Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me. This is short and interesting, and I think most of the reviews I’ve seen of it that react badly do not take into account that it is not talking to them. I think it’s legitimate to have a specific audience even when you’re publishing (with “public” in the root of “publishing”), and when you’re outside that audience to take it into account. I particularly liked the way that Coates cited some of his stronger influences; that comes into play later in this book post. Doesn’t take long to read, part of a conversation on race in America that’s long overdue.
Joseph J. Ellis, The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution. If you don’t know a lot about how the US went from the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution, this is a pretty straightforward book about that era and the personalities at the centers of power who shaped it. It was fairly short and did not really subvert any of the standard narratives that I could see. It’s a lot more useful as an introduction than as an in-depth look. If you’ve been listening to Hamilton and wanting to know more, this is not the place.
John M. Ford, Heat of Fusion. Reread. Reread for the first time since the week Mike Ford died. The story that really stayed with me this time was “Erase/Record/Play.” It’ll be a different one every time. Weirdly, I have only ever read this book in late September/early October: 2004, 2006, and 2015. Also I am having a perennial struggle with anger at the universe, because I would like to have new Mike Ford stories to compare these to, and right now it is for various reasons being hard that I do not.
Maria Dahvana Headley, Magonia. I fell in love with this book immediately. She knows things about chronic illness that are so true and funny, and she knows things about that intense passionate teenage friendship that is on the verge of being something else, and all of it goes with bird people in ways that made me sit down and get swallowed up right away. I just said yes to this whole book, yes, families, yes, cloud ships, yes, all of it, give me more of this book. Sing me this story. Make me lists, tell me about your people, yes. All the yes.
Reginald Hill, Death’s Jest Book. This is the other half of the story with Too Much Franny Root in it, and it’s probably my least favorite of the late half of the Dalziel and Pascoe series. I will be glad to have moved on in the series from it, but things kept coming up, so this is the only one I got to this fortnight.
Karen Russell, Vampires in the Lemon Grove. Okay, look. Genre is a tag cloud, right? It’s not an exclusionary thing where one label bumps out another. So I’m all for some weirdo getting paid extra money by the establishment and having her books sold all sorts of places–I bought this one in Half Price, but the original sale sticker said Urban Outfitters, which, really? no. But let’s be real: Karen Russell is, in fact, some weirdo, kids. She’s one of us. There is a story in here with US Presidents reborn in the bodies of very confused horses. The vampires in the titular story: they are not just a meeeeetaphor, they are vampires, with, like, the fangs and stuff. (Not that it does them any good, but I like that part.) This is the weird shit. Don’t let the fact that she’s not publishing in Uncanny and SH distract you: this is the serious weird shit. They can tag it with literary all they want, and that’s great, pay the weirdo, very glad for her. But you need to not lose track of it just because someone who doesn’t read it told you that literary is four pages of description of a tree or all about someone’s divorce or some other dumb description I’ve heard of literary fiction in the last six months. Lady will make you go, “What? What? What are you even doing?” Which is part of what we’re here for. Well. I am, anyway.
Sonia Sanchez, Shake Loose My Skin: New and Selected Poems. Sanchez is one of the influences Coates listed above, and I was looking for some new-to-me poets anyway. I’m not the main audience for her poems, either, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t touch me. I got to “Malcolm” and knew they would be powerful, and “Towhomitmayconcern” made me smile. I paused also on “On Passing through Morgantown, Pa.” and “Aaaayeee Babo (Praise God)”–four poems in a short collection is a good number for me. Glad I picked it up.
Amy Stewart, The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks. A light compendium, engagingly written, lots of side bars (yeah, sorry, I don’t know what to call them that isn’t punny), lots of quick information if you’re feeling like plants and booze. A good worldbuilding reference guide for writers or probably a pretty good present for the relative in your life with whom you have very little in common except that you both like [fill in booze here]: if you can’t take a bottle of the previous on the plane, get them this and you’re set for Christmas. Or do both if that’s your price point.
Chris Van Allsburg, Zathura. Well, this was the deciding factor: I went and took all the other Chris Van Allsburg books off my library list. Striking visual style has consistently not added up to any of them being the book that I like and want to keep around for poring over with small people; I give up.
Jonathan Waldman, Rust: The Longest War. This book jumps all over the place, with varying chapter lengths, about the wars we’re currently fighting against oxidation in industrial and consumer settings, and what consequences those have, good and bad. It’s nerdy and engaging but a little unfocused in places.