Category Archives: Spotlight Series

Spotlight on: Historical Fiction

Welcome to my Spotlight series! Every month in 2020 I will be focusing on a different genre that I enjoy reading- not because I’m an expert, but because I want to celebrate a worthwhile category of books! I’m hoping this will be a space where everyone feels free to share their experiences with a genre of the month, whether you’ve read one book from the category or a hundred. I’ll share here what Historical Fiction means to me, filling the post with titles and recommendations from my own experience, and then I’ll look forward to chatting with you in the comments about icons and recommendations I’ve missed (because that’s inevitable- I haven’t read everything)!

 

What is Historical Fiction?

I would consider any book that uses artistic license to explore real past setting(s) or event(s) as historical fiction. The clincher is whether the setting/event was in the past at the time the book was published, not at the time it is being read. These are books that are already looking back from the time they’re written, generally with the intent of remembrance or raising awareness.

Mythology is a bit nebulous and I tend to consider original myth stories simply as classics, but I’ll mention a couple of them below in the interest of rounding out my list. I do consider mythological retellings as a firm subgenre of historical fiction.

A note on categorization: I tend to label books with every genre that applies, rather than limiting each title to one genre. Because the point here is to share a wide variety within each genre and maybe convince readers to check out bookish elements they otherwise wouldn’t, my goal in this Spotlight series is to offer an expansive view.

 

My History with Historical Fiction

Little House in the Big Woods (Little House, #1)My interest in historical fiction is surprisingly recent. Most of my earliest brushes with the genre were assigned or recommended to me rather than sought on my own, with the exception of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, which is, admittedly, semi-autobiographical rather than pure fiction. Possibly the fact that I grew up on a Midwestern farm not so far from where Laura had her early adventures made this feel pleasantly resonant, although almost everything else I read around this time appealed to me for its variance from my own life. Other titles I read for school or friends included: My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier, Both Sides of Time by Caroline B. Cooney, Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt, and Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell.

By high school and college I still hadn’t found my stride with this genre and was more interested in time travel than actual history, though I had begun branching out a bit more. I enjoyed Sarah Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Khaled Houseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, and Tatiana de Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key. Church of Marvels

It actually wasn’t until right after college that I had better luck and started pinpointing my tastes within the genre. Some of my favorites from the tail end of college years and soon after included: Church of Marvels by Leslie Perry, The Girls by Emma Cline, 11/22/63 by Stephen King, and The Revenant by Michael Punke.

 

Historical Fiction Classics

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell was the first proper classic that I ever read and it opened a lot of reading doors for me. It’s a Civil War story about a plantation owner’s daughter trying to survive the war and its aftermath of upheaval in the southern US. Gone with the Wind

The Color Purple by Alice Walker is more recent, but certainly worth note. It follows the difficult lives of two African American sisters in early 1900s southern US as they find their own ways to overcome abuse and injustice.

To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee are also set in the southern US, beginning in the Great Depression era. The first book is a child’s account of local racism and a controversial trial; the sequel, though considerably less popular, turns assumptions from the first book upside down in a fascinating demonstration of the difference age and perspective can make.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne depicts religious drama in the mid 1600s in a northeastern colony of early US settlers. A woman is condemned for bearing a child out of wedlock, though a key detail is missing amid in the accusations- the identity of the child’s father.

Atonement by Ian McEwan is technically a modern classic but should not be overlooked! A young storyteller makes an accusation that she doesn’t entirely understand, which will have severe consequences a few years later when WWII sweeps through Europe.

The Aeneid of VirgilThe Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer are Greek mythology stories, the first depicting the Trojan War, and the second its aftermath as one of the Greeks experiences ten years of mishaps on his way home.

The Aeneid by Virgil is Roman mythology, following one man’s escape from the fall of Troy as he goes on to found Rome.

(It’s difficult not to include books set in their own publication era that have now become old enough to feel historical; there are certainly a fair few classics that are very evocative of bygone times [Austen! Dickens!], but I’ll save more thoughts on those for Spotlight on Classics.)

 

Modern Historical Fiction Staples and Recommendations

In recent years I’ve been more interested in reading from different time periods and places around the world as a way of supplementing my education. To this end, I’ve been reading popular historical fiction books like: Han Kang’s Human Acts, featuring an uprising in 1980 South Korea; Women Talking by Miriam Toews, which re-imagines a string of rapes in Mennonite colonies as recently as 2009; Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, Homegoinghighlighting particular struggles faced by Africans and African Americans over the course of 300 years in Ghana and the US; The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht, a Balkan account of the second world war and the political and social unrest that followed; The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, which fictionalizes a terrible Norwegian storm and the appalling set of witch trials that followed.

Historical fiction is also recognized among literary prizes fairly often; while following various prizes in the last few years I’ve picked up such acclaimed choices as: Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black (a young Barbados field slave befriends an idealistic inventor), Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad (a US field slave escapes to the north via an underground train), Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott’s Swan Song (his female friends speak about their experiences with Truman Capote), and Suzanne Berne’s A Crime in the Neighborhood (a woman recalls a murder that happened in her suburban neighborhood in the 1970’s).

I haven’t loved all of these, but they’ve helped me hone my preferences- I have learned that I don’t appreciate sensationalized or sentimentalized styles, nor heavy foreshadowing, nor a film of modern values that obscures hard truths about past realities. I do like unsung heroes, unflinching tragedies, and the highlighting of moments history lessons tend to miss.

 

Between Shades of GrayIf you’re new to the genre and, like I was, not sure where to start, I have some recommendations for entrance points to historical fiction based on other categories you might already enjoy (these are based on my own reading, so it’s not an exhaustive list! If anyone has more ideas, please share them below):

If you like YA: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson, My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

If you like sci-fi/fantasy: The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, The Clockwork Dynasty by Daniel H. Wilson

If you like mythology: The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, The Song of Achilles and Circe by Madeline MillerThe Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

If you like contemporary: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meisner, Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown, The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

If you like literary: Trust Exercise by Susan Choi, The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy, Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli

If you like gothic: A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore, The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell, The Snow Collectors by Tina May Hall

If you like family/generational sagas: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, Red at the Bone by Jacqueline WoodsonPachinko

You may disagree with my placement of some of the books I’ve mentioned above, and you may call something historical fiction that I wouldn’t. All’s fair! Genres are slippery, and their main purpose (other than helping publishers market books) is simply to guide readers toward similar books they might also enjoy. Hopefully showcasing some of the many facets of the genre will help anyone who’s not sure where to go next find something that appeals!

 

Historical Fiction on my TBR:

The Mirror & The Light (Thomas Cromwell, #3)Within the year I expect to read Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (and the rest of this trilogy), John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies, Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet, Alma Katsu’s The Deep, and more. I also have books like Amor Towles’s A Gentleman in Moscow, Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, and Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth more generally on my TBR.

Other popular choices you may have heard of or might be interested in that are not currently on my TBR (feel free to convince me!) are: Elizabeth Gilbert’s City of Girls, Heather Morris’s The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, and Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl.

 

Why Read Historical Fiction?

This is a genre that entertains and teaches. Historical fiction is full of high emotions and drama, and yet it also lets readers explore actual moments in time and happenings that we have never experienced firsthand- and most likely won’t. It’s a great way to learn about real experiences beyond our own, and to get a better understanding of why the world today is the way that it is. It can also encourage us to use our imaginations to fill in the blanks that the history books have left open.

 

Your turn

We’ve reached the part where I encourage you to drop a comment below sharing anything you love (or don’t) about this genre. Tell me about your own experiences, good and bad! If you have recommendations, if you’re looking for recommendations, if you have questions or hangups that stop you from reaching for romance, mention them below! I’m not trying to pressure anyone into reading what they don’t want to, but I’d love to discuss anything and everything about the genre. That’s the point of this post! A genre can mean something different to everyone, so to take a wider view, I’d love to see what it means to you.

Thank you, in advance, for participating! 🙂

 

The Literary Elephant

Spotlight on: Romance

Welcome to my Spotlight series! Every month in 2020 I will be focusing on a different genre that I enjoy reading- not because I’m an expert, but because I want to celebrate a worthwhile category of books! I’m hoping this will be a space where everyone feels free to share their experiences with a genre of the month, whether you’ve read one book from the category or a hundred. I’ll share here what Romance means to me, filling the post with titles and recommendations from my own experience, and then I’ll look forward to chatting with you in the comments about icons and recommendations I’ve missed (because that’s inevitable- I haven’t read everything)!

February seems like an obvious time to talk about romance novels, but before we get into it, a quick warning: I’m going to be talking about a wider range of love stories here than the feel-good fluffies; if you’re here for recommendations be aware that not every title mentioned is going to be a heart-warmer! Without further ado…

 

What is Romance?

This genre is of course populated with “meet cutes” (strangers meeting for the first time in adorable ways), friends- or enemies-to-lovers tropes, and newfound love. But in my opinion, romance also encompasses the angst, the unrequited loves, and the doomed/unhealthy/problematic relationships. For me, this genre encompasses all books in which a romantic relationship plays a significant role in plot and/or characterization.

I consider erotica a subgenre of romance.

I also fit books from other genres (for example, fantasy) in the romance genre if there is a strong romantic element; I tend to honor different elements of books by labeling them with every genre that applies, rather than limiting each title to one genre. Because the point of these posts is to share a wide variety within each genre and maybe convince readers to check out bookish elements they otherwise wouldn’t, my goal in this Spotlight series is to offer an expansive view, which will include titles that while relevant aren’t necessarily 100% saturated with the genre in question.

 

My History with Romance

Once Upon a Marigold (Upon a Marigold, #1)As a child I liked the occasional princess fairy tale as much as the next kid, but the only book I can remember reading with any romantic element prior to my teen years is Jean Ferris’s Once Upon a Marigold. This is a fantasy / fairy tale, geared toward an MG/YA audience, but it’s the first book I can remember reading and wanting the characters to be together.

In jr. high I caught the romance bug. There were a couple of years in my early teens when I was reading probably 90% YA romance; by which I mean, I also read a lot of fantasy and a few other genres but almost all of it had a strong romance element, and that was an intentional choice.The Truth About Forever In this era I read all of Sarah Dessen’s books that had been published at the time, her The Truth About Forever still standing as one of my favorite books today. I read everything of Meg Cabot’s that I could get my hands on (The Princess Diaries, anyone?), as well as works by Lurlene McDaniel, Susane Colasanti, Ann Brashares, Jodi Lynn Anderson, and more.

This was the point at which Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight entered my life, and thus began my vampire romance obsession (long ago ended, I’d like to clarify) as well as my preference for romance-based fantasy and sci-fi novels. In this time I read books like L. J. Smith’s The Vampire Diaries, Kristin Cashore’s Graceling, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes’s Hawksong, and Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones. I also sped through Elizabeth Chandler‘s YA paranormal romance novels. 43641. sy475

By high school my tastes were *slightly* more adult, and I graduated to Nicholas Sparks, Janet Evanovich, and Sara Gruen. In college my romance preferences took darker turn, and I picked up books like E. L. James’s Fifty Shades of Gray (this has explicit scenes) and V. C. Andrews’s Flowers in the Attic. To round things out I also reached for…

 

Romance Classics

My high school did not require much novel reading, so I started searching for classics on my own. I still felt woefully behind my fellow English majors in college despite those early efforts, so over the years I’ve picked up more classics, including these famous love stories:

The Great GatsbyJane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. The former, featuring a fastidious orphan who falls in love with an enigmatic man who can’t marry her; the latter, a star-crossed love between a man and woman of unequal social standing. Both are arguably toxic relationships by today’s standards.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, in which a rich man throws elaborate parties and uses his new neighbor in an attempt to reignite an old love.

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, and its sequel Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley. This historical romance takes place in the southern US during the Civil War, its heroine a stubborn and selfish woman who wants what she can’t have. CW for slavery and racism.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, in which a dissatisfied wife leaves her marriage for a more passionate affair, and a rural bachelor falls in love with a woman who wants someone else. CW for suicide.

25853025. sy475 Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare, the famous play of ill-fated lovers from rival families who would rather die than live without each other. CW for suicide.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. CW for rape and pedophilia, of course. This is a romance only from the man’s perspective (he becomes obsessed with a very young teenage girl), though I believe this is more a character study than an attempt to convince readers that the man’s behavior is in any way acceptable. It’s meant to be humanizing and horrifying at once.

The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer. This is perhaps a stretch, but Paris’s love for Helen is the inciting incident of the former (not to mention Achilles’s love for Patroclus as the emotional heart of the story), while the latter’s premise is built on a man trying desperately to return to his wife, who is busy fighting off other suitors because she’s not ready to give up on him. It is romantic.

