Giving some love to the books I didn’t love

The past couple months I’ve been moving… packing, sorting, hauling, cleaning, painting, unpacking… it seems never-ending, and I’m not quite done yet. Hence my slight presence online.

During that time, I found myself making little lists in my mind. Everything from your standard “things to do today” and “things to remember to move to the new place” etc. to a bit more random ones, like “the 5 grossest things the previous tenants left behind” or “types of dogs I’ve seen on my new street” (an astonishingly long list for a short street – suburbia, you really like your dog breeds, eh?) Which totally reminded me of November and her list-journals in Palimpsest, by Catherynne Valente.

I reviewed Palimpsest a while ago, here. Basically, I said there were a number of things I liked about the book, some things that didn’t work for me, and ultimately I didn’t love it. I mostly got reactions along the “sorry to hear that” line. But what’s wrong with not loving it? Obviously some part of the book has stuck with me, since I thought of it and related my own behaviour to one of its characters, months after I read Palimpsest and wrote that review. Isn’t that the goal of literature? To stick with you in some way? Even if it’s just to make you grin a little when you catch yourself writing lists in your mind.

Maybe it’s the recent(ish) David Gilmour internet-storm still fresh in my mind, but it seems to me that loving a book is not necessarily the goal of picking a book up to read. Awesome if it happens, and I like most people gravitate towards books I think I will at least enjoy–but if I read a book that it turns out I don’t love, that doesn’t mean reading it was a wasted endeavour.

Maybe it’s not a book of my heart, but maybe it teaches me something new. Maybe it helps me consciously realize some writing lesson (since it is much easier for me to analyze something critically when I’m not busy fangirl-squeeing all over it). Maybe it points me in the direction of a new-to-me author or book or topic.

I recently finished Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel (trans. Carol Christensen and Thomas Christensen). I can’t say I loved that book, either. I was enjoying it, right up until the last couple of chapters when the main character made the opposite choice than the one I was hoping for, and then the ending didn’t stick for me. That doesn’t make it a bad book–kind of the opposite, the fact that I was invested enough to be so thrown at her choice suggests that it’s a very strong book. So, I didn’t like the ending. I’m still glad I read it, for a lot of reasons. Because it had an interesting story structure. Because I don’t read a lot of Mexican fiction, and it’s important to consciously realize these things and strive to be more diverse. Because I like reading translated fiction and wondering how that extra layer of language changes my reading experience from someone who can read the work in the original.

A book has not failed me if I wind up not loving it. Finding a book I really, key-smashingly, tweet-and-tell-all-my-friends-to-buy-it, truly love would be a lot less special if I did love every book I read.

So here’s to all the books I’ve read that I’ve liked but not loved!

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Repost: Why Amy Farrah Fowler Rocks

I was skimming through some old posts at my defunct lj today, because of reasons, and this one in particular stuck out to me. Even though I posted it over a year ago, I still feel this, very much. I’m posting it again so that I have it on this blog too.

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Why Amy Farrah Fowler Rocks.

Mar. 23rd, 2012

This is an entry I have been wanting to write for a long time. I’ve been holding off because I’m pretty angry about it, and I wanted to be less defensive and able to write with more objectivity. But y’know, not sure that is ever going to happen, so here goes.

This entry is about The Big Bang Theory, specifically Amy Farrah Fowler. To start off with: I have seen most Big Bang episodes at least twice, several more than that. I’m a big fan. For sure there are a ton of things that bother me about the show, big and little, from Howard’s womanizing and overwhelming skeeviness to the fact that Leonard seems to only have one facial expression. (Yeah, you’ll never un-see that now. Sorry.)

But if there’s one thing I love unreservedly about this show, it’s the character of Amy Farrah Fowler. So when I see or hear criticisms of her character, I get angry, and I get defensive. Those who take issue with Amy’s character and her storyline seem to mostly have a problem with the fact that Amy is brilliant and a scientist with a good career etc etc, but right now in the show she is focused on her social life: her friendship with Penny and Bernadette, and her relationship with Sheldon.

What I would like to say to that is: SO?

My instant and negative gut reaction to this is influenced for sure from my current position in academia. I am so turned off academia right now because of the sexism I see. From my experience, there are far fewer women than men above the undergraduate level (my MA class is equal, 3 women, 3 men, but only two want to continue on to a phD and guess what–both men. Profs-wise my department is at something like 10 men to 3 women). Being an academic takes a lot of education, and demands a lot of time. No male academic would be considered less of a scholar for also having a family or any other aspect aside from work to their life. Female academics, though… And I’m sure it’s the same for other professions.

And why? Why can’t women have it all–a good job, a family, maybe a hobby or three? To me, feminism doesn’t mean pressuring women to work in higher education jobs that they were traditionally denied. To me, feminism means teaching girls that they can do anything. Because right now, you know, I don’t think we can. Of course girls still need to be taught and encouraged that they can be doctors or rocket scientists or professors, because that battle is still not won. But dear lord why would we teach kids that other desires are somehow less?

