Words Are My Matter

Words Are My MatterUrsula K. Le Guin won the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 2014. This collection was originally gathered and published in 2016. Words Are My Matter: Writings on Life and Books consists of essays, book introductions, and book reviews written throughout Le Guin’s lifetime. The book is split into the three categories and only minor editing was done to the original pieces.

My favorite section was the essays and talks. I enjoyed the book introductions and was happy to discover a few writers I had previously never heard of who I have added to my TBR list. I love finding new authors via authors I already enjoy. I think I like Le Guin’s essays as much, if not more, than her fiction, but I need to read more of her fiction before I make a definitive decision. Her essays are often a call to action while also being an observation of a trend she has noticed throughout her career. I agree with much of what she says and have come to realize that some of her concerns as far back as the late 1960’s are still very much something to be concerned about today. The issues have not been addressed or have continued behind the curtain. However, I am hoping the recent widespread notice of some issues in publishing and among writers will bring about the long-overdue changes. Only time will tell.

As far as essays go, there are several great ones here, but I think another collection, The Language of the Night (which consists of only essays), provides stronger arguments. Please check out that collection if you want more of the aforementioned calls to action. This collection contains her ever interesting article “Is Gender Necessary? Redux” which was the reason I had first borrowed it from my library. I am recommending Words Are My Matter though because I believe it is a collection that is more likely to appeal to a wider range of readers. The subtitle Writings of Life and Books of course is the perfect description of this collection.

My favorite essays from this collection were “The Death of the Book” and “On Serious Literature”. I also enjoyed “Genre: A Word Only A Frenchman Could Love”. The author I mentioned I discovered earlier is Jose Saramago and I will likely try his book Blindness first. There were of course other authors I had not yet discovered, but their books didn’t catch my interest despite Le Guin’s review. Granted, a couple of the reviews actually killed any interest I might have had. I actually never read reviews about books unless they are included in collections like this as I tend to give myself the opportunity to form my own opinion instead of relying on others. It’s also fun to see a review about a book that has had decades to prove itself.

I respect Le Guin’s opinions despite not agreeing with every one she expresses. The reviews were my least favorite, but you can skip around in collections like this if you choose to as they are all standalone pieces. The book ends with a “week in the life of” which seems like a little bonus part to the book. This is a diary format description detailing Le Guin’s stay at a women-only writing retreat called Hedgebrook. The week she describes could be considered uneventful (as is most of life) but for some reason it transported me to the idyllic landscape Le Guin explored when not working on her story. It was the perfect ending and left me feeling as if I had just finished a week out in nature away from everyday obligations. Refreshed, relaxed, and able to enjoy the moment. I would recommend this book for this description alone, but again, there is a lot to enjoy and there is likely something for any reader.

Perhaps you may pick this up one day and read one or two little essays or reviews. This is definitely a collection that is easy to pick up and put down at any interval. Perhaps you will discover something new or be inspired to do something new. I hope so.

Happy Reading.

8 Reasons Why I Don’t Finish A Book

There are very few books I have not finished, but in the past few years I have been more apt to not finish a book if it doesn’t capture or maintain my interest. I used to be particular about finishing any book I read because it felt like giving up. Luckily there were very few books I had to force myself to finish. Now I look back and wonder why I wasted the energy on a book I didn’t enjoy.

I remember the first book I never finished. I was about halfway through and took a long hiatus on reading it for various reasons. When I finally got back to it, I had forgotten most of what had happened in the first part of the book, which goes to show that the story didn’t capture my interest. Since I didn’t really remember what was going on, I simply set it aside and never picked it back up.

Since then, I usually will give a book about 50 to 75 pages before I make a decision to give up on it. If the book captures my interest, then I don’t even consider this, but if I’m struggling that far in I’ll set it aside.

These are the reasons I stopped forcing myself to finish books:

It’s not the right time.

Some times I know a book is good but when I go to read it, I find I’m not really interested at the time or that the subject matter is too prevalent with recent events for me to really enjoy it. This also happens with “classics” I intend to read because I know they are good if they have been around for decades or centuries, but perhaps I would rather read something more contemporary at the moment. I usually put it down within the first 20 pages to select a new book in these cases but intend to come back to it eventually.

I don’t care about any of the characters.

