Well, February definitely included less reading than is typical for me, for both good and bad reasons. :) Let’s play a bit with the numbers, shall we? Just for fun.
Of the 18 books that I read…
- 13 were fiction
- 12 were by authors I’ve read before
- 9 were novels set in historical time periods
- 7 were by authors of colour
- 6 were part of a series (not the same series)
- 6 were by UK authors
- 6 were by US authors
- 6 were by authors from other countries (Trinidad, France, Japan, Canada, and Israel)
- 5 were written by men
- 4 of those books written by men were nonfiction
- 4 were audiobooks
- 4 included supernatural elements
- 3 were graphic novels
- 2 were rereads
- 2 included mysterious murders
- 2 could be shelved in the romance section of the bookstore
- 1 was written before 1900
- 0 were ebooks (I have no clue how that happened, but my hands are not pleased)
I shall have more to say about analysing reading and my wishes for a bit more focused reading for the rest of the year soon, but for now, I’m amused to discover that historical fiction has taken over my novel reading! Here I thought I was a fantasy & mystery girl for my genre reads.
Let me know if you have questions about any of the books, even if it’s just that the cover caught your eye & you’d like to hear more about what’s inside. :)
I have high hopes for March, on both the reading and blogging fronts. It’s the 3rd and I’ve already read two books, both started this month, and both regular length novels. That seems like a good sign! I’m off to snuggle under a blanket with Thistle, and see if I can’t continue that reading streak.
It turned out last week’s enthusiasm about ending my reading slump was premature. Instead I shifted from the bad kind of slump to the good kind, in which I neglected books in favour of my other hobbies! But that shifted on Monday night, which saw me read Kaoru Maori’s The Bride’s Story vol. 1 before bedtime (it’s a manga, so it only takes as much time as I spent staring at all of the little detailed drawings) On Tuesday, I spent the afternoon reading The Innocents by Margery Sharp in one sitting. Yesterday afternoon I repeated that experience with Keep Still (an Eleanor Taylor Bland mystery), before feeling a craving for nonfiction that saw me (finally) finished The Morville Hours before a blessedly early bedtime (I’ve been having sleeping problems).
All of which meant that this morning, I had no problem cracking my books open as soon as my first pot of tea was brewed. First I read some of Atul Gawande’s latest book, Being Mortal. I adore his two collections of medical essays (Better and Complications), but this one has taken me aback a bit. I actually started it last week, and the first sixty pages were so upsetting that I’ve decided to ban it from nighttime reading. I assumed from the title that was going to be a philosophical exploration of death, from both a doctor’s and human’s perspective. Instead, it’s about the aging process, specifically about all of the ways our bodies will break down as we get older, and how the current nursing home system in the US dehumanises the frail and elderly while the medical establishment also fails to provide help for the chronic (vs urgent) health issues that come with aging. I’m about 120 pages in now and it’s terribly depressing. I keep expecting Gawande to bring in more positive aging stories, but so far it’s been pretty unrelentingly focused on how the older you get, the smaller your life becomes, and that nursing homes take away so much autonomy you’ll end up depressed even if your physical needs are met. I’ve really enjoyed getting older, and am looking forward to my 30th birthday (it arrives next year), but this book is almost singlehandedly changing that. Gawande is a wonderful writer, and I live in hope that he’ll eventually get to the good aspects of aging, so I’m sticking with it for now, but it’s a very different book from his previous essay collections. An important book, one that’s clearly aimed at changing policies and achieving more social justice for the elderly, but just be prepared.
My other read, Bosnia and Hercegovina: a Tradition Betrayed by Robert Donia & John Fine, is a scholarly summary of Bosnia’s history, written in 1992/3, that sets out to debunk the media stereotypes about Balkan ethnic violence. I like this perspective, and that it’s providing a big picture overview of a region with such a detailed, complicated history, but the writing style is not particularly engaging. If you already have an interest in the area, you’ll be good, but if you’re looking for a ‘popular history’ approach, you’ll probably be bored. I’m quite happy to be reading it myself, and I’m planning to put together a reading list for my upcoming trip very soon!
