This is a transcript of Recommended Season 4 Episode 1.
This episode of Recommended is sponsored by The Familiars by Stacey Halls published by MIRA Books.
The Essex Serpent meets The Miniaturist in this rich and compelling historical novel, set against the frenzy of the real 1612 Witch Trials of Pendle Hill.
Young Fleetwood Shuttleworth, noblewoman of one of the finest houses in Lancashire, is pregnant for the fourth time, having been unable to carry a baby to term so far. When Fleetwood finds a hidden letter from the doctor who delivered her last stillbirth, she learns of the prediction that she will not survive another pregnancy. By chance she meets a midwife who promises to help Fleetwood deliver a healthy baby and prove the physician wrong. As the midwife, Alice, is drawn into the witchcraft accusations sweeping the area, Fleetwood must risk everything to help clear her name. Historians have asked, “was witch-hunting woman-hunting?” THE FAMILIARS explores the themes of women’s rights in this period, many of which still resonate today.
Timely topics make this a great read for book clubs with lots to discuss about history, and women’s rights—how they have and have not changed from then until now.
Thanks again to The Familiars by Stacey Hall, published by MIRA Books, for sponsoring the show.
SHOW INTRO – JENN
This is Recommended, where we talk to interesting people about their favorite books, and this is the first episode of Season 4! Today, authors Preeti Chhibber and Sarah Gailey tell us about discovering new favorite novels while judging books by their covers.
Preeti Chhibber has written for SYFY, BookRiot, BookRiot Comics, Nerds of Color, Tor.Com, and The Mary Sue, among others. You can also find her co-hosting the podcasts Desi Geek Girls and Strong Female Characters. Her short story, “Girls Who Twirl and Other Dangers” was published in the anthology A Thousand Beginnings and Endings, and she has a forthcoming Spider-Man novel with Marvel Press.
My name is Preeti Chhibber, and Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler is my recommended.
Lilith’s Brood is three books, and it is about an alien race that comes in to rescue the human race after a catastrophic event on Earth, but what that means for humanity and survival might not be everyone’s cup of tea.
Funnily enough, no one recommended them to me. I was browsing at Barnes & Noble, I think, when I was like 16 … 15, 16 years old, in the sci-fi section, the paltry, tiny sci-fi section. Something about the cover of Dawn spoke to me. I don’t know what it was. It was like this maroon cover with an image of the main character, Lilith, in this kind of interesting paint style. I just picked it up and fell in love.
I do still have my original copies of all three books. I read them all the time.
When I was 14, a friend gave me a copy of the first book from Wheel of Time, and then I read all of the Wheel of Time books and was obsessed with the notion of epic American fantasy, or just epic fantasy in general, really, and so I was wandering the sci-fi/fantasy aisle. That’s how I found her. It actually wasn’t so much the fantasy, or the sci-fi of it. It was more that I liked fantasy and they just happened to be grouped together in this bookstore.
Thanks, Robert Jordan.
I pitch it as a really wonderful look at strong female characters and what it means to be human, but filled with action and angst and drama, because it’s sci-fi but it’s … At its heart, it is about figuring out what humanity means and what you’re willing to sacrifice to survive. I think people really enjoy survival stories and stories of kind of figuring out what you need to do in order to continue living.
And finding your place in a new world because that’s really what ends up happening, is the creation of a new world, but despite humanity’s insistence of maybe making decisions that aren’t in their best interest.
It’s written by a black woman, and it’s written by someone who probably had to deal with a lot of this in her own life in terms of being subjected to ideas of what her gender and her race said about her and what society said that she was and having to break out of that mold, really, because sci-fi as a genre isn’t the most welcoming of spaces always, and so I think there was a little bit of that. Lilith is such a great character because she’s not only strong, she’s … You get to see her anger and her frustration in addition to all the positive attributes that people … you know, quote-unquote, “positive” in terms of … She’s very loving and she’s very thoughtful and all of these other things, but she is also … Her anger fuels her too, her deep sadness of the losses she’s faced and her need to kind of be stronger than she sometimes thinks she’s capable of being. You get to see all the pieces of her, and I imagine Octavia Butler probably had to use a lot of those same facets of her own self to survive and excel in an industry that didn’t always see her or see people who looked like her.
You know, this was one of the first sci-fi books I read, and I was lucky enough that this sci-fi book represented not just straight white men. It represented black people and Asian people and gay people and all these different version of people who exist, and so I strive to do that in my own writing to make sure that I’m not showing a one-note world.
Imago is my favorite one. It’s short and it’s super easy to get through and a quick read. It’s so comforting. It’s like a comfort read. It’s like one of those reads where you’re like, “I’m in a bad mood and I’m sad about the world, so I’m going to read this.”
