I’m still having trouble reading actual books; at the moment I have, unfinished, Indra Das’s The Devourers, Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceeding the End of the World, Andrea Hairston’s Lonely Stardust, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, Sarah Tolmie’s NoFood, and B. Catling’s The Vorrh; and these are all things I want to read, and some of them I love already and yet. It’s probably the largest number of books I’ve ever had on the go at once, and it’s getting a bit embarrassing.
Most of the reading I did manage to do this month was work-related (and most of it rereads); hence the distinctly mid-century-British-ness of this list. Still.
Mary Norton, The Borrowers, The Borrowers Afield: I have so many things I want to say about these books, particularly the first. Some of them aren’t even about empire, though it’s more littered with imperial detritus than I could have imagined. Will possibly be writing more, but after the last few months of struggling to write, perhaps it’s best not to even suggest it.
Rupa Gulab, Daddy Come Lately: Middle-Grade-ish book about a child who learns that her parents are divorced, that her dad’s moving back to town, that her mother has been keeping the fact of her existence secret. It’s all rather melodramatic, and there are things it does well, but (in a future column, maybe) there are several things about it that make me roll my eyes.
Robin Stevens, First Class Murder: The most recent Wells and Wong book (I wish the publisher would make up their minds whether these were the Wells and Wong mysteries or Murder Most Unladylike mysteries; they’ve been very inconsistent)–and a locked room (cabin) murder on the Orient Express. It’s set shortly after the publication of Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, which Daisy Wells has of course read, and so this is more directly intertextual than even the first book in the series. It’s lacking some of the weight that the first two have–both those earlier books switch easily between charming golden-age pastiche and actual human feeling, this was mostly just the former. Which still made it an utter joy to read.
Monica Dickens, The House At World’s End: I saw that this was a 1970 book about a family having adventures in a huge house and thought it was more relevant to my work than it turned out to be. Not the waste of time it might have been, though, because there’s a lot about this that I really liked–the slight off-kilter-ness of the family (I described it as Nesbittish, early on) and of the language, the earnest, know-it-all girl with badly thought out ideas, the weird lack of consequences to any of the children’s actions, the sudden, occasional reminder that these children are grieving and badly supervised. I don’t know if I have the time to hunt down and read the rest of the series at this point, but maybe omeday.
T.H. White, Mistress Masham’s Repose: This is good, and it is funny and biting and honest and has these moments that just are T.H. White–like the throwaway detail of the vicar who always chooses the nastiest cake at teatime. It’s also annoyingly hard not to reduce to allegory.
Lucy Boston, The Children of Green Knowe: I think I love this a bit less than last time I read it, though it’s still very good.
E.E. Cowper, Camilla’s Castle: Felt a bit inconsequential. Run down castle in almost-Ruritanian space, large family fallen on hard times (and equipped with at least one very precocious child), smuggling, English girls who have honour, foreigners who don’t (but are at least relatively upper-class)–it takes all the tropes of its genre and … doesn’t do very much with them.
Joan Aiken, The Five-Minute Marriage: You know (if you’ve been here longer than five minutes) that I love Aiken, and that I love regencies. And yet, having read one of Aiken’s Austen-sequels and chosen to steer well clear of the others, I know that there are areas of her work I’m better off not reading. I just can’t decide whether this original romance is one of them. I find romances featuring sardonic misogynists (you don’t understand, a woman hurt him once!), gentlewomen who have to (horrors) earn their living despite being obviously better than the working classes, and fake marriages all very satisfying and comforting as romance tropes, however deplorable they may be in real life and the book provides all of these, alongside attempted murder and duels on slippery roofs (do they not know about terraces? complained my friend Dala). And yet it’s leaden, there’s no humour or even charm, and this is a genre where at least one of those things is necessary. It’s no Heyer, is what I’m saying. It’s not even bad Heyer, I mean Regency Buck is better. And yet, I needed a comforting regency romance and I suppose I got one, so I’m not going to condemn it entirely.
James Tiptree Jr, The Starry Rift: I’ll be discussing this as part of a Strange Horizons book club next month. But unrelated to anything I might say there: I’ve discovered that “The Only Neat Thing To Do” was published in the month of my birth. I’m always particularly fond of books that are the same age as me (the other stories, and the book as a whole, were published the year after, but I’m claiming this one anyway).