MIND MELD: What’s on Your Mount To-Be-Read Book Pile?
[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]
We asked this week’s panelists about what they are reading.
Here’s what is on the bedside tables of our respondents:
My Mount To-be-read is actually very short, and that’s because I usually don’t buy books unless I know I’m going to have the time to read them – with one exception. I’m still making my way through Reine De Memoire 1. La Maison D’Oubli, by Elisabeth Vonarburg. It’s an excellent book, so far, but the difficulty is that I’m reading it in French, and I don’t read French nearly as fast as I read English. Because it’s been years since I read much in French, each time I pick it up it takes a few minutes and pages before I get into any sort of flow… and because she writes in a certain depth… well, I do need the dictionary, I confess. The other books currently on my very short mountain, perhaps better named Hill To-be-read, are Kay Kenyon’s A Thousand Perfect Things, Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312, and at the bottom… Brandon Sanderson’s The Emperor’s Soul, which I’ve had for almost a year and somehow never picked up.
As an editor of an SF/F imprint, and now also an author, not to mention a parent, free time is more of a theoretical concept that an actual part of my daily life. One of the reasons I love my iPad is it allows me to carry hundreds of unread books around in my satchel, where they can guilt me much more effectively than just shelving them down in the basement allows for. But I still manage to read a few books a year that don’t come from my submission pile. For instance, right now I’m reading Megan Whelan Turner’s The Thief. So, with the caveat that the loudness of their voices rotates constantly, here are the top five books screaming at me from my iPad at this moment in time:
- John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice: The Icebound Land
- Monte Cook’s Numenera (role playing game core rules) *
- Jane Yolen & Adam Stemple’s The Hostage Prince
- Dave Gross’ Pathfinder Tales: Prince of Wolves
- Violette Malan’s The Sleeping God
* I’m aware Numenera isn’t fiction, but it is absolutely SF/F, and wears its Jack Vance/Gene Wolfe inspiration on its sleeve.
Wisp of a Thing by Alex Bledsoe. Okay, truth be told, I’m already halfway through this one, and I am hoping to finish it soon. Alex’s prose slips you into his stories effortlessly. I’m in love with the Tufa and the whole world that he has built around them.
Gethsemane Hall by David Annandale. This has long been on my mountain of books to read, and it is now next in the list. I’m in the mood for a cerebral horror story, and Gethsemane Hall promises to deliver. I love the opening lines: “The first lesson. The night was a slick of oil.” And that is, as they say, all she wrote. I’m hooked.
No Return by Zachary Jernigan. After reading Zachary’s amazing short story “I’m an Animal. You’re an Animal Too” in the urban fantasy anthology Manifesto: UF, I’m now looking forward to bumping No Return up on my to-read list. I love Zachary’s prose and there is something fearless in his writing that begs you to think a little deeper about his stories.
The Tainted City by Courtney Schafer. I loved The Whitefire Crossing and I am looking forward to continuing Dev and Kiran’s adventures in The Tainted City. Courtney’s novels are fun adventures that, like Alex’s books, just take me out of reality and into lands beyond my dreams.
Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear. I am so behind, which is better than being a behind, I guess. This has long sat on my list and after hearing so many people praise the beauty of the prose, I’m looking forward to reading Range of Ghosts.
The first is Nexus by Ramez Naam.
The sequel to this (Crux) has just come out, but I wanted to read the first in the series before I started on that. I downloaded the sample chapter and loved it, and so quickly added the book to my pile. It’s a sci-fi about a nano-drug that “can link human together, mind to mind,” and the implications and problems it brings. Apparently it’s already been optioned for a film by Paramount, and it sounds exactly like something I’d enjoy going to see.
The second AR book on my list is Jay Posey’s Three.
This is a “Wild-West” style post-apocalyptic story, and as I’ve been watching Deadwood, Hell on Wheels and now Justified, I’m really in the mood for a Clint Eastwood-type lone gunman sort of sci-fi. Plus, I adore the cover. It reminds me of Altair from Assassin’s Creed, and if I get reincarnated I would really like to come back as him, please.
