BookMusings: (Re)Discovering Pagan Literature
A lively discussion of ancient and modern Pagan literature -- including children's books, graphic novels, science fiction, fantasy, and mysteries -- along with interviews, author highlights, and profiles of Pagan publishers.
On Literary Discoveries of 2013
At the end of 2012, I looked over what I had read the previous year and came up with a list of Literary Discoveries. Considering how much I have read this year -- novels, novellas, anthologies, short stories, essays, longer works of philosophy and history and spirituality -- continuing the tradition seemed like a good idea. And, just like the previous list, not all of these titles were published in 2013 (though most were); I just discovered them this past year.
So, in no particular order, here is my 2013 edition of Literary Discoveries.
1) I read Reza Aslan's No god But God several years ago, and found it to be a well-written introduction to and overview of the theology and history of Islam; this is the book I recommend to anyone looking for a basic primer on the subject. So, when Aslan released Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth I decided it was worth checking out, even though I have very little interest in the development of Christianity -- actually, let me amend that. I find some of the early Christian sects which were later deemed heretical to be interesting, and I've studied the fall of Classical Paganism even though it makes me angry. So, I was curious as to Aslan's conclusions about the carpenter from Nazareth. I won't spoil it for you. Suffice to say, the book was well-researched and engaging, and I highly recommend it to anyone at all interested in Middle Eastern history, the Age of Augustus, or the history and evolution of Judaism.
2) Tangentially related to the above is The Earth, The Gods, and the Soul: A History of Pagan Philosophy From the Iron Age to the 21st Century by Brendan Myers. I'm kind of cheating with this one; I haven't finished the book as of this writing, but it is an engrossing read. Myers begins by (loosely) defining Pagan philosophy, then works his way through time and across the continents, touching on everything and everyone from The Havamal to Stoicism to the Pantheism of the Age of Reason to Aleister Crowley to The Gaia Hypothesis. Highly recommended to anyone looking for a solid grounding in non-Abrahamic, Western philosophies.
3) Single Witch's Survival Guide is the first book I have read by Mindy Klasky. It is also the first in the Jane Madison Academy series, though I discovered after I had finished it that the book is actually the fourth (or maybe fifth) to feature Jane Madison herself. Ah, well. It was still a quick, fun read filled with well-rounded characters and well-thought out magic. It was nice to see the "magical academy trope" given an adult spin. Plus, Hecate! Homage paid to an actual Goddess by actual witches!
4) I featured Treasury of Egyptian Mythology: Classic Stories of Gods, Goddesses, Monsters and Mortals a few weeks back, but, hey, it's an awesome book and deserves to be mentioned again. Napoli's text is sing-song, and Balit's artwork is brilliant and geometric. A definitely must for any Kemetic library and one of my favorite discoveries of 2013. I can't wait to see the volume on Norse mythology.
5) Explorer Volume II: The Lost Islands is the latest graphic novel anthology edited by Kazu Kibuishi. While technically all-ages, both volumes of Explorer deal with themes ranging from death and grief, to fear and bravery, friendship and betrayal, and love and curiosity and laughter. I enjoyed all seven tales in the new volume, but my particular favorite was "Radio Adrift" by Katie and Steven Shanahan; magic and music; doesn't get much better than that.
6) I stumbled across The EcoPoetry Anthology, edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, at the bookstore and immediately snatched it up. Opening with a short historical section, the majority of the book is dedicated to contemporary ecopoetry, when the genre really came into its own. There are many poets here that I would expect to find (Whitman, H.D., Eliot, Roethke, Harjo, et cetera), but also quite a few that I did not expect, and even more who were new to me. Skiranth Reddy's "Monsoon Ecologue," Carter Revard's "Aesculapius Unbound," Ed Roberson's "To See the Earth before the End of the World," and "Some Kind of Osiris" by Reginald Shepherd are among my favorite finds, as are the excerpts from "Mermaid's Purse" by Layne Browne and Ronald Johnson's "[earthearthearth]." A definite must for anyone with a nature-focused spirituality, or a lover of poetry.
