Surviving Twenty Something

Author Libraries: Donna Tartt

Books, Author LibraryDanna Rowan
Donna Tartt

Though you could say almost an endless amount about Donna Tartt and her slightly mysterious persona (recluse, hard-drinking Southerner, celibate Catholic, crevats and sharply angled bob), I'm much more interested in her writing than the outward presence she may or may not intentionally cultivate. 

Her debut novel The Secret History had a profound impact on my life— it spurred a renewed interest in the classics, and encourages my own writing to this day. But what poems, novels, and non-fiction collections were behind her own great works of fiction? Skim any interview with Donna Tartt and you'll see her latest novel The Goldfinch referred to as 'Dickensian'— but what beyond that?

Well, needless to say, I've added quite a few books to that ever growing list: To Be Read.

"To paraphrase Nabokov: all I want from a book is the tingle down the spine, for my hairs to stand on end." — Donna Tartt
 

 
 

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1. The Difficulty of Being

JEAN COCTEAU

I’ve always got a dozen books going, which is why my suitcases are always so heavy. At the moment: Am greatly enjoying the Neversink Library reissue of Jean Cocteau’s “Difficulty of Being,” since my copy from college is so torn up the pages are falling out.

By the time he published The Difficulty of Being in 1947, Jean Cocteau had produced some of the most respected films and literature of the twentieth century, and had worked with the foremost artists of his time, including Proust, Gide, Picasso and Stravinsky.

This memoir tells the inside account of those achievements and of his glittering social circle. Cocteau writes about his childhood, about his development as an artist, and the peculiarity of the artist’s life, about his dreams, friendships, pain, and laughter. He probes his motivations and explains his philosophies, giving intimate details in soaring prose. And sprinkled throughout are anecdotes about the elite and historic people he associated with.

Beyond illuminating a truly remarkable life, The Difficulty of Being is an inspiring homage to the belief that art matters.

 

2. The Big Sleep

RAYMOND CHANDLER

I always have a comfort book going too, something I’ve read many times, and for me at the moment that comfort book is Raymond Chandler’s 'The Big Sleep.'

'I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.' 

Los Angeles PI Philip Marlowe is hired by wheelchair-bound General Sternwood to discover who is indulging in some petty blackmail. A weary, old man, Sternwood just wants the problem to go away. But Marlowe finds he has his work cut out just keeping Sternwood's wild, devil-may-care daughters out of trouble as they prowl LA's dirtiest and darkest streets. And pretty soon, he's up to his neck in hoodlums and corpses...

 

 

3. Peter Pan

J.M. Barrie

“I suppose in the end Peter Pan was such an important book to both of us because it is ultimately such a dark book, about change, loss, aging, mortality, death: the very questions that hung so heavy between us.”

One starry night, Peter Pan and Tinker Bell lead the three Darling children over the rooftops of London and away to Neverland — the island where lost boys play, mermaids splash and fairies make mischief. But a villainous-looking gang of pirates lurk in the docks, led by the terrifying Captain James Hook. Magic and excitement are in the air, but if Captain Hook has his way, before long, someone will be walking the plank and swimming with the crocodiles... 

 

4. Oliver Twist

Charles dickens

“I was in the third-fourth grade... My grandmother was reading it to me. I liked Nancy Drew, but I was really worried about Oliver Twist in a way I wasn't about Nancy Drew. I mean Oliver was in terrible danger, it was a novel with real blood, it was scarier than anything I'd ever seen on television. It was quite a frightening book and really got into my bloodstream in a way.”

The story of the orphan Oliver, who runs away from the workhouse only to be taken in by a den of thieves, shocked readers when it was first published. Dickens' tale of childhood innocence beset by evil depicts the dark criminal underworld of a London peopled by vivid and memorable characters — the arch-villain Fagin, the artful Dodger, the menacing Bill Sikes and the prostitute Nancy. Combining elements of Gothic Romance, the Newgate Novel and popular melodrama, Dickens created an entirely new kind of fiction, scathing in its indictment of a cruel society, and pervaded by an unforgettable sense of threat and mystery. 

 

5. The portable edgar allen poe

Edgar Allen Poe

Although I've always liked Tennessee Williams, and grew to love Flannery O'Connor in college, I've not been as influenced by Southern writers as one might think. Poe is the great exception."

Even if you don’t like Poe—he invented the detective story. And science fiction. In essence, he invented a huge part of the twentieth century.”

A masquerade ball in a secluded abbey; a vendetta settled in the wine cellars of an Italian palazzo; a gloomy castle in a desolated landscape; the beating of a heart beneath the floorboards: the plots and settings of Poe’s dark, mysterious tales continue to haunt the popular imagination. This new selection introduces the greatest Gothic fiction from one of the most deranged and deliciously weird writers of the 19th century.

 

6. The Iliad

Homer

“And I know I don’t love “Ulysses” as much as I am supposed to — but then again, I never cared even one-tenth so much for the “Odyssey” as I do for the ‘Iliad.’

Dating to the ninth century B.C., Homer’s timeless poem still vividly conveys the horror and heroism of men and gods wrestling with towering emotions and battling amidst devastation and destruction, as it moves inexorably to the wrenching, tragic conclusion of the Trojan War. Renowned classicist Bernard Knox observes in his superb introduction that although the violence of the Iliad is grim and relentless, it coexists with both images of civilized life and a poignant yearning for peace.

 

7. The year of magical thinking

joan didion

Several days before Christmas 2003, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion saw their only daughter, Quintana, fall ill. At first they thought it was flu, then pneumonia, then complete sceptic shock. She was put into an induced coma and placed on life support. Days later - the night before New Year's Eve -the Dunnes were just sitting down to dinner after visiting the hospital when John suffered a massive and fatal coronary. In a second, this close, symbiotic partnership of 40 years was over. Four weeks later, their daughter pulled through. Two months after that, arriving at LA airport, she collapsed and underwent six hours of brain surgery at UCLA Medical Centre to relieve a massive hematoma.

This powerful book is Didion's attempt to make sense of the weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness ... about marriage and children and memory ... about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself'. The result is an exploration of an intensely personal yet universal experience: a portrait of a marriage, and a life, in good times and bad.

 

8. THe plays, poems, and writings of oscar wilde

oscar wilde

Oscar Wilde has been acknowledged as the wittiest writer in the English language. This collection proves that he was also one of the most versatile. Effortlessly achieved, each revealing a different aspect of his brilliance, all of the plays, prose writings, and poems gathered here support Wilde’s belief that entertainment provides the best kind of edification. The works gathered here include Wilde’s once-controversial and now classic novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, the riotously comic plays “The Importance of Being Earnest” and “Lady Windermere’s Fan,” and the famous poem he wrote after being released from prison, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.” This expanded new edition now includes the complete version of Wilde’s moving letter from prison, De Profundis, and his teasing parable about Shakespeare, The Portrait of Mr. W. H. Other notable included writings are the semi-comic mystery story “Lord Arthur’s Savile’s Crime” and the essay The Soul of Man Under Socialism.

 

9. Poets in a landscape

gilbert highet

Am also loving Gilbert Highet’s “Poets in a Landscape,” a charming appreciation of Catullus and Propertius and the Latin poets.

Gilbert Highet was a legendary teacher at Columbia University, admired both for his scholarship and his charisma as a lecturer. Poets in a Landscape is his delightful exploration of Latin literature and the Italian landscape. As Highet writes in his introduction, “I have endeavored to recall some of the greatest Roman poets by describing the places were they lived, recreating their characters and evoking the essence of their work.” The poets are Catullus, Vergil, Propertius, Horace, Tibullus, Ovid, and Juvenal. Highet brings them life, setting them in their historical context and locating them in the physical world, while also offering crisp modern translations of the poets’ finest work. The result is an entirely sui generis amalgam of travel writing, biography, criticism, and pure poetry—altogether an unexcelled introduction to the world of the classics.

 

 

10. The unquiet grave

cyril connolly

I certainly haven’t enjoyed anything more than “The Unquiet Grave,” by Cyril Connolly, which I went back and reread sometime early this year. I’ve loved it since I was a teenager and like always to have it to hand; when I lived in France, years ago, it was one of only six books I carried with me — but because of its aphoristic nature, usually I only read bits and pieces of it, and it’s been many years since I read the whole thing start to finish.

