alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions


Non-fiction Streak

Reading means one thing to me: Fiction.

Which means it’s a huge problem when I get tired of it, since I cannot wait in line for 30 seconds, eat dinner, or fall asleep without a book in my hand. I’ve heard that Twyla Tharp submits to self-imposed ‘creativity blackouts’ where she doesn’t read anything for a few weeks – not a magazine, not the mail, not the back of a cereal box. I’m tempted by the potential power of this, but I also hear the call of the loony bin.

My solution? All those non-fiction books that look so interesting when I fondle the covers and read the jacket copy, but just can’t bring myself to crack the cover when there’s still another alien-faerie-murdering-victorian-classic-YA-suspense-thingy clamoring for my attention.

Last week’s cleansing diet:

thrumptonThrumpton Hall: A Memoir of Life in My Father’s House
by Miranda Seymour
What: Woman writes of her father’s obsession with inheriting, preserving & coddling a Stately Home.
Why: As I was saying, it’s good to read about people whose lives are very different from yours.
Verdict: Powered by daughter’s (understandable) hostility to her father. Lightweight events recounted would have failed in the hands of a less-experienced biographer.
Bonus: Have your wedding at Thrumpton!

egyptMurder in Little Egypt, by Darcy O’Brien
What: Classic case of the murdering doctor, hailed as a hero by his rural community.
Why: It’s been on by bookshelf since 2003…and it’s a library book.
Verdict: Engrossing psychology.

motherLeaving Mother Lake: A Girlhood at the Edge of the World
by Yang Erche Namu and Christine Mathieu
What: Young girl leaves her tribal home in the ‘Land of Daughters’ for the wider world.
Why: Saw it on a ‘Best Books’ list.
Verdict: Enjoyed learning about traders and yak herders at the China/Tibet border. Appreciated Namu’s character: she resists her handsome lover by imagining children clinging to her skirts, and greets her pen pal with ‘How dare you be so ugly!”
Bonus: In China, Namu is a “crass celebrity“.

parsonThe Diary of a Country Parson (1758-1802)
by James Woodforde
What: Woodforde spends 20-some years as parson in Nofolk, writing down what happens, what he eats, and what he spends.
Why: Jigg the greyhound snuck in the cellar and ate the special pudding along with some cold tongue–recounted in Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book, in the segment on ‘Apricots’.
Verdict: Sometimes quotidian, sometimes droll, sometimes surprising. Unfailingly illuminating.

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Nalo Hopkinson is a genius!

Okay, I’ve always suspected it, after reading her truly unique SF novels like Brown Girl in the Ring (my favorite, I think), Midnight Robber, and The Salt Roads (and looking forward to her latest The New Moon’s Arms).

I was on her site, researching for the last post, and got all sidetracked reading her blog, when I found something that took my breath away with the common-sense obviousness of it. She says, “As of last night, Blackheart Man is at 79,926 words.  People sometimes ask me whether I find it difficult to work on two stories simultaneously.  Not so much. Each one is a very different world.”

Two. Novels. At. One. Time.

After all the dithering I’ve been doing about the ‘This One’ or ‘That One’. Could it really be so simple?

I won’t find out until after all this holiday nonsense is over and I am hard at work in the new year, but just contemplating it is like a cool breeze. I feel some posts about writing methods coming up.

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Decmber is ‘Buy a Book by a Black Author and Give It to Somebody Not Black’ Month

I couldn’t believe it when I ran across this video and blog the day after researching my posts about how we all need to make the effort to stop reading so white. The astral plane whirls in my favor!

Carleen Brice, author of Orange, Mint & Honey, has made a video welcoming white folks to the African-American section of your local bookstore.

She makes the very good point that many non-black readers of black fiction only read authors already elevated to ‘classic’ status – Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, etc. To help you out with finding contemporary black authors, she’s got a blog, Welcome Whitefolks.

I’ve already put:

mj1Incognegro, by Mat  Johnson

slp2Getting Mother’s Body, by Suzan-Lori Parks

sy2Black Girl in Paris, by Shay Youngblood

on my to-read list.

pe Erasure, by Percival Everett would be on there too, except I have already read it. Why haven’t you?

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Outposts within the English language

Following up my earlier post about finding books in translation, here are some good sources for different perspectives in the English language.

And because not everything has to be about prizes:

Looking at that Essence list, you may be thinking “No way am I reading something called ‘The Enemy Between My Legs.'” But I don’t see any reason to be on your high horse. Your probably read ‘The DaVinci Code’. Some of you older folks may have read ‘Forever Amber’ or you youngsters “Gossip Girl” or the “Au Pairs” series. What I am saying is that books let you know what other people are thinking – what they are dreaming of, what they wished they thought, what authors think they wished they thought. Try one on.

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Reading Outside Myself

Of the many reasons to read, a top one for me is taking a break from my life and the particular voices in my head, to listen for a while to the voices in somebody else’s head. Even though I write, and therefore encourage loquaciousness in my personal voices, I get tired of them always nattering on about dark green forests and frog people and old ladies with no teeth. I get bored of them. After a while, I think they are all the same, and not only do they have nothing new to say, that there is nothing new to be said. By anyone. Ever.

A good cure for this is a book by somebody else. Particularly somebody not very much like me. For that reason, I make an effort to read books not written by living white U.S. of Americans. When I need a cure, the less I know about the place a writer’s coming from (geographically, linguistically, temporally, or metaphorically), the better.

Sadly, finding this medicine is an effort. I read book blogs, writers’ blogs, publisher’s emails, & my local library’s RSS feed, and as Tayari often points out, writers of color slip discreetly under the rug of the US publishing industry’s publicity machine. So do translations. (And let’s not even talk about all the great books from everywhere that never get translated. Gnash! Frustrate!)

Reading something totally alien (not just something written with the intent of “explaining” a different environment to your western middle-class self) is really invigorating. Good for your brain, just like eating fish. Don’t know where to get started? For translations try:

Whoo, that’s enough. I’m making myself dizzy, especially from Booktrust’s page with all those yummy covers.

Up next: Lesser-read voices within the U.S.

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A Long Way Home

This image is from an NYT slideshow of paintings done by elderly men and women at 20 senior centers in New York City. They’re completely awesome, as well as some of the comments by the artists about what they were trying to represent, or why they included the objects they did.

I’ve always been tempted to write a story based on a picture, (Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, anyone?). Each of these paintings has so many words hidden inside, it seems like a story would pour out the minute I tapped the surface.