Monday, December 17, 2018

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2018, part 12: Erin K. Wagner

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2018
by Erin K. Wagner

Since I teach literature for my day job, I often encounter stories and books I like in the line of work. What can I teach? What will instruct my students to be analytical and empathetic readers? My list of texts enjoyed in 2018 include many I brought into the classroom. The other half are those I needed to read and watch to relax and recover from the job!

Novels & Novellas:

--Jemisin, N. K. The Fifth Season. Orbit, 2015.

Jemisin hardly needs any praise from me, given that she’s broken records when it comes to awards. That said, her novel was one of my students’ favorites and the book only gets better with a re-read. Her commentary on today’s reality is embedded in a beautifully-crafted and compelling magic system and world. Not for the faint of heart.

--LaValle, Victor. The Ballad of Black Tom. Tor, 2016.

LaValle takes on the racist and colonialist problems of the perennially famous Lovecraft. In doing so, he creates a chilling narrative all his own that made me a little nervous about turning off the lights.

--Okorafor, Nnedi. Binti. Tor, 2015.
--Okorafor, Nnedi. Who Fears Death. Daw, 2014.

I was teaching Binti in my class at the same time as I was reading Who Fears Death at night. The two complemented each other, emphasizing how much Okorafor’s prose reminds me of Octavia Butler’s. Who Fears Death doesn’t flinch away from the darkness of the world, while Binti embraces a more optimistic Afrofuturistic stance.

--Roanhorse, Rebecca. Trail of Lightning. Saga Press, 2018.

One of the best things I read this year! I waited eagerly for this book to be released, and it did not disappoint, establishing Roanhorse as one of the most vibrant Native American writers today. A nuanced and smart urban(esque) fantasy that imagines a post-apocalyptic future with modern relevance.

--Schwab, V. E. A Darker Shade of Magic. Tor, 2016.

This book reminded me of the wonder and pure fun I had reading fantasy novels as a kid. Fun characters and quick-paced plot. I need to find time to read the rest of Schwab’s work.

Short Stories & Novelettes:

--Butler, Octavia. “Bloodchild.” Bloodchild and Other Stories. Seven Stories Press, 2005.

--Le Guin, Ursula K. “Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight.” Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences. Roc, 1990.

I couldn’t make this list without considering the classic short stories that I re-read and taught this fall. Every time I read “Bloodchild,” I like it more. It is such a clever reconsideration of classic expectations surrounding gender and sex—with some great insectoid aliens. And Le Guin never disappoints as she considers the definition of humanity itself.

TV & Movies:

--Hotel Artemis. Directed by Drew Pearce, performances by Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown, and Dave Bautista, Global Road Entertainment, 2018.

A (slightly) futuristic film that considers how race and class politics impact networks of crime and family. Some truly empathetic performances. But also, I love Sterling K. Brown in everything (see: Black Panther!).

--Kajganich, David. The Terror. AMC Networks, 2018.

This was one of my favorite TV shows of the year—and of all time? That may sound hyperbolic, but this carefully crafted period drama (with horror elements) examines the true terror of men (and by extension, humans) in desperate situations. Some excellent performances.

--Shaw, Sam, and Dustin Thomason. Castle Rock. Warner Bros. Television, 2018. [available to watch on Hulu]

Even more than the much-acclaimed Haunting of Hill House, this terror anthology series contrasts the struggles of the everyday (with all its prejudices and problems) with the uncanny horror so appealing in Stephen King’s best work.

Looking Forward To Reading in 2019:

--Wilson, Emily, trans. The Odyssey. Norton, 2018.

I may have received this book months ago, but I’m still trying to find the time to read it. I’m hoping winter break will be that time, because this translation has made well-deserved waves as the first translation of the famous epic by a woman. The translation is supposed to provide insight into the marginalized characters and perspectives of the text.

Erin K. Wagner is a speculative fiction writer, interested in examining how the human responds to the inhuman. She grew up in southeast Ohio on the border of Appalachia, but now lives in central New York, where she hikes in the Catskills and listens for ghostly games of nine-pins.She splits her time between academic research, investigating how medieval English writers navigated their own religious identities, and creative writing. Aqueduct will be publishing her novella, The Green and Growing, as a volume in the Conversation Pieces series in early 2019. Her stories have appeared in a variety of publications, from Apex to Luna Station Quarterly, and her short story "Running Straight" was a finalist in the 2015 Omnidawn Fabulist Fiction Chapbook contest. You can visit her website at

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2018, part 11: Sofia Samatar

Photo by Jim C. Hines

My Year in Translation
by Sofia Samatar

This has been an exciting year in reading for me, partly because I’m on the jury of the 2019 Best Translated Book Award, which means I’ve been reading lots of books that have just come out in English. Even outside my reading for the award, I found myself drawn to translated literature and stories of movement between languages. Call it my year in translation.

Patrick Chamoiseau’s Slave Old Man, translated by Linda Coverdale, is a dazzling, complex, and moving novel. Published in 1997, it only arrived in English this year, and I can’t help wondering how the course of black studies in the anglophone world might have been different if we’d had access, two decades ago, to this story of an escaped slave, the hound that pursues him, the forest that surrounds them, and the slippery, uneven spacetime in which everything happens and of which everything is made. It’s a startling book, historical and otherworldly at once, and Coverdale’s skill allows Chamoiseau’s language experiments to irradiate English in a marvelous way.

Other new books in translation took me north. Christina Hesselholdt’s Companions, translated by Paul Russell Garrett, is an homage to Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, and a story of intersecting lives in contemporary Denmark that grows deeper and more powerful by the page. The Endless Summer, by Madame Nielsen, another Danish author, is translated by Gaye Kynoch. A single summer unfolds through the eyes of “a young boy, who is perhaps a girl, but does not yet know it,” and, as in Companions, the narrative flows from one character to another, this time exploring how a love affair between two people ripples through multiple lives.

Anne Serre’s The Governesses, translated by Mark Hutchinson, is one of my best reads of 2018: a dreamlike novel that infuses an immense amount of energy, eroticism, and utter weirdness into its few pages. And then, also filed under weird, there’s Comemadre by Roque Larraquy, translated by Heather Cleary, which starts out with a tale of gruesome 20th-century experimentation (some doctors want to explore life after death, so they induce patients at their clinic to agree to have their heads chopped off, hoping the heads will say a few words before expiring), and ends with the autobiography of a 21st-century artist, involving uncanny doubles, extreme manipulations of the body, and the melancholy pursuit of fame.

Outside of awards-related reading, here are some highlights:

I Am the Brother of XX by Fleur Jaeggy, translated by Gini Alhadeff: I completely fell to pieces over Fleur Jaeggy this year, read everything by her in English, and want to recommend it all, but am limiting myself to this pulse-heightening, mind-expanding story collection. The frozen sea within you will crack.

Extracting the Stone of Madness by Alejandra Pizarnik, translated by Yvette Siegert: Pizarnik’s brooding, tumultuous, insomniac poems, 1962 – 1972. “The powers of language are the solitary ladies who sing, desolate, with this voice of mine that I hear from a distance. And far away, in the black sand, lies a girl heavy with ancestral music.”

The Word Book by Mieko Kanai, translated by Paul McCarthy: This was a reread for me, and it was a delight to come back to Kanai’s supple, intricate stories, which bore me away so gently that it took me some time to realize the shore was no longer in sight.

An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter by César Aira, translated by Chris Andrews: Heaven help me, why have I not been reading César Aira? If my brain is a sky, this novella is sheet lightning. Like the painter in Aira’s wickedly reimagined biography of Johann Moritz Rugendas, I am marked for life.

The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová: A Biographical Collage by Kelcey Parker Ervick: Božena Němcová was a 19th-century writer of fairy tales, an unabashedly unconventional woman, and according to Milan Kundera, “the mother of Czech prose.” Through letters, documents, and images, Kelcey Parker Ervick assembles the life of this fascinating figure, as well as the life of a writer named Kelcey Parker Ervick, who meditates on biography, searches for a Czech typewriter, and works to survive a collapsing marriage. As a confirmed fan of fairy tales, research, and researchers, I loved this.

This Little Art by Kate Briggs: A gorgeous essay on the “little art” of translation by a translator of Roland Barthes, this book is as searching, intimate, and risky as its subject. A fitting work to wrap up my year of reading in, around, and about translation.

Sofia Samatar is the author of the novels A Stranger in Olondria and The Winged Historiesthe short story collection, Tender, and Monster Portraitsa collaboration with her brother, the artist Del Samatar. Her work has won several awards, including the World Fantasy Award. She teaches African literature, Arabic literature, and speculative fiction at James Madison University.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2018, part 10: Andrea Hairston

A prayer:
All praises to the spirits of this land! We are storytellers, speaking in many voices, dancing in many idioms. We ask how can we be different, together. All praises to the animals and peoples who lived here before, to the old rocks, rivers, and trees that let us breathe and grow! All praises to everyone and everything making this world now. We are griots, reaching for sacred truths, not robber barons hiding behind a high tech curtain of disinformation.

