The Case of Death and Honey - Neil Gaiman I'm a bigger fan of Gaiman's graphic novels than his fiction but I really enjoyed this story of Sherlock HolThe Case of Death and Honey - Neil Gaiman I'm a bigger fan of Gaiman's graphic novels than his fiction but I really enjoyed this story of Sherlock Holmes in China - and there are bees!
The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees - E. Lily Yu This was one fantastic story. A kind of fable. And written by an undergraduate student to boot. I am so looking forward to reading more by Yu.
Tidal Forces - Caitlin R Kiernan After two great - and bee-related - stories, this one's scifi/fantasy component was a bit more subtle. But it was interesting. And complicated. ...more
Sometimes you chance upon books by fate, others by the placement of library shelves.
My most often frequented shelves in the library, other than the children’s section, are the Hold shelves. I do a lot of book holds, which can be tricky as the library only allows TEN HOLDS! And it’s an Argh ARGH situation as I request books for myself and the more popular picture books for the kids.
But because the Holds shelves are located perpendicular to the ‘A’s and ‘B’s of the adult fiction shelves, I tend to scan those as I walk past. And this time, Sherman Alexie’s Ten Little Indians called out to me. I’m not sure why. It’s cover art isn’t exactly eye-catching. But I pulled it off the shelf anyway and opened the cover.
And there I saw a paperclipped note from Hilton Singapore. And I knew I was meant to borrow this book! Haha!
Alexie sure knew how to suck this reader into the first story, with a bookish college student named Corliss. She’s a reader, a lover of books.
“In the Washington State University library, her version of Sherwood Forest, Corliss walked the poetry stacks. She endured a contentious and passionate relationship with this library. The huge number of books confirmed how much magic she’d been denied for most of her life, and now she hungrily wanted to read every book on every shelf. An impossible task, to be sure, Herculean in its exaggeration, but Corliss wanted to read herself to death. She wanted to be buried in a coffin filled with used paperbacks.”
Sometimes when writers do this I want to yell, hey that’s cheating! How could you throw in a bookish book lover knowing that a bookish book lover would be reading this too? That just means that I cannot help but fall for this story. How could I not want to befriend, to hug a character who thinks such thoughts:
Corliss wondered what happens to a book that sits unread on a library shelf for thirty years. Can a book rightfully be called a book if it never gets read? If a tree falls in a forest and gets pulped to make paper for a book that never gets read, but there’s nobody there to read it, does it make a sound?
Corliss had never once considered the fate of library books. She’d never wondered how many books go unread. She loved books. How could she not worry about the unread? She felt like a disorganized scholar, an inconsiderate lover, an abusive mother, and a cowardly soldier.
Corliss is Spokane Indian and she comes across a book of poems written by a Spokane, someone she had never heard of and since “only three thousand other Spokanes of various Spokane-ness existed in the whole world” she didn’t understand how she had never heard of this fellow poetry-loving Spokane.
And she is determined to track him down. It’s a bit tricky because he doesn’t want to be found.
In another story, Do You Know Where I Am?, Alexie writes of a couple who have been together since college.
“We laughed and kissed and made love and read books in bed. We read through years of books, decades of books. There were never enough books for us. Read, partially read, and unread, our books filled the house, stacked on shelves and counters, piled into corners and closets. Our marriage became an eccentric and disorganised library. Whitman in the pantry! The Bronte sisters in the television room! Hardy on the front porch! Dickinson in the laundry room! We kept a battered copy of Native Son in the downstairs bathroom so our guests would have something valuable to read!”
Of course it’s not about their reading habits, not at all. But this passage was too cute. And the story was just so very sweet.
The other stories in Ten Little Indians aren’t really sweet but they were mostly good reads....more
I was at first surprised when there was an afterword after each story. Then as I read through each afterword, after each story, I wished that more short story collections including such afterwords.
“But I’m still glad to be able to talk a little about what I do put into my work, and what it means to me.”
In her afterword to The Evening and the Morning and the Night, a story which focuses on a disease, Butler describes her interest in biology and how she built this fictional disease from three genetic disorders, and even offers a reading list.
My favourite story is probably Speech Sounds, set in a world where a virus has taken away language, although it has affected people differently. A woman, Rye, can no longer read and write: “She had a houseful of books that she could neither read nor bring herself to use as fuel. And she had a memory that would not bring back to her much of what had read before.” She meets a man who cannot speak or comprehend spoken language:
“The illness had played with them, taking away, she suspected, what each valued most.”
While it was a rather satisfactory ending, of sorts, I think I wanted so much for this story to continue, for it to not be a short story, to know what will happen to Rye, to this world without language. Perhaps it moved me so because I cannot fathom the thought of not being able to read, to know that these symbols, these letters have meaning but to never be able to put them together. For all the horror books I’ve read this RIP season, this one might just be the one to really hit me hard, to hit me where it hurts.
(Later, I learnt that Octavia Butler was dyslexic. And maybe this short story stemmed from that?)
And it was a surprise to read about Butler’s humble beginnings, her early desire to be a writer, despite people like her aunt telling her that African-Americans couldn’t be writers.
“In all my thirteen years, I had never read a printed word that I knew to have been written by a Black person.”
I am so very glad that she persevered. That she kept writing, that she kept submitting, that she never gave up despite what others told her. ...more