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Books read, late March

Aisha Abdel Gawad, Between Two Moons. The moons here are metaphors and also the two moons that mark the beginning and end of Ramadan; they are not a fantasy element, and this is not a fantasy novel. It’s a novel about a contemporary Egyptian-American family in New York, and it’s really well characterized and beautifully written and I liked it a lot. I felt like the ending wasn’t quite as much of a strong punctuation as I wanted, but on the other hand it was not the obvious thing I feared it would be, so yeah, very much worth the time.

Samit Basu, The Jinn-Bot of Shantiport. Science fiction adventure Aladdin! Do you want a fun one of those? Because this sure is a fun one of those.

Frederic L. Cheyette, Ermengard of Narbonne and the World of the Troubadours. Does what it says on the tin. Are you interested in southern France before it was firmly France per se? I am. So is this book, using the lens of this historical figure to get there.

Elwin Cotman, Weird Black Girls. Discussed elsewhere.

Pamela Dean, Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary. Reread. This was a reread with a purpose, but on this go-round I was really taken by how much the time sense portrayed in this book aligns with what my friends with ADHD describe of their experience. I don’t mean to say that Pamela wrote it with that intention–far from it, with a 1998 copyright date. But I do think that there are books that later get looked at metaphorically through lenses that work for people and I think this might be one of them? But I, Captain Executive Function, am the wrong person to write about this extensively–in the context of this book I am such a Becky–I can love this book, but I can’t be the one to chew on it from that direction.

Diana Wynne Jones, Fire and Hemlock. Reread. What is it with the bibliophile Tam Lin retellings, do we have any theories? There’s nothing in the ballad that’s like, kirtle green a bit above her knee and also lots of books. Not that I’m complaining, mind you, I will take another if anyone wants to write a third one of this description and I will reread that one too.

Lyz Lenz, This American Ex-Wife: How I Ended My Marriage and Started My Life. I was somewhat amused to have gotten this rec from a fellow happily married woman, but as I said to another friend, it was no threat to us, we didn’t have to get defensive about reading an interesting book. One of the several appalling things here that stood out to me–that I’ve seen before in bad husbands, and maybe bad partners of other genders do it too and I just haven’t seen it, who knows–is the conviction that there is an easy type of writing to do that one’s spouse just isn’t doing, that would be just as satisfying but far more lucrative per unit labor and could be swapped out for the type of writing one’s spouse is inexplicably doing, no problem. Why! Why do some terrible people believe this! It’s not the first time I’ve seen this belief in the wild, sometimes I’ve had conversations with the actual people who are espousing this belief. Where does it come from, this sense that all writing is basically equally satisfying to all people, so anyone can/should just swap out theirs for the “easier” one? What??? I mean, there’s a bunch of other stuff in here about marriage and labor and respect, it’s an interesting read, I just…that one piece jumped out at me personally.

Gideon Marcus et al, ed., Rediscovery: Science Fiction by Women Vol. 2 (1953-1957). An anthology read for book club. I wish I could recommend it more strongly–the book club discussions were good, but not because the stories were a series of gems. There are some quite good science fiction stories by women from this period, and this book is mostly not them. It is also quite badly edited. I’m not clear on whether there was an overall editorial hand–some of the stories are fine, others have random line breaks in places the story shouldn’t have them, the standards for the notes to them are wildly inconsistent, and they don’t seem to have been put in a particularly thoughtful order. I feel like there are better ways to get at stories from this period’s women than this.

Zohra Nabi, The Kingdom Over the Sea. I enjoyed this Islamic-inflected middle-grade fantasy a great deal except for the ending, where the heroine’s success depended very, very directly on her blood line, which is not really a thing I enjoy particularly as key plot elements go.

Aimee Pokwatka, The Parliament. This is much darker than I usually enjoy, and it was so, so good. The characters are trapped in a public library and dealing with their own pasts as well as the dark forces trapping them there, and it actually copes with some of the violent social issues of our time in a respectful and thoughtful way but also has kid characters realistically interacting as kids (this is not a kids’ book, it’s adult perspective on them) and…yeah, beautifully done, love it.

Arthur Ransome, The Picts and the Martyrs. Reread. My other rereads this fortnight were at least thinking about a project, though not all of them will end up being for that project. This one was just random, I just kept thinking about this old children’s favorite until I took it down from the shelf. It was exactly where I left it, great-aunt relations and living in the woods and all.

Natasha Dow Schull, Addiction By Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas. This is not a book I was glad to be reading, this is a book I’m glad to have read, so that I have the information in it. Oh gosh was it upsetting. But no, it was not just stuff I already knew, actually, it was worse than that. The focus here was the design of video poker machines specifically to create as addictive an experience as possible, and what shape that addictive experience took. I was completely mistaken about the latter–I would have said that it was chasing a win, chasing a high, and the research says it’s not that at all, it’s locking into the repetitive experience, a sort of broken version of flow state, which is useful to know but extremely disturbing in its details. Worth thinking about. Oof.

Adam Shatz, The Rebel’s Clinic: The Revolutionary Lives of Frantz Fanon. I didn’t know a lot about Fanon or his role in Algerian independence or any related topics, and I felt like Shatz did quite a good job of focusing on him while keeping perspective about his flaws–for example, Shatz is extremely clear that Fanon could in no way have been considered a feminist or gender egalitarian–while not making the entire book only about those flaws.

Caroline Stevermer, A College of Magics. Reread. I always forget how little of the book is at Greenlaw College, but I enjoy the whole thing regardless, the travel adventures, the feel of the magic, the friendships, all of it.

Michael Walsh, ed., Queer Nature: A Poetry Anthology. This takes an extremely broad view of both what constitutes queer poetry and what constitutes nature poetry. The poems are arranged alphabetically by author, which sometimes is jarring and sometimes leads to interesting juxtapositions.

Jo Walton, Among Others. Reread. Another of the rereads with a specific intention, and I really like Mori’s forthright attempts to cope through books–same, buddy, same–and also how successfully of her era she is, how firmly Jo resists giving her knowledge and attitudes she wouldn’t have access to–she doesn’t have access to the Oz books in the UK of the time, she doesn’t know how bras are sized because girls of her age and class aren’t necessarily told, there’s all sorts of stuff she knows heaps about and the stuff she doesn’t understand yet fits with that perfectly, it’s all human knowledge even with the book having fairies.

Aliya Whiteley, The Arrival of Missives. Short fantastical work dealing with a village in the aftermath of the Great War and some strange happenings unfolding in it. Hope and fate and choice are intertwined without having to take forever to do it.

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