EmmaRebecca and My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier, gothic romances full of death, secrets, fire, poison…

And of course, it wouldn’t be romance without Jane Austen. I managed to read Northanger Abbey (a romantic spoof on gothic literature) for a college class, and enjoyed it enough to seek out the rest of Austen’s work. I’ve since read Persuasion (a woman allows her family to talk her out of an engagement, which she comes to regret), Pride and Prejudice (a well-off but rude man insults the woman he loves, who holds him accountable for it), Emma (a well-off woman tries to help a friend with less by encouraging a marriage she doesn’t realize is a bad match), and Sense and Sensibility (a pair of sisters have their hearts broken when their loves seem to be attached to other women).

 

Modern Romance Staples and Recommendations

Recently I’ve been reading such love stories as: Sally Rooney’s Normal People (a pair of teenage sweethearts from very different families can’t stay together or let each other go), Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Daisy Jones and the Six (stars from a 70s rock band unite over their love of music), and Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient, followed by The Bride Test– both starring autistic characters who find love (these have explicit scenes).

I’ve also checked out such pop culture icons as Caroline Kepnes’s You (a man meets a woman he likes at a bookshop and proceeds to stalk her), Jojo Moyes’s Me Before You (a woman works as an aid for a paraplegic man who no longer finds his life worthwhile), Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife (a man who slips uncontrollably through time tries to hold on to the woman he loves) and Josie Silver’s One Day in December (a man and woman fall in love after glimpsing each other through a bus window and meet again when he dates her best friend). Red, White & Royal Blue

And, at long last, I’m making an attempt to branch into lgbtq+ romances, including such wonders as Casey McQuiston’s Red, White and Royal Blue (the US President’s son falls in love with the Prince of Wales), Sarah Waters’s The Paying Guests (in historical London a woman is forced to rent part of her family’s home to a couple of lodgers, and finds herself entranced by the new woman), and Jeanette Winterson’s Frankissstein (in an era when the mind is valued exponentially more than the body and robots may be the world’s inevitable future, a trans man strikes up a relationship with a male scientist). I have plenty of work left to do in this category!

 

But if you’re new to the genre and not sure where to start, I do have some recommendations for entrance points to romance based on other categories you might already enjoy (these are based on my own reading, so it’s not an exhaustive list! If anyone has more ideas, please share them below!):

If you like YA: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphey, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

If you like NA: Again, But Better by Christine Riccio, A Million Junes by Emily Henry, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, the Off-Campus Series by Elle Kennedy (these have explicit scenes!)

If you like history: As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner, The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah, Atonement by Ian McEwan, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. (Fair warning, these are all rather sad, with light romance, other than Outlander which is borderline explicit)

Outlander (Outlander, #1)If you like sci-fi/fantasy: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (a tragic romance, to be clear), Providence by Caroline Kepnes, 11/22/63 by Stephen King

If you like literary: The Pisces by Melissa Broder (this has explicit scenes), Animals Eat Each Other by Elle Nash (this has explicit scenes), Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney, Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

If you’re ready to dive straight into something steamy: Christina Lauren, Sally Thorne, Colleen Hoover

Like any other genre, categorization of romance is not determined upon hard rules. You may disagree with my placement of some of the books I’ve mentioned above, and you may call something romance that I wouldn’t. All’s fair! Genres are slippery, and their main purpose (other than helping publishers market books) is simply to guide readers toward similar books they might also enjoy. Hopefully showcasing some of the many facets of the genre will help anyone who’s not sure where to go next find something that appeals!

 

Romance on my TBR:

Beach ReadI’m planning to pick up some of Tessa Bailey‘s work, and more from Sarah Waters. I’m looking forward to Emily Henry’s 2020 release, Beach Read, and Helen Hoang’s 2021 title, The Heart Principle. I have one Jane Austen novel left: Mansfield Park. I also want to make a point of reading more lgbtq+ romance specifically. (Recommendations welcome!)

Other titles and authors not currently on my TBR that you might be familiar with and/or interested in: The Selection by Kiera Cass,  Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, Bared to You by Sylvia Day (this has explicit scenes), The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella.

 

Why Read Romance?

I read romance because it reminds me that people are good. I don’t often read purely for escapism, but romance is a genre I like to reach for when I want to see the world in a better light. These books teach me that people can change, that people care about each other, and that money doesn’t always make the world go round. I also pick up romance because I enjoy character studies, and love tends to be a huge facet of human motivation. This genre encourages sympathizing with other perspectives and considering one’s morals.

