What I’ve Been Reading

I have really been enjoying having free time to read lately. Here is some of what I’ve been reading and what I thought about it. I linked each to the book’s page on Goodreads, which is a website I really like for keeping my books organized.

Ender’s Game by Orson¬†Scott Card

I wanted to reread this book since I remember liking it a lot in high school, and saw a lot of hype in the past year from the movie that made me realize that I was a bit fuzzy on the story. I really enjoyed my reread and feel like there were many aspects of the book that went over my head the first time, or just were much more interesting this time around. The ones that stick out to me right now include Valentine and Peter’s political scheming, the balancing act behind the motivations of all the adults, and the emphasis on emotional/psychological training and preparedness of the military recruits.

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

After finishing my reread of Ender’s Game I decided to try Speaker for the Dead even though I’d only heard reviews from friends that fell along the lines of “well, I started it but couldn’t get past the first few chapters.” I’m glad I pushed through because I enjoyed this easily as much as Ender’s Game. I loved the mystery of understanding this new pequeninos race and how it unfolds slowly throughout the book. Is there a genre for that? The book did a great job of making me think about what it means to be human and what we take for granted in our reality by exploring the possibility of a completely foreign entity. In that way it reminded me a bit of Stranger in a Strange Land, although I liked this format of discovery via a pressing mystery being methodically investigated over Heinlein’s slower paced thought experiment meandering. I also appreciated the thought behind the classifications of alien races based on our ability to communicate with them. Overall, I really enjoyed this and would recommend trying to push past the slow going of the first few chapters, which are kind of confusing and disorienting.

Xenocide by Orson Scott Card

After the gripping Speaker For the Dead, I eagerly started the next book in the series. I enjoyed this one in it’s similarities- specifically the mystery of Han Qing-Jao, and further exploration of the existence of a sentient computer-dwelling existence and what that means. I didn’t like how the characters seemed to stagnate and become talking heads for various ideas. I read this while at Burning Man and perhaps the foreignness of that place helped connect me to this complexly different world in the story, but I was pretty emotionally touched by it. I would recommend this book to anyone who liked Speaker for the Dead, as it is an easy continuation.

Children of the Mind by Orson Scott Card

Apparently Xenocide was too large so they cut it into two books. This one picks up where Xenocide abruptly left off and continues to resolve that plot. I found the conclusion a bit disappointing in the way that things were wrapped up. No spoilers. I thought the most interesting part of the book was the existence of the “descolada virus” and debate of whether it was a sentient species or not, as it continued on a theme that I’ve liked in the previous books in this series of examining foreignness. It is a must-read for anyone who had read Xenocide, but sadly not as fulfilling as I would have liked. I’m debating if I want to read some of his Ender’s Shadow series, if anyone has read it before and has input? I’ve heard it is great, but I’m not sure if I want to keep reading so many of Orson Scott Card’s Big Ideas, and also was a bit disappointed at the way he ended this series that I’ve sunk a lot of emotional energy into.

Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

I read this book in early high school and remember thinking it was a bit too intense for me and over my head. I reread it now because a friend was reading and I wanted to revisit some of the more advanced themes. I really enjoyed exploring the social impact of religion in this period as imagined by Bradley. I think the transition from an earth-based, female-centric pagan religion to incoming Christianity is a pretty intense shift to imagine and she does a great job presenting it in a way that seems realistic and easy to grasp to a modern reader. The level of detail in historical reimagining is impressive and she includes many social details that I had never considered before, despite my teenage obsession with YA historical fantasty. For example, before lenses/glasses were invented people probably got super cranky and fearful as they got old and lost their eyesight permanently.

This book’s presentation of gender roles was kind of conflicting- on the one hand reading it made me feel awesome and powerful to be a woman, but also made me free really frustrated at the perceived religious transition toward female oppression. I’m glad I decided to do the reread, as I think I got a lot out of it. Also this book wiped me out emotionally. It’s a really intense, 1000 page read.

American Savage by Dan Savage

I have been listening to Dan Savage’s podcast The Savage Lovecast for the last year or so and have really enjoyed his insight along with his dry wit and delivery. I was really pleased that it carried over so strongly to his book, and that he touches on a lot of political and social issues that aren’t related to his normal realm of relationships. For long time listeners and readers, this book will be a compilation of ideas and stories that have generally circulated his work for the past year or two, but all the better for the clarity that comes with laying it out in a well thought out order, as opposed to his usual question and answer format. For anyone new to Dan Savage I’d say that this is a very good starting point. I would recommend to anyone who is interested in a (potentially) new way to look at relationships and/or current issues.