Cyril Connolly (1903-1974) was one of the most influential book reviewers and critics in England, contributing regularly to The New Statesmen, The Observer, and The Sunday Times. His essays have been collected in book form and published to wide acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. The Unquiet Grave is considered by many to be his most enduring work. It is a highly personal journal written during the devastation of World War II, filled with reflective passages that deal with aging, the break-up of a long term relationship, and the horrors of the war around him. It is also a wonderfully varied intellectual feast: a collection of aphorisms, epigrams, and quotations from such masters of European literature as Horace, Baudelaire, Sainte-Beuve, Flaubert, and Goethe. Dazzlingly original in both form and content, The Unquiet Grave has continued to influence generations of writers.

 

AUTHOR LIBRARIES: NEIL GAIMAN // Explore your favourite authors most beloved books, and the books that have had the greatest impact on their life and writing in the new Author Libraries series. It's no secret that Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite authors, a person whose books I come back to over and over again each year. So when I decided I was going to start the Author Libraries series— well, there wasn't any question about where I was going to start.

How to Figure Out Where Your Money Is Going

Money + Happiness, Popular PostsDanna Rowan
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"I'm trying to cut down on buying Starbucks coffees," said a coworker of mine, while sipping her venti black dark roast— the one coffee she was allowing herself that day, rather than the usual two to three. I try to arrange my face into an expression that doesn't look too horrified, and is somewhere between surprised and impressed.

Yes, you read that right: two-to-three Starbucks coffees everyday. And while this might not make your face melt off as quickly as if they were two-to-three lattes everyday, the math is still pretty shocking.

Let's say here the price of a coffee is $2.00 (it's about $2.20CAD, I think). Times three coffees a day (assuming there are no croissants, scones, doughnuts, cookies, or breakfast sandwiches accompanying said coffee). Times 350 (I'm being kind and assuming there are days she stays home, holidays, busy days, etc).

Hold up your pants.

$2100.

$2100?!

 

Let's look at what $2100 can get you:

  • a trip to the UK
  • groceries for one person for a year
  • 10.5 pairs of gorgeous quality shoes
  • 175 trips to see a movie
  • 84 lunch dates with your girlfriends

I mean, that list could go on basically forever. Save that up over a couple of years and you've got yourself a decent car, or a good chunk of a downpayment for a house. A sweet financial cushion, or enough money to let you pursue your side-hustle.

All of which, I think is safe to say, are better than Starbucks coffee (at least black, ew).

But here's the thing: this lovely coworker of mine, until she really sat down and did the math... wasn't really aware of just how much money was disappearing into the Black Hole That Is Starbucks.

She didn't have a concrete number, so it was a lot easier to pretend it wasn't happening. But after that $2100 started staring her in the face? Nnnnnot so easy. And it's not just Lovely Coworker— the number of people I've talked to who were stunned to find that they were spending thousands a year on coffee, take out, booze, and Uber rides is, well, high enough that I'm writing about it (and I think almost everyone can relate to the feeling of looking at your bank account or credit card statement and thinking WTF HAPPENED).

Getting your spending under wraps means setting a great budget or financial plan that works for you— but before you can make a realistic budget, you've gotta find out where your money is going. Ah, we arrive at last.

If you're trying to put into place a budget that someone else has tailored to their life, without figuring out your money situation and what you need in your life, you're getting a pile of meaningless numbers based on someone else's lifestyle.

No es bueno. 

 

1. Make yourself some rough spending categories

Where you spend is not going to be the same as where others spend. I, for example, do not have a car, nor do I often go out drinking— these are not things that need to be a part of my categories.

But they might be for you.

Categories you may consider include:

  • groceries
  • home essentials
  • transportation
  • housing costs (rent, mortgage, utilities, etc)
  • student loans/other debt payments
  • entertainment (movies, eating out, lattes)
  • pet expenses
  • school expenses
  • "fun money" (non-essential makeup beauty products, clothing, decor, etc)

 

2. Decide on a method of payment

Okay, good. We've got our categories. Now, you'll want to be tracking your spending over a typical month. A strategy I find super helpful here is to stick to just one method of payment, if you can— it makes it much easier to track, and much easier to see where your money is going and when. You can do old school cash, or pay for everything with your debit or credit card; the important thing is that you do your best to stick to one.

Obviously, situations may arise where that's not possible— in this case, note down the purchase ASAP.

 

3. DECIDE ON A METHOD OF TRACKING

Whether you've chosen cash or a card-based or digital method of payment, you've got one more decision to make: how to track.

You can easily use an old-school Excel sheet (except, Excel blows, let's be honest), pen and paper, or a Notes document if you feel like that will work best for you. If you're looking for some more organization, however, I recommend a digital tracking app, such as:

The best method of tracking is the one you're going to stick to.

 

4.  Look into the future

Alright, so there's one last thing before we go: you gotta think ahead just a little.

Not every kind of expense is going to be accounted for on a month-to-month basis— there are lots of expenses that only show their faces once every couple of months, or even once a year (hello, dog vaccinations).

Take a few minutes to think about the types of expenses that show up for you on a less than regular basis and note these down. You can then either work them into a yearly budget, or divide them by 12 to see what the equivalent monthly spend would be.

 

You've got the tools, now go out there and start spending (er, you know, not too crazy or anything, as you normally would. Carry on)!

 

Did you find this post helpful? Click over on the left to share it. And while we're at it, let us know in the comments what your most surprising spending-find was!

 

p.s. And for a little money-inspiration... >> How We Paid Off $30,000 In A Year

 


11 Evocative Reads for Lovers of London

BooksDanna Rowan
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Though I've never lived in London, I've felt London was a magical place from the moment I set foot there, brimming with history and life, a bizarre and glorious smashing together of the old and the new. There were streets rushing with people where you could hardly move for the crowds, and there were strange and empty back alleys, almost completely unchanged from Dickens' day. 

There's not really anything else like it.

Sadly, the 7,578,251,460 of us (at the time of writing this article) that don't currently live in London can't always pop over for a quick visit. The is one of those times when books will have to do (and they do rather well, to be honest). Travel literature, fiction, history, and cultural study— there's something here for every kind of reader who wants to imagine they're just a little bit closer to majestic London.

 

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1. Imagined London

Anna Quindlen

While New York, Paris, and Dublin are also vividly portrayed in fiction, it is London, Quindlen argues, that has always been the star, both because of the primacy of English literature and the specificity of city descriptions. She bases her view of the city on her own detailed literary map, tracking the footsteps of her favorite characters: the places where Evelyn Waugh's bright young things danced until dawn, or where Lydia Bennett eloped with the dastardly Wickham.

In Imagined London, Quindlen walks through the city, moving within blocks from the great books of the 19th century to the detective novels of the 20th to the new modernist tradition of the 21st. With wit and charm, Imagined London gives this splendid city its full due in the landscape of the literary imagination.

 

2. London: The Biography

Peter Ackroyd

Perhaps the most important study of the city ever written, London confirms Ackroyd’s status as what one critic called, “our age’s greatest London imagination.” Much of Peter Ackroyd’s work has been concerned with the life and past of London, but this new book is his definitive account of the city. For Ackroyd’s London is a living organism, with its own laws of growth and change, so London is The Biography, as the book is subtitled, not a History. Here Ackroyd portrays London from the time of the Druids to the beginning of the twenty-first century, noting magnificence in each age. But this is not a simple chronological record.

He writes chapters on the history of silence, the history of light, the history of childhood, the history of Cockney speech, and the history of drink. He constructs a comprehensive, multilayered image of the place, animated by his concern for the close relationship between the present and the past, and the peculiar ‘echoic’ quality of London which actively affects the lives and personalities of its citizens.

 

3. London Under

Peter Ackroyd

This is a wonderful, atmospheric, historical, imaginative, oozing little study of verything that goes on under London, from original springs and streams and Roman amphitheatres to Victorian sewers and gang hide-outs. The depth below is hot, much warmer than the surface and this book tunnels down through the geological layers, meeting the creatures that dwell in darkness, real and fictional -- rats and eels, monsters and ghosts. 

