This is my least favorite time of the year. Any novelty that winter might once have possessed wore off long ago, but the cold and the dark are nowhere near over. At least I have books and tea to keep me going!
Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers, edited by Sarena Ulibarri
I picked up this anthology specifically because I’ve been wanting to read more solarpunk – stories about humanity using green technologies to cope with ecological disaster, or just build a new and different future. I firmly believe that, in these trying time, we need more visions of a better future, and of different ways to live. If we can’t even imagine living without fossil fuels in our fiction, how are we ever going to face up to global warming? I feel like I got a real taste of all the possibilities of the genre from this anthology, which is exactly what I was looking for. Most of the stories are relatively brief, so this would be an ideal book to grab in short moments, for just a sip of a new world or engaging possibility.
A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K. Dick (read by Paul Giamatti)
I’ve been trying to read more classic sci-fi, so when a friend recommended this audiobook, I got it out from library ASAP. In retrospect, I think I should have stuck with my original plan, and read The Man in the High Castle as my introduction to Philip K. Dick. A Scanner Darkly takes a close look at 1970’s drug culture, and the ways in which drug users are basically reviled and taken advantage of. It’s based on Dick’s real life experience, and most of the characters are based off his friends. The main character is a narc, but also a drug user, and is slowly growing more and more distant from reality. I felt like the vast majority of the novel consists of him using drugs and then having spaced out, paranoid conversations with his friends, or else wandering off on lengthy internal tangents and monologues. It’s all really well done, and comes together at the end to a poignant conclusion, but it just was not for me. The narration is excellent, and helped me to stick with the story until the end.
Deep Roots, by Ruthanna Emrys (read by Gabra Zackman)
I absolutely adored the first book in this series, Winter Tide, so I was eager to get my hands on this, the second volume. If anything, I enjoyed Deep Roots even more! Having introduced us to the world and the main characters in Winter Tide, Emrys was free to go deeper this time, even giving us glimpses into other points of view. This time around, Aphra and her entourage go to New York City in search of distant relatives in an effort to rebuild Innsmouth. On the way, she encounters yet more cosmic horrors, and has to distinguish between ancient prejudice, and the truth. The series continues to explore themes of duty versus freedom, found family, and the complexities of trust. Gabra Zackman does a fantastic job making Aphra and the other characters come alive in her narration.
The Jewel and Her Lapidary, by Fran Wilde
I’ve had this book lurking in my Goodreads queue since the last Hugo award nominees were announced, but finally got it out of the library after taking a brief workshop on worldbuilding with the author. Then I read it in one evening (the book is less than 100 pages long, so I didn’t even miss sleep!). I loved the world. The Jewel of the title is a member of the royal family, and the Lapidary is a servant bound to her, who has the ability to command the magical games that are the source of the kingdom’s power. The main text is interspersed with excerpts from a guidebook to the region, ostensibly written far in the future. The contrast between those diverging accounts brought a real depth to the story, and also some humor. I look forward to seeing how the characters develop if there is a sequel – I did not feel like there was quite enough space in this book to get to know them as well as I could like, but that’s a risk with a shorter novella. I think that I went into this story expecting a more novel-like experience, where there’s more space for character, plot, and world to all be developed at leisure, but the pacing is more like a short story, which has to be tighter and more focused. That was a problem with my expectations, and not the story, though!
Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
It almost seems disingenuous to list this as a January read, considering I started it back in November, but it took me that long to finish it. As you might have gathered from the three months I spent reading it, this is not a book to rush through, but is instead a weighty tome, best savored. I feel like this book needs no introduction – it spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list when it first came out – but that was decades ago. Women Who Run With the Wolves uses fairy tales and Jungian analysis to discuss the trials and struggles of a woman’s life, and how she can find her way back to wholeness. It’s not exactly a how-to guide – there are no easy answers or clear directions herein – more of a map to the territory. Not every chapter felt relevant to my life, but that’s to be expected. Other chapters absolutely stunned me. I never expected anyone could describe my personal pain with such a deft hand. If you’re a women feeling lost or trapped, I’d recommend checking it out. If the writing and general approach resonate with you, stick it out even if the first few stories don’t smack you over the head – the section written just for you may be coming.
That’s it for me this month. Did you read anything noteworthy in January? I’d love to hear about it!