Don’t mind the mess…

I have planned all year to migrate to WordPress from Blogger. I always said, “Well, I think I’ll get to it in the fall.” And here we are! I had a free day today and suddenly felt really motivated. Perhaps I bit off more than I can chew – things should look prettier around here by Sunday – but I think everything is functional. I probably should have made a post before I made the switchover, but I didn’t really think things through 😛  Hopefully I haven’t lost anybody in the transfer.

If you’ve moved from Blogger to WordPress, please let me know any tips you might have! (Also, if you come across any problems/errors…I know there are many, haha. I’m working on them slowly but surely. ) I’m basically starting from scratch with my design and all that. I’m excited to freshen things up and explore some of the plug-ins I hear other bloggers rave about…

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Mid-Year Check In

Here we are now in July, rolling down the hill of 2016. Time for the mid-year review! I find it difficult to think this is the first full year where I won’t engage in any formal education. The school year has nothing to do with my own plans. I began private tutoring a couple weeks ago and I started working another part job this week. I’m finding myself with more work hours than I anticipated. I know saving cash for grad school is my priority now, and more work is a good thing, but I wonder how it’s going to affect my blogging. I might need a few more weeks to settle into a new schedule (especially since I plan on spending many weekends at the lake!). Anyway! How am I doing on my 2016 goals?

  • 64 posts (8/month when not travelling, twice a week, ideally one review and one other) – My two non-travelling months (January and June) were pretty well on track with this goal. July’s not off to a solid start, though I should be back on track by the end of the month.
    • Improve writing style (be more precise, use less words) – I’ve done a lot of posts this year, including reviews and responses, that I’m pretty proud of. I think I’m making progress here (though you wouldn’t know it from this post, haha).
    • Be more engaging (in posts and comments) – Bit by bit I’m working on this. I couldn’t do it so much in the first half of the year, but I’m trying to be more active on Twitter, find new blogs to follow, and leave more thoughtful comments.
  • 55 books read (updated to 84 books) – I read 29 books while travelling, which was 29 more than I planned on, so I updated my goal when I returned. I’ve read 46 books so far, putting me 3 books ahead of the new goal. Hooray! I couldn’t be picky with what I read while travelling, so I haven’t made a lot of progress on the goals below. I think I can catch up on them by the end of the year, though. On the goals below, I’m not counting The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, which I read annually.
    • 2/10 books reread – I’ve reread two books: Charlotte’s Web and A Darker Shade of Magic. I haven’t yet reread any of the books I actually put on the list.
    • 0/5 Japanese spirituality books – I’m 0 on this one. Most of the books I’ll borrow from a local university. I received one of the books on the list as a gift while travelling. I plan to tackle that one soon.
    • 1/6 Tolkien-related books – I read The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (which I just realized is also a reread).  Most of the books on this list I have at home, so I should be making progress on this goal soon.
    • 3/5 Canadian Indigenous books – On track. Hopefully I can easily surpass 5!

This time last year, I talked about quality vs. quantity and recapped the ratings of the books I’ve read so far. I didn’t delineate ‘read better books’ as a goal this year, because I have no idea how to do that other than by reading more books, but let’s take a look anyhow…

  • I’ve read 9 ★★★★★ books, including 4 rereads. 5/8 five-star reads last year were rereads, so this is a small improvement.
  • I’ve read 19 ★★★★ books. That’s also an improvement over last year, by 4 books.
  • I’ve read 9 ★★★ books. That’s two less than last year. I really wanted to read less three-star books and more four- or five-star books, so it looks like I’m doing well!
  • I’ve read 5 ★★ books. One more than last year. Three were books I read while travelling because that’s what was around. Two were books I was really interested in but they didn’t live up to my expectations.
  • I’ve read 1 ★ book. Oops. The pretty cover and description lead me to request an ARC that turned out to be one of the worst books I’ve read in the past few years.

Looking at my 2016 Goodreads shelf reminded me of all the great books I’ve already this year. I feel like I’m doing better than in 2015. How is your reading going this year? Are you keeping up with any challenges, goals or resolutions? 

Response: What Does the Term Diverse Mean to You?

On Wednesday, Naz @ Read Diverse Books posted “What Does the Term Diverse Mean to You?”. I’m bumping the review I had scheduled today to write a response to his post, as I’ve been thinking about it a lot these past two days. I highly recommend you read his original post if you haven’t done so already. He breaks down what he means when he uses diverse, a popular word in the book world whose meanings and uses are not often closely explored.

