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Reading Challenge Review: Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

A book set in high school (#36 on my 2015 Reading Challenge List): Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

I was deeply conflicted about reading this book. I’d heard all the common critiques, that its central message is anti-feminist, that it’s metaphorical “abstinence porn,” that its “sparkly vampires” cheapened the vampire archetype. I’d seen the ire unleashed against Twilight fans by “superior” nerds everywhere from Comic-Con on down. But as I’ve said before, I believe in reading broadly in your field, and whatever you might think of these books and their fans, you can’t deny their popularity. They’re a cultural phenomenon: I’m a fantasy author and a cultural sociologist. So, a couple of weeks ago, I requested the first book from the local library, brought it home (feeling a bit as though I should be carrying it in a brown paper bag) and settled in to read.

When I finished it a few days later, my overwhelming emotional reaction wasn’t disgust, or rapture. It was “meh.”

In case you’ve avoided the Twilight Saga even more completely than I have, a very brief summary: Bella Swan is a high school senior who’s just moved from Phoenix to Forks, Washington, a small town on the Olympia Peninsula. When she starts classes at her new high school, she’s intrigued by the very-attractive and very-mysterious Edward Cullen, who she realizes in short order is a vampire. He likes her, too, but insists they should stay away from each other, because she smells too deliciously tempting. And yet, against everyone’s better judgment, they start to date. I know the rest of the series’ plot in bullet point (Bella and Edward break up; Bella briefly dates a werewolf named Jacob; Bella and Edward get married and conceive a child, and then Bella needs to be turned into a vampire to keep the child from killing her), but I don’t think I’ll be reading the other books to learn the details.

I’ll admit, there was some interesting stuff in the text. For all the jokes about “sparkling vampires,” Meyer’s vampire worldbuilding was more thorough than I expected. She essentially argues that because vampires prey on humans, everything about them — their appearance, their voices, their smell — is designed to make them extra-appealing to humans, and the fact that their skin shines like tiny diamonds in the sun is part of that motif. She’s also got a vampire-conversion strategy that I hadn’t seen before, where any victim not killed in the initial attack will be transformed over a period of several days by the venom delivered in the vampire’s bite. There’s even some interesting hints of “vampire culture,” surrounding the question of when conversion is OK, and whether it’s ethical to eat humans (the Cullen family says no — as Husband put it, “they’re vegan vampires” who only eat non-human animals — but it’s hinted they’re not unique in this view).

The opening lines were also quite good, dropping us into a deadly conflict in medias res with these words: “I’d never given much thought to how I would die — though I’d had reason enough in the last few months — but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.”

After that opening, though, things went downhill.

I wasn’t bothered by the romance. I understand the critiques about Bella’s lack of agency and stereotypically “good girl” behavior, and I’d certainly acknowledge those elements’ presence in the book; but I’m willing to accept that there’s a market for those kinds of stories. I was more bothered by the introduction of the werewolf, Jacob, when I realized that he was also an American Indian; the fact that he’s a member of a real-world Indian nation (the Quileute) and that the nation’s traditional belief system does include the story that they’re descended from wolves (at least, according to Wikipedia) made me feel somewhat better about it, but it still left a bad taste in my mouth.

Honestly, though, the biggest thing that bothered me about the book was its lack of substance. I’m not talking about the stakes: I’ve got no problem with a book’s central conflict being the challenge of getting through high school. But this book didn’t make me care about Bella’s problems. I didn’t believe her fears about not having any friends, because it was evident from the first pages that she was going to be “the special kid” in school. I’m also not talking about the suspension of disbelief necessary to make romance work: having been recently immersed in Gabaldon’s Outlander books, I can vouch for the fact that a hero and heroine can be the Most Desirable People Ever and also part of an engaging story. But this book didn’t have that for me. I didn’t really believe the romance; the dialogue felt stilted and the characters didn’t seem to have any real emotional connection.

As I read this story, with the soft-hearted vampire struggling to express his love for the mortal girl who’s like no mortal girl he’s ever met before, the thought that kept coming back to me was “Joss Whedon’s done this, and done it better.” I might have rolled my eyes at Buffy and Angel from time to time (best-ever summary of their relationship available for viewing here), but I also believed them. I never believed Bella and Edward were drawn to each other by anything other than chemical signals.

