I’ve got a guest post up today for a great month-long series at the Fantasy Book Cafe about women in SFF. My post is about what I learned from six favorite authors who formed my sense of the genre. Do check out some of the other posts as well! They’re from a wide range of authors and critics.
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I haven’t been writing here much, because I haven’t been reading nearly as much as I want to. Real life has been quite hectic recently, which inevitably ends up with a growing mountain of unread library books.
Having said that, I am also in the middle of reading some great books at the moment, so hopefully my dry spell is at an end.
Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin, which I’m reading with librarian book club because Grace Lin is wonderful. I’m loving how beautiful these books are as objects–the illustrations, the weight of the paper, the whole thing is just lovely.
The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett, which I’m rereading with a couple of friends. I’m only a few chapters in but am already having severe Feelings, because Tiffany is the best and I love her forever the end.
The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin, which so far is promising to be even more complex and fascinating than the first book!
I’m also skimming through Susan Cooper’s biography of John Langstaff, which I’ve read before, for Reasons.
I’m behindhand with my 2016 round up posts–but also I’m travelling this weekend and anticipate finishing at least another book or two before the year is over. So I’ll be back next week with more about my favorites and the reading year. For today, here are some of my favorite posts here from the last twelve months.
“Making without context” (on the maker movement, the history of crafts, and the tension between them):
Rather than pausing to learn the history of a craft or what shaped it, maker culture wants to recreate it so it can be produced (as long as you do it exactly right). It creates an expectation of production rather than listening, replacing the relationships between people with a pressure to stay on top of flashy technology which often doesn’t last very long.
“Pop culture and me” (how I used to be snotty about liking popular things and learned that I should try to resist that urge):
The process of sharing your love of [insert tv show/movie/album/book] builds a shared language: jokes, references, crossovers to other favorites. They’re about being able to say, “RIGHT IN THE FEELS” or “I feel like your inner April and inner Leslie are fighting” (as I memorably said to my boss) and knowing that the other person is going to get it. It is fundamentally about that common sharing & understanding.
“Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer” (a review where I managed to unpick some of why this book fascinated and troubled me):
So, this is science fiction, but it’s the kind of science fiction that talks about Thomas Carlyle and Voltaire all the time. The Enlightenment is as powerful a force in this society as any other point in history–we are given a sense of the great philosophers and thinkers of the fictional near past, but they also hearken back to the 18th century. And there’s the kind of science that basically looks like magic, also possibly real magic in the form of a mysterious child named Bridger. This is what I mean by peculiar.
“On the one hand lies darkness, and on the other only hope”: why I love Galadriel
When I first read Lord of the Rings in middle school, I didn’t think of myself as having much power at all. And even now, it’s not necessarily how I think of myself. But rereading these passages it strikes me how clearly Galadriel, out of all the characters in LotR, shows the way that our own talents and strengths can be twisted. By refusing that path, she acts with integrity and remains herself. It’s not an easy thing, but it’s a true thing.
We don’t necessarily have to like the characters better after we find out their secrets (Too Like the Lightning is a good recent example of this). But what we learn shouldn’t be antithetical to what we already know. If a story has carefully set up a character loving the color blue, for instance, suddenly saying, “AHA! They actually hate the color blue and have loved purple all along!” doesn’t work too well for me. In that case, a twist can become a “gotcha!” on the part of the author.
I think what I want is for self care to be recognized as —as self preservation. As a work that I and others to keep breathing, to keep going, to not lose ourselves. I think we can and should encourage everyone to do what they need to in order to keep going—but we shouldn’t make the mistake of forgetting that this is not an equal thing for everyone.
“Thoughts on Lady Rage” (a very personal musing on anger):
I know that women are told to be quiet and meek in a way men aren’t. I hate this. I want to rage against what’s wrong in the world. And yet–and yet–I also see the ways that anger can be toxic for me–both my own and other peoples’. I hate that women, are told that their justified anger is wrong, unseemly, too much. And yet there are times when I literally physically feel anger building up in my body and it hurts.
It’s December. I woke up this morning and felt like I could breathe for the first time in a month. November is always a difficult time for me personally, because of the time change, the change of seasons, the anniversary of my dad’s death at the end of the month. This year, in addition to all of those things, there’s been the heartbreak and sorrow and anger of the election. Of trying to figure out what to do and where we go from here. Of sitting with friends and their pain as they face an unknown and terrifying future.
Oh, and in addition to all of the above–more than enough as it is!–I managed to render my car undriveable and had to spend the last two weeks looking for a new one. Thankfully, that search is now done, and I have a new (to me!) car.
With all that being said, there were also moments of great beauty in the midst of it all–a wonderful visit, a friend stopping by to give me a hug, lots of time on the couch with Wimsey sitting on me. I’m so thankful for all the people who have comforted and reached out to me.
I haven’t managed to write a review since November 9th. I was in the middle of writing about Julie Phillips’ James Tiptree Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, but when I came back to finish the post everything I had written felt so naive and trite that I couldn’t find a way forward. But I have been and am thinking of a passage I had quoted, from a letter Alli wrote:
Certainly my inner world will never be a peaceful place of bloom; it will have some peace, and occasional riots of bloom, but always a little fight going on too. There is no way I can be peacefully happy in this society and in this skin. I am committed to Uneasy Street. I like it; it is my idea that this street leads to the future, and that I am being true to a way of life which is not here yet, but is more real than what is here.
I have a sense that what I write here and how I engage with books, reviewing, etc may be undergoing some deep shift, which is related to the wider political landscape but isn’t entirely because of it. We’ll see. I’m going to try to pull together some thoughts about a few books I’ve read recently. We can’t–and I don’t want to–go back to “normal” while at the same time I do feel that continuing to read, write, think about, and talk about books and stories is vitally important.
I’m going to close with a few links to things that I’ve found helpful recently. Feel free to share your own!
Raise Your Hand If You’re Gonna Fight: a daily newsletter with 1-2 action items–helpful for deciding what to do to fight today
“Holding it together” at Things Mean A Lot: Ana is always thoughtful and this post was especially helpful for me last week
Likewise, Theodora Goss’s post “How We Live Now” has some good thoughts about principles rather than actions as such
Jenny at Reading the End has an amazing round up of election-related links, which I have only dipped into because of emotional and mental energy, but which contain a wide variety of voices
Lory at Emerald City Book Review always runs a fantastic event called Witch Week, after the book by Diana Wynne Jones. This year, she asked if I’d be willing to do an interview with Kat Howard to talk about her first novel, Roses and Rot. I was pleased and honored to do so! You can read the full interview here, but here’s a snippet.
Fairy tales are so often about girls in a magical and dangerous landscape–I’m interested in how that’s reflected in Roses and Rot. Were there any particular things you wanted to show in your landscapes and in Imogen’s reaction to them?
I think if you read fairy tales, you know that once the character heads into the woods, that’s when the story really starts happening. It’s where things are allowed to get a little bit strange, a little bit dangerous. I mean, Stephen Sondheim has an entire musical about this! Even A Midsummer Night’s Dream — all the parts with the fairies in happen once the human characters are in the woods. And so really, the landscape choice was just a way of working with this idea.
Thank you, Lory, for thinking of me, and thank you to Kat Howard for her thoughtful answers!
I didn’t intend to take a break at all, and definitely not a 2 week break! But there’s been a lot going on in my non-book life recently–some really good things and some more challenging things–and something had to go. However, I really miss blogging and will definitely be back asap. Hopefully next week! In the meantime I will leave you with a happy cat sitting on his person and getting some good pets.