Week 5: A Variety Show featuring Texas, Muslim dating, wars in space and audio-books

Hello!

For me, the hidden joy of packing and moving is the ability to listen to audio-books or podcasts for hours on end. I took full advantage of that this week, and really enjoyed myself. I also read the first book that I finished during this challenge which I really had a problem with.

I realize I should make it clear that the only books I talk about here are books I finished. It may sound like I love everything I read, but actually, there are plenty of books I start and put down after the first chapter or so if they haven’t grabbed me, and so I tend to like books if I actually make it to the end.

Books I finished this week

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News of the World by Paulette Jiles – on audio-book

This was without a doubt my favorite books of the week, but I don’t want to say too much because I really don’t like the way the book synopsis framed the story. It is about a kind intelligent 71-year-old man who is making his living reading news to people in small Texas towns and what happens when he is tasked with taking a 10-year-old girl rescued from the Kiowa back to a home and family she doesn’t remember. It is short but satisfying, and a beautiful tale of human connection and redemption.

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Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik

I heard about this on the Adventures with Words podcast, and really enjoyed it. Ayisha Malik’s goal was to write the “Muslim Bridget Jones Diary”, and I think she surpassed it! This book beautifully balances a funny, light tone and subject matter with real world problems that Muslim women and men face every day, and her characters are complex, interesting, and yet not tortured or defined solely by their religion or race.

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Nemesis Games by James S. A. Corey (April’s token white male) – on audio-book

(Contains spoilers!) I had such a problem with this book. Not enough to stop reading it, and not enough that I won’t try and read the next book at some point. So far, the Expanse series has treated people in a very progressive way. Women are in positions of power, genetic engineering allows women and men in same-sex relationships to have children with shared DNA, and much of the books deal with issues of racism and prejudice, especially between people who have been raised on Earth, and “Belters”, who were born and raised on the artificial stations built into the moons and asteroids of the Belt.

However, as I read this book, I hit a wall. For one thing, it does not pass the Bechdel test. The smart, funny, and incredibly talented women in this book are paired off with men, and for the most part, they don’t even have a say in the plan, other than challenging the men they are with to do the right thing.

But my biggest problem was in the treatment of one of my favorite characters, Naomi Nagata. Her story arc involved reuniting with her former lover turned homicidal lunatic and her son, who has never been mentioned before. I have a hard time imagining Naomi never saying anything, or these two characters not playing some role in previous events, so I can only imagine that their story-line was developed later. Additionally, Naomi spent much of the last novel in a cell, while everyone talked about how wonderful she was, and her capture spurred Holden to come to her rescue, and here she is again, being used deliberately as the damsel in distress.

I don’t know about this. I really do like these books, and I love the nuance that they normally have, especially when it comes to race. But I sick of the men in these books being given the major decision-making roles. The women are strong, brilliant, and often the moral center of the action, and yet even when they are in ostensible positions of power (with the exception of Aviserala, who was mostly a comic foil in this book) they seem to be dismissed or ignored or talked into doing what they don’t want to do by the men around them.

What went well

It was fun to just read this week – I also started to reread some of the wonderful middle grade novels I loved as a kid (I talked more about these a week or so ago). I enjoyed the listening process, which was very different for the two audio-books I finished, and it was great to discover some great new authors.

What didn’t go well

I was disappointed that Nemesis Games didn’t hold up to the integrity of the previous books. April is over, so I will be choosing a new token male author, and get to move on, but I am still quietly seething.

What I am planning on reading next

I’m still reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, and I am driving out to Montana, so I am looking for a good long audio-book to listen to on my journey. Please let me know if you have any suggestions!

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