Posted on Leave a comment

Books read, late October

Jennifer Ackerman, The Genius of Birds. This is not a metaphorical title: this is a book about bird intelligence and how we know what we know about how different groups of birds think about things. If you follow the popular science press you will probably know several of these examples but their grouping is still instructive.

Theodore Bestor, Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World. A popular anthropological study of the fish market in downtown Tokyo, so yeah, that was outside my usual fare in an interesting way. What are the official regulatory bodies, what are the unofficial relationships among vendors, what does the year look like there…interesting stuff. Also guess who ordered takeout sushi when finished reading this book.

Stephen B. Bright and James Kwak, The Fear of Too Much Justice: Race, Poverty, and the Persistence of Inequality in the Criminal Courts. Lays out a lot of stuff about American court systems and the guard rails they set up against admitting that they’re doing anybody wrong, especially anybody poor, especially anybody Black or Native or Latine. The examples and the rulings and the court cases put out in black and white like this are extremely instructive if you haven’t been paying attention to the details of it, or even if you have.

Su Cho, The Symmetry of Fish. These poems are so precise, and they are so weighted, and also I read them and went out and bought yellow kiwifruit, because sometimes my reaction to poetry is very deep-dive nerdy about word use in the fifth line and sometimes it’s…rather shallower than that. There’s a lot about being a two-cultures kid and later adult here, there’s a lot of family relationship and sensory culture and…I will want to reread this. But in the meantime, also, I will be eating yellow kiwifruit. (Look, there are worse themes to a book post, okay.)

Roshani Chokshi, Once More Upon a Time. Novella-length, an after-the-fairy-tale story that is very transparently about modern love, not actually one of my favorites of hers but fine, she knows how to write sentences.

Ben Goldfarb, Crossings: How Road Ecology Is Shaping the Future of Our Planet. I think one of the most surprising take-away points from this for me was how much we know that we can actually do to make things ecologically better for animals around roads and highways. There’s a lot of fatalism around this topic that simply does not have to be there! Yes, things are very bad for animals around roads and highways, but we already know things to improve this and can learn more, and Goldfarb is really interesting on the topic. So this was far less depressing than I expected it to be.

Kate Kennedy and Hermione Lee, eds., Lives of Houses. A nonfiction essay anthology–I’m used to reading fiction anthologies or essay collections, the distinction being multi-author vs. single-author, so this was a pleasant change. As with fiction anthologies, it was a mixed bag of “oh what a delight, this is just what I wanted to read about” mingled with a few of “I don’t really care about this at all.” A lot of it is about the homes of famous writers and other figures in the arts and letters, many of whom were famous writers I care about (see Hermione Lee right there on the tin). It’s not a book of great heft and substance, and sometimes that’s okay.

Naomi Kritzer, Liberty’s Daughter. Discussed elsewhere.

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Birthday of the World and Other Stories. Reread. I wanted to read the generation ship novella at the end again for my own generation ship project, which is different but having influences is nice. It just kept striking me how very anthropological she gets and how nice that can be. Lots of ringing changes on “would you look at that shape of human relationship” in ways that I like, and I think I liked it better than last time I read it.

Rose Macaulay, Personal Pleasures: Essays on Enjoying Life. These are generally quite short, they are alphabetical, and it was just what I needed. Not all the pleasures aged well. Of course they didn’t. Ours won’t either. Some of them are extremely simple and direct, some of them are screamingly funny, you’ll be able to spot the mildly xenophobic products of their time coming and they won’t be as frequent as a lot of other people of her era, and I will just skip those and read her being funny about family albums again later. The thing that is odd about this new edition is that they had someone footnote it who didn’t like made-up words, and look, this is Rose Macaulay, she makes up words like a champ, she makes up words like the proto-SFF author she was, and she does it in a perfectly comprehensible way, from roots you know and with incluing you can get from the text. So to have sniffy endnotes where the person writing the endnotes is clutching their pearls about how it is another made-up word–she’s done it again, Howard–and it probably means what it transparently does mean–is to sigh. The other thing about the endnotes is that they’re so odd. They put notes on things that you probably have to know if you’re going to get anywhere, and–look, these are vastly referential, and they endnote most of the things you’ll need to know to get what she’s being funny about, but then not all. But then some of the deeply obvious things they also endnote. But again not all. What a weird set of endnotes. But oh gosh, Rose Macaulay can be funny pastiching Hemingway just to be a brat about it. Love her so much.

