Jo Walton’s Reading List: April 2020

April was a very weird month in which I was self-isolating and home and I went nowhere and did nothing and saw nobody, but where I nevertheless read only twelve books because—as you may have gathered from my post about “grabby” books—I was having difficulty settling to read. This is the first time I have ever had this problem, all my life before I have been able to read even at the worst times. I was also working on the New Decameron Project, which posted a story every day in April, so that perhaps ought to count as another volume read—thirty stories would make a fairly solid anthology. I also read a couple of my own books aloud on Discord, but I’m not counting that as reading.

War Game, Anthony Price (1976)
Re-read, bath book. Price wrote Cold War thrillers with excellent characters and a historical mystery in parallel to the contemporary mystery. War Game concerns the English Civil War, pirate treasure, the KGB, re-enactors, and David Audley getting his hands dirty. Not my favourite of the series, but I hadn’t read it for a while and so it was fun to go back to.

2312, Kim Stanley Robinson (2012)
I didn’t read this when it came out, because it’s a very long book, and it came out right around the time my hands started to hurt a lot if I read big hardcovers. By the time I had the Kindle to solve this problem, Robinson had newer books and I didn’t get back to this one until now. Big mistake. It’s a middle-future SF novel, with a fully settled and partly terraformed solar system but with the stars out of reach. This story roams across the solar system, full of big ideas and provoking thoughts, and even where I disagree with it it’s never dull or shallow. Robinson keeps on writing books that are science fiction and different from each other, and he never gets into a rut or repeats himself; he is a treasure.

That Month in Tuscany, Inglath Cooper (2014)
This is a romance novel set in Italy. It is really bad, but I really needed it and gobbled it up. It’s set in a universe where of course when you fall into somebody’s lap on a plane it’s a rock star, but hey, I can suspend disbelief for a book with a character walking around Florence right now.

Belles on Their Toes, Frank Gilbreth (1950)
Sequel to last month’s Cheaper By the Dozen, memoir about a family of twelve whose parents are time and motion engineers. This volume is largely about the mother after the death of the father, trying to get by in a man’s world and send all twelve kids to college. Mildly interesting, especially for period details.

The Long Tomorrow, Leigh Brackett (1956)
Re-read, book club. First Hugo novel nominee by a woman, though you’d never know from the book that Brackett was a woman. Post-apocalyptic novel with a distinctly Twain feel, and surprisingly grabby.

You, Me, and Italy, Sue Roberts (2019)
So it turns out that 99-cent romance novels about Italy are a genre, and if you buy one Amazon will tell you about others. This one is actively bad. It has a character taking a tour bus around Florence, which is pedestrianized, and the tour bus doesn’t go near any of the things she says they see, and it has a character knocked down by a car on a street that only allows accessibility vehicles and they go at about 2mph. Phoning it in. Bleah.

Requiem for a Wren, Nevil Shute (1955)
Re-read, bath book. One of Shute’s best books, in my opinion, a novel about a woman and PTSD after WWII, and generally an examination of what sort of lives the people who had led active lives during the war lived afterwards. Great disability representation too. Not a cheerful book, unlike most of his, but amazingly clever narration disguised to begin with as clunky narration.

Dreaming of Verona, T.A. Williams (2020)
Another 99-cent romance novel set in Italy. Having discovered they’re a genre, I am determined to discover what points they have in common so I can dissect them. Need more examples. This one is fairly well written and also features good friendships and character development. Also, Italy, sunshine, food, romance.

Warriors, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois (2010)
Another big collection of stories, in a huge mix of genres, some of them great, including a very odd David Weber story about an alien invasion and (spoiler, you’ll never guess), and another of Martin’s Dunk and Egg stories. Huge range of both subject matter and quality.

By-gone Tourist Days: Letters of Travel, Laura Case Collins (1890)
Gutenberg. If you are an older American Victorian lady and you decide to publish a book of your coy letters describing your grand tour of Europe and Egypt, do not decide to arrange them by place rather than chronologically, especially if you went to Paris and Munich several times. It’s just annoying and confusing and removes any interest one has.

Ella Minnow Pea, Mark Dunn (2001)
I listened to this read aloud by Gretchen McCulloch over Discord, which was a major feat of reading aloud. It’s a wonderful children’s book I’d never run across about an imaginary tiny island nation famed for the invention of the sentence “The quick brown dog jumps over the lazy fox” and what happens when the letter z falls off the signboard, and then more letters start falling. Very funny, very very clever, and also a fable about fundamentalism that probably doesn’t get challenged much in school libraries.

The Mouse That Roared, Leonard Wibberley (1955)
Also read aloud by Gretchen. Also funny. Also set in an imaginary tiny nation. Also with more political content than you’d initially expect. This is a farce about Grand Fenwick invading the USA with bows and arrows and winning. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published two collections of Tor.com pieces, three poetry collections, a short story collection and thirteen novels, including the Hugo- and Nebula-winning Among Others. Her fourteenth novel, Lent, was published by Tor in May 2019. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here irregularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal. She plans to live to be 99 and write a book every year.

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