Collection of books read in May 2017

Reading Railroad: May’s Reading

I read 11 books in May! That’s a ton for me. And 5 of them were released in 2017.

Novels

Book cover for Exit West by Mohsin HamidExit West by Mohsin Hamid. Published March 7th 2017.  Wow. This is such an amazing book. It will probably end up on my end of the year favorites. In an undisclosed war torn country (I pictured Syria, especially after watching this mini-doc about the Syrian refugee crisis), Saeed and Nadia fall in love. Both are students at a local college, and even as war and in-fighting threaten to tear their city apart, they’re drawn to one another — Nadia, independent and alone; Saeed, religious and familial. And then doors begin leading to other places. A door to a closet might suddenly open to Australia instead, or London, or Greece. With their city no longer recognizable as theirs — and losing friends and family — Saeed and Nadia decide to enter one of these doors, and become refugees. This is such a bittersweet, human story. I recommend reading it in 1-2 sittings. It’s a fast read, and it’s easy to become swept into Hamid’s lyrical prose. Despite the war, loss, and grief the characters experience, it’s still a hopeful read. It makes me think that maybe the world can be a better place; that we can learn to all be human together. 4.5/5

Book cover for Little Nothing by Marisa SilverLittle Nothing by Marisa Silver. Published in 2016. A couple finally conceives with the help of gypsies, but their daughter isn’t what they wanted. Pavla is a dwarf. After several years both parents finally learn to love their daughter, but not enough to love her as she is. They want to change her into ‘normal.’ What follows is a series of transformations and forced exile as Pavla moves from a traveling circus to a pack of wolves to a prison. Along the way her story becomes entwined with Danilo, or rather, his story becomes entwined in hers. When Danilo’s twin brother dies, his parents force him to leave, and like Pavla, his exile leads him to wonder aimlessly from place to place. The first 2/3rds of the novel were enthralling, but part of the problem with a novel like this is every time I became wrapped up in the story, something would change and I was in an entirely new story. Thus, by the end of the novel, I was experiencing readerly jet lag. I just want to discover more about each part, not have the story start all over again. And the first three settings/transformations were far more interesting than the final one, to me. I would still recommend this to those who enjoy weird novels. Definitely worth the read. 3.5/5

Book cover for Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini TaylorDaughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor. Published in 2011. Karou was raised by Brimstone, a chimaera who looks like a devil, in his magic shop that opens between worlds. Some doors open into the human world, where Karou goes to art school in Prague and also collects teeth for Brimstone. Another door opens into Brimstone’s world, and she’s not allowed to enter. Karou’s life changes when angels descend to her world, and begin marking the doors with black handprints. When she spars with the angel Akiva, sparks fly–both from anger and from love. Daughter of Smoke and Bone reads fast; each chapter kept me on the edge of my seat. It’s also not a black/white, good vs. evil narrative, which is refreshing for YA. The ‘love at first sight’ and ‘our love can save our kingdoms’ plot lines are a little silly to me, but I’m sure appeal to a lot of people. I’m just the kind of person who likes more nuance in love. It ends on a cliffhanger, so I’ll eventually have to read the next one in the trilogy. But it’s not high on my priorities. 4/5

Book cover for House of Names by Colm ToibinHouse of Names by Colm Tóibín. Published May 18th 2017. A re-imagining of the events that follow Agamemnon’s return home, the novel rotates perspectives as each player contemplates their rage, grief, and revenge — from Clytemnestra to Orestes to Electra. Tóibín’s strongest voice is, unsurprisingly, Clytemnestra’s. Her grief and rage is the strongest, after all. The other characters fall flat in comparison, their personalities pale shadows to their mother’s. They lack motivation, drive, any kind of desires. Tóibín modernizes the myth by taking the gods out of it. They’re mentioned, but only in terms of this being a time when the gods have passed; they no longer participate in human lives. An interesting choice, though it takes a little bit of the magic away from the story, which I think was the point. What you have left are characters delegated to the periphery of events , trying to find meaning in the absurd violence that surrounds them. It’s a good retelling, and my first book by Tóibín. Thanks to Netgalley and Scribner for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review. 3.5/5

Book cover for Sealskin by Su BristowSealskin by Su Bristow. Published May 1st 2017. The most popular selkie legend goes like this: A man finds a group of women dancing by the sea, with sealskins beside them. They flee when they see him, slipping into their skins and swimming away, but he keeps one skin, and brings home a selkie wife. Without her skin, she cannot leave. She bears him children, and when they’re older the children find where he’s hidden the skin and show it to their mother. She takes the skin and returns to the sea in her true form as a seal, abandoning her husband and children. Bristow’s retelling focuses on the man who steals the skin, Donald, a Scottish fisherman. It’s easy to hate the men in selkie legends, but Bristow humanizes Donald, showing his struggles with guilt, his history of being bullied, his deep regret. Donald and his sealwife’s building relationship is well-written, and it’s a very atmospheric read. I sank into the world. But while I like redemption stories, I have issues with this particular type, and you can read my spoilery review of that on Goodreads. Thanks to Netgalley and Orenda Books for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review. 3.5/5

