Tag Archives: Books

10 Things I Love to Read About

On Monday I blogged about the 10 Things I Won’t Read About. It was surprising to see how many of the people who read my posts have similar aversions to those topics.

Today I’m talking about 10 things that would make me keen to pick up and read a book. I tried to make this list as detailed as possible, so you won’t be seeing vague entries like “science fiction” here.

Instead, I’ll be drilling down to specific topics that I’d be excited to read about with little regard given to which genre they might pop up in.

1.  LGBT+ Historical Novels, Especially Mysteries.

I’m fascinated by how people in the LGBT+ community lived during eras when they had to keep such important parts of themselves hidden away. This is still something that happens with LGBT+ people in many countries and cultures today, of course. Seeing how this has changed or is changing in some parts of the world gives me hope that someday it will improve everywhere.

Watching LGBT+ characters attempt to solve a mystery while also holding tightly onto their own secrets also makes this sort of storyline even more nerve-wracking than it might otherwise be. I want some parts of the plot to be revealed while hoping that other portions are only shared with people who will treat the main character kindly.

Example: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. (I’m currently read this book, so please don’t share spoilers for it!)

2. Colonizing Mars (and Other Planets).

To put it mildly, humans made a lot of terrible mistakes when they invaded other countries and continents. While there isn’t any life on Mars* that could be destroyed if or when humans begin living there, there are still plenty of ways for that social experiment to have devastating consequences for everyone who participates in it.

Just think of how many people died due to accidents, violence, disease, and malnutrition when Europeans first began living in Australia, the Americas, and other parts of the world. I hope I’m wrong about this, but I expect the death rate for the first few waves of people who move to Mars to be quite high as our species figures out how to survive on a planet that doesn’t even have a breathable atmosphere for us.

*to the best of our current scientific knowledge.

Example: The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson.

3. Diverse or Unlikely Heroes. 

I love it when writers create protagonists who don’t fit the audience’s expectations of what a hero should look like. There have been so many examples of young, straight, white men saving the world in various fictional universes that I’m always happy to see people from other demographic groups get an equal chance to fight bad guys, too.

Example: Buffy Summers from the 90’s TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

4. How Medical and Scientific Advancements Happened

This is by far the broadest category on this list, but I’m intrigued by how scientists and doctors solved any number of problems in the past that are either unknown in westernized cultures today or no longer exist anywhere in the world. The nice thing about reading about medical and scientific advancements is that the author generally spends most of their time talking about how that invention, cure, or breakthrough happened and how it changed society as a whole.

It’s been my experience that these sorts of books don’t spend much time at all discussing the graphic details of, say, a specific disease or injury. A portion of the first chapter might talk about the typical results for people before the invention of a certain drug or treatment, but generally everything else will be about how the researchers figured out a solution to the problem. I’ll endure a  brief discussion of surgery or gore early on if I’m otherwise interested in the topic and the author soon moves on to how that issue affected society as a whole and how the treatment or solution was eventually found.

Example: Breakthrough: Elizabeth Hughes, the Discovery of Insulin, and the Making of a Medical Miracle by Thea Cooper and Arthur Ainsberg.

5. How Social Justice Movements Actually Change the World.

It wasn’t until I became an adult that I learned that Martin Luther King, Jr. was widely hated by the mainstream culture before his assassination. He was seen by many white Americans as someone who was pushing for too much change too soon. This wasn’t something that was covered in any of my lessons about him in school, although after reading his wife’s memoir about their life together I wish it had been.

Sometimes the people who originally fought for a more just world aren’t around to see how all of those long years of hard work will begin to pay off.

Changing laws and public opinion on an issue takes time. It’s not generally something that will happen overnight, but it can happen. This is a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about over the past year or so, and it’s making me want to read more about what previous generations did to fix the things they saw that were wrong with their societies.

Example: My Life, My Love, My Legacy by Coretta Scott King.

6. Foster Care and Foster-Adoption.

For the past three generations, various relatives of mine have fostered and adopted children. Honestly, this would be my #1 choice for becoming a parent if I had the desire to raise children. There is an urgent need for foster parents here in North America, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the same could be said of many other parts of the world as well.

