Book Pairings: Into the Weird

One of my favorite species of weird fiction is travel journals about improbable places. Stories about leaving home with a purpose, only to lose yourself in the strangeness of your destination. Finding yourself in a landscape that reflects the state of things (if you can believe in it at all). Places that feel like somewhere you could have been or should have been or might have dreamt you’ve been.

Book #1: Amatka, Karin Tidbeck

A place where everything must be named to keep it from disintegrating (I’m so jealous of this, it’s an idea I was using myself, but she pulled it off and gave some political weight in her story). Our protagonist is sent by the government to do research. Dystopian and strange.

Book #2: The Taiga Syndrome, Cristina Rivera Garza

I just finished this book! It’s a very small detective novel of sorts. At least, there is a missing woman and a detective. And a translator and a dark, dark forest. Noir-ish and woven with fairytales and the kind of language that gets under the skin. I’m left with more questions than I started with, which is exactly how you should feel after entering the woods.

Book #3: Tainaron, Leena Krohn 

A woman comes to a city of insects and there she stays, writing letters. The details of this city are delightful, as is trying to understand it. Not a plot-driven novel by any means, but a puzzle to ponder over and tiny world to wonder at.

Pair with the playlist at the end of The Taiga Syndrome, and a work of beautiful and disturbing interactive fiction

Book Pairings: Botanical Intelligence

Welcome to the first of probably many posts in which I share book (and sometimes other media) recommendations on a theme…

Plants somehow became a major theme of 2018’s reading. I think it happened because at the beginning of the year I made a resolution to really pay attention to the world around me as part of Operation Un-depress Myself. I told myself to look at the trees on my walk from home to the bus stop or wherever I was going, and pay attention to how they changed with the seasons.  It kind of worked. The side effect was a newfound fascination with all the ways plants have evolved to survive and adapt to changes.

Book #1: Semiosis, Sue Burke
I had been wanting to read this one since before it was published; the promise of intelligent alien plants and language and interspecies interaction sounded like my kind of sci fi. I had mixed feelings about the style, but I found the creativity Burke put into her vegetal species refreshing and really fascinating after having read so much about real plant adaptations. If you’re looking for fleshed-out human characters, this isn’t really the place, as the book spans several generations to explore how people establish a civilization on a new planet and build relationships with the other forms of life already there. 

Book #2: Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, Robin Wall Kimmerer
I loved this book. Kimmerer is a good and thoughtful communicator, and her writing about the wonders of nature and the immense value of indigenous knowledge in understanding and working with the environment are refreshing and illuminating. So much of this book resonated with me; I wish more people shared her perspective in the scientific world and the world at large. Ultimately while this book celebrates nature’s ingenuity, it is also about people and our relationship with nature.

Book #3: The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors, David George Haskell
Honestly I could have recommended any of a number of other books in the genre of lyrical explorations of plant biology, but I preferred the style of this one. Each chapter revolves around a particular tree and delves into its web of interactions, revealing fascinating bits of history, botany, and ecology. As runners-up (choose your own tree adventure): The Hidden Life of Trees, The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World, or The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring.