I Need Diverse Books

If you’ve spent any time on the bookternet this year, you’ve probably heard about We Need Diverse Books, a campaign not just to get more diverse authors writing more diverse books but to get the big fancy publishers to put their diverse readers’ dollars behind publishing and advertising and making these books a success. This is an awesome campaign and a really really good idea because, let’s face it, I read a lot of books by white people.

That’s not because I don’t want to read diverse books. It’s because I’m lazy and reluctant to try new things. I look through catalogs of upcoming books and I pick out the books that already sound awesome to me. Maybe they have time travel or unreliable narrators or a split narrative where one part starts at the end and the other at the beginning. SOLD. And maybe they’re written by diverse authors? I don’t know, because I stopped at “post-apocalyptic super flu story with strong female lead and no damn romance subplot”.

Which would be fine, as it goes, because then I’m reading stories that I like and sometimes they’re written by Colson Whitehead or Liu Zhenyun or Roxane Gay and then I’m supporting diverse authors.

But I don’t do it on purpose, and sometimes I don’t do it on purpose, as when I thought Salvage the Bones sounded really interesting and then I found out it was destined for the “African American” section of the library, which is primarily where “urban” romances live, and I was like, well, maybe I won’t read that. Or like when I see posts on sites like Book Riot listing a million diverse books and I’m like, oh god there are too many books let me just read what’s already in my pile and maybe someday later one of them will magically show up?

Sometimes that works, like when my book clubs picked Salvage the Bones or And the Mountains Echoed or The Good Lord Bird, the latter two of which I would never have read without my book club’s prodding. But mostly that’s a losing proposition.

A few years back I did a couple rounds of the Orbis Terrarum challenge, which required me to read outside of my own country. It was surprisingly difficult in terms of my regular pile of books and ended up with a lot of Anglophone countries filling in the gaps. But I would have had to give up entirely without the help of you guys and your recommendations, so, hey, spirit of Christmas and all that, let’s do it again?

If you know of any great works by great authors who can fill in my completely metaphorical Diverse Authors bingo card and with luck lead to me reading even more diverse authors, leave them in the comments so that I can have a manageable list of good books to read that I have faith will be awesome, because you guys are awesome.

In return, I promise I will read at least one of these books every month during 2015 so that you, too, can get a little more diversity in your reading life. Let’s go!

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

FangirlWell, I’m finally done with the Great Rainbow Rowell Catchup, at least until her next book comes out (more on that later). It’s been a pretty good adventure, although I made the mistake (totally not a mistake) of reading her best book first, so even though the others are awesome I’m like, but they’re not as good as Attachments. This is clearly a terrible problem to have.

I was pretty excited to read Fangirl, due to the fact that it’s about a college kid who writes fanfiction and I was once a high school kid who wrote fanfiction (about Dawson’s Creek, natch) that I very much hope is lost to the internet these days. I’m not even sure I should have admitted that. It was really bad fanfiction.

Anyway. Fangirl. So there’s a girl, she’s called Cath, she has a twin sister called Wren, she writes legitimately good fanfiction about Totally Not Harry Potter (aka Simon Snow) in which Not Harry (Simon) makes out a lot with Not Draco (Baz), and she’s off to college. This should be a good thing, because college is good and she got into a fancy upper-level creative writing class which is awesome. But it’s not that great, because her sister doesn’t want to be a matched set anymore and so lives across campus and hangs out with people completely different from Cath and Cath is a super-introvert who could really use a built-in best friend at the moment, because college. There are boys to be reckoned with and bad grades to get over and serious family drama and fanfic that isn’t getting written because of all this, and oh my goodness I don’t miss college. Well, maybe a little bit.

Rainbow Rowell can write an awesome love story and I think that Cath and her eventual boyfriend (there are two guys and it’s not really spoilery but just in case, I’m not telling you) rival Lincoln and Beth from Attachments in sheer adorableness marred by weirdness. And the fanfiction aspect was well done, with little excerpts from both the “real” Simon Snow books and Cath’s various Simon/Baz stories in between Fangirl chapters that were appropriate to the upcoming chapters, which is a thing that I like. I also liked that you could clearly tell whether it was Cath or Gemma’s story before you even got to the credit at the end, and that Cath’s stories were clearly superior, at least as far as Simon and Baz are concerned.

So the important parts were fantastic. And there was a lot of good stuff about Cath’s family drama and how she and her sister dealt with it completely differently and how it caused issues in all of Cath’s other interpersonal dealings. And I thought that Rowell captured the essence of college life really well, from eating in the dining hall to the concept of “college time” and the fact that classes are pretty much the least interesting thing about being in college.

