By ones and twos

As more and more men in the SFF community have been exposed as abusive harassers over the past few days, I have been thinking again about “The Women Men Don’t See.” This 1973 science fiction story, written by James Tiptree Jr., is about unseeing and reseeing, about the unsettling nature of assumptions, and the way an entire world and community can exist out of the sight of the privileged. It reads uncomfortably to me in its treatment of race. It feels outdated and also stunningly relevant. 

The story opens with the narrator, Don Fenton, unseeing two women. He walks by them, “registering nothing. Zero. I never would have looked at them or thought of them again.” They offer him nothing and therefore essentially are nothing. 

The two women, Ruth and Althea Parsons, go on to unsettle Fenton’s understanding of the world. He consistently thinks of them in terms of their attractiveness to him, going so far as to imagine sexually assaulting Ruth once he actually begins to notice her. But there are hints of something else going on. Something he cannot understand except by recasting it into terms he knows. But he is wrong. He still does not understand.

In the climactic moment of the story, Ruth says to Fenton, “What women do is survive. We live by ones and twos in the chinks of your world-machine.” He cannot understand this point of view either. He tries to vaguely say something about women’s lib and increased freedom. But he doesn’t mean it; he doesn’t see. Ruth rejects the platitudes as well. 

_________

What does it mean for people to go unseen? It means a lost world of creative talent which is suppressed, which is pushed out, which is devalued. It means a lost world of criticism, which looks at works with a different understanding. It means that no matter how many times people stake a claim to a genre, or a community, or a way of being, men don’t see it. They don’t want to see it. 

The act of unseeing means that people share times they were deeply hurt, or times when they weren’t deeply hurt because the awful thing that happened to them was so banal: the small expected thing that still accumulates into pain. The fact that it is expected. The fact that it is considered the price of admittance, but only for some people. The fact that certain men consider it their right and are allowed to go on as if nothing happened. 

The compulsion to unsee means this act of painful self-revelation is dismissed. Or the men involved reuse an apology they wrote the last time they had to talk about this. And yet they are praised for how sensitive they are and how willing to grow and learn. Their fans harass the people who speak out. Sometimes they keep their book deals and their agents and nothing touches them because they do not have to see. 

Perhaps we don’t live by ones and twos any longer. Perhaps we live by threes and fours. It is still not enough. Backchannels and whisper networks are not enough. We should not need them. There is an amazing world out there of beautiful, sarcastic, funny, angry, messed-up people that lives on in small and unseen spaces. And it is still not enough. Sometimes I think it’s like a galaxy, little clusters of stars connected by an imagined bond, separated by space. We live by ones and twos because that is the space allowed, because the world-machine disconnects and isolates, keeps us from each other, hurls us into space. 

I would like to be hopeful. I would like to live in Le Guin’s night country, “where no wars are fought and no wars are won, but where the future is.” But I keep going back to Ruth Parsons, who in the end leaves. Who says, of the system she observes, “It’ll never change unless you change the whole world.”

I am not content with the world-machine, neither do I want to live in it. I want the other world. I want new ways of being and new ways of imagining.

It’s time. Learn how to see or step aside. Change the whole world and start again. 

 

References:

Le Guin, Ursula K. “A Left-handed Commencement Address.” May 1983. https://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/ursulakleguinlefthandedcommencementspeech.htm

Tiptree Jr., James. “The Women Men Don’t See.” December 1973.

Thanks to Jenny, Anna K., and Claire for their feedback on this piece!

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Maureen’s favorite Untamed fics

I disappeared for six months and now I’m reappearing with a different sort of post! I have not forgotten about this poor, neglected blog but it’s been hard to find the time and mental space to write here. For now, probably the most regularly updated place I’m writing in is my newsletter. Also, I got very into The Untamed and here we are! If you are not into The Untamed, feel free to skip the rest of this post. I will be back here sooner or later. ❤

I have read a lot of fic for The Untamed and I wanted to share some of my favorites. These are chosen according to my personal taste, but I hope you find something you like! If you are looking for a starter pack, I highly recommend my friend forestofglory’s post here, and her thread on fic featuring women here. I am also only including completed works here, but I’ll add new titles as I read them/as they’re finished.

Duckling Content

How much do I love the ducklings? A LOT. 

 

A Civil Combpaign” | Ariaste | 19k | teen

This is one of the first Untamed fics I read after finishing the show and I love it so much. Jin Ling tries to reason himself through arranging a marriage with Sizhui and it goes about as well as you’d expect. Featuring: great uncle content, combs good, and the immortal line, “Ah, it is barren and empty, like my heart.” Plus the title is a Bujold reference, so how could I possibly resist? Follow it up with “Beseiged” (see below).

