April books

The Trauma Cleaner:One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster

Sarah Krasnostein

Genre: Biography

The story of Sandra Pankhurst, a woman with a trans history who is a trauma cleaner (i.e. cleans up houses after suicides and deaths where the body has been undiscovered a while, also hoarders’ houses etc). A lot of reviewers seem to have an issue with the unreliability of Sandra’s memories. I’m all good with unreliable narrators, and I think the author did a good job of tracking down what evidence she could to either corroborate or contradict Sandra’s recollections. I found some of Sandra’s history incredibly painful to read—Sandra isn’t beyond criticism but at the same time I can understand why she made the choices she made out of self-protection. The stuff about the trauma cleaning is also really interesting and sad. Definitely worth reading.

Anya’s Ghost

Vera Brosgol

Genre: YA graphic novel, ghost story

Anya is a US teenager whose family is from Russia. Like a lot of YA graphic novels, the book examines themes of fitting in and exclusion. Anya falls down a well and discovers a skeleton. The ghost attached to that skeleton helps save Anya and hitches a ride out of the well with her. Over time Anya begins to realise the ghost isn’t as benevolent as she first appeared. I really enjoyed this, the illustrations are great and the story better than the last few YA graphic novels I’ve read.

Picnic at Hanging Rock

Joan Lindsay

Genre: Classic, Australian

I’d never read this so I decided to educate myself. It’s a quick read, I finished it in a day. I can see why it would have been a huge thing in its time. I wanted to get to know the girls more before they went missing because I didn’t really care about them. The ending was pretty shocking; WTF!? An odd little book, really.

The Girl Who Owned a City

O.T. Nelson

Genre: Post-apocalypse, graphic novel version (YA)

Oh geez. I was expecting something totally different. I kind of hated this. All the adults are dead, and the kids have to band together to survive. Sounds great yeah? No. The main character, Lisa, is so unlikeable. It’s always a bit weird when the cultural differences between the US and Australia become really visible; there’s a thick thread of white survivalism (someone on Goodreads said neoliberalism) in this. Lisa is going on about how she deserves everything because she’s smart and hardworking and makes everyone else work for her. It’s HER city. And while there are about two panels devoted to her asking if she’s wrong and the others are right, ultimately she dismisses that train of thought and goes back to being the ruler of the city. It’s pretty fucking awful.

Shtum

Jem Lester

Genre: Modern fiction

I have very mixed feels about this book. Written by a father of an autistic child, told from the POV of the alcoholic father of an autistic child. I had such a visceral response to the depiction of the autistic boy that I had to put it down for a few days while I recovered. It made me feel awful. Everything is filtered through the lens of the father, and he’s not a very likeable person, particularly in the beginning. As the novel progresses you start to understand his own childhood trauma and see the way intergenerational trauma is the fucked up gift that keeps on fucking everyone up. I’ve read that the portrayal of the mother becomes more sympathetic toward the latter part of the book but in telling the story only from his perspective I completely disagree. She is always distanced and it’s hard to really empathise with her, even as we find out more of her story. The most interesting part of the book for me was the slow reveal of the grandfather’s story and the family history. It was a pretty upsetting read, all in all.

The Fish Girl

Mirandi Riwoe

Genre: Historical fiction with a post-colonial lens?

Beautifully written and tragic. Written as a response to the short story The Four Dutchmen. I loved it (though it is heartbreaking).

The White Road

Sarah Lotz

Genre: Horror

I admire the lengths Sarah Lotz goes to in order to research for her books. She went caving in Wales and to Everest base camp. If only I could afford to do that! But anyway, The White Road is a creeping horror with sensed presence, with a main character who has a self-destructive streak. I actually really enjoyed it up until the end. I appreciated the immersed-ness of the cave scenes and the Everest stuff; her research paid off as those settings were impeccable. Apart from the end, very fun read.

Station Eleven

Emily St John Mandel

Genre: Post-apocalyptic science fiction

I’ve heard mixed reviews about this but I actually appreciated it. A killer flu wipes out 99% of humankind and this story jumps around in the timeline to develop characters, mostly centred around Arthur Leander. The way Mandel writes about mundane, little things that have been lost and may never be experienced again made me strangely emotional. I never felt too close to any of the characters, but I still enjoyed getting to know them. It’s really well written and quite an optimistic post-apoc, really.

Borne

Jeff Vandermeer

Genre: Weird science fiction (post-apoc/dystopia)

There is a giant flying bear.

And Borne kinda reminds me of B.O.B from Monsters vs Aliens. Except Borne is way cooler and more intriguing.

So this is weird, some shit has gone down, climate change has wreaked havoc and there is biotech everywhere and the Company engineered Mord the flying bear and Rachel the scavenger finds Borne and everything happens. (Honestly the most surreal thing is that her name is Rachel). The pacing was a bit draggy in bits and I did give myself a bit of a shove to the end but I did really like the ending and I thought it was very good. Definitely recommend if you like weird sci fi.

Nimona

Noelle Stevenson

Genre: Fantasy graphic novel YA

I loved this so much! Nimona is a young shapeshifter who informs our supervillain, Blackheart, that she will be his new sidekick. I adored the relationship between Blackheart and Nimona and the relationship between Goldenloin and Blackheart. The illustrations are beautiful and the story is great, honestly just fabulous!

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Old illustration of a debris-littered seashore

Poseidon’s Bastard Son

I made another audio poem! I’m so excited, this is the first audio poem I’ve made with my new set up (a Christmas present from my partner). I’ve been working on a new piece but stalled so decided to give this poem another chance.

Poseidon’s Bastard Son was written in 2015, and has been performed as a spoken word poem at SpeedPoets. For a long time I had no idea how I would set it to music, even though I knew I wanted to. I got myself a little music notebook a couple of months ago and one night I had an idea for a little “riff”. I wrote it down in the notebook and recorded it on my flute and started layering from there. The final piece sounds like a flute ensemble—there are 5 flute voices by the second half, but they were all performed by me. I have also used creative commons samples (see below for attribution). Also big thanks to my partner for mixing and critique ;).

It’s taken several weeks to get this finished, as it can be difficult to record audio with children in the house! I hope you enjoy :).

Samples

IllusiaProductions. (2014). Different birds, birds swimming, wind, footsteps.wav. (CC-BY)

Pillonoise. (2015). Mallard and mandarin ducks (with take off). (CC0)

Soundbytez. (2010). roseate_spoonbill02.wav. (CC-BY)

Image credit

Master Humphrey’s Clock. (1840). Retrieved April 21, 2018, from Wikimedia Commons.

March books

The Boy on the Bridge

M. R. Carey

Genre: Post-apocalyptic, “zombie”

The Boy on the Bridge is a prequel to The Girl With All the Gifts. It tells the story of the crew of the Rosalind Franklin. I have very mixed feelings about this book. It made me cry, but honestly that might have been an anger reaction!

What I liked: Stephen Greaves. I appreciated the representation of an autistic teenager even if, at times, the characterisation seemed a little stereotypical. In particular, I thought Carey did a good job of showing how different Stephen’s inner world was to his external presentation. A lot of Stephen’s mannerisms are very familiar to me as I see them in my son. Others, not at all (every autistic person is different). I also loved the relationship between Khan and Stephen, and I don’t want to stray into spoiler territory so I can’t really keep going. I enjoyed reading the story of Rosie’s crew and what happened to them, and the little foray into the post-Girl world.