But certain implausible aspects of the story kept it from being the perfect book for me, starting with the fact that Cath has a non-freshman roommate and culminating in the fact that the Simon Snow novels exist in the same universe as the Harry Potter novels. Seriously, that one throwaway line about Harry Potter is still bothering me — how did Simon and Harry rise to equal prominence without lawyers getting involved?

In the end, I think it was a pretty fantastic book and that you should totally read it because omg Team Cath. You should also read it because Rowell’s next book is going to be the full-length fanfiction that Cath is writing throughout this book, and I am kind of super excited about that.

Recommendation: For fangirls of all stripes and people who went to college and want to relive it without having to go back.

Rating: 9/10

Weekend Shorts: FBP and Flavia!

It’s a science round of shorts! First there’s physics, then there’s chemistry, how can anyone go wrong? Well, I mean, there’s also death and a bit of destruction, so… I guess that’s how. What are you reading this week?

FBP, Vol. 2: “Wish You Were Here”, by Simon Oliver and Robbi Rodriguez
Wish You Were HereHey, remember how I read Hawkeye and that one issue nearly broke my brain due to strange chronology? That’s how this entire volume was for me. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised when we’re talking crazy pseudo-science, but I am still very confused as to what exactly just happened.

What I can understand is that our freelance physics friends go to a remote outpost where they meet an old friend of Cicero’s who has a shiny thing she wants to show them. Hardy and Reyes go off to explore the nearby town, there’s fancy physics fighting, Hardy learns about Reyes’s crazy physics past, Hardy learns some things about his own present, and a magic physics canyon becomes a magic physics cannon (well, sort of, let me have my wordplay) and it’s amazing. The brain-breaking part is that some or all of these events are taking place in a reality created by Hardy and Reyes, or possibly by Cicero and Sen, or possibly some hyper-intelligent mice, I don’t know. I mean, I guess I’ll know in the next volume, but for now I’m going with the mice.

The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse, by Alan Bradley
The Curious Case of the Copper CorpseI’ve stated several times here that I love Flavia de Luce, but the books about her have been hit or miss with me almost solely on the basis of how much time is spent solving mysteries versus extolling the virtues of Bishop’s Lacey and environs. Mysteries, yay! Ruminating about the history and future of Buckshaw with regard to laws governing estates, yaaaawwn.

But it turns out that long-windedness is a foundational Flavia attribute that really cannot be replicated in a 27-page story. Here’s Flavia, sitting around, oh, a note!, bicycling bicycling bicycling, a jaunt up the stairs, copper-covered fellow in a bathtub, meeting the boys of Greyminster, evading capture, mystery solved! No long rants about horrible sisters or even daydreams of criminal mischief via chemistry, and I rather missed them! It’s fascinating to find out how much you don’t even know about yourself…

The mystery itself was perfectly satisfactory, and it stands completely alone from the rest of the series so if you’re not caught up you won’t feel like you’re missing anything. But it’s no substitute for full-flavor Flavia, so luckily it’s just a few weeks until the next book comes out!

World of Trouble, by Ben H. Winters

World of TroubleIt seems like a million years since I read the first two books in this series, but in fact I read them in March and June. It just seems longer since this particular book has been staring at me from the shelves of my library since it came out, puppy dog eyes and all. I had been excited to read it when I ordered it, but after Countdown City left me a bit disappointed I was worried this one would leave me even colder.

Spoiler: it did, mostly.

See, I really really really loved the conceit of the first book, which involved a policeman doing his job well when all of his coworkers were phoning it in due to impending apocalypse (aside: I had no idea that the actual definition of apocalypse is “disclosure of knowledge.” BORING.) But in the second book, and even more in this one, there are no more coworkers because, you know, an asteroid is coming to end the world and people have better things to do than be detectives. Except for Palace, who is adrift in this new unordered world and just wants some dang answers.

Which, fine, whatever, but I don’t have to like it. In this go, Palace has left the relative safety of the Police House where a bunch of police-types are waiting out the asteroid that’s on its way in a week. He is headed to Ohio (yay!) to catch up with his sister, who he has pieced together from witness interviews is hanging out there waiting for the scientist fellow who’s going to fix this situation with some last-minute science (science!). Palace and his companion Cortez show up at, what else, a police station, to find no one there… except for a girl lying out in the woods with her throat slit but somehow not dead. Palace takes it upon himself to figure out her deal, the deal with the police station and its sealed-off basement, and of course the deal with his sister who may or may not have raided the vending machine of said station.

It’s an interesting conclusion to the series. There is definitely something to be said for Winters’s ability to convey the absolute uselessness that Palace feels in the face of certain doom, and his struggles to get everything he can in order while it’s still possible. It was also fascinating and a little heartbreaking to peek in on a little community living out its last days in a slightly different way than everyone else, and to see how some people are happy to be assholes to the very end. I liked that we got some solid answers to the questions brought up throughout the series, though some of those answers were a little too convenient, but of course the one big question does not get answered satisfactorily, which, how could it.

