My September and October Reads

Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, Pu Songling Book cover1 - I learned about this through the Twitter feed of Jeannette Ng (author of Under The Pendulum Sun which I read last Spooktober). Occasionally she will post one-tweet plot summaries of old Chinese short “weird tales” that were collected and anthologized by writers like Pu. Her summaries always make me laugh and the plots often revolve around risque topics in a way that surprised me for writings from the 17th-18th centuries. (Example: “The mysterious case of wandering corpses. This culminates in the officials realizing that the dead were just sneaking out to bang in the wilderness and thus they cremated the two lovebirds together.”) The stories also mostly involve ghosts and/or fox spirits, so I thought it would be a fun Spooktober read. For the most part, the stories are meant to be funny or entertaining more than scary. I found this collection to be really accessible and to embody the kind of earthy style I was hoping to find in the Zhuangzi but felt that I didn’t. Perhaps it’s just the fact that these stories are like a millennium more recent, or that they’re not burdened by also trying to convey some particular philosophy. It’s like the Canterbury Tales, but with more ghosts!

Caste, Isabel Wilkerson - Reviewed here alongside…

From Here to Equality, William Darity and Kirsten Mullen

World of Wonders, Aimee Nezhukumatathil - Reviewed here.

Just Us, Claudia Rankine - Reviewed here.

The Outskirter’s Secret, Rosemary Kirstein - The second volume of the “Steerswoman” series. I read the first volume earlier this year and liked it a lot. This one didn’t disappoint and I’m hoping to write more about it in relation to the sword and sorcery subgenre.

Moral Uncertainty, William MacAskill, Krister Bykvist, and Toby Ord - The authors have made this book available as a free PDF. I enjoyed reading Toby Ord’s book The Precipice earlier this year and I know Will MacAskill as one of the leaders of the effective altruism movement. I skipped a few chapters in the middle of this book that didn’t interest me, but overall I found it an engaging read. I’m hoping to write more about it as well as effective altruism in general.

Decolonizing Wealth, Edgar Villanueva - I came across Edgar Villanueva’s name when researching POC-run social justice nonprofits (and specifically Native-run organizations). I wondered if this would be kind of a fluffy business book (foreword by Warren Buffett’s son), but I thought the content was pretty strong and Villanueva’s voice was compelling. I’m hoping to write more about this book alongside the effective altruism movement.

Empire of Wild, Cherie Dimaline - Did not finish. I had seen this in the LitHub annual book preview and marked it for my to-read list based on a description that sounded right up my alley (a modern telling of the werewolf legend of the Métis people of Canada), but the plot and writing style just didn’t click for me.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles, Hiro Arikawa - Did not finish. I first noticed this book at the excellent Sherman’s Books in Portland Maine about a year ago, but didn’t buy it at the time. A friend read it and liked it, so I eventually picked it up, but I found the cat narration too cutesy. My friend is more of a cat person than I am.

Bestiary, K-Ming Chang - Did not finish. Similar to Empire of Wild, I learned about this from the LitHub book preview and the description sounded great (stories of women in a Taiwanese-American immigrant family intertwined with Taiwanese folklore), but I didn’t like the style–it was too chaotic for me and felt overstated, in a way that reminded me of Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale.