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Books read, early December

Andrea Barrett, Natural History. Barrett has been writing historical fiction about people who care about science and the natural world for decades now. Her characters and settings interconnect and span a great deal of time and a large range of personalities. This is a collection with several more short stories in that oeuvre. It’s probably neither the best nor the worst place to start; as someone who’s been reading them for most of that span, my reaction was “oh good, more of this thing, hooray.”

Ananyo Bhattacharya, The Man from the Future: The Visionary Life of John von Neumann. What a very strange book to want to write. It’s mostly a professional biography of von Neumann aimed at people who have never heard of him and have no understanding of modern math, physics, or computer science, which is in itself a very weird thing to do (is this audience very interested in a von Neumann bio, then?) and not one Bhattacharya does exceptionally well. But he does take side trips into personal matters more or less for two topics only: 1) to tell you if someone is fat; 2) to tell you if they are mentally ill. He is happy to expand on #2 at length, giving very detailed accounts of the suicides of people close to Johnny von Neumann…but not to say how that might have affected him, and in most cases it could not because they happened after his death. I was thinking I would put a content warning on this book for that purpose, but honestly it’s just not a very good book.

Roshani Chokshi, Aru Shah and the Nectar of Immortality. Do not start here! This is the last volume in this series! It is fun and satisfying and does all the lovely things the rest of the series does, but seriously, start at the beginning, get the whole thing, friendship is magic, goofy jokes are magic, magic is also magic. Yay. I would be sad to see it end but I like good endings, and also it looks to me like Chokshi is happy to write other things I’ll probably like (hey, thanks for that!), so generally yay for a solid ending to a favorite series.

Rachel Corbett, You Must Change Your Life: The Story of Rainier Maria Rilke and Auguste Rodin. This is a short joint biography of these two artists and the relationship they had as artists, solidly done and briskly written. They knew ten million people in their era, and it’s astonishing how many of them are relevant in a biography this short.

J. R. Dawson, The First Bright Thing. Discussed elsewhere.

John M. Ford, Casting Fortune. Reread. If you haven’t read other stuff set in Liavek, you may be tempted to think, oh yes, it’s Mike being opaque again. But he’s really not, he’s drawing on stuff you know from other works, or don’t, as the case may be. I love the way he does his theater company and all the moving pieces in that one. I love it all, but the moving pieces really just looked so well-done this time around.

V. V. Ganeshananthan, Brotherless Night. Discussed elsewhere.

Laura L. Lovett, With Her Fist Raised: Dorothy Pitman Hughes and the Transformative Power of Black Community Activism. Lovett takes the famous portrait of Hughes and Gloria Steinem doing the Black Power salute together and uses it as a springboard to talk about how much more Hughes did and in what context. I picked this up because it popped up on a completely unrelated library search, and I like knowing more things; it was quite short and interesting.

Maggie O’Farrell, The Marriage Portrait. I wished O’Farrell was doing more with the pentimento theme in this book. It was a pretty straightforward story of Lucrezia di Cosimo de Medici, interesting enough but not as much larger as I wanted it to be from where it started.

Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul: Memories and the City. A geographic memoir, full of photographs, beautifully done, thoughtful about place and neighborhood and influence.

Jessie Singer, There Are No Accidents: The Deadly Rise of Injury and Disaster–Who Profits and Who Pays the Price. This is one of those books that talks about things I think I already know about dangerous environments and the rhetoric of responsibility but gives them a much more thorough and detailed grounding than I had before. Lots of statistics without being dry, lots of analysis of propaganda that creeps into all sorts of weird corners of our lives. Well worth thinking about.

Moses Ose Utomi, The Lies of the Ajungo. Discussed elsewhere.

Wang Zheng, Women in the Chinese Enlightenment: Oral and Textual Histories. When I saw this in the used bookstore, I snapped it up without even reading the back to find out which period that might be called “the Chinese Enlightenment” it referred to. The answer is the early 20th century, and Wang did extensive interviews with several women who had been involved in feminist movements and other women’s political action of the time. Really good stuff, hearing from a lot of interesting people firsthand and with analysis that gives good context.

Merc Fenn Wolfmoor, Haunt Yourself. Kindle. A collection of horror stories I didn’t quite get around to when they sent it out near Halloween. Merc is quite good at this, good enough that I’m happy to read a collection of horror stories even though I am not basically a horror reader. Some may be familiar if you’re a regular reader of their work, but that’s okay, now they’re in a nice little digital collection, yay.

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