BOOK REVIEW: The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle is the penultimate fairy tale.

This book is now one of my favorites.

As a child who was obsessed with unicorns and pegasi, including The Last Unicorn film, I don’t know why I hadn’t read this book until now. Though, it wasn’t until recently that I learned the movie was based on a book. I don’t think my mom knew about this book and so I didn’t either. My fetish was fed by her…one of the few things we had in common (that and our love of Cher, but that’s for another time).

This book is like poetry — more like a prose poem than any book I have ever read. It is gentle and comforting, yet quirky and often ridiculous — throwing in words like “Taco” and “Giraffe” that don’t seem to fit. It leaves you laughing because you wonder if this is supposed to be set in a medieval time period or not. Renaissance? Dark ages? Not sure that it matters, really, because it’s so self-referential that these quirks come off as more delightful than jarring. It knows it is a fairy tale, with characters saying so in lines like “…we are in a fairy tale…” and “You’re in the story with the rest of us now,” and “It’s all part of the fairy tale.”

I think all of those lines are from the magician, actually. Maybe he’s the only one who realizes he’s a character.

And Peter Beagle even takes a chance to talk about Rhinoceri, which is how the hole unicorn myth “got started.” This book is so conscious of itself — I never knew how postmodern it really was.

I’m also amazed at how much the film stayed true to the book. Scene by scene and capturing much the same feel.  I will admit that parts of the movie are cheesy, but that’s just due to the time period and animation (in my opinion). Beagle has even said in an interview that he was shocked that the film was so true to the book.

I always said that this story was kind of like someone watched the cartoon version of LOTR and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. And come to find out, Beagle actually wrote the screenplay of LOTR.  No wonder!

I found the book sadder than the film — perhaps because I’m now and adult and viewing the thing with fresh eyes. The book lends itself to more subtlety. In the film, you are distracted by the pictures, but here you can pick up on things like the fact when the Unicorn becomes human, she is slowly no longer called The Unicorn — not by the narrator, even. She’s The Girl and then Amalthea. I haven’t viewed the film in many years, but I didn’t remember her forgetting that she was a unicorn. I didn’t recall that.

I also have friends that hate the film because “why the f*ck is there a random talking cat?!?” Well, let me tell you, that is explained in the book much better than in the film.

I do think that if you didn’t like the movie as a kid, you might not like the book as much I do as an adult. It’s likely you just don’t like meta fairy tales or unicorns?

TBR – The New Wild by Fred Pearce

‘It is time to stand back and look at the evidence when we come to judge and respond to “invasive” species, writes the author; at this point, pretty much the majority of species is invasive rather than endemic. Pearce appears ready to swing the pendulum away from conserving the “pristine” to utterly “novel ecosystems,” and part of that change will entail sometimes-irksome invasive species. Nature is dynamic and cannot be conserved in aspic; on the other hand, to claim a noninterventionist approach is just as unreal, since humans are forever intervening in nature’s progress. When Pearce writes, “we need to lose our fear of the alien and the novel,” he hits the nail on the head. When he follows that line with, “It means conservationists must stop spending all their time backing loser species—the endangered and the reclusive,” he sounds like a crank eugenicist.  Are alien species really “nature at its best”? However, few would disagree with the author that introduced species do not deserve to be ecologically cleansed. Yes, Pearce admits, alien species can cause us “inconvenience,” but then how does it follow that we should “let [nature] run wild”? For the most part, the author brings the balanced perspective of a seasoned, freethinking environmental reporter, pushing points that need to be made—nature is a hothouse of change, an often temporary arrangement, and open to being remade—and what we think of as invasive is mostly hardiness and lack of competition that in many instances finds a new equilibrium, the incomers becoming “model eco-citizens.”’ [Via]

BOOK REVIEW: The Norse Myths: A Guide to Gods and Heroes by Carolyne Larrington

I haven’t read a nonfiction book so hungrily as I did this one. Larrington explains the myths in a way that made sense to me and I had never realized why the Norse myths didn’t make sense until now. At last! The nonsense makes sense.

There is a history behind the record — a Christian history — that I never knew overshadowed them so completely. We really are making things up as we go along.

Larrington gives these shadows the best body I’ve yet read.