And that right there is why I think Amy Farrah Fowler rocks, and rocks hard. Because she is entirely her own person. She is a brilliant person, she has obviously studied long and worked hard to gain eminence in her field of neurobiology. But that is not all she is. She is not a neurobiologist full stop. She is not defined by her job. She is not defined by her boyfriend, either–when Sheldon works for a couple days in her lab, she doesn’t give any ground to him, because that is her field and she is the boss there. She is Amy Farrah Fowler, and despite having been teased and bullied growing up she is still not afraid to be herself, quirky and not pressured by social conventions. Let me just put it this way: how many girls do you know who had a rough childhood because of their intelligence would go to a wedding with a moustache painted on their finger as a conversation starter? I know I sure as hell wouldn’t.

So no, I don’t see the way Amy Farrah Fowler has morphed in the show to spending a lot of time with Penny and Bernadette, and the growing importance of her boyfriend/girlfriend storyline with Sheldon, to be somehow a failure of her status as a strong woman character. Do you think it was healthy for her to have no social life before meeting them? I happen to have recently rewatched the first couple episodes where she appears and you know what? She doesn’t smile. Not once.

Balance is good. Her having friends now (and yes, a boyfriend too) does not make her somehow less of a brilliant female scientist. She has not somehow failed feminism. Being a strong woman does not mean being a robot only focused on work.

Amy Farrah Fowler is the kind of female character I would like to see more of in movies/books/tv. She is confident in her mind and her body. She is part of society without changing who she is to fit into society. She is a model for girls who have been told one too many times that they are “a smart girl,” who have thought that maybe they aren’t ugly but that they’re invisible anyways because they aren’t like the popular girls, who have poured themselves into work because that’s all they think they’re good at.

And yes, I was one of those girls. There are a lot of us, and we need characters like Amy. We need to know that we can be neurobiologists and also squeal with glee over a princess tiara. These things are not mutually exclusive.

WWW Wednesdays May 1

It’s May! And absolutely goooorgeous out here. I hope you have an equally lovely day, wherever you may be 🙂

Now I haven’t posted a WWW (or anything else, for that matter) for a few weeks. Real life sort of took over. Nothing bad, just busy and higher priority than blogging. C’est la vie. Anyway, here I am again.

The WWW Wednesdays meme comes from shouldbereading, and all you have to do is answer these questions: What are you currently reading? What did you recently finish reading? and What are you planning to read next?

currently reading

  • Assassin’s Quest by Robin Hobb – the 3rd book in the Farseer trilogy. I’ve barely started it, so not many thoughts on it yet, but I’m looking forward to finding out how the story wraps up.

recently finished

  • The Spirit Lens by Carol Berg – basically a medieval spy thriller, set in a fantasy land. Yeah pretty much as great as it sounds. That said, I had a couple problems with the characterization, one of which is that I felt Ilario’s character was way too over the top for the first couple chapters. The other one is suuuuper spoilery so I’ll leave it be. Overall, though, I very much enjoyed this–the first novel I’ve read of Carol Berg’s, though I’ve read her in an anthology before–and look forward to the couple other books of hers I have.
  • Enchanted No More by Robin D Owens – very much enjoyed this, the first Mystic Circle book. Looking forward to reading the second.
  • A Mapmaker’s Dream by James Cowan – if this had been a full-length novel, I doubt I’d have finished it. As it was, towards the end it was fairly interesting, existentialist philosophy, but overall not a winner for me.

plan to read next

I imagine Assassin’s Quest will take me a while to read (still have over 700 pages to go :P) so I think I’ll read some poetry or other short works interspersed with it. Break things up a bit. I have a Thomas Hardy and a Robbie Burns collection that I haven’t gotten to yet, so maybe one of those, or there’s still my Complete Works of Shakespeare to tackle… Oh, or Dante’s The Inferno (in translation). We’ll see.

Book wishlist – on my radar

The only trouble with great series is that sometimes you’re left waiting for the next book. Three books that are high on my wishlist right now but that I have to wait a little longer for:

Shattered Pillars, the sequel to Range of Ghosts, just came out in hardcover a couple of weeks ago. Given my review of Range of Ghosts yesterday, it’s no surprise that I’m eager to read book 2. I am going to wait to buy this until it comes out in trade, but luckily for me my library has a couple copies! So I should get a chance to read it fairly soon.

I’ve raved before about Cold Magic and Cold Fire, so it’s no surprise that as June comes closer I’m getting more and more antsy to read the third book in the Spiritwalker Trilogy. Cat, Vai, and Bee are among my all-time favourite fictional characters and I cannot wait to see how this series winds up. Only 12 more weeks to wait! Publication June 2013.

This is the next Elemental Blessings novel from Sharon Shinn. The first, Troubled Waters, sucked me in so completely that I was stuck in that world for days after I finished the book. So I was very happy to realize there was going to be another book in this world… a little less happy to realize I have to wait until November for it. But that’s alright, I have several other Sharon Shinn books to tide me over until then. Expected publication (according to the Goodreads page) is Nov 2013.

