Book Update – November/December 2019

Fiction

Insurrections: Stories by Rion Amilcar
I had heard a lot of hype about Amilcar after his latest collection, “The World Doesn’t Require You,” was published earlier this year. I went back and read his first anthology and was a little underwhelmed. When Scott is at his best, he channels the urgency of Flannery O’Connor. Most of the stories fell flat for me, and it did cause me to move his new book down my reading list in favor of other titles. My favorite story in this collection was “A Friendly Game,” which follows a high school student caught up in an incredibly toxic male friendship. This is paralleled with the story of a mentally ill homeless woman in their neighborhood who lost her son years earlier, which led to her breakdown. The antagonist in the story is great and really gets you inside of what the main character is having to deal with daily.

False Bingo: Stories by Jac Jemc
I loved Jemc’s novel “The Grip of It” and was excited to dig into this collection. Sadly, the stories here are very underdeveloped and feel like character sketches more than anything else. I was reminded of flash fiction because so many of these tales don’t get a lot of time to develop into something. The creepy, unsettling tone of “Grip” peeks out its head a couple of times, but overall I found myself totally bored with this book. I seriously just wanted to finish it so I could move on to something else. I won’t give up on Jemc though, I think she does better with long-form work.

Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler
You know how there are those lists of books you have to read, and you tell yourself I’ll get around to it eventually. Bloodchild was always coming up on science fiction must-read lists, and I told myself I would pick it up finally. Why didn’t I do this sooner? Damn, Octavia Butler is fantastic. From the title story, I knew I was going to love this collection. Butler seems very interested in disease and the spread of things both sinister and beautiful through viruses or parasites. It’s hard to pick a favorite here, but I was blown away by the storytelling and worldbuilding in “Amnesty.” The alien “invaders” were totally unique in their physiology, and the way humans reacted to their presence long-term was painfully true to life. I am very tempted to pick up some of her novels, but don’t dig book series too much. For Butler, I will likely make an exception!

Orange World and Other Stories by Karen Russell
I read Russell’s “Vampires in the Lemon Grove: Stories” last year and found it pretty good, but this year’s Orange World was an excellent leap in quality. I am a sucker for writers that incorporate horror/science fiction into literary style short stories, and this is full of that. My favorite story was “The Gondoliers,” a post-apocalyptic story set in a flooded Miami where a quartet of sisters who have evolved echolocation ferry passengers around the territory. The runner up is “Black Corfu” about a doctor of the dead on an island where skin color determines the class ranking. He’s stuck attending to the zombies that pop up while the wealthy white doctor gets the luxury of caring for the living.

Non-Fiction

The Second Founding by Eric Forner
I only read one non-fiction book these last two months to focus on some comics and fiction reading. But this a fantastic one. Forner argues, like many historical scholars, that the Reconstruction era and the adoption of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution signaled the creation of a new country. The United States pre-Civil War was a place where there was only one kind of citizen (wealthy, white, male landowners). In the wake of the war, the debated raged on about creating a framework for citizenship. I think too many people assume the abolition of slavery meant the extension of Constitutional rights to black Americans. This book is insightful and often infuriating when it comes to seeing how little our culture’s viewpoints have moved beyond a 19th-century perspective. This isn’t just an essential read in regards to the race conversation in America, but it also speaks to the horrors our nation is perpetuating at the border currently.

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