Books of April to…Now

This year didn’t go so well for posting, or, for some of it, reading. I deleted Twitter for most of March through May, checking in once in a while at lunch to make sure it didn’t delete entirely, and in that time period, I was mostly watching the daily Cuomo update instead. I missed people a lot, though I was getting all the same news from the media instead of social media. You might be feeling it too–how much more social media used to be social and often about your circle, and less about trying to juggle personal and professional at once. My personal slid over and while I won’t apologize for telling fools off on the internet, I do miss having a place that was friends-only, behind the scenes, hair down.

That’s neither here nor there (nor hair!). Some of the books I read, and notes! I’m up to 98 completed, which is both weird and not weird–during the social media hiatus, and, well, overtime hiatus, I easily spent evenings reading. Typically nonfiction and fluffy romance, though not exclusively. If you’re having brain fatigue, do try a hiatus, because I don’t know that I would have made it through those couple of months at all if I hadn’t, as much as I fretted about the disconnect. I think another hiatus might be coming up.

25. Severance by Ling Ma: This is about a pandemic, and about a woman who works in a publishing production department, which I read just as my company sent us all home. Hilariously, my copy was missing the penultimate signature, so I don’t know what happened at the climax.

31. Untamed by Glennon Doyle: I didn’t know what this was about when I picked it up, and I don’t think it’s fair to summarize it as “one woman who’s been known for repairing her marriage after her husband cheated on her ran off with Abby Wambach,” but that’s your hook. I liked the essay parts more than the self-help-ish parts (because I loathe self-help), and I had a lot of thoughts when I read this that have since slipped my mind. I did really like a couple of things–one, the assertion that it is okay for women to want things from their relationships, and two, that women have been given little chance to imagine what they could have, in order to assert those wants. Though I’m certain someone has wanted Abby Wambach before.

32. The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner: I’m so late to this! The kickoff of this series is old-school YA. I appreciate how the protagonist is an asshole but not outright framed as an unreliable narrator. He is the narrator, to his best ability. Not a lot happens at first and then there’s a part with tunnels that fill up with water that trap you inside–and it’s one of the most heart-pounding things I’ve ever read. I haven’t managed to get back around to the rest of these; they’re a little tricky for me to get into, I think, but engrossing once I am ensconced.

36. The Perfect Predator by Stefanie Strathdee and Thomas Patterson: Nonfiction about bacteriophages–viruses that attack bacteria–and how they saved a guy’s life. Startlingly, we know very little about what could be an effective therapy because back in the day, countries we didn’t like were doing the research. Like, people are too snobby for science.

42. Empress of Salt and Fortune by Ngai Vo: Don’t miss this novella that’s both a fantasy story about revenge, in a way, and about who tells your story in another.

48. Not going to name it but a non-mainstream romance (from a big publisher) that had characters so determined not to cross any lines that there was no chemistry and if I remember right, no sex. It’s clear that this area of the bookshelves has a long way to go before people stop freaking out.

50. Dragon Pearl, Yoon Ha Lee: I’ve read nearly all of this book several times while visiting a friend, and, well, podded quarantine gave me the chance to finish! I loved this middle grade gumiho in space adventure.

[I’m leaving out all sorts of things from board books to literary fiction to contemporary YA.]

55. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins: I wrote a long review of this juggernaut of the summer here.

60. Goldilocks by Laura Lam: I read a couple of books this year about people determined to do what they thought was right–and what they wanted to do was wrong. This makes a great contrast with #55, actually, and gave me a lot to think about.

62. Actually I don’t really talk about romances unless we’re reading the same ones, but this had sailing in it, which I don’t know that I’ve ever seen! It also had a very wide age gap, which is never my thing. It was a different publisher’s one not-quite-mainstream nod. I’m kinda tired.

Crap, let’s take this list down to 97; I read a book twice.

70. National Audobon Society Field Guide to the Night Sky. There was a comet this summer and I made the house get up and look at it at 4 a.m.! Thanks for coming in the summer, little comet, because I’ve wanted to see one for a while but I hate standing outside in the cold to mayyyyybe see an astronomical event. I’d do it for the northern lights, but I wouldn’t hang out in the backyard waiting for meteors while a slug crawled on me in the middle of a damp Pacific Northwest night ever again. Yes, I’m still bitter.

73. The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue: This was not an easy Emma Donoghue, not that she writes easy–it’s set in a specially isolated maternity ward for people infected with the flu in 1918 and as you can imagine, no detail is left undescribed. And then not a lot of people get happy endings, either. Realistic but a tough read at the time I read it.

[a couple of YA thrillers that both had interesting structures!]