Many storytellers inspired me this year. They got me up in the morning, kept me going all afternoon, and helped me sleep at night.

Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil and Algorithms of Oppression by Safiya Umoja Noble were excellent brain and spirit food. O’Neil and Noble expose big data algorithms and technological practices that pose as neutral, as fair and impartial, but in fact are steeped in imperialist, patriarchal, and white supremacist values. Algorithms are used in the courts and schools, in employment and medicine, banking and finance for life-changing evaluations and decisions. Algorithms are seen as superior to subjective, biased humans. Yet, these algebraic wonders create feedback loops that amplify the privilege and power differentials that have haunted America from its beginnings. Eagerly deploying invisible, ubiquitous weapons of math deception, we colonize the future. We chain the new world to the dominant modes of the old world.
The good news is we can recalibrate and interrupt the vicious cycle. For that, stories are needed, not just data points. Stories (and prayer) can’t be reduced to Algebra! Human intervention is essential. The mathematical models must be checked against real-world outcomes, must be adjusted to the context of specific people and their particular stories. We can dismantle the feedback loops that strangle our humanity. We just need the vision and will to do this. We need a better story on the limits of algorithms!

Other engaging nonfiction books that I read this year: The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity's Search for Meaning by Jeremy Lent and Your Brain’s Politics: How the Science of Mind Explains the Political Divide by George Lakoff and Elisabeth Wehling. Both books investigate the core metaphors we use to make value and meaning. Abstract thought emerges from everyday world experience and is embodied/expressed in metaphors. These metaphors structure what we think and what we don’t think. Lent, Lakoff, and Wehling puncture the myth of objectivity. There is no God's eye view of a singular universe to be had.We live in a multiverse—yet embracing a plurality of vision is a great challenge.

Fiction can afford us a view of the multiverse.

Almost fifty years ago I wrote and directed a play that featured a black cleaning lady as one of the heroes. She faced down bad guys, solved several mysteries, and helped save the day. I was a senior in college, and this was my first full-length play. Some audience members were disturbed that the hero was a cleaning lady. This meant I was putting “negative images” of black people on stage. A lot of folks just didn’t want a cleaning lady character in the play at all. A trial was convened and I was accused of spreading negative images of black people. This was serious social drama in the 1970’s! The verdict was inconclusive. For almost fifty years since, I have faced resistance to the lower class, black characters I write who use black vernacular English, know languages other than English, and understand physics and how to solve a tricky mystery (see Lawanda in Mindscape). So of course, I was thrilled to see Guillermo del Toro’s Shape of Water and watch cleaning ladies fight the power and set the world right. The creature from the lagoon stole my heart. I also had a blast reading Nisi Shawl’s Everfair and Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver. Shawl’s and Novik’s main characters come from the center and margins of their societies. The labor they perform is not a measure of their spirits. Diversity is power. The characters figure out how to be different together and transform their worlds. This is enormously entertaining.

At the movies, I had great fun watching a crew of women pull off the perfect heist in Oceans Eight and Widows. The Women of Wakanda who save the day in Black Panther made me want to write an essay. Spike Lee’s Black Klansmen and Drew Goddard’s Bad Times at the El Royale are a surreal blast from the past. Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You is a surreal blast from tomorrow. Forget the one man with a big stick, ray gun, or wand saving the world. In each of these films, a motley crew defies the forces that would destroy us all and live to tell their tale.

All praises to the storytellers who keep rescuing me every day

Andrea Hairston is that author of Will Do Magic For Small Change, finalist for the Mythopoeic Award, Lambda Award, Tiptree Award, and a New York Times Editor’s pick. Her other novels include Redwood and Wildfire, a Tiptree and Carl Brandon Award winner, and Mindscape, winner of Carl Brandon Award, finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award, and a Tiptree Honor List book. All her novels were published by Aqueduct Press. She has also published essays, plays, and short fiction and received grants from the NEA, Rockefeller Foundation, and Ford Foundation. Andrea is a Professor of Theatre and Africana Studies at Smith

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2018, part 9: Nancy Jane Moore

Books and Experiences
by Nancy Jane Moore

A book I read early in the year (and reviewed for the Cascadia Subduction Zone ), Her Own Hero: The Origins of the Women’s Self-Defense Movement, ending up defining 2018 for me. I stumbled across this book by historian and martial artist Wendy L. Rouse in a Facebook post by Yudit Sidikman, a self-defense teacher and fourth degree black belt in judo who has established ESD Global, an international organization aimed at teaching empowerment self-defense to everyone. In August, I went to ESD Global’s teacher training.

