Wednesday, December 20, 2017

On how to include more diversity in your writing

Diversity is a hot topic right now and there are growing criticisms for authors who choose not to include diversity in their books. If you’re an aspiring writer who wants to write about diverse people in diverse situations, it’s important to do it right - and here are some of my thoughts on how best to do that:

  • Do your research - I cannot stress this enough. You need to know enough about a culture to include it in your writing in a decent way. Too little research and you might be left with some hurtful stereotypes - or with an unrealistic character. What resources can help you with learning about cultures?
    • Books - Books featuring characters from cultures you’re interested in or about places your characters would be from can be immensely helpful.
    • Travel - Many authors travel around to get ideas about the people and places they’re going to be writing about. If this isn’t something you can afford to do (and trust me - you aren’t alone in that), prepare as if you are going to travel there. Watch travel videos about going to the country or city your characters are from and read travel guides for these areas. Even if you can’t go and learn from immersion, these resources can give you a decent feeling for a culture or people.
    • Language - If you’re basing characters on a specific culture, getting an idea of that culture’s language can be immensely useful. Reading books about the language or watching videos teaching important phrases can give you an insight into how minds in specific cultures work, what’s important to people in this culture, and what is considered polite/rude in this culture.
  • Meet lots of people - Sure - you might not know a lot of people with a strong knowledge about every culture you wish to include in your book. However, knowing lots of interesting and diverse people can help you learn to write characters who are very different from each other and distinct and important. Expanding your social group to include people who are different from you can also help you to write more in-depth characters.
  • Ask for advice/guidance - If you aren’t sure you’re properly representing a particular culture or making your characters individual enough, have someone else read over your story with a specific prompt in mind - Are these characters distinct and different or do they all blend together? Is this a sensitive and effective way to include a diverse character in this story? Having friends read over a story that you’re working on with these things in mind can help you to be more conscience of these things as you continue to write and can also give the people in your life a chance to get very involved in your work. It can also prompt some interesting discussions and perhaps a new way to connect with the people who are important to you.
  • Be willing to admit that you don’t know everything - In my mind, this is a very important thing for every writer to acknowledge. While writing, it’s important to keep an open mind to new things you learn and the tips that people offer you. While writing about diverse people, this is especially important - if you’re writing about characters who are very different from you, you can’t afford to shut out the advice of people who have more experience than you. This being said, don’t be afraid to take that advice with a grain of salt - what one person thinks is very important to include may not have a place in your book.

What tips would you add to this list? How would you go about writing a character different from you?

Monday, December 18, 2017

On author of color

This post is taken from the Goodreads List “Best Fiction and Memoirs by Authors of Color."
I have to be honest that my knowledge of authors of color is limited. I have so many books on my to-read list that fall under this category, but I haven’t been as dedicated to tracking them down as I should be. When I was looking through this Goodreads list, I was a little ashamed to realize that I’ve only read 5 of the top 100 books and 3 are on my to-read list. Obviously I have a lot of catching up to do. In looking at this list, I’m realizing that I’ve heard of so many of these books - so how have I never gotten around to reading them? It’s about time I started.
Below is some information about the top book on this list and the books on it that I have read.

The Color Purple
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker
    • The Color Purple is a 1982 epistolary novel by American author Alice Walker which won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction. It was later adapted into a film and musical of the same name.

      Taking place mostly in rural Georgia, the story focuses on the life of women of color in the southern United States in the 1930s, addressing numerous issues including their exceedingly low position in American social culture. The novel has been the frequent target of censors and appears on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2000-2009 at number seventeen because of the sometimes explicit content, particularly in terms of violence.

The Count of Monte Cristo
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (#7)
    • 'On what slender threads do life and fortune hang.'

      Thrown in prison for a crime he has not committed, Edmond Dantès is confined to the grim fortress of If. There he learns of a great hoard of treasure hidden on the Isle of Monte Cristo and he becomes determined not only to escape, but also to unearth the treasure and use it to plot the destruction of the three men responsible for his incarceration.
    • I have always loved this book. But I had no idea (until looking at this list and doing a little more research) that Alexandre Dumas is an author of color. In fact, his father was a slave in Haiti and moved to France once he was freed. It’s a fascinating bit of knowledge that makes this book a little more interesting.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
    • In this darkly comic short story collection, Sherman Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian, brilliantly weaves memory, fantasy, and stark realism to paint a complex, grimly ironic portrait of life in and around the Spoke Indian Reservation. These 22 interlinked tales are narrated by characters raised on humiliation and government-issue cheese, and yet are filled with passion and affection, myth and dream. There is Victor, who as a nine-year-old crawled between his unconscious parents hoping that the alcohol seeping through their skins might help him sleep. Thomas Builds-the-Fire, who tells his stories long after people stop listening, and Jimmy Many Horses, dying of cancer, who writes letters on stationary that reads "From the Death Bed of James Many Horses III," even though he actually writes them on his kitchen table. Against a backdrop of alcohol, car accidents, laughter, and basketball, Alexie depicts the distances between Indians and whites, reservation Indians and urban Indians, men and women, and most poetically, between modern Indians and the traditions of the past.
    • This is a fun book with some really interesting stories. Honestly, I don’t remember many of them anymore, though. I’ve heard that Sherman Alexie has done more fantastic work, so this could be a good opportunity for me to delve deeper.

