Reading List 2011 (12/226)

Getting closer to the end of the list!

  • Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood, Christian Smith, Kari Christofferson, Hilary Davidson & Patricia Snell Herzog
  • Think, Lisa Bloom
  • A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman, Margaret Drabble
  • Indigara, Tanith Lee
  • The Affair, Lee Child
  • The Wandering Falcon, Jamil Ahmad
  • The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • Little Lord Fauntleroy, Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • The Lost Prince, Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • Finder Library Vol. 1, Carla Speed McNeil
  • Finder Library Vol. 2, Carla Speed McNeil

tl;dr – Think is full of great advice for young women, Burnett’s books are charming (classics and obscurer titles alike), and Finder will blow your mind. Borrow Lost in Transition – you don’t need to read the whole thing.

I don’t read all that many comics, and I usually don’t list the ones I read, but Finder is so beautiful and meaty and strange that it rates inclusion. McNeil’s art is dense and gorgeous, and the world is a magical combination of fantastic (magic, visions) and science-fictional (genetic manipulation, virtual worlds). The stories follow different characters, including a young writer, a sex therapist/artist, and a game designer. They all take place in the same world and are linked by recurring characters – including the sin-eater of the title, who, well, does what it says on the tin. He’s one excellent reason to read the series; his struggle with his social role, the moral dilemmas he faces, and his groping toward hard-earned wisdom are compelling. But it’ll probably be hard for you to pick a favorite character or moment, because they’re all so great. Personally, I loved Vary Krishna’s academic program; read it and you’ll see why it’s both intimate and hysterically funny! Highly recommended.

The Finder series reminded me a lot of The Wandering Falcon, actually – though Ahmad’s book isn’t a comic and it’s set in the real world. The Wandering Falcon is a series of linked short stories set in early modern Pakistan. While Tor Baz, the titular hero, appears in each story, it’s not his story – it’s the story of the tribes of the northwestern provinces and how their lives change over forty years. It’s got deep cultural insight, but with all the immediacy of fiction. Be warned, it’s slow, but if you don’t mind that, you’ll both enjoy and learn.

I still like Lee Child. If you do, too, The Affair will delight you. It’s a backstory novel, so you find out how Reacher ended up leaving the Army and becoming a drifter. Child does love the “something is amiss in this small town” trope, but it’s still good, every time.

Speaking of things you’ll like if you like that kind of thing: I downloaded the complete works of Frances Hodgson Burnett. A Little Princess has always been one of my favorite children’s books (the heroine’s remarkable quality is that she’s a storyteller!) and I’m learning songs from the Secret Garden musical, so I really had to read more of Burnett’s work. What I didn’t realize is that most of her work isn’t aimed at children. For example, The Lost Prince is an adventure romance, in which a young boy discovers that his family is vowed to the service of a disinherited prince and works to restore him to his throne. She does have a lot of child protagonists, and you occasionally have to put up with characters who are sickly-sweet, but overall her stories are very satisfying. You’ll be hearing more about them in the future.

I had low expectations for Think. I figured it would be full of well-meant pap. Actually, it’s one of the best advice books I’ve read in a long time. Bloom is an engaging and easy-to-read writer, and she has some very important things to say. Her basic argument is that many women don’t value or prioritize being smart – and (here’s where she really got my attention) that’s because valuing beauty or fame over smarts is a pretty rational choice for women in this culture. Plus, she says, most women don’t have time to cultivate their minds because they’re so busy taking care of everyone else. The real winner, though, is that she takes it one step further. Instead of just telling you that you should take time to, for example, read, she lays out a clear plan for what you should read, and how you should organize your life to make time for reading. It’s a classic psychological tactic of lowering barriers, and the fact that she uses it in her book made me sit up and take notice.

Not everything in the book will be equally useful to every reader, of course. I don’t need encouragement to read more! On the other hand, I found her chapter on parenting deeply inspiring. Kids and housework, she says, don’t have to consume your life, but only if you’re smart about how you behave. Since she’s speaking from her experience as a single parent, I believe her – unlike Leo Babauta writing on the same topic, whose answer is “How can I do so much with six kids?” seems to be “Have a wife who deals with it.” He doesn’t exactly give me confidence I can do it myself (and it’s rather turned me off his work in general), but Bloom does. Call me a fan.

So what about the less successful books in this batch?

Indigara was mediocre. Girl in sci-fi world gets sucked into secret fantasy universe based on movie tropes, has some adventures, learns important life lessons. I picked it up because I like Tanith Lee, but I wouldn’t read it again.

Drabble’s short stories were clearly well-written, but also not quite my thing. The stories were beautifully written without any lit-fic navel-gazing, and I’m usually a sucker for a) truth-telling about modern women’s lives and b) stories that satirize or expose social structures. I’m not really sure why they didn’t do much for me. They might work better for you.

Lost in Transition was … almost awesome. So close to awesome, in fact, that it was deeply frustrating. The authors write about their sociological investigation into the moral development of young adults. They found that most young adults couldn’t even identify a moral dilemma, let alone figure out how to resolve it ethically. They also describe issues around consumerism, lack of civic engagement, and sexual/drug activity. Unfortunately, the book leaves a lot of its insight for the last chapter, where it talks about how social structures exacerbate these problems. (For example: the isolation of emerging adults from older and younger people, leaving them cut off from the larger community.) This is unfortunate mostly because the chapters in which data are presented come off as rather preachy and conservative, both in the “get off my lawn!” sense and the “bow to authority!” sense. I think the authors were trying to say things more nuanced than, say, “too much sex makes people feel bad,” because in the last chapter they do. However, most of the book left me quite uncomfortable and unsure about whether the authors had an agenda. The ideas in here are powerful and their data is great, but I’m not sure I’d recommend the book as a whole.

Happy reading, everyone!

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