2016 Reading Challenge

About a year ago, I posted a run-down of the books I read in 2015, as well as three separate posts detailing my reading plans for 2016. Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it is not the soul of this blog.

That was early January, but since it feels unlikely that I’m going to finish anything tomorrow, I thought I’d get a jump on the reflecting. This year, I made myself a spreadsheet to track my reading (my engineer husband is so proud). I finished 87 books. Of those, 42 were written by people of color, which is a drastic improvement from my mostly-white 2015 reading list. The breakdown of author gender was pretty similar, with about 2/3 female authors and only one non-binary author.

Wiser people write about the issue of diversity in publishing every day, but here’s my two cents: I had a harder time finding new fiction by people with backgrounds different from my own. These books were not always on library or bookstore shelves. Many of the ones I did find were indie or self-published, rather than from a major publishing house. The discrepancy has certainly made me more conscious about where I spend my book-buying dollars.

I read more nonfiction this year- thirteen books total. A good percentage of those were writing books that I read in an effort to improve my own craft, or maybe figure out what genre the book I’m writing is (With some help from friends and books, I’ve settled on calling it paranormal suspense). Reading with a goal in mind helps decrease the feeling that I’m doing pointless homework.

There was less fantasy this year, or maybe it just looks that way because I stopped lumping “paranormal” in with “fantasy.” There were a lot more romances this year—I was craving happy endings, for sure. According to my lovely spreadsheet I read somewhere in the neighborhood of 24,600 pages total, which is a basically meaningless number because of font sizes and different editions and illustrations and such, but still fun to look at.

I’ll be back sometime next week to let you know what to expect from this blog in 2017 (hint: it is mostly books and yelling about The Magicians). In the meantime, here are my favorites from the past twelve months:

Favorite New Series: Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate. I picked up Soulless back when it first came out in 2009. I can’t remember if I was having paranormal burnout or het romance burnout or what, but I didn’t finish it then. I’m so pleased I got it out of the library again. I’ve never purchased a box set that fast.

Favorite Continuing Series: The Obelisk Gate is the second book in the Broken Earth Trilogy. N.K. Jemisin continues to break my heart in new and creative ways.

Favorite Re-Imagined StoryThe Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. I love a good fairy tale retelling. Even though I’ve never read Hale before, this felt like coming home.

Favorite Classic That I Finally Got Around ToKindred by Octavia Butler. Newer, as “classics” go, but wrenching and still so necessary.

Favorite Comic: I am a little sad to be coming to the end of Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing, which gets better and better as it goes.

Favorite Surprise Discovery/Debut Author: I’ve already written about how much I found Mishell Baker’s Borderline thanks to a bookstore staff recommendation. It’s a stunning paranormal mystery full of complex characters, fairies, and modern Hollywood intrigue, and I’m so so happy I picked it up.

Favorite Overall: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is the 16th book in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga. Bujold has incredible range as a writer, but this is how I like her best—sci-fi with a twist of family drama, romance, and comedy.

What other excellent and life-changing literature did you experience this year? Tell me in the comments, and have a safe and happy new year.

Songs That Remind Me of Books, Science Fiction Edition

My post on songs that remind me of fantasy novels is here. Like I said, these book-to-song associations have more to do with the workings of my own brain than with actual plot or lyrical content. I know there are dozens of rock songs that directly quote or name drop 1984, but you’ve probably heard of those already. Here are some tunes that remind me of my favorite dystopias and space operas:

“Pompeii” by Bastille and Biting the Sun by Tanith Lee

Biting the Sun, originally published as the two novellas Don’t Bite the Sun and Drinking Sapphire Wine, is one of my all-time favorite dystopias. In this vision of the future, there are no evil overlords intent on oppressing the human race. Instead, there are just super-helpful robots who are intent on doing everything for us. Bored and disaffected by all the state-sanctioned hedonism, the heroine goes to great lengths to find authenticity in her own life. There is a volcano, actually, but that’s only a warm-up act to the disasters that take place later on, leaving the characters wondering what life after is going to look like.

