Reading this past quarter…

Here are the most interesting books I’ve read over the past 3 months. Click the cover for the full review.

The Bell JarThe Woman UpstairsWeThe SundialThe Robber BrideThe Big SleepThe Office of MercyThe Golem and the JinniThe Female ManChina Mountain Zhang

How to consciously read books written by women…

Before I started journaling my reading, in 2001, I just read whatever caught my eye at the bookstore without any sort of plan whatsoever. Over the decade since I started journaling, I’ve gradually become more purposeful in my reading, and if I look back over my journals (now on LibraryThing), I can see a steady improvement in the books I choose to read reflected in higher ratings and fewer abandoned books. 

At the beginning of the year, I did an exercise where I identified my top 10 favorite books of all time. I noticed that 7 out of 10 books were written by women (and of the 3 on my list written by men, one of those men was gay), but in my general reading, I’m still reading 2 books by men for every 1 book by a woman, according to LibraryThing stats. I decided to get even more purposeful in my reading and read mostly women, choosing books that are similar to my top 7 favorite books/authors. I still have a lot of unplanned reads, but the deliberate planning has been helping me discover new-to-me authors and break out of my ruts. This month, for instance, I’m reading 5 sci-fi/fantasy books all by women I have never read before.

My goals to stretch even further would be to read more women of color and more authors from countries other than the US/Canada/Britain. I would also like to read more gay authors and more authors of color generally. As a former English major, I find that I have about had my fill of the white male voice, even though there are many white male authors whose books I enjoy. But I want to hear from some other voices and open up my world even more.

For further reading:

Books Read: Quarter 1, 2014

These aren’t all the books I read over the last three months, just the ones that I found most interesting or thought-provoking. Click the covers for full reviews.

a2f1759c8e03d685935645a5367434d414f414156f122144f6c74d593741375851434d414f4141017e4f326f6df24597165526867434d414f41413aaa139642df922593166775967434d414f4141fa5209eccff6eff597070706741434d414f41414292b9960770b4a596f66446641434d414f41410988416433.01._SX140_SY224_SCLZZZZZZZ_e8daccf3956d70c596968686641434d414f41410399160876.01._SX140_SY224_SCLZZZZZZZ_The Circle cover

Le Guin’s hypothesis…

Ursula K. Le Guin on the false dichotomy between genre fiction and literary fiction and the endless, meaningless debate over which is better to read: Le Guin’s Hypothesis | Book View Cafe Blog.

If you’re one of those people who never reads genre fiction, you should read Ursula K. Le Guin. She is a better writer than almost anyone I can think of in either realm.

Accidentally reading about reptiles…

srpsnakeI realized with the first two reads of the year, I have an accidental theme going on: reptiles in my fiction! With Swamplandia! it was alligators; then there is a snake in The Burn Palace. Our upcoming book club read is set in Texas, so I wonder if a lizard will figure into the plot.

That got me wondering how many of my past reads featured reptiles, so I did a quick search. Snakes are by far the most common reptiles to show up in my book reviews and summaries. Going back in time, I see there were significant snake scenes in:

As for alligators and crocodiles, there is only Swamplandia! that I can recall. There may have been a crocodile in The Poisonwood Bible.

There are quite significant cosmic turtles in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, from which I’ve read Small Gods, and in It and The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. As for actual turtles, they don’t seem as common, although the Mock Turtle in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland certainly comes to mind.

I also can’t seem to find any books I’ve read with lizards in them, although there are dinosaurs of course in Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton and The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Would you be more or less likely to read a book with a snake in it? I’d rather meet one in fiction than in real life, that’s for sure!

Here’s a list of fictional reptiles from Wikipedia and a list of Reptiles in Fiction on LibraryThing, if you’d like to seek out even more reptiles in your fiction.

Reading night…

Last night, my husband and I instituted reading night. We didn’t turn on the TV, and instead read and listened to music during that time. I was worried I would be tired or sleepy to spend the entire evening reading, but I actually enjoyed it. I went to bed relaxed, and I made a good dent in the book I’m reading. It’s easy to get in a rut and just turn on the TV every night. I hope we’re able to keep up reading night, and maybe we’ll also add a game night to the week.

Reading is super.

Thoughts on The Circle…

The Circle coverThe last book I finished reading in 2013 was The Circle by Dave Eggers. The title refers to a fictional company that is quite obviously an amalgam of Google and Facebook. The book is a dystopian view of a near-future, a nightmarish outcome of current trends like living our lives via social networks, and the resulting monetization of our every share, the loss of privacy, and ultimately, loss of freedom.

While Eggers’ symbolism becomes quite heavy-handed, this is a chilling, sinister book that made me immediately want to disconnect my Facebook account. It was also an exciting book to read, because it depicts the world we are living in right now. This book may quickly become dated, but right now, it feels very current. The issues that it raises are issues we should all be thinking about and debating, and the point The Circle makes is that people have a tendency to accept what is new and exciting and convenient without really questioning the unintended consequences.

At its essence, I think The Circle is about indoctrination into a cult, how people can easily be persuaded that giving up fundamental freedoms is actually a good and necessary thing. Except in this case, the cult is global.

I’m not going to call The Circle great literature. But I think it is a thought-provoking read.

Here’s an excerpt from the book published in the New York Times Magazine.

Writers do make a difference…

This is such a moving essay: Stephen King: An Unlikely Lifeline In Turbulent Waters | Tor.com. Even if you are predisposed not to like Stephen King, he is undeniably an author who tells the truth. And an author who tells the truth is an author who can make a difference, especially in the lives of young readers.

I also discovered Stephen King when I was a pre-teen reader, and I have always strongly connected with his books. It’s not the horror and gore that draw me, but the characters, who always seem like very real people, and how they react when the uncontrollable and unfathomable occur in their lives. King shows his readers the horrors of the world and the horrors that live deep in the souls of our fellow humans, but he also shows us what humanity can strive to be.

Currently reading Doctor Sleep.