Having so many extended family members who were foster children makes my ears perk up every time a fiction or non-fiction book is written about this topic.

Example: Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter.

7. Rabbits Enjoying Adventures. 

Anyone who has known me longer than ten minutes will have some inkling of how much I love rabbits.

Anytime they show up as a main or secondary character in a story, I’m immediately interested in finding out what will happen to them.

There aren’t a lot of authors out there who write about rabbits going on quests, so I jump into every example of this niche I can find.

Example: Watership Down by Richard Adams.

8. Hopeful Visions of the Future.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m thirsty for stories that have a hopeful outlook on what is in store for humanity a few decades or centuries from now. The news is so full of fear and apprehension these days that I look for happier perspectives on what life will be like for future generations wherever I can find them.

Example: All of the Star Trek series.

9. Vengeful Ghosts Who Had a Point.

Many different types of ghost stories appeal to me, but the ones I enjoy the most are about folks who had excellent reasons for being so angry and restless in the afterlife.

There’s something emotionally satisfying about figuring out their backstories and seeing if the protagonists will finally be able to help them find the peace they were denied when they were still alive.

I’m also fascinated by how the actions of a small group of people can continue to negatively affect their descendants and/or community for generations to come. This regularly happens in non-paranormal ways in real life, and there often aren’t any easy answers for how to end those cycles once they begin.

Exploring this topic in a ghost story is a wonderful way to neutrally ask questions about justice, reconciliation, and what the current generation should be morally obligated to do to fix the mistakes of people who lived and died long ago.

Example: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill.

10. The Daily Lives of Prehistoric People.

I sure wouldn’t want to be part of a hunter-gatherer tribe in real life, but I love reading about characters who lived in that kind of society.

There is something fascinating to me about all of the different skills one would need to survive when you need to make, hunt, or gather everything you and your family need to survive.  I’m also drawn to the idea of living in such a tight-knit culture. It’s not something I’d want to do all day every day, but I do see the benefits of forging such strong bonds with others. Having so many adults working together must have made everything from raising children to looking after a sick or injured relative easier than it is in more individualistic cultures.

If there are Neanderthals or other now-extinct human (or human-like) species in the storyline, I’ll be even more interested since there are so many things that a skeleton, stone tool, or cave painting can’t tell you about what a group was actually like.

Example: The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron.

What topics are you always eager to read about?

10 Things That I Won’t Read About

This Thursday I’m planning to write a follow-up post to this one to discuss the themes and topics in books that I’m always interested in reading about. Since I’ve made several past references here to the sorts of stuff I dislike, I thought it would be a good idea to share the full list of things I won’t read about before diving into everything I love.

I’m the sort of reader who gleefully jumps from one genre to the next based on everything from the recommendations of certain people in my life to what I stumble across in the new arrivals section of my local library.

This list is going to do the same thing. No one genre can contain it, and any genre I read will occasionally include titles that fit one or more of the points on this list.

1. Sexy, Sparkly Monsters. 

I will happily read all sorts of stories about vampires, zombies, werewolves, and unnamed creatures stitched together by Dr. Frankenstein so long as these characters are not romanticized or de-fanged in any way. While I might feel other emotions ranging from compassion for them to concern for their future, monsters are first and foremost supposed to be frightening. If they don’t give me that initial jolt of fear, I won’t be very interested in them.

I know I’m in the minority here, but I also don’t find monsters sexually appealing in any way. This is even more true for the dead, and therefore possibly rotting, ones.

2. Sympathetic Portrayals of Bigotry.

There’s a massive difference to me between writing about a character who is deeply prejudiced against specific groups and the author or narrator working – consciously or unconsciously –  to make bigoted ideas themselves more palatable to the audience.

I believe that it’s a good thing to create three-dimensional characters, protagonists and villains alike. In no way would I expect every bigoted character to only be represented by their worst flaws. That isn’t how prejudice works in real life. Someone can be perfectly charming to friends or relatives while still doing and saying terrible things to the objects of their hate.

