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Books read, late November

John Joseph Adams, ed., Lightspeed Presents Futures and Fantasies. Kindle. Magazines have different approaches to digital swag for conventions. Some give recent issues to try to promote recent stories; some do compilations of older “greatest hits” material. This is the latter, and in that way it’s very successful–lots of really well-received stories from years past here. Adams focuses on stories that work as stories, not on stories that tie in with famous novel series but are basically outtakes, which shows his commitment to the short story form, and I really appreciate that. In another way it’s a little self-defeating, because at the end of every story is not just a list of the other stuff the author has published with Lightspeed (lovely! good!) but also a full–on my Kindle multiple-page–ad for a Lightspeed subscription. Since one can generally read Lightspeed without that much ad content, this seems counterproductive to me, but maybe it’s worked well for them in combination with the good stories.

S. Bear Bergman, Special Topics in Being Human: A Queer and Tender Guide to Things I’ve Learned the Hard Way About Caring for People, Including Myself. This is a comic book general advice book by the author of an advice column. I think it’s best aimed at the young and uncertain, and the art style didn’t really add anything for me, but it was a pleasant enough diversion.

Leslie Brody, Sometimes You Have to Lie: The Life and Times of Louise Fitzhugh, Renegade Author of Harriet the Spy. The thing about Louise Fitzhugh is that she really did not want to be well known or understood by the people around her, and that means that this biography has a lot of flashes of illumination of its supporting cast and…less of Fitzhugh herself. She packed some points of extreme interest into a quite-short life, but there were areas Brody either could not illuminate or didn’t want to–she gestures, for example, at Fitzhugh’s amphetamine abuse but does not clarify its extent in either time or intensity. Is that because she doesn’t know or because it’s not the part of Fitzhugh’s life she finds important? It’s hard to say. But when you stack up enough of those points–why did she break up with that person? what was she doing there? and so on–the biography starts to feel out of focus, distanced. Still an interesting person, never a happy one, always one who wanted to be a little farther away than a biographer stands.

Carolyn Burke, Foursome: Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, Paul Strand, Rebecca Salsbury. In some ways group biographies of twentieth century figures are so weird after my beloved seventeenth, because there is enough information about the first two of these artists, at least, for several individual biographies, which do exist. Burke is not writing a group biography because that’s all she can piece together, it’s because she feels this is an interesting angle on this group of artists. And it is, somewhat, mostly. I end up glad that there are individual biographies of O’Keeffe that I can read later. Also I wound up mistrusting a biographer who seemed not to have heard, as of the publication of this volume in 2019, of bisexuality. I don’t know whether O’Keeffe and Salsbury had a sexual relationship. Unlike Burke I haven’t gone through all their papers with a fine-toothed comb. But I do know that “they sure were attracted to men” is…basically a separate question and a very silly thing to bring up as a counterpoint, because: bisexuals, they definitely exist, I have even met some myself and can introduce you if you’re civilized about it. This is the sort of point that is just so ridiculous that it makes me distrust the author’s judgment in other areas.

Zachary D. Carter, The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes. The title of this work is somewhat misleading. It looks like a biography, and in many ways it is a biography. I picked this up on–you will be able to tell from other things here and in the next fortnight and probably beyond–a biography kick, not sure whether I wanted a biography of Keynes. Within the first few pages I was utterly sure I did want one, I wanted this one. Except…Carter starts when Keynes was about thirty. And not because he felt that Keynes’s early life was irrelevant to his motivation and personality, either–he kept darting back in odd ways to early influences. And then at the end there was 150 pages of gratuitous Galbraith. It was a very weird book. I enjoyed it, it was just…”let’s just lop of early influences and tack on a mini-bio of the next feller” is not standard biographical form.

P. Djeli Clark, A Master of Djinn. The first full-length novel in this world, and it was worth the wait. This was a delight, ranging through Clark’s well-developed alternate Cairo and giving him the room to really let the characters develop and play. Recommended.

