Books, March 2018

Theme of the month: books by authors I read when I was young, who all held up.

Spook and Bonk, Mary Roach

I’ve finally caught up on the Mary Roach backlist of books! She is truly my idol of nonfiction writing, and I don’t just open with that because I’m about to knock on Spook, which I think was the weakest of her books. Unlike her other books, the central theme tying together the semi-independent chapters (which is her usual MO, along with many other contemporary nonfiction writers) was relatively amorphous, and because her sources are objects of criticism rather than reference, she loses the sense of having fun with the topic that she’s rightly famed for. Bonk, meanwhile, joins Packing for Mars and Grunt as the middle-of-the-pack books, but these are fantastic books that only have the misfortune to pale in comparison to my favorites Stiff and Gulp.

Genre: biology. Format: nonfiction. Rating: 2/3 for Spook and 3/3 for Bonk

Lyra’s Oxford, Philip Pullman

I only recently found out about the existence of this (planned) trilogy of novellas (first two out, still no release date for the third fully 10 years after the release of the second), set after the end of The Amber Spyglass. I’ve spoken before of my love of novellas that fill out the world of the series they accompany without the commitment (for the author or for me!) of an entire additional novel. Thanks to these novellas and the new Book of Dust trilogy, I’m being reminded of just how much I loved the original His Dark Materials as a child (I read them in 4th grade or so, and again in high school). I think it’s coming time to reread them, especially since I know I’ll get a lot more out of it now than I did then. They’re billed as books for children, at least in part because the protagonists are kids, but a huge amount of the philosophy and history and world-building sails right over the heads of young readers and only emerges on an adulthood reread (or in one of those “bolt of lightning from clear skies” realizations when you’re idly grocery shopping and then suddenly you’re thinking about mulefa anatomy while staring at the ice cream). Anyway, people who say that children’s books are only for children are missing out (as are people who say YA books are only for teens). Their loss.

Genre: speculative fiction. Format: novella. Rating: 3/3

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