Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Reading...Red Rising

Red Rising (Red Rising Trilogy, #1)Darrow is the Helldiver of Lycos. A miner in the depths of Mars, Darrow and his fellow "Reds" harvest the mineral needed to terraform and colonize Mars. Their world is a harsh one, but it's the life they were born to, members of the lowest caste in a strict caste-based society ruled by Golds. But Darrow's wife Eo dreams of a better life, a life with more justice, more freedom, more choices. She dies a martyr in a simple act of rebellion, after urging Darrow to fight for better. Still reeling from his grief and anger, Darrow is kidnapped by the Sons of Ares, a rebel group intent on fighting against the caste system and rule of the Gods. He learns that the world he thought he knew was nothing but a lie intent on keeping the Reds docile slaves. But the rebels have a plan for their angry young miner: turn him into a God and send him to the Institute that trains the Peerless Golds, the elite among the ruling class. Put himself in a position to lead a revolution, not just a rebellion. So Darrow becomes what he hates, his rage fueling him as he enters the Institute, a glorified war game whose purpose is to teach and harden the best and brightest of the soft aristocrats. Darrow begins to learn that life as a Gold is more complicated than he thought. He makes enemies and even friends, and learns that their "school" isn't all that it seems. And in the process becomes truly Peerless.
It was an interesting experience reading this book. As I told my book group, at times I was simultaneously bored and glued to the page. To be fair, dystopian fiction in general isn't really my jam, but I thought maybe it was more than that, so I tried to break it down a bit. The things that didn't work for me: the writing at the beginning felt a little flat and one-note. It's very dramatic and supposed to be heartbreaking, but I just didn't feel it. And it took me a while to really get interested in Darrow as a character. I felt at the beginning that he was just kind of a one-note guy. Talented and handsome and angry and abused. Blah, blah, blah. BUT...ultimately, the were a lot of things that did work for me: For one thing, if Darrow was kind of a flat character for me at first, some of the secondary characters that show up began to breath life into the world, and they began to make Darrow more interesting too. In addition, I really enjoyed the world that the author created. The authors nicely sets up the evolution for this reality -- you can see how the world got from point A (our reality) to point B. The world is heavily influenced by the structure of the Roman pantheon and culture, which I found creative. I also liked the plot, and it's the plot that kept me going past my initial ho-hum reaction. It was exciting and dark and brutal, and I just really wanted to know what happened. Which means I'm definitely going to get my hands on the next book Golden Son.

Bottom line: a solid dystopian novel with an exciting plot and interesting world. Definitely worth a try.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Reading...Bird by Bird

A friend of mine recommended Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott many years ago, and I see it pop up frequently on what-to-read-if-you-want-to-be-a-better-writer lists. And there is a reason, because this book is fantastic. I was probably a chapter in, and already thinking "why did I not read this sooner!" It sat on my shelf for almost 10 years, and I kept kicking myself for not picking it up sooner. 

In this book Lamott shares with readers what she teaches at her writing workshops. She shares what she's learned over decades of writing, essentially saying this is what works for me and for most of the other writers I know. She starts at the beginning, discussing the craft of writing, the work of telling stories. She talks about writing as a vocation, a calling -- and how that affects life and relationships and how writers see themselves. She talks about why we write, about the lure of publication, but how we need to write for more than just that. 
This is the first book of Anne Lamott's that I've read, but I want to go to the library and grab everything she's done. She's funny, gracious, generous, and sarcastic. 

Bottom line: if you're a writer and haven't already picked up this book, do yourself a favor. If you're not a writer, you might just enjoy it anyway!

Monday, April 13, 2015

No accounting for taste

Sometimes, it seems like there's a book (or author, or series) that everyone seems to rave about and I just can't bring myself to join the club. But I've learned there's no need to apologize for that -- not everyone has the same taste, and not every book is for everyone. There are a lot of things that might turn me off of a book: the writing style, the plot, and yes, even the characters. I hesitate to admit that these days, particularly because apparently there's a lot of discussion out there on "unlikable" and "likable" characters in fiction. Stacked and Book Riot  have both written or hosted thoughtful posts on the subject. And I get where they're coming from, especially when people use the "unlikeable" label on a character in a way that continues to put unfair pressure on young people (girls in particular) to be "perfect." 

That said...

Sometimes in real life, I just don't want to spend time with a person, and sometimes I don't want to spend time with a fictional person either. And I get what this author is saying when she points out that reading books with characters we don't like can help us to be better human beings. It can help us stretch and grow and maybe even be a little more compassionate. And I often read books with characters I don't like (on a side note: does anyone agree that there's a difference between "characters I don't like" and the current use of "unlikable character"?). But in that case, there's something else compelling about the book that keeps me going. Sometimes, even that so-called "unlikable" character is compelling enough that I want to read about them. 

But sometimes, I just don't want to spend time with that character/characters anymore. There is nothing about the story or secondary characters to keep me interested, and I just respectfully walk away. And you know what? I'm not sorry about that. Yes, I feel bad for not liking your book, but there are probably a bunch of people out there who love it. And that's awesome. It's just that sometimes I feel the need to tell people: it's okay to not like a book. It's okay to not like a character in a book. And it's okay to decide to spend your time somewhere else.

Monday, April 6, 2015

A Monday list

Today is a list making day. We went out of town this past weekend and got in relatively late last night. So today's a catch-up and make lists kind of day. My to-do list is growing ambitiously long, but maybe I can keep some momentum this week. All that to say, that I was going to post something witty and clever tomorrow, but in the spirit of the day I thought it seemed an appropriate day to post a nice little list of things that are making happy today:

1. Weddings. Our Easter weekend travel was to attend the wedding of a dear friend. It's the second wedding we've been to in the past month or so (this being the start of wedding season after all), and I just love weddings. Saturday's event was lovely, sweet, intimate, and personal. It was a privilege to share the weekend with our friends-who-are-family.

2. Easter pictures. Following some advice in Accidental Creative, I've been trying to make my social media use more minimal and deliberate (for example: check Facebook only once a day for a set number of minutes instead of mindlessly throughout the day), but I can't stay away from all the adorable Easter weekend pictures of friends and family. Spending time celebrating spring (new life), fun, and happy times with friends or family is, in my opinion, a fitting way to celebrate Christ's resurrection. Bring on the joy!

3. Iced coffee. I busted out the Toddy brewer last week and made a batch of iced coffee. It's warming up here in South Texas, and I've been craving iced coffee like nobody's business.

4. A washer and dryer at my house. Sometimes, it's the little things. Although, one could argue that this is a big thing. I'm always thankful not to have to go do laundry somewhere else, and it's something that's stuck in my mind today.

5. Technology. I often have a love-hate relationship with technology, but after a wonderful (if too short) visit with out-of-town friends or family, I'm always reminded about how great it is to have so many ways to keep in touch with people who don't live in the same town or city.