What I disliked: I really couldn’t understand the Sealey/Khan thing. There was absolutely no apparent reason for that. It made more sense to me as a one-off, oopsie… but I didn’t buy it as an ongoing thing. I also think Carey didn’t do anywhere as near a good job on the characterisation as he did in The Girl. I hated a lot of the characters and never got any sense of their motivations or their tragedy, like I did in The Girl. That was pretty disappointing. But mostly, I can’t forgive him for what happens at the end of chapter 60. In particular, the last 2 lines of that chapter. No, just no. One, autistic people find change hard but they *can* change. Two, the only reason Stephen struggled so badly was the inexplicable awfulness of the adults around him (except Khan). ANYONE would struggle with that kind of hostility. That bit struck me as egregious ableism and it was personally upsetting. I can think of several different ways that scene could have played out that would have worked for the story and not fallen into a tired trope. So yeah, very mixed.

Resurrection Bay

Emma Viskic

Genre: Crime/thriller?

Sorry about the vague genreisation, it’s outside my usual reading fare. Resurrection Bay has some really cool aspects. I did pick the main twist/reveal pretty early on, not sure how I feel about that. There was a lot to like about this book and I read it quite fast… there was something lacking for me so I wouldn’t say it was brilliant, but very enjoyable.

The Real Boy

Anne Ursu

Genre: Fantasy (middle grade)

The Real Boy caught my eye a while back as a kids’ book recommended for a depiction of an autistic character. While Oscar is never labelled as such within the book (it’s set in a fantasy world, after all) the behaviours and inner world clearly depict a neurodiverse child trying to fit in. I really liked this book, it unfolded in ways I didn’t expect and the slowly blossoming friendship between Oscar and Callie was lovely.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Jacqueline Kelly

Genre: Historical fiction (middle grade)

Calpurnia is a (white) girl in 1899, in America’s South, and she wants to be a scientist. I’m sure you can imagine her family isn’t too keen on that, except for her grandfather who is himself a naturalist and encourages Callie’s interest. I appreciated the sophistication of the character-building and while at first I was a little let down by the ending, I think there are more books to come that may provide more resolution. My only real criticism was that I think the author backed away from examining racial politics–there was a little bit but not really enough. In all, I loved the book and it’s probably my favourite from the month.

Djinn City

Saad Hossain

Genre: Fantasy (urban fantasy I guess)

This book. Wowsers. Ok it took me a while to read, it was so incredibly dense and unexpected. It was also funny and grim in ways I didn’t anticipate. The story focuses mostly on Indelbed, the son of a human emissary to the djinn, his cousin Rais, and Kaikobad (who is Indelbed’s father). There’s a bit of a mystery going on and everyone is running around trying to put all the puzzle pieces together. It was very well written and so so interesting but the ending made me go aaaargh! I don’t want to reveal too much, because spoilers, but yeah I totally did NOT see it panning out like that and I felt a bit miffed. I only just finished it though so I may mellow with some processing. In all though it’s a very very good book and I’d definitely recommend.

February books

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

Becky Chambers

Genre: Space opera

This book was such a lighthearted welcome relief to all of the heavy stuff I’d been reading. It felt like watching a progressive sitcom set in space, and while I can see on Goodreads there are some (mostly male) reviewers who totally didn’t appreciate it, for me it ticked some very fun boxes. I thought the alien species were particularly well done and imaginative, and the story was enjoyable without ever getting really down.

Amatka

Karin Tidbeck

Genre: Weird dystopia

Amatka is quite unusual. I read it in a day when home sick, and at the end I desperately wanted someone to talk to about it. Alas! I’m a fan of Tidbeck’s short stories, and I enjoyed Amatka while also puzzling over it. There are some criticisms that the characters are distanced and I think that is the point, but I agree it would have been better to see why the relationship was developing between Vanja and Nina as it didn’t really feel natural. The ending, for me, turned all of what had been building on its head. I think a lot of readers struggle to make sense of the ending, but for me I was left questioning my own sympathies; who was actually the “bad side” and who the good?

Friends With Boys

Faith Erin Hicks

Genre: YA graphic novel – high school drama ish

I really loved the illustration style of Friends With Boys and enjoyed Maggie’s story and the unfolding of her attempts to find her place in the school. It felt a little aimless though, with one major plot point going unresolved. Fun light read.

This One Summer

Mariko Tamaki

Genre: YA graphic novel – growing up

I’m a bit ambivalent about this one. Again, gorgeous illustrations, and some really interesting themes explored but I found Rose to be quite difficult to empathise with. Windy was super fun and while younger than Rose, seemed less self-absorbed. I have some concerns with the way one of the plot points was presented—I’m not denying it would play out that way IRL, but I would have hoped Rose was given more critical perspective of her own damaging internalised misogyny. Ultimately I’d want teenage girls to read this and learn why Rose’s perspective was sexist, not just see it play out almost unchallenged. Anyway. It is what it is.

In Real Life

Cory Doctorow

Genre: YA graphic novel gaming

I appreciate Doctorow’s intentions with this novel. Anything that prods the privileged child to think about right and wrong and how disadvantage shapes our opportunities and choices is a good thing, IMO. I do think the resolution was a little too simplistic and white saviour-esque, will kids pick up on that, probably not.

The Hate U Give

Angie Thomas

Genre: YA Race and racism

I loved this book. It was so good, and I wish every teenager would read it. It dives headfirst into the issue of Black deaths at the hands of trigger happy cops. The protagonist is the sole witness to the killing of a Black teenager at the hands of a white cop. So very good and gave me a lot more insight into that issue. My fave from this month.

The Prey of Gods

Nicky Drayden

Genre: Science fiction

SUCH an ambitious novel! It’s set in South Africa, the characters are wildly diverse and imaginative and interesting, and the world-building is fascinating (the dik-diks made me cackle with glee). I didn’t have much of an emotional connection to the characters for the first half of the book, they kept doing kinda awful things but I started to connect with them after that. I think Stoker was my favourite character, but I really enjoyed Nomvula’s journey too. There was so much going on that I think it did unravel a little bit at times but it was still super cool and I’m impressed at the chances Drayden took. Much better to take risks and give it your all rather than writing something safe and bland. Looking forward to reading more of her work. One of my faves this month.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Cheryl Strayed

Genre: Memoir / hiking

Strayed seems to have copped a lot of flak in Goodreads comments and it struck me as I was reading them how some people really have no sense of empathy. I mostly enjoyed Wild, and the problems I had with it stemmed from some moments where the author displays a lack of self-awareness. A lot of the comments are slut-shaming and someone thought Strayed hadn’t had enough of a bad time to warrant writing a memoir. Le sigh. While reading it I discovered that one of the things I love about reading books is getting to know people: whether they be real people or imagined characters. So I empathised with Strayed in the early chapters and laughed at her naive stupidity regarding her lack of preparation. To the naysayers, she was prepared enough to be carrying iodine, eh? I probably got a bit turned off at “Queen of the PCT”—IDK, by that point I was looking for a little humility and self-reflection. So I guess my reaction to the book overall is mixed. I’d love to read a memoir by a WOC who’s done some extreme adventuring, any recs?

Love Minus Eighty

Will McIntosh

Genre: Science fiction (a bit Black Mirror without the depressing awfulness)

This was a slow burn for me but I grew to really enjoy it. At first I struggled because of the world (remember that Black Mirror episode where you can block someone and actually not see them in the streets? Yeah a bit like that). I HATE the thought of living in a world like that. And at first the characters annoyed me. BUT. Veronika and Rob (and strangely, Lycan) made it all worthwhile. The bridesicle premise is pretty cool but don’t think about it too hard. One of my faves from this month.

January books

Affinity

Sarah Waters

Genre: Historical fiction ghost story?

Awww. This book. I didn’t like this one as much as I liked Fingersmith. It’s not that it was bad, it just… well, I actually can’t say anything because spoilers.

Y: The Last Man

Brian K Vaughan, Pia Guerra, Jose Marzan Jr

Genre: Science fiction graphic novel

I read the 5 deluxe editions, not back to back but 2-5 almost back to back. 1 was ok, but Yorick annoyed me in that book. I enjoyed the next books more, though, as Yorick became less cocky and we got more Allison Mann (who is my fave character). I admit there was a point in book 4 or 5 where I really felt smothered by the author’s maleness–I guess I thought his vision of a post-male future was a little limited by his own gender experience. It’s a great story though, minus some flaws.

