Books read, late December

Eleanor Arnason, Hwarhath Stories: Transgressive Tales by Aliens. Kindle. The artist aliens worked better for me than some of the others. This feels to me like the sort of science fiction about gender that works better as a stepping stone than as an edifice–but I’d rather that we think of a lot more things that way, that we value where it gets us than try to treat it as eternal. And I do like the ongoing attempt at alien perspective here.

Janice Boddy, Wombs and Alien Spirits: Women, Men, and the Zar Cult in Northern Sudan. This is an ongoing anthropological study of the social forms and services of possession in a particular Sudanese village. The author goes into some detail on genital mutilation practice and how it relates, so that’s a hard chapter to read, but necessary for context, and the rest of how religion interrelates with both local and nonlocal culture is fascinating here.

Stephanie Burgis, The Princess Who Flew With Dragons. The last in its trilogy, young philosophers of multiple species arguing about power in ways that should be accessible to 10-year-olds, while running around caverns and soaring through the skies. Great fun, just what I needed, hurrah.

Martha Collins and Kevin Prufer, eds., Into English: Poems, Translations, Commentaries. This is a very unwieldy physical object, because its conceit is that it has the original poem, then three translations, all side by side, so it is basically double-wide, one two spine three four. And then there is commentary after. The editors have gone to some trouble to get three different translations, rather than just three translators of similar ideas, demographics, time frames; the poems are from all different languages, so the commentary is from different people, and if one set of commentary makes you hrmmm skeptically (probably at least one will), there will be another set for the next poem. I love this sort of thing, and I love this thing, but you definitely want to read it at home on a dry surface, not on the bus or in the bath or on a boat or with a goat or…yeah. It’s a very cool weird thing to do.

Terrell F. Dixon, ed., City Wilds: Essays and Stories About Urban Nature. This is an extremely mixed bag, not just in format but in content. I sometimes marvel at what kind of editor wants bell hooks and someone incredibly sexist in the same volume. Why? But editors are mysterious, and there were some lovely passages about different kinds of small nature particularly, tiny animals neatly observed, very personal.

Ellen Kushner, Swordspoint. Reread. I think the thing that hit me very hard on this reread was Alec as stifled scientist. How that is very clearly in the text and almost all of it offstage–and the entire Mad Duke persona proceeds thereby. He has been thwarted in his pursuit of knowledge, all his misbehavior, everything, the entire Tremontaine saga comes from the powers that be taking scientists and grinding them under their heels–almost completely offstage. This was not the first I read of its series, so I didn’t come to it with that perspective initially, and it hit me like a ton of bricks this time. Dramatic and picturesque sad boys are much more effective on me when they’re for science.

Rose Macaulay, The Making of a Bigot. Kindle. Yet another example of Rose Macaulay not doing the same thing everyone else is doing. This is a book about an earnest young man who can honestly see the good points in everyone’s point of view and how he is closed into not doing that. It is, like many of her other works, a quite funny tragedy. Like several others, it makes me want to introduce her to my friends and protect her rather fiercely from the world she lived in. (We’re just over the ridge, Rose, you can almost make it….) Her mimetic universe is like watching someone die of an infected cut knowing that there’s a usefully moldy sandwich in the next room. Lordy. I will flag that I am removed enough from her context that I cannot entirely tell what is meant by the very brief sections of interracial relation, whether the characters are meant to be satirized for being patronizing or for trying to have friends of different races at all; if the latter, ew, Rose, cut it out, and this ambiguity may not be worth sitting through for you depending on your own context.

Laurie Marks, Water Logic. The elements flow on, and I have gotten as far as water, which is as nonlinear as one might expect. I knew that I didn’t know where this one was going, and I was satisfied with that. I feel very restrained that I didn’t dive on air the minute this one was done. Soon.

Hilary McKay, The Time of Green Magic. I am startled to say that I really like Hilary McKay’s mimetic work better. This was fine, even moderately entertaining, but the fantastical element took a very clear backseat to the mimetic elements and yet stood in for a lot of the McKay wry humor, in my estimation. And I would like both please. Or if not both, I would keep the humor; I can write fantasy myself, and read it lots of places. Ah well.

Lydia Millet, The Fires Beneath the Sea. I am not entirely convinced that Millet has read any middle-grade other than Madeleine L’Engle before she wrote this. No, that’s not fair, there’s probably Susan Cooper or somebody for the bad prophetic poem element. I hasten to add that this did not make for a bad reading experience in the slightest, that “it is 2010 and I want another Madeleine L’Engle novel, this time with environmental themes, so I guess I’ll have to write one myself” worked out reasonably well for me in this case. Better, in fact, than you’d predict. Even with the extremely jarring otter in the first chapter (look, otters were my dad’s thing, it was…a lot for me). It’s just…mostly you expect a professionally published novel not to be quite so much I Read Madeleine And Here’s What I Learned, and yet here we are, and I’m good with it.

Lina Rather, Sisters of the Vast Black. Nuns in a living spaceship–the spaceship reminded me a bit of Nicky Drayden’s in Escaping Exodus but had to have been a matter of convergent ideas–and dealing with personal faith, imperialism, and science. This was right up my alley. Novella, so it won’t take you too long.

Elif Shafak, The Architect’s Apprentice. This is a lovely historical Turkish novel about architecture and elephants and love and politics. I will be interested in reading more by Shafak, who’s new to me but not to the literary world–I love having back catalog to explore. Caveat: while the Romany people are treated generally positively, I don’t know how culturally accurate the portrayal is of Turkish Romany of the period, honestly do not know as this is not my field of expertise. But they’re not the main focus of the book, and in the rest there is some interesting borderline fabulism and a lot of historical flutter, which I enjoy.

Leave a Reply

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