I don’t actually have an audiobook going at the moment (other than my bedtime one of The Warden); I finished The Voyage of the Narwhal (and must talk about it; so much goodness to deconstruct!) and podcasts have taken over my listening time. But I do plan to get one started in the next couple of days. I’d like to begin a nonfiction one, but the last two that I tried (A History of the World in 6 Glasses and The Divide) had both annoyed me enough to abandon within the first hour, so I’m a bit gunshy. For now, I’m thinking of giving another Nancy Goldstone book a go, since I really enjoyed Four Queens, or I have Karen Armstrong’s Fields of Blood out on CD from the library. I’m just not sure I’m up for two depressing, potentially nightmare inducing nonfiction books at once! Any nonfiction audiobook suggestions would thus be well appreciated. :D
Today, I updated my books read page with my February list. Although we’re almost halfway through the month, it went quite quickly: I’ve only finished four books, and that includes my bedtime audiobook (as opposed to my regular audiobook, I only listen to this one to help me fall asleep and it has to fit strict ‘no nightmare inducing’ criteria; lately Georgette Heyer has been fitting the bill but now I’ve discovered some Trollope audiobooks and plan to reread the Barsetshire Chronicles). Considering I usually read twenty to thirty books a month, I think it’s official: I’ve been in a reading slump.
On Monday, I was feeling a bit despondent, for no apparent reason. And then I realised I’d barely been opening books at all, and that I couldn’t point to much else I’ve been doing instead, other than trip planning and some knitting. But certainly nothing solid enough to account for only reading four books over almost two weeks! No wonder I felt a bit lost and disconnected.
I have no idea what causes reading slumps: they can certainly be related to my health, as during flare-ups my brain finds it more difficult to read and I can’t always physically hold a book. But I tend to realise this nowadays and opt for lighter or more engaging books during those times, and my ereader fixes the second problem. This time, I just seemed to feel antsy whenever I sat down to read, and found myself reaching for my phone and some internet browsing instead, in between the little daily tasks of living, and then suddenly my day had disappeared.
So I did the only logical thing on Monday night: I went to my bookcase and picked up Dorothy Dunnett’s Niccolo Rising. I only fit in fifty pages before bed, but I woke up on Tuesday wanting nothing more than to get back to the book. I finished it yesterday (leading to a later than usual evening walk for Thistle), and I believe it’s broken my slump and helped turn around my mood. I can’t get back the potential of the lost days of early February, but I hope to read as much as possible during the rest of the month! This experience has reminded me to check in with myself; hopefully in the future I’ll notice more quickly when a reading slump has begun, so that I can reach for a trusted author to break me out of it. After all, what’s a reader without books? In my case, a dissatisfied, restless, touchy sort of creature who focuses on improving everything in sight, thus overlooking the quiet richness of her life. Thank goodness the remedy is so simple.
Do reading slumps affect your moods, or vice versa? I genuinely seem to become a sadder person if I go without at least an hour or two of reading a day.
To end on a more cheerful note, do all of you WordPress bloggers know about the ‘gallery’ feature? I’m using it on my books read page this year, and it’s so fun (and easy) to see a collage of covers representing each month! Here’s a pictorial representation of January:
It was an interesting month for me, with a mix of new authors and old favourites, but definitely heavily weighted towards fiction. I realise I didn’t blog about many of these books, so this is your chance to ask me questions about any that might catch your eye!
To be honest, I haven’t been doing much regular reading over the past few days. Instead, I’ve been taken over by planning my next adventure! On Thursday I went to the library, walked straight to their travel section, and gathered giant piles of guidebooks to sort through over a hot chocolate from their cafe, eventually winnowing the pile to a reasonable few to bring home with me. So my coffee table is full of guidebooks, and my notebooks are full of scribbled potential itineraries, and my mind is full of dreams.