The juxtaposition of these personality traits can make excellent fodder for a story, but I still don’t believe it’s ethical to ever make excuses for the existence of hate or for the people who spread it.

3. Graphic Violence.

Occasional references to rape, torture, murder, and other acts of violence are okay with me, especially if they were integral to the development of the plot. However, my imagination is far too vivid for me to read detailed descriptions of these things without them coming back to haunt me later on.

I prefer types of conflict that don’t do that to me. This photo of a woman who dropped her ice cream cone is only tangentially related to this point, but the distraught expression on her face is about as much despair as I can handle before needing to move onto more cheerful subject matter.

4. Deus Ex Machina.

That is, I don’t like contrived endings or when characters who have been wrestling with a complex problem for hundreds of pages suddenly realize that the solution to their conflict was a simple fix a few sentences before the final scene.

I’d much rather have a sad ending than a happy one that doesn’t fit in with the tone of the rest of the tale.

5. Inspirational Fiction.

After multiple failed attempts to get into this genre, I came to the conclusion that it was never going to be my cup of tea no matter who wrote it. It is the only genre I’ve permanently given up on, and I felt a little sad about that for a long time.

6. Sermonizing. 

This rule definitely isn’t limited to religion in general, and it kicks in even if I happen to completely agree with the author’s point of view. Any topic can be sermonized if it is written by someone who is more interested in pushing a specific agenda than telling a satisfying story.

There’s a huge difference between writing a story that was influenced by your worldview and allowing your worldview to dictate how a story is told. I don’t have much patience for the latter at all.

7. One True Love Personality Transplants.

Okay, so this one might take a little explaining. I have no problem reading books that include romantic elements as a minor or major part of the plot. This isn’t an anti-romance rant at all.

What bothers me about certain characters falling in love, though, is when those experiences erase their personalities and identities.

Years ago I read a series about a character who had decided early in life never to have children. They had excellent reasons for that decision, and they stuck to it until the very end when they fell in love and suddenly changed their mind about having kids despite the fact that none of their reasons for making that choice had or could ever change.

This isn’t a type of storyline that I’m inherently opposed to, by the way. Not everyone knows what they want out of life when they’re a teenager, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with showing how a character changes their mind about a major life decision like this. It can be a fantastic way to demonstrate genuine character development when done properly.

The thing is, anyone who writes this sort of tale really should show how and why someone would change their mind about something so important to them. When such an important mind-shift is brushed away as a sign of True Love ™ five minutes after someone falls in love, I can’t help but to wonder how soon that character is going to deeply regret having kids (or moving thousands of miles away, or giving up their career, or making any other sort of drastic lifestyle change when there was no foreshadowing of them wanting those things for the vast majority of the plot).

8. Love Triangles.

If this wasn’t such a common trope in the romance genre, I’d probably read way more romance novels.

As someone who is polyamorous, I always hope the main character gets to keep dating both of the people they’ve fallen for. Why make them choose? They can love more than one person at a time and therefore free up the plot for more interesting types of conflict.

9. Needles, Blood, and Surgeries. 

Kudos to those of you who enjoy very detailed descriptions of what goes on in an operating room or doctor’s office, but this is something that makes my stomach turn.

I’d prefer to continue to know as little as possible about how exactly medical professionals fix the human body when it gets injured or sick. The fact that they’re (often) able to help people feel better is all I need or want to know.

10. Very Long Books. 

Other than J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien, I generally don’t read a lot of long-winded authors. Two or three hundred pages is more than enough space for me to get into a story in the vast majority of cases, so it would take something really special to convince me to jump into a very long read.

What topics are on your Do Not Read list?

Hopeful Science Fiction: Semiosis

Last June I blogged about my desire to read more hopeful science fiction. Since then I’ve talked about Woman on the Edge of Time and The Lovely Bones. Today I’m back with another suggestion.

If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter.

Semiosis

Sue Burke’s Semiosis is a 2018 hard science fiction novel about colonists from Earth who travel to a distant planet in hope of making it their permanent home. The storyline followed the original group of explorers as well as their descendants for several generations. They knew almost nothing about the planet they named Pax  before they arrived there, so preparing in advance for what they were about to experience wasn’t easy.

