Reflections: On the Magic of WritingReflections: On the Magic of Writing by Diana Wynne Jones

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Curated collection of essays, speeches and the like. Enjoyable, if repetitious. I talked my girlfriend's ear off about this book for half an hour over dinner, which means I said most of what I wanted to there and don't have much left here. Except that she was a lovely, critical, complicated person. Her analysis of Lord of the Rings actually made me half want to reread it, and that takes doing, trust me. I also identified a great deal with what she said about her writing process: mine, too, is organic and nonlinear, starting with a crystalized notion of a scene or emotional beat and building a story out from there in a 'feeling your way' kind of process. Her conviction that the author must know ten times more about a character than goes into the story is entirely opposite of my practice, but this is not the forum for the line of thinking that set me off on.

But mostly, I enjoyed this glimpse into her social consciousness. Her feminism, in particular, stemmed from a keen observer's eye, but she didn't have a lot of the tools or background to really work her way through it. Hell, a lot of the tools and background didn't exist when she was coming into feminist consciousness. So she could observe the way children's literature encodes maleness as a default as a social artifact, but she couldn't . . . interrogate that, and when she could, later, it was to subvert it by leaning hard on gender stereotypes.

So yeah. Interesting to the completest, the amateur scholar, the biographer (and oh man, how much do I want the excellent, meaty, analytical DWJ bio now?), and the fan.

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The Magician's Land (The Magicians, #3)The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well that was . . . disappointing. Which is a funny thing to say about a book written as well as this one, and that made me as happy as this one did at certain points (really, I would read hundreds of pages about the magic in this universe and how it works and doesn't, no plot required).

The thing is, this book doubled down. The series as a whole has been playing with coming of age narratives and coming into power narratives, trying out different ones, contrasting them, complicating them. And then this final book just . . . plays it straight. I was worried by the jacket copy which, in my edition, actually says something about "a boy becoming a man." Okay, but not really, I thought, that's just stupid marketing nonsense.

Guys. This book is about a boy becoming a man, and what that means for a boy who loves magic and stories about it. Really. Like, this book actually thinks Quentin is interesting (he is, in flashes, but come on, not really). It is actually invested in Quentin's angst over not being quite as special as he thought he would be. And then it's really interested in having a little interlude about how very special he truly is – no one loves fantasy literature like Quentin, apparently, to the point where the universe takes notice. For real.

Here's the thing. In every book of this trilogy, I found myself thinking at least once, okay, but why aren't we reading a book about her? It's always a her, and she's always interesting as hell, and her story is always more complicated and harrowing and difficult than Quentin's. In the second book, we did actually get to read about her, thank you very much, and it's no coincidence that book is my favorite. In this book, we don't get to read about her. And I would much, much rather have been. Because as this book was winding up, delivering a few thematic statements and the like, I just kept saying, wait, really? You're really . . . going with that? That's what this has all been for? We did all this to talk about the hero's journey of . . . getting over the ennui of being really lucky and privileged?

But as I said to my girlfriend, you can object to a lot of what Grossman is doing, but it's harder to object to how he's doing it. I really would read Grossman on magic for books and books. A sample:

And lately, they'd [books] begun to breed. Shocked undergraduates had stumbled on books in the very act. Which sounded interesting, but so far the resulting offspring had been predictably derivative –in fiction – or stunningly boring – nonfiction. Hybrid pairings between fiction and nonfiction were the most vital. The librarian thought that the problem was just that the right books weren't breeding with each other, and proposed a forced mating program. The library committee had an epic secret meeting about the ethics of literary eugenics, which ended in a furious deadlock.

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Smoke and Shadows (Tony Foster #1)Smoke and Shadows by Tanya Huff

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Trilogy about a gay production assistant on a, by all appearances quite terrible, Canadian vampire detective show.

Hey, check it out, these are books I actually finished!

So, I could just say 'too much boyfriend: not enough production assistanting,' and leave it at that. But actually I don't think that really gets at the problem.

These are quirky, well-intentioned, fun little books about a former street hustler turned PA turned wizard. I remember people talking excitedly about them ten years ago, the way we did when we had so little commercial LGBT fiction to read, let alone genre fiction. But the thing is, even if I hadn't checked the copyright dates, I could have accurately dated these books by the shape of the romance.

See, this is one of those 'gay guy falls for beautiful unattainable straight guy' stories, except oh wait maybe he's not so straight – oh wait he totally is – touch me – touch me not, where the allegedly straight dude plays mind games and is generally an all-around dick, but hey it's cool guys, finding out you like guys is really hard okay. And you just don't see that much in LGBT fiction anymore. At least not played for romance, as it is here.

