Friday, 22 November 2013

Bookmark Two

And so, somewhat improbably, we come to the second annual retrospective of the This Is How She Fight Start Blog About Everything I Read Project, more casually referred to as the TIHSFSBAEIRP, which has a much nicer ring to it I feel. You may, if you wish, view this as nothing more than a contrarily early forerunner of the tide of annual roundup posts heading our way in a month or so.

Let’s get the tedious number-crunching out of the way, shall we? I’d completely understand if you’d rather skip this bit, so if you just want to scroll down to John Travolta getting jiggy I’ll have no complaints.

For those of you still here, this year’s grand total stands at 82 books read (68 excluding comics), which were, excluding 5 books by multiple authors, written by 64 different people. Chris F.Holm, M. John Harrison, and Catheryne M. Valente were among those lucky few to get repeat visits, which suggests a previously unidentified random initial fetish on my part, and thinking about it I have always preferred Iain Banks’ SF stuff to his mainstream novels (of which more later).

16 non-fiction books, 25 you could broadly define as SF, and 20 books in translation. However, what we’re really concerned about here is that little aspiration I expressed last year to read more diversely. To that end, the figure that’s most important is the one that sorts white Anglophone men from everyone else, because that’s clearly a worldview with such encouraging historical precedents.

           Books written by people who look and talk like me – 40
           Books written by people who don’t – 39

So that’s not so far off 50/50 (anthologies and don’t knows would bring it up to 100%). My ongoing comic series throws those numbers out a little though, so if we count different authors instead of books (which means the Initial Brigade only register once each), then it looks like this.

           English-speaking white guys – 28
           Everyone else – 36

The aim is to read more diversely, remember? No point achieving perfect 50/50 parity if all of those books are written by the same two people. As such I also think the absolute numbers are more telling than the percentages because this isn’t a zero-sum game. I’ve certainly got limits on how much I read in terms of time and money, but it isn’t one-out-one-in quite yet and reading a couple of extra books by men doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll be reading two fewer by women (say). We’ve not reached that ceiling just yet. Last year’s numbers were 32/20 so things appear to be moving in the right direction. And by ‘right’ direction I obviously mean ‘the one that I want’.

Now we’ve got that sorted, we can move on to the more interesting stuff (it’s all relative). Awards then, and with the customary lack of preamble my Book of the Year is –

Honourable Mentions

Given that my initial reaction to Gold Boy, Emerald Girl was little more than stuttering and incoherent adulation, I should probably try to expand on it a little here. Li writes with such understated simplicity that even the word elegant feels unnecessarily showy, and yet this pared back language delivers such a powerful emotional charge. That the emotion in question is melancholy soaked in sadness makes it all the more noticeable. Anger, grief, joy; these are your powerful, crash bang wallop emotions. Melancholy is more reserved and so to feel it in such a visceral way is a very singular experience.

All of these stories in the collection were excellent, but even if they weren’t I’d have been tempted to go for this book on the strength of one story alone. ‘Prisoners’ is about a Chinese immigrant couple in America who, upon the accidental death of their teenage daughter, decide to illegally and expensively hire a surrogate mother back in China. It is staid and controlled and contained, and the most achingly sad thing I’ve read in years. I’ve read plenty of books that have made me happy or horrified or hopeful, but never anything that’s inspired quite this combination and depth of emotion. Outstanding.

So, as demonstrated above, it can sometimes be quite hard to write about stuff you rate highly. The trouble with being genuinely raised up by other people’s words is that your own often feel inadequate in comparison. I try to give it my best shot though, so here’s a brief sample of some of my favorite book posts of the year. The ones I had most fun writing; whether you have similar feeling about reading them is another matter.

(The one with the readalong)
(The one with the bukkake)
(The one with the unexpected allegory)
(The one with the evil, thieving vaginas)
(The one with the industry whoring)
(The one with the bad poetry)
(The one with the genre fatigue and fucking worldbuilding)

Where to go from here? I’m quite enjoying blogging about these books, so I reckon I’ll keep that up, and the diversity thing is going quite well too. I’ve probably read more disappointing or average books than when I ‘stuck to what I knew’, but I’ve read more excellent ones as well, and that’s a trade-off I’m more than happy with.

