starfishstar: (books)

So first of all, we’re halfway through 2017 and I’m currently reading my 59th book of the year. I feel like I’ve been reading less this year than last, but so far apparently I’ve read more?? (I’m not done with it yet, so I can’t count it for this quarter, but book number 59 is On the Move: A Life, Oliver Sacks’ memoir, and it’s delightful!)


Second: it’s time for this quarter’s book post!


It rarely happens that I’m able to pick just one clear favorite, because I like so many books, but this time I’ve got one:





Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

            This book floored me. For the beautiful, subtle prose that fairly slips by – I’d read half the book almost before I’d realized it. For the deep, emotional place it hit me – I want to call it an allegory for the current real-world refugee crisis, because it is, but to say that also sells it so very short. If I call it that, you might think it’s overtly political (it’s not; it’s a love story, among many other things). You might thing it’s a sad, tough, weary tale of people in abject poverty, people very different from us, “other” people that those of us who are Western-first-world readers will sympathize with but maybe also struggle to relate to, but it’s not that at all – and that’s just one of many things I found so brilliant about the book. It’s a story of two young urbanites, going about life with their smartphones and their jobs and all, until their city gets overtaken by war. Like anyone’s city might get overtaken by war. It hit me so emotionally in part because – though the protagonists’ homeland is carefully never specified – I couldn’t help thinking of a Syrian friend of mine who was in Berlin as a highly qualified student…until circumstances back home changed and all of a sudden he was in Berlin as a refugee. That can happen to anyone. This is not about Muslims or third world countries or however else it’s easy to “other” refugees. It’s about people, trying to get on with the daily business of being people to each other. But I’m still selling this wrong, because it’s not a book about war. It’s a magical realism book (a bit). It’s a slightly-sci-fi book set in a near-future world, with a surprisingly optimistic view of humanity offering up both the worst and the best of itself. It’s stunningly encompassing, for a slim little book of little over 200 pages, and yet very specific, a story of two people trying to hold their love together against the odds, and it walks that balance incredibly well. Mohsin Hamid IS BRILLIANT in other words.








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Ahhhh, new favorite bookish/writerish thing to recommend: the blog Disability in Kidlit.

I stumbled on it last night through one of those chains of things that lead to other things, and have been reading their book reviews ever since. So good! Want to know if that book about an autistic character actually reads authentically as being from the internal perspective of an autistic character, rather than a neurotypical author's not-quite-getting-it-right attempt? Yeah, check out the reviews by these folks!

They also write posts that I found fascinating as a writer, on everything from what they term "autism voice" (again, what neurotypical people think autistic people think like) to in-depth thoughts on the many possibilities and complexities of how to represent sign language in writing.

Plus, OMG, after reading their review I now need to read the new book Queens of Geek (two best friends at a fan con; one is a bi woman of color, one is autistic and has anxiety; it's feminist and a romance and a geek friendship story and sounds beyond charming) even more than I already thought I did!

(Speaking of books I must read, I handed Becky Albertalli's new book The Upside of Unrequited to one of my most wonderful students yesterday, but when she's done with it...)

starfishstar: (books)
I just had cause to look up the original publication date for the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, and discovered that it was June 26, 1997. Yes, Harry Potter – the book, the series, the phenomenon, the life – is going to be twenty years old next month.

Fandom, I hope we're going to celebrate??

(And not only that, but we can do a double anniversary celebration, because also Deathly Hallows will be ten years old this summer, since it was published in July 2007 – which I'll never forget, because [personal profile] rabbitica was traveling with me in Europe that summer, endlessly debating whether she should buy the book in Europe and read it on the plane back or wait until she got back to the US; which meant neither of us had read the book yet while we were traveling, and we were in a hostel in Istanbul and had to run out of the room when anyone started talking about Deathly Hallows spoilers... She did buy the book and read it on the plane all in the one sitting; I waited until I'd moved to Berlin and borrowed it from my roommate's friend and read it in my little room with the sloping attic ceiling. I'm actually surprised that was only ten years ago. It feels like another life. Whereas HP#1 being twenty whopping years ago...that makes me feel old!)

