Hi! I’m officially back! Exams have ended. My will to read hasn’t yet returned completely, but that’s hopefully temporary. As I read very little in July, it didn’t make sense to me to write two different posts, so you get them together.
This has been a difficult yet largely uneventful two months for me (if you don’t count exams), because for most of June and the first half of July I didn’t have the time to do anything but study. I’m exhausted on several levels at once, which is a significant part of why I’m not reading and in general was less on the internet than I used to.
In June I went back to a place I hadn’t been to in years and that has always been important to me in a way I can’t really explain; let’s just say that I understand why in my region’s tradition it was considered a sacred mountain since pre-Roman times. This is Acqua’s blog, so you get plant pictures:
The eerie beauty of the forest covering the mountain can’t be really captured in a photo, but I tried; it’s a faggeta (beech forest – Fagus sylvatica); the second picture is the most common flower on the mountaintop at that moment, Cerastium sp.
In July, I… studied. And when I wasn’t studying, I just wanted to be outside. As I have nothing to actually do outside, I ended up spending way too much time playing Pokémon GO – which, by the way, is a much better experience when the whole city isn’t also trying to do the same (as it was the last time I used it seriously, back in August 2016). Given that “architectural barrier” is the second nature of my region, this also means I’m getting a lot of exercise done.
“Welcome to Liguria! We hope you like stairs :)”
- the fact that a fantasy novel named City of Stairs exists but is not about or set in my city is just incorrect;
- this is a picture of “Salita di Santa Brigida”, which, when translated literally, would be Ascent of Saint Bridget or Rise of Saint Bridget. It’s obvious to any Italian person that there is an enormous mismatch in tone between the name and its translation, which is… both really interesting and not unique to this toponym. It may have some influence on Americans’ weird and frankly baffling fascination with Italians’ relationship with Catholicism? That, and the extremely ~cool~ way they portray it in their novels. [Yes, this is yet again about the mess that was Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente.] To give non-Italian speakers an idea, a less literal translation that would take the tone into account would be Saint Bridget Hill.
- Salita Santa Brigida – of which the picture doesn’t show even half of – leads to another Salita and then eventually to a castle built in the 19th century. Emphasis on eventually. In only two weeks, during which I didn’t always end up around there to catch Pokémon (given the heat, it is a… commitment?), I met at least three different groups of tourists saying that the castle possibly can’t be that far, right? Oh, I wish. I mean, technically it isn’t far, you’re just going to feel every single step.
- [There is an elevator-train hybrid you can use to avoid all of this. Given the current situation and strict rules about enclosed spaces, most choose not to.]
What I Read
Combining the two months, I read 12 books:
- 2 novels
- 3 memoirs, of which one was a manga
- 4 fantasy graphic novels, of which 3 were rereads
- 2 novellas
- 1 collection of flash fiction.
I also read only one short story, so I will talk about it in this post instead of doing a separate “short fiction time” for these months.
The only two novels I read were audiobooks of YA contemporaries, which in itself tells you a lot about my current attention span and mental state. They were both pretty good, but objectively on completely different levels regarding quality.
I’ve already posted reviews of both, so I will link them for more details, but Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender is one of the best YA contemporaries I’ve ever read. Everything about it felt so real and alive in a way books in this genre don’t often achieve, and it was such a celebration of trans Black teens.
Late to the Party by Kelly Quindlen was also a solid read with a message that is important to me – about the narratives we tell ourselves about who we are vs. who we actually are deep down vs. how others can perceive us – but I can say that since the only other YA contemporary I read in months was Felix Ever After, its flaws stood out starkly – especially the comparatively weaker characterization and absent sense of atmosphere.
I gave Felix Ever After 4.75 stars (review) and Late to the Party 3.75 stars (review).
I said before that 2020 is turning out to be nonfiction year for me, and these two months were no different; I read three memoirs in completely different genres.
All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson is a memoir about being Black and queer in America written specifically to also be accessible to a younger audience, but I’d recommend this to people of all ages; it’s a powerful read and it made me cry several times. I highlighted almost half of it and gave it 5 stars (review).
