Reading Roundup: January 2021

Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty. Oh, I enjoy the Daevabad trilogy so much. This book is a honking 900 pages long, and I read it in three days. Under the circumstances it wasn’t quite as escapist as it could be to read about a violent coup and an ongoing attempt to hold a city’s peace through brute force…. but these books take place in such a richly imagined world with all the textures and magical weapons and mysterious creatures a fantasy reader could wish for, so I stayed up too late to finish it.
Is the size of the novel strictly necessary? Perhaps. As the third and final book, it had a great deal of ground to cover and a great many loose ends to tie up, which it did in a surprising yet satisfactory fashion. Is it part of a book trend to publish great big tomes that could have been shorter? Sure, I don’t care. Each chapter flips between characters who are working on very different plots using very different information (even when two of them travel together, for a time), so it’s fast-paced and cliff-hangery.

Anodyne by Khadijah Queen. I was enthralled by the poet’s I’m So Fine: A List of Famous Men & What I Had On, so I’ve been excited to pick up her newest collection. These are certainly poems for the times: about civilization in ruins, about loss and regret, about relationships that are both too close and yet insufficiently intimate, about determination too.

I am in the midst of Index Cards by Moyra Davey. A friend lent me this lovely, reflective collection of fragments–which called me out on the very first page with a lament about the Sisyphean labor of constantly stocking up on food and then having to consume the food and start all over again. The irksome chores of maintaining a living body return in other sections, but most of the author’s notes–the fragments are mostly arranged like notes in a planner or daybook–are about books, photography and ideas about what make photographs worth taking, ideas about why we bother making art at all. There are many references to works that the lending friend and I read in graduate school, which were strangely pleasant to encounter in this context–like running into an acquaintance from a part of your life you remember warmly. “We should get lunch,” you tell each other; I should reread my journals from that time, you think. But you never do.

I started a new online course, this time in religious studies with a focus on the supernatural. There’s a lot of material to cover, including some books; I read On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears by Stephen T. Asma and am partway through Religion in the Kitchen: Cooking, Talking, and the Making of Black Atlantic Traditions by Elizabeth Pérez. Both reminded me of my time researching food scholarship, actually–Religion in the Kitchen is precisely the kind of monograph I would have loved at that time, focused and accessible and full of vivid examples. On Monsters reminded me a bit of the collections that attempted to be a bit too comprehensive or general on a subject that is simply too broad and varied to survey in one book; as a result, there’s a great deal of information but the argument is a bit thin.

For fun, I’ve started dipping into two books that are best read in bits, over time. Earth Almanac: Nature’s Calendar for Year-Round Discovery by Ken Keffer and Jeremy Collins has daily entries describing seasonal phenomena like antler shedding and bird migrations. Color Problems: A Practical Manual for the Lay Student of Color by Emily Noyes Vanderpoel is an odd little workbook from the turn of the twentieth century.

Elsewhere on the internet

Among other things in this expansive essay about Monique Furlong’s Wise Child, Anne Thériault describes the loneliness of being a child who reads voraciously and has no one to discuss her fantasy worlds with. I felt that so keenly–and I felt it that way about Wise Child, a beautiful book that imprinted on me deeply (along with Quest for a Maid, another woman-focused medieval fantasy written for younger readers that I still think about warmly).

Trapeta Mayson is a fantastic Philadelphia poet–and as our poet laureate this year, she has created a poetry hotline for mental health. Healing Verse Philly Poetry Line (1-855-763-6792) has a new poem every Monday.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo was one of my favorite reads last year, so I was fascinated by this complex map:

I talked about morning pages and artist dates with my therapist this winter–for me, it’s the first time I felt comfortable and safe taking a creative drive seriously, and feeding it as a form of self-care. Here’s a breakdown at Lit Hub, if you aren’t familiar with The Artist’s Way. (I wasn’t.)

I don’t have access to the television show Dickinson, although I hear that it is wonderful–but I sure enjoyed this lengthy article that is sort of about Emily Dickinson’s hair (which was red–surprise!) and a lot about how we celebrate and remember (white) women writers.

No lies detected:

The Imperfect and Sublime ‘Gatsby’ by Min Jin Lee. Admittedly I haven’t read the full article because of the paywall, but I hope to return to it–I love Min Jin Lee’s writing, in part because it is so mature and reflective, so I was interested to see her frame this article with her own experience coming late to writing.


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