February 8, 2018

December/January Reading Recap

In becoming reacquainted with my regular life, I finally got to the point of catching up on a backlog of book reviews. Here's what I read during the past two hectic months of moving and settling in:

→ Early in SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE, Ijeoma Oluo addresses the fact that you may not, in fact, want to talk about race: "...we have to talk about race. Race is everywhere and racial tension and animosity and pain is in almost everything we see and touch. Ignoring it does not make it go away. There is no shoving the four hundred years' racial oppression and violence toothpaste back in the toothpaste tube." Oluo is this clear and direct throughout the book about why there need to be more conversations about race and racism, particularly between (white) people who are often able to opt out of the discussion. This book is a great guide to understanding, recognizing, talking about, and acting on racial discrimination in all aspects of society.

Each chapter covers a different topic, such as intersectionality, affirmative action, and cultural appropriation, and starts with a personal story about a time or way the topic connected to Oluo's life. While many examples explore how a racist system impacted her as a black women, she's also upfront about situations where her own privilege or biases caused her to mistreat others. Everyone has more to learn when it comes to racism, and the rest of each chapter provides detailed information about the topic and suggestions on how to discuss and counteract it.

Part of this material was review for me, but that's only because of reading so much online writing by Oluo and other activists in recent years. I knew little about these topics and understood even less before I started putting effort into become more educated. The thorough, approachable SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE offers a lot of important knowledge all in one place. I read the book quickly, but I'm going to be absorbing it for a while.

THE STONE SKY by N.K. Jemisin is a strong conclusion to the intense, imaginative trilogy that opens with THE FIFTH SEASON. Essun has learned what she needs to do to save humanity from the extinction of an endless Season, but first she has to save the community and friends she's unexpectedly grown to care about. Along with the story of saving the world, this final installment presents the story of how things first went wrong thousands of years earlier.

As with the rest of the trilogy, this book is a harrowing, fascinating read. Many terrible things happen to the characters, all of whom I've become fond of, and there are numerous surprises and intriguing pieces of the puzzle filled in. I was glad to learn more about the stone eaters, who seemed somewhat disconnected from the rest of the worldbuilding in the earlier books. While I didn't get every answer I was hoping for, I found the ending emotionally satisfying.

The Broken Earth series is an impressive, compelling work. I'm not usually drawn to epic fantasies, so some elements of the story were less to my taste, but my overall feelings are positive. I definitely recommend this trilogy.

PRIME MERIDIAN by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Amelia is barely scraping by in Mexico City, but if she can ever earn enough money, she's going to move to one of the colonies on Mars. Thoughts of Mars fill Amelia's head as she argues with her sister about rent and chores, kills time in cafes, and picks up gigs on Friendrr, where rich people pay to hire friends. One of her regular clients is an aging actress who screens her films for Amelia and reminisces about her glory days. The old movies seep into Amelia's fantasy life, and she imagines herself exploring a version of Mars as conceived of by filmmakers in the 1960s.

My main issue with this novella is that I thought it was going to be about someone going to Mars, and it's not. It's a well-written story about a young woman struggling and dreaming of a different life, but it's fairly uneventful. I would read more of Amelia's adventures if she gets to have them someday.

I received an early copy of PRIME MERIDIAN as an Indiegogo backer. The novella will be released widely this summer. Moreno-Garcia has already published several fantasy and paranormal novels that I've heard good things about, plus many short stories.

THE SASQUATCH HUNTER'S ALMANAC by Sharma Shields: When Eli is a little boy, living with his parents at the border of Washington and Idaho, his mother introduces him to Mr. Krantz, an enormous, hairy man. The three of them spend a thrilling, perplexing morning together, and then Eli's mother leaves him to go live in the forest with Mr. Krantz. Eli spends the rest of his life on an increasingly obsessive quest to track down Mr. Krantz and prove to the world that the Sasquatch exists. This pursuit strains Eli's relationships with his wives and daughters, who all have their own encounters with strange creatures over the years.

This book is a dysfunctional family story where some of the dysfunction has a cryptozoological or supernatural origin, but most of the problems are grounded in recognizable human flaws. I appreciated the many well-portrayed moments of difficult emotions and interactions, and I enjoyed getting to know this family through the story, though I wouldn't want to know most of them in person.

The format of this novel could be described as a collection of linked stories. Some chapters worked better for me than others, and I wished I could spend more time in some viewpoints or learn about what happened during large time jumps. I was always happy to return to the ongoing story of Mr. Krantz, and the less successful parts for me were the ones that didn't focus on the Sasquatch hunt. I remained curious throughout the story about what was coming next, and I'll be curious to see what Shields produces next.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ At Literary Hub, Megan Hunter finds the hopeful side of post-apocalyptic fiction: "Indeed, it could be said the emotional impulse behind much post-apocalyptic fiction is not despair but hope, the will to identify what persists in the face of devastation. Alongside a fear of destruction, there is also a certain longing for the simplicity and clarity of a life lived without modern comforts and distractions; dystopian fiction both meets this longing and undermines it, by reminding the reader that such an existence is often a dangerous struggle for survival."

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