Wilma Mankiller, Mankiller Poems: The Lost Poetry of Wilma Mankiller, The Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. This is quite a small collection, and a lot of the poems are very much on the nose. I came out of it thinking how interesting it was to see the poems of a political leader rather than what a shame it was that she didn’t spend more time as a poet.

Temi Oh, More Perfect. A science fiction novel about the perils and joys of connection, personal and artificial. The characters make believably poor choices for their ages (they are mostly in their very early twenties–it’s not YA but they are adults who are quite young, and they aren’t the kind of quite young adults who are cautious and unemotional). There’s been cataclysm and social upheaval that’s run right over their childhoods, and you can tell. I wanted to like it more than I did, but I ended up glad I’d read it overall.

Naomi Salman, Nothing But the Rain. A mysterious rain induces amnesia on the residents of a town, and they also don’t always treat each other well. This is a novella, and I didn’t want any more of it than that.

V.E. Schwab, The Fragile Threads of Power. Another in her parallel Londons series, and the title is extremely appropriate both with the magical system and metaphorically. Lots of magical gadgets and world-crossing and the sorts of things I like. I had fun with this one and am glad there’ll be more.

Melissa Sevigny, Brave the Wild River: The Untold Story of Two Women Who Mapped the Botany of the Grand Canyon. At the height of the Great Depression, the Colorado River was not very navigable by anybody, and at the time a lot of people thought that adding “ESPECIALLY LADIES” made sense there. (Ugh.) Two botanists from the University of Michigan took a river trip sampling plants and mapping where they were found in the Colorado River canyons, and this goes a little bit into the botany involved but a lot more into the social history of the trip and them doing that kind of work. It’s interesting and not terribly long.

Margery Sharp, Martha in Paris. Kindle. What a weird little book, what a weird, weird little book. Fair warning: Sharp makes some very offensive assumptions about who can be sexually assaulted. (There isn’t sexual assault in the book, but she has the old-fashioned and wrong-then-too assumption that one must be conventionally attractive to be a target, which: NO and also GROSS.) This is very much a middle book, and in it Martha is sent to Paris to study art, and she does that despite other people’s determination that she should focus on other things, some of which another person very well might focus on under the circumstances. I feel like in some ways this is almost more like the middle section of a book than a middle book, really, and it has less of other people than The Eye of Love both for good (Martha is more interesting than they are) and for ill (they gave The Eye of Love more shape and substance).

Emily Wilson, trans. The Iliad. This is so readable, it just rushes along at such a clear and angry and grief-stricken pace. You’re never going to miss that this is full of the wrath of men and gods; you’re never going to lose sight of the deaths of everyone who matters to you, assuming that anyone here matters to you. Even the section that I think of as “ancient box scores and shout-outs” (battinnnnnng fooooor the Greeks! numberrrrr seventy-two! etc.) went by at a good clip, but not enough for the prose to feel rushed. I wrote two poems while I read it. I still hate the vast majority of the characters. This is entirely expected and in no way Emily Wilson’s fault; my people would have gone home with enough gold in book two, acclaiming Thersites as the most sensible soul they’d ever met. Sure is fun to take enough gold and go home to our nice houses and families! Wonder why they didn’t call it the Thersiad! Guess we’ll never know, we’ve wandered off home with enough gold!…there’s more poem then? how odd. (I did read the rest. I like Scamander also. The rest of them. Well, they’re not there for me to like, is the thing.)

F. C. Yee, The Legacy of Yangchen. Definitely a sequel, and I’d start with the first if you’re interested in Yee’s explorations of Avatars past. If you read these book posts, you know that I don’t read much in the way of media tie-ins at all. These are a notable exception because Yee is given enough space to really play with the setting, which I appreciate.

Leave a Reply

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