The Best I Read: March 2022
Sci-Fi, but make it Queer
Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki
“The world is changing, you know. A pity you aren’t ready to live in it.”
Light From Uncommon Stars met me at the right time, which is to say I needed it. To need a book is a funny thing — like a meal long delayed, you don’t realize until the first bite that you’re absolutely starving (and speaking of meals, Aoki fills this book with gorgeous, evocative food writing). The story is about music, aliens, trans people, queer courtship, demons, Faustian bargains, found family, and importantly, donuts. But what nourished me was the drumbeat of insistent, almost muscular compassion.
I should note this book is definitely not for everyone — there are heartbreaking scenes that involve emotional and physical abuse, particularly towards the primary protagonist, a young trans woman named Katrina. Katrina is a self-taught violin prodigy who runs away from home to escape transphobic abuse, only to encounter more of it on the streets. Aoki’s unflinching descriptions of what Katrina must endure to simply survive are painful to read. It’s not just the violence, which is horrific, but the non-stop petty slights peppered throughout Katrina’s every waking moment that make you understand why she might reasonably conclude this world is not worth living in.
But just as she reaches a breaking point she is swooped up by a mysterious, legendary violin teacher with a killer wardrobe (Shizuka Satomi), who becomes a sort of adoptive Tiger Mom. Under Shizuka’s tutelage, Katrina’s natural gifts soar, and we are treated to some of the most brilliant writing about music I’ve ever encountered. (Prior to this book the phrase “really exciting classical music” seemed like an oxymoron, but it was a treat to be proven wrong.)
From here the plot is off to the races and don’t worry, it’s jam-packed with elements of the supernatural and extraterrestrial. Because after all, who is to say what’s real and what isn’t? What’s weird and what’s beautiful? What’s high art and what is, well, really yummy donuts? Aoki suggests that perhaps the biggest tragedy of all is a limited imagination.
I’m short on time cuz I got so into my description about Uncommon Stars, so I’m just going to link to my favorite internet stuffs and include a quote so you know what’s what.
Want to Know Thyself? Get Thee a Dog. by Daniel Williams in Medium
“She’s a middleweight pit bull mix. All black but for a heart-shaped patch of white on her chest, and she has one white paw, which she uses all the time to touch your hard heart.
As soon as she touched mine, my chest crapped me a new heart, soft and warm.”
What You’re Feeling Isn’t a Vibe Shift. It’s Permanent Change. by Elamin Abdelmahmoud in Buzzfeed
“We are undergoing a colossal vibe shift that extends beyond taste, aesthetics, politics, fashion, or policy. The world as we knew it is not coming back, and it’s entirely reasonable that we may find ourselves plagued with a general restlessness, a vague notion of disorder. It’s that funny feeling.”
Spirit Matters by Sofie Isenberg in The Sunday Long Read
“After unconsciously believing that I was on some sort of hero’s journey for most of my life, I was suddenly broke, with no apparent prospects at 34, and worse, mooching off a parent. When I looked in the bathroom mirror that day, it occurred to me that this might not just be a bump on the road to somewhere better; I might not be headed anywhere at all. And I didn’t have the tools to tolerate that possibility.”