Audiobook – I could recommend the book version of this title, but I won’t. Don’t get me wrong, the paper version of Norse Mythology is not in any way bad; it’s beautifully written, lyrical and fascinating, every bit what you’d expect of America’s leading myth-drenched fantasy writer retelling the tales of his favorite pantheon. But a large part of the charm of the book is its essentially aural nature. This is a text that is written to be heard, prose as hyper-aware of its cadence and meter as any poetry, and the voice it’s written for is the author’s own. So do yourself a favor and borrow the audiobook version instead of the paper book for the full Neil Gaiman experience–unless, and only unless, you plan to read it aloud yourself to a very lucky loved one.
As a book, Norse Mythology does exactly what it says on the cover: it retells sixteen of the most important myths from the Norse tradition. As a kid I devoured every scrap of Greco-Roman mythology I could get my hands on and had a fair grounding in the Egyptians, but the Norse myths were somehow more intimidating, hedged in with unpronounceable names and grim doomesday scenarios. This is the book I wish I’d had then–once again, especially with the audio version to make those names a little less scary. I’d be most eager to hand this book to anyone looking for a basic grounding in the subject, but the writing is so lovely that I think it’d be enjoyable even for a reader already familiar. Accessible and timeless, it’s a book destined to preserve its popularity for many years to come.
P.S. Gaiman’s breakout mythological hit, American Gods, is premiering as a TV show on April 30, so if you haven’t had the utter delight of reading that novel, now is the perfect time!
Book–In Shrill, online columnist Lindy West shares a series of highly personal essays on topics ranging from abortion to being fat to her father’s death. The essays seem to be organized vaguely chronologically, but also with a progression from funny and light to more serious and vulnerable. My favorite of the essays was late in the book, a gut-wrenching account of Lindy’s experience with an online troll who, not content with the pedestrian vitriol usually lobbed at women on the internet, decided to pose as Lindy’s recently deceased father and insult her using his face and personal details. Also unlike other trolls, when confronted on how depraved his actions were, he sincerely apologized and gave some insight on what prompted his actions.
Lindy’s brand of humor is crass, sharp, and laden with modern internet parlance; readers will either respond to it or they won’t. While I did enjoy her essays in this collection, I think that her writing is perhaps better suited to shorter form pieces and journalism. I found that her writing style becomes too abrasive to read for long periods and is best enjoyed in short chunks. If you enjoyed this collection, I would also recommend books by Jessica Valenti and Andi Zeisler.
Book–Covering all 17 penguin species over multiple continents, nature writer and photographer Wayne Lynch covers penguins from birth to mating to death in interesting prose paired with well-chosen photographs. Topics covered include penguin anatomy (did you know they have spines on their tongues to help move prey into their mouths?), penguin predators, species differences, and environmental threats. Lynch’s writing is lively and infused with a genuine love for the penguins he studies. This is especially apparent when he chronicles mishaps befalling penguins, such as getting eaten by seals or predator birds called skuas or baby penguins getting abandoned by their parents, and the self-control he had to exercise to not interrupt and stop nature’s course in its tracks.
If I had any complaints about this volume, it would be that I think it could have stood to include even more gorgeous pictures. While I enjoyed learning more about penguins, I think a good coffee table book like this one can never have enough full-color picture spreads. Penguins of the World will appeal to all fans of these adorable creatures as well as to adults who wish those slim, brightly colored, non-fiction books about animals written for kids came in adult-aimed versions as well.
Book – Hi Anxiety: Life With a Bad Case of Nerves by Kat Kinsman is an exploration of anxiety and its effect on one woman’s life. In 2014, Kat went public about having General Anxiety Disorder, publishing a blog post on CNN.com titled “Living With Anxiety, Searching For Joy“. The reception following the publication was incredible; she received an overwhelming response from readers overjoyed to hear a voice that resonated so much with their own lives.
