Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

22 Feb 2021, 8:52 a.m.

Some Recent Reading

I have now submitted my book proposal to a few publishers and am attempting to take a little vacation (today's the last full day of it). It's not as safe as it was in September to meet friends in NYC, even outdoors, so instead I have been reading a lot.

I reread Anne McCaffrey's The Rowan for the first time in like 15 years. That I read in paper, but mostly I've been reading ebooks; thanks to SimplyE, NYPL's ebook-lending app, it's easy for me to borrow books and read them on my mobile phone. In the last few months this has helped me read a bunch of engaging genre fiction, such as some John Scalzi (The Collapsing Empire, Lock In, Head On) and a Tortall duology I hadn't read before (Tamora Pierce's Trickster's Choice and Trickster's Queen). And I had previously read maybe three of the nine Temeraire books by Naomi Novik -- over the past few days I've reread a couple and then ploughed through nearly all of the rest (today I'll probably finish League of Dragons). In terms of the four doorways of reader's advisory these are, to me, mostly books with big giant Story doorways, plus some fairly broad Setting doorways and -- except for Scalzi -- substantial Character doorways too.

None of the books I just mentioned are special to me in the way that Pat Barker's Regeneration or Maureen McHugh's China Mountain Zhang are, but I'm grateful for the escape they all provide. Every moment that I am reading a conversation between Laurence and Temeraire is a moment that I am not brooding over COVID-19 or refreshing a social media feed.

And I know enough about the craft of fiction to know that it can be quite difficult to make "easy" entertainment, that my experience of "fluff" is the result of authors' and editors' careful skill. I'm especially grateful to read fast-moving, accessible stories that don't suddenly sideswipe me with sexism and racism. Years ago, Ann Leckie wrote an analogy that sticks with me. "Somebody gets the idea to open a restaurant where everything is exactly as delicious as the other places -- but the waiters won't punch you in the face." Relatedly, Zen Cho characterizes herself as writing "fluff for postcolonial book nerds". When I read the portrayal of a fantastic Indonesia in the Pierce books, or the many portrayals of various countries and peoples in Novik's books, I don't feel 100% "YEAH!" but I also do not feel like the author is being dismissive or contemptuous. As I mentioned a few years ago I am not a fan of narration or plot implying that the author thinks I'm a chump, scornworthy, especially because of my gender, ethnicity, or work ethic/style. And I used to run into that way more often in my pleasure reading. I'm grateful to all the fans, reviewers, activists, authors, editors, and others who have changed that.

Today I also want to finish a nonfiction book -- Beyond majority rule: voteless decisions in the Religious Society of Friends by Michael J. Sheeran -- so I can discuss it with a few folks in a reading circle. The best quote so far is from p. 86: "But to move on to other matters more conducive to measurement is to allow the limits of one's technology to control one's goals." YEAHHHH!