Books read, early April

John Allison and Lissa Treiman, Giant Days. A slice-of-life comic set among new university students in the UK. People sorting out their personal issues on a number of fronts. Charming enough that I kept going but not enough that I will seek out a sequel; it’s not really my genre-combo.

Walter Alvarez, T. Rex and the Crater of Doom. About the extinction event from the front lines of figuring it out. Nerds probably know all this stuff, so the value in this is either introductory or hearing it from the source. Alvarez is a little bit of a dinosaur himself in spots.

Marie Brennan, In the Labyrinth of Drakes. Discussed elsewhere.

Margaret Creighton, The Colors of Courage: Gettysburg’s Forgotten History: Immigrants, Women, and African Americans in the Civil War’s Defining Battle. Fascinating stuff, emotionally wrenching, particularly in the intersection of these groups. White ladies of the time: not always filled with understanding of their fellow humans’ experiences, it turns out, particularly when propaganda they were exposed to at the time focused on the potential threat to them rather than the actual danger, injury, and loss experienced by Black people on a daily basis. The immigrant experience focused on here was German and Irish, in case that’s relevant to people’s interest level. Goes into the post-Civil War shaping of the Gettysburg story also.

William Cronon, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England. I would be fascinated to see how this book would be different if it was written today, but it’s still fascinating to have a look at how differently the two groups regarded land management, settlement, and sustenance/sustainability in the same area in the same period. Highly recommended, especially for speculative fiction writers who are thinking about cultural differences.

Michael J. DeLuca, Jason S. Ridler, Scott H. Andrews, Erin Hoffman, and Justin Howe, The Homeless Moon. A chapbook put together by five friends. That is, five friends of each other; I only know two of them. My favorite stories were DeLuca’s and Hoffman’s, playing most directly with personal relationships, but it’s a fascinating project, and I’m glad they did more together.

Diane Duane, Games Wizards Play. Argh. ARGH. This is book ten in an ongoing series. Definitely do not read it if you haven’t read the other nine. If you have…well, look. One of the pleasures of book ten in an ongoing series is spending more time with the characters you like, and I feel like GWP fails on that front. Duane has spent nine books establishing Kit and Nita as people who don’t care that much about what Kids At School think, people who have lives ranging around the universe doing cool stuff and having lots of teenage peers outside Kids At School. Now that they are dating, nearly the entirety of their dating relationship for this volume is obsessing about whether Kids At School think they are definitely having sex or definitely not. (They are definitely not. But this is far less important, apparently, than what people who are not characters in this or any other book think about whether they are or not.) They go on and on for pages and pages about how stupid these jerks are and how annoying it is. I agree. It is annoying. SO SHUT UP ABOUT IT. Think about what you want and what the other person wants. If you have to, think about the people you actually interact with. But for heaven’s sake leave off about Sir Not Appearing In This Volume because I could not possibly care less. And speaking of things I could not possibly care less about: wizard’s tournaments that have never been mentioned before this volume. Yawn. Jerkface young wizards who are supposed to be mentored for such tournaments because the Powers That Be say so: oh, is that the time? YAWN. Sometimes the Powers That Be are getting awfully darn convenient in this series. Why should I care about this stupid character? THE POWERS WANT YOU TO. WELL I DON’T. So there is a little charming bit with planets. And there is some cultural iffiness. And there is the increasing problem of the time slippage of when exactly these books take place, having started in 1982, taken about four years, and are now set in 2016, which is not helped when the author herself is not hitting her marks on setting them in 2016 but is trying. And…gosh I hope she recovers from this one. Because I really do like this series and think it has good things yet to do if only it gets there. But YUCK.

Brian Fagan, The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History 1300-1850. This is an overview sort of book, and I read it after the climate change-related book below. I do not recommend that ordering. But if you don’t know a lot about the climate shift in that period and all the things that went into it–and came out of it–this is a good short summary sort of book. Or if you just want to refresh your brain in that direction, which was more my case.

Mark Forsyth, The Horologican: A Day’s Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language. “Lost” is really an overstatement. Most of them were mildly obscure at best. But Forsyth has an entertaining enough set of stories to tell. It was a fast read, occasionally too centered on his own cultural experience to the point of making sweeping pronouncements. If you can cope with that, it’ll stay fun. If that makes you wince too often, it won’t.

Faith Erin Hicks, The Nameless City. Discussed elsewhere.

Kelly Link, Get in Trouble. I went to write my thoughts on this book right after the Pulitzer Prize committee wrote theirs. Um. So I liked it too, it turns out. I liked it first? No, probably not. I feel like there is more of a YA shift here, but I haven’t read the intervening collections yet–they’re on my list–between this and Magic for Beginners–so I may just be late to the party. Anyway I approve of the teenward shift, of the awkward and hidden things in young people and the awkward and hidden things in the world finding their way toward each other in Link’s work.

David R. Montgomery and Anne Biklé, The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health. The section on symbiogenesis was really interesting. The rest…puts soil development and microbiome development together in interesting ways I guess but none of it is earth-shattering. Montgomery’s book on dirt is better. This meanders around food and cancer and all sorts of stuff that seems like it should be more interesting than it is, probably because this is highly popularized and not very deep. (Symbiogenesis, though! Let’s have more on that.)

Steven Ozment, The Burgermeister’s Daughter: Scandal in a Sixteenth-Century German Town. Sexual virtue and politics and lawsuits and female agency in the courts. Ozment is always so good at microhistory. He is my favorite historian of Germany.

Robert W. Patch, Maya Revolt and Revolution in the Eighteenth Century. Another book about agency in court systems where it tends to be discounted, and also what happens when that agency is undercut. In this case it’s indigenous people, including women but not limited thereto, whose agency is examined. Still, an interesting commonality with the Ozment that I didn’t expect. This is very very case-study based, giving the names of every single person involved.

Jeffrey Quilter, The Moche of Ancient Peru: Media and Messages. Lots of pictures of Moche pottery. This is the least obscene set of Moche pottery I have ever seen in my life. I don’t mean that as a criticism per se–there are some pieces like one of the llama ones that are really quite lovely. But I raised an eyebrow at how selectively non-obscene it was.

William Rosen, The Third Horseman: Climate Change and the Great Famine of the 14th Century. This is a much deeper, more thorough, and more interesting exploration of the effects of climate change on a period of history. It’s also remarkably cheerful considering the title. The famine doesn’t come until well over halfway into the book, and there’s lots of squabbling over the throne of Scotland and various other upbeat topics. Um. I think the person who writes this sort of book must be a person very much like myself in some regards? might be why I can find it so chipper? But really it’s not a gloomy book at all, it races right along through rains and Viking raids and other things that make a person happy.

Oliver Sacks, Gratitude. A set of essays from the very end of Sacks’s prolific life. Not offensive in any way–cheering, in fact–but probably only of great importance to the Sacks completist.

Øystein Sørensen and Bo Stråth, eds., The Cultural Construction of Norden. A very curious set of essays about how the modern Norden countries (that is, Scandinavia plus Finland and Iceland) got to where it is, culturally. It makes several very weird assumptions, such as not talking about immigration or emigration. So…no Turks, no Finns-in-Sweden, no anybody, right then. Also the Haugean movement and similar movements are described as though their remains in Norway (or the rest of the Norden region) settled into their current form without any influence from bleeding their radical elements off into the US and Canada. As if by magic. So…I ended up eyebrowing at this book a lot more than I was enlightened by it, and I wouldn’t end up recommending it.

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