book corner: august 2019

willb/ August 27, 2019/ book corner/ 0 comments

This month wasn’t nearly as literate as I had hoped. With no schedule I fell into a pretty sticky miasma of poor sleep and witlessly minecrafting my month break away. Nevertheless, I did read some good stuff, plenty enough to chew on while drifting around Portland.

August’s reading list:

  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Cuba on the Verge (‘Inside’ essays, pg. 3-128) edited by Leila Guerierro

Cuba on the Verge is a collection of essays attempting to bridge the gap between the socialist Caribbean republic and an imperialist American audience. The collection neither prescribes or delivers any solid theoretical or moral conclusions about Cuba as a whole – presenting twelve unique and personal essays from writers whose relationships with the island differ immensely – and in that sense is a relatively unsatisfying, but stimulating read. I was able to read the first six of these essays, which are listed under the ‘Inside’ (part 1/2) section of the collection, but I have to admit I wasn’t nearly as interested in listening to outsiders describe their experiences visiting Cuba, and set the book down after skimming the last six. I wouldn’t recommend this collection without some background understanding of the Cuban revolution and the marxist-leninist movement in Cuba, but personality and emotion are abound here. The collection is as varied, beautiful, and frustrating to read as the reality it seeks to present, and in that sense, fulfills its purpose.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin is by now a pillar of modern science fiction, and a revolutionary book for its time that opened the mainstream-genre to non-traditional conceptions of gender and sexuality. The novel follows the exploits of an envoy from an interplanetary league attempting to invite the nations of a frozen, distant planet to join the rest of humanity. The inhabitants of Gethen, the frozen planet, are largely a-gender and sex-less except for a monthly cycle within which they express binary sex characteristics and are able to reproduce. The envoy, Genly Ai, a cis man, is perceived by the societies of Gethen as a pervert who has devolved into a continual state of sexual expression, which when compounded with his acute misunderstanding of Gethenian social cues and expectations complicates his mission. The novel has parallels to many of Le Guin’s other Hainish cycle titles, but the formula acts largely as an effective vessel for engaging and at the time largely unexplored science fiction concepts. The novel is a compelling foundational read but my experience as a queer person and the age of the text meant that I was largely unimpressed with its scope. That isn’t to say the novel is lacking, in fact its an incredibly impressive narrative work and inspiring piece of world-building; I expect it would be more impactful to someone who lives comfortably within gendered society and might not consider critically the effect of gender on society, culture, environment, and communication (and vice versa).


While likely of no difference to you, the reader (if you do exist), I’m rather disappointed in this month’s rather bare bookshelf. Still, we find ourselves at our book-end. I’ll leave my intended reading list below, many of which I began reading this month but haven’t yet finished. We’ll see how classes and syllabi affect that list in about a week’s time. Until next month, happy reading 🙂


September reading list

  • Angels with Dirty Faces, Wahlidah Imarisha
  • The Dark Forest (Three Body Trilogy #2), 刘慈欣 (Cixin Liu, translated by Joel Martinsen)
  • Nova, by Samuel Delaney
  • The Divide, by Jason Hickel
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About willb

I'm Will, an undergraduate astronomer studying transition disks, direct imaging, and planet accretion and formation at the Follette Lab at Amherst College. I use they/them/theirs pronouns.

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