QualityLand

by Marc-Uwe Kling
Translated by Jamie Lee Searle
First sentence: “So you’re off to QualityLand for the first time ever.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs, and some sexual content. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

In the future, our world has been automated to the point where we don’t have to think. Algorithms can pick your partner, determine your “level” in life (which determines your privileges and careers and your partner), personalize your literature and movies, and even send you stuff before you know you want it. QualityLand (which is the “bestest land”) has commodified absolutely everything. So when Peter — a Level 9 (anything under 10 is determined to be “Useless”) scrap machine operator (except he’s kind of bad at that, preferring to salvage the AI that he’s supposed to be scrapping — receives something he doesn’t want — a pink dolphin vibrator — from TheShop (think Amazon), he decides to return it.

This book is a LOT less about plot (there isn’t really much of one) and more an exploration of what life would be like if we took our current society (this was published in Germany in 2017) and pushed it to the extreme. It’s not an argument I haven’t heard before (living in the family I do, married to the person I am married to): while technology itself isn’t inherently bad, letting technology overtake our lives is (she says, while scrolling on Instagram). The people who are behind these corporations are NOT out for *our* collective good, they’re out for personal gain. They’re selling our data, they’re invading our lives, and we should be aware of what’s being taken from us.

That said, coming across as “fiction” makes it sound a whole lot less “grumpy old man conspiracy extremist” than in the essays and non-fiction books I’ve read (or heard Russell talk about). Maybe it won’t make me change my ways but there’s certainly a lot to talk about. It’s clever and weird and funny (at times). And it’s Kling is definitely one of the “prophets” out there screaming to the void (how many of the readers will buy it as an e-book from Amazon, and what’s the irony in that?) that maybe we need to remember our humanity. If only for the sake of our culture, if not ourselves.

A fascinating read.

Audio Book: The Witches are Coming

by Lindy West
Read by the author.
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There’s swearing, including lots of f-bombs, plus frank talk about sex. It’s in the Sociology section of the bookstore.

This book of essays, written in past couple of years and spurred on by the election of Donald Trump, is not just a feminist skewering of the alt-right and those attacking progress in all its forms. It’s also a reminder — especially for me, as a white, middle class, educated woman — that there are causes worth fighting for, that all sides (at least on the national scale) are not equal, and that it’s okay to be outspoken on things you believe in (and, to be fair: believing in things is a Good Thing).

It’s a reminder that “political correctness” is really just respecting other people and their identities and boundaries. A call that fat people deserve respect too, especially in this thin- and diet-obsessed culture. And maybe West is a White Woman, but (I thought, but I’m no BIPOC) she made sure she was trying to be inclusive and reminding those of us who are White Women that there are people out there who are marginalized and disadvantaged. And that there are people suffering while we’re sitting in our nice suburban households.

No, she’s not kind to the alt-right (but should she be?) or to the men who have abused their power for their own personal profit. And that’s part of what I liked about this. It was unapologetic and brazen and I loved that. It’s not going to resonate with all readers, but I think West knows that but she’s not trying to be palatable to all readers. She has Beliefs and she stands by them, and I can respect that.

And West is a good reader as well. She was entertaining and one of those readers I’d happily listen to for a long time.

State of the TBR Pile: January 2020

Oh January. That cold, dark month which I loathe. At least I have books to read! I have two TBR piles this month. The first is ones I want to get to:

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia
In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall
The Girl with the Dragon Heart by Stephanie Burgis
Only Ashes Remain by Rebecca Schaeffer

The second is ones I have to get to, as part of being a Round 2 judge for the Cybils on the Graphic Novels panel.

I’m missing two, which my library doesn’t have. But other than that, it’s all of them. You can see the whole list over at the Cybils website.

I’ve got a month of good reading ahead. What are you reading?

A High Five for Glenn Burke

by Phil Bildner
First sentence: “Let’s do this, Silas,’ I say to myself.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: February 25, 2020
Content: There are some awkward moments. It will be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Sixth-grader Silas Wade has a loving family (though his parents work too much and his younger sisters are sometimes annoying), and a great best friend in Zoey. He loves playing baseball with his team, the Renegades, and and his coach, Coach Wade, is the best. But Silas has a problem: he has realized that he is gay, and doesn’t quite know how to tell everyone.

