If I had to choose, the book(s) I would take with me for some leisure time on a desert island (spoilers possible?):
- Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel:
This is a cleverly woven together book, where the events of the past, present, and future all intertwine, with the common thread a dead actor and a comic created by his first wife (and I so want this comic to be another book, too). It does not exactly address an apocalypse head-on, but the beginnings and the aftermath of one and what people must do to survive and even thrive when the apparent foundations of civilization have disappeared. The story of the aftermath loosely centers around a young woman named Kirsten who is an actress in the Traveling Symphony, a nomadic group dedicated to performing plays to preserve culture because "Survival is Insuffient." Sometimes I pick this up and just skip to reading different parts out of order. It's kind of a comfort book. In general, I also like (most of) Mandel's style of writing and especially how she never fails to make her characters seem like people who could exist. Station Eleven, yes, does have a clear group of occasionally morally grey protagonists, but its "villains" all get backstories. The Glass Hotel, centering around a pyramid scheme, is another one of Mandel's newer works with less hopeful overtones, although still lovely.
The above image, on my first read, was one of my favorite parts.
- The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle:
(The first time I read this, I started it at midnight and kept going until the ending, so maybe that affected my perception of it. On the second read, however, it was still decent, although I was less into the writing—Beagle's ability to twist metaphors and tropes and write nonsensical things in a way that somehow makes sense remains impressive.)
Initial impressions: The title sounds like a bedtime story for a five-year-old, but this is a quirky, ironic fairytale that includes an incompetent magician, the middle-aged wife of an outlaw, and, of course, a unicorn. It is hilarious and bittersweet, with rich (and odd) writing.
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (series) by Douglas Adams
- The October Country (short stories) by Ray Bradbury
- Catch-22 by Joseph Heller:
(although took me a very long time to read and not a good idea to re-read)
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak:
been a while since I read this one.
- On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
The books that define(d) my childhood:
- Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie
- Artemis Fowl (series) by Eoin Colfer
- Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
- Percy Jackson and the Olympians (and associated books) by Rick Riordan
- Harry Potter (problematic author aside)
- Holes by Louis Sachar
- A Series of Unfortunate Events (series) by Lemony Snicket
- Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
- Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt
Some rambling about reading and dragons
There are a lot of reasons I like fiction. Two of the biggest are below:
- A good story.
- For reflections on human nature and value.
On the first, I do like twisty subversions of story. I also read trash. I pick up YA books I know will have predictable plots, UST (Unresolved Sexual Tension), one-dimensional characters, and poor writing, and I enjoy them despite being annoyed at the quality of novels directed at people in my age range. It’s okay, because they make for a good story (Amish romance novels I cannot say anything about. I am avoiding touching Amish romance novels. You should all avoid Amish romance novels.). Books can be entertainment as much as movies can be, relying too much on special effects to make up for a plot that is littered with common tropes.
The whole debate over literary fiction and genre fiction aside—Can’t we have both #1 and #2? Can’t characters be fully developed and complex, as well as drive a decent plot?
Starting over, kind of, #2: reflections on human nature and value. Stories set in other worlds, or with otherworldly characters I think have an easier job of this with simple juxtapositions and the ability to feature uncomfortable interactions with what is other. Unicorns are ageless, unsympathetic, and revered. Pair one with a group of humans and see what unfolds. That’s The Last Unicorn. **Zombies are our inescapable decay, on the wrong side of death. They are also, or once were, people. And I’ve said stuff about vampires, too—so much potential in those reanimated corpses, and it’s wasted. Then there are dragons, crafty creatures that eat humans for lunch and have a magnified sense of greed for gold. A Wizard of Earthsea, The Hobbit, and many books I haven’t read, but should, play with the legend.
Which takes me to where I wanted to go all along, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. Because I can’t just say read this, right? This is my favorite dragon book. This has my favorite dragons. These dragons are shapeshifters who can take human form when they want, who act as teachers and great thinkers amidst what they regard as a flawed, superstitious, overemotional human society. The two species mix like oil and water. There’s conspiracy and a bit of political intrigue. Beneath everything, this is a coming-of-age tale for the heroine, and I picked this up in the YA section. It is both #1, a good story, and can be read for #2, reflections on human nature and value. Seraphina is a fabulous character, and so is her draconic uncle. So are all the characters. And never has the phrase ‘I value your continued existence’ hit me so hard.
I’ve been meaning to review Seraphina for a while, and I really want to read this again now.
