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Books read, late November

Margaret A. Burnham, By Hands Now Known: Jim Crow’s Legal Executioners. An examination of the way the legal system was used to enforce Jim Crow and also used to get away from it. Not as depressing as it might have been, still plenty depressing–but in the “you should know this real thing that happened” direction, not in the wallowing direction.

A. R. Capetta and Wade Roush, eds., Tasting Light: Ten Science Fiction Stories to Rewire Your Perceptions. There were some lovely stories by favorites in here, but the discovery for me was Charlotte Nicole Davis’s “Cadence.” I don’t think I knew her work before, and this was charming and well drawn.

Nicole Chung and Matt Ortile, eds., Body Language: Writers on Identity, Physicality, and Making Space for Ourselves. These essays all appeared in Catapult, which was slightly to the detriment of the collection for the simple reason that they were all hitting very similar word counts. (Weird, right? but essay collections really do usually have more length variation than this.) I would have loved the chance to have more iteration, more exploration, on a few of these topics/from a few of these authors. Still a diverse and interesting bunch of work.

David Enrich, Dark Towers: Deutsch Bank, Donald Trump, and an Epic Trail of Destruction. I am really impressed with what Enrich has managed to do with his books lately, using public fascination with the loathsome ex-president to drive interest in larger malfeasance in the financial and legal world. While Donald Trump is a character in this book, he is by no means its main focus–but the horrid shenanigans at Deutsch Bank are worth knowing about even aside from his involvement.

Louise Erdrich, Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country. A slim volume of nonfiction, Erdrich’s personal wanderings, a pleasant read but probably not number one on my Erdrich recommendation list.

John M. Ford, Growing Up Weightless. Discussed elsewhere.

Karen Joy Fowler, Booth. I really resented enjoying this novel. I didn’t want to care about the family of John Wilkes Booth! But Fowler is a really good writer, so she dragged me kicking and screaming into empathy ugh finnnne.

Max Gladstone, Dead Country. Discussed elsewhere.

Pekka Hämäläinen, Indigenous Continent: The Epic Contest for North America. I’ve enjoyed Hämäläinen’s previous work, on the Comanche and Lakota people, and this is a more overarching version of a similar approach. If you’ve read any recent North American Indigenous scholarship, this will almost certainly contain some sections you already know, but synthesized into the larger perspective and told smoothly and well.

Saeed Jones, Alive at the End of the World. The apocalypse, as we all know, is not distributed equally. These poems are a beautiful look at people already in the thick of it. Jones knows–tells the reader–that they will be called seering. This is entirely correct.

Candice Millard, River of the Gods: Genius, Courage, and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile. I was disappointed in this. It was not a breathless lionization of the white people involved, which: good. But that left it rather flat: here are some annoying people doing something not all that well. I may be wrong, but I had the feeling Millard, who is quite a good writer, was aware of the limitations of her source material and doing the best she could.

Tom Mustill, How to Speak Whale: A Voyage Into the Future of Animal Communication. Sadly this is also a bit of a disappointment if you have been paying attention to animal communication at all. Not only is there not a lot new, but there’s a lot missing. Reasonable amount of firsthand whale encounters, though, so that’s cool.

Orhan Pamuk, My Name Is Red. This historical fiction novel is not just a puzzle novel but an exercise in point of view. Who is the murderer? Why does the tree get to talk to us and what does it have to say? A literary game of the kind I find delightful.

Ann Patchett, These Precious Days. Probably unfair to read other essay collections in close proximity to this one, as she is insightful and pithy and varied and personal–and she’s allowed to be, because she’s Ann Patchett.

Deb Perelman, Smitten Kitchen Keepers. My favorite cooking website, now in its third book form.

Carl Phillips, Pale Colors in a Tall Field and Wild is the Wind. I encountered one of Phillips’s poems elsewhere and grabbed at these from the library while the urge was still fresh. I enjoyed them more for image than for insight but definitely for that.

Emery Robin, The Stars Undying. Do you want Cleopatra in space? because this (first volume in this) series is Cleopatra in space, complete with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony and all their nonsense. It’s all there. Depending on how well you know this era and Shakespeare writing about it, you will even be able to say to yourself, “oh shit, that’s Cinna the Poet in space.” If that will annoy you, skip it, because it is 100% what it is. I’m pretty sure I have several friends whose jam it is. I don’t know whether Arkady started a subgenre of empires-and-memory-themes-in-space but here we are, so…keep ’em coming as long as they’re fun, that’s what I say.

Marcus Sedgwick, She Is Not Invisible. This is a puzzle story about a blind teenager and her very small brother tracking down their missing father halfway across the world from their home. There are some weird things about it, but it’s generally short and interesting, and if you wanted to read something as a memorial act for Sedgwick, who died recently, this is not your worst possible choice.

Lynne M. Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas, et al, eds., Uncanny Magazine Issue 49. Really liked “Rabbit Test” and “The other Side of Mictlan,” but actually enjoyed the whole thing.

Lavie Tidhar, ed., The Best of World SF Vol. 2. This is a behemoth, and Tidhar continues to use the space available to good effect. If you can’t find SF you like in this, you probably don’t much like SF. It’s varied in pretty much every direction you can vary science fiction.

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