I'm tempted to make some sweeping statements about cultural esthetics of queerness, and how allegedly straight dude's convulsions and reversals and spewings of internalized homophobia are actually a larger commentary on the place of queerness in the general psyche, or in genre fiction. And I think that's pointed in the right direction, though it's painting with too broad strokes. I mean, there's a reason the esthetics of queer romance shift over time – when's the last time you read an actual we're not gay we just love each other story written in 2014? But that was, like, the narrative of the 90's – the trappings of queerness without ever having to use the word. The shifts over time reflect the cultural reckoning that a lot of straight writers were doing with queerness, and it's not as if queer writers like Huff are immune to the tides.

Anyway, my point being that the particular esthetic of queer romance in these books is pretty uncomfortable to read now. It was better when I flipped gears to read as historical document, but still. Yikes.

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The Windup GirlThe Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Post food apocalypse scifi with tremendously original and genuinely frightening world building.

DNF, and right on the verge of finishing, too. I've just swapped audiobook players, meaning I lost my place in everything on the SD card, and yeah, okay, three years later it's probably time to admit I'm never going to finish this. I wouldn't bother saying anything about it because I don't remember much aside from repeatedly thinking how great his short stories are and how badly constructed the novel was, and how he should go back to shorts.

Except that I apparently left myself a note attached to the file, and that note says:

Robot rape for emotional effect/robot rape complicit in sexualized violence?

And you guys. I got nothing. Three years ago me, I'm glad you had apparently deep thoughts about robot rape?

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Grimspace (Sirantha Jax, #1)Grimspace by Ann Aguirre

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

DNF. Hard-bitten lady space navigator is broken out of prison for blah blah revolution adventures.

#Thatthingwhere a bunch of people are excited about a new science fiction series written by and featuring a woman, and you try it because you try that sort of thing, and then . . . no.

It takes chops to pull off first person present tense for an entire novel. I mean, you've got the uphill battle of convincing me that the book isn't actually stitched together emo wailings of a sixteen-year-old Tumblr user who writes in first person present the same way my teenaged generation put safety pins in our jeans – it's edgy, yoe. Spoiler: these ain't those chops.

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Taste (Horizons, #2)Taste by Mickie B. Ashling

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

DNF halfway through. Why yes, I'm cleaning out my unfinished books, how can you tell?

M/M that I started out quite liking. Contemporary romance/drama set around a huge Chicago food festival. But then we got to the kink.

Look, here's the thing. A lot of M/M subscribes to the notion that what you are is how you fuck. You know, the smaller dude always enjoys being overpowered, that sort of thing.

Which is screwed up and uninteresting in equal degrees. But the thing is, you can't separate sex from character. And you definitely can't separate something as specific and personal as kink from character. I mean, you don't have to explain it, you don't have to draw nice straight lines from someone's specific trauma to why he likes asphyxiation. Really, it's better when you don't.

But kink doesn't happen in a vacuum. It's an expression of some really intense and fundamental emotions – desire sure, but also antipathy, pain, joy, you name it. The kinky person doesn't have to know why, but there is a why, and the shape of that why – often done in the negative spaces by the writers who are really good at this – is what makes the kink vital and interesting. Also hot. This stuff gets installed in us in, like, the root directories. It's so deep in the operating system that looking at it is also looking at how we function. Or don't.

Which is what makes it interesting. And thus why this book, which wandered along doing food festival/family things for a while, and then basically out-of-the-blue was all, hey, these dudes like to wear women's panties! was so, so boring. I don't care. This is the sort of writing about sex that is all bodies and no brains. Sex acts aren't by themselves hot. Personal, contextual sex acts can be blazing.

And thus endeth Light on kink. For today.

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Deadline (Newsflesh Trilogy, #2)Deadline by Mira Grant

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

DNF at 70%, though I went and spoiled myself when I realized just how little I care. And nope. Don't care.

It's interesting how polarizing Mira Grant/Seanan Mcguire is. The people who love her looooove her, and the people who don't are utterly baffled at all the fuss over such terribly written tripe. I've been on both sides of this: I have friends who speak in trembling, delighted voices of the Toby Day books, whereas I thought they were so poorly written as to irritate my brain like nails on a chalkboard. Then again, I genuinely enjoyed Feed, even though it had all the same leaden character work and thudding prose. So I wondered . . . which was the fluke?

