30 Day book meme, 3: the best book you've read in the last 12 months

Day 3 of the 30 day book meme: the best book you’ve read in the last 12 months.

I got into Ursula Le Guin’s writing non-Earthsea writing rather late, but now it’s like always coming home, for me. (Yes, haha, I have not in fact read it. I don’t actually seek them out, because I think her work deserves to be read over many years.) This year’s gem is The Birthday of the World, which is a collection of stories. The thematic draw of this book for me was the stories about various forms of introversion, of relationships unfolding slowly, of societies that have been the same way for a long time and who find meaning in returning and returning again. Thus, my favourite stories in the collection were: Unchosen Love (fear and helplessness in the face of passion) and Solitude (committed adult relationships and all interpersonal manipulation as evil sorcery). I liked Paradises Lost too (and the others!) but for a slightly different reason: I’ve always liked Le Guin’s marriages, indeed they form a really key part of the way I view marriage (as a word for intending life partnership rather than a legal system) and Hsing and Hiroshi have a distinct kind of me: marriage as a secondary part of life’s work.

30 Day book meme, 2: a book you wish more people were reading and talking about

Day 2 of the 30 day book meme – A book or series you wish more people were reading and talking about

This one is rather leading: it seems to think I’m ahead of the curve on books and am going to be introducing a book or series that none of you have ever heard of. I am no one’s book wizard (incidentally, I’ve read a few hundred pages of Infinite Jest and it’s fun).

Still this one is easy compared to Day 20, favourite kiss. Favourite kiss? Yikes.

Anyway, a year or so ago I wished I had more people to talk to about Karen E. Bender and Nina de Gramont (eds) Choice: True Stories of Birth, Contraception, Infertility, Adoption, Single Parenthood, and Abortion. It’s an anthology of women’s stories about reproductive choices.

It’s simply a good (in the reading sense, not the emotional sense) set of real stories if abortion, infertility, pregnancy and birth stories interest you. Since I’ve been reading such since I was a kid, I loved it. I lack a huge number of friends (meatspace or online) who spend much time talking about reproductive choices.

The title doesn’t include childfreedom, but there’s at least one childfree writer, that said, if you’re not interested in parenthood decisions and stories in some way it’s largely not going to be an enormously interesting read.

It may not be a good book to read while pregnant or if you have infertility or pregnancy-related grief: there’s a second trimester abortion for pre-eclampsia (there’s an earlier draft of that one at warning ReadingWritingLiving) for example, a “baby scoop” birthmother’s story, and several other tragedies).

In fact, probably my single major criticism is also inevitable given the book’s scope: many choices are extremely serious, often distressing and conflicted, by the nature of soliciting stories from women willing to write thousands of words about a reproductive choice they made. Given that I tended towards being anxious anyway, it didn’t provide a great basis for pre-pregnancy reading, I should have been reading Pregnancy and Birth: loved it more than lollipops (not, as far as I can see, an actual title on the market).

Also, if you are thinking along these lines about disability politics, abortion and reproductive choice, you will probably find it an incomplete anthology: there’s a mother who chose to abort a fetus that would have been a second hemophiliac son, and a mother who had a
primary CMV infection and a healthy child, but not a lot of questioning of the a healthy child is a better child assumptions.

30 Day book meme, 1: a book series you wish would just freaking end already

Reposted from here

There seem to be a lot of 30 day prompts around at the moment, and I might take on a few of them. The first is the 30 Day book meme, now that I’ve finally found a list of all the prompts. I am not commiting to 30 continuous days.

Day 1 – A book series you wish had gone on longer OR a book series you wish would just freaking end already (or both!)

I’m ready for the ending of Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn Chronicles. There are actually only five books to date (six in the USA, where the fifth book was split in two), and apparently only one more to come (again, two in the USA). But it started in 1987! I started reading it in about 1994 or so. Every book since has been supposed to be the last one. And it’s
ultimately only one large plot arc, and thus very little has actually been wrapped up. Most of the subplots are still unravelling too.

I don’t know why Carmody has taken so long with this one. Perhaps she works slowly, or needs to spend time away from her worlds. But I’ve always thought that the single plot arc, and the first person point-of-view from the same character, is probably a mistake for this series. It’s become a really rich world politically and several of the secondary characters do a lot behind the scenes, but the structure requires the point-of-view character, Elspeth, who is a suspicious, traumatised introvert, to be present in order for the reader to learn anything.

It is nice to see an introvert done well (per Ursula Le Guin’s introduction to Birthday of the World, it isn’t often). Also, Carmody hasn’t made the mistake of making Elspeth’s arc terribly terribly boring in comparison to what is going on in the background (I’m one of the people who feels that JK Rowling managed to write the least interesting parts of events of Harry
Potter and the Deathly Hallows
by virtue of sticking with Harry’s point of view) but to be honest I am starting to get more interested in some of the secondary characters and plots than I am in her and hers. But it seems the Chronicles will conclude with the conclusion of her arc, and I’m ready for that.