 

Your turn

We’ve reached the part where I encourage you to drop a comment below sharing anything you love (or don’t) about this genre. Tell me about your own experiences, good and bad! If you have recommendations, if you’re looking for recommendations, if you have questions or hangups that stop you from reaching for romance, mention them below! I’m not trying to pressure anyone into reading what they don’t want to, but I’d love to discuss anything and everything about the genre. That’s the point of this post! A genre can mean something different to everyone, so to take a wider view, I’d love to see what it means to you.

Thank you, in advance, for participating! 🙂

 

The Literary Elephant

 

 

Spotlight on: Science Fiction

Welcome to my Spotlight series! Every month in 2020 I will be focusing on a different genre that I enjoy reading- not because I’m an expert, but because I want to celebrate a worthwhile category of books! I’m hoping this will be a space where everyone feels free to share their experiences with a genre of the month, whether you’ve read one book from the category or a hundred. I’ll share what Science Fiction means to me, filling the post with iconic titles and recommendations, and then I’ll look forward to chatting with you in the comments about icons and recommendations I’ve missed (because that’s inevitable- I haven’t read everything)!

I know I’ve basically missed January already, which I don’t intend to make a habit, it’s just how it worked out this time. Without further ado…

What is Science Fiction (Sci-Fi)?

In my opinion, this is a genre of fiction that uses real or imagined science to explore unknown aspects or questions from the real world. It can lean toward the speculative, the fantastic, the sociopolitical, the philosophical, and more, but the defining characteristic is that these books attempt to explain their otherworldly aspects with facts and logic drawn from reality. Often, but not always, sci-fi tends toward the futuristic. It endeavors to explain something we don’t yet understand, or suggests that because there are things we don’t yet understand, more is possible than we know or accept. It can deliver a sense of foreboding.

I consider dystopia/utopia a subgenre of science fiction. These books usually have political leanings and are often futuristic, with logical explanations as to how the world might have evolved to reach a certain extreme. They also tend to have themes common among sci-fi books: that humans should be cautious with knowledge we already have, that discovering new scientific knowledge can be dangerous, or that we might be able to accomplish something momentous if humans are able to solve a currently unsolved problem.

I also sometimes consider supernatural and paranormal as subgenres of science fiction (other times as horror, depending on the book’s themes and use of the otherworldly elements). This includes ghosts, vampires, zombies, etc.

 

My History with Sci-Fi

The City of Ember (Book of Ember, #1)Early brushes with the genre for me included books like Jeanne DuPrau’s The City of Ember, Eoin Colfer’s The Wish List, Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, Vivian Vande Velde’s Heir Apparent, Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It, and of course, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight (though sci-fi is not the only genre I’d use to categorize this one). My taste has certainly evolved, but these are just a few of the books that kept me interested in dystopia, paranormal, and science fiction in general; in them I can see some of the sci-fi aspects I’m still fascinated with today. They paved the way for the YA icons of my high school years: Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games. Veronica Roth’s Divergent. Lois Lowry’s The Giver (which was published earlier but saw a fresh heyday when the movie was released). The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)

YA exploded in popularity and availability around the time I was in jr. high and high school, partially thanks to the phenomenon that was Twilight. Hate it if you want, but that book had a big influence on what was getting published and what was getting read, as did The Hunger Games and Divergent. Dystopia saw such a huge wave of popularity in the 2010’s, and even though that’s died down, it was a big part of what kept me reading science fiction. I’m sure there are many more middle grade and YA options in this genre than I remember being available during my teenagerhood, probably in part because books like The Hunger Games sparked a wider interest, even among adult readers.

CarrieI also started reading Stephen King around this time. Though he’s widely known as a master of the horror genre, a lot of his work is indeed science fiction. As a teen I picked up Pet Sematary, The Dead Zone, Hearts in Atlantis, Carrie... King’s writing certainly has its flaws, but he’s a great gateway author, easy enough for younger readers to understand and enjoy. He was actually one of the first “adult fiction” authors I read, who helped convince me I was ready to stop browsing exclusively in the “teen” section at the library. He deals in extraterrestrial life, telekinesis, super powers, time travel, bizarre creatures, and so much more. From these topics, I ventured into:

 

Sci-Fi Classics

FrankensteinBy the time I graduated high school I had a lot better access to books than my small hometown library had afforded. What might have been lacking in my early years, I found in college and beyond. I reached for such titles as:

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, one of my all-time favorite books, dealing with mortality and morality. (Jeanette Winterson’s Frankissstein is an excellent recent homage dealing with many of the same themes, also tackling gender issues and robotics.)