7) Used bookstores are wonderful places to stumble across unexpected treasures. One "wow, neat!" moment occurred this past year when I found Technicians of the Sacred: A Range of Poetries from Africa, America, Asia, Europe and Oceania. Edited, with commentary, by Jerome Rothenberg, Technicians is an amazing collection of indigenous artwork, poetry and song. Originally published in 1967, and rereleased in 1984, the book is divided into ten sections and organized both by theme ("Origins and Namings," "Visions and Spells") and region ("Europe and the Ancient Near East"). An excellent resource for poets, songwriters, artists and mythographers.
8) Grad school turned me into a comic fiend. In between heavy doses of ecofeminist spirituality and hermeneutics, I devoured issues of Birds of Prey, JLA and JSA; I particularly fell in love with the parallel universe stories set on Earth 2. So, when DC recently made the colossally stupid decision to relaunch its entire universe -- again -- I threw in the towel. The only good thing to come out of the mess was a new Earth 2 series. You like super heroes? You like super heroes who get their powers from Gods? You like super heroes whose spells actually draw upon and manifest the powers of Gods? Cool. Go grab The Gathering and The Tower of Fate. The battle between Dr. Fate and Wotan alone is worth the price of admission.
9) The Misadventures of Salem Hyde is a positively adorable new all-ages graphic novel series by Frank Cammuso. The first volume, Spelling Trouble, introduces us to little Salem Hyde, whose spells constantly go awry. Enter Lord Percival J Whamsford III aka Whammy. AKA, the animal companion stuck with corralling Salem and her erratic magic. This is a great book for kids, not only because the protagonist is a witch their age, but also because it is filled with visual and written puns. The second volume, Big Birthday Bash, will be out in May 2014.
10) Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M Valente takes the well-known fairy tale and gives it an American tall tale/Wild West spin -- and then some. Valente uses the bones of the original tale to craft a much richer story, one which explores issues of gender construction, female (dis)empowerment, racism and colonialism, the exploitation of natural resources, violence perpetrated by and against women, the nature of magic, and so much more. Consider the cruel stepmother, for instance, who forces her half-Crow/half-Caucasian stepdaughter to bathe in milk and ice and mockingly calls her "Snow White" because she will never be white enough; like all good villainesses, she is what she is for a reason. And the ending of course … well, no spoilers.
11) Pagan Erotica.* I like a steamy sex scene as much as the next girl, but I prefer my sex with a plot line. Even better if said plot features strongly Pagan elements. So, I was thrilled when I discovered the works of Erzabet Bishop, Seressia Glass, and Joey W Hill. Bishop is the mind behind The Erotic Pagans series of novellas and short stories, all set in modern Texas and featuring Wiccan protagonists. Glass has published three novellas through Harlequin, starring shape-shifting Jackals and magical Isis witches; yes, prayers and devotions to Isis and Anubis. Sweet! Hill has published dozens of novels, novellas, and short stories, a few of which feature explicitly Pagan themes. I highly recommend Threads of Faith and If Wishes Were Horses; the first stars an empathic witch who dispenses love potions, while the second is a Wiccan paranormal romance/murder mystery (with an actual Great Rite, not a symbolic Great Rite). Oh, and when I say these are erotica, that is exactly what I mean.
12) This past year has seen the release of several excellent volumes of Pagan poetry -- or, my discovery of said volumes (see here and here). Add to that list Michael Routery's From the Prow of Myth, which I reviewed in the Autumn Equinox 2013 issue of Eternal Haunted Summer. Routery's poetry is … well … ever had the experience of words sliding and disappearing off the page as you fall into the back of your brain and the story is just *there*, living, moving, nothing between you and the Story? Yeah, it's kinda like that.
So, there you have them: my literary discoveries of 2013. Which great stories did you discover this past year?
* Need more Pagan erotica? Check out the interview with Bishop at The Saturated Page, where she lists some of her favorites.
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