I had actually hoped to go somewhere in Asia next, as I’ve yet to visit that continent, but I’m not sure if my body could handle the twenty four plus hours required to get there. Europe is about half of that distance, so it seemed a good compromise and way for me to tell if a future Asian flight is in the cards. Then I thought about Turkey, which I’ve dreamed about for ages, but it’s one of my mom’s dream destinations too. So I’m putting that on hold for a couple of years until we can go together. That doesn’t mean I have to give up the entire Ottoman empire though! As you can see, I’ve narrowed my choices down to Hungary or the Balkans or a bit of both. My primary interests for the trip include folklore, forests, cafes, and oodles of history; this area offers all of that and more in spades. Now my only problem is trying to narrow my focus down to fit comfortably in four weeks. All suggestions warmly appreciated as far as wonderful places you’ve been in this area, especially outside of Budapest and the Adriatic Coast, which seem to be the focus of most guidebooks and travel blogs.
Funnily enough, writing this post and updating my Library Loot post with book titles (and the second video with my nonfiction selections, if you were waiting for that) has me itching to get back to ordinary reading. It’s snowing again, so I think I’ll go curl up on my couch with a book; it’s time for me to pick a new novel to start. I love surveying my bookcases, full of potential new favourites, before settling on just one to read next. It’s the same type of thrill as choosing a new country to explore. And certainly cheaper and simpler besides. ;)
It’s a snow day here! All I want to do is gaze admiringly out of the window, sip tea, and go for occasional bundled up walks. Luckily, last week I recorded and uploaded a video about my one trip to the library in January! So I can share that with you and not have to spend a long time at my computer, without the magical view. I’m living in a snowglobe, and it’s blissful.
Tomorrow I’ll add a list of the titles mentioned so you have that for reference. For now, hopefully you can note down anything that looks interesting while viewing! And there should be a second part to this video following just as soon as Vimeo resets my weekly upload limit. Enjoy!
ETA: I should know better than to put a deadline here; it simply tempts fate too much. But a few days later than intended, here is the second video and that list of titles. I’ve copied & pasted from my library account, so it’s in no particular order. And just tidying up the library formatting has upset my hands, so I can’t italicise or put them all in neat bullets today.
All About Love by bell hooks
Spirits of the Ordinary by Kathleen Alcala
Keep Still by Eleanor Taylor Bland
The Phoenix Guards by Steven Brust
Babel Tower by AS Byatt
Stories by Anton Chekhov, trans. by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky
Maybe This Time by Jennifer Crusie
Love Marriage by VV Ganeshananthan
Beyond the Limbo Silence by Elizabeth Nunez
Ru by Kim Thuy
Niccolo Rising by Dorothy Dunnett
The Languages of Love by Sara Maitland
After Tupac & D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson
The Voyage of the Narwhal by Andrea Barrett
Bosnia and Hercegovina by Robert J. Donia
Ghosts in the Middle Ages by Jean Claude Schmitt
Heavens Unearthed in Nursery Rhymes and Fairy Tales by Matt Kane
Home and Exile by Chinua Achebe
The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift
Mr. Bloomfield’s Orchard by Nicholas Money
Naming Nature by Carol Kaesuk Yoon
Present Darkness by Mall Nunn
Runemaker by Tiina Nunnally
Temptations of Power by Shadi Hamid
Women in Purple by Judith Herrin
From childhood on, I found many of my angels in favorite authors, writers who created books that enabled me to understand life with greater complexity. These works opened my heart to compassion, forgiveness, and understanding.
-bell hooks, All About Love
It’s snowing outside my window, and Thistle and I just got back from a delicious wintry walk, which makes me want to write about something seasonally appropriate. So let’s talk about With the Lapps in the High Mountains by Emilie Demant Hatt. Hatt was a Dane born in the late nineteenth century with an adventurous soul. In her early 30s, she went with her sister on a train trip across Lapland, which sparked her interest in the native Lapp people (nowadays called Sami, in accordance with their own language, so that’s what I’ll use from now on). She arranged to live with them for a year, from the summer of 1907 to 1908, and in 1913 published a book about the experience. 100 years later, Barbara Sjoholm published her translation, so that English speakers could go on Hatt’s adventure with her (Sjoholm also has a website with more information about Hatt if you’re interested).
