Sickness and travel and long books; March followed in the footsteps of February, pace-wise. I managed to hit my eighth book on the last day of the month, but only by sprinting through some graphic novels. And, since two of those GNs were authored by two men, I need to triple up on books by women to start April to get the gender parity back on track.
- Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke – Naturally, having resolved to increase my reading rate from February, the obvious thing to do was start March by rereading an 800 page novel. But oh, what a novel it is. I started thinking about it after having written in my previous reviews how resistant I am to fairies. It occurred to me that there was one (huge) book in which I found them delightful. I first read this back in 2007, and loved it, but hadn’t returned to it since. If anything I liked it even more this time. As it was an international bestseller and TIME Magazine Book of the Year and will soon be a BBC television series, there’s little new I can say about it. But it’s one of my favorite books, and I think maybe the most intellectually playful fantasy novel I know.
- The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine – Genevieve’s third novel, Persona, was released this month, and while I’d owned her second novel since the day it came out, I hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet. I wanted to fix that before Persona hit stores. Now that I’ve read The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, I regret waiting so long. It’s a goddamned glorious book. I enjoyed Genevieve’s first novel, but this second one dazzles. I felt run through, and in the middle of the book had frequently to pause within chapters because the writing was too heartbreaking for me to continue. It’s a realist retelling of the folktale of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” set in Prohibition-era New York City. But it’s more than that too. It’s a story of love between sisters, networks of support between women. It’s about resourcefulness and compromise and the weight of expectation. I suspect I’ll be thinking about this book for years.
- We Are Become Pals by Joey Comeau and Jess Fink – I have long been a fan of Joey Comeau’s writing, and my favorite thing about it is the way he creates uniquely tattered interpersonal relationships, full of sweetness and violence and earnest impulsivity. An illustrated book about paldom from him was a treat. Jess Fink I was previously familiar with from Chester 5000 XYV (NSFW), and her illustrations expand the story and create an extra dimension for emotional engagement alongside the frequently understated text. This is the story of two girls who meet, get arrested, lie, succeed, make secret codes, grow up, separate, and maybe live forever. Recommended to anyone who likes friendship.
- Book of Da by Mike McCubbins and Matt Bryan – I picked this up at Staple!, the Austin indie comics convention. It’s a beautifully constructed book, and Bryan’s artwork is dark and evocative. I confess, though, that I think I like it more as an object than I do as a narative. The story is frequently opaque, and while each panel is excellent, the sequential composition is sometimes confusing.
- What Makes The Book So Great by Jo Walton – I quipped on twitter that Jo Walton writing about her comfort reading is my comfort reading, and it’s close to true. I’d read many of these essays before when they were originally published on Tor.com, but tearing through them all at once was a distinct pleasure. She has a very complete aesthetic of how she appreciates books, and it’s one I find fully seductive. When she articulates her appreciation for a book I also love, I nod along, thinking, “Yes! That’s it exactly!” When I come to an essay for a book I’ve bounced off of, I feel moved to give it another chance. And I finished this volume having dogeared ten pages to mark books I hadn’t heard of, but now must read as soon as possible.
- Babel-17 by Samuel Delany – Continuing my project of reading all the Delany I somehow missed as a child. With Nova and The Einstein Intersection I felt like it might have been just as well that I came to them as an adult, as much of what those books are doing I wouldn’t have appreciated when I was young. This book, though, would have blown my mind, and I regret that I didn’t read it back then. (I checked, there is a copy in my parents’ library, I just never pulled it down.) It’s a classic SF adventure story, only, in what I’m discovering to be typical Delany fashion, at least twice as smart as any of its obvious contemporary comparisons.
- Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan – I walked into the local comic shop asking for a recent, non-superhero graphic novel written by a woman. There weren’t many, but eventually I found this. Set in Israel, it’s about cab driver and a wealthy young woman who work together to figure out the identity of a body rendered unrecognizable after a suicide bombing. A compelling and cleanly-drawn story of the different ways people process loss.
- Big Hard Sex Criminals, vol. 1 by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky – Matt is the best and Chip is the best and Sex Criminals is the best squared. It’s about folks who stop time when they orgasm. I was reading it in issues, but missed one when I moved from Iowa to Texas and never managed to track down a copy, so I’d only read half of this before. I’m pleased to say that the second half of the book is perhaps even better than the first, retaining all of the humor but deepening the characters and world. The only question now is if I’ll be able to hold out until the second hardcover collection to see what happens next, or if I’m going to be buying this story in multiple formats.