Yeah. It was the book I liked. This one, without the political foreground designed to appeal to me, and without the emotional climax? *whistles between teeth*. All you've got left is writing that I find irritating to a really extraordinary degree. I mean, I read original M/M! I know from bad writing, and have excellent mental muscles for tuning it out! But there is just something to her writing that is unignorably bad, and reading it makes my brainstem hurt.

Maybe it's the endless, endless repetition of detail. I would put down solid money that, at some point, someone really impressed Grant with this idea that to build convincing characters, what you do is choose some distinguishing characteristic and emphasize it. So she was like, I know! I'll make these people drink Coke! That's character-building!

And I wander off with a terrible headache, muttering about how brand association isn't the same thing as characterization, and also oh my God please please stop with the Coke we know stop stop stop.

Or maybe it's how her world building is not done through variation and elaboration, but repetition. Characters in this book take repeated blood tests to assess zombie infection status. Every step of this process is described in such precise and identical detail, over and over and over again, that at one point I started reciting the paragraph along with my audiobook narrator, and I had most of the words right. That's not world building, kids. That's bad writing.

These are just guesses. Neither of those things alone could account for my near allergic reaction to her prose. It's just. Nails on a chalkboard. In my soul.

I dunno, maybe she'll happen to drop another book right on my buttons some day. She seems to publish something every ten minutes, so it's possible. I just don't see why I should bother irritating myself trying to find it.

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Heart of Stone (Negotiator Trilogy/Old Races Universe #1)Heart of Stone by C.E. Murphy

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

DNF around 60% through. A largely unobjectionable if boring urban fantasy about the lawyer who encounters the supernatural while out jogging at night. But you know how we all have these specific things that a book has to get right? Like, the author can invent a magical creature out of nowhere, no problem, but she better get the details of how the heroine bakes biscuits exactly correct?

Well, it turns out one of mine is poverty legal services. Who knew! And this book gets that so completely and offensively wrong. I mean, the heroine doesn't have a caseload of 80 open matters, she has one "big" case (which is exactly the sort of case that never lands on the desk of someone like her since private defenders would have been lining up to try it for free for the publicity). And that one case -- yeeeeeah. It's really telling what an author chooses to do when she wants to amp up someone's heroism. And what this author chose to do was erase an ethically complex, grinding, in-the-trenches-of-the-race-war reality with something apparently way more palatable, which is to say ethically unchallenging and full of righteousness about racism without ever engaging with the realities of the heroine's mixed race status. The actual heroism of defending drug dealers and pimps and rapists because everyone, absolutely everyone, deserves someone standing up for them and ensuring the state proves its case beyond a reasonable doubt because that's what motherfucking justice is -- yeah, that's too icky and complicated.

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Broken Harbour (Dublin Murder Squad, #4)Broken Harbour by Tana French

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Proving that, along with everything else, French can bring the creepy. Investigation of a triple familial homicide reveals a house with holes knocked in the walls and cameras pointing into them, which is just the start.

This was, hm. I can't say I wasn't riveted, because I was. And I can't say it isn't a good book, because it is. It's more complicated than this sounds, but it's about the order that we keep to shut out the wild, and about where violence comes from. Our protagonist genuinely believes in victim-blaming – it's not that he won't pursue justice, he's just so very sure that anyone who gets dead did something to open up a crack in their life and let the violence in. And it doesn't take much, just the smallest slip will do it. The book is – I won't say sympathetic to him, but it is even-handed. We know why he thinks that – he has to think that – and French is very, very good at complicating the viewpoints of people with those kinds of self-serving blinders on.

But for all that, and I've said this before. I really wish she'd write a different book. Like around the 20% mark of this one, two characters began deliberately building a strong, healthy, functional emotional connection, and I knew instantly that it would be destroyed, and had a pretty good guess as to how. French writes that kind of destruction beautifully, but come on. We've seen this before. Maybe I've just read all of her books too close together, but there's a sameness to them which is frustrating given her obvious and ridiculous talent.

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EmbassytownEmbassytown by China Miéville

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of those books whose wild inventiveness leaves it very difficult to describe. Let's go with scifi about an alien language spoken simultaneously through two mouths by one consciousness and thus inaccessible to humans and computers; a species incapable of lying or sustaining metaphors because it cannot lexically account for anything that isn't true; a human woman who is made part of that language by enacting a simile so that it is true and can be used; a society-wide catastrophe; a war; a bloody birthing into a new kind of consciousness through the transformation of language.