Naz makes three points about diversity in his post (which he makes clear are his own opinion, and that we don’t really have a universally correct way to use the term):

  1. That diverse/diversity are particularly Western terms
  2. That we shouldn’t refer to individual people or books as diverse
  3. That when he says ‘read diverse books’, he means read books “that represent the variety of voices traditionally marginalized and underrepresented in the (Western) publishing industry”.  I.E. ‘Read diverse books‘ =/= ‘Read a diverse book’

I immediately agreed with his third point. Where I got stuck was why we shouldn’t call individual books (that may be found, for example, on a ‘list of diverse books’) diverse – I didn’t understand why it might be okay to say ‘read diverse books’ but not ‘read a diverse book’. However, I did understand and agree with Naz’s point about using diverse collectively. I agree that diversity comes when you have a variety of stories together. I understand that only reading books about, for example, white trans boys would not be ‘reading diverse books’ because those books are not very diverse from one another. Therefore it’s important to say ‘read diverse books’ in the collective sense that Naz defined. When you’re reading diversely – when you read diverse books – you’re reading books about many different people and experiences.

As I reflected on how I use the term diverse with regards to individual books, I initially thought I used it to refer to a book that gives voice to someone who experiences the world differently from me, i.e. a character who is not a cishet, white, ablebodied, English-speaking, Canadian female. In my case, this definition includes a lot of books that feature traditionally marginalized voices. Those characters are ‘diverse’ from mainstream literature. Therefore, what harm would I be doing in saying ‘This book is diverse’? When I looked back at Naz’s post last night, I saw the answer to my question. The key issue with my definition is the word differently.

Some people may use the term to mean “different” or “other,” but we shouldn’t be using it in that context or mindset because it renders exotic the experiences of marginalized communities. And as long as we keep seeing their stories as other or foreign, then we will struggle to move past the term “diversity” and into fair and equal representation. The goal should be to make “diversity” obsolete, at least in the publishing industry, and aim for all stories to be valid and valued, not because they’re “diverse” but because they reflect our world and explore universal truths.

I spent a lot of time arguing back and forth with myself about these points. I do this so I can make sure I really understand why I might change my mind on something. Suddenly, Naz’s argument clicked for me. Diverse shouldn’t be interchangeable for ‘gives voice to an experience different from mine’. That’s how I was using the term. The problem with that is, as Naz writes in the quote above, the exoticizing of others’ experiences. I didn’t think I was doing that. But, I’m finally starting to understand that just because I don’t intend to exoticize experiences, doesn’t mean I’m not. Sure, I can say that’s what I mean by diverse but using that term in that way also means I’m inherently exoticizing others experiences. Am I understanding this correctly? I managed to arrive at this conclusion by working through the following thoughts: I also agree that in a perfect world we wouldn’t have to use the term diverse – publishing would represent all the wonderfully varied experiences of people around the world. But…this is where I still get a bit hung up. We don’t live in a perfect world right now. We still have to push for those stories to be told or to be read.To me, I imagine it’s a bit like how we shouldn’t need coming out videos. Nobody should have to make a statement of their sexuality in order to be a positive role model or live as their real self – but with the way society is currently, those videos can be very beneficial to (for example) a young kid struggling with their own sexuality. Then I worry, is my kind of logic part of the reason we can’t move forward?? Am I actually embodying what I would rather abolish? Ahh headache. Maybe I’m finally starting to understand that this may be a more subtle distinction than I realize. And that brings me back to the top of this paragraph 😛 Suddenly, I thought I understood! Because diversity is a given in our world, because we want “all stories to be valid and valued, not because they’re ‘diverse’ but because they reflect our world and explore universal truths” (qt. Naz), this term should be made obsolete.

I went back to look at my review of What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, because I knew even when I published that post that I used diverse in an awkward way, when I really should have used different terminology. Funnily enough, I did use diverse in the collective way without consciously intending to, as I said all of the stories in the book are diverse… Here’s the paragraph where I talked about diversity [newcomments in square brackets]:

All of Oyeyemi’s works demonstrate diversity [Here’s my use of the term in a collective sense – her books all feature diverse characters, as do the stories in this collection], and these stories feature a varied cast of characters. Just as she did in White is for Witching (which features an interracial lesbian couple),   the ‘diverse’ aspects  of the character’s feel natural and almost incidental (not in a bad way) to the story [This whole sentence could use a rewrite, to indicate simply that the characters are not defined by one aspect of their identity]. Sexuality and racial identity are not used as token diversity markers [I think this usage is okay]. But, the stories would not be the same without these aspects of identities. I suppose what I’m trying to get at is, Oyeyemi has found the balance between writing diverse characters who are only their diversity and writing diverse characters who are wholly separate from their diversity. [Whoo, now I can cringe at this sentence 😛 What I am really trying to say is that Oyeyemi writes human characters with realistic identities, and doesn’t just write diverse stories for the sake of diversity.]