What forthcoming books from favourite authors are you looking forward to?

Book Review: Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear

Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear

(Goodreads page)

Back cover blurb:

Temur is walking from a battlefield where he was left for dead. Temur is now the legitimate heir by blood to his grandfather’s Khaganate, but he is not the strongest. Going into exile is the only way to survive his ruthless cousin.

Once-Princess Samarkar is climbing the thousand steps of the Citadel of the Wizards of Tsarepheth. She was heir to the Rasan Empire until her father got a son on a new wife. She has renounced her worldly power to seek the magical power of a wizard.

These two will come together to stand against the hidden cult that has so carefully brought all the empires of the Celadon Highway to war through deceit and sorcerous power.

My thoughts:

It took me a couple of chapters to get into this book. But after the first appearance of Samarkar, I was hooked. Over the course of the book I came to be equally invested in all the main characters, but she was the one that first grabbed me. Let me just describe her badass-ness for a quick second: heir to an empire until her younger half-brother is born and she gets married off; unhappy in her new home, she gets her brother to come kill her husband; widowed, she decides to give up her Princess status and study wizardry, is neutered in order to gain magical power though with no guarantee of success or even her survival (how the magic system works for them). And that’s all before the story starts.

Overall, my favourite things about this book were the characters (particularly the female characters) and the worldbuilding. The characters in this book prove, as if it needed proving, that you can have well-rounded casts of characters (though they are skewed towards the elite of their various cultures) in epic fantasy. Everyone is a real person, and everyone’s strengths are acknowledged, whether it’s standing on a saddle in the middle of battle to shoot arrows with deadly accuracy, or just grimly gritting your teeth and not complaining about the blisters on your feet, or your own discomfort on a long journey.

I found the worldbuilding fascinating. From an external-to-the-book perspective, it’s important in that there’s a ton of discussion about non-Western fantasy settings going around in the SFF community, but I’m more interested in an internal-to-the-book perspective. There are several different cultures interacting in this book – in fact, with only one exception I can think of, I think every main character spends a large portion of the narrative outside of their culture of origin. Each character has times when they feel more or less comfortable–the steppe-raised man is claustrophobic and nervous among the mountains and in cities/palaces; the mountain-fastness-raised woman is agoraphobic in the open steppe. There’s a lot of worldbuilding done in this book simply through what is and isn’t familiar to each character in terms of ways of living that we might take for granted (do we sleep on a soft or hard bed? Raised or floor level? With or without a pillow? etc.). That was really interesting to me; how the the world was painted through details of character interaction both with each other and with their environment.

Maybe that is an obvious point, and it’s only my own little minor revelation as to the ways it was accomplished that makes me think it’s worth pointing out. But either way, the worldbuilding in this book is excellent.

The only problem I had with this book is that I got lost a time or two. I mean, physically lost in the world. Range of Ghosts is very much an epic fantasy; there’s a lot of walking to Mordor, so to speak. At one point, I’m pretty sure in my head the characters were crossing an entirely different mountain range than the one they actually were crossing, so when they came out the other side I was so confused. And this despite referring several times to the helpful map in the front of the book (I normally don’t bother to reference the maps in books). In the book’s defence, I believe this is entirely due to my own geography fail, and no lack in the book itself…

I definitely recommend this to fantasy fans. I had heard a lot of good things about this book before I read it, and it lived up to them all.

WWW Wednesdays Apr 3

WWW Wednesday time again – this week’s is a quick one.

The meme comes from shouldbereading, and all you have to do is answer these questions: What are you currently reading? What did you recently finish reading? and What are you planning to read next?

currently reading

  • The Spirit Lens by Carol Berg – only just started, enjoying the mystery and the setting so far.
  • Le Misanthrope, Molière – yep, still…

recently finished

  • Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear – review coming soon, but short version is that I really enjoyed it.

plan to read next

probably Assassin’s Quest by Robin Hobb (Farseer Trilogy #3), to finish off that trilogy.

Embarrassment of Riches TBR Challenge – March round-up

I can’t believe three months of 2013 are already done. Also this morning wordpress informed me that I’ve gotten 100 likes on this blog. So yay, that’s neat.

Here’s my TBR challenge round up for March.

TBR-vignette-300x261Quick reminder: the Embarrassment of Riches TBR Challenge is to try and whack the to-be-read pile back down to size a little. Any book read that I owned prior to Jan 1st 2013 counts for this challenge. I’m aiming for 50+ books.

Once again, I have four books to count for the TBR challenge. I read 3 others, but two were just online and one I bought in 2013.

    1. Red Planet Blues by Robert J Sawyer (arc)
    2. Lady of the Forest by Jennifer Roberson
    3. Double Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
    4. Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn

That’s a total of 13/50 = still on track, though just barely.