Also, whenever I think of that full title, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, I have to go listen to Van Morrison's song "Philosopher's Stone."

Even my best friends, even my best friends they don't know
That my job is turning lead into gold...

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Time to talk about this quarter in books! I read 31 of ‘em over the past 3 months, which I guess has become a fairly standard average for me. Ha ha ha ha let’s see if I can actually narrow that down to only a few favorites…

Later, after going through my list of what I read: Nope, I’m terrible at narrowing; once again it’s going to be a long list of books I love!


The Color Purple by Alice Walker
     This book starts out deceptively simple and gets richer and richer and richer. It unfolds from the painful, tight, short single-page first chapters of childhood abuse and degradation to a beautiful story of a woman who's found herself and built a found family around her. My pitiful words aren't doing this justice. Can anyone tell me if all of Alice Walker's books are this brilliant?

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
How did I not know about prolific writer Seanan McGuire? This slim book pulls off not just one but many worlds' worth of world-building, because it's set at a boarding school for children who've tumbled into other fairytale worlds...and then accidentally fell back into our world again. So good. Also, bonus asexual character representation, and trans character representation, all presented totally matter-of-factly as "this is who I am, why would it be an issue?"

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Dawwww this book is so charming! I just want to cuddle it! (I literally sometimes have to pick it back up and cradle it to my chest and grin about how much I love it.) Not-yet-out gay high school student Simon might be falling for his secret penpal, Blue. Blue is someone who goes to Simon's school, but Simon doesn't know who. Their online friendship is perfect, so do they risk ruining everything by telling each other who they are in real life? (Becky Albertalli was a school psychologist before she became an author and it shows. Here is a YA writer who knows teenagers.)

the “Hereville” graphic novels by Barry Deutsch (How Mirka Got Her Sword, How Mirka Met a Meteorite, and How Mirka Caught a Fish)
    My colleague's two kids were kind enough to loan me this series about the adventures of, as the tagline says, "just another troll-fighting Orthodox Jewish girl." Mirka is stubborn, brave, sometimes a brat, always awesome, as she fights trolls and shapeshifter meteorites and dangerous magical fish. The books also present a loving, detailed picture of Orthodox Jewish family life, while still allowing Mirka to push against her culture's double standards for girls.

Forgive Me if I’ve Told You This Before by Karelia Stetz-Waters
     I read this on the recommendation of one of my students, which always makes me really happy. A beautifully written coming of age novel about a girl in rural Oregon growing into herself and her identity as a lesbian. Feels very different from the usual YA fare both for the poetic language, and because it's clearly drawn from the author's own experiences and is set in the early 90s, rather than now.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
    This book had me laughing out loud. Helplessly. A book that promises to be the opposite of all those "inspirational story about a kid whose friend gets cancer and they all learn a life lesson" type books, and delivers on that promise, and yet sneakily makes you feel stuff, too. All while yelping with laughter.

don't stop there – here are even more books! )

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First: You know that weird new(ish) feature LJ has, where you can "like" a post? Just a heads-up, if any of you like a post of mine...I can't actually see it.

I was baffled about this for a while: I would get a notification saying "Someone likes your entry!" (yes, isn't that annoyingly vague, that it doesn't even tell you who, just "someone"?) but then I would go to the post in question, and there was no sign of any liking there. (Whereas if someone likes a post of mine at a comm, rather than my own journal, that does show up.) Weird!

Eventually, I did some poking around and figured out this is because I don't have the latest LJ upgrade or new interface, or whatever it was... And apparently one side of that is that the new "likes" don't show up for me at all.

So y'all are welcome to like posts if you want, but it's just kind of going out into the ether, unfortunately... I get a mysterious "someone likes your entry" message, but I'll never know who!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This Harry-Potter-verse, even-more-feminist Snow Queen retelling I'm working on is still a total blast! I've now written to just before the big final denouement ...which is set on Svalbard, so I get to look at lots of pictures of far-northern landscapes in the name of research. Ooooh. (Latest new favorite thing: Rossøya, the furthest north little island of the Svalbard archipelago, at 80°N latitude, a thousand kilometers from mainland Norway, where it juts up out of the ocean with stern, quiet dignity. Ohhhh Svalbard. I wonder if I will ever get to Svalbard, someday?)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

My reading is still kind of out of control (there are so many books I want to I keep this long list of them...and I then get compulsive about tackling the list... and now I've somehow landed myself in THREE book clubs??) I keep catching myself thinking it must be almost time to do my quarterly round-up, because I've already read so much, but it's still only February...

I can definitely tell you that the Mirka graphic novels are indeed awesome ("Just another troll-fighting Orthodox Jewish girl!"), and Nimona is indeed awesome (my colleague's been telling me to read that forever!), and I've been catching up on some of the excellent LGBT+ YA books in our library that I've been meaning to read (including Forgive Me If I've Told You This Before, which I read on the recommendation of one of my students, and Skim, which I read on the recommendation of one of my colleagues.)

I'm dying to get my hands on The Last of August (sequel to the modern-day-young-Holmes-and-Watson A Study in Charlotte I loved so much last year), so while I'm waiting, I read yet another modern-day-young-Holmes-and-Watson reboot: The Great Shelby Holmes, which was pretty darn adorable. (They're young kids in this one, so it's Watson's mom who's an army doctor, and 9-year-old Shelby Holmes takes on neighborhood cases like...dognappings.)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Right now I'm wrapping up in a café where I was having a hang-out-and-work afternoon with a friend (working on her writing project), her boyfriend (doing his grad school reading) and me (reading-and-feedbacking a friend's play script). The friend who was here today is also the one who's beta reading my Snow Queen story, so she read a chapter I'd asked for feedback on and discussed it right here with me, in real time. In person. Haven't gotten to do that (writing feedback, in person!) in an age. Also, having local friends who want to sit and write together is the besssst. I missed this.
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As mentioned....I read 107 books in the calendar year that just ended. Let's do a little nerding out about them!


~ . ~ . ~

Also, my colleague at the library came across Book Riot's "read harder" challenge and pointed it out to me (because I need more reasons to read more, right?) This is actually meant to be next year's challenge (and you're meant to set out to deliberately read a book for each category, not just see afterwards if you happened to hit all of them by chance). But I was curious how the reading I'd already done in 2016 would measure up, so I started looking at the 24 categories...and ended up kinda accidentally writing out my extensive "answers" for each category. So here are my 2016 "read harder" results. Pretty fun, and a neat way to expand one's reading in lots of different ways.

the "read harder" challenge! )

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I’ll be back at some point soon to do my whole-year reflection about my whoooole year’s reading, but first, this quarter’s top books!

Sheesh, I guess I read 33 books this quarter? A couple years ago, that probably would have been my total for a whole year.

And, huh, I’m having trouble picking one or two favorites, like I would usually do. This quarter I read a lot of books, and liked a lot of them, but nothing’s jumping out as an obvious far-and-away favorite. So instead I’ll list quite a few that I liked and recommend!

booooooooks )
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I just read my 100th book of this year – finished it last night, in fact.

Once again, lately I've been reading 2 or 3 or 4 books simultaneously (one at at on audiobook...sometimes more just because?) so even after I finished book #99, it wasn't necessarily clear which would be the book I finished next, thus making it officially #100.

And then I decided, you know what, I wanted #100 to actually be something a bit special – something I chose for myself, not just whatever I arbitrarily happened to be reading at the time. So I picked something off my want-to-read list specifically for the occasion that would be a fun, quick read, but also feel right for the occasion. Thus book #100 was:

"The Murder of Roger Ackroyd" by Agatha Christie.

It felt fitting as a classic, and a classically cleverly written book. Back when I read "And Then There Were None" for the [ profile] online_bookclub, I also read "Murder on the Orient Express" – both of them excellent examples of Christie's virtuosity with the whodunit structure, in very different ways – and my librarian colleague told me I really had to read "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd" as well, that it was the best of the best when it came to Christie's clever twists. So now seemed like the time to pluck it from the "want to read list" and have a little classic Agatha Christie jaunt for my 100th book of the year.

When I got to work this morning and told my colleague I'd read 100 books this year, he didn't react all that much... Apparently, it took him all day to process that fact, because near the end of the day he looked at me and said, "Wait, you've read a hundred books this year?"
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"Fiction is like a spider's web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners."

–Virginia Woolf

Reading "A Room of One's Own" right now (another of those "how I have not read this book yet, I must rectify this situation" books) and just came across that gem.

I'm finding "A Room of One's Own" surprisingly charming, surprisingly modern and accessible, and also the descriptions of a woman trying to find any semblance of a scrap of equal footing in an Oxbridge setting in the first decades of the twentieth century make me want to reread Dorothy L. Sayers' "Gaudy Night" posthaste.

(This is one of three books I'm reading simultaneously, as usual, in my nonexistant free time, I'm not even sure how I'm pulling this off...)
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It's definitely been frustrating to see so many cool things slipping by over here in fandom land, and barely having time to glance at them as they whiz past, let alone even think of participating!

Holmestice sign-up season came and I was so tempted, but I couldn't see how I would possibly have the time. The Remus/Sirius Games are now posting, and it's all I can do to skim the entries and maybe bookmark one or two for sometime later. I'm not participating this year, not even a pinch-hitter.

And Yuletide! I did consider trying to learn the ropes and do Yuletide (back before my time – or lack thereof – went completely nuts) because, how cool. It's a fest for small fandoms, and people can nominate any fandom as long as it's below a certain number-of-existing-fanworks limit, which means you get stuff like:

–Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries (surprised that made the cut-off, actually)
–Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
–the Lord Peter Wimsey books
–the Cadfael Chronicles by Ellis Peters (that series about the medieval mystery-solving Welsh monk)
–that book On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta that I liked so much recently
–or even Norse mythology!
–...or John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme! (writing about the actors and not the characters, I assume, given that it's a sketch show and the characters are different each time?)

Then there are really, really small fandoms included, like for specific board games or TV commercials or blogs. Or fandoms that consist of anthropomorphizing cities, or wines, or varieties of cheese. What? But cool.

But... No time.

...and why is that...? )
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I didn't read quite as much this quarter because I was traveling, but apparently I still have plenty to say... Believe it or not, this is still only a portion of what I read:


I’m gonna go for “extremely eclectic combinations” once again, and name these two as my favorite books I read this quarter:

Beloved by Toni Morrison
  This is an incredible portrayal of the real, human devastation of living through slavery, and Toni Morrison’s writing is amazing, weaving so many elements together even while making the whole thing seem effortless. She’s not a legend for nothing! I’ve read/watched/learned a fair bit about slavery over the years, but I honestly think nothing has ever brought home the raw, personal trauma of it like this book did. I’m in awe of Morrison now.

On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
    I think I’m developing a minor obsession with Australian YA literature, purely on the strength of Melina Marchetta. This book is so strange, almost surreal, especially in the first half where nothing’s particularly clear. (The kids at the school are having a mock war with their rivals? Or an actual war? Wait, what’s going on?) But every single detail, down to seeming throwaway bits like the cat or the Kenny Rogers song, turns out to connect to the overarching plot. Masterfully done. Plus, the characters are wonderful! I can’t remember the last time I so desperately wished I could stay inside the world of a book, that it could go on and on and never end.

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Hey, so, a mention of real-life stuff seems far overdue!

Since I now work in a school, I have the immense benefit of having the entire summer off. This is especially good, because when I moved away from Berlin last year (after living in Germany for almost a decade), I left with the clear understanding that a life in which I would never get to come back to this place that's so much a part of me – well, that would really not be okay.

So for this summer, at least, I get to live the dream! A whole month in Berlin, seeing old friends and being part of daily life here. A bit of traveling around, too – primarily to Belgium, where I got to meet [ profile] indybaggins in person!! If you know her online, then all I can say is that she's just as awesome in person as online! Really, it was so cool to meet and talk to her. Definitely hope to meet again. :-)

Next – just two days from now – to the other part of my dream summer plan: to Iceland for a language course + a music festival, a particular combination I've been dreaming about for two years now... Yes, an Icelandic language course. Yes, I know only a few hundred thousand people speak it. Doesn't matter, I still want to give it my best shot!

