What Makes This Book So Great is a compendium of blog posts about Jo Walton’s rereads of books, not necessarily all science fiction and fantasy. These are blog posts originally published on Tor.com, so they are short, breezy, and quick to read. Walton is such a prodigious reader, averaging a book or more a day (I wonder that she finds time to write!). She shares many interesting insights into the whole act of reading, as well as the genres of science fiction and fantasy. Particularly enlightening for me was the idea that people who grow up reading science fiction and fantasy have internalized over time the special rules of the genre, while primarily mainstream writers may feel at sea when they try these genres; the flip side is authors who try writing genre who haven’t read a lot of it, and fail miserably. All of this content is available free online if you want to hunt it down, but it’s handy to have it in book form, and it’s of special interest to anyone who loves reading, whatever they may read. She’s certainly convinced me that rereading your favorites (and not-so-favorites) is worthwhile.
Some interesting links I’ve stumbled across lately:
- On annotating books (BookRiot): I personally cannot mark up a paper book, which is another reason why I like my Kindle–it makes highlighting painless.
- More marginalia (New York Review of Books).
- A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another (Brain Pickings).
- What’s reading for? by Jo Walton (Tor).
- Why our future depends on reading by Neil Gaiman (The Guardian).
For my yearly reading project in 2015, I have been focusing on women writers, specifically of speculative fiction. This project has led me down lots of wonderful side alleys discovering new writers, revisiting old favorites, and thinking about what they have to say. It’s also helped me understand the bias that women writers continue to face when it comes to getting published, reviewed, and honored. Here I want to share some related links and also encourage every reader to seek out more women writers to add to their To Read lists.
- Shit people say to women writers – A Tumblr dedicated to the shit women writers have to hear all the time
- One of my favorite women writers, Margaret Atwood, lays down her 10 rules of writing
- Daphne du Maurier, women writer and badass
- Is there a double standard for judging domestic themes in fiction?
- Madonnas and whores: on mothers writing about sex
- How to pose like a man for your author photo
- How to analyze male characters in book reviews
- Ban men from literary readings
I am putting together a list of great books by women writers to read. It is now over 150 books. I’ll probably share it when it gets up to 200 or so titles. In the meantime, here are some women writers who I have been reading lately to go out and discover right now: the aforementioned Margaret Atwood and Daphne du Maurier; Shirley Jackson; Patricia Highsmith; Ursula K. Le Guin; Octavia Butler; Jane Austen; Stella Gibbons; Dorothy L. Sayers; Harper Lee; Tana French; Mary Doria Russell; Kate Atkinson; Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie; Ruth Ozeki; Jhumpa Lahiri; Ann Leckie; Emily St. John Mandel.
Following on my last post, I agree with Neil Gaiman that libraries are of vital importance to our society. Like many readers, I grew up in a library, basically, quickly graduating from the kids’ section to the adult books. I remember systematically reading my way through every Agatha Christie (she wrote something like 85 of them). For a kid like me, the library was my refuge.
Libraries are frequent targets for budget cuts by government officials who don’t understand the vital link between reading and developing minds that can think, imagine, and innovate. Many children don’t have access to books and computers in their homes, and libraries are the only place where they can foster a love of reading. That’s why it’s vitally important for those of us who love books and reading, and who understand just how important they are, to support our local libraries as much as we possibly can. A good way to start is by joining the library’s Friends group. Take part in library activities. Support events featuring writers or aimed at improving children’s reading experiences. I recently joined the Board of our Friends of the Library group, and it has been a wonderfully enriching experience for me as I take part in supporting library programs and our local literary scene.
Books and reading are my primary passion in life. Even though almost everything I read now is on the Kindle, I believe the need for strong libraries is greater than ever. Libraries are the repositories for our culture, the archives of our rich wealth of information, and increasingly, librarians are the experts who help us navigate it all. Libraries create future readers, and they in turn become the thinkers and innovators that make our civilization strong. What could be more important?
