Posted on Leave a comment

Books read, late April

Gary Clayton Anderson and Alan R. Woolworth, eds., Through Dakota Eyes: Narrative Accounts of the Minnesota Indian War of 1862. One of the really great things about having an entirely Dakota account of this conflict, from a variety of sources, is that it makes clear what diversity of opinion and experience there was among the Dakota people, between different ages and sexes and bands and obvious demographics of that sort but also between individuals. Which is a very good thing indeed, always. It also made it clear what a terrible time mixed-race people had in this place and time, facing distrust and worse from both ethnic groups. I actually expected this book to be more depressing than it was–I think because many of the worst stories would have belonged to people who died in one way or another. Not that there wasn’t plenty that was sad here, and the measles epidemic at the end was pretty bad to be reading about right now in particular.

Marie Brennan, Within the Sanctuary of Wings. Discussed elsewhere.

Becky Chambers, A Closed and Common Orbit. One of the nicest science fiction books I have read in quite some time. It’s a semi-direct sequel to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, in that the events follow on immediately and feature some of the characters, but only some of them, and there are two parallel storylines that inform each other directly as two people learn how to person in full-on science fiction style. This is a good book to read when you feel terrible.

Dan Egan, The Death and Life of the Great Lakes. …and this is not a book to read when you feel terrible, especially when you have a deeply committed, lifelong, highly emotional relationship with one of the said Great Lakes. (If you are new here: Lake Superior. OBVIOUSLY.) I now know more about lampreys, alewives, quogga mussels, and a great many more things than I did before. I am glad to know it. I am not sorry I read this book. But oh lordy this book. Up side: there is a reason why life comes second in the title. It is trying to end on a hopeful note. Down side: I am aware of several of the topics he could have delved into and didn’t aaughhhhh. (But seriously, if you are from a lake state/province, read this book. If you are not from a lake state/province, probably read this book anyway. In conclusion: lakes.)

Ruthanna Emrys, Winter Tide. I critiqued this book in draft, and now it is a real live book. I am excited. I have been talking about this one for awhile, and now other people can too. Among other things I love about this book: it is so much easier not to let fantasy races stand in for human racial/ethnic/religious groups when the human racial/ethnic/religious groups are standing right there having their own perspective and history and opinions. Ruthanna’s cast is large for a reason: she is doing things with everyone, and they are not the things ol’ HP would have liked. Good. He’s not here, and we all are.

Masha Gessen, Where the Jews Aren’t: The Sad and Absurd Story of Birobidzhan, Russia’s Jewish Autonomous Region. This is short and a bit rambly and does not do entirely enough of what it says on the tin, about Jewish populations and migration and assimilation vs. not, but it’s interesting anyway.

Peter Godfrey-Smith, Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness. Lots of cool tidbits about the brains of other animals, particularly but not limited to octopus and their cousins. I like this sort of thing so much, but even if you don’t like it in general you might like this one; it is a pretty good example of its type.

Judith Herrin, Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire. Hint: only surprising if you were not paying that much attention. Sorry, there are lots of surprises available, it’s just that this is a generalist history; it is not where the surprises are to be found. It’s a good generalist history from what I, a non-Byzantinist, can tell–it feels like it hits the highlights of all the topics you would cover in detail if you were doing several courses on Byzantium. Like these are the bits you would have a vague memory of decades later if you didn’t tend to retain your courses all that well. Which is a decent way to start. If you’re hoping for more depth, go with something else she wrote, which is quite a lot really. There’s a lot of fun stuff here, just not quite enough of any of it.

Shirley Jackson, Let Me Tell You. Short stories of various kinds, personal essays, general stuff by Shirley Jackson. I really enjoyed this quite a lot. Some of it had not been published for decades, some not ever. The thing that kind of threw me was that it was her mimetic fiction and her thrillers and her fantastic fiction all jumbled together, so I was sometimes drastically misreading cues, and I would get to the end of a mimetic story and think, “And…they had an unhappy marriage? that was it? nobody killed anybody or was cast into the outer darkness or anything? oh.” Which does not make them bad mimetic stories, it was just that my reading protocols were wandering around quite a lot from story to story.

Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin, eds., The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories. Sometimes I read a book like this and think, what did I used to read? who was there? because so many of the best authors, the ones whose names I see and look forward to, are people I had not heard of twenty years ago, or even ten, or sometimes even five. This makes me happy and excited about the future. Lots and lots of stories that were positive stand-outs here: JY Yang’s “Glass Lights,” Helene Wecker’s “Majnun,” Maria Dahvana Headley’s “Black Powder,” Amal El-Mohtar’s “A Tale in Seven Birds,” Catherine Faris King’s “Queen of Sheba,” and Usman T. Malik’s “Emperors of Jinn.” See, and of those people, two of them I don’t think I have read before, and the other four I am saying, oh, and I loved their this, their that–and it is less than ten years old. Excited. If I had one complaint, it’s that the opening of the volume felt more uniform than it would later be. But not in a direction of badness, so…not even really a complaint, that.

Sofia Samatar, Tender. This is a book filled with stories that would be my favorites if they were published in other things. I know because many of them were my favorites when they were published in other things, so I don’t have to guess. But not everything here is something I’ve read before, and some of the new things remind me of the old things I liked but different and are paired with them, a new thing late in the volume reminding me of the one from LCRW…oh. Oh, I just like this, I’m so glad to have it.

Emily Skrutskie, The Abyss Surrounds Us. YA about genetically engineered battle sea monsters and the (violent, not happy fun fakey type) pirates involved with them. I wanted to love this, but there was too much girlfriend, not enough sea turtle for me, and also there should be at least one sea turtle book where the sea turtles are not drastically injured. It may just be me and Tim and our godson Rob who feel that way, but we feel that way very strongly. It is not Emily Skrutskie’s fault that we feel that way, and if you are wanting rising sea levels and battle turtles and teen love-angst, this has that. I just would like to have been able to say that no turtles were harmed in the plotting of this book, and welp.

Dava Sobel, The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars. This is a very straightforward book, first this thing, then that thing, then the other thing. And it is full of women doing astronomy, and I like that. It is not one of the tales of past science that comes with compelling narrative through-arc, so if you do not have at least a little of the same thoroughness that animated these ladies in your soul, it is perhaps not your book. But: first this variable star, and then another, and then a glass plate that might not have any at all, but look, it does. Yes. There. Good.

Bruce Sterling, Crystal Express. This is the sort of short story collection from my past that doesn’t make me baffled or sad at my past self, because I never adored it, it was sort of workmanlike, and it is now too, but…it is not enough really. It sits there with ideas that tried very hard and characters that did not quite get there, and if you are on an airplane or in a hotel somewhere you could do a lot worse than these stories but also generally better. They are not laughably bad, not shameful, not…anything that strong, really. They’re all right I guess. I think you can do better than all right I guess.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *