plus a little preview of October action!
I see there are a bunch of new subscribers! Hello! Welcome to A Faster No, a weekly newsletter on writing, publishing, and craft, with occasional hockey highlights. This week is one of the monthly “What I read” entries! Thank you so much for being here, and I hope you stick around!
warning: flashing gif at the end
CW: discussions of death/desecration of corpses re: Dark Archives
There are five more days to take advantage of my back to school special! For only $25, you get a critique of your query and the first ten pages of your manuscript. This is a pretty big discount from me, and it runs through October 5! Here’s a link to the details.
The Cold Vanish: Seeking the Missing in North America’s Wildlands by John Billman
Dark Archives: A Librarian’s Investigation Into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin by Megan Rosenbloom
True North by Kelsey Gamble
Give Me A Reason by A.L. Jackson
Off Limits by MS Parker
Breaking Rules by MS Parker
Mending Fate by MS Parker
Perfect Grump by Nicole Snow
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
This was another outstanding reading month, if wildly varied in genre. Listen, I was Going Through it in September and I wanted fluffy romance, so that’s why I read six of them in a row. I’m going to start at the end of the month, and talk about A Memory Called Empire.
A Memory Called Empire is a lush, intricate space opera. It follows Mahit Dzmare, newly-minted ambassador from an independent space station to the massive, hungry empire of Teixcalaan. When she arrives, she finds that her predecessor is dead—murdered, though no one will admit it. Mahit is also carrying a secret: in her brain she carries an imago, an implant that allows her to access the collected memories of her predecessor. Only hers is fifteen years out of date, and he isn’t talking to her to boot.
Suddenly thrust into a very unstable political landscape, Mahit is thrown into the company of revolutionaries, bureaucrats, and the churning gears of empire. Unless she can reawaken her predecessor inside her mind and stop the coming war, her station-home may be the next in a long line of Teixcalaanli conquests. And to top it off, there’s something darker lurking at the edges of the universe, a threat only the might of Teixcalaan can defeat.
Phew! That sounds like a lot, and it is a lot, but Martine is a linguist by training, and so the fast-paced (I mean really fast-paced; the whole story takes place over about a week) narrative is threaded throughout with Mahit’s own complicated feelings about the Empire she’s come to stave off. Her entire life, she’s devoured Teixcalaanli poetry and art, and she was chosen for the ambassadorship because of her familiarity with and affinity for Teixcalaanli culture. But she is reminded, over and over, that she is an outsider, that she is other, and that though she speaks and reads the language, there are thousands of layers of meaning that she can’t grasp. In Teixcalaan, the word for Empire, World, and City are the same, and Mahit is both fascinated and repelled by the empire she encounters:
“It’s not—devour would be if we were xenophobes or genocides, if we didn’t bring new territories into the Empire.”
Into the world. Shift the pronunciation of the verb, and Three Seagrass could have been saying if we didn’t make new territories real, but Mahit knew what she meant: all the way that being part of Teixcalaan gave a planet or a station prosperity. Economic, cultural—take a Teixcalaanli name, be a citizen. Speak poetry.
The colonial made personal, the political made real: A Memory Called Empire is towering and overwhelming, and I went out and bought the sequel the minute I finished reading.
A few words about the romances from this month: I have a Kindle Unlimited subscription, so that’s why there aren’t Bookshop.org links on the romances above, but several of them are worth checking out. In particular Perfect Grump, which is a very fun enemies-to-lovers romance about a sassy driver for a big corporation and the (seeming) asshole who she has to drive around. A quick, fun read with lots of personality.
The two nonfiction books I read this month were each excellent in their own ways. The Cold Vanish was recommended to me because I love stories about people doing foolish things in nature, but I came away with it with a stronger understanding of what draws people to the wilderness in the first place. The author closely follows the story of one young man who disappeared in Olympia National Park, and grows close to the man’s father, but also explores other cases of missing persons. He also breaks down how someone can disappear in one place and be found, or in another and be lost. It’s fascinating, compelling, and deeply moving, and I highly recommend it.
Dark Archives was something completely different. Librarian Megan Rosenbloom became fascinated early on by a collection of books supposedly bound in human skin and exhibited at the Perlmutter Museum in Philadelphia. Her book is an extension of that early interest, and an attempt to suss out fact from fiction: how many such books are there in the world? Which are real, and which are fake? Who made them, and why? There were several surprises—you’re probably thinking of one particular group who supposedly made stuff out of skin? They didn’t! Or, if they did, we don’t have any examples of it!— but Rosenbloom’s main axis of exploration is consent. Of the books we know of that are made of human skin, do we know whose skin it is? How did the bookbinder—often wealthy 19th century doctors—come by the skin in the first place? Did the person agree to it before their death? And ultimately, what are institutions to do with such grisly items? Rosenbloom treats the subject with grace and curiosity, rather than the lurid sensationalism that could be expected from a topic like this. If you’re someone like me, and fascinated by historical attitudes to death and the body, definitely pick Dark Archives up.
