by Octavia E. Butler 1984
While Clay’s Ark is the chronological third part in the Patternist series, it was the final book of the series to be published. In this installment, we leave behind the Patternists and the origin story of Doro and Anyanwu and we learn how the physically powerful and dangerous Clayarks came to be. Except for their place as the antagonists in Patternmaster, we haven’t learned anything about these beings or why they are the way they are. I’ll admit to being a bit disappointed to leave the Patternists behind, as Wild Seed left me wanting to know so much more about the originators of this clan, but Clay’s Ark provides a fitting and much needed backstory for our series’ adversaries.
by Octavia E. Butler, 1980
Wild Seed is the first book in the chronology of the Patternist series, but it’s the third book that was published (fourth, if you count Survivor, which is no longer in print). While I can see some benefit to reading these according to the series’ timeline – the setup and characters in Mind of My Mind make much more sense now – reading these according to publication date really allows you to see how Butler developed as a writer. Patternmaster and Mind of My Mind were perfectly fine books, but I found they lacked a certain nuance that attracted me to Butler when I first read her in grad school. In Kindred and now Wild Seed, it’s as if Butler has come into her own and fully realized the message she wants to convey with her science fiction. This is not just the story of two immortal beings but one of institutionalized gender and social inequality. Hell, if it weren’t for the immortal being business and the shape-shifting, this would essential be historical fiction.
by Jami Attenberg, 2017
Andrea is on the cusp of 40 and her life isn’t exactly the way she imagined it would turn out to be. She’s all but given up on her love of art and her desire to be an artist, instead settling for an advertising job that slowly sucks her soul dry. She’s been seeing the same therapist for eight years without feeling like much progress has been made. She’s nowhere near having a functional relationship with a man, let alone on the path to marriage. To top it off, people keep asking her if she’s read this infernal book about being 40 and single. To many of the people in her life, Andrea seems like a mess, but she is one of the most realistic characters I’ve encountered in a long time.
by Charles Duhigg, 2012
A number of the blogs I frequent have cited The Power of Habit as influential in the bloggers’ lives and the way they give advice. From productivity to working out and losing weight to completing projects, changing habits seems to be the best thing we can do to reach our goals. In this way, The Power of Habit really can be an eye-opening book, especially if you’ve never before thought about how our lives are driven by habits. However, I was less enamored with the way the book was structured, frequently switching from one subject to the next, as if the author or editor did not believe the reader would have enough power over their attention to follow one story through to the end without constant interruptions from three or four other stories. I found this ironic for a book about improving habits and, therefore, improving one’s ability to follow an endeavor through to the end, but maybe that’s just who the book is geared toward – those who do not have the endurance to sit through even a full chapter without getting bored. Maybe it’s their habits that need the most help.
by Gene Luen Yang, 2006
Jin Wang, the child of Chinese immigrants, wants nothing more than to fit in with the other American kids at his school. He is embarrassed by the food his mother packs for his lunch, he has a crush on an American girl, and he tries his best to distance himself from the only other Asians in his class. When Taiwanese immigrant Wei-Chen Sun shows up at the school, Jin is uncomfortable with how easily Wei-Sun exhibits his “Asianness” and frequently tries to withdraw from what eventually becomes a friendship. This is just one part of the triptych that is American Born Chinese, a wonderful coming-of-age graphic novel that explores what it is to be an Asian immigrant in America amidst a culture that is rife with mockery of the race.
by Jeff VanderMeer, 2014
One of the things I bemoan about science-fiction movies and television shows is that it seems that none of the characters have ever read or seen science-fiction. In Annihilation, the same appears to be true. The novel follows a team of four women who have been sent a territory referred to only as “Area X.” Their mission is to find out as much about the area as possible, while also trying to figure out what happened to the previous teams that were sent there. The four-woman team consists of a surveyor, an anthropologist, a psychologist, and our narrator, a biologist. The idea seems interesting enough and, as a child of The X-Files generation, I was immediately drawn to the premise. I wish I could say the story panned out as well as I had hoped.
by Madeleine L’Engle, 1989
narrated by Anne Marie Lee
This was a lackluster ending to a book series that, somehow, I loved as a child. I never read this fifth installment to the Time Quintet that began with A Wrinkle in Time, but after rereading the first four earlier this year, my expectations for the fifth were severely adjusted. This finale does not feature Meg, Calvin, Charles Wallace, or the twins Sandy and Dennys, but focuses on Meg and Calvin’s daughter Polly and the time she spends with her grandparents, Drs. Kate and Alex Murry. She’s been sent to the elder Murrys in the hopes that she’ll gain an even greater education in science than she could have received at home or in school. All of that changes when Zachary, a college student whom she previously dated, shows up at the Murrys and pleads his case for Polly’s company.