Life of Pi
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel (#35)
    • The son of a zookeeper, Pi Patel has an encyclopedic knowledge of animal behavior and a fervent love of stories. When Pi is sixteen, his family emigrates from India to North America aboard a Japanese cargo ship, along with their zoo animals bound for new homes.

      The ship sinks. Pi finds himself alone in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi, whose fear, knowledge, and cunning allow him to coexist with Richard Parker for 227 days while lost at sea.
    • THIS BOOK WAS SO GOOD. This is one of those books that really stays with you and makes its mark. Perhaps I’m due for a reread.

The Kite Runner
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (#36)
    • Amir is the son of a wealthy Kabul merchant, a member of the ruling caste of Pashtuns. Hassan, his servant and constant companion, is a Hazara, a despised and impoverished caste. Their uncommon bond is torn by Amir's choice to abandon his friend amidst the increasing ethnic, religious, and political tensions of the dying years of the Afghan monarchy, wrenching them far apart. But so strong is the bond between the two boys that Amir journeys back to a distant world, to try to right past wrongs against the only true friend he ever had.

      The unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant, The Kite Runner is a beautifully crafted novel set in a country that is in the process of being destroyed. It is about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption; and an exploration of the power of fathers over sons—their love, their sacrifices, their lies.

      A sweeping story of family, love, and friendship told against the devastating backdrop of the history of Afghanistan over the last thirty years, The Kite Runner is an unusual and powerful novel that has become a beloved, one-of-a-kind classic.
    • I was probably too young to read this book when I did. I remember very little about it (except for a rape scene that disturbed me greatly) and didn’t fully understand anything that was going on in this book. Perhaps I would better appreciate it now.

The Joy Luck Club
  • The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan (#48)
    • In 1949 four Chinese women-drawn together by the shadow of their past-begin meeting in San Francisco to play mah jong, invest in stocks, eat dim sum, and "say" stories. They call their gathering the Joy Luck Club. Nearly forty years later, one of the members has died, and her daughter has come to take her place, only to learn of her mother's lifelong wish-and the tragic way in which it has come true.

      The revelation of this secret unleashes an urgent need among the women to reach back and remember…
    • This was another book that I may have been a little young to read and understand (I was in middle school). However, I enjoyed immensely what I could understand and this gave me a lot to consider in a very undiverse community and school.

What books have you read from this Goodreads list? What books aren’t on it that you would add? Which books on this Goodreads list seem the most important in your mind? What other Goodreads lists would you be interested in being blogged about?

Friday, December 15, 2017

On books with anthropomorphic animals

I’m coming to realize that I love stories with animals that act like humans - there aren’t a huge amount out there, but I’ve been impressed with all the ones I’ve read. Below are some suggestions for stories you can read with anthropomorphic animals as the main characters - two for children and one for adults.

Redwall (Redwall, #1)
  • Redwall by Brian Jacques - This is an obvious choice for children. A fantasy series set around a woodland abbey, this story is an excellent introduction to fantasy for children - complete with pure evil, heroic quests, and difficult moral dilemmas.

The Wind in the Willows
  • The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame - A classic children’s story about woodland friends Mole, Rat, and Toad, this story is delightful and adorable. And who could forget Toad’s automobile rides?

The Builders
  • The Builders by Daniel Polansky - This book was a surprising favorite of mine. Part heist, part fantasy story, this tale is absolutely wonderful (and mostly suited for adults). Part of the delight of this story comes from imagining the characters being the animals they are - like the narrator’s constant quips about the mouse captain’s height and squeaky voice. It’s a wonderful balance between thrilling adventure and whimsical fantasy tale.

What books would you add to this list? Have you read any of the listed stories?

