Best American · mini-review · stuff I read

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2018 edited by Sam Kean

untitledSummary from Goodreads:
“This is one of the most exciting times in the history of science,” New York Times-bestselling author Sam Kean proclaims in his introduction to The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2018. “Things aren’t perfect by any means. But there are more scientists making more discoveries in more places about more things than ever before.” The twenty-six pieces assembled here chart the full spectrum of those discoveries. From the outer reaches of space, to the mysteries of the human mind, to the changing culture in labs and universities across the nation, we see time and again the sometimes rocky, sometimes revelatory road to understanding, and along the way catch a glimpse of all that’s left to learn.

Hello, hello, it’s Best American time again! *wriggles* (Although, no more Infographics, womp womp.)

I started with my perennial favorite, Science and Nature. I like Kean’s popular science books, so I wasn’t worried about his ability to find good articles for this anthology. But this year’s anthology is another fantastic installment in the series – such a great spread of science writing, with call-backs to other included pieces (whether intentional or not), and all so very relevant to the current world today. AND the pieces are organized by theme using slogans from the March for Science. Yaaaaas. A great way to kick off October reading.

The Best American Series publishes today!

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this when it arrived at the store because I am insufficiently cool enough to get a galley.

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mini-review · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

So Many Islands: Stories from the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and Pacific edited by Nicholas Laughlin

40609543Summary from Goodreads:
Collecting new fiction, essays, and poems from seventeen countries around the world, So Many Islands brings us stories about love and protest, about childhood innocence and the traumas of history, about leaving home and trying to return. These writers’s island homes may seem remote on the map, but there is nothing isolated about their compelling, fresh voices.

Featuring contributions by authors from Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bermuda, Cyprus, Grenada, Jamaica, Kiribati, Malta, Mauritius, Niue, Rotuma (Fiji), Samoa, Singapore, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tonga, and Trinidad and Tobago. So Many Islands is the fourth publication of Peekash Press, an imprint of Akashic Books and Peepal Tree Press, committed to supporting the emergence of new Caribbean writing, and as part of the CaribLit project.

From the introduction by Marlon James:

“I wonder if it is because we island people are surrounded by sea, hemmed in and branching out at once, that we are always in a state of flux. The sea and even the sky are definers and confiners, they have spent millions of years carving space, while at the same time giving us clear openings to map the voyage out. And, today, to be an islander is to live in one place and a thousand, to be part of a family that is way too close by for your business ever to be your own, or way too far but only a remittance cheque away. Or, put another way, to be island people means to be both coming and going. Passing and running, running and passing, as the song goes. Living there, but not always present, travelling or migrating, but never leaving. Or what has never been a new thing, but might turn into a new movement: more and more authors staying put, all the better to let their words wander.”

Marlon says it better than I can.

A bookseller friend pointed me toward this book when I mentioned that I was going to put together a display of books set on islands (outside the US) for the summer. Such a great find.

So Many Islands is a wonderfully multi-layered collection of essays, poems, and stories from authors hailing from island nations around the globe, particularly the Caribbean and the Pacific. Many, if not all, of these authors will be unfamiliar to US audiences due to the small percentage of non-US literature imported to our shores. Literature can be a window and door into the world and this collection does that – look through it into those worlds and cultures you have not yet met.

So Many Islands is out today!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read · YA all the way

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman

36301029Summary from Goodreads:
Star-crossed lovers, meddling immortals, feigned identities, battles of wits, and dire warnings: these are the stuff of fairy tale, myth, and folklore that have drawn us in for centuries.

Fifteen bestselling and acclaimed authors reimagine the folklore and mythology of East and South Asia in short stories that are by turns enchanting, heartbreaking, romantic, and passionate.

Compiled by We Need Diverse Books’s Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman, the authors included in this exquisite collection are: Renée Ahdieh, Sona Charaipotra, Preeti Chhibber, Roshani Chokshi, Aliette de Bodard, Melissa de la Cruz, Julie Kagawa, Rahul Kanakia, Lori M. Lee, E. C. Myers, Cindy Pon, Aisha Saeed, Shveta Thakrar, and Alyssa Wong.

A mountain loses her heart. Two sisters transform into birds to escape captivity. A young man learns the true meaning of sacrifice. A young woman takes up her mother’s mantle and leads the dead to their final resting place.

From fantasy to science fiction to contemporary, from romance to tales of revenge, these stories will beguile readers from start to finish. For fans of Neil Gaiman’s Unnatural Creatures and Ameriie’s New York Times–bestselling Because You Love to Hate Me.

Do you like fantasy, mythology, and retellings? Do you like strong characters in your YA stories? You need A Thousand Beginnings and Endings! Such a great collection of Asian-mythology-inspired short stories from all different cultures written by YA fantasy writers at the top of their game. Out today! So much fun!

(Full disclosure: my friend Preeti has a story set at garba during Navratri, “Girls Who Twirl and Other Dangers,” in this collection and ngl, it’s my favorite ❤️)

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession by Alice Bolin

36461782Summary from Goodreads:
A collection of poignant, perceptive essays that expertly blends the personal and political in an exploration of American culture through the lens of our obsession with dead women.

In her debut collection, Alice Bolin turns a critical eye to literature and pop culture, the way media consumption reflects American society, and her own place within it. From essays on Joan Didion and James Baldwin to Twin Peaks, Britney Spears, and Serial, Bolin illuminates our widespread obsession with women who are abused, killed, and disenfranchised, and whose bodies (dead and alive) are used as props to bolster a man’s story.

From chronicling life in Los Angeles to dissecting the “Dead Girl Show” to analyzing literary witches and werewolves, this collection challenges the narratives we create and tell ourselves, delving into the hazards of toxic masculinity and those of white womanhood. Beginning with the problem of dead women in fiction, it expands to the larger problems of living women—both the persistent injustices they suffer and the oppression that white women help perpetrate.

Sharp, incisive, and revelatory, Dead Girls is a much-needed dialogue on women’s role in the media and in our culture.

This is an interesting collection of essays. Parts 1 (“The Dead Girl Show”) and 3 (“Weird Sisters”) are the strongest sets of essays examining the culture’s obsession with The Dead Girl in TV/film/books and how a living female body is harder to handle (“Just Us Girls” about the B-horror flick Ginger Snap is excellent). Part 2, which is largely about LA and Bolin’s connection with Joan Didion was fine, but the writing didn’t feel as strong to me.

Dead Girls is out June 26.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

Florida by Lauren Groff

36098092Summary from Goodreads:
The New York Times-bestselling author of Fates and Furies returns, bringing the reader into a physical world that is at once domestic and wild—a place where the hazards of the natural world lie waiting to pounce, yet the greatest threats and mysteries are still of an emotional, psychological nature. A family retreat can be derailed by a prowling panther, or by a sexual secret. Among those navigating this place are a resourceful pair of abandoned sisters; a lonely boy, grown up; a restless, childless couple, a searching, homeless woman; and an unforgettable, recurring character—a steely and conflicted wife and mother.

The stories in this collection span characters, towns, decades, even centuries, but Florida—its landscape, climate, history, and state of mind—becomes its gravitational center: an energy, a mood, as much as a place of residence. Groff transports the reader, then jolts us alert with a crackle of wit, a wave of sadness, a flash of cruelty, as she writes about loneliness, rage, family, and the passage of time. With shocking accuracy and effect, she pinpoints the moments and decisions and connections behind human pleasure and pain, hope and despair, love and fury—the moments that make us alive. Startling, precise, and affecting, Florida is a magnificent achievement.

A funny thing, books. And authors. I read Lauren Groff’s debut novel, The Monsters of Templeton, as part of an early reader group and wound up DNF-ing it. I could not get into it, I didn’t care about the main character, etc. I didn’t read anything else she wrote for a good while. I only started a galley of Fates and Furies because at least four people whose opinions and taste I respect said it was good; I tore through it on a layover at O’Hare. And then I backed up to read Arcadia. Apparently, she’s a pretty good writer, more fool I.

Groff’s new story collection Florida is very “Lauren Groff” – well-written narratives with well-educated female narrators who are often in unhappy relationships and/or ambivalent about motherhood even though they love their kids. It was a good collection to read one story per day. If you’ve never read Lauren’s novels this is a good way to get a taste of her writing.

(I still haven’t re-tackled Monsters…but I do have that galley squirreled away in my desk, just in case.)

Florida is available June 5.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

Banthology: Stories from Banned Nations edited by Sarah Cleave

39737311Summary from Goodreads:
In January 2017, President Trump signed an executive order banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen – from entering the United States, effectively slamming the door on refugees seeking safety and tearing families apart. Mass protests followed, and although the order has since been blocked, amended and challenged by judges, it still stands as one of the most discriminatory laws to be passed in the US in modern times.

Banthology brings together specially commissioned stories from the original seven ‘banned nations’. Covering a range of approaches – from satire, to allegory, to literary realism – it explores the emotional and personal impact of all restrictions on movement, and offers a platform to voices the White House would rather remained silent.

Banthology is a slim and lovely collection of seven short stories from authors who claim countries caught in the “Muslim Ban” as home. The pieces range from hyper-realist to bordering on fantasy. All deal with displacement, grief, and loss. Somali-Italian author Ubah Cristina Ali Farrah’s story about a teenage refugee in Italy is heartbreaking.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this story collection almost as soon as I heard of it’s forthcoming existence.

mini-review · stuff I read

Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides

33844793Summary from Goodreads:
The first collection of short fiction from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jeffrey Eugenides

Jeffrey Eugenides’s bestselling novels have shown that he is an astute observer of the crises of adolescence, sexual identity, self-discovery, family love, and what it means to be an American in our times. The stories in Fresh Complaint continue that tradition. Ranging from the reproductive antics of ‘Baster’ to the wry, moving account of a young traveler’s search for enlightenment in ‘Air Mail’ (selected by Annie Proulx for The Best American Short Stories, 1997), this collection presents characters in the midst of personal and national crises. We meet a failed poet who, envious of other people’s wealth during the real-estate bubble, becomes an embezzler; a clavichordist whose dreams of art collapse under the obligations of marriage and fatherhood; and, in ‘Bronze,’ a sexually confused college freshman whose encounter with a stranger on a train leads to a revelation about his past and his future. Narratively compelling, beautifully written, and packed with a density of ideas that belie their fluid grace, Fresh Complaint proves Eugenides to be a master of the short form as well as the long.

I loved Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex but Fresh Complaint was a pretty “eh, it’s fine” story collection. These stories were written over nearly 30 years and it shows. The best story in the collection is “Air Mail”, the worst is probably “Fresh Complaint”. In between, just a batch stories about aging, ego and sexual customs, middle aged guys trying to make it with women, and a clavichordist trying to outrun the debt collectors. I didn’t particularly care for any of the characters or plots. Eugenides’s novels are better.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

Browse: The World in Bookshops edited by Henry Hitchings

32018793Summary from Goodreads:
Edited and introduced by the writer and critic Henry Hitchings, these fearless, passionate, inquiring essays by award-winning international writers celebrate one of our most essential, but endangered, institutions: the bookshop. From Denmark to Egypt, from the USA to China, Browse brings together some of the world’s leading authors to investigate bookshops both in general and in particular – the myriad pleasures, puzzles and possibilities they disclose.

The fifteen essays reflect their authors’ own inimitable style – romantic, elegant, bold, argumentative, poetic or whimsical – as they ask probing questions about the significance, the cultural and social (even political) function as well as the physical qualities of the institution, and examine our very personal relationship to it.

Contributors include:

Alaa Al Aswany (Egypt)
Stefano Benni (Italy)
Michael Dirda (USA)
Daniel Kehlmann (Germany)
Andrey Kurkov (Ukraine)
Yiyun Li (China)
Pankaj Mishra (India)
Dorthe Nors (Denmark)
Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor (Kenya)
Elif Shafak (Turkey)
Ian Sansom (UK)
Iain Sinclair (UK)
Ali Smith (UK)
Saša Stanišic (Germany/Bosnia)
Juan Gabriel Vásquez (Colombia)

Browse is a collection of essays by writers musing on their love of bookshops, usually a bookshop in particular. Some are funny, some sweet, some moving, and a few are a bit eye-roll inducing. There’s a lot of “Dead Tree Books Rah Rah Bewail Changing Culture Popular Literature is The Devil” sentiment that got under my skin at times. I’m a little generous with this book because almost every writer celebrated something I love: the joy of an interrupted bookstore browse. I still enjoy that activity greatly, no matter my usual store or a new one.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.