December Reading

I had grand plans, once term ended, to do nothing BUT read and get through a book a day. That didn’t happen (I was lazy, there was a cat, there was someone I’d rather talk to, the cat pushed a Georgette Heyer book off a box and it wasn’t even a Heyer I like much but), but I did manage to read a few things. Here they are; a post with reading statistics and general thoughts on literature and film in 2015 will follow in the next day or so, when I have the headspace for such a thing.

 

Deirdre Sullivan, PrImperfect: I’ve written briefly about the first two books in this series before–I’d been saving this third and final one since I bought it a few months ago. My feelings about it are pretty much the same as they were about the earlier books; it’s pretty good at mental health, at people being quite imperfect and finding ways to love each other, at poor romantic choices (you can do so much better than Robb With Two Bees!); this particular book is interspersed with extracts from Prim’s late mother’s diary and they’re not used to structure the book so much as they are to deepen and complicate Prim’s own life and relationships.Also, there’s Steve the Goblin, who was so familiar that I cringed.

Altaf Tyrewala, Engglishhh: Fictional Dispatches from a Hyperreal Nation: I’ll admit to approaching this with a little bit of But Is It Genre? about me. It’s … not, entirely, though I think one could claim the title story and a couple of the others. What it is is Tyrewala’s continued chronicling of Bombay and some well-deserved trolling of Indian literary circles. Uneven, as are all anthologies; “The Watchman” and “Thirteenth Floor” I particularly appreciated, as well as (for less admirable reasons) particular episodes of the “MmYum’s” section.

Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault, Jane, the Fox, and Me: Long-time readers of this blog are presumably aware that I’ve enjoyed Arsenault’s work before. This book is a graphic … short story, really, about Helene, who no longer has any friends, who is teased for being overweight, and who is reading Jane Eyre. It’s gorgeously illustrated, it’s about teenage feelings and body dysphoria and one of my favourite books. Why am I underwhelmed? (But I’m underwhelmed.)

Courtney Milan, Once Upon a Marquess: Oh dear. I started to write about the many reasons this to dislike this book, and trying to explain the major one, and it took up so much space that it is now in a separate post, to be described at length. I’ll link to it when it’s up. For now: I was not a fan.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Signal to Noise: I liked this a lot, and yet I worry that talking about the things that I liked about it might sound like damning with faint praise. It would have been so easy for its city to feel less lived in, its musical choices to feel more self-conscious, its structure (skipping between the past and present) to feel too structured. I liked how its treatment of magic as essentially a teenage phase positioned it as definitely from an adult perspective, while still validating and embracing teenage-ness (and the fine tradition of teenage girls dabbling in magic and things going Horribly Wrong). I liked that Meche did not magically become more tractable, family relationships didn’t always become magically easier and fonder with increased perspective/understanding, and that after all this it is still able to be a fantasy about being pursued by the (now) gorgeous man you loved in school.

Yuri Herrera, Signs Preceding the End of the World: I read this book twice this year; once from May to November, in little bits (it’s a novella, so this is even slower than you’re thinking it is) and then again, in a day, in December. It’s one I’m hoping to read again, and write about at some length–it does things with borders, with genre, with language (and translator Lisa Dillman has clearly done an incredible job). Definitely one of my favourite things this year.

C.H.B Kitchin, Crime at Christmas: Seasonal, golden-age-y, it was alright.

Anne Digby, Me, Jill Shepherd, and the School Camp Adventure: I didn’t know about this series, by Anne Digby (who wrote the Trebizon books) until I came across this one. It opens with the heroine writing a Geography exam and, due to lack of time, cramming all the information she has into one final sentence. I mention this because I had just finished marking a set of essays where this was a common issue (though “lack of time” can hardly have been the excuse there), and so it hit a sore spot. (Reader, I winced.) But grammar and syntax are worthwhile angles from which to approach this book–you might reasonably suppose, from the title, that the story is about the narrator, her friend Jill Robinson, and a school camp adventure. It is not. It is about the narrator, whose name is Jill Robinson, and a school camp adventure. Why title the series thus unless to make a point about grammar? The book itself was fine, I suppose.

Celeste Rita Baker, Back, Belly & Side: Like Suba (here), I found this collection a bit uneven, moving between stories that are brilliant and stories that felt to me rather inconsequential. But the stories that are good are SO good. Like Sofia Samatar (here), I found that my favourite story was the wonderful “Single Entry“.

Salman Rushdie, Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty Eight Nights: Are Djinn having a moment? There was the Helene Wecker book a couple of years ago, there’s Solaris’s forthcoming Djinnthology which I look forward to with more trepidation than anticipation, and now there’s Rushdie, turning the philosophical disagreements between Ibn Rushd and Al-Ghazali into a massive supernatural war that spans centuries, with Djinn playing a starring role–though contributing little to the debate. Perfectly fine (though lightweight) in the sections when random supernatural events are exploding into the world, weak and annoying when the whole thing (and nothing about this book suggests a particularly deep theological engagement) is suborned into a trite religion vs rationality debate.

Rasheedah Phillips (ed), Black Quantum Futurism Theory & Practice Vol. I: I should not list this here, probably, because I haven’t finished reading it (I have read most of the individual essays), but then I’m not sure what that would mean in this context. That “practice” in the title is relevant here–I suspect I’m going to be returning to this book constantly over the next few years, and it already feels central to my sense of how I want to think about, and write about SF.

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