- Arts & Numbers by Elaine Grogan Luttrull
- The Star that Always Stays by Anna Rose Johnson
- Brother’s Keeper by Julie Lee
- Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree
- Warrior Girl Unearthed by Angeline Boulley
- Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado
- The Liar’s Daughter by Megan Cooley Peterson
- Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power by Pam Grossman
- The Lost Journals of Sacajewea by Debra Magpie Earling
- Atalanta by Jennifer Saint
- Wolfish by Christiane Andrews
- To the Lions by Holly Watt
- “FUBAR” in Look at the Birdie by Kurt Vonnegut
I’ve read more than the following since my last post, just haven’t always been noting it. For the last month or so my mind’s pretty much been asleep, which has told me how much I needed a vacation. We’re on the eve of solstice now and I have a resolution for the next months: to keep on taking that vacation, as much as I can, so when autumn rolls around I find myself recovered.
- Nona the Ninth and Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir – I didn’t finish either of these as they are really not my thing (had I seen the descriptor, “Lovecraftian Horror” before I picked up Nona the Ninth, I would have known), but it’s a testament to Muir’s writing that I picked up Gideon the Ninth (after having gotten a little way into Nona) and skimmed through both of them so I could try to understand what the *&*^$ was going on even though they really aren’t my thing (and were confusing). Like Liz Bourke, I have some issues beyond parseability and style with these – but, despite all the things that didn’t work for me, I did find them compelling.
- Tina, Mafia Soldier by Maria Rosa Cutrufelli, translated by Robin Pickering-Iazzi
- Valley of Shadows by Rudy Ruiz
- A Sleight of Shadows by Kat Howard
- Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
- Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
- The Shamanic Bones of Zen by Zenju Earthlyn Manuel
- Tales for the Telling: Irish Folk and Fairy Stories by Edna O’Brien
I’ve been reading more than this, but I haven’t been reading as much as I’d like. The last eight weeks have been…like unexpected fireworks in every direction. Including under my feet. Often beautiful, always startling. And it just keeps on going.
But when I can read, in the midst of all this, it’s grounding. I’ve found some of the following to be really fantastic.
- Medicine Road by Charles de Lint
- The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal
- A Place Called Home by David Ambroz
- Lands of Lost Borders by Kate Harris
- Thin Places by Kerri ní Dochartaigh
- Three Simple Lines by Natalie Goldberg (re-read)
- Smitten Kitchen Keepers by Deb Perelman
- A River Enchanted by Rebecca Ross
- A Fire Endless by Rebecca Ross
- Heart of the Sun Warrior by Sue Lynn Tan
- Juniper Wiles by Charles de Lint
- The Sayings of Layman P’ang translated by James Green
- Or What You Will by Jo Walton
- The Mimicking of Known Successes by Malka Oder
- Some Desperate Glory by Emily Tesh
My partner is out of town on an extended trip, through the end of February. My reaction to the loneliness: charging through my TBR pile. I’ve gotten through a lot of books in the last two weeks. Most of them I’ve really liked, too, which is heartening. We’ll see if I’ll be able to keep up this pace through the end of February…
- River Woman, River Demon by Jennifer Givhan
- Diary of a Void by Emi Yagi (trans. David Boyd and Lucy North) – this one is an interesting pair with Elinor Oliphant is Completely Fine (which I also read recently)
- True Refuge by Tara Brach
- Terciel and Elinor by Garth Nix
- The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz
- L’appart by David Lebovitz
- Down Country by Lucy Lippard and Edward Ranney
- Three Stones Make a Wall by Eric H. Cline
- How We Live Is How We Die by Pema Chödrön
- Hannah’s Garden by Midori Snyder
- Civilizations by Laurent Binet (trans. Sam Taylor)
- Meditation for Beginners by Jack Kornfield
- The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd – especially enjoyed this one!
- Self Portrait with Nothing by Aimee Pokwatka – especially enjoyed this one too.
- Station Eternity by Mur Lafferty
- The Warehouse by Rob Hart
- Plant Magic by Christine Buckley
- The Grief of Stones by Katherine Addison
- Trinity Sight by Jennifer Givhan (re-read)
- Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
- A Lamp in the Darkness by Jack Kornfield
- Welcoming the Unwelcome by Pema Chödrön
- Ithaca by Claire North: this one was not for me; DNF.
