April 2, 2015

March Reading

I’ve been bad at reading this last few months but March wasn’t so bad.


Zen Cho, Spirits Abroad: I’m reviewing this elsewhere and will post the piece here when it’s out, but the important revelation that I had about Zen Cho (other than that her work is brilliant comfort reading) is that she reminds me of Joan Aiken. I’m not sure there’s a higher compliment.

Deji Bryce Olukotun, Nigerians in Space: For a review. I will not be counting this in my stats for the year because it’s a reread; it’s worth reminding the world that it’s great, though.

Kavitha Mandana, Nayantara Surendranath, A Pair of Twins: I’ll have a piece on this up in a couple of weeks. Feminism and elephants and excellent art.

Shobha Viswanath, Sadhvi Jawa, An Elephant in My Backyard: I also liked this very much, for reasons that will remain mysterious until next week’s column is republished on the blog.

Danez Smith, [insert] boy: I discovered Danez Smith’s work a few months ago, when Sridala linked me to “Not an Elegy for Mike Brown” (at Split This Rock, but I’m linking to Buzzfeed because that way you also get  “alternate names for black boys”) and was broken by it in the best way. I read this collection in bits over the month and it may not have been the wisest choice for a fragile time, and I’m still trying to work out how to talk about it because I’m quite sure I need to. But you should read it.

Alan Garner, Red Shift: For a Strange Horizons book club discussion (with some of my favourite people) which you can find here.

Haruki Murakami, The Strange Library: I wrote about this here.

Gail Carriger, Prudence (The Custard Protocol): I’m going to have to write something longer on this because it’s set in steampunk-supernatural colonial India and almost does some clever things and then … does so many other things which are not so much “clever” as “terrible”.

Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant: I’m discussing this elsewhere and will be posting a link when that’s up, but rarely have I seen so many critics so confused by something that doesn’t fit an expected shape. And yet it’s not that strange.

March 19, 2015

Haruki Murakami, The Strange Library

This new Murakami novella is so pretty. Some more images here.

From this week’s column.


I’ve known individual libraries to be important to me. The one which was a short enough distance from my house as a child that I could walk there unsupervised so that when I read Roald Dahl’s Matilda that was the building I imagined; the tiny cupboard of a place two blocks from my grandparents’ house in Vasant Kunj that had a complete set of the Asterix comics; the eclectic and bizarrely organised school library where I discovered many of my favourite writers for the first time. Yet I remain bemused by the idea of libraries in general. I love and support the idea of a society where libraries are plentiful, well-funded and well-staffed (in the UK the idea that such a society might be lost seems to be regarded as genuinely world-shattering) but I’m aware that large parts of the world seem to manage without them, and find myself a bit bemused at seeing them thus sentimentalised. Libraries are actual, practical, frequently-used spaces that matter; but the idea of them is often romanticised to the point of being rather annoying.

To fetishise the idea of the library feels like the same sort of thing as fetishising the book itself, and Haruki Murakami’s The Strange Library is a beautifully produced thing, just right for being turned into a collector’s piece. A novella turned into a little hardcover book (and priced to match); the front cover has one of the ticket pouches found traditionally in library books; the illustrations are plentiful; the endpapers are marbled. It’s gorgeous. It’s tempting to read it as a reflection of the state of the industry: are ebooks making print books have to work harder? (probably) Is it cynical and blatantly commercial to turn a novella into a separate book? (yes).

But then The Strange Library resists all of this by the type of story it is; the furthest thing from a sentimental paean to books and reading. It’s a horror story set in a library.

