Want to be a Bookseller for a Day? « Once & Future

Once & Future

Charlotte Ashley – Book seller, collector, writer, editor, historian

February 6, 2014

Want to be a Bookseller for a Day?

There is some excellent discussion over at E. Catherine Tobler’s blog about reading women, something we should all be doing more. There is nothing new under the sun: this issue comes up all the time (as it should), and in particular I remember the furor that followed this article in the Guardian three years ago. We all swore up and down to read more women, and some excellent people swore to read only women to make up for it.

Do we? Well. A cursory look at my most recent reads on Goodreads reveals I’m sitting at about 50%, which is good, but I still feel disconnected. I force myself to read a lot of women when I am reading “good for me” books. Capital-L Literature. I need to read George Eliot just as badly as I need to read Thomas Hardy. But when people ask me who I love best? Those writers I will reach for each and every time I can? All men. Eco, Dumas, Stephenson, Chabon, Murakami. My favourite books are all written by men. Tolstoy, Peake, Herbert, Heller. I am a terrible cheerleader for women’s writing.

But this wasn’t always the case. When I was deep into reading fantasy and mythic fiction in the late 90s and early ’00s, every single book I loved was by a woman.

Every. Single. One.

What happened? How did I fail to keep up? Now, ten, fifteen years later, I don’t know who else came up to join the women whose writing I once loved. A lot of the women I used to read have retired, vanished, or died. The new generation seems to be writing YA. I am tired of reading about teenagers.

So I put this to the crowd. I have made a list below of the books I loved as a young woman. Can you recommend anything to me that I might love now? I hardly remember the books, aside from that I loved them – and it is possible that my tastes have matured and changed. That might explain why, for example, I feel such a strong attraction to alt historical novels, and yet I hated Naomi Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon. Maybe I have moved on? Or maybe not. Try me.

The Mabinogion Tetralogy by Evangeline Walton
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
The Wood Wife by Terri Windling
Tam Lin by Pamela Dean
The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson
The Innamorati by Midori Snyder
The Stars Dispose by Michaela Roessner
The Moon and the Sun by Vonda McIntyre
The Death of the Necromancer by Martha Wells
The Shadow of Albion by Andre Norton & Rosemary Edghill

7 thoughts on “Want to be a Bookseller for a Day?”

  1. N. E. White says:

    Have you tried Robin Hobbs or Elizabeth Moon? I love both their writing, though Hobbs can be a bit repetitive.

    1. Charlotte says:

      I read Deed of Paksenarrion when I was in high school, but I hated it. There was something about the character that made me crazy. She was too… I don’t know. She had too many feelings. There was too much angst. We’re talking 20 years ago here, so maybe I was too angry to enjoy it… but it was the book I used for years to demonstrate “the kind of thing I don’t like”.

      Tbh, for ages I thought Robin Hobb was a dude. 0_o My little brother loved her books. Now they look too “generic fantasy” for me, but maybe I should give it a chance?

      1. N. E. White says:

        Generic? I wouldn’t describe them such. Hobb is not for everyone, but I *really* enjoyed the Farseer trilogy.

  2. N. E. White says:

    Oh, also Jemisin. Her stuff is great, too.

  3. Bearing in mind that tastes differ (often wildly), given what you have there perhaps Nicola Griffith? I haven’t had the opportunity to do more than start “Hild” (lack of time, but her writing is gorgeous and I need to pick up a copy at some point), though I will vouch, wholeheartedly, for earlier efforts from Griffith, such as “Ammonite” or “Slow River.”

    Again, haven’t had the chance to do more than start Sofia Samatar’s “A Stranger in Olondria,” but that is a fascinating book. Structurally complicated and potentially broken (from conversations I’ve had with other people about it), yet it moves in interesting directions and Samatar’s writing is absolutely gorgeous.

    Have you tried Elizabeth Hand? Her work may or may not click for you (I’ve heard wildly differing opinions, though I love her writing). She covers a wide range of genres (SF, F, H, also mystery – her Cass Neary mysteries particularly are favourites of mine, being as they are explorations of exquisitely beautiful corruption and collapse; of rage and wounds and reclamation told in at times magic realist terms).

    Also, yes, as N.E. White points out, N.K. Jemisin’s work is definitely worth delving into–her Inheritance Trilogy and her Dreamblood books appeal for different reasons.

    Also Nnedi Okorafor. Her short story collection from last year, “Kabu Kabu,” ranges far and wide, and her novels also cover wide ground, not the least of which is “Who Fears Death.”

    Helen Oyeyemi? Fair score of different books. Not quite sure what to suggest of hers, given your tastes. Perhaps try different novels and see what speaks to you?

    Deborah Coates: Her Halli Michaels books (“Wide Open” and “Deep Down,” with “Strange Country” coming out sometime this year–don’t remember the release date off hand) are fascinating for their depiction of character, and landscape as character. They’re rural fantasy, if you will. And beautifully told–Coates has a keen eye for sparse and layered prose.

    And, again, not entirely sure these will be to your taste, but Kameron Hurley’s Bel Dame Apocrypha series (“God’s War,” “Infidel,” and “Rapture”). They’re gloriously earthy, brilliantly plotted and painful as all hell, each book building on the last and yet intrinsically different. And watching that arc unfold is a master class in craft.

    I will also point out Yoon Ha Lee for her short story collection “Conservation of Shadows.”

    Other things to suggest, of course, but that’s probably long enough for now.

    1. Charlotte says:

      *scribbles frantically to catch up*

      Yes, I like Helen Oyeyemi, but the rest there is all uncharted territory for me. 🙂 Up until this issue re-kindled, the two fantasy books at the top of my “to buy/check out” list were Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon and Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora…. so, now I’m thinking, maybe I should get Jemisin’s Killing Moon and Samatar’s Stranger in Olondria instead. Are these even roughly analogous? Sharps by K.J. Parker looks Relevant To My Interests too, but who can ever tell?

      1. Well, “Throne of the Crescent Moon” is second world fantasy (well-written, and with an older lead, which was very nice to see in a well-written fantasy). First novel issues aside, it’s an excellent read, and Ahmed’s long fiction upholds the promise his short fiction makes. “The Lies of Locke Lamora” is con artist, piratical fantasy, and is the start of a really quite excellent body of work. “Killing Moon” is more almost mythic work with a very well-drawn plotline and some fascinating worldbuilding/grounding in extrapolated cultures. “A Stranger in Olondria” is … I’m not going to be able to do it justice since I’ve only had the chance to read the opening. But Samatar talked most ably about it in this interview (third question and down): http://www.ideomancer.com/?p=2483. I need to read more Parker–I’ve only read their Engineer trilogy, some of the short fiction, and some of their non-fiction floating around. Fascinating writing.

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