There is a bronze-age trackway under the Isle of Dogs, Wren found Anglo-Saxon graves under St Paul's, and the monastery of Whitefriars lies beneath Fleet Street. In Kensal Green cemetery there was a hydraulic device to lower bodies into the catacombs below -- "Welcome to the lower depths". A door in the plinth of statue of Boadicea on Westminster Bridge leads to a huge tunnel, packed with cables -- gas, water, telephone. When the Metropolitan Line was opened in 1864 the guards asked for permission to grow beards to protect themselves against the sulphurous fumes, and called their engines by the names of tyrants -- Czar, Kaiser, Mogul -- and even Pluto, god of the underworld.

 

4. Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England

Ian Mortimer

The past is a foreign country. This is your guidebook. A time machine has just transported you back into the fourteenth century. What do you see? How do you dress? How do you earn a living and how much are you paid? What sort of food will you be offered by a peasant or a monk or a lord? And more important, where will you stay? 

Through the use of daily chronicles, letters, household accounts, and poems of the day, Mortimer transports you back in time, providing answers to questions typically ignored by traditional historians. You will learn how to greet people on the street, what to use as toilet paper, why a physician might want to taste your blood, and how to know whether you are coming down with leprosy.  The result is the most astonishing social history book you're ever likely to read: revolutionary in its concept, informative and entertaining in its detail, and startling for its portrayal of humanity in an age of violence, exuberance, and fear.

 

5. Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London

Matthew Beaumont

“Cities, like cats, will reveal themselves at night,” wrote the poet Rupert Brooke. Before the age of electricity, the nighttime city was a very different place to the one we know today—home to the lost, the vagrant and the noctambulant. Matthew Beaumont recounts an alternative history of London by focusing on those of its denizens who surface on the streets when the sun’s down. If nightwalking is a matter of “going astray” in the streets of the metropolis after dark, then nightwalkers represent some of the most suggestive and revealing guides to the neglected and forgotten aspects of the city.

In this brilliant work of literary investigation, Beaumont shines a light on the shadowy perambulations of poets, novelists and thinkers: Chaucer and Shakespeare; William Blake and his ecstatic peregrinations and the feverish ramblings of opium addict Thomas De Quincey; and, among the lamp-lit literary throng, the supreme nightwalker Charles Dickens. We discover how the nocturnal city has inspired some and served as a balm or narcotic to others. In each case, the city is revealed as a place divided between work and pleasure, the affluent and the indigent, where the entitled and the desperate jostle in the streets.

 

6. Londoners

craig taylor

In Londoners, acclaimed journalist Craig Taylor paints readers an epic portrait of today’s London that is as rich and lively as the city itself. In the style of Studs Terkel (WorkingHard TimesThe Good War) and Dave Isay (Listening Is an Act of Love), Londoners offers up  the stories, the gripes, the memories, and the dreams of those in the great and vibrant British metropolis who “love it, hate it, live it, left it, and long for it,” from a West End rickshaw driver to a Soldier of the Guard at Buckingham Palace to a recovering heroin addict seeing Big Ben for the very first time. Published just in time for the 2012 London Olympic Games, Londoners is a glorious literary celebration of one of the world’s truly great cities.

 

7. london labour and the london poor

Henry Mayhew

London Labour and the London Poor is an extraordinary work of investigative journalism, a work of literature, and a groundbreaking work of sociology. It originated in a series of articles for a London newspaper and grew into a massive record of the daily life of Victorian London's underclass. Mayhew conducted hundreds of interviews with the city's street traders, entertainers, thieves and beggars which revealed that the 'two nations' of rich and poor were much closer than many people thought. By turns alarming, touching, and funny, the pages of London Labour and the London Poor exposed a previously hidden world to view. The first-hand accounts of costermongers and street-sellers, of sewer-scavenger and chimney-sweep, are intimate and detailed and provide an unprecedented insight into their day-to-day struggle for survival. Combined with Mayhew's obsessive data gathering, these stories have an immediacy that owes much to his sympathetic understanding and highly effective literary style. In its imaginative power the work can justly be regarded as the greatest Victorian novel never written.

 

8. neverwhere

neil gaiman

Richard Mayhew is a young London businessman with a good heart whose life is changed forever when he stops to help a bleeding girl—an act of kindness that plunges him into a world he never dreamed existed. Slipping through the cracks of reality, Richard lands in Neverwhere—a London of shadows and darkness, monsters and saints, murderers and angels that exists entirely in a subterranean labyrinth. Neverwhere is home to Door, the mysterious girl Richard helped in the London Above. Here in Neverwhere, Door is a powerful noblewoman who has vowed to find the evil agent of her family’s slaughter and thwart the destruction of this strange underworld kingdom. If Richard is ever to return to his former life and home, he must join Lady Door’s quest to save her world—and may well die trying.

 

9. a london year

Travis Elborough

This is an anthology of short diary entries (with the occasional journal entry or letter), one or two for each day of the year, which, taken together, will provide an impressionistic portrait of life in the city over the last five centuries. The book will vividly evoke moments in the lives of Londoners in the past, providing snapshots of the city's inhabitants at work, at play, in pursuit of money, sex, entertainment, pleasure and power. A prefect book for readers of The Assassin's Cloak or Craig Taylor's Londoners, and essential reading for all those who live in or love the city.

 

10. the last london

Iain Sinclair

Iain Sinclair has been documenting the peculiar magic of the river-city that absorbs and obsesses him for most of his adult life. In The Last London, he strikes out on a series of solitary walks and collaborative expeditions to make a final reckoning with a capital stretched beyond recognition. Here is a mesmerising record of secret scholars and whispering ghosts. Of disturbing encounters. Night hospitals. Pits that become cameras. Mole Man labyrinths. And privileged swimming pools, up in clouds, patrolled by surveillance helicopters. Where now are the myths, the ultimate fictions of a many times revised city? Travelling from the pinnacle of the Shard to the outer limits of the London Overground system at Croydon and Barking, from the Thames Estuary to the future ruins of Olympicopolis, Sinclair reflects on where London begins and where it ends. A memoir, a critique and a love letter, The Last London stands as a delirious conclusion to a truly epic project.

 

11. bizarre london

David Long

A fascinating tour of London's strangest and most intriguing locations. Ranging from architectural evidence of past incidents and stories of life beneath the city, to anecdotes of magic, mystery and murder, this is a perfect companion for the curious Londoner. 

It includes:  A Museum of Magical Curiosities; The City's Lost Tunnels and Citadels; The Ghost of a "She-Wolf; The Bawdy House Riots; The Story of 'Jack the Stripper'; The Atmospheric Railway; The Thames Ringway Bicycle Race; A Banker Hanged at Newgate; The Crossdressing Highwayman; Bluebottles, Rozzers and Woodentops; The Hidden Statue of a Beaver; The 'Belgravia of Death'; Whitehall's Licensed Brothel; Pin-Makers, Mole-Takers and Rat Catchers; Drinking in 'The Bucket of Blood'; London's Most Haunted House.

 

11 EVOCATIVE READS FOR LOVERS OF LONDON // We can't all live in London; sometimes, we can't visit London, either. The next best thing? Books about London, of course.

11 Books to Read if You Love Norse Mythology

BooksDanna Rowan
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For me, there is something deeply compelling about the Norse myths that other systems of mythology don't have in quite the same way; maybe it's the cold, dark, slightly mysterious North, maybe it's how the Gods often seem more human than deity— petty, sneaky, funny, loving, and ultimately, flawed. Like some overgrown dysfunctional family. 

So naturally, once I got a taste for Norse mythology, I couldn't help but go after more, reading retellings and adaptations, books inspired by Norse myths, books about Viking history, and about the sources we have for the Norse tales. Here are some of my favourites.

 
 

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1. The Gospel of Loki

Joanne M. Harris

 

The novel is a brilliant first-person narrative of the rise and fall of the Norse gods - retold from the point of view of the world's ultimate trickster, Loki. It tells the story of Loki's recruitment from the underworld of Chaos, his many exploits on behalf of his one-eyed master, Odin, through to his eventual betrayal of the gods and the fall of Asgard itself.

