Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman

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I read this book in a couple of days last week and thoroughly enjoyed it.  It is a collection of Norse mythology, from Scandinavia centuries ago, retold by Neil Gaiman.  In order to write this book, he read translations of original Norse texts and other famous retellings.  In the disclaimer in the front of the book, Gaiman writes that they are simply his interpretations and he very much allows his own voice to come through in the stories.

I knew a little of Norse mythology before I read this book.  After watching the Marvel film about Thor, I became interested in the myths that influenced Marvel to create their versions of these characters.  It was then that I attempted to read the classic Norse text. Prose Edda, one of the texts Gaiman read in order to write his versions of the stories.  At the time, I struggled to read it as I had little background knowledge of the characters or events.  Norse Mythology has given me the knowledge to hopefully revisit Prose Edda as it details a number of Norse myths simply yet still beautifully written.

Inside this book are summaries of the main gods to remember, a glossary of names, objects and places – which is a very helpful reference point – and stories from the creation of the worlds to the destruction of them (Ragnarok).  Most stories follow the adventures of Odin, Thor and Loki although there are many different gods, giants and monsters throughout the book.  These stories tell of how the worlds were created and where the first gods came from; the origin of Thor’s hammer; why Odin only has one eye, and what that has got to do with his immense knowledge and wisdom; how earthquakes are caused by a chained up Loki; and how many times monsters have tried to marry Freya but failed.

I really enjoyed reading these stories and learning about a mythology I didn’t know much about.  I especially enjoyed learning about how different the real myths are from the Marvel comics version!  I would strongly recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn the basics of Norse mythology is a way that is fun and exciting to read.

Scoop, Evelyn Waugh

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When I was first given this book as a Christmas present, I wasn’t quite sure who Evelyn Waugh was.  I trusted the recommendation and the Observer review on the back described it as ‘the funniest novel ever written about journalism’ so I decided it was a good reading choice for bus journeys and in between coursework writing.

Scoop focuses on a particular newspaper, the Daily Beast, and satirically narrates the lengths that newspaper journalists and publishers will go in order to catch a story before anyone else.  The journalist chosen to represent the Daily Beast is countryman William Boot, who, through a case of mistaken identity, is caught up chasing a story about a possible war in the fictional African Republic of Ishmaelia.  The story achieves a large amount of its humour and plot through the constant switching of point of views, allowing the reader to explore more of the story than the characters themselves.  It is not until the second chapter that the reader is allowed to meet William Boot.  Before that point, the story seems to follow a John Courteney Boot, creating the comedy of errors element.

The novel contains many codes and vernacular used by the journalists to shorten telegrams and communicate quickly.  At first, like William Boot, I found it quite difficult to understand these messages but as the story went on, I tuned into them.  These indecipherable codes, and the way the journalists spend all their companies’ money on food, drink and souvenirs, really help to lightheartedly satirise the journalists and the industry as a whole.

It is worth remembering the time period that the novel is written in when reading the depictions of Ishmaelia.  It was written in 1938 when the British Empire began to slowly give back power to the countries they controlled.  This lead to many wars between those countries and the British, and even civil wars within the countries.  In this novel, Waugh includes a detailed account of the fictional country’s history and politics which reflects the view that British and European people had on Africa at the time.  Although I found some parts slightly uncomfortable to read considering the society we live in today, it does offer an insight into Waugh’s society and what they deemed acceptable.

Overall, Scoop was a funny and enjoyable read.  Despite being quite a short novel, the detailed accounts of Ishmaelia and the sections of coded telegrams makes it less easy to digest quickly but this doesn’t ruin the reading experience at all.

Doing It!, Hannah Witton

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I had been waiting for this book for months!  I pre-ordered it as soon as I could, last year and had been watching the development of the book on Hannah Witton’s social media.  As I expected, this book was amazing!  I devoured it within two evenings and I am so glad I read it.

Hannah is a Youtuber and blogger who creates content mostly about sex, relationships and feminism.  I’ve been watching her videos for over a year now and have thoroughly enjoyed what she does and have been quite inspired by it.  It always pleased me how open she was about sex and relationships and how much she supported the campaign to improve SRE (sex and relationships education) in schools, and even make it compulsory throughout England and Wales.  It is something I am also passionate about and signed the petition to force the government to take action on it.

This is her first book and acts as an educational and inspirational tool to help create an open dialogue on these issues for people aged 14 and over.   It is full of anecdotes (both funny and embarrassing), information and helpful advice.  Witton has even included sections written by her friends, family, other bloggers and Youtubers and experts.  This helps make the content of the book more diverse and meaningful for more people.  I really admired how personal some of the anecdotes were.  By sharing her own stories, Witton has created the opportunity to break down some of the barriers in dialogue about sex and relationships.  Only good things can come from more open communication for young people on these issues.

I have always taken an interest in this topic, but more so recently.  This has led me to read books such as Sara Pascoe’s Animal and Laura Bates’ Girl Up.  Like those books, Doing It! has only reaffirmed by beliefs about the importance of educating young people properly on issues surrounding sex, gender, relationships and consent.  I would strongly recommend this book (and the other two I have just mentioned) to anyone who wishes to learn more about their body or the issues I listed above, or anyone who is simply passionate about the topics like me and Hannah Witton.

