Reading Roundup: March 2022

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik. This was a delicious read that I devoured in just a couple of days. It’s a magic school novel, but unlike any other magic school novel I’ve read. There are no teachers; the lessons come from the school itself, and not in a charming way. The students learn languages, for example, from disembodied voices whispering in their ears. Their skills are tested constantly by evil creatures and constructs that worm their way into the school throughout the year. Children die. The only reason anyone attends this school is because it’s so much more dangerous for magic-users out in the real world. The appeal isn’t the high stakes per se, but the elaborate economy of swapping and favors the underclassmen have developed to keep themselves and their allies alive.

Even Greater Mistakes: Stories by Charlie Jane Anders. A delightful collection of mostly sci-fi and fantasy stories. In these short pieces, the future technologies or rules of magic are vehicles for examining friendships and relationships above all else. To my surprise, my favorites were those that explored those themes in a world of two: “Six Months, Three Days,” in which a man who can see the future and a woman who can see many futures fall in love; “Power Couple,” in which an ambitious couple agree to alternating periods of cryogenic suspension so they can have their high-powered careers and a family (spoiler: this does not work); and “Ghost Champagne,” in which I was mesmerized by the relationship between a young woman and the ghost of her future dead self, who dresses fabulously and won’t speak to her.

Sometimes I Trip on How Happy We Could Be by Nichole Perkins. Nichole is one of the few writers whose Twitter feed I will visit from time to time, just to see what’s on her mind these days. I love her commentary on film, tv, dating, and desire–so of course my favorite memoiristic essays in this collection were those that explored those themes in detail, like “Scandalous” and “The Life of a Succubus.” But I also loved reading about a specific kind of online community that is hard to find these days–in “Keyboard Courage” it’s the forums of OkayPlayer; for me it was a Rolling Stone discussion board on AOL in the 90s (lol)–and different essays about 90s-era cultural lessons I absorbed but never thought about critically, such as Janet Jackson’s black wardrobe and relationship expectations as defined by Frasier and MTV’s Real World.

Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki. I kept passing over this book on the bestseller shelf because the title made me think it going to be a serious, elegiac sci-fi offering. It is not. It mashes together a couple different delightfully pulpy tropes–a beautiful woman uses music to ensnare souls for hell; a retro donut shop secretly houses intergalactic refugees–and gives them a lot of heart. The writing isn’t quite strong enough to carry off these ambitious plots, especially during scenes of stark transphobia and assault. But aside from that, this book was simply a lot of fun to read, and I was genuinely invested in seeing how everyone would escape the jaws of hell.
This is secretly a food book. Food is love and art in this story, and the most tantalizing passages were mouth-watering descriptions of donuts, cream tea, tangerine juice, and all the delectable range of cuisines offered up in the San Gabriel Valley.

For Publishers Weekly, I finished The Crane Wife, read Bookends by Zibby Owens, and started Growing up Getty by James Reginato. Reviews I contributed to are now online for The Arrangement and Fly Girl.

Some short stories and poems I loved:

“Summer of Pokemon Go” by Luke Larkin
I want to commercialize your pain” and “This is Portland Theatre” by Anya Pearson
No” by Anne Boyer
“Midtown” by Tyler Barton

In my class we read “i made this” by Allison Cobb which was my second time encountering it, and I love it so much and can’t find a good way to share it with you except to send you to this colorful literary magazine .pdf and ask you to go to page 45.

Elsewhere

The Age of Houseplants

What is Beskar really made of? Let’s ask science!

I love The Intuitionist, Colson Whitehead’s first book, so I was excited to read this Ploughshares blog post revisiting the still-relevant novel.

Why the Food in Pixar’s ‘Turning Red’ Looks So Good

Why Read Fiction in a Bad World?

After exchanging some slightly ribald texts with a writer I danced with at AWP, I stumbled across this delightful roundup of poems that use swear words to exquisite effect.

Minutiae

The March Roundtable at Sidequest is about time travel in games. I had the opportunity to talk about Life is Strange and also my favorite Bioware fan theory, and my peers brought up some games I know y’all like such as Fire Emblem.

My second submission to Capsule Stories is out!

March was a transitional month. I was still working at the art gallery on weekends through the end of the month. At the same time, I started my training to become a Master Watershed Steward. I’ve been writing weekly assignments since January for my creative writing workshop this term, but I only just this month started to feel my creativity flow again, just as we’re pivoting to peer review. At the end of the month I went to a couple of AWP events on the few nights I have off. One was a great reading in the same black box space where I saw a terrible musical about gay werewolves going to prom a few Fringe Festivals ago. Another reading was so packed I actually could not open the door–there were bodies in the way–so I got tater tots and hung out with a new writer friend instead. One event was an off-the-wall panel followed by a dance party. I donned a sequinned mask and danced with some of my favorite writers, accidentally shoulder-checked a few others, made new friends in the line for the bathroom (as one does), and played kickball in the basement of the Ethical Society for a few tracks until Ginuwine’s “Pony” came on and we had to run upstairs and dance again.

In early April, I’ll be attending the free online convention for all things in the speculative arts, Flights of Foundry. My ecofiction Discord is doing a little interest group meetup: Ecology and climate change in speculative fictions, at 4pm EDT Sunday April 10. I’m also moderating a panel on speculative poetry: Strange Resonances: Poetry Craft and Technique for Speculative Writing, at 9pm EDT on Friday April 8. Join me if you can!

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