 

2. The Age of the Vikings

Anders Winroth

The Vikings maintain their grip on our imagination, but their image is too often distorted by myth. It is true that they pillaged, looted, and enslaved. But they also settled peacefully and traveled far from their homelands in swift and sturdy ships to explore. The Age of the Vikings tells the full story of this exciting period in history. Drawing on a wealth of written, visual, and archaeological evidence, Anders Winroth captures the innovation and pure daring of the Vikings without glossing over their destructive heritage. He not only explains the Viking attacks, but also looks at Viking endeavors in commerce, politics, discovery, and colonization, and reveals how Viking arts, literature, and religious thought evolved in ways unequaled in the rest of Europe. The Age of the Vikings sheds new light on the complex society, culture, and legacy of these legendary seafarers.

 

3. The Poetic Edda

After the terrible conflagration of Ragnarok, the earth rises serenely again from the ocean, and life is renewed. The Poetic Edda begins with The Seeress's Prophecy which recounts the creation of the world, and looks forward to its destruction and rebirth. In this great collection of Norse-Icelandic mythological and heroic poetry, the exploits of gods and humans are related. The one-eyed Odin, red-bearded Thor, Loki the trickster, the lovely goddesses and the giants who are their enemies walk beside the heroic Helgi, Sigurd the Dragon-Slayer, Brynhild the shield-maiden, and the implacable Gudrun.

 

4. the prose edda

Snorri Sturlusson

Written in Iceland a century after the close of the Viking Age, The Prose Edda is the source of most of what we know of Norse mythology. Its tales are peopled by giants, dwarves, and elves, superhuman heroes and indomitable warrior queens. Its gods live with the tragic knowledge of their own impending destruction in the cataclysmic battle of Ragnarok. Its time scale spans the eons from the world’s creation to its violent end. This robust new translation captures the magisterial sweep and startling psychological complexity of the Old Icelandic original.

 

5. Song of the Vikings

Nancy Marie Brown

An Indie Next pick for December 2012, Song of the Vikings brings to life Snorri Sturluson, wealthy chieftain, wily politician, witty storyteller, and the sole source of Viking lore for all of Western literature. Tales of one-eyed Odin, Thor and his mighty hammer, the trickster Loki, and the beautiful Valkyries have inspired countless writers, poets, and dreamers through the centuries, including Richard Wagner, JRR Tolkien, and Neil Gaiman, and author Nancy Marie Brown brings alive the medieval Icelandic world where it all began. She paints a vivid picture of the Icelandic landscape, with its colossal glaciers and volcanoes, steaming hot springs, and moonscapes of ash, ice, and rock that inspired Snorri's words, and led him to create unforgettable characters and tales. Drawing on her deep knowledge of Iceland and its history and first-hand reading of the original medieval sources, Brown gives us a richly textured narrative, revealing a spellbinding world that continues to fascinate.

 

6. Norse Mythology

Neil Gaiman

In Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon: Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki—son of a giant—blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator. Gaiman fashions these primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds and delves into the exploits of deities, dwarfs, and giants. Once, when Thor’s hammer is stolen, Thor must disguise himself as a woman—difficult with his beard and huge appetite—to steal it back. More poignant is the tale in which the blood of Kvasir—the most sagacious of gods—is turned into a mead that infuses drinkers with poetry. The work culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and rebirth of a new time and people.

 

7. American Gods

Neil Gaiman

The storm was coming....

Shadow spent three years in prison, keeping his head down, doing his time. All he wanted was to get back to the loving arms of his wife and to stay out of trouble for the rest of his life. But days before his scheduled release, he learns that his wife has been killed in an accident, and his world becomes a colder place. On the plane ride home to the funeral, Shadow meets a grizzled man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. A self-styled grifter and rogue, Wednesday offers Shadow a job. And Shadow, a man with nothing to lose, accepts.

But working for the enigmatic Wednesday is not without its price, and Shadow soon learns that his role in Wednesday's schemes will be far more dangerous than he ever could have imagined. 

All around them a storm of epic proportions threatens to break. Soon Shadow and Wednesday will be swept up into a conflict as old as humanity itself. For beneath the placid surface of everyday life a war is being fought -- and the prize is the very soul of America.

 

8. myths of the pagan north

Christopher Abram 

As the Vikings began to migrate overseas as raiders or settlers in the late eighth century, there is evidence that this new way of life, centred on warfare, commerce and exploration, brought with it a warrior ethos that gradually became codified in the Viking myths, notably in the cult of Odin, the god of war, magic and poetry, and chief god in the Norse pantheon. 

The twelfth and thirteenth centuries, when most of Scandinavia had long since been converted to Christianity, form perhaps the most important era in the history of Norse mythology: only at this point were the myths of Thor, Freyr and Odin first recorded in written form. Using archaeological sources to take us further back in time than any written document, the accounts of foreign writers like the Roman historian Tacitus, and the most important repository of stories of the gods, old Norse poetry and the Edda, Christopher Abram leads the reader into the lost world of the Norse gods.

 

9. the legend of sigurd and gudrun

J.R.R. Tolkien

In the Lay of the Volsungs is told the ancestry of the great hero Sigurd, the slayer of Fafnir most celebrated of dragons, whose treasure he took for his own; of his awakening of the Valkyrie Brynhild who slept surrounded by a wall of fire, and of their betrothal; and of his coming to the court of the great princes who were named the Niflungs (or Nibelungs), with whom he entered into blood-brotherhood. In that court there sprang great love but also great hate, brought about by the power of the enchantress, mother of the Niflungs, skilled in the arts of magic, of shape-changing and potions of forgetfulness.

In scenes of dramatic intensity, of confusion of identity, thwarted passion, jealousy and bitter strife, the tragedy of Sigurd and Brynhild, of Gunnar the Niflung and Gudrun his sister, mounts to its end in the murder of Sigurd at the hands of his blood-brothers, the suicide of Brynhild, and the despair of Gudrun. In the Lay of Gudrun her fate after the death of Sigurd is told, her marriage against her will to the mighty Atli, ruler of the Huns (the Attila of history), his murder of her brothers the Niflung lords, and her hideous revenge.

 

10. beowulf

translated by seamus heaney

Composed towards the end of the first millennium, the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf is one of the great Northern epics and a classic of European literature. In his new translation, Seamus Heaney has produced a work which is both true, line by line, to the original poem, and an expression, in its language and music, of something fundamental to his own creative gift. 

The poem is about encountering the monstrous, defeating it, and then having to live on, physically and psychically exposed, in that exhausted aftermath. It is not hard to draw parallels between this story and the history of the twentieth century, nor can Heaney's Beowulf fail to be read partly in the light of his Northern Irish upbringing. But it also transcends such considerations, telling us psychological and spiritual truths that are permanent and liberating. 

 

11. the broken sword

Poul Anderson

The sword Tyrfing has been broken to prevent it striking at the roots of Yggdrasil, the great tree that binds earth, heaven and hell together ... But now the mighty sword is needed again to save the elves, who are heavily involved in their war against the trolls, and only Skafloc, a human child kidnapped and raised by the elves, can hope to persuade the mighty ice-giant, Bolverk, to make the sword Thor broke whole again. But things are never easy, and along the way Skafloc must also confront his shadow self, Valgard the changeling, who took his place in the world of men. 

 

11 BOOKS TO READ IF YOU LOVE NORSE MYTHOLOGY // Because what's not to love, right?

Author Libraries: Neil Gaiman

Books, Author LibraryDanna Rowan
Photo 2018-05-17, 2 47 27 PM.jpg

It's no secret that Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite authors, a person whose books I come back to over and over again each year. So when I decided I was going to start the Author Libraries series— well, there wasn't any question about where I was going to start.

In each Author Libraries post, I'm sharing 10 favourite or recommended books by a particular author, so you can get to know a little bit about what they love, and which writers inspire their own practise.

Neil Gaiman is always recommending reads, but I've done my best here to narrow it to ten of his most recommended, or those which have had the most influence on his writing and career.

 

 
 

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1. The Man Who Was Thursday

G.K. Chesterton

“It was in the same school library that had the two volumes of Lord of the Rings that I discovered Chesterton... I was always aware, reading Chesterton, that there was someone writing this who rejoiced in words, who deployed them on the page as an artist deploys his paints upon his palette. Behind every Chesterton sentence there was someone painting with words, and it seemed to me that at the end of any particularly good sentence or any perfectly-put paradox, you could hear the author, somewhere behind the scenes, giggling with delight.”

