Recommended Reading List: January 2024

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I read a lot of books in January, but don’t have as many to recommend as I would have thought. I started one bestseller’s novel and quit because I knew exactly where it was going. (I glanced ahead, and yep. On rails.) I read another and was quite irritated because it didn’t do anything new and was filled with “surprises” that weren’t. Then I tried a new YA author. The conceit was good and the book well-reviewed both by traditional sites and its rating on Amazon. But…there was no depth, no setting, nada. And this was a time travel novel that went back and forth between a suburban high school and Shakespearean England. Um…I just couldn’t. I really couldn’t. So I didn’t.

I also taught a workshop on science fiction mysteries, and as I often do, I assigned a couple of books for the reading list that I hadn’t read yet. I searched and searched and searched for good sf mystery anthologies. The ones I was familiar with (and/or published in) were out of print and unavailable for my online students. (I could find enough copies for my in-person students.) The anthology I did find (which I hadn’t read), well, it turned out to be a good teaching tool, just not in the way that the editors intended. It looks like they invited a lot of good writers who just weren’t up to the task, and felt the need to use the work anyway. Sigh. Looks like I might have to do an sf/mystery anthology all my own. (If you’re interested in the in-person workshops, click here. The one next January is nearly full.)

January 2024


Chiarella, Tom, “Henry Winkler’s 6 Lessons of Reinvention,” AARP The Magazine, October/November, 2023. Lovely article about the things learned across a career. Henry Winkler and I share a diagnosis of dyslexia. The difference between us is that I was taught to read by my sister, who also had dyslexia. She had figured out a coping mechanism that allowed me to see words as pictures, rather than an accumulation of letters. I was able to read easily (spelling was much, much harder). Henry Winkler could not. Yet he figured out ways of getting by as well, and making a career even though he couldn’t act quickly on some things.

The choices we make and the ways we cope end up moving our lives forward. I’ve rarely seen an article that captures this so well.

Coates, Tyler, ‘Queerness Was Part of His Strategic Gift,” The Hollywood Reporter, November 27, 2023.  A Netflix film, Rustin, last year brought proper attention to Bayard Rustin and his importance to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. I had no idea Rustin had been lost to history. (Not to me) Nor did I know some of the personal things about him, because I use primary materials in my writing when I work on Smokey Dalton. Rustin’s sexuality caused issues that I hadn’t been aware of, but which makes some comments I saw make sense in retrospect. Fascinating article, and no, I haven’t seen the film yet, but I most certainly will, as I ramp up Smokey in the next several months. Until then, watch the film and read this, and learn about an amazing man.

Day, Sarah, and Pratt, Tim, “Overclocked Holmes,” The Reinvented Detective, edited by Cat Rambo & Jennifer Brozek, Caezik, 2023. If you’re read (or watched) too much Sherlock Holmes, then this is the story for you. It’s a riff on artificial intelligence—”a great weird failure of the back half of the twenty-first century”— with so many Holmesian in-jokes that I’m not sure I caught them all. Try this one just for the fun of it.

DeFrank, Sean, “1983: Dawn of the City of Sports,” rjmagazine, Fall 2023. Las Vegas reinvents itself almost daily, so sometimes it feels like we go through almost fifty years worth of change in a decade. CNN is doing a documentary series on the city’s history, and yep, that kinda confirms the feeling. This article from one of the local publications does as well. We are becoming the sports capitol of the country as we add more and more teams. Because Las Vegas is a destination in and of itself, people come here to watch their team play our team. So the professional sports industry went from nearly nothing when we moved here six years ago to this explosion now.

DeFrank’s article looks at the seeds which were planted in 1983 that made this sports boom possible. Fascinating stuff.

Kowal, Mary Robinette, The Spare Man, Tor, 2022. I’m sorry to say that this is the first Mary Robinette Kowal novel I’ve read. I’ve been meaning to read the others, because I love her short fiction, but I never got around to them. So…I assigned this book for the sf mystery class and am I glad I did. This book is marvelous. It’s the Thin Man in space, with beautiful setting, characters that live and breathe, and a truly sf solution to the various crimes. I hope she writes more in this series, because I am soooo there.

Marcus, Gary and Southern, Reid, “Generative AI Has a Visual Plagiarism Problem,” IEEE Spectrum, January 6, 2024. Ironically enough, the bot on my Pocket app sent me to this story, because clearly I read a lot on generative AI. The authors are a scientist & writer, and a film industry visual concept artist.  They use as scientific a method as they could manage to figure out if generative AI had a plagiarism problem and whoa, boy, did they discover that it did. They also got banned repeatedly from Midjourney for their efforts. Lots to digest here. In particular, look at the comparison to Napster. As I’ve been saying for years now, do not use these generative AI programs until the legal side settles out. Read this.

Morehouse, Lyda, “Go Ask A.L.I.C.E.,” The Reinvented Detective, edited by Cat Rambo & Jennifer Brozek, Caezik, 2023. A wonderfully reimagined trope about a group trying to protect a former sex bot. This story is well done with good suspense, great characters, and a well-defined world. (Something most of the stories in this volume lacked.)

Redgate, Riley, Noteworthy, Amulet, 2017. I loved this book. I binged it. It’s the story of Jordan Sun, a scholarship student at an elite performing arts school. She can never get cast in one of the musicals because her voice is too deep and there aren’t a lot of parts for Alto 2. So…she auditions for a boys’ acapella group instead…as a boy. And gets in, causing her to go to class as a girl and rehearsal as a boy. It sounds like a typical Shakespearean boy/girl swap, but it’s much more than that. The book is actually a great reflection on modern gender norms and on being accepted. It’s quite (ahem) noteworthy. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Robbins, Dean, “A Media-History Miracle,” On Wisconsin, Fall, 2023. This is almost a public service announcement for those of you who like media history. The University of Wisconsin has an online archive of film and broadcasting publications. It’s got cool stuff. Take a look at this article, and then head to the online site.

Smith, Gene, American Gothic: The Story of America’s Legendary Theatrical Family—Junius, Edwin, and John Wilkes Booth, Touchstone, 1992. I read a yellowed paperback edition of this book, but there is an ebook version. I’m not really sure you’d want to read it. My muse has been directing me to various non-fiction reading projects and this is one of them. I’m not even sure where I got the book. I’m not sure how I will use this in my writing either, only that I will at some point.

I have never read a book about the acting family. I did know that Edwin continued acting and had become the biggest actor in America after his brother’s hideous assassination of Abraham Lincoln. I had no idea how Edwin managed to go on, but it sounds like he had already divorced himself from John and tried to give up acting for a while. He didn’t manage it.

I think the thing I found most fascinating about the book, though, is that this was one crazy family. All of them. That something went seriously awry was not a surprise. What went awry was.

Again, I’m not sure any of you would want to read this, but it’s interesting. And beautifully written…

Turtledove, Harry, “In The Shadow of The Great Days,” The Reinvented Detective, edited by Cat Rambo & Jennifer Brozek, Caezik, 2023. I’d say this is the best story in the book (and that is absolutely the truth), but that’s damning with faint praise. The story is amazing. In about 5,000 words, Harry creates a future that’s believable and tactile, so rich that I knew it from the first paragraph. This is how to write a science fiction detective story. It’s a master class.

1 thought on “Recommended Reading List: January 2024

  1. I found a YA mystery a while back that I liked well enough to go look for other work by the author. I read The Night in Question, which I just stumbled on in a bookstore. Felt like there was a backstory and sure enough, this was book 2. I immediately ordered The Agatha’s, which was also quite good. By Kathleen Glasgow and Liz Lawson.

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