With Ursula K. Le Guin’s passing this year, I knew it was time for me to read one of her works. She is science fiction royalty, and her Hugo and Nebula-winning novel The Left Hand of Darkness is considered a masterpiece of classic sci-fi. It is everything 1970’s era science fiction usually is, with its politically intricate societies and chapter segments that present written “artifacts” from alien history. However, this book is so much more–it feels almost as groundbreaking today as it must have been when it was published in 1969. Le Guin approaches the idea of a genderless/gender-shifting society with a graceful hand. Particularly in the third act, her human protagonist Genly Ai needs to re-structure his concept of the gendered body, the gendered mind, sexuality, worth, and honor in order to survive on an alien world. While the first two acts are intellectually interesting and occasionally mired in world-building details, it’s the final third of the book where the heart of the novel truly beats, inviting us to personally encounter these ideas. I found it unforgettable.
Caitlin Doughty is one of America’s great death ambassadors–and I mean that in the most admiring sense. Her non-fiction title From Here to Eternity utilizes the knowledge and sensitivity that she’s gained from her own career as a mortician and funeral home owner as well as an immersive study of different cultural funerary practices. Many are extremely shocking for the typical American reader; as Doughty asserts throughout the book, our own view of death can be evasive, clinical, and even commercialized. The journey through these pages presents an alternative, highlighting many different funeral rituals, while being both light-hearted and deadly serious (ha!) about the importance of how we process death and view our body’s role in our transition into the next world. Disclaimer: If you are easily grossed out, or you have very set beliefs about what is religiously appropriate surrounding the dead, you may wish to skip this one. If not, READ IT!
Peter Brown’s charming sequel to The Wild Robot offers everything I wanted in the second installment–more adventures and illustrations of Roz the robot! It looks like this is going to turn into a whole series, which I highly recommend for any middle grade reader, or even as a read-aloud for younger little ones. These are new classics in the making. The focus on compassion, problem-solving, and the bravery to follow through on one’s convictions is such great stuff for all of us to remember.
Michelle McNamara’s posthumously published true crime account takes us deep into the noxious labyrinth of one man’s unthinkable evildoings, and her own insatiable desire to hold him accountable for them. McNamara presents the sickening details about the Golden State Killer’s chilling reign of terror over central California in the 1970s and 1980s, but does so without being exploitative of the victims–rather, her tone prioritizes telling the truth: These things happened, and this man is responsible. Beyond the chilling facts of the GSK’s crimes, though, the truly fascinating part of this narrative is Michelle’s own unflagging, compulsive drive to use technology, wade through long-dormant paper trails, and unite citizen and police investigators to bring him into the light. Her dedication to solving this case was remarkable, and though she died before she could see him fall, she played a key role in helping unite and inform the people who did. Rest in peace, Michelle–They got him.