My problem with Mieville books is that I'm always left wondering what they're for, after they're done being absurdly clever and beautifully written. This one has a lot more going for it – it has that Mievillian chilliness when it comes to character, but there's a far greater emotional range. Maybe it's just that the territory he's exploring is so rich and interesting; the book had to grow a soul, the way bacteria has to grow under the right conditions. Who cares why if it was horrifying and sad and tense by turns in ways his previous books haven't been for me.

That said, and this genuinely is my favorite Mieville so far. That said. There is something . . . off about this book. It's the story of a tiny human foothold on an alien planet, a human-introduced catastrophe, the transformation of an entire species through the act of learning, from humans, to lie. Is it a love letter to language and the order it regulates over thought? Is it a frightening but ultimately satisfying cultural coming of age story for a technologically-advanced species? Is it, ironically, a metaphor – for human intellectual evolution, for the artistic journey, for flipping capitalism? Or is it, when all's said and done, just another celebration of the colonial destruction of a native species? It's all of that, rather messily and undecidedly. And uncomfortably, I have to say.

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The Crown of Dalemark (The Dalemark Quartet, #4)The Crown of Dalemark by Diana Wynne Jones

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Huh. I said of a previous book in this series that I didn't really understand what DWJ was doing; having finished it, I'm not sure DWJ understood what DWJ was doing.

This was supposed to pull everything together. And it tried to, I think – structurally this series is supposed to be woven (like a story coat) with characters moving through time, taking each other's places, etc. etc. And it just . . . didn't. The threads swapped out too many times and I was never sure who I was supposed to be caring about at any moment.

And, well, file this under 'thinking about it too much,' but this is epic fantasy of the sort where "revolution" is actually an incredibly conservative act that shores up the system of power rather than reordering it. You know, the evil king is bad, so we fix it by replacing him with the good king. All the problems of hierarchical hereditary political dictatorships being contained in the caliber of the dictator, you know. Here its evil barons replaced with the good king, but same damn thing. I'm not asking for the great democratization of fantasy land – that has its own perils, and they are many – it's just that let's not pretend here. Books like this play with the emotional rush of political uprising while never, for a second, meaningfully threatening the social order they spend so long calling corrupt. It's not like people aren't still writing this sort of political fantasy that parades around in the trappings of radicalism while actually being intensely conservative. I just happen not to read it that much anymore.

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London FallingLondon Falling by Paul Cornell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Man, the subgenre of urban fantasies about London cops dealing with the supernatural is hitting it out of the park lately, isn't it?

I was hearing about this book before it was published, and to be honest, for the first thirty pages, I couldn't tell why. I was reading a well-executed but not-my-thing book about an undercover operation staffed by a bunch of really unpleasant people. And then it all dislocated bloodily hard to the left. And then did it again, more viscerally and frighteningly. And where we ended up was a magical London whose rules remain largely unknown, and those four cops I didn't really like were much more complicated in its weird light. The obvious comparison is to the Peter Grant books; that's fair, superficially, but the esthetics here lean way more towards horror and less towards detective. I like them both quite a lot, though with different parts of my brain.

This is about accessing power through trial and error and pain. Uniquely in the genre, there's no mentor here. No one explains shit to these people, which means shit just don't get explained. It's a book, a little bit around the edges, about how already being the other – black, queer, traumatized – can make it easier to slip into the cracks of a world beneath ours.

And if nothing else, this book managed that oh-so-rare trick of signaling the awful truth to me over and over again, but only letting me figure it out a page before the characters did, so I spent that whole page going "no no oh no oh no." That stuff never works on me – I always figure it out too early or not at all.

Basically: aces.

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Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as CureDisability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure by Kathryn Allan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Read the day before and the day after a con, so I am reconstructing my thoughts around a gaping pit of distraction and exhaustion. They were super brilliant thoughts at the time, I swear! Anyway, the full ToC is available here and worth looking at, as is this book. Overall, I'm glad I read it, though the only pieces that jump strongly out from my memory now are the ones I feel negatively about. Though Woiak and Karamanos on Samuel R. Delany were eye-opening, and Christy Tidwell on autism in The Speed of Dark and "Movement" was a pleasure. There were some odd editing choices here – Allan prefers "dis/abled" to "disabled," and yet repeatedly used "confined to a wheelchair" or "wheelchair bound," which was confusing and distracting as these language cues tell you a lot about a person's politics, and Allan's language was telling me really inconsistent things. Anyway. Some notes:

