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Books read, early September

Juliet Barker, 1381: The Year of the Peasants’ Revolt. Very much does what it says on the tin. Do you want to read more about revolting peasants? Have thoughts about Jack Straw and Wat Tyler? Here we are then.

Gloria Dickie, Eight Bears: The Past and Imperiled Future. There are eight species of bear on earth now, and Dickie gives each of them a chapter, talking about their habits and habitat and relationship with humans. I learned particularly about the bears most distant from me here–there was little I didn’t know about the black bears we have here in Minnesota but quite a lot about the sloth bears and the moon bears. I find reading natural history soothing even when the news about habitat is not itself soothing, so this was a good book for its timing for me.

Heid E. Erdrich, New Poets of Native Nations. I’d already read about half of these poets, but in many cases I’d read them with great enthusiasm. It’s a really good volume, lots to discover here.

Joshua Hammer, The Falcon Thief: A True Tale of Adventure, Treachery, and the Hunt for the Perfect Bird. This is an excellent example of how reality does not always produce delicately nuanced villains for us. Sometimes in reality people who do awful things are just people who think they can get some (often fairly low-grade) material benefit from an awful thing and get away with it. I learned a lot about falcon racing and the rare bird’s egg trade in the modern world from this book. Was I happier for knowing it, no, but I was probably better for knowing it, alas.

Maxine Hong Kingston, China Men (reread) and The Woman Warrior. Read in opposite order. I can definitely see why The Woman Warrior was revelatory both for Asian-American Studies and for memoir at the time. It shouldn’t be the only perspective you have about any Chinese-American ever, good grief, should I even need to say that–but it feels like some of the in-community criticism of it is of the “we’re not all like that” and no, absolutely, nobody’s memoir can be asked to stand for everybody, but that’s not the fault of a memoir, that’s the fault of trying to use a memoir, one person telling the story of one life or at most one family, to represent an entire gigantic group of people. It’s vivid and personal and familial, just don’t read it like it’s trying to be the word from on high about The Chinese Experience.

Karen Lord, The Blue, Beautiful World. I feel like I’ve been seeing more of 1970s tropes done in contemporary books without the sexism and racism, and this is a prime example of that. This has secret human space colonies and telepathy! But actually thinks about colonialism and human variation not in a horribly racist way! I felt like the pop star aspect was less pop star at the end, though, ah well.

Sujata Massey, The Mistress of Bhatia House. The latest in a series of reasonably well-written historical mysteries. It’s one where I’d recommend starting at the beginning of the series because there’s ongoing character relationship stuff here, and this one was not my favorite of the bunch, but it was still a worthy entry in series context.

Nisi Shawl, ed., New Suns 2: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color. A really lovely anthology with several quite good stories and a bunch of entirely fine stories that weren’t as directly aimed at me, which is good, not everything should be aimed at me. Stand-out stories from Darcie Little Badger, John Chu, Nghi Vo, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, and Malka older. Great addition to the shelves.

D. E. Stevenson, Vittoria Cottage. Ah for the days when a book could just be called after its protagonist’s house, more or less regardless of its importance. This is a low-key story of middle-aged love and intended self-sacrifice. I was startled by how quickly it wrapped up until I found out that there are two more in the series; that explains it, I suppose.

Alice Winn, In Memoriam. Oh what a gorgeous book, oh what a wonderful, wonderful book. It’s about two quite young Englishmen–teenagers really–who go from their prep school to fight in the Great War, and they attempt to figure out their romantic relationship within the context their times have given them, and also within the literature they know very well, and it is not any “nicer” than you would expect from the trenches and the wounds and the POW camps and PTSD of the Great War, and I cried a lot and they thought about Tennyson as per the title, which I love, and lots of other poetry, and yeah, this was written straight at my heart. I’m so glad to have read it. Whatever Winn writes next, I’ll want to read. There was a moment when a character’s father says a particular thing and I said “OH NO OH NO OH NO” out loud and I was not wrong but also not sorry I was there for it even with the way it ended.

Patricia C. Wrede, The Dark Lord’s Daughter. The first of a duology, and you can tell that Pat isn’t done with everything she wants to do with this very Dark Lord Tropey book. It’s a portal fantasy. I hope this means MG portal fantasies are a bit more available now. I particularly liked the tablet that became a familiar.

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