Though Twilight didn’t draw me in, it’s clear that it resonates with lots of people, and I think that’s absolutely fine; I’ve stepped up on my soapbox here more than once to defend the right to “like what you like,” the idea that no one should have to feel guilty for the fandoms they subscribe to. I also know that a lot of people hate the Twilight franchise with the passion of a thousand fiery suns, and I’d defend their right to that attitude, too. But after reading the first book myself, I’m left wondering what all the fuss is about. To me, this book didn’t seem worth the effort.

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Reading Challenge Review: Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon (or, “Problematic Fandom Revisited”)

A book based on or turned into a TV show (#49 on my 2015 Reading Challenge List): Outlanderby Diana Gabaldon

The new Outlander cover, featuring the stars of the TV series that debuted on Starz in 2014.

The new Outlander cover, featuring the stars of the TV series that debuted on Starz in 2014.

I bought this book on a whim about 3 weeks ago, knowing very little about the plot beyond the one-line summary  of “historical romance in Scotland.” I had a vague notion time travel might be involved. I had seen video of Gabaldon talking about her writing process at a 2014 Comic-Con panel (and smiling as she said that she cheated in her worldbuilding because she could draw on history openly instead of having to hide the fact that she’d done so); I also knew she was one of the subset of authors who officially requests that no fanfic be written in her world. But I didn’t know anything about her novels.

The copy I bought was over 800 pages, and I read it in three or four days. When I found myself in my local bookstore last weekend, I scooped up the rest of the series (7 more 800+ page books) and staggered to the checkout counter. Saying I found Outlander compulsively readable is an understatement. The characters are well-drawn; the details of the historical setting (actually two different historical settings, but we’ll get to that in a moment) feel painstakingly researched; the prose is smooth and witty. The book is full of scenes to love, both big ones like the ritual Clan Gathering when all the associates of the MacKenzie family come together to reaffirm their oaths to the clan head, and small ones like the moment when the main character overhears her new husband counseling his small nephew on the birds and the bees (and answering the question ‘Is it hard to keep from laughing?’)

And yet.

When I went to Goodreads to get a sense of the general reception for Outlander, I found it seemed to be one of those books people loved or hated. The ones who loved it praised the same things that I liked. The ones who didn’t love it talked about borderline-consensual sex and domestic violence. And I’ll concede that this book has those things, as well as deeply troublesome depictions of gay characters.

In brief, the story of Outlander is the story of Claire Beauchamp Randall, an Englishwoman who’s just been reunited with her historian husband, Frank, after World War II. On a trip to Scotland with him, she stumbles through a ring of standing stones and finds herself transported from 1946 to 1743. There, she quickly runs afoul of a sadistic English captain who also happens to be her husband’s ancestor (and looks so much like him that in the TV show they’re played by the same actor). To stay safe, she’s persuaded to marry Jamie Fraser, a strapping young nephew of the local clan head (thereby making her nationality Scottish rather than English and removing herself from Captain Randall’s jurisdiction). In fairly short order, Claire decides that she loves Jamie more than Frank and that she’s going to stay in the 18th century. Over the next few hundred pages, there’s a whole lot of, er, urgent sex; there’s a scene where Jamie beats Claire with a belt as punishment for disobeying him and inadvertently risking the lives of their traveling companions; and there’s an extended sequence exploring the psychological consequences of male-on-male sexual abuse. The perpetrator is one of only two identifiably queer characters in the book (the other’s played entirely for laughs). Both of them are unable to resist Jamie’s charms.

This development on its own wasn’t enough to make me turn away from the book. I’m willing to make some allowance for changing norms (Outlander was first published in 1991, when there was less widespread cultural awareness about avoiding tropes like these), and hold out hope that there will be less problematic queer characters waiting in the wings in future books. But the fact that the only gay character with substantial screen time in the first one is a monster is still troubling, and I’m not going to try to pretend otherwise.

The concern I see in other reviews around domestic violence and consent is there for me, too, at least upon reflection. While I didn’t find the scenes in question personally troubling as I read, I also acknowledge that my first reaction (which went along the lines of “this scene’s set in a different time and relations between men and women were different; it’s just Gabaldon being historically accurate!”) is a version of the same argument that explains away the whiteness of a lot of European-inspired fantasy stories by saying there were no people of color in medieval Europe. (Which, PS, is also far from true.) I’m aware of the argument that many women fantasize about “the sexy man who won’t take no for an answer,” and that for that reason encounters where consent is questionable-at-best are supposedly pretty common in romance novels (I don’t know the genre well enough to offer evidence one way or the other); I also completely support an individual author’s right to tell any kind of story they want to tell. That doesn’t make the themes this author chose for her book less problematic to a contemporary eye.