MurakamiblackThe unnamed narrator stops by the city library on the way home from school to return his books and look for some new ones. Directed to the building’s basement by an unknown librarian he soon finds himself in the clutches of a strange old man who locks him in a cell with books on Ottoman revenue collection and instructions to memorise them within a month. He learns that at the end of this time the old man will cut off the top of his head and eat his brains. (“If all they did was lend out knowledge for free, what would the payoff be for them?”). There’s horror here, but much of it is quiet and layered—the boy’s faltering acceptance of the old man’s increasingly sinister orders, his unease over the mother and pet bird who won’t know where he is, his memories of the black dog that attacked him as a child. Eventually an escape is planned, and we’re in the territory of children’s fantasy adventure, a genre at which I hadn’t expected Murakami to be quite this effective. Through all of this the illustrations (the whole thing is designed by Suzanne Dean) do quite half the work, altering the mood from silly to scary to both with ease. I’m told that the design of the American and Japanese versions are entirely different, and it’s hard to see how that would be possible without changing the book completely.

As our narrator leaves the building things get darker and darker; not for this story the triumphant escape and happy ending, or even the return to order that are the conclusions to the traditional adventure. We’re left to wonder rather a lot about that black dog.

Even after all of this I’m unconvinced that The Strange Library is much more than a very well-padded short story. But if it is it’s one that reminds us that libraries, like brains, are not always the nurturing spaces we’d like them to be and that, maybe, books aren’t all always that great?



March 15, 2015

Mahesh Rao, The Smoke is Rising

“But is it SF?” is probably the “will it blend?” of reviewing, but I find myself prone to doing it anyway.

From this week’s column.


“But is it science fiction?” I asked. I came to Mahesh Rao’s The Smoke is Rising with something of the single-minded purpose of the genre fan who above everything else wants to know whether she can claim this shiny new thing for her camp. In my defence, the blurb with its claim that “the future is here. India has just sent its first spacecraft to the moon, and the placid city of Mysore is gearing up for its own global recognition with the construction of HeritageLand – Asia’s largest theme park” does rather make this a plausible question to ask.

But what The Smoke is Rising is is a novel about modernity and change. And so in the grand tradition of novels about modernity and change it is set in a city (Mysore) whose landscape is being radically altered; its narrative is fractured, skipping between the perspectives of several loosely-connected characters as they go about their lives; the city itself, to resort to that cliché, might be an important character in its own right. Many of these characters are superbly done—in most cases too little time is spent with them for any real insight, but Rao does pick up on all sorts of details that ring true, rendering many of their insights darkly humorous without ever poking fun. By degrees it becomes clear that the narrative keeps returning to three women who are negotiating this changing city: Susheela is a well-off aging widow who finds that she continues to need intellectual, cultural and sexual stimulus even after her husband’s death.  Uma is her domestic help, who lives in a world of reserved female friendships and unpredictable men. Mala is the wife of an older bureaucrat named Girish, outwardly an ideal husband. Girish would risk falling into caricature were it not for the fact that we are given his perspective at the beginning of the book—he’s not monstered for us and so the moment of revelation is as shocking as it needs to be.

What ties these stories together, however, is the ongoing project to modernise the physical terrain of Mysore; landscaping, new housing developments, shopping centres, fountains to make the lake look like Geneva, many at the cost of the local farmland. Most important of these is HeritageLand, a theme park where “cutting edge technology could harness the drama of the ancient epics”—mechanical Garudas, a Yamaraja Monorail, ample merchandising opportunities—the city’s modernisation thus tied up in this attempt to preserve its heritage. Everyone in the world ought by now to have gathered that India, like most countries, contains elements of the old and the new juxtaposed and that there’s nothing particularly incongruous or thinkpiece-worthy about any of this. Rao does rather belabour the point—the new Museum of Folklore boasts “a modernist design [and thus] lack of harmony between the exterior of the museum and its collections of tribal and folk art from all over India”.

But there’s something else going on in this relationship between old and new, and I think it comes back to the character Venky Gowda’s vision for HeritageLand and the possibilities inherent in using “cutting-edge” technology to validate Hindu myth. It’s telling that most of his ideas have their bases in myth rather than history—history doesn’t offer technology the opportunities to impress that myth does, for one thing. But this is also a time in which “Ancient Indians had space travel and plastic surgery” is not something that is only said by that one angry uncle at a party and this too is significant. Those who insist on our ancient possession of nuclear weaponry and the like are implicitly suggesting that the authority conferred upon these stories by the aura of Science validates them in some way. It’s no accident that the blurb I quoted earlier mentions India’s ventures into space exploration, then, because The Smoke is Rising becomes fundamentally a book about our changing relationship with technology.

