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Stories are transformative and powerful. What stories brought us to the place we're at in the world? What stories changed us, challenged us, and made us dream? What stories are waiting to become our new favorites? Where will those stories take us in the future? Maps & Legends brings a wide array of different people together to talk about stories in all their myriad forms and to share stories they loved so others can find their way to them, and perhaps, find the same enjoyment in them, too.


For the first iteration of Maps & Legends, we wanted to throw the field wide open. We love recommending stories we've liked to people, especially when there are no specific requirements. We wanted to know what books people would enthusiastically recommend to others if there were no limits. What books are on your auto-recommend list?, we asked this time around. This is what everyone graciously shared with us. :) — Renay






Susan

Susan writes at [personal profile] spindizzy and does short form frothing on Twitter at [twitter.com profile] spindilly.

This has been a weird and fun exercise for me, as I have two very different auto-recommend lists — one for things that are terrible, and one for things that are genuinely amazing. …I solemnly swear to you that all of these books are off the good list.

Full Metal Alchemist Omnibus Volume 1 by Hiromu Arakawa
The Elric brothers, Edward and Alphonse, are alchemists hunting for the Philosopher's Stone. They want it so they can restore Edward's missing arm and leg and get Alphonse's soul out of the suit of armour it's trapped in and back into his body. This isn't a straightforward quest — there's a murderer hunting down alchemists, there's secret unethical alchemical research going on, and at least two factions are keen for them not to find out anything.

This is one of the first manga series I ever got into and started following, and not only is it the one that has best stood the test of time, but I can trace a lot of the things that I'm into now back to it. That's why it's my default recommendation for anyone who wants to try out manga but isn't necessarily sure where to start. The art is clear and easy to follow, the story is coherent and fast-paced, and as far as I'm concerned it has something for everyone. Different ways of being badass women! Political manoeuvring! Amazing action scenes! Characters who change and develop over the series, and have motives that are actually explored! Oh, and if you like getting attached to characters then it's almost guaranteed to break your heart!

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
Breq used to have a crew of thousands, simultaneously controlled by her AI, because Breq used to be the spaceship Justice of Toren. Now, she's on a solo mission for vengeance against the ruler of the entire galaxy.

I recommend Ancillary Justice to pretty much everyone for really simple reasons. It is my favourite space opera, of all time, forever. It has a woman who used to be a spaceship. It has a supporting cast that makes me shriek and cry because I love them. And most importantly: it does things that I haven't seen before!

I know that the internet exploded about the exploration of gender (Breq's culture uses female pronouns by default and does not distinguish genders, which is awkward for her when it comes to cultures and languages that do differentiate) but there is so much that I love about the way it explores colonialism and different cultures. (The way culture affects language and vice versa! Planets that are multicultural and have more than one civilisation!) The scale of the narration is wonderful as well — because Justice of Toren was a ship with multiple squads of multiple people, so it has (mostly) the same viewpoint but on different scales and in different locations and I love One Esk in its entirety.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Every autumn, the capaill uisce — man-eating water horses — rise up from the sea around the island of Thisby. Every autumn, men attempt to catch them, train them, and ride them in the Scorpio Race in November. On the one hand, Sean Kendrick is the races, reigning champion and the one person on the island who can reliably handle the capaill uisce. On the other: Puck Conolly, who doesn't want to ride in the races, but doesn't see any other solution to her problems.

I recommend this book to... Almost everyone that I know! It's one of those books that I've reread it pretty much every year since I discovered it, and it still hasn't lost its charm. It is a slow-building story that takes the time to show you the characters in all of their prickly human glory before it starts weaving in the horror and the subtext of monstrosity. It gives you a family that loves each other even as they drive each other up the wall. It gives you subtle magic against monsters and men. It gives you characters who respect (or learn to respect) those around them, who respect their love interests before they fall in love and learn from them.

This? This is what I want from fiction. I can sit and read about Puck trying to keep her family together and Sean and his love for his man-killer horse until the end of time, and I live in hope that other people are going to get into this world as well and fall in love with it with me.

The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke
Ananna was supposed to be married off to the son of another pirate clan. Supposed to be, that is, until she makes her escape! Which unfortunately leads to both assassins, and an assassin cursed to protect her at all costs!

The Assassin's Curse feels like it was written for fandom in all of the best possible ways. You know how everyone talks about Jupiter Ascending as that story you desperately needed when you were fourteen and you wanted the dramatically dark and maybe-handsome-but-tragically-scarred man with the murderous past to swoop in and be bound to your ass-kicking protagonist for tenuous reasons? And there are inter-dimensional conspiracies and maybe your protagonist thought she was completely ordinary but maybe she's actually really smart and actually magic, it just hasn't been been the right time for that?

This is that.

This is literally that.

And it is glorious.

This is a story that I wish I'd been able to read when I was actually a teenager, because it would have fit right with my obsession with Tamora Pierce books and female protagonists who love their male counterparts but take none of their shit. Plus: PIRACY. (Also: the sequel has lesbian pirates in love.)

So, that's my list! Has anyone read any of these? What did you think?




Memory

Memory Scarlett writes and reads SFF. She's kind of obsessed with comics. You can find her at [twitter.com profile] xicanti on Twitter or at her blog.

Easiest prompt ever! I’ve got a few key titles I alwaysalwaysalways talk up whenever people ask me what they should read.

Mélusine by Sarah Monette — I always brand this one with an enormous trigger warning for sexual violence and emotional abuse. I also warn folks it took 250 pages to hook me the first time through, and there’s a good chance they’ll hate one of the narrators early and often.

Wow. I’m really making you want to read it, aren’t I?

These considerable deterrents aside, Mélusine is at the top of my must-recommend-to-everyone-oh-god-oh-god list because it’s my favourite on every level. Mildmay is my favouritest of favourite literary characters, Felix ain’t far behind (even though he’s the one you’re liable to hate), the world is gorgeous, Monette is the queen of narrative voice, and there’s craploads and craploads of tension even before the all-important clicking point. And I always weep at the end.

Um, I guess you want to know what it’s about. Basically: madness and magic and family and trope subversion and wretched sobbing. There are wizards and thieves and random half-siblings, and it’s my favourite, and I get totes incoherent about it.

It’s out of print, but you want to look for it at your library or your favourite used bookstore.

Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip — Most people seem to get into the Moomintrolls via Jansson’s children’s novels, but the comic strip served as my entry point and I push every uninitiated person I meet to make it theirs, too. Collected in five oversized volumes, the comics follow young Moomin and his family through their adventures at home and abroad.

It sounds bland, but trust me: this comic is painfully adorable and nice and inspiring and heartwarming and every other good thing you can think of. The Moomintrolls are hella earnest in everything they do, whether they’re figuring out how to hibernate or using their time machine to explore the Old West. They care about one another and they care about the world (albeit in kind of a grumpy way), and that makes them a joy to hang out with.

Also, I want to be Snufkin when I grow up.

Warchild by Karin Lowachee — the newest addition to my must-recommend-to-everyone-oh-god-oh-god list. It also needs a trigger warning for sexual violence and emotional manipulation, but damn, y’all. Damn. Warchild is so good I often forgot I was reading a book, and that almost never happens to me.

The story follows a young spacer who’s drawn into the war between humanity and the alien striviirc-na after pirates attack his homeship. Over the next decade, he lives on both sides of the conflict and navigates a landscape of uncertain allegiances and misplaced trust.

It’s amazing. I don’t even know how to talk about it without writing an epic, so I tell people they’ve just gotta trust me on this one.

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples — if you stand in my general vicinity for too long, I’m gonna tell you to read Saga. If you’ve already read it, I’m gonna engage you in a round of, "OMG! Right?" and "But [any one of the characters], though!" and *gross sobbing*.

Saga is about two former soldiers who’ve deserted from opposite sides of a pan galactic conflict, gotten married, and gone on the run with their wee baby daughter. It also checks in often with the people who’ve been assigned to hunt them down and kill them. It’s great. It hurts. It makes my heart happy and it rips me soul into tiny pieces. I love everyone, and I’m worried about everyone, and I’m so impressed with the realism of it all, and—

*gross sobbing*

Also, it needs a content warning for graphic violence and sex, both of which are inescapable since it’s a comic and all.

Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb — y’know, this list is pretty assassin-heavy. Like, none of the Moomins are assassins, but everyone else…

Oy.

Anyways, Assassin’s Apprentice is my go-to epic-yet-personal fantasy rec. There's all this world-shaking stuff going on in the background, but the focus remains on Fitz, the king's bastard grandson, who’s being trained as the family assassin.

Ages ago, someone convinced me to read Hobb by telling me Fitz messes up a lot, but his choices always seem entirely sensible in the moment because there’s no distance between him and the reader. Now I’m gonna rec it to you in the same way, because that’s absolutely true. Hobb’s work is ridiculously immersive.

And if you like it, you’ve got a whole series of fat fantasies to look forward to. Whee!




Jodie

Jodie is an editor at Lady Business (you are here!) and reviews for Shiny New Books.

I tend to self-edit whenever someone asks me for a recommendation. I grew up among friends who had very firm ideas about what they would and wouldn't read, and getting them to act on a rec required careful management. Years of dancing around, trying to find a way to make books sound acceptable, made filling this brief hard, but here's what I came up with:

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
I've already written a lot of words about The Scorpio Races — words that boil down to 'It's emotional' — so I'll keep this short. Everything about this book is wonderful: the intensity; the pacing; the unique nature of the characters; the atmospheric feel; the overall themes, and the fantasy concept. Killer sea horses! Are you excited, fictional recommendation seeker? Of course you are.

A year after reading Stiefvater's first standalone novel, I'm still in love with The Scorpio Races. It felt like it was written just for me. Of course, that's how hundreds of other readers felt too which is why it was such a hit. Let's all be special snowflakes together.

Shadowed Sun by N.K. Jemisin
N.K. Jemisin's world building, characters and way with romance all floored me after the first few chapters of her debut The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Bless the day I found out about her books.

I'm going to take a bit of a risk here and recommend the second book in a duology. I know people (me included) have trouble reading books out of order, but it's worth tossing out any objections and starting with the epic, exciting SFF novel The Shadowed Sun. While all Jemisin's novels contain fantastic female characters The Shadowed Sun is the first of her books to spend such a large amount of time concentrated on a supportive female community and the formation of female friendship. And wow did I fall hard for that friendship — Yanassa and Hanani were my favourite BFFs of last year.

The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall
Hall's protagonist lives in a dystopian UK where she is subject to a brutal and abusive program of breeding control, sanctioned by her male partner. She escapes her compound and sets out to find a radical group of female separatists who are rumoured to make their lives in the hills of Cumbria. Once accepted into their group, she begins to remake her life apart from men and traditional society.

The Carhullan Army wasn't quite my feminist SFF awakening. I read The Handmaid's Tale and other female focused SFF titles before I got to Hall's book. However, I think The Carhullan Army deeply affected me because it was the first time I saw a feminist work focus on a female created freedom.

Rather than lingering on close shots of the pain and violence caused by constant male oppression, The Carhullan Army concentrates on its angry, violent society of women who work the land. By making these free women the centre of its story, Hall's work gave me a different model of the feminist struggle than the one I'd seen represented in other novels. It also taught me that it was OK to be angry and gave me a way of processing rage that I hadn't fully understood until I read this book.

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
I always claim I don't like ghosts and haunted house stories, but I seem to have read and enjoyed an awful lot of them — The Little Stranger, The Haunting of Hill House and Dark Matter just for starters. And here I am putting one on a list of automatic recs. I think, for me, a great ghost story has to do more than frighten. Ghost stories need to show how ghosts bring their history to bear on the people they're haunting and work through big questions about history, society or personal relationships. I guess I need to be invested in wider issues to care that people are being haunted. It's possible that makes me a terrible person.

I keep revisiting this book in particular because every time I read it the story weaves an intricate web that pulls me into caring about what's happening to the characters. Even though I know how the book ends, their struggles feel fresh and urgent on each rereading. I also love Oyeyemi's writing style, which deliberately and artfully obscures detail, exerting a delicate control over the reader. I've read almost every novel she's written and hope she plans on a long writing career.

Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett
I have an entire bookshelf dedicated to Pratchett so there was never any doubt he would make it onto this list. He's one of those authors with a gigantic back catalogue that teenage me could glom onto and read with the veracity of a lone genre fan. I have a deep affection for many of his books (Small Gods, Nation and Maskerade in particular) but I always try to get people to start with this book about his three original witches: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat.

Witches Abroad is a fairy tale satire which features drunken witches, magical transformations and one very angry cat. It's full of Pratchett's clever humour but also gets real dark real fast as the witches encounter evil and twisted magic at court. This book set me up as a lifelong fairy tale skeptic who always wants to know what's going on behind the scenes of a happy ending. Yep, Witches Abroad is the reason my TBR pile is toppling under the weight of fairy tale retellings.




Nathan

Nathan lives in Colorado and writes self-indulgent reviews at Fantasy Review Barn. He reads, gives as much time as he can to his family, and occasionally can be found chucking up bricks on the basketball court. He can be found on Twitter at [twitter.com profile] reviewbarn spouting nonsense.

When mulling over this question I came to the realization that my auto-recommendation list is really quite boring. In part this is because I am so heavily invested in genre; I have read speculative fiction for the last five years almost exclusively. I am also well aware that some of my favorite books are not for everyone; either too dark or too weird or just too… fantasy. For me to recommend to someone without knowing their taste I feel I should think about broader appeal. And so when I finally nailed down my list I found it to be full of books most would recognize, and a great many have already read. But popular books are often popular for a reason, right?

My sole non-genre work in this venture would be To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. And I recommend it for all the obvious reasons. It is a gem, the single best ‘required reading’ book I have ever read. And to me it is timeless. For reasons why I am sure there are hundreds of academic papers talking about its ties to history and the civil rights movement. Frankly there are probably a million high school English papers doing the same. And reading the news it is easy to see why this is still important. But the real timeless quality comes from the story told through Scout’s eyes and memory. A young child learning about human nature, the best and worst of it, in turbulent times.

I have no problem adding the most popular work of my generation to the list. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling was something special. We can quibble about its quality and need for an editor, play a game of spot the plot holes, and cuss out the final books epilogue all day. But find me anything in pop culture so universal. By reading this series a person joins a club and can have a meeting anywhere at any time with almost anyone. Being complete has taken away some of the magic, sure. But I have discussed Horcrux possibilities with my mother-in-law, debated Snape’s intentions with co-workers, and enjoyed listening to random theories coming from a nearby table at a restaurant. No one should be missing this opportunity.

My favorite author is Terry Pratchett. As such I simply must throw in a book from his backlist. Wyrd Sisters is my usual go-to starting point; the Shakespearian background gives even non-fantasy readers an anchor to hold on too. It is funny, well plotted, and has a group of elderly women usually cast as villains in the lead (witches, to be exact). I can’t expand much past that; if it doesn’t appeal to you I am not sure I am the one to be asking for recommendations.

There is always room for a slot that could change at any time. It contains THAT book that has just stuck in my mind a little longer than normal. At this point in time that book is Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier. This is a fantasy book without all the scary fantasy clichés that keep many from the genre. Instead it feels like a fairy tale; a wonderfully written, slightly hopeful, fairytale. I read it without high hopes, was pleasantly surprised, and assumed it would fade in memory. Instead it stays there and begs me to reread it soon. What better reason could I have to ask others to give it a try?

I finish with one last book, and perhaps the one I recommend with the least amount of confidence. Not because it is any less special to me, in point of fact it is one of my favorite reads in the last five years. But I do worry about its broad appeal more than the others. The book is The Scar by Sergey and Marina Dyachenko and anyone who is familiar with me knows I have been pushing it for some time. It is told through the eyes of a man and woman connected by a single fateful encounter. It is a tale of redemption, forgiveness, and even love. It is fantasy that contains only a single piece of magic; a curse laid out early in the story. It is completely wonderful and I wish more people would read it. So, you know, please go read it?




Aja

Aja is a geek culture and fandom reporter for DailyDot.com and Submissions Editor Emeritus for Big Bang Press. She lives in Brooklyn, but more accurately on Tumblr and Twitter. She has a deep love of bad horror, good horror, and Regency romances, and is forever looking for ways to combine the three.

