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Books read, early November

Julian Aguon, No Country for Eight-Spot Butterflies. This is a slim collection of essays and poems with an environmental theme, rooted in the author’s experience as a Guamanian. One of his strengths is that he manages to be lyrical but also provide footnotes to give credit where due and a light to other paths.

Lindsey Fitzharris, The Facemaker: A Visionary Surgeon’s Battle to Mend the Disfigured Soldiers of World War I. I think this is one where you know pretty well from the subtitle whether you want to read it or not. It is pretty clear about what damage can be done to humans without killing them and what procedures people in the early 20th worked on to try to help fix them up. Fitzharris talks in an early note about her decision to include graphic photos of the patients in question, but those pictures are not reproduced in line with the text but rather concentrated in the illustration insert section, so if you really need to not look at what you’re reading described, it’s fairly easy not to.

Jorie Graham, From the New World: Poems 1976-2014. I love reading “collected works” but also other career-spanning volumes of poetry for a number of reasons. One is that if there is a period I don’t connect with as much, it’s clearer in a chronological collection. In this case, Graham moves from a grounded natural lyricism to a very personally generated formalism that doesn’t connect with me at all–so I know now to seek out the early work, which is a win.

Toby Green, A Fistful of Shells: West Africa From the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution. This is the beginning of what I’m looking for. Okay. Okay, look. So if you go to an art museum, it’s clear that they know all sorts of things about African politics pre-colonization. There’ll be notes about how such-and-such a thing was the poroperty of the Dahomey ambassador to Portugal or something like that. So like: we know who that was. We know all sorts of things about the Dahomey kingdom and its surrounding kingdoms. It’s a matter of collecting those things and synthesizing them, because these people were doing diplomacy with Europe, they were doing trade, they were doing exchanges of art. These people exist in records. They have–and this is a major point Green makes, contrary to some earlier European thinkers’ explicit erasure–history. And Green, who is a historian of Lusophone Africa–that means Portuguese-speaking–has started doing some of that, and it’s fascinating and lovely and so important. More. More.

Linda Gregerson, Magnetic North. So it turns out that there are two different poets, Linda Gregg and Linda Gregerson, and when I got a book by the former earlier and thought, huh, this isn’t anything like the poem of her I liked before…there was a reason for that. Erudite, insightful, and faintly Nordic.

Adrian Hon, You’ve Been Played: How Corporations, Governments, and Schools Use Games to Control Us All. I read this in part because I am one of the least gamified people I know, and I felt like it was good to know what was being done to people in different social situations than mine and/or with different brain wiring. Hon is clearly not anti-game and in fact is one of the creators of Zombies, Run!, which makes him a good person to assess the ups and downs of gamification, neither demonizing the entire industry nor wearing blinkers about it.

Jordan Kurella, I Never Liked You Anyway. This novella is an Orpheus and Eurydice story, and also a modern college musicians story, and the combination works perfectly. Tangled relationships, confused ambitions, Cerberus with snacks from the modern world, this novella has it all.

Freya Marske, A Restless Truth. When the first book in this series arrived I sat down and read it straight through. It was exactly what I wanted to be reading in that moment. And that happened again: shipboard mystery and romance, scandalous magicians, a parrot, yes, yes this, absolutely, more of this.

Bina Shah, Before She Sleeps. This is the kind of science fiction I wish I saw discussed more often in SF circles: it’s a feminist dystopia by an Iranian writer, so it has a very different perspective than a lot of US or even broader Anglophone SF in the same subgenre, even using similar familiar elements like a skewed gender ratio and forced marriage. One of the things I think Shah writes acutely about is that sex is not the only or even the main thing straight men want with women, and keeping that kind of complexity of relationship in a dystopia was lovely to see.

Margery Sharp, The Nutmeg Tree. This is a frothy joy from 1937. It’s not sexually explicit, but it is sexually frank, and funny, and compassionate, and sharply observant about human relationships, class, and interpersonal deception. In the first few chapters, the heroine, a widowed mother, ends up in spangled tights being (a stationary) part of a trapeze act. That’s the level of “let’s do something fun in the next chapter” Sharp is working from.

Jay Wellons, All That Moves Us: A Pediatric Neurosurgeon, His Young Patients, and Their Stories of Grace and Resilience. This is another one that you will probably know if you want to avoid just from the title. Are you going to be really upset at quite young children needing often-emergent neurosurgery? Then this is not the book for you. Are you going to be eye-rollingly annoyed at the writer’s insistence on Important Life Lessons From Sick Children? pretty borderline. But there’s also a lot of interesting stuff about the actual practice of pediatric neurosurgery.

Jonathan Wylie and David Margolin, The Ring of Dancers: Images of Faroese Culture. This one isn’t actually literally what it says on the tin. Specifically, it’s not about images that are commonly used in Faroese culture. The subtitle is more meant to convey snapshots, small vignettes, about Faroese culture. Still interesting, helping me fill in some blanks in this tiny part of a geography I’m otherwise fairly familiar with.

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