If you like competitions, things like NaNoWriMo and the Goodreads Reading Challenge get you pumped about writing and reading. But for people like me, who really don’t like competition, the Goodreads Reading Challenge is still the best way to see:
how many books you plan to read
whether you accomplished that goal
a list of the books you actually did read that year
You can see in my blog post called Binge-Reading that in March 2012, I was concerned about my declining reading habit. Lots of authors have said their reading declines once they start writing seriously, which is depressing, really.
So I decided to counteract that with the 2012 Goodreads Reader Challenge. If I’m going to be a writer in this genre, I want to be an avid reader in it as well, even if I don’t read as much as I used to as a teen/young adult.
Book List 2012
I mostly succeeded at reading about 20 books in 2012. (In my Binge-Reading post, I planned on reading at least 15 books by authors I hadn’t read before.) Here are my stats:
All of the books were science fiction or fantasy.
Almost all were novels.
1 was a post-apocalyptic anthology.
3 or 4 I couldn’t finish.
13 were written by dudes.
7 were written by females.
I think only 2 or maybe 3 were by indie authors.
Most had been on my to-read list for quite some time.
I failed miserably at 2013. It’s November, and it’s safe to say I won’t reach my goal unless I do some actual binge-reading. I think the fact that I didn’t plan my reading habits this year was partly to blame.
But a larger reason for my decline in reading this year was that I desperately tried to maintain my writing schedule, even in the face of planning my steampunk wedding! So something had to give, and it was reading. As well as house work. 😉
Of the 18 I’ve attempted to read in 2013:
All but 1 of the books were science fiction or fantasy.
13 were novels.
3 were novellas.
1 was a graphic novel.
1 was a nonfic about the post-apocalypse.
I couldn’t finish 4 of the novels.
11 were written by dudes.
7 were written by females.
I think 3 were by indie authors.
Some were books I’d been meaning to read for a while.
A few were picked up on a whimsy or by recommendations from friends.
Several were ones I’d heard about over the Internet, at cons, on podcasts, etc.
6 were by authors I’d read previously.
The other 12 I tried to diversify and read new stuff.
My next few posts will talk about why I used to (as a teenager) discriminate against my own gender and avoid reading books by female authors. As you can see above, I do read female authors now, but I recognize my ratio is still skewed. Because of that, I’ve decided 2014 will be the year of the female author.
(A quick note: The genders of the authors above are as listed on Goodreads. I did not check to see if any were pseudonyms, but I think they’re fairly accurate.)
When you look back at your own reading habits, is your ratio of male to female authors as skewed as mine?
Leave a comment below or find me as +Traci Loudin on Google+, the perfect place for fans of science fiction and fantasy to hang out. I’m also obviously on Goodreads, as well as Twitter and Facebook to a lesser extent.
When you pick up a book, you know what genre it is, whether thriller, romance, science fiction, etc. You probably also know its subgenre: a techno-thriller, a paranormal romance, an alternate history.
But when you begin reading, you may not be aware that the book contains graphic scenes of rape and torture.
Before we examine rape and torture in literature, let me first say: Good fiction does tend to make us uncomfortable. It takes us out of our comfort zones and makes us think. Science fiction and fantasy in particular make us consider the big “What If?” questions.
The Swarm roller coaster by Aspex Design / Dean Thorpe | Flickr
We imagine what it’s like to live in the 1700s, to be the unfairly ostracized member of the family, to be the first human to encounter aliens, to experience life as an immortal, to be the most powerful… and the most powerless.
How does fiction do this? By putting us on the front seat of the roller coaster — with viewpoint characters. Through fiction we live a thousand vicarious lives.
Literary scholars and readers alike have remarked on how glorious the act of reading is, that we can experience all these things from the comfort of an armchair.
But a book is not a static object. It’s a dynamic world, alive within us. So what happens if that world is a dystopia, or if the land is torn apart through magic, or if the viewpoint character, who is the surrogate for the reader, is killed?
My Preferred Genres
Before I go on, I should mention that my preferences fall heavily in the speculative fiction genre. I’ll read books and watch movies in just about any subgenre in science fiction and fantasy.
But I don’t like horror. And I may watch a romantic comedy, but it’s rare that I’ll edge into reading romance, even if it could be considered SF or fantasy, i.e. paranormal romance. I also haven’t found much urban fantasy I’ve enjoyed. And literary fiction is 100% dead to me.
Why don’t I read those genres? The easiest answer is that I don’t like the way they make me feel.
Horror fills me revulsion or terror… and my paranoid imagination is well-oiled already, thanks. Romance feels manipulative, and if reading is truly a collaboration between the writer and the reader, then romance is way too intimate for my tastes. Literary fiction never seems to take me anywhere interesting…
I hope that gives some context to the rest of this post.
I’ve most recently readThe Windup Girl, so we’ll start there. We don’t meet the windup girl until Chapter 3, which is where we also first see her raped — from her viewpoint. It’s made clear that this is nothing new, the patrons don’t consider her a human, and her humiliation is nothing more than entertainment.
Now, plenty of books try to introduce the violence of the world early so that you know what you’re getting yourself into later on. It acts as a signpost. Turn back now if you can’t handle this, it reads.
Daughter of the Blood starts out with a horrible act of torture in Chapter 1, in which the leader of a slave revolt is locked up and helpless as rats eat into his privates.
Son of Avonar starts out bleak and continues to grind the reader into depression all the way through to the inevitable torture scene in the middle of the book. And yet you get the sense there’s something else going on here, something that will make the unrelenting ominous nature of the book worthwhile.
But other books are not kind enough to warn their readers of the impending violence.