Unfortunately, there are some books that I just didn’t care for. Even if they are written by a large name in the literary world. Their stories don’t get me interested or I find their characters lacking. If I can’t care about the characters or what is happening, then why should I keep reading?

I can predict the story or I already know what will happen.

It can be easy to predict how some stories will end. This doesn’t make it a bad story, but it can make you lose interest if it is overtly obvious what will happen. Another point here is if I’ve been exposed to the story prior to reading. This happens in mainly one of two ways: I’ve seen an adaptation (likely film) or I have had something about the book spoiled for me by another reader. I usually will read a book before the movie comes out if I am interested in it, and I will sometimes read the book even after seeing the movie to see how the story differs. The latter is usually because I didn’t know the movie was based on a book. I usually won’t stop reading just because the story is predictable, but it can make the finishing stretch a little hard to push through. However, if I read a book that is hugely popular and it doesn’t capture my interest, I may give up on it or put it down to read later because it was a little over-hyped for me to read it at that time.

The size factors in or I’m not quite ready for another series.

There are times I’ll go to read a larger book and find I’m just not up for it, or I’ll think of starting a series and think I would prefer a standalone novel. I often find I prefer standalone novels for a while after finishing a larger series, or I’ll look for shorter books or novellas after reading a larger book or series. Bigger books/series can be commitments for me because I usually read only that series until I finish it. This is partly why I have developed the habit of reading two books at any given time. One is fiction while the other is non-fiction.

Pacing.

Pacing can really put me off a story. If nothing is happening or there are long hiatuses between important events, I can be tempted to simply set it aside. I don’t want to spend 50-100 pages on non-essential information. This is one reason I think so many people never read or finish Moby Dick.

It’s not the right story.

I usually have my next 3-5 books lined up to help me get through my TBR pile. They vary so I can switch the reading order depending on what I want to read next, but some times I go to start a book and realize that maybe I’m just not currently interested in this type of story. For example, maybe I go to start a science fiction book but realize I’d rather read a biography, fantasy, or collection of short stories. Again, I always intend to read the book in question if this is the reason I decide not to read it at the time.

I don’t like the writing.

Since I started writing stories myself with the hopes of publishing books in the future, I’ve begun noticing and sometimes scrutinizing the quality of writing in books. I never speak about the quality of writing publicly because I don’t believe in being nasty for the sake of being nasty and I know other readers like the book. But if the writing is poor, it can make it a struggle to even read the story. Luckily, this is very rare since books go through a long process before getting published. Also, a story can be good enough to overcome bad writing. I can’t remember who said it, but “A great story written poorly is still good, and a bad story written well is still bad.”

There are too many other books to read.

My TBR list only grows the older I get. Even though I am constantly reading something, I am also discovering new books and new authors faster than I read them. I know I will likely never be able to read everything I want to within my lifetime. This may be a little sad to realize, but it only solidifies my decision that I shouldn’t waste time on books I’m not enjoying. I find that if I am struggling to get through a book for any reason, I read less frequently. Therefore, it is important for me to be able to give up on any book that doesn’t capture my interest. It effectively is preventing me from reading a book I may love or one that may change my outlook.

There have been few books I have completed recently that I’ve not really cared for. Unfortunately, these were the first books I tried by authors who I’ve come to like. I was kind of bummed that I ended up not liking their work since I like them as people, but I may try another story of theirs to see if it was simply that one story that didn’t capture my attention.

I have only put down a few books in the past several years after reading the first 50-75 pages despite liking other work by the same author. It was usually content-related and I just didn’t care for the story or put it down to try again later on. The one that comes to mind right now is The Stand by Stephen King. I think this was both content related and pacing. I was about 70 pages in and it was still introducing characters. Also, pandemic/end-of-the-world scenario can be a bit of a bummer. And it is over 1200 pages long. I’ve always heard it is a great novel, and I may get to it eventually, but I wasn’t ready to read it at the time.

I’m happy to say that the number of books I haven’t finished is still really low. Probably less than 10 (maybe even fewer than 5), but that number will only grow. The few books I mentioned that I did finish but didn’t really care about the characters or story happened to be the first book in a trilogy, and I won’t be finishing the trilogy. There are just too many books I want to read. I hope you focus on reading books that you enjoy and put aside those that you aren’t eager to continue reading.

