travelintheways (travelintheways) wrote,

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Bread and Books

If I had a blog, I might call it "Bread and Books" because it would be about Things I Bake, Eat, and Read. Most of my FB posts are about cooking, after all. Anyway, I've been so excited about books I've read lately that I had to post on LJ -- Twitter just cannot contain my effusive enthusiasm!

I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits: I read this in literally 24 hours. It was one of those books that absorbs every waking hour I have: even when I'm not reading it, I'm thinking about it and wondering when I can get back to it. It's a really intimate portrayal of a Satmar Hasidic family that ranges from Transylvania to Paris to Williamsburg. Like one of the reviews I read of it said, it could have been one of two easy books (the free spirit escaping oppression or the family eschewing modernity to hew to tradition), but the author treats every person (and place) with warmth and dignity. The hook of the book for me was that it took place in the Hasidic community, whose members I see in my neighborhood every day, but what's fantastic about this book is how it draws you in so close to the characters to experience their joys and struggles. The prose itself is gorgeous as well. I recommend this book so, so highly. It is still resonating in me as I write this.

Embassytown by China Mieville. If not for I Am Forbidden, this would be my favorite book of my recent return to the library (I never got around to getting a new card after I was mugged last year). This is one of the books I got in Kindle version, which makes reading on the train easier but I think it takes me a little longer because there are so many smaller pages to click through. Anyway, Mieville is my new favorite speculative fiction author. This book is about language, Language, communication, truth, lies... and also about colonialism, exploration, bigotry, empathy, revolution. There are a lot of fantastic concepts in it besides the main issues of the book. Anyway, this takes place in "Embassytown," the ambassadorial enclave of mostly humans and a few other species on the planet of their Hosts, the Arkiene (not sure about spelling), who have amazing bio-technology, a very singular Language, and two speaking mouths. I don't want to spoil anything, but the book is SO dense with thoughtfulness, creativity, and really wild speculation. I read the last few chapters twice to savor them and was sad when it ended.

Kraken by China Mieville. This was my first China Mieville! This urban fantasy is everything I love about the genre: chaotic, vivid, bound to the city it takes place in, very irreverent about magic, full of eccentric people you know you could see on the streets of London (or New York, for that matter), and constantly shifting between the recognizable and the fantastical. Mieville is bursting with ideas, and the reader goes through the story almost as bewildered as the main characters, who know nothing about this magical side of London until shit gets weird. Bewildered in a good way, that is. Another thing I really like about this book in particular of his is that I get the sense that every character who appears on the page has a fascinating history; Mieville imbues everyone with such life. Anyway, the premise is that a giant squid disappears from a museum, and everyone is trying to figure out who did it, how, and why. How does that alone not make you want to run out and read it??

Scar, by China Mieville. I am starting to resent how every idea I have for a story Mieville has done better. Kraken had a really cool magic system similar to one I've been envisioning, and Scar had a floating steampunk sort of city also similar to the setting in a short story I just submitted for a steampunk Cthulhu anthology. Damn you China Mieville! Damn your awesomeness! I understand that this is his second book in this universe, and the first one (well, I don't know the order of them) is on my liberry hold list. Hooray! Loved the dizzying array of cultures, myths, and locales in this story. Was somewhat bewildered by the layers of manipulation and betrayal, though I suppose the MC feels the same way. I was fascinated by some of these characters but my only overall criticism of this story is that I was not particularly drawn to any of them. All Mieville's books show a really stunning breadth of imagination -- I think he just lacks a little warmth in some of them (Kraken, I should note, does not have any problems in this area -- I loved the characters).

A Girl Walks Into a Bar by Rachel Dratch. I think of friend of mine was raving about this and, in a minor miracle, I actually remembered it when putting a zillion books on hold at the liberry (that came available ALL AT ONCE). It's a lot more personal than Bossypants by Tina Fey, though the first while is her slow and steady rise through comedy to SNL. What strikes me is how archetypally New York-y she is even though she was raised in Boston and lived in LA and Chicago (but obvs now New York), not in the glamorous Sex and the City sense but being a cool, funny, smart person you'd love to hang out with. Not that they aren't those everywhere, but I dunno, something about having a ton of lady friends and a ton of gay friends but baaaaad luck with boyfriends, being Jewish in more of a cultural than religious sense, being a liiiiiiittle New Age-y, being so entrenched in liberal NY that it's a genuine shock to find out that someone she likes is not, being pretty in normal-vision but an ogre in Hollywood-vision... all seems very New York-y. And what the title calls her "Mid-life miracle"
definitely feels like something archetypally NY-y. It makes me want to see her in things and then have a drink with her. She comes across as intensely relatable because I empathize with a lot of her issues... but way funnier about it than I am.

Meet Me at Infinity by James Tiptree Jr. I'm finally diving into James Tiptree Jr, aka Alice Sheldon (aka a few other things). This is an interesting book to start with -- it's a bunch of her lesser-know pieces (not done solely under the Tiptree name) chosen by the editor as relating somehow to her personal life. A lot of them are pieces that were rejected or published in tiny magazines, and I think there's some autobiographical stuff in it too. The idea is to give a sense of her through these pieces, which is a cool concept. The first piece, "Happiness is a Warm Spaceship" is really kooky, and I'm happily ensconced here with a cup of rapidly cooling coffee and reading it as my computer freezes.

Also happy because my kitchen smells like the baguettes cooling on the counter. I've never made them before, so I hope they taste as good as they smell! We're having sweetie's parents over Sunday for dinner, so I'm doing a bunch of stuff beforehand. You may be saying, but baguettes don't stay good for two days! True, but the internet confirms that you can freeze and reheat them, and the less I have to do Sunday, the better. Anyway, off to make (and freeze) crepes now and read my book!

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