The holidays are upon us, and I am still not reading as much I usually do. My progress through Women Who Run with the Wolves was slowed by an inconvenient library due date, but I liked what I read enough to order a used copy online, so I should be picking that up again soon. In the meantime, I did read two novels and a collection of short stories.
Dietland, by Sarai Walker
Three different people recommended this book to me, so I finally gave it a try. I’m very glad that I did! This mainstream novel answers the question, “What if women started fighting back against the violence and oppression directed at them by Western culture?” There’s a lot of violence, but also a lot of humor. The narrative is particularly focused on the violence of diet culture, and the associated pressure to achieve what one character calls “fuckability.” The main character, Plum, has a habit of silently reciting the caloric content of any food she eats, or even sees, which is a bit painful to read, but more painful to realize that most of us do it, on some level or another, whether we are on a diet or not. The feminism in this book is not particularly intersectional – as I recall, all of the main characters are white and of middle to upper class backgrounds, though one notable background character is Latina.
The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal
I listened to this as an audio book, narrated by the author. Normally, that can be a bit of a gamble, but Kowal is also a professional audio book narrator, so in this case, it’s a fantastic choice. This is the first in a series, and at this point, it’s more alt history than science fiction, per se, though I expect that to change in the following installments. In this reality, a meteorite strikes Washington DC in the early 1950’s. In addition to obliterating the city and causing massive tidal waves, it also kicks of the Greenhouse Effect and will eventually render the earth uninhabitable. Thus, building space stations and colonies becomes of the utmost importance. The narrative follows one Alma York, a math genius and professional computer for the newly formed international space effort, in her quest to become a lady astronaut. The story hews pretty closely to the culture of the 1950’s, which is to say that we see a lot of sexism and racism, as well as some antisemitism. Fortunately, most of the actual characters are basically good people, which keeps it tolerable, at least for me (for comparison and so you can make good choices for yourself, I couldn’t tolerate the TV show Mad Men, but this is fine)
Mrs. Claus: Not the Fairy Tale They Say, edited by Rhonda Parrish
Yes, this seems more like an appropriate choice for December than November, but I recently saw a call for submissions for one of Parrish’s upcoming anthologies, and I was curious about her tastes. This a surprisingly varied anthology, with much of the adventuresome light fantasy fare I expected, but she includes a handful of horror and science fiction, as well. More than one story showed Mrs. Claus as some sort of warrior, a conceit which I appreciated. Not all the stories focus on Mrs. Claus directly, but most are in her point-of-view. I can’t say that I loved every story in the anthology (does anybody ever, for any anthology?), but I thoroughly enjoyed the collection on the whole.
Now that it is December, I imagine I will have less time for reading, but who knows? Maybe I’ll be so stressed out by the holidays that I need to take tons of time to read for recovery purposes. Wishing everyone the best, whatever holidays you celebrate this winter! I hope you are able to find some time to turn inwards as we slide into the cold, dark time of the year in Northern Hemisphere.