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Books read, early September

Basma Abdel Aziz, The Queue. A dystopian novel from an Egyptian writer after the Arab Spring. This is short, full of human relationships, not generally pleasant but interesting to have as part of the span of dystopian literature, a very different part than most of Anglophonie.

Kalynn Bayron, This Poison Heart. Briseis has a gift with plants–even poisonous ones. Especially poisonous ones. So when she and her mothers have a chance to move out to a mysterious house with a gigantic garden, it seems like it might be the best opportunity in the world, as well as a chance to find out more about her birth family. I loved the voice, and the fantasy elements were as captivatingly handled as the trust themes. Looking forward to the sequel.

Robert Darnton, Publishing and Pirating: The Book Trade in the Age of Enlightenment. As thorough as Darnton generally is, going into detail about who had the rights to publish what, who did it anyway, who tried to skip town and leave their family in the lurch, what it all cost and how they scraped by. Mostly centered in Francophonie, and that’s appropriate for the period. The title gives you a fair idea of whether you’ll be interested.

Grady Hendrix, The Final Girl Support Group. This is 100% not my kind of book, and I unintentionally devoured it all in one sitting anyway. It’s a conscious examination of horror movie tropes, what life is like for the one girl who gets out of a massacre, how those lives might still be trauma-ridden afterwards and how there might be another thriller/horror story yet to live through. Absolutely not my jam, and extremely well done.

Hildi Kang, Under the Black Umbrella: Voices from Colonial Korea, 1910-1945. This is a compiled series of interviews with elderly Korean-Americans who were living in Korea as young people during the Japanese occupation, on a range of topics about that experience. It’s really interesting and illuminates all sorts of topics I would not have thought to ask about, and it’s a view of colonized experience that is not western-centric in any direction, so that’s fascinating. Also reasonably short.

Lori M. Lee, Pahua and the Soul Stealer. Discussed elsewhere.

Yoon Ha Lee, Phoenix Extravagant. Art and revolution and dragon automata and…determined characters who screw up a lot. I think this is my favorite of Lee’s long form works so far. There’s a clarity and a drive to it that I find very appealing.

H. M. Long, Hall of Smoke. I really liked the tone of this secondary world fantasy and the way that its characters interact with gods who are not all the same type/level of gods, how the theological and metaphysical ramifications made the fantasy, how they wandered in the wilderness in ways that made total sense for their story and their world. I enjoyed this a lot.

L. M. Montgomery, Chronicles of Avonlea, The Golden Road, and The Story Girl. Rereads. For a long time I had a habit of assuming that if I loved one book by an author, I should get–and keep–all their other works. And so I have been hauling these books around since the late 1980s without…really…rereading them in adulthood. Because I love The Blue Castle and some of the others. It turns out that I heartily dislike The Story Girl and its titular character (and its sequel, The Golden Road–the characters are on the golden road of childhood, you see, this is the most saccharine end of Montgomery’s work) and while I read them often enough in my chronically book-short childhood that they fell apart upon the reread thirty years later, I have zero desire to replace them. Sara Stanley, the so-called Story Girl, is a mouthpiece for very minor L.M. Montgomery tales of the sort I’ll get to in a minute in Chronicles of Avonlea. She has every melodramatic tendency Anne Shirley ever had, but everyone loves her and tells her she’s amazing all the time. The protagonist of these two books–written in first-person, not a strength for Montgomery to begin with–is Bev, a thirteen-year-old boy and/or his middle-aged self looking back. Montgomery attempts to put in what she thinks a 13-year-old boy would think about a lot–how pretty the girls are, basically–but tries to balance both that and the fact that Sara Stanley wants to be Gasp Oh No An Actress with constant teeth-aching simplistic Sunday School moralizing. So: everybody is obsessed with who is pretty and/or fat but also it is VERY WRONG to be vain. The characters are shallowly drawn and boring, and in order to make up for the slight nature of the stories, Bev is constantly putting his thumb on the scales to tell us how captivated everyone was, how amazing Sara is, what a great story it is. That we can read on the page and go, eh. Not so great. (Major Menolly Problems here.) At one point she is asked to recite the multiplication table to demonstrate that she can make it fascinating. I CALL SHENANIGANS, NO SHE CAN’T. So yeah, that was a horrifying trip down memory lane. Chronicles of Avonlea is a slight but inoffensive volume, lots of people finding love by setting aside their pride, whatever, with the exception of one story in which a disability is cured by (bleh) really REALLY wanting it. Otherwise it’s entertaining enough. Although there are constant asides about “that Anne Shirley over at Green Gables,” which: eyeroll, but whatever.

Alex Woolf, From Pictland to Alba 789-1070. This is a history of early medieval Scotland, on the “kings and lairds and battles” front. Lots of the information about this period is from external sources and has to be triangulated from multiple languages, so there is quite a lot of “are we talking about the same person here because this is the Irish version of this Norse name” and “how seriously do we take the sagas that were written hundreds of years later as a source on this period vs. the chronicles that were written hundreds of miles away by a hostile power.” But if you get tired–as I get tired, I get very tired–of having Scotland as a sort of combination totally central crossroads of northern Atlantic politics of this period and mist-shrouded, uh, well, Brigadoon, this sort of thing is going to have to happen to help disentangle it all.

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