Book Review: Parable of the Sower

Parable of the Sower (Earthseed, #1)Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I chose Parable of the Sower for my book club before I’d read it myself, because I thought it was about time we read something that wasn’t written by a white person. This had been on my to-read list for quite a while and it sounded weighty and realistic enough for a good discussion. I agree with my mom, who told me when she finished it that the story feels unfinished. This is really just the beginning. And as it turns out, the author, Octavia Butler, died before she had a chance to finish the series. But there is a second book that I’m told makes the story feel more complete.

Reading this book was a little bit like watching The Walking Dead. It’s a group of strangers being drawn together somewhat reluctantly by the will to survive in an extremely hostile future America. Their leader is Lauren Olamina, a young black woman. That in and of itself makes it a good story. Refreshing, to say the least. And I love Lauren’s hyperempathy, or “sharing” as she calls it. She literally feels other people’s pain. I love that concept, and it’s especially interesting in this world where hurting other people is often necessary for survival.

One of the most interesting aspects of Lauren’s strength, to me, is her sexuality. It’s not a major aspect of the book, nor should it be. She’s attracted to men and she has relationships with them, but they are not the center of her universe. Lauren isn’t confused or upset or rendered in any way weaker by her sexuality. She just buys condoms when she needs to. She understands and accepts that aspect of herself, and she prepares for it. She has more important things to worry about. I was so grateful to see that an author finally got a woman’s sexuality right. Thank you, Octavia Butler.

Beyond Lauren, though, I wasn’t able to connect to this book very much. I like Lauren’s ideas about spirituality and survival and hope. But the story of her group’s journey to Acorn is just dark and gruesome, with new horrors emerging throughout. I’m not a fan of stories like that. I stopped watching The Walking Dead after about a season and a half (although that was partly because I got tired of all the impassioned speeches). I think the major thing that bothered me about this book was that it didn’t even attempt to explain how things got so terrible, with drugs and murder running rampant in an America where the government does nothing and the cops are corrupt. It’s hard to believe that our country could ever get so bad. But I’m sheltered and I take my safety for granted, I suppose. Plenty of people in this world are living a nightmare. It could happen here, too.

I like books that make me feel good.
But I also like books that make me go hmmmmm…

Lauren really is an interesting character. She’s not super-likable since she’s so strong and not very relatable. Her physical empathy is her only weakness. But it’s awesome to imagine that a woman could have so much strength and hope—could so firmly believe that she has the power to push back against horrific circumstances—in a world that is out to get her at every moment.

And it’s interesting to consider what this book is saying about the current state of our world. We’re abusing our natural resources. We’re not solving race issues. Our authorities don’t always have our best interest in mind. Slavery still exists. We aren’t really handling the drug problem. We may be first world, but our problems are serious.

The thing is, human life as a whole is getting better. It might not seem like it, but it’s true. And things might collapse before they get even better than this, but I think they will. I believe as Lauren does that humanity will keep springing up anew for many many years to come, especially if people hold onto hope and believe in themselves. New worlds are possible, and our will to survive runs deep. Humanity’s worst enemy is itself. Isn’t that strange? We’re so intelligent and yet so irrational. There are no monsters in this book. There’s no bad guy. And yet every person in it is a potential monster or bad guy. It’s too realistic for comfort.

See all my book reviews on Goodreads.

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Why I Wrote an Article for Wikipedia (and You Should, Too)

I’m happy to announce that my first Wikipedia page is now out in the wild. I am not going to mention it by name in text for the sake of protecting my identity, but you can see it in the screenshot below and then go find it, if you’re interested. As of this writing, the page hasn’t changed much since I wrote it. It received a rather poor rating from the mods, and I’m not entirely sure why yet, but I am proud of it anyway.

Wikipedia article screenshot

So why did I decide to write a Wikipedia article? I had never heard of the subject of my article before I picked her somewhat randomly from a list of redlinks (missing articles). I was certainly not an expert on her. I don’t believe I’m an expert on anything, because even though I read a lot, I have a terrible memory. I get my facts pretty crooked, unless they’re related to Star Wars.

But I learned how to do research in the third grade. And I needed this little confidence boost of feeling like I’d contributed something concrete to the world, however small. Strange that digital things can feel concrete, isn’t it? And the #1 reason that I decided to write an article for Wikipedia is:

90% of Wikipedia contributors are men.

I wanted to become a Wikipedia contributor to help tip that balance a little. It took me an embarrassingly long time to put this one article together, but I want to push myself to keep contributing occasionally to Wikipedia, both writing articles and editing existing articles. Wikipedia is largely written by and about men, so there’s a big need for articles to be written by and about women.

Wikipedia lists the following as reasons that fewer women contribute than men (source: Gender Bias on Wikipedia):

  1. A lack of user-friendliness in the editing interface
  2. Not having enough free time
  3. A lack of self-confidence
  4. Aversion to conflict and an unwillingness to participate in lengthy edit wars
  5. Belief that their contributions are too likely to be reverted or deleted
  6. Some find its overall atmosphere misogynistic
  7. Wikipedia culture is sexual in ways they find off-putting
  8. Being addressed as male is off-putting to women whose primary language has grammatical gender
  9. Fewer opportunities than other sites for social relationships and a welcoming tone

Another reason cited in the article is Wikipedia’s failure to attract female editors.

So far, I haven’t really interacted with the Wikipedia community, so I can’t speak to what it’s like. My plan right now is to keep to myself, but maybe some day I’ll be confident and involved enough to want to join the fray. The threat of online harassment is definitely off-putting, but I think it’s an issue no matter what forum you enter online — even among family and friends on Facebook! It’s more damaging in some forums than on others though, and it’s weird to join an established community with nothing but your words to represent you.

As far as the interface, I didn’t find it too difficult since I have a background in web design & development. In fact, I thought learning and using the markup was pretty fun. But I can see how it would be uninviting to many. I had to use Google to find the resources I needed, on Wikipedia, about editing Wikipedia—things like style, markup, formatting, citation. It was like there was too much information and no good way to navigate it.

But it’s a rewarding little challenge to step up and create something that could be useful to people. I would encourage all of my friends to give contributing a shot, especially the women. You don’t have to be an expert, you just have to be able to learn and follow the rules. I did 100% of my research online, so I was able to do it on my own time, from the comfort of home. I’m sure not all articles can or should be researched this way, but as long as the sources meet the criteria, it’s still better than if the Wikipedia article continued to not exist at all. If the powers that be decide that your sources or your writing suck, they can point it out and it can be fixed.

If you’re interested, here’s the list of redlinks where I found my subject. Poke around, maybe you’ll find someone who interests you. Join us! Everyone’s favorite encyclopedia could use your skills.