I kind of wish I hadn’t read this book, because I knew it wasn’t going to be what I wanted and I read it anyway and it was just as okay as I thought it would be, but at the same time there was no way I wasn’t going to read this book in the hopes of getting some of those answers that I did actually get, so I guess overall it was a win? At least it’s a quick book!

Recommendation: For readers of the rest of the series, but if you haven’t read any yet you can read the first book and then stop if you want.

Rating: 6/10

Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and CrakeI brought this audiobook to listen to with my husband on a recent road trip, which was a great idea except for the fact that I haven’t listened to an audiobook in ages and I think I may have forgotten how to do it. I found myself often asking Scott to explain something that had just been explained thoroughly by the narrator, or backing up a track or two after a rest stop because in the five minutes I was away from the car I forgot everything that had happened. I will partially blame this on the narrator, who had a voice that was so soothing that I literally fell asleep to it, missing an hour or so of story that I wasn’t willing to make Scott listen to again.

But the parts that registered with me were super fascinating, so as soon as I got back to work I procured the print copy and proceeded to start the thing all over again, which was good because I missed more little details than I thought I did. It was also good because Atwood throws in a few “If only I knew then what I knew now”s which were all the more terrible for having that future knowledge.

I didn’t know when I picked this book out that it was going to be another in this year’s spate of super-flu-type reads, but hey, it’s a theme, let’s go with it! The story starts after Some Terrible Thing has happened and a dude called Snowman is the only person left in the world except for a group of people he is sort of in charge of and who don’t understand clothes or body hair or meat-eating, for not-yet-explained reasons. Snowman tells them stories of Oryx and Crake, who are painted as vaguely god-like creatures who watch over this strange group, but it’s clear there is more to these stories.

So we jump back in time (yay!) to when Snowman was a child called Jimmy, living on a tech-business compound with his scientist dad and ex-scientist mom. His compound, and others like it, are basically gated communities designed to keep out the diseases rampant out in the pleeblands while the scientists work on curing them or at least genetically engineering ways to avoid them. Enter strange animal hybrids like the rakunk, bobkitten, and pigoon, the last of which is a breeder of new organs for humans, which is… cool? Anyway, Jimmy makes friends with a new kid in school named Glenn but called Crake, and as you can probably guess he plays a bit of a role in Jimmy becoming Snowman, and in the creation of Snowman’s odd friends.

The book is a great and terrifying bit of world-building, with great scientific advancements contrasted with some awful and/or disgusting ones that are going to put me off my chicken nuggets for a while (but not long, which is the worst part). There is fascinating commentary on all sorts of topics, from genetic engineering to scientific ethics to the exploitation of minors to the vulgarity of the internet, and Atwood is so good that I found myself agreeing with pretty much every side of every argument. I’m even kind of rooting for the Noodie News to exist… wait, it probably already does, doesn’t it? I am NOT googling that. I just googled that. It totally exists. Canada, you’re so weird.

Aaanyway, I quite enjoyed this book and I am super excited that there are two companion books that exist so that I don’t have to think too hard about my next road-trip listen. I’m just going to have to stay awake this time!

Recommendation: For anyone not sick of super-flu (haaa) and anyone who likes thinky speculative fiction.

Rating: 8/10

Where’d You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple

Where'd You Go, BernadetteI had this strange feeling while reading this book for one book club that it was definitely the book I wish my other book club had read instead of Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, which is baffling because they’re really not the same book at all, except for that fact that there are disappearing mothers and very cold places involved in the story. I think what made me compare them is that both of them are full of absurd coincidences and unlikely events, but Bernadette acknowledges and really encourages its own insanity. Yes, perfect, pass me the blackberry bush remover.

I will grant that at first, I was like, what the heck is this. The book is written as a collection of emails and letters and memos between, like, every character in the story, and at the beginning things are a little odd because Bernadette has not gone anywhere and is instead in Seattle being a crazy lady. Crazy in a good way, in that she snarks on all her daughter’s classmates’ parents and the city of Seattle generally and that she has lots of disposable income lying around to do things like make eight-foot signs to annoy her neighbors, but also crazy in a bad way in that she lives in a seriously dilapidated old building and outsources most of her life to a virtual assistant out of India.

The epistolary format starts to make more sense, though, as the story shifts back and forth between Bernadette’s emails to her assistant about her family’s impending trip to Antarctica (I mentioned rich, right?), her neighbor and fellow school parent Audrey’s emails and notes to another friend about how crazy Bernadette is and how Bernadette totally ran over her foot in the pickup line at school, Bernadette’s emails to her assistant authorizing payment for the totally ridiculous doctor’s fees resulting from this imaginary injury, etc. etc. We get to see how completely deluded all these characters are, how they think they interact with each other, and how they really interact with each other. And it’s the disparity between the last two that really drives the plot of this book, which hits a high point at an intervention involving both a psychiatrist and several federal agents, at the same time. Awesome?

