This week we asked our participants to tell us about authors & books that they keep intending to read by haven’t yet read…
Here’s what they said
There’s an old joke party game among academics in which professors sit around sharing “I’ve never read” confessions of escalating severity, until the “winner” finally confesses something like “I’ve never read DON QUIXOTE” and gets cast into the outer darkness with the goats and the folk who like action movies.
There’s some hazard to answering this question, is what I’m trying to say.
But here goes:
- Adult Heinlein. I’ve only read Starship Troopers and one juvie (Have Spacesuit, Will Travel). I liked both books, though even as a child wowed by the notion of power armor I found the politics in Troopers weird—but The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Stranger in a Strange Land and all his other adult work, I’ve never gone there. Stranger at least I started as a kid (~10 years old), but stopped about seventy pages in.
- Anne McCaffery. I know, I know, I know. But there were so many Pern books, no local library had the first ones, and I lived in The Time Before Internets. Which is to say I didn’t even know which book to request from the local bookstore or order from the library.
- Olaf Stapledon. I tried to read Last and First Men when I was maybe ten or eleven? If there was a ten-year-old equipped to drool over dense character-less future history, that ten-year-old wasn’t me, but I think I would like the book better now.
- The Strugatsky Bros. I’ve been hearing stories about these guys forever from my old college roommate, and now that English translations are commonly available, I need to give them a try for myself.
- Octavia Butler. I’ve only ever read The Parable of the Sower, though I’ve re-read that one. There’s a great deal more to her work, and I’m excited to discover it.
Glancing back over that list, I see a few themes. Many of these books I encountered too young, without adequate foundations: I bounced off Stapledon, for example, at about the same time I bounced off The Once and Future King, and TOaFK is now one of my favorite books. Availability was another factor—I grew up in a small university town in Tennessee, and while there were books around, the selection was sometimes eclectic. Without context and access I was left realizing halfway through Camber of Culdi that there were other “Deryni” books, midway through The Lost Swords: The First Triad before realizing there’d been a whole trilogy before. It’s easy to forget how good we have it in these days of high connectivity, when we can track down other readers, reading lists, and reviews. The Future turns out to be a cool place.
Working in publishing definitely has its advantages and disadvantages when it comes to being “in the know” about books coming out. On the one hand, it’s really exciting to see what’s coming up and add things to my TBR pile, but on the other hand, it can be really difficult to choose what to read next, so books can sit for years on my shelf before I get to them.
Recently, I finally got around to reading V. E. Schwab’s Vicious (Tor), a book that’s been on my TBR list since I first learned about it in a meeting months before publication, and I’m so glad I did. I’m pretty sure it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read, and now I am very excited to dive in and read everything else Victoria has ever written, including The Near Witch, The Archived, and The Unbound, all published by Hyperion-Disney, as well as A Darker Shade of Magic, which should be out from Tor in the winter.
Kameron Hurley is another author I’ve had my eye on. I discovered her on Twitter because many people I follow were retweeting a number of her guest blog posts, including “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle, and Slaves’ Narrative” that appeared on A Dribble of Ink last summer. If you haven’t read this Hugo and BFS award nominated essay by now, you really really should. Her blog posts alone made me an instant fan, and I have added God’s War, Infidel, and Rapture, all from Night Shade Books, to my TBR pile along with her forthcoming book, The Mirror Empire, coming out this Fall from Angry Robot.
Several people around the office have recommended Wesley Chu’s The Lives of Tao and The Deaths of Tao, both published by Angry Robot. These two books have been sitting on my Kindle for quite some time, actually, and every time he pops up on my Twitter feed I think, “I really need to read those books soon.” Word on the street is his new book with Tor, tentatively titled Time Salvager, is going to be pretty badass too.
And finally, another author I tend to fangirl over a lot is Catherynne Valente. I’ve only read one of her books, Deathless (Tor), but it’s amazing and beautiful and haunting and just all of the things I love to see in the books I read. On my TBR pile from her is The Bread We Eat in Dreams (Subterranean Press), Six-Gun Snow White (Subterranean Press), and her recently released essay collection, Indistinguishable from Magic (Mad Norwegian Press). I also highly recommend her blog. It’s beautiful and one of the best author blogs I’ve come across.