 

I want to spit out my heart” | annadream | 3k | general

Poor little angsty Jin Ling! I would like to squish his angsty sweet face and give him a hug. But don’t worry, Wei Wuxian will take care of that for us. 

 

The Absolutely True Story of the Yiling Patriarch: A Manifesto in Many Parts” | aubreyli | 19k | teen 

Post-canon, the ducklings are absolutely over the fact that Wei Wuxian and Hanguang-jun aren’t together when clearly they should be. So they write and publish a book that fixes that small detail! This is absolutely delightful and charming, and I speak as someone who does not enjoy RPF, like, at all. Features: Ouyang Zizhen being his most romantic self, Sizhui reluctantly roped into everyone’s nonsense again. 

 

seclusion, inclusion” | esmeraldablazingsky | 3k | general

Post-canon, the ducklings gently bully Lan Xichen into being a little more okay by cooking for him. This is just so sweet and I love how it plays with the theme of caring for someone by feeding them that runs through the show. Also features a flustered Lan Qiren. 

Extremely Married WangXian

I know they get married. You know they get married. Have some husbands doing their thing. 

 

Beseiged” | Ariaste | 11k | mature

Sequel to “A Civil Combpaign” and you probably should read that one first, really. I love the way Wei Wuxian is really attuned to Lan Zhan’s feelings in this one, while also trying to balance his care for Jin Ling and Suzhui. It’s a bit angstier than the first story, but also just really lovely. Featuring: my favorite tag (“wei wuxian’s avuncular powers”), weird negotiations, and WWX breaking into the library to study, because of course.

 

The only way out” | cafecliche | 12k | teen

This could just as easily go under the next category, because it’s all about Lan Zhan and Jiang Cheng learning to be a family for Wei Wuxian’s sake. But the appeal of it for me, besides being a sucker for the Yunmeng siblings reconciliation, is the way it shows Wei Wuxian and Lan Zhan as husbands. Also features some amazing Jingyi sass for those of you who are fans of the loudest Lan.

 

Linger in the sun” | etymologyplayground | 39k | teen

Okay, technically they’re not quite married here, sort of. It’s complicated. Anyway, this is a really feelingsy casefic with a bonus alligator and some sibling stuff with Jiang Cheng just for extra emotions, I guess. A nice Teacher Wei Wuxian one! 

 

The Guests of Cloud Recesses” | cafecliche | 10k | teen

Post-canon, Wei Wuxian wakes up one night and sees a ghost in the Jingshi. One of the things I love about our disaster child is how immediately he wants to help people who need it. That really comes through here. It’s a lovely exploration of how he feels about Lan Zhan as well, AND has some really nice stuff with Sizhui.  

Family is hard and sometimes beautiful

A collection of fics about the various family relationships in the show. 

 

Nidicolous” | dorkangel | 2k | general

A short one about Lan Zhan raising Sizhui. It’s melancholy but also does a great job exploring how Lan Zhan wants to do better for the next generation. 

 

Gathered herbs & sweet grasses” | hansbekhart |19k | not rated

Another exploration of Lan Zhan raising Sizhui. I love this one a lot and although it is really, really sad in a lot of ways, there’s also a sense of tenderness and even hope. There’s one line that just lifts the whole thing beautifully (you’ll know it when you get there). 

 

filled with gold” | lily_winterwood | 4k | teen

Post-canon, Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian reluctantly team up to save Jin Ling and end up having to actually talk instead. Just the worst, really. 

 

tintinnabulum” |  respira | 8k | teen

Jiang Cheng learns how to be a good uncle and how to make amends. I really liked how this one had him work through both the ways he’s been hurt and the ways he’s hurt others and the last scene maaay have made me cry. 

Modern AUs

At first I wasn’t that into modern AUs in this universe, but they’ve gradually crept into my heart and now several of these are some of my all-time favorites. Growth, I guess?!

 

The Simplest Way Forward” | harrietvane | 71k | explicit

This is probably my favorite modern AU; A-Yuan gets dumped on Wei Ying by a distant cousin and Lan Zhan offers to marry him for legal reasons. It’s really sweet and funny, and I love the way the relationship unfolds. 

 

Unstrictly Ballroom” | ariaste | 47k | teen

Yes, they’re all competitive ballroom dancers, except for Wei Wuxian, who’s a disgraced former competitive ballroom dancer. The setup sounds lightish, but there are a ton of feelings here. Also the dancing is used really, really well, I think. It also features one of my favorite sub-tropes: Teacher Wei Wuxian. 

 

through a window softly” | impossibletruths  | 14k  | teen

I just read this one recently but it totally charmed me. Wei Wuxian as a grad school music education student, who starts playing duets with a mysterious violinist. It’s sweet and light but really lovely. 

