Recommended Reading List: July, 2023

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July was strange. I had a lot of dental and other medical appointments which ate up a lot of time. Some of the stuff that happened forced me to rest afterwards or deal with migraines. I’ve had migraines my whole life, so I can judge how “bad” they are. These were bad enough that I couldn’t really think, but I could read. So the last two weeks of the month, I got more reading in than usual—which was an upside! You gotta find them in a month filled with doctors and pharmacists and vets and dentists. Oh, the other upside is that these people exist and are competent, which is really nice after some of the crap I endured on the Oregon Coast.

Anyway, I have several books to recommend as well as some articles. You’ll see a preponderance of Mick Herron here, since I ended up binging his Slow Horses books. (I finished the binge in August, which is why there are books missing from this list. The short version? I liked them all.)

This is not the summer I planned, but it does have some interesting reading upsides. And that’s always good. So here’s a bunch of stuff I think you all might want to read as well.

July, 2023

Dann, Jack, “Introduction to the Introduction” and “History? How the Hell Did That Happen?” Jewish Futures: Stories From the World’s Oldest Diaspora, edited by Michael A. Burstein, Fantastic Books, 2023. Between us, Dean and I support a lot of Kickstarters and we always get the books in paper. Dean backed one for this book, Jewish Futures, which I hadn’t even known existed until it arrived in our home a few weeks ago. I must say, the cover’s no great shakes, and the back cover copy is not well designed (a.k.a hard to read). Because of that, I didn’t pick the book up off the table where we put new things (before I put them away) for a week or more. Then I saw the title and who edited the book. I flipped it over, read who had contributed to the volume, and was suddenly very interested.

I opened the book to scan the table of contents. Then I turned the page and started Jack’s introduction…and kept reading through the second introduction. These pieces are short, but they’re memorable. Mostly they discuss the impact that anthologies have on readers. But there’s also a lot of personal history here, stuff that I didn’t know about people I do. I finished reading this and put a hand over my heart. So many of our mutual friends are gone. We lost another the week that I’m writing this. The world Jack writes about is gone. And that, honestly, is the way of things. When I finished the introductions, I thought of contacting a lot of my sf friends on Facebook and ask them if they’re writing memoirs. Because they should be. (Heck, I should be too.)

What Jack wrote here is too short by half, but what’s here is wonderful. And so worth reading. When I’m in the mood for short stories again, I’ll be reading this volume. The rest of it is on my TBR shelf. Yep, I stole it from Dean. But he’ll get to it eventually as well.

Graham, Will, “Price Points Be Damned: We Can’t Lose Queer Projects,” The Hollywood Reporter, June 14, 2023. As I recommend this important essay to you, the current Hollywood Reporter reports that Will Graham’s show, “A League of Their Own,” was renewed…and then canceled for no apparent reason. A lot of shows that were put on the schedule because they were diverse are now being canceled by the networks and streamers, including a very interesting and quite thought-provoking “National Treasure” TV show that got slammed in Rotten Tomatoes by conservatives who hated the so-called “woke” nature of the show. That it had appropriate young people, from a Dreamer to a Black hacker to an Asian lawyer and a seemingly doofy white kid, didn’t seem to matter to the network. They listened to the conservative voices who seemed to believe that American history did not include Central American history, even though the part of the U.S. I live in was once part of Mexico. Grump.

Anyway, Graham’s essay talks about this phenomenon and the treatment in particular of LGBTQ+ writers, producers, and characters by the non-diverse heads of studios. It’s a timely essay, made more timely by this week’s news.

Herron, Mick, London Rules, Soho Crime, 2018. A powerhouse of a novel that starts with a disturbing terror attack. The book wends its way through British politics (I think I only understand about half of the sly references), but stands alone for those of us who aren’t following the British political scene closely. A few new characters, a surprising change for a regular one, and a plot that just won’t quit makes this one of the best books of a stellar series.

