Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven. A gorgeous and immaculately plotted novel, set before, during, and (mostly) after a civilization-ending flu epidemic. It's about healing, the connections between people, and the necessity of art. For all that it's an apocalypse story it never feels bleak—it's gentler, more melancholy than despairing. It's a very hopeful book.
Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales. I am ultimately going to write a proper blog post about this. You can't expect me to sum this up in a single paragraph. However, my Chaucer blogging up to this point can be found here and here and here and here. There is more to come.
Ken Liu, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. I've been meaning to read this essentially since it came out, since all the reviews were so good and it's got such attractive cover art, and I finally gave in and bought it when Amazon was offering it for 1.99 a few weeks back. It's a mix of fantasy and science fiction, and it's so good. This is a best-of rather than a themed collection, but Liu has some definite preoccupations—parent-child relationships, intergenerational friendships, storytelling as an act of love and heroism. It's an intensely life-affirming collection, and the prose is delicious. Some favorites: "State Change" is delightfully clever, "The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species" reads like neo-Calvino and I'd adore to write a paper on it, and "An Advanced Readers' Picture Book of Comparative Cognition" made me cry. Other great ones are "The Regular," "Mono No Aware," and "All the Flavors"—but really truly there aren't any duds here.
Chaucer, The Book of the Duchess. It's no Parliament of Fowls.
Diana Wynne Jones, Dark Lord of Derkholm. A re-read. This is from the same sequence as The Tough Guide to Fantasyland and Year of the Griffin. I read the other two first, and they're more to my tastes—Tough Guide is funnier, and Griffin is an academic fantasy, which has always been one of my favorite subgenres—so Derkholm came as a disappointment and I've never rated it very highly. Re-reading it after several years I was much more impressed. It's still not one of my very favorite books of hers—how could it be when there's Witch Week and Fire and Hemlock and Howl's Moving Castle?—but it's very good indeed.
Margo Lanagan, Tender Morsels. What a good book. I know, I'm late to the party—but what a good book. It's a retelling of the Grimms' fairy tale "Snow White and Rose Red," which was always one of my favorites. It's oddly structured and sometimes a bit confusing, but it's good for all that and I'd recommend it if you liked Kristen Cashore's Bitterblue; this is another woman-centered YA fantasy novel about trauma. (I know, I know, I really need to read Deerskin soon.) (Content warning for rape.)
Lauren F. Winner, Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity. I read Real Sex less because I was interested in it and more from a desire to finish all of Winner’s oeuvre; I'd already read all her others (well, except her dissertation). This one is worth reading, but it’s definitely an early work and I think her weakest book. (Rough ranking: Still, Wearing God, Girl Meets God, Mudhouse Sabbath, Real Sex.) I think you can also fairly criticize her for offering so much marriage advice in a book largely written before her marriage.
Rob Bell, How To Be Here. I was feeling insecure about how few books I've been finishing lately compared to how many I've been starting, so I went back and finished this one—I read most of it back when it came out. In many ways it's fairly standard Rob Bell; I don't think there's that much here that I haven't heard him say elsewhere. That doesn't mean it's not good, though. I'm aRob Bell fan and I like some of the points he makes here, especially about the Sabbath. I have misgivings about his framing of that particular issue, but those misgivings are to be saved for the long essay about Sabbath-keeping. Which will happen! Eventually! Sometime before the last Lammas.
Rainbow Rowell, Eleanor & Park.I was underwhelmed with both Fangirl and Carry On (throughout Carry On I couldn't shake the feeling that nobody needs to read knock-off Harry Potter fanfiction from St. Martin's Press when there's a superabundance of the real thing on the internet), but I'd heard such good things about Eleanor & Park that I decided to give it a try. Apparently third time's the charm. I don't read very many straightforward romances, but this one was a delight, very sweet and believable. What no one had told me is that the characters read Watchmen. I swear, the whole world is conspiring to make me feel guilty for not having read Watchmen yet. It's really dated now probably! I howl to the whistling winter winds. I don't even like superheroes except for Ms. Marvel! Anyway I already read From Hell, isn't that enough for you? And the whistling winter winds reply, It won a Hugo award before the comics category was even introduced and anyway you loveFrom Hell, you thought it was a masterwork, that should just make you more excited about reading Watchmen. The winter winds may not be as unkind as man's ingratitude, but they're still plenty unkind.
Joan Aiken, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.This is a children's classic that I somehow managed to miss reading. It's delightful, all plucky orphans and evil head teachers and secret passageways. It's been a while since I read a proper children's book, and it made me realize that my reading diet these days doesn't have nearly enough plucky orphans in it. I would have loved this if I'd read it in elementary school, and as it was I liked it a lot. The edition I read had a gorgeous Gorey cover, too, which put me in just the right mood.
Brian K. Vaughn & Fiona Staples, Saga: Volume Six. I mean, it's Saga. It's one of like two/three current comics that I keep up with, and if you want a fast-paced space opera comic about family, it continues to be the go-to. Volume six is the most recent trade paperback, and if I have a complaint about it it's that it's been several months since I read volume five and I had a bit of trouble getting back up to speed and remembering where we left off. I'm sort of looking forward to when this series is all over and collected and I can marathon it, like my periodic Sandman marathons. Even at this stage it's a blast though, and there's not a single plotline or character that doesn't interest me.
Elisabeth Tova Bailey, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. Lovely and meditative, half memoir and half natural history. While Bailey was bedbound with a mysterious virus, a friend brought her a potted violet with a woodland snail in the pot. This book is about her illness and her time spent watching the snail, one might almost be moved to say becoming friends with it, and it's just really really wonderful.
Delia Sherman, The Freedom Maze.The review I read of this said that it was YA, but it isn’t at all—it’s a children’s book, and it’s a very good one. The obvious thing to do is compare it to Octavia Butler's Kindred, but I’m not sure that the comparison is either accurate or useful, though this is a time travel novel about slavery. If you've only got world enough and time for one time travel novel about slavery, it probably ought to be the Butler, but that's not to say that Sherman's book isn't worth reading. It stars thirteen-year-old Sophie, a white girl from Louisiana in the early 1960s. She makes a badly-thought out wish and is sent back in time to the eve of the Civil War, where her ancestors take her for a light-skinned slave. Sophie begins by doing what's expected of her to avoid detection, but by the time she's returned to her proper time her memories have changed so that she really does believe she is who everyone says she is. It's a very short novel, and a genuinely moving one.
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed. It reads like C.S. Lewis stylistically and in that I recognize his ways of thinking, and not at all like Lewis in that nothing else of his is so... personal, I suppose, not even Surprised by Joy. It's more or less exactly the book you'd expect him to write, which is not even a little bit a critique.
PART TWO: THE STATS.
Sixteen books by eleven women and six men. (Which comes to seventeen because I'm counting Fiona Staples, the illustrator of Saga, as an author.) One comic, four books of nonfiction, two MG, three YA, two Chaucer, the rest adult sci-fi/fantasy. Ten that I and family own, the rest from various libraries. Seven paper, eight digital.
PART THREE: EVERYTHING ELSE.
I'm not doing a complete list this month of what I started and abandoned, because it's depressing. I tried and failed to read The Man in the High Castle, and I made it a few chapters into Life After Life before I got bored of it. I read most of The Odyssey, and I'm planning to finish it in the next few days. I've also been re-reading Frog & Toad books, which has been more or less where my mind is lately, and I'm working on Troilus and Criseyde. The last thing I started before the end of the month was Naomi Novik's Uprooted.
As of the end of July 2016, I've read 135 books since January. I'll see you next month with another pile!