I first came across Mary Robinette Kowal about ten months ago when I started listening to Writing Excuses. I guess technically, I had a couple of her books from before that — I had already bought her book Ghost Talkers a couple months before, and her book Shades of Milk and Honey (the first in the Glamourist Histories, which she describes as Jane Austen with magic) a year before that — but I hadn’t read either of them yet, so it kind of doesn’t count.
On Writing Excuses, MRK quickly became my favorite speaker (sorry, Dan, Howard, and Brandon). She’s so analytical and relateable when she talks about constructing a story. She gives concrete tips and frameworks for developing plot. Her way of thinking about things just really clicked for me.
But still, I dragged my feet on reading her novels. Sometimes I do that when it comes to books or authors that I know will resonate. I don’t know if it’s because I’m savoring the anticipation or if I’m just wary of being sucked in. And I knew I was going to be sucked in – by that point, I had read several of her short stories and taken many of her writing/plotting/characterization insights to heart.
And I wasn’t wrong about that bit. Ghost Talkers was at least a standalone. After I read Shades of Milk and Honey, I immediately went and bought the rest of the series, breaking my 2018 book buying rule. Then I proceeded to forgo reasonable amounts of sleep for the next three days as I finished all the books.
All that to say: Mary Robinette Kowal is now one of my favorite authors. And I’m going to tell you to read her Lady Astronaut series.
Go. Buy. Read. Now.
I finished So You Want to Talk About RaceSo You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo this weekend, and it was great. But even more than that, it was (is) necessary. Essential. It is honest and clear and direct and kind. This book should be required reading for everyone everywhere.
If I had the means, I would buy a copy for everyone I know. But I don’t, so instead, I’m telling you to go buy it, borrow it, read it, and then tell everyone that you know. Then start having some of the hard conversations, with yourself, with others, with government officials coming up for re-election…
I was making the usual rounds through the spec fic magazines that I read and came across the story A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies by Alix E. Harrow in Apex Magazine. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the title made me think of Ursula Vernon’s (T. Kingfisher) no-nonsense gardening witches and evoked memories of Patricia C. Wrede and her practical heroines.
And, you guys, I totally didn’t expect it but this story brought me to the edge of tears from the degree of resonance I felt. The depiction of reading and the importance of books, the role of librarians and libraries – these things made me feel and remember (strongly enough that italics were warranted) aspects of my childhood that I hadn’t reflected on in a long time.
The story itself is beautifully written and told using card catalog numbers as a great little framing device. The idea of librarians as a secret coven of witches whose role is to make sure you have the right book at the right time made me think of all the best teachers I have had the fortune of learning from. There are book references and little pop culture jokes peppered throughout in the most unobtrusive way possible. It all flows together so nicely.
So nicely in fact that after I read it the once, I immediately read it again to just recapture the feeling of being lost in the stacks, sitting on the floor between aisles and reading for hours – to escape, to find something that I couldn’t articulate, to live. I want to imprint this story in my brain so that I can refer to it when I’m craving connection and understanding, so that I can remind myself that the magic of books is real and has touched other people too.
I’m still a jumble of feelings about it; there are things I want to examine as to why I felt so much when I read it. But in the meantime, you should definitely check the story out.
Quick correction regarding my initial Book of Dust post – The Book of Dust is the name of the trilogy, La Belle Sauvage is the name of the first book. You can understand why I was mistaken; look at the cover again:
Okay, so actually it came out last Thursday. But my copy didn’t get here until today (I was a dummy and chose 5-6 day shipping because dumb reasons).
When I heard that Philip Pullman was writing a new trilogy called La Belle Sauvage, I was incredibly excited. The new trilogy opens with The Book of Dust and is set in the same world as His Dark Materials but ten years earlier. (Correction: The trilogy is called The Book of Dust, and the first volume is La Belle Sauvage.)
Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass) had a huge impact on my formative reading years. When I picked up The Golden Compass and met Lyra and Pantalaimon for the first time, I was a child (at a guess, maybe in 5th or 6th grade). I had never read something before that resonated with me so profoundly. As Stephen Koch says, “Whenever it strikes, it is invariably telling you something vital about yourself. …The shock of recognition is a moment of excitement that shakes the soul. It may be hard to describe, but like other forms of love, you will know it when you feel it.”*
His Dark Materials left an indelible mark on my reading psyche, and taught me about loyalty and honor, friendship, sacrifice, and independence. Reading and re-reading it helped me through a lot of struggle and dark times. To this day, I still rank the trilogy at the top of my favorites list though it’s been years since I lost myself in those worlds.
All I want to do now is slide into those pages and be warmly welcomed home. (I try really hard not to hype myself up too much, but I don’t think that’s working this time.)
Excuse me now while I go devour some words. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Sometimes, though rarely, you can come away from reading something feeling like you’ve just caught a glimpse of something true. And while you might not be able to explain exactly what it is, you know that it moved through you in a way that left you knowing something differently. That’s how I feel about “The Husband Stitch” by Carmen Machado. It’s possibly one of the most beautiful lyrical pieces of prose that I’ve read. When I was finished, I felt… something. Like someone had explained a part of the world to me that I had trouble naming before even though I had always known its existence. I came away from it knowing I wouldn’t have the words to explain, but that I would have to share the story.
It’s part of Machado’s short story collection Her Body and Other Parties (affiliate link). The stories are loosely based in style and structure on fairy tales and fables. They are stories about women’s bodies and women’s lives. As soon as I finished “The Husband Stitch,” I ordered a copy of her book.
I’ll leave you with some links to a couple pieces that can better explain:
Go, read, lose yourself in some beautiful words, think: “The Husband Stitch” by Carmen Machado (contains sexually explicit language).
I’ve been doing a lot of reading over the last couple months. Just devouring and devouring books upon books almost indiscriminately. Sci-fi, fantasy, horror, biographies, cookbooks, romance – bits and pieces of everything (I read a tad broadly…). I’ve been drinking these words in and swimming in them, luxuriating in them, indulging. It feels like I’m gorging on them, barely even choosing, heedless of genre (or sometimes quality). For the past two months now, it’s felt hurried and frenetic, and I didn’t stop to wonder why.