 

The Central Anarchist Council is a secret society sworn to destroy the world. The council is governed by seven men, who hide their identities behind the names of the days of the week. Yet one of their number — Thursday — is not the revolutionary he claims to be, but a Scotland Yard detective named Gabriel Syme, sworn to infiltrate the organisation and bring the architects of chaos to justice. But when he discovers another undercover policeman on the Council, Syme begins to question his role in their operations. And as a desperate chase across Europe begins, his confusion grows, as well as his confidence in his ability to outwit his enemies, unravelling the mysteries of human behaviour and belief in a thrilling contest of wits. But he has still to face the greatest terror that the Council has: a man named Sunday, whose true nature is worse than Syme could ever have imagined.

 

2. Charmed Life

Dianna Wynne Jones

“Diana's  been my friend since about 1985, but I was a fan of hers since I read  Charmed Life in about 1978, aged 17. I've loved being her friend, and  I'm pretty sure she loved being my friend. She was the funniest, wisest,  fiercest, sharpest person I've known, a witchy and wonderful woman,  intensely practical, filled with opinions, who wrote the best books  about magic, who wrote the finest and most perceptive letters, who hated  the telephone but would still talk to me on it if I called, albeit, always, nervously, as if she expected the phone she was holding to  explode.”

Cat doesn't mind living in the shadow of his sister, Gwendolen, the most promising young witch ever seen on Coven Street. But trouble starts brewing the moment the two orphans are summoned to live in Chrestomanci Castle. Frustrated that the witches of the castle refuse to acknowledge her talents, Gwendolen conjures up a scheme that could throw whole worlds out of whack.

 

 

3. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Susanna Clarke

I took my daughters on holiday to the Cayman Islands, and while they romped and swam in the surf, I was hundreds of years and thousands of miles away, in Regency York and in London and on the continent, experiencing nothing but the purest pleasure, wandering through the words and the things they brought with them, and eventually noticing that the paths and lanes of the story, with its footnotes and its fine phrases, had become a huge road, and it was taking me with it: 782 pages, and I enjoyed every page, and when the book was done I could happily have read 782 more. I loved the things she said and the things she did not say. I loved crabbed Norrell and, less feckless than he seems, Strange, and John Uskglass the Raven King, who is not in the title of the book unless he hides behind the ampersand, but who hovers there anyhow.

At the dawn of the nineteenth century, two very different magicians emerge to change England's history. In the year 1806, with the Napoleonic Wars raging on land and sea, most people believe magic to be long dead in England--until the reclusive Mr. Norrell reveals his powers, and becomes a celebrity overnight.

Yet the cautious, fussy Norrell is challenged by the emergence of another magician, the brilliant novice Jonathan Strange. Young, handsome, and daring, Strange is the very opposite of Norrell. He becomes Norrell's student, and they join forces in the war against France. But Strange is increasingly drawn to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic, straining his partnership with Norrell, and putting at risk everything else he holds dear.

 

4. The Chronicles of Narnia

C.S. Lewis

“I went home to Sussex and saved my meagre pocket money until I was able to buy a copy of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe of my own. I read it, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the other book I could find, over and over, and when my seventh birthday arrived I had dropped enough hints that my birthday present was a boxed set of the complete Narnia books. And I remember what I did on my seventh birthday — I lay on my bed and I read the books all through, from the first to the last. For the next four or five years I continued to read them. I would read other books, of course, but in my heart I knew that I read them only because there wasn’t an infinite number of Narnia books to read.”

 

Narnia . . . 

The land beyond the wardrobe, sung into life by the Great Lion Aslan, where animals talk, witches walk, magic abounds, and adventure surely awaits. 

The Chronicles of Narnia will take you on a journey of destiny and discovery to places you never dreamed existed. From the lamppost to Cair Paravel, from the Easter Islands to the Ends of the World, Narnia brims with mystery, excitement, and danger. 

 

5. Myths of the Norsemen

Roger Lancelyn Green

“I remember finding a copy, as a small boy, of a paperback Tales of the Norsemen and delighting in it as a treasure, reading it until the binding broke and the pages flew apart like leaves. I remember the sheer rightness of those stories. They felt right. They felt, to my seven-year-old mind, familiar.”

Norse myths and legends introduced by bestselling author Michelle Paver, creator of the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness collection and Gods and Warriors, her epic new Greek Bronze Age series for Puffin. The great Norse sagas are full of magic and heroic deeds. Odin’s wanderings, Thor’s hammer, the death of Bakkur, the vision of Ragnarok – tales which have been told since time immemorial – are given a fresh life in this version, written as one continuous exciting adventure story.

 

6. The Stories of Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury

I encountered Ray Bradbury's stories as a boy. Some authors I read and loved as a boy disappointed me as I aged. Bradbury never did. His horror stories remained as chilling, his dark fantasies as darkly fantastic, his science fiction (he never cared about the science, only about the people, which was why the stories worked so well) as much of an exploration of the sense of wonder, as they had when I was a child.

*Neil loves so much of Ray Bradbury I could't pick just one. So here's a whole collection, with something for everyone. 

One hundred of Ray Bradbury’s remarkable stories which have, together with his classic novelsearned him an immense international audience and his place among the most imaginative and enduring writers of our time.

Here are the Martian stories, tales that vividly animate the red planet, with its brittle cities and double-mooned sky. Here are the stories that speak of a special nostalgia for Green Town, Illinois, the perfect setting for a seemingly cloudless childhood—except for the unknown terror lurking in the ravine. Here are the Irish stories and the Mexican stories, linked across their separate geographies by Bradbury’s astonishing inventiveness. Here, too, are thrilling, terrifying stories—including “The Veldt” and “The Fog Horn”—perfect for reading under the covers.

 

7. London Labor & The London Poor

Henry Mayhew

“...Mayhew's wonderful "London Labour and the London Poor" (one of my favourite books in the whole world. Like a non-fiction Dickens novel that goes on forever in all directions.)”

London Labour and the London Poor is an extraordinary work of investigative journalism, a work of literature, and a groundbreaking work of sociology. It originated in a series of articles for a London newspaper and grew into a massive record of the daily life of Victorian London's underclass. Mayhew conducted hundreds of interviews with the city's street traders, entertainers, thieves and beggars which revealed that the 'two nations' of rich and poor were much closer than many people thought. By turns alarming, touching, and funny, the pages of London Labour and the London Poor exposed a previously hidden world to view. The first-hand accounts of costermongers and street-sellers, of sewer-scavenger and chimney-sweep, are intimate and detailed and provide an unprecedented insight into their day-to-day struggle for survival. Combined with Mayhew's obsessive data gathering, these stories have an immediacy that owes much to his sympathetic understanding and highly effective literary style. In its imaginative power the work can justly be regarded as the greatest Victorian novel never written.

 

8. The Jungle Books

Rudyard Kipling

“Kipling's politics are not mine. Kipling was many things that I am not, and I like that in my authors. I learned from Kipling. At least two stories of mine (and a children's book I am currently writing) would not exist had he not written. Kipling wrote about people, and his people feel very real. His tales of the fantastic are chilling, or illuminating or remarkable or sad, because his people breathe and dream. They were alive before the story started, and many of them live on once the last line has been read.”

 Adored by readers of all ages, these classic stories in two volumes spin the unforgettable story of Mowgli—a boy raised by a pack of wolves—as he learns indelible lessons about the laws of the jungle as well as the needs of the heart. Through Mowgli’s journey, readers also meet the tiger Shere Khan, who stalks man and beast alike, the rock python Kaa, who dispenses wisdom, and the aging wolf Akela, who struggles as his leadership of the pack is challenged. Set in India, Kipling’s great masterpiece is an allegory for Britain’s imperialism, filled with high adventure and extraordinary characters. The mythic tale of a boy looking for where he truly belongs— either with the man-pack of the village or the wolf-pack of the wild— The Jungle Books touch both our intellect and our emotions, while Kipling’s dazzling storytelling makes them the timeless archetype for popular tales to come.

 

9. Dhalgren

Samuel R. Delany

“I learned that my favourite SF author was black, and understood now who the various characters were based upon, and, from the extracts from the author's notebooks, I learned that fiction was mutable. I discovered that the idea of a book and the book itself were two different things. I also enjoyed and appreciated how much the author doesn't tell you: it's in the place that readers bring themselves to the book that the magic occurs... And I found myself grateful, once again, for the brilliance of Delany, and the narrative urge that drove him to write.”

