too.)

This year ALA was in Chicago. Not only did I wind up with a number of exciting-looking books (most of which I knew nothing about prior to the conference)…

I watched a cooking demo by Joshua McFadden

I didn’t get a picture of the demo, unfortunately, so here’s a picture of his new book, SIX SEASONS.

I got an advance copy of Jane Unlimited by Kristin Cashore

Waiting in line for Kristin Cashore's JANE UNLIMITED
Waiting in line for Kristin Cashore’s JANE UNLIMITED

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and I met up with the fantastic Cindy Pon!

Cindy Pon signing copies of WANT
Here is Cindy signing copies of her new book, WANT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To top that all off I spent some time exploring Chicago, including eating pierogis at Tryzub, a Ukranian restaurant; experiencing the Purple Pig; and exploring Read It & Eat, a cookbook-focused bookstore.

Yes, I spent all my time reading, eating, and talking with other people about reading and eating. And if that doesn’t sound totally worth the price of admission to you, well, probably you don’t read this blog.

(I did also attend the Chicago – Orlando MLS game, but I ate and drank while there so technically this is in the “eating” category. I didn’t read at the game, but it was still super-fun.)

In the midst of all this activity I also finished The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove, a book I’ve been meaning to read since it came out. I definitely enjoyed it – it has great world-building and does interesting things with the concept of time. As this review points out it’s in the tradition of Philip Pullman‘s His Dark Materials trilogy, but (maybe because of the American setting) to me it had a very different feel. I’m still mulling over my reaction beyond “I liked it,” though. I suspect I won’t really know until I’ve read the other two in the series.

However, those other two books will have to wait, much as I enjoyed The Glass Sentence. My reading for the next few weeks will focus on the Advance Reader Copies/other books I picked up at ALA, so stay tuned for some thoughts on those!