Tag Archives: Neil Gaiman

Top Ten Authors of Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, and Legends

This week, I’d like to introduce you to some of the best authors I’ve found who analyze or write fairy tales, folk tales, and legends. I’ve mentioned before how much I love this genre; my college classes on fairy tales, legends, and mythology had a great impact upon the way I read and think about stories. Think of this as primer to the genre, albeit a subjective one; I’m certain I’m forgetting some great writers, and I’m sure there are many I haven’t yet discovered.

Fairy tales, folk tales, and legends tell extraordinary stories that tap into the very real fears, anxieties, and emotions of everyday life. One of the best parts about reading the classic tales is comparing all of the variants. I felt like I knew so much more about the stories than people who have only heard the Grimms’ versions or (worse!) only seen Disney movies.

While contemporary tales are often more interesting because of their relevancy in my life, I’m glad to have that firm classical base, because now I can read contemporary fantasy/retellings and point to the different variations of classic stories, from popular new releases like The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas (my review here) and The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (my review here) to older classics and lesser-known works like The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (my review here), The Crucible by Arthur Miller, and The Little Girl Who was Too Fond of Matches by Gaetan Soucy.

There are several authors you must read to get a good grounding in fairy tales, folk tales, and legends.

10. Peter Sís
In The Conference of the Birds (my review here), his illustrated version of the twelfth-century epic Sufi poem, Peter Sís introduces readers to an ancient, mystical story in a lyrical but beautifully simple way. It adds gorgeous detail in an imaginative way without distracting from the original story. This is a perfect example of a modern retelling of a legend.

9. Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman is one of the undisputed masters of modern fairy tales, from children’s books like Coraline (my review) and The Graveyard Book (my review) that are enjoyable at any age to books like American Gods (Jack’s review) and the Sandman trilogy that are more grown up but no less magical.

8. Susan Redington Bobby
I can’t write about fairy tales without mentioning Susan Bobby, author of Fairy Tales Reimagined and professor of my Fairy Tales class, who introduced me to many of the authors on this list. Bobby is passionate about the subject with a particular emphasis on modern retellings of classic tales. I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher, and I’m thrilled that she’s edited this collection of essays. (Prof. Bobby also reviewed Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay here!)

7. Jack Zipes
Zipes’s Don’t Bet on the Prince, a collection of contemporary feminist fairy tales and essays in North America and England, is an excellent introduction both to fairy tales in general and to feminist literary criticism in particular. It manages to be serious and informative without being boring.

6. A.S. Byatt
A.S. Byatt–author of Possession, The Virgin in the Garden, and Angels & Insects, among others–is a master at retelling (or, more often, inventing) modern fairy tales. Her books The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye and the Little Black Book of Stories need to be added to your reading list right now.

5. Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood has authored more than forty books, including The Handmaid’s Tale, Cat’s Eye, The Robber Bride, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin, and Oryx and Crake. Your life isn’t complete until you’ve read something by Margaret Atwood. (I would know–there are so many titles I haven’t read yet that I want desperately to get to!)

4. Kate Bernheimer
Kate Bernheimer is an expert on writing and analyzing fairy tales, with the collections of essays Mirror, Mirror on the Wall and My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me as well as the fiction series The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold, Merry Gold, and Lucy Gold under her belt.

3. Maria Tatar
Maria Tatar is editor of The Classic Fairy Tales, the book that built my knowledge of classic fairy tales. It made me look at variants across tales–stories across languages and cultures that are surprisingly similar–so that I could then see the underpinnings of these tales in countless works of fiction produced today. If you’re interested in fairy tale criticism, this book is a must.

2. Anne Sexton
Anne Sexton’s poetry deals heavily in fairy tale retellings, drawing upon raw subjects like child abuse and neglect. One poem, “The Abortion,” has always stood out in my memory, especially this line: “I met a little man, / not Rumpelstiltskin, at all, at all… / he took the fullness that love began.” Sexton published an entire volume of fairy tale retellings, Transformations, that contains sometimes difficult but always powerful themes.

1. Emma Donoghue
One of the best authors I discovered in school was Emma Donoghue. I wrote a paper on “The Tale of the Voice,” a feminist retelling contained in Donoghue’s marvelous book Kissing the Witch. And it won’t surprise my longtime readers to hear that Donoghue’s Room (my review here) is one of the best books I’ve ever read!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more!

I receive a very, very small commission when you purchase the book through the above links to Indiebound. Thank you for helping to support my site–and my book addiction!

Top Ten Halloween Reads

This week, I’m writing about the top ten books to read to get into a frightful mood for Halloween.

I realized, in preparing this list, that I don’t read too many spook-tacular books–which is a real shame! As a result, many of these titles are classics that appeal to a more literary crowd–but all should be tempting to readers with a taste for terror.

Next year, I hope to spend October reading more scary books in anticipation of the holiday; I’ll start by heading over to Jenn’s Bookshelves for her month-long celebration of fear and fright.

10. Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling
To start things off, let’s keep it light. The much-loved Harry Potter series introduces sorcery in the most friendly way possible. But epic battles between good and evil still take place between wand-waving wizards.

9. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
As his selfishness turns into remorseless evil, Dorian’s descent into depravity and debauchery is described in great detail. Wilde seamlessly combines two themes seemingly at odds with each other–Victorian morality and magical realism–to great effect in this chilling tale.

8. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Wuthering Heights, a classic gothic novel, tells of a love that transcends all boundaries—even the grave. Although it is a love story, ghosts and guilty consciences haunt the tale, and the dark twists and turns will leaving you howling for more.

7. Macbeth by Shakespeare
“Double, double, toil and trouble; / Fire burn and cauldron bubble.” A classic quote for Halloween! Though Macbeth disappointed us as a book, I’d love to see the play to gear up for eerie good times!

6. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
More than just a great story about the ultimate costume-changer, Stevenson’s novel explores psychology, class, criminality, and the secrets we keep hidden. A creep-out classic!

5. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving
This story always sends a shiver down my spine. The vivid images contained in the short work astound me with their power; even years after reading it, I can picture in my mind’s eye the headless figure trotting on a dark horse on the horizon.

4. Dracula by Bram Stoker
If you don’t know the premise of the first (and perhaps best) vampire story, then I’m not going to spoil it for you. But be prepared for bloodthirsty tale of obsession that never dies!

3. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Sometimes it is the horror that we create for ourselves that is most terrifying. Frankenstein–arguably the greatest horror story ever written and indubitably a classic Romantic novel–explores the power of science and its ability to affect (and effect) life.

2. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Nobody (“Bod” for short) Owens has grown up in graveyard, and the friendly ghosts that have watched over him encourage no fear in the unusual child. But sometimes it is the real world that holds the most dangers. The Graveyard Book is a fantastic book for all ages–and I hear the audiobook is fantastic.

1. Great Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe
You can’t get any creepier than EAP. I mean, he married his own 13-year-old cousin! Anything by Edgar Allen Poe–especially “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Raven”–is sure to scare you. For an extra dose of drama, visit Poe’s home and grave site in Baltimore. Is that a heart I hear thumping in the floorboards?

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more!

Top Ten Book Covers (and Titles)

I am a firm believer that you can–and should–judge a book by its cover, as well as its title. After working for a book publisher and now as a book reviewer, I have come to the realization that the time spent perfecting a book’s title and cover art is usually a pretty good indication of how successful the publisher thinks it will be.

If they take the time to think about reactions from their intended audience and implement them in the design and promotion of a book, it usually means that they believe the book will do very well. It also often means that the book has clear themes and subjects that translate into attractive titles and covers.

10. The Coffins of Little Hope by Timothy Schaffert
The whimsical art on this book contrasts nicely with a darkly intriguing title, setting up the expectation of a book that handles positive and negative elements of a story well–a promise that was delivered in full.

9. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
The bleak scenes and sometimes harsh, sometimes lyrical prose within the book are echoed perfectly in the stark simplicity of this book’s title and design.

8. No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
What a fantastic title! There’s something that tugs at me every time I read it. And the cover design does not try to compete with the beauty of the title, though its Post-it-bright colors are an eye-catchingly novel idea.

7. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
More than the title, I loved this cover. The chaos of the different guns arrayed across the dustjacket is offset by their orderly rows. One can’t help but wonder if living safely in a sci-fi universe requires rows of Day-Glo handguns.

6. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
This is the kind of book that you move from side to side for far too long, watching the light illuminate and then hide the shadows of hands grasping for the main character. A fantastic glimpse of what is to come for our heroine!

5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
Between the entrancing title and the creative cut-out cover art, I was hooked by this book. The title reflects the speech and tone of the rest of the book, while the unusual cover alludes to the black-and-white, cut-and-dried worldview of the main character, Christopher John Francis Boone.

4. The Subversive Copy Editor by Carol Fisher Saller
It’s likely that I would’ve bought this book for its clear guidance and unsurpassed wisdom, but such a creative cover sealed the deal. It looks so much like a well-handled (and well-loved) manuscript!

3. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris
I simply could not get over the title of this book. It is so sweet, so telling about what kinds of daring, unorthodox animals Sedaris will invent within the pages of this slim book.

2. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
The eerie, mystical feeling that this book imparts–the way the bare branches intertwine like bony fingers to form the letters of the title–I love it! The hauntingly beautiful cover makes up for the fact that I can never say “Her Fearful Symmetry” without stuttering. (But nothing can offset the terrible story itself; this is one of the worst books I’ve ever read.)

1. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
The paperback’s frenetically colorful, startlingly multidimensional cover is a wonderful indication of the well-developed and fascinating characters of Egan’s book. Not to mention the attraction of the heaps of awards and praise that decorate the outside and inside covers!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more!

September 2011 in Review

September 2011 Stats

Books in progress: 6
Books read: 6
Pages read: 935
Books reviewed: 6
Posts on book reviewing: 12
(includes features like In My Mailbox, Top Ten Tuesday, Wordless Wednesday, Subscription Saturday, and Sunday Salon; reading challenges; and news)

My stats are not nearly as impressive as they were in August, but I’ve been having a great time nonetheless. This month, I began my first graduate writing class, which has been marvelous. (Last week our guest speaker was Paul Dickson!)

Partly because of my class, partly because of my own interests, I have been writing more travel articles and profile pieces, which I’d like to see published elsewhere. I’ve also devoted more time to updating my site with posts about book reviewing, including the addition of Subscription Saturday.

As that post will show, September was a month of catching up with periodicals and online reading. The best way to learn how to write stories and articles is to read them, right?

However, I was able to post reviews of some great books here this month.

Susan Redington Bobby, one of my favorite professors ever, graciously agreed to guest-review Daphne Kalotay’s Russian Winter. I’m sure she wasn’t expecting the spirited discussion that occurred in the comments, but in the words of Oscar Wilde: “There is only one thing worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

Speaking of Mr. Wilde, I raved about the audio version of The Picture of Dorian Gray, which really succeeded in pulling me into the book’s rather verbose prose.

Ned Zeman’s quick and witty memoir, The Rules of the Tunnel, provided a nice change–both from other books I’ve been reading lately and from other memoirs I’ve enjoyed.

Professor Redington Bobby wasn’t the only guest reviewer this month; Jack also shared his thoughts on Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. I, for one, really need to read that book before the HBO show begins. Does anyone want to lend me their audiobook?

As you may have noticed, fall is the time for me to try new things. Last year at this time, I gave my site new direction by beginning to review non-DC books. This year, I’m experimenting with different kinds of posts.

I did my first video review and had a lot of fun with it. Audrey Niffenegger’s The Night Bookmobile is a very visual book, and doing a written review would not have done it justice.

And then I posted a review of a book that officially heralded my online dorkdom. (Those of you who know me in real life were already fully aware of this status.) But I’m serious when I say that The Subversive Copy Editor by Carol Fisher Saller changed my life. By making me work more efficiently, it gave me the confidence I needed to begin freelance editing and writing.

Bookshelf ROWDOWN

This month, I finally read Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild. I liked it even more than I thought I would, and I’m looking forward to reviewing it.

I also finished Catherine McClure Gardiner’s memoir, Too Close to the Falls. Cathy was a very precocious little girl, and her uproariously funny childhood was a nice counterpoint to the intensity of Krakauer’s book.

I’ve gotta keep the momentum moving if I’m going to read 22 more books from my shelves by next July. It sounds easy enough, but too often I am lured away by the siren call of new releases. But I’ve got several volumes I’m planning on finishing up in October, so I’m not too worried.

Giveaways

I just finished a giveaway of Ned’s Zeman’s fantastic memoir of madness and memory loss, The Rules of the Tunnel.

Congratulations to Elizabeth, who has won a copy of this book!

Keep your eyes peeled for another giveaway coming up soon.

Top Ten Blogger Recommendations

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“American Gods” by Neil Gaiman

Title: American Gods
Author: Neil Gaiman
ISBN: 9780380789030
Pages: 624
Release date: May 2002
Publisher: HarperTorch
Genre: Fiction; fantasy
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal collection
Rating: 4 out of 5

People have described Neil Gaiman’s American Gods as one of the true new classics of fantasy. I generally scoff at such claims, since it is virtually impossible to tell which works will stand the test of time; many books and movies are widely heralded upon their release, only to be quickly forgotten. But the description is actually quite fitting for American Gods. The book has a patient, almost meandering approach that echoes the slower pace of classical movies like “Citizen Kane” or “The Maltese Falcon.”

American Gods begins with Shadow’s release from prison. He has done his time (crimes unspecified) and he’s ready to rejoin his wife and civil society. But when he’s released a few days early, he is informed that his wife was killed in a car accident, and that he has essentially no home to go to. And that is when he meets the mysterious Mr. Wednesday.

Wednesday is one of the old gods, and he wants to enlist Shadow’s help as a driver and bodyguard in his upcoming war with the new gods. The new gods recruit Shadow as well, and he is unsure why he has become so popular with the pantheon of gods.

Shadow’s character is in many ways as enigmatic as Wednesday’s. His age and race are never specified, and his past motivations can be difficult to pin down. Many authors try to give their characters a detailed history, as if they lived a full life prior to the story’s onset. Gaiman seems to be taking the opposite approach; Shadow’s life seems to have started only when he was released from prison, and any back story is only important insofar as it influences Shadow’s current decisions. It’s no coincidence that his wife’s nickname for him is “puppy.”

The “classical pacing” as I mentioned earlier is both the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of the novel. Many of the side trips and interludes seem almost pointless, but they were often more compelling than the main plot. When Shadow is hiding out in the small town of Lakeside, Wisconsin, his interactions with the townsfolk are interesting to the point of distraction.

And Shadow’s conversations with his wife, Laura, who returns from the dead, are perhaps the strongest part of the book. Shadow is numb from grief of losing his wife, and the fact that she keeps popping up isn’t helping:

“That’s when I miss you most. When you’re here. When you aren’t here, when you’re just a ghost from the past or a dream from another life, it’s easier then.”
She squeezed his fingers.
“So,” he asked. “How’s death?”
“Hard,” she said. “It just keeps going.”

At the same time, the overarching plot of the war between the old and new gods sounds compelling, but often is too farfetched. The mystical nature of the gods, and how their power is often displayed in dreams or a surreal “backstage” world often seemed difficult to engage with. The story made sense for what it was, but often I was more interested in Shadow’s interactions in Lakeside, Wisconsin.

I think part of the problems is that mythology and gods never really interested me personally. The book introduces dozens of figures from various religions and myths, but frankly I lack the background to really know what Shiva or Odin’s personality would really be like. I imagine this book would be much more enjoyable if you have that knowledge beforehand.

Interested? Read it for yourself! Buy American Gods from an independent bookstore or Amazon (Kindle version).

I receive a very, very small commission when you purchase the book through the above links. Thank you for helping to support my site–and my book addiction!

Top Ten Authors I Would Love to Meet

This week, I’m highlighting the top ten authors (living or dead) I would love to meet. (The original list was “authors I would DIE to meet,” but that sounded a little extreme to me; I’m a book nerd, but I couldn’t think of a single author that I’d die to meet. Does this mean I need to quit reviewing?)

10. Neil Gaiman
I loved Gaiman’s Coraline and The Graveyard Book, and soon I’ll read American Gods as well. And just in time, too; rumor has it that, after the runaway success of “A Game of Thrones,” HBO will be making a series based on American Gods. Plus, I think he’d be really interesting to meet; my sister says he’s the best thing to happen to Minnesota, and she would know.

9. Emma Donoghue
OK, so this is kind of cheating; I’ve already met Emma Donoghue once. But I’d love to meet her again! (I’m compensating by putting her lower on the list than she deserves.) In case you’ve been living under a rock somewhere, Emma Donoghue is one of my favorite authors, and she is, in my humble opinion, one of the best female writers alive. Too-high praise? Read Room.

8. Miranda July
July’s collection of short stories, No One Belongs Here More Than You, blew me away in 2009, and I think I’m ready for a reread. She is bitingly funny and insightful, and I’d love to see her perform sometime.

7. George R.R. Martin
Whenever I laugh out loud at Tyrion‘s antics, I always wonder: Is George Martin actually funny in person? Or is he one of those geeks who can only express himself on paper? I can’t decide which I’d like better.

6. Tina Fey
Speaking of laugh-out-loud humor, I just finished Tina Fey’s Bossypants on audiobook. I think it’s safe to say I have a new idol. Fey had clearly worked hard to get what she has, in a world notorious for being a boys club.

5. Charles Dickens
I spent 14 months reading and writing about Dickens, and the rest of my life regretting/boasting about it. I deserve to be wooed by his infamous charm and charisma, damn it!

4. Cormac McCarthy
I wonder if Cormac McCarthy speaks with punctuation.

3. Jack Kerouac
I read On the Road when I was 21, and it changed me–more, perhaps, than any other work of literature. It impacted the way I saw life, the way I formed relationships, and the way I wrote. Though a little of the shine has worn off my infatuation with Kerouac (I mean, seriously, has anyone ever finished Desolation Angels?), he is still a man I would LOVE to meet.

2. William Shakespeare
This one should be obvious. I’m not even that much of a Shakespeare nerd, but I can’t imagine having a carte-blanche opportunity to meet any writer and not choosing ol’ Bill!

1. Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway is the author whom I admire the most. I would say he’s what I aspire to be, but that wouldn’t end well. (Too soon?) He has written some of my favorite books of all time, such as The Sun Also Rises, For Whom the Bell Tolls, A Farewell to Arms, and The Old Man and the Sea. It’s a good thing he had his obvious flaws, or I would be a drooling fangirl at the mere mention of his name.

What about you–who are your favorite authors?

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more!