I have so many books I plan to read that it’s bordering on ridiculous, and I could go on for pages because the world is full of excellent writing. I am literally surrounded by great books both at work and at home, and I can only see my TBR list getting longer and longer as I discover more authors. At least I will always have something to read!
Answering this question is a bit like stripping naked in front of a crowd. Public confessions always have that feel, especially when confessing to something big and embarrassing, like a list of authors that read like a “Who’s Who of Genre.” Then again, we’re all friends and fans here. And with so much time spent devouring the latest books, none of us have much time left over to devote to the big names tucked away in our “to be read” pile, right? Right? Well, that’s what I’ll be telling myself as my shorts pool around my ankles. Right then. Enough stalling; let the show begin.
My first elusive author is Ursula K. Le Guin. I read The Left Hand of Darkness years ago, and I was struck by how different her writing and world were from the other science fiction books I had read. In particular, I could not recall a novel that had addressed sexuality and gender like she did or built interplanetary societies whose members were both close and remote. But above all, I loved Le Guin’s writing. This was a book written in a beautiful, lyrical, and emotional style—a unique and strong voice that bowled me over. I have since picked up copies of The Lathe of Heaven and A Wizard of Earthsea, but they have yet to escape my “to be read” pile despite the fact I could probably read the latter in an afternoon.
My second elusive author is Octavia Butler. Like Le Guin, Butler is known for addressing issues of race, sexuality, gender, and politics with a voice that is one of a kind. At the 2012 Nebula weekend in DC, I attended a panel on Butler consisting of writer and editor Eileen Gunn, Annalee Newitz of io9.com, Joe Haldeman, and moderated by Charlie Jane Anders, also of io9.com. Their praise and analysis of Butler’s works did a lot to remind me of why Butler is an author I have wanted to read for quite some time. To hear them speak so passionately about her storytelling and style, her boldness and big ideas, it was hard not to ransack the dealer’s room and find a quiet corner to start reading. Sadly, I have to yet to read Lilith’s Brood or Parable of the Sower.
My next elusive author is also known for his politics, but I am more interested in him for sub-genre reasons. Author number three is China Miéville. Having heard a bit about his Bas-Lag series and New Crobuzon, I was curious about Miéville, but new weird always sounded a bit, well, too weird for me. I even received a copy of Embassytown in my tote bag when I signed in for the 2012 Nebula weekend, but instead of reading it, I put it on the “to be read” pile. Since that time, I’ve actually read a bit of new weird, including, most recently, Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation and Authority and Michael Underwood’s Shield and Crocus, and I’ve quite enjoyed the surprises and creative stories that result from mashing up genres. It would seem odd then, that I haven’t read one of new weird’s leading lights. But assuming Miéville achieves his goal of writing a book in every genre, I will have lots of options for future reading.
Although it may seem like my list of elusive authors is composed exclusively of authors who take on big social issues, sometimes I just want to read an epic fantasy filled with warring kingdoms, swords, magic, and adventure. But that doesn’t mean I want clichés and tropes. I want an author who shines within genre. And so it is surprising that I have not yet read Robin Hobb. People have praised her writing, her world building, and her characterization for years. With the upcoming Fool’s Assassin, Hobb will have published fourteen books in the Farseer world, but I have yet to even read the first, Assassin’s Apprentice, despite it holding a spot in my “to be read pile” for years now (Perhaps I need to move that pile somewhere more in my face?). Assassin’s Apprentice came out a year before A Game of Thrones, and George R.R. Martin even blurbed it. I’ve managed to re-read all the “A Song of Ice and Fire” books, but not one of Hobb’s. That’s kind of embarrassing.
Last on my list of elusive authors is Christopher Moore. I am a big comedy fan, and I think it is sadly underutilized in genre novels. I’ve read Adams, Pratchett, and Vonnegut, but I have yet to be inducted into Moore’s cult following. Moreover, Moore has been praised for his irreverence, his dark humor, and his slanted takes on monsters and Shakespeare—and these things are right up my alley. That’s why I’m still surprised that Moore’s A Dirty Job and Fool to remain on my shelf, unread.
