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Books read, late April

Christopher Benfey, A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Mark Johnson Heade. There is less Twain than a person might hope if they were partial to Twain, but there is quite a lot of Mark Johnson Heade, and if you’re partial to obscure bird artists–which frankly I kind of am–that works out all for the best.

Jennifer Coopersmith, Energy: The Subtle Concept. A history of how we have thought about energy (in a physics context, not a colloquial one). Worthwhile even for the physicists among us for how it covers dead ends and experiments that reinforced wrong notions as well as covering progress towards decent approximations of understanding. I love mad scientists and wrong science. They are the messy way the world works.

Diane Duane, So You Want to Be a Wizard. Reread. The thing that struck me on this reread is how astonishingly filmable this story is. I am completely boggled that it has not become a movie yet. There are aspects that fall away as the series deepens, and it gets much, much better from here, and yet the basic elements are there, Kit and Nita starting to work as a team, personality from unusual places starting with Fred the white hole but also including the cabs in the dark universe, and always always placing oneself squarely against entropy. I’m going to keep rereading this series. This was a good reminder of why I love it–and how simply complex things can start successfully.

William Gibson, The Peripheral. I respect this book a great deal. A friend suggested that it might be the best thing Gibson has done, and she may well be right. The science fictional thing he’s doing with information traveling through time but not matter–that’s not something I’ve seen much before if at all, and he does it very well. I did not, however, find it particularly well-characterized. I had difficulty caring about the characters. So I respected but didn’t enjoy this book. Ah well; these things happen.

J. N. B. Hewitt, Iroquois Cosmology. Kindle. Highly archaic language, retelling origin stories from more than one Iroquois group. Somewhat repetitive and not very good quality prose, but beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to recognizing diversity/variation of Native American/First Nations pre-Columbian thought.

Megan Marshall, The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism. Kindle. Very weirdly structured. Because this was on my Kindle, I couldn’t tell that fully 40% of it was endnotes, and that therefore it was going to stop once two of the sisters were married. Their careers and interesting behaviors did not stop at that point, nor did they sink into obscurity (one married Nathaniel Hawthorne, the other Horace Mann), so I’m not at all clear why Marshall decided that this was all the Peabody we got. Other than that it was quite good, digressing in a most engaging way into the history of canals and Unitarianism in the US and all sorts of stuff, just the right amount to be sparkly and interesting but not enough to lose coherence. I also added to my list of “women Bronson Alcott screwed over; reasons Bronson Alcott should have been shaken until his teeth rattled,” which latter act I would not even have thought of without Louisa May Alcott, so…appropriate I guess. But Bronson Alcott did not take over the book, and I have hopes that he will not take over Marshall’s bio of Margaret Fuller.

E. P. Thompson, Whigs and Hunters: The Origin of the Black Act. This is the book with which my ability to read nonfiction ran aground in March when I got sick. There’s a lot of dense chewy stuff about poaching and commonly held lands in English history. Worthwhile, but not for when your brain is not at full capacity.

Jo Walton, Lifelode. Reread. I still love how this all fits together, how the worldbuilding works with something this complicated. Before it came out, I was saying that there weren’t many people other than Jo I would trust not to make something like this a hot mess, and that’s still true. For those who haven’t read it: the main characters are a complex family, and time runs differently depending on where you are geographically. And it’s substantially domestic. It’s lovely, and I love it, but I can’t think who else could have written anything even with a similar setting, much less the whole thing.

Jacqueline Winspear, Maisie Dobbs. The first in a mystery series that focuses more on the effects of WWI on the heroine’s life than on the mystery, but since that mystery is also WWI-related, the imbalance doesn’t grate. I’ll be interested to see how the rest of the series works, though, since it doesn’t seem all that repeatable. The best mystery series don’t rely on repetition…but most do.

Zong In-Sob, Folk Tales from Korea. This is from 1952. All sorts of interesting pieces and parts in it, useful thoughts for later projects. Does not have everything one could want; duh, really, it’s only one book. Very glad that Half Price had it, though.

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