"The Metamorphic Body in Science Fiction: From Prosthetic Correction to Utopian Enhancement" -- António Fernando Cascais: One of the worst examples of academese I've seen in years. This provoked me to half an hour of seething rage over dinner about the thin line between critical theory and utter bullshit and, more to the point, the way academic writing, at its worst, is intensely exclusionary, full of meaning only to the tiny be-doctored in-group (and, I would argue, not even to many of them, who won't ever admit they don't know what the fuck he's talking about, either). It's just such a waste – I think he had some interesting things to say about the way science fiction pushes at notions of the singular self as an identity, but he went to extraordinary efforts to make sure I didn't follow exactly why the fuck I'm supposed to care.

"Great Clumsy Dinosaurs -- The Disabled Body in the Posthuman World -- Brent Walter Cline: Interesting. Postulates, among other ideas, that the category of disability will expand to include all embodiment in post human scifi futures because the physical body will limit access to the uploads or the cloud or whatever other ascendant technology we are theoretically climbing toward. I appreciated this as a mental exercise, but I also . . . hm. I balk a little at these "ooh, let's speculate about theoretical expansions of the concept of disability in nearly unimaginable futures!" I mean, Clein should have fun with his bad self, but I have a hard time really taking these exercises seriously. Not when there is so much complexity and unexplored territory in, you know, our actual category of disability. There's something . . . diluting? Misdirecting? Unhelpful? … Something about working to expand the lexical category of disability to include people so far from us, they definitionally aren't human anymore when the construction of that category is so persistently human and contextual. Something. I'm not getting this out right.

"Animal and Alien Bodies as Prostheses: Reframing Disability in Avatar and How to Train Your Dragon" -- Leigha McReynolds: This one bugged me. It's an interesting enough idea, which you can get from the title, but seriously, any essay on Avatar which does not seem to notice all the rampant race and colonialism issues is just not doing its job. And it doesn't do any good to say that's not what she was writing about; it was inherently, because she was using disability theory to talk specifically about the co-optation of an alien culture and an alien body as a kind of prosthetic. I mean, this is how intersectionality works – you really can't separate these things! And yet . . . *crickets*.

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Ball & Chain (Cut & Run, #8)Ball & Chain by Abigail Roux

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another M/M FBI caper, this time stranded on a tiny Scottish island for a wedding, at least until the bodies start dropping.

Hm. This made me think about series structure and the necessity of releasing tension in order to build it again. Because, I think for the first time in my life, I was hoping for a mystery-of-the-week, and I didn't get it. All the markers were there – last book was over-the-top intense! This book started with hints of whacky hijinks! – and I thought oh good, we can all decompress a bit. And then no. It's like Roux couldn't stop herself from injecting a whole new set of interpersonal dramas, with yet more awkwardly back-filled history.

And, I mean, I don't read M/M just for the porn, okay? For one reason, that would be really fucking sad, considering the abysmal quality of most published LGBT erotica (this series being a pleasant surprise there). I also read it for the personal drama, to wallow in it and – yeah – to mock it a lot. But I'm genuinely in this for people having complicated, difficult feelings at each other.

But seriously. Once in a while? Have a freaking caper. Remember the thing a couple books ago with the tiger and the terrible, terrible puns, and how hard I laughed on a flight home from London? Can't we do that again?

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The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard TimesThe Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Late-life memoir recalling the author's youth as a midwife in London's East End in the 1950's.

Picked up for the from-the-trenches view of birth (not that much has changed in 60 years when what you're talking about is midwife-assisted, largely unmedicated delivery). Kept for the other 70%, which turned out to be a rich, compelling, complicated, sometimes uncomfortable personal/social history. And for Worth herself, who was smart, and driven, and talented, occasionally racist, and often struggling to find compassion. This is a memoir of someone who was powerfully compelled into exhausting, difficult work that challenged her social comfort zones for reasons she never fully understood, and that resonated with me. As did her explicit recounting of her repeated struggle to see the person under the most abject degradations of poverty. The book is not so well-observed when it comes to ethnocentrism and, in a few startling instances, gendered violence, but there is something about the strength of Worth's writing that makes it all go down as a capsule, her strength and her charm and her painful blind spots.

I want to watch the TV show now.

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Gregor the Overlander (Underland Chronicles, #1)Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Eleven-year-old Gregor falls with his baby sister from their NYC apartment to the Underland, where they have a series of adventures with talking animals (the creepy kind).

