A reading challenge I just might try to do this year: Your TBR Reduction Book Challenge:

January – New Beginnings

1 – I give you permission to read the most recent book you got on top of your TBR. For many this is one we only get to read eventually but for now I want you to pick up the newest book in Mount TBR and read it. Can you remember the last time you did that?

Stretch Goal – Read the oldest book in Mount TBR it has waited long enough

Two small steps away from relying on Amazon for bookish needs:

I’m moving my book tracking away from Goodreads in favor of The StoryGraph. Not quite as full featured (yet), but gaining features, and doesn’t pump your data into Amazon’s systems. And if you don’t want to lose your Goodreads data, no worries! The StoryGraph can import it. Here’s my profile.

For a while now, I’ve been ordering new books from Bookshop.org, which allows you to to choose an independent bookstore (ideally, one near you) to get a cut of every purchase you make. Sure, you’ll probably spend a little more, and your books won’t always arrive on the very day they’re released, but if you can afford a couple more dollars per book and a few days before you dive in, it’s well worth sending your money to small independent bookstores instead of Amazon.

For used books, if local used bookstores aren’t an option (which currently is very pandemic-dependent), I’ll order from Powell’s whenever possible.

Little things, perhaps, but they make me feel better about how I choose to spend my money.

A few weeks ago, I spoke to a student reporter from UW about Norwescon, reading habits, and how my own reading habits have changed as I aged and as the pandemic hit. While the conversation was a lot longer than the one quote that made it in, at least I wasn’t cut completely, and got a mention of Norwescon in front of UW students — so mission accomplished, I say!

Escaping through the pages:

Science fiction, dystopia’s similar but more optimistic counterpart, is also seeing an increase in popularity during the pandemic, much to the excitement of seasoned fans everywhere. 

Every year, Seattle hosts the Pacific Northwest’s regional science fiction and fantasy convention Norwescon. Michael Hanscom, longtime convention attendee, volunteer, and secretary of this year’s virtual event, has been turning to the familiar, curiosity-driven world of “Star Trek” since the beginning of quarantine in order to cope with reality.

“This is not always quality sci-fi; this is absolutely escapism,” Hanscom said, gesturing to his bookshelves filled with “Star Trek” paraphernalia during our Zoom interview. “I think 80% of my reading last year was ‘Star Trek’ novels because I couldn’t concentrate on anything more weighty than that. With everything going on and being locked down at home, I needed that escapism. I needed to get away.”

EDIT: I just came across this article, and I have to admit, I definitely see elements of the classism and elitism being called out here in what I wrote a few days ago (I think I missed out on sliding into racism, thankfully).

[Ellen] Oh says, “There is an overemphasis on the words ‘spark joy’ without understanding what [Kondo] really means by it. Tokimeki doesn’t actually mean joy. It means throb, excitement, palpitation. Just this basic understanding annihilates Schofield’s argument that books should not only spark joy but challenge and perturb us. Tokimeki would imply that if a book that challenges and perturbs us also gives us a positive reaction, then why wouldn’t you keep it?”

“The backlash has focused on everything from [Kondo’s] poor English to making fun of the terms she [uses],” Oh says. “We have seen so many memes making fun of the concept of ‘sparking joy’ and it reminds me in many ways of people deliberately misunderstanding and making fun of my parents’ broken English.”

There is also, Oh says, a certain amount of privilege that has come into play in the book-tidying discussion.

“Classism, elitism, the privilege of having a big house with a lot of storage? I don’t know what the rationale is for the backlash but I do know that it comes from a place of privilege,” Oh says. “Elitism in that if you don’t have lots of books you can’t possibly be very smart. And financial classism because I remember being young and poor and owning less than ten books. It was why the library was my sanctuary.”

I’ve always been fortunate enough to have the money — mine, or from my family — to have the luxury of a large book collection. True, I do much of my book shopping at Goodwill and other used book stores, but I also tend not to think twice about dropping the money on new releases by favorite authors or for personal projects like reading all of each year’s P.K. Dick nominees. I’ve also always been able to devote space to storing my book collection, whether on shelves in whatever home I’m in at the time, or keeping a storage unit with boxes of books when in transition.

