Who are your favorite authors of color?

Excelsior Bev recently asked her students who their favorite African American authors were, and we thought that was a fun question, but that we’d broaden it a bit.

#1:  Alexandre Dumas (Jr) hands down– though I didn’t know he was black until recently!   He’s not so great with his female characters (who are either paper dolls or evil villains), but his books are so much fun that I forgive him.

After that I know there are a lot of worthy POC authors who write amazing award winning serious fiction (and I did like Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and Their Eyes Were Watching God, but as worthy books, not fun books), but I really like popcorn books.  I really do.   So that means people like Lisa Yee and Justina Chen.  I also love almost all of A. Lee Martinez’s books.

Scalzi had a post the other month talking about the “read just women and people of color” challenge someone was doing, and I asked for recommendations for fun light stuff, but the only person who replied has a very different definition of “light” than I do (pro-tip:  Stephen King is not light).  That post also indicated to me that romance novelist Courtney Milan is a POC, which I didn’t know (I like her stuff!).  Recommendations for light stuff welcome in the comments!  (I did read some Marta Acosta light vampire stuff, and it was ok, but not worth owning.) (#2 owns the first but not the second book.)

#2 ZOMG, N. K. Jemisin all day long.  Saladin Ahmed.  Justina Chen Headley (again).  Y. S. Lee.  Nnedi Okorafor.  Dia Reeves.  Michelle Sagara (her stuff sometimes makes #1 cry on airplanes).  Gene Luen Yang.  I recently read Sofia Samatar’s award-winning novel and liked it.

And, as everybody should already know, Octavia E. Butler is objectively one of the best science fiction authors of all time.  (But not light!)

Start there!

Of course, we’re of a couple of minds about these segregated lists.  Well, not really.  It’s just a nuanced stand.  We hate the need for these separate lists and we wish that people would be included on the regular lists of “best of” because many *belong* there.  However, society isn’t there yet, so these lists are a way for people to broaden their horizons so that they can come into contact with amazing authors they wouldn’t normally read.  Being on one of these segregated lists should in no way preclude someone from going on the more general lists of “best of” and we should think really hard when we make a general “best of” list about composition to make sure we’re not running into implicit biases.  A standard procedure is to think about the best POC or female etc. author not on the general list and to compare him or her to the worst person on the general list (iterating to the next underrepresented person etc.).  More often than should be the case, that person really belongs on the general list too and was not included because of subconscious biases.  Eventually, thinking about people from underrepresented groups while making the list rather than after the list is made becomes more automatic.

One place where there are plenty of authors of color is the banned books list.  Boo.

Got anyone else we should read?  Spend your tax refund on books!  Or save it and use your library.

On sex scenes in books

#1 and #2 have somewhat differing views on this topic.

#1 dislikes most sex scenes in most books and skips over them because they tend to be boring and gratuitous.  The book would have been better served just closing the door before the scene occurred.  #2 loves sex scenes and appreciates them way more, and never ever skips them.

However, occasionally a book will have a good sex scene in it.  What makes a good sex scene in #1’s view is that it either drives forward character development or it drives forward the plot.  A really good sex scene will not be identical for every character.  The lovers will discover something about themselves or about each other, or the reader will discover something.  It isn’t just sex!

There’s only one Georgette Heyer novel that #1 wishes had a sex scene in it, A Civil Contract.  In it they have to have had sex, but how?

Good sex scenes:  Freedom and Necessity had a fantastic true-to-life scene.  One Good Earl Deserves a Lover had three really good sex scenes in it, each different and full of character development (and steamy!)  Both of us love those two books!  There are many others that aren’t coming to mind right now (the former is the first sex scene I came across worth reading, the latter is the most recent #1 has read).  Mary Balough is pretty good at them too.  I don’t remember which book it was, but there was a great regency where the hero kept asking for consent and the heroine kept giving it… despite what the Jonathan Chaits of the world would have us believe, consent is really sexy.  #2 agrees and also thinks there are way more good sex scenes than #1 has found!  But then again, I read erotica and slashfic, neither of which #1 reads.

