A Peculiar Peril (The Misadventures of Jonathan Lambshead, v1) by Jeff VanderMeer

When this book came out, it took me by surprise. Although I think I keep fairly close tabs on when VanderMeer’s books are coming out, I’d never heard of this one, until after it had already arrived.

This book is delightfully strange. It’s fascinating to me the way VanderMeer’s writing veers between clipped, terse (but not uninteresting) prose and surrealistic excess. This book sits firmly between the two extremes. The writing here isn’t always surreal, but the things that happen in it certainly are!

An alternate reality Aleister Crowley makes for a pretty excellent villain, all in all. This book has all the hallmarks of your typical YA teenage hero having adventures, but contorts them into curious (or peculiar) shapes.

I’m definitely looking forward to volume 2.

The Scythe trilogy by Neal Shusterman

Scythe, Thunderhead, and The Toll. I read these books because my kid really liked them and he wanted to talk about them with me. Great reason!

It’s very much a YA book with many of the standard tropes these books have. There’s a bit more subtlety and moral nuance than I usually find in books like this.

Mostly I’m glad I read them because it meant I got to have some interesting conversations with my kid.

Trick by Domenico Starnone

For me, no other book has captured the tedium and infuriation of spending hours with a very small child like this book has. To be sure, it’s not a pleasant book, but it does capture something fascinating about the human experience.

There’s a funny (not haha, entirely) moment when the power dynamic shifts between the old man and the child. It’s almost worth reading this book just for that moment.

Or, say rather, there’s a curious juxtaposition of the powerlessness of old age and childhood. And a sort of compassion underlying it all.

Blessedly short, I don’t think I could’ve done another hundred pages of this one.

I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita

Sometimes I feel like the hardest time for me to understand and make sense of are the decades before and after I was born. Sure, I’ve seen tv and movies from the late 60s through the 80s, but it’s like light scattered through broken glass.

I Hotel was not only a fantastic snapshot of the vibe of the Bay Area from that time, but it gave me a sense of the time I felt I’d always been missing.

Like all good post-modern novels, this one is a collage of different styles and narrators, that paints a fuller picture than if it had been locked to a single viewpoint. There are some historical figures in here too. Some, like S.I. Hawakaya, seemed to strange to be real. But he was and my dad totally remembered him. A strange, violent little man, Hawakaya.

Worth a read, especially if you want to dig deep into some local history.

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.