Book cover for Music of the Ghosts by Vaddey RatnerMusic of the Ghosts by Vaddey Ratner. Published April 11th 2017. This is one melancholy book, as it would have to be. Almost 40 years have passed since the genocide of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. Teera, who escaped with her aunt to the U.S. as a child, now returns to Cambodia, haunted by her past and struggling with grief after her aunt’s death. A man called The Old Musician claims to have several instruments of her father’s, and wants to return them. The novel weaves between their perspectives as both grapple with the past while trying to find hope and meaning in the present. While this is a melancholy novel, it’s not a hopeless one. In her afterward, Ratner says that if In the Shadow of the Banyan is a story of survival, than this is a story of surviving. I did enjoy In the Shadow of the Banyan more because of how it weaved mythology into the narrative, but Music of the Ghosts is a strong follow up, and many will enjoy it more than her first. Thanks to Touchstone and Netgalley for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review. 3.5/5

Short Story Collections

Book cover of Wicked Wonders by Ellen KLagesWicked Wonders by Ellen Klages. Published May 16th 2017 (my birthday!). I’ve never read Ellen Klages before, but the short stories collected here are so good! I’m surprised I haven’t come across her before. The stories I liked best captured what it feels like to be a child. My favorite of these is the very first piece — “The Education of a Witch” — about a little girl who identifies with Maleficent more than Sleeping Beauty. I also enjoyed “Woodsmoke,” about two girls at summer camp. Overall, Klages stories are grounded in realism, with hints of the weird or strange. They’re sweet and powerful and fun, and I’ll be seeking out more of her work. I’m thankful to Netgalley and Tachyon Publications for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review. You can read my take on each story here. 4/5

Nonfiction

Book cover for Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca SolnitMen Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit. Published 2014. I didn’t mean to read this immediately after buying it. I often read the first paragraphs of new books as I place them on the bookshelf, but this time I didn’t stop reading. Her prose style is mesmerizing. It’s a powerful collection of feminist essays, and I highly recommend reading it. You can read my longer review on Goodreads. 4/5

 

 

 

Book cover for Expecting Better by Emily OsterExpecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong–and What You Really Need to Know by Emily Oster. Published in 2013. I picked this up after reading several reviews describe at as ‘if you read a single pregnancy book, this should be the one.’ And I completely agree. THERE ARE SOURCES! I swear, it never occurred to me that the vast majority of pregnancy books would cite no sources whatsoever. I don’t care if you’re a doctor. Lots of people call themselves doctors and I’m not going to take their advice. On top of that, pregnancy books often say things like “Ask your doctor.” I’m reading this so I can go to my doctor’s appointments informed. Don’t just tell me to talk to my doctor. Why bother reading a book then? Anyway, Expecting Better is written by an economist. She was similarly frustrated by the lack of evidence given in pregnancy books, or even by her doctors. She decided to research the main questions so she could make informed decisions. In each chapter she presents multiple case studies and weighs all the different decisions new parents can make. She doesn’t tell you whether you should or shouldn’t get on epidural, or drink coffee, etc, but rather what research shows so parents can make their own decision. So far, this is the only pregnancy book I’ve read worth reading. 4.5/5

Book cover for Expectant Father by Armin A. BrottThe Expectant Father by Armin A. Brott and Jennifer Ash. Published in 2001. I bought this book for Ryan as we’re expecting our first baby. We both read it. I found it generic, he found it insulting and humorous. Here are some of his favorite tips for dads:

  • If you need a break because you’re overwhelmed by your wife’s pregnancy and emotional state, take a vacation on your own. Go to the beach. (This will probably become one of the many in-jokes in our pregnancy.)
  • You’re a hero if you go to the doctor’s appointments with her. (When we went to our first appointment, every pregnant woman had their SO with them.)
  • Your pain can be just as difficult as hers, because you can experience the same difficulties as she due to empathy. (More belly laughs from him about this one, especially after I throw up!)