It’s not science fiction though.  


March 6, 2015

Romilly and Katherine John, Death by Request

A column from ages ago, first published here. I’ve been having unoriginal thoughts about narrative a lot lately.

The book itself was bought only because I like the Hogarth Crime books and their particular shade of purple, and I was in Barter Books and it seemed like a good use of my time.  I doubt I’ll be rereading, alas.


One of the detective fiction conventions established by the Detection Club, a group for British mystery writers that included Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie and Baroness Orczy and G.K. Chesterton and other genre greats, was that of “fair play”. Information was not to be withheld from the readers, who ought to, if smart enough, have a chance at solving the crime themselves. There were to be no bizarre twists, the solution could not be a supernatural one, unforeseen identical twins or doppelgangers could not suddenly be revealed to have existed the whole time. The detective must not commit the crime, and the thoughts of the ‘Watson’ figure must not be hidden (the rules were “codified” by Ronald Knox in 1929– after the publication of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd).

The importance granted here to giving the reader a chance to figure things out suggests that the detective novel is considered a kind of activity book, which in practice it often is. But it also renders the world of the book fundamentally solvable, and understandable. Everything makes sense, at a basic level, the police may not be as good at their jobs as aristocratic amateur detectives, but justice is eventually served (and we know what justice is) and order is restored. For a world full of random murder, it is nonetheless very soothing.

But in the real world, things are often concealed from us, the narratives we’re offered are occasionally manipulated by the people responsible for terrible things, violence is random and unexpected and things don’t fit together and the  truth, if we have it, makes things messier and more complicated.

Two recent reads have reminded me of this, and of the fact that Fair Play or not,  the world of these books is not always a comfortable one. The first of these is a reasonably well-known classic, Josephine Tey’s 1946 novel Miss Pym Disposes, in which an amateur psychologist spends some time lecturing at a women’s physical training college. When an unpleasant girl is found dead in the gym it is assumed to be the result of a tragic accident, and no one but Miss Pym has any reason to suspect murder. But justice is complicated and perhaps nothing can be gained by ruining another life, and she chooses to let the murderer go because it is a person she likes and admires. And as the book ends we’re given reason to think she might be wrong.

Romilly and Katherine John’s 1933 Death by Request is less known—I only picked it up at all because it was a part of Hogarth’s crime series. It’s so packed with genre tropes to be almost a cliché; the small village, the country house filled with illustrious guests, the sinister butler, the handsome lord who is found dead in full evening dress, the blustering colonel, the amateur detectives who solve the case. The whole thing is narrated by the local vicar, an elderly man who is sometimes comically shocked by the current generation, sometimes dryly funny. The whole is set in an oddly brutal world, full of bullying and infidelity, and it seems of a piece with the awfulness of everything else that the amateur detectives should prove their case by setting a trap that kills the murderer. But as with Miss Pym Disposes, we discover soon after that perhaps even the brilliant amateurs are wrong about the identity of the killer and his motive (I do not wish to give the ending away, but the true killer has one of the best motives I’ve come across in the genre).

Even in something as groundbreaking as The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, justice is served, the murderer found and exposed. Tey and the Johns offer us a much more sinister world; one in which the real culprits might be left free, innocent victims destroyed by fallible detecting methods; where the detective can be wrong. 




March 5, 2015

February Reading

A slightly better month than January, anyway.


Jennifer Marie Brissett, Elysium: I’ve been writing a longer piece about post-catastrophe fiction and my feelings around it and I’m hoping to unpack my thoughts on Elysium as part of this at some point in the near future. But it is very, very good, and also you should read this brilliant review by Niall Harrison (I am biased because I edited it, but it really is.)


