Book Review: Promethea #1 by Alan Moore, J.H. Williams III, Mick Gray

Sophie Bangs was a just an ordinary college student in a weirdly futuristic New York when a simple assignment changed her life forever. While researching Promethea, a mythical warrior woman, Sophie receives a cryptic warning to cease her investigations. Ignoring the cautionary notice, she continues her studies and is almost killed by a shadowy creature when she learns the secret of Promethea. Surviving the encounter, Sophie soon finds herself transformed into Promethea, the living

embodiment of the imagination. Her trials have only begun as she must master the secrets of her predecessors before she is destroyed by Promethea’s ancient enemy.

Promethea is a muse (lower-case on purpose) come to life. An incarnation of story itself, maybe? This work is so fascinatingly clever and meta that I could forgive a lot of the things that rubbed me the wrong way — some of what happens is hard to believe even under the rules of this universe (and it’s own universes, really). I found it hard to conceptualize how Promethea would “exist” singularly when more than one person could write about her at the same time — it could get complicated. It already is complicated with her previous “versions” still in existence in the imagination-whatever-realm.

tumblr_nzh4pejv2a1sq26wfo1_500The story potentially falls into all the plot holes you would find in the novel Inkheart, where someone could just write (instead of read) “and she dies” and the come-to-life being is done/the plot undermined. That said, there is still room for this “magical embodiment” to be explained better — fleshed out.

I read this as a spin on Wonder Woman — how there are so many versions of her, some of them sexist or ridiculous, yet all part of the same mythos. Mythos is another interesting point explored in this work — it takes from our culture and myths (mainly Egyptian and Greco-Roman?) like Marvel and DC comics do (i.e. Thor, Wonder Woman), yet doesn’t bastardize them without good reason (as I sometimes think mainstream comics do — do your research, damn it. Loki wasn’t Odin’s son!). Sophie is in a futuristic version of our world — not our exact world. That’s spelled out plainly. This is also why I could forgive a lot of the underlying theology (read: “The gods need prayer badly“) in the plot. The same rules do not apply.

Another review on Goodreads I agree with:

Promethea started with a really interesting concept: “What if there was a mythical being [Promethea] who every once in a while chose a person as her avatar. She would then fight to protect people.” The usual schtick about someone being granted powers and never being told precisely how they work follows. They “discover” what it means to have these powers through instinct and moral lessons. Anywho, overall it laid a decent base for a series even if it went on a few tangents that could have been omitted. 

I’ll be reading the second one, for sure!

 

This post was updated on 9/8/17

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Book Review: The Wicked + The Divine Vol. 4

This one progresses the story but gives no new background information. I believe it thinks it is going somewhere, but I am not so sure. There is a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming because it feels like the creators simply aren’t that clever. And it’s still a pretty vague twist at that, so, fuck it, I’m going to read the next one.

People call this work art porn but I call it music artist porn. The creators just want to see their favorite pop stars in fan-fictiony situations and I’m just like “I’m here for the statement on myth and existence, please. Any day now.”

Other reviews I agree with on Goodreads:

It was better than volume three, but this is really a 2.5 star book. I want to give it 3 stars, I really do, but I can’t. It’s sad, the series started out so strong. But this volume was still confusing (as was volume 3, though this wasn’t as extreme) and there were large sections that were just wasted space. I couldn’t understand what was going on during fight scenes or during scenes. There were other sections where I’m sure they thought it was dramatic but where nothing happened or moved the story forward. It made the entire book feel flimsy and frusterating. i know that for me that feeling was exacerbated by having finished Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening, a very complex and satisfying story, immediately before starting this. But the comparison couldn’t have been more stark. The art is really bold and striking and often really special. But sometimes it adds to the confusion as well. Overall it just wasn’t great and by no means did it live up to the promise of volume one. Sorry! 

 

This was…alright. It wasn’t bad, just really basic to be perfectly honest. The plot was very thin, and the action just got really, really over-the-top. The second I finished this I picked up Volume 1 again and flipped through it, and I came to realize that this story seriously one-eighty-ed in this volume. What was a commentary on celebrity life has become sort of typical fantasy fair.

 

Despite all the action and the return of the original artist, this didn’t really feel all that exciting. The script felt notably slapdash, with campy dialogue that didn’t flow very smoothly. I think I may be done with this series.

