Jo Walton’s Reading List: August 2021

August was a terrific month! It started with being with friends in Chicago, then I flew to Rome where I met up with a friend and spent a couple of weeks travelling around: Florence, Bologna, Padua, Venice, Rome, Siena, Pisa. I caught trains, and saw lots of great art, and even caught a Vivaldi concert in Venice. I read nine books, and I’m adding in one that I read earlier but couldn’t count at the time for an August total of just ten.

Colors Passing Through Us, Marge Piercy (2003)
Re-read. This is a poetry collection with a wide range—love, life, nature, politics, loss, food—and it’s full of Piercy’s typical intensity and vivid phrasing. Some writers just bite into whatever life has to offer and describe the taste, and I feel Piercy’s really great at that aspect, both in prose and poetry. I really enjoyed reading this again.

The Escapement, K.J. Parker (2007)
Third in the Engineer trilogy, do not start here, it would make no sense. Mostly satisfying conclusion to this long story, but my goodness Parker has a very weird and alien conception of love. Indeed his conception of love is so odd that I only vaguely recognise it, like a Latin root word embedded in a sentence of incomprehensible garble. There is a lot of very good stuff in this trilogy, but… maybe he’d be better off not having female characters at all, and concentrating on stories about men in sieges? I really like a lot of what he’s doing—I like stories about the details of siege warfare, OK—but I am really puzzled by this weird alien thing he’s calling love. Actually… I am wondering if Parker may be secretly an Atevi.

Baby, Would I Lie?, Donald Westlake (1994)
Re-read. Very funny and clever mystery set in Branson, Missouri, which I assumed was satire the first time I read it but turns out to be a real place. This is a book about country music. It’s funnier if you’ve read Trust Me On This but it works alone.

A Place Like Home, Rosamunde Pilcher (2021)
Short story collection by Pilcher, not as good as her other two short story collections. This was put together after her death, from her published stories, and doesn’t have the flow the others do, but I still enjoyed it. Very gentle romances, very easy to read, very few of them with any sting at all.

Citadel, Marko Kloos (2021)
Why is it that I feel in volume 3 of this series that it’s just getting going? However, it’s great, Kloos is still writing excellent combat sequences (almost nobody is good at combat sequences) and things are coming together and we are starting to find out what’s actually going on. I pre-ordered this and started reading it the day it came out.

Barberry Bush, Kathleen Thompson Norris (1929)
Recently released as an ebook. I am still reading Kathleen Norris because I never have the faintest idea what’s going to happen in her books, except that I now understand the underlying metaphysics of morality in her universe. Very odd novel about a girl kind of taking a long time to grow up in 1920s California, with Norris’s odd class consciousness and excellent description. I thought for a while she was asexual, but she turned out to be just a very late developer.

The Infinite, Patience Agbabi (2020)
Middle grade first novel by brilliant poet Agbabi. It’s a children’s book, with what you’d expect from that, but it’s about kids born on February 29th who are leaplings, people who can jump through time under their own power. Elle, the heroine, is autistic, and the granddaughter of Nigerian immigrants to London. She has a great first person voice, which carries the book. The plot is a little obvious—but I’d have loved it when I was eight—and it’s full of fun details. Good kid friendships. Definitely pick this up for your middle grade-reading friends and family. There’s a sequel, Time Thief, which I’ll get to soon.

The One & Only, Emily Giffin (2014)
Compelling but very strange novel about a woman who is obsessed with American football and in love with her best friend’s father. It has that “can’t put it down” quality Giffin often has, but it also kept raising my eyebrows. It’s good. It’s well written. I’m sure the stuff about football culture is well researched. But it’s odd. Also, it has the flaw that many of Giffin’s books have of being obsessed with rich people and brand names

The Young Rebecca: Writings 1911-1917, Rebecca West (1992)
I’ve now read most of West, and sadly this volume isn’t really worth it. There are flashes of her later brilliant self, but mostly this is journalism and reviews covering women’s suffrage in the years leading up to and during WWI. Fascinating as historical documents, a bit of a slog to read. I thought it might be interesting to see West developing as a writer, but it wasn’t really, or it didn’t get far enough into it.

And the extra book, actually from several months ago, when I was lucky enough to listen to an early draft in our online regular reading Covid bookclub:

How to Take Over the World, Ryan North (2022)
Hilarious book about science and logistics, disguised as a manual for supervillains. The chatlog explanation of climate change is one of the funniest things I’ve ever read, even if you’re not lucky enough to hear Gretchen McCulloch read it aloud. This is even better than How to Invent Everything because the conceit is so neat. Like, you’re a supervillain. You’ll need a base, obviously. How can you have a really safe base? How self-sufficient can it be? Can it be underwater? In space? You’re going to run into the following well-thought-through logistical constraints… Highly recommended, and like the previous one a perfect gift for a curious teen. And really, who isn’t curious about becoming a supervillain? Don’t miss this 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 fifteen novels, including the Hugo- and Nebula-winning Among Others. Her novel Lent was published by Tor in May 2019, and her most recent novel, Or What You Will, was released in July 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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