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Books read, early January

Rani-Henrik Andersson and David C. Posthumus, Lakȟóta: An Indigenous History. I want more of this kind of thing: more Indigenous histories that are not actually histories of interactions with white folks. That’d be great. I did feel like there were a few points where Andersson and Posthumus were weirdly biased for or against particular Lakȟóta people, but in a corrective to treating them as incidental to their own history, all right, we’ll adjust for that.

Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Fleishman Is in Trouble. This is exactly the kind of book I don’t like: it is terrible people in New York struggling with their lives and marriages. Two things saved it: one, the prose voice, compulsively readable, and two, the odd choice of point of view, which I kept reading to see why Brodesser-Akner had chosen it. I fear that the final answer might be that she inhabited the mindset of that character more personally/naturally than she did any of the others, rather than anything more brilliant, but it was still a level of remove that was just right to make me keep going.

Suzy McKee Charnas, Walk to the End of the World. Reread. When Suzy died I decided to reread the book of hers on our shelf that I had not reread particularly recently. It was well-done, well-written, and also, as I vaguely remembered, extremely unpleasant: it’s chock full of rape and cannibalism, both of them quite vivid. The thing that was particularly noticeable to me now as opposed to when I read it in the last millennium, though, was how little of this classic of feminist SF featured female perspective. It is literally three-quarters of the book before you get to woman’s-eye view. Fascinating–and not, I think, the way Suzy would have written it later in life.

James L. Gould and Carol Grant Gould, Animal Architects: Building and the Evolution of Intelligence. So much nest-building. So much assessment of what takes fresh decisions vs. instinctive behavior. Really interesting stuff.

Catherine Hanley, Matilda: Empress, Queen, Warrior. A lovely biography of someone from an era when biographies are harder to get at. Very clear about the muddled nature of succession in this era. The not-at-all-inevitable rise of the Angevins from the front row.

Ronald Hutton, Queens of the Wild: Pagan Goddesses in Christian Europe: An Investigation. Hutton is really, really good at fine distinctions, and this book is full of them: folk magic as part of Christianity vs. outside it is something Hutton examines in an extremely scholarly and interesting way.

Nicole Kornher-Stace, Jillian Vs. Parasite Planet. I was a little worried about this one: would it veer into horror? Hurrah, it did not, it was extremely capable and fun SF adventure. That had gross and scary stuff in it! But at an age-appropriate and Marissa-appropriate level. Wheee.

Ian McDonald, Hopeland. Discussed elsewhere.

Sean McGlynn, Blood Cries Afar: The Forgotten Invasion of England, 1216. I feel like McGlynn could have benefited more from Hanley’s clear sense that succession was still very much up in the air in this era–“how do we figure out our next king” was not a question with one answer. But as books outlining the French relationships and utter failures of King John go, this was a useful one.

Toni Morrison, Home. Very short and hard-hitting story of a Korean War vet and his sister and how they construct a concept of home in a world that has betrayed them in multiple directions.

Alison Richard, The Sloth-Lemur’s Song: Madagascar from the Deep Past to the Uncertain Present. This book literally goes from Madagascar being formed to the present day–that’s what Richard means by “the deep past.” Along the way we get to look at lots of rocks and lemurs and various other cool things, and I, for one, like rocks and lemurs.

Katherine Rundell, Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne. Brisk and lively and in no way flinching away from either the darker or especially the weirder aspects of the life and character of John Donne. So glad to have this.

Stacy Schiff, The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams. I could wish that Schiff was clearer about how much the Founders for the most part considered themselves Englishmen, but this was still an interesting study, especially considering how much of his correspondence etc. Adams burned for the safety of all concerned (as opposed to some less radical Founders who were very consciously writing absolute reams about themselves For Posterity).

Margery Sharp, Fanfare for Tin Trumpets. Funny as Sharp always is, this book is about the difference between what you think you want and what you actually want, and learning to see the genuine.

Jason Sizemore, Lesley Conner, et al, eds., Apex Issue 135. Kindle. Favorite story in this issue was an absolute firecracker of an opening to the year from Isabel J. Kim.

D.E. Stevenson, Charlotte Fairlie. A mid-fifties novel of a youngish woman who is headmistress of a girls’ school and her struggles with pupils, teachers, and parents. I didn’t find the ending entirely satisfactory–I felt like it rather suddenly hand-waved away some of the questions of work it had raised–but the book was so much fun to read that I don’t really mind.

Lynne Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas, et al, eds., Uncanny Issue 50. Kindle. The special double issue really delivered, with favorite stories from John Wiswell and E. Lily Yu and a favorite poem from Brandon O’Brien.

Peter H. Wilson, Iron and Blood: A Military History of the German-Speaking Peoples Since 1500. Discussed elsewhere.

Ryan Lee Wong, Which Side Are You On. This debut novel is about interracial and intergenerational activism, and also it’s a well-drawn portrait of a family, and also there’s some really beautiful stuff about being Korean-American in Los Angeles. Reed, the protagonist, is a Chinese-Korean-American who is drawn to a very similar part of the left to his parents, but with very different life experiences and stage of life informing his choices–and that all sounds very worthy but also it’s a fun read with smooth prose. Can’t wait to see what Wong does next.

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