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Books read, late November

Light fortnight for books–partly because of one monstrosity, partly because of a disproportionate amount of manuscript reading.

Pamela Dean, The Dubious Hills. Reread. I got lured. Again. This is one of my best examples of a book that teaches you how to read it as you go. I love all three of the main children so much, Arry and Beldi and Con. I miss the days when Moo was sometimes like Con. I don’t miss them always. Just a little. And I love the things it does with doubt and certainty and relying on other people.

Kelly Link and Gavin Grant, eds., Monstrous Affections: An Anthology of Beastly Tales. Quite a few stories in this anthology worked particularly well for me. Holly Black’s “Ten Rules for Being an Intergalactic Smuggler (the Successful Kind)” is the kind of lighthearted space SF that makes me think that the old guard complaining how there just isn’t old school SF like there used to be just aren’t paying attention to the right areas. M.T. Anderson’s “Quick Hill” was a sad creepy march toward the inevitable. Nathan Ballingrud’s “The Diabolist” worked quite well for me as the portrait of a girl and her own, her father’s, and a town’s demons. Patrick Ness’s “This Whole Demoning Thing” made me suspect (in combination with Carrie Vaughn’s “The Girl Who Loved Shonen Knife” from Haikasoru’s recent Hanzai Japan) that I might have a previously unsuspected fondness for apocalyptic high school rock band stories. Sarah Rees Brennan’s “Wings in the Morning” was the kind of teen relationship crack that she peddles so well–I could see the emotional buttons she was pushing, and that did not make them pushed any less effectively.  Also, harpies. Also, self-acceptance. Also, harpies. Finally, the volume closed with Alice Sola Kim’s “Mothers, Lock Up Your Daughters Because They Are Terrifying,” which was a lovely examination of extra-dimensional alien who even knows what ghost things and adoption and three very different girls and their friendship. I loved it. I want more like it. I mean, also, look at the title. Just look at it. If you think “meh,” then maybe that is an accurate meh for you, but: that title, oh, oh.

Fiona MacCarthy, The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination. Aaaaaand this was the monstrosity. So much Burne-Jones. So. Very. Much. How many times can one woman exclaim, “Shut up, John Ruskin”? Let’s find out! I said. I am not as much a fan of Burne-Jones as I am of William Morris, and let’s find out why! I said. MacCarthy is an affectionate but not blinkered biographer. She is reasonably sensitive to the women in Burne-Jones’ life but does not (sometimes alas!) let them take over his biography. This is a thorough ramble through Victorian England, where everyone appears to be related to everyone else, or if not (Paderewski came over from Poland and could not be expected to be everyone’s cousin) at least ran into them in the street. Quite a few moments of wanting to kick Rossetti.  It’s briskly written, fun to read, but you can look up and a hundred pages have passed and there’s still more of it. It’s a commitment, is what. But I would seek out more MacCarthy, and if you’re interested in the Pre-Raphaelites, I would recommend it for sure. Even if you’re only interested in the period.

Anne Sexton, The Complete Poems. Reread. This was the strangest experience. I remember loving Anne Sexton the first time around, and I honestly cannot point to more than one poem I loved or even liked all that much this time. I have a really strong sense of continuity of self. Usually even when I don’t still love things now, I can say why I did then. And I can’t even point to which ones I used to like. It’s baffling, disorienting. I know what year I read this originally–2002, it’s in my booklog–and other things from 2002 are explicable if not still loved. Honestly, no idea.

Amy Stewart, Girl Waits With Gun. A brisk, fun novelization of the story of one of America’s earliest women crime fighters. A run-in with a thug that ruins their buggy sets Constance on a path to law enforcement–since heaven knows it isn’t being enforced without her. Brave, stubborn heroine; quick read.

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