Cute, young. You can sort of see traces of the person who would write The Hunger Games -- children assuming responsibility for a sibling in the absence of a parent, political power arriving too young – but it's all dialed down to, like, a four. Also, the prophetic poetry is truly, hilariously awful. I dunno, I think I'm finally admitting that I just shouldn't read middle-grade fiction. I just don't have the brain for it; I'm always unsatisfied and a bit restless through the whole thing.

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The Disabled Woman's Guide to Pregnancy and BirthThe Disabled Woman's Guide to Pregnancy and Birth by Judith Rogers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A full-service book from pre-conception to post-partum, written based on extensive interviews with a cohort of women with disabilities.

I picked this up thinking there might be something for me here. It turns out none of the interviewees share either my major or minor disability issues, but I found this so interesting, I skimmed through it anyway. This book would be particularly useful for a woman with spinal issues, or any of the neuro-degenerative disorders, or amputations, or paralysis, or fibro. In fact, I bet this would be an invaluable resource, since the experiences of others are one of the very few reliable resources pregnant disabled women have. If nothing else, this book proved just how lacking the research is; it cited studies where it could, but it would usually be with a lot of caveats about how this was conducted in the sixties oh and the study population was ten people oops.

So I'm kind of rating this positively just for existing. It is good in its own right, though dated at this point. But it is thorough and well-intentioned, and it has that particular body frankness that a lot of disability writing does. There's something refreshing about a series of disabled women describing in hilarious, graphic detail all of the bodily substances that came out of them during labor. You don't see that in a lot of pregnancy books.

Still, dated. And quite heterocentric. And full of great advice about all sorts of practical issues like dealing with muscle spasms while pregnant, or transferring in and out of the wheelchair in the third trimester, or adjustments that may need to be made to prosthetics as pregnancy progresses, and on and on, but less good on, hm. On some of the trickier, more fraught stuff. Like, the book would throw out a series of anecdotes about the horrible way many of these women were treated by the medical profession – this one was forced to have a caesarian because her doctor did not believe paralyzed women can give birth vaginally (they can) and refused to do the relevant research, this one was threatened and not allowed to leave the hospital because she couldn't prove she could feed her baby with the inaccessible tools on offer even though she had perfectly functional accessible solutions, that one was abused by nurses when they discovered she was incontinent, this one was pressured repeatedly to have an abortion because her doctor did not believe she could care for a child, and on and on and on. And the book's response to that will be like, "so find a medical professional who is educated regarding your disability!" Um. . . . Wow. That's, like, step zero to the complex set of legal/interpersonal skills and emotional resilience a person needs to navigate these waters.

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If at Faust You Don't Succeed (Millennial Contest, #2)If at Faust You Don't Succeed by Roger Zelazny

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

A thief takes the place of the selected representative of humanity in a history-hopping contest between heaven and hell for the destiny of humankind.

Picked up because I wanted something light and fun. Finished because sometimes my hatred for a book is so strong I have to see it to the bitter, misogynist end to fully grasp its awfulness.

Truly terrible. Flabby and unfunny – unpunny? – and, um. Look, I expect a certain amount of misogyny from Zelazny. I mean, don't get me wrong, I dig a lot of his books, but with a few exceptions the dude was not good at conceiving of women as something other than vaginas with legs. But there's that and then there's whatever the hell this is, and what this is is the fuck not okay. At one point a woman character notices all the shit going down and is like, "you realize you're a raging asshole who treats women like objects to be stolen from other men, fucked and then traded for favors with other men, and discarded, right?" And then the book is like, "oh, huh, yeah, I guess. Let's get back to that, though!"

Ick. I need to scrub my brain out.

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The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency  (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #1)The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A series of unrelated and predictably boring mysteries are solved in a predictably boring fashion by a really unboring detective.

I went back and forth on this a lot. It has a certain light-handed charm; this is a very simple narration with unexpected flashes of emotion beneath, and the protagonist has that unbending quality of people who don't break under grief because it simply wouldn't occur to them. But then again, I think I learned maybe three things about Botswana that I didn't already know, and let's be real here, I don't know that much. Fiction doesn't have to teach me something to be good, but if it is set in an unfamiliar cultural milieu and I don't learn much, something has gone awry. And the real problem – this book is written in that particular distanced third omniscient which renders people less transparent, rather than more. You know, that thing where you spend a book watching people do things and catching edges of their thoughts, but it all has that quality of watching ants in an ant farm under glass. One of my least favorite stylistic choices, basically.

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