If anyone follows my reading list (scroll to the bottom of the page to see the books I've read in 2017), they might have noticed there's a lot of Nora Ephron in there lately. So why is that?
Well, it's because I decided to leave my marriage.
And to make a sad situation a little more bearable, I also decided that the late great Nora Ephron would be my "spiritual" guide through it all. I'm joking of course, but you know what I mean. I figure if you can write a story like When Harry Met Sally, then you might have some helpful thoughts to share about love and heartbreak.
My husband and I went through some problems about a year and a half ago. We even separated for a little while, but got back together after deciding we could work things out. Unfortunately, even though I thought we had made really good efforts to work through those problems, they kind of reared up their ugly heads again. I guess I finally realized that I had done everything I could think to do to save my relationship, but it wasn't enough. I know I gave it my best shot, which makes this time around marginally easier. Last time I felt like I hadn't actually done anything to fight for my marriage and that it wasn't fair to ourselves to walk away so easily. So we tried, we definitely did. At least I feel good about that.
It's one of those sad situations where no one has been "wronged." There was no bad behavior. I never stopped loving him, and I don't think he stopped loving me. We just wanted different things. We also needed different things and weren't able to communicate those wants and needs very well, if at all. Talking about hard issues was never our strong point as a couple. So it's nobody's fault, really, or maybe it's everyone's fault. I don't know. But that doesn't make it any less sad or frustrating.
I go through waves of feeling ok, and then waves of despair where I can barely function. And then more often there are the waves of numbness where it feels like I'll never be genuinely happy again. It's also really hard to let go of the good memories and what they meant to me. It feels almost impossible to say goodbye to a man who has been my best friend for 13 years. So yeah, to say this is rough is an understatement.
Anyway, what does that have to do with Nora Ephron again? Having been divorced twice and married three times, I find she has a funny sense humor and poignancy about it all that I'm finding very comforting. Of the three books of hers I've read in the last week or so, I enjoyed Heartburn the most, which is a thinly veiled novel about her divorce from Carl Bernstein (of Watergate fame) when she was 7 months pregnant. The other two are collections of essays, I Feel Bad About My Neck and I Remember Nothing. Some of the essays are excellent, others are more or less blog posts, but this one really helped me put things in perspective:
"For a long time, the fact that I was divorced was the most important thing about me. And now it's not." - Nora Ephron, I Remember Nothing
I guess the point is, although this may seem like the end of the world, that everything I've ever known or worked so hard to build is falling apart (and I'm the one who's actively torpedoing it, which makes it feel even worse, even though I feel like there's no other way for us both to move forward with our lives and ultimately be happy) - well, this too will pass. There's going to be a new normal, even if I don't know what it looks like yet. And one day in the future, this divorce will not be considered the most important thing that ever happened to me, even if it feels that way at the moment.
So right now I'm just trying to be grateful for all the things I have and have had, and trying to be as hopeful as possible. I'm incredibly fortunate to have two supportive parents who've opened their home to me, my dog, and my cats while I figure out our next step and deal with the necessary logistics of the situation. I'm also incredibly fortunate to have a job that I can do anywhere, which makes it possible to move here for the moment.
And I also don't regret my marriage or our time spent together. We did, saw, and made some pretty amazing things as a couple. 13 years together and I wouldn't take back a single one. He's a wonderful person and I really wish him all the happiness in the world. So all things considered, I'm really incredibly lucky. The present is a challenge, to be sure, but I can work through this and everything will be alright in the end.
If you're into Science Fiction or Fantasy, I think you'll enjoy this week's Friday Kindle deals.
First up, there's a $1.99 sale on Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, which happens to be one of my fantasy-loving brother's favorite novels ever. It's about two magicians in 19th century England. Also, apparently it's a TV series now? Interesting.
Then we have the Dirk Gently box set ($1.99), which includes TWO books (Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul - best title ever) by Douglas Adams. If you liked The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe, you should definitely check out this other series by Adams. It's equally zany and fun.