I have to mention first how much I love the cover art of this book; I’m always a sucker for cute animals, (especially bunnies) and I snatched this off the shelf without a second thought. It also seems appropriate given the subject matter–rabbits are by nature skittish, nervous bundles of fluff, in my opinion a perfect mascot for anxiety.
Kat Kinsman is a funny, relatable author who does an amazing job showing what life is like for someone living with anxiety. She delves into all aspects of her life in a format that switches between chronological chapters, and sections titled irrational fear. The irrational fear segments detail specific activities and instances that incite anxiety in Kat, including but not limited to: “Seeing the doctor,” “Having No way Out,” and “Driving”. My favorite thing about this book is Kat’s focus on personal relationships–the role anxiety plays in her relationships with others, and specifically its impact on the pursuance of romantic relationships. Embarking on romantic endeavors is difficult enough without anxiety and I found that Kat’s personal narrative of love and loss really resonated with me.
It’s easy to feel a connection to Kat’s words thanks to the intimate and honest nature of her writing. Whether or not a reader struggles with a mental disorder, I think anyone can find a connection with some aspect of Kat’s experiences.
Book – Hygge (pronounced HOO-gah) is a Danish word meaning a quality of coziness that engenders a feeling of well-being. It’s living simply and finding pleasure and beauty in everyday moments. Johansen describes this lifestyle as it applies to the home, food and friendship. She emphasizes the importance of nature and the restorative powers of spending time outside (versus exercising in a gym). The connection to the outdoors extends to socializing. Gatherings celebrate the seasons and kinship, with simple meals of fish, berries, bread and pastries and “boozy beverages” as “attitude adjusters.” Hygge encourages the “healthy hedonism” of savoring delicious pastries, coffee, bread, wine – in moderation. She includes recipes for treats that sound delicious (but not simple to prepare). A hygge home features an abundance of candlelight and lighting sources, cozy blankets, fresh flowers and organic materials. Cleanliness and order are imperative to relaxation and contentment. This enjoyable book gave me a term to describe my own upbringing by my Norwegian mother. I feel a renewed commitment to hygge concepts, some of which I have always practiced and some that I would benefit from more fully embracing (got to get more active!). If you want to read more about hygge, try The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking.
Book–Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond immersed himself in the lives of 8 poverty-stricken Milwaukee families and constructed this book out of hours of recorded conversations. His account takes place in both a mostly white run-down trailer park and in a mostly black set of tenements; he also spoke to the two landlords that own these properties. Desmond argues that there is one common thread that destabilizes the lives of all the people he spoke to: eviction. The old well-known advice says that one should spend no more than 1/3 of one’s income on housing. However, when subsisting on government benefits and food stamps, one has no choice but to drop 80%+ of one’s meager income on housing, and, as Desmond puts it, “if you’re spending 80 percent of your income on rent, eviction is much more of an inevitability than an irresponsibility.”
For the most part, this book is a litany of sad stories, depressing outcomes, poor choices, and petty injustices. I found it to be somewhat repetitive after a while. However, the repetitiveness proves Desmond’s point. Even when these families get a lucky break, be a it a tax refund, benefits coming through, or a win at gambling, the precariousness of their situation and their predatory landlords keep them locked in a cycle of poverty where they owe their landlord more than they can pay, until they are evicted and need to start their Sisyphean journey toward stability in a new, often more squalid, place. If Evicted caught your attention, I would also recommend White Trash by Nancy Isenberg and Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
Book – What kind of pot is best for slow cooking on an electric stove? How often should you rotate your linens? What kind of fabric should you get on a couch to make sure it lasts as long as possible? How often do you need to dust, sweep, wash, and deep-clean? What kind of lighting should you have in which rooms? What kind of insurance should you have on your home, and how do you buy it? These are all things that go into making a house a home, and most of us know a little bit about some of them, but I’d venture to say that most of us don’t know a lot about all of them. Which is only fair: keeping house used to be a full-time job, after all, and now most of us work outside the home, so we don’t have the deep knowledge of someone who’s made it their career. Cheryl Mendelson brings a perfectionist’s eye for detail to homemaking.
