Ladies Reading Ladies Who Write Speculative Fiction

Remember when I said I have a love/hate relationship with book clubs and that I’d just joined a new one? The new club is comprised of a group of ladies reading speculative fiction written by women writers. I was invited to join after I’d tweeted about how I was adding more diversity to my reading. This is another added benefit of befriending your local booksellers as the person who invited me works at the local indie. From there I’ve also been exchanging tweets with another member so now it’s a double rainbow of awesome. Not only am I expanding my literary horizons, but I’m getting opportunities to talk books with other readers and make new friends.

Book friends got the hookup.

 

Our first book pick was Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler which was so fucking amazing to me that I immediately read the sequel Parable of the Talents. I wasn’t able to attend the first meeting due to a previous promise to attend a friend’s baby shower.  This month’s book was The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin which I found to be pretty straightforward science fiction. Le Guin spelled out everything she wanted the reader to know so there wasn’t a lot of brain work being done. Not a bad book, but it could have been a bit longer.

I will get to what actually happened at the meeting, but I wanted to give a little background here. Wikipedia defines speculative fiction as “a broad literary genre encompassing any fiction with supernatural, fantastical, or futuristic elements.” I tried to get some stats on female authors in speculative fiction, but Wiki for one, seemed to just focus in on the science fiction angle instead of the other sub categories.  However, I stumbled upon the Internet Speculative Fiction Database and on their statistics page, it looks as if in 2012 they had over 98 thousand author entries. They unfortunately do not break it up by gender which would have been extremely helpful as well as adding in some kind of way of finding out their ethnicity.

Thanks for making it easy to get numbers….not.

 

The fact that speculative fiction is such a broad category is remarkable as it allows a lot of different fans in. I was thrilled to find out historical fiction tends to be considered speculative fiction as I’ve been reading that for years. Also literary fiction has representation also as in such books as Life After Life by Kate Atkinson since the main character Ursula seems to reboot her life whenever she dies which is completely fantastical. I also am a pretty big fan of urban fantasy which apparently is also considered speculative fiction. Suddenly I’m not as big of a newbie as I thought.

But I’m trying!

In addition to that, you know my commitment to reading more diverse authors as well. So it would be great to keep it going within the book club. Along with the aforementioned Le Guin and Butler, and our next pick is Catherynne M. Valente’s Deathless so we are at a 33% ratio of reading diverse authors which would be nice to see maintained since we know the discrepancy of diverse authors in publishing and I assume it’s an even greater gap in genres like science fiction and urban fantasy (Daniel José Older put together a list of diverse urban fantasy writers and about 50% were female, but the list was only 33 names). Goodreads has this list that I’d like to be able to pull some names from.

Some diverse titles in our TBR suggestion list

  • The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet by Vandana Singh
  • Lagoon and Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
  • The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin
  • Mindscape by Andrea Hairston

On to the meeting!

Six of us met at a local bakery that has delicious food, sat outside and got started. I admitted I felt a bit out of my element with science fiction. I’m a relative newbie in the genre and want to learn more so the discussion of scifi themes and tropes is new to me. I’m trying to learn more about dissecting books and their metaphors. Luckily as I mentioned before The Lathe of Heaven is pretty straight forward. In the meeting I was spellbound listening to these other five ladies debate evil vs inaction and gush over turtle-shaped aliens. Everyone was really polite with one another and let each other talk and even when they disagreed, there was respect. I’ve been in some groups where this does not happen. Feelings get hurt when someone doesn’t like a point you make or there is the opposite where no one wants to have an opposing opinion because they don’t want to be wrong. I didn’t see this happen, but I believe what will happen is no one will be judgmental of the person who was inaccurate. All in all I can’t wait for our next meeting.

What speculative fiction titles would you suggest? What do you like to see in your book clubs?

Book Club Angst

I have a love/hate relationship with book clubs. I’ve been in a few. I helped create one. They’re awesome and awful all at the same time for me.

My first book club was started at a library I worked at for a brief time. I joined partially because I was trying to help bump the numbers and also because I really was interested. The first book was…actually I don’t remember. What I do remember is that it devolved pretty quickly for me. For Halloween they picked a spooky book, which turned out to be the fourth book in a series that only one person had read. Which is a horrible choice for a book club. There was way too much backstory that we weren’t getting. (Note: It was Still Life With Crows by Preston Child.) The majority of the actual meeting was him telling us what we had missed. After that, I don’t remember every book except it started to feel like we were only reading that guy’s favorite books and suggesting new books was pretty much not allowed. The good news was I ended up quitting the job (for a completely different reason) which made backing out easier. Also the book club met in the library and had several library staff as members which apparently the librarian didn’t like so meetings tended to be a bit edgy and not fun. The librarian was one of the evil sort that didn’t like FUN at all.

She also censored books…

The other big book club was the one I helped to create. It was a classics book club. We started out on Facebook because as founders, myself and the other lady involved, we’d just moved to new, separate cities. So we started getting members the old fashioned way…harassing our friends and family. That started okay. Except as Zuckerberg is currently finding out, Facebook sucks for book club discussions. So we moved our happy butts to Goodreads. All was going pretty well. We were fine tuning things. It was manageable…until Goodreads featured us as a book group. Suddenly in something like a week we’d gone from maybe 50 people to over 1000. And it just grew. So did the expectations and the pressure. Now people were wanting us to do our choices a different way, or debate what a “classic” was (if I never have to have that debate again, it will be too soon). We had at our peak around 3000 members, but only maybe 100 were participating. If I could do it over, I think I’d have to have a mandatory participation clause, maybe. I got overwhelmed and honestly, a bit bored. For a year it seemed all people were voting on were dystopian sci-fi. Woman cannot live on dead white guys alone (because they almost always were dead white guys). And oh my gods, the snobbery. The people who wanted to look down on the rest because they weren’t getting the metaphors or allegories. I stepped down as a mod and lurked a bit out of habit, then quietly left.

Because Tina Fey is almost always appropriate for the situation

Recently I found myself in another book club. This one is science fiction and fantasy written by self identified ladies. This is pretty exciting to me. For one, I’m not running it so I can sit back and enjoy. Two, I’ve been needing a group to get out and talk to. Due to my introvert nature, I tend to be a homebody. Books are pretty much the only way to convince me to get out. Three, reading books by diverse authors is something I’m trying to get better at. Also I don’t have a great background in science fiction/fantasy so I’m looking to broaden my horizons there too. Our first book was my first Octavia Butler which was exciting. We read Parable of the Sower and even though I had a prior engagement so I couldn’t go to the meeting, I  read the book. And the next one. I also bought Kindred. Our next book is Ursula Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven. Another first for me.

I have concerns. I tend to get antsy about books that I’m supposed to read. Even books that I set up for myself. Why is that? I freaking don’t know. Flashbacks from high school? Also I worry about my social anxiety. I worry (see what I did there?) that I’ll worry too much and talk myself out of going. I get stressed out that I won’t “get” the metaphors and then feel too dumb to participate.

This is your cue…

I’d like to also find/create a book group where books aren’t assigned. Where we get together x amount of times a month and just sit around drinking wine/beer/coffee and talk about all the books we’ve read since the last time we met and about the ones we want to read. Maybe set up some little buddy reads, but nothing formal. I might do this. I might already have, but with comics. Along with two other ladies, we informally decided to get together and trade the comics we own and chat about them. I’m sure regular books will get added to the conversation. When have I not used an opportunity to talk about books?

We’re talking about the new ToMo book, right?

How do you feel about book clubs? Are you in one?