**I bring this up because I picked up Zombies vs Unicorns, an anthology of short stories featuring zombies and unicorns as the editors bicker about which supernatural creature is better. I loved some of the stories in there and was bored by some of the others. I thought “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Alaya Dawn Johnson, a zombie story, was amazing, and to even things out I liked Diana Peterfreund’s killer unicorns and Kathleen Duey’s take on those four-legged sparklemasters. (Unicorns win for me, though the zombie stories were in general better in this book.)
Eliza and Her Monsters, Two or Three Things I Forgot to Tell You, The Imperfectionists, and the Alliance Trilogy
Time for another biannual (?) update!
School is out for the summer, which means more time to write, look up manatees, make smoothies, etc.
And read. I! Will! Read! All! The! Books! It’s something I haven’t really been doing because of all the busyness, but now it’s like gulping down water after a mile run. I’ve been borrowing a friend’s copy of 1984 for at least four months, and I’m around halfway through. Maybe I will be done by the end of summer.
Other than that, I’ve sped through a couple of other books from the library and online, mostly YA fiction: Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia, Two or Three Things I Forgot to Tell You by Joyce Carol Oates, and The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman.
Eliza’s protagonist is the shy secret creator of a popular webcomic called Monstrous Sea, who meets the most well-known fanfiction writer of her work. What I like about this book is how real the characters seem and how sensitively the author depicts them. They know that books or webcomics or art mean different things to different people—and no one is wrong. Plus, the characters reference both the webcomic and another series, Children of Hypnos, and bookception is always at least a little fun. The author has the first book of Children of Hypnos up online, which I of course had to read. I normally avoid the paranormal subsection of YA fantasy, but I’m excited for the second Children of Hypnos book if it will ever be written. My main problem with much of contemporary YA fantasy is that it sacrifices character and plot development for cheesy romance and all the melodrama that comes with it. Though the main character does have a boyfriend, her life doesn’t revolve around getting jealous of other girls who talk to him. They’re friends and they’re together despite their differences—she is a Dreamhunter, whose job is to protect civilians from Nightmares; he lives separate from her training school and society and is the average human (which makes it all the more tragic when he, well, read the book). The dreamscapes she enters with her dreamhunter partner, who she initially assumes is deadweight, are creepy and beautiful. There are conspiracies and secrets and gratifying monster bashing. I’m horrible at summaries, but if you want an easy fantasy read, you can find all of the first book of Children of Hypnos here. Eliza’s a great read on its own as well, and Monstrous Sea has some illustrations up on the author’s site which are cool as an expansion to the parts already in the book.
The Imperfectionists centers on a failing international newspaper and the lives of the people who depend on it, whether as employees, hopeful reporters, or readers. It’s a collection of related vignettes on each character, most of them tragic, with a little humor to keep them afloat. There are some lovely twist endings. In between, the history of the paper unfolds. I liked the book, especially for its final section.
Over here is the Alliance trilogy by E. Jade Lomax, who has offered the entire series on her website as free ebooks, also purchasable in physical copy. There are some scenes where the characters’ actions seem a little half-baked or people run around after what should be fatal or debilitating injuries, but overall they’re a nice read in medieval fantasy.
Two or Three Things I Forgot to Tell You I can’t compliment much. I did break my rule not to read any YA with pictures of an actual person’s face on the front without recommendations, but I thought it would be okay since the title wasn’t just one word and the cover looked decent. Yes, my methods are shallow—at least I read a little of the middle when I pick out books to read. Maybe I just didn’t understand the book since I started speed reading and skimming after the first half. In each of her own chapters one main character describes how she cuts herself, in graphic detail, until she almost kills herself and her friend’s ghost pops up. The last main character is described to be a 5’4’’ teenager, fat at 111 pounds (???), who has an obsession with her oblivious science teacher and suicidal thoughts. Then her friend’s ghost pops up. This mutual ghost friend actually did commit suicide as a result of her unhappiness with her home life and relationships. I guess at that point, after the ghost visits, everyone’s problems are fixed. I feel like I’m making light of a serious book because there are themes of eating disorders, all kinds of abuse, self-harm, and the stigma behind mental health issues, but I was annoyed. Even through the character switch, the tone of the book is constantly cutesy and self-conscious. It reminded me of the feel of the song “Dollhouse,” which would be fine in small amounts but not as 277 pages of angst. I wish the characters had gotten help, talked about their problems to work them out together instead of with a ghost in their heads. Considering some of their problems (there are crimes committed against them), they need legal counsel and professional therapy desperately, but they’re so concerned about their images that they don’t want to get help. This is exactly the wrong message to send to readers. It’s implied that everything is fixed at the end, but there are so many gaping holes to fill in, the conclusion is a dissatisfying mess.