Tag: Stephanie Feldman

Reading 2015: Final Roundup

MyRealChildren_Jo-WaltonI never did a Reading2015 post for December, but I only read one book during the month, My Real Children by Jo Walton, which I consumed on Christmas day. I adored it. It’s the story of a woman who, in her old age, can remember living two distinctly different lives, stemming from a single choice in her youth. It’s an alternate history of alternate histories, with chapters alternating between two very different life courses that, in the end, ask you to make an impossible ethical and aesthetic judgement, what Ursula Le Guin on the back cover calls “a sort of super Sophie’s Choice.” I’m always a sucker for branching narrative, the way the space between the threads opens room for new resonances and emotions, just as a paper towel doubled over can absorb more than the same sheet applied flat. This book might just be my new go-to example of the form.

So here’s where that leaves my stats for 2015:

  • 67 total books
  • 35 prose books
  • 32 graphic novels
  • 26 women authors (writer or artist)
  • 44 books authored or co-authored by women
  • 33 male authors (writer or artist)
  • 28 books authored or co-authored by men.
  • Best month: September (12 books – all GNs)
  • Worst month: December (1 book – prose)

As with last year, here the the books (not counting re-reads) that stand out in most my memory (which isn’t exactly the same thing exactly as how much I liked them):

  1. The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine
  2. My Real Children by Jo Walton
  3. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
  4. On Wings of Song by Thomas Disch
  5. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
  6. The Sculptor by Scott McCloud
  7. Tenth of December by George Saunders
  8. Get In Trouble by Kelly Link
  9. Two Girls, Fat and Thin by Mary Gaitskill
  10. Angel of Losses by Stephanie Feldman
  11. Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson
  12. The Wilds by Julia Elliott
  13. Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce

Some interesting things include the presence of only one graphic novel, despite the form making up nearly half of my reading. That’s largely due to my having re-read all of Dykes to Watch Out For, all of which were ineligible for this list.  Another is which Mary Gaitskill book made the list. I think that in many ways the collection Because They Wanted To is the stronger of the two Gaitskill volumes I read this past year, but it’s her first novel my mind alights on more easily. And I can’t do anything about the wiring of memory, and what it may have to do with two books I read in just the last two month making my top 5.

It was my resolution for 2015 to read 100 books, and I fell short not just of that mark, but of my 2014 mark of 73 books read. I attribute this primarily to having started doing some work for television, which prompted me to massively increase my television watching. I would say the TV I’ve consumed, added to the hundreds of hours of Fallout 4 I played in November, is easily equal to 33 books. But since I don’t have any better ideas, I’m going to go ahead an roll over my 2015 resolution to 2016, and aim for 100 books read in the year to come.

Reading 2015: May

I got in a bicycle accident early in May and broke my wrist, so was unable to type for about a week and a half. This took a bite out of my work schedule, which I filled with, yes, more TV, but also more reading.

