The New Jersey bookstore Inkwood has a list of reading resolutions for 2017.
Here’s my own handful of resolutions – your mission, should you choose to accept it.
1) If an author you like has a handlea-able number of books out there and you haven’t read them all, become the completist. Find and read ALL of their work. Then write and tell them so.
2) Commit to reading at least 12 books this year – it’s ONLY one book a month and it won’t take that long . No, they don’t have to be 1000-page books (and if they are, you can make a case of that book counting for two or even three ordinary books…)
3) Be a word-spreader. if you like a book, tell other people about it. Writers will thank you for it.
4) Read at least one book in a genre you’ve never read before. You might still not find it congenial but at least you’ll know WHY.
5) Read at least one author you’ve never read before or never HEARD of before. You might hate the book (and you aren’t REQUIRED to finish) but at least you aren’t going to be reading the same handful of authors over and over again. Reading is an adventure. Get your ticket punched for a destination you’ve never ben to before.
And speaking of lists…
I tend to ignore them myself.
I know, I know, I just offered you a list. Sue me.
I’ll admit to running through the the occasional list invoving books to see how many of them I have read.
Some lists are more esoteric than others – there are lists I can confidently say I”ve pretty much covered comprehensively and there are other lists which leave me scratching my head and wondering if I live in some alternate universe because I haven’t heard of any of those books or their “acclaimed” authors. Books lists are one of the oldest and dodgiest forms of literary criticism.
Here’s a list that’s left me interested and intrigued. It has books I’ve heard of but haven’t read yet although I’ve been meaning to (Le Guin’s “Lavinia”, for one) and it has books by authors whose names I recognise – but not from THIS book. I think I may have some catch-up reading to do…
“Nothing is EVER finished – but you have to know when to let go. It won’t be perfect. Not EVER. Live with it. Get your story as good as you can and then let it step out into the world to seek its fortune. Hope it sends you a postcard to show you how it’s doing.”
That’s it. But it took me a score of books and a few million words to really recognize the truth of it. And between you and me, I sometimes have a hard time practicing what I preach.
I particularly like this advice:
33. “Ignore all lists of writing tips. Including this one…every time you hear a writing tip, you have to decide whether it means something to you, resonates with you, or (it’s) the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard. It’s your book, you need to learn to write it your way. Now please ignore this advice. – Marcus Sedgwick, author of The Ghosts of Heaven and others
And this: images.unsplash.com
07. First drafts are always horrible and ugly. Don’t worry about that – it’s the same for everyone…if you keep redrafting, one day you will look at your horrible book and realise that you’ve turned it into something actually quite beautiful. – Robin Stevens, author of the Murder Most Unladylike series
The Japanese Museum of Rocks That Look Like faces
Rocks have faces? Rocks have souls?
This is FABULOUS. this is a cabinet of stories waiting to happen. It gives me a happy and slightly insane urge to go out and start turning rocks over and asking them to talk to me.
Speaker to Rocks. There are worse things to aspire to be…
The museum is called the Chinsekikan (which means hall of curious rocks) and it houses over 1700 rocks that resemble human faces. It’s in Chichibu, two hours northwest of Tokyo and may be the only one of its kind.
The story in Colossal suggests this looks like Elvis Presley. I think it looks rather like our lamentable president-elect.
26 Very Long Books Worth the Time They’ll Take to Read
My choice in this list of books selected by Boris Kachka in Vulture might be obvious if you know my background. I was born in Yugoslavia, a country that no longer exists. Clifton Fadiman of the New Yorker called it “one of the great books of our time“. I certainly agree.
I find the comments on the back cover of my own copy that was given to me shortly after the US and NATO’s war on my homeland to be very perceptive:
Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia, Rebecca West (1941, 1,181 pages)
Written on the brink of World War II, West’s classic examination of the history, people, and politics of Yugoslavia illuminates a region that is once again the center of international concern. A magnificent blend of travel journal, cultural commentary, and historical insight, it goes into the troubled history of the Balkans and the uneasy relationships among its ethnic groups. The landscape and people Yugoslavia are brilliantly observed as Rebecca West and untangles the tensions that rule the country’s history as well as its daily life.
See all the other books at the Vulture website HERE
Quote of the Day
“The best novels are those that are important without being like medicine; they have something to say, are expansive and intelligent but never forget to be entertaining and to have character and emotion at their centre.” ~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I haven’t tried Instagram yet, but at HuffPost Claire Fallon has written a story that has me thinking about it. While tweeting has become important among the literati, Instagrams more visual platform hasnt caught on to the same degree.
