Read this and had to share: Margaret Atwood on Game of Thrones: ‘Real people, every murderous one’. Well, if George pops off before the series is done, maybe she can finish it for him. Wouldn’t that be interesting?
I keep a record of what I read in LibraryThing. I haven’t recorded every book I’ve ever read, because I don’t remember (boy, I wish I had started keeping a list at the age of 5 or something). But I have recorded almost 1,200 books, so I thought I’d take a look at my authors list and see which authors were most influential on me.
It seems I read widely, because there are only 2 authors with more than 10 listings, and only one, Stephen King, with over 15 listings. I think being an eclectic reader is a very good thing. For purposes of this little poll, done for my amusement only, I decided to count any author with more than 5 listings as highly influential.
Here they are then, in order of influence:
- Stephen King
- Ursula K. Le Guin
- Neil Gaiman
- Jonathan Lethem
- Edward Gorey
- Christopher Moore* (once, maybe, but not anymore)
- Margaret Atwood
- Jane Austen
- Michael Chabon
- Fred Chappell
- Nick Hornby* (like Moore, this one is dubious, unless it’s him writing about books and reading)
- Kim Stanley Robinson
- Octavia Butler
- Tom Perrotta
- Ray Bradbury
- Roald Dahl
- Kazuo Ishiguro
- Shirley Jackson
- Francine Prose
What’s the point? None, really, just thought it was interesting data.
I have just discovered a new genre: cli-fi, or climate change fiction. Set in the present or near future, these novels imagine a changed world once the effects of climate change are really beginning to be felt.
It’s not such a new genre to me, after all. I read David Brin’s Earth and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Forty Signs of Rain quite some time ago, and science fiction writers have been speculating about climate change for a long time now. Cli-fi now seems to be gaining some literary legitimacy, though, with writers like Ian McEwan (Solar), Margaret Atwood (the Oryx and Crake trilogy) and David Mitchell (The Bone Clocks) tackling the subject.
If you are interested in this sub-genre, I highly recommend you start with Rivers by Michael Farris Smith. Set in the near future on the Mississippi coast, which is ravaged by perpetual storms and has been abandoned by the US government, this is a beautifully written and powerful novel.
For further reading, here’s my cli-fi list on LibraryThing.
In a recent post, I discussed trying to read books written by women. This led me to consider which women authors I would recommend, and I came up with a list of books by women that I think are entertaining and enlightening reads. Of course, I am not the only person to have come up with such a list, and if you are so inclined, you can find 50, 100, or even 500 more books by women to fill up your “to read” shelf.
Here is my list (my absolute favorite books are starred and my favorite women authors are bolded):
- Kate Atkinson: Life After Life: A Novel
- Margaret Atwood: Cat’s Eye; The Handmaid’s Tale*; Oryx and Crake*
- Jane Austen: Emma; Persuasion; Pride and Prejudice*
- Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre*
- Octavia Butler: Lilith’s Brood*; Parable of the Sower*; Parable of the Talents
- Kate Chopin: The Awakening
- Daphne du Maurier: Rebecca*
- Jean Hegland: Into the Forest: A Novel
- Patricia Highsmith: The Talented Mr. Ripley
- Shirley Jackson: The Haunting of Hill House (Penguin Classics)*; The Sundial*; We Have Always Lived in the Castle*
- P.D. James: The Children of Men*
- Nancy Kress: Beggars in Spain: The Original Hugo & Nebula Winning Novella
- Madeleine L’Engle: A Wrinkle in Time (A Wrinkle in Time Quintet)
- Anne Lamott: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
- Ursula K. Le Guin: Always Coming Home*; The Dispossessed; The Lathe Of Heaven: A Novel; The Left Hand of Darkness*; The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories; The Word for World is Forest
- Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird*
- Erin Morgenstern: The Night Circus*
- Audrey Niffenegger: The Time Traveler’s Wife
- Flannery O’Connor: A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories*
- Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar
- E. Annie Proulx: The Shipping News
- Mary Doria Russell: Children of God (Ballantine Reader’s Circle); The Sparrow: A Novel (Ballantine Reader’s Circle)*
- Dorothy L. Sayers: Gaudy Night: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery with Harriet Vane*
- Sheri S. Tepper: Grass
- Jo Walton: Among Others
- Kate Wilhelm: Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang: A Novel
- Connie Willis: To Say Nothing of the Dog*
- M.K. Wren: A Gift Upon the Shore*
I have read three novels by Margaret Atwood (and I have two more waiting on my ‘to read’ shelf), and I have found her to be a consistently satisfying writer. I wouldn’t say that I loved all of her books, but they have all kept me interested and engaged, which is saying quite a lot. Even more impressive, I think, is that Atwood is considered a mainstream writer, but she gets away with writing fiction that could be called science fiction. And she wins major awards for it! She doesn’t write only science fiction, though, but also tries her hand at other genres, such as historical fiction. Not many writers can be successful at genre-hopping, but more are trying it. Michael Chabon and Kazuo Ishiguro spring to mind.