It’s truly coming of age. I’m a huge YA fan, and so I love coming of age stories. That’s what Imago is, is Jodahs trying to figure out who they are and what it means to be both … to be the first of their kind and what it means to be both human and Oankali.
I think with Jodahs in particular they go through such a journey, and that journey is sort of like what they’re supposed to be and not fitting into the role of what they’re supposed to be and then finding their role. There’s comfort in that, finally coming into who you’re supposed to be and getting to have that moment of, “No, this is my role. I’m so kind of sated that this is where I belong and to have found the place where I belong.”
Sort of weirdly enough, I think A Wrinkle in Time does it. There’s something in the way that both Meg and Lilith are written, and then both Charles Murry and Jodahs are written, that I can identify those same pieces with in terms of using your anger, using your love, using all those pieces of you; and with Charles Murry and Jodahs, figuring out who you are and who you’re supposed to be. I think the Wrinkle in Time quartet — barring Many Waters, which is not my favorite — kind of does that for me.
Thanks again to Preeti Chhibber for joining us and recommending the Lilith’s Brood series by Octavia Butler. The anthology A Thousand Beginnings and Endings, published by Greenwillow Books, is available wherever books are sold. You can follower her on twitter at runwithskizzers, that’s run with s k i z z e r s.
Today’s Recommended is also sponsored by 99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne, published by William Morrow.
From the author of The Hating Game comes a new romantic comedy about two twins struggling over an inheritance, and the sexy best friend who gets in the middle. Darcy Barrett met her dream man when she was eight years old, and the rest of the male population has been a letdown ever since. No one measures up to Tom Valeska whose only flaw is that her twin brother, Jamie, saw him first, and claimed him forever as his best friend. Tom’s off limits and loyal to Jamie 99%, and for Darcy, one percent of him used to be enough. But this time around, she’s switching things up…
99 Percent Mine is laugh out loud hometown romance. It’s got a strong, independent female protagonist who’s trying to fight her feelings for her brother’s best friend, AND a lovable boy next door type who is trying to remain loyal by not falling in love with his best friend’s sister.
99 Percent Mine is Sally Thorne’s second novel after the widely successful The Hating Game and features two epilogues: one for 99 Percent Mine, and a never before seen epilogue for The Hating Game.
Thanks again to 99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne, published by William Morrow, for sponsoring today’s episode.
Hugo award winner Sarah Gailey is an internationally published writer of fiction and nonfiction. Their nonfiction has been published by Mashable and the Boston Globe, and they are a regular contributor for Tor.com and Barnes & Noble. Their most recent fiction credits include Fireside Fiction, Tor.com, and Uncanny Magazine. Their debut novella, River of Teeth, was published in 2017 via Tor.com and was a 2018 Hugo and Nebula award finalist. Their new novel, Magic for Liars, is forthcoming from Tor Books in June of 2019.
Hi, my name is Sarah Gailey, and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is my recommended.
The Night Circus is a gorgeous book that is about a contest between two magicians, and the terms of the contest are never explained to the reader, but the form of the competition is … Each of the magicians trains a student, and the students have to effectively battle against each other. But the rules of the fight, the format of the fight, the location of the fight, and the identity of the opponent are never given to either of those students, so they just got to try and do the thing. It is a lovely book. The prose is rich. There’s a romance that is deeply satisfying and also emotionally real, and it’s forced family dynamics in a way that few books I’ve read have really dug into.
I first picked up The Night Circus … I was in a book store, honestly just looking for covers. Every now and then I’ll do that. I’ll go into a bookstore and just go around and find the most interesting covers and be like, “All right, I’m gonna read this and I hope it’s good.” And often it is, because the kind of covers that I’m drawn to really communicate a lot of the tone and content of the book.
I remember, at the same time that I picked up The Night Circus, I also picked up The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld, which also has this gorgeous cover. And that’s how I grabbed The Night Circus. The cover is beautiful and whimsical and somber, and I was like, “Yeah. This one.” And I found one of my favorite books. I re-read it every year. I also have listened to the audiobook several times, which is read by the great Jim Dale, who could read me a recipe for potato salad and I’d probably love it.
I listened to that audiobook while recovering from a heart surgery, actually. When you have the kind of heart surgery that I had, you have to lie flat on your back for eight hours after the surgery for medicine reasons. I don’t know. And I was in pain and drugged up and falling in and out of sleep, and I put my headphones on, and I had downloaded The Night Circus and was listening to it that entire time. And it got me through that recovery process, just with the work that Jim Dale’s voice combined with the lush prose.
