The Break by Katherena Vermette is a multithreaded novel about a crime that takes place in Winnipeg. A young Native woman is attacked in the February night. There’s a witness who calls the police. So it’s a story about a crime, but it’s definitely not a procedural.
We get to know the family around the incident through a number of different viewpoints, including a couple of outsiders (a girl who’s escaped detention and a police officer). The story mostly takes place over less than a week, but is filled with flashbacks that give it a lot more depth than that.
It was a great book.
I often talk about how for me, the practical reason for reading fiction is to build empathy. If you get into the heads of people who are different from you, you help expand what your world can be, and it makes you better at understanding and helping people with different experiences from you. The Break is totally going to be my go-to example for that. Vermette gets us into heads really deftly and her descriptions were incisive and made me shudder. We feel for the weaknesses and we feel the strengths everyone shows.
It’s great. You should read it.
The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap is Matt Taibbi’s book about how economic inequality affects the American judicial system. How if you have huge amounts of money you will never go to jail but if you have no money you will be hounded by the police for walking down the sidewalk. It was incredibly depressing, but a good read (especially as a companion to Piketty’s Capital which was talking about how the wealth gap grows).
I don’t have the experience of getting thrown in the back of a police van for walking home from work as part of a commercial fishing approach to policing. I also don’t think that the laws should turn away from companies that steal and commit fraud just because there might be collateral consequences to the economy (which is something the Obama administration argued and has become part of banking prosecutions such as they are in the U.S.).
Part of the most depressing part of this book is that it was written in 2014, so pre-Trump. All the deportations and massive fraud investigations and fuckups that hugely and disproportionately affect poor americans, that was under Democrats. Trump deporting people isn’t new. Obama deported thousands and thousands by letting states use traffic stops to get immigrants into Immigration’s clutches. Yes the jackbooted thugs are ever more fascist, but it’s not like America has been a good place for non-white people before 2017-01-20.
I know my book reviews were never very in-depth or insightful, but they were here and were some content for the site for a big chunk of its existence. I don’t know exactly why I stopped doing it, but obviously, I did.
There’s part of me that feels a bit bad about not reviewing each book I read. These days it feels a little bit too much like my only purpose for reading is to consume content rather than letting things affect and change me. The sitting down and at least making a paragraph about each book does help to consolidate thoughts I have. But it takes so much energy, and I probably have another book a flick away at on my screen.
I could argue a big chunk of my “making stuff about library adjacent topics” energy went into the radio show over the last year, but I’d let the reviews trail off well before that. Now with the new job and not doing the radio show any more, maybe there’s room to come back at this again.
In any case, I have been studiously tracking what I’ve been reading even if I haven’t been spewing my thoughts on it at whatever reading audience I still might have. Here’s the list of books I read in 2016. I might finish another Dark Tower book and this little treatise on crime in Canadian football before the year is up but whatevs. (formatting key: ebooks comics rereads)
- Elric of Melniboné (The Elric Saga, #1) by Michael Moorcock
- Delta Green: Dark Theatres by Benjamin Adams (Ed.)
- A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. Martin
- Delta Green: Through a Glass, Darkly by Dennis Detwiller
- The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward O. Wilson
- Oblivion by David Foster Wallace
- Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
- The Weird of the White Wolf (The Elric Saga, #3) by Michael Moorcock
- The Vanishing Tower (The Elric Saga, #4) by Michael Moorcock
- Stormbringer (The Elric Saga, #6) by Michael Moorcock
- The Bane of the Black Sword (The Elric Saga, #5) by Michael Moorcock
- Trashed by Derf Backderf
- This Census-Taker by China Miéville
- Slade House by David Mitchell
- Engraved on the Eye by Saladin Ahmed
- The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman
- The Death of Bunny Munro by Nick Cave
- The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham
- Doomsday Book (Oxford Time Travel, #1) by Connie Willis
- The Givenness of Things by Marilynne Robinson
- Schild’s Ladder by Greg Egan
- Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, #1) by Neal Stephenson
- How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston
- The Confusion (The Baroque Cycle, #2) by Neal Stephenson
- Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
- The System of the World (The Baroque Cycle, #3) by Neal Stephenson
- This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz
- The City & the City by China Miéville
- Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film by Patton Oswalt
- Adventure Time: Marceline Gone Adrift by Meredith Gran
- Buddhism in Chinese History by Arthur F. Wright
- The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow by Cory Doctorow
- The Pale King by David Foster Wallace
- Thirst: A Novel of the Iran-Iraq War by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi
- Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
- Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
- The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
- A Hanging at Cinder Bottom by Glenn Taylor
- The Mirror Empire (Worldbreaker Saga, #1) by Kameron Hurley
- The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald
- Joe Golem and the Drowning City: An Illustrated Novel by Mike Mignola
- Random Acts of Senseless Violence by Jack Womack
- The Forbidden Worlds of Haruki Murakami by Matthew Carl Strecher
- The Quarry by Iain Banks
- Who Owns the Future? by Jaron Lanier
- Wicked and Weird: The Amazing Tales of Buck 65 by Rich Terfry
- In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang
- Two Brothers by Fábio Moon
- Writing for Radio by Christopher William Hill
- Bone by Jeff Smith
- The Dharma Punks by Ant Sang
- Beef With Tomato by Dean Haspiel
- Batman: Ego and Other Tails by Darwyn Cooke
- Dracula: The Company of Monsters Vol. 1 by Kurt Busiek
- Dracula: The Company of Monsters Vol. 2 by Kurt Busiek
- A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Sudden Death by Álvaro Enrigue
- A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Non-Fiction by Terry Pratchett
- The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth
- Going Postal (Discworld, #33; Moist von Lipwig, #1) by Terry Pratchett
- Absolute Transmetropolitan Vol. 1 by Warren Ellis
- A Questionable Shape by Bennett Sims
- Descender, Volume One: Tin Stars by Jeff Lemire
- How to Be Both by Ali Smith
- Absolute Transmetropolitan Vol. 2 by Warren Ellis
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
- As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
- H. P. Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition: The Master of Horror’s Influence on Modern Occultism by John L. Steadman
- Imperium by Ryszard Kapuściński
- The Starry Rift by James Tiptree Jr.
- The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower, #1) by Stephen King
- Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie
- The Player of Games (Culture, #2) by Iain M. Banks
- How to Change the World: Marx and Marxism 1840-2011 by Eric Hobsbawm
- The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values by Robert M. Pirsig
- Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis
- Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson
- Empire Ascendant (Worldbreaker Saga, #2) by Kameron Hurley
- The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death by Colson Whitehead
- Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers
- Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
- The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis
- Jaws by Peter Benchley
- Pretty Deadly, Vol. 2: The Bear by Kelly Sue DeConnick
- Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier
- The Essentials of Buddhist Philosophy by J. Takakusu
- Hunter’s Run by George R.R. Martin
- Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden
- The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
- Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
- Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
- A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers
- The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1) by N.K. Jemisin
- The Drawing of the Three (The Dark Tower, #2) by Stephen King
- The Waste Lands (The Dark Tower, #3) by Stephen King
- The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1) by Liu Cixin
- The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
- The Dark Forest (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #2) by Liu Cixin
- Death’s End (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #3) by Liu Cixin
- The Slow Regard of Silent Things (The Kingkiller Chronicle #2.5) by Patrick Rothfuss
- Sunshine by Robin McKinley
- Wizard and Glass (The Dark Tower, #4) by Stephen King
- The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth, #2) by N.K. Jemisin
- American Utopia by Fredric Jameson
- Frostbike: The Joy, Pain and Numbness of Winter Cycling by Tom Babin
- Sex Criminals, Volume Three: Three the Hard Way by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
- The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers, #1) by Becky Chambers
- The Revolutions by Felix Gilman
So yeah, I read 110 books this year. There are fewer comics on here than I feel is usual for me but there’s a fair number of re-reads. Those both kind of inflate the totals if you’re looking at this as a numbers game.
I’ve been trying to read more nonfiction and I think that kind of shows up in the list. I’ve also been trying to read more books by women, but as the list shows, I haven’t been successful at that (a quick perusal shows only 18 or 19). Under a bit of duress I’ve been buying fewer books than is my wont (only 6 from this list are things I purchased this year) but as my partner tells me, I do work in a library.
That’s been my year. I also read too many tweets and articles about politics and celebrities dying. Fuck 2016.
Every so often I get far enough behind in my book blogging I just declare bankruptcy and start fresh. This is one of those times. Here’s what I’ve read since my last book review:
- The Dog Stars by Peter Heller: Good post-apocalypse stuff. Realistic but not too depressing.
- Time and the Batman by Grant Morrison: Kind of bullshit. Can’t remember why.
- Zoo Station by David Downing: A cold war spy novel set in Berlin. I think I’ve now conflated an article I read by LeCarre into the plot, but I liked it.
- Lost Dogs by Jeff Lemire: Good rough early work, but man is his current stuff ever better.
- Poor Yorick by Ryan North: Good, but not as crazy as To Be or Not To Be, which is gonads-out amazing and will get its own review.
- 20th Century Boys by Naoki Urasawa: I loved this 22 volume manga, even if the end is a little abrupt.
- Nanjing Requiem by Ha Jin: It took me forever to read this book, but that’s just because it’s oppressive and painful like the history it’s based on.
- The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: Really good. Different from Mechanique, more grown-up, but I can’t hold that against it.
- The Boy Detective Fails by Joe Meno: Not as Encyclopedia Brown grows up as I wanted deep in my heart, but still more than decent.
- The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling: Kidbrarian confession time. Before September I’d only read the first Harry Potter book and only knew the rest of them through Wikipedia. I have rectified that (and think the Prisoner of Azkaban was my favourite) (and was a little chagrinned that my MBTI says I’m Hermione when I wanted to be Sirius Black).
Harry Potter MBTI – makani.deviantart.com | simbaga.tumblr.com
- The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter: The earlier stuff was more interesting before it got to the states.
- The Dewey Decimal System by Nathan Larson: A sort of post apocalyptic noir thing in a similar vein to Gun Machine, but not quite as good. Still decently readable.
- Sorry, Please, Thank You: Stories by Charles Yu: Very good George Saunders-esque short stories. Highly recommended.
- Penguin: Pride and Prejudice by Gregg Hurwitz: A comic depicting Gotham’s Penguin as a tragic villain. Much better than I expected, but not amazing.
- The Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge: I love love love the Tines (pack mind aliens. The story was fine but the politics got me angry. Totally worth it if you’ve read A Fire Upon the Deep.
- By the Balls: Jim Pascoe & Tom Fassbender: Noir stories set in Nevada in the late-90s. Good pulpy stuff.
The last book I read is one I really liked and will get a full review later this week.
Last week I found three volumes (Dead Mothers, The Gravel in your Guts, & High Lonesome) of Jason Aaron’s Scalped on the library shelf and delved into them for a few hours. They’re the middle of the story so you’d want to start with Indian Country to make any sense of what’s going on.
The rest of this is less about these books and about how conflicted I am in liking them. So Scalped is a contemporary crime story set on a South Dakota First Nations Reserve. It’s brutal and violent and I’m a little wary of really loving it because there’s a lot of potential for it being totally racist. Or if not racist, at least unhelpful.
A few months ago at a local writers festival we had a first nations poet talk about her work and one of the things she talked about was that first nations people should tell first nations stories. That’s not something for white people to do. In the larger cultural milieu, Spike Lee took Quentin Tarantino to task for Django Unchained, because slavery wasn’t Tarantino’s history to talk about (Jesse Williams has a great essay about the problems with Django, which you should totally read).
At our writers festival people in the audience were disgruntled that this woman would be telling us that there are some stories we cannot tell. I completely get that disgruntlement. I have long held the idea that freedom of expression means that I can write about whatever the hell I want and deal with the consequences, and fuck anyone who tells me what is and isn’t appropriate for me to do. But I’ve been coming around to see how privileged a point of view that is, and how voices from the dominant culture telling those stories crowds out the voices telling it from the inside. You really don’t want people to be learning their American history from Django Unchained.
The thing is that I really like Scalped. I love the small-scale politics and the way people with scraps of power interact with the immovable force of the US government, and how Dashiell Bad Horse is tearing himself apart to do this job between two worlds. It’s a great story. Just one that makes me feel guilty for liking it, because I haven’t sought out neo-noir stories written by first nations people themselves. Scalped is easy because it’s published by DC Comics, and I haven’t gone beyond that easy corporate mass-media approach.
Anyway, if you like crime stories, and all of my hand-wringing hasn’t put you off, Scalped is definitely worth your time.
Jonathan Lethem’s Gun, With Occasional Music is a scifi noir story very heavy on the noir. In a world with uplifted kangaroos and apes and accelerated-development babies, Conrad Metcalf is trying to solve a murder. And then another and another. He’s an ex-cop and has his custom drugs to keep him feeling the exact right level of ennui and tenacity, while the victims and witnesses take drugs to forget. It’s pretty great.
One of the things I really like about the book is the dual economic systems going on. There’s money and there’s karma. Karma is what the cops take away when you do bad things, and what you get given when you’re a model citizen. It’s a bit more centralized than Cory Doctorow’s Whuffle but you can see the connective strands. The thing is that when your karma hits zero you go into a freezer, and are removed from society for a while, which makes my favourite part of the book possible.
[SPOILERS] About 3/4 of the way through the book Conrad pisses off enough people he gets tossed in the freezer for six years. This is awesome for the story because when he gets out it’s like that time passed overnight. He’s even more dogged about solving his case now that everyone else has had years to deal with the aftermath. [/SPOILERS]
So yes, definitely recommended especially if you liked George Alec Effinger’s When Gravity Falls
The Ghosts of Belfast is the kind of book that would be a fine movie. It’s about an old former terrorist killing the people who made him kill people when he was an active terrorist. It’s told pretty straightforwardly and is a quick read. It’s more of a gangster story than a mystery as we follow Fegan trying to put his ghosts to rest. There’s a love interest and an undercover cop trying to keep a lid on the politics of these killings. In general that’s the main thrust of the story, doing things right when politics make it much easier to do something else.
It’s short and has a good hook and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a movie version of it someday. It didn’t blow me away with any cool twists or anything. I’m trying to find something really good in that vein that I can recommend to people who love the supermarket authors. This is kind of close.