Reading Roundup: May 2019

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker. A friend recommended this book in my International Women’s Day thread on books by women I read and loved. I remembered enjoying The Age of Miracles, so I put it right on my list. I warmed up to it slowly. It opens in the most insular of insular communities: a group of freshman girls living on one floor of a dorm in a small college in a small college town nestled in the mountains. It looked, for a moment, like the progress of the book’s cataclysmic sleeping sickness was going to be thinly veiled social commentary. But I read grimly on, and the sleeping epidemic raged on, playing no favorites and following no narrative rules as it devastated the town and surrounding region. In place of the commentary on campus drama I feared, the book takes a complex and nuanced look at the varied and unpredictable ways humanity responds to a crisis, and how we try to make sense out of senseless loss.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. A good commute read. I enjoyed revisiting this old story–in fact, the sections of plot that were most familiar to me (from the Iliad, as opposed to other, later stories of these heroes) were the parts I read with the most urgency.

The Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang. I picked this up to read the story that the film Arrival is adapted from. Like the movie, the shell of this story is about Earth’s first contact with aliens and a linguist’s attempts to communicate with them; the heart of the story is her personal joy and grief, glimpsed in fragments like dreams or memories. I thought the movie handled these braided plots very well, but it’s a whole other experience on the page with the narrator’s changing tenses and direct address to keep you anchored in time. For example, in the movie I didn’t realize that the linguist’s fluid perception of past, present, and future is a direct result of learning to think in the alien language–very cool.
Since I came for the aliens, I expected more aliens and spaceships in other stories, and I was surprised that the stories I loved most were those that treated archaic science the way you usually see sci-fi treat science-yet-to-come. What if the sky really was a solid dome, a firmament? What if homunculi were real?

Elsewhere on the Internet

Fanbyte: Jorge Luis Borges’s New and Improved Pokémon Type System

This Chicago Tribune profile of Nnedi Okorafor has Nnedi Okorafor’s stamp of approval!

Loved seeing author headshots for some of my faves in this piece (Tayari Jones, Meg Wolitzer) but I was also really interested in the photographer’s description of her process. At my job, when I interview students and alumni, I leave the headshot photography to our designer but usually tag along to make chitchat as they pose. It does help them warm up, I think, but perhaps now I’ll be more intentional about it.

For the last eight years, I’ve only been following Game of Thrones via Twitter and think pieces, but I did watch the finale. There were some really visually stunning moments, I thought, but I could see why fans were frustrated at the quality of writing in this season. I did a full body cringe when Tyrion started talking about the power of stories. What does this remind me of, I wondered?

Just trust me when I say this is real Taurus energy: Everything should take 20 minutes

I appreciated Jia Tolentino’s take on The Bold Type, a delightful confection of a show that I feel slightly awkward about enjoying–only partly due to its tenuous connection with the realities of media, as Jia describes. (Jacqueline is a romantic fantasy of a boss–the boss that that knows you better than you know yourself–and I love her.) I feel a little old for the show, truthfully, and never more so than when the young women encounter conflicts in their love lives that amount to miscommunication. But other than that, their plot points are maybe a little embarrassingly close to reality: trying to find a job that supports your needs as well as your ambitions, balancing relationships and crazy working hours, not seeing eye-to-eye with a friend and not feeling sure how to move past it. Interestingly and perhaps more relevant to me than most of my peers: I’ve only seen one other show depict the egg freezing process (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) and, of the two, The Bold Type handled it with more grace and less sensationalism.

Shows I’ve watched recently that I feel exactly the right age for: Big Little Lies (delicious!), Dead to Me (wry and vicious!), Fleabag (devastating and capricious!).


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