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February 22, 2016

The Don’t Just Read Dudes Project

I read a lot. It’s what I do when I’m not doing anything else. And since 2001, I’ve been keeping a list of what I’ve been reading. Once in a while, I scan through this list, and it’s noticeable that a lot of the authors on my list have . . . Y chromosomes. It’s also noticeable that there are a lot of fantastic books by women on the list. I loved The Martian and of course I ripped through Seveneves, but now I’m ready to spend some time with a different focus. Lois McMaster Bujold, Dorothy Sayers, Octavia Butler, Ann Leckie, Ursula Le Guin, Maggie Stiefvater, and Katherine Addison are all writers I’ve read recently who write (or wrote) masterful, insightful, gripping books that make me want to read more like them.

So I decided in January that I’m going out of my way to read more great books by women. I’m going to say twenty books in the first half of 2016. I’m counting rereads, but only if it’s been at least fifteen years since the first read. I’m also not sticking to this diet exclusively, because I wanted to finish Accidents in North American Mountaineering, and Fifty Degrees Below had showed up in the interlibrary loan queue (but I was a little frustrated with Fifty: as Frank burbles on about how logical it is to sleep in the park and hang out with homeless guys every night, I can’t stop noticing how unworkable that solution would be for most people with breasts). This isn’t going to be any effort to survey the great classics of female authors, by the way; I’m just going to read whatever seems fun.

Read so far

  1. What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton
  2. Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary
  3. Pride and Prejudice (reread) by Jane Austen
  4. The Left Hand of Darkness (reread) by Ursula Le Guin
  5. Ellen in Pieces by Caroline Adderson
  6. Over Sea, under Stone (again) by Susan Cooper. Book one of the Dark Is Rising series, which I read through except for The Dark Is Rising itself, which I reread two years ago.
  7. Greenwitch (again) by Susan Cooper
  8. The Grey King (again) by Susan Cooper
  9. Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper. I think this was the first time. The other books are very good, but this one I didn’t like as much. Too much magic, I think.
  10. Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton
  11. Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold
  12. Climbing Free: My Life in the Vertical World by Lynn Hill and Greg Child. I’m very interested in motivation, and check out this one: “For me, the ascent represented a kind of performance art to demonstrate the values I believed in.”
  13. Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
  14. Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior by Judith Martin
  15. Merchanter’s Luck by C. J. Cherryh
  16. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
  17. The Just City by Jo Walton
  18. The Woefield Poultry Collective by Susan Juby
  19. Republic of Dirt by Susan Juby
  20. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Update, June 19

Earlier this month, I finished The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. It makes twenty books, so I’m calling the project finished for now. Lots of pleasant surprises in that book list. There was a bit of a digression when I blew off a Pulitzer-prize-winning Anne Tyler book to read a long piece of Harry Potter fan fiction. After the Harry Potter fan fic I had to reread the first two Harry Potters for comparison; then after The Song of Achilles, I had to dip into the Iliad for comparison.

February 9, 2016

What Makes This Book So Great?

I’ve just devoured a book I’ve been waiting to get my hands on for a while: Jo Walton’s What Makes This Book So Great: Re-Reading the Classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy. There are two reasons this book is so great: Jo Walton likes the kinds of books I like, which means I get to read essays about some of my favourites. And she also enjoys books in the same way I do: she reads a lot, she reads books she likes, and she re-reads.

I read in cafes and tea houses. I don’t think of this as going there especially to read, any more than I think of going there to breathe. I will be reading and breathing while I am there drinking tea, that goes without saying.
I don’t know a lot of people who re-read, but to me it’s central to getting to know and enjoying a book. There’s an interesting discussion in this book about the reasons for re-reading—how sometimes you want something you know you like, and how if you read a lot there’s not an infinite supply of books that you really like. Re-readers will be enlightened by the essay on the Suck Fairy, a phenomenon known to re-readers everywhere. (The Suck Fairy sprinkles suck on your favourite books, so that when you re-read them, you find racism, sexism, and authorial tics that can’t possibly have been there when you were younger.) There are tantalizing hints throughout this book of a household that collects books because they might not be in print, or they may not be in the library. A family and a circle of friends who collect books, share them, and talk about how great they are. I would love to see those bookshelves.
I used to only read in-print paperbacks and current SF magazines in the bath, but since I moved here where I have a huge old bath and very hot summers, I have given in and now even read hardbacks, as long as they belong to me.
I read with great pleasure the series of essays on the Vorkosigan Saga, but I’ve also learned that my reading has some large gaps in it, so I’ll be reading some C. J. Cherryh and Steven Brust, and then re-reading the parts of What Makes This Book So Great that discuss them. In fact, I’ve got a whole list of authors to check out, so that’s a gift that keeps on giving. These essays appear online at Tor.com. The above quotes are from “Gulp or Sip: How Do You Read?