Four books in Jan & Feb 2023: Catharsis, Conlangs, Conviction and Care
In the months of January and February 2023, I listened to two audiobooks and read two books. Here are four micro-reviews.
by Louise Erdrich
Louise Erdrich ripped out my heart, pumped it up with emotion and then shoved it back into my fragile chest. I have not cried this much while listening to a book in a very, very long time. Erdrich is a master storyteller, and manages to bottle up every feeling from 2020 (horrible, beautiful, tragic, hopeful) into a tight 11 hours and 49 minutes. The story has its slower points, and there were a number of moments where I wondered if it was all going to tie together — but Tookie wrapped it all up in the end. Trigger warning for all things COVID, racism and recounts of the murder of George Floyd. If I had read this when it was first released in 2021, I think I would have had to quit halfway through. But now, in 2023, this book provided some of the not-actually-post-pandemic catharsis I needed. And I believe that when we look back in ten years at COVID-era literature, this will be the book.
Read if: you’re ready to process some pandemic grief while enjoying a ghost story
4.5 out of 5 📚
In the Land of Invented Languages
by Arika Okrent
Let’s give credit where credit is due: Arika Okrent does an excellent job of turning what could have been a dense, niche piece of historic linguistics into a quite enjoyable pop-science book. However, you’re going to have to be seriously invested in the history of conlangs (constructed languages) to make it through this one. If you — like me — go full nerd on this stuff, then dive right in. Okrent has a strong comedic voice that helps guide the reader throughout the novel. Her personal judgements on the various cast and crew of the conlang world are sprinkled throughout the narrative, and on occasion skew harsh but more often land somewhere under ‘gentle teasing’. At times she seems to pit both herself and the reader against the book’s subjects — often this lands successfully (like the Blissymbols guy? Big villain energy!) whereas other times it felt a bit severe. Outside of this, I only have one major bone to pick with a couple of comments made about language revitalization: you can’t compare revitalization efforts of real world Indigenous languages to the not-so-wide-spread adoption of conlangs. The social, political and historic contexts are entirely different. But I digress: overall, Okrent nails the core subject matter and provides some very interesting insight into how language works (or doesn’t). As far as pop-linguistics goes, this one is well done.
Read if: you want to understand why both Esperanto and Klingon are available on Duolingo
3.5 out of 5 🛸
The Guest List
by Lucy Foley
First off, let me just say that I’m a sucker for a well casted audiobook. Each chapter jumps back and forth between one of five different POVs, and it was a treasure to have a different narrator for each character. Were all of the accents quite right? God no! But let’s call it camp and move on. This book was, above all else, fun. Lucy Foley writes a damn good whodunit, and pulls out all of the stops: a moody setting, a crew of totally unlikeable characters, and so much mess. I won’t spoil anything, and I wouldn’t recommend you Google in advance — just curl up, preferably in a rural cabin with a glass of wine, and enjoy a well-written mystery thriller. Trigger warning for a couple of detailed descriptions of self-harm.
Read if: you want reassurance that even if your life is a mess, it isn’t this bad
3.5 out of 5 🏝
Care of: Letters, Connections, and Cures
by Ivan Coyote
Oh sweet Ivan, you really are too kind for the world. This is a book of letters — correspondence between Ivan Coyote and fans, readers, audience members and friends (these are not exclusive categories, to be clear). Some of the letters are from a long time ago, which Coyote has taken years to reply back to, while others are from the early stages of the pandemic. Most of them relate, in some way, to Queer and/or Trans experiences. But at the core, concepts of compassion, chosen siblinghood, love and understanding shine through. Some letters hit me more than others, though I’m sure the ones that impacted me less are likely the most impactful to other readers and visa versa. This collection has a little something for everyone, and makes me excited at the prospect of seeing a live performance from Coyote sometime in the hopefully not-too-distant future.
Read if: you’re looking for some gender / identity / humanity-based solidarity
4 out of 5 💌
Bridget does reviews on the books they have read or listened to. Some reviews will be better than others — but let’s get real, so will some books.