Reading, he says, is always this: there is a thing that is there, a thing made of writing, a solid, material object, which cannot be changed, and through this thing we measure ourselves against something else that is not present, something else that belongs to the immaterial, invisible world, because it can only be thought, imagined, or because it was once and is no longer, past, lost, unattainable, in the land of the dead… –Italo Calvino
I want to attempt to talk about more of books I read throughout the year — so we’ll see how this works out. There are no guarantees, much like life or even books themselves. Sometimes they look good and yet do not connect with one’s brain. But when they do, it’s a kind of magic.
Things what I read in January began with a theme of sorts. Being that I’ve written about a heroine named Eleanor, I thought I would read more books with heroines named Eleanor. I even started a shelf of such on Goodreads (if you have a recommendation, speak up!).
I unintentionally started this reading theme last year, with The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson — a book that I had never, yes, read until now. This was one of those books that everyone said Oh You Must Read It, which makes me actually avoid the book, until the comes naturally. Isn’t that strange? I had, of course, seen many film adaptations of it, but didn’t dive into the book until recently. And it was delightful. I think my favorite part, she says in a coy attempt to avoid spoilers, is the hand holding.
While poking around my writing group, I discovered that Jason Gurley had written a book called — wait for it — Eleanor, and clearly this became a must read. I saved this book for the new year, somehow knowing it was going to be one of Those Books. The kind you really connect with as a reader and a writer both. The kind that goes on to inform your own work, as you see a writer achieving what you also hope to in your work. Eleanor took me a variety of places — the here and now, and the may yet be. It’s very much a book that I wish I had written. It would be impossible to pinpoint a favorite part in this book, as the entire thing qualifies as my favorite part. I feel like I swallowed this book whole and it swallowed me right back, saying “Hello! I know you.”
When it comes to Eleanor books, one can hardly avoid Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, though as with The Haunting of Hill House, it was something I managed to do for a little while. I suppose to do not read books when they are in the crush of their popularity, because I want to make up my own mind about them, and not be influenced by either unflagging love or hate. I loved this book too, albeit with reservations; I felt some of the plotlines were unnecessarily drawn out, that they could have been resolved had certain adult characters stood up in the world in which they found themselves. This is not always easy to do, I will grant that, but I think when one’s own children are negatively impacted, you do all that you may to see that they are not. Your life is not entirely your own at that point, and you must not be so…cowardly. If that’s the word. I’m still pondering my reaction to this book, because a large part of it was also squee over the music and the bus riding and being an outsider who finds the person with whom they can fit, and understanding all of that, as will any human who survives high school, I think.
I received Colonel Chris Hadfield’s book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life On Earth, for Christmas.This was on my to-be-read list, because Hadfield’s experiences on the ISS and subsequent tweeting about them (including breathtaking photos) inspired a short story from me. I wanted to hear the stories behind his journey, and the story he tells is pretty inspiring. I find his methods applicable to even writing and editing — and certainly his outlook, too:
Ultimately, I don’t determine whether I arrive at the desired professional destination. Too many variables are out of my control. There’s really just one thing I can control: my attitude during the journey, which is what keeps me feeling steady and stable, and what keeps me headed in the right direction. So I consciously monitor and correct, if necessary, because losing attitude would be far worse than not achieving my goal.
I’ve discovered that you can’t control a lot of things when it comes to publishing. I cannot control whether an editor buys a story or a book. I can control the quality of the story I send out into the world. I can control my submissions, being sure every story and book goes back out should it return home to me. This is what I can do, to improve my chances each and every time. Stressing over where my story sits in a submission queue gets me nowhere — I don’t control things beyond writing it and sending it out. Let it go, let it go, and then write the next thing.
I was gifted with Good Omens last year, and only got around to reading it now. It was a book I avoided because of Neil Gaiman. His fiction rarely connects with me as a reader, but a friend said TRY THIS, and I was surprised.(I tend to connect more with Gaiman’s non-fiction, which I can also say of Anne Lamott — and this surprises me, because I read so much more fiction than I do non.)
Maybe in part because this book co-written with Terry Pratchett, this went down easier than any other Gaiman I’ve read. I generally find him overly adorable and too tropey for my likes, but Good Omens is just snarky enough. If I could change one thing about it, it would be the string of codas at the end of the book — reminiscent of Lord of the Rings on the screen, just when you thought it was actually done, it proved you wrong. My favorite parts were probably Crowley and his car, the horsemen, and also the idea that Every Single Song in Crowley’s car turns into a Queen song. File that under Curses I Would Not Mind (Until I Did).
If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino is also a book that has occupied shelf space here for quite some time. I am not entirely sure what to say about this book, other than I appreciated it as reader and writer both. It’s inherent strange, non-linear, and does its own thing without worry. It is not concerned with you settling into one place, even as it encourages you to do so. It will gleefully grab you by the lapels and toss you around the room, ensuring that everything blurs just enough, so that you cannot tell up from down, or where you will land next. I feel as though I could quote from this book at length, but will refrain so as to talk about
Labyrinthian by Sunny Moraine. Sunny is also in my writing group, and someone I’ve had the opportunity to publish in Shimmer Magazine. She and I also have books out from Masque, and if you like women doing amazing things, you should check those out. Her newest (from Samhain) is a riff on the legend of Theseus and the minotaur, and happens to be set in space, because YES. When you take science fiction and add Greek mythology, you have my complete and utter attention. Sunny creates a universe you just want to roll around in, much like Firefly, where it feels deep and expansive, beyond the corner you get to explore. (See more of this world in Line & Orbit!)
I found Girl on a Wire by Gwenda Bond next, a must-read for me because I love circuses. This one focuses on a tight-rope walker, so also served as research, since that’s the next thing I’m planning to tackle in my own circus series. I enjoyed the book well enough, but didn’t fall in love the way I had hoped. I think if I were thirteen or fourteen, I would have. It has much in common with Lisa Mantchev’s theater books, so if you love snappy heroines going on journeys, this is definitely for you!
I’m finishing January up with The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, and as of this writing, I’m pretty torn over it. It has an amazing voice — and heck, it won a Pultizer, didn’t it! — but it does some curious things with how it presents its women, and how it treats rape along the course of the story. I’ll finish the book, no question, but I will be interested to see what I think when I get there.
Holy gosh I’ve read a lot this month! What’re you reading?