Weekend Update

Between my One of Us book hangover and the first week of the semester, I did not read much this week. It took me all week to read a category romance (for the TBR Challenge, so I won’t talk about it yet). But I hope I’ll have more time next week, especially since I just picked up Paul Beatty’s The Sellout from the library.

But until I have a good book to talk about, here a few things I’ve been reading this week:

Keira Soleore brought Jia Tolentino’s Jezebel piece on diverse reading–or on proclaiming your diverse reading goals–to my attention:

as a new slate of forthcoming books emerges before us, it may be tempting to announce publicly, and perhaps at length, that you will be personally doing your part to counter the very real, very bad hegemony enshrined in the literary marketplace by reading Only Women or Only People of Color or Only People Who Are Not White Straight Cis Men in 2016. That’s a great idea! I have one additional suggestion: shut up.

Essentially, Tolentino argues that people talk too much about themselves and their diverse reading goals and how wonderful they are for having those goals, and not enough about the diverse books they are reading.

I found this piece provocative, since I have written some posts on my diverse reading goals. But I think–I hope–I have written more on the results of that reading, and not always in ways that mark those books as different in some way, as “special” or “educational.” I think talking about personal goals is a bit different on a small personal blog, where much of my discussion about books includes my personal response. On a big platform, like The Huffington Post (or, for that matter, Jezebel), someone might write a click-worthy column on “My Year of Reading/Not-Reading X,” but never be invited back to talk in detail about the books read during that year, meaning the focus remains on the (often white) reader. I hope Tolentino made me more mindful of this, though of course these paragraphs are all about me and not books.

Thanks to Teresa, I added the Poetry Foundation’s Poem of the Day to my feed reader. I haven’t read them all, but I have enjoyed several. And I listened to a New Yorker poetry podcast I loved, Major Jackson reading and talking about Derek Walcott’s “In Italy” (which you can read at the link). Hearing the way poets talk about what they admire in a poem helps me appreciate them more. There’s a nice variety in their comments, too–some are more academic/analytical, some talk about how a poet influenced or inspired or touched them. I find I can multi-task while they talk about the poem, but when they’re reading it I have to stop and listen carefully. That in itself is a gift.

I listened to a couple of “Books we’re excited for in 2016!!!” podcasts and went “nope, nope, meh” most of the way through. It made me realize how strong my preference for realism in fiction is–lots of these blurbs suggested high concept, post-apocalyptic, or otherwise “weird” books, often with a fantasy/speculative element. I don’t dislike fantasy, but I prefer it, too, to use the techniques of realist narrative, and I like to be clear going in that I’m reading fantasy, rather than stumbling into a genre-bending hybrid. I guess I prefer my speculative fiction as genre fiction, rather than in more literary forms. So I guess I’ve figured out how to stretch myself as a reader! Because a lot of current publishing trends are things I’d normally label Not For Me.

Finally, I went into a bookstore today and saw two things I really wanted (a gorgeous Picador edition of Barbara Pym’s Quartet in Autumn and Dodie Smith’s A Tale of Two Families). But I stuck to my resolution and walked out with no books. Once I realized how early Easter is this year, and that Lent starts February 10, I figured I might as well stick to TBR-only reading until April. (With exceptions for library books already on hold and books to meet my diverse reading goals if needed). That is going to be a challenge. Probably I should stay out of bookstores.


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17 Responses to Weekend Update

  1. lawless says:

    It made me realize how strong my preference for realism in fiction is

    You and me both. It’s funny; as a child, most of what I read had a fantasy element, but once I switched to adult fiction, fantasy lost most of its appeal. And yes, maybe stay out of bookstores!

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Yes, me too–I read a lot of fantasy (including some written for adults) as a child and early teen, and then I just stopped quite abruptly. And I wonder if that didn’t lead me to feel that fantasy is “childish” in some way, even though I don’t consciously believe that. I think part of the problem was that I didn’t have anyone to help me find good fantasy as I became an older reader; but on the other hand, I found mysteries and general fiction fine. I’m not sure why I stopped.

      About 15 years ago, when I started teaching Children’s Lit, I started reading more children’s fantasy again, but I still read very little for adults. It’s one way I’d like to expand my reading (and science fiction, too).

  2. KeiraSoleore says:

    I’ve started reading the Poetry Foundation’s poems as well and have been enjoying the inclusion of modern poetry in my reading. I tried listening to the New York Magazine’s audio of poetry and I found I couldn’t make head or tail of a recited poem. I had to resort to hunting for a written version of that poem in order to be able to follow it and digest it.

  3. Jorrie Spencer says:

    I’m pretty sure that KT Tempest’s challenge, which Jia Tolentino is fairly dismissive of, was quite the conversation starter in the sff world. Though if someone is irritated by these pieces, they are irritated, and she has a point, given they started over a year ago. I personally don’t mind, as long as something interesting is said about the actual books. Then again, I haven’t run into a bunch of these kind of think pieces either. I imagine they might wear quite quickly.

    It’s easy to get into reading ruts. I want to read more Canadian-set books this year, but no one (including myself) is going to think I’m brave and cool if I decide that, for example, all of February I will read Canlit. What I’m trying to say is that this _can_ be a tool to push yourself into different reading patterns; but I think it’s okay to think about how you talk about it!

  4. sonomalass says:

    I don’t really set goals for my reading; it’s one thing I do purely for pleasure. I have tried to broaden my horizons a bit, particularly in terms of authors of color, but that stems mostly from feeling that I’m missing out on good books and interesting viewpoints. I read a lot of SFF, and there are some fabulous nonwhite voices there.

    I used to really struggle in bookstores, wanting to buy pretty books that were outside my budget. For many years that was primarily a financial issue, but now shelf space is what I budget most ruthlessly. There are a lot of books I’d like to read that I don’t necessarily want to own. Visits to bookstores now usually involve making notes of titles to buy for my e-reader or get from the library, coupled with a purchase of a few children’s books for the grandchild.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I do goals because I like them–although every once in a while they start to feel like homework. I do NOT want my reading to feel like homework! Last year I definitely felt I was reading a wider variety of books/authors, in a number of ways, and I enjoyed my reading more because of it. I almost never felt burned out.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Oh, and–yes, the space/clutter thing is definitely an issue for me too! I acquire far fewer physical books.

  5. Sunita says:

    I don’t read Jezebel much, but I really appreciated Tolentino’s piece. I like the challenges I’ve undertaken because they do help me broaden my reading in ways that I enjoy, but I find the whole “read no men! read only POC writers!” etc. etc. to be aimed at some modal reader who may or may not exist. I realized when I added up my POC authors from last year that a lot of them are Asian. Not South Asian, necessarily, but still comfort reads in many ways. That’s not really broadening my reading, at least not in my book. But maybe white people *are* the target audiences for these efforts, in which case I shouldn’t expect it to work the same for me.

    I’m envious that you have the Beatty! I have it on hold at the library, but if it takes more than a month to come in, I’m going down to my local, excellent independent bookstore and paying full hardcover price for it.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Yes, I’m glad Keira linked it because I never go to Jezebel on my own.

      I just read a few pages of the Beatty but they were wild and wacky and obviously written by a poet. It will stretch me as a reader for sure!

  6. merriank says:

    I read everything as a child and teen, books were not so easy to come by so to read meant reading what was around me. My Father’s foster family ran a circulating library in a horse drawn cart going about their suburb. We had the remains, so I was reading Victorian, Edwardian and popular novels of the 20s & 30s along with books from the library. Buying books except for birthday and Christmas just didn’t happen. It stands me in good stead now I think as I am so much more narrowly focussed on what I will read.

    Non-fiction was a mainstay of my adult reading but now I am not very interested at all. I see romance as a form of fantasy so it is a continuum between the genre and and SFF with emphasis on the ‘F’ for me. I think as my health has deteriorated and I am less in the world that what engages me are stories of relationships and agency; not the gung ho alpha/alone character type of agency but the ways in which people make and find it in the cracks and broken bits of their lives. Very Foucault I know. That and how genre remains generally hopeful about people and change keep me reading. I like novellas and category length when my concentration is bad (which is a lot these days).

    I have just started a new to me fantasy series by J. Kathleen Cheney: ‘The Golden City’ trilogy is a police procedural seat in an alternate Portugal divided into two Princedoms with magic and transhuman beings and concerns about colonialism. There is a great romance unfolding over the books between two interesting and decent people who have families (how non UF) and competing senses of duty. I read Foz Meadows novella about what happens in Miranda’s life after she leaves the Island (of the Tempest). I re-read a lot too when my concentration is iffy. I can say that reading in various ways sustains me.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      It’s great to hear from you, Merrian! (At more than Twitter length). I have gone through various phases in my reading life similar to what you describe here: periods where most of my reading was mystery, some years when I read a ton of children’s lit, a few where I read almost entirely romance. Last year I think I read more non-fiction than usual (though it wasn’t the majority of my reading by any means) and I’m still feeling drawn to it. I can’t even always explain these phases, though the children’s lit one was when I was teaching it often and my own children were small.

      That Cheney trilogy sounds good. But no new books for me right now!

  7. Rosario says:

    I can see Tolentino’s point, but FWIW, people’s posts about making their reading more diverse were what prompted me to look at my own reading, find it wanting, and try to seek out different voices. And I find particularly useful any posts about what strategies readers have used to achieve this… after all, the reason my reading was not (and probably still isn’t) as diverse as it could be wasn’t because I was trying to stick to my usual authors. It was because my usual places for finding out about upcoming books were not working, and I got some good suggestions for new sources from other readers.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I wonder whether she thinks we’ve reached the point where such posts are no longer doing their job? (Based on what evidence, though….)

      I think any post that helps you figure out HOW to read more diversely, like where to go for recommendations, is a different thing, because that again would shift the emphasis away from the reader (author of the post) and towards the books. A lot of my Twitter conversations about this piece were about how diverse reading will result in, or maybe require you to find, new circles to get recommendations from and to talk to about books, unless your online circles are reading much more variety than many of ours are. (I love my circle! But I was following mostly romance readers, and in the past year I’ve added new blogs and Twitter feeds that tell me about other books).

  8. willaful says:

    If it’s any comfort, I found that Dodie Smith book extremely forgettable. 🙂 Have you read The New Moon With the Old? It’s dated but very enjoyable.

    I recently gave myself a treat by ordering this poster: http://siminiblocker.com/I-Capture-the-Castle

    Hub sez, “It’s nice but would be so much better with the author and title.” Me: “The author and title are part of what I like about it. It’s a book cover!”

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Oh, that poster is lovely!

      The only Dodie Smith books I’ve read are 101 Dalmatians (to my kids) and I Capture the Castle, which I only discovered in my 30s.

      • willaful says:

        That should, of course, have been that hub said it would be better *without* the words. Also, if I ever showed hub this, he would be extremely irked. Because _*The Hundred and One* Dalmatians_ was his favorite children book.

        The New Moon with the Old and The Town in Bloom are both worth reading. (The first is about a quirky family setting out on adventures. The second is the story of a young actress and her theater friends.) And her 3 volume autobiography was interesting.

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