In November, I taught a self defense class for International Women’s Self Defense Day. For years I have been doing presentations on self defense at WisCon and other conventions, but this was a class that combined the concepts I’ve been discussing with physical training, games, and play. I’m planning more classes. While Professor Rouse’s book did not introduce me to self defense – I’ve trained in martial arts for close to forty years now – it did give me the detailed history of how learning how to fight back figured into the suffragist movement of the early twentieth century in both the United States and in Britain. I knew some suffragists trained, but I had no idea how widespread such classes were, even though I was well-aware of feminist self-defense and martial arts training from second wave feminism in the 1970s. This is an important part of feminist history, particularly at this time when many still try to argue that women are not physically capable of taking care of themselves.

The ESD camp left me with the feeling that I’d found another place where I belong in the universe – a community of women, many of them also martial artists, committed to helping others recognize their power. The training we do is not just about teaching others useful skills so that they can protect themselves from violence, but also about empowering them to go out in the world and do the things they want to do and need to do with their lives. One of the best things about the empowerment approach is that addresses the complexity of violence against women – the systemic misogyny, the fact that women are at more risk from people they know than from strangers, the belief many people have that women can’t take care of themselves – in a direct manner that incorporates it into the training.

Here’s another recommendation growing out of the empowerment self defense work: the documentary Beauty Bites Beast, a film by Ellen Snortland that provides an excellent introduction into the concepts.

I did read some other things this year. Despite being somewhat older than the target middle-grade audience, I loved Ellen Klages’s Out of Left Field, which provided a history of professional women baseball players alongside a story about a girl who wants to play Little League. Now there’s a book showing a girl willing to take risks and do.

I also finished up Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti trilogy with Binti: The Night Masquerade. I loved this imaginative tale that incorporated aliens, complex human cultures, and creative technology. Binti: The Complete Trilogy is coming out in February. I also just got the first issue of her new comic, LaGuardia, which is equally wonderful.

I seem to be hooked on serial novellas, because I also got into the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells. I read the first one, All Systems Red, earlier this year and just finished the second, Artificial Conditions. These stories, told from the point of view of a security unit, are great adventures that make the reader think about how artificial intelligence might work as well as the kind of misdeeds and stupidity that often come with human structures. I’ve started a lot of books and not finished them this year. With fiction, that rarely had to do with the quality of the book, but rather with the feeling that the story was going to be too painful and difficult for me to handle right now. Apparently part of my reaction to the political morass and its ongoing horrors is an inability to get deep into fictional tragedy after seeing so much news about it in real life.

In the case of nonfiction, I usually stopped reading because I was disappointed in the books. I did like Rebecca Solnit’s latest collection of essays, Call Them by Their True Names. I find her realistic optimism to be a guiding light in these troubled times. Another book I reviewed for the CSZ, Kate Manne’s Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, could not be called optimistic, but provided a useful and original structure for addressing our misogynistic culture.

Nell Painter’s Old in Art School, which chronicles her experience of starting formal art study in her sixties after a distinguished career as an historian, was also revealing. I loved it partly because it was about someone who isn’t young going after a new creative career with passion, and perhaps even more because it showed the extra difficulties of doing that when one also has elderly parents, another important career, and is African American. And she does not neglect to discuss the fact that she had a supportive spouse and the financial resources to do this properly.

Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”, a book neglected during her lifetime, was issued this year. This report of those on the last slave ship from Africa to come to the United States, an event that happened just before the Civil War and fifty years after such trade had been outlawed, and their post-Civil-War settlement of Africatown, Alabama, which is now part of Mobile, provides a stunning oral history that complements much of the historical work being done on slavery and racism these days.

Right now I am finishing Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics and discussing it in a local book group. This book re-envisions economics. No, we don’t need doughnuts, but the shape of that pastry gives us a more reasonable look at how we should create our economic systems. The doughnut itself represents the “safe and just space for humanity.” It is bordered on the outside by the ecological ceiling and on the inside by social foundation. The idea is an economic system based on what people need and what the limits are to good life on Earth. In the face of climate change and severe income inequality, changing our economic system is primary.

