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Books read, early October

Shahzad Bashir, The Market in Poetry in the Persian World. Kindle. Short monograph placing poetry almost as a commodity to be traded and Persian as a poetry language in a set of communities which were almost always multi-lingual. For me the relationships of poets writing in Persian and how they categorized themselves with relationship to each other–sometimes aggressively so–was the most interesting part.

Patrick Bringley, All the Beauty in the World: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Me. A fairly brief, not very deep but generally cheerful and interesting, memoir of being a guard at the Met.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning, The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning: Volume 1, 1845-1846. Kindle. One of two that I’d had going for a bit and just finished up in the last fortnight. I found her letters to other people once they were married delightful, and watching them fall in love mostly through letters is extremely sweet. There’s also a moment where Robert Browning earns my “arright, mister, you gets to stay” reaction by telling a story about an acquaintance of his who humiliated his wife at supper and the ferocious way Browning treated him after, also by his utter relief at hearing that Ba intends to keep Barrett as part of her name once they’re married. They misunderstand each other, they get melodramatic, they’re still at this point dealing with her father who seems to be an utter piece of work. Here for it.

Susan Casey, The Underworld: Journeys to the Depths of the Ocean. Ironically not a very deep book, lots of detail about making the trips in submersibles, less detail than I wanted about the species in these ecosystems.

C.J. Cherry, The Pride of Chanur. Reread. It had been long enough that I had not remembered how much this is aunt/niece fiction, and gosh did I need that right now. I really love how the human perspective never takes center stage here, how it’s always a hani book, with Tully as a MacGuffin but not a protagonist. I love how Cherryh thinks of humans in a plurality of alien intelligences as small and fragile and raw.

Eli Clare, Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation. I think I expected this to be less memoir and more theory, or maybe memoir is how Clare does theory. Anyway it was interesting. Class is in here too, not just sexuality and disability.

Jon Evans, Exadelic. I have honestly no idea how this book would strike someone who didn’t live in or adjacent to the Bay Area tech community in 2003, but for me there was a lot of the feeling of recognition, oh, these people, okay, I know them. This book is very twisty and full of several reality resets, but for me it always stayed on the side of “adequately foreshadowed and/or explained” rather than “wait what I don’t get it” to be gonzo fun rather than incoherent.

Nicola Griffith, Menewood. Sequel to Hild, and there is a lot of hard stuff in here, there is infant death and child death and battlefields are in no way glorious, though the people who treat them as glorious are portrayed accurately to their cultures. People are struggling their way through history here, doing the best they can in this firelit world, trying to make sure there’s enough to eat for the winter and a place to hide if someone treacherous comes and a way to outmaneuver the reckless. It’s so well-done and I love it so much.

Elizabeth Rush, The Quickening: Creation and Community at the Ends of the Earth. Rush was on an expedition to Antarctica at the same time as she was preparing to get pregnant, and she talked to all sorts of people involved with this scientific research community about their births, their experiences birthing, their sense of community in this setting. An interesting and unusual book.

John Sayles, Jamie MacGillivray. I am surprised to say this about a John Sayles novel, but this is a very conventional historical novel. It has fewer perspectives than his usual, mostly being tightly focused on two people from very similar places, and while it was fine and entertaining, I’m really not accustomed to being able to predict the ending of a John Sayles work in detail from 10% of the way in. Also he really did not appear to have any interest in dealing with religion with any depth or personal engagement, which…when you’re writing about people from the 18th century Highlands is sure a choice I guess? but again not the complexity I would have expected from Sayles. Ah well, not everything can be A Moment in the Sun, which might even be a good thing I guess.

Joanna Schwartz, Shielded: How the Police Became Untouchable. This lays out the legal precedents that allow police misconduct to flourish, one at a time and with clear examples. It’s a fairly short book, but a very useful one, and if you’re not sure why police are allowed to do what they’re allowed to do in the US–why it’s not just a matter of one or two bad cops but a system that makes things difficult for the good ones to make any kind of precedent that their goodness is structural–this is going to explain why, with all the receipts.

D.L. Soria, Thief Liar Lady. A Cinderella story wherein Cinderella is not a dewy innocent but in fact a girl on a mission. More than one, in fact, and navigating the world after the ball is the story here. A good enough time that I’m looking into Soria’s previous work.

Peter Stark, Gallop Toward the Sun: Tecumseh and William Henry Harrison’s Struggle for the Destiny of a Nation. Peter Stark seems to be frustrated that some people think of William Henry Harrison as a trivia question answer (“shortest presidency”!) instead of as a crucial part of the machine of genocide. Well, if you read his book you will definitely get the details on the machine of genocide and William Henry Harrison’s part in it. And also some stuff about Tecumseh and his place in his culture and family.

Valerie Valdes, Where Peace Is Lost. Hey, remember when we thought the Jedi might not suck? Valerie does, and she’s written us book with a fallen-hidden order of mystic space knights doing galaxy protecty stuff on backwater planets with eager young locals, and it hasn’t been ruined by some guy going off on his own ego that nobody else cared about. Also Valerie’s had all genders in it from the start. I’m just sayin’.

Greg van Eekhout, The Ghost Job. Four friends died in a chemistry accident, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still have fun and do heists! Middle grade romp. Featuring a Very Good Dog, not dead.

Martha Wells, System Collapse. Discussed elsewhere.

P. G. Wodehouse, Indiscretions of Archie and The Man With Two Left Feet and Other Stories, both Kindle. The latter is an unremarkable and highly mixed set of short stories, the animal stories of which feature the animal treatment mores of previous days (skip them, IME). The former stood out to me by being a standard lighthearted Wodehouse comedy in which the Great War has explicitly and on the page just happened and is allowed to be acknowledged. Our titular hero, though an idiot in fine Wodehouse Hero form, has been demobbed; he has had war experiences; when he runs into someone he met during the War, he has the sorts of feelings one might have, and while comedic events surround this, the bond itself is taken utterly seriously and respectfully. It’s the strangest thing. In some ways I had been reading Bertie Wooster as “let’s not think about all that, look, a clown,” and…here’s another clown, and his khaki is hanging in the open wardrobe. Very strange.

Lisa Yaszek, The Future Is Female! This is the other thing that I’d been reading for quite some time and only just finished up this fortnight. I’m in a book club that’s taking this anthology and its sequel a few stories at a time so we can dig into the discussion of them. It’s an anthology that’s got historical organization (going from the 1920s to the 1960s) and some of the stories in it fairly strongly appear to have been chosen for historical documentation purpose (why else is this appalling Marion Zimmer Bradley story here). There are both rarities and warhorses, solid thematic groupings and througlines, and you could do a lot worse for a book club, although I will add the caveat that you will want it to be a book group with good known moderators if so, because some of the subject matter requires basically all the content warnings.

Ovidia Yu, The Yellow Rambutan Tree Mystery. The latest in this series of historical mysteries set in Yu’s native Singapore, and I continue to appreciate her willingness to go through a notably interesting period of Singapore’s history at an astonishing clip. The series started before the Second World War, and this volume is about the war’s aftermath. Were she interested in doing “the same, but more of it” she could have lingered at any moment, but instead she wants to do different things as the setting and characters develop, and this is just what I want in a mystery series and makes me happy. Don’t start here, there’s a lot of character backstory you won’t fully appreciate even though there’s also, of course, an episodic mystery to be solved.

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