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Recent Reading: July 2019

Here’s what I’ve been reading lately: short fiction, epic fantasy, nonfiction, and more.

A person reads a book on a table with tea and flowers.
Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

If This Goes On edited by Cat Rambo

Parvus Press, 2019.

Like A People’s Future of the United States, this is another Trump-era anthology. My favorite stories were:

  • “Green Glass: A Love Story” by E. Lily Yu (about climate change and class divides — reviewed for Skiffy and Fanty)
  • “A Gardener’s Guide to the Apocalypse” by Lynette Mejía (about love and gardening after the apocalypse)
  • “But for Grace” by Hal Y. Zhang (about immigration and teen pregnancy)
  • “One Shot” by Tiffany E. Wilson (about healthcare)
  • “That Our Flag Was Still There” by Sarah Pinsker (about flags, patriotism, and speech)
  • “Free WiFi” by Marie Vibbert (about Internet access and net neutrality)
  • “Bulletproof Tattoos” by Paul Crenshaw (about gun violence)

Do Not Go Quietly edited by Jason Sizemore & Lesley Conner

Apex Publications, 2019.

Another Trump-era anthology. My favorite stories were:

  • “Oil Under Her Tongue” by Rachael K. Jones (about sex and religion, featuring biblical erasure poetry!)
  • “Everything Is Closed Today” by Sarah Pinsker (about building community, practicing activism, and putting together a gang of skater girls — reviewed for Skiffy and Fanty)
  • “The Judith Plague” by Merc Fenn Wolfmoor (about androids, Hollywood, horror movies, and sexism)

Radicalized by Cory Doctorow

Tor Books, 2019.

This is a really strong collection of four novellas all about technology, activism, politics, and society. Check out my review up on Skiffy and Fanty for my thoughts on this one.

Miranda in Milan by Katharine Duckett, 2019.

This novella is a sequel to Shakespeare’s The Tempest that questions and queers the original. This needed to exist and now it does!

The Grace of Kings and The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu

Saga Press, 2015 and 2016.

I haven’t read books this long in a while. The Grace of Kings is almost 200,000 words, and The Wall of Storms is around 275,000 words (around 900 pages). I have tended to steer away from long epic fantasies because I reasoned that if I read shorter books, I could read more books, which seemed like a good trade off. However, I actually had so much fun reading these books that I ended up binge-reading the second half of both novels! It was just so delightful to get deeply absorbed into the world and the story. So I am now resolved to try to read more really long books.

In particular, I loved these books because they are epic fantasies rooted in East Asian culture, rather than Medieval Europe. That was awesome, delightful, and refreshing.

These novels have a somewhat unique structure, and it’s a structure that is grounded at least partially in East Asian literary traditions. These books are centrally concerned with society as a whole and with communities of characters, rather than just with the hero’s journey of one core protagonist. Significant events often happen in the span of a few pages or even sometimes off screen. So despite being such long books, the pacing is consistently fast and engaging. Sometimes it would be a little tiring to meet so many new characters, but Ken Liu’s writing is sufficiently engaging that I never really minded taking a detour to learn about a new character’s backstory.

The Wall of Storms, in particular, is a masterpiece. While The Grace of Kings takes place in a patriarchal society, The Wall of Storms upends that and brings women to the forefront of the narrative. Thematically, The Wall of Storms is filled smart and original questions and commentary about indigenous peoples, colonization, power, leadership, and justice. And although these are fantasy novels complete with magic and gods, these novels are also deeply scientific and science fictional. For example, The Wall of Storms introduces a species of dragons, but it doesn’t rely on magic to explain them. Instead, Ken Liu incorporates a convincing scientific explanation for why dragons can fly and breath fire!

I really want to read the (yet-to-be-published) next book in this series.

Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned by Walter Mosley

Washington Square Press, 1998.

This is a collection of interrelated short stories about Socrates Fortlow, an ex-con living in Los Angeles and trying to be a good person even though he knows he isn’t one. Socrates reminds me of Amos from James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse series — both Socrates and Amos are traumatized killers trying to be good. They’re both really compelling characters who raise big, intriguing questions: what is it to be good? When evaluating a person’s goodness, how do we balance character, actions, and history?

Walter Mosley writes really great prose. This book alternates between simple and straightforward third-person narration and really gorgeous, really readable dialect.

Side note: reading books published in the 1980s or 1990s is strange because it feels very modern, but then you can’t stop wondering: why don’t they have cell phones? Why don’t they just check the Internet? Oh, how times have changed.

Plays by Roswitha of Gandersheim

Standard Ebooks, 2019.

I reread Hrotsvitha’s plays as I was working on the Standard Ebooks edition of this text. As always, it was an enjoyable read. Check out my recent posts on The Ruined Report and on this blog for more on Hrotsvitha and my recent Standard Ebooks design project.

Legalizing LGBT Families: How the Law Shapes Parenthood by Amanda K. Baumle and D’Lane R. Compton

New York University Press, 2015.

This is a sociology book about LGBTQ+ families. It was published in 2015, pre-marriage equality. It’s about legal rights, family formation, and legal consciousness. The authors conducted interviews with 137 LGBTQ+ parents throughout the country, and looked at how they became parents, which legal rights they had secured, and their legal consciousness. Then, the authors analyzed how family formation and the seeking of legal rights were affected by a slew of factors: sex, gender, orientation, locale, geography, state laws, federal laws, media, legal actors, familial desires, social networks, race, class, etc.

This was my first introduction to the concept of legal consciousness, which I found to be an interesting, useful theoretical tool to have access to.

Mostly, I’m grateful for reading this book because it gave me a better understanding of LGBTQ+ family formation, particularly in regards to fostering, adoption, surrogacy, insemination, and the law.

Relatedly, I’ve also been binge-ing the podcast Outspoken Voices from the Family Equality Council. The podcast is all about LGBTQ+ families, and it really brings this book to life. If you’re interested in LGBTQ+ families, I’m not sure I’d recommend this book, as it’s very dry (although well-written and accessible). I would, however, recommend that podcast in a heartbeat.

Free Software Free Society (Third Edition) by Richard Stallman

Free Software Foundation, 2015.

This is a great book to read if you’re looking to learn and think more about free and open source software and why it’s so darn important.

I read the second edition of this text back in college when I was first discovering the free software and free culture movements. I read the third edition this year because: (1) I wanted to read the new essays, and (2) I wanted to engage more deeply and critically with Stallman’s ideas.

Recently, the good folks at the Software Freedom Conservancy have been putting out new episodes again of the marvelous Free as in Freedom podcast, and listening to those has inspired me to use more free software and to work to be a better free software advocate. Rereading Free Software Free Society seemed like a good place to start. I largely agree with Stallman’s arguments and conclusions, but there are a few minor points where I may disagree from him or wish to inject more nuance. I’m planning to explore and map out those points in a future project, so stay tuned for more on that.