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Books read, late February

Ben Barres, Autobiography of a Transgender Scientist. This is a very brief and to-the-point volume–although some of its points are kind of sideways from most people’s points, which is delightful. I could attribute this to the fact that Barres wrote it very quickly when he knew he was dying. But honestly it seems like that’s just how Barres was. He wanted to describe some fairly rare experiences he’d had and talk about how they extrapolate more broadly…but even more than that he wanted to give credit to junior scientists in his lab and talk about glial cells. Which I found charming and relatable.

Gwenda Bond, Girl on a Wire. Disclosure: I am not a sucker for circus stories. If anything, the opposite. I know some people find a tightrope walker main character to be an automatic yes, but I’m not in their number. However, the subtle magic and family dynamics of this book won me over fairly early. I found it to be a fun read even though balance is definitely not my forte.

Oyinkan Braithwaite, My Sister the Serial Killer. This is another brief fun read, although it’s very dark. The perspective character is a long-suffering elder sister who feels roped into her younger sister’s bad habit of killing her boyfriends. The characterization and the setting and basically the whole thing are vividly handled, but it’s not something you’re likely to find uplifting, if that’s what you’re looking for today.

Brendan Fletcher, Karl Kerschil, Becky Cloonan, Adam Archer, and Msassyk, Gotham Academy Second Semester Volume 2: The Ballad of Olive Silverlock. Frankly I’m glad they got this out of the way, because it’s a part of the story they were fairly clearly angling to tell for quite some time, and it was pretty cliched. There were a few fun moments, but basically I’m glad they got it out of their systems.

N.K. Jemisin, How Long ‘Til Black Future Month. Controversial opinion time: I think this is the best N.K. Jemisin book. It has emotional and tonal range, it has strong worldbuilding in tight quarters, and almost all of the stories are satisfying arcs in themselves, even when they take place in the same world as novels. The settings and themes vary widely and deftly. Unless someone absolutely hates short stories, this is such a great place to start someone on reading Jemisin’s work. Or to continue, if that’s where you are!

Kelly Jones, Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer. This is so charming. What a delight. Highly, highly recommended. My goddaughter has been talking about this book for years (which in her young life is a pretty high percentage of how long she’s been on the planet!), and I finally got a copy and it is so much fun. The chickens have superpowers. None of the superpowers are being human, though–they don’t talk, they don’t act like humans, they act like chickens. And the human girl who is raising them has to figure out what to do and how. She is amazing and I love her and I am getting the sequel stat.

Anna Meriano, Love Sugar Magic: A Sprinkle of Spirits. And speaking of middle-grade delight, this is the second one in a series. I would recommend reading the first one first, because there’s a lot of implication and ramification here, but that’s no hardship, since the first one is also delightful. A family of young Latina sisters doing baking magic! So much family! So much deliciousness! So much magic! This is exactly the sort of thing I like.

Gregory Rabassa, If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents: A Memoir. (I still do not know why he spelled discontents with a y.) He talks a bit about life as a translator and then goes into detailing his many projects and how they went, which is fairly interesting considering how much of magic realism he translated. This is very much a curmudgeon of 25 years ago, though, and I rolled my eyes a lot–at the bit where he claims there has to be a better word for a particular situation than homophobic but does not indicate the direction of his objection (YOU ARE THE TRANSLATOR SIR BETTER WORDS ARE YOUR JOB), the passage where he flags that where he says “he” you should think “he or she”…and then promptly uses “she” as the generic for copy editing because that is a girl job. Not cool, Rabassa. So really I recommend this if you’re particularly interested in translation or if you’re particularly interested in twentieth century writing in Spanish and Portuguese and how it got into English.

Susan Hand Shetterly, Seaweed Chronicles: A World at the Water’s Edge. This is a lot more about the human use and cultivation of seaweed than I was expecting/hoping, but it’s still a gentle, interesting book, and it’s not so long that you can really get tired of kelp. At least I couldn’t.

Erin Thompson, Possession: The Curious History of Private Collectors from Antiquity to the Present. I often describe nonfiction as doing what it says on the tin. This does considerably less than it says on the tin. It is extremely narrowly focused on collecting antiquities from Greece and Italy that were from the Greek and Roman Classical periods. There is a whole lot of interesting material about the psychology and history of collection that is immediately ruled out there. I think Thompson does a better job with this focus than she would if she was following a fairly common pattern of actually talking about this focus and then handwaving vaguely in the direction of Chinese or Mayan antiquities–much less modern “collectibles”–but it does make for a book that’s somewhat less interesting for me than if it had had a broader scope.

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