Then in September, back to work where I get to hang out with kids and books. Put that way, it's really not a bad life, is it?

Meanwhile, of course I'm always reading and watching and etc. A hodgepodge of books and fandom things under the cut...

books and fandom and TPLOSH oh my )
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Hi from Berlin!  ....or actually, at the moment, from Ghent, Belgium.

(I'm based in Berlin for a month, on a long visit just hanging out and seeing old friends – it's WONDERFUL – but this weekend I decided to spontaneously hop over to Belgium for a few days to see some other friends. I'm also going to meet up with a fandom friend IRL for what I think is only the second time, ever, for me? Yes, I've been shy and slow at making fandom friendships, but I treasure them once I do make them!)

Meanwhile, books! Recommendations and thoughts from my second-quarter-of-the-year reading. Luckily I was clever and drafted most of this post ahead of time, before I set out traveling. :-)


I read a lot of books, and I love a whole lot of what I read, but sometimes this bit where I look back over the last three months to think about what really stood out still takes me by surprise. Out of the 20+ books I read this quarter, it turns out I’m naming this as my favorite:

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro
     My reaction to word of a new Sherlock Holmes adaptation tends to be equal parts “ooh, exciting!” and “…but does the world really need yet another take on Holmes and Watson”?
     In the case of Brittany Cavallaro’s “A Study in Charlotte,” emphatically yes.
     Teenagers Watson (Jamie, a boy) and Holmes (Charlotte, a girl) are the great-great-something descendants of the famous Holmes and Watson, and are both more than aware of the legacy they carry. They meet at boarding school, first repel each other but then quickly bond, and soon (of course) find themselves solving a murder. This book has everything a YA book should have and more – smart dialogue, engaging characters, a dash of romance, a dash of danger, a very relatable POV character in Jamie, and a very intriguing, brilliant, prickly and entirely feminist Charlotte Holmes. I agree with the reviewer who said, this is the Holmes you didn’t know you were desperately waiting for!

even more great BOOKS here )

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Also, continuing with this trend of setting personal records I can't possibly hope to match in the future, I just finished my 50th book of this year – and it's not even the end of May yet! (Last year's 50th book milestone was reached in late August, I see by looking back at my "books"-tagged entries from last year...)

This year's book #50 was "Raymie Nightingale" by Kate Dicamillo, another sweet, charming, by-turns-funny-by-turns-sad childhood tale from Dicamillo set in small-town central Florida. (Like her "Because of Winn-Dixie," which I read last year and loved.) The story told is deceptively simple, but with real-life heart-break swirling just under the surface. Man, there are some really good middle-grade authors out there. Kate Dicamillo and Rebecca Stead, they've both really got me sold on this whole middle grade thing! (I LOVED Rebecca Stead's "Goodbye Stranger.") Both of those books I listened to as audiobooks, which made them extra charming.

Though, it's a bit arbitrary to define which book clocks in as exactly the 50th, because I'm doing that thing again where I accidentally ended up reading 5 books at once (literally). There are just so many books I want to read! And so little time, and I want to squeeze them all in! I keep going to the public library to return books, and then accidentally taking out a bunch more books instead. It's sort of a compulsion...  :-P

Currently reading:

• Haruki Murakami's massive (1000 pages!!) "1Q84," for my real life/brickspace book club. I was resistant to this book for a while because it looked so long and self-involvedly dense, but it's actually really not – it's very engaging. But it is indeed long.

• Ray Bradbury's "The Martian Chronicles," for the [ profile] online_bookclub. Ah, Ray Bradbury, you're so quirky and charming.

• "A Study in Charlotte" by Brittany Cavallaro – this is the latest in the world's many, many Holmes & Watson updates, and I had no idea what to expect, but my goodness, it's good! I find myself grinning while reading this book, that's how delightful these modern iterations of Holmes ("Charlotte" Holmes) and Watson ("Jamie" Watson) are.