Frankly, Ryan found the book insulting. He doesn’t need lame platitudes and the casual sexism that says ‘you’re a male hero for doing the things that you should be doing.’ When I asked for his review, he said “terrible.” I also read this book, and found the information to be generic and easily found online. I agree that it’d be nice if there were a book for dads, but it needs to be researched and informed and to treat parents with respect. 1/5

Book cover for Your Pregnancy and ChildbirthYour Pregnancy and Childbirth: Month to Month by The American College of Ob/Gyn. Published in 2010.  You can find the exact same information in this book on websites. My favorite websites so far are Baby Center and The Bump. The book contains generic, easily found basics. No need to read it. 2/5

 

What were your favorite reads in May?

Shorts on a Theme: The End of the World

I’m not sure why I enjoy reading end of the world scenarios so much, but they’re one of my favorite sub-genres. I mean, I just took an hour walk outside admiring the springtime green, my neighborhood’s lovely flowers, the birds singing, and what do I do when I get home? Decide to write a post recommending end of the world short stories and poems. Because, of course.

So if you only have 10-20 minutes to read, here are 10 online short stories and poems about the end of the world. Afterward, remember to take a breather and admire nature…while it’s still here.

Short Stories

From Tor.com Illustration by Yuko ShimizuAs Good as New by Charlie Jane Anders

Charlie Jane Anders just won a Nebula for her end of the world novel All the Birds in the Sky, one of my favorite novels from 2016. But that wasn’t her first time writing about the end of the world. In “As Good as New,” Marisol — a washed-up playwright who managed to survive the apocalypse — finds a jinni in a bottle. Can her 3 wishes save the world?

So Much Cooking by Naomi Kritzer

A mom’s food blog chronicles her struggles to feed her growing pack of children as H5N1 spreads, causing massive food shortages. A really creative way to write about the apocalypse!

The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster

Originally written in 1909, this short story feels like it could’ve been written yesterday. A highly technological human settlement, run by The Machine, lives in an air-ship after some kind of apocalypse. Vashti’s life changes when her son starts questioning The Machine.

From Lightspeed Magazine by Melanie UjimoriThe Red Thread by Sofia Samatar

Sahra records her travels with her mom in letters to her disappeared friend Fox. She and her mom are traveling between human settlements, teaching the remaining children and trying to convince the settlements to live safely. But is Fox receiving Sahra’s letters? And why did he abandon them? This short story is also recently published in Sofia Samatar’s first short story collection — Tender: Stories.

Don’t You Worry, You Aliens by Paul Cornell

An elderly librarian maintains his library even when no one is around to enjoy it. And there’s a dog but he doesn’t die!

Poems

when the end is near by Amber Atiya

“i will miss
the woman-lined walls
of tony’s pizza

jewel-tone mouths
ordering zeppoles extra
sweet, will miss the urge

to fry bacon in my vegan
lover’s favorite pan”

Gloves by Lisa Rosinsky

“When I dreamed of the apocalypse, the end
came like a liquefying of the sky, the sunrise
and sunset palettes swirling all together”

The Future of Terror / 5 by Matthea Harvey

“In the lantern-light, the lawn speckled
with lead looked lovely. We would live this
down by living it up. My pile of looseleaf
was getting smaller—I wrote in margins,
through marmalade stains, on the backs of maps.”

A Song on the End of the World by Czeslaw Milosz

“On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.”

How it Ends: Three Cities by Catherine Pierce

“This morning we woke to the grackles. Their mouths open, tails oil-black against the blacker pavement. Some had closed their eyes; others had died staring. Cars stopped on Congress and were left, hunched like boulders. The elms, always bright with cries, were still.”

 

What are some of your favorite end of the world shorts?

Book Review of The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin

Title and Author: The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin

Publication Date: March 14th, 2017

Genre: Short Stories across the spectrum of genres

How I got it: Thanks to Netgalley and Rebellion Publishing for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review:
“When Allah created man out of clay, Allah also created the djinn out of fire.”–Mahvesh Murad, from the Introduction.

This is a really wonderful short story collection. I’d no idea so many variations of djinn existed — good or evil, mischievous or kind, religious or deviant, and everywhere in between. The sheer variation of interpretation is what makes this a superior collection, as well as, of course, the superior writing. There’s not a single poorly written piece in this collection. They’re all nuanced, well-thought, character driven stories. It’s also a great mix of authors I know and ones I’m unfamiliar with. I’ll be checking out some of the authors that were new to me to see what else they’ve written.

I had three absolute favorites. First up is the opening poem by Hermes, which gave me goosebumps: “A djinn I am. / My fetters may be broke but / still they wrap round wrist and ankle: / every djinn’s possessed.” The poem sets the tone for the anthology, though If there’s one downside to opening with it, it’s that I then expected more poems, but, alas, this is the only one.

Then there’s the wonderfully creepy “REAP” by Sami Shah. It’s going to stick with me. In “REAP,” a group of soldiers spying on a possible terrorist’s home in Afghanistan with the use of a drone see something completely unexpected and super creepy. It’s my first time reading Shah, so I’ll be seeing what else he’s written. Wait…I just looked him up, and he’s a comedian??? There’s nothing funny about this story! That’s weird.

I also love “Somewhere in America” by Neil Gaiman, an excerpt from American Gods. I still remembered it from American Gods, but it remained good. I’m actually not a huge fan of American Gods, yet, this chapter was my favorite from it, and it works perfectly as a short story.

A close runner up to my favorite’s list is the first short story — “The Congregation” by Kamila Shamsie, another author I’m unfamiliar with. This one is steeped in Islamic culture, yet very accessible to me, someone unfamiliar with the culture and religion. In fact, that’s one of the best things about this collection, it’s diversity, accessibility, and variation. Anyone should be able to find stories they like in this collection, no matter your reading taste.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone who loves short stories, particularly if you’re looking to read a diverse collection, and like a bit of magic in your fiction.

Imam Ali Conquers Jinn, unknown artist, Ahsan-ol-Kobar (1568)

Here are my reviews of each story:

Hermes (trans. Robin Moger) — “The Djinn Falls in Love”: Ooo, lovely poem. 5/5

Kamila Shamsie — “The Congregation”: A young man visits his family’s mosque late one night, to find jinn worshiping there instead. One jinn in particular enraptures him. Loved the immersion of this one. 4.5/5

Kuzhali Manickavel — “How We Remember You”: A man remembers how as a teen he and a group of friends did something they’ll regret the rest of their lives, to another friend who’d begun growing wings on his back. 4/5

Claire North — “Hurrem and the Djinn”: Davuud is asked to discover what foul djinn Hurrem — the sultan’s favorite wife — consorts with. Things get out of hand. Men can be stupid. 🙂 This novelette is predictable, but well written. I love all these different takes on djinn. They’re so different from tale to tale — in appearance, temperament, powers, etc. 3.5/5

J.Y. Yang — “Glass Lights”: A woman whose grandmother was a djinn struggles in the contemporary world with loneliness. Good writing and character, but lacking in plot. 3/5

Monica Byrne — “Authenticity”: A young woman searches for authentic experiences, and sex is one way to find those experiences. She gets with a young man who is filming a porn movie later. But are either of them what they seem? 3/5

Helene Wecker — “Majnun”: A jinn, once the lover of a beautiful jinn ruler, has a religious crisis and becomes an exorcist. Very interesting story. 4/5

Maria Dahvana Headley — “Black Powder”: A hunter, a kid, a pawnshop owner, and a priest become entwined in a story about a jinn that lives in a rifle. Not sure I exactly understood the end, it felt like a retelling of a story I’m completely unfamiliar with, but the writing and relationships are well done. 4/5

Amal El-Mohtar — “A Tale of Ash in Seven Birds”: Magicians hunt reincarnations of birds. No strong djinn connection, that I can tell. Not a big fan of this, though I usually love El-Mohtar’s fiction. 2/5

James Smythe — “The Sand in the Glass is Right”: A man tries again and again to get his wish right, but what does he lose in the process? I liked the theme of consequences. This is one that would probably be best on a second read. 4/5

Sami Shah — “REAP”: A military unit watches a group of houses in Afghanistan with the use of a drone, and see some pretty disturbing stuff. This story is excellent. It will stay with me for a while. 5/5

Catherine King — “Queen of Sheba”: A twelve-year-old girl celebrates her first Christmas with the adults, but as she’s ironing a tablecloth, she sees visions. Good story, though without a plot. I’m still buzzing from the last story, so that may have affected my read of this one. 3.5/5

E.J. Swift — “The Jinn Hunter’s Apprentice”: A spaceship set for Ganymede has an unexpected hiccup when it becomes infested with djinn. I would think sci-fi and djinn wouldn’t mix well, but this is a solid story. 4/5

K.J. Parker — “Message in a Bottle”: During the Middle Ages, a scholar tries to determine if a previous now dead scholar’s bottle labeled “For the plague” is a cure, or a new strain that will wipe out humanity. Well written, but couldn’t he test it on people in confinement? 3/5

Saad Hossein — “Bring Your Own Spoon”: In a post apocalypse where food is scarce, a man decides to start a restaurant with the help of a djinn. 3.5/5

Neil Gaiman — “Somewhere in America”: An excerpt from American Gods, and one of the few chapters I remember completely. It works really well on its own. A man is sent to America to sell his brother-in-laws cheap nic nacs, and finds an unexpected friend in a cab driver. 4.5/5

Jamal Mahjoub — “Duende 2077”: There’s a murder, and the detective trying to solve the case runs into some complications that herald to his past. I never understood exactly who the murderer was. 3/5

Sophia Al-Maria — “The Righteous Guide of Arabsat”: In the contemporary Middle East, a sexually repressed guy marries what his mother claims to be a ‘good girl.’ But after discovering his new wife knows more about sex than he, he decides she must be possessed by a djinn. Reminds me of Victorian era attitudes toward sex. A disturbing story. 4/5

Kirsty Logan — “The Spite House”: A half djinn/half human woman takes the leftover junk people leave in their yards, but when a woman confronts her about this and makes a wish, she feels a power overtake her. But is she the one with the power? I liked the switch in dynamics here. 4/5

Usman Malik — “Emperors of Jinn”: A group of rich children become obsessed with a spell book that calls djinn. These are some truly evil brats. 3.5/5

Nnedi Okorafor — “History”: A superstar singer prepares for a televised concert, and reflects on a childhood spent in Africa, and the magic she learned there, and the bush baby she caught that lives in her mirror. I really liked this story, but it felt like it was referring to something else — maybe a novel Okorafor has written? Felt like a small part of something much larger. 3.5/5

Rating: 4/5

 

Book Review of The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis


Title and Author:  The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis

Publication Date: June 2016

Genre: Thriller, Post Apocalypse, Western

How I got it: Bought it used at the bookstore I work at

Review:

“This is a world a’ hurt and shit and blood and bullets. This is a world where a strong arm is a’ more value than a strong mind. The Damn Stupid changed up the people a’ this country, changed up coin to mean not much, changed up cities, changed up the law, it made murderers a’ all us what’s left.”

This is a weird thing to say about a book, but The Wolf Road reminds me of a Quentin Tarantino movie.

The novel combines several genres: the western in tone and setting, thriller in plot, and post apocalypse in background. I wonder if it was originally inspired by “Little Red Riding Hood,” because the novel has all the elements of the fairy tale — grandmother, child, wolf — without resembling the plot. It’s not in any way a retelling, but it does have some glimmers here and there of LRRH.

When Elka’s seven, a super storm hits and kills her grandmother. Years earlier her parents left in search of gold, so now Elka’s in the woods alone. A man she calls Trapper adopts her and teaches her wood lore and how to hunt. She loves him, and he seems to love her in his own way. His one rule: never speak of him to anyone else. When Elka’s seventeen, she goes to the closest town to pick up some supplies, and sees a wanted poster with Trapper’s face on it. He’s wanted for multiple murders, and it’s not until then that she realizes he’s a serial killer. When Magistrate Lyon sees Elka’s reaction to the wanted poster, she realizes Elka knows the man.

Elka escapes into the woods on a mission to find her long lost parents, but two hunt her — Magistrate Lyon and Trapper.

It may seem like I’m giving too much away, but you find out about all of this within 10 pages.

The setting and characters are pure western, as is the dialect. Some reviewers complain about the dialect, but for me it made the novel. I can’t imagine it written in any other way.

The thriller aspect is obvious — murder, a chase. But while the plot revolves around these tropes, Lewis twists the typical revenge plot in a unique way by concentrating on Elka’s internalization of memory. The end was intriguing and full of psychological insight.

The apocalyptic past almost seems like an afterthought, but I loved the hints of it here and there. Bombs in the water, a poisoned landscape, giant storms. They call it The Damn Stupid. Could the setting be some kind of alternate history, if the Cold War had turned into nuclear war? That’s hinted at once. I also like the bits about environmental protection: “Figured the land owed me that, but right now, looking at that land, us humans owed the wild so much more.”

Lewis also subverts some common apocalypse genre tropes — mainly cannibalism and rape. It’s a refreshing take after reading some recent, post apocalyptic novels that depend too much on cliché representations, like California and On Such a Full Sea. I also love that Lewis writes women who represent several different character types, but then these types are once again subverted, which I appreciated. Lewis adeptly manages to combine a thrilling plot with layered characters.

I’m giving this a 4 instead of a 5 because sometimes, especially at the beginning, it felt like the trials on Elka’s journey/escape were a bit contrived. I realize that’s kind of a necessity for a thriller, and maybe that’s why I don’t read those that much. Once the story got going, I no longer had those issues.

Oh, and somehow in this review I forgot to mention the wolf. You’ll have to read the novel to find out more about him!

Rating: 4/5

6 Feminist Reads for Trump’s Term


I took the image above in Nashville, TN during the Women’s March Saturday, January 21st.

As always, when something bothers me, I read. And write. So here are 6 recommendations for feminist books to read during Trump’s term. Read, talk, argue, and be heard!

