Review: Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

As a lifelong fan of Norse mythology, I am very disappointed with this book. I normally like Gaiman’s writing but he did an absolute number on this one. It only took me a day to read, but not because I was engaged. The dialogue in this book is among the worst I have read, ranging from boring to plain awful. I can scarcely believe that I read these words in this book: “Odin blew some of the mead out of his behind, a splattery wet fart… …no one wanted to drink the mead that came out of Odin’s ass.“. That really happened. Why Gaiman thought those were good sentences to write I will never know, even after going back to Skáldskaparmál to check the original.

On a more personal note, his treatment of Thor was abysmal to me. Thor is a figure who has been very central to my self. Because of that, I realize that many will not share my reservations, but I must at least point out that Thor is not quite as much of a blubbering monosyllabic idiot as Neil would have us believe.

The best part of the book is Ragnarok, mainly because Gaiman has less spoken lines to bungle. Not to say that the description is always well put together. For the most part, it is uninspired and forgettable. Gaiman misses a great opportunity in enriching the descriptive parts of his prose, as that is an aspect of the myths that is more lacking in the poetic sources.

Overall, I do not recommend this book for fans of the Norse myths. And while I’m sure that those new to the myths may find much less fault with this book, I cannot in good conscience recommend it to them either. Instead, pick up The Norse Myths by Crossley-Holland (which Gaiman actually mentions in his intro) as it is still the best retelling of the myths. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

4 / 10

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Review: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

Hard-Boiled was a very imaginative novel. While the beginning left me wondering if it was worth my time, it quickly drew me into its world of surreal beauty. Murakami’s penchant for otherworldliness is prominent in this work, and like Wind-Up Bird it suffuses the book with a sense of lightness and mystery. Which is refreshing because in other works of Murakami, *cough1Q84cough* it doesn’t work quite as well. Trying to figure out the connection between the Wonderland and the Town kept me engaged and guessing the whole time. Between the two I like the Town a bit better since, being a somewhat fantasy inspired dreamworld, it forced Murakami to extend his characters beyond consumers of pop-culture and his locations beyond cities. The image of the Town’s skulls glowing is an extremely vivid and interesting one that will stick with me for a long time.

On the negative side, the main character is again a casually misogynistic man who, at completely random points, pipes up with a sexist bit of internal monologue (also fat-shaming? Dude, come on). It may be forgivable as an isolated incident, but as a theme across most of Murakami’s novels it is less so. His writing of female characters has never been fantastic either. Another vexing Murakamiism rears its head- the dreaded super vague ending. However, it’s not quite as bad as others *coughTsukurucough*. It actually defied my predictions and it gets points for that.

Overall, the book was very enjoyable and among the best of Murakami’s books.

4/5

Review: Ceremonial Chemistry

Ceremonial Chemistry
Ceremonial Chemistry by Thomas Szasz

This is a fantastic overview and criticism of the “drug problem”/ war on drugs. Thomas Szazs expounds an interpretation of what he calls ‘missionary medicine’ as the new permutation of religion in a secular world, a new scientific religion. I.e. encouraged/discouraged drugs are for the most part ceremonially differentiated instead of chemically. Essential to this is that drug prohibition is not only a war against disapproved drugs it is also a war for the approved medico-scientific drugs of the day. Or in cases of drug policy being policed in foreign areas, a war for western ceremonial drugs alcohol and tobacco. The book charts the societal shift of certain substances from panacea (cure-all) to panapathogen (corrupt-all). Concepts of medicine and psychiatry as social control are also discussed. Though released in the 70s much of this book still holds true to the current situation. With the impending legalization of cannabis in Canada, we shall soon see whether Szazs’ ideas play out re: prohibition creating adverse behaviour, and the ‘forbidden fruit effect’.

I highly recommend this book for anybody who has grown up without questioning the drug propaganda that has been fed to us since birth, and anybody who wants to dig deeper into why some substances are forbidden and some not.

5 / 5 

Plato vs. Information

I officially started to read my very first bit of Plato on March 4th, 2014 at 8 o’clock in the morning. I am 66 pages into Five Dialogues. Before you ask, yes, I am going to be taking this opportunity to review a book of philosophy before i’ve finished reading it, and to begin to review a canon of work before I have come to truly understand it. Carpe diem, Y.O.L.O., et cetera.

In a lot of ways, we live in a world that is so soaked in details that we aren’t even able notice it. We have details for everything, even things that don’t really have a large amount of relevance to us. What’s more important? That I finally began to read a work of Plato for the first time, though i’ve been interested in classical philosophy and writings for around 4 years now? (My only previous contact with Socrates being two time travellers.) Or is it that I could (and did) tell you the exact hour that I picked up the book and began to read it? I often feel overwhelmed by the amount of information that I am bombarded with on a day to day basis. The human brain is hardwired to filter out and focus on specific bits of information. However, that’s mostly an unconscious process.

