On Reading Promptly
I don’t read in a timely fashion. I have a long commute so I can finish books quickly, but my choices aren’t timely. Every 2014 release on this list I grandfathered in through some prior care: the latest trade of a comic, a friend’s chapbook (Clever Little Gang), the concluding book in a series (Grossman’s Magicians, the third volume of Stephen Fry’s autobiography), or writers I already read daily (Patricia Lockwood, Anne Helen Petersen, Mallory Ortberg). Here’s the full list of books I read in 2014.
It’s funny: when I was a lit student and researching a book or translation’s publication history, I’d want to reach into past centuries and throw book reviewers into a sewer because their first review of a book was like, four years after its publication and I needed your thoughts on this book PROMPTLY, dead person!! As is the way, I’ve become that which I despise. You can expect my thoughts on 2014 releases in three to seven years minimum. Cut me some slack, undergrad Michelle. Life is hard. I want to read about dragons.
The Plan for 2014
Do you plan what to read in a given year? Usually my process looks something like this: obtain a book for my kindle, scroll through the nearly endless TO-READ list on my main screen until I find something that catches my interest. (Categories are for series and books that actually Get Read/Winners.) Leave the dissection for December.
At the end of 2013, I had a plan. I had put off some Very Long Books in 2013 because I knew it would take me damn near forever to read them. In 2014, I would read War and Peace, The Crimson Petal and the White, Bring up the Bodies, and an academic tome on literary presentations of hell and that’s all. I’d immerse myself in those four book-worlds and every other book I managed to read would be icing on top.
ICING exactly describes my book choices for the rest of 2014. I had done my part in appearing to be a Respectable Adult who read three lengthy, serious books (and tried to get through that hell book but christ it was dry, even by academic text standards). For the rest of the year, I could go nuts. And so I did.
A Series of Series
Right now we’re living in a terrific-for-my-very-specific-tastes media cycle because everything is either a new entry into a series or part of an expanded universe.
The key to a great series: every story can stand alone, and every story builds on the existing world. That’s it. It isn’t that one story should take 30 installments to tell (AHEM, PETER JACKSON), but that each installment pushes the world further open in several new directions.
Memorable series from 2014: the Outlander series (Voyager will wait until 2015 when I’ve recovered from the first two books); Saga, a phenomenal work of SF/F that will eat your goddamn heart; Empire of Ivory, the fourth book of the Temeraire series that introduces the dragon civilizations of Africa and their regional mythology/incorporation of the dragons into their social structures, UGH I could read it forever; and The Rules of Scoundrels.
Sarah MacLean’s The Rules of Scoundrels series was a late entry, and I’ve shoved the books at no less than five people in the past three weeks. The series follows a casino in 1830s London owned by four disgraced-by-scandal aristos, all dealing with their pasts full of messy hot guilt as they succumb, one by one, to hilarious love interests. (I’ll single out Book 2 for its amazing banter between the two mains.)
I also want to praise the team behind Scoundrels for the most effective web ad, ever, which featured:
- only the heroine
- wearing trousers
- with the stance and confidence of a pirate queen and
- the title NEVER JUDGE A LADY BY HER COVER.
CLICK THROUGH, PURCHASE IMMEDIATELY, FALL THE FUCK IN LOVE.
HERE ARE TWO BOOKS THAT ACTIVELY ANTAGONIZED ME IN 2014:
More Fool Me, the third volume of Stephen Fry’s memoirs. Here’s the thing: there’s no better memoir, written by anyone, than his Moab is My Washpot. Every time I think, I have to be exaggerating Moab’s worth and importance, let me open my copy and prove to myself that it’s not as good as I remember, I wake up five hours later, having read from my arbitrary starting point to the end without stopping. There’s a compelling narrative in Moab, fine-tuned with side-quests that feed into the overall arc of a life trying so hard to be well-lived. Vol. 3 was better than vol. 2 in that a narrative was better established, though still done in disconnected namedropping vignettes that canceled its own momentum at every turn. Stephen, if you must write a fourth volume, it better be about your marriage to Hugh Laurie and LITERALLY NOTHING ELSE. I love you bye
The Magician’s Land went from zero to HATE-READ in about 20 minutes. I’m still mad about it. My only comfort with the ending is that after Quentin takes Alice’s hand and drags her towards his sunset, she rips out his throat and goes on to live whatever life she pleases. For a series that truly believes in its dumbest of hearts that it wants to subvert the Chosen One trope, it does a fantastic job of gutting* every character so they can bow to Quentin’s blandness.
* LOL PRETTY LITERAL IN JULIA’S CASE LOL WHO NEEDS HER
Saga: everything that can be said about the most diverse and imaginative, most compelling space opera we’ve ever seen has already been said. Just. Start reading it.
This summer, I reread classic YA fave The Westing Game because all I remembered about the story was that my constant rereads as a child totally destroyed my copy of the book. Rereading it as an adult: DAMN. Incisive commentary, interesting character arcs, a literal bring-down-the-whole-damn-house ending—absolutely worth revisiting.
Patricia Lockwood’s Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals and Nicole Steinberg’s Clever Little Gang. These poets revel in the truth that they and their work are products of the 21st century. That’s so rare, and so much better for embracing our nightmare swamp-world and its glories and horrors.
The Plan for 2015