Books read, late April

David Blackbourn, The Conquest of Nature: Water, Landscape, and the Making of Modern Germany. German history is confusing. Usually the more I learn about it, the more confused I am, reinforcing that it is genuinely confusing, not just my ignorance. But this book! This book was a bit of German history that actually straightened a few things out in my mind. Because it was German hydrological history! Canals and sloughs and barges and all sorts of things that you can actually trace a reasonably straightforward narrative about! So much water. It’s not a highly technical book, you don’t have to be a hydrologist yourself. It’s another of those “this is history too, and it’s not about crowns and battles” books that I like so much.

Marie Brennan, Driftwood. Discussed elsewhere.

Stephanie Burgis, Deadly Courtesies. Kindle. The next short story in a series about necromancy, crafting magic (in this case metalcrafting), and impending romance. Great fun.

Daniel Chamovitz, What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses. This goes through plant sensory systems and what research there is about them (and what has been debunked). Hurrah for a comforting book about botany.

Isabel Greenberg, Glass Town. A graphic novel about the Bronte siblings’ juvenilia and also their relationships with each other. I read this to discuss it with a friend who is a great Gondal fan, but then it turned out she hasn’t had time yet. If you’re interested in the topic I think it would be a reasonable introduction.

S.L. Huang, Critical Point and Null Set. Discussed elsewhere, and also discussed elsewhere.

Naomi Klein, The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes On Disaster Capitalists. A short book on what the heck is going on there, with competing views for handling post-hurricane devastation and what the future of the island should be. Klein is not trying to avoid taking sides, but I think the side she takes is reasonable, and she also provides some useful information I had not seen covered well elsewhere in the mainland US.

Mary Robinette Kowal, The Relentless Moon. Discussed elsewhere.

Naomi Mitchison, The Bull Calves. This is a thumping big historical novel set in 18th century Scotland. It is full of Scots dialect and people with very similar names who are related to each other, and I liked it anyway. Whenever there’s a Naomi Mitchison book on my pile, it’s what I want to read. They’re not like each other in overt ways, just in subtle ways.

Jenn Reese, A Game of Fox and Squirrels. This is a heart-rending book with a happy ending. Two sisters have had to move to their aunts’ house in Oregon because of their dad’s abuse, and the younger one gets caught up in a magical card game. And there is a lot of learning to trust and learning how to love people who love you well when you’ve had other kinds of love in the past, and it’s really good that way, but hoo, it is not easy, don’t think that the middle-grade age target makes it easy.

John Sayles, Yellow Earth. Speaking of good but not easy…well, no one was going to make that mistake with Sayles. This novel is about the North Dakota oil fields and the people around them, and…and…oh, it is not a “fun” book, but I loved it. I have generally believed John Sayles about the details of his work, that people say the things he says they do (adjusted a tiny bit for Sayles…), but in this book he is talking about various forms of my people, and he gets it right, he gets very tiny things right as well as large ones. A lot of flawed people trying the best they can, some of them not trying the best they can, and some people get genuinely happy endings, within the Sayles capacity. In this case the happy ending of the very last page felt like it was written just for me, so hey, thanks, Mr. Sayles, I love you too.

Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. This is a thin pamphlet that is all polemic, some of it quite reasonable polemic, but still. There are places where Snyder is acting in his capacity as a Holocaust scholar and times when he’s speaking more or less without evidence, just stuff that he as a human believes. I prefer the former category, but most of the latter are okay, if less interesting. Won’t take you long, but I suspect that most people who read my blog already know much of what they would gain from this.

Rebecca Solnit, Recollections of My Nonexistence. This is very much a memoir rather than an autobiography. If you’re here for a recitation of the facts of Solnit’s life, in chronological order, you’ll be sorely disappointed. The focus here is to muse on how her work and her life have intertwined, and I found that very interesting. (She is another author I tend to want to read right away when I have one of her books on my pile.)

Tasha Suri, Realm of Ash. A sequel to Empire of Sand, but I actually think it would do all right as a stand-alone, if you’re looking for magic and thoughtfulness about empire and its costs. I enjoyed this.

Tade Thompson, Household Gods and Other Narrative Offenses. Kindle. A really good introduction to his short work, varied settings and characters.

Ocean Vuong, Night Sky With Exit Wounds. Shattering autobiographical poems. Read slowly.

Raynor Winn, The Salt Path. This is a memoir of a couple who lost their farm, and also the husband got a terminal diagnosis, so they…decided to walk over 600 miles of English coast, Devon and Cornwall. They were flat broke and just started walking. There is quite a lot of focus on what they managed to eat, but also there are some really poignant moments, and a lot of thoughtfulness about who has access to what and why.

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