My Education by Susan Choi
At the store, we have several displays recommending books—staff picks, publisher hot boxes, and a shelf featuring books recommended on NPR. (You wouldn’t believe how many people come into the store knowing only that a book they were interested in was featured on NPR recently. Thank goodness fandom has given me incredible Googling skills, which I have actually called “Internet detectivey” in front of customers in the past.) Susan Choi’s My Education loomed large on that display, but it didn’t seem like anything I’d be interested in—a female graduate student embarks an affair with her male professor. Yawn.
The Queen of Whale Cay by Kate Summerscale
I’ve been so good about noting where I’ve picked up recommendations lately that it feels weird to not know where I heard about The Queen of Whale Cay. I assumed I picked up The Queen of Whale Cay from Autostraddle, as that’s where I get the bulk of my queer lady-focused reading, but a quick Google search disabused me of that notion. So where did this come from? Who told me about it? Surely my reading spreadsheet hasn’t gotten so big that it will start spontaneously generating book titles. (Yet, anyway.)
Blythewood by Carol Goodman
When you walk towards Agnes Scott College off the main drag of Decatur, there’s some graffiti on the sidewalk—it points to Agnes, declaring it “Agnes Scott Convent.” Sometimes, when walking back to school, I would misread it as “Agnes Scott Coven.” Either way, the sentiment was really the same. Women living together, learning strange new things, and, horror of horrors, getting along? (If I had a dime for every time someone asked me how I could possibly manage going to an “all-girls school”…) There clearly must be something supernatural at work to explain that!
Jane Austen’s England by Roy and Lesley Adkins
While my historical education has always been spotty, there are a few periods of history that were always pretty clearly defined for me: the ancient world (skewed towards Egypt, given my interest in Egyptian mythology), the Dark Ages, World War II, the eighties, and, of course, Regency England. But all of this came to me through highly sanitized lenses, especially when it comes to Regency England. No matter how authentic we moderns think we want our history (I’m looking at you, Robin Hood), you’d be hard pressed to find someone willing to sit through all the gory details, from the rampant smallpox scars to the cramped living conditions to the irregular teeth. That’s all well and good when I’m enjoying, for instance, a film adaptation of Emma, but less so when I’m trying to wrap my head around the actual sequence of human events.
The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer
It is very easy, especially if you’re a speculative fiction fan, to think that you’ve got a handle on medieval and Elizabethan England. After all, both are the major baselines for most fantasy (the former more than the latter, although that’s changing a bit these days) and both are wildly popular settings for historical fiction of every stripe. But it ends up being one of those things you think you know about, but realize you have never actually sat down and properly looked at. As I always say, there’s no excuse for ignorance once you’ve been alerted to it, so when I was asked if I would review The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England, I leapt at the chance.
Harley Loco by Rayya Elias
I adore the eighties—the colors, the androgyny, the everything. This is mostly due to watching I Love the 80s ad nauseum at a formative age, which also means that my vision of the eighties is a particularly sanitized one. And I didn’t realize that until I was watching Paris is Burning, the documentary about queer New York’s ball culture in the late ‘80s, and saw, briefly, the old Times Square. As much as I love the eighties, there’s still much to learn, and that’s when Harley Loco popped up on NetGalley for me. A memoir by a queer woman of color cutting hair and struggling with drug addiction in New York in the eighties? Sometimes, the universe is kind.
The Maid and the Queen by Nancy Goldstone
I don’t know much about Joan of Arc, which is a bit odd—usually, give me a historic Frenchwoman who can handle a sword and I’m weak at the knees. (Julie D’Aubigny, anyone?) My biggest memory concerning Joan of Arc is a mock trial from my European history class in high school, where I was the head of the defense. Needless to say, given my hideous debating skills, she burned at the stake a second time. But when I saw Laura Miller’s review of The Maid and the Queen, I was intrigued enough to put it on my list, and it turned out to be one of the rare new books just lying on the shelves at the library. Go figure.
A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel
There are some recommendations on my reading list that are fairly obscure; A History of Reading is one of them. I didn’t find much about it online when I featured it on The Literary Horizon, and don’t even get me started about trying to find the cover image. Yeesh. So I had little to no expectations when I took the elevator to the third floor of the local library here and picked it up when Freakonomics proved to be out, despite me checking thirty minutes prior to see if it was in. Oh, the trials and tribulations of a library patron. But I was pleasantly surprised by A History of Reading, even if I wasn’t blown away by it.
Self-Made Man by Norah Vincent
While I distinctly remember picking up this recommendation from Feministing, a quick Google search shows only community posts about this book. In any case, it was in such a space that I was introduced to Norah Vincent’s account of a year and a half spent passing as a man and exploring masculine society from a feminine viewpoint. While I usually don’t care for memoirs focused on a year-long experiment, Vincent’s forays into male-only spaces interested me. When I saw it while shelving at the library, I decided to give it a whirl.
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
For some reason, I was really excited about A Discovery of Witches. You see, The Historian is one of my literary nemesises—a bloated, poorly structured, and cripplingly slow piece of work that barely deigns to interact with the vampires that are its main selling point. So, in A Discovery of Witches, another long novel that focuses on its heroine discovering a book and a world she never knew (well, in this case, wanted to face), I hoped to find some sort of redemption or at least revenge for The Historian. I even quieted my concerns when I saw a blurb from Danielle Trussoni, author of Angelology (while not as bad as The Historian, it’s not exactly worth a read), on the back cover. Surely, I thought, her own writing has nothing to do with the fact that she apparently found it gripping from page one, right?.
…guys, now I’m really worried The Book of Fires is going to suck because Jane Borodale wrote a blurb for this.