Bellona is a city at the dead center of the United States. Something has happened there…. The population has fled. Madmen and criminals wander the streets. Strange portents appear in the cloud-covered sky. And into this disaster zone comes a young man–poet, lover, and adventurer–known only as the Kid. Tackling questions of race, gender, and sexuality, Dhalgren is a literary marvel and groundbreaking work of American magical realism.

 

 

10. The Hitchhiker's Guide TO THE GALAxY

Douglas Adams

“And Adams, according to Gaiman, was a genius. “I haven’t known many geniuses in my life. Some brilliantly smart people, but only a tiny handful would I class as geniuses. I would class Douglas, because he saw things differently, and he was capable of communicating the way he saw things, and once he explained things the way he saw them, it was almost impossible to see them the way you used to see them.””

Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor. Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker's Guide and a galaxy-full of fellow travelers. 

Where are these pens? Why are we born? Why do we die? Why do we spend so much time between wearing digital watches? For all the answers stick your thumb to the stars. And don't forget to bring a towel!

 

AUTHOR LIBRARIES: NEIL GAIMAN // Explore your favourite authors most beloved books, and the books that have had the greatest impact on their life and writing in the new Author Libraries series. It's no secret that Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite authors, a person whose books I come back to over and over again each year. So when I decided I was going to start the Author Libraries series— well, there wasn't any question about where I was going to start.

The Best Fiction I Read In 2017

BooksDanna Rowan
64C32779-DA41-4381-9825-0F3850483B3F.jpg

2017, while being an absolute dumpster-fire of a year in so many ways, was actually an outstanding reading year. I read (according to my 50 Book Pledge page) 79 books, and quite a few of these have become new favourites. I won't lie: the highlight of my year was probably the first installment of Philip Pullman's Book of Dust being released (a part-prequel part-sequel trilogy to His Dark Materials), after a paltry seventeen years of waiting.

I haven't quite decided yet if I want my yearly favourites to be strictly comprised of books published in that year, or simply books that I've read that year and loved (leaning towards the latter), but in any case, I didn't read enough books actually published in 2017 to be worth making a blog post about.

Without further ado: here are some of the greats.

 

1. A Darker Shade of Magic

V.E. SCHWAB

V.E. Schwab's second novel for adults (and my first experience reading) had me entranced from the first page.

"The first thing he did whenever he stepped out of one London and into another was take off the coat and turn it inside out once or twice (or even three times) until he found the side he needed."

A Darker Shade of Magic tells the story of four Londons— one like our own, one alive with magic, one ashy and decaying, and one consumed and forgotten. Kell, one of the last magicians to be able to travel between worlds acts as an ambassador for the royal family— until he stumbles into a trap and finds himself in possession of a forbidden and dangerous item.

An impeccably crafted, richly woven and imaginative fantasy (a bit like the love-child of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere and Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora) with one of my new favourite female-leads; I'm already looking forward to picking up this one again (after I've crushed the next two, of course).

 

2. The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage

PHILIP PULLMAN

ASOIAF fans, you have no idea. No idea. The last proper book from Philip Pullman set in this universe graced us with its glorious, shimming presence back in 2000 (The Amber Spyglass). Since that year, we've got a pair of lovely novellas (Lyra's OxfordOnce Upon A Time In The North) and a fabulous tease of an audio short story (The Collectors), but mostly, His Dark Materials fans have been waiting for The Book of Dust.

17 years. Needless to say, my expectations were a bit high— how could such a project not be a masterpiece?

The Book of Dust is now comprised of three parts, the first, La Belle Sauvage, released this past autumn.

"'Ah, it's a proper canoe,' said Lord Asriel, as if he'd been expecting a toy. Malcolm felt a little affronted on behalf of La Belle Sauvage, and said nothing as he turned her over and let her slip quietly down the grass and on to the water."

It wasn't what I expected— the first book features the hero of His Dark Materials, Lyra, as a mere baby— but nonetheless I wasn't disappointed. Pullman's writing is as concise and evocative as ever (a combination I seriously prize in a writer), the story impeccably told.

Our new lead, Malcolm, is curious and self-reliant and not a little unlike His Dark Material's Will Parry— but Malcolm stands alone as his own character, certainly. As in his previous works, I adore Pullman's skill in both portraying children as intelligent and complex, and expecting the reader to be equally intelligent and complex. He never panders, never avoids a controversial or difficult topic, but honours the imagination and subtlety of readers of all ages.

 

3. Turtles All The Way Down

JOHN GREEN

My god, did this book make me feel things. While The Fault in Our Stars was like a little iron fist around my heart, this one had both lungs in a pressure chamber, holding my breath as the words pulled me equally willingly and unwillingly into Aza's thoughts.

In Turtles All The Way Down, Green shades a lot of his own experience with OCD and intrusive thoughts through the novel's protagonist Aza Holmes. For me, a lot of Aza's experience was all too familiar— the tightening spiral of thoughts you don't want, thoughts that don't even feel like they are your own— and Green captured this feeilng in a way that left my heart aching.

While the overarching story of friends on the hunt for a fugitive billionaire has all of the usual John Green wit and quick, what won me over again were the characters and how close I felt to their thoughts and struggles and hopes, and how much of myself I saw reflected there.

And I'd expect nothing less.

 

4. Monstress: Volume One, Awakening

MARJORIE LIU & SANA TAKEDA

The art. My god the art. I know, it's a graphic novel, but the stunning meeting of Eastern and Western styles in Monstress is like nothing I've ever seen before.

I'd gladly make up the story myself, except the narrative is as strongly crafted as the visuals, a beautifully told fantasy that meets horror head on and excells where it does.

Monstress follows Maika Halfwolf, a teenage girl on one side of the ongoing war between humans and the hated Arcanics, as she searches for answers about her past, and the mysterious link that connects her to a monster of unknowable terror.

Oh, and for what it's worth, Neil Gaiman said it had some of the best cats in comics— I'm inclined to agree.

 

5. The Encyclopedia of Early Earth

ISABEL GREENBERG

Despite having heard recommendations for this book for years, I was still a bit hesitant I'd enjoy it as the art isn't really my usual style (typically I go for the more realist stuff).

Yadda, yadda, I was terribly wrong— Isabel Greenberg, please accept my apologies and this sacrificial goat.

Once I started reading The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, I couldn't stop, and finishing this gem in a couple of hours with more than a couple cups of tea. Early Earth is a series of beautiful told, loosely connected myth-stories about a sort-of alternate past, like our world, but not quite. It is, at its core, a story about stories (one of my favourite things this side of Nepture), and the power and importance of storytellers.

According to the back, this book contains "Gods, monsters, mad kings, wise old crones, shamans, medicine men, brothers and sisters, strife, mystery, bad science, worse geography, and... true love"— and it doesn't disappoint.

The art, though still not my favourite, grew on my in a homey, familiar kind of way, but the stories pulled my heart out. 

 

6. The Shadow of the Wind

CARLOS RUIZ ZAFÓN

Endless libraries, mysterious books, ghost stories, and gothic post-war Barcelona— I'm pretty sure that's all my criteria for a magic realism masterpiece checked— and it's not surprising.

The Shadow of the Wind is a modern keystone of the genre, and I'm honestly a little embarassed it took me this long to getting around to reading it (I've had an ebook copy for years but, come on— read that description again and tell me this isn't a book that deserves to be held).

In The Shadow of the Wind, Daniel, the son of an antiquarian bookseller encounters a mysterious volume by an even more mysterious author— of which it is the only known copy. As he sets out to find out more about the author Carax and his works, he discovers something else: someone is systematically destroying all of the author's works, and now Daniel is in danger, caught up in a delightfully gothic tale of "murder, madness, and doomed love."

Zafon's writing is artful, compelling, and at times darkly humerous. I'm so looking forward to reading the next two (The Angel's GameThe Prisoner of Heaven)— here's hoping I get to them faster than I did this one.

 

7. The Wolf in the Attic

PAUL KEARNEY

There are few things in life I love as much as Oxford (as I write this, I have a tattoo of Oxford on my thigh that is partially healed). So when I came across The Wolf in the Attic, a tale about a young Greek refugee living in Oxford among the likes of Tolkien and Lewis, I was essentially already in love.

