MLK Day: A Confession and Some Links to Further Reading

First, the confession.  In the flush of hoping to restart the blog last year, as opposed to this year, I wrote the following:

For the record, I plan to read what you might call primary documents during February, Black History Month. As the Black Lives Matter movement and related issues exploded over the summer I thought it would be interesting to attempt to read in a way that was emotionally removed from this summer but intellectually connected.

Books in this vein I hope to read this year (from my Library of America and Everyman’s collection):

It will not shock you to learn that I didn’t read any of those books last year. In my defense, sort of, I did read On Juneteenth, the novel Juneteenth, and started A Glorious Liberty.

And, inspired by our church service on Sunday, I started reading A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. but haven’t made it past the introduction.

So instead of a nicely topical book review, I offer you a few links to past reviews:

Maybe I can get to those Library of America and Everyman’s volumes this year…

Graphic Novels I Read in 2021: Santa Claus, Norse Myths, the Palestinian Conflict, an Indian Robin Hood & More

I am not a big reader of graphic novels but I do read half a dozen or so each year.  Rather than review each one individually, because I don’t have a lot to say, I thought I would collect them in one post.  I thought they were all interesting reads for different reasons. Some from authors/creators I am familiar with, some that just caught my eye at the library.

Klaus by Grant Morrison, Dan Mora (Illustrations)

Publisher:

He’s a myth. He’s a legend. He’s loved worldwide by children and adults alike . . . but does anyone truly know the origins of Santa Claus? Set in a dark fantastic past of myth and magic, Klaus tells the origin story of Santa Claus. It’s the tale of one man and his wolf against a totalitarian state and the ancient evil that sustains it.

Award-winning author Grant Morrison (All-Star Superman, The Multiversity) and artist Dan Mora (Hexed) revamp, reinvent, and re-imagine a classic superhero for the 21st century, drawing on Santa’s roots in Viking lore and Siberian shamanism, and taking in the creepier side of Christmas with characters like the sinister Krampus. Klaus finally answers the burning question: what does Santa Claus do on the other 364 days a year?

My take:

Picked this up on a whim while picking up another book at the library. I frequently enjoy reading a graphic novel as a sort of palette cleanser or if I am struggling to get into the pile of books I am supposed to be reading. I enjoyed this mythical tale of the “real” Santa Klaus. Dark but not too dark, a sort of blend of medieval fairy tale and comic book hero. Quick and unique but enjoyable Yule time read.

Norse Mythology, Volume 1 by Neil Gaiman

Publisher:

#1 New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman and Eisner Award-winning comics legend P. Craig Russell breathe new life into the ancient Norse stories in this comic-book adaptation of the hit novel Norse Mythology .

Gaiman and Russell team with a legendary collection of artists to take readers through a series of Norse myths, including the creation of the Nine Worlds, the loss of Odin’s eye and source of his knowledge, the crafting of Thor’s hammer and the gods’ most valuable treasures, the origin of poetry, and Loki’s part in the end of all things–Ragnarök.

My Take:

I have read Norse Myths by Neil Gaiman in hardback, listened to the audiobook and now read the comic. And I have enjoyed each format. I know the stories quite well by now but it was still fun to read them in comic form and see how the artists brought the characters and stories to life. Great for fans of norse mythology and Neil Gaiman.

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My Top Five 2021 Nonfiction Reads

More than half of the books I read in 2021 appear to be nonfiction (tracking and math are not precise) which kind of surprised me.  But I did have a goal of reading a great many books on Saint Paul of which more anon, as they say.  So what were my favorites?

Here are five of the non-Paul focused nonfiction that stood out to me from 2021 (books I read, not that were published last year):

A book that is hard to say “I liked it” given how depressing and challenging it is. I am far from an expert on these things but I found it all too persuasive in its underlying argument about decadence. The chapter Waiting for the Barbarians was particularly depressing. I wish I had a brilliant answer as to how to get out of the seeming cul-de-sac we find ourselves in but, alas, I do not. 

An insightful and challenging book that forces you to acknowledge the challenges our culture presents for people of faith and those who seek to pass on that faith to the next generation. While there is a tad too much jargon in places, and it is also earnest at times, it really is a great outline for thinking about encouraging and inculcating deeper faith in young people and adults alike. The idea of call, community, creed and hope for the future is something I will be chewing on and working out for some time. If you have an interest in youth ministry, church revitalization or just faith in the modern world, highly recommended.

A discursive, and sometimes elusive, meditation on freedom that touches on evolution, history, science, sociology, economics, and psychology, among other things. Thought provoking and a bit haunted.

A mix of personal and historical reflections centered on Juneteenth, this was an interesting read. As someone with a background in history, I appreciated her perspective and enjoyed the way she attempted to flush out her own feelings and approach to history and the complex and difficult issue of race and slavery in America. At times it felt too thin, like it could have dug a little deeper into the history. The arguments, such as they are, come tangentially and through a mix of history and family stories. When I first saw it in the bookstore I was hoping for a short history of the event and subsequent holiday but enjoyed this book anyways. A quick and thought provoking read that brings a personal element to this day and its context.

Honest, playful, melancholy, at times dark, yet hopeful Mackall packs a lot into this short volume. Wonderful exploration of family, history, stories and their impact on our lives. Both a book to read for the content and for the writing itself.

 

Interlibrary Loan by Gene Wolfe

Having realized that the book I bought was the second book in a series, I finished A Borrowed Man and started back up with Interlibrary Loan.

Hundreds of years in the future our civilization is shrunk down but we go on. There is advanced technology, there are robots.

And there are clones.

E. A. Smithe is a borrowed person, his personality an uploaded recording of a deceased mystery writer. Smithe is a piece of property, not a legal human.

As such, Smithe can be loaned to other branches. Which he is. Along with two fellow reclones, a cookbook and romance writer, they are shipped to Polly’s Cove, where Smithe meets a little girl who wants to save her mother, a father who is dead but perhaps not.

And another E.A. Smithe… who definitely is.

My quick take: Interesting and thought provoking in ways but felt disjointed and confusing at the end. BTW, I also realized that don’t really enjoy mysteries where you are supposed to figure out the clues as you go or novels with layers of meaning you are supposed to peel back with multiple readings if you don’t catch them at first.

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Library Trip: Short Books to Read in 2022

As I have probably mentioned before, despite having hundreds of books to read at home I have been unable to get out of the habit of going to the library and bringing a haul of books home. Yesterday, I made such a trip.

I focused on short fiction (I’m reading Dune and so need some shorter books to read) and found these three intriguing.

Comfort Me with Apple by Catherine M. Valente

I have a love/hate relationship with Valente in some ways. Her Fairyland books are some of my favorite books in the world but the other books I have read have left me cold. And yet, I keep reading…

Sophia was made for him. Her perfect husband. She can feel it in her bones. He is perfect. Their home together in Arcadia Gardens is perfect. Everything is perfect.

It’s just that he’s away so much. So often. He works so hard. She misses him. And he misses her. He says he does, so it must be true. He is the perfect husband and everything is perfect.

But sometimes Sophia wonders about things. Strange things. Dark things. The look on her husband’s face when he comes back from a long business trip. The questions he will not answer. The locked basement she is never allowed to enter. And whenever she asks the neighbors, they can’t quite meet her gaze….

But everything is perfect. Isn’t it?

Trust by Domenico Starnone

Italian fiction translated by Jhumpa Lahiri?  Sure, I’ll check that out…

Pietro and Teresa’s love affair is tempestuous and passionate. After yet another terrible argument, she gets an idea: they should tell each other something they’ve never told another person, something they’re too ashamed to tell anyone. They will hear the other’s confessions without judgment and with love in their hearts. In this way, Teresa thinks, they will remain united forever, more intimately connected than ever.

A few days after sharing their shameful secrets, they break up. Not long after, Pietro meets Nadia, falls in love, and proposes. But the shadow of the secret he confessed to Teresa haunts him, and Teresa herself periodically reappears, standing at the crossroads, it seems, of every major moment in his life. Or is it he who seeks her out?

Starnone is a master storyteller and a novelist of the highest order. His gaze is trained unwaveringly on the fault lines in our public personas and the complexities of our private selves. Trust asks how much we are willing to bend to show the world our best side, knowing full well that when we are at our most vulnerable we are also at our most dangerous.

 

 

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