Reading Roundup: March 2020

Last month I started Black Leopard Red Wolf by Marlon James, and wrote about how its style required me to selfconsciously read unselfconsciously. Reading it was work for the first hundred pages or so, but then I didn’t want to put it down. I got accustomed to the rhythm of the story and able to follow threads that snaked in from earlier and later sections of the narrative. The early pages are also difficult for other reasons: for example, the narrator Tracker is more than a little misogynist, and that tendency doesn’t really get interrogated until quite late in the book. But it does get interrogated, and Tracker is a compelling protagonist–clever, cautious, closed-off, and dangerous–so I could not resist turning pages to see how he would twist himself out of tight spots and open to up to the right companions.
This is a book that rewards revisiting, and before I even finished I was flipping back to the beginning to read those early passages with greater comprehension. But I can’t see myself sitting down for a proper reread; the story is packed with imaginative, ghastly violence, often recounted in a cinematic style as though the author is drafting the future screenplay at the same time. I won’t need to revisit those scenes to have them seared into my mind.

During the same period of reading this dense, cryptic fantasy tome, I picked up a copy of Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarity. I really enjoyed the television series, and though I’d been told that the book wasn’t as good as the adaptation, I figured I would enjoy revisiting the story. For a few nights, I read a several chapters before going to sleep–which, truth be told, kept me up later than I should have stayed awake. The novel is written in an accessible, direct prose that I associate with a certain kind of book club selection—that’s not meant to be an insult, just an observation–but it also possesses a great deal of emotional intelligence. Some popular books make great screen adaptations because they give the actors room to explore and play; this book actually gives a great deal of depth and nuance to its characters’ actions which the television production brought to life fairly faithfully.

My friend is reading all the novellas nominated for a Hugo Award last year, and recommended I check out The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark. Y’all. This novella is a delight. It is set in New Orleans a few days before Mardi Gras–one of the reasons my friend recommended it to me–but, twist, it’s New Orleans in an alternate timeline. I don’t actually want to say too much about this, because it is such a short story and the differences between this world and ours are revealed gradually and purposefully; part of the pleasure, for me, was seeing this done with such skill. It’s a little steampunk, a little speculative, and a little magical due to the African orisha. My friend loved this novella because its world is so rich and fascinating; I loved it for the same reason, but with the added deliciousness of recognizing many familiar people, places, and spirits in an unfamiliar context.

Around the time Elizabeth Warren stepped out of the presidential race, Tor Books released Nevertheless, She Persisted for free. (You probably already knew that, because you’re probably already a Tor subscriber. If not, what are you waiting for? It costs nothing to sign up, and there are often free ebooks available to subscribers.) This ebook is a short collection of flash fiction inspired by a comment made about Elizabeth Warren after she vociferously objected to Jeff Sessions’ confirmation as Attorney General. Each short story incorporates the lines She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted. It was a quick read, and an instructive one if you’re interested in writing flash fiction.

Currently reading

Hell yeah I downloaded The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel as soon as it became available. I debated rereading the first two books in the series–I’ve already read them two or three times, but they are such a comfort in uncertain times. In the end, I dove right into the new novel, and found Tudor England and all the deliciously twisty little passages of Mantel’s prose exactly the way I remember them. Cromwell, however, is very different. The new novel ostensibly begins the very same day that the last one ends, but the Cromwell after Anne Boleyn is beheaded is a Cromwell who feels older and more tired, who makes mistakes, who says things he does not mean to say.

I started a new online class on climate change this month, so I will also be reading Dire Predictions: Understanding Climate Change by Michael E. Mann and Lee R. Kump. It’s a few years out of date, and consequently inexpensive, and I do recommend it heartily. It’s essentially a companion guide to the impenetrable reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is precisely what I needed to unpack the climate predictions I’m using for my spec fic project. Climate predictions encompass a broad range of potential futures, not least because the human element is so unpredictable–will we pull ourselves together and reduce carbon emissions? Will we keep on poisoning our own air and water? Hard to say, so scientific models have to calculate scenarios based on how much we do or do not change.

Elsewhere on the Internet

Just a short roundup–I’ve been trying to keep from stress-refreshing my news and social feeds.

Lit Hub: Pintle, Gudgeon, Chock: On the Rich, Wonderful (and Odd) Vocabulary of Sailing. Spoiler: this essay is not just about sailing; it is also about the sometimes lonely and unmooring process of writing.

I cannot express how amazing it was to watch dancers of all sizes perform alongside Lizzo at the Grammies, and it’s also amazing to see them spotlighted in Dance Spirit.

Look, The Babysitters Club books were a big part of my childhood/early adolescent reading, and I’m not going to pretend I didn’t love seeing the cast for the new Netflix adaptation.


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