 

请兔子吃晚饭; treating a bunny to dinner” | yiqie | 5k | teen 

A sweet little modern AU where Wei Wuxian invites Lan Zhan to Korean barbecue, not realizing he’s a vegetarian. This is very much on the fluffy side and sometimes that’s exactly what you need. 

 

plant a little happiness (let the roots run deep)” | fleurdeliser | 47k | explicit

Doctor Wei Wuxian moves back to Gusu 13 years later and promptly helps Jingyi and Sizhui after they get in an accident. This is one of my favorite longer modern AUs–it is a bit angsty and also very tender, and I just really like it.  

 

 “one good thing” | Yuu_chi | 27k | teen

This is a modern AU where Wei Wuxian is haunting his childhood home and then Lan Zhan moves in. It’s very, very, very good and very, very full of feelings. Like I cannot overstate how many feelings. It’s a lot, but the end is beautiful.  

 

Out of the bin and into your heart” | alaceron | 27k | teen

Fake dating AU, FAKE DATING AU!! I love this one quite a bit, not the least for the absolutely amazing puns on Hanguang-jun. I love the cultural details as well, and the narrative style is just a perfect balance of fun and feelings. 

Post-Canon

This show is absolutely rife with great post-canon possibilities. I especially love the epistolary ones, but I’ve enjoyed a lot of them. These are mostly WangXian specific, although there’s some good duckling stuff in a lot of them too. 

 

爱不释手; never let me go” | yiqie | 68k | explicit

A post-canon casefic with feeeeeelings. This one is quite angsty, but I love the eventual resolution and the way the case and the emotional plot are woven together. Also features some great duckling content and I’m always here for that. 

 

No more looking, I’ve found home” | annadream | 3.5K | general

Post-canon fic for The Untamed lends itself so well to epistolary stories, and I love those. This one is a particularly nice version from Lan Zhan’s perspective. 

 

It’s Only Time” | etymologyplayground | 8k | teen

Another epistolary rec, which features letters from both Wei Wuxian and Lan Zhan! I liked that tweak quite a bit. And I enjoy the idea that Lan Zhan is more verbose and eloquent on paper than he allows himself to be in verbal communications. 

 

my age has never made me wise” | idrilka | 63k | explicit

Oh ho ho, my friends, have some feelings. Wei Wuxian travels around post-episode 50 and uh, somehow is still very oblivious? I will admit that I personally do not think he is ever actually this oblivious, but I’m not going to argue with the results here. Features: a Significant Comb and some nice duckling content. 

 

I hope that you will come and meet me” | feyburner | 28k | mature

I’ve already mentioned that I love the epistolary post-canon fics several times, and I’ll be honest–I think the way this one weaves the letters into the rest of the story is absolutely amazing. It really deepens the emotional journey and it’s just lovely, and sad, and tender all at once. It’s from Wei Wuxian’s point of view and I think the author really captures his inner landscape. 

 

蓝色生死恋; a blue love (to live and to die for)” | yiqie | 24k | mature

I like this one mostly for the ways it manages to acknowledge the shadows of the past while still being very hopeful. Also, A+ Sizhui content, which, in case it wasn’t obvious, is one of my favorite things. 

 

let me come home” | cafecliche | 4k | general 

Little vignettes of Lan Zhan and Wei Wuxian as they travel around post-canon. I love this one for the way it draws together some of the relationship strands. Also, I really enjoy Lan Zhan’s sense of humor here. 

But What About The Ladies

I just have umpty-million feelings about the female characters on The Untamed. So here are some of my favorite fics centered on them & their stories. 

 

Spring’s Greening” | Shadaras | 600 words | general

I will restrain myself and not go on my rant about the lack of Lan Yi fic available when she is RIGHT THERE, and amazing and beautiful and all. But anyway, this is a lovely short fic from her point of view. 

 

Arpeggio” | Shadaras | 1k | teen

More Baoshan Sanren/Lan Yi content! I love the way this one depicts their partnership and the process of Lan Yi’s invention. 

 

Time held me green and dying” | twigofwillow | 1k | general

This is a self-rec because I’m going to be obnoxious for a second and say that I just really loved writing this and also (see above) I love Lan Yi and wanted to give her a second chance. 

 

Bloom in darkness” | EHyde | 1.8k | general

Oh, this one is really sad, and also so good. Fierce corpse Yanli tries to come to terms with her second life and her current family. This line is what hooked me: “You know that soup cannot mend a family, not one as broken as this, but even so, you’re going to try.”

 

My home is not a place, it is people” | forestofglory | 10k | general 

Wen Qing survives the Jin dungeons and finds a new life. I love the way this one explores the ripple effect of the characters’ choices in canon.

