Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

13 Oct 2021, 11:25 a.m.

Some Recent Reading

I've recommended several short scifi/fantasy stories I've enjoyed by posting about them on MetaFilter.

In addition, here are a few notes on some books I've recently read.

I read the harrowing memoir Year of the Nurse by Cassie Alexander. She's a registered nurse in an ICU in Northern California, and her contemporaneous writings from early 2020 through mid-2021 show us the risks and the costs and the waste of the COVID-19 pandemic. It's piercing, edifying, darkly funny, sad, and a clear, loud warning about the damage done to our health care workers. Recommended but of course watch your own mental health while reading -- content notes for discussion of death, of course, and also suicide. A few quotes:

where's the drama in an endless cycle of competent people doing competent jobs?

(from early in the crisis): This feels a lot like being drafted for a war that some people still don't even believe we're in.....It's not going anywhere. It's endless. Like knowing that you're being chased by a steamroller and someone's gone and nailed down both your feet.

Do you realize if they get more than 50 cases in South Korea, they shut everything back down? They treat every life there like a treasure.

I can usually bounce back with a day off and gardening. But my bounce is getting stiffer and the boxes I compartmentalize all my shit into are getting very full.

Me, this morning, watching my traveler that I'm training pull out an old N95 to use from their backpack, because she thought we wouldn't have enough PPE: "Darling, put that away and WELCOME TO CALIFORNIA."

I think you shouldn't be able to opt out of a covid vaccine until you've seen five people die of covid at a hospital. Like up close and personal. Their last 72 hrs. times five.

[what she aims to give families around a deathbed]: enough time to say good-bye and hopefully circle around to the story-telling part of things, laughing about memories and sharing photos. Where it's not about the dying person in there anymore -- it becomes about knitting together those who will be left behind.

How are we, the sane ones, to take this? Knowing that people around us would gladly chum the waters with our countrymen for sport?

[her first time seeing her friends in person since February 2020]: starting to sob, "You all lived. You all lived!"

... since 2016, the average hospital turned over 83% of their RN workforce, due to a combination of churn and burn at the lower end of the experience scale, and older RNs retiring out.....We kept coming to work because we trusted in, believed in, and wanted to help our coworkers....until I and other nurses stop picking up extra shifts, at my hospital and so many others, upper management will never learn....

There's just going to be a gap of a few years in there, post-covid-times, where you shouldn't trust any nurse that's too excited to be working.

I'm still mad that last year happened the way it did, when it didn't have to. I'm mad that serving a mad king "broke" me. But mostly I'm mad that so many people died who didn't have to. 

An amazing read that I wish didn't exist [if you read this, Cassie Alexander, I think you understand].

In fiction:

I'm friends with Benjamin Rosenbaum so I was looking forward to his new novel The Unraveling. I had a good time but I wanted the constant idea-flourishing that I get from Rosenbaum's nonfiction speaking and writing (e.g., on college and on hacking games you play with your kids), and I got that in the first third or half of the book. Then, in the second half or last third of the book, I knew where things were going and it felt like a kind of familiar story. But it's an interesting read with some ideas and one character who will stick with me, and feels like it's going to be a 2021 must-read for people who want book-length speculative fiction that plays with gender. I think it might feel brain-breaking to readers who haven't read any of Ada Palmer's Terra Ignota series, or the 2nd and 3rd books in Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch trilogy.

(Speaking of which, the last of those Terra Ignota books, Perhaps the Stars, comes out in a few weeks, so maybe I'll go reread the first one and read the second and third so I can catch up. I also saw there's a new Neal Stephenson book coming out pretty soon, and once that would have led me to literally take time off from work to read it the day of release, and instead I'm looking at this blurb and saying like "oh no are you a climate change denier now? please say no.")

I enjoyed the anthology It Gets Even Better: Stories of Queer Possibility. Lots of sweet sci-fi and fantasy stories, some more moving and some more funny, starring queer people. For a taste, read Aimee Ogden's reprint "Venti Mochaccino, No Whip, Double Shot of Magic": "his coffee comes with a nice cantrip that'll help him send all his emails for the next week with zero typos and exactly the right number of exclamation marks." I always enjoy rereading Zen Cho's "The Perseverance of Angela's Past Life" and I had a took note of "I'll Have You Know" by Charlie Jane Anders, "unchartered territories" by Swetha S., "Frequently Asked Questions About the Portals at Frank's Late-Night Starlite Drive-In" by Kristen Koopman, and "The Cafe Under the Hill" by Ziggy Schutz. The most memorable pieces: "Sea Glass at Dawn" by Leora Spitzer and "What Pucks Love" by Sonni de Soto. "Sea Glass at Dawn" tells the warm and loving story of dragons helping a human figure out how to control a new talent for fire. "What Pucks Love" illustrates the worries and joys of a relationship between an asexual person and a person with a strong sex drive, using a telescoping story structure to lovely effect.

Speaking of happy stories, yay for romance novels -- engaging, sweet, attentive to interiority, valorizing courage and care! I read some Alyssa Cole (An Extraordinary Union: An Epic Love Story of the Civil War, Loyal League #1, plus Let It Shine which was more memorable and visceral for me) and enjoyed that. I've now started Celia Lake's gentle magical romance Mysterious Charm series with the first book, Outcrossing, and enjoyed it and will probably read more.

Division Bells, a romance by Iona Datt Sharma, stands out because it stars bureaucrats trying to draft and pass a bill concerning renewable energy, and goes into lovely detail about the workings of the British Parliament, and brings that signature Datt Sharma emotional texture -- deft glimpses of indirectly expressed grief and melancholy and attentive care and hope -- to a Happy-For-Now romantic triumph.

And I've just read a really awesome romance, For The Love of April French by Penny Aimes. Aimes is a trans woman, and one of the protagonists, April, is a trans woman navigating romance after having been burned before. This novel reminds me of Courtney Milan's Trade Me in its realistic treatment of work in the tech industry, and it reminds me of Becky Chambers's work in its lively cast of supporting characters. And it goes places I haven't seen before in romance -- I haven't read that much romance that incorporates kink communities and negotiation, and Aimes's work felt very accessible to me -- and I'm eager to read more of the author's work.

I am unfortunately not super interested in reading further work by Andrew Hickey after reading his The Basilisk Murders (The Sarah Turner Mysteries, #1). The premise -- people start dying during a singularity/cyberlibertarian/longevity conference on a private island and a skeptical journalist tries to solve the murders -- sounded great! But Sarah Turner's characterization is wobbly and the narrator's choices of what to tell us leave me consistently unsatisfied, and the dialogue rang hollow. I started to wish I were rereading one of Nicola Griffith's Aud books instead.

Ah, that reminds me: sometime in the past year I read Nicola Griffith's gripping, propulsive, addictive detective series starring Aud Torvingen (The Blue Place, Stay, and Always). As page-turning as candy and as deep as a meal -- stories of love, grief, work, sex, achievement, vengeance, cities, disability, and slow true friendships. Here's Griffith talking about what Aud represents to her. If you read the first two books then have a hard time finding the third, you can borrow Always via the Open Library (do not look unless you've read the first book, as the description for Always includes spoilers for The Blue Place).

More soonish.