Books acquired: “Trying to Get Lost: Essays on Travel and Place,” Joan Frank; “Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019,” Carmen Maria Machado, guest editor; “American Dirt,” Jeanine Cummins (a gift, I hasten to add)
Books read: “The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Vol. 1, 1929-1964,” Robert Silverberg, editor; “The Fourth Galaxy Reader,” H.L. Gold, editor; “Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019,” Carmen Maria Machado, guest editor
Welcome, readers! Here we are for the ol’ Reading Log during a completely typical time, so let’s get right to it and —
OK, let’s stop there. First, apologies for the delay in getting this post written and published. I ran out of time to do it the weekend of April 5-6, and didn’t have a chance to get started on it until late in the afternoon Wednesday. But better late than never, i.e. Restaurant of the Week, right?
Needless to say these are strange and uncertain times. We’ll be proud one day to say we lived through them — presuming we do live through them. Be vigilant. But also be aware. Pay attention. We’ve never gone through anything like this, and we must remember what it was like, and savor the moments so that we can remember them, and tell people about them one day.
As bookish sorts, we are perfectly poised for a period that calls for us to stay indoors and occupy ourselves. We have, in fact, trained our whole lives for this. Let us not fail ourselves in this dark hour.
The back half of March was when stay-at-home orders started to take effect, and that may have affected all our reading for the better. We’ll learn in the comments section.
Personally, since I’m still on the job, I haven’t had much more free time than usual. It’s weirdly disappointing. And while I may have read a bit more overall, I wasn’t toting a book with me to lunch, since I wasn’t going to lunch, since restaurants were closed. I did take a book if I ordered takeout and had to wait, but it was hard to get in more than a page or two before my order was ready, darn the luck. And forget about getting a hot drink and sitting outside: It’s been cold and raining much of the past month.
Ah, me. Anyway, onward to March’s books. I had a science fiction short-story thing going on, with three anthologies of stories by various writers. (I used my SF bookcase for the photo up top, where my books felt right at home.)
“SF Hall of Fame”: I had been reading this off and on since October, and in fact that’s one pitfall of doing these monthly posts. Faced with 650 pages of short stories, I’m not going to be able to read it straight through in a month, and rather than leave a post blank some month, I nibbled away at this book a week or two at the end of some months until I was far enough along that the first half of March could be spent finishing it.
As the name suggests, it’s a collection of great stories from the classic era, chosen by leading SF writers of the 1960s who knew the field and its history. I like science fiction, as must be obvious by now from past Reading Logs, but I’m not well-read in the field, and thus almost all these stories were new to me. Nearly all of them made an impression. A consistently good to great anthology. The two subsequent volumes collect novellas from the same period.
“Fourth Galaxy Reader”: This 1960 anthology gathers stories from Galaxy magazine. They’re all decent or better, with stories by some well-remembered writers (Avram Davidson, Frederick Pohl, Fritz Leiber) and some who are largely forgotten (Stephen Barr, J.T. McIntosh, Margaret St. Claire). Largely fun, breezy stories.
“Best American SF 2019”: I’d seen this last fall and was intrigued, but I held off buying it while I had that “Hall of Fame” book unread. It seemed only fair. Having finished it, though, I rushed out to pick this up, curious what modern SF looks and reads like. I hadn’t really read any 21st century SF.
I was impressed by the range of voices, tones and themes, and by how many stories were written by women or marginalized people (or both). Fair warning, these stories are on the literary side, with nary a rocket ship in sight. Fittingly, some contributors seem to be living in the future themselves: In their bios, two use they/their pronouns, and one says of herself: “Ada is bisexual, genderfluid, polyamorous and mentally ill.”
I bought “Hall of Fame” at Borders Montclair in 2008, full of promise, then put it on the shelf, where it made me feel guilty for the next 11 years. “Galaxy” was a gift from reader Rich Pietrasz, who had gotten it from reader Doug Evans. Rich passed it along to me in 2015 and I can finally say I’ve read it. Thanks, Rich. And “Best American” was bought at the Barnes & Noble in Rancho Cucamonga on March 16, a few days before retail stores were ordered closed. Whew! I really wanted to have this in my “books acquired” and “books read” lists the same month. That’s happened only a handful of times.
What did you all read in March? Are you finding more time to read, the same or less? And do you have any reading goals for the pandemic? I wish I could say I was going to tackle “Middlemarch” or something, but that’s not how April is looking. On the other hand, I have finished a book already and am in the midst of two others…
Next month: an emotional rollercoaster (and how appropriate is that, right?).