Archive for the 'Books' Category


Stubbornness and recommendations

Stop me if you’ve been through this before: A friend raves about a book to you, and you mentally add it to your to-read list. Then another friend mentions it, and instead of making it a higher priority, you push it back a little further. Even when more favorable reviews come in, some perverse impulse makes you more determined not to read it. It’s not that you don’t trust the opinions of those who recommended the book, it’s just that . . . you don’t wanna.

And then, for whatever reason, you pick it up later on and . . . hey, they were right. And not just right; this book was just what you needed! You’ve got to tell someone about this . . . dammit, all the people you’d tell are the ones who recommended it in the first place.

For example, I’ve just recently finished Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon, and I had no good reason for waiting so long. It’s a rich and fun story with swashbuckling to spare, and I sank into it completely. It was the first of his books I’d read, despite multiple recommendations, and I’m going to have to concede that yes, I probably should be reading more of his work.

So why is it that recommendations, even well-meant and accurate ones, sometimes have the opposite effect on me? And does this happen to everyone, or is it just a juvenile reaction on my part?

I know my father’s book recommendations were, for a while, the kiss of death as far as I was concerned; anything he liked, I stayed the hell away from. That’s passed as I’ve gotten older, for the most part, and while we’ll never have identical tastes, there’s enough overlap that I no longer treat books he recommends as if they were made out of nettles.

Some of it probably has to do with the initial recommendation — being told that I “have to see/read/hear this” irritates me for some reason, and if I’ve first heard of a work in an unfavorable light, it’ll take a while to shake that first impression, no matter how inaccurate it is. Another factor, for me at least, is reverse snobbery; I have a bad habit of ignoring “mainstream” or “literary” works out of some misplaced genre loyalty. And another part is just plain laziness — after the last few months of planning, I’ve been craving old favorites, comfort reading, over new and winding stories.

Whatever the reason, if it’s keeping me from more swashbuckling, then I really need to get over it.

Any recommendations that pushed you in the opposite direction?  What happened when you finally read the book?  And, uh, how do you go about admitting gracefully that you were wrong?


Rachel’s Sunday Quickie – Something other than novels?

Unlike many of my compatriots I don’t think I could tell storys any way other than through novels. I simply don’t think in any other medium, not even short stories. My ideas come to me with NOVEL stamped firmly across their foreheads, and I don’t get any say in it what so ever. Makes me feel kind of like a one trick pony, sometimes.

I’m sure if I didn’t have novels, if they didn’t exsist or something, the stories would leak out in some other form, but as it is now, I can’t even imagine it.

If I was a better artist, maybe comics, but I don’t even think in layout, so probably not. Thank god for novels is all I can say, I’d probably go nuts without them!


Rachel’s Sunday Quickie – fangirling

The challenge this week is to name your favorite recent fantasy character. Now, I’ve said before that this is an awesome time to read fantasy, and so this question was really hard for me! Who to choose? Of course, I love Sarah Monette’s deep, complex characters, but they’re a little intense and troubled for every day adoration.  I’m also crushing hardcore on Marla Mason right now (Poison Sleep is like, eating my life in delicious, awesome bites, and I’m not just saying that because Tim paid me).  What can I say, I love my kick ass ladies. 

All things considered, I think the character I love the most for themselves, and not just the world they live in, has got to be Len from China Mieville’s  Perdido Street Station. Len is a relatively minor character, but the force of her character shines out through the bit nature of her part. In a city full of weird creatures, outsiders, and freaks, she is a freak supreme, and yet, despite that, she lives her life with such ragged determination, you can’t help coming along. Len’s an artist, a sculpter, and her love of art, her need to express herself, is one of the most truthful, resounding emotions I’ve ever felt in a novel. In fact, I loved Len so much, I almost stopped reading when bad things happened and she stopped being a part of the narrative for awhile (no spoilers! read the book!). 

All the books I mentioned are awesome, and my favorite character is constantly in flux. Ask me next week and I’ll probably have a different answer. That’s the best part of being a reader! I get to have so many favorites!


Fun vs. challenging

I was recently talking to some friends and fellow writers about reading, and I mentioned that I read mostly for enjoyment, for fun, for escape. One of my friends turned to me and said, “Don’t you ever want to read something that’s challenging?”

I’ve been thinking about that for several days now, and I think what it boils down to is how “challenging” is defined. I don’t like a book where it’s a challenge just to get figure out what’s going on. I don’t care for books where I feel like I’m having to grit my teeth and force myself to keep reading it, because People have said that it’s an Important book. I dislike books or stories that seem to try too hard to have Deep Meaning (and, I hate to say it, but this is one of the reasons I’ve lost interest in most of the print short fiction magazines.)

However, I can appreciate well-crafted stories and intricate plots, beautiful prose and multi-dimensional characters. And, I can appreciate that my friend most likely meant “challenging” as in a piece of work that challenges preconceived notions, or standard conventions or styles. So, why does it seem that there are darn few books that can do this and still be fun and enjoyable?

So, here’s my challenge for all of you: Give me examples of fun, enjoyable, escapist reads that are also challenging!