What I’ve been reading

July 16th, 2022Posted by Nancy

It’s been an eventful few months. Some parts have been good (family visit, getting stuff done) and some parts have been bad (husband’s injury, death in the family). I’ve been getting a bit of writing done and, as always, a fair bit of reading. Here’s what stands out from the last few months.

FICTION

Termination Shock, by Neal Stephenson. A bit baggy and front-end loaded with exposition, but it’s good exposition and once it revs up, it boots along nicely. Bonus value for me is the Houston-area setting, which I’m somewhat familiar with, having visited once or twice.

Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee. I thought I should read this one in advance of possibly watching the series on Apple TV. Turns out we haven’t watched it yet but I can highly recommend the novel, which chronicles the fortunes of a Korean family in Japan over the last 70 years or so.

Sorrow & Bliss, by Meg Mason. I read this because I heard the author interviewed on Elizabeth Day’s HOW TO FAIL podcast. It’s not the sort of thing I usually pick but it was funny and sad and definitely worth reading.

Popisho, by Leone Ross. Highly recommended. Go read this book. Magic realism set in an imaginary Caribbean. The language is rich and evocative, the characters are immediately compelling, and the story takes a path you can’t predict. I loved it.

The Bone Ships, by RJ Barker. I finally started this after bailing on another popular fantasy novel that I bounced off and it was definitely much more my thing. Fascinating and satisfying world-building and strong prose – though perhaps I could have done with a bit less detail on how a particular cool weapon worked. But given that it’s set at sea, I treat it the same way I do the Patrick O’Brian paragraphs about the workings of the sailing ships, i.e. the characters do a number of things with the sails, and then the ship goes faster. Or it doesn’t.

The Men, by Sandra Newman. I quite liked her previous novel (The Heavens) but felt this one wasn’t as strong. Despite the SF premise (all bearers of Y chromosomes disappear at the same time), it’s not about what happens in world after that. It’s really about two women, their relationships, and the choices they’re forced to make. Much of that was interesting and thought-provoking, and perhaps enhanced by the fantastical elements, but I was ultimately dissatisfied. The book provoked accusations of transphobia before it was even published (which I think is unfair. Make those accusations AFTER you know the actual details and context). I’m not attuned to all the nuances in this debate but will just say that, while she likely could have made a different choice in this regard without it having any impact on the real themes of the book, I’m not persuaded that the book should be judged entirely on that authorial choice.

NON-FICTION

Always Crashing the Same Car: On Art, Crisis, and Los Angeles, California, by Matthew Spektor. A combination of memoir and essays about Los Angeles, Hollywood, and various characters, famous and not, who inhabit it.

In the Dream House, by Carmen Maria Machado. The author recounts an abusive relationship in a series of vignettes and flashbacks. Very intense and with a quite brilliant story and chapter structure. I’m a writer, I like that stuff.

Go Back Where You Came From (and other helpful recommendations on how to become American), by Wajahat Ali. I admit it. I find a lot of books to read via Twitter. This is a funny and thoughtful book about growing up brown in America – and about just growing up as a person.

Lost & Found, by Kathryn Schulz. The first of a series of memoirs I ended up reading (quite unintentionally) about death, grief, and finding love. This was beautifully written and moving.

Why Fish Don’t Exist, by Lulu Miller. Part memoir, part history, part science. The author reckons with the sorrow in her own life by exploring the life of David Starr Jordan, an early scientist studying fish.

Being Wrong, Adventures in the Margin of Error, by Kathryn Schulz. Though not as personal and profound as her other book, this is still a fascinating read on why we’re so often wrong, why we refuse to admit it, and why being wrong is a valuable part of the human condition.

The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism reclaimed Russia, by Masha Green. Not nearly so upbeat about the human condition, but very compelling and timely. Green follows a number of subjects who grew up under perestroika and responded in different ways as the walls started to close in again under Putin.

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