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Books read, early October

Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half. News that Brosh’s new book is coming out made me realize that I hadn’t ever read the old one. I had, however, read most of it in its original internet publication. Some of it made me giggle uproariously all over again. Some of it…it’s amazing how fast mores change, particularly around terms for disabled people, and I hope that she wouldn’t write it that way today, but this is the book she wrote then.

Pamela Dean, Tam Lin. Reread. This was exactly the right choice for the mood I was in. The minute I picked it up and started reading it, I just wanted to keep going no matter what else I was supposed to be doing. This is one of the most-reread books of my adolescent + adult life, and I still love it and find new things in it every time. This time it was striking to me how much the change of technology between this setting and my college days didn’t change the basic difficulties in tracking down the person you wanted to talk to when you wanted to talk to them. Funny details like that, that you get to think of because you have the deep knowledge of the book to spot them. I’m still thinking about the last line again.

Michael J. DeLuca, Night Roll. Reread, sort of, because I read it in draft. This is also a Tam Lin story! A Tam Lin/Nanabozho near-future bike novella about very early parenthood. It’s lovely, I loved it in draft and I love it even more with the revisions Michael and his editor decided on. Check this one out.

Rosamond Faith, The Moral Economy of the Countryside: Anglo-Saxon to Anglo-Norman England. It’s a very Anglo-Saxon time up in here, and this is probably the best nonfiction I’ve read on the topic so far. (Stay tuned etc.) Faith thinks interestingly and coherently about how it was that people changed what they were doing on an individual and small community level, and all the way up to the national scale. Good stuff, I’ve added her other books to my list.

Catherine Coleman Flowers, Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret. Discussed elsewhere.

Louise Glück, Faithful and Virtuous Night. I had not previously thought about the difference between cerebral and intellectual very much, but these poems are very much the former and not the latter, so that’s something to turn over in my head.

Laura E. Gómez, Inventing Latinos: A New Story of American Racism. A 101-level book about Latinx identity and how it formed/co-evolved with prejudice around it. If you’re looking for a starter kit on how to think and talk about bias in this area, this is a good source, quite intersectional in the areas of class and other racial and ethnic groups. Not particularly interested in gender–my use of “Latinx” is mine, not mirrored by this text.

Seamus Heaney, trans., Beowulf. A less fun translation than Maria Dahvana Headley’s, very spare, very plain. I was left with the urge for More Beowulf when I finished Headley’s translation, so here we are and don’t be surprised if there’s more later.

Marc Morris, The Norman Conquest: The Battle of Hastings and the Fall of Anglo-Saxon England. Of the books I’ve read on this specific topic, this is the one I’d recommend. Generally thoughtful, only a few places where he’s unduly confused by things that make total sense in Viking context.

Sarah Moss, Bodies of Light. A young woman who wants to be a doctor when women mostly aren’t allowed, winning free of the various constraints of her family of origin, which are more interesting constraints than lack of support. Very well done, clearly paid a lot of attention to 19th century British painters, interested in more work by this author.

Christine Peel, ed., Guta Saga: The History of the Gotlanders. This is really only if you are feeling completist about reading basically every saga there is. I am feeling so completist. It is extremely short and not particularly outstanding in any way, except for some of its linguistic features. Still, now I’ve read it, and I know where it is on the shelf.

Neil Price, Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings. This was quite good, absolutely recommended either as an introduction to this topic or for more insight/analysis if you’re well-versed in it. Lots of stuff for me to ponder here, which is quite rare in volumes with this subtitle, given how much I’ve already read and pondered.

London Shah, The Light at the Bottom of the World. Fun and pacey undersea YA SF adventure with a drowned dystopia. It hits some of the predictable beats but also is doing its own thing. The puppy comes out of the entire thing fine. I don’t want you to worry, because this is a book with peril and stuff, so: the dog is okay at the end.

Una L. Silberrad, The Good Comrade. Kindle. This is so charming. It has some Blue Castle-esque elements of satisfyingly telling off annoying family members, it has Silberrad’s recognition that women working for a living is sometimes tedious but not actually the end of the world, it has a heroine who is willing to consider her own values and not always come up with the choices the world assumes are obvious, it has a hero who belatedly realizes “what if wife but also good pal.” Oh yes, and it has random horticulture. It’s free on Gutenberg. Treat yourself.

Dana Simpson, Virtual Unicorn Experience. The latest Phoebe and Her Unicorn book, a charming escape that made me giggle.

Jonathan C. Slaght, Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl. Blakiston’s fish owls are large, funny-looking owls, and Slaght studies them. If you don’t think owls are kinda great, I don’t know what to tell you. This is at least as much about field work as it is about owls, but both are interesting to me.

Patrik Svensson, The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination With the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World. Look, I get that publishers want an exciting title, but…”most mysterious,” really, that’s pretty debatable. On the other hand, this book–like the owl book directly above–was interesting in part for what we don’t know about certain species of eel that you’d think we might–and, of course, for what we do know. I mean, they’re no owls, but they’re still pretty interesting. Also I find it a relief to read natural history right now.

Adrian Tchaikovsky, Made Things. A fun novella featuring a young puppeteer and created creatures made from various materials, with more serious digressions into the nature of the soul.

Elizabeth von Arnim, The Enchanted April. Kindle. Four women from ’20s Britain go on holiday to Italy together and figure their lives out in a beautiful rented Italian castle. I am a little skeptical of a few of the happy endings, but happy middles matter a lot as well, and this is a very gentle book in which things are generally okay. If I was in charge of Airbnb marketing I’d go around putting copies of this in Little Free Libraries. (…possibly there is a reason no one puts me in charge of marketing things.) You will still be able to enjoy this book if you have no fixed opinions about John Ruskin, but if you do have them it will be even funnier.

Wendy Williams, The Language of Butterflies: How Thieves, Hoarders, Scientists, and Other Obsessives Unlocked the Secrets of the World’s Favorite Insect. I didn’t actually plan to have a naturalist bent to this fortnight’s reading, it’s just that’s what came in on the long-term holds from the library. This was an interesting introduction to butterfly biology and another nice calm thing to read right now.

Harriet Wood Harvey, The Battle of Hastings: The Fall of Anglo-Saxon England. And this is the less preferred of the books on this exact thing that I read in the last fortnight. She is more often baffled by cultural context, less thorough about sources, generally not an offensive read but not as illuminating, alas.

Xia Jia, A Summer Beyond Your Reach. Kindle. Always interesting to try to guess whether translated stories vary a lot in quality because of the originals or because of the translation, but in this case I think it’s at least partly the former because the structure of some of the stories seemed not-amazing to begin with. Some of them are amazing, though, in both concept and execution. So…a mixed bag, lots of interest in time travel and variously timed selves. Glad I read it.

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