Rereading, Or Coming Back at the Right Time

This past weekend, I attended the readercon When Words Collide. I know I’ve talked about it before, but just in case: it’s a writing conference that also caters to readers, hence the name. This year marked my fifth year of attendance–yes, I can’t believe I’ve been to that many.

Each year there are big name guests, just as there are at any kind of festival. This year, Guy Gavriel Kay was one of the guests of honour. I haven’t read a ton Kay’s work, but those which I have have left their mark on me as a reader and a writer. He always makes it onto my favourite writers lists.

Anyway, Saturday morning writer David B. Coe basically interviewed Kay for 50 minutes. Not only did I learn so much about applying other passions to one’s writing, but it was so much fun to sit and watch because Coe basically bounced in his chair the whole time. Yeah, he’s a huge fan of Kay.

There was too much to take away to discuss here–especially about an ancient Chinese dynasty. But Kay said one thing that truly resonated with me as a reader. I can’t recall it verbatim, so here is my translation:

There’s a reason I’m such a big believer in rereading. You can pick up a book and nothing about it will work for you. Then six months later you’ll pick it up and it’s one of the best stories you’ve ever read. Those six months change you into a different person. We’re so mutable as humans, and what we bring to a book, even one we’ve read before, is always changing.

Currently, I’m rereading Kelley Armstrong’s Cainsville series because the final book is coming out today and I can’t recall everything that has happened in finite detail. Plus, I hated the first book when I read it. Armstrong is one of my favourite authors and I have never disliked anything I’ve read by her. But her main character and I did not mesh, and my dislike of her coloured my reading of the first and, I’ll admit, second book.

Coming back to them now is amazing. I’m not in such an anxious place myself now so my personal life isn’t colouring the main character like it did the first time (also knowing how she grows as a character further into the series helps too). This allowed me to enjoy the story so much more. In addition, because I read the books as they come out each August, I didn’t realize the timeline is so short across the series arc. The second book has picked up a couple of weeks after the first one ended. And I’m seeing so many little things that meant nothing to me when I first read them that I know are foreshadowing parts in books further along. It’s awesome!

I’ll also add that this is not the first time I’ve come back to a book and it worked much better the second time around. I’ve done the same with Wuthering Heights, one of my favourite books of all time; Sex and War, an excellent study on the nature of sexual violence as a tool of war; The Hobbit; and The Scarlett Letter, which I basically didn’t comprehend the first time I read it at 13 years old.

I have always argued that people should reread books. I think you take away something new, or at least appreciate something new, every time you read them. Kay’s statement has only bolstered my argument: you get to learn something new about yourself each time too.

Part of me felt guilty starting Omens because I have so many unread books on my shelves. But I’m loving meeting everyone all over again. I made the right choice.

Are there any books you’ve reread that hit the mark the second time around?

Historical Fiction

Guess who forgot August 1st was the first Tuesday of the month? Then just lost her mind in regards to posting this? Yes, that’s me waving! I’m just diving in.

A few weeks ago, my Teenreads newsletter hit my inbox and I carefully perused the latest YA titles that’ll be hitting shelves soon. I love the Teenreads’ breakdown because they don’t simply list all of their titles, they also provide genre labels.

I happened to see “historical fiction” so I stopped to read the book’s synopsis. I was shocked to learn that the book in question was set in the 1990s. I’m a ’90s baby. And I am not old—I’m not even 30! As far as I’m concerned the ’90s are not historical fiction. It might have gotten my back up.

Later, while I was trying to sleep, I couldn’t help but wonder what I do consider historical fiction. Stories set in the ’70s? ’60s? ’50s? I couldn’t decide. So I decided to look into it.

This speech by Sarah Johnson of the Historical Novel Society turned out to be an excellent resource. Two parts jumped out at me while reading.

First, her definition of Historical Fiction: “My journal, the Historical Novels Review, has a working definition, which we use for consistency purposes in deciding which books to review. To us, a ‘historical novel’ is a novel which is set fifty or more years in the past, and one in which the author is writing from research rather than personal experience.”

Second, this statement that I feel explains how the label became affixed to the novel that sparked this post in the first place: “I’d say that books are called historical fiction by the publishing world only when no other words could possibly be used to describe them.”

Now I have to backtrack a bit because my research has led me to discover that not everyone knows, or can decide on, what historical fiction actually is.

I came across this site in my travels that I completely disagree with for a number of reasons. The main one is applicable to this post: Despite what the writer says, alternate history is not historical fiction—it’s fantasy. Maybe general fiction depending on what happens and to whom.

For me, historical fiction does it’s best to portray history as close to the facts as possible. Depending on the author, they may have to change a few or many things to make the story work. Compare these prime examples: Diana Gabaldon and Philippa Gregory. Over two lengthy series, Gabaldon has made the conscious choice to change two—yes two—historical events in all of her books to make the story work. She stays true to history to a near fanatical degree. Gregory, on the other hand, has always played it a bit fast and loose with her characters, but she stays true to the major historical points and (in)famous people she depicts.

It all comes down to two things: one, historical fiction depicts the true past; and, two, the writer has done their research, not written a memoir or used their own memories to create the setting. If you’re interested, this thread on Library Thing covers a lot of what I, and Sarah Johnson, believe about historical fiction.

What are your thoughts on historical fiction? I didn’t know I had such strong feelings.

Interesting Finds

Since it’s summer I decided to keep the list light this month. Enjoy! And try not to melt in this heat.

I shared this on Anxiety Ink too because it needs to be shared everywhere! It can’t be a shock that I’m sex-positive. Or that Kushiel’s Dart has moved up my to-read pile. Bonus: this article starts off quoting one of my favourite writing books, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, and one of my favourite sections therein. http://www.tor.com/2017/07/19/kushiels-dart-is-the-sex-positive-fantasy-we-need/

I love the idea of a women’s history museum. This piece features info about a solely American museum, but it’s a start. http://msmagazine.com/blog/2017/07/18/carolyn-maloney-womens-history-museum/

This article is rather alarmist but it raises excellent points about branding and Amazon in general. Since Amazon directly affects artists now it seems relevant here. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/amazon-going-kill-your-brand-job-jr-little?trk=eml-email_feed_ecosystem_digest_01-hero-0-null&midToken=AQHTbzDnBqWmog&fromEmail=fromEmail&ut=0dfKthMwwrCDQ1

Follow up to a link I shared a while back about The Man’s Right to Know Act. http://msmagazine.com/blog/2017/07/20/turning-the-tables/

A Book with Something to Say: The House of the Scorpion

Recently I’ve been reading a lot of joyless books. They’ve been excellent, thought provoking reads, but they’ve left me a bit saddened and appalled over what humans can do to other humans. Not to mention what humans can do to everything else. I’m not sure how this trend came about, but after my current read I am picking up something fluffy. Very fluffy.

In the midst of these reads, I happened to finish Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own; therein, she mentions that women writers, since that is the focus of the essay, should not strive to write a book that speaks to those who criticise women writers. On page 73 of my version*, and in other parts, Woolf notes that the stories that speak to something more than the story the writer is trying to tell are not nearly as grand as “pure” novels. When writers try to write about something specific, like the treatment of women by men, they lose the art of storytelling.

My Woolf comments may seem like a random aside, but I’ve encountered these thoughts in recent years. On the one side, there are writers who refuse to admit that they have a social responsibility when it comes to their work. On the other side, there are readers who think books about social issues are boring. There’s even an entirely different set of people who think fiction can’t teach them anything.

I call bull on all of them. There are numerous writers who handle major issues adeptly and integrate them into their stories so that some readers don’t even know they’re being educated.

This brings me to Nancy Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion. This is a book geared towards the 9-12 crowd. It’s a coming of age story about Matteo Alacrán who we meet when he’s three years old and leave when he’s fifteen. It’s a futuristic, science fiction tale. It’s a horrific depiction of human selfishness and cruelty. And it also happens to be a book about sociopolitical, ethical, and scientific issues that were in serious debate at the time of its writing (2002), specifically cloning, pollution, immigration, and the treatment of migrant workers.

Compared to other books that try to teach, which can be extremely heavy handed, Farmer weaves these issues into her story seamlessly. I recently finished Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven, which concerns itself in large part with the issue of global warming. However, the problem came up so often in such a not-so-subtle fashion that I couldn’t help rolling my eyes towards the end. For me, the difference was learning about these sociopolitical issues through Matt’s eyes and ignorance versus having a narrator say it to me repeatedly.

The fact that Farmer writes for kids likely influenced her treatment of the lessons she was trying to impart. There’s a reason people told kids fairy tales to keep them safe. Kids are much better at intuiting the lessons of a story that entertains them than listening to repeated lectures.

As someone interested in science, I usually enjoy stories about cloning. It hit me reading The House of the Scorpion that every book, regardless of genre, that I’ve read that contains clones sees them treated horribly by the rest of humanity. I was young when Dolly the sheep hit the scene and I have no idea what the general response to her existence was. Personally, I have a pretty strong grasp of science, especially genetics, so the idea of cloning doesn’t bother me one bit. I might be an oddity.

In regards to immigration and the treatment of migrant workers, it saddens me that the future Farmer depicts is extremely relevant now fifteen years after her story was published. Anyone who does not believe slave labour exists in this world, or even on our continent, is grossly mistaken.

Overall, as a reader, Farmer’s novel has given me a new appreciation for books that say something. As a writer, I feel educated about dealing with heavy topics now that I’ve read books that handle it well and not-so-well. I highly recommend The House of the Scorpion, but fair warning: It is a difficult read. The pages fly by, but the horror depicted is hard to digest in big chunks.

What’s the last book about a serious topic you enjoyed or felt changed your outlook on something?

 

*Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. Annotated by Susan Gubar. Harcourt: NY, 2005.

Boredom is Contagious, and Malignant

I don’t know about you, but I am not a person who handles boredom well. It’s slow season at the day job, and I’m out of make-work projects because I’m too efficient, so I’ve been doing a lot of standing around lately. A lot. And I’m starting to see the toll it’s taking on my ability to focus when I want to.

Having absolutely nothing to keep me busy makes my days drag and I find that once I’m out the office door, I can’t shake off the drudgery. My feet drag 24/7. And I can’t figure out what to do about it.

I have a to do list a mile long, books I want to read, shows I want to watch, things I want to do, but I’m swamped in apathy and I can’t find my motivation. Maybe it’s the heat. Maybe it’s the long days which have messed up my sleep. Maybe it’s my intense to desire to find a new job. Maybe it’s my current feelings of aimlessness. Maybe it’s all of these combined and I just need to snap out of it.

Honestly, I wish typing that would cure me. Alas. I have a bit of time to myself at the start of August; it might be in my best interest to use those as vacation days from writing and to-dos so that I can truly recharge and refocus. My next school course starts at the end of this month, which is lousy timing, but I have no control over it.

When I’m done reading my current non-fiction book, I’m pulling The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People off my shelf and making some deadlines.

What do you do to rediscover your motivation? Do you find you drag in the summer or are you too busy to notice?