Luke McGuff (holyoutlaw) wrote,
Luke McGuff

Books read November and December


I only read one book in November. ONE BOOK. At least it was a good one.

Coals to Diamonds
Beth Ditto (with Michelle Tea)
Spiegel & Grau, 2012
Very intense memoir about growing up in Judsonia, AR (which even in the 1990s did not have universal indoor plumbing), leaving it to move to Olympia, and then being in a multi-platinum internationally famous punk rock band. From barely having any clothes to call her own to designing fashions explicitly for fat women. Nothing is shied away from. Nothing is over-glorified.

Part of the reason I only read one book in November was because I was hung up on finishing a nonfiction work that I was just stuck on. I don't know if it was the writer's style or just rebellion at reading nonfiction when I wanted something I could get lost in. But I made up for it in December, reading ten books.

Restoring Paradise: Rethinking and Rebuilding Nature in Hawaii
Robert J. Cabin
University of Hawaii Press, 2013
A revisitation of his earlier book, "Intelligent Tinkering." Cabin revisits many of the places he had worked on to examine their progress today. He sees many successes, plant and bird species coming back from the brink of extinction and new plant communities assembling. This isn't without quite a cost, though; the "baseline" for restoration being a contentious issue. The Hawaiian archipelago existed for tens of thousands of years before Polynesians arrived, building up quite a dynamic ecology. The Polynesians brought with them many animal and bird species, and caused a fair amount of disruption. Do we restore to before Polynesian arrival? Too many of those plants and animals are completely lost. When the Europeans arrived, the disruption was even larger, bringing ungulates, commercial farming, and a greater number of invasive plants and animals. Most restorationists say they should work to restore pre-European ecologies. But even with that in mind, approaches (political, cultural, and scientific) to how to do the restoration differ greatly, creating a lively, and at times acrimonious, debate. It was the quotes Cabin presented to demonstrate the varieties of opinion that I thought most relevant to experiences in Seattle (and the debate over putting a bike path in a park). There was such a variety of opinions expressed that wherever you fell on this issue you could find a supporting opinion in one or another of the quotes Cabin presents. I think that's the main point of his book: there's room for active debate because there's enough work to be done.

Shades of Milk and Honey
Mary Robinette Kowal
Tor, 2010
A fantasy novel taking after Jane Austen and set in the Regency period in the UK. There is quite a lot of fantasy set in this time period. I find it more attractive after reading Patrick O'Brian and Naomi Novik. Kowal's use of the language is perhaps the best of any modern writer I've read (which isn't many) and I think she does a good job of showing the limitation of roles in that society, and how the sense of what was "proper" could nearly kill people. This is the first in a series; I might read the others.

Going Native
Stephen Wright
Vintage Contemporaries, 2005
Didn't quite bounce off this one, made it 173/305 of the way through. But I just got tired of the relentless turgidity of the prose. It's compared to "On The Road" but I don't see the connection.

Glamour in Glass
Mary Robinette Kowal
Tor, 2012
Cruised right through this on a rainy day. In the Austen/O'Brian alternate universe, I lean towards the O'Brian end of the spectrum, and this fit the bill nicely. The action was very well done, and brought to a moving pitch. I'm going to read the next one in the series (I think there are four so far).

An Obedient Father
Akhil Sharma
W.W. Norton & Co., 2000
This book has the same painfully rendered family dynamics as his second novel, "Family Life." Even thought I felt like I couldn't spend ten minutes in a room with most of these people, I couldn't stop reading. That's saying something, considering how abusive they were to each other.

Without a Summer
Mary Robinette Kowal
Tor, 2013
The third in the Glamourist histories; there are four so far. I thought the book did a good job of showing the prejudices of the heroine misleading her, and how the prejudices in Regency England were different -- it was worse to be a Catholic, for instance, than to be a person of color. The ending felt a little deus ex machina, but on the other hand, there's a possibility of a good villain for the next several novels (however many there might be). I put the fourth one on hold pretty directly.

Valour and Vanity
Mary Robinette Kowal
Tor, 2014
The last of the current Glamourist histories. The characters continue to develop, and it's the relationship between Lady Vincent and Sir David that is the most important aspect of the novel. This has a good heist sequence and continues threads started in the second novel.

Madeline Ashby
Angry Robot Books, 2012
Interesting take on robots -- "vN" stands for "von Neumann machines" which is what the humanoid robots in the novel are called. It's the late 21st century. An earthquake has destroyed Seattle, but there don't seem to be any effects of global warming. Robots have a "failsafe" that is mean to protect humans, but it's twisted in that it causes robots to fall in love with humans. One "clade" of robots has its failsafe modified so they can be nurses, which eventually fails. This is the first of a trilogy. The second book is out.

Scott Westerfeld
Simon Pulse, 2011
The last book of a trilogy. I read the first two books in succession a few years ago, and then forgot about the series until reminded somehow recently. I remembered enough of the details to understand the situations and the characters. I thought this section fell too much into the "characters meet famous people" trap of historical/alt-historical novels. It felt a little less exciting than the first two. Maybe it's because of the gap in reading between the second and third book -- I was very excited by the first volume and read the second one right away.

Questionable Practices
Eileen Gunn
Small Beer Press, 2014
Most of my reading these days has been not just novels, but long series of four and five books at least. So this collection of short stories was quite a change of pace, but I really liked it. The tone varies greatly from each to each, and that was both part of the challenge and part of the fun. Two of the stories I considered strongest -- "Chop Wood, Carry Water" and "Phantom Pain" -- are published here for the first time. They are more somber and quiet than the other stories, part of why they stand out.

Statistic for the year -- well, the last quarter, I only started tracking my reading in September.


I started 21 books, finished 18, 15 fiction and six nonfiction, but most of the nonfiction were memoirs of various types. Ten were by men, 11 by women, and four by people of color. Of the three I didn't finish, two I gave up on and the third I haven't finished "yet."

Onward to 2015!

  • New terms of service

    Because of the new terms of service, I am deleting my LiveJournal permanently.

  • Book Notes

    Only two books in February -- guess I was hit more strongly by malaise than I thought. Also, i was sick for a week. Four Modern Prophets William M.…

  • YESC Seattle at Golden Gardens

    About 25-30 high school students from YESC Seattle ( YMCA Earth Services Corps) joined us at Golden Gardens on Saturday, Jan. 30. We removed ivy…

  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened