What I’ve been reading: The Obelisk Gate and Orleans

obelisk-gateThe Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin. I thought The Fifth Season was one of the most exciting books to come out in the SFF genre in a long time, both thematically and from a craft perspective. It was also one of the most emotionally challenging books I had read in a long time for many obvious reasons, but the hardest part for me were the descriptions of child abuse. It would be hard to top all of that, and I don’t think The Obelisk Gate managed. I also had to put it down for a long time because of something Essun does fairly late in the book. I could deal with her being a mass murderer several times over, but not this very intimate betrayal. More than everything, this book seemed to be about coping mechanisms, how they help people survive and how they brutalize the people who use them and wield them against other people in their quest for survival.

orleansOrleans by Sherri L. Smith. I can read most dystopias/post-apocalyptic stories without a problem because they are more like fables than anything else, but some are too real and hard for me to read (like The Handmaid’s Tale, which I will never re-read). This story of a young black woman in a post-hurricane, post new epidemic New Orleans was one of the ones that seems too real and too possible. It’s a tough read but good in a heart-wrenching way, though I was not a fan of the ending.

 

Reading Diversely 2016 Check-in

I’ve read 43 books so far in 2016.

23 books by white women

4 by white men

9 by women of color

7 by men of color

That’s about 37% authors of color. And 63% white authors.

Better.

If I look at new books only, that’s 15 books by white women, 2 by white men, and still 9 by women of color and 7 by men of color. So I’m almost 50-50 in the the new-to-me books but when I’m re-reading (for comfort and/or writing books) most of those are by white authors.

Reading Diversely 2015 Summary

My last few posts before my inadvertent blog hiatus were about K.T. Bradford’s article on xojane I Challenge You to Stop Reading White, Straight, Cis Male Authors for One Year. My version was to be more aware of what I was reading and to consciously chose to read more writers of color.

I did … not do great in 2015. It would be really easy to kind of slink my way out of saying so and just drop the topic (as with so many intentions when it comes to blogging that kind of disappear). But, I think it’s important to not do that. I consider myself one of those thoughtful, anti-racist white people, and I’m still not doing so great. It takes effort for me to not read just white women with a smattering of white men. I’m not saying it’s hard. This is not rocket science. But it does take change. It does take listening to voices I didn’t realize I wasn’t listening to, just to find the kinds of books that I want to read written by people of color. And sometimes it means reading books that I’m not sure I want to read but trying anyway.

And while I didn’t do great numbers-wise, I noticed that by the end of the year my tastes had changed (not all because of this challenge, but it was one strand in it.) A lot of books felt too much the same to others or too flat. And too improbably white. I also read a lot of fantastic books, the most I’ve ever posted on my my About me page, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many were authors of color.

To the numbers:

According to Goodreads, I read 117 books in 2015.

73 were by white women, and an additional 3 DNF

9 were by white men

25 were by women of color, and an additional 1 DNF

5 were by men of color, and an additional 1 DNF

That’s 85 books by white people or 73%

And 32 books by people of color or 27%

 

Every Heart A Doorway

Given my abiding love for portal fantasy (the first thing I can remember writing is a Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe knock-off, at about the age of 7), I had to read Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire.

I love the concept: a school for children (mostly girls) who have been somewhere else and come back, usually not because they wanted to; a school that helps them cope with having found the place they belong and having had it taken away; a school that gives them someplace to escape the families that want to help them.

I love the inversion of the trope of the portal fantasy. Here is this school full of people who have ALL been somewhere else and come back. It’s not a secret, it’s not a mystery (except in the sense that they don’t know why people travel and how it works). The beginning part was fun-bittersweet for me, a kind of guided tour of what that would look like, of the flip side that CS Lewis and Lewis Carroll never thought of and the sadness and dislocation the Pevensies and Alice must have felt. (I think L. Frank Baum might have done better with Dorothy, but it’s been a long time since I’ve read an Oz book and not just seen a movie.)

But (you knew there was a but coming, right?) this book was so close to being for me and then it wasn’t for me. I could still appreciate it, but I didn’t love it.

It’s too creepy.

A kind of creeping creepiness like spiders crawling on my skin.

I had my doubts about Nancy (the protagonist’s) world, the way you might side-eye the boyfriend of a good friend. “No, he’s great,” she insists but he seems kind of cruel to her and he doesn’t like any of her friends and you wonder if everything is ok behind closed doors. That’s how I felt about Nancy’s world. Maybe it’s ok for her and she really does like that stuff but I don’t and I’m not sure I can trust her judgement.

Jack and Jill and their world are even creepier… and you begin to see my problem.

Kade was a delight though and (minor spoiler) I was happy to see McGuire’s matter of fact portrayal of a boy born in a girl’s body (I don’t think he labels himself specifically in the book).

So this book is perfect for someone else, but not for me.

2016: The Year of Portal Fantasy

Early in 2016 I jokingly said that it was going to be the year portal fantasy makes a comeback because I saw the announcements for Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway and Foz Meadows’ An Accident of Stars in quick succession.

Of course, portal fantasy has always been around, but when Lightspeed Magazine published “Not by Wardrobe, Tornado, or Looking Glass” by Jeremiah Tolbert in February, I thought maybe I wasn’t so far off. Maybe it’s the time for new and exciting takes on portal fantasy.

Tolbert’s story is just that, one of those stories that you read and exclaim “Of course it could happen like that! That makes so much sense!” It’s fantastic because it turns portal fantasy on its head.

Reading Challenge–Reading Diversely

I tried not to look at the other results when I was searching for K.T. Bradford’s article on xojane I Challenge You to Stop Reading White, Straight, Cis Male Authors for One Year, but unsurprisingly, it looks pretty bad. Mostly I wanted to do this for my own information, but now I don’t mind adding my noise against the ignorant, the racists and the sexists.

Last year, I recorded reading 76 books. I know I read more like 120 books, but I get lazy and I read fast and I forget what I read. Which is why I want to write down what I’ve been reading in the first place. Anyway. Since high school or college I’ve consistently read many more women than men, so that’s a given.

2014

Women authors (presumed to be white): 63 out of 76

Women authors of color: 5 out of 76 (yeesh)

Men authors of color: 6 (ditto)

Men (presumed to be white): 7

Look at that. Even given my bias against men, I still managed to read more white men than either women or men of color. That’s bad.

As for content:

6 books had a character with some kind of disability or disability was important to the narrative (the wording here because of a memoir)

22 books had characters of color

4 books had a LGBTQ character

66 books had a woman main character or focused on women

Those numbers are a little soft since I read a number of books about writing (by women) and a bunch of SFF that had non-humans as the main characters.

I was already doing better in 2015 before the challenge:

31 books read

7 written by people of color (6 women, 1 man)

28 written by women

That’s still 24 books by white women.

Valen from Flesh and Spirit & Eugenides from The Thief

SPOILERS

I recently recommended Flesh and Spirit by Carol Berg to someone on Twitter who said her favorite characters included Eugenides (The Thief), Miles (all the Miles books by Bujold) and Tremaine (The Fall of Ile-Rien books). I answered with Eugenides (The Thief), Ista (Paladin of Souls, also Bujold), Tremaine and Valen.

The more I think about it, the more it seemed Valen was an awful lot like Eugenides would have been if he hadn’t had a loving home life. They are both irrepressible, thieves and rascals. Of course, Valen is also a drug addict and a deserter.

FleshAndSpiritTheThiefI seem to be having more of this bite sized ideas for posts, so I might try that for a while.