Seanan McGuire - Wayward books. Feels like Narnia & the Magicians with a focus on different realms. They are short enough to read in 1-2 sittings and are very interesting.
I read Imperial China 900-1800, its one of the most interesting history books I have read recently. It had a very high new information/ take to page count. A big aspect of this books is that in this time period 4 steppe tribes/confederation would take over parts/whole of what is China and each group would have to figure out how as a nomadic pastoral society rule a sedentary farming one, particularly when the latter outnumber the former by 10 to 100. And in the case of the only ethic Han Chinese dynasty how do they deal with the steppe tribes who did raid and could invade.
The first group, the Khitan who were the only one who had a near parity with the Han population since they only took over a part of China. It had one clan responsible for governing the Chinese and other responsible for the Khitan and two separate system of laws for each group. The emperor was from the first clan and the empress, his wife was always from the second clan. This played a part in the various fights over succession cause in China the tradition was eldest inherits the throne but in the Khitan and the other following tribal groups it was whoever could get the most support. Each group would use a similar system of split government but with their own spin. There is also sections covering the rise of neo-Confucius and the various reactions and off shots to it, some of which are translated into English.
Convenience store woman - a short novel from Japan about a woman who works in a convenience store. Specifically a woman in her 30’s who loves the job because she knows exactly what to do and isn’t required to act “normal” while doing her job because it involves following the rules and regulations of the job, no need to interpret just do . I think she may be somewhat sociopathic based on her idea to stop a baby from crying involves a knife. She constantly is thinking about the right mask to wear when and way to talk about things when not a work and if she does state her actual thoughts she gets a mixture of confusion, dismay and piety none of which she has any interest in dealing with. Specially when it comes to getting married and having kids which is something everyone is asking her about in this book.
I’m about halfway through this, and so far I have to say it’s been one of the coolest detective stories I’ve ever read, somehow scratching both the itch of hardboiled detective, and of supernatural weirdness.
I got a heavy Byzantine vibe from Teixcalaanli’s society, which makes sense I guess as the author is a Byzantine historian.
Black Leopard Red Wolf by Marlon James, just finished it.
Epic fantasy that draws on African mythology for inspiration, knowing almost nothing about the subject I’d have to do research to know what is mythology and what’s the authors creation. It’s a world full of the supernatural: witches, monsters, gods, mutants, dream worlds and the afterlife, worlds in between reality, I could go on.
It’s a story that layers itself in levels of intertwined narrative, which I enjoyed. If I had to say what I liked the most, it would be the wealth of interesting characters and creatures, like the Ipundulu, a bird like demon who controls thunder and sucks blood, infecting humans with lightning so they become vampire thrall like creatures with blue electricity in their veins.
The plot is basically the journey of the protagonist, Tracker (a man who can follow a scent over any distance) as he is hired to find a missing boy. Like I said before, it’s told through a lot of interwoven stories that jump around in time a place a bit, but as I was finishing it I was like, holy shit this is kind of a Tolkien-esque epic journey but completely different and unique going on here.
CW for sure: gore, sex, torture, rape, cannibalism… probably other things im not thinking of…a very dark world.
My main problem while reading is that Tracker is a smart ass who loves word play, especially scatological; most of his responses to other characters are variations of go fuck yourself. He’s definately called on it by everyone else in the world and has his reasons for being like he is, but… it got very grating after a while, after all he is the window to this world, about 80% of the time.
I want to thank everyone who recommended The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. The writing is intense, layered with a wholly justified anger and feels real in a way that books in this general category rarely do. I mean, I devoured this book, and now I’m waiting 12 weeks for the next one from the library. If I have a quibble, it is that I did not like the way Essun’s story was told in the second person. I haven’t puzzled the motive behind that choice out yet.
I ammost of the way through Semiosis by Sue Burke
And while I like it (in that the ideas the author is playing with range from being interesting thought experiments to disturbing critiques of human), there’s some heavy CW’s I need to throw in here (graphic depiction of rape, and casual discussion of slavery that is meant to be troubling). I also don’t feel that the payoff of taking some of these really tough ideas is really there.
The elevator pitch here is that it’s about how a politically left group of colonists tries to start a cooperative colony on a new world to escape the mistakes made by humans on this world. It turns out the world they end up on has two intelligent species (one initially very alien, the other more familiar) that they attempt to enter into mutualistic relationships with. Despite that positivist veneer, it goes some dark places.
A lot of love for Mieville here, which isn’t a surprise, because I see it everywhere. I really want to get into his stuff, but the one book I tried to read never really hooked me (I think it was Perdido). I think a big part of the problem for me was that in the beginning I felt completely lost in this very dense universe where I never seemed to understand the implications of exactly what was happening. (I had a similar issue with Steven Erikson’s Malazan books.) Maybe I just need to give it another shot; it’s been a long time since I tried Mieville and I’ve gotten a lot better at unpacking difficult literature since then.
I’m reading NOS4A2 right now. I’ve liked some of Joe Hill’s other stuff, and this book was alright until I got a couple hundred pages in, and now I just feel like it’s taken a sharp right turn into Boring-and-Problematic Town. Slogging through to see where it goes.
Just finished reading If Beale Street Could Talk.
There are definitely some problems with the way in which gender is talked about (some of which seems indicative of the time more than anything). That stuff aside, I love the way in which that whole book is written. The rhythm and tempo of the whole book is amazing and I love the characters. Some of the insults are so incredibly intense (some of which are kind of outdated) in a way that is amazing. Baldwin takes an incredibly rough and real situation and makes it real, personal without ever getting trapped in the darkness of it for too long. Definitely has a Kendrick Lamar - ‘Alright’ vibe to it.
Would defo recommend (not that it needs my blessing). Obvious content warning for stuff like sexual assault/harassment, racism and some other stuff so defo make sure you know what you’re getting into before reading
Generally speaking, Newer Mieville is more interesting and better written than older Mieville. Perdido is sort of a thesis statement of a book, that says that he’s not planning on writing what you would expect him to write or want him to write, that explicitly rejects the Tolkien-heavy heritage of Fantasy that was dominant at the time he started writing.
I think City and the City and Embassytown are both much more worthy of a critical read than the Bas-lag books if you were wanting to give him another try.
I will qualify in that, while I like Mieville’s books and will always read what he publishes, I do think they get overrepresented in the conversations around sci-fi and fantasy. They are good, and often original, but so are a lot of books.
The new The Expanse novel, Tiamat’s Wrath, is good.
Real big fan of the series. Great characterization.
I just recently read The Fifth Season, as well! I have the next two books (which I’m itching to read), but I’m breaking up the trilogy with Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy. I happened to stumble upon this blog post by NK Jemisin while I was reading The Fifth Season (which I bookmarked to read after I finished the book), wherein she talks briefly about why she chose to tell the story from three POVs, as well as why she wrote Essun’s POV in second person (spoilies in that article for anyone who has not read the book). In short, though, she ultimately just wanted to be sure people would empathize with a character type that many audiences generally dislike from the outset. It’s an interesting look into her process.
Personally (and I imagine many in this group would agree), I was immediately on Essun’s side, so the use of second person wasn’t exactly necessary. But for general audiences, I think it makes a lot of sense to manipulate the reader in that way.
Ooo, I feel bad because I remember recommending NOS4A2 to you in another thread. I remember liking the book when it came out, but I also haven’t read it since, so I don’t remember a lot of the details. I apologize if there’s anything rough.
No worries! It’s not terrible, just disappointed with some of the choices Hill made with the main character further into the story and the book’s general attitude towards mental illness.
Started The Complete First Edition: The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, and I am way too amused by this book. Even taking notes (well, poorly spelled tweets) as I go. The translator Jack Zipes is on point for this, absolute deadpan delivery of some truely weird shit. I wonder what the 1812 German equivalent of “Riffraff” is…
Finished the Brothers Grimm collection, a wonderful book for anyone interested in the genre. The introductory essay about the Grimms and their purpose in making these story collections was fascinating to me, as well some of the Grimms original footnotes which are included at the end. Illustrations by Andrea Dezso are excellent as well, otherworldly woodcuts that fit the stories perfectly.
Random notes of mine while I was reading:
“Just read an awesome fairy tale called “Riffraff” about a rooster and hen that decide to fuck some shit up. Eventually an inkeeper remarks ‘he would never again let riffraff stay at his inn, especially when they eat so much, pay nothing, and play mean tricks on top of it all’ “
“Also they have no qualms about eating one of the hens eggs, not even because they are hungry, more like, ‘shit, i’ll eat my own egg, I don’t care’ “
“…more than one protagonist has killed and fed their horse to ravens, which is a bit much.”