 

Written, never said” | sandorara | 6k | general

Mianmian and Lan Wangji correspond during the years Wei Wuxian is dead. I loved the way this gave me a different perspective on both of them, and the careful friendship they build together. 

 

A Simpler World” | GrapefruitSketches | 1.8k | general

A short fic from Mianmian’s perspective as she adjusts to life after leaving Carp Tower. I love the subtle way this deals with her changing perspectives on herself and the world. 

Non-modern AUs

When I was putting this list together, I ended up surprised at how many of these I found in my bookmarks. They take place across a variety of settings, some mashups and some canon-divergent. 

 

Rare the man who’ll hold to faith” | fahye | 13k | mature

Okay, if you just said, hey Maureen, WangXian + Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, I might be a tad dubious. But this works. It works so well. It actually manages to be totally satisfying and revelatory as both an Untamed fic AND a Gawain fic? I don’t know. Trust me. 

 

what else is there?” | mme_anxious | 12k | teen

AU where Meng Yao turns Lan Wangji and Jon Zixuan into swans. Somehow this is super intense and beautiful? Lan Wangji is just always stubborn and intent, even when he’s a swan most of the time.  

 

asymptotic” | chinxe | 26k | teen

AU where Wei Wuxian died as a rogue cultivator and his spirit answers Lan Zhan’ Inquiry. This is sweet and sad and weaves around canon in some interesting ways. It’s from Lan Zhan’s point of view as well, which I think really works for this story. 

 

the way to purpose” | dea_liberty | 5k | mature

I get really sad whenever I think about Song Lan and Xiao Xingchen, so I’m glad this short but very satisfying fix-it fic exists. 

 

seldom all they seem” | fahye | 24k | explicit

AU where Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji have an arranged marriage. I love this one mostly for the way it explores the role of the Lan principles in Lan Zhan’s life and lets them be important to him.  

 

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What I read: week 7

My mom was visiting last week, which was lovely! And I’m starting grad school on Monday (all registered for my first classes in a MLIS program). So all in all, I’m in a bit of a transition phase. We’ll see how much non-academic reading I get done in the near future; I will be sure to keep you all apprised. Anyway, if I disappear for long stretches, that’s why. On to the books!

Stephanie Burgis mentioned Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver as a good Golden-Age-style mystery. Since that’s basically catnip to me, I decided to check it out. It was a pretty solid mystery, though maybe not to the level of Christie. If you’ve liked, say, the Dandy Gilver books or Jacqueline Winspear, I suspect this would be up your alley. I do have the second book checked out on Overdrive as we speak! [read for the first time 8/12]

When I asked for graphic novel recommendations recently, Jenny instantly told me in no uncertain terms to read Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. She was very correct; I loved Valero-O’Connell’s art, and Tamaki’s story was a lovely, slightly melancholy look at teenage love and friendships and identity. Realizing that someone can be charismatic and beautiful and also not at all the right person for you is such an important, fraught moment. (I also kept reading the title as Laura Dern instead of Laura Dean.) [read for the first time 8/13]

Still rereading the Vorkosigan books! While I wasn’t over the moon about the first few, Brothers in Arms marks the place in the series where L.M.B. really hits her stride in terms of characterization, etc. I find that the introduction of Mark brings a whole new energy to the plot and series. It’s the next book that’s called Mirror Dance, but Brothers in Arms contains a ton of mirroring in both literal and figurative ways. (Interestingly, my Reading Notes post for this one isn’t nearly as on board with it. This is why I like to reread books–I have a different reaction almost every time!) [reread 8/14]

I wanted a good middle grade fantasy and Caroline Carlson’s newest, The Door at the End of the World, was pretty satisfying. It’s a bit Diana Wynne Jones in that there are lots of worlds and travel between them, but the tone is a bit more sedate and tense than I typically associate with DWJ. I liked the characters quite a bit, and would certainly recommend it for young readers who want a bit of thoughtful action-based fantasy. [read for the first time 8/17]

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#stackingthestories round up

Forestofglory, who I follow on Twitter and generally enjoy a lot, created a short fiction reading challenge for July. I’ve been meaning to get back into SFF short fiction for ages now, and jumped on the challenge as a way of making that leap. I’m very glad I did! I didn’t reach my maybe-lofty goal of 31 short fiction pieces read in July, but it was still very worthwhile and I have a renewed commitment to making sure I read short fiction in the future. Since Twitter is an ephemeral medium, I wanted to collect the short reviews I posted there. The titles with an asterisk before them were personal favorites.

“it me, ur smol” by A. Merc Rustad: I am a bit so-so on this one. It’s a cute idea, and the internet speak read as accurate. As a piece of flash fiction it’s fine, but the gesture towards activism felt hollow in such a short story.

“Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight” by Aliette de Bodard: Packs a lot into a setup that initially looks simple (it isn’t). I liked the way the narratives were woven together, but never quite connected with the emotion the way I wanted to. (This is true beyond this piece: stories about grief are tough because how can the reader care about the loss of someone who we only meet in absence?)

* “The Dragon that Flew Out of the Sun” by Aliette de Bodard: Stories, memory, and the complexity of truth. Loved this one. (Also curious to reread “Three Cups of Grief” having now read a story that centered me more in the universe)

“A Witch’s Guide to Escape” by Alix E. Harrow: I like it; it makes me uneasy. Liking – Harrow clearly knows libraries well enough to give it a real flavor. I loved the details of the displays in particular. Uneasy – my instant twitchiness about fictional librarians; I don’t quite believe that stories save us anymore; the kid in the story never felt like a real person in his own right. (Maybe I should say stories in & of themselves? I don’t know. At other points in my life, I would have vehemently disagreed with my current feeling) Added all together, this is a good example of a story that I like individually but which fits into a pattern I find troubling.

“Give the Family My Love” by A.T. Greenblatt: Feels very of-this-moment in a number of ways; it’s…fine, but overall a little on the nose for my personal taste.

* “She Commands Me & I Obey” (parts 1 &2) by Ann Leckie: Look, I can’t be objective here, because I love Leckie’s writing and I love Breq and it’s so interesting to see Breq from an outsider’s pov–what seems familiar & what doesn’t. This story is pretty gruesome in a lot of ways, but it also feels real? And I appreciate that we see no system is without flaws/imbalances/etc. It’s also neat to get a sense of Breq’s weird charisma in another setting. (My notes for this one just say, “BREQ”)

* “The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat” by Brooke Bolander: I love everything about this, from the fairy tale structure to the descriptions.

“Owl vs the Neighborhood Watch” by Darcie Little Badger: I’m struggling with how to evaluate this story because I bounced off of it pretty hard. But I don’t know if I have the cultural tools to evaluate it. I don’t have any big critical arguments against it, it just wasn’t for me at this moment and I’m not sure why.

“Anyway: Angie” by DJ Older: Very horrifying, tense, and atmospheric. I love the way Older uses language to evoke mood and Reza’s emotions in this one. CW: violence & mentions of sexual assault

* “Abandonware” by Genevieve Valentine:  I would say I’m a genuine Genevieve Valentine fangirl, but I hadn’t read this story before. I’m still not quite sure of my reaction but I’ve been thinking about it ever since I read it yesterday. There are some REALLY CREEPY elements/moments.

“Werewolf Loves Mermaid” by Heather Lindsley: This is light and funny and sweet, and sometimes that’s what you need.

“The Boy and the Bell” by Heidi Heilig: Ahhhh, another creepy one. It’s short but atmospheric, and quite effective.

* “Tomorrow Is Waiting” by Holli Mintzer: Awww, I really liked this one! I like stories about AI, generally speaking, and this was a sweet/interesting take. Does it ever explain anything? nope! am I okay with that? Yep!

* “The Light Brigade” by Kameron Hurley: Confession: this is the first Hurley story I’ve ever actually read and wow! It’s brutal, but also beautiful and more hopeful than I expected?

“The Counsellor Crow” by Karen Lord: I like the way the world unfolds in this story, in a way that is kind of breathtaking, but the ending felt abrupt to me!

“There are Two Pools You May Drink From” by Kerry-Lee Powell: I didn’t particularly like this one, which may be a personal reaction to the way abuse is treated here. Also a repeated use of “Oriental” as a descriptive term? I don’t know, there was just nothing that felt engaging to me or convinced me the characters were real.

“A Dozen Frogs, A Bakery, and a Thing that Didn’t Happen” by Laura Pearlman: AHHHHH this is pretty fun. To be clear, I don’t endorse the solution here. But I don’t *not* endorse either.

“Blue Morphos in the Garden” by Lis Mitchell: Eerie and thoughtful; I loved the sense of claustrophobic in-turning of the family. (I mean, loved from a technical pov. It creeped me out a lot as a reader.)

* “Solder and Seam” by Maria Dahvana Headley:  A story that rewards rereading; I wasn’t sure what was happening at first and liked it a lot more once I figured it out. I also appreciate the Patrick O’Brian reference.

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What I read: week 6

Phew! I did manage to read a lot more last week than the week before.