 

Neil Gaiman’s Mythmaking Makes No Sense

 

I would like to examine a section in Gaiman’s “Reflections on Myth” published in Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art and republished in in his collected nonfiction The View from the Cheap Seats, which I have recently started to read. This is the chunk:

 

“Too often, myths are uninspected. We bring them out without looking at what they represent, nor what they mean. Urban Legends and the Weekly World News present us with myths in the simplest sense: a world in which events occur according to story logic-not as they do happen, but as they should happen.

 

But retelling myths is important. The act of inspecting them is important. It is not a matter of holding a myth up as a dead thing, desiccated and empty (“Now class, what have we learned from the Death of Baldur?”), nor is it a matter of creating New Age self help tomes (“The Gods Inside You! Releasing Your Inner Myth.”) Instead we have to understand that even lost and forgotten myths are compost, in which stories grow.

 

What is important is to tell the stories anew, and to retell the old stories. They are our stories, and they should be told.”

 

These sentences don’t present much to argue with on the surface. But through Gaiman’s actions/creations, we can see he undermines what he “preaches.” Gaiman goes beyond retelling myths, such as what he did with Norse Mythology, where he updated myths for the modern reader and arguably stayed close to source material (though I, like Ursula K. Le Guin, didn’t like how he went about it). I am speaking of American Gods and Sandman more specifically, where he assimilates myth into his own brand—taking it from a communal (read: cultural) form and turning it into a fandom-religion where he is the priest. My thesis, which I am still ironing out in this brainstorming exercise, is that he does not participate in mythology. He does not contribute to it or polish it as others, like Jo Walton in her Thessaly series, do, but breaks it apart and then takes the pieces he likes and melts them into something else entirely. He destroys the original, cultural beauty and theology of myth, as if there are no merits in seeing these stories as they are in their original time periods, contexts, and evolutions. Allow me to explain.

 

In Sandman, Gaiman plucks the gods from the myths and sticks them in the comic universe just like he plucked Marvel characters and stuck them in 1602. Gaiman is quoted in the Afterword’s script letter to Andy of Marvel 1602 as saying he didn’t want to “mirror the Marvel Universe here: we’re doing something that’s more fun than that—we’re trying to create it. We get to make up our own.” He just wants the characters, never mind the original contexts that made these characters what they are in our consciousness. He steals their history, making the familiar unfamiliar without having to work for it. It’s the equivalent of going to a film simply because your favorite actor is in it and associating all the characters they were previously with the new character, except Gaiman doesn’t even create a new character for the actor. He merely changes the setting and tells the viewer “this character is Jack Sparrow, Edward Scissorhands, the Mad Hatter all at once now tell me how clever I am.”

 

And this is exactly what he does with myth. He ignores the very roots of mythology while reaping all the benefits of seeming the well-versed mythologist. Never mind the fact he refused to read Joseph Campbell, saying: “I think I got about half way through The Hero with a Thousand Faces and found myself thinking if this is true — I don’t want to know…I’d rather do it because it’s true and because I accidentally wind up creating something that falls into this pattern than be told what the pattern is.” Gaiman actively avoids the mythology itself while ignoring mythology is the pattern.

 

In that same interview, Gaiman is quoted as saying, “But I tend to be more interested in the actual myth,” which doesn’t ring true. Gaiman, repeatedly, tends to ignore the myth and use the characters to shove his story along. This is seen in the way he treats the creation of myth. In American Gods, gods do not create the universe (leading to what I call a “scientific explanation” of things), but humans create the gods out of their belief. The very families of gods don’t make sense anymore (if gods are born from human belief, how are their divine children born? How is Zeus born from Rhea? He must not be, if he was actually formed from the collective consciousness of people). And let’s not get into how Shadow is Odin’s son (i.e. is he divine or not? Is he a demigod or not? Doesn’t matter). Instead, let’s look at how Gaiman doesn’t even allow the gods he deems worthy of his story to evolve with the times. He calls them “Old” as if the gods are not timeless (the very concept of a god). Gaiman creates “New Gods” that encompass our new collective consciousness—what we pay attention to in this modern age. Never mind that, historically, gods always evolve to incorporate new forms of worship and interests: Kronos shifts from child-eater to castrated Father Time figure, Greek gods are merged with Latin gods and Egyptian gods, the Hebrew monotheistic god turns into the Polytheistic Trinity—there are many ways the old gods evolve, yet they do not die from non-belief. Humans do not have that power. A sacrifice to the gods does not give them physical strength. It only gives them proof of one more bent ear for their own agenda.

