What I've Read 2016


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Hey, why not. Reposting the one I finished on the first of the year. 

The Enchantress of Florence, Salman Rushdie: My first Rushdie novel. I honestly wasn't that impressed with it; the tales that are woven together to form the narrative feel like they were separate novel ideas that he couldn't fully flesh out, so he threw them together here and then threw in a way to try and weave them together. Doesn't really stick the landing in doing so. The best way I can describe this book is as really pretty, but it doesn't have too much more substance than that. There are historical figures woven in throughout, and it feels like it's trying to be about something really grand and lofty, but I just found myself rolling my eyes. 

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Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer: It's very rare that I mainline a book in a day. I did that with this one, which is recommendation enough, I think. It's short, but it's so compellingly written that it sucks you in, and it's got some absogoddamnlutely amazing lines. The setup is that an expedition of four women enter a quarantined area known only as Area X, and we see the entire expedition through the eyes of the biologist. The boything was kind enough to bring over the omnibus edition that has the other two books, and I might honestly get through it by the end of the week. 

@Dread, this seems up your alley. 

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Does Not Love, James Tadd Adcox: Read this on the boything's friend's and a mutual friend's recommendation, and we now have the second book I've gone through in the space of twenty four hours from start to finish. It's a slow burn, well composed, and set against an alt reality that's just close enough to our own. Great read, get it if you can.

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Radiance, Cathrynne Valente: A multimedia meta patchwork of narratives overlapping to form the narrative of a woman's life and her eventual mysterious disappearance, which eventually involves quantum whales. Yeah, you read that right. I'm probably going to need another parse through of this, but it's certainly an interesting read.

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Authority, Acceptance, Jeff VanderMeer: So, I read both of these in the space of the last twenty four hours, no joke. VanderMeer uses every POV possible (I feel like he's better at first and second person, he doesn't really get into the groove of the third person POV until the later parts of Acceptance). Great mystery that keeps getting deeper and deeper, and some real good use of horror. They're great reads, and I got through about 500-some pages, and only stopped when I had to. Get the trilogy, and look forward to the movie that the dude who did Ex Machina is making. 

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Urgent, Unheard Stories, Roxane Gay: A small chapbook of previously published essays by Roxane Gay. If you don't already know her from other writing, this isn't the place to start, but seeing her focus on the literary is neat. The seventy some page chapbook ranges from interviews to overviews to self reflections. They didn't all hit with me, but the one that hit the most was the essay that closed out the book, about the books that have shaped her. It's short and priced accordingly, great to pick up if you know her and want to try something literary focused.

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Yes Please, Amy Poehler: With this title, I was really hoping that this would be less of an memoir and more focused on her advice to women, her experiences with being a woman, basically Leslie Knope-ing it up, etc. That wasn't so much this. I bought this remaindered for $10, real glad I didn't buy this for the full $30, put it that way. You can tell it's her first book and she's finding her feet. She'll likely be better on the next one. 

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The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickinson: Great geopolitical fantasy focusing on the mechanics of empire. Hoping the rest of the trilogy gives us more character insight into Baru, we don't get a lot of that here. However, I will say the thing I'm most disappointed in is that Dead Lesbian Syndrome shows up. Yes, main is closeted and homosexuality is deviant in the empire. That I knew what the books ending was going to be the moment the two female leads slept together indicates reliance on shitty tropes. He's got another two books to make up for it. I hope he does better.

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Magic for Beginners, Kelly Link: A collection of short stories with a light surrealist fantasy/horror bent. I think I needed to be in a very specific headspace to read this that I wasn't always in when I did so, but the stories are very evocative. If you find it on sale, worth picking up.

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The Price of Salt, Patricia Highsmith: The novelette the movie Carol is based off of. It's dreamlike, and evocative, and beautifully written. And it's one of the few lesbian oriented pieces from the time (late 50s/early 60s) that actually ends happily. Definitely worth a read.

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The Fifth Season: The Broken Earth, NK Jemisin

Go read this now. Go in blind, don't read any spoilers, and just enjoy the ride.

So, I have to squee about this a bit, but almost all of it is spoilery. Be warned.

You go into this thinking that you're following three separate povs, but it's one woman, over the course of her life. You don't realize this until about two thirds, three quarters into the book.

also? 99% sure that this is a post apocalyptic fantasy, as in, the land they refer to was once Earth, way way back in the past.

also? That sequel hook. "Have you ever heard of something called a moon?"

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Witches of Lychford, Paul Cornell: 

One of those Tor novellas they put out. Fun, quick read about an old woman and two young women up against the evils of a supermarket chain and the disruption of the barriers between the worlds. Potentially some threads for sequels too.

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The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu): This won the Hugo last year. I can see why. Still definitely has elements of the classic Chinese novel format and structure in it, but mixed in with sci fi, and a really interesting plot thread. There's some real awkwardly placed flashback sequences and it sometimes interrupts the actual plot to do some required explanation, but it still works. Also, the term pan species communism.  Leaves off in a real good place, I'll be interested to see where the sequel goes.