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Series Review: The Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

Related image

The Series of Unfortunate Events is one series of books that will forever be held dear in my heart. It was a favorite of mine growing up and, with the recent Netflix series (which looks to be continuing in the coming months), it is as relevant as ever.
The series follow the misfortunes of the Baudelaire orphans as they are sent from guardian to guardian, as they try to uncover the mysterious circumstances that led to their parents’ deaths, and as they attempt to outwit the nefarious Count Olaf, who wants to get his greedy hands on the Baudelaire fortune.
  • INCREDIBLY FUN AND FANTASTICAL - Every kid likes to read stories about courageous and plucky orphans and this series is perfect for that desire. While the story seems somewhat anachronistic, there are some modern elements mixed with retro elements that make the story feel very timeless and fantastic.
  • GROWING UP WITH THE BAUDELAIRES - One reason this series hit me so hard is that I got to grow older with the Baudelaires. The series gets increasingly complicated and the orphans encounter new emotions and situations as they go. In the final books, I felt like I could understand some of the more mature situations the orphans get into (such as first love). There are 13 books, so any child can have the opportunity of slowly growing old with the Baudelaire orphans if they don’t read the entire series in a week.
  • NOT CONDESCENDING - This is probably what I most appreciate about Snicket’s books - he has a gift for explaining complicated words and ideas in simple, memorable (and humorous) ways. Don’t know the word he just used? No problem - there is a very contextually-specific definition included in the next sentence. Don’t understand the feeling he’s just referenced? Not to worry - he’s described it in a perfectly relatable way. These books make children feel like they can handle complicated emotions and topics.

  • TERRIBLY SAD - As a child, I didn’t notice this as much, but watching the series as an adult has made me realize how truly awful these books are. Where are social services and child protective services? What for some kids may be fun and ridiculous can be heartbreaking for others.
  • ALL THE ADULTS SUCK - Adults are either evil or incompetent in these books. The few adults who are kind and able to adequately help the children end up dying in the end. This could fall somewhat into the “kids like to read plucky orphan stories” section, except that I feel it’s a negative things. Children (even if they like orphan stories) need to be able to trust the capable adults in their life.

What pros and cons would you add for this series? What crowd would you recommend it to? What are your thoughts on these books?

Monday, December 11, 2017

On Goodreads new Giveaway policy

Perhaps you haven't heard yet that Goodreads is changing their Giveaways process. From now on, authors and publishers will have to pay in order to promote their books on Goodreads Giveaways.

In addition, Goodreads Giveaways are now only open to US readers and there will be no more books sent to international readers.

More many bloggers and publishers, this is a huge change. Many bloggers get their books and ARCs from Goodreads Giveaways - myself included. I began blogging after winning many Goodreads Giveaways. I wanted to help promote some interesting books that I felt wouldn't get much publicity otherwise. Goodreads Giveaways introduced me to so many books that I wouldn't have heard of otherwise - and it's been a huge boon for my blogging life. In addition, this change affects international bloggers who sometimes have more difficulty getting books (as eloquently explained here by Laura from thebookcorps, an Australian book blog). This also harms small publishers and unknown authors who do not have the funds to pay upwards of $100 for each book they want to promote.

For more information on the changes, this article by The Verge explains everything well.

What are your thoughts on this? Why the sudden change? Do you know anyone who is affected by this change?

Friday, December 8, 2017

On bookish yarn projects #9

“If I could grow wings, I could fly. Only people can't grow wings," he say's. "Real or not real?"
"Real," I say. "But people don't need wings to survive."
"Mockingjays do.”

Want to show your support for Katniss Everdeen? This knitted mockingjay pin is quick and an excellent challenge for any knitter who wants to oppose the Capitol. Knit it for yourself or for someone who you who just got entered into the Hunger Games. Pattern is only $5.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

On books for those looking for a new fandom

Fandoms have become an increasingly important part of our world’s society. But if you’re already impatiently waiting as the biggest SuperWhoLock fan you know, a lingering Marshmellow, or starting to lose your interest in Pokemon, it might be time to find a new thing to obsess about and discuss at length with the fandom community. Here are my suggestions:

  • Brandon Sanderson books - I couldn’t not put this, as Loverboy frequently chatters at me about his latest theories and does plenty of research on the 17th Shard forums. The Sanderson community is intriguing and very loyal and has all sorts of ideas about what’s going to happen next and how the cosmere all connects. Highly recommended for fantasy lovers.

Borderland (Borderland, #1)
  • Borderlands - This is a fandom that I’ve been hearing more and more about as I get deeper into SFF reading, but that I haven’t yet delved into. I’m intrigued by it and excited to learn more about this contemporary fantasy world and see why so many people love these books.
  • Shadowhunters/Infernal Devices/Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare - The two series are technically complete, but there are plenty of companion books still being released. There are many devoted fans of these series who will happily talk your ear off about why Magnus Bane is the greatest or how they feel about the new releases.