Last year, I really loved the first Aru Shah book by Roshani Chokshi. While I found Aru Shah and the Song of Death to be very delightful, it also felt overly long–my major complaint with the Rick Riordan Presents books so far. The story adds in a few new characters and shades in the world of the Pandevas a bit. This aspect was my favorite, maybe unsurprisingly as I generally love how a second book in a series can really deepen the world that was set up in the first one. I’m definitely here for the next book, though I hope there’s a little more Boo and a little less questing. [read for the first time 8/3]

I found The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling engaging; in particular, the combination of a very, very character-driven story and a real respect for the limits of technology made for a slightly different slant on a scifi story. Though I suppose Suzanne Palmer’s Finder might also fit in that category. Anyway, you know how that division between “soft” scifi and “hard” scifi is largely rubbish and used to devalue books written by women? Yeah. This story is all about Gyre and Em, but it also takes the mechanics of the situation very seriously. If you’re a reader who likes a bunch of action and plot, this isn’t necessarily one I’d recommend. If you’re a reader who likes an atmospheric and tense story that’s largely about trust and grit, read on.

At the same time, the relationship between the two women was–look, I don’t think anyone in this story is getting a lot of points for emotional healthiness. The shifting landscape of Gyre and Em’s time together is by turns gripping and troubling. I found the end hopeful, and yet I don’t know if I exactly what that hope to be fulfilled. If anyone has read this and wants to talk spoilers with me, please do. [read for the first time 8/5]

The latest book in the great E.L. Konigsburg reread, A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, proved to be slightly less exciting than I had remembered. I’m not sure whether I’m just over books about monarchs, or if this just hit me at a bad moment. I don’t think it’s Konigsburg at her strongest, though. From the B’Nai Bagels to Claudia, she’s at her best when she shows this marvelous insight into childhood, and here that’s totally absent. [reread, 8/5]

Bone Black by bell hooks has been on my TBR list for quite some time, but I finally got around to reading it. I’m so glad I did; it’s now on the list of my favorite memoirs. I love the way hooks uses memory as a shifting perspective and a way to return to images and moments again and again. Of course much of the book is centered around Black girlhood, and it’s framed within a tradition of Black women writers. There are other moments that felt more universal to the experience of growing up as a girl, and I appreciated those as well. I shared a few quotes on Twitter just after reading; this is one I can definitely see returning to in the future. [read for the first time 8/6]

I read Restart by Gordon Korman for a work book club, and I have to admit that I doubt I would have finished it just under my own steam. The themes and ideas here are interesting: what do you do when you have a chance at a fresh start? Can someone ever really change? But the treatment of those themes didn’t take into account any big systemic things like racism, sexism, and so on. And the sentence level writing was often clunky and repetitive. Restart is a 2019-2020 Young Hoosier Book Award nominee so clearly other readers have valued it more than I did. [read for the first time 8/8]

I don’t remember exactly why I decided to read Sincerely, Harriet by Sarah W. Searle. I’m glad I did, as it’s a thoughtful graphic novel with an intimate look at invisible disabilities. I appreciated the way the story draws connections with older generations and experiences. It is a sad story though, in many ways, and I wasn’t quite expecting that tone going in. While it wraps up nicely in the end and I’m glad I read it, I wish I had known that going in. [read for the first time 8/8]

 

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What I read: week 5

A long and terrible commute due to construction really cut into my energy and reading time this week. I only finished one book, Sandhya Menon’s latest release, There’s Something About SweetieI’ve liked Menon’s books a ton–they’re perfect light YA romcoms–but this one didn’t work quite as well for me. The plot felt a little forced and the characters weren’t quite coherent. Disappointing, but I’ll still try her next book.

I started listening to the audiobook of All Things Wise and Wonderful by James Herriot. While I have a lot of nostalgic affection for the Herriot series, and have enjoyed the audiobooks in the past (they’re narrated by Christopher Timothy who played Herriot in the BBC adaptation), All Things Wise & Wonderful has never been my favorite in the series. I chose it because it was the one available. But it has still been a soothing soundtrack to the hours and hours spent driving last week. (I’ll get over it someday maybe.)

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What I read: weeks 3 & 4

I love a good middle grade graphic novel and that’s exactly why I picked up Kayla Miller’s Camp. The focus here is squarely on friendship and the strains camp can put on two best friends who rely on each other. It’s fine; I liked the way Miller tests the limits of friendship without letting it break, and the way one person in a relationship may need more space than the other. But I was a little disappointed that it was so white and straight, and in general I just wanted a little bit more. [read for the first time 7/15]

At this point I don’t quite know how many times I’ve read Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie. It’s still a book I turn to when I want something that I know will be both healing and challenging. I loved the finale of Breq’s story, and especially the ending. There’s one line a little over halfway through the book that always makes me cry and the last chapter is one of my favorites, even if it’s also an emotional whallop. [reread 7/17]