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Amulet, Roberto Bolaño: My first Bolaño. A single woman who resists army occupation at the university, and all her recollections and hallucinations during this period. Beautiful, evocative writing, and goddamn, I want more. Read this in a single train/bus ride pretty much.

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The Terracotta Bride, Zen Cho: a $1 novella I picked up over on Kindle. Blend of Chinese fantasy with just the barest hint of sci-fi, mostly focusing on the Chinese afterlife. It's got some neat ideas, doesn't seem fully fleshed out, but it was a nice quick read. Would love to see it expanded on.

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A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James. This won the Booker prize last year, and I can see why. Multiple povs, from first to third and everything in between, and all kinds of voices and writing styles, from the voice of a British agent to a boy in the gangs of the Jamaican ghetto. Covers about thirty separate years, radiating outward from the attempt on Bob Marley's life, fictionalized. There's only three povs that make it all the way to the end, and I'm not gonna tell you which ones they are.  Get this and read it. 

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By Night in Chile, Roberto Bolaño: Comes chronologically after Amulet, in terms of his writing career, but Amulet felt like the stronger entry to me. Lots of great passages, but some of the parts between the recollections don't seem to flow as well. It's entirely possible that this may be a translation thing, too. Still a great read, though be prepared for stream of consciousness style writing and pov.

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The Unfinished World and Other Stories by Amber Sparks - Bought this on a whim, after seeing it on a Barnes and Noble recommendation table. Really good collection, her writing style really evokes strong feelings, it's really lyrical and free-floating. There's one story in particular "For These Humans Who Cannot Fly" that I felt quite viscerally. I didn't get all of them, but I was never bored reading through, mostly because the stories are all fairly short. It's more like poetry, if I'm being honest.

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Desperate Networks by Bill Carter: The author of The Late Shift (a fascinating look at the behind-the-scenes story of the battle between Jay Leno and David Letterman over The Tonight Show when Johnny Carson stepped down) wrote this overview of the seismic shift in network television during the first few years of the 21st century, as NBC took a nosedive when Friends, Frasier, and Seinfeld all ended within a few years of each other with nothing to replace them, at the same time that every other major network suddenly found itself with shows people actually wanted to watch. Particular attention is paid to Les Moonves at CBS (who oversaw a huge change from the network that only your grandparents ever watched to the highest rated network on TV when Survivor and CSI hit); Marc Cherry, the creator of Desperate Housewives, which was his big comeback after years of being a has-been after a stint showrunning The Golden Girls and who gave ABC the show that almost singlehandedly brought them out of the ratings basement after a decade of being the worst network on TV; Mike Darnelle, the head of reality programming at Fox, the guy responsible for years and years of Animals Eating Peoples' Faces and Midget Boxing and a million other really crappy, disgusting specials that somehow managed to get people tuning in while keeping the network's reputation in the basement, who suddenly walked backwards into American Idol and became absolutely bulletproof; and Jeff Zucker, head of programming at NBC, who is depicted as utterly useless as he flails helplessly while his network dives from first to last place in the span of one season while he makes bonehead decision after bonehead decision. Carter is incredibly good at depicting the backroom shenanigans of the entertainment industry, and this was really interesting stuff.

The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture by Glen Weldon: Weldon, a writer, blogger, and podcaster for NPR (he is easily the funniest part of Pop Culture Happy Hour) wrote this book that looks at the history of Batman as a character and a part of the greater culture, while tying that into the slow growth of geek culture from persecuted weirdos to monolithic economic powerhouse over the course of 75 years. His affection for Batman is palpable, especially his unironic affection for the Adam West years, but he's not afraid to point out the stuff that wasn't (isn't) so hot, or to point out that Nerds Are The Worst, as they shake their fists and demand gritty realism in their picture stories about billionaire ninja detectives (Chuck Dixon tells a story where he admits to beating a kid up in school because that kid was wearing an Adam West shirt and was therefore the Wrong Kind of Batman Fan). Written with a sense of humor that never undercuts its subject, this was a very enjoyable, very quick read.

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I'm keeping a tally of what I read on Facebook, but I just finished THE BALLAD OF BLACK TOM by Victor Lavalle tonight, and holy shit. It's a revisionist reclaiming of HP Lovecraft's THE HORROR AT RED HOOK written by a black man. It's fucking brilliant.

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Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire: Seanan McGuire does a novella about a boarding school for kids who come back from their other worlds, adds a dash of murder mystery, and just lets it run. Also, asexual and trans mains handled with respect and not like a quota. Great novella, something I'd be happy to see more of.

Broken Monsters, Lauren Beukes: Lauren Beukes does urban fantasy involving Detroit and a dark something moving through the city that just wants to open a door, by way of a cop, her daughter, and the city's art scene. Definitely more gruesome than she's gone before, comes together in an interesting way. Also uses modern social media interludes well without being preachy. Worth a read when you can find it.

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