Books read, February 2012
Only, um, a lot late.
Something interesting I’ve noticed: so far this year, every bit of fiction I’ve read has been by a female writer. (There’s been some male-authored nonfiction and gaming material.) Granted, partly that’s because of the disproportionate weight carried by Diana Wynne Jones. But given that I’ve been working entirely from my own bookshelf in choosing what to read, that actually makes me kind of happy; it means I am not, as many people do, skewing unconsciously toward men in terms of what books I read and talk about.
On the other hand, there’s this bit of number-crunching, which shows to the extent that we’re approaching parity on book reviews, a lot of that is driven by women reviewing women, counterbalancing the men who who mostly review men. And even then, we’re not at equal numbers yet.
Anyway, last month’s books — before we get any further into this month.
The Kingdom of Benin in the Sixteenth Century, Elizabeth M. McClelland. Research. Dissected elsewhere.
Emerald Empire Gaming book, for Legend of the Five Rings. Extremely satisfying, in that it consists almost entirely of cool and/or useful setting information one could use to flesh out a game, rather than the D&D model of “spells, feats, magic items, and a few prestige classes, and we’re done.” L5R has a track record of being good like that.
Archer’s Goon, Diana Wynne Jones. Discussed elsewhere.
The Political, Economic, and Social Structure of the Kingdoms of the Western Sudan: Ghana, Mali, and Songhai (Gao): A Comparative Study, Maxwell Owusu. Does not have the problems of the other book. Beyond that, it’s an extremely dry (and short) academic read, that sent me down Nostalgia Lane over the archaeological discussion of urbanization and state formation that were current when this book was written . . . in 1966.
Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal. Austen plus magic, but not in that “toss in some zombies and call it a day” fashion we’ve seen elsewhere. The major thing I would say about this one is that a lot depends on the expectations you go in with: as more of a fantasy reader than an Austen reader, I found myself reflexively looking for more oomph, that wasn’t there: the stakes are very Austen-ish, which is to say personal rather than epic (though the resolution is definitely flashier than Austen would have done). I think it succeeds at what it’s trying to do, though, so as long as that’s what you’re looking for, it’s a good book. Taking it on its own terms, my only real quibble is that I would have liked it to dig into the gender issues a bit more deeply.
Power of Three, Diana Wynne Jones. Discussed elsewhere.
UNESCO General History of Africa, vol. III: Africa from the Seventh to the Eleventh Century, ed. I. Hrbek. Partial read. This is an abridged copy, but I’ve never seen the whole thing anywhere — and that’s probably fine for my purposes, since I skipped half the book anyway. It’s a collection of extremely academic articles on topics on African history, many of which were either on regions I’m not currently looking at (like the Maghrib) or topics not useful to me (like a study of coinage and where it was minted). But I read the bits on West Africa, and they were helpful.
A Tale of Time City, Diana Wynne Jones. Discussed elsewhere.
The Royal Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay: Life in Medieval Africa, Patricia and Frederick McKissack. A short book, and possibly one intended for kids, but it’s the best resource I’ve yet found for daily-life description of the Western Sudan prior to the European influx. In contrast to McClelland, the authors here are scrupulous about noting where they’re getting their information from, and when those sources contradict one another. Occasionally this comes across as sort of patronizing, but you know, I prefer that to the alternative.
Unexpected Magic, Diana Wynne Jones. Discussed elsewhere.
Slow start so far this month; I’m having to entrench myself for more research reading, and that stuff doesn’t go as easily. The next list may be a good bit shorter.