- The Coming Storm by Regina Hansen
- The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison– I loved this so much that as soon as I finished it I started over from the beginning, and once I finished my re-read I went straight to…
- The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison – which I also loved.
- Riccardino by Andrea Camilleri, translated by Stephen Sartarelli
- Stories from Apex: “On the Sunlit Side of Venus” by Benjamin Parzybok and “The Day When the Last War Is Over” by Sergey Gerasimov
- The Wood Wife by Terri Windling (re-read)
- Gossamer Axe by Gael Baudino (re-read)
- The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley
- The Gatekeeper by James Byrne
- A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark
- Kindness Now by Amanda Gilbert
- Radical Compassion by Tara Brach
- Witches by Brenda Lozano, translated by Heather Cleary: loved this one.
- Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
- Dark Earth by Rebecca Stott: loved this one too
- When We Were Birds by Ayanna Lloyd Banwo: and loved this as well.
- Seasparrow by Kristin Cashore: I was afraid to start this book, as I love Cashore’s work in general but had such huge problems with her last book. I was worried that I might have similar issues with Seasparrow–but I didn’t! I read it fast enough that I don’t want to say more than that (am going back to re-read), but my first impression is positive.
- Becoming Madeleine by Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Léna Roy.
- The Moment of Tenderness by Madeleine L’Engle
- Fox and I by Catherine Raven
- Standing at the Edge by Joan Halifax
- “The Weasel” ( Lost Colony Magazine) by Subodhana Wijeyeratne
- The Art of Living by Thích Nhất Hạnh
- Circe by Madeline Miller
- The Prince of the Skies by Antonio Iturbe (translated by Lilit Žekulin Thwaites)
Ok, so I didn’t actually quit. I kept my job. I just stepped down from a major responsibility that’s been draining me for the last two years. To celebrate, I took a week off – my first real vacation in too-long-to-count – and I’ve been reading. Lots! Here are some of the things I’ve read:
- Poet Warrior by Joy Harjo
- How We Show Up by Mia Birdsong
- The Lost Words by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris
- Ghostways by Robert MacFarlane, Stanley Donwood, and Dan Richards
- Tartine Every Day by Elisabeth Prueitt
- My Greek Table by Diane Kochilas
- Mooncakes and Milk Bread by Kristina Cho
- Long Quiet Highway by Natalie Goldberg
- The Great Failure by Natalie Goldberg
- Owl in Love by Patrice Kindl
- Once and Forever by Kenji Miyazawa, translated by John Bester
- “Three Past Desolation Cut“, by Grant Stone
- All the Seas of the World by Guy Gavriel Kay
I’ve been reading more than Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley, but that’s what I read most recently and it has wiped pretty much everything else out of my brain. I’m always kind of – worried, I guess, is the verb – when a book has a lot of hype. And Firekeeper’s Daughter sure has hype – Boulley received a seven-figure advance, the book is not only a NYT bestseller but won both the Morris and Printz awards, and Barak and Michelle Obama’s production company bought the TV rights and is making it into a series for Netflix. I’m probably forgetting a few honors. There have been many.
So I was wary about picking this one up, despite the fact that topically it is right up my alley: crime/thriller, Indigenous heroine with explicit explorations of identity, written by an Indigenous author.
But this book cracked me wide open.
It’s good. It’s really good. It deserves all the hype it’s getting, and more.
- Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch by Rivka Galchen
- A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson
- Pastoral Song: A Farmer’s Journey by James Rebanks
- Threading the Labyrinth by Tiffani Angus
- Dark River by Rym Kechacha
- Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan
- Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan
- VI Warshawski books by Sara Paretsky – amazingly I’d never read any of these before!
I’ve been reading…I just haven’t been posting.
- A Cathedral of Myth and Bone by Kat Howard
- A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers – I love Becky Chambers’ writing and this book is no exception, but I also found this work centrally flawed. I’ll keep it short, but: AN AREA ABANDONED BY HUMANS IS NOT “UNTOUCHED.” There’s a huge literature about this, in fact – about the inherent misconceptions of the idea that “culture” and “nature” are two separate things – and given that the relationship between humans and nature is so central to the entire concept of this work, I found the lack of understanding of this to be a huge problem. One concrete (hahaha) example of this: as anyone who has spent time in the backcountry would know, bicycling along a road through a forest that had been abandoned two hundred years prior would not be possible. It’s in fact kind of amazing how quickly human infrastructure turns to ruins…but it is still there, and it leaves a legacy. An abandoned place is not a “wilderness,” if you are defining wilderness as “untouched by humans” (as this book explicitly does, in a few places).