“In the 1812 version, Cinderella’s sisters are actually hot, but when they try and put on the slipper they cut off chunks of their feet to fit in there! And the prince almost marries them until magic pigeons are like yo look at those bloody feet”
“…what is this bean all of a sudden, were beans that knew everything big in the 19th century?”
“…Giants are referred to as “he” but can also produce breast milk. In one story a tiny boy suckled on a Giant until he grows up huge and superman strong. Grows up to be a bit of a goon…”
Also one of my big take aways is the obsession with the number three, which is almost universal in all these strange proto stories. Now I’m seeing three everywhere in modern narratives, advertisements, etc.
This week I’ve been in India visiting relatives, and actually read/finished my first and second word books in 2 years, and who knows how long before then (and it was all A Song of Ice and Fire at that point).
I had started a ~500 page book 2 years ago, in the summer while taking long commutes to work. I was ~170 pages in before I got distracted, and never finished. Smash cut to 3-4 days ago, I start from where I left off, and finished the book the next morning. I’m not saying this to brag, I just forgot how much I loved reading books.
So, the book I had started 2 years ago was American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I had started it around the time the show was getting advertised, and having loved how Gaiman dealt with mythology and stories in the Sandman comics, I wanted to give it a shot. After getting over the bummer-filled start of the book I really liked it. A couple years down the line, I mostly liked it, and was super fascinated by how the “mechanics” of godhood worked. The thing that kinda bummed towards the end was how Shadow ended up being a demigod himself, though the reasoning for it did lift a bit of my apprehension. Overall neat book, I might start Anansi Boys, or Norse Mythology sometime soon since mythology has always been a thing I’ve been super interested in.
The second book I brought on my trip (bought at roughly, if not at same time as the previous one) was The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I was familiar with Rothfuss the person from his participation in some D&D stuff, I’d seen the series mentioned a bunch on the internet, and it was recommended to me IRL by one person.
First the goods: I really, really dig the framing, and the concept. While I’m not one to get worked up over Mary Sue protagonists, I wouldn’t really like to read a book about one (especially after stanning the Sword of Truth books in high school, yikes); framing it as an old hero/wizard recounting his story to someone eager to listen is a clever way to do it (if folks have other examples of this, I’d be grateful). Also I am drawn to fantasy books, sue me.
Now the bads: holy shit how this book treats women. Like it’s not violent or anything, but there aren’t many women in it at all, on top of which I can only think of a handful of women that aren’t described as beautiful. And they’re hardly anything but something for Kvothe to ogle or to save or to impress (Devi’s the only one who gives him shit, and even then there’s some vaguery around attraction). Like, I get he’s 15 for most of the book, and if you wanna characterize your MC as shitty, go for it I guess, but do better. I’ve heard it doesn’t get much better, and some of what I’ve read online is not promising, so here’s to a long thing. I don’t mean to dwell too much on this, it’s just that this is one of the first times I’ve had a bad feeling about a piece of media: (a) while consuming it, (b) without being told about/aware of it beforehand, and (c) without feeling that I may be looking too hard into the subtext of the thing. I took this as meaning either I’m becoming more tuned into this kind of stuff, or its really bad.
All things considered, I still really liked the book and will pick up the next one in the next airport I’m in with a bookstore or something. I just wouldn’t not mention the women thing if I was recommending it to someone.
I think I would say that the more aware you are of this sort of thing, the harder it becomes not to see it in just about everything. I just finished Joe Hill’s latest book and had a very similar reaction; like how were you not considering this when you were writing? And then you realize that so many people just never really engage with ideas like heteronormativity, etc. It is definitely frustrating, but it also makes it pretty exciting when you stumble onto someone like LeGuin or Jemisin.
Reading Treasure Island to the kiddo at bedtime. For a book about piracy, there sure is a whole lot of landlubbin’ going on.
Can anyone tell me if Wattpad is worth checking out? Both in terms of good stories to read and writing my own stuff? Got an itch to write a big stupid fantasy story.
@sputnik, a copy of A Memory Called Empire finally arrived at my library! I am about 150 pages in and this book is extremely my jam. Really happy with it thus far and can’t wait to see how it unfolds.
Also, because I am done with law school and have a few weeks before I start studying for the bar, I wanted to share my ambitious reading pile for the month of May. God only knows how far I’ll get into it but here’s the game plan:
The Book of the New Sun will be a reread and I am using Dunsany as bedtime stories for my baby.