Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created and hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, in which we all talk about a bookish topic and have fun making lists. This week we’re looking at recent(ish) reads that were outside our preferred genre or comfort zone.
For several years, I made a concerted effort to read beyond SFF (my first love, as I’m sure you’ve noticed if you’re a regular reader). The last 2 years, I’ve gone back to my heart’s home and it’s been glorious. But here’s the thing – I don’t necessarily read it because it’s comforting. So here’s my top ten recent reads that were either outside SFF and/or far from comfortable…
Wild Seed – Octavia Butler ****
Classic SF unflinchingly examines agency, feminism, racism, abuse and eugenics. It’s the unflinching bit that makes it so uncomfortable. I had a couple of issues with it, but Anyanwu ❤
Deep Sea and Foreign Going – Rose George ****
I read very little non-fiction, but this was absorbing, accessible and made my brain ignite with ideas. Just how much do you know about the shipping industry? You’ll never watch Captain Phillips the same way again.
The Soul of Discretion – Susan Hill ****
Serrailler novels are crime I make time for, so technically in my comfort zone. But here Simon goes undercover to blow open a paedophile ring and his father is accused of rape. Topical, never sensationalist and very hard going given Hill’s psychological bent. Argh.
Bodies of Light – Sarah Moss *****
I don’t read a lot of historical fiction. This is a firm favourite for its focus on feminism, religion, and science. Allie is taught to mistrust her mental health but pushed to fight to become one of the first lady doctors. A reminder of how far we’ve come, and a fiercely gentle heroine.
Discount Armageddon – Seanan McGuire ****
Yes, urban fantasy is out of my comfort zone. It mostly annoys me to the point of throwing things (ill-judged snark, relationship dynamics, etc), but the flipped scenario (pixie dream-girl defends paranormals) and diversity of monsters won me over. AESLIN MICE. Also, dragons.
The Signature of All Things – Elizabeth Gilbert ****
Another book about 19th century ladies doing science and battling religious notions. If I’d realised this was that Elizabeth Gilbert, I wouldn’t have picked it up; thankfully I didn’t, as it’s excellent. Indomitable Alma studies moss, figures out evolution, is confused by sexuality, and goes to Tahiti.
The Book of the Unnamed Midwife – Meg Elison ***
Apocalypse fiction is home ground, but it’s rarely comfortable and this PKD award-winner, focusing on the impact on women and mental health is particularly brutal. Reproduction, gender roles and control all come under the microscope. Not pretty. Rather good.
The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances ****
I read very little non-fiction, and I don’t want to flail about What If? again, so check out the Oatmeal’s perspective on distance running. Hilarious, close to the bone and oh so very true on far too many points. Especially that bit about hitting on girls in the gym.
Maps for Lost Lovers – Nadeem Aslam ****
Honour killings and integration get the side-eye here in a masterful, lyrical and powerful novel. I didn’t like this so much as I appreciated it – especially the focus on Kaukab, examining how women (are encouraged to) oppress themselves. Difficult, difficult, lemon difficult.
Blindsight – Peter Watts ***
I struggle with hard SF, and this is hard (if focused on biology and psychology rather physics). By the end, I felt like I was in conversation with the author arguing about what makes us human and why it matters. Bleak, challenging and provocative in a good way.
What makes you uncomfortable to read about?