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Books read, early December

Yu Chen and Regina Kanyu Wang, eds., The Way Spring Arrives and Other Stories: A Collection of Chinese Science Fiction and Fantasy in Translation from a Team of Visionary Female and Nonbinary Creators. Discussed elsewhere.

Susan Cooper, The Dark Is Rising. Reread. I’m fascinated by the ways in which this holds up despite the ways in which I intellectually feel like it somewhat shouldn’t. Specifically the gender roles. It’s as though Cooper internalized that women are basically mums, sisters, and old ladies. The places where women are among the Old Ones, they often fade in and out of even counting, they do things like sitting at each other’s feet, just…being there. She is doing certain myths in the modern world without apparently even thinking of modernizing some aspects of those myths. And yet. And yet Will’s is a vividly syncretist story that I find just as compelling as I did when I was a midsized child. And nothing, after all, has to be perfect in order to be loved. One more thing, though–now that I understand that the south of England gets nothing like proper winter, I see that it’s all there in the book–that they don’t have, for example, snowplows, that the amount of snow I assumed would be required is in no way described, it’s much less than I assumed as a northern child who was familiar with the “and then they had to go out the second story because there was snow over the door” blizzard stories. That is simply not here. This is in part the story of southern England being brought to its knees by a freak ordinary snowstorm. The reader’s 50% is so strange even when I’m the reader.

Danielle Dreilinger, The Secret History of Home Economics: How Trailblazing Women Harnessed the Power of Home and Changed the Way We Live. This book traces a field taken too much for granted, looks into what its focus was assumed to be in different eras and why, what it has to offer and who offered it, who did the work and who got credit and who got forgotten. Dreilinger doesn’t mince words about the places where some figures were racist or others had racist ideas perpetrated upon them, she’s absolutely clear about how sexism shaped this field, but she also is straightforward about the power it has had and can have. And that’s very interesting.

Mike Duncan, Hero of Two Worlds: The Marquis de Lafayette in the Age of Revolution. Duncan is sometimes a clunky writer, and he doesn’t always bother to research the figures who are peripheral to his main quest. (“He writes about John Jay and Gouverneur Morris in the same way!” I said indignantly to a family member on DMs.) But this is still a pretty entertaining biography of someone who saw a lot of interesting history.

Joseph J. Ellis, The Cause: The American Revolution and Its Discontents, 1773-1783. Ellis is attempting to give perspective of what the people involved (both sides) thought they were doing at the time, sorting that out from what we think they were doing now. Not the most outstanding work on its period, but a reasonable place to either start or continue.

Ruth Franklin, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life. Franklin would like to yeet Jackson’s mother and husband into the sun, and she has extensive documentation for why this would have been a great plan if only we’d been able to get there in time. I think that some of her well-intentioned commentary about contemporary attitudes toward Jackson’s weight may still be triggering to some readers, so heads up there (on the other hand, this biographer is distinctly well-intentioned in that direction, so good), and there’s also a need for serious content warning about sexual assault. And…it’s Shirley Jackson, so be aware that this is not going to be a happy read. But interesting.

Alexandria Hall, Field Music. I picked up this volume of poems because one of them spoke to me in a poetry newsletter I read, and it turned out that was the poem that still spoke to me most out of the entire volume. A lot of this was sort of a ships passing in the night volume for me, poems where I could see what was going on but not quite touch it. Perhaps it will reach you better.

Darcie Little Badger, A Snake Falls to Earth. Compelling. Deceptively simply told and pulled me through the alternating strands of narrative with eager attention to both. I hope she does more in this universe–there’s room but not necessity. (Young adult. Fantasy. Native inspired, own cultural roots.)

Kliph Nesteroff, We Had a Little Real Estate Problem: The Unheralded Story of Native Americans and Comedy. I picked this up on a whim because I was seeing it recommended, and it’s short and interesting. Like a lot of writing about comedy, it’s not itself particularly funny, but that’s all right. I was a bit startled by the amount of connection it had to places and people I know personally, but not in a bad way.

Nnedi Okorafor, Noor. A novella with a wind-storm eye in Africa forming an interesting cultural locus for highly modified characters. Went very quickly.

Mayukh Sen, Taste Makers: Seven Immigrant Women Who Revolutionized Food in America. These profiles are only slightly longer than a long-form magazine profile–it’s a very short book. So while it’s interesting, don’t expect a lot of depth here. On the other hand, even having a start on this topic is lovely and a good idea.

Rebecca Solnit, Orwell’s Roses. I always want to read Solnit right away when I can, and this was no exception. It is literally about some roses planted by George Orwell, and also about various other things sparked by thoughts of them, in the interesting and unconstrained way that she has. I immediately ordered a copy as a Christmas present.

E. Catherine Tobler, Sonya Taaffe, David Gilmore, et al, The Deadlands Issue 7. Kindle. Once again haunting and interesting. Glad this is here.

Sarah Vogel, The Farmer’s Lawyer: The North Dakota Nine and the Fight to Save the Family Farm. I don’t feel like I know enough about the US farm crisis of the 1980s, and this is a start on that. I hope to find more soon. (Recommendations welcome.) Another thing it is, quite unintentionally…look, Sarah Vogel is from where I’m from, this is about my people, but she expects that you, the reader, will not be where we’re from. And so she explains, translates, and even footnotes a lot of cultural stuff that made me laugh or left me speechless by turns to have it so earnestly set forth for outsiders. If that’s an experience you want, well, there it is, even aside from a bunch of farm crisis stuff that will be very enlightening. (I called my mom. “Mor. She footnoted ‘uff da.'” Silence, then: “Well. I suppose you could.”)

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