Writing and real life have been taking precedence over blogging lately. But it's a new month, so let's see what I read in May:
→ THE INTUITIONIST by Colson Whitehead - This is a novel about elevator inspectors, set in an alternate version of 1950s New York in which elevator inspection is a really big deal. The Department of Elevator Inspectors wields significant political power in the city, inspectors graduate from the Institute for Vertical Transport, and tension is building between those who inspect empirically and those who test the machines through intuition. The book's protagonist, Lila Mae Watson, is a black female Intuitionist who is forced into a confrontation with the Department's old-boy network when she becomes the target of an investigation. It's a weird, fascinating premise, with a plot that gets quite exciting as Lila Mae uncovers a series of conspiracies and secrets.
→ IF SONS, THEN HEIRS by Lorene Cary - The book opens with a family tree charting the many members of the Needham family, who are descended from slaves. The novel is set in the present day, with some flashbacks to other eras, and concentrates on a few members from one branch of the tree. But all the other relatives are important because the story's main conflict concerns a piece of heir property, land owned jointly by all descendants of the original owners. The characters and storytelling in this book are fantastic. There's a wonderful balance between big issues -- the property, a character finding the mother who abandoned him, concerns about an aging relative -- and minor everyday problems like how to keep a small boy entertained.
→ GREEN MARS by Kim Stanley Robinson - I got through another chunk of this book early in the month, but I haven't picked it up in a while. Maybe I'll focus and finish it in June.
I also read a manuscript for a friend who is getting ready to self-publish. I'm looking forward to announcing her release sometime this summer.
Good Stuff Out There:
→ The Intern explains how a plot is different than a series of events after musing on "how funny it is (and how perplexing) that you can write an entire novel (or even several drafts of a novel) and only realize at the very end that -- oops! -- you forgot to give your story a plot."
→ Nicholas Tam presents a detailed essay on fictional maps: "So when we open up a novel to find a map, we can think of the map as an act of narration. But what kind of narration? Is it reliable narration or a deliberate misdirection? Is it omniscient knowledge, a complete (or strategically obscured) presentation of the world as the author knows it? Or is the map available to the characters in the text?" (Thanks, Pimp My Novel!)