11 Authors I Want to Read

It is very easy for me to add books to my TBR list based on recommendations or summaries or even book covers (never discredit a book by its cover, but definitely try one because of it). However, I’ve had a small list growing of authors whose names I either keep hearing or who I’ve seen/followed on social media whose works I want to eventually read. So instead of making a TBR list of books I want to read, I’ve made a list of authors who I want to read.

I’ll be honest, some of these authors I have no real idea what they are best known to have written or even what they even write about. I’ve come to know their name and I’m interested in their work because of either them as a person intrigues me or the discourse regarding their work does. Let’s begin.

Octavia Butler

Apparently today would have been Octavia Butler’s 73rd birthday. I’ve seen her name pop up here and there likely because she wrote science fiction which is one of my main areas of interest. Her name is all over social media today and prompted this post because she has been on my list of authors to read for a few years.

N.K. Jemison

N.K. Jemison has been on my list for the past year or two. I first saw her book The Fifth Season and was intrigued but never got around to reading it. It has been on my TBR for some time, but Jemison herself has become someone I’m interested in and I hope I will like her work. I hear her new book, The City We Became, is really good.

Adrian Tchaikovsky

I’m not sure where I first heard of Adrian Tchaikovsky. I think it was in relation to another author I was following, but I remember hearing about one or two of his books (which I can’t remember) and was intrigued.

Myke Cole

Myke Cole’s book The Armored Saint caught my interest a while back mainly because it had a cool cover. Later on, without realizing, I started following him on Twitter because he has entertaining little feuds with his friend Sam Sykes who is also an author. Of the two, Myke seems the most stable.

Samuel R. Delaney

This one may be a bit surprising since I am a big science fiction fan. Samuel R. Delaney is considered a pretty big name in the field. His name has popped up when authors I like discuss who had inspired them. I have yet to read any of his work but I will eventually.

R.F. Kuang

Another fairly new writer (or should I say younger?) who recently completed her first trilogy. Rebecca’s book The Poppy War has been well received and admittedly is how her name came to be on this list. I actually own The Poppy War but have yet to get around to it.

Jeff Vandermeer

Jeff Vandermeer popped on my radar after a friend took me to see the movie Annihilation which is based on Jeff’s book of the same title. The movie was weird as hell but also interesting enough to make me wonder if the book was different or better (which does happen). I have since heard people rave about his book called Wonderbook which I plan to pick up soon.

Kevin Hearne

Kevin Hearne has an interesting place on this list. I believe I first discovered him on Twitter around the time his book Kill the Farm Boy was releasing. He tweets a lot about cool drinks he makes which is fun. He is also friends with Chuck Wendig who dedicated his book Wanderers to Kevin. Kevin seems like an awesome guy so of course I’ll need to check out his work even though I have a feeling it isn’t particularly what I would normally ready.

Haruki Mirakami

Another bigger name in the literary world that I haven’t yet checked out. Though I just realized that he is an exception to this list as I technically have read something by him. I listened to the audiobook of his memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I haven’t read any of his fiction, so I still count him as an author I still want to read.

Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett is another name that I think is larger than I realize when it comes to writing. I’ve heard her name here and there and recently heard about her book The Getaway Car which is a memoir about life and writing. This will likely be the first book of hers I read since I like reading what writers have to say about writing.

Jose Saramago

I just discovered Saramago a few days ago while reading a collection of essays by Ursula K. Le Guin. I had never heard of him before but he has been added to my list. She spoke about several of his books but Blindness seemed to be the most prevalent in the essay and caught my interest. However, The Stone Raft may usurp it as the first Saramago book I read.

 

It’s always interesting to me how we find new authors to read. Perhaps you have not heard of some of these authors and may now go look into one of their books. Some of these names I’m sure you have read and may be surprised I have not yet read them. There is so much out there that it is, unfortunately, impossible to read it all, but it’s always great to discover new books and authors. I say read widely and often.

Do you have a specific author you have always planned to read? If so, how did you hear about them? Was it a specific book or some other avenue? Let me know because you may very well be introducing me to someone new and I am always up for discovering new books and authors.

On Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm GladwellI had no idea who Malcolm Gladwell was until I took his MasterClass last year (2019). I have since read every book he has written. I’ve read a handful of articles. Granted, he as been working as a staff writer for the New York Times since 1996, so there are tons of pieces he has written and I doubt I’ll ever read them all. Several have been included in some of his books. I found Mr. Gladwell fascinating. Both as a person and as a writer.

