Antler July: Don’t ask why, ask what’s good.

Holy hell I read so much in July!

I don’t have the excuse of bad weather causing me to hide out and live in air-conditioned stillness with a book in my hands. It’s been in the low 60s here in the Bay for the last few months, and true summer is still a month away. I wasn’t even at home or awash in free time. I’ve been day jobbing and night jobbing and burning at both ends (and also in the middle). I was in Boston for a convention for a week out of this month and still managed to read a lot and write a lot. So don’t ask why; ask what’s good. 

This fiction is good: a story about a child stolen at the border and what happens when technology is used as a force for good. Full disclosure: this was written by my dear friend Shannon Chamberlain, and I saw this story as a crit partner before it was published. I’m biased, but it’s still timely, heart-rending, and beautiful (with a happy ending!). 

The New York Times is running a series of op-eds from the future. I mentioned the one by Malka Older last month, and this month I’ve got a new one by Brooke Bolander. In this one, New York is underwater and folks argue over who has the right to live there, forage there, or even be there. This story is so subtle and so straight that it’s hard to recall at times that it’s not a dispatch from right now. If you haven’t read Bolander, you’re missing out on some of the most original work in the world right now. This is a good free example of her massive talents. 

I can’t get enough speculative writing about food, and this is especially true when it’s something by Nibedita Sen, who somehow turns a wooden spoon into a pen and back again faster than the human eye can possibly track. She’s at it again with this vegetal vanquishing of any clean and unsticky image of parenthood you’ve ever read in your life. This is short, just a snack really. But it will satisfy just the same. 

Kelly Link is a genius. There’s no other way to say that. This is not the kind of story one expects to read in Tin House, and she’s the kind of writer who can defy the rules like that. This builds so slowly and so subtly with inexorable dread insinuating itself beautifully, in the most unexpected places. Leave it to Link to bring true horror into a simple flight delay. Leave it to Link to assign a floating, iridescent sickness to hours spent in a hotel pool. Leave it to Link to scare me like this, using only one of the oldest tropes known to mankind. 

This is so short and so densely packed that you need to make time to read it twice, maybe three times. Listen to the audio. Read it again. It is worth it. Sheree Renee Thomas writes like a force of nature. 

In nonfiction this month, I want to start you off with a whopper of a piece of CNF. There’s a trick to connecting two unrelated elements of a life, to make the healing match up to the injury, to create symmetry out of the chaos of emotion. This story nails that trick so sharply that I was angry at it for being so good. Also, as someone who wants everything I want with a red howling immediacy, I felt extremely called out by the central issue of this story. “There is nothing more humiliating to me than my own desires.” 

Living legend Samuel R. Delany talked about the history of his own queer life and the way things have changed since Stonewall, now just 50 years gone. It is incredible, and I could listen to this man reminisce all day. 

Finally, I am susceptible always to stories where the grand finale is just getting out. Portal fantasies mean a lot of things to a lot of people; to me they always mean my own escape from a life where the ceiling was always too low for me to fully stand up. To A.J. Hackwith, they’re a specifically queer paradigm for describing the way things look on the other side of the rainbow. “The doorways aren’t done with us.” I couldn’t agree more. 

In books, the best thing I read this month was “The Toll” by Cherie Priest. It’s a scintillating piece of southern gothic horror with ass-kicking granny women, folk magic, and a summer scare you won’t soon forget. I’m looking to read more women in horror, having spent decades of my life at the altar of Stephen King. If you’ve got recommendations, I want to hear them. And if you want to know where I set the bar, Cherie Priest is it. 

 

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