Books Magazine

June ‘23 Roundup

By Pechorin

Another mixed bag of a month. The June chunkster isn’t below as though it took a fair bit of June reading time I didn’t finish it until July.

Rosewater Insurrection, Tade Thompson

June ‘23 roundup

Second volume of Tade Thompson’s rather good Rosewater trilogy. Nigeria-based sf with genuinely alien aliens and great human characters.

Thompson is a talent and this was up to his usual high standards. I particularly enjoyed the political struggles between a populist mayor and the national government. Aliens may land, our survival as a species can be threatened, but politics continues through it all.

Familiar Things, Hwang Sok-Yong (translated by Sora Kim-Russell)

June ‘23 roundup

This was a June highlight. It’s a Korean novel about a 13-year old boy who goes to live with his mother on an island rubbish dump (the now ironically named Flower Island). They join a community of rubbish pickers who are paid to sort through the waste. The higher your status the better the waste you have access to…

The book showcases people living at the absolute margins without ever losing sight of their humanity. Impressively, it does so without becoming too heavy handed or at all mawkish. In fact it’s quite an engaging read.

There’s a supernatural element in the form of the ancient spirits of the island who are increasingly crowded out by the ever expanding refuse. It works well both straight as a twist to an otherwise realist narrative and metaphorically as an emblem of our impact on our environment.

The characters are well drawn and their dramas are small but involving. Overall, I really liked it. Tony of Tony’s Reading List does a good review of this here and I do recommend you read his piece.

The Three-Body Problem, Liu Cixin (translated by Ken Liu)

June ‘23 roundup

This is one of the most influential sf books in years and one that introduced a vast array of Western readers to contemporary Chinese sf. This is big screen stuff about first contact and the nature of intelligence in the cosmos.

In many ways it’s like classic American sf of the 50s and 60s with all the good and bad that implies. Deep ideas, shallow characters. If you enjoy old school sf you may well enjoy this. If you don’t, you won’t.

Sidewalks, Valeria Luiselli (translated by Christina MacSweeney)

June ‘23 roundup

After mega-scale Chinese SF I needed something a little more down to Earth. I chose this slim but enjoyable essay collection by Valeria Luiselli. Tony in his review here uses the word musings and I think that’s a good description. The pieces here are light, bite-size even, yet pleasantly discursive.

It’s a little hard to say what it’s about. There is an often melancholic theme even though it’s not a sad read. Bicycling comes up a fair bit. Cities and travel. It’s like a walk with an interesting friend sharing what’s on their mind.

As well as Tony’s review linked to above, Jacqui did a good review of this here. Unlike Tony and Jacqui I probably won’t return to it but I’m happy to have read it.

The Sing of the Shore, Lucy Wood

June ‘23 roundup

Lucy Wood is a Cornish writer that I’m something of a fan of but who nobody else on the blogosphere seems to read. You’re missing out!

This is a slightly more grounded collection than Wood’s debut Diving Belles. There’s less of the mythic elements that worked so well there and more of the everyday issues facing Cornwall, in particular the impact of seasonal employment and getting priced out of your own community by second-home owners.

For all that, my favorite story was the darkly comic A Year of Buryings in which an unnamed and likely ghostly narrator comments on the various random deaths over a year. Some entries are just a sentence long (“Lenny always said he’d fix that loose rung on his ladder.”) Most are around a paragraph.

If you pay attention there are connections between the stories, making the whole greater than the parts. Lucy Wood for me is under appreciated and I look forward to whatever she does next.

The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler (narrated by Ray Porter)

June ‘23 roundup

This is an accidental reread. I noticed I had an audiobook of it so thought I’d listen to a few minutes to see what it was like.

Obviously I finished it. It’s Chandler. Such good prose and it simply never gets old. Read (or listen to) a page and it’s hard not to read all of them.

Ray Porter did the vocals on the audiobook version (I moved between audiobook and kindle copy, though I’ve also a hardcopy because it’s The Big Sleep). I thought he did a pretty good showing of it though sadly his version doesn’t appear to be on the Audible store anymore. Anyway, it’s The Big Sleep and it’s one of my all time favorite novels.

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