It’s hard to review Kameron Hurley for a few reasons, not the least of which is that she’s bound to read that review at some point. Criticizing books is easy when you feel like the author won’t ever read what you’re writing, let alone care about some woman shrieking into the abyss of the internet. Hurley, as she points out, has been that shrieking woman, and so the odds of her hearing your wailing are markedly increased.
Pulling punches is not what this blog is about, however. And I genuinely enjoyed The Geek Feminist Revolution, Hurley’s manifesto (or so it’s described) about feminism in fantasy and sci-fi. Hurley is a prolific sci-fi writer with a day job who also happens to be a woman, which means she’s forced to defend herself on a daily basis from the legions of Sad Puppies who think that women shouldn’t write sci-fi. She must be exhausted. Seriously.
Sometimes, I thought she was being a little whiney or self-congratulatory. Why did she have to talk about how hard she works? I wondered. Why go on and on, and then brag about how much she writes and how great her characters are?
Prompted by Hurley’s book itself, I began thinking about how much differently I had just treated On Writing by Stephen King. The books’ goals are disparate: King’s work is half memoir, half instruction manual, while Hurley’s is meant to raise a little hell and push women to action. But both of the authors talk about their personal history of writing and how they came to be where they are. Both worked incredibly hard–both racking up debt, King as he tried to support a family and Hurley as she tried to escape abusive relationships, come to terms with her sexuality, and deal with a chronic illness.
Did I find King’s work a little self-indulgent at times? Sure. Did I ever think of it as whiney or self-congratulatory? No, not even when he’s talking about how he never plots stories out and just “lets the characters take him there.” (God, that’s annoying.)
And that’s where my own flaw in thinking comes in. Because even as I found Hurley’s tone off-putting, I realized that I found it off-putting because 1) I’m not used to hearing a woman express how proud she is of something she created, and 2) I didn’t like hearing that a woman has to work so hard to be successful. (more…)
It’s that time of year again: what topped our list in 2016? And what did we absolutely despise? Check out Kate and Corey’s picks for their best (and worst!) reads of 2016:
Best Library Loot
Corey: Definitely A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé. It was one of those serendipitous library reads that you magically happen upon and turn out to be incredible. I was so lucky to find this one in the stacks this year!
Kate: Hmm. Probably A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was not a book of short stories by a recovered alcoholic that hopscotched all across the Southwest. Just wonderful.
“Hey, I didn’t know that!” Award for Best Nonfiction Read
Kate: Can I take a second to brag about the fact that I really tried to branch out into nonfiction this year? And still, somehow, only read a few. But Cooked by Michael Pollan was the best of them, probably, filled with compelling stories and facts about the food we cook and how we eat it.
Corey: Rebecca Trainster’s All the Single Ladies was so chock-a-block full of “hey, I didn’t know that!” moments, I think I irritated pretty much everyone I ever happened to be reading this book next to; I couldn’t stop myself from shouting out tidbits and marveling at Trainster’s research.
Kate: The Likeness by Tana French. Shades of Donna Tartt and Kate Atkinson. Plus, it takes place at Trinity and just outside Dublin, so I got to feel all nostalgic.
Corey: I only reread one book this year — Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone — and it was, as usual, a total delight. (more…)
At the risk of stating the obvious, we here at Literary Transgressions haven’t been posting lately. Our apologies, dear readers. This lapse is for a variety of personal reasons — as well as the utterly miserable current political climate in the states — but it’s also for the simple reason that I just have not been reading.
This is a truly unusual situation for me; I always read. I read before work. I read after work. I’ve read through subway commutes standing up with no pole in sight. I read walking home. I’ve read on bumpy ferry rides and turbulence-filled Cessna journeys. I read in 100+-degree weather, stopping briefly to take cold showers. I’ve read through depression, I’ve read through joy, and I’ve read even when I didn’t really feel like it, but did so anyway.
But now, suddenly, I’m not reading. I haven’t finished a book in months. I’ve barely even started a book in weeks. There’s something in the air, a feeling of just too much, that means I haven’t been able to pick up a book.
