In March I am diving back into Science Fiction and Fantasy works I have been putting off in favor of other, more "literary" works. But at heart I AM a fantasy writer and I will always appreciate the nuance of fantasy that allows writers to delve into the most gripping social and cultural themes and leaves the reader with something to take away, a new way of thinking about these problems. Science-fiction and fantasy present such difficult subjects as racism, homophobia, war, stigma, terrorism, supremacy, and even death and offer readers, if not comfort or answers, an outlet through which to process that which cannot be comprehended.
February I was focused on works of non-fiction, mostly memoir and personal essays; I am almost 50,000 words into my first book of personal essays,short stories, and poems,and I am even submitting excerpts from my book to publishers and magazines and they are actually being picked up. I focused on non-fiction works to help propel my own work along, and I am in a great rhythm with it now. I am excited to finish it so I may focus on my first novel again, which is a work of fantasy.
In February and early March I finished reading the following books, and I would recommend them all. Especially David Sedaris. He is just too honest about real life and it made my soul happy to learn other human beings on this Earth as possibly as crazy and messed-up as me. Enjoy.
Me Talk Pretty One Day--David Sedaris. This was the first taste of Sedaris for me, and at first bite (or essay) I was hooked. Sedaris has a way of drawing his readers in, a compelling writing style that is very roundabout and non-linear and riddled with bad words and even worse imagery (cum and spit and toilets and poop) and I couldn't turn away even as badly as I wanted to. He makes the nitty-gritty relatable, awkward as it is.
Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls--David Sedaris. Again, I was laughing out loud and cringing visibly and enjoying every moment of it with David Sedaris' essay collection that only briefly mentions owls.
The Wave in the Mind--Ursula Le Guin. This is a collection of essays spanning years and topics and themes and I loved it. Le Guin is a new-to-me artist and I am mildly disappointed in myself that I did not discover her earlier. This year the "Big Read Under the Big Sky" in my hometown was Le Guin's Earthsea novel, A Wizard of Earthsea and I was all but dragged into the magic of this world. I had to have more Le Guin, and I was thrilled to discover a collection of readings, essays, and even prose poetry and evaluation and diagramming of prose and passages from some of Le Guin's favorite writers. Fantastic, all the way through.
Grace (Eventually) Some Thoughts on Faith--Anne Lamott. I all but devoured Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, and for good reason--she is an amazing writer. I enjoyed a lot of the essays in this book but some of them I disagreed with, and some made me downright uncomfortable. After all, Lamott is a pretty devout Christian, and she is a bit of a hippie, and she has a now-grown son and I just could not relate on a lot of those things; we had trouble seeing eye-to-eye at times. Still, a good read by a great writer.
A Confusion of Princes--Garth Nix. This one was a little more science-fictiony than I normally read. I can get bogged down in the creation of the worlds and the tech and it can hinder my interest, but this story was fun and different and it really picked up speed for me a little later on. Plus, I got to revisit the world in the next book I read, which was an unexpected treat.
Shade's Children--Garth Nix. This is a weird one; an alternate universe where overnight all adults (people over 15 years of age) disappear and giant humanoid creatures come to gather all the children left behind, taking them to a giant warehouse known as The Meat Factory. The strange new fantastic creatures that now run the world keep the children in storage until they reach their "Sad Birthday" at age 15 and are killed and dissected, organs and legaments and body parts used to fuel grotesque creatures like the Ferrets, furry men with elongated bodies and claws and teeth that sniff out the children who have escaped, and the Mormidons who look like giant spiky robots and who stomp around in groups of six, fighting enemy Mormidons and also tracking down children who manage to escape The Meat Factory. This story is about a group of children who escape the knife and find each other and an AI/holographic memory-of-a-man named Shade. Together with Shade's instructions these children try to put the world to right again and bring back the humans. By the end of the book I'm not so sure they succeed, or whether we are all doomed. It may be an allegory I never picked up on, but supposedly this is a YA novel. I first read it in 8th grade--I haven't been able to get it out of my head since. Nix will do that to you.