- An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard
- The Promise by Damon Galgut
- Black Water Sister by Zen Cho
- Banana Rose by Natalie Goldberg
- The Great Spring by Natalie Goldberg
- Cultivating the Mind of Love by Thich Nhat Hanh
- Our Lady of the Nile by Scholastique Mukasonga
- The Actual Star by Monica Byrne
- Miss Austen by Gill Hornby
- People from my Neighborhood by Hiromi Kawakami
- Her Name is Knight by Yasmin Angoe
Just two books on this list. My reading has been slowed down with the turn of seasons – although again, I have actually read more than this. But I felt like these two books, one of which I loved, and one of which I had such a problem with I could not finish it, work as a single list.
- The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec. Loved this book. Just loved it. It’s a Norse myth-inspired story, and I found its prose both modern and uncannily myth-like. But most saliently for this particular list, it presents the idea of “witch” in a way that to me is both original and compelling.
- A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee – this was a DNF for me, in part (but not only – I had other issues with it too) because I found it offensive in a way peculiar to me. I feel strongly that any author who mentions the Salem witch trials (or really, any historical event) in a work of fiction, no matter how casually, has a moral obligation to be aware of the actual history of this event and to take it into account in their mentions; otherwise, they are perpetuating the belief system that led to those twenty executions (and to other lost lives as well). If you don’t know anything about the history of the Salem witch trials, this is a good summary. We Ride Upon Sticks is, in my opinion, an example of a novel about witchcraft that talks about the Salem trials and gets it right – something far too rare.
- The Margot Affair by by Sanaë Lemoine
- She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan
- Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim
There are more – even though I have been slowed down – I just can’t think of any right now. I’ve been too busy, but also, despite the fact that I enjoyed all three of these (esp. She Who Became the Sun), I’m in a bit of a reading slump. I was surprised to stumble across the suggestion (in this post) that reading slumps are a product of the social internet! This is definitely not my experience (and I know it because I’ve experienced reading slumps before I experienced the internet, and I participate in the social internet only minimally anyway – this blog is about it, and it’s not very social), and I was initially a little offended by the suggestion.
But in thinking about it, I came to what feels like an important realization about my reading: I’m a reader, not a fan. And this makes my situation different than that of those who are both fans AND readers. Clearly, the author of the post is both. I’d argue that the kind of slump that’s produced by the internet is more properly termed a fandom slump, since (as the post author argues) it has more to do with participation in reading communities than with reading itself.
What about what *I* term a reading slump – the inability to find a book that I want to read despite longing for something new? I think that’s a separate phenomenon. So does the author of the post, in fact. For this type of slump, she suggests, “Set aside a book you haven’t read yet by an author you love.” I suspect this is a suggestion that works for fans, but it doesn’t work for me. For me each book – not each author, each *book* – is a passage into another world. It stands alone. Even books set in the same world show different slices, different moods, of that world. There are few authors whose books I will always read – I can probably count them on one hand – and I can think of no examples of authors who’ve never written a book that I’ve found problematic, no matter how much I normally love their work (see, for example, Winterkeep).
(There are authors who, having tried a few of their books, I will not read again. But that doesn’t solve the reading slump issue!)
There are a lot of readers/fans out there, and those readers do to some extent drive what’s being written and published. I don’t know if my reading slumps correspond with the abundance of books that appeal to me in their concept, but that are associated strongly with reading fandom, at any particular time, or not. Something to consider.
- Writing the Novella by Sharon Oard Warner – if you are looking for a writing craft book, I highly recommend this one, whether you write novellas or not. It’s one of the best craft books I’ve read in the past decade, perhaps longer. I suspect longer- and shorter-form authors will find it super-helpful (as will novella writers, of course) – well, I did!
- Around the Writer’s Block by Roseanne Bane
- The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel
- Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
- Crow With No Mouth by Ikkyū Sōjun, translated by Stephen Berg
- Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre
- The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley
- Beeswing by Richard Thompson
- Finding Freedom by Erin French
- The Ecology of Herbal Medicine: A Guide to Plants and Living Landscapes of the American Southwest by Dara Saville
- Mandy by Julie Edwards (reread)
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
- Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
- Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri
- The Hatak Witches by Devon A. Mihesuah
- A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine
- The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers
- SPQR by Mary Beard (reread)
- The Last Watch by J. S. Dewes
- Three Simple Lines by Natalie Goldberg
- Thunder and Lightning by Natalie Goldberg (reread)
- Magician’s Ward by Patricia Wrede
- We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry
- Thee, Hannah! by Marguerite De Angeli (reread)
- Thornyhold by Mary Stewart (reread)
I’ve read more than this, actually, but what I haven’t listed is mostly re-reading. I’m recovering from last year and right now I just can’t muster the energy to list it all. Every day, a little more energy…or so I hope.
- Winterkeep, by Kristin Cashore. I had some problems with this one, though I did read it all the way through, not just once but twice. Kristin Cashore is one of “my” writers and so her works get a level of trust from me that many other authors’ don’t. For this reason I found reading Winterkeep an interesting exercise in figuring out what my problems with it were. I think it comes down to three main issues (no real spoilers in what follows). First is a world-building issue. Cashore’s previous novels in this universe (Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue) suffered from a common and extremely problematic issue in fantasy: presumed (and in some cases explicit) whiteness (some discussions of this issue in fantasy generally here and here). Perhaps in part to remedy this, in Winterkeep Cashore presents a nation of people with brown skin, and clarifies that the Lienid are also brown-skinned (albeit lighter-skinned than the people of Winterkeep). All this is well and good, except that by this choice, Cashore has created a world in which human phenotype is completely unmoored from biological reality (the people of Winterkeep live in the far north). This worldbuidling thus gives credence to some mistaken ideas about the biology of skin color and race; such mistaken ideas inform quite a bit of present-day scientific racism (this project provides some background for what I’m trying to get at here), which is clearly not what Cashore intends – but nonetheless, it bothered me. I couldn’t not see those threads as I read. My second issue is also science-related. While environment is at the heart of the conflict in Winterkeep, and Cashore emphasizes this by having two point-of-view and one additional important set of non-human animal characters, all the animals seem completely human-focused. These three types of animals are the only wild animals we’re introduced to (and one, the telepathic foxes, would really have to be considered a semi-domesticate); otherwise the world is populated by domestic animals (that is, dependent on humans) such as cows, pigs, and cats. This wouldn’t be too much of a problem except that the responsibility of the denizens of Winterkeep to take care of the earth and the impacts of their decisions on ecosystem dynamics are a significant part of the plot. Similarly, while concepts such as cascading environmental effects and ecosystem mechanics are touched upon, the superficial way in they are treated supports the idea that people are the superior beings, the most important part of this world…which is directly in conflict with the stated environmental themes of Winterkeep. Finally, one of the aspects of this book that I really liked was the theme of coming of age out of a background of family trauma. However, the many viewpoints (there are five) made it hard for me to fully connect with the character of Lovisa. And this made the way in which Winterkeep treats family trauma, for me, fundamentally unsatisfying. Together these three issues made the entire book problematic for me; they may not be so much of an issue for other readers. But thinking about why things were problematic for me in this one was also a really fruitful and interesting exercise – one that’s given me some insights into writing craft.
- Interior Chinatown, by Charles Yu. I loved this book.
- The Banished Immortal: A Life of Li Bai, by Ha Jin.
- Making Magic: Weaving Together the Everyday and the Extraordinary, by Briana Saussy
- The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yōko Ogawa
- The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
- “And the Ones Who Walk In” by Sarah Avery, in Beneath Ceaseless Skies
- Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie
- The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
I’ve read more than this over the past few weeks, but I’m having a hard time keeping anything straight these days.
- Echo on the Bay by Masatsugu Ono, translated by Angus Turvill – this work is one where I’m super-curious about the choices made by the translator (if only I could read Japanese! I’m making progress with German so maybe Japanese is next).
- Das Doppelte Lottchen by Erich Kästner – see, making progress with German, above.
- Eat the Buddha: Life and Death in a Tibetan Town by Barbara Demick.
- Among Others by Jo Walton (re-read).
It doesn’t sound like a lot, and it is in fact not a lot. I’ve been tired, laboring under darkness both real and metaphorical. But we’ve passed the solstice now and I see a glimmer of light in the far distance…enough that I’m able to at the very least, record what I’ve been reading.
Here’s to light returning, for all of us (including those of us in the southern hemisphere, for whom the returning light will be metaphorical at this point).