 

In American Gods, the New Gods squeeze out the possibility of the Old Gods evolving. Instead, they are the ones who offer the Old Gods chances to “rebrand.” This is what fundamentally doesn’t make sense about Gaiman’s theology. If the Old gods could always just rebrand, how could New Gods ever get the chance to exist in the first place? As if the Old Gods didn’t know what was coming if they didn’t choose to rebrand? It seems more like they’d be chomping at the bit to associate themselves with anything and everything. After all, if they aren’t diversified enough they will die.

 

We know that the goddess Easter is feeding off the Christian Holiday, so she was quick to rebrand. So was Vulcan, the new character created for the show, now the god of guns (which seems more like territory Ares would want, but I’ll let someone else rant…). The Old Gods seem to encompass a lot of modern ideas already (after all, it’s the gods who taught us how to do things in the original myths—like Prometheus giving us fire, they bring modernity to mortals, right?). For example: Vulcan would be a better personification of technology (BECAUSE: FEMALE ROBOT HELPERS) than Technical Boy. Arguably, Yggdrasil is the Internet itself (or you could call her a form of Maya, maybe?). And don’t you dare tell me that Dionysus wouldn’t be the god of films (he loved theater).

 

In myth, gods had sex with each other and made babies. Sometimes, accidentally. But that’s normally how you would get “New Gods.” Yet American Gods needed to create conflict and so created the “New God” strawman so Gaiman could stitch together the short stories he actually wanted to write. Though, if we were to give Gaiman some credit, we could argue his “New Gods” were to show that there is a scientific explanation for gods. If Gods are created from human consciousness (we create our own monsters, they are a shared delusion, reality isn’t real) then yeah, sure, they make a little more sense. And I’m willing to support that that is possibly how some things are created—in a Jungian, archetypal sense. Sometimes humans do help create myth—true or not, human propagate myth and mysteriousness. Lady Liberty—Libertas—is the personification of freedom. She was, at one point, erected for a political agenda. It could be argued that humans named her—created her. Or that they just gave a name to a personification—a personification controlled by a previously unnamed god. Or gave an old god a second name. I wonder if Gaiman would label her as “Old” or “New”?

 

It is my “belief” that sometimes gods lie and say they are another god if it makes you believe them or if the name expresses part of themselves they want you to see and understand. If we were trapped one day and a goddess heard our prayers why wouldn’t she call herself Libertas so we wouldn’t be afraid? Names give understanding.

 

Sure, we help shape them as much as they shape us. But saying that we created them does not make sense to me—not even scientifically. It is much more believable, to me, to take a Perelandraian view of mythology. Where the gods are gods of space and time. Where the gods are found in science itself. Where they caused the big bang and populate other worlds like a colonial race of aliens. Whatever. At most, I feel like I have the power to summon a demon. A demon who was already in existence. A demon who can tell me whatever name he’d like. But I cannot create. I do not want to create. I do not want to get my hopes up and be let down like that.

 

In episode 7 of American Gods, “A Prayer for Mad Sweeny,” it is implied that one person alone brings Mad Sweeny the leprechaun to America. If one single person can cause the existence of an imaginary being, then why aren’t more children’s night terrors running about (a happening I would say occurs more than their belief/understanding in God). There are too many holes to poke into Gaiman’s method of believing. Sure, there are plenty of holes you could poke in current thought processes (thus, atheism) but shouldn’t—if we are to suspend disbelief anyways—we account for what we believe gods are originally? If, for instance, we are to believe that leprechauns exist in the U.S. because one person believed in them, yet that person didn’t know to believe in them unless she was told about them in the first place this becomes the “chicken or the egg” scenario. Which is not what myth typically is. Mythology is already the answer to the “chicken or the egg” dilemma. Gaiman shouldn’t use mythology to answer his Big Questions if he makes his own answer irrelevant.

