Remembering the last books I read (part 2)

(The last one got too long so I’m continuing it here.)

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch: What if the version of you from a parallel reality is kind of a jerk? What if they all are? A thriller where the protagonist’s biggest problem is himself. A good airplane book (even though I didn’t read it on an airplane).

Imaro by Charles R. Saunders: An African Conan-style sword-and-sorcery story. Pretty raw and visceral. I can easily imagine an alternate timeline where these stories were immensely popular.

The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918 by Stephen Kern: A book that explores the way that 1880-1918 was a period of time that shattered the way people thought about things like time, distance, speed, history, tradition, and many other things. Really fascinating stuff. There are a lot of tracks to follow out of this one.

Broken Souls by Stephen Blackmoore: Turns out I’ve been reading a lot of books by guys named Steve. This is a supernatural noir story about a guy who occasionally has good intentions but whose efforts generally cause bad repercussions to everyone around him. A quick, fun read. Also, a sequel of a book I didn’t read, which didn’t end up mattering much.

Questland by Carrie Vaughan: Shades of Ready Player One, but this time it’s a deadly amusement park. An extremely light, quick read.

Boxer, Beetle by Ned Beauman: This collector of obscure historical memorabilia gets embroiled in a mystery surrounding a Nazi entymologist. There’s a boxer character in this book that’s a pure delight.

Rabbits by Terry Miles: The only alternate reality game (ARG) novel I’ve read that really gets at how thin the line is between these games and unhinged conspiratorial thinking. Quite entertaining. Delightfully weird. Set in Seattle, which I enjoyed.

Meeting the Other Crowd: Fairy Stories of Hidden Ireland by Edmund Lenihan: Stories transcribed from around Ireland. Strange and delightful.

Everyday Chaos: Technology, Complexity, and How We’re Thriving in a New World of Possibility by David Weinberger: I found this book interesting, but I remember almost nothing from it. I expect it was due back at the library and I read it too quickly.

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson: The subtitle says it all. It’s pretty funny, but also has some useful thoughts on living with mental illness.

Family Ties by Clarice Lispector: I think I read this but I have absolutely no memory of what it’s about. Did I read it? I don’t know why my past self would’ve written it down if I hadn’t. … Ah, it’s a book of short stories. I remember it now. I think I liked them.

The Memory Theater by Karin Tidbeck: A novel about the terror and boredom of timeless immortality. Also, about the power of stories. An extremely odd book that I found fascinating.

The Lost Direction by Timothy S. Boucher: (A friend of mine.) I think Tim is calling this book’s genre “lorecore”. A secret history of an ancient, lost civilization. Deeply charming. If like Tolkien (or other) fictional lore, you’d probably enjoy this one.

Remembering the last books I read (part 1)

Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson: The third in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. A much tighter book than Gardens of the Moon. This was the book where I knew this series was something special. Pretty bleak. On a second read, I was extremely impressed by how many seeds were planted that bore rich fruit throughout the series.

Batman: Last Knight on Earth by Scott Snyder: All I remember of this one is that it was extremely surreal. A fever dream. But the art was cool.

The Lido by Libby Page: Before this year, I’d never encountered the word “lido”. Apparently, it’s a British term for a public swimming pool. A charming story about a neighborhood coming together to save their swimming pool. Also, the story of an old woman and a young woman becoming friends over swimming. Heartwarming in the best way.

Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson: The third book in the Malazan series. This is the one where I feel like the series really starts to come together, even though this is a looser, baggier story than Deadhouse Gates. Some of my favorite characters in the series were introduced here.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk: A bleak, wintry novel about death and human-caused environmental devastation. Also, murder. Really solid writing. Recommended. I had only recently heard the term “ice dam” and then encountered it in this book. Funny how that happens.

The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd: Exquisite nature writing. A beautiful, lovely meditation on the Cairngorms mountains in Scotland. Worth your time, even if you don’t think you’re into nature writing.

The Man Without Talent by Yoshiharo Tsuge: A comic about a lazy man with exceptionally poor business ideas. Bleak but quite funny.

The King Must Die by Mary Renault: A retelling of the story of Theseus and the Minotaur. I’m super into these creative reimaginings of ancient stories. Really good stuff.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell: Shakespeare and his son. A story about a plague. I wasn’t sure about this one at first, but O’Farrell stuck the landing, which moved this from good to great for me.

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi: Part two of a trilogy. Very readable. An emperor that doesn’t really want to be one plus an empire that’s dying but doesn’t know it yet. I’ll definitely read the third one.

A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine: I really, really liked her first book. This sequel is quite good, too. Highly recommended (but you probably want to start with the first one).

Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots: A book that tries to reckon with the human cost of superhero antics. An interesting spin on the superhero genre.

Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer: Another by one of my favorite authors. I guess you could call this one ecological noir. VanderMeer seems to swing between surreal and a more realistic, minimalist writing. This is one where he’s more restrained. Recommended.

