My favorite books this year were all by women

Kristen Bell sloth

It’s December, which means soon we’ll have a whole new year of books to look forward to. What’s your favorite book that you read in 2016?

Without a doubt, mine is …

Uprooted

Okay, Uprooted is from 2015, but … sigh. It’s so beautiful. And powerful. And enchanting. It’s the best fantasy literature that I’ve read since Le Guin’s Earthsea cycle (my favorite series). I don’t often encounter genuine page-turners, but this is one of them. GO READ IT PLEASE.

Also, yay for positive female friendships!

I also have to give a big shout-out to Liane Moriarty, who’s my new favorite author that I discovered this year (her books are secretly amazing), and Ava Jae, who’s my new favorite debut author (go read her too, please!).

I finished my Goodreads challenge this year. Did you?

Let’s not be lit snobs

Illuminae

Recently, I borrowed Illuminae from the library and found this note inside: “So cool! But is it literature? Is this the future of novels?”

I promptly took a photo and then crumpled the note into a ball and threw it away.

Because ugh. Who cares about these things? I doubt that authors Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff were writing the book and thinking to themselves, “Gosh, is this literature? Are we writing literature right now?” and patting themselves on the back.

My fiancée and I rolled our eyes. We started making jokes. We pointed at our cats and said, “So cool! But is this cat? Is this the future of cat?”

The future of cat

The note has a tone of condescension that basically says, “Gee, I see why you like this. Space is nifty, especially to teens like you! But let’s think seriously now. Is this good? Is this actually worth our time?”

Because literature = good and non-literature = bad, obviously.

As for the “future of novels” jab, that’s in reference to Illuminae’s unique format. It’s a story told through emails, interview transcripts, diary entries, Wikipedia articles, etc. These resources 1) make you feel like you’re right there, living through this cataclysmic space event with the survivors, and 2) create the intentional feeling of a historical record. It’s an objective collection of very subjective witness accounts.

So look. Whoever wrote this, I have a message for you: Stop patronizing teens (and oh hey, adults too) for what they want to read. Stop acting like the content and the format is so inferior that you have to question, “Golly, is this going to be our standards for novels now?” because you’re not reading Dickens or Twain or Joyce. No one is worried about this except for you.

I threw your note in the trash as a favor to the readers that matter — the readers who love to read, the teens who read, the adults who read, and who shouldn’t have to feel bad about that no matter what books they choose.

Please don’t be a lit snob.

Awesome book cover Friday: The Land of Decoration

Good morning! This week’s book cover selection is The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen.

The Land of Decoration

Here’s a description:

Judith and her father don’t have much — their house is full of dusty relics, reminders of the mother she’s never known. But Judith sees the world with the clear Eyes of Faith, and where others might see rubbish, Judith sees possibility. Bullied at school, she finds solace in making a model of the Promised Land — little people made from pipe cleaners, a sliver of moon, luminous stars and a mirror sea — a world of wonder that Judith calls The Land of Decoration. Perhaps, she thinks, if she makes it snow indoors (using shaving foam and cotton wool and cellophane) there will be no school on Monday … Sure enough, when Judith opens her curtains the next day, the world beyond her window has turned white. She has performed her first miracle. And that’s when her troubles begin. With its intensely taut storytelling and gorgeous prose, The Land of Decoration is a heartbreaking story of good and evil, belief and doubt. Its author, Grace McCleen, is a blazing new talent in contemporary literature.

What do you think of the cover? Love it? Hate it? Do little girls in floating houses in outer space creep you out? Let me know!

And have a great weekend! While you’re clicking links, check out my first blog post for Electronic Component News (ECN), a science/tech website.

Book clubs: good and bad, virtual and local

book clubs

I miss my college literature classes. Sure, it’s great to read whatever I want instead of following a syllabus (although I’ve swapped that responsibility for reviewing secret assigned books for Kirkus Indie — my lips are sealed on those, sorry!), but I miss opening my mind to new styles, genres, and authors. As consumers, we don’t always do that. We have our preferences because books cost money. Unless you frequent libraries and don’t mind the waiting periods, chances are you stick to books you think are most interesting.

Of course, you might go off a friend’s recommendation, and that’s a good way to expand your reading palette.

girl readingI have to confess two things: I don’t much care for classics (being honest here), and I hate the reality of book clubs. First of all, it’s not that I don’t respect or like the classics — I do, and I studied them in college — but I think a lot of people are tricked into thinking they have to love all of them or that nobody on Earth is allowed to dislike them.