So there I stand, exposed for all to see. Assuming my geek status is not revoked as a consequence of this post, I suppose the silver lining to something like this is that it should provide the missing motivation to read the authors on my list. And perhaps that’s the important lesson I should be learning here, G.I.-Joe-style: we all have our list of elusive authors; the trick is to make sure that list is constantly changing.
I got into reading genre pretty late by most writers’ standards that I know; it wasn’t until late in high school that I started on adult SF novels (I read YA SF like Monica Hughes and Douglas Hill). Over the years as I began writing my own stuff, I developed “funny” reading habits. If I’m writing SF I can’t read fantasy, and if I’m writing fantasy I can’t read SF. I tend to pick up tone or something when I read that affects how I write, and consequently when I’m in writing mode I actually read very little, or I read pointedly/selectively rather than plowing through a lot of different types of novels. I tend to read a lot of non-fiction too and most of my novel reading lately has been non-genre. That’s my very long disclaimer as to why I haven’t gotten around to these writers yet. That being said, here are some of the writers that have been on my List forever…and keep getting displaced for one reason or another. I do own at least one work by most of these authors too, so I have no real excuse. In no particular order:
- Samuel R. Delany
- China Miéville
- Iain M. Banks
- Jonathan Franzen
- JK Rowling (her adult novel…though I’ve never read Harry Potter either. Yes, I know. I’m the last person on the planet.)
Shame on me, I know, but the first would be Jeff VanderMeer. Several months ago, I picked up Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction (http://wonderbooknow.com) and was absolutely mesmerized. My own writing had stagnated, and this book renewed not only my spirits but also kindled a significant interest in Vandermeer’s works. I want to see how his exercises manifest for him.
The second would be the “Temeraire” series by Naomi Novik. I lauded the first book, His Majesty’s Dragon, so much that I rushed out and bought the next two. Now, they’re collecting dust. Sigh. Who doesn’t love Master and Commander with Dragons? I know I do, and I think wistfully about this series whenever I pass Throne of Jade on my shelf.
Have you ever heard Andy Duncan read? I met Andy a couple of years ago at the Campbell Conference in Lawrence, Kan. Hearing him read from his work is one of the greatest treats a fan can experience. I promptly bought The Pottawatomie Giant and Other Stories, ravaged through several of his short stories in that anthology and have since enjoyed hearing writers such as Greg Frost espouse Duncan’s greatness. But, Pottawatomie is the only work I own. I can’t explain it.
As for this for this next one, I may get a bit of a pass because her second novel, Copperhead, only came out last October, but when the question was presented I immediately thought of Tina Connolly. I interviewed Tina for AISFP and read her debut, Ironskin. The Nebula nominee is a wonderfully layered novel with a tenacious heroine. This is one book I definitely will want my daughter to read when she’s old enough.
Speaking of works that have strong female characters and I, and my daughter, will need to read are the novels at small press Hadley Rille Books. I lose major points here, too, because many of the authors are (full disclosure) also friends. Eolyn, The Song and The Sorceress, and Finder are tremendous novels that I’ve read from the house — by different authors. Heard of ’em? If not, you should. And if you believe in supporting small press and promoting heroines of fantasy, SF and historical fiction, check out before it ends July 31.
- SCOTT LYNCH (The Lies of Locke Lamora) – Recently I was ganged up on by at least 6 of my fellow book bloggers because they found out I have yet to read The Lies of Locke Lamora. Yes yes, I’m quite ashamed of this fact and so I have pulled the book off my dusty shelf just this week and plan to make it the next book I read. Of course I’ve done this numerous times with so many books. There are always so many books and so little time. But I’m told that I can’t possibly raise my head in good SFF company if I haven’t read it. So thy will be done – I’ll read it this week!