At least, in the first half. You have to go in knowing a bit about Norse myth to begin with. And I did. So, the part about the gods was fascinating. The latter half — the part about the heroes — kind of fizzled out for me because I think Larrington assumes you should know a bit about characters like Sigmund too (which I don’t really — humans don’t interest me too much) to be able to understand what she illuminates. And I’m sure she illuminates some fascinating points, just like she did with the gods. But the fact is my eyes glaze over when talking about the heroes still for some reason. I’m sure if I read the Wikipedia pages on them and then went back to the last half of this book I’d be like “Oh, how fascinating.” But currently I do not feel compelled to.

What is fascinating is that Larrington mentions modern day novels that dabble with Norse myth. I’m not talking shitty books like American Gods but ones like LOTR and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen.  Larrington juxtaposes the old and the new. I really recommend this book.

Larrington is a professor of medieval English Literature who has written books on Game of Thrones, too. 

Suck it, Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology.  You should have read this book before being published.

See also: Ursula K. Le Guin didn’t like Neil Gaiman’s representation of gods. And, Domesticating Trolls.

TBR – Forcing God’s Hand: Why Millions Pray for a Quick Rapture … and Destruction of Planet Earth by Grace Halsell

The book explores the danger posed by Christian fundamentalism – a doctrine that is sweeping America. Leaders of the doctrine proclaim that God wants – even demands – that Planet Earth be destroyed in our generation. Adherents to this doctrine are said to constitute the fastest growing movement in Christianity today. Fundamentalist Evangelicals believe there will be catastrophic events on earth, some occurring already, including the turmoil in the Middle East, culminating in the Battle of Armageddon in which Christ will triumph and begin ruling the earth. At this point, they believe, non-believers will be destroyed, good Christians saved and any remaining Jews converted to Christianity. By praying for their Rapture and the End of Time, might they Force the Hand of God — to bring it about?

The book also includes CBS 60 Minutes program, Zion’s Christian Soldiers and an interview with Jerry Falwell. Grace Halsell (1923-2000) served President Lyndon Johnson as his speech writer for three years. She covered both Korea and Vietnam as a journalist and wrote for newspapers in the U.S., South America, Europe, Russia, China, Japan and the Middle East. She wrote fourteen books among them the well-received Soul Sister, Prophecy and Politics: Militant Evangelists on the Road to Nuclear War, Journey to Jerusalem and The Illegals.

A great expose’ of the strange marriage of convenience between the U.S. Christian Right and Israel. Neither likes the other- but they use one another.

This book came out in 2002, but might give context to some of the GOP’s climate change denial. Perhaps they really don’t believe it’s climate change, but God’s wrath.

Books I’ll never read #9 – THE STRANGE CASE OF THE ALCHEMIST’S DAUGHTER by Theodora Goss

I just can’t with this book.

Kirkus says: “Goss….collects characters from titans of her genre and does a little reanimation of her own.”

If classics can stand on their own, let them stand without you building on top of them. Build yours up beside them; otherwise they’ll topple over, leaving us to shift through the rubble to rebuild our culture. And other metaphors here.

 

The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation

Born Again Minimalist

I was in graduate school when I first heard the term “millennial.” It was at a conference. The session was about how to serve millennial students, because they have different characteristics than the Generation X students that went before them. It was here that I first started hearing things like “millennials need to be recognized for participation,” “millennials feel they are special,” “millennials are sheltered,” “millennials are likely to have helicopter parents,” and more. Society as a whole loves to hate on the millennial generation (those born between 1980-1999), calling us “special snowflakes” and sarcastically referring to us as “social justice warriors,” calling us out for “being offended by everything” and, everybody’s favorite, pointing out how very entitled we are.

Here’s the secret: We’re not.

millennial late for work.jpg

The negative opinions directed at millennials are a perfect example, on an enormous societal scale, of cultural gaslighting.

What’s Gaslighting?