I was a little surprised when I finished this piece and discovered that I hadn’t mentioned one book by a male author. While I didn’t intend this result, and, indeed, suspect I read several good books by men last year, I’m going to leave this list as it is. There’s plenty of good reading on it.

Nancy Jane Moore’s science fiction novel The Weave came out from Aqueduct in 2015. She recently finished writing a novel inspired by binge reading Alexandre Dumas. Her book reviews and fiction have appeared most recently in the Cascadia Subduction Zone. She has trained in martial arts for close to forty years and holds a fourth degree black belt in Oakland. A native Texan who spend many years in Washington, DC, she now lives in Oakland, California.

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2018, part 8: Christina M. Rau

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2018
by Christina M. Rau

Books and podcasts and books and podcasts and movies and books and podcasts. That’s how I spent the better part of this year. Here’s what I most indulged in.

In current-ish novels: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan, but I have yet to see the movie, but I plan to read the next book in the series; Darcy Bell’s A Simple Favor, and I saw the movie and within the first ten minutes decided to think of the movie as not based on the book, which made both enjoyable; Weike Wang’s Chemistry, which is unlike any book I’ve ever read, in a good way; The Sleepwalker’s Guide To Dancing by Mira Jacob, and I didn’t want it to end; Good As Gone by Amy Gentry and You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott, two thrillers that thrilled me to the core.

In throwback novels: Murder on the Orient Express (and then I watched the movie, or, actually, I watched the insides of my eyelids while the movie droned in the background).

In YA: Adib Khorram’s Darius the Great Is Not Okay, and I loved this book because I related so hard (; Sadie by Courtney Summers, which tells a striking and thrilling tale

In poetry: Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey, read mostly so that when my students ask me if I’ve read it, I can say, “yes;” Jason Reynolds’s Long Way Down, which is a poetry-novel; Jared Harel’s Go Because I Love You, which is stunning and sweet (

In nonfiction: Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World: Science As A Candle In The Dark. I read other nonfiction, but nothing compares to this thought-provoking gem.

In listening: Serial Season 3; Annotated; Inside: Trader Joe’s (if you shop at TJ’s, listen to this); Oh My Dollar! to get geeky about money; and to laugh like a lunatic and justify my watching Riverdale, the podcast: RiverMales: All Tea, All Shade, All Riverdale (

Last year, I listened to the podcast Dirty John. This year, I’m watching the series based on the podcast on Bravo.

Other watching pleasures: Bohemian Rhapsody (wow!); The Meg; Ant-Man and The Wasp (yasss!); Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom; Deadpool 2 (ha!); Avengers: Infinity War (whoa!); Black Panther (whoa again!).

Christina M. Rau is the founder of Poets In Nassau, a reading circuit on Long Island, NY, where she's lived all her life. She is the author of the chapbooks WakeBreatheMove (Finishing Line Press, 2015) and For The Girls, I (Dancing Girl Press, 2014). She serves as editor for The Nassau Review at Nassau Community College, where she teaches writing and literature.  Aqueduct Press published her Elgin Award-winning collection, Liberating the Astronauts in 2017. For her blog, visit For everything else,

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Llistening in 2018, part 7: Mark Rich

Readings and Re-Readings, 2018
by Mark Rich

I wish sometimes that I could meditate upon all the sublime, ocean-deep, profoundly rolling and breaking words that have seen print but that I never have read, and that——given how that sea erodes us, much as time erodes us——likely I never will read ... or, if I do, will never meditate upon ... seeing how we seem to face a choice: to be a hollow walnut shell, afloat and thus never letting the sea inside us, adrift on it happily while saying that, yes, we know these seas; or to be a sieve, which can hold an ocean entire, but sinks.

Maybe for this reason, in one of the few resolutions for this year that I managed to keep, I found a way to be both walnut shell and sieve, and finished memorizing Robert Frost's first book of poems, A Boy's Will, of 1913. And for perhaps half the year, while in the garden, walking to the post office, or at the sink with my hands in suds, my head was floating and sinking, both. For months I recited to myself that small book, skimming over it and yet delving into it a hundred, two hundred times. Who knows. Daily, for months on end. I later changed my routine so that, here at year's rump-end, I revisit those poems perhaps a couple times a week. In the way of the walnut shell, I hardly know Frost at all. In the way of the sieve, his poems flow into and out from me more than I can know.