Six books on my auto-recommend list:

Audition! by Michael Shurtleff
In a former life my first love was the theatre, and I read this book til the pages were shoddy, used its techniques on actual professional auditions, and then applied it to my writing life. I rec this book to everyone I edit and beta-read for. This book is chock-full of amazing anecdotes about the golden age of the theatre and Hollywood from someone who was a casting legend who worked with hundreds of A-listers. But this book is also full of amazing tips that help you, as a writer, unearth character motivations and plot structure in ways that are simple to grasp and easy to remember.

I credit this book for helping me understand the fundamentals of character development, teaching me to identify the conflict in every situation, and showing me how to think like Barbara Streisand at an audition, blowing the minds of the producers before she ever sings a note.

Fly By Night/Twilight Robbery by Frances Hardinge
I say no other author, but Frances Hardinge comes damn close. Everyone who reads Frances Hardinge instantly falls in love with Frances Hardinge, and it’s because she seems to have plucked words out of the mouths of fairies and dropped them onto a magnificent serving platter for your edification. And on top of the language, she gives you phenomenal characters and stunning worldbuilding and places you just don’t ever want to leave even though they have all the hallmarks of flawed social systems we know so well from our own world. In Fly By Night and its sequel Twilight Robbery (published as Fly Trap in the U.S.) she gives us a 12-year-old athiest goose-thief named Mosca Mye, an irascible goose named Saracen, and an old swindler named Eponymous Clent, who form an unlikely partnership and make their way through a remarkable world based on Enlightenment-era England, bonding over their love of books and language in a country where loving books is one of the most dangerous things you can do. If this premise doesn’t make you happy in your soul then all my recs are useless. Everyone should read Frances Hardinge. Her books are made of starlight and rebellious girls—the best materials in the universe.

Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey
This book has everything I yearn for in a Young Adult novel—rich grounding in mythology crossed over with elements of modern horror and urban fantasy! A deep sense of setting that colors the whole book without bogging you down in worldbuilding—even better, a sense of setting that directly informs the plot! An amazing heroine who’s flawed and difficult and messy but determined and strong, and a cast of ensemble characters who can hold their own with her and never devolve into easy stereotypes! An actual unconventional romance (seriously). A deep love of folklore and postmodern constructs of myth-making! A richly diverse cast and a socially conscious narrative set in the South Pacific! A scene where a character fights off monsters with a stiletto heel! I mean COME ON. This book. I love this book so much. Because of this book I will read and recommend everything Karen Healey writes, forever.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
This book blows my mind on so many levels. I’m blown away by the strength of the story itself, by the true tale of a runaway slave who lived in a crawlspace for seven years waiting for a chance to remove her daughter from captivity. I’m blown away by how cinematic and vigorous the writing is, how vivid the characters are (because of course they weren’t characters at all, but real people). I’m blown away by how a story that involves so much physical waiting can still be so compelling and suspenseful from start to finish. I’m blown away by the life of Harriet Jacobs, how she continued to educate freed slaves for the rest of her life, how she kept on fighting for social justice for black Americans even while her narrative was written off and erased as fiction for whites. I’m blown away by the story around this book: that for over a century the hallowed halls of academia dismissed this slave narrative as a fabrication written by a white woman abolitionist. I’m blown away that a single woman, a historian named Jean Fagan Yellin, decided that every argument she’d ever been taught about this narrative was wrong and she was going to prove it. I’m blown away that as late as the ‘60s and ‘70s she was able to diligently record evidence from the 1850s about Harriet Jacobs’ life, ultimately proving that she was the pseudonymous Linda Brent and the author of this incredible narrative. I’m blown away that this story is still so often largely overlooked in the wake of more famous slave narratives, and I’m blown away by how close we came to losing this story of heroism and courage to the institutional racism that refused to believe something so incredible could be real, and the indifference of a century of academics refusing to look closer. And every time I reread, I’m blown away by the thought of how many other voices of heroism, how many other incredible stories of slaves who fought to free themselves, we have lost to time and indifference.

Jeeves & Wooster series by PG Wodehouse
No other author has ever given me as much pleasure in the act of reading itself as PG Wodehouse. In addition to being so hilarious at moments that you find yourself in physical pain from laughing, every word is pure joy.

