dill & fennel

2020: 62

books {#2020}

Self-Knowledge

Another School of Life book, this time on life and self-knowing. I enjoyed it quite a bit, with its brisk tour of much of what I’ve covered in therapy over the years.

Earthlings — Sayaka Murata

Wow, this was initially pretty straightforward, and then went deep into the weird zone. Murata is so good at writing. Between this and the Convenience Store Woman, I think she’s one of the best surrealist fiction authors working. Very highly recommended, and hard to put down.

God Emperor of Dune

Truly strange. The series is wilder every book.

The City We Became — NK Jemison

Hell yea! A new trilogy from NK Jemison set in our world. I love the idea of cities as sentient beings. I think there’s some really interesting stuff that gets explored here, and I’m excited to see where the next one goes. Other than Wu Tang, fuck Staten Island though.

Can’t Even — Anne Helen Petersen

Why is burnout such a thing, and how does it effect millennials? What the hell were boomers thinking? All these questions and more are answered thoroughly in this well-researched and often funny book about modern life.

How to Overcome your Childhood

A brisk read on how our childhoods fucked us up, and what to do about it. Food for my therapist and I for sure.

Kissa by Kissa — Craig Mod

I’ve had a few occasions to sit and chat with Craig over coffee, and this book feels like an extension of those hangouts. This is a delightful travelogue and philosophical essay on exploring the nooks of Japan as they age into a softly-lit Showa patina. This book breathes a countryside stroll in and exhales a perfumes of coffee and toast. A joy.

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work — Alain de Botton

At various points de Botton is curiously horned-up, but this is largely an interesting outsider look at various industries. From the drudgeries of accountancy, to the mysteries of flight, there are quite a few strange details in this slim tome.

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion — Margaret Killjoy

A great novella about anarchist punks who summon a demon. This felt like something that could’ve lived in Meanwhile, Elsewhere in the best way. I really loved seeing various trans pinkest in a magical story, and hope the Danielle Cain series keeps going.

The Disaster Tourist — Yun Ko-eun

A fun look at the nightmarish world of trips and tours. Disaster tours feel like the next evolution of the sex tour—a titillating view of poverty and suffering. There was just enough left out to create a nice bit of mystery, and Yona was a good guide through the complexity of complicity.r

The Overstory — Richard Powers

This book started-off well, with some vignettes of various characters, then lost me for a while in a very slow build. By page 300 or so, I couldn’t put it down, and didn’t get to sleep until 5am. A delight.

Axiom’s End — Lindsey Ellis

This read like a fun alien movie. Definitely good for a first novel, but there was a lot of rushed action in the 3rd act after a bit of running around. If this series continues, I hope we get to go off-planet a bit as well. I still can’t quite picture the aliens in this book either, fwiw.

Children of Dune — Frank Herbert

The wildest line in this book is near the end: “There was an adult beefswelling in his loins and he felt his mouth open, holding, clinging to the girder-shape of ecstasy”. This is probably the worst line of sexual prose I’ve ever read. Other than that, fun book! The end really picked-up the action after a lot of early intrigue

How to Be Alone — Sara Maitland

A very pleasing slim tome on being alone that tackles the challenges and the pleasures of this pursuit. As a woman who lives alone and loves it, I liked seeing my lifestyle discussed here, as well as the gentle encouragements to try camping or traveling alone. I’ve personally found flying to other places by myself to be immensely fulfilling. If you feel as if you can’t survive without constant social input, this book might convince you to dabble in solitude.

Dune: Messiah — Frank Herbert

Definitely a “kill your heroes” sort of book. After the wild, messianic build-up of Dune, it’s interesting to skip past the jihad of Mua’dib into a world where the dullness and frustrations of being a ruler and a deified person lurk. I think I’d previously tried to read this, but wasn’t able to finish, so I’m glad I made it through this try. This book is definitely heavier and slower than Dune, despite being shorter, but I’ve heard the third and fourth books are more interesting, and I think this is a necessary antidote to the high highs of Dune.

The Lightness — Emily Temple

Ah, a Buddhist summer camp for bad girls! I enjoyed this tale of friendship and want quite a bit. I’ve enjoyed Buddhist meditation for a few years now so had heard some of the stories at margins of this book, but really it’s more about family and belonging. A great first novel.

The Luminous Dead — Caitlin Starling

If you enjoy claustrophobic cave diving movies, this book will be up your alley. I love that Starling hinted at a very large galaxy of space exploration, but confined the reader to a single, wild cave. This was the kind of page-turner that kept me up till 4am to find out what happened. Very fun.

The Relentless Moon — Mary Robinette Kowal

This series is super fun. It feels like cool lady space stuff is in the air lately, as For All Mankind feels a bit similar. I don’t know how I feel about us using resources to go to space vs. trying to preserve the planet, but I’d way rather us go to space than bomb places, so.

A Peculiar Peril — Jeff Vandermeer

This was a bit of a slog. I generally enjoy the creeping horror and all-around bizarre confusion of a Vandermeer, but I think in his effort to build a YA novel, he may have lost the power of brevity. This book skips around between characters a little too much to build any real connections to any of them. I managed to finish it, but I can’t say I liked it that much. If Volume 2 is shorter, I could be tempted to dive in, simply out of sunk-cost.

Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World — Haruki Murakami

An excellent reread, though Murakami is pretty bad at talking about women.

Goldilocks — Laura Lam

A little too real at times, this pairs well with Emergency Skin. I think my only complaint was the flashbacks went on a little too long, which slowed down the tension of the present-day story. Mostly I really dug this though.

Harrow the Ninth — Tamsyn Muir

For a book that was maddeningly confusing for almost its length, I loved it. I literally could not put it down and read the whole thing largely in one go. Beautiful, bizarre, and baffling. I cannot wait for the third book. More. lesbian. necromancers. in. space. please. Oh and for everyone complaining there wasn’t enough Sci-fi in Gideon, this book has malevolent planets AND space stations. So.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January — Alix E. Harrow

A fun portal fantasy set in the early 1900s. This was decidedly a YA book, but moved along quickly and had enough fun world building to make me hope for a sequel. I also appreciated the use of alternate worlds to talk a bit more about race, gender, and sexuality, but hoped that would translate a little more into the main characters desires. As always, my throne for more lesbian protagonists.

How to be Bored — Eva Hoffman

I’ve read a lot of books kind of like over the last few years, and this is one of the better-stated and brief ones out there. If you would like to read a book about attention and enjoyment, this is solid. It’s high-minded and well-cited without coming off pompous either.

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps — Kai Ashante Wilson

Ah, I wish there were more good gay fantasy novels. This was brutal, heart-warming, and confusing at various turns. I loved that the language of the book was an AAVE, along with other patois. My hope is that Wilson writes more set in this world of magic and godlike alien technology.

Infomacracy — Malka Older

A very good re-read. In the lead up to the election, this feels appropriate.

Buddhism for Beginners

A pretty solid introduction formatted as an extended Q&A that covers most ground related to how Buddhist teachings apply to our present time. I think I prefer the other book I read recently, but it was nice to have clarity on a few things I’d heard in teachings at sanghas.

Because Internet: Gretchen McCulloch

A delightful linguistic investigation into the history and present of internet culture, memes, and language. This felt somewhat similar to Lurking insofar as they cover a bit of the same territory, but I think this deeper dive into the language and communication styles that came from Old Internet People is a nice companion to that book. If you’re online in any capacity, this is something important to read.

An American Spy — Olen Steinhauer

Ah, I finally got to a volume I haven’t read before—I loved the switch in perspective to the spymaster Zhu. I am pretty curious to see what happens in the final Milo Weaver book, especially with a few years separating it from this hopeful book. Generally, this series felt light enough to get through quickly, but fun, and meaty enough to really sink into during that time.

The Nearest Exit — Olen Steinhauer

Apparently I read this book before in 2010, but I’ve definitely slept since then because most of it was still a surprise to me. The saga of Milo Weaver gets even more twisty in this volume as he tries to quit his job and fix his family. Definitely wishing I could do some traveling of my own after these two spy novels.

Buddhism Without Beliefs — Stephen Bachelor

A few years ago I started going to a sangha regularly and meditating a lot. While I haven’t kept up with the practice regularly, mediation is a pretty awesome part of my life when I’m able to do it, and I’ve enjoyed the lessons of the four noble truths and eightfold path. The bits of capital B Buddhism I wasn’t so amped on were the religious bits, so it’s interesting to read about an agnostic buddhism.

My Soul to Keep — Yrsa Sigurdadóttir

Another cozy mystery with the lawyer Thora. This went on a little long, but was still twisty enough to be interesting. In a world of Nordic noir, it’s kinda fun to read something where the protagonist isn’t a cop.

The Tourist — Olen Steinhauer

A fun spy novel with plenty of twists and a good take on “the spy that tried to get out” trope.

A Memory Called Empire — Arkady Martine

I have to admit I heard this author read at an event and her style was such I didn’t want to read this book for some time. However, I’m glad I got over that and dove into this fantastical world. Martine deftly wove together the foundation for a really neat space opera, with compelling characters, and a lot of meaty world-building. There was intrigue plenty, and I’m excited for the next book in September.

In Praise of Shadows — Junichiro Tanizaki

A lot of this book (or possibly long essay) really holds up. I love all the bits about soft lighting and over-illumination killing mystery and beauty, but the parts of skin color and race are definitely not of-the-times. Tanizaki was a strange fellow, but I’m glad I read this seminal work.

The Glass Hotel — Emily St John Mandel

An interesting twisty novel. This reminded me a bit of how David Mitchell constructs his plots, but slightly more straightforward. I wish we’d gotten a little more Vincent.

The Summer Book — Tove Jansson

This was a delightfully banal book about a girl and her grandma on an island off the coat of Finland. All the small stories were a joy, and I imagine I’ll return to this book often when I need a smile.

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning — Margareta Magnusson

It’s nice reading a book by an older woman who has such a clear love and appreciate for her life, but has accepted the inevitability of death. Far from being grim, this book was a delightful look at what we value and how to make sure no one else has to clean up our mess when we’re gone.

Woman in the Dunes — Kobo Abe

Abe is one of my favorite authors, and consistently makes me smile with his surreal plots and characters. Woman in the Dunes is not my favorite of his, but is a fascinating look at how our spirit can be ground down by sand and society.

Abolish Silicon Valley — Wendy Liu

“Capitalism Is a disease in the venality of Silicon Valley is a morbid symptom, the fingers turning ashen”

As someone who is somewhat begrudgingly started working in Silicon Valley after studying literature mostly as a way to make ends-meat, this book resonated strongly. The front half establishes Liu’s history, but the back half is the juicy bit. I love reading a hopeful vision of how we might reconfigure society to support humans, and not capital.

Last Rituals — Yrsa Sigurdadóttir

A solid Scandinavian noir with a nice amount of occult content. I think the translation could’ve likely used work, as some of the phrasing seemed oddly stilted, but I can’t read Icelandic to check up on that.

Network Effect — Martha Wells

It’s nice to really stretch my legs in the Murderbot world. I hope Wells writes more novels in this fun universe, and we get to see Murderbot grow further past its general emotional discomfort.

Finna — Nino Cipri

A fun romp through an IKEA multiverse with a queer couple and a missing grandma. I had fun with this, and the short length meant I blazed through it almost too fast. I hope there’s more from Cipri soon.

Zero History — William Gibson

I read this slowly to really savor it. The last book in the Blue Ant trilogy is the most oddball and fun, but always comes with the knowledge that I won’t get to adventure with Millgrim and Hollis again until I reread the series yet again in the future. It’s fascinating how thoroughly Gibson identified the coming brand drops, denim obsession, and obsession with quadrocopters. As a sage of the near future, he feels unparalleled.

Spook Country — William Gibson

A delightful reread of a really fun Gibson near-future/near-past adventure. There are so many moments in this book that make me super jealous I didn’t conceive of them. The Blue Ant trilogy owns bones.

Polaris Rising — Jessie Mihalik

A mix of space caper and Harlequin Romance, there was entirely too much straight sex in this for me. But, if you think “space operas should have more picking out dresses and rough hands on waists,” then this is the book for you.

Zero Sum Game — SL Huang

Ah a female protagonist who uses her math expertise to leap through windows and shoot bad guys! This book ruled. I’m not sure what this character’s “struggle” is going to be, because in the first book at least she’s a little invincible, but either way it was fun.

The Factory — Hiroko Oyamada

A strange, short book with some challenging dialogue formatting. I really loved the small vignettes of slightly-slanted banal work life in The Factory. I’m excited to read more of Oyamada’s work, because despite reading quite a bit of Japanese fiction, I haven’t had the chance to read very many Japanese women. I hope that I either get better at kanji to the point I can read from the source, or more translators translate other women.

Empress of Forever — Max Gladstone

A fun space romp with a Jobsian lesbian protagonist and a strange cast of characters. This quickly shifts into a very different book from what it starts as, but I still loved it. More space lesbians, please.

A Song for a New Day — Sarah Pinsker

Welp, my second book for the month was another plague book, albeit one that largely took place in the aftermath of a pox. I enjoyed this book quite a bit, even if it was a little too hopeful for my usual taste. Honestly, it was a little refreshing to read a book where cool women make music and care about each other, and hope for the future. Thanks Haley for the tip on this one.

Wanderers — Chuck Wendig

Phew, that was a dark fucking book. With the pandemic going on in the world right now, this wasn’t a very good idea to read, but I’m glad I finished it. Just about every bad thing you can imagine happens in this book, so I have a hard time recommending it, but perhaps for folks who don’t believe in global warming or in the danger of a pandemic, this will give them pause.

Lurking — Joanne McNeil

A very interesting look at the history of the internet as a user. One of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in a while.

The Longing for Less — Kyle Chayka

This was far funnier than I expected, and also taught me a lot about a few areas of art and architecture I didn’t know about. A really informative and fun book.

しろくまカフェ 1

私のこれが最初日本語の漫画を読んだ。面白かったよ。次に谷崎の文学を読むww。

Outline — Rachel Cusk

This was recommended to me, but I can’t say I loved it. The story here read more as a series of strange anecdotes, without a lot of core thread to grasp. There are two more books in this series, but I think I may pass on them.

Agency — William Gibson

A nearly present-day story of AI, art, and San Francisco. I really enjoyed this Peripheral sequel, though I think on the whole the fashion and strange web world of the previous trilogy was more my speed. I hope we get one more book with Netherton, Ash and company.

Mainline — Deborah Christiansen

A fun throwback to the world of cyber decks and assassins. I wish I’d found this in 1996, but it holds up well. The plot got a little convoluted, but supposedly there’s a very recent sequel, so perhaps there will be payoff.

Uncanny Valley — Anna Weiner

Ah, the tech industry. I’ve been working in this world for over a decade and this book felt like a survey of it. I know a few people mentioned in the chapters, and am unfortunately very familiar with many of the events. I think Weiner did a great job of capturing the constant, weird feeling of trying to survive and often getting lost in the self-satisfied world of tech founders and “disruption”.

Throne of Glass — Sarah J. Maas

I was drawn to this book by the front cover and the vague notion that it might be like Gideon the Ninth. It’s not exactly super different, but it’s clearly YA, where Gideon is not. I may continue the series, as it was decently compelling, but I wish it were more genre and less youth.

Unsubscribe — Jocelyn Glei

Although this book is deep in the details of email, most of it applies just as well to Slack and other forms of messaging. I appreciate her approach to mindful work, as well as how she thinks about the problems of people and communication. A worthwhile read, especially if you struggle with a mountain of other people’s problems

The Walking Man — Jiro Taniguchi

The art in this manga is gorgeous. I especially love the way the leaves and grass are drawn. The stories are largely dialogue-less vignettes that meander through cities and the countryside, taking it all in. When I open this book, I wish I were in Japan again, following stray cats around town.

Emily Eternal — M.G. Wheaton

This is an interesting take on apocalyptic fiction. With an AI protagonist and a dying sun, the story careens across the Americas and then even further. There’s a strange love story I didn’t care much for, but otherwise this was a nice romp.

footnotes

* Lesbian Book Club

** Ghost Book Club

book archive