The Reading Year (So Far, 2021)

From wsj’s Best Books of 2020/Science Fiction:

  • The Relentless Moon, by Mary Robinette Kowal – So far, one of the best novels she’s read in 2021
  • Ballistic Kiss, by Richard Kadrey – wildly inventive, self wasn’t so taken with the he/she/they gender politics of a major character

In a category by itself:

  • Dark, Salt, Clear, by Lamorna Ash — A first book by a 22-year-old, E.S.A.D.

Kick-Ass Discovery of the Year:

  • Eddie’s Boy, by Thomas Perry, the sequel to a 1982 novel, The Butcher’s Boy – That’s chutzpah, coming up with a sequel 40 years later. Kudos! Self added The Butcher’s Boy to her reading list.

from wsj’s Best Books of 2020/Mysteries:

  • All the Devils Are Here, by Louise Penny — Self adored Jean-Guy Beauvoir and of course Paris.
  • One Fatal Flaw, by Anne Perry — All hail the May-December almost-romance between 25-year-old Daniel Pitt and 40-year-old Miriam Crofft, daughter of his employer.

from The Economist’s Books of the Year 2020/Memoir

  • A Promised Land, by Barack Obama — Beautifully written, can’t believe 45 was succeeded by Drumpf.

from The Economist’s Books of the Year 2020/Fiction

  • SHUGGIE BAIN, by Douglas Stuart — an absolutely immersive experience, though her favorite character was not the title character but his unheralded older brother, Leek

from The Economist’s Books of the Year 2020/Business and Economics

  • No Rules Rules — This one was a disappointment.

from wsj’s Books of the Year 2020/Travels in the New North

  • Ice Walker, by James Raffan — another absolutely immersive experience, the ending almost broke self.

from Jonathan Strahan’s Notes from a Year Spent Indoors (Locus Magazine)

  • the first two books in Joe Abercrombie’s (smashing) Age of Madness trilogy and her first Grimdark: A Little Hatred and The Trouble with Peace

Hello, My Ride

Behind the dumpster is something wrapped in a dirty tarp, with stones holding the edges down. I kick the stones away on one side and toss back the tarp. And get my first look at the Hellion Hog in — how long? Well over a year.

Ballistic Kiss, p. 28

The Hellion Hog doesn’t have a key because no one can ride it but me. I get a grip on the handlebars and kick the bike to life.

— p. 29

Favorite Novels (Thus Far 2021)

One is science fiction, the other is Grimdark:

  • The Relentless Moon (Book 3 of The Lady Astronaut series), by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • A Little Hatred (Book 1 of the Age of Madness trilogy), by Joe Abercrombie

Both those books she read about first in Locus, the science fiction/fantasy/horror magazine published out of San Leandro. She bought a few copies in the lobby of the Fox Theater, before a George R. R. Martin talk, some years ago. Locus was how she found Children of Time, by Adrian Tchaikovsky, and Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers.

Ice Walker!

The beginning of Ice Walker: A Polar Bear’s Journey Through the Fragile Arctic is so captivating, just as The Butterfly Effect‘s opening chapters were. Hope author James Raffan is able to keep the focus on polar bears, not drift into a depiction of human activity — all self wants is nature, all the time.

What she loved so much about Eddie’s Boy, which she blazed through a few days ago, was how relentless it was. The book was about a hitman, and he stayed hitman to the very end, no apologies. She appreciates Thomas Perry’s singular focus. You would think a reader would find all the killing pretty rote by the end — but no, it stayed fresh. Again, kudos to Thomas Perry.

Chapter One of Ice Walkers (“Circling”) is gripping:

  • She stops and sniffs the frigid air, with almost no vapor trail from her mouth or nose. In a frozen world where liquid freshwater for drinking is absent, she draws on metabolic water created by the burning of seal fat, her main food source. The outside air is desert dry, but the air in her lungs is humid. Somehow she is able to conserve moisture and stay sufficiently hydrated, even when running or exerting herself physically in the hunt, when a human would soon die from winter dehydration. Every one of these adaptations is a marvel that has taken untold generations to evolve. These are not physiological changes that can respond to seasonal or even annual environmental shifts.

The 2021 PEN America Literary Awards/ Longlisted Books

The following do not contain all the long-listed books, only the ones that self thinks she will actually get around to reading in 2021 (and one she has already read, which she highly recommends: The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories, by Caroline Kim). They’re a mix of memoirs, novels, and short story collections.

