Skip to main content
Thumb Drives and Oven Clocks

Issue 4

In which your humble narrator refers to his “latent English major soul,” and winter really can’t end soon enough, can it

I just finished rereading a novel, and that has me thinking about the act of rereading. About how I’m constantly thinking about books I would like to reread but rarely do. However uniquely rewarding I know a good reread can be. However much my latent English major soul begs to plumb old depths again and again, even in the face of all that I haven’t read yet, all of which I absolutely must read next.

There’s two reasons I’ll actually do a reread these days. The first is for comfort. This doesn’t happen often, because it does feel a tad indulgent. So, like, though I’ve read Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon I think four times, I know I’ll keep coming back to it. It’s perfect for that: I’ve never fully wrapped my mind around it, so it’s like a new book every time; it’s Pynchon’s most escapist work, 1100 pages you are meant to lose yourself in. It’s my literary oversized sweater, my overstuffed-nachos novel. I would like to read it in bars.

Other times, I’ve needed a specific cross between a memory jog and a re-evaluation. Strange to admit that I didn’t get either My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante or The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin, my first times through. Misplaced expectations, personal failures; either way, rereads, thankfully, unlocked them, and their series, for me. Come to think of it, a reread of Jemisin’s trilogy would be swell…

But there I go. My problem is that, just looking at a book I’ve liked, is about all the prompt I need to think, hey, you know, I should reread Dhalgren and Don Quixote right now! There’s lots of Sarah Waters I haven’t read yet but The Paying Guests is right there, and that book rocked! Hey, how long has it been since I read The Wind-up Bird Chronicle? Or Possession? (Which, come to think of it, I actually did read some of in a bar…) So of course I mostly don’t. And the first-time TBR pile continues to grow out of control.

Still, though, I’m deeefffffinitely going to do James S. A. Corey’s entire Expanse series again. Yes, it’s a nine-book series, don’t worry about it. Grade-A comfort read, but also I know I'll better appreciate the details, a second time through, when I’m not completely washed up in the thrill-ride high of feeling like a kid experiencing awe for the first time.

I’ve been thinking about Dune recently. I just read it for the first time a couple years ago, and…don’t cancel me, but I didn’t love it. I felt held back from it, like listening to music from outside the club. I worry that, reading it as an adult, I missed my prime Dune appreciation window, but I also worry I read it wrong. After watching both the David Lynch and Denis Villeneuve movies and after listening to a lot of podcast episodes and reading some essays I think I maybe get it better, now. Maybe some of the things that bothered me about it were maybe supposed to bother me, and if I embrace that the second time through, I’ll find a way into it. Counterpoint, though: it is awfully long. And slow. So. Who knows?

What else? I’m looking at my fresh new copy of Moon Witch, Spider King, by Marlon James, the second book of his Dark Star trilogy, and I’m worried James is baiting me into needing to reread these books, because I know how the books are intended to talk to, and over, each other, and I kind of feel committed, already. And there’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan, which I must read before the sequel, it’s been ages. Of course, it’s also been forever since I read Look at Me, the book that smashed my face into Egan fandom. Though maybe I should leave that alone—you never get the same high in the same river twice, or something?

There’s one other category of books that pique my curiosity, the ones I’ve dropped five-star ratings on, over the years, which, I look at them now, and I have zero memory of them. Should I reread them? Will I be re-amazed? Or will I wonder what I was even thinking? I don’t know. I can think about it, I guess. While I read other stuff.

Stuff like Possession. I really want to reread Possession, now.

What I’ve Been Reading

Under the Lesser Moon, by Shelley Campbell

You know the particular anxiety that comes from knowing something you can’t control is coming and you can only wait for it to happen and also waiting is the worst? I’ve had that lately. Nothing too serious, just some professional stress, but it contributed to my foggy-brain February. 

Under the Lesser Moon, by Shelley Campbell, was a good book, but I didn’t enjoy it. Crummy timing: creeping, anticipatory dread was brutally key to the story. It’s a shame, because there’s some important forms of inclusion and some interesting reverse-image social commentary in there; the book is ripe for discussion.

This was small-scale fantasy, intimate, close, dealing not in the rise and fall of continents and kingdoms over centuries, but rather on one tribe of hunters and gatherers, just trying to make it from one season to the next. Our narrator, Akrist, is a first-born son, making him a daeson, or “damned son,” suitable only for eventual sacrifice, and his story is one of struggle and status. There are dragons, though not many.

Good writing, compelling characters, effective tension-building—Campbell did a swell job of making me uncomfortable. Or at least, inflaming my preexisting condition. I’m also realizing here that I guess I have a preference for the big when it comes to fantasy stories. Grand scales, greater breadth; I wanted more world-building, I suppose. I think about what propelled me through Malice, by John Gwynne, earlier this year, that weaving of stories and contrasting visions together into a richer tapestry. Still, the counterpoint is good to have, and Lesser Moon might work for you, if you are looking for that.

Nophek Gloss, by Essa Hansen

Next up was Nophek Gloss, by Essa Hansen, which might be just about everything I’m looking for from a novel, at the moment. At its core it’s the story of one character, Caiden, but that story is writ across a rich, deep science fiction universe, where personal stakes have outsized ramifications. Hansen takes Caiden's core story, his quest for revenge against the powers who have wronged him, and slathers it with world-building complications and intricate relationships and so much cool futuristic stuff. This is my catnip.

She doesn’t waste time, doing it: within the first couple chapters, Caiden, fourteen, has his entire understanding of reality upended. He’s lived his entire life on a small world where people exist solely to nurture livestock for unknown ends. After a blight decimates the animal population, their alien “overseers” ship off the people to fill in as food for the nophek, creatures who grow—inside their skulls—a substance known as gloss, the most precious substance in the universe. 

Oh, and the universe is actually a bubble multiverse. Big day out for a kid who didn’t even know about the existence of stars, 24 hours earlier.

We follow Caiden and his white-hot rage through this rich world of humans and xenids, a universe of fluidity and stratification, where advanced capabilities meet ancient alien technology and knowledge yet to be discovered. His connection to a found-family crew of travelers adds depth and nuance. If anything, I wanted to get closer to the secondary characters. I hope to spend more time with them as the series advances.

This was the reread I alluded to earlier. I wanted to jog my memory before I started the sequel, Azura Ghost, which just landed on my TBR pile. I thought I remembered the story well enough, but I forgot just how much happened. I also knew I wanted to reevaluate a couple things that I remember bugged me, my first time through, one being better connecting with the secondary characters, which I think I was partially successful with, the other being something about Hansen’s prose style that rubs at a certain corner of my brain, which can occasionally feel…oddly, stiffly elevated, melodramatically stilted. I like it, but I think I'm bothered that I haven’t figured out how to explain to myself exactly what she's doing, what's tickling my ear funny. There's a rhythm to her language and some evocative figurative language, like we’re seeing translations of complex, non-21st-century English languages, and do I kind of want to start a quote board and diagramming sentences, just to try to figure it out? Maybe? Am I that nerd?

Murakami T, by Haruki Murakami

A lovely little book of essays by Haruki Murakami about his t-shirt collection. Charming! Haruki Murakami: totally normal dude who shops for novelty t-shirts at thrift stores!