As we’re almost halfway through September, I’m overdue for a recap of my August reads. But first:
When you amass an enormous beast of a library, the time inevitably comes when you want to read the books you already own. I mean, that’s the theory. In reality, I’m still lucky to read 50 percent already-in-my-library, 50 percent brand-spanking-new.
In related news, I love how I’m able to find books I own on my Nook using the “search” function. This makes it impossible to buy a Nook book I already own. When I type a title, it’ll show up in my library. Obviously not the case with my physical bookshelves. The “search” function for those involves me scanning the shelves fruitlessly for half an hour before throwing up my hands and making resolutions about book buying I have no hope of fulfilling.
Now I’ve got that off my chest…
The Inquisitor’s Tale; Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog (new) and A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
The Inquisitor’s Tale is a beautiful, moving story with a mystical element that surprised and delighted me. The book’s title obviously references Canterbury Tales. The story evokes it as well. Set in medieval France, it begins in a tavern where a group of people exchange stories about three children—William, Jacob, and Jeanne—and dog called Gwenforte on the run from the king. The chapters shift points of view as the mystery of the children’s situation unfolds. There’s ambiguity. There are surprises. There are wit and pathos. Ah, it’s a wonderful book. You should read it!
You can imagine how happy I was to realize I had another of Gidwitz’s books in my Nook collection. A Tale Dark and Grimm follows Jack and Jill as they walk from one fairy tale into the next. I love the author’s funny asides to the reader and the clever way he weaves the stories into a larger narrative. It’s grim as well as Grimm. But the scary elements are balanced by the comforting presence of the narrator, who suffuses the story with goodness and hope.
Two more books in the “Grimm” series—In a Glass Grimmly and The Grimm Conclusion—have been duly added to my towering TBR.
Every summer when I return to Greece, I bring more books with me than I can possibly read in a single summer. By the end of each trip, I’ve amassed so much stuff as to provoke a crisis. And by “stuff,” I mean additional books I’ve bought—UK releases that aren’t out in the US, for example. There I’ll be, trying to figure out if my suitcase is overweight by attempting to lift it while standing on a scale. Every year I shake my fist at myself and swear, “Never again! I will learn to pack light if it’s the last thing I ever do!” And the next year, it’s the same boring story all over again.
How this is relevant to Katherine Marsh’s books: The night before I leave usually finds me indiscriminately tossing items in and out of my suitcase. Last summer, The Night Tourist was one of the books I left behind. My rationale was that it’d be a nice surprise to rediscover it on my next visit.
And it was: nice and a surprise. I’d forgotten that I’d left it. I also didn’t remember that the story—set in Manhattan and revolving around 14-year old Jack and Euri, a mysterious girl he meets at Grand Central Station—retells the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Talk about serendipitous!
After I finished it, I discovered it’s the first in a series. I couldn’t resist downloading the second book, The Twilight Prisoner (a Persephone-inspired adventure), on my Nook.
The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (new)
I found this novel, the 1967 Newbery Honor winner, on a list of must-read children’s books and promptly downloaded it. Because the 700 books I have on my Nook are apparently not enough.
April’s actress mother has sent her to live with her grandmother. At her grandmother’s apartment, she’s befriended by April. Inspired by a passion for ancient Egypt, the girls, along with April’s little brother, invent “The Egypt Game,” setting up temples in an abandoned lot behind a used items shop. As the school year goes on, four more schoolmates become involved. Parallel plots involve the cantankerous shop owner and the murder of a young neighborhood girl.
This novel is a slow burn. It seems uneventful then brings the three plots together in a huge climactic moment. Even though adults can probably see what’s coming, it’ll still make your heart race.
Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss
I read this for the Gilmore Girls reading challenge we’re doing at Books, Ink. It’s the story of an elephant called Horton who discovers that a tiny speck of clover holds a whole tiny world of Whos (also memorably featured in How the Grinch Stole Christmas). Other creatures in the jungle where Horton lives don’t believe him. Since they can’t see or hear the Whos, they decide Horton is crazy, and the speck needs to be destroyed. And they set out to do just that.
When I picked up this book, I had no idea it has a WWII connection. I encourage everyone to read this book, no matter how old you are. If you’re interested in learning more, the piece I wrote for the challenge is here.
The Library of Greek Mythology by Apollodorus
This compendium of Ancient Greek myths and legends is also known as Bibliotheca and its author as Pseudo-Apollodorus.
I read the Oxford World’s Classic edition, which included an introduction by Robin Hard. He explained that The Library was attributed to Apollodorus of Athens, who lived during the second century BC. But this dating has proved problematic. For one, The Library contains references to works composed a century after Apollodorus of Athens’ death. For another, the language use doesn’t reflect second century BC usage. For a third, the writing doesn’t reflect the work of “a learned Alexandrian scholar” of Apollodorus of Athens’ caliber.
Long story short, it was likely composed during the first or second century AD.
It’s organized genealogically, by mythical family, beginning with the creation of the world—Ouranos, Ge, and the Titans—and ending with the story of Odysseus post Trojan-War. It’s a reference guide and reads like one. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. If you’re interested in an engaging story that will pull you in, this probably isn’t the best choice. If you’re looking for an organized overview of the major Greek myths, how they connect and diverge, and information about which ancient texts feature the myths, this is your book.
Some of the stories are more filled out than others. For example, Heracles’ labors are covered fairly comprehensively as is the story of Perseus. The coverage of other myths can be maddeningly spare. This results in sentences such as: “Dawn fell in love with Orion and carried him off to Delos (for Aphrodite caused her to be continually in love because she had gone to bed with Ares).” Erm, can we unpack that?!
The author also notes when multiple versions of stories exist. This leads to sentences such as: “Pherecydes says that this Argos was a son of Arestor, Asclepiades that he was a son of Inachos, and Cercops that he was a son of Argos and Ismene, daughter of Asopos, while according to Acousilaos, he was born from the earth.” *eyes roll into back of head*
One other observation: The author sometimes switches between the Greek and Roman names for the gods. In a section on Demeter, he refers to Zeus (Greek name) and Pluto (Roman name). So knowing your Greek-to-Roman equivalents helps.
If you 1) are interested in Ancient Greece and literature inspired by it, and 2) find yourself flying to or through Athens, do yourself a favor, and visit the airport’s Public store. They curate an awesome selection of books.
The Athenian Murders, translated from Spanish, was one of my finds. At the beginning, it presents as a murder mystery written just after the Peloponnesian War. That’s the primary narrative. A secondary one is found in the translator’s notes, featured as footnotes. As the story progresses, a second mystery unfolds in the notes.
Initially, the storytelling feels very exterior, much like Ancient Greek literature. We intuit or interpret characters’ inner lives through their actions rather than through access to their inner thoughts. We observe the characters from the outside rather than being inside their minds. As the story progresses, that changes somewhat, and it starts to feel like a contemporary novel in an ancient setting.
About two-thirds of the way tthrough, I’m getting a meta-vibe, like a murder mystery If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, set in Ancient Greece. I should also confess that I began this book about a month ago and don’t feel pulled back. This may be because the relationship between the two plots is, for my taste, taking too long to unfold.
The Golden Ass by Apuleius (new)
I read that this is a primary source for the myth of Pysche and Eros (called by his Roman name, Cupid). I got it into my head to read that myth so of course *needed* to buy this.
I bought this when it first came out because I can’t resist books about books. The paperback has a subtitle that tells you more about the book’s concept: “Some Thoughts on Reading, Reflecting, and Embracing Life.” That about says it, really. It’s a meditative, enjoyable read, especially if you love reading about reading.
Schwalbe writes about 26 books that he associates with particular experiences—Stuart Little and Searching, The Odyssey and Embracing Mediocrity, Wonder and Embracing Kindness. They’re essays about his experience, mostly. Sometimes these experience dovetail closely with the books. Other times, the connections to the books are quite peripheral.
For all but the last six days of the month, I was on a Greek island that has zero English language bookstores. The only English language books for sale are in tourist shops—so mostly local tour guides and novels someone, somewhere, categorized as “vacation” reads. This is to say, you might think I’d have nothing to put in this section. *laughs maniacally*
I managed to scoop up e-books as if the apocalypse is imminent. And I expect to survive. And I have a solar charger. Let us call this a discount book buying relapse. … Also, I picked up a couple of paper backs in Athens.
Well, there goes my “books bought can’t exceed books read” goal. TTYL, goal.
The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (e-book)
In the “read” pile. #boom
The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau (e-book)
It was on sale, and it was recommended to me.
The Twilight Prisoner by Katherine Marsh (e-book)
Also in the “read” file.
The Golden Ass by Apuleius (e-book)
I wanted to read the myth of Psyche, and it’s one of the extant sources.
Circus Miranda by Cassie Beasley (e-book)
It was on sale, and my friend Jessica mentioned it once. Apparently, that is a reason to buy a book. Especially when it is offered for $1.99.
An Elephant for Aristotle by L. Sprague de Camp (e-book)
It was on sale, and it sounded funny.
Reawakened and Recreated by Colleen Houck (e-book)
Sale. Egyptian myths. That is all.
Can we talk about how excited I was to find this? One in the Canongate Myths series, the novel is a retelling of The Odyssey from Penelope’s perspective. I looked for it at three different bookstores while in Athens. On my last day, I poked my head into a WHSmith at the airport, and there it was, front and center.
The Children of Jocasta by Natalie Haynes (paperback)
This was another book at the top of my wish list. It’s a retelling of Oedipus and Antigone’s stories. I ordered it from the airport’s Public store at the end of July. It arrived two days before my departure date. I guess that means it was meant to be. That’s the story I’m sticking with…
How is your reading going? What were your favorites August reads or books read this summer?