Whenever I re-read The Night Circus, I am re-reading it from the perspective of who I am that year. I do the same thing with The Godfather, which … My perspective on that changes every year. I’ve been re-reading it for … Oh, gosh. Going on 15 years now. And every time I re-read, I’m coming from a different place. So I had a really hard year this last year, and when I re-read The Night Circus, I was actually reading it as fuel, because I was in such a tough place emotionally that I couldn’t write, and I had a deadline that I had to meet. And I was like, “I need something that’s going to put words into my brain that other words can crystallize around, and then I can harvest them.”
And other times I’ve re-read it just when I couldn’t think of anything else that sounded good. This year, I’m doing a very slow re-read, because I’m reading it aloud to my partner, who has never read it before, and we’re doing a chapter every time once every couple of weeks. So I’m getting to really spread it out, which is nice.
My favorite character in The Night Circus, in terms of how the character is written, is Chandresh, who is the owner and producer of the Night Circus. He is eccentric and gay and very like a Victorian jewel box of a character. And he’s brilliant, and he also loses his mind over the course of the book because of the magic that is being worked around him.
In many ways, The Night Circus is a book about the consequences of gaslighting, because all of these people who don’t know that magic exists are involved in this circus, and they … It’s a beautiful thing that they’re doing, and they’re all performers, so they want to make the most beautiful amazing things that they can, and they succeed, and they know that they something isn’t right. They know that something isn’t lining up in terms of the seam of reality. But they’re not really allowed to say anything about it, and their memories changes, and they don’t age, and they don’t know why. And Chandresh in particular is subject to all of this magic, and to really kind of being victim of this competition. And he becomes an alcoholic, and he kind of goes crazy. And the way he’s written is just heartbreaking and incredible, and I see more of it every time I read the book.
In terms of the character who I personally like most as a human being, who I want to be … Tante Padva, who is kind of the auntie of the entire circus, who used to be a ballerina, and who is a clothing designer, and who is that kind of scandalous older woman who likes to make proper young ladies blush because she can say things that they’re not supposed to. I have always been crazy about her, and that’s just not going to change.
When I’m trying to get someone to read The Night Circus, because I’m a huge evangelist for this book … My other annual re-read, The Godfather, I often tell people like, “Ah, you don’t need to read that book.” Because it’s a huge problem in a lot of ways, and then The Night Circus, like, “Oh, this is my unproblematic babe.” This book, it’s comforting and it’s kind to the reader, which a lot of really good, brilliant books are not kind to the reader.
My books are not often kind to the reader.
The Night Circus is kind to the reader and kind of lets you see everything that’s happening as you’re reading it. It’s not a book that is trying to trick you as a reader. It’s not a book that’s trying to hurt you. It is drawing you in, and a lot of the prose is about drawing the reader in and saying, “Here, come be part of this world and feel that way that a perfect beautiful circus should make you feel.” Which is a sense of wonder and time out of time, and rest, but also curiosity. It’s a lovely feeling that’s really hard to get, and this book will just hand it to you.
I would love for The Night Circus to have informed my writing, because … I mean, it’s beautifully written. When I was writing the book I have coming out this year, Magic for Liars, I wanted a tone that would draw the reader in the same way. And I remember, I re-read The Night Circus twice in a row before I started writing that book, because I was going, “Okay, how do I do this? How do I make the reader feel everything that the main characters are feeling?” It’s a huge goal of mine, is to write a book that engages with as much empathy, and pushes the reader to engage with as much empathy as The Night Circus does.
The Night Circus is not like other books that I read. Nowadays, I read a lot for work. I’m reading a lot of books that publishers send me, or that my agent gives me as homework. Most of the things that I read are either feeding my brain or soothing my brain. That’s kind of how I think of it. So I’ve got the books that I read, like H is for Hawk, which I read for homework for a project that I’m working on now, which is not an easy book or a kind book. It’s a wonderful, amazing book, but it’s very challenging, and so reading it, it’s like working out. And then I’ve got books that I read to soothe my brain, which is a lot of YA romance, and kind of books that still have a lot of emotional highs and lows, but where I can anticipate a happy ending, where I know that what I’m looking for out of that book is a character that is relaxing to spend time with.
And The Night Circus is neither of those. I don’t find it to be a restful book, but I also don’t find it to be challenging in the same way that a lot of challenging books are. It reminds me a lot of Patrick Ness’s work in that way, where it’s a book that you can read and spend time with indefinitely, kind of like that friend who you can just hang out with and sit quietly and read together. And it just is a thing that exists alongside you, like a really good cat.
Thanks again to Sarah Gailey for joining us and recommending The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. The River of Teeth duology American Hippo, published by Tor.com, is available wherever books are sold. You can follow them on social media at gaileyfrey, that’s g a i l e y f r e y.
Thanks again to our sponsors for making today’s episode possible. If you like what you heard, please take a moment to review and rate us on Apple Podcasts. We love to hear your feedback and it helps other folks to find the show. You can find shownotes at Bookriot.com/recommended, and you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.