Book Reviews: “The Birdwoman” and “Evocation”

I don’t usually read short stories, though not really for any particular reason, but the two collections I’m reviewing here today make me wonder whether I should more actively seek them out. When I was brand new to Twitter a few short months ago I went on a book-accumulating spree (translation: I followed lots of authors, and every time an author advertised a book as free to download from Amazon I clicked the link and downloaded the book), and these are two of the books I happened to “buy for free,” as Amazon puts it. In any case, they are both worth actually buying.

The Birdwoman: . . . and other short stories

The Birdwoman and Other Short Stories by A.R. Geiger

This collection of stories is phenomenal. I was captivated from the very beginning, commenting on my Kindle after the first story, Stowaway, “I want more!” The stories are truly short–several pages, on average–but they pack in a lot of action and emotion. I found myself stopping to make comments on my Kindle like, “raw, reflective and thoughtful;” “beautiful and painful;” and “powerful imagery.” Geiger doesn’t shy away from heavy topics, exploring issues such as mental illness and slavery, from many different viewpoints. Her characters include: a twelve-year-old orphan boy; a hospitalized mentally-ill woman; an African boat captain fighting the slavers kidnapping his people; a young child; and a widowed mother, among others.

Geiger’s ability to write convincingly from many varied viewpoints is a true testament to her talent for storytelling. I recently read a review of a short story collection over at Bibliobeth where the reviewer describes short story collections as typically having peaks and troughs, with some stories better than others – not in this case: Geiger’s work is all peaks.

Five stars!

Evocation: The First AI Stories Collection

Evocation: The First AI Stories Collection by Sergio Flores

So not only do I not usually read short stories, but I also don’t often read science fiction. That said, I’m glad I picked this up. As the title suggests, this is a collection of short stories centered on artificial intelligence. The stories are interesting and thought-provoking, opening my eyes to the importance of the issue. I feel like since reading the book I’ve been seeing references to AI all over the place–there’s even a new show on Nickelodeon about a teenager who’s actually an android which I watched while babysitting a friend’s kids–and I’ve started to pay a little more attention.

In reading the stories I was impressed by the author’s ability to write so that someone like me–technologically-challenged–could understand them. I liked how some of the stories share similar settings and seem to follow on from one another as if they are all part of a larger story. What I gained from the book is an overall sense of the power and danger of AI if not properly managed…or, even scarier, that perhaps it can’t be managed at all. If you like books that make you think (like I do), then it’s definitely worth a read, even if it’s not your normal thing!

4 stars!

Professional Development – Copyediting Fiction

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A couple of weeks ago I participated in a webinar run by the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) on copyediting fiction. It was taught by Amy Schneider, who has been copyediting for over two decades. This was my first foray into editing-specific professional development, and I was pleased with the course. Amy described it as “a look over one editor’s shoulders,” which was right on target.

My primary take-away from the webinar is that I am intuitively good at copyediting. (Yup, I just patted myself on the back.) My mind just works the right way for the job, which is probably why I enjoy it so much. Much of Amy’s process and the things she says to look for I already do – I’ve learned it on the job. For instance, when I first started out I didn’t pre-read a manuscript before beginning to edit. I quickly realized I would be much more effective if I did so; this is something Amy described as standard practice for her. Additionally, looking for inconsistencies throughout the document (such as “e-mail” or “email”?) seemed to me to be just an obvious part of the job and something I do when proofreading as well.

Second, the presentation sort of cemented what I had previously only grudgingly accepted but now welcome with open arms: fiction writing is not bound by the same style conventions as nonfiction. Sure, I can use the Chicago Manual of Style as a guide, but hard-and-fast grammar rules just don’t really exist in fiction. Each author has his own voice, and it’s my job as an editor to ensure that voice is consistent throughout, not to, as Amy called it, “edit the life out of the prose.”

Finally, I learned a lot about editorial efficiency. I already do some of the process things Amy mentioned (though without the official-sounding names she had for them), but I can certainly benefit from learning about tools like Microsoft Word macros that can speed up the process. Though I charge by word and not by hour, my clients and I each benefit if I can be more efficient.

In sum, I enjoyed the webinar and will certainly look at taking more of the EFA’s courses in the future. And: I rock as a copyeditor.

Reading to kids – it’s also about values

So I’ve talked before about the importance of kids’ books for teaching language to children, but there’s also a lot to be said for using literature to transmit values. I believe we need to be intentional about what we read to our children. By this I am referring both to what we choose to read and what we choose not to read. I could rail against all the garbage being written for kids these days (and always, it’s not all new), but in the interest of keeping things positive I’m going to just mention one valuable story we read in my house recently.

Frog and Toad All Year (Frog and Toad, #3)

We love Frog and Toad (you know that already, though, because I mentioned them in my last post, too) and recently got Frog and Toad All Year from the library. My absolute favorite story in the book, and the inspiration for this post, is The Surprise, in which Frog and Toad each secretly rake each other’s leaves. They each independently come up with the idea and do the good deed in secret. Then the wind blows all the leaves out of the piles, undoing their hard work; when each returns home, he finds his own yard a mess and never knows what the other did for him. The best part of the story is that Frog and Toad each go to sleep that night happy to have helped a friend, never finding the need to take credit for it. Each of them is happy just to have done a good deed, without needing or seeking credit.

This is love in its truest sense  – seeking the good of another just for the other’s sake. I’m not sure if my kids understand the message of the story, but it has certainly served as a reminder for me to check myself every time I want to say to someone, “oh, hey – did you see this nice thing I just did for you?” I know that books teach us (there’s a reason I called this blog “The Edifying Word”), but reading The Surprise was, for me, a reminder of the power of stories teach values and not just facts.

I’ve generally been pretty good at screening out the “bad” from what my kids read (at home, anyway – I can’t control that my daughter’s teacher reads Junie B. Jones with all her sass aloud to the class). My goal going forward is to remember the power of teaching positive values rather than just avoiding the things I don’t approve of, and using that as a guide for choosing what we read. We learn by repetition, and if I repeatedly and intentionally expose my children to the values I want to instill in them, they will absorb the message; literature is one of many tools I have as a parent to do so.

What do you think? Any suggestions of other positive, edifying books for kids?