October, or as it is known in writer circles, The Spooky Time Preceding NaNoWriMo, is my favorite month of the year. It’s got my birthday in it, and the birthdays of some of my favorite people! The weather is finally better! I can wear sweaters outside! I’ve got some fun things planned, including the promised roundup of suggested holiday book purchases, a collection of craft guides/links for people going into NaNoWriMo, and more online events! Feel free to share this newsletter with anyone you think might be interested!
Did you miss my #FirstLineFrenzy live with Rebecca Heyman on her Instagram? Fear not! You can watch it here in all its glory!
THIS WEEK IN HOCKEY
Hockey’s back, baby! In front of people! Ill-advised! and foolish! and I might be going to a game next week! Up first is the most absolutely crucial news: the Caps have adopted a new team dog. World, meet Biscuit, for whom I would gladly die:
Yes, that’s also a picture of Tom Wilson. I’m only human. The Kraken are off to a great start, handily beating the Canucks 5-3 in their first-ever game. (It’s preseason; it does not count.) Meanwhile, three players represented by the same agent are the known unvaccinated holdout among NHL players, and in the IIHF, a player got a laughably lenient punishment for making a heinous racist gesture against a Black teammate. So, everything’s normal! Great! I love sports!
“Sponsored” by my husband: why it’s a problem that writers never talk about where their money comes from by Ann Bauer (Salon)
The author was very well-known, a magnificent nonfictionist who has, deservedly, won several big awards. He also happens to be the heir to a mammoth fortune. Mega-millions. In other words he’s a man who has never had to work one job, much less two. He has several children; I know, because they were at the reading with him, all lined up. I heard someone say they were all traveling with him, plus two nannies, on his worldwide tour. None of this takes away from his brilliance. Yet, when an audience member — young, wide-eyed, clearly not clued in — rose to ask him how he’d managed to spend 10 years writing his current masterpiece — What had he done to sustain himself and his family during that time? — he told her in a serious tone that it had been tough but he’d written a number of magazine articles to get by.
Goodbye Flop Summer by George Chivers (Gawker)
Yes, the Delta variant and the (God help me) “gay cold” threw a wrench in many people’s summer plans. But it was more than that. Reunions with people I hadn’t seen in months were more pensive than joyful. Conversations felt forced — dare I say awkward. Everyone had (understandably) developed their own unique neuroses over the past 18 months, and it was hard to keep up. In internet parlance, the “vibes” were “off.” Why can’t everyone just be normal, I thought, chomping down on my seventh Nicorette gum of the day while watching Nicole Kidman attempt a Russian accent.
Actually, The Internet Is An Iceberg by Miles Klee (Mel Magazine)
Here we have what I hope is a somewhat accessible instance of the form: a Bruce Springsteen iceberg. The various tiers mark out levels of fandom, and the lower you go, the more invested and knowledgeable a fan you are. At the exposed, superficial peak of the iceberg, you’re a dope who thinks “Born in the U.S.A.” is a patriotic anthem, but if you delve further, you realize the bitter irony of the song (it’s about a Vietnam veteran who finds there is no life waiting for him at home). Even then, you’ve only dipped a toe in the water, and barely explored the Boss’ discography, let alone become obsessed with bootlegs and tracks off his early 1990s records. All the way at the bottom of the iceberg is the condition of “Having an opinion about this meme,” which is, of course, impossible unless you’re well-acquainted with every last reference on it.
Truth and Reconciliation: Canada marks first national day | Grimes Refuses to Give Her Ex Full Custody Of Space | ‘It’s 10 years and it still doesn’t let you go’: Love, pain remain a decade after the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl crash | Richard E. Grant Answers Every Question We Have About Spice World | How to throw a punch with long nails | Meet Ghosthoney, who makes all the weird TikToks you love | $5 Jewelry and a Conference Gone Wrong | A museum says they gave an artist $84,000 in cash to use in artwork. He delivered blank canvases and titled them "Take the Money and Run."
READING: A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine
LISTENING: Endearments - “Ocean”
This has been A Faster No, a dispatch on publishing, writing, books, and beyond. Is there something you’d like me to talk about? Leave it in the comments or reply to the email! You can support the newsletter here. If you purchase a book from any of the links to Bookshop.org I get a small commission at no cost to you. I am available for developmental editing and editorial assessment services via Reedsy.