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Category: Reading Updates

Reading Update 07/22/20 – Catching the Late Hugo Train

It occurred to me, out of nowhere, that I have never actually managed to read all Hugo Award nominees in time for the ceremony. And of course, ten days out is exactly when one should decide to catch up. But I am not letting things like the objective passage of time stop me! By necessity, I am only limiting myself to novels, though I have already read some of the novella nominees as well.

The nominees for best novel are:

The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders

Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir

The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley

A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine

Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire

The Ten Thousand Doors of January, by Alix E. Harrow

As of right now, I have read Gideon the Ninth and A Memory Called Empire. Currently, I am halfway through The City in the Middle of the Night, and then I think I will try The Light Brigade, since I have been meaning to read it for a while now. Hopefully I will be able to get to at least 4/6 before the awards are announced.

Reading Update 07/15/20 – Too Much, and Just Enough

Sorry for the topical pun, which will cease to make sense within a week. But as I am halfway through Mary Trump’s unflattering and devastatingly empathetic portrait of her uncle, the title has been percolating in my head. This post is about something else however.

I have been reading a lot lately. My life is in the middle of some significant changes. For good and for bad, alas, but both aspects amount to more reading time. It’s a borderline feverish state of ingesting books, and it feels amazing! Reading has always been therapeutic for me, and working at a bookstore, it also makes me feel connected to my job.

On that note, apparently I am good at hyping up things and making people buy them. Who knew!

A bit of housekeeping. Last week I mentioned reading Sam Lansky’s Broken People. I ended up absolutely loving the book, but the reasons for that are a tad too personal to really talk about in a coherent review format. His story resonated with my own current circumstances, underlying mental health issues, and overall life experience in a way that never really matched, but at the same time informed them. I don’t even know if I could recommend it to people, because the experience was so personal.

Anyway, here’s to reading, and having complicated experiences with books!

Reading Update 07/08/20 – Broken People

My one and only experience visiting Los Angeles was very contradictory. There is a profound sense of nihilistic romanticism about this city. A glorified shallowness that translates into some kind of higher purpose loneliness. Yet, even during the winter holiday season, it was mostly just hot and spread out. More a network of suburbs than a coherent city. On a day-to-day level, the experience was a bit boring, mostly dedicated to endless Uber rides.

And the lack of bookstores was a surprising drain on my psyche.

At the same time however, there was a curious static charge in the air. Hollywood. The movies. The history of the movies. We took several studio tours, and I loved every second of them. LA lives and breathes its conceit, and it makes you believe in it, whether you want to, or not. A couple of years later, I struggle to recall the things that bothered me about the city. The memory has acquired a patina of romance and timeless melancholia. Up until now, I had even forgotten how literally nobody in that place can whip up a decent Bloody Mary!

I promise I am going somewhere with this wildly long prelude. I was listening to a recent episode of Crooked Media‘s podcast Keep It, featuring an interview with author Sam Lansky. Something about the way he talked about his new semi-memoir-semi-fictional novel Broken People resonated with me. It brought my own feelings about LA, despite the obvious differences between me and him. Lansky’s youth, spent back in New York City before he moved across coasts, is way more dramatic than mine. In fact, our experiences have little in common on pretty much every level.

But the “anxious late 20s/early 30s gay” voice ensnared me immediately.

I am only two chapters into the book so far, but this voice is so wonderfully clear, and it evokes so many of the feelings I both had, and have absorbed through media about LA, that I am already in love with it. It’s not really the type of work I review on this blog, but if it inspires something more, I still might, once I finish the book.

Reading Update 06/29/20 – Vorkosigan Saga

I am almost there! With the completion of A Civil Campaign, I am only one novel away from being finally done with the part of the series I had read as a teenager. Even though I also went through Ethan of Athos — another novel in the universe that I’d never read — this will mark the end of the “Re” portion of my reading adventure.

First, however, as suggested by this here page, I began Falling Free — the 200-years-earlier prequel story on the creation of the Quadies. The edition of the audiobook I stumbled on is pretty terrible. Both the man and woman reading it, do so in an extremely low, mumbling register, which means that literally any sound drowns their voices even with noise-canceling earphones. But as far as the book itself goes, I have no complaints so far.

Next is Diplomatic Immunity. What comes after that, is the portion of the late novels I have never read. Those have gotten mixed reviews, but I am hopeful. A Civil Campaign was far bigger delight than even my vague memories suggested. I am riding this high to the bitter end!

Reading Update 06/24/20 – Trans Authors, And Where to Find Them

As I have already written here, I was less than happy with J.K. Rowling’s continuing quest to invalidate trans people. Of course, Rowling is in a tax bracket where nothing mortal can really impact her, but the same is not true of the people she is putting in danger through her willful ignorance.

There is very little I can do to help, other than be an ally myself, but I found a nice way to express my feelings.

Recently, I started work at my local indie bookstore (“Unabridged Books” in Chicago). It is smack in the middle of our gay neighborhood Boystown, so I convinced them to set up a display of trans and non-binary authors of fantasy and science fiction. So far the support has been overwhelming, and we are ordering other titles that we didn’t have in stock at the time.

If you too feel grossed out by Rowling’s transphobia, and wonder what you can do, supporting a SFF trans or non-binary author is a great first step.

Reading Update 06/17/20 – Racism

Unlike many of my attempts at puns, this time the title is plain and simple. I realized it was way past time I put my reading where my online mouth was. Protests about police brutality and racism are shaking the foundations (I hope) of this country. As a liberal progressive gay dude, I always considered myself sufficiently “woke”. I assumed that if I could not always avoid racist behavior, at least I was fully aware of it.

Spoiler alert: I wasn’t.

The first book I read on the subject was Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. And it was certainly an eye-opener. I think that, coming from a predominantly white Eastern European country, I had an easier time with the premise. It has been literal decades since I thought of racism as “actively hating others for the color of their skin”. I know it’s far more pernicious, and that it has metastasized into society’s structures in ways that many people would struggle to recognize.

What I did not expect to learn, was that most white people refuse to recognize them. And how much the recognition feels like a powerful assault to their sense of self. I am excluding myself from this statement, but I likely shouldn’t. Even if I am partially an outsider to this culture, I am also a part of it. And I have no doubt that I share many of its failings. Suffice to say, I learned a lot.

Currently powering through Ibram X. Kendi’s How to be an Antiracist, and following that, I will get to Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race. Will report on progress next week.

Reading Update 06/10/2020 – Reading Polygamy

Mediums, as they say, are the spice of life! No, wait. They say that about variety. Well, mediums are the… uh… medium of variety! There, that’s better.

Recently, as I discovered the “new” frontier of audiobooks, I also started splitting my attention between books. I have always been a “one book at a time” kinda boy. But lately, as “reading” has invaded parts of my day usually reserved for podcasts, things have started to change. So if I lie in bed with a book, I am currently reading Zen Cho’s The Order of the Pure Moon, Reflected in Water. If I am biking somewhere, it’s a great time for a story from the anthology The Mythic Dream. And video game time is all about that Vorkossigan Saga life.

It is something I never used to do before. Juggling two or three paper or e-books has always added unnecessary pressure to choose. Now I don’t have to. I can’t read while eating, biking, or gaming. But I can listen. And since listening apparently takes a completely different part of my brain, I can also compartmentalize when and what I listen to.

All of this to say — audiobooks are still a life-changing addition to my existence, and I am still in love with them. They can never replace paper for me, because I am old and stuck in my ways. But as an “and”, rather than “or”, they are a miracle!

Reading Update 05/27/20 – Ethan of Athos is Gay

My Vorkossigan Saga re-“reading” project on Audible just covered a book I had never read before. Ethan of Athos is a side story that only mentions Miles. Furthermore, it wasn’t even published in Bulgarian back when I read the series as a teenager. So, it was fun to experience something new in that universe.

It’s a lukewarm spy action story on a space station. We’ve all read those (and if you haven’t — what’s the matter with you?!), and Ethan delivers nothing new. With that said, it is also a story of a gay man, coming from an all-male planet that relies on technology for procreation. It does it awkwardly, with outdated ideas of bigotry that already aren’t all that prevalent, and are unlikely to survive a galactic expansion.

Now, we can all agree that the Vorkossigan Saga isn’t the most progressive series in the galaxy by today’s standards. The rigid duality of male and female, the cringe-inducing use of “it” to describe in-between genders. The overtly patriarchal and classist undertones. It doesn’t hold up when placed next to works like Ancillary Justice for example.

But most of the Vorkossigan Saga was written a long time ago, and by those standards, it is staggering how progressive it actually is.

Ethan of Athos was published in 1986. For all that I find Ethan himself to be obnoxiously naive, snooty, and annoying, he is a sympathetic portrayal of a gay man dealing with homophobia and misguided prejudice. And thriving. What’s more, Bujold gave him to us in the midst of the AIDS epidemic, in the year when the term “HIV” was created. In a mainstream entertainment genre, as part of an already successful series.

When viewed through the lens of that time period, Ethan of Athos is a truly remarkable work. And while it will never get near my favorite list of stories in that universe, I am very happy to have read it. Apparently, I could love Lois McMaster Bujold more.

Reading Update 05/20/20 – The Bujold Cascade

In this week’s thrilling episode of “Adventures in Audiobooks”, our intrepid hero discovers another new thing about himself! Something magical occurred, and I don’t quite know how to explain it. Of course, it is of interest exclusively to me, and literally no one else in the universe, but hey! It’s my blog ^_^

So, after finishing Barrayar, I naturally slid into the next book in Bujold’s Vorkossigan Saga The Warrior’s Apprentice. Miles’ first adventure is cute, if far from her best work, but what happened next MIGHT SHOCK YOU!

Just kidding. I started listening to The Vor Game. Finished that one last night. Guess what I am listening to now? Yep, you got it — Cetaganda.

What is the point of this boring list, you ask?

Here’s the thing. I am not a serial reader. I have always struggled to maintain interest for the same writer/series over more than a couple of books. This has nothing to do with engagement or quality of the works. It genuinely hasn’t seemed to matter how interested I was when I read the last page. If it is a second or third novel in the same series, or by the same author, I find my capacity to continue drastically diminished. I need a break of pacing, a change in direction. Always have. My reading lists, when they include series, tend to be a checkerboard.

Not so with audiobooks. It seems that my brain is treating the information differently. Perhaps it’s due to how used I am to listening to podcasts. However, unless something changes, it appears that I can just keep going with a series indefinitely. Already 4 books into the Vorkossigan Saga, I feel like I can go on forever.

Moral of the story — as far as Simeon is concerned, audiobooks are good for re-reads and long series!

Reading Update 05/13/20 – Barrayar

Today’s post will be a short one. An actual “update” if you will.

As previously mentioned, I decided to use the audiobook medium as a means of re-“reading” books. There is a lot of stuff I’ve wanted to get back to for the longest time, but couldn’t, because there was always something new to read. So, adding audiobooks to my “non-reading” time has been a game changer!

After finishing Dune, I went to Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkossigan Saga, which I have been aching to come back to. I am going through them in order of internal chronology, and since I read Shards of Honor last year ago, I started listening to Barrayar. It is absolutely fantastic, just as I remembered it from my teens! Bujold’s writing is effortlessly engrossing, in a way that fills me with dark envy.

Sidebar: I am taking a stance against male narrators pitching their voice high when reading female-coded dialogue. Come on, dudes, it just makes the characters sound scared all the time!