And finally, you can read about time-travel and slavery in Octavia Butler's classic science fiction novel, Kindred, for just $2.99 on your Kindle or any other device that has the Kindle app.
Not a bad showing this week! Four great books that are worth reading.
Happy Friday! Although, it doesn't really feel like a Friday to me. My family and I just got back from a once in a lifetime sailing trip in the British Virgin Islands (post on that next week), so I hardly feel like I need the weekend to rest. I'll probably end up working through it in order to catch up on some editing jobs instead.
Meanwhile, I thought it would be fun to start a new Friday series to alert any interested readers to good Kindle book deals that I've found on Amazon. A few months ago, I stumbled on a fantastic kindle bargain ($1.99) for Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island. I've only gotten around to reading it now, and of course it's hysterically funny (as Bryson always is), which reminded me how useful it is to hear about these kinds of deals when they roll around.
I did a quick scan of the Literary section of Amazon's monthly kindle book deals and found out they're running a great sale on Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun for $2.99. This is one of those books I think everyone should read.
It's about an American WWI soldier who is horribly disfigured in combat and wakes up in a French hospital without his senses of sight, hearing, or smell. He can't even talk, which kind of gives you an idea of the awful extent of his injuries. It's pretty horrifying, especially as he slowly figures out how badly hurt he is, and how he's essentially incapable of communicating with any of the hospital staff. To make things even worse, he's also lost his arms and legs...
Johnny Got His Gun is a book that's unequivocally about war and pacifism. It's written in the first person, which gives it a particularly frightening edge (and in fact, I think I first heard about it on a list of the scariest novels of all time).
Interestingly, the author, Dalton Trumbo, is probably more well known as a classic Hollywood screenwriter, who secretly wrote the Audrey Hepburn film, Roman Holiday, for which he won an Oscar while still technically blacklisted during the McCarthy era. It's a fascinating story. If you're interested, there was a recent movie called Trumbo (staring Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston), which documents his and other blacklisted screenwriters' experiences during this time. Unfortunately, the movie is only OK, but not great, mostly because the screenplay and dialogue are fairly weak (ironically enough). The substance and the story, though, depicts a very interesting moment in history that's worth learning about if you're keen on writing.
Anyway, check out Johnny Got His Gun if you're up for a classic piece of literary/horror fiction. I don't think you'll find it cheaper and I'm not sure if this deal will last beyond the end of the month.
So Happy Friday and Good Reading :)
I'm having the worst reading rut lately. I've been trying to finish this Eudora Welty book for weeks now. It's only a hundred pages long. How am I only on page forty? I just can't get that interested in it even though a book about writing should totally be in my wheelhouse.
Maybe it's because, lately, I've been reading for others and not for myself. The Welty book was given to me by my mother, which was very sweet of her. The problem is, I've never even read any of Welty's fiction, so starting with her memoir is awkward. I guess I'm only reading it out of some sense of obligation to my mother, not because I'm really that taken by it.
Before that I read Escape, which was an interesting (and terrifying) memoir about FLDS culture, though the writing itself was nothing special. That was just research for a story I'm thinking about writing.
And then before that, I read and reviewed Childhood's End, which was good, but I never felt like I completely submerged myself in it. It's a classic sci-fi book I thought I should read, again, out of some interior obligation, but it wasn't very escapist like I think the best science fiction can be.
You can see in the right side-bar that the next book on my to read list is Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson, which I know very little about. I haven't read any Twain since high school. I hope it's good. I'm reading it for a book club that my friend invited me to. Again, obligational reading, but I think it will be worth it for the social aspect. (Plus, the book club takes place at my favorite local brewery, Mystery Brewing, in cute Hillsborough NC.)
But I'm dying for a good escapist read. Work has been a slog. I need a good book to forget about it. I've started re-reading one of my favorite manga series, Dragon Ball Z, but I'll finish those soon enough.
I'm open to suggestions. What's your favorite escapist read?