Normally, books are a refuge and an inspiration for me. But, as 2016 draws to a close, I just can’t. I can’t muster the energy or the hope to crack open a book.
I have high hopes that I will return to my readerly ways in 2017. I love reading (again, the obvious!) and, with a snowy winter forecast by the Farmer’s Almanac, I anticipate lots of snowed-in, cozy afternoons with hot chocolate, buttered graham crackers, my warm little dog, and a good book.
But until I muster up the ability to put one foot in front of the bookish other, I just wanted to check in with all of you. How are you holding up, dear readers? Have you been avoiding literary escape? Or have you dived in more passionately?
Here’s to a brighter 2017 — and stay tuned for our annual “Year in Reading” post next week! Despite this time of non-reading, Kate and I did read some great stuff earlier in the year.
After raiding the library recently, I found a couple of quick-but-good reads. What have you been reading lately? Share in the comments!
The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler
Synopsis: Sailor Twain – illustrations + tarot + librarians
Short Thoughts: Terrific first outing from Erika Swyler!
Balancing a bookish mystery on modern-day Long Island with a traveling carnival in the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century, The Book of Speculation is well-crafted and entertaining to read. Swyler veers into soap opera territory in the final fourth of the book, but all the threads still come together neatly by the end with minimal melodrama.
My only complaint was that the shadowy book dealer who kicks off the whole thing never really gels — he could have been a more interesting and/or more sinister figure, but instead floats in and out of the story without any particular point.
More serious reviews: NPR and Publisher’s Weekly
On Writing by Stephen King
Synopsis: Strunk & White + memoir + advice – formality
Short Thoughts: Would you believe I’ve never read anything by Stephen King? This is my first and, although I know none of his other books are like it, it made me want to read more Stephen King. Equally personable and helpful, On Writing is a great examination of where that writing itch comes from and how to hone your own.
More serious reviews: The Guardian and The A.V. Club
If you like unreliable teenage narrators, then strap yourselves in for the bumpy ride that is Charles Palliser’s ode to the Victorian sensationalist novel, Rustication.
The book tells the story of Richard Shenstone — our 17-year-old, opium-addicted, wildly selfish narrator — who arrives home from Cambridge having been “sent down,” or rusticated, under mysterious circumstances and forbidden by the college from returning. After his father’s death (of which Richard was not informed until much later), Richard’s mother and sister, Effie, now live in abject poverty in a falling-down old family house at the edge of a moor. Richard can’t understand why any of this is the case, much like his mother and sister can’t understand what he’s even doing there. Shouldn’t he be at school making the family proud?
Meanwhile, a mysterious madman starts to terrorize the neighborhood by disemboweling pregnant animals, writing crude letters to ladies in the area, and threatening the local earl’s son with violent death. With his stunning obliviousness and propensity to wander around at night after taking too much opium, Richard is maneuvered into being the prime suspect — but by whom?
In his own utterly daffy way, Richard eventually puts the pieces together, but not before you want to wring his foolish little neck and possibly throttle his wishy-washy mother, a source of much misunderstanding. (more…)
Okay, folks, I’m calling it: I’m done with Robert Galbraith.
In times of reading slumps, I often find myself turning to mysteries as a way to kick-start my reading habits. Mysteries usually quick and fun with just enough mental stimulation (whodunit?!) to make them feel worthwhile and slightly better than zoning in front of a movie.
In such times, I tend to veer towards Victorian-era mysteries of the Elizabeth Peters, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Anne Perry variety, but a couple of years ago I widened by net to include Robert Galbraith. Galbraith’s books are utterly unlike the kind of mysteries I usually enjoy: they’re contemporary, they have a surly male protagonist, and are often very violent.
So, why the exception? Because, improbably, Robert Galbraith is the pen name of J.K. Rowling. And I mean it when I say “improbably.” I can hardly think of something less probable than Robert Galbraith’s dark and violent books being written by the same person who invented Chocolate Frogs, Quidditch, and Diagon Alley.
And yet, they somehow are. So, I gave them a try. (more…)