My favorite book by Atwood has got to be The Handmaid’s Tale. I first read it when I was younger and then reread it fairly recently. This novel is unabashedly science fiction. It is set in a dystopian future, in which the U.S. government has been taken over by Christian fundamentalists and a lot of basic rights have been stripped away. Due to extreme pollution, many people have become infertile. Those women who are fertile are enslaved as Biblical-style handmaids, conceiving and bearing children for wealthy, infertile women.
Despite being science fiction, I think this novel was so successful and has been so widely read because its core message is a frightening warning about how quickly and easily the freedoms we take for granted can be stripped away. What struck me the last time I read it is the method of depriving women of their rights that was used: Their bank accounts were frozen, and electronic access to money was cut off. As we are well on our way to a cashless society, this struck me as an all-too-real danger, one we placidly accept. The feminist themes, presented in a very compelling way, also make the novel more accessible to a wider audience.
I recently finished The Blind Assassin, which won the Booker Prize and which I also enjoyed very much. The genre of this novel is not as straightforward, but it does contain science fiction elements. In fact, its structure is very unusual, in that it is a novel within a novel within a novel. The framing structure is a straightforward historical novel about a wealthy Canadian family’s fall from grace during the Depression and World War II. Within this novel is an intertwined story of two unnamed lovers and their clandestine affair. During their meetings, the lovers — one of whom is a pulp writer — tell each other a bizarre fable that takes place on an alien planet, which underscores their unspoken feelings for each other. The fable, titled The Blind Assassin, is turned into a novel by one of the characters that develops a cult-like following. The intricate structure makes this an engrossing novel, but it is questionable whether it can be called science fiction. Nevertheless, Atwood is definitely experimenting here.
Finally, Alias Grace is the Atwood novel I liked the least, even though I still enjoyed it. It is a historical novel, but also a bit of a psychological suspense thriller. It is set in 19th century Canada and tells the story of Grace Marks, imprisoned for the double murder of her employer and his housekeeper/lover. Grace does not remember the events of the actual murder, and a group of churchgoers, who believe she is innocent, have engaged a psychiatrist to find out what really happened. The real story must be pieced together from newspaper accounts, letters and the points of view of two unreliable narrators: Grace and the psychiatrist, who has become obsessed with her. The reader is never left entirely satisfied as to what actually happened. So again, Atwood is experimenting with structure and story.
Oryx and Crake is the next Atwood novel I plan to read. Again, this is a novel with science fiction elements that cannot be considered strictly science fiction.
I really enjoy it when authors break the artificial boundaries of genre established by publishing companies and bookstores. Traditional science fiction has its own formula, not one that I typically enjoy, except in the hands of a really skilled writer. But the brand of science fiction that Atwood writes — or perhaps I should call it speculative fiction — resonates much more strongly with me.