When I first met my husband, way back in freshman year of college, we did the usual getting to know each other thing. Where are you from? What’s your major? Do you want to come back to my dorm room? etc. Standard stuff.
Slowly we got to know each other a little more deeply, largely over AOL instant messenger (which was absolutely huge back then, so don’t make fun). We’d be typing away in the evenings, each in our own dorm room across campus, having fun. But I distinctly remember an exchange in which T professed his love for a book called, The Last Opium Den. Seeing as I was head-over-heels for this kid, I found a copy at the University’s library and read it in one sitting.
I remember thinking, “This is his favorite book?”
I had a moment of doubt. What did he see in this absurd little story? For those who’ve never read it, The Last Opium Den is about a guy… looking for the last opium den. See, he doesn’t want heroin or any other prosaic drug. He just wants opium. Spoiler alert: he finds the den, smokes some opium, and feels something? I don’t even remember what he concluded about the experience. Perhaps something existential? Seems like a good guess. But considering The Last Opium Den is about the size and thickness of a Beatrix Potter book (seriously, it’s like, Benjamin Bunny sized), to me the story was like a little bit of nothing whittled off to a point.
I asked T what he saw in it, after I admitted I didn’t really like it, and he rattled off a philosophy heavy explanation. And since I’ve never been able to get remotely excited about philosophy, I was able to chalk it up to a difference in opinion. I just happen to prefer my stories light on the philosophy and heavy on the practical human experience, and for T a good book is almost exactly the opposite.
But it makes you wonder, should you ever share your favorite book? I’ve mentioned before my love for A Canticle for Leibowitz. I’ve even given a copy to my brother-in-law, but I wonder if he a) he’s read it, and b) if he liked it all?
Maybe it’s pointless to share your favorite novel with someone else? Reading is highly personal. I mean, what is reading but the interpretation of symbols on a page as images in your mind. Obviously, we’re all going to see very different images, based on a collage of items we've already seen and experienced, and thus feel very different things depending on how immediate or real those syntheses may seem.
In high school, my favorite novel was Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News (don’t judge the book if you’ve only seen the crap movie, two totally different things). The Shipping News was the first novel where I decided the author was really something special to write such a story.
I had a friend at school who was also a big reader and I made her borrow The Shipping News from me, because I couldn’t stop thinking about it. She was a sport and read it, but I remember the expression on her face as she returned it back to me; it was apparent she was completely unchanged by the experience. The book meant little to nothing to her. What crushing disappointment that was for me! I wanted to talk about the story and the writing, and that was just not going to happen. Whatever I got out of it, it didn’t do the same for her. And she was one of the few people I knew who actually read.
See a trend? When was the last time you made a reading suggestion that was actually enjoyed and appreciated? My parents loved A Primate’s Memoir, based on my recommendation, but how unbiased an opinion you can ever hope to get from your parents? Maybe they just liked it ok.
Anyway, it doesn’t matter whether or not someone else likes your favorite book, but it can make reading feel even lonelier than it already is. That's part of the reason I felt compelled to start this blog. If there was anywhere I could connect with other readers, you'd hope the internet would be the place, but there's just so much noise. It's hard work to make those reading connections.
What’s your favorite book? Have you ever recommended it, only to be disappointed by the result?
Alright kids, in keeping with tradition, I'd like to highlight two books in a series and make an argument that the second, less popular book is superior to the first (see my earlier defense of Speaker for the Dead in favor of Ender's Game).
I don't know why I do it. Maybe it seems unfair that such great books are overlooked just because they weren't written first? Or maybe, as I believe, after the author has gone through all the hard work of building a world in the first book, they can at last write the story they really wanted to tell in the second book, resulting in a far better story. Just a theory.
I want to talk about Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea Cycle; a fantasy series that begins with the eponymous A Wizard of Earthsea. The series started as a trilogy, and you'll sometimes see it incorrectly described that way online, but Le Guin had since expanded it into a quartet with the publication of Tehanu. (Edit: Writer Janet Ursel was kind enough to alert me that there's actually a fifth book as well! The Other Wind.) Strangely, I've only read the first, second, and fourth books, but not the third (Edit: or fifth...). Guess I need to put them on my list.
