Friday, March 10, 2023

Book Stack ~ February 2023

 A monthly post about what I've been reading.

Somewhere I saw a list called "Books that Don't Bum You Out," and when next February comes around, I'm going to find that list, because last month I read a lot of downers. February is not a month for books that bum you out; it's a month that requires all of the artificial means of mood elevation available. First, let's talk about the happy pill books I read.

Fun Fiction
I started the month by finishing off the stack of Barbara Michaels books of suspense I had ordered in January: The Grey Beginning and The Master of Blacktower, both delightfully gothic, with one contemporary and the other Victorian (sometimes I think I don't want to read a Victorian gothic, but I always end up enjoying myself when I do). I then threw in an Elizabeth Peters--The Copenhagen Connection--just for fun. This one's a caper, and while I don't know all the conventions of that genre, I'm pretty sure an element of the ridiculous is requisite, and this one had it in spades. I then read an Anne Hillerman my mom sent, The Tale Teller. While it's been a long time since I've ready anything by Tony Hillerman, and while the story was good, I don't think the writing quite stood up to her father's. There seemed to be a lot of banal dialogue that didn't serve the story. I'm also more aware of, and uncomfortable about, cultural appropriation than I was last time I read a Joe Leaphorn (detective) book. So I'm on the fence about this one. Finally, at the end of the month, I read another Barbara Michaels Victorian gothic, Black Rainbow (because once I remembered I liked Victorian gothic, I decided to keep going with the theme), as a palate cleanser after the heavy reads below.

Heavy Fiction
The New Wilderness, by Diane Cook. In a post-apocalyptic world, a small group of people is sent to live in a manufactured "wilderness" and observed by the state to see how they fare. Lovely writing, beautiful exploration of mother-daughter relationships, interesting concepts, but just generally grim. I don't know if the idea of post-apocalyptic writing is to warn of coming dangers or concede defeat before it's even happened, but it kinda feels like the latter to me. 

The School for Good Mothers, by Jessamyn Chan. Not post-apocalyptic, but speculative, about women who make mistakes (ranging from momentarily lapses of attention to outright abuse) as parents being sent to a prison-like environment to "learn" to be good mothers (i.e., boundlessly self-sacrificing) by taking care of creepy robot dolls. Also grim, mainly in the way it so expertly reflected society's impossible expectations of mothers (and double standard with regard to fathers). But the ending was, if not redemptive, very satisfying.

We All Want Impossible Things, by Catherine Newman. A woman watches her best friend die in hospice and makes, shall we say, questionable behavior choices. This one contains all of the signature Catherine Newman humor and cooking and unbelievably generous and cheerfully self-sacrificing adults and funny, quirky, loving children of her nonfiction (somehow these traits are less believable in fiction than nonfiction--I mean, an ex-husband who comes over and cooks every night?). But there's only one way a hospice novel can end, so definitely a book that will bum you out.


I'm still working my way through Louise Dickinson Rich (I won't read it all--she wrote a LOT, and I'm not terribly interested in her fiction), and read Only Parent, about life raising her two kids after her husband, Ralph, died suddenly. It's an interesting topic for the time, when divorce was less common and less commonly accepted. And while she mentions the ways life is made more challenging by the lack of a second adult in the house, it's not a woe-is-me tale, but rather another series of her funny and prescient observations of everyday life. Definitely not a bummer.

Inciting Joy, by Ross Gay. I was expecting more of The Book of Delights, but the essays in Inciting Joy are much longer (and more discursive; in some the parenthetical asides and footnotes run as long as the main text) and cover much heavier topics, although they may start from a benign subject like music, basketball, or gardening. I'm actually still mulling this one over, a few weeks after having finished, not entirely sure what to think, and I'll probably dive back in and read it again a time or two in order to fully grasp it all.

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