booknotes: stuff I've been reading

With one week (!) left until I hand in my completed Master's thesis, my brain for writing blog posts has wandered away somewhere ... hopefully to return. In the meantime, I thought I'd take the opportunity to clear out the backlog of unfinished "booknotes" in the queue via one omnibus booknote highlighting some of the titles I have actually been reading, in and around thesis revising and fanfiction perusing.

1) Sara Vowell, Unfamiliar Fishes (2011). My father sent me a signed  (have I mentioned my dad is awesome?) uncorrected proof of this latest book by NPR essayist Sarah Vowell for my 30th birthday. I considered saving it until after thesis revision, as a treat, but it didn't last that long. Vowell's last book, The Wordy Shipmates explored the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Unfamiliar Fishes takes up as its subject the U.S. relations with Hawaii, beginning with the arrival of the first American missionaries (from Boston, unsurprisingly) and ending with the forced annexation in 1898. If you enjoy Sara Vowell's style, then I'm pretty sure you'll like this book. As an historian, I appreciate the way she takes history seriously and doesn't shie away from the contradictions and paradoxes inherent in human interactions.

2) Patricia Briggs, River Marked (2011). This is the sixth installment in Briggs' series starring shape-shifting car mechanic Mercedes Thompson. In the interest of avoiding major plot spoilers, I will just say that while this isn't my favorite of the bunch, I continue to like the way that Briggs balances Mercy's relationship with her lover (now husband) Adam Hauptmann with Mercy's own independent explorations of her shape-shifting identity, her family history, and her development as a new member of Adam's werewolf pack. The nature of the story took Mercy away from the usual cast of characters, which was a little sad since I've grown fond of following the lives of her supernatural friends. At the same time, we delved a bit further into Mercy's shadowy genealogy, which was an interesting new element. I'm hopeful that in the next installment, Briggs will take this new knowledge of Mercy's and return her to the extended family and friendship network I've grown to love. Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to the latest installment of her Alpha & Omega series (tentatively due out in January 2012).

3) Stuart BiegelThe Right To Be Out: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in America's Public Schools (2010). Biegel is on the faculty of the UCLA School of Law and an expert in the field of education and the law. In this highly readable volume, Biegel tackles the rights of students, teachers, and administrators to be open about their sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in the context of America's public schools. Through an examination of case law, Biegel argues that there is a growing precedent for youth and adults alike to claim the "right to be out," that is the right to be open about fundamental aspects of their identity, in the public sphere -- including public schools. Furthermore, they have the right to be out and to expect protection from persecution (bullying, workplace discrimination, harassment) for their beliefs. Biegel explores the legal ramifications for schools that will be held accountable for protecting their students and employees from discrimination and violence. It was a quick read, and I am glad to have it in my list of sources on the intersection of education, sexuality, and the law.

4) Michael Cart (editor), How Beautiful the Ordinary: Twelve Stories of Identity (2009). Our friend Diana picked up this anthology of short stories at a recent book swap and forwarded it on to Hanna and I. As is the nature of short story anthologies with multiple authors, I enjoyed some of the stories intensely and felt unmoved by others. I particularly liked David Levithan's "A Word from the Nearly Distant Past," Ariel Schrag's comic strip about attending a dyke march, and "First Time" by Julie Ann Peters, the story of two lesbians who are very much in love and in lust (positive depictions of teenage sexuality for the win!). It's a mark of how far queer YA fiction has come in the past two decades that the stories in this anthology are so diverse and multivocal. As Levithan observes (in the phrase from which the title is drawn), "how beautiful the ordinary becomes once it disappears."

5) Kage Baker, In the Garden of Iden (1997). And finally, now that thesising is winding down, I picked up book one of Kage Baker's science fiction / historical fiction series about the mysterious Company. The Company is a corporation of immortal operatives who travel through time and space supposedly rescuing the planet from human destruction while profiting enormously from their skillful maniplations of human history. I'm not far enough into the book (which Hanna assures me is both essential to understanding the series as a whole and also one of the clunkier installments) to offer much by way of informed review. I'll just say that as someone who has had a more or less life-long affair with novels involving time travel, the basic concept is definitely something I can get behind. And the handful of short stories I've read in the same universe definitely tell me I have something to look forward to.

That's all for now folks! Look for a "harpy week" post this Sunday, a ficnote on Tuesday, and perhaps in the next month or so a return to more regular narrative blogging. And actual full-length booknotes to boot!

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