Lord of the Flies by William Golding, featuring a group of pre-adolescent boys who attempt to form their own society on a deserted island.

Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, in which a fireman whose job it is to burn books begins to question his conformity.

19841984 by George Orwell, a political critique of government’s increasing ability to see (and thus police) its citizens’ private lives.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, an antiwar narrative following one man’s life through a WWII bombing, time travel, capture by aliens, and more.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, which features a dystopian society in which humans are genetically modified prior to birth and assigned careers based on their intelligence level.

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, following a scientist who creates a time machine and uses it to discover humanity’s downfall and earth’s dire fate.

even Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, though my appreciation for this game-like approach to alien warfare is much higher than my consideration for its anti-Semite author.

 

Modern Sci-Fi Staples and Recommendations

Station ElevenBut as with any genre, science fiction isn’t all stuffy classics. Here’s a look at some popular science fiction I’ve been reading more recently and would not hesitate to recommend to many newcomers and old fans alike: Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, an 80’s pop culture and video game fest; Jasper Fforde’s Early Riser, in which most of humanity hibernates through increasingly unbearable earthen winters; Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, a Shakespeare-focused post-apocalyptic survival tale; Caroline Kepnes’s Providence, the story of a kidnapped boy with a superpower that endangers the girl he loves; Andy Weir’s The Martian, an interplanetary quest to bring a stranded astronaut home from Mars; Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, a feminist dystopia in which objectified women rebel against the status quo; Stephen King’s The Outsider, which features a shape-shifting villain who lives off of human fear; All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, #1)Martha Wells’s All Systems Red, following a human/robot whose job is human safety but whose preference is avoiding all human contact in favor of watching serial television (review coming soon).

 

If you’re new to the genre and don’t think reading a lot of science is going to appeal, let me make some recommendations based on other categories you might already enjoy (these are based on my own reading, so it’s not an exhaustive list! If anyone has more ideas, please share them below!):

If you like YA: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Wilder Girls by Rory Power

If you like mysteries and thrillers: Recursion by Blake Crouch, The Oracle Year by Charles Soule, Origin by Dan Brown

If you like history: Clockwork Dynasty by Daniel H Wilson, The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom MillerThe Clockwork Dynasty

If you like fantasy: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, The Magicians by Lev Grossman, Red Rising by Pierce Brown

If you like supernatural: The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater, The Anomaly by Michael Rutger

If you like literary: Severance by Ling Ma, The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker, The Test by Sylvain Neuvel

If you like romance: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

If you like comics: Watchmen by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, and John Higgins

 

Like any other genre, categorization of sci-fi is not determined upon hard rules. You may disagree with my placement of some of the books I’ve mentioned above, and you may call something sci-fi that I wouldn’t. All’s fair! Genres are slippery, and their main purpose (other than helping publishers market books) is simply to guide readers toward similar books they might also enjoy. Hopefully showcasing some of the many facets of science fiction will help anyone who’s not sure where to go next in the genre find something that appeals!

 

Sci-Fi on my TBR:

Jurassic ParkI don’t expect my own sci-fi adventures to stop here! These are some other exciting titles I’m hoping to read in the future: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, Exhalation by Ted Chiang, Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar, The Seep by Chana Porter, Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh.

 

And just a few extras that aren’t currently on my TBR that you may be familiar with or might want to read: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, Dune by Frank Herbert, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle.

 

Why read science fiction?

I read sci-fi because it makes me look at the real world in a new light. It’s full of big ideas, concepts that I wouldn’t necessarily consider on my own, as well as hope (and yes, fear) for the future. It’s a stretch of imagination on a grand scale that often considers humanity as a whole in a way that character-specific narratives usually do not. It encourages thinking outside the box.

 

Your turn

We’ve reached the part where I encourage you to drop a comment below sharing anything you love (or don’t) about the genre. Tell me about your own experiences, good and bad! If you have recommendations, if you’re looking for recommendations, if you have questions or hangups that stop you from reaching for sci-fi, mention them below! I’m not trying to pressure anyone into reading what they don’t want to, but I’d love to discuss anything and everything about the genre. That’s the point of this post! A genre can mean something different to everyone, so to take a wider view, I’d love to see what it means to you.

Thank you, in advance, for participating! 🙂

 

The Literary Elephant