Welcome to Night Vale (Night Vale, #1)
  • Nightvale - The popular podcast has a few companion books that take place in the same strange world. Huffington Post also tells us that many people compare the Nightvale world to Louis Sachar’s Wayside School books - and that there are some creepy similarities.
  • Beauty and the Beast - This fandom is large with a few very dedicated followers and plenty of less-dedicated ones. In this fandom, people read every version of the tale that they can get their hands on. A few to start with: Beauty by Robin McKinley, Beastly by Alex Flynn, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, or Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodges.

What bookish fandoms would you recommend to other readers? Which non-bookish fandoms are your favorites?

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

September-November: Best and Strangest

Well, it's been a very busy last couple months. As school has been back in full swing, it's been difficult for me to update as much as I would like and to read as much as I would like. Because of that, I've failed to post my best and strangest for each month lately. But not to worry! I am now posting everything that I have read from September through November and choosing the best and strangest of those books.

American Gods
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman - I can't believe I hadn't read this before. It's absolutely incredible! This is without a doubt one of the most beautiful, haunting, and mysterious books I've ever read. Gaiman's characters are wonderful and so memorable, the plotline is beautiful and dark and unexpected, the storytelling so magical. I cannot recommend this book highly enough (but don't bother with the TV series. It's awful).

  • Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix - This is such a weird book. It's a horror story set in an IKEA that is both terrifying and kind of hilarious. Like, a minor plot point is that an employee has the right screwdriver in their pocket to save them from certain death. It's ridiculous and one of the more bizarre books I've ever read. 


Sag Harbor

The World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions

Old Man's War (Old Man's War, #1)

The Authentics

Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock's Darkest Day

A Man Called Ove

The Hate U Give
(this was a close second for Best book on this post)

Yes Please

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1)

On Bowie

A Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of The Smiths

Priest (Ratcatchers #1)

Pirate Women: The Princesses, Prostitutes, and Privateers Who Ruled the Seven Seas

Let's Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain

Maniac Magee

Thrice Upon a Marigold (Upon a Marigold, #3)

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

A Crucible of Souls (Sorcery Ascendant Sequence, #1)

Girl Waits with Gun (Kopp Sisters, #1)

The Song of the Quarkbeast (The Chronicles of Kazam, #2)

What have you been reading this month? Have you read any of the book I've read recently? Any suggestions based on what I've been reading?

Monday, December 4, 2017

On just released books that I recommend

I haven’t been reading many ARCs or egalleys lately, but here are a couple books I’m really excited about (and highly recommend).

The Age of Perpetual Light
  • The Age of Perpetual Light by Josh Weil (Sept 12) - This collection of short stories spans centuries and gives the reader something to think about. Recommended for readers of realistic fiction.

Louise Thompson Patterson: A Life of Struggle for Justice
  • Louise Thompson Patterson: A Life of Struggle for Justice by Keith Gilyard (Oct 5th) - An early civil rights activist, Louise Thompson Patterson led a fascinating life and began the civil rights movement in the 1940’s. This biography is well-written and lends more understanding to the woman and the period she was born into. Recommended for activist readers and historians.

Oathbringer (The Stormlight Archive, #3)
  • Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson (Nov 14th) - The third book in the Stormlight Archives continues the story of Shallan, Kaladin, Adolin, and Dalinar as they discover more about the radiants and come to terms with powers beyond their control. Recommended for fantasy readers.

The Nine (Thieves of Fate, #1)
  • The Nine by Tracy Townsend (Nov 14th) - This dark fantasy book has received fantastic reviews and the author interview at Fantasy Lit is one of the best I've read in a long time. With a mix of steampunk and religion (apparently including God's lab notes), this book sounds like it will be an excellent addition to the fantasy genre and I can't wait to get my hands on it.

What new books are you excited about? What new releases have you read recently?

Friday, December 1, 2017

Dear You: Driving Mixtape

Dear You,
Congratulations! You just got your driver’s license. This is a fun and exciting time and your life is about to change quite a bit - if your parents will let you use the car (he he). But in all seriousness, I’m proud of you. It’s really cool that you got to this point and that you’re growing up. And I love seeing that.
I’ve been thinking about some books that might be beneficial to you right now and a couple came to mind. If you’re looking into going on a road trip, try John Green’s Paper Towns - it might convince you it’s time to hit the road. For a more cautionary tale, try Jordan Sonnenblick’s Notes from the Midnight Driver. And definitely stay away from Stephen King’s Christine - that’ll just freak you out. If these books aren’t working for you, that’s okay. I’m attaching some music you should enjoy as you explore your new-found freedom.
Good luck out there.
Love, Anna