Book Review: “Norse Mythology” by Neil Gaiman

The more I read them, the more I love old myths and legends. They’re more than stories, more than magic and gods and the fantastic, they’re part of the history of a people group. They give insight into what mattered to a culture, what a people believed about themselves and life.

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My husband is half Norwegian. His father’s parents emigrated to the United States after their first child was born. They are all very proud of their heritage, which shows itself in recipes, jokes, and heirlooms and even a regularly repeated rumor of lineage to Odin. *wrinkles nose dubiously* So when one of my favorite authors announced that he was releasing a book of Norse Myths, I was extra excited to read it.

I often describe Neil Gaiman’s writing voice as beautiful to the point of dangerous. His tone is fluid, poetic, and enchanting. Once he begins to tell a story, I don’t want to stop listening, and if my 9 month old baby wasn’t trying to nibble the book every time it appeared, I would easily have finished this book in two days. In the end, it took me two weeks and the dust jacket, which frequently sacrificed itself as bate to her grabby, curious hands, barely escaped with its life.

The myths inside are not written as a bare timeline of incidents the way I remember Hamilton’s Mythology, (which, while informative, I will always refer to as “the cure for insomnia”). Norse Mythology read like a novel, each episode one step closer to the inevitable doomsday of the gods, Ragnarök. The cast of characters includes fiendish dwarves, clever giants, and many flawed, yet powerful gods. Gaiman tells each tale with his usual flourish and touch of humor. It was perfectly executed.

Basically this book is beautiful and everyone should read it.

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Book Review: “The Reckless Way of Love” by Dorothy Day

Since giving birth I’ve had trouble fitting reading into my daily schedule. But now with such luxuries as the baby’s regular bedtime, I’m finally able to sneak in a chapter here and there. I look for short, easy reads that I can pick up and put down at a moments notice. You know, in case the baby decides she’s going to dig some chokeable substance from deep underneath the sofa or crawl towards the ledge that leads down into the hallway.

The Reckless Way of Love is a lovely collection of thoughts from Dorothy Day’s letters and writings. Because each reflection is usually no more than four paragraphs long, it met my need for something I could pick up and put down without ever losing my place. An added bonus was that the content is spiritually encouraging, something I am in dire need of these days. I could grab a paragraph before minding the baby, and carry the thought of it with me as I went.

The book covered topics of Christian love, suffering, sacrifice and what it means to follow Christ. A writer herself, her book even contained a poignant quote about writing.

“Writing a book is hard, because you’re ‘giving yourself away.’ But if you love, you want to give yourself. You write as you are impelled to write, about man and his problems, his relation to God and his fellows. You write about yourself because in the long run all man’s problems are the same, his human needs of sustenance and love.”
– Dorothy Day

While I didn’t agree with everything she said, I think it’s important to be able to read books from other perspectives, so you can understand other beliefs. I really appreciated her thoughts on suffering and about living in community with other Christians. With my husband still in seminary, we would be lost without the generosity of family and friends who have opened their homes to give us a place to live.

One of the nicest things to do with a pleasant read is to pass it on to another. After sharing a passage of this book with my sister in Texas, I offered to mail her my copy when I finished reading it. I’m glad that I continued to underline my favorite passages as I read, because every time I took out my pencil, I knew it would be there when she read it. It felt like I was sharing thoughts and reflections with my sister who is so far away.

“It is not filth and ugliness, drugs and drink and perversion he is asking us to prefer him to. He is asking us to prefer him to all beauty and loveliness. To all other love.”
~ Dorothy Day ❤

Book Review: “Cane” by Jean Toomer

I’m torn about this book.

There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s beautiful. I can give it full marks for that, but for some reason enough of it did not resonate inside me to leave me wanting more of it.

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The book is a collection of short stories and poetry, based around black experience both in the rural south and up North during the 1900’s to 1920’s. Every piece had a wandering, lost, sort of feeling to it, reminiscent of the author himself, who spent most of his life suspended between the worlds of white and black, due the to racism of his day. My version of the book had a fairly extensive biographical portrait of the author at the end, which helped to pinpoint the inspiration for a lot of the pieces within the collection. And though it is a collection, I have seen it called a novel. This is probably because as you’re reading you see little connections here and there, linking everything together in a sort of chain.

The longest and final piece in the collection is written in a very interesting style, a sort of mixture between prose and play. The dialogue attributions are not done with the usual, “he said” and “she said,” but like a play have the speaker’s name with a colon. All of the poetry was beautiful, and this same beautiful use of language spilled into the short stories, making them a kind of prose poetry.

As lovely as this book was, only a few of the short stories really grabbed me, and the very last and longest story was not one of them. Perhaps it was this that left me feeling a bit torn about the whole collection. It was almost like reading a really good book with a disappointing ending. I have seen many reviews online about how wonderful the final story is, and the author himself admitted in a letter that the main character in it reflects his personal experience, but I wasn’t moved by it the way I was when I read “Passing” or “Their Eyes Were Watching God.”

