May was another lockdown month, in which I barely left the house, and in which I continued to work on the New Decameron Project, which means reading 31 stories, and continued to have difficulty focusing and reading, and so finished a mere ten books, all of them fiction and a large proportion of them comfort reading.
Fiction and Excerpts 
I’m delighted that Tooth and Claw is being given away this week—I hope people will enjoy reading it in these difficult times. The title comes from Tennyson talking about how much humans suck in In Memoriam: “Tho’ nature, red in tooth and claw, with ravine shrieked against his creed… no more? A monster, then, a dream, a discord. Dragons of the prime that tear each other in their slime were mellow music matched with him.” And that’s the book, really; the easiest way to sum it up.
April was a very weird month in which I was self-isolating and home and I went nowhere and did nothing and saw nobody, but where I nevertheless read only twelve books because—as you may have gathered from my post about “grabby” books—I was having difficulty settling to read. This is the first time I have ever had this problem, all my life before I have been able to read even at the worst times. I was also working on the New Decameron Project, which posted a story every day in April, so that perhaps ought to count as another volume read—thirty stories would make a fairly solid anthology. I also read a couple of my own books aloud on Discord, but I’m not counting that as reading.
I’ve written here before about the quality of “I-want-to-read-it-osity” that some books have, a hard to define but easy to see quality which I am going to refer to as “grabbyness.” There are books you can pick up and put down and happily pick up again, and then there are books that seem to glue themselves to your brain, that utterly absorb you. There are books that are great when you’re halfway through them but that take work to get into. Right now, the kind you can put down and the kind that are hard to get into don’t cut it, because they’re hard to focus on while fretting. For me, grabbyness is a quality entirely orthogonal to actual quality. There are grabby books that are only OK and great books that are not grabby. It also has nothing to do with how ostensibly exciting they are, nor how comforting they are. There are just books that are grabby and books that are not. What I’m talking about is the power to bring you right into the story so that all you want to do is read more, and you forget entirely about the real world around you.
So here are some suggestions for books that grab you, for you to read in these difficult times. I’m trying to suggest a wide range of things, so that there might be some you haven’t read before—sometimes we want to re-read and comfort read, but sometimes we want new things that are sure to hold our attention.
Well, March sure was a peculiar month. I was home, and then I was home in self-isolation, which I still am. But I started the New Decameron Project with Maya Chhabra and Lauren Schiller, so I have been snowed under reading stories and writing frame bits, and also setting up online socialising things which are sanity saving (I’m still not an introvert) but take time. Also, some of the things I read this month were extremely long. So I have read only fourteen books in March, and here they are…
A friend was asking the other day for books in which no bad things happen, because with politics, pandemics, and polar vortices, sometimes you want your reading to be all upbeat. But yet, there aren’t many books where nothing bad happens. Myself, when I want comfort reading, I’ll settle for “everything all right at the end” which leaves me a much wider field. Nothing bad at all is really hard. I mean, you have to have plot, which means conflict, or at least things happening, and once you have obstacles to defeat there’s almost certain to be something bad.
Keep reading, because I do actually think of some.
February was another long cold snowy month in which I was at home writing and also read a fair bit—25 books, and they’re a mixed bag, as usual. I have a category of “irrelevant non-fiction” which is just non-fiction I’m reading that’s not specifically research for anything, and I read a bunch of that this month.
January was a quiet snowy month when I was at home, and I read twenty-five books, and here they are.
No travel in December, lots of socialising, but also plenty of reading—I read 25 books, and some of them were amazing. I cannot despair of the world when there are such wonderful books being written.
November began with a trip to Utopiales, a huge French SF festival in Nantes, followed by a lightning trip to the UK to see King John at Stratford and Henry VI at the Globe in London, then back to Paris for some bookstore events and the Louvre. Then I came home to find winter had set in: 20cm of snow and -10C on the day I got back. I had the proofs of Or What You Will to do, but otherwise plenty of time to read and little desire to go out of the house. I read 22 books in November, and here they are.
I was at home all of October; it included Scintillation which meant lots of friends were here for a few days, but also there was a week of being laid up doing nothing but reading, and at the very end I headed to Nantes for Utopiales. I read 27 books, or I guess 28 because I read one of them twice.
September was another travel month, not quite as intense as July and August. I went from London to Florence, and hung out in Florence until I came home on the 24th. It was all wonderful, and I read a reasonable 17 books.
The first week of August I was in Florence, then I was in Wales seeing family, then came Worldcon, a trip to Edinburgh for the Fringe, more theatre in London, and back to Florence right at the end. A busy month travelling with friends, so I only read 8 books. I saw lots of amazing plays, though!
July was a busy month—I was home for the first week and then I was off travelling to France and Italy, lots of looking at art and places and not all that much time for reading. I read just 14 books.
June started off with a book promotion trip for Lent to Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario, which was pretty reading intensive: long train rides, early nights in hotel rooms. Then I was home mostly revising for the rest of the month. There were also a lot of pain days where I did nothing but read. So I read 33 books in June, some of them not very long—there are a number of children’s books and magazines in here. July’s going to have a lot of travel and August even more so, so I’ll probably read less.
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