Bad sex scenes:  Anything non-consensual or that starts out non-consensual, especially if it starts out non-consensual (furthering the myth that she’ll like it once it gets started).  This includes characters who are not capable of consent.  Unanimous Ewwww.  Any sex scene that could be repeated with any other pair of characters is also bad to #1 (but not as bad to #2)… the generic scene written without the characters in mind.  And, of course, there are certain over-used turns of phrase that tend to make the reader giggle… that works if the sex scene is supposed to make the reader giggle (or it fits the characters’ thought processes), but usually it’s just a really badly written scene.  Turgid!  #2 wishes that men in sex scenes would quit laving everything.  Find a thesaurus.

Readers, tell us the best sex scenes in fiction!

breaking news: Books are good

You should read Love Is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson.  Just get it.

This book is so good and I stayed up way too late to finish it. Also, if you can get the hardback, do, because the design is quite beautiful.  [Note, however, that the kindle version is $2.99, so even if you don’t love it as much as #1 did, you’re not out that much.]

The book is about high schoolers dealing with race and romance at an expensive prep school in DC.  The protagonist, Emily (or “Bird” to her friends), goes to a party and wakes up in the hospital, unsure what happened.  But there’s a spy chasing her, convinced she knows something important about the pandemic virus that’s sweeping the country.  She doesn’t, but maybe the mysterious drug dealer she’s been flirting with does?  Who can she trust?  Not her parents, not her boyfriend, and probably not the government.

 

I’m not doing it justice but it’s got all kinds of goodies.  Try it out!

(#2 has not read it… it sounds too suspenseful and #2 is in the regency romance portion of her non-work reading ability right now.  The kind where she reads the last chapter after the first just to make sure it turns out ok.  Even though there’s no way it’s not going to turn out ok because it’s a @#@#ing regency romance.  But #2 can’t really handle surprises right now.)

Time to spend those gift cards ON BOOKS

While we’re out of town at a huge NYE bash (well, while #1 is out of town at a huge NYE bash… #2 is probably currently driving in the snow from one small rural town to another, thank goodness for audible), let us give you some suggestions for how to spend all that money you got for Christmas/Yule/Hanukkah/Year-end bonus/blackmailing that guy, or whatever kind of denominational or non-denominational holiday-type thing you might have.

These are books I have LOVED from the library.  So many to love!

The Midnight Queen by Sylvia Izzo Hunter.  Love it, love it, repeatedly recommended it.

I’ve been enjoying Will Thomas’s series starting with Some Danger Involved.  Fascinatingly diverse Victorian London murder mysteries.

Emerald House Rising by Peg Kerr.  Light high fantasy, sure to become a future soothing read (sadly out of print but ILL it if you can!).  Standalone, happy ending.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison.  Also fantasy: court intrigue, fish-out-of-water.

Clariel, the Lost Abhorsen by Garth Nix.  I like the Abhorsen series and this is a prequel.

What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding: A Memoir, by Kristin Newman.  I like memoirs.

No Castles Here by A.C.E. Bauer.  A poor kid from the barrio finds a magical book of tales…

The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby.  Essays about books and reading.  Two of my favorite things.

Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard.  Another fantasy to recommend repeatedly.

Dear Committee Members, by Julie Schumacher contains the recommendation letters I wish I could have written as a pre-tenure faculty member.  Epistolary, funny, but not a happy ending.

Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis.  Are you sensing a YA theme here?

The Silvered by Tanya Huff.  I mean, it’s Tanya Huff!

Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography.  Heartwarming and amusing; worth getting in hard copy so you can flip around for an authentic choose-your-own-adventure experience.  (#2 fully enjoyed this one too, and was actually ok about spending full price for a hard copy in an airport bookstore when she discovered she’d forgotten her kindle.  It was worth it!)

Books I was NOT keen on:

Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling.  Really not as good as Bossypants; I didn’t finish it.

Shadow’s Son by Jon Sprunk:  was doing ok until Rape As A Plot Point.  Bzzzt!

 

This post isn’t all the books I’ve been reading, not by a long shot!  But it has just a few of the things that I think you might like to read.  Not exhaustive, though maybe exhausting.

Any more suggestions???

What are we reading? Throw-back edition.

