Yeah I haven’t been doing too much blogging here, have I?
I guess the Death Of The Blog is a thing that people have talked about recently. I’ve exchanged blog reading (and writing, lol) almost entirely for twitter and an ever-growing succession of TinyLetters. Maybe someday I’ll do a roundup of my favorites.
In the meantime, I wanted to write a bit about some books I’ve read lately.
Earlier in the year I set my Goodreads challenge to 200 books (I’m back on Goodreads now that they allow you to track re-reads, a feature they’ve needed forever) but between personal grief and the slow decay of our national psyche, it became abundantly clear that 200 wasn’t happening. And it was a silly goal in the first place – I’ve never gone that far over 100, and why would I think that the first year of The Circumstances would be any different? So I’ve set it back down to a reasonable 100 and am over halfway there, with 59 books read. I don’t want to write about every book I’ve read since the last time I wrote about books (*checks date* *screams*) so working backwards, here are some Recent Reads.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
I got this for Christmas the year it came out, I believe, and I can’t believe I waited until now to read it. It’s completely charming – Clay, the protagonist, is a refugee from the tech industry who gets a job working the night shift of the titular bookstore. There’s a secret society, code-breaking, a few terrifyingly plausible startups (including one devoted exclusively to the anatomically accurate rendering of breasts in video games) and a definite adventure vibe. Despite one or two quirks of writing that began to drive me bonkers every time they appeared, I found myself racing through the book with a smile on my face, happy to be in this world of books and bookstores and the weirdos that love them.
HHhH by Laurent Binet
This I picked up in Prague, in the train station before I left for the medieval town of Česky Krumlov. I’d seen it on a bunch of lists when it first came out, so it had been in the back of my mind, but I decided to pick it up and ended up reading nearly the whole thing on a train. I read the rest in a restaurant by a river, in view of a four-hundred year old castle. Around this castle is a moat, and inside the moat there are bears, one of whom is named Katerina. HHhH is a book partially about the difficulties of writing books, a schtick I worried would get really, really old, but didn’t. The other part is about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich (the main architect of the Nazi Final Solution) by two Czech resistance fighters, Jan Kubiš and Josef Gabčik, in a military operation called Operation Anthropoid. These two subjects – writing and Nazi assassinations – don’t have too much to do with one another on the surface of things, but Binet (writing in French, with translation by Sam Taylor) asks a valid question which ties the two together: how does a writer tell a true story? How do they tell it in a way that is believable but compelling, interesting but true to the facts? How do you honor someone you know little about, especially when you know so much about the man he killed? I took quite a few photos of favorite passages in this book; here’s one of my favorites:
To begin with, this seemed a simple-enough story to tell. Two men have to kill a third man. They succeed, or not, and that’s the end, or nearly. I thought of all the other people as mere ghosts who would glide elegantly across the tapestry of history. Ghosts have to be looked after, and that requires great care- I knew that. On the other hand, what I didn’t know (but should have guessed) is that a ghost desires only one thing: to live again.
It was heartening to read a story of resistance, even if it didn’t end well for Kubiš and Gabčik, who committed suicide in the basement of a church, surrounded by five feet of water pumped in by the eight hundred Nazis outside, trying to get in. You can still see the bullet holes on the outside wall of the church.
The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People who Read Them by Elif Batuman
Full disclosure: I’ve never read any of the Russian greats. Actually, that’s a lie; when I was 16 I read all the peace parts of War & Peace but I have no memory of it. (I also saw Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812 twice, but that’s different.) Elif Batuman, author of The Idiot, writes about her relationship with Russian, Russian writers, and grad school with humor and insight and even for someone who knows nothing about the canon she’s referencing, there’s a lot of fun to be had here.
Anyway, that’s a little recap of some of the things I’ve liked recently. I have a lot on the docket that I’m excited about; N.K. Jemisin’s THE STONE SKY, last in the trilogy; FLAME IN THE MIST by Renee Ahdieh; and THE BEST OF CONNIE WILLIS which I picked up at the Nebula Awards.
Until next time!