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44. Servant of the Underworld, Aliette de Bodard: de Bodard’s first book, originally published by Angry Robot - this is a new edition published by JABberwocky Literary Agency. (This comes into play later.) It’s a procedural/murder mystery, but set in the Aztec empire, with two brothers at each other’s throats, politics, and the gods and supernatural fuckery. It’s a well written, fast paced read, especially for a first novel. 

But if/when I try to find the rest of this, I’m honestly going to be looking to see if I can find the Angry Robot editions. Because there is some genuinely sloppy formatting here on JABberwocky’s part. Mistaken paragraph breaks like the below picture happen every ten pages or so, and in a 300 page novel, that’s super noticeable. These kinds of errors happen when you’re changing from one size to another (Angry Robot does mass market size paperbacks for the most part, and this is noticeably larger), and any editor worth their salt should have caught this in the galleys.

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45. In Other Lands, Sarah Rees Brennan: This is a front runner for my favorite book of the year. On the surface, it’s a fantasy YA book about a boy who is chosen to go to another world and his friends that he finds there and coming of age and all that jazz. But god, it’s so much fucking more than that. It’s got the best portrayal of what a bisexual awakening is like as a teenager, and what fluid sexuality looks like, without shaming. It’s got these kids fumbling and trying to figure themselves out, and hurting each other in the process. It’s commentary on toxic masculinity by flipping the gender stereotypes. Its a kid who comes to term with a lot of shit with regards to what emotional abandonment does to him. It’s a kid working his way through the sexism and colonialism and racism of this society, and diplomacy, and just, fuck. If you grew up in fandom, there’ll be tropes you know and recognize, and you might be able to tell some of the twists before they happen. 

But god I wish this book had been around when I was a kid. I literally clutched this to my chest when I finished this. 

Get this now. You won’t regret it.

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46. The Opposite House, Helen Oyeyemi: Oyeyemi’s second book, two narratives (one more rooted in the Orishas and the other rooted in immigrant traditions and pregnancy) that never quite come together, but on their own are great stories (maybe as two separate novellas?). Interesting formatting choices that I really like. Quick read (just over 200 pages, finished it in under a week). 

But by god whoever put that quote comparing her to Rimbaud, Dickinson, and Neruda at the top of the back cover is really doing her a disservice. It stands well enough on its own without the comparisons.

47. Palimpest, Cathrynne Valente: One of Valente’s first novels, nominated for a Hugo and won the Lambda in ‘10.  It’s basically either super lyrical weird ass descriptions or lots of sexing, as the fantasy city is basically sexually transmitted. Don’t come to this looking for plot of any kind, or for any real answers to what the hell happens? I mean, there’s kind of a happy ending. The best way to describe this is “well that happened”. There’s bits and pieces of The Girl Who [Verbed] Fairyland, slightly before getting it crowdfunded/picked up by Macmillan. Like, it’s real pretty descriptions and shit, but with random ass pregnancy, some body horror it doesn’t seem willing to commit to, and just a general sense of meandering along before realizing “oh shit I need to end this”, and occasionally throwing in something resembling conflict kind of. It’s not bad, but it’s not memorable.

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48. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer, Michelle McNamara: So, with the Golden State Killer having been caught recently, and knowing about this book and the police crediting McNamara’s work, I decided to check this out. I was not expecting to find a book that I would tear through in the space of two nights. McNamara’s prose, where completed, is wonderful and draws you into her search and the crimes of the GSK, and how it unfolds. Where she wasn’t done, her colleagues finished it where possible, or attempt to piece things together from her notes or the things they worked on together and her transcripts. It’s a hell of a book, and I read it in the space of two nights in the bath. I’m honestly interested to see if Oswalt does get the chance to ask the GSK the questions in the epilogue, and how their finding him at last came into play. Definitely read this when you get a chance.

