I’ve always had a hard time focusing when I read. I rarely finished an assigned book in any literature class. I didn’t even finish Gentlemen Prefer Blondes which barley ekes out over 200 pages of really simple prose. With enough time, I finish most things I read, but it tends to be a long and arduous process.
To make up for the lacking linearity of my reading habits, I tend to ramp up the quantity of books I’m reading at once. I have a habit of pairing a non-fiction book with a novel, and I sometimes like to toss in a short story collection. Right now, I’m working on five books.
This is what’s stacked next to my bed right now:
Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine – This is a terrific primer on how scientists often unintentionally prime subjects with gender stereotypes when doing social science research. Fine debunks a lot of bad science that claims gender stereotypes are “hard-wired*,” proving how simple it is to make people implicit in their own socialization.
This book is keeping me rapt, simply because it hits all my buttons around the social sciences. When I was a neuroscience student, every Psychology class I took made me want to scream “THIS ISN’T SCIENCE! YOU CAN’T CONTROL FOR THE EXTRAORDINARY SUBTLETY AND DIVERSITY OF THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE!”
Though I may not have graduated had I gone that route. Fine’s swift writing, solid science and thorough vindication of my opinions makes my heart soar.
* Which, incidentally, is my most loathed “scientific” term, just ahead of “lizard brain.”
Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose This one was an impulse buy at Borders. I skipped ahead a couple of chapters, too, which is likely not a good thing. I like the idea of learning the skill of reading for comprehension; Jebus knows I could use it. Yet the author’s tone shifts between reverent and pompous. I was drained by chapter two, as we creep from Words, to Sentences, to Paragraphs and onward. While I have no doubt Prose is a lover of the written word, her writing was wringing my own love out of me like a particular kind of dreary high school English teacher. At its best, however, Prose’s love comes through, and she can indicate her excitement at a partucluarly elegant passage. But indicate seems to be where it stops. Not once so far have I felt a transferrence of glee from her as she describes her love.
That said, I’m going to keep plodding along. I’ve skipped to the “character” chapter, so hopefully the larger concepts will hold larger energy.
Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente After hearing about this book from friends for years, I decided to finally pick it up in the dealers room at Fog Con. Immediately, an older woman wearing a velvet shawl and pentagram earrings said, “Oh, you are in for A TREAT!” So I knew it had to be good. I’m just over halfway through and am really impressed with the swiftness of the read, considering how many characters and locations it covers. It’s certainly the highest fantasy I’ve read in a long time, which makes it mildly challenging but really fun. Valente’s imagination is splendid, and much of the fun is drawing the mental pictures she throws at you. The whole book feels like a Jeunet film- tragic and touching with so much whimsy and grotesquerie, you can’t help but love it. Polyamorists and queers tend to appreciate its quasi-libertine examination of sex as spiritual transformation/transportation. Valente develops this metaphor elegantly, as the map of the dream city becomes a map of human connection.
Memory and Dream by Charles de Lint I’m ashamed to say, this is the book I dropped to start Palimpsest. The plot is centered on art’s power of manifestation, which is a lovely and sharp premise. It reads more like a mystery than a fantasy, which works well. The characters are bright people I’d enjoy spending time with. The settings are lovely, and deLint’s writing is florid but clear. I’ve gotten a bit burdened by his verbosity at times, but generally it’s a nice read. Palimpsest is just a bit sexier (and thinner) I suppose. No doubt I’ll finish off the second half of this, soon.
So, with two novels and two non-fiction books, I’ve got to have the short stories:
Burning Your Boats by Angela Carter Having not taken any women’s studies classes in college, I missed the Angela Carter boat completely. That is, until a friend shouted, “You write about lesbian shapeshifters and you haven’t read Angela Carter?!”
Consider myself schooled. Angela Carter, while at times falling into the DeLint tendency of overly florid language to explain rather straightforward things, has a wicked, sexy imagination. I’m thrilled to be reading her for the first time, shocked and excited by the chutzpah of this woman. She’s a righteous babe with one of the best tastes for story I’ve read in a while. Because her writing can tend towards the dense, her short stories aren’t exactly “waiting for the bus” fare, but they are sexy, silly, dark and rewarding.
Plus, I’ve read the first 20 pages of Just Kids (loving it), Bad Omens (I’m a sucker for religious satire), and Little Bee (sophisticated and good, but just not for me right now.)
What about you? What’s on your nightstand?