May 12, 2012

Book Buying Binge

Filed under: bloggery,life,recommended reading — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 7:49 pm

Well of Books via SuperpunchI’ve been on a book buying binge. I blame Amazon recommendations – which were actually spot on for a change instead of suggesting books based on presents I bought for other people. I came back from Wales to a heap of oblongs all for me:

  • Wither by Lauren DeStafano (I’ve already greedied this one up, first of a trilogy in which women die at 20 and boys at 25)
  • Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough (Tamsin should be a powerful witch but appears to have no magic at all)
  • Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George (re-imagining of the 12 Dancing Princesses)
  • Brideshead Revisted by Evelyn Waugh (I’ve never read Brideshead, shocking – I know)

But that’s not all of it. More oblongs are eagerly expected including:

  • Wired by Robin Wasserman
  • Crashed by Robin Wasserman (both are sequels to Skinned, which is awesome)
  • Trickster’s Choice by Tamora Pierce
  • Trickster’s Queen by Tamora Pierce (more in the Tortall universe in which I already have 3 other series about Alanna, Daine and Keladry respectively)

It’s not as though I’ve finished my “to read” pile which is actually more of a “to read” shelf nowadays. I think I’m going to have to have another clear out, always painful, to fit the new stuff in. And now I’m going to have to get the sequels to Wither as well. I am being sucked into a vortex of books.

September 15, 2011

Q&A Friday

Filed under: bloggery,Q&A,recommended reading — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 11:50 pm

Rhiannon answers your questions here on her blog.

What have you been reading recently?
Rhiannon: More Steph Swainston: The Modern World and Above the Snowline.

What have you been writing recently?
Rhiannon: Nothing significant but thoughts are percolating.

What else have you been doing?
Rhiannon: I attended an inspirational and thought-provoking conference: Women + Leadership, hosted by Oxford Brookes University. I’ve also been revising my school visits and preparing a new set of creative writing workshops.

What would you like to ask your readers today?
Rhiannon: What would you like a writer’s workshop to include?

February 4, 2011

Feminist-friendly YA fiction

Filed under: recommended reading — Tags: , — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 2:00 pm

The furore I posted about yesterday has inspired me to do a new recommendations list of feminist-friendly YA novels.

But, before I launch into it, what qualifies something in my mind to appear on this list. Here are the factors I am currently working on:

  1. Equal billing, equality of opportunity: women and girls should be presented as equal to men and boys. Ideally there should be as many female characters as male and in similarly ranked professions e.g. fiction with three male doctors and three female nurses would not count
  2. Passes Bechdel test: girls must talk together about something other than boys
  3. Avoids stereotyping: boys are allowed to like pink and dislike sport, girls are allowed to enjoy sport and aren’t inevitably interested in fashion.

Okay so those three are givens. I think there are probably lots of other potential criteria too though – elements that aren’t required but would increase the feminist-friendly nature of the work. For example:

  • Characters discover/learn/engage with feminist issues e.g. equal pay, reproductive freedom, harmfulness of the beauty industry etc
  • Matriarchal fantasy society or similar female empowerment, unless presented as vile dystopia

Does anyone have ideas to add to these?

An example recommendation, on these terms, with an explanation, might read:

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
In the fairytale kingdom of Ingary, oldest sister Sophie expects to fail first and worst at everything she tries. But when a wicked witch’s curse turns her life upside down she sets off to seek her fortune. Strong and intelligent female characters strew the pages of this book from Sophie and her sisters to the Witch of the Waste herself. Some readers might cavil at the romance plot which suggests the love of a good woman redeems a shiftless man but this is expressed with emotional realism and doesn’t fall back on an easy ‘happy ever after’ ending.

February 3, 2011

Censorship or responsiveness?

