Recent Reading, October 2021

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice. Fuck around and find out.

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October 6, 2021

I’ve been going to my library pretty regularly, so I’ve been reading a lot of varied books over the last few months. It’s actually been pretty great to get out of my comfort zone. This is an incomplete list.

  • The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness, Susannah Cahalan. This was fantastic. Like Cahalan’s previous book, I inhaled this in one giant gulp. It’s loosely about a study that was done on psychiatric hospital admissions back in the 70’s but it also more widely about how doctors do–or do not–discern between mental illnesses/diseases that have a clear physical etiology, like Cahalan’s autoimmune encephalitis, and those that do not, as well as how having someone to advocate for your care can significantly impact where you land if you show up in the ER hearing voices. Really fascinating stuff and it really made me think. And made me oddly grateful that my disability has a clear physical etiology.
  • Good Riddance, Elinor Lipman. I read a lot of Lipman back in the 90’s and saw this on the self and picked it up. It was reasonably entertaining fluff.
  • The Black Gryphon, Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon. I hadn’t read the Gryphon books and I’m Twitter buddies with Larry and like to give him shit about sewers and zoning meetings in Valdemar (see what I did there). I enjoyed this book quite a bit, but it’s very 90’s in a lot of ways. Amber is a therapist/healer/masseuse/courtesan and it’s a lot, to be honest.
  • The Scavenger Door, Suzanne Palmer. This is the third book in Zan’s Fergus Ferguson series and it is as delightful as the first two while also reducing me to tears at the end. It’s a book about choices and consequences and doing the right thing, no matter how hard it is. It’s also about endings and new beginnings, too.
  • Black Sun, Rebecca Roanhorse. This book. Oof. I’ll start with a bit of a warning: it starts with child harm, but the child does survive. This is epic fantasy written from a North American Indigenous point of view, using North American Indigenous cultures as inspiration, and it is an amazing book. I loved it from beginning to end and I can’t wait to read more in this setting. Roanhorse has really accomplished something remarkable with Black Sun.
  • Red Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson. I’d picked up the entire Mars trilogy some time ago and I’m slowly working my way through it. I like what Robinson is doing with the science–I’m finding the terraforming and the conflicting points of view fascinating. I am not so sure about his characterization, particularly that of women. Also Sax is the best and Phyllis is the worst (I am most of the way through Green Mars, so I feel confident in this assessment).
  • A Duty to the Dead and An Impartial Witness, Charles Todd. I picked these up because I had to put hold on the first two Inspector Rutledge books. These are the first two books in the Bess Crawford series. Bess is a nurse in WW1 who seems to have an absolutely unbelievable amount of leave and who wanders about asking innocent questions which eventually end up with murders being solved. I was talking with Donna about these books recently and commented that Bess just seems to float through life on a cloud of privilege and it’s irritating. Also: where the fuck are the brown people? Or the poor people?
  • A Test of Wills and Wings of Fire, Charles Todd. These are the first two Inspector Ian Rutledge books. I liked these much more than the Crawford books–for one, Rutledge has a clear reason to be digging around in people’s personal lives and unearthing all their secrets. And Rutledge is just a more interesting character–he’s a shell-shocked veteran of WW1 whose PTSD manifests as the voice of a soldier he had executed for refusing to follow orders shortly before the earth fell in on them all. There is real tension in the books, as the reader knows that Rutledge is being set up to fail by his supervisor by being given impossible tasks. I felt like the ending of the first book was pulled out of Todd’s collective ass and I figured out who the killer in the second book was before Rutledge did, but they’re simply better books than the Crawford one. But again: where the fuck are the brown people? (There are definitely poor people in these books.)
  • Assassin’s Orbit, John Appel. This was a super fun read about a whole bunch of older women kicking ass in space. Really well paced and John doesn’t get too caught up in the details of how the space elevator works or other engineering problems that I, to be quite honest, mostly do not give a flying fuck about when reading science fiction. I loved Noo, Toiwa, and Ogawa so much. I also loved Okafor, who is a blind woman who navigates virtual reality interfaces via touch. So very good.
  • Sailor’s Jewel and Complementary, Celia Lake. I’m a huge fan of Lake’s Albion novels. They are basically mostly-sweet romances set in a magical England spanning the early part of the 20th century. They’re comforting, well-researched, and I love the entire setting.

And I’m currently reading The Dirt, which is the Mötley Crüe memoir and, as one would suspect, they’re all assholes. Self-aware assholes, so it’s somewhat entertaining (Mick Mars’s sections crack me up in particular). It’s very Led Zeppelin Hammer of the Gods.

I’m also working my way through Neil S. Price’s Children of Ash and Elm, which is a history of the Viking Age firmly aimed at the layperson with an interest. It is fascinating as all get out and I wish something like it had been around 30 years ago when I went through my Viking phase as a teen.


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Words of Wisdom

"It's chaos, be kind."
Michelle McNamara