Octavia E. Butler. Lilith’s Brood: Dawn, Adulthood Rites, Imago

Read Octavia Butler, everyone says. And I finally did.

Lilith’s Brood, a.k.a. the Xenogenesis Series, is epic, gender-bending, and still politically relevant. (It was written from 1987-1989.)

A writer who can create the Oankali deserves all the respect and kudos Butler has received—which include a MacArthur award. And, reading about her, I am inspired to get some of her other works, especially Kindred.

Her point of view is painfully necessary in today’s political climate. As she said in a 2004 interview, “there must be something basic, something really genetically wrong with us if we’re falling for this stuff.”  The “stuff” she was talking about was Reagan and the possibility of nuclear war. But the “stuff” continues, with constant and scary new developments.

However, I didn’t read every word of Lilith’s Brood. I dove in and out. In trying to decide why I needed to do that, I discovered fourl things about what I like and why I like it.

One: I have read so many sci-fi-fantasy novels, as well as novels in many other styles, that I can see events unfold before they do. In the case of Lilith, I couldn’t bear to watch.

Two: I read, and watch TV shows, only for pleasure. Or to see how the author manages a problem I’m trying to solve in my own writing. The same goes for fantasy novels.( I read, and see, theatrical plays, no matter how difficult the subject, the way other people read challenging novels.)

Three: I worry that reading Facebook has destroyed my attention span.

Four: Most interesting, to me: In a 1995 review of Lilith’s Brood, Burton Raffel calls Butler’s style “crystalline, at its best, sensuous, sensitive, exact not in the least directed at calling attention to itself.” That tells me another thing about how I read. I do look for an interesting writing style. Robin McKinley, Sarah Addison Allen, and Lee Child all have a writing style that keeps me reading even when I see where the plot is going, or lose interest in where the plot is going.

Now I need to figure out how to do that in my own writing. Meanwhlie, I need to read Kindred.

Haruki Murakami, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

I have never liked short stories. And I couldn’t get through Murakami’s novels.

But I loved Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman.

In each story, something odd and fantastical happens to ordinary people who live ordinary lives. The narrators aren’t very astonished by these strange happenings—because life, for Murakami characters, is full of the inexplicable, the quietly tragic, the unfinished journey.

Murakami shows how stories happen without quests, without fighting off dragons and psychopaths. I find myself wondering about the folks who want that kind of thing, and only that kind of thing. “Nothing happened for the first 25 pages,” they say. They grew up on car chases, explosions, heroes saving the world.

Murakami is meditation.

Many readers have noted the way novels change as they age. That’s one reason why I am a confirmed re-reader of novels that I love.

But our tastes also change.  Once, I could read and enjoy romance novels—a guilty pleasure. Now I only like the funny ones, and not many of those. Lately, I’ve been reading the adventure fantasies so many people love. But I’m getting tired of stories where one dammed thing after another happens. And happens. And happens. Eventually, all these explosions cease to interest me.

So maybe it’s time for me to go back to Murakami’s novels.