I’ve discussed topics like this before on the blog, and linked to the fabulous essay from Social Justice League on “how to be a fan of problematic things.” That author, Rachael, has three suggestions on how to do this in a self-aware way, and I’ll reproduce them here:

  1. Firstly, acknowledge that the thing you like is problematic and do not attempt to make excuses for it.
  2. Secondly, do not gloss over the issues or derail conversations about the problematic elements.
  3. Thirdly, you must acknowledge other, even less favorable, interpretations of the media you like.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had to negotiate these issues as a fan. I like Firefly and Angel, despite being uneasy with some of their choices around race. I like A Song of Ice and Fire even though it has its own (“historically accurate”) issues around consent and around gender more broadly. Right now, Husband and I are watching The West Wing, which has some serious problems with both gender and race that don’t seem to get nearly as much press as its witty dialogue. I try to be aware whenever I consume media, and Gabaldon’s series is just the latest instance where this awareness has found something to trip over without having to look very hard.

I liked this book a lot. I’m curious to see where the story goes, and I bought the rest of the series without a moment’s hesitation. I’ve recommended Outlander to friends, and I’ll recommend it here, too — but when I do, I note the problematic things that I mentioned up above, because I know many people might not want to read a book that includes those elements.

As I’ve become more active in fan culture, one of the themes I’ve seen over and over in discussions of competing fandoms is that part of good nerd citizenship is acknowledging others’ rights to like things that you don’t, whether that’s Twilight or Harry Potter or the Transformers movies. I think the less-often-stated duty is to also acknowledge others’ rights not to share your love for something. Discussions about the problematic aspects of things I love make me a more conscientious fan and a more conscientious storyteller, and I’m glad that the tent of genre stories is getting bigger so that more voices can be heard. Because just as having one stereotypical character is less problematic if they’re part of a larger, less stereotyped population (also known as Don’t Make the Only Black Guy the Muscle) this book is less troublesome if it’s on a shelf with other books that have well-adjusted gay protagonists and sex that’s unequivocally consensual regardless of the era. So I’ll keep reading Gabaldon, and I’ll also keep looking for other new authors to add to my library. Go thou and do likewise.

Reading Challenge Review: The Cloud Roads, by Martha Wells

A book with nonhuman characters (#7 on my 2015 Reading Challenge List): The Cloud Roads, by Martha Wells

cloudroads

I wanted to like this book more than I did. It landed on my radar because of a recommendation made by NK Jemisin in a video chat I attended as part of Juliette Wade’s fabulous Dive Into Worldbuilding series. Any book loved by one of my favorite authors should have a few points in its favor for me, and there were definitely things to like in this book… but in the end, I don’t think I’ll be seeking out more of Wells’s work, at least not without further recommendations.

The book’s set in a world with a bewildering number of sentient peoples, most of whom seem to be basically humanoid with minor differences on human-like axes (like gold vs. green skin). But the main character, Moon, is different: he looks more or less like other people most of the time, but he can also shift from straightforward humanoid into a winged, vaguely dragon-like form (the book cover seems like a fairly accurate description). He doesn’t know anyone else who has this ability; he’s spent his life drifting from community to community, and whenever his shapeshifting’s discovered, he’s run out of the community because people decide he’s secretly a Fell, a member of the Evil Bad Race who have a similar look (the fact that the baddies are black bothered me a little (also see here) but I was willing to let it go by).

In the first few chapters, Moon meets another member of his race for the first time in his adult life, and suddenly he has a name for his species and a complex social hierarchy to integrate himself into. His people, the Raksura, have four distinctly different forms and a fairly strict caste structure, and (surprise surprise) Moon finds out that he’s at the top of it: he’s a consort, destined to be the mate to a queen and sit at the heart of a Raksuran “court.” But there are complications. The Fell are threatening the Raksura, and they have a dastardly plan that involves (gasp!) miscegenation.

I liked some things about this book quite a lot. The biology of the Raksura was different from anything I’d seen before, and I liked the complexity of their social structure, which reminded me of social insects. I also liked the parts of the book that showcased interactions between the Raksura and the various “groundling” races (another term that seems a little problematic, but isn’t questioned within the book itself by any race): it felt as though the author had thought about what it’d be like to have a number of sentient species, with various gifts, interacting on the same world. The glimmers we got of the world itself were also fascinating: among other things, there are floating islands that, if broken into tiny pieces, can be used to power floating ships. I love that sort of stuff.

What I didn’t like nearly as much was the central conflict between the Raksura and the Fell. Maybe this is an artifact of this being the first book in a trilogy, but the Fell felt almost cartoonishly evil to me, with no real motive other than to make life difficult for the other races around them and to seek out sex with the Raksura. Unrelatedly, I also found the sheer number of named characters confusing. The community Moon joins has dozens of citizens, and every one of them has a name, and since everyone’s name is a common noun and “clutches” (siblings) often get similar names, it was difficult to keep track of people who sometimes only appeared for a scene or two. A cast of characters might’ve helped with that.

After some reflection, I realized that what bothered me most about this book was the feeling of missed opportunity. Thematically, stories about characters seeking for their place in the world are some of my favorites (spoiler alert: I’m writing one), so I should have been drawn into the plot, and the worldbuilding is full of fascinating nuggets. But I felt as though the characters were a mostly undifferentiated mass, and the plot that showed promise in the early pages devolved at the end into a straightforward “good guys vs. bad guys” shootout. I also found the prose frustrating, overly wordy in a way that suggested insufficient editing rather than an attempt at careful wordsmithing.

I’m glad I read the book, and I will continue to look out for books with this kind of distinctive world. And if you like stories that focus their energy on driving the plot forward, and you like non-traditional fantasy settings, you might give this one a try.

Reading Challenge Review: The Slow Regard of Silent Things (or: “Write What You Love”)

A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet (#16 on my 2015 Reading Challenge List): The Slow Regard of Silent Things, by Patrick Rothfuss

I recently read a book by one of my favorite authors and didn’t like it. And unlike some of the people who’ve written angry reviews of the book on Goodreads, I’m okay with that.

In April of 2014, Pat Rothfuss announced that he would have a new book coming out before the end of the year. After getting out of the way that this book wasn’t The Doors of Stone, the third volume in the Kingkiller Chronicle, he went on to explain that it was a story he’d had “tickling around in [his] head” for a while, about a comparatively minor character from the Kingkiller Chronicle universe, and that after some experimentation and consultation with his editor and others whose opinion he trusted, he had decided this story should be a book of its very own.

Over the course of the next few months, Rothfuss continued to drum up soft publicity for the book on his website. And he also expressed some hesitation that not all his fans would like it. On the publication date, October 28th, he wrote a post wherein he confessed that “When I finished [the book], I honestly expected it to just sit in a trunk for years. I knew I liked it. But I also knew it wasn’t like any sort of fantasy story I’d ever read before. At best it was arty, at worst it was incomprehensible.” The foreword to the book itself begins with the words “You might not want to buy this book.”

Like many of Rothfuss’s fans, I read the post; I read the foreword; and I bought the book anyway. And as I suspected might be the case, I didn’t like it nearly as much as I like his longer novels. Rothfuss is a skilled storyteller, and a solid worldbuilder, but it’s very clear to anyone who reads more than 3 lines of his prose (or any of his blog posts on writing) that one of his most cherished identities is as a wordcrafter. And that’s the side of him that gets let loose to play in Slow Regard of Silent Things. The book’s as much a prose poem as it is a plotted story; the protagonist lives in a mental world full of verbing and nounage, and most of her possessions have names, and a lot of them aren’t given explicit description outside of their names. Add to that the fact that she sees the world differently from most people (the reasons for which haven’t been canonically established in the series yet, but have been implied to do with something that went wrong in her magical studies) and you have a book spanning seven days, where the most plot-driven thing that happens is the main character spending a chapter making soap. She spends time trying to find a gift for her friend; she rearranges things in her home underneath the University so that they’re in their proper places (in a thought process that felt like something between schizophrenia, OCD, and a deep understanding of feng shui); and she hides from the world above. That’s what this book is about.

I finished the book in part because I’m a completist, especially where my favorite authors are concerned, but I don’t think I’ll be reading it again. I’m definitely not the target audience: what hooks me into a book are culture, discussion of interesting ideas, and moments between characters. All of these are qualities Rothfuss’s other books have in common, but they’re not what this book was about. That said, I’m already considering which of my poetry-inclined friends would like it best. And I’m okay with an author writing something that’s not for me.

