Books read, September 2022
The Absolute Sandman Vol. 1, Neil Gaiman. This volume covers the material contained in the Preludes and Nocturnes, The Doll’s House, and Dream Country collections, i.e. what was in the first season of the TV show (plus some bits that weren’t, like the issues “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Façade”). I re-read it after watching the show, and I have to say, my overall reaction is that not only is the adaptation fairly good, I genuinely think it improves on the comic in places (particularly by connecting the Corinthian to Rose’s plot, and also what it did with Gault). But I was, admittedly, never a die-hard fan of The Sandman; I came to it late, never liked a lot of the art, and vastly preferred the parts of it that weren’t quite so ’90s horror-flavored.
Hand of the Trickster, Mike Reeves-McMillan. A novella bundled with some short fiction to make for a more substantial book. The novella is a fantasy heist with a protagonist who serves a trickster god; the worldbuilding around how the various deities work and fit together was quite interesting.
The Game of 100 Candles My own work doesn’t count. But hey, now I can finally talk about it publicly, instead of being coy!
The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, John Koenig. I think I would have loved a less sorrow-focused version of this, with invented words for a broader range of emotions; not everything in here is about sadness, but a decent percentage is various forms of anxiety or existential angst. As it stands, I wound up mostly reading this in small doses, between other books — I think it’s better-suited to that approach than to mainlining the whole thing in one go.
From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death, Caitlin Doughty, narr. by the author. The author is an American mortician who has a lot of problems with how the U.S. funeral industry has changed the way we handle death. The bulk of the book involves her traveling to other parts of the world, or to places in the U.S. with unusual setups (like open-air pyres or human composting), to see how they deal with both the body and the bereaved, reflecting on the huge variety of responses and what needs they serve — or don’t serve. It cemented my feeling that I don’t want anybody spending thousands of dollars on a coffin for me and showed me some of the issues around cremation, too; I honestly like the idea of a natural burial or even composting, if that’s a viable option by the time I shuffle off this mortal coil. (California, where I live, just legalized the practice.) The book is — naturally — a little gross here and there, because decay is a gross process, but it’s also deeply compassionate and also funny, and Doughty narrated the audiobook well.
The Airship: Its Design, History, Operation, and Future, Christopher Sprigg. It is sometimes hilarious to read old books about technology. This one is from 1931, and it is chock full of fantastic and accessible details about how airships work and the kinds of problems they can run into, and then it closes with a discussion of the future of airships that basically boils down to 1) pressure airships will soon be extinct (Reader, “pressure airship” = “blimp” and they are still around), 2) rigid airships will totally be the long-distance air transport of the future (this was six years before the Hindenburg disaster), and 3) literally nine pages laying out the logic for why airplanes almost certainly can’t ever be viable for transoceanic commercial travel. (Among other things, he mocks the predictions that because airplane speed has been improving rapidly as of 1931, by 1950 a plane will be able to go 700 mph. Reader, Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier — 767 mph — in 1947.) Obviously none of us are great at anticipating unforeseen developments in technology, by dint of them being unforeseen, but . . . still. His certainty is breathtaking to behold.
Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, narr. Adam Sims. I was a bit leery of this book at the outset, because I think there’s a lot of value in challenging the idea that the best thing we can possibly do is become more productive, i.e. better little hamsters running on the wheel of capitalism. Fortunately, it turns out that Pang is far more concerned with “work” in the sense of “doing things that give our lives meaning,” and deeply critical of the way capitalism often actively hinders that, by valorizing busy-ness and overwork instead of giving us the time we need to reflect and deepen our understanding of the world. He discusses the value of things like shorter periods of work, daily naps, exercise (especially challenging exercise), hobbies (especially challenging hobbies), vacations, sabbaticals, and more; my one real gripe is that he really beats the drum of “it is best to wake up super-early and do your work right away!” That idea isn’t without merit — I readily grant that my late-night habits mean I don’t get the mental benefits of doing my work and then relaxing in ways that give my brain a chance to mull over what I just did — but he lumps that in with “deadline-motivated binges” and “waiting for inspiration to strike” in ways I somewhat resented, because that is not actually me. Apart from that, I slightly wish I’d read this in print instead of listening in audiobook only because in places I felt like he was bludgeoning me with more examples of his point than I really needed, but the audiobook was still good.
The Spirit Thief, Rachel Aaron. First of the Eli Monpress series. I’ve seen this talked about as a heist novel, but while it starts out with a bit of that, the main plot is really something quite different. The magic here led to some great narrative moments: literally everything has a spirit in it, there are different ways of getting them to work with you (e.g. forcible enslavement vs. voluntary contracts), and Eli works magic by . . . basically just making friends with everything in his surroundings, much to the bafflement of wizards who are busy going “but — but — you can’t just — you’re telling me the door/tree/rock/whatever just decided to do you a favor?” There are clear indications of a deeper plot, and since I read this as part of a three-book omnibus, I will have plenty of opportunity to find out more.
Eastern Heretics: An Anthology of Subverted Asian Folklore, ed. Amanda Lee Koe and Ng Yi-Sheng. After having enjoyed Ng’s collection Lion City, I hunted out this anthology — the title should make it obvious as to why! Alas, it was somewhat less congenial to me, as many of the stories were quite short and a lot of them were more literary in tone than I prefer. But I appreciated that it ranges all across Asia, including the western parts thereof, and there were some stories I very much enjoyed, chief among them Jason Erik Lundberg’s “Always a Risk,” which closes out the volume. That one retells the Chinese legend of the White Snake in a setting that’s . . . I dunno how to even describe it. Some kind of magical post-apocalyptic something or other that was very vivid and engaging.
If you do track down this anthology (which may be hard, depending on where you live; I had to order my copy from Singapore), be warned that the first story is kind of Trigger Warnings Ahoy, with the main character dreaming about the sexual assault of her children literally in the second sentence of the story. Me, I would not have had that be the first piece presented to the reader — not when the rest of the table of contents isn’t all of a similar tone — but here we are.
Eric, Terry Pratchett. Someone on my Discord mentioned Pratchett and thereby reminded me that there is still quite a lot of Discworld I haven’t read. This is not the best example thereof; having originally been an illustrated book, it’s very short, and there’s less meat on the bone than in some other installments. Still entertaining, though.