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Sunday, August 7, 2011

Book Round-Up

The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges: An odd little bestiary that covers fantastical animals from all over the world, from the earliest tales to modern legends. Borges cites all sorts of literary sources for his descriptions, only translating some of them, and there are both the very common (unicorns and dragons) and the very obscure (the Sow in Chains and the Ink Monkey). It is far from comprehensive, but the real reason to read it is to experience Borges' incredible prose; of sylphs, he concludes: "Romantic poetry and the ballet find them useful."

Spain: A Culinary Road Trip by Mario Batali with Gwyneth Paltrow: Batali and Paltrow (a lot more likeable than you'd think in this book, although still remarkably un-self-aware), the luckiest people in the world, tour the best of every restaurant and kitchen in Spain. This was a Christmas present from Mr. Beadgirl, who knows how much I love Spain and Spanish food. I was lucky enough to travel extensively through Spain as a teenager and young adult, and the pictures and text brought back a lot of memories. Spanish cuisine is tied with Puerto Rican as my favorite, and the book is dog-eared with recipes I want to try.

Dracula the Un-Dead by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt: Knowing I enjoyed Bram Stoker's Dracula, Father Beadbrother lent me his copy of this ostensible sequel by Stoker's great grand-nephew. This was . . . bad. Really bad. So bad I stopped reading after two chapters and skimmed the final few. Although in their very, very long afterwords the authors say they wanted to avoid the cliches of modern vampire lit, they are all here -- an explicit linking of Dracula to Vlad the Impaler, even though it is not clear Stoker made that connection or wanted to; Dracula is really your friendly neighborhood vampire; the revelation that Mina is Dracula's true love and a vampire, and Harker is a drunken jerk; the inclusion of Stoker as an actual character who wrote about Dracula and got it horribly wrong (what a way to honor your ancestor's legacy); the assumption that being a vampire is an awesome solution to the "problem" of mortality; gory violence; sensationalized sex involving nubile young women (that's why Elizabeth Bathory's in the book, as a lesbian, natch); and a lame "The end . . . or IS IT???" ending. The writers also took what I call the Kitchen Sink Approach to Historical Fiction, incorporating Jack the Ripper (of course), famous actors of the time (gotta have celebrities!), Aviation pioneers (cutting edge technology!), and the Titanic (why not!). A totally revisionist interpretation of Dracula despite purporting to be otherwise, and poorly written at that. Boo.

Songs from the Seashell Archives, Vols. 1 and 2 by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough: These two books (very poor editions riddled with typos) collect four stories set in the same universe. These are light, comical fantasies that incorporate lots of folklore and fairy tales with a modern sensibility. So, for example, there is a red tapeworm that uses bureaucracy to keep people out of a castle, the witch from Hansel and Gretel is an ancestor of one of the protagonists, and to avoid falling under an evil wizard's spell one must take his words with a grain of salt, literally. I read these long ago in high school, and loved them, particularly the first two -- the protagonist was a brown-haired, decidedly un-princessy witch with unusual powers. I'd all but forgotten them until a month ago, when I had a dream which was basically a recreation of a scene from the second book (how imaginative of my sub-conscious). After that, I had to reread all of them, and I did. They held up pretty well, although as I said the first two were the best, and reading all four in a row was a bit much. The fourth ended with a major plot-point unresolved, making me wonder if Scarborough had intended a fifth novel. According to her website she did write a short story about it, so perhaps someday I will hunt it down.

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