Octavia Butler, Where Have You Been All My Life?

I’m a wee bit perturbed and confused as to why it took me so long to find Octavia Butler.  I picked up Parable of the Sower on my last pre-COVID bookstore visit.  By the following weekend, cases were in my area, and soon after, things shut down in NYS.  The book was sitting in the Northshire Bookstore Black History Month window display.  The title drew me in.  I made the clerk climb into the display to get it from the very front center since there weren’t any other copies in the store. 

It’s sat on my to be read pile (which is endless), patiently waiting to be opened. I’m kicking myself for not getting to it sooner.  I have no idea why I tried to suffer through Harry Potter (I got two books in), Hunger Games, and I didn’t even bother with the Divergent series.  There are probably more dystopic teenage books I could list here, but you get the idea.  Parable of the Sower is so much better. 

Lauren is the main character.  She lives with her family inside the walls of a gated community in California, as the world is burning around her.  Climate change, new drugs, violence, illiteracy, the government’s collapse, fires, lack of work and water are all causing the world to be dangerous and frightening.  Inside the walls, parents are doing what parents do: they overprotect and hide reality, which doesn’t prepare their children.  However, Lauren sees what’s coming, and she writes the ideas the world will need to unite and survive.  Also, there’s a road trip. I always love a book with a road trip. Probably because I love going on road trips.  Anyway, it takes place in the mid-2020s, so a perfect read for 2020.

The book came out in 1993, while I was in high school and was constantly searching for books precisely like this; how did I miss it?  How was this not part of my college classes where I majored in English, and yet I had to read Hemmingway after friggin’ Hemmingway?  I raised a revolt in my American Lit class because I didn’t think half the curriculum should be dedicated to one person.  Recently, I had two older gentlemen suggest I read more Hemmingway to improve my writing.  One said, “I know he’s out of fashion.” I rolled my eyes for days afterword every time I thought of that comment.  The thing for me is this, his word choices are excellent, but I have always hated reading his actual stories. That’s a whole blog for another day.  What I want to know is, where was Octavia Butler on any of my curriculum?  She was the first science-fiction writer to win the MacArthur Fellowship, a.k.a. the genius grant!!  So for real, where was she?

Take a few minutes, or hours, to do a deep Google dive into Octavia Butler. She’s still sparking a great deal of thought and reflection and call to action in people today.  Including Abby Aguirre’s 2017 New Yorker article Octavia Butler’s Prescient Vision of a Zealot Elected to “Make America Great Again.”  There are lists of those inspired and influenced by her and adaptations of her work.  There are guides and articles on how to get started with her books and what to read next.  She died at only 58.  Just think of what else she could have done. 

And still, it took me to my mid-40’s to read her.  Parable of the Sower has all the elements I look for in good cli-fi or sci-fi, well, in any story.  Depth, strong female characters, scientific concerns, political reflection, and of course, a road trip.  Seriously, I really really love reading about a road trip of any form.  It can be by boat, feet, bicycle, train, or car.  A journey in a story gets me every time.

I hope by now, her lack of appearance on reading lists has been remedied.   If not, for the love of all that is holy, add her.  She has several series, including the Parable or Earthseed series, which Parable of a Sower is the first of two.  I need to get my hands on Parable of the Talents, the second in the series, next.  Here is a list of her works.  If you’ve read her, please tell me what you think or your favorite book of hers.  Was she on any of your reading lists in school?  How did you discover her?  If not, please check her out.

****Also, please shop with a local and independent bookstore.  They’ve been battered by the pandemic and need all of our help.  I know I’m not getting my lingering hours pouring over the shelves I’m used to pre-COVID.  Bookstores are creative and have come up with a myriad of ways to continue getting books into our hands as safely as possible.  I know Amazon seems easy, and I use them as well for some things, but there are plenty of small businesses that need our help.  They deliver, just like Amazon. They will bring your order curbside.  Check out their websites and newsletters for ideas and suggestions.  Email them or call if you’re looking for books.  I try to mention the local bookstores in my book reviews because I love them, and I want them to survive.  Heck, I want them to thrive.  As you’re thinking about gifts or any purchases, please shop local and independent.  Thank you.****

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