Twitter encourages writers to use words more conscientiously, engage in conversations with other authors, and hop on to bookish hashtags; Instagram asks us to think aesthetically, Fallon notes. “We book nerds love a good visual as much as anyone, especially if that image includes our favorite things: books.”
Author and artist Miranda July greeted fans with a provocative twist on a book announcement pic: her new novel posed between bare, spreadeagled legs. The birth of my Instagram account, she dryly captioned her first photo on the site. After just this one post, July already has over 6,000 followers. https://instagram.com/mirandajuly/
I got 71. Wow. I spend a lot of time reading.
How about you?
NPR’s Top 100 Science-Fiction & Fantasy Books
More than 5,000 of you nominated. More than 60,000 of you voted. And now the results are in, NPR says. The winners of NPR’s Top 100 Science-Fiction and Fantasy survey are an intriguing mix of classic and contemporary titles. There are no young adult or horror books on this list, but those genres will come another time.
~~~~~ What Am I Looking At?! Canadian artist Rob Gonsalves is a genius when it comes to optical illusions. His surreal paintings seem ordinary enough at first, but move your eyes across the frame and suddenly the scene is something completely different.
In Gonsalves’ paintings, up is down, down is sideways…
~~~~~ 11 Essential Reads for Women’s History Month
We are all familiar with Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Doris Lessing, Simone de Beauvoir, and the contributions they made to feminist literature, Off the Shelf says. But great literature concerning feminist themes is not confined to these classics.
Many of our most exciting contemporary literary writers are expanding and complicating our understanding of what it means to be a woman today. Encompassing the thrill, rage, devastation, and range of the female experience, these essential voices should not be ignored. I’d argue that my own The Secrets of Jin-shei fits that, though it wasn’t among the 11 they chose.
One remarkable book that was picked was: Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: This powerful story of race and gender is centered on Ifemelu, a brilliant and self-assured young woman who departs military-ruled Nigeria for an American university where, for the first time, she is forced to grapple with her identity as a black woman. Ifemelu faces difficult choices and challenges, suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships, and eventually achieves success as the writer of an eye-opening blog about race in America. Fearless and gripping, Americanah is a richly told story set in todays globalized world.
Author Katharine Norbury includes one of the funniest books ever written, one I hectored my husband into reading, Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome, in her list of:
The top 10 books about rivers Cuneiform tablet with Gilgamesh Flood Epic. Babylonian, c17th century BC. Photograph: Universal Images Group/Getty Images
She also includes The Epic of Gilgamesh: The oldest story ever told, or at any rate, ever written down, was inscribed onto 11 clay tablets around 1800 BC and rediscovered in Mesopotamia in 1853 AD. In 1998, the opening lines turned up in a vault in the British Museum. Rivers run through it, as they do through all the great origin myths.
At Bustle, Becky Schultz talks about the 11 Books You’d Find On Lisa Simpson’s Shelf because she has great literary taste.
For example: Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
After destroying Lisa’s room with fireworks, Bart and Homer make it up to her by spending a day at the Springfield Festival of Books. There, they encounter Stephen King, Tom Wolfe, John Updike, and Amy Tan, who Lisa admires for Joy Luck Club, a novel that follows four Chinese American immigrant families in San Francisco who start a mahjong (for money) club.
Lisa:Ms. Tan, I loved the Joy Luck Club. It really showed me how the mother-daughter bond can triumph over adversity.
Amy Tan:No, that’s not what I meant at all, you couldn’t have gotten it more wrong.
Amy Tan:Please, just sit down. I’m embarrassed for both of us.
I wonder what Lisa would think of my new novel, Abducticon?
It just got its first review on Amazon (5 stars) from Rainy Day, who says in part:
If you’ve ever been to a Science Fiction/Fantasy convention, ‘con’ to most people, you will love this book. If you’ve ever been involved in a con, either in setting one up, working one, or as a guest, you will recognize every single person Ms. Alexander writes about. Perhaps not every single episode that happens, as, well, the entire con and the hotel, complete with mundane guests, is hijacked by time-traveling androids and taken for a ride around the moon.
Wouldn’t that be a con to end all cons? And the reactions from the gamers? Absolutely priceless! Everything you could possibly want in a con is in this book, up to and including the replicators.
If you like cons, you will absitively posolutely LOVE this book. This is truly one of the funniest SF books I’ve read in years. Job well done, Alma Alexander!
~~~~~ To write, you must read, read, read – and don’t forget to read
I’ll be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Workshop In an interview with me for their website, I was asked: What do you think is the most important advice you can give to developing writers? I replied:
One young and aspiring writer, asking for advice of this nature, once unforgettably told me that she “didn’t have time to read.” I knew then that she would never really be a writer.
