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Books read, early November

Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog. French novel in translation; the title is the best of it. It has some lovely moments of disaffected youth and secretive age, but the ending was wholly unsatisfying in ways that would be a giant spoiler. Suffice it to say that I could go without seeing this form of ending ever again in my life and it would still be too soon.

Lauren Beukes, Moxyland. This is really really a cyberpunk novel. It’s from this millennium. And it’s a cyberpunk novel. I…like the occasional cyberpunk novel. But it’s confusing to still find them. The tech ideas were fun, but I didn’t feel like the plot/character arcs quite did enough in the end. Still worth a read if you like cyberpunk.

David Browne, Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY, and the Lost Story of 1970. A history of white men making music in 1970. Lots of interesting and funny tidbits, particularly if you’re familiar with the music in question. Very weird, though, that in 1970 of all years, women and black people were treated as peripheral in music, as sidekicks or who knows what. But the white dudes were doing enough interesting stuff for a book, so okay, cool.

Thomas M. Coffey, Decision Over Schweinfurt: The US 8th Air Force Battle for Daylight Bombing. Grandpa’s. This is a very straightforward European theater account. It’s got a narrow enough focus that I expect it won’t be of great general interest, but what it’s doing, it does reasonably well.

M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating. I had already read the sections of this omnibus that I liked best, but Fisher is always interesting, and if you haven’t read any of her work, this has some very good stuff in it.

John M. Ford, Growing Up Weightless. Reread. This is the first time I’ve been able to reread this since Mike died. I still love it. I still find the quantum superposition of angry teen perspective and parent perspective amazing. And the friend relationships, oh, oh. I could read it again right now just for those.

Nancy Goldstone, The Lady Queen: The Notorious Reign of Joanna I, Queen of Naples, Jerusalem, and Sicily. The title of this book will probably sell more books, but honestly, she was just not that notorious, at least not to the hand-rubbing evil level. Very interesting slice of history I have mostly neglected, and it included Hungarian stuff the way British history includes French stuff: throughout, as an essential part, because the kingdoms were so intertwined. Another piece of the puzzle.

David G. Hartwell and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, eds., Twenty-First Century Science Fiction. I follow a policy of not reviewing things I’m in, because it feels tacky. But this exists, and I’m in it, and lots of other cool people are in it. In case you were wondering.

Steven H. Jaffe, New York At War: Four Centuries of Combat, Fear, and Intrigue in Gotham. Pretty much what it says on the tin. Interesting, fast read, not earth-shaking.

Alethea Kontis, Enchanted. I was so relieved to start reading this book. I had had a run of really bad library books, one after another, and I was bouncing off them like a kid in a blow-up castle. And then there was Enchanted, and I started into the first chapter and just went, “ahhhhh,” and my shoulders went down a notch and yeah. There’s a lot of stuff in one small book here–occasionally a bit too much stuff–but it was just the right thing to read that day, and I expect it will be just the right thing to read again on other days when I could use a good fairy tale or twelve.

Jill Lepore, Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin and The Name of War; King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity and also The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle Over American History. I discovered Jill Lepore with the first of these volumes and immediately demanded that the library supply me with everything else of hers they had. The Jane Franklin book was a fascinating angle on the period. I don’t actually recommend the Tea Party book unless you’re feeling the need to have your blood boil in particular ways, because the modern stuff is annoying without being new, and the insights into the actual Revolutionary War are similar to those in the Franklin book, which is much more worth the time. As for King Philip’s War, maybe I would have known more about it going in if I’d been from the Northeastern US, but as it was this volume filled in information I didn’t know I needed. One of the things about Jill Lepore is–you know when you’re reading history, and sometimes you stop and go, “Aughhhh how can historians deal with this stuff without getting so angry?” Jill Lepore gets angry. Jill Lepore is fierce. I will be getting more of her stuff. New favorite historian of US stuff, hurrah.

Miyuki Miyabe The Book of Heroes. Described to me as a Japanese YA portal fantasy. The world of the portal is not nearly so thoroughly-realized as I tend to think of for that description–it’s more a bubble universe, a side universe, something. I was reminded of The Phantom Tollbooth and Haroun and the Sea of Stories–this wasn’t quite so language-focused (and a good thing, too, since I was reading it in translation) but had a similar level of realization to the worlds visited. Pacing would have confused the heck out of me if this was my first Japanese novel ever, but it wasn’t, so: the beginning will last much longer than Anglophone conventions would lead a person to expect. Just FYI.

Issui Ogawa, The Lord of the Sands of Time. If Olaf Stapledon was Japanese, this would be the book he would write. It’s a millennia-spanning time-travel AI/aliens thing that does a lot of stuff Anglophone SF never really got interested in doing much of. And by the time you think you might get tired of that thing it’s doing, it’s done.

Seth Rosenfeld, Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power. Not the most pleasant book I read this fortnight, but exceptionally well done. Rosenfeld has been battling using the FoIA as his weapon to get the documentation for this book. It’s not shocking per se, but there are some things I did not know in specific (or did not know where to get the documentation for). Rosenfeld does not make the mistake of attempting to portray the student radical leaders as saints or their demonstrations as model behavior at every turn, but he also doesn’t twist the available data out of shape in an effort to make it look like a “both sides are equally flawed” question (it’s the word “equally” that often leads people astray). Important stuff.

S. E. Smith, The United States Marine Corps in World War II: Vol. I: Beginning’s End. Grandpa’s. A set of first-person accounts from Marines serving in early Pacific theater battles. For some reason I didn’t realize that it would be all first-person, and the variety of voice is charming (inasmuch as anything with this particular context can be called charming). I’m looking forward to Vols. 2 and 3.

Robert C. Wilson, Burning Paradise. Discussed elsewhere.

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