Robin Stevens, Arsenic for Tea: Stevens’ first book, Murder Most Unladylike, might have been written for me. School stories? Murder mystery? Queerness? General inter-war-ness? Non-white readers of English popular fiction? Come on. Arsenic for Tea is not set in a school and is almost entirely heterosexual (or is it? I know who I was shipping) but despite these flaws it is wonderful–it continues that uncomfortable, strong relationship between Daisy and Hazel, will never allow you a comfortable ending, will make its most loved characters as monstrous as it needs them to be. It’s a funny, cosy crime story, but it’s ruthless in places that are crucial to it.


Julia Quinn, The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy: I feel like the whole Smith-Smythe series has been a bit of a letdown after the glorious heights of What Happens in London and Ten Things I Love About You. I’m aware that the form requires some terrible thing to come in between our main characters, but in this case I think it may have been too big a thing, and the fallout felt rather phoned in. Meh. (Edit: I managed to mistitle this and strip Sir Richard of his title. Clearly it did not make a big impact upon me)


Leela Gandhi, Affective Communities: I don’t plan to list books read for the PhD here, but Affective Communities turned out to be all but irrelevant to my thesis, and very relevant to everything else. People who have spent this time with me will probably find it hard to believe that I’ve spent the last few months feeling very grateful for community and the sort of allyship that is born of ethics, and people who see imbalance without having to be talked around to it, and for all those reasons Affective Communities ended up being important and moving–and this sounds trite, but it wasn’t. Also there’s the thing where Gandhi is just very enjoyable to read.


Sheila Ray and Stella Waring, Island to Abbey: Survival and Sanctuary in the Works of Elsie J. Oxenham: Really interesting overview of Oxenham’s books, grouping them chronologically and tracing particular unifying themes in each distinct period. I think it may be time for a new critical study of Oxenham though–it feels like Auchmuty has said everything that needs saying about communities of women but maybe not?


Mahesh Rao, The Smoke is Rising: I have a column about this that will be posted once it has been published, but three things: 1. Rao’s prose is gorgeous. 2. Sambhar is ruined forever. 3. I want the sequel to this book that is set in Heritageland and is outrightly SFF or horror.


Samita Aiyer and Garima Gupta, The Last Bargain: I’m a bit biased here because Garima Gupta illustrated one of my work projects from a few years ago, but she really is brilliant. This is a short children’s book about a rat named Chooheram who makes one bargain too many and it would be an ordinary morality tale (don’t overreach, kids) if not for the fact that the rat is just mildly downcast after his adventure; the princess (there’s a princess) just goes home and is like I married a rat, it was weird, meh; and the art is gorgeous and features many cows.

Gupta Chooheram

(Many cows.)

February 10, 2015

“The sky, if you can call it a sky, is the colour of a bruise.”

Nandini quoted some Angela Carter on twitter and I found myself reading bits of Shaking a Leg again, as you do. And so I found myself rereading this, and it was just as I had started reading Jennifer Marie Brissett’s Elysium (which is great, incidentally), and I’d forgotten how strongly it had resonated with me as an SF fan (and as someone whose apocalypse nightmares are always quiet). From “Anger in a Black Landscape”, originally published in Over Our Dead Bodies: Women Against the Bomb in 1983.


One of the most curious phenomena of the postwar period has been the growth of fictions about the blissfully anarchic, tribal lives the lucky fifteen million survivors are going to lead in a Britain miraculously free of corpses, in which the Man with the Biggest Shot-Gun holes up in some barbed-wire enclave and picks off all comers. (Polygamous marital arrangements are often part of these fantasies.) The post-nuclear catastrophe novel has become a science fiction genre all of its own, sometimes as warning — more often as the saddest and most irresponsible kind of whistling in the dark.