I did begin the year with the thought to myself: "Read. Just read!" I think the thought arose because of my daily time with Bach. For I was dabbling with the idea that I should be learning him as I was learning Frost. I decided, however, to continue on my original task, of improving how I read the page. So I kept at that, in a program that takes me through two preludes and fugues per day. I believe it will prove to be with the tonal music in Bach as with the verbal music in Frost, that only through a memory process may I truly hear it. In the meantime, however, I have kept reading, just reading——remaking more into a whole the half-musician I first trained myself to be.

I think it safe to say that as teenagers we are half the readers we might be, if perhaps in some ways better readers than we will be ever again. This past winter, having finished those books I wish I had read as a teenager, the Earthsea trilogy, I went on the Le Guin that I did read, then: The Left Hand of Darkness, which had impressed me in my youthful Kansas years, and impresses me again in my long-toothed Wisconsin ones. It reads to me as a story that is so much of its time——as a story must be, if it is to have any chance at becoming a story to have a life in later times.

I had hoped to go on in my Le Guin reading, this year, though not through any presentiment of her passing. I was in the pages of Left Hand, and Martha was reading the Earthsea books, when news reached us, late by two days, that she had died. It came as a blow.

In looking back into my journal, I see that a few days later Martha happened to see that it was the day on which Frost had died, in 1963; and I felt secure enough to note that I now "had A Boy's Will to mind." And then I noted further something I have quite forgotten——that I "had a dream in the night in which I was something like stage-manager to a production in a small church, halfway between a wedding and a performance and an event of honor; and Le Guin was in the alley to the side, although on that last time [in the sequence of dream-events, was] directly behind the large house or barn or church, meaning she had a walk ahead of her; and I told her I regretted not having given her a ride [...] since I had been in a position to do so." Why I should dream that I should have offered Le Guin a ride somewhere, I have no idea.

I ended up elsewhere than with Le Guin for the remainder of the year, as it turned out. In one direction I took, I picked up another novel from my teenaged years: C.S. Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet——from which title I took the name of my first small-press zine, in the 1970s. Lewis, as befit his calling, could write beautifully: and he did. As a youth I found the lurking Christianity in his fantasies disquieting, however. I read only the first in his space trilogy, then as now; and of his Narnia books I recall liking only The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. A copy of The Magician's Nephew appeared near to hand, however, when I was still feeling some glow from Silent Planet's linguistic strengths. I found Nephew distasteful for the way it draws out the good-and-evil struggle, though; and for relief I pulled a novel from one of my to-read piles: The Magician's Wife by Brian Moore. Back in the eighties or nineties I read Moore's beautiful first novel and was struck by the realism in his characters and narrative; and my desire to read more went unmet for decades. I do like this novel, which revolves around the French mechanician Henri Lambert. Fortunately having no "steampunk" leanings, Moore leaves automata for local color and adroitly develops a tale in which Emmeline Lambert partly undermines a magician and partly reveals a human being. Knowing nothing about Moore's life, the novel made me wonder if he himself had regrets about the discipline and isolation required of the novelist, who by verbal legerdemain must accomplish the impossible. I wonder, too, if having read Robert Mondovi's autobiography Harvests of Joy——which proved highly readable, by the way, for us, who are less wine esthetes than enthusiasts——sparked this thought: for among Mondovi's themes are regrets relating to the discipline, the isolation from home and family, required by one's chosen artistic calling.


I threw a few shovel-fulls into the canyonesque gaps in my readings, this year. Although I had read shorter works by her, Misha's Red Spider, White Web had sat awaiting me since we visited her and her publisher, David Memmott of Wordcraft, a few years back. I found it an amazing and (to draw an elevated term from deeply-dusted lit-crit tomes) trippy novel. In the early chapters one grasps for substance and a coherent understanding of what is transpiring; and then in Chapter Five, as I recall it, the language leaps upward into a fractured and painful brilliance that then carries one on to the end. I might call it jagged and uneven, perhaps even never fully developed, if I might also call it remarkable and enchanting for those same reasons.

Having also finally read Willa Cather, I now have the pleasant prospect of her more famous novels ahead of me. The Lost Lady may be the most haunting novel I read this year——to judge from how certain scenes have kept returning to my mind, over the months. May they keep returning, over the years. I can only dream how Cather might have handled Moore's novel, which I think should have been haunting in this way.

Some similar effect resulted from reading Hamlin Garland's stories in Main-Travelled Roads. The fact that he wrote, in part, about the region in which Martha and I live must help our finding his writing so inviting and satisfying, although I think the stories have little need of such help.

