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peter's books

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E. B. Hudspeth, E. B. Hudspeth: The Resurrectionist : The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black (2013, Quirk Books) 5 stars

Philadelphia, the late 1870s. A city of gas lamps, cobblestone streets, and horse-drawn carriages and …

An odd work—essentially a short story disguised as a biography, paired with anatomical drawings of mythical creatures, which take on a darker tone when paired with the story. It's a unique book, and the closing image of the story is ominous and ambiguous. There isn't much in the way of narrative, and what there is, at least the more horrific aspect, is mostly implied. But it gives just enough to make sure it lingers.

finished reading The Middle Passage by James Hollis (Studies in Jungian psychology by Jungian analysts)

James Hollis: The Middle Passage (1993, Inner City Books) 4 stars

Why do so many go through so much disruption in their middle years? Why then? …

I really need to put together some more thorough notes on this one, but in short, a lot of this resonated with what I've been feeling as I fumble into my 40s. A helpful framework for thinking about how to push through and emerge, if not stronger, at least more fully myself. The handful of exercises it offers are more about asking the right questions rather than providing concrete actions to take, but part of the whole point is that there are no easy answers, and I can see how looking for an outside authority to show you your true inner self would be counterproductive.

Peter Wohlleben: The Weather Detective (Paperback, 2019, Rider) No rating

I'm not sure if this is on me or the book's marketing, but I really didn't expect this to be so much about gardening. The Hidden Life of Trees was wonderful and felt like it was exposing me to a whole world that had previously been invisible to me. This had some interesting tidbits, but felt closer to an advise column than a revelation. Still very approachable and knowledgable, but not something I likely would have sought out if I'd known what it was.

finished reading Through the woods by Emily Carroll

Emily Carroll: Through the woods (2014, Margaret K. McElderry Books) 4 stars

Discover a terrifying world in the woods in this collection of five hauntingly beautiful graphic …

I definitely see the appeal—Victorian/Edwardian* ghost stories with a more contemporary, weird edge—and if I hadn't started with A Guest in the House I probably would be giving this more praise. But Carroll's newer work is just so much more sophisticated, in its artwork and in its narrative, that I couldn't help being a little disappointed with this. More a testament to her growth as an artist than a criticism of this one, which is still worth a read, just not one I'd likely go out of my way to recommend.

*I shouldn't guess at eras, it's really not something I know much about. Let's just call it an era with both untamed wilderness and frilly garments.

Emily Carroll: A Guest in the House (Hardcover, 2023, Roaring Brook Press, First Second) 3 stars

Fantastic. Atmospheric and unpredictable, beautifully blending the mundane and the phantasmagorical. Carroll's artwork is exquisite, overtly on the pages where fantasy takes over, and more subtly in the dollops of colour that leak into the real world, especially when thinking of those in light of the ending. I love how unconstrained she is by panels or rigid structures; the story art seems so much more organic when it's allowed however much room it needs.

Not a traditional haunted house story and that's absolutely for the best. I never settled into a sense of knowing just what kind of story this was, and on the rare moments I did, whatever expectations I did have were nicely subverted. It's unusual for an ending to reframe so much of what came before, with nothing contrived or forced about it. That'll sit with me, for sure.

When reading something like this, I'm often struck …

finished reading Mind MGMT by Matt Kindt

Matt Kindt: Mind MGMT (Paperback, 2019, Dark Horse Comics) 4 stars

This globe-spanning tale of espionage explores the adventures of a journalist investigating the mystery of …

Very much appreciated the density of this, and the effort of the watercoloured artwork (although I worry a bit when density and effort are the first things I think to compliment). Kindt presents an absurdly intricate world with its own intuitive (or at least intuitable) logic, and while it sometimes can seem too multilayered for its own good, it generally manages to keep the story as the central focus. Never quite attains the mystic highs of something like Invisibles—despite its focus on altering minds, I wouldn't quite call this psychedelic—but there's a unique world, unique art, interesting use of the medium, and a story that doesn't strain to fill a half-dozen trades. It more than justifies a read, in other words.