I have not yet tried a podcast, but Gladwell has one titled Revisionist History that I have been wanting to look into. Perhaps it will be my introduction to the world of podcasts. What I enjoy most about his books is the fact that he takes a plethora of historical events, most seemingly unrelated, and blends them together around an encompassing theme. He remains objective throughout his writing and expertly pulls in facts, interviews, and testimonies to deliver a tangible truth for an altered perspective.

I think one key thing his work has done for me is revive my interest in nonfiction. I’d always been interested in certain areas of nonfiction like science, biography, memoir, or history, but Gladwell can blend together historical and current events to show a glimpse of a human truth. His most recent and what I consider most impactful book, Talking to Strangers, is insightful because it delves into how we react to each other as human beings and dares to review what information, however minute, we use to prepare ourselves when interacting with someone for the first time. It shows what split-second information we deem important which reveals a lot about who we are as part of a community.

I mainly read fiction but I have developed the habit of simultaneously reading a work of nonfiction, so I am always reading one work of fiction and one work of nonfiction at any given time. I usually read the fiction books much faster, but I like to continually be working through a book of essays or history or some form of nonfiction so I am learning something new about the world instead of always escaping into other worlds. Gladwell’s works really caught my interest and showed me areas in history I had never heard of before, or discussed current events I had missed or never knew what had actually happened.

I think being an informed citizen is important and getting information extracted from in-depth research is key to this. It is easy to simply read a headline without checking a source and leap onto a soapbox. It is another thing entirely to ensure the information is legitimate and based on fact instead of opinion. It is way too easy to spread ideas because of the internet. You can take this post for example. I’m spreading my opinion of Malcolm Gladwell simply on the basis that I like him and his work. I’m stating my opinion and you are reading this (thank you) because you are interested in either my opinion or Gladwell himself (or both). The “media” has been a hot topic the past several years and the distribution of information has been somewhat discredited, which is frightening because information has power. It can shape the way we think, act, or react. I don’t want to tangent into a rant about what is right or wrong or who should be believed here. All I want to say is that we should all be informed, check the sources, make sure we are not being told a partial narrative (or fabricated one), and try to do what we can to make things better.

I believe Malcolm Gladwell relies on facts and testimonies to bring his desired points across within his work. He doesn’t include his opinion or bias without explicitly stating that he is doing so. This is admirable. Which is why I decided to include Malcolm Gladwell in my On Authors series. He hasn’t written a fictional world I believe to be important. He writes about the real world in an important way. I hope you read his work if you have not already. He has covered a wide range of topics and a few are likely to catch your interest. I look forward to reading more his work myself.

The Demolished Man

The Demolished ManThe Demolished Man by Alfred Bester was the winner of the first Hugo Award for best novel in 1953. I first discovered this novel when taking David Mamet’s Masterclass so I added it to my list and recently got around to reading it. I read it in a few days. This book is a fairly quick read and is between 200-250 pages depending on the edition you choose. The writing and story entice you to keep reading.

To put it simply, this book is a futuristic crime novel that takes place in the 25th(?) century where humanity has colonized Venus, Mars, and a few moons of Jupiter. Part of the population can read minds which is considered common within the story. The development of reading minds is the reason has been zero acts of murder in over 70 years, but the main character, Ben Reich, plans to commit this crime.

The pacing is excellent. The language reads fairly modern despite the 70 years that have passed since it was written. There were several times where I read some dialogue in the the trope-like way of speaking attributed to that era (“Listen here, see..”), which is likely attributed to the few slang words used. However, this book has held up incredibly well and doesn’t quite have that nostalgia feel you can get from older science fiction stories.

There are a few other elements of the time that I believe impact the story which some readers may find unpopular today. I won’t detail anything here since it could skew your impression of the book and I would hate for that to happen, but I will say that I understand when this book was written so I let a few things slide as part of those times. Just know that the things I’m referring to are not blatant and shouldn’t impact your enjoyment of the story.

I’ll definitely be looking into Bester’s other novels. The Stars My Destination will likely be the next I read. I’m also interested to check out his short stories as well. I may never have discovered Alfred Bester if I hadn’t made a note of it from Mamet’s class. I’m glad I did. I find I often learn of great books from small comments or references like that. Which may be the reason I started recommending books on this blog, so that you may discover some of your favorite stories.

Happy Reading.