That said, my reading plans for next year very much include a degree of the familiar. I’ve finally got all my Iain M. Banks books together on the same continent, so starting from January I’ll be rereading the Culture books. One a month, I reckon, in order of publication starting with Consider Phlebas in January. I know other people have got there before me, and more intelligently too, but that’s not the point. Likewise, if anyone fancies joining me for the trip that’d be lovely, but I’ll be more than happy going on this ride all by myself. Plus ça change.


  1. You've read far more than I have this year. It seems most of mine were written by English-speaking white men. Well, I hope to achieve my goal of 25 books this year.

    1. The commute, it's all about the commute. Ninety minutes five days a week with not much else to do except podcasts and flipcard study.

      In other news, my Japanese has barely progressed this year. This is probably not unrelated...

    2. Ah, that can do it. My commute is a mere 15-30 minutes, though I do spend some of my lunch breaks reading.

    3. I'll just tidy that up a bit, shall I?

  2. I'll be doing a similar tally in a few weeks. I'm very curious to see how my numbers shake out.
    I will likely join you for at least one Culture book, whichever one it is that comes after Matter. (I think that's the last one I read. Better check.) Maybe another read-along will present itself. The 1Q84 thing was fun.

    1. Yep. Definitely up for that. Got more from the experience than the book, perhaps. The one after Matter is Surface Detail, I think, which would be August/September if I manage to keep to the one-a-month schedule.

      Interestingly, a couple of other people in Carl's upcoming SF Experience have Consider Phlebas on their list, so I'm attempting to gently nudge/corral them into some sort of note comparing come January. We'll see how it goes.

  3. Nice year of reading! With so many short story commitments for SF Signal and other things going on my total of completed books went waaay down this year. I'm sure I did the same amount of overall reading, it just doesn't feel like I did.

    1. Well, if you're only going to count completed books, then sure, but how many fractions make a whole? If you start enough I'm sure that'll count as one or two ;)

  4. Had I actually not forgotten about Jagannath, largely due to it being one of MANY books in my Kindle, I may have actually read the second half and it would definitely be on my list for this year. The half I read I thought was fantastic. She is, at least to me, such a unique storyteller. Bizarre in all the best ways, wildly inventive, and the images her stories conjure up are...Wow!

    I need to buy my own copy of Angelmaker. I have checked it out of the library twice only to have to take it back because of other holds. I read about 20% of it and was really digging his writing style.

    Reading at least one Culture book is on my list of plans for 2014, and my hope is that I'll be hooked and feel compelled to acquire them all. I'm only sorry I didn't read any of his work while he was alive. There were a lot of sad losses in the SFF community this year, and his early death was one of the saddest.

    1. Yeah, the kindle is actually pretty poor for browsing. Have you got yours sorted by 'most recent'? It's so easy to get distracted and find that something you've forgotten has been shunted a long way back.

      I know it's incredibly petty and not the correct spirit at all, but I can't help feel personally cheated by Iain Bank's death. Incredibly sad, as you say. I know a few other people are almost rationing his books now there won't be any more, so gorging on the Culture stuff seems almost indecent. I do at least have a fair few of his non-SF stuff unread, so I can string those out. Because it's all about me and how I feel, of course...

    2. It is sad when an author dies as that is when it truly hits home that this is it...all of their fiction they will ever write now exists and the number is finite. I can completely understand the rationing.

  5. Must look into some of these books more closely - especially the one with the 'evil, thieving vaginas' - consider me intrigued by that!
    Loved the Chuck Wendig series.
    Lynn :D

    1. Blackbirds really did nothing for me, I'm afraid, but was at least fun to write about. I do love the cover though, so I'm strongly considering buying the others just for that alone.

      The thieving vaginas, well... The views on gender relations in that book are pretty 'traditional', shall we say. Not one you'd file under Progressive.