Herron, Mick, Real Tigers, Soho Crime, 2016. The third book in the series starts with a kidnapping of a slow horse, which turns out (because this is Mick Herron) not to be exactly what we think it is. His writing is stellar, his plotting better, his characters vivid. The books are starting to blur into one large story in my mind, because they are related. But they do stand alone as well. This one is stellar. It won all kinds of awards in Britain. The last page is so masterful that I read it aloud to Dean. Amazing and great.

Herron, Mick, Spook Street, Soho Crime, 2017. Very sad and somewhat scary book about dementia and secrets and spies. The grandfather of one of our main characters, River Cartwright, is a super spy, someone who was very active in the Cold War, but is now slowly losing his grip on reality. But not all the way.

****************SPOILER (kinda)************

There’s a surprise in this book that caught me. It was, for the writers here, because of the information flow. Herron didn’t hide anything. In fact, he told us all of it. And yet, it caught me, because he’s that good. I rarely get caught by these things anymore. It was, frankly, delightful. This is one of my favorites of the Slough House books.

Hibbard, James, “‘My Plan Is To Live Forever,” The Hollywood Reporter, May 17, 2023. I’m not sure how I feel about Arnold Schwarzenegger. I’m a fan of a lot of his movies. I liked the TV show Fubar. I used to hate his politics, but now he seems moderate. (Sigh.) I have family history with the man, which is weird.

Schwarzenegger says he went to the University of Wisconsin, which is true. But it implies that he went to the premiere school in Madison, when, in fact, he ended up in Superior, Wisconsin, as a mathematics graduate student whose advisor was…my father. My father loathed him. (My father, the sad alcoholic whose career was on a downward slide, was not big on men who challenged him.) Schwarzenegger was getting excellent grades and traveling all over the world for Mr. Universe contests. My father believed that Arnold should devote himself entirely to his mathematics degree. They clashed. Look at who won.

So it always feels weird to read about the man. I can’t do it without thinking about my father and how very wrong he was about pretty much everything in those years.

And it feels weird to look at this article, which I underlined and made marks all throughout because I like Schwarzenegger’s attitude toward aging, and his attitude toward his career. His personal life—well, yuck. And I’m not sure how I feel about that. But I’m going to recommend this to you anyway for the aging stuff and the career stuff.

McQuiston, Casey, One Last Stop, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2021. I don’t know how to describe this book. It’s a romance set in New York. August moved to New York as part of a continual trek through her life. She meets a woman named Jane on the subway and is captivated. Jane is displaced in time. She only exists on the subway. Her memories are from the 1970s.

I loved this book. The characters, the situation, everything. Yes, I figured out quickly what sent Jane into the subway, but I’m old. Most people won’t quickly think of that one thing that made the changes. Even then, I had no idea how this book would resolved, what the characters would do to make everything work. Yes, it’s a romance, so there is a happily ever after. But where? When? How? I had no idea as I read, which is really, really, really unusual for me. One of the best books I’ve read this year, and that’s saying something.

Meares, Hadley, “‘It’s a Terror Campaign’: Living in Hostile States While LGBTQ,” The Hollywood Reporter, June 14, 2023. I’m lucky. We live in Southern Nevada, where Pride is very important, and support for the LGBTQ community is as natural as breathing. In the states where the conservatives are literally attacking trans and LGBTQ people as subhuman, life is quite difficult. This article touches the tip of the iceberg, but is really worth reading, particularly for the courageous response of some of the folks who remain in that hellscape.

Napoli, Linda, Susan, Linda, Nina & Cokie: The Extraordinary Story of the Founding Mothers of NPR, Abrams Press, 2022. First, let me say that the paperback of this book is almost offensively designed. The cover, the interior, the font size—all designed to make you set the book down. I didn’t, though. The book is interesting, particularly since I had started listening to NPR apparently around the point it started. I heard it through Minnesota Public Radio, and then Wisconsin Public Radio (the gold standard of the time). I had no idea that the female voices I was hearing had to fight so very hard for their positions. By the time I was selling stories to NPR from my perch in Wisconsin, I thought I was selling to the radio equivalent of The New York Times. I didn’t know how precarious it all was.