 

I am starting to disagree that myths are “compost” as Gaiman states, for this overlooks myths as living, breathing plants woven into current stories. Gaiman does not weave into what already exists—American Gods is not another branch on the tree. Allow me to be dramatic: it is a stolen piece of nature. And when you chop off plant parts, yes, sometimes the seeds and stems can take new root. You can graft something new. But the old trunk you stole from is still sitting there. Or the plucked fruit shrivels up. Or you get a bad seed.

 

Parts of American Gods can’t take root. Instead of nurturing the plant-that-is-world-myth that is already firmly planted, Gaiman whacks away at it. He does the very “dissecting” he claims to avoid. He wants to “create it” as if it is not already in existence and as if myth is not a communal, cultural act. As if picking flowers here and there to make his own floral bouquet (that will eventually wilt) will somehow give him a clearer understanding of what he has destroyed. And perhaps it does give a clearer view. It got me talking about mythology, for sure. But it is so much more satisfying when the author works within the constraints of what is already established—grows from the same tree rather than try to be an entirely new plant all together. Myths/stories are not compost. We are the compost. We are what they grow from. We are what the stories live in and sprout from.

 

Mythology is not like the fairy tale. Fairy tales are retold in countless renditions. They are the story archetypes whose characters (more so, story structure) can be pasted into other contexts. Mythical characters/stories cannot have this done to them so well because mythology is the context.  The characters are myth/religion/reality itself–representations of forces of nature and culture. If you take such characters, you automatically change nature and culture (rather, you try and fail to, because let’s be honest, your story is weaker than the reality). It doesn’t translate. When the lines between fable, fairy tale, and myth cross and blur, there could be excuses made.  But unless those excuses are called upon, the story fails to really talk about myth as it is. 

 

Arguably, this myths-as-compost has been done long before Gaiman (read: Thor and Wonder Woman), but never has mythology been so controlled by one man. Arguably, comics before him were a communal art form. Now Gaiman slaps his name on them and creates his monomyth according to his own selection. In his Columbia essay he states American Gods “will be, for me, a way of trying to pin down myths—the modem myths and the old myths, together—on the huge and puzzling canvas that is the North American continent. …I have lived here for six years, and I still do not understand it: a strange collection of home-grown myths and beliefs, the ways that America explains itself to itself.” And this is part of the problem too—his trying to pin down the myths. America needs no outsider to explain their myths to them. America, yes, needs to look inward sometimes. But perhaps let us have a say in our own cultural mythmaking? But that is the Gaiman brand—colonialism.

This post was updated on 6/26/17.

BOOK REVIEW: Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes by Edith Hamilton was informative

I never had to read this book in high school or college, though I probably should have. Apparently it is used more than Thomas Bulfinch’s, which is one I picked up on my own. I can understand why they would lean toward Hamilton over Bulfinch, due to the language and the scope and the time period they were written in. How interesting they were both American, though. You would think such a topic would be infiltrated by the Brits (I can only think of Roger Lancelyn Green…).

Americans: 2

Brits: 1

This was one of the most informative books I’ve read on mythology. Using the most prominent versions of the myths, Hamilton gives not only facts about the ancient tales but context. I don’t feel like Bulfinch gave much context. I feel like he  was writing for a more classically-minded audience anyway. I had to look stuff up when reading his because he assumed much. Hamilton chooses the simplest explanations and the most graceful narratives to explain the stories. Half the time, I don’t think Bulfinch captured the whole picture of myth — only what he found interesting.

Other observations about this book include: Hamilton focuses a lot on the heroes, which I find a tad boring at times. But not because of her writing, just the subject matter. I also found it odd that she even bothered to tack on the Norse myths at the end of this.  They take up only about 10% of the actual book — at the very end. Why’d she even bother, really? Her excuse is that they make up part of the Western culture too. But she does not seem to know these myths as well or, at least, have as much to say about them. But she does seem to cover the most relevant points and at least an effort is made to include them.

Book Review: The Wicked + The Divine Vol 2 gets better on the myth, worse on the story

See my review of Vol. 1 here.

So, the plot is kind of all over the place with this one. Everything we know to be “the rules” turns out to be false. There are no rules. The mythos behind the plot is better explained, which made me  stomach a lot of my initial mythology-related issues. But the plot doesn’t really go anywhere and isn’t better for all the “explaining.” Spoilers from here on out.