Usually, when reading historical travelogues, you find yourself making all kinds of apologies for the racism or sexism or colonialism you encounter therein. With the Lapps in the High Mountains is stunningly free of such prejudice; Hatt was writing at a time when most Scandinavians considered the Sami dirty, lazy people whose reindeer got in the way of honest farmers and whose children should be sent to state sponsored boarding schools in order to become civilised (sound familiar?). Hatt confronts these beliefs head on, demonstrating in the account of Sami daily life how mistaken they are, and occasionally explaining how destructive state policies were to their traditional, nomadic lifestyle. There is a shade of pastoral idealism at times, but no more than you would find nowadays, in a blogger waxing lyrical about the simple pleasures of farm life, and Hatt never minimizes the challenges of such a life.
This genuine curiousity and respect for the Sami makes for a wonderfully engaging travelogue. No detail of daily life is too small to escape Hatt’s observations, and she easily transports her readers into a Sami tent, drinking coffee around the smoking fire after climbing into your furs, or into the great northern woods in winter, skiing in pursuit of the reindeer herd. At one point, she’s trying to sew a new dress in time for a gathering and finding it difficult in winter conditions (little light, except what the smoky fire provides). She shares the following moment, which illustrates a major difference between Lapp life and her own background:
One day when we were going to set off on trek, and all was in order, the tent taken down, the sleds packed, and we were just sitting outside waiting for the pack reindeer, Sara said, “You must take out your needlework, you don’t have time to sit idle if the dress is going to get done.” That was true enough and you could just as well, if you didn’t freeze, sit outside and sew under the open sky in winter as well as summer. I hauled out my sewing bag and got far with the hemming before the reindeer came.
For tha Lapps, the wilderness, forest, and mountains are their ordinary living room. Their home is where they happen to find themselves. They don’t need four walls to feel secure or to work at household tasks.
I’m going to share another passage, so you get an idea of her capacity for scenic description:
The string glided slowly upward, steadily over the snow to the high mountains. Everything was so strangely shapeless and unreal that night. We went forward in a numb white-gray darkness that could never lighten. A sharp wind blew around the top layer of fine snow; in circles and streams it glided over the endless expanses. No other sound was heard than the fine crunching of the snow and the footsteps of the reindeer. Something soft, half unseen, once came brushing closely past, rapid and ghostlike up from the mountain slope. It was a pair of white foxes.
Of course, such passages are actually Sjoholm’s translation; I don’t read Danish, so I can’t actually compare her to Hatt’s original, but reading the book, I always got a strong sense of narrative voice that ‘felt’ right for the period and place. So I feel comfortable praising the translation! This is a real gem of a book, and Sjoholm did us all a favour in making it available for an English reading audience (she did me the more personal favour of sending me a review copy almost two years ago, which didn’t influence my love for the book except to make me happy I had a copy for my own shelves).
There are not a lot of classic travelogues to begin with, and especially there are not many that are sensitive portrayals of a culture and environment different from the author’s own. This makes With the Lapps in the High Mountains all the more valuable, but it also stands on its own merits. Emilie Demant Hatt was an excellent story teller and the kind of quietly adventurous woman who I just love. Anyone curious about how others live, or who enjoys travel lit, or Scandinavia, or reading ‘forgotten’ classics will have a grand time with this. Really, I can’t imagine a reader who wouldn’t enjoy it!
A quick blog search revealed that I haven’t talked about another of my favourite new author discoveries from last year: Cathrynne Valente (it was a banner year for speculative fiction). As I treated myself to The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two to start the new year off right (the third in a series), this seems like a good time to mention her. I prefer discussing series as unit, so this post will generally address the first three in the Fairyland series, as the final two haven’t been published yet, and I haven’t yet read the prequel. I doubt I’ll include any plot spoilers, but if I do they’ll be clearly marked, so you can read on safely.
The first in this series is The Girl Who Cirvcumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. I remember hearing about it when it was first published, but the title made me think it would be too twee for me. So I waited for ages; I can’t remember what made me decide to pick it up last year, but I almost immediately realised my mistake. While nominally children’s books (I think they’re marketed as ‘middle grade’), these function perfectly well for the adult reader too; they reminded me of a lot of Neil Gaiman’s work this way. Only instead of veering towards the creepy/horror side of the genre (a la Coraline or The Ocean at the End of the Lane), these are firmly in the fantasy/adventure in fairyland mold. I don’t read many children’s/young adult books, so I don’t make concessions to the ones that I do read; from that perspective, I think any adult reader will be fully engaged with these novels. In other words, imagine the best possible novel to come under that title, and you’ve got a good idea of the series.
