Month in Review

What I read in November 2020

A little late because I was sick (with a regular cold), but oh well! It gave me time to lay in bed and finish some reading.

Three books balanced on top of a quilt rack. The book on the left is Cemetery Tours and Programming by Rachel Wolgemuth which has a black bar surrounding the title, imposed over a photograph of a crowd at a cemetery. The center book is The Four Profound Weaves by R. B. Lemberg, which has a black cover with a white bone and tapestry on it, surrounded by orange birds. The third book on the right is New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color, edited by Nisi Shawl. The cover is purple, with a brown-skinned woman in the center, who is wearing a gold crown, with blue and purple wires and cables descending from it, mixing in with her long black hair. The quilt rack is light brown wood, and has a quilt with a blue, grey, and red checkered pattern hanging beneath the books.

Books:

The Four Profound Weaves by R. B. Lemberg – When I was eight or nine I was really into the book Watership Down, to the point that as soon as I finished the book, I would immediately flip back to the beginning and start reading it again. I haven’t felt that way about a book until The Four Profound Weaves. Two older queer people travel to a city ruled by a tyrant, in order to learn the last of the profound weaves, weaving from death, while thwarting the tyrant’s desire to collect that last weave. The magic and world-building in Lemberg’s Birdverse is truly unlike anything else I’ve read, expansive and intuitive and lived in. The plotting of this story felt to me like the equivalent of going on a gentle hike – there are hills and stakes and drama, but always with a slow, forward motion. I loved the pacing and the shape of the narrative arc. The story walks along with you, instead of rushing or pushing at you. The dead speak, and you must listen, and it will be frightening, but you will move forward.

Cemetery Tours and Programming by Rachel Wolgemuth – This was a ~professional development~ read for me. I bought it a few years ago and had been looking forward to reading it for that time, but never gotten enough of a professional break to have the bandwidth for it. Finally did, and it’s an overall informative read. The author approaches the dead with a lot of empathy, and case studies are used throughout to show how cemeteries have successfully introduced educational programming onto their grounds, on topics such as botany, history, the arts, and ornithology. The book also provides a nice brief history on rural cemeteries in the U.S., and how they preceded public parks and botanic gardens, and originally had a recreational use alongside housing the dead.

My one hesitation with this book comes in the last couple of chapters where the idea of Confederate history tours is raised multiple times, but without any sort of critical framing of what that could or should look like. Raised alongside birdwatching tours and tree walks the possibility of Confederate history tours is placed in without discussion of how that’s a significantly different topic than the kinds of plants and animals one can find in a graveyard, and without significant discussion of how such a tour could affect the broader living community around the graveyard. I was disappointed that the care and thoughtfulness present elsewhere in the book when discussing programming opportunities didn’t seem to connect with the topic of presenting Confederate history in the U.S. in those final chapters, and instead the idea is just sort of plopped in and glossed over.

New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color edited by Nisi Shawl – I was lucky enough to go to a reading for this book in Seattle in 2019. Nisi Shawl was there and introduced the book, and the authors Alberto Yáñez and E. Lily Yu read excerpts from their short stories. Yáñez’s story “Burn the Ships” in particular, felt like it reached up under my rib cage and grabbed me. I immediately bought the book, but unfortunately it got moved to the back-burner in the midst of graduate thesis. Reading it now, “Burn the Ships” is still as haunting and expansive as it was when I heard the excerpt. Other favorites of mine are Minsoo Kang’s “The Virtue of Unfaithful Translations,” which delightfully played with my expectations of the narrative arc at the end, and “The Shadow We Cast Through Time” by Indrapramit Das which features a fantastically alien planet and humans struggling to make a life on it. While I did have personal favorites, every story in this anthology is wonderful; it’s rare for me to like every story in an anthology but New Suns is fantastically written and edited throughout. The introduction by LeVar Burton explains the need for the anthology, and made me tear up slightly, setting the perfect tone for the anthology as a whole.

Short Stories:

10 Spells the Glasbläser Family Is Not Sharing With Each Other, In Order of Secrecy by Elisabeth R Moore at Luna Station Quarterly. As the title says, the story is a description of ten spells kept secret from other family members. The story is filled with love, seen in the way the family keeps secrets, and what spells they learned amongst all the possible spells. The story is also filled with mischief and tragedy. I really loved the way this story started out very fun and sweet, and the way that tone continued while also filling out the dark corners of life in a family, and of life in the world.

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