Reading Round-Up: August 2022

Oh, August. Is it the worst month of the year? Very probably. But at least there were books to read to take my mind off things:

  • Some Great Thing (Lawrence Hill)
  • Caliban’s War (James S. A. Corey)
  • Abbadon’s Gate (James S. A. Corey)
  • Nothing More Perfect (Marty Gervais)
  • The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass on Tour (Adrian Plass)
  • Cibola Burn (James S. A. Corey)
  • Nemesis Games (James S. A. Corey)
  • Book Lovers (Emily Henry)

At this point you may be sensing a theme. In August I continued my foray through James S. A. Corey’s sprawling “Expanse” series of sci-fi doorstops. The trouble with reading them all in a row is that they’ve blended together in my mind to a certain degree — which makes sense, I suppose, since they’re telling one big story. In the first book of the series, Leviathan’s Gate, humanity has populated the solar system but not beyond; the sudden and violent introduction of an alien virus/technology/something changes solar geopolitics (solarpolitics?) forever, as well as the lives of countless people on Earth and far beyond. In these further installments, Corey expands the original cast and continues to explore the political, scientific, and social ramifications of that upheaval, with the requisite amount of wacky sci-fi stuff, space battles, alien landscapes, etc. Interestingly, the focal shift from book to book also engenders a tonal shift. Nemesis Games was very personal and intimate, and included a lot of character backstories that I’d been dying to read. Abbadon’s Gate was a bloodbath, easily the goriest of the series so far. Cibola Burn was almost a settlement-of-the-West-style colonial narrative. I’m always curious to see how the next book is going to shift, as well as to find out what happens next in the overall story.

Nothing More Perfect is a short book of poems by Canadian poet Marty Gervais. They’re have a sweetness and a sincerity about them that a lot of contemporary poetry eschews, but it’s quite refreshing, actually.

Lawrence Hill rose to fame in Canada with his powerhouse of a novel, The Book of Negroes (American title: Someone Knows My Name), which won the 2008 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, among others, and was later adapted as a mini-series. It wasn’t his first novel, however; that space is taken by Some Great Thing, which follows Mahatma Grafton, a cynical journalism graduate who moves back to Manitoba and takes a job with The Winnipeg Herald at the height of the controversy over official French-English bilingualism in the 1980s. It’s sharply-biting satire, and seriously funny.

Book Lovers delighted me, because it’s romance that plays with rom-com tropes in a brilliant and deliberate way. We all know the Hallmark type of story where the protagonist moves to a small town to support their ailing parent or bail out the family bakery or whatever, meets a wholesome hayseed, ditches their terrible career-focused city love interest, and lives happily ever after in Podunk, Wisconsin. But what happens to the person they left behind? Nora Stephens, a cut-throat New Yorker literary agent, has been dumped for the podunk life four times. Is lasting love just not possible for someone like her? (Spoiler alert: it is.) I also really appreciated that the things keeping the star-crossed love interests apart were not dumb romance tropes (She can’t admit she has amnesia! He’s really his own twin!) but simply the facts that life is complicated, practical circumstances can be big barriers, and sometimes you have to work through your own stuff before you’re healthy enough and ready enough to be with someone else. It’s a clever, clever book. Also quite smutty in parts. Reader be advised.

Adrian Plass on Tour is one of the “Sacred Diarist” series of short and hilarious novels by Adrian Plass (the author), featuring Adrian Plass (the character) and a bevy of his fictional friends and relations. In this installment, Adrian is going on tour as a Christian speaker, along with his wife Bridget, his son Gerald (now a wisecracking Anglican vicar), their irrepressibly-odd friend Leonard Thynn, and Thynn’s new girlfriend, the improbably-named Angels Twitten. Adrian Plass (actual person) is always a pleasure to read, now being enjoyed by a third generation in my family — my parents introduced me to his books, and I’ve introduced them to Anselm! They’re heartwarming as well as hilarious (The Theatrical Tapes of Leonard Thynn may be one of my all-time favourite books.)

Reading Round-Up: June & July 2022

Two months’ worth of reading in one post today. Here are the books I spent my time with so far this summer.

June:

  • Glamorous Powers (Susan Howatch)
  • LaserWriter II (Tamara Shopsin)
  • Rattle #72 — Tribute to Appalachian Poets
  • What If? (Randall Munroe)
  • The Anthropocene Reviewed (John Green)
  • The Joy Luck Club (Amy Tan)
  • Ultimate Prizes (Susan Howatch)

July:

  • Mrs. Sherlock Holmes (Brad Ricca)
  • Alice Through the Looking Glass (Lewis Carroll)
  • All the Seas in the World (Guy Gavriel Kay)
  • The Second Sleep (Robert Harris)
  • Rattle #73 — Tribute to Indian Poets
  • Ragnarok (A S Byatt)
  • Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption (Stephen King)
  • Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business (Dolly Parton)
  • Rattle #74 — Tribute to Prisoner Express
  • Leviathan Wakes (James S A Corey)
  • The Holiday Swap (Maggie Knox)

I quail a bit at the thought of finding something to say about all of these at once — but let’s see if I can give them each a sentence or so, anyway. Working back to front:

The Holiday Swap was light and charming, which was a nice palate cleanser after Leviathan Wakes, which blew my mind (if you like detective noir and/or space opera, give it a go!). Dolly Parton is funnier than I knew, Rita Hayworth and the Etc. was better than the already excellent movie it inspired, and it was nice to encounter Norse mythology in a non-MCU setting in Byatt’s Ragnarok. The Second Sleep fell a little flat for me at the end but was still worth reading (don’t look up any blurbs or synopses for this one, just read to the end of Ch. 2 and you’ll know if you want to continue). All the Seas in the World made me cry more than once, Alice Through the Looking Glass was enticingly zany, and Mrs. Sherlock Holmes‘s interesting subject matter was thoroughly let down by its structural issues and terrible writing.

Moving on to June. Ultimate Prizes is another excellent exemplar of the Starbridge series, but best to start from the beginning with these. The Joy Luck Club was much more moving than when I read it in high school, and The Anthropocene Reviewed was tender and sincere. I only finished What If? by occasionally wrestling it out of Anselm’s hands (we keep renewing it and he’s read the whole thing through, oh, at least eight times). LaserWriter II had its own post here, and Glamorous Powers requires a brief suspension of disbelief re. psychic powers but hangs together well if you can get over that.

Rattle continues to be one of the best poetry magazines out there. The issues blend together in my mind, of course, but all of them have their share of turned-down corners marking poems that particularly touched me for one reason or another.

On deck for August: I’m eagerly awaiting Susan Howatch’s Scandalous Risks (coming via Inter-Library Loan and so arriving anytime between now and next year, apparently) and Caliban’s War, the book that follows Leviathan Wakes. Hurry up, library! (My friend Rebecca put me on to this series & has resorted to buying some of the books when the library holds list was too long — after reading Leviathan Wakes I understand the impulse!)