I also reread a childhood favorite, Pepper & Salt by Howard Pyle. It’s a slightly unusual set of fairytales and in fact Pyle wrote them himself rather than collecting them. While there are some images and attitudes that aren’t okay with me, I did enjoy revisiting these stories. There’s an underlying pattern to a lot of fairy tales that I realized has really stuck with me over the years. [reread 7/18]

My friend Sophie recommended Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe and I’m glad that I read it. While it’s not quite comprehensive, focusing fairly narrowly on a few people who were majorly involved in the political landscape of the Troubles, I appreciated the look at a time of history that I didn’t previously understand very well. Keefe is a good non-fiction writer and does not indulge in my pet peeve (constant speculating about what people might have seen). His sympathies are fairly clear and he’s making a case for the guilt of a particular person, but he also treats the people he writes about with sympathy. [read for the first time 7/19]

I decided to reread all of the Vorkosigan books, and Cetaganda was next up. It’s not my favorite; there’s an awkwardness to the underlying gender themes that doesn’t quite escape Bujold’s attempts to give the Cetagandan women some power. But there’s some nice Miles & Ivan stuff here, and I always enjoy that. [reread 7/22]

Jerry Craft’s New Kid has been recommended a lot recently, and I understand why. It’s a thoughtful look at one kid’s experience as a young Black boy in a private school. The micro- and macro-aggressions that Jordan and the other Black students and teachers experience are counterbalanced by the bonds he forms with a few other students. The art wasn’t my favorite style ever, but it’s in service to the story and I appreciated the touches of humor it added. [read for the first time 7/24]

I wanted to read something light on a Friday and Sarah Zettel’s A Taste of the Nightlife seemed like it would fit that bill. Urban fantasy about a chef who cooks for vampires, what’s not to like? It was fine for that mood, although I don’t know that I’ll read any more of the series. [read for the first time 7/25]

I liked Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince last year but just now got around to reading The Wicked King. Like the first book, I’d say this is a frothy, sharp story. It’s not doing anything particularly original plot-wise, but I enjoy Black’s fairyland here. [read for the first time 7/28]

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What I read: week 2

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray is the kind of contemporary story I don’t necessarily gravitate towards instinctively. But I’m glad I read this one. It’s a look at the echoes and cycles of family history and wounds. And that sounds bleak, but ultimately I liked the way the characters are trying to change in very different ways. [read for the first time 7/7/19]

The Konigsburg Summer proceeds with About the B’Nai Bagels. This one is mostly light and funny, admittedly with some not great stuff about Playboy/Playgirl and weight. But the ending!!! I’ve noticed that Kongisburg’s books tend to hit a point where everything just comes together and this one is A Lot emotionally. I just reread it and teared up a little bit. Konigsburg portrays the world and inner life of preteens in a way that’s so immediately recognizable and wry and lovely. [read for the first time 7/9/19]

I liked quite a bit of Sal & Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez, one of the recent books from the Rick Riordan imprint. It’s funny, and sad, and Hernandez does some interesting things with the idea of family. It also features a spunky girl reporter, a trope which will always be catnip for me.  I remain unconvinced about a couple aspects of the ending, though! If you’ve read this one, please tell me all your thoughts. [read for the first time 7/9/19]

[redacted] by [redacted] Careless talk costs lives. [reread, 7/10/19]

I’ve loved Franny Billingsley’s Chime whole-heartedly ever since I first read it (and continue to be very sad about the cover art situation–I know exactly how I’d design a cover if only I were a graphic artist!). Recently my friend Ally told me that there’s an audiobook version available and I am here to highly recommend it. The narration is perfect, the accents are great without being overdone, and it added a whole new level to a story I already love. This is one of my heart-books, for sure. Briony Larkin, treading new brain paths. [audiobook, reread, 7/10/19]

I’ve read a few of K.J. Charles’ books before and liked them — I’m always a sucker for a British mystery which should come as no surprise to any of you. And her books are generally atmospheric and character-driven (even if I do have significant reservations about women writing m/m romance). I’d heard good things about Any Old Diamonds and decided to check it out. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work for me–the beginning did, but there’s a twist partway through that changed the whole landscape of the book and I never quite felt like it was adequately dealt with. [read for the first time 7/11/19]

I’ve been in a scifi mood lately, and Suzanne Palmer’s Finder looked like a neat take on interplanetary scifi. I found the beginning a bit slow, but that changed as the story picked up. It’s one that starts off with a simple character and premise and then shades in the world and conflict around them. I appreciated a lot of the storytelling choices that Palmer made and am curious to see what happens in subsequent books. [read for the first time 7/13/19]

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What I read: week 1

I don’t know that I’m back, exactly, but I miss talking about books in longer form than Twitter really allows. So, for now I’m going to aim for a once-a-week rundown of what I’ve been reading recently, and we’ll go from there. 