Glad you asked. I learned…

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BOOK REVIEW: Literary Publishing in the Twenty-First Century Edited by Travis Kurowski, Wayne Miller, and Kevin Prufer

A series of essays – most published originally somewhere else. A major theme of half of them is Amazon is the devil and crushing our voices. Especially Steve Wasserman’s essay (page 57) that  says “Amazon ought no longer to be permitted to behave like a parasite that hollows out its host. A serious Justice Department investigation is past due.” When, ironically, Amazon is giving diverse voices a megaphone that traditional publishing has never given them. The essays like that were laughable.

Not saying that Amazon isn’t a capitalist monster. I’m just saying that Amazon is a better monster to root for. *Searches for Godzilla GIF*

Also, there’s lots of criticism of the “white male gatekeeper” in the industry in these essays. Which I liked, but their points failed miserably. They keep pointing out the speck in the publishing eye while missing the log in their own. For example: Daniel Jose Older’s essay talks about the response to the need of diversity saying: “No one is demanding more tokens though. We’re talking about systematic upheaval.”

Systematic upheaval. Hm. Says the man who publishes within the system. Gets his essay published in a book ABOUT the system. Also, I thought he was a fantasy writer? Why is he in a book about Literary publishing? I have questions.

Older goes on to say: “Maybe the word hasn’t been invented yet — that thing beyond diversity.” But I’m here to say that word has been invented. A word that will bring about/has brought about “systematic upheaval.” That word is self-publishing. Getting rid of traditional publishing by the root (READ: Black Authors and Self-Publishing and Self-publishing offers hope for diverse authors shut out by traditional publishers).

I didn’t hear much about the James Patterson effect on publishing — the capitalist damage he’s done — or the slimy grey area of book packagers. Those issues weren’t addressed in this book (READ: Why Literature is no longer Art and The New Vanity Publishing: Traditional Publishing).

Moving on.

Jessa Crispin’s essay on ‘The Self-Hating Book Critic’ is very interesting in its spastic coverage, yet doesn’t land on any clear answers: “So I will keep at it, never quite getting it right.” I feel you, but try harder.

Her essay’s highlights:

“I want to tell them: this world is not for you, you are better without it. Outside the gates, not in. This world was in fact, in part, designed specifically to keep you out. It does not want you. It will not nourish you.

And just because you gain entry for one fleeting moment, do not think for a second that you haven’t stomped all over the even less desirables on your way in, don’t think the system has suddenly become tolerant… More interesting would be to exist outside the walls, and learn how to raid the city [traditional publishing literary critics] for whatever you need.

Literary critics have value. And yet sitting here I cannot come up with a single name of a critic who has played some sort of role in my life…I’m struggling here. And yet surely there have been some.

…There were books that got into my hands thanks to critics, and there were books I was able to think my way through thanks to some assistance.”

OK, but maybe you’re thinking about criticism all wrong. Too much from the perspective of the New York Times. Criticism/reviews, to me, are just a part of a conversation. Conversation always has meaning. For sure, though, the ultimate criticism of literature is just another book of literature — for doesn’t all literature build upon itself — respond to itself? Good literature should. It’s pretentious to think your “art” of reviewing is equal to writing another novel. It’s not. But it does have meaning.

The essay on “The View from a University Press” by Donna Shear had a good quote on authority I might use for my library instruction-ing:

“Notice that no mention is made of ‘peer-reviewed publication,’ or reference at all to being published by university presses, as there would be in other disciplines. This is because publication with a commercial or independent press is its own recognition of the value of the work. That work has beaten out thousands of others, risen from the slush pile, and has been rewarded with publication by a major or well-respected independent press. Essentially, this stands in for peer review. And after publication, reviews and sales act to further validate the success of the work.

So, yeah, this book. Interesting conversation, but one that clearly listening to “outside” voices.

TBR – The Last Gods of Indochine

Jacquie Mouhot and Paaku the Lotus-Born are divided by six centuries but linked by a common curse. In medieval Cambodia, Paaku is an orphan whose community believes he may be a reluctant incarnation of a god, causing sectarian turmoil for the kingdom’s leaders. Meanwhile, in 1921, Jacquie follows the footsteps of her grandfather, a famous explorer, to Indochina, where she becomes immersed in the tragedy of Paaku’s history: a story simultaneously unfolding in the intertwined present and past, a story in which she still has a vital role to play.

“Reluctant Incarnation…” Dude, I’ll do it if you don’t want to.

View on Amazon.