I firmly believe that if you only read in the genre you write in, you’re going to end up writing more and more shallowly. Yes, writers need to read their genres so they know what’s out there, but by reading outside their genres, their imaginations, and thus their writing, become richer.
So what did I read outside science fiction and fantasy this year?
Cherokee Indian Lore & Smoky Mountain Stories
by Margaret R. Siler
In 1938, Margaret Siler sought to write down the stories of her neighbors in the Smoky Mountains. This thin volume is the result of her life’s work. Read tales of the Cherokee Tribe, learn about their speech, and absorb tales of early European settlers and freed slaves. Stories told by a man born in slavery and then freed, a haunted house, and what travel was like fill the latter half of the book.
This book was fascinating. While I would not call it “politically correct,” Siler was certainly a progressive. She spoke of the atrocities performed by the American government against the Cherokee and wept with them. The entire book is only about 120 pages, so it won’t take long to read.
I do want to retype one of the stories I absolutely loved, though:
There had never been a cook stove in this home. One day, Mr. M_____ went to town with a load of apples, wool, and so forth. He sold out at good prices. Going into a hardware store to buy nails, a big iron range, with six “eyes,” hot water tank, and big over, caught his attention. He would just buy that stove and give his wife the surprise of her life! On to the wagon it was loaded. It took the other part of the day to get back to the foot of the mountain where he lived, high up on the other side.
All the next day was used in trying to get the big stove up the steep side of the mountain. Mules strained, oxen pulled, neighbors pushed and tugged. Halfway was finally reached, but from there up was “on the UP and up” and they could go no further.
“Tell you what you goin’ to have to do, Charlie,” drawled a helper. “You are going to have to bring your house down to your stove.”
And that is just what Charlie did. The three-room house was taken down, and built around the stove. And did Mrs. Charlie enjoy cooking on it!
Robert B. Parker
Devona was fourteen when the gangs shot her and her baby. The locals hired Hawk to take care of the gangs. Hawk brought in his partner Spenser. Spenser had never felt more isolated in the black community. No one trusted him. How was he going to help Hawk protect the community?
I’ve started reading one Spenser novel a year. They’re usually quick reads. While I enjoyed this one, it felt… less complete than a number of the Spenser novels I’ve read. I can’t quite put my finger on it. The killers were brought to justice. Spenser faced and overcame danger. I continue to love that Parker uses short chapters to tell his story, which makes everything move along even more quickly. So yeah… I’m not sure why, but this was not my favorite. I suspect it may be that this book is later on in the series. Maybe Parker had fallen into a pattern by then, and the earlier books I’ve read have more of an edge to them? Not sure. Meh.
The Bombay Marines did the East India Company’s dirty work. When the Company needs plausible deniability, they sent the Marines in. Captain Adam Horne brings together a motley crew of criminals and leads them in tracking down a French ship in the first book, and in the other they must hunt a man who could open up the Orient to trade for other companies.
I picked up these books for a quarter each at a thrift shop. Short chapters, action-packed sequences, and clever storytelling help these things fly. I wouldn’t call it great writing, but I finished each book quickly and would gladly read another in the series. If you want a cross between Horatio Hornblower and A-Team, this would probably be your jam.
NO IMAGE AVAILABLE ACCORDING TO AMAZON! ACK!
The Wolf Slayer
by William E. Vance
Horses. Guns. Action. Tense battles. Stuff happens. People die. The main characters ride into the sunset.
Every year I try to read at least one Western. I’ve found that I generally like the genre, but I tend to just not pick them up very often. This year I decided to try out a new-to-me author. And… it was okay? The two stories were printed in one volume, so I read both. The first one was just kind of bland. I much more enjoyed the second, but even that was… okay? Maybe you can tell by my plot write-up that this just wasn’t worth my time. I should probably go back to L’Amour next year!
by J. S. Bailey
I got to meet the delightful J. S. Bailey at a con last year. I’d backed her book Dalton Kane and the Greens on Kickstarter. I’d no idea that she was local to me! I was happy to be able to pick up another book from her.
This is an anthology of a number of her short stories, and I have to say, she has a real talent and creativity in the space of a few thousand words. The entire anthology has a slightly creepy air to it, even as the genres swing around to just about all of them!
If you’re looking to support an author and want a good taste of what she does, check this one out.
Andrew Peterson writes and performs heartbreaking Christian songs. He sings of dark places and finding light even there. I’ve long enjoyed his music. In these two volumes, he reveals even more of his heart. He writes extensively about his depression, how he approaches creativity, and his deep love of trees.
I both love and hate these books. First, Andrew truly communicates what depression feels like in a way I don’t believe I’ve ever read elsewhere. I identified greatly with that struggle. I appreciated it. And then he says that creativity must happen in community, and I… disagree. And then he writes a lot about trees, which at first I didn’t care about, but by the end of the book I was paying so much more attention to the vegetation around me!
These books touched my soul in a deep way. If you want to think about creativity or read about a Christian approach to depression, these books are must-haves.
How to be a Superhero: Save the Universe in 30 Days or Your Money Back
by Lark Leigh and Mike Lepine
Illustrated by Steven Dillon
So, you want to be a superhero, but you’re not sure how? This book outlines how to get your superpowers, how to create a striking costume, how to create your own cyborgs on the cheap, how to pick out an appropriate archnemesis, and even whether or not sidekicks are worth the hassle!
So, the book is comedy. I laughed. I bet I would have laughed a lot more if I’d read it when it first came out. See, superheroes have been deconstructed and used in humorous situations in so many of the books I’ve read that most of the jokes here are things I’ve experienced already. I’d say if you like laughing but you’ve not read a lot of superhero humor, this is a great distillation of the best of it. I’ve just already encountered most of it before!
And so ends the books I read this year that weren’t science fiction or fantasy. I’ve got one more week of reviews, as I hit the highlights of the comics and graphic novels I read this year!