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Books read, late February

Michael Brotherton, ed., Science Fiction by Scientists. I make a policy of not reviewing books I’m in–I think it’s tacky–so I will simply note: this exists, I am in it, I read it.

A. S. Byatt, Peacock and Vine: On William Morris and Mariano Fortuny. This book is more a lavishly illustrated single essay, comparing and contrasting these two artists and craftsmen. We get some satisfying thundery cranky William Morris letter quotes along the way, and a few of Byatt’s thoughts about creating things. Over before you can get tired of it.

Kevin Coval, Quraysh Ali Lansana, and Nate Marshall, eds., The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop. In the introduction, the editors note that people who are not steeped in hip-hop culture will have several of the references in these poems go right past them, and I can verify this to be true, as I am not, in fact, steeped in hip-hop culture. But that’s not a reason not to read the book. Not every poem is like that, and trying to hear rhythms in the language and references in the mind that aren’t the same ones I would use is an interesting exercise.

Sesshu Foster, Atomik Aztex. This was hallucinatory and weird, and I’m glad I read it. One of the worlds in it is a world in which the Aztec Empire defeated the Spanish; the other is this world, in a meat-packing plant. Foster uses orthographic choices (less successful for me) and prose style choices (totally effective for me, especially the long walls of prose with no breaks, weirdly enough) to give an immersive effect of switching worlds within the protag’s own mind. What a strange book.

Reginald Hill, Death Comes for the Fat Man. Reread. This is part of my ongoing desultory chronological reread of the Dalziel and Pascoe series. This is one of my least favorites, as it is almost all Peter Pascoe, and Peter Pascoe is the least interesting character in the series to my way of thinking. Hill still manages to give us an interesting book centered on him, but gosh do I want more Dalziel back, more Wield, more Novello, more Ellie, more…not Peter, basically. I have hopes of reading the last few in this series in short order and then doing a post about reading order, because chronological is absolutely the wrong way to read this the first time through (but not bad the second). We’ll see.

Richard Hudelson and Carl Ross, By the Ore Docks: A Working People’s History of Duluth. Good: this book goes into white ethnicity in serious detail but does not neglect the non-white people who live and have lived in Duluth. It is a modern enough look that religious minorities and women also have places in this book as in fact they do in Duluth’s labor history, so good. Bad or at least weird: this is a history of only Duluth. Not the Iron Range, not the North Shore, not the shipping industry on the Great Lakes…and not Duluth as having a place in any of those. Not Duluth as a regional center. Just Duluth. If you think it’s pretty weird to try to write about labor in Duluth without shipping and timber, holy crud are you ever right. I’d really like to think that this book is therefore a starting but not a stopping point for knowing more about labor and class in northern Minnesota, but it’s a specialized enough topic that who knows what I’ll find. It wasn’t even a very long book, either. They could have gone out so far as Cloquet without making it a bugcrusher. (Sorry, at least half of you cannot hear my indignant Minnesota accent saying, “they could have gone out so far as Cloquet” in your heads, but the rest of you are probably snickering.)

James McGrath Morris, Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press. I knew nothing about Ethel Payne or Black journalism in the middle of the last century when I picked up this book. It is smoothly readable and very interesting but focuses pretty narrowly on Payne herself, with only peripheral mentions of other Black journalists and publications. Neat person, interesting to read about, but again the threads of “I want more” keep coming through.

Lola Robles, Monteverde: Memoirs of an Interstellar Linguist. I am a sucker for SF about alien cultures, and this is substantially descriptions of alien cultures. By the time you might think “should we have more plot to this,” it’s over, so–fast novella, definite positive buttons pressed for me and probably for some of you too. Lawrence Schimel translated it from Spanish in a way that preserved the headlong quality of the prose. All hail translators and the publishers willing to pay them.

Nisi Shawl, Filter House. This is strong and willing to go dark but not so dark that it puts my wimpy self off. I particularly appreciated the Detroit threads through the stories, having visited that part of Michigan a bit now and reading more about the Lake States as a region.

Rebecca Solnit, Men Explain Things To Me. Explorations of communications gone wrong. I suspect that a great many people argue with the title rather than Solnit’s actual arguments. This is a series of interesting essays, another one that is short enough that by the time you could start to get tired, it’s over.

Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. Kindle. Part of an ongoing conversation with a friend about nature writing past and present. The two of us put together were not half so impressed with Thoreau as Thoreau was with himself. You can pull some great lines out of this, but it takes some serious sifting. It’s fascinating to watch how Thoreau feels he needs to justify the endeavor of nature writing with classical references, and modern nature writers feel they need to justify the endeavor of nature writing with Thoreau. Still, more of interest in an ongoing study/conversation than generally recommended. To put it mildly.

A. C. Wise, The Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories. Lyrical and gorgeous, relationships beautifully done. I always feel nervous about the prospect of putting previously unpublished stories in a collection whenever I think of doing it myself, but Wise’s previously unpublished selections are gems I would have hated to miss.

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