Reading Roundup: October/November 2020

I don’t know about y’all, but I could barely read this fall. Fortunately, I was loaned some short books and gifted some others–because when I did make time to settle down with a book, it felt great.

Hard to make time for reading when your city is out on the streets dancing, marching, and making news, though. More on that another time.

The Butterfly Lampshade by Aimee Bender. The author’s previous book, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, is one of my all-time favorite novels. This new book is pretty different in tone–a little sadder, a little lonelier–but the main characters share a sense of alienation: they just don’t fit into normal life in some hard-to-define way. Like the Lemon Cake protagonist, the Lampshade protagonist has a secret that is difficult to tell people because there isn’t really shared language or references to frame it. Even more so in Lampshade, the secrets are more surreal and incoherent to the main character, who spends her whole life trying to make sense of it–an elaborate existential puzzle that may or may not ever be answered.

The Story of More by Hope Jahren. From the author of Lab Girl, a very readable account of climate change. Its chapters absolutely follow that classic creative nonfiction structure–open with a personal anecdote, then connect (however loosely)to larger issues–but they are accessible and (more importantly, these days) short. Much of its content was a refresher for me, but it’s awesome to have so many facts, studies, and references packed into one place.

Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton. A beautiful little jewel box of a book about Margaret Cavendish, the prolific 17th century author who produced a wild array of genre-defying books. I would have been interested in reading about her life anyway, but this book offers a first-person glimpse of what it must be like to be brilliant and driven and understood by hardly anybody. It also contains some really beautiful sensory passages–like Quest for a Maid, a childhood favorite of mine, the author makes the past come to life through the foods Margaret eats, the textiles she wears, the scent and textures of city life.

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas. I wish I had finished this sweet YA book in time for Halloween: it’s got ghosts, cemeteries, witches (or rather brujx), and a little supernatural romance. It runs a bit long and everything gets resolved in a rush at the end, but by then I was invested in our trans brujo and his ghost boyfriend! I just wanted them to be happy!

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson. There is a lot going on in this short book. Speculative future? Check. Time travel? Check. Detailed ecological restoration projects that are a little too relatable for anyone who has project managed some unwieldy personalities? Wasn’t expecting that, but enjoyed it greatly. This book doesn’t spoon-feed you anything, either: a great deal has happened between our time and the time of the book, and the characters use shorthand when they mention historical plagues or future technologies in passing; I found myself paging back and forth to treat the text as its own glossary at times, but I appreciate the author’s expectation that I’ll keep up.

Obligatory callout to assigned reading this month: Essentials of Oceanography (12th edition), for an online course in oceanography. It is a wildly expensive textbook that I bought at a fraction of the price because it came unbound like something out of the 19th century. I think I was supposed to put it in a 3-ring binder but I just spread pages all over my coffee table. It’s a good textbook–for material so dense, it’s reasonably clear and accessible.

Elsewhere on the Internet

I’ve really enjoyed being a part of the Sidequest community, if a very intermittent one, and this conversation was great fun to read and participate in: October Roundtable: Love to Be a Monster

As a former book marketer I understand the consumer appeal of strikingly similar titles, but I also love to snark on them, so I love What We Talk About When We Talk About This Title Format.

10 Reasons Why All Ghosts Are Gay

The Spirit Writing of Lucille Clifton

This lovely lyrical essay is an elegant sally at something I talk about often, and poorly: reclaiming the lives of women, queer folk, and people of color in what coastal people think of as a homogenous backward South–and it begins and ends with reflections on Nina Simone: Lost in a (Mis)Gendered Appalachia

I have only just stumbled across Post45’s collection of critical essays on Ling Ma’s Severance, so I have not read them yet, but I am VERY excited.


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