Tag Archives: The Graveyard Book

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!

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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!

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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!

My Mailbox: Neil Gaiman, Nick Hornby, Mark Salzman, and More

Note: Sorry this video is so overexposed. But I heard the vampire look is so hot right now.


Happy Halloween! October in Review

Happy Halloween everyone! This month has flown by, but I managed to do a fair amount of reading in between camping trips and pumpkin carving.

11 books completed
3,794 pages read
9 books reviewed

I have thoroughly enjoyed the reading challenges I’ve been involved in: Dewey’s 24-hour Readathon, Fall into Reading 2010, and the YABR Halloween Readathon.

But in the flurry of weather changes and completed challenges, we can’t forget about the books. Here are the books I reviewed this month:

I finally got around to reading The Hobbit, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Bilbo is an incredibly likeable character and a realistic hero, and I absolutely agree with his policy of second breakfasts. I’m looking forward to reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy… yes, I haven’t read that yet either!
Rating: 5 out of 5

To Have and Have Not is my least favorite Hemingway book so far. Though Hemingway attempts to dissect grand social issues, such as troubled economic times and the relationship that exists between husband and wife, the entangled sub-plots and the erratic activities of the characters serve to distract from whatever statement Hemingway is trying to make.
Rating: 3 out of 5

While I was interested to read a collection of flash fiction, a new favorite genre of mine, I found the weaknesses of some of the stories in Fingerprints to be off-putting. However, it was great to see D.C. in so many settings.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

I came to The Purity Myth hoping for a clear-eyed, well-argued account of the effects of the movements toward abstinence and virginity. Instead, many of Valenti’s snarky comments only reinforce the dichotomy between supporters and detractors of abstinence. However, there were many parts that I enjoyed (being a snarky blogger myself).
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

I found Wuthering Heights to be an enjoyable read; even more than Jane Eyre. Such a powerful story of love and loss ages well, and the unconventional use of an unreliable narrator had an interesting effect upon my view of the characters and story.
Rating: 4 out of 5

Though I enjoyed the intense psychological aspects of Crime and Punishment, I thought the story dragged on for too long. However, I admired Dostoevsky’s handling of the intricate relations between characters rich and poor, male and female, powerful and powerless, sane and mentally ill.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

While it was fun to read and act out a play together–and Halloween was the perfect time of year to do it!–perhaps Jack and I chose the wrong work; neither of us particularly liked Macbeth. The entire play seemed very disjointed, like there was a scene or even an act missing.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

After our joint review of Macbeth, Jack was inspired to write about another recent book he’d recently finished (after several months!). While Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell had excellent prose and a strong historical feel, the generally glacial pace of the story has him recommending against this one.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

The Graveyard Book was truly a delight to read, and I appreciated Gaiman’s intelligent handling of complex issues without losing sight of his inventive narrative. I would recommend this book to almost anyone for its fully formed characters, excellent prose, and engaging plot.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

I’m excited about the reviews I have planned for November, and I can’t wait to host a giveaway of a book I enjoyed recently. But more on that tomorrow! Thanks to everyone for supporting me with your kind comments and steady viewership.

And now I’m off to enjoy candy and pumpkin beer!

“The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman

Title: The Graveyard Book
Author: Neil Gaiman; illustrated by Dave McKean
ISBN: 9780060530921
Pages: 320
Release date: September 30, 2008
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genres: Children’s literature; fantasy
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Rating: 4.5 out of 5


“There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” A mysterious man has murdered the toddler’s mother, father, and sister, and now the man mounts the narrow stairs, up to the nursery-attic, to finish the most important job of his existence.

But the baby is gone.

The curious tot finds himself in the nearby cemetery, under the protection of the shadowy Owenses and Silas, an even taller, darker, and more mysterious stranger than the first. Mr. and Mrs. Owens, who in life were childless, fight to keep the baby after his newly deceased parents appear and plead with them to keep him safe.

The boy’s story is certainly a strange one. First of all, there’s his home, the graveyard. He is given free rein in the graveyard to explore as he wishes. The names and epitaphs engraved on headstones make for an odd topography of childhood, but the ghosts the graves contain are the child’s only friends for much of his childhood.

Then there’s his name, Nobody (Bod for short); when the other ghosts in the graveyard bicker over his resemblance to past acquaintances, Mrs. Owens insists that “he looks like nobody but himself.” Silas agrees, and Nobody is his name.

Which brings me to Silas. Silas is an unexpected guardian, to say the least. Like Bod, he also has full access to the graveyard, but unlike his young charge he only comes out at night and he does not dwell among the ghosts for long, swooping off into the night like a bat.

Each chapter is a story that could stand on its own, but in the end, everything Bod has learned in his unusual life comes in handy. He meets the Indigo Man and the Sleer in their ancient barrow, and he travels through a gate to the home of the ghouls, Ghûlheim. He befriends a witch on the outskirts of the graveyard, and he learns about the forgotten ritual between the living and the dead, the danse macabre. He attends a school outside the graveyard when his ghostly tutors falter in their knowledge, and, perhaps the scariest part of all, he meets a young girl whose curiosity mirrors his own.


Neil Gaiman is one of the best storytellers I’ve ever encountered.

From the very beginning, The Graveyard Book is an irresistible story. Gaiman carefully balances the intrigue of a triple murder with the fresh innocence of a child like any other, learning about the world with wide eyes and a million questions.

Gaiman’s prose is lyrical without being flowery. His seemingly effortless prose captures Bod’s sense of foreboding as he nears the ghouls’ despised home:

Even from the path below Ghûlheim, even from miles away, Bod could see that all of the angles were wrong—that the walls sloped crazily, that it was every nightmare that he had ever endured made into a place, like a huge mouth of jutting teeth. It was a city that had been built just to be abandoned, in which all the fears and madnesses and revulsions of the creatures who built it were made into stone. The ghoul-folk had found it and delighted in it and called it home.

To see such serious talent beside a thoroughly engaging storyline is rare and refreshing for any book, much less a children’s book.

Any book about life, death, and life after death is bound to bump into deep questions. But Gaiman handles these issues gracefully. When Silas explains the idea of suicide to young Bod, he focuses not upon the act itself, but the reasons behind it—the search for happiness and self that suicides search for. Bod asks:

“Are they happier dead?”
“Sometimes. Mostly no. It’s like the people who believe they’ll be happy if they go and live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn’t work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.”

Silas also has a way of turning murder and death into a reason for living in words that avoid sounding trite or overworked.

Silas said, “Out there, the man who killed your family is, I believe, still looking for you, still intends to kill you.”
Bod shrugged. “So?” he said. “It’s only death. I mean, all of my best friends are dead.”
“Yes.” Silas hesitated. “They are. And they are, for the most part, done with the world. But you’re not. You’re alive, Bod. That means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you change the world, the world will change.”

The Graveyard Book was truly a delight to read, and I appreciated Gaiman’s intelligent handling of complex issues without losing sight of his inventive narrative. I would recommend this book to almost anyone for its fully formed characters, excellent prose, and engaging plot.