Thursdays with Words: April Reading List

I’ve been reading a lot more than I have in I can’t even remember how long (thank-you, Georgia!), so I wanted to sit down and do some reviews of what I’ve read recently. Partly I want to just get it out of my head, and partly I hope you can find something that catches your interest. All links will be through my Amazon Affiliates account*. So, without further ado– what I’ve read this past month (well, six weeks-ish):

How We Learn, Benedict Cary
Steven got me this for Christmas and I loved it. I loved it for me, and I loved it for my children, and I can’t wait to read it again and sit down and write out how these ideas can be applied to homeschooling. It’s basically a series of ‘brain hacks’ to help you retain and memorize information better, solve problems more creatively and efficiently, and generally learn more effectively. I’m probably going to do a longer blog post on it so I’ll leave it at that.

The Wee Free Men, Terry Pratchett
I read this right after he died. I had always had the impression that Pratchett just wrote kind of goofy fantasy, but I was wrong. Or at least, about this book. But I will definitely want to read more. I found his work a beautiful blend of humour and poignancy, his culture rich and detailed, his MC thoroughly relatable and awesome, and his imagination wonderful. This story made me laugh out loud and it made me think. I was wasting my time not reading him all these years.

How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy, Orson Scott Card
I got this because I am working on a fantasy novel; this is also the reason for most of the other books I’ve read this month and most of the books on my to-read list. I’m trying to get a handle on the genre and some of the aspects I am less strong in. I feel myself to be reasonably strong on the mechanics of writing, but this book focuses on aspects specific to speculative fiction– worldbuilding, magic systems, types of stories, and the SFF publishing market. I think it was a good base for me, and serves as a good jumping off point for reading SFF with a watchful eye for the elements that make it good SFF.

The Patternist Series, Octavia Butler
I downloaded the first book (Wild Seed) because Card praised it in the above-mentioned book. Then I tore through it, dowloaded the next book without stopping, and tore through that, and so on ’til I’d read all four. A creative concept and I was very surprised the direction it took. All four books are connected, but in a loose, unexpected manner as they travel from the 1600’s to a post-apocalyptic society. The writing is spare without being unnecessarily so, and the plot is forefront without neglecting the skill and beauty of the language, which I find rare in plot-driven books. Content advisory: there is a lot of sex in these books. It’s not graphic, it’s just ubiquitous. The story features essentially the breeding of a new society and the characters are all part of that so they all just end up having lots of sex. You were warned.

The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins
Read this for book club; it’s been a while since I read older fiction like this and it was a good shake-up for me, I think. Different language, different style conventions, different social mores and overarching values… I was interested in the story but I had a hard time getting away from the constant commentary on what females can and can’t do/feel/think. I read on Collins’ Wikipedia page that “He also wrote penetratingly on the plight of women and on the social and domestic issues of his time,” so maybe I was just too far removed socially from the time of the book to catch on? Maybe he was being ironic? He seemed to spend for more time than necessary pontificating on what women are intrinstically like, and he doesn’t usually decide on the more flattering choices (i.e. weak, emotional, stuff like that). Marian Halcombe is interesting, witty, intelligent, and totally not the love interest in the story, which role is instead fulfilled by her angelic, blonde, and boring-as-heck half-sister Laura. So that annoyed me the whole time.

Update: This was still bugging me so I did a quick Google of “feminism the woman in white wilkie collins” and came up with this blog post which does enlighten me a little. Commentary on unjust marriage laws, strong female character, types. Ok, cool. Still a little annoyed but less so.

Mistborn, Brandon Sanderson
Read this on the plane back home for Easter (and then all the next day when I was supposed to be actually doing stuff like mothering my children and unpacking). I’m working on writing a fantasy novel so I’m trying to read more in the genre, get a better feel from the sweep of fantasy and hit the big authors in the field. I enjoyed the magic system (Allomancy) in this book, which was intricate, internally consistent, and unique. The characterization and development was decent and the writing also fair to middling, although Sanderson did feel the inexplicable need to use the word ‘maladroitly’ like four times which is totally uncalled for. But (spoiler alert) Jordan used the word ‘rictus’ even more than that in Eye of the World so it was probably a good thing Sanderson was chosen to continue the Wheel of Time series…

The Eye of the World, Robert Jordan
For the whole first section of the book I had a very hard time separating my opinion of the elements of this book that have become tropes from my opinion of the actual writing, but as I got deeper into the story, as things got more immersive, I was able to set that aside. The further in I got, the more I admired Jordan’s worldbuilding and creativity. I still don’t find the writing style very much to my taste, and I was annoyed throughout the book about the way he wrote women and the way he wrote male-female relationships (like, everybody had to mention about how they could never understand the other gender), but the story, the scope, the world, the magic, were all beautiful and well-done.

*And hey: if you buy any of these books through my links here, I get money! So, just a thought…

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