Anna Francis comes to Oxford with her father and lives in an old, tall house with only stories and her imagination to distract her from her loneliness; until one day, she discovers she is not the only one who takes refuge in the attic. There, she finds Luca: a boy with yellow eyes and not a few secrets of his own.

The Wolf in the Attic is a gorgeous, haunting read for the dark of the year, brimming with dark towers, cobblestone streets, warm pubs, and deep forests. Get yourself a cup of tea, yeah?

 

BEST FICTION READS OF 2017 // 2017, while being an absolute dumpster-fire of a year in so many ways, was actually an outstanding reading year. I read (according to my 50 Book Pledge page) 79 books, and quite a few of these have become new favourites. I won't lie: the highlight of my year was probably the first installment of Philip Pullman's Book of Dust being released (a part-prequel part-sequel trilogy to His Dark Materials), after a paltry seventeen years of waiting.

The Best Non-Fiction I Read In 2017

BooksDanna Rowan
Photo 2018-01-18, 3 50 57 PM.jpg

If I share my favourite fiction reads of 2017, then surely I must share my favourite non-fiction reads, right? Right?

I think so. 

This year I read quite a few business reads, a lot of books on design, as well as some history and a smattering of nature writing. I'll spare you endless pages about typography as that's a fairly niche interest, but here are nine of my favourite non-fiction reads from this year that I think just about anyone can pick up and enjoy.

 

1. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

GREG MCKEOWN

I'm not a person who reads a ton of business books (maybe I should?), preferring instead to get to trying things out on my own and seeing what works and what doesnt. So when I heard people talking about Essentialism, I thought: "Hey, this seems like my kind of business read."

Because it's not another business book about how to do more, it's a book about how to do less— and to do it well.

Taking aim at endless business meetings, hours spent responding to useless email and working desperately to do all the things, McKeown argues that staying small, focused, and a master of what you are best at is the way the most successful people get where they are.

A concise, compelling read that shifts the way I think about my business every day.

 

2. The Age of the Vikings

ANDERS WINROTH

If you know me even a little, you'll say "a book about Vikings? Not even slightly surprised." And I would bury my head under the covers in shame... with a copy of the Poetic Eddas.

If you're interested in Scandinavian history and culture, Winroth's The Age of the Vikings is a good place to start. Effortlessly readable, Winroth takes us through the fundamentals of the Viking age, giving us a glimpse into their dress, food, politics, war, literature, and daily life (p.s. not all raiding and pillaging). 

Winroth breaks the myth of Vikings as a vicious, brutal culture (viking was actually an occupation, not a people), by exposing the nuance in medieval Scandinavian communities and comparing the lifestyle of the ship-building explorers to other European cultures.

 

3. The Happiness of Pursuit

CHRIS GUILLEBEAU

You may know Chris Guillebeau as the author of The $100 Startup, or you amy know him as the travel-hacking guy who has visited every country in the world.

When I picked up The Happiness of Pursuit, I didn't know of him at all, but was recommended this book from an online store's "things you may also like" section. 

Needless to say, it caught my eye, and while sitting on a beach in Bahamas escaping a miserable Canadian February, I read this book and immediately had 4168 ideas of what kind of outlandish projects I wanted to occupy the rest of my life with. Never before have I read a book that was at once ridiculous, and so thoroughly motivating.

In The Happiness of Pursuit, Guillebeau shares case studies from people around the world and how their personal quests— big or small, meaningful or trivial (though usually the bigger the better. It is a quest after all)— impacted what would otherwise be a garden-variety human life.

So... what is your quest going to be?

 

4. Tools of Titans

TIM FERRISS

First of all, I'd like to point out that the most people are not Tim Ferriss. Even Tim Ferriss isn't Tim Ferriss, at least not all of the time (suicide talk link). If you were to attempt to take on everything in this book, I think you'd explode like a watermelon short with an 8th grade potato gun.

I'd also like to point out that I have essentially no interest in the 'health' section of the book (though I did slog through it all with burgeoning horror and fascination) as I'm unlikely to ever give up carbs, or injest anything that shares tasting notes with jet fuel.

That aside, there were some really great pieces in this book, which is essentially comprised of condensed versions of his best podcast episodes. Humourous, honest, and digestible (you can crack this one open anywhere and glean some useful tactic or wisdom), Tools of Titans will have a place on my desk for quite some time.

 

5. Happy City

CHARLES MONTGOMERY

I had no idea I found city planning so fascinating until I read Happy City. Equal parts revelatory and stunningly frustrating (just wait til you get to the part about how big auto companies intentionally sabotaged excellent public transportation systems). 

Happy City explores what it is about the places we live that make us happy, what's wrong with so many of our cities now, and what we can do about it.

Montgomery throws into clarity so many things I have felt in the cities I've lived in, but never understood quite well enough to describe.

If you thought city planning was dusty stuff, this book will happily squash that assumption for you, and while it's at it, really make you want to pack up and move to Copenhagen.

 

6. Gathering Moss

ROBIN WALL KIMMERER

A natural and cultural history of mosses.

Yes, mosses. The fuzzy green shit you see on road-side boulders and your sister-in-laws DIY wedding table centerpieces.

And it's incredible.

I first encountered Robin Wall Kimmerer reading her second book Braiding Sweetgrass, (which LibraryThing recommended me after reading H is for Hawk), and I was immediately captivated. Kimmerer's writing exudes warmth and intelligence and her fierce passion for her work is palpable on every page.

Gathering Moss is no exception. Kimmerer, like a real-life Ms. Frizzle, brings us down into the microscopic and surprisingly fascinating world of mosses, sharing their use, their history, and their value and place in this world, in a way that will leave you thiking about mosses more than you could have ever anticipated.

 

7. The Etymologicon

MARK FORSYTH

This book is a baffling, enlightening and endlessly humourours and witty journey through the words and phrases we use everyday and their often surprising origins.

I read The Etymologicon in its entirety on a train journey from Penzance to Par and back (don't ask me where Par is), laughing and exclaiming most of the way and drawing not a few strange looks from my fellow passengers.

I learned such astounndingly wonderful things such as how toxins and archery are related, what chess has to do with ancient Persia, and how black and white might actually be the same.

You should try it.

 

8. The Obstacle is the Way

RYAN HOLIDAY

Is one of the best things I read this year, and probably last year as well, hands down (should I have put it up at the top? I should have put it up at the top).

In what is essentially a crash course on the philosophy of Stoicism, Holiday present a series or short, digestible chapters with well-told narrative examples and practical advice (despite the term 'philosophy' sounding very armchair, much of what is discussed here is practical and instantly applicable).

"Remember that this moment is not your life, it's just a moment in your life."

Holiday shows how the things that cause us strife, stress, frustration, and unhappiness are really the parts of our life we should be embracing as they show us the path forward to become stronger, wiser, more resillient, and more fulfilled people, and how to harness these moments for our own personal transformation.

 

9. The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England

IAN MORTIMER

If you're sick of history books that seem to only bang on about battles and blue bloods, I cannot recommend The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England enough.

In one of the most delightful (and informative) history books I've read in a long time, Mortimer takes us on a journey back in time to the 14th century and gives us the grand tour as if we are actually there. 

We explore geography and common knowledge, politics and law, art and culture, health and medicine, and daily life in a way that helps us see the medieval English for what they were— real people.

The Time Traveller's Guide is a fun, accessible, and decidedly unstuffy read. Happily, it is also part of a series.

 


Book Review: The Obstacle Is The Way

BooksDanna Rowan
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What comes to mind when I say stoic?

Probably nothing.

Okay, maybe that's not entirely fair. Maybe you pictured some stony-faces like the ones chiselled into the side of Mount Rushmore (ha). Very serious. Very dignified. Very... stoic.

Except not at all. Stoicism (which, like the beret, would seem to be having a revival) is a pratical philosophy which initially flourished in the classical Greek and Roman empires, and continues to be put into practise by countless successful men and women today. Predominantly a system of personal ethics, Stocisim teaches that the way to happiness is by accepting our present situation, and understanding while we cannot control external forces, we can control the way in which we respond to them, and in turn, what we take away from any given situation. 

The Obstacle is the Way is not strictly an exploration of Stoicism, but digs down into one facet of the philosophy— what to do when shit gets in one's way. Holiday presents a series or short, digestible chapters (most of which could be read in about ten minutes) combining practical advice, and anecdotal stories of real, successful people applying the these parts of the Stoic philosophy to their lives. Despite the term 'philosophy' sounding very armchair, much of what is discussed here is practical and instantly applicable to your own life. 

