Books read, early November

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi, Americanah. This is a really beautifully done book about immigration and alienation and belonging, about Nigeria and the US and a little bit the UK, about race and nationality and culture and love. And hair. There is a lot of stuff about hair in here, all interesting and good. There is complexity and challenge and acceptance and its opposite. Recommended.

Marie Brennan, Ars Historica. Discussed elsewhere.

Edwidge Danticat, The Farming of Bones. This is about a massacre of Haitians in the Dominican Republic in 1937, a novel, a novel about surviving it and about those who don’t, and about the relationship between Dominicans and Haitians in the DR at the time and after. It is sparely done, it goes quickly if you don’t let yourself look away, which you possibly should. The relationships are allowed to be complicated. It is not a long book but still a grueling one.

Joel Derfner, Tessa Gratton, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Ellen Kushner, Karen Lord, Racheline Maltese, Mary Anne Mohanraj, and Paul Witcover. Tremontaine, Season 2, Season 3 Episodes 1-4. Discussed elsewhere.

Cory Doctorow, A Place So Foreign and Eight More. Reread. I have been seeing what I connect with on the short fiction shelves upon reread, and the answer here is: these are modern stories, well-constructed and well-written, and they are not hitting me in deeply emotional places, but they are still worth my time to read again, and probably will be again in another decade. So it went back on the shelf. None of the stories made me gasp and say, oh, that one, have to talk about that one. But I kept the book. Okay.

Ross King, Machiavelli: Philosopher of Power. This is one of the places where a subtitle contradicts the book it’s appended to. This is not actually about Machiavelli and The Prince, mostly; it’s about Machiavelli the dude, wandering around Florence and around Italy at large, writing plays and other things, arranging for people to preach sermons that were not in the least of interest to himself, surrounded by syphilis at every turn or so it seemed. So much syphilis, so much strappado. Fascinating, short, not at all a nice book really.

Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give. This is a young adult novel that’s hard to describe without making it sound like less than what it is. It’s about a young woman who is in the car when her childhood friend is killed by a police officer, and all the life complications that ensue thereby–and that makes it sound like a “problem novel,” like an “issue book,” when instead it is a deep exploration of character, relationship, culture, family, history, and more. Thomas is not out to make a quick buck on current events, she is writing a deeply personal exploration of historical trends she places in much broader perspective for her characters while still giving them the kind of individual story that makes a novel really work. Highly recommended. One of the cases where widespread buzz is wholly, wholly justified.

Simon Winder, Danubia: A Personal History of Habsburg Europe. When it says personal, it basically means that Simon Winder is going to intrude his stories of his kid’s school program or whatever in the middle of his stories of sixteenth century monarchs. Not because he has enough for a memoir, because he doesn’t, but because he feels that you need your hand held through the Habsburgs, that if you don’t have your hand held through the Habsburgs you will be very frightened. Sometimes he is wry and funny, though not usually when talking about himself, and there were enough ways in which he was insightful about other historians’ failings early on that I did not immediately flee, which I should have. Look, here is the thing about family trees: they are there to make things easier, not harder. If someone tries to tell you that a family tree is confusing, it’s almost certainly because the family is confusing. LIKE THE HABSBURGS. There is a certain category of person who is convinced that maps and diagrams of any kind are Technical and therefore Difficult and therefore Intimidating, but these things are tools for visualization and clarification, it’s worth learning to use them rather than running away and hiding, unless you have a genuine learning disability. And if you do, just ignore those bits. Turn the page and move on. Because Winder’s attempts to do without are kind of emblematic of what he means to simplify and does not manage, that didn’t really need to be simplified anyway.

(Disclosure: I feel this way about equations also, so you may want to discount what I say based on that. If you have both equations and text, and you didn’t screw it up, things should be clearer, not less clear, than if you’re trying to express something that has an equation without saying the equation. Equations are a really bad thing to play charades with.)

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