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The Broken Earth: The Stone Sky, NK Jemisin: I think we're looking at the book that will sweep most of the major sci-fi/fantasy awards in 2018 here. Jesus fuck, this is absolutely amazing. Jemisin mentions that she wrote this in a time of transition while her mother was dying, and oh, you can tell. There's some necessary wrap up that has to happen in order to get all the storylines to converge, but when they do, goddamn. There was a point where this made me have to put it down because of what happened, and I ended up not picking it up for the rest of the night. That rarely happens for me. Shit, she even makes necessary infodumps compelling, which is huge. This is raw and wonderful and is something you need to get when this comes out. (August I think?) Jim got this early as a review copy, and let me have it first for our anniversary. Thank you, hon. 

Books read: 49

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River of Teeth, Sarah Gailey: This novella's forward should be all you need to be sold on it. If you need more, add a ragtag group of hippo cowboys, and a plan to drive feral hippos into the Gulf of Mexico. The cast is great, diverse (but doesn't make it seem like they're checking off boxes), and genuinely fun to see bounce off each other. A wonderful, fast-paced heist novella, and looking forward to the sequel. 

Books read: 50

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The Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shibiku, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan (translated by Jane Hirshfield with Mariko Aratani): A very quick read of poetry in translation from some very notable women of the Japanese court. Half the book is padded by the introduction, notes about Japanese poetry, and a transliteration of all the poems with some relevant notes. One point: while one of the translators is a poet, she does not seem to have done the bulk of the translating, and seems to have arranged the translations into poetic forms. Or at least, that is my speculation, given the notes and the rearrangements we see in the case of some poems. Either way; a quick, lovely read. 

Books read: 51

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What They Did to Princess Paragon, by Robert Rodi.

Taking place in 1990, the story is about a gay comic book writer/artist who, after a successful career at a thinly veiled Marvel expy, gets a contract at a thinly veiled DC expy to revamp a thinly veiled Wonder Woman expy called Princess Paragon in a thinly veiled Post-Crisis Comics-in-the-90s expy to boost sales. He decides to make her gay in order to gain as much notoriety and riches as the thinly veiled expies of the British Invasion of writers from the 80s. At the same time, a typical comic book nerd gets wind of this and vows to somehow keep Princess Paragon's virtue by taking matters into his own hands.

I bought this off of Amazon after reading a story by Rodi and Phil Jiminez from a Vertigo anthology series. It's well written. All the characters feel very real. At the same time, every single character is a brutal stereotype who, while still feeling real, betray a real mean streak and sense of contempt from Rodi as a writer. This is a humor novel, so it's not meant to be read as a serious novel. But the disdainful takes on comic nerd culture and comic creator culture are so thorough that it reads like an expose on a truly pathetic subculture of American life. I started this on the plane to San Diego and was worried it would ruin my time at SDCC, because Rodi's depiction of the average comic book geek is not nice. It's also, highly, stereotypical. Every comic fan in this book is anti-social to the point of being a recluse, fat, juvenile, virginal, and borderline insane. Conversely the creators are all highly cynical, greedy, glory-chasing, self-centered pretentious douchebags who all sneer at the millions of losers who provide their paychecks. 

I think if I'd read this in the early 90s when it first dropped I might've enjoyed it more. For now, much of the inside baseball of comic book life is too familiar and the jokes are too worn out to really be funny or insightful. I got a couple of laughs, but any more pleasure certainly didn't come from the characters. Rodi definitely knew the industry inside and out, and definitely had a bone to pick with the Image-chasing Marvel and DC trends, alluding to stories such as Byrne's Post-Crisis Superman reboot and The Killing Joke/Death and the Family/Dark Knight Returns. It's well trodden territory twenty-five years later, but as a story it's a diverting tale about two people who are almost entirely loathsome. 

 

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October: The Story of the Russian Revolution, China Mièville: China Mieville does a deep dive into the months between February and October 1917. I've not seen him do nonfiction before, and he's very well suited to the task, shifting between the big picture and small anecdotes, and covering a period of time that doesn't get covered a lot in history. Each chapter (with the exception of the first and the afterword) covers a month, which means that some chapters are longer by necessity, but I still got through this in five days of commute at a chapter each way. Mièville also includes further reading at the end, if you want a deeper dive. The afterword is particularly striking. Definitely take a look at this one.

Books read: 53

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Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, Carrie Brownstein: The memoir of one of the members of Sleater Kinney. Combination of stories about her, about her music, about the band, and all things in between. Gorgeous prose, and a quick read; I read through this over the better part of a week in the evenings right before bed. Found it remaindered, but it's worth your time even at full price.

books read: 54

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A Wrinkle In Time, Madeline L'Engle: My partner got me the exact versions of the book that I had as a kid and got lost in various moving upheaval, so I'm reading these again. Obviously, went a lot quicker as an adult, but I'm stunned at how much Camazotz got to me as an adult. There's stuff with God that feels a bit eyerolly at times, but they don't overtly frame it as the Christian god. Ending still seems kinda abrupt compared to the buildup of the rest of the book. Still fantastic read even as an adult, and I can't wait to see the newest adaptation tbh.

Books read: 55

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A Wind in the Door, Madeline L'Engle: A quasi-sequel to Wrinkle in Time that manages to take the same basic formula and extrapolate out the stakes to a cosmic and microscopic level, while still being understandable to a kid. She's really onto something with the science with mitochondria for being back in 73, though I really wonder if she were alive today what she'd think about *gestures vaguely to state of world*. Again, super strong Christian themes but in a larger cosmic good/evil way, not the way I've seen them used through most of my life. Reading these again is a hell of a thing, and the kind of comfort I need in general right now.

Books read: 56

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June Fourth Elegies, Liu Xiaobo (translated by Jeffrey Yang): Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, and died a few weeks ago after being granted medical parole for terminal liver cancer. I had purchased this remaindered earlier in the summer, and this was next on my reading pile. Liu Xia, his wife, described him as an awkward poet, and the translator tries to keep that awkwardness in the translations. He also includes notes in the back for references that may not always land. These poems don't always hit home, but when they do, they're amazing. The introduction we get from Xiaobo makes me want to see if there's any more of his work exists in translation (though this collection is from 2012 and mentions that because of the political/banned nature of his work, there's not a lot of translations of his work).  Rest in peace.

books read: 57

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The Broken Earth: The Obsidian Gate-N.K. Jemisin Yeah, this one's heavy and brutal. Hannah said there was a lot of setup and exposition, but it felt necessary and didn't slow me down. It's great.

My only major criticism is that the plot requires that everyone in this post-apocalyptic society goes directly from eating animals to get their protein DIRECTLY TO cannibalism. My headcanon is that a side effect of the apocalypse that begins the trilogy is that it kills all vegetarians as well as everyone who can identify a soybean.

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A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Madeline L'Engle: A bit disjointed, but again, another logical outgrowth of the series trajectory to this point. This one focuses a bit more on Charles Wallace and his special abilities, but Meg, a bit older and pregnant, still holds a strong part in the story. Have to say, the idea of a kid time traveling with his unicorn to save the world from a mad dictator threatening the world with nuclear destruction and changing subtle things in the past and making it so that the guy's been a peace lover the whole time is really appealing in light of current events.

Books read: 58

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Many Waters, Madeline L'Engle: You might know this one from this cover. This is the one that gets real weird. Sandy and Denny, side characters in the previous three books, suddenly become main characters, and get inserted into the story of Noah and the ark. It's kinda bible fanfictiony, because there's an unmentioned daughter of Noah and she's totes in love with them but also the seraphim love her too. There's also real vague mentions of sex in a way there wasn't in the last books. Worth a read, still wonderful, but definitely just a bit weird. 

The Chronicles of Bustos Domecq, Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy-Casares: Borges and Bioy-Casares get together under a pseudonym to shittalk their colleagues. Short, quick, witty, and so much fun. Finished this over the course of a plane ride and a Lyft to where I'm staying in NYC. Worth your time.

The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band, Michelle Cruz Gonzales: A great, quick memoir about Michelle's time in Spitboy, how she related to the scene in terms of gender and ethnic identity, and some wonderful stories. Definitely worth your time (which will be quick, as it's 130 pages).

Books read: 61

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Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors, Susan Sontag: I was directed towards this by The Shock Doctrine. Sontag discusses all the metaphors and myths around TB, cancer, and AIDS and how they add to the suffering and stigmatization of patients. Almost 200 pages, not a light read by any means, but definitely worth your time. 