Susan Cooper, Over Sea, Under Stone. Reread. I’m going to be talking about The Dark Is Rising with someone later this month, so I thought I’d start at the beginning this time, with the hints and signs, questing for the Grail without full magic. And I found that it held up pretty well, although the bits of gender attitudes and approvals of colonialism that were baked in made me sigh in spots. The thing that made me mad as a kid that still made me mad as an adult was Merriman’s insistence that the evil vicar was not a real vicar. Even as a grade schooler I jutted my chin out at that, utterly sure that clergy came in wrong ‘uns and that people should know it; it felt at the time as though Cooper put that bit in at the end to soothe sensibilities rather than because it made any sense. I feel that way as an adult too.

Kiran Millwood Hargrave, The Mercies. This was harrowing and beautiful and horrible. It’s about women in a fishing village in northern Norway in the seventeenth century, when a tragedy at sea has taken most of their menfolk, just as the king in far-off Denmark has decided to make an example of witches. They discover strength and weakness in themselves and each other, individually and as a community, and it’s vividly done and sometimes quite hard to read.

Carolyn Holbrook and David Mura, eds., We Are Meant to Rise. Discussed elsewhere.

Ilya Kaminsky, Deaf Republic. I would like to read some D/deaf commentary about this, because I am mostly sure I’m missing some of the things Kaminsky was doing with his fictional republic, its sudden deafness in the face of tyranny, his commentary about disability and community and resistance. But what I see is quite enough to go on. These poems were heartbreaking in spots, amazing.

Elizabeth Kolbert, Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future. An examination of several of the things people might be doing to try to mitigate climate change and other environmental concerns, and also the ways they can go weirdly wrong. A strange little book full of strange technologies and the weirdoes who advocate for them.

Yoon Ha Lee, The Fox’s Tower and Other Tales. Beautifully put together, illustrated little fantasy vignettes, many of them with a rather fairy tale theme but not all.

L.M. Montgomery, Kilmeny of the Orchard. Reread. I remember disliking this novella as a kid. I didn’t have the vocabulary to say that it was because it was sexist, astonishingly ableist, and racist against, of all things, Italian people. (This is from the period when Italian people were dubiously counted as white, so I really do mean “racist.”) So very not recommended–I’m glad to have thought to look at it again so that I can remove it from my shelves and reclaim the space, because this is one of the grossest things I’ve ever read. The protagonist’s mutism is psychological but inherited and innate from birth but can be overcome when she really really has strong enough motivation (violent Italian man threatening the man she loves so that he needs to be verbally warned, but somehow she couldn’t chuck something to get anybody’s attention). Oh, and it didn’t matter that she was disabled not because she was a fellow worthwhile human being but because she was the prettiest. Eyeroll forever, definitely anti-recommended.

Jill Paton Walsh, Debts of Dishonor. A reasonable enough mystery of its time, nothing outstanding but entertaining. Imogen Quy is a nurse at a Cambridge college, giving her all sorts of good skills and opportunities to be a detective. I’m not compelled to read the two in this series I haven’t read yet, but I absolutely would if they were convenient.

Einav Rabinovitch-Fox, Dressed for Freedom: The Fashionable Politics of American Feminism. Discussed elsewhere.

Christina Thompson, Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia. A discussion of how we know what we know about the Polynesian peoples and how they got where they are. I particularly enjoyed the attitudes that led Thompson to title one section something like “why don’t we just ask them and listen to what they say.” What a useful idea, though not the only useful idea. Lots of interesting stuff to know about the migration of humans and the way humans from different cultures learn about each other, as well as about the Polynesian triangle and its peoples.

Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh, Brooklyn Allen, Alexa Bosy, and Kanesha C. Bryant, Lumberjanes: End of Summer. The last volume of the series, and as such…I’m afraid it was a bit anticlimactic for me. There were several elements that the authors clearly wanted to draw back in from previous volumes, but in a way that ended up feeling perfunctory and formulaic for me. I wish this had had its definite ending four or so volumes ago. It wasn’t offensive, it just was not as good as the series peak as far as I was concerned.