I have way too many books going right now, with more lined up immediately after. It’s a bit overwhelming to consider, but it also seems like a good problem to have.
I tend to forget I have a Kindle, as my primary methods of book consumption are via Audible or good old fashioned paper copies. I decided that I needed to get back into the habit of whittling away at the Kindle content each night before bed. As an insomniac, I had always been told it was a bad idea to read or watch TV an hour before shut-eye. With the case of the TV, the blue spectrum light in the screen keeps the brain active, which is ironic considering the show itself will counter that real fast. It doesn’t matter in my case as I have no TV in my bedroom. The biggest problem I tend to have is that my mind simply won’t slow down enough to sleep in most cases. So if I choose to read a chapter or two a night, it’s best to choose something light that will not put my mind into overdrive.
So of course the book I had started was Peter Jordan’s The Venetian Origins of the Commedia dell’Arte. This is not an introductory book. This is a book written by someone with a heavy scholastic and professional investment in the subject to his peers, and it reads accordingly. My interest in the subject isn’t quite to that level yet as I’m barely a novice on this one. After reading the introduction, I decided I was masochistic enough to want to tackle this. After the first chapter, I decided I needed a book to explain this book. That is, before I can deal with the apparently controversial and disputed history that this book discusses, I want to learn more about the art itself so I can find out why the history is so controversial. It seems an excellent book on the subject, but it’s not really what I was looking for as foundational material. It turns out that most books on this subject are of the same ilk: by the peers for the peers.
And most of them are at scholastic price points. $50-200 for an ebook is outrageous in my humble opinion. For certain books, I get that kind of cost in print, but not for digital. Not when you can name off the greatest authors or artists in history and get their complete works for$1-5 each. I’ve only seen one ebook at a high price point that I’ve ever given a second thought to, and was one of those ultra-rare tomes on angelology where the print copy was non-existent and would have cost a similar amount had I found it in a state where it looked like had been dragged behind a truck through the mud for a couple of months. Even then, I still haven’t bought it.
Long story short, I found a book that might fit the bill, Antonio Fava’s The Comic Mask in the Commedia dell’Arte. This seems to be more along the lines of what I was hoping for: an explanation of the stock characters, a working manual to the art itself… things of that nature.
So I picked this up. And then I decided to backburner it because I’m already involved in some heavier reads, and I really wanted something of lighter fare to end my evenings. So I came up with an alternative plan. Seeing as how I’ve been having a bit of a Disney Renaissance lately, rediscovering the animation and such, I decided that perhaps I’d invest some time in actually reading the source material that caught Walt’s eye back in the day. I’m going to start with the Brothers Grimm and move on from there.
I had the best intentions of starting this last night, but ironically I fell asleep on the couch, watching Netflix. Isn’t it always the way?
In paper format, my lazy weekend afternoon reading is a favorite topic, Joan of Arc. What medievalist doesn’t enjoy reading about the most famous person of that age?
Most books on the Maid of Orleans fall into one of two camps: it absolutely happened the way everyone says it did, or it couldn’t possibly have happened so it didn’t. This book seems different. Sven Stolpe’s The Maid of Orleans: The Life & Mysticism of Joan of Arc focuses on exactly the one point that most other volumes don’t discuss: the mysticism. The object of the book is to put her in the same context as the likes of Thomas Aquinas or Hildegard von Bingen. It’s also a reprint of a much older volume, and the old saying goes: they don’t make ’em like they used to. It’s the kind of book that wouldn’t get published today on those kinds of merits. While I’m not Christian and certainly have no religious claims on that front, Christian mysticism is one of those aspects of the Middle Ages that holds endless fascination for me. In this book, we turn the record of Joan’s life into a symbol, and it unlocks all kinds of hidden understanding that would absolutely freak out the saints of earlier ages. Not exactly light reading either, which is why I’m just nibbling at it here and there.
While I keep claiming I’m looking for lighter reading, this weekly Tolkien quest continually challenges that assumption.
I’m in the back half of The Two Towers right now. As it is, The Lord of the Rings stands as my absolute favorite book, and if you’re keeping up with my Sunday chapter posts, I hope that enjoyment is coming through on some level. I’m relishing the deeper dive into Middle-Earth.
So that leaves my day-to-day Audible reads at work. This is probably even more screwball. Thomas Asbridge released The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land.
As with Joan of Arc, I instantly gravitate towards a good book about the Crusades. The Knights Templar form the backbone of my interest into the medieval era, so this one’s kind of a no-brainer. Or so I thought. I backed up this title with another Audible title for the commute to and from work, Sir Thomas Malory’s classic Le Morte d’Arthur.
