Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Seven Heavens of Summer Reading 2014: The Platypus Reads Part CCLXXII

Summer is dead and gone good lady; Summer's dead and gone.  The sunny season has finally given way to her more temperate cousin and that means it's time to take stock of this year's Summer Reading.  As usual on this blog, that also means that I'm handing out awards for the seven best books I've read during the break.  The awards are themed around the attributes of the seven medieval heavens in honor of C.S. Lewis and Michael Ward.  So, without further ado, here are this year's winners.

Moon: The planet of madness goes to a book that nearly drove me mad: Night Train to Lisbon.  Pascal Mercier's story of a Swiss school teacher's mid-life crisis is the sort of book that reminds you of the emperor's new clothes.  It attempts to cow you with its own pretentiousness.  That's sad, because with another round or two of merciless edits, I think it could have been a good book.

Mercury:  This year's award for the planet of wordsmiths goes to one of the more helpful volumes on the writing process I've seen: Ray Rhamey's Flogging the Quill.  There was more practical advice for writing and editing in this thin little volume than in just about any other book I've read.

Venus:  The planet of love and the green earth goes to a book about a place near and dear to my heart, Jane de Forest Shelton's The Salt-box House.  It's the next best thing to living in the Shire.

Sun: The Heaven of scholars goes to the formidable father-son duo of John Ronald and Christopher Tolkien for wonderful treasure trove that is Beowulf and Sellic Spell.  While acknowledging that his thought is dated, I have always appreciated professor Tolkien's reflections on Beowulf and make frequent use of them in interpreting the work for students.  This new edition of Tolkien's translation with commentary is a joy to read and has me genuinely excited to teach the Anglo-Saxon poem again.

Mars:  The planet of contention goes to a book about some particularly contentious little creatures.  That book is Brain Froud's The Goblins of Labyrinth.  I have what amounts to an inordinate love of the movie and this whimsical little volume of production sketches did not disappoint.   

Jupiter:  I nearly missed this one and was saved by a chance trip to Barnes and Noble in search of a map of Southern New England.  The planet of kings goes to a story about a king who comes into his kingdom and finds no one at home: Hellboy in Hell: The Descent.  The real treat of this volume is that Mignola has returned to do the illustrations in the visionary style that set the series apart from the very first issue.

Saturn: The planet of catastrophes goes to book that deals with one of the great catastrophes of the 19th century, pulmonary tuberculosis.  That book is Food for the Dead, by Michael Bell.  Bell's book chronicles a folk medical practice that evolved on the fringes of New England for dealing with this dread disease.  Those who had died of the disease would be exhumed so that their hearts, lungs, and liver could be burnt and the smoke inhaled by their infected relatives.  I remember hearing about such a practice when I was growing up and it was good get the facts from an academic folklorist.  This is not a sensationalizing book, but it is a highly interesting one that treats its subject with rigor and respect.

So there you have it, another year of Summer Reading pleasure.  This was the first year in a while that I didn't do a "Summer of Shannara" reading campaign and I have to say that I enjoyed the freedom to roam without any specific goal in mind.Who knows what next year will bring, but I feel a sense of satisfaction as I draw the curtain over another summer here at The Platypus of Truth.

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