That’s why I have an aversion to book clubs. Everyone wants to read the classics, or they want to read a specific genre, or they don’t give members the choice to pick the selections. Or maybe there are just too many members and not enough turns to go around.

Reading old literature comes with benefits, of course. But I love exploring what’s new — what today’s writers are writing and how they’re making history. We can only conjecture at what life was truly like for people like for people back when, but we know more intimately what life is like for people today, and reading about it (in fiction or nonfiction, which both draw from modern experiences) can help us grow and better understand others and the hardships they face now.

Not to mention, it’s a lot easier to relate to.

I’ve never had a mind for history or math — facts and figures just don’t stick in my head. But I love reading about past cultures, so it’s not that I’m allergic to classics. Now that I’m free from my studies, I’d just rather read contemporary books most of the time.

book club smallThat’s why one of my best friends and I have started our own book club. We might be close, but we have vastly different tastes. I’m terrified she’s going to force me to read a Nicholas Sparks book, but that’s OK because she’s going to have to give the stuff I like a chance, too, in equal amounts. We both get to read exactly what we want, but we have to be willing to expand our repertoire a little.

I can feel a lot more genuine, too, talking about a book that was written in the last few decades while sitting in a coffee shop or bakery than I can pretending to identify with people who faced a lot worse than we’re used to, with a fraction of the conveniences. We can relate to characters, but we can’t say with honesty that we really relate to the times — not in most cases, even if we’re going through similar situations today. The conditions are different, and so is the world.

For those who don’t have local book clubs to join, plenty of online clubs do exist. Sony just launched a virtual book club for Sony Reader users, where they can chat with the author at the end of the month. But the Sony Reader Store picks the books, which doesn’t give members any control over how they spend that chunk of their time (and money). Is this agreeable to you, or should clubs offer more freedom?

Are you part of a book club? What do you think is a good set-up for them so everyone is happy? Do you like classic or contemporary books more, and why? Either is OK! :)

What e-books have you downloaded free of charge?

Plenty of books whose copyrights have expired have entered public domain, so they’re free to download. Project Gutenberg was the first to make these available online, and now many other websites have joined in, offering a variety of formats.

Jacket Copy asked its readers what public domain e-books they’ve downloaded, and the list (see below) provides some great ideas for what to read next. What are your favorites? And what books in general have you found legally online for free? Lots of authors run daily or weekly sales on their books, marking them down in an effort to gain readership. I think it’s a fantastic tactic, one made easier without the costs of print.

“@paperhaus all of Jane Austen

“@paperhaus Cather, Conrad, Defoe, Hardy, Jack, London, Eliot, Conan Doyle, GK Chesterton, Rebecca West, Wilkie Collins. To name just a few.

“Jane Eyre. Apparently 2 print copies weren’t enough. RT @latimesbooks What public domain ebooks have you downloaded to iPad/phone/ereader?

“@paperhaus “Huckleberry Finn,” Sherlock Holmes stories, some Henry James (“Washington Square”)….

“@paperhaus lots of HG Wells, Byington’s Choctaw-english Dictionary, Conan Doyle, 19th C nonfiction where I can find it.

“@latimesbooks I have just read Omnilingual by H Beam Piper thru project Gutenberg

“@paperhaus Complete Shakespeare, Chekhov stories, Bartleby the Scrivener

“@paperhaus I love me some Chekhov short stories. Here’s a good primer: t.co/LTBbadur

“@paperhaus I got Frankenstein, Dracula, and a lot of other classic horror. Dracula was mind blowingly good — I hadn’t read it before.

“@latimesbooks mostly classics and the oddity “Alleged Haunting of B– House” by JP Crichton (probably no relation to Michael)

“Pride & Prejudice on my @nookBN RT @latimesbooks: What public domain ebooks have you downloaded to your iPad/phone/ereader?

“@paperhaus Twain, Dickens, yep, also Sabatini and Haggard, and old epics like Y Gododdin, various Annals.

“@latimesbooks I’ve downloaded too many to list but actually read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Journey to the Interior of the Earth

“@latimesbooks also the Well at the World’s End and Oliver Twist

“@paperhaus Anne of Green Gables and a couple of poetry anthologies.

“@latimesbooks First and favorite public domain ebook I’ve downloaded-Middlemarch. I’ll never tire of this wonderful book.