Another year, another book tracking tag. Whereas last year I made a point of focusing on gender diversity in my reading list, this year I’m focusing on something much more personal: working down the huge collection of books I own but haven’t read yet. These will be interspersed with more newly-released books than usual, as I have many friends with books coming out this year.
- The Causal Angel by Hannu Rajaniemi – I loved the first book in this trilogy, The Quantum Thief, and found the second book, The Fractal Prince, interesting. I really wanted to like the conclusion of the story, but I closed the book disappointed. It wasn’t bad, but where the previous books of the series seemed to constantly deepen the grand conceptual premises on offer, The Causal Angel feels much more shallow. The plot feels heavy-handed where previous installments seemed organic, and leads up to a deus ex machina conclusion that would actually be pretty satisfying except Rajaniemi gives the reader no tools to understand the consequences of the climactic change. That said, the writing remains as gripping as ever, and I look forward to seeing what he comes up with next.
- What Belongs To You by Garth Greenwell – The first of a bunch of books coming out this year from folks who were at Iowa with me. I didn’t actually know Garth, he showed up towards the end of my time there, but we have many friends in common, and heard rumblings about this book long before it hit shelves. It’s a short novel about an American teaching in Bulgaria and the intermittent relationship he has with a young male prostitute named Mitko. The novel in is in three sections, the first detailing the narrator and Mitko’s sexual relationship. The prose is pristine throughout, but for me the book really becomes impressive in the second section, a near stream-of-consciousness rumination on the main character’s childhood after he learns of the terminal illness of his father. The third section looks at the main character and Mitko’s relationship again, in light of our new understanding, as the relationship turns medically and socially fraught. A memorable book that’s been receiving absolutely glowing reviews. I’m not sure I feel as strongly about it as some of the people writing for major publications do, but it’s easy to recommend.
- Our Expanding Universe by Alex Robinson – Robinsons first book, Box Office Poison, was really important to me during my teens, and I’ve followed his career since waiting for another of his books to hit me that hard. None has, and maybe none will, but I’ve not regretted the journey. This book is about people in their late twenties and early thirties, negotiating their feelings about settling down, having children, giving up (or not) their childish ways. The scale isn’t ambitious, but the naturalistic dialog is fairly absorbing, and what grace notes there are all work.
- Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer – In his mid-80s, having already done every other damn thing under the sun, Jules Feiffer decided to pen a graphic novel. That should really be all you need to know, but I’ll add that it’s an intricately plotted, gritty story of family enmity and mistaken identity in the 1930s and 40s. Guns and dames, twists and turns. Great fun.