Garland is less tidy, less pat, less symmetrical in his plots than is Charlotte Perkins Gilman, whose Herland, and Selected Stories I have belatedly read, after having had Gilman books float within reach, off and on, since the late seventies. I enjoy her stories for their enthusiasms, their energies. The facile element may be no more than an artifact of the markets for which she wrote. Even if not, she plainly felt impulses that could and did lift her above the norm.

For sheer wonder, aside from Misha's word-fests, I encountered nothing this year more powerful——this may surprise you——than Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy. Chalk it up, if you must, to this reader's making a living, in part, by spending daily workshop time in cleaning and restoring small antiques, including barn pulleys, milk stools, and hay hooks. Within each chapter I seemed to reach an "oh, wow" moment. I have found, just now, a journal comment. "I continue being amazed at Farmer Boy: first the cooking and eating that made it so dreamy a vision, even with the antagonisms and hard work; and then the work itself, the processes and methods, the drawings of items that I gravitate toward buying at auctions."

I have been ending my year with a few readings less venerable, less yellow-wallpapered. It rarely happens these days that I am at a newsstand, but did recently buy there the new Analog, to read G. David Nordley's "An Empress of Starlight," and other stories by other old friends. (Is it really two years since, at this same stand, I chanced upon the issue with a wonderful Nisi Shawl story?) Just afterwards I was reading a quite differently textured science-fantasy that also shows a woman becoming a sort of queen of the known universe. Both Nordley's story and Timmi Duchamp's "The Tears of Niobe," in her collection Never at Home, brought back to me the over-the-top reachings, the rushing leaps for grandeur that science-fantasy can deliver. And the yearnings for immortality. Have I been missing those flavors, those intoxicants? Maybe I have.

And lately I have been working through the appendices in David Hockney's 2006 extravaganza Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters——an art book as fun and interesting in its words as in its pictures. (I do read the old Little Golden Books I happen upon. It is not true that I only look at the pictures! I do value that words-and-pictures pleasure. Come to think of it, I found a used copy of Maus this year, and read it. Good as Spiegelman is, though, I will go back more often to Gustav Tenggren, Tibor Gergely, Richard Scarry, J.P. Miller, and the Provensens.)


That parenthetical aside, just above, penciled itself into my closing thoughts, and led me to pick up The Poky Little Puppy, handily nearby in a loved-to-death copy too beat to sell at the shop. On one page, the five little puppies see the sign, "Don't ever dig holes under this fence!" Turn the page, and see the puppies out in "the wide, wide world"——and a beautiful toad by Tenggren. ("Brown hop-toad" in the text by Janette Lowrey. A green one, in the illustration.) What a treasure! A toad! A visual feast! No wonder I learned so well to turn the page!

Little Golden Books were partly Disney-fied in even their early days. In the Seventies they became Sesame Streeted——with a few of those books still being good page turners. ("Do not turn that page! Noooo!" I recall Grover saying that, in one.) Later, though, Little Golden Books became Barbied, Pixared, and Barbie-Disneyed, or some such thing —— which makes me wonder if a generation may have been lost to page-turning. In our new century some old Little Golden Book titles have been re-issued as classics, offering that small hope that the future may hold new page-turning readers. Long live Tenggren! Long live Gergely!

At happy hour, by the way, we use a little aerating device for newly-opened wine, which someone gave us. (If you squint at it you might see an elongated nut shell, with a sieve at the top.) It gurgles air into the wine.

So we call it Tibor.

Cheers ...

Mark Rich had a syllabic sonnet in the spring 2017 issue of Poem and has a traditional one in the  fall issue, after not having had a poem in Poem for twenty years. His story "And Fountains Flow" appears in Shadows & Reflections, the Roger Zelazny tribute anthology. He has had two collections of short fiction published — Edge of Our Lives (RedJack) and Across the Sky (Fairwood) — as well as chapbooks from presses including Gothic and Small Beer. He is also the author of a major biographical and critical study, C.M. Kornbluth: The Life and Works of a Science Fiction Visionary, published by McFarland. With partner-in-life Martha Borchardt and two Scotties-in-life he lives in Cashton, Wisconsin, and gardens, shovels snow, still reads Bach daily, and remains faithfully behind in his book revisions.

