Another month, another (small) list of books. I put this post off from a few extra days because I hoped to finish one extra book before publishing this. But I have a while to go until I finish ‘Self-Editing for Fiction Writers’ so I’m putting that in the May Reads post. April went by in the blink of an eye and I only managed to squeeze in three books while finishing up my novella draft.
Craft In The Real World– I’m always interested in reading books on craft. I don’t think you ever stop learning how to write a story. After reading ‘Craft in the Real World’ I’m eager to return to my own work and closely examine what works and what could work better. I hope this book finds its way into more and more workshops around the country. It looks at the creative writing workshop as we know it and picks out how it can harm writers from different backgrounds or literary traditions. Salesses writes in the preface “At best, it [the workshop] pressures the least normative writers to make fiction that is “likeable” and generalizable to the most normative audiences. Non-normative experience becomes exoticized or unspecific, something extra rather than something foundational.” He seeks to make the workshop experience one that empowers the author, instead of those critiquing the work. This book imagines models of workshop where writers leave with a sense of what to do next and are eager to tackle their next steps. As a Black woman who attended a predominantly white MFA program, I can say some of the challenges and limitations Salesses names here are some that I encountered when I was an MFA student. While I found some value in attending an MFA program, I’ve also spent the years since graduating reorienting myself and returning to a place where my writing centers a specific audience. My work is accessible to all, but at it’s core it’s meant for other Black people, particularly Black queer individuals. My MFA peers were never my target audience, yet I spent my two years in workshop trying to please them with my stories instead of pleasing myself. I’m grateful for this book and how it challenges the current workshop and imagines a workshop that’s valuable to everyone, not just a certain group of writers. Again in the preface Salesses writes “The workshop was made up of white males reading white male fiction, as students and especially as instructors. In this world only does the ‘gag rule’ make some sense, in that it forced men used to being heard to stop and listen to their likely audience. But the world has moved on.”
A Memory Called Empire– Click here to read my full review of this book! I love this book! I love the characters and the setting and the prose. I can’t find a single fault with it and I’m eager to read the sequel. I’m not usually one for political intrigue, but the mystery at the heart of this story is engaging from the first page and we’re left with an ending that’s satisfying, yet with plenty of story to explore. And there’s a slowburn romance in here that crept up on me much to my delight. I would pay top dollar to see this adapted to either the movie screen or TV. And Arkady Martine has solidified her position on my list of favorite authors.
Children of Virtue and Vengeance– The second book in the ‘Legacy of the Orisha’ trilogy, Children of Virtue and Vengeance picks up a month after the events of the first book and explores the consequences from magic returning to the world. I listened to the audiobook and the narrator did an EXCELLENT job! Genuinely one of the best audiobook experiences I’ve had in a while. One of my biggest frustrations with this book (and the series as a whole) is the romance subplots. So much emphasis is placed on the romantic pairings in this book and the first, yet none of the offerings are particularly appealing to me. And at points, the romance broke the tension and narrative pacing. I found it to be distracting and I wish some of it was trimmed back so the story flowed without major interruption. Amari and Zelie have much better chemistry than any of the straight pairings and I wished the story focused on their friendship and the (potential) romantic attraction there. I don’t think the series is building towards their eventual relationship which is unfortunate because I found their relationship to be the most endearing. (So much of Amari’s story is about making the world better for Zelie and the other magi and that is so incredibly romantic!) I also wish Zelie’s brother, Tzain, had some type of development. He’s just there in the background and can best be described as ‘Zelie’s brother’ and ‘Amari’s love interest.’ That’s about all there is to his character. Hopefully in the third (and final, I believe) book, he’ll actually have something to do or some emotions (outside of his feelings for Amari) to explore. It’s sad because this world is rich with magic and wonder and I wish the main characters were just as interesting as the world they inhabit. I know this series is being adapted to film and I’m eager to see how the directors capture the magic on film. I think it will be amazing and will inspire a whole new generation of diverse fantasy writers. As the third book draws near, I hope the author will explore the characters OUTSIDE of their romantic attraction to each other and will really dig into the ramifications of a country/kingdom that’s been at war with each other for years.
- ‘Playing Games’ on the Start With This Podcast-Talks about the ways in which setting limits and playing games with your art can help you outside of your comfort zone. The hosts mention that that point of games is to force creators to stop treating their art so preciously.
- Three Black Halfings– It’s difficult picking just one episode to highlight here because the entire series is amazing and worth a listen. The hosts have a deep appreciation for Dungeons and Dragons and table-top role playing games in general, yet they’re willing to critique the industry and the ways it continues to fail diverse players. I also thoroughly enjoy their campaign sessions where they run through a quick oneshot. I should start their ‘The Cub & The Caterpillar’ campaign soon and I can’t wait to see what world and story they create.
I have a slew of new books coming in over the next few weeks. Most are titles that I’m genuinely excited to read like, P. Djeli Clark’s ‘Master of Djinn’ and Casey McQuiston’s ‘One Last Stop.’ The days are getting warmer where I live and I’d love to take a book to a park to get some fresh air. Maybe I’ll plan for it Memorial Day weekend!
How close or far away are you to your reading goal? Personally, I think reaching 75 books will be difficult, but right now it’s still doable. What good book did you read in April? Or what book/books are you looking forward to reading in May?
Until next time! Happy reading and writing!