Unquestionably, these are things that many people cannot afford to do, and I should recognize when my privilege allows me to scoff at those who prioritize things other than books (including those who simply don’t prioritize physical books, but prefer electronic books on their Kindles or tablets, which admittedly do offer notable space and at times financial benefits over physical book collections).

Original post follows:

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Once again, I’ve read through all of the nominated works for this year’s Philip K. Dick Awards. Made it with two weeks to spare this time.

Here are my thoughts on each of the nominated books, in order from my least favorite to my personal favorite and pick for the award (if I got a vote, which I don’t, and I’ve yet to pick a winner, so perhaps it’s best not to put too much stock in my opinion…). A strong slate this year, there wasn’t a single one that I didn’t enjoy at least a little bit.

  • The Book of Etta, by Meg Elison: Much as with the first book in this series, it’s well written and realized, but simply isn’t my thing. Post-apocalyptic fiction tends towards the dark, dismal, and dreary, and these are no exception. I can recognize that they’re well written, and can see why they resonate for many people…just not for me. Because of that, I can’t really give a more thorough review.

  • Revenger, by Alastair Reynolds: Space pirates, hidden treasure, scheming and swashbuckling — and while I didn’t dislike reading it, it never entirely grabbed me, either. I think for me, it’s just that while I recognize the conceit of “adventure on the high seas IN SPACE” as an attractive one for many, it’s simply never particularly caught my interest. I’m not sure if that’s because I’m not much into “adventure on the high seas IN WATER” tales and the switch to “…IN SPACE” isn’t enough to make it work for me, or if I just find the conceit itself a little…well, silly. Not that solar sails and the like aren’t scientifically sound, but the overly-literal application of the idea always feels a bit far-fetched. Anyway — the book isn’t bad, it just isn’t for me.

  • The Wrong Stars, by Tim Pratt: Enjoyable space adventure, with lots of amusingly clever writing and fun ideas for alien cultures, particularly the primary alien life and how they interface with humanity. Liked reading it, and appreciated the diversity of characters both human and alien. Doesn’t nudge its way to the top of this year’s PKD nominee stack, but that’s not at all a knock against this book, this is just proving to be a strong selection this year.

  • After the Flare, by Deji Bryce Olukotun: The first book, Nigerians in Space, was interesting, but was almost more of a spy thriller, barely touching on SF. This is not only more of an SF story, but is also a stronger book. A few of the characters carry over from the first book, but the plots aren’t directly connected, and reading the first isn’t at all necessary to enjoy this one. With both books, I greatly enjoyed the African setting and the blending of SF tropes with African history and culture. A strong start to my PK Dick Award reading this year.

  • Bannerless, by Carrie Vaughn: I’ve mentioned in past years that I’m not a big fan of post-apocalyptic stories; as such, they generally don’t rate very high for me, even when I know that they’re good, well-written stories. This is a rare exception – apparently, the trick is to place the time period a good few decades after civilization falls over, so that the story isn’t overshadowed by the depressing turbulence and chaos of most post-apocalyptic tales. Here, there are distant remnants of the world as it was, but the world has survived, society has rebuilt (to a point, at least), and our characters can have their adventures and solve their mysteries in the world they know. The look at the society that emerges, and how it builds on what fell in the past, attempting to use the lessons of the collapse of the past to keep a stable present, worked very well for me.

  • All Systems Red, by Martha Wells: A quick and very enjoyable read about a cranky, antisocial security android who just wants to watch their shows, but has all these annoying humans to take care of. Quick moving and darkly humorous, it felt like a SFictional take on the autism spectrum (said as a neurotypical who is entirely guessing, and could be far off base with that).

  • Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty: Something of an SF take on a locked room mystery – the cloned crew of a generation ship wakes up to find the corpses of their previous bodies – with fascinating questions of the ethics of workable cloning and the concepts of selfhood and the soul in such a world. Very much enjoyed this one.

Once again, I’ve read through all of the nominated works for this year’s Philip K. Dick Awards — and there’s still almost two full months to go before the award ceremony! I think this is the fastest I’ve gotten through all of the year’s nominees. (Of course, it helped that two of them were short enough that I got through them both within 24 hours.) Here are my thoughts on each of the nominated books, in order from my least favorite to my personal favorite and pick for the award (if I got a vote, which I don’t, and I’ve yet to pick a winner, so perhaps it’s best not to put too much stock in my opinion…).