  1. I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and JM Ken Niimura – An enjoyable graphic novel that was similar in many ways to Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls. A creature out of myth intercedes in the life of a child who is trying and failing to deal with the serious illness of her mother. In this case the monster is a titan rather than the Green Man, and the relationship is for the most part adversarial rather than didactic, but thematically the two books have a great deal of overlap. I’m glad I read A Monster Calls first, as it’s the more emotionally complex work, doing deep explorations of things about survivor guilt that I Kill Giants only superficially touches. But it’s possible that whichever of these two one reads second will suffer due to familiarity with the shared narrative beats.
  2. Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel – This graphic novel, meanwhile, isn’t superficial about anything. In many ways a sequel to Fun Home, this purports to be about Alison Bechdel’s relationship with her mother, but more about using the concept of maternal relationships as a lens to look at memoir and neurosis. It struck me as a less focused book than Fun Home, but a trip through Bechdel’s expansive, unflinching intellect is so inherently interesting that the experience doesn’t much suffer for being less structured. It did make me want to go back and read Fun Home again, though.
  3. The Color of Money by Walter Tevis – This was the last Tevis novel I’d not yet read. (There should be a word for the bittersweet feeling of finishing the last unread book by a favorite, deceased author.) It’s a decades-later sequel to his first novel, The Hustler, and while it’s not my favorite of his novels, I found Tevis’s writing as gripping as ever. My main complaint about this book is that too much of it seemed to recapitulate emotional gestures from The Hustler and plot gestures from The Queens Gambit, both of which I’d judge to be superior works. But there was a moment I found really touching, one that only this book could do. There’s an important scene early in The Hustler where Fast Eddie’s opponent, Minnesota Fats, disappears into a bathroom and then emerges, composed, having washed his hands and face. Though Tevis never points at the callback, there’s a moment near the end of The Color of Money where Fast Eddie does this same thing, and for readers who’ve read both books the parallelism is profound.
  4. Two Girls, Fat and Thin by Mary Gaitskill – Gaitskill has sort of snuck up on me, slowly and quietly becoming one of my favorite authors. She’s one of the least sentimental writers I’ve encountered, but she creates emotional landscapes that are as solid as her physical settings. I first came to her work years ago after seeing the movie “Secretary,” and wanting to read it’s presumably pro-BDSM source material. What I found was much darker, more complicated, and personal than the movie had led me to expect. In Gaitskill’s writing I run into aching blends of disappointment and desire that are deeply recognizable, supported by sentences I never would have written. Her work captures facets of my lived emotional experience using a technology of images I don’t yet understand. This book, though it didn’t grab me as much as her second novel Veronica, wasn’t an exception. It’s about two women, Dorothy Never and Justine Shade, of different age, class, body shape, and worldview, but similarly traumatized by early life experience. They meet when Justine interviews Dorothy about her involvement with a thinly veiled Ayn Rand and Objectivist movement. It’s got some structural formality as well, with Dorothy’s sections in first person and Justine’s in third. This formality was a little bit of a stumbling block for me initially, for no reason than it made the book easier to put down at chapter transitions. But by the end the POVs are switching so fast and with such narrative momentum that I was hooked, and consumed the third section of the book in a compulsive gulp.
  5. The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks – I’ve read nearly all of Banks’s science fiction, but this was my first of his realist novels. (I’m sticking with the “Iain M. Banks” tag since it’s the same person, even though he left off the middle initial for these books.) Calling it “realist” seems only barely appropriate. Though nothing in this novel is impossible, it’s improbable as all hell. The viewpoint character is a sociopathic young man, a former murderer and practitioner of sympathetic magic, in what turns out to be a whole family of mentally damaged individuals. In some ways it struck me, especially in the beginning, as a sort of adolescent version of We Have Always Lived in the Castle. The POV is interesting enough and the macabre violence colorful enough that I was pulled enjoyably through the book, but–and here’s where the SPOILERS start–the final twist seemed like something of a pointless gotcha. The openly misogynist main character who believes himself to have lost his genitalia in a childhood accident turns out to actually be a biological female whose father has been secretly dosing with testosterone since childhood. This is revealed only a few pages from the end, and never narratively problematized. It’s a fireworks show of imaginative voice and depravity, but didn’t in the end seem to mean very much.
  6. The Angel of Losses by Stephanie Feldman – I met Stephanie at ICFA this year, where she was awarded the Crawford award for this novel. Now that I’ve read it, I think the win well deserved. It’s an intrusive urban fantasy story grounded in Jewish mysticism and structured like a mystery novel. Marjorie, who at the start of the book isn’t even aware of her Jewish heritage, discovers after her grandfather dies that all the fairy tales he told her as a child were true. She has to find lost documents and rediscover ancient knowledge to try to save her sister’s newborn son, sometimes opposed by her ultra-orthodox brother-in-law. My favorite parts of the book though are the four long, beautiful passages written with cadence of folklore. Also, as I have a somewhat uneasy relationship with my own Judaism, this narrative was embedded in a point of view that I found, tonally, very recognizable.
  7. Collected Fiction by Hannu Rajaniemi – I loved his debut novel The Quantum Thief so much that, barring a major disappointment, I’ll give anything he publishes a read. This is a somewhat disjoint short story collection, mixing near future SF, posthuman SF, ghost stories, folkloric fantasy, and some stranger things. My favorite pieces were “The Jugaad Cathedral,” the SF piece in this book that most successfully combined his typical technological fireworks with human interest, “Fisher of Men,” a fun outsmart-the-mythical-creature fantasy story, and “Skywalker of Earth,” which is a string theory pulp pastiche that is tonally unlike anything else I’ve read. The closest is probably some parts of Alan Moore’s Tom Strong, but that lacks the hard science space operatics. Great fun. (Also, it seems that Rajaniemi’s third novel, The Causal Angel, came out while my life was topsy-turvy last year and I managed to miss it. Need to pick that up.)