My inner armchair medievalist squeed like a little girl the moment I got my paws on this. It’s one of those tales that I’ve read a handful of times over the years, and while I know that it’s not one that modern audiences are predisposed to enjoy because they wouldn’t understand why it’s formatted as it is and why it doesn’t read like a novel when it appears to be one (centuries before the novel form was invented), it’s the very notion of its quintessentially medieval sound and feel that make me love it like I do. I grew up with an abridged version on cassette narrated by Derek Jacobi. The only unabridged version Audible had was from Frederick Davison, a narrator I just can’t work with. Some like his style; I’m not one of them. When this version was released, I tried the sample, it was good, and I had to have it.
So if you’re keeping up, that’s Joan of Arc, the Crusades, and King Arthur, three of my absolute favorite medieval topics. This is the triple play that should keep me more than occupied and focused for the foreseeable future.
And all of them got temporarily derailed by a modern colossus. Enter: Alan Moore.
I practically cut my teeth on this man’s work when I waded into comics back in the day. Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Batman: The Killing Joke… the list goes on, and it’s like he can do no wrong when it comes to elevating this medium to the standards of literature. Turns out, according to recent interviews, he’s mostly done with comics now, and he’s released this mammoth of a tome called Jerusalem.
I started this one in audio the other day, and before long I knew this one that I would read again, and would want to do so in hardcopy form. So I bought the hardcover. It started by pushing me into the deep end and forcing me to elevate myself to Moore’s level of comprehension and storytelling, which is difficult under the best of circumstances, but in prose… wow. Totally worth it so far too. But as I say, it’s one of those all-consuming beasts that has taken over my workday listening and the commute in an effort to conquer this beast.
It’s also made me nostalgic. In the years since I left comics behind, I felt like I was missing something important. Reading Jerusalem reminded me of what that was because Alan Moore’s writing style is so distinctive. It hit me that there are only a select few titles I’d want to have in my library these days, and I’m missing some of those. I picked up complete runs of two other Alan Moore titles that I’ve greatly missed and want to re-read in the near future: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Promethea.
The League is a one of those great additions to my monster kid upbringing, difficult to resist. In fact, when it was first released, it was the book that reignited my passion for such things. Promethea turned out to be one of those gems that I feared I would hate and turned out such fears were unfounded. Back in the day, Moore cranked out a few titles for America’s Best Comics that were a lot like Watchmen in that they took the popular archetypal heroes and spun them around. Where Watchmen was a complete deconstruction, ABC ended up being next-level explorations of those archetypes. Promethea was a completely new spin on my personal favorite, Wonder Woman, hence my initial fear. The story he wove with this is one of the most mystically-involved tales I’ve ever encountered, and now some 20 years later I think I’m ready to encounter it again because I know my understanding of such things has grown considerably. If anything, Jerusalem has proven that much to me.
These are only some of the titles I have waiting in the wings. Another series run I absolutely had to have to fill the gaps will be making its way to me soon: Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan.
As with most of these other titles, I was in college back when this title hit, and having taken a couple of journalism classes and already being immersed in the cracked world of Alan Moore (or is it just the world that’s cracked, and he’s pointing it out to us?), Warren Ellis stepped up and showed that he was every bit the genius, but with other gifts. His genius is satire. I’ve been wanting to re-read Transmet for a while now, but with the election drawing near and everything being so batshit crazy in real life, I realized the time is absolutely right for this now. This series was genius back then. Now I fear it was prophetic.
Of course while all this is going on, my twin stars aren’t taking a break. One of my favorite sci-fi writers, John Jackson Miller, released the first of his new Star Trek Klingon trilogy, Prey, book 1 being Hell’s Heart.
My plan was to burn through this as soon as it dropped so I could keep up. Eh… not so much. Parts 2 and 3 will be released in the next couple of months, so I may just opt to binge all three parts. They didn’t release these in audio form like they did with the Legacy trilogy, so paper it is.
The other big release, which happens on the 11th of this month, is the new Star Wars novel, Ahsoka.
This is another one that wasn’t going to see audio, but the fan response has been so incredible that the audio is forthcoming with Ahsoka herself, Ashley Eckstein, narrating it. There’s no listing for the audio release date yet, probably because it was such a late addition to the lineup, but as soon as I’m able to snag it, I will do so. I should have Jerusalem beaten into submission by that point. If not, I should be close, and with apologies to Alan Moore, Ahsoka will have absolute priority. If it works out to plan (famous last words), I’ll drop everything, immerse myself in this one in a single day, and return back to whatever else was in the works.
(Note to self: I really should blog up a blue streak about Ahsoka in the near future. Perhaps that’ll be a good first blog on this Power of the Force series I want to write.)
There are a great many other books I’ve wishlisted in recent days, but I don’t feel compelled to go there right now. I think this list is more than plenty to keep busy for a while. *deep breath* What are you reading lately?