Sometimes this century is just too much and we seek out popcorn from the past.  Not, you know, classics, exactly, but good stuff that is enjoyable to read and gives a nice snapshot of popular literature of the time.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes— technically this one might be considered a classic, I mean, it was sort of made into a Marilyn Monroe movie (though not really– the book is soooo much racier, despite the lack of a strip-tease).  (Also the main character is a bit racist, but she’s a bit a lot of other things too, and it’s portrayed in a way that the actual author seems to be condemning the casual racism, but still, FYI.)  Don’t know why it isn’t available on kindle anymore, but your library is pretty likely to have a copy.

Dinny Gordon, Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior.  These are good.  On the surface they’re silly YA fiction from the 1960s, but there’s a subversiveness to them.  Junior year is especially enthralling.  (Hat Tip to Girl Historian for recommending them!)  Worth checking to see if your university library still has them.

We Shook the Family Tree.  A comic memoir, similar to those by Jean Kerr, though not quite the same.  I used to read these kinds of books by the pile back when I was a kid after I discovered the non-fiction comedy section at the library (after running out of children’s books and being too young for a lot of the SF/Fantasy/Mystery adult books).  I have no idea where I got this paperback… I wonder if it once belonged to my mother (unlikely because she doesn’t tend to keep paperbacks) or if I actually picked it up myself at a used bookstore (also unlikely because I don’t tend to buy things that aren’t SF/Fantasy unless it’s an author I already know).   Maybe it was nestled between Richard Armour and Jean Kerr and I impulse-bought it.  It’s a mystery.  In any case, it was a fun light romp (and kind of funny how the heroine complained about having a thigh gap– only they called it being bow-legged back then!)

While reading We shook the family tree, I decided I was curious about Hildegarde Dolson, and the Wikipedia article made her seem even more interesting.  I’m always a sucker for long-lasting, late-in-life romances.  Anyway, her husband was a mystery writer (a widower) who wrote mystery novels with his wife before she died.  Well, I had to try some of those.  Annoyingly, our uni library has ALL of them and all of the Dolson books, BUT it won’t check them out.  If I didn’t have work or a family I would so park myself in that reading room and just read.  They also have a complete collection of SF/Fantasy paperbacks that doesn’t circulate.  Forget the museum.  I want to be locked into that room overnight!  (I may have to ILL One Lady, Two Cats… you know, for research purposes– or just buy it off amazon). They did have a few random circulating copies of things though, so I ordered neither the first in the series nor the reputed best in the series … and I liked them.

The Lockridges have two main series, one about a couple named Mr. and Mrs. North who are pretty similar to Gracie Allen and a less sarcastic George Burns, if Gracie and George solved crimes, and the other about a police inspector named Heimrich.  The two books I got out, Murder is Served and Spin Your Web, Lady, were both pretty good.  Though definitely products of their time (1947 and 1948)– in Spin Your Web I cringed a bit at the pregnant lady getting drunk and even more at the treatment of a mentally disabled character, and some other stuff that would give too much away if I stated it here.  Both open with really entertaining slices of life– the former gives us a scene at a high class restaurant, the latter puts us in the mind of a somewhat sketchy university extension professor.  I think I’m going to grab more by these authors.  And One Lady, Two Cats is definitely on my amazon wishlist.  I also wish I had some Perry Masons, which are easy and fun popcorn novels though not quite as wholesome as the tv show.

#2 is reading lots of frontlist right now (especially from the library), but on the backlist I’ve recently quite enjoyed Fay Weldon’s Letters to Alice: On First Reading Jane Austen.

 

Come at us with some throwback-reading love, readers!

Current book podcasts

There are podcasts about books?  Why yes, there are!  Here’s what I usually listen to these days, all through iTunes:

Book Fight – two white male friends in Philly who are writers, editors, and teachers of writing and literature discuss one book or short story per week, sometimes with a theme, and sometimes wandering off into fascinating, funny digressions.

Oh, Comics! – just starting, you can get in on the ground floor!  The podcast for the new site about comic books, Panels.  One host is a man heavily into comic books, and the other is woman just recently getting into them.

Book Riot – like the site, and the podcast!  Everything books- and reading-related.  Hosts work well together.

also just picked up Reading Lives, a new podcast in the Book Riot Empire (Book Riot, Oh, Comics!, Dear Book Nerd, etc.).

Bookrageous – a roundtable discussion about what everyone’s reading and why books are great, featuring a rotating cast of fun regulars.

Sword & Laser – The sword and the laser stand for fantasy and science fiction: books, TV, movies, pop culture, and more books.  They even have a cute mascot, Lem, a cyborg dragon (Lord Bookwyrm Lem of Swaser).

Books on the Nightstand (sometimes).  One of the co-hosts, Ann Kingman, reminds me a lot of my stepmother in both her voice and her vocal tone/inflection/mannerisms, so that makes the podcast a bit weird for me to really enjoy.  (N.B.: My stepmother is great tho.)

I tried a few episodes of Dear Book Nerd, but I quit listening because I felt like I always had the ONE RIGHT ANSWER to the question, and the host didn’t.  That’s a weird personal preference, though!  You might like it.

That’s all the book podcasts I even pretend to keep up with.  I have other ones that are about geekdom in general, writing, spec-fic writing, video games, etc.

Grumpeteers, anything I should add?

Recommendations for soothing novels?

You know, the kind where nothing truly bad happens, and you know everything is going to turn out ok in the end.  There’s no awful things done to women of any sort.  Any murder is off-stage before the book starts or is a murder of someone nobody (including the reader) liked.  Any dreadful dark secrets are things that happened literally centuries ago.  Often the worst thing that happens is nothing more dangerous than embarrassing oneself at a party.  Despite what Google wants me to think, they don’t have to be mystery novels!

Sometimes they’re delightful.  Sometimes they’re calming.  Sometimes they’re life-affirming.  Sometimes they’re quality, but often they’re popcorn.  The kind of book you’re not rushing to end, and you wish you could get back to during a stressful day.

Savor these:

Authors like Barbara Michaels (more than her Elizabeth Peters persona, who is excellent but not so cozy), Jane Austen, the always-beloved Georgette Heyer, and similar imitators.

Some make equally cozy movies– Cold Comfort Farm, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, The Enchanted April.

Connie Willis has a couple:  The perfect To Say Nothing of the Dog, and the more modern Bellwether.

Martha Wells! But not her more recent stuff which is dramatic and not everything works out neatly and perfectly.  But #2 just finished and really liked City of Bones. Recommended!

Kismet is fun.  :)  And the music!  And The Importance of Being Earnest.  And the Matchmaker (from whence Hello Dolly! came).  Also all excellent movies.  Well, maybe not Kismet (we may never know, as most of the movies have been lost to the sands of time), but it has a great operatic soundtrack…actually two.

Stranger at the Wedding by Barbara Hambly is a bit on the intense side for this topic (#1 thinks it’s totally appropriate, along with Bride of the Rat God which kind of fits in with Scalzi’s Agent to the Stars), but A College of Magics by Caroline Stevermer is just right. (As is Sorcery and Cecelia and some of Diana Wynne Jones. Often YA is a great place for this stuff.  A lot of Nina Kiriki Hoffman stuff is life-affirming, though NOT Fall of Light which is triggery and victim-blamey) #2 has re-read the first few books of Amber in The Great Book of Amber compilation a bunch of times. Basically I find the throne war fascinating but I’m meh on the stuff that comes after. (TEAM BENEDICT 4 EVAR!)

I feel like we should have some Chick Lit here, but I never keep the Chick Lit so I don’t really know any titles.  There were a bunch of Chick Lit vampire books that we sent back and forth to each other, but I’m blanking on titles (Dead girls don’t…?).

#2 adds that Dune (#1  Dune?  Really?) and Jane Eyre are both soothing to me after years of many re-reads.  A lot of Mercedes Lackey is questionable but Arrows of the Queen and Owlsight are both familiar and therefore soothing.  Lord Peter Wimsey novels by Sayers.  Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman, because it’s nonfiction about books, which is the most soothing of all.  Sometimes nonfiction works out nicely because it’s not necessarily about any characters getting bashed on.  I also appreciate Amanda Cross’s Kate Fansler mysteries because they are full of the main character being in her head, and I am too.  You can be sure that justice and harmony will prevail in Dee Goong An (Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee).  And of course, the queen of the cozy mystery, Agatha Christie.

I need more of these.  MORE.

Gentle readers, please give me recommendations!

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