Lately, I find the world to be overwhelming, and so, I decided to take yesterday, Sunday, February 5, off. I never picked up my smart phone, never turned on my lap top, avoided as much TV as I could (it was on in another room, so I heard/saw it a bit), and other than showering, and making and cleaning up after dinner, I did nothing but read. I finished three books. Here they are, in order.
All The Birds In The Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders, hardcover, 320pp, January 2016, Tor Books
Though published over a year ago, this novel comes uncomfortably close to current events; so much so, as its darker elements unfolded my body began manifesting stress reactions; tight chest, flipping stomach, nervous need to move a lot: which either means I’m crazy or the book was really well written. I suspect it was a little of the former and a lot of the latter.
The story is built of the foundation of the relationship between Patricia Delfine, who is adept at magic — in particular, controlling the elements of nature, and Laurence Armstead, who is a brilliant scientist/inventor. They first meet as children, lose touch through what seems like betrayal and plotting against them, and reunite accidentally (or not) in young adulthood by which time Magic versus Science has become a conflict which threatens the continuation of the world as we know it.
I don’t want to give too much away, but I found particularly fulgent the construction of the Magic and Science divisions. As with the world today — say, Democrats and Republicans — there were schisms within each side, good and bad, with plenty of gray area folks, including the two main characters. Both Patricia and Laurence behave in ways that are less than ideal, and, too, both perform acts of dangerous selflessness. It is not a spoiler to say that when the two at last find union, there comes at the world a devastating event of unknown origin; almost as if the fates of our main characters were tied to the survival of humanity. Hmmm.
But, it’s not all heavy and dystopian-lecture-y like so many novels of this genre can be. Charlie Jane Anders is often hilarious. Here, one example:
Trust hipsters to make even the collapse of civilization unbearably twee.
Damn, I wish I had written that line. Look, I’m not doing justice to this novel. What is great about this book is the way in which Charlie Jane Anders builds worlds and describes events that would qualify this as science fiction/fantasy in such a natural, organic way it defies categorization, its elements eliding also into romance, satire, and literary fiction. Here’s a thought: How about we do with novels what we ought to be doing with people? Stop categorizing.
All The Birds In The Sky is a fast, compelling, provocative, steamy, witty, thought-provoking read by a literate and gifted author who tackles big ideas in a way that is sneakily entertaining. And, while just a few months ago, a novel built around a possible world war might have seemed inconceivable, sadly, now, it feels nearly documentary.
History Is All You Left Me, by Adam Silvera, hardcover, 294pp, January 2017, Soho Teen
For my second read of the day, I chose Adam Silvera’s debut, More Happy Than Not, enjoyed it, admired it, and was waiting impatiently for his next novel. I wasn’t disappointed.
Griffin and one of his best friends, Theo, fall in love and confess/come out to one another cute on a subway ride. Theo leaves for college on the West Coast. Starts seeing Jackson. Theo dies. Griffin and Jackson hate each other, resent each other, and have only each other to understand what the loss of Theo feels like. Griffin is suffering from compulsive behaviors and is keeping secrets and holding onto guilt that exacerbates his self-destructive choices.
Okay, I’m a sucker for Young Adult gay romances. I read them and revel, overjoyed that young queers today have this literature to affirm them. I did not. Adam Silvera writes with a smooth, engaging style and it is clear from this novel he understands compulsions and the emotional roller coaster they cause, the dangers they present.
I am also a sucker for clever structuring of novels. This story would have been too much to take (in my opinion) done in a straightforward, linear timeline way; Silvera cleverly moves back and forth in time, beginning with Theo’s funeral so we know what we’re in for from the very beginning and can steel ourselves for its eventuality. Which doesn’t mean I didn’t weep more than once while reading.
I am also a sucker for weeping. And, finally, a sucker for hope and love and light, and Mr. Silvera leaves us with a healthy dose of all three.
Class, by Lucinda Rosenfeld, hardcover, 352pp, January 2017, Little, Brown and Company
And the third book I finished for my nothing but reading Sunday was Class. I suppose this is a terrible thing to say — especially since I said just paragraphs above we ought to quit labeling people — but I have very little patience reading about the angst and problems and emotional journeys of privileged, heterosexual white people.
I know. I feel bad about it, but there it is.
That said, Lucinda Rosenfeld writes about those problems with damn fine technique and packs in plenty of plot and emotional heft, and there are endless hilarious lines skewering the class-conscious characters about whom she writes. She is quite ruthless in delivering incisive and trenchant commentary on the vapidity and callous self-involvement of those very privileged, heterosexual white people about whom I don’t much want to read.
The main character, Karen Kipple, wants to be ethical, do the right thing, reject the casual cultural racism and classism by which she finds herself infected, and makes her torturous way through the landmine-filled challenge of modern life. Lucinda Rosenfeld does not try to make Karen likeable, or forgivable; she gives her plenty of flaws, lets her be petty and selfish and self-justifying as she struggles with her liberal hypocrisy.
This book is smart, brutally honest, and made me sad. I know Karens. There are — no doubt — pieces of Karen in me, and what made me uncomfortable and unhappy while reading, is that we are now living in a world where there are people defending and embracing and encouraging the kind of prejudices and fears those Karens are fighting.
Which is why I had to take a day away from social media and news and the real world.
So, there you have it. What I did with my away-from-the-world Sunday: read three books that didn’t quite take me as far away as I’d hoped because world war might be right around the next Twitter-fit, and prejudice and class-warfare and blatant hypocrisy just won an election, and all the advances we LGBTQ have made since I was a teen, seen in Mr. Silvera’s novelistic world, are being threatened by those elected.
Seems I’m not too great at escaping. Which is why I started medication. Now, if only it would do something other than make me feel a bit off and short of breath. But, patience. Love and light, dears.
Here I am, going.