I have spent a lot of time thinking about this. This was a tough post for me to write, because I know I’m new to this discussion and I’ve probably still got some things wrong. What you don’t see here is the 1,000 words I deleted as I went in circles trying to make sense of everything 😛 I was nervous about posting this because of that, but I know I can’t overcome my own misunderstandings and learn and improve without engaging in dialogue so I’m taking the plunge! Please let me know if you think I’m off track. Have I totally missed the mark with my comments on inherent exoticization? Are there are other factors we should take into consideration? I’d love to hear what you think about diversity and the use of the term diverse in the book blogging realm.

What is Speculative Fiction? Some Thoughts on Genre

I drafted this post back in January when I was trying to add a genre label to Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day. I didn’t know what to tag it, so I took to Google and came across the term specfic, short for speculative fiction. I thought, “Aha, yes, that must be right! Wait, what about the other books I’ve labelled scifi? Is spec fiction a better label? What’s the difference…” Oops, now I find myself wading into this debate.

I didn’t realize speculative is such a hotly contested word. Some say speculative encompasses anything “created out of imagination and speculation rather than based on reality and everyday life” (Wiki), some say it’s a pretentious term for SF&F, some say it has a distinct meaning of its own. I fall into that last group. Speculative fiction for me means a story outside the traditional realms of science fiction, fantasy or horror. A speculative fiction book has fantastic (in the “imaginative or fanciful; remote from reality” [Oxford Dictionaries] sense) elements, but not necessarily wizards and magic, aliens and spaceships, monsters and gore. (I realize what I’m saying doesn’t really have a lot to do with the actual meaning of speculative. If we take speculative’s meaning at face value, I agree that it would be a catch all for any fiction. Perhaps the real solution to this labelling problem would be to find a better word in the first place! But for now I’m going to run with speculative.) Unsurprisingly, specfic is difficult to define! I feel I know it when I see it. That’s why I started wondering about it after reading Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day. It’s a book with fantastic stories but you won’t find it shelved with SF+F and it likely won’t be your first recommendation for someone who loves George R.R. Martin or Arthur C. Clarke. Catherynne M. Valente (one of my favourite authors) doesn’t really like the term specfic and says it excludes her (though she’s not sure about scifi or fantasy, either), but for me and my personal definition of the term, specfic better than fantasy describes a story like Palimpset or In the Night Garden.

I took a look at the reviews I’ve labelled scifi to see if specfic is a more accurate label for them. The only one I thought I might change is The Southern Reach trilogy. It’s definitely science fiction but it’s got a lot more going for it. But then I realized I had labelled it scifi and dystopia, so I think it fits my labelling system without me adding specfic. 

For myself, I’ll use specfic as a catch-all term for future oddball reads, that don’t fit neatly into the traditional genre categories. I’ve long used the term eerie in a similar way. Eerie for me replaces horror, which doesn’t really fit the kinds of stories I read. Some of the books can be accurately described as terror, but a lot of them aren’t even really that, they’re just…spooky, or ghostly, or eerie ;P

So what have I concluded from all this? People will define genre however they like and use whatever terms they feel comfortable with. Whether this is good or bad is not something I’m concerned with. I wrote this post to hash out what I mean what I use a genre term. I know I use my own classification system (as I think everyone does to some extent) and I don’t expect all readers to use all genre labels in the exact same way. Heck, I’m sure there are plenty of readers who don’t even care about labelling books in such a manner.

This post has spiralled a bit beyond the two paragraphs I initially thought it would be! Ultimately, any differentiation between scifi, fantasy and spec fiction won’t really impact what I choose to read. I’ll still choose books based on their description or reviews. I don’t think it really matters to me what genres others use to differentiate their reading. I just really like metadata and organizing my reading, so it’s something I enjoy thinking about 😛 Keeping track of reviews by genre helps me connect similar books and find new related reads.

 Do you think about genre as much as I do? Or is it irrelevant for you?
 
 

PS – Here are the webpages I visited while researching terms:

Home Again! What Have I Missed?

Hello everyone! I returned home on Thursday. I travelled in Australia and New Zealand for four months (emphasis on New Zealand for LotR purposes, of course). I will kick back into full blogging mode in June, but right now I need to get back into the loop. What have you been up to these past months? I’d love to catch up on some of your favourite posts from the last few months, or learn about upcoming release you’re excited about. For now I will leave you with a photo from the Hobbiton set…