Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Day at Elliott Bay

So, while mourning bookstores lost, it's good to also celebrate good bookstores that are still with us. And in the case of Elliott Bay Books, which wd certainly have to go on anyone's list of Seattle's best, they seem to be thriving in what I still think of as their new location, atop Capitol Hill. Despite being inconveniently located for us down here in Kent, I make it a point to visit at least once a year, usually around my birthday.Their fantasy/science fiction section is fine, but what I really go for is to look through their shelves on prehistory, early history, and mythology, all of which are excellent. I never fail to find some intriguing book I didn't know about on their well-stocked shelves. This year's new acquisitions are a nicely mixed group:

I. THE SPECTACLE OF THE LATE MAYA COURT: REFLECTIONS ON THE MURALS OF BONAMPAK by Mary Miller & Claudia Brittenham [2013]. A huge coffee-table book, lavishly illustrated, with extensive commentary describing the murals and putting them in context. In many cases they reproduce images twice on the same page: once in color (to see the beauty of the artwork) and once in black and white (for better clarity of seeing what's being shown, given how badly the murals are damaged). Not so much a book for sitting down and reading through as for leaving open and mulling over, occasionally dipping in to read sections and slowly absorb the whole.

II. ROYAL CITIES OF THE ANCIENT MAYA by Michael D. Coe (text) and Barry Brukoff (photography). Another coffee-table book, but this time of a more manageable size. Again it was really the pictures that attracted me here: I've never seen a book on Mayan ruins that so strongly conveyed what it'd be like to be in each of these places. This one is text-light and about half the weight and size of the previous book, so I'll definitely be reading it as well as enjoying the images.

III. LONDON FOG [2015] by Christine L. Corton. A rather odd topic for a book: the great London Fog, particularly during its height in the last half of the nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth, when millions of coal fires in homes combined with river mists and industrial pollution to create  a toxic yellow smog, so thick that at times when out walking in it you wouldn't be able to see your own feet. The book is full of really striking photos and paintings depicting what the fog looked like. both from within and without. Looks to be an interesting read.

IV. CONSTELLATION MYTHS by Eratosthenes and Hyginus, tr. Robin Hard. Ever wonder where all those stories about who became what constellation and why came from? Me neither, but it turns out that at least part of the answer is these works. This one was frankly an impulse buy, thinking it'd be a good book to read in snatches spread out over as long a period of time as it took.

V. A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION: ROMAN BRITAIN, by Peter Salway. Background reading for my current project; I was drawn by a brief discussion of curse tablets, something that's directly relevant to the Nodens evidence. I've started in reading this and already come across a number of interesting things I didn't know, so picking it up was definitely worthwhile.

In addition, there were some runner-ups wh. I might have picked up had the above not already strained the budget: A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION TO CELTIC MYTH (which on a quick skim didn't look to contain anything I didn't already know about Nodens), AFTER YORKTOWN (which focused on the two remaining years the international wars we think of as 'the American Revolution' continued after we dropped out of it), and YURIE: THE JAPANESE GHOST (a look at a spooky bit of folklore that sometimes impinges on various anime or manga but which I don't know first-hand other than in obvious sources like Lafcadio Hearn).

And then aside from the Elliott Bay books, some other new arrivals came by post: two 'C. S. Lewis Mysteries' by Kel Richards: C. S. LEWIS AND THE CORPSE IN THE CELLAR (retitled here 'The Corpse in the Cellar') and C. S. LEWIS AND THE COUNTRY HOUSE MURDERS (retitled just 'The Country House Murders'). I learned of these through David Bratman's posts (which I'm no longer able to find the link for, unfortunately). Each attempts (and, I think, fails) to both present a mystery novel in the mode of the 'golden age' while alternating the mystery-solving with theological discussions between CSL and the callow narrator. Richards apparently is fond of writing mysteries using real-life people as his detectives: in addition to this C. S. Lewis series (of which a third has either been published or is soon to be so, and a fourth on the way) there's also at least two books in which his version of G. K. Chesterton solves mysteries. Plus he has several Sherlock Holmes books to his credit (or otherwise, as the case may be), some of them supernatural. And one or two books of apologetics without the fictional guise.

In brief: not the worst Inklings-as-characters novels, but in the bottom half of the list.

The only other new arrival is TOLKIEN AMONG THE MODERNS, ed. Ralph C. Woods. I'd ordered this thinking it'd be interesting to see Tolkien treated as a Modernist (like Joyce, Woolf, Eliot, Yeats, et al) or anti-Modernist (like Orwell, Larkin, &c). On first glance, however, I can't seem to grasp their definition of modernism -- one essay compares Tolkien to Cervantes (a contemporary of Shakespeare, and hence 'modern' only by a very generous definition); another deals with Nietzsche (later nineteenth century), another with Iris Murdoch (a younger contemporary of Tolkien's who's actually closer to Postmodern than Modern, if we're going by how academia breaks up English literature). There is one piece on Joyce and Tolkien, which is pretty much the only example of the sort of essay I thought wd make up the entire book. In the end I have to admit that a quick glance has left me at a loss as to their definition of Modernism is or how it relates to Tolkien's work. Perhaps a more thorough examination later on will bring clarity.

current Kindle: CARTER & LOVECRAFT by Jonathan Howard.
current viewing: various old DOCTOR WHOs.


David Bratman said...

My review of Kel Richards's C.S. Lewis mysteries may be found on Blogger or LiveJournal.

N.E. Brigand said...

David's post on the Lewis mysteries can be found here.

John D. Rateliff said...

Dear David and Dear N.E.B.
Yes, that's the one. Thanks for the link(s).
Re-reading David's piece I'm glad to see he liked the books better than I did.