About the other two, I haven’t yet posted a review on my blog and don’t know if I will; they’re the kind of books I don’t really know how to talk about. Don’t let the cover of Freshwater mislead you; it may say “a novel” but Akwaeke Emezi has said it’s mostly based on their own experiences and called it an Ọgbanje memoir. And it was… such a non-binary book, and I don’t mean it only in the sense of gender. It’s a book whose very existence questions the binaries and categories built in western society, and that of course includes gender, but also our concept of what does and does not make a mental illness, or the way we see spirituality’s relationship with “reality”. It’s a necessary reminder not to try to divide the world into easily digestible, neatly-labeled boxes; doing so flattens the complexity of the world and overwrites real people’s experiences. I initially gave it four stars, but as I keep thinking about it nearly every day, I moved the rating to 5 stars.
My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness by Kabi Nagata happens to be the first manga I’ve ever read, so it was an interesting experience. This is also the book I have more trouble talking about, because it was such a personal memoir about sexuality and parental expectations that it almost feels wrong to give my opinion on it. What I can say is that other queer people dealing with loneliness, mental illness, and the consequences of a strict upbringing might find something useful in the author’s journey, as long as they remember it’s a real person’s lived experience with intimate topics and not a how-to guide or a portrayal of all lonely lesbians. I gave it 4 stars.
In June Monstress Vol. 4: The Chosen by Marjorie M. Liu & Sana Takeda was published in Italy, and I reread the whole series. My main recommendation for Monstress is to reread the previous installments every time a new one comes out; things even start to make sense after a while!
I love this series even when it doesn’t seem to, because to me something “making sense” is secondary (if it doesn’t, I’ll try again later). After all, I’m mostly here for two things: the art and the gay villainess nature of it all. I’m still not over how much one of the plotlines here is starting to mirror the horrible lesbian arranged marriage in The Stars Are Legion. I gave it 5 stars.
Onto the short fiction: I read a lot less of it than I did in the rest of the year, and most of it wasn’t great or as great as I expected it to be, but I still appreciated a lot of it.
The two novellas I read were Finna by Nino Cipri (review), a portal fantasy set in a IKEA-like store, which was interesting pretty much only for the anti-capitalistic themes and the queer representation but wasn’t outstanding as a story in itself, and The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson (review), a gorgeously-written if very heavy non-linear story about a sci-fantasy world and gay love, but with a heartbreaking twist. I gave both of them 3 stars.
Over the course of these two months I also read the flash fiction collection The Candlevine Gardener and Other Stories by Yoon Ha Lee. I love his writing and really liked this collection as well, but not as much as I loved The Fox Tower’s and Other Tales last year – I missed the stories about foxes, mostly; they’re the funniest and most memorable (and also, this time there was no poetry). I gave it 4 stars and still really appreciated how this collection included multiple disabled, queer (including non-binary) and polyamorous characters.
One of the last things I read in July was Seanan McGuire’s short story Juice Like Wounds, set in the same world as In an Absent Dream – it’s described as a “sidequest” of it. If you haven’t read the book, I don’t know how much sense it’s going to make, but if you have, it’s Mockery’s story, and it hurt. I did wonder who Mockery was during In An Absent Dream, because her story was oddly danced around and never really told, but I also understood that not everything can fit in a novella. And now I understand – this did deserve its own story, its own space as a sidequest.
Apart from how much I loved being back with Lundy and Moon, reading about the Goblin Market is such an interesting experience, because one thing I’m sure of is that it would be the wrong world for me (…a world in which people treat each other “fairly” – whose definition of fairness do you even use – because of magically enforced rules? No thank you.) but the characters in the world treat said not fitting in as a moral failing – is it? …Now I want a whole story about the villain. There’s always more to tell!
(…Is the pomegranate grove in any way tied to Nancy’s world?)
Have you read or want to read any of these? By the way, I know I missed a lot, so if you have any posts you’d like me to see, link them below!