Days of Blood and Starlight

Laini Taylor

Genre: Dark Fantasy

The sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone was not what I expected. It’s like the Empire Strikes Back of the original Star Wars trilogy, a dark night of the soul. I loved it and over 2 days went on a crazy emotional rollercoaster reading it. I had to put it down in some points, because I was too invested and just couldn’t deal. I enjoyed the way the stakes were risen, the character development, everything. I reckon stronger than the first book.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters

Laini Taylor

Genre: Dark Fantasy

The final book in the trilogy… I was a little irritated by too much authorial telling. I’d get to the end of a section and the author’s voice would intrude and tell us everything was about to go to shit. I like surprises, rather than suspense being raised artificially, so it became a huge point of annoyance. Thankfully it did stop and I enjoyed the resolution. It did feel like maybe she packed far too much into this third book but I was also glad to get some answers to some subplots introduced later into the whole trilogy.

Extinctions

Josephine Wilson

Genre: “Literary”

I am not a huge reader of “literary” books unless they are flavoured in some way. I did see a recommendation in a book group so I decided to give it a try. I quite liked it, as an exploration of the impact of toxic masculinity on relationships (friendships, child-parent, romantic etc) and how the main character tries to undo all the damage he’s done before it’s too late. The strength in this book is the characterisation and the um, interiority (ok I feel like a dick using that word). Like a lot of “literary” books there is no real ending, leaving you to guess at what happens beyond the final page. Excellent writing too, hooray!

Sensitive Creatures

Mandy Ord

Genre: Slice of life graphic novel

Ord has created a bunch of vignettes about situations in life from the perspective of someone who is a bit sensitive, anxious, overthinky etc. I adored her depiction of a mosh pit as it’s the most accurate portrayal of my own one experience in a mosh pit (never again). Very quick read and very entertaining.

Alone on the Wall

Alex Honnold & David Roberts

Genre: Memoir (climbing)

I’ve wanted to read this ever since I found out it existed. It’s written by both Alex and David. Alex mostly recounts his climbs and some aspects of his life, while David seeks out commentary from significant people in Alex’s life and does research around events. It’s a great balance between Alex’s subjective perspective and what those around him feel and think about what he’s doing. The allure of Alex Honnold is difficult to explain: he’s a rock climber who, at times, climbs without any aid at all (other than his climbing shoes and chalk bag). I’m not talking bouldering, I’m talking proper mountain faces. The stakes are obvious and he’s garnered quite a bit of fame. It’s his take on risk that I find interesting, as it aligns pretty well with my own. I could never do what he does, but that’s because I’m nowhere near as prepared as he is, and never will be. Anyway, I love climbing so I had to read this and I consumed it in a day. Lots of look up now!

The Paper House

Anna Spargo-Ryan

Genre: Literary?

Oh wow do I have feels after reading this. In short, it’s about a woman descending into grief after her baby’s in-utero death and subsequent stillbirth. It’s interspersed with childhood flashbacks to her mother, who suffered an undefined mental illness (but most importantly is deeply depressed). The writing is beautiful and intriguing, with the use of a lot of metaphors to serve to both filter our perspective and warp reality. Halfway through I posted on twitter that I felt I was looking at the world standing on my head, but it’s more than that.

As Heather’s break with reality becomes more pronounced I got angrier and angrier with how shitty her family were to her. Both as a child (the oblivious cruelty of her father is very distressing) and now as an adult. It made me dwell on the awful way we (as a society) treat women who are suffering (and Heather’s suffering is perfectly reasonable and explainable, she is GRIEVING). It made me think of how we’re expected to nurture others but can’t expect anyone to nurture us. Even this exchange between Heather and her dad:

‘I always had to be there for her. And I did it because I loved her and she was my wife, all those reasons. But when you’re the partner, no one looks at you.’