If you’ve read it or plan to read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave them in the comment section, along with any recommendations for me to add to my ever lengthening “to read” list.

Book Review: The Night of Two Graphic Novels

Last year was the year of graphic novels. Partly because I bit off more than I could chew with my Goodreads reading challenge and had to get back on track somehow. Partly because one of my favorite authors is Neil Gaiman and he has written several graphic novels that were on my To Read list. In the slew of GN that I consumed last year, I found many that I loved and now make it a habit of pulling one or two out of the library every month.

I had two in my bag that night, so I reached in and grabbed one to read. It was Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann, illustrated by Kerascoët.

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Fans of Graphic Novel’s and/or Golding’s Lord of the Flies would probably adore this book. Personally, I hated itIt was haunting and violent depiction of humanity in crisis. I compare it to Lord of the Flies because it had the same allegorical feel about society and human nature only told with fairies instead of young boys. The illustrations were both beautiful and chilling. Some of the images were so disturbingly violent that still I cannot shake them from my mind.

Being a person of a somewhat sensitive nature, I obviously wasn’t going to be able to sleep with that on my mental palate. I reached back into my library bag and pulled out the next one. It was The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks. It was also utterly different from its predicessor in virtually every way.

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It was Middle Grade for one, and based on the violence of Beautiful Darkness I’d call that one at least Young Adult.

The story revolved around Kaidu, a young boy just entering the army, and Rat, a street girl he befriends. It was an innocent and engaging story about friendship and honor, based around the political issues of the city, a city called “the Nameless City” by its citizens because they are constantly being overthrown by nearby nations.

The artwork was bright and clean, and though the story had several violent altercations, the most disturbing thing inside it was a few bloody noses. Everything else was implied, but not directly shown. The characters were kind and fun, and the whole plot was devoid of excess drama. It was a refreshing read, a kind of smile to carry with me when I shut out the light.

I handed it off to my 11 year old sister-in-law in the morning. She read it in an hour and loved it even more than I did. She even asked me to see if the library had a copy of the sequel The Stone Heart.

It doesn’t. I’d already checked before I shut out my bedside light.

Book Review: “The Mist” by Stephen King

This may sound obvious, but seriously, Stephen King is an amazing writer.

I talked about this a little bit when I read The Shiningbut I just really enjoy his style. It’s easy going, almost simplistic, but with this kind of flourish that makes me crave the sound of his voice. His characters are all so real, just like the kind of people you bump into every day at the gas station or target or work. And his figurative language is perfect. It just feels so original. Like, saying the old basement smelled yellow. I love that! It’s spot on and fresh, every time.

I saw the trailer for the new series they were making off of The Mist in my Facebook feed. I looked up the book and saw it was only a novella. Since I hadn’t read anything from Mr. King in a while, and since I was 12 books behind on my Goodreads Reading goal for the year, I decided to get it from the library.

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It was a little too close to finals though, so the little green paperback sat on my bedside “To Read” stack for almost a month. I went online and saw that it was due back in 4 days. I shrugged, clicked the “renew book” button and saw the dreaded error message.

THIS TITLE CANNOT BE RENEWED: REQUESTED BY ANOTHER PATRON

I groaned a little, picked it up and checked the page count. 230. I smiled, and thought those two little words that every Booknerd has tattooed on their soul: No problem. I wasn’t feeling too hot anyway, so I just spent my day resting, reading, and letting Little Baby inch her way a little closer to nailing me in the ribs when she kicked.

I opened this post with a gush of praise about Mr. King’s writing. I meant it. The only catch is that he often writes in two genres that I am very hit or miss on as a reader: horror and science-fiction. I enjoy both, but no where near as much as I enjoy other genres. This makes me a little hit or miss with his plots.

For me, The Mist was a miss.

It opened the way I experienced the trailer, surreal and creepy. The narrator is named David, an artist who spends his summers at a family lake house in Maine. A horrible storm kicks up one night, knocking out the power and felling trees. In the morning, Dave, his son, and his next-door neighbor head into town to grab some provisions until the power comes back. While they’re there, a thick, otherworldly mist settles over the town, trapping them in the supermarket.

This was all fine and creepy, I was enjoying it, but as the story continued to unravel it became a sort of mixture between sci-fi and 1940’s B grade horror flick. It reminded me heavily of a black & white movie I used to love called The Crawling Eye. So much so that I ceased to be creeped and began to chuckle, the same reaction this B Grade movie used to give me as a kid. In his memoir On Writing, Mr. King mentioned his love for old horror movies (any/all horror movies really), and I kinda wondered if he’d seen it too.

In the end, I wasn’t thrilled with the plot, definitely shrug worthy for me on that score, but I so enjoy listening to him tell a story that I was still glad I read it.

…all in one day so that I could get it back to the library before it was due. 😉