It’s that time again. Here’s the best of the admittedly quite random pile of books I’ve read recently:
1-3. Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance (aka The Southern Reach trilogy), by Jeff VanderMeer.
Oh man, these are odd books. Not surprising, considering The New Yorker dubbed their author “The Weird Thoreau“. I guess you could call the series something like “eco sci-fi” — since it involves a team comprised of a biologist, surveyor, anthropologist, and psychologist assembled by a clandestine government agency charged with studying the mysterious and possibly alien Area X, a coastal wilderness where some really creepy stuff goes down, and few return alive. It’s an original, unnerving, haunting, and really fun read, and actually a fine piece of nature writing, too.
4. Dear Mr. You, by Mary-Louise Parker.
So, I don’t read many books written by celebrities (at least of the non-literary variety), but I found this collection of short stories to be smart and moving. I’ve read some of Parker’s work in Esquire, and fittingly enough, all the chapters in her book are constructed as letters to particular men in her life. Sure, this includes, memorably, her father, grandfather, and a number of ex-boyfriends, but also orderlies and cab drivers, her childhood priest and accountant, and in one of the best chapters, the Future Man Who Loves My Daughter. I found the intimacy she relayed without naming specific names really moving. The book is not a memoir, but it is full of honest reflections on her life.
5. The Nest, by Cynthia A’Prix Sweeney.
This is a well-written book about a group of somewhat unlikable, privileged adult siblings cheated out of the small inheritance they were each depending on to fix their disappointing lives. But it’s not as dismal as it sounds. It’s actually a quick and engaging read with a side of redemption.
6. Dune, by Frank Herbert.
Somehow I had never read Dune before, and if for some reason you don’t know what this seminal sci-fi classic is all about (the spice!), I’m not going to be the one to tell you. I do recommend watching the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune after you’ve read it though, because that, is some weird shit.
7. Fables, volumes 1-13, by Bill Willingham.
This fun graphic novel series flips traditional fables, folk- and fairy-tales on their collective head as it follows a sweeping cast of familiar characters who have been run out of their homelands and forced to live in a secret NYC community called Fabletown. Here, the Big Bad Wolf is the sheriff in love with Snow White, Prince Charming is the mayor, Little Boy Blue is a badass war veteran, and Mowgli and Cinderella are super spies… and well, you get the idea.
8. The Girls, by Emma Cline.
The Girls is essentially an imaginative, and unflinching re-telling of the Manson-family-like cult and its eventual crimes, told through the eyes of lonely new recruit. I never had a desire to read Helter Skelter, but this book goes mercifully light on most the grisly details and instead focuses on the thought process and coming of age of teenage Evie, angsty and adrift, and helps answer the question of why? Why were these women drawn to such a man, and why would they kill for him?
9. Fools Crow, by James Welsh.
And now for something completely different… a sobering account of how the Blackfeet Nation and other tribes weathered white expansion. Spoiler: not well. Not exactly plot-driven, the book rather focuses on documenting traditional tribal life in their northwestern Montana territory, mainly following a year in the life of Fools Crow as he steals horses, raids enemy camps, interprets dreams, hunts buffalo, learns medicine, speculates on the future of his people, and generally comes of age. It’s an elegy, really, and an important one.
10. Elfquest, (books 1-8), by Wendy and Richard Pini.
Maybe you already know of my love for and history with Elfquest. I’ve written about it before, and it would be hard to overestimate its importance in shaping my personal adolescent gestalt. I’ve read these graphic novels many, many times, and decided to read the Original Quest again, after probably a decade away. And dear reader, it holds up. Because sexy, jacked, telepathic, loyal and accepting, wolf-riding warrior elves running through the forest, desert, and frozen mountains fighting wayward trolls and humans as they search for clues about their magical space heritage will never, ever get old. And guess what? You can laugh and cry your way through the entire, extensive catalog here, for zero dollars.
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