  • Borderland Apocrypha, by Anthony Cody (Omnidawn)
  • Crooked Hallelujah, by Jo Ford (Grove Press)
  • How Much of These Hills Is Gold: A Novel, by C. Pam Zhang (Riverhead Books)
  • Imaginary Museums, by Nicolette Polek (Soft Skull Press)
  • Inheritors, by Asako Serizawa (Doubleday)
  • Sharks in the Time of Saviors: A Novel, by Kawai Strong Washburn (MCD)
  • The Butterfly Lampshade, by Aimee Bender (Doubleday)
  • The Magical Language of Others: A Memoir, by E. J. Koh (Tin House)
  • The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories, by Caroline Kim (University of Pittsburgh Press)
  • This Is All I Got: A New Mother’s Search for Home, by Lauren Sandler (Random House)
  • You Will Never Be Forgotten: Stories, by Mary South (FSG Originals)

Nonfiction 2020: Illuminating

New England and the Slave Trade

On the level of I NEVER KNEW:

Slave-trading ship captains, many of whom hailed from New England port towns, regularly sailed in and out of the congested piers of Manhattan. Nathaniel Gordon Sr., a native of Portland, Maine, made a long and prosperous career in buying and selling African peoples beginning in the 1820s, and by the 1830s he was running a regular business in black bodies among the West African coast, Havana, and New York City. Gordon oversaw the conversion of legitimate commercial ships into vessels outfitted for the slave trade, and he remained one step ahead of law enforcement.

The Kidnapping Club: Wall Street, Slavery, and Resistance on the Eve of the Civil War, by Jonathan Daniel Wells, pp. 85 – 86

New York City in the 1790s

Here’s the sentence of the day, about the beginning of the New York Stock Exchange.

Based on earlier models of exchanges like the Dutch East India Company’s trading in the early 1600s and Frankfurt’s even earlier stock exchange, a handful of New York businessmen had begun to trade shares under a buttonwood tree in 1792.

Chapter Three, The Kidnapping Club: Wall Street, Slavery and Resistance on the Eve of the Civil War, by Jonathan Daniel Wells

Celebrate

YAY YAY YAY

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family, by Robert Kolker, which self read in May, made it to the New York Times’ 10 Best Books of 2020.

See the full New York Times Best of 2020 list here.

Another fascinating read, which self feels deserves a place among the Best Books 0f 2020, is Life of a Klansman: A Family History in White Supremacy, by Edward Ball. That book took her almost three weeks to get through, practically every page gave her something to think about:

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

The Economist: Books of the Year 2020

A list from a list (highly idiosyncratic — in which self decides which kind of writing she’s going to spend most of 2021 doing)

BIOGRAPHY AND MEMOIR

  • A Promised Land, by Barack Obama – “A reminder that the 44th president is one of the best writers ever to serve in that office”
  • Stranger in the Shogun’s City, by Amy Stanley – “The everyday struggles of an obscure woman in Tokyo in the first half of the 19th century”
  • Kiss Myself Goodbye, by Ferdinand Mount – “The hilarious tale of a . . . pathologically inventive aunt in raffish, upper-class Britain either side of the second world war”

HISTORY

  • A House in the Mountains, by Caroline Moorhead – “Weaving deep research into a compelling narrative . . . about four women fighting with the partisans in northern Italy in 1943”
  • Alaric the Goth, by Douglas Bain – “Colorful portrait of the city and empire in the fifth century”

FICTION

  • The Slaughterman’s Daughter, by Yaniv Iczkovits – “Late 19th century picaresque about a Jewish mother in the Pale of Settlement who sets out to retrieve her wayward brother-in-law in Minsk”
  • Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stuart – “Coming of age in Glasgow in the 1980s”
  • Homeland Elegies, by Ayad Akhtar – “Part autobiographical tale about growing up as a Pakistani-American through the age of 9/11 and then Donald Trump”
  • Burnt Sugar, by Avni Doshi – Opens with “I would be lying if I said my mother’s misery has never given me pleasure.”

CULTURE AND IDEAS

  • Leo Tolstoy, by Andrei Zorin – “Weaves together his times, his writing, his faith and his political activism”

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

  • Apollo’s Arrow, by Nicholas Christakis – “the history of plagues”

BUSINESS AND ECONOMICS

  • No Rules Rules, by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer – “The boss of Netflix and his co-author explain how he arrived”

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