Nearly every chapter in this book showed how the most recent generation in this timeline adapted to the many challenges they faced while attempting to survive on a planet where RNA, not DNA, was the building block of life. Generally, one chapter was assigned to each new generation as they came of age and began making decisions for their community.

Th experiences of the first generation were promising. The land was covered in vegetation, much of which their scans showed was safe and nutritious for humans. They quickly began attempting to build shelters and adjust to the many differences that came with living in such an alien environment.

Plot-Based, Not Character-Based

As you might have already guessed, this was a plot-based novel. Since each section more or less introduced an entirely new cast of characters (based on how many members of the previous generation had managed to live to see old age), there wasn’t a great deal of time for any one character to steal the spotlight.

I normally have a strong preference for character-based stories, so I did need some time to adjust to the fact that I would only have a short amount of time with any of the fascinating people I met as one generation was slowly replaced by the next.

Given how long it took the original group of immigrants to realize that many of their assumptions about what life on a distant plant would be like were completely wrong, it made sense for the whole adventure to unfold slowly over the courses of multiple lifetimes as new generations built on the knowledge their parents and grandparents had painstakingly put together. No individual human could ever live long enough to gather all of the clues they did over such a long period of time.

However, I would have liked to see more continuity between the generations. I understood why the lifespans were shorter for humans, especially in the beginning, but I spent so little time with the many characters that I didn’t feel like I bonded with any of them. They were there in one scene and then sometimes gone in the next.

Persistence

There are many details about the plot that I can’t share with you without giving away huge spoilers. Needless to say, the characters in this book were surprised over and over again by what life was really like on their new home in just about every way you can imagine. The food obviously didn’t taste anything like food does on Earth. Calibrating what was and wasn’t dangerous on this planet was hard for them, too, as well due to how little they knew about life on it ahead of it.

All of their previous training was useful, but it couldn’t have possibly prepared them for everything they were about to experience. They had no way to contact Earth, leave Pax, or receive any additional supplies, so they had to figure out ways to keep going no matter what happened to them.

The first generation had some really rough experiences due to a string of bad luck and not having the right types of supplies at critical moments. It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though. There were conversations about ordinary things like unpacking the ship or how to decide when to switch from the food they brought with them to scavenging for a fresh dinner. I especially loved the characters’ contagious excitement at finally getting to explore the land without having any idea what they might find there.

Mixing those moments of grief in with all of the other emotions they experienced was a nice touch. It reminded me a lot of what happens in real life when someone is dealing with a difficult problem but also still has to do totally mundane things like sweep their floor, plan dinner, or take their pet for a walk. Life is hard sometimes, but it still goes on.

This feeling returned once they realized there was an intelligent life form on that planet that all of their previous scans of it had failed to pick up. I couldn’t stop reading once I reached this section, and it only got better from there.

The Big Picture

There are two reasons why I’m recommending this as a hopeful science fiction read.

Number one, we’ve all had days that were so frustrating or painful they felt like they’d never end.

This book could describe a day like that and then zoom out and see how that experience mattered (or didn’t matter) in the longterm. There were questions asked early on that didn’t receive answers until decades or even generations later.

There’s something comforting in seeing that pattern play out over and over again. What doesn’t make sense to us now might make sense years from now. Alternatively, it might fade away and not be meaningful at all after enough time has passed.

Number two, things did improve for the characters over time. The tragedies they experienced were real, but so was the hope they found as they adjusted to the challenges they faced and figured out how to look after themselves long after all of their Earth supplies had run out.

What hopeful science fiction stories have you been reading recently?

5 Books About Mindfulness I’d Like to Read

While I still don’t maintain an active TBR list, the books listed below have caught my attention. I’ve requested almost all of them from my local library, and I’m looking forward to reading them this autumn as they become available. Look below the images of the various titles for my brief explanations on why each title appeals to me so much.