1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

A dystopian novel where the U.S. reverts to rigid patriarchy and women’s reproductive rights are taken away. Sound a little too plausible right now? Many people agree. Trump’s term has been compared to the novel many times, and several signs during the Women’s March on Washington referred to the novel (including mine). If you haven’t read this before, now’s the time to do it. Hulu has adapted it into a TV series and it airs April 26th. Here’s the trailer.

2. Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay

“The world changes faster than we can fathom in ways that are complicated,” Gay opens. “These bewildering changes often leave us raw. The cultural climate is shifting, particularly for women as we contend with the retrenchment of reproductive freedom, the persistence of rape culture, and the flawed if not damaging representations of women we’re consuming in music, movies, and literature.” Bad Feminist is the most approachable nonfiction feminist text I’ve read. It combines commentary on pop culture, politics, academics, and the personal in essays that seemingly meander, yet always reconnect to some main point. As the title suggests, feminists can’t be perfect, and we shouldn’t even be trying to. I’m currently co-reading this with a friend, and may post our combined thoughts when we finish. You can also listen to Gay’s TED talk.

3. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Another dystopia. I notice a lot classic dystopians are selling well on Amazon lately, and this is one that needs to be read. It was also one of my top reads of last year. Why I think this particular dystopia is currently relevant is because it deals with race, religion, and gender, and how those intersect. Also, the apocalypse is brought on by the refusal of politicians to acknowledge climate change, and that eventually leads to economic, political, and social collapse. The main character is a black teenage girl who founds her own religion. In book 2, Parable of the Talents, the white supremacist presidential campaign is “Make America Great Again.” I cannot tell you how shocked I was when I read that last year!

4. Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics by bell hooks

This one’s cheating because I haven’t read it yet, but it is on my TBR list for this year. I have read bell hooks before, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, and I know she’s considered a must read contemporary feminist. She’s also the best-selling feminist author at the bookstore I work at. I will give my review on this blog when I’ve read it!

5. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft

“I do not wish [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.” Okay, if you’re a feminist, then you have to read this. Yes, it’s written in the 18th century. It’s not an easy read. But it is one of the earliest feminist texts (written before the term feminism was coined), and essential in understanding the history of feminism. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman defends women’s right to speak, and calls for equal rights in education between the sexes. It’s in conversation with male philosophers of the time — mainly Edmund Burke, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau — but you don’t need to know their arguments to read this. It stands well on its own. And fun fact, Mary Wollstonecraft was Mary Shelley’s mother, the author of Frankenstein, though Wollstonecraft died shortly after giving birth. Actually, that’s not really fun.

6. The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection by Judith Butler

Key to grappling with feminism is understanding how patriarchy and authoritarianism subjugates and creates subjects, and our own complicity in that process, whether we desire to be complicit or not. “But if the very production of the subject and the formation of that will are the consequences of a primary subordination,” Judith Butler argues, “then the vulnerability of the subject to a power not of its own making is unavoidable. That vulnerability qualifies the subject as an exploitable kind of being. If one is to oppose the abuses of power (which is not the same as opposing power itself), it seems wise to consider in what our vulnerability to that abuse consists.” (bold my own.) This seems obviously relevant to our political climate. As a warning, this is no easy reading. Judith Butler is super smart; I never feel like I understand everything she’s trying to say. However, I always feel a bit smarter after reading her, and she definitely makes me look at the world differently.

What feminist texts do you recommend reading?

Reading Railroad: December’s Reading


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Here’s everything I read in December: 4 novels, 1 memoir, 1 short story collection, and 10 individual short stories.

Novels

The Blazing World by Margaret Cavendish. Published in 1666. Feminist Utopian. This is considered the first science fiction novel written by a woman. As such, I expected it to be a little more exciting, but I forgot that most Restoration literature is steeped in its political context, thus making it a bit boring for those of us not living in the 17th century. An English lady travels to another dimension. There, she finds that each animal is its own cognizant, speaking society. Thus, there are Bear-men, Worm-men, Bird-men, etc. All these societies are ruled by a single ruler, and soon the lady becomes their empress. As Empress, she investigates scientific, philosophical, and religious thought, and each of the animal species specializes in individual areas of investigation. Ultimately, Cavendish argues that it’s better to have a single head and a single entity making decisions for the whole, so there won’t be any strife. I guess she doesn’t believe in tyrants. My full review is on Goodreads. 3/5

Thorn by Intisar Khanani. Published in 2012. Fantasy fairy tale, could be YA as well. A retelling of “The Goose Girl,” Thorn examines abuse against women in its many forms. The beginning is immediately engaging; Princess Alyrra is stranded in both an emotionally and a physically abusive family and I desperately wanted to see her get out of her situation. However, once Alyrra is in a new city (I’m trying not to give any spoilers here), the plot really slows down, and it feels like a lot of nothing particularly important happens. It picks up again here and there, but overall, the pacing felt off. However, if you enjoy fairy tale retellings, particularly of “The Goose Girl,” then you should check this out. 3/5

Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was by Angélica Gorodischer. Published in 2003. Argentinian Fantasy, translated by Ursula Le Guin. Kalpa Imperial is a history of a fictional empire as told by a storyteller. The storyteller takes different periods of history and moves from broad descriptions to personal histories. Each chapter describes an entirely different period of history with all new characters. Certainly, this is a unique way of telling a story, but typically characters are what keep me engaged, and the second I finally became engrossed in a character’s story, it was a new chapter and a whole new part of the empire’s history. I never sank into the reading. But I also see that’s the whole point of the novel: how the individual stories intersect into the broader history of the empire, and how it’s made up of many singular identities, and each identity contributes to the character that is the empire. Maybe if I’d read this when I wasn’t so busy I would’ve enjoyed it more. 3/5

Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffmann. Published in 1815. Middle Grade. A cute Christmas classic. The ballet cuts much of the plot, which has a story within a story. Like many fairytale inspired fiction of its time, it can be weird. Some people in the group I read it in found it too disturbing to be a children’s classic, but it didn’t seem too dark to me. I really enjoyed Maurice Sendak’s illustrations. 3/5

Nonfiction

The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston. Published 1975. The Woman Warrior combines Kingston’s memoir of growing up in the U.S. the daughter of Chinese immigrants with her mother’s story and Chinese folklore and history. My favorite chapter, “Shaman,” tells the story of how her mother became a doctor of midwifery in China and battled ghosts in a women’s dormitory. It was hard to relate this independent ghost-fighting doctor with the mother Kingston describes, who belittles her daughters, though she’s a warrior throughout. Both Kingston and her mother are warriors in very similar ways, though they never see the similarities in one another. A unique memoir. You can read my full review on Goodreads. 4/5

Short Story Collections

A Wild Swan: And Other Tales by Michael Cunningham. Published in 2015. Adult fairytale short stories. This collection modernizes eleven fairy tales. These retellings circle around love and relationships: what it means to have someone that’s always by your side, that ‘happily ever after,’ for better and for worse. But these are not romanticized versions. The first story — “Dis. Enchant” — gives a clue as to how Cunningham approaches fairy tales — he disenchants the romanticized notion of happily ever after. Excellent endings to all of these, and the illustrations by Yuko Shimizu are gorgeous. It’s a super fast read; I read this in a single sitting. You can read my more detailed review on Goodreads. 4/5

Short Stories

I read a lot of individual short stories in December. I’ve briefly summarized all of them, and every single one is free to read online, so click and read away.

“Cottage Country” by David K. Yeh. Published in Apex Magazine, May 2016. Alternates between when a man’s dog goes missing and he suspects the sidhe, to the same man as a child learning about the sidhe while playing chess with his father. 3.5/5

“Left Foot, Right” by Nalo Hopkinson. Published in Strange Horizons, May 2016. After a car accident that killed her sister, a teen girl struggles with grief, and part of that process involves buying shoes for her sister and chugging them into the water where her sister died. Then she meets a faceless child by the water. 3/5

“The Limitless Perspective of Master Peek, or, the Luminescence of Debauchery” by Catherynne M. Valente. Published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, May 2016. This one almost defies description. Master Peek is born a girl, but poses as a boy to run the family glassblowing business. And then, as Master Peek, starts making glass eyes. This is written in 19th century style prose, highly stylized and very unique. Novelette in length, I believe. 4.5/5

“The Consultant” by Catherynne M. Valente. Reprinted in The Center for Fiction, originally published in The Bread We Eat in Dreams. A noir detective tells the story of her practice serving fairytale women. Love it. 5/5

“Her Mother’s Ghosts” by Theodora Goss. Reprinted in Mithila Review, originally published in The Rose in Twelve Petals and Other Stories. A piece about Goss’s mother told through a fictional character. 3.5/5

“Four and Twenty Blackbirds” by JY Yang. Published in Lightspeed Magazine, June 2016. This story describes an earth where bird aliens pass a virus to women that impregnates them with birds. 3.5/5

“The Men from Narrow Houses” by A.C. Wise. Published in Liminal Stories, 2016. A great, weird fox shapeshifter story. 4/5

“The Red Thread” by Sofia Samatar. Published in Lightspeed Magazine, June 2016. Sahra writes letters to Fox (one of her mother’s students) as she and her mother wander across a post-apocalyptic land, from settlement to settlement. 4/5

“Cookie Jar” by Stephen King. Published in VQR, Spring 2016. A 13-yr-old interviews his 90 yr. old great grandfather, and hears a strange story about another dimension, and an endless supply of cookies. 4.5/5

“Songbird” by Shveta Thakrar. Published in Flash Fiction Online, April 2016. A girl is told to give up singing and become a good lady, but no one can be someone they’re not forever. 4/5

Happy reading in the month to come!

2016 Favorite Novels and Reading Stats


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I exceeded my expectations in 2016 and read a total of 105 books (goal was 100). Yay! Before I list my favorites, here are some stats, for those interested:

  • 70% women writers, 35% men writers (overlap due to some collections having multiple editors)
  • 25% people of color writers (aiming for 33%)
  • Longest book Middlemarch by George Eliot at 904 pages
  • 20 the Library of Congress labels as nonfiction
  • 15 Young Adult and Middle Grade
  • 24 published in 2016
  • 9 published before 1950

Without further ado, here’s my top 10 list of favorite books I read in 2016, in no particular order. I’ll list my favorite short stories next week.

Books

  1. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. Published in 2015. Adult Fantasy and Apocalypse. If I had to pick one favorite book of the year, this is it. It won the Hugo award, so I’m not the only person who feels this way. The magic in this world is orogeny, the ability to manipulate geologic formations, and the ‘fifth season’ occurs when a massive upheaval of the earth causes an apocalypse by wiping out most of humanity until the survivors rebuild once more. It’s book one of The Broken Earth trilogy, and book 2 — The Obelisk Gate — was released earlier this year (I enjoyed it though not quite as much as Book 2), and book 3 is forthcoming in August of 2017.

 

  1. Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. Published in 2015. Adult Fantasy. This one’s a super fun read. I wrote a full review on this blog. While book 1 of a series, it stands on its own well. Two magicians try to save England’s magic, but they both have very different ways of going about it. Zacharias, a freed slave and now a Sorcerer Royal, likes to follow the rules, but Prunella, his magician-in-training, chooses efficiency over obedience, especially since the ‘rules’ have never included her anyway. A lot of fun ensues. Book 2 is slated to be published in 2017, though I couldn’t find an exact date for release.

 

  1. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. Published in 1993. Adult Apocalypse (though could be read by teens). This is such a page-turner. I’ve been remiss for a while in failing to read Octavia Butler, so this year I finally sat down and read 3 of her novels, and this is my favorite of the 3. Lauren Olamina is not your normal teenager, even compared to the other teens in the gated community she lives in during an economic and social apocalypse. After the community fails, Lauren starts a new religion and collects followers as she travels. A must read, especially in the current political climate. I didn’t like book 2 as much — Parable of the Talents — but notably in book 2 a presidential candidate emerges whose campaign slogan is “Make America Great Again” (seriously), and though he never admits to being racist and bigoted, his followers commit hate crimes with his support. Super scary.

 

  1. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Published in 2015. Adult Nonfiction. I wrote a joint review of this and Kindred by Octavia Butler earlier this year. Written as a letter to his 15-year old son, it explores what it means to be a black man in America, where your body can be taken, beaten, and killed without repercussions. It’s a powerful and essential read.

 

  1. Beauty and the Beast Tales From Around the World edited by Heidi Anne Heiner. Published in 2013. Fairytale Collection. I wrote a full review earlier this year. Any fairytale lover needs to read this, and especially “Beauty and the Beast” fans. But even if you’re not a B&B fan, there are versions collected here that I like much better than the most popular tale.

 

 

  1. Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver. Published in 2005. Poetry. Mary Oliver may be my favorite contemporary poet (I really hate picking favorites), and this collection is excellent. If I hear anyone say they don’t like poetry because it’s too inaccessible, this is the collection I will give them. These are lovely, clear and poignant nature poems.

 

 

  1. Roses and Rot by Kat Howard. Published in 2016. Adult Fantasy. This debut novel explores sisterhood and art with the fae as a backdrop, and it’s a rare stand-alone fantasy. I wrote a full review of this one on this blog too.

 

 

 

  1. All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. Published in 2016. Adult Genre-mashup. I wrote a full review on this blog — but for the low-down: AI + witchcraft + apocalypse + 2 quirky nerds = super original read.

 

 

 

  1. The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black. Published in 2015. YA Fantasy. Hazel and Ben, sister and brother, live in what would be an ordinary small town — except that the faeries live there too. Another fun, fast read, and a stand-alone fantasy.

 

 

  1. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. Published in 2009. MG fantasy. This is an adorable mix of Chinese folktales, with fantastic illustrations. It’s book 1, but it stands alone fine, and the entire series is now complete.

 

 

 

Runners up

What were your favorite reads this year?