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Books read, late October

Holly Black and Ellen Kushner, editors, Welcome to Bordertown: New Stories and Poems of the Borderlands. I read some of the Borderlands books when I was a teenager, when I could find them in used bookstores mostly. This collection is much newer–a few years old–and features stories by a much newer set of authors as well as authors whose Borderlands stories I loved as a teenager. There is a tendency for Borderlands stories to feel quasi-autobiographical, and this works beautifully for some authors and less well for others. Catherynne M. Valente, for example, wrote a story that fits so perfectly in the Borderlands universe that one is tempted to explain it with the year she spent in Bordertown in college. Other newcomers who fit in so seamlessly that one is sure they have always been there include Amal El-Mohtar, Alaya Dawn Johnson, and Janni Lee Simner; stories by Emma Bull and co-written by Ellen Kushner and Terri Windling reminded me of what I’ve always liked about this series.

Chaz Brenchley, Bitter Waters. Discussed elsewhere.

A. S. Byatt, The Biographer’s Tale. This felt a bit like an out-take, like a run-up to better work, particularly The Children’s Book. There were some goodish bits, but mostly it was a bit abstracted and none of the major characters ever really connected for me.

Jean-Pierre Courtiau, Paris: Cent Ans De Fantasmes Architecturaux Et De Projets Fous. Projets Fous: crazy projects. Yep. This is a French book of pictures and discussions of the crazy stuff people have proposed to do to Paris. Like enclosing Notre Dame in plexiglass. My standards for crazy are probably a bit high, but it was still entertaining.

Max Gladstone, Two Serpents Rise. The middle of the three books of the Craft in terms of publication order, the first chronologically. I don’t know anybody who’s started here, and I wouldn’t, but I was still glad to read it and am still looking forward to more.

Ross King, Leonardo and the Last Supper. A bit disappointing as Ross King books go: not a lot of nitty gritty about pigments or materials. Still reasonable if you’re looking for a discussion of what it says on the tin. Just not as all-out nerdy about How He/They Did That as King’s usual stuff.

Margaret Maron, Death of a Butterfly and Death in Blue Folders. Two in a mystery series that impinge a bit on the New York art world of their time (a few decades back). I’m generally on the lookout for a readable new mystery series right now, but this isn’t actually helpful, because the library only has one more. I found them quite readable, though, and will be glad to get to that one. Artists, organizational details, people sorting themselves out despite inauspicious beginnings sometimes.

Juhani Paasivirta, Finland and Europe: The Period of Autonomy and the International Crises, 1808-1914. Weirdly focused on newspapers and their subscribers, but okay, that’s useful to know. Also touches on pieces like how Russia wanted their new Grand Duchy not to have access to Sweden and how they attempted to cut that tie and where they succeeded and failed.

Jim Rasenberger, High Steel: The Daring Men Who Built the World’s Greatest Skyline, 1881 to the Present. A bit breathless, both about New York and about its steelworkers; my consistent mistyping of this title as “darling men” was perhaps Freudian. Also the timing of “the present” was very close on the heels of 9/11/01, so there was quite a lot of that and not a lot of the building thereafter. This is understandable–it’s an event that’s hard to overstate in the history of that skyline. But inevitably you will get a different perspective on what the work is like a few months after than a few years. Anyway, there were some startling and some head-shaking anecdotes in this. It was not ultimately very deep, but it didn’t have to be. The interviews with/profiles of steelworkers from different ethnic groups were worth the price of admission alone.

Sarah Rees Brennan, Unmade. The end of its trilogy, and for the love of Pete do not start here. I felt that it was a satisfying ending, albeit rather tied up in a bow in a couple of ways that were predictably more for its main audience than for me. If you’re worried that she won’t carry through on some of the darker aspects of the premise, though–no, there’s dark here, there’s follow-through. It’s not a downer of an ending, but it also doesn’t flinch from consequences.

Michael Roberts, Essays in Swedish History. Mostly the early modern period here. Pre-industrial, mostly politics, mostly powerful groups and political things rather than peasants and artisans, but I’m told one can’t have everything, and certainly one can’t fit it all in one volume.

Sylvia Townsend Warner, Summer Will Show. Sylvia Townsend Warner never met an Aristotelian unity she gave a damn about, and this book is not going anywhere it looks like it might from the first few pages. It is a ’48er book. There are places where its attitudes about race and religion are remarkably progressive for its time, and places where that still falls short, just for a warning if you’re not up for that. But gosh. What a thing. What an odd, perfectly itself sort of thing to have, wandering around the barricades with its jewelry and its prejudices and the prejudices of other people it can see clearly. Gosh.

Peter Watts, Beyond the Rift. Short story collection that overlaps only somewhat with the one I read a few weeks back, plenty of other things to ?enjoy? ?appreciate? whatever the verb is for what one does with Peter Watts stories. Other than read. Read is a good verb.

Roger Zelazny, Unicorn Variations. There is only so much first-person asshole narrator one can have at once, and this was right up at the edge of that for me. Several bits of this are the places where Zelazny was most influenced by Hemingway, which…made me want to sit him down with several volumes of Elizabeth Gaskell until he felt better. This sort of impulse rarely ends well.

1 thought on “Books read, late October

  1. “which…made me want to sit him down with several volumes of Elizabeth Gaskell until he felt better. This sort of impulse rarely ends well.” Awww. That just made me warm and fuzzy happy to read.

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