I keep telling myself I’ll write these posts more regularly, and then I go nine months in between writing these posts and as a result each review is short and non-substantial and I barely remember what I read. But since I wrote the last review post three months ago and I did read a few standout books in the meantime, let’s get started.
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin: I’ve been putting this off because I haven’t had the mental energy to read a chonker of a series for a long time. True to form for many epic fantasies, this one was slow to start, but once it got going it got GOING. That twist at the end was 100% worth sticking it out for and now I want to know what happens next.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke: I read this for my book club and went into the book knowing nothing beyond what the book jacket told me. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I would like this book since I read Susanna Clarke’s other book years ago and didn’t like it, but these two books were different enough that I went into this one judgment-free. (This book being shorter certainly helped its case.) Oh man. I loved this book so much.
I’m not going to talk about the book itself here because you should go in knowing nothing as well. In fact, knowing nothing is part of the experience as you’re confused as hell through the first fifty or so pages, getting swept up into the world and questioning everything about the experience.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab: What happens if you live forever but no one knows who you are… until someone does? That’s what happens in this book when a young woman makes a deal with the devil in the 1700s and then lives for the next 300 years, completely forgotten. Until she isn’t. This book deals with depression, the presentation of women over time, and queer representation, but most importantly it shows what it means to be remembered. Even though people couldn’t remember her, they could still be inspired by her to create art, like they saw her in a dream. It’s an interesting concept that left me wanting more, especially about Henry. The primary unrealistic part: how are this many young people living in contemporary New York City without roommates?!
Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler: Are we sure this book was written in the nineties? Because holy crap a lot of this stuff is happening now or could happen very soon. The only thing that has me convinced that Butler isn’t some kind of time traveling genius is the lack of smartphones and internet in this book. See, I’m a sucker for a good dystopian book, but this book doesn’t cover the dystopia itself. Rather, it covers the collapse of society as it happens. Debt slavery and company towns are a thing. People live in neighborhoods and protect their little communities from outsiders. Every town border is wary of outsiders. People are afraid to leave their little neighborhood because you might not survive (and indeed, many people don’t). There’s mass inequality and inflation, as evidence by a thousand dollars buying food for a couple of weeks. A new president is removing government programs and creating jobs but slashing labor rights and making America great again (except not). Hmm, where have we heard this before? I would not be surprised if we were living in this society within my lifetime.
What I really like about this book is the emphasis on community in order to survive. That’s not something you see a lot of in survivalist communities, but communities are what will ultimately save us. Yes, Lauren and her neighborhood friends had to decide who to trust when they started meeting others trying to survive, but when they did, they gained so many benefits and resources from having a bigger group. That’s a lesson for us to learn: we won’t survive on our own, but if we band together, we just might.
I listened to all these books.
Sisters in Hate: American Women on the Front Lines of White Nationalism by Seyward Darby: The typical image of right-wing nationalists is stupid white dudes carrying Confederate flags and yelling slurs. But surely there are women in this movement, right? Yep. That’s where this book comes in. Part of me was skeptical because I didn’t want to read a book glorifying the women and their harmful roles, but this book strikes the balance of telling the women’s stories while not glorifying them. The book follows three women in their journey to (and in one case from) white nationalism. Darby doesn’t have to work any dramatics to make the women look unintelligent and with few critical thinking skills; this becomes clear when you start hearing about how the women get sucked into that mindset. Hearing the women’s stories and their role is interesting; they can infiltrate women-filled spaces as lifestyle influencers (think food, parenting, that sort of thing) in other social media spaces and get other women to join this way, yet once more women do join they face so much misogyny. I should say this book is hard to read at times. There are slurs and hate terms sprinkled throughout, along with explanations of what these women believe. But this book is important at showing that women are just as important in sucking others into the cult.
You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters by Kate Murphy: I’ll be honest. I’m one of those people waiting to talk in loud group conversations because most of the time I miss my chance to talk by a split second and some louder person has started talking about something totally different that completely defeats what I’m going to say. It’s why I appear quiet sometimes; I keep trying to talk at the wrong time. Let’s face it. We live in a world where we’re expected to talk. Talk about ourselves online. Lead the conversation. But who’s listening to us? This book interviews people whose jobs involve a lot of listening: therapists, bartenders, focus group moderators, and even CIA agents. This book doesn’t teach you how to listen, unfortunately. Instead, it shows the value in listening along with some sobering statistics, like how half of Americans don’t have meaningful social interactions on a daily basis. The flipside of this is that listening can make you a better friend and person. You come up with more meaningful things to talk about and continue the conversation when you’re listening, or you can read into the conversation and realize that it’s over. These are things you don’t notice when you’re just waiting for your chance to talk.
Work Won’t Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone by Sarah Jaffe: “Love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I used to believe that, back when I thought being a bestselling novelist was easy. The reality is much different, especially for people doing what they love in low-paying professions. It turns out that in many professions where we do what we love, we keep taking on more because well, we love it. This opens the path for the people in charge of us to exploit us because after all, we love our work… until we don’t. This book is a brutal look at the dark side of doing what you love: after all, work won’t love you back. You don’t get paid in love. You get paid in working extra hours for little pay, delivering on tight deadlines, or going to work in the middle of an emergency. All because you need to survive. This book makes me grateful that I like my job but don’t have to live it as my lifestyle.
How to Be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Question by Michael Schur: Let’s be honest, I’m a big fan of The Good Place, which is why I picked up this book. Plus, parts of the book are narrated by the show’s amazing cast, so what’s not to love there? Hell, I have half a blog post sitting in my drafts about why being a good person is really hard, inspired by the show. In fact, Schur talks about the topic of moral exhaustion in great detail, how everything seems to have some moral issue attached to it and how we can’t get away from it. Or worse, we could like something before discovering its problematic nature or creators and then what? Schur introduces real philosophical concepts like utilitarianism, contractualism, virtue ethics, and ubuntu without making it feel like a Philosophy 101 class (which I took in college). Pick this up if you want to deal with relevant philosophy problems with some humor attached. My one downside is that the book doesn’t end with “Pobody’s nerfect.”
x + y: A Mathematician’s Manifesto for Rethinking Gender by Eugenia Cheng: I didn’t love this book but I want to talk about it anyway, especially since I read it recently and the concepts are still fresh to me. Math and gender issues? Sign me the fuck up. To be honest, this book was disappointing. Cheng breaks down the traits that are stereotypically seen as masculine or feminine and suggests new terms for those traits that are not tied to gender. Ingressive behaviors are the ones that center yourself. That One Guy who spends two minutes telling his life story before asking a question at a convention is being ingressive. Congressive behaviors center collaboration and teamwork, making sure everyone is on the same page. I appreciate the distinction, but I couldn’t shake off the feeling that Cheng was equating ingressive to bad and congressive to good. There are plenty of times when exhibiting ingressive behaviors is a good thing: when negotiating salary and benefits for a new job or a promotion, when people are attacking the existence of you and your friends. There are also times when congressive behavior is a bad thing; getting everyone on the same page doesn’t magically make stuff happen when their fundamental assumptions and goals are different. (Look at the Senate right now… cough) All that said, I do agree with the bigger points of separating character traits from gender, and to Cheng’s credit, she is inclusive toward nonbinary and trans folks; in fact, that’s the point of this separation to start with. (3/5)