Dorothy’s Favorite Books of 2016: Station Eleven & Born A Crime

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Dorothy McQuaid
Showrunner for Pycera/Social Media for BWP
Twitter | Blog | Email

Hello, Whisperers! Happy New Year! I loved Rebecca’s post about her favorite book of 2016, and I wanted to make my own.  I was fairly certain what I would choose for most of the year – I said things like “this is the best book I’ve read in years” and actually went so far as to get a quote from it tattooed on my living flesh. However, in the very last days of 2016, I listened to an audiobook version of another amazing book (which was actually published in 2016,) and honestly couldn’t decide between the two. Luckily, one is non-fiction and one is fiction, so I can choose both!

My favorite fiction book I read in 2016: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (published 2014.) Although this book received accolades and awards when it was released, somehow the hype went over my head and I didn’t hear anything about it. Really it should only take four words for you to want to read this book: “Shakespeare after the apocalypse.” What more could you possibly want? Oh, a reference to Star Trek that makes you want to cry and sing and laugh and run out to the tattoo parlor? This book has that too. The core of this book is going beyond survival, into…. thrive-al(?) in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. While others cobble together a living from the land or the remains of the cities, this book follows a cast of actors, musicians and other artists who travel from town to town performing Shakespeare and classical music. Because survival is insufficient.

My favorite non-fiction book I read in 2016: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (published 2016.) I don’t watch The Daily Show and have only seen a few clips of Trevor Noah, but when several friends of varying literary interests began raving about this book, I had to check it out. I ended up listening to the audio version, and I’m glad I did – it is narrated by Trevor and he speaks the different African languages, accents for each person, just a generally fabulous narration. I couldn’t put it down. Trevor manages to address social issues like racism, sexism, institutionalized poverty, code switching – WAIT DON’T FALL ASLEEP – while also telling great stories about pooping on the floor and getting abandoned by a dog named Foofy. Listen to this book. It will make you laugh and cry.

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Non-Fiction: The Key to Good Fantasy?

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Akhi Pillalamarri
Head Web Content Contributor
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I believe the best fictional work, especially in a genre like fantasy, where world-building is essential, requires thorough non-fictional, especially historical knowledge. In fact, non-fictional knowledge is, in my view, the key to good world-building, more so than familiarity with other, related works of fiction and literary styles. This is why I advocated a thorough history-based, “lore” approach to fantasy, both in terms of constructing the world, and in garnering knowledge from the lore of the real world.

Why is this, you might ask?

Despite the name ‘fantasy,’ what I consider good fantasy is pretty realistic. I believe fantasy ought to invoke the scientific method, where the majority of malleable variables are held constant so that the author may focus on upon what I see as the genre’s true purpose: exploring new and interesting worlds, or telling a compelling story with unique, dynamic characters. Variables such as human nature and the reactions of countries or governments to a variety of events ought to remain constant, so as not to distract from that purpose.

For me, the appeal of fantasy is considering questions of world-building or the human experience when stripped of their usual real-life context, which can obscure these elements at times. When writing historical fiction or fiction set in the real world, the story must be conditioned by real events and culture in order to be plausible. Fantasy, however, gives you the freedom to avoid this strict historical conditioning.

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