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.

How The Word Is Passed, Clint Smith (2021) - A thought-provoking book about how America does and doesn’t tell the story of slavery at various historical sites. Smith takes us on a tour of several places, including well-known sites such as Monticello and the Statue of Liberty, as well as less familiar ones. These run the gamut from those making a good-faith effort to grapple with the history to those mostly trying to ignore it. Smith has an engaging writing style and is not afraid to insert himself into the narrative, discussing the feelings he had at visiting different places and the conversations he initiated with people responsible for stewarding our historical knowledge. The sites too are mostly characterized by the people working there to present (or obscure) the history. Smith’s closing section, reflecting on the non-public personal history carried by his own elders and so many Black Americans, was moving.

Censored by Confucius, Yuan Mei (tr. pub. 1996, orig. 1700s) - Like a similar collection by Pu Songling, I picked up this collection of old Chinese “weird tales” because of Jeannette Ng’s hilarious pithy summaries of them on Twitter. I would say I liked this volume slighly better than the Penguin collection of Pu Songling–the tone here is a little looser, which I’m not sure if I should attribute to the author or the translater–but overall they are pretty similar. This one is also a little harder to find. The effect is in some ways similar to reading the Canterbury Tales, in the surprising bawdiness and liberal attitudes woven through the stories. I think this genre really needs a modern translation by someone like Ng who is not afraid to drop f-bombs and such, though.

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, Becky Chambers (2021) - The fourth and last in the “Wayfarers” series. I am sad to see the last of these books, which I really enjoyed–though I am glad to know Chambers is already putting out a new series! Like the earlier books, this follows mostly new characters with a loose affiliation to characters in the other entries in the series, and Chambers doesn’t do much to bring anything full circle–which was OK with me. I like them as a sort of anthology series rather than anything as ponderous as a “tetralogy.” In this entry I felt like Chambers was trying to push the limits of minimal plot and maximal focus on character interaction–basically one global-scale event and one personal-scale event drive the whole thing, and the rest is just people hanging out, trying to be excellent to each other and mostly succeeding. The character of Ouloo is a clear authorial stand-in, although I didn’t realize it until the nice little valedictory ending. My favorite part of this book was Tupo’s tour of the Goran Natural History Museum.

The Fragility of Goodness, Martha Nussbaum (1986) - Did not finish. I love Martha Nussbaum and the topic of this work is quite interesting–how classical Greek tragedians and philosophers variously approached the topic of contingency in enabling a good life. However, I put it down, at least for now, because it felt too ponderous for me to want to read on a regular basis. It’s a very academic book and I realized I was approaching it like homework. Perhaps I’ll pick it up again another time!