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Books read, early September

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, The Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Vol. 1. Kindle. Strange place to start, with a very long poem on the same theme as Paradise Lost, but fortuitous for me because I’d just reread that and could appreciate EBB’s version even more for its genuine liking of nature and humanity. Contrary to Milton’s ideas, EBB decided to write about an Adam who deeply loved and valued Eve–in context even more touching. There are other poems in this volume, a long Prometheus followed by gradually shorter versions of Greek texts and paeans to other poets. If you’re not sure how much EBB you want to read, there are probably “selected works” volumes that do a better introductory job, but if you are sure, it’s free on Gutenberg to just dive in and keep going.

Catherine Ceniza Choy, Asian American Histories of the United States. This is so short as to be almost vignettes–if you’re not familiar with the topic it will be a whistle-stop tour–but it’s vivid enough and passionate enough that it’s not a bad place to start–and introduced me to some anecdotes I (not a beginner) didn’t know.

Danielle Clarke, ed., Isabella Whitney, Mary Sidney, and Aemilia Lanyer: Renaissance Women Poets. Mostly Elizabethan poets here, a tiny bit of the early reign of James I. These three are economically more diverse than one might expect, and their topics even more so. One of the fascinating things to me was that “translating” a psalter meant, for Mary Sidney and her brother, writing an English poem with the same theme and dominant imagery, rather than a more literal and direct translation. The thing that made this interesting was that Biblical locations were very culturally familiar, so those were as they would appear in the original, but the theology was immensely early-Protestant in its focus rather than Jewish–superficial similarities in the poems but deep differences.

H. A. Clarke, The Scratch Daughters. Discussed elsewhere.

Barry Cunliffe, Europe Between the Oceans, 9000 BC-1000 AD. I was disappointed in this, and the fact that it was published in this millennium with AD/BC terminology right in the title should have been a clue. Cunliffe had extremely bizarre areas in which he was over-willing or under-willing to attribute motives to people known only through archaeology, with inherent ethnic imperatives being my least-favorite.

Kate Elliott, The Keeper’s Six. Discussed elsewhere.

Seb Falk, The Light Ages: the Surprising Story of Medieval Science. This was lovely, discussing things like how to construct a water clock to have an alarm. I think this is particularly useful for fantasy writers, but it was such a joy to read that I don’t just recommend it for purely utilitarian purposes.

Caleb Gayle, We Refuse to Forget: A True Story of Black Creeks, American Identity, and Power. Gayle brings a passion and a history of reporting to the story of Black Creeks who were stripped of their Creek identity in 1979. His prose is fast and punchy (there’s the reporting background), and he lays the issues out very clearly here.

Linda LeGarde Grover, Gichigami Hearts: Stories and Histories from Misaabekong. This is a mixture of memoir, stories of the Duluth area’s recent history, and Anishinaabe legends. It’s short but charming, especially if you know Duluth well and would like to know it better.

Frances Hardinge, Deeplight. Deep sea creatures and pirates and corruption and magic and all sorts of good adventurey fantasy stuff in this one.

Christopher Hibbert, The Days of the French Revolution. Probably a fairly good first history of the French Revolution, focused on particular vignettes that are fairly consistently the ones you’ll find embedded in longer histories rather than weird outliers.

Emmi Itäranta, The Moonday Letters. Enchanting, immersive, acutely suspenseful, Solar System-spanning science fiction but also fantasy about healing and environment.

Sim Kern, Seeds for the Swarm. Discussed elsewhere.

Caroline Moorehead, A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France. It would be more accurate, I think, not to give this book a subtitle that ends with “in Occupied France” when more than half of it takes place not in Occupied France but in concentration camps. It’s a really well done discussion of the fates of French women political prisoners under the Nazis. But as such it spends a lot of time in camps being very clear about their horrors, so: be prepared.

Louis Sachar, Holes. Reread. I wanted this fresh in my head to discuss with a friend who was reading it with their kid, and I was reminded that it falls into a weird middle ground to me, where it’s too surreal to be successfully mimetic and too realistic to be successfully surreal. Ah well.

Caroline Stevermer, The Serpent’s Egg. Kindle. Absolutely delightful. If you like The Goblin Emperor or Swordspoint or the Secret Country books, this is the thing for you. Magic and political scheming and not-very-obtrusive snippets of English verse reference. Loved it.

Sonya Taaffe, As the Tide Came Flowing In. This is a collection of thematically linked poems with a novelette to follow, and I love that Sonya did that and wish more people would do similar mixed form/thematic unity projects. This is full of the sea and its strangeness. Hurrah.

Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons. “Remember that really obnoxious guy in your first-term philosophy seminar?” says Turgenev. “We had him in 19th century Russian too, isn’t that a gas?” and you say, “nobody really uses ‘gas’ that way any more, Turgenev, but yeah, it sure is striking.” And he’s like, “oh well, I’m from a different generation I guess.”

Valerie Valdes, Fault Tolerance. The third and possibly last in its series, pulling all the threads together for a stunning conclusion–if it’s not last in the series, there will have to be a tone shift of some sort, because that sure looked like a successful ending to me. Should you start here? No, probably not, the others are still available, go ahead and start at the beginning knowing that there’s a complete arc waiting for you if you want space opera hijinks.

Iona Whishaw, A Killer in King’s Cove. A Canadian murder mystery set in the aftermath of WWII. I was hoping this would be the beginning of a long series I wanted to read, and it’s the beginning of a long series, but…eh. In the category of “fine I guess.”

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