Books read, late March

Pat Cadigan, Patterns. Reread. One of the strange things about keeping a booklog is that you can discover that you had the urge to read the same book exactly eighteen years apart. In that time, these stories have gone from mildly dated to tales from another era. Unfortunately for my tastes, nobody seems to like each other very much in them–they’re well done but not done in a direction I really recommend.

Paul Gruchow, Worlds Within a World: Reflections on Visits to Minnesota Scientific and Natural Area Preserves. This is a tiny, unprepossessing volume of essays and photographs. Gruchow has just the sort of observations I love in nature writing: a mixture of ideas new to me and phenomena identified that I had seen but not known for what they are. Plants, birds, rocks…all sorts of good stuff. The library has a bunch of his other books, and I will almost certainly read more.

Lyanda Lynn Haupt, The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild. Haupt wants us to think about how we are living in and shaping an ecosystem even if it’s not a “natural” ecosystem. She speaks up for the moles and coyotes in ways that sound sensible and healthy to me. I enjoyed this a lot.

Gwyneth Jones, Rainbow Bridge. Reread. Kind of an anticlimax to the series, I’m afraid. I still enjoyed it on a page by page level, but the conclusion is not very interestingly conclusive. Further, there are places where ten years have really taken us quite a ways down the road to speaking respectfully to and about each other. We do our best with what we know at the time, and when we know better, we do better. It’s clear to me that, for example, the trans characters in this are meant to be fully realized people…but I think that they would be portrayed very differently now. (Also I am really annoyed with the trope of “glamorous beautiful woman looks completely like she did before five seconds after pregnancy,” and it’s pretty bad in this one. Don’t do this, people.)

Mike Lawrence, Star Scouts. Discussed elsewhere.

Ken Liu, The Wall of Storms. A fascinating meander through this world. People (like myself!) who were annoyed with the lack of female representation in the first volume in this series will find a wealth of characters here, different backgrounds and tastes, roles and ideas. There is quite a lot of machination, so if you like machination, here you are. It also goes farther and deeper into the world Liu created–inspired by Polynesian islands and Chinese epics but with each influencing the other to be something new. If I had one complaint, it’s that manipulation appears to always work; everyone has a button that other people can press at will.

Joel Mokyr, A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy. This is an intellectual history attempting to figure out what ideas led to the economic situation in Europe 1500-1700. It’s dense and dry, interesting if you’re interested in the topic but not really of general appeal.

Iain Pears, Arcadia. Science fictionish fantasyish tome with time travel and alternate worlds and quite a lot to say to portal fantasy. For me at least one of the levels of “more plot tangles” didn’t actually contribute very much to the whole, but neither did I find them unpleasant to read. Some self-indulgent writery stuff about the Nature Of Story.

Terry Pratchett, Wintersmith. Reread. I love the Tiffany Aching books. I love winter. So when I first read this one, I was over the moon for it. I still like it quite a lot, but I’m not experiencing it as quite so much head and shoulders over the others as I did before, for whatever reason. Still: the worldview makes me so happy.

Erica L. Satifka, Stay Crazy. This is a book that attempts to write about people with schizophrenia (including the protagonist) in ways that are not just compassionate but human: the protag is allowed to be prickly, grumpy, and often a jerk to the people around her, rather than the “suffering saint” or “dangerous animal” pitfalls of portraying mental illness. It is also a very wry book about aliens and American consumerism. I’ve seen it compared to Philip K. Dick, but it was a lot more intimate voice, a lot more personal POV than I recall Dick being.

Robert Sherrod, History of Marine Corps Aviation in World War II. This is one of the last of my grandpa’s books still on my pile, and it was surprisingly great. I don’t usually have a keen interest in the topic, but Sherrod handled it masterfully. Also: this book came out in the early 1950s, basically as soon as the Japanese information was available and the American information was declassified. You can tell that Sherrod was in the mode of writing it as the information came to him. And yet–he does not use any ethnic slurs in authorial voice. He repeatedly and explicitly acknowledges the contributes of Marine Corps women. I can easily see why my grandfather kept this book on hand all those years and enjoyed it, because it reads like Sherrod was just Grandpa’s sort of Marine.

Rebecca Solnit, Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness. An essay collection about travel and current events. There’s not a clear geographic focus in this, nor an ideological throughline, and I enjoyed the episodic nature of it.

John Strausbaugh, City of Sedition: The History of New York During the Civil War. Lots of New York politics of the time, some of the “here is a famous individual and what they were doing while other people were shooting at each other” school of history. It wanders enough that I’d mostly recommend it to New York history buffs and Civil War buffs, but it was a pleasant enough read for me, and I am neither.

Angela Thirkell, Three Houses. A memoir of growing up Edward Burne-Jones’s granddaughter and Rudyard Kipling’s cousin. Thirkell is not, I learn elsewhere, completely a reliable narrator, but I loved her approach to writing about her grandfather. And I loved Burne-Jones better through his granddaughter’s eyes.

Maria Turtschaninoff, Maresi. A feminist YA fantasy that was somewhat reminiscent of The Brothers Lionheart and somewhat reminiscent of The Steerswoman. (That may not be where she’s going with it, but it’s where my mind went.) This is why we should have more things in translation, so I can have books like this. It was all too short. There is a sequel. It is not out yet. Harumph.

Ellen Wayland-Smith, Oneida: From Free Love Utopia to the Well-Set Table. Wayland-Smith is the descendant of people from the Oneida colony, and she’s remarkably personal/casual about phrases like “my great-grandmother the sexual dynamo.” The nineteenth century is, like the rest of the world, weirder than we tend to imagine. And this is an interesting little weird piece of it.

A.C. Wise, The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again. This is pulpy in the very best way. Costumes described lovingly, relationships and acceptance and chosen family the focus of it all. With, oh yes, occasional mad science, aliens, etc. I’m not squarely in the middle of the audience for this, but I could still have fun with it, and I bet some of you can too.

Ibi Zoboi, American Street. This was lovely. It’s an own-voices immigrant tale about a Haitian girl finding a new life with her cousins in Detroit and figuring out how she can help her detained mother. There are magic realist elements to this story. It is not a happy perky tale, but it’s not hopeless either. I loved the voice, the family life…basically the whole thing. Recommended.

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