Hey y’all- long time, no read! I took some time off from reviewing while on vacation, then let vacation mind take over all of my non-work mind and found myself in a reviewing hole. Then, work swallowed me whole. I started writing this on August 9th. Just finishing it now on the 29th-Cait Also, I haven’t been reading reviews here either, so be prepared for a wave of comments coming your way!
Good news: I truly enjoyed all seven of these books. One was a re-read, but the others were all new and delightful. I do not remember the last time that I had such a winning-streak of reads! All of these come highly recommended!
Bad news: I need to write about all seven of these books!
Without further ado, here is my Great Vacation Reading List!
Bingo Category: They/She/He
Kink: Stories R.O. Kwon, Garth Greenwell 4/5
I was killing time in a bookstore before an appointment, and this book yelled at me from the shelf. What a collection of authors! What a striking title! What did I have to lose? According to editors R. O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell, there would be nothing to lose- but there would be plenty to learn:
“Kink is often pathologized in popular culture, the attendant desires flattened, simplified, and turned into a joke, a cause for only shame. In movies, television shows, and popular books, kinky people are often also serial killers, emotionally stunted plutocrats, and other stock villains or exaggerated figures of fun. Instead of pathologizing kink, the stories in this anthology treat it as a complex, psychologically rich act of communication. “
While they begin with a massive and hopeful statement, quite a few of these stories – even though they are quite well written- fall into the same old pitfalls of nonconsensual abuse and past trauma that often permeate discussions and media representations of kink.
Happily, the collection features both writers and characters from all over the LGTBIA rainbow. To fit in specifically with this Bingo square :”the author openly identifies as nonbinary or trans, or a major character (or topic) is nonbinary, trans, or exploring gender identity”. GREAT NEWS: several authors and several stories fit the bill! The stories might not always be the sex-positive dream that this collection could be, they are several proud steps in the right direction. Bonus points: a Carmen Maria Machado story from an UPCOMING COLLECTION! YES!
Bingo Category: People
Terminal Boredom Iyumi Suzuki 4/5
If you have been looking for a brutal little sci-fi collection to punch an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind-shaped hole through your emotional core, then have I got the book for you! Iyumi Suzuki’s Japanese cult-classic Terminal Boredom has been re-released with a new English translation. Hooray! Don’t get too excited though- as this collection of dystopian ennui hurts to behold. Sometimes you just want to feel really bad looking at the potential futures that we are building for ourselves, you know? There’s government madated breeding protocols, euthanizing people into the dream space, horrific drug addiction, and disappearing loved ones a plenty. It’s a slim but mighty little book that, although filled with existential sci-fi nightmares, I found to be soothing like a heavy, heavy blanket. Perhaps a blanket that I would never escape, but a blanket none the less.
The cover features a portrait of Suzuki, who was also an active visual artist and model. I crossed out my People square, but you could also use Terminal Boredom to cover UnCannon
Bingo Category: Shelfie
A Moveable Feast Ernest Hemingway 5/5
This was a comfort re-read. I pull out A Moveable Feast whenever I need a quick journey to a world I’ll never experience: Paris between the Wars. While there is plenty to complain about with Hemingway, I still love the salty old brute. I have a ridiculous collection of Hemingway- which you can see in the “Shelfie” with this piece. That’s almost my whole kit plus a ceramic bear covered in candlewax. My shelving is, uh, chaotic at best. There are, obviously, quite a few bits that do not hold up well here in the present- Gertrude Stein’s thoughts on gay men are pretty terrible, just to name one example- but there is still a lot to be loved in this collection of memories from Papa’s time with his first wife in Paris. He struggles to get by as a writer, befriends all sorts of famous (and regular) weirdos, drinks delicious wine, eats rich food, and has a baby called “Mr. Bumby”.
I have been laughing about Mr. Bumby for years now- but I had forgotten about “F. Puss”. F. Puss is Hemingway’s cat, and F. Puss is 100% Mr. Bumby’s Nanny. They frequently leave the baby in the apartment with JUST THE CAT while cavorting allover town. It’s horrifying and hilarious. Also horrifying and hilarious: the relationship between F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. They are frenemies of Hemingway and the neediest of drunks. If you ever need a quick pick-me-up, just jump to the vignette where Hemingway takes Scott to the Lourve to look at nude sculpture because Zelda made fun of his penis and now he is despondent. MEN!
I was armed with this Shelfie because of another CBR event- the Instagram Challenge of 2021- but if you are looking to knock out some Bingo squares, you could also fit this piece into Sportsball and Travel with ease.
Bingo Category: New Series
A Psalm for the Wild Built Becky Chambers 5/5
This is the long-awaited kick off of a new series from our beloved Becky Chambers! A Psalm for the Wild Built introduces us to Dex and Mosscap, the titular Monk and Robot of Monk and Robot #1. We were blessed with TWO Chambers this year, and I hope that Monk and Robot moves along quickly, as I have had the tiniest sip of this new world and I want to be fully submerged in it ASAP. Dex is a Tea Monk in the solarpunk future. Our ancestors figured out early that they were destroying the planet, and instead of doubling down and letting it all burn OR escaping with the One Percent to space, they made changes. Huge changes. Changes that brought humanity back to nature, and nature back to the forefront of our daily lives. In a Battlestar Galactica-esque move, they also broke ties with their Robot brethren. Unlike BSG, the Robots here are not enemy Cylons dead-set on destruction. Robots, sentient beings evolved from manufacturing machines, chose to head out into the world away from humans. The two civilizations of Humans and Robots have not met again in some time… UNTIL NOW! BOOM!
