Jo Walton’s Reading List: May 2020

May was another lockdown month, in which I barely left the house, and in which I continued to work on the New Decameron Project, which means reading 31 stories, and continued to have difficulty focusing and reading, and so finished a mere ten books, all of them fiction and a large proportion of them comfort reading.

Glittering Images, Susan Howatch (1987)
This was recommended to me as a book that was “grabby,” which it was, and the first paragraph hooked me enough that I bought it and started reading it instantly. It’s about a man investigating a bishop on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and while it’s certainly compelling the single word I’d use to describe it is “unhealthy.” I couldn’t look away, but I cannot recommend it. Lots of weird sex and weirder psychology.

Old Lovegood Girls, Gail Godwin (2020)
Gail Godwin is an American feminist writer whose work I’ve been reading for years, and this is her new book which I’d pre-ordered as soon as I heard it was coming. It’s about two girls who meet in college and then their lives diverge in complex ways. I read it all in one go and it was great.

The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham (1951)
Re-read, book club, bath book. A delightful cosy catastrophe that feels particularly appropriate right now. I love the walking plants as a catastrophe, and the book is sometimes funny and always interesting, while being the pattern on which all subsequent cosy catastrophes are built. Looking forward to the book club discussion on this one soon.

The Silver Metal Lover, Tanith Lee (1981)
Re-read. An odd little science fiction romance novel with a very solid world and strange metaphysics. Re-reading it this time I noticed that it’s very much doing the trope of the librarian who lets down her hair and is beautiful—the protagonist stops taking her high-tech mods and becomes specifically slim and blonde. But the interesting thing is the robot who is programmed to make his owner happy and how he makes her happy by becoming real and falling in love with her, or by simulating that or… the question is interesting, and the answer at the end is very very weird. Fascinating world.

Trace Elements, Donna Leon (2020)
The latest Brunetti book, which came out in March and which is another satisfying mystery set in Venice that’s really about ethics, corruption, and pollution. Very good.

Penny Plain, O. Douglas (1920)
A delightful novel in which the good end happily and the bad unhappily, that’s why we call it fiction. Of course happiness lies in living simply in a small town, and of course the heroine gets both money and a lord because of her good heart. A very deserving kind of a book.

Dreaming of Florence, T.A. Williams (2017)
Another terrible genre romance novel set in Italy in which I spent all my time telling the characters not to do the things they were doing but go down other streets and do other things. Cannot recommend.

Fireweed, Jill Paton Walsh (1969)
Re-read, bath book. This is a children’s book I have read hundreds of times, about evacuees in WW2 who return to London and live alone in the basement of a bombed-out building. It’s powerful and evocative and it formed some of my ideas about how stories are supposed to work. I still have a copy with a very 1970s cover.

Rome Is Where the Heart Is, Tilly Tennant (2019)
A much better genre romance novel set in Italy, reasonably well written and with good family dynamics and plausible romance. There’s a way all romance takes place a little way into wish-fulfillment land and a little way in the very mundane world, and this one is much more solidly real. Plausible impediments too.

Fire Logic, Laurie J. Marks (2002)
A terrific fantasy novel, first in a series, hurrah, with great characters and a world with interesting history, politics, and metaphysics. Marks’ story for the Decameron Project was so great I decided to check out her novels, which I’d somehow missed until now, but here they are for me just when I need them. Books are like that. I’m halfway into the second one.

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 fourteen novels, including the Hugo- and Nebula-winning Among Others. Her latest novel, Lent, was published by Tor in May 2019, and her fifteenth novel, Or What You Will, will be out on July 7, 2020. 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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