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49. The Book of Joan, Lidia Yuknavitch: I read this at the recommendation of two writers that I trust, and because it came up remaindered at our bookstore. It’s a relatively quick read, and it’s a haunting, brutal one, basically telling the story of women and girls at the end of the world, and a rampaging misogynist who tries to create his own new society above the ruined earth. I’m writing this having literally just finished it, and I’m interested to see how it sticks with me. I don’t always agree with what Yuknavitch is using the characters to say, but the way she says it is undoubtedly amazing. One of the developments towards the back of the book feels a bit underdeveloped despite it becoming a major mover for a good third of the book. There’s also a throwaway moment at the end that feels like an attempt to be profound but comes off as deeply uncomfortable instead. 

Read through and see what you think. I’d be interested to hear other peoples’ opinions of it.

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A Pound Of Steam, Spiral Bound by Dessa: Woman who writes good rhymes writes good poetry and keeps my attention during a short story. Fingers crossed Doomtree or Rain Taxi or whomever figure out a way to release this material as well as another tiny chapbook. I look forward to her memoirs.
Tell Me How It Ends by Valeria Luiselli: A short non-fiction thing about the status of migrants/refugees in Central America and Mexico trying to get into the United States. 2666 prepared me for some of this material, but there are images that'll stick with me, like the hell train ride through Mexico into America in which people fall off and probably die. Jesus. Also, the statistic that of female refugees that make it into America, about 80% of them were raped on the way in.
Half A King by Joe Abercrombie: Well, after an actual brutal read, a "brutal" read did the trick. I'm told this is one of his weakest books, but it fucking moves quick. A YA work about the weight of oaths, murder, lies, etc etc. I want the second one immediately.

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50. Sisyphean, Dempow Torishima, translated by Daniel Huddleston: I’m not entirely sure what happened here, mainly because the four stories contained in this novel are related to each other only in a vague sort of way, and the writing in translation is dense as hell. But man, the stories are fast paced and look at some neat existential quandaries. The first story especially captures the hellscape of corporate Japan mixed with a good dose of sci-fi weirdness, and draws you in to the rest of the novel to see what the hell will happen. Torishima also does illustrations for each of the stories, so you get some damn amazing Junji Ito-esque illustrations to give further visual to the body and bio horror that’s described in the stories. Be ready for dense as hell prose and a lot of made up terms, but it’s worth the money and the time.

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51. Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, Mary Roach: A quick, light book about military science, which has a lot about shit and dicks, unsurprisingly. Roach writes engagingly but doesn’t hesitate to add humor in to keep some pretty morbid subjects on the lighter end of things. I got through this in most of a soak in a bath, I don’t expect I’m going to retain a lot of this, but it was a light engaging read.

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52. The Sound of Things Falling, Juan Gabriel Vasquez (translated by Anne McLean): Fuck. This came into my life right when I needed it. I picked this up remaindered a while ago, and finally got to it this week. To say that a man’s fascination with a friend he saw murdered, his daughter’s interest in the father she’d never really known, and a story that slowly comes to an end but isn’t really resolves hit a few buttons is to say the least here. It’s the same wistfulness as Borges, and the fascination with how the political plays out with the personal that I saw in Bolaño, with just wonderful writing in general. And an honest look at the consequences of typical Latin American machismo/sleeping around and a woman who is putting up with the protagonist and trying to be understanding of his PTSD, but also turns out to have a spine when he up and leaves her to suddenly meet the daughter of his friend. I’m probably going to have to see if there’s any more of his stuff remaindered.

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On 11/5/2017 at 12:20 PM, Venneh said:

We Were Eight Years in Power, Ta-Nehisi Coates: This is a collection of Coates' best essays from the last eight years of writing he's done for the Atlantic. What I really like about this is that he reframes these essays in the context of the shift towards Jim Crow/the post Reconstruction era in the South in the national pivot away from Obama and to Trump, through the prologue, the intro to each essay, and the final epilogue essay ("The First White President"). I've read most of these already, but the reframing makes you come at them in a new light. A good deal of these essays are especially relevant, especially in light of last week (LAST FUCKING WEEK)'s denial that the Civil War was about slavery, for example. Depressing as fuck, but still a great read.

