Recommended reading: Americanah

An occasional feature where I recommend newish books you might like to read.

Americanah Cover

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“You can’t write an honest novel about race in this country. If you write about how people are really affected by race, it’ll be too obvious. Black writers who do literary fiction in this country, all three of them, not the ten thousand who write those bullshit ghetto books with the bright covers, have two choices: they can do precious or they can do pretentious. When you do neither, nobody knows what to do with you. So if you’re going to write about race, you have to make sure it’s so lyrical and subtle that the reader who doesn’t read between the lines won’t even know it’s about race. You know, a Proustian meditation, all watery and fuzzy, that at the end just leaves you feeling watery and fuzzy.”

This is a book about race, but it’s also a book about writing, ambition, culture and love.

Reading with focus, or the annual theme read…

This year, for the first time, I tried reading around a theme or focus. The focus I picked was mysteries, a genre I have not paid much attention to since I devoured them as a youngster. To tell the truth, I really didn’t get focused until around August, so most of my reading was random and haphazard as per usual, but I did read more mysteries than I normally would (normal being zero).

I am enjoying it. I finally read some classics I had been meaning to get around to, I dabbled in a couple of the sub-genres, I tried a mystery set in my hometown, and I rounded it out with several mysteries from around the world. I know–the year is not done yet. I still have quite a few mysteries loaded on the Kindle and waiting for me.

To be clear, I didn’t read only mysteries. But I did make a list and tried to focus on them. I read with intent, which was to re-educate myself in the genre.

I think it might be fun to do this every year. Next year, I’m considering reading through time and reading speculative fiction by women as two potential focuses.

Since I love making book lists, I thought it might be fun to come up with some mini-courses that a reader could do in a year or less to learn more about a particular genre or type of literature. The courses could be organized in several ways. I could pick representative works or authors from the earliest examples through to the present day and get a broad overview. Or I could focus on reading the best example from several different sub-genres. Finally, I could narrow the selection to a focus within the genre, such as reading works by women or by minority writers. If I put a few of these mini-courses together, I’ll post them.

Have you ever tried reading around a theme or focus for a specific period of time?

How to decide what to read next…

Over on that most wonderful bookish online community, LibraryThing, entire groups and challenges are dedicated to helping us pick what to read next from the gigantic wishlist of everything we’ve ever wanted to read. My favorite way is to join in on theme challenges, selecting a book from a randomly proposed theme like “books with disasters in them” (Rivers, my next read) or even “a book that has blood on the cover” (NOS4A2my last read).

It appears that readers everywhere have this very perplexing problem of picking what to read next and have devised all sorts of solutions. There are website services like this one or this one or this one, librarians can provide custom recommendations, or go the simple route and create a book jar. Also an attractive option for displaying next to the bookshelves.

How do you decide what to read next?

Rule number 1 for self-publishers: Proofread!

In the last few years, services like Kindle Direct Publishing and  Lulu have made it incredibly easy for writers to self-publish, which I think is mostly a good thing for writers and readers. Self-publishing enables writers to build and audience and demonstrate their talents, and it puts more voices out there than ever before. Some terrific writers have gotten their start through self-publishing, such as Hugh Howey (Wooland Andy Weir (The Martian: A Novel).

But self-published books have already acquired a tarnished reputation, and with good reason: They are all-too-often riddled with errors. Spelling mistakes, typos, punctuation misuse, grammar abuse, word confusion, incorrect names and facts–when a reader encounters too many of these in the first few pages of a book, she will stop reading, and with good reason. How can a writer expect readers to pay good money for an unprofessional product? It’s not enough to run a spell-checker. Writers who aspire to the professional level must show some respect for their craft and knowledge of the language that is their medium. They must proofread.

We’ve all seen errors in professionally published books as well, especially e-books, but the amount and types of errors aren’t nearly so egregious. Professional publishing assures the reader that someone has read the book beside the writer and has probably caught most of the major goofs. Self-published writers have to give readers a very good reason to dip their toes in the sea of dreck and seek out their books. They have to be even better than their professionally published competitors.

The bare minimum self-published writers can do is hire a professional proofreader or copyeditor to give their books a thorough vetting. If your book is riddled with errors, your ideas simply won’t shine through.

12 Banned Books to Read

This is the week that we celebrate books that have been banned or challenged. Usually, the books are banned from school libraries or from being taught in school. The reasons given seem valid–sexual content, dirty language, racism–but dig a little deeper and you’ll generally find that the true reason is that these books seem dangerous. Often the ideas they contain are challenging–to authority, to established institutions, to the status quo. Perhaps this is why so much effort is made to keep these books out of the hands of children. Yet, the very act of challenging these books brings them to our attention and creates a handy reading list full of dangerous ideas. Here is my recommended reading list of banned or challenged books, one for each month in the year. Share them with a child you know.

Animal Farm by George Orwell The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark TwainThe Diary of a Young Girl by Anne FrankAlice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis CarrollFahrenheit 451 by Ray BradburyTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper LeeThe Hobbit by JRR TolkienHarry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by JK RowlingWatership Down by Richard AdamsCharlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald DahlThe Catcher in the Rye by JD SalingerThe Giver by Lois Lowry

New book review: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Just reviewed in my virtual libraryThe Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. It’s an episodic novel spanning 60 years, a genre-bending page turner, about ordinary people whose fates are altered by a war between immortals. Too difficult to summarize–go read the review!

My 2013-2014 Project: iHRIS Implementation Toolkit

For the past 12 months I have been editing and compiling a web-based implementation toolkit as a consultant for the iHRIS project. iHRIS is free, open-source, health workforce information software developed for use in low-resource countries. The Implementation Toolkit is a guide to deploying iHRIS in a country, but also functions as a general tutorial for implementing any complex information system project. Putting this together took a lot of work compiling contributions from iHRIS implementers working in the field and the core team based in Chapel Hill, NC, and I’m proud of the results. Take a look.