  • The Mercy Journals, by Claudia Casper: Not as much of a dreary slog as I’d anticipated (not due to the author at all, but to the setting), but still a post-apocalyptic “everything sucks and we’re trying desperately to survive” slog. While I can recognize that it’s well written, I was tired of post-apocalyptic slogs even before it looked like they were going to be even more prescient than I’d ever thought (this one even has a US/Mexico border wall), which I know colors my impression of the book. At least this one does have moments of peace, beauty, and hope here and there; even filtered through the lens of a wounded, PTSD-suffering ex-soldier, those moments were appreciated.
  • Graft, by Matt Hill: A rather bleak and dismal look at human trafficking in a future where the victims are cybernetically modified on the other side of a trans-dimensional portal. I’m not entirely sure if it was my unfamiliarity with British slang or the author’s style, but it took a long time for me to find the rhythm and really get into the book; that, coupled with the near-total lack of joy or any form of happiness, made this one a bit of a slog for me.
  • Consider, by Kristy Acevedo: Apparently I enjoy pre-apocalyptic stories more than post-apocalyptic stories. This was an enjoyable read, as the teen heroine struggles with family and anxiety as the end of the world approaches. The mystery of the vortexes and what, if anything, lies on the other side had me unsure just how the book would wrap up, and while I’m not entirely sure about the end, I don’t find it entirely objectionable, either. Not sure if this will be my final pick, but it was the most enjoyable for me so far (with three of the six nominees read).
  • Super Extra Grande, by Yoss, translated by David Frye: A fun, quick read. In a future where faster than light travel was discovered by an Ecuadorian priest, and Spanglish is the common language used among the seven known intelligent races, a “veterinarian to giants” has to rescue two people from a 200-kilometer wide amoeba. Neat to see a future where Hispanic culture has become prominent, and there’s a lot of humor (and one literal laugh-out-loud moment for me).
  • Unpronounceable, by Susan diRende: The funniest of this year’s PK Dick nominees, and another short, quick read. When professional diplomats can’t make any headway in connecting with an alien race of pink blobs, who better to send than a smartass Jersey girl? I got a lot of laughs out of this one, and Rose makes a perfect (if nontraditional) ambassador.
  • Hwarhath Stories: Transgressive Tales by Aliens, by Eleanor Arnason: Thoroughly enjoyed this one. A collection of stories, most essentially folk tales, all originally from the only other intelligent alien life humanity has encountered. Similar to us in many ways, dissimilar in others, the stories both expose us to the history and culture of this world and comment on its morals and beliefs…and, of course, by doing so, allows us to examine our own. It frequently reminded me of Barry B. Longyear’s The Enemy Papers, another collection of stories examining alien history and culture that I very much enjoyed (and now want to re-read, as it’s been a long time). Apparently I have a thing for sociological science fiction.

The nominees for this year’s Philip K. Dick awards have been announced! I look forward to this list every year, as the award ceremony is held at Norwescon each year. For the past few years I’ve been making it a point to read all of the nominees before the ceremony, so that I can have my own opinion as to which work I think should win (and so far, I haven’t picked correctly once), and because it’s a lot of fun to be in the room with the authors or their representatives when the award is given out.

This year’s lineup looks like an interesting one. Of the six books, only one looks to be in the post-apocalyptic vein, which I count as a good thing, as that was a definite theme for a few years that I got a little burnt out on. Of the other five, one book is a YA novel, one’s from a Cuban author and has been translated to English, one looks to be more straightforward SF adventure, one looks enjoyably weird, and one looks particularly interesting to me.

I’ve ordered my copies from Amazon, they should be here early next week, and I’m looking forward to diving into them.

There’s been a book list meme going around Facebook for some time now that purports to be a list of 100 books of which most people will have read only six. I’ve been tagged a few times, and have seen the note pop up when other friends have passed it on. I’ll go ahead and toss my list in this post, but there’s one thing about this that’s been bugging me.

The list has nothing to do with the BBC — the closest the BBC gets is The Big Read, a 2003 list of Britain’s 100 most popular books as determined by BBC viewer nominations — and actually appears to be taken from a 2007 article in The Guardian, reporting on the results of a poll of 2,000 people by the World Book Day website.

