From Lolly to Elias
we'll pass through the eye of Odin on our way
Two novels, an epic poem, three kinds of comics. Variety is the spice of life? Perhaps. But it is the core nutrient of reading life.
038) Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner, finished April 17
I'm glad I held of off reading my copy's introduction until after finishing the book because it spoils everything I'm about to spoil here, now. So if you too don't like things spoiled, leave after the following paragraph. (Unless you are as forgetful as I am. Recommended this book by a friend, I read enough of its Wikipedia page that much of the book should have been ruined but luckily I either forgot it all or mixed it up with the other two recommendations.)
Laura Willowes begins as a young lady of privilege and the countryside and book calmly, pleasantly allows us to explore that world over the first few dozen pages of the book, even though the opening pages told us this time in the country would come to an end. Thus, the rest of part one and most of part two are of her role as Aunt Lolly, live-in aunt, useful to her brother's family.
After which something sets her free and she sets back to the country alone.
The back of the book suggested that a supernatural element would eventually arise but given how calm things were, I expected something barely there. Like spooky ghostly things that probably aren't anything at all—that sort of thing. But then the book did go quite supernatural and somehow, even though we are deep in the book once stuff starts to happen, it all makes sense.
In short, without fully realizing she is doing it, Laura sells her soul to the devil and becomes a witch. And every time you wonder if it's all in her head, the book suggests it is not. It is not. And the whole thing is a powerful metaphor for what society is doing to women. Not just women, but especially women.
Satan, at least as Laura sees him, is not so much an embodiment of evil as a someone benign, moderately trickster, nature god. A Pan or something, just without all the rape. At least, without the rape in the 1920s.
It's a thought-provoking book and a lovely read. And short! All notes in its favor.
just over three weeks
039)The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson, finished April 19
Yes it's fifty pages shorter and the type is bigger, but I did not anticipate reading this book so much more quickly than Lolly Willowes. Data point!
I've felt a mild obligation to read Brandon Sanderson for a while, but he just keeps cranking out books (many of which are very long and part of very-long-book series) and plenty of other people dig him, so he hardly needs me. But when Liz Busby and William Morris both agree that one novella is the right novella for me, well, I owe them to get it at the library.
When I started reading The Emperor's Soul, I could feel my bad attitude creeping in, the same bad attitude that made it impossible for The Shining to impress me and that makes me leery of liking possible things. I think it's an instinct to reject popular opinion and to see a thing as it really is, but it's a difficult instinct to calibrate and can result in me disliking things like a hellbound hipster.
I'm relieved to say the book did win me over. I can't call it a masterpiece or anything, but it was a solid piece of entertainment threaded with strong ideas about art and honesty and creation and purpose and self-image and relationships and politics and ethnicity. Which is a lot for a little book with not-small type clocking in under 200 pages.
Does it make me want to read more Sanderson?
I don't know.
We have two of his novels lying around (Elantris and The Alloy of Law) and they're not huge, but they're not short either. Gimme another novella maybe, then we'll talk about breaking the 300-page barrier.
040)Beware the Eye of Odin by Wager/Odland/Madsen/Dukeshire, finished April 19
I only heard about this after it was nominated for an AML Award, but I know Tim Odland from past projects (his piece in Served is a kid in my ward's favorite) so for two reasons I was eager to check it out.
And it is brilliant fun. Norse myth pushed all the way to absurdity to make it funny but without compromising its adventure or sense of consequence. I got it on Hoopla so if your library plays along, you can read it without any risk!
Click the image to read an interview with the writer and artist. It'll give you a sense of what you're in for. (Although, Tim, you have done comics before!) His description of the trolls is right on. They reminded me of the cancerous messes from Treason, just hungry for human flesh.
041)The Complete Peanuts: 1965–1966 by Charles M. Schulz, finished April 20
Great, as always. Peppermint Patty and Woodstock both make their appearances.
Incidentally, I just read (probably reread) this great defense of Snoopy. In case you need it.
Oh: and only a couple more incidences in this volume (what I'm talking about). So no great new trend, or anything.
about four months
042)A Wealth of Pigeons by Steve Martin and Harry Bliss, finished April 22
Mostly one-panelers, but a bit of the authors as in their next book.
part of an afternoon
043)Elias: An Epic of the Ages by Orson Ferguson Whitney, finished April 23
I read another booklong poem by Whitney in 2009, 122 pages in four days. This one? 144 pages in nine months. Yowza. Have I gotten lazy in my middle age?
Anyway, they are quiet different books. The different cantos sometimes are written in different meters (though mostly iambic pentameter, sometimes rhymed, sometimes not). And each canto takes us through the entirety of history write up to waiting for the Savior's return.
Unfortunately, I did not take notes as I read. Which is a shame because I had lots of thoughts. Many of which are contradictory. For instance, there were times when I thought, Wow! Whitney's a proto-anti-racist! And other times I thought, Oo, boy. Now that's some bonafide racism.
Which is great, really, because it just goes to show how complex people are and how we can have blind spots right next to our clarities.
I'm charmed by Whitney stating clearly that one of his goals was to write a textbook for schools. The explanatory endnotes are meant to help students grow their knowledge by explaining bits of history or scripture to those who cannot understand his allusions. I was mystified, at times, how he selected just what and what not to note, but whatever. It's your book, Orson!
While there are some marvelous moments in the book, most of it feels like a theological tome filtered through an attitude of isn't-it-so-wonderful-this-is-so-obvious, which has to be one of our worst traits as a people.
As a historical curiosity, or to get a sense of Latter-day Saint theology and ethnicity back around 1900, you can't do better.
As an entertaining Sabbath read, it ain't for everybody.
But I do wish it were for more of us. Just because we've evolved doesn't mean we can't appreciate what we were.
[Additional notes for convenience elsewhere:
[The term Elias is used to its full flexibility within the text.
[The forms of the cantos are as follows:
P,2,6,10 Spenserian stanza(s)
1,4,5,8,E — Blank verse
3 — Doubled common meter
7,9 — Heroic couplets