‘Right. Poor Dave.’

‘Don’t be like that. You’re not listening. Being the “sick one”‘ — he made air quotes — ‘gets attention. Caring for the sick one is exhausting. Seriously, you have no idea.’

I clenched my jaw. ‘I have some idea.’

Bear in mind that her dad was a FIFO worker and the child Heather took on a lot of the burden of emotionally caring for her mother… and then bear in mind that she’s just lost a baby and is being told to consider her partner’s feelings (which in and of itself isn’t unreasonable but HE’S TELLING THE WRONG PERSON). There is another exchange between Dave and her dad closer to the end that I won’t quote, but holy shit.

I’m unsure what the author’s intentions were regarding the reading of family dynamics, and I’m aware we all bring our own experiences into reading stories (I’ve been a depressed mother, though never of the flavour of the typical literary depressed mother), but all I could see was how unsupported Heather was in her grief. That other people around her saw her as a ticking time bomb because of her mother’s illness, and that in turn made them unable to see her and what she needed from them. There is definitely a lot to be said for the exhaustion of caring for someone with a mental illness, but it seemed to me Heather and her mother weren’t cared for as much as they were endured (I like to think Dave breaks this cycle, eventually, though). I’m still processing this story, but I feel pretty fierce about it.

2017 — the year of not writing

I was so unbelievably tempted to not write a recap of my year. But they are good to look back on so here I am.

I sold no stories. I published no stories. I barely wrote. I barely created anything other than assignments for university. Ouch.

I moved house. I did fieldwork. I finished a job contract and got another (short) and then another (short) and got job interviews and rejections and stressed out and then I finally got a job. I now work full time in an academic library. And, importantly, I graduated!

Me in graduation regalia

In a familiar theme from previous years, I struggled to find time to climb and run and hike and do all those lovely fun things. I did do True Grit though, and I climbed a bit. I did my first (and last) trail race. Also did several hikes. The highlight was climbing Mt Beerwah—it was terrifying and amazing!

Me at the Lake Manchester trail race

I read a lot! 2017 was probably the year of reading, really.

For Christmas I received a music set up to allow me to compose and record my own music/poems. So expect to hear some audio poems soon as I grapple with learning the technology/hardware.

Music studio set up

Creatively, 2017 is best described as a long inhale. Who knows if I’ll manage to exhale anything of worth next year? I’d like to. It’s time to scrabble back some semblance of my creative self.

For memories, I’m going to share my favourite family photos from the year:

Teenager with blue hair

The teenager now has blue hair

10 year old with creation

Birthday morning: “It’s not learning, it’s fun!”

6 year old smiling over presents

Engaging with people before presents

Chaotic family portrait

Sums us up pretty well really.

Of note: my youngest is starting prep next year. It’s a huge thing and something that may cause some angst, so there may be some reflecting about that at the end of next year!

As is my tradition, I looked through my photos to find my favourite photo of me from this year. I can’t go past this one of me scrambling down Mt Beerwah.

Me scrambling down Mt Beerwah

2017 was exhausting, in every way imaginable. It was a giant rollercoaster of happenings and my resilience was put to the test. Here’s to exploring the unknowns of 2018, without the stress of study and job hunting!

Reflections on a year of reading (Popsugar Challenge 2017)

Doing the Popsugar reading challenge was an interesting exercise that has allowed me to ponder my reading habits and figure out what I value as a reader. I read 41 books as part of the challenge (I did read more books than that this year but some didn’t fit into any categories). I’ve read some amazing books I never would have picked up otherwise—I’ve also churned through some quite mediocre books just to tick off a category. The former is a wonderful thing, but life is too short and time is too precious for the latter.

