Sunday, March 12, 2017

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

I'm biased, I know, because I feel like Gaiman can do no wrong. I will read all of his books even if I'm a bit skeptical of the premise, such as Norse mythology. Not really my thing, but it's Neil Gaiman.

I have a new appreciation for Norse Mythology! Although, admittedly, I kept picturing Thor and Loki as Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston but, hey, movies ruin everything. Gaiman crafted the myths of gods with such an approach that made it less myth and more novel (captivating novel, no less).

He walks us through the players first: Odin, Thor and Loki. Then he guides us through all the pertinent stories that shape the myths from the Beginning to the End. The end leaves us with slaughter of the gods with Ragnarok. The story of Kvasir is actually the one that stuck with me the most. His blood, taken in a most brutal way, became the mead of poetry.

I appreciate short stories quite a bit as they take more thought and craft than long novels, I think. To be able to tell a story and engage the reader in just a few pages takes skill and Neil Gaiman has skill in abundance.

Even if you think Norse myths are not your thing, take a chance with this. Despite the unpronounceable names (how do you pronounce names that are almost all consonants???).... maybe listen to the audio :)

Top 10 Coolest Creatures from Norse Mythology

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

I'm declaring this the best audio book of the year!!! I can't imagine how the written form looks because the audio was almost play-like with citations of sources all over the place. This really was a brilliant way to portray the death of Willie Lincoln and the grief of his father.

The bardo is the Buddhist concept of the space between life and moving on. The mid-life? Almost like purgatory, but, as is with most Buddhist concepts, leaving the decisions up to the deceased. In the bardo, the dead are not being punished or cleansed. They are dealing with their regrets and, for the most part, not even acknowledging that they are dead, despite seeing their own corpses inside their coffins (sick-boxes) in the cemetery (hospital-yard).

When Willie dies of typhoid at age 11, his body is sheltered in a borrowed mausoleum. Willie's ghost comes out in the night and we get introduced to the ghosts that are still refusing to leave the cemetery. Vollman (voiced by Nick Offerman), a printer, died when a beam caved in his skull and before he could consummate his marriage. Bevins (voiced by David Sedaris), is a young, closeted gay man who commits suicide when his lover dumps him for another man. When he was at death's door, he realized he didn't want to die. Unfortunately, it was too late and he is stuck in the bardo with great regrets. Reverend Thomas (voiced by George Saunders) is a confusing ghost. He has a permanent terrified look on his face but does not have real reason for not moving on. Later in the book, we get his story.

Abraham Lincoln visits his son in the night and holds him in the crypt. The ghosts are mesmerized and astounded that someone actually had someone who loved them visit. Willie decides to not move on so he can continue seeing his dad. Unfortunately, as ghosts tarry in the bardo, they begin to unravel mentally. Children begin losing touch very quickly and really should move on as fast as they can.

The audio book and it's cast of voices is simply mesmerizing. The hospital-yard portions are read from the point of view of all the ghosts who have not yet left and oh, those stories are heartbreaking. The Barons provided comic relief until you really listen to what they were saying about their lives, instead of how they said it. The moments of Lincoln grieving his son were so well done and can easily squeeze a tear from your eye.

The other part of the book is the story of Lincoln and how Willie died as told by citations of sources (some real, some invented). It's a bit jarring at first to hear so many citations but very quickly it melded into a good story, amusing at times for the sources that disagreed with each other ("The moon was red.", "The moon was bright white.", "There was no moon that night") and for the only time the sources agreed ("Lincoln was the homeliest of men","He was the ugliest man I've seen.","A homelier man was never found"). Poor Lincoln.

Saunders starts with the concept of the bardo but adds in so many different elements, including afterlife and how ghosts can influence living people, that it ends up being a really great mish-mash of different concepts. And really, who can tell if this would even be remotely true? We don't know what will happen when we die. Either way, this was fun, well-told, heartbreaking and thought-provoking. Get the audio book for this and skip the printed version. It will be worth it.

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

This had been on my list before Fisher died so when I got the Audible credit, I went ahead and bought it. I've read several other of Fisher's books and they made me laugh. I was hoping this would do the same and give me a behind the scenes look at the making of Star Wars.

There were definite parts of this book that were very funny. Fisher herself read the book with her daughter Billie reading other parts. Overall, though, this book actually made me feel a bit uncomfortable.

Fisher talked a great deal about her affair with a then-married Harrison Ford. Granted, it's 40 years after it happened and Ford has re-married twice more since then, but I think it was the "Maybe he'll divorce her and marry ME!" commentary that bothered me. Fisher was only 19 during the filming of Star Wars so her young, naive way of dealing with an older man made sense. The diaries that Fisher based this book on basically only covered the affair and her desperate need to have Ford just love her and swoop her away to bliss. This topic covered about 2/3 of the book.

There was a bit of funny insight from the set as well as some disturbing insight. I'm not sure Fisher found it disturbing, at least she blew it off in the book, but the crew getting a 19 year old female actor drunk as hell and then trying to escort her away from the party to be alone with them....that reads as dangerous to me. Fisher didn't believe any harm would come to her, but again, she was naive. "Luckily", Ford rescued her from the crew with the admonishment that she clearly couldn't make a decision for herself, only to go after her himself in the backseat of a car. Hence my Luckily in quotes. Harrison.....she was too drunk to make a decision for herself.

I did have trouble listening to a lovestruck, starry-eyed 19 year old girl's poetry. That wasn't the fun part of this book.

I think I will recommend Carrie's other books ahead of this one, but a die hard fan will still want to read The Princess Diarist.