Lesley Nneka Arimah, What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky. This is a collection of stories that draw on Arimah’s two-cultures experiences. The prose is lovely, and there’s a forthrightness to the endings, a certain “I said what I said,” and if you missed it, go back a bit.
Michael Bazzett, trans., The Popol Vuh. I’m on an epics kick, and watching the paired heroes and the other cultural assumptions that were like some of the other American origin epics I’d read, and not like many of the European origin epics I’d read, was fun. And also seeing the original (…or at least its translated form) of some of the Land of the Dead things I’ve seen reflected elsewhere was good.
Samuel Delany, Babel-17. Reread. Nearly a hundred years ago people started thinking, “…wait…so…we tell a computer things and it changes the world…how much are our brains like that?” and writing stories around the pendulum swing between “quite a bit like that actually” and “no not like that at all.” This is part of that pendulum, and there’s a great deal in it that has not aged well but you can see the places it was revolutionary when it was swinging.
Suzanne Desan, Reclaiming the Sacred: Lay Religion and Popular Politics in Revolutionary France. Lots of interesting stuff about religion and the average French peasant in the late 18th century. One of the things that I find fascinating is that the French Revolution changed a great deal about what the law said but changed very little about people’s sense that “the law” was whatever their moral sense aligned with; we have lots of examples of people before the Revolution firmly believing that of the King’s law, and just thereafter there are all sorts of examples of people believing it of the people’s law. On basically no evidence. It…tracks interestingly to some modern assertions, is what I’m saying.
Theresa Earenfight, The King’s Other Body: Maria of Castile and the Crown of Aragon. This is another example of history being more dimensional than it gets credit for: there was more than a century in which Queen-Lieutenancy, in which a substantial fraction of the powers of kingship were explicitly delegated to the queen for specific geographic areas and in which her word was the king’s word and her body the king’s body while he was off doing something else, usually in Italy, sometimes elsewhere in Spain. Seven different Queens of Aragon served as Queen-Lieutenants. Once you start talking about all the exceptions to the flattened-out views of medieval womanhood you are left with nothing. Maria of Castile sat her brother, her brother-in-law, and her husband down and said, sort your shit, my dudes, because I’m not leaving this tent until you do. Maiden in a tower my entire ass. Please do write medieval European fantasy, people, because medieval Europe was varied and wild.
Winifred Holtby, Poor Caroline. Kindle. A novel from the early 1930s about a scam company to make Christian films for the British public and all the ways different people got caught up in it. Probably my least favorite Holtby so far, with some of the cast of characters not quite landing. I think they were supposed to be flawed and human and generally get our sympathy, but the degree to which that worked on me varied quite a great deal: the guy who wanted his kid to be able to have a good life without having to pretend not to be Jewish got way more of my sympathy than most of the others, for example. (Good job insisting that the shop clerks should have names, Jewish guy who loves his son. Come hang out with my friends, who like it when people get to have their own names and religions, it’s this weird thing we have.) She was aimed at “look how screwed up motives can still work out all right,” I think, and…okay? but also? eh? I don’t know, go read one of the others maybe instead.
Janet Kagan, Hellspark. Reread. For my translation panel, alongside several others on this list. Better with body language than really just about anything.
Mohja Kahf, E-mails from Scheherazad. Two-cultures poems, a series of evolving meditations on wearing hijab in the US included. One of the interesting things to me is how the connotative meaning of email evolved from when she published this volume twenty years ago (new! modern! high-tech!) to now (formal! established!).
Ann Leckie, Ancillary Mercy (reread) and Translation State. The stunning conclusion of the Ancillary series was one I really liked for how it let people take the brunt of their own behavior on their own shoulders and also make something better from what they’d been given. I thought I wanted more Presger Translator, which Translation State gave me, but I feel like I’m in a strange intermediate state of having too much or not enough of how that’s working now. Maybe more coming? maybe? one can hope.
Arkady Martine, Rose/House. Robot house sentient murder Gothic contemporary architecture yay. No I am not more coherent about this novella than that.
Abbey Mei Otis, Alien Virus Love Disaster: Stories. This is one of those collections of short stories that’s like realizing that the kid who’s been messing around in the trash has actually been building really stunning things out of the gum wrappers. Also they are still gum wrappers and still covered in really gross stuff. So yeah, this is not for the faint of heart, it is not a collection that wants you to feel nice.
Andrew Rabin, Crime and Punishment in Anglo-Saxon England. Sorting out a lot of Norse and Roman and Celtic influences in the law code in this era, good stuff if you know pieces of that and are not clear on which of them are contributing to what.
Mark Russell and Mike Feehan, Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles. What a thing to do, oh my goodness what a thing to do. This is a comic that places a great many of the Hanna-Barbera characters from the mid-century at the heart of the HUAC investigations of theater and literary communities. What if Snagglepuss, Huckleberry Hound, and Quickdraw McGraw were gay and tangled up in all of that. Squiddly Diddly, Augie Doggie, all of them. The art style is on that line between realism and cartoons, with their sad and tired faces, and they interact with humans (including the real artists involved), and it’s heartbreaking and weird and asks a lot of questions about what we’re doing with this stuff and why. It’s one of those things where, if the pitch appeals, the thing will probably appeal, it absolutely nails this strange and wonderful thing, but if the pitch does not appeal, keep going, it’s probably not for you.
Mark Santiago, A Bad Peace and a Good War: Spain and the Mescalero Apache Uprising of 1795-1799. This is a moderately interesting book if you like learning more about colonial periods. It’s quite good at distinguishing among the interests of different Apache and related groups and not treating them as a monolith.
Meg Shaffer, The Wishing Game. A mainstream adult novel that is a love letter to children’s fantasies. The strange thing about this book is that most of the choices have already been made before the main action of the book starts, but I still found it really pleasant to watch it unfold. It is a nice book in which nice things happen to nice people, and it is chock full of references to children’s books I like.
Noel Streatfeild, I Ordered a Table for Six. Kindle. This is a World War II novel published during the war, and the difference between it and the previous adult novel of hers I read is striking: she’s trying to make deaths in war meaningful by fiat here in a way that she did not feel she could or had to do in the interwar period. I find it less successful but still a reasonable read most of the way through.
Emma Törzs, Ink Blood Sister Scribe. This was extremely engaging and well-structured, and while I could indeed strategically put it down to do useful life tasks, I kept thinking about it throughout. The betrayals and double-crosses, the travel and books and weather and relationships…it all came through so vividly. I loved this.