The Water Dancer by Ta-Nahesi Coates

(Slowly making my way through and reflecting on books I read over the past year or so.)

I read The Water Dancer as part of a book club at work. It’s been a while since I read it. I remember the strong clarity of the writing in this book.

When I reflect on this book, I think of water, the flowing of water, being submerged in water, the sound of water, the terrifying strength of water. (Not just because of the book’s title.) Water’s running all through this book.

Like in Octavia Butler’s Kindred and its exploration of time travel, Coates’ book seems to explore what superpowers would mean in the Antebellum South. Like Dana in Kindred, Hiram Walker is trapped by his kin, his obligations, and the systems of slavery and oppression he was born into.

Definitely worth a read.

Books I liked in 2020

I’ve meant to post this list for a long time. Better late than never, I guess!

+ The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett (and its sequel, Queens’ Play): Historical fiction set in 16th century Scotland and France. A fun romp. I read the first at the start of 2020 and the second midway through 2020. I felt like two different people. For me, what really stood out in these books, was how important it was when two characters met together in person. Or how significant it was when two characters failed to meet.

+ Travel Light by Naomi Mitchison: A fairy tale about a girl who turns into a bear (?). There are dragons in it too. Delightful. A younger me would’ve loved this book and the older me did too. :)

+ Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime by Sean Carroll: I dug this book about quantum physics. I wouldn’t say I totally understood all of it, but this book got me closer to understanding this stuff than anything else I’ve read. An excellent example of good science writing. Also some fun stories about 20th century physicists.

+ Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky: It’s funny. I read one his fantasy novels a while back and didn’t much care for it. (Maybe I was burned out on epic fantasy series at the time that go on for volumes and volumes.) This science fiction book is really really fun. It’s all about what can go really really wrong (and really really right) over thousands and thousands of years. If you like science fiction, you can’t go wrong with this one.

+ Agency by William Gibson: This book opens with a character starting a new job. When I read it, I was in-between jobs and was hoping, while I read it, that I too would soon have that new job feeling. I lucked out. By the time I landed my new job, this book was still fresh in my mind. A strong follow up to The Peripheral, I think you could still read this and enjoy it without reading that one first. It’s near future science fiction, but also with time travel. I can’t get enough of Gibson.

+ The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs: A short book about the values of reading. Sometimes it’s nice to meet a kindred spirit, even if it’s through their books. This isn’t a book meant to exhort you to read more. Its intended audience is people who already read books. It’s a meditation on the joys of reading. If you want to be reminded about the joys of reading or you’re curious about why I spend so much time reading books, this one pretty much sums it up. (This year, I also read his books: How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds and Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader’s Guide to a more Tranquil Mind. Also excellent.)

+ The Monkey’s Wedding and other stories by Joan Aiken: Sincerely charming and romantic short stories, but also so weird. I enjoyed these a lot. Sometimes a short story is just the thing.

+ The Lord of the Rings trilogy by JRR Tolkien: I’ve reread these books more times than I can count, but I hadn’t read them since my early 20s. I decided to go back to them and I’m glad I did. Not only did they hold up well to my memory of them, but I found new depth and subtlety in them that I’d missed before. A comfort during these troubling times.

+ Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (I got her name wrong last year): The sequel to Gideon the Ninth. This is one of the most ambitious and creative books I’ve read in a long time. Definitely don’t skip Gideon or you’ll be completely at sea with this one. 

+ A Peculiar Peril by Jeff VanderMeer: I’ll read everything VanderMeer writes at this point. What a weird and funny book. (A part 1 of 2)

+ Temporary by Hilary Leichter: A surreal story about a temporary worker who gets jobs like pirate and ghost and mother.

+ Beowulf: A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley: Bro! This is a fun and readable translation of this old old story.