There’s a lot of exciting things happening in The Arcanist HQ. We have out first full-length short story contest (check it out here), we’re working hard one some super secret projects, and about everyone we know was born in March. The March birthdays include two editors, a nephew, a father, a pair of grandparents, an aunt, a handful of cousins and friends, and a pear tree. We’ll be working on baking a cake big enough to fit everyone’s names after we finish reading the books below.
There used to be a snobbish attitude about speculative fiction not being literary, but a lot of that has changed recently. I think each of my picks are novels that challenge what genre boundaries mean and what literature can be. I loved this interview with Kazuo Ishiguro where he attributes the recent breaking of barriers to Harry Potter.
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
There was a lot of hype about this one before the release and I was really excited to get my mitts on it. James was inspired by African history and mythology in this sweeping fantasy. The story follows Tracker, a skilled hunter, hired find a missing boy who disappeared years ago. As Tracker and his team follow the trail, it becomes clear that other forces are working hard to keep the boy from being found. I’ve just started and it’s proving a challenging read, but I’m hoping that the pay off is worth it.
Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie
Centuries ago a jinn princess, Dunia, fell in love a mortal man. In present day New York City, a storm hits and the world succumbs to strangeness — a strangeness that awakens the jinn power in Dunia’s decedents. As the jinn and human worlds collide Dunia’s offspring find themselves pulled into an epic battle of good vs evil that will span one thousand and one nights.
Despite the impossible title I really enjoyed this one. Rushdie pulled from One Thousand and One Nights for this fairy tale satire that feels both timeless and contemporary at the same time.
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
I couldn’t put this book down. In this dark comedy, Korede is the ultimate enabler. Her beautiful little sister, Ayoola, is irresponsible, childish, and helpless to clean up her own murders. The victims? Boyfriends who Ayoola claims tried to hurt her. Korede’s loyalty to her sister is tested when the inevitable happens — Ayoola starts dating the man that Korede is secretly in love with. Ultimately this is a novel about sisterhood, duty, and how beauty skews our judgement.
For me, this month is all about nonfiction, specifically weird nonfiction. I picked up a bunch of different books about various topics that range from what it’s like to work at a crematory to the exploration of the most haunted places in the US.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
Doughty’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes reminds me a lot of how Mary Roach tackles nonfiction. She goes in deep, allowing you to experience the subject alongside her. I’m not too far into this one yet, but so far it’s been an interesting read that takes you to a place that you typically would never visit: a crematory. Just what happens to bodies before they are turned to ash and placed into an urn?
Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey
I love ghost stories. I love all of those cheesy ghost adventure shows on TV with hosts that amp up every little noise that happens inside some run-down house. I, however, have never experienced a paranormal situation. So why am I so entrenched? That’s a good question. Maybe it’s the skeptic in me that wants to be proven wrong. I really have no idea, but Dickey’s Ghostland will hopefully scratch my paranormal itch by taking a skeptical and historical look at the US’s most haunted places. I rarely get a chance to read about ghosts so I’m really looking forward to this change of pace.
Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang
Before tackling The Arcanist, I was a science writer for ScienceAlert, allowing me to keep up to date on all of the new discoveries that these amazing people make every day across the world. While writing those articles, though, it always helps to have some background knowledge, and this research initiative always uncovered wild things from our scientific past. In Quackery, Kang seems to have lumped a ton of great ones together. This type of reading always makes me thankful that we live in the time that we do because in the past people tried some seriously wild things to cure what ailed them.
March in Pittsburgh is pretty similar to February in Pittsburgh: chilly, windy days, a warm sweater (possibly a green one for the season), and frequent stops at my favorite tea house while working on The Arcanist. This month, I’ve decided to continue rereading some of the works that have stood out in my career as pillars of craft and creativity.
Blindness by Jose Saramago
Winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, Saramago’s speculative novel focuses on the lives of several men and women afflicted with a mysterious “white-blindness” as they are quarantined and forced to live amongst one another. While interred together, alliances are formed, kindnesses become rarities, and the darkness inherent in human nature comes roiling to the forefront. Although you’ll likely find it in the ‘Literary Fiction’ section, Blindness is more akin to a science-fiction thriller, making it a must for anyone looking to expand their tastes.
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
J.K. Rowling’s first “big kid” book is everything you’re not expecting. A sleepy English village is thrown for a loop when a member of the parish council suddenly dies, setting in motion a chain of events that may alter not only the face of the community, but the lives (young and old alike) within. Rowling’s concrete, entirely believable characters will have you hooked from the very beginning, and her ability to weave an intricate, gripping story will keep you reading. What The Casual Vacancy lacks in wizardry and monsters, it makes up for a hundred fold in literary might.
The Selected Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
It’s no secret, I’m a fan of all things Sherlockian (yeah, that’s a word). And even though I bother him with all breeds of Holmes and Watson trivia, Josh was kind enough to gift me this illustrated collection, curated by the good people at The Folio Society. Revisiting gas-lit London has never been more enjoyable. Max Löffler’s brilliant, award-winning illustrations are hauntingly beautiful, the trompe l’oeil effects drawing readers in, while still keeping them on the edge of their seats. Whether you’re a long-time fan, or you’re yet to be acquainted with the original dynamic duo, this collection has plenty to offer.
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