Reading is the primary education for any writer. People who don’t read never develop the love and the reverence for the written word–and how, then, can they hope to tease out its wonders?…
Beyond that, if you are serious about pursuing this as a craft, as a vocation, as a career… well… Write. Practice. It comes only with practice, this inner instinct about whether something you’ve just written is good, or if there is something wrong with it, and what, and how it needs fixing. I once wrote a page and half of something and realized that what I had there was a very dense summary of the thing I needed to actually write. Once I teased out everything that got condensed into it until it weighed as much as a literary neutron star, it turned into nearly three chapters of the book that came out of it all. But without the millions of words of practice I had already put in… I would not have known this, recognised this, figured out what I needed to do to fix it.
The world of literature has everything in it, and it refuses to leave anything out. I have read like a man on fire my whole life because the genius of English teachers touched me with the dazzling beauty of language.
Because of them I rode with Don Quixote and danced with Anna Karenina at a ball in St. Petersburg and lassoed a steer in “Lonesome Dove” and had nightmares about slavery in “Beloved” and walked the streets of Dublin in “Ulysses” and made up a hundred stories in the Arabian nights and saw my mother killed by a baseball in “A Prayer for Owen Meany.”
I’ve been in ten thousand cities and have introduced myself to a hundred thousand strangers in my exuberant reading career, all because I listened to my fabulous English teachers and soaked up every single thing those magnificent men and women had to give. I cherish and praise them and thank them for finding me when I was a boy and presenting me with the precious gift of the English language.
The only book of mine that I have ever had reservations about is a collection of some of my teenage poems, self published by my proud father. Some of them were okay, but others. Well, they were the work of a young teen. ‘Nuf said.
At Mental Floss, Rudie Obias has written about authors with more serious problems with something they published.
9 Authors Who Regretted The Success of Their Work
An author who made a shark the villain, later became a shark champion; a man who wrote how to build bombs later rejected the idea that violence is an acceptable means to bring about political change.
Octavia E. Butler despised her third novel Survivor because it featured some of the worst clichés of the genre.
“When I was young, a lot of people wrote about going to another world and finding either little green men or little brown men, and they were always less in some way,” she told Amazon.com. “They were a little sly, or a little like ‘the natives’ in a very bad, old movie. … People ask me why I don’t like Survivor, my third novel. And it’s because it feels a little bit like that. Some humans go up to another world, and immediately begin mating with the aliens and having children with them. I think of it as my Star Trek novel.”
After its initial edition, Butler refused to bring Survivor back into circulation.
~~~~~ Author Stops Reading White Male Authors For a Year
“Every time I tried to get through a magazine,” K. T. Bradford wrote, “I would come across stories that I didn’t enjoy or that I actively hated or that offended me so much I rage-quit the issue. Go through enough of that, and you start to resist the idea of reading at all.”
So Bradford decided that instead of reading everything, “I would only look at stories by women or people of color or LGBT writers. Essentially: no straight, cis, white males.”
The result was that she enjoyed reading short stories more, and she also became aware of how often certain magazines published whole issues in which no women or POC authors made an appearance. She went on the hunt and discovered several that published new-to-me writers and also a surprising number of magazines dedicated to under-heard voices.
Nick Lake, author of There Will be Lies, selects his favorite fictional tricksters and tellers of untruths in books Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), the greatest liar in literature? Photograph: Warner Br/Everett /Rex
Rich playboy Gatsby (The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald) lies about a lot of things. His romantic life; his past; the origins of his ostentatious wealth, actually amassed through grubby bootlegging. But the small, practical lie that has always stuck in my mind is the fact that the handsome books in his library have uncut pages, proving that he hasn’t ever opened them. F Scott Fitzgerald called the jazz age the “cut glass age”, for its glitter, outward beauty and inward emptiness. But I almost think the uncut books are a more resonant metaphor.”
I am primarily a fantasy writer. That is how I view myself and my novels. But literary critics often have trouble labeling me, putting my books into neat little boxes.
Perhaps that shows most vividly in one of my recent novels, ‘Midnight at Spanish Gardens,’ a book that explores how our lives are changed by the paths we take, the choices we make.
Reviews were good, e.g. “the language is poetic and beautiful…characters are utterly compelling … on one occasion, I stood in a doorway, flipping page after page, unable to take the steps that would lead to the end of my reading.” (Alana Abbott)
But Spanish Gardens uses a bit of fantasy to explore those choices, and booksellers and some reviewers don’t know how to classify it, what box to put it in.
I explored this problem a few years ago in an article that I wrote for The Interstitial Arts Foundation.
Interstitial art is made in the interstices between genres and categories, the foundation’s website explains. It crosses borders, is not constrained by category labels. “Just as how in nature the greatest areas of biodiversity occur in the margins of land between ecosystems, it is our belief that some of the most vital, innovative, and challenging art being created today can be found in the margins between categories, genres, and disciplines.”
Here is my 2009 article, a blast from the past as it were:
It was a long time ago. A century ago. A millennium ago.
Well, all right, it was in 1999.
A man I met on a Usenet newsgroup concerned with writing – who became a friend, and subsequently my husband – and I collaborated on what must have one of the first few novels which could be described as “email epistolary”.
We each took on a character’s mantle, and we exchanged emails as these characters, within a given historical and political context – in this instance, the 78-day bombardment of Serbia by the United States and its often reluctant allies, in what became known as the Kosovo crisis.
The novel, ‘Letters from the Fire’, was written very fast, in pain and with passion, and got picked up for publication by Harper Collins in New Zealand, where I was living at the time. From conception to being on bookstore shelves, the book took just under six months – which has to be some sort of record in the publishing industry at the time.
The topic was hot, to be sure, and the themes were those of contemporary history – but it was a fictional account of those real events, a novel, and it was with a considerable amount of astonishment that I came upon a callow young assistant in one of the premier flagship bookstore on the main drag in Auckland, shelving the books… in the non-fiction section.
“That’s a novel,” I told him. “It belongs in fiction.”
He looked at me with a gormless expression, and said, “Are you sure?”
“Reasonably,” I said. “I wrote it.”
That’s bookend one. For bookend two, fast forward to 2004, with the release of my novel, ‘The Secrets of Jin-Shei.’ [Now published in 13 languages)
This was something which, as I wrote it, I conceived as alternate-history, or historical fantasy. The publishers had other ideas, and marketed it as mainstream, with most bookstores shelving it in the general fiction section.
Which had two complementary repercussions.
The first was that fantasy readers who might have loved this book simply never got to hear about it, because it wasn’t shelved in the section where they went to seek reading material.
The second was that mainstream readers, on the other hand, were uniformly thrown by what is essentially a very minor serving of magic in the book.
There appeared to be little I could do, despite repeated attempts, to convince people that the book was NOT in fact about China, about any China that actually existed, that there were certain aspects of the Imperial China which I used in the novel but that the land in which my own story took place was called Syai and did not, in fact, exist outside my own imagination. (And I STILL get questions like, “But what particular period of Imperial China were you writing about?”)
Part of the problem with the latter bookend is simply the fantasy cooties thing, something that apparently requires a warding off of the first order should its evil eye fall on your work – but as I keep telling everyone, ALL FICTION IS FANTASY. By definition.
And if the currently accepted definition of fantasy spills over into the mainstream shelves, or the mainstream books suddenly start having a dash of the fantastic – this should not be something that alienates readers from a book, bur rather it should be seen as an expanding of one’s horizons, an interstitial quest, a hunting for treasure in places you never thought to look in before.
Remember those optimistic, hardy, pretty urban weeds that spring with hope eternal from cracks in the pavement and put forth extravagant blooms as they dodge passing feet for a chance at a summer in the sun? That’s what we all are. Something beautiful in unexpected places, where you might least expect to see it. In the interstitial corners.
And perhaps it isn’t surprising that someone like Leonard Cohen put it best when he sang about there being a crack in everything. That, he said, was how the light gets in.
Read more about The Interstitial Arts Foundation HERE
I’ll be at “The Author visits” all week, the first stop on a blog tour for Random, the first book in The Were Chronicles, my new YA series. There will be a book giveaway, an exceprt from Random, a review, a guest blog post from me, hints about What’s Next.
From today’s interview:
Which character in a book would you enjoy having drinks and dinner with?
I’d love to share a rowdy dinner party with the entire royal family of Amber (if I could sit next to Corwin), or perhaps I could visit the Wales of Llewellyn’s era, as portrayed by Sharon Penman, and share Llewellyn’s table (one assumes these invitations mean one can speak a shared language, although my current knowledge of 13th century Welsh is pretty much nil…), or maybe I could have tea with Merlyn from “The Once and Future King”…?
My novel, The Secrets of Jin-Shei, takes place in an Imperial China that never existed. In fact, I called my version of ‘China’ by another name and in an endnote discussed the differences between my world and historical Imperial China.
That didn’t stop my publisher from trying to position it as a historical novel, some
reviewers from discussing it as such, and some bookstores putting it in the history section.
