I had such high hopes for my reading this month, even foolishly tweeting out my book plans for all to see.

A screenshot of a tweet reading "My birthday is in October and therefore the whole month is my birthday month. I always try and make it the month where I go back to read books I was super excited about but didn’t quite get to. So this year (30): Betazed! Beowulf! Legions of pigs!" A photo is attached to the tweet. In the photo, three books are laid out side-by-side. The leftmost book is a paperback of “Battle for Betazed.” Deanna Troi is on the cover holding a gun. The center book is a large hardcover of “Legions of Pigs in the early Medieval West.” The cover has a painting of a head heard of pigs. The late book on the right is a paperback of Beowulf. The cover is blue with a lock dragon entwined around a red “b.”

I read exactly one book in October, and it was absolutely none of the ones pictured above.

But not all was lost! While I didn’t quite read as many books as I wanted this month, the one book I did read was utterly charming, and my October short story reading was stellar, with Volume 1 Issue 3 of khōréō magazine.

The book "The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating" by Elisabeth Tova Bailey leaning up against a house plant. The book has a snail and a fern on the cover. To the right is a smaller potted succulent plant.

Books:

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

While bedridden with a chronic illness, the author observes a snail brought in on a houseplant. I love snails, but realized in reading this book that I know very little about them. I love them as an enigmatic but common creature, a neighbor I see everyday yet have zero idea about the workings of their life. I didn’t know snail tentacles were called tentacles, for instance, I assumed that word belonged only to octopuses. Bailey reveals many of the enigmatic snails’ secrets, deftly weaving together personal accounts with wide ranging snail sources like scientific papers and research, as well as fictional narratives of snail encounters. These external sources are always delightful when they appear to provide context to Bailey’s own observations, providing a deep but never boring look at snails. The whole narrative is contemplative and compassionate towards the shelled creatures, and was both extremely calming and joyous to read.

Short Stories:

Volume 1 Issue 3 of khōréō magazine really knocked it out of the park. All the stories are in some way about longing, whether that be bitter or tender or vengeful. Style and form are played with in some stories, as are expectations.

Cultureship by Esther Alter – Car is a performer on a cultureship, bringing knowledge of distant earth to far-flung descendants of that planet. The knowledge may have become a little fractured over time, but that’s all right. I really loved all the slight shifts of commonplace Earth things, the forgetting, the reinventing, the lost in translation quality of the cultureship’s performances. Bittersweet, hopeful, funny, and with a slight mournfulness to the edges of the story.

Nine-Tailed Heart by Jessica Cho – A woman has an encounter at a garden that she believes may end in her death. An all-too ordinary but nevertheless painful loss unfurls and intertwines with legend and folklore in perfect weaving. The loss is not what it first appears, the taking of hearts is different than believed, and the nine-tailed fox is of course, more than she appears when drinking tea in the garden. The transformations are elegant and organic, as grief and fear and shrinking gives way.

tragedy of the sugarcane ghost by Desirée Winns – A ghost travels across the United States to find his lost love and to avenge his murder. I really admire the stylistic use of lower case in this story, it lends everything an air of removal from the norm that heightens the narrative of a ghost possessing a body. The descriptions of the possessions, and the (one-sided) fight for control of a body are fresh and frighteningly descriptive. The scene of the father throwing his arms across his son to protect him has stuck with me. I enjoyed the way my expectations of a vengeance story were subverted, especially when alma makes an appearance, and the descent towards the bitter finale.

You’ll Understand When You’re a Mom Someday by Isabel J. Kim – A deal is struck in childbirth, and Something is let in. Another great tale of something supernatural inhabiting a loved one’s body. Dead Annalise haunts the edges of the story giving us just a glimpse into her life through the wimperings and yearnings of her husband, as living Annalise strains against the rules of the compact that was made. I loved the clever way Annalise finally gets what she wants, pulling on strings of loneliness and want, and the way the title comes to bear on the ending.

Evelina, My Tentacles! by Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas – Rosaura writes letters to dear Evelina, checking on, amongst other things, the arrival status of tentacles. More tentacles that do not belong to octopuses! I was grinning this whole story, the prose is just so playful and the character of Rosaura so vibrant. The strangeness of the setting and its postal system is fantastic, and while some aspects of the world verge towards threatening or frightening, everything remains recognizable to anyone who has ever written a devoted letter only to wait miserably upon the esoteric nature of the post. A complete delight.

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