My August-September 2021 Reads

A Psalm for the Wild-Built, Becky Chambers (2021) Book cover - I was excited to read this since the “Wayfarers” series has now ended, and given the subtitle (“A Monk and Robot Book”), it looks like this is planned to be the new series. I liked it but it felt a little rushed–I wish the concept had been given more room to breathe (it’s less than 200 pages). Panga is a cool setting, both for its solarpunk aesthetic and for its interesting history (sort of a non-violent Butlerian jihad). And I think Chambers’s portrayal of the robots through the character of Mosscap is quite original. In the latter part of the book we get a lot of Dex and Mosscap having philosophical conversations, and I would have enjoyed having more of that–I didn’t mind the relative lack of plot!

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My July 2021 Reads

Descender vols. 3-5, Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen (2016 - 2018) Book cover - My local library only has the first two volumes, so I jumped at the chance to borrow the next three when I visited a friend (though there’s still one more that he doesn’t have!). I read all three in the span of about 24 hours. These continue to be a favorite series. All the Driller subplots are the best. Someone make a miniseries out of these comics!

Maya and the Robot, Eve Ewing (2021) - I’m not usually one to read middle grade fiction, but I will read anything by Eve Ewing! Although she writes across a wide variety of styles, there’s a consistent throughline in Ewing’s work celebrating neighborhood community and everyday people, and that’s very much present here. I enjoy how she touched lightly on many of the things that make people different, like having divorced parents or being nonbinary, without making them the focus of the narrative. And I also liked her use of a protagonist who is just a normal smart kid who likes science, rather than a super-special genius.

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My May and June 2021 Reads

Crying in H Mart, Michelle Zauner (2021) Book cover - I read the titular essay when it was published in the New Yorker and enjoyed reading the full collection. Zauner’s portrait of her relationship with her late mother is tender, but never sugar-coated. Funny at times, often sad, a lovely book.

Descender: Machine Moon, Jeff Lemire (2016) - This continues to be a new (to me!) favorite comic series. Dustin Nguyen’s watercolor art is beautiful and unique, the characters are memorable, and the story gets into some interesting philosophical territory around the status of sentient robots.

Monstress: The Chosen, Marjorie Liu (2019) - I have very, very little idea what actually happened plot-wise in this book, but I keep coming back to this series for the amazing art of Sana Takeda–and also for Kippa!

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My April 2021 Reads

The Ghost Variations, Kevin Brockmeier Book cover - I think this book was originally supposed to be published in late 2020, but was delayed until early 2021–at any rate, I had put it on hold at my library and forgotten about it, then was pleasantly surprised to be told it was ready for pickup! As the subtitle says, this book consists of 100 stories that are in one or another way about ghosts. It’s not a long book; rather, the stories are all very short. They uniformly fit on two printed pages each, and are grouped into some general topic areas. There is some commonality with Pu Songling’s Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, in that these are by and large not meant to be “scary” or horror stories, but rather just sort of interesting takes on what it would be like if ghosts were real. The stories seem like a unique format to me, shorter than a typical short story (though some of the Pu Songling stories are similar length). In this format, it’s almost like Brockmeier is writing down the idea of a story rather than a full story. They do generally have distinguishable beginnings, middles, and ends, but the extreme brevity means that we get very little sense of character, resulting in a kind of abstract feeling. Many of the stories have a feeling of intellectual exploration, so I think people (like me) who enjoy Ted Chiang might also like these. On the downside, because of the sheer volume of stories, I don’t have distinctive memories of many of them even a couple weeks after reading–kind of similar to the Pu Songling stories, actually. A few memorable favorites are “Elephants,” “Dusk and Other Stories,” and “I Like Your Shoes.”

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My March Reads

Beowulf, tr. Maria Dahvana Headley Book cover - Do you even go on adventures, bro? Headley has gotten a lot of attention for her choice to translate the first word of Beowulf, “hwaet”, as “bro” (Seamus Heaney went with “so”). Come for that, sure, but stay for the awesome rollicking tale. This book has a lot in common with Christopher Logue’s All Day Permanent Red, in being an intentionally loose translation of an ancient text making ample use of modern slang, but Headley’s book just felt…cooler, more natural. It has a lot in common with “Hamilton,” somehow feeling like it “just works.” Also, like Lin-Manuel Miranda, Headley gives her verse a hip-hop sound, and doesn’t force a meter or use alliteration to a point that sounds clunky to a 21st century American ear. This is an eminently readable translation–one which I read over two days–and I always looked forward to picking it up. The “bro-y” bravado works perfectly for the setting, and also helps Headley highlight some of the more mournful aspects of the story. I thought the closing lines were just as great as the opening one: “He rode hard! He stayed thirsty! He was the man! He was the man.” The repetition of the last sentence, first with an exclamation point and then with a period, just works perfectly for the elegiac tone of the end of the poem.

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