In the last year or so, I’ve done a lot of reading about creativity and “the artist’s life,” whatever that means. One of the things that’s resonated with me deeply is that in order to maintain their creative well, artists — professional or otherwise — need to be able to follow their muse where it takes them once in a while; to do something fun even if they don’t think it’ll be “profitable” or “mainstream.” I’m also a firm believer in the principle that every well-written work has its audience. Maybe I’m being naive, but I don’t believe that Rothfuss wrote this book because he was getting pressure from his publisher to put out something to keep his name in readers’ minds, or because he wanted the cash; I believe he wrote it because he had a story to tell, and he was lucky enough to have a creative team who could help him get it out to a place where it could find its audience.

I’ve written here before about how firmly I believe in the principle that you should write what you love and trust that people will read it; it’s advice that I’ve heard, among other places, in the 2014 Comic-Con panel where Rothfuss talked about worldbuilding. And I’m glad to see that it seems to be advice that he’s taken for himself.

I hope this book finds its loyal fans. And I hope that if I ever become a famous author someday, I’ll still be able to write the odd little stories that come through my brain from time to time. Because after all, isn’t that what this writing life is about?

Reading Challenge Review: Flesh and Fire, by Laura Anne Gilman

A book by a female author (#9 on my 2015 Reading Challenge List): Flesh and Fire

I knew this category would be one of the easier ones for me to meet, but I’m always happy to add more female authors to my list. I chose to seek out Laura Anne Gilman’s work after stumbling over her recent blog post on how she decided to publish her epic fantasy under her own name rather than using a gender-neutral pen name, and she didn’t disappoint. Flesh and Fire, the first book in The Vineart War trilogy, introduces us to a young man named Jerzy who’s been plucked from his place as a vineyard slave to be his master’s new apprentice. In that role, he’ll learn how to work the magic that makes his master’s order, the Vinearts, so vital to the world they’re a part of — because in this universe, magic is all tangled up with wine.

Gilman’s dedication is to her agent, who she claims made a casual suggestion to “write me a food- or wine-based fantasy”; this book is certainly that in spades. I won’t say too much about the details of the worldbuilding, because a lot of the joy in the book for me came from discovering its twists and turns, but I’d feel comfortable starting where the book does, with a version of the world’s creation story. Paraphrasing and summarizing, it goes like this: in ancient times, the prince-mages held all the power in the land, political and magical; they managed the vineyards and crafted the powerful spellwines which allowed them to control the elements and heal the sick. But they grew arrogant, and so the gods sent their son to warn the prince-mages to be careful, and when they ignored his words and killed him, his blood spilled forth as the most powerful spellwine anyone had ever seen, and it changed all the grapes of the world into something weaker and more limited in their scope than what had come before. This gent’s known as Sin-Washer, and his legacy for people is a new political system that divides power between the Washers (priests), the princes (rulers) and the Vinearts (mages).

“And… Vinearts must spend their entire lives learning their vines, and have no time to build armies or rule over men, and princes, busy with the ways of men, have no time to dedicate to the secret and subtle ways of vines.”

We pick up our story a few thousand years after these events, and learn that in the meantime, things have been going pretty smoothly. As with most fantasy, that changes pretty quickly once the tale gets going, but we don’t see much of the ramifications in this first book. Flesh and Fire is largely a book of setup, introducing us to characters and places and how the magic system works — and if you’ve read other reviews of mine, particularly my take on Robin Hobb’s books, it won’t surprise you to learn that I was absolutely fine with that.

The negative reviews of this book on Goodreads echo those I read for Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice — suggesting that in nearly 400 pages, “nothing happens.” I didn’t have that impression at all; in fact, as I read, I was continually struck by Gilman’s skill with pacing, how she managed to spin a story that covers a little more than a year by skipping over all but the most important parts (this is, you may have guessed, something I struggle with). This isn’t really a story about the mysterious threat that’s rising to throw the world out of balance; this book’s meant to introduce us to the hero who we’re led to expect by the end of the book has some unique role to play in stopping that threat. And I think it does that admirably.

Warning: moderate, early-book spoilers beyond this point.

When we first meet Jerzy, Gilman doesn’t even give him a name. He’s “the boy,” one of the faceless mob of slaves tending the master’s vineyards. But when he has an unexpected reaction to the accidental overturning of a vat of spellwine, the master pulls him from the group and brings him into the house, and from that point forward, everything about his life is different. Gilman takes her time with this transition, and it eats a good chunk of the first third of the book. For me, that was exactly the right choice; I enjoyed being able to experience Jerzy’s shock and slow acclimation to his new world, and I admired the way Gilman used different perspectives to give us information about him that we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

Another unusual thing about this book compared to its Big Fantasy Novel counterparts is that we see comparatively little magic until quite late in the story: in fact, one of the Goodreads critiques I read was that “it didn’t feel like a fantasy book,” an assessment which seemed to be based in the fact that most of the characters were mundane folk living their mundane lives and that nothing big and flashy happens for many chapters. I’d disagree with the point, though: I think the worldbuilding here is quite subtle, but clearly present, and strong enough to convince us that this isn’t the world the readers come from. While Jerzy’s world does fall prey to the accusation of being “not-quite-Europe” in many respects (it’s pretty clear that Gilman based the book’s two major settings on wine-growing regions in France and Italy), the religion is distinctive and so are the cultural attitudes. There’s also a “cost-of-magic” discourse here that’s unlike any I can remember seeing before.

More plot-peripheral-but-notable things:

  • I very much liked the device of starting the novel with the creation/changed world story. I’ve been tempted to do this sort of thing in my own work and have always drawn back from it, fearing that it’d be alienating to a reader, but this book pulled it off in a way that worked for me.
  • I was intrigued by the fact that Jerzy seems (at this stage at least) to be more-or-less asexual, an identity I don’t remember seeing as central to a main character in other books I’ve read. Admittedly, Gilman hints pretty strongly that his orientation may have something to do with his being a survivor of molestation, which I don’t love, but I did appreciate how his difference from the characters around him (who demonstrate both different-sex and same-sex attractions without either one’s being framed as inherently “normal” or “abnormal,” another thing I liked) was remarked upon (by others) and pondered (by Jerzy himself).
  • From a craft perspective, I also liked the fact that several characters who we’re led to believe will be major players in the books to come don’t appear until relatively late in this one. I’ve read a few discussions of plotting and pacing that say you shouldn’t introduce anyone important after the halfway mark, but Gilman breaks that rule and breaks it well.
  • For what it’s worth, I finished the book more concerned about what will happen to the hero than what’s happening to the kingdom; the sections of the book that moved away from Jerzy’s immediate concerns to give us a broader perspective on world events seemed less engaging to me, maybe because those characters were by necessity less fleshed out. I don’t feel like that makes one thread or the other “good” or “bad,” but I did find it interesting.

In short, while I didn’t think this book was perfect, I liked it quite a bit. I will definitely be seeking out more work by Gilman and looking to find out what happens to Jerzy and his friends and allies.

My 2015 Reading Challenge

As someone with a lot of time to read, I tend to start the new year with a vague theme in mind to focus my reading for the next 12 months. For 2014, my goal was to broaden my reading in genre fiction, and I don’t think I did too badly. I made the virtual acquaintance of Tad Williams, Robin Hobb, Fritz Leiber, Nalo Hopkinson and Anne McCaffrey; I read Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina, Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor, and Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon, and tried my hand at Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora. And on my shelf, waiting to be scooped up, are Zelazny and Gene Wolfe and Raymond E. Feist; Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and The Mists of Avalon. I promise I’ll get to them all, sooner or later, just like I’m fully intending to spend a year reading “the classics,” another reading popular books from outside my own genre (romances and westerns and mysteries, anyone?), and two more reading only books translated from other languages and those written only by authors of color.

In short, I like having reading goals. Even if I know I’ll inevitably end up reading a lot of stuff that isn’t on That Year’s List; having a goal gives me somewhere to set my gaze when I walk into the library, instead of frolicking through the shelves like a butterfly (which doesn’t mean I never do that). So this year, with all the above vaguely-defined goals in mind, I have decided I’m going to focus myself with the 50 entries of the PopSugar Reading Challenge. I chose this one not because of any particular loyalty to the site but because I thought the list looked interesting and fun, like a literary scavenger hunt. A sampling of the things it’s asking for would include a book more than 100 years old, a book set during Christmastime, a book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit, and a book your mom likes.

I expect I’ll be attempting to cram some of my other specifications into this challenge as well, particularly the goal of reading more diversely: as Aarti at Booklust points out every year during the runup to her Diversiverse challenge, authors from all backgrounds write all kinds of books. And I’ll even declare that I will post reviews for the 50 different books I read for the challenge here, so stay tuned.

What about you, Loyal Readers? Are you doing a reading challenge this year? What’s on your list?