What I’ve Been Reading #1

I have a crazy commute. It’s about 90 minutes from my apartment to my office. One hour of it involves taking public transportation. I’ve been doing this for four and a half years now!

Suffice it to say, I read a lot. As someone with (essentially) an English degree, I am totally okay with this. As Stephen King wrote,

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or tools) to write. Simple as that.

So here’s a quick peek at what I’m reading: 

The Earthseed Series: Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, by Octavia E. Butler.

I cannot do this series justice with such a brief, mostly spoiler-free review. For that, I apologize.

Two words: highly recommended. The novels are mind-blowing in the same vein as The Handmaid’s Tale. This is not “pleasure” reading. This is work. This series is worth every minute of time you put into it. I assure you.

Dystopian novels set in the near future tend to be a disappointment to me. Eventually something a little too unrealistic happens and my interest wanes. This never happens in the Earthseed series. In this future, the United States is a shambles. The land can no longer support the population, potable water is expensive, food is scarce, the very poor turn to violent theft in order to live, the police only serve and protect those who can pay for their services… And you get my point. These are all believable. Some of these things have already happened (see: Detroit in the ’60s).

As I read, my reaction became more visceral. Sower, the first novel, is an adventure; it’s almost picaresque in nature. While violence and gore are present and while the terror is palpable, it leans optimistic. Talents nearly gave me a panic attack while I was reading it. Debt slavery, torture, living in constant fear of your community being attacked. “Well meaning” fundamentalists who oppress anyone who isn’t a white Christian because the president wants to get back to “religious roots” that “made this country great.” My stomach turned. It felt too familiar.

I don’t mean to scare you. There is hope. Lauren Oya Olamina, our plucky and downright admirable protagonist, brings optimism to a bleak world in desperate need of light. She is human. She is flawed. But she is hope. She embodies the values others cannot afford to have; she is welcoming, nurturing and kind. She seeks out the weakest and most downtrodden and she empowers them.

Ultimately, I believe these novels are important reads for two reasons: Firstly, we must be concerned for our future. Sower was published nearly twenty years ago and the United States seems to be inching slowly towards this dystopian future. We must know what is at stake and we must know that there is hope for a better future. Secondly, this is a series where a strong woman of color is a leader of a community. There are women, people of color and people with disabilities in this series, and they matter. I hope that one day this point will not matter anymore. I hope that one day fiction will be more inclusive. Until that day comes, we must appreciate art that celebrates all kinds of people.

Choose your leaders

with wisdom and forethought.

To be led by a coward

is to be controlled
by all that the coward fears.

To be led by a fool

is to be led by the opportunists
who control the fool.

To be led by a thief

is to offer up
your most precious treasures
to be stolen.

To be led by a liar

is to ask
to be lied to.

To be led by a tyrant

is to sell yourself
and those you love
into slavery.