I absolutely adore stylised writing and Valente has that Victorian omniscient, slightly paternalistic narrative voice down. I’m going to quote the first paragraph of the first book, as it gives you an excellent idea of the feel of the entire series.
Once upon a time, a girl named September grew very tired indeed of her parents’ house, where she washed the same pink-and-yellow teacups and matching gravy boats every day, slept on the same embroidered pillow, and played with the same small and amiable dog. Because she had been born in May, and because she had a mole on her left cheek, and because her feet were large and ungainly, the Green Wind took pity on her and flew to her window one evening just after her twelfth birthday. He was dressed in a green smoking jacket, and a green carriage-driver’s cloak, and green jodphurs, and green snowshoes. It is very cold above the clouds in the shantytowns where the Six Winds live.
Oh! Just writing that out made me want to run away with the Green Wind again on his flying leopard and follow September’s adventures. Anyway, this style could easily tip over into smarminess or mockery or purple prose in the hands of a lesser author. Luckily for all of us, Valente has her talent firmly in hand: the narrator maintains an even keel throughout the book, bringing the story to life with a tender love for all of the little details.
On a minor note, I love that Valente pays attention to dress; I happen to love textiles and clothing and dressing, but it’s a rare novelist who shares that passion. Valente does: in each book September has at least one piece of magical, comforting clothing. And who can resist the preciseness of the Green Wind’s outfits?
Each book of the series so far has a slightly different setting, although all are ‘in Faerie,’ as one might say. That means there are always new places to stumble across, and different types of challenges for September to meet, which is nice. The first two books also stand alone, with self-contained stories. The third, The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, which I just read, has a self-contained story but then a cliffhanger ending that put me in a bit of a snit since the fourth one isn’t available yet. Luckily I only have to wait a few months!
While the settings are lush, and the writing delightful, the novels’ hearts are in the characters: September herself will easily win a reader over, precisely because she doesn’t fit into the ‘Mary Sue’ mode. She’s not the strongest or the cleverest or the bravest or the best behaved; instead she finds those qualities within her (except for the last one) as she needs to. She is stout and loyal and equipped with a strong moral compass, which makes her eminently suited for fairyland adventuring. And she has such a wonderful name; it’s probably a good thing I don’t plan to have children, because otherwise I’d be tempted to name them all for months or days of the week, a la Valente. Along the way, she picks up some wonderfully loveable friends (including one who believes his father was a library), and her relationships with them morph over the series. I love that Valente doesn’t present friendship and love as all smooth sailing; instead she captures the confusion and ambiguities that can appear in any relationship, but particularly when you’re undergoing a change as dramatic as growing up (by the third one, September is fourteen). Even though I’m in my late twenties, I easily identified with September. I think this is because she’s always presented as a subject in her own right, rather than objectified as can sometimes happen in children’s lit. Despite the pseudo-victorian narrative voice, nothing is dumbed down for either September or her friends or the reader. They must make heart-wrenching decisions and live with the consequences, and while they experience the joy and magic of adventuring, they also feel terror and loneliness as well. In other words, they teem with life.
I’m rambling again, aren’t I? This is the problem with talking about books I truly love; I have far too much to say to fit in one blog post, so I tend to just gush incoherently instead. The themes in these books are rich and reflective of human problems at all stages of life. Each of the books has made me laugh and cry, as scenes shift, and throughout I’ve been entranced. I know I’m speaking in generalities, but I want each of you to discover these for yourself, like I did. I can’t recommend the series highly enough: each book is the whole package (plot, characters, writing style) and gleams like a precious jewel. Reading these books will be especially satisfying, I suspect, for those of us who have always been bookish; they felt like a homecoming, for me at least. I cannot wait to discover what the next book brings for September and her friends.
Here’s a quick glimpse at my reading this Sunday! They’re all nonfiction: two regular books and an audiobook intent on making photos awkward. Isn’t that a lovely cover though? I’m lucky in that all of the books I’m reading right now have wonderful cover art; it makes me happy to leave the books scattered around my apartment and lets me appreciate them on an aesthetic level. I’m always more drawn to books with stunning covers, although I read a fair share of ones with unfortunate covers. What about you?
