Love Your Library, November 2022

Rebecca at Bookish Beck has been running this monthly meme for years and I’ve started to join in. You can too, using the hashtag #LoveYourLibrary.

In November, I made a pretty big life decision and left my job at Heywood Hill Bookshop, where I’d worked for nearly six years. I’m brewing up a post about that move and everything that working at HH gave me. For now, it feels strangely liberating to have no professional impetus to read in a particular way. (Apart from PhD reading, which always provides direction; I mean reading for leisure purposes. Since 2017, my leisure reading—even the most frivolous—has had at least one eye on whether any of my customers might enjoy this title too. Now that’s all gone, and it’s just me and my whims and my TBR stack and my libraries.)

READ (PRINT)

The Galaxy and the Ground Within, by Becky Chambers (2021)—A sweet and moving novel set at an intergalactic truck stop in which people of various species learn to be better to each other. Like a lot of Chambers’s work, I love it while I’m reading it but have found it too generically message-focused for much of it to stick with me for long. I did appreciate the focus on biological differences and the importance of physical accessibility for people whose bodies are constructed very differently from one another. The grumpy-teen character got boring pretty quickly, though.

Bear Head, by Adrian Tchaikovsky (2021)—A sequel to Dogs of War, which you don’t technically need to have read but which provides a lot more of the background context for Bear Head than I’d initially realized. Raises some extremely interesting questions and ideas around bio-engineering, sentience, and distributed intelligences. One of the two narrating voices begins to grate fairly early (cynical hack Jimmy, whose head is swiftly invaded by a consciousness that calls itself Honey and claims to be an engineered bear), and the rapist politician character is somewhat cartoonish in his The Worst-ness (although the perspective we get on him from his PA is effectively chilling).

Black Water Sister, by Zen Cho (2021)—This took several starts but became more and more rewarding as I went on. Very, very different from Sorcerer To the Crown. Plots that involve possession—by a spirit or by a data set—were surprisingly recurrent in November, it would seem. It’s easy for me to get bogged down when too many scenes involve someone arguing with someone else inside their head, but Cho mostly keeps it moving. I didn’t really believe in Jess’s girlfriend (she only ever appears on FaceTime and isn’t well developed in her own right), but I did inwardly cheer when Jess comes out to her parents at the end of the novel.

Skyward Inn, by Aliya Whiteley (2021)—A very worthy shortlister for the Arthur C Clarke Award and frankly one I think I might have slightly preferred to see taking the prize. I’d never read Whiteley’s work before, but this bizarre, beautifully grotesque tale of colonialism, alien biology, and playing the (very) long game was breathtaking. Scary in a non-obvious way, sad, stunning. I’ll read more of her work.

The Widow’s House, by Daniel Abraham (2014)—The fourth in The Dagger and the Coin series. Maintained the high standards of fun, page-turning, economics-driven medieval fantasy that the first three books established. Geder’s atrocities get worse while his self-justification increases. I can’t always remember which events happen in which book, which is probably a casualty of this sort of core-genre series.

The Spider’s War, by Daniel Abraham (2015)—Except I do remember what happens in this book because it’s the last one! Smart and thoughtful endings for everyone, more or less, including Geder (whose final action is not presented as sufficient to wipe out all the terrible things he’s done, although his bravery is acknowledged) and Clara and Vincen (no spoilers, but: hooray!!)

READ (EBOOK)

Barnaby Rudge, by Charles Dickens (1841)—My Annual Winter Dickens! I try to read one a year, sometime between November and December. Now there’s only one I haven’t yet read (The Pickwick Papers), and after that I’ll have to start the cycle all over again. (Or plow through the oeuvre of Wilkie Collins, perhaps.)

Rudge was way better than I was expecting. It’s probably the Dickens novel that would get you the best score on Pointless—its cultural impact has been negligible—but given the riches it contains, I can’t fathom why. The centerpiece of the book is (famous-ish-ly) the Gordon Riots, which were whipped up by Lord George Gordon in the 1780s against proposed legislation to politically and socially emancipate British Catholics. The accounts of urban violence are second to none; in its depiction of public mobs inflamed by the wealthy and cynical in pursuit of a goal that is ideologically muddled to most of them, it feels shockingly contemporary. The scenes in the prison among the characters condemned to execution are genuinely horrifying. The title character is, for the time, a sensitively drawn portrait of someone we would now call a vulnerable adult, and the ways in which such vulnerability can be manipulated. There’s also a fantastic pet raven named Grip. Truly, one of the best surprises Dickens has shown me thus far.

RETURNED (UNREAD)

A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine (2019)—Suddenly lost my interest in reading it. I don’t know why. Perhaps it was just the prospect of having to mentally pronounce “Teixcalaan” a bunch of times.

RETURNED (UNFINISHED)

Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer (2016)—I really gave this one the old college try; nearly 200 pages in, it was just too much of a slog to keep lingo and worldbuilding clear in my head. The baffling coyness about gendered pronouns felt like excessive protesting, instead of a way to mark the foreignness of the future. It’s a shame, as I’ve been looking forward to reading it for years, but I think Palmer’s work might not be my cup of tea, at least for now.

Needle in a Timestack, by Robert Silverberg (1966, 1985, 2021)—Read the first story and actually loved it, but the whole book is over 500 pages long and when will I learn to stop checking out multiple thicccc volumes at once? Never, apparently.

CHECKED OUT, TO BE READ

Babel, by RF Kuang (2022)—as an ebook. Very much looking forward to this.

From the London Library, a number of PhD-related books: The Prince’s Mistress: a Life of Mary Robinson, by Hester Davenport; Perdita: the Life of Mary Robinson, by Paula Byrne; Memoirs of Mary Robinson ed. J. Fitzgerald Molloy; Perdita: the Memoirs of Mary Robinson, ed. M.J. Levy; The Works of Mary Robinson, vol. 8, ed. William D. Brewer

Roma Eterna, by Robert Silverberg (2003)

Little Eve, by Catriona Ward (2018)

Sundial, by Catriona Ward (2022)

The Young HG Wells, by Claire Tomalin (2021)

Civilisations, by Laurent Binet (2019)

People Who Eat Darkness, by Richard Lloyd Parry (2010)

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7 thoughts on “Love Your Library, November 2022

  1. Best of luck with the PhD and whatever else lies ahead after leaving Heywood Hill!

    I also re-read Galaxy this month and I agree, I hate Chambers’ teen stereotypes. I wish she’d play with age like she does with sexuality and gender, but no.

    You made the right choice with A Memory Called Empire – I plodded through the whole thing and just found it quite joyless.

    1. Thank you!

      It’s just a shame because the rest of the book is so keen to challenge lazy identity-based characterization; I did feel surprised by the upping of the stakes in actually allowing the teen character to be injured.

      Thank goodness—glad I’m not missing out with the Martine.

  2. Oh wow, I didn’t know you left HH. I hope you’re enjoying the freedom and the sense of possibility. It will be interesting to see how your reading changes. I’ve not read Barnaby Rudge but knew about Grip the raven!

    1. Yes! I’ll be more forthcoming soon, but I have a new part-time job and am really enjoying the new challenge. Barnaby Rudge is seriously such a hidden gem; I’m shocked it hasn’t been adapted more frequently. (The last feature-length film of it was in 1966!)

      1. It occurred to me that I had a similar trajectory with my library job in London: I stayed 5.5 years and left as I was approaching 30 to go freelance. I’ve never looked back!

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