Bitch magazine posted a list of “100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader”. The original list included Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan, Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce and Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott. After receiving critique that Tender Morsels validates (by failing to critique or discuss) rape as an act of vengeance, Sister’s Red has a victim-blaming scene and Living Dead Girl is triggering, the editors decided to remove/replace the books commenting: “We still feel that these books have merit and would not hesitate to recommend them in certain instances, but we don’t feel comfortable keeping them on this particular list.”

John Scalzi posted about this on his blog and reported that:

a number of high profile, award-winning and/or bestselling YA authors, including Scott Westerfeld, Justine Larbalestier, Maureen Johnson and Ellen Kages hit the roof and show up in the comments to demand their own books be removed from the list as well.

But I’m not so sure that this deserves to be called censorship. I find myself feeling differently about this than I did about a teenage literary festival disinviting guest of honour Ellen Hopkins after one librarian challenged the suitability of her work. Is Bitch really wrong to ensure that their list of YA books is feminist-friendly? If a book had made it on to the list but had the conclusion that a feisty female character should stop being such a tomboy and wear high heels, they’d surely be right to remove it. Obviously in an ideal world they’d have researched, read and discussed all the titles before putting them on the list but even a book might be challenged by a reader who noticed something the editors didn’t.

I haven’t read any of the contentious titles so I don’t know if the criticism is validated. (I turn out to have read only 17/100 so I need to get to the local library and check out all the books I’ve missed.) I am a little uncomfortable with one person making a complaint and then the list being changed. Although, in the case of Sister’s Red the commenter did link to another blog post with 98 comments at the BookSmugglers blog on the potential problems with the book.

Part of being an active feminist or feminist ally means listening when someone tells you that text or imagery is problematic, that the message you are sending is not the one you intended to send, that you need to think harder, think deeper about certain ideas and concepts.

Does Scott Westerfield’s status as a published YA author of a book on the list or his opinion that Tender Morsels is a good book constitute more valid grounds for inclusion than the complainants’ grounds for exclusion?

What do you think, readers? Bitch made a mistake, I think we can all agree on that. But what was their mistake? Including the books in the first place? Taking them off the list again?

Is this censorship or response to criticism? (Interestingly one commenter liked the list but thought it was inappropriate to show to a teenage girl because it includes the word ‘bitch’, the name of the magazine. Now that *is* censorship and the magazine rightly refused to remove their own name from the list. I can usually tell what is and what isn’t censorship.)

Let me know your thoughts. And also how many of the books on the list you’ve read – or if you’ve read the three contentious titles.

September 8, 2010

Women writers: SF edition

Filed under: links,recommended reading — Tags: , — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 9:11 am

A friend of mine was recently disappointed to find that almost all the staff-recommended books listed in well-known London SF book store Forbidden Planet were by men. She has blogged about this herself here: Elevating women writers. She asked me and some other friends to make suggestions of female authors of SF to propose to the staff of Forbidden Planet and this is what we came up with.

(The list is the same as on frax’s journal, but I’ve alphabetised it for my own convenience.)

Lois McMaster Bujold – Vorkosigan saga
Octavia Butler – the Parable of the Talents/Lilith’s Brood
Trudi Cannavan – The Black Magician series
Susanna Clarke – Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
Barbara Hambly – Darwath/Dragonsbane
Elizabeth Haydon – Rhapsody series
Robin Hobb – The Tawny Man trilogy/The Liveship Traders series
Gwyneth Jones – The Aleutian Series
Katherine Kerr – Palace series/Deverry series
Mercedes Lackey – The Last Herald Mage trilogy
Tanith Lee – Tales from the Flat Earth/The Silver Metal Lover/Drinking Sapphire Wine
Ursula Le Guin – The Earthsea Trilogy/ The Left Hand of Darkness/The Dispossessed
R. A. MacAvoy – The Lens of the World series/ Tea with the Black Dragon
Julian May – Saga of the Exiles
Patricia McKillip – The Riddle Master Trilogy/ Fool’s Run
Robin McKinley – The Blue Sword/The Hero and the Crown
Elizabeth Moon – The Sheepfarmer’s Daughter
Andre Norton – Witch World series/Red Hart Magic
Naomi Novik – Temeraire series
Mary Doria Russell – The Sparrow/Children of God
Felicity Savage – Humility Garden/Delta City
Sheri S Tepper – The Gate to Women’s Country/The Margarets/Beauty.
James Tiptree – Writes SF short stories, all of them are recommended.
Joan D. Vinge – The Snow Queen Cycle/ Cat
Michelle West – The Sacred Hunt and The Sun Sword series

Does anyone have further suggestions of SF women writers to add?

