Do you, like me, have books piled up in precarious towers all over your house? Mine are everywhere, on my nightstand, in the living room, on the floor in my study, on the kitchen counter and, of course, in what the French so sweetly call “le petit coin” …. I am a self-confessed polygamous reader. How on earth can I be satisfied with one when there are so many others out there? And here, dear bibliophiles, are the best of the current miscellany. I plan to update it weekly.
In first place is The Wonder Garden by Lauren Acampora, a fellow Brown grad. It’s is a beautifully crafted offering of interwoven short stories set in a New England town called Old Cranbury. Deliciously disturbing, engrossing and personally resonant for this denizen of a Connecticut town. Particularly loved “The Virginals” as it reminded me of my neighbors (she whispers, assuming they will never get online!) Get your hands on a copy.
Also just completed Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. The book concerns the story of a traveling group of Shakespearean actors twenty years after a devastating flu has wiped out the majority of the human race. I have a bit of a morbid fascination for post-apocalyptic fiction — loved both Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, but Station Eleven is different, less about the horror of society’s collapse and more about the human spirit and what it means to be a survivor. It is spare and gorgeous and inventive and made me stop for a moment and truly consider the extraordinary wonder of our magical technological world. And then I went and stared at this in Barnes and Noble for a long long time.
Station Eleven won this year’s Arthur C. Clarke award for Science Fiction, which is both surprising, and not. It deserves the award – it is a wonderful book – but even the author seems startled at it being categorized in that genre, for Station Eleven is less about science than a lack thereof. Should you want some “real” SciFi, try Ann Leckie’s multi award-winning Ancillary Justice, which was recommended to me by a friend from Tor. With its innovative conceptualization of gender, and the wonderful world she constructs, I could not help thinking of LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness.
As you can probably see from my own work, that while I do write stories set in the real world, I have a pretty strong penchant for magical realism (or slipstream, if you will). There are many many wonderful writers who work in this genre, from the immortals like Borges, Marquez and Calvino, to modern day writers like Kelly Link and Susanna Clarke, but I am always on the look out for Science Fiction novels that adhere to literary standards. I am not a snob but I grew up on the beauty of LeGuin’s Earthsea, and Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, and I do think the twain can meet… If you have any suggestions, please let me know, and otherwise here is a link to Ann Leckie’s wonderful Hesperia and Glory on Escape Pod. Happy listening!
Oh yes, meant to add…..What makes a work literary? In my mind it is the language and the tone — it should startling, beautiful, unconventional, musical, rigorous and in tune with the story it is telling — that’s all, folks.
Copyright Sam Grieve 6/24/15