Hikaru no Go by Yumi Hotta / Illustrated by Takeshi Obata
I debated what to put as the final book on this list, and this 23-volume manga doesn’t really count as a “book” anyway, but in all honesty if I could only take one thing with me to read on the proverbial desert island, I’d be hard pressed to choose between the complete Shakespeare and this: the complete series by a female author who really only ever wrote one thing and a male illustrator who went on to become a mangaka superstar when he illustrated Death Note, Bakuman, and All You Need Is Kill.

Hikago is something of a bait-and-switch; you think you’re getting an average shounen manga, a cute but quaint story about a boy who learns to love a thousand-year-old board game with the help of a friendly ghost. Instead, you get an incredibly moving, profound, and heartwrenching story about love and loss, about throwing your heart into the pursuit of a lifelong goal that doesn’t always reward you when you need it to; about the courage it takes to fling yourself into competition and fling yourself into the act of living, over and over again. And, again, a story about connection through time, about the ways we find ourselves in the past, and the way we reach out to touch the future we can’t see. And, again, a love story about finding your soulmate over a shared passion, and allowing yourself to smooth your rough edges against another human being, trusting yourself to return the favor. And, again, a story about grief and healing and eternal love.

I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that Hikaru no Go is a particularly beloved manga even among manga fans. This is a manga that not only made Go more popular in Japan, but created a tradition of leaving a seat empty in some Korean Go tournaments in honor of Fujiwara no Sai. When I first recced it to my friend Melinda Beasi, she fell so deeply in love with it that it gave her an instant manga obsession, and she wound up becoming a notable manga reviewer over at her awesome website Manga Bookshelf. I doubt any other rec I’ve ever given has caused such a complete transformation as this, but if any rec could transform you, the reader, I’d place my stone on this goban. <3




KJ

KJ is an under-employed librarian from San Francisco who has been in fandom for 10 years now. She writes and journals under the handle owlmoose at AO3 and Dreamwidth, and can often be found on Tumblr geeking over Dragon Age, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Final Fantasy, feminism and other social justice issues, and whatever else catches her eye that day (read: lots of cat pictures).

As a librarian, the topic of giving out recs (or "reader's advisory", as we call it in the biz) is both near and dear to my heart and something I take some pride in doing well. Therefore, it's hard for me to say that anything is an auto-rec, because I always try to take what I know of a person's tastes and interests into account when deciding what they might like.

That said, here's a list of books that I'm happy to fling at most people, and with which I have often been successful:

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin:Okay, so I'm starting off with a book that's not spec fic. But it's a mystery; maybe that's close enough? I have loved this book since I first discovered it in fourth grade, and none of the shine has worn off. The puzzle is engrossing, the characters are great, and the ending is perfect.

Tam Lin by Pamela Dean: I have a soft spot for fairy tale retellings, but that's not the itch this book scratches for me. What I love about it is how perfectly it captures the sense of the small liberal arts college experience.

Someplace to be Flying by Charles de Lint: I could have thrown most any de Lint Newford story in here, really, but this is one of his best. I love the Crow Girls.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie: A very recent addition to this list, but a great one. It's one of the most interesting SF/F books that I've read in years. The sequel, which I just finished a couple of weeks ago, is even better.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. This book starts out as a fun, charming caper story, then turns around and stabs you in the gut. It's a perfectly executed turn. Also, the relationship between the two main characters is one of my favorite in all of fiction. The only downside is that there aren't enough female characters (although those that are in the book are aces), but this is somewhat remedied in later books.

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis: I think this book is under appreciated, so I want everyone to read it and discover how much fun it is.




Clare

Clare McBride is a book blogger, fan, and pop culture critic at The Literary Omnivore.

To try and put paid to the concept of auto-recommend, I listed off the first six books that came to mind. (And by come to mind, I mean scrolling through my book blog looking at the last books I rated five stars that leaped out at me. I don’t have the greatest memory, which is why I write so much.) There’s actually only one fiction title on this list, which surprises me, but my recent nonfiction reading has really been reflecting the fact that I’m a lifelong fan and pop culture junkie. My motivating fascination is the relationship between a text and its reader (or listener or viewer or…), especially texts dismissed for being populist (i.e., fun and accessible). Each of these books—save, perhaps Tiny Beautiful Things—digs deep into that relationship and comes out with astonishing thoughts and conclusions. Most of these made me have to go lie down and have a good think, which what I want books to do.