[a couple of YA fantasies that took on different angles to interrogate women and power in their societies, some of which were interesting and some of which didn’t work for me]

82. The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Ellison: In my head, I read this directly after The Pull of the Stars, but that’s obviously not true. This is a speculative take on what might happen if a plague wiped out 98% of men and 99% of women. (Non-binary people are mentioned and validated, but I don’t recall any having a storyline–though almost everyone is dead here, and due to events that are horrible to everyone, things get pretty binary.) The story is told by one woman–whose name we never get to know, because from the start of her journey as a nurse, a midwife, waking up and finding that she didn’t die, she strips away herself, moving between names, gender presentations, US states, outward jobs and beliefs, and more in a bid to survive. There is a LOT of violence and assault, some of it detailed. And there are things that I questioned in the concept and telling, but I feel like this is a more specific cousin to The Handmaid’s Tale, in some ways, and even with my uneasiness, I found a lot of things in this book to discuss, or to want to discuss, and I admit that I’d often rather an imperfect book that stays with me than one I forget soon after I close the cover….

85. Bomb by Steve Sheinkin: I am so late to this party!

95. 1924: The Year That Made Hitler by Peter Ross Range: A chronicle of some of the reasons–and coincidences–that allowed Hitler to rise to power. Eye-opening, and terrifying, because there is so much that parallels recent events and so many people have turned away from confronting any of it.

So, 97 it is. I took a few days off this year just as COVID-19 came upon us, with vacation expiring from last year, and now I will try to burn through as much as I can between now and the end of the year (as not much of it will roll over). I don’t think this is going to be a 150-book year, but I’m pretty sure I can make it to 100. If I don’t make it, well, eye strain prevented me….

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Books of February and March

In two months, I only managed to finish 11 books.

There have been times when I didn’t read much on purpose, or read slowly, or decided to read long books. But in the last two months, my company bought a company. Then I went on a very good vacation on about the last days one could take a vacation. When I got back, my company had still bought a company, but we were transitioning to working remotely (and despite everyone’s wishes, it is not necessarily more efficient to work this way, nor can all of my work be done out of the office, so I get through each day trying to end with no more emails than I started with, and if I can pare down my inbox by one or two, that is a victory against my laptop screen that defies multi-program tasks and my laptop guts that are, frankly, meant for shopping and homework, not business–honestly, I do not have time for multiple restarts every day, thus I’m indulging in complaint, even though I definitely know nobody is going to be able to fix this right now).

Eleven books. Only.

I read more slowly when I am able to read as a reader–when I am transported, along for the ride, perhaps not even anticipating and simply letting the story flow over me. Otherwise, I am a fast reader, a fast skimmer when I’ve decided to abandon a read. But in these months, especially March, I’m reading slowly because I simply can’t concentrate.

Abject terror will do that to you.

It’s getting better. I still can’t concentrate. So here’s what I read.

17. I don’t usually count books I don’t finish as read, but I read the vast majority of this and #18. This was a popular YA fantasy that was way too messy to keep my attention, though I suppose fantasy has to be very, very good to keep it as I’ve read so much of it. Whatever you just guessed this book to be, you’re likely wrong.

18. An older middle grade contemporary that I’ve wanted to read for ages. Alas, it hit severe fat-shaming early and kept doubling down on it, and I couldn’t look around that. Really disappointing.

19. Nonfiction picture book on a topic I adore and have personal experience with. It didn’t know what it wanted to be; it can be tough to get the text and the concepts just right, and in concordance.

20. Graphic novel; not this author’s most famous work. I thought I’d been doing so well with learning to read and enjoy these, and I struggled so hard–with where to look on the page, with what I was even looking at. It might have been the limitations of the color scheme; I wanted desperately for everything to come into focus, because I thought I might love the story. Instead, I was just sad.

21. YA contemporary; beautiful, but I was quite surprised to see that what it’s known for is only the tiniest sliver of the book, which raised some questions for me. That’s a more nuanced discussion than I’m going to have here.

Skipping 22 and 23 because I don’t have any particular comments; YA fantasy and MG adventure. By the time this posts I’ll have forgotten them, though they entertained me for the reading moment.

24. This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. I guess I can count a re-read if it doesn’t happen more than once a year, and even if it was one of my favorites of last year so I’ve mentioned it more than once… The first time I read this book I worried that I wasn’t smart enough for it even as I was riveted. The second time it bloomed more for me, and rooted; I’m glad it was as good when I went back. I was able to better identify some of what I loved about it–the way the two characters are consumed by each other, how they write their love into existence, how they start enemies to lovers (not a trope I love–can go so wrong) but morphed into conspirators/rivals to lovers (so much better, because they challenge each other and I love a working partnership, and this also finds a solution to tech v. nature), how they began to spiral into each other like DNA, how they have to leave the system to be together and do it anyway despite the risks. How their want to be together is the biggest adventure and absolutely worth the wait.

This book makes me ache.

25. Severance by Ling Ma. Perhaps it amuses me too much that a book about a production coordinator in the time and aftermath of a (fungus-based) world pandemic eschews quotations marks almost completely, and always for dialogue–who else would calculate the spaces saved, the pages, for a story? I liked this because I read it when things were just becoming real; it might be too real for now. Also, my copy was missing the penultimate signature, the climax, and I can’t figure out if that was on purpose or not.

26. Wild Life by Keena Roberts. This is a fun memoir that Kady Heron would have written, about growing up part time in Botswana with parents who are field researchers and part time in the no less wild and dangerous suburban US.

27. Romance; you’re not reading the same ones I am, so I’m saving my fingers.

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