Books I read in June 2021

A mixture of fiction and non-fiction.

How to be an antiracist by Ibram X Kendi

The book talks about the intersection of race and class, race and gender, race and queerness; and emphasizes that whilst race is a social construct, it has very real effects. It also offers a model for effecting real change: focus on creating antiracist policy changes rather than changing hearts and minds, for the simple reason that hearts and minds usually get changed after policy has been changed; and policy only changes when those in power are forced to change it for reasons of self interest. I really liked the way that this was a personal account of unlearning internalized racism as much as a book of antiracist theory.


A collection of witty, fascinating, reflective, and poignant bits from various notebooks. Bon mots, one might say. After reading this, I really feel that I should improve my notebook game. I only write handwritten notes on holiday, or if I go on a course. I often write in the Notes app on my phone.

Also, dammit, one Ludovic Abrassart beat me to the top of the list of pledgers. I dare say Natasha Aburrow-Jones (no relation as far as I know) is a bit blue at not making it to the top, too.

Unsettling Canada: a national wake up call, by Art Manuel

This is is also excellent. It covers the history of Indigenous activism in Canada, and like his other book, The Reconciliation Manifesto (highly recommended) points out that the reason First Nations are impoverished is because they only have 0.2% of the land in Canada. It also shows how the previous successes in the campaign for Indigenous sovereignty were achieved.

Maurice, by E M Forster

One of the things I love about EM Forster’s writing is that he acknowledges that life is full of muddle and people don’t forge ahead with things in full knowledge of their path. This is certainly true of Maurice, who stumbles around and ends up finding lovers almost through sheer chance. First Clive Durham, who suffers from huge internalized homophobia, and won’t let the relationship become physical. And then Alec Scudder, who is a breath of fresh air until he too gets into a muddle and considers blackmailing Maurice. It is the truth of physical contact and the body that overcomes the difficulties between Maurice and Alec in the end. In many ways this novel is as much about class, and overcoming snobbery, as it is about same-sex love. Written in 1913 and dedicated to “A Happier Year”, it was not published until 1971, a year after Forster’s death. I love that Forster decided to give the lovers a happy ending instead of a tragic one (too few LGBTQ+ stories do that even now), even though the only happy ending he could imagine was for them to run off to the greenwood together. This is odd because the novel was inspired by a visit to the shared house of Edward Carpenter and George Merrill, who lived together openly (albeit under the pretence that Merrill was Carpenter’s servant).

Queen of the witches by Jessica Berens

I have read this book four or five times and it makes me laugh out loud every time. It’s like the Cold Comfort Farm of witchcraft. Clearly written by someone who knows about the Craft and yet added all sorts of fun details that are not historical. The characters are brilliant, and according to someone I know who was on the Pagan scene in London in the 1980s, are caricatures of real people. So much fun.

The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart

I have read this book before, about forty years ago, and as I read it again, I recalled some of the scenes, so they must have stayed with me on some level. It’s an excellent book — a clever retelling of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s version of the story of Merlin, but with an extra twist. Beautifully written and a brilliant story and characters. Not just because it is part of the Matter of Britain (the story-cycle of King Arthur), but also because Mary Stewart was an excellent storyteller. The book does for Ambrosius Aurelianus what Kipling did for the Emperor Maximus (Macsen Wledig) in Puck of Pook’s Hill, breathing life and character into a person who might otherwise just be a name on a page.

Goldilocks by Laura Lam

This is absolutely outstanding and had me gripped from the start. Five women steal a spaceship from Earth orbit. How will they get away with it? Can they get all the way to the exoplanet that they are destined for? What will happen when Earth catches up with them? This book has everything: trans-inclusive feminism! Science! Suspense! Climate change. The cold equations. Criticism of the trolley problem. Brilliant.

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