Goblin Mirror by C.J. Cherryh is not exactly my favorite Cherryh, but it does demonstrate her ability to deliver a claustrophobic atmosphere that’s really, really effective. I did like some of the twists and turns in the storyline, but I still haven’t read any Cherryh that tops the Foreigner series for me. (Speaking of which, maybe I just need to reread all of them!) [read for the first time, 6/30]

Tiffany Jackson has been quietly delivering some knock-out gut-punch books for the past few years–I am still upset about Monday’s Not Coming. But Let Me Hear a Rhyme, while intricately plotted and full of secrets is a little less reliant on a surprise twist. It’s a love letter to 1990s Brooklyn and rap, but it’s also about finding hope and connection in the midst of grief. Great book, and I can’t wait to see what Jackson writes next. [read for the first time, 7/1]

My book club decided to read some E.L. Konigsburg together and it’s been super great. First: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler which is a practically perfect gem of a middle grade book and one which holds up really quite well. I had read it several times in the past, but not in the last few years and I loved revisiting it. Claudia in particular is just a (relatable) delight. [reread, 7/5] Then, I gulped down Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, which I think I had only read once in 5th grade. It’s an extremely slim book, but it’s full of accurately fifth grade observations about the world. Elizabeth is such a pill, and I loved her for it. Not quite the heights of Mixed-Up Files, but still pretty delightful. [reread, 7/6]

At this point in time, quite a few people know about the Soviet airwomen known as the Night Witches. But did you know they were only one of three regiments formed by famed pilot Marina Raskova? Elizabeth Wein’s A Thousand Sisters lays out the history of the Raskova regiments and their joys/challenges/fates. It’s a thick book, but a relatively quick read–however, be warned that it’s a bit like the Last Jedi, with loss after loss after loss. The bravery and camaraderie of these (mostly) long-gone women shines off the page, and I downright cried after one death in particular. I wasn’t quite sure what the intended age of the audience was at times, but overall I’d recommend it for mature middle school readers through adults. [read for the first time, 7/6]

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Recent Reading: Thomas, Shannon, Shaw, Hoose

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

Does my Nice White Lady opinion about this book matter at all? Probably not. But sometimes you read something so good that even though it isn’t meant for you, it is worth talking about. And for whatever it’s worth, I loved Bri’s story.

It’s about the pressure of family history and making your own choices, about ambition and achieving your dreams. There were moments when as an adult I was concerned about the choices Bri was making, but I also understood why she was making them and they felt very realistic for a teenager under pressure. Personally, I found the conclusion very satisfying, and I appreciated where Thomas chose to end the story.

Although I’m not someone who tends to listen to rap, I really admired how well Bri’s skill is shown. Having that first person narrative during her rap battles showed her talent and quick wits, and kept it engaging.

Some authors have one great book in them–and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that–but I think On the Come Up proves that Angie Thomas is here to stay.

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

I wanted to like this one a lot! But it didn’t quite fulfill my expectations, despite being full of things that I should have, in theory, loved. Dragons! Historical fantasy! Spies! Ladies being friends and/or falling in love. Somehow the characters never quite felt fully inhabited and, in a common failing for epic fantasy, it felt weirdly conservative in its undertones even when it seemed to be about remaking the world. I don’t know! I read the whole doorstopper book, so I wouldn’t say it’s bad, but I would also say it never quite reached its full potential. On the other hand, lots of other people loved this one, so it’s entirely possible that this was a me issue.

Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw

This is a great example of a book that I liked and just don’t have much to say about. It’s a supernatural mystery featuring Greta Helsing, doctor to mythical creatures (vampires, gremlins, etc). Meanwhile something bad is happening in London–a murderous cult who worship a mysterious object underground. It’s perfectly fine and competent and I liked the inclusion of some classic vampires who were, the book argues, very misunderstood by Bram Stoker, etc. I will probably read the next one. 

Attucks! by Phillip Hoose

While I kind of wish that this book had not been written by a white guy, I did really appreciate the look at sports and Indianapolis history. Obviously, I have a connection to the location, and I thought Hoose did a good job of laying out the history of the city and state’s racial tensions, as well as the resilience and community of the Black residents during the 1920-1950s.

The text was based heavily on interviews with the surviving players and I felt that overall their voices and memories were showcased. I’ve driven by Crispus Attucks High School many times and been vaguely aware of its history, but now the history of both the high school and area have been really brought to life–in a bittersweet way, since so much of it has now been lost. I’d recommend this for basketball fans, but also for almost anyone from Indianapolis who wants to learn a little more about our history.

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