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Books read, early September.

W. H. Auden, Complete Works: Prose Vol. 3, 1949-1955. This is another volume of random essays and introductions, hundreds and hundreds of pages of them, and I after the first hundred pages I started thinking of it as Uncle Wystan Is Wrong About Stuff. He was also sometimes right about stuff, but honestly it was very much like reading blog posts from an uncle of whom you are fond and with whom you have a great deal in common…and who manages to get the wrong end of the stick about alllll sorts of things. But not Lord of the Rings. So that’s good. Seriously, I only recommend these volumes to die-hard Auden partisans, and apparently that’s me now. Even when he’s zany and wrong, I just love him. And he is often zany and wrong, and really, who among us would be loved if we were only loved for never being zany and wrong? But this is a lot of Auden even for me. I will want a bit of a break before I go looking for Vol. 4.

David Byrne, How Music Works. Yes, that David Byrne. I picked this book up because I had a song in my head, and I hoped that lengthy exposure to David Byrne blathering about process would dislodge it. And it did. (Whether I ever get “And She Was” out of my head is another question.) Seriously, David Byrne is such a process nerd. Some of the process nerdery in this book is only peripherally related to music, and he sort of bounces around through a lot of stuff, but that’s all right.

Neil Clarke and Sean Wallace, eds., Clarkesworld Year Four. I make a policy of not reviewing books I’m in, so I will just note: hey! This exists! I’m in it! I read the bits of it I didn’t write!

Stacy A. Cordery, Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker. I would like more books about behind-the-scenes politicians, including/especially the women of Washington. Cordery doesn’t idealize ARL, but I think there are a few places where she lets her (and other people!) off too easily. Particularly ARL’s involvement with America First: Cordery seems to think that saying, “I’m not anti-Semitic, but…” deserves the response, “Oh, okay, you’re not anti-Semitic! I’m glad you cleared that up, then! Other remarks you’ve made and actions you’ve taken regarding Jewish people notwithstanding!” The fact that people of the time were saying things like, “Well, Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter couldn’t be involved with anything bad, so this group must not do anything bad!” is not what we would call solid evidence of anything except people’s attachment to TR. I feel like in different hands, ARL’s biography could easily have been a case study of the deterioration of the Progressive movement in the Republican party in a very personal nutshell, but that’s not what Cordery chose to do, and ARL was still interesting to read about.

Molly Caldwell Crosby, The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic That Shaped Our History. I was hoping for a more comprehensive history of yellow fever in the US. (I would have been even happier with a more comprehensive history of yellow fever worldwide! But the title did not promise that.) Instead, Crosby grazes over much of the disease’s early history, even though it was highly influential and fascinating, and focuses on the late 19th and early 20th century. Which was also interesting! I know a great deal more about Walter Reed and early consent forms for experimental procedures than I did before. So that was good. But the focus is somewhat narrower than the title promises.

Candas Jane Dorsey, Black Wine. Reread. I think when I first read this, I didn’t realize how little servanthood and slavery are handled in fantasy. This is very much an adult precursor to what Ursula LeGuin was doing in her brilliant Annals of the Western Shore, and I mean adult in the real ways as well as the euphemistic ways.

M.F.K. Fisher, How to Cook a Wolf. A food writer takes on rationing and shortage in elegant funny essays. Which foods are considered standard and obvious and basic has changed so much since she wrote this, but her attitudes about balance and meals are pretty darn modern. Definitely worth the short time it takes to read.

Tom Holland, Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic. Well, sort of what it says on the tin, but I think I wanted more of a cultural history than this was. Still, part of the gap in my understanding has been plugged, and there were a few funny bits.

Frederik Pohl, Gateway. Reread. One thing I had forgotten from the first time I read this book (back when I was in college) is how much Pohl incorporated gay men into the fabric of this world. This book is older than I am! And by the time I read it, the fact that some people in it were gay was really not a thing–except that coming up with other examples of SF that do the same thing is not as easy as it should be if it’s “really not a thing.” The narrator is a masterful FPA point-of-view–that’s First Person Asshole, for those of you playing along at home. He thrashes. He wails. He theorizes in obnoxious ways about women and AIs and society in general. He is not a pleasant guy. But the setup is pretty darn cool, and he is a fairly well-drawn FPA.

Tamara Ramsay, Rennefarre: Dott’s Wonderful Travels and Adventures. This is a translation of a mid-century German children’s book that’s apparently considered a classic in Germany. It reminds me substantially of Selma Lagerlof–definitely influenced by The Wonderful Adventures of Nils–but very, very, very German. However, considering that it was written (though not published) in the middle of WWII, it was extremely and daringly political, including all kinds of Germans and not merely an Aryanized ideal. I wouldn’t give this to my nieces or my godkids, not because it was offensive but just because I don’t think they’d like it that much, but I might well recommend it to a children’s lit prof. If, y’know. There happened to be anyone like that reading.

Greg Rucka, Patriot Acts. This is deep in the Atticus Kodiak series. I think it’s a fun political/violent thriller, worth reading, but I wouldn’t start here. If you like Atticus, you’ll know it before this book; starting with this one will make you miss several of the important emotional cues.

Peter Seymour, ed., The West That Was: A Nostalgic Collection of Writings and Pictures Recalling the Authentic American West of a Century and More Ago. Grandpa’s. This book walked a very fine line that fascinated me. I don’t think a book about the American West would be nearly so explicitly nostalgic if it was sold today. On the other hand, this book included laudatory stories of women, African-Americans, and Native Americans, so the nostalgic sensibility went in directions I didn’t quite expect. (No Asian-Americans, however. Apparently those railroads just build themselves.) I am not at all nostalgic about the American West, so I started adding “or dead” mentally at every turn: “The West! Where the white women were strong, or dead! The white men were keen-eyed, or dead! The Native Americans of both sexes were noble, or dead! The African-American men [no women, obv] were fearless, or dead!” Seriously, it’s not a bad work of its kind, it’s just that I grew up after “cowboys and Indians” was a thing small children were encouraged to play as an idealized form.

Jonathan Strahan, ed., Under My Hat: Tales from the Cauldron. A highly variable collection. Some of the stories barely functioned as stories at all, though the prose level was consistently high, while others were thoughtful and delightful. The two stand-out works for me were Garth Nix’s “A Handful of Ashes,” which dealt with class issues in an intriguing and powerful way, and Ellen Klages’s “The Education of a Witch,” which applied Klages’s usual eye for telling mid-20th century detail and the child’s perspective to the topic of the anthology with a fusion that worked beautifully.

Charles Stross, Neptune’s Brood. Did you like Debt? So did Stross! Here is some mermaid SF inspired by a combination of Debt and FTL extrapolation! Seriously, that’s what it is, with the mermaid part fairly minimal. If you don’t like mermaids, you still might like this book. If you don’t like SF, lightspeed ponderings, or debt economics, you probably won’t. Looks to me like Stross was out to prove that economic science fiction is not the dismal science fiction. Not my favorite of his, but fun.

Jean-Christophe Valtat, Aurorarama. Magical realism of the far north. The cover has an airship and a polar bear on it, and it is an accurate cover. I am so easily bought sometimes. Polar bears are enough to do the trick. I needed a wintry book, and this is one. It reminded me a bit of The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, but while it had plenty of darkness in it, it was not nearly so grim as that. Which for me is a good thing.

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