Plus I have this alarmingly large stack of audiobooks out from the library – there's that whole compulsively-checking-books-out thing. And another book by Rebecca Solnit (Iceland AND feminism! she's my perfect storm!) and another Shirley Jackson novel (so brilliant, so brilliant. I've also been reading some of her short stories, augh, so brilliant). And I'm actually leaving the country – for the whole summer – in three weeks, and there's no way I can read all this before I go...

Operation Read All The Books, go!

(I set up a little "what I'm reading" book stand on my desk in the library where I work; the other day a student asked me, "...Do you finish books really fast? Because it seems like what book is here changes every couple days.")
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So...I read 35 books in this first quarter of the year. 15 of them just in the month of March. So that's a thing that happened.


And I've been looking forward all this time to writing up some thoughts about them! Here we go...


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
     I can only second the Toni Morrison quote on the cover of the book: “This is required reading.” Framed as letters to his teenage son, reflections on race, on racism, on the struggle, even the beauty of the struggle… Slim little volume with unbelievable power. I want to recommend this to every American…every person, really.
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
     Very much like the above; no description of mine would do this book justice. Rebecca Solnit is so smart, wise, incisive, witty, terrifyingly insightful… She takes apart sexism and misogyny and deep-rooted cultural issues and brings all their pieces and moving parts to light. Recommended reading to everybody.
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This book has slightly surprised me by slipping into my “very top books” out of 35 books, but how can I resist it? It really floored me. A graphic “novel,” though actually it’s a book of short stories in graphic form – is there a word for that? Gorgeous artwork and chilling, off-kilter stories, with odd, ambiguous endings. Just masterful. I don’t think of myself as much of a graphic novel person, but I may be changing my mind.

the adventure for MORE TOP BOOKS! )

It's trite, but true:

So many books, so little time!
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More thoughts about writing...

(Can you tell I only really get a chance to get online on the weekends these days, and have to post all my thoughts all at once then??)


Perhaps surprisingly – given that Harry Potter is one of my favorite things – in my original writing I've never felt particularly drawn to write either fantasy or YA. My writing tends to be quite serious and realistic, looking at questions of life and human connections, and character-focused almost to the exclusion of all else. (Er, much like my fic, yes. And yes, even in my Harry Potter fic I've often had to remind myself to add magic bits in, because I'm so focused on my character explorations, I almost forget to even nod to this whole fantasy setting that was the source of it all!)

When I made a stab at writing a novel a couple years ago, though, I quickly realized that going on about character development for 50,000 words is not actually enough. A novel needs a framework, be that "mystery" or "quest" or "romance" or whatever other type of plot, to form the scaffolding; then the character development can drape elegantly over and around that structure. Or at least that's how I've come to see it.

So I've put my energy into writing fic (yay!) and especially into trying out stories with more plot, stories based around a mystery or action or adventure, where the character stuff is woven in around that, rather than being the sole focus. It's been really fun! I'm learning a lot!

But every now and then I check back in with myself to see whether I have any ideas about what kind of story I might want to tell whenever I do circle back around to writing original stuff, and every time the answer seems to be...uh, nope, sorry, still no ideas.

Which brings us to:

I'm finally reading a book by Maggie Stiefvater. (I say "finally" because her name seems to come up constantly in YA circles, so I decided I really needed to pick a book of hers and get to it!) This one's called "The Scorpio Races" and I'm really digging the world-building. The premise involves "capaill uisce," or water horses, scary mythical beasts of Celtic legend, and the author both draws on the folklore about these creatures and also plunks them down in a quite mundane setting of cars and shops and tourists, and lets you figure out gradually how the particular magic of these creatures works, in this modern-day context.

And I love stuff like that! I've contemplated the idea of a Sherlock/Song of the Sea fusion (i.e., as selkies), and for Holmestice I wrote a fic where Sherlock was a dryad and Mrs Hudson was a griffin (and Lestrade was a very baffled, normal cop trying to figure out what the hell was going on around him) and it was so much fun! Also: I have loved writing the werewolf pack OCs for "Raise Your Lantern High," and researching Celtic/Pagan traditions for them has been one of my favorite things about that story.

