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Books read, late July

Esther Allen and Susan Bernofsky, eds., In Translation: Translators on Their Work and What It Means. It’s possible that somewhere out there is a terrible book on translation that is poorly written and no fun to read. I have not found it yet. This isn’t it. This is a collection of essays that range from ethics to misfires to any number of other issues in the field of translation, and even when there were spots when I wanted to argue with somebody, it was generally in a thoughtful and productive way.

Patrice Caldwell, ed., A Phoenix First Must Burn. This is one of the best anthologies I’ve read in recent years. There were stand-out stories but the entire thing was fun and exciting to read. My favorites included “Gilded” by Elizabeth Acevedo, “Wherein Abigail Fields Recalls Her First Death and, Subsequently, Her Best Life” Rebecca Roanhorse, and “All the Time in the World” by Charlotte Nicole Davis. But really I just generally recommend this book.

Zen Cho, The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water. This is Malaysian-inflected, wuxia-inflected fantasy, and I am 100% here for it. I think one of the things I love most is that Cho is so well grounded in wuxia that she would never mistake its beats and pacing for fights-only–the character and relationship stuff is done beautifully here too. You love to see it. Well, I do.

Natalie Diaz, Postcolonial Love Poem. One of my favorite collections of poetry I’ve read, searingly personal and staggeringly erudite in its range of references. Highly, highly recommended.

Diane Glancy and Mark Nowak, eds., Visit Teepee Town: Native Writings After the Detours. This is probably a good collection to start with if you don’t have very much exposure to Native writing. I still have some issues with some of its choices–I get that song is an important art form, but there are some kinds of song where the lyrics are repetitive for a reason, and transcribing them as sung doesn’t necessarily give a good sense of the song itself. But this work varies from highly traditional to extremely avant garde, so that’s a useful range.

June Hur, The Silence of Bones. A murder mystery set in Joseon Dynasty Korea (early 1800s Gregorian calendar), where the protagonist is a young girl who is a police servant. There’s a lot of interesting stuff about the relationship between traditional Korean society and converts to Roman Catholicism in this period, and the protagonist is engaging.

Kathleen Jamie, Waterlight. Another lovely poetry collection, this one by a Scottish nature poet. Also highly recommended. What a good fortnight for poetry.

Guy Gavriel Kay, A Song for Arbonne. Reread. It had been twenty years since I’d gotten back to this one, and I still enjoyed the faux-Provence setting and the extremely stubborn characters. I notice, with this distance, that Arbonne was repeatedly said to be woman-centered but this book is entirely not. I’m not even sure that that’s a shift in Kay, I’d have to reread some other things to be sure, but it’s more noticeable to me now than it was in 2000.

T. Kingfisher, A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking. Dough, dough, dough and wicked evil plots. This is a fun one, especially if you’re a baker yourself. I like that Mona’s baking-focused abilities are portrayed as an interesting challenge rather than a weakness. Yay.

Abir Mukherjee, A Necessary Evil. Second in a mystery series set in Calcutta in the early ’20s, although this one involves a road trip to a fictional province. The setting is very well drawn and the main appeal for me.

Emma Newman, Brother’s Ruin. I have really liked other things by Emma Newman, but this one left me cold, I’m afraid. I’m sure that there are some people who would be as screeblingly irrational as the protagonist in their outsized emotional reactions to things, but I didn’t find it fun to read about. Also some of the plot “twists” were incredibly thoroughly telegraphed, leaving me impatient with the characters not figuring things out. Also this is another of the novellas that is not actually a complete novella, it’s a novella-sized origin story–which I will put up with when I’m enjoying the thing, but less so when it’s on shaky ground otherwise. Ah well; I’m still eager to read more of Newman’s work, just this one wasn’t for me.

Karen Osborne, Architects of Memory. Discussed elsewhere.

Pat O’Shea, The Hounds of the Morrigan. Reread. I had not read this since I was…14 at the oldest, maybe younger. So I was deeply relieved to find it kind and charming. It’s an old enough work that “hey modern setting but Irish mythology” is a thing that happens partly because people read O’Shea doing it–and having a great deal of fun along the way.

C.L. Polk, The Midnight Bargain. Discussed elsewhere.

Jan Jarboe Russell, The Train to Crystal City: FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only Family Internment Camp During World War II. This is one of the books that’s better to have read than to read. It’s reasonably fluid prose, it’s just…well, it does what it says on the tin, and that’s not going to be happy fun times. It’s good to know about this stuff, though.

Namwali Serpell, The Old Drift. A Zambian magic realist generational novel, wryly and beautifully done. Different races and classes of Zambian lives through the twentieth century into the twenty-first, including some future stuff, not giving a darn what other people’s genre boundaries might be. Recommended.

Snorri Sturluson, Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway. Reread. Yes, we have reached the “rereading the Heimskringla” stage of the pandemic here. Welp. It sure is what it is, and I marked it up for my gigantic research project and consider it time well spent. But I had to take breaks in the middle, because there is only so much of St. Olaf one can bear at a time.

K. M. Szpara, ed., Transcendent: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction. Some beautiful stuff in here, but I think that Nino Cipri’s opening story was just such a staggeringly lovely thing. Would have been worth doing the whole volume just for that story–and there’s more.

Souvankham Thammavongsa, How to Pronounce Knife. Kindle. Tales of immigration, sexuality, and more. Quite well done, very much in the slice-of-life mimetic fiction mode in case that’s what you’re looking for.

Lynne Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas, Chimedum Ohaegbu, et al, Uncanny Magazine Issue 35. Kindle. Another strong issue. My favorites were Aliette de Bodard’s story and Jennifer Mace’s poem.

Ovidia Yu, The Frangipani Tree Mystery. 1930s Singapore setting, young woman starting out in her career/life as the detective. I had fun with this and will want to read more. Yu walks an interestingly difficult line with a developmentally delayed character: being period-appropriate but also respectful. She does this by having a heroine who is convinced of the supporting character’s capabilities, beyond the assumptions of some fairly nasty people around her. I think it works pretty well, but if having anybody scornful/less than respectful of a developmentally delayed character is going to be a problem for you, you might want to give this one a miss.

Muhammad H. Zaman, Biography of Resistance: The Epic Battle Between People and Pathogens. This is another knee-slapper, wooooo. Antibiotic resistance! Hooray! Seriously, good to know more about, not cheerful. Especially since it’s a quite-recent book that was obviously written before the pandemic (as it would have to be!), so Zaman is talking about things that could go wrong in terms of “another pandemic”–and the stuff he’s talking about didn’t disappear just because we got this pandemic. Welp.

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