My third AR book is by Anne Lyle, called The Alchemist of Souls.
Anne and I are going to be release buddies on 29th October, which is when the third book in her Night’s Masque series comes out (The Prince of Lies). These epic fantasies set in Elizabethan England sound fabulous, and I can’t wait to read them. Before I got into the Western mood, I watched all four series of The Tudors, plus I’m a huge fan of Elizabeth and Shakespeare in Love, so I’m really looking forward to getting into this period with its added fantasy twist.
The fourth on my TBR pile is Wool by Hugh Howey.
This series of sci-fi novellas made into a book interests me because I know Howey published it first via Amazon KDP before he sold the print version to Simon & Schuster. He’s also sold the rights to 20th Century Fox but has kept the digital rights to himself. I admire that kind of writing acumen and want to find out what all the fuss is about, plus it sounds like a damn good read.
My final book is a classic, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game.
I first read this in my late teens. It was in the teenage section in my local library, but on reading it I remember taking it to the desk and proclaiming that it shouldn’t be in the teen section just because it has a young protagonist—I thought adults might miss out on such a great story. I loved this book about Andrew “Ender” Wiggin and his military training, and I’m really looking forward to the movie coming out in December. But first I want to read the book again, just to see if it is as good as I remember!
When I was younger and still in full time education – or even later, with a part-time day-job – I devoured SFF novels, and Mount To-be-read barely existed. Now that I’m trying to fit writing around a full-time day-job, it can be hard to find time to read, even though I know it’s essential to at least keep up with what’s going on in my corner of the genre. Hence I maintain a TBR list on Goodreads, which also helps me keep track of the mix of ebooks and physical books waiting to be read.
My top three at the moment are:
- The Folding Knife, by K J Parker. I loved Sharps, which came out last year, so when the Fantasy Faction Book Club announced they’d be reading another of Parker’s standalones this month, I decided to boost this to the top of my list.
- Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch – one of my favourites out of the new generation of fantasy writers finally has a new book out, so of course I have to read it asap! I love tales of rogues and tricksters, so the adventures of Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen really hit the spot.
- The Spirit War, by Rachel Aaron. The Eli Monpress series is so much fun, starring as it does a young thief who is determined to attract the largest bounty ever recorded, just for the hell of it. It makes a nice antidote to the grittier fantasy that I usually read!
My read-soon list tends to be constantly mutating, though, because a book that I’m in just the right mood for one week may be one I can’t face reading the next!
There are also some much-anticipated titles that are further down my TBR list simply because they won’t be out until next year, including:
- The Bastards and the Knives by Scott Lynch
- Sworn in Steel by Douglas Hulick
- The Shards of Time by Lynn Flewelling
- The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan
So many books, so little time…
To reach the top of my To Be Read pile, I would need oxygen. I have a bad habit – well-documented on my blog – of buying more books each month than I read, or even can read. I own books I have yet to read that I bought over a decade ago. I have books I really, really, really want to read but which require such an investment of time that I always end up turning to something else instead. For example, I own Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, and I really want to read the series… but it’s six thick densely-written paperbacks and the time that will take to get through always puts me off.
In other words, what I choose to read next from my TBR pile is often not the book I most want to read. There’s research for my writing – and I do a lot of research – or it might be a book I need to review for Interzone or SF Mistressworks. I read during my commute to work and some books are simply too heavy to carry around in my bag – eg, The Hard SF Renaissance edited by David G Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, or The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littel. Size, or the time a book would take to read, is important for another reason: if I only read two books in a month but buy a dozen, then the TBR has grown by ten; but if I read fourteen…
But, assuming I had nothing else to do, say I was on holiday lying on a beach or something, with no deadlines to meet, physical book size was irrelevant – perhaps I have ebook copies – and I couldn’t buy any new books even if I wanted to… then the five genre books currently sitting on my To Be Read pile that I would read first, that I most want to read, would be, in no particular order–
- Ilario: The Lion’s Eye, Mary Gentle (2006). See, there you go: I bought this when it was published, so I’ve had it for seven years already. But it is also a humungous hardback of 663 pages. It’s set in the same world as Ash: A Secret History, and given how highly I think of that book, this is very much a book I’d really like to read. But…
- Endless Things, John Crowley (2007). This is the fourth book in Crowley’s Ægypt Tetrad, and at 342 pages is not an especially large hardback. But before I read it, I want to reread the preceding three volumes – The Solitudes (AKA Ægypt), Love & Sleep and Dæmonmania – and that’s a project that’ll take quite a bit of time. Worse, rereads don’t count – they don’t make the To Be Read pile any smaller because they’re not on it.
