“At least we’re not okay together”

Ms_Marvel_Last_DaysThis post was sparked by my reading of Ms. Marvel: Last Days which resulted in me choking up multiple times while I was reading it. But this isn’t a review as such, although it will probably include spoilers so tread carefully if that’s something you’re avoiding!

What Last Days is doing is wonderful and noteworthy for a couple of reasons. From a purely personal point of view, Kamala’s story has been my entry into superhero comics. I love what G. Willow Wilson and the other creators involved have done with the story, the art, and especially the characters. Last Days is everything I love about this Ms. Marvel series, ramped up to 11. It’s also full of tension which (uh, spoiler) is not resolved at the end of this volume.

First, it’s a story which foregrounds Kamala and all the influential girls & women in her life, and MY HEART. We’ve seen Kamala have important relationships with other women throughout the series, but here a sizeable portion of the volume pulls together these threads all at once. This centering of female relationships is still all too rare, and it’s still making me choke up thinking about it. (The scene with her mom is just perfect, and Nakia, and CAROL. Everything hurts, but in a good way.)

Moreover, it’s a story where once again Kamala uses her faith as a touchstone for her own responses and beliefs. I’m not Muslim, but I am religious and this rang really true to me. It’s how I hope I would respond in similar circumstances, and at the same time it’s entirely born out of Kamala’s personal cultural and religious background.

Most of all, I loved the fact that this is a story about the end of the world which doesn’t simply posit that humanity is going down in flames. Yes: people freak out and do silly things and tear things apart. But not all of them. Not all the time. This is a book about the end of the world in which not only Kamala, but multiple other characters, react by reaching out, by doing their best to meet whatever’s coming with warmth and dignity.

This is the kind of apocalypse story I want more of. The kind that reminds us that humanity has grace in it as well as evil. Maybe some people can afford stories where everything and everyone is terrible. I can’t; I need stories that face the world and yet still have hope. This one does exactly that, and I want to read more that have this same realistic-yet-hopeful take.

In the end, this is a story which is generous to its characters, to us. Like the rest of Kamala’s stories, it’s full of determination and heart and humor. That the situation she’s facing now is one that she may not be able to solve, but that only makes the courage and kindness with which she faces it more powerful.


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What I’m reading: 4-13

goblin emperorI’m considering changing things up a bit here, and one of my ideas was to start semi-regularly doing a snapshot of what I’m reading right now, rather than what I’ve finished. We’ll see how it goes–let me know what you think!

The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner: I am allllmost done with my reread of QoA. Having now reached the point where most of the “ow-my-feelings” moments are over, it’s mostly the happy ending, yay!

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette): I don’t remember exactly where I am with this one–a little less than halfway through, I think. I’ve been reading it before bed, because it doesn’t matter that I’m tired and not in the best state for reading comprehension.

Dark North by Gillian Bradshaw: An Ethiopian auxiliary in Roman Britain. I think I started this one before and didn’t finish it, but I can’t remember why. It’s certainly not gripping me with the same excitement as my favorites of her books, but I am enjoying it and it’s a relatively quick read.

I don’t often read this many books all at the same time, but I’m kind of enjoying having different kinds of books for different situations–Queen of Attolia is perfect for lunchtime reading, for example, because I know it so well that it doesn’t matter where I stop or start.


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Top Ten Tuesday: Books for poetry fans

This is a post for Top Ten Tuesday, hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. You can find out more and follow along there!

April is National Poetry Month, a thing that I love. I thought it would be fun to suggest some prose books for poetry fans. These are all books which use language in a way that seems somewhat poetic to me, either compressed and opaque, or rich and lush.

An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet: One of my favorite books from last year–Bobet’s use of language is masterful and she has a gift for unusual and expressive turns of phrase that perfectly capture the essence of what she’s conveying without being overblown. {my review}

Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow: Bow is a poet as well as a prose writer and I think it shows most in this 2012 book. As I said in my review, “The overall effect of the language in Sorrow’s knot is one of spareness, economy. There’s not a word out of place or misused. Words have weight and echoes. And yet, at least for me, the effect was also not one of an overt style that intruded.” {review}

A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston: Johnston has already shown herself to be a writer who uses language deftly. In Story of Owen/Prairie Fire, it’s the way Siobhan experiences music and the world. In A Thousand Nights, it’s the narrator’s life in the desert which shapes how she tells the story. They’re really deliberate choices which at the same time feel very organic to the particular story being told. {my review}

The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan: I initially struggled with The Brides of Rollrock Island and yet, even at the time, I appreciated and was immersed in Lanagan’s prose. She combines gorgeous, keenly-crafted descriptions with realistic dialogue for a really fascinating effect. {my review}

Voices by Ursula K. Le Guin: I think of Voices as poetic, not so much because of the language itself–though there are certainly moments that are beautifully written–but because it has something of the feel of a poem. The connections and meanings are not always obvious; the reader is asked to work a little to make sense of them. {my review}

All Our Pretty Songs (and sequels) by Sarah McCarry: Lush, gorgeous prose. All Our Pretty Songs is the first in this loosely connected trilogy, but it was perhaps the third book, About a Girl, which impressed me the most. The descriptions of the world, of the inner landscape of the characters, and the strange lovely, dangerous things they encounter are all wonderful.

The Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia McKillip: McKillip always writes dense, beautiful prose, but in this book in particular, the relationships between the sections reminds me of poetic breaks between lines. Like Voices, the connections are not always apparent and there’s a tension that requires attention to resolve. {my review}

The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye: Nye is a poet, so it’s not surprising that this realistic middle grade story feels so intensely personal and evocative. Nye captures the inner landscape of Aref as he faces his imminent move to the US, as well as the outer landscape of the home he has always known. {my review}

A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar: This is a lovely, thoughtful book about all kinds of things, including family, myth, and the effects of colonialism. As I said in my review, “Samatar’s language is dense and beautiful, with occasional moments of iridescent beauty.” There’s a sequel out this year and I’m excited! {my review}

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine: One of the things I often love about poetry is the sense of voice and, although this is prose, Valentine creates both a distinct, beautiful voice, and powerful imagery. The narration feels deliberate and careful and at the same time wildly exciting. {my review}



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The particular pleasures of rereading

queenAt the moment, I’m rereading three books. Two of these–The Queen of Attolia and The Goblin Emperor–I’ve already reread multiple times (QoA so much that I’m beginning to worry about the binding). The third–Tamar Adler’s lovely An Everlasting Meal–I’ve only previously read once. I’m reading all three slowly, as the mood strikes me, and something about this made me consider the joys of rereading.

Some people aren’t rereaders and others are. I always have been. I can remember spending long summers immersed in the familiar world of LM Montgomery, reading all over our backyard and getting popsicle juice on the books. In middle school, I read and reread and rerereread Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword. Later, I was basically always rereading something by Tolkien. These days, I have to be more deliberate about my rereading habits, and yet I do frequently pick up a book I’ve read before.

But I haven’t particularly articulated why I keep returning to certain books, why part of my personal definition of a good book is, “a book that holds up to rereading.”

In the first place, once you’re past the initial read through a book, you don’t have to deal with that pesky issue of plot anymore. For me, plot is usually distracting, either because it’s bad and I keep arguing with it, or because it’s good and therefore too gripping and tense. Once I know roughly what is going to happen in a story, I can focus more on what I really  love: characters and writing.

And in addition, my favorite authors usually build in layers of complexity. It takes time and revisiting to unravel them all. One of the things I love about rereading Megan Whalen Turner, for example, is the way I make new connections and find things I had previously overlooked. Even though I have parts of her books almost memorized, she still surprises me. For the kind of subtle, deep writers that I tend to love, rereading can practically be a necessity.

It’s also true that–especially in certain moods and at certain times of the year–I find great value in knowing what I’m getting myself into. It’s not that I only want light books, but that I want books that are a known quantity. And there are books that feel like old friends, which I slip into easily and fully no matter what else is going on. The Perilous Gard is a prime example, as is almost anything by Georgette Heyer.

But rereading isn’t only a particular form of nostalgia. It often asks me to revisit my past readings of a book. Does my old assessment of this character or that plot point hold up? Do I see things differently in my current time of life or frame of mind? It reminds me that reading and reacting to books is an active and ongoing process, that what I think about any given author is never fixed.

Ultimately, I find that rereading gives me a sense of depth and understanding which enriches my experience of the book. Whether I notice something I had always overlooked, or realize that I don’t hold to a previous reading, or simply deepen my understanding and love for the story, rereading gives me something special.


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I was going to write a post this morning about how stressful personal stuff has me reaching for favorite rereads (I’m moving out of my apartment at the end of May, wheeeee; rereading Queen of Attolia and The Goblin Emperor), but then I watched the trailer for Star Wars: Rogue One three times and it’s all I can  think about.


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Links from around the web: 4-6-2016

There was a pretty awful article about the nomination of Dr. Carla Hayden to the Librarian of Congress position, which bemoaned her lack of scholarly experience in a pretty gross and suspect way. Jenny broke down a lot of the issues nicely, and I chimed in with some thoughts too.

I finally read Kate Elliott’s massive and wonderful look at writing women in fantasy, which is so worth taking the time to delve into. She pulls together a wide range of issues and documents women from many eras and areas to show the many ways of being a woman which existed in the past. There are lots of bits I could and would like to quote, but I’ll stick with this:

Women have always lived complex and multivariate lives. Women are everywhere, if only we go looking. Any of the lives or situations referenced above could easily become the launching point for a range of stories, from light adventure to grimmest dark to grand epic.

A very accurate depiction of cats

E.K. Johnston is writing a Star Wars book and I am very excited!

Alan Lomax’s entire archive of folk songs and interviews is now available for free online. This is really cool!

Lin-Manuel Miranda gave an immensely charming interview to the NYT about books. He loves the Big Nate books! and seems to read YA regularly! This just increases my desire to get him to read Code Name Verity somehow. (via literally everyone on my Twitter feed)


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April 2016 releases

Wow, all the books are coming out today! (Not literally true, but quite a few of the ones I’ve been looking forward to are out as of this morning.)

lumberjanesbookedtell the wind and firemasks and shadowsdaughters of ruin

  • Lumberjanes vol. 3 (April 5)
  • Booked by Kwame Alexander (April 5)
  • Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan (April 5)
  • Masks & Shadows by Stephanie Burgis (April 12)
  • Daughters of Ruin by K.D. Castner (April 5)
  • The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi (April 26)
  • A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry (April 12)
  • The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater (April 26)
  • The New Guy (And Other Senior Year Distractions) by Amy Spalding (April 5)

star touched queena fierce and subtle poisonthe new guyraven king


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