Smoke and Mirrors, Neil Gaiman

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After reading Trigger Warning earlier this year, I was inspired to read Neil Gaiman’s other short story collections.  This one, Smoke and Mirrors, was his first.  I bought it soon after reading Trigger Warning alongside Fragile Things, his other book of short stories.

Most of the stories are thrilling and creepy.  Most are loosely themed on the idea of magic and illusion, and how they are created.  A few stories have this theme very explicitly used (including a story about an author inspired by Victorian magic tricks to write short stories whilst struggling with a film script in Hollywood) although all have some element of magic or fantasy included.  Some are humorous, some are not so humorous.

As always, I really enjoyed reading Gaiman’s writing.  I enjoyed the variety of content and forms of the stories.  Some are based on well-known fairy tales and stories, including a retelling of Beowulf with a werewolf hero and a monstrous sea creature.  Another is a twisted take on Snow White which suggests that maybe Snow White is not as innocent as it seems.  It portrays Snow White as a savage vampire-like creature who forces the Queen, her stepmother, to stop her and protect her kingdom.

Overall, it was another fantastic read from Gaiman.

 

The Night is Darkening Round Me, Emily Bronte

It was National Poetry Day on Tuesday and to celebrate it I decided to read some poetry by Emily Bronte.  I have previously read Wuthering Heights by Bronte but none of her poetry – despite hearing how good it is.

I do not usually read poetry.  In fact, I hadn’t enjoyed reading it until I read Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur (read my review of it here).  After reading that collection I was then determined to read more poetry, especially by female poets.  So when I saw a Bronte collection in the Penguin Little Black Classics series, I was intrigued to give it a go.

This collection of poetry is about love, death, nature and time, the usual themes of Romantic poetry in the eighteenth century.  Bronte has the talent of portraying the deepest, most passionate emotions within carefully constructed delicate lines and stanzas.  There is very little internal deviation from the structural styles and rhyme schemes Bronte has selected for each poem.

Each poem was a pleasure to read.  They were all quite different in theme but had a similar style which brought them all together as a collection.  Some were dark and melancholic whereas others were happier and lighter.  Even the descriptions of nature varied from naturalist to gothic – a style Emily, and her sister Charlotte, are famous for using in their novels.  My favourite poem of the collection is an untitled poem which first line is ‘The blue bell is the sweetest flower’.  It felt appropriate in the lovely spring weather.  (As I type this blog post now, the sun is shining and the daffodils are blooming.  It is beautiful.)  Another poem I particularly liked was Stanzas, an emotional poem about the mourning of a loved one.

Frankenstein, Mary Shelley

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Of all the texts I’ve had to read at university so far, this was my favourite.

Frankenstein is referred to as a gothic, proto-science fiction novel and paved the way for the two genres. The story is told through a series of letters sent from Arctic explorer, Robert Walton, to his sister Margaret back in England. Within these letters are mini narratives by Victor Frankenstein (and the monster) after Walton rescues Frankenstein from the frozen plains of the Arctic.

Frankenstein tells Walton of his childhood in Geneva and his fascination and obsession in the pursuit of the principles of life. Whilst at university in Germany, Frankenstein manages to create life but is so disgusted by what he sees, he casts out his creation. He then tells Walton how this one event affects the rest of his life and the lives of those he loves.

Before reading this book, I already had a good idea of what the story is about, and had wanted you read it for a while. It’s a well known book which has seeped into our culture and has shaped the science fiction genre that we know today. I had also watched the Kenneth Branagh film adaptation several years ago. This meant that I was prepared for a classic science fiction tale of mystical science and a murderous monster. However, that initial impression was wrong. Frankenstein is much more a reflection of human nature than it is a tale about a monster. In fact, there is no real explanation as to how the monster was created in the first place.

Through Frankenstein’s desire to act like God and the monster desire to be accepted by society, we can learn what it means to be human. The themes of morality and sin are very captivating and thought provoking. The account of the monster’s acquisition of language and human behaviour is fascinating and moving. Considering how short this book is, it really packs in a lot moments that force you to think.

Throughout the novel, there are references and allusions to Milton’s Paradise Lost. This reinforces the themes of evil and morality, and often creates a parallel between the monster and Satan. Both rebel against their creators because they feel like outcasts in society. As I had also read Paradise Lost for the same module at university, I was especially interested in this.

Overall, Frankenstein is an incredibly captivating and intelligent book. I only wish I had read it sooner.

Dent’s Modern Tribes, Susie Dent

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As I’m studying English at university, it is no surprise that I am really fascinated by words: the meaning of words and where they come from.  I have been trying to read more and more books about language outside of my university course and this was one of them.  This book, written by lexicographer Susie Dent, discusses how your job or hobby can change the language you speak every day and more specifically among like-minded people.

The book is divided into sectors and individual groups and jobs, or tribes as Dent calls them.  Some of these tribes include politicians, cyclists, actors, paramedics and home bakers.  It surprised me how many words and phrases I have heard or have used myself originate from specific groups of people.  Some words are codes to avoid others outside of their circle knowing the meaning of their speech whilst others are nicknames and abbreviations used to simply speed up communication.

Susie Dent’s commentary is very witty and full of interesting facts.  She gives a very good explanation behind each term and the general environment of the tribe that uses it.  It is this context that really adds to the book.  It was a really engaging book for me because of my love of language and words, although Dent’s simple, funny style of writing makes it easy for anyone to read and enjoy.