B.I.P.’s Snips are short-hand responses to works; I usually opt for this format when I’ve read the book without taking many (or any) notes.

Kate Wilhelm’s Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang (1976)

Read: Mostly over breakfast, home-baked muffins or bakery-bought rugelach with coffee, perched on a stool in the kitchen, mostly on sunny days, the days and conditions in which reading about a dystopia will be least likely to provoke nightmares

Warning: Even then, this story is really disturbing because, although it’s written with the ‘70s in mind, the global threats and concerns are all relevant today, still. And, then it gets worse: “grim stories of plague, famine, disease, spontaneous abortions, stillbirths, and sterility”.

Loved: Kate Wilhelm’s skillful handling of time in the narrative and the way that she builds emotive power on very little within that wide swath of time, so that even though the characters at the end of the novel are separated by several generations from the characters readers meet at the beginning of the narrative, the connection remains taut and engaging.

Would have loved more if… (Really there’s no condition on this one for me; the only thing niggling me is how a copy error as major as spelling the main family’s name, which is actually Sumner, as Summer, could make it onto the cover.)

Serving suggestions: Simple, nourishing whole-foods meals. (Why? Because there’s nothing fancy about the few food sources that remain.) This world functions according to a set of rigid controls. “As she walked back to her room she understood why the breeders didn’t try to leave the area, why they never spoke to a clone, although they were separated only by a hedge.”

Fave quote: “The trees were all clothed in new greenery and the ground was fast losing its feel of a wet sponge.”

Have you read this science-fiction classic?

Chitra Divakaruni’s One Amazing Thing (2009)

Read: On the couch, wrapped in an afghan, looking for all the comfort that the characters do not have in their beyond-stressed conditions

Warning: If you are the type to have nightmares about disasters, best not to read this after 10a.m. because Divakaruni’s style makes this a credible tale indeed

Loved: The emphasis on story-telling as — literally — a life-saving device, though Uma lights upon the idea intuitively not deliberately. (The Q&A with the author reveals that she most enjoyed writing Malathi’s story and that was my favourite story-within-a-story as a reader, too.)

Would have loved more if…I wasn’t such a sissy about disaster stories (which is to say that she did a terrific job of it but I can’t actually say that I loved it when reading it made me so anxious)

Serving suggestions: Packet of soda crackers, each broken into a dozen pieces, each crumb chewed 45-times. (Why? It’s one thing to take the afghan-and-cocoa route for locale, but the snacks, at last, should reflect the sense of deprivation. Though this still affords the possibility of the occasional sip of bourbon.)

Fave quote: “They were ready to listen to one another. No, they were ready to listen to the story, which is sometimes greater than the person who speaks it.”

Have you read Chitra Divakaruni’s work?

Elizabeth Jolley’s Miss Peabody’s Inheritance (1983)

Read: Under the covers with a flashlight when I couldn’t sleep (it’s a skinny little thing, fits easily under the winter weight of the quilts, and it suits the bizarre dream-like quality of the long letters that the novelist Diana Hopewell writes to lonely spinster-ish Dorothy Peabody, who saves the letters like the best birthday presents ever, to brighten the long evenings she spends home alone with her invalid mother)

Warning: Not for the reader who needs a strong narrative line, as much time is spent peering for some truth between the lines of Diana’s extracts from her novel and the recounting of Dorothy’s strange and isolated daily life

Loved: The commentary on the intersection between reality and fiction (“There is too a thin line between truth and fiction and there are moments in the writing of fantasy and imagination where truth is suddenly revealed.”)

Would have loved more if…not for that unsettled feeling of wondering if I was really understanding what was happening (but as it was such a slim volume, this didn’t trouble me the way that it might have otherwise, and was just the occasional wave of uncertainty)

Serving suggestions: Those over-sized peppermint drops or humbugs (Why? They seem perfectly Peabody-ish. Particularly if I drop one and it picks up a bit of lint. And I woudln’t have to chew them, so Mr. BIP can happily sleep on, uninterrupted.)

Fave quote: “All this made Miss Peabody feel excited and important. It was the same sort of feeling she had had on the day when she had her Blood Pressure to talk about. She felt brave and daring and even cheeky.”

Am I the only one who thinks about Anita Brookner when Elizabeth Jolley’s name comes up?

Each of these books counts towards more than one reading challenge.

The Divakaruni counts towards my own Must Reads from 2011, as this was one of the titles that Erin recommended, but I never posted about it last year (although I did read it last year).

The Wilhelm actually counts towards the Speculative Fiction Challenge, the What’s In a Name? Challenge and the Dystopia Challenge.

The Jolley counts towards the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

And all the books came off my own shelves, so they count towards the Off the Shelf Challenge and my 50 Book Pledge. (The latter is not intended to be about shelf-sitters: that’s the personal challenge I’ve added to it.)

How are your reading challenges, personal or otherwise, going this year, so far?