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Books read, early July

A large percentage of manuscripts not yet to be publicly discussed in early July, as an odd coincidence; a very, very small percentage of books too awful to finish (or, more politely, just wrong for me).

Megan Abbott, The Fever. A literary thriller that is about a high school but does not appear to be shelved as YA, about girls getting mysteriously sick. The beginning was quite readable, and I found the ending immensely, horribly unsatisfying. If you ask yourself, “What is the most boring thing that could be the cause of all this without actually being an offensive anti-vaccination screed?,” it’s that. (The anti-vaccination stuff comes up as a reaction people have–“OMG the evil vaccinations must have caused this”–but gets shot down.) Not at all recommended.

A. S. Byatt, Babel Tower. Immersive and compelling. The people who complain that nothing happens in literary fiction are clearly reading the wrong literary fiction, because Byatt is impeccably literary, and quite a lot happens in this book. I don’t guarantee that those same people will like it, and I didn’t entirely find the interwoven fragments successful in their eventual context. But really, the “I don’t like literary fiction, nothing happens in it” complaint is one of those ritualized complaints that people have discovered they are allowed to make, not something that bears resemblance to an actual Byatt novel.

Ariel Cohn and Aron Nels Steinke, The Zoo Box. Discussed elsewhere. Of a length that I would not usually have discussed at all, except that it was sent to me as a review book.

Timothy Egan, The Worst Hard Time. Not, as someone suggested, the grimdark version of The Last Hot Time, but in fact a history of the Dust Bowl for white and a few Native American Oklahomans. I already knew quite a bit about the subject, and yet this was crammed with interesting tidbits and interviews, definitely worth the time. I’m still not sure how it got into the references for a different Depression-era project completely, but it was interesting enough that I’m not upset at the time spent.

Gary Kaunonen, Challenge Accepted: A Finnish Immigrant Response to Industrial America in Michigan’s Copper Country. Detailed work on how the Finns settled in and built their part of the copper mining labor movement in Michigan, with some attention to Minnesota as well. Lots of useful detail, even more tantalizing stuff around the edges. A little more intersectionality would have held Kaunonen, because he had a few complete misses, like thinking that office work was traditional for women in 1907. (The women who had to fight for those jobs at that time would laugh like a drain to hear it–but in retrospect, so many of them were successful that they now look traditional.) But most of the book was really solid and quite useful to me.

Ian Lendler and Zack Giallongo, Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents: Macbeth. Discussed elsewhere.

Alan Palmer, Northern Shores: A History of the Baltic Sea and Its Peoples. Okay, so first, the title of this book is a lie. It is not even remotely a “people’s” history, it is a history of who was king or tsar or very, very occasionally prime minister in the countries around the Baltic. And second, it was utter crap at that, because Alan Palmer had the world’s biggest set of sexist blinders on, so he acted like we didn’t know Christina Gyllenstierna’s name, referring to her only as Sten Sture the Younger’s widow, when in fact she was a person, a known person, a quite interesting person, held Stockholm against four months of siege and was elected king for that period (yes, kong, that was the word, not drottning, queen, that’s something different). And if you’re going to do a history of the Baltic that isn’t focused on mercantile issues, then you’re kind of an idiot and missing out on juicy bits at least don’t close your eyes to the crazy cool stuff that the noble orders are doing just because it doesn’t fall into your preconceived notions of how kingship, noble orders, and–I will actually go all the way here: history. Because it doesn’t fall into your preconceived notion of how history works. Nor is Sweden the only issue here–Jagiella down in Poland was just as scare-quoted and sneered at by this Palmer person who doesn’t seem to have the faintest notion that the English Victorians made up the gender roles he thinks the Middle Ages and Renaissance had, and not all of the English Victorians signed on for them, even, so you can’t go imposing them on Gyllenstiernas and Totts and the like, they didn’t know them, they had no idea what you would later show up and be on about–yes, they had gender roles, certainly, just not the ones he thinks. And Christina Gyllenstierna wasn’t important because she was the widow of one of the Stures, one of the Stures married her because she was important, for the love of Mike; he wouldn’t have had a wife who simpered while Stockholm burned, it wasn’t how they made matches then, certainly not in Scandinavia. This is just a narrow slice of what I think of this book, substantially edited for public consumption. But seriously, don’t get this book. It’s like one of the bad Kalevala translations, with all the marrow sucked out and the rhyme scheme left in. (This book does not actually rhyme. Sometimes the internet is bad at analogy, so I feel I have to say.)

Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. A little bit iffy at math: you don’t get to average all the things he thinks you can, just on a “math doesn’t always work that way” level. Mostly okay with math, though. Considerably iffier with literary criticism and social criticism, hoo boy. Quentin Tarantino: not a reliable source for life in the antebellum American South. The US: considerably endowed with nostalgia for the immediate post-WWII period. And other howlers. Still an interesting book, and not a slow read considering what it was trying to do. But some pretty gaping holes in his attempts at examples.

Paul Pope, JT Petty, and David Rubin, Battling Boy: The Rise of Aurora West. Discussed elsewhere.

Hannu Rajaniemi, The Causal Angel. Discussed elsewhere.

Christie Yant, ed., Lightspeed: Women Destroy Science Fiction! Special Issue. I make a policy of not reviewing books I appear in, and I have an essay in this. Nonetheless: it exists, and I read it, and you can read it too.

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