To say I've been in a reading slump for the past few years would be an understatement. I’m not sure why. I used to read voraciously. I mean like at least two or three books per week. Even ‘way back when I was a single mom who had to get up at 5:AM to go to work, I would stay up late reading.
For the past several years, though, I simply haven’t been able to get interested in very many new books. I mean, I still keep buying them! Hope springs eternal, right? I even try reading one of them, once in a while. Unfortunately, I Do Not Finish far more than I finish. My To Be Read piles now totter near the ceiling!
Maybe today's books, like today's movies and TV shows, "just aren't as good as they made them back in my day, sonny." (That makes me sound real young and vibrant, doesn't it?) Maybe my brain is just too old and tired for reading, anymore? But I can still re-read my old books (and watch old TV shows, for that matter) over and over! It's just the newer stuff I can't seem to get into. I mean I literally can't make myself read more than the first 20 pages or so of most modern books without being drawn away by something that compels my interest much more intensely, such as cleaning the bathroom or folding laundry.
But! I am told that if I want to be a traditionally published author, I need to converse knowledgeably about today's literature market, and be able to tell an agent my work is comparable to or, as they say, "provide good comps."
So I came up with a plan. I sorted my To Be Read pile by publication date and put all the books published more than five years ago (with a few exceptions, noted below) into boxes to donate to Dog Eared Books. Then I sat myself down, and told my household I was not getting up again until I had read the beginning of every single one of the remaining books.
The idea was to get all of these beginnings into my head, and let them stew there awhile. If, while stewing, any of these beginnings should persistently call me back to read the rest of the book I would, you know, actually finish reading it!
A few days later, I went back and sorted the books into two piles. One, I mentally labeled "Will Probably DNF." The other contains books I have high hopes of actually finishing. Their beginnings are still bright and distinct in my mind, and I'm actually excited about them. But most of all, to my surprise and delight, the "Might Actually Finish" pile turns out to be the taller of the two! Maybe, this time, I won't get bogged down in books I spend weeks trying to force myself through, precipitating another slump.
Books I Might Finish
An Enchantment of Ravens - Margaret Rogerson This book is a little dated for use as a comp (2017) but people keep telling me I'll like it, and now I can see why. It's got real magic in it, but so far the magic doesn't want to splatter everyone's guts all over the walls. The voice of the narrator, an artist who does portraits for the fey folk, is smart and funny. So far, I can't tell if it's set in a contemporary era or what. Era may well be irrelevant for this particular story-world. If it turns out I do like it, I understand the author has some more recent books in the same series. If the setting turns out to be contemporary, these could work for me as comps.
Mistress of Spices - Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni Okay this one was published all the way back in 1997. But I want to finish it even though there's no way I can use it as a comp, because so far it is (pardon my language) Fucking Brilliant. I love the narrator's voice. It's beautiful and enchanting, like we're listening to a sweet, old ghost tell her tale. (I don't know, maybe we are?)
Tales From the Gas Station, Volume 1 - Jack Townsend Think Night Vale meets David Wong. I know, right? If I don't like "dark and gritty" then why do I love these things? But all these works are, at heart, deadpan, satirical, tongue-in-cheek commentary on how stupid the human race is, and I eat that stuff up. This book was published in 2018, but I can't use it as a comp because apparently it's self-published. But I'm going to finish it anyway.
Black Water Sister - Zen Cho Finally! A traditionally published (2021) Contemporary Fantasy that is still enchanting, lyrical, lovely, intelligent, and not drenched in dismembered limbs. Not so far, anyway. Another book with lovely "voice." I'm really looking forward to following the rest of this modern-day woman's journey into magic. But if it turns out she's only hearing ghosts because she has a brain tumor or something, I swear to god I will burn this book right on the living room rug!
This Book is Full of Spiders - David Wong Speaking of David Wong. This is his sequel to "John Dies at the End," the book I often cite as the last book (2009) that kept me up reading into the wee hours because I couldn't put it down. I bought this sequel in 2012 but I confess I have put off reading it because I was terrified it would disappoint me, thereby tarnishing my beloved memory of the first volume. So far, though, I am not disappointed. So far, so good!
The Midnight Library - Matt Haig Published in 2020. I haven't got to where anything magical has actually happened yet, but I think I can tell by now that this author won't be trying to conflate fantasy with horror. The voice is very lyrical. The construction of the storyline itself is also an interesting time-skipping device, done properly. I'll let you know how it goes. It might legit turn out to be useful as a comp.
Books I Will Probably DNF
I put these aside, rather than into the donation box, because I tell myself I "might finish them someday, after I finish the others, and if something new doesn't come along by then that I'll find worth reading." In other words, I almost certainly will not finish them, and will end up donating them ten years from now or something.
Dead Heads (Gloomwood Book 1) - Ross Young The premise is cute so far but, 20 pages in, still nothing is actually happening. We are still being introduced to a lot of (I think there are six, so far) POV characters who do a lot of world-building thinking aloud about life in the land of the dead, but we keep hopping from one POV to the next, like, every page and a half or so, and none of them has a unique enough voice for me to be able to keep track of which one is who.
Kings of the Wyld - Nicholas Eames Unlike the rest of this pile, I actually started this one a few months ago. But one day, after I stuck in the bookmark and went to dinner, I found myself not motivated to pick it up again. I was enjoying it quite a bit at first, but 15 chapters in (out of 53) I'm finding the "aging hero" jokes are starting to wear a bit thin. The premise was cute, and the rock-music references really rocked, but now it's all just devolved to a bunch of manly men doing manly-man things, and I've always found that stuff tedious. I have a feeling we've already reached the mushy (and greatly protracted) middle; there are still two inches of pages in my right hand and the story has started going nowhere fast. I'm not even sure I care anymore about the far-off adult daughter caught in a besieged city who they, ostensibly, are intending to eventually rescue, since even if, after about a thousand more manly battle-pratfalls, they ever do win through to her and get her out, it'll only be to let her live "free" in an altogether dismal, war-torn world without a speck of beauty anywhere in it. I'm sure there will be sequels (if there isn't one already.)
The Other Black Girl - Zakiya Dalila Harris I have to admit I was intrigued by the premise of the story even though it's not even remotely fantasy. But it has reminded me of why I don't care much for what they call Literary Fiction. Or is this Women's Fiction? Literary Women's Fiction, I don't know. Anyway I'm 22 pages in (counting the prologue, a thing I'm told no debut author should ever attempt to get away with) and we've had about 20 pages of introspection and retrospection. Of the 3 brief passages that could be construed as "action" or "dialogue," two of them have been conversations held over a cubicle divider. And by "conversations" I mean the other character speaks and then the main character introspects, for a few paragraphs, about what they said. I mean, at least get up and walk to the water cooler or something while doing all this deep thinking, FGS! The whole thing so far is like reading some long and rambling blog post... oh, wait...
Anyway, before you try to recommend them to me, I have already DNFed:
The Golem and the Djinni
The Bear and the Nightingale
I won't go into great detail about why I DNFed these, other than to say the first two pissed me off by being the much-touted debuts of authors who got away with things I am told I should never, ever, ever do if I expect to be traditionally published, unless I'm already a bestselling author. Said things include, of course, prologues, as well as not even starting the story until after six chapters of events and characters we will never see again in the book. I might have finished these books regardless, of course, had I found them to be at all gripping, but they just slid out of my consciousness and didn't call me back. As for Nevernight I can only say: please just stop. Just stop. Please.
Also. Some time ago, George R. R. Martin referred to his work as "Tolkien for grownups" and (after proposing he engage in several activities that are probably physically impossible) I vowed never to read or watch any of his work, ever. And to that I hold.