So, in alphabetical order, my auto-recommend list circa today:

The Devil Finds Work by James Baldwin. Baldwin’s 1976 film criticism is a model for the form. This incandescent, fiery, and intensely personal book represents what all criticism should strive to be—a person grappling with the stories that are meant to sustain them, whether they are found worthy or lacking. Reading The Devil Finds Work gave me critical vocabulary I had sorely been lacking. Criticism is an art form all its own.

The Sundering by Jacqueline Carey. Deconstructing a text is one of the most accepted means of remixing a text, and Jacqueline Carey’s brilliant deconstruction of The Lord of the Rings is one of the finest examples of the genre. (Lev Grossman’s The Magicians is way too brutal for me.) As someone who has an almost instinctual bond with Tolkien’s work, I adore this. (It also helps that Carey, who usually writes great big series, only has a few novels you can actually read in a single working day.) Okay, The Sundering is a duet—composed of Banewreaker and Godslayer—but, just like The Lord of the Rings, it’s one novel in parts.

Textual Poachers by Henry Jenkins Jr. The media studies Bible, written by a fellow fan—the wonderful Henry Jenkins Jr. This book serves as both an introduction to the glories of fannish behavior—how we remix, adapt, and otherwise retool texts to serve our own needs—and to seeing those behaviors through an academic lens. Fandom has moved on since then—this was published in 1992, before fandom took to the Internet—but this is both a nostalgia bomb (Beauty and the Beast fans trading VHS tapes!) and a part of our history.

Scandals of Classic Hollywood by Anne Helen Petersen. Our Lady of Gossip (no, really, she has a PhD in it) Anne Helen Petersen writes about celebrity culture, star images, and what it says about our culture. Based on her amazing Awl column of the same name, Scandals of Classic Hollywood finds Petersen comparing and contrasting classic Hollywood stars to get to what the narratives assigned to them can tell us about the culture they lived in. I learn something new every time I read one of her pieces. Petersen also writes on modern Hollywood at BuzzFeed as a Features Writer, so rejoice in her abundance.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. Secondary to my all-abiding fannish love of everything is my love for brutally honest advice columns like Captain Awkward, Ask Polly, and, of course, Dear Sugar. A collection of Cheryl Strayed’s columns for the Rumpus, Strayed asks letter writers and readers to practice radical empathy with her ever constant coo of "sweet pea" and sharing, fearlessly, the harrowing stories from her own life. I find her brand of radical empathy and emotional generosity incredibly challenging and incredibly worthwhile. It’s my kind of self-help. Strayed’s most recent project is Dear Sugar Radio, which I heartily recommend.

Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste by Carl Wilson. Carl Wilson takes Celine Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love as a starting part to examine what constitutes taste. Along the way, he touches on how we are taught taste through socialization, how this influences how we engage with texts, and, at one point, spirituality. "God’s love is unspeakable, implacable, its gaze matter-of-fact," Wilson states. "But human love is something else: We love in excess of God’s love if we love at all. We love by heaping meaning on objective fact" (123). I think about this quote so, so much.

Date: 2015-02-25 10:57 am (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
So many great choices and lots here for me to explore.

Good to see Susan and I are united in our quest to get everyone to read The Scorpio Races.

And I think everyone has a different ideal starting point for Pratchett and Discworld - there's so many books how could they not? Wonder if other people will drop their in the comments.

Date: 2015-02-25 07:33 pm (UTC)
spindizzy: (Default)
From: [personal profile] spindizzy
It's an excellent quest, and I hope we succeed! (It is so good, I might just start shoving the book into people's hands and running away.)

I always thought that The Monstrous Regiment was a great place to start, because it just RIPS through gender roles and how fantasy novels handle them, but I've never read the Disc world books. in order, so.

Date: 2015-02-28 10:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] theliteraryomnivore.wordpress.com
The Scorpio Races is so, so good; I'm so glad to see it mentioned here.

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