So maybe there's something there for me, some potential to play in the fantasy genre by discovering and reimagining something out of this kind of folklore/mythology and turning it into something "original". (As much as any story in our collective storytelling tradition is ever completely new!) I mean, I know I would also still have to come up with an actual plot, and not just "hey, look, it's got this cool mythical creature in it." But it's an idea and a start, and the first thing that's pinged my "ooh, that might be fun to write about!" sense in a while. (Outside of fic, I mean. I have
"ooh, I want to write that!" moments about fic constantly.)
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Well, I seem to have found my cause in life...or at least my latest one!

As you all know, I think about books and writing a lot (what with having been a massive book-lover all my life – not to mention now having a job in a library!)

I also think about issues of diversity/representation/racism/sexism/equality-of-all-kinds a lot (what with, you know, existing as a human being in this particular world of ours).

I'd already been thinking about diversity in my reading; after [ profile] stereolightning took me to an panel discussion by the amazing folks at We Need Diverse Books (check them out, check them out, check them out!) I started thinking more about diversity in my writing, too. (That timely increase in awareness on my part is why the werewolf pack in "Raise Your Lantern High" includes characters from a wide variety of backgrounds, rather than just the same old generic-nonspecified-white-people-by-default that so much American/European writing unfortunately defaults to.)

As I've been reading book-buying catalogues for work ( job is indeed awesome!) I've actually been pretty pleased/relieved to see that that state of the publishing industry seems to be doing pretty okay at this, at putting out books that represent a wide variety of characters and a wide variety of authors and a wide variety of backgrounds. That's really heartening! Obviously, this is one of those things where you can always be improving and striving to do better – and it benefits everybody when you do! – but the "powers that be" in publishing (at least for children's books and YA) do seem to have gotten the message about the crucial importance of all kids getting to see characters like them in the books they read, and that's huge.

Anyway, this month's Booklist catalogue featured an interview with three different authors on matters of "diverse books" – especially in the realm of writing YA fantasy. The whole thing's worth a read – it's not long – but here were a couple of my favorite bits:

Booklist: You all approach the genre in different ways, but it becomes a vehicle for, among other things, discussing a variety of multicultural issues. So why fantasy?

Daniel José Older (author of "Shadowshaper"): [...] Fantasy offers unique ways to think about race, power, and culture, because with fantasy we have a chance to dream up new rules, new arrangements, new forms of power, and also complicate and dramatize existing ones. I think it's important to allow literature to multitask. Our characters can confront racist microaggressions or police brutality and fight off evil zombie dudes, and they should, because one doesn't cancel out the other, and there's a truth in there that's important to acknowledge.

[me, starfishstar: I love this, because yes, not every book with a person of color character needs to be an "Issue Book." We also need books about characters who happen to be people of color, and also happen to do awesome, interesting things! And of course his point about fantasy being an ideal place to explore questions of race, power and culture makes me think of JKR, and how Harry Potter is a parable for bigotry and tolerance in the world. Sci fi and fantasy have long been the go-to places for exploring these sorts of questions.]

Booklist: It's been widely acknowledged that publishing needs more diversity, both in terms of characters and authors. At the same time, many writers are concerned about writing about cultures and experiences that aren't theirs. What are your thoughts on this issue?

Cynthia Letitch Smith (author of "Feral Pride"): I refuse to tell a teen that someone who, like them, is, say, Chinese American or Jewish or gay or living with OCD could not appear in my fictional worlds because I’m not a strong-enough writer to pull it off. That’s a fear-driven cop-out. At the same time, I’m not so overconfident that I’d plunge in before I’m ready. I respect that certain stories and insights will arise only through lived experience, and I’ll gladly step aside and signal boost those. It’s not an either-or debate.