This isn’t a high-color guide to Easy Tips For Your Home: it’s an in-depth examination of every single part of keeping a house. Mendelson is forgiving – she doesn’t scold you for not learning how to do things properly, nor does she insist that you need to have, for example, fine china that’s difficult to care for. She only insists that if you do have fine china, you treat it well. This book can certainly seem overwhelming at times, but it’s more of a reference book than the kind of thing you read cover-to-cover: pick it up when you have a question about the best way to do something, and you can be confident that you will at least know where you’re cutting corners.
Book— CEO Raskoff and Chief Analytics Officer Humphries have combined statistics gleaned from their popular real estate site Zillow with an eye for storytelling to create Zillow Talk, an entertaining, anecdote-filled journey through the land of house-buying and selling. With fewer people choosing to buy over rent after the housing crisis, the real estate market looks very different: as the authors put it, homeownership has been “decoupled” from the American dream. However, there are still many great reasons to buy a home, and the authors give us some tips for home buying and listing. For instance, like in department stores where prices always end in “.99,” calling a house price, say $199,900 instead of $200,000 has the same psychological effect of leading you to believe the price is significantly cheaper. Using the vast quantity of data that Zillow has generated, the authors have noticed such patterns among such minor factors as street names, walkability, and listing time significantly affecting the price a home eventually sells for.
Zillow Talk is a fun read even if you never plan to buy a house. It will appeal to fans of the Freakonomics books, which also tease out interesting facts from raw statistics and economics to tell a story.
Book–Andi Zeisler, co-founder of feminist nonprofit Bitch Media, has spent her career examining popular culture through a feminist lens. Zeisler argues that lately feminist has become a coveted ‘cool’ label. In contrast to the 1980s retrenchment of conservative values that repudiated feminism, now it’s a label that everyone wants to claim. Popular celebrities regularly affirm that they are feminist, brands like Dove are embracing body positivity as a marketing technique, and even innocuous products like underwear are being marketed using empowerment jargon. According to Zeisler, if everything is suddenly feminist, than it’s as if nothing is feminist. Using feminism to categorize everything from pop music to sanitary pads dilutes the meaning of the word and sidesteps the systemic inequalites that feminism should rightly address. Because people face an unequal range of opportunities, feminism is not as simple as people just making the choices they would have made anyway then calling themselves feminist for it. Zeisler calls this “Marketplace Feminism,” though others have called it choice feminism.
While I did enjoy this book, I thought it suffered from too many examples and observations and not enough solutions and conclusions. Any reader who frequents the feminist blogosphere will be more than familiar with most of the examples that Zeisler uses to illustrate her points. We Were Feminists Once would be a great read for someone just getting interested in feminism or who just wants a brief overview of the quasi-feminist listicle-generating culture that Zeisler critiques.
Book – I’ve been hearing about Stanford’s life design course for a few years now, one of those bits of news that makes me nostalgic for being in college. Run through Stanford’s Institute of Design, it teaches students how to develop a life they will enjoy to the fullest, using design mindsets and principles. It sounds terrific – and the class has been full every year for nine years.
Well, for those of us who no longer have any hope of getting into a Stanford class, waitlisted or not, the course designers have written a book. It’s not the same – you’ll need to develop your own group of peers, and you’re probably starting from a very different place than a college junior or senior – but it’s a great start. After introducing the basic concepts, the book dives right into exercises you can try (based on one of the five core design principles, bias to action, or as the authors put it: Try Stuff). If you want the full schoolwork experience, you can even download worksheets from their website.
There isn’t a lot of direct advice in this book – the authors aren’t trying to get you to do anything specific with your life, but to think differently about your life and the choices you make about it. Maybe that means making a few small changes so that you appreciate what you have all the more; maybe it means quitting your job and moving to Alaska. Either way, a few hours spent with this book would be a great way to kick off the new year.