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman: This is something that I've been meaning to read since college (it was required reading in our medical anthropology course, and it was one of the few anth courses I never took). A Hmong child with epilepsy got caught in between American doctor's cultural assumptions with regards to what her parents believed, and the outcome was utterly horrible, to say the least. This is from the early 90s, and Fadiman explains the cultural context of where the patient's family was coming from experience and beliefs and culturally wise, and looks at how that clashed with how the doctors were used to patient compliance, and how the patient got caught in the middle of it (hint: child welfare got involved and she was temporarily removed from her parents for about a year because her parents couldn't understand the admittedly insane regimen of medicine the patient was on). This book was part of the push for the more holistic integrated health care that you're seeing these days (whole patient, etc), and in the push for cross cultural competency. The patient died in 2012, having spent 26 of her 30 years in a vegetative state. Found this in the little free library by my place, and so glad that I picked it up.

Books read: 63

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The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero with Tom Bissell.

I don't think I've ever read a book that's made me laugh as much and as hard as this one. I was in the waiting room at my mom's doctor's appointment covering my mouth with tears streaming down my face, unable to control my volume. It's the story of The Room by Tommy Wiseau, its production, interspersed with flashback chapters detailing the relationship between Wiseau and Sestero. Sestero himself is incredibly gifted as a satirical storyteller. Whatever help from Bissell he got, the descriptions and comments on the bizarre but real life events of the Wiseau experience are gut-bustingly hilarious. Highly recommended.

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Camanchaca, Diego Zúñiga (translated by Megan McDowell): A 110 page novella about a trip across a desert, a son, his fractured (and abusive) relationship with his parents, and the secrets and silence that bind them all together. Interestingly structured (no more than a paragraph per page), which makes for an interesting and quick read. Worth your time. 

Books read: 64

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Satin Island, Tom McCarthy: I'm of two minds on this. 

On the one hand: this got shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, it's got some absolutely gorgeous writing, it's under 200 pages, McCarthy is an experimental writer, and I can see the larger point that the format/way the novel turns out is trying to make about the search for meaning in life. 

On the other hand, I was hoping there would be some kind of arc or resolution to the things that were laid out, in some fashion? This just kind of peters out and then the novel just ends, with no resolution. Immediately after finishing it I thought "the fuck is this pretentious bullshit?". Just seemed like a bunch of barely related observations tied together at times. 

I'm gonna try reading this again after a while and see if some distance makes any difference.

Books read: 65

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The Long Walk, by Stephen King.

100 boys gather to walk an endless marathon with no finish line. Must maintain a pace of four miles per hour. Slowing down results in a warning. After three warnings they're shot dead. Last one standing wins.

I thought this was fantastic. Apparently this was King's earliest attempt at a novel, predating Carrie though I guess that got published first. The exploration of the psychology surrounding death and mortality was terrific. Can't say much more than that.

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The Five Daughters of the Moon, Leena Likitalo: From Tor.com's novella program, basically a light fantasy reimagining of the fall of the Romanov empire. I have a feeling that this was originally a full length novel that got split in half bc she realized she was more likely to get it published with them as two novellas; you can see the place for an easy split at the end of this novella. It's a quick paced read, with each Daughter getting a chapter and character building and each pov building on the last, with the pov characters not knowing what we know. I'm definitely interested in the sequel, and hope we get a bit more info on some of the fantasy mechanics that are kind of only lightly explained here. For a first effort, it's a good one.

PS: There's a machine that will bring about equality that is fuelled by human souls that is either a really shitty one to one metaphor for communism or a blatant attempt to make the Rasputin analogue even more evil (other than mind controlling and raping the eldest pov character), and the souls aspect is one of the things I'm hoping they explain more next book because loooooord.

Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways To Listen in An Age of Musical Plenty, Ben Ratliff: A NY Times music critic takes music theory and makes it accessible using several examples of popular music from the last 50 years. I don't always agree with some of his takes (Miley Cyrus is not equivalent to the Grateful Dead my dude), and he can get a bit pretentious (even J hadn't heard of Castiglione, dude), but when he hits the good stuff, it's really good (see: the Be My Baby chapter, the Mi Gente chapter). I found this remaindered, and for that price, it's worth it. And tbh, I wish some of the music he referenced was more accessible on streaming services, but maybe it's on YouTube?

Books read: 67

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Provenance, Ann Leckie: ARC of Leckie's follow up to the Ancillary trilogy. No one from the original trilogy shows up, and events are referenced in ways that would make sense for people hearing it a system or two away, which I really like. 

The best way I can explain this is that it's like a Shakespeare comedy of errors, but writ on an interstellar scale; and applied to items of cultural importance. I really like how the story unfolds, and how the story frames family, it's characters, and the importance of cultural artifacts. I got through this in about three nights, roughly. There will be a bit of weirdness as you get used to the alien pronouns, but you can figure it out pretty quickly.

Definitely get this when it comes out later this month. 

Books read: 68

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The Brightest Fell, Seanan McGuire: Seanan kind of has two modes with her Toby Daye novels. Plot light, and plot heavy. This is the latter. The shit that goes down in this book, both in the main plot and in the novella in the back, is heavy. What starts out as one of the funnest moments in a Toby Daye novel goes the darkest that she has so far with these. I mainlined this in most of a night. If you want to read 11 books of a really well plotted fantasy series, go read this series; you won't be disappointed.

Books read: 69 (nice)

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Death's End, Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu): Finally fucking done with this. 600 pages, and at times, some of the most dense technical writing I've ever read. The scale is immense - through hibernation and the simple scale of light speed travel, several thousand years are covered. All the threads of the previous books come back and are wrapped. It's bleak as fuck, and it feels like a fucking hammer just swinging away at you, but still manages to end on a bit of hope that feels genuine.

The pros: Liu does an amazing job on the translations, and this book flows a lot better than the last one, and even more so than Three Body Problem (now that Liu knows Cixin's style better). The sheer scale, and epic (in the proper old term) involved in this. The way everything ties into each other, across books and eras. The ending, where you feel a genuine bit of hope that the author doesn't mercilessly extinguish, and in fact encourages you to believe in it. 

The cons: oh sweet Christ if I never have to read another fucking technical exposition it will be too fucking soon. It goes hard on the hard sci-fi, but given at least half, if not more is technical exposition dumps that feel like death marches, I start to think that maybe the editor (either in the original or the translation) could have suggested some cuts. Our lead character ends up being a bit flat because of the focus on technical exposition at times over any kind of inner dialogue, and at times can be reduced to the madonna/mother archetype. Everything gets wrapped neatly, but toward the end you get the feeling that Liu remembered "oh fuck, these people exist, I need to wrap their stories somehow", and it feels a bit haphazard as such. This gets super fucking bleak at times, overwhelmingly so. 

Honestly, you could probably skip Dark Forest and just stick to the first (Three Body Problem) and this one for the series, as there's a nice summary of all the books to this point in the front of this one. Ken Liu does a really good job of translating these, and switching translators in the middle of the trilogy was probably one of the biggest mistakes they made.  

I am also probably a lot kinder to this book having only spent $3 on it because of sales.

Books read: 70

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Taste of Marrow, Sarah Gailey: Sequel to River of Teeth, in that it actually looks at the emotional fallout of the last novella, and continues the story in an unexpected but interesting way. I also get the sense that there's another one of these in her if they do well. Eternal love for a fat bi lady who is one of my most recent favorite characters, period. You can get through this real quick, and it continues to be wonderful besides.

Books read: 71

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Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions, Valeria Luiselli: A short (100 pages without sources/references) but brutal read about how the US treats undocumented children immigrants, primarily focusing on immigration courts in NYC, the authors experience as an immigrant, and as a translator for children caught in these courts. Read this. You'll be done with it in an afternoon, but it'll stick with you.

Books read: 72

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This is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz: The only work I've read of Diaz's is the story that closes out this collection; this is my first experience with him in general as an author, and I'm intrigued. This is a collection of all of his short stories published in the New Yorker, and from what I can tell, they're all the same POV character at different points in his life (with the exception of one story that might be from his father's mistresses POV, not sure), with different POVs used. I read through this in this in three or so nights, a few stories a night. Really good writing, there is frequent Spanish without translation, but even if you don't know it, you can guess with context. I was lucky enough to find this edition remaindered on one of my first trips to Unabridged Bookstore (which is now my/our bookshop). It has illustrations and endpapers done by Jaime Hernandez, and they're gorgeous. Might have to get his novel if I can find it remaindered. Definitely worth your time.

Books read: 73

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Beneath the Sugar Sky, Seanan McGuire: ARC of the next book in the Wayward Children series, due out in January. I'm really impressed with this. A continuation of the first novella proper, with time loops, new and old characters, and tours of more doors/possibilities. The two things that stuck most with me: really well done fat representation, and the fact that the time traveling daughter is named after a reference to the same in the Sailor Moon dub. Absolutely read this series.

Books read: 74

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