books read: 88

So I just finished this myself, pilfering it from my dad's library after running out of patience for him to read it first (I got it for him for Christmas). Of all the books I've read lately, this is easily the best written in terms of prosaic quality. Coates blends poetry and urgency with his skills as a journalist to make for a single summation about America: the country is fundamentally constructed and maintained through the power system of whites over blacks, and has been since the very beginning. That one sentence does little to illuminate (and much to irritate the passerby white reader to be sure) the issue, but essay after essay, report after report, Coates painstakingly goes through historical events, personal stories and bureaucratic institutions to evince the actual reason for the black underclass, the black prison population and the black population when negatively compared to white achievement, and how those answers expose the bubble of black pathology as an incantation to maintain the illusion of a fair and equal society. It took me a whole to finish because it was so heavy and rage inducing, but the reading experience was never boring or dry.

This is a must read for everyone, and should be assigned in high schools. Required reading, pure and simple.

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53. No Logo, Naomi Klein: The anticorporate manifesto of the late 90s/early 00s, mainly viewed through the POV of branding, sweatshops, malls, and resistance. I’m reading the ten year anniversary edition another ten years on, and man, let me tell you that while some stuff has definitely changed (see: the Internet), a lot has stayed the same. Would be interested to see her do a 20th anniversary edition in 19.

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54. Deep Roots, Ruthanna Emrys: Sequel to Winter Tides, and I continue to be deeply impressed on Emrys’ take on the Lovecraft mythos. A possible relative to Aphra leads her friends to NYC - and the fact that he’s gone missing brings them into the path of the FBI again. The Mi-Go come into play this book, and the way their attitudes collide with the events of the Cold War is really fascinating. The events of last book come into play as well, and they have to reckon with what they did at Miskatonic as well. Emrys mentions in the afterword that this book was harder to write, but you honestly can’t tell in the way everything flows. Definitely get this when it comes out in July.

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55. The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women, Kate Moore: This is a book I’ve seen around for a while, and I decided to pick it up at Independent Bookstore Day. This may not have been the most fantastic reading choice when paired with the loss of my dad in the last month, admittedly. But Moore does a deep dive on the lives of the dial painter girls at the radium factories in Orange, NJ and Ottawa, IL, along with the science and legal aspects of their cases against Radium Dial. It also doesn’t hesitate to emphasize just how scumbaggy the company itself was, and how the first real environmental and workers comp laws in the states resulted from what happened to these girls. Reads a bit more like a novel at times, but when you learn that she was inspired by directing a play about the girls, and learning that existing accounts didn’t really focus on their lives, it makes good sense. This reads like someone telling their story. There’s not really hope involved in this read until you get to the postscript and you learn all the shit and protections that people have nowadays because of this shit. Also, a good reminder that capitalism is fucking horrific on almost all levels. Definitely worth a read, but man, don’t expect anything too uplifting here.

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56. Six Months, Three Days, Five Others, Charlie Jane Anders: This is a pocket sized collection of stories that Anders wrote for Tor.com, and with how many recurring writers they have, they should really do this kind of thing again, either for individual authors or similarly themed stories. The stories in here are all good (and if you liked All the Birds in the Sky, there is a coda here); but there are three standouts to me. The first one is about humanity discovering the truth behind why we were created (as an investment vehicle designed to destroy ourselves and leave behind the heavy metal and radioactive material) by way of running into the ones who seeded our planet. The second is basically “what if Dr. Doom had a family reunion and actually looked at the politics of his family?”. The third is the one that the collection is partially named for, where a man who sees the only possible future dates a woman who sees all possible futures, and what they do to each other. It’s $12 (cheaper remaindered), and fits easily in a purse, which I like a lot.

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57. If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, translated by Anne Carson: So, one of the interesting things about Sappho is that less than 6% of her poetry survives, and most of its in fragments. Anne Carson tries her hands at translating what we have, and I love seeing her translation notes in the back. What survives is gorgeous and definitely a thing you should read.

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Black Privilege: By Charlemagne the God

This is a seismic shift in quality, going from Ta Nehishi-Coates to the self proclaimed "Prince of Pissing People Off", but I was curious. But no, Charlemagne's bio has nothing to offer, in terms of insight or anything interesting at all. Too many tangents, too few points to those tangents, and what reader wants to repeatedly read "If you don't believe me, well fuck you!" with the understanding that this is a grown man writing. Charlemagne's entertaining enough on The Breakfast Club and other interviews, but his personality and ridiculous lack of consideration for others doesn't translate to being a good storyteller. I didn't finish.  

