Books read, early February

This half-month’s book post was written, and then WordPress decided that “Save Draft” and “Destroy Draft” were somehow the same thing. So it is not only going to be late but also a trifle terse. Sigh.

Lily Anderson, Not Now, Not Ever. I liked this book now, but when I was twelve to fourteen, you would not have been able to pry me off it. A girl. Runs away. To Academic Decathlon camp. It is as though Lily Anderson said, hello, yes, Marissa, I would like to write you a book please, even though I have never met you, this is for you, okay thank you. There are also other fun elements of it–military family culture, teen relationships not only with love interest but with pals and cousins, intersectionality assumed as a default setting–but really, she had me at AcaDec.

Chaz Brenchley, Dust-Up at the Crater School, Chapters 8-12. Kindle. We edge the plot along with British boarding school assumptions…I am really bad at reading serials and also really bad at leaving them alone when I have the files piled up on my Kindle and am traveling….

Box Brown, Is This Guy For Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman. Discussed elsewhere.

Lucille Clifton, The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton, 1965-2010. This is the sort of collection that shows why reading the entirety of a poet’s work in order can be so intense and worthwhile. You can watch her feeling more able to talk about certain things, more expansive, as time goes by, as well as watching the progression of a human life. Clifton’s work is very grounded, very rooted, in community, in family, in person, and it’s wonderful to watch that grow as she grows as a person, even as it’s sometimes harrowing to watch that happen too. Highly, highly recommended.

Tessa Gratton, The Lost Sun. A North America shaped by Aesir visibly present in the world, a Baldur who does not behave as he had before, and some young people who have to sort out what’s going on before Ragnarok is upon them. This could have gone strongly either way for me, and I turned out to like it a lot and have fun with the Norse syncretist road trip aspects of it. I’ll look for the rest of the series.

Bernd Heinrich, One Wild Bird at a Time: Portraits of Individual Lives. Heinrich talks about wanting to observe individual bird personalities, and he does that, but there’s a bit of an oversell about what conclusions he can draw about them. There’s a lot more trolling of birds and his wife than I might ideally want, so I rolled my eyes a lot. If you’re going to start with a Heinrich, probably don’t make it this one, even though there’s some interesting naturalist observation here.

Justina Ireland and Troy L. Wiggins, eds., Fiyah Issue 5. Kindle. Fiyah continues to come up with themes that inspire their authors to diverse stories. My favorite in this issue was Monique Desir’s “Bondye Bon,” but I didn’t find any of it a bad read. I’m also glad to see them including some related nonfiction. I enjoy that.

Robin Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. The subtitle sounded like it was biting off an awfully lot of material, but Kimmerer is a botanist and a Native person, and the two combine to set her nature writing apart. I really enjoyed this.

Seanan McGuire, Beneath the Sugar Sky. The third in its series of portal fantasy novellas. I found the second one structurally a bit frustrating, but this is back to full form, doing interesting things with the nature of longing and desire in portal fantasy while giving vivid details of character and world in the specific fantasy settings along the way.

Malka Older, Null States. I found the characters more compelling in the first one, but this is idea science fiction around microdemocracy and its difficulties, and that’s a set of ideas I’m pretty much always going to find interesting, so I was definitely here for this.

Kimberly Reid, #Prettyboy Must Die. Discussed elsewhere.

Shel Silverstein, Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back. Wow, did Uncle Shelby sneak a lot of stuff past as kids’ books. Marshmallows, sure, but–the ending, what even was that. Okay. (I read this because it came up at a writers’ meetup and I’d never read it. More on this in the next fortnight’s book post.)

Robin Sloan, Sourdough. Literary contemporary fantasy about bread baking and the tech startup culture of the Bay Area. It’s a fast, smoothly written read…that starts to leave a bad taste the more you think about what he’s actually saying. Ethnically pretty gross. Interpersonally…also pretty gross honestly. It’s a surface critique of tech startup culture that actually embraces most of what’s toxic about tech startup culture, so…well, enjoy the bits about bread baking if you can get there through the hipster one-upsmanship.

Rebecca Solnit, As Eve Said to the Serpent: On Landscape, Gender, and Art. I’m really enjoying reading through Solnit’s back catalog, and this is no exception. It does what it says on the tin, with illustrations.

Nic Stone, Dear Martin. Passionate and heartfelt young adult novel in which a young Black man tries to process his proximity to police shootings. He uses letters to Martin Luther King Jr. as one of his methods of figuring out his own modern world, but sparingly, thoughtfully. The characters are all complex and human, and there’s a lot packed into this short book. Recommended.

Louisa Thomas, Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams. She did indeed live an extraordinary life, doing a great deal of the work of being an ambassador to various nations early in the American Republic, so there’s a lot of “what an interesting life” here even aside from being First Lady. (That part was not that fascinating honestly.) But there’s also a heaping helping of: John Quincy Adams: which boots would you wear to kick him in the shins? discuss. I think one of the greatest strengths of this biography, though, was that the biographer was able to talk about the ways in which Louisa Adams was and was not ahead of her time on various issues like race, where she left extensive writings–places where Thomas could give the reader context and say, you know what, nope, she was really not a heroine here, or hey, she was trying on this question of gender but just didn’t get there. It’s a perspective I think more biographers could use, because going head-down into one person often makes you a partisan for them even when you think you’re recognizing their foibles. Thomas did very well with understanding that flaws don’t just mean the sort of things that would make them annoying to share a bathroom with.

P.G. Wodehouse, Mike and Psmith. Kindle. Lighthearted boarding school book, silly, full of cricket and who gets which study. If you want this sort of thing, here it is.

J.Y. Yang, The Red Threads of Fortune. I was so glad I read The Black Tide of Heaven first, because I felt like the characterization and worldbuilding both unfolded really well in this order. I really enjoy the Tensorate universe and am glad we’ll be getting more.

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