The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-bellum South by Kenneth M. Stampp: Punctures many, if not all, of the false mythologies of the slave-holding South. Paints a stark and upsetting picture of a time that some in our country seem to think was just a grand ole time. Well worth a read, especially if you want some deeper insight into why the USA operates in such perverse and self-destructive ways at times.

Feed by MT Anderson: People have computers implanted in their brains and, turns out, it’s mostly used for advertising. One of the more compelling and creative teen dystopia novels I’ve read.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson: Makes the compelling, well-researched, and personally engaging point that the USA’s problem isn’t racism so much as a race-based caste system. Another one that’s very much worth your time. Thought-provoking!

The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox: A charming, jumble of a book. Angels, demons, fairies, talking crows, and probably some other stuff I’m forgetting. Sometimes it seems like an author just has so many ideas, tumbling round and round, just bursting out. I had no idea where this book was going but I found it to be a pretty satisfying ride.

The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson: A clear-eyed take on our climate dilemma that also manages to avoid complete doom and gloom. All about the hard work it’s going to take to tackle the challenges ahead. Robinson is an excellent science writer and describes complex scientific and technical concepts with great clarity.

Some books I read that I only vaguely remember…

(Can a person read too many books? If one measures by how well one can recall them, perhaps I’m in the “too many” camp.) Here are some books I read, but I only vaguely recall. And I only read them last year!

Something Is Killing the Children by James Tynion IV: A monster-slaying comic about a (pretty evil) secret society of monster-slaying folks. I thought the art was pretty great, even if the story felt a little … rote? Oh yeah, the gimmick is that only kids can see the monsters. I could be more generous with this one. I probably would have enjoyed this a lot more in my 20s, when I had a larger appetite for stuff that’s “dark” and “edgy”.

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada: I read this one because Shimada is considered the “father” of the Shin-Honkaku (New Orthodox) genre of mystery novels in Japan. I’m fascinated by books that inspire entire new genres of writing. The deal with Shimada is that he loved mystery stories, like Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes, but got frustrated that you couldn’t solve the mysteries from the clues provided in the fiction itself. Shin-Honaku stories give you everything you need to solve the mystery in the story itself. A kind of super extended puzzle. There’s even a point in this book where the author jumps in and says, basically: You know everything you need to know to solve this mystery. Don’t go any further if you want to solve it on your own! The characters are pretty flat, but they’re not really the point of the story. I thought this book was intriguing and pretty unlike other mysteries I’ve read.

The Drowned World by JG Ballard: A post-apocalyptic world flooded by global warming. It felt very much like a book written in the 60s. At the sentence level, pretty fantastic. The plot was pretty forgettable. There’s a way in which this captured the emotional weight of living in a completely unforgiving environment that was quite powerful. Also, the thought of a flooded, jungle England is pretty horrifying in itself. This probably isn’t his best book. I found it in my free little library, I think.

What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us by Laura van den Berg: I’m sorry to say I absolutely no recollection of this book. [quick detour on the internet] Oh! It’s a book of short stories. That’s probably why I didn’t remember much from it. OK, yeah, I remember there was this one short story about a woman who has a job dressing up as Bigfoot that was quite good and definitely worth reading.

Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design by Kat Holmes: A short book that makes these two (among others) super valid points:
1. We’re all of us going to experience being disabled at some point in our lives, either permanently or temporarily, so we should be more mindful about the affordances we provide.
2. When designing something physical or digital, considering the needs of more than just men, for example, will lead to better designs.
I think I would’ve gotten more out of this if I were a designer, but there were a lot of great and specific examples in here.

The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer: A friend of mine really wanted me to read this, so I did. :) As New Age, self-help books go, this is pretty good. Specific, not too much in the way of incomprehensible nonsense, and ultimately pretty pragmatic. Definitely useful for someone who finds themselves bedeviled by their brain’s internal monologuing.

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez: Impossible to argue with this book’s fundamental premise. The world is designed by and for men, which leaves more than 50% of the human population out in the cold. A super important book that more people should read.

The first two books of The Locked Tomb trilogy

Those would be Gideon the Ninth and Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir.

For the last couple of years now, I’ve been telling everyone I can get my hands on that they should read Gideon the Ninth. It’s a story about space necromancers solving a locked room mystery and so much more. Also, the sword fighting is tops.

Harrow the Ninth is a much more difficult book to recommend. First, because it’s a sequel and Gideon is very much a prerequisite to reading it. (Although, now that I think about it, it might be an easier book to understand if you don’t have to wade through the murk of your Gideon preconceptions…)

Still, I’ve been more fascinated by these books, as experiments in fiction, than almost anything I’ve read in the last several years. Also, the writing is just stellar, if you’re into reading sentences of pure delight.

Am I gushing too much? Maybe. You’ll have to read and find out for yourself.