And now you’re thinking “What in the world does that entire paragraph have to do with Plato?”. Well, the answer is, probably not a whole lot. At the end of the day, a lot of the subjects about which Plato writes are quite apart from my day to day experience. Trials, duty, piety, rhetoric. Not things that I think about too often. I feel that what I’ve been gaining from reading the Dialogues is not so much from the logical conclusion of the conversations but more so the general way that the dialogues are navigated through by the speakers. I appreciate the rigor with which Socrates engages his conversational partners, and his dedication to knowledge and truth. I think that is what has been resonating with me.

Not to mention I look at least 70% more intelligent when I read Plato while riding the bus.

(I am also a pretty big fan of the fact that Euthyphro doesn’t even get his answer at the end of his dialogue. Take that, insatiable need to acquire un-skillful knowledge!)

h spice

H SPICE

       As James was walking down the street, he noticed a small sign outside an old house that read: “H Spice”. Hoping it might be some obscure Dune reference, he squinted at it for about 30 seconds before realizing the tint of his sunglasses prevented him seeing the yellow sun graphic between the H and S that stood in for the ‘o’. Hospice.

“Who the fuck uses a sunshine in a hospice care advertisement.” he wondered aloud. After looking around to see if anybody had noticed his outburst (which he felt was done rather covertly, the looking), he started walking again.

James liked his sunglasses. He thought they made him look dispassionate and cool. He still wore them even though they made it harder for him to see clearly. Sometimes James would vaguely wonder if there was some kind of deep life lesson in the ‘glasses trade-off’ that could help him fix other problems in his life. But he could only ever get so far into that thought without losing track or getting bored. He was almost always bored in one way or another.

His phone buzzed, it was a text from Willow: “jamie weve got the cans, where youuuu”. James looked and distractedly scrolled at his phone for a few seconds after he had read the text, unsure of what he was stalling for. He texted back “near timmies, where are you?” and slumped down against the side of the building, feeling suddenly drained. He quickly unzipped his backpack and surveyed the contents: his sketchbook, a collection of sharpies, one macbook, one macbook charger, one bandana, and one old apple. He pulled out the bandana and idly folded and unfolded it until he felt his phone vibrate again. Willow: “pauls place, get hereeeeee”

James zipped up his backpack, slung it over his back, and started walking. Paul’s place wasn’t far away and it was a relatively cool night but he still managed to break out into a sweat by the time he arrived, 20 minutes later. After quickly wiping at the sheen of sweat on his face he pushed his way into the shabby looking apartment.

“Hey! Way to keep us waiting!” yelled Willow from across the room. James just kinda stood there, shrugged and grinned at both Paul, and Willow (who already seemed to be sort of drunk.)

James collapsed onto the couch cradling his bag.  “So you got cans? What colours are we looking at tonight?” asked James, wondering about the plastic home-depot bag filled with spraypaint cans sitting on top of the coffee table. James pulled out his black sketchbook and started to flip through several pages.

“We picked up the essentials, black, white, yellow, blue, red… oh and that weird lime green one you like so much!” relayed Paul. James was looking at a glyph he had sketched. There was a drawn-out silence. “Jamie?”

“Oh, yeah, thanks. Let’s get going yeah?” James, Paul, and Willow each insufflated 20 mg of the ADHD medication Ritalin off of the cover of James’s blackbook. They pack the 6 cans deep in the bottom of James’ backpack. On the way out the door James noticed Willow exhibit the signs of minor alcohol intoxication and gets this weird feeling at the top of his stomach not unlike disappointment (although he doesn’t ever mind being around people who are intoxicated, it kind of makes him feel good to be the least fucked up person in a room, and besides he’s just starting to feel the effects of the intranasal 20mg methylphenidate anyhow.)

As the group is walking at a brisk pace towards a good secluded concrete wall that they’ve planned on visiting prior to this moment James begins to feel a certain limitless feeling and a strong grin spreads across his face. Before long James finds himself in the midst a wall run contest with Paul, seeing who can get so many steps along a slanted piece of concrete on the side of a building. Everybody is feeling excited in a fierce and proud way. Their chosen spot is reached and everybody lies down backs against the cold pavement to catch their breath. Willow nabs James’ bag and fishes for a can. Uncapping the white she starts on one of her regular pieces. James notices that like usual when Willow is painting she has developed a calm sturdiness and pointedness of attention that she can retain no matter how intoxicated she is. James admires this quality, probably no small part due to the fact that Willow was the person that introduced him to painting in the first place.

James grabs his green can, sketchbook, and bandana from his sack and puts on the song “Clear Moon” by Mount Eerie on to stimulate his creativity. He likes to have music on while painting even though he knows it’s a bad idea police-wise. But Paul is there this night, Paul (who doesn’t paint but likes to photograph) keeps a look out for any signs of observers. James wraps the bandana around his face like a bandit. Tonight he is using his green can to paint magical seals of babylonian spirits he copied to his sketchbook from a PDF of ‘Simon’s Necronomicon’. “It’s fake, of course,” he explains to Paul and Willow, “but that doesn’t stop them from looking rad and spooky.” Pointing at his sketchbook: “Look: this one is for ‘Asaru’, he’s supposed to be the spirit of trees and food and stuff.” Paul and Willow, both committed atheists, have a brief giggle at the ridiculousness of it. James’ piece is finished in about 7 minutes, and Willow’s painting takes longer (being way more artful than James’). Together they are an odd pair, Willow’s piece is an intricately painted white owl with glowing yellow eyes which looks preternaturally wise and new beside the dripping green sigils.

Paul has been photographing them working and gets a few creepy-looking shots of James standing in front of his seals, which he’s painted to be dripping with almost-luminescent green and overall look very lovecraftian. Being photographed makes James feel uncomfortable even in everyday situations but Paul assures him he looks very cute. After Paul and James insufflate an additional 15mg methylphenidate each, the whole group stows the cans and begins to walk to an all-night diner not too far from the spot. It has become dark and very cold since they left Paul’s house hours ago. While walking they share a joint and talk about meaningless things, school, music, television. It didn’t seem important to James what they spoke about, it was more the feeling of it all.

James’ mind began to dissociate from his experience- his body still functioned, walked, kept up conversation- but automatically. He was a passive observer from overhead. Perception increasingly had become informed by impressions and ideas, like one slowly-evolving blur. James vaguely notices that Willow was no longer with ‘them’. Peering through what feels like a deep fog James perceives a familiar face grinning beneath a harsh light. James watches his body smile back. Later, he observes the bodily sensation of heat from another body. Seeing pictures. A laptop. Vague impression of food. A pair of sunglasses. Falling back onto a bed. Bits of paper. The night sky. It’s a full moon.

James eventually comes to awareness in his room. He is sitting, cross legged on his cushion, staring at the blank white wall. ‘Eyes locked and shining,’ he thinks slowly.

monday november eleven twenty-thirteen

          I am sitting on my swivelling office chair. It’s the kind of chair I’d never buy for myself, but my landlady (who is russian and old) insisted on me using it. I’m not wearing socks and my feet are slightly cold against the wood floor on account of the window in front of my desk that doesn’t completely close. It’s November. It doesn’t occur to me that should get the window fixed. I’m unconsciously curling and uncurling my toes. There is a heavy book on symbology sitting on my lap. It is what Adam and I are talking about.

“Religious fanatics are always trouble,” he says. I can tell from my concise reading that the book has a disappointing amount of knowledge spread over a large range of subjects. I briefly glance over to my shrine which had three candles and a stick of incense burning on it within the last hour.

“Sure..” In the last fifteen minutes i’ve already corrected him on maybe two other things. I let this one slide. My stomach growls.

“In general, religion is trouble.”

“…”    Awkward.

“Well, I’ve got to attempt to write an essay before I sleep. You can keep the book if you’d like”

“Actually i’ll just ask you if i find something i need to reference,” I say, staring at my feet.

Adam stands up, leaves and I shut the door behind him. I settle down, lean against a wall and press a knuckle to my forehead. I fleetingly consider getting something to eat but decide against it. Instead I walk over to my shrine. Bowing, I light the three candles in sequence. Man, his words, the sages. I sit in half-lotus on the cushion with lowered eyes for approximately 20 minutes. I prostrate, I read, I sleep on the floor.

Artist Discovery: Sea Oleena

Genre: Ambient, Art Pop, Dream Folk, Shoegaze

Sea Oleena is the recording project of Charlotte Oleena, who has also previously worked on a record with Montréal rap-folk group Holobody. The music of Sea Oleena is dreamy and beautiful. I caught a show at the tiny Arboretum festival in Ottawa. I had previously run into her recordings on bandcamp and enjoyed the experimental folk aesthetic but to my surprise her live show was solo and stripped down and it blew me away. It might have been the heat of the day, but I was put right into a deep enough trance that I didn’t even mind sitting in the direct sun (and for somebody like me, that’s high praise.)

featured track: Swimming Story

Sea Oleena at Arboretum Arts Festival in Ottawa.

Sea Oleena at Arboretum Arts Festival in Ottawa.