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Friday, December 5, 2014

Revising the Reading List by Susan Oleksiw

Over the years my reading has expanded along what might seem predictable lines--lots of scholarly nonfiction, novels set in India, mysteries, and current nonfiction. I rarely read historical fiction though I enjoy history. Recently I read Ursula LeGuin's National Book Award speech, and was reminded that I had never read anything by her other than a few short stories.

As a child I read The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, and was put off by the governess's clearly unhinged state. In my view there was no ghost, just an unreliable woman losing her mind in an isolated country house. I told my older brother this and he remarked, you won't like science fiction or ghost stories. I took him at his word and happily entered the world of mysteries.

LeGuin's speech convinced me I'd been too quick to judge, and I picked up her first novel, Rocannon's World (1964). In a preface to a new edition the author remarked on how much her writing has changed, and as I read the story I could tick off the stages in the hero's journey without any effort. Still, I liked the author's robust attitude and her imagination.

Since I had no idea how LeGuin compared to other writers of science fiction, I decided to try C.S. Lewis. I had read Till We Have Faces (1956) in college, and knew about the Chronicles of Narnia, though they hadn't appealed to me as a child. I selected Out of the Silent Planet and fell in love with Dr. Ransom. When he sees the strange creature emerge from a body of water and begin talking, he loses all fear, and "his imagination leaped over every fear and hope and probability of his situation to follow the dazzling project of making a Malacandrian grammar." Of course! You laugh but I didn't. I knew exactly how Ransom felt. What Lewis shows us in the next several chapters is laid bare in language at the end, when Ransom discusses the nature of life on earth with Oyarsa after all three humans are brought before him and the people of the planet.

For several years I was a member of a book group, where I read authors whose works had never appealed to me, and for the most part still don't, but I found it very broadening to read and think about their words and articulate just what I didn't care for.


Last night I joined several other writers for the annual Mystery Night at the New England Mobile Book Fair. Not many readers in my area read about India, but I was pleasantly surprised when a few patrons listened to me talk about my Anita Ray books and decided to try them. India and Indian mysteries are as alien to many readers in this country as science fiction has long been to me. It's nice to pull down some walls, and get a closer look at the other side, from wherever you are standing.

10 comments:

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Susan,

I agree with you about needing to broaden our reading horizons. As an undergrad English major, social studied minor, I read literary fiction from all over the world as well as nonfiction. Since I was a busy working mom during the time I obtained both of my graduate degrees, I stuck with course requirements. Nowadays, I read a lot of mystery fiction but I also enjoy historical romance.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Hi, Jacquie, as I go along I find I'm adding to my list of interests rather than shortening it. I wish I had more time to read, but all I can do is plunge ahead. Now I have SF to add to my list. Thanks for commenting.

Jan Christensen said...

Susan, loved what you said about your experiences with reading at different times in your life. I once made a plan to read one biography and one other non-fiction title each month, plus one bestseller and a book outside of the mystery genre, interspersed with mysteries. I used to read about three books a week, so this was doable. It lasted two months. LOL I really should go back to it. I think it's a great plan, but I don't get to read as much as I used to--maybe two books a week, so I'd have to tweak it some. My belief is that we should read the most in the genres we write in, but to branch out a bit, too.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Jan, I'm very impressed with your original plan. I'm not sure I'm brave enough to try it (I'd last about a month) but I like the idea of keeping the variety of titles going. I know I don't read enough in crime fiction but I see something interesting and just have to pick it up. Thanks for commenting.

Shalanna said...

I know people can be put off by cross-genre fiction, but what attracts me to most books is the voice. If that voice calls to me, I will probably like and finish the book. My book LOVE IS THE BRIDGE (by Denise Weeks--not the subway singer who stole my name, but the mundane driver's license me) is a techie ghost story about how vulnerable we are to any sort of meddling with our electronic footprints. Could an AI be "possessed" and controlled by an angry ghost from the past? I explored the idea. This meant that everyone who thought they didn't like ghosts, the supernatural, techie stuff, etc., wouldn't read it. (SIGH) But anyway, it's good to stretch your horizons. I even let my husband watch those stupid Adult Swim cartoons at the dinner table. . . .

Patricia Stoltey said...

I've gradually branched out into other genres as well, Susan. I discovered I even like some fantasy, definitely love post-apocalyptic/dystopian novels, including YA, and even a bit of horror if it's not too gross. And then there's all those great novels by authors such as Sandra Dallas...

Carolyn J. Rose said...

I pretty much stick to mystery (but from all over the world) and history. I steer clear of the heart-wrenching, especially that based on fact, the tear-jerking, and anything I'm told I HAVE TO read - unless it's a book that will make me laugh.

Anonymous said...

I have also belonged to a book club and read selected books I would never have chosen. It did broden my view and gave the chance to discuss likes and dislikes with others. For me, diversity among settings,,family sagas ,romance nand mysteries would make for happy reading.

carl brookins said...

Che3ck 'em out. Desert Rage by Betty Webb. demonstrates she hasn't lost any of her reporter inveetigative skills.

New to me, SPEAKING OF MURDER by Jonathan Black, a terror/thriller that is excellent of type.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Shalanna, I hope people read your story and get past the idea that they don't like ghosts.

Pat, I too discovered that I thoroughly enjoy dystopian novels, especially Paul Auster's The City of Last Things. These books challenge us to see our behavior and consequences differently.

Carolyn, I just came across some new mystery writers writing in India, and I'm looking forward to reading those books. Some are quite humorous, I'm told.

The best part of books groups, Anonymous, is the challenge to hear other points of view (as well as getting new titles to enjoy).

Carl, thanks for coming by and suggesting two titles.