Great American Folklore

Great American Folklore: Legends, Tales, Ballads, and Superstitions from All Across America, compiled by Kemp P. Battle, 3/5

I understand the need to document and collect traditional stories to preserve them for posterity, but if there is a way to do so while also creating a good reading experience, the editor of this volume has not discovered it. Most of these tales clearly belong to an oral tradition, so it feels strange to encounter them stripped of their correct community context, not to mention the awkward (potentially racist) attempts to convey vernacular in prose.

Why I read it: Somehow it ended up in my to-read pile, though I can’t remember where or when I acquired it.

Blood of Elves

Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski, 3/5

There are three books preceding this one in the Witcher Saga, chronologically, but Blood of Elves really does feel like the first to make a coherent contribution to an overarching story line. I feel that its literary quality isn’t quite up to par with The Last Wish, but it is definitely an enjoyable entry in an over-saturated genre.

Why I read it: gradually working my way through the series after enjoying the first season on Netflix.

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin, 5/5

Anecdotal evidence may not be the best kind of evidence, but it is definitely the most entertaining. I enjoyed reading about the natural childbirth experiences of the many women represented in this book and appreciated that, overall, the stories were comforting without sugarcoating the intensity of the birth experience. Entertaining or not, I wouldn’t have been able to take Gaskin very seriously if she did not also have vast practical experience and the approbation of many more traditionally-educated medical experts. Advocates of natural childbirth can seem a bit fanatical, but their passion is understandable in light of the unnecessary and often harmful medical interference that seemed to characterize obstetrics in the 1900s (in addition to the U.S.A.’s frankly appalling maternal mortality ratio). I am cautiously optimistic that medicine has by now advanced to include a more open-minded and respectful view of the female body’s innate capacity for birth.

Why I read it: a friend recommended the author’s book Spiritual Midwifery, which was not available as a hard copy at my library at the time, so I read this one instead.

Autumn

Autumn by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated by Ingvild Burkey, 3/5

Reading this collection of short essays, mostly on such prosaic topics as “apples” and “plastic bags,” is a calming and grounding experience. Knausgaard combines the sensibilities of a sophisticated writer with the wide-eyed wonder of a child, rendering even the most commonplace subject somehow remarkable. The simple and honest manner in which the author’s thoughts and everyday life experiences permeate the text give one a sense of voyeurism without its intrinsic guilt; as if someone has left their curtains open solely to warm the hearts of passersby in the dark.

Why I read it: a recommendation by my sister, Anna.

Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way

Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way by Susan McCutcheon-Rosegg, with Peter Rosegg, 4/5

I read this book for a laugh, expecting that almost 40 years of advancements in the field of medicine would have rendered it largely useless by now. To my surprise, I found myself being won over by the commonsense advice it presents, emphasizing mindful relaxation, supportive coaching, patience and faith in the natural process. After all, the act of childbirth is as old as time and if, as so many experts assert, we still experience primitive influences on a biological level, why should we rush to intervene with little excuse?

Season of Storms

Season of Storms: A Legend is Born by Andrzej Sapkowski, translated by David French, 3/5

On a scale of literary quality, this is much closer to Jim Butcher than J.R.R. Tolkien, but it is still good fun. In my opinion, the author writes violence much better than romance, so this book was an improvement on the previous one in the series and leaves me looking forward to the next one.

Why I read it: Working my way through the Witcher series after enjoying the Netflix TV adaptation.

The Constant Rabbit

The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde, 3/5

It quickly became obvious to me that this book’s bizarre premise–the struggle for coexistence between humanity and anthropomorphic rabbits–was mostly just a vehicle for the author’s commentary on UK politics (particularly his hatred of the UK Independence Party). “Satire,” with its implications of humor, irony and sarcasm, seems too nuanced a word to describe the tone of this book and brief glimpses of Fforde’s literary creativity and skill just made the incessant political preaching all the more disappointing.

Why I read it: I love many of Fforde’s earlier works and when I heard that he was publishing again, I was very excited to catch up on his latest two books. My enthusiasm has cooled somewhat, since, sadly.

Sword of Destiny

Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski, translated by David French, 3/5

In contrast to The Last Wish, this second book in the Witcher Saga felt more like an average, run-of-the-mill adult fantasy than an inspired re-interpretation of classic fairytales and mythical archetypes. The “adult” passages were numerous and, frankly, cringe-worthy. If not for the first book’s merit, I would probably avoid reading more in the series.

The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of Despereaux: being the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread by Kate DiCamillo, 4/5

This charming story begs to be read aloud near a cozy fireplace and I think even children too young to read would love hearing it. I appreciate that, in the style of all classic fairy tales, it does not shy away from portraying darkness to balance out the light. By acknowledging the violence and tragedy of existence in a matter-of-fact and age-appropriate way, the author puts a backbone in what might otherwise have been a silly, sappy, story for kids.

Why I read it: a student’s mom, Paige, recommended it in conversation.

Early Riser

Early Riser: A Novel by Jasper Fforde, 3/5

This dystopian novel explores the logistical, social, and political implications of living in a world so close to another ice age that humans must hibernate through the winter months. Fforde’s inimitable style does shine through in a couple places, but overall I found the story to be a bit on the pedestrian side. Not exactly predictable, but familiar, like it was based on a Netflix series I’d already seen or something. Of course, Netflix was still a mail-order DVD service the last time I read anything by Jasper Fforde, so hopefully the perceived lack of depth and magic is not simply a result of brain rot from indulging in more mindless TV than good books in the last few years.

Why I read it: the author came up in conversation with my sister.