Algernon Blackwood: The Wendigo (2002, Wildside Press) 4 stars

Not as atmospheric or as haunting as The Willows, but memorable in its own right, especially if you can set aside the of-its-time racism that crops up a couple of times in the opening chapter. Mostly, it's Défago's oddly poetic cries that will stick with me, the rest of the story being fairly boilerplate weird fiction—but one phrase sticking with me is really all I ask for.

finished reading Handover by David Runciman

Having listened to many hours of Runciman's podcasts, it's always a treat seeing how well his voice translates into his writing—approachable, inquisitive, and authoritative in equal parts. The conception of states and corporations as artificial agents is an interesting thread he's been pursuing since at least How Democracy Ends, and is a helpful framing for thinking about how much agency we've already handed off to non-human entities, even before bringing AI into the mix. It's always good to remember that there's a big difference between "novel" and "unprecedented," and there's almost always a historical context worth learning from.

Frederic Gros: A Philosophy of Walking (2015) 3 stars

Some beautiful moments, others that didn’t resonate as much, and others that made me angry based solely on how much they made me want to be out walking in a field or in dark woods but it’s the middle of winter and I’m stuck at work in whatever limited daylight hours we get in this silly northern latitude. A nice book to wrap the year with, in any case.

Jaime Green: Possibility of Life (2023, Harlequin Enterprises ULC) 5 stars

This is beside the point, but—it is so refreshing to read an accessible non-fiction book that doesn't feel the need to work in memoir, and just trusts that its subject matter is interesting enough. Because it is. The balance of science and philosophy and pop culture musings makes this a light read, but never talking down to its audience, and aims for hope and inspiration. I stumbled across this in a Little Free Library, and am glad I did—a nice optimistic note for closing out 2023.

Naomi Klein: Doppelganger (2023, Farrar, Straus & Giroux) 5 stars

What if you woke up one morning and found you’d acquired another self—a double who …

A broken mirror

No rating

I think I wanted this to be something slightly different than what it was—less on Wolfe and contemporary politics, and more on the concept of doubling, more abstract and literary, less political. It has elements of both, and autobiography in a way that seems quite new (and welcome) for Klein, so more an issue of proportion than of kind. As it is, I found this interesting in the moment but didn’t find a lot to take away with me.

Yanis Varoufakis: Technofeudalism (2023, Random House Children's Books) 4 stars

In his boldest and most far-reaching book yet, world-famous economist Yanis Varoufakis argues that capitalism …

What’s worse than capitalism

No rating

Seems largely accurate in describing a world where technological rents have overtaken profit as the drivers of economic and political power. I do think it falls into the trap of putting too much faith in the near-magical manipulative abilities of algorithms, rather than recognizing the sheer thuggishness of the tech giants as the true source of their dominance. But that’s more a disagreement on the mechanism than the result.

Anthony Appiah: The Lies That Bind (Paperback, 2019, Profile Books) 4 stars

An interesting attempt to break down identity politics by showing the shaky foundation on which the concepts of class, country, creed, colour, and culture all rest. Actually, shaky is probably an understatement given how many of the concepts were intended as weapons from the very beginning, and I always appreciate a good reminder that essentially all categories are inventions. That said, while it's easy to agree with Appiah that there are dangerously flawed assumptions at the base of all these ideas, it's harder to see how to apply that understanding in a way that doesn't translate into trying to handwave away historical and systemic injustice in favour of naive utopianism (not that Appiah is in any way advocating for that, just to be clear).

Michelle Good: Truth Telling (2023, HarperCollins Publishers) No rating

A bold, provocative examination of Canadian Indigenous issues from advocate, activist and award-winning novelist Michelle …

I appreciated the blunt, straightforward nature of this collection. Many of the essays touch on the same subjects and details in slightly different contexts, showing the far-ranging impacts of colonialist mindsets and practices. The (justified) anger that comes through in the essays isn't the easiest emotion to sit with, but that's probably a sign that it's all the more important to try.