Since I work at a used bookstore, I ended up with more in my Inbox than my Outbox, an all too frequent occurrence, as my groaning bookshelves can attest to. But how can I resist?
Inbox (Books Acquired)
The Moon and the Other by John Kessel. A matriarchal utopia on the moon, on the brink of civil war, set in the near future. Um, of course I bought it! It’s also compared to two of my favorite dystopias: The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I’m always on the hunt for excellent dystopias. I haven’t read Kessel before, but he’s won a ton of awards, and the premise for this one sounds amazing. Even though it’s only been out for a month, I managed to grab a used copy.
Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood. Speaking of Margaret Atwood, her newest novel retells The Tempest by William Shakespeare. Felix, an artistic director, signs on to teach theatre in a prison—and he directs the prisoners in a production of “The Tempest.” I imagine this will have Atwood’s biting humor and her realism that pushes the boundaries of absurdity. At least I hope it does! I will probably be reading this soon, as a Goodreads book club I participate in is currently nominating novels around the theme of ‘magical Shakespeare,’ and I will definitely be voting for this one.
Unicorn by Angela Carter. So Angela Carter wrote poetry? Why did I not know this? I shelve the poetry section at work, and definitely made some excited noises when I saw this. In case you don’t know, Angela Carter’s fiction often subverts fairy tales. Her most famous work is The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, which I love. Unicorn promises to be similar, with such poems as “Life-Affirming Poem About Small, Pregnant White Cat” and “Through the Looking Glass.” Unicorn also contains three essays at the end that examine Angela Carter’s work as a whole.
Afterland by Mai Der Vang. This is a completely random buy. I opened the book, read a random poem, liked it, bought it. I know absolutely nothing about the author. Apparently, this is her first collection. The couple poems I perused have hints of magical realism: “Violets are hatching volcanoes. / Today’s bees have swallowed / The last milk of lanterns.” Mai Der Vang also won the Walt Whitman Award, so it’s probably good? We’ll see!
Outbox (Books Finished)
Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang. The movie Arrival is based on the title story, “Story of Your Life,” which is the best piece in this collection. Better than the movie. In most of these short stories, Ted Chiang combines hard science with complicated, questing characters. Not questing in the usual fantasy sense, but questing as in lonely souls trying to find meaning in the world while struggling with a scientific concept that changes everything. The stories are weakest when they rely too heavily on a scientific concept and lack the character and plot building to support the story. But there were only a few of those. Most were complex and interesting. Oh, and Ted Chiang describes his writing process for each story at the end. I wish every author included these in their short story collections!
The Rise of the New Woman: The Women’s Movement in America, 1875-1930 by Jean V. Matthews. I’m currently researching the suffrage movement for a writing in progress. This book gives a broad introduction to the movement. I appreciate Jean Matthew’s attention to the disenfranchisement of black women in the movement while also highlighting important black women figures. The scope of the book is much broader than that, but every chapter highlighted black women to some extent, and in a movement that was often racist, addressing the accomplishments of POC was refreshing. It’s also very readable.
Music of the Ghosts by Vaddey Ratner. This is one melancholy book, as it would have to be. Almost 40 years have passed since the genocide of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. Teera, who escaped with her aunt to the U.S. as a child, returns to Cambodia as an adult, haunted by her past and struggling with grief after her aunt’s death. A man called The Old Musician claims to have several instruments of her father’s, and wants to return them. The novel weaves between their perspectives as both grapple with the past and try to find hope and meaning in the present. While this is a melancholy novel, it’s not a hopeless one. In her afterward, Ratner says that if In the Shadow of the Banyan (her 1st novel set during the same time period) is a story of survival, then Music of the Ghosts is a story of surviving.
In the Queue (What I’m Reading Next)
Sealskin by Su Bristow. I love selkie legends, so when this popped up on Netgalley, I immediately requested it. It takes place in Scotland and the main character is a fisherman. I know nothing about the author, but the Goodreads blurb says her fiction is like a cross between Angela Carter and Eowyn Ivey, which sounds too good to be true! It released May 1st, and I can’t wait to dive in.
What does your inbox/outbox look like this week?