“I’m going to tell you that libraries are important. I’m going to suggest that reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do. I’m going to make an impassioned plea for people to understand what libraries and librarians are, and to preserve both of these things.”
This was actually published in 2013, based on a lecture Gaiman gave to the Reading Agency, but it so wonderfully expresses why reading, and especially reading fiction, is absolutely critical for the future of our society and why we all need to support libraries as much as we can, that it bears reading and rereading and constant reinforcing: Neil Gaiman: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming | Books | The Guardian.
First, it was slow food, then slow blogging — now slow reading is the latest watchword. In our fast-paced world, movements designed to get us to slow down and really experience what we are doing always have my support.
Here’s a great way to practice slow reading: start a book journal. Whether it’s a notebook or a blog or an online tool like LibraryThing, journaling every book you read forces you to slow down and really think about what you’ve read. For me, my journals — which I started keeping in 2001 — have made me more thoughtful about what I’ve read and helped me form connections I might not otherwise have made. Since I started journaling my reading, I’ve chosen better books to read and integrated my reading more meaningfully into my own writing and my life in general.
I still keep a paper journal in which I write the title, author and publication date of each book I finish or abandon, my initial impressions of the book, and the date I finished it or abandoned it. For books I really like or that spawned a lot of initial thoughts, I write a second, more polished draft of the review and post it here or on LibraryThing.
How do you journal your reading and how has your journal benefited your reading?
I’m finding myself getting very picky about what books make it on the To Be Read (TBR) pile. By the TBR, I mean that pile of books that I’m really, truly, gosh-darn-it gonna read in the very near future. Ideally, I want the number of books on the TBR to be fewer than the number of books I read in a typical year, so I have a fighting chance of working my way through it.
Right now, I have several lists going: a list of books I own and want to read soon, a list of books I own and want to read but maybe not right away, a list of books I want to get from the library, a list of books I want to buy from Amazon if the Kindle price ever drops to a reasonable amount, a list of books I’ve heard about and kinda want to read, a list of books related to other books I’ve liked that sound interesting but I don’t know too much about them. There are probably more lists, but I’ve forgotten them.
Too many lists! I spend more time managing the lists than I do reading. So I’ve decided to cull mercilessly, with one simple test. Am I excited to read this book? If I’m not excited to read it, it goes off the list.
For instance, All the Light We Cannot See is available at the library in electronic format, everyone’s reading it, it’s getting great reviews. So I thought about putting it on hold. But the truth is that I’m just not that excited about it. It may be truly terrific, but I feel burned out on the WWII time period, and I’m also more interested in women writers right now. So I x’ed it off the list.
I reserve the right to change my mind, of course.
I was going to read something else next, but everyone is reading Station Eleven and saying good things about it, I already own it on Kindle, and it is very much exciting me. I love its cover and its premise! So despite my lists and reading plans, that’s what I started reading last night.
Using this excitement test, I earmarked many, many books from my TBR pile for gradual donation to the Little Free Library or immediate donation to the Big Free Library. Now my physical TBR fits in my bedside table and there are several books on it that I am excited about reading.
I don’t like having a big TBR. It makes me feel like reading is a chore and not a joy. Also, there will always be books available, and they will always be making more books (unless, maybe, the apocalypse). So if I get rid of a book and it turns out I really did want to read it after all, I’m sure I can get another copy when I’m wanting it.
A book does it have its moment, and sometimes that moment passes us by. Books that linger too long on the TBR seem to acquire a patina of sadness. I know I’m anthropomorphizing, but that’s what it feels like to me. Better that those books move on to someone who will read them and love them and fulfill their purpose.
I will likely keep making lists, though. I do love lists.
Here’s a video from Book Riot advocating the opposite point of view–i.e., just keep adding on to the TBR all you want as long as you have money, time and space for them. (And stop anthropomorphizing books, ha ha!) I don’t tend to agree, because the TBR has weight for me, but I do think I should be able to buy and keep any books I want because I am an adult. I even buy books I’ve already and gotten rid of if I find a particularly beautiful edition. We all love books in our own ways.