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Books read, early November

Peter Arnade, Beggars, Iconoclasts, and Civic Patriots: The Political Culture of the Dutch Revolt. Lots of things about going smash against the Spanish in the 16th century, mostly, although extending around it. Fun bits of culture clash where the Spanish are baffled by the Low Countries and vice versa. Their women! Their literacy!  Yyyyes, excellent. A bit of a specialist volume, but interesting for that.

Holly Black, The Poison Eaters and Other Stories. I have enjoyed some of Black’s novels, and others have just not really hit me well. Apparently I appreciate her much more at shorter lengths. I’m motivated to get the novel version of “The Coldest Girl in Coldtown” just to compare, because I thought that the short version did an excellent job with the gaps between our perceptions of other people and their reality. And so did a later story in the volume, “Paper Cuts Scissors,” which had lovely library imagery as well, even though I am a tough sell on library stories–in fact the stories I liked most were the ones I would have expected to be a tough sell on–so in general I will keep looking for Black’s short fiction from here on out.

Nadia Bolz-Weber, Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People. I suspect that Bolz-Weber’s book will resonate most with those who are most aligned with an organized church. They will probably feel rueful about themselves in spots, supported in spots, nudged in spots. A lot of the places where Bolz-Weber says “we,” though about what we expect, what we want, what we do…become less applicable the less aligned you are with a formal and hierarchical church. If you are not aligned with organized Christianity at all, this is not the book for you, I don’t think.

Vera Brosgol, Anya’s Ghost. This is one of the places where my status as a non-visual person really limits my interactions with the comics medium, because for me this was just a random ghost story, pretty well-done but not amazing, and the art also being pretty well-done was not that big a draw. For others it will probably be more so. (I was reading comics recommended to me as possible Christmas presents for a few people on my shopping list. Not, alas, successfully, but also not painfully.)

Kurt Busiek & Benjamin Dewey with Jordie Bellaire and Comicraft, The Autumnlands Vol. 1: Tooth and Claw. This comic mostly has anthropomorphic animals as characters, but the champion who is summoned is a human. And I’m done; I hate that. Humans are the special ones! What about badgers? I ask you. Some beautiful landscape pictures here, but: there are venomous shrews in the world. Echidnas. And yet the human has to be the chosen one? Get away from me, book with pretty landscapes.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Beautiful Struggle. A memoir of his family and their setting. I found it to be a fast and compelling read that gave a very different personal context than I’d had access to before. Worth the time for sure.

Pamela Dean, Tam Lin. Reread. Yes, I know, but I gave it to a friend to read and we were talking about it and I got lured. This time one of the tiny points that hit me that was different, being at a small private Minnesota liberal arts college in the early ’70s vs. the late ’90s: being “on financial aid” and having an on-campus job was a specific thing, not just, like…life for every single person you knew except literally one. I have no idea how many times I’ve read this book, and I love some of the same things every time, and yet there’s always something different.

Barry Deutsch, Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword. Quite a focus on the Orthodox Jewish culture of the setting, so if you know someone who wants to see themselves in such a heroine and/or would like to learn about that culture, here is a way. I didn’t find the action plot to be very well-paced, and it felt a bit preachy about skills/values in the resolution, but not offensively so.

Peter Haining, ed., Time Travelers: Fiction in the Fourth Dimension. This book…someone picked it up randomly ages ago, and I can’t put “reread” because it’s not in my booklog. In fact I’m not sure any of us ever read it. I think it might just have accompanied us around from apartment to apartment to house, looking like the sort of thing we might like. Which it is not. It is from 1997. I remember 1997. Women had been invented then; I remember specifically having been invented then. You would not know it from this hostile, smug book, where women are not only not authors but also substantially not protagonists, not anything really in most of the stories but dizzy objects, prizes. And the time through which these men’s thoughts traveled–all of time, all of space in most cases–was so damnably small. These were the sorts of stories that would have made me write The Stuff We Don’t Do in a fury if I hadn’t already written it, so it was a relief that I already had, because I was busy that week. And no. Just no. At least we can stop hauling this book around with us. Uff da.

Derek Kirk Kim and Jesse Hamm, Good As Lily. It felt like the title wasn’t adjusted after the comic evolved. Still: teenager has to deal with different ages of herself, hijinks ensue. Good enough that I reached for the next DKK thing on my library pile.

Derek Kirk Kim, Same Difference. Friends figuring out an interpersonal minor mystery of sorts. Mostly friend interaction of a young adult sort. Entertaining and light.

Hope Larson, Gray Horses. Slightly surreal bilingual foreign exchange student comic. Pretty but not as insightful as I had hoped.

Wallace J. Nichols, Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do. Ask me if I was actually surprised. Oh, just ask me. There is some actual science here confirming that my habit of finding water and walking near it is very sensible and healthy. There is also a near-epic amount of woo, some of it in evo-devo directions, so…handle with care.

Karen Russell, Swamplandia! Unlike Russell’s short story collection, this is more grounded-weird than way-out-weird. Grounded weird is enough: it is set in Florida. It’s the story of a family of teenagers who have lost their mother and are figuring out which parts of their world were real without her and which were a collective delusion. The alligator wrestling is entirely real. Much of the stuff around it…well, that’s the book. Beautifully written, much to enjoy without the way-out-ness. Very well-characterized. I am a Karen Russell convert.

Brian K. Vaughan, Adrian Alphona, and Takeshi Miyazawa, Runaways: The Complete Collection Volume Two. More of the same, more or less, without quite so many of the original characters, with more crossovery characters. This is not improving, but I still like some of the original “your parents are supervillains and you run off to do better” premise enough that I’m still with it, but I probably won’t stick with it to the bitter end.

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