Friday, December 01, 2006


I discovered SF through Star Wars, which I saw when I was four years old. It was hugely influential on my imaginative life as a little kid: I spent hours playing Star Wars alone or with friends, using pantomime lightsabers because my parents freaked out if we swung sticks at each other. I decided early on that Han Solo was cooler than Luke Skywalker (because he was) but I was deeply dissatisfied with Leia as a character (despite her excellent target-shooting skills -- Lyda commented once that clearly all Princesses in the Star Wars universe spend hours each week at target-shooting practice because they're the only ones who can hit what they're shooting at) so I improved on the franchise by adding the character of Han Solo's younger sister, who was just like Han but female.

I discovered SF and fantasy books a few years after I started reading. I re-read A Wrinkle In Time so many times that my copy fell apart. (Which is too bad; L'Engle came to town when I was about nine and my mom took me to her signing, so it's an autographed book.) I read The Hero and the Crown when I was thirteen, and re-read it fiendishly as well. I was drawn to books about outsiders: I also read Elizabeth Speare's The Witch of Blackbird Pond to pieces. (It's a historical novel set in Puritan New England: Kit, who grew up in Barbados with her Anglican grandfather, comes to live with her Puritan uncle's family in Connecticut. Mayhem -- of the dour Puritan sort -- ensues.) I also read a whole lot of post-apocalyptic kids' SF -- the only books I remember individually were by an author named Hoover, whose books are being reprinted now by Tor. There was one in particular (called This Time of Darkness, I think) that involved people who lived in this enclosed "city" because outside was dangerous and toxic. The city turned out to be underground, and the outside turned out not to be as bad as they'd been led to believe. The twist of this book is on at least one "twists that aren't" list I've seen for SF authors, but I found it both stunning and satisfying as a ten-year-old. (And it may have been original and shocking at that point.)

I was fascinated by boarding schools as a kid, and I loved the book A Little Princess. When I was 13 and lived in England, I discovered the Enid Blyton series, The Girls of St. Clare. I love the Harry Potter books, but I think having read Enid Blyton gives me a greater appreciation for them: they're written within a great English children's literary tradition (the School Story) and there are nods to the conventions of these books even as Rowling subverts them. I don't understand why Scholastic doesn't buy the rights to Blyton's classic boarding school books (there was another series, too) and promote them in the U.S. as the prototypes of Harry Potter. I'm positive that part of why the Harry Potter series was so successful was the weird appeal of the boarding school book.

As an adult, probably my favorite author is Lois McMaster Bujold. The first of her books that I picked up was The Curse of Chalion, and it's still my favorite of her books, but I loved the Miles series, as well. I really love the fact that her characters are incredibly compelling, and the plots are convoluted but (a) I can follow them without taking notes and (b) somehow everything unravels at the end with no snarls or knots -- and on top of all that, her books tackle BIG issues (freedom, slavery, fidelity, honor) in a really thoughtful way (she engages with the issues, she doesn't just point at them and say "oh look, over there, an issue!") without ever being preachy or making me feel like I'm being whacked upside the head with the moral she wants me to take away. Also, her books are hilariously funny. Reading her as a writer, her books inspire me to take risks.

There are a couple of non-fiction books I've re-read an unseemly number of times. Kind of an odd bunch. Essays by George Orwell -- I initially read this for a class on Advanced Rhetoric in college, and have re-read several of the essays periodically since. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is a non-fiction book about a Hmong child with epilepsy, and how her care was hindered by the culture clash between her parents and doctors; it's a fascinating book, and every time I've picked it up for some reason I've wound up re-reading the whole thing. The Kid by Dan Savage, where he writes about adopting his son -- again, I've picked it up a few times to type an excerpt into a conversation, and wound up re-reading the whole thing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When I read SPIRIT CATCHES YOU, I was struck by the world-building that Fadiman did - the ways that she creates the Hmong family's beliefs so that this non-Hmong reader could *understand*. There are several mainstream books that I've used as guides to world-building (MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA is another one), but SPIRIT is one of the very best.