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
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.
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