A Wizard of Earthsea is one of my favorite fantasy books. I love the world, which had a more mythological tone than high fantasy. I thought its concept of magic was cool when I was a kid, and then when I learned about semiotics in high school, the significance of Earthsea's magic system blew my mind. The idea that you can control anything as long as you know it's one true name (when sign = signifier), well, that just makes sense to a bookworm (or a fantasy minded linguist).
Our hero, Ged, also known as Sparrowhawk, studies this magic of words and mistakenly believes he has mastered the language. That hubris almost kills him when he summons an evil spirit into the world that he cannot control. He spends the rest of the book sailing about the archipelago of Earthsea to understand this dark magic he has unleashed, simultaneously hunting it and running from it. It's a beautifully written story, short and sweet. The world-building is particularly strong, as you'd expect from Le Guin. I found it a lot more interesting than the Tolkien-imitations that tend to dominate the fantasy genre.
But A Wizard of Earthsea isn't perfect. It touches on this great sense of evil, but I always found its shapelessness to be slightly unsatisfactory. The book also meanders, especially towards the end. To be honest, I can't even recall the conclusion beyond the most basic plot. It was just a little too abstract for me.
Regardless of these shortcomings, I enjoyed the book, and as soon as I could, I used my babysitting money to purchase the second book in the series, The Tombs of Atuan (I was probably around 13 or 14 when I first read them).
As the second book in the series, The Tombs of Atuan does a lot of things that tend to annoy readers, which probably explains its lack of popularity. First, it introduces a totally new character, Arha, who is unrelated to anyone in the previous book. Arha is the current and reincarnated priestess of "The Nameless Ones," an almost forgotten religion of ancient gods who existed before the world had a form.
Second point against this book? She lives in an isolated nunnery with other novices, old virgins, and eunuchs. I'm sure every boy who ever picked up this book read that setting and put the book right back down again. Maybe I'm stereotyping, but I've found that boys don't like to read books about girls, not at least until after they've grown up a little.
Then it takes Ged almost three quarters of the book to show up. No one who thinks they're reading a direct sequel to A Wizard of Earthsea is going to push that far through the story to find out whether their original hero reappears.
But that's the trick, Tombs is not really a direct sequel to Earthsea.
Despite everything that is working against it, I don't remember struggling with The Tombs of Atuan at all. The opening chapters were strange enough and the writing simple enough to pull me right into the story. I liked Arha, who was spoiled and haughty, but also lonely and increasingly frightened. I was interested in the mysterious tombs of the ancient ones, and the modern temples of the god-king and other cults. Where did these religions come from? Why was one dying and the other thriving? And like Earthsea, Tombs is a coming of age novel and has a school-ish air to it, which I always enjoy. Arha spends her time learning the rituals of the high priestess and the secrets of the labyrinth that lies buried deep in the earth beneath the tombs. How can you not enjoy that?
You could read Tombs all by itself, having never read Earthsea, and I don't think the story would suffer at all. Ged is a catalyst in the novel, practically a plot device, but the story is really all about Arha. What do the Gods mean to her? And what does she mean to them? That's part of the mystery and it takes a while to really understand her.
Just because Ged isn't the star of Tombs doesn't mean it isn't good, if not better without him. Throughout the Earthsea cycle, I don't know if we even understood Ged. What motivated him? Why did he feel compelled to fix his mistake? But I felt like I knew Arha by the end of Tombs, and felt for her.
I've subsequently loaned this book out so many times and people never return it, so I've had to buy it again and again to ensure I always have a copy ready to reread whenever the mood strikes me, which is fairly often. It's a great book, overlooked, but special.
What do you think? Have you read The Tombs of Atuan? Did you like it? Or is the classic, A Wizard of Earthsea better?