I used to only read fiction as audiobooks, but as my audiobook consumption has expanded in the past few months, I’ve tried adding in some nonfiction. I began with history, on the premise that it’s likely to have the most narrative flow (other than memoirs, which I don’t read much of), and I’m happy to report the experiment has been a success! I’m now a happy history audiobook reader, although I do hit the occasional dud (looking at Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror). Currently, I’m in the middle of Four Queens by Nancy Goldstone. It’s a group biography of four 13th century, aristocratic Provencal sisters who went on to marry (in birth order): the king of France, the king of England, the English king’s younger brother, and the French king’s youngest brother. Due to crazy Medieval politics, the younger brothers both eventually become kings of other lands, and their wives are all queens, hence the title. Goldstone does an excellent job of presenting the sometimes complicated relationships and politicking in a straightforward way, as well as in bringing the women and their various courts to life. She does occasionally stray into speculative psychological land, but she always marks this as speculation, and keeps the frequency low enough that I still trust her (aka she keeps it nonfiction. They led truly fascinating lives, complete with crusading trips to the Middle East, and the power jockeying you might expect at the highest political levels. Goldstone is good at explaining how the medieval mindset differed from the modern one, but she also keeps an emphasis on the humanity of the people she’s describing & never descends into ‘dark age’ stereotypes. All in all, this is a wonderfully informative group biography, on the lighter side but solid enough to satisfy. The narrator is good too, with a pleasant voice. My one complaint is that when she quotes direct Middle Eastern sources, she gives them accents, which I find insulting & deeply unfortunate. At least it doesn’t happen too often. I’m sad to only have three hours left (which means I’ve listened to eight hours in the past two days!) in it, but it looks as if Goldstone has a decent backlist. Hopefully some of them are also available as audiobooks!
You might recognise Bernd Heinrich’s Winter World; I put this aside last month but now I’ve picked it back up and am enjoying it immensely. The wintry scenes outside of my window probably help! And I just adore the cover. I must admit Heinrich will never be my favourite natural history author; although I love the themes he chooses for books, and his wonderful illustrations, his writing style doesn’t quite engage me. If I didn’t find the content so interesting on its own, I doubt I’d ever pick up his books. Luckily, he’s an excellent naturalist, and is regularly in awe of the natural world, which is certainly endearing. So I keep turning the pages, although with the secret wish that I could wave a wand and change the style a bit. Just this morning I learned how frogs manage to freeze during the winter and what life is like inside a beaver’s winter lodge. Good stuff.
Finally, yesterday I began my second read of The Dancing Goddesses by Elizabeth Wayland Barber. I read this last year for the first time & loved it enough to put it on my Christmas list; it showed up under the tree, and I couldn’t be happier to revisit it. Barber manages to be both a fabulously technical scholar (the bibliography includes titles in multiple languages & this is published by Norton) and full of general appeal. She’s telling stories, but stories based on years of cross-disciplinary research and thought. Her deductions are wonderful to watch, as she leads you through the process, and she manages to capture truths about prehistory & folk culture, neither of which lend themselves to traditional scholarly approach, being outside of the literary tradition. Anyway, this book is about folk dances, particularly in central and Eastern Europe (draw a box from Greece, up to Scandinavia, over to Russia, and that about covers the main geography), and how they arose out of a farming culture that depended on fertility and capricious forces like the weather and the kind of everyday, sympathetic magic that tries to influence those forces. It’s also very much about women and what their roles have been in these cultures. In other words, it’s like catnip to me. If you love folklore or fairy tales or central Europe or history that focuses on everyday people’s everyday life instead of big events or the tiny elite, I’m sure you’ll find it delicious too. Or if you’re just looking for an excellent nonfiction book to sink your teeth into. After this, I want to track down one of her other books: When They Severed Earth from Sky: How the Human Mind Shapes Myth. Who could resist a title like that?
I’m off to make some popcorn and settle back in for the evening, first with the paper books, and then later I’ll turn to Four Queens while I’m knitting. It’s so wonderful to be bookish, isn’t it?