- The Third God, Ricardo Pinto (2009). The same argument applies here: I’d really like to reread the first two volumes of The Stone Dance of the Chameleon trilogy – The Chosen and The Standing Dead – before tackling this 924-page final volume. That’s 1,945 pages in total. It would need to be a long holiday.
- The Complete Stories, JG Ballard (2006). This is a bit of a cheat as it’s two volumes. Of 773 and 775 pages. That’s a lot of fiction. Plus, a constant diet of Ballard is probably not good for your mental well-being either. I once borrowed four seasons of The X-Files from a friend and watched two episodes every night for a couple of months. It was weeks before I was able to sleep normally again.
- Daughters of the Sunstone, Sydney J Van Scyoc (1985). This is less of a cheat, because it’s an omnibus edition of a trilogy – Darkchild, Bluesong and Starsilk – but it’s been sat on my bookshelves since Christmas 2002. Every now and again, I pull it from the book-shelf, feel the weight of its 697 pages, and reluctantly put it back. If I’d had the separate paperback editions, I’d no doubt have read all three years ago.
- October Dark, David Herter (2010). Back in 2011, I picked Herter’s Evening’s Empire as the best book I’d read that year – and I’d bought it when it was published in 2002. I’ve only owned October Dark for three years, and I’ve been meaning to read it since I purchased it… But for some reason it’s never the book I reach for when I’m looking for something new to read. At 542 pages, it’s quite a hefty hardback. And, of course, whenever I considered reading it I think: but it’s not October, I should read it at Halloween, I’ll read it then. No doubt a few years from now, I’ll finally crack it open… and, just like Evening’s Empire, wonder why I took so long to get around to reading it.
I also have a very bad habit of popping into charity shops every now and again, and buying cheap paperbacks that look interesting. I learnt when living in the Middle East that if you see something you want in a shop, buy it there and then – because it probably won’t be there the next time, and the shop probably won’t ever get it in again. This applies equally well to books in charity shops. So every time I see a book and think, oh that looks interesting… I buy it. And the To Be Read pile grows that little bit larger.
Every now and again I have to purge the charity shop pile. The books usually go back once I‘ve read them, of course; but on occasion I take some of them back even if I’ve not read them. In other words, I’ve just paid to rent them for a couple of years, spent 99p or £1.99 to have them sitting unread on my book-shelves for two or three years. But at least the To Be Read pile shrinks a little…
The more you get involved in the book business, the more reading becomes work, and the more the stack of books that you will be reading is determined by that work. I still enjoy the books, of course, but I’m not very free to choose what I read.
Much of my reading these days is governed by my book feature on the Women’s Outlook show on Ujima Radio. Currently I need to read Lord of Snow and Shadows by Sarah Ash, because I will be interviewing her in a few days. Later this month I’ll be reading Blood & Feathers: Rebellion by Lou Morgan. The choice of books is governed by who I can get into the studio.
Beyond that I have award-related reading to do. I’m part of the advisory group for the Crawford Award, and therefore need to read debut fantasy novels. Next on my list will be Mermaid in Chelsea Creek by Michelle Tea. She has a fabulous career in mainstream fiction focusing on feminist issues and sex work. Mermaid is a YA fantasy and a very new departure for her. I also want to read A Questionable Shape by Bennett Sims, a zombie novel that was enthusiastically recommended by Sofia Samatar when she guested on the Coode Street Podcast.
