Books read, early April

Robert Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. This biography is nearly 1200 pages, and it took up a lot of my time and attention in early April. I picked it up hoping for interesting anecdotes that were not related to the current situation, for conversational diversions of the sort that start, “Did you know….” Unfortunately what I got was almost all of the format “did you know that Robert Moses was a jerk in the following way:” and after the first 200 pages or so, my near and dear had something of a rough outline if not all the details. I still feel that it was a really well done biography and worth reading if you’re interested in city planning and/or (metaphorical) trainwrecks. Caro managed to keep his eyes on the people Moses victimized and not get caught up in the perspective of his subject to the point of giving him a pass for terrible behavior–an accomplishment many biographers do not manage. But still, it was nearly 1200 pages of Oh Robert Moses No. So that’s…quite a thing.

K. Chess, Famous Men Who Never Lived. This is really good and I recommend it a lot. It’s a parallel universe story where a group of refugees from one parallel universe into another actually is treated like refugees, they have the problems with resettlement that real refugees have, in very interesting ways, including wanting to maintain their previous culture and not having good internal agreement on what the important facets of that culture are. This book features a fictional Golden Age science fiction novel that people have a very plausible range of emotional reactions to, from completely imprinting on it to finding it boring and pointless, and it works really well as the core of this book. It’s not at all like Susan Palwick’s The Necessary Beggar, but it also is a bit–they’re doing very different kinds of parallel universe–and I’m interested to have someone else pick up these themes and have a very different take on them that’s still so good.

Aliette de Bodard, The Dragon That Flew Out of the Sun. Kindle. Some of Aliette’s delightful short stories, collected previously for a Hugo packet and now sent to her mailing list. Such fun.

K. A. Doore, The Unconquered City. Discussed elsewhere.

Karen Joy Fowler, Black Glass. Reread. A short story collection ranging through Fowler’s many and varied strengths–literary forms, pop culture remix, definite genre influences, all present and accounted for beautifully.

Rachel Ingalls, Mrs. Caliban. This novella prefigures the Monster Boyfriend trend and does it far more literarily than some. The sex is inexorable but mild, and the aforementioned frog monster boyfriend is appealing as a conversationalist who actually bothers with the protagonist as a person. Unlike her husband. Then it all unravels in a spectacularly genre-literary kind of melodrama. Mid-century American Women’s Fiction, now with frog monsters, okay, yes. Good thing I had avocados in the house while reading this, there are a lot of avocados in the text, be forewarned. (Not in a gross way. They just eat avocados.)

R.B. Lemberg, The Four Profound Weaves. Discussed elsewhere.

Rose Macaulay, The Lee Shore. Kindle. Another of her early novels that isn’t quite like anything else. It’s full of familial loyalty and aesthetic longing and all sorts of other interesting things, and the place where it ends is profoundly unconvincing to me but feels like probably the best she could do with what experience she had; it is yet another book I enjoyed while reading it that made me want to use a time machine to kidnap Rose Macaulay and bring her to live among civilized people.

Troy L. Wiggins, DaVaun Sanders, and Brandon O’Brien, eds., Fiyah Issue 14. Kindle. This felt like one of the more even issues–one where I had trouble picking one story as standing out from the others for me–but I do continue to enjoy reading it regularly.

Cynthia Griffin Wolff, Emily Dickinson. This was the other large (not nearly so large) biography that took up a bunch of my time this fortnight, and I was frankly disappointed in it. Wolff decided after Dickinson’s mid-twenties that she didn’t want to do a biography, she wanted to do thematic criticism with some biographical elements. As a result, there are huge chunks of Dickinson’s life that are traceable but not traced by this book. There’s no coherence about which relationships overlapped in importance and influence. I’m not sure Wolff fully understands that there is such a thing as an intense friendship carried on substantially through text; as someone who finds those crucial, I had hoped to read a biography of someone else who clearly found those crucial, and instead I got a mishmash of thematic thoughts. So I guess I’ll be looking for another Dickinson bio.

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