Books read: June 2020

Wow, what a month for reading for me. I think, but can’t be totally sure, that this could be the most books I’ve read in a month in a good long while and none of them were comics! Part of this is that I’ve pulled back from being online and so am picking up books when I’m eating or am waiting on something, rather than doomscrolling. But the other part is that I’m really enjoying reading again and found my focus. It’s felt so good and as soon as I finish one I’m thinking about what to read next or have it already from the library or pulled off the shelf.

The City We Became

N.K. Jemisin’s latest book is the start of a trilogy, she looks at New York City as it’s being reborn and the people who become the avatars of the boroughs and united New York City to save it from destruction during the birth. I enjoyed the book, Jemisin’s tale is funny and full of adventure and the characters are smart, resilient, and bold. But I’m fairly sure that the fact that I don’t know New York very well means that I missed a lot of the humor of the book.

How to Think

I’ve been reading Alan Jacobs newsletter for quite some time now and enjoying it, which led me to his books. And How to Think was the right book at the right time for me. The subtitle is A Survival Guide for a World at Odds and it was just that, helping me through what has been a very tough moment in time.

Jacobs lays out a lot of the psychology of how we’re swayed, how to recognize that and also how to think deeply and surround yourself with people who also want to do the same. I really enjoyed the way he took ideas from a whole host of disciplines and brought them all together to make his arguments for what is going on in the world and what is preventing us from deeper thinking right now.

In our current era there is so much happening and so much to think about and we’re pushed to not think, react only in so many of the places we engage with folks. I found this small volume to be a helpful reminder on how slowing down and being choosy about how and who I share my ideas with to be extremely helpful. I’ve grown so tired lately of the group think that I’ve started to cocoon and now I’m ready to come back out and find the right folks that I can think through things with clearly and supportively.

The Three Body Problem

Since I finished this book, several people have asked me if I’m going to read the next one, which I’ve found an interesting reaction. Yes, I’m going to read the next one. But I’ll admit that this book was mind bending in many ways, Cixin Liu weaves a good story.

Professor Wang is asked to investigate an underground group that is involved in a virtual game, The Three Body Problem. As he plays and as he meets people involved in the group he learns they’re hoping aliens are coming to set Earth right. Things get messy, tangled, and religion and science are wrapped up in it all. I’m still very much thinking about this one, the cultural and scientific ideas about how we’d react if we did indeed hear from aliens are fascinating.

My Private Property

Ever since I read Madness Rack and Honey I’ve kept my eye out for more writing by Mary Ruefle and picked up this slim volume a few years ago. The book consists of short pieces that I would say land somewhere between poetry and essays, with a few longer essays.

I enjoy Ruefle’s writing and this book didn’t disappoint. I especially liked the short vignettes on color and I stopped several times to reread them and savor the words. Her writing was a welcome escape in a time of difficulty and I’ll be picking it up again to reread certain pieces again, I’m sure.

Leaving Everything Most Loved

Another Maisie Dobbs, I know, I can’t stop. I’ll admit that this one wasn’t as good as the past books I’ve read and I think it’s because Winspear was using it very much as a transitional novel. It focuses much more on Dobbs than it does on the mystery she’s trying to solve and at times it was too much on that side of things and repeated much of what was in other books. I realize she’s writing for each volume to stand on its own, but I think she got too verbose with back story explanation at times.

Washington Black

Esi Edugyan tells the story of George Washington Black and how his life changes dramatically when the brother of the plantation owner makes him his assistant. Wash, as he’s known, learns to read and write and discovers a talent for drawing. Titch, the man who changes his life, also becomes the very thing that drives Wash through his late teens and early adult years. Even as they part ways, Wash is overcome with wanting to know why Titch chose him, why he left him, and how all of it fits into the person he becomes. Highly recommend this one, I devoured it.

And that, it seemed to me clearly, was the more obvious anguish—that life had never belonged to any of us, even when we’d sought to reclaim it by ending it. We had been estranged from the potential of our own bodies, from the revelation of everything our bodies and minds could accomplish. (loc 5209 in a kindle formatted book)

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

I’ve enjoyed Elizabeth Gilbert’s fiction and saw a few folks recommend this book as well and well, I didn’t love it. I didn’t hate it either, but the format made it hard for me to really feel like it went beyond the surface. Gilbert’s broken the book up into several larger sections, themes really, composed of very quick sections that weren’t really chapters, but in the kindle version were broken out like chapters but were so short it felt way too choppy to me.

In spite of that Gilbert does a really great job of talking about money and creativity and the need to pay for your life. It’s so helpful to me to see folks point out in books like these that expecting your art to pay for your life puts a burden on it that it may not be able to handle and it changes everything. So I’m not totally sure I recommend this book, but my curiousity was satisfied and I did get some good things out of it. And it’s in keeping with my goal to read more non fiction.

So what if we repeat the same themes? So what if we circle around the same ideas, again and again, generation after generation? So what if every new generation feels the same urges and asks the same questions that humans have been feeling and asking for years? We’re all related, after all, so there’s going to be some repetition of creative instinct. (loc 901)

There’s no dishonor in having a job. What is dishonorable is scaring away your creativity by demanding that it pay for your entire existence. (loc 1430)

There There

Wow, another book that I had no idea what to expect, it made it on the list because for a while I was seeing it everywhere, and I absolutely loved it. The story follows several different Native Americans as they are preparing to attend the Oakland Pow Wow and in reading this book I learned about a world I knew very little about. At times it’s hearbreaking and Tommy Orange spares nothing in the language he uses to describe both the present and past. Highly recommend.

But for Native people in this country, all over the Americas, it’s been developed over, buried ancestral land, glass and concrete and wire and steel, unreturnable covered memory. There is no there there. (loc 639)