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Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami 

Seven short stories involving men who've in some ways, big or small, have lost women. Poetic, romantic and melancholic, this was an enjoyable, at times enjoyable sad, read. Murakami mixes his indulgences of jazz, cats and loneliness with astrological metaphors and a penchant for magic realism. Most of the stories don't make any sense, but they're carried by emotion over attention to plot detail. Infidelity is a near-constant theme however, and, save for a single story, Japan's high rate of it is found in almost every story with hardly a shrug. Only one instance did that occur where the cuckolded spouse didn't turn into a veritable robot. That became a little annoying to read, but otherwise this was the definition of comfort-reading with soft music playing indoors from a rainstorm.

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58. The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, John LeCarre: Genre classic. Fast paced read, and I love that it makes you root for the person you shouldn’t be rooting for, and then ends up making him pay anyways. That ending sentence is pretty damn amazing, too. Got through it in a day or so, definitely worth a read.

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59. A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal, Ben Macintyre: Again, found this remaindered for about $5, and for that price, a hell of an interesting read about an actual double agent placed in MI6 spying for the Soviet Union, and his and his friend’s, Nicholas Elliot, careers and how they intersected and played out over the span of about twenty years. Amusing anecdotes coupled with sobering information, and just generally a good commute read. Also features an afterword by John LeCarre.

60 + 61. Obsidian and Blood omnibus (contains Harbinger of the Storm and Master of the House of Darts), Aliette de Bodard: Counting this as two books even though it’s an omnibus collection. This is a collection of all the Acatl novels, and man, I am kind of interested to see if she would come back to these characters and setting now that she’s further on in her career. The second book picks up more on the politics and supernatural aspect, and the third one amps those aspects even more, but... kind of doesn’t feel like it gets the resolution she was aiming for? It just feels like she asked for another 50 pages or so and they said no, so she struggled a bit to wrap it all up. They were still a great ride, and it’s neat to see her towards the start of her career (and back when you needed a username and password to download stories! I should see if they still have those up). Supernatural murder procedural done in the Aztec empire is definitely not a thing you see often, much less done well and with great characters.

This is the original edition from Angry Robot, and man, it’s still interesting to see some clear sections that were meant to be italicized and slightly smaller in the text, but it’s not as bad as the JABberwocky editions.

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62. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami: A small collection of essays about writing and running and the crafting overlap between them. Good, quick read.

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63. The Mere Wife, Maria Dahvana Headley: This is tied with In Other Lands for my favorite book so far this year. This comes out in two days from when I’m writing this. Go to your bookstore (or Amazon, if it so pleases you), and get this the moment it comes out. Yes, Beowulf in American suburbia is a reductive description, but the way it looks at gentrification and recenters women in the story and reframes the monstrosity at the center of the tale is incredibly well done. There’s also some really good craft work too - as an example, there’s three translations that lead off the book (pictured below), and the sections of the book are titled after each of the translations of the hwaet, and each chapter’s first word or first sentence includes the section’s translation. 

Go read this, and enjoy the ride.

64. Commonwealth, Ann Patchett: I found this remaindered around the time someone in a FB group I’m in posted about it, and I decided to pick it up. This was a very interesting experience. This book is basically centered around three major events; the one that opens the book, the act that creates the novel in the book (which, coincidentally, totally has the same title as the book itself), and a death that has a ripple effect over the next five decades. I liked the style, and how the narrative jumps from character to character at different points in their lives, and makes sure that all the loose ends are tied up. The diversion with a famous novelist that just so happens to write a novel loosely about the central family and where everyone is bitching about various publishers and it gets turned into a movie feels a bit too eye rollingly meta. 

It was also an experience as someone who had her dad marry someone new in the last year, and then died suddenly two months ago. There’s some parts of this that I recognize intimately, but others that I’m never going to get to experience, and it’s rolling in my head as such. 

Definitely an interesting read.

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