"Remember that this moment is not your life, it's just a moment in your life."

Holiday's main point? The things that get in your way are actually illuminating new options and opportunities. And our problems? Precisely as bad as we think they are. 

Whether it's learning to focus on each individual moment of a longer process rather than the final result, understanding how to use moments of crisis for transformation, or learning to genuinely love the opportunity to prove yourself in the face of adversity, The Obstacle is the Way gives clear, straight-forward advice without the usual bloat of so many self-help-cum-philosophy books. (There are also handy references sections at the end for both print and digital reading on Stoicism, as well as how to get reading recommendations straight from Holiday himself via his newsletter).

"Being trapped is a position, not a fate."

Holiday shows how the things that cause us strife, stress, frustration, and unhappiness are really the parts of our life we should be embracing as they show us the path forward to become stronger, wiser, more resillient, and more fulfilled people, and how to harness these moments for our own personal transformation.

 

>> Get The Obstacle is the Way.

 

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BOOK REVIEW: THE OBSTACLE IS THE WAY // The Obstacle is the Way is not strictly an exploration of Stoicism, but digs down into one facet of the philosophy— what to do when shit gets in one's way. Holiday presents a series or short, digestible chapters (most of which could be read in about ten minutes) combining practical advice, and anecdotal stories of real, successful people applying the these parts of the Stoic philosophy to their lives.

Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

BooksDanna Rowan
Photo 2018-01-18, 1 23 51 PM.jpg

You know when you pick up a new book and within the first paragraph you have bone-deep, unshakeable certainty you've found something that will beocme a new favourite?

Enter: A Darker Shade of Magic.

V.E. Schwab's second novel for adults (and my first experience reading) had me entranced from the first page.

"The first thing he did whenever he stepped out of one London and into another was take off the coat and turn it inside out once or twice (or even three times) until he found the side he needed."

A Darker Shade of Magic tells the story of four Londons— one like our own, one alive with magic, one ashy and decaying, and one consumed and forgotten. Kell, one of the last magicians to be able to travel between worlds acts as an ambassador for the royal family— until he stumbles into a trap and finds himself in possession of a forbidden and dangerous item from Black London— the world consumed by dark magic.

An impeccably crafted, richly woven and imaginative fantasy (a bit like the love-child of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere and Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora), A Darker Shade of Magic hits all my fantasy must haves: well-developed characters that are impossible not to root for (Kell, the quiet hero, and Delilah, the thief-and-aspiring-pirate I didn't know my life was missing), concise, evocative prose, and an immersive and unique setting. If parallel worlds get you hot, this book is for you.

Upon finishing this book after a couple of frigid winter days spent wrapped up indoors reading, I had a major book hangover— the fiction that followed seemed dull by comparison, and I wanted nothing more than to hunker down in Schwab's world(s?) a little longer (okay, maybe not White London so much). At this point I switched to non-fiction to stop my next fiction read suffering unfairly by comparison to its predecessor (if you're curious: The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England). 

And that is not something I can say about too many other reads. A new fantasy favourite I look forward to reading again and again.

>> Get A Darker Shade of Magic

 

IF YOU LIKED THIS READ, CHECK OUT...

 

BOOK REVIEW: A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC // You know when you pick up a new book and within the first paragraph you have bone-deep, unshakeable certainty you've found something that will become a new favourite? Enter: A Darker Shade of Magic.

11 Booktubers to Bingewatch

BooksDanna Rowan
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There's no doubt about it: when I'm supposed to be working and I'm not, I tend to sidle over to one corner of the internet in particular— Booktube. Yes, Booktube: a magical, cozy, lovely part of the Youtube universe where the discussions are passionate and kind, and the comment sections a little less nausea-inducing than your average Youtube video. 

In fact, I could loose hours here. (Sorry, did I say could?) Here are some of my favourite Booktubers that I come back to again and again when I'm in need of a recommendation, a cheer up, or whether or not I just want to see if someone has hated a recent release as much as I have.

 

1. Jen Campbell

Jen Campbell has always been one of my favourite Youtubers, and I get a little thrill of joy every time I see a new video has been uploaded (which is usually a couple of times a week). If you're into literary fiction, fantasy, folk and fairy tales, and unique non-fiction, Jen's your gal. You'll also find occasional life updates, opinion pieces about current issues, and discussions about difference and disability. She's also the author of: The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the NightThe Bookshop BookWeird Things Customers Say in Bookshops, and Franklin's Flying Bookshop.

 

2. booksandquills

Sanne is one of the most well-known Youtubers, and is Dutch gal living in London, working in publishing. She's a great all-round reader who enjoys classics, sci-fi, fantasy, dystopian novels (she hosts a book club called 'The End of the World Book Club'), graphic novels, YA, and contemporary literary fiction. On her channel you'll find book reviews and hauls, videos about language, publishing, lifestyle, and travel (but mostly books).

 

3. Jean Bookishthoughts

Jean is a Scottish Booktuber currently living in London for her PhD. You'll find videos about literature, history, studying, and feminism. If you're into non-fiction (history, social issues), poetry, classical literature (think Greek and Roman lit), fantasy, and contemporary literary fiction, Jean's your gal.

 

4. Ariel Bissett

Ariel Bissett is a Canadian Youtuber, writer, and podcaster. Bissett shares videos on writing, books, and university, and if you like YA, classics, books about books and writing, and poetry, check out Bissett's channel (and dedicate the next three hours of your life to falling down a Booktube hole).

 

5. MercysBookishMusings

A well-rounded reader, if you're looking for on-point, always honest reviews, Mercedes is the Booktuber to check out. Hailing from the UK, Mercedes reviews and discusses books ranging from non-fiction (social issues, history), contemporary literary fiction, fantasy, and graphic novels, a few times a month. 

 

6. Reads and Daydreams

Lauren is a Booktuber from London (do they all live in London?), who publishes a couple videos a week on books (reading wrap-ups, hauls, reviews, TBRs, favourites), travelling, and starting a Youtube channel. If you like reading literary fiction, classics (Shakespeare), and short stories with a touch of fantasy and non-fiction (feminism), give Lauren's channel a try!

 

7. ReadingBukowski

Claire is an MA literature student living in London who has been on Youtube sharing videos about books, travel, and lifestyle, for the past five years. On Claire's channel you'll find discussions about classics (18th and 19th century lit), contemporary literary fiction, literary criticism, and feminism. If that's your jam, head over to Claire's channel!

 

8. PeruseProject

When you see a video from Regan, you'll never forget it. With a quirky, infectious personality, Regan hailed from the US and has been making Booktube videos for over 4 years. If you love fantasy, sci-fi, YA and a touch of literary fiction, run yourself over to her channel and get to work— I guarantee you'll find a new favourite.

 

9. emmmabooks

Emma is an avid reader from New York who is a die-hard for everything YA and has made over 400 videos thus far. On her channel you'll find book hauls, reviews, unboxings, literary discussions, tips for Booktubers, and author interviews. If you love YA, especially fantasy and ongoing series, this is the channel for you (also, Shadowhunters fans, yes).

 

10. jessethereader

A MALE. Yeah, men are a bit rare in the Booktube community, but I've done my best to include a few here on this list. Jesse is a Booktuber from the US who has been making videos for over five years. On Jesse's channel you'll see book reviews, reading roundups, unboxings, as well as book tags and general reading-related videos. If you like reading fantasy, YA, graphic novels, and manga, then this might be the channel for you!

 

11. WellDoneBooks

Max over at WellDoneBooks shares book reviews, book tags, and discussions on all thnigs book-related a few times a month (although he has recently come back from quite a long hiatus). If you like classics, modern literary fiction, and the occasional fantasy or mystery read with a thoughtful and laid-back style, you'll love this channel.

 

11 BOOKTUBERS TO BINGEWATCH // There's no doubt about it: when I'm supposed to be working and I'm not, I tend to sidle over to one corner of the internet in particular— Booktube. In fact, I could loose hours here. Here are some of my favourite Booktubers that I come back to again and again when I'm in need of a recommendation, a cheer up, or whether or not I just want to see if someone has hated a recent release as much as I have.