Last June, when my husband and I were on vacation in Italy, we spent a lot of our time lazing by the beach or pool. T was reading the Conan series, and at one point turned to me and asked if the book I was writing was "complicated."
"Yeah, I guess so," I told him. I thought about it and corrected myself. It was definitely complicated and that was one of the reasons it was taking me so long to write.
"Hmm, cause these books are definitely not complicated," he told me, holding up old Conan the Barbarian. "They're almost ridiculously simple."
I've been thinking about that for a while. No one is going to claim that Conan the Barbarian is great literature, but I bet there's a lot of people who would argue that the series is fun and readable. Think how quickly Robert E. Howard must have been able to churn those stories out. You'd have to if you were being paid by the word. Complexity isn't a luxury you get to enjoy under those circumstances.
I think about all the stories or movies I've seen that have really simple premises, and how much I tend to enjoy them. Superbad is about two underage kids trying to get alcohol for a party. What a great idea. It's so simple and everyone (at least in the U.S.) can relate.
This year's Mad Max was about (spoilers) a fat old dude trying to get his women back. If the movie had been anything more complicated than that, I doubt it would have worked. Mad Max is all about simple premises and basic instincts so you can enjoy the action without having to think too hard.
I've always thought Dragon Ball Z was kind of genius for this same reason. Train really hard, and you can become a martial arts master (it helps if you're also an alien). Find the seven dragon balls, and you get any wish. That's basically it, but there's so much that can be developed around those two simple ideas.
Ender's Game has a fairly simple premise if you think about it. Boy goes to battle school and kicks butt at video games and simulated warfare. The simplicity of the plot, which is practically episodic, lets the narration spend more time on Ender's personal issues.
Can you summarize your book or short story that easily? Is the concept that simple?
I think about my book, and it's not that simple. I try explaining the story to my husband sometimes and I'm all, "and then this happens, and then this, and then this, and she can do that because this, and he can't because yada yada yada."
Maybe I want to/need to write a simpler book? In fact, while writing this post, it occurs to me that I've plotted a section near the center of the narrative arc, because I felt like it needed "more story." But when I think about that part, I realize it's totally unnecessary. It complicates things for the sake of complicating them.
Kids, I'm just going to cut that part out. Boom, that's 10,000 words I probably just saved myself of having to write and later delete.
I'm going to keeping thinking on this simplicity idea and see if I can figure out a way to summarize my book in one sentence. And if I can't, then maybe it's too complicated for both my tastes and my abilities.
Of course, some people like complex stories and that's absolutely cool. A Game of Thrones and The Wheel of Time books, come to mind, but neither of those are my cup of tea. So...why have I been trying to write a story on their scale?
If you're working on a story, do you find it simple and straightforward to explain? Or is it complex, maybe more complex than you originally anticipated?
Word Count: Negative. Edited a short story.
When people ask me, “What’s your favorite [fill in the blank]?” I usually make this face:
I don’t know why, it’s like my brain goes completely empty when I get this question. I’ve had to pre-prepare my answers to avoid looking like the sort of doofus that can’t even name a single movie or book.
My favorite movies go approximately in this order:
TV Shows? That one’s easy:
This list took me much longer figure out, and to be fair, it’s also a single entry. I don’t know why, but I never really thought about any book as being my favorite. I’m more obsessed with reading than just about anything, so choosing one book over everything else was too difficult. The Chronicles of Narnia are up there.Girl with a Pearl Earring? Maybe A Primate’s Memoir? Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? All very, very good, love them. But impossible to rank them. Books are shiftier than movies. What strikes you with love one day, may not even compare with a different book in another year. When you read books matters. In what circumstances you read them matters too. And what about all the books I can't even think of while I'm doing my Homer Simpson impression? Somewhere in that empty brain of mine is a book I love, but I can't think of it on the spot.
Finally, several years after reading this one book, I decided it was in fact my favorite. I kept thinking about it off and on for a long time, which is a sure sign of a good story. That book is A Canticle for Leibowitz.