In this context, whether looking at the BBC list or the World Book Day list, the claim that most people will have read only six of the books on the list makes little to no sense. Both lists were of the most popular books as selected by the people who took the survey, which carries a strong implication that these are generally well-read books. Furthermore, according to the Guardian article, the “2,000 people who took part in the poll online at worldbookday.com nominated their top 10 titles that they could not live without” (emphasis mine) — so they had to have read more than six, and it’a actually a list of some of the most popular books.

It looks like the bit about most people only having read six was added at some point just to give people a reason to feel superior and to get them curious enough to slog through the list and figure out just how many they have read.

Still. That said. I’m okay with feeling superior. And I read a lot. So, even though the “background” has been thoroughly debunked…here’s how I stack up. Continue reading

Obviously, a list like this one is subject to a lot of debate due to everyone’s personal taste. Still, it’s not a bad list of works. Herewith, in true blog-meme style, the list, with those that I’ve read in bold. 35 out of 100. Not bad, but could be better!

(Note: Though this list is numbered 1-100, it should be read as being 100-1. That is, the #100 spot on this list is the #1 spot on the original list. Just a side effect of the HTML list that I don’t feel like trying to hack around.)

  1. The Word For World Is Forest by Ursula K. LeGuin
  2. Sorcerer’s Son by Phyllis Eisenstein
  3. Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress
  4. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
  5. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
  6. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  7. The Company by K.J. Parker
  8. An Evil Guest by Gene Wolfe
  9. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
  10. Danny, The Champion of the World by Roald Dahl
  11. Camp Concentration by Thomas Disch
  12. Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
  13. Song of Kali by Dan Simmons
  14. Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
  15. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller
  16. Sphere by Michael Crichton
  17. Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin
  18. The Alteration by Kingsley Amis
  19. The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey
  20. The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
  21. Watership Down by Richard Adams
  22. Griffin’s Egg by Michael Swanwick
  23. Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan
  24. Free Live Free by Gene Wolfe
  25. Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke
  26. Ringworld by Larry Niven
  27. Schismatrix by Bruce Sterling
  28. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
  29. Maske: Thaery by Jack Vance
  30. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  31. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
  32. Flow My Tears The Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick
  33. The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov
  34. The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
  35. The High Crusade by Poul Anderson
  36. A Song for Lya by George R.R. Martin
  37. At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft
  38. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
  39. Wildlife by James Patrick Kelly
  40. The Book of Knights by Yves Maynard
  41. The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan (Well, I made it up to book six or seven, then decided to wait until he was dead or the series was finished, since there was no end in sight. Now he’s dead, and I’m just waiting for the last book to appear in paperback before starting over.)
  42. Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman
  43. Nightwings by Robert Silverberg
  44. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  45. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
  46. Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
  47. The Book of the Short Sun by Gene Wolfe
  48. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
  49. Foundation by Isaac Asimov
  50. The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin
  51. The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe
  52. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
  53. The Demon Princes by Jack Vance
  54. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  55. The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson
  56. Alastor by Jack Vance
  57. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
  58. Flatland by Edwin Abbott
  59. Farmer in the Sky by Robert Heinlein
  60. A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick
  61. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  62. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  63. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
  64. Lyonesse by Jack Vance
  65. Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein
  66. True Names by Vernor Vinge
  67. Ubik by Philip K. Dick
  68. The Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons
  69. Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert Heinlein
  70. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  71. A Fire Upon The Deep by Vernor Vinge
  72. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
  73. More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon
  74. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  75. 1984 by George Orwell
  76. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
  77. The Cadwal Chronicles by Jack Vance
  78. Lost Horizon by James Hilton
  79. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  80. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
  81. The Fifth Head of Cerebus by Gene Wolfe
  82. A Song of Ice And Fire by George R.R. Martin
  83. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
  84. The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay
  85. The Master and the Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  86. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
  87. All My Sins Remembered by Joe Haldeman
  88. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  89. Planet of Adventure by Jack Vance
  90. Dune by Frank Herbert
  91. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  92. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin
  93. The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe
  94. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  95. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  96. Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
  97. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin
  98. The Dying Earth by Jack Vance
  99. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein
  100. The Book of the Long Sun by Gene Wolfe