This comes to mind now because of a story in Publishers Weekly by Alix Christie, author of Gutenberg’s Apprentice, in which she picks 10 of her favorite historical novels. One on her list is the novel, Memoirs of a Geisha, a book that Jin-shei and its sequel, Ember of Heaven, have been compared to.
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden – Much has been made of how a male writer could so convincingly inhabit the character of a Japanese geisha. But the novel’s real strength lies in the lucidity and modesty of its storytelling, a lack of fussiness that mirrors spare Japanese aesthetics. Golden’s achievement is to open up a sealed and foreign world in the form of an affecting coming of age tale.
“The historical novels I admire,” Christie writes, “inhabit their worlds so fully that as a reader I feel I’m breathing the air of that distant place or time. This has less to do with historical detail than with a freshness of language, tone and incident that makes the concerns of the characters so recognizably human that they feel almost contemporary. The ability to transport us into different minds is a hallmark of good literature generally; the bar is set even higher when a story’s setting is truly foreign.”
Top 10 health and safety fails in children’s books
From The Hunger Games to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, children’s books can demonstrate a somewhat lax approach to disaster and death. Ross Montgomery, author of The Tornado Chasers, shares his favorite books for danger lovers.
The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr:Look, if you open the front door and there’s a tiger outside, the first rule is that you don’t invite them in. Don’t come to me acting all surprised when he’s eaten all the sandwiches and drunk all the tea in the teapot.
Though a book’s opening lines may determine whether or not you take the book home at all, it’s as likely to be the last lines that stick in your memory long after you set the book down: they may tidily tie up events, or make you question instantly if there is a sequel, or see you muttering “Thank goodness that’s over!”
He turned up in my dream, Chalky, the protagonist of my current WIP. He’s nineteen years old, pushing twenty. He’s a kid who has had a helluva twisted childhood (of course he did, he’s one of my characters) and he’s never really been a ‘kid’, he’s cocky, and he’s vulnerable, and he’s a wretched little know-it-all, and there he was, sitting on the side of my bed, kicking his heels on the bed frame.
“You’re doing it wrong,” he said.
“Oh, what now?”
“That scene, The new material. You’re *rushing* it. I have to know certain things but you haven’t given me time to learn them.”
“Am not rushing it. I need to…”
He interrupts me. “It’s nothing but a synopsis,”
Dammit, he’s right. I’m unpacking the the scene in my head. There are four pages worth of material behind a single paragraph there. I growl.
“What if you…”
“Shut UP,” I snap. “Did I ask you for advice?”
He shrugs, “Just thought I’d point it out. And another thing.”
“You need to figure it out.”
“Figure WHAT out?”
“What I want. What my motivation is.”
“Now you go all Galaxy Quest on me?”
“But I”m not a rock,” he points out helpfully.
I growl again. I seem to be doing a lot of growling. But I”m still kind of asleep. At this point stuff happens (cat sticks nose in my ear) and I come wide awake, and he’s gone, of course, with just that smarmy voice left: ‘You’re doing it wrong.’
That voice stays in my head like a gnat. I barely choke down breakfast. Then I take a cup of coffee down to the computer thinking that maybe it might help me clarify things.
He’s RIGHT the little sod. It IS a synopsis. I had to have him visit me in my dream to tell me I’m screwing up the book??? That’s just *rude*.
Whatever. I go back to the beginning of the problem.
Then I discover that isn’t the beginning of the problem, and go further back. Then something else falls down in a heap and mocks me. I take a large swallow of coffee, crack my knuckles over the keyboard, and hit “delete”. This scene needs to die.
I start again from the beginning. A different beginning.
This time there’s… something. There’s a note of truth in it (yes this is a story about Were-creatures. Yes, every word of it is ‘true’. Why do you ask?) I keep typing, scowling at the scene. The dialogue comes down the riverbed of story like somebody just blew up a dam upstream. Yeah, Chalky, I saw the fuse string dangling from your pocket.
But this water is clean. it is clear. it is deep.
I keep scowling. If there’s something I always resent it’s when my characters refuse to cooperate with me until I finally agree to cooperating with them, and withhold their participation in my story until this is accomplished.
I mean, I can write scenes for them. I can write dialogue for them. They’ll say it because I said they must say it. But they will say it without inflection, without passion, without any kind of feeling, and they’ll sound like robots until such time as I grit my teeth and let them say what they want how they want. And then all of a sudden they’re frigging Shakespeare and everything they say sings. I hate it when my characters are better writers than I am.
I really hate it.
Particularly when they haunt my sleep to tell me so.
I lift my hands from the keyboard. The coffee’s long gone and the light is different outside. It’s a beautiful scene.
He’s sitting there on the edge of my desk, kicking his heels against the side and smirking.