I keep making lists with five entries! It isn’t on purpose, I swear. I think pretty much everyone’s finished with their 2018 retrospectives already, but I’ve been busy with moving and starting a new job, and I still want to tell you my favourite books I read in 2018. These are the books that most grabbed me by my feelings and refused to let go.
📚 The Only Harmless Great Thing – Brooke Bolander
I picked up this little novelette at Nine Worlds, where someone had left a few copies of it on the leaflets and freebies table. I kept it aside for a few months before reading it, because it seem very dark. And it is, it’s about a woman slowly dying of radiation poisoning without even the compensation she’s been promised, the enslaved circus-elephant she’s training to replace her, and the men and institutions that torment them. But it’s also about memory, solidarity, and vengeance, and I found it really cathartic to read. Also there’s some sweet science fiction worldbuilding woven through the whole thing like a beautiful architectural construct holding up the plot. It never overexplains or gives you more detail than you need.
I think there’s a criticism to be made about the enslaved people being sentient elephants when human enslaved people presumably existed in the history of this alternate world, and people of colour presumably exist within it, as much as I love the elephant folktale and the nod to ray cats. But I’m not the person to make that critique, and I haven’t found one so far in my cursory googling, so maybe I’m overthinking, but it raised a question mark for me.
Anyway this is a book extremely worth reading if you want to be validated in your anger at capitalism and men, and it’s Tor’s free ebook this month, apparently, so go forth.
📚 Autobiography of Red – Anne Carson
I was given this book as a present and had no idea what to expect from it, but it lodged itself in my brain and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for weeks after I’d finished it. I think I’d have to re-read it to give a proper summary, because the beginning of 2018 already feels like a different century, but it’s a gorgeously weird mixture of mystical fictional non-fiction, dreamlike vividness and harsh realism, queerness and monstrosity and brightly saturated colours. Honestly I don’t understnd how it burrowed its way into my ribcage so thoroughly but I’m glad it did. I’m gonna reread it soon.
📚 Revenant Gun – Yoon Ha Lee
Thank god for the Machineries of Empire series and for YHL’s continued willingness to just put his entire self out there with the fanficcy tropes, because I love every one of them with my entire heart. This final book of the trilogy somehow managed to ramp up both the gay suffering, the horror, and the weird worldbuilding to increasingly beautifully absurd levels, and I was suitably emotionally destroyed. Do you like to be gay and suffer, for fun, in space, unashamedly? While occasionally being slapped with the horrors of war and also making friends with robots? This book is for you.
📚 The Traitor Baru Cormorant – Seth Dickinson
Do you like to be gay and suffer, in a fantasy archipelago? But no, the suffering in this book actually feels a lot heavier and more real than that in Revenant Gun. While the Machineries of Empire series definitely confronts you with the horrors of war in some shining gems of uncomfortable scenes, nobody is particularly likely to ever be faced with the teenage cloned self of their dead mentor whose ghost they ate in real life. Plenty of people have witnessed their culture assimilated into empires and been faced with the dilemma of how to interact with violent systems.
It does have a delicious romance in there for the emotionally satisfying suffering amongst all the genuine discomfort though. It’s an interesting tension, and I don’t know quite what I think about it, but I am interested in where it takes the themes in the next book, and I did love all the characters intensely and had to lie down on my living room floor furiously texting the friend who recommended it to me to process my emotions as I read the last few chapters of ever more rapidly spiralling awfulness.
📚 Weight of the Earth – David Wojnarowicz
I think this is the book that set me off on the non-fiction kick I’ve been on recently. I picked it up at an art gallery gift-shop on a whim, mostly because I liked the cover, and it really paid off. I love reading about the thought processes and experiences of artists (and people generally tbh–I still miss LiveJournal a bit for that reason honestly), and David Wojnarowicz is very relatable in his questions about relating to people and being understood; whether it’s possible at all, or desirable if it is. Even the sections where he just describes his dreams are weirdly relatable. They’re not interesting to read, maybe, but compelling somehow. I also don’t think I’ve ever come as close to understanding what it might be like to be living with a fatal disease as I did reading the entries set after his AIDS diagnosis.
So there you go, a selection of good books to read! I’ve been slowly writing and editing this post on my phone and it’s honestly a painful process, so I’m releasing it into the world with any awkward writing & whatever weird formatting problems the wp app decides to throw in there intact. Be gone from my drafts.