If I had unlimited funds, which authors would I want to see filling my bookshelves? That question originally arose from my musings about my home library, and I decided to start a new series to answer it. In Assembling My Atheneum, I’ll discuss the authors whose entire works I’d love to possess, as well as which books of theirs I’ve read, which I already own, and which I’d recommend to those wanting to give them a try. If you’re curious, you can see everyone I’ve featured so far.
Lois McMaster Bujold is an American writer of speculative fiction, and my newest author crush. In fact, she took me back to my childhood love of binging on newly discovered favourite writers. I discovered her in April, proceeded to read all nine of her fantasy titles, and then began her sci-fi series the Vorkosigan saga, which consists of fifteen novels and four novellas. I finished up the last of those titles last week, which means in less than a year I’ve read over twenty of her books. Let’s be honest; I’ve moved past the crush phase into true love. The stomach plummeting that accompanied my realisation that I’ve caught up on her entire backlist, and thus have no new Bujold until she writes more, made that clear.
Despite these strong feelings, I don’t yet own any of her books! This is mainly because of formatting issues: my arthritic hands can’t handle mass market paperbacks or hardcovers terribly well, and those seem to be the preferred style of her publisher. I could buy ebooks of course or the audiobooks (which is how I’ve read all but five of her books), but those would be trickier to display on my lovely bookcase. ;) I’m sure I’ll think of a solution eventually: perhaps used hard covers for their looks and ebooks for the inevitable comfort rereads in my future.
I can happily recommend Bujold to anyone who enjoys tight plotting, loveable but flawed characters, fascinating settings, wonderful writing, and an author with the ability to switch from dramatic to truly funny without missing a beat. I believe that covers just about everyone. I don’t care if you’re not typically a fantasy or sci-fi reader (I’m not the latter): Bujold’s combination of intelligence and entertainment will win you over. You’re doing yourself a deep disservice if you avoid her because of genre snobbery or judge her books by their covers.
Where to start depends on what you’re most interested in of course. If you’re already into sci-fi, you might as well go for the Vorkosigan Saga; Bujold herself recommends reading them in internal chronological order (although I went in published order, a tendency I’ve developed ever since reading Narnia in the wrong order thanks to terrible publish numbering, and that went fine), which starts you with Shards of Honor if you want to hop in with the main characters or Falling Free for a book set in the same universe but two hundred years before the rest of the series. Wikipedia has helpful lists to take you from there. If you’re already into fantasy, her Chalion series feels the most typical of the genre: the first is The Curse of Chalion. If you’re not into either, go for The Sharing Knife series, which I wrote about last year, for a nineteenth century North American great lakes feel, or The Spirit Ring, an early standalone fantasy novel she did set in an alternate Renaissance northern Italy, depending on which setting appeals to you more. I’m sure once you’ve had a taste of Bujold, you’ll end up reading everything, just like I did. Note that although she writes in series, each of the books has a self-contained story with a definite beginning and ending. The Sharing Knife quartet has the books following very closely one after another, and follows the same characters through all four, but the others often switch characters or times or both. So you don’t need to worry about ridiculously unsatisfying cliffhanger endings (a readerly pet peeve of mine).
For those who enjoy audiobooks, I highly recommend the Chalion series audiobooks. I’ve also listened to all of the Vorkosigan saga, which are read by Grove Gardener. I recommend those, and I think Gardener does an excellent job voicing the different characters and adding nuance to the stories, but I have to admit his accent is not my favourite. If I didn’t love the books so much, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to spend so many hours of my life listening to him. As it is, I eventually got used to his accent, and the audiobooks have kept me company through the ups and downs of the past few months. I feel bereft knowing there aren’t any more waiting for me. (Also, for anyone whose library has a Hoopla subscription, almost all of the Vorkosigan audiobooks are available there.)
I’m not doing any retrospective posts on my 2014 reading, but if I were, Lois McMaster Bujold would obviously be one of the stars. Now that I’ve read all of her sci fi books, at least I can now read Jo Walton’s posts on them without fear of spoilers. I’ll also be exploring the authors Walton suggests in this post and remind myself that there are always potential new favourite writers just waiting for me to stumble upon them. Now please go read some Bujold already; your life will be enriched. I promise.