Sabaa Tahir (author of "An Ember in the Ashes"): [...] One of the saddest things I have ever heard is that authors are too frightened to write diverse characters for fear of getting it “wrong.” Because when authors say that, they are telling every single kid who is underrepresented in books (and that’s a lot of kids) that their lives, experiences, and stories are not worth learning about and listening to. And that’s just shameful. Our readers deserve more effort and courage from us than that.

The whole interview is here: "Telling Better Stories: Writing Diverse YA Fantasy"

All of this makes me so happy to be a person thinking about books and writing at this particular moment in time! Hmmm, maybe I should indeed start thinking seriously about getting a library science degree. Specifically in children's literature, of course! :-)

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Whoa...yikes. It seems I keep setting a standard in January that I can't possibly keep meeting through the rest of the year!

...Last January, I read 10 books. This January, I read 12 books.

Sure, several were YA books that were fun, quick reads, books I took home because I want to keep up at least a bit on what we have in the library and what the kids I work with are interested in, books I was able to knock back in a single day. But some were serious "grown-up" books, too.

Also: At the start of last year, I decided to pay attention to the diversity of the books I read - especially in terms of reading books by people of color. (There are endless ways to look at diversity, of course, and all are important – gender, race, nationality/ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability/disability/differently abled, neurodiversity... But this is what I want to focus on right now. Because I'm great at reading books by both women and men, but a lot of them tend to be by white people, generally either American or British.)

So last year, I started pushing myself to notice these questions of diversity in terms of the authors I choose to read, and to actively seek out more writers of color. I definitely want to keep doing that this year.

Then at the start of this year, I had an additional idea: What if - just for the month of January - I instituted a "moratorium" on straight white cis men? Don't misunderstand me: I have nothing against straight white cis men, as human beings or as writers! (The old lame joke...some of my best friends are white men!) But people who fit that particular demographic have tended to have the lion's share of the say through most of the history of Western literature, and I thought putting them entirely on pause, just for a month, sounded like an intriguing experiment.

And it totally was! So, in the month of January, I read 12 books; almost all of them were by women, and a third of them were by people of color (both women and men). One white dude did slip in there (E. M. Forster, because his "Aspects of the Novel" was the very first book I read this year, before this experiment had occurred to me) but luckily for me and my statistical purposes...Forster was gay. Heh.

Now it's February and I'm back to reading everybody-including-white-dudes, but I think it's going to be fun to keep playing around with my reading selections. I want to make sure I read some books in translation/books that weren't originally written in English, too. (For example, I finally tracked down a classic by a Senegalese author that I'd been meaning to read for ages – "So Long a Letter" by Mariama Bâ, translated from the French – and really liked it!)

Here's to many more reading adventures this year...
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Here we go... Some reflections on a huge year of reading:

I did this meme for the first time last year; in 2014 I'd made a conscious effort to step up my reading of books again; I used to be a voracious book reader, but discovering fanfic sidetracked me for a bit. I still enjoy fanfic too, but I wanted to make a deliberate return to books.

I read 38 books in 2014, and was pretty pleased with myself – that's everything from fairly light reads to massive tomes, and it was on top of working and also traveling a lot (and still reading and writing a lot of fic), etc., so that actually felt like quite a few. (Averaging out to 3 or more novels a month.)

In 2015, though, I was really pushing myself to expand my reading – reading authors from many different backgrounds, reading some classics, working my way through some of the books that had been on my "recommended" list for ages – and I also had a lot more time to read, since I was between jobs for part of the year. So as the end of 2015 drew near, I decided to see if I could hit double my previous year's total, i.e., at least 76 books.

I'm pleased to report I read 79 books in 2015! (For an average of 6 to 7 books a month??) I also did quarterly round-ups of what I'd most enjoyed during each three-month chunk of the year (findable under the "books" tag), which was fun.

Here are some reflections on my year in books:

starfishstar: (Default)

Once this year has officially ended, I will of course do a year-end post about alllll the books I read this year. (I am so stupidly excited about getting to write a post about the year's worth of books! I am such a nerd!) But it occurs to me that this final quarter of the year deserves its own post, too, like I did for the first three quarters of this year... So here are a few favorites from the last three months:



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September 2017



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