When I can feel the darkness creeping in at the edges of everything, I turn to Werner Herzog. The tumblr linked just there is not nearly extensive enough, but it includes some of Herzog’s most deliciously dark quotations, and reading his dark thoughts makes me laugh and nod, reminding me that yeah, we’re all in the shit; we’ve all always been in the shit. “I believe the common denominator of the universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility, and murder,” he says. Amen, Werner, Amen. I don’t know why this makes me feel better, but it does.
Books also make me feel better, and I’m still finding the time to read them in spite of the implications of my recent absence on these pages. However, one book that did not make me feel better was Roald Dahl’s Esio Trot, which was the first book I completed 600 years ago, in March. You know what Esio Trot is about? It is about a dude who plays a very elaborate trick on a woman so he can date her. She is a fucking moron—a serious fucking moron—and buys it; they get married.
I might have been surprised, or even willing to forgive, if I hadn’t just read Dahl’s horrific-ly sexist, car-wreck of an introduction to his collection of ghost stories, in which he totally conclusively proves (*sarcasm gag*) that women are just naturally better at writing children’s books and men are just naturally better at writing ghost stories. Because genitals? All the sighs of I’m So Fucking Tired of This Shit.
But! a fellow book nerd retorted when I complained about the plotline, didn’t those two cute, shy old geezers already like each other? Wasn’t Esio Trot a sweet love story about the desperate, but adorable, ruse of an introvert scared to talk to his crush? It’s a fair point, and a joyful interpretation—and I wish I could find evidence in the book to support it. Add in a fourth wall wink from Mrs. Moron, let us know that she knows that he knows that she knows that there’s some informed consent just out of our line of sight, and I’d be back in. But there is no wink. Strip back the silly sweetness that floats on Esio Trot‘s surface, and you have a dude tricking a woman into having sex with him, a relationship built on lies, and like 300 orphaned tortoises. Fuck.
March, however, also bore some exquisite fruit.
Books read in March:
25. Esio Trot by Roald Dahl (read out loud)
26. The Resurrectionist by E.B. Hudspeth
27. The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson
28. The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker
29. Sex Object by Jessica Valenti
30. Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennett
31. Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
32. A Field Guide to Reality by Joanna Kavenna
A few highlights:
The Gap of Time: Jeanette Winterson “covered” Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale and in the process created something even better.
Sex Object: Jessica Valenti’s memoir is exactly the kind of deeply personal but also deeply intellectual feminist memoir I have been looking for. I devoured it, and now I subscribe to all her things.
Ninefox Gambit: It turns out I really like reading about math wars and shadow generals and feeling so confused by the foreigness of a new world that I can’t actually manage to describe this book coherently to other humans. Huh. There’s depth, though not Viriconium depth, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I also read it while vacationing in Prague, land of all my favorite foods and beers, and so I was bound to have a good time. Otherwise, I might not have been able to find the patience for wonder, rather than tedium. Only parallel dimension Nikki, who read Ninefox Gambit for a college essay she left until far too late to write, will ever know.
A Field Guide to Reality was both light in humor and length, yet heavy in interesting ideas—a good combination. But the Sharkes (and specifically Megan AM and Jonathan McCalmont) have already discussed that in more coherent detail than I have time for today.
BZZZZZZZZ: We interrupt your regularly scheduled book moaning to remind you that the Sharkes (that is to say, the Shadow Clarke jury) have been publishing reviews and discussions on the Anglia Ruskin Center for Science Fiction and Fantasy Centre blog. They are intelligent, interesting, funny, and have somehow managed to piss off a bunch of people for reasons related to a thing called “anti-nostalgia.” I cannot relate. I do not understand the agitation. I not only love intelligent book talk: I aspire never again to read a cardboard-sided science fiction novel that has been refrigerated long past its expiration date. Oh look, a spaceship! Oh look, a line in the sand!
Moving right along to April, then.
Books read in April:
33. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (audio)
34. Only Forward by Michael Marshall Smith
35. The Dead Ladies Project by Jessa Crispin
36. Uncharted Territory by Connie Willis
37. The King of Capri by Jeanette Winterson, illust. Jane Ray
38. How to Cook a Wolf by M.F.K. Fisher
The Big Sleep: Wherein I catch up on some classic noir via audio during my bike commute.
Only Forward: This fast-paced SF detective number starts out very strong in pacing, in the energy of the writing, and in the freshness of its ideas, and though it peters out by the (not particularly) grand finale, I was sufficiently impressed by the first 150 pages.
The Dead Ladies Project: By far the best book I read all month. Jessa Crispin, I want to read all of your words! The details have begun to fade in the wake of Life and Other Books, but it was intelligent, dark, well-written, unapologetic, observant non-fiction about travel, authors, and love. Looks like I’ll be in need of a copy of Why I Am Not a Feminist stat.
Unchartered Territory: Falls into the “meh” category of Connie Willis’ work. A space western with a few twists and plenty of flat jokes. I was glad when it was over.
The King of Capri: A children’s book about a mean king, a kind woman, and a terrible storm written by one of my favorite authors has made a few bedtime story sessions infinitely more fun.
May is going to be easy to sum up. Check it out:
Books read in May:
39. The Doubtful Guest by Edward Gorey
40. The Object-Lesson by Edward Gorey
41. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
42. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
43. The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness
44. Shrill by Lindy West
Norwegian Wood was beautiful but depressing—classic Murakami.
The two Gorey books hardly count toward “total number of novels I’ve read this year,” but I included them because I wanted to remember the gloriously relaxing weekend during which I read them.
Six of Crows was just terrible, just fucking terrible, and I do not recommend it to anyone. I mean I guess for a fantasy heist with totally cringe-worthy, trope-y fantasy names and languages and concepts it was alright? I finished it. I wanted to know how things played out. But I also spent a lot of time wondering why it received such an incredible mountain of hype and thinking about how I couldn’t wait for it to be over.
The Ask and the Answer was beautiful but depressing (and the incredible originality of the series’ first book’s narrative voice was diluted in this volume)—but, yeah, smart and nuanced and classic Ness.
Shrill was the cherry on top of the bowl of cake icing I am about to eat with a spoon because that’s just how I like my icing. Lindy West makes me laugh, and this book starts out strong on laughs, and ends strong on depressing but important truths about sexism, online harassment, and life.
Meanwhile, in the present…
I bought some exciting new books (Borne by Jeff VanderMeer, White Tears by Hari Kunzru, Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit, and the aforementioned Shrill by Lindy West), and then placed a book buying ban on myself until I have successfully completed 15 books from my tbr shelf. Hahahahaha. I know, I know, what a joke.
Until next time, please enjoy this photograph of my new jade plant:
Oh, look! Three months of stats!
Total read: 20
Author is a man/woman: 10/10
Brand new books that I read right away: 6
Library books: 0
Audio books: 1