I read it at the beach, mostly sitting in the hot-tub, which is admittedly an odd place to read a story about a monastery and nuclear war, but it was such a big story – taking place over thousands of years, that I was completely absorbed. Couldn't put it down.
I find stories that take place over either confined or broad arcs of time and/or space to be particularly intriguing. One of my favorite short stories in Martin Amis's The Immortals, which is literally geologic in terms of timescale, taking place over millions and millions of years. Somehow, it works. The narrator pulls you along that time-line in just a few pages. Meanwhile, your mind is sort of blown apart by the size of what is taking place and frankly, by what kind of narrator can sit around for millions of years, picking his nose. Who's got that kind of patience?
I also really like stories that take place over really short periods of time. Think John Hughes movies, how they almost always take place in a day. The Breakfast Club is set almost entirely in a library. There's something very satisfying about a story that is bold enough to limit its terrain.
The setting for A Canticle for Leibowitz occurs somewhere between these two extremes: over a period of a few thousand years, over three distinct story arcs, but almost entirely within the setting of a catholic monastery somewhere in the American southwest. Like the dark ages, this monastery is a safe-hold of knowledge following a devastating nuclear war that has wiped out most of civilization and almost everything man has developed up to that point (electricity, communications, clean water etc.). What follows is the story of civilization's slow struggle back to its original state as told through the eyes of the monastery, its novices and abbots, and their particular respect for human life in the middle of a savage experience.
Apparently, Walter M. Miller Jr., the author of A Canticle for Leibowitz, actually bombed an Italian monastery that was being used by Nazis during WWII. He wrote Canticle years later and only deep in the writing process did he realize that he was in fact writing, in a way, about the monastery that he had helped to destroy. What a terrible thing to be haunted by and I think it shows in the power of the story and the writing.
I won't ruin the end of Canticle for you if you haven't read it, but I loved it. The event that happens, the way it's described, it's the closest I can imagine to experiencing the real thing. The fact that it's wrapped up in a spiritual question of life and value gives it even more impact. It's really hard to describe without giving it away.
So if A Canticle for Leibowitz has been on your reading list for a while, I suggest you move it to the top. It's, in my opinion, not just one of the greatest sci-fi books every written, but up there among the best books overall.
What's your favorite book?
Hope my American friends had a good Labor Day! I had a really nice long weekend that I mostly spent working in my garden. I meant to write more, but the ground was calling me. It felt like the right thing to do. Every hour or so as I weeded or mulched, I’d say to myself, “I really should go work on other things,” but then another voice would say, “Just another hour. I really want to finish this.”
Big thanks to T for helping me dig out a raised bed that a previous tenant had converted to a sandbox (don’t even get me started). It was a small enough box that I decided to use the new space for a compost pile, which got me on the topic of soil, which got me into reading this book, Weedless Gardening, which got me into a nice chat with my horticulturist landlord about manure and where to get it from the horse farm on the hill. If ever there was a moment of “Do What You Love,” then this was one of those weekends that made me question my current career track.
I've been really struggling lately with an urge to go back to school. I can't help it. I wouldn't have stuck around in academia for this long if I weren't a perpetual student at heart, but I have to remind myself that school is not necessarily the answer to every problem.
I foresaw that I would have this issue way back in high school when I read The Bell Jar. I don't know what everyone else got out of that book, but I identified with the narrator's anxiety of being just a talented student with no more promise then that. She struggles to see the next step or her value beyond school, a despair that compounded with mental illness propels her on a path towards suicide (which to be clear, I don’t identify with the suicidal part). The scene I always remember is when she compares herself to the Russian translator; I could so understand that sense of inadequacy. Some people have real skills! And what do I have, an ability to get A's?
I’m having a low phase at work (frustrated with some projects), and it makes me want to start over. Go back to school. Go back to where I seem to belong.
