July 26, 2019

Releases I'm Ready For, Summer/Fall 2019

I've got a good chunk of my reading for the rest of the year planned, with a bunch of books I've been awaiting for quite some time!

THE NICKEL BOYS by Colson Whitehead (July 16): I've read several of Whitehead's earlier novels, all masterfully written and highly inventive. His latest takes place in Florida in the early 1960s, where a young black boy is sent to a reform school and subjected to racist violence. The subject matter means this won't be an easy read, but I'm looking forward to another powerful, engaging story from a great writer.

BECAUSE INTERNET: UNDERSTANDING THE NEW RULES OF LANGUAGE by Gretchen McCulloch (July 23): For years, I've enjoyed McCulloch's articles on internet linguistics, as well as the Lingthusiasm podcast she co-hosts. I've been impatient for the release of this book and can't wait to dive into chapters such as "Typographical Tone of Voice" and "Emoji and Other Internet Gestures". I'll be reading in print, but the audio version narrated by the author also sounds very entertaining.

THE TESTAMENTS by Margaret Atwood (September 10) is a sequel to THE HANDMAID'S TALE, a novel I treasure and admire for its thoughtful, chilling narrative. I hope the sequel will live up to the original and stand with Atwood's generally excellent work, but I'm nervous. Part of my wariness about a continuation is that the TV series, which started strong, has become infuriating, but I don't think Atwood has much to do with that, and this will definitely be a different story, set 15 years later with three different narrators. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

WAYWARD SON by Rainbow Rowell (September 24) is also a sequel. It follows Rowell's previous novel, CARRY ON, which was itself based on the Harry Potter analog Rowell invented for her earlier book, FANGIRL. Still with me? I've read all Rowell's novels with great delight, and I'm expecting more clever fun and heartfelt emotion from the further adventures of these magic-wielding characters.

THE FUTURE OF ANOTHER TIMELINE by Annalee Newitz (September 24): Newitz's first novel, AUTONOMOUS, was a wild ride through a world of pirated pharmaceuticals and artificial intelligences. I'm into the way Newitz thinks about science and science fiction, ideas she shares as co-host of the podcast Our Opinions are Correct. I'm excited about another book from her, and the time travel plot promises another thrilling tale.

THE DEEP by Rivers Solomon (November 5) has a cool origin story. Solomon took their inspiration from a gorgeous song produced by the group clipping. for an episode of This American Life. In the song, and now the novel, an underwater civilization has grown from the descendants of enslaved African people thrown overboard during the ocean crossing. It's an upsetting, empowering premise, like the one in Solomon's amazing first novel, AN UNKINDNESS OF GHOSTS.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ For Literary Hub, Jake Wolff explains his approach to integrating research into a story: "I heavily researched my debut novel, [THE HISTORY OF LIVING FOREVER,] in which nearly every chapter is science-oriented, historical, or both. I'd like to share a method I used throughout the research and writing process to help deal with some of my questions. This method is not intended to become a constant fixture in your writing practice. But if you're looking for ways to balance or check the balance of the amount of research in a given chapter, story, or scene, you might consider these steps: identify, lie, apply."

July 3, 2019

May/June Reading Recap

It's time to catch up on two months of great and varied reading:

RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE by Casey McQuiston: Alex Claremont-Diaz is the son of the first female president, and he relishes the spotlight this places him in. As soon as Alex finishes his last year of college and sees his mom re-elected, he intends to channel his charm and popularity into a career in politics, like both his parents. If only the boring, stuck-up younger prince of England wasn't messing up Alex's plans! When Alex and Prince Henry have an altercation at the royal wedding, it creates an international incident that the White House and Crown publicity teams must scramble to spin. The rivals are forced into making joint appearances to convince the world they're actually great friends. As they spend time together, Alex discovers the real Henry behind the royal facade, and their pretend friendship becomes genuine. Then Alex discovers Henry's feelings for him are deeper than friendship, and he's shocked to realize the attraction is mutual. Now the two most eligible bachelors in the world have to somehow keep their relationship out of the spotlight and avoid a scandal that could topple the reigning families on both sides of the Atlantic.

This book is pure delight. Alex and Henry are both deeply lovable in all their complexities and flaws, and the characters around them are just as endearing. While the premise is unlikely, the story progresses in a very plausible way, with McQuiston anticipating the media reactions and political ramifications of every development. The gradually advancing romance is the core of the story, but there are also several well-depicted subplots about politics, family, and grief, some of which make the story quite serious at times. Most of it, though, is laugh-out-loud snappy dialogue, and/or steamy sex and longing.

You may not realize you need a politically optimistic gay love story in your life during these trying times, but you do. RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE has you covered.

EXHALATION by Ted Chiang is another dazzling collection of stories from a wildly creative science fiction writer. I'm in awe of the way Chiang consistently comes up with incredibly clever ideas and then makes engaging stories out of them, a combination that's hard to achieve.

While Chiang's stories are all pretty different from each other, he does return to certain interests. I was delighted to read another story in his scifi subgenre that involves taking some religious belief as scientific fact and spinning out the world that results. In "Omphalos", an archaeologist explains how her field provides evidence of God's creation by digging up signs of the first plants and animals: trees with no rings at the center and bones that lack any signs of growth. In the world of this story, there's no question about the origin of life on Earth, but doubt enters from another angle.

Several stories explore fate and free will. "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" is a page-turning time travel story with more stories nested inside it, charting how a variety of people cope with the opportunity to learn their own futures. In "Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom", devices exist that can split off parallel timelines and allow limited communication between them. This story is long enough to play out the experiences of several characters as they cope with the psychological effects of seeing other possible versions of their lives.

About a third of the book is devoted to "The Lifecycle of Software Objects", an absorbing, emotional novella about developers at a company creating digital pets for users to raise inside virtual worlds. The story unfolds over years, plausibly presenting how the pets and their owners evolve and how the technology progresses and gets exploited.

I haven't even mentioned all my favorite stories (the title story is scientifically rigorous and also suspenseful!), because most of them qualify. I highly recommend this collection, along with the earlier STORIES OF YOUR LIFE AND OTHERS.

RULES FOR VISITING by Jessica Francis Kane: At 40, May lives in her childhood home with her elderly father and the memories of her mother's difficult life and death. She works as a gardener at the university and is happy to interact more with plants than people. Though May has a couple of casual friends nearby, the friends she was once close to live far away, and they barely stay connected. When May is rewarded with extra time off from work, she decides to use it making a series of visits to the good friends from her past.

The novel's title, prologue, and marketing led me to expect the bulk of the story would focus on May's visits to her four friends, so I was surprised by how long the book spends with May at home, before and between the visits. Especially early on, when there was quite a bit of May describing her hometown and neighbors, I found the story slow, but as I got to know her better, I could appreciate those sections that were more musing than scenes. Kane writes beautifully and is a great observer of human details, so the individual pieces of the book were largely enjoyable to read. Still, I would have preferred a more strongly plotted version of this novel, with more narrative drive.