Books read, late July

Sophie Anderson, The House With Chicken Legs. This is a kids’ book about death and finding your own place. It is not actually a particularly hard book to read when you’re grieving, which…is kind of a signal of some pretty pulled punches, so if you don’t want a book with these themes and that set of decisions, tread carefully. The title is literal, however, and if that strikes you as charming, consider this one.

Maurice Broaddus, The Usual Suspects. This is a kids’ mystery, which is all too rare in my experience of reading middle grade. The protagonist is a member of a mixed group of kids with behavior issues that the school district deals with…about like modern school districts do. They have varying needs and abilities and types of family support. They are beautifully characterized, with their loyalties and friendships drawn incredibly clearly. If you are at all up for MG mystery, this is quite a good one.

Stephanie Burgis, The Girl With the Dragon Heart. This follows fairly closely on The Dragon With a Chocolate Heart, but it has shifted protagonists to a closely related character. The adventure has expanded to include not only a different viewpoint, but…elves. Elves! So much fun! Oh, these books are just what I needed right now, I can’t wait for the next one to come out.

Michelle Cuevas, The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole. This is a fun, charming, whimsical book wherein the black hole is mostly a metaphor but also has some bits of science education in it. ALSO IT IS A BOOK ABOUT A GIRL WHOSE DAD JUST DIED. IT DOES NOT SAY THIS ANYWHERE ON THE COVER. The grief reactions are very real, it is beautifully handled, I think this would be a great book for a kid who has not just suffered that type of loss to have as part of their emotional vocabulary to refer back to when they do have loss in their life, but I WAS SITTING UNDER THIS SLEEPING DOG AND I HAD NOTHING ELSE TO READ AND IT WAS A DEAD DAD BOOK DO NOT GO IN UNWARNED.

Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, This Is How You Lose the Time War. This is a beautiful epistolary time travel battle poetry love story. It is not like other things. It rewrites the world in full color.

Minister Faust, The Coyote Kings Vs. the Myconauts of Plutonium City Scrolls 7-8. Kindle. This continues to be a pop culture adventure extravaganza singularity. Where is he going with it, who can say.

Peter Fiennes, Oak and Ash and Thorn: The Ancient Woods and New Forests of Britain. Trees trees trees trees. There are a few places where I felt a little baffled that Fiennes didn’t want to do more comparative work, but on the other hand limiting his scope is admirable in his way: he is by God writing about the woods and forests of Britain, and other comparable latitudes and habitats are not the point. There are also tidbits about forest creatures and the evolution of the British forest as habitat, although I feel like there could have been still more about what one is to do with a well-documented habitat as its climate changes–when the previous state literally could not be restored no matter what, how do you shape policy goals for its wild or wild-ish habitats? That was not Fiennes’s purpose here, and that’s okay, I still like tree books.

Nancy Kress, Beaker’s Dozen and Trinity and Other Stories. Rereads. What a relief to find some old favorites (and even a few more minor works) more or less where I’d left them, deftly characterized and passionately thought through.

Mary Oliver, Dog Songs. A poetry collection focused on Oliver’s dogs. Not entirely free of dog death, not handled graphically or in a maudlin way, but still: if you are not up for the raw emotions of losing a dog right now (or in fact on any day), tread carefully here, have someone recommend a few of the delightful works here that are not about that.

Susan Orlean, Saturday Night. Kindle. This was written to be a study of American casual leisure, more or less, in the handful of years leading up to the year it came out (1990). From this distance it ends up looking more like a portrait of the late ’80s as a cultural phenomenon. There are all sorts of things that Orlean carefully explains that strike me as common knowledge, like what a quinceaƱera is, and then others that have fallen completely by the wayside, like the ideas and attitudes around video rental. It was a very strange time warp of a book.

John Ruskin, The Queen of the Air/Being a Study of the Greek Myths of Cloud and Storm. Kindle. OH JOHN RUSKIN NO. Look, I keep reading John Ruskin as background for a story I’m writing, but he is not going to be the hero of that story, I’ll tell you that much for free. And he keeps going on about how you can tell that Western art is superior to non-Western art because blah blah reasons–that all of Greek art is superior to all of Chinese art and then he sets up his bullshit that is often not even true, but even if it was it wouldn’t mean that and it’s all so insecure and pointless and you just want to give him a time out until he can treat the other children with respect. Occasionally he’ll have a sensible line about a particular painting and then right away he will ruin it with crashing racism. YUCK.

Siegfried Sassoon, Picture-Show. Kindle. Sassoon is of course a Great War poet, and this is one of the volumes of Great War poetry that came out in 1919, full of anguish and the trenches. It is very thoroughly itself, but go in braced if you’re going in at all.

James C. Scott, Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States. Scott has a bone to pick with agriculture–several, really–and he is not always careful along the way. I think he is most interesting when he’s taking down assumptions, not always as clear-headed when he’s building his own conjectures. There is a great deal about early agriculture that’s clearly not as we thought it would be, and this book has a great deal that’s interesting about it, but also a great deal that it misses, I think.

Breanna Teintze, Lord of Secrets. Discussed elsewhere.

Lynne Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas, Michi Trota, et al, Uncanny Magazine Issue 29. Kindle. I make a policy of not reviewing magazine issues I’m in, and I’m in this.

Tade Thompson, The Murders of Molly Southbourne. Kindle. A creepy and satisfying novella, far outside my usual range in the direction of horror but well worth the time.

Jessie L. Weston, Sir Gawain and the Lady of Lys. Kindle. True confessions time: of all the knights of the Round Table, Sir Gawain is my dude. So yeah, I’ll duck my head in to read early 20th century authors doing versions of Belgian things. Hell yes I will, every once in awhile, on airplanes, under stress. Sir Gawain relaxes me.

Jane Yolen and Rebecca Guay, The Last Dragon. Graphic novel in a sort of Canty-esque style, very Scottish-ish, a fun fast read with bonus fantasy herbalism.

Damon Young, The Art of Reading. A slim and self-aware volume, fast and reasonably fun to read but honestly…sort of like the others of its kind. If you like books by passionate readers, for passionate readers, it’s that thing.

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