Books read, late April

Shadi Bartsch, trans., The Aeneid. This is a recent translation, and it reads fluently and easily. Bartsch is thoughtful about the rhythm and length of line. I picked it up to read on the theory that I already know all the bad things that happen in the Aeneid–I was unlikely to be blindsided with new bad things. This theory was correct, though it may not count as comforting to anyone but me.

John Paul Brammer, ¡Hola Papi!: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons. Discussed elsewhere.

Octavia Cade, The Impossible Resurrection of Grief. Discussed elsewhere.

Becky Chambers, The Galaxy, and the Ground Within. This, on the other hand, is very much aimed at being comfort SF to a wider variety of readers. People from a selection of species and cultures are required to shelter at a common hospitality location and deal with their own lives and each other’s problems from there. It’s marked as the last in its series, but that appears to be because Chambers wants to write other things rather than because something has happened to end the possibility for more fiction in this universe, so take heart, nothing catastrophic will ruin the coziness of this if you’re looking for that.

Ed Douglas, Himalaya: A Human History. You know how I often say nonfiction does what it says on the tin? This does not do what it says on the tin. It does not, in ways that frustrated me quite a lot, because if it had said Himalaya: Its Interactions With White People (Mostly British), I would have picked it up much later if at all. This is not an undocumented region. Some of the oldest printed books in existence are from this region. (I’ve seen them. They’re gorgeous.) I get that it’s hard when you don’t speak the languages the primary sources are in. But that’s the problem I have. That’s the problem I hoped that a book that purported to be a human history of the Himalayan region would solve for me, giving me access to what, generally, people in this region were up to when the white empires were not looking. And this book is utterly useless on that front, and frankly when you’ve gone out of your way to call it a human history I find that particularly offensive.

Meg Elison, Find Layla. A short and extremely intense mimetic YA. Harrowing would not be too strong a word. I’m glad I read this but also glad that it wasn’t longer, because it’s a very frank look at parental neglect of a teenager and her little brother. Layla is practical and determined and an incredibly compelling voice, but be prepared for quite a lot in the way of details about hoarding and unsafe housing.

Francesca Forrest, The Inconvenient God. Kindle. This is quite short and charming, dealing with the proposed decommissioning of the person mentioned in the title. I love the unique setting and the way we find out more with each installation about the people who populate it. Recommended.

JaHyun Kim Haboush, trans., The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong: The Autobiographical Writings of a Crown Princess of Eighteenth-Century Korea. This is nonfiction, and a lot of it is about how great the memoirist’s family is, how great the king of course naturally is, and how terrible her family’s enemies at court are. But toward the end it takes a sharp turn into the horrifying as Lady Hyegyong describes the descent of her husband, the Crown Prince, into a mental illness that no one of their era knows how to treat. She recognizes it as illness, which his father the King does not, but there’s not really anything she can do about it, particularly given the Crown Prince’s position in the power structure–the options for keeping him from hurting others are limited and ultimately rather gruesome.

Della Hooke, Trees in Anglo-Saxon England. Does what it says on the tin! Trees in archaeology, trees in orchard surveys of the time, trees in materials used and inventoried! Trees, you like ’em, they had ’em! You could do much worse than read about far off trees right now.

Gish Jen, The Resisters. For the vast majority of this book I was confused about why I wasn’t running into more science fiction people talking about it. It’s briskly written dystopian SF, balancing the concerns of literary dystopia with those of genre-SF dystopia rather deftly. It’s got baseball and knitting and scorn for mall food and other things that SF fans love. And the ending is very sad, so there’s my answer and yours. Is it worth reading, if you like baseball and dystopian fiction? yes. But pick your moment.

Ross King, Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies. King has a habit of examining art and power acutely, and this is no exception. There’s a focus on Monet’s very late life here that leaves me with a lot of unanswered questions that I bet other books are practically panting to answer. But this one gives me a cranky old Monet dying with Clemenceau holding his hand, which is worth the price of admission.

Naomi Kritzer, Chaos on Catnet. Just as compelling as the first in its series, but for me more stressful: the potential consequences are more immediately large-scale, and the setting has moved to the Twin Cities. Which means that Naomi is writing about people and places I know very well indeed, sometimes in quite a lot of peril. I cried over this book a lot, sometimes because of the bad things happening ([MAJOR LANDMARK REDACTED] NAOMI COME ON) but sometimes because of the good ones that haven’t happened here yet. Yet. We can hope for yet. Oh, I do love CheshireCat, but most of the good things that haven’t happened here yet and made me cry are pretty utterly human.

Winifred Peck, Bewildering Cares. This is a delight. It’s a week in the life of a clergyman’s wife during WWII, with all the concerns of the parish against the backdrop of the larger world. Peck understands pastorfam all too well (I say as pastorfam myself) and particularly the protagonist’s young adult son is clearly the notion of someone who has met many children of clergy in her time. I love him. This was just what I needed when I read it. It was so relaxing. (Also, weirdly, Peck was Dilly Knox’s sister. !!??!!?? I said to the person who recommended it to me: like lower-amperage Haldanes, gosh.)

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey Into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred. This is a book about physics, gender, race, sexuality, and other demographic concerns that do affect life as a physicist. Prescod-Weinstein–Dr. Prescod-Weinstein, thanks–is willing to spell things out for readers who aren’t familiar with either the physics or the history and sociology. She doesn’t want this book to go over anyone’s head. I had a moment of thinking, okay, but who will this convince who is not already convinced? and then I realized that the example Prescod-Weinstein cited of Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin was illustrative: sometimes you have to write it down so someone can quote you saying it. People will be able to point colleagues at this, committees, students, well-meaning relatives who don’t get one aspect of it or another. Not everyone who reads this book will have bought it for themselves. (But you can.)

Beryl Satter, Family Properties: How the Struggle Over Race and Real Estate Transformed Chicago and Urban America. Satter is the daughter of a white Jewish civil rights lawyer from Chicago who died young in the middle of the struggle–and who turned out to have a more complicated past than she fully realized, with his landlordship. Satter traces the history of the laws and social actions around race and housing in mid-century Chicago and their wider implications.

A. G. Slatter, All the Murmuring Bones. This is an extremely Gothic fantasy. I referred to it on Twitter as a two-house Gothic, but a friend pointed out that it might arguably be three. Sometimes you want a Gothic, and this one leans in.

Lynne Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas, et al, eds., Uncanny Magazine Issue 39. Kindle. For me the standout of this issue was Sarah Pinsker’s “Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather.” The folk process, oh, lordy, this is my cup of tea for sure.

Katherena Vermette, Scott B. Henderson, and Donovan Yaciuk, Pemmican Wars: A Girl Called Echo (Vol. 1). This is the first in a series with timeslip elements, intended to teach about indigenous Canadian history. As often happens with graphic novels, not much plot happens in this volume, but it’s easy to read and relatable; if you’re looking to teach young people about this topic, might be a good series to look into and see where the rest is going.

Martha Wells, Fugitive Telemetry. The new Murderbot, with other augmented and artificial beings doing their things and an unfortunate abundance of humans (albeit short at least one as of the beginning of the story). I tore through this while waiting for my supper delivery and appreciated the way that it advanced the overall plot while visiting characters I like already.

David Zucchino, Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy. There were several Black police officers and government officials in Wilmington, NC, in the time this book discusses, and local racists felt incredibly threatened by it and used it to spread fear about what “they” surely intended to do…and incited riot and murder as a supposed preemptive strike. This book is horrifying, but the Reconstruction is a period I think American schools don’t cover nearly enough. It’s worth being aware that this happened, and how it happened.

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