I believe that shout-it-to-the-rooftops book recommendations should be treated like super bombs in video games: rare commodities that must be husbanded closely, saved for special moments.
It’s because the investment is so asymmetrical, right? On the recommender’s side, a moment of enthusiasm; on the recommendee’s side, what? I already have ten books on my pile!
So here’s my great detonation for winter. You’ll hear not a peep from me until some future level, when my stock of super bombs has been replenished.
On the surface, Nicola Griffith’s book is not the kind I usually gravitate towards — which, maybe, ought to make the recommendation count for even more? Hild is set in 7th-century England, and it traces the life of its namesake, the woman known today as St. Hilda of Whitby. I got my hands on an advance copy earlier this year and found myself utterly absorbed. It’s been a long time since I was so happy reading a book this fat; a long time since I was so sad to see it end.
Full disclosure: Hild is published by FSG, and was edited by Sean McDonald there — so it’s the same team that brought you Penumbra. It is a very (!) different kind of book, and yet… Clay Jannon would like Hild. In fact, he’d love it. Early reviews have compared the book to George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, and it does push many of the same buttons — there is plenty of royal intrigue — but this story is also subtler and, I think, less cynical.
As I read, I found Hild’s way of thinking seeping into my brain. She is a scientist before science, a flâneuse before modernity. She is a watcher, a pattern-finder, a naturalist growing into a politician. In an email, I told Nicola that after I read her book, I found myself
paying more attention the natural world, & not just in passing, but with patience. I thought specifically of Hild the other afternoon when I was in my backyard & saw a giant spider on its web. I bent down close, inspected it, watched it for a while. It really does require patience, and a conviction that, you know, this is a totally legitimate way to spend your time.
This truly is a winter book — big and heavy, with a warm heart. It will look good wrapped in colorful paper. I bought three copies for that purpose. I don’t know what else to say. The power of the super bomb recommendation is that you don’t have to say it just right; all you have to do is press the button. You only get a couple of these. You should only use them when it counts. This books counts.