June 2, 2010

My favourite authors: Diana Wynne Jones

Filed under: bloggery,growing up,my favourite authors,recommended reading — Tags: , — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 4:08 pm

Each book is an experiment, an attempt to write the ideal book, the book my children would like, the book I didn’t have as a child myself. I have still not, after twenty-odd books, written that book. – Diana Wynne Jones

I’ve been reading about Diana Wynne Jones on her official website, prompted by the sad news in Ansible that her oncologist fears she “has ‘months rather than years’”. I have loved Diana’s work for years. I still vividly remember reading Howl’s Moving Castle at age ten and laughing myself silly but even that wasn’t the first DWJ book I’d read. I’d found Witch Week a couple of years earlier but hadn’t made the connection. From age eleven I was following her work compulsively. My mother and I both loved Fire and Hemlock but I was particular found of her more sf titles: A Tale of Time City and The Homeward Bounders. I’ve recently been re-reading my collection of her books for the umpteenth time and noticed that the more I read it the better I like The Time of the Ghost and how clear it is to me as an adult and a writer myself how much of her own childhood experience she puts into her work.

There are so many of her books I love. For sheer hilarity and imagination I don’t think books come much better than Archer’s Goon. I think overall I prefer the novels where she uses her own vast store of creativity to imagine beings who are mysteriously magical to the ones in which she draws on mythic themes and resonances. (Eight Days of Luke employed the norse gods, Hexwood an assortment of mythic figures and Fire and Hemlock and  Enchanted Glass the seelie court.) I do appreciate a good mythic reimagining but Diana can create powerful characters and strong ideas of her own without relying on borrowed power.  In her Chrestomanci series she created a central character, a surrounding world and an expansive multiverse which is iconic in the fantasy genre and has doubtless influenced a number of other YA writers.

My own writing has definitely been influenced by Diana’s work. The relationships and dysfunctions of families is a strong theme in her work and has become so in mine. I’ve also endeavoured to emulate her smooth transitions between the magical and the mundane: in settings, plotting and the way my characters think.

Having read Diana’s words quoted above about her attempts to write the ideal book – the one she wanted as a child – I feel a strong empathy with that impulse. I also have not yet written my ideal book although I feel that I am getting closer to it. But my conception of what the ideal book is comes from Diana Wynne Jones’s work. She and Margaret Mahy have set the standard I aspire to and drawn the map of of the fictional landscape I inhabit.

I have never met Diana but I feel as though I know her through how much of herself she has given to her readers. My thoughts are with her and her family in this difficult time and I hope very much that she will surprise the medical profession. With all that she has given us, she still has more to give. Meanwhile I’m returning to reread the rest of my collection and to fill in the astounding gap. I think there are two whole novels of hers I inaccountably don’t possess.

July 29, 2009

Reference works

Filed under: Advice for writers,LibraryThing,recommended reading — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 5:07 pm

In my home office I have several book shelves. The one closest to my desk is my reference works shelf. This is where I keep my standard reference works (those I often refer to) and specific works I have consulted while writing particular books. This is a short piece about the reference works I have. All links are to LibraryThing and by visiting my reference works collection page on LibraryThing you can find out more about each book.

