Monthly Archives: July 2015

Very Specific Book Recs: Books without Romance by Amanda

Sometimes I have a great deal of sympathy for tiny Ben Savage in The Princess Bride when he doesn’t want to listen to “the kissing parts.”  Sometimes, the kissing parts are the last thing you want.  Whether it’s because you’re lonely or because of a recent heartbreak or because you like being single and wish authors would write books where it’s okay to be single, goddamn it, WE DON’T ALL HAVE TO END UP WITH SOMEBODY, OKAY or you know, whatever less reveling about me reason you might have, here a few books with little to no romance in them, thank god.

mechaniqueMechanique by Genevieve Valentine

Where to start with Mechanique.  It has steampunk sensibilities and a non-chronological timeline.  It also has a circus and is about family of choice and doing what is right, even if that’s not nice or easy.  It’s about people who have found a place in a world that is falling apart and who are willing to fight to keep that place, and the people who make it up, safe.  It’s evocative and moving and so, so lovely.  Read it now.

 

772606Valor’s Choice by Tanya Huff

Space Marines!  With Tanya Huff’s wonderful sense of humor!  What, you need more?  Alright.  The main character, Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr, is a complete badass and I’m not sure if I’d rather be her or marry her.  It’s the start of a series, but only this first one is romance free.  Fair warning, these books are about active duty soldiers and can be heartbreaking, despite the well-developed humor throughout.

 

71X23Oy4s6LThe Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

Gen claims he can steal anything.  He backs his claim by stealing an official seal from an important government minister.  Due to his bragging after the fact, Gen is caught and thrown into prison.  The king’s Magus offers Gen a deal.  Steal the unstealable, a mythical gem that will win the Magus’s king the right to rule the next kingdom over, and Gen can go free.  Is Gen up to the task?  Read the book and find out!

 

pegasusPegasus by Robin McKinley

I hesitate to recommend this one because it is the first half (or third, depending on which of Robin McKinley’s blog posts you’ve read) of a book and ends on what may be the biggest cliffhanger I’ve ever experienced.  The second half (or third) has not been published yet and the last I saw on McKinley’s blog said it was due out in 2014 and, well, *looks around at all the 2015 up in here*.  That said, if you’re good at dealing with cliffhangers, this is a really, really fantastic book.  Where it shines is the (non-romantic!) relationships between the characters.  Father to daughter, friend to friend, princess to wizard, they’re all fascinating.  Whatever else is to come, this first half (or third) of the book is truly fantastically written.
18p0vr2afhl88jpgYou by Austin Grossman

Oh, You.  I first read it when I was the same age as the protagonist and it really spoke to my wandering-late-20s-what-am-I- doing-with-my-life soul.  It is largely a book about video games and the video game industry, but other than the occasional bout of Tetris with my mom and step-sister, I haven’t played video games since about 1996 (when the old Nintendo finally crapped out on us) and I never felt left out of anything while reading this book.  It’s also a book about building relationships, finding where you belong, and self-exploration.  It’s a bit slow at times but lovely nonetheless.
81dSlqYK3SLThe Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

To paraphrase kids these days, I can’t even with Ursula K. Le Guin.  She’s beyond amazing and if I were to ever meet her in person, my fangirl weeping would surely embarrass us both.  The thought, the depth, the understanding of humanity she puts in her writing is both inspiring and breathtaking.  Not to oversell her or anything.  This book explores gender, how society functions, friendship (oh my goodness, the friendship!  Seriously, can’t even), and basic human nature.  Seriously, so read all the Ursula K. Le Guin you can, as soon as you can.  You won’t regret it.
*Inspired by a request for recommendations from the marvelous Miranda and suggestions from the lovely Liyana.

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Amanda enjoys making people laugh and receiving compliments about her pretty, pretty hair.

 

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The Curious Intimacy of Sharing Books by Liyana

I read Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse because Suzan-Lori Parks—the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright—told me to.

Okay, I exaggerate. Suzan-Lori Parks didn’t tell me, specifically, to read To the Lighthouse (although she did shake my hand, sign my copy of her novel, and offer some encouraging words when I told her I was studying acting, and believe me, I was walking on air for the rest of the night after that, because I am a shameless Suzan-Lori Parks fangirl). But when she lectured at my university, she mentioned that even though she had always wanted to be a writer, she had been so discouraged by her high school English teacher that she entered college as a biology major, which lasted until she read To the Lighthouse and was so incredibly blown away by it that she walked straight over to the English department and changed her major.

When she told that story, I immediately thought, “That’s it. If To the Lighthouse convinced someone as brilliant as Suzan-Lori Parks that she had to be a writer, then I need to read it.” So, the following summer, I found myself a copy at a used bookstore, and I fell in love with this strange, lush, modernist piece of literary glory. I loved To the Lighthouse on its own merits. But I also loved the experience of reading it while knowing how deeply it had affected a writer I admired, imagining which parts had spoken to her and influenced her. In reading To the Lighthouse, I got to have two reading experiences at once: my own and (my imagined version of) Suzan-Lori Parks’s.

Which is precisely why, even though I love reading books that friends recommend specifically for me, I also harbor a deep and abiding love for reading books that have been important to other people, regardless of whether or not they are books I would have chosen for myself. I love seeing a book through someone else’s eyes and understanding what it meant to them…and then comparing that to what it means to me.

And it’s taken me to some fascinating literary places.

I read Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent last summer because a good friend pressed it into my hands and said, “You haven’t read it? You need to read it. I had to stop reading it during my commute, because it would just make me sob on the bus. It made me feel so connected to other women, like I was part of this incredible sisterhood.” I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Red Tent, but while I enjoyed the story and the writing, the thing I enjoyed most of all was noticing the places that evoked womanhood-as-sisterhood and how connected that made me feel to my friend.

Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist is probably not a book I ever would have read if left to my own devices. But a close college friend handed me her copy and told me that it had helped her through a rough patch while she was dealing with depression and recovery from addiction. Ordinarily, I would have found Paulo Coelho’s particular brand of self-help-thinly-disguised-as-literature simplistic and grating, but when I filtered The Alchemist through my experience of my lovely, thoughtful friend and the knowledge that she found it inspiring, it became a sweet, gentle fairy-tale about one way out of the dark woods of the soul. (I do still like the Rumi poem it was based on better, though.)

I’ve had Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison on my to-read list for years, ever since one of my most brilliant acting teachers brought it to class with him one morning. He explained that several years before, he had taken it to the gym with him to read on the treadmill and ran across a passage that discussed using speech to communicate something deeper than just the words that perfectly expressed his feelings about acting. He read us the passage and then said simply, “I read that…and I fell off the treadmill.” And I knew that someday I would have to read the book that affected someone I respect that much so deeply.

There’s a difference in intimacy between sharing a favorite book with a friend because the two of you have a shared love of action-packed science fiction or lyrical prose or swashbuckling, badass queer ladies and in saying, “This book was important to me. It changed my life/shaped my thinking/perfectly captured my feelings.” Sharing the books that inspired us to make changes in our lives or that made us lose control of our feelings or our bodies is a profoundly intimate act. It’s like saying, “Here’s a piece of my soul. Please look at it.” When our listeners read that book, they reaffirm that intimacy with us, effectively saying, “You matter to me. I see you, and I want to know you better.” This shared intimacy can transform a mediocre reading experience into a good one, and a good read into a sublime one.

Have you ever loved a book because of the person you knew who loved it? Come tell me about it.

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Liyana is a queer actor, aerialist, bookworm, and tea enthusiast. She lives in the Pacific Northwest and is confused by the concept of “free time.”

 

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