Sunday, September 23, 2012

Fifty Favorite Books

I love a good list. I love a good list, and I've got a draft to finish by the end of the month, so of course when my friend Joe Hill made a list of his Fifty Favorite Books I decided to take a break from the draft and make a list of my own.

There were going to be rules to this – no comics/ graphic novels, no poetry collections, plays are fine, no non-fiction, nothing that hadn’t been published. Some of those I kept, some I didn’t. It turned into a  “will I feel like a liar for leaving this off the list?” test. It's best not to lie when it comes to books.

I listed them in alphabetical order, because I would still be resorting if I were trying to do this in order of love.

Same caveat applies – favorite does not equal best. These are not the fifty books I think are the best in the history of literature, although there would be some crossover. Nor are they the fifty books that have influenced me the most, although again, the overlap is there. They're just my favorites.

Lloyd Alexander – The Chronicles of Prydain

Anonymous – Beowulf (the Heaney translation)

WH Auden – The Sea and the Mirror

Jane Austen – Pride and Prejudice

Peter S. Beagle – The Last Unicorn

Ray Bradbury – From the Dust Returned

AS Byatt - Possession

Susanna Clarke – Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

Susan Cooper – The Dark is Rising series

Pamela Dean – Tam Lin

Charles Dickens – A Christmas Carol

EM Forster – A Room With a View

Tana French – In the Woods

Christopher Fry – The Lady’s Not for Burning

Neil Gaiman – The Graveyard Book
            The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Lauren Groff – The Monsters of Templeton

Lev Grossman – The Magician King

Elizabeth Hand – Mortal Love
            Waking the Moon

Seamus Heaney – The Cure at Troy

Joe Hill – 20th Century Ghosts

Shirley Jackson – The Haunting of Hill House

Diana Wynne Jones – Fire and Hemlock

Guy Gavriel Kay – The Lions of Al-Rassan
            A Song for Arbonne

Stephen King – The Eyes of the Dragon

Ellen Kushner – The Privilege of the Sword

Madeleine L’Engle – The Arm of the Starfish
            A Wrinkle in Time

Kelly Link – Stranger Things Happen

Penelope Lively – Moon Tiger

China MiƩville - UnLunDun

Erin Morgenstern – The Night Circus

Garth Nix - Sabriel

Arthur Phillips – The Song is You

JK Rowling – The Harry Potter series

Karen Russell – St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

Mary Doria Russell – Doc
            The Sparrow

William Shakespeare – The Tempest
            Twelfth Night

Dodie Smith – I Capture the Castle

Patti Smith – Just Kids

Bram Stoker - Dracula

Tom Stoppard – Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Donna Tartt – The Secret History

James Thurber – The 13 Clocks

Friday, September 14, 2012


I am writing this so I will remember.

Today was a really good day. I heard from the people I love, and even from people I haven't met in person yet. It's nice to be reminded that some days the internet can be as warm and loving as it can also be cold and harsh. I got flowers and books and other lovely things. I'll spend about a week going to meals and drinks with friends. I took myself out for a fancy pedicure, and now I have red sparkly toes.

I felt really loved.

And happy.

I worried a lot about my age when I was younger - like, there were certain things that needed to happen by certain years, certain numbers that would be old. I didn't have that worry this year. I like my life. I am doing things that make me happy, that make me feel like I am using my talents in a good direction, that I am challenging myself. I am blessed in friends.

It was a good day.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Who gets to be the sympathetic character

There is a thing that happens, when there is a high-profile crime and then the accused is found not guilty in a court of law. There is talk - about whether there was a rush to justice, about whether the DA was too quick to prosecute, about whether having lots of money and/ or fame and/ or a good lawyer means you can get away with that crime, about whether the law should be changed to prevent someone from getting away with similar crimes in the future.