So, at one point in this Ananke is like “They may not really be gods, but they think that they are.” So, we aren’t even dealing with gods now?! Which makes sense, because their powers are so limited. And Woden does things that seem more like stuff Hephaestus would do (like building armor). It seems more like Ananke is just telling them who they are (naming them after the gods like pets) and every time they (re)incarnate they just remember what Ananke had named them…

The backstory that Ananke gives is so vague (as to why she exists and why the cycle happens) that it seems like the writers don’t know themselves. You could argue that they are being purposefully vague (but that vagueness isn’t working for them), or that they just don’t want to back themselves in a corner, but it seems more like they just don’t care. That they know we’ll eat from their hands anyways.

All we get of that “ancient backstory” is like one page worth of frames explaining that it’s some stupid battle between light and dark (why the gods incarnate? Or why they exist? I can’t even remember). Except I don’t know if we’re supposed to believe Ananke. She doesn’t seem to be very trustworthy. Are they here to fight darkness or to inspire? Because all these pop stars want to inspire. Not much fighting going on. Perhaps they want to inspire to fight the darkness. I don’t know. It sounds cheesy though.

And then Ananke proceeds to make a 13th incarnation. So, apparently there can be more than 12. Way to break your own rules, writers. My guess is that Ananke is feeding  off the gods/whatevers she has trapped somewhere. But she has to let a few of them out at a time otherwise they’ll consume her or turn on her or something something something.

Let me write my own comic book and I’ll do better.

I have beef still, but I’ll probably read the third one just so I can complain more.

And the fact it’s set in the UK continues to rub me the wrong way. Of course the most historically imperial country would get the gods. Of course it feels entitled to all cultures. Of course.

Other reviews I agree with:

Kieron Gillen’s story for this book is incredibly thin. I’m not really sure why it’s important for Laura and Cassandra to find out who Luci’s failed assassins were because 1) they proved their incompetence and aren’t a threat, and 2) Luci’s dead anyway. Also, Laura’s “investigation” involves her going to raves and underground parties, doing drugs and dancing which isn’t just utterly tedious to read but wholly ineffective! Without going into spoilers, the reveal of who the assassins were is also really anticlimactic.

 

I really like the idea behind this series, but it is hard to follow. I don’t think I’m really lost, so much as things just aren’t clearly explained. It’s enjoyable having a Pantheon of characters, but I can’t be the only one who finds it difficult to keep their personalities straight.

 

Twelve gods, I think, were too many to adequately develop. It feels as if they’re thrown into scenes or forced to converse with Laura just because they’ve had very little stage time and the audience hasn’t had a chance to get to know them yet. This has slowed the pace of the story to plodding (I was so bored reading this) and plot threads have been too quickly resolved (who and why were snipers shooting at the gods?) which was anticlimactic or forgotten until the closing act (Laura’s obvious god ability)The Faust Actdid a lot more in 144 pages than Fandemonium did in 166.

Reviews of the next few issues of the comic aren’t reassuring. It seems plot is completely absent in favour of telling back stories. If one of those is Ananke’s then that might be helpful. Should my library purchase the third volume, I may skim it. The Wicked + The Divine‘s mythology is compelling but I’m not willing to waste money on it.

Book Review: The Odyssey of Sergeant Jack Brennan by Bryan Doerries

Technically a DNF. I found it too hard to reconcile the fact this was just a literal retelling of the Odyssey + parallel frames of modern-day soldiers. A solider in the book is literally just retelling the Odyssey to his men, which I thought was a lazy concept (Sing, Sergeant, the rage of Amanda!). If Boerries wanted to just retell the Odyssey, he should have just RETOLD THE ODYSSEY. No need to make a grand statement and fall flat in the attempt.

I gave this to my bf, who was in the air force, to read and he couldn’t finish it either, saying something to the effect of “This guy [Doerries] doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” The point being, Odysseus should NOT be the poster child for PTSD. Nope, nope, nope. The connection between what Odysseus faced and what modern day soldiers deal with is NOT the same. If he is going to have PTSD from anything, war would be the last on the long list. It would more likely be from being raped by a goddess–from being tortured by the gods–from seeing literal dead people.