The one set of awards whose nominees I generally avoid are the SF&F Translation Awards. That’s because I’m on the Board of Directors for their parent organization, and reviewing them might be seen as trying to influence the jury. Once the results are out, however, I’m eager to read the winners. I therefore need to get hold of Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City by Kai-cheung Dung, which won the Long Form category this year. (The Short Form winner was a story from Karin Tidbeck’s Jagannath, which I’d had to read for the Crawford.) The Man with the Compound Eyes by Wu Ming-Ye looks like an interesting contender for next year, both as a translation and for the Crawford.
Some books you wait a very long time for. I reviewed Chris Moriarty’s Spin State and Spin Control came out in 2003 and 2006 respectively. I was very impressed with them. The third volume, Ghost Spin, has only just been released, and is sat on my shelf waiting for a space in the schedule. Also Nicola Griffith’s Hild is burning a hole in my Kindle, but it isn’t due out until November so it is hard to justify reading it now.
Now that I am no longer doing Emerald City, I don’t feel under pressure to read all of the World Fantasy nominees. Nevertheless, I have N.K. Jemisin’s The Killing Moon and Graham Joyce’s Some Kind of Fairytale glaring at me from the bookshelf. I also very much want to get hold of Crandolin by Anna Tambour as I have loved her previous work. I know they are all great books; I just need to find the time.
Books in a series tend to get a boost or suffer. I had to read Emma Newman’s first two Split Worlds books for the radio show. As a result I grabbed the ARC of the third book, All Is Fair, as soon as Angry Robot offered it. On the other hand, Elizabeth Bear’s Range of Ghosts is still sat on the shelf, and now the sequel is out. Never fear, Bear dear, my plan is to read the whole Eternal Sky trilogy before I see you at Finncon next year.
Finally, people recommend stuff to me. Recently Tade Thompson blogged about The Vorrh, a novel by B. Catling. It sounds a fascinating book, and it has an enthusiastic introduction by Alan Moore. I want to read it. I just need some time…
My list of books to be read keeps getting longer, as does my list of excuses for why I haven’t read any of them yet. I think part of being a writer is constantly coming up with reasons why you can’t possibly read all the books you want to. My excuse involves cats and a similarly large list of things to write. Mostly cats.
- The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. Yes. I know. This is one of these books that is both a classic and something that innately appeals to me as a reader and lover of fantasy. Sadly, I haven’t read it. But I mean to, really soon.
- Debris Dreams by David Colby. Space elevators, LGBT characters, and war. What’s not to love? I need to read this yesterday, since it sounds a lot like just the book I’ve been looking for. A lot of people missed out on this book when it first released, but those who did pick it up really seemed to like it.
- The White Trash Zombie books by Diana Rowland. These books keep staring at me whenever I go into the bookstore. Lately I’ve started staring back. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s the covers. There’s something about a zombie punk sitting on a toilet that makes me think, yes. I will read this.
- Feed by Mira Grant. How did two zombie books get on here? I don’t even like zombies! But everyone keeps telling me how amazing this is, so I’ll try it. After all, it’s about politics, blogs, and the apocalypse. Sounds like the way I spent 2006.
- Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi. I love books set on spaceships, but there hasn’t been a lot lately that’s piqued my interest. But this book has gotten some fantastic reviews, and the line “the chief engineer thinks he’s a wolf” from the description makes me want to pick this up right away.
There’s so much more. My Nook has about ten billion books waiting for me, and my house is packed full of books I need to read. I’ll get to them—eventually. Promise.
I warrant we all have our own ways of describing the groups of books we mean to read. Mount To-be-read works for me, but mostly because it suggests something more; something I can’t help but correlate with all the climbing I did as a kid.
Maybe climbing isn’t the right way to describe the year-round hobby my dad and I had. Hillwalking was what we were about. Come rain or shine, sun or snow, my Munro Bagger of a father always had some summit in mind.
Many climbs I quite liked. But there were others. Bog-ridden slogs. Hills that went on and on and on, only to end in anti-climax: a beautiful view obscured by overcast clouds, or a chance meeting with other people. Up there in the middle of nowhere, that tended to cheapen the experience.
Part of the problem was that my dad was far fitter than I. Matter of fact, he still is — as evidenced by the last hill we walked. That is to say, we climb together to this day, though rather less often now than then. Then, I hardly had a lot of choice in the matter… thus there were times when I hated the hills. I hated how hard they were, how fleeting the feeling of overcoming one when the next was only ever a weekend away.
It’s all too easy to hate Mount To-be-read too. To learn to loathe how it grows and grows as it goes, despite our very best efforts. Time was it made me mercenary about anything that had been in there more than a month. But I have a different approach today, and it’s made my Mount To-be-read manageable.
Years ago, you see, my dad taught me a bit of a trick that helped immensely with the harder hills: he taught me to see each individual rise as a triumph, every intermediary peak as a real achievement. With that simple shift, it wasn’t about getting to the top any longer. It was about the next thing, and the next thing, and so on until the next thing was the last thing. Suddenly, big hills weren’t insurmountable obstacles in my mind. They seemed to me a series of small triumphs, and with every little win, I felt better — about myself and everything else.
So I don’t think of my Mount To-be-read as having one ultimate summit. When it was a single supersized thing, I used to do, and I never made any headway with it whatsoever. Now, I use my bedside cabinet instead. It has three drawers. Depending on their respective length and dimensions, I can fit between five and ten books in each of these: that’s two to four weeks’ worth of reading for me.
In the top drawer — aka the drawer of deadlines — I keep the books I have to read for review as soon as humanly possible. At the moment, the highlights include Parasite by Mira Grant, Drakenfeld by Mark Charan Newton, and last (but certainly not least) Doctor Sleep by Stephen King.
Books that are far further out, that I may or may not write about when the promised time does come, belong in the middle drawer. I certainly haven’t pitched these to any editors yet. In some cases, I’m not even sure if I’m interested. The latest addition to this lot is Red Rising by Pierce Brown. On the one hand, it’s a book I’ve been hearing about for months, which puts me in mind of the pre-pub buzz about The Passage — a novel I enjoyed awfully. On the other, the press release describes Red Rising as “The Hunger Games meets Ender’s Game,” which has almost — almost — put me off.
Amongst this number, there’s also The Abominable by Dan Simmons, which I absolutely mean to read at some stage: its spiritual predecessor, The Terror, was that rare affair I loved utterly, albeit many moons ago. Alas, The Abominable is awfully long, and it’s due out alongside a murder of other genre novels that are already firmly ensconced in the top drawer, such that I sincerely doubt I’ll be able to get busy with it before Christmas.
If The Abominable’s release date does happen to pass me by, it’ll join the stockpile in the bottom drawer of my bedside cabinet where I keep the more notable oversights of my recent reading career, like The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear, and a couple of classics: at the moment, a small assortment of Iain M. Banks and Richard Matheson. I only rarely devote myself to the contents of this drawer, but whenever I do find a few free days, into it I dig!
But whichever drawer I’m indulging in at any given time, the important thing, for me at least, is to see each book I read as an achievement in itself. As part of a larger enterprise, perhaps, but by now I know that I’m not likely in my life to ever reach the top of my Mount To-be-read. Better by all accounts that I take pleasure in — and no small satisfaction from — every slight incline as opposed to feeling overwhelmed by the whole hill.
A tiny slice of Mount TBR:
The thing about Mount To-be-read is that it has ever-shifting slopes as books move up and down, depending on mood. There are many sides of the mountain as well–books I have but haven’t read yet (something kind of unthinkable to my younger self,) books I want to read, but don’t have yet, and books on my radar that are coming out soon, to be borrowed or bought as soon as they come out. Sometimes something from that last category shifts another category, causing an avalanche of reshuffling. So, with the notice that this is subject to change on a whim, here are a few from each category.