This is what my shelf looks like: (from 3 photographs photoshopped together)
reference works

On the right hand side are the more standard reference works. You can see the Collins dictionary of the English language, the The Penguin Dictionary of First Names (useful for naming characters), The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, Roget’s Thesaurus, and various other useful tomes. It’s not all serious stuff. I have Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss and Red Herrings And White Elephants by Albert Jack. I also have The New Oxford Book of English Verse which is strictly speaking a poetry collection and should really be with my other poetry books. But this is a really useful reference to have if your characters are given to quotation. I suppose I could keep my collected Shakespeare here as well but it’s a pretty big book and the shelf is not infinite. I do have The Penguin Dictionary of Quotations to hand.

To the left of those you can probably spot the Italian dictionary and the book of French sayings. My other French books are at work where I last left them after taking some classes in French. My modern languages are not very good but that’s what the reference works are for. I would advise that you don’t attempt creating a character who speaks a foreign language fluently unless you’ve got a pretty good grasp of that language yourself though!

The Marketing Genius book is for my other job (in Marketing and Communications) but is also useful for an aspiring writer. More specifically for writers are How Not to Write a Novel by David Armstrong and Research for Writers by Ann Hoffmann (no relation). Every writer should have a copy of the Writers and Artists Yearbook but I’ve either lent or given my most recent copy to someone else. Nonetheless it’s a big yellow book and you will need one.

I’ve also got some books about culture and society here. I have Communities in Cyberspace, Tomorrow’s People: How 21st Century Technology is Changing the Way We Think and Feel, Former Child Stars: The Story of America’s Least Wanted, and Why Do People Hate America?. These are some of my particular choices which relate to my interests and my writing but there are some I particularly recommend for everyone. For example Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum, a really excellent introduction to some of the issues, perceptions and false perceptions that cluster around the concepts of race, identity, division and alliance. I also have two books by Terri Apter, someone I know personally and whose work I particularly admire. The two books I have are psychological studies of friendships between girls and relationships between girls and their mothers.

Because I am primarily a science fiction and fantasy author, I have a number of books about writing in that genre as well as a lot of reference works you can see on the far left of the shelf: the Dictionary of Imaginary Places, the New Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, the The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction by Edward James and The History of Science Fiction by Adam Roberts.

I have been recommending for years How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card. It’s a very good intro to the basics of effective plotting in an alien world. I have a lot of other books in a similar vein and I recommend scrolling through the list on LibraryThing. Deconstructing the Starships by Gwyneth Jones is advanced reading, in that it expects you to be familiar with certain genre classics. The Tough Guide to Fantasyland also expects a certain familiarity of fantasy tropes and serves as a humorous guide to genre clichés.

The other books currently on these shelves either relate to Roundabout, a contempory teenage fiction novel about travellers I published with Macmillan a few years ago, or to Ghost of a Chance, my forthcoming teenage supernatural thriller for Oxford University Press. If you’re interested in the kind of books I read as research, these are pretty good examples. For example, the collection I’ve amassed for Ghost of a Chance includes: Life in the English Country House: A Social and Architectural History, A Country House at Work: Three Centuries of Dunham Massey, What the Butler Saw: Two Hundred and Fifty Years of the Servant Problem, The Big House: The Story of a Country House and Its Family, Keeping Their Place: Domestic Service in the Country House, The Music Room and Truly Weird: Real-Life Cases Of The Paranormal. As you can see, I am referring to information about history, architecture, social history, servant culture, aristocratic culture and one book about the paranormal. I have also written a book about the paranormal for which there were an earlier set of reference works, now shelved elsewhere, which is why there’s only one book of this type although the novel will be a lot more supernatural in tone and subject. Handle with Care: An Investigation into the Care System is a reference work for another potential novel, as is The Parenting Puzzle: How to Get the Best Out of Family Life.

There are currently 61 reference works on this shelf and this does not include those sitting on my too read pile or the four new books that arrived through the post today. If you’re viewing the library thing page in a couple of months you may see a shift in what’s collected here.

At a later date I’ll write about how I use fiction for reference, but for that we’ll need to explore and catalogue the 10 shelves of my science fiction and fantasy collection and I’ve not yet listed them all on LibraryThing.