Odysseus has very little reason for war PTSD compared to modern day soldiers. He grows up in a culture where war is viewed differently–where war is acceptable and a way of life. Songs are sung about it. Soldiers are glorified. Soldiers today come home to a culture where war is not OK (because war *isn’t* OK). Most songs to day are very anti-war (Country music excluded). Soldiers today also don’t have patron goddesses to ensure their smooth transition when they finally do make it back home (“Want some more youth, Odysseus? BOOM. Granted.” –literally Athena). Instead they get offered pills and suicide help lines.

Odysseus also goes through hell and back. He doesn’t have to wrestle with theological and moral questions. He knows where the dead go. He even gets to work out unfinished business with them. Soldiers never get that. So comparing their issues Odysseus’s just isn’t fair.

Odysseus has confidence (of belief and knowledge and magic) that regular soldiers never have. What’s more, he’s a king who is the only one of his men to make it home alive (cough, cough Athena).

This whole book rings as a sad attempt to get soldiers interested in the classics. Which I don’t think works. Yes, yes. History repeats itself and we can see the same old problems for humanity resurfacing again and again. That doesn’t mean we have to try and spell it out and work really really hard to prove that point. It’s a fact. Note it and move on. Don’t hold my hand like a two year old by giving us a comic book to make up for it.

BOOK REVIEW: The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton

What. A. Let down.

I was so disappointed in this book I’m speechless. I’ve been trying to write this review for months now. It’s been a struggle. I’m going to let other reviews speak for me.

 A deus ex machina ending is no less of a poor literary device, even when it actually features Zeus, and killing off a major female character literally and unironically for the sake of a man’s emotional development ain’t gonna win you points.

Basically, the entire 2nd novel was pointless. [Spoilers] It literally seemed like an excuse to meander to where Walton wanted to take us all along: outer space. This book literally goes from The Republic to Perelandra. And not very gracefully at that. It was abrupt and thrust upon the reader. Unwillingly.

It’s obvious she didn’t know how to end her story and I’m liek maybe try workshopping it or something? Anyway, in retrospect this whole series was nothing more than a sophisticated thought experiment and turns out I shouldn’t have really wasted my time.

I’m still going to read the third book, but I’m not going to be as excited about it. If this was Jo Walton’s goal (to bring the Just City to space) then why not start it there in the first place? It just seems like she’s repeating her same concept over and over again. Maybe with different results, yes, but I’d rather just read about the most interesting one.

Beyond these, though, the weird “superpowers” given to the too-many-to-remember children of Apollo can be forgiven; the rickety deus ex machina of Zeus can be forgiven; the jarring sci-fi twist can be forgiven… Why? Because the philosophical topics the story continues to explore are its main saving grace.

The superpowers thing really rubbed me the wrong way, because it seemed so contrived. What does going to a specific place have to do with anything? Is that standard mythology? It may be, but it’s still really weird. Not to mention, are the kids really demigods? They were still created by mortal sperm (that comes from Apollo’s mortal body). Would they really have full demigod status? The science doesn’t work for me.

I think that Kebes should have been a much deeper character. He should have been relatable, not an endlessly malevolent bad guy with every violent and nasty predilection in the book.

I felt this way about Kebes as well. Walton really wasted an opportunity with how she got rid of Kebes. Also, the way Christianity was handled in the “wrong time” made me frown. The time-travel logic didn’t fit. If Kebes made things different, then Apollo would have known about it, wouldn’t he? Because it would be history. But he didn’t. And so the supposedly-wise god worried for nothing. I think what bothered me most about the “Christianity” bit was that Jo Walton didn’t have a good argument for why Kebes as a character would believe in Jesus. Or even need religion. None of the other characters seem to need it. Why use that as a reason to justify him wanting his own city? Sure, he hated the masters, but he was justified enough in his hate not to add religion into the mix. Does that make sense?

Please let me know and direct me to other reviews you liked–even your own!

 

Goodreads Review: Hang Wire by Adam Christopher

Hang WireHang Wire by Adam Christopher

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book was a DNF for me. I could not get into it. There was too much to wade through to connect with the story at first. What Christopher meant to be an action packed start was really just too much to read at first. Such detail might be good in a movie, but not here at the start of a novel. Maybe Adam Christopher should work in film rather than literature.

View all my reviews

How I feel about most books I review on Goodreads these days.