The book is particularly fascinating and fun for me, talking about the way we did things in the dark ages of radio, with tape and grease pencils and razor blades (I’m not kidding). I was very good at swift editing with those tools. I much prefer the online tools now, but I was good, back in the day. There’s a lot of that kind of detail.

The book is frustrating, though. It ends in the mid-1980s, more or less, which didn’t feel right. It’s weighted toward the youth and childhood of some of these women, and that’s not as interesting either. It started to get going two-thirds of the way from the end, and then it stopped. Still, there’s enough good material here to enjoy. But get the ebook and change the fonts. Wow, is the paper horrid.

Yorko, Scott, “The 256 Mile Trans Japan Race is Hard. Earning A Spot Is Downright Brutal,Runner’s World, Issue 2, 2023. Utterly fascinating article about the lengths some runners will go to achieve a unique win. Qualifying for this brutal race is harder than the race itself. Why? Because the organizer doesn’t want anyone to die on the course. I’m not kidding. Read this. It’s amazing.

Zuckerman, Esther, “Judy Blume Has Always Been There,” The Hollywood Reporter, May 30, 2023. A long and insightful essay on the importance of Judy Blume to decades of American readers. (Maybe readers everywhere.) Rather than spoil it, let me urge you to read it for yourself.

3 thoughts on “Recommended Reading List: July, 2023

  1. Interested in fact based espionage and ungentlemanly officers and spies? Do read “Beyond Enkription” by Bill Fairclough – it is the first stand-alone fact-based espionage novel of six autobiographical tomes in The Burlington Files series. As the first book in the series, it provides a gripping introduction to the world of British intelligence and espionage. It is an intense electrifying spy thriller that had me perched on the edge of my seat from beginning to end. The twists and turns in the interwoven plots kept me guessing beyond the epilogue. The characters were wholesome, well-developed and intriguing. The author’s attention to detail added extra layers of authenticity to the narrative.

    In real life Bill Fairclough aka Edward Burlington (MI6 codename JJ) was one of Pemberton’s People in MI6; for more about that see a brief News Article dated 31 October 2022 published in TheBurlingtonFiles website. The series follows the real life of Bill Fairclough (and his family) who worked not only for British Intelligence, but also the CIA et al for several decades. The first tome is set in 1974 in London, Nassau and Port au Prince: see TheBurlingtonFiles website for a synopsis.

    Fairclough is not a professional but his writing style is engaging and fast-paced, making it difficult to put the book down as he effortlessly glides from cerebral issues to action-packed scenes which are never that far apart. Beyond Enkription is the stuff memorable spy films are made of. It’s unadulterated, realistic, punchy, pacy and provocative. While the book does not feature John le Carré’s “delicate diction, sophisticated syntax and placid plots” it remains a riveting and delightful read.

    This thriller is like nothing we have ever come across before. Indeed, we wonder what The Burlington Files would have been like if David Cornwell (aka John le Carré) had collaborated with Bill Fairclough whom critics have likened to “a posh Harry Palmer”. They did consider collaborating but did not proceed as explained in the aforementioned News Article. Nonetheless, critics have lauded Beyond Enkription as being ”up there with My Silent War by Kim Philby and No Other Choice by George Blake”.

    Overall, Beyond Enkription is a brilliantly refreshing book and a must read, especially for espionage cognoscenti. I cannot wait to see what is in store for us in the future. In the meantime, before reading Beyond Enkription do visit TheBurlingtonFiles website. It is like a living espionage museum and breathtaking in its own right.

  2. The Mick Herron books blew me away.

    I don’t understand quite how he does it, but his mastery of flow, depth, and characterization is simply enchanting.

    I need to go back and re-read all the books again.

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