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Books read, early November

Megan Abbott, You Will Know Me. This…might not have been the best time for me to read a noir novel. It’s quite well done, and I’m not taking Abbott’s other books off my library list. But there is nobody whose age is in the double digits who is a kind and thoughtful person in this book; it is the story of how far a family is willing to go to preserve one member’s gymnastics career. It’s brutal in directions that we don’t often see people willing to be brutal in fiction.

Lloyd Alexander, Westmark, The Kestrel, and The Beggar Queen. Rereads. I have loved this series for thirty years. I see different things in it every time I reread it. On this reread–how circumscribed and how limited the hope. And yet hope. The image that accompanies the death of Stock the poet is one of the very specific images that has stuck with my very non-visual self. And this is where my button for barricades in fiction got installed. It still works on me. I think it always will. This time it struck me how fast people in this series fall in love and how matter of fact Alexander is about it: oh, he’s in love with her, she’s in love with him, yep, that’s what’s going on, no need to beat around the bush. Okay.

Karen Babine, Water and What We Know: Following the Roots of a Northern Life. These essays. Wow. This is…this is one of the books that speaks very well for me in many of its parts. We have several things in common, Babine and me. I was not expecting the chapter on the Red River flood to segue into her showing up on the Gustavus campus post-tornado. That was a little close to home. I cried. Highly recommended even for people who are not me, though.

John Bierhorst, The Mythology of Mexico and Central America.This is not a compilation of myths but a discussion of their patterns, and of how scholars figure out which regions share similar myth structures, which are culturally quite different. It’s one in a series of three, with North and South America each getting their volume. You can tell that Mesoamerica is where Bierhorst’s heart lies, though; he goes into more detail here and also puts some parts of Mexico in with North America and some parts of Central America in with South America. As if he didn’t have enough to cover in those entire continents.

Alan Bradley, Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d. The most recent Flavia de Luce mystery. Not enough chemistry in this one, and not enough character development–he’s picking up the arc after what could have been a firm series ending, and the developments he’s throwing in feel a bit forced. Flavia is still a fun detective narrator, but this is not the peak of the series. If you only read one, don’t let it be this one.

Mikiso Hane, Peasants, Rebels, and Outcastes: The Underside of Modern Japan. This is the meaning of  “modern” that is not contemporary, and it is focused mainly on the countryside. With those caveats, it’s an interesting book–talking about the roles of women in rural Japan, family relationships, farming, village life, ethnicity formation within a genetically non-distinct group, all sorts of things.

Nalo Hopkinson and Kristine Ong Muslim, eds., Lightspeed: People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction. A strong collection of fiction here. The reprints were almost all things I had liked before, which would be frustrating if I wasn’t aware that I’m not the main audience for that sort of thing–and there is a main audience that will benefit from having things like Octavia Butler’s “The Evening and the Morning and the Night,” which is one of my favorite stories of all time. Standout new work included Karin Lowachee’s “A Good Home,” Gabriela Santiago’s “As Long As It Takes to Make the World,” and S. B. Divya’s “Binaries.” The nonfiction and personal essays were also interesting, and the art gallery was a lovely touch (well done, Kickstarter). A valuable collection.

Charles Johnson, Dab Neeg Hmoob: Myths, Legends, and Folk Tales from the Hmong of Laos. This is extensively scholarly, with each tale told in both Hmong and English, in two aligned columns so that you could compare the translation if you spoke Hmong, plus pages of endnotes for most stories. Some of the notes are things that are kind of basic, but that’s needed in the context of an ethnic group where every single book seems to start with “the Hmong: who the heck are they anyway”–even if I’m not the target for that sort of thing and find it a bit frustrating.

Barbara Alice Mann, Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas. I wanted to love this, but I don’t find Mann reliable. She would probably say that’s because I have a Eurocentric focus, and that may be true. But it’s also true that she’s willing to belittle other Native/First Nations people and use wrong ethnic terms for them if they disagree with her, and to denigrate women from European cultures in terms that smear all cultural distinctions together. So…which parts of what she says about Iroquoian women are true? Hard for me to say, when she’s willing to do that sort of thing. Also, for a book that was supposedly about Iroquoian women, quite a lot of it was dedicated to rants about European men. I can read other books about European men, so that made it less useful to me.

Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric. A series of prose poems about Rankine’s lived experience as a Black woman in America. They very effectively sum in a way that microaggressions and racist encounters also sum, showing how one incident could be nothing but all of them together are a great burden. Interesting stuff.

Salman Rushdie, The Enchantress of Florence. I have loved a Rushdie book, but it was Haroun and the Sea of Stories, which is a bit of an outlier. This was not something I loved. It was clever and reasonably entertaining but fairly cold in its character relations.

Rick Wilber, Alien Morning. Discussed elsewhere.

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