To Hold the Bridge--Garth Nix. Seriously, Garth Nix. Read him! Read Sabriel and the Old Kingdom series. I don't care if you don't end up liking it, you should support this artist anyway. He is great. This is a smattering of different works by him, of all themes fantastic and mythical. Some are funny, some are gross, some were a little confusing and full of too much backstory to hold their own (or my attention) but this collection starts with an Old Kingdom story and I will never stop wanting to explore that world more and more.
8 Things I Wish I Knew about Polyamory Before I Tried It and Frakked It Up--Cunning Minx. Personal growth comes with growing pains just like bones.
Magic Bites--Ilona Andrews. Ilona Andrews is actually a pen name for the husband/wife duo that write this series. I was not immediately hooked, but this book has popped up on my radar for a number of years now and I finally buckled down and got it. I was drawn in about a third of the way through, and I am eager for more of this sassy character. I want her to be more than just sassy, though; I want my fantasy characters to be more than thick-skinned, sword-wielding badasses. I want them to be able to cry more, and to think how unfair the world is, and to like the girl and not the guy, and to have more gratuitous sex, because in a post-apocalyptic world like this one I am fairly certain more people would be fucking like rabbits. I want my heroines to be real flesh-and-blood people even when they aren't really, even when they turn out to be ghosts, and gods' daughters, and part fairy and what-not. Bu having a main character be a woman in a mostly male-dominated genre like fantasy, though, is hard enough without trying to work in the subtlety of having a woman character who can cry and throw a punch and be taken seriously as a sexual being and also save the world. That's a hard day's work even for the best of us. Still, Joss Whedon managed it, so the impossible is not impossible.
Norse Mythology--Neil Gaiman. Amazing. This book sold out its first printing faster than Thor's hammer could call down lighting from the sky. And this book also tells you HOW Thor got ahold of such a hammer that could call down lightning from the sky! I was very interested in Gaiman's matter-of-fact interpretations of the origin stories for the Norse gods and goddesses; he sounded like an anthropologist relaying his thesis,tracing the lineage and origin stories for these names and figures that are at once recognizable and yet still so unknown. The book focuses on Thor, Odin, and Loki mostly, but it draws in all the gods and goddesses at some point, from their births to their deaths at Ragnarok. And he still managed to end it in true Gaiman fashion--teasing, not telling, not giving anything away about what might come next.
The Magicians--Lev Grossman. This book spans literally decades, and has almost eight main characters. It is no mean feat to introduce so many criss-crossing plot arcs, one shooting over atop another and another, each one coming in with a bang and then fizzling out until one day, just when you think the sky is clear, they all come shooting across again in an even bigger light show, but Grossman manages to pull it off. A well thought-out coming-of-age story. Though the book gets a little muddy for me in the middle with the main character's constant whining and sense of disillusionment with the world and with his life, even besides the fact that he's a fucking wizard who does magic and can pretty much mold the world in his hands, the plots all tie up nicely in a bow at the end and you end up smacking yourself in the forehead for having not figured it all out before. That's the best kind of writing--everything written there, plain as day, and you combing through the bushes in the dark, convinced you've been tricked.
House Immortal--Devon Monk. Devon Monk is an author I read religiously for a number o years. Her series Magic in the Bone with Allie Beckman was very compelling, and rather long, and I read every one, some even more than once. This is a new series by Devon Monk, and while it has everything I liked about her writing (sassy main character, well-built universe, rounded-out characters who don't go throwing themselves into things unnecessarily) I was not as intrigued by the new character, Matilda, who is a stitched-together (think Frankenstein but a woman, and hot) creature who lives off the grid with her two-headed farmhand, who one day opens her door to a wounded (hot) stitched-together man, the only other person like herself she has ever met, who has come to warn her that bad people are out get her, and he knows how to save her. By the end of the book I was interested enough to want to go searching out the next chapter in the story, but I am not pounding down the doors for it. In the end, Monk is a bit of an airport writer--someone I pick up because I know her work will be entertaining and a quick read, but not someone I can see being canonized for her genius.