Have you seen Goya’s “black” pictures in the Prado, in Madrid? You go through several rooms full of sunlit, happy paintings — children at play, beautiful young men and women dancing, picking grapes, a world of sensual delight — and, then, suddenly … paintings in black and ghastly grey and all the colours of mud, where swollen, deformed faces emerge from landscapes incoherent with devastation. The most awful one, that most expressive of a world of nothingness, shows a dog’s head peering over the side of a mound of slurry. The sky, if you can call it a sky, is the colour of a bruise. And you know, from the infinite desolation of the scene, he is the last dog left, and, from the look of him, he’s not going to last much longer.

Impossible, in that appalling room, to escape the notion, that Goya, in his famous despair, in his hatred of war and human folly, saw further than most people; there is something prophetic in these pictures, that have the look, not so much of paintings, but of photographs taken with some time-warped, heat-warped camera, of a Europe in a future that remains unimaginable … a wreckage of humanity, a landscape from which all life has been violently expelled … unimaginable; but not impossible.


Yet the iconography of such catastrophe is, surely, familiar to us all, by now! Anyone who reads this book will have her or his own private nightmare of pain, loss, annihilation; my own private image is not a violent one. It is of a child crying in the dark, and there will be nobody to come, not ever. Which is the worst I can possibly imagine.


Also relevant to my unformed thoughts here is Matthew Cheney on apocalypse stories.


February 10, 2015

Janice Pariat, Seahorse/ Sam Selvon, The Lonely Londoners/ Mhairi Mcfarlane, It’s Not Me, it’s You

In the last few months I’ve been in London a bit, in Delhi a bit, in Newcastle a lot. I have read some books set in those places. The real theme of this column (from a few weeks ago) is this: there are times when I miss Delhi so much.



A recent read, Mhairi Mcfarlane’s It’s Not Me, It’s You, is a romance novel set partly in the city in which I now live. I’ve become very fond of Newcastle very quickly, and want to see it in fiction. And yet as I read the local sections of the book I rolled my eyes a lot; I found every reference to a specific place jarring, as if it were trying to draw too much attention to itself. Certainly when the action shifted to (the much more often written about) London, everything felt a lot smoother. I’m not sure whether this had anything to do with the book itself, or whether the shift to a less familiar (to me) setting was what changed; but I’m now struck by the idea of Londoners reading the thousands of books set in their city with the same feeling with which I read this one.

They must be used to it though, when it’s all so written-about. I’ve recently returned to Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners, in which West Indian immigrants to the UK carve out homes for themselves in a London that is so much a part of their culture that every street is fraught with meaning. “Jesus Christ, when he say ‘Charing Cross’, when he realise that is he, Sir Galahad, who going there, near that place that everybody in the world know about (it even have the name in the dictionary) he feel like a new man,” thinks one newly-arrived young man.

When Nem, the protagonist of Janice Pariat’s Seahorse, moves to London friends congratulate him on being able to live there while young. “it stays with you, for London is a moveable feast”. “That’s about Paris,” objects Nem, before discovering that “all these cities were identical, cloaked with the same shiny, glittering appeal; pronounced with reverence, like a hushed prayer. [Nem] found that London was filled with old light”.

I don’t know if Nem’s “old light” is the same thing that Selvon’s ‘Sir Galahad’ refers to when he visits landmarks so significant as to be part of the language itself, but I think it might be. Selvon’s narrator later describes the importance of being able “to have said ‘I walked on Waterloo Bridge,’ ‘I rendezvoused at Charing Cross,’ ‘Piccadilly Circus is my playground,’ to say these things, to have lived these things, to have lived in the great city of London, centre of the world.” Everything is saturated with significance. Here is a place whose name is in the dictionary; there is the place where T.S. Eliot once worked. Perhaps it does not seem jarring to speak of these landmarks, because they are already so spoken of. Perhaps residents of that city do not sit grumpily reading books set there and complaining that the setting feels forced, that the author is trying too hard. Perhaps old light even comes with the assurance that a place is worthy of being written about.

