Reader, I blogged.

by Sunita

Hello again. I tried the newsletter thing but it wasn’t for me. I’ve abandoned Twitter (I read my feed occasionally but don’t tweet now), and while I like Mastodon as a microblogging platform, it’s still finding its identity as a community, and the decentralization means it’s harder to find kindred spirits. So it’s a work in progress. But I still read a lot of blogs even though blogs are apparently dead dead dead, and they’re still my favorite form of conversation, especially about quotidian activities like reading and organizing my life. So I’m back.

Like a lot of people I know, I had trouble reading in the last quarter of 2016, especially after November 8. I found a bridge solution in reading fiction and nonfiction about people who had experienced or been raised in the shadow of collective traumas and managed to come out the other side. Robert Graves’Β Goodbye to All That, Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory, Alejandro Zambra’s My Documents, and some post-apocalyptic genre fiction. Then this past January we took a week’s holiday where I read a lot in a short time, and I was off and running on the reading front, excepting times when work was overwhelming my waking hours.

I’m back to reading some romance, but only from a small handful of autobuy authors. Most of the romance novels being published today are emphatically Not For Me, at least not now. I’ve gone through these kinds of stretches before, where I read mostly other genres. Six years of reviewing at Dear Author meant that I neglected other types of fiction I’ve always enjoyed, and I’m catching up now.

Summer has been great for pleasure reading. We took an off-the-grid break in Colorado on our way out to California in late May, and I read half a dozen books and knitted most of a sweater. It’s amazing how much you can get done when your smartphone doesn’t have connectivity. πŸ™‚ I am doing a couple of reading challenges (PopSugar and Mount TBR) and enjoying filling in the categories, but I’m not structuring my reading according to the categories.

So what have I been reading? I’m keeping track at LibraryThing and writing short reviews for most of the books. In romance and SFF, here are some recent highlights:

Nora Roberts, Northern Lights. I’ve had this book in my TBR for years. YEARS. I started it before we left St. Louis and then immersed myself at the cabin. I enjoyed it a lot. Roberts is a terrific storyteller, and although there were a couple of howlers in the Alaska setting, for the most part she captured the small-town feel and cast of characters very well. The romance was enjoyable and the balance between the romance, the mystery, and the town’s story was just right for me. I think one of the problems I’ve had with romance these days is that there is such a tight focus on the couple that we’re not getting much else, and I’ve always read for the context and the secondary characters. Now if we get much on secondary characters it’s because they’re part of a series, and the worldbuilding of a real community isn’t usually there. This book made me want to go back to the Chesapeake Bay trilogy, which I barely remember.

Sarah Morgan, Manhattan trilogy. I bought all these as they came out, started and put down the first one, and then let them languish in the TBR. After Northern Lights I restarted the first one again and blew through all three in a long weekend. They are a very fantasy version of New York City, which at first worked against them for me. But then I thought to myself, wait, Regency romances I love are still a totally fantasy version of London and 19thC Britain, so just do the mental shift. And it worked. I liked all three of the couples, and I’ve always liked Morgan’s series because she creates relationships among the women in particular and across women and men who have friendships with the opposite sex apart from their romantic relationships. I think I liked the last one, Miracle on 5th Avenue, best, in part because it was fun to read about a thriller writer. And no one does holiday romances like Morgan.

Jeff Vandermeer, Annihilation. This was a weird one. It’s the first installment of his Southern Reach trilogy, and it’s about four unnamed scientists going into a sort of postapocalyptic area to record what is there. The story is narrated entirely from the perspective of The Biologist, and most of the time the reader has no idea what is going on. I was frustrated while I was reading it, especially in the first half, but then things start to happen and the action increases. The narrator is very flat — I wondered if she was supposed to be on the spectrum — but it’s clearly intentional. At the halfway point I said I wasn’t reading the next installment, but by the end I changed my mind. #2 is sitting on my bookshelf right now.

Mary Burchell, Warrender series. I started rereading these in order last year. I’ve read them all multiple times, but not for quite a while, so I didn’t remember them all perfectly. My favorites of the first half of the series are the first one, A Song Begins, and Music of the Heart. I reviewed the latter with Jayne over at DA, so you can see details there. We also reviewed Child of Music, which I didn’t remember at all, and I liked it a lot, but for the non-romance bits rather than the romance itself.

I’m reading a lot more print books these days. I get ebook versions from the library if they’re available, because I prefer the ereader for bedtime reading, but especially for literary fiction, which I’ve been reading steadily for the last twelve months. It’s partly the ability to flip back and forth, or to see two pages at once, but it’s also because with literary fiction the formatting sometimes makes a difference in how I process the text (and it seems to be chosen more self-consciously to have that effect). I’m not going to turn into one of those “print is so much better!” people, don’t worry, but I’ve been surprised by how much I like holding a book in my hands again.