Posted on Leave a comment

Books read, late February

Diana Athill, Alive, Alive Oh! And Other Things That Matter and Somewhere Towards the End. These are two memoirs of old age, more or less, and I read them in reverse chronological order, which is interesting for the places where Athill has changed her mind about various aspects of her age. They’re slim volumes, fast reading, like having a conversation with a forthright elderly pal who is sometimes wrong but always interesting.

Sarah E. Baires, Cahokia and the North American Worlds. Kindle. Particularly interesting to me for its reach into the rest of the Mississippian cultural world and what we can know about that.

Agatha Christie, The Secret of Chimneys. Kindle. Most of the Agatha Christies I’ve been reading are because a friend filtered them first. This was not, this was just one that was free on Gutenberg, and it’s a very weird book, international spying not being her forte (so many ethnic stereotypes oh goodness)–but there’s sparkly banter, quite a lot of it and quite well done. So it’s one of those “hee hee hee [next line] OH AGATHA NO [next line] heeeeee” reading experiences.

Michael D. Coe, Breaking the Maya Code. Should be subtitled “How Racism Makes You Stupid”–not this author but the people who came before his cadre and had all kinds of awful racist assumptions about the Maya that, go figure, made it much harder to understand their written language. An object lesson in how letting That One Powerful Guy bully everyone makes a field much, much worse.

Robertson Davies, Fifth Business. Mid-century Canadian mild fantastika, the relationship of someone proximate to but not part of the rich and famous. Cranky and determined to be cynical and defeated, in some ways, by hopeful aspects of life and human relations in the end. This is my first Davies, and I’m looking forward to more.

Michael DeLuca, Tim Fab-Eme, Priya Chand, Octavia Cade, et al, Reckoning Issue 7. Kindle. Lovely issue. Particularly enjoyed the poem from Naila Francis and the stories from Aparna Paul, Mo Usavage, L Chan, and T.K. Rex.

Isaac Fellman, The Two Doctors Gorski. I’m not sure why Dark Academia has gotten to be such a thing, but I enjoy it a lot, and I enjoyed this particular example. Academia can destroy you, now with magic and gender politics! Yes good. More from this person, please.

V. V. Ganeshananthan, Love Marriage. This is the first novel from a local author whose upcoming novel about the Sri Lankan Civil War and its effects on a young woman studying for med school I recently enjoyed. This is also about the effects of that war, but it’s told from the perspective of a young woman in Toronto, looking back on her family and the ways their country(ies?) shaped them. Its extremely short scenes, ranging from a paragraph or two to three pages, felt like a very different kind of novel to me, and paradoxically made it easy for me to keep muttering, “just one more” in exactly the way people say they do with short scenes in James Patterson novels. That I do not. But these were beautifully written and interestingly separated. So. I think Brotherless Night is a richer and more mature work but it turns out we don’t have to choose, and hurrah for that.

Richard Harris, How Cities Matter. Kindle. A short work that does what it says on the tin: explores how cities go beyond being the sum of their parts.

Cynthia A. Kierner, Martha Jefferson Randolph, Daughter of Monticello: Her Life and Times. There’s basically no reason to read this book when Catherine Kerrison’s Jefferson’s Daughters: Three Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America exists. The Kerrison is clearer about Martha Jefferson Randolph but also is fairly clear-sighted about, you know, other people’s needs and existence. Less prone to making excuses, which it turns out is not an inevitable part of biography. So.

Kris Lane, Quito 1599: City and Colony in Transition. Lane goes into the demographics and lifestyles of various groups in Quito, which is not something I’ve gotten a lot of in this period before, so that’s pretty cool

Natalie Livingstone, The Women of Rothschild: The Untold Story of the World’s Most Famous Dynasty. I was a bit disappointed in this. I see why Livingstone was appalled that the dynastic histories of the Rothschilds tend to focus on the men, because the women were doing a whole heap of other things–but my level of interest always remained sort of at arm’s length, and I feel like the book was a bit at arm’s length too. Useful if you’re interested in the topic.

H.M. Long, Barrow of Winter. Third in a secondary world fantasy series, and I think structurally the weakest/least compelling–but still a fun read, and if you’ve enjoyed the others, you’ll definitely want this angle on it. Just probably don’t start here.

Sally Wen Mao, Oculus. Mao has a lot of poems about Anna May Wong, about the view of the world and Hollywood and everything else through that lens. Which is far enough off from the usual things–even the usual assumptions about Asian-American poetry–to keep this collection moving to its own beat and not adopting someone else’s.

Mia V. Moss, Mai Tais for the Lost. Moss is having a lot of fun here with the mashup of noir tropes and undersea science fiction environments. It’s got all the bad life choices and class examination of noir, and at least one of the femme fatale figures is an intelligent octopus.

Julie Nováková, Lucas K. Law, and Susan Forest, eds., Life Beyond Us: An Original Anthology of SF Stories and Science Essays. I found this collection to be a very mixed bag. The essays were not for me–I’m enough of a science nerd that I was going “yeah yeah we know we know” through them, and: “we” don’t, necessarily. But stories by Premee Mohamed, Bogi Takács, Peter Watts, Malka Older, and Simone Heller provided a nice variety of things I really enjoyed–and five stories is a lot of “ooh cool” for one collection.

Jane Oliver and Ann Stafford, Business As Usual. An illustrated epistolary novel from the ’30s, focused on a young woman going to work selling books in the kind of department store that still had a book section. There is a romance plot, but there’s a lot more detail about making it on your own as a woman in the city, how work looked at that time, and various other quite interesting things. Also watching the perspective shift in the letters with the plot is half the fun. I think people who enjoy illustration might find these slight but charming; I didn’t mind them, but I’m truly not the audience.

Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, The Girl from the Metropol Hotel: Growing Up in Communist Russia. Brief vivid recollections of a grim childhood.

Nisi Shawl, Speculation. I was actually a bit disappointed in how much of this seemed to be self-consciously writing an Edward Eager novel in this decade (not set in this decade), with Black kids in it–Eager was himself self-consciously copying E. Nesbit, and also I know from the experience of Everfair that I like Shawl a lot when she’s doing Shawl. It wasn’t offensive or bad, but it also didn’t seem to have engaged with the last seventy years of MG fantasy much. Ah well. Possibly it’s just that I have very low tolerance for characters who speak in rhyme. (Just one character! but still.)

Sascha Stronach, The Dawnhounds. This is some of the most vivid worldbuilding I’ve read in a long time. Mushroom cities, people! Come for the action plot, stay for the mushroom cities! Very much looking forward to the sequel.

Adrian Tchaikovsky, Elder Race. I really like the “many generations after planetary colonization, colonists interact with someone representing their past” sub-genre of science fiction, and this was a fun example. My particular favorite bits involved fun with translation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *