Reading Roundup: August 2022

The Immortal King Rao by Vauhini Vara. This book started off addictively readable, interspersing the narrative of the rise of a fictional tech company (like Apple, but if Steve Jobs was from India and partnered to a charismatic female visionary) with tantalizing glimpses of an alternate history and speculative near future. The narrator has the benefit of a kind of biotech that integrates her mind with the Internet, which provides an interesting twist on the time-honored trope of interspersing the narrative with world-building digressions of encyclopedic interest. Halfway through I started to drag, though I’m not sure if that’s my fault or the book’s. I had a little reader’s block this month.

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I really enjoyed Mexican Gothic by the same author, but I just haven’t gotten into her more recent books with the same enthusiasm. About one hundred pages into Gods I realized… oh! This is a paranormal romance. And, honestly, understanding the book that way made me like it more. It takes place in several Mexican cities during the 1920s, so there’s a lot of glamour and romantic period set-dressing to enjoy, and in this case the required centuries-old boyfriend is a god of Mayan myth, so there’s a sharp left turn into Xibalba that let the author to flex her flair for tantalizingly creepy and gross imagery (which was part of the fun of Gothic too). A quick read that I would have taken to the beach, except that I finished it too fast.

Heartbroke by Chelsea Bieker. I really liked and admired Godshot by the same author, so I was excited to pick up this collection of short stories. They retain everything that made Godshot such an impressive debut: vivid, unromanticized evocation of California’s dry Central Valley; a keen ear for colloquialism; an unflinching bleakness with enough humanity and moments of grace to avoid falling into exploitation of the weird, desperate, broken-hearted lives depicted. So I liked and admired this collection, but wow, getting slammed by one desperate story after another is a slightly less desirable reading experience than a novel-length redemption arc.

I picked up Voyage in the Dark by Jean Rhys at a used bookstore because I have a foggy memory of loving The Wide Sargasso Sea–the surreal modernist prose of it, the scathing portrait of male power, the complicated relationship to race and whiteness the main character had as a British citizen raised in the Caribbean. Voyage has that same seething, dreamy quality to it, and the main character likewise suffers both as a woman constrained by male power and as a person who never truly feels at home in either England or the Caribbean island of her childhood. I’m out of the habit of reading early 20th century books, so the way it deals with race is jarring and troubling (in a white person who wishes they were Black way, not in the standard Modernist casual racism way). But I’m still glad I picked up this book; it reminded me of what I find so unsettling and fascinating about Modernist women’s literature.

I started reading a lot of books I didn’t quite finish this month. I brought An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us by Ed Yong to the beach, which made for surreal but absorbing vacation reading, although there’s much more of it I haven’t gotten to yet. I read a little more of The Book of Delights by Ross Gay. I started The Ice Lion by Kathleen O’Neal Gear but gave it back to the library–not my style. It’s been that kind of month.

For Publisher’s Weekly, you can read the review I collaborated on for The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man (Paul Newman’s memoir). I also read The Black Period by Hafizah Augustus Geter.

Some poems and short prose I liked:

Man in my bed like cracker crumbs by Sandra Cisneros
Another Attempt at Rescue by M. L. Smoker
Comments made to a mother of girls by Lilly Roan
Always waiting, always here by Analía Villagra

Elsewhere

Against August

If Starbucks had been named after other characters from Moby-Dick

This Locked Tomb Trilogy quiz is a little intense, but (a) finally, a “What house are you?” quiz I care about! and (b) of course I am Fifth House, objectively the best house, home of the cozy necromancers!

I carry a cloth folding fan that creates a pretty powerful breeze. An absolute must-have tool for summer: when some friends and I took a day trip to Baltimore last month we all walked around fanning ourselves during a record heatwave, and during my ballet recital I fanned in the hallway between dressing rooms to create some airflow in the unairconditioned basement. Anyway, if you’re a fan of fans, here is some fan history.

As a former book marketer who struggled to manage author expectations about publicity, I appreciated A History of the Midnight Release Party–and was surprised that a few book parties still crop up in this age of pandemics and publishing house mergers.

Speaking of big publisher mergers… this is a really interesting overview of a current legal argument and what it means for the book business.
Book publishers just spent 3 weeks in court arguing they have no idea what they’re doing

What Makes a Millennial? ::chants softly:: Oregon Trail…. Oregon Trail…

Minutiae

My family came to town mid-month and we went to the Jersey Shore, staying in this amazing midcentury tiki motel with a blue waterfall–one block away from the boardwalk. Perfect beach days: midweek, uncrowded, one hot sunny day punctuated by a salty hot pretzel, one dreary day when we huddled under an umbrella watching rain pock the sand, one final overcast day where the sea and the sky were the same endless shade of pale. Back in Philly, my house was a little too full of people, but we got a lot of work done making my new house a home.

I went to see the lantern festival. My cat turned 18. My college best friend visited and we stayed up too late eating night cheese and gossiping. August is tree-checking season, so I walked down to Mifflin Square with a dressmaker’s tape and measured some trees other volunteers planted last fall. (They are healthy.) With some friends on Discord I watched Fire Island, which is a funny, smart, and charming adaptation of Jane Austen (specifically Pride and Prejudice but honestly sort of Emma too), and the new Persuasion, which is neither funny nor smart nor charming but we had a good time roasting it.

August 26 is the sixth anniversary of my dissertation defense; the date looms large in my mind still. I went to Cape May for one more beach weekend, staying in a house near the ocean with seven other adults, five kids, and one dog. Cape May is at the end of the chain of barrier islands that make up the Jersey Shore; on one side is the Atlantic Ocean and on the other side is a bay, and on the other side of the bay is Delaware and Rehoboth Beach, a place I spent many a dissolute weekend when I was younger. But on a hazy summer afternoon, you can’t see any other shore, and Cape May feels like the end of the earth.

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