October 5, 2021

September Reading Recap

I've been reading a lot, with a lot of variety:

SPECIAL TOPICS IN BEING A HUMAN by S. Bear Bergman, illustrated by Saul Freedman-Lawson combines thoughtful words and personality-filled illustrations to provide advice that any human can use. Among the special topics are chapters titled "How to Tell People Things They Very Probably Won't Be Happy to Hear, at Least at First" and "How to Avoid Getting Your Upset All Over Other People When You Feel Out of Control." Other subjects include how to take both criticism and compliments, a formula for apologizing properly, methods to keep disagreements from becoming fights, and several approaches to being a better ally.

Every aspect of this book is a delight. The advice is as enjoyable to read as it is useful. Bergman writes with his usual tenderness and humor, and his willingness to share his own flaws and vulnerabilities makes the guidance land that much harder. Freedman-Lawson's drawings add another layer of charming humor, and they've taken care to fill the pages with the widest variety of human beings. The great book design includes distinct color schemes for each chapter and summarized instructions for the step-by-step advice. Highly recommended for all humans trying to do better!

View some pages here, here, and here.

IT GETS EVEN BETTER: STORIES OF QUEER POSSIBILITY edited by Isabela Oliveira and Jed Sabin: This anthology was created with the goal of curating speculative fiction that celebrates queer characters finding joy and affirmation. It succeeds wonderfully, presenting a wide variety of clever, inventive, and well-written stories. Even the selections that were less to my taste in style or subject matter often affected me emotionally, and among the stories I liked best, it's hard to narrow down my favorites:

• "The Ghosts of Liberty Street" by Phoebe Barton starts the anthology off strong and thematic with a beautiful story that's all about possibilities.

"Custom Options Available" by Amy Griswold features an excellent robot narrator who's on a carefully considered quest to explore sexuality, identity, and the parameters of a free life.

• "The Invisible Bisexual" by S.L. Huang takes the phrase literally, in a way that complicates the main character's love life.

• "Frequently Asked Questions About the Portals at Frank's Late-Night Starlite Drive-In" by Kristen Koopman is as weird and fun as that title suggests, with a really sweet story of a character coming into herself.

• "Midnight Confetti" by D.K. Marlowe uses delicious-to-read sentences to tell a reluctant love story with a light touch of magic.

• "The After Party" by Ben Francisco is a lovely imagining of an afterlife that offers a chance to grow and heal.

The book is available in multiple formats directly from the publisher, and through independent bookstores and libraries.

SORROWLAND by Rivers Solomon: Vern has run away from the compound where she grew up to hide in the woods and give birth to twins. Her life before was difficult, as an unwilling bride to the compound's leader, a reverend who preaches a mix of Black power and oppressive Christian doctrine. Life in the woods is even harder, with two newborns to keep alive and safe from the fiend who's hunting them, but Vern revels in the wildness and her newfound freedom. In time, her body begins growing stronger in ways that seem extraordinary, but she also suffers from terrible pain and haunting visions. Eventually Vern finds connection with people who can help her heal and investigate the dark past behind her mysterious powers.

Like Solomon's other books, this is written with skill and emotion, and the story delves into many dark subjects that can be difficult to read. I anticipated all that going in but otherwise never knew what to expect from this novel. The story makes surprising shifts from survival to body horror to conspiracy to erotica, and while not every turn worked for me, I was always intrigued. I will continue to seek out everything Solomon writes, because their stories are truly original.

THE WILL TO BATTLE by Ada Palmer: Following the shocking revelations and developments presented in the first two books of the Terra Ignota series, the world of 2454 stands on the brink of possible war, after centuries of peace. Mycroft Canner, the faithful chronicler of those initial days of transformation, continues recording the historic events for posterity. Mycroft is a figure of contradictions, infamous for his past but currently a force for good in service of every global power. As the world leaders try to preserve peace while preparing for the threat of war, Mycroft struggles with what role he should play in determining the outcome.

I can't say enough about how ambitious and impressive this series is. Palmer has imagined so much detail about the world of 2454 and everything that led to it, then crafted an intricate plot involving dozens of characters and numerous political factions, and then given the novels several layers of unique narrative complexity. Reading this volume, I occasionally found it all a bit much in a way I didn't with the earlier books. One reason is that Mycroft spends more time with the characters I like less, and those interactions grew tiresome for me in places. I'm still excited to read the final installment and discover how everyone fares in the wake of this story's cliffhanger ending.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ At Literary Hub, Danielle Lazarin grapples with the ambiguous loss of (probably) not selling her novel: "I wanted to write this essay before the book's fate was sealed, from the mucky and often-silent middle we like to skip over in favor of how it ends, as if we are only our results and not the waiting for them, which is its own complicated story, the one we live in longer than the moment of knowing if we should celebrate or mourn."