Dex is restless, rootless, and on the road. They have recently become a Tea Monk, and while the work is good and they are good at it, they are struggling with finding meaning. AREN’T WE ALL? Also- the role of Tea Monk sounds like my dream job: travel from city to city on your kitted out solar bike wagon, set up a tea table, and talk with people about their troubles while matching their mood with your tea. I WANT IT. While journeying through the land and within themselves, they come across Mosscap- the first Robot to make contact with humans since the separation ages ago. Mosscap is a delight, of course. This book is a soothing balm.
Unfortunately, this novel is VERY short (a novella, really) and more of the series is yet to exist, so now I am waiting impatiently for more adventures. While I chose this for my New Series square, one could also read this and check off Wilds, Machinery, Flora, They/She/He, Rep, People, or Travel! Also, Chambers gave a GR interview recently where she recommended diving into both spec fiction AND her work with To Be Taught, If Fortunate– so if you’re looking to either dive in for the first time OR check off Gateway you’ve got options, baby! Lastly- not to judge a book by the cover, but this illustrated cover is lovely. I can see it spawning many a tattoo.
Bingo Category: Mythic
Sword Stone Table: Old Stories, New Voices Swapna Krishna, Jenn Northington 5/5
Every. single. story.
There are NO duds in the collection of new musings on Arthurian legends. I am a sucker for Camelot, so this collection was calling to me from the moment I heard about it! I waited impatiently after pre-ordering, was immensely jealous of those who got early copies, and then DEVOURED mine as soon as I had it in hand. I probably pulled a quote from every other page. There are so many imaginative, delightful, hilarious, and HORNY lines in this collection- it’s impossible to pick a favorite. The book is wisely split into three parts: Past, Present, and Future. The Past section features tales that could have been happening right alongside the original legends, Present features modern-day retellings, and Future- well. You know. KNIGHTS. IN. SPAAAAAAAACE.
Past was my favorite section, as I am a dork for medeival chicanery (speaking of which- SEE. THE. GREEN. KNIGHT. oh my gods.). It also features a piece from all-around cool dude Daniel Lavery, so the scales were tipped in my favor.
It’s easy to see how this book fits into the Mythic square- I mean, what is more mythic than ladies in lakes- but if you are looking to cross out some other spaces OR looking to diversify your reading in general you could easily (and happily) fit this into Rep, Uncannon, He/She/They, People, or Travel.
GET YOUR QUEST ON!
Bingo Category: Rec’d (recommended to me by ElrondHubbard)
Welcome to Night Vale Jospeh Fink, Jeffrey Cranor 4/5
If you are not yet familiar with the sleepy little desert hellscape that is Night Vale, USA, then you must abandon all of your plans and dedicate yourself to listening to the Welcome to Night Vale podcast backlog post-haste.
Great! You’re back! I see that you turned down the position of Community Radio Station Intern (good move- it’s far more deadly than deep sea crab fishing) and that you NEVER entered the Dog Park. Well done!
If you don’t have all that time, or if you are uninterested in the podcast format, then do I have great news for you: you can join the bowling team at the Desert Flower just by cracking open Welcome to Night Vale. The story of a mysterious man, a magic piece of paper, a curse pawn shop, a shape shifting teen, and a surprisingly tragic tarantula does not require you to be familiar with Night Vale from the get go. There are plenty of easter-eggs and hat-tips to loyal listeners- including some chapters narrated by radio miscreant Cecil Baldwin himself- but the story itself is a dark, bizarre, silly, and ultimately poignant tale for the whole (Addams-esque) family to enjoy.
You could check off quite a few Bing Squares with this Bad Larry, and hell, you can tag ANY of these as Rec’d, if you like! Easy peasy! Were you looking for a more traditional route, you could happily knock out Rep, Gateway, or Travel.
Bingo Category: Pandemic
Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch Rivka Galchen 5/5
I just finished this one last night (you know, back in early Agust), and while I recommend it in general, you absolutely MUST experience it through audio. Natasha Soudek gives a performance of other-worldly might. She fully inhabits all of her characters- especially that of Katharina Kepler, our main protagonist. She handles accent work, 17th century phrasing, many ages, male characters, female characters- she’s really incredible. I want her to narrate my thoughts.
Katharina Kepler may sound familiar to you- well at least the “Kepler” part. Yes, THAT Kepler. Katharina Kepler was the mother of Johannes Kepler, and yes- she was tried as a witch. This is not a spoiler; the book is a fictional account of her diaries (through thought; she could not read or write), her correspondence with family and foe, and the formal complaints lodged against her by the superstitious, greedy, and foolish members of her community. It’s easy to draw parallels between the mass hysteria of the time (early 17th century Germany) with that of our own chaotic world, but Rivka Galchen wrote it much better than I ever could, so go read this! The townspeople are funny and terrible, the government is a disaster, the lives of women are beyond their own control, and yikes- just try telling the story of an older female protagonist! The story is old, but the tone is modern; this is the closest I have come to finding another Wolf Hall.
This checks off my Pandemic box not just because AH! We’re still in a pandemic! Free for all! but because the people of this book are also plagued by well, the actual plague- as well as rampant religious and military atrocities. It’s a dark subject and a dark time, but Galchen shines light onto all that she writes.