It doesn't help that I've gotten more interested in gardening and horticulture at the same time. I'm from a gardening family and this year is the first time I've been in charge of my own full sized garden (I've always had little gardens whenever I've had some space). I keep catching myself reading up on the subject at work and listening to these awesome gardening podcasts. I daydream in the car about what I'll plant next year. How I'll do it better. And of course I've been spending as much time as I can caring for my plants (trying to nurse my bumper crop of tomatoes past a mystery illness right now).
It doesn't help that NC State, one of the three universities near where we live, has a well-respected Horticulture department that I keep hearing about again and again in my podcasts. Now I have this vague itch to get a Ph.D. in Horticulture, or at least a Masters - which is insane. One Ph.D. in Chemistry should be enough; a Ph.D that I am not entirely sure what to do with. I don't want to work in industry. I don't want to be a professor. I'd like to do lab research for the rest of my life, which suggests maybe I should work at one of the national labs, but I've got a two-body problem that gets in the way of that and frankly, no one gets to work in the lab forever anyway. They move up to middle-management and hate it.
So why would a Ph.D. in Horticulture help me any better? Surely there are even fewer jobs?
Because my brain isn't thinking about what would be good me. It's thinking about what I'd enjoy. I'd like to learn more about gardening and farming, and my instinct is to go back to school to do this because I know I would enjoy it - just like I loved going to back to school for Chemistry. I really do enjoy research, and doing research on plants sounds amazing.
But I must resist! I can't even stomach the idea of going back to a grad student's salary. And I know my husband wouldn't be on board with that either. Plus, there's the fact that what I'd really like to do is publish fiction! But there'll always be a part of me that doubts that I'll ever really be able to support myself, thus the need for day-job decisions.
I hear conflicting advice these days about doing what you love vs. doing what you can tolerate and keeping what you love as a hobby. There seems to be backlash right now against doing what you love (this article makes great, great points), but it’s one thing to espouse practical jobs in theory, it’s another thing entirely to live that life day in and day out. I’m sure many (most?) of you can identify with that.
There's no perfect job, I know that. And school isn't always the best solution. I can learn by doing and reading. But it doesn't change the fact that my funding runs out in one year anyway, so no matter what I need to find another job.
So do I find another one in Chemistry? Do the safe path? But how safe is it really when I can’t even figure out how to transition from a postdoctoral position to something more permanent?
Or do I branch out and see if I can find something really different? Maybe I should talk to my landlord about job options if I’m interested in gardening and horticulture. Or I could take one year to do nothing but write and really push myself to publication, edit science publications on the side for money.
I wish it weren’t so terrifying to choose a path and stick with it.
Do you do what you love?
We all have one, right? The reading list? I have so many books on my list that it has become sort of a problem. Basically, all these books I want to read or feel I should read are typically at least twenty-years old. There are so many science fiction novels (and non-science fiction, I read that too!) in the cannon, it unfortunately means I almost never read contemporary fiction.
Which is too bad, because I know there are a lot of writers out there, right now, who are trying to compete with every crazy distraction in the world to get people to read their books. And I can't even be bothered to support them because I've never finished The Lord of the Rings or Childhood's End. I'll always feel like it's important that I finish those books on my list first before I can move on.
Here's a quick rendition, incomplete version of my list (in no particular order):
The Left Hand of Darkness
The Time Machine
A Scanner Darkly
The Book of the New Sun (started on my kindle, still wanting to finish)
Neuromancer (started it when I was probably too young, didn't finish)
Something Wicked This Way Comes
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Stranger in a Strange Land
The Amber Chronicles
Soldier of the Mist
The Two Towers
The Return of the King
I checked both my large collection of unread books and NPR's excellent Top 100 Sci-Fi Fantasy List to help remind me which ones I've been meaning to read. There are assuredly more.
Maybe this should be my new reading goal: one new book from the last five years alternated with whatever else I feel like reading. I guess the last modern science fiction I read was Ready Player One, which I did not like, but that doesn't mean there are other great, overlooked books out there that are worth the time.
So help me out. What modern science fiction book should I read next? In general, I like more character-driven stories than speculative, but combinations of the two are very welcome.
Writer, editor, scientist.