Last Week’s Reading: April 2-8

Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett: I requested this book on the recommendation of my friend Mary, who owns Newtonville Books, where Ms. Hartnett once worked. Rabbit Cake is narrated by precocious but not precious Elvis Babbitt, who recounts the events after her mother’s untimely death by drowning due to sleepwalking. As Elvis and her sister and her father try to hold their family together, each takes on different coping strategies of varying effectiveness (there’s a talking bird involved, and dozens of cakes). There was potential here to veer into over-stylized Wes Anderson territory (I love Wes Anderson, but I do not think I would care for his work in novel form), but Ms. Hartnett’s assured debut remains grounded in the Babbitt family’s frailties and love. Recommended.

Portrait of the Alcoholic by Kaveh Akbar: This slim, striking collection whetted my appetite for Kaveh Akbar’s full-length book of poems Calling a Wolf a Wolf, coming this fall. The poems in Portrait of the Alcoholic are intimate and beautiful, a catalogue of desires—for drink, for God, for understanding—fulfilled and unfulfilled.

Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach: I’ve been on the lookout for Fortune’s Pawn ever since Rory recommended it years ago, and after striking out at bookstore after bookstore, I finally requested it from the library. Devi Morris (think Starbuck meets Ripley) is an armored mercenary with a big ego and the skills to match it. Ambition leads her to take a position on the Glorious Fool, a ship that gets into even more trouble than its name suggests. Devi thinks she can handle it, but she has no idea what she’s in for. This is a fun, action-packed sci-fi novel with a bit of romance—a perfect palate cleanser if you’re between more serious reads.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers: I’m on a bit of a sci-fi kick, as you see. I adored this novel, which is like a whole season of Firefly packed into a book, only with more aliens. The setup is conventional: Rosemary Harper wants to escape her past, and what better way than be joining the crew of a ship that tunnels wormholes through space? Of course the crew is completely unconventional, from the reptilian pilot Sissix to the friendly AI Lovey and the cook/doctor, six-limbed Dr. Chef. On a long deep-space assignment, the crew faces adventure and loss and meets some of the most interesting sapients in the galaxy. The concerns of the novel are serious—how families are made, what sentience means, how gender and sexuality might look in a galaxy filled with different species, how risk should be valued—but the tone is lighthearted and warm. It’s a delectable book, and highly recommended.

Lighthead by Terrance Hayes: Another entry in the “poets I should have read years ago” category. I’ve run across Terrance Hayes’s poems before, but this is the first time I sat down to read a whole collection. Lighthead is such a good collection: playful, melancholy, and multifaceted. These poems felt full to bursting with the richness of their language. My favorites included “The Golden Shovel,” a riff on Gwendolyn Brooks’s “We Real Cool”; “Carp Poem”; “God Is an American”; and “Lighthead’s Guide to the Galaxy.” Highly recommended.

When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris (not pictured since I read it as an e-book): This 2008 essay collection fell a bit flat for me; I’m used to breaking out into the kind of chortles that alarm small children and passersby when I read David Sedaris, but no one near me was the least bit startled while I read this book. I don’t mean to say that it isn’t worth reading—a few essays are quite moving—but I don’t feel the need to buy it for my own library.

11 thoughts on “Last Week’s Reading: April 2-8

  1. I like your yellow theme this week!

    I have heard Becky Chambers’ books being praised from many quarters, so I think I need to try them and see if I can increase my sci-fi tolerance.

    Shame you didn’t much enjoy When You Are Engulfed in Flames; it was my first Sedaris and still my favorite. Do you think you’ll try to read his diaries (coming out next month)?

    I realized that last month I read THREE novels in which a character’s mother drowned. That seems like a weird coincidence.

    • The yellow books were all a coincidence, but it was fun to roll with it. I think BC’s latest was just nominated for the Hugo, and I think I read that this one was nominated for the Bailey’s Prize, if that piques your interest more. I love sci-fi, but I’m fairly picky about it. If you want something more cerebral, I’d also recommend Ancillary Justice by Anne Leckie.

      I’m going to skip the Sedaris diaries, I think. I know he uses them for essays, so I’d rather read the distillation of his musings.

      Three mother drownings? That is definitely odd.

      • I remember when the Chambers was listed for the Baileys prize. It was quite the coup, not just because it was sci-fi but also because it was initially self-published. I’ve heard of Leckie’s trilogy as well; it does sound a cut above the average.

        Yeah, I would probably just glance through the Sedaris diaries looking for interesting vignettes that don’t make it into the other books.

        One drowning was in Claire Fuller’s Swimming Lessons, which I know you’ve read. I won’t mention the others in case it’s perceived as spoilers (though in both it’s backstory revealed relatively early on).

    • Totally unintentional (except for the graphic, which I made after I saw the spines all stacked together). These were all library holds that came in at the same time.

      I hope you love the Becky Chambers book as much as I did!

      And thanks, I like writing these little ones!

  2. I’m starting to think that you choose your books based on how well coordinated they are – I see others have already commented on this, but I have noticed it other times as well. 🙂

    The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is the one that catches my attention here!

  3. Pingback: Last Week’s Reading: April 9-15 | Rosemary and Reading Glasses

  4. I will be checking out The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, and I’m so glad you enjoyed Fortune’s Pawn. I love getting sci-fi recommnedations here, though I am STILL on hold for Leviathan Wakes from the library (as in months, it must be because of the corresponding TV show).

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