In general, I prefer books about mindfulness to approach this topic from a scientific point of view. I also appreciate it when they talk about how mindfulness can improve someone’s life in practical ways that are easy to apply to one’s everyday routines. For example, one of the titles in this list talks about living with chronic pain or illnesses. Another title focuses on how something as simple as paying attention to what you’re eating at mealtimes can be an excellent way to remain in the moment.

I can’t and won’t officially recommend any of these books until I’ve read them, but I thought my readers might like a peek at what I’ll hopefully be checking out in the near future.

Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics: A 10% Happier How-to Book by Dan Harris

As a fidgety skeptic myself, I’m looking forward to seeing what on Earth this author is going to recommend to those of us who fit these two categories. The title made me smile, and I’m hoping the content will as well.

Practicing Peace in Times of War by Pema Chödrön

I’m a peaceful person, but there are occasionally times when the actions of others get under my skin.  I’m very good at walking away when someone is trying to get a rise out of me, but I’d like to become better at de-escalating those interactions as soon as they begin.

Love for Imperfect Things: How to Accept Yourself in a World Striving for Perfection by Haemin Sunim. Translated by Deborah Smith

This is a little further down the New Age scale than I usually read, but I’m curious to se what the author has to say about perfectionism, self-care, and accepting love. I also think it’s a good idea to occasionally read stuff that’s out of your comfort zone.

Living Well with Pain and Illness: The Mindful Way to Free Yourself from Suffering by Vidyamala Burch.

As an able-bodied person who has never been seriously ill or in chronic pain, my main purpose for reading this book is to get a small glimpse of what mindfulness looks like for people who are living with these sorts of health problems.

I appreciate it when monosexual people and and men take the time to listen to my experiences as a bisexual woman. There’s something to be said for seeking out the perspectives of folks whose experiences of the world could be very different from your own when they’re willing to share their stories.

Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life by Thich Nhat Hanh and Lilian Wai-Yin Cheung

The authors’ exploration of the emotional side of eating is what I’m most curious to read about in this book. I’m not currently trying to change my weight, but I would like to hear what they have to say about food that’s eaten because someone is feeling strong emotions. This is something that most of the health and fitness bloggers I follow don’t talk about very much or even at all.

What books about mindfulness do you find helpful? Have you read any of the books on my list? If so, what did you think of them?

Hopeful Science Fiction: The Lovely Bones

This past June I blogged about my desire to read more hopeful science fiction. Last month I reviewed Woman on the Edge of Time as my first selection for this list. Today I’m back with a review of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones.

If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter.

As I mentioned last month, the books I include in this series don’t have to start off in a hopeful place, and I don’t require them to shy away from difficult topics. I’m including a trigger warning for today’s review because The Lovely Bones does begin with a teenage girl being raped and murdered by someone who lived in her neighbourhood.

The story briefly discussed the end of this character’s life without going into any graphic details about it, and I will be talking about it even less than the narrator did. However, I want everyone who reads the rest of this post or check outs this book for themselves to be fully aware of those potentially upsetting references ahead of time.

The Lovely Bones

Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones was first published in 2002. The story it told began in the 1970s with the disappearance and violent death of the protagonist, a fourteen-year-old girl named Susie. Her parents and siblings struggled to move on with their lives without knowing for sure what had happened to her, and the main character found it equally difficult to say goodbye to a life that had only just begun for her.

Interestingly enough, the plot had much less to do with how Susie died than what she decided to do with her time after her death.

The afterlife Susie was welcomed into was everything anyone could hope for. There were no harsh judgements awaiting her or anything like that. She was loved, cared for, and reassured in a safe, happy place as she adjusted to the thought of a future she could have never predicted ahead of time.

Yet she still wanted to return to the life she’d once had. This yearning that Susie felt to reconnect with her loved ones was overwhelming at times, and it made her an incredibly sympathetic character. Anyone would have felt the same way in her shoes. I wanted her to find a way back home more than anything, but I couldn’t imagine how the plot could ever bend in that direction.

Grief

One of the things I wish I could change about western culture is the way it reacts to grief. There’s an expectation in many western societies that one should grieve quietly, briefly, and in private. I’d like to make it clear that there’s nothing wrong with this kind of grief, but it’s not the only way to respond to loss.

