This installment: Pullman’s take on Grimm; Indians in the northwest circa 1899; a Canadian novel about a girl who sees auras; all the times the Thames froze, illustrated; and a CD of 100 poems.
Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman
A new English version, and fascinating indeed. Pullman applies considerable scholarship, lively language, and fresh perspectives on these many stories. Some are very familiar, others quite obscure. He honors the basic bones of the genre, not indulging in psychological explorations within the tales or too much description. The originals were stripped down for a reason—they cut to the chase. His commentary after each addresses sources and speculations and the choices he made. A disquisition on the nature of the Disney dwarves is especially enlightening.
Bone River by Megan Chance
This is a strange book, one I didn’t fully embrace, but the subject is so compelling that I’m sharing it here. In the mid 1800’s Leonie marries much older Junius, her dead father’s ethnological colleague. They’re studying Indians in the Washington Territory. June discovers a mummified body in a mound and feels a connection with it. Her husband wants to ship it off to the National Museum but she resists. She has an Indian “uncle,” Lord Tom, who shares native lore with her. And of course there’s a big, tragic secret. Lots of Indian phrases and insight into the racist perspectives of the time. A good story, well-told. ( But I have to admit I got hung up on the way she had the Indians pronounce the word “dreams.” “Dleams.” Really? It might be accurate but it rankled each time.)
Girl in Shades by Allison Baggio
Another book I had somewhat mixed feeling about, but certain elements were of considerable interest so I want to tell you about it. First of all, the writer is Canadian, and I don’t come across many from our neighbor to the north. Maya’s 11. Her mother Marigold is dying of cancer in Saskatoon. She sets herself up in a teepee in the backyard and becomes a local phenomenon, bringing unwanted media attention. Maya has a special gift—she can see auras. After her mother dies Maya finds evidence of a hidden life and pursues it, discovering the source of what she always realized had been out of joint. There’s also a blind photographer-- really. Intriguing material.
The Frozen Thames by Helen Humphreys
It was the size that first seized my attention: the book is small and plump. And the beautiful painting on the cover of said river with booths and carriages and skaters and pedestrians upon it. What a concept: vignettes of the 40 times the Thames froze, from 1142 on through 1895, taken from documented events. Some are first person: a merchant, a plague victim, fishermen. What a lively sense of history, richly illustrating, and so original. A gem.
The Summer of My Greek Taverna by Tom Stone
Tom fell in love with Patmos, a small island, and spent a summer there to work on a novel. He met a beautiful French traveler and fell in love with her as well. Down the line and now a family, they settled in a city in Crete where he taught and she painted icons. Lados, the proprietor of their favorite hangout on Patmos, made an offer they couldn't refuse: run his taverna for the summer and rake in the money. By then Tom had become a good cook so he leapt at the chance. From romantic, heady vision to bald reality was a steep learning curve. Beware Greeks bearing schemes, as it were, and crises overwhelmed high spots exponentially. A familiar tale, but nicely told and full of local lore.
100 poems, 100 readers--interesting idea. Mostly actors and writers. Lots of "greatest hits" from familiar literature such as Shakespeare, Hardy, Kipling, Tennyson, but surprises as well, like Stevie Smith, Paul Monette, Mary Karr. Men and women readers, American and English, with varied delivery as befits the material. Very short musical interludes divide the sections: love, joy, youth, story poems, conflicts, etc. A good opportunity to experience poetry out loud, greet old favorites and be taken by surprise with fresh offerings.
Back next Monday.