The ending of the book is a bit rough, partly because there are some overlapping timelines that make working out the order of events a little difficult and partly because the ending is not quite as insane as the rest of the book and therefore feels a bit out of place. Of course, the ending involves most of the characters becoming less insane than they were in the rest of the book, so I guess that makes sense thematically. But I wouldn’t have been upset with, like, a penguin going insane and biting people or someone getting stuck on an ice floe with inexplicable access to email.

Regardless, I loved this book so much. It’s absolutely bonkers and doesn’t take itself at all seriously, and yet it imparts important morals like “clear communication is important” and “for real, though, if you people would just talk to each other things would be so much easier.” Usually a severe lack of communication between characters is cause for me to throw books against the wall screaming “That’s what mouths are for, dummies!”, but Semple makes it work. You can tell she’s written for Arrested Development, and for me that’s an absolute plus. When’s her next book coming out??

Recommendation: For those who wanted A Confederacy of Dunces to have slightly more likeable characters.

Rating: 10/10

Weekend Shorts: X-Men catchup, some more

I was in my comic shop the other day, and they mentioned that they had been neglecting to order the trade volumes of X-Men for me, and that they would rectify that right away. To which I said, wait guys, I’ve only read like four of the TWELVE single issues I purchased, let’s wait to see if I even like this series before we go ordering more.

The verdict is still out, as I’ve only read a couple more, but let’s talk about those today!

X-Men #5: “Battle of the Atom, Part 3″
X-Men #5I had a feeling something was wrong when I picked this up and couldn’t recall reading “Battle of the Atom” parts 1 and 2. But, you know, whatever, it’s pretty pictures and I’m intrigued. The title page gives some background on what happened already, namely some crazy-pants time-travel including X-Men past, present, and future, and also Jean and Scott are on the run, which is what’s happening in this issue.

Even with all that info, the issue started out rough. Jean is in a mask? Some young hotshot walking Xavier is throwing smug looks around? Yada yada, chasing runaways, runaways run, runaways get caught, runaways escape due to infighting among the chasers.

I’ve already had a lot of trouble with X-Men due to the fact that I am apparently supposed to recognize all X-Men on sight, and this is even worse because the story is crossing through several current X-Men titles, all of them probably read by people with better facial recognition and more experience with the cast than I have. There are all these “reveals” that left me baffled and a lot of things I can tell that I’m missing, I just don’t know what exactly.

But the pictures are really pretty, and the story is actually sufficiently exciting for all the blah blahs I did up there, and I totally wanted to know what happens next. BUT but, of course X-Men #6 is part 7 of this story, because they want me to buy all the things, so I’m going to have to see if they’ve collected this somewhere useful so I can read a whole dang story. Oh, marketing, you vile beast.

X-Men #7: “Muertas, Part One of Six”
X-Men #7I skipped over #6 for the reasons stated above, and I had my fingers crossed that there weren’t going to be any references to that storyline in this issue. If there were, they were subtle, so fantastic! This issue opens up with a few more unlikely boobs than I’d like (the fact that powers that be don’t understand that ladies might be interested in reading an all-ladies X-Men is another beef I have with this series), but it also opens up with a long and useful introduction to our new villain, Lady Deathstrike, who seems pretty badass so let’s do this!

Speaking of facial recognition, immediately after we meet Lady Deathstrike, she shows up at the Jean Grey School and I was like, oh, intriguing, is she some kind of double agent mutant with another mutant’s consciousness inside her that is nuts! And then it turns out that this particular large-boobed, vaguely ethnic, long-black-haired woman has her hair parted on the other side and is therefore a completely different person called Monet. At least I can tell them apart from Karima (whose long black hair is longer than theirs), because Karima is the focus of this story.

In the first storyline of this series Karima was, like, in a coma or something? And then she got possessed by a technology demon because she has tech in her? Or something? Anyway, now it seems that possession has been good to her, because she’s no longer comatose and also is returning to her normal not-an-X-man state, except Lady Deathstrike does not know that and is coming to get her for her precious precious technology. Good thing she doesn’t know about Monet, who is apparently equally badass.

This series is killing me. I love that there are lots of these badass ladies, so many that “calling in muscle” still does not involve dudes. I love that these ladies are strong in different ways, but I don’t love that I can’t tell many of them apart to save my life. And I can’t stand the cheesecake, including the last page of this comic that primarily shows a woman wearing half a pair of pants (the right half [no, really]) and some kind of rib-breaking corset. At least these lady heroes wear sensible shoes. Maybe someday one will get on the burkini train.

How about y’all? What are you reading this weekend?