Matt’s Weekly Reads, May 13, 2023


The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin (1974)

Shevek, a scientist from an intentionally isolated and anarchic moon colony returns to his people’s home planet as a guest professor and researcher and finds both the values of his homeland and his criticisms of them challenged. Back on his home colony, governed not by law or order but by anarchic principles of the collective good, Shevek has had his life’s work interrupted by the demands of the community, and stifled by its de facto authorities as being too theoretical to be of usefulness for the people. He risks everything to go back to the world his people had fled in a desire to share his research with the wider community, but there comes up against a system that insists on commodifying his research for the benefit of the already powerful. When a war precipitates radical political activity, Shevek must choose which principles are worth living for.

If there is one consistent critique of Le Guin’s work it’s that it can be ‘overly didactic’, and this book definitely suffered a bit from this ‘telling, not showing’ tendency. It often read more like a thought experiment than a novel. But, it’s still a remarkably successful and important work that does, in fact, work as well as a novel. Most remarkably for me, Le Guin offers a highly nuanced discussion of divergent socio-economic systems, despite writing from within the depths of the Cold War, when such nuance was often both lacking and treated with suspicion. (This is not 1984 with its kindergarten level critique of totalitarianism.) It’s a wonderful, thought-provoking story of the delicate balance that always exists between individual freedom and community strength and well-being.

Read this if you’re interested in:

  • Politics
  • Economics
  • Individuality
  • Community
  • Freedom
  • Responsibility

My Rating: Premise 10, Atmosphere 10, Main Character(s) 10, Plot 7, Intrigue 10, Relationships 10, Success 10, Writing 9, Enjoyment 8, Lasting Impact 10: TOTAL 94

Weekly Roundup

Happy Place, Emily Henry (2023), 95: In the latest release from superstar Romance writer Emily Henry, our heroine Harriet and her ex-fiancé Wyn pretend they’re still together in order to give their best friends one final perfect Summer week at the Maine cabin where they’ve gone for the past decade. But they aren’t the only ones with secrets. This is everything you’d want from an Emily Henry novel — great, instantly lovable characters, witty banter, a wonderful setting, with an emotional wallop. That said, for most of this, I didn’t think it would get into ‘five-star’ territory for me. But, all of the things I was concerned about ended up being intentional and had a lot of pay off. (Romance, Friendship, Second Chances)

All about Me!, Mel Brooks (2021), 98: A fascinating and charming memoir from one of the most prolific, and as it turns out, important comic voices in Hollywood of the past 75 years. Everything you’d expect or want is here, from stories of his childhood in Brooklyn, behind-the-scenes background on famous projects, to insight into his forty-year marriage to Hollywood legend Anne Bancroft. This is the best kind of Hollywood memoir, and I particularly recommend the audiobook edition, which is narrated by Brooks himself. (Memoir, Hollywood, Twentieth Century, Humour and Comedy)

Game Changer, Game Changers 1, Rachel Reid (2018), 89: Years out of college and still working at the only job he can find, Kip is shocked when the gorgeous man who keeps coming back to his smoothie stand turns out to be NHL superstar Scott Hunter. And, though deeply closeted, Scott can’t keep himself away from he adorable smoothie guy. This is exactly the formulaic gay romance you’d expect from the description, but it did a great job of portraying the loneliness and isolation of the closet and the real stakes involved for those trying to escape it. I’ll read more in the series. (LGBTQ2S+, Romance, Hockey, Coming Out, Celebrity)

Carmilla, Sheridan Le Fanu (1872), 85: In an isolated region of the Austrian Empire beset by a mysterious illness, a family is visited by a compelling young guest. Written a quarter century before Bram Stoker’s Dracula, this was one of the first major English vampire novels and is important for introducing many of the motifs we associate with the lore. It also remains an effective and chilling gothic tale and is definitely worth the read. (Vampires, Monsters, Gothic Novels, Nineteenth-Century Literature)

This May End Badly, Samatha Markum (2022), 81: A heated rivalry between a boys school and girls school escalates after it is announced that they will be merging at the end of the year, testing loyalties in more ways than one. This is not the synopsis I thought I’d be giving this book, since it’s been marketed primarily as a YA romance. But, while the relationship between two of the main characters was for me the most successful part of the book, it took a back seat to the other many plot elements. If anything, I think for me it’s a book that tried to do too much to do everything well. It wasn’t bad at all, but perhaps a little overly ambitious. (YA, Education, ‘Me Too’, Gender, Boarding School, Romance)

Peter Pan (aka Peter and Wendy), J.M. Barrie (1911), 92: The classic children’s story of the boy who wouldn’t grow up and his relationship with a young English girl named Wendy. I was never a fan of the famous Disney film adaptation of this story, but I picked this up for context for a new Disney-sponsored novella about Tiger Lily that hopes to address some of the (overtly racist) tropes in the original (see below). I was pleasantly surprised by it, particularly since it never casts Peter Pan as anything other than a fun but ultimately pathetic, tragic, and disturbing character. It ends up being a delightful reflection on the temporary nature of childhood, play, and innocence, and it worked really well for me — racist tropes aside. (Childrens Literature, Classics, Childhood, Adventure)

Tiger Lily and the Secret Treasure of Neverland, Cherie Dimaline (2023), 89: The Indigenous people of Neverland have a choice none of us have: Whether to remain a child forever or to take on adult responsibilities. On the cusp of making this decision, Tiger Lily has to use everything she’s been taught to stop a pirate plot to find secret treasure. One of the biggest problems with Peter Pan today is the depiction of Neverland’s Indigenous peoples, which traffics in the worst Western stereotypes of North American Indigenous cultures. So, I was intrigued by this attempt to explore what an Indigenous people of Neverland might actually be like — and even more intrigued when I learned it was being done by the incredible Métis author Cherie Dimaline. While it didn’t blow me away, I enjoyed it well enough and appreciated its themes of growing up with intention. (Peter Pan, Disney, Children’s Literature, Indigenous Cultures)

The Story of the Amulet, Five Children 3, Edith Nesbit (1906), 68: Five children in turn-of-the-last-century London use a magic amulet to travel through time in the hopes of reuniting it with its other half, and in so doing, reunite their family. It’s fascinating to read books that started well-known genres or tropes — in this case the children’s portal adventure story. This was interesting as a historical artifact, but doesn’t hold up as a story. It felt more authentically like the games children play than it did a story. (Children’s, Victorian Literature, Fantasy, Portal Stories, Adventure, Time Travel)


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