J. G. Ballard, Empire of the Sun. I’ve watched the movie several times, and it seemed like time to find out how the book is different. The book is less unified, more disjointed, aiming more at a psychological realism. There were places where the fact that it was nearly a memoir but cast as a novel distracted me a lot, mostly in the places where Ballard reported Jim’s future thoughts/feelings. I was fascinated by the way it did not try to cast anyone as nicer than they were, replicated the moral short-sightedness of Jim’s inexperience without trying to shape it into something nobler, but at the same time was not wallowing in nastiness, not being proto-grimdark. This book walks a very precise line. It isn’t a happy fun line, as you would expect for the subject matter, and now may not be the right time to read this.
Chaz Brenchley, Three Twins at Crater School, Chapter 19. Kindle. I know I shouldn’t read serials as they come out, but I was waiting for the eye doctor and it was right there. So yes, it is a serial, it is a very tiny chunk of plot, moving forward and then waiting some more. Soooooon.
Susan Cooper, Dreams and Wishes: Essays on Writing for Children. Reread. A lot of the essays here are not essays but reprints of speeches given to/for different organizations. This makes a difference in tone. This is not a chewy volume of thoughts, it is a set of impressions that she can exhort people with when they might have come in late or been distracted by their neighbor chewing salad. There is also a lot of assumption that television is not an art form, or is an art form with nothing to offer, a lot of electronic alarmism. Ah well. I will go back and read The Dark Is Rising instead next time.
David Edgar, Pentecost. A short play about war and human rights and art. Explores interesting things about priorities and assumptions, context for what is derivative and what is ground-breaking. If I never read another work where someone uses a prostitute as a stand-in/metaphor for a disadvantaged country, it will be too soon.
Nicola Griffith, Stay. Reread. This book is about consequences (it’s the sequel to The Blue Place). Griffith writes gorgeously about the physicality of grief, finding your way back, figuring out a new reality after trauma. I love this book. Caveat: she appears to have been badly misinformed about borderline personality disorder and is rather stigmatizing about it. This is a brief plot point, but I’ve become more aware of mental health stigma in the fourteen years since I last read this book, and I didn’t want to gush without exception.
Nancy Isenberg, White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America. Wow, is this a gappy book. For a supposed history of class in America, it does not include, for example, labor unions, immigration, white ethnicity, international socialism, William Jennings Bryan’s populism, the GI Bill…yeah. It did not include a lot. Elvis as a “country boy/white trash” archetype: yes. Broader class distinctions in American popular music over those 400 years: surely you jest. So…there were some interesting bits, but if you read it, go in thinking about it as “some possibly interesting thoughts about class in the US” rather than a history of.
Shirley Jackson, Life Among the Savages. I said to myself, I’ve only really read the very obvious bits of Shirley Jackson, I should get some more from the library. So I chose a title more or less at random, and it was this bubbly bit of 1950s autobiography as a mom/housewife/writer (but mostly not about the writer part). Oops. I mean, not oops, it wasn’t like it was terrible, but it was not what I was aiming for. Still, it was short and fun; you could do worse.
Mikki Kendall and Chesya Burke, eds., Hidden Youth: Speculative Fiction from the Margins. An interesting and varied anthology. Some stand-out stories included Jaymee Goh’s “A Name to Ashes,” Alec Austin’s “The Paper Sword,” and E.C. Myers’s “In His Own Image.”
William Morris, Hopes and Fears for Art. Kindle. William Morris continues to be the cranky Victorian uncle of my heart. Oh dear. This set of speeches/essays contains a digression into Morris admonishing people that if they claim to care about art but don’t care about air pollution, they don’t really care about art. You can just see his whiskers quivering with indignation. I love it. He also goes into some discussion about how to get cheap art without treating artists badly, still a live question, and has a list of colors you could in good taste paint the interior of your home. For which I really wanted pantone samples of the field of possibilities he was choosing from in paint technology of the time.
Mark Rosenfelder, The Language Construction Kit. Goes into phonemes, grammar, nuts and bolts of how to make a constructed language. I am a lot more interested in how those things fit with culture and story, but if you don’t have language instincts, this could help a lot with fantasy/alien worldbuilding.
Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster. This was the real win of this set of books. So lovely. I went and put everything else she’s written on one list or another halfway through, I was enjoying this so much. Solnit goes into the way people work together in disasters and in their aftermath, and the ways in which preconceptions about that can seriously hinder communities. The stories she tells from a variety of disaster types match patterns a lot with my post-tornado experiences. Really good stuff for SF writers in particular but really for anyone.
Edward Struzik, Future Arctic: Field Notes from a World on Edge. This is about a bunch of follow-on effects and second order consequences from current climate change in the Arctic, particularly on animal populations. Interesting stuff but not cheerful. Not even a little bit cheerful. But worth knowing anyway.
David Suzuki and Keibo Oiwa, The Japan We Never Knew: A Journey of Discovery. This is a very strange book. It’s a series of profiles (written in the mid-90s) of activists, ethnic minorities, and other members of Japanese countercultures. It’s basically trying to be a counterweight to the western reporting that gives us Japan as a monolith of conformity and cosplay. I’d like a modern version, but one from twenty years ago is also useful because there were, for example, still people who were adults during the Second World War and counterculturally activist because of it, and hearing about them is valuable too.
Django Wexler, The Price of Valor. Third in its series. Don’t start here. Relationships continue to unfold and develop. Still some revolutionary politics, not following the French Revolution linearly but taking inspiration from it.
Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815. Fascinating book about how Native American and European groups (mostly the French) created rituals and means of interaction that partook of both sets of cultural norms. Also goes into the breakdown of those crosscultural developments, not only but particularly with the advent of the British and the people who had just started thinking of themselves as Americans. Definitely worth the time, not just if you have an interest in the Great Lakes region of the US and Canada but particularly so if you do.