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« July, 2019 »

The Lost Words   book icon  
by Robert Macfarlane (2017)

read: 30 July 2019
rating: [+]
category: poetry

I’m not sure if poetry is the right category for this collection of animals and plants and things in nature that are accompanies by poems that are guided by the letters of the things' names. This is a book that is part poetry, part nature appreciation and part illustrations that can not be beat. They all go together in a slim but oversized volume that makes you think about the things you used to pay more attention to in the natural world. Lovely and evocative.

Family Trees: A History of Genealogy in America   book icon  
by Francois Weil (2013)

read: 27 July 2019
rating: [+]
category: non-fiction

I got this book for free from the press after I’d done some galley reviewing for them. Took me a long time both to get to it to read, and also to read it. It’s a great book but a lot more academicky than I was expecting. I think I was expecting a lot more of a pop history of genealogy. Stuff like “looking things up on websites” which is a lot of how I do family research, was just the last few pages of the last chapter. What this book does talk about, however, is why genealogy became such a big deal in the United States and who was doing it. The author, who is French, spends a lot of time looking at what drove people to look up family information, what motivated them. In some cases this was straightforward goals like membership in societies or getting access to estates or pedigrees. In other cases it was more making sure the people in your background were the “right” sort of people. The author spends some time talking about the historical racism of the United States and how that played a part in a lot of this.

Ascension   book icon  
by Jacqueline Koyanagi (2013)

read: 24 July 2019
rating: [+]
category: fiction

Another spacer with a diverse cast but this one was a little too over into the “complex cast” side for me. The title character is a woman of color who wants to be a spaceship engineer. She’s trained but she’s a “dirtheel” and has never actually been in the sky. She’s also managing chronic pain and a weird sister who is some sort of a new age therapist and a judgey pain in the ass. Lots of people die. There’s a poly lesbian romance. I totally appreciated what Koyanagi did with this book, but I found that reading about someone who was experiencing chronic pain was actually just too painful for me (and some of the mushy stuff just went on too long, this is my issue not an issue with the book). Great for most people, not the greatest for me.

All the Names They Used for God   book icon  
by Anjali Sachdeva (2018)

read: 19 July 2019
rating: [+]
category: fiction

Simply a great collection of short stories about all different things but one thing they seem to share is a sense of poignancy. Each story has some small element of magic, but not in a “watch me pull a rabbit out of a hat” way, but in a “What if mermaids were real?” way. I enjoyed every single story in this book and really look forward to reading more of whatever Sachdeva writes.

This Body’s Not Big Enough for Both of Us   book icon  
by Edgar Cantero (2019)

read: 17 July 2019
rating: [-]
category: fiction

I honestly have no idea why more people didn’t hate this book. It’s the story of a genetic chimera, a person who is “two people” inside one body. They are M/F. You’d think this might be interesting. I have been reading so much “conscious” scifi lately I forgot that a lot of it is trash. This has all these terrible tropes, no feminist sensibility and is too clever by half. I am sorry I finished it.

Al Jaffee’s Mad Life   book icon  
by Mary-Lou Weisman (2010)

read: 11 July 2019
rating: [+]
categories: biography, non-fiction

This book was written before MAD’s demise. It mostly tells the story, illustrated by Jaffee, of Jaffee’s bizarre childhood. He was born in the US and then stolen back to where his family was from in Lithuania by his mother. She had some sort of mental illness and he and his brothers grew up being severely neglected. He came back to the US as a teen and always had an odd time being adjusted. This book is a lot more about him than it is about MAD, though people interested in the inside baseball of MAD will find stuff to occupy them in the last few chapters.

Bandwidth   book icon  
by Eliot Peper (2018)

read: 10 July 2019
rating: [+]
category: fiction

Not even sure how I found this book which is basically a “Grisham, but for political consultants who incidentally know how the internet works” It’s a sort of dystopian near future where we all have a feed that we can access which gives us information, news, friends communications etc. But what if the feed could be hacked? What sort of power would that give you, and not give you? The book is a little plodding, definitely written in a fast-thriller sort of way, but I stayed interested and I’ll be sure to read the next one.

The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell   book icon  
by W. Kamau Bell (2017)

read: 5 July 2019
rating: [+]
category: non-fiction

I was happily surprised to see this at my local library. I’ve enjoyed seeing Kamau’s work but to me he just sort of showed up one day and was all there, a professional comedy guy. This book talks a lot about how he got to where he is and the things he learned along the way. It’s neat because while the Kamau of today is really socially aware and responsible, he wasn’t always this way. Listening to him navigating some of the difficult aspects of learning how to be an intersectional and aware cultural commentator was really fascinating to me.

Exhalation: Stories   book icon  
by Ted Chiang (2019)

read: 4 July 2019
rating: [+]
category: fiction

SO GOOD. I really enjoy Chiang’s forays into “What if things were almost the same but a little different, how would we be humans?” Surprisingly (to me) the title story was one of my least favorite of the bunch. The one that stuck with me the most was about people who create virtual pets with AI that live in a virtual world, and how they deal with that worl’d changing and shifting, and their pets' increasing consciousness. Favorite part was that there’s a little part in the end where Chiang explains what inspired him to write that story, or something else about it. Some of these ideas are, for lack of a better word, weird, and so it was really interesting to hear how he got from these odd ideas to these full-fledged stories.

Quantum Astrologer’s Handbook   book icon  
by Michael Brooks (2017)

read: 2 July 2019
rating: [+]
category: non-fiction

This is nominally a book about Jerome Cardano but also winds up being a bit about quantum physics because Brooks is a physicist in addition to be an author. I really enjoyed another book he wrote, 13 Things That Donít Make Sense. This book is a little more of a meander. It was great to learn about Cardano but Brooks is also in this book! Which was for a reason but it made the book a little weird, and not entirely non-fiction which is always a tough sell for me. Nonetheless I enjoyed it and learned things but might have liked it more without that conceit.

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