Books I haven't finished lately

A sort of an inverse book review, books I have closed, or returned to the library, without finishing them.

Treason’s Harbour by Patrick O’Brien. I probably will finish the Aubrey-Maturin novels at some point, but I don’t think it’s going to be this year, and perhaps not next. I’m not sure exactly why I suddenly went off them, but I think it’s because I don’t like Jack as a character very much. He’d probably be a lovely person to complete your table for dinner (better than Stephen for many dinners), but I don’t want to read twenty novels about him in a short period of time.

Generation text: raising well-adjusted kids in an age of instant everything by Michael Osit. I am in theory deeply interested in problems relating to cyberbullying and so on. In practice I have no patience for the write-ups. As an example, Osit early on compares hypothetical Bobby, fresh-faced teen of the 1960s with surly hypothetical Jake of the late 2000s. Bobby loves his mother’s eggs for breakfast! Jake never leaves his room, because his six speaker sound system is replacing parental affection! Remember your childhood, Osit seems to be asking. Before there was all this stuff?

Well, no, not really, not as you mean it. Bobby is my mother’s age! There are very few people who were teenagers in the 1960s and who are parents of teenagers now. Bobby may well be a grandfather, or at the very least wondering why his 30 year old son won’t leave home despite having so much money to spend on a soundsystem.

I was born in the early 80s. I had an email address before I left high school. I am one of the very last groups of middle-class Australians who did not go through their teens with their own mobile phone. (I got one at nineteen, and my fourteen year old sister had one before the end of that year.) Once at a sleepover my fifteen year old friends and I collectively had terrible cybersex with a random guy (or perhaps another group of teen girls?) on a Yahoo! (or something) chat room. It’s going to be a while before authors of books on parenting teens are aimed at me, I can see that.

Friday Hoyden: Ursula K. Le Guin

This article originally appeared on Hoyden About Town.

tigtog asked if someone could do a Friday Hoyden piece on Ursula K. Le Guin for her 80th birthday… last year. Le Guin’s 81st birthday was yesterday on the 21st October 2010: this is going up in time for it to still be her birthday in her hometown of Portland, Oregon.

Photo of Ursula Le Guin, 2004
Photo of Ursula Le Guin, 2004 (Wikipedia user Hajor, Creative Commons BY-SA)

A little capsule summary for people who haven’t read her work: Le Guin is a novelist, poet and essayist. She is best known for science fiction and fantasy, particularly the six Earthsea books (five novels and a collection of stories) set in an archipelago world with advanced magic and pre-industrial tech; and various books set in her Hainish universe, which is a future series in which Earth, among other planets among relatively nearby stars, turn out to have all have hominid species on them, established some millions of years ago by a still existing ancestral species the Hainish, in a series of biological/sociological experiments. This has allowed her to write, for example, The Left Hand of Darkness, Winter’s King and Coming of Age in Karhide, set in a world of primates with a sort of oestrous cycle in which their bodies can become either male or female, and who have otherwise no gender or sexuality; and The Matter of Seggri, about a world on which there are about sixteen women born for every man, and men are kept apart with their role in society being purely exhibition of strength, sex, and providing sperm.

Le Guin is something of a goto name for someone who wants to make sure their list of Great Science Fiction includes something, anything, by a woman: she’s white, she has by now become a big name and is award-winning and Taken Seriously (see Guest Post by Alisa Krasnostein: The Invisibility of Women in Science Fiction from June). I… do think she’s worth reading anyway! But don’t stop there, I doubt she’d want you to.

I’ve enjoyed Le Guin’s writing for years, but here is her crowning Hoyden moment for me, in a 2001 interview by Nick Gevers, a science fiction editor and critic:

[Gevers asks] Who, for you, are the finest SF authors now writing — both your fellow feminist writers and more generally?

[Le Guin answers] First I am to list fellow feminists and then… non-fellow anti-feminists? Come on, Nick, let’s get out of the pigeonholes. If feminism is the idea that differences between the genders, beyond the strictly physiological, are an interesting subject of study, but have not been determined, and so are not a sound basis for society to use in prescribing or proscribing any proclivity or activity — which is what I think it is — then I probably don’t read any non-feminist SF writers, these days. Do you?

Here’s a few selected pieces of Le Guin’s writing:

Le Guin has a fairly large website with links to most of her recent online writing.

If I had to recommend a single piece of writing of hers, I would say that its the short story The Day Before the Revolution (probably easiest to find in the collection The Wind’s Twelve Quarters), which probably benefits a lot if you read The Dispossessed for context first (The Dispossessed is a fine novel, so not just for context). The Day Before the Revolution was published when Le Guin was 45 years old. She wasn’t old at the time, and I am not old yet, but it is the closest I come to understanding how it might be.

Happy 81st birthday Ursula K. Le Guin!