Books read, early May

Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, ed., Africa 39: New Writing from Africa South of the Sahara. One of the things that frustrates me, that I know frustrates a lot of people, is treating Africa as though it’s a single unified place, with a single unified culture. This anthology really does not do that, taking selections from authors from all across the continent with incredibly diverse theme, style, and content. Its very existence sort of belies that sentiment, but getting this kind of content in the US is difficult. Many of the selections were a bit frustrating as they were excerpts not just from novels but from works in progress–so if you particularly liked a passage or wanted to find out more about it in context, that is not guaranteed to be available any time soon. Still, the breadth of work available is breathtaking.

Andrea Cheng, The Year of the Book. I broadly categorize kids’ books as the ones that are for all ages starting with whatever age they’re aimed at and the ones that are only really for whatever age they’re aimed at. Mileage, of course, varies. The Year of the Book is a quite nice book about friendship in various shapes and sizes, and the kind of representation it has, my Chinese-American friends would have killed for when we were in grade school–which means it would have been important for the rest of us to see too. But as an adult, I feel like it’s aimed a little more narrowly elsewhere–and that’s okay. It doesn’t make it a bad book or badly done–it’s important to recognize that not everything is for us. I’d definitely recommend it to younger audiences.

Lara Elena Donnelly, Armistice. Discussed elsewhere.

Rita Dove, Selected Poems. Beautiful time- and world-spanning work that I picked up after my local library fixed their poetry month display to…not be parochial and supportive of local harassers. Go team Rita.

Mary E. Giles, Women in the Inquisition: Spain and the New World. Grueling accounts of various types of woman hauled before the Inquisition, including women who had or were suspected of having different religious affiliations, slave women of various color “categories”/gradations under the system used at the time, and sexually and religiously dangerous women who posed threats to the status quo. I am not sorry I read this, but it took a lot out of me.

Lynne Jonell, The Secret of Zoom. This is another kid-centered kids’ book, where the characterization is not very detailed. It’s focused on doing what it’s doing with music, science, and cartoon-type families. Reasonably fun kids’ adventure fantasy.

Alisa Kwitney, Cadaver and Queen. This book baffles me. It is entertaining and reasonably fast-paced, an exciting YA fantasy romance. But several of the structural choices confuse the heck out of me. The protagonist is American (why?), studying medicine in the UK, where there are reanimated corpses serving in an alternate Victorian England. One of those Victorian corpses is the young medical student Victor Frankenstein, thereby casting permanent confusion on the “Frankenstein was the doctor/Frankenstein was the monster/Frankenstein was the friends we made along the way” question. I found myself deeply disturbed by thinking through some of the implications of the love story too carefully, and also why is there even a Frankenstein in the UK, and…look, if you relax and have fun with it, it’s a fun book, but if you’re not aces at relaxing and having fun, there will be questions like WHAT DID HE SMELL LIKE that may haunt you in the wrong ways.

George McClure, Parlour Games and the Public Life of Women in Renaissance Italy. The stuff they were getting up to in Siena! This is one of my favorite kinds of microhistory, the kind delving into the little side streams of what people were actually up to and the things in their actual lives and how it related to how they viewed the world. Siena! Valuing women because women were shrewd game players! Who knew! I love microhistory.

Victor D. Montejo, The Adventures of Mr. Puttison Among the Maya. This is a very quirky Guatemalan novella in translation, about an American tourist coming to Guatemala and trampling around getting his feet in everything and what transpires from there, sometimes throwing coins, sometimes gathering stories, generally being a 1930s American tourist as viewed through Guatemalan eyes. Glad I read it, entertaining and worth the time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *