Recent reads

This is definitely not a comprehensive list of books I’ve read so far this year! I’ve been working on this for ages, and time keeps running away, so I thought I would just go ahead and post it even though it’s shorter than I’d like. These are the books that have drawn me in enough to have some serious thoughts about them – mostly positive, but occasionally just ones that just made me think in a more general sense & that I’d love to have a conversation about.

*Edit: after writing this, I realized how much I had to say about Kingsolver’s book. You might want to skip that bit if you’re not in the mood to read something slightly ranty…*

Long Way to A Small Angry Planet

Janet & Alex raved about his book on Twitter enough to draw me in. I love sci-fi, but feel like I don’t really read enough contemporary sci-fi books. The reviews I read before I got hold of Long Way to a Small Angry Planet from my library all suggested it was brilliant & original. And it was brilliant! It’s about an interspecies crew on a tunneling spaceship, punching its way through space to the most remote corners of the galaxy in order to facilitate a peace deal with a notoriously difficult planet. The book is all about the journey, and you get to see all sorts of different alien cultures that Chambers has invented, and some very detailed relationships between them. It was really fascinating. Chambers  explores some serious issues, yet manages to keep an overall light feel to the book, which is quite an accomplishment. Plus, I did cry a bit at the end, which is always a sign of quality. I gave this book 4 out 5 stars on Goodreads, purely because while I felt it was brilliant, for me it didn’t feel too original (particularly in terms of plot).

A Closed and Common Orbit

This is a follow-on book to Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. It centers around one of the main characters and another character who made a brief appearance. I preferred A Closed and Common Orbit ever so slightly to the first book, purely because I felt the premise was more unique. It’s hard to write about this book without feeling like I’m including lots of spoilers, though! The basic idea is that an AI has to learn how to pass for a human, and the book is all about the AI as well as the history of her friend who’s helping her (who happens to be a genetically enhanced human. Again, Chambers has taken on some big issues here, and handles them beautifully.

Moonglow

I love Michael Chabon! He’s brilliant at mixing fiction and non-fiction in a way that makes you question what he’s telling you, while wanting to believe every bit of ti. Also, I am a sucker for books with footnotes. Moonglow tells the story of the narrator’s grandfather’s life as he is on his deathbed. It’s a grand adventure, as you’d expect from Chabon, involving military escapades, a Jewish grandmother with an unsurprisingly traumatic personal history (much of the book is set around WWII), and a lasting obsession with scale rocketry & Wernher Von Braun. It may not be my favorite of Chabon’s books, but it was certainly worth reading & I would definitely recommend it. I feel my description of this book are inadequate, but do go check out the New Yorker review or the LA Review of Books review (FYI this one has lots of specific details about the book, so only read it if that doesn’t bother you.)

Feminism: A Very Short Introduction

I’m a newbie feminist. I think I only started identifying as a feminist about 5ish, maybe even less, years ago. I kept seeing my conservative friends from high school posting anti-feminist comments & posts on Facebook & got so annoyed that I decided actually I should start calling myself a feminist more often so they can get exposed to what feminism *actually* is, not what horrible pundits portray it as. But I’m naturally a softspoken person (i.e. I hate sharing my opinions), so it’s not something I spend a lot of time talking about. It’s fair to say I’m a bad feminist (and not in the Roxane Gay sense). However, it seems to be becoming increasingly important so I do want to learn more about it. A Very Short Introduction did what it said it would do, and I think overall it was okay. It was good that the author identified her focus on UK feminism at the beginning, though I feel she didn’t address contemporary British feminism at all. I’ll be looking for other introduction to feminism books; feel free to recommend one. I will say, though, that at this point I think I’d prefer a more academic text, rather than an individual’s book. I do want to read Germaine Greer, Simone de Beauvoir, etc, but for now I think I’m interested in reading about the context in which those kind of books were written. But perhaps that’s not so important? Again, very interested in your thoughts on this.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is an account of Barbara Kingsolver’s year of producing her own food with her family. It was donated to R’s shop, and I bought it in their sale back in January. Self-sustainability is something I’ve been pondering for a while now, and I was interested in reading Suzi‘s thoughts on it the other week, too. As you know, I’ve also been growing some of my own food for a couple of years now, so it’s always interesting to read how others do it. Overall, though, I was a little disappointed with this book. It’s a topic that I’ve found nearly always ends up being an individual’s own personal polemic on how terrible modern society is and how we should all try to live rural lives. Now, I prefer a rural life, but frankly couldn’t be happier to be alive when I am. Of course we have problems, and of course I think they should be addressed, but I really don’t see how shutting ourselves away from modern life & its many benefits helps. Anyway, Kingsolver approaches her project from a mostly environmental perspective, which I appreciated, and I also like that she talked about the economics of growing your own food. She did get a little judgmental at times, though, which I didn’t like. I did like that her husband and daughter contributed to the book, and I particularly enjoyed her husband’s scientific essays that appeared throughout. I didn’t like that the one thing it didn’t seem to address from a balanced perspective is GM crops, mainly because I have my own personal views on that topic (i.e. my mum is part of a project working to identify and remove the gene that causes powderly mildew on wine grapes…) Anyway, between that and the occasional snobbery, and the lack of any practical advice on growing your own (I admit I secretly hoped this would talk about how to tackle pests organically, given its aims, and it didn’t! Sob.) I had quite conflicted feelings about this book. If you’d read it, I would really love to hear your thoughts on it.

3 thoughts on “Recent reads

  1. Books like the last one almost always come down on the side of idealism (to use a nice word). Unfortunately there is always reality. As a person who grows maybe 90% of her own vegetables I can tell you that it would be just about impossible for one single person to be self sustaining as far as food goes. It is a full time job to do so and since unfortunately one still needs a full time job in order to buy the land, buy and maintain a even a minimum of machinery, pay the taxes, pay insurance, pay healthcare for you and animals you are raising for pets or food and a thousand other things, that makes it impossible. Groups of people might be able to do it.
    Thing is, there is something to be said for specialization (not everyone has green thumb!) and economy of scale. Perhaps it’s a question of how large a scale is useful?

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  2. I am so so glad you enjoyed the Becky Chambers books! I think I also just slightly preferred the second, I found it prompted me to think more profoundly about all sorts of things.

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