The books that helped me endure 2018.
A few years ago I made a very deliberate decision to read more. This was rather difficult because adding time to my calendar wasn’t an option. Oddly enough, the space-time continuum just wasn’t answering my calls. Finding any peace and quiet was almost impossible given the two kids I have (and the one with ASD who tends to, against the stereotype, be quite loud). That meant changing my approach, much in the same way I had to change my writing approach once my job meant more work and more travel. Not writing is just as horrid as not reading. If there’s one “trick” that’s worked for me when it comes to actually writing most of the time it’s that I make sure I’m reading. If I’m stuck in a rut, 90% of the time it’s because I’m not actively reading.
And given the state of the world, let’s face it: escapism is needed.
That said, my reading these days is decidedly digital. It’s about 60% audiobook and 40% Kindle. I’ve heard plenty of folks rally against each of these formats, but they work wonders for me. First of all, I have a commute of about an hour total almost every day. Secondly, I have a very bad habit of skimming ahead when I’m reading by hand. Listening to a story embeds it in my brain like no other. It does, of course, mean that bad narrators make me incensed, but that’s another gripe altogether.
I made a goal for 2018 to read 20 books, and I’ll certainly do that by at least one or two. I also made a goal to read primarily books by those who fall outside the margins of white cis males. Some were suggested to me, others were books by friends; still others just came into my world unexpected and made a little home in my heart.
The first book I want to suggest is, in fact, a trilogy. I’ve known Fran Wilde for years now — we recently calculated at least five years, but possibly more — but I’d never gotten around to reading her Updraft series. But I am so, so glad that I finally did. And though I can attest that each of the books are gorgeous in their own way, I truly appreciated them as a whole. Without getting too spoilery, music and birdsong play a huge part in Fran’s work. As a poet, herself, I expected no less from her. But if you see the individual books as parts of an overall song, you see there are melodies and harmonies happening all over the place. The series starts with Kirit, but that doesn’t mean that her melody is going to be the one to take you through. I absolutely loved that the point of view characters shifted as the epic unfolded — like a true epic would. There are multiple heroes in this story; indeed, there are multiple kinds of heroes in this story. One strain just wouldn’t be enough to contain it.
The other part I adored was that Fran incorporated bits of the Weird into the work itself. You get hints that something is not quite right during the first book, but as the books continue that sense of unsettling dissonance just deepens more and more. And what. A. Payoff.
Additionally, the audiobook narrators are incredible on this one. I was constantly oscillating between the Kindle copy of this and the audiobook, always wanting more but to savor everything along the way. (Also? Nat is my favorite character. Because duh. But also? It was fun hearing my almost name throughout the audiobook. His father was Natan.)
The second book I’d like to recommend is (so far) a stand-alone novel, and could scarcely be more different than Fran’s books. I believe someone at Wiscon suggested An Unkindness of Ghosts, and though I’m usually a bit hesitant with science fiction/space stories, I was hooked from the first few sentences. Rivers Solomon has a knack for voice, for emotion, and for description that truly captured me and left me helpless. Their command over the story was just masterful, and I quickly got over my space issues and found myself completely immersed in the story.
Solomon takes what’s a pretty familiar concept in science fiction — the generational spaceship floating in space — and gives it a depth I’ve never seen before. They do not pull punches. This is a novel about race and gender, a novel that digs deep into privilege and oppression and sexual abuse and holds nothing back. The main characters are achingly well-drawn, flaws and strengths together, each unique and crisp. I found myself hard of breathing sometimes, reading through the more difficult passages. I was also beyond impressed with Solomon’s portrayal of non-neurotypical characters. As the mother of an autistic child, who has learned first-hand the complexities (both good and bad) such a mind can engender, it was well done and much appreciated.
An Unkindness of Ghosts leaves behind an imprint, like all great books do. It takes the scales from your eyes and gives you a new way to look at the world. It finds its way inside you so that, when you’re walking around minding your business, you get a flash of a scene or a snippet of an emotion and you remember… yes, I was there. I stood and saw this unfold. I felt the fire on my face, felt the leaves under my fingertips.
There are more books to share, and in between bouts of cookie baking and holiday preparations, I’ll be keeping tabs. In the mean time, be sure to check out both recommendations here if you haven’t already.