Enter a report on Glenn Burke: a real-life professional baseball player (and the inventor of the high five!) in the 1970s who was run out of the major leagues after he came out as gay. Learning about Burke gives Silas the courage to come out to Zoey and then to Coach Wade. It’s not all roses, however. There are ups and downs to this process as Silas figures out how to be his authentic self.

This is a really good book as well as being an Important One. I think there needs to be more sports-oriented books that have LGBT themes, partially because I think there still is a stigma about being LGBT and playing sports. (It’s probably less than it was, but it’s still there, I think.) It’s good to have a book — and one that is written so that kids can grasp what’s going on — that shows that an LGBT kid can play ball well and be gay. And not necessarily fit all the stereotypes that normally come with being gay. I also appreciated Silas’s growth arc; he starts out terrified that people will find out his secret, but as the book goes on, he becomes more and more comfortable with himself.

Bildner knows how to write for kids in a way that makes all of this make sense. And perhaps that’s the most important thing.

Of Curses and Kisses

by Sandhya Menon
First sentence: “Just outside Aspen, Colorado, nestled between the sentinel mountains and an inkblot lake, lies St. Rosetta’s International Academy.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the bookstore.
Release date: February 18, 2019
Content: There is some talk of teenage drinking and swearing, including a half-dozen or so f-bombs. It will be in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but I’d give it to a younger kid if they were okay with the language.

One of the perks of working at a bookstore is the galley shelves in our basement. All the ARCs that come in (and aren’t nabbed and never returned) are put on these shelves for booksellers to pilfer through. I was down there a week or so ago, looking for something new to read (because it’s not like I don’t have enough on my shelves; it’s just that there was nothing on my shelves I really felt like reading. You get that, right?) and I stumbled across this one. I’ve read her before, and enjoyed it well enough, so I took this one home.

And was I glad I did! Jaya Rao is a “princess” of a small state in southern India. She’s basically the ruling class, and takes her responsibility of being the heir incredibly seriously. Grey Emerson is the son of a British lord, whose family used to be part of the British Empire in India. In fact, the Emersons stole a precious ruby from the Rao family temple when they left India in 1947. And Jaya’s great-great grandmother cursed the Emerson line.

So, when Jaya and her sister Isha are forced to go to a new boarding school because of a scandal involving Isha, a couple of boys, and Isha’s desire to be a mechanic (which is not a very princess-like thing to do), and they end up at the same school as Grey Emerson, Jaya decides to get revenge: make Grey fall in love with her and then break his heart.

Of course (of course!) it’s not that simple or easy. But it is thoroughly delightful. Switching between Jaya’s and Grey’s perspectives allowed the reader to get the full perspective, and the fact that both Grey and Jaya are conflicted about their position in their respective families as well as their future helped deepen the characters. And even though they were surrounded with the children of the rich and elite, Menon made pretty much everyone Jaya came into contact with a three-dimensional character. It’s a fluffy romance book, sure, but it’s a fluffy romance book with LAYERS. Which is the best kind.

Absolutely a delightful read.

The Bear and the Nightingale

by Katherine Arden
First sentence: “It was late winter in northern Rus’, the air sullen with wet that was neither rain nor snow.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is a lot of violence and some sexual content. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

The plot of this one is hard to describe: it’s Russia on the cusp of when Christianity is becoming more accepted, but the Old Ways are still in play. There are demons keeping the Big Demon — known as The Bear — at bay, but due to priests, the people are beginning to neglect the Old Ways. Everyone, that is, except for Vasilisa. The youngest daughter of a northern lord, she sees and talks to the demons that keep the hearth fires burning, the stable animals quiet, and the lands safe. And when her father remarries a woman who is paranoid about the Old Ways, Vasilisa is the only one who keeps the village and the lands safe.

It’s a slow start, this one, but once it gets going — about halfway through — it really takes off. I mostly liked Vasilisa as a character; she is headstrong and not traditional and doesn’t keep anyone’s advice but her own. I really enjoyed the magic and the contrast between the Old Ways and religion, and how the priests believed that the two couldn’t co-exist. Arden is exploring interesting themes and I’m curious to see where the next one goes, since this one felt like a stand alone.