Centaurs and Mermaids and Zombies, Oh My

Camped out at the very end of the Dewey 300s range, past the more sober sections on politics (320s), economics (330s) and education (370s), you will find an unexpected land of mythical creatures and tall tales. When you hit the Dewey number 398 you have entered the shadowy realm of folklore and fairy tales. While you might think that books about folktales and folklore are exclusively collected by our intrepid Youth Services librarians, you would be mistaken. There are actually a good number of them tucked away in the adult nonfiction collection as well. Despite what some mega corporations would like to you to think, I’m looking at you Disney, folktales and folklore are actually serious stuff. Take a look for yourself with a few of these new additions to the collection.

The Book of Greek & Roman Folktales Legends & Myths edited & translated by William Hansen

Gird yourself for tales not only of gods, goddesses and monsters but also urban legends, ghost stories and jokes in this anthology of ancient Greek and Roman tales. Divided up into topics such as ‘tricksters and lovers’, ‘artists and athletes’ and ‘numskulls and sybarites’ each tale is skillfully translated and given context by the author who is a professor of classical studies and folklore at Indiana University. You gotta love a culture that produced stories concerning ‘The Third Cup of Wine.’

Celtic Tales: Fairy Tales and Stories of Enchantment from Ireland, Scotland, Brittany, and Wales illus. by Kate Forrester

This volume contains 16 stories transcribed by folklorists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and divided into the tantalizing categories of ‘Tricksters,’ ‘The Sea,’ ‘Quests,’ and ‘Romance.’ The tales themselves have a definite sense of humor as well as similarities to more familiar folktales that came later. The real standouts of this volume are the illustrations including great examples of silhouette art and the Celtic borders framing the tales themselves.

The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales edited by Maria Tatar

This collection of 26 newly translated tales is the perfect mix of fiction and scholarship. Each tale is comprehensively annotated by Harvard professor Tatar bringing out the historical and cultural context of each story as well as the psychological impact on children and adults throughout the ages. Most impressive is the comparison of the various illustrations that have been made for different versions of each tale including works by the likes of Arthur Rackham, Walter Crane and Gustave Dore.

A Treasury of American Folklore edited by B.A. Botkin

This book is a reissue of a 1944 edition put together by B.A. Botkin who was the national folklore editor for the Federal Writers Project in the late 1930s. It is an invaluable and entertaining collection of American folktales and songs that could easily have been lost to history. Classics tales concerning the likes of Paul Bunyan and John Henry rub shoulders with the more obscure tales such as ‘The Talking Mule’ and ‘The Phantom Train of Marshal Pass.’

Gnomes (Deluxe Collector’s Edition)
by Will Huygen

First published in 1976, this is a ‘scientific observation’ of the local gnome population in Holland. This illustrated work is now considered a classic, hence this anniversary edition, and its detailed breakdown of gnome culture (including medicine, industry and, gulp, mating habits) is beloved by many. To me, however, it has always been nightmare fuel. This could be due to my encountering it during my youth but I think it also has a lot to do with the huge amount of, heavily illustrated, TMI in this book.

Living with the Living Dead by Greg Garrett

Zombies shuffle into the folklore collection with this examination of tales of the living dead and their meanings from Baylor University English professor Garett. Drawing from the many current cultural examples of the zombie apocalypse, including the films of George Romero and the TV series The Walking Dead, the author wrestles with meaty (har, har) questions such as: Who are the Living Dead? Do zombie stories actually encourage community? and What are the ethics of the zombie apocalypse?

So take a stroll down the aisle of the 300s and check out the folklore section. Just make sure to leave a trail of breadcrumbs or you will be sorry.

Not Just a Pretty Face

The Magicians coverLike a literary magpie, I am drawn to pretty, shiny, exciting things. I often enter the library without a clue about what I want to read. I wander and browse until something jumps out at me – a cool spine design, a flashy cover, a witty title. It doesn’t take much.

I judge books by their covers.

Sometimes this approach backfires, but more often than not, I find that I like the book if I like the way the author has chosen to decorate it. It could be dumb luck, or perhaps the author and I agree on some deep, mystical, aesthetic level. Either way, I’ve been happy with my track record, and I’d like to share some of my favorite ‘window shopping’ finds:

Dreams and Shadows coverDreams and Shadows by C. Robert Cargill. This book will appeal to anyone who is into folklore, mythical creatures, and generally wizardy stuff. Cargill’s style of writing was right up my alley – a little bit edgy, but sprinkled with humor and an occasional academic interlude to fill in more information about some of the supernatural beings that are involved in his story. I feel this book was left open-ended enough that it could be turned into the first of a series, or it could remain as a good stand-alone work. Those who liked American Gods may be into this.

Utopian Man coverUtopian Man by Lisa Lang. This was a really lovely read from start to finish. I enjoyed getting lost in the world that Edward William Cole, our Utopian Man, was trying to create with his glorious Arcade. Setting the story in 19th-Century Melbourne made the book all the more fascinating, as it’s a time and place that is very unknown and exotic to me. I think the author brings this feeling of newness and excitement across very well to the reader. This is a light read full of beautiful imagery, a little bit of conflict, and a lot of imagination.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. I’ve already raved about this book in another post, so I’ll get to the important part. This book jacket GLOWS IN THE DARK! Aside from it being a great book, what more do you need to know?

Deathless coverDeathless by Catherynne Valente. 2/3 Russian fairy tale, 1/3 history of Russia from the death of the Tsar through the Siege of Leningrad. It took me a couple of chapters to warm up to this book, mainly because I didn’t know what it was I was getting into: fantasy, a dream sequence, a paranoid delusion, or allegory. Once I figured out how I related to the book, I was drawn in. Deathless reads primarily like a folktale, punctuated with passages full of beauty, mystery, hardship, poetry, mythology, joy, and melancholy. While the library doesn’t own Deathless, I was able to get it through Interlibrary Loan. EPL does have many of Valente’s other titles on shelf.

Age of Wonder coverThe Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes. I picked this one up shortly after I finished grad school. I found a note I’d written about it on GoodReads while I was reading the book that made me chuckle: “Interesting subject matter, but perhaps a bit more dense than my poor brain wants to deal with so soon after graduating. Recovery is a long, hard road. I’m sticking it out though, for the greater good.” I am happy to report that it was worth it, and that I learned a lot about science in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. As grueling as I made it sound, the book was quite a pleasure to read.

Super Sad True Love Story coverSuper Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. SSTLS is kind of an odd book for me. Generally when I love a book, I love it from the beginning. With this story, my feelings sometimes bordered on hate, and for the most part, hovered in the area of disinterest. Then a funny thing happened: I finished the story and let it marinate in my brain for a while. Soon enough, ideas from SSTLS started popping up in conversations with friends and they would immediately jump in saying that they’d read the same book and completely agreed. Similar to the movie Idiocracy, SSTLS delivers a darkly humorous appraisal of the future of mankind that occasionally seems prophetic when watching the news.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Kind of like Harry Potter, but for grown folks. I went on to read the sequel, The Magician King, and enjoyed it just as much. I would recommend Grossman for anyone who likes a little humor and sarcasm to go along with their fantasy reads.

Travels in Siberia coverTravels in Siberia by Ian Frazier. Before I knew that Ian Frazier was awesome, I stumbled upon his cover for Travels in Siberia. I thought it was lovely and that combined with my odd fascination with all things Russian was enough to get me to put it on hold. I was not disappointed. I think those who enjoy the kind of travel writing one gets from Paul Theroux or Bill Bryson would really connect with this author.

Lisa