What I’m reading: November 2020

Now that I’m officially on sabbatical for the fall, I’ve been doing a lot more reading than usual. Rather than devote an entire post to reflections on each of these items, I thought I’d share some thoughts on them in smaller, bite-sized pieces.

This post includes spoilers for Game of Thrones, The 100, and The Haunting of Bly Manor.

What I’m reading for work/research

Popular writing books: After reading through a set of academic writing books, I’m now revisiting the idea of popular writing books. The reason I’m doing this is that I think there are some important differences between the content of academic writing books and the content of popular ones that are worth exploring. The list I’m working from is a little different from last time I tried to do this. It’s still based on data from Goodreads but where before some of the books I looked at were more about style or screenwriting, I’m now purposely focusing on those that are only (or mostly) about fiction writing. Right now I’m reading How Not to Write a Novel with No Plot? No Problem! (plus about ten others) waiting in the wings. Once I’m done posting about the academic writing books I’ve read, I’ll start posting about these as well.

What I’m reading for fun

The Diviners series by Libba Bray: I have this weird thing where I never seem to finish any book series that I start. Seriously. Even ones that I love. For whatever reason, I generally stall out two or three books in, if I get even that far. I think some of it has to do with reading amnesia. No matter how much I like a book, I have a tendency to forget a lot of the story almost as soon as I’m done with it and this can make reading a series complicated because if there’s any sort of wait between reading one book in the series and the next, I have to make a choice to either go back and reread the earlier book(s) to refresh my memory or go into the new story knowing I’ve forgotten a lot of stuff from the old one. I read the first Diviners book back when it came out and liked it a lot but didn’t end up continuing the series as more books were released because I couldn’t remember what had happened in the first one (through no fault of its content or quality). Then I started randomly thinking about the series again a few months ago and decided to give it another try. I reread the first book and now I’m on the last one and it’s been a lot of fun. It’s like a superhero story set in the 1920s, which is right up my alley. Because of the setting, it also tickles my interest in the role of research in fiction writing—it’s obvious the series is the product of some pretty extensive historical research. Also: Sam Lloyd might be one of my new favorite book characters of all time. He reminds me a lot of Jack Kelly, as played by Jeremy Jordan, in Newsies. I adore him. As I get closer to the end, I’m also scared for him (and the rest of the characters). It’s been a long time since I cared about characters in a book series so much. Really glad I went back to this one.

What I’m listening to for fun

You’re Wrong About podcast: As a casual podcast listener, I have a couple of go-to favorites like Pod Save America, Hidden Brain, and Pop Culture Happy Hour but every now and then I itch for something new. To try to resolve this, I joined a podcast club at my local library (works like a book club but with podcasts) and also subscribed to the 1.5x Speed newsletter from Vulture in the hopes of discovering some new stuff to listen to. You’re Wrong About was a recent newsletter recommendation and it is very much My Kind of Podcast. Which is to say, it appeals to the know-it-all in me that likes to collect useless trivia on random topics. The hosts recently did an in-depth multi-part series on Princess Diana which, even though I found their choice of sources a bit suspect, served as a balm when I was trying not to drown myself in political news leading up to the election. I can’t wait to see what else they have in their library.

What I’m watching for fun

Game of Thrones on HBO Max: Since I went to the trouble of subscribing to HBO Max, I decided it was a good time to do a Game of Thrones rewatch. Going back to the first season after having seen most(1) of the series is quite the experience and not just because it’s wild to see how young some of the kids were when all of this first started (Arya and Bran in particular really did grow up over the course of the series). Though I’m enjoying it as much as anyone can enjoy a series as bleak and violent as this one (…at least there are pretty people?), I do feel a bit cursed with knowledge. Now that the series is over, I can’t look at these characters without thinking about where they all eventually end up and what a waste some of their stories turn out to be. Still. Those pretty people…

The 100 on Netflix: And here’s another bleak, violent series with a final season that a lot of fans really seemed to hate but which I’m determined to get through for some reason. This is a first-time watch for me but, again, I know a lot of spoilers about what’s to come because I’ve seen this show talked about here and there on the entertainment sites I like and, frankly, any time I see a headline like “Fans react to shocking character death on [SHOW] last night,” I have to click on it even if it’s a show that I don’t watch and I have no idea who the character is.(2) It might seem weird that I decided to dive in to a show that I know will go downhill, but I actually prefer knowing about the inevitable disappointment ahead of time so that I can let go guilt-free when things start to go south rather than wasting time waiting for it to get better.(3) Anyway. As of this writing I’m about halfway through the third season and while I’m generally enjoying it, I find I’m spending most of my time matching the characters on The 100 to the ones on Lost. The two shows have nothing to do with each other (except sharing a cast member in Henry Ian Cusick) but The 100 feels very much like YA version of Lost in some places, so it’s hard not to look for parallels.(4)

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  1. The final season is the only one I haven’t seen because it wasn’t out yet during my previous Game of Thrones binge. However, I’ve read enough spoilers and think pieces about the thing that I know at least the broad strokes of what happens and where the surviving characters end up. I’m managing my expectations accordingly.
  2. RIP Bellamy.
  3. Like with the Haunting of Bly Manor which, once it fell into the Vortex of Flashbacks in the fifth episode, sadly never emerged. I get why some people responded to the ending but the series had stopped working for me so thoroughly by that point that it really just didn’t do anything for me personally. That said, if I’d known more going in, I think I would have liked the whole thing better overall. Again, managing expectations.
  4. If you’re interested, here’s what I’ve come up with so far, in no particular order: Clarke is Jack, Bellamy is Kate, John Murphy is Sawyer, Jaha is Locke, Jasper is Charlie, Monty is Hurley (but mostly only because Jasper is Charlie), Octavia is Shannon (if Shannon got to be cool), Finn is Boone, Kane and Abby are Jin and Sun, Raven is Sayid, Lincoln is Juliet, and Lexa is Ben. Which is to say, the characters on The 100 are not quite as interesting as their Lost counterparts but the parallels are there. Or at least I’ve managed to convince myself that they are.

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