June 2020 Books

Again, I’m behind, but I’m trying to catch up on posting my summer reads….

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, by Austin Channing Brown

As an aside, this is a book written by another woman named Austin. Obviously I’m here for this.

I’m definitely going to need to revisit this book as it evoked a lot of emotions: sorrow, anger, shame, compassion, hope, disappointment, defensiveness….

Books like this show me what it’s like to be a minority in a majority culture, and helps illuminate the way that religion and culture are intertwined. Of course I know that church and culture have a lot to say to one another and they influence one another, but whew–it sounds exhausting to be in a predominantly culturally white space and look different.

Standing out is always tiring, and if the reason you stand out is your skin color, that’s not something you can just set aside when you want a break. We need to listen to our brothers and sisters and their experiences and learn how to go forward together, not just building together if their ideas sound like comfortable, easy things we could do that don’t challenge us.

There’s so much I don’t know, and I want to keep learning.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke

I’ve heard a podcaster talk about something that was “made specifically to delight [her].” In book form, this is that thing for me. Why didn’t everyone tell me how amazing this book is? (In fairness, my brother did recommend it to me, so….)

How to describe this book? It’s an alternate history, which is something I love when done well. It’s got shades of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens (you’d swear the characters Drawlight and Lascelles meandered in from a Dickens novel), and moments in the Napoleonic War sections that felt a little War and Peace-esque. It’s also a long book, and I do love a good long book I can sink into; this one is immersive.

We open in the early 19th century in England, where a society of theoretical magicians are meeting. There are few practical magicians left in England, though a new member of the society does dig one up: Mr. Norrell.

Mr. Norrell purports to want to bring magic back to England, but he’s a miserly, timid soul, and spends most of his time stopping theoretical magicians instead of forwarding the cause.

About a quarter of the way through the book, we finally meet a second practical magician: the titular Jonathan Strange. Mr. Norrell eventually agrees to teach Mr. Strange, but the two have very different styles, which aren’t always compatible.

The world-building is exquisite, the fairies are otherworldly and cruel, and the story takes some turns I didn’t expect. It’s got a melancholy atmosphere, but it never gets too dark.

This book also has top-notch footnotes, which flesh out the world, the mysterious Raven King who ruled Northern England (I’d love to read more about him), and generally add to the overall impression of an intricate magical real co-existing with the mundane one.

While the story is about magicians, it’s not really a “grown-up Harry Potter”–it’s a more complicated, twisty magical story and I was sad when I reached the end and left the characters behind. This may just edge out A Gentleman in Moscow for my favorite book of 2020 so far. I’d love to talk about this book — let me know if you want to hear more or if you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank

As this was for my classics project, it gets its own review here.

★ ★ ★

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