I hope that’s been useful and interesting as a tour through one writer’s collection of reference works. If you’d like to explore what else I’ve catalogued online with LibraryThing or to link to me there, please feel free. Some books have my ratings and comments attached and you can also use my tags to find out what books I have in certain categories or genres. Start by visiting my reference works collection page on LibraryThing and then explore from there.

April 2, 2009

Classic children's fiction

Filed under: recommended reading — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 10:47 am

Another list of recommendations, this one is for authors of classic children’s fiction.

  • Joan Aiken, author of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, its eleven sequels, the thirteen Arabel and Mortimer titles, and other novels
  • Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, its three sequels and other titles
  • Frances Hodgson Burnett, author of A Little Princess, Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Secret Garden
  • Helen Cresswell, author of Ordinary Jack and nine other Bagthorpe saga titles
  • Richmal Crompton, author of Just William and thrity-nine other William titles in addition to numerous unrelated works
  • Lorna Hill, author of A Dream of Sadlers Wells and nineteen other ballet school titles
  • Geraldine McCaughrean, author of A Pack of Lies, A Little Lower Than the Angels, Stop the Train and various other titles
  • L. M. Montgomery, author of Emily of New Moon and two sequels, as well as of Anne of Green Gables and numerous sequels
  • Noel Streatfeild, author of Ballet Shoes and many other titles
  • Mildred D. Taylor, author of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and other titles

March 9, 2009

Books of colour

Filed under: recommended reading — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 7:30 am

Events in the blogosphere have inspired me to post another list of recommendations, this is for fiction by or about people of colour.

Authors of colour

  • Octavia Butler, science-fiction author of Wildseed and the Xenogenesis series
  • Steven Barnes, science-fiction author of The Descent of Anansi, Dream Park, The Legacy of Heorot and other titles
  • Rosa Guy, author of young adult fiction including The Friends, Ruby, Edith Jackson and other titles
  • Kazuo Ishiguro, author of The Remains of the Day, When We Were Orphans and Never Let Me Go
  • Mildred E. Taylor, author of the Logan family series for young adults which includes Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Let the Circle Be Unbroken, and The Road to Memphis

Books with characters of colour

  • Across Realtime, science-fiction by Vernor Vinge
  • Come a Stranger, young adult fiction by Cynthia Voigt
  • Lionboy by Zizou Corder (one half of the Zizou Corder partnership is the biracial British author Isabel Adomakoh Young)
  • The Ear, the Eye and the Arm, young adult science-fiction by Nancy Farmer
  • The Other Side of Truth by Beverly Naidoo

This list is shorter than it ought to be so please add your own recommendations. I hope to expand the list myself later this year. If you’re looking for more works by authors of colour try the following links:

March 3, 2009

Post-apocalyptic fiction

Filed under: recommended reading — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 12:00 pm

Seriously, what is it with Monica Hughes? Why can’t anyone remember what books she wrote? If you haven’t read them already go and find Devil On My Back and The Dreamcatcher. Monica Hughes, people! She deserves to be remembered.

And to bulk out this entry a bit here are some more post-apocalyptic fiction recommendations since both Hughes titles are set after a nuclear holocaust event. I’m keeping myself to ten titles or I’ll be here forever. All are young-adult – or can pass as such. All contain some reference to adult themes. I’d advise these for readers aged 13+.

  • Brother in the Land by Robert Swindells (1984)
  • Children of the Dust by Louise Lawrence (1985)
  • Deepwater Black by Ken Catran (1995)
  • Exodus by Julie Bertagna (2002)
  • Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve (2001)
  • Noah’s Castle by John Rowe Townsend (1975)
  • Shade’s Children by Garth Nix (1997)
  • The Chrysalids by John Wyndham (1955)
  • When the Tripods Came by John Christopher (1988)
  • Z for Zachariah by Robert O’Brian (1975)

On LibraryThing (the library cataloguing website) I have some of these and other adult titles saved under the tag post-holocaust.

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