By R.C. Peris
Oddly, Kindred has set on my bookshelf for years. I carted it from LA to Phoenix. It was always on my to read list. As 2017 draws to a close, I evaluated what I had read for the year. It was not a good year for reading but it was an excellent year for writing. I completed a children’s picture book and two novels in two months. What I didn’t do was read a whole lot. I read Jane Eyre for the tenth time. I read Far From the Madding Crowd for the first time. I read Lady Chatterley’s Lover for the third time (I read it every decade and marvel at my changing views of it).
I have decided I did not have a good year reading. For 2018, I will read more women authors, science fiction, and books by people of color or diverse cultures. I discovered many lists of book suggestions for these categories. It’s not 2018 but I decided to start early. I pulled Kindred off the shelf. Octavia Butler hits all three of my reading goals. She’s a woman, black, and a science fiction writer. I read her biography. We are both California natives. I was surprised to learn she had dyslexia. She didn’t drive for that reason. It’s hard to live in the Los Angeles area without driving. She rode a lot of buses. I lived in Pasadena when she was alive. I didn’t have a car for several months and I wondered if I ever rode the bus with her. She was friendly to everyone.
Octavia Butler’s dyslexia made me evaluate her writing style carefully. Her prose is clear, straightforward, and cogent. It’s a joy reading her words. I do miss the lyricism that other writers, like Leslie Marmon Silko, can interweave in their prose. But Octavia Butler’s writing style matches her subject. Kindred is about the horror of slavery and the courage the slaves demonstrated in light of their reality. I don’t think poetic lyricism would have been appropriate. Concise language reveals the horror of slavery. Concise language makes you afraid. Concise language conveys the injustice of slavery.
Octavia Butler died at the age of 58. She was one of the first female science fiction writers and one of the first who was black. She was a trailblazer who became the first science fiction writer to win the MacArthur grant. Kindred is a great novel about the dark shadow of American history – slavery.