Appalled by my low volume of reading last year—only 67 books—I vowed to read more. Joining a group then called “144 Books in 2010” on Goodreads, I made it to 158 books this year. Admittedly, reading manga and graphic novel series helped (Rozen Maiden: 8 volumes, Fruits Basket: 23 volumes, and so on). The net result is that this year, I didn’t have to struggle to find more than a few memorable books. In chronological order of reading:
- Pagan Astrology: Spell-Casting, Love Magic, and Shamanic Stargazing by Raven Kaldera (8/10; finished 1/29/2010): This is a specialized book on a specialized topic: astrology as magic. Kaldera covers both using all the planets in magic (not just the Moon) and using magic to work with the planetary energies in your chart, both natal and from transiting planets. This last part, commonly referred to as planetary remedies, is rarely discussed in books on Western astrology and is worth the price of admission on its own.
- The Moment of Astrology: Origins in Divination by Geoffrey Cornelius (9/10; finished 4/26/2010): One of the more esoteric books I read this year; I can’t even summarize it without using astrologese! I bought this book in 2005 and it has taken me three attempts to finish it. Not because it’s badly written, but because it gave me so much to think about that I would put it down to digest the author’s ideas, be distracted by another yet-to-be-read book, and not get back to this one for years. Cornelius argues that astrology isn’t a science, but divination, just like Tarot cards or the I Ching. A chart, even a natal chart, even a fictional chart, has meaning because someone is interested in it, not because it’s a precisely timed representation of a unique moment and location. If so, scientific research will never prove that astrology works, since divination basically cannot be repeated on demand. By suggesting that all astrology basically works like horary astrology, Cornelius upends the rationale behind centuries of Western astrological tradition—in a book that will hardly find an audience in the astrological community much less the world at large.
- Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay (10/10; finished 5/7/2010): While I’ve been a fan of Kay’s ever since The Fionavar Tapestry, his last two novels, The Last Light of the Sun and Ysabel, left me feeling a bit flat. So when I saw he had a new novel out, I was torn between anticipation and anxiety. I’m delighted to report that Under Heaven is well worth the wait. As with most of Kay’s novels, it’s set in an alternative historical setting to a time period in our world, in this case, Tang Dynasty China. Kay manages to pull together character development (of many characters), world-building, and an intriguing plot, keeping me hooked for all 573 pages. I’d summarize the plot for you, but it’d be a sorry shadow of the story itself—just read the book instead.
- The Orphan’s Tales by Catherynne M. Valente (10/10; In the Night Garden finished 5/25/2010 and In the Cities of Coin and Spice finished 6/14/2010): I don’t think counting two books as one here is cheating. Like the three parts of The Lord of the Rings, In the Night Garden and In the Cities of Coin and Spice form one story. While you could read just one, it would diminish the power of the story. This is a story about stories, about a young outcast in the Sultan’s gardens who has stories tattooed so finely and densely around her eyes that she looks like a raccoon and about the boy who braves her demonic reputation (and the wrath of his older sister) to hear her tell them. But the stories themselves are the heart of the books, embedded in each other like onion layers, each connected to a larger tale. With a lesser author, the reader might easily be lost several layers in, but part of the reason I was stunned by The Orphan’s Tales was that it was clear that Valente had absolute control of her narration from beginning to end.
- The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia by Laura Miller (10/10; finished 6/9/2010): I know memoir is a hot genre right now, but it’s not a genre I care for. This was an exception. Like Miller, I loved The Chronicles of Narnia when I first encountered them—okay, I probably didn’t love them quite as much as Miller did, but I really, really liked them. And like Miller, I fell out of love with the books when I realized just how Christian C.S. Lewis had made them. For me, that was the end of it. Miller, however, eventually reread her old favorites as an adult and has written a fascinating book that combines memoir, literary criticism, and a biography of C.S. Lewis, and it’s that last part especially, that might lure me back to revisit Narnia at least one more time (a testament to Miller’s writing, since biography interests me even less than memoir).
- We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy—And the World’s Getting Worse by James Hillman and Michael Ventura (8/10; finished 6/30/2010): Be suspicious of books with no synopsis on the back cover. Chances are, they’re incredibly difficult to sum up briefly or else the publisher would have done so. The authors’ main argument is that psychotherapy is worse than useless. Instead of producing healthy individuals ready to go out and tackle the world’s problems, it encourages people to become obsessed with their own personal growth to the point that they have nothing left for society’s ills. Focusing on the “inner child” merely encourages people to see themselves as children, unable to affect the world at large. The book was written in 1992 and parts haven’t aged well: Hillman’s views on sexual harassment and rape would’ve offended plenty of people then, much less now. That said, it’s a critique of therapy I don’t hear much, and it’s an entertaining way to present another side of the argument.
- Tarot 101: Mastering the Art of Reading the Cards by Kim Huggens (10/10; finished 8/5/2010): I learned how to read Tarot cards years ago, but I always find it interesting to see different authors’ takes on how to present the fundamentals. Huggens’ approach is original: she groups the cards together by theme rather than marching the student through them in linear order from beginning to end. She also addresses a number of related topics including dealing with difficult querents, creating original spreads, and relating Tarot to other forms of divination. This is a fine book for advanced readers as well as students.
- Pagan Spirituality: A Guide to Personal Transformation (9/10; finished 9/2/2010) and ChristoPaganism: An Inclusive Path (9/10; finished 11/25/2010) by Joyce and River Higginbotham: Unlike the two books of The Orphan’s Tales, these books aren’t two halves of one story, but I mention them together because the authors cover similar ideas in both. Basically, they’re proposing a way of looking at how people develop spiritually, be they Pagan, Christian, or whatever, that moves from seeing everything literally to becoming more archetypal and universal. Trust me, they make it more interesting to read than I just described it, but they had two entire books to develop their ideas in and I have a few sentences. Anyway, Pagan Spirituality applies their ideas to Pagan practice while ChristoPaganism tries to build a bridge between the two religions.
- The Poetry of War by James Anderson Winn (10/10; finished 12/8/2010): The title of this book is completely accurate, yet really doesn’t convey the flavor of the contents. Winn shows how some poets used their poems to question basic assumptions behind war while others used “pro-war” ideals such as honor, chivalry, and patriotism to romanticize war and deny its brutality. You don’t have to be a poetry expert to understand this book and it may give you a fresh perspective on current wars.
On to 2011!