This column is about a city that I don’t know well, and another city that I’m beginning to know and love. But there’s a third city, always, that is home. Pariat’s Nem spends a significant part of the novel in Delhi; it’s there he falls in love, goes to university, finds his first few jobs. In “Golf Links, Panchsheel, Defence Colony, Neeti Bagh […] previously unfashionable Lado Sarai and industrial Okhla,” and a few pages later “in the newly trendy Hauz Khas Village, in front of Humayun’s Tomb, the Red Fort, […] Paranthe-wali gali.” Nem’s relationship with Delhi, like most people’s is not entirely positive; even those of us who love the city deeply have trouble doing so unreservedly.  But homesick and a continent away I can see how a mere list of landmarks can begin to be important; how they can cease to be a mere attempt at local colour and become talismanic.



February 4, 2015

January Reading

As I said in my post about my reading in 2014, I’m not counting rereads (unless they’re for writing-about or mark a big shift in how I’ve read them) this year, and I’m interested in seeing what that does for my reading stats.

Unfortunately, by these criteria I read all of two new books in January. I was travelling, attending a funeral, attending a wedding, marking papers, writing half a draft chapter, and crime rereads were all I could manage. I read some Sarah Caudwell, some Edmund Crispin (including the title below, which I hadn’t read before), I started and did not finish Jill Paton Walsh’s Dorothy Sayers continuation (it did not work for me at all) and Jennifer Cruisie’s Faking it; started and plan to finish Perumal Murugan’s One Part Woman.


What I did read:

Edmund Crispin, Beware the Trains: Collection of short stories, feat. Fen or Humbleby. I’d read a couple before, in other places. All quite good, but I don’t find detective fiction satisfying in short story form.

Shandana Minhas, Survival Tips for Lunatics: I read this on Sridala’s recommendation and because there were extinct and fantastical creatures on the cover. Changez and Timmy are camping with their parents, things go horribly wrong and suddenly they’re walking across a Balochistan that is suddenly peopled by velociraptors and literary-critic dragons, and trying to get home. It’s very silly and funny and just thoroughly endearing.


January 11, 2015

Himanjali Sankar, Talking of Muskaan/ Payal Dhar, Slightly Burnt

This was a bit uncomfortable to write, and I’m not even sure how objective I can be (one author’s a friend, both books were edited by friends), but there you go.

(Published column here)


A couple of weeks ago saw the anniversary of December 2013’s Supreme Court decision overturning the Delhi High Court’s ruling that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was unconstitutional. It felt like an important occasion, particularly since I was at the time reading two recent YA novels, both of which structured themselves in part around that moment in our recent history.

Himanjali Sankar’s Talking of Muskaan has been heralded as India’s first queer YA novel. The action opens on the day after the Supreme Court ruling, which is also the day after the title character has attempted to kill herself. The narrative then shifts to a few months earlier, and through the voices of three of Muskaan’s teenaged classmates (best friend Aaliya, clever-but-poor Shubhojoy, spoilt, rich Prateek) we piece together the events leading up to this moment.

Komal, the narrator of Payal Dhar’s Slightly Burnt, is another teenager who is shocked to discover that her best friend Sahil is gay. Even as she is absorbing this new information, the news about Section 377 breaks, forcing her to confront the levels of intolerance that still exist around non-normative sexualities among her friends and family.

Komal’s initial reaction to Sahil’s coming out is far from ideal—and perhaps this is realistic. She feels uncomfortable with his sexuality, resentful of his lack of normalcy, betrayed because he is not who she thought he was. So shaken is she that she must go to the school counsellor for advice on how to process things. Dhar doesn’t entirely indulge her in her discomfort—the counsellor gently, and the internet less gently, remind her that Sahil is probably suffering more than she is.

But this doesn’t change the fact that Komal’s discomfort, and the process by which she overcomes it, are the story of Slightly Burnt. Sahil probably is going through a lot, but we don’t see it directly. Sankar’s book too is talking of, about, around but never by, or to, Muskaan.

Dhar and Sankar’s choice of (mostly) heterosexual narrators makes sense in a way, and the references to Article 377 form a part of this. We’re reminded over and over that all non-heteronormative sexualities (it’s to both books’ credit that they do not erase bisexual, transgender, or other queer identities) are the subject of ignorance and prejudice, and that people need to be educated about them or risk causing unimaginable harm to vulnerable people. Komal’s change of heart comes when she reads up on LGBT suicide rates; Aaliya’s comes after her best friend nearly dies. There’s a sense in which the reader too is being educated along with the characters.

Both books, for all that they adopt the idiom of contemporary YA, are very much in the tradition of the teenage “problem novels” of the ‘70s and ‘80s, which brought their protagonists face to face with a social issue, and over the course of their pages educated, unpicked said issue, and generally promoted tolerance. In a country where the sex lives of consenting adults can be criminalized and queer youth must constantly be reminded that they are “unnatural”, education and tolerance can only be a good thing. And yet.

As an (admittedly very lucky) young adult, I didn’t think of my own feelings as a burning social problem. I looked for myself in poetry, in romance, in tensions simmering under the radar; not in novels that explained me and the harmlessness of my tastes to the world. Both of these books assume a heterosexual reader who needs to be educated past her prejudice and reflexive (both books seem to assume that this is inevitable) disgust, not a queer teenager trying to find herself in fiction.

“At some point it has to stop being about you,” says Usha, Komal’s counsellor. Perhaps as long as this law exists that point cannot be reached. For now, queer readers will have to resign ourselves to reading books about, not for us.



January 9, 2015

2014 in books (and stats, and angst, and possibly resolutions)

Firstly, the Strange Horizons reviewers’ picks for 2014 are up here. My section is right at the end, and I recommend books by Ghalib Islam, Kuzhali Manickavel, Jenny Offill and Megan Milks. They’re all brilliant, and the highlights of a year that included some very good things. There are other things I read and loved in 2014 but they weren’t necessarily speculative; most of them I’ve written about in some form or another on this blog.

A quick count through my monthly reading posts suggests that in 2014 I read:

  • 200 books total
  • 140 books by women
  • 40 books by POC*

All of which, particularly the last, are numbers that need unpacking. I don’t feel like I read 200 books this year, and I’m pretty sure that is in large part because most of them were rereads–children’s books for the thesis, and romance novels for downtime. I’m toying with the idea of not counting rereads at all in 2015 unless they mark a huge change in how I read the book in question. Particularly since cutting out my romance novel and school story rereads might also provide a less flattering account of the number of books by women I read in any given year.

But more importantly, I’ve somehow managed to read less books by people of colour in 2014 than I did in 2013, and that is unimpressive. I have a bunch of excuses lined up: I read a couple of awards shortlists, which tend to be pretty white; much of my reading was for my thesis (though the fact that I’ve chosen to study white-men-who-wrote-series-fiction is a pretty poor defense); I read a LOT of Diana Wynne Jones; but still.

So, plans for 2015?

  • Read less. Too often I’m lazy and don’t want to waste effort on something new and go back to something I’ve read a million times before that I can race through. I can’t need this many comfort reads. Genre series fiction (across a range of genres) is a major culprit here.
  • Bow out of SFF. Recent events have made this feel necessary; I’ll still be involved with the community aspects of Strange Horizons, as well as editing some of the reviews (here and here are some great recent book club discussions I’ve participated in), but other than very occasional reviews (I thought about giving this up as well but as all editors whom I owe things know, it wouldn’t really be very different), I don’t see myself being active in the community as a whole. No cons, no reading awards shortlists or arguing about things that clearly are not going to change, significantly less twitter. I’m looking forward to the extra time this is going to give me.
  • I will read the Carnegie shortlist, probably.
  • I committed to doing the South Asian Women Writers Challenge a couple of years ago, and suspect in 2014 I failed it. In 2015 I’m planning not to.
  • Maybe write some thesis, even.


* Disclaimer: given that some books are by multiple authors of various genders and races, some are by authors and illustrators, and people’s race or gender identities are not obvious (“poc” and “women” may not be very useful categories at all and “queer” would probably be impossible), these numbers are of necessity only approximate.