Ashni (ashnistrike) wrote,

Books Read: January-February 2013

Bound for Canaan: the Epic Story of the Underground Railroad, America's First Civil Rights Movement, by Fergus Bordewich. I've been obsessed with the underground railroad since I was a kid. No, that's not quite right--I imprinted on it.  My ethical system derives almost entirely from Passover seders and stories about Harriet Tubman.  And Holly Near songs about Harriet Tubman.  And, as this book points out, Harriet Tubman is most of who and what it's easy to find out about.  The book starts to fill in the gaps--some of them, anyway.  The railroad was around for less time than I had thought, for example, growing slowly over the course of the 1800s and peaking in the decade or two before the Civil War.  I suppose it makes sense that once it got big enough, the war became inevitable. I also had no idea how public the movement was in many places.  Fascinating reading.

Where the book fails, for me, is in its treatment of women other than Harriet Tubman.  Many times, it will go into great depth about some famous male conductor or abolitionist.  Many times, it will mention in passing that of course his wife and daughters were instrumental in running the actual station.  Many times, we get nothing about what's involved in the female-dominated work of putting up hungry, frightened guests on no notice.  There's a brief chapter on the connection between abolitionism and suffrage.  But the book gives only lip service to the railroad's diversity.  Recommended, ultimately, as a starting point.

Caleb's Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks.  As with all of Brooks's writing, this is a beautifully detailed, beautifully personal take on a very specific historical milieu--in this case, the interacting Puritan and Wampanoag societies of 1600s Massachusetts.  Brooks gets writing the other, and both of these societies are indisputably other for a modern American reader.  The Puritans are, if anything, more alien, for all that their religious canons are more familiar.  Highly recommended, for all that I could wish that Bethia would go just a little further in questioning her society's assumptions.

Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal.  Pride and Prejudice, with illusion magic and gender politics.  Good stuff, even if the ending felt a little too pat.  Recommended.

Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel.  I love Dykes to Watch Out for, which is was funny and thoughtful and has characters and situations that reflect my life in a way I rarely see, along with ones that reflect parts of Lesbian Culture that I just missed by virtue of where and when I came out.  There is one character in DTWOF, Mo, who is depressed and cynical and uses politics as an excuse to neglect the personal relationships she doesn't understand.  Surrounded by more functional people, she's very funny.  Bechdel's memoirs feel like reading a couple of hundred pages of Mo, moping and obsessing all by herself.

Shadow Unit, Volume 1, Edited by Elizabeth Bear and Emma Bull.  Reread, technically, but it's been several years and this puts all the episodes and Easter eggs and Livejournal entries in order.  And it is so obvious, on reread, that everything about this series was planned from the start.  Foreshadowing, in the first episode, of things that have come crashing down in Season 4.  Hints at character reveals that would only come to light much later.  If you can stand descriptions of bloody murder scenes, and think that televised procedurals need to spend more time on questions of agency and neuroscience and awesome geeky character interactions, read this if you haven't already.

Shoggoths in Bloom, by Elizabeth Bear.  New short story collection.  Some of the older stories have a little too much random unnecessary self-sacrifice, but the newer ones are brilliant and dark and thoughtful.  Highly recommended.

Discount Armageddon, by Seanan McGuire. Reread in preparation for the new one coming out.  Funny, snarky urban fantasy that doesn't take place in Not-the-World-of-Darkness.  Highly recommended.

Talking Man, by Terry Bissom.  There are some brilliant images in this--I will never take a road trip again without thinking about the Mississippi River Canyon--but ultimately, it turns out that I don't like magical realism regardless of whether it takes place in South American or southern Appalachia.  I like things to happen for reasons.

A Planet of Viruses, by Carl Zimmer.  Freebie at the AAAS conference.  Awesome freebie.  This is a bunch of short essays, by a brilliant science writer, about how you probably know a lot less than you think you do about viruses.  They are weird.

Total Books: 9
Recent Publication: 6
Rereads: 1
Recommendations: papersky recommended the Bissom, and the entire internet recommended the Kowal.
New Music: None.
New Media Created: Some intensive work on the urban infrastructure fantasy, and I actually finished the Jewish Narnia drabble cycle.  Anyone have any idea about markets for a Jewish fantasy drabble cycle?
Tags: books, media consumption
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