The Lovely Bones showed characters who grieved in many different ways. Some of them spent years trying to figure out what happened to Susie. Others moved as far away from the town where Susie had lived as they possibly could or buried themselves in various projects as a way to cope with the past. Even Susie herself had to figure out how to say goodbye to the life she expected to have so she could embrace the (after)life she was experiencing instead.

There’s no shortcut through grief. As hard as it was at times to watch the characters mourn everything they’d lost, I appreciated their realistic responses to the days, weeks, months, years, and decades that followed after the heartbreaking opening scene. These were some of the best portions of the book. I’m not embarrassed to admit that they occasionally brought a tear to my eye.

Acceptance

Pain is unfortunately a part of life for every living thing. While some know more of it than others do, no one that I’ve ever met has been able to escape it entirely.

What The Lovely Bones did exceptionally well was to show how someone can accept what has happened to them without anyone making excuses for the perpetrators or calling those experiences good ones by any stretch of the imagination.

It’s been my experience that some well-meaning people will do both of those things in an attempt to help the person who was hurt begin to heal. They almost always have no idea they’re actually making the problem worse, but it was still refreshing to read about characters who tried to find acceptance without downplaying what happened or pretending like it had some mystical or uplifting purpose that Susie needed to discover in order to move on with her (after)life.

One of the few criticisms I have of this tale has to do with Susie’s multiple attempts to accept what had happened to her. The plot went into a lot of detail about her resistance to this idea early on, but it wasn’t quite as thorough in later chapters once her siblings grew up and began to find their own sense of peace. I can’t say much else about this without giving away spoilers, but the ending would have been even better if the audience could have seen more examples of Susie’s later reactions to this topic.

Hope

The hope in this story arrived gradually. Don’t look too hard for it in the first few scenes or chapters. Just like what often happens in real life, it will take time for everyone to adjust to their new reality and for certain parts of the plot to be set into motion before you begin to realize what will await Susie and everyone who loved her.

You see, hope isn’t something you get one dose of and then are set for life. There’s nothing delicate or whimsical about this emotion.  It also won’t magically appear and make every problem in your life disappear in a puff of smoke. (If only life worked that way!)

To see the true effects of hope over a long period of time, one often has to look at the longterm evolution of a person, memory, idea, or wish. What will happen to this individual in ten years? How does someone live with decades of unanswered questions? What might be waiting for you on the other side of unimaginable grief?

The beauty of this tale comes in how it defines and describes this concept for people who aren’t interested in pat answers or ignoring the types of pain that make hope so meaningful for those who seek it.

Summer Worlds I’d Like to Visit

Last January I blogged about the winter worlds I wish I could visit. Now that we’re well into the month of August and temperates are soaring, I thought it would be a good time to revisit this topic from a summery perspective. One of the differences between this list and the one I did for winter… Read More

What to Read When It’s Hot Outside

Last winter I shared a list of books that I’d recommend checking out when it’s cold outside. All of them were set during the winter because sometimes I like to match the settings in the stories I read to what the weather in Ontario is like at that a particular time of the year. Now… Read More

Hopeful Science Fiction: Woman on the Edge of Time

Last month, I blogged about my desire to step back from the dystopian genre and read hopeful science fiction instead. The rules were simple. I didn’t require a story to start out in a hopeful or happy place, but I did want to read scifi that ended that way. Since then, I’ve started to compile… Read More

My Favourite Canadian Books

Happy belated Canada Day! One of the most interesting parts of moving to Canada was getting to read some of the amazing books that have been written by Canadian authors over the years. From what I’ve observed, there seems to be a lot of Canadian literature that isn’t necessarily that well-known in the United States.… Read More

My Favourite LGBT Books

Happy Pride month! Today I thought it would be fun to share some of my favourite LGBT-themed books in honour of all of the Pride festivities that have been and are still going on here in Toronto. Rainbow flags are popping up everywhere, and that’s always a heart-warming thing to see at this time of… Read More