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Books read, late March

Emily Bergslien and Kat Weaver, Uncommon Charm. Discussed elsewhere.

Maurice Broaddus, Sweep of Stars. Discussed elsewhere.

Rachel Ferguson, Evenfield. Is it possible to like both this book and LM Montgomery’s Jane of Lantern Hill? I ask because I always felt iffy about Jane, and I enjoyed this. It’s another book about a young woman in love with her childhood house–this one a suburban London affair, ordinary to the rest of the world but beautiful to her in its childhood details, which she tells with charm. And she returns to live in it after the death of her mother, and she lets herself grow past who she was as a kid and move on with her life in various ways, but the charm of this book is in its specifics. Also some of the places that make you wince are very much in the specifics: it was written to be quiet escapism in 1942, and there are some of the bits of racism that are frankly weird from a modern perspective (how are you managing to be racist when you don’t even have anybody of other races in this book?)–they’re not frequent or plot-crucial, but they are present, be warned.

John M. Ford, Aspects. Discussed elsewhere.

Marilyn Hacker and Karthika Naïr, A Different Distance: A Renga. A renga is a particular form of Japanese poetry passed back and forth, and these two friends decided to write this one during the first year of the pandemic. The poems they traded, each springing from the last, range from anguished to mundane. It’s already an interesting snapshot of a year; I think it’ll be fascinating to return to.

Rose Macaulay, Going Abroad. For the vast majority of this book, it had the sort of tension that comes from reading a book where you know more about the characters’ likely fates than the author does: it’s set in Basque Spain in 1934, among vacationers from other countries but with Basque characters as well. So the shadows of Franco and Hitler are omnipresent, how could they not be? Some parts are funny, some make you wince…and then there is the absolute emotional gut-punch of the last chapter when you realize that Rose, oh my darling Rose, had some very conscious things to say after all. I am not at all surprised that this is not one that is widely reprinted and beloved, because it is not a comfortable experience, and yet there are moments of such bravery and intelligence and humor among the moments of “what on earth, this must be something contemporary or maybe just Rose, how weird.”

M. Rickert, The Shipbuilder of Bellfairie. If you, like me, hate watching people being cruel or obtuse to someone with a cognitive or processing difference, you may well hate this book. I hated this book. I kept reading where I normally would have quit because I have liked Rickert’s work before, and I kept hoping that the worldbuilding hints would pay off, and I did not feel they did, not even a little bit, not even close.

dave ring, ed. Glitter + Ashes: Queer Tales of a World That Won’t Die. Kindle. The length and topic of these generally post-apocalyptic stories varied considerably, so if you’re at all the target audience, there will likely be something for you. I am not the specific target audience–that is, I am straight as heck. But endurance is still a thing I enjoy, so here we are.

Patrick Saint-Jean, The Spiritual Work of Racial Justice: A Month of Meditations with Ignatius of Loyola. This was a gift from a family member and is a month of daily devotionals on racial justice themes from a Haitian Jesuit priest. I think it will primarily be of interest to committed Roman Catholics who have not done a lot of reading on social/racial justice topics but are open to starting. If you know anyone of that description in your friend/family circle, or have a book group at your church, etc., this might be good for them. I am not of that description on either front, so for me it was more of intellectual interest to see how someone with a very different perspective than my own would address topics I’ve seen covered in quite different ways elsewhere.

Ruth Scurr, Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution. This does substantially what it says on the tin–it’s a history of the French Revolution through the lens of the life of Maximilien Robespierre. Even for a strange time he was a pretty quirky guy, and reasonably well-documented in a number of ways, so Scurr has a lot to work with.

Lauren Shippen, The Infinite Noise. Kindle. Some stories straddle the border of superhero narratives and the kind of old-school SF that had “mind powers/psy powers,” and this is one of them, in the form of a contemporary YA love story between two boys. I picked it up more or less at random when I was bouncing off a lot of books and was prepared to bounce here too, and instead I found the sweetness of the two teenagers and their relationships extremely engaging and read it almost all in one go. When I say “sweetness,” I don’t mean saccharine–one of the kids’ empathy leads to anger management issues when he’s around people who are angry, and similar issues–but they are fundamentally pretty nice kids trying to figure out, as, hey, we all are really.

Alexis Shotwell, Against Purity: Living Ethically in Compromised Times. Philosopher and friend of this blog, Shotwell is looking at the places where taxonomies and labels don’t do the best work of ethical choices for us and nuance and context can do better. There’s an environmental focus here that will be of interest to some of you and was to me.