Here is the kind of talk that doesn't happen - no one says, "oh, she must have worn something that meant she wanted to be shot. There was consent." No one says, "Oh, maybe he just gave away all his money to that guy on the subway, and now he regrets it, so he's lying about being robbed to make himself feel better." No one casts doubt on whether or not a crime occurred in the first place.

Unless of course the crime is rape or harassment. Then the narrative is all about how that slut just wanted to make trouble for that nice guy. Then the talk is all about how well, if the guy isn't guilty, then obviously the crime didn't happen.

These are the things that ran through my head after reading this post by Genevieve Valentine about the fallout from her reporting her experience of sexual harassment by Rene Walling at this year's ReaderCon. While Walling claims to have regret, he does not deny his actions - this is not a case where the harasser has been found not guilty. But read all the way to the end of Valentine's post, please, and you will see that the narrative has changed here, too. This is what Valentine writes:

"Some people’s primary concern, in the wake of Worldcon, is the reputation and fannish future of the harasser. They are, they say, very worried.

The harasser, they say, has been getting criticism and scrutiny online; they worry about the toll this is taking on him."

In other words, there are people who think the one who we all ought to be concerned about is the harasser. His feelings might be hurt, now that people are calling him what he really is.

Here is some more talk that happens: "That's a big thing to accuse someone of. Are you sure you want to ruin a guy's reputation like that? How sure are you about what happened?"

Acts of sexual violence and sexual harassment are under-reported. In other words, many more people are raped, assaulted, and harassed than ever actually report. But even if the statistic were "just" that twenty percent, "only" that 1 in 5, let's think for a bit about what that really means. If one out of every five woman has experienced sexual violence, how many men have committed it? Why do we still insist on a narrative of the only rapists, the only harassers, being the guys who "can't get any" any other way? That a guy who is handsome, or famous, or powerful, or rich, or an athlete, or nice, or someone we've had drinks with, doesn't "need" to rape anyone, doesn't "need" to harass a woman to get attention.

Do you know how many men need to rape or harass women? None. Zero percent. Not one. And those who choose to? It's not their feelings I'm worried about.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A delicate balance

I have always been a big reader. Most of us who become writers are, I think. But the way I started reading changed when I started writing - as I became more interested in the wizardry that went on behind the curtain, I lost my ability to read from the front of the stage. I started reading like a writer, instead of like a reader.

It's hard to explain exactly how this works. When we're taught to read in school, once we get to the point of actually being able to perform the alchemy that turns the marks on the page into comprehensible words, we're taught to read for plot - what happens in the story. Then, we read for character - who were the people in the story, and what kind of people were they. Later, we learn words like alliteration and onomatopoeia, and we read for those things as well. We learn about simile and metaphor, theme and archetype. We learn those things well enough to answer questions about them on our Lit 101 finals, but usually, it stops there. And for most of us - and I include myself in this "most of us" - when we read for fun, we didn't do so with the same analytical rigor as we read when we were reading for class.

When I started writing, I started wanting to know how things worked. Not just the alchemy of turning marks on the page into comprehensible words, but how to turn words into a comprehensible story. And once I became competent at telling a story that looked like a story, I wanted to learn how to use metaphor and simile, and character and dialogue, and language and even plot. The best way I found to do this was to pay attention in a different way as I read - to ask myself why I liked the dialogue or the character, or if I hated the ending, whether it was because I didn't get what I wanted, or because the ending hadn't been true to the story.

Becoming a writer has made me a lot less forgiving of a reader, and some days that makes me sad. I remember distinctly one day, reading a book by an author that I had read regularly, someone who wasn't a favorite, but who had always been a pleasant way to spend an afternoon, and noticing three uses of the same adverb within one paragraph. Reader, I broke up with her. But beyond that, there are very few times any more where I can turn off the gears in my head, and just lose myself in a book. Comprehension matters, of course, it does, and so does the need to see how the clever trick worked.

But so, I think, does that moment of delight when story is just story, when it is wonder on the page, and we can allow ourselves to be caught up in it.