Hello. How are you doing this week? We've gotten to the point where we are color-coordinating our sock drawer, making sure that the dark grey socks are over there and the light grey socks are over here. It will require several weeks of wearing the dark grey socks twice as often as the light grey ones before they are all the same shade of grey, but we have confidence we will prevail.
We've also shuffled our TBR piles a few times, and not surprisingly, nothing has fallen out. Therefore we are going to have to read each and every one. You can hear the books all cheering: "We made the cut! We made the cut!" We're sure your To Be Read piles are making similar noises. In fact, let's add to them, shall we?
We're going to start with Priya Parker's The Art of Gathering: How We Meet, and Why it Matters. Not because we find it unduly ironic at this time, but because maybe we're reading to think about meetings and gatherings and doing stuff together. Parker starts off with the factoid that many recent studies have shown that we're sorta 'meh' about gatherings. Why? Because—up until recently—gatherings were mainly things we more readily called "meetings," and no one likes meetings. So, this seems like a perfectly good opportunity to sit quietly by yourself and think about the value of these get-togethers. Parker has some ideas about what's good in them.
Meanwhile, Bloomsbury Academic has released another batch of books in their Object Lessons series. We dig these. They're pint-sized deep-dives about everyday objects, where you learn waaaay more than you ever wanted to know about a thing. Perfect for an afternoon or two, when you want to feel like you've learned something while the rest of the world stands still. This batch includes Dinah Lenny's exploration of coffee, Rolf Halden's discussion of the environment, Erik Anderson's rumination on birds, Steven E. Jones's stalking of the cell tower, Steve Mentz's ode to the ocean, Robert Barry's nostalgic look at the compact disc, and Kenneth Rosen's bullish commentary on the bulletproof vest. [Ed note: We've got buy links to each of these on this week's bookshop.org list.]
And speaking of discussions of things we've made, Monica Smith's Cities: the First 6,000 Years is out in paperback this week. We are, after all, an urban species, and Smith's book shows that quite readily as she walks us through everything from the first muddy path between campfires to the complicated transit systems that move hundreds of thousands of us around a relatively small island.
On the speculative front, we have a great collection of contemporary Chinese science fiction (ably translated by Ken Liu). Additionally (and possibly more interestingly), Broken Stars contains three lengthy essays about the rise of Chinese science fiction and its emerging fandom. Science Fiction, broadly defined, is speculation about the future, and for the most part, that speculation stems from some starting points within the writer's own cultural and geographical foundation. As you can imagine, future spec from a Chinese viewpoint is going to be very different from our own. It's kind of exciting, isn't it? We think it's exciting.
And speaking Ken Liu's tireless efforts in translation, we also have Hao Jingfang's Vagabonds, a genre-bending coming of age novel with a razor-focus on social and political drama. Luoying, a disillusioned member of an elite group of Martian students who have spent many years studying on Earth, finds utopian life on Mars somewhat, well, not dull, but certainly not the bright and sparkling life they knew on Earth. Naturally, there are other things afoot, and as Luoying struggles to reintegrate into her old society, she discovers many buried secrets. This one takes its time with you, but it's a grand and thoughtful exploration of disparate ideologies and political systems.
In a slightly different vein, we also have the final book in John Scalzi's Interdependency space opera series. In The Last Emperox, we get to see the culmination of Emperox Grayland II's efforts to keep The Flow open. If she fails, entire star systems will be cut off, and humanity will be reduced to pockets of people, scattered across the known universe. It's kind of like a stay-at-home quarantine, but on a galactic scale. Fans of Scalzi's work will not be disappointed, and if you haven't started this trilogy, well, now you can. It's got the right amount of science (not too much) and the right amount of snark (lots).
And speaking of snark, have you ever wondered how birds got their names? No, not "crow" or "vulture," but birds like the "eiederdown," the "tit-willow," and the "puffin." In Mrs. Moreau's Warbler, Stephen Moss takes us on a bird-watching tour, but instead of getting all excited about spotting one of those frilly ones that goes "cheeka-cheeka-cheeka-wheee," he gushes about fierce rivalries between ornithologists, sweeping romantic gestures, and epic adventures. Yes, birding is just as much about linguistics, history, and etymology as it is about wingspans, plumage, and song.
Meanwhile, here's something a little different. Kate Pentecost's Elysium Girls is a bit dystopian, a bit dust-bowlian, a bit magical realist, and a bit steampunky. A Depression-era town in Oklahoma is given an ultimatum: prepare to be assimilated or die. The Goddess of Life and Death has decreed that everyone in this desperate town will sort their issues out and become all peachy and harmonious or they're going to be wiped out. And by "peachy and harmonious," the Goddess means "subservient to my desires." Well, this probably isn't going to be as fun as it sounds, and it falls to a rebellious band of teenagers to win the "Game" that the Goddess has set for this town. Naturally, the odds are stacked against them, but oh, we do love those longshots, don't we?
Meanwhile, Oliver Harris quietly turns up with A Shadow Intelligence, a cracking thriller that Kirkus Reviews is calling "one of the best spy novels of the year." It starts simply enough: freelancer Elliot Kane darts off to Kazakhstan to find his missing lover. What he finds instead is a deep conspiracy to take over Kazakhstan's natural gas supply as well as a Russian disinformation campaign that is threatening to take over the local government. Harris digs into a lot of current trends and intelligence theories, delivering a nuanced thriller that peels back some rather spooky layers on the current state of psy-ops and signal manipulation.
And finally, in the What's New in Paperback Department, we have . . .
Madeline Miller's fabulous feminist re-imagining of Circe, the banished witch daughter of Helios. It's a grudge match between gods and mortals, with an all-star cast of classic characters from Greek myth and literature.
Here is Michael Connelly's latest Ballard and Bosch novel, The Night Fire. Ballard moves to the front, Bosch eases his way back. There's no sign that Connelly is going to slow down. We're on board with this plan.
And, Stuart Kells's Shakespeare's Library: Unlocking the Greatest Mystery in Literature. Personal libraries are hip again, as you can imagine (looking at your own stacks), and one of the unanswered questions of all time is: "What was lying around Shakespeare's house?" Well, Kells decided to do the research and the result is a lively book that digresses in entertaining ways.
And that's the highlights for this week. Read often. Read thoroughly. Open the windows and get some fresh air. We are doing well, dear readers. We shall continue to do well, and we look forward to the day when we can all come together and talk about the proper way to gather.