“Team” by Lorde and the Uglies Series by Scott Westerfield

There’s something a little dystopian about a lot of Lorde’s songs—it seemed really fitting that she has a song on the soundtrack to the Mockingjay movie. “Team” in particular seems to speak to a life lived off the grid, breaking rules and living by your own code. Uglies, like Biting the Sun, imagines a world where humans are provided with every possible luxury and the chance to be inhumanly beautiful. Over the course of the trilogy, the main characters find out that there’s a hidden cost for all of it, and they have to decide if the compromise is worth it.

“The Gambler” by Fun and The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold

I spent the summer of 2012 working at summer school, drinking at bars, playing in bands, reading every book in the Vorkosigan Saga, and listening to the albums Aim and Ignite and Some Nights on a constant loop. It makes some sense, then, that I relate the music of the band Fun with the works of author Lois McMaster Bujold. “The Gambler” is one of my favorite tracks for a lot of reasons—the lyrical melody, the surprise French horn solo, and the way a 4-minute song manages to tell the whole history of a family. Bujold’s series is like that, too. Each book stands alone, but the saga taken together tells the story of Miles Vorkosigan and the people caught up in his orbit. The most recent entry, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, is my favorite book of 2016 so far.

“Hands Clean” by Alanis Morissette and Crystal Line by Anne McCaffrey

 

I’ve written before about my love for the audiobook of McCaffrey’s Crystal Singer trilogy. The last book, Crystal Line, is the only one I read in print before listening to. It was the winter of 2002, and Alanis Morissette’s “Hands Clean” was all over VH1, my preferred method for experiencing new music, at the time. The lyrics are about a young woman having a secret affair with an older man, rumored to be based on actual events in Morissette’s past. I was thirteen and I hadn’t had a job or a boyfriend yet, let alone a romance with my boss. But Killashandra Ree has exactly that in Crystal Singer. By the third book, that relationship gets swept under the rug thanks to circumstances that I find more chilling as I get older.

That’s my science fiction playlist. Enjoy your week, everyone!

Best Vacation Books

This post is scheduled to go up the day after I get back from my vacation, but right now, I’m still in the planning stages. Tickets are bought and lodgings are booked. My last load of laundry is in the washing machine, and I have picked out the books I’m going to read while I’m away.

I have firm beliefs about vacation reading. Traveling is not the time to challenge myself as a reader. Lounging on a beautiful beach isn’t going to make me suddenly enthused about a book I was avoiding before.  I also don’t want anything that’s too dark or emotionally heavy. The stranger next to me on the train doesn’t need to listen to me cry about fictional characters.

My favorite thing to do before a trip is pick up the next book in a series. That way it’s new and exciting, but I know I’m getting into a world I love. Last year on my honeymoon I brought a Bloody Jack (I like to describe these as “Napoleonic Wars but with crossdressing”) and one of Naomi Novick’s Temeraire books (“Napoleonic Wars but with dragons”). Both are longer series that I have been chipping away at for a few years now, neither disappointed.

I have a few other vacation reading staples. Christopher Moore writes smart, funny, irreverent books. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I wanted to give a shout-out to Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings, for combining things I loved in first grade (humpbacked whales, Amelia Earhart) with things I love now (weird science fiction stories, dick jokes).

Terry Pratchett is another good traveling companion. A lot of his fantasies riff humorously on real-world scenarios or historical events, but in between the jokes I wind up really caring about the characters. The sheer number of Pratchett books in existence can be daunting, but I generally recommend Going Postal or Monstrous Regiment if you’re a newcomer to the Discworld series. If you’d like something that truly stands alone, Good Omens, a collaboration with Neil Gaiman, is one of my all-time favorites as well.

This trip I’m looking forward to Marked in Flesh, the next Others novel. It only came out a few months ago, but I’m ready for some weird shapeshifter urban fantasy antics, and I don’t have the self-control to wait until this comes out in paperback. Likewise Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, which I’ve been avoiding not so much because budget, but because I’m still not over a character death from a previous book. Might not ever be over it, honestly. But I do want to see what Cordelia is up to.

What are your favorite books to read on vacation? My list obviously slants towards sci-fi/fantasy, but so does the rest of my reading. I’m all ears if you have recommendations. We’re already planning next year’s adventure.