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2018, part 6: Gwynne Garfinkle

The Pleasures of 2018
by Gwynne Garfinkle

One of my favorite reading experiences of 2018 has been The Element of Lavishness: Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner and William Maxwell, 1938-1978. (In fact I'm not done with it yet! I'm reading it as slowly as possible, never wanting it to end.) Warner was not only a great writer of fiction and poetry, but an exquisite and very witty letter writer; her New Yorker editor Maxwell was no slouch in the letter-writing department either. The correspondents' loving friendship and authorial camaraderie shine through on every page. The letters are endlessly quotable; here's a passage by Warner, more or less at random: "I wish you could see the two cats, drowsing side by side in a Victorian nursing chair, their paws, their ears, their tails complementally adjusted, their blue eyes blinking open on a single thought of when I shall remember it's their supper-time. They might have been composed by Bach for two flutes."

Another book of letters I enjoyed is a more slender volume, Sister Love: The Letters of Audre Lorde and Pat Parker 1974-1989, which offers a fascinating look at the lesbian poetry scene of the 1970s-80s. The book shows how Lorde mentored Parker, and how the two women supported each other personally, professionally, and in their experiences with the cancer that would ultimately take both their lives.

I was already familiar with the film In a Lonely Place, based on the 1947 novel by Dorothy B. Hughes, but when I read the book this year, I was surprised to discover that, unlike the film about a screenwriter suspected of being a killer, the novel focuses on a serial killer posing as a writer. (Clearly a movie starring Humphrey Bogart as a serial killer wasn't going to fly in 1950.) Hughes' gripping crime novel is an all-too-contemporary study of the destructive force of misogyny.

A book I savored slowly was Emily Wilson's new translation of Homer's Odyssey. Wilson's feminist sensibility and her use of contemporary diction reinvigorate the poem. "I have tried to make my translation sound markedly poetic and sometimes linguistically distinctive, even odd," Wilson writes in her Translator's Note. "But I have also aimed for a fresh and contemporary register. The shock of encountering an ancient author speaking in largely recognizable language can make him seem more strange, and newly strange. I would like to invite readers to experience a sense of connection to this ancient text, while also recognizing its vast distance from our own place and time."

I'm not sure why it took me so long to read Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary by Pamela Dean, since I've long loved Dean's Tam Lin. This fantasy novel, dealing with the perils of being derailed from your own path by an unworthy guy, is delightfully packed with references to astronomy and books and music. (I don't know how Dean manages to make extended sequences of a family reading aloud from Julius Caesar so entertaining, but she pulls it off.)

The new book I most looked forward to this year was Sonya Taaffe's collection of weird fiction, Forget the Sleepless Shores. Taaffe--also an accomplished poet--writes sumptuous, fiercely intelligent prose, often on queer and Jewish themes. "The Trinitite Golem" is an arresting tale of J. Robert Oppenheimer's encounter with an undying creature born of the bomb. Taaffe's work frequently evokes the sea, sometimes (as in "All Our Salt-Bottled Hearts") in a Lovecraftian vein.

Monster Portraits is a hybrid work by Sofia Samatar (A Stranger in Olondria, The Winged Histories, Tender) and her brother Del Samatar. The dialogue between Sofia's prose and Del's drawings creates a kind of speculative autobiography. Sometimes reminiscent of Borges, this is another book I find endlessly quotable. In "The Early Ones," Samatar writes, "Like all monsters, we don't belong, but our problem is time and not space. We got here too early. We have always had this sense of wrongful, unseemly arrival. We arrived before community, before there was language to describe us, before the 'Other' box on the census, before the war."

Some other books I enjoyed this year include:

Barbara Comyns--Our Spoons Came From Woolworths and The Vet's Daughter 
Francesca Forrest--The Inconvenient God 
Karen Joy Fowler--What I Didn't See and Other Stories 
Lois Duncan--Down a Dark Hall
Sam J. Miller--The Art of Starving
Ursula K. Le Guin--No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters 
Nnedi Okorafor--The Night Masquerade

In terms of TV watching, 2018 was the year I fell in love with The Good Place. Show creator Michael Schur couldn't have known when the program began airing two months before the 2016 elections how much we would need a sitcom about ethics, but I am grateful we have it. This year I also began a rewatch of the supernatural soap opera Dark Shadows (1966-1971), and I've been loving its bravura stew of tropes, its ensemble cast, and its technical difficulties preserved for posterity as much as ever.

Gwynne Garfinkle lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in such publications as Uncanny, Strange Horizons, Apex, Not One of Us, and The Cascadia Subduction Zone. Her collection of short fiction and poetry, People Change, was published in October 2018 by Aqueduct Press.