- JOE ABERCROMBIE (any of his works) – I’ve heard he’s one of THE top names in grimdark fantasy. I’ve never been partial to extreme doom and gloom so that would be the reason that I have yet to read any of his books or many books at all in the grimdark genre. I CAN say however that I am rectifying the situation RIGHT NOW – because I am currently reading his latest novel, Half a King that released this month. So take that! (Plus I just picked up his entire “The First Law” trilogy at the store today, The Blade Itself, Before They are Hanged and Last Argument of Kings)
- JACQUELINE CAREY (Kushiel’s Dart) – I’ve been meaning to read this book for over ten years when a friend lent me her books. Which she never saw again because I promptly moved out of state. When I moved back she asked for them back! Can you believe it? Someone expecting me to return books? It’s the reason why I never use the print library because I have a hard time parting with books. I’ve even bought it in ebook as well as the audio and still I’ve yet to kick myself in the butt to read it. It sounds so fascinating and like the perfect fantasy world to ensnare me and yet I’ve never cracked the spine yet. I have started a “priority to read this year” list – with at least 10 books that I’ve either always meant to read or ones that at least 3 of my other SFF blogging friends insist I must read. We’ll see how well that works out.
- PETER S. BEAGLE (The Last Unicorn) – I’ve loved this cartoon ever since I was a little girl. Only a few years ago did I realize it was a book as well. Then I felt like such a dolt for never having read it – even more so now that it’s been another several years since I found that fact out. The world must have unicorns in it…and so must my reading. A wonderful friend I made at WorldCon2013 says this is one of his absolute favorite books and as it’s still one of my favorite movies to this day I absolutely must read it this year.
- DIANA WYNNE JONES (Howl’s Moving Castle & The Tough Guide to Fantasyland) – Another of my favorite animated films is Howl’s Moving Castle. I didn’t even realize it was a book as well. It’s so whimsical and fun yet dark and a bit sad. Then there’s the tough guide! Nathan @ Fantasy Review Barn does a very fun weekly meme where he picks one of the tropes from the guide and participants try to make a list of books that use that trope. It’s loads of fun as I’m sure the book is as well. So of course both of these books must be read double quick.
Now that you know my shame – know this! I’m now in possession of each and every one of these books and will read them or suffer the lash! Don’t look at me with that all knowing smirk – I’ll do it I tell you, I will!
Juliet Marillier: I remember reading the first two books in her “Sevenwaters” trilogy but then somehow just didn’t read the rest of the series or any of her other books. This makes me sad as I loved what I’d read so much.
Glenda Larke: I read and loved utterly Ms. Larke’s “The Mirage Makers” books and although I have all the rest of her books either in pb or kindle format, I’ve not had the chance to get to them. The thing I love most about Ms. Larke is how well her worlds are developed and how her characters seamlessly form part of that landscape. Uch. It’s the worst!
Guy Gavriel Kay: this guy’s writing is like crack. I cannot stop reading his books. I’ve read four I think? But I really want to get on to reading everything else he’s written because I need them in my brain. I read Ysabel whilst we were holidaying in France and there’s something to be said for reading a book set in a country you’re visiting that makes is hyper-real. Also, did I mention the part where his books are like crack?
Charles de Lint: I have possibly everything CdL has written with the exception of a handful hard-to-come-by editions and I force myself not to glomp his books in one sitting. Mr. de Lint and his group of friends started the urban fantasy/magic realism thing back in the day and I first read him back in 1996 or thereabouts. And even though I have say 95% of his books I’ve read maybe only 80% of them and I’m keeping the other, unread, titles as treats for holidays and such.
Dave Gibbins: Mr. Gibbins is one of my favourite thriller writers. He writes these crazy quest novels that I adore because they’re well researched and just plain fun to sink into and forget about everyday rubbish going on all around you. I was lucky enough to correspond with him for a few years and I will always be grateful to him for his advice about writing and creating characters. I have a backlog of maybe 3 or 4 of his books to read and I feel the itch beneath my skin to do just that. I’ll make it happen soon. I’ve got a holiday coming up. And no baggage limit.
Other authors whose books I own that I need to read more of: Sharon Shinn / Nnedi Okorafor / Stephen King (dammit I must finish the Gunslinger / “Dark Tower” books that I already own) / Clive Barker / Ian McDonald (loved Dervish House SO much) and that’s not even mentioning the hundreds of comics. So many stories and only one pair of eyes.