Books I have but haven’t read yet:
- The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black. This one just moved from the last category to the first. I’m excited to read it because 1) I loved the short story it’s expanded on, and 2) I loved her Curse Workers trilogy.
- The Dreamblood duology by N.K. Jemison. I devoured her Inheritance trilogy–it felt epically lush or lushly epic, and I’m looking forward to seeing what she does with this setting.
- The Wrath-Bearing Tree by James Enge. I just got my copy of this, the second book in the Tournament of Shadows trilogy. (Disclaimer: I work for Pyr, who publishes this series.) This is a prequel trilogy on the origins of Morlock Ambrosius, master sorcerer, master swordsman, and dry drunk. It’s interesting seeing how he got the way he is in the original three books. One of my highly anticipated books of the summer–I love these books.
Books I want to read but haven’t yet (and don’t have yet):
- I’ve never read the Drizzt books by R. A. Salvatore. I’m aware this is a gap in my reading and seek to rectify the situation as some point in the not too distant future.
- Adaptation by Malinda Lo. I enjoyed both her fantasies–Ash and Huntress–and look forward to seeing what she does in a SF setting.
Going to change my reading list as soon as they come out:
- Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan, second book in the Lynburne Legacy trilogy, which comes out later this month. Unspoken, the first book, hits my sweet spot pretty hard. It’s a YA gothic that plays with a lot of the tropes of both YA and gothics, including the “fated to be in love” trope (which I usually don’t like at all.)
This is an infinitesimally small sampling of Mount To-be-read. Its slopes are mighty and travelers could (and often do) get lost there. I don’t anticipate getting caught up unless someone imports a Time Turner from Hogwarts and gifts it to me.
First of all, a confession. I have been having trouble reading fiction and am mostly rereading books I know I like: Jane Austen and Diana Wynne Jones, at the moment. I am not sure what the problem is about, except I get part way into a book and think, “Why am I reading this?” And then I put it down. I read Austen and Jones because they are funny and clever, and their stories have happy endings. What better books to read in a world that seems often grim?
Nonetheless, I have to-be-read pile next to my bed.
- Ancient, Ancient, a collection by Kiini Ibura Salaam, which won the 2013 Tipree Award. It was published by Aqueduct Press, which publishes a lot of good and interesting work, and has a foreword by Nisi Shawl and blurbs by Nalo Hopkinson and Sheree Renee Thomas. This is an impressive set of credentials. The book is on the top of my pile.
- After the Apocalypse, a collection by Maureen McHugh, published by Small Beer Press, another publisher that does really fine work. McHugh’s China Mountain Xiang is one my favorite novels, and her stories are always worth reading. A beautifully intelligent writer.
- We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. A novel based on a real experiment which tried to raise chimpanzees as human children in human families. The story is about what happens to one family, which raises a chimpanzee and then gives the chimpanzee up when it becomes too strong to control.(This happened in the real experiment.) What is it like for children when their sister suddenly vanishes, with no good explanation? What is a family like after such a betrayal? I’m not sure the book counts as science fiction, but Fowler is another beautifully intelligent writer, and there is always something a little strange – and little fantastic – about her work.
- 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson. I’m part way through this novel. I have complained in print about a lack of hope in current SF. Robinson gives us a high-tech future full of marvels and possibility. This is the future we wanted as kids, with space travel, human settlements all over the Solar System, mystery, and adventure.
- Time Reborn by Lee Smolin. Smolin is a maverick theoretical physicist and this book (non-fiction) is a discussion of where physics needs to go. A lot of the book is about time, which Smolin believes is key to building new and successful GUT. Per Smolin, most contemporary physics ignores time completely, and this is wrong. I’ve been writing a lot of stories about time travel, and I’m hoping that Smolin will help, though I will say this book is hard for me to follow, though it supposed to be for a popular audience. While it isn’t science fiction, it is science.
Filed under: Mind Meld
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