We do our share of LGBT book reviews at AfterEllen.com. But for those of us who love to read, books with gay content are just a small percentage of our literary intake. I, for one, would love to know what you’re reading — and whether you think the rest of us would be interested.
Here’s what’s been on my bedside table in recent weeks.
Un Lun Dun by China Miéville
I’m not sure who told me to read Un Lun Dun, but it was on a list of recommended books on my iPhone, so I picked it up at a used book sale. China Miéville usually writes fantasy fiction for adults, but plans to write a novel in every genre. Un Lun Dun is his young adult fantasy contribution and the only book of his I’ve read. (Based on reviews of Miéville’s other work, he seems to be a love-him-or-loathe-him kind of writer.)
Explaining the title is minor spoiler, so I won’t. But I’ll tell you that it describes an alternate universe where two 12-year-old girls end up, charged with saving Un Lun Dun before its plague bleeds into their own world. That sounds formulaic, I know, but nothing goes as planned — and all the prophecies of The Chosen One turn out to be so wrong that the book containing them gets depressed.
Un Lun Dun might qualify as dystopian, but it is far from bleak. The tone is more Alice in Wonderland than Hunger Games. And the abundant wordplay makes it a lot of fun to read. If you like YA fantasy, check out Un Lun Dun.
Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante
One of the reasons I belong to a book club is that I end up reading books I never otherwise would have. Turn of Mind is an example. I’d never heard of it, even though Alice LaPlante was featured on Fresh Air when the novel debuted. I set aside a Saturday to read it — and I’m sure glad I did. Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down.
Turn of Mind is categorized as a thriller, which it is, but the novel goes way beyond that. The protagonist is Dr. Jennifer White, a retired hand surgeon with progressive dementia; the story is from her point of view. Jennifer’s longtime best friend and neighbor Amanda was murdered and four fingers were surgically removed from her hand. That makes the doctor the prime suspect. But Jennifer has no memory of killing her — and a lot of the time she doesn’t even remember that her friend is dead.
Jennifer’s narration lets the reader experience her disease and its frustrations first-hand. Sometimes I wanted to throw the book across the room because I had so many feelings. When Jennifer has moments of clarity, her brilliance is obvious. Then she forgets where she is and urinates in the middle of the floor.
Turn of Mind is not an easy read in terms of content, but you will finish it quickly. You have to.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
If I had read Quiet in my 20s, or even earlier, I think my life would’ve been much different. Not that I’d be anything but a writer, but I suspect the business side of my career would’ve been brighter if I’d understood that being an introvert is not a negative. Most of my life, I’ve been trying to be more outgoing, to force myself to network, to mingle at parties. I’ve feigned illness when I was tired of being in a crowd or if someone asked me at a party why I wasn’t having a good time (because I was watching the action instead of being in the middle of it). I’ve rarely dated because I hate small talk, so “first dates” are a miserable experience. I suck at job interviews, because I believe my work speaks for itself and saying nice things about myself seems silly.
Nothing is wrong with me; I’m an introvert — just like at least a third of the population.
Susan Cain, an introvert herself, explores how extroversion has become the ideal in our culture, despite the fact that introverts are responsible for many of history’s greatest accomplishments. Quiet is meticulously researched, with advice for extroverts in how to understand and empower introverts and for introverts in how to embrace their quiet power and ways to succeed in an extrovert-oriented environment.
I heard Cain give a TED talk last year and wanted to send it to every boss or coworker or well-meaning friend I’ve ever known who told me to “come out of my shell.” I feel the same way about Quiet, one of the most empowering books I’ve ever read. Honestly, I think Quiet could change the world — if enough extroverts would just sit down and read it.
That’s enough from me. If you’d like to do this kind of thing periodically, let us know. But for now, share: What are you reading? Tell us why it’s worth reading — or why it’s not.