In Lord Foul’s Bane, Thomas Covenant is transported to a different world where he is no longer a leper. Certainly there is suffering in the first chapters of the book, but in Chapter 7 Covenant abruptly rapes a young virgin girl who has treated him with nothing but kindness, acting as his guide. (Not that there would have been any justification regardless, but in contrast with her virtue, the rape is deeply disturbing.)
Many readers stop at that point and never get around to reading the rest of the Convenant series. I did too. Why would I want to read a series in which the main character is a rapist? That’s taking the definition of anti-hero a little too far. The main character is supposed to be someone we’re interested in watching, and although he doesn’t have to be sympathetic, it’s hard to care what happens to him if you have no respect for his character any longer.
Why the Graphic Violence?
Generally, rape and torture in fiction serves to further the plot or show character development. For instance, in The Windup Girl, Emiko is reshaped by the daily humiliation she is forced to suffer. She overcomes the programming written into her very being as a windup — her DNA — and slaughters a roomful of men.
However, I would argue it wasn’t necessary for the reader to have to see an additional scene of debasement before her transformation. The rape is again described in horrifying detail, leaving me feeling dirty just for touching the book.
What really bothers me, though, is when there doesn’t seem to be a purpose to the violent act. The best example I can think of this is in The Warded/Painted Man. The viewpoint character watches his female traveling companion being accosted by highwaymen. He knows what they are about to do but is helpless to stop it. They knock him unconscious, and when he wakes up, he sees the results.
So although I appreciated not having to witness the girl’s humiliation in that scene, it didn’t seem to serve much of a purpose in the larger scale of things. Instead, it distanced me from the book, because (if I recall correctly) it’s only a day or two later that the girl beds down the the warded man. Unrealistic, if she’d just been violently raped a few days before.
The Effect on the Reader
(The debate has raged on about whether violence in books, movies, and video games desensitizes people to violence, or makes them more aggressive. So enough has been said on that topic. I’m more interested in how it affects a reader’s enjoyment of the book.)
Plenty of readers, literary critics, and authors alike have reflected on why we read and how it affects us as people. Through reading, we vicariously learn about others’ experiences, even if those experiences are fictional.
Fiction gives us a chance to imagine how scenarios could turn out in the playgrounds of our minds. This may be one reason why other types of graphic violence (in a battle scene, for instance), don’t disturb me at all.
Studies have also shown that reading causes us to take the experiences in the books into ourselves, which is why violence in fiction can be so disturbing. When the reader and writer have jointly shaped the world, a disturbingly graphic scene can make the reader feel like screaming, “How could you do this to me?”
As in Lord Foul’s Bane, a graphic scene sometimes knocks me completely out of the story, making me feel angry at the author for planting those thoughts in my head. The reader falls back into the real world, and the story is shattered.
So I would also say graphic rape and torture also tend to make me less likely to seek out books by that author again. Although I loved the world of The Warded Man, I’m on the fence about reading The Desert Spear. I’m a little leery of Paolo Bacigalupi’s work right now as well.
On the other hand, if the payoff is big enough, I may read the rest of a series, as in the case of The Son of Avonar.
Have you ever stopped reading a book because a scene was too graphic? Did you pick up other books by that author again? What kinds of scenes are “deal-breakers” for you?
This book ate one whole day out of last weekend. I could not put it down. I thought I’d read a couple chapters before bed—I ended up reading 14. The next day, I finished it. Literally did not do anything except sleep and eat breakfast between both readings. If that’s not an endorsement of how enthralling the world in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is, I don’t know what is.
Interestingly, though, the beginning didn’t hook me right away. For one thing, I’m not generally a fan of first person stories (I know, I know, I keep saying this lately—but I’m really not!).
Secondly, the main character seemed a little flippant to me at first. I felt the author intrude when the narrator starts Chapter 3 by saying “Should I pause to explain? It is poor storytelling.” I was thinking, why yes, it is! And if the author knew that, then why did she do it?
Perhaps it was just me reading the book more as a writer at that point than as a reader. Perhaps I still wasn’t fully immersed in the world yet. But I think it’s one of the few flaws of this book: How frequently the beginning flips back and forth between present action and exposition.
Another thing I had a little difficulty understanding at first was how many personalities Naharoth had. He was a monster, then he seemed conscious enough but attacked another of the gods, then was tender toward Yeine, then imperious. It was only later I understood that he had two distinct forms.
The culture is interesting, because everyone in the city is related. Even the servants are relatives of the rulers. I’m kind of puzzled by why the author chose that detail. Not that I had a problem with it or that it jolted me out of the story or anything, but now that I think about it, it didn’t seem to have a strong purpose to the central happenings of the story.
Or maybe, having read it so quickly, some of the subtlety was lost on me. I often find that a bit of time to reflect between readings lends a little extra depth to the story. Although there were a few occasions during the story that I did look up from the book and try to puzzle something out.
One of the reasons I like this book so much is because it’s about betrayal and revenge. I love revenge stories. (One of my favorite scenes in Dune by Frank Herbert is Alia’s revenge.)
I especially enjoy stories where you’re not sure who your enemies and allies are. Stories where a friend becomes an enemy are interesting for the betrayal. But even more interesting, to me at least, are stories where an apparent enemy is actually an ally. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms features all of the above.
Anyway, I could go on and on about things I love in the story, but the best thing to do is to pick it up yourself! I haven’t devoured a book this quickly in years. I can’t remember the last time I read a book in a day, so yeah. Stop reading this and get thee to a local library/bookstore!
And if you’ve read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms already (how did I go for two years without reading this book!?!?), please leave me your thoughts here at Worldbinding, or contact me on Twitter or Google+. If spoilers, please leave them as a reply to the blog so you don’t inadvertently ruin it for someone!