What I value

These are the things I value as a reader:

  • A diversity of experiences and viewpoints
    • My default is to read within my preferred genres and I don’t often step outside those genres. But to encounter a range of experiences, you have to read widely.
    • It’s very very easy to only read books written by white people. I have trained myself to look for women, but I’m also now seeking out the voices of people of colour.
  • Good writing
    • I am a writer. I appreciate a well-written book. I can forgive a book with amateurish writing if the story is good, but I’ve been pretty cranky with the standard of writing in a high percentage of the books I’ve read this year. I’m cool with different styles—by good, I don’t necessarily mean sophisticated. Simple writing can be just as effective as lyrical writing.
  • Satisfying endings
    • Some good books have satisfactory endings. Great books have satisfying endings. It’s HARD to end a story well. I find it the most difficult part of writing, and I get a huge kick out of an ending that delivers on the promise of a great book. Massive props to authors that can do this.
  • Freedom
    • One of the things I struggled with during this challenge was that there were books I wanted to read that didn’t fit into the categories. I have limited time to read so, being the personality type I am, I prioritised reading for the challenge. This is deeply problematic because reading should be for pleasure, not checkmarks.

Diversity

I also wanted to do a diversity comparison, to see whose voices I am reading. I have to write a bunch of caveats here:

  1. I wanted to do a detailed break down of differences, but some diverse identities are invisible. How many of my authors are LGBTIQ+ identifying? I have no idea. How many have disabilities, including hidden disabilities? The difficulties of determining this information has meant I’ve limited my count to gender and cultural background.
  2. Gender is unfortunately a binary count as I am not sure any of these authors identify in any other way.
  3. Some authors I’ve guessed at cultural background.
  4. There are more authors than books that I’ve read as some were collaborative books, and I’ve counted the same author more than once if I read multiple books by them.

Those out of the way. The majority of books I read this year were by women.

Pie chart showing percentage of female authors (65%) to male authors (35%)

 

However, white voices dominated.

Pie chart showing percentage of white authors (71%) to authors of colour (29%)

 

A more detailed breakdown:

Bar chart showing counts for white women (21), white men (13), women of colour (10) and men of colour (4)

 

This is obviously problematic! While it is getting easier to find authors of colour, it’s still difficult to do so *when reading to a challenge*. There were books I wanted to read this year by people of colour that I didn’t read because they didn’t fit into a category. It’s a pretty crap tally and I was consciously seeking out diversity… imagine if I hadn’t been?

My top books for the year

(In no particular order)

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Liar by Justine Larbalestier

Kindred by Octavia Butler

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Year of the Orphan by Daniel Findlay

These books are all very different, varying in genre and style. They were well-written (with the caveat that good writing means something slightly different depending on your perspective–see also my review of Year of the Orphan for my issues with its style). Each provided me with an experience beyond my expectations, and every one dealt with challenging subject matter (except Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which I included because it’s been a long time since I was so thoroughly entertained by a fantasy novel). Taste is completely subjective though, so take this with a grain of salt!

A note on bad reviews

I won’t name the books I least enjoyed, but there were several that received a lot of hype that I found disappointing. Generally, these suffered from a combination of poor craft and story/plot issues. As a writer, though, I understand it’s a lot harder to write a story than it is to criticise one. And I don’t want to tear other writers down, because it’s shit when it happens to you (yes it’s happened to me). I do appreciate the function bad reviews perform, and interestingly sometimes I’ve chosen to read books based on specific comments in bad reviews (unlikeable female characters FTW!) Other times I’ve avoided books because reviews have highlighted problematic elements that I knew would likely make the book difficult for me to enjoy. Usually I don’t review books I didn’t enjoy on some level, but I made a commitment to myself to review all of the books I finished for the challenge. I’ve been as honest as I’ve felt comfortable being.

Reading in 2018

Takeaways: I won’t do the full Popsugar challenge next year, however I will have a look at it and choose some categories to stretch me out of my comfort zone. I will continue to seek out diverse voices and I give myself permission to abandon books I’m not enjoying. I have a bit of a list of books I want to read and I want to refocus on reading for pleasure.