Recommended Short Books by Women

Yesterday I asked the internet for recommendations of short books written by women, with no criterion for what constituted “short.” Here’s what people offered. Books I’ve already read are in bold. (Recommenders are in parentheses.)

  • Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red. (Carmen Machado)
  • Willa Cather, A Lost Lady. (Debbie Kennedy)
  • Willa Cather, My Antonia. (Sarah Boden)
  • Kate Chopin, The Awakening. (Rebecca Coffey, Krystal Rios)
  • Marguerite Duras, The Lover. (Diana Spechler, Josh Rhome)
  • George Eliot, Silas Marner. (Amy Parker)
  • Marian Engel, Bear. (Carmen Machado)
  • Louise Erdich, Love Medicine. (Maureen McHugh)
  • Elena Ferrante, Days of Abandonment. (Amy Parker)
  • Carolyn Forché, The Country Between Us. (Joseph Tomaras)
  • Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm. (Jed Hartman)
  • Carolyn Ives Gilman, Halfway Human. (Jeanne Griggs)
  • Nadine Gordimer, July’s People. (Maureen McHugh)
  • Helene Hanff, 84 Charing Cross Road. (Jed Hartman)
  • Zora Neal Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God. (Amy Parker)
  • Rachel Ingall, Mrs. Caliban. (Carmen Machado)
  • Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House. (Rebecca Coffey, Amy Parker, Carmen Machado, Maureen McHugh)
  • Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived In The Castle. (Amy Parker, Maureen McHugh)
  • Tove Jansson, Tales from Moominvalley. (Jed Hartman)
  • Sesyle Joslin, The Spy Lady and the Muffin Man. (Jed Hartman)
  • Hitomi Kanehera, Snakes and Earrings. (Nick Mamatas)
  • Jamaica Kincaid, Lucy. (Valérie Savard)
  • Barbara Kingsolver, Pigs in Heaven. (Patrice Sarath)
  • Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees. (Patrice Sarath)
  • Nella Larson, Quicksand. (Alea Adigwame)
  • Ursula Le Guin, Fish Soup. (Jed Hartman)
  • Ursula Le Guin, Very Far From Anywhere Else. (Jed Hartman)
  • Tanith Lee, Don’t Bite the Sun. (@Rwenchette)
  • Doris Lessing, Memoirs of a Survivor. (Maureen McHugh)
  • Doris Lessing, The Fifth Child. (Amy Parker, Rebecca Coffey)
  • Denise Levertov, Collected Earlier Poems. (Joseph Tomaras)
  • Bertie MacAvoy, Tea with the Black Dragon. (Dana Huber)
  • Katherine Mansfield, At The Bay. (Debbie Kennedy)
  • Katherine Mansfield, Prelude. (Debbie Kennedy)
  • Patricia McKillip, Stepping from the Shadows. (Jed Hartman)
  • Jane Mendelsohn, I Was Amelia Earhart. (Stephanie Feldman)
  • Naomi Mitchison, Travel Light. (Jackie Monkiewicz)
  • Katherine Faw Morris, Young God. (Nick Mamatas)
  • Toni Morrison, Sula. (Maureen McHugh)
  • Jenny Offill, The Dept. of Speculation. (Josh Rhome)
  • Yoko Ogawa, Revenge. (Alexandra Geraets, Joseph Tomaras)
  • Sharon Olds, The Cold Cell. (Jed Hartman)
  • Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea. (Valérie Savard)
  • Joanna Russ, Picnic on Paradise. (Karen Meisner)
  • Joanna Russ, The Female Man. (Jed Hartman)
  • Ruth Sawyer, Roller Skates. (Jed Hartman)
  • Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. (Monica Byrne, Justin Cosner, Carmen Machado)
  • Cynthia Voigt, Dicey’s Song. (Jed Hartman)
  • Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome. (Amy Parker)
  • Kate Wilhelm, Where Late the Sweet Bird Sang. (Maureen McHugh)
  • Jeanette Winterson, Sexing the Cherry. (Jed Hartman)
  • Virginia Woolf, To The Lighthouse. (Amy Parker)
  • Margarite Yourcenar, Coup d’Grace. (Maureen McHugh)

I already own a copy of the most recommended book, The Haunting of Hill House, so that’s in the stack (as are several others). I think the first new one of these I’ll add is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.