Monthly Archives: November 2008

A Reading Meme

Can I create a meme? Let’s see. As you can see from my last post but one, there has been talk all over the internet about buying books as presents this Christmas. But what books to buy? I thought it would be fun to list ten books I read this year and describe why I liked them to give other people inspiration about things they may not have read. The only thing is, I realized that I have already written about many of the new books I loved this year. I picked ten books I hadn’t written too much about, just to make it interesting, but some of my favourites have already been reviewed. So check out the archives too for ideas.

And I tag — EVERYONE! List ten of your favourite new books in your blog or in the comments (or however many you can come up with). They don’t have to be new this year, just new to you this year. Here are mine:

Anthony Powell, Dance to the Music of Time. This is a link to the first of four volumes in this monumental series. I can’t beieve I had never read this before. Perfect for people who like novels about decayed upper classes in England between the wars.

Sarah Dunant, The Birth of Venus I liked this almost as much as In the Company of the Courtesan. About painters in Renaissance Florence in the time of Savonarola, if you like juicy but realistic historical fiction, this is for you.

Rebecca Stott, Ghostwalk. Nicely spooky, this blends animal rights activism with Isaac Newton and makes perfect sense.

Charles de Lint, Memory and Dream. Have I ever put up a list of books that didn’t have a de Lint book on it? This is another novel about an artist that threads together past and present perfectly.

Guy Gavriel Kay, Ysabel. Photography, magic, myth, Gauls and Romans, this is perfect or fantasy-loving adolescent. Or a fantasy-loving adult.

Gail Godwin, Father Melancholy’s Daughter. I love all her books, but I am especially partial to novels about angsty Anglicans and this is a perfect example of that genre.

Mohja Kahf, The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf. A novel about growing up Muslim in Indiana, beautifully written and rich with the textures and varieties of religious life.

Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees. One of the good things about this book for the would-be writer is that it is wonderful, like all of hers, but it was her first published novel and you can see how she improved in her later work. It is encouraging.

Shirley Hazzard, The Great Fire. This is romance novel set in Japan, Hong Kong, and New Zealand in the aftermath of World War II. No, not a love story, a real romance novel. See for yourself. Who says literary fiction and romance are incompatible? Not me.

Steven Brust, Brokedown Palace. A fairy tale with all the requisite elements set in a magical, strange not-quite-but-almost-Hungary.

Okay, that’s ten. Now it’s your turn. Spread, little meme, and prosper, and may the authors you introduce prosper likewise!


Yup, I’m doing it this year again. I don’t think I’ll get to 50,000 words, but I expect to get a good chunk written even so, and it will help me get into a consistent habit of writing every day. I’m somewhere around 12,000 right now. This isn’t a new work started from scratch — I never do that. I’m adding words to a work already in progress. Technically cheating, but I’m not going to verify my writing at the end so it is okay.

What’s NaNoWriMo you ask? Why, it is National Novel Writing Month. Actually, it should be called International Novel Writing Month because thousands and thousands of people all over the world take it into their heads every year to write a novel of 50,000 words in the month of November, but InNaNoWriMo sounds silly. Okay, more silly.

I usually do this pretty much under the radar, but I decided to come out of the closet on my NaNo habit because of all the hostility to the idea of NaNo I found over in the comments to this thread at Jonathan Lyons’s blog. Look, if I were an agent or an editor, I’d pretty annoyed to get fifteen thousand poorly spelled 50,000 word NaNo novels postmarked December 1 on my doorstep. And it is no secret that some NaNoers can be annoying. But the critics should reconsider. First of all not everyone is even interested in publishing what they write. What’s wrong with writing a 50,000 word novel in a month, just to prove you can? And for someone who does want to get published some day, NaNo is a great tool if you are having trouble getting in the habit of regular writing. Yes of course you are a perfectionist who wants every word to be polished to gemlike perfection. And if at a page or a paragraph a day, you have managed to finish a novel to your satisfaction, then NaNo probably isn’t for you. But if you have worked and reworked your first chapter more times than you could count but never felt able to make that big move to chapter 2, maybe give NaNo a try some time. Your novel can’t be perfect if it isn’t finished.

Here’s a secret: the novel that got me an agent was a NaNo novel. I wrote 50,000 words one year and then finished it up the following November. And no, it wasn’t crap when I was done. Sure, I had to revise, but there is no reason a decent writer can’t write 4 to 5 pages a day of good writing, which is what the NaNo pace is. And my agent doesn’t know this because I saw no reason to tell her. So agents who fear NaNo, relax. The last book you sold at auction may have had its start in those 50,000 words.

Hillary Clinton

Last Sunday I had a chance to hear Hillary Clinton speak at a small fundraiser for Obama on what was her sixty-first birthday. I was madly curious to go and hear what she had to say.
The crowd seemed like a mix of long-devoted Hillary supporters and true-blue Obama backers, but everyone was enthusiastic and excited to be there. Her speech was good, heavy on the practical logistics of the final week of campaigning and what we all needed to do, and light on soaring rhetoric but it fit the audience. The most interesting part was her answer to two questions asked by members of the audience. The first asked her what role she’d like to play in an Obama government. She strongly ruled out interest in a Supreme Court position and, maybe more surprisingly, not only insisted she would prefer to stay in the Senate to taking a cabinet post but also warned forcefully against Obama stripping the Senate to build his cabinet. That made sense to me.
She was also asked to compare the ’92 and ’08 campaigns. She made some predictable comments about the effects technological changes — the internet and cell phones — and then spoke quite movingly of how much she thought Bill and Barack had in common in their background and their values, from their shared fatherlessness, their age, their message of change, to the fact they both have daughters. “And I think they both married intelligent professional women,” she said, getting a big cheer.
I do have to add one comment about her looks. I hate to do this because it should not be relevant at all. But appearance is hugely important for women candidates and one of the things I admired about her campaign was the way she set a standard for the way women politicians could both look womanly and professional at the same time. Anyway: I have to say that at this event, up close, she looked absolutely fabulous. Stunning. She is a tiny person, and shame on those who have mentioned her hips — so untrue. And those rumours about Botox? Completely false. She was a couple of feet from me with a huge smile on her face and I’ll eat my hat if she isn’t as nature made her.