Shelf Life for August 2019

Books read
World War Z by Max Brooks
I Know What I Saw by Linda S. Godfrey
Supergods by Grant Morrison
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Books Bought/Found/Given
None

I swore off book purchases for the month, and I actually managed to stick to that expectation. I’m as shocked as anybody. 

That said, I discovered a ton of books I want to read. How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, King of Children: The Life and Death of Janusz Korczak by Betty Jean Lifton, Hallowtide by Karl Pfeiffer, These Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore, and the list goes on … Someday, my pretties. Someday.

Also, the harvest festival in Underhill, VT, is later this month, and there’s a big ol’ used book sale there. I’m certain I’ll wind up buying more than enough books to make up for this past month.

Anyway, I read four books in August, and there wasn’t a dud in the batch. In fact, it was one of the stronger stretches of reading that I’ve had in a while.

I’m no stranger to World War Z, the modern horror classic by Max Brooks. It’s a book I’ve re-read five or six times. Part of my love for it is deeply intertwined with my love of the horror genre, but it’s also one of those books that reveals more of itself each time you go back to it. There’s a degree of world-building to it that is both subtle and overwhelming. And as I read it this past weekend, it gave me a reassuring sense of, “Well, at least we don’t have zombies, I guess.”

I came back to World War Z this time because I have a story idea that that really lends itself to the oral-history-in-a-fictional-setting format, which is what Brooks’ book is. And it works in that niche so well. Brooks was inspired in large part to write the book that way by the works of Studs Terkel, in particular The Good War: An Oral History of World War II. I haven’t read Terkel since college, and I guess it’s time to return to him.

Linda S. Godfrey’s I Know What I Saw is her newest collection of weird tales from (mostly) the Minnesota/Michigan/Ohio area. I’ve loved stories of the paranormal since I was a kid, and that topic is right in my wheel house for novel writing. So I keep these sorts of books as a regular part of my research diet.

Godfrey comes from a journalism background, and she approaches stories with a healthy (but not narrow-minded) dose of skepticism. She examines tales of high strangeness by breaking them down into their component parts of legend, folklore, urban legend, myth, etc … and works from there to determine what’s going on. She understands that, real or imagined, tales of the paranormal are reflections of the people experiencing and/or sharing them. 

There’s an intrinsic value to the stories that goes beyond whether the person hearing them believes what is being told. They possess cultural insight and a way of understanding how individuals and groups process what is, at least to them, the unknown. 

I really enjoy Godfrey’s work, is what I’m saying.

Grant Morrison’s Supergods was first released in 2011. Why it took me nine years to get around to reading it, I don’t know. I have a deep love of comic books, and Morrison is one of my top five comic book writers. 

Regardless, it was worth the wait.

There are two ways to read Supergods. If you’re a longtime fan of the comic book medium, just dive in and go for it. If you’re new to comics or haven’t read them before, keep Wikipedia and Google’s image search handy. I really think that there’s a lot of value here for anyone interested in storytelling, myth building, and the nature of reality. But there’s also a hell of a lot of context for everything that’s being written about, and I think it’d make the trip more enjoyable for the comic book novice if they could stop and look up Werewolf by Night, Metal Hurlant, and Rogan Gosh, for example, when they’re referenced.

I learned a ton from Supergods, and I left the experience feeling super inspired. 

Finally, I finished reading Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. Rowell is a special writer. She’s a YA author, but her descriptive sensibilities transcend the genre, taking older readers (like me) back to the ages being written about. I wrote that I “finished” reading Rowell’s book in August. That’s because I started reading it in May. But I had to put it down after about 30 pages. 

See, the main character is a young woman starting college, and she’s filled with all sorts of anxiety about it. At that time, my daughter, 17, decided that she would start college a year early this fall, essentially turning her senior year of high school into her freshman year of college. This really set off my own anxiety, and as I read Rowell’s book, my arms got sore, my stomach hurt, and  I worried about my daughter’s upcoming experience. 

I put Fangirl down for a while and dealt with my feelings. As I watched my daughter approach college with a degree of confidence that I lacked completely at her age, I was able to pick the book up again late in the summer, and I enjoyed it in the same immersive way that I did Eleanor & Park, the first book of hers that I read.

Now my daughter’s started college, I feel old, and I’m writing more than I have in months, thanks in large part to the books I read last month.

What did you read in August? Let me know in the comments.

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