I wasn’t originally planning to post today, but then I conveniently remembered that it was a Tuesday and that I’ve been meaning to do this tag since it appeared on Lori’s blog. I have a feeling I’m going to regret this because I wanted pancakes for about a week after I read her post (translation: I STILL WANT THEM), but that’s a risk I’ll have to take.
The original tag and graphics were created by Blogs of a Bookaholic.
Cat’s Eye (Margaret Atwood), better known as The Book I Can Never Shut Up About. I feel like I don’t tell enough people that Cat’s Eye lit a bonfire under my previously unremarkable feelings towards creative writing and instilled the love of words that has driven me to write for the last 17 years. I’d always had some interest in telling stories, but Cat’s Eye was the book that showed me how beautiful language can be. It was the first and so far only book that’s ever made me say, “I want to be able to do that.” Here’s the first chapter:
Time is not a line but a dimension, like the dimensions of space. If you can bend space you can bend time also, and if you knew enough and could move faster than light you could travel backward in time and exist in two places at once.
It was my brother Stephen who told me that, when he wore his raveling maroon sweater to study in and spent a lot of time standing on his head so that the blood would run down into his brain and nourish it. I didn’t understand what he meant, but maybe he didn’t explain it very well. He was already moving away from the imprecision of words.
But I began then to think of time as having a shape, something you could see, like a series of liquid transparencies, one laid on top of another. You don’t look back along time but down through it, like water. Sometimes this comes to the surface, sometimes that, sometimes nothing. Nothing goes away.
If you don’t love that, there is literally no pleasing you.
The Marquis de Carabas (Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman), described by Richard Mayhew as a psychotic grand vizier. I didn’t like him much at first, but he got around my objections and made himself my favorite character.
“Don’t all these tunnels look the same?” asked Richard, tabling his diary entry for the moment. “How can you tell which is which?”
“You can’t,” said the Marquis, sadly. “We’re hopelessly lost. We’ll never be seen again. In a couple of days we’ll be killing each other for food.”
“Really?” He hated himself for rising to the bait, even as he said it.
“No.” The Marquis’s expression said that torturing this poor fool was too easy to even be amusing.
Hmmmmmm………there’s a lot of books I used to read over and over again before I learned the value of, you know, actually reading books that I’d never read before. I haven’t really been into rereads lately, given the state of my shelves, but if I wanted a trip down memory lane I’d probably start the Redwall series (Brian Jacques) again.
The Map of Salt and Stars (Zeyn Joukhadar). As you may or may not know from past posts, I literally cannot shut up about this book and I was so sad when I found out that Map was Joukhadar’s only novel. I’ve marked my planner for November 3, which is the day I will march to the bookstore to buy The Thirty Names of Night because I NEEEEEEEEEED it. 😭
The Butcher’s Wife (Li Ang). I picked this one up expecting a feel-good story, and, though I was mildly disappointed, it mostly delivered. To be clear, my idea of a feel-good story is one in which an abused woman murders her abuser. The Butcher’s Wife certainly provides that, but I would’ve liked it better if Lin Shi had been slightly more conscious when she finally snapped and went after Chen Jiangshui with a knife.
If that’s too morbid for you, I loved The Toss of a Lemon (Padma Viswanathan) for its food and its music. It’s not the most cheerful book, but the food always sounds amazing. My favorite character is Vani, a brilliant musician who speaks through her veena but is generally silent in other situations, though at mealtimes she tells insanely long serial stories for no apparent reason. She’s kinda weird, and I love her.
Masashi Nishioka (The Great Passage, Shion Miura). I don’t know if I’d really call him sharp, but he seemed like a total ass until he got invested in the dictionary project. Not only did he try to prevent himself from being transferred out of the project, he did everything he could to make things easier for Majime, towards whom he took on a protective, older brother kind of attitude. Later his girlfriend noticed he was going through a rough time, and, instead of pushing her away, he let himself be vulnerable with her. It was so nice.
Opium and Absinthe (Lydia Kang). It sent me haring after all the wrong people, and when the bad guy actually showed up I was completely blindsided. I was so convinced of this character’s innocence that I was 100% sure they were acting on the orders of some other bad guy, but had to abandon this theory when they demonstrated that they were, in fact, the mastermind.
Soraya and Parvaneh (Girl, Serpent, Thorn, Melissa Bashardoust). I almost passed on this question because I’m literally the least romantic person you’ll ever meet, but then I caught sight of Girl, Serpent, Thorn on my shelf. I wasn’t sure about them because I don’t do romance and didn’t see any reason I should make an exception for them, but I had to change my mind when Parvaneh embraced Soraya exactly as she was, poisoned thorns and all.
I’d say it’s a tie between the Prophet (The Year of the Witching, Alexis Henderson) and Sabran Berethnet IX (The Priory of the Orange Tree, Samantha Shannon). The Prophet is by far the worst of the two of them, as he uses the power of the church to rape young girls, silence men and women alike, and burn people at the stake. (In other words, nothing particularly out of the ordinary.) If I had to choose I’d burn him first, but Sabran pisses me off in other ways, perhaps more so because she’s presented as trying-to-be-sympathetic-but-not-really and I really really really don’t want to see her with Ead even though I know I probably will.
Sharks in the Time of Saviors (Kawai Strong Washburn). Over the years I’ve learned that when people say a movie or a book is diverse, they mean there’s one or two POCs and a few women. This is not the case with Sharks, which is largely set in Hawai’i and accurately reflects its demographics. The story follows Dean, Nainoa, and Kaui Flores, a trio of Hawaiian Filipino children who grow up surrounded by people of many different ethnicities. Hapas abound. This would be wonderful enough by itself, but the book is also diverse in subtler ways. It never shies away from characters who would be considered unattractive or unmarketable by Hollywood standards. While in Portland, Noa dates Khadeja, a single mother. Kaui, who in a Disneyfied version would have a 20-inch waist, is described as having big arms and a bit of a gut. Dean starts college as a basketball star but later loses his scholarship, and eventually ends up in prison. He doesn’t get shoehorned into some improbably upbeat ending; instead he learns to work the system and starts using it to rebuild his life and send money to his cash-strapped family. It’s not happy. It’s not glamorous. It’s what happens in everyday life.
As a side note, Sharks also belongs under question 1 because the writing is unbelievably gorgeous. I’m not going to transcribe the first chapter because it’s 19 pages, but here’s the opening that sucked me into the book at a completely inappropriate time of night:
When I close my eyes we’re all still alive and it becomes obvious then what the gods want from us. The myth people tell about us might start on that liquid blue day off Kona and the sharks, but I know different. We started earlier. You started earlier. The kingdom of Hawai’i had long been broken – the breathing rain forests and singing green reefs crushed under the haole fists of beach resorts and skyscrapers – and that was when the land had begun calling. I know this now because of you. And that the gods were hungry for change and you were that change. In our first days I saw so many signs, but didn’t believe.
I’ve read books where the writing was gorgeous in some places but disjointed and disappointing for most of the rest of the book. Sharks is not one of those books. It’s amazing all the way through, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.